A/N: Thanks again to the wonderful PraetorCorvinus for feedback and to PsionicSpecter, CrystallineSolid and QueenOfTheUniverse for sticking with the story and reviewing :) You guys rock! This chapter title translates to "Anonymous". If my Spanish is off, please do let me know :)
CHAPTER 35: Anónimo
The original team - or what was left of it - sat contentedly, and Wendy wanted to smile as she looked out over the scene unfolding.
She was happy observing. Or at least she wanted to be. To be honest, there was something still sitting and stirring in the back of her mind, and she couldn't put it to rest enough to go join the four CSIs against another wall of the building.
She just couldn't resolve it because she didn't quite know what it was. Everything was solved, right? Perfect, everything was perfect. She had fixed it. Hadn't she? She didn't know.
After all, Nick had treated them to the first real smile she'd seen on his face in two months.
And then Greg - she never thought she'd see him smile again. She never even thought he'd smile again in her dreams. She thought she'd always just imagine what his face must have looked like that night two months as he was dragged away - to image what it was that seemed to haunt the dreams of the rest of her team as well. She had imagined his disappointment, how he would process every scene and epithelial better than she ever would, and how her locker would always really be his, no matter how long or hard she worked.
She thought she'd spend enough of the rest of her career living in the shadow of his nightmare, but here he was smiling.
Like everything was alright. Surely, if Greg and Nick were both smiling, then everything was alright.
Catherine seemed to still be taking in the whole event, but she had a certain contented sense of closure lingering in her movements and the way she stared at Ari's body as if some long tragedy had finally ended.
And Warrick seemed content just to hold her hand and radiate that contagious calm he served so well.
But Wendy couldn't quite absorb the moment's finality.
Something wasn't finished. Something remained unfinished, and it lingered in her mind, a persistent loose end intruding on her peace of mind.
Black wavy hair.
Even Bruce Jared wore a relieved expression, but Nicola - or Sandra Ortega, whoever she was - sat listlessly on the ground, pushing sand across the concrete with acquiescence. Her face was just as dejected as her wavering motions.
Wendy got up. Problem not-quite-solved.
"Sandra Ortega," Wendy said as she approached the girl.
The other woman looked up, startled.
"That is your real name, right?"
"Aren't you done interrogating me?" the woman replied, tiredly.
The other woman nodded. Her eyes were sad, and Wendy honestly didn't quite understand why. But she knew she needed to understand.
"Please," she said, more kindly this time. "I just want to know what happened. I want to know everything."
Nicola nodded even as her expression failed to lift.
The dryness woke her. All she tasted was dry and sticky. She coughed, and felt solid shards escape her wounded mouth. The blood was salty and warm, but did little to alleviate her thirst. She gasped for cooler air and any sign of humidity it might bring. She felt the fresh air echo off of the hollow corridors of her throat, bouncing a temporary, chilled relief across the roof of her mouth.
Nonetheless, it was of little use. The thirst was still there, nullifying the open sores from which the blood continued to seep. The thirst was all-consuming, and it made her forget - almost - all of the pain she was in.
Pushing her hands underneath her, she edged up. She immediately felt the gravel below her bite into her bare knees, and the pain was remembered again. She let out a sad moan, reminding her of why the blood continued to seep down from all angles formed by her own sore joints, painting the hard, grey gravel a deep, dark, ghastly ruby.
She drew in a gasp as a solitary tear joined the blood and gravel on the hard night's ground.
Light overwhelmed her, and she flinched, despite the pain immediately radiating up her spine. Hands automatically moved to shelter her scared eyes, and she was unsure if they sought to protect from the light, or to hide her from its source. Given the night - that night - and its dismal contents, the light's owner could be no friend of hers.
"I found something!" The voice was male, and a bit high pitched on the ends. That she could tell. She groaned softly, still trying to hide. Footsteps shuffled before her, and she inched back, this time ignoring the pain completely as she retreated into pure animalistic defense mode.
Dark, dirty hair covered her eyes' pathway to the feet in front of her. The feet looked large. She couldn't make out their color in the quickly evaporating dark, to which her eyes had yet to adjust. She just wanted it to go away.
The feet morphed into a rapidly descending figure. It all came down - face first, and then neck, torso and arms following behind it as it bent down to stare at her. In her weary, addled state, she recognized the face.
Stories wound their way back into her mind, trickling down pictures from books and illustrated Bibles, with their tales of sin and salvation. She saw, before her, the angel come to take her home. He was tall, but, then again, she figured Gabriel would have grown in the years since the days of the Birth and Resurrection.
Golden brown curls tangled around his face as the wide brown eyes looked through her, no doubt searching for signs of her own good deeds. She choked back a sob, knowing that she was unworthy. St. Peter's gates would not open for her. They could not, after what she'd done. After what a whore she'd let herself turn into.
The eyes were so wide, so beautiful and so overwhelming. A thin, long nose tapered down from them and reminded her of Greek statues from age-old textbooks smuggled into school. He was a frightening, pale angel, with too many wrinkles of worry clenching his gorgeous face. She could see the smudges of earth, left from his descent to her sordid home of the moment. Why? she wondered. Why dirty himself to lift a whore like me? Why bare such dirt, and such worry?
The eyes held no answer for her. Thin lips pressed into a worried line, and she wondered again why he held such interest. Surely one as important as he had better things to be doing, or better people to be judging. Hers was, surely, not an ambiguous case. She deserved no heaven, only a still, calm death. Death? She pondered. She had in fact died. She must have.
The eyes bored into hers yet again, but their centers rose, curiously, giving the impression of sympathy - almost. She let out a breath, surprising herself. Dead people don't breathe!
Gabriel took a step back, startled. No doubt he had anticipated her death as well. Perhaps, now, he would have to leave. She was not his to carry up into the skies, or, more likely, down into the depths, though she doubted that was a journey he typically assisted with anyways. She wondered how often he made this mistake.
Somehow, however, he seemed to recover from the surprise. He turned around and yelled off into the distance. No doubt, she thought, he had an assistant. His was an important job, after all.
"She's alive!" His yell was gruff and surprisingly nasally. His English was flawless, even so much that the last syllable lacked the proper emphasis of her native Spanish.
She rolled her eyes. She'd never imagined that Gabriel would speak like an American.
The head descended yet again. This time, she could make out scars on the fragile face. A thick line of maroon struck through his cheek, and the moonlight danced against paling skin - clearly new - that bit down next to the dry pink thin lips.
She breathed deeply as he brought long legs and a full torso down to join the dusty, breathtaking face.
"Everything's gonna be alright."
She wanted to laugh.
Shiny yellow hands reached down to stroke her forehead, harmonizing with the gentle words. The hands were inhuman, enough so that she didn't mind the contact. The motions and warmth seemingly hidden underneath the flexible yellow skin was humane enough to be comforting, and she was surprised to find herself leaning into the hands. She had promised herself that no man would ever again touch her, that she would never again see those harsh, cruel hands riddled with thick veins and tiny dark hairs. But his were free of human imperfections. They were sterile, so she welcomed them.
After all, his were the hands of an angel, not of a man, she thought, as the hands' motions turned into a softly weaving sea, and the world departed in gentle waves calling her home.
The sky was dark, as she hurried through the small grove. Tall branches curved above her, as the sky rumbled. One branch crept out, softly floating and swirling in the breeze as it beckoned her to come. She shook her head, but her left foot angled her path anyways.
She could hear the steps behind her. They slowed down, but what they lost in speed, they more than made up for in volume. The deafening thunder of heavy feet terrified her not with its roar but with the menacing laughter tucked sporadically behind it.
Her own pace quickened, but she knew it was no use, as the apathetic, lustful eyes stared, with a frightening nonchalance, beside the bark. If she could only make it to the trees in time...
Suddenly, she felt the grip on her ankle. It was light and airy, and looked up at her with sad eyes. The figure was bathed in a light, white robe, and in its own ethereal quality. It guided her toward the trees.
A foot stomped down and the figure was gone. She could see the rumpled white wings now covered in the dirt and blood wiped off of the heavy boot.
Clear, crystal blood floated out over the figure, and she heard the little grunt as the liquid reached the shattered halo, rusting it on impact. Rust gave way to dust, and the now-brown ring disintegrated, scattering tired particles into the air, with a few flecks hitting her tongue, though she didn't even register leaving her mouth open. It tasted sharp, bitter and dry on her tongue.
A moanful cry let out and she knew the angel was dead.
She reached down a hand to console the tiny, delicate, pale fingers, but she couldn't reach far enough down, and only saw as they curled up around cold, unfeeling air, and lost their warmth. She could see the vibrant air depart the fragile fingers, and looked up at the foot's satanic possessor.
Gesturing a hand down at the dead angel, she gestured then at the demon in front of her, waving slowly, in horror. The demon grinned, and she could feel the fear blanketing her.
If only I could reach the trees...
Her knees gave way to plummet into the forest, over the tiny body, but viscous water gripped her ankles tighter as she tried to inch forward. It was quicksand, but wetter. As she struggled past the puddle, or was it a lake, hands caught her before she could make much progress. Hands... She hated the hands... How she hated them.
She was caught in a net of hands. They poked and prodded and touched, hitting and hurting her. She felt the shame rise in her cheeks as she cried out, knowing no sound came out of her now-bloody mouth.
She saw the demon's twisted, gleeful smile before water enveloped her.
Hands ushered the demons away, pressing down on her forehead and back, rubbing vigorously. Instinctively, she pushed back the hands, shrinking away from them simultaneously, and was surprised to find her escape halted by softness. It was harder than she'd imagined the clouds of heaven and, after her dream, she knew there could be no providence for her. Which meant one thing.
She opened her eyes, to see her Gabriel, no longer an angel, in front of her, rubbing his right wrist and wearing an expression of surprise.
"I'm sorry." Gabriel looked down, sheepishly. "I tried - well - I thought water - I figured water would." He stopped, pausing his words and furrowing his brows. "You were having a nightmare."
She nodded, still speechless.
"I- I didn't know what to do. I - The water -" He seemed to have finally come upon his answer. "I squirted you with the water to try to wake you - I mean, to stop you from having the night terror. I mean... I'm only assuming that's what it was." His voice grew soft. "You were... shaking and turning... and talking... like it was one. I hope you don't mind."
His head was bent, and she could see the rosy color rise through his features. The present light illuminated him and she could tell that he was far darker than she'd originally thought, under the ghastly glow of the previous night. He looked less angelic, more human... more scared.
"Thank you." She replied, her voice equally soft. Her own tone surprised her. There was a harsh, yet scared rasp to it, and the thirst beckoned her again. She coughed, while trying to inhale.
"I'll - I'll go get you some water. Some more water. For you to drink, I mean."
"Thanks," she said again, this time in more of a thick whisper.
The door opened again, quickly revealing a new presence. The footsteps were heavier, yet softer - as if getting along better with the ground beneath them. Confidence exuded from the new presence, and a warm smile stretched over small, yellowing teeth.
Grey hair hung down her back, and the small eyes were opened to the world.
The women glided over the slick, speckled hospital floor tiles and edged over to the seat nearest the bed, but first placing one of two hefty mugs onto the bedside table.
"I am no longer a Señora," the woman replied with a sad chuckle.
She was struck by the woman's decision to converse in both English and Spanish, though even she could see the obvious accent in the English. Her confusion gave way to her own attempt at bilingualism, as she apologized in both languages, for what was revealed in the woman's newly revealed status, to be the past loss of a husband. "Ah. Lo siento. I am sorry."
"C'est la vie."
She looked at the woman curiously. "That is not English either, no yo pienso."
"Such is life." The woman replied with a chuckle. "French." The age lines - she looked to be around 50 or 60 - were visible in her face as she chuckled. As the not-quite-angel edged back into the room, the woman straightened her face, even as a bright smile shone underneath. "Yet some languages are universal. I'm sure you knew 'c'est la vie' at some point."
But the girl in the bed didn't know what she had known at some point - at any point. She couldn't remember anything, and she wasn't really sure if she wanted to either.
A man in a white coat was staring at her, sadly and inquisitively, when she opened her eyes.
The man shook his head slowly, as if to his own thoughts. He cautiously edged closer to the bed, and blue lettering on the long, faded white jacket revealed him as Dr. Raúl Díaz, Chief Resident. He was making her uncomfortable, and nervous.
"This happens to too many of you," Dr. Díaz finally replied.
Dr. Díaz looked uncomfortable for a moment. "I know... that you had some amnesia... but maybe someone else should explain that to you."
"What do you mean?"
"I- I'm not the best person to explain what happened to you." He rushed at the end of his sentence, clearly betraying his nerves.
"Oh." She knew what had happened to her. She didn't need an explanation. She stared down at the grey and blue hospital blanket covering her, as if that could hide the shame rising in her cheeks.
"I'll go get Dr. Martinez. She... well, you should probably talk to her."
She nodded as he rushed out the door, away from the awkward, embarrassing exchange.
A woman - apparently Dr. Martinez - entered next, wearing an even more worn jacket. Dr. Martinez's jacket could barely even be discerned as having once been white.
She glanced up from the bed, waiting for an answer.
"Hi." Dr. Martinez's cheeks were rosy, and her smile betrayed real welcome. She wondered what Dr. Martinez was so happy about.
"¿Por que sonreye?"
Dr. Martinez seemed to be somewhat taken aback by the forwardness of her patient - why do you smile? - and her patient responded by staring back at the hospital blanket.
Dr. Martinez paused - briefly - before speaking. "Most girls... who this happens to don't make it. I'm glad to see you're still alive."
"Um... thanks." She really wasn't sure how to respond to that - being categorized with all the "other girls." She knew about the other girls - she always had. Ciudad Juárez had become infamous for the brutal murders that had came to be known as 'las feminicides.' To date, hundreds of young women had fallen victim.
As cliched as it was - as often as anyone falling victim to anything felt it - she had just never expected to be one of them.
She wasn't even sure if she wanted to go home. She couldn't quite remember where it was. She didn't know why she even remembered the 'feminicides,' and the name of her city, or even how to speak either English or Spanish, but she couldn't remember quite where her home was, or her friends or her family, at least not as well as she knew she should have been able to.
Dr. Martinez started again. "Lenora found you," she started, as if her patient knew who Lenora was. "She's been scavenging around, looking for victims, survivors... corpses of girls still missing." Her patient gulped. "Do you remember anything?"
She immediately shook her head.
Dr. Martinez nodded slowly. "Do you remember your name, so we at least have something to put on the medical records?"
The response was tentative. Giving a name meant that information could get around, and that she could be found again. She didn't want to be found. After what had happened, she wanted to disappear. So long to old people, old home, old family and old name. Maybe, if she thought hard enough, she could remember her name. But she didn't want to. She shook her head.
"Okay," Dr. Martinez replied. "Umm... A nurse will come in later to take your vitals."
She nodded, though unsure as to what the English word 'vital' meant.
The angel-man and the not-a-señora woman - apparently Lenora -re-emerged in the room.
"Hola, mi cariña," the woman introduced herself, already nicknaming the patient affectionately. "Me llama Lenora, y está Guito," she said, motioning to the angel-man.
"Hola," Guito said, almost warmly. She could now tell that his accent was decidedly American, probably west coast. And what an odd name he has.
"¿Tiene un nombre?" he asked.
She was taken aback by the question. Asking her name was no surprise, but his decision to say 'tiene,' in the 'usted' form, as one would address someone respected, or an adult, rather than 'tienes,' the 'tu' form, which she would have expected given her age and status, surprised her.
"No lo tengo." I don't have one.
"Ah. Um..." He paused. "It's nice to meet you anyways." She was pleased that he did not extend his hand to shake, even though he still didn't quite make her as nervous after their first encounter.
"¿Quieres volver a tu hogar?" She was unsurprised that Lenora referred to her in the 'tu' form. The woman seemed to be in the senior position, possibly over Guito as well.
"No, no lo quiero," she responded, adding, in English, to make sure they understood her, "I don't want to."
Lenora looked back at Guito, as if asking for his approval or advice. He nodded back at her, shrugging his shoulders.
"Puedes volver con nosotros, a mi casa. You can come home with us."
She groaned, and shifted, startled, at the unfamiliar voice. She looked around to catch her bearings, finally finding herself in a stopped car. The voice's owner looked familiar. Angel... She struggled for an explanation. Guito.
He raised an eyebrow, clearly waiting for a response.
"You need a name," he said, clearly more comfortable in English.
"You mean," she said, in close-enough-to-perfect English. "Necesitas una nombre."
He smiled sheepishly, revealing white teeth. But it was not a vicious, toothy smile. He honestly had a nice smile. A genuine, kind smile. "Gracias para tu teaching... teacher?"
She laughed, for just about the first time since... well, since then, she thought, tone quickly turning bitter again.
He seemed to sense her discomfort. "Are you alright?"
"The flashbacks and all can be kind of intense at first. Don't worry. They'll go away."
She nodded, understanding most of what he said. "How do you know?"
"I-" He turned away, tongue tied. "Well, I've been working with Lenora for a while... I learn about it."
"So... a name?"
"No me importa."
"You don't care?"
"No. A girl's name. And not some feo American girl's name."
"American names aren't ugly! Well, actually, I don't really even know what an American name is. I mean, I can't remember any Native American names off of the top of my head. Other than that, a lot of names in the US are just taken from other cultures, just like pretty much every other part of American culture."
"Sin consequencia, I still do not want una name like... Gertrude," she replied with disgust on the name's harsh consonants. "Some US names just sound... feo... ugly."
Guito nodded, chuckling. "Lo comprendo." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Nicola. How about that?"
She looked at him questioningly.
"It still sounds kinda Spanish."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, maybe not. It has an 'a' at the end?"
She chuckled, shaking her head. "Nunca... I never - thinked? - thought that I'd be able to choose my own name."
"Well," he said, somewhat solemnly. "Here's your chance."
He looked thoughtful for a second, before replying. "I just thought... I have - had - a friend - uh... It's the name of a survivor. Someone I... really respected. You kind of remind me of him, almost."
Their conversation was interrupted by Lenora ushering them out of the car, and into a relatively large adobe house.
Sitting at the table, eating soup, Nicola wondered at her new life. In many ways, it was nice - scratch that - in most ways, it's nice.
She no longer had to trudge away to the maquilador, and spend the day toiling away in the factory, producing goods she would never even have the money to purchase.
She no longer heard the angry tirades from her mother when she didn't bring home enough, or when she was too tired to cook.
She no longer had to share a small closet of a room.
Now, she had Lenora to watch out for her, and Guito to... well, to be her friend.
She still didn't understand what it was that Guito and Lenora did. One of them had to be bringing in the money, but she didn't know which one.
Lenora and Guito always seemed to be gone - Lenora especially. Nicola heard murmurs of their work - whatever it was. They would disappear, more often than not during the night, and come back dejected. Sometimes, they came back downright sad. One time she'd seen Guito cry.
The sound of a car pulling up distracted Nicola from her midnight snack. Nicola instinctively turned off the lights. She couldn't help her paranoia; she was afraid of who might be occupying the vehicle now parked only a few hundred feet away. She trusted Guito and Lenora, but that was it.
Crouching down under the table, she waited as the door opened. Familiar voices filled the air, though the sounds drifted in viscously, betraying her housemates' fatigue.
Recognizing the opportunity she had - to unravel some small part of a mystery - Nicola waited. Waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dark, she sat calmly and stared at the pair. Guito trudged off to his room rather immediately after entering the house.
"It gets easier."
She looked up from the bed, at the man now looming in the door frame. Again, his stance, somehow, didn't scare her. Somehow, he was still the angel in her eyes.
"You're thinking about it, weren't you?"
"It gets easier."
"I'll take your word for it."
He walked over, slowly, towards the bed, before stepping back as if something startled him. "Sorry."
"For coming in... without your permission."
"Don't worry about it." She appreciated his understanding, even if it did seem almost like babying. "You don't scare me."
He chuckled, but quickly stifled it. "Thanks."
She met his eyes with equally grinning ones. "It really does get easier."
"You don't seem too phased. You almost joked about it, kind of, just now. You found something related to what happened to laugh about."
Guito had seemed reluctant to admit that something violent had happened to him, but she - now Nicola - had figured it out. As long as she didn't go out and say it to him directly, then they were fine. It worked well because she didn't want anyone saying exactly what had happened to her either. So, they operated in euphemisms.
"Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain."
She looked at him curiously, not the least because of the unfamiliar vocabulary.
"I'll take your word for it."
"Take Charlie Chaplin's."
"The guy who said that quote."
"Ah. So he's the one who used the word 'surcease'?"
"Yeah. He wasn't a particularly pretentious dude, but he did use the occasional ridiculously antiquated word."
"Uh.. old and stuffy... for a word."
She nodded, giving him a strange look.
"What he meant to say was that, when you're down, laughter can always bring you back up."
"Yup. Back where I used to be - people got into a lot of bad situations. A lot of people thought that the way to make them feel better... would be to feel sorry for them, to pity or coddle them. Being here... I learned that that's not the case. The only real way to get past something... bad... happening to you... is laughter. It's the world's best therapy. For everything."
"I take it you're a frequent practitioner?"
She chuckled. "I heard one of the med students use 'practitioner.'"
"So who's Charlie Chaplin?"
"Famous American comedian."
"Ah. Smart guy, huh?"
"Yep. Laughter was his business."
She nodded. "Nice business to be a part of. Lenora doesn't work for a comedy troupe, does she?"
"And neither do you?"
"No, I don't. But our work is good anyways. As long as we can find laughter at the end of the day."
She nodded again. "Seems like a miserable job."
He pursed his lips. "Except the bright spots."
"What are those?"
"Finding people alive."
They sat in peaceful silence.
"Got any other fun quotes?"
"The human race has but one really affective weapon, and that is laughter."
She looked up, waiting for a source.
"Mark Twain. Great humorist."
Nicola nodded. "I think I've heard of him."
"Good thing. He was a pretty awesome guy. One of the books he wrote - Huck Finn - was considered by many the greatest American novel."
"Really? I just remember it having a lot of dirty words, and people trying to ban it."
"Well, times change. People did try to censor it. Huck Finn wasn't exactly the model citizen parents wanted their kids to look up to. I mean - he was a runaway with a dirty mouth and no interest or respect for societal standards. But, despite all of his - let's just go with 'quirks' - despite those, or maybe even because of those, he was able to see society and certain standards it set in a whole new light, and to allow the reader to see that as well."
"College lit class?"
"No, actually. I just loved that book. Huck was a rebel. A cool, and rather funny kid with a propensity for saying some damn hilarious things. He did his own thing, and, in the end, came out all the better for it."
"You really need to stop with the big English words."
She nodded, and he chuckled.
"He was my hero back in the day," Guito added.
"Back in the day? When was that, 1950?"
"Of course not. I'm offended. I was one of the first people to pick Huck Finn off the shelves -"
"When was that?"
"Uh huh. Yeah I can see the grey coming in there." She poked his head.
"Hey now. Don't mess with the hair."
She moved back. "Now that I think of it, I do remember Mark Twain. He had some pretty crazy hair." She looked at Guito more closely. "I can see the resemblance."
"Ha," he deadpanned back. "Young people these days."
"Old people these days - especially the ones with funky hair and big words."
They both laughed, partly from the quasi-humorous conversation, but mainly because they needed the levity.
Guito chuckled again, before looking up. "Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is by far the best ending for one."
Nicola stared, waiting.
"Oy, Gris," she said, growling.
Gris tried to growl back at her. He was a mumbling dog, and a sensitive one at that. The desert-sandy dog - lord knew what breed or brand or fancy sort of type of dog he actually was - was ruffled in colors more found pressing down the desert's clays than her sands. Simply put, he was too orange. His complexion was just as baffling as his moods or, god forbid, pedigree. For a happy-go-lucky dog, he was a bit of a mope. And his intelligence certainly left Nicola wanting from time to time.
Guito, for all his attempts at gruffness, loved the mutt. One day, he'd been walking to the store, and the next, he'd come home trailed by the silly thing.
"Well," Nicola growled - still louder than Gris could muster. "We're going to have to talk to Uncle Guito about this."
Gris seemed to sense he was in trouble. Sad eyes and whines seemed to work on Guito, but so much on Nicola.
Alas for poor Gris, the mud strewn across Nicola's white blouse was irreversible.
And Guito, dear Guito who actually seemed to have, underneath it all, some sympathy for fashion, would be on her side.
She was ready to barge in (and Gris ready to turn the other way, yelp and be half-dragged, half-bored in) to the room.
Pre-emptive words met her instead.
"Hello to you too," he said, his voice gentle but strangely agitated. She couldn't put her finger on it, but there was something different. She'd never heard him talk quite like that before.
There was a pause as the person on the other line spoke.
"I know. I just had to talk to you." Pause again. "I know, I know. I wasn't sure what to do about it. I swear, s-"
Gris let out a satisfied smrrf and began a careful gait to safety. Laundry.
For once, Nicola didn't even notice. The leash dropped on the muddy stray dog that technically wasn't even hers.
Guito turned around slightly but didn't seem to notice the motion.
"Okay. I got it. I know. I don't want to hurt you. Or them. I swear."
The hard pause left Nicola holding her breath.
"Not even him." His voice was quiet.
Who was he?
"No. Not even then. I just wanted to get away." More bitterness: "You of all people should understand that."
Who? On the other line? Why?
And then more regret: "How is he?" That was the kind, concerned voice she knew him for.
But who was he?
Guito gulped, and she could see his eyes grow somber.
"Cold? Him? More than usual?"
Nicola tried to stay completely quiet. Unnoticeable. Even though it was Guito who always noticed her.
"Yeah, he was." His voice was stripped, like it was all he had left.
There was a huff on the other line.
"What was he like? How's he doing? You saw him today?" She could hear the desperation, that and how the person on the other line - she thought it was a woman, but she couldn't be sure - rebuked the question.
"It counts," he said, more like he'd just given up something. "We broke up. For all practical purposes."
A pause and his head fell. More like his heart through his eyes and phone into too many jagged pieces, not quite breaking that connection, but it had to be breaking something.
"Yeah, there was," he replied, as if everything was back to normal. Perhaps he broke and glued himself back together frequently. In his off-time, when he got calls from mysterious female strangers.
And he was almost together - but a few parts lost on the dusty floor and maybe one or two cut through across telephone wires. But she wouldn't worry about those.
He paused, clearly contemplating something. "I miss you."
The person on the other line spoke again, and whatever it was they said seemed to make him re-consider something.
"It's too late for that," he said. "I miss you too," he repeated.
He moved to hang up, so Nicola began to dart away. Also because it made her sad. He looked so much older, so much more serious, in the space of one conversation.
Gris waved his tail against her hand and stared up forlornly. Like his puppy dog eyes would work this time.
"Fine," she said, giving up. Just for now, of course.
Nicola woke up screaming, again. Men. Too many men. She tried to push them away, but they wouldn't move. Hands gripped down - familiar, soft, kind hands - and shook her free.
She looked up to see Guito, and instinctively reached up to grasp him with all the strength she had. She clutched the familiar, worn fabric of the back of his shirt as she sobbed out her nightmare.
"Shhh. Shhh. It's alright," he spoke softly, while patting her back and holding her close. "Everything's alright, Nicola."
She pulled back. The way he said her name was stiff, and forced, as if he would have rather, or at least should have, said some other name.
"Sorry," she whispered.
"No, no. It's alright." He paused, his face growing fiercer. "In fact, don't you ever say sorry. It's not your fault. You have nothing to be sorry for."
"No. Not for that. I - I touched you. Wasn't supposed to."
His face sobered, and the words seemed to draw him back to the reality that was painful for both of them.
"It's alright," he said softly. "I'm fine."
"Thanks for being here," she whispered to his now moist shoulder. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
She felt him nod, in understanding. She felt him shift under her, and could tell that he was growing uncomfortable. But she didn't want to let go.
Hours later, Nicola woke, with a human blanket around her. Looking up, she could see Guito, his arms still wrapped around her - sheltering her from the scary world, and from her own dreams.
She sniffed, but quietly. She didn't want to wake him.
Long, dark eyelashes fluttered and his mouth creased in a frown, though he remained asleep.
He was so beautiful, and so angelic, in his sleep. She would have hoped that the world's worries would wash away from him in sleep, but they didn't seem to, as his brow creased again and he frowned, murmuring something. She held back a smile when she heard words that sounded like her own name. How wonderful it was, she thought, that such a man would be thinking of her in his sleep.
He was, really, not much older than she was. In her village, she had always been called a girl, but that had more to do with her unmarried status than her age. She was, legally, an adult. More than anything, she had been looked on as a girl because of her youthfulness. Her life, prior to then, had known few sorrows, and her face had been unmarred by little grief or worry. She liked that Lenora and Guito still saw her as a 'girl,' as if she were still innocent and carefree. They let her be that way, as much as was possible.
A heavy breathe from Guito distracted her. His lips parted, and she could make out a pink tongue reaching out against thin, equally pink lips. His lips were moist, and she could make out the smooth skin lines on them.
Above them sat a nose that she loved equally. It was so smooth, so straight and so symmetrical. She loved the way it tapered down to the kind lips.
He murmured something once again, though this time it sounded more pained. She sat up and looked at him for one more second, contemplating briefly her course of action. In the end, she was happy to return the favor.
She wasn't sure, exactly, what the protocol for waking someone from nightmares was, but she gave it her best shot, starting gentle. She eased a hand over his forehead, stroking the soft brown ringlets forming at the ends.
"Shhhh," she whispered. "It's alright."
She rubbed his forehead with more force, and heard him breathe a deep sigh of relief.
His eyes fluttered open and he reached, without looking, for her hand.
She loved the way he thanked her - the way the accent of his voice seemed harder, but his words so soft and gentle.
Laying down next to him, she returned to sleep.
No matter what happened, everything would be alright because she had Guito.
Nicola sat huddled in her new bed, thinking about her new life. It still wasn't the same. The walls were a pale sky blue. Despite the similarities to a beautiful day, however, they only seemed cold to her. Her room at home had had warmer, richer colors. More friendly.
A warmer smell met her. It was fragrant and delicious. Better than anything at home.
"Ready for dinner?"
Guito's smile was bright and happy. He still looked angelic or, at least, like some Greek statue.
Lenora stared out over the dinner table. She was proud of the meal. It had been too long since she'd made good soup. It was a hardy stew, the sopa de Flor, as she'd called it. The familiar, almost bittersweet aroma wafted up, drifting softly through the air and over her face. She felt refreshed, but knew it was not the condensation that brought soft, solitary tears to her eyes. But the tears stood still as the smell warmed her, and the soft padding of footsteps through the yard - accompanied, of course, by familiar, squawked greetings - broke her from reminiscent reveries.
Guito, as she called him, still walked heavily, and stiffly. His legs barely seemed to bend, but rather to shift forward just enough to edge in the right direction, one following slowly after the other. He looked up, per usual, seeming to feel her gaze. Somehow he always could. The boy was too aware of staring. Too self-conscious. Too conscious and cognizant of any and everything around him. He had seen too much of the world's horror. He knew it all too well.
She caught his expectant eyes, and smiled. He would always seem like a boy. She didn't know how old he was, but she could venture a guess. Nonetheless, there would always be too much innocence in his eyes to make him an adult, at least in her eyes. Then again, Lenora had always been chided for her tendency to 'go all maternal' as someone had often said. She sighed sadly at the memory. She should have known that the mixing smell of tomatoes, chilli, corn and that particular queso fresco would do this to her. But, for the innocent boy in front of her, and now for the new girl as well, it would make the delicious soup worth the teary memories it carried.
"Guito! Tienes hambre?"
The boy smiled sheepishly. The grumbling stomach gave him away, and Lenora laughed heartily.
"El estomago me contesta para tu."
"El estomago? But that implies 'the' stomach, not my stomach. So that could easily be any stomach. Or the stomach, like the..." Guito stumbled for words. "Like the greatest stomach ever. Or the stomach of God."
Lenora raised an eyebrow. "I'm proud that your Spanish is improving. Sin embargo, es no direct translacción." She knew the quick learner was catching on to her hybrid speech. Spanglish, he had called it. And it seemed to make the transition easier. Eventually, maybe they would move to a full immersion.
He cocked his head curiously. She explained more.
"For body parts, you don't use - or rather don't need - the possessive. If you know, and I know, that I'm talking about your stomach, then I say 'el estomago,' not 'tu estomago.' Ahora, is not translacción directa a English." She spoke the last word with a cringe. 'English' would always sound like such an ugly word to her. The hard consonants combined with the soft 'shh' repulsed her for a reason she could not name.
He nodded, laughing slightly at her aversion to the name of his native tongue.
"Que..." He seemed to be struggling with a word. "Cocinó?"
Lenora smiled. He had correctly conjugated the verb 'to cook' into the past tense, and the 'usted,' or formal 'you' form. "Ahh," she said, beaming at her quickly learning student. "Learning in español is ... terminado... for esta noche."
"Esta noche," he translated, mimicking her beaming. "This night. And 'terminado' means over, or done."
She clapped mockingly, but still baring a proud smile. "Good work, mi corderito."
"But I thought my Spanish lesson was over for the night? For this night?"
"Ah, but tu no piensas -"
"Ah, ah, ah." He waved a finger at her.
She shook her head, chuckling, and admitting her mistake. "You don't think," she began, translating her own words to English, begrudgingly. She furrowed her brows, seeking a better word. "You don't know what cordero means. So it's not lesson, as you speak."
He nodded, rolling his eyes. "So what does corderito mean then?"
She laughed again, a big, booming laugh. "Spanish lesson is over for now, yes? So I cannot tell you."
He rolled his eyes again. "Fine."
"You not to -" she mimicked the eye roll, exaggeratedly, not knowing the verb herself - "At me, Guito."
He stopped himself from rolling his eyes again, at her last command. "It's rolling eyes."
"I know eyes, just not rolling," she replied, humorously indignant. "How do you roll an eye anyways?" She picked up a shoe lying on the ground and tried to roll it on the ground. He only laughed.
"Figure of speech."
Lenora couldn't help but smile, shaking her head as the boy made his way toward the sink to wash his hands. She was not normally one to imitate rolling a shoe, nor to do anything else similarly silly. But the boy brought out the silliness in her. For all the darkness and sadness in his life, she could see the smile buried underneath, and, as the best smiles did, his smile brought out her own.
"Is that sufficient?" Nicola asked. The younger woman looked exhausted, but also strangely refreshed. Suddenly unburdened almost.
Wendy couldn't quite say yes. She couldn't put her finger on it, but something was still amiss.
"Your real name is Sandra Ortega."
Nicola didn't respond.
"Lenora and Greg found you in the factory, after you'd been... badly injured."
Nicola glanced away uncomfortably but nodded nonetheless.
"And then you stayed here to avoid going back. You didn't want to go back to your old life. You didn't want to remember."
"I wanted to escape. Same as him."
Wendy thought hard before asking her next question wrapped in a statement. "CSI Sanders knows your real name."
"No," Nicola replied easily. "I never told him. He gave me the name." She stared at Wendy. "I thought I already told you that."
"What did CSI Sanders tell you about the Lab?"
Nicola shook her head. "Nothing. He never spoke of his previous life. I already told you that."
"You said he never even told you his real name. He was always just "Guito"."
Nicola nodded again.
"You told me Guito gave you the name Nicola. You never mentioned CSI Sanders. Nobody mentioned CSI Sanders."
Nicola stared in confusion, but her eyes widened when she realized her mistake.
"You said he kept his life in Vegas a complete secret from you - that you didn't know his name. And yet you knew his last name. That he was a CSI."
Nicola glanced away. "I don't know how I knew that. He must have let it slip."
"Or someone else let it slip."
Nicola didn't answer again, but Wendy knew to expect that.
"How did Greg know that Nick and I would be in Juárez looking for his body?"
"If we had just seen you that first time, when we first met with Ari, I would believe you. But twice in a row? That's more than just coincidence."
Nicola glanced around uncomfortably, once again.
Then Wendy noticed the item in Nicola's hand - that same item that had been in her hand weeks before when they'd first come to Juárez.
"Where'd you get that flashlight?" she asked curiously.
Nicola hesitated. "Guito must have brought it back with him. When he came here. To Mexico. He must have had it with him."
And yet Greg's flashlight had still been in his kit. Wendy knew that. Only one CSI kit was missing its flashlight.
And Wendy knew which CSI that was.
"Is that all?" Nicola asked hopefully.
"Yeah," Wendy said with a smile.
Nicola began to turn away.
"Just one more thing. You see, there was someone I was hoping to stop by and visit while I was in town, and I'm pretty darn sure you'll know where to find her since you saw her the last time she was in Juárez."
Nicola eyed her warily.
"So tell me, where do you think I could find Sara Sidle?"
A/N: Same as usual, reviews are very much appreciated. Let me know if you liked or disliked the chapter :)