Lost & Found
Warrick stopped reading, listening to the vehicle outside and trying to determine whether it was stopping in the driveway. Nick's family was no longer staying at Nick's house and he wasn't really expecting anyone. Once it had become clear that Nick's amnesia would be indefinite, his parents and sister pulled up stakes and relocated to a hotel right next to the hospital. They hadn't been back to Nick's since, too busy making arrangements for Nick to return to Dallas as soon as the doctors allowed him to travel.
Hearing the door open, Warrick left his bedroom, wondering if Susannah had dropped in for some reason. The last person he expected to see in Nick's living room was Nick himself. Although the doctors were happy with his physical progress, Nick still had no memory of the past fourteen years, and there had been no mention of his being released from Desert Palm.
Standing silently in his bedroom doorway, Warrick found it a bit surreal to watch Nick as he explored. The Texan's manner as he prowled through his belongings was nearly identical to the way he examined a crime scene.
Before long, Nick's realized his wasn't alone, and as always, he gave Warrick a searching look before speaking. "Hey."
It was all Warrick could do not to pull Nick into his arms and hold on for dear life, but that simply wasn't possible. He visited Nick several times a day, and Nick was aware that they were co-workers, friends and roommates, but Warrick knew he was still essentially a stranger to someone who meant more to him than anyone else in his life. It was the reason he'd stopped spending nearly every waking hour in Nick's hospital room--he didn't think it would help Nick if he was being constantly stared at by someone he barely knew. He couldn't stay away completely, though, and visited Nick as often as he could without making him too uncomfortable.
Strangely enough, this situation was a little less painful to deal with than Warrick had expected. Any hurt at the lack of recognition in Nick's eyes was tempered by the fact that he didn't see pain or shame there, either. Pain and shame he knew he would see if Nick remembered anything that had happened to him.
That didn't mean it was easy, though.
"Hey," he replied, and glanced out the window. "Aren't your folks coming in?"
"They aren't here," Nick's smile was a bit wry. "Mom wanted to pack some stuff for me, but I asked Dr. Neidiger and she said it would do me good to go out for a few hours, so Suz said she'd take me, then dropped me off here. I wanted some time to myself."
That made sense. Warrick wasn't sure that Nick had been alone more than five or ten minutes since regaining consciousness. "I can take off then, just give me a second to--"
"Oh! No, that's okay," Nick said quickly. "That's not what I meant. I should have said time away from...well."
Warrick couldn't quite stifle his smile, "From your folks?"
"I know that sounds bad."
"Oh, right," Nick shot him a crooked grin. "You've met them."
Warrick surprised himself by letting out a laugh.
"Sorry," Nick shrugged, rubbing his neck. "It's just really weird, y'know? They'd always really stressed independence--self-reliance."
"Well, they've had a bad scare." Or two.
"I know. Well...actually I don't. I know what happened--sort of. I mean, it's pretty obvious from my injuries what--" Bright color suffused his cheeks and he cleared his throat, turning to the books that lined his shelves. "So are all these mine, or yours?"
"Those are yours. Most of mine are still in boxes."
Although no one had said how much detail Nick could or couldn't be given, Warrick felt that this, at least, should be explained. "I've only been here a few months--haven't had that much time to spread my stuff around. I moved in after my divorce." The barest bones, but at least it was the truth.
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"Not really an issue," Warrick said easily, because it really did seem like another lifetime. "Typical Vegas wedding--marriage didn't even last the year."
Nick nodded and studied him briefly. "So we're pretty close, yeah?"
For a moment Warrick forgot how to breathe. "Yeah. I guess we are."
"I can tell by the way people talk about you. By the way Cisco and Mom act with you." Nick bit his lip, "But I don't remember you."
Warrick couldn't quite conceal his flinch.
Nick saw it. "I'm sorry."
"Hell, Nick, don't apologize."
Nick's gaze grew distant and a frown creased his features briefly before he shook his head and sighed. "Dr. Neidiger said I'd be able to travel soon. Cisco's making arrangements for us to go to Dallas the day after tomorrow."
"Do you think it's a good idea?"
Warrick was struck dumb by the look in the dark eyes. Trust. No recognition whatsoever, but somehow, trust. So even though he wanted to list all the reasons Nick needed to stay in Las Vegas, to make up reasons if he had to, he couldn't betray what was in Nick's eyes. "I don't know," he said truthfully. "And don't think I'm the right person to ask. I think you're better off discussing it with your doctor...or maybe a professional."
Disappointment mingled with approval in Nick's expression. "I'm not really sure, either, but I think I'd like to be somewhere familiar--at least for a little while. I can always come back in a week or two...although I'm pretty sure the folks are figuring on something different." He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, "But hell, they can't make me stay, can they?"
Warrick had his doubts about that, and it sounded as though Nick did, too.
Samantha Stokes Blake adored her baby brother for a variety of reasons. Nine years old when Nick was born, she'd been young enough to enjoy having a live doll baby around and old enough to understand that live doll babies squalled and fussed regularly. Besides, big brown eyes, an eager smile and affectionate nature more than made up for the wailing and dirty diapers in Sammie's opinion. As he grew, Nick was a fun-loving, eager-to-please little tagalong who amused more than he irritated and with four other older siblings, it wasn't as though Sammie had him around constantly.
One by one, the older Stokes children went off to college--Susannah and Adrienne to Texas A&M, Brett to Duke and Joss to Rice. Samantha applied to a dozen New England schools and crossed her fingers. She was overjoyed to get into Columbia and tripped up north with a light heart.
When she returned for Christmas break, it was to a very different baby brother--one who barely spoke and rarely smiled. When Sammie asked about it, Meredith--more concerned with her senior year and being head cheerleader--shrugged it off; their father mentioned that Nick had gone through a "sullen spell" but that a pep talk seemed to have taken care of it--he was paying attention in school again, anyway; and their mother's theory was that Nick "misses you all." Sammie had to content herself with that. When she saw him again at spring break, Nick was more like himself.
Busy with law school and far away, it seemed to her that what made Nick different from his siblings was that he was the only one who never gave their parents any major trouble or scare--the rest of them had gone head-to-head with either Mom or Dad at least once and usually more than once. As far as Sammie knew, the first time Nick ever defied--if it could even be called that--their parents was to drop law in favor of science and transfer from Rice to A&M. It wasn't so much the change of school that surprised everyone as the change of course load. Nick graduated after majoring in Criminal Justice and minoring in Chemistry. He immediately went to work in the Dallas Crime Lab, specializing in hair and fibers. The family of lawyers shrugged their shoulders and let him go to it. The youngest had always been a bit different and they contented themselves with the knowledge that at least he'd chosen to remain in law enforcement.
Sammie's adoration of her baby brother remained just that--the adoration of a baby brother--until Nick had been at the DCL for three years. That's when he applied and interviewed for, then got, a job at the country's second largest crime lab--in Las Vegas. It wouldn't have been a big deal in most families, but the Stokes clan had roots in Texas that went all the way back to when it was a republic. Sammie couldn't think of a single relative--and there were plenty all over the state--that had settled outside of Texas for longer than it took to obtain a degree. Sammie had tried herself, attending Columbia and marrying an architect she met there, but she still ended up in Dallas, a prosecutor in the DA's office while Nate easily got a job with city planning. She was very happy where she was, but still wondered about it. About why she'd never had the guts to make that final break.
It certainly wasn't that she was lacking in courage. Sammie, like the rest of her family, possessed that bring-it-on, damn-the-torpedoes, show-me-what-you-got kind of courage that helped them prevail in any sort of fight. But it took a different type of courage to shake off chains that came from decades of tradition and calmly announce a move two states away. It took a quiet sort of strength that Sammie had no idea Nick possessed, but that she admired greatly.
It was that same quiet strength that had helped him survive being buried alive and then gave him the courage to admit to his family that he was gay.
Sammie still wasn't sure which of those two things impressed her more.
She'd run the gamut of emotions during the ten days of Nick's ordeal, terror when she heard he was missing, joy when he was found and heartbreak when she learned that the strength she so admired had finally reached its limits. Certain that seeing Nick in that condition would only break her heart into smaller pieces, she hadn't wanted to be at their parents' ranch when they returned, but she was the only sibling who lived in Dallas and didn't have a reason not to be there. Much to her relief, Joss and Leland made the trip up from San Antonio, which eased some of the pressure.
As it turned out, her worries were unnecessary. Without the burdens of the last fourteen years weighing on him, there wasn't much about Nick to break anyone's heart. He was very much the baby brother she remembered from years before, if somewhat bewildered by all the sudden--at least to him--changes. As far as he knew, their parents had only moved out to the ranch a few months before, their father was still a DA and Sammie didn't have any kids, let alone a bright-eyed eight-year-old. What's more, Sammie knew they all looked much different than he remembered. He gave Inez Godoy a grateful hug when he saw her; the housekeeper had been with the family for twenty years, and hadn't changed a bit.
After the round of hugs and kisses, it became obvious to everyone that Nick wasn't back to full strength and that the trip had taken its toll. He went to bed and slept the entire afternoon, barely waking up in time for dinner. Inez, predictably, had made all of Nick's favorites. Both she and Nick were disappointed that he still didn't have enough of an appetite to do the meal justice.
Conversation at the table was stilted and careful. No one--Nick included--really knew whether Nick should be told things that had happened or left to remember them on his own. Add to that the fact that the majority of his missing years had been lived in Las Vegas and no one at the table could be much help there, and things got even more complicated. The safest subjects seemed to be his nieces and nephews, although Nick had a few concerns of his own outside of recovery--"What am I going to do all day? I'm gonna be going crazy inside of a week."
"Honey, you still need a lot of rest," Jillian pointed out. "You probably won't feel like doing much for a while."
"And you'll be seeing that doctor again, won't you?" Joss added, making Nick frown.
"Dr. Volker," Bill said. "Three times a week."
Nick darted a quick look at their father, and his frown deepened. Sammie wasn't surprised. While no one in their family ever spoke against seeing a psychiatrist, no one had ever seen one before, either. Hoping to make things seem natural, she asked, "Is there a set time for them? I can make sure I'm around to take him to at least one a week."
Her husband, Nathan, like all of the Judge's sons-in-law, usually tried not to get too involved in family issues unless asked, but Nate had always liked Nick and strangely enough, Nick always seemed to enjoy the New York native's ingrained sarcasm. There was nothing sarcastic in Nate's tone now, though--he was concerned about Nick. "I'm gonna have a three-day week for at least the next month," he offered. "I'll be free for at least one day a week."
"Then between Bill and I," Jillian nodded. "We can make sure the third appointment is covered."
"I can get myself to the...appointments," Nick said, his jaw beginning to jut. Then his expression fell, "Someone just has to tell me where it is."
Silence fell over the table.
Nick tried again. "That's not what I was talking about, anyway. I was going to look up some of my old friends, but now that I think about it, it's probably not such a great idea. Hell, all my old girlfriends are probably married, so that's out. Anyone wanna set me up with a nice girl while I'm here?" he flashed a grin, but it evaporated when everyone at the table exchanged glances. "What?"
"I think you'd better tell him this one," Leland suggested.
"Tell me what?"
"Nick, honey..." Joss sounded tentative and Sammie knew why. They had no way of knowing whether Nick had even admitted his preference to himself at this point. "We know you're gay."
Nick froze, paled, and sent another look in their father's direction. "I'm not gay. I don't know what you heard, but--"
"I was drunk."
Sammie nearly choked on her mouthful, trying not to giggle.
"Nick," there was a hint of a smile on Joss' lips. "This is not about being drunk."
Nick's eyes were firmly fastened on his plate. "This is supposed to be a table full of well-educated people. I can't believe that you all think that just because of what's happened--"
And just like that, it wasn't funny at all. "Oh, darlin', no..." Sammie managed past the lump in her throat.
"You should all know by now that just because I was--"
"Nick," Nate interrupted him. "No one thinks that."
"I don't remember it, but I know about the injur--"
"Oh, honey, don't!" Jillian protested.
"Son, you told us you were gay last summer," Bill's voice broke through the rest of the babble.
His eyes huge, Nick looked around at everyone in the stillness that followed. "How...how'd you all take it when you found out?"
"Better than you," Nate said dryly.
Sammie kicked him under the table. Nate was able to stifle a yelp, but not a wince. She was about to follow it up with a few choice words, but they died in her throat when she saw Nick's face. The smile there was a bit uncertain, but genuine, and very, very relieved.
Bizarre didn't even begin to cover what his life had become.
He was thirty-four, according to everyone and everything around him. Thirty-four. He'd always assumed he'd be settled down somewhere with 2.5 kids and a dog by the time he was that old. Even stranger, he was thirty-four and being sent to his room for a nap. There had to be something wrong with that.
Nick never protested when his mother or Joss suggested he "rest for a while," though. It was actually nice to be able to go into his room--well, his room as long as he was at the ranch--and know he wouldn't be disturbed for a couple of hours. It gave him plenty of time for uninterrupted reflection, and he needed to do a whole lot of that if he was ever going to get his life straight again. Besides, as much as he hated to admit it, he still tended to feel weak-limbed often and lying down a few times a day was necessary.
Thirty-four, but no wife, no kids, no dog. Instead, he was still single and living in Las Vegas. And he was pretty well settled there, if his place had been anything to go by. Did the fact that he thought his own place looked pretty cool make him conceited? Probably just made him a dork.
So. Thirty-four, single, and living in Las Vegas. Oh, yeah. And gay.
There was absolutely nothing on the planet that could have ever prepared him for his family knowing he was gay. It was something he'd fearfully suspected for years, reluctantly accepted during his freshman year and finally worked up the nerve to act on last year--no, not last year. His junior year. He was thirty-three last year.
Damn, it was weird.
His junior year. Nick couldn't help but smile when he thought of it. Although it had taken a bit of a balancing act to keep anyone from finding out, he'd managed to get in a whole lot of experimentation for six fun-filled months. Until Craig. Nick's smile turned into a scowl. That had just been plain stupidity on his part. Stupidity and a lifelong crush. Nick had been 11 years old when he first met Craig Westerfield--a frat brother of Brett's from Duke--and his admiration had been immediate. It was during Nick's junior year that Craig arrived at A&M as an assistant professor, and Nick was content to continue admiring him from afar. When he met up with Craig at a bar and realized Craig was not only similarly inclined, but interested in him as well, it seemed too good to be true.
Just over three months into the relationship, Nick discovered that Craig's attentiveness was actually possessiveness. He tried to find a balance, but after another two months of the older man's demanding nature, Nick called it off. Well, he tried to. Craig refused to let him go and threatened to tell Nick's family about his preference. It took a few weeks Nick realize the threat was an empty one and break away completely.
After he got out of that disaster, he'd decided he would be better off just ignoring that side of himself. The idea of his family--mostly his brother--and his parents--mostly his father--finding out had terrified him. He still wasn't sure what exactly he'd thought they would do--that had always remained unknown and all the more frightening for it.
But now they knew and he didn't have to worry about hiding who he was--except that he'd already hidden it for fourteen years. Nick rubbed his eyes--this was really messed up.
Then what about the people he met--knew--in Las Vegas? Did they know he was gay? He decided they probably did. He was obviously close to them. Their care and concern for him in the hospital had been obvious and in some ways unnerving. Likely he wasn't seeing anyone, then, because someone would have known about and mentioned it. Warrick, as his roommate, definitely would have known...whoa, bad idea.
Yeah. It definitely a bad idea to be thinking about Warrick while he was in bed.
It didn't matter if Warrick Brown was the coolest, sexiest, most fascinating man he'd ever met or that those green eyes of his were absolutely spellbinding or that the rough velvet voice made Nick's stomach flutter, they were close friends--best friends, according to everyone. Just because he was out didn't give him an excuse to lust after every guy that crossed his path. They were roommates, so presumably by the age of thirty-four he'd either found a way to deal with the attraction or he wasn't actually attracted to Warrick anymore. He couldn't see it being the latter, not unless thirty-four-year-old Nick was a complete idiot.
Thinking about his thirty-four-year-old self as another person was something he couldn't help doing, but he knew it was probably a dangerous habit to fall into. Nick decided to ask Dr. Volker about it. He'd only had two visits with her, but that had been enough for him to know that Dr. Volker was good at what she did. Although he wouldn't say he felt truly comfortable talking to her, it wasn't as uncomfortable as he'd expected. He could handle talking to her three times a week without dreading it, and that was the main thing.
Nick stretched and glanced at his watch, then groaned. It was time to take his medication again. He'd be glad when he was done with it, but he still had a couple more weeks of antibiotics. His doctor wanted to be absolutely certain there was no infection as a result of his...injuries.
Now there was something he hoped he never remembered. Bad enough he knew about it, knew by his injuries how horrible the attack had been. Even worse, everyone else knew about it, too. At least while he didn't remember it, people didn't bring it up in his hearing and he could almost pretend it had happened to someone else. Although that was definitely a dangerous habit to start falling into.
Going into the bathroom, he opened the medicine cabinet, but his meds weren't there. Sighing, he went back to the bedroom and checked the bedside table. Yep. Someone--either his mother or Inez--had put them there while he was still dozing to make sure he didn't forget them when he woke up. With another sigh, he shook his head and grabbed the--
Nick blinked. He wasn't taking--
Involuntarily, his gaze went to the bed.
He could see the slender form of a young woman convulsing on it.
She's OD'ing. She's OD'ing right now!
Nick stumbled back into the wall. He'd watched this girl die. Suicide.
Swallowing hard, he groped blindly for a chair. He did not want to sit on the bed right now.
A memory, he realized as he sat. What else could it possibly be? He took several deep breaths and waited to see if there was anything else. There wasn't. Just glassy eyes staring up at him.
He waited some more. Still nothing, so he forced himself to continue what he'd been doing, and took his medication with hands that shook.
Suddenly, he needed air. He needed people. His parents were both at work, but Joss had freed her schedule so that she could stay in Dallas over the weekend. She or Inez had to be around somewhere. He checked the living and family rooms but found no one, nor was Inez in the kitchen or the den. He prepared himself to take a walk out to the pasture and bother Roger, even if the horseman was one of the worst-tempered people he'd ever met, but out back he found Joss by the pool, engrossed in a book.
Relieved, Nick settled himself in the lounger next to her as unobtrusively as possible, wishing he'd thought to bring a book as well.
"Hey, hon," Joss greeted absently, not looking up from her book.
"Hey," Nick replied, hoping he sounded equally casual. He closed his eyes and did his best to keep his breathing even.
"Are you okay? You're as white as a sheet."
Opening his eyes, Nick saw that Joss had abandoned her book and was sitting up straight, facing him. "I think I remembered something," he made himself say.
"That's great!" Then her smile faded as realization sank in more completely. "What...what did you remember?"
"A girl. She...OD'ed right in front of me."
"A junkie?" Joss frowned.
"I don't think so. You... you don't know anything about it, then?"
"You've never mentioned seeing anything like that."
With another sigh, Nick closed his eyes again.
"It probably had to do with your job," Joss offered.
"In Las Vegas," Nick said, mostly to himself.
"Have you talked to any of the people you work with since you got here?"
"Yeah. Warrick and Catherine both asked me to call when I got settled. I've talked to Warrick and Greg since then."
"Maybe one of them will know."
That made sense. Most of his missing time had been spent in Las Vegas. How was he supposed to find out if his memories were valid while he was in Texas?
"Make sure you tell Dr. Volker about this."
"What? Oh. Yeah, sure."
"Nick." Joss waited until he looked at her. "It's good that this has happened, honey."
He knew that. Logically, at least. But the memory overwhelmed him with sadness. "I'll keep telling myself that."
"You beat her."
Warrick didn't pause in his task, he was used to hearing Greg say things that seemed to make absolutely no sense. It usually fell into context eventually. "Beat who?"
"Sara. You've blown her overtime record out of the water."
Not looking up from the circular saw he was taking apart, Warrick twitched a non-smile. "How's she taking it?"
"She's worried. It usually takes her three weeks to max out for the month and you did it in just over two."
"She'll get another shot next month."
"I don't think that's what she's worried about."
"With Nick and Westbrook away, we're short-handed. Besides, I've got a lot of hours to make up for."
"I don't think--"
"People think my work is suffering?"
"Are you kidding?" Greg blurted in honest surprise. "The DA practically worships the ground you walk on right now. And everyone figures they'll only have to bring in one person part-time to get us to top speed again."
Warrick finally looked up, pinning Greg to the spot with a glare, "So what's the problem?"
"No problem," Greg hastened to assure him.
"Good. You find any blood yet?"
"Oh...uh...I'm not quite done." Quickly, Greg ducked his head back to the pieces of the miter saw he'd been testing.
Warrick bit back an apology. He felt bad about giving Greg a hard time, but if he did apologize, the younger man would almost definitely see it as an invitation to continue talking. And above all, Warrick did not want to talk. Whenever anyone decided to talk to him, what it really meant was they wanted to talk about Nick, and Warrick did not want to talk about Nick. With anyone.
The last thing he needed was anyone or anything bringing Nick into his thoughts more than the man already was, and especially not at work. Right now, work was the only real escape he had from thoughts of Nick. The heavy caseload he'd taken on meant he usually had plenty of evidence and clues and suspects to occupy his thoughts, making it easier to keep any of Nick at bay. All the double and triple shifts kept him out of the house--Nick's house--and assured that when he did go home, he was too exhausted to notice how empty it was. That aggravated him--he should be used to living alone. Up until his marriage, he'd had a place by himself since his twenties.
Nick was alive, and that was all that mattered. If Nick's survival meant Warrick never saw him again, then so be it. It someone had offered him that choice, he'd have made it before they'd finished the question. If Nick's well-being depended on him living in Texas or France or Australia, then that was fine with Warrick.
He told himself that over and over, but it didn't even begin to keep him from missing Nick.
It was just over a month since the day of Nick's kidnaping, a month and a lifetime. Warrick hadn't been too surprised to find that as much as he missed his lover--his shy eagerness, his affectionate nature, his beautiful, responsive body--he missed his best friend even more.
Warrick looked up at the sound of Greg's voice, once again annoyed at himself for letting his thoughts drift while at work.
"Murder weapon," Greg said.
"Maybe not," Warrick pointed out. "People cut themselves on these tools all the time. You know that." His voice came out harder than he intended, and Greg's expression wilted a little.
More angry than ever, Warrick growled under his breath and took out his frustration on the power saw, dismantling it with a vengeance.
Dr. Volker was pleased to hear about the memories and with some gentle prodding from her, Nick was able to recall that a blonde detective--Sofia Curtis--had also been present. Nick had been introduced to Sofia at the hospital and knew she was a colleague from work. He also remembered that they had been there to arrest the girl for murder. The rest was just the vague, troubled feeling that although it seemed to be work-related, it meant much more.
There were no more memories for nearly a week, but Nick often found himself with bits of knowledge or information that almost seemed to come out of nowhere. Usually he blurted them out at the worst possible moment. Like commenting "first hit's free" when Leland nearly knocked himself out on a tree branch. His brother-in-law was in no mood to appreciate the explanation that followed.
Or one night when Sammie, Nate and Michaela were at dinner and Michaela, with all the tact of the average eight-year-old, brought up the road kill she came across and the "millions of maggots" thereon. Instead of ignoring such an unsuitable subject for dinner conversation, Nick began explaining just how big a dead animal would have to be for millions of maggots to survive on it. He was about to explain that the maggots would turn into flies soon when he noticed his parents, Sammie and Nate staring at him in disgust. "Nick," was all his mother said, making him feel about seven again. He apologized, trying to hide a grin at Michaela's obvious fascination.
The worst--and yet the funniest--happened the weekend after Joss left, when Meredith came to visit with Douglas and their two boys in tow. Nick was glad to see--meet--Aidan and Dominic who at ten and five years old were outside his current frame of reference. Douglas seemed even more self-satisfied and pompous than ever, and while Nick didn't doubt Meredith's concern for him, she had the unfortunate habit of expressing it using worn platitudes and sounded as though she was doing him a favor. Douglas tended to just look at him, then shake his head and tsk. That was just the sort of thing to set Nick on edge.
So as the Stokes', the Charles' and the Blakes sat having coffee and drinks after dinner, they politely listened to Douglas complain about the man the Faith Baptist Church Council chose as the new pastor. Indignantly he insisted the man's doctrine wasn't sound and that he didn't pay enough attention to the Trinity. Once again, Nick's mouth was ahead of his brain and he queried, "Victim, suspect, crime scene?"
Sammie burst out laughing, Mom reproved him with a hint of amusement in her voice and Cisco hid his smile by taking a sip of bourbon. A prosecutor, a public defender and a judge, they could all relate to the statement. Nate was an architect and really had no idea what they were talking about, but he enjoyed Douglas and Meredith's outrage.
Again, Nick apologized and explained, and Douglas' story was forgotten as Sammie and his parents began asking about the memory.
Later that night, Nick overheard Sammie and Meredith arguing. That in itself was nothing unusual--only one year apart and complete opposites, the two of them could start going at it like wet cats at any given moment. This time, though, it was about him. The next day Meredith cut their visit short, giving the excuse of a forgotten church function. Nick felt horribly guilty and wanted to try talking Meredith into staying, but Sammie convinced him not to. "She never got over being Homecoming Queen, honey, that's all."
Nick let it go, actually a bit relieved. Brett, Chantelle and their two children--who Nick remembered as an infant and a toddler--were due in a few days and he was beginning to feel a bit like the family exhibition. What's more, the visits were staggered--apparently no one wanted to risk spooking their baby amnesiac and send him scurrying to a hideout by crowding him too much.
Dr. Volker became concerned with Nick's agitation and wanted to know the reason. Nick told her about Meredith's visit, but not the impending one from Brett and his family. That was just as well, because most of Nick's concerns were laid to rest when Brett pulled him into a bear hug with a simple but obviously heartfelt, "Hey, little brother." When they separated, Brett let one hand rest on Nick's neck, studying him intently. Nick ignored the unnerving scrutiny as a small price to pay for Brett's obvious acceptance.
So either Brett had done a complete about-face since Duke or Craig had been lying his ass off--it wasn't a tough call.
Once again, there were two more people to watch him when they thought he wouldn't notice. Four more if you counted Alec and Caitlyn, but Nick knew that was more curiosity at his situation than anything else. Still, whether it was concern or curiosity, that didn't make it any less tedious. The ranch, despite its size, often didn't seem to have enough breathing room.
When he first heard that he'd moved to Vegas, Nick had been baffled. Leaving Texas had never been a consideration for him throughout high school or college, but at some point it had obviously become an issue. Now he was beginning to see why he had reached that decision. It didn't matter how much care or concern was involved, it was still tiresome to find that every time he turned around, someone from his family was right there. Not a memory so much as a reconciliation to actions that had initially seemed inexplicable and his first real understanding of his 34-year-old self.
The day before they were to return to Houston, Brett suggested he and Nick drive into Dallas for lunch at Belfiore's. Brett always tried to get to the little out-of-the-way Italian restaurant whenever he was in Dallas, never tiring of their Gnocci Bake. Expecting the other shoe to drop, Nick agreed to join him and was surprised that the conversation didn't extend much past Brett's work and recent sports. They were finishing up with cappuccino when Brett began asking questions about Nick's recovery. Most of them dealt with how Nick was feeling, whether he felt good about Dr. Volker, and what they could do to help. And--"So when it comes to your memory, is there anything that can be done to help it along? What about hypnosis?"
"I asked Dr. Volker about that, actually," Nick focused his gaze on his cup. "She said it could be done, but she advised me against it. Supposedly, the memories will only emerge when I'm able to handle them, and forcing them could actually...mess me up even more, I guess."
"Oh." That was all Brett said.
Nick couldn't tell if that was a noise of disapproval or not. "Do you think I should try it anyway?" Then a frightening thought occurred to him, "Do Mom and Dad think I'm taking too long to get over this?"
"No!" Brett said quickly. "Hell, no. Don't worry about that. No one wants you to do anything that'll make this tougher for you."
"Okay," Nick sighed.
"Nick," Brett said, and waited until Nick met his eyes. "Honest, it doesn't matter how long it takes. No one cares about that, we just want--" He broke off with a shrug and took a sip of coffee.
Nick was torn between squirming with embarrassment at the near-sentiment and wishing his brother would finish the thought.
"All we want is for you to be okay," Brett's voice was gruff. "Nothing else matters."
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Nick cursed himself internally for choking up. That had always happened to him far too easily. He'd hoped to outgrow it at some point, but apparently it hadn't happened. He settled for nodding in response to Brett's words, not wanting his voice to give him away.
They finished their cappuccino in silence, then Brett crooked a smile at him. "Ready to go?"
"Sure," Nick grabbed the check.
"Hey," Brett protested. "I got it."
"Nah. I'm getting practically a full salary," Nick replied, holding the paper out of his brother's reach. "Don't have a whole helluva lot to spend it on. So this is courtesy of Clark County."
Chuckling, Brett acquiesced.
As they drove back to the ranch, Nick couldn't help reflecting how strange it was to be getting a regular paycheck--or compensation--for a job he doesn't remember holding.
I'm a criminalist for Clark County, Nevada.
He'd actually said that to someone--to a woman. Because she'd said, "Mr. Stokes, you're from Texas, aren't you?" And she'd thought that because of that, she had some sort of pull with him.
I'm a criminalist for Clark County, Nevada.
"I know you are, little brother," Brett assured him.
Whoops. That was out loud. Nick closed his eyes and leaned back against the seat.
This wasn't the memory of a single event, just the culmination of something that had been brewing for several days. He was a criminalist for Clark County, Nevada. He'd worked three years at the Dallas Crime Lab without ever being "a criminalist for the City of Dallas." He'd always been the DA's son, a public defender's son, even the hotshot new prosecutor's brother, never a criminalist.
"Are you okay?" Brett sounded concerned.
Naturally. "Yeah, I was just...remembering. Not a major event, just some things that fit together."
"Of what?" Brett stared at him. "Can you--? I mean, is it a good--? Do you need me to do anything?"
"Yeah, watch the road," Nick said, not sure what to do with a rattled big brother.
"Right," Brett faced forward again.
"It's just about work," Nick explained, not wanting to leave him wondering. "In Dallas and in Vegas. Nothing really specific." Except why he moved in the first place, but he couldn't tell Brett that. It would sound awful--and ungrateful.
So now he knew the reasons behind his move to Vegas.
And now the only question was whether he had a reason to go back.
Catherine pursed her lips as she looked over the night's assignment slips. What had once been a simple matter was now the trickiest part of her job. It would be easier to leave them for Grissom--the entomologist had no territory issues about who handed them out--but she didn't feel comfortable doing that right now.
Tonight there was a drowning at Treasure Island, an assault at the Golden Nugget and suspicious circs near Southern Highlands Parkway. The rest were lower priority scenes where no one had been hurt.
She'd send Warrick out to the Southern Highlands--she wasn't comfortable with him being in a casino at this time. Suspicious circs could be anything, so she didn't want to send a lone CSI, and that's where the real juggling came in. Warrick didn't work very well with other people these days. His actual work was excellent--he was more tireless and exacting than he'd ever been, just what you'd want in a CSI--but his intensity made even Sara's single-mindedness seem like a joke. In fact, he and Sara had clashed more in the last month than in Sara's first two years in Vegas. Never a big talker, he now rarely spoke and never about anything not directly related to a case, and he didn't care to hear anyone else talking about anything not directly related to a case. Greg was usually a nervous wreck working with Warrick, so that left him out as well. Maybe she'd go out with him until they knew what exactly the circumstances were. Maybe the case didn't require two CSIs.
The drowning would have to go to Grissom, but he wasn't about to go in the water, so Greg would have to go with him. That left the assault for Sara. Catherine winced, depending on what kind it was, things could turn out badly for the case and be tough on Sara. Maybe she could take the assault and Sara could go with Warrick after all. No--suspicious circs would require a whole lot of discussion and Warrick was not particularly tactful right now. Greg usually worked well with Sara, if he went with her, things could remain on an even keel, or better yet, she could send Greg and Sara to the drowning and Grissom to the assault.
Catherine frowned. Send the supervisor to the assault instead of the DB? She knew Grissom wouldn't look at it that way, but others might. Let them, she finally decided with a sigh. It was the lesser of two evils.
As expected, when she handed them over to Grissom, he gave the assignations a cursory glance before handing them out. Relieved--she wasn't sure if he'd noticed her sudden obsession--she headed off to the Southern Highlands with Warrick where suspicious circs turned out to be a double homicide. Blood was found in the house and an hour later, two bodies were found in the shed, along with a hand axe. Interviews with neighbors indicated they probably had a Lizzie Borden on their hands--the grown daughter's car had been seen in the driveway hours before.
It was a big house and a messy crime scene and the sun was shining brightly by the time they finished. It took a bit of effort, but Catherine managed to convince Warrick to grab some breakfast with her. She doubted he'd sat down for a complete meal since Nick's abduction.
Now that Nick was at least safe, everyone was trying to return to some sense of normalcy. At first it seemed like Warrick had been as well, but then found himself unable to. More than ever, she found herself wondering how deep his feelings went. She waited until the waitress brought coffee and took their order before speaking. "So how you doing, Warrick?"
"M'good," he nodded, gazing out the window.
"Yeah," he turned to her with the beginnings of a frown.
Catherine hesitated, the decided to go for broke and risk pissing him off. "When's the last time you talked to Nick?"
The frown darkened.
"You have talked to him since he got to Texas, haven't you?"
"Of course I have," Warrick scowled. "I don't want to call him too often. He doesn't even know who I am."
That didn't sound right. "So are you looking out for him or yourself?"
"Don't, Cath," he growled.
She was about to snap back, but heard the pain behind his anger. "You must really miss him."
"Don't," Warrick said desperately, pushing back from the table. "Don't."
"Okay," Catherine held up her hands. "I'm sorry."
Warrick turned his gaze back out the window, but Catherine could see his throat working. It made her own tighten painfully.
Although there was still a pile of questions she wanted to ask, she knew he was likely to bolt any second. She was almost certain now of Warrick's feelings, and couldn't imagine the pain he'd been going through. Unfortunately, knowing about it didn't really give her any way to help him.
She signed inwardly. So she had to keep juggling the assignments a while longer. So what? She was getting pretty good at it.
Nick quickly muted the ball game he'd been watching as Michaela raced into the family room. He didn't even have time to ask questions before she was pulling on his arm.
"Cait fell of the pasture fence! She can't breathe!"
Tugging his hand free, Nick ran for the pasture. He hadn't gone far before he met up with Caitlyn limping along the path, one hand against her side. "Hey," he slowed to her pace. "What happened?"
Michaela caught up with them, her eyes huge with worry.
"I'm okay, Mick."
"You couldn't breathe," Michaela said, almost accusingly.
"Got the wind knocked out of me is all," Caitlyn said, continuing to trudge back to the house. She darted a glance at her uncle, "I was just walking the fence."
"Walkin' the--that's a five-rail fence!"
Caitlyn gave him a "well, duh" look.
Nick knew he should give her hell for it, but it was all he could do to keep from chuckling. Fourteen, maybe, but obviously still a kid. Probably one of the reasons she'd asked to stay in Dallas an extra week was so she could be extra rambunctious instead of having to act cool with the other teenagers. Brett and Chantelle had agreed and said she would fly back at the end of the week or that Alec would make the trip to get her.
"You won't tell anyone, will you?" she asked, although her grin suggested she already knew the answer.
"Depends on how badly you're hurt," he replied. Wouldn't kill her to do a little worrying. "You might have to go to the hospital. Why're you holding your side? Did you land on the rail?"
To her credit, Caitlyn didn't jerk her hand away immediately--that would have been a sure sign that a hospital was in order. Instead, she plucked at the tear in her shirt, "I grazed the top rail on my way down."
"Okay," Nick nodded. "We'll go in and I'll take a look at it." Hopefully, he wouldn't have to take her in. That's all they would need. They were the only three people out on the ranch, his parents and Michaela's were all at work and Inez was in Fort Worth visiting her sister on her day off. He knew there had been some reluctance about the situation, but it was decided that everything should be okay since there "would be someone to watch them both."
Nick had no idea if that meant he was babysitting Caitlyn and Michaela or Caitlyn was babysitting he and Michaela. The way his family treated him some days, there was just no telling.
He led the girls into the house and ushered Caitlyn onto a stool at the kitchen counter. Michaela took the one next to her; now that her fears had been allayed, she didn't want to miss anything that was going on. Crouching down to check the spot, he winced slightly when he saw the scrape. It wasn't deep, but a nice patch of skin had been scratched off and it was going to sting like crazy for a while. He pressed down, watching Caitlyn's expression. Her features tightened a bit, but that could have been from contact with the abrasion. "Take a deep breath," he said, standing again. "As deep as you can."
Caitlyn complied, and there was no hitch when she inhaled.
"Okay, no hospital," Nick said. "But I want to know if it's hurting just as bad an hour from now."
"Okay." Caitlyn sat up straighter, and took another deep breath, then twisted to get a better look at the damage. "Ew."
"Consider yourself lucky," Nick said, grabbing a towel and going to the refrigerator. Probably ice wasn't necessary, but better safe that sorry. She could just keep it on for a little while and then--
Fifteen minutes, minimum. Twenty would be better. And you don't wrap cracked ribs.
But Caitlyn's ribs weren't cracked, they weren't even--wait. That was Warrick.
That was Warrick talking to him. Looking after him. Making him...uncomfortable?
That didn't make sense.
"Uncle Nick, are you okay?"
With a start, Nick realized he was standing in front of the open refrigerator, not moving. Quickly, he wrapped a handful of ice in a towel and handed it to Caitlyn.
Why would Warrick make him uncomfortable?
Because Warrick was in his bedroom. Because Warrick was sitting on his bed.
They were roommates--it couldn't be that big a deal.
Wait. They weren't roommates when this happened. Huh.
So there was something there. Enough of a something that he'd been very aware of Warrick taking care of him when he'd been injured somehow.
Nick forced himself to focus on the present. As enjoyable as that particular memory might be, he couldn't zone out right now. Michaela seemed calm enough, but now Caitlyn was looking at him with worry. "So, y'all gonna stick pretty close to the house for the rest of the day?"
"Let's go swimming," Michaela suggested.
That did make Caitlyn wince. "I'm not going in the water, but I'll go out and watch you."
"That's no fun," Michaela protested. "Uncle Nick, you come swimming with me."
"He can't," Caitlyn said.
"I can't?" Nick looked at her in surprise.
"He's busy, Mick," she told her young cousin firmly. "He's in the middle of remembering stuff."
Nick was taken aback, as much by her casual manner of explaining her observation as the observation itself. "You're a spooky kid, you know that?" She shot him a grin and he shook his head before turning to Michaela, "I'll go in with you for a while, Shortcake. I'll meet you out there."
With a whoop, Michaela ran off to change.
"You okay?" he asked Caitlyn, nodding toward her side.
"Uh-huh. You?" she asked innocently.
"Don't be a smartass," he warned, laughing. He went to his room to change, a little relieved to have a moment alone. All he needed was for Caitlyn to join the rest of the family, watching him for the slightest nuance that something might be different about him.
I saw you beating up the door a little while ago. You all right?
Nick hesitated briefly. He wasn't sure about the context, but he knew that Warrick was looking out for him somehow. The man seemed to make a habit of it.
As much as he wanted to concentrate on these particular memories, if his family thought he couldn't handle staying with a couple of kids, he'd end up with someone tailing him every minute of the day. He soon found out, though, that it wasn't an easy matter to ignore memories once they decided to emerge. Fortunately, none of them were really bad memories, so it wasn't too difficult to continue on with his day despite the sudden flashes.
He couldn't even consider them whole memories, he decided, since none of them focused on a single event. The only thing they all had in common was that they involved Warrick Brown, so although not disturbing, they were definitely distracting. It was mostly friendly banter, a playful one-upmanship--You still harping on the solo thing? You know every time you work with me you learn something. But there were flashes of anger--Why don't you just let me handle my business? Of concern--Hey, man. You could lose your job over something like this. And--I've got your back again, Nicky...well, he couldn't always tell what emotions were involved.
When he finally went to bed that night, he lay awake as long as possible, going through those bits of memory again and again. It didn't really surprise him when he woke the next morning to find that Warrick had filled his dreams as well, although when left to his subconscious, things took on a very different caste.
It was frustrating on a variety of levels. Aside from the obvious problem--which was actually simple enough to take care of in the shower--Nick had no way of knowing if what he saw in his dreams were memories, fantasies or even memories of fantasies. He knew that his connection to Warrick Brown went far beyond just best friends, but he couldn't figure out how far beyond and if it was just one-sided.
One thing he knew for certain was that he'd never find out the truth on his parents' ranch two states away.
Once the idea of returning to Vegas took hold, it was impossible to shake. There were no more actual memories, but something inside began nudging him relentlessly. Wanting to see Warrick was the initial impetus and still the strongest pull, but there were others. For some reason he wanted Dr. Grissom to know that he was handling this--that he could handle things. He wanted to be able to smile at Catherine Willows so that she was reassured he was recovering--it was something he couldn't do when he spoke to her on the phone. He wanted to tease Sara Sidle until she finally cracked a smile; she had been so somber whenever she visited him and Nick knew he could get her to laugh if he tried hard enough. He also wanted the challenge of trying to keep a straight face while Greg Sanders tried to crack him up. He wanted to watch as Captain Brass tried not to let on how worried he was by pouring on that seen-it-all attitude and find the concern peeking through anyway. He wanted Warrick to--
Well, he just wanted Warrick.
Not only physically, though. The idea of being around Warrick was reassuring. The idea of even being in the same city as Warrick was reassuring.
Dr. Volker had asked him early on if he intended to return to Las Vegas, but at the time it simply hadn't been on his radar. Six weeks later, Nick was the one to bring up the subject with her. She said she could help him arrange for a doctor so he could continue his sessions in Las Vegas and even had some suggestions for those she thought he would do well with. What Nick couldn't get her to tell him was whether she thought it was a good idea. When he finally asked her--flat out, she replied that he was entirely his decision.
That had been something of an epiphany, because he'd certainly never thought of it as his decision. He had planned to get her approval, because armed with it, he had a better chance of convincing his parents to agree.
Except that, technically, he didn't need his parents to agree.
Of course, that didn't mean it was going to be easy to tell his family about his intentions. They were all acting as though he would be staying in Dallas permanently and up until now, Nick hadn't said a single thing to contradict that.
It was the first time Nick wished that a specific memory would emerge. It would be handy to remember how he told them when he first moved to Vegas. It would be even better to remember coming out to his family the summer before--surely that had been tougher than this.
Nick stopped mid-swipe and looked at his father across the hood of the Dodge. He hadn't been asking a question. "Cisco--"
"Your mother and I can't take any more time off right now."
"Oh," Nick laughed. "No, you guys don't have to come with me. I mean, I've already got a place to stay."
Bill resoaked his sponge and began washing the tailgate. "It's not a good idea."
"Why not?" Nick asked, immediately hating how that came out. He just wanted to know his father's reasoning and it sounded like he was whining for permission to take the car.
Before his father could answer, his mother called out in a teasing voice, "Is my car ready?"
Nick grinned in spite of the situation, "All done." They had washed it before the truck.
"Good," Jillian hurried down the driveway, then stopped and looked from her husband to her son. "What's wrong?"
After a quick glance at his father, Nick decided there was no point in trying to avoid it. "I was just telling Dad that I'm thinking of going back to Vegas."
"What?" Jillian looked at her watch. "Honey, I'm sorry but I don't have time to talk about this right now. I'll be late." She gave him a kiss on the cheek. "This meeting is not the way I wanted to spend Saturday morning, but there's no getting out of it." Moving, she gave her husband a peck as well, "Why don't you call Brett? I'm sure he and Chantelle would love to have you visit."
Before Nick could tell her that wasn't exactly the point, she got in her car and drove away. With a shake of his head, he went back to work.
"Okay?" Bill frowned at him. "Now you've got your answer and you can drop it."
"Cisco, I wasn't really askin'--"
"Good. Because you're not goin'."
Nick was speechless. His parents, with their emphasis on initiative and responsibility, had stopped telling him where he could or couldn't go when he was in his mid-teens. That they were trying to do it now astonished and irritated him. He tried once more to explain, "Cisco--"
"I don't want to hear any more about it. I mean it, now."
"Fine, I just thought I'd--"
"Nick. Drop it."
"You go on in before you tire yourself out. I'll finish up here."
Nick threw his sponge into the water hard enough that water splashed his bare legs, then headed into the house. This was getting to be way too much. Even taking recent events into consideration, it was still too much. It would have been extreme if he'd been 20, but to do it when he was thirty-four was ridiculous.
He had no doubt that the longer he stayed, the worse it would get.
That pretty much clinched his decision.
Neither of his parents mentioned the subject of Vegas again and Nick, following his father's instructions, didn't bring it up.
It still rankled, though.
He was a 34-year-old, fully-functioning college graduate, he wasn't a danger to himself or anyone else. Even if his decision to return to Las Vegas happened to be a bad one, he still had every right to make that bad decision, just like anyone else.
That was the pep talk Nick gave himself several times over the weekend and when Monday came, he told Dr. Volker he was going back to Vegas. Anticipating this, Volker already had several names of people in Vegas with whom she thought he would do well. Nick finally settled on Dr. Anna Werne--she had worked with others in law enforcement and was acquainted with Phillip Kane. Dr. Volker said she would transfer all the information over to her and all he would have to do was make an appointment when he was ready. He was surprised she didn't comment on how fast he was moving and said so, to which she replied that even with his missing memories, he was still as competent--if not moreso--that most people moving in society. Nick thanked her for everything she'd done and said good-bye, promising to keep her updated.
He got home--his family had finally relented and let him drive himself back and forth, mostly because Nick began calling cabs instead of them--and made himself some lunch, then booted up his laptop. He had several options for flights and for a split-second he considered leaving this particular chore until he could ask his parents what time would be most convenient for them.
Then he caught himself--he could leave on any flight he wanted. He could take a cab or shuttle to the airport. If he felt like it, he could book himself a flight to Hawaii or Chicago--hell, even Europe--and no one would be able to stop him. Nah, not Europe. South America--the Galapagos. He had enough room on his credit card and the means to go anywhere he chose, but there was only one place he actually wanted to go. He found a flight that left the next evening at ten with a stop in Houston. Otherwise, he was looking at nine hours worth of air time or waiting nearly a week before going. He booked it before he could change his mind and once he did, a huge weight vanished from his shoulders.
The only thing left now was to pack and break the news to his parents. He felt little nervousness about getting himself to the airport and on the plane. In one of those vagaries of the human mind, there were many things that had never gone away. Neither his cell phone nor his laptop had given him a moment's pause--he'd used both without hesitation. When he flew to Dallas, he didn't wonder at the amount of security at the airport because he somehow knew the reason for it. When he heard "President Bush," he knew it referred to the son, not the father. If it wasn't a personal experience, it somehow escaped the barrier that had slammed down on his memories.
He'd gone over his prognosis with Dr. Volker weeks before and knew that it would be months, possibly even years, before he regained the majority of his memories. Did his family expect him to stay sequestered at the ranch the entire time?
He couldn't do that. He couldn't miss out on the next few years of his life just because he was missing some of the last fourteen.
Warrick turned off the television with a grunt of dissatisfaction. He checked the clock again--five hours before he could go back to work.
Catherine had finally convinced Grissom and Ecklie to force him to take off two shifts in a row even though Ecklie probably would have been perfectly happy to continue authorizing overtime for as long as Warrick could work it. In addition to being easier on the budget than hiring and training new CSIs, the DA had been so pleased with Warrick's tireless work that he'd seen fit to mention it to the Sheriff and the Mayor on two separate occasions. It made the lab look good and it made Ecklie look good.
Warrick could have cared less about that. All he cared about was the work--finding the evidence, making the connections, solving the case. Already people had commented that he was becoming another Grissom. Some even meant it as a compliment. Whenever it happened, Warrick always recalled doing the same to Nick during the Kessler case. He couldn't help wondering if Nick had done it for precisely the same reason; because the case, the evidence, the science were the only things safe to think about and--
And dammit, he was thinking about Nick again.
Exactly why he wanted--needed--his work to keep him occupied.
He wasn't Grissom, though, and there was no way he would ever achieve that Zen-like, absent-minded professor balance. He couldn't help it, because in addition to keeping his mind off Nick, he also wanted to keep that ever-present demon that hovered just behind him from sinking its claws in.
It was doubly tempting now, because Warrick knew from experience that stopping at a sports book, or even better, sitting down at a table, would take his mind off Nick completely--at least for a little while. He longed for the feeling of euphoria that came with each win, the narrowing of focus to the turn of the next card and the endless anticipation that the next time would be his big win.
So hideously tempting, but he'd managed not to give in.
He'd killed two hours today by running every legitimate errand he could think of, then returned home to sleep fitfully for another three. The errands had been carefully planned and very structured. Warrick didn't go anywhere unless he had something specific to do there. There was none of the aimless rambling through the city that he'd always enjoyed. Prowling through the endless time warp that was Las Vegas, he could more easily be drawn into his addiction. Besides, Warrick wasn't sure moving through his city would even hold the same pleasure for him it had before. There was always an element of searching, of sorting through the city's pulse for a nameless something.
That something was no longer nameless. He'd even had it for a painfully short time, but it had slipped through his fingers.
With a low growl Warrick flung an arm over his eyes. He was disgustingly close to composing another overwrought ballad. If he had his guitar--
Almost without thinking about, he got up and retrieved the Martin. He had no intention of composing--he didn't want to know what he would come up with in his current state--but the idea of any sort of music was suddenly appealing.
He didn't try anything fancy, just old blues standards--the sort of things Gram and Aunt Bertha always loved most. And, now that he thought about it, the old school jazz that Nick preferred.
Eventually, the snarls smoothed out, his anger dissipated and after more than an hour of music, Warrick was able to carefully lay the Martin aside and stretch out on the sofa for a deeper, more restful sleep.
Although Nick was certain that his decision was the right one, he still balked at actually telling his parents. He found reasons to stall through supper and after, then wound up berating himself for it once he went to bed. He hadn't been raised to put off doing something that had to be done just because it was unpleasant. It really was low not to tell his parents until the morning that he left, so Nick vowed to apologize as well--once they let him get a word in. Even if he was angry, even if they were out of line, that still didn't excuse such piss-poor behavior from him.
During his restless night he even thought about cancelling his flight altogether, but couldn't bring himself to consider it for more than a split-second. Good or bad, he needed to be in Vegas and the sooner the better.
At four o'clock, Nick gave up on trying to sleep and crept out to the kitchen to put some coffee on, then took a quick shower while it brewed. Cup in hand, he wandered outside and strolled down to the pasture in the misty dawn. He'd only gone riding twice during his stay, because ridable horses were scarce on the ranch right now. There was only Whiskey, his mother's bay gelding, and Pepper, Roger Campbell's mare, who was just as ill-tempered as her owner. The other horses--a half-dozen unbroken one- and two-year-olds--came to the fence to have their noses rubbed.
Walking back to the house after watching the young horses for nearly an hour, Nick still found himself looking out of the corner of his eye for Lobo or even Scout, his dad's old pointer. He knew now that Lobo had died about nine years before and Scout just two years ago, but it was one of the more difficult things to get used to.
Everyone was up when Nick got back to the house--his parents at the table and Inez in the kitchen. "What do you want for breakfast?" she asked him as he poured himself another cup of coffee. "I see no mess, so I know you didn't make yourself anything."
Nick forced a smile, even though his stomach was suddenly in knots. "I'm not hungry. Just coffee will do for me, thanks," he saluted her with the cup before joining his parents at the table.
His mother knew something was up right away. "You've got such shadows under your eyes. Didn't you sleep well?"
Bill looked up from his paper at the admission, and Jillian looked worried. "What's the matter? Nightmares? Or more memories?"
"Neither. Uh...I probably should have told you last night, so I'm sorry about that, but--" Nick looked into his coffee cup in the hopes that he would find the perfect way to break the news, but when no inspiration struck, he knew he'd just have to say it flat out. "My...um...my flight for Las Vegas leaves at ten tonight."
Nick darted a quick glance at his father. "My flight for Las Vegas leaves--"
"I heard you," Bill said through clenched teeth. "Cancel it."
"No," Nick said, quietly but firmly.
"You expect us to drop everything and take you to the airport tonight?"
"No, I can call a cab."
"Well, then why bother telling us at all?"
Nick ducked his head before he knew he was doing it, then made the deliberate effort to straighten again. "I only booked it yesterday afternoon, so last night was the soonest I could have told you, and I said I was sorry about that. It was either tonight or wait at least a week, and I don't want to. Wait, that is."
"I can't believe you just went ahead and did this when you already had our answer."
"Cisco, I never asked the question," Nick pointed out, even though nothing he said really seemed to be sinking in.
"If you think for one minute that--"
The Judge subsided at the sound of his wife's voice, which Nick was almost sorry for. As much as he hated dealing with his father's anger, it was still preferable than facing his mother's worry.
"You tried to tell us on Saturday, didn't you?"
"Yeah. I hadn't booked the flight yet, though."
"Did you manage to get last minute on one of those jaunts?" Jillian asked with a hint of a smile.
It took a moment for Nick to catch on, and once he did, he answered without thinking: "No, I got a one-way ticket."
The silence that fell was suffocating.
"What about your sessions with Dr. Volker?" Jillian asked just before it became unbearable.
"We've already lined up someone for me to see in Vegas."
"Sounds like you've taken care of everything," Jillian said quietly.
"I tried to." Nick could feel his father's eyes on him and met them briefly before dropping his gaze again. "Look, I'm sorry I didn't do I better job of telling you and I'm sorry that you don't think it's a good idea. But I don't think I could make myself be sorry I'm going back, no matter how hard I tried."
"You absolutely have to go back?"
Nick hated that his mother's voice shook slightly, but it didn't change his answer. "Yeah. I think I do."
More silence, and Nick didn't dare look up until his mother sighed and said--"If your flight leaves at ten, then we should be away from her by seven-thirty."
"Mondays are always a lighter docket," Bill added. "I ought to be able to be back here at five."
Swallowing hard, Nick couldn't have looked at them now if his life depended on it. He heard his mother get up from the table, and felt lips press his hair. "Now try to get some sleep," she advised.
"You packed, Pancho?"
"Better take care of that."
His stomach unclenched enough that Nick was able to eat the omelet Inez foisted on him and once his parents left for work, Nick went back to bed. A full belly and lightened heart allowed him to sleep peacefully until mid-afternoon. He still had to pack, but it wasn't the major chore his father had made it out to be, since most of his things were still in Vegas.
As promised, his parents were back by five o'clock, along with Sammie, Nate and Michaela who had apparently been informed of his departure. If nothing else, Nick reflected, his return meant an end to the havoc of the family's schedules. Neither his parents nor his sister had regular nine-to-five jobs and Nick didn't want to think about how many dockets or cases had been shuffled, switched or postponed on his account.
He wasn't terribly surprised that everyone went with him to the airport or that it took a tremendous amount of hugs, kisses, assurances he'd be fine and promises to call daily before they let him go through the gate. Not until his plane was finally in the air did Nick relax--he wouldn't have put it past them to stage some last minute intervention. And it wasn't until his flight had landed and taken off again from Houston that Nick realized he'd goofed. Big time.
He hadn't told anyone in Vegas he was coming. Warrick Brown was the reason he was going to Vegas, the person who had been in his thoughts the entire time he'd been making his plans, and somehow he never got around to telling him. Well, he had Warrick's cell number somewhere--he'd call once they landed.
He had his key and the security code, and it was his house, too. Warrick would probably be at work, so it would be a simple matter to just catch a cab and let himself in. Because really, if he was already such a dumbass for not calling before he left Dallas, did it really make much difference now? Besides, Warrick would undoubtedly leave work once he heard--Nick knew that instinctively--and it might be nice to have some time alone to get used to things.
Nick studiously ignored that knowing voice in the back of his mind that said he wanted to take Warrick by surprise. To see his honest reaction.
With a groan, he leaned back in his seat.
"Something wrong?" asked the woman in the seat next to him.
"Sorry," he said. "No, I just forgot something." Then he realized what an understatement that was and laughed.
Still amused at his own words, Nick gave her a smile, "I'll find out when I get there."
After two shifts off, Warrick was ready to work a double or even a triple, but it was an unnaturally quiet night and he couldn't find a legitimate reason to stick around once the sun came up--not with Catherine still keeping a close eye on him, anyway. There wouldn't be any breakfast out, unless he felt like eating alone--which he didn't. Co-workers had stopped asking him along weeks before. If he made overtures, they probably would accept, but he wasn't up to the effort.
Home it was, then and although he didn't hate being there as much as he used to, the idea was still unappealing. Nothing else appealed either, though, so he went home where he was least likely to get himself into trouble.
He walked in with no real idea of how he was going to kill the day, and then all other ideas disappeared when he laid eyes on the man emerging from the kitchen. It took a minute for Warrick to realize what he was seeing and several more for him to believe it was real.
"Hey," Nick said and when Warrick didn't--couldn't--respond, he rubbed the back of his neck nervously. The familiar gesture made Warrick's heart stutter even as Nick plowed on gamely. "I...um, I was so busy making arrangements to get back that I forgot the most imp--"
Four strides carried Warrick across the room and in as many seconds he was clutching Nick close, not taking the time to wonder whether his actions were out of line or not. For a moment, it was as though nothing had ever gone wrong. It could have been any other morning--one or the other getting home from a rough shift.
A very rough shift, considering how tightly he was holding Nick. It took a while for Warrick to realize that he might actually be making it difficult for Nick to breathe. He tried, but couldn't bring himself to loosen his hold more than a fraction.
Nick didn't seem to mind. He certainly didn't object and in fact, almost seemed to be...snuggling in a little.
Finally, Warrick forced himself to pull away. He needed to find out where things stood before they went any further. It might have been wishful thinking on his part, but it seemed that Nick was equally reluctant to separate.
As Nick's word's finally sank in, it occurred to Warrick that he should be pissed off at Nick for not giving him any warning, but being angry or even mildly annoyed was an impossibility. Nick was here and Warrick's happiness--joy...hell, words were useless. It was beyond quantifying.
Nick seemed to be suffering from something similar, and they both stood smiling at one another somewhat foolishly.
Warrick thought of and abandoned many greetings, and what finally came out was--"What the hell, Nick?"
"I...uh..." A small, self-conscious laugh. "I missed...Vegas."
"Then you've been remembering a lot of stuff?"
"Well...no. But what I did remember was enough for me to realize I'll probably make more progress here than in Dallas."
He wanted to ask. He wanted to ask so badly it was almost a physical ache, but Warrick wasn't about to risk dredging up memories Nick wasn't ready for. Shortly after Nick returned to Dallas, Warrick paid the lab's psychiatrist a visit. Deftly avoiding Phillip Kane's questions about his state of mind, Warrick had interrogated him on Nick's amnesia. Kane has stressed that prompting or trying to prompt memories before they emerged on their own could be detrimental. So until Nick brought it up--he wouldn't.
Nick had his hands shoved in his pockets as he looked around, then back at Warrick. "Like I said, I'm sorry about not letting you know. I should have called when I was just thinking about coming back. I want to make sure I'm not upsetting any plans."
"What?" Warrick was still having trouble moving beyond the fact that Nick was right there in front of him.
"Me showing up like this. Is it a problem?"
Warrick laughed, but at the same time his vision blurred slightly. "No. No problem at all."
"Okay," Nick nodded and looked around again. "Okay, good."
For a split-second, Warrick almost invited Nick to sit down, but caught himself--it was Nick's sofa. "So what are you gonna--? I mean...now that--well. You got any plans?" God help him, he hadn't sounded that lame since high school.
Nick didn't seem to notice. "Not really. The only thing I really have to do is set up my schedule with Dr. Werne. Other than that...nah, I didn't plan a whole lot. I just kinda made a break for it, yeah?" His tongue peeked out between his teeth as his grin turned mischievous.
It was impossible not to grin back. "Do your folks know you're here?" Warrick asked, only half-joking.
The smile widened, "Yeah, they know. Not crazy about the whole thing, but they know." Nick shook his head, "Mom thought I'd caught a ride on one of those junkets."
"When is your flight back? Or is it flexible?"
"It's nonexistent. One-way, man."
Warrick nodded, clenching his jaw and tensing every muscle in his bodies. He had to hold himself completely still, because if he didn't he'd make a complete fool of himself with some stupid victory dance.
Nick noticed his reaction, though, "That okay?"
"Stop asking that, Nick. Trust me, anything you want to do is fine."
Nick tilted his head to the side and frowned slightly in an expression Warrick was familiar with. It usually meant Nick was trying to puzzle something out to his satisfaction. Of course, under these circumstances, it could also mean he was trying to remember something. He took a deep breath before speaking again. "Warrick, how much..? We, uh...were we..?" He took his hands out of his pockets only to shove them back in seconds later. "So you just got off work, yeah?"
"So you probably need to go to sleep."
"Nah, I'm good for a while," Warrick assured him.
"Do...do you want to maybe go get something to eat? I looked in the fridge and there's nothing there."
"I haven't been home much," Warrick admitted. "Breakfast sounds good, though. How about we go to The Egg?"
"The...Egg," Nick considered it briefly, then nodded. "Sure. Um...maybe you could point out a grocery store along the way. I can stock up on food later."
Warrick grinned again. Nick never liked having an empty fridge. "Will do," he took his keys back out. "Let's go."
Nick moved forward before Warrick had taken and a step, walking right into him, then stumbling back quickly. Automatically, Warrick put an arm out to steady him, and somehow it snuck around the trim waist.
Think of something to say, Brown. And it better be something nice and simple. "I'm glad you're back, Nicky." The words were innocent enough, but emotion was still making his voice husky.
The dark eyes widened and Nick tongue snuck out again, this time from nervousness. "Me, too," he finally said when he stepped away.
Warrick tried for a friendly, buddy smile, but wasn't sure he pulled it off.
The smile Nick gave him in response was suddenly shy, but not uncomfortable.
"Better get going," Warrick said, breaking the sudden silence. Maybe once they were in public with a table between them he'd be able to think properly and hold a reasonable conversation.
Greg tried not to flinch when he was assigned to an arson with Warrick and Sara. He knew Grissom and Catherine both had to work the case of ex-Sheriff Rory Atwater's death. Although he certainly didn't want to work the Atwater case with all the politics and possible intrigue that were sure to arise, he wasn't looking forward to having to tiptoe around Warrick all night either. Even worse, Sara could rarely be bothered to tiptoe around anyone and Warrick no longer made the effort to diffuse her when she got riled.
That left him to referee. Greg was willing to take on either one of them if he absolutely had to, but both? No, thank you. Wacky, yes, but he wasn't stupid.
But for once Warrick wasn't scowling when he showed up for work. He even seemed to be relaxed and when Sara grabbed the assignment slip, saying, "I'll drive," he just looked at Greg and rolled his eyes in resignation.
At first, Greg wondered if he was seeing things, but when they got to the scene and their arson turned out to be a torched van, it was Warrick who kept his cool and calmed down the fuming Sara before getting out to find out what was going on. He returned to tell them that dispatch had mixed up the codes--at least according to the uniform who called it in--and suggested they do the necessary processing on the spot before auto detail showed up. "Detective Wolfe is talking to the neighbors," he added before going around to open the back and get their kits.
"I'm surprised there isn't a crowd," Sara commented as she looked up and down the street of immaculate lawns. "I doubt they see many burning vehicles."
When Warrick and Greg finally managed to get one of the back doors opened, everything changed. "Oh, yeah. They definitely got the code wrong. This is a 419."
"DB?" Sara popped up from the front.
"Two, I think. Greg," Warrick gave him a quick look. "You want to call it in?"
Greg saw the look, and knew Warrick was checking his reaction because they were burn victims, so he gave a quick nod and a little smile before pulling out his phone, listening to the other conversation with half-an-ear.
"So now we have to wait for auto detail and the coroner," Sara said as she joined them.
"Yeah, and no coffee shop around here."
"Good thing it's another slow night."
"Don't say that too loud," Warrick warned. "You'll jinx us."
Twenty more minutes was all it took to process as much of the van as they could. They got back in the Denali to wait. Through it all, Warrick was not only relaxed, but actually in a good mood, teasing Sara playfully so that she couldn't help but overlook their recent animosity. Greg was tempted to do some teasing of his own--that Warrick had either met someone or got some on his night off, but he wasn't ready to push his luck that much.
They could only banter so long, being a little out of practice, and eventually the truck fell silent. After about ten minutes, Warrick broke it by announcing, "Nick's back."
"What?" Sara said blankly. Greg didn't blame her--he wasn't sure he'd heard right, either.
Warrick seemed to understand their reaction. "He didn't tell me, either. I got home after shift and there he was. I guess his family was fighting him on it so he just packed up and left before they could really stop him."
"He's there right now?" Sara demanded. "Alone? Is he okay on his own? How much does he remember?"
"He's fine to look after himself. He got to Vegas on his own."
"So he's been here all day? Why are we only hearing about it now?"
Greg kept quiet. Sara was asking all the questions he wanted the answers to, anyway.
"Sara," a hint of impatience had crept into Warrick's voice. "He's doing okay and he seems pretty happy to be in Vegas, but he hasn't remembered a whole lot. There's still stuff in his house he didn't know he had--he's got that to get used to for a start. Hell, he was thrilled to death to find out the truck in the driveway was his."
A snort of laughter escaped Greg and that cute gap-toothed smile of Sara's got away from her. "What about us?" Greg asked when amusement subsided. "Does he remember us?"
"That's--" Warrick turned hesitant. "He seems to know us all, beyond just when he met everyone in the hospital, but he doesn't actually remember...he has barely any memories of interactions with us. A few, but nothing...major."
Greg blinked. Warrick sounded...wistful. Warrick never sounded wistful and Greg found it far more unnerving than any of his foulest moods. Before he could give it much thought or ask more questions, the coroner arrived, reminding everyone they were still on the clock. Once the bodies were removed, they had to finish processing what they could on the spot, then seal the van for transport.
It wasn't until he was in the lab, sifting through debris swept from the scene that Greg recalled thinking Warrick's good mood was because he'd gotten lucky. It was just because Nick was back. He chuckled to himself, then froze, the small scoop he was using stopping in midair.
No. No way.
He thought of Warrick's wistful voice saying Nick didn't remember anything major.
On to Part 2
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