A/N: hey there loyal readers! i know it's been a while since i've updated, but frankly, this was the hardest chapter to write and ended up being the longest of them all, so can you really blame me? yup, so here it is gang: the last chapter. i've had the most fun ever writting this story and reading all of your reviews, so i hope that the conclusion meets any and all expectations - and also, stay tuned for the summary of the up and comming sort of lead-off of 'no time for mistakes', which will be included at the end of this chapter. so, what are you waiting for? read, review, and enjoy, it's been fun:):):):)
(p.s: a special part of this goes out to sherryw: sorry for the wait - i hope what follows makes up for it:):)! )
Chapter 12 - The Nightmare Has Come and Gone
Greg sighed in tired relief as the nurses and doctors finally left his room, throwing it into a distantly remembered silence. He would have liked to finally be able to take a long, deep breath, but just because he was in the hospital, the entire mess finally over, didn't mean that everything was going to be fine again, at least not right away – and that included broken bones miraculously being mended, which his ribs most certainly were not. Along with the silence came what he had been dreading most: the time to think about what had transpired over a mere six hours.
He turned his face away from the door to his room, gazing numbly out his window and wishing feverently that the pain meds he had been put on had been enough to put him in a thoughtless daze, one in which he would not replay moments like the ransom video tapping in his head; one where he wouldn't have to watch Nick constantly put himself in harm's way, all for nothing, until his efforts finally caused his heart to stop – one in which he wouldn't recall how deeply and completely he had failed his friend.
His eyes began to sting once more and the lump that had formed in his throat made breathing even more difficult;Greg could've stopped it, somehow, but he didn't – Nick had died, even if just for a moment, because he hadn't been strong enough. For all he knew, Nick had died en route to the hospital or in surgery and had not been as lucky as before…
All of his fear and emotional turmoil came crashing down on him at once in one swift blow, and he couldn't hold it in any longer. He let loose one gut-wrenching sob that echoed off the walls of his room, launching back to his assault his ears as he felt the pillowcase quickly grow wet next to his face. His body trembled and shook, his hand instinctively pressing gently up against his protesting ribs as he half-heartedly struggled for control, his eyes screwed shut in a failed attempt to stem the flow of his tears.
It was because of this and the other distractions that he didn't even notice the person that had rushed to the chair positioned near his head; he was caught up in the hurricane that was his thoughts, able only to weep and wish that it was over. However, when he suddenly felt gentle hands on his bare shoulders and a soft voice calling to him, he instantly knew who was with him, and pushed himself into her embrace, all but curling up against her as she slowly rocked him back and forth, muttering reassurances that he was going to be alright, that he was safe now, that she was there for him.
Sara's hand had just been reaching for the doorknob to Greg's room when she heard it: a cry of such utter sadness and despair that it made her weak in the knees just to hear it. She exchanged a quick worried look with the Sanders, their eyes urging her to open the door. Hardly needing to be convinced, she quickly but quietly turned the metal knob and swung the door inwards, only to momentarily freeze at the sight before her. Lying in his hospital bed, Greg's head was turned away from them as tremors raced through him, the sound of his sobs filling the room to unbearable heights.
Without a second thought she rushed forward to seat herself in the chair that blocked his view of the window, noting sadly that he didn't even notice her as he cried. With semi cautiousness, she placed her hands gently on his shoulders, not failing to notice the tenser bandage wrapped tightly around his middle before she focussed on his face.
"Greg? Greg, can you hear me? Greg talk to me," she said, surprised at the sturdiness of her voice when the sight of the man made her want to break down in tears herself. She had never, ever seen Greg even remotely close to the state he was in at that moment. Truth be told, if someone had told her yesterday that he would be like this, or even that morning, she would have shaken her head with a laugh, saying that they obviously didn't know Greg very well. The Greg she knew was always upbeat, always joking around, always optimistic, never really down. And yet here he was, hardly able to breath for the anguish that had enveloped him, his body trembling uncontrollably under her hands. She swallowed hard, looking up at his parents who had gone over to his other side, the expressions on their faces ones of matching anxiety and sadness, unsure of how to confront what was happening.
She was even more surprised when without uttering a single word or even opening his eyes, Greg suddenly pushed himself closer to her, pressing his face into her shirt at collarbone level while his shaking hands gripped her arm tightly. Knowing that it was what he needed, and most of all what she longed to do, she held him tightly letting his tears soak her T-shirt while her own soaked his already matted hair.
"It's alright Greg, I'm here now. We're all here for you. It's going to be alright." Still not opening his eyes, he just barely managed to choke out the question that he feared most to ask, but couldn't bear to wait any longer to do so.
"Is – is Nick…alive?" He could hear the smile in her voice as she spoke the three best words in the English language.
"Yes, he is." He gripped her arm a little tighter, but if it was starting to hurt she never said a thing about it. She only hugged him tighter, making him ever more thankful that he had someone like Sara, and eventually the rest of the team, to be there for him, someone to bring him peace after the storm.
His trembling subsided a little, and as he sat there and let it all out, he let her continuing words of comfort wash over him, each one filling him with a calmness that he hadn't thought was ever going to be possible again. However, there was another very much recognizable voice ringing in his head, one that disrupted the calmness with, despite Sara's reassurances, a not so small wave of sadness with the words it had spoken less than an hour ago in something that could barely be called a whisper for all the volume it held, though it's message was one he would never forget as long as he lived.
What are friends for?
Taking one last glance at Catherine and Warrick, Grissom stepped inside the dimly lit room, gently shutting the door behind him before turning towards the bed that was up against the wall to his right. Though he had spent the past hour preparing himself for what he would see and reminding himself constantly that Nick was going to be okay, he found that his muscles froze and his knees locked in place as he stared open-mouthed at the shell known as Nick.
Though he wasn't nearly as pale as when he had been resuscitated and the awful stillness of his chest had been replaced by a reassuring and steady rise and fall, the stillness of his limbs, the lax yet pained expression on his face and the layers of bandages gave the impression that he was just barely clinging to the threads of life. He did everything short of using his hands to move his legs forward until he finally managed to shuffle over to the empty chair on Nick's left hand side, falling stiffly onto the slightly padded surface with a small grunt. It was another minute or so before he could bring himself to raise his eyes from his hands to the edge of the bed, from there to Nick's bandaged arm, and finally, from the arm to his face which was drawn and haggard, a sharp contrast to the face he had seen just that morning.
Careful not to pull out the I-V's and blood transfusion tubes leading to various places in his hand and arm, Grissom gently took hold of the hand closest to him, holding onto to it partly for comfort but mostly for subconscious reassurance that his fingers were still warm and had not gone cold and clammy like they would have if Nick had –
His grim thoughts were interrupted by a small, barely audible grunt, the sound being so quiet and so brief that he wasn't sure if he had simply imagined it. Almost not daring to hope, he returned his gaze to Nick's face, not looking away. It was almost another two minutes before a slight frown found its way to Nick's face and the hand Grissom held gave a small twitch, the action followed closely by a dream-woven murmur.
The breath practically caught in his throat as he leaned closer, gripping Nick's hand a little tighter in his without even realizing it as he finally found his voice.
"That's it, I'm here. Common Nicky, common – you can do it, it's okay. You're safe now, all you gotta do is open your eyes." However, relief and anticipation quickly turned to worry when Nick's frown deepened, beads of sweat gathering on his brow as his breathing and heart rate increased. He felt his hand begin to shake in his grip and he looked anxiously from it back to Nick's face as a single word escaped the weak man's lips, so quietly that Grissom had to strain to hear it over the fast beeps of the heart monitor.
The attic was dark, and quieter than it had been all morning, the empty space around his position on the floor seeming to act as a vacuum on sounds that should have been clear, sounds like his harsh breathing and the hammering of his heart against his ribcage. He didn't know where they had put Greg's body, only that they had removed it from their cell around twenty minutes ago – or was it thirty? Wait, hadn't they just left? He couldn't remember; the numbness that his mind had taken to after Greg's death had made quite certain that his conception of time was shot – making it so that he had no idea how long he had been sitting there when he suddenly felt as though he were not alone.
He tried but failed to force himself into a sitting position to get a look at whoever was there with him, his eyes scouring the impenetrable darkness fruitlessly. He felt as though he should be afraid, but for some reason he felt no fear, but a strange comfort in the unknown presence.
That was when he heard it, a voice that he was glad but horrified to hear all at once, its owner being a man that he had thought to be standing outside this place, behind the safety of the police cars.
"Nick…" His heart sunk – the voice was Grissom's. He didn't even need to ask what he was doing there; there would only be one explanation for how he could have possibly ended up in there: he had attempted to make the same deal he had tried at the beginning, trading himself for Greg and Nick, and Forman had gone back on his word to let them go and had simply taken Grissom as well. Nick shook his head angrily, at the same time fighting down his newfound guilt – his mentor was probably going to die as well, and again it would be because of him.
The man's voice had sounded as though he had already been hurt in some way or other and Nick wished now more than ever that he were able to tell where he was so that he could help him in any way possible. But, try as he might, he still couldn't see where the man was sitting – he hadn't even heard it when Forman had brought him in… How was that possible? Had he really been that out of it that he hadn't even taken notice of the addition of another captive to the room, much less his friend and boss?
"Grissom?" His voice hardly traveled, and for a while no response came, causing the bile to rise up in his throat – was he hurt that badly that he no longer had the strength to speak? If it were at all possible, his heart sped up even more, his breathing following as he forced his arms to start dragging his seemingly useless body across the floor. He had to find him… he had to help him… he couldn't let him die like he had Greg… But the more he searched, the more he lost hope. He wasn't even aware that he was muttering desperately to himself.
Grissom was shaking him by the shoulders now as hard as he dared, which wasn't too hard considering Nick's condition, trying desperately to wake him from a nightmare that was beginning to take its toll on his still not recovering body. The CSI was shaking all over, a sheen of sweat developing on his forehead, no doubt from the breaths that blood loss, exhaustion, and injury had made ragged, always muttering the same thing: 'no'. He had no idea what was going on in his mind, but he did know that Nick would be better off awake than in whatever scenario he was facing that was causing him to react this way.
"Nick!" he whispered harshly. He gripped one hand tightly in his own and shook him again with the other. "Nick! Wake up! Now!" With his heart rate still soaring and his breathing getting more difficult, Grissom was just about to press the call button by the bedside when a quiet voice brought his gaze back away from it.
"Griss?" He whipped his head back around and found that Nick's eyes had opened a sliver and he was peering up at him. Though they were just barely visible, Grissom could see written all over them fear, disbelief, and pain. Maybe he should press the call button anyway…?
He swallowed hard and gripped Nick's hand with both of his now.
"Yeah, I'm here Nick, I'm here," he said, as soothingly as possible. However, it didn't have the desired effect on his friend. Instead, he looked even more afraid, and sadness was creeping in, this leaving Grissom feeling all the more confused and helpless.
Nick stared up at his boss, figuring that he must've passed out in his search of the attic, allowing Gil to find him first. He breathed as deep as he could so as to be able to continue the conversation, even though he wasn't able to make his voice come out any louder than a quiet rasp.
"When did you get here?" he asked, wanting to know how long he had been lying there.
"About five minutes ago," came the quiet answer. Nick's brow furrowed as he studied Grissom's expression; he did see pain written in his features, but also exhaustion, and odd enough, intense worry. He blinked slowly, trying to work up the courage to hear the answer to his next question.
"Are you okay?" His expression turned confused when Grissom laughed briefly.
"Am I okay? Nicky, I really don't think you have to worry about me," he answered with a small laugh and a shake of his head. He couldn't believe Nick was asking him that when he was the one sprawled in a hospital bed, not the other way around. His slight smile disappeared however at the weak determination he saw in Nick's still mostly closed eyes. It was his friend's next question that made his jaw drop.
"Where's Forman? Where did he put Greg's body?" he asked desperately, wanting to know if his friend would at least be able to be recovered for a proper burial once this was over.
Grissom stared at him for a long moment, trying to process what he had just heard: Nick not only thought that he was still a hostage and that Grissom had joined him, but he also thought that Greg had died. Finally closing his mouth, he looked at him curiously, choosing his words carefully.
"Nick, do you know where you are?" At those words, Nick forced his eyes all the way open and forced them to focus on his surroundings, though the dim lighting made it hard to make out any details. At last his gaze dropped to his bed and his eyes widened and moved gradually to his bandaged and needle covered arm then up to his heart monitor before settling back on Grissom who was looking at him expectantly.
"Am I in a hospital?" he rasped, his words laced with hope and disbelief. Grissom's eyes stung at the tone as he smiled and nodded. Nick looked away for a moment, trying to decipher what was nightmare and what was reality before looking back over at his boss, his next question even quieter and ringing with fear. "Is Greg dead?" Grissom couldn't keep a few of his tears from falling – he never would've thought it possible for him to cry so much in one day – as he slowly shook his head.
"No Nick," he whispered. "Greg is alive – you saved him." Nick felt relief wash over him, and he went to sit up to hug the man – but was stopped abruptly as a searing pain assaulted his left side, making his body instinctively curl as he cried out in pain. He could feel Grissom's hands on his shoulders, helping him to lay back down as the searing subsided into a constant throb.
Then suddenly, without warning, all of the memories came rushing back into his mind while he stared wide-eyed down at his blankets: the shoot out – the bullet piercing his side – the bomb – Greg leaving – his feet leaving the stairs as he flew through the air – waking up on the ground with the team looking down at him with such sadness on their faces – the pain dissipating with his breaths – unable to keep his eyes from closing…
Grissom could tell by the look on Nick's face that he was slowly remembering the events that had led to his current position and when the young man looked up at him again, he had tears in his eyes but a weak smile on his face.
"Greg's alright?" he asked. Again Grissom nodded, smiling without a word as he watched Nick's eyes close as he breathed deep in relief. He gripped Nick's hand tighter and in his mind, thanked God and everything good and descent in this world and the next that both of his guys had made it out of this one – if for nothing else but for the other's sake.
Like he did every time he heard the sound of approaching footsteps, Warrick looked up from the magazine that he was pretending to read – his attempt at looking calm, cool, and collected – this time seeing that it was Catherine, returning from having her broken finger set, accompanied by a young brunette who was decked out in a paramedic's uniform and windbreaker. His curiosity mounted as the two women neared and he could hear them discussing Nick's condition in low voices.
Setting down his magazine, he studied the woman's face; he wasn't sure, having been obviously distracted the last time he'd seen her, but he thought that she was the paramedic who had… when Nick had…
He shook his head in frustration at the fact that even his thoughts seemed to fear even hinting towards Nick's death. He returned his gaze to the pair as they came to stand in front of him.
"Warrick, this is Sheryl. Sheryl, this is Warrick Brown, also with the CSI department," Catherine introduced, stepping back so as to allow them space for a polite handshake. Warrick nodded his head.
"You were the one who – helped, Nick," he said, slightly haltingly at which she in turn nodded.
"I'm sorry we had to meet under these circumstances," she said solemnly as the handshake ended. He gave a grim half-smile.
"Yeah, me too." The three of them sat down as Catherine spoke.
"We just came from Greg's room. He was awake and coherent enough to give Brass a statement and to ask about Nicky," she said, blowing lightly on her steaming coffee refill but not drinking it as her gaze shifted to the floor in front of them. "I just wish we'd had better news to tell him." Warrick nodded in agreement, not relishing the rather frightening image of an unconscious, pale, fragile looking Nick that had been burned into his mind since he had left his friend's room.
There was a tense silence before Catherine finally sighed in a mixture of frustration and sadness.
"Greg didn't say anything about it, but you could see that he's blaming himself about how Nick ended up," she whispered, setting down her cup on the small table in front of them to keep her slightly shaking hands from dropping it. Ignoring their shakes, she rubbed her face before dropping them to her lap. Sheryl spoke just as quietly.
"It seemed to help him, knowing that Nick was at least stable," she said in a cautious tone, edginess causing a slight furrow on her brow. At this Catherine let loose a long, deep sigh, responding to no one in particular.
"I just wish that Nick would wake up so that he could talk to Greg himself."
As if waiting for this cue, the door to Nick's room suddenly opened and all three looked up to see Grissom standing part of the way out, his eyes slightly red from drying tears, and his face flushed as he spoke to them calmly.
"Could one of you please get the doctor?" The request coupled with Grissom's distraught appearance sent Catherine into instant panic which she fought to contain, as well as confusion as to how he could sound so calm if something was wrong as she jumped up from her seat.
"Gil, what's wrong? Did something happen? Is Nick alright? Why do you need a doctor?" she demanded frantically in quick succession, already edging towards the nurses station. Seeing her obviously frightened reaction, Grissom rushed towards her and took her gently by the shoulders, forcing her to calm down enough to look him in the eyes.
"It's okay Cath, Nick's okay – nothing's wrong." Her confusion grew and her eyes darted from Nick's door to the face of the senior CSI in front of her.
"Then – then why do you need a doctor?" All three became confused when he smiled for a moment, that confusion turning to shock, then relief, then joy at the next words that came quietly from his mouth.
It was close to nine at night before Greg was finally wheeled in his wheelchair through the door into Nick's dimly lit room, Sara bringing him to a stop at Nick's side before she knelt down beside him, watching his expression carefully. His eyes swam with guilt as he stared silently at his friend's sleeping face, his jaw muscles clenching and unclenching in an attempt to keep from reacting too strongly to a certainly unnerving sight. When she gently placed a gentle hand on his arm, he turned to look at her, not bothering to mask the same turmoil of emotions that she had found him battling with when she had first seen him in his own room.
"I'm not sure whether or not anything I say can change how you feel about what happened today," she whispered, careful not to wake Nick as she spoke. "But what I do know is that no matter what you think, Nick does not blame you; he doesn't hold any of this against you – and neither do we." She paused, placing a hand on the side of Greg's face over which he placed his own, his thumb rubbing slowly back and forth though his eyes remained locked with hers, his expression never changing. She smiled falteringly. "Talk to him; listen to him. You need to let go." And with that, she planted a small kiss on his forehead before standing and walking quietly from the room, closing the door softly behind her.
Greg watched her go, mulling over what she had said, and so absorbed in his conflicting thoughts that the wispy and pained voice beside him made him jump slightly in his seat.
"She's right you know." He returned his gaze to Nick who was now looking at him carefully through half-open eyes that, though tired, never faltered as he stared over at him. Greg tried to swallow the growing lump in his throat as he struggled to keep his response steady.
"About which part?" he asked, clearly avoiding what he was suppose to be discussing.
"All of it."
Greg swallowed again, squeezing his eyes shut and looking away. It was his fault; Nick was like this because of him – he made all the wrong choices, left him alone when he should have stayed, stayed still when he should have fought, laid there, allowing that bullet to tear up Nick's arm when he should have been searching around right there with him; he –
"It's not your fault." Nick's words pierced through his thoughts like an arrow and he finally opened his eyes and looked at him, his answer barely a whisper in his struggle to maintain control.
"How can you say that?" Nick's eyes hardened in response to that, his voice becoming firm through its wispiness.
"Did you aim a gun at me and pull the trigger?" Greg shook his head at him.
"No, but – " Nick cut him off.
"Did you hit me?"
"Obviously Forman did, but I – "
"Kick me?" Frustration was starting to well inside Greg's chest.
"No." The firmness in Nick's voice was beginning to wan.
"Set off a bomb with the intention of killing me?" Greg could hardly contain his emotions any more, and he balled his fists as he responded.
"No." Nick's eyes softened.
"Then that covers everything – you had nothing to do with what happened to me in that house Gre– " Unable to hold it in any longer, Greg cut Nick off.
"But I did nothing to stop it either!" he yelled, his eyes finally tearing as his protective damn began to crack. The effort of yelling resulted in yet another painful stab in his side and he doubled up in the wheelchair with a gasp, vaguely feeling Nick's hand on his shoulder.
Nick carefully placed a comforting hand on Greg's shoulder, blinking in surprise at the outburst but also flinching at the words he had just heard. He hadn't anticipated that way of thinking to come from his young friend, knowing as well as he did that in the state he had been in, Greg could have done nothing to stop Forman's actions.
Greg was still breathing heavily in his curled position, though the immediate pain had passed. He hadn't meant to yell like he had – it was the last thing that Nick needed on top of everything else. However, he had no answer ready for the next question that reached his ears.
"And what could you have done?" When Greg finally looked up at him, he knew that his expression matched his own. His grip tightened on Greg's shoulder, his voice cracking as he pushed further. "What could you have done to protect me when I couldn't even protect you?" Greg's red-rimmed eyes stared at him, the look in them saying how desperately he wanted to agree with him on the matter. Nick met his gaze head on. "It wasn't your fault." After a moment, he leaned forward in his bed and pulled Greg into a hug, not a second before his vision blurred with tears that began to fall as Greg returned the hug ten-fold. Nick was unprepared for what Greg said with equal conviction as had been in his voice.
"Nick, it wasn't your fault either."
A great many tears were shed as the two friends finally let it all out, beginning the long process of moving on, knowing full well that the others would be there for them through it all, as well as they for each other.
We're going to make it out of this – I promise.
As the doctor had originally stated, Nick was transferred to the general ward early the next morning, though everyone had been ordered by Grissom to go home at around four that morning, four hours before the transfer, to shower, eat, and try to get some rest before coming back that afternoon. But, as could only be expected, none out of the three obeyed the last part and by ten that morning, Catherine, Sara, and Warrick were pulling up in a parking space in Warrick's car, the other two having taken him up on his offered ride.
It was about another ten minutes before they reached Nick's room on the third floor, each filing in quietly through the door after which Catherine took the seat on the other side of his bed, across from the seat that Grissom already occupied, while the others stood around it. For a long moment, they simply sat and stared at the mass of bruises and bandages that covered their friend, then Grissom broke the silence.
"He's been asleep for a little while," Grissom whispered, not bothering to bring up the fact that none of them should have returned for at least another five hours. "Doctor gave him something for the pain." Catherine nodded silently while Warrick spoke up quietly from his place standing beside Catherine.
"I hope he gave him enough; a day like yesterday would leave any guy damn sore, to say the least."
"Amen to that," a voice from the doorway rasped, making them all turn to see Greg propelling his wheelchair forward into the room. Though startled to see him in a wheelchair, they smiled broadly in response to him already technically being up and around.
Right away he wheeled over to where Sara had sat on the edge of Nick's bed where she leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek and hug him, gently of course. Their audience tried to hide their surprise at the sudden shift in relationship status while he smiled with a quiet chuckle. "Sorry it took me so long to get here, but the doc says that I shouldn't, and won't even have the energy to be 'exerting' myself for at least a few days. Besides, even with these pyjama bottoms underneath, these gowns are pretty drafty," he said with a slight grimace that brought a smile to everyone's face. "Anyways, it took me forever to drag myself out of bed and to a wheelchair with a blanket, then another ten minutes to charm the nurse doing rounds into telling me what room Nick was in and to let me come see him."
"Fifty bucks says I could've pulled it off in five." The quiet, tired voice drew their attention back to the bed as Nick slowly opened his eyes and smiled lightly at Greg. Grissom moved out of the way so that Greg could park his wheelchair at the head of Nick's bed, returning the smile enthusiastically.
"No need to try my friend, 'cause it seems to me that you've already caught someone else's attention – a paramedic's no less." This got him a confused look and it occurred to him that the only times Nick had met the woman in question had been when he was unconscious or dead. "Well, you haven't technically met her yet but she – she's the one who brought you back after you – well, when you – yeah." He shifted uncomfortably in his wheelchair and his friend briefly looked away. Greg had a feeling that that topic wouldn't be a comfortable onefor any of them for quite some time. He shook his head briefly, deciding to continue with what he had been talking about before. "Anyways, she's been checking up on you pretty steady since you left the ICU, whenever she's not on a run. I actually passed her at the coffee machine on my way in and, um, overheard her talking about you to her friend." Greg was relieved to see Nick's expression go from grim and uncomfortable to interested and thoughtful for a moment before he looked back at Greg.
"Is she pretty?" Greg looked over at Sara and pointed to the different features as he went.
"Make her hair wavy, add stud earrings, and make her eyes blue and a little bit bigger." Nick looked at Sara, raised his eyebrows, and grinned weakly.
"Sounds like I hit it lucky!" Sara blushed slightly at the indirect compliment and Nick's grin broadened as he returned his gaze to Greg. "Did you find out anything about her?" Greg nodded, smiling. "Do you have time to answer a few questions?" He thought for a moment before looking back at Nick, the room's occupants able to see that his expression and body language were more relaxed and, well, more like Greg than they had been in two days because of the arrival of the much needed opportunity for normalcy.
Again he smiled, one that spread across his entire face.
"I've got about twenty minutes before the nurse shift change when I have to sneak back to my room – fire away."
A/N: tadda! there you have it, the last of the story! as i said earlier, i really hope you liked it - don't forget to review and bring in the final verdict:)