Passing Storm by Rabidfan [Reviews - 6]

Nick hated shopping. He hated doing anything that called attention to his ‘couples’ status with Greg. Not that he was ashamed of him, nothing like that. He just knew, once it all became common knowledge, the friends and careers they’d built here would be gone. It was too much to contemplate, so Nick kept it hidden behind thick storm clouds, hidden from view.

He was still surprised that his relationship with Greg hadn’t splashed across the evening news. Not that he hadn’t had some really bad dreams about that happening. He had. In all of them, Ecklie had been sympathetic, and as hard assed as he had been when first taking over the reins at CSI.

“You’re fired.” Nick heard it in his head so often, sometimes he wondered if he was still dreaming, or if it had actually happened. Still, being with Greg was great. He was unexpectedly sweet. Gentle and patient in bed, and a damn good cook. It was all so good, and that’s what freaked Nick out. Nothing stayed good forever. Something had to give. Unseen, somewhere, those storm clouds were brewing. Sooner or later, they had to break.

He just didn’t expect it to be while shopping at Target.

It was his turn. In fairness to Greg, it had been his turn for months. Nick really did hate shopping and found creative ways to avoid it. His string of reallygoodexcuses failed him this time, though. Greg was home with a cold and couldn’t shop. Wouldn’t shop.

Trapped into it this time, Nick had gone out for essentials only. Turning the last corner before the check out area, Nick barely escaped ramming his loaded cart into a surprised Conrad Ecklie and who Nick assumed was the current Mrs. Ecklie.

“Stokes.” Ecklie frowned at him. Nick swallowed hard, hearing the rumble of thunder in the distance. “Small world. Have you met my wife?” Ecklie gestured at the tall, vaguely horsy woman at his left. “Marie, this is Nick Stokes. He works with me.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Stokes. I’ve not had the occasion to meet many of Conrad’s friends.” Nick was startled and somewhat charmed by Mrs. Ecklie’s faint accent and lovely smile. It was the smile that had won her Conrad’s heart, thought Nick. It reminded him of Greg’s. Sweet. Only after that thought did Nick’s brain click on the ‘friends’ comment. With the crackle of lightning in mind, he let it ride.

“I’m pleased to meet you as well, Mrs. Ecklie. I’m afraid we don’t get many opportunities to mingle outside of work.” He laid on his own accent a bit more than he normally would. He’d been told it was charming, and he needed charm to escape this store unscathed by lightning.

“That’s quite a collection of shampoos you’ve got there.” Ecklie eyed him with suspicion. What did he suspect? Panicking, Nick could hear the crack of that lightning, striking the ground around his feet; practically smell the ozone in the air around him.

He’d intended the assorted shampoos (including the Sesame Street one) to make Greg smile. He’d been down with his cold for over a week, and Nick wanted to see him smile. One way to ensure a happy Greg was to indulge his hair fetish. But, explaining that to Ecklie? The hard rain of his eventual unemployment started to fall, bitter drops getting into his eyes.

“Um, yeah,” was Nick’s intelligent reply. How was he supposed to think with the roaring of the storm falling all around them? Where they as aware of it as he was?

“I should get going.” Stall. Stall and escape. “It was a delight to finally meet you, Mrs. Ecklie.” Charm was still an ally. Dimples didn’t hurt, either. “I hope we at the lab get to see you more often.” Nick started backing the cart away from the bemused couple in front of him.

“It was wonderful to meet you as well, Mr. Stokes.” Marie Ecklie was indeed as charming as she was plain. Nick didn’t have any difficulty imagining why Conrad could be happy with her. Hell, Nick even envied him a little. “Perhaps we can make arrangements for dinner soon?” She smiled with just as much charm as Nick.

“That would be nice. Thanks” Nick felt the rain gentling; the storm quieting down to a patter. He turned his attention to Conrad. “See you at the lab?” As much a statement as a question.

“Sure,” Conrad returned. “We’ll work out that dinner for Marie.” He still watched Nick with that unreadable expression. “You can ask Sanders, too,” he threw in, practically at Nick’s retreating back. Nick froze.

Turning to face the Ecklies, Nick waited for the storm of his ruined career, shattered reputation to strike him again. Surprisingly, Conrad was smiling. “Is he feeling better?”

Swallowing hard, Nick gathered himself. If he was going down, it would be wearing the pride he felt in Greg’s love like his own personal shield against the raging winds. “He’s still ill, but doing better, thanks.” He waited.

“Good.” Another surprising smile. “Tell him we’re thinking of him.” Was that a wink? “Let us know what day is good for the two of you.” With that, Ecklie let Nick escape.

Hurrying out to his car, shampoos and all, Nick was surprised to find his emotional storm had matched up with a literal one. Every thing was wet and clean. Nick found himself dragging lungfuls of damp, sweet air into his lungs. What had just happened?

He’d feared anyone knowing about Greg living with him. He’d feared anyone getting close to them, knowing their secrets. It must have been hard on his gregarious partner, yet he’d never complained. Nick snorted, imagining Greg’s face when he tells him they’ve been invited to dine with the new Mrs. Ecklie and her confusing husband. The literal rain started again, hitting the windshield, startling Nick out of his reverie.

He started the car, and headed towards home. They ought to have more friends over. It would be nice for Greg. It would be nice for Nick, who was he trying to fool? The rain made the street shine like a mirror. It was beautiful, washing away the grime, hiding the ugly under the pure. Nick hadn’t realized he was lonely. With a guilty lurch, Nick realized that if he had been, Greg must have been drowning in his own storm of loneliness. Sure, they had each other, but everyone needed friends.

Their relationship seemed to be known by the others all along. The feared flood of devastation hadn’t occurred. It was time to plan for the future. First things first. He’d get the Sesame Street shampoo home; get Greg into the steamy shower. When he was better? Well, then it was time for some changes. A little blue was peaking out of the gray sky. The storm was passing, taking Nick’s fear along with it.

It was going to be a beautiful day.
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