A/N: This isn't a songfic, but in the course of looking for a title for this story, I stumbled across a song called Murder Backwards by Wind In Sails, and by sheer coincidence, the lyrics are all about letting go of the past and moving forwards. It's pretty nice guy-and-guitar melancholy stuff, so if that's your thing, you can watch the film clip on Youtube or buy a digital copy of the album from the band website.|
It's bitter in Nick's mouth and there's an ache somewhere between his heart and his gut that's making it hard to breathe.
Let it go, Warrick says, and though he's a friend, Nick can't just smile and pretend it doesn't matter that Catherine did what she did.
Let it go, like it's all fair, that the ends justifies the means, but all Nick can see is a case that barely made it to putting the cuffs on the right man, and all because of the damned reverse forensics. If he'd just stood back and agreed and dropped it when Catherine told him to drop it, that man would still be walking around right now, and two murdered people wouldn't have had justice done.
Nick can't sit at a bar and listen to Warrick rationalise away what the whole damn circus did to him, the way it cut him up inside, because deep down he knows Warrick would have done exactly the same thing. That's why Warrick can forgive Catherine just like that, can just pick up where he left off before Catherine shut them all out. So he turns Warrick down and drives home with the radio turned off, only stopping for a bottle of something appropriately strong and cheap, because that suits his mood just fine.
Nick's house is quiet and dark and kind of dusty, and if he wasn't so weary of the world he'd clean, because he sure as hell isn't going to sleep.
He's not on call and he's got tomorrow off, so he strips off his work clothes one piece at a time and redresses in soft, baggy sweats that have his fraternity logo on the front. It's flaking off a little more with every wash. He should eat, but instead he parks himself in front of a Discovery channel special about frogs with a heavy tumbler and the bottle, and slowly sips at his drink until the knot inside him loosens a little.
When he hears the tentative knock at the door, his first thought is that it's probably Catherine. He's not expecting her to apologise; rather, he's bracing himself for let it go Mark Two.
It's not Catherine.
“Hey,” Greg says.
“Hey,” Nick says slowly.
Greg shuffles a little from foot to foot. There's a grocery bag hanging from his hand. Nick can see the Doritos logo and the necks of bottles peeking through the plastic.
“Not really in a partying mood, G,” Nick sighs.
“Yeah, me either,” Greg says quietly, and Nick looks a little closer, sees the tired lines around Greg's eyes, the slump of his shoulders.
“C'mon in,” Nick says, stepping aside for Greg to slide past.
“You got started without me,” Greg says when he sees Nick's sad little alcoholic pity party on the coffee table. He picks up the bottle to inspect the label. “Oooh, nasty.”
“Want some?” Nick asks.
Nick fetches a second tumbler and the ice cube tray from the freezer. When he gets back, Greg has sprawled himself across half of the sofa, kicked off his shoes and is idly channel surfing.
“I was watching that,” Nick chides.
“No, you weren't,” Greg counters.
Nick just huffs and sits down next to Greg, pouring him a drink and handing it to him. “You're a terrible guest.”
“I brought chips,” Greg says, as though it's a valid argument. “And also these terrible neon faux cocktail things. They've got juice in them, so that counts as fruit, right?”
“I swear you are going to die of scurvy.”
“Says the man drinking neat whiskey for breakfast.”
“It's a nightcap,” Nick says.
Greg's dipping into the bag, pulling out the bag of Doritos and a bottle of bright blue something or other. He twists the cap off, and Nick can smell the perfume of artificial berry flavour almost immediately. “Not bad,” he assesses, after a sip.
“You're double-fisting it?” Nick asks, dubiously.
“I'm going to need this if that whiskey is as harsh as I remember from college,” Greg explains with a crooked grin. He downs the slug from the tumbler in one swallow, grimacing and shaking his head at the burn, then lifts the bottle and chases it with blue. He laughs a little breathlessly after. “This stuff tastes amazing now,” he says.
Greg holds it out, and Nick doesn't over-think it, just takes the bottle and raises it. The drink bursts berry-bright over his tongue, like candy.
“Nice,” he agrees. “But it doesn't really taste like alcohol.”
“You've never gotten drunk on cocktails?” Greg asks, incredulously. When Nick shakes his head, Greg laughs again, a little carefree and mischievous, more like the old Greg, the one who hadn't killed a kid and nearly died. Nick misses the old Greg. “Not even in college?”
“College, for me, was all beer and liquor. Nothing with a parasol.”
Greg takes back the blue thing, and wags a finger at Nick. “Your next birthday, we're taking you out. Getting you fired up on all the colours of the rainbow.”
“Whatever, man,” Nick says, but he can feel the corners of his mouth curving up.
“Bet I could make you blush with every drink,” Greg teases. “Blow Job, Sex On The Beach, Long Slow Comfortable Screw Up Against A Wall, Slippery Nipple, Cocksucking Cowboy...”
Nick coughs, clears his throat, and snatches the remote out of Greg's hand. He can feel his ears burning.
“You're so easy,” Greg drawls. The drink is colouring his lips bright blue, like cyanosis.
Nick tunes the tv back to the frogs.
After the frogs, there are crabs. After crabs, there are coyotes. Somewhere between the crabs and the coyotes, Greg pushes a bottle of something pineapple flavoured into Nick's hand and makes the whiskey vanish. Nick would complain, but he's got enough of a glow on to not care, the Doritos are in easy reach, and he's got nowhere to be.
Nick gets up to visit the bathroom, and when he comes back, Greg has flipped the channel to Mythbusters.
“You're lucky I like you,” Nick grumbles.
Greg folds his hands over his heart and sighs dreamily. His bottle is half-full of bright pink liquid, and Nick's living room smells like watermelon bubblegum.
“Science and explosions are way better than Animal Planet,” Greg says.
“Animal documentaries are science.”
“Pfft.” Greg flaps a hand, limp and lazy, and Nick suddenly realises that Greg's just as drunk as he is.
Nick sits back down and reclaims his pineapple thing. “Just because they don't wear white coats, don't mean they're not scientists.”
Greg bursts into loud, unrestrained giggles. It startles Nick so much he slops pineapple crap down his shirt.
“I'm sorry,” Greg says, running a hand across his face. “You just sounded so damn Texan right then. Wyyy-at.”
“I always sound Texan, y'know, on account of bein' one.”
“I get it. Drinking brings out the country in you.”
“Ain't nothin' wrong with that.”
“It's adorable,” Greg confides, leaning in close with a hand heavy on Nick's chest. “It's like you lost half your consonants and gained four extra vowels.”
“You are drunk,” Nick says.
“That was the plan,” Greg sighs.
“You are drunk and can still say 'consonants'.”
“I'm a bio-chem major. 'Consonants' isn't even in the top hundred tongue twisters I can wrap my tongue around whilst partaking of a beverage, or anything else for that matter.”
Nick laughs. “You could talk underwater, no doubt in my mind about it.”
“So are we going to talk about this?” Greg asks, and it's immediately serious.
Nick looks down at the bottle in his hands. It gives him something to focus on that isn't Greg's earnest, knowing face.
“What's there to talk about?” he asks. “Catherine made a call. It's nothing personal.”
“Sure it is,” Greg says.
Nick laughs a little, low, and even to his own ears it sounds desperately sad. “I got no business being hurt. It's work.”
“But you are hurt,” Greg says gently.
Nick looks up, meets Greg's gaze. “Yeah.”
“This job, we rely on the people around us,” Greg says. “We have to trust each other. It's important. It's important to you. That trust.”
Nick's throat feels tight, so he just nods.
“And Catherine knows that. And she shut you out anyway.”
“Yeah, she did,” Nick says, his voice rough. That's the thorn that's been buried in his skin since the whole thing burst open. A warm tear spills over and tracks down the length of his cheek.
“Aww, shit,” Greg murmurs, then pulls Nick's head down to his shoulder. Nick doesn't resist, just lets himself be guided, lets his breath stutter out.
Greg's hand slides up Nick's neck and his fingers scratch gently through Nick's hair. It's breathtakingly intimate, and if Nick wasn't drunk maybe he'd be embarrassed by how comforting it is. Instead, all he can think about is how long it's been since someone touched him like this, with no expectations of anything. Maybe since the hospital after the box, since his mom flew home to Texas.
“You're a better person than all of us. You're allowed to feel hurt when one of us lets you down,” Greg says.
“That's not true,” Nick protests.
“You've forgiven her already, haven't you?” Greg asks, but it's not really a question. Nick shrugs. “See? You're a better man than me.”
“You haven't?” Nick asks.
Greg sighs; his breath, sweet with the alcohol, tickles across Nick's face. “Maybe I'd feel betrayed if I didn't expect to be on the outside in the first place. As it is, I just feel... resigned.”
“You're part of the team, G. You're entitled to the truth, as much I am.”
When Greg's reply comes, it is measured and brutally honest. “I spent years being the guy who jumped the fence from the lab to the field, the new guy, the bottom rung of the ladder. And then I spent the last six months not knowing if I was going to be fired, arrested, or flake out completely and wind up committed. I don't know that I'd trust me, either.”
Greg's holding his mostly-empty bottle in his free hand, so Nick reaches out and wraps his hand around Greg's wrist. “I trust you,” Nick whispers.
On the screen, something explodes, to a chorus of whoops from Adam Savage. Greg's very still, almost like he's holding his breath, though Nick knows he's breathing from the subtle rise and fall of his shoulders.
“I know,” Greg says back, and his voice is kind of wistful, like he doesn't understand it.
The credits start to roll. Nick would move, but he's comfortable, and Greg's fingers have resumed rubbing little circles in his hair, and he's always had a weakness for that. He hums, a low vibration of satisfaction, and he can feel Greg's body shake a little with a suppressed chuckle.
“You're like a cat,” Greg says, gleeful and fond.
“Sweet spot,” Nick sighs. “Dogs have 'em. Horses, too.”
“Horses,” Greg repeats, dubiously.
“Yup. Have to be careful, though. When they get blissed out they tend to lean, and if there's no fence next to them, they'll lean on you.”
“I know the feeling,” Greg teases, but he keeps his hand firm on the back of Nick's neck.
The Mythbusters riff rings out again. Nick makes a questioning noise.
“It's a marathon. Twelve hours of robots, crash test dummies and things going boom,” Greg says.
“You could be at home, catching up on sleep. Or out having fun at a club. You really want to spend your downtime watching reruns and... cuddling, or whatever it is we're doing here?”
“Why not?” Greg says. “I haven't gone clubbing in years, and I don't sleep much these days anyway.”
“Me neither,” Nick confides. “Better'n I did a year ago, but still. Never thought I'd get to a point where I'd be bored of my own nightmares, by the predictability of my own terror, but it happens.”
Greg tilts his head, rests his cheek against the top of Nick's head. “Something for me to look forward to.”
Nick squeezes Greg's wrist and releases it, before letting his hand fall loosely over Greg's knee. Greg takes a mouthful of his drink, and Nick wonders what it tastes like.
“You didn't have to come over, you know,” Nick says. “I would've been all right.”
“I know,” Greg replies. “But maybe I wanted to. Maybe I needed the company.”
“I'm glad you did. I'm glad you're here.”
Greg sets his mostly empty bottle down, and moves his hand to cover Nick's. It's the easiest thing in the world to lace their fingers together, to settle their hands so they nest just right, like they've been doing it for years. “Me, too.”
The episode on the tv is playing out with a rather impressive amount of noise and smoke. It's like the most fun of days at the lab, minus the dead bodies and the managerial hand-wringing over the cost of ballistics gel.
“So, the day after tomorrow, we just dust ourselves off, and go back to work, like none of it ever happened,” Greg says.
“That's the plan. That's the job,” Nick replies, and though there's still a twinge in his chest at the thought, it's a distant ache, like a fading bruise.
There's a long pause.
“I can live with that,” Greg says eventually.
“Good,” Nick says. “That's good.”
On the screen, something goes boom right on cue. Nick squeezes Greg's hand gently, feels Greg respond in kind.
“And you?” Greg asks.
“I'm not going anywhere,” Nick says, and it's the truth.