Nick whistled cheerfully as he strolled down the hallway to his room. His part in the panel on Dye and Fiber Degradation Due to Natural Exposure--he'd covered desert conditions--had gone off without a hitch. It was his first time as a presenter at a panel and he'd been surprised when Giselle Mercer had invited him to speak. They had met a few times at other conferences and once had a long discussion about the effects their varying climates had on evidence. Nick hadn't realized the conversation had made such a lasting impression until the Seattle CSI e-mailed him about putting together a panel.
He'd worried that he would stutter and stumble his way through his presentation, but at some point those old public-speaking courses had kicked in. Now that it was over, he could enjoy the rest of the conference--one of the advantages of being on a panel the first morning. Once he put away his notes and samples, he would have time to decide if there were any more panels he wanted to attend other than those he'd already signed up for--they often had room for last minute additions.
Balancing his presentation paraphernalia under one arm, Nick was fumbling with his key card when a familiar voice said--"Good job on the Q&A."
Nick nearly dropped his armful as he turned to stare at the man walking toward him. "What the hell--? What are you--?" Quickly he opened his room door, "Get in here," he ordered, grabbing a handful of his visitor's jacket.
The moment they were inside, Nick was pulled against a strong body while his notes and samples dropped unheeded to they floor. He only had a split-second to grin before meeting the hungry lips of Warrick Brown.
When the kiss finally ended, Nick let out a breathless laugh. "What are you doing here?"
Warrick's hands wandered down to cup Nick's ass, "You gotta ask?"
Nick shifted and settled more comfortably against him. "No, I've got a pretty good idea about that." He kissed the stubbled jaw line. "I meant what are you doing in St. Louis?"
"I wanted to see your panel--you being a virgin and all."
Nick tried to think of a suitable comeback, but Warrick was nuzzling into his neck, working around and up to his ear, which made coherent speech nearly impossible. It would soon be a year that they'd been together, but Nick had yet to develop any immunity to Warrick's touch.
Not that he'd tried all that hard.
"Did...umm...how did you...oh, right there...get the-the time off?"
"Grissom made an allowance since--technically--it's for work. I only had to take one vacation day." Warrick interspersed his sentences with nibbles on Nick's earlobe. "Deems from swing owed me a shift from last month and I'm trading with Curtis for one on days next week. You think I was gonna a miss a shot at three days of just me 'n' you?"
"And the conference," Nick reminded him half-heartedly as he reached under Warrick's jacket to tug his shirt from his jeans.
"And the conference," Warrick amended. "We can catch a seminar or two this afternoon. I made reservations for dinner at this place called Savor--supposed to be a great restaurant. But y'know, the hotel is pretty much full because of the conference and all--you got any idea where I can stay?"
The only reply that seemed suitable was another kiss. Nick took his time, lazily mapping the interior of Warrick's mouth with his tongue. When they finally parted, as they just stood reveling in the feel of one another, a thought occurred to Nick. "How did you know where to find me?"
"You told me which floor you were staying on when you called last night."
"Yeah, you told me to call you when I got here," Nick chuckled. "I wondered why you wanted to know where I was staying. When did you plan this?"
"About a week after I found out you were going," Warrick smiled, sliding his hands up Nick's back then down again.
Nick shivered with pleasure and gave Warrick another kiss. "How did you know which room?"
"As soon as your panel was finished, I came up here and waited for you to get off the elevator."
Nick almost made a comment about Warrick stalking him, but knew it would not go over well. Normally, Nick wouldn't take it well, either. The thought of someone following or watching him without his knowledge made his skin crawl. The thought of Warrick doing so was...kinda hot.
"You done with all those questions now?" Warrick asked. "Because I had other plans for that mouth of yours."
Before Warrick could put any plans into action, there was a knock on the hotel room door.
Groaning, Nick let his head fall against Warrick's shoulder. "That's some of the people from my panel," he said quietly. "Turns out a bunch of us are signed up for the next trace panel."
With a sigh, Warrick released him, "We'll get back to this later."
"Absolutely," Nick promised with a kiss. "Where's your gear?"
"Left it at the front desk," Warrick was also keeping his voice low.
Another knock sounded.
"Just a sec," Nick called, then opened the door just enough to poke his head out. "Hey," he said to the criminalists he'd met that morning--one from Fargo and the other from Baton Rouge. "I'm running a bit behind," he explained, and immediately regretted his words when Warrick took them as an invitation to caress that part of his anatomy. "I'll meet you down there." Thank god his voice didn't squeak.
"No problem," the blonde from Baton Rouge--Candace--smiled at him.
Nick returned the smile and closed the door. "What the hell are you trying to do to me?" he demanded, half-indignant but mostly laughing.
Warrick let out a mock sigh. "More questions?"
"Rick..." Nick's sigh was real. "I have to--"
"I know," Warrick leaned down for a brief brush of their lips. "I should go see which panels I can still sign up for."
"Okay," Nick handed over his key card. "You take this. Bring up your stuff and I'll get another one from the front desk. I just need--" he finally noticed everything scattered on the floor. "Shit."
"Just take what you need, babe," Warrick said. "I'll pick up the rest."
"Thanks," Nick grabbed the conference binder. "What time are the reservations for?"
"I should be back here by six at the latest," Nick said, glad he hadn't signed on for any evening seminars.
After one last kiss, Nick finally left the room--reluctantly.
His room was on the twentieth floor, which turned out to be fortunate, because it gave Nick plenty of time to compose himself in the elevator before he got to the convention floor. He untangled the conference ID around his neck and fixed his hair in the mirror so that by the time his took his seat, no one would have ever guessed what he'd been doing--almost been doing--just minutes before.
It took a little extra effort, but Nick managed to concentrate on Mineral Identification in Soil Evidence instead of the memory of Warrick's touch until his attention was caught by genuine interest in the subject.
He picked up a second keycard during the break, but didn't have much time for mingling before his workshop on fiber analysis and classification began. The workshop ran long so it was nearly six before he got back to the room.
Warrick was in the shower when he arrived, so without a second thought, Nick stripped down and joined him. It didn't save time, but they did manage to take care of a couple of things to assure they would make it through dinner with sanity intact.
At dinner they compared notes on their individual seminars over cioppino and duck ragout. Warrick was a little disappointed to have only gotten in on one of the special seminars involving crimes against children on the last day, but they were all full. After a short discussion, they decided they should probably spend at least an hour at the party when they got back to the hotel. Networking was still a major part of the conference, no matter how much they wanted to go right back to their room.
Usually, that wouldn't be a problem for Nick, but now that hour seemed interminable. Strange, considering they'd been together in Vegas less than 36 hours before. They often went much longer without seeing each other outside of work. Between overlapping triples and doubles and court, it could sometimes be days before they got any time alone. It just didn't make sense for him to be so impatient.
Nick decided to chalk it up to different surroundings and the fact that he hadn't expected Warrick to be here.
It wasn't a full-blown party in the second ballroom, but it rarely was on the first night. Still, there was a decent crown when Nick and Warrick arrived. Almost immediately, they met up with a former colleague from Vegas that had moved to Chicago and before long they had each been drawn into little knots of people they had met at other conferences or during cross-jurisdictional cases.
The hour was passing fairly quickly, much to Nick's relief. He was talking to a QD expert from Tennessee who had gone to college with Bobby Dawson and promising to pass on her e-mail when he heard someone say his name. Turning, he was surprised to see Hunter Paxton approaching him.
Paxton had been a hotshot-cop-turned-hotshot CSI when Nick worked at the Dallas Crime Lab. With rugged good looks, a reputation as a ladies' man and a slick, confident bearing, Paxton had never missed a chance to advance himself, socially or career-wise. When Nick first started in the lab, Paxton had tried to cozy up to the DA's son, but after it became clear that Nick wasn't about to pull any familial strings--for himself or anyone else--the man pretty much ignored him, except for the occasional slam about Nick doing exactly what he'd refused to do.
That had been years ago, though, and Nick, deciding to let bygones be bygones, shook the offered hand.
"Didn't get the chance to talk to you after your panel," Paxton said. "Good job."
"Thanks," Nick said automatically--he spotted Warrick near the ballroom doors.
"So you're still in Las Vegas, aren't you?" Paxton still had that condescending tone.
"Yep. You still in Dallas?" Nick tried to be polite even though he wanted out.
"That's right. I'm the senior CSI there. I'm surprised you hadn't heard."
Why the hell would I hear that? Nick wanted to ask. Apparently Paxton was as full of himself as ever. He caught Warrick's eye and tried to signal he'd be there soon. Checking his watch, he saw that it had been a little more than an hour. Now he just had to extricate himself from this conversation.
"...tempt you to come on back to Dallas."
Nick had lost sight of Warrick, and was searching the crowd, so it took a moment for Paxton's words to register. "I don't think so. I'm pretty happy where I am."
His inattention was completely lost on Paxton. "You really need to think about advancing your career, Nick. You want to keep moving up, don't you?"
Before Nick could think of a suitable response, Warrick was beside him asking casually--"You thinking of applying to Quantico?"
"Hey, Rick," Nick said, relieved to have backup. "This is Hunter Paxton from the Dallas Crime Lab. Hunter, this is Warrick Brown, my colleague from Las Vegas." As the two men shook hands, reflected on what Warrick had said. It was a little out of the blue. "What was that about Quantico?
"Oh, I just heard Hunter, here, talking about advancing your career. Since we're already at the number two lab in the country, that pretty much just leaves Quantico."
That definitely punctured Paxton's thick skin. Nick had a hell of a time keep his expression neutral. Not only was such a comment completely unlike Warrick, technically it wasn't true--there were higher positions at other labs either of them could apply for. He didn't say anything to contradict Warrick, instead saying--"I'm not sure I'd like Virginia." He smiled as though he didn't notice Paxton struggling to maintain his smooth demeanor. "'Preciate the thought, though, Hunter."
Paxton's handshake wasn't quite as firm when they shook hands all around again.
They left the ballroom and headed for the elevator. Nick started laughing once they were inside.
"Who the hell was that?" Warrick asked.
"I worked with him in Dallas," Nick chuckled.
"Was he a complete dick then, too?"
"Yup," Nick replied, making Warrick laugh as well.
They got off the elevator, and Warrick wrapped an arm around Nick's waist as they walked to their room. "What's this stuff about you going back to Dallas?"
"No idea," Nick said, opening the door. "Probably thinks there's something in it for him." He shrugged out of his sport coat and moved closer when Warrick did the same.
"What?" Nick reached for the buttons of Warrick's shirt.
"What does he think is in it for him?"
"Who knows?" An important detail occurred to him. "Damn."
"What?" Warrick frowned.
"We don't have anything. I mean, did you bring anything we're gonna need? I didn't."
"I figured," Warrick rumbled out a laugh. "I bought some this afternoon."
He pulled Nick in for a kiss, and all the while Nick's hands were busy, tugging Warrick's shirt from his waistband and sliding it off his shoulder.
"Not wasting any time, are you, babe?" Warrick caressed the bulge in Nick's slacks.
Nick barely managed to stifle a groan. "Don't start teasing now."
"And bossy, too."
With a growl, Nick pushed Warrick onto the bed, straddling him. Arching his body, he licked and kissed the skin of Warrick's chest as he rubbed their still-clothed groins together.
"Why the hell didn't you tell me hotel rooms did this to you, baby?" Warrick practically purred, working Nick's shirt off. "We've got a whole damn city full. I'll take you to a different one every day."
In response, Nick bit down slightly on the nipple he'd been laving, prompting a gasp of pleasure.
Straightening a bit so Warrick could finish unbuttoning his shirt, Nick then pulled his arms free and dove back down to the full lips. "Where is it?" he asked between kisses.
"Should be on desk."
Nick gave him another kiss before climbing off the bed. He heard Warrick shifting behind him as he took the items out of the bag and opened the condom box. When he turned around again, Warrick was kicking his discarded clothes out of the way. Nick put the bottle and box on the night table and started unbuckling his belt.
"C'mon, Nicky," Warrick voice was husky but teasing. "You're from Vegas, ain't you? You don't know how to put on a show?"
That was something Nick had never really done before and doubted he'd ever feel to comfortable doing, but he gave it a shot, shimmying slightly as he unfastened his slacks. Seeing the green eyes immediately light up with interest, Nick began to undulate a little, sliding his slacks down slowly despite his own eagerness. He'd barely gotten his shorts off before Warrick toppled him down on the bed.
"Seriously, is it just Hyatts?" Warrick asked when they finally broke of a deep kiss. He reached down to tug Nick's socks off for him. "Because I can get myself and ugly bedspread and keep a bible in my bedside drawer if this is the effect."
"I don't think so," Nick said stretching out on top of him. "Because hotels seem to make you an even bigger smart ass than usual."
Nick loved the way Warrick's hands almost constantly roamed over his body as if newly discovering it. He squirmed with pleasure and traced every contour of Warrick's chest and neck with his mouth.
"What do you want, baby?" Warrick's hands were stroking his hips and backside.
Instead of answering, Nick reached over, took a condom from the box and put the bottle of lube in Warrick's hand. Then he moved off Warrick and crouched on his hands and knees next to him, facing Warrick's feet.
He felt Warrick's fingers trace his cleft and heard Warrick murmur, "Ride 'em, cowboy," and knew Warrick got it.
The way Nick had angled himself, Warrick's erection was in easy reach, so Nick nuzzled his way from Warrick's hip to the base of his cock, then licked up the length. Warrick let out a groan and moments later, Nick felt fingers probing between his buttocks. He took most of the straining cock into his mouth, moaning around it when one of Warrick's finger penetrated him. He could hear Warrick gasping even though the talented fingers never stopped working to loosen him.
"Nicky..." Warrick begged, withdrawing his fingers.
Reveling in the desperate note in Warrick's voice, Nick sat up slightly, opened the condom and slowly rolled it on. Then he turned and straddled Warrick's hips so he was facing Warrick again and reached back to position him. The sensation of Warrick's hands sliding up and down his thighs made it easier for Nick to relax his body and slowly impale himself.
"Hell, yeah..." Warrick groaned.
Nick began to move, establishing a fast, hard rhythm that made Warrick close his eyes and bite his lip. He shifted slightly, adjusting the angle of his body until his prostate was being hit with every stroke. When Warrick began pumping him in time, that was all it took. Nick was so caught up in his release that he barely noticed how hard Warrick gripped his hips--hard enough to leave bruises the next day--as they came together.
Collapsing on top of the larger man, Nick sighed happily when Warrick's arms came up to encircle him. After drifting for a little while, Nick reluctantly rolled off so they could clean up quickly before climbing under the covers.
As he drew Nick in close, Warrick said drowsily, "Baby, I mean it. Any room in Vegas you want--I'll figure out a way to get it for us."
Nick fell asleep with a smile on his face.
Nick's first seminar was at eight the next morning and Warrick's at eight-thirty, so there wasn't time for Warrick's initial plan of ordering from room service. He would have really liked a leisurely breakfast with Nick, and to see what else they could have gotten into. Instead he wound up eating decent but lukewarm pancakes sitting across from a forensic psychiatrist from Pittsburgh.
Their morning seminars overlapped with each other, so the next time Warrick saw Nick was when he went back to their room during the lunch hour in response to a text message. Nick was waiting and proceeded to give him a blow job that turned him inside out before they went down to lunch and their afternoon workshops.
Although the teasing about hotels had started out as a joke, Warrick was starting to seriously consider it. Not that the sex hadn't been great between them before, but this was...well, Warrick wasn't sure what this was, but he was enjoying the hell out of it.
When he didn't see Nick in their room or the second ballroom at dinner time, Warrick assumed that Nick's workshop had run long again. He was debating whether to go into the buffet dinner when "hey, Vegas," made him turn.
Seeing Eric Delko from Miami approaching, Warrick grinned and held out his hand. "How's it goin', man?"
"Doin' good. Saw your name on the program," Warrick said, referring to the Underwater Body Recovery Procedures in Adverse Conditions
"Yeah. Did you happen to catch it?"
"'Fraid not. But then we don't get too much underwater body recovery in the desert."
Eric laughed, "That's almost exactly what your buddy said."
"Yeah, Nick Stokes. Is he doing okay?"
That was a strange question. "I didn't know you knew him."
"Happened to sit next to him just at this last workshop."
Warrick frowned, "What do mean 'is he doing okay?'"
"Well, he got...I don't know--sick or something. He didn't look too good. Haven't you seen him?"
"I thought his workshop had run long."
"Nah," Eric shook his head. "It ended about an hour ago."
A tiny but insistent alarm began to go off in the back of Warrick's mind. "What happened?"
Apparently Eric noticed his concern. "Uh...I'm not sure." He reflected for a moment, "Everyone was just getting ready to leave. They had just handed out the update list of speakers for tomorrow's seminars, and I was looking it over when Nick kinda sat down really fast. He was dead white. I mean, like gonna-pass-out kind of white."
"Well, I asked, but he said he was okay. He left, so I figured he went back to his room."
"I must have just missed him," Warrick said, trying to keep calm. For all he knew Nick had had bad mayonnaise on his sandwich at lunch. "I'd better check."
"I'll catch you later, then," Eric nodded. "I hope Nick is okay."
"Thanks," Warrick said, and headed to the elevator as quickly as he could without actually breaking stride into a run.
When Warrick got back to the hotel room, he was relieved to see Nick was actually there. They must have just missed each other earlier. Nick was stretched out on the bed, one arm thrown over his eyes, looking completely wiped. "Nick," he said quietly, in case Nick had fallen asleep.
"Hey," it came out as a sigh.
"Hey," Warrick replied, keeping his voice low. Something, perhaps the utter stillness of Nick's posture, kept him from speaking in a normal tone. "What's goin' on? I was looking for you to have dinner."
Nick was silent for a few moments. "I'm not hungry. I'm gonna skip dinner--and the party."
Warrick approached the bed slowly. Nick still hadn't moved his arm. "What's wrong, babe? Are you sick?"
Nick let out a deep sigh, then raised the arm resting at his side.
Warrick could see a piece of paper crumpled in his fist and carefully removed it. Smoothing it out, he could see it was a list of the next day's seminars--just as Eric had mentioned. Almost all of the seminars centered around crimes against children, including the keynote speech. There were names in bold of the recently added speakers. "Give me a hint, babe. What am I looking for?"
"Dealing with Child Victims of Sexual Assault."
There was nothing unusual in the description that Warrick could see, and the only thing about the speaker--Didi Morris--was that she had a Ph.D. and Masters of Social Work from Dallas University. Oh. "You know her?" he said, even though it wasn't really a question at this point.
"She babysat me." It sounded as though Nick had to force the words out.
Warrick couldn't think of anything to say--or even to ask. He knew it had to be something serious and even though he doubted he wanted to know the whole story, he was certain it was something he needed to know. "Nicky?"
Nick pushed himself into a sitting position, drawing one leg up and wrapping both arms around it. "It's...well, I--she--" He sighed again and rested his forehead on his knee.
Warrick sat on the bed next to him, but kept some distance and didn't say anything. This was obviously painful--whatever it was--and he didn't want to press.
"Okay," Nick took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "Well, I hardly ever had--" He stopped, then tried again. "You know I have five older sisters."
Warrick nodded. "And one older brother."
"Right. So with that many, my folks never had to look for babysitters, but by the time I was nine everyone had gone to college and it was only me and Meredith at home--except she was a senior and always had something going on. Sometimes Inez--our housekeeper--would stay, but this time she had broken her foot and my parents had to scramble. I think...I think she was a cousin of one of Meredith's friends or something who was going to college in Dallas. Her name was Deirdre, but everyone called her Didi."
Warrick braced himself. There were several ways he could think of this story going--none of them good.
"I don't--" Nick turned his head, gazing blankly out the window. "I don't remember a lot. At first it was cool--she played games with me until it was time for bed. And then--well, I don't really..." He closed his eyes briefly. "She came in my room...I--I think she said something about teaching me a new game..." His voice shook. "I can't--I just remember after...that I wanted my mom."
Closing his eyes tightly, Warrick tried to keep tears of pain and rage at bay. He could hear them in Nick's voice, but thus far Nick hadn't let any fall, so neither would he. "Did you tell anyone?" his voice was barely more than a whisper.
"I told Catherine about it...little more than a year ago. I--it was messing me up on a case we were working."
"I meant your parents."
"Oh," Nick let out a humorless laugh. "No. Catherine was the first person I ever told and I only told her because she was going to take me off the case and I didn't want--but no, no one else."
"The babysitter--did she threaten you?"
Nick's brow creased briefly. "I don't think so. I almost told once but--" he stopped, shaking his head. "I tried so hard to pretend it never happened that it's hard to remember it now."
Warrick didn't know what to say. The combination of fury and grief he was trying to keep under wraps had formed a burning lump in his throat that made speech difficult. What he wanted to do was pull Nick into his arms and hold on tight, but Nick's stiff posture stopped him from trying.
"I know I should have--"
"Hey," Warrick laid a hand on his arm, all he really dared to do at this point. "You were nine."
"Yeah, but even then I knew. I knew she was doing something wrong--that it was against the law--but I just..."
"Nick, stop," Warrick couldn't stand Nick thinking he was in any way responsible for this woman's actions. "You were nine."
"I'm not nine now," Nick whispered. "And I still don't know what I'm going to do."
Warrick's voice escaped him once again, banished by the misery in Nick's.
"I know I shouldn't...I mean, she was my babysitter for--what was it? Four months?"
Four months? Warrick frowned. Nick had made it sound like a single time. "Nick--"
"I dealt with it. I mean, I thought I'd dealt with it. Usually it hardly ever--" Abruptly Nick shifted back until he was leaning against the headboard. "She works with kids," he said through gritted teeth. "She works with kids who are already in trouble. I can't just let that go."
It was one of the only times in his career that Warrick wanted to forget about any possible victims, forget about what was right. All he wanted was to make this all go away again for Nick. He knew that was wrong on so many levels--probably even the wrong thing to do for Nick--but all he wanted was for the shadows to be gone from the dark eyes he loved.
"It's bad enough I never did anything about it before, but now that I know...it would be unforgivable. Oh, god..." Nick abruptly dropped his head, bracing his forehead against the heels of his hands. "It will be all over the conference in no time. Everyone will know--Jesus."
As Warrick watched, Nick cringed at the idea of more people--colleagues and peers--knowing about what this woman had done. Cringed. As if he had done something wrong. That, more than anything, made Warrick consider something else he never had before--violence against a woman.
"Maybe if I talked to her first," Nick said slowly. "If I told her what was going on and gave her the chance to pull out of her seminar. She probably would, to avoid a scene."
"Why would you give a flying fuck whether or not she's embarrassed?" Warrick demanded, then immediately regretted his words when Nick winced slightly. He forced himself to speak more calmly, "I just mean, don't worry about what would make it easier for her. All that matters is what's easier for you."
"I don't want a scene, either."
"Okay," Warrick nodded slowly. "But only if that works better for you."
They sat in silence for several minutes before another shuddering sigh escaped Nick. "I know this is probably the last thing you expected when you made plans to surprise me."
"Don't even think about apologizing," Warrick warned.
"If you want to go do to the party--"
"There might be some people at the party wondering where we are."
A ghost of a smile flickered across Nick's features and he scooted forward on the bed so he was close enough to rest his chin on Warrick shoulder. "Thanks, Rick."
Warrick didn't hesitate another moment, "C'mere, baby." He pulled Nick into his arms and pressed his lips to Nick's temple. They sat in silence and eventually, Warrick felt the tension begin to leave Nick's body. "Hey," Warrick ventured once Nick had relaxed against him. "Why don't I just order us something from room service and we can hang out here for the night?"
"Nah," Nick said. "Just give me a bit longer and we can go down. I'm not paying practically double for dinner just because I'm too lazy to haul my ass downstairs."
"Don't worry about that, babe," Warrick assured him. "It's on me."
Nick pulled back with a slight frown. "First of all, you paid for dinner last night. Secondly, it's the principle of the thing."
Warrick brushed his lips across Nick's forehead. "First of all," he mimicked with a grin. "Since when do we worry about who pays for what? Secondly, we hardly ever get time off together, so I'm not gonna worry about prices when we do." He gave Nick another kiss, then got off the bed to retrieve the menu and hand it to Nick. "So why don't you take a look at the menu and decide what you want?" He propped a couple of pillows against the headboard and leaned comfortably against them.
Nick shook his head with a resigned laugh but opened the menu, shifting his position so he was sitting next to Warrick again.
Putting an arm around Nick, Warrick drew him close, settling him against his chest so they could both read the menu. Although he decided on his own meal quickly, Warrick knew Nick would take a while as he tried to gauge which meal was the least overpriced.
There was no way for Warrick to say so without raising some unpleasant ghosts of his own, but room service was nothing compared to what he used to spend on girlfriends--and occasionally boyfriends--when he was gambling. On a winning streak, he'd think nothing of throwing away an ungodly sum of money on someone he'd been involved with for only a week or two. Warrick couldn't help wishing he had even a fraction of the money he'd spent on those people or lost at the tables to spend on Nick.
Which, of course, would appall Nick. As with room service, actual money wasn't the point. When Nick did splurge, it tended to be on things related to home and comfort--which was probably why they spent most of their time at Nick's place.
"Okay," Nick finally said. "I'll have the Cajun chicken."
"It took you that long to decide on chicken?"
Reaching across him for the phone, Warrick was glad to hear the undercurrent of laughter in Nick's voice. He ordered Nick's chicken, the veal for himself, and then added a six of Heineken as an afterthought. When Nick nudged him in the ribs--no doubt for buying six overpriced beers instead of two--Warrick added the Derby pie for dessert.
"Rick," Nick hissed with a slightly harder nudge.
"--and an order of buffalo wings."
Fortunately, Nick got the point and stopped protesting, because Warrick didn't know if they'd be able to finish everything as it was.
"Jerk," Nick said when Warrick hung up, but then gave him a kiss.
The evening was far from what Warrick had expected when he'd arrived in St. Louis, but even before they'd finished their dinner, he found himself looking forward to an evening filled with nothing. It was a rarity for them, because once work and the ensuing, overlapping doubles, triples and court dates were out of the way; once all their individual obligations and commitments had been met; once they'd fit in the minimal amount of sleep necessary to function properly, there wasn't a whole lot of free time left.
During that free time, Warrick liked to get out at least a couple of times a week, even though he and Nick had vastly different ideas of what constituted "going out." Warrick liked his clubs with a lot of action like the hip-hop club OPM, Body English or, if he wanted to go to a gay bar, Krave. Nick preferred lower-key bars like the Four Kegs, Buffalo, or Freezone--when he went to a bar. Nick tended to take "out" a bit too literally for Warrick's liking--often preferring to leave the city to go gliding or hiking. There were a few things they could agree on--shooting pool at Good Time or going to one of the few blues clubs in Vegas, but that was about it.
Even though they didn't keep track of who paid for what, they did keep track of who "won" the decision about where to go--that was too much like a competition for either of them to leave it.
Tonight, though, there was no question about where to go or whether to go out at all. After dinner was finished--not everything, but the pie would still be good to eat later--they stretched out on the bed and finally got around to comparing notes about the day's seminars. They discussed some of the new equipment that had been demonstrated, the unofficial contest revolving around the most bizarre case as well as various acquaintances they'd met up with, all the while avoiding the subject of Didi Morris.
Every time Warrick thought of that woman, rage would thrum through his veins anew and it would take a while for him to calm down. He couldn't even imagine how it was affecting Nick.
Once they'd finished dissecting the conference, they talked a bit about work, then random subjects, but most of the time was spent in their usual game of one-upmanship or comfortable silence. That too, was unusual for them, since there was usually a game on the television or music on the stereo. Warrick found he was enjoying the silence that was broken only occasionally by their voices.
When Nick nuzzled and kissed his neck, Warrick just smiled and let out a contented sigh. They had been exchanging soft kisses and touches the entire time, so Warrick didn't think much of it. Then Nick raised his head for a deeper kiss and his hands wandered down to Warrick's fly, which definitely got Warrick's attention.
He assumed Nick wouldn't be interested in anything heavy tonight, fully expecting they would continue as they'd been doing until they both drifted off to sleep. He'd been fine with that idea, and now it seemed like Nick was changing things up. Warrick had no problem with that, either, except--"Are you sure about this?"
Nick's expression darkened to a scowl. "Rick, don't, okay? It was one time."
There it was again. One time in four months? Child predators just didn't work that way when they had access to the child. Warrick wasn't about to mention it out loud, but it was...bothersome.
While Warrick was thinking that over, Nick had gotten his jeans unfastened and was stroking him through his boxers. "Nicky, you don't have to..."
"What are you worried about?" Nick asked, his voice and eyes soft. "That I'll think about her while I'm with you? Not a chance in hell, Rick."
Warrick believed him, he just wasn't sure he'd be able to forget about Didi Morris right away. But then Nick's hand slipped inside his boxers and Nick licked a path up from the hollow or his throat and Warrick decided forgetting about anyone else wouldn't be a problem.
Nick awoke blanketed by a warm, heavy body, which made him smile and settle himself more comfortably. His smile turned wry as he recalled Warrick's concern that being together would bring back thoughts of her.
Every now and then, over the years, Nick would be frozen by a scent similar to her overly sweet floral perfume or by a voice like the hideous sing-song tone she'd used. Neither memory stood a chance against Warrick's deep, velvety rumble or his musky, faintly exotic, undeniably male scent.
For many years, Nick had been uncertain whether his attraction to men was actually an attraction or merely an avoidance of anything that could bring back memories of her. It was a convenient excuse for a college jock who didn't want to even consider the possibility that he might be gay. Not until his first year out of college had Nick finally admitted to himself that his preference for men was an actual preference and not just an aversion to old demons.
A nonsensical murmur from Warrick brought Nick's thoughts back to the present and to the day ahead of him.
Nick knew he had to confront her, that he had to say something, even though at this point he had no idea what he was going to say. The only way he could imagine this situation being any worse was if Warrick wasn't here with him. Nick had never intended for Warrick to know about this, but now that he did, Nick wasn't sorry about it--and in any case, keeping his secret didn't compare to the comfort of having Warrick next to him. As much as Nick hated to admit it, if he'd been there alone, he would have been tempted to just stay in his room and forget about the whole thing. Perhaps he would have gone down to confront her alone--he liked to think he would have, anyway--but it was definitely easier to do when he knew he had backup.
"Time izzit?" Warrick mumbled into the nape of his neck.
Nick grabbed his watch from the night stand. "Seven-thirty," he said, and felt the first knot form in his stomach. He knew there would be more, even though most of yesterday's knots had dissolved last night while he was in Warrick's arms.
Warrick yawned and rolled onto his back so he was no longer half-sprawled over Nick.
Turning on his side, Nick threw one arm across the flat stomach, "Her panel is at ten." There was another knot.
"What do you want to do?" Warrick asked, combing his fingers through Nick's hair.
Resting his head on Warrick's chest, Nick didn't answer right away. For years he had done his best to put those memories behind him and the idea of bringing it all back up was daunting. The idea of bringing it up in a public place was horrifying. If they had to cancel her panel because of this confrontation, it would be all over the conference in record time. One the other hand, there were others on the panel, even though she was heading it, so it could possibly go on without her.
Never once did it occur to Nick to wait until after her panel. The idea of having to listen to her lecture on how to help victims of child abuse made him nauseous.
"I want to try finding her before the panel--with enough time so they can make other arrangements if they need to. I don't--who knows how she's going to react."
"Whenever you want to do it, babe." Whatever Warrick actually felt about it, he was maintaining that laid back attitude. Nick knew it was a front--he knew it better than anyone--but he was still grateful for it.
Nick tried to prepare himself to go from only four people knowing his secret to God-only-knew-how-many people learning about it. He soon decided that he'd be better off not thinking about that until he had to--there was still the possibility of losing his nerve and backing out.
He got up, took a shower and got ready, all on automatic pilot; aware of very little except that Warrick was never far away. Too soon for his liking, he was ready to go. He went to the desk and picked up his ID tag, putting it around his neck. He was debating whether to bring his conference folder when Warrick's arms encircled him from behind. "Nicky..."
"Don't say I don't have to do this, Rick. Because I do."
"Actually, I was going to ask if you wanted to grab a cup of coffee first," Warrick met his eyes in the mirror. "But it sounds like you're ready to go."
"No coffee," Nick said, not sure if his stomach could handle anything. "I want to get this over with."
After a soft kiss, Warrick gestured for him to lead the way.
There were several dozen people milling around the room where the panel was being held, even though there was still more than a half-hour before it began. That wasn't unusual. More often than not, the speakers were among them, so Nick walked in, nodding to the people he knew and looking around for Didi Morris. He'd originally thought that he would be able to recognize her immediately, but now he wasn't so sure. No one in the room sparked a reaction, so either his childhood memory was faulty--which wouldn't be surprising considering how hard he'd tried to forget--or she wasn't there yet.
"Excuse me," he said to one of the conference organizers. "Is Dr. Morris here yet?" And God, how he hated granting her any sort of title.
"I saw her over by the speakers' table just a little while ago."
"Okay, thanks." Nick said, stepping aside to get a better look at the group near the table.
"Do you see her?" Warrick asked quietly.
"No, but who knows how much she's changed." The only visual description Nick could have given was that of a pretty female--because she had been pretty the first time he ever saw her--with a long blonde ponytail. He'd never noticed the color of her eyes, and all the other memories were based on senses other than sight.
He was starting toward the table when he felt a light touch on his arm. "Excuse me. Peter said you were looking for me?"
Nick froze and tried to take a deep breath without being too noticeable about it. He turned around, and the first shock was that he had to look down to meet the woman's eyes. Of course. He'd only been nine the last time he saw her. His second shock was that those eyes were a golden brown and a shade or two lighter than the woman's skin. Mouth dry, Nick's voice came out a croak, "Dr. Morris?"
"Yes. Can I help you?"
Think of something, think of something. "Will you be taking questions after your panel?"
"Of course," she was looking at him quizzically. "Did you have questions about the subject?"
"No, not right now" Nick managed, trying desperately to think past the roaring in his ears. "Looking forward to it." He gave her what he hoped was a smile and made a beeline for the doors. That had to be one of the lamest conversations ever. He could only hope that it was lame enough that she forgot all about him.
All the courage, all the nerve, all the adrenalin it had taken to prepare for this moment vanished in an instant and Nick's path to the elevators was unsteady. It wasn't until he stepped into a--thankfully, empty--elevator that Nick realized Warrick had caught up with him. "Nicky...it's okay."
"She's black," Nick said stupidly. Warrick looked at him as if he'd lost it. "She's black."
"And your babysitter wasn't," Warrick said, catching on.
"She was blonde. I mean, I know a person can be black and have blonde hair, but--" Nick realized he was about to start rambling and broke off with a laugh that sounded a bit hysterical even to his own ears.
Warrick drew him into a tight hug.
"Oh, jeez," Nick let out another shaky laugh. "Another Didi Morris who went to college in Dallas. What are the odds?"
"Never ask me that," Warrick replied.
The elevator doors opened and Warrick kept an arm around him as they walked to their room.
"I'll go back down to the panel," Nick assured him, even though Warrick hadn't asked. "I just need to--" he wound his arms around Warrick's waist and leaned against him.
"It's okay," Warrick said, holding him close. "You've got a while yet before the panel starts."
Nick stood quietly, waiting for some of the strength to return to his limbs and his heart rate to return to normal. Although he was relieved that there would be no scene, that everyone wouldn't be talking about and watching him, part of him was sorry as well. Sorry not to have confronted this demon from his past.
But now it was out there, and there was no way for him to put it back in that corner of his mind strictly for bad memories. He'd been able to do that after telling Catherine, but he didn't think he would after telling Warrick. Now he had to face the fact that he was no longer nine and he knew what she'd done was wrong. What's more, now he had to face the fact that he was probably not her only victim and as a member of law enforcement, he was obligated to stop her.
And he would, but right now, the 33-year-old man wanted to revel in the security and safety that the nine-year-old boy hadn't had.
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