Note: okay..okay...here's the...very sad to say...final chapter! hopefully it rounds everything out and closes things nicely...please let me know!
so yes...I'm an aunt now! my brother and his fiance had a baby girl on Thursday...hence my delayed update here...she's gorgeous! you can head to homepage (myspace) and check out some pictures of her! anyway...
i'm already processing ideas for my next fic...will most likely be a while before i post anything up...still in the dark about my next topic.
thanks again for all the great reviews! I'll see ya around very soon!


Chapter Thirteen
ICU was quiet. Almost too quiet. The beeping of the cardiac monitors, the hiss of ventilators served as the only reminders, the only assurance of life still present in the still quiet room.

Only family allowed in ICU.

Hospital policy.

Nick's parents sat idle beside their son's bed. It'd been two days since their arrival to Las Vegas. The pain in their eyes was all too fresh, a brutal reminder of the reason they were there. Another reminder of the time they'd last come to Vegas; another cruel reminder of the man that had brought them all together last summer.

Catherine hated seeing that look in their eyes. It was a look of pain, of sorrow and almost defeat. It was a look of parents desperately hanging on to hope that their youngest child would be okay, that he would pull through again.

She couldn't bear to see that look again, that look that all was not right with the world. That look, that feeling of knowing someone she loved was hurting and she was powerless to fix it.

"How's he doing?" Grissom asked coming up behind the woman. They were in the hallway, the stark white hallway of the trauma center at Desert Palms, just outside the intensive care unit. It had been three days since the shootout at the community center.

"About the same, I guess," she shrugged, her eyes glued to the sight of Nick, the tubes leading into his arms supplying him with blood, fluids and pain medication, the tubes supplying fresh oxygen, were enough to make her wince. "He opened his eyes for a little bit."

"How are they?" he asked, his eyes falling on the forms of Nick's parents. They looked tired, feeble. The past year had only aided and abetted the aging process of the older couple.

"They haven't left his side," she shrugged turning to face the man she knew almost as well as she knew her daughter. The man in front of her, the man she was expecting to see though, looked different. He looked older, less ragged around the edges almost. "Have you seen Warrick?"

"Just came from his room," he nodded leading the way back to the waiting area. "Says he can go home tomorrow."

"Yeah, the infection's cleared up in his arm. He'll have to go through some physical therapy, but he'll be fine," she sighed taking a seat in the mauve colored upholstered chair. The waiting room though dimly lit and adorned with various potted plants and a television tuned to the local news was all too uncomfortable. The comfortable looking chairs were only a harsh reminder of just how uncomfortable the room really was. "He's more worried about Nick than he is about himself."

"How are you?"

"I don't know," she sighed, leaning back in her chair, her legs crossed right over left. "I mean, I know he's going to pull through, I mean I feel it in my bones. But, I see him in there, just lying there, and it's ripping me apart. I just… I don't know. We've been through Hell way too many times."

"Yeah, and Hell's starting to look a lot like a damn hospital," Brass nodded from the doorway of the waiting room. "How's Nicky?"

"Doctor's think he'll pull through," Catherine offered the detective a weak, tired smile. "They're keeping him sedated, and doped up on hefty pain meds, but they seem to think he'll pull through." She watched as the disheveled man took a seat across from her. It was an unusual site, the man before her, his tie hung loosely around his neck, the top buttons of his shirt undone. He had the appearance of a man who'd been driving through the desert in July with no A/C.

"The bullet entered just below the lower left rib, nicked the spleen and got lodged in the fifth rib in his back," Grissom began with the details of the injury. "The doctor said he lost almost 4 pints of blood. Had he been left at the scene any longer…" he trailed off.

It had been a close call, almost too close.

Again, it was something they were all too familiar with when it came to Nick Stokes. The man was a champ, though, when it came to pulling through tough spots. They had no reason to believe this time would be any different.


The sun was high. Winds were coming in from the south allowing temperatures to climb to unseasonably warm levels making the customary light jacket of this time of year unnecessary. It was a refreshing mid-February afternoon. The sixty degrees they were having sure beat the regular forties that seemed to plague the desert every winter. It was a hint of spring, a tinge of hope that it would come early this year.

The neighborhood was bustling in the early afternoon hour. The threat of rain and colder temperatures had people scurrying to soak in the warmth to hold on to it while it lasted.

Warrick sat in his truck, watching the activities. He'd been sitting there a while, unable, unwilling to move. His shoulder, his arm still in a sling, was tight. He needed to get out a move it. Slowly and reluctantly, he climbed down from his vehicle making his way slowly up the front walk.

He'd been out of the hospital almost three weeks now. Nick was going on his first week home and he'd yet to stop by and see him. He knew Nick's parents had stuck around a few days, but knowing now they'd flown back to Texas he had one less excuse for putting off the inevitable.

What was there to be nervous about? It was Nick. The man he'd worked with for over ten years. But, nervous he was, and for the life of him he couldn't get the butterflies to settle in his stomach.

He knew Nick's parents had left hours ago. He'd been on the phone with Grissom as his boss was leaving the airport after having dropped the judge and his wife off for their flight home. So, he knew they were gone. He wouldn't be forced with uncomfortable small talk he knew would ensue were Nick's parents still around. He wouldn't be faced with the looks either. The looks telling him he was responsible for their son's situation. The looks of disappointment. He didn't care what Tina had to say, he wasn't imagining the looks of disdain.

Knocking on the door, he waited. He knew Nick would be there. He took the few seconds to steel his nerves. There was no turning back now.

Finally the door opened, the man he was met with was nearly unrecognizable. The baggy sweats and tee shirt could barely hide the fact that the man had lost weight and was still considerably weak. His shaggy brown hair was clearly unkempt and he hadn't shaved in a few days.

"Hey," Warrick nodded his good hand in the pocket of his jeans.

"Hey man, come on in," Nick smiled. He was supporting his weight on the door; it still took a lot out of him to stand upright. "I was just about to watch the Pacers game."

"How you feeling?"

"Better," he nodded slowly making his way back to the sofa. "You want anything? Got some beer in the fridge, there's some soda too. You know the drill. You want it you get it." He watched as the tall man made his way casually to the kitchen. "Grab me a soda while you're at it."

There was something off, something not right as he watched Warrick stride back into the room.

"Doc says no alcohol for a couple weeks, till I get off the meds," he shook his head skillfully catching the soda can tossed his way. "Thanks."

He watched silently as Warrick fell rather haphazardly into the recliner. It seemed the weight of the world was on the man's shoulders.

"What?" he asked, noticing Nick's attention on him.

"You tell me. What's up? When you get that thing off?" he motioned toward the sling.

"Ah, next week," he shrugged, his eyes falling to the material around his left arm. He'd become rather accustomed to the new accessory.

"The shoulder okay?"

"Yeah, it's cool," he shrugged. "Physical therapy's a bitch, though."

The two sat silently, their eyes on the television. Neither, though, successfully registered the progress of the game. Most occasions the silence between them was comfortable, natural, but today the silence was oppressive, full of tension. Minutes ticked by, but the feeling wouldn't give. It was driving him crazy.

"Damn it man, what's up?" Nick asked his eyes off the game now and back on the man beside him. "What's going on?"

"What do you mean?" Warrick asked his face scrunched in mock confusion.

"I mean, you've been walking on egg shells ever since you got here. Talk to me, man."

"Aw, I'm cool," he waved a hand dismissively, his attention back on the TV.

"Like hell," Nick shook his head, reaching for the remote turning the screen to black. His eyes were full of the same determination he was used to seeing whether he was on a case or in the middle of a heated battle on the basketball court. "Damn it man, we've been friends for too long for me to know when something's up. So give."

"Damn it Nick," he stood suddenly, pacing the floor of the suddenly too small living room. "You almost died because of me." His anger and frustration reaching their boiling points, he turned quickly, the pain in his eyes nearly overwhelming. It broke Nick in half.

"What are you talking about?" Nick asked, the man's words nearly sending him for a loop. The last thing he'd expected was the man to blame himself for what had happened.

"If I hadn't had the genius idea to go back to the scene, none of this shit woulda happened," he slumped back into the recliner drained of his energy.

"Rick, you and I both know we had to go back to that scene. Because we went back we found the evidence we needed to put Miguel and Raphael Dominguez behind bars."

"Yeah, but…"Warrick trailed off, his head leaning now on the back of the chair.

"Yeah but," Nick shrugged. "Shit happens; you know that as well as I do. Sometimes you get thrown out the second floor window, but you get lucky and there's a bush to break your fall. Sometimes you're six feet under, but there's always someone there to dig you back up. Come on man, this shit was no more your fault than it was mine."

"Nick…" he started slowly, "that's just it. You were lucky. What happens the next time when your luck runs out?"

His eyes locked on his friends. He'd always been lucky, every time he'd gotten in a hot spot; there was always someone there to pull him out.

He'd been lucky.

What if his luck ran out next time?

What if…

What if Warrick was right?

He could bury himself in a heap of what-ifs; it wouldn't make life any easier. It wouldn't make him love his job any less or hate it any more. It wouldn't make anything different.

He'd learned to take the good with the bad. He knew he couldn't have one without the other. It was the way life was supposed to be. Honestly, he wouldn't want it any other way.

He shrugged, his eyes meeting Warrick's, "I guess I'll have to live with it."


"I'll hadDNArun a comparison," Nick nodded as he headed down the lab corridor. "The semen we found on the victim was a match to our John Doe."

"Great," Sara smirked, "so our primary suspect is now our second victim."

"Yeah, but our killer left behind something he didn't intend to," Nick smiled.

He'd been back to work for a week now, had jumped in with both feet anxious to get back to the life he loved. His time at home was well spent, healing and resting, but near the end of his time off he'd become prone to cabin fever and was itching to get back to the lab.

"What was that?" Sara asked her eyes quickly rising from the file in her hand.

"Check it out," the man beamed in front of her as he handed over the folder in his grasp. "You've got to be kidding me. You have got to be kidding me," she smiled heading to the break room where Warrick sat, his attention drawn to his own file of information. "You're kidding right?" Sara asked him as she slid the open folder across the table to land in front of him.

"Yeah," the man smirked leaning back in his seat. "What are the chances the suspect sticks around the scene to turn himself in?" he looked from Sara to Nick who stood at the entrance of the room.

"Guess we got lucky this time," Nick smiled.

"Yeah," Warrick smiled. "Guess so."