Title: Angst

Author: Michmak

Summary: Nick is angry and no one knows why. What's going on with everyone's favorite Texas boy-scout? Only he knows for sure, and he's not saying. A rough case only complicates matters.

Disclaimers: If Nick were mine, I wouldn't be putting him through all this. But he's not. Neither are any of the other characters whose names you recognize.

This story contains swearing - lots of it. So be warned.

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Nick was not a happy camper. Not today, at any rate. His brief, fitful sleep had been interrupted by his mother calling him and demanding he return home for Thanksgiving.

As if that was going to happen.

Of course, the fact that Thanksgiving was still three months away meant nothing to her. She was starting to work on him early this year, and Nick was not looking forward to three months of guilt.

His mother didn't seem to understand that Nick had a full-time job, in a different state. A job he enjoyed. A job that he couldn't just ditch for some of his mom's turkey any time he felt like it. Of course, that didn't prevent her from calling him and begging him to come home for Thanksgiving. Unh-unh. And when that hadn't seemed to work, she had enlisted his sisters. One by one, throughout the rest of the few hours normally reserved for sleep, they had called - cajoling, wheedling, threatening - playing the guilt card and trying to get him to commit to going home for the holidays.

It's not that Nick didn't want to see his family. It's just that he didn't want to go home for Thanksgiving. He had gone home last year - taken four days off and flown to Texas, and he just couldn't do it again this year. For one thing, it was someone else's turn to have those days - perhaps Sanders or Sidle, who also had family out of state. For another, the thought of four days of his mother and sisters badgering him about settling down, getting married and starting a family - after he moved back to Texas, of course - was just too much to bear. His brother Vic would just have to go it alone this year. Poor bastard.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Nick sighed in frustration. God, he was tired.

It didn't help matters that the first person he ran into at work was Ecklie. Smarmy bastard. Nick really detested that man. Ecklie had smirked at him when Nick had dragged his sorry ass into the break room.

"You look like hell, Stokes," Ecklie had offered.

Nick had just grunted at him, "Trying to blend in with the rest of you." He should have kept his mouth shut. The last thing he wanted was to get in a pissing war with the day shift supervisor, but he was tired and he wasn't thinking straight. The words popped out before he could call them back. Ecklie hadn't responded, but if the angry glint in his eye was any indication, Nick would probably have some 'splaining to do later on - and thank you very much Ricky Ricardo.

The coffee in the percolator was burnt, but Nick drank it anyway - black and potent. The hot liquid scalded his throat as he slugged it back, making his eyes water. The pungent taste of burnt dark roast coated his palette, making him gag slightly. He'd be tasting that one cup of coffee all night long.

Greg clumped into the break room moments after he did, arching an eyebrow at him when he took in Nick's unshaven face, his smile slightly teasing. "You doing that to your face on purpose?"

Nick frowned at him and ran a hand over his chin, feeling the rough stubble under his palm. "You doing that to your hair on purpose?" His response was biting; his tone way harsher than it should have been. He realized this when he saw the younger man flinch, but he didn't try to apologize. Catherine, who had entered the lounge on Greg's heels and caught the entire exchange, had the good sense to keep her mouth shut for a change. Nick saluted her grimly with his coffee cup and slid into an empty seat.

He's only been there ten minutes, and he already wanted the shift to end. Closing his eyes, he leaned back in his chair and tried to relax. His body ached. Maybe he was getting sick. Come to think of it, he was chilled too. He wondered idly if he had a fever, and if the sudden tickle in the back of his throat was a sign of illness or simply psychosomatic. He cleared his throat loudly.

Down the hallway, he could hear Sara. Normally, he found the slightly atonal, smoky flavor of her voice appealing, but tonight - for whatever reason - the sound of it drifting into the lounge room bothered him. She sounded annoyingly perky, like she had gotten a good sleep. If he was in a better frame of mind, he might even have briefly entertained the thought that maybe she sounded so happy because she had finally gotten laid, but he knew that hadn't happened. As far as he knew, Grissom hadn't suddenly developed ESP - especially not where Sara was concerned - and Nick could think of no one else Sara would even consider sleeping with. *That big wanker, Hank?* Nick snorted under his breath, *not unless hell froze over and Satan decided to start a snowball fight with JC himself.*

Nick wondered idly what it would take to get Grissom to open up his fucking eyes and see what was so obvious to everyone else on the night shift - except maybe Greg, and he didn't count because he was delusional half the time anyway.

"How can you say that Crosby, Stills and Nash were better off without Young?" Grissom's tone was slightly incredulous. "He made that group!"

"You ever listen to him sing, Griss?" Sara retorted, tone light, "He voice is like sandpaper. At least the other three could harmonize."

Nick opened an eye and glared balefully at them as they walked in, Warrick ambling behind at an easy gait, looking relaxed and calm - as always. He slid into the empty seat beside Catherine, and Nick snorted again. If those two thought the smoldering looks they threw at each were unnoticeable, they were severely mistaken.

Warrick looked up at Nick's snort, taking in his friends' disreputable appearance. Nick looked haggard. The laugh lines bracketing his mouth were unusually pronounced this evening, deep groves in a pallid face pointing - like exclamation marks - to the dark circles under his eyes. He opened his mouth, about to ask Nick if he was feeling alright, but stopped at the venomous look Nick shot him.

"Don't say it."

Warrick shrugged and wisely kept his mouth shut. Nick looked like a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown this evening.

Of course, just because Warrick was smart didn't mean that Sara was. Propping her hip against the table beside him she took in his rough appearance and grinned. "Rough day, Nicky? You look like something the cat dragged in."

"After he regurgitated on that god-awful shirt you're wearing, Sara," Nick responded. He smiled at her tightly, before turning to Grissom. "Can we just get on with this, please?"

Of course, Nick's foul mood seemed to have flown right over Grissom's head. He merely glanced at Nick and nodded absently. Nick couldn't decide whether he was happy Grissom hadn't questioned him as everyone else had, or offended that his mental and physical well-being meant so little to his boss that he wasn't even noticed. Deciding the latter emotions were more appropriate, Nick glowered at the older man.

"Sara, Warrick and Catherine - you guys have an apparent homicide/suicide at 1823 Flamingo. Brass is already there waiting for you. Nick, you're with me."

* * * * *

Nick fell asleep in the Tahoe on the drive to the crime scene, waking with a start when the vehicle jerked to a stop. Groaning, he opened up his eyes and winced against the bright light stabbing through them in the interior of the cab. Grissom had opened up his door. Nick swore lightly and blinked rapidly, trying to dispel the flash spots floating in his vision. Mumbling about inconsiderate people, Nick reached into the back of the Tahoe and grabbed his field kit.

Grissom was patiently waiting for Nick to join him before they headed towards Det. Lockwood. Nick drew in a harsh breath as he took in his surroundings - a children's park. The swings creaked eerily in the chill night air, and the whole playground was bathed in the muted light provided by the full moon.

Several police officers had taped off the crime scene and Nick tried to school his face into an appropriately stoic mask. He had a feeling this was going to be a bad one. The feeling was not dispelled when Lockwood nodded at them grimly. "We've cordoned everything off. It's not pretty."

Grissom nodded like he knew what Lockwood was talking about, but Nick looked around blankly. Had Grissom told him on the drive over about the crime? He couldn't recall. Lockwood was pointing towards a big plastic crawl tube. "He's in there."

"Coroner get a look at him yet?" Grissom asked.

"Only enough to say he's dead. We thought you guys might want to take pictures, check things over, before we pull the kid out."

They had reached the opening of the tube, all three hunching down to gaze inside. Grissom and Nick shone their maglites in the opening, illuminating the small body inside. Nick choked back a series of epitaphs that had risen immediately in his throat, thickly swallowing back bile and stumbling involuntarily backwards, averting his eyes from the tubing. Grissom shot a look at him over his shoulder, eyes grim.

"You okay, Nicky?"

"Fine," he managed to grate out. "Any idea who he is?"

Lockwood shook his head. "I've got men out canvassing the neighborhood now; trying to find out if anyone is missing their son."

Grissom leaned forward into the tubing slightly, his bulk blocking the tube opening. "Nicky - you're smaller than me. Think you can take the pictures?"

"Sure, Grissom," Nick growled back, "Done it before." Grabbing the camera, he waited impatiently for Grissom to get out of the way, and began snapping photos. After getting a few shots from the exterior, he slid to his knees and crawled partway into the tube. The coppery smell of blood was so strong, Nick could taste it. He snapped a few more photos before backing out of the crawl space and looking at Grissom.

"I'll go in from the other side, take pictures from the feet up."

Grissom nodded silently, looking at the younger CSI with something akin to concern in his eyes. "You sure you're okay, Nick? You're looking a little - green."

Nick just shrugged and plastered a cool smile on his face. "All systems go - thanks for asking. I'm fan-fucking-tastic!"

* * * * *

Grissom was talking to David the Coroner when Nick reemerged from the crawl space. He had cut the side of his arm on a screw that had been jutting out the side of the tubing, and had ripped a nice piece of skin away from it. It hurt like a son of a bitch, and Nick was cursing his stupidity. He would need tetanus shot for sure, and he had managed to contaminate the crime scene.

Grissom looked at him in concern when the younger man walked over to him, holding his forearm tightly and trying to staunch the bleeding. The camera hung heavily from his neck, bouncing against his chest as he walked.

"What happened?"

"Goddamn screw-head," Nick muttered. "Ripped my arm open on it. Managed to bleed in the crawl space."

"How close to the body?"

"About 10 feet," Nick replied. *And I think I might need stitches, thanks for asking.*

Grissom's studied Nick grimly for a second, noting the tense set of his shoulders, and the blotchy green and white dappling of the skin around his mouth. "Let me see your arm."

Nick shrugged and removed his hand, revealing a nasty gash running from just below his elbow almost all the way to his wrist on the outside of his arm. David, standing beside Grissom, sucked in his breath. "That looks bad."

"No kidding," Nick ground out. "It feels worse, believe me. We got a first aid kit in the Tahoe?"

When Grissom nodded, Nick smiled. "Think I'll head over there then and patch myself up."

"I'll come with you." Grissom turned and waived Lockwood over. "We got our pictures. Can you get a couple of men to help remove the body for David here to look at? Nick hurt his arm."

Nick was already at the Tahoe, standing at the back hatch impatiently, when Grissom caught up with him. "I think you need to go and have that looked at Nicky," Grissom looked at the gash closely, gingerly picking dirt out of it, before grabbing a sterile wet wipe and cleaning away the blood. Nick's arm was still bleeding heavily, and the younger man's jeans were stained a deep brown; his shirt wrecked.

"After shift, maybe," Nick agreed, wincing as Grissom cleaned the wound. "Will you be careful? For a doctor, your bedside manner sucks."

Grissom merely raised an eyebrow at him, brushing aside Nick's brusqueness. "I'm a bug doctor, Nick. And cockroaches don't bleed."

The two men stood in silence for a few minutes as Grissom applied butterfly bandages to the widest parts of the gash, before wrapping Nick's arm tightly in gauze. Reaching into the first aid kit, he pulled out two extra strength Advil's and handed them to Nick. "You're going to need these."

Nick just grunted, tossing them into his mouth and dry swallowing. His arm felt like it was on fire. Glaring angrily at the bandage, he barely managed to thank Grissom for his medical attention before he stalked back to the crawl tubes. The boy had been removed, his body gingerly stretched out on a piece of tarp. To the side, a couple of EMTs stood silently watching David examine the body. Nick felt his eyes burning.

The child was probably no older than nine or ten. His hair was so matted with blood it was hard to determine color, but Nick had a sneaking suspicion it was light brown. He had very obviously been beaten to death - it looked like he had been flayed. Bloodied stripes of skin covered the boys' chest and genitals; there had been no clothes found with the body. Every inch of skin had been marred in some fashion - only his face remained unscathed - if you discounted the rictus of pain and horror frozen in his features. Nick had noticed earlier that the child's eyes were still open, and he found himself looking at them again. No one had bothered to shut the lids yet, and Nick could see the layer of dirt that now caked the orbs - probably dislodged from the tube when the body had been removed. They were brown, like his own. Vaguely accusing as they stared sightlessly back at Nick, as if to say *Where were you guys when I needed you.*

Slipping on some latex gloves, Nick crouched down beside the child and gently covered the accusing eyes with his palm, manipulating the lids down. Angrily, he turned his head into his shoulder, sweeping at the moistness in his eyes helplessly. *I'm sorry, buddy. I'm so sorry.*

* * * * *

"We've got a name," Lockwood's voice made Nick start guiltily. He had moved back to stand beside Grissom as David worked, ignoring the questioning glances Grissom kept sliding his way, ignoring the burning in his eyes which was somehow worse than the throbbing in his arm. Lockwood was holding a bloodied knapsack.

"One of my guys found this in the piping when they removed the body."

"And he fucking moved it? Did he at least take pictures of it before he tampered with the crime scene?" Nick bit out. Grissom looked equally as upset as Nick, and the two men waited for Lockwood to answer.

"No - he's a rookie. First case like this. He didn't think. He can show you where it was, though."

"Fuck a duck," Nick spat. "Where the hell is this asshole? I'll go in and see what I can find, Grissom."

"You okay to crawl around with that arm, Nick?"

"Peachy keen. Where's numnuts?"

Lockwood frowned at Nick slightly and waved a young cop over. The kid looked like he's just stepped out of the academy; his uniform crisp, his leather work shoes uncreased, face scrubbed fresh as a new penny. Nick shook his head in disgust, before turning back to Lockwood.

"You said you had a name?" When Lockwood nodded, Nick ground out, "Well?"

"It's written in his knapsack. Kid's name was Nick Steeply. He lives a few blocks from here."

Nick felt his heart twist painfully in his chest as he looked at the boy again. "Nick. Figures. Fucking name is cursed."

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Author's Note:

Angsty!Nick is back. Thanks to Saryn, who gave me the idea for this piece when she asked me to have Nick go into work angry and snap at everyone. I know she probably wanted something funnier, but this is what I'm writing. It will be a short story - two/three chapters max. Why is Nick so angry? What's going on?