Author's Note: The torture is over. No, really, it is. Even I can only handle so many cliffhangers.
Thank you, so much, to everyone that has read and supported this story. I'm sorry for putting you all through hell (Not really. I enjoyed every minute)
Much love and cookies to wobbear, the best beta a girl could ask for. And thanks to theatresporter, for being the prettiest sounding-board ever.
The Epilogue to this story will be posted tomorrow.
Nick heard the shot and sprinted up the last steps to the apartment over the garage. His pistol felt heavy in his hand as he rounded the corner at the top of the stairs.
Jill stood, her back to him, her pistol trained on Sara's sprawled, bleeding form.
"Drop your weapon!"
She ignored him, pulling the slide back, preparing to fire again.
He had never discharged his weapon in the line of duty, but he didn't hesitate, firing two rounds into the gunwoman. Even as she hit the ground, he was running past her, kicking her gun away from her almost as an afterthought in his race to get to Sara.
It was only as he was applying pressure to her side to try and stem the bleeding that he saw Grissom.
His horror doubled.
Outside, he could hear police cars racing to a stop. Slammed doors and voices. Footsteps on the stairs below.
"Someone call an ambulance!" he screamed. "We need some help in here!"
Sara awoke in a white, sterile environment. For a moment she panicked, unsure of where she was or what had happened.
When she remembered, the realization made her heart sink with dread.
She closed her eyes and prayed - something she had never done, not even as a little girl. She prayed that it had all been a bad dream, some terrible mistake or nightmarish hallucination.
She opened her eyes to the awful truth. It had not been a dream. She was in a hospital bed, and Nick Stokes was sitting beside her, looking grim. When he saw that her eyes were open, his features softened into a smile.
"Hey. Look who's awake."
She started to sit up and winced as pain ripped through her side. Waiting for it to subside, she settled herself into a more comfortable position and cleared her throat.
"Nick. How long?"
"A couple of hours. The doctor said you hit your head when you fell, so you might have a concussion. But the bullet just grazed your side. You were lucky. Really lucky." To emphasize the point, he grabbed her hand and squeezed it. "What were you thinking? Running off alone?"
Tears threatened and Sara shut her eyes, trying to staunch their flow. She had been thinking of Grissom. Only of him.
"Where is he?"
"Nick, please! I need to see him."
The waiting was unbearable. A few more hours passed, during which Nick negotiated with the nursing staff on Sara's behalf and then waited by her bedside, holding her hand. Greg had a death grip on the other and in any other circumstances, Sara would have found the whole thing incredibly funny. They seemed like a cross between a prayer circle and a pair of prison guards, there to ensure she would not run off again.
When the doctors eventually gave the go-ahead for Sara to see Grissom, they imposed the condition that she be wheeled to her destination in a chair. She didn't have any fight left in her to argue.
As Nick pushed her slowly down the hallway, the walls seemed to close in, as if the entire world was pressing in at her on all sides. When they came to a stop outside that room, a cold thrill of fear ran through her, making her skin prickle. She did not want to go through that door and yet, part of her wanted nothing more.
Nick wheeled her inside, bringing her to a rest beside the bed, close to Grissom's unmoving body. "I'll be right outside, Sara," he said. "If you need me."
Sara barely heard him leave, her eyes now fixed unwaveringly on Grissom.
His face was white, his various wounds and bruises were garish splashes of color on his otherwise colorless skin.
He had suffered. Oh, he had suffered. One eye was swollen and purple; his lips were bloody and bloated. And yet this only hinted at the true damage, which was now hidden by the white sheet that covered him. But she had already seen the wounds, seen the burns - they were etched for ever into her memory and her heart ached because of them.
Tears slid down Sara's face as she reached out to him, touching his face gently. She took his hand and held it to her lips caressing it gently.
"Griss, I'm so sorry," she wept. "What have they done to you? I'm so sorry."
She felt the tiniest hint of pressure as he squeezed her hand. His eyes flickered and he eventually opened them with some difficulty and met hers.
"Hey," he said, his voice hoarse. "Honey, are you okay?"
Despite herself, she laughed through her tears. "You want to know if I'm okay? We thought we lost you for a while there. When I saw you in that place, I thought… I thought…"
Her head sunk onto the bed beside him as her tears came harder now. When she had seen his limp, broken body in that house of horrors, she had thought that he was dead. She had felt his loss, deep inside of her, and in that moment part of her had died too.
She felt his hand gently cradling her head as she wept.
"I'm here. I'm not going anywhere," he told her softly. "It's over."
She nodded through her tears, finally allowing herself to believe it.
It was over.
"I love you," Grissom said, his eyes shining with tears of his own.
Sara smiled, leaning forward to gently brush her lips against his. "I love you too."
Miraculously, Grissom had suffered comparatively little internal damage, his three cracked ribs somehow not being complicated by internal bleeding. His burns were all first and second degree - both serious and painful, but luckily not infected.
He spent the first 36 hours on a saline drip, replacing the fluids his body had lost due to dehydration and the burns. The moment the IV needle was out, he was ready to discharge himself and, were it not for Sara's influence, he most likely would have. She spent every moment by his side, eventually convincing the nursing staff to wheel her bed into his room so they would not have to sleep apart.
On the second day, Nick and Greg arrived with good news. Graham Price had been arraigned in court, and had pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder and kidnapping. While the local authorities, and their own colleagues in Vegas were still investigating him for several counts of murder, it was a relief to know that he was now behind bars, and would remain there for many years to come.
Pain relief and Sara's constant care had a positive effect and after just four days in hospital, Grissom's doctor spoke of release. He faced a long recuperation period, his ribs and burns would take time to heal, but he was on the road to recovery. Physically, at least.
Several times each night, Sara awoke to find him muttering in his sleep, occasionally crying out, obviously in the midst of a nightmare. It was to be expected, after his ordeal, and Sara knew they both faced the prospect of post traumatic stress disorder after everything they had been through. Counseling crossed her mind more than once and she suggested to Grissom that they both consider it once they returned to Vegas. Grissom agreed to think about it.
The day before Grissom was discharged, Sara left the hospital for the first time, journeying north. She still had unfinished business.
Sara's mother hugged her carefully in the doorway, mindful of her injuries. Sara had called ahead and given her an idea of what had been happening, only to be berated for not calling sooner.
"I should have been there for you in the hospital!" Laura had said, sounding more guilty than angry.
It would be something Sara would have to get used to - having a mother back in her life, keeping her informed. But she found herself willing to make that adjustment - eager to do it, in fact.
They sat in the kitchen, sipping herbal tea and discussing the events of the past week. Sara shared everything, every emotion she had experienced, finally talking to Laura the way she imagined a daughter should.
"On some level, I can't seem to take it in, that it's over," she said. "Price is behind bars, 25 to life. And Jill is dead."
The word came out and there was barely any emotion attached to it. Jill was dead. It was a relief, and yet Sara was confused that she didn't feel more guilt or triumph because of it.
As though reading her mind, Laura studied her daughter's face intently. "How do you feel about that? Jill being dead?"
"I don't know how I feel," Sara admitted. "Part of me wishes I had been the one to have pulled the trigger. Nick never should have had to…"
Sara's voice caught for a moment, guilt at putting Nick in that position catching up with her, choking her with unshed tears.
"Are the authorities taking any action?" Laura asked. "About the shooting?"
"There will be an inquiry. I guess I'll have to testify at it. But the Sheriff is satisfied that it was justifiable homicide. Nick saved my life. And Grissom's."
Sara paused for a moment to sip her tea and struggle with all the conflicting emotions she was experiencing.
"I guess I know how you felt, now," Sara said. "I wanted her dead. I wanted to kill her. For hurting someone I love. To protect him."
Laura nodded and her eyes glistened with tears. Sara reached out and took her hand, holding it tightly. Blinking back the tears, she fought for composure, clearing her throat before continuing to speak.
"They're discharging Grissom in the morning, and then I'm taking him home," Sara said.
"I'm glad he's getting better," her mother replied. "And you? How are you doing?"
"I'm going to be okay."
They walked arm in arm to the door and hugged a goodbye. In the back of her mind, Sara realized that, despite the many traumatic distractions, she had accomplished what she had originally come to California to do. She had lain to rest the ghosts of her childhood. Now she and her mother had a chance at a happier future in each other's lives.
"Mom, why don't you come and visit me in Vegas sometime?" Sara asked. "Sometime soon?"
"I'd really like that." Laura Sidle smiled at her daughter. "And you and Grissom are welcome here any time."
She paused, frowning a little in thought. "You know, Sara, isn't a little odd you calling the man you love by his last name?"
Sara shrugged. "It's who he is. It's what I've always called him. It's comfortable."
"What's his first name?"
"Gil," Sara smiled. "His name is Gil."
Grissom grumbled about the wheelchair, but when Sara leaned in close and kissed his neck, he quit complaining. As they left through the front doors of the hospital, Grissom sighed with relief.
"Glad to be free?" Sara asked, amused.
"Yes," he said. "I hate hospitals."
"Poor baby. Does that mean you object to having a nurse?"
He looked up at her and saw her suggestively raised eyebrow.
"Honey, if you're the nurse in question, I could die a happy man."
"Don't you dare," she growled. "I plan on getting you well. We have many years ahead of us, Gil Grissom."
He smiled. "Let's go home."