Requital 11/11 (Complete!)
And that's a wrap, kids! This was supposed to be two chapters, but I'm serving it up in one giant chunk anyway.
Notes at the bottom.
Catherine had been well beyond her protocol and decorum boiling point before the sound of a gunshot sent those outside the warehouse into a frenzy.
She exchanged a desperate look with Warrick as they simultaneously reached for their own guns, but were stopped by Brass who gestured for his men to enter the premises.
"Hold up. We go first."
Her fury at Grissom for ditching his comm devices had dissolved into pure fear by this point. By the looks of Warrick, he was thinking the same thing. Gripping her gun, she, Warrick and Sara moved into the warehouse behind the group of cops and were shocked at what they saw. Nothing could have prepared her for the scene before them.
Grissom was kneeling at a sickeningly familiar bathtub setup and putting his coat around a very bloody and unconscious Nick, while Mrs. Mason lie sprawled on the floor with the certain slackness she instantly recognized as death.
Oblivious to the police around them, the trio ran straight for their friends.
Catherine was confused at the sight of Grissom wrapping his coat around Nick's bloody torso but not attempting to stanch the wound. "Gil! What happened? Is he—"
He didn't appear to have even noticed their presence, all his attention focused on Nick. Finally Warrick put his hand on the supervisor's shoulder, causing the older man to almost jump out of his skin. Catherine guessed his ears had still been ringing from the gunshot.
Suddenly, his head shot up and glanced around, almost panicked, as if he just remembered something. He spotted the Captain quickly. "Brass! Get everyone away from that SUV and call the bomb squad – it may be packed with explosives." He stopped and pointed at a tape recorder lying next to the judge's wife. "And there could be a trigger device inside of that."
Catherine found herself unable to wrap her brain around the notion that the vehicle they were just picking through could explode at a moment's notice; instead, she was stuck on the sheer madness of the scene unfolding before her eyes. Who shot her? What had it come down to? What in the hell happened to Nick? Grissom didn't seem to be in the mood for explanation, but then again she couldn't blame him.
"He's not shot… he's…" the supervisor trailed off, looking at his companions. Warrick and Sara stood there gaping, seemingly dumbfounded to the point of inaction.
Grissom seemed to regain his bearings and spoke again, tersely. "We need to get out of here, now. Warrick. Help me."
The taller man had moved around to lift Nick's upper body, while Grissom took the lower. His jeans appeared to be sopping wet and covered with mud. They got him out of the tub and set him on the floor for a minute so Grissom could say something to the officers who would remain at the scene.
Warrick whipped out his cell phone, intending to call for an ambulance. They all knew the nearest hospital was back in Vegas.
Grissom turned back to them and stopped Warrick. "Cath, go get the Denali and bring it up to the door. We don't have time to wait for a bus."
Brass, in between directing the other cops in the warehouse, nodded. "We'll give you a couple escorts – be back in no time. Sara, you come with me."
By the time she was pulling the vehicle around, Warrick and Grissom had already made it to the door with Nick. Leaving the engine running, she hopped out and helped the two men maneuver Nick into the back seat. Then, Catherine climbed into the back, while Warrick drove and Grissom rode shotgun. She situated his upper body so it was lying across her lap with one of her arms wrapped securely over his chest to hold him steady as they lurched forward. The police escorts surrounding them blared their sirens.
She gently held his head with her other hand, just now noticing the nasty bruise running down from his right temple. She ran her fingertips over his sweaty forehead.
Surprised, she suddenly found him staring back at her.
His cloudy eyes were almost black, pupils dilated wide. They skated over her lazily, unseeing.
"Look at me. C'mon. Nicky?"
When they sunk to half-mast, Catherine was determined not to let him fall back under.
"Nick, sweetie, stay awake for me. Please."
She felt like she was talking to Lindsey all the sudden. But it was only natural: Nick looked smaller and younger than ever before.
"Damn it," she cursed softly when he ignored her pleas. She caught Warrick's worried gaze in the rear view mirror and wished she could give some sort of reassurance.
They still weren't even sure what happened. Grissom hadn't said a word since they started driving. But as she took in her colleague's slumped posture, hand holding his forehead, she knew it wasn't going to be anything simple. How that woman managed to orchestrate this entire thing…
Catherine didn't even want to think about what Grissom must have gone though seeing the Millander murder set-up. It took some seriously twisted psyche to pull off something like that, and she was damn glad that woman was dead – no matter how it happened.
She held onto Nick a little tighter and closed her eyes wearily, her spent adrenaline finally catching up with her.
Warrick clicked the volume button up two more notches on the remote control.
Now, he figured, even the guy four rooms over would probably be able to hear when the Red Raiders scored. He looked at the unconscious figure on the bed.
"You don't know what you're missing out on, bro. Your Techies are up 11 on the 'Horns."
He sighed as Nick, predictably, didn't stir. To say things had been tense around here would be quite the understatement. His friend hadn't moved a muscle for three days.
Hodges had put the call in as they neared the hospital that Mrs. Mason had used a veritable buffet of nightshade. It was as if she couldn't decide which to use so she simply dumped them all in at once. They found traces of jimsonweed and belladonna, along with something that resembled black nightshade, but the results weren't entirely conclusive.
Most of what the doctors said at the onset had gone over Warrick's head. He may be a scientist, but his medical knowledge was pretty limited. Grissom seemed to go along with it, so at least he could trust the idea that they were giving Nick the right treatment. One thing he understood for certain was that his friend had been mere hours from never waking up when he was brought in. Apparently this kind of poisoning is very treatable, but the sheer amount he was given, coupled with the delayed medical attention, could have sent him into a coma and eventually death.
But Warrick absolutely was not going to go there. It was just hard not to let his mind wander as he waited over the past few days.
Thus far, the doctors had mostly worried about renal failure, and Nick was put on dialysis to remove the impurities from his blood. There was also some damage to his stomach lining which they said can be fixed with time and a bland diet. He was constantly hydrated and re-hydrated with various intravenous cocktails. He was poked, prodded, x-rayed and God knows what else. And through it all, hadn't twitched an eyelash.
The doctors said he was improving, at least according to his latest kidney tests, but the only thing Warrick knew is that his best friend still hadn't woken up.
His fever was still replaced by the gray clamminess of his skin. Not to mention a concussion and a mass of size 8 boot prints on his ribcage.
Warrick felt anger churning inside him again at the thought of that woman. He briefly recalled a conversation with Nick and Sara from several years ago after a case with a man killed on an airline. Sara had said she could never take a life, Nick wasn't sure, and Warrick had no qualms about saying 'absolutely, if need be.' There was no question that if Nick hadn't already done it, he'd go finish her off right now. Of course, the comment to his friends was mostly in reference to self-defense. But not now. That's how raw his fury had been… and still was.
He looked back at the TV, glad to see Tech had increased their lead. Running a hand through his hair, he wondered who was coming in to sit with Nick next. It wasn't like him to forget.
Since Warrick had assumed the self-appointed post of primary watchdog, he had a pretty good idea of who visited and when. The times his boss was here, Warrick had never seen him look so haggard. He picked hours to visit when it was most likely that no one else would be around. The supervisor had been here when he came by a few hours ago… just sitting by the bed, elbow on the side table, head in hand. The posture never changed. Warrick figured the only way out for Grissom was Nick waking up and being himself.
Grissom had hardly talked about the incident inside the warehouse. He gave a statement to the day shift CSIs who ultimately processed the scene, but had no desire to discuss anything with the rest of Graveyard beyond the minimal details. Warrick couldn't imagine though, walking into that place and thinking Nick had died just like the rest of Millander's victims. But even the initial sight just had to be—
He looked up as Jim Brass entered the small room. Well, that answered his question, he thought. It was also his cue to leave. Unfortunately, crime didn't stop around Vegas and he had to get back to the lab.
"Jim." Warrick stood up, stretching the kinks out of his back.
The detective looked at the television. "Wow, an upset in the making. He's gonna be pissed he slept through this."
"Don't I know it. He'll probably blame me for not turning it up loud enough."
The younger man lingered by the bed, hesitant to leave.
Brass put a hand on his shoulder and gave a meaningful look.
"Hey. I'll call you."
Warrick simply nodded, grabbing his coat and hoping his shift would be interrupted by good news.
None of his previous nightmares smelled so sterile.
Nick's mind had been on quite the magical mystery tour of sights and sounds during recent states of consciousness. But somehow, this one seemed different. Besides the odd smell, the lack of blinding stomach pain was a welcomed and unexpected change. But… why the hell did everything else seem to hurt, then?
He sifted back through horrific pain and images, wondering which, if any, were real. But the more he thought about it, the more realistic each became.
That food… that woman… the car…
And then nothing.
The last sliver of a real memory he had was trying to call Grissom. He almost didn't want to learn the outcome, but judging by the soft mattress under his body, it couldn't be completely bad.
That's when quiet, familiar voices in the room suddenly penetrated his consciousness.
"Y'know, I was Brian Wilson for Halloween once."
"You were not."
"Hey, I lived in Cali. I surfed. You don't think I'd make a good Beach Boy?"
"Greg, you'd make a much better Monkee."
He willed his heavy lids to open and a couple of very blurry Sara and Greg-shaped figures swam into view. Nick let out an inadvertent groan as the light hit his eyes.
"Uh, oh my God. Nick? Uh, let me, uh…"
He licked his dry lips. "Greggo…"
Wow. Nick could hardly believe that buzzsaw was his voice.
"Take it easy, I'm gonna go get someone."
"Greg? Just press the…" Sara attempted, but their younger friend had already dashed out of the room. "Well, I'll do it."
She hit the call button and smiled at Nick, taking his IV-laden hand in hers.
"About time you graced us with your presence," she smiled. "How do you feel?"
Nick considered how to sum up the feeling of leaden limbs, but gave up. "How do I look?"
Sara rubbed his hand. "Never better."
A petite, red-headed nurse entered the room and smiled at the sight.
"Mr. Stokes, glad to see you're finally awake. I'll go get the doctor."
She passed Greg on the way back out; he looked at the nurse and then back at Sara, blushing.
"I forgot about the…" He gestured to the call button.
"No problem, we got it."
Nick suddenly decided he had to know what happened before the doctor got back and made them leave. He couldn't stand being in the dark any longer, not when his head was finally clear.
"What…" he tried to clear his throat, but his mouth was not cooperating. Didn't they have water around here somewhere?
"You're gonna be fine, Nick. You were lucky." Sara had just assumed he wanted a rundown of his health. Honestly, he could care less. He needed to make sure—
Nick was disappointed as he saw the doctor enter the room and politely ask his friends to leave so he could be examined.
Sara leaned down and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Wow, he must have really had a rough go. "We're gonna go call the lab, Nick. See ya in a bit."
His eyes drooped on their own violation as the doctor talked him through the past three days' treatments, the prognosis, and the tests he was going to perform now. Nick's mind wandered; Grissom wasn't here with the others… why? He was probably disappointed that Nick had been gullible enough to fall for all of that woman's traps. He felt like such an easy target.
Suddenly Nick wanted nothing more than to fall back asleep again, hoping that when he woke up everything would have fixed itself.
"I swear to God, 'Rick," Nick paused to swing at the softball sailing towards him, "you pop up another one and I'm gonna start callin' you Willie Mays Hayes."
Warrick smirked in the cage to Nick's left. "Yeah, well, this isn't Major League, so don't expect me to drop and give you 20 pushups."
Nick laughed as he connected with another swing. "Twenty? Bro, this is a batting cage – it's a machine lobbing 'em right out there, and you've already spoiled three pitches. You should give me a hundred."
Saying it felt good to get out of the house would be a gross understatement. Nick, as expected, had been given extended time off work; now that he was feeling more like himself, he was going absolutely stir crazy waiting for the all-clear.
The taller CSI was still trying to defend his less-than-stellar performance thus far.
"Hey, it's been a long winter. Do you think A-Rod hits 30 bombs on the first morning of spring training?"
"I think he remembers how many outs make up an inning."
Warrick shot him a dirty look and popped up yet another pitch.
From the corner of his eye, Nick noticed that his friend had stopped batting and was looking at something out in the parking lot.
"Looks like we're not the only ones who need some practice."
The Texan turned in the direction of his friend's gaze and was surprised to see their supervisor close his door and walk casually up the sidewalk. He immediately felt anxious; he hadn't exchanged more than a few sentences with Grissom ever since he woke up in the hospital three weeks ago. Even then, it was only the standard health and wellness small talk. His boss seemed to have immersed himself in work – but Nick knew that's how he tended to deal with anything in his life. It would probably feel strange for him not to.
"Hey, Gris." Nick offered.
Grissom reached the edge of the cage and leaned against the fence, taking in the appearance of his colleagues and their surroundings.
"Brooks Robinson once said that he never took a ground ball to the face but had a mouthful of fake teeth because of these things," he said, pointing to the old facility.
Nick smiled at the familiarity of the response. Grissom much preferred a random, applicable factoid over a simple 'hello' any day.
Warrick didn't seem as amused. "What in the world did Brooks Robinson need to visit a batting cage for?"
Nick was grateful when the next series of pitches suddenly began. At least he could look distracted. He still hadn't fully come to terms with what happened… he couldn't believe it when Warrick told him everything. He had no memory of shooting her. And he still had no idea how his boss felt… it had put him in a constant state of unease.
It wasn't until he smacked the final ball that he realized his two companions had been speaking quietly with each other the entire time.
He leaned his bat against the fence and stretched out his sore shoulder muscles, still not quite used to using them again. A silence fell over the trio, until Warrick finally cleared his throat and spoke. "Well I think I'm gonna go break this twenty and get some change. I need a couple more rounds in this thing."
Nick wasn't fooled. He'd spent ample time at the cages with the other man and knew Warrick never showed up without enough quarters to last all day. This was Warrick's subtle way of giving the other two space to talk. He was, if anything, perceptive… but also a great friend.
"Better believe it, bro. You looked like Hodges on that last swing."
Warrick scowled at the comment wiped a bit of sweat from his brow. "I'm pickin' up some drinks too. You guys want anything?"
"Yeah, gimme a Waco."
Nick grinned as Warrick rolled his eyes in response. His friend hated when he used the ancient nickname for Texas' most famous beverage.
"Right. One Dr Pepper for the antiquated cowboy. Gris?"
"I'm fine, thanks Warrick."
They watched in silence as the tall CSI walked up the dirt path towards the building that housed the indoor cages, bowling alley and arcade.
When Grissom learned Nick wasn't at home this afternoon, he'd known exactly where to look. Nick wasn't allowed to do anything more than the lightest physical activity. And although he technically wasn't supposed to be outside, the older man knew Nick couldn't resist breaking out the bats on a sunny afternoon like this. He also hadn't been surprised to find Warrick alongside him.
The supervisor watched in silence as Nick swung away at the next series of pitches. He looked like a college kid wearing his backwards Texas Rangers cap.
"How're you hittin' 'em?"
"Fine at first, but a lot of ground balls in the last set." Nick wiped his forehead on his shirtsleeve. "I get tired so quickly."
"It's normal, Nick. Don't push it."
The younger man let out a harsh sigh. "I'm sorry, Gris."
"Hey, Nick, you don't have to apologize. I just don't want you to have a setback."
Grissom watched, confused, as he averted his gaze.
"I, uh… wasn't talking about that."
Well, here we go.
The younger man dove right in. "I guess I didn't think twice about trusting her early on. I just made it easy for her. I put you all in danger."
Grissom could hardly believe what he was hearing. A psychotic woman drugged him to the brink of death and he was apologizing?
"Your senses were dulled by the potency of that poison. You had a raging fever… were hallucinating half the time. Nick, I shouldn't have to tell you that nothing was ever your fault." He waited, watching for some type of reaction. Nick seemed to mull it over as if the other man had just made the whole thing up. "What I should be telling you is how amazingly you acted under the circumstances."
He might as well have suggested he was giving up forensics for professional hula dancing, judging by his colleague's reaction.
"By the time we were in the warehouse, you were so sick that no one knows how you woke up, let alone aimed and fired a gun. She underestimated you, Nick. She didn't check your pockets for a phone because she didn't think you'd be strong enough to do it. She didn't hesitate leaving the gun with you because she thought you wouldn't have the wits to fire it."
You exceeded every expectation and then some, he thought. But it seemed Nick was still reeling in self-doubt.
"What about her son? I shot her… I killed her, Gris. She could have gotten help. She could have still been a good mother. Now he doesn't have anyone."
Grissom wasn't surprised Nick would be concerned about those left behind.
"She moved to Vegas just for this, Nick. She planned and executed this knowing she wouldn't survive it. She didn't want to. And we don't know if she ever would have recovered. The only thing we know for sure is, that bomb was very real – and she intended to kill everyone there."
Except me, he shuddered, remembering her wish for him to drown alone in his guilt.
Nick still wasn't convinced, so the older man pressed on.
"And as for her son, he has other family. We've met them. Staying with her wasn't healthy anymore, regardless."
"I just… I should have seen it earlier." He watched as Nick slipped a few more quarters in the machine.
"The only thing you did was save everyone at that warehouse."
Grissom silently admonished himself. The malicious intent behind her words notwithstanding, Mrs. Mason had a point. Did Nick sacrifice without knowing his value? Did he realize how vital he was to this team? The older man didn't understand why Nick considered himself to be so expendable, and even when he does something incredible, brushes it off.
He didn't know how to make it clear. His pride. His admiration. Why couldn't he just get the words out?
The silence between them extended as Nick swung his bat and Grissom struggled for meaningful articulation. He cursed his ongoing ineptitude at dealing with people. And this wasn't just "people," it was a man he'd worked closely with for the last who-knows-how-many years. Grissom watched as Nick solidly connected with another pitch, sending it screaming into the catch-net…
…and then he realized the answer was right in front of him.
"You know, Nick," he started, the younger CSI still spraying pitches all over the cage. "Baseball purists can argue for weeks about who the five or so greatest teams in history are. But one that leaves no room for debate is the Big Red Machine – the Cincinnati teams of the mid 70s."
"Yeah," Nick grunted out, swinging again. "I wouldn't dispute that one."
"It was a magical team, Nick. These days, clubs with enough money can just buy themselves a replica. Back then, though, it was really one of those 'stars aligned' moments. It was such an eclectic mix of talents and personalities, you almost had to wonder how they stuck together. They had big names and bigger names... but everyone had a role."
"I remember. '76 is one of my dad's favorite World Series. He loved seeing the Yankees get swept."
"Yes. But when Tony Perez was traded in 1977, the Big Red Machine fell apart. Even though it was still a team with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan – three guys recently named to baseball's All Century Team – it was the end of that dynasty. Rose had the hustle and headfirst slides. Bench had the arm and the acclaim. Morgan had the speed and the MVP awards. But Perez had been the glue – the real heart of that team."
Grissom paused briefly, trying to gauge his colleague's reaction. Nick had stopped swinging and now stood, bat on shoulder, turned towards him with questioning eyes.
"Now, Perez is a Hall of Famer himself, a phenomenal player with an abundance of accomplishments… but it was his other assets that were forgotten. When he was traded, fans thought, 'well, we still have everyone else… it'll be fine.' They couldn't have been more wrong. I don't think even Perez realized his true value until he saw the mess the Reds had become without him. The organization calls that trade the worst mistake in their history.
"It's easy to be overshadowed or to feel expendable when surrounded by a great team. But a great team is always the sum of its parts – all of them."
The only sound between them was the thwack of the forgotten pitch hitting the canvas-covered backstop. Nick, who was now staring at the dusty ground behind the gate, was a pretty easy read most of the time; Grissom could tell it was all sinking in.
Nick finally looked back up, his eyes shining and voice slightly choked. "I've actually heard the same argument made about their manager, Sparky Anderson."
Grissom smiled. He should have known Nick would say something like that… though it seemed they finally neared an understanding. "Ahh, but Sparky always said, 'without such great players, I would be nothing… just a guy in a dugout.'"
He didn't respond, just shook his head and reached for his bat.
His CSI looked back up at him, waiting.
I couldn't be more proud of you.
I couldn't be more appreciative of you.
I couldn't begin to tell you what a wonderful colleague, friend, and person you are.
I couldn't have lived with myself if you had died without knowing it. I guess she was right about one thing.
"Hurry back," he finished.
Nick looked back at him with a small, unsure smile bordering on embarrassment. Grissom didn't blame him – he'd just used up his year's quota of people skills. That was shocking in itself. But they both needed it. He walked over to the autobox and slipped in a couple more quarters as Nick resumed his batting stance.
"Don't spend too much longer out here. You're not even supposed to be outside."
"My Dreamcast controller is out of batteries."
"Tell Warrick to stop and get you some on the way home."
"Fine, but it's not my fault if he ends up staying over to play Madden during shift."
Grissom merely raised an eyebrow. "Now remember, you have a goal, here. I've already penciled you in to lead off against Day Shift opening weekend. Ecklie actually thinks they have a shot now."
"That's what the Yankees thought in '76, too."
"I know. And hey – no more of those office politics mercy runs – let's go for the shutout this time around."
Six weeks later, they did.
... .. ... ... ... ...
Edit: By popular demand -- the softball game mentioned above is now its own story. Check out "Napoleon's Battle Plan" in my profile.
... ... ... ... ... ...
Whew! Ok, time to spill the beans. This fic was inspired by (and written entirely for) my favorite cohort, who's having a rather stressful autumn and just needed a little NickyWhumpage. I promised her some old-school Mulderfic last year and never got around to it, so I hope this sufficed. Dearest, you wondered how this iboneki person (by the way that's actually "(i) kenobi" backwards… not "I bone Nicky," though your way certainly has its appeal) got into our heads. Well, now you know (and yes, I practically had a neon sign with my name flashing during this last chapter with the TT and Reds references, but… I was telling you at the end anyway. So nyah!). If you're going to throw things at me, at least let them be soft? JudgesWife sez stop worrying! I hope you liked it.
But the fact that so many other people seemed to enjoy it gives me lots of warm fuzzies. Writing your first official fanfic, flying without a beta, and unable to consult your best friend because she's the one you're playing the dirty trick on makes for some frustrating moments, so I just wanna say thanks to everyone who took time to review and give suggestions and feedback. Extra points to those who stuck with it from the beginning when I had no idea where it was going. Special thanks goes to Beth for being the coolest celebrity penpal ever, and also to Kristen and Ann for their , thanks again all, and take care.