Nick was miserable.
His new life was lonely. There was no one to come home to. No one to make him breakfast or dinner. No one to pack him leftovers for his lunch. No one to do his laundry or make his bed. He couldn't even remember the days the garbage was supposed to go out. He wondered how he'd ever lived before, because he was certain he couldn't live like this much longer now.
Greg was gone. Out of his life and not returning his phone calls or text messages or e-mails. He was bitterly reminded every time he went to work and the man wasn't there. Every time someone asked how he was doing or what he was up to. As if Greg would've told the person that seemed closest to him.
"So..." Catherine had said, walking into Nick's office and sitting down in one of the visitor's chairs the day after Greg had resigned. The day after he'd left Nick's apartment without a word. "Life without Greg, huh?"
"Yeah," Nick responded, pointedly concentrating on typing up a report.
"What's he doing now?"
"I don't know."
"Does he have anything lined up?" Catherine asked, curiously.
"I don't know."
"He doesn't have a plan or anything?"
"I. Don't. Know." Nick said, his eyes meeting hers with irritation. "He didn't even tell me he was leaving."
"Oh," she said, hardly able to hide the surprise in her voice. "I figured he would've said something to you."
Catherine sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose with delicate fingers. "The department really did a number on him, huh?"
"I did everything I could," Nick stated harshly, his gaze returning to his computer screen.
"Catherine, I have a lot of work to do," he said, not giving her a chance to defend herself. He didn't want to hear it. Saw her stunned expression out of the corner of his eye, but he wouldn't look directly at her.
"Your message has been received loud and clear," she said, scoffing and shaking her head in disbelief before she left.
Nick flinched as the door slammed, pausing only briefly before continuing his work.
Months went by. There was a new CSI hire named Riley Adams that seemed to be getting along well, but Nick didn't really like her. It didn't have so much to do with her personality as it had to do with the fact that she was here and Greg was not, and her presence reminded Nick of that fact each day he worked beside her. He was pretty sure she could sense his disdain for her, but she never said anything directly to him. She did, however, say something to Catherine.
"Nicky, I need you to start playing nice with Riley," Catherine said one day, sitting on the corner of his desk in his office.
"I don't have a problem with her," he stated, scrolling through his e-mails.
"She thinks you don't like her."
"You don't have to like the people you work with," he responded, leaning back in his chair and looking up at her.
Catherine narrowed her eyes. "Are we still talking about Riley?"
Nick sighed. "I'll make more of an effort to be pleasant."
"Nick," Catherine began, fidgeting with a letter opener. "It's been a rough year, and I understand that. But it's just you and me now, okay? We need to stick together."
Just him and Catherine, because Grissom was also gone now, having retired from crime lab. The strain of losing Sara, Warrick, and then Greg was too much for him, and Nick could see it eating away at his supervisor each night. Nick understood. The loneliness that came with losing all of your friends and the person you cared about most was something he felt slowly ebbing away his resolve too. How was someone supposed to get any satisfaction out of their work if there was nothing to come home to except an empty apartment?
He was also pretty sure Grissom felt like a failure to everyone that had ever meant something to him. Nick could relate to that too. And he thought often about those harsh words he'd exchanged with his mentor after Greg's resignation, which he knew hadn't helped. Just another regret Nick could add to his repertoire.
"I'm sorry, Catherine," Nick said, breaking away from his thoughts. "I'm just getting used to all the changes around here."
"If you need someone to talk to," Catherine said with gentle eyes, "you know I'm here for you, right?"
"Thanks," Nick said, offering her a tight smile. She didn't seem entirely satisfied, but it was enough for her to leave him alone.
Nick was in the break room making himself coffee when Ecklie appeared in the doorway. Immediately, Nick felt himself tense up, and pretended to focus on stirring his coffee while ignoring the undersheriff. Nick may have accepted the position for the night shift assistant supervisor to advance his career, but he still felt like a sellout. What would Greg think to know that Nick was now indebted to the man who had betrayed him?
"Nick," Ecklie said, stepping into the room. "I need you to go to a recruitment conference."
"What?" Nick asked, looking at the older man dubiously.
"Grissom signed up months ago, and now he's gone and I need you to do it," he responded. "I can't send Catherine. She doesn't have anyone to watch Lindsey."
"And if I don't want to?"
"Consider it a personal favor to me, and I'll owe you one."
Nick scoffed. "I don't think I'm in the business of doing you any favors."
"Really?" Ecklie asked smugly. "I'm pretty sure as the night shift assistant supervisor, you're obligated to rub elbows with upper management once in a while. If you're not willing to do that, I can find plenty of people who are. And if I recall correctly, there's a recently vacant position on your team that you might be perfect for."
Nick took a step back, created space between himself and the undersheriff. Only because he swore if the man were too close, Nick might reach out and knock him square in the jaw, effectively ridding him of that smug smile. Effectively ridding Nick of a job.
"What do I have to do?" Nick asked, keeping his voice even in an attempt to hide his disgust for both Ecklie and himself.
"Give a couple lectures on how great it is to be a CSI," Ecklie replied. "Go through some applications and transcripts, see who might be a good fit for us."
"Sounds easy enough," Nick said. "Where is it?"
Nick's heart stopped.
"UCLA?" he asked. "In Los Angeles? California?"
Ecklie frowned. "That's what it stands for, so, yes. That's where it is."
"Right," Nick stammered. "Yeah, okay. When am I leaving?"
"In two weeks. So get ready."
Get ready. Ready to be in the same city as Greg. What did Nick say about this sounding easy?
Two weeks. Two weeks until he'd be in L.A., in the same place that Greg was, for the first time in months. He couldn't stop thinking about it, and with each passing day he became more anxious. He hadn't spoken to the young man since the day he'd left, but he knew where he was. Nick worked for the police department after all, so it had been easy enough to keep tabs on him. He had his address, registered vehicle, place of employment...which wasn't stalkerish at all, Nick thought disdainfully.
Maybe he should call him. Nick considered it constantly. He would stare at the phone on his desk, his eyes drifting to it throughout the day, every day. It just sat there, taunting him, and several times Nick had picked up the receiver but he always hung up before dialing. What if Greg didn't pick up, like all the other times Nick had tried to call him?
That had been months ago. Maybe now that the dust had settled, now that the wounds weren't so fresh, Greg would be more open to answering the phone. But what if he didn't?
"Just do it, you idiot," Nick said out loud to himself, picking up the phone and punching in Greg's phone number. There was a brief pause before a service message picked up. Disconnected. Greg's phone was disconnected. Nick slammed the receiver down, leaning back in his chair with a sigh.
Well, that answered that. Greg was really done with Las Vegas, with his old life – with Nick. He wasn't sure why the young man had left without a word, or why he refused to answer Nick's calls, but he knew that it hurt. He bitterly hoped Greg was hurting too.
It was the night before Nick was due to leave for his conference, and he was particularly on edge. He was tired of feeling trapped inside of his apartment, so he went out to one of the bars he frequented in an attempt to escape his own head. It was a slow Monday night, not too busy as he sat down at the counter, signaling for the bartender to give him one of his usual, and he was grateful to turn his mind off and pretend to be sociable for a while.
After a few drinks and watching college football on the television, Nick recognized a voice at the end of the bar. An unmistakable New York accident ordering another drink, and Nick wondered how long the detective had been there and whether or not he had noticed Nick.
Nick set his jaw, staring straight ahead and gathering his composure before turning to look at Gibson with contempt in his gaze. Their eyes met. The young man seemed caught off guard, his expression displaying his surprise to see the CSI. Nick stood immediately, his stool scraping loudly against the floor as he fluidly crossed the bar. Gibson stood as well, standing up straighter to appear taller, ready to fight as Nick approached him. Nick was ready to fight too, and it took every fiber of his being not to take a vicious swing.
"You and I need to talk," Nick said through gritted teeth. His body was tense, his fists clenched. But not here. He couldn't do it here. "Outside."
"I don't have anything to talk about with you," Gibson said, his speech slurred, and Nick wondered how much he'd had to drink.
"I have a lot to talk about with you," Nick stated. "Let's go."
"What, are you going to fight me?" Gibson asked.
"I'm not going outside with you."
"Are you afraid?" Nick asked, scowling, before looking the other man up and down. "I thought you were a man."
"Same could be said for you," Gibson responded, sneering.
Nick felt his blood boiling. He stepped impossibly close to the detective, pressing a finger into Gibson's chest. "You. Me. Outside. Now."
Nick turned, storming out of the bar and into the parking lot. He was surprised to see Gibson follow him. They stood there on the sidewalk, only a few feet apart, both men ready for a confrontation, but suddenly Nick didn't know what to say. He was so angry, he just wanted to scream, but he couldn't find the words to express exactly how he felt. He really just wanted to beat the snot out of the man standing before him, and while he wasn't sure how effective at communication that would be, he was sure it would make him feel better.
"So, what?" Gibson began. "You want to fight me because your boyfriend got fired?"
"He's not my boyfriend," Nick stated. "And he didn't get fired."
"Same shit," Gibson said, before taking a sip from the rock glass he'd brought outside. "You think my life is a ball of sunshine? I got fucked too."
"Really? How's that?" Nick asked, curious.
"I didn't know she was going to fucking run her mouth and write those articles, okay?" Gibson spat, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. "It was a surprise to me too."
"She's a reporter," Nick said, as if it should've been obvious.
"She was my girlfriend," Gibson shot back. He sat down on the ledge of a brick garden wall. "I didn't know when I came home from work I was talking to a reporter for the Las Vegas Times. I thought I was talking to my girlfriend. Now I go to work and everybody knows I'm the rookie detective that don't know how to keep my mouth shut. I get shitty cases, my credibility is ruined, and I blew any chances I had of going anywhere in this fucking city because of that bitch. Look, I'm sorry your friend lost his job, but sometimes I wish I'd lost mine too."
Nick remained quiet, the tension quickly draining from him. Gibson held out his glass to Nick as a peace offering while taking a long drag off of his cigarette. Nick narrowed his eyes, hesitating briefly before accepting the glass. He took a sip, tasted whiskey, and sat down beside the detective.
"What are you going to do now?" Nick asked.
"I don't know," Gibson said. "How's your friend?"
"I don't know," Nick replied. And they sat there in silence, sharing a drink called misery.
The small charter plane Nick had traveled in touched down mid-morning, and Nick was not used to being up during the day. Tiredly (and perhaps a little hungover after drinking with Tom Gibson all night), he got his rental car and drove to his hotel room, and found himself with a few hours of spare time before he had to appear at a dinner for the recruitment conference. He supposed he could catch up on some sleep, but then he was afraid he'd be up all night. Deciding to ride out his tiredness and wait until tonight to get some rest, Nick stood at his hotel room window, staring out over the buildings of the city.
Somewhere, in one of those buildings, was his friend. Well, perhaps "friend," was a strong word these days, but a few months ago, it wouldn't have been strong enough to describe what was happening between them. Nick could have never imagined that now, after all they'd been through, he would be standing here in the same city as Greg, so close but so far.
Nick knew where he lived. Maybe he should go there. And then what? Knock on the door and get no answer, just like Greg didn't answer any of Nick's calls? Perhaps he should go to where Greg worked, if he really wanted an explanation. There was a large children's genetics hospital just a few miles away, and while Nick didn't know Greg's position there, he knew that's where he was. Maybe he should go there instead. At least face to face, maybe then Greg would talk to him. What's the worst that could happen? Public humiliation?
Nick sighed, leaning his head against the cool glass window. He should just leave Greg alone, and get on with his life. Greg had obviously already done that, maybe it was time for Nick to start as well.
But he couldn't help but wonder...when would he get this opportunity again?
Nick never mustered up the courage to get into his rental car and drive to that genetics hospital and tell Greg exactly what he thought. Instead, he watched television, ordered some room service, and went to that pretentious dinner at UCLA where he pretended to be pleasant and that being a CSI was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
But his mind was elsewhere. His mind was on what could've been if he'd just had the gall to tell Greg how he'd felt before Greg had left Las Vegas. The last day they'd spent together was something Nick had never experienced with another person. And now he was going to sit here, two miles away from the younger man, and not tell Greg how he felt again. God, he was such a coward, and he hated himself for it.
The next day, he went to a breakfast at the university, and had time to kill before delivering a lecture at two in the afternoon. He supposed he should be perusing through applications and transcripts, but his heart wasn't in it. He could always do it on the plane ride home. So he sat in his hotel room again, day two of his five day trip, and changed the television channels while drinking beer at eleven in the morning.
He looked at his car keys on the dresser. Was buzzed just enough to have the confidence (or recklessness) to get out of bed, snatch them off the tacky pressed wood and get the hell out of there.
He sat in the parking lot of the Los Angeles Children's Hospital for about twenty minutes, his heart pounding in his chest. Sitting low in his seat, he kept looking in the rearview and sideview mirrors, keeping an eye out for Greg, but he never caught sight of him. He took a swig of beer from the bottle in his cup holder, wondering just what Ecklie would think if he were to be arrested for a DUI while on a "personal favor" in Los Angeles, and wondered what the fuck was he doing, exactly.
He was pathetic. Hiding in his car in a parking lot of the hospital that an old lover worked at, waiting to confront him like a scorned school girl, an open container beside him and a fog of alcohol in his brain. God, he was so sad, and he really needed to get a life.
With a sigh, he turned over the engine, hesitantly leaving the parking lot, watching the building diminish in the rearview mirror as he drove away.
That night, Nick sat at the hotel bar, nursing a beer and watching more television. Pretending once again that he was a normal guy on a business trip with nothing better to do with his time. He didn't have anything to do, nobody to see. Just lectures and dinners and breakfasts with eager students ready to solve crimes, naively believing they were going to save the world. Just ask Sara. Just ask Warrick. Just ask Greg. They'd be happy to tell them how great being a CSI was and how much of a difference they'd made in the world. Except for maybe Warrick, but he wasn't really saying much of anything these days.
Nick felt like an imposter. He was a silver-tongued salesman offering a thrilling life in an exotic city, but it was all a sham. There was nothing in Las Vegas. Only hurt and betrayal and disappointment.
After several drinks, Nick closed his tab and headed upstairs to his empty hotel room. The lights of the city sparkled outside of his window, but it wasn't the view he was looking for. He laid down in bed, closing his eyes, imagining Greg's lithe body beneath him. Imagined those slender fingers wrapped around his throbbing erection, imagined that mouth and those piercing eyes telling him nothing and everything at the same time. Grasped himself between his legs and jerked off, but it wasn't what he wanted. He wanted Greg. And he promised himself he would find him, even if it meant disappointment. Because then at least he would know the answer to that age old question: What if?
It took thirty minutes before Nick found the courage to leave his car, stepping slowly and hesitantly into the lobby of the children's hospital. He kept his eyes peeled for Greg, his heart stopped in his chest, his breath caught in his throat. Made his way to the information desk to meet a young and chipper redheaded woman with a bright smile and a nametag that read "Sherri."
"Can I help you?" she chirped.
"I'm looking for Greg Sanders," Nick said, his voice cracking in a falsetto alto. He quickly cleared his throat.
"Is he expecting you?"
"Are you a patient's parent?" she asked.
She giggled, her cheeriness almost sickening. "Help me out here."
"I'm Nick Stokes," Nick responded, his eyes darting from person to person walking in and out. "We used to work together in Las Vegas."
"Our Greg?" she asked, as if it were scandalous. "From Las Vegas? How exciting."
"Yeah," Nick said absently, his heart ready to explode. He wasn't sure how much longer he could stand here before he literally had a heart attack. "We worked at the crime lab in downtown."
"He's in the lab here too!" she exclaimed. "Probably not doing work nearly as thrilling as solving crimes, but we appreciate him just the same. Take the elevator down one floor, turn right and he's all the way down the hall on the left side."
"Thanks," Nick said, and as he left the front desk, he briefly wondered how heartbreaking it would be for Sherri to learn just how little Greg had been appreciated in Las Vegas.
He took the elevator down one floor, all the way down the hall and to the left. There was a large lab room that had an entrance in the back and front, windows lining the walls and offering a view from the hallway. Nick approached cautiously, peering around a corner, and he saw him. He was standing in front of a computer wearing a lab coat, his brow knitted as he typed away furiously, buried in paperwork and the phone was ringing and he looked...stunning.
Fuck. Nick wanted to be angrier. But he could only see how handsome Greg was, could only feel a longing in his chest he didn't realize was so deep until right this moment.
A woman walked in. Briefly asked Greg for some test results. She was pretty and Greg smiled at her and Nick was instantly jealous. She left quickly afterward, and Greg was once again alone. Nick kept telling himself to walk in. Go inside. Enter the doorway. But he was frozen, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to think. What was he doing?
A man walked in. A handsome blond wearing scrubs. And Greg's body language changed. He stood up straighter, his eyes following the man as he entered the room and stood on the other side of the counter Greg was standing at. Greg was pretending not to notice him, but Nick could see the smirk tugging at the corner of Greg's lips.
"Dr. Levi," Greg said, his eyes focused on the computer.
"Greg," the doctor responded, leaning casually against the counter. "I have a question for you."
"I'm going to Lake Tahoe this weekend," he said. "Are you working?"
"You should come with me."
"What's in Lake Tahoe?"
"I have a boat."
"You would have a boat, you rich asshole," Greg said, tossing a glance at the handsome doctor.
"Come with me," he insisted.
"I don't like the water," Greg replied, but Nick knew that wasn't true.
"You can stay on the boat," Dr. Levi offered. "Get some sun."
"I burn easily," Greg said, but that wasn't true either.
"I'll bring lots of sunscreen," Dr. Levi said. "I'll make sure you get it in all those hard to reach places."
Greg allowed himself to smile, biting his bottom lip and shaking his head. "I don't have time for you right now, Devon."
Nick panicked, breathing heavy as he stood in the hallway. It was now or never, and he certainly wasn't going to let this handsome, rich blond doctor sweep in and take what Nick felt belonged to him. He entered the doorway, knocking on the frame and pretending to appear casual although he was pretty sure he was going into cardiac arrest. At least he was already in a hospital should he require medical intervention.
Greg tore his eyes away from Dr. Levi, spotting Nick in the doorway with a double-take. His expression changed dramatically, his smile disappearing quickly and replaced with surprise. He stepped back from the counter and stood there for a moment, shocked.
"Nick?" Greg breathed.
"What are you doing here?" Greg asked, eyes wide.
"I'm in town for a conference," Nick replied. "I would've called you, but – you know."
Greg looked away, clearing his throat, his cheeks flushing with crimson. He glanced at Dr. Levi, as if he'd forgotten he was in the room.
"Nick, this is Dr. Levi," Greg said, indicating the handsome young man. "Dr. Levi, this is Nick. He's...an old colleague from Las Vegas. We used to work together."
"Please, call me Devon," the doctor replied, reaching out to shake Nick's hand. Dr. Levi seemed uncomfortable, sensing tension between the two "old colleagues," as Greg had called them. "I, uh...have to get to some patients. Nice to meet you, Nick."
"You too," Nick responded, his voice dripping with disdain.
"Greg," Dr. Levi said, nodding at the young man. He turned and pointed with both hands as he left the room. "Think about what I said."
And then they were alone. Nick watched Greg carefully, but Greg wouldn't look at him. He just stood there, hands in his lab coat pockets, breathing rapidly. He appeared as if he wanted to say something, but he couldn't seem to find the words. Finally, the younger man said, "How long are you here?"
"Two more nights."
"Are you...I mean...if you aren't...too busy..." Greg stammered, before looking up at Nick from beneath dark eyelashes. "Or too mad...do you have time to grab some dinner? Or a drink? Or...you know...whatever?"
"I'll have to check my schedule," Nick replied, setting his jaw. "I can call you and get back to you, but I'm not sure if you'll pick up the phone."
Greg looked away, his eyes cast anywhere but at Nick. He looked hurt. And Nick suddenly felt guilty for the cheap shot. Then angry that despite everything Greg had done to hurt him, the young man could still manage to pull at Nick's heart strings and make him feel guilty for a well-deserved remark. God, he really was pathetic.
"What time are you done working?" Nick asked.
"Five," Greg replied quickly, the glimmer of hope in his eyes and his voice absolutely adorable.
"I have a dinner engagement until seven."
"Where are you staying?"
"I'll pick you up."
"Eight," Nick said.
"I'll be there."
"You better be," Nick threatened, and Greg nodded enthusiastically.
Nick turned, leaving the lab and stepping into the hallway, turning the corner and leaning against the wall, closing his eyes. A breath he didn't know he'd been holding exploded from him, his hands shaking. What was he doing? What was he hoping to get out of this? Did he really want to know the answers to all of his questions? Did he really want to know what if? He began to second guess himself, wondering if this was such a good idea.
Carefully, he peeked back around the corner. Greg was still standing there, wringing his hands, looking almost bewildered. The former CSI leaned forward, his elbows on the counter as he pressed his fingers into his eyes and rubbed them wearily. Suddenly, Dr. Levi returned to the room, and Nick couldn't help but scowl.
"What was that about?" Dr. Levi asked, startling Greg visibly.
"Nothing," Greg replied hastily. "Just...I just haven't seen him in a long time. I guess I thought I'd never really see him again."
"He's who again?"
"Nick," Greg said. "We used to work together in Las Vegas."
"Just an 'old colleague,' huh?" the doctor asked casually, his expression showing his amusement.
"I don't know, to be honest with you," Greg responded, and sighed. He sat down heavily in a tall counter height chair, picking up a pen and fidgeting with it nervously.
"He's welcome to come on the boat with us," Dr. Levi said, a suggestive smirk on his face.
Greg pushed the doctor's shoulder, playfully shoving him away. "Get out of here, Devon. I need to get back to work."
Nick seethed as he turned and walked away, wishing it was as easy for him as it appeared to be for Greg to move on and leave his old life behind.
Dinner dragged along agonizingly slow. Every five minutes Nick would look at his watch, wondering if he was stuck in some sort of time-space vortex where time stood still. It was approaching seven, and he was still stuck saying his goodbyes and answering the same inane questions everybody always asked. "What's it like being a CSI?" "Is it dangerous?" "Did you ever get sick at a crime scene?" "Have you ever shot anybody?" He wanted to scream. Didn't they know he had somewhere to be? Someone to see? He didn't have time for this! Look it up on the fucking internet, for God's sake!
Finally, mercifully, Nick was able to tear himself away and run upstairs to his hotel room. It was a little later than he thought it would be, and he showered quickly before rushing through his things to find something to wear. He hadn't really brought any clothes to go out on the town in, but he didn't really think he'd need any. None of his shirts seemed to look as good as Nick wanted them to, and his hair wasn't quite cooperating with him, and he laughed at himself as he stood in front of the mirror.
Relax. He was a grown man, not a teenager getting ready for a first date. He needed to relax. He wanted Greg to think he was calm and cool, not a heartbroken fool embarking on a last ditch effort at some closure.
He took the elevator to the lobby, suddenly wondering if Greg would even show up. He hadn't really considered it until right this moment, and he began to panic in the claustrophobic elevator at the thought. He hadn't answered any of Nick's phone calls. Hadn't replied to any texts or e-mails. Hadn't even said goodbye. He obviously didn't think Nick was important enough to warrant any of those courtesies, what made Nick think Greg considered him important enough now to show up as planned?
The elevator stopped, along with Nick's heart. The doors opened on the ground floor. Nick stepped out into the lobby with bated breath. And there Greg was, sitting in an oversized armchair, nervously bouncing his knees and chewing on his lip. He was wearing a dark blazer and a button down shirt, slim jeans, and he looked so handsome it nearly stole Nick's breath from him.
Calm and cool, Nick thought to himself. Stay calm and stay cool.
The younger man looked up, catching sight of Nick and meeting his eyes. He stood, smiling disarmingly, and goddamn if Nick wasn't all his.
"Nick," Greg said, keeping his smile.
"Greg," Nick said, calm. Cool.
"Ready?" Greg asked, the glint in his eye almost mischievous.
Nick nodded, but if he were to be honest, he wasn't entirely sure just how ready he was for all of this.
They were inside of a bar, loud music playing around them, a crowd of happy people surrounding them. They were sitting on an old couch with drinks on the small cocktail table in front of them, and Greg seemed to be right in his element. Nodding along to the music, smiling at patrons passing by. So casual, so collected. Everything Nick wished he was, but he was dying on the inside and wondered how well he was hiding it on the outside.
"So what do you do at this lab?" Nick asked, leaning closer and nearly yelling over the music.
Greg shrugged. "Genetic testing, DNA sequencing, stuff like that. I'm in charge of the lab, so mostly I do a lot of paperwork and make nice with the doctors."
Like Dr. Levi, Nick thought sourly, but instead said, "Sounds exciting."
"You would think so, but it's actually kind of boring," Greg conceded, and then seemed more enthused. "I'm publishing a study with a bunch of other doctors. That's kind of more fun. Or interesting." Greg paused briefly, reconsidering his words. "Actually it's neither of those things."
"What is it about?"
"You know...DNA stuff."
"You think I won't understand," Nick stated, offended. "I'm smarter than I look, you know."
Greg hesitated. "The identification of novel cluster groups in pediatric high-risk B-precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia using gene expression profiling. I'm performing gene expression profiling on about 207 samples and correlating them with genome-wide DNA copy number abnormalities."
Nick shifted in his seat. "So...DNA stuff, is what you're saying."
Greg laughed, and it was wonderful. "Yeah, that. So how's CSI?"
"Fine," Nick replied, but he didn't look at Greg as he said it. "Grissom left."
"Really?" Greg asked, surprised. "I didn't think he'd ever leave."
"After Sara, Warrick, then you," Nick said, "I think it was too much for him to take."
Greg was quiet for a moment. Nick could see remorse and a little guilt in his face. Wanted to touch Greg's arm and say something comforting, but that wasn't who Nick was to Greg anymore. They were just old colleagues catching up and exchanging pleasantries and pretending nothing had ever happened between them.
"Who's in charge now? Catherine?" Greg asked, and Nick nodded. "Who's the assistant supervisor?"
"You're looking at him."
Greg smiled, looking genuinely happy to hear that. "Wow! Congratulations. How's that going for you?"
Without Greg, it was difficult. It was lonely. It was not nearly as fulfilling as it should've been.
Nick shrugged, smiling tightly. "It's good."
They shared more drinks. Talked about anything and everything. Laughed as they got buzzed, moving closer to each other on the small couch they were sharing, and it was just like it used to be. And then Greg was chewing on the end of a cocktail straw he was holding, his pink tongue darting out from between his teeth as he touched Nick's knee with slender fingers and laughed about something he was saying, and Nick couldn't believe the arc of electricity that shot through him. It made him almost angry to believe all Greg had to was buy him a drink and charm him with jokes and touch him flirtatiously, and Nick would just forget about the pain he'd felt over the last few months.
Nick wasn't this pathetic, he knew that much. He wanted Greg to know how much the young man had hurt him. Wanted him to feel that same hurt. He felt himself tensing up, suddenly agitated.
"So what's up with this Devon guy?" Nick asked, was just drunk enough to, but he wasn't sure why he was asking yet.
"Devon?" Greg asked, confused. "Devon from the hospital?"
"Yeah," Nick replied. "He seems to be pretty into you."
"I guess," Greg said hesitantly.
"Are you interested in him?"
Greg pulled his hand away, smiling quizzically. "Why are you asking?"
"I'm just curious," Nick deadpanned, shrugging casually, but his stare was intense. Greg looked away, unamused as he took a sip of his drink. Nick persisted. "Well?"
"I don't think I'm comfortable having this conversation with you."
"Why not?" Nick asked, sitting up straighter. "Have you fucked him?"
"What?" Greg exclaimed, eyes wide, incredulous.
"Have you fucked him?" Nick repeated combatively, leaning closer to Greg.
"I don't think that's any of your business," Greg retorted, leaning back.
"So you have fucked him."
"Why are you being this way?" Greg asked, his face contorted with disgust. "You aren't my boyfriend, Nick."
"You're right," Nick seethed. "I'm not your boyfriend. You made that pretty clear when you left that you weren't remotely interested in anything like that. This was a bad idea."
Abruptly, Nick stood from the couch, listening to Greg call his name as he walked out of the loud bar and onto the sidewalk. He didn't know where he was or how to get back to his hotel or the number for a cab service, but he didn't care. He walked down the sidewalk quickly and with a purpose: To get away from Greg Sanders once and for all.
"Nick!" Greg yelled, following him down the street. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going back to my hotel."
"Can we talk about this?" Greg pleaded.
"Go home, Greg," Nick said, waving away the younger man.
"At least let me drive you back to your room."
"Why?" Nick shot, turning to face Greg. The younger man was closer than Nick had thought, and he nearly knocked into Nick as they stopped walking. "If you want to get fucked you can call Devon. I'm sure he'd be happy to do the job."
Greg staggered back in surprise, the expression of hurt and shame on his face nearly unbearable. That was what Nick wanted, wasn't it? To hurt Greg just like Greg had hurt him? As Nick turned and continued walking, leaving Greg behind, Nick wondered when he would start feeling satisfied.
Nick's last day in Los Angeles was spent at UCLA interviewing students, but his mind was elsewhere. He couldn't help but wonder what could've happened if the night had ended differently. Wondered what he had expected out of all of this. Some kind of closure? What the fuck had he been thinking?
He should've never went to the hospital to find Greg. He should've never went out with him last night. He should've never acted like such an ass or said such terribly hurtful things. He could only remember the look on Greg's face as he walked away, and now that was the last thing he'd ever remember about his friend. That was the last thing his friend would ever remember about him.
His friend. All this time he'd been mad at Greg for being such a shitty friend, and here he was, turning his back on Greg just like the rest of Las Vegas. God, he was such an idiot, and he deserved to be alone.
"We got him."
Nick was in the break room eating cereal when Catherine stuck her head in the doorway, holding a case file. It had been two months since Nick's trip to UCLA, and things were finally returning to some kind of normalcy. He and Catherine had gotten comfortable working together, and there was a new level 1 CSI named Ray Langston that seemed to be catching on quickly.
There were even some days that Nick didn't think about Greg, or the hurtful things Nick had said to him.
"Got who?" Nick asked around a mouthful of cereal, barely glancing up from the newspaper in front of him.
"Peter Moss," she responded, tossing a case file on top of the newspaper.
"Who is that?"
"Greg's attacker. Robbie's murderer."
Nick looked at Catherine in surprise before loudly dropping his bowl onto the table and eagerly snatching up the file. Clipped to the top of the first page was a booking photo of a young and handsome dark-haired man. The same man that had taken Robbie's life – and Greg's too, just in a different way.
"What happened?" Nick asked, his eyes quickly absorbing the information in the file.
"He was accused of drugging and raping a male college student at UNLV," she responded, sitting down heavily next to Nick. "His DNA matched an unknown from Robbie's case."
"I didn't know there'd been any unknown DNA," Nick mused distractedly. "What happens now?"
"He's officially booked for Robbie's murder," she stated, shrugging. "So now...we wait."
A yawn escaped from Nick as he sat inside of his office, tiredly typing up a report. It was four in the afternoon, when Nick should've still been sleeping, and his body was protesting the change in schedule. But, just like Ecklie had told him months earlier, as the night shift assistant supervisor he was obligated to rub elbows with upper management once in a while, and that meant accepting a swing shift while their supervisor was out of town.
Nick looked up from his computer as he heard a commotion from down the hallway. Saw Greg Sanders walking down the hall, Wendy and Henry swarming around him and talking excitedly, happy to see him. Nick followed him with his eyes, his mouth agape, and then the young man was out of sight. Nick had forgotten to breathe and suddenly his breath exploded from him as he leaned back in his chair, shell shocked.
What was he doing here? Did it have to do with Peter? Why wouldn't he have called Nick and told him he was coming? Oh, yeah, Nick thought disdainfully. It might have something to do with Nick being a royal ass the last time they'd seen each other.
"Nick?" he heard from the door to his left. Riley Adams, holding a file folder. "Can I have your signature on something?"
"Sure," Nick responded hastily, his heart pounding between his ears as he took her pen.
"Are you okay?" she asked, offering him a puzzled look as she set the file down on his desk. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"Yeah," Nick stammered. "I mean, no. I mean – I'm fine. What am I signing?"
There was another knock on his door frame. And this time it was Greg, smiling in that way that he did that erased every bad moment Nick could remember between them. He looked happy, he looked healthy, he looked just the way Nick remembered him when he would think about him at night and wonder if Greg ever thought about him too.
"Hey," Greg said to Nick, before briefly nodding at Riley. "You got time for coffee with an old colleague?"
Nick smiled. "How about an old friend?"
Nick poured Greg a cup of coffee in the break room, standing against the counter, and he couldn't take his eyes off of him. Nick wasn't sure if he believed in fate or second chances, but if this was his last shot to at least make peace with Greg, then he wasn't going to blow it again. Not this time.
"So what are you doing here?" Nick asked, and took a sip of bitter coffee.
"Detective Gibson called and said they'd found Peter," he responded, staring into his coffee mug. "He said they needed me to come down and ID him." He hesitated for a moment. "He apologized to me too."
"Did he?" Nick asked. "We might've had a conversation here or there about the situation."
Greg smirked with amusement. "I can only imagine how that went."
"We had a heart to heart," Nick responded, grinning. "Have you seen him yet?"
"No," Nick said, meeting Greg's eyes, and he knew Greg could tell just who he meant.
"Not yet," Greg said quietly. "I'm waiting for them to get the lineup ready."
"How long are you here?" Nick asked.
Greg shrugged. "I drove, so...as long as it takes, I guess. I took a couple days off work in case they needed me here."
"Are you staying anywhere?"
"No," Greg responded. "I didn't know how long I needed to be here, so I didn't book anything. I figured it wouldn't be too hard to find a place somewhere."
He said it suggestively. It begged the question: Had Greg really driven all this way from California so sure that Nick would let him into his home? It was thrilling to think Greg could have so much faith in them, and of course Nick wanted nothing more than to say yes. But he hesitated, remembering what had happened the last time they had seen each other, wondering if it was the right thing to do or if they should just let sleeping dogs lie. Nick's life had finally been returning to normal, he'd finally allowed himself to begin healing and begin forgetting about Greg. Was he really going to risk more heartache by allowing Greg back into his home?
"I don't know if that's such a good idea," Nick admitted.
Greg opened his mouth, but he couldn't seem to find the words. Desperately, his eyes searched Nick's, but Nick wasn't sure what he was looking for, wasn't sure he could give it to him. Finally, Greg looked away, rubbing the nape of his neck and clenching his jaw, his expression pained. Just say it, Nick thought.
"Please?" Greg finally asked, but Nick was sure that wasn't it.
Before Nick could say anything more, Gibson was standing in the doorway, coughing into his hand awkwardly.
"Ready?" the young detective asked.
"Yeah," Greg replied, but he suddenly appeared quite anxious. He indicated the doorway with his thumb. "Do you, uh...I mean...would you..."
"Go with you?" Nick asked, and Greg nodded sheepishly. "Sure."
They were standing on the viewing side of a two-way mirror with Detective Gibson. Greg's arms were crossed over his chest, and as he moved one hand to rake nervously through his hair, Nick could see the tremble in his fingertips. They were waiting for the suspect to be brought in along with several "fillers" – people of similar build and complexion, who were usually volunteers or other inmates. The door opened to the side of the interview room, and in walked five men, one of which was Peter Moss.
Nick watched Greg carefully. He looked a mixture of rage and fear, and perhaps a little like he might throw up.
"Greg," Gibson said, standing beside him with a case file. "Do you recognize any of the men in this lineup?"
Greg nodded. "Number three."
"Can number three step forward?" Gibson called through the intercom. Peter took a step closer to the mirror. It was almost unnoticeable, but Nick could see Greg shrink back just a little. "Is this the man that attacked you?"
"Yes," he said, barely audible.
"Is this the man you saw murder Robert Williams?"
"All right," Gibson said, writing in the file in his hand. "Get them out of here."
"That's it?" Greg asked.
"That's it," Gibson replied. "Just hang around for a little bit while I get some paperwork ready I'll need you to sign."
The officers removed Peter from the room, shuffling him into the hallway. Abruptly, Greg turned and burst from the room, pushing the door open loudly. Nick shared a surprised glance with Gibson before following Greg into the hallway. He stood, body tense, fists clenched, jaw set, as Peter was led past him by a police officer. Peter sneered at the former CSI, leaning closer to him as he passed by.
"Faggot," he hissed quietly, and Greg flinched.
"Greg," Nick said gently, touching the young man's arm. "Come on. Let's go."
Greg only nodded silently before allowing himself to be led away.
Nick anxiously sat inside of his office, hardly able to concentrate on any cases or evidence or reports. His mind kept wandering to Greg, wondering where he was or what he was doing. The younger man had been pulled away to sign some paperwork and give some final statements, disappearing into the same police department that had once turned on him so viciously. But not before Nick had given him the extra key to his apartment that Greg had left behind so many months ago.
There were only two hours left in Nick's shift when he received a phone call from Dr. Langston, asking him to assist at a difficult crime scene. Nick briefly considered telling him exactly where to go before agreeing to meet him with a sigh. He banged his head against his desk, groaning loudly before dejectedly rising from his office chair and heading out.
He arrived home a little over an hour after he was supposed to have gotten off of work, his body aching from crawling through the attic of a small home that Langtson's large frame couldn't fit in. He was covered in dirt and sweat and God-knew-what-else, and didn't exactly smell like a bed of roses as he sat in his truck in the parking lot, staring at the light in his apartment window. He was afraid to go upstairs and walk inside, but he couldn't sit in his truck forever.
With a sigh, he exited his vehicle and walked upstairs. Put his hand on the doorknob and wondered what did he want from this, exactly? What was he expecting to happen by letting Greg into his home? Closure, and then what? To never see Greg ever again? Or did he really think he had a chance in convincing Greg to stay?
"Just open the door," he said to himself quietly, aggravated at his own absurdity. It was too late to turn back now.
Quietly, he entered his apartment. He could immediately smell something delicious wafting in the air, and it made him smile. Greg had set the table, a bottle of Pinot noir breathing next to a couple of wine glasses. The oven was on, two plates resting on the rack inside staying warm. Greg was lying down on the couch he had once inhabited so long ago, sleeping soundly with Curious George beneath a maroon Texas A&M blanket, the television on low volume in the background. Nick didn't know whose life this was, but he wished it was his.
He crossed the room to the couch, sitting down on the coffee table. Touched Greg's arm gently, finding warm smooth skin. The young man opened his eyes, breathing in deeply as he did so. Looked at Nick through a sleepy fog before closing his eyes again and burying his face in the couch cushion.
"What time is it?" Greg asked with a yawn.
"It's late," Nick stated. "I got stuck at work."
"I made dinner," Greg said, his expression changing as he caught sight of Nick's appearance. "What happened to you?"
"Rookies," Nick responded with exasperation. "Did you eat yet?"
"I was waiting for you."
Nick nodded. Wondered if Greg had been waiting for Nick all these months like Nick had been waiting for him.
"I'm really sorry I was such a jerk last time I saw you," Nick blurted out, unable to hold it inside any longer.
"It's okay," Greg said, sitting up on the couch and pushing the blanket aside.
"I shouldn't have asked you about that doctor," Nick said. "You were right, it's none of my business."
"No, I should've just told you the truth," Greg conceded.
"Which is?" Nick couldn't help but ask.
"I'm not interested in Devon," Greg admitted, waving away the thought. "I think he's really creepy and I don't want to go on his boat or be on any kind of vessel with him or in any kind of situation where he's not wearing all his clothes." Suddenly Greg seemed embarrassed, shook his head and rolled his eyes. "I was kind of trying to make you jealous."
Nick frowned, and while it was thrilling to hear, he wondered what that meant. Didn't have the heart to ask.
"I'm going to take a shower," he said, abruptly standing and moving into the hallway.
"I'll heat up the food," Greg called. "And when was the last time you took out the garbage? It was like an active volcano spilling out of the bin."
I was kind of trying to make you jealous. Nick kept hearing it over and over again as he allowed scalding hot water to cascade down his aching shoulders in the shower. What did that mean? Why was he trying to make Nick jealous? Was he trying to prove something to Nick? Was he trying to prove something to himself? And what would that be, exactly?
Showered and dressed, but not exactly refreshed, Nick exited his bedroom and stepped into the living room. Greg was sitting at the dining table, drinking a glass of wine and listening to music. It was some kind of weird electro-rock sounding track with smooth, emotionally charged vocals. It wasn't Nick's particular taste, but it wasn't terrible either.
Nick sat down heavily at the table, his appetite ravenous. Greg had made chicken breasts stuffed with prosciutto, fontina and mozzarella cheeses, wrapped in bacon and dressed with a marsala mushroom wine sauce. Served it with mashed potatoes and Nick promised himself he would tell Greg how he really felt if it meant he could go back to eating like this every night like he used to.
After dinner, they moved to the balcony. It was a nice night in Las Vegas, a warm and comfortable breeze in the air. Greg was sitting in a lawn chair, his feet propped up on the railing. The wine bottle was empty and now they were drinking beers and shooting whiskey, doing what they do best: ignoring their feelings and getting lost in alcohol-fueled conversation, their words slurring and their laughter louder as the night went on.
Nick held out the bottle of whiskey to Greg, the younger man's finger's brushing against his own as he accepted it, sending a spark through him. Greg took a swig from the bottle, grimacing briefly as he swallowed.
"How can you drink that shit?" Greg asked.
"Because I'm a real man," Nick retorted, grinning. He stood unsteadily, taking the bottle from Greg and taking a swig of his own.
"I know," Greg said, putting his feet down. He looked at Nick, a glint in his eye, a suggestive smile on his lips, and Nick felt his heart race. But he couldn't do this. Not without knowing first.
"Why didn't you answer any of my calls?" Nick asked, and it was almost like he'd physically struck Greg with his words.
"You know why," Greg stated dismissively, leaning back in his chair with distaste.
"Really?" Nick shot dubiously. "That's news to me."
"Come on, Nick," he said, and almost appeared irritated. "Why didn't I tell you I was resigning?"
"I don't know."
"Yes, you do."
"You didn't want me to convince you not to?" Nick offered, frowning.
Greg seemed puzzled, as if that hadn't been the answer he was expecting.
"Why do you think I didn't tell you I was leaving?" Greg asked.
"You didn't want me to convince you to stay."
"Why do you think I didn't answer any of your calls?"
"You didn't want me to convince you to come back."
Greg shook his head. "No, Nick. It's because I didn't want to say no."
"Don't you think I at least deserved to hear it?" Nick snapped. He turned and faced the city, gripping the railing with white knuckles.
He felt a hand at the small of his back, Greg coming up beside him, leaning his head against Nick's shoulder, his other hand wrapping around Nick's bicep. Nick allowed him to stand there, but didn't move, too tense and angry to reciprocate the gesture. They stood there in silence for a moment, and Nick could see Greg visibly struggling to say something. Perhaps the same thing he'd tried to say earlier in the break room. It was now or never. Now or never to tell Nick how he really felt before Nick would give up and close the door on this forever. Now or never, Greg.
Now or never.
"I'm really sorry, Nick," he said quietly, his voice strained. "I just...after that last night we spent together, I knew we were more than just friends. And I knew that if you asked me...I didn't want to have to say no to you. I didn't want to have to say no to that life. I just thought..." Greg trailed off, and seemed almost frustrated with himself. Frustrated that someone so logical and reasonable such as Greg would have to try to adequately speak from his heart. "I know it was shitty, and every time I saw your name on my phone, I really wanted to answer, but I just thought that if I didn't have to say no, I could maybe keep that door open."
Nick looked at Greg in stunned silence, hardly able to believe what he was hearing. Finally, Nick was able to find words, and was surprised they weren't just grunts and noises.
"If that's the way you feel," Nick asked, "why didn't you just stay?"
"I was afraid that if I did," Greg began, his eyes cast to the city, "I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get over what happened. I didn't want you to be the reason why I stayed, and then if I never got past what happened at work, I didn't want it to be the reason why I'd start to resent you. I didn't want what happened between us to get ruined by the same people that ruined my life."
And it all made sense. As much as Nick wanted to hate Greg for what he'd done, especially after everything that Nick had done for him, he couldn't do it. Days and nights of agonizing over all of this suddenly didn't matter. Because it all made sense. All this time Nick had thought Greg had thrown away what they'd had, when in fact he had been protecting it.
"Do you think you can forgive me?" Greg asked quietly, looking at him so desperately with such need in his eyes, touching his arm and searing his skin, and it just didn't matter anymore.
"Yes," Nick breathed, slipping his hands onto either side of Greg's face and pulling him into a deep and urgent kiss.
They were soon in Nick's bed, clothes strewn across the floor, inhibitions thrown out the window. Kissing and touching and breathing heavy as they clung to each other like two men lost at sea. And Nick wasn't going to let go, not this time.
Nick opened his eyes to darkness. His alarm clock read 4:30am, only a few hours after he and Greg had gone to bed. He laid on his side, facing away from the other side of the bed, afraid to check if Greg was still there. Hesitantly, he reached his arm across the mattress next to him. It was empty. Of course it was empty. He screwed his eyes shut tightly, clenching his jaw, wondering how he could've fallen for it again. Wondering how Greg could so easily come and go. How he could so easily say what Nick wanted to hear just to take it away. Again.
A retching from the bathroom gave him pause. Curiously, he got out of bed and stepped into the hall. He could see the light on under the door, heard the toilet flush. Frowning, he pushed the door open, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the harsh florescent light. Greg was sitting on the floor next to the toilet, his back against the bathtub. Elbows leaning on his bent knees, head in his hands.
"Greg?" he asked carefully, squatting down beside him. "Are you all right?"
Greg shook his head. "I think I drank too much."
"Don't party like you used to, huh?" Nick asked, gently touching Greg's shoulder.
"Not with Texans anymore," Greg stated. "You guys' liver is made out of...the stuff they make horseshoes and branding irons with. What is that stuff?"
"One is steel and one is iron," Nick replied.
"Do you want me to get you something?"
"No," he replied, before waving Nick away. "Can you go? I can't do this in front of you. I don't want you to see this."
"I'm pretty sure I've seen much worse," Nick stated. Abruptly, Greg pulled himself to his knees, vomiting into the toilet violently. He groaned and sat back again, looking pale and miserable but Nick was so relieved to see him he could've kissed him even now. "I'm glad you're here."
"I'm not," Greg said with disdain. "I hate throwing up."
"I meant..." Nick began, and then shook his head, smiling with amusement. "Are you still drunk?"
"I think so."
Nick laughed. "Let me get you some water."
Morning. Nick opened his heavy eyes briefly before closing them again, yawning deeply as he stretched. He laid there for a moment, glanced to his left and saw the bed was empty yet again. What would it take to not wake up alone, he mused with a sigh. He could hear clattering in the kitchen, could smell coffee and it was calling his name.
Tiredly, he got up out of bed and moved into the living room. Greg was at his suitcase, folding the pair of jeans he'd been wearing yesterday. He looked to be in much better condition than earlier this morning; shaved and showered and dressed, and Nick wondered how long he'd been awake. Wondered why he was packing his things.
"Hey," Greg greeted, smiling.
"I didn't know what time you'd be getting up so I haven't started breakfast yet," Greg said.
"What are you doing?" Nick asked, frowning.
"Just putting my stuff together," Greg responded, almost casually.
"Are you leaving?"
"I have to work tomorrow," Greg stated. Looked at Nick, shrugging, appearing as if Nick should understand.
"When are you coming back?" Nick asked. Greg opened his mouth, but hesitated just a moment too long. "Are you coming back?"
"I don't know," Greg replied quietly, focusing on fidgeting with his suitcase.
"How many times are we going to do this?" Nick spat angrily, a lead weight in the pit of his stomach. "What happened to all those things you said last night?"
"Come on, Nick," the other man said, throwing his hands in the air. "My whole life is in L.A. now. Your whole life is here. What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to stay," Nick said, as if it were obvious.
"So let me get this straight," Greg began, incredulous. "You want me to leave my career, my apartment, my family, my friends, so I can come back to the same city that fucked me over, so I can be with you?"
Nick didn't even pause. "Yes."
"Do you hear yourself?" Greg asked. "I mean, do you really know what you sound like?"
"I don't care, Greg," Nick declared. "Every time I see you, I don't know if it'll be the last time I see you. I should've told you how I felt before you left Las Vegas. I should've told you how I felt before I left L.A. And if this is the last time I see you again, I'm not going to let you leave without telling you how I feel."
"Which is?" Greg asked, unimpressed.
This time, Nick did pause. Because he did know what he sounded like. He sounded crazy and obsessed and too emotionally invested, too overly possessive of something he wasn't even sure was real. But how would he know if he didn't try? It was now or never, and he wasn't going to let Greg walk out of his life without one last fight.
"I want you to stay here with me," Nick replied, the words spilling out of him in a rushed mess. "I want you to leave L.A. and stay here with me and see what happens. I want to eat breakfast with you, and dinner, and drink on the balcony until you throw up in the bathroom at four in the morning. I want to know what it feels like to wake up in the same bed as you. You don't have to work at the crime lab, you can do whatever you want. You can do exactly what you're doing in L.A., just do it here. With me."
Greg stood there, his expression displaying his distaste. But Nick could see something in his eyes, something he couldn't quite read.
"Do you love me, Nick?" Greg asked, just as he had so many months ago.
And this time, Nick knew what to say.
"You need to stop," Greg said, rolling his eyes, suddenly zipping up his suitcase with a flourish and making haste in looking busy. "And I need to go."
"Tell me you don't love me," Nick said.
"You're being ridiculous."
"Tell me you don't love me," Nick repeated, more firmly.
"I'm not doing this."
Nick crossed the room to the younger man, grabbing Greg by his arms. Greg tried to pull away, but Nick gripped his biceps hard, forcing Greg to stop and look at him. Nick's eyes searched his, trying desperately to find what he was looking for.
"Tell me you don't love me!" Nick demanded, breathing heavy, his heart pounding.
"I don't love you!" Greg yelled, before looking away, his eyes cast anywhere but Nick's. "I'm sorry, Nick. But I don't."
Nick felt his heart sink into his stomach. Felt angry and hurt. Felt like he should've known better, felt like a fool. How could he have let Greg back into his life so easily knowing how this would end? Nick pushed Greg away roughly, nearly knocking him to the ground as Nick took a few steps back. He needed to put space between them. He was afraid of what he would do if he didn't.
"Nick," Greg began, but Nick could barely hear him.
"Get out," Nick responded quietly, his jaw set.
"Nick," Greg repeated, reaching his hand out.
"Get out!" Nick boomed, threateningly taking a step closer to Greg, who took a step back in surprise. "Get the fuck out of my apartment and the fuck out of my life!"
Greg nodded, silently picking up his suitcase from the couch. Silently crossing the room to the door and silently opening it and stepping into the hallway. And perhaps Nick should have silently let him go. But he didn't.
"And Greg?" Nick asked through gritted teeth, his hand on the doorknob. The younger man looked up hopefully, but Nick was scowling. "I hope this is the last time I see you."
Nick could only hope he'd one day forget the horror in Greg's face as he slammed the door he'd left open for Greg all this time once and for all.
Nick's day had steadily gotten worse after kicking Greg out of his apartment – out of his life. He had to work that evening and got stuck processing a scene involving a father that had murdered his wife and child before taking his own life, presumably due to financial struggles. It ate up the majority of his shift, but as a supervisor he couldn't just turn his mind off and concentrate on collecting evidence. He had to answer his phone every five minutes because Wendy couldn't get logged into her computer. Henry and Hodges had gotten into an argument over who should be the one assigned to trace that night and who would get to run the chem lab. A suspect had struck Riley as she tried to get a dental impression, and in return she had awarded him with a black eye and a bruised ego.
Nick just wanted to get through tonight. Get through tonight, go home, lie in bed, and drink whiskey while watching pornography in between bouts of crying into his pillow. And absolutely under no circumstances was he allowed to think about Greg Sanders.
Do not think about Greg telling him they were more than just friends. Do not think about Greg telling him he'd hoped to keep the door open for them. Do not think about Greg apologizing. Do not think about Greg kissing him so fervently. Laying together in bed and holding Greg close after finding him sick in the bathroom. Touching Greg's sweet-smelling hair and fucking him as they spooned.
"Damn it," Nick hissed, looking up from the evidence he'd been processing in the lab.
"Sorry, I'll get Catherine to do it," he heard from the doorway, catching sight of Riley's retreating form. He had been so deep in thought, he hadn't even noticed her enter or heard her ask him anything.
"No, not you," Nick said, waving her towards him. "What do you need? And why doesn't anyone ever bother Catherine first?"
Riley smiled, handing him a case file. "You have a kinder face."
Nick scoffed at the idea. Ask Greg how kind Nick had appeared after he'd slammed the door on him this morning.
Soon the sun had risen, and Nick's shift was finally over. He couldn't say he was looking forward to going home, though. Especially since he knew his apartment would be empty forever. Well, perhaps forever was a little melodramatic, but he couldn't quite yet imagine finding a suitable replacement for the man he'd lost. Couldn't imagine anyone being able to talk for hours on the balcony about nothing and everything, someone who would play marathon video game sessions with him, someone who would make his heart race with just one look. And the cooking – God, what was he going to do without Greg's cooking? He could hardly bear to fathom the thought.
He parked his truck in the lot, sighing heavily, gathering the courage to go upstairs. It would be quiet inside. It would be dark. There would be no coffee and no breakfast, and there certainly wouldn't be anyone to share it with. Finally, he grabbed his gear and crossed the parking lot, pausing at the sight of a man sitting on the steps of the breezeway. His man. Leaning against the concrete banister, eyes closed, wearing the same clothes he'd worn yesterday.
Nick was relieved and angry and distressed and elated all at the same time, and he wasn't quite sure what to do. He approached Greg cautiously, standing in front of him for a moment before nudging Greg's sleeping form with his knee. Greg opened his eyes, startling at the sight of Nick. Quickly, the younger man stood, smoothing down his hair and straightening out his clothes self-consciously.
"Hey," Greg said, and as he took an uneasy breath Nick could hear a shuddering in Greg's chest. Waited for Nick to respond, but Nick didn't have any words for him. Nervously, the young man shoved his hands into his jeans' pockets. "Right. I know you're mad. And that you said you didn't ever want to see me again, but I thought about that, and if it's this or nothing, I think I'd rather have this."
"You think?" Nick asked, incredulous. He crossed his arms over his chest, his jaws working against one another.
"Yeah," Greg replied, nodding. "I mean, I drove all the way to L.A., and then I drove all the way back because, you know...you're not there. And I don't want to live a life that you're not a part of."
"Forgive me if I've heard this before."
"I know, I know," Greg conceded, rubbing the nape of his neck, his eyes cast to the parking lot. And while Nick may have felt just a little guilty making Greg squirm, he had to admit he was enjoying watching Greg struggle once again to speak from his heart instead of using sense and reason. "I just...kept thinking about all those things you said. About breakfast and dinner and vomiting at four in the morning, or whatever. And I...want to do all that stuff with you. Except for the vomiting part."
Nick almost smiled in amusement. Almost.
"Look, I'm scared, okay?" Greg admitted with frustration. "It's fucking crazy to leave everything for just one thing that might not even work out...but I'm willing to try if you still are."
Nick felt his heart soar. Quietly, he asked, "What made you change your mind?"
Greg shrugged. "I don't know. Sometimes you have to think with your heart, right?"
Nick remembered those words spoken by Greg on the shore at Lake Mead so long ago, and he smiled. Because Greg had finally found someone that made him want to think with his heart and take that leap of faith. And that someone was Nick.
"What about your job?" Nick asked.
"I won't have one soon," Greg admitted. "So I hope you can afford to keep me."
Nick reached his hand out, offering it to Greg. Watched Greg's expression change as he slipped his hand in Nick's. Of course Nick could afford to keep him. He didn't think he could afford not to.
The two men easily fell back into their old routine as if no time had passed between them. Each evening Nick would awaken to dinner. Nick would go to work and upon his return Greg would greet him with breakfast. They would both sleep during the day, and Nick finally found out what it felt like to wake up with Greg still there beside him. And this was Nick's life.
There were still some days that Nick allowed his fear of Greg leaving again to grip him, but as time went by, slowly but surely, Nick felt comfortable that this was what Greg really wanted. Eventually, days turned to weeks. Weeks to months. They moved into a two bedroom/two bath apartment which neither man had the desire to decorate (nor the eye to do it). Greg searched for work, and found a part-time job at a small community college teaching chemistry and an introductory criminal justice class. It wasn't exactly what he wanted to do, but finding employment in Las Vegas proved to be more difficult than when he'd first arrived so many years ago.
And then Riley Adams left the crime lab, and résumés began piling up on Nick's desk. He split them between himself and Catherine, and they painfully sorted through them together in the break room one night.
"What are you guys doing?" Sara asked, as she entered to grab a cup of coffee. She had rejoined their team only a few months ago, and Nick was so grateful to have her. There were only a few people missing now: Warrick, who had left them to meet his Maker. Grissom, although he was happily waiting at home for Sara. And, of course, Greg, who had been robbed of a career he had worked so hard to attain.
"Looking through all these résumés," Nick said forlornly.
"What a mess," said Catherine.
"Too bad Greg's isn't in there, huh?" Sara asked, before leaving as quickly as she'd arrived.
"Yeah," Nick agreed, rubbing his eyes wearily.
"You don't think he'd be interested?" Catherine inquired suggestively. Both women had seen Greg here and there over the past few months and were aware he had moved back to Las Vegas and was living with Nick, but not the extent of their relationship. At least as far as Nick knew.
"Do you really think Ecklie would hire him back?" Nick asked, eyeing her from across the table.
"Who's more qualified than Greg?" she mused. "If we both choose him as a candidate, and Ecklie turns down our recommendation, that would be considered discrimination, wouldn't it? If he has no other reason except what happened between them?"
"I don't think Greg would go for it," Nick said, shaking his head.
"Come on, Nicky," Catherine pleaded. "Convince him."
Nick leaned back in his chair, pensive. Saw the hope in Catherine's eyes and felt it in his own chest.
Finally, he said, "We'd have to be sure first."
"So what do you suggest?" she asked.
He looked at her with disdain. "We have to talk to Ecklie. And we need Greg's resume."
Obtaining Greg's résumé was easy enough. Nick had a copy of it in his personal e-mail, having printed it and faxed it at work one night to an employer upon Greg's request when the fax machine at home had broken. Next was talking to Ecklie. Both he and Catherine stood outside of the undersheriff's door for about ten minutes, going over their plan and working up the courage to go inside.
Finally, cautiously, they entered Ecklie's office. He was signing paperwork at his desk, only offering the two CSIs a brief and disinterested look upon their entrance.
"Morning, Conrad," Catherine said casually, but her posture was tense. She placed a manila folder on top of the paperwork in front of him with delicate fingers.
"What's this?" he asked, taking the folder and opening it.
Catherine and Nick shared a nervous glance before she responded, "Our recommendation for the new hire."
"Good," he said, but his face quickly fell as he read over the résumé. He looked up at his two employees over his reading glasses, his expression displaying his displeasure. "Is this a joke?"
"No," Catherine stated, crossing her arms over her chest, her eyebrow raised. Nick followed suit, mirroring her resolute stance. "There isn't anyone more qualified for the job. He's got the credentials, experience. His certification is still good. The fact that he worked here for so long already, we'd hardly have to train him. He's reliable, loyal, we wouldn't be taking any chances. Both Nick and I are recommending him for the job."
"Out of every other candidate," Ecklie said, leaning back in his chair, "this is the only one who's qualified?"
Nick was about to protest when Catherine simply said, "Yes."
"My answer is no," Ecklie declared, tossing the manila folder across his desk.
"Why?" Catherine asked, unimpressed with his answer, and even Nick had to look at her in surprise.
"What do you mean, why?" Ecklie asked heatedly.
"I want to know the reason you have for turning down our candidate. He's qualified, correct?"
"So what's the problem?"
"The problem is that this is the same man that put this department through a PR nightmare," Ecklie stated, pushing out his chair and standing from desk. He picked up the folder, holding it out to Catherine. Nick felt his skin crawl as he tried to imagine how Greg – a victim of a brutal attack after witnessing a murder – could've put the department through anything. What about what the department had put Greg through?
"Okay," Catherine conceded, her stare unwavering. She took the folder from him, opening it and grabbing a pen off of his desk. "Just give me the legal reason so I can document it in our rejection letter to Greg."
Ecklie's mouth formed a perfect O. Catherine had backed him into a corner, and the older man knew it. His expression changed from shock to anger, his eyes narrowing and his jaw setting. Nick held his breath, waiting for the inevitable fury that would be unleashed upon them.
"Fine," Ecklie said, and Nick felt his own mouth form a perfect O. Quickly, Nick closed his mouth, trying to remain stoic. "But don't think I won't be watching him."
Catherine smiled, turning on her heel and walking out of the office with Nick hot on her trail. He closed the door behind them, and they looked at each other with wide eyes and open mouths.
"I can't believe you just did that!" Nick exclaimed, holding on to Catherine's shoulders.
"You don't mess with Mama," she replied, winking, and then suddenly appeared relieved. She put her hand on her heart, leaning into Nick. "I think I need a strong drink, though."
Now there was only one thing left to do: Convince Greg to come back. And that was Nick's job. Batter up.
Nick arrived home from work to see Greg working diligently at the dining table, dozens of papers strewn about in front of him. Nick greeted him cheerily, but Greg did not seem to share the same enthusiasm that morning.
"What are you doing?" Nick asked, peering over Greg's shoulder.
"Grading tests," Greg responded, and sighed heavily. "Based on some of these answers, I'm pretty concerned for victims if these students are the future of crime solving."
"That bad, huh?" Nick asked, amused. He poured himself some coffee and sat down across the table from Greg. "Listen, this teaching thing isn't something you want to do forever, right?"
"No. I mean, it's just something to do until I find something I like. You know that," Greg said, and then frowned. "Why are you asking? I know I don't make what I used to. I'm not putting us in some kind of financial situation, am I?"
"No," Nick replied quickly, dismissively waving away Greg's concern. "First of all, I make more than enough money to support both of us."
"Don't tease me," Greg said almost absently, his brow knotted as he scribbled something in red pen on the test in front of him. "You know it's my dream to become a housewife and stay at home with the children."
Nick laughed, almost nervously. Greg looked up from his papers, narrowing his eyes.
"What did you do?" Greg asked.
"Nothing," Nick said, holding his hands up defensively. He cast his eyes to the table. "I just...one of my CSIs left."
Greg scoffed, immediately understanding what Nick was insinuating. "Really, Nick? Really? No."
"Come on, Greg," Nick pleaded, leaning forward in his chair. "Why won't you at least think about it?"
"Are you really asking me that question?" Greg inquired with distaste. "And even if I wanted to, they would never hire me back. So just forget it."
"Why not? You weren't fired."
"Ecklie would never hire me back," he amended.
"What if he would?" Nick asked, shrugging innocently.
"Tell me you did not say something to him," Greg demanded, his voice edged with anger.
"I might have...mentioned something," Nick replied hesitantly. He cleared his throat. "Or maybe Catherine did most of the talking."
"Are you kidding me right now?" Greg yelled, dubious. He pushed his chair out roughly, standing and moving into the kitchen. "Tell me you're kidding. You really did not try to convince the same asshole that fucked me over to take me back? What do I look like to you? Do I look fucking pathetic to you? Like my life is so fucking terrible I have to go crawling back to the same guy that fucked me?"
"No, Greg," Nick responded gently, standing and crossing the room to Greg. "You loved being a CSI. You were so good at it."
"I'm good at anything I do," Greg shot back combatively.
"Of course you are," Nick said. "But you worked so hard to get into the field, and it's not fair that someone took it away from you. You win if you take this job, don't you see that?"
"I'm not talking about this with you anymore," Greg said, pushing up his sleeves as he turned and faced the sink, making haste in washing dishes.
"Will you at least think about it?" Nick asked.
Nick sighed, leaving Greg alone in the kitchen. And while Greg had said he refused to consider it further, Nick could see it weighing heavily on his mind. The young man seemed distracted over the next few days, and Nick would catch him idly staring into space while grading papers or watching television. Then, one evening, as Nick was reading over some case files at the dining table, Greg approached silently. Nick eyed him expectantly.
"Fine," Greg said, and Nick knew. "But please don't make a big deal out of it, okay?"
Nick nodded casually, returning his gaze to his paperwork, and he waited until Greg left before allowing himself to smile.
So Greg came back to the LVPD crime lab, and was pleasantly surprised at his reception. Enough time had passed that old wounds had healed, old assumptions had been laid to rest. The lab rats swarmed around him, asking where he'd been and what he'd been doing. Asking him for advice and assistance his first day back. Telling him they'd missed him and were so glad to see him in the halls again. Nick was glad to see him too. Was glad to see him smiling and joking around with coworkers. Was even glad to see him flirting with Catherine and Sara, who always found a reason to stop by Greg's desk or find him somewhere in the lab processing evidence, checking up on him and making sure he was all right.
It was a few weeks in, and Greg was right back into the swing of things. Nick allowed him to enter the field alone and take on his own cases, and Greg was eager not to disappoint him. Diligently, Greg worked, crossing all of his t's and dotting all of his i's. Nick was proud to see him flourish, even if he did worry every time a few hours had gone by and Greg hadn't checked in. But he supposed that was the nature of having a loved one in law enforcement.
Nick spotted Greg in the lockers one night, sitting tiredly on the bench. Greg's shift had ended an hour ago, but he was waiting for Nick to finish up so they could go home together. Nick was about to enter when Sara emerged from a row of lockers to sit down beside him.
"Can I ask you a question?" she asked.
"Sure," Greg replied with a yawn.
"It's a personal question," she warned, shifting closer to him.
He eyed her suspiciously. "Okay."
"Are you and Nick more than just friends?" she asked, in such a blunt and awkward way that only Sara could pull off without sounding crass. Greg hesitated just a moment too long, giving himself away. "I knew it!"
"Shh, relax," Greg chastened.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked, sounding hurt.
"I don't know if Nick wants anybody to know. Not that it's anybody's business. Besides, we've only been official for a few months."
"A few months!" she hissed quietly, punching his arm.
"Ow!" he yelped, sliding away from her.
"When did you guys start dating?"
"Before I left Las Vegas." She punched him again. "Stop it!"
"Before – ! I can't believe you didn't tell me," she stated, shaking her head in disbelief. She was suddenly very serious. "Do you love him?"
Greg offered her a sideways glance and smiled.
"You do!" she exclaimed. "I'm still mad you didn't tell me, but I'm happy for you, Greg. You deserve to be happy. So does Nick."
Nick stepped away from the doorway, his heart racing. Greg had yet to say those words to Nick. Nick had not attempted to say them again after admitting his love for Greg when the younger man had asked a few months ago. Perhaps it was not healthy for Nick to keep his fears inside, but he was afraid if he pushed Greg too hard, Greg would leave him again. Mostly, he was afraid if he told Greg he loved him again, Greg would not reciprocate the sentiment. And that was something Nick wasn't sure he could handle.
Maybe now was the time to find out.
They were sitting on the balcony watching the sun rise, cold beers in their hands. Greg yawned deeply, stretching his arms to the sky, his shirt pulling up just enough for Nick to catch sight of smooth, tan skin. They weren't really having a conversation, just quietly unwinding after a long night at the crime lab.
Suddenly, Nick felt anxious. He had held this inside of him for so long, and he was afraid to speak but felt he would explode at the same time. Just say it, he urged himself, watching the handsome man next to him carefully, and he never thought he could be so terrified in his life. A small glass box in the ground was nothing compared to this.
"Greg," he began, but when Greg looked at him through half-closed eyes, Nick lost all words.
Greg sat up, appearing slightly alarmed. "What's wrong?"
"No, nothing," Nick said, rolling his eyes at his own cowardice. "I just...wanted you to know...that...I love you."
Greg smiled, his cheeks flushing with crimson as his gaze traveled back to the city. He leaned back in his seat, slouching down comfortably. Nick waited with bated breath for words he wasn't sure he'd ever hear.
Then: "I love you too."
And they sat there in the oranges and pinks and purples of the Nevada sunrise, each man silently enjoying the company of the one they loved.