A/N Okay, so I worked like hell to get this up soon, after all your wonderful reviews. Sometimes I wish I could just quit varsity and spend my life writing :)
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chap. It certainly went differently from what I had planned, but I guess that sometimes you've got to let the words lead you, right?
To my wonderful, MnM-deserving reviewers: Famous4it, fancyjancyGSR, Dr. Temperance Brennan, inlovewithgsr, tine, NickyStokes, meester, Gsfanatic, starlett2007, Haldir's Heart and Soul – once again, you guys rock my world and make it all worthwhile!C: 6
Nick Stokes pulled his jacket closed around him and clicked on his flashlight. He studied the tall trees for a few seconds before walking deeper into them. It was dark out, and a strong wind was screaming through the trees, making them sway hauntingly from side to side. Overhead, large clouds were massing over the Forberg Reserve, blocking out the dim light of the moon. It was an atmosphere best suited to B-rated horror movies and the nightmares of small children and Nick did his best to ignore it as he reached the group of trees he was looking for.
Nick stopped dead, staring up at one tree in shock. High above him, was a man hanging by his neck from one of the branches, swinging in the wind, the rope creaking. At the base of the tree, two CSI kits were standing open and a small jar of sand was resting on top of one. Nick frowned and ducked under the crime scene tape surrounding the trees, taking steps towards the kits. A rustle of leaves from nearby stopped Nick dead. He squinted in front of him, trying to identify the source of the sound and spotted a large pile of leaves – and a hand!
Nick ran forwards, falling to his knees beside the prone form of Catherine Willows. She was unresponsive and Nick hurried to brush the leaves off her in order to check her pulse. But as soon as they were off her, Nick's eyes fell on something worse and he gasped in horror. At the centre of Catherine's chest was a huge patch of blood – and a bullet hole. She was still bleeding and blood ran down the sides of her shirt and seeped in to the ground below.
"Cath! Catherine!" Nick shouted. He instinctively reached for his cell phone but found it gone from its place on his belt. He pushed more leaves off Catherine's body, seeking her phone when suddenly, he heard the click of a gun stock and felt cold, hard metal at the back of his head.
"Stop righ' there," a voice behind him growled. Nick had no choice, putting up his hands. He forced himself to appear calm, but inside, he was in turmoil. Catherine was dying, bleeding to death in front of him and there was nothing he could do to save her, not with a gun on his head. Cold fear gripped his heart and his breathing quickened as adrenaline flooded his system.
"Let's just be calm," he started. But the man behind him would have none of it. He grabbed Nick by the shoulder and flung him backwards. Nick waited for the hard ground to come, and instead, felt the rush of free-fall. He opened his eyes to see not a man, but Kelly Gordon waving at him with a manic grin as he fell further and further into the dark pit. He opened his mouth to scream but instead, heard only a frenzied beeping.
"What the-?!" for a moment his fear was defeated by curiosity. I'm beeping?!
But then he heard voices, and the clatter of a medical cart and realised what was happening.
Nick jerked awake and squinted against the daylight that attacked his eyes. The beeping was real now, and finally he was able to match faces to the voices he'd been hearing.
Dr. Morgan rushed past his bed, demanding, "What the hell just happened?!"
Behind him was a grey-haired nurse of about 50, looking utterly shell-shocked, "I- She-… I don't know."
Nick forced himself to sit upright and found the doctor and two other nurses gathered around Sara's bed. The loud beeping was coming from her heart monitor and Sara lay still on the bed.
"Sar?" Nick's voice was a whisper.
And suddenly the frenzied beeping changed into a long, high-pitched whine. Nick spotted the flat line on the screen above his friend and felt a cold horror descend on his body. He found himself frozen, staring at the flat line, his ears shrieking with the whining of the monitor, unable to move, despite the frenzy of thoughts rushing through his mind. Sara. Flat-lining. Sara. No heart beat. Sara. Dead?
"We'll have to defib her!" Dr. Morgan called and moments later the previously petrified nurse had sprung into action and readied two conducting paddles.
Nick watched, his mouth open but unable to form words, as the paddles were charged and electric current was jolted through Sara's body. He cringed at the way her whole body jerked under the force of the current and Nick felt his own heart begin to beat harder and faster in his chest.
"Wake up. Wake up," he found himself repeating under his breath, not taking his eyes off his friend.
A second jolt, more powerful. Nothing. And then a third – and the slow beating of before returned to the room. As one, the people in the ward sighed with relief.
Nick shoved his blankets back and slid to his good foot, gripping his bed for support with his good arm as he stood. Slowly, painstakingly, he hopped towards Sara's bed. The older nurse was the first to spot him and hurried over.
"Mr. Stokes! You shouldn't be on your feet. Please let me help you back to bed."
Nick ignored her request and said, "No. Please, I need to see that she's okay."
The woman seemed to catch his urgency and nodded, pulling his arm over her shoulder to help him to Sara's bedside. By the time he slid into the chair that Grissom had occupied only minutes before, the two other nurses had departed, taking the defibrillator with them. Dr. Morgan stepped to the side to allow him a full view of his friend.
"She's going to be okay, Nick," Morgan said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "The heart beat we've got now is strong."
Nick nodded at the man, not really wanting to talk to him but grateful for his concern. "What happened to her?"
Morgan sighed, "I'm not entirely sure – I'll have to do a few tests to investigate. My best guess is that the venom reached her heart and upped her heart rate to the point of burnout. I know Brown Recluse venom has been associated with acute myalgia so perhaps it caused her cardiac muscle to spasm." The doctor stopped to look at the monitor and then down at Sara, who appeared to be resting peacefully. "Still, I have my doubts whether the venom was the sole contributor. Stress is almost always a factor. Patients are upset by something, they panic, their heart rate starts to rise – and then it just doesn't stop increasing until the heart goes into freezes up. "
Nick followed the man's eyes and spotted long tear tracks down Sara's cheeks. She'd been crying? It was then that Nick realised that Grissom had finally left. Is it possible, he wondered, that Sara woke up already? That something upset her enough to spark this off?
"I'd best be off," Dr. Morgan said, turning towards the door. "But if you'd like, you can move to the bed beside hers, if you'd like to keep an eye on her. I don't really know Miss Sidle, but I can see you two are close."
"Thanks, we are," Nick said, nodding. "I think I'll take you up on that offer."
"Ok," Morgan nodded. "I'll ask Nurse Gardiner to come in and check on her – and to help you back to bed."
Nick nodded his thanks and turned his attention back to his friend. He gripped Sara's hand and squeezed, aware of the warmth of her fingers against his palm. Of all the members of Grissom's team, he'd been the first to warm to her when she'd first arrived in Vegas, and over the years, he'd come to think of her as the baby sister he'd never had. He and Warrick had secretly become more and more protective of Sara as they learnt more about her. She came off as tough, but, Nick suspected, she was still vulnerable; he understood their shared ability to empathise with victims and knew how strongly Sara felt pain – and how well she hid it.
"What did you get yourself into this time, little sis?" Nick muttered under his breath. He reached up and ran a finger along one of the tear marks on her cheek. Suddenly, a small half smile spread across her face and her eyes fluttered open.
"Hey you," Nick said softly, sending her his thousand-watt smile. "How you doing?"
Sara swallowed and blinked a few times until his face came into focus. She was obviously happy to see him and her smile broadened, "Honestly? Like hell…. What about you Nick?… I heard about the Reserve."
"I've been better," he said with a wry smile. "Who told you? I thought you've been asleep this whole time."
Sara shook her head slowly, "I woke up…uh…I'm not so sure how long ago. Grissom told me what'd happened."
Aah, so that's why you've been crying, Nick thought.
"You scared me just now Sar. Don't do that again," he said sternly.
She frowned, "What?"
Nick's frown matched hers, "You don't remember?" Sara shook her head slowly.
"Your heart rate spiked and your heart stopped beating… Sara, you died."
Grissom sighed and rubbed his forehead. He could feel a migraine coming on and reached down into his drawer in search of his painkillers. His fingers closed around the bottle and he didn't hesitate to pop it open and swallow two of the small tablets. He took a deep breath and a sip of coffee from the mug on his desk before turning his attention back to the report he was writing. It had been a hectic shift, with Warrick taking on two new cases while Greg hurried to wrap up the case he and Sara had been working. But with the loss of his mentor in the midst of his return to confidence, he'd made a number of rather silly mistakes and so, Grissom had been forced to take over Sara's guiding role. Everybody was tense and anxious to find out what Days had concluded as to Nick and Catherine's attack and, to make matters worse, a wad of employee Cost to Living Adjustment forms had arrived on Grissom's desk, leaving him with a mountain of work.
He managed to write two lines about his blood evidence findings before stopping. Somehow, he just couldn't get her off his mind. Sara. Every time somebody walked past his office he looked up, hoping that it would be her, peeking into his office to update him on a case; just dropping in to submit a completed report – or maybe to wake him up from this nightmare. With a twist of regret in his chest he remembered the days when she'd enter his office for other reasons: to chat, to ask his advice, to tell him stories – to invite him to dinner. No, I put a deadening stop to that, he thought.
Her doll's face from earlier danced in his mind's eye and he shook it off and forced his eyes back to his report. But in the back of his mind, he wondered how she was doing, whether she was sleeping – or perhaps reading the Journal he'd left for her.
A knock on his door pulled him from his thoughts and he looked up to find Jim Brass standing in that doorway.
"Guess what?" Brass said, moving forward to take a seat on the other side of Grissom's desk.
Grissom sighed. He wasn't in the right mood for guessing games.
"What?" he asked flatly.
"The guy who attacked Catherine and Nicky is Jacob Messina, 52. He recently escaped from the West Las Vegas Mental Institute. Multiple Personality Disorder, compulsive liar, ex-coke addict obsessive compulsive, the list goes on." Brass rattled off. "The guy's a crackpot. He was in a correctional facility for fives years, declared 'cured' and then two years ago he was convicted and sentenced to Life for bleeding his wife to death and hanging her from the second floor landing of the nearest apartment building. Apparently he has a big thing for blood too. Hell we could fill an entire mental asylum with this guy alone!"
Grissom took a deep breath, "Can he be held accountable for his actions?"
"The DA's going to file. I mean, Jesus, Gil, I saw Nick's gun when the guys from Days were processing it. The guy shot it clean out of his hand – he's obviously a damn good shot; and obviously dangerous."
"We expect them to either be crazy or skilled; never both," Grissom completed.
"Yeah," Brass nodded. He looked seriously at Grissom and asked, "So how are the guys doing? I spoke to Catherine before shift and she said that Nicky and Sara are still in Desert Palms."
"They seem to be okay," Grissom said. "The guys and I are going over after shift. You should come with us."
"Thanks, I will," Brass paused then looked Grissom in the eye and asked, "And how are you holding up?"
Grissom gave a heavy sigh and looked down at his desk, "Fine. I'm…concerned about them. Nick's not going to be able to go out into the field until his leg has healed and Sara…well, I don't know." Grissom's eyes met Brass's and he repeated, softly, "I just don't know."
Brass sighed. "How long is it going to take you to get over yourself?" he asked accusingly.
Grissom frowned, hoping to fool Brass into thinking that he didn't know what he was talking about, "What do you mean Jim?"
But the police captain would have none of it and saw straight through his attempt to mask his understanding, "Don't act like you don't know Gil. I've seen the way you look at Sara…the way she looks at you. Damn it, we've all seen it. I might be old, but I'm not blind."
Grissom was silent for a few moments, less shocked by what Brass was saying that by the fact that he was openly speaking it. He shrugged nonchalantly, "Yes, I trust Sara. And yes, we…connect. We see eye to eye. But this is not right. We have a history, yes, but that's where it ends. We've had our time"
Brass's lips curled with disgust and he shook his head , "'Had your time'?" He scoffed, "What the hell does that mean. Yeah, so you dated, fooled around – whatever- in San Francisco all those years ago. That's not what matters. You're both here now! Watching each other, wanting each other, tiptoeing around the issue! Hell, you stayed at that hospital the whole day so don't try to tell me that you don't feel anything for her. Now's the time to decide Gil – do you want Sara or not?"
"I…" Grissom was shocked speechless.
"Because I've watched her get hurt too many times by your damn passive-aggressiveness."
Grissom took a breath and forced himself to be calm.
"It doesn't matter what I want Jim. I'm too old for Sara. She's young, dynamic and me, well I'm old and far too set in my ways," he tried to argue. "She belongs with a man her own age."
"Well, if you'd taken your head out of your microscope long enough to notice her, you'd know that every guy her age that she's dated has left her with a broken heart," Brass countered.
Grissom felt a stab of pain for Sara, and regret that he hadn't been there for her. Been there for her, Gil? his mind ranted. You didn't even know about it!
"That doesn't prove that she should be with an old man." Grissom said sternly, still hoping to swing things in his favour.
"And what if she wants an old man? What if she wants you?"
Once again, Grissom was lost for words. How could he respond to that without revealing how he'd been feeling all along? Really, what if she wanted him? He'd been sure that she'd given up on them; that what they now shared was purely platonic. By the time he'd realised how he felt about her, he'd been sure that she no longer wanted him – and now this. She wants me?
Grissom shook off the thought. Feelings aside, he was still her boss. He heaved a heavy sigh and looked Brass in the eye, "I don't know Jim. I don't know what you want me to say to you."
Brass's face softened, "Say that you won't hurt her."
Sara cast a glance at the clock hanging over the door to the ward. 07:30am. It was the third time she'd looked at it in the last twenty minutes and it wouldn't be the last. Shift had ended a half-hour before and she was wondering if the others were going to visit. She was also anxious to find out whether or not Grissom would be joining them. He'd said that he would, but after their rather uncomfortable goodbye, she was beginning to have her doubts. Truth be told, she wasn't entirely sure whether or not she wanted him to come. After he'd left, she'd made up her mind to get over him once and for all. If he was able to discard the connection between them as easily as he had, there was no doubt as to his not wanting a relationship. Their shared breakfasts had given her hope – but now she knew that she had no reason to have any. Grissom didn't want her.
"Hey Sar," Nick called from the bed beside hers. "If you're not going to read that, can I?" He nodded towards that Forensics Journal on the table between them and she nodded.
"Go wild," she said softly.
"Hello again!" a cheery voice called from the doorway. Sara didn't even bother to look; she knew who it was. The nurses had been into the ward every half-hour since her heart had given out, checking her pulse and keeping a very close watch on her. She listened as the woman, who was obviously on morning rounds, went to Nick first and began asking how he'd slept – as if he had, being a graveyard CSI.
Sara rolled onto her side, ignoring the lameness she felt in her muscles with her change of position, and stared blankly out the window. She felt a great deal better she had the previous day, her fever having eased during the night. The nausea was also wearing off so that all that remained was lame, weak feeling in her muscles and the pain of the bites on her shoulder. The night had gone well and she'd slept soundly after her supposed death, with no further heart complications. She'd woken around midnight to find Nick watching a late night movie and spent the rest of the night channel-flipping with him. There weren't many good shows on – yet another disadvantage of working graveyard shift and not being able to sleep at night.
The sky outside was a dull grey, and although the clouds outside weren't nearly as dark as the previous day's, a 60 chance of rain had been forecast. She sighed and closed her eyes, feeling bored, frustrated – disillusioned.
There was a knock on the doorframe. Sara twisted in bed to find Greg entering the room, a huge bunch of lilies in his arms. Behind him was Jim Brass.
"Flowers for the beautiful girl," Greg grinned winningly and handed them to her. Her arms protested under the weight of the bunch and she felt a streak of frustration run through her. Dr. Morgan had said she'd be weak, but this was ridiculous.
"Thank you Greg," she smiled. "They're beautiful."
"Hey," Nick frowned, "What about me?"
"Sorry Nick," Greg shrugged, "I tried to bring you a steak but they wouldn't let me bring it in here. Dunno why."
At Nick's bedside, the nurse let out a small chuckle before bowing her head to fill out his chart.
"Hey Dollface," Brass called cheerfully as he went over to Sara's bed.
She smiled back and uttered a genial "Hey! It's good to see you."
"You too," he returned the smile. "How're you kids doing?"
"Much better," the nurse interrupted. "One of them might not be here much longer." She cast a serious look at Sara and winked at Nick before going back to her writing.
"Great," Brass nodded happily and turned to Nick and Sara, rolling his eyes at the woman's presumptuousness. "And how do you two feel?"
Nick and Sara grumbled brief responses, both trying to downplay their condition.
Brass managed to believe Nick's "Good, man. I'll be on my feet in no time. Feeling great." but shook his head when Sara tried to say the same thing. He looked at her seriously and said, "I heard about what happened to you yesterday afternoon: doesn't sound like you're as peppy as you're pretending to be. "
Sara sighed irritably and rolled her eyes. She was tired of people worrying about her, sick of people watching her, wondering when her heart would stop again. She was sick of people checking her pulse and asking how she was feeling; sick of Desert Palms – and sick of people telling her that she wasn't taking her condition seriously. The heart thing, well, that had been unexpected, but it wasn't like she was a total invalid. The more people treated her like one, the harder it was for her to ignore the pain and weakness in her body; something she was desperately trying to do. She decided to change the topic.
"So…is Grissom coming?" she asked, trying to sound indifferent.
Brass opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted.
"Hi," A familiar voice came from the doorway.
Sara winced and pushed herself into a sitting position. She turned to the door and found him standing there, looking worn-out, dishevelled and remorseful. His eyes bored into her, icy blue easily penetrating warm brown and a thousand feelings rushed through her at once. He was there again, seeing into her soul with those haunting eyes of his. Not that his being there should have been anything out of the norm. He was a supervisor – a friend- simply visiting to say hi and check up on them. Nothing special there. All she had to do was be friendly – no passion was to be felt anymore needed. Then why was he looking at her with such intensity? Why was she suddenly feeling the tingles that had run through her when he'd held her hand the previous night? Why did she suddenly want to start crying all over again?
And why could she feel her heart beginning to beat faster in her chest? No, not beat - pound! Faster and faster. Her eyes stayed locked with his, emotions flying between them, and suddenly her breathing became erratic and rapid, increasing until she was gasping for air in short breaths. The passion that had been in his eyes moments before turned to concern and he stepped forward, distressed, but unsure of what to do. A trembling hand went to her heart as the steady beeping of her heart rate monitor began to speed up. The nurse immediately dropped Nick's chart and rushed over. Sara's breathing grew worse until only limited oxygen trickled into her lungs and cells, making her feel faint. She squeezed her eyes closed, and let herself fall back onto the pillows, her weakened body unable to cope.
"Sara!" she heard Greg's voice cry.
She felt the nurse grab her wrist to check her pulse but didn't care. She couldn't find the strength to move her arm anyway. Every bit of strength was draining to her heart and her body numbed.
"Whoa! Miss Sidle!" the nurse said in a calm but firm voice, "Deep breaths. Easy. Try to calm down. Deep breaths. Try to focus. Force your heart to slow down! "
But her voice was growing distant and Sara didn't even try to hear it. Chaos descended on her mind, whirling around, dizzying her and she lost focus and allowed herself to be drawn to the darkness descending on her. He doesn't want you anyway, her mind sang. She winced, trying to block the chant from her thoughts.
Suddenly a clear voice penetrated the darkness. "Sara!"
It was him.
"Sara, honey. You've got to calm down."
His voice was tense, forcibly calm but somehow, he managed to pierce through the chaos and she frowned, forcing air out of her lungs so she could breathe deeper.
"That's it. Just take deep breaths." He doesn't want you! She tried ignore the words and make her racing heart slow but her efforts failed and squeezed her eyes tightly. A slow ache began to burn in her chest and she felt hot tears running down her cheeks as her body grew hotter with the exertion.
"Sara!" his voice rang out again, "Sara, look at me! Open your eyes and look at me!"
She managed to force her eyes half open and squinted through the tears. She found him next to her bed, gripping her hand with panic in his eyes – panic, and deep concern.
"That's right, good. Now calm down. Breathe deep. You've got to do this for me Sara."
He gave her hand a sharp squeeze and she managed to focus on him, putting all her energy into breathing slower. Gradually, it worked and it grew less difficult to breathe deeply. The beeping began to slow and Sara felt her body relaxing.
"Good, Sara. You're doing great sweetie," Grissom soothed, his eyes never leaving hers. "Easy. Just breathe."
Nearby, Greg, Nick and Brass were staring, speechless, horrified and amazed at what was happening. In his mind, Nick was reliving the way Grissom had calmed him down when he'd been buried alive. He was doing the same for Sara now and Nick felt a shimmer of pride run through him: he was proud to be one of Grissom's CSIs.
The nurse stood completely awestruck. Never before had she seen anything like this. She'd been almost certain that Sara Sidle's heart was going to stop again, given the speed at which it was beating. But as the young woman's heart slowed to a calm, steady pace, she found herself staring unabashedly at the man gripping the brunette's hand.
He gently stroked her hair and let his hand run down to rest against her cheek He gave her an encouraging smile and said softly, "That's my girl."
A/N Okay, now please tell me what you think! You know it'll bring the next chapter faster and, trust me, there's a light at the end of the tunnel for Grissom :)