A/N: If I could cast Nick's parents, they would be played by James Brolin and Sela Ward. James Brolin is an older and quite possibly sexier version of Nick. Just sayin'. Google it if you don't believe me. I know Sela Ward is kind of young, but whatever.
Two days later, Greg was well on his way to Dallas, Texas. He drummed the wheel with his fingers as he listened to country music, because that's what Nick would have forced them to listen to had he been there. Enjoyed the scenery as he passed Flagstaff, Arizona. Felt as if he would break his promise to Sara and actually kill himself if he kept listening to country as he drove through Gallup, New Mexico, and finally put on the internet radio from his cell phone. Continued past Albuquerque, determined to get to Amarillo, Texas, before finding a motel. He wasn't sure why it was so important, but it would only be a little over five more hours from Amarillo to Dallas, and he could get to Nick by the evening tomorrow.
Twelve hours after he'd left Las Vegas, Greg finally made it into Texas, a green road sign with the state flag on it greeting him as he arrived.
Welcome to Texas. Drive Friendly – The Texas Way.
Greg laughed. If Texas could only see how Nick drove, he was sure they would reconsider the sign.
Once in Amarillo, Greg pulled into a small motel. Felt his hip and arm screaming at him as he got out of his car, throbbing from sitting in the same position for too long. Checked in, grabbed his room key and stepped inside the small space. Immediately collapsed on the bed without taking off his clothes, deciding to worry about eating when he woke up. He'd gotten a snack at a gas station only a couple hours ago, which was enough to abate his hunger for now. So he laid there, alone, in the very early hours of the morning, wishing Nick was there. But somehow knowing they were in the same state was comforting enough to quickly lull Greg into sleep.
Five hours and twenty-eight minutes after leaving Amarillo, Greg found himself in Dallas, sitting in his parked car and gripping the steering wheel while staring straight ahead. He was on a small, paved road in a large cemetery, his heart pounding in his ears, his breath stuck in his chest. To his left, somewhere down this row of graves, was Nick. He would be able to see if he could just work up the nerve to get out of his fucking car.
He knew that once he saw those letters etched in stone that this would all be real. No more imagining that Nick was not dead, just somewhere else besides home. No more expecting Nick to walk through the door. It would be final. This would be it. No turning back from here. While part of him was ready, part of him wasn't. But he knew he had to do this. He knew he had to say goodbye.
Finally, twenty minutes after arriving, he pushed the car door open and stepped outside.
Slowly, cautiously, he crossed the graves until he found the one he was looking for. He stood in front of it, much more overwhelmed than he thought he would be, although if he were to be honest he wasn't really sure how he would feel once he got here. Stepped closer to the tombstone, kneeling down before it and reaching out to run his fingers over the inscription. Nicholas Parker Stokes. February 9, 1971 – July 7, 2013. Leaned his forehead against the cool stone and closed his eyes tightly.
"Nick," he whispered. "Nick, I have so much to tell you."
Hot tears spilled into the grass as he knelt there, words spilling out just as quickly. He told Nick about Sara, that she and Grissom had split up, although he was sure Nick already knew that. Told him they were learning to cook together, if he could believe it. They used his grill sometimes, if that was okay, but they always cleaned it when they were finished. Well, mostly always. Told Nick he learned how to work the lawnmower and the hedger, even if he had to buy a new hedger because he didn't know he was supposed to put oil in it too. Told him he fixed the garbage disposal, although he had to watch a video to see how while Nick would've just figured it out.
"You would be so proud of me," he said. "I still don't know what days to take out the garbage, though. You know I could never remember that. That's why I need you. Who's going to remember to take out the garbage? Fuck, Nick. It wasn't supposed to be like this. You weren't supposed to leave me here. How could you leave me here? We weren't supposed to end like this, not yet. Not yet, Nick. I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready. I'm not ready, Nick, I'm not ready. I miss you so much. I don't know what to do. Please, just tell me what to do."
He cried messily into the gravestone, unable to control himself, even with all those deep breaths Abby had taught him. He just wanted to be buried in the ground there with him, would give anything to just be with him, regardless of what he'd promised Sara.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of white beside him, jumping on him and stepping all over him. He startled, falling back into the grass, throwing his hands up in self-defense. Confused until he felt a cold nose on his cheek, an eager tongue licking all over his face.
"Daisy?" he exclaimed, wrapping his arms around her. "Daisy! Daisy! How are you, girl? Oh, Daisy, I never thought I'd see you again! Where did you come from? What – "
"Daisy, heel!" he heard, and stood quickly, spinning around to see an older man standing a few yards away. A man he'd only seen in pictures, but even if he hadn't he would still have recognized those strong features. He was as imposing and intimidating as Nick had described, and Daisy quickly retreated. The man regarded Greg suspiciously.
"Are you Greg?" he asked, after a brief moment.
"Yes," he replied, hastily wiping tears and snot and dog slobber from his face.
"That's my son's grave you're standing on."
"Sorry," he quickly offered, stepping aside. Stood there, like an idiot, but he didn't know what to do or what to say. This was the last thing he ever expected, and he was absolutely terrified.
"My wife's been wanting to talk to you," the Honorable Bill Stokes said, and offered nothing more.
"Okay..." Greg said, shifting uneasily under the other man's gaze.
Bill turned, walking away from him and towards his truck. "Dinner's at seven."
Greg opened his mouth, but his breath had been stolen from him. His mind was racing and blank at the same time. He felt as bewildered as he had when he'd first come out of his coma, and briefly wondered if he was stuck in a moment of delusion.
"Wait!" he said, finally able to spit something out, but when Bill turned to look at him, he had no idea what to say. "What...I mean...where do you live?"
Bill dismissively called the address over his shoulder before pulling open the truck door, allowing Daisy to enter before he followed. And then he was gone.
Greg's breath exploded from him. He looked at Nick's grave, dubious. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
A little before seven o'clock in the evening, Greg was once again trying to will himself to get out of his car. Took deep and even breaths, his knuckles white as he gripped the steering wheel. He felt as if he were going to throw up. Or have a heart attack. Or both. He was sweating in the heat of his car, the engine cut off some time ago, and briefly panicked as he wondered if he would look like a sweaty, pale mess or smell like a gym when he entered the house. Then panicked more as he thought about entering that house. The same house where Nick's parents lived.
What were their intentions? Did they want to tell them how much they hated him? How disappointed they were in him for ruining their son's chances of getting into Heaven? Or robbing them of grandchildren? What if this were some kind of Texas Chainsaw Massacre situation?
"Get out of the fucking car," he said to himself, wondering how a grown man could be so scared to just go inside of a damn house. He was a man, and he could handle himself like one, although there was something about Bill Stokes that made him feel like a child. No wonder Nick had never had to the nerve to tell his father exactly where to go.
Greg hesitantly exited his vehicle, following the path to the front door. The old two story home stood at the end of a long and winding road, nestled in the center of several acres of land. Greg had seen some horses, chickens, a couple cows, and had briefly encountered an errant goat that blocked his car for some time before getting out of the way, seemingly unfazed by Greg's incessant honking.
Standing before the front door, Greg took a few deep breaths. Unclenched one fist to reach for the doorbell. Jerked his hand back once, twice. Shook the nervousness out of his hand, took more deep breaths. Took too many and suddenly felt dizzy. Fucking Jesus Christ, get it together, Greg. Just ring the fucking doorbell.
Determined, he reached forward to jab the doorbell but the door was pulled hastily open before he could. A woman stood there, dark hair and fair skin. And while her husband's unmistakable resemblance to Nick may have never allowed him to deny his son, Jillian shared Nick's eyes, and Greg was unable to look away from them. He had always remembered Nick's half-closed eyes as he lay there dying on the floor of an abandoned house in the projects, but suddenly and unexpectedly he had a flash of a different image: brown eyes illuminated with a fiery intensity, smiling at him and calling him to shore. He wasn't sure where the vision came from, but he remembered it with such a sharp clarity it made him gasp.
He realized that he was staring, but so was she. Searching his face for something, he wasn't sure what. He managed to close his gaping mouth and swallowed hard, his heart racing. Waiting for one of them to say or do anything.
She acted first, throwing her arms around his shoulders and pulling him into an embrace, hugging him so tightly his breath escaped him. It was unexpected, and he didn't know how to respond, but before he had a chance to, she was stepping away from him, wiping her hands on a dishtowel and casting her eyes to the floor with what appeared to be embarrassment.
"Greg," she said, breathlessly. "Bill told me you were coming. Please, come inside. Dinner's almost ready."
He stepped into the house, entering a hallway that had several doorways attached to it. Immediately, Daisy came bounding down the hallway, and he knelt down to greet her, his heart aching at the sight of his old friend.
"Hey, girl," he said, scratching her behind her ears. She jumped at his face, licking him all over. "Easy, easy."
To his left was a living room. Bill Stokes sat in one of the leather armchairs with a rock glass half full of whiskey, the bottle sitting on the table beside it. He was watching a football game. Didn't even regard Greg in the slightest. Jillian indicated the small room, shepherding him inside and shooing Daisy away.
"Just have a seat, and I'll call you when it's ready," she said, leading him to the couch. "I'll get you something to drink. Do you like beer?"
"Yes," he said, his voice several octaves higher than it usually was. He cleared his throat, catching Bill's sideways glance out of the corner of his eye. "Yes, please."
"Good, I'll be right back," she said, and then she was gone. She returned in moments, pressing a cold beer into Greg's hand. "Here you go, sweetie."
"Thanks," Greg said, and then she disappeared once more, and he was alone with Nick's father. In the same room. Just the two of them. Greg sat rigidly on the couch, gripping the bottle so hard he feared it would break in his hand. Heavy silence stretched between the two men, and Greg felt so tense he swore if anyone touched him he would unwind with the intensity of a spinning top.
"Who's your team?" Bill suddenly asked, signaling the game on television.
"I, uh...I don't follow college football," Greg replied slowly, hoping he didn't sound as timid as he thought he did.
"Okay," Bill said. "What about professional?"
"I don't actually follow professional football either," he said, every word stumbling out of his mouth clumsily.
"What sport do you follow?" he asked.
"I don't," he responded, and could see the look of dissatisfaction in the older man's face. He desperately wanted to say anything that would ease the tension in the room, blurting out the first thing that came to mind. "I play softball for the league at work."
Why the fuck did he just say that? Immediately, he regretted the words as Bill grunted pensively. Greg was going to need much more beer than this.
Dinner was just as awkward. The three of them sat at the table in the kitchen, silently eating what Greg amounted to the best pot roast he'd ever tasted in his life, and it was no wonder Nick had been such a great cook if this was the woman that had taught him.
"So you worked with Nick?" Jillian asked, the interruption in silence startling Greg.
He regarded her dubiously. She said it as if he were just some kind of acquaintance that had stopped by to offer his condolences. Yes, they had worked together. They'd also lived together and slept together and wore matching rings. He didn't say that, of course, instead staring intently into his mashed potatoes, pushing them around with his fork.
"Yeah," he finally replied.
"How long did you know him?"
"Maybe fifteen years," he said, after pausing to think about it, and the answer even took him by surprise. "Wow. Yeah, I knew him for fifteen years."
"How long were you together?" she blurted out, and Bill immediately coughed. She must have realized what she said, shifting in her seat and retreating uncomfortably. "In the field, I mean. You worked together in the field, right? But not for that long? I think he told me you used to do something more with chemistry?"
"DNA," he clarified. "I used to work in the DNA lab, and then I started working in the field. We worked together in the field for maybe eight years, although I haven't worked in a few months."
"Time flies, I guess," Jillian said, smiling pleasantly, but it was strained. "Were you and Nick always friends?"
"No, we – " he began, and abruptly Bill stood from the table, his chair scraping against the floor loudly.
"I'm going upstairs," he said, his eyes hard as he stared at his wife. He didn't even look at Greg as he left the kitchen, leaving a plate of barely touched food behind.
Greg exhaled sharply, almost relieved the intimidating judge was gone. Still, he was a tense bundle of nerves, hardly able to believe he was sitting in Nick's parents house. Nick's parents, who hated him and everything that he stood for. He glanced up at the heavens, silently asking Nick what the hell he was doing here. What was the reason for all of this?
A gentle hand touched his forearm.
"Don't mind him," Jillian said, and she smiled disingenuously. "I try not to."
"It's okay," Greg said quietly.
"Bill and I made sure Nick knew we didn't agree with his...lifestyle," she stated hesitantly, her eyes cast to the table. "The problem with that is...when you tell someone you disagree with how they live their life, they tend not to tell you about it."
Her expression changed. Her eyes met his, intense with raw emotion. Pain. Anguish. Regret. She squeezed his arm hard, blinking back tears.
"Greg," she said thickly, silent tears cascading down her delicate cheeks. "I'm afraid I've lost a son that I don't even know."
He felt his own eyes burning, but he was unable to look away.
"I might not know much about Nick," she continued, "but I know you were a big part of his life. Can you please...can you please tell me about my son?"
Greg nodded, but he couldn't find the words. Not yet. Took a long swig of beer, swallowing the cool liquid and depositing the bottle onto the table heavily. Cleared his throat, attempting to keep his composure.
"I don't know where to start," he admitted, his voice hoarse.
"Why don't you just try from the beginning?" she asked, smiling sadly.
And then Greg started talking. For hours, they sat at the table as he told her about their life. Told her about meeting Nick when he was just a nerdy lab rat. How much he admired her son, how badly he wanted to be like him. All of the women swooned over him, all of the men were jealous of his qualities, of being Grissom's favorite. Nick was so handsome, so cool, so charming, so smart. He was a polite and kind southern gentleman. It was easy for Nick to be good, doing the right thing just came to him like second nature.
Then Greg went into the field. Nick encouraged him and protected him while giving him room to spread his wings. Nurtured him and gave him advice. Offered him comfort when he needed it. Warrick, Nick's best friend, slowly withdrew from Nick's life, consumed by his own demons. Slowly, but surely, replaced by Greg. And when Warrick was brutally murdered, the harsh reality of the fragility of life and how quickly it could be taken away hit them both hard.
"How did you...you know...get together?" she asked hesitantly, as she scrubbed dishes in the sink before handing them to Greg to dry. "When did you know?"
He smiled fondly yet sadly. "I always knew. But I was too afraid to tell him."
And then, New Year's Eve, at one of Greg's friend's parties, they were sitting alone in the stairwell drinking liquor and smoking pilfered cigarettes. Everyone else was inside or on the roof of the high rise, waiting for the ball to drop and watching fireworks. The two men had been talking for a long time, about anything and everything, when Greg glanced at his watch and realized it was already past twelve. Nick didn't hesitate to messily kiss Greg on the mouth with drunken courage, and witnessed Greg blush for the first time since they'd known each other.
A year later, they moved in together. Two years after that, Nick gave him the ring Greg was wearing while they sat outside in their backyard. One year after that, Nick was dead. Post-it notes and cooking and fixing things around the house in between. Nick took care of Greg, but he never made Greg feel like less than a man. Greg just wished he would have told Nick how much he appreciated all of those things. The things Nick would do without being asked. The things he would do even when he was asked, without uttering a single complaint. But Greg supposed it would have never been enough.
"I have something for you," Jillian said, handing Greg the last dish to dry as they stood by the kitchen sink. She left hurriedly, and he could hear her rummaging in the hall closet. She returned shortly with a small velvet box, and he immediately knew what it was.
With trembling fingertips, he opened the box to reveal a plain silver ring. Pulled it out of the box, the necklace attached to it swaying gently. Looked at Jillian, swallowing hard.
"Thank you," he said, unable to find any other words.
"It was always yours," she said, smiling. "He was always yours."
It was nearly midnight before Jillian and Greg had finished conversing in the kitchen. He yawned tiredly at the kitchen table as he absently petted Daisy, who sat on the floor beside him. Jillian was still fussing with the stove, scrubbing the burners with determination. Greg smiled to himself. Nick had also been an anxious cleaner, always turning to the task when upset. They would get into some petty argument and go to bed angry, and Greg would awaken to a sparking kitchen or tidy living room.
"I think I'm going to head out," Greg announced quietly, leaning down so he was nose to nose with Daisy. "I gotta go home, girl."
"No, no, that's nonsense," Jillian said, waving away the thought. "It's too late to drive, you'll fall asleep at the wheel and get into an accident."
"I worked nights for over fifteen years," Greg stated, although the concern amused him. "I'm sure I'll be fine."
"You are sleeping here," she declared, grabbing the back of his chair and nearly spilling him out of it. "Get your things from the car and go upstairs. You can leave in the morning, after you rest and shower and eat something."
"Mrs. Stokes, that's not really necessary."
"I don't seem to recall asking your opinion on the matter," she deadpanned, crossing her arms over her chest. Greg opened his mouth to protest, but only a sigh escaped him. It didn't really sound like there was much room for argument. Briefly, Greg wondered if that was her courtroom lawyer voice. Perhaps it was the same voice she used to corral seven children. Maybe both.
"I'll get my stuff," he resigned, and moments later found himself inside of a small spare bedroom on the second floor, lying on a twin bed with Daisy curled up beside him. Jillian had informed him that dogs were not allowed in the bedrooms, which had been devastating to hear. Poor Daisy had been sleeping in the cold hallway on the hard floor for months. It was practically animal abuse. He had waited about ten minutes before opening the door and whispering her name, and the old girl had shot into Greg's bed like a rocket. He didn't realize how much he'd missed her warm, furry body that had always slept beside him, and was now only short one more puzzle piece. He sighed heavily, listening to the cacophony of cicadas as he watched the stars from the window, shining bright in the dark sky.
"Not much room on this bed," Greg said quietly into the sky, and smiled softly. "But I'm sure we would've made it work. We have before. I shouldn't be here alone, meeting your parents. You should be here too. God, I wish you were here."
The first time Nick had met Greg's parents, Nick had been adorably nervous. They had driven to California together, staying at a hotel on the beach for a few days before driving out to Greg's parents' home. Nick, ever the southern gentleman, brought Greg's mother flowers and his father a bottle of wine.
"Relax," Greg had said, gently resting a calming hand on Nick's knee in the car.
"I'm fine," Nick replied, but his death grip on the steering wheel had said otherwise. "I just...don't have the same reception at my parents' house. It's an automatic response."
Greg smiled comfortingly, but his heart ached for Nick. "Don't worry. My parents love you already."
And it was true. They welcomed him with open arms. Greg's father discussed philosophies with Nick by the barbecue as they carefully cooked chicken over hot coals. Greg's mother gushed to a blushing Nick how handsome he was, and how much she just loved the twang in his accent. They all got pleasantly buzzed off of several bottles of expensive wine, sitting by a fire in the backyard and having easy conversation. Greg's father had fallen off of the back porch and into the bushes, his mother had screamed and Greg had laughed until he cried while Nick pulled him up.
It was the early hours of the morning when Nick and Greg had gone upstairs to Greg's old bedroom to sleep. They had dirty, exciting sex, trying to stay quiet as they maneuvered on the twin-sized bed, failing miserably when Nick knocked the hanging shelf off of the wall with a loud bang, giggling uncontrollably like two high school kids trying to score. Laid boneless as they curled against one another once they had finished, sleepy and sated. Greg could suddenly feel Nick trembling behind him.
"What's wrong?" Greg had asked, craning his neck to look at Nick, surprised to see him crying. Well, half-surprised. Nick cried over everything. Once even when he'd seen a commercial on television about a dog and a boy on a farm, although to his credit he'd been pretty drunk at the time. "Hey, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied quickly. "I just...I'll never have this. With my parents."
"This is yours too, you know," Greg offered, but knew it was a lame attempt at comfort. Knew there was nothing he could really say to ease the pain of reality.
"It's not the same."
"I know," Greg conceded. "But maybe one day it'll be close."
Nick may have accepted Greg's parents as a consolation prize, but Greg knew they would never fill the void in Nick's life created by his own parents. Couldn't imagine how it felt to have the ones you loved the most – the ones that were supposed to protect you and fight for you and love you unconditionally – turn their backs on you.
It pained Greg now to imagine how much tonight would've meant to Nick. Invited to dinner, watching football with his father, talking at the kitchen all night with his mother. Even if Bill had not been the most pleasant host, it would've still been a start. It would've been enough.
Greg closed his heavy eyes and sighed, soon dreaming of campfires, red wine, and Nick.
To be continued.