Not Facing This Alone

Warrick needed so badly to close his eyes, to squeeze them shut so tightly they burned, but he couldn't. Instead his open pupils continued to find Nick's anguished face broadcast on the computer screen. This had been going on for hours now, and Warrick had waved away all offers from the other CSIs to eat something, to drink something, to move away from the screen.

This was something Warrick had never been able to bring himself to think about. He had heard from Grissom about the time Nick was held at gunpoint, and had immediately pushed the story to the back of his mind, refusing to consider the alternative ending to the story. Nick was fine, he had always been fine, and he would always be fine.

Now there was a new story, and Warrick couldn't ignore it because it was happening right in front of his eyes, and the ending was still unknown. Suddenly Warrick found himself thinking of all the things he had never told Nick, how Nick was the best friend Warrick had ever had, how Nick was like a brother to him. Warrick felt like those grieving loved ones coming in to identify the body of their family member or their friend. He felt like crumpling to the ground, like screaming and pushing his fist through the computer screen.

But he had to stay strong, because Nick needed him. He realized Nick couldn't hear him where he was, but deep inside him he felt if he didn't leave Nick, Nick wouldn't leave him. So Warrick stayed standing in front of the computer, willing Nick to feel the presence of his friends as he twisted desperately in his wooden prison.

Then the shot rang out, and Warrick heard a guttural scream of "No!" from somewhere in the room. Even as his brain processed that it had been him who had screamed, Warrick threw himself against the screen, as if by pressing his face into the monitor he could bring the picture back. "Nick, c'mon bro, c'mon, you're fine, you've gotta be fine," Warrick chanted over and over. The other CSIs sprinted into the room, and Warrick felt strong hands on his back as his body crumpled.

Barely able to see the screen through the tears washing down his face, Warrick stared in desperate anguish at the still blackness. Suddenly the light flared up again, and Warrick could watch Nick breathe and move around again. "Oh God," Warrick gasped, his whole body shaking. "You're ok Nick. You're ok. Oh thank God, you're ok."

Warrick felt Catherine's arms circle around him from behind, and he sunk into her embrace, pressing his wet face into her shoulder. Her hands rubbed his back up and down, soothingly, and Warrick felt other hands touch his shoulders and grab his own hands. When he turned around again to face the screen, he and the other CSIs were physically linked to each other, everyone's hand holding someone's else's, everyone's arm around another.

Leads came in, wild goose chases commenced, but no matter how badly Warrick wanted to help he couldn't move from his position in front of the screen. If he left, and Nick…Warrick couldn't even bring himself to think the word. All Warrick knew was he had to be here every minute, because he had to know every minute how Nick was doing.

Grissom burst back into the room, his footsteps slamming onto the ground. "We know where he is!" he shouted, and Warrick knew he had to leave, had to be there when they found Nick. Sprinting to Grissom's car, Warrick's mind wouldn't slow down, tormenting him by creating a never-ending cycle of memories of Nick, watching football games, goofing off with Greg, late night confidences while agonizing over a particularly gruesome and difficult case, those stupid jokes Nick always told and the way they always made Warrick laugh anyway. Head in hands, Warrick's body went completely cold, his heart beating so hard and fast it was painful. He almost wished they would never get to the site, that they would just drive around forever in some sort of time loop and so Nick would never ever be…never ever not be alive.

They were the first car there, but within seconds more and more screeched up beside them. Various machines were hauled out of trunks, and a detector was shoved into Warrick's trembling hand. Warrick knew how to operate the detector, had used it more times than he could count, but in this moment between Nick being just fine and never being able to say good night to him again, Warrick could do nothing but stare at the piece of metal in his hand.

Grissom stepped up next to Warrick and gently turned the detector so it was facing the right way towards the ground. "Come look with me," Grissom murmured soothingly, placing a hand on Warrick's shaking arm and leading him over to an unoccupied patch of dirt.

Warrick found no comfort in the rhythmic sweeping motion of the detector moving from one inch of soil to another. He still could not shut off the rushing flow of memories in his head. The current stream was carrying the thoughts of all the cases he and Nick had worked on together. Grissom had frequently paired them up together, knowing how much they enjoyed spending time together and how well their work complimented each other. In the goriest and most depressing of cases, Nick and Warrick were able to keep each other from being completely overwhelmed, from giving in to the call to simply curl up in the corner when yet another child or pregnant woman was found murdered. Many a night had been spent with the two of them on the phone, talking about everything but the case they were working on. Each of them knew without asking that they were always welcome over at the other's house for a sports game, or a movie, or just a need to get away from the DNA and the blood samples and the person now on the autopsy table.

Suddenly Warrick's detector began beeping violently. He threw it aside and dropped to his knees, hands scrambling frantically in the earth. "Over here!" he screamed, and the other CSIs sprinted over and joined in the digging. Shovels somehow appeared and Warrick strained all his muscles lifting inordinate amounts of earth. He thought he felt something tear, but ignored it completely, just as he ignored the various cuts and bruises he quickly accumulated. If he could just dig fast enough, just lift off enough dirt, Nick would live.

Warrick caught a glimpse of something solid, and heard his shovel smack on something hard. Tossing the shovel aside, he used his hands to shove the dirt off the box he was quickly uncovering.

Out of the blackness, Nick's eyes suddenly met Warrick's. In those eyes, Warrick saw a million things he'd never wanted to see Nick feel, soul-shattering terror, overwhelming panic, and the knowledge he was going to die.

But he wasn't dead yet, and even in the continuing nightmare, relief flooded Warrick's body. "Nick!" Warrick yelled, pressing his hands against the glass. "Nickie, I'm here bro! We're gonna get you out! It's gonna be ok!" In that moment, Warrick flashed back to him sitting in the casino, facing his addiction once again, and Nick sitting down beside him so he wouldn't have to face it alone. Through his eyes, Warrick tried desperately to communicate that memory and those feelings, to let Nick know he had never been facing this alone.

"Warrick…" Grissom said cautiously, staring at Nick's prison, "you should back up." The words of intense protest died on Warrick's lips as his eyes fell on the explosives wired onto Nick's intended coffin. But Warrick did not move an inch.

"Grissom, I need to be here for him," Warrick insisted, still not moving his eyes from Nick's eyes or his hands from the glass.

"Warrick, you can still help us get him out, but you need to move back so the workers can get in," Grissom said gently, placing a hand on Warrick's shoulder. "We need to get him out quickly and safely." Warrick nodded, somehow getting his hands off the glass and stepping away.

Nick began to completely panic. His body thrashed around as he pounded desperately on the glass, screaming Warrick's name. "Oh God," Warrick sobbed, tears crashing down his face. He crouched down to the ground, clutching his knees to his chest and rocking back and forth, an unending flow of tears streaming over his cheeks.

Through the veil of water, Warrick watched the team working around the intended grave, hooking up ropes and pulleys. "Ok Warrick," Grissom yelled, and Warrick's whole body tensed as he rose to his feet. Warrick ran over and grabbed a rope.

Years later, Warrick knew, he would still be able to remember every detail of the moment. The way the coarse rope rubbed against his palms. The way ants came pouring out of the hole as the cover was lifted. How smoke and fire pounded the night. The arc of Nick's beaten body as it was taken from the intended grave. The exact second Warrick started breathing again.

Warrick tore over to where Nick's body had landed. Nick was having convulsions, his whole body thrashing. The medical technicians lifted Nick onto a stretcher and into the back of the ambulance. Warrick and Catherine immediately climbed in, and Warrick grabbed Nick's hand. Warrick didn't know what he was saying to Nick. A string of words and murmurs came out of Warrick's mouth, talking just to keep Nick calm and let him know he was safe. Warrick kept clutching Nick's hand, reassuring himself Nick was really there and alive. Nick's torn fingernails brought more tears to Warrick's eyes as he was forced to imagine Nick clawing at the confines of the coffin.

The other CSIs met them at the hospital. Nick was immediately taken off by a team of doctors, leaving the CSIs standing motionless in the waiting room. Warrick suddenly stumbled, his body sagging towards the floor. Grissom caught him and gently placed him in a waiting room chair. "Have you eaten anything?" Grissom asked, looking into Warrick's bloodshot eyes.

"No," Warrick mumbled. "Can't eat."

"Nick would want you to take care of yourself," Grissom said gently. Warrick stared at Grissom for a moment, then nodded once slowly. While Grissom went to get food, Warrick sat slumped in the chair, head in hands. He didn't glance up when Grissom handed him a sandwich, but simply tore a small piece of bread off and forced it into his mouth and down his throat.

The doctor came out of Nick's room, and Warrick leapt up, the sandwich falling to the ground. "How is he?" Warrick asked frantically.

"His body's taken quite a beating," the doctor replied. "On top of dehydration, he's been severely bitten by ants. But physically, he should make a complete recovery." Warrick could feel the tension slip away from him and the other CSIs. "He can have one visitor at a time."

"Go ahead Warrick," Grissom said.

"Thank you," Warrick whispered. He took a deep breath and walked into Nick's room.

Nick was lying in the hospital bed, his skin bright red, an IV in his arm. He was staring at the left wall, his only movement a fast blinking of his eyelids. His head pivoted when he heard Warrick's footsteps, and on seeing who it was his blinking slowed down and his muscles visibly relaxed. "Hey Warrick." His voice was a hoarse croak.

"Hey Nickie," Warrick answered, pulling a chair up next to the bed. "How're you feeling?"

"Better." Nick's eyes didn't meet Warrick's.

"Nick, you don't have to lie to me." Warrick lay his hand on top of Nick's.

"Absolutely terrible," Nick choked out, his hand turning up and gripping Warrick's. Tears leaked out of Nick's eyes, and though Warrick had so many things he wanted to say to Nick, but he knew what Nick needed right now was a distraction.

"Well, you know, there's some football games on tonight," Warrick said, fighting hard to keep his voice light. "Want me to put one on?"

"Yea, thanks," Nick answered, taking a deep steadying breath. Warrick clicked on the TV and channel surfed until he found a game. He and Nick sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the moving pictures. Then Nick quietly cleared his throat. "Have you got any plans tonight?"

"No, definitely not," Warrick answered, turning to look at Nick. "Why?"

Nick's eyes remained on the television screen. "Could you stay here tonight?" His voice grew quieter. "I…I don't think I can be alone."

"Of course," Warrick replied, his voice coming out choked. "I'll be here as long as you need."

The next few nights were the same, Warrick staying in Nick's room, channel surfing for football games. Nick didn't really talk much, except to occasionally comment on the game, and Warrick didn't push him. Nick was eventually released, and the entire CSI team showed up to escort him home. Nick joked around with everyone, laughing and smiling, but Warrick watched him closely. Warrick and Grissom drove Nick home, him insisting the whole way he was fine.

Warrick opened the door to his apartment and grabbed a beer from the fridge. Throwing himself into a chair, he sipped the beer and stared at the wall. Suddenly he put the drink down and reached for the phone. Before he could dial, a knock sounded at the door.

Warrick pulled the door open to reveal Nick standing on his doorstep. "Hey," Nick said, looking at the ground.

"Hey," Warrick replied, stepping aside so Nick could enter. Nick walked in and stood in the middle of the apartment. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"No thanks." Nick moved over to the couch and picked up one of Warrick's video game controllers.

Warrick walked until he was next to Nick. "You wanna play?"

Nick nodded, and both men settled down and began to play. For a few minutes, the only sounds in the room came from the television. Then Nick suddenly spoke up, his voice soft and low. "Warrick, I almost killed myself in there," Nick whispered, staring at the now inactive controller in his hands. Warrick kept his eyes on the screen for a few seconds, then placed his controller down and looked at Nick.

"I know," Warrick said, his voice cracking. "I was watching."

A look of intense shock came over Nick's face. "How were you watching?" His voice was shaking.

"There was a camera," Warrick said, his voice trembling uncontrollably. "It was broadcasting to us on our computer. I was the one watching when you-you shot the light." Warrick took a shallow, shuddering breath. "For a few horrible seconds, I thought you had killed yourself."

"Warrick, I…I'm so sorry. I had no idea." Nick lay the controller down on the floor and turned to face Warrick.

"Those were the worst seconds of my life," Warrick whispered, turning back to stare at the screen. "All I could think about was that I had just lost my best friend and I had never told him how much he meant to me."

There was a few seconds of silence before Nick spoke again. "When I was…in there…I was thinking about my life and what I wished I had done. And one of the things I thought of was how I had never told you that you were the best friend I'd ever had, and that you'd always been like a brother to me."

Warrick turned from the screen, and looked at Nick for a moment, tears in his eyes. Then he pulled Nick into a hug. "I love you bro."

"I love you too," Nick said. Then he reached for a controller and laughed, the first genuine laugh Warrick had heard out of him since they'd rescued him. "But that doesn't mean I won't kick your butt at this game."

"Bring it on," Warrick said with a smile, picking up his controller and turning back to the screen. "We got all the time in the world."