Disclaimer: 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 others belong to me, and if you want to play with them you have to ask me first. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Spoilers: SEASON 8 PREVIEWS (mild)
Please note: the statements about nurses in this story do not reflect the opinions of the author. (grin) The characters in question simply strike me as the sort who would chafe against medical authority.
The quotes are from Endymon and Autumn. This one is a bit rough, but I wanted to post it before I had to label it AU. Blessings upon Cincoflex's head for last-minute betaing!
Sara stared blankly out the window, not caring that the view wasn't much more than white concrete and blue sky from her wheelchair's low angle. It was just something for her eyes to focus on, anyway.
She was bored out of her mind. She'd looked forward to being allowed out of bed after the pneumonia, but the wheelchair really didn't do much for her mobility when one arm was casted, let alone the lack of stamina. She couldn't hold a book for long without her hand hurting, and she refused to pay the hospital's exorbitant fee to get cable TV in her room, not that there was much worth watching on it.
Grissom said she was depressed, and she supposed it was true; only natural, really. After all, she'd been violently kidnapped, half-crushed, and had nearly died of exposure; the accumulated trauma alone would be enough to wither the healthiest of egos. Plus getting sick afterwards...
She felt angry, mostly. And bored. It made her snappish, prone to be rude to the nurses and short with her friends, and while the nurses were clearly used to it, she'd seen her friends concealing hurt, which only made Sara feel worse. Yet they kept visiting.
Grissom was the worst, because he wouldn't fight at all. No matter what she said to him, he answered her softly, without a trace of irritation, and somehow that annoyed her irrational brain even further. Fortunately, she hadn't said anything unforgivable yet...she hoped.
Sara sighed, and shifted position yet again. Her chest still hurt somewhat, and her muscles were sore with long inactivity, but the chair was better than bed. Besides, I spend too much time in bed and they'll try to keep me here longer.
She shuddered at the thought. Being forced to stay for weeks in a place that already gave her the creeps hadn't helped her sleep patterns any, once they'd stopped sedating her, but fortunately for her pride she'd always been quiet, even when the horror threw her out of sleep like a rock bouncing off ice. If the nurses had noticed, they hadn't said anything.
Her arm itched. Sara twitched, but there was nothing she could do about it, relief would have to wait another four weeks until the cast came off. She wiggled her fingers gingerly, stretching against the dull pain the movement caused, but that did nothing to alleviate the itch.
There was another irritation--the knowledge that her damaged wrist was going to require physical therapy. One more complication, one more delay in getting her life back to normal, to putting this whole thing behind her--
As if. That was the worst of it. Sara had carried trauma with her all her life, knowing that it affected her choices, and not often for the better. Only recently had she begun to lay some of that burden down, to unclench her hands from their tight grip on her past. Things had, for once, been looking up.
And then another big load had been dropped on her with a muddy thud. Literally, when you think about it. And now she was stuck in a hospital, alone most of the time no matter how hard Grissom tried to circumvent the rules, bored and angry and in pain.
Sara stroked her fingers over the cast's slightly rough surface. She didn't remember anyone actually asking if they could sign the thing, it had just sort of happened, Sharpies being passed around with a certain glee to the point where there was almost more ink than blank space, at least on top. Catherine's flourishing signature, Greg's funky print, Warrick's initials, Nick's little cartoon--at least they were something to look at.
Grissom hadn't signed it. Instead, he'd taken the red Sharpie and carefully drawn a tiny heart on the heel of her left hand. And then kissed it.
And every day he redrew it. Every day, no matter how angry she was or how bitter she'd been towards him, he would pick up the pen, and every day she would extend her hand, unable to deny him, craving the ticklish pressure of the nib and then the warm press of his lips.
Her sigh was sad. He doesn't deserve what I do to him.
Grissom was worried sick about her, literally; she knew that his headaches were far too frequent these days, the crease in his forehead told her that plainly. He spent every spare moment he could at the hospital with her, charming nurses when he had to and blatantly ignoring the rules when he couldn't, but he still had to work. Sara often wondered when he was sleeping. He certainly wasn't eating much; she suspected he'd lost more weight than she had.
He'd suggested quitting work so he could be with her full-time, especially when she got home, but that had made her madder than anything else. Grissom needed work, he needed to be doing something, she would not be the reason he quit--
She took a breath, carefully keeping it shallow. Fortunately, she'd maintained enough control during that discussion to lay out a few reasons he would listen to, including the fact that he couldn't abandon their friends to a shift already short one CSI. And in the end he'd agreed.
Suddenly the window felt as though it had bars across it. Sara shoved with her feet, backing her chair away from it, and made a slow and awkward turn to start the long trip back to her room. She could walk, but not far, and it tended to upset the nurses when she did. It was almost time for lunch, anyway, and she'd promised Grissom that she would try to eat whatever tasteless glop they gave her today.
What I wouldn't give for a piece of fruit that didn't look as though it had been used as a baseball. Or one of Grissom's brownies--she thought with a surge of longing. But he had no time to bake these days; he practically slept at the hospital.
"Hey, watch it!"
The voice was creaky with age, and Sara's head snapped up, embarrassment heating her cheeks. She'd nearly run into the propped leg of someone else wheelchair-bound.
"I'm sorry," she said hastily to the ancient man bundled in a thick sweater. "I didn't…"
He peered at her from under very shaggy brows, and then a slow smile crept over his face. "You...you're the investigator, aren't you? The one who actually knows something about poetry."
As he spoke, his face triggered her memory, and Sara felt an answering smile growing--the first sincere one in how long? "Milton, hi."
He harrumphed. "You remember my name, but I'm afraid this old brain has lost yours."
"Sara, Sara Sidle." He was easy to remember, one of the small bright spots that sometimes enlivened a case; he'd given Nick and her both a clue in a rather complicated and puzzling murder. "What are you doing here, Milton?"
The old man gestured at his bandaged foot, frowning impatiently. "Hurt my foot and my grandniece made me come in to get it treated." His tone implied that he'd have been better off if left to his own devices. "Then what do you know, it gets infected. Hospitals--filthy places."
Sara pursed her lips wryly, knowing--rather to her dismay--the partial truth of his statement. "You seem to be healing up okay."
Milton waved one withered hand. "Eh, it'll do. What are you doing here yourself, girlie? You don't look so good, if you don't mind an old man's bluntness."
Sara braced herself, but the wince she usually experienced when thinking about her kidnapping was weaker than usual, and for the first time--she didn't know why--a glimmer of humor began to seep through the pain. "Would you believe, a psychotic serial killer?"
Milton snorted, eyeing her with interest. "Try me."
Grissom stood in the doorway of the hospital lounge, unnoticed, and watched the two figures seated on the far side of the room. Sara was huddled in one of his old Cubs sweatshirts and was talking to a fragile old man with one bandaged foot propped up, her voice still a bit hoarse.
And she was smiling, for what seemed to him like the first time since she had disappeared. Grissom was almost afraid to move, lest he distract her and break the spell.
Her survival of Natalie's kidnapping could be considered a miracle, but it seemed as though all the good luck had been used up in saving her. Sara's recovery had been slowed dramatically by complications; she was mending now, but she was bored, cranky, and depressed. Spending weeks in an environment that already gave her nightmares had not helped the healing process.
Grissom was almost in despair with worry over her. He spent every second he could at the hospital, but the aftermath of Sara's kidnapping had the lab in chaos. Grissom had thought seriously about simply quitting, but Sara became furious at the mere mention, and in truth he would have had a hard time abandoning their friends to overwork and political backlash.
And in the meantime, their relationship was under serious strain.
He knew she was struggling, and refused to argue when she grew petty and angry, which he suspected sometimes made her even angrier. But Grissom wasn't about to let things implode in a blast of hurtful words, nor allow her to carry that burden of guilt. So he gave soft answers and told himself that she was upset, stressed, in pain.
He finally stepped into the room, and was halfway across it before Sara spotted him. Her smile curved a fraction more, almost a wistful look, and she wiggled the fingers of her good hand.
Her companion broke off mid-sentence and looked around, and Grissom nodded to him politely as he picked up a chair and set it next to Sara's wheelchair. "Hi."
"Griss, this is Milton, you probably don't remember him from the Happy Morales case. Milton, Gil Grissom."
"Your boss?" the old man asked gruffly.
Since Sara hadn't stiffened up at the sight of him, Grissom took advantage and laced his fingers with hers, leaning over to press a swift kiss to her temple. "Among other things."
Milton snorted, and Sara actually gave a tiny chuckle, a sound that made Grissom's heart leap.
"Do you know any Longfellow, young man?" Milton asked skeptically.
Puzzled, Grissom blinked, but recited obediently. "No one is so accursed by fate,/No one so utterly desolate,/But some heart, though unknown,/Responds unto his own."
Milton cocked his head, then nodded in austere approval, his mouth twitching. "Not bad...not bad," he conceded.
"Tell him about Happy," Sara prompted, and Milton's eyes brightened.
"That boy...let me tell you..."
He began a tale about the foibles of the washed-up boxer, and Grissom listened, caring for nothing but the fact that Sara was still smiling.
Milton remained in the hospital for almost a week, his foot healing slowly, and Sara found herself looking forward to what became their daily meetings. The old man was smart, congenial, and possessed of a dry sharp wit, and he had absolutely no associations that troubled her--nothing to do with the lab or Natalie. He didn't treat her with caution, or overcareful gentleness, and he chafed at the restrictions of illness and hospitalization as much as she did.
And, she discovered, while he liked to tell a good story, he was also an intent and unjudging listener. She didn't tell him much about what had happened, but when she wanted to complain, he took it in without trying to soothe or calm her.
She tried to do the same in return, letting him rant and thump his wheelchair arm over the vagaries of Medicare and the intractability of nurses. She listened to his memories of his wife, hearing loneliness beneath the love, and told herself it was the drugs when tears gathered in her eyes.
He was, she realized gradually, a diversion. And that made her laugh out loud at the irony of it.
Milton stopped by one day while she was picking at her lunch, and wrinkled his nose at it. "No wonder you're peaked, girlie, that stuff's not fit for a dog."
Sara pushed the plate away tiredly, wishing that Bruno was in fact there, because he would not consider the meal beneath him and would happily get rid of it for her. Milton scowled, then looked around conspiratorially before letting go of his walker--he'd graduated from a wheelchair--and reaching into his sweater pocket. "Here."
He held out a chocolate bar, the kind with caramel filling. Sara blinked at it, and he wiggled it irritably. "Take it, already, before one of the nurses comes by and confiscates it. They hate to see anybody eating real food."
Bemused, Sara accepted the candy and slipped it into the drawer of her room's little dresser. "Um, thanks." Suddenly curious, she cocked her head. "Don't tell me you're living on those things."
His frown became a sly smile. "'Course not. My grandniece smuggles me in stuff every chance she gets."
Sara rolled her eyes, half in amusement and half exasperated by not having thought of that herself. I wonder if Greg could get me some minestrone from El Rosale's...
"I'll have to show you where the vending machines are, sometime," Milton added.
Sara considered the matter, then stood up, stepping carefully around the little table that held her lunch. She too had put aside the wheelchair, though she was under strict orders to take it easy. "Why not now?"
Milton straightened. "Why not?"
Sara had the feeling that if he had not been encumbered with the walker he would have offered her his arm. As it was, he escorted her out the door with a touch of pride, and Sara had to smile.
She ate the candy bar later, in the dimness of the hospital's evening, and couldn't remember anything tasting so good.
The woman sat crosslegged on a worn braided rug, dark head bent over the book, and her voice filled the still air, soft and cadenced.
There is a beautiful spirit breathing now
Its mellow richness on the clustered trees,
And, from a beaker full of richest dyes,
Pouring new glory on the autumn woods,
And dipping in warm light the pillared clouds.
Beside her, sunk deep in an armchair older than the rug, the ancient man kept time with one spotted hand, eyes closed, serene pleasure on his face as he listened. Perhaps the emphasis wasn't quite what the author had intended, but the listener knew that the long-vanished poet would have approved all the same.
The verse ended, and silence took its place, peaceful and tasting of time past and crisp winds. Then the old man sighed.
"Beautiful as always, my dear." Bracing his hands on the armrests, he pushed himself upright so that he could reach the tray set on the little TV table next to him. "Except for that appalling California accent, of course."
Replacing a cross-stitched bookmark between the pages, Sara grinned up at him, amused by his tease. "How do you know old H.W. wouldn't have liked it?"
Milton raised one brow at her over the teapot he held, then poured. "Touché."
His dry retort conceded nothing, and Sara's grin didn't abate as she reached out for the cup he extended towards her. The china was warm against her fingers as she cradled it, but she didn't bring it to her lips until Milton had poured for himself. The ritual was unspoken but tangible.
For a little while they savored their tea, the delicate fragrance seeping from cup and pot to lace the air, and then Milton passed her the plate of sugar cookies. They were nothing special--he just bought whatever was on sale at the supermarket--but to Sara they tasted fine.
She took two, and waited.
"Mary loved to watch the leaves change," Milton said abruptly, and Sara nibbled on a cookie and settled in to listen. He always told her a story about his wife over tea, another tacit habit, and Sara had to admit that she enjoyed the reminiscences. Mary might be ten years gone from the world, but she lived still in Milton's memories, and Sara suspected she would have liked the woman as much as she liked Milton.
Theirs was an odd friendship; Sara had never been close to anyone elderly before. But after their release from the hospital she had found herself loathe to lose touch, and had plucked up the courage to visit. Somehow it had become habit, pleasant and peaceful, something that Sara treasured.
The cookies were gone and the cups empty by the time his story was done, and as if on cue there was a soft rap on the trailer's door. Sara unfolded herself from the rug, handing her cup back to Milton, and went to open it.
Grissom stood on the other side, his hands in his windbreaker pockets and Bruno sitting panting at his side. Grissom nodded courteously at the old man, who returned a wave and a grunt.
"Ready to go?" Grissom asked, and Sara nodded. She scooped up her own jacket and bent to retrieve the worn book, placing it carefully in Milton's hands before stooping again to press a quick kiss to his cheek.
"See you next week."
"You betcha, honey," Milton said, eyes crinkling in pleasure. "You be careful, now."
Sara smiled back at him and closed the door behind her.