Dedicated to my lovely first reviewer (I hope you know who you are), because my parade-organizing skills were somewhat lacking.|
“Hey, Bobby. You done with the bullets from our vic yet?”
“Yes sir, Mister Greg. Not a match to the gun recovered at your scene-” Bobby smiled at Greg’s crestfallen face, “-but I’ve been ordered to tell you that Jacqui ran the prints collected from it through IAFIS and found some very promising results.” Bobby looked over at Greg, watching him flip through his casefile. He'd probably never admit it, but he worried about Greg every single day he was out in the field. Greg was just so… Greg. He wasn’t ready to be faced with the terrors of the outside world. Not that the lab had been any kinder...
The eager smile returned to Greg’s lips, and he looked expectantly at Bobby. “Great, then. Who’s our maniac?”
Bobby turned his back to him, clearing files to prepare for his next test run. “Sorry Greggo. I haven’t slept all that well since Ally got chicken pox, so I’ve been kinda lax on the gossip. I was in no condition to pay Jacqui’s fare.”
Greg laughed. He missed Jacqui terribly, just as he did Archie and Bobby. The more time he spent in the field, the more he was growing apart from the people who had made his first few years at the crime lab such a wonderful experience. “I guess I need to go see her myself then. Or maybe I’ll find Nick. She’d do anything to hear that drawl.”
“Nah, that’s not it.”
“How do you know? How do you know she wouldn’t just sacrifice her hard-earned fingerprint results for a chance to wallow in some Texan homeboy?” Greg asked, teasing.
“In case you didn’t remember, I’ve got a lovely drawl too, Greggo. How long have you been in the field, again? I think you’re starting to forget your roots. She wants to see you specifically, Greg.”
Greg gasped, mock-appalled at Bobby’s accusation. “Forget my roots? You wound me, Bobby D. Knife right through my heart.”
“Now you’re definitely forgetting your roots. I’m a ballistics tech, not a Samurai. I think we should probably save the sword play for the professionals.”
“Well, unfortunately for you, I’ve never met anyone who’s as professional as me. The day will come, my friend, when you’ll be dazzled by my swordsman-ness. You’d just better hope no one else is around to witness your defeat.”
Bobby chuckled. “C’mon, Greg. We both know bullets win out over steel.”
“But swords are so classy! I’d bring a sword with me in the Denali over a gun any day. It’s all about appearances, my man.”
Neither man had noticed Hodges standing lazily in the doorway until he spoke. “That and the fact that you’re even more terrified of guns than you are of coming out of the closet,” said Hodges, standing lazily in the door way. Greg’s cheeks flushed crimson, and Bobby glanced between them uncomfortably.
“Hey now, Hodges-”
Greg spoke over them, using his best detective-voice. “I’m not scared of them. I work around guns everyday. I don’t carry a gun because I choose not to. I’d appreciate it if you could, for once, respect a decision I’ve made.”
“Sorry, Greg. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” He said snidely. “You know I completely respect you and your right to be a coward.”
“I’m not a coward, Hodges. I just have respect for other people and other people’s lives.” Greg hated losing control of his temper. It felt so… unnatural, and it only made things awkward for the people around him. He forced himself to take a calming breath before speaking again, this time addressing Bobby. “If that’s all you wanted me for, then I’m gonna go get a coffee. Thank you for your help.” Greg pushed past Hodges, trying his best not to give the other man a vindictive shove with his shoulder.
Hodges turned around to Bobby, looking insulted at Greg’s sudden exit. “Have I mentioned how glad I am that he’s in the field so often now? Can you imagine that walking disaster at a crime scene? Maybe one day he’ll be at a scene and reality can give him a smack in the face for me.”
“Oh, shut up, Hodges. Alright? Just stop talking.” Bobby brushed past Hodges as well, but unlike Greg he was not able to resist accidentally-on-purpose bumping into the other man.
He walked through the halls, pausing to gauge Greg’s mood when he arrived at the break room. He saw Nick sitting on the couch, casting worried glances at Greg but saying nothing. It was clear Greg hadn’t spoken either; he was staring moodily into an already empty mug when Bobby cleared his throat.
“I’m really alright, Bobby. I just… have some Hodges issues. And some gun issues. And some personal issues.” His gaze flickered over to Nick for the quickest of seconds before refocusing on the coffee cup. “When you put all three of them together, it makes me a little explosive. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
Bobby barely concealed his laugh with a cough. Greg thought that was an explosion? For his part, Bobby had never met anyone who could keep his emotions in check as well as Greg could. More than once he’d wondered how Greg had gotten a reputation for not taking his job seriously. He liked to have fun, sure, and maybe was a little over zealous, but he certainly was not stupid or careless, and anyone who said otherwise clearly didn’t know him as well as Bobby did.
“See what, Greggo?” Bobby asked, winking at him. Greg didn’t wink back, he was still frowning at the depths of his coffee cup.
“Is it really that telling that I don’t carry a gun? I just don’t want to ever be responsible for taking someone’s life. What gives me the right to say that their life is worth any less than mine?”
“You’re not… doling out judgments, Greg. Guns are used for self-defense. Guns aren’t just for killing, they’re also for protecting.”
“All I know is that I don’t want one. Ever. Guns cause as much danger as they prevent. It’s just selfish.”
Bobby frowned slightly, trying very hard not to take offence. “I think you’re being a little naïve there, Greg. The gun has nothing to do with it, it’s the mentality of the person who wields it. Guns don’t kill people-”
“If the next words out of your mouth are ‘people kill people,’ I swear I’m gonna –”
“Gonna what, Greg?” Bobby demanded, folding his arms defensively. “I’m allowed to have an opinion just as much as you are. You know what Hodges said? And, God help me because I think I almost agree with him, he said what you need is a day in the line of fire. He’s right. You have no idea how much you rely on something you hate. Do you ever go to a scene where the uniform on duty doesn’t carry?”
Greg huffed. “Of course not.” He really didn’t want to get into this Bobby. He didn’t want to get into it all. He didn’t like guns. It wasn’t a big deal.
“But the gun makes you feel safe, right? Because a responsible person is using it.”
“Well maybe Hodges was right. Because that definitely makes you a coward.”
“Wanna repeat that, Bobby?” Nick asked, incredulous.
“You’re terrified of the responsibility of owning a gun yourself, yet you won’t go to a crime scene unless someone else is carrying. Like a security blanket. That way you never have to make any hard decisions. You can just go to your scene with your kit and your vest and be a good little scientist, but if things ever get tough you’ve got someone there to protect you like a helpless child. Do you even know the burden you’re putting on the people around you? It’s a two way street, man. You have to be prepared to go both ways.”
“I-” Greg stammered.
“It’s not a burden, Bobby. It’s his right not to carry. CSIs are almost never in danger. We just process the scene, that’s it,” Nick interjected, bewildered at the way Greg and Bobby, famous for their ability to get along with others, were sniping at each other.
Bobby glowered at him, and Nick thought he’d never seen anything so unsettling on the sweet-natured lab tech. “You know that’s not true, Nick. And I believe I was addressing Greg. He’s a big boy, there’s no need to come to his rescue. Well, not yet. I’m sure it’ll be a different story next time you’re at a scene, where once again he’ll be relying on someone else to protect him with their big scary guns.” he added.
Bobby wasn’t even sure why he was so mad. He loved Greg, always had. And not in the little brother way that everyone else seemed to. His company, his personality, his respect for other people… all of it made him an amazing person to be around and Bobby genuinely respected that. But guns… guns were Bobby’s passion, something he’d spent a life studying so that he could help other people. He didn’t like hearing himself and his profession belittled.
Greg was staring at him, a mixture of hurt and confusion in his eyes. “I…I’m sorry I offended you. That wasn’t my intention.” Greg looked at the clock on the far wall. 5 minutes left… where has the time gone? “I would like to say, though, that I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I don’t need him –” he glanced at Nick “or anyone else to protect me. And I’m going to go home now.” He turned to face Bobby, looking for all the world like he’d just lost his best friend. “It’s been a long day. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He nodded at the silent room, then crossed the break room and exited swiftly.
Nick rounded on Bobby the second Greg was out of sight. “You have one minute to tell me why you thought humiliating him was the best way to get your point across.”
“He started it,” Bobby muttered.
Nick almost laughed at the ridiculousness of the reply. “Are you 5, man? It’s Greg, of course he started it. He may be the most patient person on the world, but… mind and mouth are not as firmly attached as they should be.”
Bobby laughed, the tension seeping out of him. Who could stay mad at Greg? Nick, however, glared at him.
“No, you don’t get to laugh at that. Not today. God… I learned pretty much the first day I met Greg that he was special. So he doesn’t carry a gun. That’s not a slight on you, Bobby, or your job. It’s a slight against the people who leave behind the tragedy and terror and victims that he examines every single day. It’s a blessing that he’s still…untainted enough to feel safe without a gun.”
“Exactly!” Bobby shouted, crossing the room to where Nick stood. Why doesn’t he understand? “God, Nick, that’s exactly the problem! Anyone with a modicum of sense who has the job that he does would carry. It’s a dangerous world, and no one knows that better than you. But Greg seems to have no idea how cruel life can be. And I hope to God he never has to find out, because I damn well hate saying ‘I told you so.’”
“You’re never gonna have to, Bobby,” Nick said, shaking his head. “Not gonna happen. He has… more people than I even know watching out for him, myself included.”
Bobby looked at him, skepticism and regret etched in his features. “You’re not always going to be there for him, Nick. I wish that weren’t the case, but… there’s just so much out there. The world’s not safe and he’s a fool for thinking it’s never gonna hurt him.”
Nick glanced over at Bobby, all the hostility slowly drained out of him and replaced with a weariness he hadn’t felt in forever. “That may be, but he’s my fool. The world has to come through me if it ever wants to mess with him, yourself included.”
The two men stared at each other, neither wanting to break eye contact first. It wasn’t until Bobby muttered "sap..." under his breath that they both laughed and the tension was finally gone.
“I’ll talk to him, Bobby, I will. But I have no problem with him not being a killer. Props?” he asked, holding out his fist with a cheesy grin.
“Props,” Bobby said, hitting their fists together. “Tell him I’m sorry, for everything. And tell him that I’m up for a Samurai battle any day.”
Nick looked at him, puzzled.
“Labrat humour,” Bobby said, nodding sagely.
Nick left the break room and headed for his locker. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Greg’s number. “Hey G? Yeah… I just finished talking to Bobby. …No, Greg, I don’t want to hear it. … Hey, I’m not the bad guy, here. You’re the one who picked a fight about guns with the Ballistics Technician of all people. …No, Greg, I still don’t want to hear it. I was just wondering if maybe I could invite myself over to your place for beer and video games? …Of course I do. Doesn’t everyone love bacon? …Great then, be there soon.” Nick resisted the urge to say “I love you” before hanging up. He and Greg were at a … weird place in their relationship. He worried that if he pushed too hard or too fast he’d end up pushing Greg away for good. All he knew for certain was that the past few months had been some of the best of his life, and he was willing to do anything to keep Greg with him.
Nick pulled the spare shirt from his locker over his head.
The sound of Warrick’s voice was only slightly muffled by the cotton around his ears.
“You up for a beer after shift?”
Nick shook his head. “Nah man, sorry. I’m going to Greg’s.” Warrick looked at him, and not for the first time Nick wondered if his best-kept secret wasn’t as well kept as he hoped. “Don’t you have a wife to get home to?” He asked, trying to lighten the mood.
“Yeah, I do. I just wanted to clear my head before I went home. I had a rough case, and Tina and I have been doing so well lately… I don’t want to still be carrying the negative with me when I get home. It’s cool though. I’ll just do the man-equivalent of ice cream before I get home.”
Nick grinned, tying up his shoelaces. “I’m pretty sure that jazz ain’t restricted to guys, Warrick. And I also happen to know a few manly men who like to indulge in a little ice cream,” Nick said, smiling fondly at the memory of he and Greg having to throw out his sheets once he’d realized the chocolate ice cream was never coming out. He snapped out of his reverie when he noticed Warrick staring at him, and quickly fished around for a change of subject.
“So… what was that hard case about?”
“Oh, um… it’s those guys we’ve been following for weeks. Home invasions, remember? They’re already responsible for at least five attacks, but this was one was a bit different. Young man, lived alone. The guys just broke through the front door and went right in. Idiots left traces of themselves everywhere but not before the damage was done. Vic was pistol-whipped more than once and … he’s gonna have some trouble sitting down for a while.”
“Why would he have trouble- oh. Oh.”
They sat in silence for a minute, and Nick fumbled with the lock on his door. Oh.
Warrick closed the door of his own locker and motioned for Nick to follow him outside. The two walked out to the parking garage side by side, remaining silent until Warrick cleared his throat and spoke again.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to unload on you. Well, I did, but it was also my full intention to soften the blow with lots of beer. I know how this type of… assault gets you down.” Nick nodded mutely. “Later?”
“Later, man. And I’m fine. If you ever want to talk, I’m here for you. But go home to your woman, bro. She deserves it.” Warrick smiled at him, and they both stepped into their cars. Nick watched Warrick pull out of the garage, then rested his head on the coolness of the steering wheel.
He was over what had happened to him when he was 9, he really was. It just made him furious when it happened to other people. The home was somewhere you were supposed to be safe, more so than any other place. It didn’t help that the instant Warrick had said “young man, lived alone,” Nick’s mind had conjured up an image of Greg, lying alone and dying where no one could find him. The image only intensified when Warrick mentioned the nature of the vic’s injuries. Nick shivered, remembering his blow-out with Bobby and wondering if maybe the tech hadn’t been entirely wrong about Greg.
Nick shook himself, blaring the radio to clear the cobwebs from his mind. As he drove home, the image of Greg broken and bleeding kept flashing through his mind. Sometimes he was alone, sometimes surrounded by thugs… every time he was terrified and helpless. Nick breathed a sigh of relief when he pulled up five minutes later outside of Greg’s house and saw the younger man’s Jetta parked in the driveway. Greg’s a tough guy, Nick thought. Give credit where it’s due.
The now familiar sounds of death metal filled the air as Nick walked towards the house, and Nick wondered how Greg’s eardrums were still in perfect working order after being subjected to this for so many years. Nick was also a little amazed that the neighbours hadn’t said anything about the noise level, which seemed to be extra high today. Although, Nick reasoned that this was probably due to the fact that Greg’s door was still open, making the music seem louder than it was. His heart sank. Greg’s front door was never open…
Nick crept inside as quietly as he could, terrified of what he would find and praying he was crazy for thinking anything would be wrong. He almost laughed out loud when he saw Greg was perfectly fine, singing in a wildly off-key manner in the middle of his kitchen. Nothing was out of place, and Greg was perfectly safe, cooking bacon and oblivious to the world.
Nick had never felt more relieved in his life, which was ridiculous because there had never been any real danger. Greg was in front of him, obviously fine and completely unaware of his presence. But that’s the problem, Nick thought, silently closing the main door before creeping over to where Greg still stood. He watched Greg turn off the stove and head over to the counter. He has no idea…The insane urge to teach Greg a lesson about safety, privacy, reality, and all the things he should already be familiar with seized Nick and he acted before any logical part of himself could put an end to things. He had no idea why he did it… the need to make Greg understand was just too hard to ignore. Or maybe he just wanted to prove that Greg could indeed protect himself from anything the world threw at him.
Nick found himself crossing the room in two silent motions, coming to a dead halt behind Greg. Very careful to remain out of sight, Nick grabbed him, seizing both Greg’s wrists in one muscular hand and clamping the other one over Greg’s mouth. The off-key singing became a muffled shout, and Nick felt Greg panic, trying as hard as he could to break free. Greg’s whole body started to tremble and Nick held him tightly. Greg kicked out at him, but Nick hooked one of his legs around Greg’s, and used his greater weight to bend Greg over the counter, trapping him. Greg’s movements became more frantic as he tried to push the assailant off.
As quick as he could, he transferred the hand covering Greg’s mouth up to his eyes, still forcing Greg’s head forward. Greg’s panicked breathing became louder than ever, and Nick could almost swear he could hear soft whimpers. He would’ve felt bad for causing this much fear if he wasn’t so hell-bent on proving a point.
“I-who are you? Let me go. Please,” Greg’s words were punctuated with renewed struggles, and Nick was devastated by how easy it was to keep him there, powerless. “What do you want? God… please… just take it, okay? Take it and go.” Nick smiled grimly, though there was really nothing funny at all about the situation. He started to let up slightly, but a terrified Greg seized the opportunity to free himself and launched them away from the counter, sending them both sprawling to the floor. Unfortunately, Nick turned, and Greg ended up flat on his stomach with Nick straddling his back, easily keeping his wrists down.
Greg grunted, trying to shove his attacker off him. “What do you want from me? Get off! Help! Nick! God, Anyone!” Nick thought he heard a sob. “Don’t do this! Please, fuck! Help me!” As Nick feared, Greg’s voice was completely lost in the screaming music.
“Stop shouting,” he hissed.
Greg froze. “…Nick?”
Nick got off Greg’s back at once, pulling Greg up in front of him. Greg turned around and stared at him, utterly confused.
“Nick?” Greg asked again, voice a little less shaky.
“Yeah?” Nick asked.
“Oh…God… I think-I think I’m gonna be sick.” Nick rushed to his side as Greg hung his head. The moment Nick was beside him, Greg slyly launched an attack of his own, pushing Nick to the ground, and raining his fists repeatedly if not painfully down on the other man’s chest. A minute passed and Greg was still punching him. He seemed to be working himself into a fit of hysterics, so Nick grabbed one of Greg’s flailing arms in each of his own hands and tried to steady him. Unable to physically lash out, Greg started shouting.
“What the fucking hell is wrong with you? Why did- God, what were you thinking? You scared the fucking shit out of me… I thought… God, Nick, I thought I was going to die. I actually thought you were going to kill me. Fuck-”
“Greg- Greg, listen to me. I just needed to prove something to you.” Greg’s fists tried to resume their previous activity, and Nick sighed slightly as he held them still. He was less prepared when Greg kicked him in the shins, and let go of Greg’s wrists in a flash of pain. Nick watched with apprehension, wondering whether Greg was going to come at him again or kick him out. He was greatly surprised when Greg merely flashed him a dirty look and headed to the fridge, grabbing a bottle of water and almost downing the whole thing in one swig. He threw the near-empty bottle at Nick, and it clattered uselessly against the cupboards when he dodged it.
Greg took a calming breath, desperate to steady his nerves. “Please tell me why you did that.”
“Because you’re stupid.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’re so fucking careless, Greg! You have no idea about anything that goes on around you! You know you left the door wide open, where just anyone off the streets could come in? What if it had been someone else, Greg? What if I’d been someone who wanted to hurt you? What if someone tried to take you away from me?”
Greg looked at him, indignant. “I left the damn door open for you! You were supposed to be bringing beer and video games over, remember? I guess the physical assault was just an added bonus. I’m not… I’m not helpless Nick. And you’ve got some serious issues if you think that’s the way to get through to me.”
“Look Greg, I’m sorry-”
“Oh, you’re sorry? Well, that makes it all better then, doesn’t it? So what if my boyfriend, the one person in the world who I trust more than anything, just tried to rape me? He’s sorry, everyone. No need to worry. Everything’s fine, because Nick’s sorry.” Despite his anger, Greg regretted the words the instant they were out of his mouth. He knew about Nick’s past, and he felt ashamed for talking about something that was so terrifying in such a flippant way, but the rational part of him was still huddled in a terrified ball back in the safety of his mind.
Another steadying breath, and Greg was talking calmly. “Okay, now I’m sorry. That was out of line… despite the fact that you just crossed the line in about 8 different places. I get it, ok? The world is a big scary place, and I’m a helpless halfwit. Next time, just talk to me. There’s no need for the elaborate set-up.”
Nick nodded. In spite the wildly inappropriate time, he had to ask. “…I’m your boyfriend?”
Greg rolled his eyes. “Yes, you idiot. You’re my boyfriend. There may be some reconsidering, but I thought we were… like that.”
Nick wasn’t quite ready to let Greg off the hook, but his guilt was starting to catch up with him. Yep… there are definitely better ways I could’ve approached this. “Warrick and I were talking today, after I had that chat with Bobby D. You know that string of Home Invasions he’s been working on? The perps escalated. Walked right through the front door in broad daylight and left the vic wishing he was dead. If that ever happened to you… I really don’t know what I’d do.”
Greg looked around, uncomfortable. The cd had long since finished, and awkward silence hung between them. Greg would give anything for Nick to see him as an equal, as someone who could stand up for himself, and realized with crushing humility that this was not the case. “Bacon’s cold…” he muttered.
“Greg…I don’t care about the damn bacon, alright? I care that you walk around without a worry in the world. It’s not right. You need to protect yourself. You utterly refuse to carry a gun; you don’t even know how to use one. And you’re so wiry-”
“I just love it when you flatter me, Nicky.”
“I’m serious Greg. I realize you don’t want to carry a gun, and that’s not a problem, whatever Bobby says. But I do want you to be able to protect yourself. You’re my lifeline, Greggo, I can’t lose you.”
Greg nodded, forcing himself to blink back tears. If he’d known for a second that Nick cared about him this deeply… well, their relationship probably wouldn’t be crawling along at such a snail’s pace. He was still trying to compose himself when Nick crossed the room and gathered him into a crushing hug. “God, Greg, I love you so much… You have no idea…”
Greg thought he felt tears on his face, and looked up to see Nick’s eyes were red-rimmed. After resting his head for a moment, Greg pushed out of Nick’s embrace, and stared up at him resolutely. “Compromise,” he said.
“We’ll compromise. I absolutely refuse to carry a gun, but I will… learn how to use one. Okay? Would that … fix this? Would that be alright? I mean, I go to a gym already, but obviously that wasn’t enough to fix things.”
“Yeah, Greg. That would just be… so much better. You don’t have to carry, you just need to know. Thank you.”
“Yeah, well, it is my honour at stake here, so…”
“That reminds me. Bobby said something that I completely didn’t get about a Samurai battle, which I guess means you guys are cool. … Are we cool, too?” Nick looked at him, hopeful.
“While that was one of the clunkiest segues ever, yes, Nick, we are indeed cool. You didn’t actually hurt me… I mean, my ego is a little bruised, but other than that, no. You just scared me a little. Also, don’t ever do that again. I know you’re stronger, but that doesn’t mean I like having it thrown in my face. And I withhold sex when I’m angry so you don’t even want to try and cross me.”
“Never,” Nick said, moving in for another hug. Greg put up a hand to stop him. “Bacon first. Metaphorical discussions of life and safety, declarations of love, and sweet make-up sex can all come after. Forewarning: I also expect you to shower me with apology gifts. Then we’ll be cool.”
“… I thought we were already cool.”
“We are, for sure, but we’d be cooler if there was make-up sex and presents involved.”
“Right. I’m sorry Greg. Really. I just wanted to see if you were alright. I wanted to prove that you could take care of yourself.
“Nick… I can take care of myself. You sneak attack anyone while they're cooking and I can guarantee you they won’t handle it very well.”
“I wish it wasn’t like this. I wish I could go for a day without feeling terrified for myself and the people I love.”
“Yeah, well… ‘if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak,’” Greg quoted.
“Nothing. Labrat humour. Remind me to geekify you after the sex.”
“You love it.”
Nick sighed. Too right I do.