A Fish Named Nicky|
Even after seven years at the lab, you’re not close enough to anyone there to take seriously the suggestions and jokes about what you’re doing for your birthday. You pretend that you always have some grand plan, some amazing adventure that will far surpass the previous year. That you’re going to go out and celebrate in style, as only you can.
In reality you spend every birthday holed up in your house, alone, wishing you’d let just one person in enough so you could spend the day with someone.
This year’s no different.
Sara was the one to bring up your birthday this year, teasing you about wanting sushi and latex and a couple of hot girls. You, of course, answered flippantly with, that was last year, tacking on a I’d settle for a birthday breakfast. You meant it but you chose the wrong time to say it. Cath, of course, turned you down, almost laughingly, and left the room. You got up and followed, hiding your embarrassment over letting such a small portion of your true wishes come through.
Some days you seriously curse yourself for playing up the party boy/ladies man routine.
You spend the day sipping coffee and watching classic film noir movies, like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep and Strangers on a Train, before falling asleep, slipping easily into dreams of being a private eye in the forties, helping beautiful gangsters’ girlfriends and hot errand boys escape a life of crime.
The sound of your deadbolt disengaging wakes you up and you look at the front door blearily, blinking sleep out of your eyes.
Nick and Warrick are the only ones who ever had a key to your house. Back when you were recovering from the explosion the two of them took turns checking on you before and after shift, taking you to doctor appointments, and keeping your spirits up. You had a nurse to take care of all the other things, like bandage changes, and showers, and your meds. You couldn’t bear the thought of Warrick or Nick seeing your back, and were afraid even if you had asked them for that kind of help, they would have said no.
The door swings open and you sit up, smiling faintly when you see Nick. Who looks surprised to see you.
“Hey, Nicky,” you mumble around a jaw cracking yawn.
“Hey, G,” Nick looks back and forth between you and the TV, which is halfway through Kiss Me Deadly, and frowns. “What’re you doin’ home?”
You swing your feet to the floor and stretch your arms above your head, letting out another jaw cracking yawn. “Sleeping,” you answer, playing ignorant to what Nick’s really asking.
Nick rolls his eyes and sinks down next to you on the couch. “What happened to all them fantastical plans you had for today?”
You drop your head back against the couch, laughing softly. “You’d think after seven years of working with me, you’d know just how full of shit I am.”
“What’s that have to do with you bein’ home on your birthday?” Nick says with a straight face and a reasonably steady voice.
You let out a half disgusted, half amused sound and smack him across his chest with the back of your hand. “I can’t believe you just said that.” You shake your head in amusement, adding affectionately, “Idiot.”
Now more awake than you were when he arrived, you jump to your feet and stretch your arms above your head, groaning when you back cracks, your bare toes digging into the carpet.
“God, that feels good,” you sigh, turning around to look down at Nick. “Coffee?”
“Yeah, sounds good, man,” Nick replies, looking almost relieved. Your eyes narrow a bit and you start to wonder just what brought Nick over when he thought you weren’t home.
“Good.” You head into the kitchen, tossing over your shoulder with a grin. “Then you can explain to me what you’re doing here.”
You snicker at Nick’s answering groan.
It’s funny, you think as you make the coffee, you and Nick aren’t friends per se, but you trust him completely. You’re not even mad that he used a key he should have given back years ago to sneak in. In all honesty, you’re just curious. Very curious.
Once the coffee’s done, you fix two cups and take them back out to the front room, where Nick’s absorbed in the movie. You put the mugs on the table and plop down next to him.
“I never took you for the old film noir type,” Nick says, sitting forward to take a drink of his coffee.
You give him an incredulous look. “Are you kidding? There’s nothing better than classic film noir!”
Nick laughs. “If you say so, man.”
You open your mouth to give Nick a detailed lesson on the joys of film noir, but at the last second, change your mind. You’re more interested in getting to the bottom of Nick’s surprise visit. “So, tell me, Nicky. What were you planning on doing when you got here?”
Nick’s cheeks flush and your eyes widen in surprise.
“All right, what’s going on?” you demand, crossing your arms over your chest as you glare at him.
Nick gives you an innocent look. “Nothin’, man, nothin’s going on.”
You snort softly. “Fine, don’t tell me.” You turn your attention to the TV, ignoring Nick for the moment.
You hear him sigh. Feel him shift next to you. See his fingers tap against his thigh out of the corner of your eye.
“I was gonna surprise you.”
You snap your head around and look at him. “What?”
Nick chuckles. “It’s your birthday, man. I was gonna surprise you.”
You look at Nick with a dumbfounded expression. “You got me a *present*?”
Nick’s smile softens and he nods. “Yeah.”
You wonder if you look as confused as you feel. “But you only get presents for your friends, or family, or because you got talked into helping in the Holiday Present Exchange.”
Nick gives you a funny look. “And?”
“Well, it’s not Christmas. And last time I checked I wasn’t your brother. And we’ve never been friends.” You tilt your head slightly. “So, why get me a present?”
Nick studies you intently, like he’s not sure whether or not you’re pulling his leg. “If we’re not friends, then what are we?”
You frown in confusion. “Co-workers.”
“Uh-huh. And when was the last time you gave a co-worker a key to your house?”
“Two years, eleven months and two weeks ago,” you reply automatically. Then flush.
Nick tries to hide his grin, but you see it anyway and the redness of your face deepens. “Shut up,” you mutter crossly.
Nick clears his throat and reaches out to rub your shoulder. “Greg, I don’t know what constitutes friendship in your world, but in mine, we’ve been friends for seven years.”
“Oh.” You try to think of something else to say, but nothing comes out.
Nick takes pity on you, squeezing your shoulder before getting up. You look at him, hoping this doesn’t mean he’s leaving, but he just says, “Be right back,” so you sit quietly and ponder how you never saw your relationship with Nick as friendship.
Nick comes back in just a couple of minutes and when you see what he holds, you feel your entire face light up.
The aquarium is tiny compared to the three you already have, but when you get a good look at the fish Nick’s holding, you understand.
“I’m told she’s rare,” Nick explains as he sets the glass aquarium on the table, handing you the bag with the orange and black beta. “And I figured, what better gift than a fish as rare as you?”
You look between the fish and Nick and start to laugh. “That’s the cheesiest line ever, Nicky.”
Nick grins sheepishly and shrugs. “Maybe. But it’s true.”
You give him a bright smile and hold the bag up to your face, taking in the tiny details of your new fish’s markings. “Just for that, I’m calling her Nicky.” Nick blushes and you mentally mark this as the best birthday you’ve ever had in Vegas. Sushi, latex, fast women, fast cars, surprise friendships and all.
“Happy birthday, Greggo.”