"Sorry, Mia, stand aside. I'm running this sample myself," Greg said, entering the DNA lab.
"Have at," the woman responded. "I'm backed up as it is. I have plenty to keep me busy."
Grissom had ordered Greg to take a sample of McCormick's blood so they could test it against the semen samples taken from the two dead girls. They wanted to be certain that he was the one who had raped and killed them. They didn't want to take any chances that someone else in the McCormick clan wasn't also involved.
Greg had rushed the sample back to the lab and had prepared it. Now he was waiting for the results, pacing around the DNA lab and thoroughly annoying Mia. They both looked over as Grissom and Sara entered the lab, followed moments later by Catherine.
"Well?" Gil asked.
"Not done yet," the younger man said with a shrug. "Soon."
As the three new arrivals made themselves comfortable, leaning against counters and seating themselves in empty chairs, Mia gave an exasperated sigh.
"Okay, I'm not going to be able to get anything done with all of you in here," she said, standing. "I'm going on break. Your results should be done by the time I get back. I don't want to see any of you in here at that time."
The others watched her leave with amused expressions. Once she was gone, they returned to their quiet waiting.
Looking at the others, Greg said, "I know Nick's still at the hospital with the girl, but where's Warrick?"
"He's with someone from Internal Affairs," Grissom answered. "There's a lot of paperwork to fill out every time you discharge your weapon. There's even more if you actually shoot someone."
"He's not going to get in any trouble, is he?"
"No, it was a good shooting," Catherine said confidently. "It's just procedure. Of course I.A. will still have to get statements from Nick, possibly even the girl."
Greg nodded, digesting this new information. All four investigators jumped slightly as the printer spat out the results of the test. The former lab tech moved to the machine and picked up the printout. He was silent for a moment as he read it.
"It matches," he announced. "McCormick was acting alone."
He handed the sheet to Grissom, who looked it over himself, nodding slightly. "Alright, I'm going to show this to Brass. He's questioning Mrs. McCormick. Then we're going to head over to the hospital to talk to the girl and fetch Nick."
"Hey, uh, speaking of Nick," Greg started, as Grissom stood, "once again, he knew right where the girl was when none of us did."
"What are you getting at, Greg?" the older man asked.
"I don't know," the former lab tech said, with a slight shrug. "I just think it's weird that he seemed to be one step ahead of the rest of us all along. And then there were those weird dreams of his... You think maybe it's possible that his experience of being buried alive... changed him...?"
"Changed him?" Grissom repeated, one eyebrow raised skeptically.
"Yeah, you know, made him psychic or something?"
The supervisor gave a chuckle and glanced at the two women. His laugh died when he saw them watching him soberly, apparently awaiting his explanation as well. He turned back to the younger man.
"No, Greg, Nick is not psychic," he said firmly. "The mind is still a very mysterious organ. We still don't entirely know how it works. Remember, Nick has been running a low-grade fever for the past couple of days. It's entirely possible that he had all the pieces of the puzzle, but his conscious mind couldn't put them together because it was hampered by the fever. But in his dreams, his subconscious mind was free to put them together, but being the subconscious, it didn't do it in a wholly logical way."
"Yeah, maybe, but that doesn't explain how he knew where both Ashley and Tiffany were. There weren't any clues about that. So, how did he get all the pieces of the puzzle when none of us did?"
"Maybe there were clues and we simply missed them, but Nick's subconscious mind didn't. Maybe Nick just wanted it more than we did. I don't know, Greg. I don't have all the answers all the time. But I can tell you, with certainty, that Nick is not psychic."
"Okay, if you say so," the young man said, sounding disappointed. "I don't know, I guess I just kind of liked the idea of 'Nick Stokes: Psychic Detective.'"
"You watch too much television, Greg."
When Grissom and Brass arrived at Desert Palm Hospital, they were directed to Tiffany's room in Pediatrics by the receptionist at the front desk. They found Nick sitting on a vinyl-covered, padded bench in the hallway outside the room. The young man looked haggard and slightly dazed.
The girl's room was not private and there were three other children in the large space as well. While Brass went inside to ask the Metcalfe's if he and Grissom could speak to the child about her ordeal, the lead CSI wandered over to stand beside the other investigator.
"Have you spoken to the girl at all?" he asked.
"Yeah, I was with her earlier, but then her parents showed up and..." He let his voice trail off and gave a slight shrug.
Grissom nodded. "How is she doing?"
"Amazingly well, actually. The doctors said she wasn't raped. They think with some therapy, she'll be all right. Children are incredibly resilient."
"That's good news. How are you holding up? You look exhausted."
"I'm okay," the younger man said dismissively.
"Listen, Nick, when Brass and I interview the girl, I think it would be best if you stayed out here. I think your presence might distract her and we need her to focus."
Even to Grissom's ears the excuse sounded lame. But the fact remained that Nick had gotten entirely too emotionally involved with this case and Grissom needed the younger man to step back. For his own sake, and for Tiffany's, he would need to move on from the case eventually, it was best to do it sooner rather than later. He was relieved when Nick said nothing and gave a slight nod.
Brass reappeared in the doorway of the room. "Okay, Gil, we got the green light. Let's do this," he said.
Nick continued to sit in the hallway, patiently waiting for the other two men. Grissom had been right, of course, he was exhausted. The cold he had been trying so hard to ignore was asserting itself with a vengeance now that the case was resolved. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton and he was having trouble concentrating on any one thing for too long.
He didn't really know how long he sat there. He was once again experiencing that strange sense of detachment. But, after what he was reasonably sure was longer than fifteen minutes, he looked up to see Grissom and Brass leaving the room. The two men came to join him by the bench.
"Well?" Nick asked.
"We got everything we need," Grissom said. "Let's get back to the lab. You need to talk to I.A. and give them a statement about the shooting."
"You know what, Gil? Why don't you head on back. I'll give Nick a ride. We'll meet you there," Brass offered, giving the senior investigator a pointed look.
"Right. I'll see you two back at the lab," Grissom said, walking away.
The detective sat down on the bench beside the younger man with a weary sigh.
"Greg ran a DNA comparison. McCormick was the one who raped and killed Samantha Dresher and Ashley Russell," Brass said conversationally. "All evidence indicates that he was acting alone. I believe the wife, that she didn't know anything. She seems pretty self-absorbed and clueless.
"After you left with the ambulance, we searched the cellar. We found a tunnel which connects the house to the cellar. I'm not sure what it was first built for, but it seems to be original to the estate. It's definitely where he kept all three girls... How did you know it was there? How did you know the girl was there?"
"I didn't know it was there," Nick said. "I just found it. Once I did, I knew Tiffany was down there, because where else would she be? It was the perfect place to keep her."
"I see. So, you just got lucky?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Is that why you went down there without waiting for back-up, without waiting for me or one of the uniforms to clear the place first, 'cause you were feeling lucky?" The detective's voice had risen incrementally while asking this question and by the time he got to the end, he was almost yelling.
"No," Nick said softly, slightly taken aback by the other man's strident tone.
"Good, because your name and the word 'lucky' do not often appear in the same sentence, so I wouldn't want to push that little coincidence too far, if I were you. What the hell were you thinking?"
"I wasn't, really. I just knew Tiffany was close by and she was in danger. I knew I had to find her. That's all I was thinking about. And if I had waited for you, it would have been too late. He would have killed her."
That statement seemed to deflate the older man and he gave a slight nod, his anger suddenly dissipating.
"So, this was only about you trying to get to the girl before McCormick could kill her?"
"Yeah, what else would it be about?"
"Oh, I don't know, the rush of the adrenaline high, the thrill of being the hero, the possibility of going out in a blaze of glory."
"Are you asking if I have a death wish?"
"Look, Nick, I know you don't have a death wish. I know how hard you fought to stay alive during your... crisis, but I've seen this kind of thing before. A cop almost gets killed in the line of duty, maybe even gets shot. Afterward, he's in a kind of emotional shock, he can't seem to feel anything any more, but he remembers that, no matter how scared he was while he was in danger, he had never felt so alive. And then he starts to look for ways to recapture that feeling. He starts taking risks; deliberately putting himself in danger, just so he can feel that same sense of being more alive. Is that what's going on here, Nick?"
The younger man was silent for a long time, digesting this question. As uncomfortable as it made him, he had to admit, he did know what Brass was talking about. He had felt that emotional numbness from time to time since his abduction, but he really didn't think that was what had led him down to the cellar. It had been those dreams, the ones that he couldn't explain and didn't really want to talk about.
"I don't know," Nick said at last.
Brass nodded. "Well, thank you for being honest. And what about these dreams? I overheard Sara and Greg talking about them. You dreamed about the girl?"
"Yeah, but I don't know what they meant, I just know they seemed to be leading me to Tiffany. Grissom thinks I was identifying too much with her and that's why I dreamt of her and maybe he's right. I don't know... Did she say anything about dreams when you two talked to her?"
"Oh, nothing," Nick said quickly, wondering if he had just imagined her telling him that she had dreamt of him. "You know, I know it sounds stupid, but sometimes, during the dreams, I felt this connection to her, like she was my kid, my daughter."
"You grew up in a big family, didn't you?"
"Yeah, youngest of seven."
"You ever think about having kids of your own?"
"Yeah. You know, I had this plan when I was in college. I would graduate, spend a few years getting my career going then I would settle down and start a family," the investigator looked over at the detective with a bitter smile. "The career thing has gone pretty well, but the family part, not so much.
"It's kind of hard to start a family when you don't even have a wife. I keep telling myself that I have plenty of time, but every year that excuse gets little more lame."
Brass said nothing. What could he say? He understood completely how the younger man felt. It wasn't just women who had biological clocks. Just because a man was capable of fathering a child late in his life, didn't mean that's what he wanted to do. Most men wanted to still be young enough, when their children arrived, to actually enjoy being with them.
Brass had discovered that fatherhood was a precious gift entirely too late and now he could never go back and fix his errors. He found the thought that such a caring and giving man, like Nick Stokes, might not experience that gift, especially cruel.
"You promised Grissom that when this case was over, you'd go and see Janine, right?" the detective asked.
"Yes, I will."
"Good, come on, let's go get some breakfast. You don't look like you've eaten for a few days."
"Haven't been very hungry. Shouldn't we get back to the station? I still have to talk to I.A."
"Eh, they can wait."
As they were walking past the open doorway of Tiffany's room, Nick stopped and looked inside. He thought about going in to say good-bye to the child. He could see her bed from the doorway. She was asleep, her parents sitting on either side of the bed, each holding one of her hands. It was a beautiful tableau and he had no place within it and no right to intrude upon it. Turning back to Brass, he found the detective watching him with a concerned expression.
"Yeah, let's get out of here," Nick said softly. "I hate hospitals."
... And so the girl and her family lived happily ever after. And what of the knight, you ask? Well, his quest continues...
Author's note: Okay, that was really short, sorry. And I have no excuse for why it took me so long to write it, other than I had no motivation level, it happens. Anyway, thanks to everyone who read and reviewed, and anyone who read and didn't review : ).