Down to the Ground

Post-Ep for "Grave Danger"



It's none of your business.

You watch outside the room. Through Plexiglas, ironically enough, into Nick's trauma room, room #3, one of the rooms no one wants to have to occupy. There are exactly eight people in the room besides Nick. Two doctors, although one's so young he has to be a resident. Two nurses, one at this very moment reinserting an IV line that Nick's struggle has torn free. And four other people, standing against the wall, the four not wearing scrubs or white jackets, the four not wearing calm, competent expressions.

Two of them you know. Know well. Two you've met, under the worst possible circumstances.

The ants go marching, two by two

You lean against the hallway wall and feel the chill bite through to your skin. You've been cold since the adrenaline wore off, since the last lights of Nick's ambulance had faded out of sight, since that weary walk back to your vehicle. Now it's all catching up with you. The explosion, you ache from head to toe. And you're tired. God almighty, so tired.

Nick's father says something to the doctors, lips moving in the same quirky way as Nick's did, same accent, and you tiredly think, He's asking about transferring him to Dallas already. Didn't take long.

It's none of your business. You told Walter that, and it's a little odd that you can't stop thinking about that now. What had he asked? Are you and he close? None of your business, you said, curtly, coldly.

It's none of your business, where they take Nick. That's for him to decide, or his family, since Nick is in no shape to make many decisions right now. The sedatives haven't had nearly enough impact. Or maybe it is simply that Nick is so massively traumatized that nothing outside full anesthesia would make any difference. You aren't sure. Aren't sure of anything any longer.

Warrick walks over, ducks past the resident and leans over Nick's bed. His lips barely move when he speaks; you can't interpret it. Nick's wide, terrible eyes fix intently on Warrick's face, his entire posture one of helpless listening. And he nods, and Warrick does, too, reaches out and takes Nick's right hand, the one without an IV stuck into it.

It's none of your business, what Warrick has said. It only matters that Nick has heard it. That he's lying still now, chest rising too fast but no longer struggling.

A few moments later, they all troop out again,

the little one stops to tie his shoe

making way for a portable x-ray machine. Catherine's face is drawn in a way you've never seen before, not quite like this. Exhaustion on top of anxiety and too many other emotions for you to name. She touches your arm on her way by, and says, "I'm going home. I'll be back in the morning."

You nod absently, frowning at your reflection on the Plexiglas. It's none of your business what she does. She has a daughter, a life, responsibilities. You are merely observing. This is what you do. This is your business.

"He ain't doin' too good," Warrick tells you, slumping next to you against the wall. His hands shake when he reaches up to rub his eyes. "Just won't calm down. Can't, I don't guess."

You nod, watching him, and when it appears he's waiting for you to say something, you murmur, "Par for the course."

His quick, wounded look says he wanted reassurance from you. But you have none to give. You can already hear Nick's wavering voice, an inarticulate sound that lifts the hairs on the back of your neck. He's fighting the x-ray. Of course he is.

"I want to take him home," Jillian Stokes says. Her arms are crossed, her expression as eloquent as Nick's always have been. He favors her, although you can see the complex genetic mix of both his parents now. But Bill Stokes doesn't remind you of Nick. Jillian does. "I want to take him to Dallas, Bill. As soon as we possibly can."

Nick's father is reserved still; his face reveals little in the way of emotion. But there is a muscle ticking in his jaw, and he's sweating in the arctic cold of the ER. Whatever he is struggling to hold back, it's costing him. "And we will," he mutters. "Just let them for Christ do their jobs, all right? Make sure he's all right first."

"Well, of course," Jillian tells him tightly.

You watch them, see the body language, the way they stand a perfect foot apart, an eloquent separation. It's none of your business, whether or not Nick's parents are close, whether or not their marriage is solid. It matters, but not to you.

The interminable x-ray is done, and this time it's Nick's parents who try to soothe him, doing what they can to make him rest easy. It doesn't appear to be working, although Nick is silent now, writhing on the bed, eyes dancing over his parents' faces.

Warrick hovers at the doorway, and finally sighs, shoving his hands inside his pockets. "Damn it," he mutters. "I need to go see if Sara got here."

"She's in the lobby," you tell him tonelessly. "Brass. Everyone."

Nine by nine, ten by ten

He nods, and walks stiffly away.

Your shoulder throbs. The one you've injured multiple times, dislocated twice, snarling now to get your attention. One demanding voice among many. You'll be hard-pressed to stand up straight in the morning.

You haven't planned to walk inside. But Nick's audible again, that damaged, hoarse voice that pulls at you just as it did at Nick's gravesite, that cord that pulled you down, kneeling and brushing at the dirt so that you could make out Nick's face. It's the same now: your feet move without conscious volition, yanking you into trauma room three, past the two doctors chatting sotto-voce over Nick's chart.

The ER lights are cruel. There is no escaping what Nick has been through. It's emblazoned on his face, clean lines distorted now with swelling and grief and terror. His eyes are blank and flat, shining black, the eyes you saw staring unseeingly at you through another layer of Plexiglas not so very long ago.

Jillian Stokes stares at you with Nick's eyes, and says, "It's not working. He's not hearing me."

It's stark and honest, and you watch Bill Stokes pull his wife aside, touching her shoulders, whispering something. It doesn't matter. What he says is none of your business.

Your throat aches. Perhaps you've strained it, too.


You can't call him Pancho here. He's the Cisco Kid's Pancho, not yours. It worked earlier, and for a moment you want a quick fix like that again, a touchstone, something to connect. But this time, with Nick's Cisco standing right behind you, you have only yourself.

You have no idea if that's sufficient.

But Nick's obsidian eyes widen, lashes flutter, and he's gazing straight at you, watching you through tired tears, and you think, You survived, Nicky. You survived it all, and I cannot imagine being more proud of that. Of you.

"Hi," you say softly, and find a smile on your face.

"Grissom," Nick says hoarsely.

He said your name. On the tape, it would be there, and it would sound like this now. Gravelly, deeper than normal.

But the tape is gone, obliterated along with the machine that made that recording, along with the glow sticks and Nick's sidearm, and the bits of paper from the chewing-gum wrapper and the sweat and the dead bugs and everything that accompanied Nick on his long, agonizing journey of endurance.

And they all go marching down to the ground

The tape is gone, but Nick is here. A hand reaching like a grubby starfish for you, and you take it, warm it between your own.

"You did good," you whisper, leaning your sore hip against the bed. "You amazed us all, Nicky."

His inky eyes dart over your face, searching for something, you don't know what. His lips work for a moment, tremble, and peel apart to whisper, "I was so scared."

Your muscles don't hurt nearly as much as your throat. Aching, so sharp it feels as if you've swallowed a scalpel. You nod, and press Nick's hand. "I know. Oh, I know."

"Still – scared."

There's a stool nearby, on casters. You hook it over with one foot and sit, ignoring the wail of your tired back. "You're safe now," you tell him. "I promise you that. No one here is going to hurt you. Everything's all right."

Tears well in Nick's terrible eyes, crest and break, as he chokes, "It's not. Nothing feels all right. I thought he was leaving me. Leaving me – there."

You swallow over the dagger that's buried in your throat, and say, "Warrick wouldn't have left you, Nicky. None of us would. None of us will. I'm sorry it frightened you."

"And then you came." Nick coughs and pain blurs over his features, his fingers tightening on yours. "I could see you. Through the glass. You got me out."

You nod, and lean forward. "I had it easy," you say thickly. "You had the tough part."

He sits up a little, although it clearly costs him. Nearer, the bites are worse, raising up into the telltale pustules that are the hallmark of Solenopsis invicta. They'll go away, though. Now, they will heal.

"Griss –"

"There's something I've been meaning to tell you."

Your sore throat is gone. And this smile feels like yours again, not some stranger's plastered on your face. Real.

"If you ever thought," you say softly, nearly whispering, because this is none of anyone else's business. "Ever, that you had been a disappointment to me: think again." You tighten your grip, and his rapt eyes don't waver, watching you as you watched him, alert to his every expression, utterly focused on the face through the glass. "You have the strength of your convictions, Nicky. More strength than fifty men. You didn't disappoint me. You've made me proud."

He's crying steadily, but his fingers are warmer, and through his tears you can see wonder, and relief, and so many things.

"Okay," he tries to say, and fails. But that's all right. Everything is all right now.

Now you know why you're here. This is your business. This grimy bug-eaten hand, and these gallant eyes gazing back into your own.

"Now rest," you tell him. "You're very tired, aren't you?"

He nods, and his fingers loosen, hand growing heavy. "Yeah," he rasps. "Pretty tired."

"Rest, and let go. You did it, Nicky. You did it all."

"Guess so," he says, and a corner of his mouth lifts, not a smile, not the radiant expression you've grown so terribly accustomed to over the years. But at the moment it is the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.