Vital Sounds by RurouniHime [Reviews - 7]

A/N: This is for Shacky20, who asked for post-Fannysmackin' fic. ^_^ SPOILERS for Fannysmackin' ahead.


Vital Sounds

Nick Stokes pushed open the heavy wooden door with both hands, his left arm only half into the sleeve of his jacket. The bar was low-lit but not crowded. He blinked to adjust his eyes, tugging at his sleeve until the coat fell comfortably across his shoulders. The bartender looked up. The pinched look on his face relaxed into relief, and he pointed toward the farthest stool down the counter, but Nick had already seen who he was looking for.

He gave himself time for a single breath and wove his way amongst the empty tables.

"Greggo." Nick laid a hand on his co-worker's shoulder, but the only response he got was a vague tightening of Greg's mouth.

The bartender came over. "I tried to call him a taxi. I know that he’s not…" The man's brow wrinkled, exaggerating the fine lines around his eyes. His voice dropped. "Didn’t mean to tie up the lab’s line. I just thought I should call you, Nick."

He gestured with one hand toward the half-empty bottle at Greg's elbow. Nick picked it up and read the label. Felt his face try to twist on him. "Is this it?"

The bartender shook his head. "Wish it was. He had a bourbon when he first came in. Tried to talk him out of it, but—"

Greg stirred. "I can hear you both, you know," he said irritably.

Nick heard the slight slur in his words. He nodded at the man behind the bar. Leaned forward and gripped his shoulder. "Thanks."

The man cast a shadowed look at Greg and stepped away.

Nick shut his eyes for just a moment, and then reached across his co-worker, sliding the whisky bottle away down the bar. But Greg's grip on the shot glass was a little too tight, and Nick let it go for the time being. "Greggo, you're still on your meds. What are you doing?"

Greg grinned at him lopsidedly. “Come to join me? Pull up a slab of bar, Nick.”

This time he reached, and when Greg didn't move, he eased the shot glass free of his hand and set it aside. "Come on, man," he said quietly. "Let me take you home."

"I'm fine where I am." The edge in Greg’s voice was obvious. Nick looked around and found the bartender watching them. The man shook his head very slightly.

"You're drunk," Nick said softly. Greg looked at him, and for the first time, Nick saw that his eyes were red-rimmed. "Jeez, man."

Greg didn't answer. Just slouched there on the stool. His face was pale, and the faintest of bruises still haunted his cheek. Or it may have just been the light. As he stared, Greg shifted gingerly, wincing at the movement and shutting his eyes.

"Where are your meds?"

"Home." Greg’s snort sounded weary. “Bottle’s too heavy for my state of mind.”

Nick pursed his lips. "Did you take any today, Greggo?"

This time Greg wore a smirk. "You know, I don't really remember. Probably." He studied Nick out of oddly clear eyes. Up and down, as if he couldn't quite convince himself that he knew him. "Aren't you supposed to be at the lab?"

Nick shook his head. Greg locked his gaze for a moment, and then let out a frustrated sound and turned away. "You can tell Grissom I don't need a babysitter. I’m an adult."

"Greg, he didn't send me." Nick sighed, and Greg sighed along with him. "This your night off?"

A nod. “Thought I’d kick back a little. Rest my psychoses.”

His accompanying laugh was too sharp in Nick’s ears. He patted Greg’s back and let his hand remain there. "You should be kicking back at home, man."

"Just needed a drink, Nick."

Nick bent down until he was eye-level with the other man. "I think you had more than one."

Greg swayed on the stool and Nick inhaled, pushing images of a bandaged head and swollen eye away where they couldn't reach out and touch him so easily. Greg's back felt knotted beneath his palm. The younger man reached up and ran a hand through his hair, back and forth. Nick observed silently as Greg’s hair grew more and more haphazard.

“If I’d known you were getting the night off, we could have gone to the strip,” he said in what Nick belatedly realized was a teasing voice. He swallowed. It sounded so… off. Greg waggled his eyebrows at him, but Nick couldn’t return the smile.

“Greggo, I’m going to take you home. Okay?”

He stepped forward to take Greg’s arm, but the other man looked up sharply, eyes glittering.

“I’m not going with you, Nick!” Greg stumbled from the stool, pushing Nick in the chest at the same time, and for an instant, Nick feared he would sprawl across the floor. He reached out to grab him, but Greg righted himself and drew a deep breath. “I’m good. It’s… Okay.”

“No, it’s not.” Nick set his jaw and encircled Greg’s bicep with one hand. “You’re practically falling down. You need to sleep it off.”

To his surprise, Greg didn’t put up much of a fight. He stared down at Nick’s fingers around his arm, and all the energy slid right out of him. He raised his head, let it fall back, eyes drifting over the ceiling.

“I don’t want to be at home,” Greg whispered.

“Look, you won’t be alone, I’m going to take you. But we’re going.” He looked at the bartender, lifting his chin. “What’s he owe you?”

Greg’s eyes opened wide and he began to dig sluggishly through his pockets. But the bartender just shook his head. “Don’t worry about it.”

Nick guided Greg away from the bar. The younger CSI lowered his head. Pressed one palm to his temple. Nick saw the grimace on his face.

“Fuck. What was in that whisky?”

“Eighty proof alcohol, that’s what.” He pulled the door open and Greg made his way through it, heading for his car. Nick caught his arm and steered him in the opposite direction. Greg staggered, fell against him. Nick barely grabbed him in time, pulling him up away from the pavement. Greg still had his coat on, dark blue over a thin t-shirt. Nick felt a body warm with booze press along his side. He steadied Greg.

“Hey,” he murmured. “You alright?”

“Will be. When the world stops trying to trip me.”

Nick shook his head, trying to tamp down on the frustration. He knew how his particular brand of anger had played itself out lately, and a show like that wouldn’t help Greg at all. “You do this on a night before work, and Grissom’ll have your ass.”

Greg scowled, jerking himself free of Nick’s grasp. “I’m not stupid, Nick. I do have some common sense.”

Nick exhaled through his nose. He led Greg around to the passenger side of his car and made certain he was seated before circling back to the driver’s side. Greg was fumbling with his seatbelt when he got in. Nick shut the door and just leaned against the steering wheel. He rubbed his eyes with both hands. "Damn it, Greg, what are you doing?"

"I think you already have a pretty good idea what I'm doing," was his answer, careful and precise around the slur.

"Yeah, I do," Nick countered, raising his head to meet Greg's eyes across the darkened car. "Why are you doing it? We didn’t get you out of the hospital just to throw you back in it again."

Greg’s face looked ten years older in the sallow light from the sodium lamp outside. “Not trying to go back there, Nick.” A single weak exhalation after the words. “I’m really not.”

Nick jerked his head. He supposed it was a nod. He put the car in gear and backed out of the lot onto the road. The lights of the inner city winked and beamed a glowing corona over the tops of the buildings closest to them. Greg didn’t say a word as Nick turned onto the main drag, then jumped a ramp onto the highway.

Traffic was nearly gridlocked. Nick found himself gritting his teeth and forced his jaw to relax. Greg leaned against the car door, staring blankly out the window at the night. When a car in front of them came to a full stop, Nick looked over. Reached out to touch Greg’s shoulder. “Hey. You feeling sick?”

He saw Greg’s throat work. “Always.”

It took Nick a moment to stop fighting his suspicion. It wasn’t really a suspicion anyway, just a fact that was being avoided all too well. He concentrated on the road, uncertain whether he had any right to bring it out into the open, or if maybe it would just send Greg out the door the second a red light came up.

Greg shifted his long legs, propping one foot up against the lower compartment on the door. He shivered. Nick watched him and the road alternately, wondering if maybe he hadn’t taken the whisky away soon enough. If Greg had taken a pill tonight…

“All those damn windows,” his passenger muttered.


Greg shifted restlessly until his back was against the door. He was gazing straight at him, Nick could feel it, but the traffic had picked up again and he couldn’t look away from the road.

“I never thought I’d hate the lab because of those windows,” Greg said conversationally. “Does every building in this city have to have windows like that?”

“I…” Nick raised an eyebrow, turning off the highway at last. He knew it was a short stint to Greg’s apartment. He tried another tack. “You got something against windows?”

Greg did not smile. His fingers fiddled with the hem of his shirt. Nick saw that it was the same shirt he’d been wearing the day he’d been released from the hospital. “The hospital had windows like that,” was all he said.

Nick tried to find some response to that, but it just seemed too large, pressing against the inner walls of the car, bearing down around him in sleepy heaves. There were too many directions it could go, and Nick didn’t know which one Greg had intended.

A measured breath, falling like a breeze. “You think they’ve had that kid’s funeral yet?”

Nick shut his eyes briefly. He turned down a residential street and pulled up to the sidewalk. “You gotta stop thinking about that, man.”

Oh, but if he could simply say it and have it be so… Greg shook his head. He was no longer looking at Nick, his gaze focused on the nothingness of the quiet street beyond the windshield. Little houses, white shutters and green lawns, despite the desert heat. A sprinkler flinging droplets across the sidewalk. “I should have done something else.”

“Greg, they beat someone to death,” Nick said. “You had every reason to believe he was going to kill you.”

Greg’s head wavered back and forth. Slow, painful shakes. “Not alone.” His voice dropped to a whisper on the second word.

Nick popped the clutch into neutral and turned fully in the seat to face the other man. “Greggo. You were in danger. You protected yourself. None of us could ever say we would have done differently.”

Greg’s shoulders quivered. “Just… drive.”

So Nick did. He put the car back in gear and took the five remaining turns into Greg’s neighborhood in silence. Nick eased into the lot of the complex and killed the engine under a large, softly glowing lamp. He’d planned to go around and help Greg out, but when he rounded the rear bumper, he found the other man already outside, leaning heavily on the frame of the door for support. Greg inched aside and slammed the door shut, then slumped against the car, pressing his forehead to the metal.

Nick stood behind him, wanting to help, but not knowing what to do with his hands. “Man, I’ve never seen you like this. Can you walk?”

Greg murmured something and pushed away from the car. “M’fine.”

And indeed he was. For about five steps. Greg didn’t lift his right foot high enough over the curb and lurched forward. Nick locked his arms around him and pulled him onto his feet again. Greg’s hand clutched at his jacket tightly. After a teetering instant, Nick got his balance and shifted Greg around, pulling his right arm over his shoulders and slinging one arm around the other man’s waist. His heart thudded rapidly in his chest. “You are not fine, Greg. I’m taking you to urgent care.”

Greg pulled up as Nick tried to turn them back toward the car. “No, I don’t need urgent care, Nick, I just—Just want to go inside. Please.”

Nick wavered in the lamplight, halfway between car and apartment. “If you’re reacting to something you took—”


It was that single voicing of his name, weak and pleading, that stopped his mouth. Nick looked at Greg, feeling the weight of his body heavy in his arms, the fingers of Greg’s hand gripping at his shoulder. He could smell the whisky Greg had drunk, and the worn-away scent of aftershave.

“Okay,” he said at last. “Okay, but if you start seizing…”

He helped Greg to his front door and waited while the man fumbled his keys out and struggled with the lock. He let them into cool darkness, sagging back against Nick almost immediately over the threshold. Nick squeezed him tightly and felt along the wall for a light switch.

A click, and the room spilled over into yellow. Greg winced. “Turn it… There’s a knob—”

Nick found it and lowered the glare. He felt Greg sigh as they made their way through the house. The kitchen came up on the right, only slightly separated from the living room by a narrow sliver of wall. He saw the small orangey container of pills on the kitchen counter. Greg leaned into him, and Nick stretched out gingerly and picked up the bottle. It was half-full. He tried to count them through the plastic, but it was impossible to tell how many had been in there to begin with.

“Okay,” he muttered, pulling Greg into the kitchen proper. “Get you some water.”

“Nick, I’m not thirsty.”

Nick ignored him, grabbing the nearest glass on the counter and turning the tap in the sink on. He filled the glass, then got his hands wet turning the water off. “Here. Drink it all.”

Greg rolled his eyes, but drank obediently. He wiped his mouth against the sleeve of his coat and handed the glass back. Nick could see how loosely he gripped it and took it away before it could fall and shatter. “Where’s your room?”

Greg gestured loosely toward the hallway and Nick turned right there instead of left, heading into darkness. He tried to open the first door, but Greg groaned something negative. “Bathroom.”

The next room was a bedroom. Posters on the walls, and clothing dropped across the floor like pools in a meticulous garden. Nick maneuvered through them until he reached the bed. It was messy, the quilt practically on the floor, but he could tell it was Greg’s. The entire room smelled faintly of him.

Nick took a deep breath and lowered Greg onto the bed. The other man moaned painfully. His arm slid across Nick’s shoulders in a warm arc and flopped down limp at his side.

“Nice room,” Nick said.

“Thanks,” Greg answered with false cheer. “I keep it nice and clean for company.”

Nick shook his head. He bent and undid the laces of Greg’s shoes, then tugged them off and set them aside. Greg blinked blearily around him, a puzzled wrinkle between his brows. “I feel kind of weird.”

Nick looked up. “You need a trash can?”

Greg snorted softly and shook his head. “I can hold my liquor.”

“I can see that.” He got to his feet again and knelt on the bed, reaching for Greg’s coat. “Let’s get this off you.”

Greg nodded and wormed his arms out of one sleeve and then the other. Nick slid the jacket completely off and draped it over the headboard. He tugged the pillows closer, plumping them as best he could with one hand.

“You can have the… the left side,” Greg murmured. Nick felt a real smile break over his lips at last.

“Yeah, right. You probably flail in your sleep.”

“Famous for it.” The grin tried to be real, but there was very little behind it. Greg inched backward, pulling his legs up and reaching clumsily for something to steady himself. Nick watched him, one hand hovering between them to help if he needed it. Greg’s long fingers clutched the edge of the headboard, squeezing, and Nick felt his chest begin a slow, dull ache.

“Come on, Greggo,” he whispered. “Need your sleep.”

“I’m not tired.” Greg settled back onto the pillows, squirming and flinching as he tried to get comfortable. Nick rubbed one shoulder until Greg quieted. Deep chocolate eyes stared up at him in the dim light. Such resonance. Nick wondered if Greg was even aware of the power of his own eyes. He straightened, then stretched across and gripped the corner of the quilt, tugging it back up onto the bed.

“Here, cover up.” He spread the blanket over Greg’s legs and began tucking it around him, wondering if sleeping in jeans would turn out badly for the younger man next morning.

“You’re a life-saver, Nick Stokes,” Greg said in a low voice. He reached for the quilt, then reached for Nick’s arm. Fingers clutched for an instant. Greg raised his head, lifted his shoulders off the bed and kissed Nick’s mouth. His lips were warm, tasting of whisky and the desert. Slightly chapped. They parted and Nick felt the quiet hush of air against his mouth before Greg kissed him a second time.

He pulled away abruptly and Greg dropped back, eyes trained on him. Nick drew a shaky breath and fought not to lick his lips. Greg had kissed him. His thoughts swung. He hadn’t seen it coming and he still couldn’t quite…

Greg was very, very close. His chest rose and fell against Nick’s side.

“No, Greg?” Nick squeezed his eyes shut. Tried to breathe normally. “I’m not going to be your distraction.”

It sounded so very stupid. Why had he even thought to say that?

Greg’s hands threaded through his hair, slipped over his face. Feather-light fingertips. The touch was so tender, Nick’s throat clenched.

“You were never my distraction, Nicky,” Greg whispered brokenly.

His eyes blinked, and then dropped shut. Greg’s fingers gripped the nape of his neck and then drifted gradually downward, over his throat and chest before dropping away. His head settled gently to one side, bangs shifting across his forehead. The steady in-out, in-out breathing of a sleeper fluttered over the skin of Nick’s arm.

He lay there halfway on the bed, and gazed at Greg as he slept. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, and long lashes curved over them, shadowing Greg’s cheeks. His exhalations fluttered the longest locks of his hair. Nick could see tiny lines edging around his mouth.

He raised one hand and carded silently through Greg’s hair, settling the wayward tangles back into place.

“Don’t you grow up any more,” he whispered. His voice caught. He touched Greg’s cheek, his forehead. Stroked one thumb over the skin just beside his lips. Did it again. “Don’t grow up.”

Greg’s breathing continued steadily. Nick counted, wondered at each miniscule hitch. He knew he wasn’t going home. There were the pills to think about, and the alcohol consumed. He could sleep on the couch. But if something happened, if Greg just suddenly stopped—

Nick held still a moment longer, listening to the soothing rush of Greg’s breathing, then toed off his shoes and curled up on his side, tucking his head onto the corner of Greg’s pillow. His jacket hugged his shoulders like a warm glove, and Nick edged his feet into the folds of the quilt.

He settled one palm against Greg’s chest. A muted heartbeat thumped into his fingers, echoing against his own. Greg inhaled. Exhaled. Inhaled again. Nick lay there, knees flush against Greg’s side, and let himself memorize each vital sound.

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