I think it was the dog that initially broke me.|
I had focused all my energies upon finding Nick. It was all I breathed for at that moment. I couldn’t tell anybody what I was feeling – even when Warrick lost the plot completely at me all I could do was come up with some feeble remark about contaminating the evidence and my clothes. My clothes, for fuck’s sake. As if that was what I gave a damn about.
I think the only time I may have let something flicker across my face was when I was lying beneath the prototype of the coffin and Warrick gave us a time update.
It was a concrete realisation of how much longer the person I loved more than anything had to live. That their time left in my world could now be measured in minutes. I sagged against the floor and closed my eyes briefly, but couldn’t give in to grief the way what I wanted to. It just meant we had to work that much quicker.
And that dog. That poor dog. That had suffered a fate Nick was about to succumb to. Another victim in a tortured experiment.
And I had thought it was him. That I had rescued him. Not that I wanted the glory, but I just wanted him safe. And to think that he had been safe, that we had him, and to be confronted with the reality was too much.
It was at that moment that I became another victim of the coffin. I may not have been lying beside Nick, struggling for breath, wondering if I should end it before it became too painful to attempt to live – but at that moment it felt like I had died as well. I was still breathing, walking, even able to respond if talked to – but it was just a shell of Greg Sanders. An automaton that knew how to get the job done, but was dead and devoid of feeling.
Nobody noticed, because they were all acting the same way. But they didn’t have the vested interest I had. Sure, they all loved Nick as well. And it was selfish of me to think that I had some larger claim – but I did. They just didn’t know. How could they? We had kept it secret for over two years, and it had become even easier to hide when the shifts were split. Hell, we hardly even saw each other during this period – so how could anybody else suspect anything?
Time sped up when Sara narrowed down the possible locations of where Nick could be buried. As we raced across the desert to the nursery, I was aware of how little time there was left. It was even more agonizing than before – how much worse would it be if we were to find him mere minutes after his supply of air had given out? To be so close to save him and yet still lose him? My own breath was running ragged, and I couldn’t stand the fact that I was killing myself even more with these torturous images of Nick dying as his air disappeared and the gun became even more of a temptation to end it quickly.
Just hang on, we’re coming I kept repeating to myself. Nicky, please. It was a mantra that I hoped would reach him on some level. And maybe combined with everybody else having the same thought, just maybe, he would hear it.
I arrived in time to see a pale arm reach out of the ground and grasp Grissom. A familiar arm that I had memorised every inch of – now covered in welts and bruises. Bile rose in my throat, but I swallowed it down. He’s alive. Hold onto that.
The dead feeling within me vanished as if I had vomited. And all the pain I had been repressing replaced it. My knees were rubbery, and I felt as if I was going to keel over there and then. The overdose of emotion made me feel as if I would let forth an animal, inhuman howl and completely lose it. But I still had to keep it in.
I had to watch him be loaded onto the ambulance, and see Catherine and Warrick take my place beside him. And at that moment I hated them. Hated them because they were doing what I needed to do, because although people know that Nick and I are friendly, to them it would have seemed strange if I had hopped into the ambulance above either them or Grissom.
So, my face was set like stone as the red and blue lights of the ambulance and police vehicles burned across my features.
“I’ll meet you guys at the hospital.” Grissom said, finally, after some time of us standing there in shock.
Sara and I moved away to the vehicle we had shared, and with my back to them I could feel the muscles around my mouth and eyes drop, and shielded from their sight I suddenly threw up all the stress and pain and worry that had consumed me for the past how many hours it had been since Nick had bent to pick up a Styrofoam cup and disappeared from our lives.
I felt a hand enter mine, and from the faint earthy smell of the perfume I could tell it was Sara. I clutched it blindly as tears stung my eyes. She then turned me to face her, and used her thumb to wipe away my errant tears. “It should have been you in there.”
For one stupid, brief second I thought she meant the coffin, but then saw the look in her eye. She knew. She understood.
And this was not the time for me to keep the secret to myself any longer. Or else I would have to turn back into that dead Greg from before.
“It’s not that simple.” I managed to choke out.
“You almost lost him tonight. We all almost lost him. If it kills me this much to not be able to ride with him at the moment, I can’t imagine what it feels like for you.”
“It feels like shit, to put it bluntly.”
Unexpectedly, she pulled me into a hug. “You should have gone with him, Greg.”
In the end it turned out that he was so out of it he barely knew who was there and who wasn’t, not that it makes me feel any better. He was still having vague hallucinations from the venom of the ant-bites, and at times woke up convinced he was back in the coffin – that he had been let down by us, that we had never found him. I was frustrated because everyone was in care-for-Nicky-mode and there was never less than two people in there with him. It was good for Nick, but not for me. Even when I was in there, I hung at the back so he couldn’t really see me, so I wouldn’t give in to my desire to take him in my arms and not let him go. Because I was unsure if he wanted to be outed so publicly, I had to go by according to what we had done before. And he wasn’t in the correct frame of mind to make any decisions or leap forwards so I had to decide it for the both of us, even though I knew what I wanted. I had to think of him, I was doing it this way for him.
One time he whispered hoarsely, “Where’s Greg?”
Grissom leaned in, “He’s right here, Nicky.” He motioned towards me to come forward, and I felt like my heart was going to punch out of my chest.
Nick had smiled, but before he could say anything else he fell back into a pained and troubled sleep.
And I had stayed where I was hiding, while Sara – the keeper of my secret and the only one besides Nick who had the knowledge of my heart – had given me a heartbreaking smile of empathy and commiseration. For someone who acted as closed-off as I did in regards to certain situations, she could wear her heart on her sleeve just as easily. If she chose to. There was a strange kinship that developed between us from that day on, even if it remained unspoken.
Because it was Sara who later that night, pushed everyone else out the door, saying that there were too many of us there and that we were disturbing his rest and his ability to recuperate. There were mild arguments, but everybody looked so drained and exhausted. Coupled with the knowledge that Nick was safe in hospital, they eventually gave in to Sara’s demands and filed out.
“But one of us should stay with Nicky---“ Catherine protested one last time, looking back at him while being forced out the door.
“Greg and I will take this shift.” Sara said firmly, and Catherine nodded tiredly. “You can take over in the morning again.”
I wanted to thank her, but couldn’t even get the words out. She surprised me once more, by leaning in to me and giving me a quick, rough peck on the cheek. “He’s all yours, now.”
She crossed to the bed and gave Nick a gentler kiss at the base of his hairline, where there were less wounds and bites. He stirred slightly, but did not wake. A tear glimmered on her cheek, but when she turned back to me it was gone. “See you in the morning.”
She turned back.
She smiled. “No problem.”
Nick and I were finally alone.
Once more, I couldn’t breathe. I moved a chair closer in to his side, and sat down. There was so much I wanted to say, needed to say, but I couldn’t speak. I was just so relieved and happy that he was there. And I knew that once he was conscious again, there wouldn’t really be any need to speak because everything would be written across my face.
So there was nothing left to do but sit there and drink in his presence - the feeling that he was real, alive, safe, and mine. I took his red, raw and wounded hand in my own, kissed it softly and waited for him to wake.