CSI
An Interval of Dreams by KeikoKirin [Reviews - 4]

Thirteen months ago:

A dark corridor. Gasping, desperate, choking breath. Light from nowhere in a flash: a halo around the terrified familiar face, then the drip-drip-drip of black ink leaving tiny spots on his skin as his eyes roll up to greet death.

Greg woke up twisting in the sheet, clawing it from his clammy skin. He wrestled with the grip of deep sleep until he could squint his eyes open and read the blurry LCD numbers of the alarm clock. Damn. Same dream again, same waking up early. Same hollow pit in his stomach as he tried to shake off the dream's imagery and couldn't.

He dragged himself from bed to shower, from shower to kitchen, where he finished off an open 2-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi for his pre-Starbucks caffeine fix. He rested his hands on the counter, yawning and stretching and shaking water from his hair, and he wished he didn't still feel the spinal creep of uneasiness and cold prickling of anxiety.

It was only a dream, he told himself. Nick wasn't really in danger. Wasn't really going to die suffocating.

-----

A week ago:

A dry well. Unbearable heat. Mute screaming and bloody fingertips scratching. The circular edge of the yellow sky far above broken by a man's silhouette, but this is worse than being alone, because the man tosses a shovel of dirt into the well. Then Greg is above ground, hovering as dirt falls away from the body lifted from the hole: Nick's body, perfectly clean, pale, immobile. Unbearable heat: as soon as the body is uncovered, it catches fire in spontaneous combustion and Greg chokes on the smoke and charring of dead, dry flesh.

Greg woke up and kept his eyes closed and ran his hands through his hair. After a few minutes of insistently emptying his mind he opened his eyes and glanced at the clock, though the sunlight pushing in around the heavy curtains gave him a rough idea of how early it was. Pretending he didn't feel the same uneasiness and anxiety as he had a year ago, he got up and started his day.

-----

Today:

One of the overhead fluorescents in the locker room had been flickering and buzzing for four days. Nick idly wondered when they were going to fix it as he wandered beneath its random strobing and passed a motionless slumping profile sitting on a bench.

"Greg?"

Greg jerked his head up guiltily and focused his eyes. "What? I'm awake."

Nick opened his locker. "You all right there, buddy?"

"Yeah, yeah," Greg said, sounding more awake. He rose and leaned against the locker next to Nick's, watching him. When Nick cast him a questioning glance, he said cockily, "I guess I've been burning my candle at both ends too much lately: work, an active social life. Very active …"

Nick rolled his eyes and pulled on his jacket. "I get it. It's hard to be you, right?"

Greg smiled his agreement, looking a little too disarmingly boyish. Nick had an urge to ruffle his hair. He shut the locker door firmly and smothered the urge by adopting the voice of authority: "Grissom will kick your butt if he finds you napping during your shift." Inwardly groaning at his holier-than-thou pomposity -- when had he turned into this? around Greggo, of all people? -- he made a brisk exit before Greg could respond.

He'd forgotten about the whole thing by the next time he saw Greg, passing him in the corridor and too busy to stop, but the dark circles under Greg's eyes triggered his memory and he filed away a reminder to check up on Greg later, when the case settled down.

The case didn't settle down. What began as one shallow grave in a deserted lot at the edge of new construction became two, then three, then six. And that was only counting the complete remains. All women, ranging from teens to middle-aged, with very different CODs. The initial certainty LVPD had that they'd found a serial killer's cemetery was fading. Not ruled out completely, but every shift another discovery added another question, another complexity. Nick was absorbed in reconstructing skeletons from the random additional finds, putting in extra hours, surrounding himself with studies and sketches, getting lost in the work so the bleak tragedy of it all wouldn't catch up with him.

He'd pretty much forgotten about Greg again until Greg was right there, standing by the light table and looking curiously at the collection of bones.

"Hey," Nick said distractedly, setting down one phalanx and picking up another and checking his notes.

"Hey."

A moment or two or twenty passed and Greg was still there. "Need something?" Nick asked as he walked to the other end of the table and put this phalanx with a metacarpal.

"No. I'm waiting for some DNA results …" Greg trailed off. Nick dimly recalled that he'd been working the MGM date rape case. "This looked interesting. While I'm waiting."

Nick looked up. Granted, the light table was not flattering for anyone, but Greg looked downright vampirish. An anemic vampire.

"You okay?"

"Oh, yeah." Greg waved off the question. "Been busy, that's all." He bent over the table and studied an ulna unconvincingly. "Uh … How about you? Are you okay?"

Nick lowered his notes. "Me? I'm fine." He moved closer, not reassured by any of the details of Greg's appearance.

"You sure?" Greg pressed, looking him in the eyes. There was a certain focused anxiety about his manner.

Taken aback, Nick stared at him. "Sure I'm sure. What--"

He was cut off by Warrick swinging in, one hand on the doorjamb. "Nick. Grissom wants us." He started to swing out, then leaned in again. "I think Hodges was looking for you," he said to Greg. In the silence left in Warrick's wake, Nick frowned at Greg, taking a good hard look at him and not happy at any of the suspicions that came to mind. Greg returned the look by assessing him, like he was searching for some hidden clue he knew to be concealed on Nick's face. Irritated and unsettled, Nick stalked off to be enveloped by the case again.

-----

Greg stood just inside the door of his apartment where an elongated rectangle of daylight hit the floor. He was very sure he could keep it all together. Nick had said he was fine. Nick seemed fine. The dream, no matter how many times repeated, wasn't a premonition and couldn't cause anything to happen. Nick was safe. This wasn't like last year.

Even so, Greg slid into his week-old routine, automatically switching on the TV and sinking into the sofa with his triple macchiato. A few hours of trashy talk shows and he felt pleasantly numb. He switched to the soap operas and dozed off for a couple of hours before the alarm went off, pulling him away from REM sleep. More coffee, more distraction: Greg selected a random DVD from his porn collection and stretched out on the sofa.

Half an hour into it, he was regretting his choice. The bed in the movie uncomfortably resembled the one at the crime scene he'd been processing, and the horny neighbor dude had a certain chiseled, dark-haired similarity to Nick. Was there no escape? Even porn wasn't safe? Greg turned off the DVD and draped his arm across his face.

Before he knew it, he was asleep. Before he knew it, he was in the dry well again. Then hovering above it, watching Nick's corpse burst into flames.

-----

Nick was gathering his notes for another visit to the mass grave when Catherine threw open the glass door of the lab and cocked her head.

"What's wrong with Greg?"

Though her question worried him, Nick shrugged it off. "How should I know?"

She gave him a thank-you-for-being-unhelpful look and drew back.

"Hey, Catherine. What happened?"

Catherine came inside. "He just walked into me. Blam. Like he didn't even see me."

Nick mustered a small smirk and said, "You're sure it wasn't an excuse for him to cop a feel?"

Catherine narrowed her eyes and set her jaw. "I'll pretend you didn't just say that. Sara's working the rape case with him and said he's been a space cadet half the time. If he keeps on like this, she'll have to go to Grissom."

It was nothing to do with him, yet he felt a little hollow all the same. Greg had been doing well, and there was a kind of unspoken support network around him, all wanting to see the baby CSI make good. An irrational sense of responsibility stole over Nick, completely uninvited and unwelcome and pissing him off. Greg was an adult. Whatever mistakes he made were on him.

But if he were in real trouble …

"I'm not his keeper," Nick said doggedly. Adding in a tone of resignation, "What do you want me to do? Talk to him?"

"Or find out what the hell is wrong with him," Catherine said on her way out.

Nick stuffed his notes into a zippered case and said to the empty light table, "Why me?"

-----

The flickering overheard light in the locker room had died its natural death, casting the space into a shadowy gloom perfect for Greg's purposes. All he had to do was rest his eyes for a minute. He could keep going if he could just close his eyes for a while and stop them from aching and unfocusing. Catherine had bought his too-absorbed-in-the-case-to-see excuse when he'd walked into her, but he was sure that line would only work once.

He didn't sit down: too easy to go from sitting to lying down, and he couldn't nap in here. He stood in front of his locker, one hand resting on the handle like he was about to open it, and shut his eyes. The cool metal of the locker door tempted him and he pressed his forehead against it.

Next thing he knew, strong fingers were digging into his elbow and Nick's voice said tightly, "Okay, that's it."

Greg blinked a few times, but it was difficult to open his eyes. "What's what?" he asked, trying to smile as if this were the beginning of a joke, but Nick was yanking him up like he'd been on the floor, and Greg faltered as he found his footing.

In a blind, dreamlike whirr he moved where Nick's hand on his arm guided him: out into cool air, into a vehicle, and, after an abrupt loss of contact, he was moving. When he woke up, he was sitting in Nick's parked truck and the sky was turning purple as dawn approached. He rubbed one eye and looked out the window at his apartment building.

Nick had both hands locked on the steering wheel and was glaring at it as if he wanted to rip it out. His eyes -- dark, hard, angry -- slid sidelong to Greg. "You're home," he said. "Get out."

Greg, wide awake now, sat up. "Nick? What's--"

"Look," Nick broke in, "I don't know what you're on or why, but let me give you a piece of advice: don't give Grissom a reason not to trust you. Believe me, you don't want to go down that road. This is the first and last time I cover your ass, so go home, come down, and don't come back to work until you can see straight."

Greg stared at him, unable to catch his breath for a moment because the world had suddenly opened wide and revealed a new hell.

"You think I'm on something?" he said at last.

Nick's hands relaxed on the steering wheel and he gave Greg a weary, cynical look. "You've been stumbling around like a sleepwalker for a week, and tonight you were on your knees by your locker, bud. Whatever it is, it's not worth it."

Sweat gathered in Greg's palms and on his neck. Nick actually believed he was on some drug? He rubbed his face and shook his head. "No. God, no. It's nothing like that. I'm not taking anything." He looked at Nick. "I swear to you."

The hardness in Nick's eyes abruptly disappeared, replaced by uncertain concern. "Then what--?"

But that was a question Greg didn't really want to answer, and the world which had gaped so widely a few moments earlier was now pressing in on him: Nick's truck shrinking and shrinking as he realized how intimate this was, to be sitting here confronted with Nick's concern for him. Fucking hell, why did it have to be Nick, of all people? It was always all about Nick. Why couldn't he be dreaming his nightmares about Sara or Warrick, any of the others? Okay, maybe not about Grissom. That might be worse in some ways.

"It's nothing," Greg lied, knowing Nick didn't believe it for a nanosecond. "It's not drugs. I'll get some rest. I'll be fine."

Nick said nothing, let his skeptical look say it for him, and punctuated it by reaching across Greg and unlocking the passenger door for him. A truly unsettling brush with Nick Stokes, Greg thought, anxious to get away. He climbed out quickly, not reassured when Nick leaned over again, rolling down the window.

"Will you need a lift tonight? Your car's still at work."

"Nah, it's okay. I can manage." Greg smiled a little. "Thanks," he added, sincerely but belatedly.

Nick drew back until he was hidden by the truck. The engine fired into life, and then he was gone.

-----

So it wasn't drugs. There was some relief in that, though the relief was quickly becoming tinged with worry and a surprising anger. Why couldn't Greg just tell him what was wrong? Illness? Stress? Was it the case? Nick made a mental note to ask around, see if anything about the MGM case was particularly disturbing.

No, he thought as he waited at a red light two blocks from Greg's place. Dammit, no. It was not his case. He had bones to piece together. He didn't have the time to spend chasing down clues to Greg's pale, unkempt, walking death state.

He didn't have the time, but he wished he did. He wanted answers. He wanted Greg to tell him what was going on. He wanted Greg to know he could confide in him. Could trust him.

An impatient horn pushed his attention to the traffic light, which had changed and turned yellow as he went through the intersection. He sent silent apologies to the car on his tail, which tore past him as soon as it could.

No, he thought with a sigh. This wasn't about Greg's trust or confidences. He respected Greg's privacy, and if Greg asked him to help, Nick would be there, no hesitation. Greg knew that. What Nick really wanted was his Greg back: eager, smiling, making his stupidly funny remarks and not caring at the reaction he got.

It couldn't be the job, he told himself, at the same time thinking, Let it not be the job. It gave them all frown lines and gray hairs, gave them all bad dreams. But Greg … All that cocky, attractive youth couldn't be robbed away. Not yet. Nick needed it. He needed the eager determination, the stupid jokes, the openness, the attitude. He needed the smile in Greg's eyes when Greg told him something funny or important or irrelevant … or told him nothing at all, just watched him.

Another horn on his tail, and Nick made the turn to his neighborhood.

-----

They were rolling down a dry brush hill, picking up momentum, and although the sun was high and fierce, drops of rain hit them like pinpricks. They kept rolling, separate, then together, then as one, body against body, faster down the steep hill. Unable to stop when Greg saw the cliff's edge and the sheer drop below. He tried to brake, tried to shake Nick off of him, grabbed and pulled but Nick was heavy -- a dead weight wrapped around him. Down the hill and off the cliff they rolled and Greg's scream was swallowed by the vast, empty sky.

Greg supposed this dream was better than Nick's corpse bursting into flames, but this was definitely one of those "lesser of two evils" situations.

Why did his dreams about Nick have to be nightmares? There were so many other things he'd rather be dreaming about Nick, none of them involving suffocation or spontaneous combustion. Leave it to his unconscious psyche to turn being skin-to-skin with Nick Stokes into a frightening, unpleasant prospect.

Greg dragged himself from the sofa to the kitchen where he stood with the refrigerator door open for a minute or so before he remembered he was searching for breakfast. Not finding inspiration in plastic-wrapped slices of American cheese, a small tub of hummus, wilted lettuce, and an open box of baking soda, he shut the door and leaned against it.

Nick had thought it was drugs. Greg was pretty certain he'd laid that suspicion to rest, but he couldn't undo the fact that he'd given Nick cause to be suspicious. He had to pull himself together. If he could just hold on. The nightmares had to end.

He didn't want to think about what had happened last year when the nightmare ended.

-----

The next night Sara caught him napping in a dark corner of Archie's lair and her withering warning look told him not to even try to joke his way out of it. Archie diplomatically stayed uninvolved, engrossed in his monitor. The door was closing behind Greg when he heard Archie ask Sara, "Stokes okay?"

Greg stopped in his tracks, mind racing for harmless reasons why Archie would be asking that, but he couldn't think of any. Sara opened the door behind him.

"What was that about Nick?" He adopted a disinterested tone, marred slightly by the shiver in his voice. He hoped Sara hadn't noticed.

"It was nothing," she said, heading for the trace lab. "Just a few scrapes. Nothing's infected or broken. They released him hours ago."

He stared at her shakily.

Sara slowed and turned around. "Greg?"

"Something happened to Nick?" Greg licked his lips, tried to pull moisture into his mouth.

Sara gave him a steady, stern look. "How long were you sleeping in there?"

Greg ignored the question. "What happened to Nick?"

"It was nothing. He lost his footing and slid down a ravine at the site. He didn't fall far." She paused. "He's all right, Greg."

Greg stood still, dimly aware of Sara and the people walking by. He waited for the dizziness to pass before he spoke. "Oh, that's okay, then," he said with a feigned unconcern that didn't seem to convince Sara. He stepped past her. "I'll catch up with you and Hodges. I'll just be a minute."

"Greg …" Sara said to his back.

Nick was back at the light table, working with two relatively complete skeletons. He looked entirely unscathed except for a bandage wrapped around one palm. There was also a dark spot on his lower lip, like a small cut or bruise.

"You're here."

Nick glanced over. "Yeah?" he said with a trace of sarcasm, adding as he turned back to the skeletons, "It was nothing. Grissom said I could go home if I needed to. I don't need to."

Greg looked him over critically. Nothing worse than a bandaged palm and cut lip? Was this it, then? The end of the nightmares and the anxiety and the pit in his stomach?

Nick gave him a wary sidelong look. "Are you--"

"I'm fine," Greg cut in, smiling, slightly giddy with relief.

Nick nodded, rolled his shoulder and winced. His gaze darted to Greg, who hadn't missed the move or the wince. Greg tsked and shook his head.

"You should. Go home, I mean." He paused at the door. "Listen to The Man."

Nick shot him a look. "'The Man'?"

"Grissom, of course. Our wise and fearless leader. The sage among us mere mortal men--"

"Very flattering, but I think you'll find I'm mortal, too," Grissom said from Greg's back. Greg flushed, turned away without a word, and escaped without meeting Grissom's look.

Relief became an incredible adrenaline rush, and when Hodges presented his analysis results to Sara with his customary drama queen flourishes, Greg could have hugged him: it nailed their case. Things were finally beginning to slide back to normal. All they had to do was wrap up the final touches, and Greg packed his kit to accompany Detective Curtis to the suspect's house while Sara prepared their evidence bags for the DA.

Loud techno blasted from the pristine angular architectural showcase. The frosted glass door in front was open, and no lights from inside. Curtis entered first, cautiously, motioning for Greg when her flashlight caught overturned furniture and streaks of white powder across the sleek marble floor. While she continued the search deeper into the heart of pumping bass and clanging synth, Greg crouched by the glass-topped coffee table cracking out of its chrome frame and swept his flashlight across the room, doubling back to aim it at the large fuzzy rug and boxy white couch, both of which were marred with red smears. Fumes of expensive alcohol surrounded him, rising from the glass wreckage of a retro liquor cabinet.

Greg glanced over his shoulder to find Curtis, instead faced a dark shape barreling toward him, one arm raised, holding something which flashed before soaring past Greg's head. Too late he recognized it as a molotov cocktail. The rivers of alcohol erupted in flames. The dark shape was on top of him: was kicking him down into the fire.

-----

"I'm going to the hospital," Sara said from the doorway. "You want a ride?"

Nick didn't look up from the light table. "You go ahead. I think Catherine and Warrick already left."

"Nick."

"Don't want to hear it, Sara. He's not Dorothy and this isn't the Wizard of Oz. We don't all have to be there by his bedside."

His words fell into a tight silence.

"He gets out today," she said simply and left him alone.

-----

The stark early morning sunlight threw high-relief shadows along all the edges of Greg's apartment building, including his door. Nick stared at the tiny lines of shadow on the door where a quick and careless paintbrush had left ridges in the white paint. If he stood here all day, he could chart the sun from those tiny lines. And then he wouldn't have to ring the buzzer.

But he would ring the buzzer. Why come all the way out here, otherwise? Once he knew what he wanted to say, he'd ring the buzzer.

If he waited that long, the shadows would be made by moonlight. He pushed his thumb against the button.

Greg opened the door, squinting against the daylight, stared at him for a moment then stood aside in a noncommital invitation. He wore an ancient faded Skinny Puppy tour t-shirt and baggy pajama bottoms and stood with his bare feet framed in a long rectangle of sunlight from the uselessly small window above the door. One cheek was swollen, discolored in a large variegated bruise, but other than that, he looked the same as always. Nick's relief morphed into curiosity.

"They kept you there for two days, man."

"Minor smoke inhalation," Greg said with a shrug, not moving. His hand was still on the doorknob even though he'd shut the door. "Took me a while to breathe without coughing up a lung."

Nick nodded, stealing a couple of quick glances around the room and noticing the kitchen wastebasket overflowing with Starbucks cups, the piles of crinkled well-thumbed magazines, the purple bedsheet falling off the sofa. Light flicked across the sofa from the TV, which was emitting gradually louder sounds of breathing and moaning over a backdrop of awful New Age music.

"Oh, hey, if I'm interrupting something …" Nick said with a small smile.

Greg shot him a look as he crossed over to the TV and switched it off. He just stood there, like he had by the door, as if he had to be standing while Nick was there. Nick's gaze rested on the Starbucks landfill.

"What happened?" he asked quietly, slowly moving his gaze to Greg.

Greg smiled ruefully at the empty TV screen. "Guy tried to flambι me with a beer bottle molotov and when that didn't work, he tried to kick my head in. Stupid cokehead. Luckily Curtis was there." He put his hands together in the shape of a gun, aimed at the TV and mimed a shot with a "pow" noise. "Clean shoulder shot. He sprayed all over me, but I've had worse. Besides, I was pretty much choking by then."

He sounded like the old Greg -- but not completely, there was still something unusually quiet and masked about him. Nick hesitated.

"I didn't mean at the scene. I heard about that. I meant, what happened before that? What happened to you?"

Greg looked at him with such a failed attempt at blank confusion that Nick hoped he never tried to play poker. Greg must've seen Nick's complete lack of belief; he closed his mouth to whatever innocent protests he'd been about to make. Nick wandered over to a bookcase, saying casually, "Caffeine's a drug, too. What was it? Trying to self-induce insomnia?"

"Something like that." Greg's voice was quiet.

Nick pulled a pop non-fiction paperback from the bookcase and pretended to be interested in the table of contents. "Why?"

Greg didn't answer. He picked up the TV remote and played with it, switching the TV on and off. The porn movie was still playing in the DVD player, and the sounds of groaning and wet slapping burst in and out. Nick replaced the book and watched him.

"Okay, I get it," he said, speaking calmly despite his disappointment. "Whatever you want to keep to yourself, that's fine. But I had to ask." Greg looked at him warily. Nick searched for the words -- what exactly did he want to say? -- and when Greg's gaze moved back to the on/off TV, he blurted out, "I had to ask because I keep feeling responsible somehow."

Greg stared at him, wide-eyed, hunted. He switched off the TV and left it off. His look made Nick feel vaguely guilty, like he'd inadvertently accused him of something.

"Not responsible, exactly. I feel … maybe involved is a better word." He ran a hand over his hair. "Hell. I can't explain it. And I'm not trying to pry into something that's not my business--" Except he was, because he kept feeling that it was his business.

"Sometimes I get these dreams," Greg said. He shrugged and sank down to the sofa. "Nightmares. I had one last year, and … Never mind. Then I got one this year, and it seemed like it was all about how you were going to die going up in flames, except it was really about how you were going to fall down that ravine. And not die. And I was the one who was supposed to go up in flames." He smiled wearily, like it was supposed to be a joke.

Nick glanced around the room again. "You were trying not to dream." He connected Greg's words together and looked him in the eyes. "The one you had last year was about me."

Greg paled and nodded. Nick expected him to slump deeper into the sofa and retreat further into silence, but Greg sat up, animated, babbling, "I should've said something, but I didn't and I'm sorry. Grissom doesn't believe in this stuff, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I knew what it meant, and I didn't want to face it, so I didn't say anything. And I didn't say anything this time, either, but we're both alive, so I guess it doesn't matter. So I went through this hell for nothing?"

He looked at Nick as if expecting an answer, so much the old Greg, the real Greg, face so open and inviting that Nick went to the sofa and indulged his urge to ruffle Greg's hair. He patted Greg's shoulder and left his hand there reassuringly. "You couldn't have prevented anything that's happened."

"I know." Greg rolled his shoulder beneath Nick's hand. "That's why this so-called gift is such a pain in the butt. It torments me with what will happen, doesn't give me any clues on how to stop it."

Alarmed, Nick asked, "You get these dreams a lot?"

"No. These two, three recently. More intense than in the past."

Nick let his hand drop from Greg's shoulder. "The ones about me?"

Greg looked uneasy. Nick didn't blame him. He felt uneasy himself. It was time to cut and run, he told himself. Before it was too late. But then, it was already too late: he'd already asked, and Greg's look was his answer.

He retreated a couple of steps and perched on the sofa arm away from Greg. "That's … odd. I guess," he said with an air of neutral bewilderment.

Greg's eyes hadn't left him. "Why?"

"Well." Why hadn't he cut and run? Nick rubbed the back of his neck, thinking of how to answer. "I wouldn't think I was the type of person you would have dreams -- nightmares -- about."

Greg gave a little snorty laugh and slumped against the sofa back. "On the contrary. That's the problem. You're exactly my type. The ruggedly handsome jock fratboy type. Aggressively straight and uptight on the outside but secretly sensitive on the inside. My fatal attraction. My Achilles heel. When I go for guys, anyway." He spoke with a kind of self-conscious, dramatic air, as if presenting the words as fiction would make them untrue. He even smiled, theatrically tragic. As if he hadn't just bared his soul and confessed a surprising number of things to Nick at once.

Nick knew there was a response he was expected to make, a response he considered briefly because it was expected -- if false -- but after he'd discarded that option, he didn't know what to say. Greg could pull off that kind of pretense without being dishonest; Nick was stuck with his own mulishly practical personality.

The interval for replying without being misunderstood was running out. Nick caught at one of the hundred things swirling in his mind and said evenly, honestly, "I thought you were over that."

Greg visibly relaxed; he had been expecting the worst. "Over what?"

Nick smiled a little. "That co-worker crush you had on me a few years ago." Greg didn't quite blush, though his bruise seemed a little more highly colored. "You backed off, at any rate," Nick said.

Greg twitched an eyebrow then narrowed his eyes. "Wait a minute. You backed off. Like way the hell in another zip code off."

Nick raised his hands. "Don't put this on me, man. You were the one dogging Sara and Catherine around …"

"That's because it's cold in Siberia, CSI Stokes. I head for where it's warm."

Nick let out an exasperated laugh. "You're kidding. Sara?"

"Yeah, well … Can't get anywhere unless you try."

"Yeah," Nick said pointedly. "You can't." Greg glared sullenly at him. "Shit, man," Nick laughed. "Are we really arguing about this?"

Greg's glare evaporated. He put one hand to his forehead and groaned, "Yeah. God, this is some serious fucked up." He covered his eyes and sprawled lower on the sofa. "Wait a sec." He lifted his hand and looked over at Nick. "Where does this leave us? You didn't bash my head in or spit on me … We're arguing about crushes. Help me out, I'm sleep-deprived: is there something going on between us? Or the potential for something?" He didn't keep the note of expectant hope out of his voice.

Nick laughed. Real Greg -- his Greggo -- was definitely back. He flicked a finger at Greg's hair. "Come see me when the swelling goes down. We'll talk." He slid from his perch on the sofa arm.

"Aw, come on. It's barely swollen." Greg sat up and gingerly touched his cheek. "Is it ugly?" he asked. "I thought it might make me look roguish." He winced as he pressed his fingers along the edge of the bruise.

Nick bent down and lightly kissed his forehead, shocking himself as much as he probably shocked Greg -- though Greg didn't seem very shocked. He made a grab for Nick's neck and a fumbling attempt to pull him into a kiss that ended up a little off-center. Unfazed, Greg gazed up at him with bright, erotically charged happiness, and Nick took a step back, straightening up.

"Dude. You need to sleep." Nick belatedly realized he was licking his lips for the trace of Greg's taste and at the same time realized that Greg, watching him like a hawk, knew exactly what he was doing and why.

"I sleep better after sex," Greg offered, as kittenish as a guy with a bruised face and bed-head hair, in a ragged t-shirt and oversized pj bottoms could be. And Nick got a charge out of it despite himself, dammit, as ridiculous and disturbing as the whole conversation was. He licked his lips again, shivering inside when Greg watched him smugly.

"I'm sure you'll manage." Nick exaggeratedly looked at the TV and DVD player and headed for the door.

"Hey, wait." Greg followed him, coming up close. "Is it true you told Sara I wasn't Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz?"

Nick stopped dead, at once incensed at Sara for blabbing that one and embarrassed that Greg was nailing him for it. "Yeah. Why?" he asked warily.

Greg flashed him a grin. "You compared me to Judy Garland. That's so gay."

"Shut up. Besides, it was an anti-comparison …"

Greg shut him up by taking hold of his neck and giving him an eager, slow, real kiss, easily getting Nick's lips to part for his tongue, easily flooding him with pulsing, electric warmth, like this was something he was made for, something he was meant to do. Nick pulled him back when he started to break away and took more kiss, gave him his tongue, broke into a sweat from all the sensations he was experiencing.

Greg stayed close, hand on Nick's neck, when they parted. Nick licked his lips and watched Greg's eyes watching him.

"You like kissing me," Greg said, voice a little breathy.

"Maybe."

Greg ran his fingers up the back of Nick's neck, pushing into his hair. "When the swelling's down," he said ironically, given the various states of swelling happening, "when the bruise fades, you'll come back here and we'll have sex."

Who knew having Greg say the word sex to him could be so damned arousing? Then again, who knew how deeply Greg had already gotten into him, under his skin?

"We'll have lots of sex," Greg said, obviously aware of the power he was exerting.

"It's possible," Nick said, pressing close. Hell, let Greg feel the whole effect. "Distinctly possible."

Greg moved, swayed a little against him. More electricity, more pulsing, more sweat. "Are you scared?" he asked seriously.

"Pretty much, yeah." Nick looked into his eyes. Sleepy, sexy, so revealing. Nice eyes. Had he noticed that before? He couldn't remember, but how could he not have? "It's the work thing. Don't want to screw that up."

Greg nodded slightly, his silent admission that he was scared, too. Sexy and exciting that Nick understood it all from just watching him. God, that was a charge.

"I better go," he said. "So you can sleep. Get better soon." He patted Greg's back but turned it into a slow caress when he felt how hot Greg's skin was beneath the thin shirt.

Greg arched his back and swayed again, rubbing against Nick's hands, against his body. "Fuck, you wound me up. I'm about to burst and you're leaving me like this."

That made two of them, but Nick was resolved to leave. Just this once, because everything had spiralled out of control at light-speed and he was sure he wasn't thinking clearly. Hard to think at all at the moment. And thinking before acting -- before there was no turning back, no rewind -- seemed like a good, important idea.

"Sorry, dude," he said, running his hands up Greg's sides before releasing him.

Greg opened the door for him and hung onto it so that Nick had to brush up against him to get outside.

"Nick," Greg murmured into his ear. Nick looked at him and Greg smiled a sleepy, lazy, smug smile that caused a deep, erotic ache. Greg leaned close and said quietly, "I love to be wound up."

And leaving him with that thought, he closed the door.

-----

Epilogue:

The swelling was gone in a couple of days, but the damn bruise lingered, just to drive Greg nuts. When he wasn't playing mind-games on himself about Nick's real or imagined change of heart. Change of dick? Whichever.

Greg knew himself well enough not to trust his imaginings. He could second-guess up to and during their first fuck if he let himself. The inner cynical gawky teenager crushing on his basketball buddies still lurked in the ego. That level of doubt he could wave aside.

Not so easy to ignore was the fact that after the mass grave case had been shelved for the moment, and the university drive-by shooting was solved, Nick had taken his days off and disappeared with an unsatisfactory, "Going out of town for a few days" explanation given universally in the break room. Then -- a thousand plagues on the criminal element in Las Vegas, who never took vacations -- Greg pulled the high-profile kidnapping with Catherine and Warrick, and though the plunge into serious work put him back on balance, it kept him busy and distracted even after Nick returned. Just in time to pull a double-homicide.

On the surface, they'd both forgotten or written it off. It was all right, though, because Greg was sleeping again, sleeping for real. Working for real, and with a kind of rediscovered appreciation for simply working with Nick, enjoying him as a friend and colleague. Not that he didn't want to jump Nick's bones, not that he'd completely given up, but he was okay with the status quo. It was good to have long-range goals, he reminded himself.

Then, weeks after the bruise had faded, after an exhausting, hot, difficult, spunk-bitch-from-hell day when all Greg wanted to do was take a sunrise swim in the complex's pool and crawl into bed with a vodka-and-lime, Nick showed up on his doorstep. Serious and reticent, eyes never leaving Greg, his hands shoved into his jacket pockets, and wearing a gray sweater and black jeans that showed him off in sexy simplicity.

They played the coy forgot-all-about-it, what-a-joke-that-was game for about five minutes before they were wedged together on Greg's bed, kissing, making out, copping serious feels. Greg had a few questions of mild curiosity to satisfy, but he wisely decided to set them aside for later, for sometime when Nick wasn't stripping him out of his shirt and kissing his chest. Greg combed his fingers through Nick's hair, playing with it, messing with it -- he'd been wanting to do something about those Hitler bangs for months -- and arched when Nick matter-of-factly got him out of his pants and undershorts.

Nick kissed him, his clothes rubbing delicious roughness against Greg's body, then knelt back and stripped as easily as if he were changing in the locker room, as easily as if there was nothing new or strange about them being naked together. And while Greg was still enjoying the view and the tiniest shade of envy for that perfect jock bod, Nick grabbed his hips and pulled him forward. Crushed together naked, about to melt each other: Greg was certain that there was no drug on Earth that could beat this buzz.

He was working on something sweet but sexy to say, trying to find the words he wanted, even if Nick didn't need to hear them, because this was important, but Nick spoke first, running his hands over Greg's back and sides and thighs.

"What do you want to do? Do you want to fuck?"

Greg's whole body throbbed. "Jeeezus." He looked for hints of joking in Nick's face, and remembered giving Nick a hard-on by just saying the word sex to him. "What was that? Revenge?"

"Huh?"

Nick meant it? Oh, God … Greg was already wound up tight, and though his whole body was screaming yes, he didn't want to be impatient.

"What do you want?" he asked. "It's all good to me. Whatever you want."

Nick locked his arms around him and shifted onto his back, pulling Greg down into a deep kiss. Greg straddled him and thrust against him, thrust again when he felt Nick groan into his mouth. Too late for patience: naked and slick together. Shudders of restlessness.

"Don't give me that 'whatever you want' crap," Nick rasped against Greg's cheek. "You want to fuck."

Stop saying it, Greg thought helplessly, precariously on the edge, but welcoming the fall. Nick reached between them and took him into his hand in a firm solid breathtaking grip. Pumped him steadily while he said, breath hot on Greg's ear, "You want to fuck me, you want me to fuck you, you-- Oh, yeah. That's it, yeah."

When Greg could raise up he braced one hand against the wall above Nick's head and looked down at him. Nick smiled at him lazily, sexily, smugly.

"You said you liked to be wound up."

Greg heaved a theatrical sigh. "I walked right into that one. But, seriously --" Nick took Greg's hand and guided it to his dick, understandably not ready to talk. And Greg loved this. The hot bod beneath him, Nick wet and sticky and pushing into his fist and gasping out brokenly as he came.

Then the utter peace, and although Greg still had a few things he wanted to say, it was true that he always slept better after sex, and sleep was more important than words.

When he woke, though, lethargic and comfortable and aware of Nick gently kneading his shoulders, Greg couldn't immediately remember what had seemed so critical to say hours earlier. He relaxed fully into Nick's careful massage and into a state of blissful silence until Nick's fingers on his skin roused new and interesting shudders.

"I meant it," he said, face half pressed to the pillow. "Just so you know: whatever you want. I'm …" The words flexible, open, easy came to mind in rapid succession, all appropriately bad in their own way. He decided he'd simply say, I'm yours, and get it out honestly, when Nick said, "Me, too. But this is good, too -- just seeing what happens."

Greg wondered what Nick had thought he was going to say. "Yeah. This is good," he agreed. "Better than good." Nick kissed the back of his neck. He turned and kissed Nick deeply and enjoyed the sexiness of Nick licking his lips afterwards, trying to get more of Greg's taste.

"One more question, and that's it." Nick looked at him skeptically, but Greg pressed on. "Where did you go for those days?"

Nick's look softened. Charmingly open and honest and inviting. Greg touched his jaw, ran his knuckles over his stubble.

"There's a place I go to when I need some peace. Nothing special, nothing fancy."

"Where you go to be alone," Greg said. "That's cool. I understand," he added truthfully. "It's a private place."

"Pretty much, yeah." Nick paused, looking into his eyes. "That's not to say I'd never take you there. Maybe sometime. Not that you'd like it," he said lightly. "When I say it's nothing fancy, I mean it's even missing a few of the basics. I guess you could say it's on the primitive side."

Greg, warmed and moved by this semi-invitation, tapped Nick's chin. "Only fair to warn you: telling me you go all mountain man wilderness freak once in a while only feeds into my Tiger Beat Dream Date fantasies about you."

"As long as it's not your nightmares," Nick said half-jokingly, sinking into the pillow with a yawn.

"Nope. Nightmares all gone." Greg propped up to watch him falling asleep.

Gone for good, he thought.

I hope.

(the end)

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