'Then' by Dhvana [ - ]
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Category: CSI - Slashed > Greg/Nick
Characters: Gil Grissom, Greg Sanders, Nick Stokes
Rating: PG
Genres: Angst, Character Study, Drama, Episode Related, Established Relationship
Warnings: None

Summary: Fearing what the events of GD have done to Nick, Greg comes close to losing everything.

There is thunder across the desert, dry lightning piercing the sky, but no rain, not this time. The rain always waits until the worst possible moment--when called out on a case so it can wash away the evidence, when there's a night off and actual daylight to enjoy. No, there will be no rain tonight, only blinding bolts of lightning and sharp cracks of thunder.

Though it isn't perhaps the safest place to be, I sit out on the rooftop of CSI and watch the storm. Vegas can cover itself in flashing lights and elaborate neon dances, but it will never be able to compete with the real thing. I'll take a thunderstorm over Las Vegas any day.

It's growing closer, this early summer storm. The clouds overhead reflect the city's glow and the wind begins to pick up. I'm sitting next to the cover of a vent, my back resting uncomfortably against the hard metal, and it's almost like I'm begging for something unpleasant to happen.

I think they're starting to wonder about my sanity--they may have reason. I think they're questioning whether or not I have the stamina for this--I may not. After all, I've seen first hand what can happen to a CSI when something goes wrong--they end up dead, they come face to face with a gun, they're nearly blown up, they get pushed out a window, shot, buried alive, their flesh devoured by fire ants.

And all this is on a good day.

That's not true. All this is on a bad day. A good day is when it happens to someone else and it's up to us to find the links between the Holy Trinity.

So was it a good day or a bad day when it happened to him? Because it wasn't me, but it was still one of us, someone I care about, yet by my definition, not a bad day because it did happen to someone else and it was my job to find the links to help them.

I don't know. It doesn't make any sense to me, so I try not to think about it.

From the second he was pulled out of the ground and the earth exploded before us, I haven't been thinking about it.

Since watching him placed in the ambulance, Warrick and Catherine guarding and supporting him, leaving the rest of us standing there with the shattered world at our feet, I haven't been thinking about it.

It's as if I have turned off all my emotions, all my feelings, anything that might link me to the person huddled in the ambulance whose features were nearly unrecognizable beneath the swollen red pustules. He had ceased to be one of us and had become one of them. To have admitted otherwise, to have eliminated that necessary distance, would have made living impossible.

On that night, I became mechanical Greg--flawless, lifeless, passionless--I cannot touch or be touched. I do the job assigned to me, I give it all my concentration, I follow every rule, and even Grissom cannot find fault with my work. I go home at the end of every shift, drink myself into a stupor, then fall asleep, waking at my alarm to start all over again.

And yet, here I am, sitting on the roof in the middle of a thunderstorm. Doesn't that imply that some feeling remains? That there is something I'm avoiding? That part of me would rather be burned inside out than return?

The next bolt hits so close, my vision of the world turns green. My heart nearly leaps out of my chest--the first thing it has felt in days--and the thunder deafens me. Common sense tells me to get off the roof, but common sense and I haven't exactly been on speaking terms lately, so I remain on the roof.

It's safe, in its own way, for what it hides.

For example: I can't see the hospital from here.

I only saw the inside of it long enough not to raise suspicion. I wouldn't want my friends to think I didn't care.

I can't see his house from here.

I haven't seen the inside of it since he was deemed fit to return there. Now I know they think me heartless.

But then, he hasn't exactly asked for me either. I'm told he occasionally wonders, "Has anyone seen Greg?" but that's not exactly expressing a desire for my presence, so I feel no need to make an appearance. Never knowing what has happened between us, they tell him I'm busy working, picking up their slack so they can spend more time with him. It's possible he believes them.

But I doubt it.

I do not have Warrick's guilt to drive me, Grissom's responsibility, Catherine's nurturing, Sara's unbidden compassion, Brass's duty as a comrade-at-arms. I have nothing. I am the tagalong, the scapegoat, the little brother whose presence is tolerated because mom and dad say so. What is my part in all this? Where do I belong?

We've never really discussed it, where I belong, what my role is, what I mean to him. This may be the opportunity he's been waiting for to rid himself of me. I certainly wouldn't want me. He's been through hell, and I can't even be bothered to visit. It's selfish, I know, putting my fears ahead of his needs, but in the days before 'then', my needs hadn't mattered, my fears were disregarded, and I had started to wonder whether it was worth it, whether we had anything left.

This would have been one hell of a time to find out I was right.

I wish I had a cigarette. I don't smoke, but a moment like this calls for a cigarette.

Just as I push myself to my feet, I am saved from searching for other employees' hidden stashes by the sound of my beeper. Duty calls. I try and brush the roof dust from my clothes, then head downstairs.

Grissom is waiting for me in the hall wearing the scowl that seems to have taken up permanent residence on his face. "Where were you?"

"On the roof."

"There's a storm going on."

"I know."

For a second, I think he's going to smack me--I can see in his eyes that he wants to. This is also a new development since 'then', Grissom turning angrily protective the second he thinks we're placing ourselves in harm's way. He's terrified he's going to lose one of us. I'm convinced half the reason he didn't retire is he was afraid the second he walked away, one of us would be lost.

Perhaps it's already too late.

"Where are we going?" I ask as I follow him towards the parking lot.

He doesn't answer. I shrug. I really don't care. I'll go where he tells me to go, do the job he wants me to do, and that'll be enough.

And in thinking like that, I make a huge mistake. I have underestimated him and by the time I recognize the neighborhood we're driving through, it's too late to escape.

He notes my sudden anxiety and quells my uneasy stirring with a single look.

"You can't hide forever, Greg."

It takes all my self-restraint not to yell "Fuck you!", not to explode, to demand just what it is he thinks he knows, to shout that he doesn't know anything.

"He deserves better than this."

I turn my glare towards the window, unable to look at him any longer, unwilling to look at him. In that moment, I hate his omniscient eyes.

The truck pulls into the driveway and stops. We sit there for a few minutes before he leans across me and pushes my door open.

"What, you're not going to walk me up the steps, make sure I go in?" I ask bitterly, and I am again on the receiving end of one of his looks.

"Do I need to?"

I shake my head, my stomach tying itself in knots as I stare at the house.

"Go on, Greg," he says, his voice gentler than before.

With a sigh, I swing my legs out of the truck and trudge up the front steps. Behind me, I hear him pull out of the drive. He trusts me not to run, and I will not disappoint him, though I'd rather face his disappointment any day than face the man inside.

Standing at the front door, I take a deep breath and let it out. I breathe in another one, then reach out and press the doorbell.

It takes too long for the door to open and I can't help thinking he was standing there on the other side, staring through the peephole, trying to decide whether or not to let me in.

His face is cold as he looks at me, but that does not bother me. What makes my heart jump is that it is 'his' face. It is the face I remember from before 'then', not the face that has given up on hope as the metal presses against his chin, not the face shuttered from everything, afraid to discover that the rescue was all a dream, not the face in the hospital alternately relaxed by drugs and scarred by nightmares. It is the face of the man I love, who has been a hundred different people since 'then' began, died a hundred different times, but never stopped being him.

This is what I should have realized, should have understood right from the beginning. No matter what happened, he is still Nick, always has been, and always will be. 'Then' might have changed him, but the core of him is still the same and not even a million deaths can alter that.

My lower lip begins to tremble, my throat closing painfully with the ache of tears, and he catches me as I fall sobbing at his feet.

"I'm so sorry," I cry, clutching at him. "I thought I'd lost you! I thought I would come here and I wouldn't be able to find you, that it would have broken you, and I stayed away because I couldn't stand losing you, but you're here, you were always here! Forgive me, please forgive me! I should have known--I should have known you'd be here! I'm sorry, Nicky, I should have known you're stronger than that. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I say over and over again until he stops me with his touch.

"Shh. . . it's all right. Don't worry, it's okay. You don't need to explain, you don't need to apologize, I'm not leaving you, I'm not going anywhere," he says soothingly, rocking me in his arms, "but damnit G, I need you. I need you here with me. I can't do this without you."

"You have me, Nicky," I say, my heart crying at the tears in his voice. "As long as you need me, as long as you want me, I'm here for you, I'm yours."

He lifts up my face so our eyes meet as he speaks. "Then you're mine forever, Greg, you understand that? Because I'm not going to spend another hour wondering whether or not today's the day you show up. We're going to be together every goddamn day no matter what happens and you're going to have to accept that."

I nod, wrapping my arms around him, hating how thin he feels, loving how solid he feels. "Every goddamn day, I promise. I'll never stay away again. I love you, Nicky, I love you."

He tightens his hold around me. "And I love you--god, I love you so much, but Greg, you're going to have to be the strong one for a while. I need you to be strong for the both of us."

"I will be, Nicky, of course I will. I just. . . I need a few more minutes to realize we're both real."

"Take all the time you need, baby. I'm not going anywhere. We're gonna be right here."

When a few minutes pass and he's still here and I'm still here and we're still together, I start to believe him. I gather up the pieces of my old self and rebuild them to become the person he needs for me to be, placing 'then' in the past and looking towards 'this' as my future. As our lips meet in a tentative kiss that quickly grows into something more, I know we're going to make it no matter what the world throws at us because, seriously, after all we've been through, what could it possibly have left?