a/n: Thanks for all the reviews and encouragement! I hope this chapter meets your satisfaction—enjoy!
The first thing he noticed was that there was no evidence of Crane's case when he got to work. Nick wasn't sure of the case's status, but he had to admit it was nice not to have the stuff lying around to taunt him.
Nick joined the others in the breakroom. Everyone already said 'hi,' but he couldn't help but feel a bit awkward.
"Nick, it's good to have you back," Grissom said. His eyes seemed to penetrate Nick, but the younger CSI just steeled his face with an unreadable look. He didn't need Grissom psycho-analyzing him tonight.
"Nick and Sara, you guys have an armed robbery at Albertson's. Catherine, Warrick, you're with me on a Jane Doe at the Tangiers." Grissom nodded at everyone, and they split up.
"You driving?" Sara asked, grabbing her kit. Nick nodded.
The scene was ordinary. In theory, no two scenes were alike, and there was always something unusual. But in reality, it was just another armed robbery at a grocery store.
A couple of patrons were hurt—nothing serious, but enough to create blood spatter. One of the robbers was hurt as well, but had escaped. Nick slowly walked down the aisles of the store, taking in everything out of place. He came across the first blood spatter, and took a few photos.
He knelt down by the blood and took a swab of it. It looked like spray from a gunshot. But the blood loss was minimal. Flesh wound, he thought. Whoever was hit fell back into the aisle of canned foods. Nick sighed and started setting aside the cans on the floor.
"Hungry?" he heard Sara say behind him. She wore an amused smirk on her face, and Nick had to laugh.
"Evidence. Bag those for prints, will you?" he asked. Nick got to his feet and continued through the store.
He came to the back of it, where the meat department was. He couldn't stop the shudder that ran through him as he glanced to the cutting room.
He quickly moved on through the store.
Sara looked closely at the thumbprint from one of the food cans. It was just a partial, but it could come up in the database.
She glanced over to Nick, who was studying a DNA printout. He was staring at it intently, but she knew there wasn't anything special about it. Until they drew connections between the evidence, they wouldn't know what each meant.
Sara cleared her throat, and Nick looked up from the paper. He raised an eyebrow at her interruption.
She took a deep breath. "At the store, you paused back by the meat department." She watched for his reaction, but he hid anything he felt. "Does it freak you out?"
Nick looked back at the paper.
"Yes, meat freaks me out. I'm considering joining your vegetarian club," he said sharply. Sara rolled her eyes at his sarcasm.
She tried again. "Nick, you can tell me," she said. Nick shut his eyes and sighed loudly.
"Stop pitying me, Sara," he said. Sara frowned. "I'm tired of you all thinking I'm weak."
Sara stuttered for some sort of response. "Nick, I—"
"I can handle my issues, Sara." With that, Nick quickly turned away and left the lab.
He instantly hated himself for being so cross with Sara. She was only concerned about him; at least that's what he hoped.
He didn't want the team thinking he couldn't handle himself, or handle work. Nigel Crane wasn't bothering him.
At least that's what he hoped he portrayed.
He heard through the grapevine that Crane was moved to the mental institution for a final evaluation and interrogation. Nick drove to the institution. His heart sped up just knowing how close he was to Nigel Crane. He fought back his panic, and made himself go inside.
The reception clerk greeted him, and Nick greeted her back by pulling out his badge.
"I'm with the Crime Lab," he said, trying to seem official. "I wanted to watch the evaluation of Nigel Crane."
"I'm sorry," she started. "Evaluations are confidential and limited to the necessary police investigators." Nick started to object when he heard someone speak up behind him.
"He can come to observe." Nick turned around and was face to face with Brass. He looked at the floor, a bit sheepishly.
"Hi Jim," Nick said. Brass stepped aside and pointed down the hall.
"You have to stay in the observing area. No interaction, okay?" he clarified as they walked. Nick nodded.
"I don't want to talk to him," he said. "I just want to watch."
Nigel Crane was restrained and seemed in a confused daze. Three armed guards were in the room, along with two doctors and Brass.
Nick watched them behind a two-way mirror. The doctors questioned Nigel, engaging him in pointed conversation. It seemed like they had been at it for awhile already.
"Tell us about Nick," one of the doctors said. Nick tensed, and saw Brass flinch as well.
"Nick. Nick," Nigel said. He rocked back and forth, back and forth. "He's my friend. My friend."
The doctors took notes, but didn't say anything else. They just waited.
"Nick. He's my friend," Nigel said again. He wasn't as composed or commanding as Nick remembered him. He seemed . . .
Was he always this weak?
"He won't admit it though." That caught Nick's attention. He stared at Nigel's form, listened to his voice. It started to sound forced, bitter even. "After everything I did . . . He betrayed me."
Nigel continued to talk, almost rambling. He kept saying Nick betrayed him and threw his friendship in his face. But with each word, Nigel Crane fell apart more.
And slowly, it empowered Nick.
He's not in control of himself.
How can he be in control of you?
Nick stopped by the park on his way back to the lab. The air was warm, a little too warm, but Nick walked along unfazed by it. He kept thinking about Crane. He kept seeing him, rocking back and forth as if he was the victim of a crime.
Maybe that's how he sees it. He's hurt because I'm not his friend.
It was twisted, but then again, it was Nigel Crane. And yet, part of Nick started to feel sorry for him. He didn't know Crane's past, his childhood or anything that made him the psychotic stalker and killer that he'd become. How many times had Nick put together the pieces and seen criminals who were just collateral of unfortunate circumstances?
He didn't condone what Nigel did, of course. Crane would never fully suffer for his crimes, and the families of Sam Davis and Jane Galloway would probably never get their full peace while Crane lived.
But Nick was starting to believe that maybe he could have some peace. Yes, the nightmares he still had would most likely continue to plague him for awhile. He would continue to glance nervously at his ceiling, and look over his shoulder when out in public.
Nick stopped walking for a moment. But that's what makes a person. His experiences in life, both terrifying and beautiful, had made him who he was today.
And Nigel's experiences, whatever they were, made him who he is.
Then what's the difference? How could one man turn out relatively good, and another become so manipulative and evil?
Nick let his eyes explore the park as he took a deep breath. His shirt clung to his torso, and as a drop of sweat slid down his skin, Nick knew he'd been here too long. It was time to go back to the lab. He walked back to his SUV, but glanced back at the park before hopping in.
It's not what the experiences do to someone. It's what someone makes of those experiences.
Sara was on the phone when he ducked in to check on the case.
"Thanks, Brass." She hung up after that and looked up at Nick. "I got a match on those prints from the canned foods."
"Really?" Nick took a seat next to her. "Who is it?"
"Jared Porter," she answered. "He's got a record. Brass is bringing him in now."
Nick nodded. He watched her as she turned back to a folder in her hands. He guessed it was Porter's file, but as interesting as that might be, Nick knew she was studying it as a diversion.
"Sara." Slowly she looked away from the file. There was hesitation in her movement, and it made Nick cringe.
"Yeah?" she said, guardedly. He had put her on edge, and that was the last thing he ever wanted. With their work, and the stress from the ordeal all of them had experienced at various levels, edginess was the last thing they needed.
"I'm sorry," he said in a soft voice. "About earlier. I was out of line." She started to nod it off, but Nick persisted. "You deserve better from me."
She furrowed her brow. "What do you mean?"
Nick took a deep breath, and blew it out as he began. "You, Greg, Catherine, Grissom, Warrick—you all have been very kind to me. Supportive." He paused, not knowing how to put this. And then he was interrupted.
"Nick." It was the receptionist, just ducking in as she saw the young CSI. "You have a call. It's your parents."
He sighed but stood up. "I'll take it in the breakroom." He turned back to Sara, his eyes focusing on hers. "I guess I'm trying to say . . . thanks." She just stared back, until Nick looked away. He turned to leave.
"Nick." He paused at the door and glanced back at her. "When . . . when Crane had you, in that grocery store . . .what he said . . . ." She trailed off, and took a deep breath before looking him in the eye. "We don't think you're a player. And no matter what you might think, we know you're dedicated, intelligent. . ." She sighed and tried again. "You're really talented."
Nick gawked at that. He hadn't been fishing for any compliments. Sara smiled slightly at his expression, but then evened it out, her eyes saddening.
"We really missed you," she said. "I was worried about you." Suddenly she blushed, as if she admitted something she never meant to. She stood up, and quickly squeezed by him through the door. "Anyway, it's good to have you back. I've gotta show Grissom this print," she quickly said, though neither one believed it.
Nick just watched her walk away, a bit perplexed but strangely happy at what she'd said. Slowly his eyes wandered from lab to lab, watching his coworkers and friends. He felt a smile grow on his lips and finally looked away and started to the breakroom.
Maybe some good did come of all this.
Nigel Crane continued to write, letter to word, word to sentence, sentence to lengthy paragraphs. He wrote pages and pages. It soothed him.
He picked up another piece of paper, and started on it somewhat frantically. Whenever he had to change papers or pens, it interrupted him. It broke his train of thought, his connection.
It frightened him.
His body started to relax a bit as he quickly got a sentence down. As he finished a couple of paragraphs, he suddenly felt tired. He'd written a lot today, and it felt satisfying. He was at ease for now, and ready to stop.
He skipped a few lines, and steadily wrote:
Nigel folded the sheets of paper and put them in a large envelope. He started to address it.
c/o LVPD Forensic Lab
400 Stewart Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89101
He licked the envelope and sealed it shut, a content smile on his lips.
a/n: And that's the end--just enough happiness to put a hopeful smile on your face, and just enough weird-factor to make you shudder once or twice. I hope. :o) Thanks for reading!