It'll All Come Out in the Wash by The She Devil [Reviews - 0]

TITLE: It'll All Come Out in the Wash

AUTHOR: The She Devil

EMAIL: thranowski at gmail

CATEGORY: Romance/General

RATING: M for language and sexuality.


ARCHIVE: Please ask first.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything.

SUMMARY: Nick accidentally stalks an irritating and charming kid he meets at the laundromat. Pre-series, pre-slash.

NOTES: Takes place pre-series, so I guess this is probably AU. I don't know, I'm writing this really depressing apocalypse story and I needed something to make it better. I tried to stay as close to canon with the timeline, so if the series began in the year 2000, I'm going to assume Greg joined LVPD in 1999 if I did my math right. Nick joined in 1997.

I'm pretty sure the young blond guy stuffing entirely too many clothes into the dryer has been perving on my ass for the last twenty minutes. I've noticed him here for the past three weeks, and I've definitely noticed those sly glances he throws my way, the ones he thinks he's getting away with. But I don't mind, not really. He is kind of cute, even if he is much too young for me and wearing a pretty ugly shirt. He's also in desperate need of a haircut. Unless that's the way he wants his hair to look: that messy, rolled-out-of-bed, freshly-fucked look, but I'm too old to keep up with the trends these days.

Plus, I'd look utterly ridiculous dressed like that. After all, thirty is right around the corner, just like the new millennium. Y2K and all that. No, I prefer my classic American male style; simple, predictable, just like me. Just like every Friday night, here I am at the same laundromat, washing my clothes at the same washer and drying them in the same dryer. Although, I am hoping to buy soon, and then I'll be able to do my laundry from the comfort of my own home while drinking beer and watching a game wearing only my underwear.

What? It's my couch. I can sit on it in only my underwear if I want to.

As I carefully measure out the exact amount of detergent, there's a sudden blur of movement out of the corner of my eye as the young blond hops up on top of the washing machine right beside mine. He sits down, long legs dangling and swinging slightly, sneakers scuffing the beat up machine that's probably older than he is.

"Are you stalking me?"

The question takes me so much by surprise that I nearly drop the entire cap of detergent into the washing machine.

"Excuse me?" I blurt out, regarding the strange kid dubiously.

"I asked if you were stalking me," he reiterates, speaking slower and looking at me as if I'm the strange one. He shrugs casually, folding his hands in his lap and focusing on them, suddenly appearing sweetly shy, and I wonder if perhaps he's not as confident as he appears at first blush. "I mean, I just figured if you are, I should probably be privy to that information."

When he peers up at me from beneath dark eyelashes, a coy smile tugging at the corner of his lips, I immediately realize that this kid is anything but shy. He's trouble, in fact. Big trouble, and I'm going to be in big trouble too if I don't quickly distance myself from him.

"What exactly makes you think I'm stalking you?" I ask, and pull my gaze away from dark chocolate colored eyes and instead focus on the settings of the washing machine.

"Well, every time I'm here, you're here," he responds, as if the logic is that simple. Somebody get this kid a job at the LVPD, because he'd sure make a great CSI.

"So is he," I state indignantly while indicating an old black gentleman named Clyde located to the other side of me. He's been coming here every Friday night even longer than I have, which I know from several conversations with the man.

When I turn back, the young man is suddenly much closer, leaning in and whispering conspiratorially, eyes bright with mischief. "Are you stalking him too?"

"I'm not stalking anybody!" I exclaim, suddenly flustered and wondering how this kid that I've been speaking to for exactly sixty seconds has gotten under my skin. "I come here every Friday night!"

A heat immediately creeps up the back of my neck and spreads quickly to my cheeks as I realize how pathetic of an admission that is, but I'm hoping the kid doesn't notice – either my blush or how pitiful I am.

"That's kind of sad," he says, his expression displaying his compassion, as if it really pains him that I'm a loser. "Good-looking guy like you should have plenty of other things to do on a Friday night besides laundry."

I huff against my own will, not wanting to let this kid know just how much he's rattled me as I jab at the start button of my washing machine. I take a deep breath, attempting to regroup.

"You're here every Friday night too," I point out, getting a handle on myself. "Like a twenty-year-old college kid doesn't have anything better to do on a Friday night either? What? No campus parties at UNLV tonight?"

The young man smiles, so bright and disarming it completely catches me off guard and causes my stomach to do a weird flip I'm not expecting.

"I'm not twenty," he clarifies smugly, as if he's just won some kind of game I didn't know about. And maybe he has, because I'm fishing for information, and by that look he knows it. "And I'm not in college. I'm a chemist, actually."

"Really," I say more than ask, cocking an eyebrow in disbelief. This kid with wild hair and wilder clothes and ratty sneakers that looks like he's barely out of high school is a chemist?

"I know what you're thinking," he says, casually examining his fingernails. "Unbelievable, right? I mean, how many guys do you know that are the complete package? Handsome and smart?"

"Don't forget charming," I mutter, rolling my eyes. I catch another smile out of the corner of my eye, but I'm prepared for it this time and refuse to look, lest I run the risk of being pulled in. I move to the waiting area, sitting down and swiping a real estate magazine off of another chair before pulling it open and perusing the listings. I hold back a sigh as the blond plops down beside me, unable or unwilling to take a hint – and I'm willing to choose the latter.

"So…?" he begins.

"So…what?" I ask, taking the bait once again, and against my better judgment. But something about this cute and enigmatic kid curbs any logic, derails any skills I've accrued in my three years as a police officer or subsequent three years as a CSI.

"So what's a good-looking guy such as yourself do around here on a Friday night?" he asks, peering over my lap at the real estate magazine. I lean away from him and turn the magazine away as if he's trying to cheat on a test at school. "Besides laundry, I mean."

"Mostly, I just mind my own business," I reply coolly, a quick comment meant to sting, but he only grins with amusement.

"You know, my mother warned me when I told her I was taking a job in Las Vegas that it wasn't filled with very nice people," the blond says, leaning back in his chair and draping his arms across the backs of the seats beside him, including mine. I can feel the heat emanating off of his arm, a warm stripe across my back. "But I can see now she was wrong. I'm going to have to call her and let her know."

"Yeah, you do that," I murmur, turning another page in the magazine, but I'm not even remotely paying attention to the pictures and prices in front of me with such a distraction beside me.

"So let's just say, hypothetically speaking," he goes on, his knee bouncing and hands moving with nervous energy. "If you were to go somewhere on a Friday night that wasn't the laundromat, where would you go?"

I consider this for a moment, debating whether or not to answer honestly or blow this kid off; not that I haven't been attempting to blow him off since we started talking, but he seems pretty relentless in a completely oblivious and adorable kind of way, and it is kind of flattering that he's chatting me up.

"I like country," I finally admit, a segue before naming my favorite country bar off the Strip, but I hear a loud groan beside me as the blond throws his head back and proceeds to cover his face with his hands. I stiffen immediately. "What?"

"You were almost perfect," he says with great remorse, holding his hands out in a pleading gesture. "I should've guessed with the accent. You're going to name some cheesy redneck bar like Outlaws or Cowboys or The Bucking Bronco, where the girls wear gingham shirts tied in knots at the front and tiny shorts and navel rings, right?"

"It's called Tumbleweeds," I mumble, heat once again flushing my cheeks. "And I don't pay too much attention to the girls." I catch that smile out of the corner of my eye, his mouth opening to speak, but I quickly cut him off. "To what they wear, I mean. Because I'm a gentleman."

"Mmm hmm," the kid hums knowingly, still smiling. "Okay, so let's say – still hypothetically, of course – if you were to go somewhere that's neither the laundromat nor a bar called Haystacks – "

"Tumbleweeds," I insist.

"Right," he continues, waving away my correction with his hand. "So you're not here, or at a country bar with a predictable name, where are you on a Friday night?"

I sigh. "I'd probably go to Whiskey Lou's."

"Whiskey Lou's," the kid repeats, almost pensively. "Sounds like a dive bar."

"It is a dive bar."

"I like it," he states with finality. He turns back to me so quickly our knees knock together, but he makes no attempt to apologize as his eyes suddenly light up with interest. "Okay, so if you were to go there, say, on a Friday night, what time would you go?"

"Still hypothetically speaking?" I ask, my voice laden with sarcasm.

He has the nerve to look affronted. "Of course."

"Probably about ten o'clock."

"Ten o'clock," he repeats, nodding. There's a buzz from across the room as a dryer finishes its cycle. "That's me. See you next week."

He pats my knee and offers a gentle squeeze before standing up and crossing the room to tend to his laundry. I watch him as I absently rub my knee where I can still feel the heat of his touch, as if he seared me right through my jeans. I watch him haphazardly throw his clothes into a laundry bag before making for the exit. I watch him as he gives me one last look, watch as he winks with a grin, and I know it's too late.

I'm already in big, big trouble.

"What am I going to do without you, Brenda?" I croon, my Southern drawl curling hard around my vowels as I deliberately stress my accent. "Us Texans have to stick together, and when you're gone there won't be anybody to have my back during Cowboys games."

"You'll be just fine, darlin'," the gray-haired woman responds, as she carefully measures chemicals into a glass beaker on the workstation between us. "I'm sure they'll replace me with some younger, blonder, much prettier model, and then you'll forget all about me. Just like I forgot about the old GCMS that used to take sixteen minutes when the city bought me the new top-of-the-line model that only takes ninety seconds."

"I'll forget about you?" I ask dubiously. "You're the one that's going to forget about us while you're sipping cocktails on the beach."

Brenda Collins, the DNA/Chem tech at the LVPD for the past five years – two of those years spent on the night shift – is retiring to move to a beach house in Florida with her husband. It's hard to imagine anyone as charming or efficient replacing her. The night shift has been dreading her exit the minute she announced her departure three months ago, and now there's only a little over a week left until a new tech will arrive.

An office pool had been started, taking bets over how long the new tech would last. I myself had dropped a cool hundred on two nights in the hectic Las Vegas Crime Lab before the new tech would call it quits; it had happened before, three years ago when the last night shift tech had transferred to Miami and the LVPD had gone through three wet-behind-the-ears rookies before Brenda had agreed to move from Swing to Nights.

"I could never forget a smile like yours, cowboy," Brenda says with a wink, and I'm embarrassed to find myself blushing. Brenda's got this long, wavy hair and curves in all the right places, way hotter than a woman nearly twice my age has any right to be. And when she winks at you with that sly smile, it'll make you weak in the knees, straight or gay.

There's a hand suddenly roughly clapping my shoulder and squeezing playfully, saving me from any further humiliation at the hands of a vixen.

"What'd I tell you about hitting on my woman, Stokes?" Warrick Brown warns, leaving his arm draped over my shoulder. "You think just because she's leaving, you've got one last chance with Brenda here?"

"Was worth a shot," I admit, shrugging.

"Now, now, boys," Brenda chides. "There's plenty of me to go around for both of you. Besides, I've always got a craving for a little chocolate every now and then."

She winks, this time aimed at my flirtatious coworker, and if Warrick was any other color, I'm pretty sure he'd be blushing too. He clears his throat, and I can't help but grin at his discomfort.

"Come on, lover boy, enough chit-chat," Warrick hastily admonishes, turning us and leading us out of the DNA/Chem lab. "We got an armed robbery with a dead body in Summerlin. Catherine's meeting us out there."

"Does it look pretty cut and dry?" I ask, taking the assignment slip out of Warrick's hand while shrugging his arm off of my shoulder. "'Cause we've only got a few hours left of shift and I'm ready to get out of here. After wading around in a pond for four hours because Griss was convinced there was a gun somewhere around in there – which there wasn't – I'm beat, man. And I got water in my boots."

"Relax, bro," Warrick says, as we head towards the parking garage. "Clerk shot the robber, everything's on video. We just gotta collect the evidence, and then it's a wrap."

"Thank God."

"So I got off tomorrow night too," Warrick states, and elbows me in the ribs playfully. "Friday night, prime time. You want to hit the casinos, cruise the bars, chase some skirts – pants? Or whatever the term is when you're gay."

Despite knowing Warrick since I'd joined the LVPD two years ago, I still sometimes find it hard to believe he's so comfortable with my sexuality. He's one of the only people in Vegas that I've told, but after such a harrowing experience coming out to my family and the subsequent fall out that resulted in my transfer to Vegas, it's been difficult for me to trust anybody. Part of the reason why I haven't been in a relationship since…well, since the last girl I'd been pretending to fall in love with for the sake of my family back in Texas.

Regardless, I'm grateful to have someone I don't have to lie to. Someone that knows who I really am and doesn't get uncomfortable when discussing my love life, someone who doesn't ask me not to talk about it and instead pretends it doesn't exist.

I laugh. "Nah, no thanks. I have plans…I think."

"You think?" Warrick asks, casting a dubious glance at me. "You're not sure?"

"Well, I don't know," I admit, rubbing the nape of my neck nervously. "I mean…I think it's kind of an open invitation to go to this bar, but I'm not sure."

That's not entirely true. I'm pretty sure that somehow, this blond jailbait from the laundromat tricked me into a date. And I know that if I show up at Whiskey Lou's tomorrow night at ten o'clock, he's going to be waiting for me. I also know that he was nice enough to take the pressure off of me by carefully wording his conversation in order to give me the option of not showing up. So perhaps it would only be polite to at least make an appearance, if only for a few minutes to save the kid the embarrassment of being stood up.

"So what's his name?" Warrick asks, once we're inside of the state-issued SUV.

I open my mouth to respond, but find myself unable to answer. "I…I don't know, actually. I didn't get it."

Warrick barks with laughter, too loud in the small confines of the vehicle. "Damn, Nicky. Just how hot was he?"

I blush for the second time in ten minutes as I sink low in my seat in an attempt to avoid those knowing green eyes brightly lit with amusement.

Whiskey Lou's is crowded on this Friday night, more so than usual, but I might only be thinking that because I'm trying to discretely scan the crowd without appearing too eager. I don't want that blond from the laundromat to think I'm looking for him, but I am twenty minutes late and I don't want to not look for him and miss him, and I wonder when I turned into an awkward teenager trying not to seem desperate.

I drift through bodies towards the bar until I find myself a stool, and I patiently wait for the bartender, Jim, a guy I know from the local adult football league we both play in. I nervously finger my ring and continue to scan the bar. It's filled with mostly seedy-looking older people looking for a cheap drink and a place they can still have a cigarette without snobby tourists complaining about the smoke. But so far, no blonds with bad taste in clothing.

Maybe he didn't come. Maybe he stood me up. Maybe he was only flirting, or just testing out his moves, or trying to give himself an ego boost. Maybe he was making fun of me, having a laugh at my expense. Sure, pick on the nearly thirty-year-old loser at the laundromat that's there every Friday night because he has nothing better to do.

Oh, God, maybe he felt bad for me and was trying to give me an ego boost. Maybe –

"Are you sure you aren't stalking me?" I hear from beside me, and relief floods me with an immensity akin to the Hoover Dam splitting right down the middle. "Because if you are, that's okay. I kind of like it."

I compress a grin as I turn to face the young man from the laundromat. He's dressed in a collared shirt with a loud pattern, with a black shirt underneath printed with some kind of skull and the word Misfits written on it, baggy jeans and those same ratty sneakers. His wavy hair is swept to the side, curls resting delicately upon his collar. I imagine how soft they would feel as I ran my fingers through them, wonder if he would like it if I pulled his hair while we fucked.

Jesus, get a hold of yourself, Stokes. You just got here and already you're in bed in your imagination. Desperate much?

"I'm not stalking you," I state with great dignity. He's leaning back against the bar, facing the crowd, his eyes traveling over the different patrons. I take in his profile, admiring his straight nose and dark pink lips, taking note of the constellation of cute little moles on his cheek. I wonder how many more he has in places I can't see. "You invited me here, remember?"

"I did?" he asks, his face scrunched adorably in mock deep thought. He lifts a rock glass mostly filled with ice to his lips, clutching a cocktail straw between slender fingers as he takes a sip. "I don't remember that."

"Really," I deadpan. I suppose technically he is right, but I'm willing to argue semantics to win this one.

He waves away the implication. "Apples to oranges."

"That doesn't make any sense."

"I know, I've never really understood it either," he states, and now I can't help but laugh. He casts a glance at me out of the corner of his eye, grinning slyly, and I know he knows exactly what he's doing. He turns towards the bar in one fluid movement, depositing his glass on the counter and signaling the bartender. "First round's on me, since I invited you here."

I ignore his air quotes as Jim heads towards us. "Hey, man. Good to see ya. What'll it be tonight?"

"I'll have a Bud Light."

"Another vodka-soda with lime, please," my companion orders, and then turns back to me while the bartender prepares our drinks. "I can see why you like this place. Dark, smoky…intimate." He meets my eye his last word, and I quickly glance away like a nervous schoolgirl. "Although the people here aren't very nice. You see that guy over there?"

He subtly points to a large, bearded man standing beside the dart boards talking to several other large men. He's wearing jeans and boots and a leather vest, and there's a large scar running down the side of his face that I'm pretty sure he didn't get after falling out of a tree while trying to save a kitten.

"Yeah…?" I say, encouraging him to continue.

"He was not very receptive to my winning personality."

"Why would you even try to talk to him?" I ask, shaking my head with incredulity. "He looks like a serial killer."

The young man's laugh is loud and infectious and the most thrilling thing I've ever heard. He grips my forearm as if to steady himself, his slender fingers wrapping around my arm, warm and firm and absolutely electrifying.

"He does look like a serial killer," he admits, as Jim slides our drinks to us. He removes his hand from my skin to pull out his wallet and drops some cash on to the counter. "What can I say? I like a challenge." He winks at me and grabs his drink, lifting it towards mine. "Cheers."

I nod as his glass hits my beer bottle, the clink barely audible in the loud space. We both take a sip of our drinks, and briefly he pulls a face; they make 'i strong here, another reason why I like this place.

"So where are you from?" I ask. "You said you just moved here?"

"Yeah," he responds, nodding, and someone jostles him from behind, forcing him closer. Briefly, I can smell the tang of lime mixed with cologne and what I think is strong coffee. He appears annoyed as he glances over his shoulder at the offending patron before rolling his eyes and shrugging it off. "I'm originally from California. I grew up in San Gabriel but I lived in San Francisco for two years after college. Spent a year in New York before I came here. What about you?"

San Gabriel, I think idly. Money. I wonder if he's some spoiled rich kid living on his parents' dime, but he certainly doesn't dress that way. He did by me a drink, though, not that a Bud Light is going to break the bank or anything, but maybe the offer meant he had the money to spend.

"Born and bred in Texas," I respond. "Grew up in Dallas. Came out here about three years ago."

"Something about Vegas, huh?" he asks, and gets this almost dreamy look on his face. "Pretty bright lights, danger, sin, the freedom to do whatever you want twenty-four hours a day. You can be a freak with weird hair and weird clothes," – he briefly touches his hair, tugs at the end of his shirt – "…and maybe some less than vanilla tastes."

He pauses for effect then, watching my reaction and quirking an eyebrow suggestively before continuing. I'm proud to say that this time I don't look away and instead remain stoic, although I can feel the beginnings of a blush creeping into my cheeks. "But then you can stand on a street corner right between little person Spiderman and a drag queen on stilts, and suddenly you fit right in."

For a moment I'm drawn into his fantasy of Las Vegas, recalling the romanticized image of a once mobster-run city that had lured me here in the first place. Somewhere I felt I could also fit in, right between that mini Spiderman and stilt-walking cross dresser. (Well, maybe more off to the side of them…way off to the side.) And then I remember the dead hookers in back alleys, children murdered in their own homes, store clerks shot while working the night shift for minimum wage, and suddenly I want to grab this young naïve kid's shoulders and tell him to turn around and run as fast as he can.

"I loved New York," he went on, "but my mom kept hassling me to move back closer to home. I figured this was a good compromise. It's only a four hour drive, so I can visit when she gives me a hard time, but I still get the independence and life in a big city." He suddenly winces slightly. "That makes me sound like a huge mama's boy, doesn't it?"

I shrug, smiling gently as I contemplate my own reasons for leaving Texas. "It's kinda sweet, actually. And it's nice that your mother loves you."

He meets my eye, and I wonder if he's considering my statement, but thankfully he doesn't press the issue. Instead, he smiles ruefully. "She wanted more kids, but she only got one. That's okay, though, I mean, my brothers and sisters would've had a lot to live up to."

I snort with laughter, rolling my eyes at his audacity. "They broke the mold when they made you, huh?"

"It doesn't really get any better than this," he responds with a grin, before his attention is caught by something over my shoulder. "Come on."

I follow him to a small booth in the corner shaped like a U, dimly lit by a red bulb hanging above the round table in front of it. He slides in and I do so after him, sitting with our thighs flush but he doesn't make any attempt to move so neither do I. As he tells me about California and sleeping on the beach in order to wake up early and catch the best waves, I can feel the heat of his leg through my jeans. He talks animatedly, and with his hands; his body vibrates with that same nervous energy I'd noticed at the laundromat.

I can smell his cologne and that strong coffee again, but now I can also pick up vodka and the faint scent of his masculine sweat as he leans in close while recounting running through Battery Park in the snow, passing tiny yapping dogs and their rich owners to get to the closest warm bar and using his fake ID to order a hot toddy for the first time only to be disappointed by how awful it actually is, and all I can think about is how good he smells.

His eyes are shining with interest and amusement as I describe growing up with seven kids running around a four bedroom house with two lawyers for parents. He seems simultaneously curious and amazed by the fact that someone could have that many siblings, and admits as an only child it would have been nice to have some company while I concede to having yearned for silence and solitude every once in a while.

A pleasant alcohol buzz is building in my brain as I hit my third drink and tell him about my brother the motorhead. His dark pink lips quirk into a smile, straight teeth bright white against his golden California skin as he sheepishly confesses to stealing his grandfather's car to drive it around the block (twice) when he was twelve.

"You're a little car thief," I tease in astonishment.

"You only live once," he says, and shrugs much more innocently than he has any right to. "And I prefer to live dangerously."

When his pink tongue darts out to moisten his bottom lip, I follow it with my eyes. Before I can do something I'd regret in a bar I frequent probably more than Tumbleweeds, the bartender slides a drink towards my companion. We have both gone through several drinks at this point, but I don't recall him ordering another one.

Frowning, he says, "I didn't order this."

"It's from your buddy over there," Jim responds, pointing to his right. We both lean over, craning our necks to peer across the bar.

"Don't look now," I say with amusement. The blond quickly turns to me with an exaggerated gasp, eyes wide and shining with delight.

"No way!" he breathes excitedly. He picks up his fresh drink and holds it up towards his admirer, nodding his head with a wide grin at the large man with the leather vest he'd supposedly struck out with earlier. The older man nods back, lifting his own drink in salutation.

"I guess he did take a shine to your winning personality," I comment, fighting the urge to put my hands all over him so that guy knows this kid is spoken for, but I obviously have no right to do that, so I don't. Plus I'm pretty sure old serial killers aren't his type. Still, my fingers twitch, and I tap my thigh nervously to keep them busy.

"It's hard not to," the kid shoots back, putting the drink back on the table and pushing it away. I watch the gesture, wondering if he's making a point or if he just doesn't want it. Suddenly, there's a hand on my thigh, slender fingers gripping close to my crotch, warmth radiating right through my jeans. I meet his eyes and he smiles then, pretending to look nervous as he jokes, "Listen, you'll, uh…walk me to my car later right?"

"Why don't we just get out of here?" I blurt out. "You know, before Scarface gets any ideas."

He looks at me with slight surprise at my words, and I'm hardly able to believe what I've just suggested either. Nick Stokes does not pick up strange men in laundromats, especially strange men that look so sinfully young and downright dangerous. And I certainly don't ask said strange men to leave a bar with me when I don't even know their name.

God, I don't know his name! I've been talking to him for the past two hours and I haven't even introduced myself! First, I don't ask what his name is, now I'm proposing he leave with me to do only God knows what – he must think I'm only after one thing! I wince at what my mother would think of my manners and laugh in embarrassment, rubbing at the nape of my neck.

"I'm asking you to leave with me," I admit, "and I just realized that I don't even know your name."

His surprise fades, his expression shifting into a smile. He fingers one of the buttons on my shirt, his eyes focusing on his ministrations before he looks up at me from beneath sooty eyelashes.

"Come on, let's not ruin this with names," he suggests, and then shrugs almost casually at my confused expression. "I don't know you, you don't know me. There's no pressure to pretend to be somebody else so we can impress each other if we don't know who we're trying to impress. You don't have to worry if your parents are going like me, or if I'm going to get weirded out by the fact that you have seven cats, or maybe you won't like that I have some kind of crazy bug collection. We can see where the night takes us, maybe have some fun…and you don't have to pretend to want to call me if you didn't enjoy yourself. Just walk away, no strings attached. How does that sound?"

I consider the offer. I don't have any cats, and after working with Grissom for the past two years, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't mind a crazy bug collection. If I'm being honest with myself, the setup sounds shallow, perhaps like he's trying to protect himself from potentially being hurt, to save the embarrassment of waiting desperately for a phone call that won't ever come. There's no disappointment with his foolproof plan, no broken hearts when you don't offer yours up for the taking in the first place.

But that's exactly what's so tempting about the idea. And I'm pretty sure after the last few years I've had, I'm due for a little bit of fun.

"Yeah, okay," I agree, nodding as I place my beer on the counter. "Let's go."

I'm not expecting it when he grabs my hand and pulls me out of the booth, leading me through a crowd of people. His hand feels clammy and warm, but it rests in my palm with the ease of a familiar lover, not a complete stranger. As if this isn't the first time he's slipped his hand into mine but the thousandth. I follow him out the door, the chill of the autumn air biting at my skin and causing goose bumps. A stark contrast to the heat in my hand, his fingers perfectly laced with mine.

"Let's go this way," he suggests, giving my hand a tug, and I'm trailing right behind him like an eager puppy on a leash.

He's drinking a cocktail literally called a Can't Drive 55 that has so many different types of liquors in it, I'm pretty sure nobody can walk after they drink it, let alone drive. The bartender had sold him rather quickly, pushing her large chest out and giggling enchantingly as she told him she had the perfect drink for him. I bit back my jealousy as he flirted right back, leaning into her and smiling disarmingly. He charmed her right into two free shots of expensive tequila, and I only smirked as we toasted our shots, realizing that he had played her at her own game. He winked at me as he licked the salt off of his hand, right before he bit into his wedge of lime while scrunching his face up.

On the Strip, you're allowed to walk with open containers, so now we're standing in front of the Fountains of Bellagio, him drinking his crazy cocktail out of a plastic cup as we watch the choreographed fountain display. His lips are wrapped around his straw, half of his drink already gone, and he's watching me with this cute little amused expression, his cocoa brown eyes illuminating with the different colors of the light show.

"You should try this," he says, holding out his straw to me. "It's amazing."

"No thanks," I respond, holding my hand up. "I'm pretty buzzed from that tequila shot, and I drove my truck to Whiskey Lou's."

"Suit yourself," he states, shrugging, and he drinks another quarter of his glass in only a few pulls of his straw. "I drank something like this in college. I got so drunk, I woke up my roommate to tell him goodbye because I was pretty sure I was going to die. I wanted him to know that I loved him. He did not return the sentiment."

I bark with laughter. "Once, I woke up on the front lawn of my frat house in my underwear, with a box of cornflakes stuck to my forehead. To this day, I have no idea what happened."

"Maybe you were hot and hungry," he muses. He turns away from the fountain, indicating for me to follow him with a jerk of his head. We walk through the crowded streets, shoulder to shoulder as we maneuver through tourists and natives and patrolling cops and some children even at this late hour. I hear his straw slurping as he hits the bottom of his drink, and he appears disappointed as he eyes his empty cup before throwing it in a trash can. "Do you still come here on your nights off? Or does it get old after a while?"

"No, I still come out," I reply, my eyes traveling over the various types of people. "I like people watching. So many tourists, no matter how many times you come down here, the people are always different. My friend Warrick and I, we like to hit the casinos and play cards every once in a while."

"Do you ever win?"

"Sometimes." I shake my head and grin. "Sometimes, we end up digging around in our cars for change to see if we can find enough to catch a cab ride home because we gambled away all our money and drank too much."

"Oh, let's go in there!" he suddenly cries, grabbing my wrist and pulling me towards a dark nightclub. There's a line out the door full of attractive young people wearing tight expensive clothes. I can hear the music from outside the door, the dull thud of the bass vibrating through the air. It's dark inside save for the laser lights, a smoke machine creating clouds of fog that creep out onto the sidewalk before they evaporate. Not the kind of club I'd be caught dead in on any other night.

"I don't know…" I start hesitantly as we stand in line, and I can't help but feel like a sore thumb amongst all these kids. "I don't think I exactly fit in with this crowd."

"What are you talking about?" he asks fiercely, confused as he eyes the line. "You're like, the hottest guy in this line."

Immediately, I feel my cheeks flushing at the compliment. The tiny blond girl standing in front of me that can't possibly be old enough to get in this place turns around and offers me a scrutinizing look. She gazes back at the crowd, then back to me.

"It's true," she says with a shrug, so casually and matter-of-factly she might as well be telling me the sky is blue and grass is green.

"Told you," my companion states, nodding in agreement as the girl turns away from us with disinterest, and I'm almost positive my face is about to burst into flames. "Don't worry, it'll be fun."

I show the bouncer my ID and he stamps my hand before wrapping a paper band around my wrist. There's a twenty (twenty!) dollar cover charge I'm not expecting, and I spent all my cash at Whiskey Lou's, but my new friend quickly shoves money into the doorman's hands. I wait anxiously by the entrance until he joins me, and he takes my wrist once more. He leads me to the bar, immediately ordering two tequila shots and offering one to me. I sigh as I accept the drink and the fact that I'll be taking a cab home tonight.

"Cheers!" he exclaims, shooting back his liquor in record time. He bites his lime wedge, dropping it into his empty glass and depositing both onto the bar. I follow suit, observing the flush in his cheeks and dampness at the ends of the curls of his hair from what I'm assuming is the liquor catching up with him, but he doesn't seem fazed in the slightest. "Let's dance!"

"I don't dance!" I declare vehemently.

"Why not?"

"I…I can't," I admit, but he's dragging me towards dance floor. The music is loud, pulsing up from the floor and through my body, but the mass of beautiful people pressed together move to the beat fluidly like one living organism. My heart races at the thought of dancing with another man in such a public place, but upon further inspection I realize that I can't really see anything through the dim lighting, and everyone is so close together it's hard to tell who is really dancing with whom.

"It's easy," he yells over the music. "Just hold on to my hips and don't let go."

He grins devilishly before turning away from me, grasping both of my hands and placing them on his hips to illustrate his statement. I keep them on him as he moves right to the middle of the dance floor, and before I know it we're surrounded by writhing, sweaty bodies. His back is pressed against my chest, his ass rubbing right against my crotch, and suddenly my jeans are feeling uncomfortably tight.

We dance for a while, the music shifting from song to song, and I'm just starting to loosen up when a girl slides in front of him, smiling with full, purple tinted lips. Her hair is pulled into two buns on the top of her head, a pink tube top barely corralling her large breasts. She's got some kind of collar around her neck, several bracelets adorning both wrists.

One of her hands is in the air, the other gripping his shoulder as she grinds her crotch into his. She moves fluidly, sensually, and there's no way I can compete with her. She's young and beautiful and exactly the kind of girl I could imagine my companion being interested in, instead of some boring nearly thirty-year-old guy that haunts country bars with stereotypical names and can't dance worth a shit.

She steps up on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear, meeting my eyes over his shoulder. I frown slightly, beginning to feel quite foolish as he leans forward to listen, his hands resting easily on her tiny waist. As her lips brush over his ear, I'm considering walking away, but then he's laughing and shaking his head. She shrugs, turns around, and disappears back into the crowd.

"What did she say to you?" I yell over the music.

"She said you were cute," he tells me, and I balk at the unexpected response. "She wanted to sell us some E and have some fun with her."

I reel at the fact that someone could so casually ask complete strangers something like that. Not only do I work for the LVPD and could have her arrested for attempting to sell us drugs, how does she know we aren't rapists or murderers or any number other types of people I see in interrogation rooms on a nightly basis? Jesus, I could never remember being that young and stupid.

"What did you tell her?" I blurt out.

"I told her I don't do drugs and I don't share."

I can't help but grin at the possessive statement. My desire reinvigorated, I move closer to him, my hands sliding up under his shirt to feel the warm, sweaty skin of his waist. I hook my thumbs into his jeans, stroking the jut of his hip bones; God, I've always been a sucker for a slender waist. My hands firmly grip him, and I catch him glancing quickly over his shoulder, his expression half surprised and half impressed by my boldness. He grinds against me for a little while, the beat of the music inspiring our swaying hips, and I revel in the masculine hard lines of his body against mine.

He spins in my arms, draping his arms over my shoulders. His long, slender fingers toy with the hairs at the base of my neck and I tilt my head back, relishing the sensation. My hands shift to his lower back, holding him right above the swell of his ass. He smiles softly, almost affectionately, and I can't help but notice how intimate our embrace his, how familiar it feels, how right.

He bites his bottom lip, his fingers toying with the collar of my shirt, expression uncertain. I can't imagine this kid being anything other than brash and confident, and the nervous gestures catch me off guard. In one brief moment, he's revealed his vulnerability, and it's so incredibly endearing I have to use all of my willpower not to slip my hands on either side of his face and kiss him breathless.

He leans forward, lips brushing over my ear as he says, "You can if you want to."

"Can what?" I ask, unable to suppress the shiver that runs through me.

"Kiss me."

I pull back, meeting his eyes, which are surprisingly dark with desire. I glance around the club to the hundreds of people surrounding us. Immediately, my heart speeds up at the thought of someone seeing us – seeing me, CSI Level 2 Nick Stokes – kissing another man in a crowded club.

I turn back to the blond in front of me, a hasty kiss to the corner of my mouth surprising me. I blink, shocked, but he's biting his bottom lip again and smiling so bashfully, his cheeks tinting with just the hint of a blush that I'm sure isn't from the alcohol, and I can't help but feel a grin tugging at my own lips.

"I know where we can go," he states, apropos of nothing.

"Where?" I ask. Not that it matters. At this point, I'd follow him to the moon if he asked me.

"Let's go for a swim."

"Are you sure this is okay?" I ask, as he leans down in the shrubbery and picks up a rock. He grips it firmly between two hands and slides it open, revealing a set of silver keys. I ruefully watch the cab pull away from the curb behind us.

"For the hundredth time, I'm positive," he replies, his voice edged with exasperation. He shoves the fake rock into my hands and turns towards the front door, slipping a key into the lock and opening the door. Quickly, he steps inside the large home located in a pretty ritzy neighborhood of Las Vegas, and punches a code into the keypad of a security system. He takes the rock back from me, placing the keys inside and tossing it haphazardly back into the bushes.

I follow him into the home, locking the door behind us. The place is huge; the foyer leads to a large, open living room with white couches, a fur rug, and an extravagant fireplace. The floors are all white marble, and there's an elegant staircase with a black iron handrail curving up the wall to the second floor. Floor to ceiling windows make the space look even bigger, and I can see a lighted pool out in the back surrounded by plush landscaping.

"How do you know this guy again?" I call out, my voice echoing in the darkness. I pull my eyes away from my surroundings only to realize I've lost sight of my companion.

"Oh, my God," I hear him breathe with irritation, and follow his voice to the largest kitchen I've ever seen. "We went to college together. He got rich off a dot com thing, and now he's a gazillionaire. He's out of town for like a month on some kind of African safari, and he said I could come by and use the place any time I'd like while he's gone."

"So he's totally okay with this?" I ask again, standing on the opposite side of the kitchen counter as he rummages through the freezer. He turns back to me holding a bottle of expensive looking vodka, a brand I've never even heard of before.

"Yes," he hisses, and now he's looking through the refrigerator and extracting a container of juice. "He so totally owes me. I took his organic chem two exam for him. He couldn't have graduated without it. Passed, by the way, with flying colors."

"All right, all right," I concede. He opens and closes numerous cabinet doors before finding two pint glasses, and makes two drinks – pouring the vodka with a heavy hand before adding the orange juice. He places them both on the counter, searching through cabinets again until he finds a small cooler. He fills it with ice, then grabs that, the vodka and orange juice, and asks me to grab the two drinks.

"Let's go outside," he says, balancing his potables in his arms as he knees the sliding glass door open that leads to the back patio. I whistle low as I take in the back yard. The large lighted pool is the shape of a kidney bean, complete with an adjacent hot tub and gently flowing waterfall. A small tiled dolphin sits at the bottom of the pool, sparkling different shades of blue beneath the water. He sits the bottles and ice beside the unlit fire pit and immediately begins unbuttoning his shirt while simultaneously toeing off his shoes.

"What are you doing?" I squeak, my voice covering several octaves in one question.

He regards me dubiously. "Going swimming."

"It's freezing," I inform him.

"Pool's heated."

In moments, he's shrugging out of his shirt, revealing broad shoulders that taper down into a boy slim waist. I can see the waistband of his underwear peeking out above his jeans, his chest and stomach hairless. His tiny pink nipples harden in the crisp breeze and I can see his arms break out in gooseflesh.

"You don't…have…a swimsuit…" I continue to argue feebly, my voice trailing off as he pushes his jeans down, revealing tight boxer briefs that accentuate his small, round ass and long, shapely legs. He smiles mischievously.

"Don't need one." With that, he breaks into a run, jumping at the edge of the pool and spreading his legs and arms wide as he glides through the air. He howls with laughter, his voice cutting out as he hits the water with a loud splash and goes under. I watch him, unable to hold back a smile, and he pops up from beneath the water, jerking his head and creating a halo of drops of water as he flicks his hair out of his face. His ears stick out just a shade too much, but not unattractively so, which I notice now that his hair is wet. "Come on, what are you waiting for?"

"Is it cold?" I ask, bringing our drinks to the edge of the pool.

"It's heated!" he reminds me. He splashes water at me as I'm pulling off my shoes. "Get in!"

"Relax!" I urge. "You're going to get water in our drinks."

"Jeeze, are you always this uptight?" he asks, swimming up to the edge of the pool and folding his forearms over the concrete. He rests his chin on his arms, gazing up at me with large eyes. "You've gotta get that stick out of your ass, man."

"I'm not uptight!" I insist, pulling my shirt over my head, and I hear him gasp audibly.

"Damn," he breathes, not even attempting to hide his ogling. "What is that, like an eighteen pack? Jesus."

I blush furiously, turning away slightly as I unbuckle my belt. "I like to work out."

"I can see that," he gushes. My jeans fall to the ground and I step out of them, feeling exposed in only my thin boxers. He absolutely doesn't seem to mind as I turn back to him, grinning and nodding with obvious approval. I shake my head, biting my lip as I fight back a smile, flattered that this young hot thing finds me so attractive. Definitely a nice ego stroke for somebody about to hit thirty.

"Let's go!" he pushes, splashing more water at me, and I hold out my hand placatingly before I slowly ease myself into the water. It's nice and warm, steam rising up from the surface and dissipating in the cool autumn air.

He swims towards me, holding our drinks in the air above the water, and I laugh at the image; he looks like a paddling dog, all eager eyes and kicking feet. He shoots me a look as he hands me my glass, and we both come to rest on the concrete steps, sipping our drinks companionably.

"Let's play a game," he blurts suddenly.

"What game?" I ask, frowning at the dangerous twinkle in his eye.

"It's called Questions."

"How do you play?"

"I ask you a series of questions, and you have to answer all of them. With absolute honesty."

I narrow my eyes. "That sounds more like an interrogation."

"I think that's what the game used to be called," he informs me, "but then the marketing department changed the name so more people would want to play."

"I don't know," I say, hesitant. "It sounds like a dangerous game."

"Come on," he insists, batting at my arm. "Whatever you say here, stays here. I don't even know your name. How can I spread your secrets? Besides, you'll never see me again, so what do I care what you say? What have you got to lose?"

"Fine," I sigh. "But I get to ask you questions too, and you also have to answer all of them – honestly."

"Deal!" he exclaims, practically bouncing with excitement as I cave. "Okay. First question…" He looks around as if he's searching for a question to appear from the bushes or out of thin air. "Why did you leave Texas?"

I shift anxiously, clearing my throat. Jeeze, right for the jugular. "Well…I, uh, kind of came out to my family – "

"Kind of?" he cut in with a smirk.

"I came out," I clarify, rolling my eyes. "And word spreads fast around my family. It became that thing that nobody talked about directly, but everybody talked about behind closed doors. Suddenly I went from most eligible bachelor Uncle Nick to weird Uncle Nick at holidays and cookouts."

He winced. "Ouch."

"But wait, there's more," I caution with sarcastic enthusiasm. "My father was campaigning to be a judge for the Texas Supreme Court. He invited me out to dinner one night and informed me that my 'lifestyle' would not be well-received by voters and politely asked me to refrain from any ill-advised behavior until elections were over."

When I glance at my companion, his mouth is hanging open in a mix of shock and disgust. "Eww," he simply says with finality.

"Yeah. After that, I just…needed to get away. Far enough that I could be my own man and live my own life without having to feel guilty every time I looked at a guy." I sigh. "So why did you move from California to New York?"

It's his turn to appear uncomfortable. Look, I'm an investigator, trained to read between the lines and come up with different hypotheses. When he told me how close he was with his mother, it seemed a little odd that he'd move completely across the country, literally thousands of miles away. In my experience, when a person ups and leaves like that, there's usually a reason for it. You're either running to or away from something.

He's quiet for a minute, but his expression is contemplative, as if he's trying to find the words.

"Have you ever smoked cigarettes?" he asks, apropos of nothing.

"When I was younger," I respond.

"You start smoking when you're young and stupid and easily manipulated," he tells me, fingering the hem of his boxers. Nervous. "That's who they market to, the tobacco companies, because it's easy to take advantage of someone who doesn't know any better, and they know that. And as you get older, you know cigarettes are bad for you. You know they're hurting you, and you know eventually they'll probably kill you. But you smoke anyway, because you can't seem to make yourself stop no matter how much you tell yourself you shouldn't be doing it because it's too late. You're already addicted."

His eyes are cast to the water and he's frowning; this sweet and funny and happy kid is frowning, and my chest tightens painfully with the overwhelming urge to make him smile again.

"Some people are like that too," he continues after a moment. "So I quit. Cold turkey. Moved across the U.S. and…once the cravings were gone, I moved back West. Close enough to be by my mom, far enough not to be tempted."

He smiles then, in a self-satisfied kind of way, proud that he kicked his habit – whoever his habit might've been. But I can see the pain buried deep in his eyes, the vulnerability. I've scratched the surface now, seeing something deeper than just a cocky and confident kid, something intricate and intriguing. I wish I had the time to continue to peel back more layers, but I only have tonight.

"Next question," he states, his bright eyes and mischievous smile back, and my heart flutters at the sight of him happy again. "Who is your favorite sibling and why?"

"My brother," I immediately reply confidently. "He was the oldest and I was the baby. Mike. You know, he was in high school by the time I hit elementary school, but he always let me hang out with him and his friends while they drank beer and talked about girls and fixed up their cars. Man, he was so cool. Good looking and popular, he didn't have to hang out with me. But he did it anyway, because he loved me."

"He sounds like a nice guy," the kid comments, appearing pleased.

"He is," I agree, and then shrug. "Our dad wasn't the most…sensitive guy. He was just opening up his own law firm when I was little, and he was pretty busy most of the time trying to build up his business and keep food on the table, and he didn't really have the patience for us by the time he got home, and that's fine. I mean, it is what it is. My mom was busy too, taking care of seven of us and still practicing law with my dad. My parents had each other, the girls stuck together, and sometimes I felt a little left out. Mike always made me feel like he had time for me."

I realize that I might have said too much and revealed more about myself than I wanted to. I don't ever recall being so candid with someone when answering questions, but then again, I'll never see this kid again; the fact that what I say won't matter tomorrow bolsters my honesty, and that he's watching me with such earnest interest doesn't hurt either.

"Who's your least favorite sibling?" he asks, and hastily adds, "And why?"

"I love all my siblings," I quickly respond, casting my eyes to the water.

"Of course you do," he says, grinning. "But which one don't you like? Come on, you know who I'm talking about. The one that makes everybody roll their eyes as soon as you mention her. The one whose name comes up on your caller ID and you 'forget' to call her back for three weeks until she calls again and you're like, 'I didn't get any messages, you know my answering machine's been so screwy lately.' The one that you see at Christmas and you're like," – his voice changes to a deadpan as he sarcastically feigns enthusiasm – "'Oh, my God, it's so great to see you, has it really been a year already?'"

I struggle to compress a grin, chewing on my lip anxiously. Finally I turn to him out of the corner of my eye. "Debbie. She used to tattle on everyone when we were kids for every little thing, she lived to get everyone in trouble. Wanted everyone to know she was better than everyone else. Had to be the prettiest and the smartest and win everything. Made you feel like shit even when you did beat her at something. Thinks she knows everything and is so quick to judge, talks about the other wives at church and flirts with their husbands. Meanwhile she spends all her own husband's money on clothes and hair and makeup, and then cries about how she can't hardly afford to feed her kids. I don't know how her husband stands her, she's just…God, she's just awful. And her children are all brats."

I seem to have continued right on with my sudden bout of diarrhea of the mouth, and as I'm suddenly aware of exactly what I've said about my own sister, I turn to my friend with horror. He's grinning, a bright brilliant smile filled with delight and mischief. I smile in turn, rolling my eyes at my own audacity.

"That felt really good," I admit quietly, and we both let out a laugh.

"Tell me something else," he encourages excitedly, sliding closer to me on the step until our knees are touching. "Tell me something you've never told anyone before. Something nobody knows. Your deepest, darkest secret."

I meet his eyes, my brows drawing together as my mind travels to the one part of myself I've never revealed to anyone. To the one place I've never dared to allow anyone to go. A dark place, as dark as the space beneath my bed when I was nine years old, and just as small and dirty. My heart pounds in my chest so hard I'm sure he'll be able to hear it. Just like I was sure it would give me away as I hid in that small space, holding my breath and remaining completely still as I waited for my mother to come home.

What's the matter, Nicky? Don't you think I'm pretty? Or maybe you don't like girls, is that it? Don't be such a crybaby. You better not tell anyone, they'll laugh at you, crybaby!

"Oh." So quietly, tenderly, he says it. The soft sound of his voice brings me back from the dark place. I haven't said a word, but he must see something in my eyes. He must see the wound that I can still feel, so deep and wide and raw even after all this time. He smiles gently, reaching out and slipping his hand into mine, squeezing comfortingly.

"Can I tell you mine?" he asks quietly with a nervous expression.

"Sure," I respond, hardly trusting my voice to say anything more.

"It's really bad," he warns me. "It's, like…the worst thing."

I regard him warily. "You don't have to tell me."

"No, I want to," he insists, nodding vigorously. His eyes are wide, anxiety flowing off of his body in waves. "I have to. I have to tell someone. It's eating away at me inside."

"Okay…" I'm not really sure I'm prepared for this, but then again, I've been so honest with him and he's accepted every one of my answers without judgment, it wouldn't be right not to return the favor. "What is it?"

He blushes instantly, a rosy color that is very becoming on his golden skin. His eyes shift away from me, and I wait with bated breath. He takes a deep breath, holding it for a moment, and speaks quickly and forcefully, as if he has to force the air out of his lungs to utter something so evil.


There is a pause for the briefest of moments before laughter explodes from me, breaking the silence of the night like a crack of lightening.

"It's not funny," he states very seriously. "It's the most embarrassing thing in the world. I mean, she sucks. But I hear that 'Baby One More Time' song in the car, and I crank that shit right up and jam, man."

I'm still laughing, my sides aching as I double over in the pool. I finally lean back, the last of my laughter dying down as I watch him watching me. He's smiling knowingly, and I'm acutely aware of exactly what he's done. Made me laugh when I needed to, as if he's known me all my life, as if he can see right through me, see what I need right in this moment, even if it was at his own expense.

"You're not nice," he informs me, his expression displaying his distaste. "I trust you with my deepest, darkest secret, and this is how you treat me."

"I can't…" I begin, a new wave of laughter hitting me. "You rag on me for liking country, and you like Britney Spears? Never again. I don't want to hear it from you ever again."

He sits up and turns, releasing my hand as he slips underwater, pressing his feet against the side of the pool and pushing forward, propelling gracefully in the water like a dart sailing through the air. He pops out of the water and swims on his back away from me, kicking with vigor. He splashes ruthlessly at me and I'm defenseless against the attack. I hold up my hands futilely, turning away and spitting out water. I dive underwater, swimming towards him and easily finding him in the lit pool. He's swimming away from me, strong legs kicking fluidly in the water, and I grab his ankle and pull him towards me. I snake my arms around his waist, pulling him under with me until we are nose to nose. He's smiling, bubbles escaping his mouth as he laughs.

He slips his hands on either side of my face, pulling me close. His lips on mine are like electricity beneath the water, sparks lighting up my mouth, arcing right down my spine and straight to my groin. We emerge from the water still entwined, his tongue licking playfully at my lips, seeking permission to enter my mouth, and I happily part my lips to allow him access.

I grip his hips hard, sure I will leave ten perfect Nick-shaped bruises on his skin, but if we're still playing by his rules, this is all we'll ever have, and maybe it will be nice that he has something to remember me by – at least for a few days. And then all traces of me will be gone, and I'll only be a fond memory that will soon fade just like those bruises once did.

I push him back against the edge of the pool, his back against the hard concrete, and he moans into my mouth as he wraps his legs around my waist. I can feel his erection against mine, hot and hard through the fabric of our underwear, and I want to know what he tastes like.

Still kissing him fervently, I push down his boxers, using my foot to push them the rest of the way down his legs. I put my hands under his armpits, lifting him out of the water, and he seems surprised by my strength only briefly before he grins wickedly, impressed and aroused. He really isn't that heavy, and the water allows me a little leeway, but I don't tell him that. I sit him on top of the concrete, pushing his legs apart, and his dick is right in front of me, thick, hard, nestled in the dark curls of his crotch.

He whimpers and pushes his hips towards me, encouraging me though he doesn't have to. I grip the base of his cock firmly, and he hisses at the contact. He moans low in his throat as swirl my tongue around the sensitive head, making sure to pay extra attention to the sensitive ridge. He tastes like a man, salty and musky and just a little like chlorine, and I relish in the flavor. I toy with him for a while, keeping my eyes locked on his as he watches me, but I don't take him in my mouth just yet.

"Please," he finally breathes, and I take mercy on him. I wrap my lips around his dick, jacking his shaft as I follow my hand with my mouth. He feels heavy on my tongue, his cock as hard as steel, a stark contrast to the skin surrounding it, soft and velvety like a flower petal.

He's thrusting into my mouth, moaning shamelessly into the night sky. Steam is rising off of him from the warmth of his skin meeting the cool air, but he almost appears as if he might burst into flames from the sheer heat of his passion. It only heightens my enthusiasm, and I suck him off with everything I've got until he is suddenly quiet, and for one, raw moment his entire body is still before he's trembling and blowing his load down my throat.

His spent dick slips from my mouth as he collapses onto the concrete, and he turns onto his side, limbs flailing like a fish out of water. I cross my arms over the edge of the pool, resting my cheek on my arms as I watch him carefully. His eyes are closed, and I run my hand up and down his thigh, feeling the coarse hair beneath my fingertips.

"You killed me," he says finally, and I smile. "I'm dead."

"Hope not," I tell him, my hand sliding further up his body to firmly knead his ass. It's smooth and hairless, a perfectly shaped globe in my hand. I press my erection into the wall of the pool, gently thrusting subconsciously. "I've still got plans for you."

He opens his eyes and smiles at me, sleepy and sated but still full of interest and promise. "Oh, yeah? I've got some plans for you too."

"Shit," I suddenly say, frowning. "I don't have a condom."

"I do," he declares, scrambling to his feet and reaching for his jeans. He comes back with his wallet, pulling out a square foil packet. I raise my eyebrows, but he only shrugs. "What? I was an Eagle Scout. I'm always prepared."

"What if it breaks?" I challenge.

He shifts his fingers, sliding another condom out from behind the first as if he's flashing me a pair of pocket aces at a poker game, his expression smug. I laugh as I pull myself out of the pool, approaching him and draping my arms over his neck. He tips his head back, his lips parted enticingly, and I press my mouth to his, pushing my tongue into his mouth so he can taste himself on me. He whimpers and presses his thigh into my erection, and I rut against his leg while we kiss hotly. He hooks his fingers in the waistband of my boxers, pushing them hastily down my thighs as far as he can without breaking our kiss. It's enough for him to wrap his long, slender fingers around my hard cock. I hiss from the contact, his hand warm and firm as he tugs and twists expertly.

It's been a while since my last sexual encounter, and this kid's got me so hot I come within moments. I groan into his mouth, gripping his shoulders hard as I spurt streamers of cum over his hand. I remove my lips from his, leaning my head against his shoulder and breathing hard as I come down from my orgasm.

"Looks like we won't need a condom after all," I murmur into his skin. He laughs.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," he retorts. "The night is young, and so are we. Let's go inside. As an Eagle Scout, I also know how to make a fire, and there's a big fireplace in the living room right next to a fur rug with our names on it."

The fire is roaring as we lounge naked on the fur rug in the dark living room, with throw pillows from the couch and a blanket from a closet making us suitably comfortable. He's pilfered a bottle of wine from a cabinet somewhere, and also found us some food from the kitchen, fruit and crackers and cheese, all of which look way too expensive to steal, but he insists his friend won't mind.

I'm lying on my side, propped up on my elbow, watching him as he happily pops firm grapes into his mouth. The light from the fire dances over him, causing his skin to glow with oranges and yellows, casting shadows that accentuate his straight nose and jawline, the curve of his ribs and the jut of his hipbone. He catches me staring and bites a grape in my direction, spraying my face with juice.

"Hey!" I cry out, wiping my face as he laughs. He offers me a grape as a peace offering, and I open my mouth and accept it. I grasp his wrist, pulling him closer and biting his thumb playfully. He giggles adorably, and my heart soars and breaks all at once.

"Don't," he admonishes softly. He must've seen it on my face; I've never been good at hiding my emotions. He smiles then, pushing my shoulders gently until I'm lying on my back, and he straddles me, his hips pushing into mine. I place my hands on his thighs, idly running up and down strong, muscular legs.

He grabs the wine, taking a long pull right from the bottle before putting it back down on the floor very carefully. Not that it matters, we've already gotten crumbs and juice on this fur rug, and someone that definitely wasn't me spilled an entire vodka-O.J. before he even had a chance to take a sip. What's a little wine stain, at this point?

He plucks a small orange out of the fruit bowl, piercing the skin with his thumb and peeling it with his fingers. It's ripe and firm, and juice spills onto my chest as he breaks off a wedge. I recoil at the shock of cold juice, and he bites his lip and smiles before leaning down and licking the orange juice right off my chest. His tongue is warm on my skin in stark contrast to the juice, and he makes sure to linger on one of my nipples, biting gently and eliciting a surprised gasp from my lips.

My cock is starting to take interest, and as he sits up again I can see his is as well. He takes the orange wedge and puts half of it in his mouth, leaning down to offer me the other half. Our lips meet as I bite into it, the juice dripping messily between us. He tastes like oranges and wine and sin. We swallow our halves and he licks at my lips and chin, lapping up the excess juice. His touch is playful yet erotic, just like him. A dangerous combination that I can't seem to get enough of.

I'm achingly hard when he leans away, and he wiggles his eyebrows suggestively as he eyes my erection. He lines up our cocks, grasping them with both of his hands, still sticky with juice. He strokes them firmly as he thrusts his hips into his hands, our dicks sliding against one another. I grit my teeth and groan, arching my back and lifting my hips to get closer, harder, more.

Overwhelmed with desire, I sit up, sliding my hands up his back and cradling him as I spin us around. I carefully lay him on the floor, switching our positions, and now he's on his back and I'm kneeling on the floor with his legs on either side of my hips. Right where I want to be. He looks at me with eyes wide with surprise, a delighted smile on his face at my display of strength and aggression.

"God, you're so hot," he murmurs, his hands running up my arms to my shoulders, my neck, down over my chest and abdomen, then he doubles back and does it all over again in one continuous motion. He licks his lips slowly, deliberately, and I fight the urge to climb up his body and shove my cock right in that pretty mouth. But I've got other plans for him.

Instead, I slide two fingers into his mouth, and he sucks on them enthusiastically. His tongue swirls around and in between them as he moans, baring his teeth briefly as he bites the tip of my fingers and I reflexively thrust my hips against him. They slide out of his mouth with a lewd slurping sound, and I bring them between his legs, searching for his asshole and pressing slick fingers against him once I find it.

He lets out this tiny whimper, the sexiest thing I've ever heard, as he pushes his ass against my hand, encouraging me. I slip a finger inside of him and, God, he's so tight, so hot. Slowly, I slide my finger in and out of him until he relaxes a little, and then I add another. I angle my hand to find his prostate, knowing I've hit it when his entire body jerks and he groans inarticulately. He tips his head back, clenching his teeth as he sucks in shallow breaths, clutching my triceps and panting as I work his hole with my fingers.

I remove my hand, eyeing the room until I find the condom on the floor nearby. Hastily, I reach out and grab it, kneeling back and ripping open the foil with my teeth before carefully sliding it over my erection. I spit in my palm, slicking myself up, and I'm aching so strongly my own touch excites me more than it usually would.

I grab his legs, placing them over my shoulders as I reposition myself. He's watching me with dark eyes full of desire, illuminated with a fire brighter than the one in the fireplace beside us, so fierce it threatens to consume me. I line myself up, leaning forward to claim his lips in a heated kiss as I press my erection against him. I push forward, feeling a brief resistance before the head of my cock breaches the strong ring of muscle, and he tenses for a moment before breathing out deeply, deliberately relaxing.

I press on, sliding my cock in slowly, compelling him to yield to me with every inch. He's so tight and hot, it takes all I have not to drill into him, but I don't want to hurt him or make him uncomfortable. I don't want to just use him as an object to get my rocks off without considering his pleasure. I want him to enjoy this too. I want him not to regret this. I want him to know that he gave this gift to me, and that I took great care when I accepted it.

I want him to remember me.

I slowly thrust with shallow strokes, allowing him time to adjust to my girth. When I feel his hips start moving against me encouragingly, I know he's ready for more. I glide in and out with longer strokes, eventually pulling my hips back until my cock is completely withdrawn from his body. I reenter him, sliding in fast and then slowly withdrawing fully before penetrating him once more, claiming him again and again. He whimpers with each reentry, until finally he seems to have had enough.

"Fuck me," he sighs, his voice high and pleading, breathless and needy.

I clutch his thighs, his legs on either side of my head, kneeling up and thrusting down into him harder, deeper, finding that sweet spot and he cries out hoarsely. His cock is bouncing enticingly between us, and I reach between his legs and grasp it firmly, jacking him in tune to my strokes.

I'm really giving it to him now, driving into him hard and shifting him backwards with each thrust, and he's taking it willingly, eagerly, moaning and writhing beneath me. He braces his arms above his head, clutching at the rug with those long, dexterous fingers in an attempt to maintain his position under my ruthless assault.

"Fuck, I'm gonna come," he pants, screwing his eyes closed. "Oh, man, I'm gonna come. I'm gonna come. I'm gonna – !"

He arches his back up off the floor, screaming as he shoots ribbon after ribbon of hot cum into the air and over my hand, his stomach, his chest. I lean over him, practically bending him in half as I piston my hips into him, pounding his ass as I chase my own pleasure now that his is taken care of. I listen to the sound of my hips hitting his ass over and over again, mixed with my grunting as I slam into him again and again and again. It doesn't take long before I feel that familiar heat in my body, my heart rate speeding up as it spreads through me. My face flushes, my chest, until finally it spreads down in my belly and straight to groin, and when I come, I come hard.

I cry out, pausing at the end of each thrust as I shoot my seed deep inside of him, once, twice, three times. I kneel back down, gently lowering him with me, and I close my eyes and breathe hard for several moments, my hands idly running up and down his legs, which are still resting on my shoulders. Finally, I open my eyes, daring to glance down at my companion. He's watching me with heavy lidded eyes, his own chest heaving as he calms down. He smiles at me lazily, just one corner of his mouth quirking upwards.

"Wow," he simply says, wincing slightly as I grasp the condom and carefully pull out.

"Yeah," I agree breathlessly. I slide my knees out from under him and pull off the condom, tying it into a knot and tossing it aside. I grab one of the towels we'd used to dry ourselves off and hand it to him before I collapse onto my back beside him. At least I won't have to add semen to the list of stains on the rug.

"I got some jizz on the rug," he lewdly states, quickly abolishing that idea as he wipes his semen off of his belly with the towel.

"Your friend is never going to let you use his house again," I tell him, turning onto my side to face him. He's lying on his back, gaze cast up, profile dark with the fire behind him. "Maybe you should just buy him a new one."

"I'm not going to worry about it," he says, and slides his eyes towards me briefly before sliding them back to the ceiling. "To be honest, I don't really know who lives here."

"What?" I shriek in a falsetto alto. I nearly leap to my feet to bolt out of there, my accent thickening in my panic. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

He breaks into laughter, turning on his side away from me and doubling over, his entire body shaking. He can barely speak between gasping for air. "Yes, I'm kidding! Relax! This is my friend's house."

I narrow my eyes and offer him my best glare as I slowly and cautiously sit back down on the rug, but I keep my distance from him.

"Oh, my God, you're so easy," he guffaws, and then forces himself to calm down. "What did I say about being uptight?"

"I'm not uptight!" I argue, crawling behind him and wrapping my arms around his waist, pulling him up towards me. I skim my fingers over his ribcage, tickling him mercilessly and delighting in his giggling. He pushes back against me, struggling to get away as he squeals.

"Okay, okay!" he pleads. "I give up! I'm sorry, stop! Stop!"

I let him go, both of us breathing heavily as we collapse on the rug. I lay on my back and he rests his head against my chest, my arms wrapped around him. He slings a leg over mine, one of his arms draped over my abdomen. He idly traces patterns with his fingers up and down my ribs, sending shivers through me.

"Tonight's been incredible," he says quietly, sleep creeping into his voice.

I hum in agreement. It has been incredible. Incredibly hot and sexy and the most fun I've had in ages, and I'm not just talking about the sex. This entire evening has completely thrown me off balance. I'm predictable, level-headed and cautious; I don't just meet random men in laundromats and agree to go out with them without even knowing their names. I don't go to dance clubs or break into people's multi-million dollar homes when they aren't around. I don't spill my guts talking about my childhood and my family. And I certainly don't do one night stands.

I don't know what this kid has done to me. It's scary and thrilling and…I'll never see him again after this. Maybe that's why I allowed all of those things to happen, because I know tonight is a free pass; I get to do whatever I want, no pressure, no pretenses, just me and this kid. And tomorrow, I get to go right back to my life.

But I don't want my old life back. I want this, I want this kid. I want to know him. I want him to know me. I want to call him on the phone to hear his voice during a bad shift. I want to take him out to dinner and talk about our days. I want to lay just like this with him wrapped up in my arms doing absolutely nothing but appreciating the feel of him against me.

I want everything. I want it all.

"Tell me your name," I murmur against his hair.

"Can't change the rules in the middle of the game." He sounds almost resigned, as if he's regretting to remind me of our terms of agreement.

"Why not?" I ask.

I feel him smile against my skin. "It's against the rules."

I wonder about the person who hurt him, the person that hurt him so badly and apparently continued to do so until he felt his only option was to move across the country to escape. Who took this kind and funny and sweet and daring kid's heart and treated it so carelessly? Who broke him so badly it made him believe there wasn't anyone worth risking his heart for anymore? It pains me to think that someone could treat him so terribly, and simultaneously makes me wonder how anyone can't see how special he is and how lucky they would be to have him.

"Fine," I sigh. "Will you at least stay the night with me here?"

There's a pause before he responds.

"Sure," he lies.

I reach over and grab the throw blanket with my fingertips, managing to drape it over us with one hand. He snuggles closer to me, burying his face into my chest, so close to my aching heart. It's only moments until I feel his breathing evening, his body relaxing as he falls asleep. I listen to the crackles and pops of the fire, watching it die down, trying to concentrate on the burning embers as I attempt to stave off sleep. I want to stay awake as long as possible, to delay the inevitable, but soon my eyes are too heavy, closing against my will, and eventually I fall asleep on the floor in a strange home, with a stranger who I feel closer to than anyone else in Vegas beside me.

When I wake up, I'm alone. The white marble floors and couch that seemed so elegant last night now feel cold and clinical in the light of day. My clothes are thoughtfully folded on the floor nearby, my shoes and socks beside them – he must have grabbed them from outside before he left – and I quickly get dressed. I gather our various glasses, bottles of alcohol, plates, and food that we accumulated throughout the night, and clean up as best I can without knowing where everything belongs.

I return to the living room, dejectedly eyeing the rug that will probably need to be dry cleaned. I'm just glad I won't be stuck with the bill, and that it's not my friend that lives in this house. I squat down and touch the soft fur, wondering what kind of animal it is and recalling the luxurious feel of it against my bare back as my companion straddled me while messily feeding me orange slices, as my knees pressed into it while I drove into him furiously, as we cuddled on it after our passionate lovemaking.

With a sigh, I get to my feet, feeling every ache in my body after last night. A night of walking around Vegas, dancing, drinking, breaking into houses and fucking is not as easy as it used to be. And while it might be embarrassing to admit allowing a nameless young man to string me along all night, while it might be completely unlike myself to spill my guts and against my principles to have a one night stand, I don't regret it.

But I do feel like an ass. The biggest ass on the face of the planet. Because I've let the most perfect guy I've ever met slip right through my fingers all because of some stupid game I agreed to, some stupid rules that he made up and I obediently followed. I should have insisted he tell me his name, I should have pushed him until he agreed to see me again and gave me his number.

Instead, I did what I always did and respected his wishes thanks to my mother raising a considerate Southern gentleman. If anything last night should have taught me, it should've been to not be afraid to take risks. Of course, I learned nothing, because apparently my mother also raised an idiot.

God, I'm an idiot.

"Hey, man, how was your date?" Warrick asks that night, as he catches me pulling on my work boots before shift. I hesitate, conflicted with how exactly to answer. Images of our exhilarating lovemaking flash before my eyes, followed immediately by the cold feeling of waking up alone. Warrick cringes. "That bad, huh?"

"No, no," I hasten to assure him, pulling my ID out of my locker and clipping it to the hem at the bottom of my shirt. I close the door, leaning against it as he changes his shirt. "It was a lot of fun. We had some drinks, walked around the Strip, went to a club. He took me to his friend's house and we went swimming."

"Oh, yeah? So he was a stand up guy?"

"Yeah, he was…great," I reply, and I can't help the small smile tugging at my lips. "He has all this crazy energy. Very spontaneous, kept me on my toes all night. He talks a lot, but he's really funny and super smart too. Said he was a chemist."

"What about the looks department?" Warrick asks, surprising a bark of laughter out of me. He shrugs innocently. "Come on, man. Is it a package deal or not? It's just as important as the rest of it."

"He's definitely a package deal," I respond, glancing off as I recall the sight of him in the firelight; his skin glowed in the reds and oranges and yellow, casting shadows over the planes and curves of his body. "He's…young. Young and…" I exhale sharply and shake my head, and when I raise my eyes to meet my friend's, and he's grinning knowingly. I blush furiously, rubbing the nape of my neck sheepishly as I realize exactly what I've disclosed without saying much at all.

"All right, man," Warrick congratulates me, clapping me on the shoulder roughly as we begin to traverse the hallways and head to the break room for assignments. "So when are you going to see him again?"

I clear my throat. "I'm not," I answer quietly.

"Wait a second." He turns to me with a puzzled expression, and I pause in my walk to face him. "I thought everything went great? What happened?"

I open and close my mouth several times, until I roll my eyes and finally speak. "We kind of agreed to have one night of fun, and then we wouldn't see each other again."

"Why?" he asks with obvious confusion.

"So we could just be ourselves, no pressure, no pretenses," I reply. "No having to pretend to be better than you really are so you can impress them enough to get to date two. Don't have to lie and tell them you'll call them later if you don't want to, don't have to feel like a chump if they don't call you. Just one night, just us. No fights or messy breakups to remember, just that we let off some steam and had a great time."

Warrick frowns. "That sounds stupid."

I groan as we begin walking again. "It is stupid. I don't know why I agreed to it. I had such a great time, the whole night was amazing. This guy was amazing. And now I'll never see him again."

"Call him," Warrick suggests simply.

"I can't," I advise him. "I didn't get his number."

"You work for the LVPD," my coworker reminds me. "Just look him up."

I murmur unintelligibly.

"What?" Warrick asks, as we sit down alone in the break room while we wait for everyone else.

"I said, I didn't get his name," I state, my face hot with embarrassment. "We didn't exchange names. It was part of the agreement."

Laughter erupts from Warrick, loud in the small break room, and the reaction surprises me. He laughs for quite a while, so boisterous and excessive that people are starting to peek in through the windows as they walk by. I shift uneasily in my seat, waiting for my friend to come back from the brink of hysteria.

"Man," he finally says, once his laughter dies down. He wipes a tear from his eye as he slaps the armrest of his chair. "This kid really did a number on you, didn't he, Nicky?"

I slump down in my chair, dropping my head back against the worn headrest with a sigh. "He sure did."

I catch myself thinking about him during the most random moments. Rifling through a victim's personal belongings and finding pictures of a beach makes me think of surfing and California. The scent of the orange juice that Warrick drinks at breakfast evokes the feeling of sticky fingers on my lips. Cleaning my kitchen with bleach reminds me of kissing under the heated water in a chlorine pool as my hands firmly held on to a slender waist. Even that stupid pop song on the radio in Catherine's car on the way to a crime scene, which she quickly changes after commenting that her daughter has been listening to it on loop for the past two weeks.

I know I'm losing it when I begin to start seeing him in the hallways of the crime lab. I'm walking down the hallway with Catherine to retrieve some results from Trace when I catch a mop of dirty blond hair and a brightly colored shirt out of the corner of my eye. I glance back quickly, but whoever was standing there turned the corner faster than I could look. I shake my head as Catherine asks if I'm paying attention.

The following morning, as I'm busy peering down a microscope analyzing a hair found in the handle of a knife that had been used in my homicide case, I hear his laughter. I freeze only for a moment before shrugging it off and continuing processing my evidence.

A few days after that, it's nearly noon and I'm walking out with one of the detectives to serve a search warrant that had just come through when I see him standing with Ecklie and a day shift lab tech in the break room. I pass by the room, keeping my gaze resolutely forward as I continue out the door.

I know it isn't him, and I need to get a hold of myself. My heartbreak is quickly turning into an obsession, and I can't afford to remain so distracted that it starts interfering with my work. I just need to continue to plow through this, and in time I'll start to forget about this kid and any regret I have about letting him slip through my fingers.

On Friday, I go to the laundromat. I stay for hours, watching the door, but he never comes.

"How was your night off, killer?" Warrick asks me the following night. It's the first time I've seen him all night; we were all bum rushed by Brass with assignments practically as soon as we walked in the door tonight.

"Great," I responded with faux enthusiasm while finishing up a report Brass has been hounding on me to complete for the past three days. "I did laundry."

"Did you see your buddy?"


"He didn't show up?"



"So what?" I ask, my voice edged with irritation.

"So you're going to stop moping around here like somebody ran over your dog?"

"I'm not moping around," I argue, but my voice sounds lame even to my own ears. He crosses his arms over his chest, offering me a knowing look. I ignore him.

"Listen, my girl's got this guy friend – "

Thankfully, before Warrick can embarrassingly suggest some kind of blind date with a random guy that he wants to set me up with probably only because he's gay and not because we have anything in common, Grissom sticks his head in the door.

"Did you get a page yet on our DNA results?" he asks, holding up his pager and peering down at it as if it might be broken.

"No," I respond, glancing down at my own pager to make sure I haven't missed anything. Grissom had dropped them off hours ago while I took the rest of our evidence to Trace. "It's been a while though, maybe Brenda's backed up tonight."

"Brenda's last night was yesterday," Warrick reminds me. "You missed cake."

"What kind was it?"

"Dark chocolate with a buttercream filling. Doc Robbins' wife made it. It was amazing, bro," Warrick states. "The new tech started yesterday too. He's been training all week on the day shift. I guess Ecklie wanted to get to him first before we could corrupt him."

"Everything always happens on my day off," I sigh. "I bet nobody saved me any cake either."

Warrick shakes his head ruefully.

"Nicky," Grissom begins, his voice edged with a warning tone. "If you're done, let's check on those results, shall we?"

He doesn't wait for me to get up, instead retreating quickly down the hall. I grab my files and shrug at Warrick before heading out of the conference room, jogging to catch up with Grissom, who seems to be in one of his moods tonight. As we near the corner, we frown at each other at the sound of music traveling down the hall; it's some kind of terrible noisy rock music that I don't recognize. We approach the DNA/Chem lab cautiously, the music getting steadily louder as we get closer.

There is a man inside wearing a lab coat, standing on a step ladder and reaching into a high cabinet to push some books and binders onto the shelves, and even though his back is facing the doorway, I recognize him immediately.

It's the blond from the laundromat. The chemist. A bubble of laughter escapes my lips, masked by the music emanating through the glass walls, as I scoff at my own luck. There's no way – no fucking way. God, no wonder I thought I'd been seeing him all week. I wasn't going crazy, I had been seeing him all week!

Man, he's going to be so pissed. And I couldn't be happier.

Grissom pushes the door open, releasing a torrent of loud punk music. I slide in behind him as he approaches a small boom box on the counter and yanks the plug out of the wall, sending the room into a near deafening silence. The young man on the ladder startles, nearly dropping an armful of books onto the floor.

"Does this mean you have my results ready?" Grissom asks, clearly annoyed.

"Um…I think everything's processed or running," the kid says without looking our way, barely catching a book that slides off the top of the pile.

"Why didn't you page me?" the older man asks.

"You didn't ask me to," the kid replies cautiously, and it's not surprising that Grissom failed to recall that new employees may not have the same habits as old ones. "Which case?"

"The knife from my homicide," Grissom replies curtly.

"Yeah, give me…just…a second…" He carefully steps down from the ladder while still balancing several books in his hands and drops them unceremoniously on the counter, sighing heavily as he brushes his hands off on his jeans. He turns to a stack of files. "Sorry, I was putting away my reference books. Trying to get organized, you know? Brenda said I could have her cabinet space. She didn't use it for books, though, just empty boxes where she hid her coffee creamer and cereal bars."

He clears his throat, cutting off his own rambling as he grabs a file and opens it, and I'm kind of mad that Brenda always told me she didn't have any coffee creamer even though her coffee always had creamer in it. I always knew she was holding out on me.

"I have your results right…" he begins, pulling out a sheet of paper and turning towards us with a flourish. He sees me for the first time, meeting my eyes with a comedic double-take. I smile broadly, and perhaps just a bit smugly. He blinks twice, eyes wide, expression bewildered with just a hint of panic. His gaze bounces between my face and my ID badge several times as he puts two and two together. He's still holding out the test results to Grissom, who looks up expectantly from the case file he's holding.

"…Here," the kid finishes finally, quickly rearranging his face into what I'm assuming he's hoping is a neutral expression, but he still looks quite shocked. His eyes keep flicking quickly to me even though I can tell he's trying to stay focused on Grissom. When he speaks again his voice is high and tight with anxiety, and he rambles nervously. "Um…the blood on the knife matched your victim, of course, seeing as how you found it inside her, but there was also second contributor on the blade from an unknown male."

"You ran the sample through CODIS?" Grissom asks, biting the end of one of the arms of his glasses as he reviews the printout.

"Of course," the young man replies. "No hits."

"Thanks," Grissom says absently, turning to leave.

"Uh, well, there's more," he quickly continues, giving the older man pause. "I compared the two samples and they have seven alleles in common."

"A relative?" Grissom inquires with quiet surprise.

"Yeah," the kid agrees, nodding. "Your vic' doesn't have any children, so I checked and she has a brother and a dad that both live in Vegas. She has another brother, but he supposedly lives in Florida."

Grissom regards the lab tech dubiously. "You checked all that?"

"Yeah," he responds breathlessly, and then appears uncertain. "Why, am I not supposed to?"

"No, it's fine," the older man states. I see a spark of respect dawning in Grissom's eyes, and my chest swells with pride. "I'm just not used to the techs being so thorough." The kid is still eyeing me nervously, his posture tense and movements jerky. Grissom casts a curious glance between us before he narrows his eyes with suspicion. "Have you two been introduced?"

"No, we haven't," I say, cracking a satisfied grin. I extend my hand. "Nick. Nick Stokes, CSI. And you are?"

The kid eyes my hand disdainfully before he sighs with resignation, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallows hard. He takes my hand, his touch just as electrifying as I remember.

"Greg," he says simply.

"Nice to finally meet you," I tell Greg, reluctantly releasing his hand.

"Let's go make some phone calls," Grissom says to me, as he turns to leave. "And, Greg? In the future, please page me when my results are in."

"You got it."

"Nick?" Grissom requests, waiting expectantly by the door. I can see the relief in Greg's eyes at our departure, but I'm not ready to leave just yet.

"Yeah, I'll be right there," I call. "Give me just as sec."

"Don't be long."

He leaves, and Greg and I are stuck in a staring contest, his expression of pure displeasure at odds with my delight. Finally he, states, "I knew you were stalking me."

"I'm not stalking you," I retort with amusement. "I've been working here for two years."

"Wow," he says, raising his eyebrows. "You've been planning this a long time."

"Listen, uh…what was your name again?" I ask. He rolls his eyes to the ceiling as I reach forward and turn his ID badge towards me, peering closely at it exaggeratedly. "Greg? Greg, is that short for Gregory? Gregory…Sanders, is it? Sanders, am I saying that right?"

He bats my hand away, and I can see the beginnings of a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. "Greg is fine."

"So, Greg," I begin, crossing my arms over my chest. "Does this change the rules of the game?"

"No," he says, his whisper of a smile fading quickly. "Rules still stand."


"Because that's what we agreed to."

"Didn't you have a good time?" I ask, incredulous.

"I had a fantastic time," he informs me, his eyes cast to his workstation.

"So what's the problem?" I hold my hand out in a pleading gesture.

"The problem is that we made an agreement," he reminds me again. "And just because we work together now doesn't change the fact that we did."

I shift closer to him, carefully as I would an easily-spooked horse, and place a hand on his forearm, feeling the heat of him beneath the layers of clothing. I run my hand up his arm, gently but firmly squeezing his bicep. I lower my voice, smooth and sweet like honey. "Come on, I know you felt it too. What we had. It was more than just a physical attraction."

Closer still, I step, and I feel him stiffen, hear his breath quicken; his body responding to me, and it's absolutely thrilling, but his body isn't the only thing I want. I want his mind and his exuberance and his spirit and his love – I want everything.

"Why are you so afraid of me?" I ask, keeping my voice low.

"I'm not afraid of you," he quickly responds.

"I'm not going to hurt you."

"You don't know that."

"You don't either."

I can see the conflict of emotions in his eyes even though his expression is guarded, and I know the protective walls he's erected around himself are steadily crumbling. I glance at the hallway, knowing Grissom is waiting for me, but this might be my last chance to convince Greg that what we started is worth exploring.

"Okay, how about this," I begin. "New game. You give me your phone number and wait for me to call you. You might be scared that I won't, but I will. We'll make plans to go out, and I'll take you to some stuffy fancy restaurant somewhere so I can impress you. I'll invite you back to my place, and you'll regret giving it up on the first date and worry you won't hear from me again now that I got what I wanted, but I'll call you because I'm a gentleman and that's not the only thing I want."

He smiles at this, although he's trying not to, his expression incredulous at my self-confidence to believe he'll give it up to me again so easily.

"Then," I continue, rubbing my hand up and down his arm soothingly, "as we get more comfortable around each other, start seeing each other's flaws and bad habits, you'll find out I have a lot of cats and I'll find out you have a crazy bug collection. And maybe we'll work out. Maybe we won't. But I promise you I'm not some asshole that's going to jerk you around and mess with your head. I'm an honest, decent guy, you can ask anybody around here. I might be a little thick-headed sometimes, maybe a little uptight, some might even accuse me of being boring, but I'm a gentleman, Greg. And I promise if you give me a chance, I'll prove it to you."

His eyes shift to mine, brown orbs brightly lit with a fiery intensity. I can see so many emotions flashing in them: anger, anxiety, exhilaration, fear…hope.

"Nick," I hear from the doorway. Grissom looks impatient. I take a step back quickly, knowing what it must look like – exactly what it is – but Grissom doesn't say anything more. He just turns and heads down the hall without waiting for me, and the threat is clear: he's leaving with or without me.

"Think about it," I plead, as I hastily head to the door. I pull it open so fast a gust of wind blows at my hair.

"Nick," Greg calls from behind me. I pause in the doorway, glancing back hopefully. He looks adorably terrified. "I don't think you're boring."

I break into a grin, laughing with relief before running down the hall to catch up with my coworker.

Grissom surely must think something is wrong with me. I haven't stopped smiling like an idiot since we left the lab to check up on our victim's local relatives, but I can't help it. Fate or God or luck or the universe or whatever is out there just dropped this kid into my lap after I was sure I'd never see him again. This kid Greg. Greg Sanders. I repeat it over and over in my mind, reveling in the sound of his name. I whisper it quietly to myself, enjoying the sweet taste of it on my tongue before it escapes my lips.


I swear to myself that I'll do whatever it takes to get him to see that I won't hurt him. I can't promise we'll work out, but I can promise to do my best to take great care with his heart. I only need the chance. God, he only needs to give me a chance, and I'll make him see that taking a risk is worth it sometimes.

I said my mother raised an idiot. And while that might be true, I don't need to be hit over the head to realize second chances only come once in a lifetime, and I'm not going to let Greg slip through my fingers again.

My stomach knots with anticipation as I return to the crime lab. Grissom and I are finally calling it a day as noon nears, and I'm trying to remain casual as we walk inside together talking about our case and what our plan of action is next shift tonight, but I'm only half listening and he's giving me that quizzical look that tells me he knows something is up even though he'll never ask.

He barely says goodbye before I distractedly blow him off to race to the DNA/Chem lab. While I know Greg probably headed home hours ago, I'm still disappointed when I find the day shift tech in there listening to a top 40 station on Greg's little radio. With a sigh, I head to the locker room to change before heading home.

I glumly greet day shift staff members on my way, my head hung and my heart heavy. I try to tell myself that I shouldn't feel so disheartened. Greg gave me that last glimmer of hope before I left that morning, and just because we didn't come to any kind of resolution doesn't mean I won't have another chance tomorrow.

I just hate loose ends.

I'm nearly out the front door, already picturing crawling into bed and crying myself to sleep after an angry jerkoff session when I hear a woman's voice calling out from behind me. God, this is the last thing I need. Maybe if I ignore her, she'll leave me alone.

"Excuse me?" she asks breathlessly, her tiny hand clutching at my arm. I stifle a groan as I turn to her, and I vaguely recognize her from the day shift. I think she's the secretary. "Are you Mr. Stokes?"

"Yes," I respond curtly, barely able to keep the annoyance out of my voice. "What is it?"

"Somebody left you an urgent message." She shoves a folded slip of paper into my hand and then hastily heads back to her desk.

I frown, but it quickly turns into a smile as I open the slip of paper and read the message. Two words, written above a phone number:

Game on.

I walk outside into the sunlight, pull out my cell phone, and begin to dial.

The End.

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