DISCLAIMER: I own none of th characters in these stories

Rating: K

Season: 10 and beyond

Characters: Nick and Mandy

Synopsis: Nick thought he could handle anything life threw at him, until now.

Sadie

Lost and insecure

You found me

The Fray, You Found Me

Exhaustion wore over him like a cloak and all Nick wanted to do was give in to it and fall into a deep slumber. How he was going to manage the next 12 hours was beyond him.

"Hey Nick!"

Running his hands over his five o'clock shadow, Nick looked up at Ray who was slipping into a vest. "I hear Sadie is having some issues."

He was referring to Nick's six year old daughter. The Texan looked at the picture he'd posted in his locker of her laughing into the camera, her brown curls falling forward. Mandy's impish features spelled out clearly, but the eyes were his, only with more inquisitiveness than he ever possessed.

Nick dryly answered Ray, "You call a little girl running out of the house to find the I15 because her imaginary friend told her to, issues?" He stared up at Ray with beleaguered eyes.

The doctor didn't answer, so Nick continued, "You call a kid who screams that an invisible rat is biting her, issues?"

Ray nodded thoughtfully and then answered in a measured voice, "No, I call that an onset of Childhood Schizophrenia." He leaned into the locker and stared at Nick compassionately.

The S word raised hairs on Nick's head, the word coloured by years of murder scenes where the perpetrator was let off because he suffered from the disease. He stood up huffily and whipped his vest on. "What...a kid has an imaginary friend and she's a schizophrenic?"

Ray asked, "Have you had an assessment done on her?"

"Oh man, Mandy and I have taken Sadie to several doctors and have heard everything from Asperger's to ADHD." Nick shook his head. "I mean, I had imaginary friends." He scoped the room to assure himself that this information remained between him and Ray. He continued, "I mean, they're all animals. There's a cat named 330, a puppy named 55, a rat named Thursday." He laughed to assure himself all was well. "I mean come on, Ray. This kid knew the Periodic Table at 3 and read at 2. There's no way she has a mental illness."

Ray shrugged. "You know as well as I do, intelligence has little to do with a person's mental health, and sometimes, Nick..." He gauged the younger man solemnly. "The wiring can be overdone in the brain and the intelligence a mere component of the disease."

Nick felt his heart leaping around like a frightened jackrabbit in front of a coyote.

"And let me ask you something, Nick. Did your imaginary friends control you?"

Nick shook his head. No.

"The bottom line, Nick, is when the imaginary friends are in control, there's a problem."

Folding his arms, Nick rambled out all he'd held in. He had never told anyone at work the truth about his little girl. "Lately, she's been complaining about Monday the turtle biting her on the toe. Then on Monday, she told Mandy that Thursday was telling her to run out of the classroom and look for I15." Tears were forming in his eyes. "Then she woke us up screaming last night that 330 wanted her to take a knife and slice the couch up." The tears escaped. "She's getting worse, Ray. We had her on medication for ADHD, but that made her much, much worse." He leaned his head against the locker. "Christ, Ray, Mandy gets a call from the school almost every day."

"Is that why she quit the lab?"

"Yeah." Nick answered. "Holy hell, someone has to be there."

"What about your families?"

"We haven't told them."Nick blinked back tears. "I don't know what my family will say. I mean my mom's sister was a Paranoid Schizophrenic and took her own life. If Sadie...my mom would be heartbroken.." Nick couldn't finish as his cell phone rang.

It was from Mandy. His heart sunk.

He hadn't finished saying hello when her frantic voice froze his heart, "She raced out of the school, Nick! They can't find her anywhere!"

"Call the police and meet me there." Nick hung up the phone and informed Ray of the latest events.

"I'm coming with you," Ray said firmly.

The school was on a lockdown by the time Nick reached it and an Amber Alert posted. Mandy stood at the front doors looking remarkably calm as Nick ran up to her with Ray and Jim Brass behind him. But her strong demeanour melted when she saw him and the tears flowed. He took her into his arms and consoled her.

Sadie's teacher looked guilt-stricken. She had been trying hard to work with the child all year and it was becoming increasingly frustrating for her. Nick and Mandy had put Sadie on a waiting list for an educational assistant, but it was a long wait.

As Mandy sobbed, Nick struggled to contain himself and focused on the sign down the road just around the bend. It beamed like a beacon.

Las Vegas Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The wheels churned and he gently let go of Mandy for a second and motioned to Ray who caught his drift. The two men raced down the street as fast as their legs could take them and burst through the front doors where a young girl jumped at the sight of them.

"Did you see a little girl in here?"

"No." She looked irritated at the sudden intrusion, "Why would there be a little kid in here?"

Nick was undeterred. They headed down the hall where two signs hung from the ceiling. Cat Room...Dog Room.

"I'll take the cat room," Nick told Ray. Sadie was uncomfortable around large dogs, but he wasn't going to risk it. Who knows what 330 or Thursday the rat told her to do?

A cacophony of meows greeted Nick as he pushed the door open, but over them he heard a voice. Her voice. He followed it, feeling the fear in his heart melt away to cadence of joy.

Sadie sat cross legged in the corner in front of a cage holding a black and white and very amused kitty. It held Sadie with utter focus as she talked merrily away about how 330 was very naughty cat and could this kitty come home and teach him to be a good kitty.

"Hi honey." Nick remained calm in spite of the hurricane of emotions. He was frightened, angry and relieved at the same time.

Her cherub face broke into a wide smile as she leaped up and raced over to Nick, throwing her arms around him. "Hi, Daddy! I'm sorry. 330 made me do it."

Nick lifted his daughter into his arms, a yoke of fear replaced by the familiar scent of Dove shampoo and Ivory soap. "I know he did."

xxXxx

Dr. Sandra Preston was a feisty woman all of five feet tall, round as a pot roast, and blonde, bushy hair cut into a bob. She was the top child psychiatrist in Nevada and a good friend of Ray's who connected her to Nick and Mandy after the child had disappeared. She smiled as she sat down in front of the worried parents awaiting the verdict on their daughter's condition.

Nick reflected on the past few weeks. Sadie had gone through a battery of tests and MRIs and now the diagnosis.

"Nick, Mandy, I have to give credit to my friend Ray. He was dead on." She looked at them sympathetically. "You daughter does appear to be showing signs of developing Childhood Schizophrenia."

Relief and fear gripped Nick like a vice. He felt Mandy's hand squeeze his. All he could think of was the baby that he had held and remembered how hopeful he felt about the future. It was as if she found him and not the other way around. He felt a love so powerful his heart practically blew to pieces. If he could grab this Schizophrenia by the throat, he'd kill it. How dare it choose HIS daughter as its prey?

Mandy squeezed his hand to bring him back to reality, and he did so, reluctantly. He didn't want to hear about the prognosis. He didn't want to hear about the medications...more drugs than a meth lab! For the first time in his life, he wished he could just go somewhere and feel sorry for himself. He glanced at his wife.

Through all this, Mandy had held it together very well. She listened intently to the plan of action being laid for Sadie, asked questions about dosages and side effects, and peppered the doctor about the future ahead of them.

"Nick?"

Nick looked at Dr. Preston who smiled at him warmly. "Do you have any questions?"

Nick shrugged and asked, "Why her? Why my daughter?"

Dr. Preston tilted her head sympathetically. "About one in 30,000 kids is diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and that number rises if there's a family member with it."

"Yeah, I see the victims of Schizophrenics," he muttered with more contempt in his voice than he planned. He noticed Mandy wincing and she let go of his hand.

But the doctor was unflappable. She asked, "How many of them were off their meds?"

Nick shrugged. "I don't know."

"The truth of the matter is most Schizophrenics are incapable of violence. Most of them simply retreat into a world of their own."

"Yeah and murder people." He heard Mandy suck in her breath.

"A rarity." Dr. Preston looked more amused than offended.

"Yeah, tell that to the victims."

"Nick," Mandy said, irritated, "I think now is a time to stop."

Exhaustion was evident in his wife's eyes. The strength she carried through the hell of the last several months was wearing on her.

"You know Nick, Sadie is still Sadie. She just happens to have the cancer of mental health problems. But she's going to need your love and support and most of all your understanding. Anger won't be the problem solver here."

Nick slumped back into the chair and allowed his wife to take over the conversation.

xxXXxx

Nick knew Mandy was livid with him on the way home. She didn't speak a word to him when they went into the pharmacy and purchased an army's worth of medication for Sadie. She didn't even ask him what he wanted at the McDonald's drive thru, but ordered food for him anyways. And when they got home, she busied herself with preparing for Sadie's homecoming tomorrow morning. She made a list of all the safety gadgets they'd need to ensure the child's safety...locks for the drawers with knives and locks for the cupboards where the cleaning products were.

Finally, Nick leaned against the counter with a beer in tow and spoke up, "Mandy, you know Sadie learned how to pick locks. Remember the last time we had sex and she walked in after we thought the door was locked?"

Mandy flushed with the memory and then shrugged. "Sex? Oh yeah, I remember sex."

"Yeah, something we never had even when the kid was in the hospital all these weeks," Nick griped.

"Maybe because you've been a complete ass about all this!" she remarked and then turned to him. "So Nick which emotion do you feel right now? Anger? Disappointment? Or shame because Nick Stokes the crime fighter has a kid with a mental health problem?!" She stormed out.

Slamming the beer on the table, he walked after her. "Mandy, I took the last few weeks off to help out! What the hell is your problem?"

"You!" she answered. "You are not dealing with this!"

"I'm sorry I said crap in the meeting. I'm..." Nick couldn't finish and lifted his hands as if surrendering to fate.

"Tired?" Mandy asked.

"Yeah, tired." Nick folded his arms. "And...scared." He swallowed a burgeoning lump.

Her stance softened and she reached out and drew him to her. "That's the real emotion you're feeling, isn't it?"

Nick buried his head in her shoulder and mumbled, "Fuck, yeah. Scared because...shit, I can handle anything...but this...I mean...I only see people with Schizophrenia after the crime has been solved. How the hell am I going to deal with this day in and day out?! I mean..what if she grows up and becomes..one of them…Mandy..I couldn't live with myself!"

Mandy didn't answer because, as Nick figured, she didn't know how she herself would handle it.

At least the complaints about sex were resolved shortly thereafter.

The next morning, Nick was getting ready to pick up Sadie while Mandy made a trip to Wal-Mart to pick up the safety devices and then check in with the school to pick up some homework.

The phone rang.

"Nick, it's Grissom."

"Grissom!" Nick was shocked. He hadn't heard from his former boss in almost a year.

"I just called to see how you all were doing?"

Nick smiled. "Sara told you about Sadie."

"Yes, she did, Nick. I'm sure that was shocking news."

"Yeah, a disease that affects one in 30,000 kids and that one had to be mine."

Grissom paused and then said. "You know in certain tribes, the schizophrenic was seen as the visionary one."

"Really?" Nick was sceptical, "Did they involve fluffy, little animals telling kids to kick the doctor because she's an evil witch?"

"Well if that doesn't impress you, Nick, you should watch A Beautiful Mind."

"That the one with Russell Crowe playing John Nash."

"Yes, brilliant mathematician, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, Nick."

"Look, Grissom," Nick sighed heavily. "I know you're trying to help with your facts, but it doesn't change the fact that my daughter is going to have to live with this disease. Her life will be, for the most part, hell on earth. Yeah, she'll get medication for her symptoms, but it will work for a while and then 330 the cat will tell her to jump from a building, or 55 the puppy will tell her to set fire to the house. I mean these hallucinations are innocent, but for how long? How the hell am I going to fight them?"

Grissom was quiet for a moment then said. "John Nash taught himself to ignore them."

"Sadie's only six, Grissom. I think they scare her more than anything."

"Doesn't sound like they do at this point. They sound like innocent creatures. I guess I'm saying, Nick, however you and Mandy choose to deal with this, don't let this suck her or you both into its vortex. Don't let it win."

Grissom's words played in his head as he drove Sadie home. Through the back mirror, he caught glimpses of her looking around and smiling, her hands in their forever wringing and twisting manner.

Nick fought back the tears of grief. He was grieving for lost dreams...dreams every parent has for their child to grow up, to succeed, to find love and happiness. Sadie would have a different path, filled with doctors, hospitals, and medication.

And via his own research, he knew Sadie's risk of suicide were far higher than that of someone without Schizophrenia.

How the hell was he going to cope with this? Nick knew it was taking a toll on him. This morning he noticed grey hairs where they weren't any before. He swore he was developing an ulcer and his workout routine was shot to hell.

Last night, he'd made the dreaded call to his parents and announced the news. His mother took it very, very hard while his father demanded he'd get a second opinion. Nick had simply responded by telling him Dr. Preston was, in fact, the fifth opinion.

At least they offered to send money if needed.

Mandy's parents, who lived in Reno, offered to relocate to Vegas so they could help look after Sadie if needed. A much needed relief, given her father was a retired social worker and her mother a retired teacher-both of whom have experience dealing with children and mental illness.

In fact, Nick felt everyone was dealing with it better than he was, and he was kicking himself every second for it.

"Daddy, can I tell you something?" Sadie piped up.

"Sure, honey."

"I'm glad you found me at the animal shelter. I was really scared but 330 can be pretty bossy at times."

"Well, I can be pretty bossy too, so you tell that to 330 and all his friends, okay?"

"Oh he knows you're bossy, Dad. That's why he ran away when you came."

Nick smiled at this, "Well, guess I'll have to teach you to be bossy to him to."

"I know you will, Daddy." Sadie grinned, her front teeth missing. "You're tougher than them."

"Hey you're tough too, kiddo!"

"I learned from the best." Sadie cuddled a panda Web Kinz close to her.

You're a Stokes, Sadie, and nobody messes with the Stokes!" Nick reminded her.

Two thumbs up answered the last declaration and Nick felt a twitter of hope for the first time in weeks. As uncertain as he felt about his daughter's future, he was certain his love and support would always be there for her.

A/N: The idea for this story came to me the other night when I was watching 20/20 and they had a segment on children with mental illnesses. It was heartbreaking to watch the parents go through this and thus the story was born.