CSI
Strength by QueenOfTheUniverse [Reviews - 3]

CSI: Strength: One Shot

A/N: This is just a one shot that I started long before recent events have split the team once again in seasons eight and nine. You might want a Kleenex box handy though it should have a relatively happy ending.

+

Year 2011

Catherine got out of the Denali at the crime scene just as she saw Greg look up at the sky and whisper “I love you,” before kissing the ring he wore on his left ring finger. He got out of the SUV on the passenger side and approached Brass.

Catherine turned to Warrick who was already on the scene. “Who does he talk to?” she asked. “He never used to do that. Not that I remember. But I’ve seen him do it a lot recently.”

“He’s just keeping a promise he made. It’s his way of praying to stay safe on the job.”

“Ah, so that’s why he does it every time he goes out into the field. But really, he’s experienced now, and nothing horrible has happened since he ran over Demetrius James years ago. You’d think he would have done this back then, and not now.”

“Nick’s looking after him, protecting him, I guess.”

“I didn’t know you believed in that sort of thing. But even if that were true, why would Nick single Greg out?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m thinking of that accident with Sara a few months back. The one that made Gil quit. How could you forget that?”

“I didn’t. But it’s a long story.”

“Oh?”

“You’ll have to ask Greg. I can’t say anything.”

“Hey, boss, you want me on the perimeter? Brass says the body’s upstairs. First bedroom on the left,” Greg said, rounding the SUV he and Catherine had taken to get there.

“Thanks Greg, yeah, perimeter would be great.”

Greg turned and, with his field kit in hand, got down to work.

“So, boss, how’s the hiring process coming along?” Catherine asked as they entered the dark house, flashlights drawn.

“It’s coming. I’ve got two new prospects on my desk right now.”

“Good. Cause it can’t be the three of us forever.” Catherine tripped on an area rug, nearly falling head first to the floor. “This sucks.”

Warrick grabbed her flailing arm and steadied her on her feet. “Believe me, I know.”

“Warrick,” Brass’s voice came into the house. “We’ve got another homicide.”

The graveyard supervisor sighed, before picking up his cell phone and hitting speed dial. As he waited for the call to connect, Catherine scoured the room for any signs of a struggle but nothing in the living room seemed out of place. Even the family portrait on the fireplace mantle looked perfect.

“Greg... I need you off the perimeter. Brass has a homicide for you. He’s waiting by the front door to give you the details... I’ll catch you back at the lab later... Oh, and Greg?... If this doesn’t turn into a double shift I’ll take you out for a beer after and we can talk. Cool?” Warrick laughed a little. “Yeah, I was gonna suggest we play a little Madden, it’s been awhile, but I didn’t figure you’d be in the mood. Next week?... Deal... Catch you later.” Warrick hung up, and turned to Brass. “He’ll be with you in a sec.”

Brass nodded and headed back outside to let them get to work.

“Since when did you two become buddy buddy?” Catherine asked as they ascended the stairs.

“It’s been awhile. But ever since the... plane went down... we’ve made it a point to get together on occasion.”

The plane. Catherine didn’t want a reminder of that fateful day, but now it was staring her in the face regardless.

“It’ll be a year tomorrow,” she said. “I was gonna go see him. You want to come along?”

Together, they rounded the corner into the dark hallway, scanning the floor with their flashlights for any sign of evidence.

“I’ve already been, yesterday morning. I wouldn’t advise going tomorrow.”

“Why not?”

Catherine raised her camera and shot off a few pictures when she finally found blood spatter.

“Would you believe me if I said we were getting a huge storm?” He set down markers at each drop she took a picture of.

“Hell no. Cut the crap Warrick.”

“I promised not to say anything. Just go before midnight, and be at the lab on time cause it’s just gonna be you and me tomorrow night.”

Reaching the doorway to the bedroom bathed in sticky, red blood, she spun on her heels to confront him, anger heating ger face. “What the hell, Warrick! So, you’re giving Greg preferential treatment? He gets the night off just because and I can’t get the time off to be with Lindsey? Gil never should have given you the job. I was way more qualified for the position than you, and he knew it. I still am.”

“Look, I’m sorry you’re pissed off, Cath. But there’s not much I can do. I’m interviewing these two new guys the day after tomorrow. I told them if they work out, I want them to start next week cause we really need them. I’ll give them a probationary period because we’re so short staffed.”

“Great. Just great. Why’s he getting time off anyway?”

“It’s not my place to say.”

Catherine shot daggers at him through her eyes but they didn’t pierce his skin like she’d hoped they would. With a grunt she spun back to the bedroom and walked in, treading carefully around the large amounts of blood. She snapped a few pictures of a knife lying on the hardwood floor.

“Gil, leave him alone.”

“I need him focused Warrick. If he can’t focus on the case, then...”

“He’s been through a lot lately.”

“So have we all. But the rest of us are working just fine.”

Defending Greg had never been something Catherine would have thought of Warrick doing. Especially against their one time boss. But their conversation echoed in her head just the same. He had definitely been defending the youngest CSI. The same as he was doing now with her probing questions. And that brought up another. Why was he doing it?

But Warrick wasn’t the only one who’d ever defended Greg against various people in the department. Now that she thought about it, Nick had done most of the defending before they’d lost him. Warrick only picked up the slack after he was gone.

What did that mean?

+

Warrick sat down at the end of the bar he and Greg frequented on occasion and ordered a beer. Greg sat down beside him and copied his order.

“I know this is not the time for this, Greg. But I think you’re ready. You’ve worked hard for this over the past year. Level three. Congratulations, buddy.”

Warrick slid a brand new CSI ID badge over to Greg as the bartender came over with their beers. Greg took the badge and looked it over.

“Thanks Rick.”

“Hey, you earned it.”

“How did Catherine take the news?” Greg took a sip of his beer. “She didn’t seem too happy when I saw her at the lab before I left.”

“Um... yeah, about that.”

“You didn’t tell her?”

“No. I don’t know how. She’s still pissed cause Griss chose me over her to take his place. I’m not sure how to tell her. But seriously, replacements are coming in, finally, for him and Sara. I’m gonna need you to help train them.”

“Sure thing. So that’s what she was upset about?”

“No. She found out you’re taking the next two nights off. She thinks I’m playing favoritism.” Warrick downed half his bottle.

“Well...”

“I made him a promise, Greg. And I don’t go back on my promises to my best friend.”

Greg nodded, and there was a long silence as both men drank their beers.

“I know it’s been awhile since we last talked,” Warrick finally said. “Seems like the bodies keep piling up and we keep getting short staffed at the lab. But how are things going otherwise?”

Greg sighed. “They’re going about as well as they could be. I don’t know what else to say.”

“You’ve changed a lot in this past year, you know that?” Warrick commented, noting the somber choices in clothing Greg had made. “And I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.”

“It’s what happens when planes crash, I guess. Things change.”

“I just don’t want you to become someone you’re not, that’s all. Sometimes I miss the old you with the crazy hair, as odd as that sounds coming from me, it’s true. Promise me you won’t entirely lose yourself. He would never forgive me.”

“It’s been a whole year, Rick, and you’re only now lecturing me about this?”

“I’m sorry, man. You know I’m not good with this kind of stuff.”

“I know. It’s ok. He’d be happy you tried. Neither of us have given up yet. We’re doing ok. I’m doing good, really.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear it.” Warrick finished off his beer. “I’ve gotta run and catch some sleep so I can be ready to deal with Cath’s bitching tonight.”

“She never stops these days. You should be used to it by now.”

“I know, right? Well, look, I went to see him yesterday afternoon, you know. But, when you see him tonight, say ‘hi’ for me anyway, will ya?”

“Sure.”

+

With the time approaching midnight, Greg finished spiking his hair and shrugged into his best black casual blazer over a Marilyn Manson t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Checking himself in the mirror one last time to make sure he looked good, he grabbed his keys and his wallet. Turning off his cell phone, he slide it into his pocket.

But before he ran out the door, he stopped, and went back to the livingroom, to the mantle above the fireplace where his favorite photograph stood framed in a cherry wood frame. It had been taken in the backyard of their home when they’d first moved into the new house four years ago. Nick was sitting on the grass, his back against the one tree they had and Greg was sitting between his legs, leaning back against him. It had been one of the happiest days of their lives. Nick had his arms wrapped around him, his chin resting on his shoulder and his beautiful brown eyes were shining back at him from the picture so full of love they always made him smile even when he was in the worst of moods.

Greg was forever grateful Warrick had helped them move in that day and was quick with a camera to catch the candid shot. He and Nick both carried smaller versions in their wallets and he only had to look at it once during a bad crime scene and he’d feel better the rest of the night.

“See you soon, Nicky,” Greg whispered before turning for the front door one more time. He picked up the vase full of roses he’d bought that morning on his way home from his talk with Warrick and headed out.

Once in his car, he drove east out of the city a short distance until he couldn’t hear the sounds of the strip. Everything was peaceful away from the city, even away from the suburbs, and he was glad they’d chosen this place above all the others. He found the drive up into Lockwood Cemetery easily and parked in his usual space, preferring to walk the distance through the grass and enjoy the nature around him.

“I’m coming home, G.”

“What’s wrong? Your flight’s not until tomorrow.”

“I’m leaving early. They hate me. My own family hates me...” There was a pause on the phone line. “I need to see you.”

“I’ll be waiting at the airport.”

But Greg hadn’t been waiting at the airport when Nick had come home. He’d been called out to a grisly scene in which the death toll had exceeded any crime scene he’d attended before.


As he walked through the trees, he flinched at the memory, but kept his head high.

Three people survived the plane crash. Only three. One, Greg was told, died while being airlifted to the hospital. The second, died the following day, never having come out of her coma. And the third... tears involuntarily filled his eyes and rolled down his face. The third he hadn’t been expecting.

He tried calling his husband several times to tell him he couldn’t pick him up, but his calls were not going through. Then a familiar hand with a familiar wedding band reached out to him from the rubble and he took the hand, as his heart wrenched apart. Nick was placed on a stretcher, his neck in a brace, his whole body strapped down. Multiple broken bones, the medics figured. Half of his body was burned to a crisp. It was a miracle he was still breathing. A miracle. Warrick pushed Greg into the helicopter with Nick, assuring him he would tell the team as they surveyed the rest of the plane, not knowing Nick had even been on it.

The team came and went at the hospital over the next two days but Greg refused to leave Nick’s side. When they were alone, he held Nick’s one good hand in his, smoothing over the rough skin with his fingers. He slept mostly, unable to move while his entire body was covered in white bandages and casts, barely able to mumble words to his friends.

The second night he caught Greg’s attention with the clear use of his nickname. Nick weakly squeezed his hand. “I love you,” he whispered, his eyes finding Greg.

Greg’s throat closed, hearing his first full sentence in two days. He squeezed Nick’s hand back. “I know you do, Nicky,” he finally choked out. “I love you too.”

He watched his husband’s eyes slide slowly shut and a minute later he was flat lining.


Greg made his way through the grass toward the head stone. He sat down, his legs crossed Indian style, and set the vase of roses down. He began pulling up weeds that had grown around the stone, tossing them away without caring where they landed. He moved the roses closer to Nick’s name, and gently rubbed the top edge of the stone, as if he were brushing hair off Nick’s forehead. A single tear slipped down his cheek.

“I miss you,” he whispered. “Warrick’s taking good care of me, like he promised you he would. He said to say ‘hi’. He promoted me this morning, Nicky. I made level three. Can you believe it? Cath’s gonna be pissed when she finds out. She’s already mad that I get tonight off and that Grissom gave Rick the supervisor position when he left instead of her. We’re so short staffed, but Warrick had to keep his promise to you. I’m glad we told him, Nicky. I’m glad someone knows. But I can’t help but wonder what Catherine would say if she knew. I think she’d be ok with it. I’ve had nothing to do but think about things like that. Like, what if other people knew?”

Greg was silent for a long time, resting his hand on the stone. He read Nick’s engraved name, Nicholas Stokes, over and over again, unable to escape the truth that it was wrong. All wrong.

“I love you,” he finally spoke, his voice trembling slightly as his thumb found his wedding ring and rolled it around his left ring finger.

He didn’t know how long he sat there, silent, rolling the ring around his finger, when he heard the grass moving behind him.

“Stokes wasn’t his last name in the end, was it?”

He spun around so fast he would have given himself whiplash given the right circumstances.

Grissom was moving toward him, then sitting beside him, facing the grave. Greg moved back to face it as well, unsure what he should say.

“Was it?” Gil asked again, his tone gentle.

“What do you mean?” he finally asked.

“He had it hyphenated. Though he still went with Stokes at work. So did you.”

Greg turned to him, his arms rising of their own accord to hug himself, to protect himself from the intrusion into their personal life. “How would you know that?”

“I know a lot more than you think I do. And I’m wondering why, in the end, you chose to keep that hyphenation off the stone.”

“We didn’t want anyone to know.”

“Warrick knew. He was the one who told you to go with him to the hospital. He knew you wouldn’t leave Nick’s side. That’s why he was surprised when you showed up in the lab to tell us he was gone. All he wanted to know was whether Nick had gone in peace. He was ok with not being there, unlike Catherine and Sara, because he knew you’d been there with him in his last moments. And he knew you were the one who should have been.”

Tears rolled down Greg’s face, remembering that painful night. “It’s hard,” he said. “Looking at the stone, knowing I told the guy to leave off my last name. It hurt so much.”

“It’s not too late, Greg. Make it right.”

“Do you think I could?”

“I think you should.”

“How... how long did you know? You never said anything.”

“I had my suspicions not long after the explosion. He was very protective of you, even before then.”

Greg nodded, turning back to the grave. “He was amazing.”

“When you moved in together six years ago and changed your emergency contact information to each other’s names, I knew. But you never did tell me why he came home a day early. He shouldn’t have been on that plane to begin with.”

He took a shaky breath preparing to tell the story. “He went home to tell his parents about him. He wanted to tell them about himself, before he told them about me. That’s why he went alone.” Greg hung his head. “I wish I’d gone with him. If I had... he wouldn’t have been rushing home to me. They disowned him. That’s why they didn’t come to his funeral. That’s why he was on that plane. They told Warrick he died because he was gay when he called to tell them the news.”

“I’m so sorry, Greg. I wish there was something I could have done. I should have said something.”

“It’s ok,” Greg said. “Knowing that you knew and that you were ok with it... that makes me feel a little bit better,” he paused for a moment. “But... I... now that he’s gone, I wish there was someone, other than Warrick, someone here in Vegas, I could talk to. I can’t... I can’t, nobody else knew. The things that were more personal, the things we did together outside of work, I can’t tell anyone about them, because they don’t even know we were together. Don’t get me wrong, Warrick’s great. But I still feel alone in the world.” He refused to look up at his one time supervisor, afraid of what he’d see in the man’s face, even if Grissom rarely ever showed emotion. Neither did he need him reading his own emotions like an open book.

“How’s Sara?” Greg asked to change the subject as quickly as possible.

“She’s good,” Grissom took the bait and ran with it. “She’s at a mountain retreat and it seems to be helping. She keeps talking about calling you when she gets the time.”

“Me too. About calling her, I mean. You’re going back to be with her, aren’t you?” His last line wasn’t a question. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to sound so...”

“No need to apologize, Greg. Yes, I’ve only got a week here in Vegas. Warrick wanted to see me about something.”

“Well, I’m glad you came home.” Greg finally looked up and found a small smile on the ex-supervisor’s face.

“Me too, Greg.”

+

A full week later Greg stood between Grissom and Warrick as the old stone was carted away and the new, correct, head stone took its place. Greg had kept it simple with the approval of both men standing beside him.

Nicholas Sanders-Stokes
Best Friend
and
Loving Husband


He hadn’t missed the framed picture in Warrick’s hand when they’d arrived. Now, the older CSI leaned the frame up against the new head stone and Nick’s beautiful, loving, brown eyes stared back at him. He smiled at the memory, as his eyes welled up, already feeling better now that everything had been righted.

But not everything had been.

Greg looked up when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Flowers were walking toward them. Whole fields of flowers it seemed. He brushed the tears from his eyes so he could see more clearly and was shocked to see Sara and Catherine coming towards them, followed closely by Bobby, Archie, Hodges, Henry, Mandy, Wendy, and a few others he couldn’t identify yet. Each person carried a large bunch of flowers. Most of them, he realized, were red roses while the rest seemed to be a mixed assortment.

His eyes welled up again, the tears falling rapidly. As much as he tried to control them, he knew there was no hope. His heart twisted as Catherine reached him first and wrapped her arms around him in a startling hug.

“I’m so sorry, Greg. We’re all so sorry we didn’t know.”

“Thank you,” he said when she let him go, though he was unsure how the words had managed to escape his tight throat.

“I’m glad you were there with him in the end.”

He nodded.

Sara grabbed him up next as Catherine placed the roses she’d brought beside the picture.

“I’m so proud of you for finally getting out there and righting this wrong.”

“So you knew?”

“No. But I should have. The ring on his finger, that amazing speech you gave at his funeral. I should have known, and I’m sorry I didn’t. By the way,” she said when she pulled away, “That speech was the most beautiful speech I think I’ve ever heard, especially once I was able to put it into the correct context. He would have really liked it.”

“Thank you. I’m glad you think so.”

“I’m not gonna hug you, if that’s ok,” Hodges said as he was next in line with an arm full of flowers.

“That’s ok.” Greg gave a low snort and smiled.

“And, while I get the significance of the roses, I went with wild flowers instead.”

“Hodges, the fact that you’re here at all, with flowers, means a lot to me. I don’t care what kind they are. Thank you.”

One by one everyone gave him their condolences and set vases of beautiful flowers around Nick’s grave.

“I’m sorry we didn’t tell you,” he said when they were all gathered around. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you. His family disowned him because of us, and I just didn’t know how to tell you the truth. I was a little afraid of your reactions, to be honest.”

“Hey, don’t forget we’re his family too, and we wouldn’t disown him,” Bobby said.

“The same goes for you too. You’re both part of our large family and we’ll never let you go.”

“Do you have another copy of that picture?” Mandy asked.

“I’ve got the original,” Warrick spoke up.

“Can we get one in the break room?”

“I’ll get right on it.”

“Thank you guys. Thank you so much, just for being here. You have no idea how much this means to me.” He looked around him at all of their friends, their family, and knew that now, everything had been righted. Nick would be happy to know it. Already, a calm was descending upon him.

“The flowers are beautiful. I can’t believe you got us roses.”

“What better way to recognize your marriage?” Sara asked.

“Nick would have loved them.”

“He would have loved your final choice of head stone too.”

“I have a question,” Hodges spoke up. “Why didn’t you include his dates?”

“Hodges.” Sara shot the tech a warning glance. “Greg, you don’t have to answer that.”

“I will anyway.” Greg looked at everybody, and they all looked back at him, waiting, for what he had to say. “He told me once, that as long as someone is loved, they never truly die. And I believe that. I know he’s still with me today, affecting my life, and the things I do. In my heart, he’ll go on forever.”

“Well said,” someone sniffed.

Arms encircled Greg’s waist then and a chin rested on his shoulder. A familiar, beautiful voice whispered into his ear, “I love you, G.”

“I love you too, Nicky,” he whispered back. “I love you too.”

+

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