Lost & Found Part 2
When they got back after breakfast, Nick was ready to crash. He'd been up all night and while that wouldn't normally have done him in, the difficult good-byes to his family along with the expectations and nervousness of returning to Vegas and seeing Warrick left him exhausted mentally and emotionally.
He was determined to stay awake, though--he didn't want to miss out on any time with Warrick. His memories and even his fantasies were nothing compared to the impact of seeing the man in person. He was like a moonstruck calf, wanting to be around Warrick as much as possible--he only hoped it didn't show. If it did, Warrick didn't seem to mind, or was too nice to say so. Nick had to stay on guard, because Warrick was constantly looking in his direction, and he didn't want to be caught staring.
Just as he hung up the phone after setting up a schedule with Dr. Werne, another huge yawn overtook him. He opened his eyes to find Warrick watching him with a hint of a smile and a few minutes later, Warrick said he was going to turn in. Nick suspected it was for his benefit, since Warrick didn't seem at all tired, but he didn't protest--sleep seemed like a really good idea.
During his first survey of his room, Nick hadn't realized just how big his bed was, but the thing was bigger than king-sized. What the hell had prompted him to buy it? Maybe it meant he got a lot of action.
Once he lay down, he stopped caring why he bought it and just enjoyed it, sinking into a mattress that perfectly fit all his body's planes and angles. He slept soundly until after six and woke to find that Warrick had ordered pizza for supper.
He was inordinately pleased that Warrick had got his favorite toppings until he realized that after years of hanging out together it was probably nothing more than habit. He was so happy to be where he was that he didn't let it bother him for very long, nor did he worry that the conversation was still a bit hesitant.
It was strange telling Warrick about all the memories he'd recovered so far. Nick had grown used to his family, who always tended to try prompting more information by asking leading questions or dropping hints, but Warrick didn't do that. In fact, he seemed to make a special effort not to do it. Nick wondered about that as well, but most of his concentration remained focused on not coming across as a total doof.
After supper Nick called home again while Warrick cleaned up, refusing his help. Although he'd left a message that morning to let them know he'd arrived just fine, he knew his parents wouldn't be satisfied with that. He spent a good twenty minutes assuring them all was well and promising to call again before they'd let him hang up.
Warrick left for work and Nick began a more thorough examination of his place after having reached two decisions. First, he decided that he was going to keep his former work schedule. It only made sense to keep the same hours as...the people in Vegas he was closest to. The second was to stop thinking about Warrick quite so much.
To that end, he began going through his crowded bookshelves. He'd already noted the set of encyclopedias he'd received for his sixteenth birthday, amused and surprised that he still had them. The biggest bookcase was filled from top to bottom with books that dealt with forensics in some way. Nick pulled books out at random and looked through them, checking for anything that might prompt a memory.
Nothing did, and the whole situation was a bit unnerving. Although he didn't remember the information in the books, nothing he read was exactly new to him, either. Did that mean that like his laptop and phone, the data would just be there when he needed it? That anything he had to know would just return once he found himself at a crime scene? Nick didn't see how that was possible, but then, he had a difficult time picturing himself at a crime scene. He'd never admit it to anyone, but the idea of spending that much time around dead bodies seriously freaked him out.
Taking one of the larger, more general volumes, Nick settled himself on the sofa to relearn a few things, but despite his best intentions, his mind kept drifting back to Warrick. Especially to the way Warrick had hugged him so hard it hurt, setting off a myriad of emotions.
Initially, Nick was just plain thrilled to be up against what looked--and felt--like an absolutely fantastic body, and had to concentrate like hell not to give it away. Besides, his libido was nothing next to the feelings of complete security and utter contentment of being in Warrick's arms, and the closer he was, the more certain the feelings. He could have happily stayed there for hours on end.
Looking back on it, Nick began to wonder if Warrick's embrace was more than that of a good friend or if he was letting desire cloud his judgement. Shame he couldn't think of a way to get another hug from Warrick--maybe then he'd be able to figure it out.
Or maybe he really was moonstruck.
Warrick got home from work to find a full fridge and Nick at the stove. The scent of sausage and potato pancakes wafting up from the frying pan made his mouth water. "Got to the store, huh?"
"Yeah," Nick glanced over at him. "Little weird going grocery shopping at four in the morning, though."
"You get used to it," Warrick assured him. He walked in and peeked over Nick's shoulder. "Which sister taught you to make that?"
"Adrienne," Nick replied with a startled laugh. He shot Warrick a look of disbelief, "I told you about that?"
"How your sisters each taught you to cook something so their baby brother wouldn't go hungry? Oh, yeah."
"Oh, man," Nick shook his head. "Do you want any?"
"Hell, yeah," Warrick moved to pour himself a cup of coffee.
Nick grinned and got some plates. "What about you? Can you cook?"
"I can make a mean ham sandwich and that's about it."
"So I do all the cooking around here, is that what you're telling me?" Nick jibed as he began filling a plate. "That doesn't sound--"
Warrick glanced up when Nick fell silent and was about to ask what was wrong until he noticed the look of intense concentration on Nick's face. Thinking he had to be remembering something, Warrick kept as still as possible and waited.
Finally, Nick moved, and finished filling the plate he'd been holding, a perplexed frown replacing the look of concentration.
Nick turned, giving him another of those searching looks.
"Did you remember something?" Warrick asked, his voice hushed.
"I--" Nick handed his a full plate. "Yeah. I think so."
"Can you tell me what it is?"
Nick met his eyes again, then looked away. "I think I'm gonna have to let this one sink in for a while."
Warrick wasn't sure if that was good or bad, but didn't want to press Nick on it. On the other hand, if it was serious, he didn't want Nick bottling it up, either. "Are you okay?"
"Yep," Nick nodded, filling up a plate for himself. "Yep, I'm good."
The memory didn't seem to be anything bad, but Warrick still wanted to know what it was that would bring a flush to Nick's cheeks. If Nick remembered anything about their relationship, wouldn't he say so? Warrick felt sure he would. Still, even if--when, Warrick told himself--Nick remembered them, that didn't mean it would be best to simply pick up where they left off.
Warrick had gone through all sorts of scenarios about this situation, when normally he would trust his instincts. He couldn't do that this time, not when every instinct told him to keep Nick safely hidden away from the rest of the world--preferably in his arms.
He glanced at Nick, only to find those dark eyes fastened on him again before Nick quickly dropped his gaze. "So...how was work?"
"Fine," Warrick replied, easily shrugging off a job that, days before, had been the entire focus of his life. "I told the rest of the team you were back." His heart sank at Nick's shocked expression--he hadn't even considered whether he'd actually had the right to go ahead and tell everyone. "Nick, man, I'm sorry. I didn't--I just thought--"
"It's okay," Nick assured him quickly. "I should have called them myself, yesterday. I just--"
"Hey, you've got a lot going on."
"I'll call everyone today."
Warrick finished breakfast on automatic pilot. For a brief time, he'd had Nick all to himself, and a little part of him now regretted not keeping that bit of information quiet.
Well, maybe more than a little.
Shortly after they finished eating, Warrick got a call from the DA for an emergency meeting. The defense was challenging some of his evidence, and they needed to go over it again. Nick was actually a bit relieved to hear that he'd be gone for much of the day. Breakfast had been uneasy, although Nick knew he was more to blame for that than Warrick. Well, not so much him as the memory--Nick hoped it was a memory--of coming home to find that Warrick had gotten take-out for breakfast.
Spoiling me already?
That was not something he'd say to a buddy. What's more, he had the vague notion that he was being embraced when he said it.
Maybe they had been together at one point and were now just friends. Maybe--oh, God--maybe they'd been together and Warrick was glad to be out of it.
Warrick wouldn't do something like that. And his actions didn't suggest he was trying to avoid Nick.
Since his memories usually came when he wasn't trying to remember, Nick turned his attention elsewhere and began making phone calls. He felt it was only right to call Dr. Grissom first, and that call was very...formal, somehow. He'd been hesitant--it was a bit odd to call without something specific to discuss, but Grissom sounded glad to hear from him. Most of the conversation centered around what arrangements Nick had made and Grissom asking whether there was anything he could do to help. His concern touched Nick deeply, but he was quick to assure the entomologist he had everything under control.
Catherine, whom he had talked to most often from Dallas, was the person he called next, but there was no answer, so he dialed Greg's number. Although Greg sounded a bit uncertain at times, there was no mistaking how glad he was that Nick was back in Vegas. Almost before Nick knew it, they had made arrangements to meet for dinner.
Sara scolded him playfully for several minutes, then talked about work. Nick enjoyed both more then he expected, and quickly invited her along for dinner. She agreed immediately.
He was even more hesitant about calling Jim Brass than he'd been about calling Grissom, but the delighted "Nicky!" let him know it was the right decision and brought a smile to his face. The gruff concern and advice kept the smile there for the duration of the call.
He got through to Catherine on his second try, on her way to a meeting with Conrad Ecklie and the Sheriff and still up to her elbows in the Atwater case. Not wanting to keep her from work, Nick made the call a short one. The second after he hung up, there was a knock on his door. Nick didn't even get it fully open before Catherine was inside, hugging him tight.
"I can only stay a minute," she said once they separated. "I'm already running late, but I had to see you in person."
"I'm sorry. I should have told you when I got in, or even before I left Dallas, but--"
"Don't worry about it, Nicky. If you need time on your own, that's fine. And if you want one of us for something, just holler, okay? Whatever you need to get yourself where you have to be, okay?"
The blue eyes were soft, her concern for him almost palpable. Nick felt that he could probably tell her anything. He was tempted to ask if she knew of anything between him and Warrick, but didn't want to put her on the spot.
Besides, she had a meeting to get to. "Thanks, Cath," he said, feeling his lips curve.
"I missed that smile." Catherine gave him another squeeze, "I'll talk to you soon."
As Nick closed the door behind her, he found he was still smiling.
The brief visit prompted not so much a memory as another necessary reminder. As much as Warrick meant to him, Nick knew he had to turn at least some of his attention elsewhere. Such tunnel vision wasn't good for him or his recovery, wasn't fair to his other friends, and it put far too great a burden on Warrick.
Nick wanted to be a lot of things to Warrick and a burden definitely wasn't one of them.
By the beginning of his second week back, Nick had established something of a routine. He had sessions with Dr. Werne three times a week, he went to the gym every second day and saw friends from work nearly as often. The rest of his time was spent working his way through his library to refresh his knowledge, exploring Las Vegas, and continually turning the Warrick question over in his mind without letting on that's what he was doing.
Memories began to emerge on a regular basis. Most of them were fairly mundane, just snippets of cases or interaction between friends. Some of them were so ordinary that Nick wasn't sure he'd remember them under normal circumstances. According to Dr. Werne, these were the safest of his memories, so it was only natural they emerge first. His "major" memories were likely to be more sporadic. Nick hated that part. He hated knowing there was a series of horrible memories just waiting to come out. When he thought about it--something he did as little as possible--he could never decide if he wanted them to emerge immediately so he could just get it over with, or if he hoped they never did.
There were so many things he was trying not to think about that it was a wonder he was remembering anything at all. It was frustrating. Nick wanted to get on with his life--such as it was, and it sometimes felt as if his doctors were preventing that. Work--any sort of work--was discouraged by both Dr. Werne and his regular physician. Nick thought that kicking back in Texas for six weeks would have been enough to heal any injuries, but Dr. Jeffries wasn't taking any chances. Still concerned about muscle damage, he'd only approved the lightest workouts. Nick didn't agree, but he followed the doctor's orders.
His internal injuries were healed, as were the bites and cuts, and although the ugly burn on his shoulder was still tender, it didn't cause too much trouble. As far as he was concerned, he was fit for work physically, but knew he still had a long way to go in nearly every other area.
Not that he needed to work. He was already cleared to receive compensation for a year and between his insurance and Clark Country, all the bills for his recovery were being taken care of. He still had difficulty spending money he didn't quite feel he'd earned, but when he discussed it with Dr. Werne, she was able to resign him to it.
After just a few sessions with Dr. Werne, Nick already knew he'd make excellent progress with her. She reminded him of Sammie at times, of Catherine at others, and he felt comfortable enough with her to discuss anything--almost.
He still hadn't mentioned his feelings for Warrick. He'd barely mentioned Warrick, other than as his best friend, because he still didn't know if it was more than that. At times he'd tried to reach some sort of conclusion by looking at Warrick's actions objectively, but without success. What's more, the memories that continually emerged about Warrick clouded things more than they clarified.
They were close and had been for years. That, at least, was readily apparent in nearly every memory. Even in the memories from earlier on, when they hadn't been working together that long, Nick could sense the potential for the friendship that would develop. The problem came with the memories that could be interpreted in more than one way--and there were a lot of them. Nick could never be sure he wasn't putting his own slant of them.
Nick had no idea what triggered his most recent memory--one involving a guy named Mark in a club. They were sitting at the bar talking and flirting a little. Even though Mark himself didn't register much in Nick's consciousness, he got the feeling they hadn't just met. Mark had leaned in to ask Nick if he wasn't already with Warrick, who was at the end of the bar talking to a beautiful woman. Nick remembered saying they were just friends and being fairly certain that he meant it.
Again, it wasn't so much a memory as a feeling that Warrick hadn't liked him talking with Mark.
There was something more. There had to be.
Two things Nick had learned--or had already known--about Warrick were that he tended to be overprotective and that he had one hell of a poker face. If--if, Nick reminded himself firmly--there was anything between them, maybe Warrick didn't want to prompt the memory for fear of hindering his progress. Nick had noticed that Warrick never tried to prompt or expand on his memories, even though there had been times when he obviously wanted to. There were times when Warrick would begin to say something, then abruptly catch himself.
The only way Nick would know for certain would be to mention it outright. That was fine if it was true, but a horrible disaster if it wasn't. Nick squirmed with embarrassment at the mere idea. There had to be another way to find out for sure.
Nick went to the kitchen to begin making something for breakfast. Warrick had insisted he didn't have to always make breakfast, but Nick didn't mind--it was something else to keep him occupied. He chopped up onions, pepper and tomatoes and tossed them in with the eggs he was scrambling. It was one of the few things no one had taught him how to make and it had the added bonus of being pretty good warmed up, in case Warrick happened to work a double.
Not that Warrick worked too many doubles--only one since Nick had been back. Nick found that strange, since they would obviously be short-handed at the moment, and Warrick had said he was working a lot of triples and doubles. Something else that could be telling if looked at one way, but mean nothing if looked at another.
Nick wrapped some eggs up in a couple of tortillas and poured a big glass of juice. He was just settling himself on the sofa when Warrick walked in. They exchanged hellos and when Warrick saw what Nick was eating, he went straight to the kitchen. He ate his as a sandwich instead of a wrap, but he'd said several times it was one of his favorite breakfasts.
It was also one of the simplest, and that was the reason Nick made it so often.
Warrick joined him in the living room, making himself comfortable in the recliner he seemed to have adopted--or maybe it was his and he'd moved it in, Nick didn't know. As always, Nick quizzed him about work, and as always, Warrick then asked how Nick's night went.
"Remembered something else," Nick said. It was actually beginning to become a fairly common answer.
"Yeah? What about?" Warrick never failed to put on that poker face until he heard what Nick's memory was.
"Uh...well, I was at a bar with this guy. Mark?" Nick watched Warrick's expression.
His features tightened, but Warrick's voice was utterly bland when he said, "Mark?"
It was a little too bland and Nick put another mental check in the something there column. "Yeah, but I'm not seeing him or anything, am I? I mean, you would tell me if I was seeing someone, wouldn't you?" When Warrick didn't reply he pressed on, just to see if he could get a reaction, "I don't know who was buying who drinks, but he seemed pretty into me."
"Mark," Warrick said again. "You remember Mark."
There was a hollowness to his voice that made Nick's stomach clench painfully. He had only meant to provoke, and maybe tease a little, but this wasn't fun. This hurt. It hurt both of them, and Nick scrambled to fix the situation. "I probably only remembered him because he mentioned you."
Warrick relaxed slightly. "Yeah? What did he say?"
"He wanted to know if you and I were together." Even though it wasn't technically asking, saying that to Warrick gave him butterflies.
"What did you say?"
That came out way too casual, as far as Nick was concerned. It hadn't really occurred to him before that Warrick would be just as freaked by the situation as he was, that he might have his own fears about discussing any relationship. It still wasn't enough to make him broach the subject head on, though. "Well, I was kinda surprised he was askin', since you were hooking up with a woman at the other end of the bar."
"Oh." Warrick looked both disconcerted and disappointed. Not that Nick blamed him--he had deliberately not answered the question.
Nick sighed, and decided not to go any further, even though he was now more convinced than ever. He knew that it was important for him to regain as many memories as possible on his own, but weren't there some exceptions? Wasn't this important enough to be an exception? To bend those rules a little?
It was the only thing that kept Nick from being completely convinced, since he didn't think Warrick had too much of a problem bending the rules when the situation warranted it. And this situation warranted it. Even if the memories weren't there, the feelings were.
There had to be some way to make Warrick see that.
Assigned to a double out by Lake Mead with Greg, Warrick drove most of the way in silence. Greg made a few attempts as conversation, but Warrick did his best to shoot them down. Not quite as forcefully as he would have two weeks ago, though. Warrick was aware that the younger man had only recently begun to relax around him again, so rather than snapping, he kept his replies to noncommital grunts. It was enough to let Greg know he had a lot on his mind, but apparently not enough to put him off completely.
"How's Nick doing?"
That was a bit of a strange question considering Greg had spent several hours at their place the day before battling it out with Nick on X-Box. "He's fine."
Warrick felt a scowl beginning to form. "Like what?"
"Like any memories? Anything serious?"
Warrick shook off his mood in the face of Greg's concern, "No. Nothing like that."
His eyes on the road, Warrick heard Greg take a deep breath as if in preparation of speaking, and when no words followed, he glanced over. Greg abruptly turned rather than meet his gaze and looked out the window. Evidently he'd changed his mind about whatever he was going to say.
Warrick concentrated on his driving, because really, what was he supposed to say to Greg? Should he tell him that Nick was probably going to drive him crazy long before his full memories resurfaced?
Nick began dropping some pretty blatant hints after their conversation about Mark--Warrick still couldn't think of that guy's name without clenching his teeth--but Warrick was positive he didn't actually remember anything. If he had, he would have undoubtedly said so. Instead, Nick had raised the stakes.
He'd started off throwing the memory in Warrick's face a bit, but memories or no memories, that wasn't really Nick's style and the Texan had quickly abandoned such tactics. But during the process, Warrick knew he had somehow tipped his hand, because Nick had spent the rest of the day flirting.
Oh, it had been clumsy, immature, college boy flirting, but it got to Warrick all the same.
Underneath had been an earnestness and sincerity that was pure Nick and ten times as appealing.
Warrick was amazed that Nick thought he had to put any effort into making Warrick want him. Did Nick think it was easy to hold back the way he'd been doing? That he needed any added temptation?
Then again, Nick never had been aware of just how attractive he was--which only increased the man's charm.
There was one advantage Warrick had that Nick didn't, though--he remembered.
He remembered the sight of bites and cuts and bruises marring Nick's skin during those first few days of Nick's rescue. He remembered them at their worst, dark and ugly and obscene. The wounds had already begun to heal by the time Nick regained consciousness, but Warrick could still picture them in his mind's eyes--some had been just a few hours old.
Whenever Nick pushed him to the edge of temptation, he just had to think of that and he was able to put Nick's needs over his own wants.
He just wasn't sure how long it would work.
When Warrick visited Phillip Kane to discuss how best to help Nick, the psychiatrist had stressed that there could be no concrete prediction of Nick's behavior during his recovery. Dissociative amnesia along with PTSD meant Nick could swing wildly from one end of the recovery spectrum to the other. Personally, Warrick thought that was a very convenient way for any shrink to cover his ass. He already knew most of that, anyway, which was why he'd played those dozens of different scenarios in his mind.
Apparently, he'd left one scenario out.
Warrick never expected Nick to be as forward as he'd been over the last few days. Considering what Nick had been through--whether he remembered it yet or not--such obvious come-ons were surprising, to say the least.
If he wanted to play amateur psychologist, Warrick would say that either Nick was testing boundaries to see how safe he was or he already felt safe and this was a means of proving it to himself. That was fine, if that was what Nick needed to do, but Warrick was having one hell of a time living through it.
Nick still hadn't come right out and asked about their relationship, instead, he seemed determined to make Warrick admit his attraction, relationship or no. Some of his actions were obviously calculated, but most of them seemed inadvertent on Nick's part.
The invasion of personal space, those looks from under long lashes, the swipes at his lips with that tongue--those were all second nature to Nick.
Walking around in a towel was not. Warrick wasn't sure whether that was deliberate or just natural for Nick in his younger mindset.
Finding a double entendre in nearly everything Warrick said? That was pure frat boy. Warrick knew that, so he really should have been able to ignore it. It was juvenile, nothing like the Nick he'd always known and not something that would normally attract him, so it shouldn't have been a turn on. Maybe because it was Nick doing it. Maybe because it was so unlike Nick to do it.
Or maybe because Nick was being so obvious about his attraction.
That was something Warrick didn't like to think about too much, because it made him feel like a conceited jerk, but there was no denying he enjoyed the effort Nick was going to on his behalf. After years of thinking he never had a shot, it was very flattering to have such clear proof that Nick wanted him.
The sad irony of the situation was that he couldn't do anything about it.
Nick couldn't tell if anything he was trying was getting him anywhere. There were times when Warrick would look at him in a way that made his pulse race, but it was rarely when Nick was actually trying. When he did make an attempt, Warrick usually looked at him with fond amusement, giving Nick the sneaking suspicion he was probably making a fool of himself.
Three days was enough for Nick to decide that this really had to stop. While it went on, he constantly had Warrick on his mind. Even now, while he was on his morning run, something that was supposed to clear his head, all he could think about was Warrick. Whether they were friends or something more, Warrick was too big a part of his life to have so many questions swirling around him.
Maybe once he knew for sure, he'd be able to move onto other parts of his recovery. He was fairly certain he knew what Warrick's feelings for him were, but even if he was wrong, it would be a relief to finally know one way or another.
So what was he supposed to do? Give Warrick an ultimatum? Nick didn't like that idea. Ask him outright? That was the very thing he'd been trying to avoid. Lie and say he remembered? Not a good idea and besides, Warrick would probably be able to tell.
As he reached the last corner before his house, Nick slowed to a walk. When he finally rounded the corner, he could see Warrick's truck in the driveway. Nick looked down at his watch, scowling in frustration. What a sorry excuse for a run that had been. Twice as long as his ideal time and not even close to a reasonable one--normally, he had time for a quick shower and a start on breakfast before Warrick got home from work.
Yeah, this had to stop.
Nick loped the rest of the way, determined to finally get this sorted out before he changed his mind again.
Warrick was standing next to the dividing counter. He held a cup of coffee in one hand and was gripping the edge of the counter with the other. His posture relaxed visibly when Nick walked it. "Hey," he nodded.
"Hi," Nick replied and his stomach began doing somersaults.
"Not really. Made lousy time."
Warrick set his cup down and straightened away from the counter. "Something wrong?"
Nick plucked his damp shirt away from his body. He didn't want to do this when he was all sweaty and on an adrenalin high--albeit not a very strong one--but he didn't really have a choice. "I need to talk to you."
"Warrick. You know what about."
The steps Warrick took toward him seemed almost involuntary. "What?"
He looked so hopeful that Nick was seriously tempted to lie. "There's something between us, Rick. I know there is."
"Nicky." Warrick gripped his upper arms, leaning in until their lips were only inches apart. "What did you remember?"
Oh, God. He hadn't quite expected this. Never expected the intense green gaze to make his knees turn to water. Never expected the need to lean forward and meet those full lips to overpower everything else. Nick had to close his eyes before answering, "I didn't...actually remember anything new."
Warrick let go of him and took a step back.
Nick had to swallow several times to get rid of the sudden lump in his throat. "But...but I know there's something going on. I don't know if it's only since what happened or from before, but I know it's there."
"You don't know," Warrick said, and looked away. "Not if you don't remember."
"Are you telling me you don't think of me anything except a friend?" Oh, damn. He hadn't meant to just blurt the question out like that, and his heart seemed to slow to a halt while he waited for Warrick's answer.
"This isn't something you need to be worrying about now."
Nick's heart resumed its slightly accelerated pace. Warrick hadn't answered his question, but more important, he hadn't denied anything. "I can't think about anything else," he said bluntly, since total honesty seemed to be working at the moment.
"Nick..." Warrick sighed. "Yeah, okay. Of course there's something there. We both know it." He put his hands on Nick's shoulders when Nick would have moved closer, "But even if you did remember...we can't--this isn't a good time to...we can't just pick up where we left off."
All Nick could do was stare at Warrick in mute bewilderment. This wasn't the way things were supposed to go if Warrick acknowledged they were together.
"There's so much stuff you still have to remember--"
"Warrick," Nick finally found his voice. "Trust me, the feelings are there even if the memories aren't."
"But things could change once you do start to remember. It's better if we wait." Warrick took his hands away and moved further back.
"How long?" Nick had to clear his throat to get rid of the horrible choking feeling. He just wished Warrick would look at him. "Dr. Volker and Dr. Werne have both said there's no way to predict how much I'm going to remember or how long it could take. Some things might never come back. What if this is as much as I ever remember? Now. Today. What if this is it? Then what?"
"It's still too soon to worry about something like that."
"What are we supposed to do in the meantime?"
"I don't know," Warrick's voice was barely more than a whisper. "But, Nick, we can't--look, I'll be there for you. You know I will. I want to be there for you, but..." He swallowed hard, "But I don't think there should be anything more right now."
Nick nodded and found that now that Warrick was finally looking at him, he wanted to look anywhere else. "Okay," he said, trying to take it well--or at least give the appearance of taking it well--when in reality he felt sweaty, humiliated and stupid and wanted to be anywhere except where he was. "I...uh...I need a shower."
"Don't." Nick held up his hand and when he was certain Warrick wasn't going to move, he hurried to the bathroom. Quickly, he stripped and turned on the water as hot as he could stand it. He stepped in and stood with his back to the spray, dropping his head and letting the water pound against his neck and shoulders.
He'd always figured on either a yes or no, and thought he could handle either. He didn't know what the hell to do with a yes-but-no.
How could Warrick just expect him to ignore this? How could Warrick just ignore it?
Bracing his hands against the steamed glass, Nick leaned forward a bit more so the spray would hit his lower back.
Maybe Warrick did see this as an out after all.
Maybe he'd decided that he didn't want a relationship with someone as messed up as Nick was.
Maybe he was just going to wait and see how much Nick recovered before making up his mind.
And really, who could blame him? Warrick never signed on to be with a head case. It wasn't like he was bailing out completely. He just didn't want to be trapped in a relationship.
Nick squeezed his eyes shut and tried to take a deep breath to loosen the tightness in his chest, but the steam rising all around him made it difficult. Suddenly, he desperately wanted a breath of cooler air. Without bothering to turn off the water, he shoved open the glass door.
It wouldn't move.
The tiniest flicker of fear barely registered--he was more frustrated that anything else. He slapped his palm hard against the door, but it wouldn't budge.
He was stuck it his own shower. Great.
"Goddamn, what next?" he ground out between clenched teeth.
Any way you like, you're going to die here.
The scream tore straight through to the marrow of Warrick's bones and brought him to the bathroom door in an instant. "Nick!" he yelled, fumbling with the doorknob. A second scream echoed through the house before there was a huge crash and the sound of glass shattering.
Warrick kicked madly at the door and after the second blow, it flew open, revealing Nick sprawled on the floor amidst shards of glass. Water poured through the missing panel right next to the shower door, but Warrick ignored that, just as he ignored the pieces of glass that cut through his jeans and into his skin as he dropped to his knees. It meant nothing next to the diluted blood on the floor and the streams trailing down Nick's arms.
"Nicky..." Warrick slid an arm under Nick's chest and tried to lift him off the floor, but Nick's entire body was rigid and all Warrick could do was turn him onto his back. The dark eyes were open and blank with terror. "Oh, Jesus..." He laid a hand on Nick's chest as it rose and fell rapidly. "Nick? Nicky!" He didn't know whether it was the right thing to do, but he couldn't leave Nick alone in the middle of what was obviously a horrible memory. "Nick!" he said as sharply as he could.
Finally, Nick made a sound, letting out a broken whimper that sent Warrick hurtling back to a hole in the ground on a chilling May night, even though he couldn't be certain that was what Nick was remembering.
His response was automatic, "I gotcha, Nicky."
Nick gave a choked gasp and slowly his eyes focused, although they were still wide with fear. "Warrick..."
"Yeah," Warrick slipped an arm under Nick's shoulders. "Come on."
"No!" Nick grasped Warrick's arms, still unaware of the blood coating his own. "No!"
"It's okay, Nicky. Let's get you up."
"There's a bomb under the box," Nick whispered.
It was that. "No, Nicky," Warrick assured him. "There's no bomb. There's no box. We're in your house. You're on the floor of your bathroom."
Nick's brow creased, then he turned his head to take in his surroundings. "Oh. Oh, my God..." He shifted, then tried to sit up and Warrick immediately braced an arm behind his back. As Nick drew his knees up and tried to wrap his arms around them, he got his first look at his injuries and Warrick could tell when the pain finally registered by the ragged breath Nick tried to draw in. "Rick..?"
"It'll be okay, baby." Warrick managed to reach several towels from the bar without leaving Nick's side. He wrapped both of Nick's forearms and his right upper arm tightly; the left upper arm wasn't bleeding as badly. The blood began to seep through the layers quickly and Warrick knew he had to get Nick to the ER. Nick hadn't said a word throughout the proceedings, but had enough presence of mind to keep the towels in place. "Nicky, I think we'd better get out to the hospital."
"Not like this," Nick muttered.
Warrick blinked, then realized Nick was referring to his unclothed state. "Nah, I'll get you some pants. I'll just be gone for a sec, okay?"
Nick nodded, but Warrick hated to leave him even for the brief time it took to find a pair of track pants that would be easy to get on. When he returned to the bathroom, he paused long enough to finally turn off the water, before putting the pants on the counter and helping Nick to his feet. Nick was still hugging both arms to his chest, but Warrick was relieved to note that the towels didn't seem any more saturated.
Since Nick couldn't move his arms, Warrick had to help him on with the pants. At any other time, he knew Nick would be dying of embarrassment, but now he merely stepped into them when prompted by Warrick.
Warrick was tying the pants' drawstring and stopped at the unexpected question. "How long what?"
"How long was I in that box?"
Oh. "Over twenty-four hours," Warrick replied, deciding there was no point trying to sugar-coat anything. He put both arms around Nick, guiding him out of the bathroom and toward the front door. Other than looking shaken and being somewhat unsteady, Warrick thought Nick was doing amazingly well--he was moving under his own power, with Warrick only providing the balance. The state of Nick arms didn't seem to be bothering him excessively, so either the memories had thoroughly distracted him or the adrenalin had kicked in--or both.
He slid his feet into the pair of battered loafers Warrick found for him and allowed Warrick to drape a jacket over his bare shoulders. He leaned more heavily as they went out to the jeep, and remained silent as Warrick helped him inside.
Warrick kept up a steady stream of murmured reassurances the entire time. Only once he was behind the wheel did he give in to his emotions, peeling out of the driveway and laying rubber for nearly half the block.
Warrick wasn't sure why he'd expected Nick to be the same as he'd been on that night, and quickly abandoned that notion for the reality of the situation. Nick was wobbly and dazed, but that could have been attributed to his injuries as easily as his memories. He was able to answer the doctor's question without any trouble.
Fortunately, it was Dr. Leever on duty in the ER. He'd known both of them from the job for years and was familiar with Nick's situation even if Nick was no longer familiar with him. He had the nurse bring them in immediately and didn't bat an eye at Nick's unusual explanation for his injuries. Leever even allowed Warrick to remain, albeit off to the side. Warrick ended up filling out Nick's paperwork for him, ready in case Nick started to get agitated.
Far from being agitated, Nick barely made a sound while his arm was stitched up--eleven stitches in his right arm and six in his left, plus a few dozen Steri-Strips--but when Dr. Leever mentioned giving him a sedative, he refused.
Leever recognized that stubborn set to Nick's jaw and instead prescribed a painkiller that would do the job. "You know the drill, right?" he said as the nurse wrapped gauze around Nick's arm. "See me or your regular doctor in two weeks, sooner if there's any problem," Leever addressed Nick, but looked at Warrick as he spoke.
Nick nodded, watching as the nurse fastened his bandages.
A second nurse came in with two cups and handed the smaller one to Nick. Seeing the contents, he frowned and looked at Dr. Leever.
"The freezing will wear off before long. You want to have something working when it does."
Carefully, Nick raised his arm and tipped the pills into his mouth, then took a sip of water from the straw the nurse had been thoughtful enough to provide. "Thanks," he smiled at her.
"Okay, I think we're all done," Leever announced.
"Thank you, doctor." Slowly, Nick got down from the table.
"You're welcome." Leever stepped toward Warrick to take the clipboard from him, "You're keeping an eye on him, right?" he asked quietly.
If you only knew... "Absolutely." In a normal voice, he said, "Ready to go, Nick?"
Warrick fought the urge to put an arm around Nick, knowing the stubborn Texan would rather move under his own steam if at all possible. Instead, he matched his pace to Nick's slower one, ready in case he faltered. Nick made it out to the jeep, but by the time he was seated he looked wiped.
As badly as Warrick wanted to know about the scope of the memories, he wasn't sure whether it was a good time to ask. For all he knew, Nick was quiet because he was still in the process of remembering.
"I want to stop on the way home and get your prescription filled."
"Sure," Nick said absently, obviously preoccupied.
Pulling into the parking lot of the next drug store, he looked over at Nick. "You gonna be okay?"
Taking the exasperation in Nick's voice as a good sign, Warrick went in and paced impatiently while the prescription was filled. When he returned to the jeep, Nick was sound asleep and stayed that way for the rest of the drive. Warrick hated to wake him, and tried to do so as gently as possible. "Hey," he said quietly, when he opened the passenger door. "Hey, Nicky." A small shake. "C'mon, wake up so you can go to bed."
Nick roused slowly, much to Warrick's relief--he didn't want Nick jerking awake as though from a nightmare. He blinked a few times, then gave Warrick a drowsy smile.
Warrick very nearly gave in to the temptation to kiss the corner of that smile, but settled for helping Nick out of the jeep and into the house. This time, Nick leaned completely on him, which Warrick didn't mind in the least.
"Hey, it's not Wednesday, is it?" Nick asked as they walked into the bedroom.
Not sure whether he should be worried or not, Warrick replied, "It's still Tuesday."
"Okay," Nick reached to turn back the covers, but Warrick beat him to it. "I see Dr. Werne on Wednesdays."
"Oh." He hadn't thought of that. "You want me to call her? She'd probably see you."
"Nah," Nick sank onto his mattress with a sigh. "I just don't want to miss an appointment--at least not without letting her know."
Warrick covered him up after Nick settled his arms gingerly and then was at a loss what to do next. Nick had his eyes closed but Warrick didn't want to leave until he was certain Nick was asleep--maybe not even then. He was still trying to make up his mind when Nick started talking.
"I don't know if I remember the whole thing...I think so, but there's a whole lot of nothing there, too." Oddly, now that he was lying down, Nick sounded more alert than he had since the flashback.
Warrick suddenly realized a possible reason for it. "Hey, would you rather not be lying flat? I can rig up some pillows so you're sitting up a bit."
"What?" Nick gave him a confused look, then caught on. "Oh. No, that's okay. There's no way I'm gonna mistake this for--well," his voice was quiet, but clear. "I know I got a little mixed up before, but I was still kinda in the middle of it. I'm okay--I mean, I know what's going on now...more or less."
"Okay. Well, I can go and you can get some rest or I can hang out here for a while."
"Rick," Nick's expression softened. "Do you really have to ask?"
It really was a miracle he'd managed to hold out this long, Warrick thought ruefully. "I guess not," he said as he sat on the bed, careful not to jostle Nick's arms. "Are you done remembering now or..?" He still had no real idea how this part of it worked.
"Yeah, it stopped before we left for the hospital. I just had to sort everything out." Nick closed his eyes with another sigh. "It was weird trying to figure out if it was finished, because there's so much time where there's nothing to remember."
Warrick didn't really understand what Nick meant, but didn't want to press him when he was about to doze off.
Nick obviously wasn't ready to doze off, though. "I remember waking up and...not believing it at first because--I mean, how could it be possible, y'know? Then...well, then I lost it for a little while, there. I don't know if I thought I could actually bust loose or what." Nick didn't seem to need prompting or questions, which was just as well, because Warrick had no idea what to say. "I'd wonder...try and figure how long it would take you guys to find evidence... find me...tried to think as though I was working the case, but then that damn light started going on and off and I couldn't concentrate. God, I hated that thing."
Warrick winced, but Nick didn't notice.
"I was so glad to shoot that sucker out--I definitely remember that."
"So do I."
After a quick internal debate, Warrick decided to tell Nick about the camera, since he'd had to be told the first time, as well. "It was our fault."
"What? Whose fault?"
"At the lab," Warrick explained. "It was the only way we could tell how you were doing. The light was hooked up to a camera."
"The light...was hooked up to the fan."
"Okay," Nick said after several minutes of silence. "Someone must have told me about that because now I...you guys could see me--watch me--when the light was on." He frowned in confusion, "Who watched me when it was dark?"
That was kind of a weird question, but Warrick figured Nick was allowed a whole bunch of those. "We could still see you by those chem lights you had."
Nick looked at him, still frowning, "I guess..." He shifted slightly, then shook his head. "Musn't have been much to see, anyway. Mostly I had nothing to do but wait...the waiting was just endless..."
When Nick closed his eyes this time, Warrick didn't automatically assume he was dozing off. The painkiller Leever prescribed made most of the people who took it fall asleep, and it just figured that Nick was one of the exceptions to the rule. It seemed to make him drowsy, but apparently it also made him talk.
"The waiting was...well, first I was waiting for you guys to find me, so that wasn't so bad. I did things to keep my mind occupied so I'd still be all there when you did. And then...I had to keep waiting even when I began to realize that you might not--probably wouldn't...I still hoped, though. By the time the ants--" A shudder ran through him. "Once I took care of that as well as I could--so they couldn't bite so much, then there was nothing to but wait again, only by then I was waiting for..." He swallowed, "Then--then the fan stopped and...oh. Oh, God..."
"Nicky," was all Warrick could manage.
"How..? How could I ever forget the sound of your voice?" Nick opened his eyes. "I was just about to pull--but then I heard you..."
Beyond words, Warrick stopped trying to put off the inevitable and brushed the back of his fingers against Nick's cheek.
With a small noise, Nick turned slightly into the touch, then looked troubled. "I almost got you blown up."
"Only because of Grissom." Nick looked at Warrick, his expressive eyes swimming with emotion. "You weren't gonna leave--even when they told you that you had to."
"Of course," Nick agreed with a tiny smile. He closed his eyes again when Warrick ran a thumb along his cheekbone and his expression tightened briefly as he raised one arm to twine his fingers with Warrick's. "You need to get some sleep, too."
"I'll go as soon as you drop off."
"Then at least lie down."
"It's a big bed, Warrick."
Warrick tried to go over all the same old reasons he'd always had for maintaining a distance, but he suddenly couldn't think of them. The only thing that occurred to him was that the mess in the bathroom still had to be cleaned up.
Hell with it. The mess would still be there later, he decided as he stretched out next to Nick.
Nick awoke to an empty bed and arms that throbbed in time with his pulse. He was sorry to find Warrick wasn't next to him, but not too upset. It was perfectly clear now that Warrick was not hoping to get out their relationship, that Warrick's actions had always sprung from concern. It had been stupid of him to ever think that Warrick's motives could ever be based on anything else. He actually owed Warrick some sort of apology for trying to push his buttons these past few days.
As much as he wanted to dwell on Warrick, Nick found that his newly emerged memories could not be ignored, even though they hadn't sunk in completely. Nick wasn't sure he wanted them to, anyway. He remembered his horror, his fury, his despair, but still felt removed from it all somehow. That was something to discuss with Dr. Werne when he saw her.
Being careful not to put pressure on his arms, Nick rolled out of bed, thankful that he'd left the track pants on and saved himself that chore. As he headed for the bathroom, Warrick was just coming out and he immediately looked down at Nick's bare feet.
"Be careful," he said. "I think I got it all, but you never know."
After a moment's confusion, Nick nodded, "Right. The shower door."
"Not the door," Warrick corrected. "The panel next to it."
"The door," Nick insisted. "The door was stuck."
Warrick stepped aside so Nick could see, "The door works fine."
"You gotta be kidding me," Nick muttered, feeling ten kinds of stupid. All the time he'd been thinking he was trapped, he was pushing on the wall instead of that damn door. That was one tidbit that didn't need sharing, Nick decided, stepping into the bathroom.
"Need any help?"
A sudden jolt of terror lanced through him. "No, I don't need any help!" he snapped, surprising both of them.
Warrick held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Nicky, I was just--"
"Sorry. I'm fine--really."
Nick closed the door behind him, feeling more stupid than ever. Obviously, he was still rattled by the flashback. Hopefully, Warrick understood. He finished and went to the living room, where Warrick held out his painkillers and a bottle of water. Nick took them without complaint. "Look, I'm sorry about--"
"Nick, don't worry about it. How're you feeling?"
"Weird," Nick offered, taking the water with him when he sat on the sofa. "I...um...it still doesn't quite feel like it happened to me. It does, because I can remember what parts of it felt like, but there's a--I don't know--cushion in between."
"You've talked about more about it today that you have since it happened," Warrick sat down next to him, not too close, but closer than a buddy would sit.
"Really? I think I just find it difficult to believe that a person could do something like--Walter Gordon." Just like that, the name was there.
"Yeah," Warrick's voice was tight.
Nick searched briefly, but there was no other information lying around at the moment. He shook his head and took another sip of water.
"How about we get take-out for dinner?" Warrick suggested. Nick could tell he'd waited to make sure there were no further memories. "What do you feel like?"
"I'm not that hungry," Nick said.
"Okay, we can wait awhile."
"You can't," Nick pointed out. "You should have something to eat before you go to work."
"Hell, Nicky, I'm not going in tonight. I'll call Grissom later."
"Why not?" Warrick gave him an incredulous look. "Are you kidding me?"
Nick definitely did not want this to become a habit. He'd left Dallas to escape babysitters, and the last thing he wanted was for Warrick to take on that role. "Warrick, I wasn't hurt that bad. Having stitches doesn't make me an invalid. Yeah, it'll hurt like hell for a while, but I can still do everything I usually do."
"I know," Warrick assured him. "And it's not so much because of that, anyway."
"The memories?" Nick knew it would be more difficult to convince him on that score. "This was a fluke, Rick. Yeah, it was a bad one, but I'm not gonna get hurt with every flashback. Besides, I'll probably just sleep once those pills kick in again."
"I know," Warrick said again. He put a hand on Nick's shoulder, then moved it to cup the back of Nick's neck. "But I just want to be sure. Besides, it's all I'm going to be thinking about, so I'd be useless at work, anyway."
The heat from Warrick's hand tingled all the way down Nick's spine. He had to be crazy to be arguing about this. "Well, if it'll make you feel better," he conceded.
Warrick agreed to return to work the next night after Nick made it perfectly clear that he wasn't about to be babied. He stopped trying to help after Nick started doing more in an attempt to prove he could take care of himself. At one point, Nick got fed up with his hovering and threatened to go to the gym to do as many biceps curls as he could--stitches or no stitches.
Oddly, although Nick claimed to be well enough to do nearly anything, that didn't include working on his laptop--or writing. This meant that he couldn't document his memories as Dr. Werne had asked him to do. This was nothing new, Nick made no secret of the fact that he hated writing out his memories. He still followed doctor's order and did it, but usually pouted the entire time. Warrick finally found out why when he offered to type the memories up as Nick dictated them, which did not go over well.
"No way. The only thing worse than me keeping a diary is having someone do it for me."
"It's not a diary," Warrick countered.
"'I'd like you to keep a journal of your memories,'" Nick quoted Dr. Werne. "Seems like a diary to me."
He sounded so sulky that Warrick had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. Nick was as prone to posturing as any guy, but this was extreme. This was college boy bravado.
This was cute as hell.
But just in case there were other, less amusing reasons for Nick's aversion, Warrick didn't tease or press the issue. Instead, he spent the time making sure the aftermath of the memory was as easy as possible on Nick.
There was no point in trying to backpedal and deny his feelings now, but Warrick didn't want things to go too much further without more awareness on Nick's part. Fortunately, Nick seemed content with Warrick's acknowledgment of their relationship and an increase of physical contact. Another irony in this situation--the physical contact wasn't that much more than Warrick would have offered as a friend had he not been keeping such a tight rein on his own feelings.
Warrick could tell when Nick's memory of the box began to solidify, because Nick became less willing to talk about it. Before that point, though, Nick rounded out more and more of the memory, making the connection between Kelly Gordon and the suicide he'd remembered long before.
By the time he'd finished his session with Dr. Werne, Nick wanted to talk about anything except the memory. It was eerily similar to his behavior following his burial, even if it wasn't quite as severe. Warrick tried not to worry too much about that, knowing it was a lot for Nick to adjust to.
Still reluctant to go to work, Warrick finally agreed after Nick promised to call if he needed anything. He even left a bit early, knowing he had to discuss this new situation.
When he got to Grissom's door, he could hear Catherine as well and was momentarily disconcerted. Warrick realized that as his co-supervisors, they would both have to be there when he made his request. It wasn't a problem, just a little intimidating--he'd only ever dealt with one or the other on such a level before. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door, then poked his head in when the voices fell silent. "Can I talk to you guys?"
"Have a seat," Grissom nodded.
Warrick took the chair next to Catherine. "I wanted to talk about...my hours, I guess."
"Join the club," Catherine muttered.
Something about her tone put Warrick on the alert. "What?"
Grissom frowned at Catherine briefly before explaining. "I was going to tell everyone during assignments. There are two new CSIs transferring to Vegas--one from Phoenix and the other from Chicago."
"For six months," Catherine added quickly, although there was an edge to her voice.
"Two new CSIs," Warrick repeated.
"Hal Westbrook is taking an early retirement, so they'll need someone on days."
"You said two."
"They'll choose the best candidate, of course."
Something about that didn't sit well with Warrick, but he had bigger concerns to deal with. "Okay, then it shouldn't be too tough for me to cut back on my hours a bit."
Grissom raised his eyebrows in question.
"That's what I wanted to talk to you guys about. Not that I want time off--not right now, anyway--but I don't want any more overtime, if that's possible."
"Nick?" Catherine asked, then continued when Warrick nodded. "I wanted to phone him today and check on him. I thought that might be why you called in last night."
"He remembered the box."
That was all he had to say. Catherine paled and even Grissom flinched slightly.
"He hurt himself during the flashback, too, so..."
"Hurt himself...how?" Grissom sounded wary.
Warrick hadn't wanted discuss all the circumstances, knowing Nick would be embarrassed, but he saw their alarmed looks and didn't want them thinking Nick's injuries had been purposely self-inflicted. "He was in the shower when it happened--broke through the glass trying to get out."
Winces from both of them. "How badly was he hurt?" Grissom asked.
"Stitches in both arms, but it could have been worse."
"And how is he?" Catherine asked. "In regard to the actual memory."
"It's an old line, but he's doing as well as you'd expect. I think it took most of the day for it to sink in that it really happened."
"Is he okay alone?"
"I hope so," Warrick sighed. He'd been warring with that exact question for hours. "If I'd stayed tonight, he probably would have kicked my ass--well, tried to," he added, because old habits died hard. Catherine rolled her eyes. "But that boy does not want anything that even looks like coddling."
A smile ghosted across Grissom face and Catherine flashed a grin. It faded slowly, and she sighed. "I guess that's the first hurdle, then."
Warrick nodded and didn't even realize Grissom had murmured something, until Catherine called him on it.
"Did you just say what I think you said?"
Grissom looked vaguely guilty. "Yes, I said it's a shame," he sighed, picking up a pen and toying with it as he spoke. "There was a sort of poetic justice to it. Nick has had to endure so much already that on some level it's appropriate that he hasn't had to endure the fallout as well."
Catherine was never too big on Grissom waxing philosophical, especially when it related directly to someone she cared about. "He's lost nearly fifteen years of memories."
Warrick could understand where Grissom was coming from, but like Catherine, he'd rather have Nick with his memory intact--most of the time. "Too bad no one can decide what needs to be remembered."
The sympathetic look Catherine gave him made Warrick a bit uncomfortable. She'd never actually asked or said anything, but Warrick knew she had a pretty good idea about he and Nick.
"I take it you want to be around when Nick regains more of his memories," Grissom said, getting back to the subject at hand.
"I want to try to be, yeah. Nick seems to think that the severity of this one was by chance, but just in case..."
"Well, after all the overtime you put in when the lab was short handed, I don't think anyone will have a problem with you cutting back now." Catherine looked at Grissom for confirmation.
The entomologist nodded, "I'll tell Ecklie where things stand."
Catherine frowned, "Don't let it sound like you're telling him."
Grissom arched an eyebrow in her direction and Warrick decided this was a good time to excuse himself.
It was a relief, Greg reflected, to no longer be on edge just because he'd been assigned to a case with Warrick Brown. Although now that he knew--well, was pretty sure he knew--the reason for Warrick's behavior, he doubted the knowing would have helped much when it was happening.
Having snagged the keys to "Warrick's" Denali, Greg met up with him on the way out to the parking lot. "I'll drive," he said, tossing the keys up and fully expecting Warrick to snatch them out of midair.
"Fine," Warrick said absently and kept walking, his eyes on his cell phone display.
The keys dropped to the ground, along with Greg's jaw. Recovering, he scooped them up and hurried to the vehicle. As he got into the driver's seat, Warrick was dialing again, only to disconnect with a mutter.
Greg chalked it up to Nick's flashback. Warrick had told he and Sara about it before assignments were handed out, probably because they had plans to all go out for dinner the next day and he didn't want either of them saying the wrong thing or making dinner last too long. Greg wondered when Nick would be ready to go out for longer than a few hours at a time--he suspected it wouldn't be until Nick had recovered the worst of his memories and didn't have to worry about an unexpected flashback.
Warrick was dialing again, so Greg kept his eyes on the road.
"Hey. Yeah, it's me....Yeah? What the hell time is it in Texas, anyway?...Oh. Did you tell her about--yeah. Yeah, they probably would...Nah, me and Greg are out to a double in Henderson, so--yeah, I talked to them about it....I know....I know, I know, but I wanted to, okay? I'd been working a helluva lot of extra hours, so now is a good time to cut back. Don't worry about it, okay?"
It took a huge effort for Greg not to turn and stare. He wondered if Warrick had any idea how much his voice and tone changed when he spoke to Nick--Greg was positive it was Nick on the other end. Although Greg had often heard Warrick talk to his wife and various girlfriends, but right now that low voice--almost a purr--was infused with so much warm affection that it changed into something else entirely.
"I don't know how long I'll be at the scene but they said no overtime, so--I know there's no way of predicting how long it'll take to process, but I'd rather not be gone too long right now, okay?...I know. I know...I'm not--no, I know you can handle it."
Greg bit his lip to stifle the mirth bubbling up inside him. If he didn't know better, he'd say Warrick was being...scolded. He was definitely trying to placate someone on the end of that line--and who was on the end of that line?
"I'm not sayin'....Jesus, Nicky, can you blame me?"
Yep. How had they ever managed to miss it?
"Okay. Well, I'll leave my pager on, so...yeah. Just stay out of shower until I get back."
That was too much. Greg let out a startled squawk of laughter, and once he'd started he couldn't stop.
"Greg!" Warrick snapped at him. "What the hell? Pull over before you kill us!"
Greg was already slowing down, trying to find a suitable place to stop.
"Nick?" Warrick put the phone back to his ear. "Nah, we're okay. Sanders just lost his damn mind is all. I'll talk to you later."
Now that the vehicle was safely stopped, Greg leaned on the steering wheel and howled.
Warrick was mystified. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Somehow, the fact that Warrick didn't realize what he'd said only made it that much funnier.
It didn't matter that Warrick was getting pissed off. It didn't even matter that the reason for Warrick's words was a very serious one. It just felt so good to laugh again, like he was making up for over two months of not even wanting to smile.
Only a lack of air finally made Greg stop. His side ached and tears were streaming from his eyes, but he felt better than he had for weeks. He offered no objection when Warrick insisted they switch places and even started chuckling again once he was settled in the passenger seat.
No matter how irritated Warrick was now, it was worth it.
Even though Warrick had cut back on his overtime, the cases he'd racked up during those extra hours still had to be dealt with. Most of them had led to charges and trials, so Warrick had to meet with the DA and prosecutors several times a week.
Nick was grateful for those few extra hours during the day, because they made it impossible for Warrick to get into the habit of constantly hovering. Not that Nick minded having Warrick nearby, but he was doing everything he could to keep Warrick from becoming a caretaker.
After that first day, Warrick returned to his own room, making Nick's big bed seem all the bigger. Nick had no doubt that if he implied he had a problem being alone, Warrick would stay as long as he wanted. But again, it would be for all the wrong reasons.
With the exception of those first few hours back from the hospital, things weren't that much different between them. There was a bit more touching, they sat or stood closer, but that was all. No fooling around, no making out, not even so much as a kiss.
It was more frustrating than ever, and the sense of urgency Nick felt, while almost physically tangible, had nothing to with his libido. In the five days since his flashback in the shower, memories had emerged steadily, and most of them could not be considered "mundane" by any stretch of the imagination. Kelly Gordon was now a very real person for him, even though he would never be able to decide how much of an innocent victim she was. Walter Gordon was--and would always remain--a faceless menace, and initially, little more than a shadow. Sylvia Mullins was a casefile to him, because even though he'd worked with Catherine on it, his mind insisted on associating it with Gil Grissom.
Nick remembered feeling hurt, even betrayed and at first he thought it was because Grissom had questioned his objectivity around Kelly Gordon. That hadn't made much sense, because such questions were perfectly reasonable in such a situation. It was only a few days later, when he was reflecting on what had triggered his burial flashback, that Walter Gordon solidified beyond shadow form.
Hi, CSI guy.
The memory of that recording hadn't emerged fully before, but Nick knew he would never be able to forget it again. He had two memories of listening to it, and the second--along with Grissom's hiding of it--emerged just a few hours before he was due to meet the entomologist for coffee.
Grissom made the effort to visit with Nick at least once a week, occasionally twice. Nick often felt they were made out of a sense of duty rather than any real regard, and this new memory of his supervisor did nothing to dispel the feeling. Torn between his hurt and betrayal, with some anger as well, Nick called Grissom to cancel, but ended up only postponing it until the next day because he was unable to come up with a valid reason not to. He actually didn't have much of a reason for cancelling the initial visit, either, but Grissom hadn't asked for one. Instead, Grissom was very kind and his concern was obvious when he asked if there was anything he could do.
Assuring Grissom once again that he was fine, Nick hung up, half-expecting to return to the memory of the box when Grissom had to talk him out of his panic. About a half-hour later, Nick did flash back to Grissom's calm voice talking someone down, but it wasn't him--it was a woman who held a gun in her shaking hands.
The gun--that had been pointed at him.
There was blood ... everywhere. No one else could see it ... but I knew it was there.
Nick had tried to talk her down, but had failed miserably.
Mrs. Hendler, I'm a good listener. You got to give me the gun.
She was ready to pull the trigger.
I'm sorry. But you arrested my husband.
She would have pulled the trigger, if not for Grissom.
I don't want to fire my gun any more than you do...Let's put down the guns.
Gil Grissom had saved his life--twice. What the hell had he been thinking to cop an attitude over the man's judgement about a cassette tape?
Conversation over coffee the next day was difficult as Nick struggled with gratitude and embarrassment instead of anger and betrayal. Whether it sprang from his memories, or whether it had always been there, Nick felt a deep need to meet certain expectations in Grissom's eyes. Thus far, no memories had emerged of meeting those expectations, and until one did, Nick didn't feel right questioning Grissom about his actions.
After all the ramifications of those memories, the ones that emerged while he and Greg were hanging out--although equally significant--were much easier to take.
Spending time with Greg, now that all his friends knew about that first flashback, was definitely a relief. Greg seemed to be the only one not treading extra-carefully around him and instead was usually in high spirits and constantly amused. Nick found it a bit odd and occasionally unnerving, but a nice change from being treated as something breakable.
On this particular day, Greg was rambling on about the boyfriend of an old girlfriend and made a comment about "mostly convenient amnesia." The remark probably wouldn't have registered at all if Greg hadn't picked up on it himself and apologized profusely.
Nick was about to assure him it was okay when his mind suddenly traveled back to similar words of assurance at the scene of a crime--no, not a crime, a crash. A bus crash. They were there trying to find out if it was a crime.
"Nick?" Greg's voice was tentative.
"Your first crime scene. A bus crash."
"Oh, man," Greg shook his head with a groan. "I messed up big time on that one."
Initial call was a robbery. I get there, triple homicide. Blood all over the place, mother and two kids.
He'd known there would be a mess--it was a robbery, after all. Nick had expected to deal with broken windows and doors, belongings strewn everywhere, a completely ransacked house. Instead, it had been a mess that went beyond horrific.
Ever since he'd become a CSI-I, he'd been preparing so he wouldn't make a fool of himself when he was finally called to a homicide, but this wasn't supposed to be a homicide. God help him, it certainly wasn't supposed to be a triple homicide.
But strangely, his state of shock had served him well. It had prevented him from being overcome by nausea the way the rookie--and a few veteran--cops were. Even more than the shock and horror, Nick had found himself overwhelmed by sadness. Sadness for the husband and father, the parents and grandparents, friends, co-workers, and especially for the children's schoolmates. When they heard about the murder of their playmates, and he knew they would--kids always did--a huge part of their innocence would be forever gone.
Nick had known then that it was as much for them as it was for the dead that he had to find whoever was responsible. Even more, he had known that it was what he had to do--what he was meant to do.
He told Greg as much, along with a somewhat disjointed explanation of the memory. Greg, who had never been around him during a "major" memory, handled it well, mostly listening, but occasionally asking a question that forced Nick to clarify things. He also stayed with Nick until Warrick returned, even though Nick knew he'd had other plans.
Triple homicides, being threatened at gunpoint, being lied to by co-workers--all these things were enough to deal with, but there was the added fact that these memories meant it probably wouldn't be long before the events that led to his amnesia began to emerge as well. Nick felt the need to move much further along with Warrick before that happened. He had a deep fear that once he did remember, his bond with Warrick on that level--which seemed tenuous right now--would disintegrate and from that point their entire relationship--maybe even their friendship--would unravel.
Warrick wanted to do something special on his first night off since Nick's burial flashback. So although the band playing wasn't Dixieland this time, Warrick took Nick to Pearl's. Ruthlessly, he stomped on that little voice in the back of his mind that said he was doing it in the hopes that it might prompt a similar memory. It was the same way he conveniently pushed aside the hurt he felt that Nick still hadn't remembered them.
He told himself over and over that it wasn't about him and it was only five days out of fourteen years, but it didn't help much. Even though Nick's feelings now were perfectly obvious, anything but the most innocent interaction felt like taking advantage of a vulnerable man--one who was doing everything in his power not to let his vulnerability show.
Besides, it wasn't like Nick didn't remember him at all. Nearly every day Nick would talk about cases they'd worked, things they'd done or places they'd gone. He remembered their catch phrases and inside jokes, their arguments and competitiveness. He remembered nearly every aspect of their friendship, but still showed no sign of recalling anything more.
Nick was surprised but very pleased with the invitation and even seemed a bit nervous. As they drove to the club, he asked Warrick several times if what he was dressed okay. From anyone else, Warrick would have assumed it was fishing for compliments, but Nick looked genuinely concerned until Warrick assured him he looked great.
In truth, Nick looked so damn hot in his simple white shirt and chinos that Warrick had a hell of a time concentrating on the music. The Latin Jazz band could have been playing Turkish pop for all the attention either of them paid to it. Warrick couldn't tear his gaze from Nick who was bright-eyed, flushed with pleasure. Nick so obviously happy to be there with him that it was as intoxicating as any drink Warrick could have ordered or any card he could have bet on. He suggested they call it a night after a couple of hours--any longer and his already shaky resolve was going to start crumbling.
The drive home was mostly silent. As he walked into the house, Warrick debated whether or not the night had been a failure, but then felt an arm slide around his back and promptly forgot all about such trivial matters.
"I had a good time tonight, Rick," Nick said softly.
"Yeah?" Warrick intended to gently disengage Nick's hands, but somehow his arms slipped around Nick's waist instead. "Name me one song they played."
The grin on Nick's face was a blatant admission he couldn't. Then he leaned closer, and Warrick shifted back, although he couldn't bring himself to release the man in his arms.
It was enough to wipe the smile from Nick's face. "Why did you suggest going out?"
"You think I did it because I figured we'd hop in the sack afterward?" Warrick frowned.
"More like hoped," Nick muttered, looking away.
Christ, what the hell did Nick think he was made of? Barely even realizing he was doing it, Warrick ran his hands soothingly along Nick's ribs and back. "I just thought going out would be...hell, I don't know what I thought." He lowered his head until their foreheads were pressed together. "Don't think for a minute that this is easy for me," he whispered, trying not to notice the way Nick's breathing sped up. "Do you have any idea how damn near impossible it is for me to--"
The rest of his words were lost when Nick drew his head down for a kiss. It was surprisingly brief. Nick pulled back to look at him questioningly.
There was no way such a quick taste could ever be enough. Before he could think the better of it, Warrick captured Nick's lips in hungrily and could practically feel Nick throw everything he had into the kiss. Then coherent thought fled as Nick explored the interior of his mouth, moaning when Warrick returned the favor.
Warrick had to literally tear himself away, breaking the kiss off roughly.
Nick didn't seem to mind in the least. "Wow," he breathed, burying his face in Warrick's neck and making Warrick grin in spite of himself. After a few seconds, though, he let out a disappointed-sounding sigh that Warrick felt as well as heard.
"What's the matter?"
"I thought maybe once we--I just thought something might come back..."
"This was supposed to be some sort of magic kiss?" Warrick drew back to stare at Nick.
Nick's lips, slightly swollen, twitched. "Pretty close, huh?"
Laughing, Warrick bent his head so he could press his face against the curve where Nick's neck met his shoulder and inhaled deeply. It felt so damn good. Then Nick relaxed more fully against him and it felt even better. "Oh god, Nicky..." He had no idea anymore why he had to go so slow with Nick, but part of his brain was still functioning enough to remind him that it was something he'd already decided. With a great deal of will power and even more regret, Warrick moved back--not completely away, but enough so he could think a little more clearly. "Okay...maybe..."
Nick seemed to know what was coming next. His expression stopped just shy of a pout and Warrick battled with the impulse to kiss it away.
"Look, why don't I go out and grab us something for a late supper. What--" --are you in the mood for? Warrick managed to censor that question before it came out. He was pretty sure Nick's answer would have nothing to do with food. What do you want? Nope. That wasn't any better. "What do you say I go to Amigo's and get us some chili?"
Nick nodded, his eyes fastened firmly on Warrick's collar.
"We can just chill and watch a movie. Or maybe see if you can find a game on the tube, okay?"
"Okay," Nick's smile was a bit forced, but at least it was there.
"Okay," Warrick agreed. He slipped his jacket back on and surprised both of them by giving Nick another quick kiss. Something he definitely hadn't meant to do. "I'll be back in a few," he said, trying not to notice that Nick's smile was now genuine.
Finally escaping to his jeep, Warrick headed for Amigo's. Hopefully once he got a little breathing room, he'd be able to remember all the reasons he'd had for not giving in to his every instinct.
On to Part 3
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