It began as any other day. They woke up, ate dinner, got ready for work. Walked the dog, fed her, told her they loved her before they left. Drove in together while listening to the local country music station in comfortable silence. Arrived at work and headed into the lockers. Put their things away, stepped into the hallway, and shared a knowing glance with each other before parting ways and disappearing into the bowels of the LVPD crime lab.
The same as any other day, they worked on previously assigned cases and new ones. Saw each other throughout the night, shared takeout during their break, got back to work. Exchanged endearing smiles when no one was looking. A gentle squeeze of the arm that lasted just a moment too long. A whisper of promises to come.
Different than any other night, they would not go home together. They would never go home together again.
They were hovering around Hodges, eagerly awaiting the results of trace evidence that may indicate where their victim was killed before she had been dumped in a shallow grave in the vast Las Vegas desert.
"If you wait here," Hodges said irritably, "this does not go any faster. In fact, the two of you create a time-space continuum that actually slows down time."
"Is that so?" Greg asked, fidgeting with a glass pipette as he sat on one of the counters. He twirled the glass between his slender fingers like a drummer would a drumstick, albeit perhaps not as gracefully. "Is this some kind of Dr. Who reference?"
"No," Hodges replied, taking the expensive glass pipette out of Greg's hands. "It's a scientific fact."
"You'll have to dumb this down for me," Nick said, snatching the pipette out of Hodges' hands, tossing it over Hodges' shoulder to Greg, who caught it clumsily. "I don't speak geek."
"Give that to me!" Hodges demanded, as he grabbed the pipette out of Greg's hands once more. "You're going to break something. Don't the two of you have something more important to do? Crimes to solve, lives to save?"
Nick shrugged. "Not really. It's a pretty slow night."
"Yeah, this is pretty much all I've got too," Greg agreed, much to Hodges' dismay.
"I've got something for you guys." D.B.'s voice from the doorway. He leaned in, holding up a yellow slip. "Dead body in an abandoned house."
"All right," Nick said with faux excitement, taking the paper from his supervisor's hands. "In the hood, too. It's our lucky night, G."
"Have fun," Hodges called, as the two men left his lab.
Greg turned in the doorway, pointing at Hodges with both hands as he left. "Have that trace ready when we get back."
"You got it," he replied, smiling tightly. "Just don't come back too soon."
If Hodges had known that would be the last thing he would ever say to one of the two men, he might have found kinder words.
The house was small, and while the building appeared to be abandoned, clearly someone had been living there. Two mattresses lay on the floor of what would have been the living room, along with blankets and some very basic necessities. On one of the mattresses was a body with three gunshot wounds to the chest. It must have been there for at least a few days. The same case they had worked multiple times in the past: unknown black male shot to death in the projects.
Silently, the two men worked with a small LED lantern lighting their way. Took pictures and collected evidence, waiting for the coroner to arrive before touching the body. Dr. Robbins was stuck in an autopsy, David at another scene, and it appeared to be a while before anyone would be able to arrive.
"I'm gonna get some coffee," the police officer at the door said, sticking his thumb towards his cruiser. "You guys'll be okay for a minute?"
"Yeah, sure," Nick responded absently, focusing on scrolling through his e-mails on his phone.
"No, thanks," Nick said. "If I drink any more coffee tonight my heart will explode."
"I'll take some," Greg said, pulling some cash out of his wallet and handing it to the officer. "Just black."
"I don't know why you always order coffee out," Nick mused, after the officer had left. "You never like it unless you brew it, and you always end up disappointed."
"You know I like a good tease," Greg said, smirking, and was pleased to see one corner of Nick's mouth twitch, however much the older man might have tried to remain stoic. Greg leaned against an old wooden desk, staring out one of the side windows that wasn't boarded up with plywood. Watched shadows of men and children running in and out of alleys and buildings. Up and down sidewalks. Checked his watch for the twentieth time.
"If you keep looking, time goes slower," Nick commented idly.
Greg grinned. "Is this that time-space continuum Hodges was talking about?"
Nick only met Greg's eyes for a moment, offering him an amused smile. Car tires screeched outside, interrupting the quiet of the night, grabbing the attention of both men. Nick considered it briefly before returning his gaze to his cell phone. Greg had been close to the open front door, and he curiously took a couple steps forward to take a quick look. Lightening flashed and thunder boomed in the street as he felt a pressure in his chest close to his right shoulder, and he felt the air escape his lungs as his breath was stolen from him. A sudden hot bolt of pain in his thigh, then again at his hip, both on his left side. He was propelled backwards and onto the ground, barely registering his head hitting the hard wooden floor with a sickening crack.
It was so loud inside of the small room, the loudest fireworks Greg had ever heard. Wood was splintering above him, glass shattering as the windows burst inwards. The small LED lantern exploded, allowing darkness to envelope the room. What was happening?
It was suddenly quiet, except for the loud ringing in Greg's ears. He lay on the floor, his breathing ragged as he attempted to regain his bearings. Touched his chest, feeling a sticky and warm liquid. He examined his hand in the dimly lit room, his trembling fingertips stained bright red. A trigger went off in his brain, and he was suddenly aware of pain in his leg and hip, in his chest. Suddenly aware of what exactly had happened.
"Nick," he breathed, leaning up on his left elbow, his other arm throbbing with pain radiating from his chest. He dared to look at his leg, gasping at the sight of a dark red stain growing on his jeans. Another dark red stain on his hip right above the one on his leg. Where was Nick?
"Nick," he said again, turning to see the older CSI lying prone on the floor several feet away. It was too dark for Greg to see anything more, but he could hear him. Could hear him gasping, struggling to breathe. Or was that Greg?
Greg turned onto his side, the pain in his hip searing right through him. He cried out in pain, white flashing through his brain as he saw stars. Took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. He needed to get to Nick.
Slowly, he dragged himself across the room, leaving a trail of red blood in his wake. His right arm was tingling with a pins and needles sensation, and he was afraid soon he wouldn't be able to feel it. His hip was on fire, throbbing worse than the rest of his wounds, and he was trying not to panic as his lightheadedness grew. He couldn't pass out, not before making sure Nick was all right.
"Nick," he said, for the third time with no response as he reached the other man. He propped himself up on his left elbow in a semi-sitting position as he attempted to assess how badly Nick was injured. He touched Nick's stab vest with his right hand, running his fingers over the fabric, attempting to read the damage like a blind man could read braille. Felt dampness at Nick's stomach, his chest. His trembling fingers found Nick's neck, found another wet and sticky wound.
"Shit," he hissed. "Nick. Nick, please, Nick, talk to me."
He scrambled to pull his cell phone out of his pocket. Frantically, he pressed the home screen, horrified by the sight of bloody fingerprints on the cracked screen as it illuminated. He aimed the light at Nick, but he wished he hadn't.
There was blood everywhere. A bubbling, gurgling sound emanating from the bullet wound in Nick's chest. Blood seeping quickly from the gaping wound in Nick's neck. He looked at Nick's face. He was gasping for air, his mouth open, his lips stained red. Looked into Nick's eyes. They were half-closed, but he wasn't gone. Not yet. But Greg could see the life flickering in and out of them, and it was a haunting image he would not soon forget.
"Nick, please, please," he begged, his voice thick. He pressed his hand firmly against the wound on Nick's neck, but his arm was numb and he couldn't tell if it was firm enough. "Fuck, Nick. Fuck. Fuck."
He dialed 911, his bloody, slick fingers clumsily pressing the screen. Pressed the speakerphone button and dropped the phone to the floor. Used both hands to press on the wounds on Nick's body, but he wasn't sure if he had the strength. He wasn't even sure how many wounds there were.
"911," a female voice answered on the other end of the line. "Police, fire or medical?"
"Medical, please," he said desperately. "I'm with the LVPD. We've been shot, please, I need help, we need help."
"Sir, what's your location?"
He gave her the address. "Please hurry, please. My partner...my partner's dying."
"Emergency responders are on the way, sir," she replied. "Have you both been shot?"
"Yes," he replied, the light on his phone dimming, once again sending them into darkness.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"Drive by," he said, his breathing becoming more labored. He felt as if he were in twilight, holding on to consciousness by only a gossamer of a thread. "I think they knew we were here."
"Are you safe?"
"I don't know."
"Is your friend awake?" she asked.
"I don't know," he said again, but he could still see those half-closed eyes in his mind.
"What's your name?"
"Greg, my name is Katie," she said, her voice suddenly very gentle. "I need you to stay with me. Stay calm and stay with me."
"Okay," he agreed breathlessly, but his voice betrayed him. Felt darkness creeping into the edges of his mind, felt the allure of sleep calling him like a siren luring a sailor out to sea. "Katie, I'm tired."
"Stay with me," she urged again. "You need to stay awake for your partner, okay? Tell me his name."
"Nick," he replied quietly. "His name is Nick."
"They're only two minutes away. Just stay with me." She kept saying it, as if she wished it enough, it would be true. "Just stay with me until they arrive. Stay with Nick, okay?"
"Katie," Greg said, hot tears escaping his eyes. He pulled himself onto his knees, doubling over at his waist to slump over Nick, laying his head down against Nick's chest. His right arm was numb, his left gently touching Nick's hair. "Katie, can you do me a favor?"
"Can you please tell Nick I tried to stay awake?" he asked, his eyelids heavy, a choked sob escaping his lips. "And please don't tell him I cried."
"Greg, stay with me," she pleaded. "It'll only be a little longer."
"Tell him I'm sorry," he whispered. "Tell him I love him."
"Greg!" she shouted, right before the darkness claimed him.
To be continued.