The following hours of Nick's shift were spent in the desert. Three long and arduous hours, to be exact, spent digging up a dead body. Another two digging up the dead canine buried beside it, and another two processing the scene, which had only consisted of dirt upon dirt upon dirt. He was covered in sand and sweat and whatever else had stuck to his skin, not to mention the bug bites marring his arms and neck. He nearly felt like he had been the one that had been dug out of a grave. He was hot and tired and he just wanted to go home, but not before he dropped off the evidence bags balanced precariously in his arms.
"Whoa, Nick," Sara said, as she passed him in the hallway. She was clutching her purse, obviously on her way out, and Nick felt a pang of jealousy. "Is that you hiding under all that dirt?"
"Not in the mood, Sara," he responded. "Just dropping off these samples and then I'm out of here."
"See you tomorrow," she called, as she continued on her path out the door, and then turned on her heel. "Oh, wait. You're off tomorrow, aren't you?"
"Sure am," he replied, catching sight of Sara's forlorn expression.
"Great," she said flatly. "You and Greg both off, who's going to keep me entertained?"
"I'm sure you'll live," he stated, and as he made a beeline for the DNA lab, he smiled for the first time in hours.
It was just before eight in the morning, and Greg was still inside of his lab, scowling at his computer. The young man smacked the side of the monitor with visible frustration before smashing the keys with both hands. So consumed with his task of beating his computer into submission, Greg didn't even notice when Nick entered the lab with an armful of evidence.
"Hey, G," Nick greeted, as he deposited his samples onto the counter beside the tons of other packages that had been dropped off throughout the night. He frowned at the sight of them, piled so high Nick couldn't even see the counter space.
"Whatever you've got," Greg began, his voice edged with irritation, "Days will have to get to it. I don't – I can't – dammit!"
"Everything okay?" Nick asked tentatively, stepping closer to the young man until he was standing behind him, peering over his shoulder at the computer. Greg's posture was rigid, his shoulders tense, and Nick had to fight the urge to reach out and ease the stress away with strong, firm hands.
"How am I supposed to get any work done when this piece of shit from 1985 keeps freezing?" Greg cried, picking up his keyboard and slamming it back down onto the counter. "I'm backlogged out the ass, Catherine is totally on her period and yelled at me in front of everybody in the break room about some stupid fingernail scrapings that Trace even never gave to me, and Ecklie is coming down on me about his son or nephew or whoever the – which, by the way, you're going to have to recollect his DNA sample because that new janitor knocked his cleaning solution right onto my workstation and – "
"Greg," Nick urged, and this time he did place both of his hands on Greg's shoulders, gently squeezing against the taught muscles. Not massaging. Just...comfortingly touching. "Breathe, man. It's all right. You can only do what you can do."
Greg took in a deep breath, releasing it quickly. "Sorry."
"It's okay," Nick said, hesitantly dropping his hands back to his sides. "Almost finished in here?"
"No," Greg responded forlornly. "I still have a ton of work to do. I guess I should be grateful for the overtime while I can get it, right?"
"Right. Working tomorrow?" Nick asked casually, even though he already knew the answer.
"No, thank God," Greg said, turning to look at Nick for the first time, and his expression immediately changed to surprise at the sight of him. "What happened to you?"
"The desert," Nick responded, shrugging. "I'm off tomorrow too. Want to grab that beer?"
Greg offered him a wry grin. "You don't have to worry about it. I already ran your samples. Fingernail scrapings came back a match to two other samples from previous attacks. No names, just unknowns."
"Really," Nick murmured, narrowing his eyes. "Did you drop it in my box?"
"Yeah, they're at your desk," Greg replied, moving to the pile of evidence and grabbing the next sample. "I tried to find you but Grissom said you were out in the field. And like I said, you're going to have to recollect that swab from your vic'."
Nick was itching to slip away to his desk and go over the results, but not before he got an answer on that drink. "Anyway, what about that beer?"
"Who else is going?" Greg asked, focusing on the lab order that accompanied what appeared to be a dirty rag.
"No one," Nick said, shrugging. "Warrick and Sara are working."
"I see," the younger man said, scoffing as he looked up from his paperwork. "All your friends are busy so I'm your consolation prize?"
"No," Nick stated, frowning. "I just want to get a beer. As friends."
Greg narrowed his eyes. "We aren't friends, Nick."
"Do you want to go or not?" Nick asked through gritted teeth, holding his hands out in a pleading gesture.
Greg made a big show out of considering the idea, his eyes cast to the ceiling, his bottom lip pulled between his teeth. Nick rolled his eyes, sighing audibly as he wondered what could've possibly made him think this was a good idea. Finally, Greg shrugged, smirking considerably at Nick's irritation.
"Okay," he replied simply. "Should I meet you at your place, or do you want to meet somewhere?"
"Meet me at my place," Nick said, scribbling down his address on a post-it. "Nine o'clock."
"It's a date," Greg said, and winked as he took the small slip of paper, his slender fingers brushing against Nick's as he did so. Nick shoved his hands into his pockets, his flesh seared where Greg had touched him, fire spreading up his arms and down his spine. Watched Greg stuff the folded note into his jeans' pocket and then dexterous hands were shooing him away. "Now get out of my lab, you're stinking the place up and I've got enough work to do without having to sweep up the dirt you're leaving behind."
"Why do you need my DNA again if I was the one who was attacked?" Ian Reed asked, as they stood in the lobby of the crime lab. Nick had called the young man to recollect a sample, waiting for him to come in before leaving for the day. Of course, Nick had showered first, scrubbing the sticky, stinky desert off of him until his skin was pink and raw.
"It's just so we can rule you out when we compare it to other samples we find," Nick clarified, pulling a swab out of his pocket, but Ian's perpetually suspicious stare told Nick he wasn't exactly buying it. "Assaults are messy, and there tends to be a lot of evidence. If we know what's yours we can separate it from the perpetrators."
"All right," Ian conceded, opening his mouth as Nick raised the swab to his lips.
"Thanks," Nick said, nodding. He caught sight of a shock of blond, spiked hair and a brightly-colored shirt out of the corner of his eye and reached out his arm as he called out to Greg's unmistakable retreating form. "Hey, Sanders! Can you take this for me?"
Greg paused, tensing before turning on his heel. He glared at Nick as he approached the two men, grounding out through his teeth, "I'm not busy or anything."
"You look a little young to be a cop," Ian commented, his blue eyes shining with mischief as he regarded Greg. The interest caught Nick off guard and he narrowed his eyes as he frowned, watching Greg carefully to gauge his reaction.
"I'm not a cop," Greg responded, offering Ian a crooked smile. "But I'm not too young to be one."
"What do you do here?" the other man asked.
"Greg is my DNA analyst," Nick answered for him, and while it was true Greg was CSI Stokes' DNA analyst, Greg certainly didn't belong to everyday Nick. Although he hoped Ian would get the hint, and he shifted his shoulders towards the interloper unconsciously, almost as if to wedge his way between the two younger men. "He processes our evidence."
"Cute and smart," Ian stated, as if it were a casual observation, and Nick was horrified to see Greg actually blushing for what had to be the first time since Nick had known him.
"I'll get this processed right away," Greg said to Nick, ignoring Ian's comment, and Nick had to wonder what Greg's reaction would've been if he and Ian had been alone.
"Will you call me if you find anything?" Ian should've asked Nick, the investigator in charge of his case, but his eyes were focused on Greg.
"I don't...do stuff like that," Greg replied. "I just run lab tests."
"Will you call me anyway?"
Greg was stunned into silence – another first, Nick noticed, as he swallowed down his jealousy, creating a lead weight in the pit of his stomach. Greg glanced at Nick, then back to Ian, laughing nervously as he raked his fingers through his hair. First blushing, and now this? Nick wondered if he had ever caused Greg to have that kind of reaction, wondered what he would have to do to get it. Wondered if there was anything he even could do, if Greg would even respond at all.
"I need to get back to my lab," Greg stated, and with one last look at Ian, the young man was gone.
Nick forced a smile at the handsome, young man before him. "The detective in charge of your case will contact you if we find anything."
"Sure," Ian said, his gaze returning to Nick. He hesitated briefly, his lips in a tight line before he cocked an eyebrow. "Is he really...your DNA analyst?"
"He's the crime lab's DNA analyst," Nick replied, although he knew that wasn't the answer Ian had been looking for. But when Ian quirked a knowing smile, Nick considered that perhaps it was exactly what the young man had wanted to hear.
"Thanks for all your help, Mr. Stokes," Ian stated, glancing down the hallway towards the DNA lab before he left.
After a day spent fitfully trying to sleep, trying not to think about Ian and Greg's reaction to him, trying to forget that Greg was not his DNA analyst, trying to remember that he didn't want Greg to be his, Nick spent entirely too much time figuring out what to wear for his planned evening with the young lab rat. Spent entirely too much time in the mirror fixing his hair. Spent entirely too much time arranging and rearranging his kitchen, pulling out liquor and setting it conveniently on the counter before thinking it might seem like he'd put too much thought into it so he put it back in the cabinet. Spent entirely too much time wondering where the hell he was going to take Greg that didn't scream date or desperate or fuck me now.
Because that wasn't the point of this. The point was to get to know Greg and ease the tension between them. To become friends. Since apparently they weren't that, according to Greg. Although, when Nick considered it, he supposed that was true. They had never spent time together outside of work before. Hell, Nick didn't even have Greg's phone number. Didn't know Greg's favorite foods or drink of choice. What Greg liked to do in his spare time, besides scuba diving and latex, either of which may or may not have been true based on the various tales Greg liked to spin to impress people.
To impress Nick.
He forced the thought out of his mind, rolling his eyes at his own audacity. Sat down on the couch with a little time to spare before nine o'clock, tuning in to the movie Armageddon on his new satellite television. And, sure, Ben Affleck was kind of terrible, and the plot was riddled with scientific inaccuracies, but Bruce Willis had this rugged-good-looks and scruffy-charm thing going on, and the movie was pretty entertaining.
Just as Ben Affleck was beginning to sob uncontrollably in the space ship, Nick's doorbell rang, startling him. Quickly, he stood, rushing to the door before pausing briefly to give the impression that he hadn't just rushed to the door. Checked his image in the decorative mirror on his wall before pulling it open casually.
"Hey," Nick said with a smile, stepping aside so Greg could enter. The young man looked great in a button down shirt and faded jeans, his hair tousled just so, and Nick couldn't help but wonder how it would look after he ran his fingers through it.
"Nice place!" Greg commented with enthusiasm, placing a grocery bag that appeared to contain liquor and a bottle of soda on the counter between the kitchen and living room. "So American male. It's like testosterone overload! What's the green T on the rug stand for?"
"Texas," Nick replied, compressing his amused grin.
"Makes sense," Greg conceded. "I have a C on my carpet for California."
Nick rolled his eyes. "Are you done making fun of my taste in décor?"
Greg nodded, before turning his attention to the television. "Are you watching Armageddon?"
"I was just flipping through channels," Nick stated hastily. "I just got this new satellite service. Luna Cable. One hundred and fifty channels."
"Do you watch them all?" Greg asked, seemingly dubious at the thought someone could have that many channels.
"Well, no," Nick responded. "But the point is to have options."
"And you chose Armageddon?"
"Are you going to give me a hard time all night?" Nick asked, his voice perilously close to a whine.
"No, no, sorry," Greg quickly back peddled, moving into the kitchen. He opened and closed several cabinet doors until he found two glasses, then snatched up the grocery bag. Make yourself at home, Nick thought idly. "I brought some Crown and Coke. Is that cool with you?"
"Whiskey's dangerous," Nick stated, placing his hands on the counter, peering at Greg over the division between them. "I was going to drive."
"You can have one drink and still drive," Greg said, pouting considerably. Nick began to shake his head, until he felt a warm hand on his, squeezing gently. "Come on, Nicky. Live dangerously."
He looked up into those expressive brown eyes, full of mischief and ill-intentions. Saw that smile, just the corner of Greg's mouth upturned. Nodding as if to encourage the suggestion as he ducked his head and looked up from beneath dark eyelashes in the way that always made Nick's heart flutter. Nick cleared his throat, pulling his hands away and stuffing them into his pockets, trying to remember if he'd ever heard Greg call him that before.
"Sure," Nick finally replied, remembering his voice. "Just one won't hurt. And then we're leaving."
One turned into two. Which turned into three. Which turned into...however many drinks one could get out of a 750mL bottle, and once it was empty they broke into the Maker's Mark in Nick's freezer. Talking about sports and gossiping about coworkers, telling jokes and laughing and everything in between.
Nick had always been the kind of drunk that relaxed a little more with each drink, his drawl curling around his vowels a little harder than usual. And while Nick prided himself on his self-control when sober, when he was drunk he tended to get a little emotional and it was definitely easier to get information out of him he would usually keep to himself.
Greg, however, appeared to be the kind of drunk that talked even more than he usually did, at a higher volume than he usually did, with more enthusiasm than he usually did. Nick hadn't believed it was possible for Greg to exude even more nervous energy before tonight. He was also easier to laugh and cuss. The giggling was amusing, but that dirty mouth was kind of a turn on, and Nick was finding it more and more difficult to listen to him talk as the night went on. He kept imagining that mouth whispering dirty, sweet nothings into Nick's ear in the dark. Imagined what he could to do to render Greg speechless.
They never made it to any bars or clubs, and at some point the movie Armageddon had begun to play again. Nick was in the wing chair – calculatingly isolating himself– with Greg splayed out on the couch, his long fingers clutching a rock glass half full of ice and whiskey.
"Fucking Ben Affleck," Greg spat, the words clumsily falling out of his mouth. He indicated the television with a flourish, spilling half of his drink on his shirt, although he didn't seem to notice. "How is he famous? I don't get it. It's like...he's like Keanu Reeves."
"What do you have against Keanu Reeves?" Nick asked almost defensively.
"Don't tell me you like Keanu Reeves," Greg said, frowning as he placed his drink on the coffee table heavily. "He's like a robot. Bruce Willis is kind of cool, though. He's all, like, rugged and shit."
"You like rugged guys?" Nick asked, immediately horrified at his slip of composure, and quickly busied himself with hastily swallowing the rest of the whiskey in his glass.
"Yeah," Greg said, pointing to the television. "I mean, look at him. He's fucking cool, right? He's wearing a tank top and he still looks cool. I can't wear tank tops. I bet you can wear tank tops and look cool."
"I wouldn't know," Nick responded, shaking his head at the bizarre conversation. "I don't own any tank tops."
"Shame the world will never know," Greg murmured with a yawn. "Man, I'm tired. Work has been stressful with Ecklie firing two people from Days. That's fucking ridiculous. Like, I know I'm awesome and can process three times as many samples as one tech, but I shouldn't be punished for it. That's like being punished for being handsome, right? And I don't get punished for being handsome, do I, Nicky?"
There it was again. The second time Greg had ever called him that, but this time he said it like one of his dirty cuss words. Nick narrowed his eyes as the young man raked both hands through his hair before reaching for the sky, arching his back and stretching his legs long. His shirt rode up, revealing a flat, tan stomach juxtaposed to pale skin at his waist and Nick wanted to see what was below that tan line. Greg rested back against the couch, his half-lidded eyes focused on Nick. Lips slightly parted in a near pout, long fingers clutching the couch cushions underneath him.
Nick squirmed under his gaze, shifting his eyes to focus on the television. "You can crash here if you're tired. On the couch, I mean."
"Where else would I sleep?" Greg asked, smirking. "Besides the couch?"
Nick cleared his throat. "I don't know, you were so impressed with my rug earlier."
"I don't eat carpet, Nick."
Nick laughed nervously, the double entendre not lost on him. "Not your thing, huh?"
"A gentleman never tells," Greg said, shrugging almost impassively, and then returned his attention back to the movie. "Not tired enough to sleep yet but I do have to use the bathroom."
The young man rose from the couch hesitantly, clutching the armrest for support when his body swayed forward. He smiled into his chest, a whisper of a laugh escaping his lips, seemingly amused by his own unsteadiness. Moved away from the couch and his shin caromed off of the coffee table and he fell forward into Nick's wing chair and nearly on top of him.
"Ohmygodimsodrunk," Greg breathed in one word, his fingers gripping the back of Nick's chair, the other hand on Nick's thigh. Nick stiffened immediately, his shoulders rigid, his body tense, the smell of Greg's cologne and alcohol and the feel of Greg's warm breath against his cheek. And for a moment, neither of them moved. And maybe if Nick could've taken his eyes away from the ruggedly handsome Bruce Willis, he could've looked at Greg. Could've pushed him back onto the couch, pushed him into the cushions, kissed that filthy mouth and shown him what a real rugged man was capable of.
But he didn't do that. He stayed focused on the meteorite on television until Greg scoffed quietly, almost as if he were surprised.
"Sorry," Greg muttered, removing himself from Nick and continuing to the bathroom.
Nick's breath exploded from him when he heard the bathroom door close roughly, his heart ramming against his ribcage. He rubbed his eyes tiredly, heard the toilet flush and the sink running, and then Greg returned, sitting down on the couch heavily.
"Well," Greg commented almost casually. "This isn't how I expected my night to end."
Nick swallowed hard. "How did you expect it to end?"
There was a brief moment of silence. Nick dared to look at Greg. The young man was watching him with narrowed eyes. Glaring. And then his expression changed, his lips curling into a smile, but it wasn't right. His eyes were still dark.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" Greg asked, taunting him, before turning to the television.
Nick frowned, his eyes finding the television once more, forcing himself to focus on whatever movie was coming on next. Some Tom Cruise spy action movie that everyone had been talking about, but Nick had never been interested. Still wasn't, could only see the young man in his peripheral vision. It wasn't long before he heard soft snoring, and only then did Nick allow himself to relax. The night was over, Greg was asleep, and tomorrow they would go back to the crime lab and return to their respective roles.
Quietly, Nick rose from the wing chair, turning off the television. He went into the kitchen to make himself another drink, intending on taking it to his bedroom, but found himself sitting once again in the living room, listening to Greg breathe. Closed his eyes and leaned his head back, idly wondering what it would be like to hear that every night, to feel a warm body beside him. Greg's body. Wondered if Greg would ever be interested in something like that, wondered if he could ever tame the wild and carefree young man.
Wondered what the hell he was thinking.
Wearily, Nick rubbed his eyes before raking his fingers through his hair. He stood again, grabbing a blanket and pillow from the hall closet and returning to Greg's sleeping form.
"Greg," he called softly, gently shaking his shoulder. "Hey, man, I got you a blanket."
The other man only murmured incoherently, pushing Nick's hands away. Nick sighed, draping the blanket over his companion. He snaked his hand behind Greg's shoulders, pulling him up by the nape of his neck to shove a pillow under his head. Rested him gently back down onto the couch and kept his hand on the warm skin. Moved his palm to Greg's cheek, brushed his thumb across smooth, soft lips. Felt Greg turn into his touch, heard a soft sigh and couldn't tell which man had emitted the sound.
Nick snatched his hand away, frowning, his heart hammering in his chest. God, what was wrong with him? What had he been thinking? This night had been a terrible idea. Getting closer to Greg was not the solution. What he needed was more space.
To be continued.