AUTHOR'S NOTES: Annoyingly, we're still waiting to see the episode following on from Grave Danger. In fact, we've only seen the first half of that episode. Thank heavens for generous friends and DVDs. I did wonder though about Nick's somewhat rapid recovery from his ordeal and it led me to write this. Oh, and there will be a prequel to this. The inevitable recovery story I feel the need to write but for some reason, this fic insisted on being written first.
He was suffocating! Absolute darkness surrounded him, pressing in on him, stealing the last precious amount of air in his prison. The sound of cracking glass was as loud as an explosion in the confines of the coffin but before he had time to react to it, they were on him, biting, stinging, burrowing beneath his clothes, eating through the glove tips he'd hastily stuffed in his ears and nose. He could feel the venom being pumped into his bloodstream, could hear his heart speeding up, his breath catching in sluggish lungs
"No!" Nick surged up, vaguely surprised that there was no coffin lid impeding him. He sagged forward, gasping for breath, the sweat that trickled down his naked upper body, setting up a maddening itch that further irritated the scabbed over ant bites on his chest and back. He shivered, the night air cooling the moisture on his skin, and he chafed at his arms, the almost healed bites scraping against his callused fingertips.
A muted dawn filtered in through the window, highlighting the shadowed interior of his living room. Swinging his feet to the floor, he reached for the almost empty glass on the coffee table and swigged the remaining contents, gagging and grimacing at the taste.
Scotch. He'd needed it last night and every night since Grissom and Warrick had pulled him from the coffin, hoping it would keep the nightmares at bay. It worked, at least for a few hours, allowing him to get the sleep his body needed to recover from his ordeal. It didn't work long enough to completely erase the vivid terrors from his memory.
Standing, he walked out into the kitchen and turned on the light. Opening the refrigerator, he found a few mouthfuls left in a bottle of orange juice and drank it, then, scrubbing a hand over his sweat damp hair, he headed for the bathroom and a hot shower. He was due for his final session with the department psychiatrist this morning. Grissom had not been entirely convinced he was ready to return and Nick wasn't sure he was ready himself but he knew it was the only way to know for sure. His father had taught him well.
"You get bucked off the horse, Pancho, you climb back on."
He was more nervous of walking through the doors of the Las Vegas CSI building now than he had been when he'd first arrived from Texas. Back then, he'd been cocky, full of his own expertise, anxious to show these guys what he was capable of. Grissom had put him in his place pretty quickly but since that first day on the job, Nick had followed his boss's every lead, allowing Gil's knowledge and skills to soak in, eager to learn all he could. He couldn't help feeling that he'd never truly gotten it right, couldn't stop the disappointment that he never fully measured up to his mentor's expectations.
He had no reason to be nervous now, he told himself sternly as he walked through the corridor toward the elevator. This was his other family, they had been there for him, reaching out to touch and hold him from the moment the coffin lid was opened. They'd also seen his fear, heard his panicked screams, watched how he'd clung to Grissom and Warrick, smelled the urine that soaked his pants. And they'd been there when he woke in the hospital, screaming when his fevered mind could not accept the reality of his escape, had talked him through the waking nightmares, the pain and frightening histamine reaction from the bites, when he'd thought he'd suffocate anyway, despite his rescue.
Warrick had stayed with him on his first night at home, claiming he was too tired to drive back to his own apartment, just a few miles away. Catherine had been at the door on her way to work the following morning, a loaded bag of groceries in her arms. Sara and Greg had brought music and movies, none really to Nick's taste but he was so grateful for these small touches that he accepted them gracefully, the tears that never seemed too far from the surface, shining in his eyes. Grissom had called in a couple of times but had seemed ill at ease and again Nick's insecurities came to the fore, wondering if Grissom had been disappointed in him. He shouldn't have been so easily overwhelmed, should have been able to fight back. It had been only one man, after all and an old man at that.
"Hey, what are you doing here?"
Nick looked around, smiling at the sound of Warrick's voice. "Good to see you too." He clapped his friend on the back. "Final session with the shrink before I start back next week."
"You sure you're ready?" Warrick's frown emphasized his concern but Nick felt his impatience flare.
"You been talking to Grissom?" he replied.
"No." Warrick looked immediately contrite and guilty. "Well, yeah. We all talked about it." He held out his hands in a gesture of defeat. "We're your friends, man. You went through an unbelievable ordeal. We just want to make sure you're okay."
Nick nodded and smiled, extending his own apology for his outburst. "I appreciate everything you've done. I'm fine." He looked at his watch. "I'd better hurry, I'm running late."
"Stop by the lab later," Warrick said, "say hi to everyone."
"Sure." Nick sketched a goodbye, not entirely certain he would, then hurried to the elevator.
Doctor Mary Shelby leaned back in her chair and regarded Nick solemnly over her half-rimmed spectacles. "So, how have things been?"
Nick squirmed in his seat, feeling like a cross between a bug pinned on a slide and a naughty schoolboy. "Pretty good. The bites have healed up. The bruises and cuts from the explosion are gone."
Nick hesitated. He knew this woman would spot a lie at a hundred paces. "They're getting better," he said finally.
"How do you feel about going back to work?" Shelby held up a hand to silence him when Nick opened his mouth to speak. "Do you think you'll be able to deal with being in a similar situation to when you were kidnapped. What if you get called out to a scene alone again?"
"As long as that ass isn't on duty, it'll be fine," Nick shot back, still unable to come to terms with the uniformed cop's dereliction to duty. He'd phoned several times, leaving messages for Nick, hoping he was doing okay, wanting to explain. Nick hadn't bothered to return them.
"Mistakes happen," Shelby said.
"That wasn't a mistake," Nick returned hotly, "that was stupidity."
"Who are you blaming, Nick, the officer or yourself?"
Nick sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Both of us, I guess. Grissom said me being taken was a random choice. Whoever had taken that call would have been the one. I just can't help thinking, why me? A few years ago, I was stalked by a guy "
"I remember," the doctor said, leaning forward.
"Grissom said that was random too."
Shelby gave him a gentle smile. "And you're wondering why the entire universe seems to be raining on your parade."
"Something like that, yeah."
"I'm afraid that's one question I can't answer for you." She scribbled something in Nick's notes then sat back and smiled at him. "I'm going to clear you for active duty on one condition. You continue to see me once a week for another month."
"No problem." Nick stood and extended his hand, shaking the doctor's. "Thanks, doc, I appreciate what you've done."
"Don't rush it, Nick. Any problems, you only have to call."
Nick had intended to head straight home. Maybe head out to the gym for a solid workout. He had no idea why he headed along the corridor to Grissom's office and wasn't aware of doing it until he was knocking on the open door.
"Come in." Grissom was bent over something on his desk and didn't look up until Nick was at his side. A fleeting expression of surprise passed over his face and he pushed the jar he'd been examining to one side.
He wasn't fast enough. Nick felt a shudder run through him as the fire ants in the specimen jar attempted to scramble for safety at the disruption. He felt sweat break out on his brow and forced himself to look away, into Grissom's concerned face.
"Nick! Good to see you. Have a seat."
Nick did so and waited, casting his eyes about the room while Grissom stood and placed the jar back in a cabinet. "I was just on my way home. Thought I'd drop in and let you know Doc Shelby says I can come back next week."
"That's good to hear," Grissom replied but the frown on his face belied any satisfaction at Nick's news. "You up to it?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Nick indicated the jar of ants and gave a small, nervous smile. "It's gonna take a while for me to get over those things, but at least I don't feel like they're crawling all over me every minute of the day any more."
"Has the allergic reaction settled?"
"Good as gold." He sat forward as a thought came to mind. "What was he like?" At Grissom's upraised eyebrow, he continued. "Walter Gordon. I'm trying to get a handle on this, to figure out why " He trailed off, not even sure himself what he was asking.
Grissom studied him for a long moment. "Angry, lonely, sick. A man looking to avenge his daughter for what he perceived as her unjust incarceration."
Nick nodded. "Did you listen to the tape?"
"It's being checked out."
"Right. What about his daughter? You interviewed her, right?"
Grissom steepled his fingers on the desk and gave Nick an uncompromising stare. "Don't do it, Nick."
"Do what?" Nick swallowed convulsively, knowing well that Grissom could read him like a book.
"Don't go see Kelly Gordon. If you think it's going to help you make sense of all of this, it won't. If you think it'll help you heal, you're wrong."
Nick surged up from his seat, sending the chair crashing to the floor. "How do you know what will help me?" he shouted. Tears stung his eyes and he wiped at them roughly with one hand. "You weren't buried in that hole! Don't tell me what will help and what won't. You -" His voice broke and he turned away from Grissom, fighting to control his emotions. "You don't know."
A hand touched his shoulder and squeezed gently. "No, I don't," Gil said softly. "I just don't want you hurt more than you already are and I want you back as soon as possible, recovered from this. You're one of my team, Nick and I already told Conrad I want my guys back."
Nick leaned into Grissom's support for a moment, accepting the comfort offered but knowing Grissom's advice would not alter his decision. "I'll be here," he said finally. "Next week."
Nick supposed Grissom had been right. Kelly Gordon showed no more remorse for his horrendous ordeal than her father had at putting him there in the first place. His chest was still tight with tension, his head pounding ferociously. He walked out of the prison, shielding his red-rimmed eyes from the glare of the sun.
He wasn't surprised to see him here. Nick walked over to his car, wiping quickly at the dampness on his cheeks.
"Thought you might like some company on the drive home," Grissom said. "Warrick gave me a ride down."
Nick nodded, his emotions still too churned up to allow him to speak. He pulled his keys from his pocket and was about to slide them into the lock when Grissom grasped his shoulders and spun him around to face him.
Grissom smiled. "You never did disappoint me, Nicky. I thought I was going to let you down. I should have found you before it got that close."
Nick smiled, a wan and watery smile but it felt good on his face. "You found me, Gris," he said. "That's all that matters." Then he was pulled forward into a crushing embrace and he finally let go of his anger and fear, his pain and insecurity.
"It's okay," Gil whispered, stroking a comforting hand down his back. "You're back, Nick. You're home."