Nick had arrived into work in a whirlwind that morning, having slept straight through his alarm. He'd barely had time to shower and shave before running out the door, and he definitely hadn't had any time to eat. Now he was hungry, flustered, and rushing into the meeting room to see his coworkers already there and receiving their assignments.
"Nice of you to join us, Nicky," Grissom deadpanned, his eyes never leaving his paperwork as he extended a slip of paper to the younger man.
"Sorry, I overslept," Nick mumbled, grabbing the slip offered to him, frowning as he read the words scribbled in his boss' messy handwriting. He looked up with disdain. "Assault and battery? What gives, Gris?"
"I'm sorry, Nicky," he said ruefully. "Ecklie's nephew. You know I'd never hear the end of it if I sent a Level 1 out there."
"Really? Come on, man" Nick groaned, before turning to his awfully smug-looking coworkers. "What did you guys get?"
"419 in an alley," Warrick stated triumphantly as he left the room.
"I got a B&E gone bad," Sara added. "Dead maid."
"Man, this sucks!" Nick exclaimed, sounding not unlike a petulant child even to his own ears.
"He that riseth late," Grissom began, as he shuffled past Nick in the doorway, "must trot all day."
"Yeah, yeah," Nick muttered, mentally noting to look up the source of that quote later.
Nick grabbed his kit and vest, stoically heading to his SUV but inwardly he was fuming. A Level 3 CSI – one level higher than Warrick – and he still got stuck with shit like this while Grissom's favorite got to work murder scenes on his own. What a joke.
He tried to remind himself that because the victim was Ecklie's nephew, he had to be the one to process the scene, and maybe he should have been flattered that he was high enough up on the food chain to have been chosen, but he still felt like an ass. Also, he was pretty sure it was punishment for being late that evening.
Shortly after leaving the crime lab, he arrived to a bar that was nowhere near the strip. It was a free standing building like several other bars and restaurants in this particular part of town, but unlike most other establishments, it was a gay bar. Nick immediately put his guard up. He'd heard of this radar that gay men supposedly possessed to single each other out, but it seemed to have skipped Nick's generation. He could never tell who was batting for what team unless it was blatantly obvious. Sometimes he wasn't sure if this "gaydar" thing was a myth, but he was always afraid someone would smoke him out and inadvertently blow his cover. Luckily, if it was ever suggested, Nick could hopefully shrug it off with his lady killer reputation that he'd so carefully constructed over the years.
He drove around to the back of the bar where two other police cars had parked in an alley. Stepped out of his SUV and followed the action into the backdoor, spotting an officer he was familiar with that greeted him and pointed him the way to the victim. There was a young man was sitting on a bar stool in a small alcove that appeared to be used for storing unused or unusable furniture. He was holding a small bag of ice wrapped in a linen napkin to one of his eyes.
"Hi, sir," Nick said cordially. "I'm Nick Stokes with the Las Vegas crime lab. I just came to collect some evidence."
"Ian Reed," he responded, smiling tightly. He was tall and slender with angular features, fair skin and dark hair. As Nick came closer, he could see the man's eyes were a piercing blue, one of which was framed by a nice shiner.
"So what happened?" Nick asked, opening one of his pockets to pull out a pair of latex gloves.
"Ah, I got jumped in the alley back there," Ian responded, waving it off as if it was no big deal. Nick wondered how often it had happened in the man's past, equally wondered if Ian was a victim because he was gay or because of something he had done to provoke it. Nick could see the perpetually cynical expression in those blue eyes, a look that screamed trouble. "I told the officers, it's not worth all this trouble. They didn't take any of my stuff, just roughed me up a little bit, that's all. Don't let my uncle put the squeeze on you."
Nick smirked at the expression, as if they were in a 1940's film noir. "Just doing what we always do."
"Hey, Stokes," Nick heard from behind him, turning briefly to see Brass. If a homicide detective was stopping by to check up on a simple assault, Nick had to wonder just how much of a squeeze the older man had gotten from the higher ups. "Listen, there's been a string of these things around all the gay clubs in Vegas. Victims keep describing the same guys. Ian here doesn't look too bad, but they've left others in much worse condition. I know a homicide detective doesn't have any business being here, but I'm afraid soon I will. Just get what evidence you can."
"Sure thing," Nick assured him.
"All right," Brass said, after a cursory glance at his watch. "I've done my civic duty stopping by to see Ecklie's nephew. I gotta go."
Nick nodded pensively as he bid Brass farewell. Maybe Grissom had inadvertently assigned him a case he could really sink his teeth into, something he could use to finally prove his worth. He turned back to Ian, picking up his camera.
"I'm just going to take some pictures, see what evidence I can pick up from your clothes, and I'll need your fingerprints and a DNA sample," Nick stated almost idly, setting the lens. He looked up at Ian's guarded expression and softened slightly. Sometimes, he knew he could be a little bit too clinical and impersonal in his tone. "If that's okay with you."
Ian offered him a disarming smile. "Do your worst."
Nick cleared his throat, lifting his camera to his face and hoping it would hide his blush.
Nick returned to the crime lab with fingerprints, DNA, and fibers, along with some fingernail scrapings that appeared promising. Apparently, Ian had gone down fighting and had gotten a few good licks in before the mob had dispersed. After dropping off all of the other evidence to their various departments for processing, Nick was left clutching Ian's DNA and the fingernail scrapings, hoping to charm Greg into putting a rush on his samples. It may have seemed like a run-of-the-mill assault, but now that Nick knew it was one of several attacks by the same group of perpetrators, he was eager to start doing some research into the previous cases and see if he could start fitting some puzzle pieces together.
"Hey, Nicky," Catherine greeted as she breezed by. "How's your night going so far?"
"Pretty good," he responded, smiling warmly. "Just dropping off these samples and then I've got some unsolved cases to read up on."
"Sounds exciting," Catherine said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Don't expect any results too soon. Sanders has been backed up for days."
Nick turned to face her, his expression pained. "What? Why?"
"Ecklie fired another day shift tech." She shrugged, before continuing down the hallway. "Don't get too upset about it. We're all getting screwed."
This was just great. Every day Greg spent behind meant another day Nick's case would be behind. Another day for the perpetrators to attack another victim and quite possibly kill whoever was next this time. Not to mention the fact that Ecklie's nephew was involved, which meant that prick would be riding Nick's ass until the evidence was packaged nicely in a case file with a pretty bow on top. Of course, it was Ecklie's own fault, but that wouldn't matter to him.
Nick stepped into Greg's lab, the sound of rock music emanating from the cheap boom box on one of the counters, but there was no lab rat to be found. He turned the volume down, his eyes searching the room as if Greg would appear from thin air. He needed to make sure Greg knew this was a priority, hoping his innocent Southern charm routine would do the trick like it usually did. Of course, it wouldn't work if Greg wasn't actually there.
Irritably, Nick deposited his evidence on the mounting pile in the corner of the room before exiting the lab in search of the young man. He found him in the break room, leaning against the counter as he ate a yogurt, laughing at something Sara had said from her seat at the table. Of course he was laughing at what she said. Everything Sara said was so funny and enchanting and it was all Greg could do not to fall all over her as he hung on to her every word.
"Hey, G. Sara," Nick said, nodding at Sara before turning his attention to Greg. He was slightly annoyed that while he'd been told Greg was so busy and backed up for days, here he was in the break room goofing off with Sara. It had nothing to do with Sara. Or the irrational jealousy bubbling up inside of him. Or anything like that. "What are you doing?"
"Eating a yogurt," Greg replied, holding up the small plastic container in his hand.
"I just dropped off some samples – "
"Ah," Greg interrupted, nodding knowingly. "I know what this is about. Never a 'Hey, how you doing, Greg?' or a 'Greg, you look particularly handsome today.' You only want me when you need me."
Nick sighed. "I need you to process them right away."
"No can do," Greg said, shrugging helplessly before sticking a spoonful of blue-tinted yogurt into his mouth. "I'm backlogged at least for two days."
"Then what are you doing in here if you have so much work to do?" Nick challenged hotly.
"I'm not allowed to eat in my lab," Greg said casually, and Nick wanted to strike him. "Not that I would want to. You know what kind of stuff goes in and out of there."
"This is important, Greg."
"They're all important."
"Can't you just do me a favor?" Nick asked, finally caving in, desperation creeping into his voice. "Ecklie's nephew is the victim. He was assaulted earlier tonight."
"You CSIs and your favors," Greg said, shaking his head. He suddenly appeared thoughtful, turning the spoon upside down in his mouth and allowing it to slide down his tongue. "I do you guys so many favors and I never seem to get anything in return."
"What does that mean?" Nick asked, unable to remove his eyes from Greg's tongue as it darted out between his lips to lick the corner of his mouth.
"You know," Greg began, his tone almost suggestive as he turned towards Nick. He deposited his spoon into the sink behind him, sticking his finger into the now nearly empty container to sweep out a creamy glob of yogurt. "I scratch your back, you scratch mine kind of thing. And I've got an itch."
Greg winked as he slipped his finger into his mouth, sucking off the yogurt until his finger slid out from between his lips with a lewd popping sound.
"So," Greg said, drawing the word out in a sing-song voice. "What's in it for me?"
And then he did it again. Swept his finger into the yogurt container, stuck his finger into his mouth, and it was all Nick could do not to fulfill his aforementioned fantasy of pushing Greg up against the counter and showing him exactly what he would do with that mouth, even if that meant scandalizing Sara. The older man swallowed hard, forcing himself to regain his bearings before daring to speak.
"Beer," Nick blurted out, his voice remarkably even. Greg shot him a confused look, glancing at Sara briefly before returning his gaze to Nick. "I'll buy you a beer."
Greg scoffed, tossing his yogurt container into the trash. "What do I look like, a cheap date? I'm insulted, frankly. You'll have to do better than that."
"What?" Nick asked, dubious.
"I'll tell you what," he said, shifting closer to Nick and poking a finger into his chest as he leaned into him. "I'll give you time to think about it. You get back to me when you have something better to offer."
"What about my samples?" Nick asked, as Greg headed for the door.
Greg paused in the doorway, turning to face him. "Until then, this is the top of Greg's pile." Greg held his hand up to about eye level. "This is the bottom of Greg's pile." He held out his other hand to about his waist. Then, his hand at eye level moved beneath the hand at his waist. "And these are Nick's samples."
He smiled that bright shit-eating grin, and then he was gone. Nick set his jaw, his nostrils flaring as he stood in the middle of the break room, hands on his hips, tension rolling off of him in waves. He looked at Sara, who was still sitting at the table, her expression displaying her amusement.
"Did I just get played by Greg Sanders?" Nick asked.
Sara grinned. "I think you did."
The rest of Nick's shift was spent reading up on the previous assault cases. Some victims had been beaten so badly they'd nearly been left for dead. Some had been sexually assaulted. Some, like Ian Reed, had managed to escape with only a few bruises. It seemed that Ian's attack had been interrupted by a few bar patrons, thankfully. There were at least four or five men doing the attacking, but who was to say how many there really were when the victims were being beaten within an inch of their life? It could be more, it could be less. Fear and terror always altered perception.
One of the victim's DNA, Daniel Riley, had been found on another victim's clothing a month later. It could be explained if one of the assailants was wearing the same clothes, maybe unwashed, but what were the chances a month later? Riley was a minister, with a wife and child. What was he doing at a gay bar on a Saturday night? He had gotten away with minor injuries, and when an officer arrived after a witness had called the police, he'd refused assistance; thankfully, the officer had filed a report anyway based on witness testimony, although there didn't appear to be any type of follow up.
He continued to study the evidence: pictures, fibers, trace, DNA. Nothing had hit any matches, no dots had been connected, but he wasn't sure whether anyone had ever looked at all of these cases as a whole rather than just one case at a time. He wasn't sure anyone had ever cared to.
With a yawn, Nick leaned back on his stool, arching his back as he rubbed his aching lower spine. He was aggravated by the lack of detail in these cases. Just another typical assault, evidence collected with the assumption that the perpetrators would never be caught, so why bother?
"Nick," he heard from the doorway, startling him out of his thoughts. It was Grissom, and he didn't look happy. Granted, he never did, but there was a tightness in his expression that Nick recognized immediately. "What are you doing?"
"Just looking over the evidence from some old assault cases," Nick replied, indicating the files and pictures in front of him. "They might be connected to – "
"Have you gotten those results back from DNA yet?" his boss interrupted, impatience creeping into his voice.
"Well, no, but I haven't checked – "
"Maybe you should get on that," he replied, uncharacteristically gruff. "Ecklie's been calling me every hour, sometimes less. I'm going to give him your personal cell if you don't give me something soon."
"I'll check on it right now," Nick responded, feeling like a scolded child. He hated it when Grissom got like this. Didn't he think by now Nick could handle a simple assault on his own? Just because Ecklie was breathing down Grissom's neck didn't mean Grissom needed to breathe down Nick's. Another sign that Grissom didn't trust him to do his job.
Bristled, Nick went into the cubicle he shared with Warrick and logged into his computer to check on Greg's progress. If Greg had put a rush on it, like Nick had asked, he should be finished by now. Then again, Nick had never worked up the courage to offer any favors more worthwhile than a free beer. But Greg had been joking, just like he always did. Right?
He realized that perhaps Greg had been serious when he saw that none of his samples had been even started yet. Immediately, Nick fumed. He shouldn't have to offer anything to the irritating lab rat for Greg to process DNA evidence. That was his job, after all. And Nick had told him it was important, and that Ecklie's nephew was involved. Shouldn't that count for something?
Nick traversed the hallway to the DNA lab, standing outside of the glass walls and observing Greg for a moment. Sometimes, when Greg wasn't paying attention, Nick just like to watch him work. When he wasn't talking off anyone's ear or playing trivia games or making inappropriate jokes, the steely look of concentration on his face and the fierce fire in those brown eyes was an intense enough image to take Nick's breath away. He sometimes dared to imagine that expression aimed at him while the young man hovered over him in the dark, all breathy whines and sweat-sheened skin.
"Is there something you want or are you just going to stand there and stare at me all day?" he heard from the open doorway to his right. Nick smiled sheepishly, a blush creeping up the back of his neck as he realized he'd been caught red-handed. And Greg hadn't even looked up from his microscope. Maybe the young man paid more attention than Nick had previously thought.
"I just wanted to check up on my test results," Nick replied, stepping into the room. Greg shifted from his microscope to his computer, typing hurriedly on the keyboard.
"You're not the father," Greg stated almost absently, his finger tracing over a print out before he returned to his typing.
"For my assault case," Nick clarified, crossing his arms over his chest. "The one with Ecklie's nephew."
"Haven't gotten to it yet," Greg responded, turning and removing a slide from the microscope. He replaced it with another one and peered into the lens.
"When are you going to get to it?" Nick asked, unable to help the edge in his tone. "I asked you to put a rush on it."
"And I told you," the younger man said, back to his computer again. "I am backlogged two days."
"You told me if I offered you a favor you'd think about it."
Greg tossed him a glance loaded with innuendo and mischief. "And?"
"And I shouldn't have to give you anything for you to do your job!" Nick exclaimed, stepping further into the room and pressing his palms onto the counter top, gripping the edges with white knuckles. He leaned across and closer to Greg, attempting to appear intimidating but the smell of chemicals and cologne and Greg threw him off. "This is important."
Greg didn't even flinch. He only smirked before returning to his work, and it was infuriating.
"I mean it, Sanders," Nick fumed, as Greg grabbed his slide and packaged it for transport. "There have been a string of assaults by the same guys, and I'm the first investigator to try to connect the dots."
"Well, you are a crime stopper," Greg mused with a shrug, referring to the embarrassing flyers must've read from an old LVPD newsletter featuring Nick Stokes: Crime Stopper. "If anyone can do it, it's you."
"Greg – "
"Wait right here," Greg interrupted, holding up one finger. "I'll be right back."
In a flurry, Greg left the room. Jaw clenched, breathing hard through his nose, Nick stood with his arms crossed once again, waiting for Greg to return. He glanced at his watch. There was nowhere near enough time for this kind of nonsense if Greg was going to get his results done tonight. Nick left the lab in search of the young man, finding him in the room across the hall standing at the computer.
"What are you doing?" Nick asked, holding out his hands in a pleading gesture.
"I have to print mailing labels from this computer," Greg replied, indicating the printer behind Nick. "The printer in my lab doesn't print labels right. I told you I'd be right back."
"I don't have time for this, Greg!"
"It's literally been thirty seconds."
"Were you even listening to what I said in there?" Nick nearly yelled in exasperation, leaning against the counter behind him.
"You said there have been a string of assaults and you're the crime stopper that's going to finally solve the case," Greg stated, nodding.
"I'm too busy for these games tonight, Greg."
Greg smirked. "I can see that."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Nick snapped, frowning.
"It means," Greg began, stepping closer to Nick, stepping into his personal space. "If you're so busy, and you have so many things to do, what are you always doing wasting so much time in my lab talking to me?"
Nick was pinned against the counter, his back digging into the edge of the counter top, and Greg was standing nearly flush to him. So close Nick could smell that scent again: chemicals and cologne and now Greg was so close Nick could smell that fruity hair product he used along with coffee and cinnamon gum and – fuck. Greg was smiling, just the corner of his mouth upturned, his tongue skimming over his teeth, his eyes that dark and fiery intense brown.
Nick felt his heart hammering in his chest, heat creeping into his cheeks, and this was not how he'd imagined this at all. Greg was supposed to be the one backed into a corner trembling like a school girl, not the other way around and Jesus Christ Greg was leaning closer now, so close there was only an inch between their lips and Nick was leaning back but Greg kept coming and –
There was a tearing of paper as Greg pulled the labels from the printer behind Nick.
"You're standing in front of my printer," Greg said, stepping back. Then all Nick saw was a flash of white teeth before Greg spun on his heel and walked away.
Nick's breath exploded from him, his body nearly melting against the counter as the tension released from him. God, he was such an idiot. He shook his head, rubbing his eyes tiredly. He need to stop this, stop obsessing so much over everything Greg did or said, everything Greg didn't do or didn't say. There were no stolen touches, no loaded glances, no hidden agendas. Greg was just a normal guy that worked with him at the crime lab and Nick had to stop this insane crush that was quickly turning into an unhealthy infatuation. This wasn't high school. Nick was a professional. He needed to get his shit together and grow up.
Maybe it would serve to ease Nick's nerves if he actually made an attempt to get to know Greg a little. Maybe if they spent more time together, Nick would become more comfortable around him. Maybe if they became closer, Nick could finally get Greg off of that pedestal he had put the young man on. Maybe then, Nick would actually feel like Greg was just a normal guy that worked with him at the crime lab.
There was nothing that could absolutely go wrong with that logic.
To be continued.