Category: No het-canon AU
Summary: An accident leaves Grissom with no memory of the past 10 months, including his relationship with Nick. Set just after the first season episode, Evaluation Day.
Notes: This one is all due to Debbie R. She not only got me into this fandom, but requested an amnesia story. My thanks to her not only for a few lines of dialog, but for the invaluable and highly enjoyable brainstorming sessions whenever I got stuck.
To explain the AU designation, in my non-het world, none of the opposite sex stuff happens in any season. To be specific about season 1, Nick had coffee, not intercourse with Kristi Hopkins while Gil didn't have more than friendship in mind with Dr. Teri Miller.
Stop shaking. Nick focused on his hands and willed them to stay steady as he lifted his gear out of the back of his Tahoe. Just another crime scene, keep it cool. You can get through this.
Right. Nick wondered if arguing with his inner voice was a good or bad sign. Then again, anything that helped him keep his focus couldn't be all bad.
"Nicky, you okay?"
He closed his eyes against the pain caused by the nickname. In all of Las Vegas, only a few people used it and as fond as he was of Catherine Willows, hers was not the voice he wanted, needed to hear. "Fine," he answered, his throat dry and tight as if it were fighting the lie.
"Sure you are," she muttered. For a moment he thought she'd force the issue, but she sighed instead. "Oh, hell, none of us should be here." As she spoke, her gaze shifted to Warrick Brown.
"Hey, no way I'm not here," he said, but his normally deep voice lacked its usual power. He should have been home in bed, a victim of the same stomach flu that had half the office calling in sick.
"Can we just get to it?" Sara Sidel said in an obvious attempt to head off any protests about her own appearance. They were all pale and tight-lipped, but she had a green-around-the-edges look that said Warrick wasn't alone in his misery.
Catherine shook her head. A signal of surrender, not negation. Any other time and concern about someone puking all over the crime scene would have had her sending everyone but Nick packing, but they all had a stake in what had happened here. Worse, they were too damned short-handed to give the proper concern to personal involvement and lack of objectivity. "Let's go to work."
At least one flip comment about her being the boss was almost mandatory, but apparently no one had the heart for it. Catherine was the second whip of their team. Teasing was expected when she ended up in charge, but not tonight.
As they entered the factory, Nick tried to tell himself he could handle it if he thought of their boss home with the flu, like the dayshift's supervisor. But it was useless. Gil Grissom wasn't safely home having all too frequent encounters with his toilet.
Catherine led the way up the stairs to the factory's second level. No one asked if it was safe. The blast had been surprisingly limited in its scope. A chemical factory full of potential disasters of a scope no one wanted to think about and the city had lucked out with an explosion that hadn't done more than rattle the windows in the next room. Yeah, real damn lucky. Nick knew why The Powers That Be were all slapping each other on the back and making relieved noises, but he couldn't join in. None of the team could.
They stopped at the top of the stairs, put on face masks just in case the experts were wrong about the venting systems completely clearing the room, then Catherine reached for the door knob. She didn't turn it for a long minute. Nick could see her gathering her strength, trying to set the tone for how they would handle this. Calm no matter what. Gil did the same thing when a crime scene was particularly grim.
She opened the door, then led the way into the back lab. There the signs of the incident were visible -- scorch marks, debris from lab equipment blown apart and blood.
Nick had to bite his lip to keep a sob from escaping. Not at the sight of the blood. He'd expected it, could handle it. What had him on the verge of tears was Gil's gear scattered all over the floor.
"Okay, Sara, you help me work the explosion," Catherine said. "Nick, I want you and Warrick to see if you can find anything on the original crime."
He nodded and went to work without much hope of turning anything up. A simple breaking and entering that probably would end up being part of some industrial espionage crap. The plant manager had assured them the thief, spy, whatever had probably blundered into the lab by accident since nothing of any worth was being worked on. Just a whole bunch of vials filled with a lot of benign chemicals. Apparently Nick had a different definition of benign than the manager.
The crime lab day-shift had been hit hard by the flu with over a third of the personnel out sick, including the supervisor. The 'survivors' were all working on a triple shift and Gil had taken the factory assignment. No way any of them could double up, but they'd each taken a tech with them.
Nick wondered how bad a person it made him to be thankful most of the blood in the lab belonged to the tech Gil had drawn. Alice Wilson had died in the ambulance – given the damage to her head and the level of explosive force she must have been all of two inches away from the blast point. She'd been with CSI for two years, but her field experience didn't add up to a half-a-dozen times out of the confines of her own lab. Nick knew Gil would blame himself for her death. Provided he ever regained consciousness.
Gil opened his eyes and found himself in one of his least favorite places – a hospital room. Why? was the immediate question and he took a moment to assess his situation.
He had a headache, but he'd suffered far worse with his annual migraines. A few aches and pains, most of which corresponded to cuts on his forearms in a pattern that suggested he'd thrown his arms up to protect his face. Not enough to explain why he'd been unconscious.
A search of his memory yielded nothing more dramatic than drinking coffee while driving into work. Automobile accident? He'd interviewed more than one victim who couldn't initially remember the impact. But they'd usually showed signs of more trauma
Time for more information. He reached over and pressed the call button. A nurse showed up with impressive speed. She took his vitals and started in on the usual questions - name, date, etc.
Except she stiffened at the date he gave her and didn't go on to the etc. part. Okay, he'd lost some time. He chose not to be alarmed. His cuts were fresh. At most he'd been out for a day. "So what is the date?" he asked.
He could see her thinking. Not a good sign. Her smile didn't fool him, but her answer reassured him nothing alarming had happened. "The sixteenth."
No, not alarming, but it didn't please him either. That remembered cup of coffee had been on the thirteenth. He told himself he was no medical examiner and a headache could skew his judgment, but he would have bet money his wounds were only a few hours old.
The nurse finished up, told him she'd summon the doctor and got the hell out of his room as fast as she could. The lady obviously didn't want to tell him something.
Before he could work up a decent level of irritation, Jim Brass walked in. Gil frowned despite Brass' smile. More evidence something major had happened. "What day is it?" he demanded.
Brass frowned this time. "The sixteenth."
Collusion with the nurse? No. Evidence, Gil. Paranoia would simply get in the way. He focused on his remembered coffee. Strong and black, it had been more of a lifeline than a beverage. He'd gone home after pulling a triple to grab a few hours sleep. A call had got him up and headed back to the office after two. They were short-handed and the city had gone crazy. "You should be at the lab."
"Why would I be there?"
"Dealing with the insanity this heat wave has inspired."
He gave Gil a long look. "Heat wave."
"Did it finally break?"
A slow nod answered him. "What date do you think it is?"
He sighed. "The thirteenth."
"July," he said, trying not to lose his temper. Something he was going to fail miserably at if anyone tried to tell him his injuries were a month old.
"Gil, it's the sixteenth of February."
Ten hours and one shift later Nick was throwing CDs into a box and trying very hard not to think about what a bitch good-news/bad-news situations could be.
The good news had made him almost sick with relief. Gil was awake. The bad news had sent him running for the nearest toilet with the best of the flu victims.
Amnesia. It was like something out of a bad movie. Somehow the chemicals released in the explosion had erased the last ten months. Guess there was something more valuable in that room than the plant manger had thought. Nick would have laughed if he weren't fighting so hard not to cry.
He'd not been able to make himself go to the hospital with Catherine. Instead he'd pretended his nausea was his own close encounter with the flu that kept Sara and Warrick from taking their traveling germ show to Gil's sickroom. His 'illness' had gained him a couple of precious hours away from the office while the others gathered the case files from July.
Apparently Gil thought reading all the reports would fill in the blanks. But Nick knew better.
A buzzer caught his attention and he abandoned the CDs to get the laundry out of the drier. He'd already replaced the towels in the bathroom, so he folded and put away this load, but he couldn't overcome his sense of the absurd enough to resist putting the clean sheets back on the bed.
A pity Gil would neither get the joke nor appreciate the gesture of someone washing sheets that had seen far too much action to be pleasant to come home to. Especially when the action had been a full two days before the explosion. Ironic. As they'd moved together, he'd thought it would be the last time he and Gil made love, but not because Gil couldn't remember them.
He pulled a pillowcase over Gil's pillow. He could just see the man a few hours from now. Home in his nice fresh bed, reading files he was certain would tell him everything important. "But it won't."
Second pillow went into a crispy clean cover. That urge to laugh or cry pushed at the tightness in his chest again. Seemed to be the day for good news/bad news.
Gil couldn't remember August, but he'd lost last week as well. Nick had trouble seeing that as a bad thing. Gil's ignorance of recent events was the sort that could save them several levels of awkward. Even if it meant Nick never would get any sort of closure.
He looked around the bedroom again, checked the closet and the dresser to make certain he'd gotten everything. There hadn't been much. A couple of changes of clothes, no photos, nothing out in the open to mark he'd ever been in the room.
The tears won the fight as he went back to sorting the CDs. So few of them were his. He tried to tell himself he liked Gil's taste in music and his own tunes had been reserved for those rare times when he was here alone. But he'd used up his denial quota three days ago.
The evidence of his impact on Gil's life was on the coffee table. In one single box. It wasn't even a large box. God. It should have taken more than one load of laundry and a half-hearted search to extract himself, but it hadn't. Guess he had the closure he'd wanted after all.
The hospital kept Gil in its clutches for thirty-six hours. An unusual length of time for the non-dying in the age of insurance companies screaming to get patients out the door as quickly as possible. Gil had been far from pleased to be an exception to the rule, but his condition had the dubious distinction of being unique.
The working theory was that the hodge podge of chemicals in the lab had combined with the fingerprint dust Alice had used to cause the explosion that had killed her, while the fumes had somehow induced his amnesia. No one could say if his memories had been chemically suppressed or erased, but he was fine otherwise. His overall fitness had gained him his freedom when it was obvious the doctors wanted to keep studying him.
He was a scientist and understood the feeling, but he hated hospitals. What sane person didn't? Besides they needed him at work. The flu waited for no man or mystery condition. By cabbaging the 'survivors' from both shifts, Catherine had managed to keep everything running, but exhaustion made people sloppy. Gil wasn't at all above using the situation to get himself back on the job.
His doctors had given him a list of instructions a mile long, all of which amounted to 'call us if you notice anything odd', and reluctantly had handed over his work release.
Gil was certain they'd had in mind something along the lines of him at least waiting until the his next scheduled shift began, but he went from the hospital to the lab. He had to remember to go straight to his office, and not stop in Brass'. He was the boss, not Brass. Had been since September. One of several changes he had no memory of, and he had zero time to get used to them.
It was the start of a very long seventy-two hours. Catherine brought him up to speed on what he absolutely had to know to get the job done. His lack of knowledge wasn't obvious since almost everything was in chaos. While he'd been in the hospital those out with the flu had recovered enough to return to work, but most of those who had been well had succumbed. It was a minor miracle to have someone working on the same case they'd originally been assigned.
The only break they caught was the low number of new cases coming in. Gil guessed the flu had the same appetite for criminals as it had for CSIs.
Those he could he sent home for a few hours, everyone else was ordered to catch cat naps when they could. Nick had muttered something about it probably being the first time anyone had ever been told to sleep on the job. It had brought a faint smile to more than one face, including Gil's.
Nicky. Catherine had said he'd thrown up the day before and his face was pale, but he didn't act sick and Gil couldn't press the point. He needed him here. Along with anyone else who could stand upright for more than half a minute.
Sara fit that category, but it was a close thing. Catherine had told him she had been part of the team for almost as long as he'd been the boss. To him it was the first time he'd seen her since a seminar he remembered as being a year and a half ago. Made for a strange moment when she'd apologized for not coming to the hospital and he'd said something more along the lines of 'how nice to see you again.' Fortunately, he knew he could rely on her and wasn't surprised to see her at work when she was obviously half-dead on her feet. Work was her life. She had that in common with him.
Melancholy nudged at him as he finished up his report on the case he'd help close two hours ago. He stood up, ignoring the tremor of exhaustion in his legs. If his own work couldn't hold his attention, it was time to take a look around.
Shit. Nick stood up, his back creaking a protest over the amount of time he'd spent bent over the microscope. Cataloging slides. A way to do some work while he finished off his shift. Trouble was his eyes were getting too blurry to see what he was doing.
He closed his burning eyes. The right voice this time, but no less painful. "Yeah, Gil?"
"You all right?"
"Fine." Exhausted, his heart broken and no one to talk to, yeah, he was just fine.
"You don't look fine." Nick managed not to flinch when Gil's hand settled on his shoulder.
He sighed. "Who does?"
Gil smiled slightly. "Good point, but everyone else wasn't sick when the shift started."
"Sara was. You giving her a hard time, too?"
The hand dropped away and Gil looked stung. "Nicky?"
Damnit. He was over-reacting. "Sorry," he muttered, his gaze dropping to the lab table. "I'll do better."
"I don't want you to do better. I want you to go home and get some sleep."
He clenched his jaw for a second, telling himself to stay calm. "I can finish the shift."
"You were here before the shift started. Go home." An order. Sure hadn't taken Gil long to get comfortable giving those.
Nick wanted to argue. Wanted to demand to know if he'd sent anyone else off to bed like some child. But he was too tired and the tears he'd been fighting off were too close to the surface. "Fine, I'm gone," he said.
He moved too fast getting away and used up too much of what remained of his energy. He couldn't see making it home in one piece if he tried driving in this state. He resorted to a quick cold shower and pulled on a T-shirt. Good thing he'd gotten his stuff from Gil's place. He would have been out of clean clothes otherwise.
That's right, keep clutching at silver linings, don't think too hard, he told himself as he headed for the lounge. A cup of coffee for the road was vital at this point. Sara was sitting at the table drinking her own cup.
"Hey, you headed out?" he asked.
"Nah, I'm feeling better and Grissom asked me if I could stick around for a few more hours."
Of course. And to think he'd wasted all that mental effort on convincing himself what had happened had nothing to do with how well he did his job. So much for his hope things might be better if Gil couldn't remember everything.
"Nick? You okay?" she asked.
"Not even close," he sighed. But he had his orders and no great desire to talk with anyone, especially Gil's good friend Sara. "See you around."
He ignored her attempts to call him back and walked briskly to his car. The last few days had left him with nothing. Well, nothing but a decision to make. He needed to get home and decide whether or not to resign.
Gil finally made it home three and a half days after the hospital had discharged him. He was too tired to do more than get a glass of water and head for the bedroom. But he was fairly confident that nothing much had changed. There'd be a few more items in his insect collection - something to look forward to – a new CD or two. But he didn't expect much more. He hadn't changed anything of note for a good five years. He liked things the way they were.
The bed made a liar out of him the second he lay down. Mattress was different. He must have finally gotten around to replacing it. He was impressed with himself. The old mattress had developed more than a few dips, but he tended to wait until the back aches set in to get around to something as tedious as furniture shopping.
He raised his glass in a little toast to his self-improvement. The glass slipped from a hand attached to a body that should have been asleep a full day ago.
Damnit! Even tired as he was he couldn't sleep on wet sheets. With a groan he got out of bed and stripped off the bed clothes. He got a fresh set of sheets out of the linen closet, then shuffled back into the bedroom thinking more along the lines of wrapping up in them and passing out than making the bed. What he found made him forget both ideas.
A stain in the middle of the mattress - a stain suggesting a seminal discharge from a subject who had been lying face down. Not his preferred method of masturbation nor had he been seeing anyone last summer. So how had he gotten from no sex partner to one he'd invited into his bed?
He had a strong - Catherine would have said hyperactive - sense of privacy. One of its manifestations was a marked preference for being the guest, not the host. He didn't need all of the fingers on one hand to count up the exceptions and all of them had been years ago. Of course, he didn't need much more than two hands to count up the number of partners he'd had.
Gil enjoyed sex as much as the next man, but he didn't have the time to date and relationships were disruptive to a routine he enjoyed. No guests. No relationships. Long-standing personal preferences, yet the stain suggested he'd abandoned the first. A better search of the townhouse should tell him about the other, but not now.
Unsolved mystery or not, he needed some sleep. His body demanded it and his brain yielded once he abandoned the 'crime scene' if favor of his sofa.
He was far from rested when he rolled out of the sheet six hours later, but he had a mystery to solve. No, three. The who, the how serious and the why hadn't the person shown up while he was in the hospital?
The third question was the easiest to guess the answer to - either there was no real relationship or the person was someone who knew his situation well enough to get that he wouldn't remember him or her.
He walked around checking the obvious. His bathroom. No women's cosmetics or obvious residue of things used and taken away. Not surprising. His cleaning lady came in on Mondays and she was thorough. It would take his kit to find anything in here.
Nothing in the living room, but the contents of his pantry and refrigerator proved interesting. Oranges when he preferred grapefruit, hot sauce far hotter than he cared for, jar of grape jelly next to his strawberry preserves and a pitcher of iced tea – it all added up to someone who stayed over with some frequency.
The obvious found, he got his kit and went to work. He came up with three distinct sets of prints. One would be his, the second the cleaning lady's and the third his missing paramour. Some were in obvious spots the cleaning lady wouldn't have missed. Even more serious - the mystery guest would have had to have been here while he was in the hospital or at work. That meant a key.
He could run the prints and was fairly confident he'd come up with a match. No one outside of work knew about the amnesia and everyone at work was in the database. A search of the shower drain told him he wouldn't need to bother. Not that he was surprised.
The doorbell jerked Nick out of a troubled sleep. "Oh, God," he moaned, dragging himself out of bed. He pulled on his robe and stumbled to the front door. He yanked it open to find Gil standing on the other side.
Gil held up an evidence bag with some short dark hairs in it. "Do I need to run the prints that go with them?"
"I need coffee," Nick muttered. He left the door hanging open and made as much of a bee line for the kitchen as his groggy brain would allow. Coffee. Make the coffee. Don't think. Just do. Trouble was there wasn't much to do once the water and the coffee grounds were in the machine.
Gil's hand settled on his shoulder. Damn the man. He never had been one to miss an opening. "Nicky?"
"It didn't last." He couldn't see. He hated how easily his eyes teared up.
"Usual. Irreconcilable differences."
"I hurt you."
Not a question. "Nothing I didn't deserve."
"I don't understand."
Join the club. "Look, can we just forget it? Pass it off as another example of 'Stokes screws up again' and let it go?"
"No, it was no big thing."
"I gave you a key."
He shook his head. "Not like you think. You were working late and told me to grab some take out, then meet you at your place. You gave me the key in case I got there first. I never gave it back."
"And the grape jelly?"
"I brought it over. You didn't tell me no, so I left it."
"I see. How long ago was all of this?"
He almost lied. Wanted to make it sound like it had been over and done with for a few months. He could have passed off his being in the townhouse as a 'no hard feelings' ex-lover wanting to make certain everything was cozy for Gil to come home to, but even as he opened his mouth to say it he remembered the oranges. They wouldn't even have had time to rot yet. Gil had laid a trap for him. Well, he wasn't going to trip Nick up again. "Last week."
"And when did it start?"
That he could lie about. "Six weeks ago."
One of those patented silences designed to make a suspect sweat followed, but he kept his mouth shut, and Gil finally gave in. "So you want to pretend it didn't happen."
No, it had nothing to do with want. "Yeah. Shouldn't be hard."
"Because it was no big thing."
"Okay. Guess that's how we'll play it."
The tears spilled over. Stupid. How could he have expected a man who couldn't even remember their relationship to surprise him and fight for it? "Good."
"I'll see you at the office later."
He couldn't risk another word without revealing he had some serious tear flow, so he nodded. He listened as Gil walked across the room, then out of his front door and his life.
Six hours later Gil was back at the office and no closer to the answers he wanted. He knew Nick was lying. Not because of evidence or memory, but he did know how his own mind worked.
Nicky could spin it however he liked, but no one he didn't care for very deeply would ever have kept a key to his home if he hadn't wanted him to have it. And that meant he had found something he'd never thought he would. Had never even looked for. Found it, then lost it.
"Ooo, I don't like that look."
He gave Catherine a faint smile. "Just thinking," he said, motioning for her to take a seat.
He expected some quip, but instead she sat down and stared at him without saying a word.
Strange. "Something wrong?"
"No." She frowned. "Yes. You look okay."
She made it sound almost like an accusation. "Shouldn't I?"
"You lost 10 months of your life."
He gave her one of his infamous 'and your point is?' looks.
"Gil, I know you're probably worshipped in some areas as the god of internalization, but this is ridiculous. I'd be flipping out!"
Been there. Done that. For about an hour right after he'd found out. Then he'd calmed down and considered how much he normally forgot about any given 10-month time period. Not much if he didn't count work-related events. It had given him perspective and he'd calmed enough to call in to ask for the case files. "You would have lost 10 months of your daughter's life," he reminded her. "I can't remember 40 weeks worth of crossword puzzles."
She looked unconvinced.
"My life is fairly uneventful outside of work," he said with a shrug. "Anything of importance is either written down in the case files or in the information files I keep for articles." Or so he'd thought in the hospital when the panic had tried to set in. He'd come too far since then to backslide now.
A short silence, then she asked. "Are you certain of that?"
Something in her tone gave him pause. Did she know? Catherine Willows was a friend, colleague and one of the most observant people he knew. He was certain Nick had lied about the time frame, maybe she knew something.
"Can I ask you a strange question?"
"I specialize in those," she said with her usual smirk.
"How was I during the time I've lost?"
"How do you mean?"
"Anything that caught your attention?"
She thought a moment, then answered, "You've been more serious since you took over for Brass."
"More serious?" Knowing full well no one would ever have described him as the life of the party, he found that difficult to believe.
"You didn't smile as much. Or laugh."
He gave her a long look. "I was doing a lot of that?"
"Well, no, not compared to the rest of us mortals, but you -" She stopped as if hearing what she was saying and considering it. "Wait, it was more like you were almost giddy just before the promotion."
"So the comparison made me seem grimmer than I actually was."
"When did this giddiness start?"
"Umm, that's tough. Definitely before Labor Day weekend, but after the Fourth of July."
"And you didn't question me about it?"
"Now, Gil, you know I would never pry," she said with what he assumed was mock affront given how completely untrue her statement was.
"Catherine, it's important."
"Okay, okay. I asked you once if you'd finally gotten lucky. You said, 'maybe' and I let it drop."
"And why would you do something so completely out of character?"
She didn't answer which was an answer in its own right.
"Because you noticed someone else was 'giddy?'"
"More of a glow."
"Nick." He didn’t worry about guessing wrong. The timeframe matched up to his expectations.
"I couldn't believe you finally let him catch you."
Gil was amazed with that as well. He'd wanted Nick since the day they'd met. Who wouldn't? He was a strikingly handsome young man with a devastating grin and a wicked sense of humor. But no one knew Nick Stokes for more than a few days could miss he was everything Gil wasn't. Warm, sensitive, capable of deep feelings. Gil had known things would happen far too quickly for a set-in-his-ways man like himself if they ever acted on what had been, even to him, an obvious mutual attraction.
But they had. Against all his common sense he'd allowed it to happen. Which meant two things. Nick was in love with him. And he was in love with Nick. Even if he couldn't remember. "He must have been very persuasive."
She didn't ask how he knew Nick had made the first move to escalate things. She would have said Gil was too chicken to do it; he would have gone for something more along the lines of careful or cautious. "Gil."
"You hurt him."
"I know. I just don't know how."
"Do it again and I'll rip your head off."
She didn't say which one, but he could make a good guess.
Nick decided not to make a decision about quitting and went to work. Gil honored his agreement to pretend what he didn't remember anyway hadn't happened and nothing else occurred to make him need to run. So he came back the next day. Then the next.
A precious weekend off left him no more certain about what came next than he had been any given moment outside of the most painful ones. He knew it wouldn't last. Tuesday the expected other shoe dropped.
It started like any other day with Gil handing out the assignments. He opted to start with Nick and gave him the paper with the details as he said, "A tourist was killed in the MGM Grand shuttle area. See what you can find out."
A dead body. Great. He waited to find out who his baby-sitter would be and saw the gleam in Sara's eyes that spoke of anticipation. God, it was humiliating. The newest member of the team 'assisting' him because he couldn't do his job well enough to handle it alone.
Silk. Silk. Silk. What do cows drink?
Nick wondered if he'd ever understand how one answer or the other could determine whether or not he was good enough to work a DB case alone. Yes, he'd allowed the rhythm to trick him, but how did it translate into he couldn't handle solo DBs but anything else on his own was fine?
And why had Gil chosen that method to tell Nick the bad news? He didn't expect better treatment because Gil slept with him, but somehow he hadn't expected to be treated worse.
One by one Gil doled out the jobs. Warrick drew a breaking and entering; Sara a convenience store robbery. That meant Catherine was Nick's keeper. At least the humiliation value would be low.
"Catherine, you can help ..."
Here it comes.
"... me with the Phillips murder."
There was a noticeable pause as everyone processed what Gil had said, and Nick flushed.
Like an idiot, he'd hoped no one had noticed there were restrictions on his cases.
Gil gave everyone a curious look, then said, "Let's get to it, people."
With something akin to embarrassed mutters, Sara and Warrick left. Nick told his own feet to follow their example, but they didn't obey.
"Nicky? Something wrong?"
How did he answer that? 'Yes, I'm supposed to be too much of a dullard to draw a DB alone?' No, pass on that. He'd leave Catherine to brief Gil on the incompetence of Nick Stokes.
"No, everything is fine," he answered and all but fled from the room.
Gil stared after Nick for a moment, then turned to Catherine. "What was that all about?"
She hesitated a moment, then answered, "You don't send Nick out solo on DBs."
He stared at her. "I what?"
His glare cut her off. "Why not?"
She shrugged. "When I asked you said he wasn't ready."
What kind of nonsense was that? "Did his job performance deteriorate somehow since he made Level 3?" He didn't quite have the guts to put it as 'since we started sleeping together.'
"No, he's been his usual efficient self."
"But there has to be a reason I'd do that to him."
She shook her head. "None that I saw signs of."
It wasn't possible. Nick had been in the criminalist trade for a shorter time than any of them thanks to a stint as a police officer in Dallas. Yet he'd beaten Warrick to Level Three. Granted it had only been by a single case and a few hours, but Warrick had been several cases up on him when Nick started.
In truth no one had even thought of it as a competition. Warrick had that much of an edge on him. But in the beginning, some bias in his favor on Brass' part had granted the new guy a series of easy cases. In both men's defense, Brass had evened out the playing field as soon as the gap had closed enough to make it a serious horse race abet one were Warrick retained the lead. But Nick had won.
If all Gil had been told about the time were true – and he had no reason to believe it wasn't - he'd also done it with little more than an eye roll over the near impossible case he'd been assigned, while Warrick had completely lost his focus.
Yet Gil was supposed to believe he had rewarded Nick's dedication and promotion with restrictions bordering on insulting.
He shook his head in denial, but there was nothing about Catherine's manner to suggest some sort of bizarre joke.
Wait. Hope dawned. Maybe- "Did I give Warrick the same restriction?"
"No, you didn't." Her words had an accusing tone. Not because he had given Warrick his due, he was certain of that, but because he had not granted Nick the same privileges earned.
"I don't understand."
"Neither do I."
He heard the rest. 'Neither did Nick.'
Nick spent the next three days focused on his case. If he allowed himself to think of anything else, especially how it came to be his case, his brain tried to slither off into some confused fog.
As far as he knew, he'd never done anything to deserve Gil's lack of confidence in his abilities. The restoration of it had been equally confusing for the few minutes it had taken to get over the shock. Then it came to him and he'd felt like a fool.
Of course whatever he'd done wrong had happened during the time Gil had lost. What he couldn't remember, he wouldn't act on.
Nick had assumed Catherine would set the boss straight and someone would show up to baby-sit him shortly after he'd reached the crime scene.
It hadn't happened. Nick hadn't even been pestered with excessive demands for progress reports. Gil had simply let him do his job. And done it he had.
His personal turmoil kept the grin on his face from reaching epic proportions, but grin he did as he watched Brass snap the cuffs on the DB's ex-wife.
It seemed that the lady hadn't minded the divorce. But she'd also been her ex-husband's business partner and the man had tired to pull a fast one with the settlement. She'd tried to make the death look like a mugging gone wrong, but the crime scene had had a staged sort of look that begged closer examination of the victim's private life.
It had taken Nick three days to gather all the evidence against her. A lot of the time gone to paperwork and requests for warrants.
His grin faded into a frown. He should be basking in the glow of a job well done, not making excuses for the amount of time it had taken.
Even Brass had given him a 'good job, Nick,' on the way out with the perp. But, as far as he knew, Nick had always done a good job, and in the end, it hadn't mattered.
He went back to his computer and wrote up his final report. Again he had to fight the urge to be defensive, to second-guess his every move and apologize for not nailing things down in three hours instead of three days.
Gil walked in while he was printing out the finished report. He sat down on the table next to Nick's PC and looked at him with something in his eyes Nick couldn't quite decipher.
"I hear congratulations are in order, Nick."
Gil frowned. "You should know."
It stung. He was too tired for more of Gil's mind games. "Sorry." Let him count the ways.
"No," Gil said. "I'm the one who is sorry. I don't know what happened, Nicky, but I know I would never have wanted you to doubt yourself. You're very good at your job."
Just not as good as Warrick or Sara. "Thanks."
Gil gripped his shoulder. "I mean it. You earned your promotion. I remember that well enough."
"You never denied that," Nick said softly. Gil had even comforted him to the contrary when he'd found out how Brass' interference had influenced the outcome. Gil had insisted new hires always drew the often distasteful, but fairly easy stuff and Nick had completed his 100th case first, complications with Warrick's aside.
Nick hadn't been certain. It would have been a close thing without the arguments about the warrant Warrick needed, but he'd felt childish wanting reassurance while Holly Gribbs fought for then lost her life. Gil had even re-enforced his doubts when he'd promoted Warrick within a few weeks of his almost being fired for leaving Holly alone at the burglary scene. It wasn't as though he thought Warrick had deserved to be fired. They'd all been left alone when they were rookies. Brass and Gil had even sent Holly out by herself on the convenience store robbery earlier the same evening. It was just that the rapid promotion seemed like a quiet correction of a mistake. It had made Nick overly quick to point out his earlier-date-of-hire position when rank mattered.
"But something changed your mind later on." Knowing what the next question would be, he added, "You never told me what it was."
Gil shook his head. "I had to tell you something."
"You said I wasn't ready."
"That's it? No explanation?"
He could hear the disbelief in Gil's voice. Guess he'd better tell him the rest. "Silk, silk, silk. What to cows drink?"
"I said milk." He waited for enlightenment to spread across Gil's face, but the man shook his head instead.
"It's a teaching riddle, Nick. I use it to point out you have to be on your guard for tricks, but I've never used it as an evaluation tool."
Nick shrugged. "So I was the first." His delight was less than overwhelming.
"Damnit, Nick, I love you. Why would I be deliberately evasive with you?"
Nick stared at him. Not once in the entire time they'd been together had Gil even hinted Nick's feelings were returned. Something inside him snapped and the numbness vanished in a flash of pain and anger. "Jesus, Gil!" he hissed, furious, but mindful they were at work. "You were and it hurt. And I can't believe you're saying this now."
He knew, *knew* the whole miserable mess meant one or both of two things. Gil had been tired of him and had acted like an asshole to end things between them or Nick really sucked at his job. Yet here Gil stood saying it was neither, but he couldn't tell Nick the reason why. God, how stupid, how pathetic did Gil think he was?
The need to start shouting made his throat hurt, but he could see Greg and one of the techs talking in the lab right across the hall. "I'm out of here," he said, shoving back from his computer and away from Gil.
"No," he cut him off. "Just ... no."
He left. Didn't even stop by his locker in his need to escape the building. He just left. Let Gil fire him for leaving early without permission. It would save him from having to resign.
Gil sat in his office almost paralyzed by his need to do something anything to make things right with Nick, but he couldn't think what. Must be some sort of record. Screw up everything that mattered to him, lose his memory so he could get a new start, then turn around and screw up all over again.
He flinched. It was amazing how much disapproval Catherine could put into a single word.
"I can't help but notice you're sitting in your office brooding and Nick's nowhere to be found."
A lie about sending Nick out on an errand leapt to his lips, but he didn't let it slip out. Mostly because he wasn't up to figuring out what sort of errand and Catherine wouldn't miss asking.
"I told you not to hurt him," she said. And to think he was the one who'd taught her silences could be as damning as the loudest confession.
"I didn't mean to," he answered. The words of a child and as heart-felt. But the cookie jar was still broken.
She sighed and dropped into one of the chairs near his desk. He could almost see her brain working, trying to find a way to make things right between two of her friends.
"No," he said, echoing Nick's words. "Just no."
"Let it alone, Catherine. I had my second chance and blew it. Maybe it's time I took the hint and let this go."
The disgusted look returned. "Damnit, it's okay to have a personal life. It's ok to love Nicky. It's ok for things to get messy."
"It's already gotten messy."
"Welcome to the human race. Now what are you going to do about it?"
"No. This isn't a baseball game, Gil. You don't strike out a certain number of times then call it a lost cause. This is one of those inconvenient, incomprehensible, annoying as hell relationships you always try so hard to avoid. And I'll be damned if I'm going to let you take the easy way out."
Catherine at her most intractable. He wasn't going to win this argument. He didn't even want to. "I could use some help."
"Tell me what happened."
He sighed. "Silk, silk, silk."
She stared at him for a moment, then she said, "What do cows drink?"
"You know about that?"
"Some lame riddle Nick told me." Her eyes narrowed. "What did you do?"
Nick wrote his letter of resignation the minute he got home. It was full of anger and accusations. He deleted it. The next one was better, but not by much. By draft twenty he'd worked things through enough to write the sort of oh, so neutral letter that could live in his personnel file until hell froze over without coming back to haunt him.
He printed it out, signed it, then got himself a beer. He drank it slowly, staring at the letter on his computer desk. He'd come to Las Vegas and found a job he loved and a man he fell in love with. That loathsome piece of paper represented the end of all of it.
Staying in Vegas wasn't an option. Even if he weren't the screw-up of the nightshift and Ecklie would have him, Nick knew too much about how the ass-kissing supervisor of the dayshift did things to ever want to work for him. Besides, he needed to go someplace where they'd never even heard of Gil Grissom, not make a shift change which would guarantee he saw him every day.
He opened a second beer. Someplace they'd never heard of Grissom. A tall order. Maybe an impossible one. Was there any place where they didn't have bugs? Nick doubted it and any locale with bugs would need to resort to the genius of Grissom from time to time. Hell, with his luck no matter where he chose to go they'd probably end up needing to spring for a personal visit instead of leafing through Gil's articles.
A third beer and he started contemplating another career change.
Gil pulled into Nick's driveway. To his frustration, even with Catherine's help he was no closer to figuring out the silk puzzle. But he was also unwilling to let any more time pass without seeing Nick.
He got out of his Tahoe, picked up the cardboard box from the passenger seat and his spare garage door opener, then went to the front door. He almost rang the bell, but he wanted to get inside, not be given the brush off on the front step. There was a key he couldn't identify on his ring. Didn't take much effort to guess it would open the door in front of him.
Given Nick had all but told him to stay away, it was a gross violation of trust to use it, but he couldn't get back the right to use the key if he let Nick lock him out.
He used the key.
Nick was asleep on the sofa, three empty bottles standing watch from the coffee table. A fourth sat on the floor. Gil estimated about two-thirds of its contents remained. Not enough to make Nick pass out, but more than he normally drank.
The paper clutched in his hand was of more interest to Gil. Carefully, he eased it free and wasn't at all surprised to discover it was a letter of resignation. He tore it into little pieces and threw it away. It wouldn't fix anything, but it made him feel better.
Gil sat down on the coffee table and said, "Nicky."
Beautiful eyes opened and his stomach did a happy flip as Nick smiled. "Gil."
He smiled back. "I brought you some dinner." He'd bring up the garage door opener and wanting him to have it if Nick didn't throw him out.
The sleepy pleasure at seeing him faded into confusion. "Dinner?"
"Sausage supreme, double cheese, hold the olives," he said, nodding toward the pizza box on the counter. His glance shifted to the bottles. "You have any beer left?"
"Yeah," he muttered. He didn't stagger on the way to the kitchen, but Gil could tell he was off balance emotionally. A little too much beer and Gil in his living room with his favorite pizza in hand was obviously more than he could process quickly. It might work to Gil's advantage.
Nick put a beer on the counter, but set a glace of iced tea next to it. Plates and napkins joined the drinks, then to Gil's amusement he got out a package of Tagament, pushed out a pill and put it on the plate he shoved toward Gil.
Gil couldn't help but grin. He'd known they were in love, but it was nice to see some proof. After all, the new bed that no longer hurt his back could have been his own idea. But he doubted it.
"What?" Nick asked, then scowled. "I know you don't like pills, but you'll get indigestion if you eat all that grease without it."
"I know," he said, downing the drug with a swig of beer. "You take good care of me, don't you?"
Nick blushed. "I do what you'll let me."
He struggled with pushing versus letting an obvious temporary truce go up in a flash, but he couldn't let the opportunity pass. "Evidence never lies."
"About what?" he asked, putting a couple of slices on each of their plates.
"I don't like showing weakness, Nicky. Even something as simple as pizza giving me indigestion." It went back to the geeky kid with the fascination for death being tormented by his classmates. "You know about my hearing, too, don't you?"
"I love you," he said it firmly without any hesitation in his voice or his mind. "You'd never know about either if I didn't."
Nick didn't answer, but he looked thoughtful while he ate. That being what Gil wanted him to do, he ate his own dinner in a hopeful silence.
When dinner and the clean-up were finished, Nick finally broke the silence. "Any other evidence?"
"A great deal."
Nick shook his head. "I told you about the key and the food."
"You told me what you'd told yourself," Gil corrected him. "I, however, have a unique understanding of the suspect in question, and he's extremely territorial."
"If I didn't want you to have the key, I would have made certain you gave it back. I'd have thrown out anything you left in my refrigerator and I never would have let you sleep in my bed or use my shower."
"You're a real piece of work, aren't you?"
There was no heat in the question, and Gil risked slipping his arms around Nick's waist. "What I am, Nicky my boy, is a man who never wanted or thought he could fall in love. But somehow I did."
Nick let him kiss him. A soft, gentle taste of lips and a brush of tongue. "You don't remember what we had."
"No, and that's good." Nick didn't like that and he had to do most of the work on the second kiss.
It mellowed him. "I don't follow."
"I was scared, sweetheart," he said, smiling as he felt Nick's body melt against him at the endearment. "I could deny it when it was all something I was living through. But-"
Nick smiled slightly. "You can't deny the evidence."
"I sense I'm being mocked."
"Probably," Nick answered, but it was fine as he nuzzled Gil's neck as he did so. "Tell me more."
Gil hated talking. He was the first to admit he was the king of awkward conversations, but he owed Nick some pretty words. "I wanted you the first time I saw you. God, who wouldn't?" So handsome and such an easy smile, Gil hadn't noticed many people who didn't like what they saw.
"Mmm." Nick all but purred.
Should have known the way to the man's heart was the one thing Gil was really bad at. "Falling in love was just a matter of getting to know you." Easy smile, charm and a willingness to be there for his friends, Nick's personality matched the beauty of the package.
The gentle rubbing stopped and Nick looked at him in wonder. "Did you love me before the time you forgot?"
"Yes. This wouldn't be so easy to accept if I hadn't. Only I didn't know."
Nick smiled. "No evidence?"
"No evidence," he agreed. "But I looked forward to seeing you."
Another kiss, then Nick drew back. "Seeing me?"
He hadn't meant it that way and Nick must know it, but was giving Gil an opening to see what he'd say. "Yes. Do you have any idea what it's like to ache for someone every single day, then find out you caught them, but you don't remember it?" The injustice of it all made him want to howl like a frustrated coyote.
Nick shook his head. "Every single day?" he asked and unfastened the top button of his shirt.
"Yes." It earned him another button. "I wanted you enough to let you into my life, my home and my heart. No one made me feel like that."
A faint smile lifted the far corners of Nick's mouth while he dealt with the remaining buttons. Once he finished, he shrugged off his shirt, baring a lean, muscular chest with small nipples so perfect they made Gil's fingers itch.
His slacks and underwear joined the shirt on the floor, then he returned to Gil's arms. "Come to bed," he whispered between quick kisses along Gil's jaw. "It won't solve anything, but I need you."
He groaned his agreement, and Nick got him out of his own clothes as they made their way to the bedroom, then drew Gil down with him onto the bed.
Their hands moved over each other's bodies in an awkward, uncoordinated dance, then Gil figured it out. Nick knew where to touch him, how to enflame him with touches to places no one else had ever bothered to discover. He, however, had no memory of ever being with Nick and had to relearn his body.
He caught hold of Nick's wrists and guided them to rest on either side of Nick's pillow. "Let me explore," he whispered into the nearest ear and a moan rewarded him.
Ears, his neck, the inside of his right arm opposite the elbow, carefully he noted each place the touch of his lips or fingers coaxed a gasp from his younger lover. A lick to one of the nipples he'd so liked the sight of caused Nick to gasp and arch upward. Ah, a definite hot spot. And he approved whole-heartedly.
He began to feast on the small buds, careful not to neglect one for too long in favor of the other. Nick squirmed and twisted as if he couldn't decide whether he wanted more or escape.
"God, Gil," he finally gasped, "stop it or I'll come."
His face was flushed, his breath a ragged pant. Evidence. "You would, wouldn't you?"
The flush deepened into a dark red.
Ah, ha. Not only a hot zone, but a way to torment and give release when his older stamina failed to match Nick's needs. He grinned around the nipple he'd been chewing on, then gave it a parting kiss.
While he was in the vicinity, he teased Nick's belly button with the tip of his tongue, then swooped down to lick the erection straining up toward him.
Mmm, he approved of the taste and would have happily licked and nibbled for a long time, but with a shout Nick came. Gil couldn't help but smile as he swallowed.
Nick didn't move beyond the heaving of his chest for a few moments, then he reached over to the nightstand, pulled the drawer open and removed a bottle of Astroglide.
His own erection pulsed with approval and he took the bottle. "When did we stop using condoms?" he asked as he got both of them ready.
"Couple of months ago."
More evidence. He almost stopped to give Nick a lecture about being so damned blind to the obvious. Then he thought better of it and wanted to berate himself for hiding how he felt to such an extent he'd turned Nick into an insecure mess.
"Gil, stop thinkin' and get inside me," Nick murmured, his gentle Texas draw made more obvious by his release.
Helpless to do anything other than please him, Gil shifted his weight and pushed. "I love you," he whispered as his body merged with Nick's.
Eyes bright with tears looked up at him. "Love you, too."
Gil would have liked to be some stud who could keep going until Nick hardened again, but he wasn't, so he couldn't. Nick still gave him a smile that could have lit up the strip all on its own when he came.
His hands might not have remembered where to touch Nick, but his body knew how to curl up with him, how to draw him close and how to sleep with him in his arms. As long as no one took the word 'sleep' too literally.
Nick woke a few hours later and found himself snuggled up against Gil. Not unusual given other nights spent together, but he'd been so certain they'd never be like this again. He had to fight to keep his body relaxed at the thought. He knew from experience how lightly Gil slept and the slightest tremble would wake him up.
Light sleeper. Or a man who didn't sleep well when sharing a bed. Nick had told himself time and time again it didn't matter. Thing was it did. He could never spend two nights in a row with Gil. The dark smudges under Gil's eyes always sat there in silent accusation the few times he'd done otherwise.
Amnesia wasn't going to change that. Evidence. Nick had been willing to believe every word Gil had said a few hours ago. Worse, he'd needed to believe. Evidence was never wrong. But it could be misread. Nick was terrified, certain Gil had done just that.
God, he loved him. So much. He wanted to shift up and watch him sleep. Not possible. If the movement somehow didn't wake Gil, the watching would within seconds. He wasn't comfortable sleeping with Nick. Didn't feel safe or act like this was the only place he ever wanted to be.
He thought about what Gil had said and remembered a case Nick had worked with Warrick. A guy had gone over a cliff in the backseat of his car. Both he and Warrick had come up with viable theories about what had happened, theories that explained every piece of evidence, but they'd both been wrong.
Gil's certainty he was in love was all too likely akin to the phantom driver Nick had come up with or the mugger Warrick was certain had done the deed. In truth the guy had gone off the road himself and had crawled into the back seat to save himself. What was Gil's truth? And what would it cost Nick when it came to light?
He'd been in love with Gil for a long time. He was young enough, shallow enough he'd had to fall in love before sexual attraction became part of the equation, but for more than two years now, the middle-aged softness of Gil's body had made him ache with desire. He didn't want anyone else.
No one else had the same mind-blowing mix of intelligence and dry humor that raised being an utter nerd to a mouth-watering level of sex appeal. Sometimes Nick pretended not to know something any idiot would know just to hear Gil lecture him on the subject. And there'd always been a twinkle in Gil's beautiful eyes that said he knew exactly what Nick was doing, but he'd humored him anyway.
Or had Nick imagined it? Was that why Gil had deemed him as not ready to solo on a major case? Did he really believe Nick didn't know the pelvic bone could ID a skeleton as male or female?
A coldness swept through him. Silk, silk, silk. His mind kept focusing on the riddle. It had been thoughtless, almost cruel. A sign of a lack of respect he knew Gil hadn't inflicted on anyone else. Why? Because there wasn't any respect. Because he thought Nick had somehow made it to Level Three without knowing anything. Oh, God. Gil could never love a fool and he'd been playing one for months.
He trembled at the gross stupidity of his mistake.
True to form, Gil woke instantly. "Nicky?"
He struggled to find words not knowing if he wanted to rage, beg or cry. Then it hit him. Gil had amnesia. He didn't remember all of Nick's moronic games. Nick had a second chance. "I'm okay," he whispered.
"Yeah." He hesitated a moment. Should he confess? He couldn't remember ever playing his game when anyone was around besides Gil. But he'd been a CSI long enough to know it was assumptions like that which tripped up the bad guys. "Gil?"
"Mmm?" His hand began gently rubbing Nick's back.
"It was my fault."
"What's your fault?"
"Everything that went wrong." He sighed. "It started with the Faye Green case."
"I haven't gotten to that one yet."
"Plumber found her skeleton in the foundation of a house. We drew the case. And I pretended I didn't know the differences between a male and a female skeleton." A part of him wanted to get angry that Gil had fallen for it. While a novice might not know what the differences looked like, anyone who had watched half a dozen crime shows had to know there were some.
"Why would you do that?"
He blushed and knew Gil would feel the heat of it. He started to lift his head, but Gil's hand came up and gently pulled him back down. He sighed, then came clean. "You're sort of hot when you're in lecture mode."
Gil chuckled. "I know that. Or at least I know you think so." He kissed the top of Nick's head. "I also know the difference between when you don't know something and when you're pretending you don't."
"You do? But I didn't-"
"Nicky, it's how you'd been flirting with me for at least six months before my memory lapse."
Distinctly remembering the Green case as the first time, Nick frowned. "I did not."
Another chuckle. Nick was beginning to dislike that sound. "Baby, you are the only person I ever met who didn't get that 'oh, God, there he goes again' look when I start teaching."
Now that was flat out unfair. He'd taken great care to hide how much he'd wanted Gil right up to the minute he caught him. Sulking seemed like the thing to do around now, so he rolled away and glared at the ceiling, his arms folded over his chest.
Gil flat out laughed. Not exactly the reaction he was going for, but it got better as once he'd finished being amused at Nick's expense, Gil rolled on top of him.
Glowering, Nick wrapped his arms and legs around the man, trying to make it look like pure force of habit.
Mirth danced in Gil's beautiful eyes. "I love you. And if I didn't know you were brilliant, you wouldn't be on my team."
Mollified, he let himself be kissed out of his irritation. Sort of. "If you knew I was all hot for you, why didn't you do something about it?"
"Nick, I couldn't make the first move, you know that."
Yeah, he did. Gil hadn't been the big boss like he was now, but he'd had some authority over the team. Not his point. "You could have let me know you were hot for me, too. Something subtle."
He was quiet for a moment, giving Nick time to remember Gil probably hadn't wanted anything beyond the flirting. His mood began to fade again.
Gil didn't let him sink too far. "I obviously did something, or we wouldn't be here."
"Yeah, you did." Talk about subtle.
"You going to tell me?"
He considered making him wait, then an idea struck him. "Okay. We were on a case and it just wasn't one of my days." Started with a power failure and a failed battery backup on his alarm after pulling a double shift. No way was he going to wake up on time on his own. Call from Gil wanting to know if Nick was going to honor them with his presence had yanked him out if the middle of a deep sleep.
One cold shower later - electric water heater - he'd made it to the crime scene in record time. "Naturally, you gave me a lecture about speeding." He stopped to give Gil a glare. He liked listening to him, but not when Gil was right and he was wrong.
"Inconsiderate of me," Gil answered, then nibbled on his ear in apology. An insincere one. Nick knew his man as well as anyone could know Gil Grissom, and he did not like his team taking unnecessary risks beginning with unsafe driving. But a nibble was a nibble and he opted to forgive him and continue the story.
"My luck held true to form all day. You punished me for the speeding thing -"
"I never punish, Nick. I reinforce my lessons."
"Right. Anyway, I spent the afternoon trying to match shoe treads." He stopped to glare again. He really hated doing that.
A nuzzle prompted him this time.
"Unfortunately, I succeeded." He'd been on his way back from talking to the manager of a special order shoe store when his Tahoe decided to join the 'pick on Nick lineup.' "Leak in the oil pump. When I checked it out, the damned thing added insult to injury by spilling all over me." Maybe to make up for being the boss from hell, Gil had offered to drive him home. Provided he cleaned up first.
"I showered, got a clean shirt out of my locker and turned around as I was putting it on. You were standing in the doorway watching me." He'd never forget that moment. It had changed everything. "I didn't button the shirt. You pounced. Shoved me up against the lockers and went straight for my nipples. Always have had a thing for those, Gil," he drawled. Revenge for him knowing about Nick's voice fixation.
"I came the first time from you mouthing me." Hell, he'd come at the first touch. He'd been fantasizing about Gil doing just that for far too long not to. "I went limp, but you got me turned around. Pushed me up against the lockers and took me. Damn, it was hot."
Gil stared at him, his mouth hanging open in his familiar poleaxed look, then his eyes narrowed in suspicion. "I. Did. Not."
Nicked smirked. "Hey, I'm a hot young thing. You couldn't resist."
Gil snorted. "Leaving aside the gross stupidity of it all, I wouldn't have risked hurting you."
Nick had to kiss him, even if he had ruined his fun.
"Now, you want to tell me what really happened? Or is it time for me to rediscover how ticklish you are?"
"Okay, okay," he surrendered quickly enough to confirm the answer was 'very,' but he sort of liked it when Gil tickled him. "Day happened like I said, but when I turned around to see you were watching me, I noticed you had this wistful look in your eye. Wasn't exactly the glaring sign I was looking for, but I figured it was the best one I was going to get."
"And you? …"
"Kissed you. In my driveway." He'd been so damned terrified he'd read Gil wrong, he'd gotten out of the Tahoe and through his front door as fast as he could. "You followed me."
"Front hallway. Rest was in the bedroom." He grinned. "But damn I like that fantasy."
Gil shifted on top of him. "I've had a few like it myself."
"Mmm, you gonna take me for another ride?" he asked, pushing up to slide their groins together.
"Like you said Nick. You're an irresistible, hot young thing."
They both laughed and as Gil slipped into his body, Nick had the strangest feeling that everything was going to be all right.
The next shift started out with only three routine cases. Gil opted to hand out the assignments and retreat to his office to spend more time with the case files covering his lost time. He settled into his chair, then picked up the folder on the top of an impressively high stack. A testament to both his team's efficiency and the city's crime rate.
He managed to glance over the top sheet before a soft knock on the frame of his open door distracted him. "Gris, got a minute?" Nick asked.
"Sure. What's the problem?"
Nick crossed the room, then sat on the desk next to Gil. "My boss is trying too hard."
"I just got my fourth DB solo in as many weeks."
"And have you failed to solve any of those cases?"
Nick snorted. "Cake walk cases. Even dayshift could have solved 'em."
Gil couldn't quite suppress a smile. He knew it served no good purpose to encourage any rivalry between his team and Ecklie's but it was too hard to resist the occasional jab. "I owed you a few."
Brown eyes gave him a long look, then Nick said, "I love you, but if you start granting me favors because I'm sleeping with you, I'm going to have to kick your butt."
Had he missed something? "I thought you were all upset because I wasn't giving you your due."
Nick shrugged. "Same problem. Different route."
He sighed and brushed his thumb across Nick's knuckles. "I'll try harder."
"Good enough," Nick said. "Now, I'm getting out of here before I kiss you and the boss has to fire me."
He smiled. "Good idea."
Catherine interrupted him next. She closed the door. "All done," she announced, dropping into a chair and tossing him a few sheets of paper.
Nick's annual evaluation as performed by Catherine Willows. "Care to hit the highlights for me?"
"Solid work, hasn't been the problem child the rest of us have been."
He nodded, knowing each member of his team had had issues during the lost time. Catherine had compromised a case by letting a husband 'accidently' encounter his dead wife's lover with tragic results. Sara had a nasty tendency to get far too emotionally involved in cases and Warrick's interest in gambling had shown signs of becoming an addiction. The worst Nick had done was to give a prostitute a ride home after breaking up a potentially violent encounter between her and the man who killed her a few hours later. Accepting a cup of coffee from her might not have been the smartest thing Nick had ever done, but it didn't violate any rules. He'd left Kristi Hopkins with his virtue in one piece, but it hadn't saved him from being Ecklie's prime suspect. Catherine had cleared Nick and saved his job.
The evaluations on each of them had told him some of it, Catherine had filled in the blanks on what he'd not wanted to include in their official records, especially her own mistake. It was one of the reasons he'd asked her to second guess him and go back through all of Nick's cases, then do her own evaluation.
"He has a tendency to hero worship you," she went on. "It led to a few mistakes, but he compensated nicely once I pointed it out."
She smirked letting him know she thought it probably had more to do with the old saying of 'familiarity breeds contempt' than her own wise council.
"Luck has had a lot to do with his success rate. It does with all of us, of course, but he's had a smidge more than his share. But honestly, Gil, he's amazing." She shook her head.
He smiled. "Yes, he is."
"Oh, ick. Don't go all mushy on me, Grissom. I don't think my heart could stand the shock."
He glared knowing she wanted him to.
"His biggest weakness is also his strength."
"Three years as a Dallas street cop."
She nodded. "He can see things from both sides, but he can get too focused on denying his earlier training."
"Too much 'how' and not enough 'why'?" It was an on going argument he had with Catherine. It didn't surprise him that she'd pounce on one of the few things Gil would never fault a CSI for.
She smiled, acknowledging the old battle, then moved on. "In sum, he's got the least experience and the most to learn, and the most to benefit from going out with others on assignment."
Gil nodded slightly. "My potential reasoning. But is it yours?"
She shook her head. "Some cases, yes, but there was no reason to single out DB cases. He's handled far trickier missing person cases solo."
"So why did I do it?"
She shrugged. "You asked me to evaluate Nick, not you."
"I'll settle for a guess."
"What I said. He caught a few lucky breaks and his intuition is good. It let him make Level Three before he had the knowledge base that goes with the rank. You took this approach to give him time to catch up."
He sighed. "But why hold him back on nothing but DBs?"
He gave her a look. "And I've always been so sensitive about such things."
She smiled. "True. So what now?"
"Professionally? From now on you do Nick's evaluations." He never should have attempted it. Objectivity and love didn't mix well. "Personally, I don't even know if it's important anymore."
"You finally getting it right?"
Another cakewalk. Witnesses, an embarrassingly high amount of physical evidence and a suspect in custody even before Nick arrived on the scene. It wasn't that he objected to a simple case. It was nice when the bad guys made it easy for them, but he was beginning to see the downside of solo gigs.
Puzzles went to teams. Singles got the obvious stuff. Sometimes the obvious didn't turn out that way, but then a CSI usually asked for help on the case, and it was back to the team thing.
He glanced at the clock. An hour to go on shift and he'd dotted the last 'i' on his report. Now how did he keep himself from finding one way or another to end up in Gil's office? His stomach growled reminding him that even a cakewalk could make a man work through lunch, and he decided to see if there was any food in the breakroom.
"This won't work. You're too tall," he heard Sara's distinct voice ringing through the hallways.
He almost stopped, knowing something was going on he didn't want a piece of, but her doorway was between him and a much needed apple.
"So you sit in the chair," Warrick answered. Oil and water at it again. Half the time those two didn't even act as if they liked each other. Or maybe they were more like an old married couple. In either case, they did good work together. And Nick was never unhappy to see them paired up as it meant Sara wasn't with Gil.
Nick honestly didn't know how he would have handled her obvious interest in their boss if he and Gil hadn't been firmly in the 'involved' column when she'd joined the unit. As it was, she'd made him uneasy more times than he could count.
"I'm the wrong sex," she protested. "Won't set the stage right."
Too tall, Too female. He was doomed. Might as well get it over with or risk the indignity of being hunted down. With a sigh, he stopped in the doorway.
They were too busy glaring at each other to notice. "Problem, guys?"
Sara's face lit up. "Nick! Just who we need."
"I don't think I like the sound of that."
Warrick grinned. "Never fear, my man, all you have to do is sit here," he said, pointing to a chair.
Nick gave him a skeptical look.
"Hey, last time you had me lying on the floor. The cold, hard floor." Wounded eyes gazed at him.
"That's right. I had to get down on my knees. Ruined my slacks."
He laughed. "You two should take this show on the road," he said, sitting. "Be gentle."
They tied his hands behind the back of the chair with leather restraints. "Guys-"
"Quiet," Sara said, then gave him her sweetest smile. "You're supposed to be gagged."
He glared at her. "And the purpose of this exercise is?"
"To prove consensual sex versus rape."
"Can't ask the victim?"
"Dead. Had a heart attack during the act."
"Dead. Wife of the victim claims she came home to find her husband being raped and murdered. She grabbed a gun and shot the guy who did it."
"Any reason you couldn't use a dummy for this?"
She gave him a look to let him know she was being generous not going for the obvious line, then said, "Not enough esthetic value."
All in all, Nick didn't like the sound of this.
Warrick squatted in front of him and picked up two leather restraints.
Sara held up a stopwatch. "Start with inside," she said. "Go."
Nick flinched as his legs were shoved between the chair legs, then Warrick secured his ankles to the wood with the restraints. "Hey, take it easy."
They ignored him. The restraints were unfastened, then they timed how long it took to secure his ankles to the front of the chair legs. The outside of the wooden legs came last, and Nick blushed at how wide his legs were spread.
"Now that is decorative," Sara said with a smirk.
"It also took the longest to do," Warrick pointed out.
"Exactly." Sara's eyes sparkled with triumph. "So why risk the extra time with an uncooperative victim?"
"It's still not proof."
"You're just being stubborn. He's helpless. What do you do?"
"I'd send out for pizza."
She rolled her eyes. "Now that you've established your credentials as a red-blooded heterosexual, can we move on?"
"All right, I've got the husband tied up and spread out like an all you can eat buffet. I guess I go ahead and eat."
"Exactly!" Sara practically crowed. "A rapist would have forced the victim to perform oral sex, not receive it."
Warrick frowned. He'd obviously been in the rape camp. "There was no sign of ejaculate on the victim's groin."
"But there were traces of saliva."
Nick glared at both of them. "Can I get up now?"
"No," Sara said. "We aren't done."
He upped the wattage on his glare and thought it might have worked when Warrick untied his ankles, but his hopes faded when the man glanced at Sara instead of freeing Nick's wrists.
She had that 'not going to budge an inch' stance down pat.
Warrick sighed, took hold of Nick's ankles and stood, pulling.
Nick's lower body jerked upward, his torso downward and his head hit the back of the chair. "Ow!"
Gil finished reading the last page in the file and closed the folder. He'd made it through a grand total of five cases since the beginning of the shift. He probably didn't need to go over things in such meticulous detail, but he was damned if he was going to miss something on a future case because he couldn't remember an old one.
He knew he was overcompensating. Reading things he wouldn't normally go over unless they were part of one of his own cases, making long lists of questions to ask the CSIs involved, but it was his way of coping.
Beyond his relationship with Nick, the case details were the only thing that bothered him about the lost time. He was in his late forties. Some might say he'd grown absent-minded, others that he'd learned to prioritize, but it had been a long time since he'd remembered inconsequential day-to-day events. So he couldn't see panicking because a chemical accident had given him a medical reason not to remember what he wouldn't have remembered otherwise.
But Gil didn't forget cases. Hence the files. Sometimes as he went through them, he thought maybe he was getting a memory flash or two, but it was hard to say. He visualized events all the time in the course of his job. Memory or years of practice at picturing crimes? He couldn’t say, and he refused to let it bother him.
He glanced up at the clock and decided to make a start on another case, but first he needed a cup of coffee.
Mug in hand, he walked out of his office.
Gil froze a few steps short of the breakroom. Nicky. A cold terror gripping his insides. Part of him knew the sound held far more irritation than pain, but he ran down the hallway.
By the time he reached the doorway reason had caught up with and smothered the strange panic. He had a moment to be grateful he hadn't lost his grip on his favorite mug, then his jaw dropped.
"You're too tall," Sara hissed at Warrick and shoved him aside.
"Hey!" Nicky yelped, his legs in abrupt if short-lived freefall.
"Don't be such a baby," she scolded him, pushing him back so he was upright in the chair.
She grabbed his ankles and tugged. Nick tightened up his muscles and didn't budge an inch. They glared at one another, then Nick relented. His legs came up and over her shoulders, pulling him down in the chair with a smooth slide.
Gil winced at the bend in Nick's torso, but Nick didn't act too distressed. Proof of the years between their ages.
Warrick sighed as Sara's pelvis settled against Nick's backside. "Okay, you've convinced me. No way the dude could have done all of this without cooperation. But that doesn't explain the anal trauma."
"Or lack of it. He should have been torn up a lot more than he was without some sort of lubrication."
Gil decided he didn't like looking at Nicky in such intimate proximity to someone else and stepped into the room. "Was there semen in the rectum?" he asked.
Somehow Nick managed to turn an even brighter red.
"Yeah, the dude didn't use a condom," Warrick answered, helping Gil ease Nick's legs off of Sara and down to the floor.
"What did the DNA tests say?"
Sara shook her head. "Greg's backed up again. He won't get to this case until next shift."
"I think you'll find more than one source," he said, moving behind the chair to free Nick. He caught the wrists as they parted, and gave them a quick rub. Didn't look like there had been any circulation problems, but he needed to touch Nicky in some primitive urge to remind his lover to whom he belonged.
"Of course," Sara said. "First he sucks the guy off, then he used the results for lube."
Gil nodded. "Not ideal, but sufficient if the participants like things rough."
"And the wife walked in on it."
Nick's hand gave his a quick squeeze, hidden from the others as he stood up.
"Yeah." Warrick thought a moment. "The chair was positioned so the husband would have seen the wife when she walked in, but the guy standing couldn't."
Sara smiled the usual smile that accompanied the evidence all falling together. "Husband freaks, has a heart attack on the spot and dies. Before the boyfriend can react, the wife pulls a gun and shoots him."
Gil's eyebrows rose. "Fast work." V "They'd had two robberies in the last year. Had a gun hidden in a couple of rooms, including the living room," Sara said.
Warrick shook his head. "There's a lesson there, Gris. Never cheat on the wife when there's a gun in grabbing distance."
"On that note, I'm outta here," Nick said and made a bee line for the door.
Gil considered staying behind for appearance's sake all of three seconds, then hurried after him.
"Nicky," he called when they'd both made it out into the hallway.
Nick stopped near the locker room door, then turned to wait for him.
When they were close enough Gil could speak without being overheard, he said, "We're going out to dinner tonight."
Nick's face brightened, then fell. Gil could almost hear him remember they'd been together last night so tonight was out. "Gil-"
"Dinner," he said firmly. "We can argue about the rest over pasta."
"I'm in the mood for Italian."
Nick looked at him for several moments as if he expected to see or hear something. When Gil made no response, he smiled slightly. "Okay."
His easy surrender caught Gil off balance. "Okay?"
He nodded. "But you're buying."
Gil smiled, not certain what was going on underneath the beautiful skull, but nothing that led to time with Nick could be all bad. "Deal."
"Turn left at the next light," Nick said, playing navigator for the evening.
As he'd expected, Gil had insisted Nick follow him back to his place so they could go on to a restaurant together. It was an obvious maneuver to have the evening end at Gil's townhouse, but Nick knew when to pick his battles and this one was better fought on the way home.
Besides, he loved being with Gil, not playing Follow the Leader with their Tahoes. "It's the red brick building on the right."
"I see it," Gil said, making the appropriate lane change. "We came here often?"
Nick nodded. "We were working a crime scene in the area and one of the beat cops recommended it. Been here once a week ever since."
The cop had recommended it for the food and the reasonable prices, but they had also found it cozy and remote enough from their co-worker's homes to prevent any surprise encounters.
The owner's daughter, Christina, greeted them the moment they stepped inside. "Nick, Gil, we'd thought you'd forgotten us," she said with a mock frown.
Nick grinned. For some reason she got a real kick out of the two of them being a couple and always fawned over them. "Never," he said. "I'd go through withdrawal."
She laughed and led them to their usual table -- one of several small circular booths that allowed couples to sit close without the awkwardness of sitting on only one side of a standard booth.
Gil started to slide in then he stopped and stepped back, letting Nick slide in first. It put him on Nick's right side.
Right on schedule, he covered Nick's right hand with his own, absently stroking the knuckles while Christina beamed at them.
Nick ordered a bottle of Chianti and his favorite combination plate, then remembered to all extents and purposes this was Gil's first time here.
He was in the midst of trying to figure out a smooth way to ask for a menu Christina knew they both had memorized, when Gil took a deep breath.
A thoughtful look crossed Gil's face, then he said, "I'll have the manicotti."
An almost electric charge sizzled through Nick and his heart began to pound. He almost burst with impatience waiting until they were alone. "Gil, you don't like manicotti."
Gil frowned. "That's right. I don't."
Nick bit down on the urge to say more and watched Gil turn to call Christina back. False alarm. Before he could launch into some mental dialog over whether or not this was a bad thing, Gil stopped mid-motion.
He turned back to look at Nick. "I don't like manicotti."
Nick shook his head.
"But I like it here."
Nick nodded and waited his fingers mentally crossed.
"It's on that combo plate you always get and you made me take a bite."
"I liked it so well I always get it."
Nick grinned, then stated the obvious. "You remember."
"Scent is one of the most powerful memory stimulants, Nicky."
He knew that, but with a happy smile he said, "It is?"
Gil smiled back, then kissed him, a quick touch of lips to lips Nick served as a silent 'you're so cute when you play dumb.' "Yes, it is."
Nick settled in for a quiet evening of good food and the sound of Gil's voice. Two of his favorite things. The glow carried him all the way through dessert – spumoni ice cream for him, while Gil tucked into the usual tiramisu.
Except when absolutely necessary, Gil had kept hold of Nick's right hand, often stroking his thumb across Nick's knuckles.
Nick could almost see the gears in Gil's mind turning, trying to figure out why he seemed unable to leave Nick's hand alone. It numbered among the few things Nick could tell him, but he decided not to. The memory was obviously like the proverbial words on the tip of Gil's tongue. Better to let him find them on his own.
He hadn't by the time they'd finished dinner, then drove back to Gil's place. Time to gear up for round 5,000 in the usual 'stay the night' argument.
Gil avoided it all by reaching across him to take his right hand again. "You punched a door."
He nodded. "Collins family quadruple murder. When they took out the bodies of the two boys."
"Ah." Nick knew Gil must have at least glanced through the file by now and would know the case had been a bad one, but he obviously didn't remember it. His mind had simply decided the important thing had been Nick losing it.
Still embarrassed by the incident, Nick felt the warmth of a blush color his cheeks. "Stupid thing to do," he muttered.
He expected Gil to agree. Instead he said, "It bothered me. You hurting yourself."
He nodded. "You were cool about it when it happened. At work and all. But once the bruising went down you sort of developed an obsession."
Gil kissed him, another brief, gentle touch. "I wanted to hold you," he said, "block it all out for both of us, but I couldn't even get you an ice bag."
Nick kissed him. He knew at the time it would have been the smallest tick in the back of Gil's brain, but in the midst of one of the most nightmarish cases they'd ever worked to be thought of at all told him loud and clear how much he meant to Gil. "You do love me," he whispered.
"Yes, I do."
Gil woke up to find Nick snuggled up against him. It didn't surprise him. He'd woke up four other times to the same thing. Different position though. That was the problem. Every time Nick shifted in the bed, let alone against him, Gil woke up. It didn't make for the most restful sleep.
Nick stirred again, signaling he would wake up soon himself. Gil smiled and kissed the top of the head currently resting on his chest.. They'd turned a corner of some sort last night and Gil couldn't help but feel smug about his mind being clever enough to sort out what was important enough to lead the returning memories.
The first time through he guessed he'd been too busy being stunned by his feelings for Nick to handle them well. A long-time bachelor who liked living alone suddenly discovering the love of his life in a male co-worker had to be enough to throw anyone for a loop, and Gil would be the first one to admit he didn't like change.
But he'd dedicated his life to studying evidence and accepting what it told him. The amnesia had let him step back and take a hard look at things he'd probably missed or had been in denial over. Ironic. If not for the accident, he might have lost Nick. He felt far more confident now that they could handle the answers to what had gone wrong and fix them.
Despite his words to Catherine, Gil knew the answers were important. Something had made him insult Nick professionally. They both needed to know why to put it behind them.
Gil resisted the impulse to sigh. Time to have the fight they'd avoided last night. "Hi, gorgeous," he answered, resisting the temptation to prevent Nick from moving around to see his face. It would only delay the inevitable, but he couldn't deny there was some value in that.
He managed to get one kiss before Nick pulled back to settle on one elbow and look at him. The expected frown appeared within seconds. "Did you sleep at all?"
"Yes. Most of the night," he said. More because he didn't want Nick to think he'd lie to him than for any desire to tell the truth, he added, "But I woke up several times."
Nick looked stricken. "You'll be a wreck at work."
"Probably," he admitted in another moment full of inconvenient, but unavoidable honesty.
Nick's eyes closed. When he opened them again a few seconds later they had a determined gleam in them. "I'll-"
"No, you won't."
"I don't care what it is you think you should do to make this better. It won't. So what you'll do is climb right back in this bed with me at the end of shift."
"Damnit, Gil, you've got to get some sleep."
"Yes, and I will as soon as I get used to sharing the bed. I can't do that if you aren't in it."
"I'm a light sleeper, Nicky. And I've slept alone for longer than you've been alive. We've just got to get me retrained."
His choice of words coaxed a faint smile onto Nick's face. "Should I give you a dog biscuit for every hour you sleep?"
He slid his fingers down Nick's spine. "I can think of better rewards," he said.
Nick gave him a dubious look, then he smiled, but there was more mischief than laughter in his eyes. "Tell you what, Gris," he said, squirming out of Gil's arms and the bed. "You can join me in the shower. And if you managed to stay awake long enough to scrub my back, you can have all the 'reward' you want."
Gil scowled at the retreating backside. Guess it was time to teach the young pup that the old dog knew a trick or two.
By the time they headed to work, Nicky was purring and Gil was beyond exhausted. But it had been worth it.
Nick drew a robbery case with Catherine at the beginning of the shift while Gil worked through the pile of case files. With three hours left before quitting time, he had to abandon his research to investigate a murder. Word was the case was a bad one. The victim had been raped and tortured before she was killed.
Nick tired to focus on his own case and think of the poor dead woman when his mind shifted to Gil's, but he was less than successful. A brutal, fatal sex crime and Sara was working it with Gil. She never handled those well. She'd need a lot of support from him. Nick tried not to begrudge her the help, but he didn't like the mix of Gil and a distraught Sara.
He tired to tell himself he was being silly, but try as he might he doubted if he'd ever get over seeing Sara as a threat. Unwittingly, at least he hoped she didn't have a clue about him and Gil, she feed his fears. She had the damnedest air of … entitlement when it came to working at Gil's side. Gil never did anything to discourage it - hell, Nick would bet Gil didn't even notice - and Nick couldn't bring himself to say anything for fear of sounding like an insecure idiot.
He sighed and packed up his fingerprint kit. He was the youngest of seven children and had been doted on by one and all. The easy grin Gil always gushed over came from a fairly high level of self-esteem. But Vegas and CSI had been a blow to his ego on several levels. All of them revolving around Gil and emphasized by Sara.
Nick was accustomed to praise. He'd had a loving, expressive family cheering everything from his first hiccup on. He liked it. A lot. Didn't mean he needed it. If he hadn't been so stung by the words, he'd have given Gil a piece of his mind over more than the silk, silk, silk riddle. The speech that had followed it about no one being great at his work if he didn't do it for himself was straight out of some stupid pop psychology book.
Of course he did the job for himself. He loved it, loved the help he could give those in need. Didn't mean he didn't long for a few words of praise from the man he not only loved but saw as the best CSI there was.
Sara had gotten her quota of praise. She'd made certain he knew it, too. Went hand in glove with her comment about being the one Gil had hand picked to work in Vegas. Apparently she'd missed the part about it being a long time between Gil taking his job and asking for her help with the internal investigation into Holly Gribb's death. He hadn't even asked her to stay until after the smoke cleared.
Nick hadn't been pleased and for the first and only time he'd not been able to hide it from Gil. His lover hadn't liked his jealousy and had given him a long lecture about inappropriate feelings and knowing better. Since Nick knew he shouldn't let his personal feelings get in the way of another person's career, he'd learned quickly to hide his fear, but he'd never gotten over it.
Even now, when everything seemed so good between them, when Gil had finally said he loved Nick, it was hard not to worry. His sole comfort was that the higher ups would fire Gil for having a relationship with a subordinate with the same speed if the employee in question were Sara instead of Nick. Neither of them was a safe choice for Gil.
And there was another worry. In these days of sexual harassment concerns, the rules about appropriate conduct were clearly spelled out. The boss could not date an employee. Violation of that rule would result in immediate termination. Period stop. No appeal.
Baring any homophobic knee-jerk reactions, they might have squeezed through a loophole if they'd come clean about their relationship in the first few weeks after Gil went from field supervisor to the boss with the hiring, firing and evaluation powers. But Gil hadn't wanted to go public. Plus Nick hadn't wanted to transfer to dayshift – their only option if they wanted to be openly involved and both work for CSI. So they'd trusted in the 'for now' part of Gil's new responsibilities and waited for someone to be named as Brass' long-term replacement.
But it hadn't happened. The sheriff had decided things worked well enough with the two supervisors reporting directly to him and opted to save the cost of hiring in another level of management.
Which meant they'd taken too long to speak up. Nick sighed heavily.
"That sounds like it has the weight of the world behind it," Catherine said as they loaded their gear into the back of her Tahoe.
"Just the weight of mine," he muttered.
"Want to talk about it?"
He gave her a long look. "Maybe." He knew Gil talked to her. Was there any reason he couldn't?
"That sounds decisive," she teased, slipping into the driver's seat.
He smiled slightly and buckled his seatbelt.
Catherine's hands tightened on the wheel and her eyes narrowed. "What's Grissom done this time?"
Her words promised dire retribution for their boss, and Nick couldn't help the warm fuzzy feeling it gave him even as he leapt to Gil's defense. "Nothing. Things are going great." Slight exaggeration, but close enough. "That's the problem." Or one of them.
She started the engine, then pulled into traffic. "I don't follow."
"He's my boss, Catherine. And I so don't want to work for Ecklie."
She nodded. The entire graveyard shift held the same opinion of the man, but dayshift had other drawbacks. "It's never easy on a relationship to work different shifts."
"Yeah." Days off and a few overlapping hours between shifts. Provided a hot case didn't have one of them working extra hours. Not like that happened more than once every other week or so.
"I understand, Nicky, but I figured it out."
And if she could, others would, too. Or someone would walk into the restaurant they considered safe. Or one of them would slip up and answer the wrong phone. Or … the possibilities for disaster were almost limitless. "Warrick and Sara?" They were the most immediate threat.
She shrugged. "Hard to say. It's pretty obvious you're in love and have been for months, but no one else is good at reading Gil."
There was a touch of pride in her voice and Nick couldn't begrudge it. He knew more of Gil's secrets, but even he'd hesitate to claim he knew Gil as well as Catherine.
He sighed again. "I think I have to resign."
Her frown loudly expressed her displeasure with his idea. "What would you do?"
"I was a good cop," he said. While he liked being a CSI more, he'd enjoyed his three years with a badge. He should even be able to get on the night sift with relatively little problem. And being a cop in Vegas would eliminate one of the two reasons he'd left the Dallas force – he wouldn't feel like he was somehow choosing sides between a mother who had made criminal defense her profession and a father who had spent a major part of his legal career as a tough-on-crime judge. "I could join the force here."
The frown took on a more worried edge. "I'm not sure that's a good idea. Cops aren't known for being accepting of gays on the force."
Which would be the second reason he'd made the career change. While there hadn't been any incidents while he was on the Dallas force, in the past, fellow officers had been slow to assist gay cops. A cop in New York had even been killed as a result. Maybe it was cowardly, but he'd not wanted to risk coming out of the closet when he was younger. "I can handle it. Besides, you know Gil. Mr. Private. Even if we can see each other openly, he'll still want to keep it a secret." Not quite the closet, but it wasn't marching in Pride parades either.
"Can you do that? I've always figured you for a 'shout it from the rooftops' kind of guy."
He gave her a rueful smile. It was easier to accept when truth would result in Gil getting fired, but a love of privacy was a big part of Gil. "I'd rather have the man than the rooftop."
She looked unconvinced. "I'd talk it over with Gil if I were you."
He frowned. It was his career and it seemed the best solution. "Why?"
"It's what people in a relationship do."
He decided to take her advice once he and Gil got home. Big mistake.
"Are you out of your mind!?!"
Nick stared. Gil was shouting. Gil never shouted. He lectured, he argued, he glared, but he never shouted. "Gil-"
His face was red with anger. "No! Absolutely not! I forbid it!"
The words fell between them like a lead weight in water. Nick was so stunned he couldn't even process what he'd heard for a moment, then his own anger began to surge.
Before he could find anything coherent to say Gil's face paled, and he sank down into the nearest chair. "God, Nick, I'm sorry." His voice was low, almost hoarse. "I don't know why I said that."
Nick hesitated a moment, feeling somewhat put out about not getting his yelling time, but Gil looked distraught. He walked over and knelt on the floor in front of his lover.
Gil didn't say anything, didn't look at him.
He sighed. "You going to talk to me or do I have to start making assumptions?"
Gil didn't answer for a few seconds, then he said, "I don't want you to leave CSI because of me."
It didn't sound right, but it fit with Gil's turmoil over making Nick feel like he wasn't good at the job. Sort of. "One of us has to go," he said, keeping his voice calm. "We can't hope to keep us a secret indefinitely."
"There are other options."
"I won't work for Ecklie. God, Gil, he's so caught up in the drama of bettering you he didn't even try to clear me of Kristi's murder."
Gil nodded. "I can resign."
"What?" Nick got a good taste of Gil's indignant anger and had to fight the impulse to echo his 'are you out of your mind' demand. "I'm good at the job, but I'm not you. It's a bad trade off."
Gil shook his head. "I hate all the paperwork, all the politics. It's not what I hired on for. I think I'd rather hit the lecture/seminar circuit fulltime than stay."
The truth. Nick didn’t like hearing it, but he could tell Gil was serious, had known for months how unhappy the man was with all the crap attached to doing Brass' former job. Hell, Gil was in high enough demand he could probably make more money if he left. But, "You'll be out of town a lot."
"Never seen anyone who liked coming home and cocooning the way you do."
"Neither have I."
"I'd miss you."
"You could come with me."
His heart almost stopped. What with Gil insisting they sleep together whenever the job let them touch base with their beds, they were practically living together, but they'd not discussed it. "Be a kept man?"
Gil nodded. "I'd make enough for us to get by."
He would. Provided they both stayed healthy. Life without medical insurance or the over-priced inadequate version available to the self-employed was a bigger gamble than any of the games of chance on the strip. "Gil, things might get better at work, and if I joined the force-"
Strong hands gripped his upper arms and a desperate look took equal hold of Gil's face. "Please, Nick, I couldn't handle it."
He knew not everyone could, but, "Our jobs are dangerous, too." He knew Gil had done a fast read through of all the case files from the missing time. It wouldn't have taken more than that to know what had almost happened, but Nick couldn't help reminding him, "If you hadn't stopped her, Mrs. Hendler would have killed me." Nick didn't know her first name. Had deliberately avoided finding out. He didn't want to be on a first-name basis with someone who would have shoot him down to appease her guilt.
"I-" Gil's face managed to lose even more color. He jumped up from the chair, stumbled around Nick, then ran for the bathroom. A second later the sound of retching filled the townhouse.
Stunned, it took Nick a few seconds to follow. His own gag reflex flared at the sour-sweet smell of vomit which greeted him when he reached the bathroom doorway. He swallowed hard and managed to hold on to his dinner. "Gil?"
Gil shuddered, but didn't vomit again. The worse seemed to be over. He flushed the toilet, stood on obviously shaky legs, then leaned heavily against the sink. "Did the same thing when I read the report. Wastepaper basket." He rinsed out his mouth, then finally looked at Nick. "We done with this argument?"
He nodded. "I'll go with you." God only knew what he'd do with himself. Maybe there was an 'Idiots Guide for Kept Men.' If not, maybe he'd write it.
An embrace crushed him against Gil's body. "I love you, Nicky. Love you."
"Love you, too," he answered. Guess he could do some rooftop shouting after all. Didn't make him as happy as he thought it would.
The second murder happened less than three full days after the first. Gil put their plans on hold and concentrated on his job. They had a signature killer on their hands and he was striking with appalling speed.
There would be a lot of second guessing after the fact, the echoes of it taking root even before a third victim died two days later. Did his people screw up? Miss evidence? Could they have caught the guy sooner if they'd done something differently?
No on all counts. There simply hadn't been enough time to process everything. He could see how it would look to others. Could almost hear the questions the sheriff would face from the press. Eight days for a DNA expert to figure out the 'unidentified red matter' was catsup? How was that possible?
Lab backup. Lack of funds for more personnel. One of the hard realities of life making itself known – the case hadn't earned priority status until the second victim had died. Even then, there had been a lot of evidence for Greg to sift through. Took time.
As he leaned back against the paramedics' van and watched the coroner's staff load Sid Booth Goggle's body another memory returned. Something he'd told a the husband of a kidnap victim. 'In my experience when you want to go fast is precisely when you go slow.' His wife had turned out to be in on it. The slow but steady approach had found her, then convicted her. But it was hard.
Hard even for him. He shifted, the pain in his right arm spiking with the movement. A soft protest escaped his lips and a paramedic appeared at his side. She started poking at the arm, making it hurt more in a quest to find out how much damage Goggle had done to it with the pipe wrench. Not as much as he'd wanted to do to Gil's head.
He glanced to where Catherine stood talking with Sheriff Brian Mobley and Special Agent Rick Culpepper. If not for her, Goggle would have bashed Gil's skull in. Her reward would be a shooting review board, a mind-numbing amount of paperwork and probably more than a few questions about the number of bullets she'd pumped into the killer's chest.
She'd come through it fine. Goggle had done enough damage to Gil's arm to make his intentions clear, and Catherine wasn't a police officer. Oddly enough the public wouldn't hold her to the same standards. She was too much like one of them. Defending a friend and co-worker against a monster who happened to look like a man.
He shifted his gaze up the street to where Nick had parked, but the Tahoe was gone.
'How did you know where I was?'
'Nick told me.'
Nick had arrived after it was all over, after Catherine had lead Gil out of the laundry room where Goggle had died and into the fresh air. Far as Gil knew, Nick hadn't even gotten out of the vehicle. Too dangerous to come close. The need to hold, to touch was too strong.
But he wanted Nick with him. The lack of his presence combined with the pain in Gil's arm to make him irritable. If Sara had shown up, he'd have fired her for the pure release. As it was, he'd calm down and resist temptation, but he knew his last act as supervisor would be to put an official reprimand about her failure to obey orders in her file. Oddly enough, he didn't think Brian would give him a fight over it. Yes, she'd disobeyed to take a part in a pointless trap to ensnare the killer the FBI had dubbed the Strip Strangler, but Brian was a stickler for protocol. Gil wasn't, but he would not tolerate his people participating situations they weren't trained to handle.
Even if he did understand the frustration of going slow when choking on the need to move fast. He sighed. Giving Sara a black mark in her record, especially when she'd stood by him after Brian had insisted he 'take a vacation', wasn't the note he'd wanted to go out on, but better a few hard feelings than Sara not learning the folly of doing a job she wasn't trained to do.
She probably didn't even realize she'd been used. Nothing but a pawn in Culpepper's quest to show Gil who was in charge of the case. But it was difficult to believe she thought there wasn't a single female police officer in all of Vegas who also fit the description of the killer's favored prey. He shook his head. He was a fine one to criticize.
He'd gone to see Goggle alone and unarmed since he was on 'vacation' despite the certainty he was the killer. Stupid. He supposed the mind games Paul Millander was playing with him had made him forget not all killers preferred sparring to anonymity.
Another shift brought another stab of pain. Damnit. Idiot. No, he didn't have any right to set Sara straight. At least not officially. But he'd talk to her. If he didn't, one day she might be fool enough to decide to go talk to a dangerous suspect without a weapon or backup.
"I don't think it's broken," the paramedic said. He could hear the 'but' in her voice and wasn't at all surprised when she added, "but you should get it x-rayed."
Normally he might have fought her, but Brian chose that moment to glance in their direction. He had that 'we need to talk' sort of look and Gil wasn't in the mood. "Let's get out of here then," he said and climbed into the back of the van.
Brian caught up with him in the hospital, but a pain shot and the confirmation his arm was indeed not broken had put Gil in a better mood. Even better, he'd had time to think.
Normally his escapade with Google would have drawn him the same official reprimand he'd planned to give Sara, but Brian had made his clash with Gil into a potentially explosive public relations disaster. Brian had known damned well the husband they'd arrested hadn't killed anyone but his wife. Yet he'd held a press conference and announced the Strip Strangler had been caught, then put his resident expert on signature killers on forced leave.
Bad move. Odds were it had doomed Brian's hopes to become Mayor of Las Vegas, but a good PR spin might salvage his career as sheriff. Gil could almost write the speech himself. The first press conference had been a rouse to lull the real killer into making a mistake and it had worked. Case closed. Handshakes all around. But Brian would need Gil's cooperation. Too many reporters had heard Gil say the husband wasn't the man they were after. They'd all head straight for Gil's doorstep the minute Brian finished his statement.
All of which meant Gil would not only not draw a richly deserved reprimand, he had Brian by the proverbial testicals. And he had a plan.
"How's the arm, Gil?" Brian asked.
"No permanent damage," Gil answered. It sounded far more macho than 'it hurts.' "I'll be on my way home once I get a few prescriptions filled." The usual host of pain killers and anti-inflammatories.
"Good news." Brian paused and Gil could see him struggling against his pride. With admirable speed he said, "but maybe you should go into the office for a time instead."
He resisted the urge to say, 'Oh, has my vacation been canceled,' but he was annoyingly mindful of his own missteps during the case. "All right."
Brian began to get a relieved look. "Then we'll put this behind us and go on as usual?"
Translation, 'So you'll cover for me and I'll let you have your job back?'
"No," Gil answered. "Not as usual." He took a moment to enjoy the alarm spreading over Brian's face, but only a moment. Too much enjoyment and the counter-threats would begin. "You were right, Brian." He hated the sound of the words, would have bet serious money he'd never say them, but he had to give the man credit where credit was due. "Catherine is a much better spokesperson for the department."
Brian nodded, the tension of waiting for the other shoe to drop so clear in his body language that Gil didn't bother to take offence. "You want to step down in favor of her?"
Nick sat in the diner with the rest of the team watching the sheriff and the FBI jerk congratulating themselves on a job well done. Except everyone at the table knew the two men on the television screen hadn't done a damned thing but get in the way. But no one else ever would.
Gil had made that perfectly clear within minutes of everyone arriving back at the office. Whatever Brian said was the official line and for once not even Gil Grissom was going to be the voice of dissent. It rankled, but Nick didn't consider this a bad thing because it was a good distraction from the screaming inside his head.
He'd never wanted to know how Gil felt when he'd walked into the Hendlers' living room and found Nick two seconds from a violent death, but now he did. God. He could feel the subtle warmth of Gil's arm as it rested on the back of the booth seat. A not uncommon way for Gil to sit in a booth and if it happened to put his arm behind Nick's shoulders so be it.
Nick ached to do far more than feel it shift down around his shoulders, and he could have screamed when Catherine had suggested they all head for a 'case closed' breakfast before going home. But she had saved Gil. No way was Nick going to tell her no. He could wait. It wasn't easy, but if nothing else, his job had taught him the value of patience.
The words 'our food is up' were music to his ears, but he took another few seconds to enjoy the warmth of a living, breathing Grissom next to him and covered it with a lame joke about Warrick buying his food. With regret he slipped out of the booth, then followed Sara and Warrick to the pick up counter.
He snagged his own dinner and Gil's. Warrick grabbed Catherine's. Sara managed to escape with nothing but her own plate, but he still managed to subtly cut her off on the way back to their table so he could reclaim his seat next to Gil. He hoped he kept the smug look off his face when she scowled at him. God, this was so high school, but he needed to be near Gil.
The panic he'd felt roiled through him again, and he had to concentrate on breathing, not eating, but Gil shifted and their thighs pressed together, calming him enough to pick up his fork after no more than a few seconds.
"So, you back at work or still on vacation?" Warrick asked after they'd all had a few bites to take the edge off their hunger.
Nick blinked. He'd assumed everything was back to normal when Gil had showed up at the office.
"Yes and no."
"Care to explain that?" Catherine asked.
Gil gave him a slightly uncomfortable glance and Nick guessed he'd told Brian to shove it, then resigned, but he'd wanted to tell Nick before they told everyone else. Too late now.
"I declined to take back my job," he said "Catherine is the boss now."
Sara burst out, "You're leaving?"
The sound of near horror in her voice told Nick he hadn't been wrong to think of her as a potential rival.
To Nick's surprise, Gil said, "No."
No? What the hell?
"The paper work will take a week or two, but my status will change from supervisor to full-time consultant. I'll still report to Brian, but Catherine," he paused to give Catherine a smile, "gets the paperwork and the press."
Their new boss shot Gil a mock glare. "Thanks. I guess."
Nick didn't hear much more. His head was too busy spinning. Catherine was his boss. Not Gil. They could date openly and keep their jobs. He had to be dreaming.
Gil smiled when Nick took the turn that would take him to Gil's townhouse instead of his own condo. They'd have to talk about which one they'd make their home and which one would go on sale. A giddiness made him grin.
A month tops and they could start to take breaks together, stop being careful about where they went together after work. Two and they could officially share a residence. Of course some would suspect they'd been dating before the job change, but no one would do anything about it. Amazing, but amnesia could be a wonderful thing. If not for it, he might have made the huge mistake of filing the evaluation he'd done on Nick and then people like Ecklie would have a focus for any complaints. But he hadn't. It would look like his evaluations had been late – proof he wasn't cut out for the supervisor position – and Catherine had taken on the responsibility. Everyone but hers would come from her. They were safe.
He'd even arranged the deal so he kept his benefits, including the insurance. It would take some fancy footwork for Brian to keep that part of the deal, but a consultant could technically charge a lot more than Gil's salary. Since he was in good health, everyone should see it as a bargain. Best of all, he had also negotiated the right to have first pick of assignments. Catherine could assign who she wanted to work with him and request his assistance on cases, but she couldn't assign him. It was the same sort of pick-and-chose freedom he would have enjoyed if he'd opted to freelance with multiple crime labs, but this way he stayed with his team and avoided all the air travel.
Perfect. Even Brian thought so. The sheriff had been so relieved at the prospect of never having Gil deal with press again he'd practically turned cartwheels in the hospital corridors.
Now all he had to worry about was Nick being angry over the principle of his not talking all of this over with him first. He'd wanted to, but he'd known he couldn't risk giving Brian too much time to consider other options. As it was they'd struck an oral contract. Brian had a lot of faults in Gil's opinion, but breaking his word wasn't one of them.
A couple of red lights in Nick's wake delayed him. By the time he pulled into his garage beside Nick's Tahoe, the younger man had already gone inside.
Gil's heart sank when he walked into his living room and discovered Nick pacing back and forth with a rapid, obviously agitated step. "Nicky?"
"You jerk!" Nick managed to shout and hiss at the same time. "How could you do that!"
Gil resisted the temptation to sigh. Once again his inexperience with relationships had sent them into a tailspin. "I'm sorry, sweetheart," he said in the same calm tone he used with hysterical relatives of victims. "I wanted to tell you before anyone else, but it would have been awkward to avoid Warrick's question."
Nick gave him a glare which managed to convey disgust and exasperation. "I don't give a fuck about who you told what when, you stupid son of a bitch! You almost got yourself killed!"
The profanity was uncommon enough to distract him for a second before the other words sank in. Despite the throbbing in his arm, he'd somehow managed to forget Nick wouldn't let him off the hook as easily as Catherine and Brian had. "Baby-"
"Don't you 'baby' me! What kind of idiot goes to see a suspected killer unarmed?" He was up to roaring now.
He floundered for something to say and came up with his explanation to Catherine. "All I wanted to do was talk to him."
"Jesus, Gil," the words were more of a sigh and he could almost see the anger flowing out of Nick. "That's such a … Grissom thing to say."
Any other time he might have smiled, but hurt replaced the anger in Nick's eyes. "I gave you the address. I didn't realize why you wanted it until after I'd hung up."
Guilt, instead of fury. Not an improvement. "I'm sorry, I didn't think."
Nick snorted, but the sound had a sob-like quality to it. "I tried to call you on your cell phone to make you think, but you turned it off, didn't you?"
He nodded. His focus had been on talking to Goggle, and he hadn't wanted any distractions while he thought about what he wanted to say.
"I was too far away." His eyes began to shimmer, making the soft brown deepen to a dark chocolate. "If Catherine hadn't been closer. …"
He'd be dead. "I know."
The tears began to flow down the handsome face. He knew Nick hated it, but strong emotion always led to tears – laughter, anger and … fear.
'What do you care so much about the floors? I mean, Amy paints them every spring. It's no big deal."
His arm screamed in protest, but he pulled Nick against him and hugged with all the strength he could manage.
God, no. "Don't cry, please don't cry. Nicky! The horrible knowledge he'd left Nick alone with a distraught killer swept through him as if it were all happening again. "I've got you. Please, you're safe." His own eyes filled then overflowed with tears.
Part of him stood in the middle of his living room all but crushing Nick, the other raced toward a different living room the sounds of Nick begging for his life tearing at his soul.
His fingers spasmed, tightening around the illusion of the gun he'd drawn months ago. Shoot! his mind screamed seeing the woman standing between him and Nick. But if he obeyed, she might fire in reaction to the pain of the bullet entering her body.
'But you arrested my husband!'
He began to sob, reacting to the strain of calmly drawing her attention to him and away from Nick when he wanted to attack like a wild caveman defending his mate. 'Mrs. Hendler?.'
The warm body against him, the arms holding him assured him he'd succeeded, but relief surged with sickening force once more at the memory of her turning to face and threaten him instead. 'Nick, don't move.' Don't draw her attention back to you. Trust me. 'Please. I don't want to fire my gun any more than you do.'
Soft words when he wanted to scream, her gun moving from her hand to his, it all played out in his mind like some wretched movie he desperately wanted to switch off. Then the ache rose up. The ache of not being able to go to Nick, of having to leave him alone to pull himself together while Gil secured the prisoner until the police returned - it made his knees weak and he sank to the floor, drawing his precious armful with him.
"You're safe, you're safe. Please, God, you have to be safe!"
"I am! Gil, please, listen to me!" Nick's voice cut through the flood of memory, blessedly switching it off so it could sink back into the mire of Gil's mind. "You saved me! You did!"
"Nicky?" he couldn't stop crying and through the haze he could see the tears flowing from Nick's eyes as well. Had to stop it. Had to comfort him. As he couldn't before. He kissed him, held him so close he could feel the pounding of Nick's heart against his own chest.
The caveman screamed inside of his head, and Gil let him loose, finally able to give him free reign. Desperate to feel tissue warm with the breath and blood of life, he ripped and pushed at Nick's clothes, baring him to the plunder of Gil's hands and mouth.
The tears blinded him, his nose filled blocking Nick's scent, but his senses of touch and taste feasted with a ruthless abandon that made Nick writhe beneath him, moaning for more.
Nick's legs wrapped around him, but Gil retained a spark of sanity and ruthlessly suppressed the need to plunge inside him once he'd freed his own cock. Instead he began to thrust without a sheath, his groin sliding against Nick's with a frenzied rhythm.
The need born of possession and frantic relief, neither came quickly, but Gil's middle-aged body kept driving against Nick with a strength and speed to astound the most robust teenager. He screamed in denial when Nick's seed splashed against him, then an even louder cry announced Gil's release.
For one moment Gil's muscles locked up at the force of it, then the adrenaline abandoned him and he collapsed, his body draping over Nick's.
He twilighted for a time, drifting in and out long enough to settle beside Nick, to note they'd both stopped crying and finally in one peaceful moment of grayness the answer they'd sought tumbled into his mind. Instantly awake, he said, "Nicky?"
"I understand now."
"Silk, silk, silk, what do cows drink?"
Nick stiffened, proving the issue still bothered him as well.
"It's a misdirection riddle, appropriate since I was distracting both of us from what I was doing." He sighed. "Holly died because she was alone. We were all still reeling from that when you almost died for the same reason less than a month later."
Silence, then, "You were keeping me from being alone when a murderer was involved."
"Yes." He brushed his lips against Nick's hair, then kissed his forehead. "I swear I didn't know what I was doing, but the truth is I was the one who wasn't ready, not you."
"Are you ready now?"
He hesitated. No, he wasn't. The hot ashes of his triumph over the deal with Brian burned his stomach lining. A fixture on the lecture circuit with his pretty man at his side sounded like paradise, and he considered backing out of the deal and telling Nick it had fallen through. He was working through the odds of getting away with it and being able to live with himself, when the horrible feeling that Nick would let him set in.
The silence re-enforced the thought. Nick was waiting with the same resigned patience Gil's returning memories told him was typical of the way Nicky dealt with him. When it came to 'them', it was always all about Gil Grissom. Maybe it was time for it to be about Nick Stokes and not demand Nick sacrifice a job he loved on the altar of their relationship.
"I can live with it." At least better than he could live with Nick's boredom turning him bitter.
"Yes." He put all the certainty he had into the word, and if determination counted for anything, he'd manage.
"And you'll be careful, too?"
"No more stupid stunts?"
Nick settled down against him, his head pillowed on Gil's chest.
Gil enjoyed it for a few seconds then frowned as his arm throbbed again and his back protested the unyielding wood beneath it. "Nicky?"
"Can we get off the floor and go to bed?"
He chuckled and sat up. "Floor too hard for you?"
Gil glared at the mirth dancing in his eyes. "The bed is more comfortable."
"Getting old, Gris," Nick teased, shifting to his feet, then holding out his hand to help Gil up.
Dignity demanded he ignore him, but he lost a good measure of it as he groaned at the protest of stiff muscles forced to get his body in a sitting position. He gave Nick another glare, then decided the helping hand was the lesser of two evils and took it.
Once they were both upright, Nick kicked off his shoes, then shed the remains of his clothes.
An inspiring sight, but Gil's body informed him it had retired for the next eight hours. Pity. Once in the bedroom the sense of tragedy grew at the hungry look in Nick's eyes as he rid himself of his own clothing. Ah, youth. Youth with gorgeous pert nipples begging to be sucked.
Despite his exhaustion and one arm rebelling against the slightest movement, he guided Nick down on top of him, then fucked him with the fingers of his good hand and teased his nipples until Nick climaxed again.
Sated into moving like an old man twice Gil's age, Nick managed to curl up against him. "Love you," he muttered, then fell asleep before Gil could respond in kind.
He smiled and held Nick close. A solution to every problem existed to as long as one was determined enough to find it. To everything from the differences in two lover's sex drives to one man's fear for the other. "I'll find the way, Nicky. For you. For both of us."
Gil closed his eyes and gave Nick one last hug before drifting off. They both slept until the alarm sounded nine hours later.