Warnings: Spoilers for Seasons 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, and 12 (specific episode spoilers: Play With Fire, Grave Danger Pts. 1 & 2, Fannysmackin', Dead Doll, Meat Jekyll, Shock Waves, A Kiss Before Frying, Targets of Obsession, and In a Dark, Dark House). Also, jumpy timeline, injured boys, and VERY brief Greg/Agnes.|
After the Bomb
When Nick was in the box, Greg first realized he needed him.
That wasn’t when he knew he was in love; that came over a year later. It also wasn’t the recognition of desire, that singular moment watching Nick slowly put his life back together— the first easy smile at a wedding-turned-crime scene— when Greg knew, with a rather crude finality, that what he really wanted most was to have sex with Nick.
That all took place a good while after the glass coffin. No, what Greg understood the instant they first clicked that damn camera on and saw Nick falling rapidly to pieces in front of their eyes, was that he needed to have Nick Stokes in his life. He’d never felt such pain, deep-seated ties ripping free and bloody inside him, as when he had to watch that reality be taken from him on a computer screen in a lab. And it didn’t stop when they dug Nick out of the ground. The pounding of it was still there, adrenaline and satisfaction mixing together as he stood amidst blinking lights with Sara and Grissom, watching Nick disappear down the road in an ambulance.
He’d expected relief. They’d got Nick back. But there was no respite from his new reality. Just learning to live with it. Getting used to its contours, its pressure points.
Nick ends up at his apartment for the umpteenth time after Haskell finally, finally meets his maker. It rains that night, and Greg thinks of floods washing away the filth of a monster. Around eleven AM, the sky is still dark, and Nick dresses in the shadows, whispering about getting coffee. Rivulets run blue patterns over his body while Greg watches from the bed. His eyes tick yet again on the fresh scars just below Nick’s shoulder as Nick pulls his shirt on.
Greg remembers when they were still newly bandaged wounds, his lips pressed to the side of Nick’s throat, cupping Nick’s face to hold him there, meaning to inhale, to remind himself of Nick’s cologne, and instead getting hospital scents and tears that worked their way hot over his own cheeks until they dripped onto Nick’s skin.
Nick never said anything, but Greg knows he knew, because Nick’s good arm came up around his shoulders and locked him into place against him. They didn’t have sex, not with a seeping shoulder wound, but by that time it hadn’t been about sex for a long, long while.
After the bomb, Greg falls apart.
Not the funeral bomb. Greg kind of thought he’d be a little more blasted— no pun intended— by that one: Nick with tinnitis, busted stitches, and PTSD because it never just rains in Vegas when it can damn well pour shit all over them. The bleeding from the ears is what got Greg the most. It was Nick’s blood, it was coming from an especially worrisome place, and that was a little hard to stomach. But Greg worked through it, even joked over a ruined jacket and a gutted car.
Truth is, Greg was just too well-fucking-adjusted. He should have known worse was on its way.
The bomb at the funeral was scary, but this one, in a warehouse in the dark… For the first time in his life, Greg’s legs physically give out all on their own and, if not for the chair in Archie’s lab, he would have sprawled on the floor, knocked his head on a table leg and actually had a reason to be at the hospital he’d just returned from.
Hey, Archie says, hey, Greg. You alright?
He knows what they’re thinking. Everybody’s thinking it. Hell, he’s thinking it: All those glass windows blowing outwards again, no sign that anything’s coming, just being picked up and hurled, seared right through clothing, addled by contact with a window frame that should never have posed that kind of threat. Like any good bomb, this type of explosion has a timed fuse, and Greg was too complacent when it finally went off. For over an hour, he’s back there on that day, one hand creeping over his shoulder to itch a mess that doesn’t exist anymore, hearing the muted thunk of that blast as it tossed him into the hallway, feeling the ghost-wobble of all his organs simultaneously shifting forward away from his spine.
He does a stupid thing after that: He finds a girl.
It’s not immediate. He only sees hints of the process, tiny pieces that get in the way of the big picture. He doesn’t sleep much. He snacks constantly instead of fixing himself actual meals. He ends up around Nick less, something that niggles at his nerves all on its own, but Nick’s not exactly Mr. Sociable either. Greg knows Nick’s seeing a therapist for the shooting and has withdrawn into his own little sphere because of it. Usually Greg would just wait him out or coax him out— he’s done both before, with a high degree of success because, if anything, he’s persistent— but Greg’s not exactly firing on all cylinders this month. He can’t seem to see past the walls of his apartment when he’s home, and when he’s at work, suddenly all he can see is Nick coming out of his shell without any assistance on his part, the product of a nameless, faceless person pulling strings in a soothing office somewhere, probably with a fountain or a Zen sand garden. Those are strings Greg prides himself on being the most knowledgeable about. And all the while, Greg can’t get out, of his head or his home. He’s bitter and jealous. They’re not familiar feelings. When he does sleep, he wakes up missing the glide of hands on his skin. When he changes the sheets, he can smell the fact that Nick hasn’t been there. He buckles down at work and he avoids going out with the gang after shift, and finally he drops into the lowest place he can get, and finds Her.
It’s not like he goes out canvassing. Actually, she finds him, and if he’d been thinking clearly, if he hadn’t been so completely overwhelmed by the haze into which his life had descended, he never would have opened that door wider for her.
He does, though, and she’s not only a suspect, as it turns out, but the perpetrator. Greg counts himself inhumanly lucky that he gets out of it without compromising the case, his job, and Nick as well.
In fact, Nick seems to be the only thing that comes out unscathed. Noticeably so. It jars Greg in more than one way, pops him right back into the groove he’s been desperately searching for since the warehouse bomb—
In the little alcove just outside the lab, trailing back after Catherine and Jim and the rest of the people who have all been looking at Greg like he’s a moron (they’re right, by the way), Nick tugs him in with an arm around his neck and presses his lips quickly to the side of Greg’s head. No words. No condemnation. Just a one-armed hug and the most familiar kiss Greg has ever known, right when he most needs both.
Nick tousles his hair gently and pulls away, smiling.
He’s in it deep and he cannot fuck up like this again because in the end… it changes nothing: He loves Nicholas Stokes.
He’s also not sure Nick returns the sentiment. And it. Changes. Nothing.
Greg likes to think he gains that last stretch of maturity he might have been missing after Warrick’s death, after the beating, after coming to terms with killing someone, after just generally growing the hell up.
The sobering fact is, he doesn’t need Nick to love him back in order to love Nick. It just hurts a little bit more.
Greg has lived with— and grown through— pain before. So he slots back into his groove, and he doesn’t feel normal again in the slightest.
He treasures the kind of friendship he and Nick have, the vastness of it, like he could get lost in all its little specifics. If the two of them were a maze, he’d keep turning corners and finding things he’d forgotten about, all the miniscule rushes that speed his heart when he remembers why he can talk to Nick so candidly about freezing up on scene, why they can sit and work and play in utter silence without feeling awkward, why they don’t even define roles between them anymore, because their bodies seem to be communicating just as volubly as their voices.
Example: Today, Greg’ll drive the Denali. Today, Nick brings in takeout for both of them at lunchtime. Today, Greg takes the living room and Nick processes the kitchen. And they don’t have to exchange a word for any of it to happen.
Sometimes he slips up. Sometimes they need reminders—
Don’t even think about it—
Sometimes Greg can’t help himself and sometimes it’s Nick whose mouth opens instinctively. But mostly they flow together, aware of each other’s strengths, no longer feeling the need to compensate for a skill that already exists. If Nick has his gun, Greg doesn’t have to watch his own back at a scene. If there’s a question of historical significance on a case, Nick gives up the field instantly. The push and pull is so fluid Greg forgets that sometimes Nick isn’t around and he needs to function as an individual rather than as half of a deftly matched pair.
For a guy who is so damned intelligent, it takes Greg way too long to realize he hates having to function as an individual nowadays.
After the shootout with their intrepid little bomber, the ache in Greg’s gut lingers for over a week, tightening every time he sees Nick in the lab’s hallways, every time they get a case together, every time they hit up coffee with the others. The pain changes, morphs, sloughs, until the self-epiphany is gone and all that’s left is the knowledge of where exactly Nick Stokes fits into his life after all.
Greg takes a sick day and wakes up with his belly churning, wanders the house in circles because he can’t sit down, remembers the weight of the gun in his hand and the need to get the shot off right because Nick was standing next to him, and it wouldn’t have mattered if the entire police squad paraded one by one in front of McCann: Nick was the only fucking target that kid had. He tries to remember that Nick is a good shot. A great shot. But he can’t. All he can recall is the way his own hand started to shake before he got out of the car, braced against the door and set up his aim.
He calls home in San Gabriel because it’s going to come out and when it does, he needs someone he trusts to hear it.
“Honey, what’s wrong?”
She’s quick. Greg shuts his eyes, trying one more time to rein himself in, and fails. He pictures a boyish killer with a puppy’s eyes, hears that child’s voice dictating his terms for surrender.
Don’t even think about it.
“Mom, I’m in love,” Greg gets out, around tears and stupid little gasps, squeezing the life out of the phone until his entire arm is shaking. “I’m—”
She tells him it’s alright. Everything’s alright.
Greg handles the grenade trap well enough on the surface, but as soon as he hears about Nick’s rigged front gate, he can hear himself ticking, his own timer counting down, the tension in his shoulders ratcheting up. All day, his temper burrows away at the wall surrounding it like a manic rodent. He processes. He provides information. He works at the problem because the rest of his body is working at something else and he’s afraid to see what it will do when it finally wrenches free of its restraints. And Nick’s alive, unhurt; it’s a huge saving grace that Greg can work with.
That’s before the trapped-in-a-room-face-shoved-right-against-the-switch bomb, the one he doesn’t even know about until thirty minutes after Nick— and Catherine, and Vartann, and Woodman— would have been splattered all over the walls.
Greg feels the restraints snap silently inside him, a single pulse that reverberates right to the tips of his toes.
But too much happens immediately. A call to be made to Langston, fresh data to sift through, then seething at Nick’s side as Nick calls his would-be murderer out. Before he knows it, Greg’s driving a Denali toward the California border with Nick yelling into the radio in the passenger seat. It’s all action, there’s no thinking, not really, and Greg figures out a little late that he’s grateful for that.
When they get back to the lab and Greg’s coming down off the adrenaline high like it’s a nasty species of drug, this time it’s Henry who asks him if he’s okay. He feels the first surge, the slip toward whatever has been let loose, but he makes his most supreme effort and pulls it all back one more time, makes his excuses accordingly.
There’s nothing automatic about the next time he gets Nick alone. As far as Nick knows, at least at first, everything’s fine, business as usual. But Greg knows differently. He’s got the only front row seat to the mess being made of his innards, the things that got shredded there before he was ready, the anger he’s only just able to keep under wraps.
But he’s not angry at Nick.
No, if that kid wasn’t already full of bullets, Greg would find the punk all over again and kill him himself for even introducing the idea that Nick could just… be gone. His space would be empty, that particular glimmer in his eyes snuffed out for good.
Ripped right out of Greg’s grip.
He thinks he understands what Grissom felt like, knowing Sara was in the desert. And then he thinks, no. No, he has no idea what was going through Grissom’s head, because never once did they have to drag a blade out of Grissom’s hand in order to keep Natalie Davis alive.
Greg wonders if he’s just really bad at handling this kind of thing.
He’s never thought of himself as a killer. Even after Demetrius James, he knew that wasn’t who he was. At this moment, though, he has no idea who or what he is, and the knowledge that he was so very wrong about his own capabilities makes him want to throw up.
He’s afraid he takes it out on Nick a little. But maybe there’s just nowhere else for it to go. It all seems to channel toward Nick, only a few feet away from him in the warm yellow light of Greg’s bedroom. Greg hasn’t been more than fifteen feet from him the entire day, not when they dressed in the locker room or walked out to their cars. Even driving, Greg stayed as close as he humanly could, parked close, walked close behind Nick to his own front door.
And now he stands just inside his bedroom and tries not to react as Nick murmurs, “You haven’t said much, G.”
He’s a little quick to push Nick back onto the bed, a little rough yanking his belt buckle free. When he tries to open Nick’s shirt, he sends buttons flying off, clacking on the hardwood floor. His fingers feel swollen, inarticulate, and the frustration rises, bubbling up and up until Greg can hear his own raspy breathing, until Nick’s grabbing him and pulling his hands back, fingers locked tight around his wrists.
“Greg,” Nick breathes. His eyes are wide and sharp, skittering over Greg’s face. There’s a world in that one word, an admonition, questions and questions, and Greg’s skin sparks with shame over the confusion in Nick’s gaze, the inability to curb his own actions.
Nick’s eyes drop and he looks down at the place Greg can’t stay away from, the one spot his hand has lingered and pressed: the bullet scars over the left side of Nick’s chest. Nick jerks his gaze back to Greg, and this time his eyes study in a way Greg wishes they wouldn’t. Nick releases his wrist and cups Greg’s face instead, strokes with his whole palm around the back of Greg’s head. Thumbs the line of his cheekbone, one slow slide. His fingers curl into Greg’s hair.
“S’okay,” Nick breathes. He leans up, brushes their mouths together, then says it again, right against Greg’s lips. “S’okay.”
It’s not. Greg can’t express how much it’s not. He shivers without meaning to, and then again, shoulders arching, dropping his head so Nick can’t look at his face. Nick tucks him close instead, splays a hand warmly over Greg’s side. Presses his mouth to Greg’s ear and whispers, “We’re fine.”
That’s the thing that breaks him. Greg’s throat fills, and he expends all his excess energy holding it back as he’s pulled slowly down on the bed and made love to.
Nick does everything slowly, like they have all the time in the world.
They continue to not have more than an arrangement, and Greg spends his time quietly adjusting to the fact that he is bones-deep in love with his coworker. It’s a comfortable few months of wandering in and out of each other’s beds, laughing when their line of work allows them to, and building up their tattered little family for what feels like the last time.
It’s not the last time.
After Haskell, they all lose a teammate, but what Nick loses is a friend. It’s not that Greg doesn’t like Ray Langston; Nick just really likes him, and the massive shift, so soon after so many other massive shifts, is difficult to take. Greg’s starting to place all his bets on a very few people, starting to wonder if it’s a good idea to get too attached to anyone new anymore.
Nick is stability, and Catherine. Sara, now that she’s back. Doc Robbins and Jim, of course, and Henry, Mandy, Super Dave, even Hodges, which is, strangely, not so hard to admit. But mostly he thinks in the royal three: Catherine, Sara, and most important of all, Nick.
Despite all the shifting, Greg’s the most settled he’s been in years.
It isn’t until Morgan Brody arrives that Greg feels that dread trembling around in his belly again, the sense that time may well be running out.
They tease each other about her. Greg can’t help it. She’s cute and she’s smart, and if it were at any other time in his life, he’d seriously ponder following through with more than playful grins across a taped up crime scene. But it’s this time in his life, and even the teasing feels completely safe, the speculation and furtive glances so he can witness it when Nick grins that cocky smile of his and shakes his head like he just doesn’t have words for how ridiculous Greg is. How hopeless. Whatever, Greg’s long since come to terms with the fact that he’s hopeless in some arenas, but it’s precisely because he’s not hopeless in Nick’s arena that makes this type of interaction work.
As long as Greg flirts with the idea of asking Morgan out, it’s fine. If she flirted back, that would be fine, too. It’s when she gets curious about Nick that Greg’s mind slams on the brakes.
He knows how special Nick is, how exceptional a person. He’s had years and years to see it, to watch it grow, to understand why it has become what it is. To define what it means to his own existence, his own growth and personality. He can’t just play around with it anymore. Can’t simply observe as it rolls on by him, because now it’s circling, but for how long?
They go out to breakfast after shift, not terribly hungry after sorting through a storage unit-cum-burial vault, but too wired to go to sleep. Greg orders orange juice and eats a piece of the toast off Nick’s plate, grins when Nick rattles off Henry’s latest brush with Hodges over a piece of nylon that may or may not have been saturated in ejaculate. He doesn’t really hear much of what Nick says, just listens to his voice and lets the energy of it flow over him, heat his bones. When the toast has been reduced to crumbs and Nick has stopped pretending he’s mad at Greg for stealing his food, Greg offers Live Free or Die Hard and beer, soda if that’s preferred. Nick follows him home.
They don’t start the movie. Greg makes decaf coffee in the kitchen while the sunlight streams over the tabletop, watches when Nick yawns, notes the gentle, gradual droop of that familiar frame as the nerves of work finally begin to dissipate. They’re talking about the Sacramento Kings and their will-they-won’t-they relocation to another city, and there’s a pause. Greg is standing, just back at the table after refilling Nick’s mug. It’s a simple matter to shift his touch to Nick’s hand instead; he takes a breath and speaks.
“Nicky, I love you.”
It’s not hard to say. There’s never been a truer statement.
Nick smiles up at him, the lines coming to life again at the corners of his eyes. He slides his fingers between Greg’s and lifts his hand a little. “I love you, too, G.”
Greg shakes his head, feeling his own smile, the one he’s been wearing inside for half a year now. He thinks, when it comes out here, it must look a little wistful. Sad.
“No, Nick,” he murmurs, turning his hand and linking their fingers properly. “I’m in love with you. I want you to know it.”
He can see that Nick gets it. All of it. That’s the thing about Nick: he plays it down to put suspects at ease, lets the Southern charm cover it all over, but he’s one of the smartest, most observant people Greg’s met since college. The humor slips off his features as smoothly as it slid on, and Nick looks surprised, lips parted, eyes fully open. The weight of this moment, potentially so heavy for Greg to bear alone, is less so because Nick understands and bears it with him.
I had to tell you. Because Morgan’s a nice girl. Maybe the right girl. I just need to be the right one.
“I’ve never felt this deeply about anyone else, and I am absolutely certain I’m never going to,” Greg finishes. How could he feel this way again, when it took so much, so many unique moments to get them to this place? He finds himself studying Nick, absorbing him: Nick’s nose and chin and jaw and brow, his ears, hair, the arc of his throat… God, he could look at Nick forever and never grow weary of it. Greg reaches, touches Nick’s cheek, fingers the short hair just above his ear.
“I’m not pressuring anything.” He thinks he sounds a little dazed, but at least he’s coherent. He shakes his head. “I’ve just spent a few months realizing exactly what you mean to me.”
He sees it when Nick swallows, of course he sees it. He couldn’t miss a thing about Nick in this moment. Strangely, he feels elated, like even if Nick lets him down easy, he’s fulfilled some necessary duty inside himself. He knows he’ll be disappointed if it happens, and possibly it will hit him later— another long fuse— and shatter him into so many pieces he’ll never recover. But at this instant, discomfort seems very far away.
One moment Nick’s eyes are dry, then he blinks and they’re shiny, pinking around the rims. He gets up from his chair and comes around the table. Greg wishes he’d taken his jacket off, thinks about it distractedly as Nick reaches his side and settles his free hand, the one not tangled with Greg’s fingers, on Greg’s upper arm.
“Greg,” he says, and then nothing else. Nick shakes his head. Greg can’t see his eyes: Nick’s gaze is on his chest, maybe the hollow of his throat. Nick slides his hand up and over Greg’s shoulder, runs his thumb across the skin at that hollow there, and Greg wonders what he’s really seeing.
“Listen, I’m so in love with you it scares me,” Nick mutters, a soft burst of words. For an instant, Greg’s mind sticks on the ‘listen’, threatens to shut down, to hurt unbelievably. And then he catches up and exhales, rocking toward Nick, who steps in to catch him as seamlessly as if it were scripted.
“Hey, don’t worry,” Nick whispers, almost a laugh. Greg rests his forehead against Nick’s and shuts his eyes, gathering the moment in, the feeling of Nick’s palm cupping his throat, the trail of fingers over his jaw, the gust of each easy breath from Nick’s nose against his face.
It does hit him a little, then. How much he stood to lose. It’s a moment before Greg can be sure he’s going to remain upright whenever Nick lets him go.
“Good,” he chokes out. He swallows, fixes his grip around Nick’s nape and holds him close. He needs to be touching Nick. It’s like his body is drawing off of Nick’s in some way, sharing energy, keeping him upright after all. Greg sighs. “Good.”
Nick’s mouth curves again, Greg can feel it. “Make this official, then?”
“You make me me,” he says. It’s not an answer and Greg suspects he sounds silly. Faraway. But he doesn’t care. He’s got everything right here, and all the worry and tension and agitation are defused, gone, and now there’s just the knowledge that this is going to work.
Nick kisses him, one little peck on his mouth and then another. Another, resolving itself into a lengthier kiss, parted lips and the brush of tongue. Greg tastes coffee in Nick’s mouth, feels stubble against his cheeks, the most familiar, welcome sensations in existence. He kisses back, fervent, trying to get at the other flavors he knows are there, wishing they weren’t just off an exhausting shift, wishing they didn’t have to go back until this is well and truly cemented, however long that will take.
“God, I love you,” Nick murmurs, and Greg laughs. Kisses again. Draws each one out, long and uncomplicated, savoring the shape of that mouth. Nick hums and relaxes into it, easing their bodies together. Greg’s sure it will devolve eventually into sex and clumsiness and frenzy, but for now, that’s a ways off, a horizon he’s fine with waiting for. For now—
They really do have all the time they need.