Salvar: to save, to overcome, to preserve, to rescue, to cover, to pass
Salvarse: to survive, to escape
CHAPTER 6: LA CERRADURA, PART 1
"Are we almost done?" Even through the mask, Greg could see Richie rolling his eyes.
"You can leave anytime," Greg replied. Humor was his means of coping, and his sarcasm, in the same way, tended to come out in the most stressful situations. It was not, however, to his benefit in this case.
Richie slapped him in the face and Greg grabbed the smaller man's arm on instinct.
He knew Sara and Grissom would be proud to see how well his self-defense training had been going. Nick had always advocated learning self-defense, but Greg was more dismissive of his lover's logic, especially given the Texan's paranoid tendencies. After the beating, however, Sara had seen Greg at his worst -- lying still and swollen, with blood seeping out into the cool, cruel concrete pavement of a back alley, in excruciating pain. Sara's own reaction had, inevitably, led her to insist that Greg learn more about defending herself, so that she would never have to see Greg -- the man that was, in most ways, her best friend -- in such a position again. The added result had, of course, been Grissom's corresponding insistence, motivated in part out of concern for the welfare of the youngest member of his team, but also by his general inclination to do his own lover's bidding.
By the time Greg had recovered from the beating, he had much of the team on his back to either sign up for training in self-defense or, preferably, to start carrying a gun. The latter was out of the question; anti-gun rhetoric had been hounded into Greg since a young age in the wealthy, liberal suburbs of San Gabriel. He understood the old adage -- that guns don't kill people; only people do. Still, he didn't want to be one of those people, especially not after the Demetrius James ordeal. Warrick, in fact, had been the only member of night shift not weighing in on behalf of Greg learning how to fight; the native Las Vegan had insisted that Greg just had to know to play it safe, and that the streets of most of Las Vegas really weren't nearly as bad as they were cracked up to be.
Nonetheless, a year later, the self-defense training only served to piss Richie off, which did Greg no good.
"Soundin' off, candy ass?"
Greg bristled at the derogatory name, though, being used to such insults, he normally just ignored them. In this case, however, his nerves overwhelmed his logic. He released Richie's arm.
"Is my 'soundin' off' getting in your way?"
"No, but I can find better ways to occupy that smart mouth of yours."
Greg paled. He was tempted to look down at Catherine, to hide from the man's gaze, but, instead, he looked the man back in the eyes, putting on a brave face.
"I'm trying to focus here. As stated, you really don't want her to die."
Greg saw the leader -- apparently Ari -- edge back into the room.
"Say boss," Richie began. "Seems like that Stokes fella is takin' a while ta' finish processin.' A bit too long, I'd say."
"How do you know his last name?" Greg asked, fear already taking hold again.
"It's on his vest, idiot."
Greg sighed and turned his head back to Catherine.
"I suppose he is," Ari replied to Richie's earlier comment. He looked down at his watch.
"Maybe we want to give 'im a bit of an incentive, huh?" Richie asked.
Greg kept his head down, but glared nonetheless. He was relieved to see, out of the corner of his eye, that Ari was shaking his head.
"Nah. If Catherine is doing better, then we can have him" -- he gestured at Greg -- "help his partner."
"Partner, eh? Since when are you makin' it all formal an' such?"
"Why don't you just mind your own work, Richie," Ari replied smoothly. "That's what you're good at."
Richie nodded in acceptance. "So you're gonna let this one go? To help his boyfriend?"
"Yes. I am going to do that. I'll watch Catherine and you two can go with Julian to monitor Mr. Stokes and Mr. Sanders and to see what you can find."
"Oh. The money."
Greg felt a hard tap on the shoulder and looked up to find himself staring into Ari's crystal blue eyes.
"That means you have to actually move."
Greg nodded, though he cast a reluctant glance at Catherine.
"Don't worry. I'll take care of Catherine. You have my word."
Though Greg doubted that the 'word' of this man -- likely a convicted murderer, and, hopefully, soon to be a convicted murderer and robber -- was bankable, he got up and moved. There was something in Ari's gentleness toward Catherine that he found reassuring. And at least now he'd be working with Nick.
Greg edged out of the room, keeping a safe distance between him and the robbers walking in front of him. Richie and Biggs moved at an ample speed, sparing Greg any more humiliating stares or comments.
Nick was quickly visible. Like Cath's heartbeat, Nick's diligent processing calmed Greg. His boyfriend was frenetic, but efficient and meticulous. Greg hoped that he could do as well.
"Hurry up there, Greggo!" He looked up, surprised at Richie's use of his nickname yet again.
PRESENTCatherine leaned against the doorframe, looking out into the layout room. Nick had been there for three hours, staring at the same series of photos. The case was a tough one. A bullet shot to the head, from a distance. No signs of prior struggle. No gun. Little was known about the victim. Traces of heroin, accompanied by needle marks, sufficed as the only clues.
Based on the evidence, Catherine found it easy to narrow down the suspects to the dealer or, if the victim himself was a dealer, to a customer, or even a rival dealer. Logically, she thought, it was time to question nearby known druggies, particularly ones associated with heroin, and maybe even with 9 millimeter guns.
But Nick didn't seem to be of the same opinion. These days, he relied less and less on people, and more on evidence. Warrick had been right -- almost -- to say he was turning into Grissom, or at least into a Grissom of earlier years.
Catherine glanced down at her pager, rolling her eyes at the simple text, from her boss.
Grissom had always been one to spare words. It felt like he had barely spoken since Sara's departure.
"Come on, Nick."
She wasn't too surprised that Nick didn't even flinch at her command. The words didn't register with the younger man. His eyes and mind were possessed, for the moment, solely by the series of now-worn photos layered across the table.
"Nicky," she repeated with more urgency. He twitched, finally looking up as she tapped him on the shoulder.
"Yeah?" His voice was impatient, which seemed to be the usual, at least since that night.
"We need to talk."
He scowled, but when her grip on his wrist didn't give, he conceded, tearing his face away from the photos.
"In the break room."
He nodded, reluctantly following her out the door, face still expressionless. She had no doubt that, though his feet pried him away from the table, the photos and corresponding case still held his mind. Either that or Greg still held it.
Nick stared across the room, looking for any more visible evidence. He cared about his own case, but, for now, doing his best job to meet the robbers' requirements was his chief interest. That, he knew, could easily be what it took to appease the men and ensure the three CSIs' safety. So, he put his all into the strange quest of reverse-processing.
Julian -- the taller, lanky robber, who also seemed to be the oldest -- monitored Nick's work in silence. The gangly man sat against the wall of the casino, murmuring to himself. When Nick strained his ears closely enough, it almost sounded like the man was mumbling Shakespearian verses to himself. Nick chuckled; he knew that, were Grissom a robber, that's probably how he would spend his time in the given situation.
Footsteps interrupted his train of thought, and he cursed silently at the distraction. Neither Biggs nor Richie seemed to know much about investigating crime scenes, nor about professionalism. They would only serve to detract from Nick's work, and from the speed with which they all could, ideally, get out of the stifling backrooms. Nick ignored whatever rude words were drifting out of Richie's mouth at the moment.
A third set of footsteps followed -- these ones Nick recognized, even though they normally bore so much more enthusiasm. Nick looked up, casting Greg what he hoped was a gentle, reassuring glance. Nick had been in enough stressful situations that he was confident in his ability to calm another person with such a glance. Then again, Greg was an unusually frenetic presence and Nick knew firsthand how hard it was to calm Greg down in the worst cases.
Greg gave a slight nod as he moved forward to join Nick in front of the wall.
"What do you need help with?" he asked quietly.
On most occasions, Nick would have expected the lower-level CSI to figure out what to do on his own. But today was different, and Greg could have any number of rationales behind the question.
"Help me with the wall," Nick responded.
They began to look over the wall in silence, removing spots of blood and other fluids... and unidentified things... whenever they saw them.
To Nick, the silence was peaceful. The older CSI had already evaluated the situation and determined the best course of action. His plan was simple: Remove all evidence possible, no matter how minute, and get out as quickly as possible.
Still, the robbers looked to be getting bored.
Nick felt a presence approaching him from behind, and Richie's breathing quickly made itself known at the back of Nick's neck.
"Can I help you?" Nick asked coolly.
"Nah. Just inspectin' your method."
"Richie. Give 'im some room." Without looking up, Nick could tell it was Biggs speaking. The larger man, clearly the enforcer, had a notably low voice.
Nick glanced over at Greg, who was holding his breath and glaring while watching the exchange. Had the situation been different, Nick would have been slightly aroused by the firm, focused expression on Greg's face and the possessive, protective sentiment it underlaid. But this was not the time for that.
Greg nodded at Nick in a gesture of solidarity and encouragement, and Nick redirected his thoughts back to the wall.
Greg tapped lightly on the wall from his spot a few feet down, to get Nick's attention again.
He leaned in to whisper in Nick's ear. "Why don't we find something for them to do. It'll make this go faster and get them off our backs."
Nick nodded, impressed with the logic.
"Hey," Greg addressed the three men, though he faced Julian (who seemed the least intimidating) most.
Richie sneered back at Greg, but Greg didn't back down.
"You gettin' bored?" Greg asked, returning Richie's stare.
Richie snorted and Julian looked up questioningly. Biggs just continued to stare.
"O' course we are," Richie replied. "Why? Ya got some better way ta' keep us entertained?"
Greg nodded. "You guys could help us process."
Richie snorted again. "Do your job for you?"
Julian, however, seemed appeased. "Actually, that makes sense. What help do you need?"
"Start in that room," Greg replied quickly -- almost a little too quickly.
Nick caught the slack. "We're almost done with this room. We need you to start in the room next door. There were some fibers in there."
"But we weren't even --" Biggs started.
"Yes we were," Julian interrupted. "I know the drill. We clean up the fibers, use some o' that fancy cleanin' stuff from your kits and wipe up everythin' that looks like a person's been near in the last day."
Greg and Nick nodded, impressed with the man's expertise. Then again, it made sense that someone in the operation would have to be intelligent and well-informed in order to pull off such a heist.
The three men made their way out and Greg and Nick both let loose sighs of relief.
"Nick, sweetie, we need to talk," she said gently as she shut the break room door behind them. "You might want to sit down first."
He lowered himself mechanically to the sofa. She sat down next to him, and he scooted over on instinct.
His eyes were so empty, yet frantic and sad, his face covered in stubble. Warrick had finally convinced him to shave after three weeks, telling Nick that he was starting to look like Grissom, though the stubble had begun to make its way back again. He hadn't cut his hair in more than a month, since before the incident.
Nick looked frantically around him, as if for papers he thought he needed. "If it's about the Hernandez case, I swear I'm on top of it."
"It's not about the Hernandez case."
"Oh." Nick furrowed his brow, as if confused. But he had to have known this was coming. He'd been acting this way for weeks -- a month to be exact, or at least for the last three weeks.
Catherine looked up to make sure the break room was empty.
Warrick was standing by the coffee filter, pouring himself a glass and trying not to stare at what was happening on the couch. The coffee hadn't tasted the same since they lost Greg. Nick had taken the last of the Blue Hawaiian from the break room. He couldn't keep it together at work if he had to smell Greg's coffee. But the team would still recognize that scent on Nick every so often. He'd never actually disposed of it, and who could blame him? It was good coffee, though Catherine and Warrick both knew that wasn't the reason Nick still drank it in the still safety of his home.
Catherine gave Warrick a look. He knew the one. He always would. Warrick made his way out, and Catherine could still see him standing guard. She knew he was at least a little curious -- she almost would have expected some protest. After all, Warrick was Nick's best friend, or at least had been. Catherine had never known where the line had been drawn between best friends, particularly as it applied to Nick, Greg and Warrick. Gradually, especially as Warrick got closer to Tina, and with Greg in the field, the lines had changed; alliances had shifted. And, obviously, somewhere along the line, Nick and Greg had become something more than friends.
Catherine didn't notice the silence -- Nick certainly had no complaints -- until she saw Nick reach for a Kleenex. She smirked. Nick wouldn't be the one to break the silence. He had grown so accustomed to it as of late. She missed the noisiness of the team -- the rowdiness of the boys, the chuckles and laughs as various combinations of six tired bodies gathered together for coffee. But nothing would be the same -- certainly not the noise and rowdiness -- without Greg.
She put a hand on Nick's shoulder. He didn't flinch. He didn't seem to notice it there, but he turned around nonetheless. His face held nothing but apathy -- a blank stare -- but she knew there was pain, among the many other layers, hidden behind the surface. Nick had always been one to wear his heart on his sleeve, and the fact that Catherine, who was normally good at reading people, couldn't see directly into his emotions in that moment, scared her. Nick was buried further into his own grief than she had thought.
"Nicky, it's been a month."
Nick nodded. He knew what she was talking about. Of course he did. "They found him?"
She looked down painfully. That's what he expected, she thought. He thought I'd tell him they found his -- Greg's -- body. It was still too weird to be thinking of it as finding a corpse, not of finding Greg. That the dead body wouldn't contain the riotous laughter, that fierce, yet jovial and amicable personality they had all come to love. "No. They haven't found it yet."
Nick nodded, pursing his lips. "I figured as much. Why would they make him a priority?" he said as his voice broke. He didn't even try holding back the tears. Catherine could tell he'd been holding them back all day, most likely. It was in the safety of the break room, knowing that this was a personal chat with Catherine about what had been on his mind every minute for the last month, that Nick could break the stiff, cold fašade he'd struggled to construct. Catherine wondered how he got through each day without breaking down in tears. He probably goes home and breaks down as soon as he's out of here, she thought ruefully.
With all of that in mind, Catherine couldn't figure out how to break the news. Nick had been a walking zombie since the incident. While she could say she wanted him to get over it, she knew that wasn't realistic, nor would it even be healthy. There had to be a healthy grieving process out there, but it would take a while. She just wasn't sure if the news she was about to give Nick would help that process along, or if he was even ready for it.
It was a simple task, in theory. 'A simple task' is what Ecklie had labeled it. And that man had as much humanity as a fruit fly from Grissom's collection. The graveyard shift, and probably even Ecklie, knew it meant so much more than that. Saying goodbye was easy. Just forming the words. Cleaning out Greg's locker was a goodbye, a simple task, but that wouldn't make it any easier for Nick.
"Nicky. You probably know there's gonna be a new CSI coming in." Judging by the surprised expression permeating the blank stare, Catherine could tell that he did not, in fact, know that. Maybe he knows that at the back of his mind, but everything at the back of his mind has been drowned out by thoughts of Greg. Catherine didn't want to blame her dead colleague, but his death really had left Nick a changed man, and not at all for the better. "The new CSI..."
"New CSI? Wait --" She could see Nick's face contorting, finally showing his realization as to who they'd be replacing. "Oh," he said, sorrowfully looking down.
"Grissom..." She struggled to get out the next words in the most diplomatic, gentlest way possible. "Grissom wants you to... err.... it doesn't have to be you -- but we thought you'd want to --"
Nick looked up. "I'm not training the newbie."
Catherine couldn't help but stifle a bitter chuckle. Nick, in his present, cold, oblivious state, was the last team member, aside from Greg, that would be assigned to training the new recruit. That would be a sure way of driving away the new CSI 1 within hours.
Nick looked up puzzled at Catherine's masked laugh. She coughed, reaching for the Kleenex box that seemed to stay permanently in Nick's hands. He didn't seem offended.
"No. We don't want you to mentor him -- or her, whoever it is."
"But they're gonna need a locker."
Nick nodded again. "You want me to share? I don't really end up using mine for much anyways anymore." Catherine looked down sadly, remembering the happy team photos -- all of them including Greg -- that used to litter Nick's locker. Then she saw the truth dawn on him. "You want to use his locker?" It was barely a question.
"He really is dead, isn't he?" Catherine could see the stale chocolate pooling up in Nick's eyes. She wanted to cry for the broken man sitting next to her.
"Yes," she whispered, holding back her own tears for the whole situation, for Greg, and for that treacherous night one month ago, but mostly for the man -- her friend -- sitting in front of her. She knew Nick would never be the same again. "Yes, he really is."