A Memory by rispacooper [Reviews - 3]

Ficlet written for beelikej for the Ficlet Gift Meme. :P

Nick wasn’t really someone to put pictures in frames. He wasn’t really someone to take pictures at all, outside of work. He held onto to tangible things—an old baseball glove from playing catch with his dad, a torn-up sweatshirt from his first year away at college, his ID card from when he’d made Level Two. He liked things he could touch, liked to spark off sensory memory with something a hell of a lot more real than a photograph.

People sent him pictures from time to time, and Nick liked them well enough, smiling at his bad hair in high school or his sister’s new baby, but when he reached out to touch them, they were smooth, cool. The older ones, the ones still shot on film, just glossy and slick. They weren’t real. It wasn’t the same thing at all, as holding something, someone, and knowing it was there, or that they had once been there at all. He’d rather have that, and hates looking at pictures when he knows a picture isn’t that at all.

So when he gets home in the early hours of morning from another shift that’s been far too long for a reason that nobody still wants to talk about and sees the small picture of Warrick—of Warrick and him—neatly matted and matched to a shiny silver frame, he has to stop to breathe.

He knows who put it there, the answer is obvious even without fingerprinting, without questioning, he even knows why. But it’s still a shock, still horrible to find himself looking into Warrick’s face—what isn’t Rick’s face, what’s just a flat facsimile of Rick’s face—and then see himself smiling next to him.

There’s a hint of a booth behind them, and windows, and he recognizes the diner where they all used to eat breakfast when they’d had all been there, and their shifts hadn’t been long, slow nightmares of no relief and no sleep.

Greg takes pictures, digital of course, unless he’s feeling artistic and wants film, and he still takes the time to print them out, frame them. Neon lights, trash in the street, his friends, and others, secret ones of Nick, in bed, in the shower, just sitting on a lawn chair in their backyard. The other ones, the safe ones, line the hallway, appear in other strange places.

Sara frowning into a microscope is on the fridge, in a magnet. She’d disappeared for a while, after Sara had left. Nick hadn’t asked about it, only noticed it gone, let Greg scowl and go to bed early for a week or two. Then, just like that, it had reappeared, along with Greg’s smile.

Others had appeared with it, pictures of the team out celebrating Greg’s proficiency, everyone gathered at Cat’s house for a party. Nick had known that Greg had needed the memories, and so he had let them slide, hadn’t commented at all to find everyone grinning at him every night as he’d walked out of their bedroom.

He could feel the weight of their stares though, turned away from their flat expressions, moments captured that weren’t really captured at all.

He remembers the night of Greg’s proficiency, knows that when they had taken that picture everyone had been scattered, Greg all over Sara, Catherine standing with Grissom, Nick clapping Warrick on the back. They all looked younger, different, in the shiny print. Not innocent, none of them were that, but they weren’t any shadows in Greg’s eyes yet, and no trace of fear in Nick’s expression. And it was a lie, the pairings all wrong. Grissom and Sara should have been together, and Cat and Rick, and…

The memory was a good one, but the picture was just a lie.

Like how it wasn’t Warrick looking at him from the silver frame on his desk.

He stares back anyway, blindsided, trying to move away, and listens to the front door open and close, the jangle of Greg dropping his keys instead of hanging them up, stopping in the kitchen for a glass of water. It’s all so loud without the TV on, without Greg’s music.

Nick blinks at last at the sound of Greg’s footsteps getting nearer, but Greg slips past the living room and heads down the hall without a word.

That’s enough to get him to move at least, to frown and take part of his attention from Warrick long enough to track Greg’s movements.

Greg had driven in early to work, taken his own car and gone in early to a shift that had already promised to be too long. Just like the night before that, and the night before that. Nick hadn’t mentioned that either when passing Greg in the lab, or commented on the circles beneath Greg’s eyes.

He had his own dark circles, and so did Gris, and Catherine. He knew why they were there.

The frame on Warrick’s picture looks heavy, expensive, and Nick can’t even begin to imagine when Greg had found the time to buy it, or why he’d put it there when he knows that Nick didn’t ask for it. Doesn’t want it. Doesn’t want Warrick smiling next to him when he knows that Warrick is never going to smile at him again, when he knows that Nick hadn’t done right by Warrick at all.

Warrick was his best friend and Nick hadn’t been there to help him, his best friend and Nick had never admitted directly to him what had been going on with Greg, even if Warrick had known anyway. His best friend finally getting better and then this damn city had taken him too.

Greg had driven back on his own too, taking his time, and even though Nick hasn’t checked his watch, he knows that Greg took at least an hour longer coming home than he should have. He hadn’t worried, not yet, not enough to call, because he doesn’t want to start doing that again, not even knowing that Greg would understand.

He clears his throat instead, calls down the hall as Greg bumps around in the bedroom.

“You left early today,” he tries, his voice rasping. He’s been up for far too long, he ought to be wrung out, exhausted, but his hands are shaking when he looks at them and his heart is racing.

There’s another thump from the bedroom, and then the hint of footsteps. Nick can imagine Greg’s shrug without seeing it. He shuts his mouth and clenches his jaw.

He turns away from that damn picture of happier days and heads down the hall, not wanting to walk under his friends’ eyes, knowing he can’t help it, because of Greg, Greg wanting to make their place a home by…by what? Putting up pictures of people they loved, people who had left them, people that they had never trusted enough to share their home.

Sara had known, in her way, and Rick, without being told, and Grissom probably before Nick had ever worked up the nerve to buy Greg coffee out in public. But they had never said, never had them here, never sat next to each other in that booth at that diner and touched each other as casually as he’d been touching Warrick in that picture.

Every picture of them burns and Nick curls his hands into fists and swallows to hold his fierce words down. The bedroom is empty, the closet doors left open, but something clatters against porcelain in their bathroom, and Nick follows the sound until he’s standing the bathroom doorway.

Greg is leaning slightly over the sink, staring at himself, and Nick opens his mouth to ask him about that frame on his desk only to shut it once he notices that Greg is frowning. He looks washed out, tired, and the only trace of brightness around him is the shine on his mouth, the bits of glitter on his lower lip.

He has to know Nick is there, but he doesn’t speak. So Nick clears his throat and tries.

“You left early today,” he says, again, but it sounds softer this time. He didn’t call, didn’t check his watch, but anxiety is anxiety and Greg knows it just as well as he does, maybe better.

Greg just swallows, then flicks a look at Nick in the mirror. His lip gloss is sparkling.

“You look tired,” Nick states the obvious and knows it, but after all these years Greg is good at reading what he’s really saying and slowly nods his head. He should have been sleeping.

“It was…important.” Greg looks down, picks up the small container that must have fallen into the sink and holds it for a moment. This time he inhales. “I went to see the shrink that Ecklie brought in. I needed to,” he adds a moment later, turning enough to glare directly at Nick.

Nick lets himself scowl back for all of half a second and then drops his gaze to the gloss in Greg’s hand. He considers, breathing hard, and then meets Greg’s eyes again.

“Did you… Did it help?” Greg hurting so bad that he’d needed outside help is enough to push Nick a few steps back. His stomach tightens, tightens until he could throw up; if he’d eaten anything in the past few days, he would have. There’s panic, and then Greg says “yes” quietly and Nick can pull in air again.

“What did she…what did you talk about?” It’s a normal question, but Greg is good at reading what Nick is really saying.

“About Demetrius James. About Sara. About Grissom and Sara. About Warrick. About the old days. Not…not about this.” Greg shrugs, a lie in every motion, and turns back to glare at his reflection. A moment later his hand comes up to scrub at the sparkle on his lips. The glitter sticks to his hand, and Nick remembers it staying on his fingers, finding it under his clothes sometimes, bits of reflective metal on his jeans that he had had to painstakingly find and pick off if he didn’t want anyone to notice. It had been years since he’d last had to do that. Years since Greg had last worn the lip gloss.

There’s acid in Nick’s throat and his palms itch. Greg has lost weight, let his hair fall back to mostly brown. Nick hadn’t allowed himself to comment.

“And what did she say?” His failure surrounds him these days. Even with Greg, he had worked, and slept, and worked some more. Catching killers, and bad men, men who did things like beat strangers to death and abused their power to set killers free. He’d held tight onto Greg every day in their bed and then left for work without more than a brief look at his face.

“She said they were memories and people hold onto memories for a reason. She said I was a different person then, we all were, and that maybe…” Greg stops to let out a shuddery breath and Nick jerks his head up. He watches while Greg takes a moment to swirl more gloss onto his pinky and then dabs it carefully across his lips. He tries a smile in the mirror and then looks out at Nick. “Maybe I ought to try to remember those times and who we all were, but that I had to let them go too. Make some new memories, with the new me.”

“Ah.” It’s all he can say to that really, which isn’t anything. Like it’s nothing at all to hear Greg wish he were someone else, someone living in better times with a lot less missed chances. Nick clenches and unclenches his hands, leans against the doorjamb again, then shakes his head. “And the lip gloss, Greggo?”

“Old Me.” Greg shrugs again, with a small, fake grin, and that’s all Nick can stand. He pushes forward but it’s okay, because Greg drops the gloss container right back into the sink and doesn’t say anything when Nick gets close.

Nick puts his fingers out, runs them lightly across Greg’s mouth. He’s collecting sparkles, he knows that, but Greg gulps a breath once or twice and lets him. His breath is warm and smells like coffee. Greg himself smells like sweat, and the fake vanilla scent of the lip gloss.

He’s real, and Nick falls into him, kissing him lightly for a long moment, holding onto the familiar fabric of Greg’s jacket.

When he pulls away, it’s just to put his face onto Greg’s shoulder.

“I do miss Old You,” he remarks, “but I’d like to keep the New You around too.” Greg snorts, because it’s a joke, a dumb one, and Nick was never really good at them anyway. But Nick’s hands find Greg’s hips and hold them, and he figures Greg will know what he means. All these years, all these years of watching each other at work and not talking about anything, and Greg had to know, had had to learn. And there were Grissom and Sara, doing the exact same thing for different reasons, and now Sara was…Sara was gone.

Nick’s hands tighten and then his mouth is open.

“I hate this place,” he confesses and feels the snap of tension through Greg. He raises his head and frowns at him to let him know it’s alright. “Their eyes, the pictures, Warrick…” His voice breaks, like he’s still just a kid, but this close he can see Greg’s eyes are lined with red, a side-effect of any visit to a shrink’s office. Their house is too silent these days. “Let’s… Let’s get out of here.”

“Breakfast?” Greg coughs his disbelief, looks around like he’s thinking about what time it is, that they both ought to be sleeping.

“We’ll call Cath and Grissom from the car. Let’s just go, right now.” There’s an obvious edge to his voice and despite his words, he hasn’t released his hold on Greg. Greg isn’t complaining, but he isn’t moving. He knows what this will most likely be just as much as Nick does. A quiet meal, with too many empty seats. But Nick’s heart is racing and his fingers are grasping at Greg’s clothes. Old Greg would never have needed convincing, but this is…this is real, realer than any picture, or talk with a psychiatrist.

“Right now?” Greg asks at last, his breath catching a little when Nick feels something like a smile burst out of him. Nick moves before Greg has to say anything else; after all these years he can read Greg too, knows Greg is ready to go too, that this is his chance.

“I’m hungry,” he tries, because it’s true at least. He tugs, and Greg follows, then stops.

“Nick, your… The sparkles….” Greg waves a hand at him, a line between his eyes again even when he attempts a grin. “You look like Gary Glitter.”

Nick pauses to glance at himself in the mirror. He sees the sparkles right away, dotted across his cheeks, under his shadowed eyes, all over his mouth of course. But he knows what Greg means is that the sparkles are all over his mouth too, and that everyone will know, that Catherine and Grissom will see.

Nick looks down, feels his stomach tighten, Greg’s hold on him loosening.

He reaches out blindly before Greg is gone too, yanking him closer and then pushing out a nervous breath when he feels the energy shivering through Greg.

“Come on,” is all he says, and imagines Greg’s smile.

The End
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