Author's Note: Er, so I told you I would update! It's been what, six months? Or longer, but I'm too scared to look. If you would like to hurt me… well, you can't, so just think nasty thoughts.
Number one, I haven't written this for a long time, so forgive me if I'm out of practice and it shows. I also haven't written CSI properly in a long time, so I apologise if those characterisations seem inconsistent. And number two, this chapter feels somewhat overdramatic to me, but I couldn't help it. The plot was always leading there but I'm not sure it turned out the way I originally envisioned. I know, I know, that's entirely my own fault. Curse my crossover muses to hell!
There were a few times in Gregory House's life he had been aware of his life flashing before his eyes.
The memory of sweating and clenching and crying from the sheer agony of his leg during the infarction was a memory that had failed to diminish over time. The chronic pain he was forced to endure on a daily basis was certainly an unpleasant enough reminder.
The sound of a gun going off was a different kind of mortal terror. He could feel the sudden gravity of the moment consume him, the metallic smell invade his nostrils.
He jerked to the side, and Cameron nearly jumped out of her skin beside him as a loud, irritated female voice rang out through the sudden, piercing silence.
"Good to know I could actually trust you on this, you stupid bastard."
Max's mouth opened and closed wordlessly, and the sight of a gun cowed him considerably more than the man brandishing his cane. House twisted around, features tightening with tension. His first thought was that the gun had been shot into the air. His brief feeling of relief was quickly banished when he realised they were in deep trouble.
"Who the hell are you?"
It was the first thing out of his mouth, and he could see Cameron staring at him like he was insane. Obviously she was afraid he was going to provoke the nice lady with the gun.
She was probably right to be scared.
Contrary to his team's general opinion, he did actually remember the faces of their patients. He was a perceptive person, and minute details were what stuck in his mind. Pearl earrings buffed to shine with some toxic home remedy. Nicotine stained fingers, badly dyed hair, blouses buttoned too low in the vain hope of attracting some poor susceptible male when a wedding ring shone on the left hand. All of it was relevant. Anything could hold the key to some unforeseen diagnosis.
This woman looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't immediately place her. He thought the person framing him for murder should at least be someone he recognised. Anything else was just way too anti-climatic. He deserved that much.
The woman snorted, stepping forward, and his ignorance obviously just pissed her off. Cameron tensed noticeably, inching back a fraction, and he reminded himself that he wasn't the only one in potential mortal jeopardy here.
"Of course you don't even know. Dr. Greg House, too caught up in his own massive ego to even contemplate the lowly people around him."
"To be fair, if I call you lowly now, you'll probably just shoot me."
She scoffed, shifting the gun in her grasp. She actually looked quite menacing with it, coiffed blonde hair swirling around her face like some sinister portrait of Medusa.
"You're Loretta Michaels," Cameron spoke up behind him, features carefully blank. She glanced at House. "She was the one who came here with Dr. Goodard."
Realisation kicked in, and he narrowed his eyes.
"Well. You sure went to a lot of trouble considering I don't even know you."
Loretta rolled her eyes, knuckles tightening slightly. He noticed, and it made him wary. "You were convenient," she spat. "Do you really think it was such a stretch of the imagination for people to believe you were capable of murder? You hated Paul. He mentioned it more than once. He said you were jealous of his accomplishments."
"Gee, really singing your praises for the guy considering you murdered him."
"You're justifying framing an innocent man?" Cameron added disbelievingly.
Loretta glared at her. "You really think I give a damn what you think? Everyone would be glad to get rid of someone like him. He's an embarrassment to the medical profession!"
"He's not a killer."
House pursed his lips, swiftly drawing her attention back to him. While Cameron's attempts to defend him were admirable, they wouldn't do much good if they got her shot. "If it turns out this is because of some stupid, cliché reason like the two of you were having an affair and he jilted you, I'm going to be really pissed off."
Her features gave a telltale flush, and House snorted. "Oh goody. I'm going to jail over a lover's spat."
Her fingers wound around the weapon again, and this time her knuckles were almost white. "I don't have to explain myself to you," she said lowly. He saw the cold rage in her eyes, the bitter, inexplicable hatred, and realised appealing to her rational side probably wasn't going to help anything.
"No," he answered, through gritted teeth. "Ruining my life requires no explanation whatsoever."
He wondered where the hell the other construction crewmen were. No one had come running at the sound of a gunshot, and if they weren't concerned about him and Cameron, he thought they would at least be concerned about the foreman's son. The sky was starting to get hazy with mid-afternoon light, and he assumed they had gone home for the day.
He could be sarcastic and angry all he wanted, but that was still no defence against a gun.
His eyes ticked in Cameron's direction, and he realised she was glancing carefully back at him. Probably wondering what the hell they were going to do. Tension curled around the four of them, and Loretta jerked the gun at Max. He had inched back a few steps, slipping along the wall as if it would somehow go unnoticed. He had been silent throughout their exchange, and House wasn't sure if it was because his throat was still sore, or if he was as terrified of Loretta as they were. Her movements were stiff and awkward, and he could tell that despite her anger, she was inexperienced with the weapon. It failed to give him much hope.
"Stop it. Stop moving. You're in this just as deep as I am."
Max flinched, but said nothing. He obviously didn't want to provoke her. House thought that was probably smart.
"What are you going to do?" Cameron asked carefully. Her tone was low and even, the way she spoke to panicked patients when they needed soothing, but he could hear the underlying fear.
Loretta pursed her lips. He could see the indecision warring on her face, but the lengths she had gone to already to protect herself and make him look guilty did nothing to comfort him. She had obviously planned this. Messily, but it was the kind of cold calculating behaviour that did not come from someone all that interested in compassion.
He decided to go for broke. If nothing else, he knew she was a self-preservationist. "You really want two more murder charges on your head on top of this? They have the death penalty in Nevada, right?"
She didn't offer a reaction, but he saw her lower lip tremble. Just enough that someone with his scrutinising gaze could notice it.
He thought he might have struck a nerve, and then there was another shout. This time, they all jumped.
"Las Vegas Police! Don't move!"
House cast his eyes over Loretta's shoulder, and spotted the formidable figure of Sara Side with her weapon drawn fiercely on the woman. A one-woman rescue squad wasn't exactly what he had been counting on, but he supposed it was better than nothing.
Then Wilson's slightly drawn features appeared behind her, and he had to roll his eyes at his friend's immense stupidity.
He was definitely going to get himself killed.
"Put your hands in the air. Right now. Back-up is on the way."
Loretta stilled, twitching noticeably, but did not lower the gun. Sara was immovable, and he sure as hell hoped she wasn't lying.
"I mean it!" she shouted. "Put it down."
Loretta's cold blue eyes fixed on House, and Cameron automatically reached out to grab his arm. He could feel the tension and fear running through her as her fingers dug almost painfully into his skin, and he was struck by the utter absurdity of the situation.
Cuddy. He could blame Cuddy for this. This was why he never left Princeton.
"I'm not going anywhere. I didn't do anything wrong."
House could tell that Sara knew exactly what was going on, which wasn't as comforting as it might have been an hour ago. She went along with the charade anyway, voice level and low. "You're upset. I get that. Hurting someone isn't going to help you bring Paul back."
"He killed him," Loretta insisted, voice cracking under the strain.
"And you have to let me take him into custody, or he can't get the punishment he deserves."
Loretta turned, just as Sara chanced a step forward. Her movement caught Loretta off guard. The gun in her hand shuddered and a loud crack filled the air, bouncing off the walls of the half-finished construction site.
Cameron's grip on his arm was deathly-tight by now, and he barely had a chance to blink before Sara fell back on the ground, dust kicking up around her. Another gun went off in response, and Loretta stumbled back, faltering in place before her gun slid from her fingers.
Everything was quiet. Everything was still.
At least one of them was dead.
"Where's Sara?" Greg asked, peering into Grissom's office.
Grissom paused, looking up from the entomology textbook he was studying, feeling a frown crease his brow. "You're sure she's not here?"
Greg shook his head, wandering further into the room, letting his hands fall to the back of the visitor's chair. "No. I tried calling her, but it went straight to voicemail. Where did she go?"
"She said she was going back to the hotel."
Greg lifted an eyebrow, silently saying what Grissom wasn't - that she obviously still believed in House's innocence. He had to admit that her dedication to her beliefs was admirable, even when it appeared to interfere with her judgement. He felt he sometimes lacked the same assurance.
He had known she was lying when he questioned her before, had felt it tingle warningly down his spine, but said nothing. Things were strained enough as it was. Now the fact that she wasn't back yet was deeply worrying. Even if she was still collecting evidence, which he found highly unlikely, she would have answered her phone.
A fissure of concern went through him, and he tried to ignore it. There were times when the risks of their job were only all too real to him, but most of the time he was so preoccupied with the science, the quest for truth, that the gritty, unpleasant realities didn't occur to him.
He was only reminded of them when something horrible happened.
Greg was watching him quietly, obviously sensing what he was thinking. He opened his mouth, no doubt to offer something reassuring, when the phone on Grissom's desk started to ring. He frowned, reaching over to answer it, grip strangely tense. "Grissom."
"Yeah, you really need to learn to get your reigns on Sara, you know that?" Brass's brisk, strained voice sounded back at him, and the panic welled up all over again.
"What's going on?"
"She called in for back-up a few minutes ago - a construction site out in Henderson. They're heading out now. But if I know Sara--"
"She's already out there," he finished, blood running cold.
Brass was grim. "Yeah. I don't know what she found, but I get the feeling it's not good."
He looked up at Greg, who was staring at him wide-eyed. "Tell me where she is, Jim."
He almost didn't recognise the cold anger in his voice. "Jim."
"Yeah. Okay. I'll tell you."
His fingers tightened around the phone, and he was already on his feet.
If anything happened to Sara because he hadn't believed her, he would never forgive himself.
"Oh my God."
Cameron had her hand over her mouth, and both men were shocked into silence. Behind them, Max ran.
None of them tried to stop him.
It took a full five seconds for their medical training to kick in. Wilson dropped down on his knees beside Sara, and Cameron gingerly bent over Loretta's fallen form. She avoided the discarded gun, reaching for the pulse point on her neck.
House stood still, gripping his cane tightly.
Everything had happened so quickly he could barely process it, but Wilson knew that as she went down, Sara had reflexively shot Loretta. He had no idea what kind of training people in her profession had, but he assumed that was the standard response. His hands curled over her stomach, and he realised that despite her protective CSI vest, the bullet had penetrated her side. Blood was slowly seeping out on his hands, and on the ground, turning a rusty, dull colour in the dirt.
Sara was barely conscious, eyes flickering unsteadily. She had indeed called for back-up on the ride over, but there was no telling how long it would take to arrive. She needed medical attention now.
She tried to murmur something, and he bent closer, straining to hear. He couldn't tell if she was trying to relay a message to a loved one, or an apology, or any number of things people whispered, when they thought they were going to die.
He wouldn't let her. Neither would House, and neither would Cameron.
She wasn't going to die.
"She's dead," Cameron announced unsteadily, pulling him out his messy thoughts long enough to stare at her. He nodded shortly when he realised she was referring to Loretta. It felt inhumane to discard the importance of a human life like that, but he couldn't summon the energy to care. That woman had murdered a man and pinned it on House before putting all of their lives in danger. And now another person could die.
House stepped forward long enough to kick aside the gun. He didn't look like he cared where it went.
"We need to get her into the car," Wilson said swiftly.
House glanced behind them, saw the nondescript Tahoe parked just in front of the rental car. He jerked his head at Wilson. "Take her Tahoe. It's bigger and faster."
"Cameron, get her keys."
Cameron bent down, quickly retrieving the keys from her vest pocket. She tossed them to House, who started speed-limping in the direction of the car, and Wilson carefully slid his arms under Sara's limp, slender body. Once he had her in his arms he carried her for the car as quickly as he could go with her additional weight, and Cameron raced ahead of him, opening the backdoor and climbing in. She flicked the hair out of her eyes, bracing herself on her knees, holding her hands out quickly. Between them, they managed to awkwardly wrestle her onto the backseat, and Wilson slammed the door shut behind him.
House immediately slammed on the accelerator, and they swerved slightly as they turned out onto the street.
As fast as they could go.
Cameron had torn off her jacket, and was already holding it against Sara's wound. Sara had lost consciousness by now, which was not a good sign at all. Cameron felt her head bump against the roof of the car as House took another corner, and the sting was sharp. She braced her spare hand awkwardly against the backseat, struggling to keep the pressure.
She couldn't believe what had happened back there, and how close they had come to dying. Now this woman they barely knew might die, all because she was trying to help them.
The universe sure had a grisly sense of humour.
She glanced at the back of House's head, and then at Wilson across from her, who was staring down at Sara grimly, with his features drawn. She could hear something heavy sliding around in the trunk behind them, and the floor of the Tahoe was cluttered with odds and ends she only assumed were crime scene investigation tools.
She adjusted her jacket against Sara's stomach, and her eyes darted down when she realised the wound was starting to bleed out more strongly than before. "She's haemorrhaging!"
House turned his head, and she could feel his foot press down even harder on the accelerator. Wilson swore.
"Where the hell is the hospital around here?" House demanded.
Wilson shifted as House swerved onto the highway. "Desert Palms," he said quickly, pointing at an approaching sign. "Turn there."
Her abruptly pulled into the turning lane, and the scenery outside whizzed by. Cameron barely had time to consider their own impending death by collision when the brakes squealed, and they drew to a halt in front of the ER.
Wilson threw his door open, and an orderly who happened to be standing outside at that moment rushed over when he saw them.
"She has a gunshot wound to her lower abdomen," Wilson said abruptly.
"She's going into shock," Cameron added, her knees supporting Sara's head. She kept her jacket pressed firmly to the wound.
The orderly blinked at them for a split-second, then seemed to accept that they knew what they were talking about. "Okay, we're gonna need a gurney."
He called to someone behind him, and the doors to the ER immediately flew open, revealing two other men pushing an empty gurney. They pulled Sara carefully out of the vehicle, strapping her down.
"What the hell are you doing, were you born yesterday?" House barked at one of the men, as he attempted to remove Cameron's jacket.
She released a shaky breath as they finally rolled Sara into the hospital, a strand of hair clinging to her forehead. House stopped next to her, and Wilson followed the gurney inside.
"You okay?" House asked gruffly, keeping his gaze straight ahead.
She drew in another, careful breath in an attempt to slow her heartbeat, nodding slowly and surprised to hear him ask. "Yeah." She knew better than to return the question, but then he briefly, softly patted her arm, and it meant more than words ever could.
He returned to the driver's side of the vehicle, ostensibly to move the car, and she hoped that this was it. She hoped that it was finally over.