Ties by SLynn
Summary: Kidnapping, competition and change. Lots of change. Takes place approximately three months after the end of 'Appreciation'. Sixth in the ill-named 'Happy Enough' series. Greg/Sara and Nick/OFC
Spoilers: Up to 'Nesting Dolls'
Disclaimer: I'm just borrowing and will return them all when I'm done, virtually untouched.
Notes: This is it. The end. More notes at the bottom, but, for the last time… Enjoy!
Chapter 34: Happy Endings
The sheer volume of evidence was staggering. Once the crime lab had pieced together Tess Bates's involvement, her manipulation of them and the system, it had all tied together nicely. Between her run in with Warrick, her conversation with Nick, the car, the fact that her sister was Diane Ortega, her connection with Mitch Anderson, they didn't need Greg as an eyewitness. She'd thrown away all caution in the end, after Diane's death, and it had cost her.
On top of all that, she left one accomplice alive. Jennifer Isaacs, Paul Porter's only living employee, voluntarily came forward two days after the event. She offered up a full confession and only asked for leniency. She hadn't realized it would go so far and had panicked when Paul had been killed. Ms. Isaacs was able to tie Tess not only to Porter, but the kidnappings and the death of Bonnie Watts.
For some time Tess maintained her innocence and refused to talk. Her lawyer, after several long interviews, finally got her to see reason, to realize how serious this all was, and to at least attempt a plea bargain, but, initially, the district attorney wouldn't hear it. The DA wanted a trial and pressed hard for one, only backing down when Tess's lawyer wrested a deal where she would plead guilty to two counts of murder in the second and agree to serve forty years to life without parole. It was the only deal that would assure her her life, all things considered.
During the entire time Greg had been placed first on medial leave and then administrative. All in all, it took about six months.
The first week he'd spent at Mesquite General before being transferred back to UMC. After another few weeks of observation and a very minor setback due to infection, he was released to recuperate at home. During that time he'd missed Charlie's funeral and, since then, hadn't seen or heard from Charlie's family or from Matt. Greg knew it was nothing personal, that they really didn't know him very well, but it felt strange to be so quickly cut off from his friend without any real closure.
Amy had stayed in the hospital longer than Greg and at her thirty-fourth week of pregnancy delivered a beautiful baby girl weighing just under five pounds. Erin Marie Stokes remained at the hospital for two more weeks before Amy and Nick took her home. She was doing very well, and despite her premature status, there was nothing physically wrong with her. Amy's mother, Lynn, had stayed in Vegas with her daughter until Erin was a month old at which time Sharon, Nick's mother, came to visit, staying with them for three weeks to get to know her new granddaughter. Both grandmothers returned to Vegas, Lynn with Jennifer in tow, when Erin turned three months as Karen and Sara held a late, surprise baby shower for Amy.
Greg, during all of his time off of work, finally managed to finish his master's degree and moved on to his doctorate. He knew it would be a long time before he'd finished it, but was glad to have something to do.
The truth was, there was too much to think about. If Greg didn't stay actively thinking about something other than all of the horrific things that had happened, he knew he wouldn't make it. Greg had gone back to seeing Dr. Jennings twice a week, had gone back to religiously taking and checking his medication and, despite it all, finally felt like he had that part of his life back under control. He'd talked about it with Dr. Jennings, with Sara, with Nick and with Amy; Greg talked to any one that wanted to talk and would listen in return. He was tired of keeping it all inside.
The two most important conversations he had, early on, were with Grissom and Ecklie.
Ecklie told him that, if he wanted it, Greg was free to move back to the graveyard shift with Grissom as his supervisor. Ecklie knew that Greg and Sara could work together and still be professional. What's more, because of the leave of absence Greg was being forced to take, Catherine would have no choice but to give the promotion to Kevin. This way, if Greg changed shifts, he too could be promoted as soon as he returned. Greg had thanked him and accepted it without hesitation. It was the easiest decision he'd ever made.
His talk with Grissom wasn't nearly as pleasant.
For four months Greg internally debated what to do and who to talk to. Finally he approached Grissom, who he had always considered a professional mentor, and admitted that he wasn't sure he could do this job any more. Grissom, as he'd expected, had been supportive and rational, and only asked that Greg really think things through before making any permanent change. Any accommodations that Grissom could make for him, he would, but he understood why Greg had his doubts.
Another month passed and Greg knew time was running out. He would have to decide, one way or another, what he was going to do, and he had to talk to Sara. Telling Grissom had been easy; telling Sara would not. But what other choice was there? He should have told her the moment the doubts had started to creep in, but he couldn't. After Ecklie had officially moved him back, Sara had been excited about the idea of them working together again even if, because of the move, Grissom had made Nick his assistant supervisor. Greg didn't want to disappoint her with his own shortcomings; not again.
So he waited, and put it off, and basically avoided the problem, all the while growing more moody and distant as he brooded.
"What are you doing?" Sara asked, finding him in the spare room with the contents of his case spread out on the floor.
"Just reorganizing," Greg returned without looking up.
"Yeah," he said shortly.
Sara lingered in the doorway and watched as Greg continued to work. Watching as he shuffled items around with his back to her. Unable to read his mind but still certain she knew what was going on inside his head.
Sighing, she came into the room and sat down on his bright yellow couch.
Greg briefly met her eyes before resuming his task.
"Is something wrong?"
His chin dropped to his chest as his hands clenched tightly around the bottles he'd been in the process of repacking.
Sara slid off the couch to sit beside him on the floor. Gently, she took the items from his hands and put them aside, taking hold of his hands in hers and squeezing them tightly.
"It's okay," she said softly.
"It's not okay."
"Greg," Sara sighed. "You've talked about it but… but you really haven't. Not about what's important. Not about how you feel."
"I don't always need to talk about how I feel," Greg fired back, but not unkindly.
"I know," she said with an almost laugh. "I'm the same way, so, I do know. But, Greg… I know you're trying so hard. You've been really honest with me and, at the same time, really detached."
Greg looked up at her in surprise.
"We've talked about what happened, and how it happened, and where, and why… but we've never talked about who. And the who is really important, Greg. We've never talked about how any of this makes you feel."
"It's pretty obvious, isn't it?"
Greg shook his head slowly.
"Greg, I just want you to tell me," Sara continued after a lengthy pause. "If you don't want to go back, that's fine. But it has to be for the right reasons. It has to be because you don't want to do this anymore and not because you're afraid to face what's happened."
"You think I'm not…"
"I know you're not facing this," Sara interrupted. "The way you talk about it… it's like you're talking about someone else entirely. Like it some case you read about. You may have everyone else fooled, Greg, but not me. I know you better than that."
"It's… it's hard not to feel that way, Sara," Greg finally said. "Like it wasn't real. Like it wasn't me. I can't… I really can't remember any of that night and the days before that are still really… I don't want to remember it, but…"
He stopped and shook his head as if to clear it as Sara still held tightly to his hands.
"The lab… that was the last place I remember clearly and… and if I go back then I might remember it all and I don't want to. I don't want to relive that."
"I know I'm being stupid."
"You're not," Sara assured him. "I understand, but…"
Greg looked at her and waited as she tried to formulate the best way to say whatever it was Sara still had on her mind.
"But," she continued, "this is what she wants. This is exactly… Greg, the doctors have all said that you may never remember what happened that night. You could go another sixty years and not remember or you could be walking down the street and it may just suddenly come back. She wanted to wreck you, Greg. She wanted this. That lab is just a building. And, if you do remember it, it's still just the past. I know it isn't easy to forget or get over, but you have to keep living. You can't avoid it, Greg. You can't run away from this. I know. I know because, the further you run, the worse it is when it finally catches you. And it always catches you."
Greg pulled her to him for a quick kiss before smiling sadly.
"I feel so responsible for it all," he said quietly.
"You didn't do this."
"Part of me knows that," he sighed. "I do. I just can't stop myself from feeling so guilty."
"No one blames you for this."
"I wish they would."
"I'm serious. I wish someone would just tell me this is my fault and then maybe I can get over it. I just… I don't know what to do."
"Do you really not want to go back to the lab? Ever?"
Greg shrugged his shoulders uncertainly.
"Do you really hate what you do? The job you do? Do you think you can't handle it any more?"
"No," Greg admitted. "I love what… I worry, is all. I worry that this could happen again. I don't know what I'd do if this happened again."
"It's going to be okay."
"What if it isn't?"
"Greg," Sara laughed despite the tears that had started to form in her eyes. "We've been here before. We've… we've been through so much together that, you have to know by now, that it's going to be okay. As long as we're together, it will always be okay. Better than okay. Good even. Occasionally great."
"Only occasionally?" Greg asked with a laugh.
"Oh, God, I'm being a fool, aren't I?"
"No," Sara said warmly. "You're not. I understand, Greg. I do. I just wish you'd told me sooner."
"I'd guessed," Sara supplied. "I've gotten pretty good at figuring you out."
"I guess you have," he returned.
For a moment they both sat there in silence.
"What should I do?" he finally asked.
"What would you do?" he interrupted before she could finish.
"I'd at least try, Greg. You should at least try."
Greg closed his eyes tightly before nodding slowly in agreement.
"I can do that."
Greg put on a brave face, but when the time came, Sara knew that he was struggling. Getting ready that night, all throughout dinner, and even during the drive, he'd maintained a strict silence, and when he chose to park in the parking lot and not the garage, Sara couldn't really blame him.
"Ready?" she asked as they sat in the car a bit longer than was necessary.
"Yeah," he answered, getting out without another look in her direction.
Because he'd been gone so long, and because security had been reevaluated, they had to go through the front entrance. Greg was not surprised, only amused, to find Gretchen back in her typical place. It seems that Kevin had admitted, not long after Gretchen had been fired, that she was talking to him that night on the phone, not her sister. Technically, it was still a violation, but not nearly as serious a breach as they'd supposed. The two of them had been apologetic about the whole event and Kevin's connections had done the rest. From what he'd heard from Amy, they were getting married next summer.
"You'll need to sign for this," Gretchen said, handing Greg his new ID and briefly explaining the new procedures for entering and exiting the lab.
Greg nodded, only partially paying attention, as he checked out his badge and signed off on it.
"Security is going to want a more recent picture," she continued, "but that one will do for now."
"Thanks," Greg said, moving towards the secondary entrance with Sara.
"Welcome back," Gretchen called back just before he got the door open.
"You too," Greg said, smiling even at the sudden change in her behavior towards him; love can do that.
The lab hadn't changed a bit in all the time Greg had been gone. It was still bustling with activity, even so late into the night, and it was still warmly familiar.
The call of, "Sanders," stopped the two of them in their tracks, but when Greg turned, he didn't recognize the man who had said it. It wasn't until the man, average height with dark eyes and a dark complexion, began talking that Greg realized he'd been addressing Sara and not himself.
"I was just about to page you," he said. "DNA just got a hit on our murder in Green Valley. Brass is already talking with Grissom and wants you there when we pick him up. Are you ready?"
Sara looked momentarily conflicted as her eyes darted quickly to Greg. She knew how important it was for her to be with him, but this was also important; this was part of the job.
"Go," Greg urged her. "I'm good. Go."
The man finally looked at him, as if just now aware he'd been there all this time, and Greg saw the flash of recognition.
"Detective Singh," Sara began, "this is my husband, the other Sanders."
"Greg is fine," he said for himself, extending a hand.
"I'm Jay," the man said, shaking his hand in return with a smile. "It's nice to finally meet you."
Greg smiled uncomfortably aware that he was finally being introduced to Charlie's replacement.
"Um," Jay said, pulling back slightly and looking over his shoulder, "Sara? If we're going to go…"
Sara looked at Greg again, willing to stay back if he needed her, but he shook his head and again urged her follow.
"This shouldn't take long," she said, squeezing his arm and smiling at him. "We'll take our break together."
"Go," Greg repeated, smiling as best as he could as he watched Sara hurry off with Detective Singh.
Greg turned, continuing on to the break room to wait for the start of shift. After a few minutes of nervous fidgeting, Greg decided to make a fresh pot of coffee, not because he wanted any, but because he needed something to do.
Halfway through his task he heard Hodges saying, "I've got it. Don't worry, just go."
Turning to see what Hodges had, Greg smiled and said, "Hi, sweetie."
"Hello, yourself," Hodges returned dryly.
"I was talking to Erin," Greg said, crossing the room and taking the baby out of his arms. "Where's Amy?"
"She's still finishing up," Hodges explained. "Nick got called in a bit early and my hands were free so…"
"I thought they had this worked out," Greg said as Erin, too tired to play, dropped her head against his shoulder with a massive yawn.
Amy had only just come back to work herself this past month, and the adjustment was huge. She was still working swing shift, with Wendy permanently taking over graveyard. Technically, it should have been fine, but there were still some minor kinks, like the fact that Nick was constantly being called in early.
"I think Karen was supposed to come by but…" Hodges said, trailing off with a shrug.
"Well, Nick was leaving her with me on nights like this," Greg reasoned. "Maybe she forgot."
"Probably," Hodges agreed. "Amy thinks they may have to get a nanny."
"What? No," Greg argued. "They can work this out, I'm sure, without going that far."
Hodges nodded in agreement. So far, no one had any issues with Erin occasionally showing up to work with either Nick or Amy. Someone was usually free long enough to watch her during shift change.
"Oh, thank you," Amy said as she joined them in the break room, looking exhausted. "Wendy just showed up and cut me loose. I'm so sorry, Dave. Really, thank you so much."
"Hey," Greg objected. "I'm the one holding her."
"Thank you, too," Amy said with a smile. "And welcome back. I bet you didn't think you'd be babysitting still, right?"
"Not exactly how I pictured the night going," Greg admitted, "but I don't mind."
"Here," Amy said, taking Erin gently out of Greg's arms. "I'll take her. We need to get home and get some sleep. Thank you both," Amy repeated, dropping a kiss on Greg's cheek and then Dave's. "I don't know what we'd do without everyone being…"
"Oh, stop it," Dave interrupted before Amy got too emotional. "Let me help you to your car."
"Bye, Greg," Amy said from the doorway with a smile.
"Bye," Greg returned as Hodges offered him a small wave from the door.
Greg watched as they moved down the hall, stopping as they met up briefly with Nick, who kissed Amy and Erin both goodbye before joining up with Greg.
"No meeting tonight," Nick said as soon as he got through the door. "You and I are going to Summerlin for a breaking and entering. Ready?"
"Now?" Greg asked, kind of surprised.
"Yeah," Nick said with a near laugh.
"Okay," Greg said, kind of thrown off. He was expecting to have a bit more time, but maybe this was better. "I just need to get my things and… yeah, let's go."
Nick looked at Greg, slightly anxious, but ready to believe that Greg was ready and followed him out the door and towards the locker room.
Greg hadn't felt nervous or tense until this moment. Maybe it hadn't been so much about the lab after all, but that it really was the job. This was going to be it, the big test. If he could make it through…
Greg stopped in his tracks as they passed a small conference room, turning even to go back for a second look.
"What's wrong?" Nick asked, looking as well.
"I thought…" Greg began, before shaking his head and realizing he had to have been mistaken. The room was empty. "It's nothing."
"Are you sure?" Nick questioned, growing concerned as the color slipped from Greg's face.
"Positive," Greg returned. "We'd better get going, right?"
"Yeah," Nick agreed uneasily as Greg continued on, trying to appear as if nothing happened.
They didn't speak again until they were in the SUV and on their way to the scene.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Nick finally had to ask. "You looked pretty shaken. You're not having… You didn't…"
"No," Greg said quickly enough. "I didn't remember anything. Nothing new at least. It's… that was the last place I did remember. That room."
Nick nodded feeling better about it now that Greg had relaxed.
"Um," Nick said after a long pause, "Matt stopped by the other day. He asked how you were doing."
"How is he?"
"He's alright," Nick answered. "It's hard to tell. He didn't say much or stay long. Amy still keeps in touch with him but I hadn't seen him since…"
"I keep meaning to call," Greg admitted, "but I never know what to say."
They settled back into an awkward silence that lasted until Nick stopped at the scene.
"Ready?" he asked Greg once more.
Greg gave the surroundings a tentative glance.
"If I said I wasn't?"
"I'll drive you back," Nick answered calmly. "But, it's not going to get any easier. Greg, honestly, if you don't get out of the car now…"
"I never will," Greg finished for him.
"One step at a time."
"It's just that easy, huh?" Greg asked with a nervous laugh.
"No, it's just that hard."
Greg sighed, scanning the scene one more time from the seclusion of the vehicle; spotting Catherine and then Warrick, both trying to appear as if they hadn't just been watching and waiting for his next movement.
"You know," Greg said, "it wasn't too long ago that all this mothering and attention you have all been giving me would have really, really pissed me off."
"Mothering?" Nick repeated disdainfully.
"Yes," Greg said firmly. "Mothering. But now… I know you're all trying to help me. You are helping me and… Thank you. This hasn't been… Thank you."
Nick smiled tightly and Greg let out a deep breath.
"Are you going to get out of the car or what?" Nick finally asked with a real smile.
"Wow," Greg said, "I thought Warrick let his promotion go to his head. Was that an order?"
"Yes, it was," Nick said, playing along. "Get out of the damn car, Greg. Now. Or I'll write you up."
"Give a guy a little bit of power…" Greg smiled as he opened the door and stepped out.
"Just wait till you have a level one to boss around," Nick returned.
"Oh," Greg sighed, "I can't wait. I've got years of frustration from the torture you all put me through to work out. It's going to be great."
Nick laughed as they each took their cases and walked to where Catherine and Warrick were waiting for them.
"Hey," Nick said defensively, "it was all done out of love, man."
"Yes," Greg agreed. "Your love of seeing me suffer."
Nick laughed once more before getting serious and setting to work. Greg stood back a little, taking it in and trying to stay focused. Sara was right. Nick was right. He could do this. He had to do this if he wanted to get on with his life. He couldn't let what had happened ruin everything he had, everything he worked for. He wouldn't let it.
It wouldn't happen over night. It would take time and patience and a lot of effort and hard work, but it could be done. He was going to get that happy ending.
Greg was going to make sure of it.
A/N: I don't usually put these at the end, but since this is the end, I had to do something. I wanted to say thank you to everyone who put up with the years of waiting for this and who have constantly encouraged, read, commented and supported me throughout. I haven't always been the most diligent responder (or writer), but I read every comment and enjoy the feedback and again, thank you.
I always wanted to do seven of these stories, but I think this may actually be it. I've grown away from this fandom over the recent years and, although I have a few minor plots still buzzing around my head, can't see doing another major story, even for this arc. That doesn't mean I won't, I'd never say never, but I will say that I have nothing further planned. Out of curiosity, I added it up. If you've made it this far, you've read approximately 384,956 words. Yikes.
Big, big thanks to RivenSky and Tripp3235 who have put up with my whining and complaining and bad grammar and poor word choices with good-natured grace. Never once have they yelled at me to just get on with it or laughed openly in my face. If I take nothing more away from this ordeal, I ended up with two new friends. Thank you!
If you have any questions, any comments, anything further you just have to know, drop me a line and I will get back to you.
Again, thank you!