CSI
Transcending the Trouble by RurouniHime [Reviews - 9]

A/N: Dedicated to GeniusArtist, for her help with my other fic. ^_^

This fic contains spoilers for Overload, Stalker and Fannysmackin', and it deals with some things that happened in Redrum. Suffice it to say that Grissom is back at this point, but several issues in Redrum haven't been worked out yet.

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Transcending the Trouble


When Nick knocked over the empty stack of sample trays for the third time while reaching for one, he swore, yanked off one of his gloves, and pushed away from the work table, scrubbing his newly bared hand over his face.

God, he needed water. A break. To get out of this room. It wasn’t late, it wasn’t a particularly bad case, or even a bad day. At least, it wasn’t supposed to be a bad day.

He just didn’t think the timing was very fair.

He should have seen it coming. A new lab tech wasn’t exactly a stress-worthy occurrence, usually, but of course this one had to start making his presence known on this day, as if no one Up Above were paying any attention to what had been going on for the past day.

Night.

Whatever.

Nick raised his head and listened to familiar laughter down the hall, and mingling with it, the unfamiliar laughter that was quickly growing familiar.

It had been a nice… change, last night. He’d certainly seen that coming, and though it still gave him pause for thought—even though he’d already experienced what kissing Greg Sanders was like while being so close against him, actually inside him, and knowing instinctively that “slow,” while slow, had been so wonderful—he liked it. It made sense, in that easy-river way of flowing, and there hadn’t been any rocks impeding the time-eroded path, no nasty-enough work situations to lay a pall over what had been going on between him and Greg for the last however long it had been. It made sense to Nick. Felt easy. Last night it had jumped directly from slightly-too-close friendship to very physical intimacy, and in the morning (afternoon) when he’d woken up, Greg had leaned back over the bed, half-dressed, and kissed his mouth.

Have to go home before work. You… in later?

Nick remembered the unspoken you alright? He’d nodded to both.

He knew Greg hadn’t forgotten the previous night. Saw him working certain kinks out of his back while trooping off to the Denali with Warrick earlier during shift. Never mind that it had been a little while since Greg had had that kind of sex. It had been a little while for Nick, too, and he’d been absolutely relieved that he hadn’t had any physical… well, issues with himself this time; that with Greg, his body behaved rather spectacularly, and he’d already come before realizing that there had been a real risk.

Had been a risk off and on, since the coffin. Hard to predict. Some cases made it impossible.

Greg had transcended that.

Discussion had not occurred. Nick, strangely, hadn’t felt the necessity. What had happened felt good, very good, and comfortable. Simple progression, changing things gradually, and even the jump between sitting beside Greg and being inside Greg hadn’t felt as massive as Nick knew it should have.

See you after work?

Yeah.


But today. It still had that “morning after” sort of quality, in a good way. And Nick had gotten up, gone to the break room feeling thoughtful and simple and nicely stretched, and had overheard the brand new tech talking.

It wasn’t Nick’s business. He didn’t even know the new guy all that well, except that he came from Oregon and had a sun-honeyed shag that he kept tied back while he efficiently went through Nick’s samples, and that he was a nice enough guy. Youngish. Good for a joke, and thought Nick’s sense of humor was chic enough to laugh.

And he’d been admiring the good-looking-ness of Greg Sanders, admiring for Mandy, no less. Mandy, who’d looked in Nick’s direction amusedly and said Greg was a geek.

“I like geeks,” the tech answered.

Damn it, just… “Damn it,” Nick muttered, there in the work room with his hand rubbing his forehead. Couldn’t blame Mandy for her encouragement; she didn’t know. Could blame himself for the frown he gave Jake of Oregon when the same expectant observation about Greg was turned his way. But he also knew the Change was still too new to say anything about.

Nick got up and got his water, and went back to processing for a couple of hours, and did not miss the moment when Greg’s laughter finally shut itself off down the hall in Jake’s Trace lab. Actually got some work done, then. At one point much later, his door cracked open and a handsome, child-curious face poked in. Nick could see the jacket on Greg’s arm, and the changed clothing.

“Hey, Grissom’s letting me out early.” Greg’s lips curved up, and it wasn’t Nick’s imagination, the smile was somehow warmer than it had been the day or week or month before. Greg’s voice went lower. “Want to share some pad thai later?”

Nick nodded, smiled back, and felt ease flit back into the picture. “Whatever pad thai is.”

Greg’s eyebrows apparently disapproved of him. He fumbled with something, then tossed that same something across the room. Nick caught flickering gold by reflex and found a key.

“Just come in. I’ll probably be zonked.”

Nick nodded again and Greg left, and Nick looked at the key. Turned it over. He didn’t usually see these sorts of things in his hand at this point.

Well. At least it meant Greg was keeping his front door locked.

* * *

Nick walked the short distance from his car to Greg’s door with the sun creeping across the back of his neck, and a yawn awaiting the perfect moment to floor him. He bent, scooped up the newspaper from the front stoop. Hesitated at the door and then fished around for that key. It felt odd, letting himself into Greg’s house. Like illicitly easing through a door late at night, except that was ridiculous with the sun shining over the rooftops.

Greg’s lock clicked soundly, and his front hallway was cool and dark. Nick shucked his shoes, cursing the muffled thumps, and tossed the paper onto the couch just inside the living room archway. Straightened up and patted down his jacket absently, wondering how to wind down enough to sleep. He was damn tired. His body just wasn’t aware of it yet.

What to do with the key? Nick wasn’t fool enough to think it had been a gift. Just practicality at its finest. And Greg was many things, including extremely practical when he wanted to be. Which wasn’t always. The key gleamed dully in the dim light. Return it directly to Greg’s hand, thanks for the invite, here’s your key?

Nick ended up halfway into the small kitchen, green countertops broken by a lone glass and an empty plastic bag with “Thai Palace” stenciled in blue on the side. Where Greg had found Thai food at dawn was the real question. Nick set the key down with a soft clink on the open stretch of space near the toaster. A logical place. He probably wouldn’t even remember putting it there whenever he left, which would save him the agony of deciding whether or not to pick it up again.

There was a muted thump somewhere deeper in the apartment, and then unsteady shuffling. A door creaked and Greg wandered out of the gloom at the end of the hall, bare feet dragging. Nick’s hand halted against his jacket. Greg’s eyes were squinted, his hair an untidy tousle atop his head. Pajama pants settled low on his hips, the ends threatening to swallow his feet as he made his way down the hall.

“Mm, morning,” Greg mumbled in a tone thick with sleep. He blinked blearily at Nick, came right up to him with a yawn, and leaned bodily into a heavy embrace. Nick drew a deep, sudden breath at the incredible heat pouring from Greg’s skin, the drowsy warmth spilling across his arms and shoulders and chest. Greg’s lips parted against Nick’s cheek.

“I was having a dream about you,” he murmured. “And then I woke up and you weren’t there.”

“Good mor—” Nick’s words were stolen by the searching “o” of Greg’s lips, the urgent stroke of tongue. Greg seemed to wrap himself around Nick, coaxing him forward, sliding his hands up under his jacket, under his shirt. Nick sucked in another breath and Greg fell back against the nearest wall, pulling Nick to him.

He couldn’t believe the swiftness of it, how quickly his own body responded to Greg. Sleep-flushed skin and lean muscle, bared under his hands and for his mouth. Something tight coiled deep in his loins, painful and pronounced. Greg’s hands climbed over his face, traveled down the nape of his neck, and Nick tangled himself up in the dream-heat of Greg’s body and kissed him back.

“Tired?” Greg whispered, hands slipping under Nick’s beltline and cupping. Caressing.

“No.”

“Want the bed?”

Nick nodded. Greg thrust against him, a pliant roll of his entire body, and somehow they moved down the hall until at last there was a dark, dark bedroom and a rumpled bed that smelled of Greg’s cologne. Greg shared his heat willingly; Nick’s clothes disappeared and he was in Greg, in the soft flow of his skin and the reckless gasping of his breaths. Greg’s hands climbed over him. Wrapped him in sheets and sweat and finally, sleep.

* * *

They slept together during their version of nights, after the more colloquial “sleeping together” took place. Once Greg fell asleep, he didn’t move much except to breathe, to curl his fingers in the midst of a dream. It surprised Nick. He figured Greg would have been a fidgeter, a tosser and a turner, as antsy asleep as he was awake. Nick found himself awake often enough, looking up at the ceiling of whichever bedroom they’d chosen for the night, with Greg draped across one arm. Recalling the way Greg’s face flushed when he came, recalling who instigated what and feeling the distant aches in his own muscles, of strain and pure physical contentment. Greg took skill to please, and stamina, but the way his eyes widened just as his body began to slip from his control—the shudder of incoherent, needy sound that spilled from his lips, half Nick’s name, half otherworldly—was worth every effort.

Greg said nothing about the key. They wandered in and out of each other’s homes and bedrooms when they weren’t at the lab, and occasionally other places. There was a Tuesday when Greg got swapped to dayshift, and Nick went hiking, up in thinner, cleaner air where the rocks were burned orange and there was a distinct smell of sage in his nostrils.

The sweat on his collar felt good, and his forearms felt grimy, and the sky was cobalt and endless. The ridge he was on dipped into a swollen valley pocked with green. Nick huffed air back into his lungs after the swift climb and relished the breeze slinking through the worn material of his shirt. When his cell phone buzzed in his pocket against his thigh, he smirked at the lone tower perched on the next ridge over.

“Stokes.”

“No flash floods yet?”

Nick snorted. “They’re taking a rain check.”

“Ha ha.” Greg shuffled papers on his end, and Nick heard the whirr of some sort of lab equipment. “So. When are you gracing civilization with your presence again?”

Nick stretched an arm skyward and looked back up the deserted trail. “Maybe two hours.” There was an mm-hm of agreement on the other end of the line. Nick hesitated for a brief second. “Want a ride home later?”

“Love a ride. And you all sweaty and mountain-man, too.”

This time Nick laughed aloud.

Greg’s good mood stole through his words. “Listen, a cd I ordered came in downtown. We could get dinner.”

“Sounds good.” And it did.

* * *

Their waitress was flirty, the restaurant crowded, and the food fairly sub-par. But Nick didn’t really feel it. The skin of his face had that lazy, almost-burnt sensation. He relaxed back in the booth and held back his grin when the waitress eyed the open vee of his shirt as she plunked down two water glasses at the next table. Greg’s eyes narrowed craftily.

“That is a nice shirt.”

Nick tossed a crumpled straw wrapper at him, aiming for his hair and successfully lodging it among the tresses. “Sorry, what?”

Greg couldn’t keep his face straight. He rose, shaking his head and chuckling. “Going to the bathroom. Get me mud pie a la mode. Only thing that’s good here.”

He crossed the crowded room, weaving between tables. Nick cocked his foot up on the seat across from him and looked around, feeling more relaxed than he had in days. Mud pie a la mode. A smile twitched his mouth. He took a sip of water, and then suddenly he was getting to his feet, not really thinking about anything except that this wasn’t usually something he did. But tonight wasn’t a normal night.

He edged past a man coming out of the bathroom and found the inside to be a series of vacant urinals and three open stalls at the end. Greg stood by the last urinal, zipping up his jeans. Nick walked up well within view, slid his arm around the other man’s waist, and backed him into the largest of the stalls. Greg stifled a laugh and leaned back against the wall. The light directly overhead was out, the others flickering, and Nick pushed one thigh between Greg’s legs.

“Don’t button that.”

Greg raised his hands in surrender, a lopsided smirk on his face in the shadows. “Button what?”

Nick slid his hand down and cupped Greg. The younger man’s head fell backward and hit the tile with a dull thump, and his eyelids fluttered. One arm wove itself over Nick’s shoulder and tightened. The restroom door opened outside the stall, letting in a rush of deep laughter and several inebriated-sounding men, and Greg and Nick both slipped sideways, hissing and catching their balance against the adjoining wall. Greg’s face was pink with contained amusement.

“You know how much trouble we could get into for this?” he managed through gasped chuckles. Nick snickered into his neck and squeezed him close. Maneuvered his hand further and felt the hitch in Greg’s breathing.

The drawled conversation outside the stall continued for several more seconds. Greg bit his lip and clutched Nick’s head close, burying his face in the side of his neck. Nick felt lips part against his skin, and harsh, hot breaths. He smiled, working his hand slowly, feeling Greg begin to come apart.

“Still want dessert?” he murmured under the sound of retreating footsteps and voices. Greg let out a sharp, gasping laugh that disappeared in the muddle of noise as the main door opened once more. His hips rocked and he leaned in. Kissed Nick’s neck breathlessly. A little helplessly.

Nick stroked him intently and returned the kiss, dropping it down onto Greg’s shoulder.

* * *

Nick stared at the printout.

Jake of Oregon stared at the printout.

“So… the dog ate all of the…”

“Yeah,” Nick said. Another piece clicked into place. “And then the husband couldn’t…”

“Right.” Jake’s handsome face began to shiver with laughter. “So the wife blamed the neighbor woman.”

“And broke her window with the empty Viagra bottle,” Nick finished with a flourish.

Jake keeled over, hands bracing against his thighs, wheezing with amusement. “Damn, this place is better than Disneyland.”

Nick grinned. He hadn’t been so entertained since crawling into the giant nursery. “Just wait till New Years.”

Jake stripped off his gloves and wiped his eyes. Tears of mirth. “Stokes. Nick. Thanks for this. After a morning of samples from Sidle’s decomp…” He trailed off into snickering.

“Hey. Least I could do for the new guy.”

The lab tech’s grin was asymmetrical and mischievous. He looked at Nick for just a little too long. “Man. Greg’s going to love it when I tell him about this one.”

Funny how quickly things got humorless again.

* * *

Nick was buttoning on a clean shirt— tired as all hell and craving a cold Heineken— when Greg entered with his easy stride and set about trying to open his locker.

“I smell like a skunk’s outhouse,” he said, then quirked an eyebrow sidelong at Nick. “Do I smell like a skunk’s outhouse?”

Nick straightened and sniffed the air tentatively. Shrugged. “Not my first impression.”

Greg shuddered, a delicious, whole-body quake that halted Nick’s buttoning progress midway. “I’m still showering.”

Nick nodded, not entirely immune to his own weariness. He was beginning to suspect that there was no real protocol for this after-work business anymore. At least Greg never used it. Just asked. Nick wondered vaguely when he could simply expect it to happen, without the obligatory question.

“So,” Greg said, shutting his locker again. “Jake likes comics.”

“Yeah?”

“Figured I’d show him the popular digs on Westover Avenue. There’s an issue of Dark Knight that I’ve been eyeing. Just needed an excuse to get it.”

The younger man’s eyes sparkled. Nick blinked at the exuded passion— no words at all, just Greg being Greg— and busied himself with his shoes. “Sounds good.”

“You heading home?”

Nick looked up and gave him a wan smile. “I’m wiped. Think I just want to sleep.”

Greg nodded. His gaze flickered up and down Nick’s body, and Nick felt some of his tension try to leave in a warm huff.

“I’ll see you later then?”

Nick nodded. What was later anyway? It felt so nebulous. Greg was halfway out the door, bag cocked over one shoulder, before Nick let the words sound, nerves tingling at the sudden, decisive release. “You can come by later. If you want.”

Greg stopped in the doorway, and the smile that spread slowly over his face made Nick feel shy and teenaged again. “Okay,” Greg said. Gave him a nod and disappeared.

Nick’s house was blessedly quiet when he got there. He left his bag in the front hall and his shoes along the carpet, and shuffled to his bedroom, feeling a little drawn, a little empty. Comics, then. Not that Nick didn’t like comics. He hadn’t actually read any for years. He knew Greg read them to forget about what had happened to him months ago in that darkened alleyway, to forget masked faces and shattered windows, and there was nothing childlike in the way he read them. His brown eyes held a focus otherwise reserved only for his work; he fixated, intently. Sank deep because he was determined to.

But Nick didn’t await issues of comics. Jake did, it seemed.

He pulled off his clothes and turned on the shower, got in, soaped up, washed off, and got out without ceremony. The microwave clock read 8:10 AM when he padded out to the kitchen and retrieved his beer. Wasn’t the brand Greg preferred. The alcohol slithered through his system.

Comics.

Nick felt old. And it was the truth, wasn’t it? Almost a decade’s difference between his comic-addicted, Heineken-hating lover and himself. A lifetime, maybe, to the younger generation. Three states and a lifetime.

He sighed and stuck the empty bottle in the sink. Yawned. Headed for bed.

He shut the curtains, plunging his room into purple darkness, and slumped down against his pillows. Greg knew where the spare key was, at any rate, the one Nick had had to fight with himself to leave outside again, because old paranoia died hard, especially when prompted by nasty experience.

Maybe this was progression. He wasn’t sure if Greg wanted to progress. Although, progressing required one to have a relationship in which to progress. Nick wasn’t sure what it was they were doing, but Greg never treated it like a mere fuck or a mere benefit. They slept together, and it had… well, “progressed” from friendship to that stage fairly naturally, Nick supposed. Painlessly, at least. He didn’t know what was next.

It took a long while of staring at the ceiling before he rolled over and fell asleep. When he woke up, bleary-eyed and muddled, the bed was still empty. Seven hours had passed.

* * *

But Nick was eating scrambled eggs and toast barefoot in the kitchen when his front door opened and Greg came in.

“Thought I’d let you sleep,” he yawned. “Not too early, am I?”

Nick gestured down the hall to his bedroom, feeling rather lighter. “Sweet dreams, Greggo.”

* * *

Nick awoke in the dead of night to kisses along his back. A soft press of warm lips against his shoulder. He groaned and shifted, half in his dreams. Greg’s hand slid up his side soothingly.

“Mm, hey.” Wasn’t sure if it was intelligible, but Greg’s answering squeeze to his arm told him it was. His lover nuzzled into his back, trailing gentle pecks down his spine. Drifting sideways for a brief open-mouthed kiss to his left side, making him shiver.

Nick arched his back, feeling the strain in his shoulders. His pillow lay off to the side, and his cheek nestled in the cozy grip of his mattress. Greg bent closer and laid his lips just behind Nick’s ear.

“You awake?”

“Awake enough,” Nick said, smiling sleepily. He felt Greg’s smile against his skin.

Greg took his time, skating his hands and mouth over Nick’s shoulders, down his back again, stroking the backs of his thighs and the nape of his neck. He found Nick’s mouth once, and it was a long, drowsy kiss, full of tongue and easy breaths. The angle was oddly satisfying. Nick’s body fell into arousal so gradually he barely noticed the change, but it was a good one. Greg’s chest felt damp against his back, his kisses thorough and languid. He sucked at Nick’s neck, tonguing the lingering ache away.

Eventually, his hand found the crook of Nick’s knee and eased upward, until his leg was bent, curled against his side, and suddenly, like rising out of water, Nick realized what Greg intended.

He stiffened and raised his head. “Greg, I—”

His lover stilled immediately, his hand coming up to touch Nick’s shoulder. He settled his body gently against Nick’s back, and Nick could feel the steady swell of his breathing. “Nick.” Just soft words right next to his ear. “It’ll be okay.”

Nick met his gaze as best he could and saw the quiet expression on Greg’s face. His lover’s hand rubbed his shoulder. “I won’t hurt you, I promise.”

Nick stared at him in the low light of the room, trying to think. Trying not to think. Thinking anyway. He could feel Greg’s heartbeat against his skin, steady. Unhurried. The younger man had not moved except to breathe. The scrutiny was jarring, and Nick looked away.

He didn’t bottom. Or he hadn’t in the recent past. Nick struggled with his own body, not sure what it was attempting to do. Greg’s hand was a reassuring heat on his upper arm. Nick understood why he was nervous, understood the gap he was jumping. His muscles tried to tighten on him, and he drew a deep breath and let it out.

All he had to do was shake his head. Flip Greg over. And he knew that Greg would not argue, would just acquiesce as if none of it had ever happened, as if the suggestion had never come up. He would return to what was normal for them, and comfortable.

Nick relaxed down onto his chest again, laying his cheek back onto the mattress, heart thudding in his ears.

Greg bent over him and kissed the back of his neck tenderly.

In the end, Nick couldn’t think about reciprocating. His mind was a vague wash of indeterminate emotion, too jumbled to separate. The sensations flowed over him just as Greg’s hands did, Greg’s lips. His lover left no inch of him alone, easing over his body as if there were nothing ahead of them but this, hours of darkness and warm, close air. Nick squeezed his eyes shut, panting into the mattress, and curled his fingers into the sheets. Greg’s hand slid up his forearm and back down, worked over his body. Nick could feel sweat breaking out across his back, and Greg’s careful touch moving closer and closer, and finally inside of him.

Nick searched for air he didn’t have. Greg rested his forehead against the small of his back and pressed deeper with his fingers. There was no sense of rush, just unavoidable feeling coasting through Nick’s nerves. His body ached dimly, both comfortable and uncomfortable. His bent knee felt tight and knotted against his stomach, but Greg smoothed his free hand over his skin and Nick couldn’t decide what was more important, or even if the discomfort and the pleasure were independent of each other any longer.

The sound of a condom packet tearing reached his ears, and then a careful shift upward of Greg’s entire body warned Nick of the exact moment. He clenched his teeth at the ensuing stretch, the ache. It thrummed through him in unforgiving waves. Greg’s hand sought his, sliding up over his forearm. His fingers wrapped themselves tightly around Nick’s, squeezing. Trembling, just a little. The warmth, the scent and the touch, were so familiar. Nick twisted his head fitfully, making some sound, and Greg’s mouth found his again. Kissed him breathlessly. Nick tightened his grip on Greg’s hand and moved with him, slow and lengthy and deep. Greg eased his other hand beneath Nick’s body and began to stroke him.

It did hurt. But it wasn’t Greg hurting him, not… not like that. The thought never formed fully in Nick’s mind. The end, when it came, was brief and intense and as refreshing as cool water over his skin.

He collapsed heavily onto the bed, breathing hard. Greg’s body was a limp weight on his back, and the clutch around his hand had gone loose, if no less present. Nick’s entire body felt overheated, pleasantly sweaty. He breathed again once, twice, and then Greg stirred fitfully, pushing off of him. Nick rolled over onto his back and tugged Greg to the other side of the bed. Tugged him closer until the younger man was stretching out next to him, resting his head against his chest and hugging his side with an arm that shook very slightly.

“Thank you,” Greg said in a low but clear voice. Nick waited a beat, and nodded. Rubbed Greg’s back. There weren’t really any words forthcoming just yet. Nick closed his eyes and let his heart-rate slow itself gradually. He wondered how he would feel in the morning, physically. The next day. If the soreness would last, or even appear at all. He remembered that part.

Could this count as progress? Maybe that was entirely the wrong context. Greg seemed to want more out of what they had, or at least another facet of it. Nick wondered why he’d agreed, and then wondered why he’d hesitated over it at all.

“You doing alright?” he asked softly. Greg’s body had ceased its tremble, but Nick could still feel it underneath, as if it were barely capped.

“Oh, sure, sure,” Greg said, his usual repartee weary with exhaustion. He lifted his hand heavily and saluted, then settled back into hugging Nick’s body closer. “Just a little wiped out. For some reason.”

Nick fought with himself not to roll his eyes. But he was really too unhinged to attempt it anyway. And Greg’s presence against his side was hot and damp and… and great. Hard to process with his foggy brain.

The room was quiet for such a long moment that Nick thought his lover had fallen to sleep. But Greg shifted feebly against him in a tired stretch.

“How was work today?” Nick asked, trying on the normality for size.

“Same as usual. Catherine misses you,” Greg murmured. Nick glanced down at him. Greg’s skin still felt damp under his palm. Nick stroked the other man’s back lightly, more to organize his thoughts than anything else.

“She knows?” About us. His own voice sounded a little thready to him.

Greg slid his arm higher over Nick’s chest, inching himself even closer. “Nah, I doubt it. More of a general type statement, I think. She sort of changed her mind right after. Stopped talking about it.”

Something snagged in Nick’s chest. He frowned at the ceiling and fidgeted, trying to get more comfortable. “Hm.” Opened his mouth to ask what that had to do with tonight, with Greg… changing things. Greg gave a long, contented sigh, nuzzled his chest, and Nick thought just in time that maybe there was no connection between the two. He blinked twice, pondering.

“You like waffles?” Greg said a second later. Nick nodded. Greg mumbled nonsensically, then adjusted his head on Nick’s shoulder. “Never made them before. I thought I’d give it… a shot…”

Nick heard Greg slipping off into a yawn. Off into sleep. “Sounds good.”

* * *

In the end, it should have been Grissom in the sodium-lit parking lot, except that Ecklie’s personnel discussion could not wait for the ridiculous necessities of crime-solving. The Denali’s door opened on titian-blond hair instead.

Nick stared down at the bodies of two young boys in cartoon-jumbled pajamas. Catherine knelt several yards away, and when she looked up it was to gaze at Nick with a ravaged age to her face. Her eyes were liquid blue.

To anyone else, to Sara if she ever looked up from the scrapings she was so very intent upon, it would look like concern for the two kids.

Nick knew better.

He frowned and turned away from Catherine completely, raising the camera and firing off several quick shots. How dare she? He clenched his jaw and thought about secrets. Lies.

Brass sidled up with a grimmer-than-usual expression on his face. At least, the spark of humor was absent. If Nick weren’t so out of sorts, he might have wondered at the massive difference it made.

“Local boy found them half an hour ago. Kid’s a mess.” Brass gestured toward a shaking teenager who was stuttering words to one of the officers. Nick watched for a moment, then grimaced.

“Let him be a mess,” he muttered softly. Sadly. Brass’ brow wrinkled and Nick shook himself mentally before the flush caught up with him. Brass looked at the teenager again, and then at Nick with older eyes.

“Yeah,” was all he said.

When Brass had departed, heading for the crime-scene tape and the slowly growing crowd of onlookers, Nick knelt by the nearer of the bodies. His camera hung in his grasp, and he suddenly felt like throwing it.

“Damn it,” he whispered.

He didn’t look at Catherine again.

* * *

It wasn’t that night, or that morning, rather. It wasn’t for two days. But Nick should have seen it coming.

He had to roll away from Greg, push himself away, actually, because he’d been denying the state of things all the way up to that point, even with Greg’s eyelids fluttering, perfect mouth open and wordless, hair a sweat-dark tangle against his forehead, and Nick just… couldn’t…

He drew back, lay back, and stared at the ceiling. Sighed,” Sorry.”

Greg’s breathing hitched and Nick heard him battle with it for control. He couldn’t explain past the embarrassment sitting in his throat. Greg’s hand came across his chest and patted softly.

“Okay. It’s okay.”

Nick didn’t think it was. No matter how often it happened— didn’t happen— it was never okay. It felt invasive. He didn’t like not being in control over this, of all things, especially when every other aspect was working fine. He wanted Greg. So damn badly. And still nothing.

“I’m…” He gestured aimlessly. Greg remained silent, and the lack of a response to a statement Nick hadn’t even made thumped desolately through him. He felt Greg roll onto his back and release a shuddery breath.

“You alright?” Nick ventured after a few swallows. Greg let out a loose, helpless laugh. More of a cough.

“It’s… You know. I will be.”

Couldn’t explain it away because they’d gotten too far to dismiss it as tiredness or disinterest. Greg adjusted himself uncomfortably and Nick shook his head, suddenly unwilling to let it go like that.

He rolled toward Greg quickly, surprising brown eyes open, and smoothed his hand down Greg’s belly. Reached lower and watched the other man’s tension melt into a daze. Greg’s fingers closed around his wrist. Nick kissed his forehead, worked him into a muddle of incoherency, and tried to make the best of one of them coming tonight.

* * *

It was in his nature to compare and contrast. Sample to sample, victim to perpetrator, year to year to year. He got paid to do it, he was good at it. The exercise proved to lend itself a little too well to the subject of him and Greg Sanders, though.

Old, young. Reserved, flamboyant. Texas and California. Ageing and… not.

Nick winked at Wendy as he passed her in the hall and got a startled smile for his trouble. Hard to get from Wendy; she was often too involved with her latest CODIS love affair. At least it meant that Nick was still not out of his element in the lab, and neither was Greg, so that matched up well. The reasons why they were each in their element, however, were very different. Nick had a feeling that he himself caught the existing tide and floated along within it, while Greg made up new tides to swim around in simply because he could. Or he enjoyed it.

Nick wasn’t usually one for belittling himself. He knew he was a likeable guy, for whatever reason, not because he had an inflated opinion of himself, like Ecklie, or a deflated one of everyone else, like Hodges, but because he didn’t actively try not to be likeable. It tended to surprise Nick when someone didn’t get along with him. Though that seemed to be happening more often lately, and Nick wasn’t blinkered enough to think that he wasn’t partly responsible for that. Times had changed and he had changed along with them.

He just wasn’t entirely sure why Greg chose the tides and people he inevitably chose, if it was by desire or convenience.

There was a certain level of convenience, and continuity, in the choice to be with him. It wasn’t pity— Nick wasn’t that melodramatic, or that conceited about Greg’s motives. He’d be stupid to pretend he wasn’t good-looking, and he knew Greg was. It was just the difference between the steady sort of handsome— the comfortable, rock-solid kind— and the buoyant, ebullient handsome. The kind that never sat still.

Active was attractive. God, was it ever.

Nick passed Ballistics, nodding to Bobby and going back to thumbing through his case file. Lots to go through: family history, adults in influential positions, anyone who could have gotten two children out to a deserted parking lot in the middle of a Vegas midwinter night. Sara’s scrapings should have been up by now, DNA and the samples Doc Robbins had sent to Tox. Nick rounded the corner and glanced up to see Jake ahead of him, and Greg ahead of him. Trace first, then.

But Jake ushered Greg into his lab, one hand hovering at the small of his back. The lab tech looked over his shoulder. His gaze fixed on Nick, and quite unexpectedly, his mouth twisted into a malicious smirk.

Nick stopped flat in the hall, file in hand, and stared. His heart kicked in strongly against his sternum again. There was really no other way to interpret that expression except for the one accompanying the hollow thud of his pulse. Nick’s hands tensed around the folder.

And then he had an entire shift to ponder the implications.

Nick’s mood had turned foul long before Catherine entered his commandeered work room with a hesitant tap on the door. She had several print-outs in one slender hand. Nick acknowledged her with a glance and turned back to his headache of a distraction.

“Tox came back.” Catherine had such a mellifluous voice when speaking quietly. She came up beside him and extended the print-outs. Nick looked at them and cursed.

“Butalbital?”

Catherine tilted her head and her face looked drawn. “Enough to knock them out. Doc’s guessing it was administered about two hours before death.”

“Great. Just great.” Nick rubbed his eyes. “Could give them some time awake with the kidnapper, if T.O.D. is right.”

“Nick,” she said tentatively, “there’s no evidence of—”

He just looked at her and she dropped the end of the sentence. It really didn’t matter, and she knew it: fear was fear, whatever the cause.

“Did you answer the page from Trace?” Catherine asked presently. Still walking on eggshells. Nick shook his head.

“I let Sara get it.”

And it could very well have been his imagination, but Nick thought the eggshells changed right then. Catherine’s gaze went up to the glass windows, where the Trace lab was just visible down the hall. Greg and Warrick’s lean figures were inside, and Jake’s. An odd light flickered into Catherine’s azure eyes and she looked back at him.

Took a long minute before…

“Nicky,” and that was a real show of bravery, using his nickname so easily, “don’t worry about it. It’s… It’s nothing, okay?”

So. She knew. Or now she knew. Nick tossed down the print-outs, too overwhelmed to be anything but explosive. “What do you suggest I do, then?”

She recoiled as if he’d physically hit her. Her mouth opened and closed, but her eyes stayed down, long lashes drooping over the injury. Nick’s heart gave a weary, devastated thump in his chest.

He exhaled and reached out, touching her arm very gently, tired of himself, of it all. “No… What should I do? Cath.”

She looked up and he saw that tears had gathered. Her hand hovered, and then closed quickly over his fingers on her arm.

The apology was there hanging in the air, his own ashamed apology and the one she had been giving him silently for weeks. Catherine cleared her throat, cheeks flushing pink, and patted his fingers. “If you want it” –him– “then I think….” Her eyes moved over his face, searching. Just… seeing. “I think you should go get it.”

And if I already technically have it? Nick smiled at her weakly, looking down. For a moment the two of them just stood there in the work room. He couldn’t ask. It all felt too complicated and he didn’t have the wherewithal to explain himself, the most knotted thing about the whole situation.

He nodded. She clasped his hand tightly and the look on her face was grateful and wide open again as it hadn’t been in weeks.

* * *

Two days later, Nick dropped off samples of prescribed Fiorinal to Trace, but it was just a formality. A mother with chronic migraines, no one to help get her sons off her hands, and a tired night after a double shift. Nick understood the motivation, the accident. The need to get kids to sleep in order to sleep herself.

He hated the woman, even with her inconsolable tears. She couldn’t be all that upset; she’d dumped the bodies, after all.

Greg was in the lab, leaning against one of the counters. “Mother?” he asked, eyebrows raised. Nick looked at him and smiled faintly. Tiredly.

“Mother.”

Greg’s brow furrowed. Before he could speak, if he was even going to, Warrick popped the door open. “Sanders. Lead on our perp’s sister. Get your stuff.”

Greg nodded. He stepped away from the counter and headed past where Jake was hunched over his microscope. The door shut again as Warrick left, and Greg paused very briefly beside Nick, long enough to touch his arm. Squeeze it gently.

“Sorry.”

Nick nodded, and watched as Greg left the lab, steps quickening down the hallway after Warrick. When he turned back, it was to find Jake’s head up, eyes trained on him. Nick felt himself reddening and went back to his file.

“Tough case?” Jake said.

“Yeah,” Nick answered distractedly, noting the drop-off to Trace in the file. He heard Jake approach, lift something off the closest table, and move away again.

“Greg’s not on it with you, is he.”

It wasn’t a question. Nick looked up again, this time for a little longer. Jake was snapping new gloves on at the microscope.

“No, I’m working with Sidle. And Willows.”

Jake nodded. Nick waited, but when the tech said nothing more, he turned again to the notations in his file. Too high a dose. Children shouldn’t even be taking such a prescription. He knew the mother wouldn’t get murder, not with an empathetic jury, and that was the crux of it. Manslaughter. It was horribly wrong.

He hadn’t even noticed Jake’s second approach until the man’s voice sounded right beside him. “He’s got other options, you know.”

Nick’s head shot up, and at that exact moment, the door opened again and Sara leaned in. “Jake. Got my samples? Oh, hey, Nick.”

Jake moved away from him fluidly, heading back for the microscope and already smiling at Sara. “Want a look at them?”

Nick stared at his back, until Sara was hunkered down over the microscope and Jake was looking at him again, hazel eyes cool and challenging. Nick’s knuckles whitened around his pen. He took a deep breath as Sara began to state her observations in that distant, distracted tone of hers. Jake answered.

Nick left the lab.

* * *

“You off now?”

“Yeah. Warrick has to get a warrant. We can’t even go into the perp’s house until tomorrow. At the earliest.”

Nick shrugged his jacket on over sore shoulders. Licked his lips. “You want to get breakfast?”

Greg shut his locker and smiled at him sidelong. “Love to. But I’m heading out with Jake. He found this whacked out diner near Henderson. They actually serve you while dressed as super-heroes.”

Nick smiled back belatedly, feeling his pulse speed up. “Sounds like it would appeal to you.”

“Oh, it does.” Greg’s step away from his locker was full of bounce. Too much energy for post-shift, by all rights. Nick watched him silently.

Tried to remind himself that the man he was… sleeping with had friends. Even if they included Jake.

“So. I’ll see you later?” Greg’s expression was childishly hopeful.

Nick smiled. Nodded. “Sure.”

Greg left.

* * *

Nick sat on his couch staring at the TV, except the TV wasn’t on. The room was pleasant with the early afternoon light, comfortably warm.

The end of something that had never begun? He shifted on the couch. It had definitely begun, because an end wouldn’t seem so final without a beginning.

Nick exhaled sharply. Melodrama didn’t suit him. But hunches did, and somehow he just knew that today Jake would speak his piece.

It was an impotent feeling.

There was no place he longed to return to, no better past to wish wistfully for, when things had been easier. Wasn’t that how it usually worked? Get into a bad spot and wish for a better spot? But it had all crept over them so gradually, and it wasn’t a chaotic mess, and there were still too many variables anyway. Like him, and Greg, and why them. Why him, exactly. Nearly a decade of extra years between them, extra wisdom and jadedness, to take away all certainty and sense.

Nick thought about water, but concluded that it wasn’t what he was thirsty for. Somewhere Greg was weighing options. Nick couldn’t decide if speaking his mind would have been the wiser course of action. But the moment of speech had passed him by, maybe that morning, or maybe much earlier on.

It seemed silence became him these days.

Nick looked at his watch. He’d had time to shower, to change clothing and eat, to sleep if he’d been able. But he wasn’t tired. He wasn’t sure what he was.

He did know that his front door was unlocked, and that there was a reason for it, and that he was too addled to feel uncomfortable about it. It bordered on pathetic, he figured, sitting there preparing for something that might not happen today. Better just to wait for a phone call. That would make the most sense. He wasn’t even sure if a call would come. Later was… later. Whenever that was. And things had a way of changing when left alone for too long.

Nick sighed. It wasn’t his place to throw a fit. It was Greg’s business what Greg did. Who he did it with. And Greg had said he’d see him later. There was no logical reason to worry about his place in the other man’s esteem. They’d known each other for years. But logic wasn’t the end-all of everything.

He sat there for another hour and fifteen minutes before the sound of his front door opening registered. He raised his head, frowning, wondering if he should get up. The sound of footsteps came down the short hall, and then Greg appeared, dressed in a dark blue jacket and jeans. His eyes found Nick immediately. He came silently into the living room and sat down on the other end of the couch, leaning his elbows on his knees. His hands fidgeted, and Nick just knew something had happened, far away from his house while he had been sitting on his couch alone.

But then again, that was what he’d expected.

“I came straight over,” Greg finally said, as if continuing a conversation they were already halfway through. “Breakfast took… longer than I thought.”

Nick didn’t have a response. His entire body felt tight, even in his relaxed position. Greg glanced at him, then looked down at the carpet. His hands never quite stopped moving, linking and parting, fingers kneading over knuckles.

“Jake knows.” It was a burst, as though through a sealed door. Greg inhaled and his eyes skittered over Nick’s face. “But I think… you already knew that.”

“Yeah.” It was a lousy answer, but at least it was still the truth.

“He said something to you.”

“Yeah.” Again. Nick hoped Greg wouldn’t ask after what had been said.

Greg shook his head, looking down again. “You know what he said about you?” he murmured. “That if you really cared, you’d be all over this. Furious.”

He looked up once more and Nick saw a strange, low glint in Greg’s eyes. Trust the man to jump right into the thick of everything. Nick’s own eyes ached and he turned away, suddenly sadder than ever. “Greg, I don’t have any say over who you’re with.”

This time, Nick could feel Greg’s eyes on him. He itched to just reach over, touch him, grab the other man and pretend there weren’t unspoken things coming to light right there between them. Greg stirred on the couch; Nick imagined him straightening up.

“Yes, you do have a say. Because I’m giving it to you.”

Nick’s head swiveled on its own, and Greg was looking at him out of those same dark eyes. He sighed and straightened as well, leaning back into the couch.

“Look,” he said, still trying to sort it out in his mind, “I don’t want the right to tell you where you can go or where you can’t. Okay? I don’t agree with that kind of set-up, you know I don’t.”

Greg shook his head impatiently. “I wouldn’t like that either.”

But Nick hadn’t said anything about it, one way or the other. He frowned vaguely to himself, then gave voice to the statement he hadn’t wanted to give voice to. “He’s an okay guy. Generally speaking.”

“Generally,” Greg repeated. There was an undercurrent to the word, and Nick found himself wondering what else Jake might have said about him.

He shook his head slightly. “You have a lot in common with him. What you like to do, I mean. I thought you… should have that choice.”

Greg’s head darted up, eyes fixing upon Nick and moving over his face, down to take in his body. “You seem to think that there is a choice, Nick.”

This time he met Greg’s gaze steadily, hearing the grim nature of his own words. “There’s always a choice, G.”

“Well, yeah,” the younger man answered hesitantly. He gestured at nothing with one hand, and scooted nearer on the couch, until he was so close Nick could feel the heat of his body. “Yeah, there’s a choice. But it’s not… He’s alright, I mean, but he’s not… And you’re…” Greg’s lips thinned as he tried to find the correct phrasing. Didn’t have any luck, it seemed. At last, Greg gave an exasperated sigh and let his hand drop. “It’s… apples and zucchinis, Nick.”

“Zucchinis,” Nick repeated.

“Zucchinis.” With a shrug.

The image was very odd. Nick gave it a moment’s agony before deciding he didn’t want to know which one he was and which one Jake was. Which one Greg preferred to eat with his salad. But Greg was staring at him expectantly, and he just didn’t have the words.

Except for the truth, which made itself all too ready to be heard.

“Greg—” He floundered. Settled on shrugging as well. “We’re different ends of the spectrum. I’ve got seven years on you and we don’t have much of anything in common.”

“You know it’s not about what we have in common.” Greg leaned toward him, and his face was very close. “It’s that I like you, I want to be with you.” The words came quickly in a cracked voice. Greg bent his head even closer. If Nick didn’t know better, he would have thought it edged on desperate.

Maybe he didn’t know better.

Greg’s eyes glimmered. He studied Nick for a beat. “Come on, Nick, that… can’t be that surprising.” A tiny, incredulous chuckle.

Nick sighed, shook his head. Greg’s fingers slid warmly around the back of his neck, and he brought their foreheads together and held him there.

“He worried me,” Greg whispered. “Because I was stupid. He said you didn’t care, and that’s not how you work, and I know that, but for a minute I thought—” His face flushed. He looked away, down at the couch.

“It’s not that,” Nick answered, and couldn’t find the rest of it inside himself. Greg nodded and Nick touched his face, so very glad he could. “Greg, you’re… you’re you, and you’re a thousand kinds of vibrant, and I wouldn’t ever…” He struggled, and Greg’s fingers tightened on his nape. “I’d never smother that.”

“There are people who’d kill for you,” Greg murmured in a hushed tone. “To have a relationship with someone like you. You know that?”

Nick let out a sound, more a catharsis than a laugh. “Too much baggage,” he whispered. Greg’s fingers, and breathing, stilled.

“Can’t have the you I want without it.”

Nick felt as if something might burst from him. He gripped Greg’s arm and kissed his jaw quickly, messily. Inhaled his scent and pulled back again. “Ah, Greggo, I’m getting nothing but older.” And nothing but problems. It felt slightly less than banter-like.

Greg’s eyes locked on his, awestruck and downright disbelieving. “Nick, you made me come four times in one night last week! And every one of them was…” Greg motioned spasmodically with one hand, jerking the other through his hair. Nick actually thought he saw him shiver.

And then the words caught up with him. “Four times? I never…” He stopped, frowning, and Greg nodded fiercely.

“Oh, yes. You did.”

Nick squinted at him. “I remember a three-for.”

This time Greg’s eyes slid away. “Yeah. There was that. After you fell asleep, I just couldn’t, and I was sort of… watching you, and I…”

His voice faded. A red blush rose over his face and Nick straightened.

“Wait. You— jerked off while watching me sleep?”

Greg swallowed. Nodded.

Nick stared at him. “That’s kind of hot, Sanders.”

The faintest of smiles teased at Greg’s mouth. “Well.” He shrugged, looking suddenly small and awkward under his coat. “You’re just that gorgeous.”

Nick shook his head, unable to fend off the grin completely. “Next time wake me up.”

Greg’s fingers found his cheek, warm and heavy, and Nick’s breath caught. No words, just a look in Greg’s brown eyes that said he needed to touch, and that he needed to touch Nick.

“Can’t help myself with you,” Greg whispered. Nick caught his hand in his and pulled Greg nearer until he could brush his lips in a kiss. But it was never enough. That was fact. Nick urged him closer until Greg’s back stretched sinuously and he pressed against him and parted his lips and wrapped his arms around him.

“Not sleeping tonight,” Nick murmured. Greg’s lips slid into a smile against his mouth.

“Better not be.”

Nick had Greg’s jacket off, his shirt up and over his head, and his hands full of glorious hot expanses of skin before Greg managed to find his voice again. “Of course, I am going to need dinner at some point. Keep up my strength.”

“I’ll give you dinner, Sanders,” Nick shot back, and Greg laughed. Nick pulled him down on top of himself on the couch and set about finding that taste that he craved.

It was much sweeter than before.

~fin~
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