"Are you sure you're alright, Nicky?"  Marty asked quietly, sneaking her hand into his a gripping it tightly.  Behind her, Grissom, Sara, Greg, Warrick, Catherine – even Brass was there - patiently waiting for Nick to begin.

The slight breeze coming from Lake Mead was refreshing.  Nick looked at Marty and smiled.  "I'm fine."

They had just arrived back from Texas that morning.  Grissom had given Nick a few days off to help Marty move, and they had flown to Texas to pack her stuff and driven back to Nevada in her SUV.  It was still sitting in his driveway, the U-Haul attachment only half unloaded.

The night after Jen Letch's suicide attempt, Nick had gone to work and told his friends everything.  "I just want you to understand why I've been so – miserable – to be around the last week.  It was just getting to be too much, and I wasn't handling the pressure very well. I'm sorry for the worry I've caused you."

Catherine, who had known about the babysitter, had been the only one besides Grissom who hadn't been taken aback by Nick's personal revelations.  Sara, Warrick and Greg had been devastated for their friend.

"I'm surprised you handled it as well as you did," Warrick muttered after Nick had finished talking.

Nick shrugged, "My mother always said that God never gives you more than you can handle.  But I thought for a while there I was losing control.  I would have, if it wasn't for Marty and my father.  And Grissom."

Grissom smiled uncomfortably when everyone turned to look at him.  "I didn't do anything."

"Yes, you did," Nick inserted.  "You listened to me.  You gave me a chance to correct some of the mistakes I made. You decided to trust me on the Steeply case, despite the reasons I had already given you not to.  You did a lot, Grissom."

"No more than you deserved," Grissom replied.  But he smiled at the younger man, and he and Nick worked that nights' case together, both men happier than they had been in a long time.

And now, here they all were, supporting Nick once again as he said his final goodbyes to his best friend.  He and Marty had made arrangements for Pete to be cremated, and they had picked up his ashes on their drive home.  No one else had cared to claim the body.  Marty had no idea where Petey's mother was, if she was even still alive; the only family he really had left had been her – his ex-wife – and Nick – his once ex-best friend.

Turning to look at his friends, Nick felt his chest tighten.  He had thought, deep down in the part of himself that he had kept hidden from the world, that he was broken. Unlovable and unloved.  He didn't think that anymore.

Clearing his throat, Nick began, "I really want to thank you all for coming out here with us today.  It means a lot to Marty and me.  I know I've already told you a lot about Petey, so I hope you feel some connection to him.  He was a good guy who got sucked into a bad situation and just couldn't control it.  I tried to help him.  Marty tried to help him.  But Petey, for whatever reason, couldn't help himself." 

He looked down at the urn in his hands, before looking at his friends again, meeting their gazes.  Sara's brown eyes were serious; Catherine's blue eyes full of motherly concern.  Warrick, Greg and Brass smiled encouragingly when his gaze drifted over them.  And Grissom, blue eyes intent, nodded his head. *We're all here for you, Nicky.*

Turning to Marsha, he held out the urn to her and smiled when she lifted the top off.  Together, they slowly poured Pete's ashes out over the water. 

"You're free, Petey.  No more bars.  No more drugs.  Just the wind and the waters to carry you wherever you want to go."

His friends stepped closer, surrounding him and supporting him.  Beside him, Marty whispered just loud enough for Nick to hear, "Thank you for giving me Nick."

Nick watched as the water eddied and rippled around the ashes, before the water absorbed them.  To his left, he felt Grissom reach out and grip his elbow, "Ripples, Nicky.  Ripples and stones."

Nick turned to smile at the older man, nodding his head in agreement, "Ripples and stones, Grissom."

* * * * *

They had all gone back to Nick and Marty's house for a BBQ afterwards.  After years of being apart, they had decided it was time to change all that.  While they had both agreed that it was too soon to talk marriage, they had been fairly certain that's where they would eventually end up. For now, though, they would live together - working through the last vestiges of the guilt they still felt.
Warrick and Greg had quickly helped unload the last of Marty's stuff from the U-Haul when they arrived back at their place; taking the majority of Marty's things into the spare bedroom until they could figure out where to put them. Marty had insisted on putting only one item out right away – a framed picture of Nick and Petey - similar to the one Nick had kept for so long in his old cigar box.

The two of them had been wearing baseball uniforms, and Marty had snapped the picture at the Police's annual charity baseball tournament the year she and Pete had first met.  Nick had been standing beside Petey, his arm thrown across his shoulder, both men laughing into the camera.

Nick watched her as she carefully placed it in a prominent position with the rest of the family pictures that had made their way onto his mantle over the last week.

"You sure it's alright if I put this out?"

"Yeah.  I'm ready.  I can face him every day now,"  Nick walked over to Marty's side and looked at the picture.  His hair was longer, in the frat boy cut Petey had always ragged him about.  "I don't remember ever being that young."

His gaze slid from the picture of Pete to one of his parents.  His father had sent it to him just the other day via courier; happier than he had been able to admit that Nick had asked for it.  He had also sent Nick a blown up copy of the picture of the two of them taken that long ago summer when they had gone camping.

He had called Nick on his cell the evening the package had arrived.  "Did you get the pictures?"

"Yeah, Dad.  I got them," Nick had smiled.  "They're on my mantle at home."

"Both of them?"  Garrett had spoken softly.

"Both of them," Nick affirmed.  "So – what did mom say about you two coming down to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving this year?" 

"She thinks that's a great idea, Nicky.  She's already booked the plane tickets.  And don't be surprised if the rest of the family decides to come down too.  None of your sisters want to miss a family Thanksgiving, and if we left Victor here to fend for himself with no turkey on Thanksgiving day, who knows what would happen."

Nick had laughed, "The more the merrier.  I'm really glad you're coming dad."

"I am too, son."

"Wow, Nick.  Is that your dad?"  Catherine's voice intruded on his thoughts, breaking Nick out of his reverie.  Nick looked at her and smiled.

"Yeah.  That's him."

"You look alike."

"So people are always telling me," Nick agreed.  Catherine reached out and lifted the picture of him and Petey.

"And this is Petey," turning, Catherine handed the frame to Sara, who had come in behind her followed by the other men.  "First time I've seen him.  He looks like I expected."

Nick wrapped an arm around Marty, and smiled at his friends, "You would have liked him, if you had known him before the drugs.  He was a great friend."

"It takes one to know one," Sara murmured, smiling at Nick as she handed him back the picture. 

Greg added, "Love the hair – you look like the king of white bread in this picture."

Everyone laughed, and Nick shook his head ruefully as he carefully placed the photo back on the mantle.  "Listen, I wanted to ask you early, before you all made plans or anything.  My family is coming for Thanksgiving and…"

"Thanksgiving!"  Sara interrupted, teasingly,  "That's three months away!  I can't believe you're already angling for the time off."

Nick grinned, "Actually, I'm not.  We'll work out time off when the time comes.  What I was going to say is – my family is coming down for Thanksgiving.  I would really – it would mean a lot to me – if you would all join us.  I'd really like for my families" Nick stressed the word as looked at his friends, "to be together for Thanksgiving this year."

His invitation was met by momentarily silence.  Grissom broke it first, stepping forward and smiling, speaking for all of them when he answered, "We'd love to come Nicky."


Author's Note:

Okay – this was a long story.  It wasn't supposed to be – I just got thinking about Nick's background one day, certain knowledge that he had – and voila! This is what spewed forth.

A big, big thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed this.  It means a lot to me to get feedback, and I really do take everything to heart.  I hope this story hasn't disappointed – I'm sort of sad to see it end – I'm enjoying Marty and Garrett.  Maybe I'll do a sequel one day.  If I ever finish everything else I'm working on!

Lastly – thanks to ZHeidi again – for Petey's letter, and the suggestions and the last minute proof reading.