Greg was feeling very self conscious on his first night back at work. He knew, because Nick had told him so, that everyone at work was horrified about what happened to him. Grissom had come to the hospital to see if he was all right and Nick had allowed Sara, Catherine, Warrick and Archie to come visit him, so he knew that they, at least, had seen the worst of his injuries right after it happened.|
They had all pretended that he didn’t look any different but the mere fact that Nick hadn’t allowed him to look into a mirror for the first couple of days told Greg that his face looked as bad as it felt.
Nick had stopped him from feeling the swollen bump on his nose to fewer than ten times an hour, no small feat, and told him that he would look as good as new when the swelling went down. Now that the swelling had gone down quite a bit, in spite of the tiny scar high on one cheekbone, Greg had to admit that Nick was right.
The more pressing concern was the bruises.
It was almost as if someone had painted a mask on his face; it was a neon sign announcing that he was a ‘victim’. As he walked down the hall, the fascinated stares and double takes made him squirm inside even though he managed to hold onto his outward poise.
No, not poise. His face was frozen. He was afraid to smile, afraid to nod with recognition at people who were his friends because then they would want to come up and talk to him, staring at him to see what was different. To say they were sorry. And he simply couldn’t bear that. Not tonight. Maybe never.
Greg thought if he had to say he was okay one more time, tell them that everything was fine and smile deprecatingly when someone told him it shouldn’t have happened to him, that he might let out the scream that he’d been unable to give voice to in the alley that night.
Because he had killed someone. And it didn’t really matter in the end what that person had done or what he was about to do; he, Greg Sanders, had no right to take someone else’s life. But Papa Olaf had told him to quit thinking like that, so he stopped himself. Again.
Greg strode down the hall, his eyes straight ahead, not looking to the left or right, ignoring his friends and coworkers.
“Oh, hey, Sanders,” Hodges called out from his lab. Greg put on a little speed; no way did he want to hear what Hodges had to say.
He hurried into Grissom’s office and shut the door behind himself. He leaned against it, panting and waiting for his heart rate to slow down before he straightened up. Grissom had his head down, doing something intricate to a bug in a Petri dish, so he was safe.
Safe. Greg’s lips twisted but he got the grimace under control before Grissom looked up, peering over his glasses.
“So, Greg, did you speak with your mother?”
Greg writhed internally, but by now he had his face under control and he was sure his discomfort didn’t show. “Yes sir. Everything is fine.”
Grissom considered the younger man; in the hospital Greg had had an unusual moment of vulnerability, bursting out with the information that his mother was unaware of his changed work status. Grissom had begun to wonder just what was hiding under the flip humour and casual quips by the youngest member of his team. That moment had been revealing and Grissom wondered what he really knew about Greg, other than the fact that the younger man was intelligent, and if he had the guts to admit it, possibly even more so, than he himself was.
Greg’s stony expression made Grissom decide not to pursue this line of questioning.
“It’s a quiet night, but we’re backlogged in DNA. Do you think you could do me a favour and help get us caught up in there?”
Greg almost sneered; he recognized that the delicately worded request was an order, and that no one wanted a fuck up like him on a crime scene. “Yes sir,” he said colourlessly. He opened the door and fled down the hall to the DNA lab. It was dark and silent, and there were piles of samples to be processed.
He didn’t want to talk to Judy, the chirpy receptionist, so he just decided to assume that Wendy was out sick tonight. He pulled on a lab coat, unconsciously smoothing the lapel with bruised fingers. He chuckled, and winced when his split lip protested the smile; he’d caught himself thinking that he felt safe, that the lab coat would protect him but then he flashed to the sensation of flying through the air, the explosion ringing in his ears. He buried his hands within the pockets, clenching them into fists, feeling his nails dig into his palms.
Nick paused in the hall, watching the subtle shift of Greg’s shoulders, the way he hiked the right one and twisted his neck. Greg always did that when he was remembering the explosion. Didn’t he have enough right now without dwelling on that? Nick took a deep breath and walked into the lab. This would require delicate handling.
“What up, G? Got my results?” he drawled.
Greg looked up startled, and then his battered face relaxed into a smile. “Shit, Stokes, give me a chance to warm up the chair first, will ya?” His hands stopped trembling and he was able to take them out of his pockets, crossing his arms in front of him.
Nick smirked and walked closer, looming in Greg’s personal space the way he used to before they started dating. “Haven’t had your coffee yet, I’ll bet. You’re always a grouch before you get your hit of caffeine.”
Greg brightened a bit. “No, I– I haven’t made it yet. You want some?”
“Sure thing,” Nick said. He stood back as if daring Greg to walk past him, challenging him like he used to.
“Follow me,” Greg said, and scooted quickly past his partner, feeling a bit more comfortable to be repeating their old pattern from when he was still in the lab.
Archie looked up from the glow of his monitor as they passed by the AV lab, and smiled to see Nick shadowing Greg to the break room, just like he used to three years ago when Greg was still just a labrat.
Greg opened the cabinet under the sink and fished around behind the disposal unit, finding the bag of coffee beans he’d secreted there.
“Shit, Greg, I’ve been looking all over the place for those! I could have used a good cup of coffee–” Nick paused, realizing that he had been about to say, ‘while you were in the hospital.’
Greg smiled wryly, but undid the twisty and reached for the coffee grinder. “Gotta hide the good stuff, Grissom would drink it all if I just left it lying around. You know what he always wants in the morning, besides my devilish grin and rakish good looks, of course.”
“Your coffee,” Nick finished the old joke, even though his heart was twisted by Greg’s grin, looking anything but devilish in his bruised face.
“Guess when my looks go–”
“I’ll still love you for your coffee, G,” Nick said softly although he remained where he was, leaning against the counter with his arms crossed, as if to remind himself not to reach for the younger man.
“Well, that’s something, I guess.”
Nick thought Greg’s grin now looked more wretched than devilish, but he soldiered on. “So after this masterful brewing of the Blue Hawaiian, then will you get back to work and get my evidence out?” he teased.
“Of course, all that backlog in there? Piece of cake,” Greg boasted.
“For you,” Nick agreed. “No one does it as fast as you do. Or as accurately.”
Greg puffed his chest out importantly. “Well, I did graduate cum laude. Plus I have a high tolerance for lunatics.”
“I suppose you mean me?” Nick inquired.
“Actually everyone but you. You’re a pussycat, comparatively,” Greg grinned, and winced, reaching for the medicated lip salve.
“I’ve always thought of myself more as a dog person,” Nick said, much amused. “You’re the cat. You purr–” He stopped himself just in time and started to laugh at the shocked expression on Greg’s face.
“Not at work, Nick,” Greg hissed primly.
“Right, right, just slipped up a little, G,” Nick apologized.
“It’s ready. How do you take yours?”
Nick’s jaw dropped but he caught himself in time. Greg knew perfectly well how he liked his coffee, seeing as he prepared it for him that very morning, but Nick realized that in this trip back in time, Greg didn’t yet know how he preferred to drink it. “Black, two sugars,” he said.
“How many hours in the gym to work off those evil carbs?” Greg teased, as he handed Nick his mug.
“Yeah, yeah, I know, you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight,” Nick groused. “But some of us are older–”
“And wiser,” Greg chimed in, repeating Nick’s mantra, “And we take care of our bodies.” He stopped for a moment, his voice a little unsteady. “And our health, so we’ll live a long, long time.”
“Right, and someday you’ll join me at the gym,” Nick said, leading them onto safer territory. “I’ll show you a good workout, and you’ll thank me for it.”
“And I’ll be sore as hell the next day,” Greg smiled, wishing he had taken Nick up on that invitation sooner; the morning he finally had accompanied Nick to the gym had turned out to be very interesting. “I have to get back to work, I don’t have time to chitchat with you all day,” he said brashly.
Nick followed him down the hall, the flying labcoat taking him back to those earlier days. He wasn’t exactly sure he could say they were simpler times, considering some of their combined experiences, but looking back, they seemed simpler. Even the stalker in his house didn’t cut so close to the bone as the attack on Greg.
Greg sat on his chair and wheeled himself to the stack of samples. “What’ll you give me if I put you ahead of the rest?”
“Lunch? On the roof?” Once they had started dating they had started eating lunch on the lab rooftop whenever their time coincided, looking over the downtown view with their shoulders just touching, as a way of being able to hang out together without attracting too much attention.
“You’re buying? And delivering?”
“Done,” Nick agreed.
Greg fished through the envelopes and found three with ‘Stokes’ across the top in Nick’s distinctive handwriting. “Miller or Strand first?”
“Strand, that one’s hotter,” Nick said, hitching a hip onto one of the stools well out of Greg’s way and sipping his coffee.
Greg pushed off the counter, wheeling himself to his pipettes to prepare the solution. Nick looked up and caught Jacqui’s eye through the glass that separated her lab from DNA; she smiled and gave him a thumb’s up. He watched as Hodges came down the hall, heading straight for the DNA lab. Before he could think up an excuse to forestall the trace tech’s entrance, Jacqui had lunged into the hall, grabbing a handful of Hodges’ coat and hauling him into her domain. Nick saw a heated exchange, silent behind the glass, and hoped that Greg wouldn’t look up and catch it.
Jacqui dispatched Hodges neatly before Greg even had time to roll himself over to the GCMS, putting the sample in for processing. He wheeled over to the printer, tapping his fingers impatiently until the report printed.
“That was fast,” Nick said. “That thing’s been in here for three days.”
“Leave it to the master,” Greg said airily. “And nepotism always helps.” He pulled the report out of the printer and scanned it quickly. “Got anything to compare it to?”
“Yeah,” Nick said. He opened a cabinet and extracted a file, handing it to Greg although he was well able to evaluate the contents himself. Greg looked at the two profiles.
“Well, well, related. Seven alliels in common. Cherchez la femme,” Greg commented. He put both papers into Nick’s hands with a flourish.
Excited by this possible lead in a case that was baffling both him and Warrick, Nick laid the reports side by side on the counter. “Well, I’ll be damned. It’s got to be the mother. I never would have thought…”
“If you need any more help, I’m your man,” Greg bragged.
“Yeah, G, you are,” Nick said with a tender smile. He slung one arm over the younger man’s shoulders and put his other hand squarely on Greg’s chest, just like he used to when he was courting him, although he wouldn’t have put it that way himself. Courting was the word Jillian had used when she’d demanded the whole story after meeting and falling in love with Greg.
Greg looked down, startled, and his eyes were soft and dark when they met Nick’s again.
“You’re my man,” Nick repeated, emphasizing the last word so that Greg got it. He picked up the papers and saluted Greg with them. “See you on the roof, later.”
“I want corned beef, the good stuff!” Greg called after him.
“Nothing but the best,” Nick yelled back.
Greg turned to tackle the big pile of work awaiting him, a smile on his face, the bruises forgotten for the moment.