As some of you may have noticed, I recently changed my username. It was a change I had to do to protect myself, as much as I did not want to and felt like I was losing some of my freedom by doing so. At least with a new name I can continue to write (and review).

Coming Home

The chlorine sterile air of the hallway filled her lungs. She was just outside his room, but hesitated on the final few steps that led to the door. Hugging her sweater around her, she was grateful she thought to bring it. It had been a while, but she remembered the over air conditioned buildings of Las Vegas. One final deep breath and she stepped into Nick's room.

He was sleeping soundly, but the bright red bumps, the IVs, and the bandages betrayed his current peaceful state. She stood frozen, afraid to move in far enough to let the door to close behind her. She'd seen him, she could go now. He's alive, and she's seen firsthand that he's survived his ordeal. The problem was she didn't want to go. She couldn't leave anymore than she could take the final few steps to his bed, stuck in some sort of purgatory.

A breeze from behind brought her from her thoughts. "Are you a friend of Nick's?" The woman in purple scrubs asked as she checked Nick's vitals.

Shaking the cloud from her head, "Sorry?"

The redheaded nurse repeated herself, this time stopping to make eye contact, "Are you a friend of Nick's?" She gestured the sleeping form in the bed.

"Ahh," It was a fair question, but she wasn't sure how to answer it. She had been many things to Nick over the years: colleague, friend, confidant, lover, pseudo girlfriend. However that was then, and at this particular time, she couldn't come up with a title, so she just went with it, "Yeah, I am." She stepped in closer, and the door slowly swung shut. "How is he?"

The nurse made some notes as she spoke, "He's doing fine. You just missed his parents." She looked around the room for a second, "I think they stepped out to get something to eat. Do you know them?"

Oh, she knew them. She nodded, "Is it okay if I stay a few minutes?"

"Of course, sweetie." The other woman motioned to a chair adjacent to Nick's bed. "He'll probably wake soon, his meds will be wearing off shortly."

"Thank you."

"No problem," she paused before leaving, "If he needs anything, my name's Doreen. I'm on the evening shift today."

"Okay," was all she could muster, too focused on what she could possibly say if she stayed until he woke up.

Her mind took her to too many places. How do you say hi to someone you haven't seen in nearly a year when he's lying in a hospital bed? Would he even want her here? It had been her choice to leave, but he had been the one pushing her away. If it hadn't been for Warrick calling her, to tell her, she never would have known about Nick's ordeal. Pushing that painful thought from her head, she realized that she had really never stopped caring for him. Which is why when the news came, she took the first flight out of DC. But now, her nerves were catching up to her actions. She was really here, and would have to come up with something to say.

His once still body began to move, his head rolled back and forth as his hand twitched. She wasn't sure if he was waking or having a nightmare. She reached out and took his hand in hers, rubbing her thumb over the back of his hand. "Shh, it's okay," she cooed without thinking. She had no clue how he was feeling. Who was she to say it would be okay? Then again maybe she was talking more to herself than to him.

His eyes flickered, meeting her gaze. His drowsy voice softly called to her, "Mandy?"

"I'm here," she smiled sweetly as his grip tightened slightly around her hand before he faded back to sleep.

Over the next hour or so, he continued to go in and out of consciousness. The nurse warned her that it could go on for some time. He was physically and emotionally exhausted, and sleep was his body's natural cure.

She kept his hand in hers, throughout the evening. Finally he woke up and seemed to be more lucid. "You came?" The edges of his mouth turned up, melting Mandy's fear of facing him.

"Of course I came," She raised her hand holding his, and wrapped her other hand around it as well. "Where else would I be?"

"How did you know?" He was hanging on like he was afraid she would slip away.

Scooting her chair in closer, "Warrick called, told me everything." She looked at him, all of him, noting every bump and scratch. "God Nick…" She wasn't sure what to say, feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of his condition. She lightly ran her hand up and down his arm, as hot tears began to form in her eyes.

Nick reached over with his other hand, "Darlin', I'm okay."

That did it, his Texan drawl mixed with the term of endearment that always sounded so sweet rolling off his lips, her dam had broken, and a few tears escaped down her cheeks.

"Mandy," he reached over with his other hand, IV attached and all, and used the pad of his thumb to wipe the dampness away. "Hey, it's okay. I'm okay." He freed his other hand from her grasp and pulled her to him. "Shh," it was his turn to comfort her.

"But you nearly weren't, and if you," she took a ragged breath in, "Weren't I never would have seen you again, and…" She stopped herself, and let the last few tears fall onto his shoulder.

"And what?" He stroked her hair.

She took a deep breath, and tried to say something, but fear took over and no sound came out. A second breath, a third, finally, she blurted, "And the thought of never seeing you again scares me." This time much softer, "I've missed you."

Squeezing her closer, "God Mandy, I've missed you." His hand ran the length of her back, "I've regretted what happened for so long. When I was in that box, the thought of never making things right with you haunted me."

She had longed for him to call her, to say these things to her, but now he was saying them in person. She reached up and hung on, afraid to ever let go.

TBC…