Life After
by Camilla Sandman

Sisclaimer: Characters are the property of the CBS. I'm just borrowing for my own non-profit amusement.

Author's Note: Set after the season seven finale.

II

There is a moment where death seems preferable.

Surprisingly, it's not the moment where everything hurts - hurting is still fighting, clinging on, feeling something. It's the moment after, when the mind slides away from the body and the body can't tug it back. There's something almost like apathy, but not quite. Something beyond. Something like forgetting emotions exist. Something like knowing no difference.

Something like a little voice that sound ancient and like a child both, whispering, 'Why not just let go?'

Why not. Oh, why not.

Lights, sounds, and pain again, and her name over and over again, as if its an anchor, weighing her down again.

"Sara. Sara. SaraSaraSaraSara..."

Grissom. There's a why, and she hates it, sensations returning like a crushing rush. Taste of blood in her mouth. Bright lights burning her eyes. Sharp pain every inhale, dull pain every exhale. Metal on skin, cutting. Crushing. Everywhere, crushing.

She closes her eyes, just to rest them for a moment, and when she opens them again, everything's white and people are smiling at her, hospital smiles she knows too well.

She's not going to die.

She's just not sure if she's going to live, either.

II

Hospital, day one.

She sleeps a lot, sometimes in pain and sometimes not. There are fleeting sensations of other people being there, like shadows touching her.

"You're going to be fine," they tell her.

It might be true tomorrow. It isn't true today.

Fine's not this mess.

There is a film in her mind, running over and over. Natalie's fingers curled around her arm, like claws. Natalie's eyes closing, lips moving as in prayer. Natalie's shoes, the last image before everything goes hazy. Natalie's words, seemingly sincere.

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry," Grissom says, hand clutching hers as if it's a lifeline. She's awake again, she realises, a slow realisation that seems to drag, as if her brain has become weighed down.

"Grissom," she mutters and has to look away when he looks up at her. Too much pain in his face, and she's already struggling with the weight of her own.

"I'm sorry," he repeats, like a mantra. Say it three times, and click your heels, and the nightmare goes away.

We were never in Kansas, Toto.

He feels guilty, then. Maybe he'll tell her why. Maybe he won't, and she'll be left to guess again.

"How did you..." she tries, her throat protesting every word.

"Warrick found your car," he answers, assuming her question. "Sara, I..."

He seems to hunt for words, and she lets him, closing her eyes and wishing that was enough to make her blind.

"I love you," he says, voice like a whisper.

"Yes," she agrees, not even opening her eyes.

She sleeps.

II

Hospital, day two.

The brain keeps a calender of its own, too. There's before her mother killed her father, and there's after. There's before moving out on her own, and there's after. There's before graduating, and there's after. There's before Las Vegas, and there's after. There's before Grissom, and there's after.

There's before brush with death. What's after?

She lies awake watching the drip in her arm, slowly dripping life into her. She must've been dehydrated when they found her, she reasons. A couple of ribs broken too, there's no mistaking that. At least one cut needing stitches. One wrist is bandaged too, but she can't tell if it's broken or merely bruised.

It's surprisingly easy to catalogue her own injuries, she decides, and then she cries.

It hurts. She's terrified too, and she can't understand why. She's already survived, why is she terrified now? Why is she terrified after?

"Hey Sara," Warrick says, and she lifts her head to see him standing in the door. She tries to blink tears away, but if he doesn't see them or merely pretends not to, she doesn't know.

"Hey," she manages. "Anyone else with you?"

"Just me," he says calmly. "Grissom's... He hasn't slept since you disappeared, so Cath pretty much tied him up and forced him to get some rest. He was starting to make the nurses believe in ghouls."

She thinks she might smile a little, because he gives a big grin in return.

"You found me," she says, remembering.

"Yeah. I got lucky." He shrugs. "Story of my life."

"Thank you."

He nods, and it feels strangely like a debt between them settled. She's not sure whose, though. Perhaps it doesn't really matter and perhaps she's just going a little insane.

"Natalie?" she asks, and he shakes his head.

Dead, then. Dead.

So why is she still terrified?

"Sara," Warrick says, and there might be tears in his eyes too. "Don't do that to us again."

She's not the only one fear still clings to, and somehow that doesn't make it one bit better.

II

Hospital, day three.

Grissom doesn't look like a ghoul, but he is beginning to remind her of a shade, barely there at all. Oh, he sits by her bed every time she wakes, but it's as if he's only half there and half in another world, where only shadows go.

"Sara," he says from time to time and she wants to tell him she damn well know her own name, but she never quite manages. Instead she feels an absurd desire to comfort him, when it's her who's been hurt.

Maybe that's love.

It's becoming harder to sleep. She thinks too much, and counting tazzers is not really helping to sleep.

She closes her eyes from time to time still, pretending she is sleeping, pretending everything she's seeing in her mind is just a nightmare and she can wake up.

"It's my fault," Grissom says, and she keeps her eyes closed to hard it hurts. "It was me she wanted to hurt. I could've killed you."

He presses a kiss against her knuckles so hard it hurts, almost as if branding her. Grissom's. That's why she's here. Grissom's.

She lies awake with her eyes closed for a long time, feeling something almost like hate.

II

Hospital, day four.

She gets out of bed for the first time, and every bone in her body hates her for it. But there is something almost pleasurable about it still, getting to the window and feeling the sun on her face.

It's not really sun she's feeling the heat of, the scientist in her reminds her. It's really just excited atoms reacting to sunlight she's feeling. There's science, and there what it feels like.

There's diagnosis, and there's what it feels like.

"You look dreadful," Catherine says, coming to stand next to her. "Much better look on you than dead. Hey, Sara."

"Hey, Catherine."

"Grissom's out in the hall, being so calm there's gotta be a hell of storm he's in the center of," Catherine continues after a moment. "You done this to him?"

There are a lot of very plausible denials she could make, and a few redefinitions of the question, but on some level, there's just one answer she really can give.

"Yeah."

Catherine nods, the next words sounding almost choked. "Don't die on him. Ever. He's... I can't watch him... Don't die on him."

"Catherine..."

"Don't," Catherine says again, forcefully, and Sara finds herself being hugged until she's breathless and aching, and it's almost like a mother's embrace.

"It's going to be okay," Catherine promises, voice of steel now. "It's going to be okay, Sara."

It sounds strangely like a verdict.

II

Hospital, day five.

She gets to eat, and the food tastes like nothing. Only water seems to taste of something, which isn't how it should be at all.

She steals her own chart and spends half an hour reading what she already knows. Broken ribs, light concussion, dehydration, multiple minor fractions, probable post-traumatic stress disorder.

She's half tempted to cross out several things and add some. 'No ability to taste', there's one. 'Anger issues', there's another. 'Constant urge to hit people, since she can't smack the one person who deserves it'.

How cheating is dying?

"Fuck you, Natalie," she says to the air. "You weren't sorry at all. You don't dare fucking pity me. Trying to kill me was bad enough. Fuck you."

She can't even get even. Can't sit in a room and watch the law create an illusion of justice. Can't get the power that was taken from her back. Can't face Natalie across a table and not be afraid, and that terrifies her.

Dying's cheating. It's not fair. Nothing's fair. She didn't do anything wrong. She only loved. What crime is that?

'Feelings of injustice', there's yet another.

She's a CSI, she knows shit happens to people who don't deserve it. She knows, she's fucking done this before. It wasn't her fault her father killed her mother and her mother killed right back. It wasn't. Wasn't, wasn't, wasn't!

Say it three times, and click your heels, and it might become true.

Somewhere over the rainbow, there's only still atoms.

In the end, she only crosses out 'probable'.

II

Hospital, day six.

Six stitches, she has out, and three new ones going in instead. Progress, the doctor calls it. As if half the hurt is something good. She wants to yell at him, but knows that's likely to earn her a sedative, so she yells at Grissom instead.

"Stop looking at me like it's your fault!" she snaps at him, and wishes he would look less like a kicked puppy.

"It is my fault," he says quietly.

"I know that!" she shouts back. "You don't have to remind me!"

"Sara..."

"Grissom..." She breathes, feeling sadness creep up on anger and giving it a surprise choke. "If you hate yourself, you're going to make me hate you too. I don't want to. I love you."

He walks over, taking her hands so hard it almost hurts, leaning his forehead against hers.

"I'm sorry," he says quietly. "She did this to you because I love you."

"Yeah," she agrees. "That doesn't have to change it."

He kisses her very softly, and she lets him have the softness of her lips as a sort of absolution. She wants to hate him a little. She just wants to love him a lot more.

Maybe there's a way to get even with the dead by living a life they would've denied you.

'This one's for you, Natalie,' she thinks, and kisses him back.

II

Hospital, day seven.

She storms out - or rather, limps out - of her first meeting with the 'therapist', and wanders around the halls until she somehow finds herself near the morgue. It's colder there, and she leans against the steel doors until her back feels like it's frost-bitten.

She doesn't look up when she hears someone else come too.

"For a long time, I felt drawn to the morgue," Nick says, coming to lean next to her. "Doc Robbins started complaining he saw me more than he saw his wife."

She laughs a little, which sounds oddly loud in the stillness.

"How did you cope?"

"I didn't," he says sincerely. "Don't try. It makes everything harder."

She thinks. "That doesn't make any sense at all."

He laughs a little, but not with much humour. "I was just thinking that as I said it. Look Sara, I could tell you what I did, but you're not me, so what good will it do you? If anyone tries to tell you how to cope, just throw something hard on them. There's no wrong or right. There's just what you do."

"Profound, Stokes."

He laughs again, and this time it feels genuine.

"Come on, Sidle," he says, smiling at her with life, as he's so good at. "This isn't your ward."

She still dreams about sleeping on steel tables that night, and wakes up knowing it won't be the last time.

II

Hospital, day eight.

She can go home tomorrow, the doctor tells her. If she wants to. If she has someone who can look after her. If she needs it, he can prescribe her a few things to help her sleep. If she wants, he can refer her to a specialist on trauma. If she wants... If, if, if.

She thanks him and offers no answers to any of them. She just don't know. There is a maelstrom in her head, and it's hard to think in the roar.

"Sara," Grissom says from the door, almost seeming to loom in it. "Doctor told me... I got time off work. I can... You can come home."

'And will nursing me nurse your guilt, too?' she doesn't ask. It's an ugly question, with ugly answers, and maybe she doesn't need to know. Maybe all she needs to know is that he'll deal with it.

"Do you want me to?" she asks instead, watching his face, half in shadow, half in light.

He inhales and exhales once, enough time to give an answer that isn't automatic. "Yes."

Absurdly, she thinks of the first time he kisses her; his beard scratching her cheek, his nose bumping into her; her lips fumbling across his, his hand stuck in her pocket and her back against a hard doorknob. Bit of a mess then. Bit of a mess now.

Bit of a mess always. That's life.

"Yeah," she says, propping herself up a bit awkwardly. "I want to come home."

"Sara," he says, her name like a caress. "We're going to be all right, aren't we?"

It isn't true today, she knows. But there is a day after. As long as you live, there's always the day after.

It isn't true today. But it might be true tomorrow.

"Yeah, Grissom," she says. "We're going to be all right."

II

FIN