When Nick awoke, the room was diffused with pale blue-green light. At first he thought it was from his alarm clock, but as he sat up he realized that he wasn't in his own bed and there wasn't an alarm clock in sight.|
He was at Greg's. He remembered that now, though Greg wasn't in bed with him. He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, then squinted towards the source of the room's only light.
He was surprised when he saw where the light was coming from. A large saltwater aquarium bubbled softly, brightly colored fish swimming back and forth around large pieces of coral reef.
He got up and stood in front of the aquarium, watched as a hermit crab with bright red legs made its way across the sandy bottom. Long tentacles of a translucent white sea anemone drifted in the water's current, and a red and white striped shrimp ran its claws along its antennae, furiously cleaning them over and over again.
He'd never pictured Greg as the aquarium type, but he was quickly learning that the majority of his assumptions about Greg had been wrong. He wandered towards the bedroom door and opened it, found his boxer briefs in a tangle with his pants just outside the door in the hall and pulled them on. He yawned and stretched as he headed down the hallway.
He hadn't expected Greg's apartment to look anything like it did. He'd expected ratty furniture and clothes strewn everywhere, crusty dishes piled high in the sink. Instead, the place was tastefully furnished with framed pictures on the wall, the entire place infused with the calming glow of light coming from an aquarium even larger than the one in Greg's bedroom that served as a sort of wall between the kitchen and the living room.
Nick stared at the giant aquarium for a long time, watched yellow tangs move in slow circles and clownfish dart in and out of sea anemones.
"Peaceful, isn't it?" Greg's voice startled him.
When he turned, he saw Greg sitting at a desk along the far side of the living room, a book open in front of him, illuminated only by the light of a small desk lamp that shone down upon it like a spotlight.
"Yeah," Nick said, turning back to look at the fish. "It's…expensive."
"Ah, not so bad. And I make good money, you know," Greg said, and Nick couldn't decide if he sounded amused or annoyed. "I probably make more than you."
Nick looked over his shoulder at Greg and grinned. "Do not."
"Considering the fact that entry-level DNA techs start out making 12 grand more a year than entry-level CSIs, it's a definite possibility."
"12 grand?" Nick asked. "But that's—"
"46 thousand a year," Greg said. "Base."
Nick could help but gape at him. "Wait a minute. You started out making 46 grand a year?"
Greg nodded. "The big money's in the lab, you know."
"So you're the highest paid person at CSI and I didn't even know it?"
Greg laughed. "Hardly. Latent print analysts make a little more than DNA techs, but the real money's in ballistics. I can't be exactly sure, of course, but if Vegas pays him a competitive wage I figure Bobby pulls down something like 75K."
Nick let out a low whistle. "I'm in the wrong line of work."
Greg smiled at him. "It's not about the money."
"You really make 46 grand a year?"
Greg laughed. "No."
Nick sighed. He knew Greg had been pulling his leg.
"I started out at 46 grand a year. I've had raises since then. Plus bonuses and overtime." He laughed when he saw the look on Nick's face. "What? You feeling insecure now that you know I make more money than you do?"
"No," Nick said. "Of course not."
"Hmmm, I'm not convinced. It bothers you that I could be your Sugar Daddy, doesn't it?"
Nick laughed and crossed the room so he could slide his fingers through Greg's hair. "No."
"Of course it does. Come on, call me Daddy."
Nick kissed him. "You're insane."
"You love it."
Nick looked around the dark apartment, then stood up straight. "Jesus, what time is it?"
Greg looked over at the clock. "A little after one."
"Gris is gonna have our balls," Nick cried. "Why didn't you wake me up?"
"One pm, Nick," Greg said. "It's the middle of the afternoon."
Nick looked around again. "It's pitch dark."
"Blackout curtains," Greg explained. He leaned forward and pulled the corner of one back, flooding the room with bright yellow light before letting it fall back into place. "They help with soundproofing, too."
Nick reached forward and pulled back the curtain for a moment as if testing the theory for himself. Why hadn't he ever thought of blackout curtains? "Oh," he said. "Well, what are you doing up?"
"Trying not to barf." Greg held up the book he was reading, 'The Color Atlas of Sexual Assault.' "I have a quiz tomorrow and I thought I'd get some studying in." He looked at the book for a long moment. "And now I don't think I'll ever eat again. Ever."
Nick reached out and leafed through a few pages, then winced. "What class is this for?"
"Investigation and Documentation of Physical Trauma," Greg told him. "And I thought the stab wound pictures were gross." He ran his thumb up and down the book's spine. "Do you think I'm pathetic for wanting to be a CSI? Everybody keeps telling me I should stay in the lab, and most of the time I think they're full of shit, that they have no idea what I'm capable of, but when I look at things like this…" He sighed and looked away.
"Yeah." Nick sat on the couch and rubbed out a crick in his neck. "My first year in Dallas we had this sexual assault taskforce come in, they gave lectures, outlined procedure, really made sure the PD was up to date. A few of us were handpicked to get even more intensive training when it came to responding to scenes of sexual assault. It was mostly women, but a few guys."
"You were one of them?"
Nick nodded. "Yeah. I never knew there was so much to know about rape. I just thought it was some guy with an impulse control problem that I'd be more than happy to lock away forever. But we really got into it, into the different kinds of offenders, the ones who did it for power, the ones who did it to express their anger, the ones who did it because they liked inflicting pain. We watched…God." He rubbed at his closed eyes with his fingertips. "In order to understand these guys, we watched a videotape one of them had taken during the crime."
"Jesus," Greg whispered.
"It was brutal. Talk about never wanting to eat again. I didn't think that knot would ever come out of my stomach. Afterwards I asked Detective McGuinness—she'd been one of my instructors at the academy—I asked her why they showed it to us, what it was supposed to teach us that we couldn't learn any other way."
"What did she say?"
"She said she had no idea what the task force expected us to learn, but she knew that she always learned a lot from videos like that. Not the video itself, but the response of the people who watched it. She said the ones who made jokes about it after were the ones she was going to keep her eye on, and the ones that came out green around the gills were the ones she could trust."
Greg just looked at him for a long moment. "So it was just a test?" he asked finally.
"No. McGuinness wasn't on the task force; she didn't have anything to do with showing us the video. But she made me realize that feeling sick, being disgusted, it wasn't something to be ashamed of. It doesn't have anything to do with being a real man or any of that macho bullshit." He leaned forward and took Greg's hand in his. "Don't worry that you're not cut out for the job because the shit people do to each other gets to you. It gets to all of us. I mean, have you seen what happens to Sara during a rape investigation?"
"And I've been known to punch a wall or a door on more than one occasion. Even fractured my hand once."
"I remember," Greg said. "That was my first month at the lab."
"I'd worry about you not being cut out for the job if you weren't disgusted by pictures like that," he said, tapping the cover of the book. "It's going to get to you, but you have to find a way to get past it. You have to find a way to put that aside and get the job done."
"And if I can't?"
"You will." Nick tugged on his hand. "Come here."
Greg smiled and got up, then settled against Nick on the couch. He slid his arms around Nick's neck. "You're just talkin' sweet to me so I won't be too cranky for sex later."
Nick laughed and kissed him. "No. No, I mean it." He stretched out on the couch, moved so that Greg could lean against him. He wrapped his arms around Greg's shoulders and nuzzled his face into his hair. "I could fall asleep here," he whispered.
Greg nodded. "I sleep out here a lot. I like to watch my anthias."
Greg sighed and slid his hand across Nick's chest. "I've got a school of pink square anthias. They're the ones right there."
"Hey," Nick said. "They really do have pink squares on 'em."
Greg nodded sleepily. "They've got good personalities," he said with a yawn.
"I didn't know fish had personalities."
Greg yawned again. "They do. My gobi's shy."
"Mmmm." Greg opened his eyes and looked at the tank for a while. "There, in the corner near the brain coral. With the orange spots. He's shy. He's starting to get more confidence, though, which is nice. He doesn't have anything to be ashamed of."
Nick laughed. "You have a fish with low self esteem?"
"Well, you know, he's kind of plain. I think he feels bad that he's not as brightly colored as the rest of the fish. But he's starting to realize that he does an important job and that's helping him come out of his shell. So to speak. He doesn't actually have a shell."
Nick smiled and shook his head.
"Am I dreaming?" Greg asked after a long silence.
"Are we really doing this? Is this real?"
"Yeah." Nick rubbed his back. "It's real."
"I keep holding my breath, afraid somebody's going to pinch me and I'll wake up."
Nick pinched his arm gently. "Still here," he whispered. He shifted on the couch, sighed as Greg's weight settled against him. "Talk to me. What's going on?"
"I just…I showed you my cards, Nick. I showed you everything I had and you're still here, and it doesn't make any sense."
"Because you're supposed to run. You're supposed to see what I am and you're supposed to want to get as far away from me as you possibly can."
"Do you want me to run?" Nick asked softly.
"No." Greg pressed his cheek against Nick's chest. "God, no."
"Good. Because I'm not going anywhere." He slid his fingers through Greg's hair and sighed. "You didn't show me anything terrible, baby. All I saw was a kid who fucked up, who made a huge mistake and who regrets it every day of his life."
"I do," Greg whispered.
"You think you're the only guy who's ever fucked up? The only woman I've ever been with died a few hours after I slept with her."
"That wasn't your fault."
"Maybe. But it still feels too close to be coincidence. Like maybe she'd still be alive if I hadn't taken her home that night, if I hadn't stuck my nose into her business and pissed off her pimp."
Greg rubbed his chest in small, lazy circles. "I didn't know you felt that way."
"I've never told anybody before."
"Guess that means this is real, then, if you're telling me your darkest secrets."
"It is real," Nick said. "And that's hardly my darkest secret."
Nick pursed his lips. Shh, Nicky, don't be scared. It feels good when I touch you there, doesn't it? Don't you like playing grown-up with me?
"It's OK," Greg whispered. "You don't have to tell me."
"I will. Someday. Just…"
Greg nodded and sighed contentedly. "I know. I wasn't expecting you to just come out and tell me, anyway. That's what relationships are for, you know? Getting to know the other person, learning to open up and trust."
"I wouldn't know."
"You really never dated anybody?"
"Girls. In high school, a little in college. Nothing serious. Just, you know, what I was supposed to do. It never lasted more than a few dates."
"And you only slept with one woman?"
Nick nodded. "I figured I should try it."
"Did you like it?"
Nick thought for a moment. "It was all right. She knew I was gay. She said it was a turn on." He stroked Greg's back and sighed. "She was just…she was so easy to be with. No lies, no pretending. I've thought about it, about what would happen if she hadn't died, if we would have dated."
"Do you think you would have?"
He shook his head. "No. I mean, it was fine. Good, even, but she was…a woman. Breasts are weird."
Greg laughed softly. "Mmmm. Breasts are nice. Girls are nice."
"You don't think they're…odd? Just poking out like that where it's supposed to be flat?"
"Men's chests are supposed to be flat, Nick. Women are supposed to have breasts and, I must say, God really outdid himself the day he designed them."
"I never figured you for a breast man."
Greg shrugged. "I wouldn't say it's my main focus, but I appreciate a nice rack as much as the next guy."
Nick nuzzled his face against Greg's hair. "If you like women," he whispered, "why this? Don't you want to be normal?"
Greg pushed himself up and straddled Nick's hips, sat back on his thighs. "Define normal," he said.
"I…" Nick sighed. "I can't help it, Greg. I've tried to want women, and I can't do it. I have to be this way, but you could be in a normal relationship. You could live a normal life."
"Once again, define normal."
"You know what I mean."
"I've never been ashamed of loving men," Greg whispered, cradling Nick's face in his hands. "Yeah, I could date women the rest of my life and no one would ever have to know that I also dig guys. But to be silent about my sexuality would be to deny who I am on a fundamental level, and I'm not willing to do that."
"You never wanted to be straight?"
Greg shook his head. "If I was, I wouldn't be here with you now. I wouldn't give that up for anything." He leaned forward and kissed Nick gently. "Would you?"
Nick slid his arms around Greg's waist and pulled him close. "Let's go back to bed," he whispered.
They slept in the cool aquatic darkness of Greg's bed, arms and legs tangled together in peaceful dreams. When he woke, Nick felt like he'd never had sleep that deep before in his entire life. He stretched and reached for Greg, but Greg wasn't beside him. He rolled onto his side and smiled as he saw Greg, boxers hanging on his slim hips as he stood in front of the aquarium, dropping in bits of something dark and leafy and green.
"Seaweed?" Nick asked, propping his head up on one hand.
Greg turned and smiled at him. "Romaine lettuce. I boil it first to break down the cellulose." He laughed as a deep purple tang darted out to nibble at a piece of lettuce drifting through the water. "Yeah," he said softly, "that's what I thought. She's a drama queen," he explained to Nick. "Mrs. Palmbach was afraid she was sick because she wasn't eating well and was nipping at the other fish. I think she just missed me."
Nick grinned as he sat up. "So you have a gobi with low self esteem and a…"
"Emperor tang," Greg said.
"And an Emperor tang who throws temper tantrums when you're gone. Any other neurotic fish you need to tell me about."
Greg rolled his eyes. "How much time have you got?"
Their shower started out innocently enough, with Nick thinking of nothing more than washing Greg's back, and chest, and maybe his ass while he was at it. It ended with him pinned against the shower wall while he and Greg exchanged lazy kisses, soapy cocks sliding together, his fingers twisted in Greg's hair as they ground their way towards orgasm.
"Need to borrow a shirt?" Greg asked with a grin as they dressed, pulling one of his loudest shirts from the closet and holding it up against Nick's chest.
Nick smiled and shook his head. "It's a cardinal rule of crime scene investigation, Greg," he said, kissing his nose. "Always keep a change of clothes in your car."
Greg smirked at him. "Hmm. So you're always prepared in case you spend the night with a genius who has far superior fashion sense than you do?"
"No, so you're prepared in case you end up covered in human soup."
Greg winced and pushed Nick away. "Talk about ruining the mood."
"Sorry, G." Nick kissed him quickly. "See you at work?"
Greg nodded. "As long as you don't avoid me again."
Nick reached out and brushed his fingers over Greg's lips, moaned as Greg closed his mouth around his fingers and sucked them gently. "For the sake of our jobs, I may have to."
Greg pretended to pout for a moment, then gave in. "Fine. As long as you come back here again tomorrow morning."
"I've only got one change of clothes."
"Are you asking me to come home with you?" Greg asked, sliding his arms around Nick's waist. "Because, you know, I usually play hard to get but if you really want, I'll make an exception."
Nick nodded as he slid his fingers through Greg's damp hair. "Oh, I really want," he whispered, before leaning down for one last kiss.