CSI
Dichotomy by IamShadow [Reviews - 0]

A/N: I recently mainlined all the CSI to get up to date. I'd watched regularly in early years, but had missed much of later seasons, so seeing the series as a whole and watching the characters grow and develop was really interesting. In particular, I loved the revisiting of Greg's heritage and connection to the supernatural, and the storyline of what is essentially a bit of a crisis of faith in Ghosts of the Past. I had a bingo square for 'fork in the road' on my shiny new round two trope-bingo card, so, to subvert it I thought, what if pre-series Greg reached that fork in the road between science and the supernatural, and rather than choosing one path, he kind of got stuck there, unable to definitively commit wholly to either at the exclusion of the other? This is what I ended up with.

Though there are light references to events, places and people through all extant seasons (to the end of Season 13), this story stands pretty well alone, and doesn't have heavy ties to major plot arcs, so should be enjoyable and understandable to a casual viewer.

*

Greg: You don't know this about me, but when I was younger, I used to be kinda psychic. I know, but my grandmother, she had it, and I guess I inherited it.

Morgan: Why have I never heard about this?

Greg: When I became a CSI, I felt like I had to choose. Science, or, the other. I chose science.

Morgan: So, now you've reconsidered?

Greg: Yeah. Because of Carrie, and what I feel in this place.

Morgan: But I thought the feelings came from the infrasound, the vibrations from the ventilation fan. Henry turned it off, and since then, I don't feel a thing in here.

Greg: That's just it. I still do.
CSI, Season 13, Episode 21, 'Ghosts of the Past'

*

Las Vegas isn't built for rain. It's built for the sun, for the dry desert winds and the baking summer heat. Nick got the call about a 419 nearly an hour ago, and he's only just arrived at the scene. Roads cut off, traffic lights blacked out and a car accident or three meant his normally speedy shortcut turned into a mess of back-tracking and diversions.

It's safe to say he's pretty pissed off and frustrated before he even gets out of his truck.

The scene is a mess of wallowing mud, any useful tracks or prints probably obliterated by the pouring rain and first responders. Brass is holding court by the body, standing under the shelter of a giant golf umbrella. Super Dave is kneeling in a puddle at his feet, poking at the corpse with professional detachment, despite his wet, woebegone appearance.

“You swim here, Super?” Nick asks.

David grimaces. “Floater washed up out of a storm drain into Lake Mead. Didn't see the point in wearing my waders when the water was chest height. Got called out here before I could change. Could you help me roll him?”

The body isn't pretty. “Someone sliced him up pretty good,” Nick says.

“Most likely your COD, but you'll have to wait for the full autopsy to confirm,” David agrees.

“Who found him?”

“Guy over there,” Brass says, nodding towards a shaky-looking skinny guy, standing huddled next to the patrol car, Officer Mitchell unobtrusively standing guard. “Said he heard someone calling out for help, followed the sound and found our John Doe, then called an ambulance. Paramedics called us.”

“Liver temp is pretty close to ambient,” David says. “Lividity is fixed, rigor has passed. This guy's been here a while.”

Nick leans closer to look at the wounds. “Bug activity confirms that. No way is this a fresh scene. Might not even be our primary, just a dump site. No way was this guy screaming for help.” He swivels to look again at the skinny guy. “Gotta be lying. Or are we looking for another body out here?”

“My gut tells me this guy's hiding something,” Brass says. “What was he doing out in the middle of nowhere?”

Nick counts the patrol car, Brass's unmarked sedan, his truck. “Where's his car?”

“Just what I was thinking. And he's not exactly dressed for hiking.”

Battered Converse sneakers, t-shirt, jeans, not even a waterproof jacket against the weather. The guy's just as soaked as David is, without the excuse of an impromptu dip in Lake Mead.

“If he's the killer, how'd he get the body out here? Why call 911?”

“Why call for an ambulance, for that matter?” David adds. “I mean, I know we're professionals, but even to to an unprofessional nose this guy's a bit... ripe. He can't have thought paramedics would be able to help.”

Nick looks the guy up and down, noting the occasional uncontrollable shivers wracking his body. “Maybe he's in shock. Doc Robbins told me relatives that come in to ID vics at the coroner's office say they see the bodies move, all the time.”

David nods in agreement.

“He's hiding something,” Brass says, “and I'm going to find out what it is.”

*

“You want some coffee or something?”

They're back at PD. The scene was a wash, so the body and the guy that claimed he found the body are the main things Nick has to process for evidence. The body is with Dave and the Doc, so now he's bagging up skinny dude's clothing and checking his body for trace.

“No, no thanks,” he says. “I just wanna go home.”

“Well, just let me do my job, here, and we'll see what we can do to help you get there,” Nick says. He knows Brass is going to ride this guy hard soon enough, but sometimes, you can catch more flies with honey, with the appearance of kindness, even if you're mentally putting a knife in the hand of the guy you're trying to reassure. “Did you touch the body?”

“I shook his shoulder. Shouted at him, asked if he was okay. He didn't say anything. That's when I called 911. I should have done more, but I don't know CPR. I always meant to learn.” The guy looks genuinely remorseful, guilty.

“Listen to me, Greg, that's your name, right?” The guy nods. “Greg, there is nothing you could have done to help him. You called 911, you stayed with the body. There's a lot of people in this world who wouldn't have done as much.”

“You're not just saying that, right?”

“No, I'm not,” Nick says, and he's not lying.

“I've never touched a body before,” Greg says.

“Shakes us all up a little, the first time. You've got nothing to be ashamed of,” Nick says, and Greg cracks a tiny, grateful smile.

“Put these on,” Nick says, handing Greg a set of standard red smocks, and white underthings. “I'll be back in a minute with a detective to take your statement, okay?”

Nick slips out, arms full of brown-bagged clothing, bindles of DNA samples, fingernail scrapings and swabs. Brass is standing in the observation room.

“Seems genuinely shook up,” Nick says.

“Could just be a good actor,” Brass counters.

“Maybe,” Nick says, but he's doubtful. “Why make up a story about the vic screaming for help, if he wanted to throw us off the scent? Doesn't make any sense.”

“Hmm,” Brass murmurs non-committally. “Let's go rattle his cage.”

*

“You've listed your address as a campus dorm on WLVU,” Brass says. He's got the placid little smile on his face and the spark in his eye that he gets when he's about to start turning the screws.

“That's right.”

“Little old to be a student, aren't you?”

“WLVU has a great bio-chem program. Student accommodation was cheaper than renting an apartment.”

“Bio-chem, huh? Do a lot of drugs, Greg?”

“What? No.”

“Well, see, I don't really believe that.”

“Well, it's true,” Greg says, looking to Nick for support. Nick stays quiet, just watches. He knows this dance, he's played it dozens of times with Brass, over the years, and he knows that it's more about putting the right amount of pressure in the right place than about battering the suspect with accusations from both sides.

“On any medication?” Brass asks.

“Yeah,” Greg says after a slight hesitation.

“The kind of medication that the shrinks give you before they let you back out into the community?”

“No,” Greg says, but he looks a little upset, maybe a little guilty.

“Maybe you didn't take your medication, maybe that's why you ended up with a body on your hands,” Brass says.

Greg looks openly alarmed, now. “No! No, you've got it wrong, I found him, I tried to help him. You've got to believe me.”

“Doesn't really matter, either way. What I want to know is what you did with the car.”

“What car?”

“Your car. The one you got out to the middle of the desert in. The one you maybe shifted the body with.”

“I don't drive,” Greg says.

“You're telling me you walked ten miles out into the desert, at night, during a thunder-storm, and just happened to stumble across a body,” Brass says, his voice heavy with sarcasm.

“I, I don't sleep well. I go for walks. It helps me think.”

“And you heard the victim calling out for help.”

“Yes,” Greg says firmly.

“See, the problem with that is, the guy you found? He's been dead for at least a day. Maybe two or three,” Nick says quietly, looking Greg right in the eye.

Greg blanches white, right to the lips. Nick thinks for a minute that he's going to pass out, right there at the table, but instead, he just says, “Oh,” and wraps his arms around himself, gripping his forearms, his knuckles going pale.

“So, you going to tell us what you were doing out there, if you weren't helping dump a body?” Nick coaxes.

“I'd tell you, but you wouldn't believe me,” Greg says, staring down at the surface of the table.

“Try me,” Nick replies.

*

“So, this guy is nuts, right?”

“Why do you say that?” Nick asks Brass. He's got the phone on speaker, since he's finishing up processing Greg's clothes.

Brass makes a scoffing sound. “He was found with the body, claiming it called out to him. He's on psych medication. And he's claiming a dream led him to the body.”

“Doesn't necessarily make him crazy,” Nick says.

“Find anything at the dorm room?”

“Not a damn thing, except that he has about three changes of clothes to his name, owns more than his weight in science textbooks, and eats way too much ramen to be healthy.”

“Sounds like a typical student,” Brass says, sounding disheartened.

“And the meds he's taking? They're for migraines, not a psychiatric condition.”

“Tell me you got something off his clothing.”

“Nothing except desert dirt and rainwater,” Nick says, striping his gloves off. “No blood, no epithelials to suggest he dumped the body. There was some transfer on his hands, but nothing that couldn't be explained by his story. He admitted touching the body when he found it.”

“The body was out there a while, right? So could he have dumped it, got rid of his clothes, come back to find it again?”

Nick thought for a moment. “Could have, I suppose, but nothing in that dorm room says to me that he had the clothes to waste. He had two well-worn pairs of shoes, man, and that's including the pair he had on when he found the body. Even if he'd dumped the clothes, I don't think he would have dumped the shoes, and they're clean, both pairs. Just mud and sand and vegetation, nothing probitive.”

Brass sighs. “So I have to let him go.”

“Don't think he'll go far, if that helps. Checked with the DMV, he really doesn't have a licence, or a car.”

“So if he is involved, or even if he isn't, we're still looking for someone else, someone with a car.”

“Right.”

“I liked him for this. His story's a mess. Why would he lie?”

“Maybe he wasn't lying. People with chronic migraines, sometimes they hear voices, see flickering lights, get feelings they can't describe. Could be why he wandered out into the desert.”

“Doesn't explain why he found a real body, chasing a hallucination.”

“People find bodies every day. Stands to reason some of them now and then are chasing ghosts when they stumble across them.”

“I don't believe in coincidences,” Brass says, “not where murder is concerned.”

“Well, maybe someone set this guy up. Knew about his condition and led him out there, somehow. Trusted the storm to wash all the evidence of their presence away.”

“Got any proof of that?”

“Not yet,” Nick admits. “But most of the evidence from the body is still being processed, so I'll get back to you on that.”

*

The trace from the body is taking ages to process; by the end of his shift, Nick sticks his head in the door only to hear Hodges muttering to himself about spores and mineral oil.

“I'll call you when I have answers,” he snaps.

Nick holds his hands up in surrender and backs out, swinging into the locker room for his bag, then heads out in his truck for breakfast.

Frank's is pleasantly half-full. Not crowded enough to be deafening, but not empty either. Nick's shuffling down to his usual booth, when he spots a familiar face halfway down.

“Let you out, huh?” Nick says, sliding into the seat opposite Greg.

“They wouldn't give me my clothes back,” Greg mutters, embarrassed, and true, he is somewhat shambolically dressed. He's not wearing the prison reds any more, but he is wearing the standard police issue slip-ons, and the rest of his clothing looks like it came out of a lost and found, or a Goodwill.

“Sorry, man. They're evidence,” Nick explains.

“I'm not stalking you,” Greg blurts out. “The cop offered to drop me back home, but I said I was hungry, so he dropped me off here instead. I didn't know you'd be here.”

“Frank's is like the unofficial police diner of Las Vegas. I don't think there's a cop in the city that doesn't eat at least one meal a day here,” Nick explains kindly. “You should try the chili.”

“For breakfast?”

“Why not? You look like you could do with feeding up a little,” Nick says, then waves over the waitress and orders a large bowl of chili and the biggest coffee on the menu.

Greg discreetly rummages through his wallet, obviously checking what cash he has on him. Nick pretends not to notice. “Um, waffles? And maybe an orange juice?”

“Sure, honey,” the waitress says.

After a slightly awkward silence, Greg asks, “Did you find out who he is yet?”

“I'm not supposed to talk about an ongoing investigation,” Nick tells him.

Greg blushes hotly. “Sorry, right. That was stupid of me.”

“Not yet,” Nick admits. “His fingerprints weren't in the system. DNA was still running when I left. We'll figure it out.”

“DNA. That's my speciality,” Greg says. “I've already got a degree, a couple of them, actually, but WLVU has a great program, has some ground-breaking research going. If you want to get involved, you've got a better chance of getting employment if you've actually studied there, so that's what I did, enrolled. They're developing techniques for getting viable results from microscopic samples, or degraded samples that haven't been stored properly. You used to need large quantities of fresh contributions to get any kind of reliable result. That's all changing, and I want to be part of it.”

Nick doesn't bother to hide his surprise. “Ever considered criminalistics?”

Greg shrugs. “Maybe. I don't know. I just like science; I like the questions. Most of the time, science gives you the answers, if you look hard enough.”

“Only most of the time?” Nick asks.

“Not even science can explain everything.”

Nick's coffee has arrived. He dumps a sugar or two in, stirs it thoroughly. Greg is drinking his orange juice in measured sips with the occasional wince.

“You have a migraine last night?” Nick asks. Greg freezes. “Your juice, you're having trouble drinking it.”

“They screw with my senses a bit,” Greg says, forcing down another swallow. “I need to rehydrate, or it'll come back.”

“Could ask Gina for some water, when she comes back,” he suggests.

“It's fine, it's nice, it's just... intense. Almost too much.”

“You get auras? Hear things, see things?”

“Sometimes. That's not what last night was, though. That's not why I was out there. That was different.”

Nick smiles. “C'mon, man, you're a scientist. You know how the world works. You're telling me you seriously had a vision?”

Greg's body has gone stiff, his face locked down and angry. “I'm not really hungry. I should go.” He starts to stand to do just that, but Nick reaches out and grabs hold of Greg's wrist to stop him. Under his fingers, Greg's skin feels clammy and his pulse rabbit-fast.

“I'm sorry, sit down, forget I said that. That was rude of me.”

Greg hesitates.

“Just sit down, would you? You've been out in the rain half the night, shut up in holding since then. You need to eat before you fall over, and you had nothing but some sad-ass packets of ramen and a box of tea at your dorm.”

“You searched my room?”

“You got found with a body, man. It's my job.” He gives Greg's wrist a light squeeze. “Here comes Gina with your waffles. They're really good; don't let them go to waste.”

Greg slides back down into his seat, thanks Gina politely, then starts cutting up his waffles into neat squares.

“So you searched my room.”

“Yup,” Nick says matter-of-factly.

“Did you, like, leave everything all over?”

“Did I toss the place, you mean?”

Greg nods.

“Not really. I mean, yeah, I looked through everything, but I didn't slash up your mattress or smash anything just for the hell of it. Took a lot of pictures, took your clothes for processing, and your laptop, too, sorry, we'll get that back to you when we can, but I didn't make any more of a mess than I had to. Even put your porn back where you had it,” he adds cheekily, just to try to make Greg crack a smile, blush a little. It works.

“I know you think I'm crazy, or delusional or something, but I'm being honest with you,” Greg says, finally. “I love science, but this is one of those things in my life I can't explain. It's a family thing,” he says, pausing to take another mouthful of juice. “My grandmother had it, and when I was pretty young, it was obvious to her that I had it, too. I don't flaunt it, I don't try to make money from it, but some times I just see or I just know, and I can't ignore that just because I don't understand it, y'know?”

Nick nods, eats his chili steadily, and lets Greg talk. Sometimes being a good investigator is all about listening to the evidence, and Greg is giving him evidence, whether he knows it or not, something that might lead to the truth.

“I guess I just don't understand how you can be a scientist and a psychic at the same time,” Nick says eventually. “I know a friend of mine once quoted something at me about being able to hold two opposing ideas as a sign of intelligence, but I don't see how a person wouldn't get confused.”

“I suppose my life might be less complicated if I could choose between the two. I might be a better scientist. But when things like last night happen, how can I just ignore that side of myself and decide, from here-on out, to be completely objective? I wouldn't know how to start,” Greg says. He looks a little lost and distraught at the thought, though he covers it up quickly by ducking his head and focussing on his meal.

“If I stumble across any answers that can help you out, I'll let you know,” Nick says.

“Thanks,” Greg replies, genuine, if startled, gratitude in his voice.

*

“I hear we have a witness,” Hodges says.

“Not really. You mean the guy who found the body?”

“Not exactly. But when he can just have a séance and ask the victim who the killer is, I really don't know why we're bothering to use all this multi-million dollar equipment to solve the crime. Oh! That's right. Because it's total BS.”

Hodges smirks in his usual, smarmy way, and Nick yet again frowns and resists the urge to smack him in the middle of his smug face. Nick hasn't even given in and called him an asshole behind his back this month, which meant surely he was due.

“You texted me. That means that either you have something useful to tell me, or I'm going back to my lunch.”

“Your desert DB had mineral oil on his hands. Mineral oil is used in hundreds of different applications, from hydraulics in machines, to as an ingredient to create a gloss on and prevent sticking together of certain brands of candy.”

“So, how does that help me, if it's so common?”

“I'm glad you asked,” Hodges said, smiling broadly. “Your vic also had it imprinted on the insides of his shirt and trouser pockets, in regular, circular patterns, roughly an inch to an inch and a half in diameter, with an obvious raised edge.”

“Poker chips?”

“One of the more obscure usages for mineral oil is to 'age' new chips. Soaking or rubbing new clay chips in mineral oil removes manufacturing dust and creates a worn feel that would otherwise take time to acquire. Aging chips this way isn't illegal, but for your vic to have had chips that had been aged recently enough to have left that much transfer on his hands and in his pockets...” Hodges trails off.

“He probably stole them from whoever wanted the aging done, or was involved in aging counterfeit chips,” Nick finishes.

“From the amount of ring marks in his pockets, I'd say he had a few dozen reasons on him for someone want to kill him,” Hodges agrees.

“Thanks, Hodges,” Nick says, before pulling out his phone to call Brass.

*

“Showed the photo around the main casinos,” Brass grumbles. “Got a lot of hits, and about half a dozen different names. The guy has been in and out of all the major joints on the strip and a few of the smaller ones, never for very long, always played a couple of hands before leaving.”

“Testing to see if his bogus chips stand up?”

“Looks like. We're running the names now, but I doubt we'll get any hits.”

“Seems a bit weird that he's a good enough forger to be passing chips in the major casinos, but doesn't have form, isn't in the system,” Nick murmurs. The DNA hadn't turned up any connections, to perps or cases, solved or unsolved.

“If this is a major ring, he's likely just a face man. Someone clean, sent in by the real operators to test the waters. Because he's not in the system, and he's not barred by any of the casinos, he can walk through the front door without getting arrested or thrown back out on his ass before he's even sat down at a table.”

“So, who are we looking for here, Jim? Some knee-breaker for one of the casinos sending a message to the face man's crew by enacting a little old-Vegas justice, or the crew getting rid of the face man now that they know their product passes the test?”

Brass sighs heavily. “Who the hell knows. I don't see the casinos lining up to admit the counterfeit chips passed for legit. If I was the boss, I'd be firing up to bust heads, too.”

“Only they didn't, did they?” Nick asks, slowly, half to himself.

“Didn't what?”

“Bust heads. Or hands. Or kneecaps. I saw the autopsy report; this guy wasn't even punched in the face. Now, I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound old-Vegas to me at all. If it was me in charge, and I had this guy in The Box, or even just in an abandoned warehouse somewhere, I'd be breaking fingers till I was sure I had the name and the location of his entire crew,” Nick says. “I'd want to shut these guys down, not just kill my only lead, quick, without asking any questions.”

“Your logic is chilling, but sound,” Brass says. He doesn't sound chilled; rather, amused. “So we're looking at a power struggle within his crew, or someone higher up looking to clean up loose ends.”

“And we're looking for a place where a crew could manufacture high quality chips that pass at the major casinos. That's not easy. That's specialist work. The materials and the equipment alone aren't easy to source.”

“Right. You chase the equipment, I'll chase down crooks with the skills for this kind of job. I mean, how many can there be running round in Vegas?” Brass cracks, his self-mocking smile plain even through the phone connection.

“Will do,” Nick says, then gets ready for a series of long and boring phone calls to the gaming commission.

*

“Archie, you got something for me?” Nick asks.

Archie hands Nick a battered laptop in an evidence bag. “Your psychic's laptop. It's completely clean, even his emails, and I dug deep. Nothing to link him to our vic or the manufacture of counterfeit chips. But there's a lot of college work on there, looks like he's writing a thesis or a paper for a journal or something. Thought you might want to get it back to him, ASAP.”

“Yeah, I'll do that. Don't even think Brass thinks he's our guy, any more. Just at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Looked like it'd been a while since he cleaned up his system, so I might have got rid of some malware for him. Should run better now,” Archie says.

Nick feels a smile creep across his face. “You got something you want to tell me, Archie? A little second sight or something?”

Archie grins back. “Not at all. But I might have implied I did just to wind Hodges up. That guy is such -”

“An asshole, I know,” Nick says, getting in the dig. It makes him feel better, even after hours of gaming commission drama, which seemed to vacillate wildly between, “Vegas chips are nearly impossible to counterfeit, so your theory is invalid” and “even the suggestion of counterfeiting is going to destroy the entire economy of Vegas, so don't even go there”. In the end, he'd got a grudging acquiescence to his request to find out exactly what equipment they should be combing records for.

*

Greg answers his door looking scruffy and sleepy, a pillow crease running down on cheek. Nick has to admit it's kind of adorable.

Nick holds up the bag. “Brought your schoolwork back.”

Greg blinks. “Hey, thanks. Um, come in.”

He steps aside so that Nick can slide past into the cramped space. “I can see why it's cheaper than an apartment,” he cracks.

Greg grins. “Have a seat. Well, the seat.”

Nick sits himself down in the sole office chair, while Greg perches cross-legged on the bed. “Well, at least you got a single. I never did; four years of sharing in my frat house, sometimes three or four of us to a room. Good thing I didn't mind bunk beds,” Nick says.

“Perks of being a thirty-something dorming with a bunch of teenagers. They assume up front that you're gonna want your own space,” Greg says with a wry smile. “No shoes?”

“Nah, sorry, man. They'll probably take a bit longer to process.”

“It's okay. I hit up the thrift store.”

Nick glances over at the end of the bed and sees a greying pair of athletics shoes about three years out of style lined up neatly with the PD-issue slip-ons. He takes a deep breath, then looks at Greg, really looks, and can't help but ask.

“Please don't take this the wrong way, but I have to ask, I can't... Are you in some kind of trouble?”

Greg looks a little stunned. “Like what?”

“Okay. I had a friend, he's been gone a few years now, and he had trouble. Money trouble. Gambling, mostly, but family trouble, and prescription drug trouble, too, and it just ate him up, until at the end, there wasn't much left of the man I knew. Tell me if I'm reading this wrong, but you're young, and you seem a bit lost, maybe in some of the same ways he was, and a few days ago I found you standing way out in the desert in the rain, without even a jacket to cover you up. And it makes me wonder, if you hadn't found that body, would you have just kept walking?”

Greg's hands twitch and curl over his knees, and he swallows hard. He's not looking at Nick, he's looking out the tiny window at nothing, and Nick thinks that maybe he's sort of got his answer even though Greg hasn't said a word.

“Do you need help?” Nick asks softly, and Greg takes a tiny, gasping breath.

“I don't know,” Greg says eventually. “I don't know the answer. I went looking for one, and I didn't get one. I just walked, and then I heard the guy calling me, and I walked until I found him.”

“And when you couldn't help him alone, you called for help,” Nick says. “Maybe that's your answer, right there.”

“It doesn't work like that,” Greg says.

“Maybe it does. We're not talking science, here, right? We're talking about that other stuff. So maybe, just maybe, you were meant to end up there. To help that guy's family eventually get closure, to solve a murder, sure, that's big picture, that works. But maybe, in the small picture, just for you, that night was an answer. I know I don't pray much, not since I was little, but if I was a praying kind of man I'd see that as some kind of sign, especially if someone noticed I was hurting because of that night, rather than just passing me by.”

Greg doesn't look convinced, but Nick's a patient man, and he's willing to wait, like when he was little, spending hours sitting across the yard from a beat-up dog that none of his siblings would go near, until it came to him, one creeping step at a time. He takes a card from his pocket; it's got his name, work ID and phone extension printed on it, but he flips it over and scrawls his home phone and personal cell on the back.

“I work weird hours, night-shift, mostly, but call any of those and you'll catch me, and if you don't, just leave a message, or send me a text. I'll get back to you as soon as I can; I promise.”

He holds it out, and Greg looks at it for a few moments, before reaching out and taking it.

“Don't have to call for any reason in particular, just if you want to talk, or go get something to eat, or whatever. You haven't had a true Vegas experience until you've tried the chilaquiles at Frank's.”

“I don't like chilaquiles,” Greg protests.

“You haven't tried Frank's chilaquiles,” Nick says, closing the argument, in his opinion.

“Thanks for my computer,” Greg says. “I've been working from notes; I don't back up as often as I should.”

“No problem,” Nick says. “Take care of yourself. And call me, or I'll come knocking on your door, waking you up again.”

Greg's mouth lifts into a shadow of a smile at that, and Nick leaves, feeling a little lighter than before.

*

“Heard your psychic's off the hook, and is once again free to wander the astral plain untethered by the commonplace, mortal constraints of the justice system,” Hodges says, sliding up behind Nick while he's grabbing a coffee.

“He's no longer a suspect. What's your problem, Hodges?”

“Mould. Well, not me, personally, my body and environs are meticulously kept mould-free. The victim's clothing and exposed skin were covered in trace amounts of mould spores. Possibly transfer from your primary scene, or wherever he and his merry men were counterfeiting the chips. You're looking for somewhere cool, wet, and poorly ventilated, probably underground. Give me a little longer and I can narrow it down a little further. Not a lot of perpetually wet underground places in the desert.”

“So, like a basement, or a mine, or a cave or something?”

“Or something. As I said, more time. Rome wasn't built in a day. The evidence takes time to flower into the truth, so to speak.”

“Right.”

Nick takes his coffee elsewhere to drink.

“You're welcome!” Hodges calls out after him.

*

When it all comes down to it, the case doesn't turn on mineral oil, chips, mould spores or psychic visions. It turns on a middle level crook with a phoney licence being pulled over for a DUI. The folding knife he had shoved in the glove compartment still had blood in the housing of the blade and around the handle, as did the lining of his trunk. He pleaded down from murder one and turned in his whole crew, probably earning himself a shiv in prison in the near future for talking. The rest of the evidence Nick had collected and processed was just the icing on the cake, the turning of the key in the lock.

It shouldn't feel anti-climactic. They stopped a counterfeiting ring, caught a murderer, finally found out a name to go with the face of the John Doe in Doc Robbins's refrigerator. But though cases are all about the evidence, sometimes they're about dumb luck, too. Like a guy having a couple of drinks too many before driving home, or a messed up kid caught between science and superstition, stumbling through the desert in search of the answer to some unanswerable question.

He hesitates for a moment, then pulls out his phone and sends a text.

Closed the case, it says. I could eat. You hungry?

A minute later, his phone buzzes with the reply.

When and where? it says.

Better be somewhere near a bus route, arrives a moment later.

I'll pick you up. Wear something pretty, Nick texts back.

I'm at the library, he receives in reply.

You wish you were this pretty, turns up when he's almost at his truck, and it's enough to have him grinning the whole way there.

*

Endnotes

The quotation Nick paraphrases is by F. Scott Fitzgerald: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." I don't recall Grissom quoting it at any point in the series, but I imagine it would have appealed to him. It's not strictly about science, but it's something that the CSIs and police do daily, even Nick, who doesn't think he could, does it without thinking. For example, he's being genuinely kind and reassuring to Greg while he's processing him, letting him know that he did all he could have done to help the victim, but at the same time, he's consciously playing the good cop in anticipation of Brass walking through the door in a few minutes' time, because he knows that Greg's situation looks bad, and that his story doesn't add up at all. That doesn't make him a hypocrite, or deceitful, he's just doing his job, but he's also able to be sympathetic to Greg because Nick's a nice person, and Greg is genuinely distressed and in need of comfort. If those don't count as two utterly opposing ideas, I don't know what does.

Readers will notice that I've left the main team casting on the whole deliberately vague. Aside from appearances by Nick, Greg, Brass, David, Hodges, and Archie, and mentions of Doc Robbins, Grissom and Warrick Brown, I've left the broader team identities out of the picture. This was partly because I didn't want to detract the focus from the main characters, but also, because if Greg never went into CSI, if he never came to be the DNA tech at the lab, the staffing would be different. That's why Hodges in this story in particular is very much the unevolved version - because without Greg working DNA and then moving out into the field, staffing and staffing changes over the years would have been completely different, and would likely mean Wendy never came to Vegas. Without Wendy, Hodges would have had less impetus to change and grow into the more mature human being he is in recent seasons, so in this story, he's very much the smarmy Mark One Hodges that graced the screen in earlier seasons. I've dropped in little hints of canon; a quote from Code Blue Plate Special, for example, but in this alternate universe, Frank's is still open. Whether you consider that the massacre still happened and that the brother's wife is running the place is up to you - I deliberately invented an OC waitress rather than using Edie, to leave that ambiguous.
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