There was an unwritten rule not to bother Nick Stokes on his days off under any circumstances. Well, perhaps not unwritten, considering the printed sign on his office door that read, "If it's my day off, don't bother calling or looking for me. I am presumed dead." Should someone at the crime lab make the mistake of dialing his cell phone, he or she would receive a rather not-so-polite response that sounded very similar to a fire-breathing dragon or a mauling bear. So when he received a phone call at 3 o'clock in the morning and saw Catherine's name on the ID display of his cell phone, he immediately felt a pit in his stomach. Catherine knew the Wrath of Nick. She wouldn't call unless it was an emergency. She wouldn't call unless something had happened.
"Stokes," he answered, sitting up in bed and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Nick, it's Catherine," she said, her words rushing out of her. "Greg was attacked in his apartment. He's fine but his roommate is dead. I need you to come and get him."
"What?" Nick exclaimed, swinging his legs over the side of his bed. In his haste to turn on the light at his bedside, he knocked the alarm clock off of the nightstand. He didn't hear it hit the ground over the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. What did fine mean? "What does fine mean? Is he hurt? Where am I taking him? Does he need to go to the hospital? Why wouldn't an ambulance take him?"
"Nicky, calm down," she responded, but her voice was anything but calm. "He's fine physically...more or less. He has some defensive wounds. He's refusing to go to the hospital but I need you to get him out of here."
"I'm on my way."
Within moments, Nick was racing to Greg's apartment, breaking several state laws and laws of physics while pondering if anyone had yet to break the sound barrier in an SUV.
Attacked. Greg had been attacked. What did that mean, exactly? He hadn't asked Catherine before ending their phone call. Attacked. Attacked. Nick couldn't get it out of his brain. Had Greg been beaten up? Catherine said he was fine physically "for the most part." What did that mean? How did they hurt him? Was it only one person? Was it Greg's roommate, that weirdo Robbie that Nick could never get a good read on? Did Robbie try to kill Greg? Did Greg kill Robbie in self-defense?
There were too many questions. Nick was beginning to think he would have a panic attack in the confines of his SUV, which seemed to be shrinking smaller than that glass box he'd been buried in. He had to think of something else.
Warrick. Nick could only think of not being there. He could only see the blood on Grissom's clothes. He couldn't imagine something like that happening to another friend. Perhaps he and Greg were not nearly as close as he and Warrick had ever been, but he had known the kid since – well, since Greg was a kid. A kid in the DNA lab with crazy hair and loud-patterned shirts and an eagerness to get out of the lab and into the field. He couldn't afford to lose another friend. He didn't think his soul could take it. He could still hear McKeen in his brain, taunting him.
"What kind of friend are you?"
Just get to the scene, Nick, he thought to himself, forcefully pushing all other thoughts out of his mind. Just get to the scene.
It only took perhaps twenty minutes to get to Greg's apartment, but to Nick it had felt a hell of a lot longer. Finally, he arrived to flashing blue and red lights spilling onto a parking lot filled with police vehicles, ambulances, and CSU vans. He pulled up slowly to the police tape, parking his SUV and stepping out of it. His eyes frantically searched for Greg or Catherine, or anyone else he may have recognized. A police officer asked him for ID, and he absently flashed his badge while stepping under police tape.
The breezeway that led to Greg's first floor apartment was teeming with police employees funneling in and out. Nick could see a stretcher covered with a white sheet making its way towards him with David pushing from behind.
"Nick," the young doctor said, his voice laced with surprise. "I didn't know you were on tonight."
"I'm not," he replied. "I just came to pick up Greg."
David pointed behind Nick, to the apartments across the parking lot. "He's sitting over there with Catherine. Maybe you can talk some sense into him. He needs to go to the hospital."
Nick turned to see Catherine standing in the grass, her hand on her hip as she barked into her cell phone. She looked aggravated. She looked tense and ready to fight. She looked like a mother lioness protecting her cub. Her cub, on the other hand, looked tired and defeated. He was sitting on the steps behind her, his arms crossed over his chest, his shoulders slumped. Nick's eyes met Greg's, and Greg lamely lifted an arm to wave; Nick could see the bandages on his forearm, blood seeping through the white gauze. There was blood on his clothes too, on his face, and in his hair. There was blood everywhere. Nick could feel his heart catch in his throat. Jesus.
He murmured a thanks to David before quickly making his way across the parking lot.
"Nick!" Catherine exclaimed, startling him. "What took you so long?"
Maybe he had taken as long as the ride over had felt, or maybe time had stretched for Catherine too. "Sorry," he responded quietly, unable to take his eyes off of Greg. The younger man's jaw was bruised and swollen on one side. There was a cut above his eyebrow. "I came as quick as I could."
"It's fine," she said, shaking her head. She took a deep breath, exhaling sharply. Looked at Nick. Looked...tired. "Can you take Greg to the crime lab? We need his clothes, pictures, and everything else. He wouldn't go to the hospital, or else they would've done it there."
"Sure," he replied. "Why did you want me to do it?"
"I wanted anybody to do it," she said, her voice edged with frustration. "But Greg wouldn't leave unless it was with you. He wants you to do it."
Nick pulled a face. "Why?"
She shrugged. "Don't ask me."
"Maybe he wanted a strong, handsome, intelligent CSI to take care of business," Nick offered, standing up straighter.
Catherine rolled her eyes, grinning. "Should've called somebody else."
The drive to the crime lab was silent. Nick was afraid to look at Greg. Every time he stole a glance, he could see a new injury, a new spot of blood, a new tear in Greg's clothes he hadn't noticed before. Mostly he could see the devastation that had been inflicted upon his friend. Could see how small Greg looked sitting in the front seat of the SUV, staring out the window blankly. So instead, he focused on the road ahead of him.
He was afraid to say anything either, or ask him anything. What would he say? Are you okay? Of course he wasn't okay. He was covered in blood and cuts and bruises, he'd just been attacked in his home. He could ask what happened, and then what? Greg would burst into tears? Have a breakdown in Nick's car? What would Nick do then? Would he pat him on the shoulder comfortingly? He could say something soothing, but words weren't really his strong point. He certainly wasn't good at hugging people.
So they rode to the crime lab in a terrible silence that stretched between them like vast continents.
Until: "Don't you want to know what happened?"
"No," Nick responded quickly, looking at Greg sideways. He could see Greg's surprise out of the corner of his eye. "I mean, yes. But I don't want you to get upset."
Greg looked back out the window. Quietly, he said, "Thanks."
They were inside of an empty interview room. Greg stood with his back to the wall, eyes cast to the ground as Nick took pictures of his face. The bruise on his jaw and the cut above his eye. Flash. The young man flinched at the light, and Nick offered a feeble apology under his breath. Next were pictures of Greg's arms. Nick removed the bandages as gingerly as possible, but Greg let out a hiss, wincing visibly. Bloody bandages went into evidence bags, labeled and placed aside.
Nick raised his camera once again, focusing on the cuts and scrapes on Greg's arms. Flash. They were obviously defensive wounds from a knife. Flash. Next, he took pictures of Greg's clothes. Focused first on the blood stains. Some were from Greg's wounds. Some weren't. Flash. He stepped back to take pictures of Greg's whole person. Looked through the lens and focused. Saw the weariness in Greg's body and distress in Greg's eyes. Flash.
He put his camera down on the table and pulled open a brown paper bag. "I need your clothes," Nick stated. Greg nodded. "I brought you spares from my locker. They might be too big for you, but they'll do for now."
Greg undressed with unsteady hands. Stood in the interview room naked. Nick couldn't look at him. He was embarrassed, could feel his cheeks flush with crimson as he focused on folding bloody clothes and placing them in the paper bags. Cleared his throat. "I need to take pictures...of you...without your clothes."
"Nick," Greg said, the amusement in his voice causing Nick to finally look at him. "I know how this works."
"You can stop apologizing," Greg said. "We'll be done soon."
Nick nearly laughed at the audacity of Greg consoling him at a time like this. He picked up his camera and aimed once more at the bruised and battered body of his friend.
Nick stood on the viewing side of two-way mirror. He appeared stoic, his arms folded across his chest, his legs hip distance apart, but he was a tense bundle of nerves beneath his skin. If anyone touched him he feared he would become undone instantly and explode from the inside out, splattering pieces of himself all over the walls in a gory mess that would put any previous crime scene to shame. Greg had told him he could leave, but Nick couldn't leave him. He promised himself he wouldn't leave another friend behind after failing Warrick, and he wasn't going to break that promise now.
Greg was sitting at an interview table on the other side of the mirror, appearing waif-like in Nick's clothing. There was a detective sitting across from him that Nick had seen around the crime lab a few times. Tom Gibson was his name. He was a young, handsome rookie who had transferred from New York six months ago and had a reputation for being quite a lady killer, although at the moment Nick recalled he was dating a reporter for the Las Vegas Times named Angela Something-or-Other. He was also known for being kind of a dick.
"So this guy your room mate brought home from the bar, what was his name?" Gibson asked, leaning back in his seat.
"He said his name was Peter," Greg responded.
"No last name?" Gibson asked, and Greg shook his head. "So what happened after he came in?"
"We had a couple beers, and then Robbie and Peter decided they were going to go to bed."
"All right," Gibson breathed, after a pause. He seemed uncomfortable with the idea. "What did you talk about?"
Greg shrugged. "I don't know, random stuff. Robbie told him I was a CSI so we talked about that. He asked about growing up in California and going to Stanford. He – "
"So you talked about you?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Greg replied, almost defensively. "I wasn't really interested in getting to know him. Robbie brings home a lot of guys."
"So you talk about you, and then what?"
Greg sighed. What was Nick saying about Gibson being kind of a dick? "Robbie was getting tired and Peter asked him if he wanted to go to bed. Then they went to bed."
"And then I heard Robbie screaming." Greg paused, raking a shaky hand through his blood-matted hair. Nick waited with bated breath, his heart racing. "Robbie started screaming and I ran to his bedroom. The door was locked and I kicked it open. Peter was on top of him, he was...stabbing him. I screamed at him to stop but he was just stabbing him over and over. He looked at me – "
"Robbie or Peter?" Gibson asked.
"Peter," Greg replied. "He looked at me and I knew he was going to kill me. I ran into my bedroom to get my gun. I keep it in a safe when I'm not sleeping, and I couldn't get the stupid combination right. I knew he was right behind me. I have a small fireproof lockbox on top of my safe, so I picked it up and swung at him. I'm pretty sure I hit him, and I pushed him into the hallway and I think he fell down. I ran past him and he grabbed me and I fell, and then he was on top of me. He was right on top of me and he tried – he kept trying to stab me. I don't really remember how I got him off of me, but I got up and ran into Robbie's room. He was on the bed – "
Greg's voice caught in his throat. He stopped for a moment, leaned back in his chair, and sat there. Took a deep breath and looked up at Gibson.
"He was on the bed and he was still alive," Greg continued quietly, his voice thick. Nick could see every cell of Greg's being focusing on maintaining his composure. "He was...he was in really bad shape and I knew I had to leave him. I knew I couldn't..." Greg swallowed hard, shaking his head in remorse. "Peter came in and pulled me off of Robbie. I pushed him off of me and I ran outside. I almost couldn't get the door open. I ran outside and I had to knock on like, five doors before someone let me in, but I don't blame them. God, I must've looked crazy. I called the police and...and then I waited until someone got me."
Gibson looked up from his notes. "Why did you try to get your gun?"
"Why didn't you just leave the apartment?"
Greg looked at Gibson as if he had suggested reasoning with Peter over a cup of tea at high noon.
"Robbie's my friend," he responded. "I couldn't leave him like that."
"What kind of friend are you?" Nick thought to himself. Not as good of a friend as Greg.
The sun was just peeking in between the buildings of the city, pulling long shadows with it as it rose further into the sky. Nick stood in front of the crime lab, allowing the glow of the sunrise to thaw his bones. It had been chilly the night before, and he was grateful the darkness was pulling away to reveal another warm Las Vegas day. As long as the sun still rose, it offered him a glimmer of hope that would always revive his soul.
About an hour or so after Nick had stepped outside to wait for Greg, the junior CSI exited the crime lab. Still wearing Nick's clothes, Greg sighed heavily, looking every one of his thirty-odd years. He didn't notice Nick right away, and instead closed his eyes and tiled his head back, his lips slightly parted. The colors of the sunrise engulfed him in yellows and oranges, and suddenly his expression contorted, and he appeared as if he might cry.
"Greg," Nick blurted out, startling him.
"What are you still doing here?" Greg asked, rubbing his face wearily with both hands. "I thought you left hours ago."
"I was waiting for you," he replied. They stood there in a painfully awkward silence. Nick didn't know what to say. He didn't know what to do. Greg looked so lost, and Nick didn't know what to give him. He promised to be there for his friend, to never let his friend down, but what was he supposed to do at a time like this? He asked the first thing that popped into his mind: "Can I give you a ride?"
Greg opened his mouth as if to speak, but at first the words wouldn't come. He looked up at Nick, a startling realization in his eyes. Finally, he said, "I don't have anywhere to go."
Nick smiled, reaching out his hand and gesturing Greg to follow. "Sure you do, man. Come on."
Nick unlocked his door and opened it with a flourish, stepping aside for Greg to enter first. Greg meekly mumbled a thank you, entering the apartment hesitantly with Nick following close behind. He had a modest one bedroom/one bath that one of his sisters had decorated; she was tired of seeing white walls and two black leather couches every time she came to visit. She had kept waiting for him to find a wife to do the job for her, but after Nick had spent over ten years in Las Vegas with still no ring on his finger, she had kind of given up on him.
Immediately, Nick realized how untidy the place was; washed clothes on the couch, pants folded and shirts lying flat in a pile waiting to be hung in the closet. He had left last night's beer bottles strewn on the coffee table, an empty pizza box on the floor beside it. (Yes, he had eaten the whole pizza, but it was his night off – sue him.)
"Sorry for the mess," Nick said, hastily picking up his garbage. He stuffed it into the trash can before swiftly moving to the laundry. "I keep meaning to hang this up but every week I just keep adding to the pile. I..."
Nick trailed off as he looked up to see Greg staring at his reflection in one of the decorative mirrors his sister had put on the wall. He touched the blood in his hair, on his arms. Some had gotten onto his shirt. His face was ashen, his body shaking.
"Greg..." The younger man looked at him, the tears brimming in his eyes threatening to fall. "Let me start the shower for you. Come on, I'll get you a towel and some new clothes."
Greg nodded, stepping away from the mirror and moving towards Nick, who led him into the bathroom. After starting the tap and handing Greg a towel, Nick closed the door behind him and went into his bedroom to get some clothes. It took him a few moments to find a pair of gym shorts he thought would fit Greg's slender waist, and as he returned to the bathroom, opening the door quietly, he could hear Greg's muffled cries in the shower.
Nick stood in the doorway, his heart breaking for his friend. Nick had experienced plenty of trauma in his life, but he couldn't imagine surviving a brutal attack and losing a friend at the same time. And while Greg had admirably tried to save Robbie when most would have run, he still had to leave him behind in order to save his own life, and that would be hard for anybody to live with.
"Here are your clothes," Nick said casually, and Greg quieted immediately. "I'll leave them on top of the hamper."
"Thanks," Greg responded, before Nick retreated from the bathroom, leaving him alone.
When Greg exited the bathroom, Nick was sitting on one of the leather sofas mindlessly perusing through the television channels. The younger man collapsed into the other couch with visible exhaustion, letting out an exaggerated sigh.
"I only have one bedroom, but you can sleep here," Nick stated. He indicated the pillow and his old maroon Texas A&M blanket he had gathered out of the hall closet and placed on the coffee table. "I got those out for you. I assume you aren't working tomorrow?"
"No," Greg replied. "Catherine told me to call her at the end of the week."
Greg grabbed the pillow and blanket, making haste getting settled on the couch. He stretched like a cat, yawning and arching his back before nestling in the folds of the overstuffed leather. He suddenly made a face and sat up a bit, pulling a stuffed animal out from under his back.
"What is this?" he asked, holding the small monkey.
"Curious George," Nick replied, as if the answer was obvious.
"I know this is Curious George," Greg shot back. "Why is he here?"
"My sister gave him to me."
"Sure she did," Greg responded, and it was nice to see him smile.
"She did! Are you hungry?" Nick asked, rising and heading to the kitchen.
"I'm going to make myself something to eat. I'll make you something too in case you change your mind."
"Thanks," Greg said, but by the time Nick returned from the kitchen with a plate of eggs in his hand, the younger man was already asleep with George tucked in the crook of his elbow.
After eating, Nick headed into his bedroom, stripping down to his underwear before climbing into bed. His sheets were cool against his bare skin, the mattress soothing against his aching back, and it nearly appeared to be night thanks to the blackout curtains. He closed his eyes, wondering if he'd be able to sleep with his mind racing like it was, but within moments he was mercifully taken into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The next day, Nick was eager to get to work and see what evidence had been processed from Greg's attack. He had collected plenty of samples from Greg's clothes and body, and had seen the growing pile of items from the apartment before he had left the crime lab. He was sure a police employee's involvement in a vicious attack would be a priority case, thus fast tracking any results, and Nick couldn't wait to get his hands on the results and begin to piece together the puzzle.
Nick quickly got ready, showering and dressing within twenty minutes, skipping a shave to get out the door faster. As he exited his bedroom, he realized it was quiet in the living room. Greg was still knocked out on the couch, snoring softly with his newly acquired stuffed animal curled up next to him. The older man approached him quietly, standing over him, examining his features. The soft skin on his cheek juxtaposed to rugged beard stubble juxtaposed to an ugly purple, swollen bruise on his jaw.
"Greg," he said softly, sitting on the coffee table. The younger man didn't even stir. Nick took his hand, shaking it gently. "Greg."
Greg snatched his hand away, startling awake. He looked at Nick, startling again at his presence before regaining his bearings. "What?"
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," Nick stated. Greg almost casually plucked the Curious George out from his armpit, placing it on the floor. Nick smirked briefly, before Greg could see him. "I'm going to work."
"What time is it?" Greg asked, peering at the sunlight beyond the windows as he sat up a bit. It was earlier than the usual time they would head into their nightly shift, and he seemed confused.
"It's only two," Nick replied. "I'm covering a swing shift. I should be home by midnight. I don't know when they'll release your apartment back to you, but you can stay here until then, okay?"
Greg nodded. "Okay."
Nick was hesitant to leave Greg alone in the apartment, worried he might become anxious or scared. He imagined him crying softly in the shower the night before as water stained red with blood circled the drain, praying for forgiveness like Nick had done when he'd lost Warrick. But Nick had work to do, and he had to leave his friend behind.
Upon arriving to the crime lab, he made a beeline for his office. He was itching to pull up the latest results from Greg's case. After logging in to his computer, he was disappointed to learn he didn't have the clearance to view any of it.
He supposed he should've known better. Perhaps there would be a little bit of a conflict of interest if Nick was able to work on a case that involved a coworker that worked directly with him. He was still mad. He picked up his keyboard and slammed it back down on his desk, standing so quickly his chair toppled backwards.
Where was Catherine?
She wasn't here. It was daytime. She didn't get there until 11pm.
Where was Grissom?
He wasn't here either. It was daytime. He didn't get here until 11pm.
He stood there, chest heaving, nostrils flared, smoke coming out of his ears and laser beams shooting out of his eyes. He needed somebody to find and take care of this. He needed somebody to find to at least vent his frustrations to. He needed somebody to find to possibly yell at.
"Hodges!" he hollered, spotting the unsuspecting lab tech as he walked past Nick's office. The other man spun around, ducking as if to avoid being physically struck by the words Nick was hurling at him. "Do you have the clearance to view Greg's case? I'm locked out."
Hodges smirked, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned against the door frame. He cocked his head to the side like a mischievous dog. "And what do I get out of it?"
"If you give me the password," Nick responded, "I won't take it from you."
Hodges stopped smiling. "Let me take you to my computer."
Within moments he was standing in front of Hodges' computer viewing Greg's and Robbie's case files. He typed furiously on the keyboard, taking mental notes as he quickly ingested dozens of documents and images. He knew he didn't want to be caught snooping, and he might not have much time before someone could walk in.
So far, they hadn't picked up any DNA that wasn't Greg's or Robbie's from any of the blood samples they had collected. There was also no foreign DNA on the beer bottles they had collected from the apartment. Maybe Peter had forgone drinking, and maybe it had been for a reason. There were still some hair and fibers processing, offering a little bit of hope. Nick also learned that Robbie had borrowed Greg's car that night and it was currently being scoured for evidence in the crime lab's garage.
He frowned, his brow knotted. It was only day one, and he knew he had to have patience, but that wasn't really his forte. He was hoping for something – anything – but he supposed he'd have to wait. At least he could give Greg an update when he returned home.
The rest of Nick's shift dragged along slowly. He was assigned to a burglary at a senator's home that was nearly an hour's drive away from the crime lab with rush hour traffic. Any level 1 CSI could've been assigned the job, but of course a senator's involvement meant it was a priority case to Ecklie, which in turn meant an experienced Nick had to take it. He would've rather ate his shirt than get stuck for hours in a mansion collecting evidence that would get stuck in backlogs for months when there were more pertinent crimes that needed investigating, but things like this were just the nature of the beast. He was grateful when he was finally able to swipe his employee time card and get the hell out of there.
When he pulled into his parking space in front of his apartment, it was already a couple hours past when he should've been due home, and while it was late he could see the lights were on inside his living room. He was a little more pleased than he would've liked to admit to know that Greg was still up and he'd have someone to spend time with when he got home rather than arriving to his usually empty apartment. He briefly considered how sad that was. Maybe he should get a dog.
Greg was actually asleep when Nick got inside, curled up under the maroon Texas A&M blanket. Nick tried to stay quiet as he moved inside the kitchen to find something to eat. He could smell a lingering scent of what Greg must've cooked for dinner, and instantly his stomach began rumbling.
"I saved you a plate," Greg murmured from the couch, half-awake. "It's in the oven, you just have to heat it up."
"Thanks," Nick said, eagerly pulling out two stuffed peppers. Greg must've gone to the grocery store; Nick's fridge was usually only stocked with beer and whatever leftovers he had accumulated from take-out dinners. "Sorry I woke you."
"It's okay," Greg replied. "My sleep schedule is all messed up. My body doesn't know whether to be awake or not."
"I'm sure," Nick said. He punched the numbers on the microwave before moving into the living room, switching off a floor lamp as he did so. "Did you fall asleep with the lights on?"
Suddenly, Greg seemed sheepish. "I got a little anxious by myself."
Only then did Nick realize that the lights had been on, but not the television or the laptop. He felt his chest swell with sadness for his friend. Felt angry someone could rob Greg of sleeping soundly without having to leave a light on like a child afraid of the dark. "Do you want me to leave them on?"
"I don't need them if you're here."
Nick stepped back into the kitchen, his cheeks suddenly hot. He remembered Catherine telling him that Greg had requested his presence the night before, and wondered why on earth Greg would have so much faith in him, especially after what happened to Warrick. Opening the fridge, he called, "Do you want to have a beer with me?"
"I bought myself some wine," Greg stated. "All you had was like, seventy cans of Bud and Maker's Mark. My taste is a little too sophisticated for that."
Nick laughed. "I'll get you a glass of wine then, you snob."
"Hey, did you get any updates?" Greg asked with a yawn, wincing as he stretched. "I feel like I got hit by a truck."
"Sorry," Nick replied. "Nothing yet. Let me get you some aspirin."
They talked over drinks while Nick ate the most delicious sausage and rice stuffed peppers he'd ever had in his life. He realized he'd never really talked to Greg before like this. They would share an occasional breakfast after work, but always with other coworkers and never one-on-one. Nick had always assumed they didn't have anything in common, and that if they were to go out and spend time together they wouldn't really have any fun. But they talked, and they laughed, and they drank, and before Nick knew it, the sun was coming up.
And this was Nick's life for the next week. He'd go to work, and Greg would have breakfast waiting when he came back. He would go to bed, and when he woke in the evening, Greg would have dinner ready for him. Nick would work, and Greg would keep the apartment tidy and do their laundry. They would spend Nick's nights off watching movies or playing video games, drinking and talking and laughing for hours. And Nick discovered that he and Greg did have a lot in common, and that he actually liked spending time with Greg. They had a lot of fun together.
"You know," Nick commented over breakfast one morning. "When you go back to your apartment, I don't know what I'm going to do with myself."
"Are you leaving me?" Greg asked, and feigned hurt. "But I thought I made you happy."
"We might not've worked out," Nick replied, grinning, "but I'm sure one day you'll make a great wife to one very lucky man."
"I hope you know I'm getting half of everything."
Nick laughed. "We'll see what my lawyer has to say about that."
"I'm taking George too."
"Our only son?" Nick asked, shocked. "A boy needs his father."
"You can have him on the weekends," Greg responded. "Listen, I know you just came from work but can you give me a ride back there this morning? Detective Gibson said he has some more questions for me. I hope this means he's got some leads to follow. Do you know anything?"
Nick shook his head, cutting into his pancakes. "They haven't recovered anything as far as I know. They couldn't identify some fibers, but other than that, no fingerprints or DNA that isn't yours or Robbie's."
Greg's shoulders fell. He sighed, rubbing his face with his hands wearily. "Maybe he's just going to do the same bullshit we do to everybody else. Go over the same questions and then, 'Sorry, we'll call you if we ever get anything.'"
"Relax," Nick said, reaching across the table to touch Greg's arm comfortingly. "Maybe he's got something else for you."
Nick would end up being more right than he could've imagined.
Greg once again was sitting across the table from Gibson, who was almost making it a point to appear nonchalant as he skimmed through his notepad. Nick, who stood on the other side of the two-way mirror, could immediately tell something was off about the young detective. He seemed...tense beneath his casual facade. And while Nick wasn't sure what the purpose of this new interview was, he was sure he didn't like the vibe he was getting. Greg sat nervously in his chair, bouncing his knee and chewing on his lip. Perhaps he felt it too.
"So Robbie brought this guy home from the bar, and he said his name was Peter?" Gibson asked.
"Yeah," Greg replied.
"And he didn't give you his last name?"
"Robbie often brought home random guys?"
"Robbie was gay?"
Nick furrowed his brow, frowning. While he was curious to know what the answer would be, he also wondered why the question was being asked.
Greg opened and closed his mouth twice, before asking, "Excuse me?"
"Are you gay?" Gibson asked, his gaze meeting Greg's with a look that challenged the young CSI to give him a different answer than what he was expecting.
"I've...been with men before."
"So you are gay," Gibson stated, still not breaking his stare.
"I've been with women before too."
"So you're bisexual."
"If that's what you want to call it."
"What would you call it?" Gibson asked, unimpressed.
"I guess I'd call it that," Greg conceded.
"Were you and Robbie ever romantically involved?"
"What do you mean by that?" Greg asked. Suddenly Gibson seemed uncomfortable.
"Were you and Robbie ever...intimate.?
"I'm not sure I understand."
Nick smiled. Greg was going to make him say it. Finally, Gibson looked away, shifting in his seat, and Nick felt satisfied.
"Did you and Robbie ever have sex?" he clarified, spitting the foul-tasting words out.
"Were you and Robbie ever in a relationship?"
"Were you ever jealous of these guys that Robbie brought home?"
He could almost see the words physically hit Greg, watched Greg absorb them and saw the realization cross Greg's face. Felt the realization in his own being and felt his heart skip a beat.
"Where is this going?" Greg asked quietly.
"Greg," Gibson said, pushing his steno pad and pencil aside. He leaned forward, folding his hands on the table. "The truth is, there's no evidence to show that anybody else was in that apartment except for you and Robbie."
"You think I murdered him?" Greg shouted, his metal chair scraping against the floor as he nearly jumped back in surprise. "You're accusing me of murdering Robbie?"
"I haven't accused you of anything," Gibson said, leaning back in his chair. He seemed so smug, and Nick had to fight the urge to burst into the interview room and wipe the floor with him.
"Really?" Greg asked. "Because it sure sounds like you're accusing me of murder."
"I'm just covering all my bases."
"I didn't kill Robbie," Greg declared firmly. "Robbie was my friend."
"Such a brutal murder," Gibson said. "You would think there would be some kind of evidence left behind by this Peter guy."
"Go fuck yourself," Greg spat, as he stood. He crossed the room to the door, his hand on the doorknob. "I'm leaving."
"We're not finished talking."
"Unless your charging me with something," Greg challenged, "I'm leaving."
They stood for a moment, eye to eye and man to man, both wanting resolution and both willing to get it in different ways. Finally, Gibson sighed, waving him out the door.
Greg flew down the hallway in a whirlwind, flinging open the front door and stepping into the sunlight. He quickly made his way to Nick's SUV at the edge of the parking lot, pacing behind it, his chest heaving and his jaw clenched. Nick followed as fast as he could, ready to stand beside Greg and fight the world side by side.
"Greg," Nick breathed, placing a hand on Greg's shoulder. He could feel how tense the younger man was, his hot skin ablaze with anger. "Greg, it's okay. Screw him, he doesn't know what he's talking about."
"He thinks I murdered Robbie," Greg stated, and repeated, "He thinks I murdered Robbie."
"I know," Nick responded. "He doesn't have any evidence that says you did."
"Really?" Greg asked, still pacing. "Because it sounds like he has plenty of evidence that says Robbie and I were the only ones in the apartment, and Robbie's dead so where does that leave me?"
"He would've arrested you if he really believed you killed him."
Greg suddenly stopped pacing, his back to Nick. Quietly, he asked, "Do you believe it?"
Nick's heart broke. "Of course not."
Greg turned, his face displaying his utter devastation. "I'm so fucked."
"No, you aren't."
"Yes, I am!" he shouted, holding out his hands in a pleading gesture. "Not only does everyone think I murdered my roommate, now my entire sex life is going to be water cooler conversation!"
"No, Greg, it's – "
"You don't think I know what the cops already say about me?" Greg asked, and Nick knew it was true. "Especially after I got beat up, and now this? God, I'm so fucked."
"Greg – "
The younger man buried his face in his hands, pressing his fingers into his eyes and letting out a frustrated, guttural groan. He stayed that way, his shoulders shaking as a choked sob escaped his throat, and he stood there crying, helpless and afraid, and Nick wasn't sure what to do. He just knew his friend needed him, and he wished he was as strong as Greg thought he was. A strong man would know what to do at a time like this.
Nick took a deep breath, determined to fix this. He took Greg into his arms and pulled him into his chest, holding him close. Greg clung to him like a man lost at sea would desperately clutch a buoy in an attempt to stay afloat. Nick promised not to let him drown.
"Come on, man, it's okay," he murmured into Greg's hair, stroking his back soothingly. He felt Greg's warm body against his own, his hair smelling sweet like fruit and candy. "Everything's going to be okay."
"Robbie was my friend," Greg croaked. "I didn't kill him."
"I know," Nick said, quietly. In a few moments Greg was quiet, his chest shuddering as he took deep, calming breaths. He pulled back a little, meeting Nick's gaze with red, puffy eyes, his hand touching the side of Nick's face. He brushed his thumb across Nick's cheekbone, and it was...uncomfortably intimate.
Greg's eyes widened, and he took a step back, abruptly ending the contact. "I'm so sorry. That was really inappropriate."
"It's fine," Nick said, waving off his concern. They stood there awkwardly, and Nick said the first thing that came to mind. "Let's get drunk."
Greg nodded. "Please."
It was two in the afternoon, and they had effectively accomplished their mission. Empty bottles of beer and wine were strewn across the living room floor, a nearly empty bottle of Maker's Mark whiskey on the coffee table in front of them. They sat on the floor of the living room, their backs pressed against the couch as they destroyed zombies with guns and machetes and Molotov cocktails on the TV.
"Stop shooting me!" Greg shouted, elbowing Nick's side. "I have like no life left!"
"Stop running in front of me!" Nick shot back. "There's a thousand zombies, I can't keep track of you too."
Greg let out a frustrated groan as he lost his life in the video game, tossing his controller into the carpet and pouting with gusto. "I died."
"I see that," Nick said, pausing the game. He put down his controller and took a swig of whiskey.
"Catherine said I could come back to work on Monday," Greg said quietly.
"That's good," Nick replied, although it didn't really seem that Greg felt the same way.
The younger man shrugged. "I don't think I want to go back now."
"You're just a little nervous because you haven't worked in two weeks." Nick placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I work Monday too. We'll go in together, okay? We're in this together."
Greg nodded, chewing on his lip, but he wouldn't meet Nick's gaze.
"It'll be fine, you'll see." Nick attempted to stand, but he found himself leaning heavily on the coffee table and Greg's shoulder for support. He failed the first time, laughing at his own unsteadiness. "Holy shit. I'm going to bed. I have to be up in like four hours. I have to work tonight."
Greg grabbed Nick's arm before he could fall; he tried to help him stand, but Greg wasn't very steady himself.
"Do you need me to help you to bed?" Greg asked.
"Why?" Nick asked, a little too quickly.
"So you won't die on the way there?" Greg responded, and he sounded almost offended.
"I didn't mean it like that."
"Like you had another reason to help me to bed."
"What reason would that be?"
Nick scoffed. "Please." He indicated himself. "Who wouldn't want this?"
Laughter exploded from Greg. "I'm not attracted to you."
Nick was immediately serious. "Why not?"
Greg shrugged casually. "You aren't my type."
"What are you talking about? I'm everybody's type."
"Almost everybody," Greg said. "Not mine."
"There's no way you don't want this."
"Agree to disagree."
"Fine." Nick walked into his bedroom, but not before turning dramatically. "There are plenty of people that want this."
"I'm sure there are," Greg said, nodding in agreement as he compressed a smile. "I'm just not one of them."
Nick closed the door behind him, moving to the windows to pull his thick curtains closed before removing his clothes and sliding in between his covers, resting on the bed with a grateful sigh. He laid there on his back, in the dark, eyes closed. And he waited.
He was dozing, nearly giving up and just allowing himself to drift into the edges of sleep when he heard the bedroom door. He felt the bed dip, the covers shift, and a warm, strong body pressed against his back. Soft lips were on his neck, beard stubble scratching at his skin, fingertips fluttering across his hip and down his thigh and...
Nick sighed audibly as Greg wrapped slender fingers around his penis, gripping him firmly and stroking him expertly. It didn't take long before he was fully erect, aching for release. He turned to face Greg, desperately reaching for him, finding his hard cock and grabbing him, jerking him off with a pace that matched Greg's.
He found Greg's lips next, moaning into his mouth as Greg tried his best to see how far he could push his tongue down Nick's throat. Nick felt his heart racing and his mind spinning, alcohol and lust and logic fighting for control. This was a bad idea. A bad idea. Greg was in a vulnerable place, and Nick was taking advantage of him. It didn't matter that Greg had climbed into Nick's bed. Nick knew exactly what he was doing by talking to him that way before bed. But he wanted him. He wanted him and he was losing control and Greg felt so good and before he knew it he was coming into Greg's hand, felt Greg coming into his own hand, and it all felt so, so good.
He panted heavily in the dark, lying there boneless as he fought to regain his bearings. He turned and reached to the floor behind him, grabbing his underwear and cleaning himself up with it. When he turned back, he realized that Greg was gone, and he was alone.
He laid there on his back, in the dark, eyes closed. And he waited. But Greg never came back.
Nick woke up four hours later with a splitting headache and a sour stomach. He felt as if he might see the burger and fries he'd eaten for lunch again, but not in the same condition they'd gone down. Shakily, he showered and brushed his teeth. Slowly, he dressed. Hesitantly, he placed his hand on the doorknob, taking a deep breath before exiting the bedroom.
Greg was sleeping soundly on the couch. Nick wondered why he didn't remain in the bed with him and instead chose to stay out here, alone. Perhaps Nick hadn't been the only one taking advantage of a friend. Maybe they both had just needed a little release.
He didn't want to ponder it any further. Instead, he grabbed leftovers from the night before that Greg had packed for lunch for him and left for the night.
The next couple days passed without incident. Neither man spoke of what had happened between them, and Nick believed that maybe it was better that way. They fell back into their same routine: Nick would awaken in the evening and Greg would have dinner ready for him. He'd arrive home from work with breakfast on the table. In their free time they would share drinks and talk and laugh and maybe flirt a little more than they should. Business as usual.
Monday came quickly. Greg was a nervous ball of energy bouncing around the apartment before their shift started. Nick was filling a travel mug with coffee in the kitchen, watching the younger man out of the corner of his eye fluttering in and out of his line of vision. He kept talking and talking – about what Nick couldn't really say; he just kept running his mouth on random topics. Weather. Work. Cooking. Movies. California. The strip. TV. Food. Beer.
"Greg," Nick finally said, but the young man was still talking.
"...I told him if he really wanted to go I would take him, but he didn't..."
"...ever call me, so I don't know if he was just trying to be nice or whatever – "
"Can you please," Nick pleaded, "shut the fuck up and take a deep breath."
Greg almost laughed, realizing how he must've sounded. He nodded, took a few shaky breaths, and then stood in the living room, quiet.
Then: "Do you know who's been handling my follow-ups for me? I had a lot of mail in my inbox when I looked earlier and I'm afraid no one's kept up with any of my work. Do you think I should talk to Catherine about that? Or would Grissom know? I always get the feeling Catherine would know more about that kind of stuff, she..."
Nick tiredly rubbed his eyes, before sighing heavily. Greg cleared his throat, sheepish.
"Sorry," he said. "I'm just...nervous."
"I know," Nick stated. He handed a coffee mug to Greg, although he knew Greg didn't really like the way Nick made his coffee (but Greg didn't really like the way anyone made his coffee). "It'll be just like before you left. Just be cool."
It wasn't really like before he left. There was a hush in the police station when they walked through the waiting area, suspicious eyes following Greg down the hall. Nick nodded at the officers, but Greg pointedly looked forward, keeping his head down. The jittery, talkative Greg was gone now, and all that was left was a quiet and shy kid that seemed afraid to get picked on by the popular kids at school. They continued past interview rooms and the armory, beyond the fitness center and conference room, making a beeline for the locker room. Inside were more scrutinizing stares and low voices. Nick made a point to greet the officers and other CSIs and engage in small talk, attempting to ease the tension. In contrast, Greg's face was buried in his locker as he made haste looking busy.
The other men that had occupied the small space exited the room, and Greg leaned his forehead against his locker with a loud thud.
"That wasn't awkward at all," Greg said, and groaned into the cold metal.
"Greg, you didn't even talk to anybody," Nick stated. "You just need to act yourself and everyone will see that you're the same guy you were when you left."
"I know, it's just..." Greg trailed off, and Nick could see the frustration on his face. "I can feel their eyes on me."
"Just be cool, remember?" Nick said. Greg nodded unconvincingly. Nick grabbed his shoulders, pulling him close and roughing him up playfully. "Be cool, right?"
Greg pushed him away, smiling as they exited the locker room. "All right, all right."
Nick was separated from Greg early in his shift, but couldn't help checking on his friend every so often. Greg was mostly consumed with catching up on the work he'd left behind two weeks ago, and soon Nick was too involved in his own cases to remember to worry about Greg. He glanced at the clock, and unknowingly it had been three hours since he'd seen the younger man. He quickly paused in his work, poking his head out the hall to see if he could spot Greg, and was relieved to see him talking to Catherine and Henry, smiling and laughing.
His reprieve was short lived. It was seven in the morning, and Ecklie was coming down the hallway, heading straight for Greg. The undersheriff was never here this early unless he had a reason to be, and it usually wasn't good. The older man put a hand on Greg's shoulder, leaning in to whisper something into his ear, and Nick could see Greg's brow furrow. Greg nodded, and then Ecklie was gone as swiftly as he had arrived.
Nick could see a shift in the conversation between the three investigators down the hall as Greg's body language changed. He seemed distracted and concerned. Nick set his jaw, immediately wanting to ask Greg what was said, but he was in the middle of processing evidence and couldn't leave his work. Later. There was only an hour left in their shift, and he'd be able to ask Greg on the way home.
Quickly, Nick finished up the last of his shift and swiped his employee time card with vigor. He waited in his SUV for the young man to emerge from the crime lab, at first sitting inside and listening to the radio while tapping his fingers nervously on the steering wheel. Before long he was feeling too anxious within the small cab and stood outside, leaning against the back bumper. A few minutes went by. Then ten. Then thirty.
Greg wasn't answering his phone or texts. Nick was about to go back inside when the younger man finally exited the crime lab. He looked pissed.
"What happened?" Nick asked, stepping closer to him. "Did you get caught up in a case? Why didn't you answer my calls?"
"I was in a meeting with Ecklie and Gibson," Greg replied, moving to the passenger's side of the SUV. He pulled on the handle several times in a row, but the door was locked. "Can you please open the door?"
"What happened?" Nick asked again.
"They just wanted to talk to me about Robbie," Greg said, pulling on the handle again. "Can you please open the door?"
"What did you talk about?" Nick pressed.
"We talked about Robbie."
"I heard you. What did you talk about specifically?"
"We fucking talked about Robbie can you open the fucking door?"
Nick unlocked the door with his keyless entry and moved to the driver's side. They both got in, slamming their doors a little harder than necessary. Nick put the key in the ignition, but didn't turn over the engine. He looked at Greg. Greg looked at him. Jaws set, breathing heavy. They were a mirror image of frustration. Then:
They reached for each other, Nick grasping the nape of Greg's neck possessively, pulling the younger man's mouth to his. Greg grabbed at Nick's shirt, gripping the fabric in his fists and propelling himself forward, pushing Nick up against the driver's side window of the SUV. They kissed roughly, teeth hitting against each others', lips bruising. Nicks hands were running beneath Greg's shirt, feeling smooth skin and taught muscles. Greg was warm and tasted like coffee, and Nick was quickly losing control and didn't have an excuse this time. He was sober and knew what he was doing, and Greg was upset and vulnerable. He couldn't do this. Not this way.
"Wait," he breathed, pushing Greg away from him forcefully. Greg leaned over him, lips swollen, brown eyes ablaze with desire. "I can't."
"You..." He trailed off, his mind a blur. "You're upset."
"We shouldn't do this."
"I shouldn't do this."
"It would be wrong of me to take advantage of you."
"I don't care."
Nick grabbed Greg's wrist, pulling him close, kissing him fervently. Felt Greg's hands on him, all over his chest and back, pressing his thigh into Nick's growing erection. Nick grabbed at Greg's belt, clumsily undoing the buckle and fumbling with the button and fly. Suddenly, Greg's mouth was gone and Nick was left gasping as teeth scraped against his neck. They were soon at his waist, nibbling on his skin, biting at his hipbone.
"Greg," he moaned.
"I..." he began, but he didn't have the words.
"You...?" Greg asked, a coy smile at his lips.
Greg moved to Nick's crotch, fluidly unbuckling Nick's belt and opening his button and fly. Took Nick down his throat and Greg's mouth was incredible.
"God," Nick sighed. "What are you doing to me?"
It wasn't long before Nick came, and Greg swallowed him whole. Nick was lightheaded with his release, his chest heaving, his heart racing. He sat back for a moment, barely registering Greg grabbing an extra shirt in the car and cleaning himself up; he would've been more excited to imagine Greg jerking himself off while blowing Nick but he couldn't seem to gather his wits after such an intense experience.
They drove home in silence. Several times, Nick tried to imagine something to say, but he wasn't sure what could possibly be appropriate at a time like this. He parked in front of his apartment, killing the engine and sitting there for a moment with Greg. They both fidgeted nervously, unable to look at one another. Finally, Nick cleared his throat.
"Well," he said, staring at the steering wheel. "That wasn't awkward at all."
They shared a sideways glance, smiling.
"Can you tell me what happened now?" Nick asked.
"Ecklie said he'd gone over all the case files with Gibson," Greg began, and continued with irritation, "who I didn't know was going to be there. Ecklie said because I was a police employee and had been there for so long, he was going to give me the benefit of the doubt." Greg paused, rolling his eyes as he leaned his head back against the seat. "He said it like I should be fucking grateful."
Greg scoffed. "He didn't say a word, but he didn't have to. Ecklie said we were all just doing our jobs. 'Covering all our bases.' Wonder where he got that from?"
Nick remembered hearing the same phrase from Gibson during Greg's second interview. He wondered just how extensively Ecklie had reviewed the case files, or was he taking Gibson's word at face value? Nick was well aware the cops would stick together before considering a lowly CSI nerd.
"He said..." Greg trailed off, shaking his head incredulously. "He told me to keep my nose clean and my head down."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Nick spat.
"It means they aren't giving me the benefit of the doubt."
Nick was walking down the hall in the crime lab towards Grissom's office to obtain a signature when he saw Greg sitting alone in the break room with some coffee and a bag of chips. It had been a week since Greg had begun working again, and slowly Nick could see he was getting back into the swing of things. He was a lot less subdued, joking around more and engaging in conversation, almost back to the Greg they used to know. The cops were still dicks, but they had never been very nice to Greg in the first place. They didn't like lab rats in general, but had always had a particular disdain for Greg. There was something about Greg's uninhibited personality that some of the officers considered too flamboyant, and of course the only rational thing to do was sling derogatory slurs and catcall in the parking lot – which had only gotten worse after Greg's second interview with Gibson.
"Breakfast of champions, huh?" Nick mused, leaning in the doorway.
"No, I had a sandwich earlier," Greg replied absently, meeting Nick's eyes only for a moment. Nick suddenly realized the television wasn't on, and both Greg's coffee mug and bag of chips were empty.
"What's wrong?" he asked worriedly, stepping into the room. He pulled up a chair and sat down across from his friend anxiously.
Greg waved away Nick's concern. "It's nothing. I just...they released my apartment back to me today. They gave me a bunch of numbers for cleanup services, but I can't..." He swallowed hard, before clearing his throat. "I don't think I can go back there."
"Don't worry about it," Nick quickly responded. "Give me the numbers, I'll call and get it cleaned up. I'll get some of your things and you can keep staying with me until you find another place. I'm sure your landlord will understand why you wouldn't want to go back there."
Greg nodded. "Thanks."
After dropping Greg off at home, Nick went to Greg's apartment with a list of things the young man wanted. While Nick had been to hundreds of crime scenes before, he had never been to one that directly involved a friend, and he was nervous as he unlocked the front door.
The smell hit him first. The sour, coppery scent of blood invaded his nostrils, and he put a fist to his nose as he entered the living room. He coughed, taking a few shallow breaths and allowing himself to adjust to the stale air. He could immediately see obvious signs of a struggle; the coffee table was upended, broken glass on the floor along with a shattered lamp. Steaks of blood were on the floor and parts of the wall.
Slowly, Nick crossed the room to the hallway to find more blood. As he touched a splintered door frame to a bedroom, he remembered Greg saying he'd kicked in Robbie's door and thought this must be his room. Carefully, he pushed the door open. The mattress was bare, covered in deep red stains instead of bedsheets. Red on the walls, on the floor, on the carpet, splattered everywhere. Jesus.
He left the room, moving into Greg's bedroom down the hall. It was neatly kept except for some small spots of blood on the carpet. Greg had instructed him to get a suitcase out of his closet and put some clothes inside, and after he was finished with the task he stood there for a moment, biting his lip. Greg had a dresser and two nightstands filled with many drawers, and it took all of his willpower not to go through them like a diligent CSI (or a curious, possessive boyfriend).
Keeping his common decency in check, Nick grabbed Greg's electronic tablet and laptop, then moved into the bathroom and grabbed some toiletries even though Greg had already replaced most of these, tiring of Nick's cheap hair product after a couple days. Afterward, he went into the kitchen, snatched Greg's secret stash of coffee, and moved back to the living room, grabbing video games and an external hard drive full of pirated movies.
Finally, he was ready to go, and grateful to get the hell out of there. He turned to leave, pausing at the sight of bloody fingerprints on the inside of the front door. Nick felt his heart racing as he imagined Greg fighting for his life, frantically struggling to open the door with a cold blooded killer hot on his heels, and briefly thanked God he'd made it out of there alive.
Nick arrived home about an hour after he'd left Greg. The younger man was cooking breakfast, a wonderful smell in contrast to what Nick had walked into when entering Greg's apartment.
"Got everything?" Greg asked, following Nick into the living room like a child eagerly awaiting a Christmas present. "Did you get my coffee?"
"Yes," Nick replied. He stopped walking, with Greg following so close the younger man nearly toppled over him. "As much as it pained you to tell me where it was."
"I didn't want you to steal it," Greg stated, pulling it out of his luggage with a flourish. He hugged the blue bag with enthusiasm. "I missed you so much."
"You've got problems," Nick said, shaking his head. He sat down on the couch heavily, leaning his head back. "I called the cleanup service. They're going to come out on Thursday."
"Great, thanks," he heard Greg call from the kitchen.
Nick had sat down on the couch Greg usually slept on, the blanket folded neatly on the headrest. He could smell Greg on it, pulled it from the back of the couch and laid down with it, burying his face in the maroon blanket and inhaling deeply. He closed his eyes and felt so comforted surrounded by Greg's scent. He could almost imagine the young man beside him, feel the warmth of Greg's skin and taste coffee on Greg's lips. Smelled coffee in the air. So strong Nick opened his eyes, looking up to see Greg holding a cup out to him. He looked...amused.
"Do you want some coffee?"
"No," Nick replied. "I'm going to bed."
"I just made breakfast." Greg pouted. "I made biscuits and gravy. That's your favorite."
"I'm tired, and I could stand to skip a meal. I've gained five pounds since you've lived here."
"A man needs to eat," Greg said, heading into the kitchen and returning shortly with two plates. He grabbed the newspaper before sitting down, handing the sports section to Nick wordlessly, and they sat in silence as they ate breakfast and read. Nick idly wondered how this had become his life, eating delicious homemade meals prepared with care, sitting in comfortable silence while reading the paper on a weekday morning with a man he enjoyed spending time with. He wondered how long this would last. They had yet to speak of the two sexual encounters that had occurred between them, and it was eating away at Nick wondering what it all meant. But he didn't want to shatter this picturesque life by asking. Not just yet.
Greg's vulgarity pulled Nick out of his contemplation. The young man was staring at the newspaper, his mouth agape, his breathing heavy, a kind of anger in his eyes that Nick had never seen before.
"What?" Nick asked, sitting up straighter. "What happened?"
Greg didn't answer. He just handed the newspaper to Nick. It was the local news section. Nick put down his coffee and grabbed the paper from him, skimming over the page before landing on a familiar name: Angela Kassab, reporter for the Las Vegas Times. Writing an article regarding suspicions surrounding a CSI who was supposedly attacked in his apartment, but according to her source there wasn't any evidence to support an intruder. The same CSI who had run over a suspect in an SUV just years earlier, effectively killing him. She was questioning the two week "paid vacation" Greg had been given following Robbie's murder, asking why he wasn't at least on leave while the police conducted their investigation. Asking how the department was supposed to keep Las Vegas safe when they couldn't even keep their own employees out of trouble. And wasn't it a conflict of interest if the LVPD crime lab worked the case themselves?
Nick threw the paper to the floor, his blood boiling. "What the fuck is this?"
"He told her everything," Greg stated. He sat back on the couch, raking a hand through his hair. "That asshole Gibson told her everything."
"Greg, this is bullshit," Nick hissed. He was so angry he felt like slamming his fist into the wall, but previous experience taught him not to. Especially since his apartment walls were made of concrete, and one doctor's visit for a broken knuckle was enough to learn a lesson.
"You're telling me. They didn't give me a paid vacation," Greg seethed. "I had to use my fucking vacation time that I was saving to visit my fucking parents so I could pay my fucking rent for an apartment I couldn't even fucking live in and pay a fucking car payment for a car that I don't even fucking have!"
The junior CSI stood, grabbing his coffee mug and throwing it across the room, smashing it to pieces against the wall. Nick had never seen Greg so angry.
"Fuck!" Greg yelled, standing at the door that led to the balcony, squinting into the rising sun. "I'm going to lose my job."
"No, you aren't," Nick said, standing and crossing the room to stand beside his friend. "You haven't done anything wrong, Greg."
"No one believes me."
"It doesn't matter," Nick responded. Greg shot him look. "It doesn't. They don't have a real legal reason to fire you, or to put you on leave, or to suspend you – nothing. They don't have a reason, Greg, don't you see that? They're just trying to fix their lipstick and look pretty for the Sheriff, and they don't care who they have to stomp on to do it. Don't you see that?"
Greg sighed, turning to face Nick. He looked just as lost as when he'd emerged from the crime lab the night of his attack, his eyes begging Nick for something Nick wasn't sure he could give him. Nick reached his hand out, his fingers lacing into Greg's, felt his heart racing when Greg's thumb brushed over his knuckles.
There was a chirping from the sofa. Greg's cell phone. The young man moved across the room, plucking it from between the cushions. He rolled his eyes.
"It's Ecklie," he said, before answering tersely. "Yeah? I saw it...No...I know...You think I ran my mouth to somebody about this? Why don't you talk to your detective who can't seem to keep his mouth shut about an open case to his reporter girlfriend?"
Nick could hear Ecklie's muffled voice on the other end of the line speaking quickly and harshly.
"Why?" Greg asked. "I'm asking why are you telling me to stay home until you call me? Am I on administrative leave?" Greg rolled his eyes. "Can you tell me what policy I've violated? Or what law, maybe a commandment?"
Nick raised an eyebrow. Was Greg really doing this with Ecklie? There was more screaming on the other end of the line, before Greg ended the phone call. He sat down on the couch heavily, tossing his phone on the coffee table.
"Well?" Nick asked, sitting beside him.
"I'm working tonight," he stated defiantly. "You're right, Nick. I haven't done anything wrong, and if I lose my job, at least I'll go down fighting."
More hushed voices and dirty looks as they entered the crime lab. Nick was done with his pretense of "being cool" and showing everyone Greg was an innocent victim and there was nothing to be afraid of. Instead, he was so angry that all it took for an entire department to turn on you was one lousy theory from one lousy detective. The article in the paper that morning only served to reinforce everyone's suspicions and push Greg further into exile.
They were inside the locker room getting ready for their shift when a pair of officers walked in. They were immediately quiet, sharing a look between them before moving to their lockers. Nick watched Greg carefully, Greg's expression strained, but the young man said nothing. He closed his locker door and nodded at Nick before hurriedly leaving.
Nick rushed to catch up to him, afraid to leave him alone out there. He stuffed his backpack into his locker and was grabbing his things when he heard the officers snickering.
"I don't even know how he can show up here after that article," one of them said.
"I don't even know how he still has a job here," the other replied.
Nick slammed his locker closed, startling the officers. "He still has a job here because he hasn't done anything wrong. Maybe if you guys stopped gossiping like school girls and did your fucking jobs like men you could catch whoever murdered his roommate."
The officers cast their eyes to the ground, effectively chastised. Nick stormed out of the locker room, the door swinging closed behind him. But not before he heard: "Sorry, didn't mean to offend your boyfriend."
Nick set his jaw, pausing only briefly before continuing down the hall. He passed Grissom's office, whose door was open just an inch, and he could hear Grissom and Ecklie arguing. It was too late in the night for Ecklie to still be here. Curious, he paused, leaning against the wall casually and pretending to look through his e-mail on his phone while keeping an eye out for Greg.
"I understand where you're coming from, Conrad," Grissom said. "But he hasn't done anything wrong. He hasn't violated any company policies or broken any laws. He was a victim."
"Did you read that article in the paper this morning?" Ecklie asked hotly. "I have the press calling my office every five minutes demanding answers."
"Then give them answers," Grissom responded. "We don't have anything to hide."
"I told him to keep his head down," Ecklie stated. "This is not keeping his head down."
"I hardly think one of your detectives discussing an open case with his significant other is Greg's fault."
"I'm standing right here," Nick heard Greg say, startled to hear his voice. He knew he shouldn't have let him leave the locker rooms alone. "And I would appreciate if you guys would include me in this conversation."
"I'm sorry, Greg," Grissom apologized, just as Ecklie said, "Stay out of this."
"I think this is his business," Grissom retorted. "Until you have a legitimate reason for me to have Greg go home, he's staying on the roster."
"Then he stays on desk duty. And doesn't get any new cases."
"There's no reason for that either."
"Pending a psychological evaluation – "
"What?" Greg interrupted, and suddenly the three men were all speaking at the same time.
"Greg isn't to go out into the field or receive any new cases until – "
"Conrad, Greg is not a sworn officer and was not involved in any trauma on the job," Grissom stated. "A mandatory psychological intervention isn't warranted."
"I don't need a psychological evaluation."
"Greg isn't going out into the field or receiving any new cases until – " Ecklie tried repeating.
"There isn't any evidence to suggest he hasn't performed at his full potential."
"I'm not undergoing a psychological evaluation."
"I am the undersheriff of this department and I am ordering Greg Sanders to receive a psychological evaluation before he goes out into the field or receives any new cases!" Ecklie boomed, silencing Grissom and Greg. "Until further notice, you will stay on desk duty and you still stay out of trouble, Mr. Sanders, do you understand me?"
There was a brief pause.
Again: "Do you understand me?"
"Do not let me see a member of your staff's name in the paper again," Ecklie continued, presumably to Grissom. "Do not let me hear a member of your staff's name again over a police scanner at three in the morning, and do not let me hear a member of your staff's name again from the sheriff when he calls me and asks me what the hell it is you guys are doing over here at night. Do I make myself clear, Gil?"
"Yes," Grissom replied.
There was silence. Then, Ecklie's voice again: "This isn't over."
The door swung open, startling Nick. He tried to feign indifference and pretend that he hadn't been eavesdropping, but the glare Ecklie gave him told Nick the undersheriff wasn't buying it. Frankly, Nick didn't care. It had taken all of his willpower not to storm in there and tell Ecklie exactly what he thought about the situation. He stepped into the room now, seeing Grissom standing behind his desk and Greg sitting in one of the chairs with his head in his hands. Grissom appeared calm, but the look in his eyes screamed otherwise. Greg appeared angry, but defeated.
"Gris, what the hell was that?" Nick asked.
"That was a bureaucrat's attempt at damage control," his supervisor responded. "Greg appears to be stuck on desk duty for now."
"I heard," Nick said angrily. Grissom gave him a curious look. "I...might have been listening outside the door. What are we going to do about this?"
"I'm not sure," Grissom responded.
"We can't just let the department walk all over him," Nick pleaded. "This is harassment. There has to be something we can do."
"Again," Greg said, holding his hands out. "I'm still in the room. Can I be a part of the conversation?"
"Of course," Grissom stated. "What would you like to do?"
"I'd really like to go to my office and pretend this isn't happening to me."
Grissom indicated the door. Nick stepped aside, watching his friend leave with a heavy heart. He turned back to his boss.
"What are we going to do?" Nick asked, gripping the back of one of the office chairs anxiously.
Grissom shrugged. "It looks to me as if we're going to have to ride out this storm until the media loses interest or we find Robbie's murderer, whichever comes first."
Nick painfully watched his friend deteriorate over the next few days. At work, Greg simply had to enter a room to clear it out faster than someone screaming "fire." He sat alone in his office, typing up reports and following up on old cases, unable to take on any new cases or enter the field. No one stopped by to say hello, not even coworkers he'd known for years. No one asked for any help or any favors, fearing associating with the young man would smear their own reputation or discredit their own work. There were no invitations to late-night fast food runs or post-work breakfasts. Greg was, for all intents and purposes, exiled.
At home, he would just sleep. Even on his nights off, he'd spend them on the couch sleeping or watching television, but he never moved. In vain, Nick tried to get him to go out for dinner or drinks, but Greg always turned him down. There were no more marathon video game matches, no more drinking all night and talking on the balcony. Nick couldn't remember the last time he'd heard Greg's laugh. What was worse was that Greg had stopped cooking, forcing Nick to fend for himself, and he couldn't cook worth a shit. Takeout boxes began filling the kitchen garbage can, and while Nick would always grab something for his friend, Greg would hardly ever eat.
Nick came home from work one morning with bagels, hoping to get Greg to put something in his stomach. Greg hadn't worked that night, and Nick hated to leave him alone. He opened the door, catching sight of the young man sitting on the couch, the newspaper on the coffee table in front of him. He looked pale and gaunt, exhausted despite how much time he spent sleeping each day. Nick was really beginning to think that Greg's isolation might kill him, and that Nick would be the one to find him dead right there on the couch.
"Hey, Greggo," Nick greeted cheerily. "I got some breakfast."
"I'm not hungry," Greg murmured, changing the channel on the television.
"You can save it for later, but you better eat at some point today," Nick said, settling down on the other couch. He kicked off his shoes, putting his food on the table in front of him. "My sister's going to be in town next weekend."
"Which one?" Greg asked.
"You have like, a dozen siblings. Help me out here. Which one is Stephanie?"
Nick grinned. "The one that owns a furniture store in San Antonio. She just got married last year. Her and her husband are going to do the whole weekend in Vegas thing."
"Sounds like fun," Greg replied.
Nick grabbed a napkin off the coffee table, accidentally knocking off a couple pages of the newspaper in the process. He reached down to grab it, his eyes catching sight of an article. He looked at Greg, his mouth agape. He could see shame and anguish in Greg's eyes before the young man quickly looked away.
"Did you see this?" Nick asked. Greg only nodded, his eyes cast to the floor. The article detailed several incidents involving the LVPD's crime lab, specifically their night shift. It listed Nick's involvement with a murdered prostitute, Kristi Hopkins, and while Nick's name had been cleared, he had still been considered a suspect. What about Sara Sidle, who had been arrested while driving under the influence but not officially charged. She had also been suspended once for insubordination. Don't forget Catherine Willows, daughter of a mobster and mother to a troubled teenager. Now an assistant supervisor at the crime lab, she had once accepted dirty money to use in a ransom and had accidentally blown up a lab room. Recently deceased Warrick Brown, a gambler that had gotten a novice CSI killed under his supervision – or lack thereof. And Greg Sanders, a junior CSI that ran over and killed a suspect, now a person of interest in his room mate's murder. Grissom also didn't come out unscathed: listed as the night shift supervisor unable to keep his employees out of trouble – or danger. Kidnappings, shootings, explosions, murders. All under his watch. What did the sheriff have to say about all this? Wasn't he concerned that such delicate evidence was being handled by such irresponsible people?
Nick felt as if he might be sick. He looked at Greg, who sat there pointedly watching television, but Nick could see the tense expression on his face, watched his chest rise and fall with a quickened pace.
"Well?" Nick asked.
"Well what?" Greg snapped.
"Well, what are you going to do about this?" Nick shot back.
"I don't know," he replied, putting the remote down on the table. He rubbed his eyes wearily. "Ecklie wants me to go on a voluntary leave of absence."
"What?" Nick nearly yelled. "What did you tell him?"
"I haven't told him anything yet," Greg said. "He's giving me a few days to think about it."
"You aren't considering doing it, are you?"
"I don't know," he said, and then repeated, "He's giving me a few days to think about it."
"Greg, he's asking you to go on a voluntary leave because he doesn't have a legitimate reason to put you on an administrative leave," Nick stated. Greg remained quiet. "There's no reason for you to go on leave."
"I don't want any open cases to be affected by what's happening."
"What does that mean?" Nick inquired, confused.
"What if I get called to testify for something I've processed, and a lawyer starts asking the right questions, and all my evidence is discredited. What happens to the victim? I just...I wouldn't want anything like to happen."
"Who gave you that idea?" Nick asked, although he was pretty sure he knew the answer. "Are those your words, or somebody else's?"
"It doesn't matter," Greg said, shaking his head. "I don't want someone else to suffer because of me."
"What?" Nick cried, unable to believe what he was hearing. Did Greg really think that this was his fault? Nick was infuriated that Ecklie could suggest such a thing, especially to someone who had been a victim. "Don't let that asshole get into your head, man, you haven't – "
"It doesn't matter!" Greg exploded, startling the older man. "I'm tired, Nick! I'm tired of fighting!" Suddenly, he lost all steam, clenching his jaw as he looked away. Quietly, he said, "I'm tired of fighting. I'm just tired."
Nick felt angry and frustrated and so incredibly sad. There were only so many words of encouragement he could offer before they began to sound as hollow as they felt. He didn't know what to do anymore, but he knew he had to do something. He looked away, catching sight of his camping backpack in the corner of the room. Suddenly, he stood.
"Let's go," Nick said, visibly surprising Greg.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"We're getting out of here."
Greg hesitated for only a moment. "Okay."
Lake Mead was only 24 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, a large reservoir created by the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. Surrounded by vast wilderness, it was perfect for getting away from the rush of the city and getting lost in what was referred to as the backcountry. Nick had a 12-foot Jon Boat with a single motor they used to traverse the lake. It had been a while since he'd been out on the water, and it was nice to feel the wind against his face with the view of the mountains before him. Greg sat in the seat in front of him, glancing back and offering him a smile warmer than the sun, and that was a nice view too.
They approached a secluded spot on the shoreline that Nick often camped at when he wanted some solitude, and after years of escaping from everyday life here alone, he was excited to have someone to share it with. When they were almost to shore, Nick cut the engine and they jumped into the crisp water, pulling the boat the rest of the way. Once the boat was secure, they set up their campsite, and soon they were lying on a blanket on the shore looking up at the clear Nevada sky through a canopy of tree branches.
They were both on their backs with about a foot a space between them, but Nick could swear he could feel Greg's body heat searing him. He heard the young man sigh heavily, turned to see him close his eyes tightly, his expression pained.
"Are you okay?" Nick asked, and the minute the words left his lips he knew it was a stupid question.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
They sat in silence for a little while, before Greg asked, "Did you always like men?"
"You aren't my first, if that's what you're asking."
"Do you like men more than women?"
"Why are you alone?" Greg asked, and then backtracked. "I don't mean it that way. I just mean...I've never seen you with someone for very long. What's wrong with you?"
"I..." Nick began, wondering how honest he should be – with Greg and with himself. He smiled at his friend, offering a sideways glance. Fuck it. "I tend to get too emotionally invested too soon, and I can sometimes be a little over possessive."
Greg burst into laughter. Maybe the answer had been more obvious than Nick had thought.
"You?" Greg asked. "You're kidding."
"Yeah, yeah," Nick chided, nudging Greg's side with his elbow. "So what's wrong with you? Why are you alone?"
"I tend to think with my brain and not my heart. I get too caught up in logistics and reason, I never seem to be able to take that leap of faith." The younger man shrugged. "I guess I just haven't found anyone that makes me want to think with my heart yet."
It was quiet again. The sun was beginning to drop in the sky. Nick startled as he felt Greg's hand brush against his, felt slender fingers slip into his palm.
"I'm sorry for all of this," Nick said.
"Me too," Greg responded, almost absently. "Robbie was my friend."
"I went back for him because he was my friend and it was the right thing to do," Greg said, his voice wavering.
"And because I tried to help him, and got my DNA on him, and fucked up the crime scene, I'm being punished." Greg's breath caught in his throat. Nick felt his hand gripping him tight. He began to cry, hot tears running down the sides of his face and into his hair. "Robbie was my friend. I couldn't leave him like that. How could I have left him like that?"
Nick touched the side of Greg's face, forcing him to face Nick. He could see the internal struggle in Greg's eyes, wondering if he had done the right thing. It angered Nick to imagine what kind of place were they living where a man had to question going back for a friend in a time of need. What kind of reality did they live in that someone was punished for being brave? What kind of reality did they live in that Greg had to wonder if he just should've run out the door? Greg was exactly the kind of man Nick wished he was. Maybe then he could've gone back for Warrick.
"Greg, this isn't your fault. None of this was your fault," Nick said, the words rushing out of him. "You did the right thing, and you're a better man than I am, and you don't deserve this."
"Then why is this happening to me?"
Nick pulled him close, wishing he had an answer for him. Instead, he did the only thing he could think of that would make Greg feel better: he kissed him, roughly and earnestly. Ran his fingers through his hair, tugging and pulling his head back, exposing his neck. Kissed there too, biting and nibbling, felt electric lightening shoot down his spine and straight to his groin as he heard Greg moan.
He pushed the younger man back into the ground, his heart racing, his mind asking him what the hell was he doing. How was this going to end? He didn't know. He just wanted to make his friend feel better. And it felt so good to taste Greg's salty skin. Felt so good to feel Greg's strong hands gripping his back, nails digging into his skin. Greg wanted him – he needed him – and it thrilled Nick to be needed so urgently.
Nick blew him under the oranges, blues, and purples of the sunset. Greg looked stunning as he came, arching his back and moaning softly into the colorful Nevada sky.
They spent two more days out there, fishing and cooking over open fires and swimming in the lake, drinking beers and shooting whiskey, talking and laughing and arguing about conspiracy theories and the meaning of life. They shared Nick's tent at night, passing out together from their long days in a heap of arms and legs, but they didn't venture into any more sexual endeavors. That was okay with Nick. For now.
As they packed up their things, Nick told Greg they would have to come back here, maybe in a couple weeks after everything blew over at work. Greg nodded silently, but Nick could see something in his eyes that he couldn't quite read.
"You okay?" he asked, as they jumped onto the boat.
"Yeah," Greg replied. "Just...nervous about going back to work."
Nick touched his shoulder, smiling reassuringly. "Don't worry, man, you'll be fine. I got your back, Grissom's got your back, Catherine. Ecklie's just worried about keeping his job. More so about getting the sheriff's job when he's ready to retire in a couple years. Just stay cool, this will all go away soon."
The next night, they went into work together. Greg seemed calmer than usual. He seemed confident and almost aloof. Maybe their camping trip had been just what he had needed to reinvigorate and inspire his fighting spirit. Nick was relieved to think that maybe everything could go back to the way it used to be, that everything would be okay – for both Greg and himself.
Nick had to leave the crime lab when he was called into the field early, leaving Greg behind at the crime lab. He lost track of time, returning from a convenient store robbery after his shift should've already ended. He looked for Greg in the lockers, at the truck, in the break room. He wasn't answering his texts or phone calls.
"Hey, Gris, have you seen Greg?" Nick asked, poking his head into his supervisor's office. "Did he go out in the field?"
Grissom looked up from his paperwork, peering at him from over his glasses, his eyebrows raised. "Greg didn't tell you?"
"Tell me what?" Nick asked, stepping further into the office. Grissom took a breath, opening his mouth as if to speak but he hesitated. "Tell me what, Grissom?"
"Greg handed in his resignation today," Grissom replied, leaning back in his chair and taking off his glasses. "Effective immediately."
Nick felt as if he'd been punched in the gut. Or stabbed in the back. "What?"
"I'm sorry, Nick," Grissom said. "I thought he would've told you."
"You didn't stop him?" Nick nearly yelled, gripping the back of one of the office chairs.
"Greg makes his own decisions," he responded. "And this one seems pretty well thought-out."
Nick bit his lip, bit back harsh words and accusations. Stared at his supervisor for a tense moment before picking up the chair a few inches and slamming it back into the ground. Grissom didn't even blink, and this made Nick even angrier.
"You should've tried to stop him," Nick said, pointing his finger at the older man.
"You should've tried to help him."
To this, his boss said nothing.
"Greg!" Nick screamed, slamming his apartment door closed behind him. The young man peeked his head out from the kitchen, casually eating blueberries out of a plastic container. "What the fuck are you doing?"
"I'm eating blueberries," he responded as if the answer were obvious, and indicated the stove with a smile. "I made pancakes."
"You know what I'm talking about," Nick snapped. "Why did you hand in your resignation?"
"I don't want to work there anymore." He handed Nick a plate. "I got some real maple syrup from the store. All you had was that fake stuff."
Nick slapped the plate violently out of Greg's hand, startling the younger man. It exploded against the floor loudly, sending pancakes and syrup and shards of ceramic everywhere.
"Do you know how long it took to make those?" Greg asked angrily. "The batter takes at least thirty minutes to set."
"Knock it off!" Nick yelled. "What are you doing, man?"
"I was trying to eat fucking breakfast."
Nick slammed his fist onto the counter top, utensils clattering in the drawer. "I'm not playing with you, Greg!"
"You're acting like an asshole," Greg stated.
"You're an asshole!" Nick exclaimed. "Why didn't you fucking tell me? Instead I have to hear about it from Grissom and look like a fool? After everything I've done for you, you can't even tell me you're resigning?"
"Why should I have told you?" Greg asked. "So you could convince me not to?"
"You could've at least let me try!"
"Nick, I don't want to work there anymore," Greg yelled, his voice edged with frustration. "I don't want to be in this city anymore."
"Where are you going to go?" Nick asked. Not only was Greg quitting the crime lab, he was leaving too? And he didn't think it was necessary to talk to Nick about any of this?
"Anywhere but here," Greg said. "Anywhere that nobody knows my name."
"What happens if we find Peter?" Nick offered desperately. "We could still find him. Don't you think you're jumping the gun?"
"What if we don't?" Greg asked. "What if we don't find him just like we haven't found millions of other suspects in millions of other unsolved cases. That doesn't even matter. I can't go back to that place after what they did to me."
"You should've stood up for yourself!" Nick exclaimed. "What happened to going down fighting? Do you know what this looks like, for you to hand in your resignation?"
"I don't care anymore!" Greg shouted. He looked so angry. He looked so hurt. "Nick, do you know what it's like to walk down the hallway and everybody's staring at you? Do you know what it's like to walk into a room and everybody goes quiet? I eat lunch in my office every day by myself so I can pretend that I want to be alone, when the fact of the matter is, nobody will fucking talk to me. I have given nearly fifteen years of my life to Las Vegas and for what? I don't have an apartment, I don't have a car, I don't have my reputation, and I certainly don't have any friends!"
Both men stood breathing heavily in the kitchen, jaws set, fists clenched, ready to fight. Nick didn't want to lose another friend, not so close after losing Warrick, and he certainly didn't want to fight the only friend he really had left. He felt the tension drain from him, and sat down heavily at one of the kitchen barstools.
"What about me?" Nick asked quietly.
"What about you?" Greg retorted, still heated.
"Are you just going to pretend that nothing happened between us?" Nick asked, hurt.
"Of course not."
"So – what? Then it doesn't mean anything to you?"
"Nick, are you really asking me to stay here over something that may or may not happen for us?" Greg asked. Nick was silent. Greg gave him a challenging stare. "Do you love me, Nick?"
Nick looked at Greg with surprise. The way the young man had asked, it was obvious Greg expected a certain answer. He expected Nick to say no, because of course Nick didn't love him, so why should Greg stay? There wasn't a logical reason for Greg to stay. Nick opened his mouth to respond, but he didn't have the words. He was supposed to say no, because he didn't love Greg, did he?
"No," he replied, but he was unable to look at Greg as he said it.
"I don't love you either."
Greg sat down beside him, touching Nick's arm with a gentle hand.
"I still don't want you to go," Nick said.
"I don't want to go either," Greg said, "but I can't live like this anymore."
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know. Maybe California."
"Do you think you'll be able to find something?" Nick asked.
"Ecklie..." Greg began, and sighed before continuing. "I told Ecklie I'd turn in my resignation if he'd give me a letter of recommendation. So...I think so."
"You really got him to do that?" Nick asked, eyebrows raised.
Greg shrugged. "I told him if he didn't I was going to continue working there and sue him for harassment and discrimination."
"Wow." Nick let out a low whistle. "You got some balls there, Greg."
"I didn't know if it would work," Greg admitted, grinning. "I was actually pretty terrified. Now can you please clean up this mess you made and I'll make you another plate?"
"Sure," Nick responded, but he wasn't sure how in God's name he was going to clean up this damn mess he'd made, and he certainly didn't mean the pancakes on the floor.
So they ate breakfast together, watching television and talking and laughing, and it was just like it'd always been. Nick knew Greg wanted to leave, but he still had time to convince him to stay. Maybe if he had enough time, Nick could convince himself to say what he really wanted to, as crazy as it felt. But he'd rather regret saying something foolish than regret never saying anything at all and wondering what could've been.
It was soon nearing noon, and Nick's eyelids were feeling heavy. He yawned deeply, stretching his arms out and arching his back, and could see Greg was half-asleep curled up beneath the Texas A&M blanket.
"I'm going to bed," Nick said. "I have to work tonight."
"Can..." Greg began hesitantly. He looked up at Nick from under dark eyelashes, a suggestive smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Can I come with you?"
"Well – yeah. Of course," he stammered, sitting up straighter.
Greg stood from the couch, offering his hand to Nick, who slipped hand into the younger man's and allowed himself to be led into his own bedroom. They crawled under the covers, laying down and facing one another wearing nothing but their underwear. Greg bit his bottom lip, smiling playfully as he traced his fingertips over the curves and planes of Nick's shoulder, down his arm, across his chest and over his stomach. Nick felt the younger man searing him with his touch, electricity arcing through him.
"Well?" Greg asked, snuggling closer. His lips were so close to Nick's, brushing against his lightly, but they were gone too soon. Nick felt a hand slip into his boxers.
"Well?" Nick responded back, leaning forward to kiss Greg, but Greg leaned back, teasing him.
"Tell me what you want," Greg said, his fingers finding Nick's erection, grasping him tight. "Tell me, Nicky."
"I want you," he replied, barely recognizing his own voice.
"Then take me."
He crashed his lips into Greg's, kissing him hard and deep, his hands on either side of Greg's face, pulling him closer. There was a tongue down his throat as Nick pushed Greg back into the mattress, climbing on top of him and straddling him. He felt Greg's hands grip at his buttocks, pulling Nick's hips into his, felt legs wrap around his waist. Felt the urgency in Greg's kiss, in his movements and his touch. Nick was quickly losing control, his mind spinning, but he wanted to slow down. He wanted to enjoy this.
He shifted his hand from the side of Greg's face to his throat, his thumb underneath Greg's chin, pushing his head back, elongating his neck. Greg desperately tried to continue kissing him, his lips searching for Nick's, but Nick held him there.
"Relax, Greg," Nick whispered into Greg's ear, before gently trailing his tongue down his neck. He felt Greg protest, and applied just enough pressure to Greg's neck to calm him. Heard Greg's breath catch, felt Greg's pulse quicken beneath his fingertips. "Relax. We got all day."
Nick looked into Greg's eyes, watched them narrow with uncertainty and a hint of distaste. He lunged forward, but Nick held him down. "Nah uh," Nick said, wagging his finger. He touched Greg's lips, thrilled when a warm tongue darted against his fingertip. Nick grinned, his lips finding Greg's exposed neck, his teeth scraping against delicate skin.
"All day," Nick murmured.
There were no rushed sexual endeavors. No urgent, desperate acts spawned from emotional need. Just the two of them, in Nick's bed, exploring each other's bodies. Nick let his mind go. He let go of the anger and the hurt. He let go of shitty detectives and reporters. He let go of the department's betrayal. He let go of Greg leaving him. He let go of thinking that he would soon have to be in his apartment, alone, eating takeout and talking to his television. He was just here, now, with Greg.
The young man was beneath him, facing him. Nick slowly, gently fucked Greg, and he swore he'd screw him right through the mattress. They were moving together, sweating, breathing heavy. Nick could feel Greg's body tensing, could see his eyes closing, his back arching. The young man's hands were gripping the ends of the pillow beneath his head.
"Greg," he breathed, feeling an intense warmth building in his gut. The younger man opened his eyes, looking up into Nick's, and he suddenly seemed...different. Of course he was handsome, Nick had always thought he was attractive, but right in this moment he was more than that, and Nick felt his chest swell with something greater than desire.
Suddenly, Greg slipped his hands on either side of Nick's face, pulling him into a deep and passionate kiss, moaning into Nick's mouth as he came. Nick gripped the headboard, his own orgasm overtaking him, and he wasn't sure how he would ever be the same.
Nick's alarm clock buzzed loudly on the nightstand only a few hours later. He slammed his hand down on top of it, lying still for a moment, a smile playing on his lips as he recalled his day spent with Greg. He touched the bed next to him, but it was empty. Had Greg really gone to sleep on the couch after earlier today? Curiously, he got up and opened the bedroom door. The apartment was silent and dark. No.
No, no, no, no, no.
He stepped down the hallway, his heart pounding in his chest. The couch was empty. The blanket was folded neatly on the arm. Nick looked to the corner of the room. Greg's suitcase was gone.
"Fuck," Nick said, rubbing his face wearily with one hand, the other on his hip. He sat down on the couch. Pulled the blanket into his lap. Leaned forward and pressed it against his face in the dark and breathed in Greg's scent. His face touched paper. There was a sticky note attached to it.
Thanks for everything.
Nick crumpled the note in his hand, tossing it across the room. He leaned his head back and sighed. He was supposed to have more time than this. He was supposed to have more time.
To be continued.