per aspera ad astra (amazonqueenkate) wrote in nickngreg,
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amazonqueenkate
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Fic: "When You Can Only Watch"

And now, for something somewhat different.....

Title: "When You Can Only Watch" (1/1)
Author: amazonqueenkate
Pairings: Nick/Greg
Disclaimer: I totally don't own any of this. As much as I wish I did. And wish, oh, wish, I did.
Rating: PG-ish
Length: 3,150
Summary: When Greg and Nick are each in the hospital, there's one person missing from both recoveries.
Author's note: Something a little different. The story of one of the other characters, told through the eyes of Nick and Greg. They're obviously a "thing" in this, but it's almost as much a look at their relationship with others as it is their relationship with each other. Oh, you'll see what I mean.
Spoilers for "Play with Fire" and "Grave Danger." :)


When the lab explodes and Greg is lying in the hospital, the only person who never visits is Sara.

Nick takes mental inventory as he watches a machine pour coffee into a Styrofoam cup, mechanical gears howling as the liquid hammers against the synthetic material. Catherine and Warrick have come no less than six times, Grissom has checked in twice, and all the lab techs – Archie, Bobby, Jacqui, Hodges, even the tattoo-girl who Warrick always macks on (Nick’s been awake for days and can’t remember) – have at least stopped by to share their well-wishes and bring chocolates, flowers, and (in tattoo-girl’s case) a rather lopsided teddy bear.

Sara hasn’t show up once.

Catherine is ending her seventh visit as Nick returns to the room, and she smiles at him sadly from the doorway. Nick knows that it’s guilt, more than worry or sympathy, that brings her knocking at the door, but guilt is more haunting and longer-lasting, to boot. “He wants to see you,” she chuckles with a hint of irony. Perhaps a hint of pain, too, Nick decides.

“He always does,” Nick jokes back, shaking his head. He sips the hot, metallic coffee and wrinkles his nose at the unpleasant flavor. She pats his arm and moves past him, retreating down the hallway in her tall boots.

He stops her before she rounds the corner. “Hey, Cath!” he calls after her, and she turns back around, raising an eyebrow.

“Has Sara been around?”

She frowns, and Nick figures she’s trying to remember. “Actually, no,” she recalls, shrugging ever-so-slightly. “I know she was here for some stitches, right after…” She trails off, refusing to say what she’d come to the hospital after. “But not since.”

The thought haunts Nick as he goes into the room, and the next day – back at work, or at least faking work – he approaches her carefully, like a delicate china doll cornered by the elephant in the room.

She’s bent over crime scene photographs, one hand bandaged and resting on the table while the other clutches at a can of Mountain Dew. It looks like she’s been in the room for hours, if not days, because there’s a row of empty Mountain Dew cans along the far wall.

Her face is pale and drawn, with shadows under her eyes, and Nick realizes as he stands in the doorway that she’s probably subsisting on a diet of Mountain Dew and vending machine snack food, at the absolute healthiest.

“Hey, Sara.”

His voice must have startled her because she jerks up and around, and she’s staring at him, a wide-eyed doe caught in proverbial headlights. He gives her a little wave and walks into the room, watching as the tenseness filters from her body – obviously filters, because her shoulders loosen and she exhales audibly – and she turns back to her photos. “Hey, Nick.”

There’s no emotion behind the voice, except perhaps exhaustion.

“How’s it going? Tough case?” Pictures of a floor, and blood spatter stare up at him as he surveys the table. She nods, and he presses on. “How’s your hand?”

Brown eyes drift to the bandages, tight around her palm. “Fine,” she replies, and swigs her soda. “Hurts, a bit.”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” He nods, because he’s not sure what else to do. “G’s been asking about you, you know.”

Sara flinches. The slightest twitch in her face and eyes, but she doesn’t look away from the photos. She stares them down, heavily silent. “Yeah. I know.”

Nick wonders idly who told her – Hodges, probably, asshole that he can be, or maybe a side-comment from Grissom – and he pulls up a stool next to her. The lighted table casts the oddest shadows, and she looks paler in the strange glow. “You could stop by. He’ll be in for another day.”

“I know,” she repeats, and he feels like they’re dancing, not asking and not answering the looming question. She’s like a china doll, and he’s like an elephant, and there’s a whole other elephant in the back of the room.

“Case keeping you away?”

“Yeah, sure.” Her answer has very little heart in it as she swaps two photos, and shrugs. “Tough case.”

“So you said.” Nick knows she didn’t say it, but he has to fill the silence with something, and it seems as good an option as any.

She rotates a picture, looks at it carefully, her unmarred hand still wrapped around the can, clenching and unclenching it rhythmically. The metal buckles, makes crunching noises, and he considers standing and leaving her alone. But the air’s too heavy and Nick doesn’t want to end the conversation like this, like they’re wading in a sea of awkward quiet and just barely staying afloat.

“He’d like to see you,” he finally lies when the silence has become too much. He reaches for and turns the nearest photo toward him. It’s a single drop of blood, directionally significant, and half-dried in the photograph. It looks almost solid, more substantial than the half-congealed liquid it is. It makes him thinking of the dried, rusty blood under the bandages spanning Greg’s back and he pushes it away. “You should come by. He’d like it if you would.”

She glances up from her work and starts to bring the can of soda back to her lips, but then pauses and meets his eyes over the lip of the can. They’re bloodshot, but then, Nick knows that his are, too, and they stare one another down with little more than their breathing between them.

She finally swigs her Mountain Dew and sets it back down onto the table. It clunks against the glass. “I can’t,” she answers, even though there’s no question to answer – no verbal question, anyway. “The case.”

“Yeah,” he agrees. “The case.”

Greg never asks about Sara through the next few days of his recovery, even when Catherine and Warrick, Jacqui and Archie, and even Hodges drop by for repeat visits. But even though he doesn’t say anything, Nick knows that he’s noticed her absence and thinking about her, and he watches at work when Greg returns, hugging everyone and smiling.

He watches, especially, when he hugs Sara the hardest.

==

When Nick is in the hospital, recovering from his incident underground, the only person who isn’t there with him is Sara.

Greg paces nervously, even though it’s four days later and the worst of Nick’s recovery is over. The Stokes – he can’t remember their names right now – are in the room, and he watches them talking to their son through the window. He’s pale, he’s got pock marks all over, he has barely any voice, but at least he’s ghosting a smile as his mother sits on his bedside and pats his hand. The room is filled with flowers, balloons, and even a lop-sided teddy bear. Not to mention the complete collection of Descartes writings; Greg really must talk to Mia on her taste in gifts.

Catherine and Warrick are in the waiting room, and Grissom wandered off to get food. The hallway is empty, and Greg clutches his coffee as he waits to return to Nick’s side.

And that’s when he realizes that he hasn’t seen Sara.

It’s a belated realization, and when it comes into his mind he wants nothing more than for her to be there, standing in the hallway with him as he watches the Stokes comfort their son. He discards his cheap, hospital-dispenser coffee in the trash can and makes his way to the waiting room. Catherine pages through an old magazine, there, not looking up as he enters. It’s an idle motion, he knows, and she almost seems unaware of his approach.

“Warrick split?” he asks when he finds no better question, settling into a chair a few feet away from her. For some reason, right now, he feels oddly claustrophobic, as though he’s the one who spent the better part of a nightshift trapped in a box underground.

She shrugs. “Had things to take care of,” she replies, a casual non-answer. “How’s Nicky holding up?”

“He’s with his folks.” The statement doesn’t need much more explanation than that, and Greg slumps back against the hard cushion of the cheap chair. He almost forgets why he’d come out here in the first place, because his eyelids are heavy from foregoing so much sleep, but something prods at him and triggers his foggy memory.

“Hey,” he finally adds, when she’s flipped another three pages, “have you seen Sara?”

The question surprises Catherine, because suddenly she’s looking up from her magazine and creasing her brow for a moment. It’s only a moment, though, because then confusion is replaced with chuckling. He frowns at her odd reaction. “You two are so alike,” she chortles, shaking her head. “Nicky asked me the same thing.”

He can’t recall Catherine and Nick being together without him long enough to ask something like that. “He did?”

His spark of concern must have appeared on his face as well as in his voice, he figures, because she laughs aloud and slides into a chair closer to him. “Not now,” she assures him with a gentle pat on the knee. “Back when you had your accident.”

She says the words, for once, without guilt behind them, and he suddenly can remember his friend’s suspicious absence from his own recovery. He nods in agreement and carries on an empty conversation, his mind now elsewhere. When the Stokes’ leave, Nick is back asleep, and Greg slips, unnoticed, into his room. He clings to the injured hand and can remember, now, every moment of his own stay in the hospital, filled with flowers and visits but no earthly sign of Sara. And he realizes, again belatedly, that she should be there.

She shouldn’t be there just because she’s his friend, but because she’s his friend, and Nick’s friend, and their friend, together. And because she solved the mystery when no one else could, and saved Nick’s life by doing so. Because they can’t thank her for that when she’s not present.

He kisses the palm of Nick’s hand and whispers that he’ll be back soon, and then drives into the Nevada twilight. He’s not sure where he’s going to go, but he’s also not surprised that he ends up at work, or that Sara is there. He is surprised, however, to find her outside on a bench, her head tipped back and face focused on the ever-darkening evening sky.

“Hey.”

She flicks her gaze toward him, barely moving her head. “Hey,” she replies nonchalantly, and gives him a moment to stare at her before she returns them to the deepening blue hues above them. “How’s Nick?”

“Asleep.” Greg doesn’t wait for an invitation, but plops down on the bench at her side, resting his elbows on his knees. He hasn’t been near this building in four and a half days, not since they piled into the SUVs and peeled out of the parking lot, sirens blaring and tires squealing. Residual emotion and adrenaline spark in his veins and pain buckles, turning his stomach, and he’s suddenly regretting the sub-par coffee. “You haven’t come by.”

“I know.” She says this plainly, her eyes on the sky. “I’ve had stuff to do.”

“Yeah.” He isn’t sure if he can say anything more, so he slouches back against the hard stone of the bench and leans his head back, too. The moon has risen and there are a few stars – just a few – poking holes in the approaching darkness. “You never came to see me.”

He doesn’t mean to say it, and he flinches. She flinches, too, just a twitch of emotion to her face, the tiniest hint of the nerve he’s undoubtedly struck. “I had a case.”

“Like you have now?”

“No.” She sighs, heavily, and suddenly she sitting up straight and running a hand across her face. He watches her, his head still back, as she scratches at her own skin. Her eyes are red, and he doubts she’s slept much more than he has. “I just have…. Stuff. To do.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Sara.” He says her name simply, plainly, with as little emotion as he can manage, but he can hear that emotion in the back of his throat, a touch of worry to pepper her stoicism.

She pulls her hands away and folds them in her lap, looking at her fingers. For one of only a few times, he sees distinct helplessness in her expression. “I don’t want to go,” she finally says, straight-faced as she stares at her hands. “I’m afraid to go there and see him…die.”

Greg’s taken aback and blinks at her response, sitting stark upright. He bites back at laugh, but the snort causes her to shoot a cold look at him. He shakes his head. “Sara, he’s not dying!” he assures her, reaching up to put a hand on her shoulder. They don’t touch, not often, but he can’t resist it, and he squeezes her shirt and the skin beneath it. “He’s not going to die, because you saved him.”

She purses her lips, wets them, and then purses them again, pale pink in the weak light from the lamps that light the parking lot and front of the building. “Part of him has,” she informs him quietly after a long moment of silence, and her fingers play over and against one another as she speaks. “Part of someone always dies, when things like that…”

Sara trails off but he picks up the pieces, and turns to fully look at her. “Sara,” he states, trying to ground her, and when she won’t meet his eyes in response, tightens his grip on her shoulder. “Sara,” he repeats, and her brown eyes spark to peer up at him. “Nick is not going to die. None of him is dead. He’s fine, and – ”

“Have you ever watched someone die?” she demands, and she pulls her shoulder out of his grasp. “I mean really die? Have you seen their eyes dull and their chest shudder and seen them twitch the one last time?”

“He’s not dying,” Greg repeats, firmly, because he can’t think of anything else to say.

“Neither was my father,” she retorts, and buries her face in her hands.

He’s rendered speechless by this and his mouth drops open as he attempts to put together a coherent thought. The only coherent thought that manages to escape is, “What?” and he says it before he can stop himself. He remembers the half-story he was told after the incident at the mental institution, but he’d never been able to assemble the pieces into a complete picture.

Sara sighs and looks away from him, his hand still hovering in the air near her shoulder. He lays it along the back of the bench, out of her way and yet still nearby, and she shakes her head. Her entire expression is tight as she focuses on her steepled fingers and short nails. “He was still breathing when I got home,” she breathed, her voice catching on the nighttime breeze. “There was so much blood, everywhere, but my father was still breathing. I called the police, I knelt on the floor, and I waited, but… But…”

Greg remains quiet, watching her as she drags her sleeve across her eyes. She won’t ever admit they’re tears, he knows, and he certainly won’t tell a living soul that he saw them. She’s silent for a moment, but then there’s a shuddering breath and her lips are moving again. “You never know how much you love someone, how much it means…until you can only watch.”

Suddenly, he can feel tears in his eyes, salty and sharp, and he takes the arm on the back of the bench and uses it to pull her close, against his side and chest, her nose pressing into his dirty shirt and shoulders shaking. And before he knows it, he’s shaking, too, and pressing his face to her hair as he cries along with her.

They huddle together on the bench for many long moments, but then the tears ebb and they’re holding one another, silent in what is now the Las Vegas night. When Greg stands, she follows him, and they climb into his car and together drive back down the strip, past the casinos and hotels, past the smiling tourists. Greg’s not sure he should hold Sara’s hand while they drive, but he’s not sure he could let go of her if he tried.

She buys flowers in the hospital store – they’re just getting ready to close – and follows him down the empty corridors towards Nick’s floor. The waiting room is empty, free of Cath paging through magazines or Warrick pacing. He takes this as a good sign, and when he opens the door to Nick’s room he’s surprised to see the other man wearily awake, eyes half-opened.

“Hey, G,” he greets, a touch of a smile at his dried, cracked lips. Greg steps fully into the room but Sara stalls in the doorway, the flowers clutched in her hands as she surveyed the room. The sterility of it all jarred Greg, too, when he first had stepped into it. Then, there had been no shock of balloons or flowers, just white on white, quiet and empty.

Nick smiles a bit more, and Greg recognizes just how much it must hurt to force a smile with lips so dry. He rounds the bed, shuffling items on the little table. “Hey, Sara,” he adds, and the greeting is raspy but whole.

The flowers shake, but Greg smiles nonetheless. “There’s the perfect spot for them over here,” he announces, “right between the ones from Jacqui and the ones from Grissom.”

Sara frowns at the two plant arrangements – one a huge arrangement of carnations and baby’s breath and the other what looks to be a potted fern – and shakes her head, a smile touching her face. “Leave to Grissom to give you something that you have to work for,” she chuckles, and moves to the side of the bed, to hand the flowers over to Greg.

Greg reaches for them but Nick intercepts, pulling them from her hand with a grimace of effort so he can smell them. He inhales deeply, and over the bed Greg’s eyes meet hers. Her surprise brings a grin to his face, and he takes the flowers from Nick and sets them on the table.

“Thank you, Sara,” Nick says, and he reaches out for her with his now-empty hand, his eyes on her face. She slides her hand into his, her fingers touching the marks from the ant bites with a small twitch, and she swallows hard enough that it’s just shy of audible.

Across the bed, Greg reaches down and grips Nick’s other hand, and he smiles.

Sara does, too.

“You’re welcome.”
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