I'M FINE, THANKS
Sara Sidle rested her elbows on the table, and pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. The resulting flares of color didn’t do much to drown out the images that kept cycling through behind them.
Nick’s lens-distorted face, squinting into bright light. Warrick, staring at his watch in disbelief. Tiny bits of human flesh spattered across a room, mixed with a million dollars’ worth of bills. Fists hammering a plexiglass lid. A white curve, sharp edge digging painfully into skin and --
A hand touched her shoulder. Sara jumped, chair scraping against the break room’s linoleum floor.
“Sorry! Sorry....” Greg Sanders jerked back, hands held up as if he didn’t know what to do with them. “I, uh, you okay?”
Sara forced herself to sit back in the chair, and breathe. Just that, for the moment. Till she could be sure her heart wasn’t going to leap out through her throat. Till she could be sure her voice wouldn’t slip. “I’m fine, Greg. Just–don’t do that.”
“No kidding. Sorry.” Greg backed up a few steps further, and leaned against the counter in a totally failed attempt at nonchalance. “So. Whatcha doing?”
“Waiting.” Odd, how one word could cover so much meaning.
Greg clearly got it. “Yeah. Me too.” His gaze drifted, turning inward. The lab was so quiet–-fans running, a few feet pacing down the hallway, the hum of the staff refrigerator. So different from the panic of the previous 28 hours.
Quieter, but not much more peaceful.
Greg was watching her again. Sara closed her eyes briefly, trying to shut him out as she had warded off all concern before. Letting it run off her like water off marble, redirecting it all towards Nick.
That obviously wasn’t going to work now.
“You sure you’re all right?” The words were rushed, but clear enough. “I could give you a lift home... or something...?”
Sara couldn’t repress a shudder. Nothing would be waiting for her there except darkness, insomnia, and a few strong drinks. “That’s okay. I’d rather wait here.”
“You sure?” Greg asked again. He rubbed his arms briskly, and glanced around the empty room. “It’s kinda...creepy.”
From anyone else, this would have been ridiculous. From Greg, his face drawn and pale from lack of sleep, speaking at about half his normal volume, it struck a chord. Sara actually caught herself listening to the layers of silence, to mechanical whispers (had the fan in the coffin been that quiet or had it echoed?), to the slow ticking of a clock, and the sharp, muffled ring of someone’s cell phone–- “Thanks, Greg. And here I thought all the nightmares would be waiting at my apartment.”
He looked stricken. Great. Guilt-boy junior. “You wanna go get something to eat?” he offered quickly.
Ugh. Nothing her mind conjured up sounded like it wouldn’t make her sick. A split second later, the rest of her caught up to the request. Oh god, that better not have been an attempt to ask me out. What horrible timing. The thought didn’t change her answer. “I’m not that hungry. But thanks.”
Greg folded his arms and stared at her. “When did you last eat?”
Sara bit back a caustic, That’s none of your business.
“I had some of that pizza Archie called out for,” Greg went on. “That was–-what-–5:30 pm?” He looked pointedly at the clock on the break room wall. 2:37. AM. “You didn’t have any, you said you weren’t hungry.”
“I wasn’t.” Sara swallowed hard. Her stomach had folded in on itself sometime during the past day, and she couldn’t imagine it unfolding enough to let her eat anytime soon. I’m still not.
“So, what? You’re just going to sit here?” His voice wavered, incredulous. “Waiting.”
Sara laced her fingers together in her lap. “Until Cath or Warrick call, yeah.”
Greg seemed to slump in on himself, and for once he wasn’t looking at her. At anything. Sara turned her own focus outward with an effort. His collar hung unbuttoned, hair sprawling in ragged, greasy peaks instead of neatly styled. Dark circles shadowed those blue eyes, and he leaned against the counter in the slumping, gravity-induced posture of the heart-and-bone weary.
After a minute he cleared his throat, looked up, and tried again. “We’ve got our phones. Grissom will call us the second he hears anything. We don’t have to wait here.”
He was trying so hard to sound lively. Sara squeezed her eyes shut, swallowing again the tears that had threatened since she’d first thought Nick was dying. Then she blinked, and when she spoke, her voice was rock-steady. “You’re right.”
“I–-I am?” That had to be the verbal equivalent of a double-take.
“Yeah.” Sara considered trying to smile, but wasn’t sure she could pull it off. “I probably should eat something. And you definitely look like you need to get out of the lab.”
Greg still looked mildly astonished, but he managed a half-smile. “Grissom will call.”
“Yep.” Sara went ahead and tried returning the smile. It didn’t feel right, but Greg seemed to relax a bit, so it must have looked okay. Sara glanced around for her purse. Greg located it all the way across the room, swept it up, and presented it to her with a flourish.
“Thanks.” Sara stood, waiting to see if her balance would stay firm, then slung her purse over one shoulder. Once more into the breach.... Wow, she hoped she wouldn’t regret this. Vomiting in a public place would be a really fun way to finish up this never-ending day. “Are we taking my car or yours?”
“Mine,” Greg said promptly, pulling the keys out of his pocket and dangling them in midair.
Out in the hallway, Sara paused. “I’m gonna go let Grissom know where we’ll be. Meet you in the parking lot?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned and headed deeper into the lab.
His office was quiet, and dark. For one moment, Sara thought Grissom might have left, gone home or gone to check on Nick personally–-until she saw a glimmer of light. She pushed the door open and stood there, watching.
Grissom did have a light on, a tiny lamp, just enough to illuminate the pages of the thick book that lay open on his desk. Sara squinted. It might have been one of his entomology texts, but at that distance, she couldn’t tell.
He looked up sharply, as if he’d just heard her enter. His glasses were slightly askew, and he sat slumped in his chair, rather than straight-backed. Other than those details, it might have been anytime during a normal shift. “Sara.” Grissom’s voice was low, but not surprised. “What can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to let you know that Greg and I are gonna go grab some food.” Something took over her mouth, and she found herself asking, “You want to come?”
Grissom glanced back at his book, then at a stack of paperwork nearby. His voice stayed low, stayed even. “No. Thanks, but I should really get these done.”
When did you last eat? Sara wanted to ask him. When did you last get a wink of sleep? But the only words she found in the face of his calm were, “You sure?”
He looked at her again, and smiled. “Bring me a bagel?” he asked.
“You got it.” Only Sara’s hard-won control kept her from thumping a fist against the doorjamb in frustration. “And if–“
“If I hear anything,” Grissom finished for her, “you’ll be the first one I’ll call.”
Sara nodded. Grissom had already turned back to his book and his dim little lamp, and she left him to it.
Walking down the hall to meet Greg, Sara realized that Grissom had only said, “First one I’ll call,” not “First one I’ll tell.” Not that it really mattered. Because Nick was going to be just fine.
Because, if she thought anything else right now, Sara was afraid that the little bubble that was her world might turn inside out and take her with it. She kept walking.