CSI
Don't Cry Daddy-O by QueenOfTheUniverse [Reviews - 4]

CSI: Don’t Cry Daddy-O: One Shot


A/N: This is a sequel to Don’t Cry Daddy, if the title didn’t give it away, inspired by a scene at my Tae Kwon Do dojag between a father and his daughter. It’s also a long fluff challenge written specifically for Only True Love for her birthday after my previous one shot Weeping Monster did so much damage. (Happy Birthday girl!) Feedback would be grateful, as most of you know how bad I am at long fluff without the angst (Texas Chronicles anyone? It was supposed to be only fluffy humor...) There will be slight angst as this is post-Fannysmackin’ but it shouldn’t be too bad. BTW... I owe all the fluff in this story to Dakota and her wonderfully perfect personality. Thank you, Dakota, for helping me find the fluff!

+

Greg lay in the hospital bed and sighed as the nurse took the IV out of his arm.

“Is someone coming to pick you up?”

“Yeah, I hope so. If no one forgot about me.”

“They couldn’t forget about you. You have a wonderful family and I’m sure they’ll be along shortly.”

“I’m sure.” As she turned to leave Greg realized what she’d said. But she was already gone
before he could ask how she knew he even had a family.

Left alone to stair at the ceiling, he prayed Nick didn’t have to work a double shift. If he did, someone else would have to pick him up and, honestly, he just wanted to see Nick’s beautiful face, to hear his beautiful voice with that slight southern twang he loved so much...

“How’s it going Daddy-O?”

He looked over at the doorway to see a seven year old girl with shoulder length, dirty blonde hair carrying a paper shopping bag. He grinned. “It’s going fine Lady Hepcat.”

She giggled.

“Hey Daddy-O, you wanna get out of here?” Nick appeared in the doorway.

“Oh thank God! I was getting a little worried about this little one having to drive me home!”

“Hey! I’m not little, ya big dope! I’m turning eight tomorrow.”

“I know that.” He ruffled her hair. “You’ve always been a big girl... sometimes I wonder how that happened...”

Ant bites... my boyfriend is covered in ant bites... but at least he survived... at least he’s still alive. Thank God.

“Daddy!” Dakota, who had been gripping Greg’s hand, suddenly let go and ran toward the hospital bed where her father lay.

Nick blinked open his eyes. “Hey, pumpkin.” He smiled, then his eyes found Greg now trailing behind her. “G... I’m so glad to see you.”

“How’re you feeling?” Grissom’s voice came from behind Greg.

“I’m fine, Griss. Thanks for savin’ me.” His eyes refocused on their boss when Grissom moved to stand beside Greg as other members of the team filed into the room.

“Daddy? Are you gonna be ok?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna be just fine. Especially now that you’re here.”

“Nick, don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her while you recover. I’ll make sure she gets to school and all that,” Greg said, more for everyone else’s benefit than Nick’s.

“Thanks, G. I owe you.”

“No you don’t.”


“Daddy-O, this is no time to be sad!” Dakota’s loud voice broke him from his reverie.

“You’re right,” he smiled as best he could. “Tomorrow’s your birthday!”

“Damn straight.”

“Hey, language, kiddo.” Nick placed a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s let Daddy-O get changed and then we can all get home. Ok?”

“Yeah, sure.” She looked up at her second father. “I brought you some of your favorite clothes. But Dad said I couldn’t bring your hair gel.”

“That’s ok. My hair’s a little too long for it anyway. What’d you bring me otherwise?”

“Marilyn Manson. And those jeans Dad likes so much.” She blushed. “I think I heard my teacher call you ‘hot’ the last time you wore those to pick me up from school.”

“Did she now?” Greg quirked an eyebrow.


“Well, your teacher was right,” Nick said, a gleam in his eye. “Why don’t you go stand out in the hallway while I help him get changed.”

“Sure thing. See you in a few, Daddy-O.” Dakota left the bag on a nearby chair and skipped out of the room with a happy smile on her face.

“Alright, up you come, G.”

Nick held out a hand and helped Greg balance on his feet. He moved behind him and untied the hospital gown, letting it fall to the floor at Greg’s feet. Helping him to struggle into his jeans and t-shirt, he was careful not to move too roughly in fear of hitting a bruise.

“He didn’t make it,” Greg said, his voice nothing but a wisp of smoke. “He didn’t make it... I saw him die...”

Once Greg was dressed and standing again, Nick faced him, cupping his face with both hands carefully. “I know. Everything’s gonna be ok, G. I promise.”

Everything wouldn’t be ok. Not after running over a kid with his SUV and then getting the crap beat out of him. Nothing could be ok. But in Nick’s arms, hearing him say those words, knowing Dakota, the strongest girl in the world, was waiting for him out in the hallway, he knew things had to turn out ok in the end. They had to.

“Are you ready for this?” Nick asked, searching his still purple and swollen face.

“Tomorrow’s her birthday, Nicky. I’m not missing that for the world.”

Nick brushed their lips together. “Ok, then. Your chariot awaits in the parking lot.”

“That nurse was right. I do have a wonderful family.”

“Damn straight,” Nick whispered.

“Language, babe. An impressionable girl is standing just outside that door.”

Nick touched their foreheads together. “I know.”

+

“Mmm...” The warmest feeling he’d ever had filled Greg as he lay half asleep in Nick’s arms. He didn’t want to move. This was heaven. The best thing he’d felt since the beating.

Warm lips found his forehead and kissed him gently.

“Mmm, what time is it?” he mumbled.

“Still early in the morning,”

“How long have you been awake?”

“Awhile. How’re you doing?”

“Don’t wanna move. So comfortable. Right here.”

Nick’s mouth, still resting against his skin, turned up into a smile. “What about breakfast?”

“Not yet.”

“Nooo!” A woman’s scream jarred Greg’s senses. “Nooo! Not my boy! Not my boy! Not my baby! Nooo!” Sobs followed as she leaned over her son.

Dark eyes, filled with hatred, locked onto his through the glass of the hospital window.


Greg wasn’t even aware that he was trembling until Nick’s arms tightened around him.

“I killed him, Nick. I watched him die.” Tears filled his eyes and Nick blurred in front of him. “I shouldn’t be here. I should be in jail.”

“Don’t say that, G. You know that’s not true.”

The bed shifted and another warm body slipped under the covers on his other side. Nick let him go to look over his shoulder.

“You’re a hero. You saved a man’s life.” Small arms wrapped around him. “I love you, Daddy-O and I don’t want you to go to jail.”

“Thank you, sweetie. I love you too,” Greg said through his tears.

“Hey! I always find that a sandwich helps!” When neither man seemed enlightened, she continued, “You know... a Dakota sandwich. But, I bet a Daddy-O sandwich would be even better. Right Dad?”

Dakota let go of Greg so she could see her other father.

“Right,” Nick grinned.

“On three?”

“On three. Ready? One...” He looked into Greg’s face, eyes gleaming. “Two...” He pressed a kiss to his lips. “Three!” Both Nick and Dakota attacked him, wrapping their arms tight around him, while avoiding major bruises.

Nick was smiling when Greg looked up into his face and the beautiful Texan smile was infectious. The corners of his mouth lifted and Nick covered each corner with a light kiss until Greg was grinning like an idiot.

He turned over to face Dakota. “Thanks, babe. You’re awesome.”

“I know. But you’re the best Daddy-O in the whole wide world. That’s why I want you to be happy so much.”

“Uh...” Nick peeked over Greg’s shoulder at her. “What does that make me?”

Greg snickered. “I’m better than you.”

“No silly!” Dakota slapped his arm. “He’s the best Daddy in the world.”

“You hear that, G? I’m better than you in the Daddy department.”

“Yeah, right,” Greg snorted.

Dakota got out from beneath the covers. “Well, while you two argue about that, I’m gonna go get dressed. I’ll see you at the table for breakfast in half an hour. Don’t be late.”

“Uh oh. You hear that Nick? We’re gonna be in trouble if you don’t help me into the shower right away.”

“I’m on it babe. Wouldn’t want to get in trouble with her on her birthday. It could be the end of us.”

“What are we doing for her birthday anyway?” Greg asked once they were in the shower and Nick was gently massaging his scalp with his favorite orange zest shampoo. “I wish I coulda been here for the planning process. Who’s coming over?”

“No one’s coming over.”

“What?” Greg shifted his weight and almost lost his balance. He caught Nick’s hard muscles just as Nick forced his arms under Greg’s to hold him up.

“You ok?”

“Yeah.” Greg blinked his eyes open and looked up at Nick. “What eight year old wouldn’t want friends over on her birthday? Well, ok then, where are we going?”

“We’re not going anywhere, G. She told me she didn’t want to do anything on her birthday except hang out here with us.”

“She did?”

“Yeah, she did.”

“But... but why?”

“She almost lost you, Greg. You have no idea what that kind of thing does to a young girl. She loves you very much.”

“I love her very much too, Nicky. She’s the perfect kid anyone would want.”

“But she’s ours.”

“I like the sound of that,” Greg sighed. “I don’t think that’ll ever get old.”

“Come on, hun, if you can turn around I’ll rinse your hair and do your back.”

+

When the boys entered the kitchen precisely half an hour later, Dakota was already at the table, with corn flakes poured out into three bowls. A jug of milk stood in the center of the table and three glasses had already been filled with orange juice.

Dakota sat in her usual spot at the table, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a green t-shirt with the letters ‘DNA’ and the number eight underneath.

“I found that the other day,” Nick said, nodding at the shirt. “I just couldn’t help myself.” He wrapped an arm around Greg’s waist and pulled him closer.

“I love it, Daddy!”

“I love it too, Nicky. It’s perfect...So, Team DNA, Player Eight... known as Lady Hepcat, what are we going to do today? It’s your birthday and I’ve been informed that you have no plans. You realize that’s a sacrilege to the date known as your birthday, right?”

“No, it’s not. I have plans. I want to spend the day with you and Daddy. I thought maybe we could watch Finding Nemo... or hang out in the hammock. It’s so nice outside! ... Daddy-O?”

Greg didn’t even realize he was crying until she pointed out the tears running freely down his face.

“What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”


“Because you’re the best daughter anyone could ever have. And I never thought I’d be this lucky. That’s why.”

+


Nick took the last framed pictures of their family off the fireplace mantle, leaving only those that included himself and Dakota but left out Greg. Greg watched him take the others to their bedroom just as the doorbell rang. Dakota sat in the chair beside the couch where Greg lay stretched out, scowling into the thick fantasy novel she was reading.

“If you really don’t understand something...”

“I understand everything in here just fine.” Her mouth was set in a grim line as she looked over the top of the page at Greg. “What I don’t understand is this,” she said, nodding towards the cleaned off mantle. “It’s wrong.”

Nick crossed the room just then to open the door.

“Well, honey, it’s just not something...”

“Hey! Nick, man, how’s things?” Warrick barged in, followed by Sara and Grissom.

“Thing’s are good.” Nick nodded.

“Oh, Greg, how’re you doing? Is Nick taking good care of you?” Sara asked when she saw him.

Dakota snorted, before taking her book upstairs to her room.

“Yeah, he’s taking great care of me.”

Seeing Dakota leave, he wished he could tell Sara the truth, that they’d been taking care of
each other for years. But he kept his mouth shut.

“Greg, you’re looking much better since the last time I saw you.” Grissom came over, followed by Nick and Warrick.

“Thanks... I guess.”

“Cath said she wanted to stop by but she’s neck deep in a fresh case that can’t be put aside.”

“That’s alright. It’s not like I’ll never see her again if she didn’t come.”


“Greg, you realize you’re going to be stuck on desk duty when you get back to work until the coroner’s inquest, right?” Grissom asked.

“I do now,” Greg sighed. “Thanks for telling me.”

“Don’t worry, G, we’ve got your case figured out. Everything will be fine.”

“I hope you’re right, Nicky.”

+

Once the other CSIs had left Dakota finally came back down the stairs, only to throw the thick novel she’d been reading at Nick’s head, with a deep scowl still on her face.

“Hey! What’s gotten into you?!”

“They still don’t know!” she screamed at him. “How long has it been? Almost all of my
eight years and they still don’t know! How could you?”

“Dakota, sweetie...” Greg sat up slowly. “I was trying to explain it to you earlier.”

“I can’t take this anymore! You’re hiding! You’re hiding from your friends! What on earth do you think’s gonna happen? They’re not gonna hate you for loving each other. I know they won’t. And if you two don’t shape up and tell someone soon, then I’m just gonna have to tell them for you!” She sat back down with a grunt as Nick went to pick up her book.

“Lord of the Rings, huh?” he said, glancing at the cover.

“Don’t change the subject, Dad.”

“Sorry, honey.” He returned the book to her and sat down beside Greg.

“What’s an inquest?” she asked.

“Now aren’t you changing the subject?”

“Just answer the question.”

Greg spoke up. “They want to look into my actions the night I got beat up. That’s all.”

“What do you mean?”

“They just want to make sure they have the events recorded as they happened.”

Dakota shot daggers at her biological father. “I wasn’t asking you. And I want the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth. Don’t lie to me like a baby.”

Greg’s eyes met Nick’s and moments later Nick was laughing out loud. “There’s a CSI in you yet, kiddo.”

“Sounds more like Detective to me, Nicky. She could con a con into admitting anything.”

“You’re changing the subject!”

“Sorry, honey. An inquest is... well, they want to look closely at what happened that night to make sure what I did wasn’t against the law. That’s all.”

“That’s stupid! I don’t care if he died. He was beating all those people, and he woulda killed Mr. Tanner if you hadn’t gotten there and saved his life. It’s mean. You were only defending yourself.”

“I know, but it has to happen anyway.”

“Who’s the judge in charge? I want to go talk to him! Someone needs to kick some sense into his big ugly butt!”

“Dakota!”

“Well, it’s true.”

“But we don’t even know who the judge is yet. So, reserve judgement on his butt until you see what he looks like.”

“Greg!”

“I’m injured. Don’t smack me.”

Nick chuckled. “I wasn’t going to... yet. I’ll wait until you’re feeling better.”

“That’s not even funny.”

“Sorry, babe.”

+

Dakota sat at the kitchen table reading another long fantasy novel while Greg washed the dinner dishes.

“So, you never did tell me how your day at school was.”


“It was ok.”

He set a plate down on the towel beside the sink and turned to face her. “Just ok?”

“Yeah.”

She still hadn’t looked up at him, and he had noted during dinner that she’d been quiet, mostly staring at her plate of spaghetti when she wasn’t eating it.

“You ok, hun?”

“Fine. Why?”

“You’ve been quiet. That’s all. Wanna tell me what’s going on?”

“Nothing,” she said, her nose still buried in the book and her voice still more quiet than usual.

Greg pulled the book from her grasp, his eyebrows raised. “Dakota?”

“Ok, fine.” she sighed. “I heard some of the teachers talking at school.”

“What were they saying?”

“That you murdered that kid in cold blood. That you did it on purpose. They’re being mean! They don’t know you!”

Greg pulled out a chair and sat down in front of her. “What do you believe?”

“What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I just asked. You’ve heard their side, you’ve heard your father and me talking about it. After all that, what do you believe?”

“You were defending yourself. You had no choice and it was his fault in the first place for making such a poor choice in after school activities. I love you, Daddy-O. I know you wouldn’t do that on purpose.”

Greg smiled. “That’s all I need. If you can keep believing that, everything will be just fine. Just ignore whatever they have to say. Alright?”

“Sure, Daddy-O. Anything for you.”

“That’s my girl.” He reached out and pulled her into a tight hug. “Why don’t you go get ready for bed, I’ll collect up your father, wherever he disappeared to, and then we can play some Monopoly.”

“Ok!”

“By the way... I love you too.” Greg gave her a kiss on the cheek before letting her go.

She bounded away, smiling.

Greg got up and went in search of Nick, finding him holed up in their home office pouring over books and papers. But before he got the chance to see what Nick was looking at so intently, his boyfriend had everything covered, and in one neat stack in a matter of seconds.

“What are you working on, babe?”

“Nothing really. Just my case.” Nick stood up and stretched.

“I thought we agreed not to bring work home with us?”

Nick reached out and rested his hands on Greg’s shoulders, drawing him close.

“We did. And... I didn’t... it’s just...” Nick leaned in for a small, placating kiss, a happy glint in his eyes. “Nothing. It’s nothing. God, you taste good.” He kissed him again, as he walked Greg backward out of the office. “Mmm, I could get used to this.”

Greg put some distance between them. “We’re playing Monopoly with Dakota. Remember?”

“Damn.”

Greg smirked. “How about next weekend I plant the idea in one of her friend’s heads that she really wants to have a sleep over at her house.”

“Next weekend?!”

“I can do the weekend after, if that works better for you?”

“Greg, you know I love you, but right now, right now you’re killing me.”

“Sorry.” He placed a placating kiss on Nick’s lips before ducking from his grasp and heading back to the kitchen where Dakota waited with the game.

+


Excusing himself from the board game for a moment to run to the bathroom, Greg took a detour into the home office. The desk was empty. Opening drawers and filing cabinets, he found nothing that looked like the stack of papers and books Nick had had out when he’d walked in earlier. He shook his head. He would figure it out sooner or later. And if Nick had been working on a real case from work, he’d ream him out. But if he was doing something else... he couldn’t imagine what else Nick would be doing that he would have to keep hidden from his boyfriend. When he found out what it was... then he would determine what steps to take.

With a heavy sigh, he headed back to the game he was badly losing against an eight year old.

+

Greg pulled the SUV up to the curb and put it in park.

“We’re at the Tae Kwon Do school now, Mama. I’ll call you later after we get home. Ok?” Nick was talking into his cell phone. “Yeah, ok. Bye Mama.”

“We good?” Greg asked.

“Yeah, we’re good. Told her I’d call her back later. Hey, kiddo, you ready to go kick some butt?” Nick turned to see into the back seat where Dakota was already unbuckling herself and grabbing her huge gym bag.

“You sure you don’t want any help with that?”

“I’m a green belt now. I can carry it myself, Daddy-O.”

“Alrighty. I was just asking. You know, people like it when you’re polite.”

She looked up and grinned. “I know. But I need to do this. Jeremy thinks that because I’m a girl... well... you know...”

“Gotcha. But you know, I could always carry it up the stairs and let you carry it in to the school. That way it would look like you carried it all the way and you wouldn’t even be winded. I bet that would get to him.”

“No. That’s ok. But thanks anyway, Daddy-O.”

“No prob.”

Instead of doing the lugging, Greg held the front door of the Ji Hwan Lee Tae Kwon Do Academy open for his daughter and together the family trudged up the stairs to the school. By the time they reached the top, Greg was beaming with pride at the way Dakota surged on ahead with her heavy load. Not once, had she lost her grip or her footing.


Once inside the school, Nick and Greg waited while she changed into her uniform complete with her brand new green belt. The adult sparring class was just getting started as the large group paired off to warm up under the careful direction of the Grand Master, Ji Hwan Lee.

“Dad?”

“Yeah, pumpkin?” Nick turned to Dakota who had managed to put on most of her
brilliantly white sparring pads. Her small chest protector hung from her neck, the cords trailing behind her.

“I’ll lace you up, if you’ll lace me,” another girl spoke up.

Dakota turned to see the other girl was in the same straights she was and quickly nodded her head.

“Thanks anyway, Dad.”

While the two girls laced each other up Nick turned back to the adult sparring class. Everyone had sat down, breathing hard, pulling their helmets and gloves off. Mr. Lee looked over his students before he selected two.

“Jena and Stacy.”

The two women got up, put their head gear and gloves back on, ready to spar when he gave them the word.

“Ready? Go!”

The two blue belts danced around each other before one finally made a move to kick the other. The roundhouse kick was deflected with a wrist block.

“Come on! Come on! Move! You’ve got to move out of the way!” Mr. Lee called out.

“Daddy-O?” Greg found Dakota right behind him. “Is it normal to be nervous?”

He kneeled down before her. “This is your very first sparring class, of course it is.”

“But I can do those moves. I just... I never did them with... with someone else attacking me like that.”

“Mr. Dwain knows what he’s doing. And you’ve taken classes with him before. He knows
this is your first time, so I’m sure he’ll go easy on you.”

A loud clap was heard from the second training room as another instructor called out for the kids to line up.

“Go on,” Nick said. “We’ll be right here watching you.”

Dakota ran to the entrance, stopped to give a short bow, and ran onto the padded floor.

“Oh look! It’s a girl!” called a little boy not much bigger than Dakota. The name tag sewed onto his uniform read ‘Jeremy’.

“Shut up!”

“Dakota, Jeremy, don’t make me split you two up.” The instructor, Mr. Dwain, towered over the two.

“He started it!”

“Dakota, that doesn’t matter.”

“This isn’t easy on her,” Greg said quietly to Nick.

“You know she could take that kid on if she wanted to. She’s strong.”

“They’re talking about me at school.”

Nick turned from his daughter to face his boyfriend.

“Good or bad?”

“Bad.”

“How come I didn’t know this?” Nick took Greg’s arm and pulled him to the side. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“She didn’t want to tell me about it either, but I kinda made her. We talked about it. Came to a good conclusion. I just... I know she believes what I did was right because I was defending myself, but...with everyone talking about it, especially if they’re saying bad things, I’m afraid she might just... turn angry. You know? She’s hell bent on defending me, and while I want her to... she shouldn’t have to.”

“I wish you’d told me about this sooner, G.”

“I thought she and I had talked it out enough the other night. I wasn’t thinking about the
other ways this could get to her. You know every time she sees me, she sees this face.”

“Hey, don’t say that. Don’t even go there. Not at all. You hear me?”


“Yeah.”

“Besides, you’re healing nicely. You’re gonna look fine in a matter of days. I know for a fact that when she looks at you she doesn’t see those bruises. Look, G, this is bound to affect all three of us in ways we’re not expecting. There’s nothing we can do about it. But I guarantee we’ll pull through this in one piece.”

“Don’t go all super hero on me. I don’t need it.”

“Did I say that? When did I say that, Greg?”

“Guys, I’m up. Stop arguing and watch me.”

Both spun around to see Dakota in the doorway.

“Please.”

“Sorry, honey, we’re coming.”

They moved back to the doorway to stand with the other parents and watched their daughter in the middle of the floor opposite the girl who’d helped to lace up her chest protector earlier. Her name tag said her name was Liz.

The instructor set the large timer they used for the kid’s sparring classes and the girls were off. Dakota’s face was set, her lips sealed in a grim line, as she put all of her strength and force into each technique. Each time her foot or fist came in contact with Liz’s chest protector the instructor gave her a point on the timer. The round ended when she pushed too hard and knocked Liz over. Liz had three points and Dakota had five.

“That’s a little too much force, Dakota. Remember, this is light sparring. The point isn’t to knock the other person over.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Ok, go sit down. You both did a good job.”

+

Greg handed Nick a clean dish, dripping with hot water. Nick took it and quickly began drying it off before he put it in its respective cupboard.

“Can I make a suggestion?”

“What? You don’t like the way I’m doing the dishes? I’ll dry if you’d rather wash. How come you never told me you were picky about the dishes?”

“Cause I’m not, G. Would you shut up and listen to me?”

“Shutting up now.”

Greg grabbed a bowl and began to scrub it clean. But Nick didn’t say anything as he waited for the bowl.

“Well? Suggest away, lover.”

“Would you want to take classes with Dakota?” he rushed.

“I’m a genius, you’ve said so yourself. So, why would I need to go back to elementary school?”

“Tae Kwon Do. I meant Tae Kwon Do.”

Greg fell silent, his hands stilling in the soapy water.

“Give me the dish.”

He handed it to Nick who rinsed it off before toweling it dry.

“They could be good for you. Did you ever think of that?”

“I don’t... I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”

“But you’re ok with Dakota taking them.”

“I just don’t want her growing up like I did. You know how my Mom was. I don’t want to be like her.”

“You don’t want to be like her, but you’re still allowing her judgements to cloud your dreams and desires. Greg, you can’t let her do that. Sooner or later you’re going to have to tell her about your new position on the team. She won’t be oblivious forever and it’s a dangerous job. How long do you think it’s going to take before she finds out from secondary sources that you were nearly killed? How do you think she’s going to feel then?”

“She’ll be pissed.”

“Exactly. I’m not gonna make you carry cause I know how you feel about it. But you do need some form of self defense. Your mother would kill me if she knew I let you go out into the field without any.”

“Self defense training wouldn’t help. She wouldn’t even want me to have that. Lord knows I could get myself killed in training, never mind being out on the street.”

“Forget your mother right now, Greg. I’m not gonna lie to you. I want you to have something. I’m honestly terrified of having to come home alone and explain to Dakota why you’re not with me. I can’t go through that again.”

A splash of water rose up and hit Greg in the face, causing him to blink repeatedly to get it out of his eyes. He hadn’t even realized that he’d grabbed another plate and was scrubbing it so hard.

Setting the towel down, Nick moved to stand behind Greg, snaking his arms around him while resting his chin on his shoulder. “And I like Mr. Lee’s morals. ‘Only fight if you have no other choice.’ He’s a good teacher.”

“I’ll think about it. But that’s all I can promise.”

“That’s all I’m asking.”

Nick’s hands ran down the length of his arms and into the water to stop him from scrubbing the plate until there was nothing left but dust.

“Hey... these can wait until tomorrow. Come to bed with me.”

“I can’t leave this huge mess...”

“Sometimes I need to learn not to be so anal about having a clean kitchen all the time. Come on.”

Nick pulled Greg away from the sink and pointed him in the direction of the stairs.

“Nick, the ice cream’s still on the table.”

“Dang. Go on ahead. I’ll be up in two seconds.” He gave Greg a little push to keep him moving in the general direction of their bedroom.

Once he was on the second floor, however, Dakota seemed to have something else in mind. “Daddy-O?”

He stuck his head in her darkened doorway. “What’s up? And why aren’t you asleep?”

“Can you come here?”

Greg moved into the room and sat down on the edge of her bed.

“I think it would be wicked fun if you joined the school with me.” He could hear the smile in her voice.

“So you heard that conversation, did you? Well, if I can take it from one Stokes, I’m sure I can handle it from two. Lay it on me girl.”

“I just think it would be cool. And I could teach you stuff! Like how to do a wheel kick!”

“But you have to be a blue belt to do that, right?”

“Well, when I get there, and Mr. Dwain teaches me how to do one. Then I can show you. But I can show you other stuff too!”

“You sure you’re in this just for the fun factor?” Greg quirked an eyebrow, even if she couldn’t see it in the dark.

“I want you to come home too.”

“I thought so.”

“Daddy-O! Don’t say it like that. You are my other Dad. What am I gonna do if you’re not here? I need you to see me off on my prom night, to walk me down the isle when I get married, to be there with your camera when I get my diploma from Stanford.”

Greg let out an involuntary chuckle. “Just don’t let your father hear that. I thought you told him you were going to A&M?”

“Promise you won’t tell him?”

“I’m not sure. I can’t promise anything unless I know what I’m promising.”

“I only said that to make him happy. I really wanna go to Stanford and be a chemist like you.”

“Are you sure you’re not just saying that to make me happy?”

“Positive.”

A grin covered his face. “Then you have a deal. I swear to God I won’t tell a single living soul. And I get your point. But, girl, you’re eight. Aren’t you rushing the prom thing and especially the wedding thing?”

Greg’s stomach flipped at the mere thought of walking her down the isle. She would never be old enough to marry in his book. He knew it. Would he ever be able to let a prom date into the house to take her away on such an important night? That thought alone, scared him.


“Why did you have to bring those things up? Why?”

“I’m still only eight, Daddy-O. My first dance is still a long ways off. Never mind my prom.”

Feeling himself wilting under the terrible thoughts Greg stood up on shaky legs. “Like I told your father, I’ll think about the Tae Kwon Do classes. In the meantime, go to sleep and stop torturing me with this prom talk!”

Dakota giggled. “Ok, Daddy-O!”

Greg backed out of her room and shut the door, nearly running into Nick in the process.

“You ok, babe?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be alright. Maybe. Kinda...”

+

“Hey Greg, I need you to... you don’t look so good. Are you ok?” Warrick asked.

Greg looked up at the tall man standing in the doorway to the DNA lab then around him at all of the machines whirring with life. His hands fidgeted in his lap.

“Trucker’s Butt,” he said.

“What?”

“Trucker’s Butt. I’ve got Trucker’s Butt. I need to get out of here soooo bad.”

“Must be rough man,” Warrick said as if he only partly cared. “What if I gave you something to do?”

“Wouldn’t help much but bring it on anyway.”

The older CSI handed over a paper bindle. “I need you to find DNA from this hair. I’m still working on something to compare it to. I’ll let you know when I get anything.”

“Sure. Thanks.”

As soon as his coworker was gone, Greg pulled the hair sample out and got right to work.

Moments later Grissom came bustling in, his arms full of evidence. “Oh good, you’re here.”

“Griss, I’m gonna go stir crazy here. I don’t know how much longer I can take this.”

“You’ve only got until the inquest.”

“You’ve got to get me out of here sooner than that. I need to be out with the team. I swear to God this is driving me crazy.”

“Wendy’s coming back tomorrow... I suppose it would be crowded in here...” Grissom trailed off in thought.

“Totally.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you!”

“In the meantime, I’ve got samples for you to run.”

“Anything for you, boss.”

Grissom eyed him over the top of his glasses before leaving Greg with more evidence. Greg sighed and got to work again, drumming his fingers and tapping his feet.

The next time he looked up, Nick was leaning against the doorframe, a smile on his face. “Hey, love,” he greeted quietly.

“Hey.” Greg looked out into the hallway in both directions from where he sat but saw no one.

“Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.”

He smiled with his boyfriend. “That’s ok.”

“Are you busy?”

“Sorta. Why?”

“I’m headed out on my dinner break. I was gonna see if you wanted to join me.”

“I would love to. You have a place in mind?”

“I was thinking of that twenty-four hour Chinese place around the corner.”

“Give me a minute to finish up Warrick’s sample and I’ll be ready to go.”

“Meet you in the locker room. Don’t be late, babe.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Nick winked before he disappeared.

“Do you wanna drive or shall I?” Nick asked when they reached the parking lot.

“Let’s walk. It’s a nice night out.”

“G, are you getting all romantic on me?”

Greg took his hand as they headed towards the street and gave it a squeeze. “I’ve always been romantic on you.” He let his hand fall.

“I wish we weren’t on the clock,” Nick sighed.

“Technically we’re not.”

“Maybe we should go somewhere further away.”

“What about our usual place? They know us there. Besides, I could really go for some
pasta right about now.”

Nick grabbed his arm and steered him in the opposite direction. “Just don’t tell Dakota we went to her favorite restaurant when we get home.”

“I know, she’ll murder me if I do.”

As they entered the small, family run place a warm puff of air met them at the door. Upon a quick glace the place was nearly empty, except for a couple seated at a booth and the elderly woman standing near the cash register. Her sweet, round face smiled brightly between wisps of grey hair that refused to be tied back into her bun. She wiped the back of her hand across her forehead and left a smear of white flour dust behind. When she saw them her eyes showed recognition, even happiness, before they flicked to the couple in the booth. She shook her head at the two CSIs.

Greg’s eyes followed hers to the blonde in the booth.

“Warrick told me he hated Italian food.” Nick’s hand had slid down Greg’s arm to clasp his hand. Now his grip tightened, as Greg realized what Mrs. Vecchio was telling them.

He pulled Nick back around toward the door. “Come on, I want a quiet dinner with you. We can bring Dakota here sometime later this week.”

Nick moved to follow him when a familiar female voice stopped him.

“Nick! I didn’t know you were here! Come sit with us.”

“Cath...” Warrick’s voice didn’t sound thrilled with the idea.

He let Greg’s hand go and faced their coworkers.

“Hey, Cath, I didn’t see you there. Warrick.”

Warrick nodded, but his eyes widened when Greg came into view. “You toting Greg around with you?”

Greg felt Nick stiffen beside him. “Actually, I asked him to join me on my dinner break,” Greg said. “And he said ‘yes’ since you two were already out. We were just deciding what we felt like eating and where.”

“I was just teasing you, Greg. Chill out.”

“Why don’t you come sit with us?” Catherine suggested.

“Oh, no that’s ok,” Nick was quick to say. “We wouldn’t want to intrude. You look like...”

“We’re almost done, Nicky. Don’t worry about it. Come on, what’s gotten into you?”

“Nothing. Sorry. G?”

“We’re here now. Might as well stay.” Greg passed by Nick. “Loosen up, babe,” he whispered before crossing the room to sit beside Catherine.

“What’s wrong with him?” she asked as Nick still hadn’t moved.

“I don’t know. Nick, get over here, or I won’t run your samples later.”

“Ouch Nicky. Don’t get on his bad side. Can we get the check please?”

Mrs. Vecchio nodded and Nick finally slid into the booth across from Greg.

“Here you go,” she handed the check directly to Warrick before looking at Greg and Nick. “Your usuals?”

“Definitely.”

“Yes, please.”

“I’ll be back with your drinks then.”

“So, you come here often?” Catherine asked once Mrs. Vecchio was gone.

“Looks like you do too. She didn’t put that check on the table, she handed it right to you,
Warrick.”

“We have a system,” she quickly explained. “I paid last time so now it’s his turn.”

“And she knows this? That’s some system.”

“Well, she knows both of your orders,” Warrick said as he pulled out his wallet and began counting his money.

“We just come here a lot. Or at least I do. Nick? You must too. I didn’t even think about it. Why don’t we all come together next time.”

“A group date, sounds grand, Sanders.”

Nick let him out so he could pay. He set the money on the counter and looked through the open door into the kitchen. “Keep the change, Mrs. Vecchio,” Warrick called. “Ok, you ready to get back and tackle that case, Cath?”

“Sure thing. You boys have fun now, ya hear?”

“Yes, Mom.” Greg grinned.

When their two coworkers were gone, Mrs. Vecchio came bustling out of the kitchen with two Vanilla Cokes in hand. “I’m so sorry about that. I could tell you wanted to be alone and I hoped they didn’t see you. But...”

“That’s ok,” Nick said, finally finding his voice.

She sighed. “Would you want a clean table then?”

Both men agreed and moved to a new booth. Once she was gone again Greg reached across the table and intertwined his fingers with Nick’s.

“How’s that sweet girl of yours?” Mrs. Vecchio asked, upon returning with their plates.

“She’s doing fine, thanks.”

“That’s good to know.”

Greg dug into his chicken fettuccini with gusto and a quarter of his plate was gone before he realized Nick wasn’t eating. He looked up. “What’s wrong?”

Nick shook his head. “I heard part of your conversation with Grissom.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Are you sure you’re ready to go back to the field after what happened?”

“Why would you think I’m not?”

“I...I keep remembering... the explosion.”

“I still went back to work right away after that.”

“Yeah but... you know it wasn’t the same afterwards.”

“If you’re talking about my PTSD, Stokes, then just spit it out already.” Greg glared at him, his mouth shut in a thin line.

Nick’s eyes fell to his plate of spaghetti. The cheese grater sat next to his plate untouched. “Alright, yeah, I am.”

“You can’t protect me from everything, Nick. I know you want to. And half of me wants you to. But we both know that’s not going to help get me better. If I hadn’t let you stand on your own two feet after you were buried alive, how many exhumations would you be able to endure today?”

Nick’s face remained averted from Greg’s.

“PTSD is only a part of the healing process for things like that, for explosions, kidnappings, beatings...If I hadn’t gone back to the lab so soon after, I doubt I would have ever gone back. I had your support and I knew you were there for me. Knowing that, helped me to stand on my own and confront my fears. Ok? I’m getting a serious case of Trucker’s Butt. I need to get out of the lab before I go crazy. I want to be out with the team. I need to be active, to be doing something, combing a crime scene for evidence. You know how high strung I am naturally. You know lab work bores me to tears. Why are you being like this?”

Nick was silent for awhile and neither of them touched their food.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said. “You’re right. I just... you know, it almost happened once. I watched them load you into the ambulance that first time and it scared the hell out of me. And this time... I was afraid... maybe it would be the last time... maybe you wouldn’t come back. But you did and I’m ever grateful, I just think... that... I guess I don’t want it to happen again...”

“You asked me to learn Tae Kwon Do. What more do you want? Trying to prevent something like that won’t help or get you anywhere. You’d have to put me in a box and leave me in the corner. And even then I could suffocate, or get burned to death. A stray bullet could still find me...”

“You’d starve...” Nick’s voice was soft, full of realization.

Greg’s fingers squeezed his hand again, making him look up. “Come on, eat up before your dinner gets cold.”

Nick grated the cheese over his spaghetti while Greg returned to his own dish.

“Trucker’s Butt?” Nick set the grater down, but hadn’t picked up his fork yet. A small smile played at the corners of his mouth. “I just realized what you said, G. Trucker’s Butt?” he repeated.

“Yeah, Trucker’s Butt. You got a problem with that?”

“I do. I don’t want you to get Trucker’s Butt.”

+

Sitting at the dinning room table with his daughter, Greg posed a question, “Who were the two guys who discovered DNA?”

“James Watson and Francis Crick,” Dakota answered with a straight face.

“What page was Alex Stokes mentioned in Watson’s memoir?”

“I can’t believe you just asked that!”

“It’s important that she know the answer, Nick. In fact, you should know it too. I’m surprised you don’t.”

“You’re acting like a love-sick puppy!”

“Page 56. Dad, it is important! How many Stokes do you know who had such a big hand in history and our future like he did... even if he was only mentioned once in the book?”

“What role did he play in their discovery?” Greg continued, ignoring his boyfriend’s remarks.

“Maurice had pictures that Watson and Crick needed. Maurice already knew the DNA structure was a helix because his colleague, theoretician Alex Stokes, told him that the absence of reflections on the meridian in his X-ray diffraction pictures was a feature compatible with a helix.”

“Babe, you know more than I ever did at your age.”

“You’re a genius, G. What are you talking about?” Nick asked.

“Can we play Name That Chemical Compound, Daddy-O? That’s way more fun!”

“Alright! Name that Chemical Compound, here we go!” Greg took the whiteboard marker in his hand, uncapped it, and stopped to think.

“Think of a good one, G!” Nick called from the kitchen.

“I’m gonna put all the hard ones on you, Stokes.”

“Why me?”

“Cause you refuse to play anymore.”

“Yeah, cause the one time I did... the prize was terrible.”

“Daddy-O promised me a good prize this time!” Dakota inserted. “So, come on! Think of a
good one and lets play!”

Greg got right to work drawing on the dinning room window with the marker.

Six Cs had been drawn in a circle with every other bond between them a double. Connected to each C with a single bond was an H, continuing in the circular shape. He stopped and looked at his daughter. She squinted at it, and thought about it for a moment. But only a moment.

“Daddy-O, you’ve really got to come up with harder stuff than that. It’s Benzene.”

“Right on! And what’s it made of?”

“Duh, carbon and hydrogen.”

“Good going.”

“So? What’d I win?”

“I’ll give you one cookie.”

“Score!”

“Greggo! I’m not in here slaving over this hot stove for nothing!”

“I know dear.”

“I bet my present’s better than yours ever was!”

“Hmmm, I am not talking about that one.”

“Now, before you get that cookie before dinner, you have to describe Benzene for me.”

Dakota sighed and thought for a long moment. “It’s a... liquid. Colorless. Highly flammable.” She looked up at Greg and held out her hand for the cookie.

“Not quite. Two more things you missed.”

“Oh man.”

“See... not so easy, huh?”

“I’ve got it. Don’t you worry Daddy-O. It’s in my brain somewhere, I just have to dig it out. Give me a moment.” She moved into the kitchen and sat down at the table, resting her chin on her arms.

“How come I never got a cookie?” Nick asked when Greg joined him at the stove.

“What? You want a cookie?”

“Yeah, I want a cookie.”

“I think I can arrange that for later. But, if you want one right now, you’re going to have to
play Name That Chemical Compound.”

“G, why do you always have to make things difficult?”

“Cause I do?” Greg let out a grin.

“It has a sweet smell! And a high melting point!” Dakota burst from the table and was standing beside Greg within seconds. “Now do I get my cookie?”

“Since you got it right.” Greg let her reach into the cookie jar for one of the chocolate chip cookies they’d baked together on her birthday.

“By the way... what’s it used for?”

“They make Nylon with it, and some detergents, drugs, explosives, and pesticides among other things.”

“Way cool. When you get to high school chemistry, you’re going to ace it!”

“I love the sound of that!”

+

With his pajama bottoms laid out on their queen sized bed, Greg pulled his t-shirt off over his head. He caught a glimpse of his bare chest in the mirror and quickly looked away. He loosened his pants and let them fall to the floor. Picking them up, he tossed them into the laundry basket along with his t-shirt. He slipped his pajama bottoms on and turned back to face the mirror full on.

His skin was clear. Perhaps still a little pale, but clear of the purple and blue splotches that had covered his once puffy skin. All but one. He’d avoided the mirror since the beating, letting Nick guide his hair into some semblance of order every day. Nick hadn’t complained, only mentioned once or twice that he couldn’t do Greg’s hair justice the way Greg could.

Now, only one large bruise remained, slowly yellowing right above his left hip. He slowly let his fingers glide over the sensitive area. Another hand moved over his and laced their fingers together. He looked up to see Nick standing behind him.

“Dakota?”

“On the school bus. You’re looking beautiful, G.”

Heat crept into Greg’s cheeks. “I’m still bruised.”

Nick leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Do you want me to kiss it better?” Without waiting for a response, he moved their hands away from the offending splotch and fell to his knees in front of Greg.

“Nick...”

With their fingers still intertwined, Nick placed a gentle kiss on the bruise. Then another. And another. Until he’d effectively kissed every square inch of discolored skin.

“You’ve always been beautiful to me,” Nick whispered. “Even when you couldn’t see me in the hospital.” He stood up. “Come on, we both need to get some sleep.”

Nick held him close in bed, spooning him gently the way he’d been doing for the past few weeks, but fifteen minutes after closing his eyes Greg was still wide awake.

“Greg, you realize you’re going to be stuck on desk duty when you get back to work until the coroner’s inquest, right?” Grissom’s voice asked in a patronizing tone.

“Nooo!” A woman’s scream filled Greg’s senses. “Nooo! Not my boy! Not my boy! Not my baby! Nooo!” Sobs followed as he saw Mrs. James leaning over her dead son in the hospital and dark eyes, filled with hatred, locked onto his through the window.

Glass shattered then, erasing the sound of her terrible screams. Glass, and he saw a dark ally in front of him, through the windshield of his Denali. More glass breaking. Hands, grabbing, pulling. Flying out the window. Fists, feet, pain erupting... everywhere, stars exploding... behind his eyelids.

He blinked his eyes open, praying for the sight of his nightstand beside the bed and Nick’s arms wrapped around him. He breathed a large sigh of relief when his prayers were answered. His heart was thudding louder than a jackhammer and he was a little afraid he’d wake Nick with his heartbeat alone. He concentrated hard on slowing his breathing down and collecting his thoughts.

With his voice barely a whisper he began to mumble, to keep himself sane, “Chemical symbol: Ac. Name: Actinium. Atomic number: 89. Chemical symbol: Ag. Name: Silver. Atomic number: 47. Chemical symbol: Al. Name: Aluminum. Atomic number: 13. Chemical symbol: Am. Name: Americium. Atomic number: 95. Chemical symbol: Ar. Name: Argon. Atomic number: 18. Symbol: As. Arsenic. Number: 33. At. Astatine. Number 85. Au. Gold. 79. B. Boron. 5. Ba. Barium. 56...”

“We’ll get you through this,” Nick said, his arms tightening around him. “Don’t worry. I promise everything will turn out alright.”

“I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t...now come on, you left off on Barium...”

+

“Hana!... Dool!... Set!... Net!...” In the background Greg could hear Mr. Dwain counting in Korean so Dakota’s class knew how many kicks they had done.

“You can do it, Daddy-O! I know you can!” she’d exclaimed just before running off to her class.

Now he stood beside Nick at the front desk, trying not to think about what he was doing.

“It’s great that you’re doing this,” Mr. Nape, the Academy’s manager, said. “Dakota’s thrilled and you’ll be able to take classes with her if you want.”

“I can?” Surprise filled his voice and he didn’t try to hide it.

“Sure. She’s good enough and old enough to take some of the adult classes with Mr. Lee. And I, myself, teach a class later at night that you both could take. You don’t have to take the beginner’s classes if you don’t want to. Some of our students start right off in all-levels.”


Looking warily at another class going on nearby he saw red belts doing some crazy spinning jumping kick while blue belts were doing what Dakota had termed a Mountain Block at the same time. There was one white belt in the class working on the straight punch every time the instructor called for the class to move.

“I’ll stick to the beginner’s class, thanks.”

“You’ve already got the class schedule, but beginner’s classes are at six every night, just so you’re aware.”

“Ok.”

“Now, I just need you to fill out this application.” He pushed a piece of paper and a pen in Greg’s direction. “I’m assuming you’re using the same account information that we already have on file for Dakota?”

“Yes, we are,” Nick said.

“Good. That certainly makes things easier.”

Greg sat down and began to fill out the form as requested. Debating what to put down for his weight as he was still gaining some back after the beating, he looked up to think on the matter. Dakota, between kicks, was watching him with a wide grin. Mr. Dwain gave another count and her smile slipped into a serious expression. She executed the move with expert precision and when it was finished she looked back at him, smiling again.

Armed with the courage her smile provided, he bent over the form and finished filling it out.

+

Greg leaned over the layout table, carefully looking for any form of evidence in the arson of the pedophile’s car, when his cell phone vibrated against his hip.

“Sanders.”

“Straight punch,” a small, yet serious, voice said.

He thought about it for a moment. He hadn’t taken a Tae Kwon Do class yet, but Dakota had been teaching him a few tricks that he should know, just the same.

“Mid-section block, front kick,” he finally responded as Nick and Catherine came into the room.

“Nice job Daddy-O.”

“Hey babe, what’s up?”

“I was just calling to check up on you.”

“Check up on me?”

“Yeah, you know, to see how you were doing. So, how are you doing?”

“I’m doing great, now that you called.”

If she’d been in the room with him he would have winked at her. Instead, he winked at Nick when Catherine wasn’t looking. Nick just smiled.

“I’m glad,” Dakota said before a yawn took over her voice.

“Sounds like you need to get back to bed. What are you doing up at this hour anyway?”

“Calling you. What else would I be doing?”

Greg grinned into the phone. “But of course. What was I thinking?”

“I don’t know. Oh, Jelli’s giving me the evil eye cause I’m not sleeping.”

“Well, you tell Jelli I said it was ok. I’m glad you called. You just made my night that much better. I love you, sweetheart.”

“I love you too, Daddy-O.”

“No, I love you more.”

“Bye Daddy-O!”

“I didn’t know you had a girlfriend, Greg,” Catherine commented once he’d hung up.

“Uh... long story, actually.”

“She’s a little more than a girlfriend, G,” Nick said.

“You’re so right. She definitely is.”

“Oh really? So, how long have you two been dating?”

“Well,” Greg thought about it. “There was a brief time off for a few months, but all in all, it’s been over eight years now.”

“Eight years!”

“G, if you’re talking about who I’m assuming you’re talking about, then it was a little less
than eight years come November 3rd.”

“Oh, right.”

“That was Dakota’s birthday, wasn’t it, Nick?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, I’m soo sorry, I’ve just been so busy with everything, I forgot to give her her present.”

“Don’t worry, she didn’t want anything anyway.”

“She didn’t?”

“She just wanted to spend time with her family, after almost losing a member recently.”

“Her uncle!” Greg jumped in. “It was her uncle, right?” He looked at Nick inquiringly.

Nick locked eyes with him for a moment. “No, Greg. I wasn’t going to say her uncle. Not this time.”

“You weren’t?”

“Nick?”

“I was going to say she almost lost you.”

Greg’s mouth hung open and his eyes refused to leave Nick to see how Catherine was reacting. Finally, he forced himself to look at their coworker, who was eyeing both of them.

“You do spend a lot of time over there, Greg. I guess it would stand to reason that she’d view you as family.” She left before either of them could correct her.

“Is everything ok?” Nick asked with a slightly worried look in his eyes once she was gone.

“Yeah, she’s fine. Um... she was calling to check up on me.” Greg shook his head.

“She was?”

“Yeah. Nick, you really lucked out with her. I didn’t know kids did that these days.”

“No, Greg. We both lucked out.”

+

“Ok, fighting stance!” Mr. Nape called out.

“Hut!” The class yelled, as each member moved their right foot back and brought their hands up to protect their face.

“Now, what do we always say about the hands?” Mr. Nape asked as he stood at the front of the room, feet spread apart, hands clasped behind his back. “Greg?”

Greg looked down at his feet, struggling to come up with an answer, but nothing came to his blank mind.

“Anyone?”

A woman with long brown hair raised her hand. “Keep them up. They’re supposed to protect your face at all times.”

“Correct. Remember that folks. If you drop your hands you open yourself up to attack, and that’s not what you want. Ok, let’s work on that while we practice side kicks. Each time you put your foot down, remember to get your hands right back into the position they’re in now. Ready? Hana!”

Greg moved his right foot forward, and turned his body over so he was kicking with his foot sideways. He put his foot down ahead of his left and got his hands back up, covering his face, but not his view of potential attackers.

Mr. Nape was walking down the center isle the beginner students had created, watching each one practice. “Dool!”

Greg moved his left foot forward this time, but was forced to put his foot down before he’d executed the kick when he lost his balance.

“Hold on, Greg. Let’s try that again. Left foot back.” Greg did as the instructor told him. “Now, bring your foot up, knee level with your foot. There you go. Push out.”

As Greg moved his foot, Mr. Nape grabbed his leg from underneath and held him in place.

“Twist your hip. Everything needs to be one straight line.”

He wobbled a bit, balancing on one foot, his other high in the air. But he couldn’t fall with the tight grip on him. He turned his hip over, and found his balance again when everything lined up.

“There you go! That’s what you want. Ok?”

“Yes, I think I’ve got it.”

“Good.”

Mr. Nape let him go and went back to the head of the class. “Dui ro dorasut! Turn around!”

The class turned around, standing in the same position but facing the opposite wall. Greg was ever grateful that although the instructor was giving instructions in Korean he was also giving them in English so he wasn’t completely lost.

Now, he could see Nick sitting in one of the black leather couches in the waiting area reading a book. Dakota was sitting beside him, still in uniform after finishing the class right before Greg’s. When she saw Greg watching her she got up from the couch and walked over to the entrance of his classroom. She leaned against the half wall and watched as Mr. Nape had them doing a few more side kicks.

When he lost his balance again she stepped into the room, took a bow, and sat down on the floor in Indian style, so she could watch him.

“Roundhouse kicks are next. Now remember, you want your kicks to go around and through your target. Hana!” Greg, keeping in mind that Dakota was watching him, kicked out, and managed to keep his balance.

“Good! You’re looking good Greg.”

Dakota beamed at him, and he was surprised to find a light smile playing at his own lips.

“Dool!”

They practiced the kick several more times before the class was over. After they’d bowed to Mr. Nape, then to the flag at the front of the room, Greg turned to see Dakota standing and coming out of her second bow.

He ruffled her hair when he reached her. “You’re a good kid, you know that?”

“I do now!”

“You looked good out there, G,” Nick greeted, sliding a bookmark into his novel.

“I was horrible.”

“Give it some time. You just need to practice, that’s all.”

“Yeah! Remember how bad I was when I first started?”

“You were five years old, Dakota. It’s ok for a five year old to be tripping over themselves
and losing their balance. I’m a grown man, things are a little different.”

“They are not!”

“Ok you two, stop arguing and go get changed so we can get out of here.”

+

“I can’t believe I just did that,” Greg said when he and Nick got home after dropping Dakota off at Jelli’s, her babysitter, for the night.

Nick took his hand in his and they both looked down when they realized Greg was trembling. He pulled him into a hug.

“It’s ok. You did a great job. Did you see how proud of you Dakota was? She was psyched.”

“I’m still nervous about doing this. I don’t know why. I think it’s cool that she’s doing this, and that she’s doing so well. I know it’s good for her and all that. But for some reason, things change when I think about myself doing it.”

Nick let him go, taking his hand again and leading him toward the livingroom. He fell onto the couch, and pulled Greg with him to sit on his lap. Greg moved to sit beside him.

“You shouldn’t be nervous, G. You’re the bravest man I know. You went into that ally, one against twelve, just to save that man’s life. They could have killed you. But you went in there anyway. You saved him, and you walked away. I don’t think I could have done that. Ever. You’re amazing.”

“I don’t feel amazing.”

“If you can do that, then you can do Tae Kwon Do. This way, the next time you feel compelled to head into an ally with a gang, you’ll be prepared to protect yourself as well as the victim.”

“You make it sound as if I’ll be doing that on a regular basis.” He gave a half laugh.

“Greg, I can’t see the future, neither of us know what’s going to happen, but I know you can’t resist doing what’s right. I’ve got the same problem. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared just in case you do end up in a similar situation.”

“I know. You’re right.”

“There’s something else you should do.”

“What’s that?”

Nick handed Greg the cordless phone that had been sitting on the table beside the couch.

“Call your mother.”

“My moth... Nick... she’ll freak!”

“You need to tell her the truth.”

Greg’s knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on the phone.

“Don’t worry, babe. I’m gonna be right here. I promise.”

Greg turned and pushed Nick sideways until he was sprawled on his back.

“Greg!”

He snuggled in close to Nick, letting his boyfriend get more comfortable around him.

“If you’re gonna make me do this, then I’m gonna get comfortable,” he pouted before staring at the keypad for a few minutes. Finally he worked up the urge to punch in the numbers to his parents house.

“Sanders residence!” his mother greeted in her high-pitched sing-song voice.

“Hi Mom.”

“Greg! How come you haven’t called your dear mother in so long? Huh? I was beginning to get very worried! I was about to call you!”

“I’m sorry, Mom. Things just kinda happened at work and...”

“What happened, dear?”

“Nothing... I just...” Greg began to mumble as he buried himself deeper into the crook of Nick’s neck. “I got a new job out of the lab, and I was going to collect evidence but there was this gang and I saved this guy’s life...” he spoke faster and faster with each word.

“What’s that, Greg? I can’t hear a word you’re saying! Speak up! I taught you better than that!”

“But I’m ok,” Greg continued as if he hadn’t heard a word she’d said.

Nick pried the phone from his hand and put it to his ear. “Mrs. Sanders...”

“Who’s this?! Who are you?! What have you done with my son?! You let him go! Now! Or I’m calling the police!”

“Ma’am! Ma’am! Calm down. Greg is fine. What he’s trying to tell you is that he got a new job out of the lab. He’s now working in the field, collecting the evidence, working cases first hand.”

“WHAT?!”

“He’s good at what he does, Mrs. Sanders. I personally helped train him.”

“That job’s not safe. How many times did I tell him it wasn’t safe for him? He’s going to get hurt.”

“Ma’am... he did save someone’s life recently.”

“What...? He did?”

“Yes. He did get a little hurt, but if he hadn’t been there, that man would have died.”

“Oooohhhhh! Dear Jesus!” Mrs. Sanders wailed.

Greg grabbed the phone back from Nick and sat up. “Mom! Mom! I’m ok. Alright, I’m ok.”

“Greg? Honey? I told you...”

“I know Mom. But I had to do it. I was going insane working in the lab.”

Nick ran a hand over his back in a soothing gesture while he tried to explain things to his mother.

“You almost got yourself killed, Greg.”

“I know. I know.”

“Who was that?”


“Who was who, Mom?”

“That man I was talking to. Who else?”

“Ummmm...”

Nick’s roaming hand found his hip and gave it a squeeze.

“He’s my boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend?!”

“Yes, Mom.”

“He sounded like a hot jock to me. And you know how I feel about jocks. Things start off sweet and innocent but before you know it, he’s using strength he never realized he had...” she sighed. “And then you get hurt.”

“He wouldn’t hurt me. He would never do that!” Tears welled in his eyes at the accusation.

“That’s what you say now... but later on, the truth comes out, dear. You really should find someone else. He’s enabling you, by training you for the field work I told you not to do. He’s dangerous.”

“No he’s not!” Carefully, he lay back down against Nick’s chest and swallowed the growing lump in his throat. “He’s the sweetest guy I’ve ever met. I’m sorry I never told you sooner. He’s got a beautiful daughter...”

“A daughter! So, you’ve fallen in with a tramp?! What’s the wife have to say about that?”

“We. We have a daughter. She’s been calling me Daddy-O almost since she was a baby. She’s the best kid anyone could have. I love her to pieces, Mom. Just as much as I love Nick.”

There was a long pause on his mother’s end of the phone and he was about to ask if she was still there when she finally spoke, “How old is she?”

“She’s eight.”

“Eight...” and the surprise was in her voice, but she kept it quiet this time. “What’s her name?”

“Dakota.”

Another long pause. “That’s a pretty name. Is he really hot?”


“Hotter than hot.”

“Give me some time. Let me talk to your father. Ok?”

“Alright.”

“And Greg?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you for calling me and finally coming clean.”

“You’re welcome.”

When he hung up with her Nick brushed his tears away as they rolled over his nose and soaked the black t-shirt beneath his head.

“Are you ok, G?”

“Yeah, I’ll be ok. It’s just that, I can’t believe she said that about you.” He sighed. “No. I can. She’s my mother. I knew she would freak out. I’m just angry that she called you dangerous.”

“So, I heard. What did she say in the end before you hung up?”

“She’ll think about it and talk to my father.”

“That’s good then, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so.”

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

Greg looked up at the hesitancy in his boyfriend’s voice. “What?”

“I talked to Megan’s parents yesterday, and told them about you.”

“You did what?!”

“They want to meet you.”

“They do? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I mean, I don’t know Dakota’s grandparents very well. Will they attempt to kill me and take her from you?”

Nick smiled. “No, G. I should have told them years ago. I wish I had. They already knew there was someone else in my life. I guess they overheard our phone conversations when Dakota and I were visiting them and you got stuck here by yourself. I told them I was calling work, but they saw right through that.”

“You don’t usually tell your coworkers you love them and let your daughter get on the phone and say the same thing to your boss,” Greg laughed.

“Right. They said they just wanted me to be happy and they wanted to make sure Dakota would be looked after the way she should be.”

“I wish you’d told me you were thinking of talking to them. I could have been there with you when you did. I wouldn’t want you to go through that alone.”

“I had no choice. It was something I should have done years ago. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. But now it’s done. And we can relax. Maybe once the inquest is over we can get a weekend off and go visit them together.”

“I’d like that a lot Nicky. I really would.”

+

“Straight punch goes like this,” Dakota explained, showing Greg what her straight punch looked like. “You see that slight twist I put in it at the end?”

Greg nodded, standing in a riding stance position, both feet spread wide apart, his weight settled evenly between the two. The scent of steak and potatoes cooking in the oven filled the house and made it difficult to concentrate on what his daughter was teaching him.

“Good. You do it.”

Greg copied her movement.

“Now what’s that called? In Korean?”

“Dakota... I can’t possibly know that. How do you?”

“Ki ma so gi joong dan ji ru ki... which means?”

“Riding stance punch. That much I do know. You amaze me.”

“I know. Now, let’s try your form. Shall we?”

“Form?”

“It’s a pattern of movements you’re going to have to learn in order to move on to the next level. You should know some of this already Daddy-O. I’ve had to do this since I first started.”

“Oh yeah. I knew that. Sure.”

“Your form is called Chon-Ji. That means heaven and earth. Now, you’re going to start in a parallel ready stance.”

She showed him what she meant by keeping her feet pointed forward, shoulder’s width apart, and her hands turned to fists in front of her stomach.

“Now, you’re going to turn to the left and use your left hand in a low block. Then with your right hand give a straight punch.”

Greg did as instructed, and when he turned he saw Nick, leaning against the doorway into the kitchen, wiping his hands on a dish towel.

“You look good, G.”

“Thanks,” he smiled. “This isn’t so bad.”

A hand whacked his arm. “Stop talking and pay attention! You didn’t move your feet correctly. Watch me again.”

A sound fell into the room like a massive avalanche of rocks tumbling down a steep mountain side.

“Hungry?” Nick teased.

“Starving. When’s that steak gonna be ready?”

“Not now Daddy-O! You’ve got to pay attention! You can’t eat until you’ve got this
right!”

“Uh oh, G. I think I’m gonna get out of here. I thought I had it bad having to cook again, but I’ll take that over this crazy teacher any day.”

“I used to like you, Dad!” Dakota called after him as he departed the room with haste. “Don’t listen to him Daddy-O. This is fun, once you know what you’re doing. And once you get the basics right, everything else will fall into place. That’s what Mr. Dwain keeps telling me anyway.”

While she talked on, all Greg could think about was steak and, oddly enough, chocolate chip cookies. He sighed at himself and got back into position.

+

The coroner’s inquest seemed to take forever to arrive, yet, once the day was dawning, it seemed to have come over night. Greg was still in bed early that morning, after getting the night off and Nick was fiddling in the closet when Dakota came into the room.

“I’m not going to school today,” she announced from the doorway.

“Um, why not?”

“How can I? Daddy-O’s gotta go to court. I have to be there.”

“Honey,” Greg heard Nick get down on his knees to better face her. “You have to go to school. You can’t go to the court house.”

“But why not?” she whined. “Daddy-O needs me!”

“Daddy-O needs you to go to school, sweetie,” Greg said, uncurling himself and sitting up.

She ran to him, launched herself onto the bed, and threw her arms around him. “You don’t really mean that, do you?”

“I do. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it’s gotta be.”

She let Greg go, got off the bed, gave Nick a nasty look, and left the room.

“I’ll go talk to her,” Nick said.

“You know how she is. It’s not going to do much good.”

“Well, I need to at least get her breakfast before her bus arrives.”

Once Nick had left, Greg went to shower and get dressed for court. He did everything on autopilot, doing his best not to think about why he had to wear a suit for once.

“You look good,” Nick said when he’d emerged from the bathroom ready to go.

“Thanks... I think.”

Nick took his arms in his hands and locked eyes.

“Don’t worry, everything’s gonna be fine. You’re going to do ok.”

He leaned in and gave Greg a soft kiss. “I love you.”

Greg’s heart flipped at Nick’s words and the thought of the upcoming day.


+

The one thing Greg wanted that day was for Nick to be able to sit beside him during the inquest. But he wasn’t allowed to, and he had to content himself with the knowledge that Nick was there in the room, seated behind him, supporting him in the best way he could.

He tried to pay attention to the words that were being said, but it wasn’t easy. He was hyper aware of the tension in the room from the jury to the James family sitting not too far away from him. He did his best to make sure the tension didn’t reach him, that he didn’t cause any problems in the room that day, than what he’d already caused by hitting Demetrius that night.

Everyone seemed angry. Everyone, except those who were on his side, backing him up, defending him.

Doc Robbins had to tell the truth. He didn’t want the man to lie on his behalf. It just hurt a little when he heard the words, the cause of death. And what would one call a blunt force trauma to the head due to an SUV hitting his body? Of course. A homicide.

The judge would have had Nick thrown out of the court room if he’d known. When he got up on the stand, he gave Greg a brief look that told him how much he loved him and told him he would do his best to defend him to the jury. He did a good job, though Greg wasn’t sure he did it without at least a little bit of bias for his boyfriend.

“I’d say this went consistent with department policy.” But did it really? Of course Nick would want it too.

Nick went back to the lab when the judge called a recess. Greg didn’t want to see him go, but he let him with only a few words of goodbye.

“We put ourselves in harms way every single day and pay a hell of a price for surviving. Others won’t understand that.” Sophia was right. But at least he did have a few people who understood that. Including his daughter.

When Aaron James confronted him in the bathroom all he could think about was the daughter no one knew he had. And if they found his actions criminal, he couldn’t imagine what that would do to the two loves of his life, his family. No one knew he had a family. And suddenly, it seemed wrong. He and Nick had never made a conscious decision to tell anyone or not to tell anyone. But now it seemed important.

Leaving the bathroom he found Nick with the Assistant District Attorney talking about something related to his case. He saw his boyfriend hand her a tape before she returned to the court room. Nick’s eyes wandered the hallway until they came to rest on Greg.

“How’re you holding up?” Nick asked as he approached.

“Doing ok.”

He wasn’t about to mention Aaron’s near threat in the bathroom. He didn’t need Nick worrying about him.

“Good.” His phone vibrated just then. “Stokes... yes... yes I am... What’s going on?... Periodic table?” Nick’s eyes met Greg’s for a moment. “Yeah, it’s... no I think I know... it’s a long story I’d rather not repeat over the phone, if you don’t mind... no, that’s fine... yes, I’ll come down.”

“Who was that?” Greg asked when he hung up.

“School. Dakota’s repeating the periodic table and won’t tell anyone what’s wrong.”

“Oh God. What are you going to tell them?”

“I’ll come up with something.”

He forced himself to say goodbye one more time before he followed the Assistant District Attorney back into the court room.

Nick’s video was brilliant and amazing. He knew he’d fallen in love with the perfect man. Nick was the best CSI they had. He could find the good evidence among the bad no matter what. And thanks to his boyfriend, the jury had found Demetrius James’s death excusable. It seemed right. If he’d had proper training, there was always the chance things could have gone differently. But without it, and because he was inexperienced in dealing with such situations, the outcome was the outcome. He truly hadn’t meant to kill Demetrius, but he had just the same.

When the courtroom doors were finally opened and he was free to go, he heard a small voice mumbling something familiar out in the hall.

“Atomic number: 1. Hydrogen. H. Number 2. Helium. He. Number 3. Lithium. Li. Number 4: Beryllium. Be. Number 5: Boron. B. Number 6: Carbon. C.”

“Dakota?”

The little girl jumped up from her seat on a nearby bench beside Nick and leaped into his arms, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist.

“Daddy-O! I was so worried about you I couldn’t concentrate in school. I did what you do. I started repeating the periodic table. It helped. A little.”

“So, I heard. I’m glad it helped.”

“Well?” Nick walked over.


“Excusable.”

“Oh, thank God.”

Nick’s arms came up automatically, as if he was about to hug Greg too, before he realized where they were. His arms fell by his side.

“Honey, I gotta put you down. You’re too heavy for me,” Greg said to Dakota.

“Alright.” She slid back to the floor. “I’m glad you’re ok.”

“Me too.”

“Just a warning, G, the press is waiting to talk to you out there.”

“Thanks.”

Greg left Dakota with her biological father and began the long trek to the fresh mob ready to accost him.

“Do you feel it was excusable?” Someone with a camera blocked his path.

“He’s a hero! This man saved my life! And I’m damn grateful!” Stanley Tanner chimed in before he even had a chance to respond.

“You leave my Daddy-O alone! He’s not going to apologize because he shouldn’t have to! He’s a hero because he saved a man’s life!” Dakota was running towards Greg when he turned at her high voice. Nick was right behind her. He reached out, wrapped an arm around her, and quietly guided her away from the press cameras.

+

When the three of them entered the lab not too long after the fiasco with the press Nick’s phone went off.

“Stokes,” he answered as they walked down the hall. “Yes, hi. I’m glad you got my message... I just wanted to be sure you understood what was going on from my end here... No, I don’t want to wait. I can’t wait. I wanted you to be ok with it because I knew you weren’t earlier when he told you... I was hoping you’d come for a visit. It would mean a lot. I’ll clean out the guest room when we get home later... Yeah, we have been. We pooled resources for the house years ago and it’s been a dream come true. Really... The job?... I supported his decision right from the beginning. He’s good at what he does, and I knew he would be. He gets what he wants. He told me he wanted the job so I helped train him for it... yes, he did take a pay cut... but I told him it wouldn’t affect us and so far it hasn’t. We’re still living just as well as we did before he switched... I stand behind him no matter what. I always have. We stand behind each other. He’s helped me in more ways than I can count. It wouldn’t be fair for me not to... Yes, yes I do. I do love him.”

They’d entered the break room half way through Nick’s strange conversation and now the rest of the team was looking at him with odd looks.

“Who’s he talking to?” someone whispered in Greg’s direction.

“I’m not sure,” he whispered back. “But I can take a guess.” Just in case he was right, he didn’t want to say it out loud. He was just as confused as they were, if not a little bit more. He didn’t realize Nick even had his parent’s phone number.

While Nick finished his conversation the rest of the team turned to Greg.

“So, a funny thing happened on TV today...”

“Oh?”

“This little one was calling you Daddy-O.”

“You do spend a lot of time over there... even before that mob got you.” Sara commented.

“That’s what I said before.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy-O. I didn’t mean to say that,” Dakota said with a sorrowful look in her eyes. “I really wasn’t ever going to tell anybody until you were ok with it.”

“It’s ok, honey. We never really made a decision and I don’t think we intended to not tell anyone.”

“What are you saying?” Catherine asked.

Nick hung up just then.

“Nicky? Was that who I think that was?” Greg questioned with a quirked eyebrow.

“Yeah. That was your mother. And your father.”

“Why would you be talking to them?” Warrick pipped up. “And what’s the difference between a Daddy and a Daddy-O?”

“Greg, you need to be the one who tells them about your job change. You can’t leave that to anyone else,” Grissom lectured.

“I didn’t. I told them the other day. My Mom freaked, just like I suspected she would. But she said she’d think about it, and get back to me. I guess that was her doing that?”

“Um, no. I called her earlier today and left a message.”

“Why?”

“I want them to come to Vegas and meet Dakota. I want to meet your parents, G. They’ve never come to visit you here, and I think it’s time they did. Besides, I needed to introduce myself properly.”

“What are you getting at?” Sara sounded unbelieving.

“I know this is not the best time for this, G... but I can’t help it. I can’t put this off any longer. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me and you’ve been apart of this family for so long, almost since Dakota was born. I don’t know what I would have done without you...I want to make this permanent and official.”

“You’ve been thinking about this for a long time, haven’t you?”

“Yes.”

“How much planning?”

“A lot.”

“So that’s what you were doing in the office that night.”

“Yeah.”

Greg couldn’t help but notice the tears beginning to fill his partner’s eyes and the slight trembling in his hands.

“Daddy?”

“Nicky, I told you eight years ago I wasn’t going anywhere.” Greg took both of Nick’s hands in his. “This relationship is as permanent as it’s going to get. But, please do, talk to me about official.”

“You’re going to do this right here? In front of everyone?” Dakota asked, astonished.

“In front of who? All I see is your father.” Nick locked eyes with him. “Gregory Hojem Sanders, would you marry me and officially adopt Dakota as your daughter?”

Nick blurred in front of Greg, as he tightened his grip. His head bobbed. “Yes,” he chocked out. “Yes. Yes, I would. I would love to. Oh my God...yes!”

Dakota ran into Greg’s arms and jumped into his lap. He stood up with her clinging to him and danced with her around the room.

The rest of the room was still staring in shock, but one by one they seemed to be shaking themselves out of it.

“Daddy-O sandwich!” Dakota called when she saw her other father stand up to join them. She hugged Greg tight. Nick stepped up behind him and wrapped his arms around his partner.
Greg smiled his brightest smile when he felt a warm kiss land on his cheek and heard a chorus of “awwww”s from everyone around them.

+

A/N: I must thank my public library for the research I was able to do there, which included the sections on chemistry and allowing me to borrow the entire seventh season of CSI since I’m too poor to own it myself just yet.
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