Title: The Double-Edged Sword

Author: PonchoLives

Disclaimer: I own nothing except the laptop on which this story was created.

Summary: Musings on hope or lack thereof from the perspectives of Nick and Sara. One shot on Gum Drops with a touch of Grave Danger.

Author's Note: There was just so much in this episode. I got struck with another idea and had to write about it.

"You think she's alive." It wasn't a question though her tone conveyed a sense of wondering amazement.

Nick nodded a bit guiltily. From almost the first moment that he had searched Cassie's room, something in his gut had told him that she was still alive though he had not dared voice his belief until now. "You don't?"

Sara hesitated, not sure if she should be completely honest or not. When she had heard him speak, seen the look on his face, the warning bells had gone off in her head. He was getting too close. He was getting attached to Cassie. In her heart, she wasn't surprised. She had been waiting for this to happen. While Nick had always been more prone to connect with victims, she had firmly believed that his recent near-death experience would only increase his propensity to do so and more than likely, the connection he formed would be intensified.

"None of her blood was found at the house." Nick pointed out in an effort to prove his hope not completely unfounded.

He could see it in her eyes. Her disbelief mixed with concern that he was becoming too attached and fear that it was already too late. No doubt she would blame it on his recent near-death experience, which he understood. It had been one of the most defining moments of his life and its ramifications would reach far into the future, affecting him in every way.

Nick wondered vaguely if she was thinking that he had some intense desire to play the White Knight - to ride his stallion into the face of danger and save this little girl. The rescued becomes the rescuer. But that was not what this was about. It had nothing to do with him. Not really.

"I think she was drugged and she was lucky if all they did after that was kill her." Sara replied, somewhat quietly. She didn't dare voice her fears at what this poor little girl might have suffered at the hands of her family's murderers.

Nick would have none of it though. "I don't think she was drugged. She's a smart little girl. She hid that cough medicine in her shoe. That's like hiding green beans in your napkin, you know?"

He finished with an amused chuckle which disturbed her. Nick was speaking as if he actually knew her - speaking as if she were still alive. The connection that Nick had formed with Cassie must have been stronger than she suspected and she feared for the consequences of that strong connection.

"I hope you're right, but everything in our experience tells us they're dead. All four of them." Sara said, keeping her tone sympathetic yet firm.

She wasn't trying to hurt him; she just wanted him to see reason. Situations like these very rarely had a happy ending and six months ago, Nick Stokes would not have been hanging his hopes on a technicality. So Cassie's blood was not in the house. That just most likely meant she had suffered a bloodless death or that she had been killed in a different location. To jump to the conclusion that she had somehow miraculously survived was dangerous.

"Doesn't mean we just give up." Nick looked away, a touch of defiance in his tone.

"No one's giving up." Sara was quick to say. "It's just that you're acting like you're gonna rescue a person, not recover a body, and on this job, that's just not usually the case."

All Sara wanted was to protect her friend. He had been doing so well. It slightly alarmed her how unwilling he was to face what was most likely the inevitable truth. For a split second, she wished that Grissom was here. He was one of those men who knew how to get his point across eloquently and yet logically. He would have been able to make Nick see reason. She was feeling inadequately prepared to handle this unexpected challenge.

"I was rescued." Nick countered quietly. He looked up at her with this heartbreaking smile so full with the need to hope that Sara almost couldn't bear it.

This is what it was all about in his mind. Nick wanted to offer Cassie the same lifeline that had been given to him. While he was in that coffin, it was all he could do to stay focused, to stay hopeful, and he knew that his having come through so many horrible situations before had made it possible to hope that he'd survive this one as well.

He would be the first to admit that his hope had wavered at times and he had contemplated pulling the trigger so as to end his torture. Every time that his thoughts strayed in that direction, though, that nagging sensation of hope would resurface and make him believe once again. And he had been rewarded. He wanted Cassie to have that same experience, the touch of a hand reaching out to save her from the overwhelming darkness.

Was it too much to ask for Sara to understand that? Why did she persist in trying to shatter his hopes? Deep down, he knew that she was trying to protect him but he didn't need to be coddled by her. He knew that he was right. He knew that Cassie was alive. He couldn't explain how, but he knew.

Sara was amazed at how Nick could hope so completely without any real proof that Cassie was alive. It was a gut feeling that he clung to, not just because he had been rescued, but because it was part of who he was as a person. Sara wondered if this, coupled with his first-hand experience of being a victim, is what made it so easy for Nick to reach out to others. Both of them had suffered through difficult times, yet Nick could reach out to those in pain with the greatest of ease while she at times had trouble communicating her feelings to those closest to her. Not for the first time did she envy his ability to connect with people despite the dangers it might bring.

She gave him a tiny smile of her own. "It was not your day to die."

Sara could say this with confidence after the fact. During the event, she had hope that Nick would be rescued but this wasn't based on some intrinsic knowledge. It had been based on physical proof that Nick was still alive. Trapped in a coffin and buried underground, but still alive. If there had been no live feed, would she have dared to believe, dared to hope? She honestly couldn't say.

"When it's your day, it's your day, you know?" Sara said almost apologetically.

"I don't think it was Cassie's day." Nick said firmly.

That was it. Their debate, if you could call it that, was over. A stalemate had been reached with neither one about to surrender their view.

"He won't be willing to accept the reality of the situation until he's has proof." Sara thought sadly.

Sara wondered which was the more difficult way to live - to be able to hope but have the fear of that hope letting you down or to be unable to let yourself truly hope at all without some kind of proof. Part of her wondered what it would be like to be able to hope like Nick did. She was sure that there must be no feeling quite like it in the world when that hope was fulfilled. She'd had a taste of that when Nick had finally been pulled free from his coffin.

But in spite of that, she could not let herself hope like that. There was just too much chance for a cruel disappointment and Sara had suffered enough of that for one lifetime. She hated to think what would happen to Nick if - when was more like it - they found a body instead of a living person.

Sara could not bring herself to hope like Nick did. It just wasn't in her. After all she had seen in this world, how could she?

"She won't be willing to allow herself to hope until she has proof." Nick thought sadly.

He wasn't willing to give up. If he could restore faith and hope in this world one little girl at a time, it would be worth it. Everything he had suffered would be worth it. It would have meaning. He had emerged from that coffin with a determination to heal and to regain the faith and hope he had let slip away. He was determined not to be overcome by the darkness of the world and the darkness within. And he wanted to help Cassie do the same. In order to do that, he had to first allow himself to believe that she was alive and he had to find her.

Part of him knew that Sara might be right. Cassie might be dead. Hope was a double-edged sword because while it gave you the strength to endure, it promised no certainty. It could be a very dangerous thing at times, and yet there was no feeling in the world like having your hope fulfilled. Nick knew. He had felt it.

Nick could not abandon himself to a hopeless rationale like Sara. It just wasn't in him. After all he had seen in this world, how could he?