Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters in this story. I'm just borrowing them for a little while and then I'll put them back where I found them. I promise.

Author's Note: Story starts when Nick wakes up in the hospital after the events of "Grave Danger". Yes, I know I'm a little late, but I've been working on this story idea for a while and I just needed to post it. I'd like to acknowledge Laurie Halse Anderson's fantastic book, Speak, where I got some of my ideas.

Mute

Chapter 1: Waking up is hard to do

It takes me a few minutes to realize I'm awake, that this is the reality now, and what I was feeling a minute ago, that was the dream. I can remember only snatches of the past few hours. I wasn't really aware for most of it, kept slipping back and forth between delirium and consciousness, freedom and captivity. But now I'm awake for sure. Sweaty, shaking all over, and dying of thirst, but awake.

The room is semi-dark. Smells like disinfectant. I can hear beeping in an even rhythm. White sheets. I lift my arm and see, amidst the round, red welts, a needle stuck inside my elbow, a line leading to a half-empty IV bag hanging from a pole next to the bed. When I glance around the room, I find that everything is curiously grayed out, colors muted.

I turn my head to the right and see Grissom sitting in a chair next to the bed. Startles me, I guess, because the rhythmic beeping picks up speed. But he's slumped sideways in the chair, cheek on his fist, glasses askew, asleep. There's a magazine, no--a journal, in his lap, open to a glossy, full-page closeup of an ant, partially covered by Grissom's hand. The vivid red carapace stands out brightly in a sea of shades of gray. The beeping cranks up another notch. Calm down, it's just a picture. Pictures don't bite.

Grissom looks defeated. His clothes are rumpled and dirty, hair messed up, face more deeply lined than I remember. There are scratches on his hands and side of his neck. My eyes, in jumping around the room, take this in, but I'm not really able to make sense of it.

I become aware of something else: that I really, really have to take a piss. Across the small room I spot a sink, and beside it a door. The bathroom. No problem. I can get there, no need to wake Sleeping Beauty. So I sit up. Big mistake. My vision swims, the room spins, left side feels like it's on fire. Not good. I don't know why my side hurts. I close my eyes and see ants, dancing on the stars and sparkles.

Nurses. Nurses help with stuff like this. Let's call a nurse. I fumble for the call button, find it on the side of the bed, and push it. While I wait for someone to show up, I lean forward on my arms, eyes closed, mouth filling with water, and concentrate on keeping the contents of my stomach on the inside.

"What do you need?" says a quiet voice, right beside my ear. All my muscles tense involuntarily, my eyes fly open and the little beeps now race like an alarm clock. I look up into the face of Nurse Rachet's twin sister. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," she says pleasantly. "Do you need something?"

With a glance at Grissom, still slumped in the chair asleep, I point at the bathroom door. The nurse smiles at me and says, "I'll help you." She disconnects and shuts off the monitor (silence from a heart monitor--somewhat disconcerting), hooks her arm under my elbow, and walks me to the bathroom, rolling the IV pole along with us. My side is killing me and my head is pounding, but I try to walk under my own power as much as possible.

She stands next to me, facing away, hand still under my elbow, while I drain my bladder. I'd ask her to leave, but I'm afraid I'd fall down and that would be somewhat more humiliating. When it comes time to wash my hands, I can't manage the faucet, so the nurse turns on the water for me, gets me some soap and a paper towel. My hands are shaking hard, a kind of a rolling tremor that makes them almost useless, but the nurse doesn't seem to notice. While drying my hands, I happen to glance up and spot a stranger in the mirror. Who is that guy, I wonder distractedly. He looks like shit. By the time I make the connection, that, oh, right, that's me, the nurse has opened the door for me and hustles me out of the bathroom.

The lights are on now, and Grissom is sitting up in his chair, blinking owlishly, glasses still crooked on his nose. A phalanx of nurses is bustling about replacing the sheets on the bed, one busily tucking the sheet into those "hospital corners" that I could never get the hang of, another shaking the pillow into a new case, while a third stuffs the dirty sheets into a laundry bag. I stand, swaying against Nurse Rachet, until they all troop out, leaving my bed perfectly tucked, pressed and folded.

Rachet--I think of her as Rachet because I have no idea what her real name is and don't have the energy to ask--pulls back the covers and I sit on the bed. I lay back on the pillow but I can't quite summon the strength to swing my legs up onto the bed so Rachet does it for me, pulling up the sheet and tucking it in around me like a swaddled newborn. I can't stand the tightness, the feeling of being pinned down, so I pull my arms out and lay them on top of the sheet, one hand gripping the other to stop the shakes. She reconnects the monitor, which begins to beep again (still way too fast), smiles at me, and leaves the room.

Grissom steps up next to the bed, tentative smile on his face. "Good to see you up and about," he says brightly. I have never known Grissom to say anything "brightly" before, but that's the best way to describe it. There is a little pucker between his eyebrows that gives away his true feelings.

I open my mouth but then can't think of anything to say so I close it again and instead give him a little smile and nod. He grabs my hand, squeezes it, and lets go.

"How are you feeling? Any--any pain?"

I'm thinking, my side hurts like hell, but I don't say that. I shrug and shake my head.

"Your parents went back to the hotel to get some rest. Your mom said she'd come back in the morning."

My parents are here? I didn't even realize--but of course they would be called, they would need to know what was happening, that I was missing. I vaguely remember hearing my mom's voice, during a period of semi-lucidity, but had thought that was another hallucination, like seeing myself on the autopsy table, like the ants now ghosting over my blistered skin.

"We're glad to have you back," Grissom tries again. The pucker is deeper, even though his smile has widened. I'm not fooled. He clears his throat. "Warrick--Warrick is coming in a little while. He--uh--he'll be happy to see you awake."

I still can't think of anything to say. My eyes flick away from him, to the bedside table, where there is a cup of water with a straw in it. I want to ask Grissom for a drink, but I can't force the words through my raw, desiccated throat, so I settle for gesturing feebly toward the cup.

"You want a drink? Sure." He picks up the cup and holds it for me when I can't get my hands to stay still enough to grasp it. "Do you need anything else?" he asks, but I'm not really listening. My eyes--I can't quite seem to keep them focused on one thing for more than a few seconds--have skipped away from his worried face and locked in on the journal, still open on the chair. Grissom's eyes follow mine to the full-page glossy of the ant.

"Oh," he says, mouth twisting. He quickly sets the cup down and scoops up the magazine, shutting it so the cover with the title "Entomologist Monthly" shows. But there is a picture of the ant there as well, so he rolls the journal up in his hands and shoves it into his jacket pocket. He turns around to see that I am still looking at him.

"Sorry about that," he says awkwardly. "I was just reading about--well--I was getting more information about--They're quite fascinating, actually. Did you know that--um . . ." he trails off, watching me nervously. I finally made Grissom nervous. How about that? The tables certainly have turned.

He watches me uncomfortably for a moment, chewing the inside of his lip. I want to say something, something reassuring, like, "It's ok, no problem," but my voice doesn't seem to be cooperating. There is a lump in my throat that I suspect has nothing to do with thirst.

The silence stretches out uncomfortably. I close my burning eyes and turn my face away from him. I can sense that he is still watching me, but I don't open my eyes. I try to relax my hands and even out my breathing, desperately pretending to be asleep. After a moment I feel a hand on my shoulder. A gentle squeeze, then a rustling and a slight breeze as Grissom leaves the room. My breath comes out in a sigh of relief.

I hear voices in the hall, Grissom saying, "Can I talk to you?" then a female voice answering. I can't make out the words anymore, maybe they moved away from the door, but I can hear the rise and fall of the intonation patterns. Their voices sound concerned.

I try to listen, but it's so hard to concentrate. My head feels fuzzy, and the ants riding on stars and sparkles are back, even though I'm lying down now. My arms and legs feel like they're floating. Not bad. I could just float away, freed from the box, freed from gravity even. The voices fade away and I drift off into oblivion.

More to come. . .

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