Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. All other characters are my invention, and if you want to mess with them, you have to ask me first. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Spoilers: through "Living Doll"
Many, many thanks to my patient beta Cincoflex, who has been enthusiastically cheering me on while keeping me on the straight and narrow! Couldn't do it without you, dearest.
The group gathered at University Hospital didn't know whether to rejoice or fear. Nervous CSIs milled around the lounge taken over by Sara Sidle's visitors, while techs clumped and whispered and a couple of detectives held up one wall and said nothing to anyone.
Jim Brass blew in with Greg in tow, the captain looking as though he'd been wrestling with angels. Greg's wide and goofy grin kept fading as he remembered why everyone was there, but then it would reappear as soon as his attention slipped.
At one end of the room, Catherine spoke quietly with the trucker who had picked Sara up on the highway. The woman still looked a little shell-shocked, but her quick thinking and radio had brought in a MedEvac helicopter to lift the hemorrhaging Sara to the ER. Now she waited with the rest of them to find out what would happen.
Catherine was poised as she asked low-voiced questions, trying to fill in missing details about Sara's ordeal, but if one looked closely one could see the smudges of black around her eyes, smudges she had not yet taken the time to wipe away.
Standing in the doorway, observing, Grissom reflected that those smudges probably said more about Catherine's relationship with Sara than any of her words. The two women weren't friends, no.
But that didn't mean Catherine didn't care.
The tense group hadn't noticed him yet; he'd been talking to doctors and admissions nurses for the last forty minutes, and Grissom was grateful for a last few moments of peace before having to face them all.
He was still a little dizzy with the events of recent hours. Sara missing--Sara dead--miraculously alive--now, in surgery. His stomach was still a churning mix of fear and wild joy, and the fact that he still had not seen Sara was driving him half-mad.
The quiet approach of someone behind his left shoulder made Grissom turn. Warrick stopped next to him, holding out a paper cup of hospital coffee. "You okay?"
Grissom took the cup and lifted it in thanks. "I'm...holding on."
Warrick nodded and took a sip from the cup in his other hand, looking beyond into the waiting room. Nick had an arm around Judy's shoulders, singing her praises to Brass for managing to track Sara through her phone call; Judy was blushing furiously but, interestingly, making no move to get out of the circle of Nick's embrace.
"Better get in there and let them know before they come looking for you," Warrick said, a tired amusement lacing his tone. "Some of 'em will have to go soon anyway."
"True." Grissom kept forgetting that beyond this tense gathering the lab had business to conduct and crimes to solve. In fact, only the alarm on his phone had reminded him to call a neighbor to feed Bruno, waiting patiently at home.
Sighing, he stepped into the room. All eyes turned his way, and conversations stopped.
"She's still in surgery," Grissom told them. "But the doctors say that she's out of immediate danger."
The susurrus of relief was followed by a chatter of questions, but Grissom held up his free hand and they quieted. "Sara sustained some cracked and broken ribs, and some internal bleeding; she was in shock from exposure and bleeding, and was in the early stages of pneumonia. They think they have everything under control for now."
The smiles turned thoughtful; Grissom couldn't bring himself to say it, but it was clear that they understood the unspoken caveat. No surgery was without risk, and Sara could still take a turn for the worse.
But…she was safe. Alive. Back with them.
Grissom braced himself for more questions, but thankfully no one seemed to need further reassurance; they broke up into little groups to chat, and two of the detectives took their leave. Grissom circled the room until he reached the bank of chairs where Robbins was sitting, and eased himself down with a sigh.
"I'd ask you how you're holding up, but it seems fairly obvious," Robbins said sympathetically.
Grissom nodded, and took another swallow of coffee. It was pretty bad stuff, but better than nothing, and he wasn't about to leave the hospital in search of something more palatable.
"I find it telling that no one questioned my status as Sara's emergency contact," he said dryly.
Robbins snorted. "Sorry, Gil, but whatever expectation of privacy you two had is now blown to hell. Rumor was running rampant around the lab all last night, and this morning's events only put fuel on the fire."
Grissom shrugged, and leaned forward to balance his elbows on his knees, cup held in both hands. "I think…it was a secret past its time anyway."
He supposed that he should feel more upset about his relationship with Sara becoming public knowledge, but at the moment he simply didn't have the time to spare to worry about it. Sara herself was far more important; anything else could be dealt with later.
When she's better.
He held onto the thought stubbornly, refusing to dwell on any alternative.
Robbins, thankfully, let him sit without requiring further discussion. As Grissom finished his coffee, he realized that half the population of the room had left, presumably to return to work or home; most of those remaining were nightshift personnel. The atmosphere was much like that of Brass' hospitalization, an air of waiting for news or at least a glimpse of the patient.
He looked up. Coming through the doorway was a woman in scrubs, looking around. Various people pointed in Grissom's direction as he stood, and the doctor came in.
"I'm Dr. Sergio." She extended a hand, and Grissom shook it, aware that the others were gathering around. "Ms. Sidle is out of surgery and doing well so far."
Greg whooped, overrunning the other exclamations of relief and making several people laugh. Catherine reached up and smacked him on the back of the head, but she was grinning as she did it.
Dr. Sergio smiled and went on. "She's stable, but we're going to be keeping her in the ICU for a while, which means only one visitor at a time. We catch you sneaking in extra people, everyone gets thrown out." She sent a stern glare around the group.
"She'll be settled in a bed in about fifteen minutes, and after that she can have her first visitor…"
Grissom didn't hear the rest; he was already out the door.
The ICU at University wasn't set up like the one Jim had inhabited a year previously; instead, patients were housed in semi-private pods spoking off from a central nurses' station. Grissom was made to wait, and he did so grudgingly, planting himself next to the station instead of taking a decorous seat in the hallway.
Finally one of the nurses waved him in. The pod held two beds and their accompanying paraphernalia, but only the near one was occupied.
Grissom didn't remember walking from the curtain to the bed; all his eyes could see was Sara's face, bone-white against the whiter pillowcase, brows and lashes dark slashes but her lips almost as colorless as her skin. A gauze pad covered one cheek, and while a blanket was drawn up over her chest, her bandaged arms lay outside it for the IV line.
He sat without checking to see if the chair was actually there, and for a moment could do nothing but stare, making sure that the slow rise and fall of Sara's chest was real.
His hand was shaking with a fine tremor when he reached out for hers. The long, strong fingers were surprisingly cold, and Grissom enveloped her hand in both of his, rubbing gently to try to transfer some warmth into it. The skin under his fingertips was rough, and he tore his eyes away from her face long enough to look down.
Her fingers were scraped and scratched, the nails split in places and still dark with grime though her hands had been cleaned. Grissom counted one bruise on the back of her hand and two more on her wrist, and wondered fearfully how she had got them.
"Sara," he whispered. "Sara."
He lifted her palm to his mouth and held it there, and this time when his eyes overflowed, there was no despair.
Sara always thought of anesthesia as a sort of tide. First it rose to drown her, then gradually washed her ashore in gentle waves, advancing and retreating. Each wave brought her further up the sand, and she let them rock her to and fro, listening to sound fade in and out, drifting on the water of sleep.
When the final wave left her, the sounds came clear--a soft beeping, and voices. Her eyelids were too heavy to open just yet, so she lay still and savored the voices, because one of them was Gil's.
I made it.
I made it back, and he's okay.
"She's doing fine," said a strange female voice, low and confident. "Her vitals are strong; she's just taking a while to come out of it. Relax, Dr. Grissom. From what you tell me, she should be exhausted; let her sleep."
The woman--a doctor?--was amused, but Grissom's quiet response was anything but.
"She's been out of surgery for almost two hours. This can't be normal."
Sara realized as sensation returned that she felt vaguely unwell, and that her right hand was enveloped in a warm, gentle grip.
She would know that touch anywhere.
"Relax," the woman repeated firmly. "Positive energy only, Dr. Grissom, or you'll have to leave. I'll be back in a while to check on her."
There were no footsteps moving away, but Sara heard Grissom's sigh and the rustle of cloth as he shifted. Blearily amused, Sara felt her lips curve in a small smile, and she curled her fingers slowly around his.
He drew in a breath, and his grip tightened. "Sara...sweetheart, are you awake?"
She managed to get her eyes open, though the light made her blink. "Mmph."
A touch hardly stronger than a breeze stroked her uninjured cheek. Grissom was right there, his eyes brilliant in the soft light. "Sara," he repeated, and it was a prayer and a thanksgiving.
She smiled wider. "You're all right," she tried to say, but her mouth was a dry and nasty mess and her throat not much better.
Grissom winced, and let her go to turn to the little table next to the bed. A fumbling second later he turned back with a glass and a bendy straw, and slid a hand behind her head to help her lift it.
The water was warm and scant, but it did clear some of the yuck. Sara let him lower her head back down and blinked up at him. "You--uh--you're okay."
Grissom's brows drew together in fleeting confusion as he recaptured her willing hand. "I'm fine, sweetheart. You--how do you feel?"
It was like thinking through ballistics gel, but Sara tried to take inventory. Given how she'd felt just before she passed out, it was logical to assume that she was on some serious drugs now, which would explain a lot.
"My ribs hurt," she said at last. "Everything hurts, but not bad."
Grissom nodded, his thumb stroking over her knuckles. "You had to have surgery to repair some internal bleeding," he said carefully. "But the doctor says you're going to be fine."
Sara nodded. She knew there was a lot that had to be said, about the woman who abducted her and what had happened afterwards, but she couldn't find the energy just now, and anyway Grissom didn't seem concerned about it. He just kept looking at her as though he couldn't get enough.
The waves were coming back for her, but she wasn't afraid. "You'll be here?" she asked, her voice slurring.
Grissom lifted her hand to his cheek. "Always," he said, in the deep tone he kept only for her.
She smiled again, and let her fingers curl against his skin.
"Yeah, that's her." Sara stared through the glass at the still figure in the chair. Whatever power Natalie had possessed was fled, leaving a slight figure who stared at nothing and occasionally hummed a soft bar of song. Sara felt no dread watching her, only distaste and an uneasy sort of pity.
Behind her, Grissom's hands tightened on her shoulders. Until her incision healed, he was barred from his favored embrace of his arms around her waist, but he was not willing to let her go through this alone or untouched.
Brass, on Sara's right, sighed without satisfaction. "That's it, then. Kidnapping and attempted murder on top of the other charges."
"She'll plead insanity, or her attorney will," Grissom said, his tone observational. Brass shrugged.
"This is one of the times where I think it's a real defense. Doesn't matter though, either way she's never getting out again."
Sara was only half-listening, her attention taken up by the young woman behind the reinforced door. Natalie looked too slender and unassuming to have done all she had, but Sara knew as well as anyone how much strength could lie behind a harmless façade, even without her recent first-hand experience. For the thousandth time she wondered just what had driven Natalie over the edge; even with the full story from Grissom and Catherine it was by no means clear.
Are some people just born bad? It was a question they had all asked at some point in their work. Usually they hoped it wasn't true, that everyone had an opportunity for some kind of redemption. But what had moved a small girl to push her own sister out of a treehouse? Did she even mean to kill her?
Judging from Natalie's unresponsiveness, she would not be providing answers any time soon. Sara wasn't entirely sure that she herself wanted an answer.
I probably won't like it.
"Sara?" Grissom asked softly, and she blinked, breaking her stare through the glass. Brass was halfway down the hospital corridor, cellphone already held to his ear.
"Sorry," she answered, and reached up to touch one of his hands. "I kind of zoned out there for a minute."
"You're entitled," Grissom said, and she turned in time to catch his expression; not quite regret, more a rueful acknowledgment of the world's flaws. "Are you ready to go?"
"Definitely." Sara didn't look back at Natalie. There was nothing more for her to see in the broken woman, and Sara was determined to not let her ordeal rule her life. "Let's get out of here."
Grissom wrapped his hand around hers as they walked away. He couldn't seem to keep from touching her, these days, and Sara had noticed that the hesitancy that had sometimes come upon him in the past had vanished, leaving a renewed intensity in its wake. She might have expected to find his deepened attention irritating, but instead she found herself basking in it.
Maybe winning free of Natalie's trap had been a rebirth of sorts.
For both of them.
"Greg told me to ask you when you're coming back," Grissom said, with tolerant amusement. "Again."
Sara snorted, and tightened her grip on his fingers, concentrating on the feel of his warm skin rather than the oppressive atmosphere of the psychiatric hospital. "As soon as my overprotective boss lets me."
She didn't look, but she knew he was pursing his lips against a smile. "Stitches out first."
Her huff was more formality than real protest. In the past, she might have gone back to work as soon as she could make it through a shift, but now she had more to look forward to than another worknight.
For now, she was content to wait until she could bend over without hurting. Grissom had taken a week off to look after her, but now he was back at the lab, and Sara found a curious pleasure in spending her night quietly and waiting for him to come home.
It'd bore me stupid after a month, she admitted privately, but for the moment...
It wasn't as though she didn't have plenty to do, anyway. There were articles to catch up on, and the paper she was writing for the APF journal, and the occasional nap on the big bed that smelled like her lover even when he was gone.
And soon she would be back at work. Greg wasn't the only impatient one, after all.
They signed out of the hospital and emerged into the bright sun of afternoon. Grissom slipped on his sunglasses with his free hand, but didn't release hers. "Let's go home."
There was survival, and there was living. At last, she was alive.