Author's Note: It's been a long, cruel journey. I've been mean. I've followed cliff-hanger with cliff-hanger. Well, I'm not saying this chapter will be any different, but we're now nearly at the end. The final chapter is currently with my fabulous beta, wobbear. So at least you won't have long to wait in between chapters.
Thanks to everyone for reading and reviewing. And extra special thanks to wobbear for her guidance and beta skills, and to theatresporter for her support and opinions. Much love.
Greg ended the call on his cell phone and got out of the car. Nick was no longer in sight, but Greg followed the path he had taken across the road, leaping over the wall and into the woods that surrounded the house.
He paused and listened. The woods curved around on both sides, with a wide open lawn stretching between them and the house. Sticking to the cover of the trees, he followed them around the property to the left, remaining as quiet as possible and keeping a sharp eye out for his friends or, more importantly, any enemies lurking.
When Greg had called, the Sheriff had explained that he was on the other side of town, but there were units nearby that would be sent straight to the Silver Hills address. Sheriff Jacobs instructed them to wait for backup and under no circumstances to approach the house.
"Too late," Greg had replied. "Sara already went ahead and Nick's gone after her."
"Remain at the perimeter," the Sheriff insisted.
"Sorry. No can do," Greg replied before hanging up. He would not sit on the sidelines and do nothing. Not with Nick and Sara inside.
Moving swiftly through the trees, Nick soon found himself behind what he guessed was the garage. Looking up, he noted that the space above it seemed to have been renovated into a guest apartment of sorts. The shutters of its windows were closed, but through a crack in them, he saw a faint glow.
The lights were on. Someone was home.
The trees provided cover right up to the side of the building. Keeping it between himself and the main house, he stepped softly, not wanting to draw attention to himself just yet.
Behind him, he heard a twig snap. He spun around to find a gun pointed straight at him. The man holding it seemed amused.
"Are you meant to be the Cavalry?" Graham Price asked.
"Where is he, Jill?" Sara demanded.
The gun was pointed between her eyes but she didn't care anymore. Her fear was being overridden by something stronger - fury. She was done. She wasn't going to play by Jill's rules anymore. It was time to make some of her own.
"Behind you. Up the stairs," Jill told her, smirking at Sara's defiance. "We've been taking really good care of him."
"Somehow, I doubt that."
Jill laughed. "If you hurry, you might be in time to get one last kiss goodbye. He's at - what's the phrase? Death's door?"
Sara's eyes darted to one side, sizing up the distance between them and the garage. It was at least thirty yards. Too far, much too far, when a gun was being pointed at her.
But then again…
Sara turned and began to walk towards the door Jill had indicated.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"Inside," Sara told her. "Isn't that what you want? You think you're going to break me? Send me inside to find Grissom… what? Tortured? Dead? And then you'll do the same to me? That's your plan, isn't it?"
"Dear Sara. You always did know me so well. But we're doing this to my schedule. Stop right there."
"No." Sara was now just yards from her destination, with Jill and the gun following every step of the way.
"Don't be an idiot, Sara! I'll shoot you."
"Go ahead," Sara told her. "You shoot me, you lose. How can you have your fun with me if I'm already dead?"
She opened the door and went inside without a backwards glance.
Price was all bravado as he sized up Nick. "You armed?" he asked, looking for the tell-tale bulge of a weapon.
Nick struggled to keep his hands from shaking. Terror ran through him, chilling his blood and making his eyes swim. He fought to keep a clear mind, to stay calm. He had to somehow get himself out of this situation. Sara and Grissom were counting on him.
"I have a pistol," he said a voice that did not sound like his own.
Slowly, he lifted up his arms to reveal the holstered gun under his jacket. Keeping his own weapon trained on Nick, Price moved forward and removed the gun, sliding it into the waistband at the back of his jeans.
"Now, you're going to turn around and follow the building round to the front. Then me and my girl are going to have a little party with you."
As Nick turned, out of the corner of his eye he caught movement in the trees. He did his best not to show any reaction on his face, so as not to give Price any warning of what he'd seen. He just hoped that he'd not been imagining things.
Seconds later, he got his confirmation.
Price froze when he felt the cold steel of a gun pressed against the back of his neck.
"Take your finger off the trigger," Greg told him. "Slowly slide the safety back on and drop it on the ground." Price hesitated, so Greg emphasized his point by pressing the gun a little harder. "Now."
There was a soft thud as the gun dropped onto the ground, cushioned by leaves and moss. Keeping the gun on Price, Greg retrieved Nick's weapon and handed it to him.
"Good timing," Nick remarked under his breath, stooping to pick up Price's weapon.
"I'm known for it," Greg replied with a soft smirk. Underneath his boyish confidence, in a place that only Nick could see, he was scared stiff. But at the same time he could not help but be pleased with himself for getting the jump on the 'bad guy'.
"Keep an eye on him and wait for the police," Nick told his partner. "I'm going to find Sara."
The stairs were coated in a thin veneer of dust, through which Sara could make out drag marks, in addition to two different sets of footprints. Price was somewhere around, perhaps upstairs with Grissom.
Her fury towards Jill was quickly being replaced by fear at what she was about to face upstairs. The thought of seeing Grissom's condition, perhaps finding him already dead, was overwhelming. If that happened, she knew that nothing would prevent her from falling apart - something that Jill was counting on.
Sara felt reckless and a little crazy, half tempted to turn and push Jill down the stairs. She knew she was heading for trouble, yet could not seem to stop herself continuing along this path.
In truth, whatever plan she had in her mind had gone out the window the moment she heard Grissom scream, forcing her to break cover and try to run to him.
Her recklessness might save him. Or it might get them both killed.
They reached the top of the stairs and Sara found herself facing a solid, wooden door. Its closed state was ominous. She dreaded opening it. She dreaded seeing what was on the other side.
"Alright, smart girl," Jill said behind her. "You were the one that wanted to rush proceedings. So go ahead. Open the door."
Sara took a deep breath and reached for the handle. She only had one shot, and it had to be before they entered the room. If Price was in there, she was probably dead.
Swinging her elbow back, she caught Jill full in the face and heard a gasp and the satisfying crunch of cartilage. Immediately, Sara twisted around, grabbing the gun with one hand and pushing it away from her. With all her strength she pushed Jill back against the wall behind them, pinning her with one arm tight across her throat.
"Let go of the gun," she said, applying pressure to Jill's wrist the way she had been taught in her weaponless defense training. Enough pressure and the perp had no choice but to drop their weapon.
"You fucking bitch," Jill spat. "You broke my fucking nose!"
"That won't be all I break if you don't drop the goddamned gun," Sara told her.
She slammed Jill's hand against the concrete wall, making her cry out in pain. The gun finally slipped from her grasp and Sara secured her hold on it with her left hand. Not ideal, certainly, but workable.
Sara marveled at her luck that Price, if he was in fact on the other side of the door, had not heard the struggle.
"Where's your partner?" Sara asked.
Jill's eyes danced with fury and she defiantly refused to answer. Pointing the gun at Jill, Sara slowly released her chokehold, backing away. Jill slumped, gasping from the need for air and the pain radiating from her broken nose. Sara took the opportunity to switch the gun over to her right hand.
"Let's go look for him," she said, pointing with the gun for Jill to go first this time.
The door had just creaked open when Jill spun around like a wild cat. Sara had no time to pull the trigger before Jill was on her, scratching and clawing at her face. Somehow, Sara pushed her off, pushed Jill far enough back to be able to pull her fist back, sending it careering into the irate woman's already bloody face.
Jill fell back, apparently out cold. Quickly gathering her wits, Sara scanned the room for Price. He was no where in sight.
The shutters were closed, but a bare light bulb hung from the ceiling, cutting through the gloom. It had been a nice place once, Sara could tell. But the warm wood of the furniture and the floor were now marred by time and neglect. It was no longer a happy holiday home. It was something much more sinister.
As she moved further into the room, the sight before her made Sara's blood run cold.
Her view of him had been blocked by a pillar when she first looked into the room, but now she saw him clearly. Horribly battered and bruised. Hanging, suspended by his wrists from a beam in the ceiling, a horrific version of a crucifixion. His eyes were blindfolded, one part of the cruel game they had played with him. Areas of his chest were scorched, almost charred in places, angry blisters protesting against the heat his skin had endured.
"Grissom?" she said cautiously, almost whispering, as though afraid she would wake him. "Grissom? Baby? It's me. It's Sara. I'm here now."
He did not move. His face was drained of all color. His body was limp, unmoving.
He didn't even appear to be breathing.
"Oh god! Oh god, please no."
He couldn't be. Not now. Not after everything they had been through.
Sara could taste bile. She felt angry, hot tears on her face that almost blinded her, making the horrible sight before her blur.
She refused to accept it. Hurriedly moving forward towards him, she resolved to untie him, hold him, nurse him through whatever recuperation period was necessary. He would be fine. He had to be fine.
She heard movement behind her, but kept moving down the room towards him. Kept her focus on him.
She didn't see Jill reach for a second gun, concealed beneath her pant leg.
She didn't hear the shot being fired. She felt the pain slice through her side and then she was on her knees, looking up at his broken face.
Then the world went black.
To Be Continued...