"And the voices laugh loud, so the candles flicker and go out,

without noticing how dark it becomes."

-- We are the Dead, Ulver.

The phone on his desk was ringing, the sound piercing through his head, but he was too busy staring at the far wall to pick it up and make it stop. He was supposed to have left for home ten minutes ago, anyway, so he wasn't concerned. Whoever it was could wait until tomorrow. Grissom sighed and took off his reading glasses, letting them hang precariously between his fingers as his other hand reached up to press against his forehead. It didn't help stave off the pain building up behind his eyes.

He prided himself on his ability to disconnect; he had it down to a science. He'd overheard people call him a robot, even been called it to his face, but he didn't mind. They didn't seem to realize it was a compliment, and he didn't tell them. He knew that knowing the victim personally made it nearly impossible to disconnect, he had seen it happen enough times to the people he worked with, but it had never really happened to him.

Next shift, however, would be spent in Nick's attic along side Sara and Catherine. He had given Warrick another case--he was still too angry at himself and what had happened to be even remotely disconnected from any of this, and Grissom wasn't going to take the risk. They were going to get Nigel Crane put away for a long time, not just for Jane Galloway, but also for Nick.

He would just have to separate himself from the situation. He would need to let that feeling of dread that had started building the moment Catherine spotted something he should have seen first slip away, and just see another victim. Just see the evidence. He had just about convinced himself it was possible, that he would be able to do it, when he started to head home.

Then he saw Nick.

He was sitting in the middle of the hall. One of his legs was bent up towards his chest and the other was out straight, blocking the floor--not that it mattered. There was no one around yet this early in the morning, the day shift had just begun trickling in. Nick's head was hidden by his arms, and he was so still that Grissom stopped suddenly himself, unable to breathe for a moment, as the irrational thought entered his mind that Nick looked dead.

He forced himself to take a few more steps, and then lowered himself to the ground. "Nick?" Nick didn't look up, but Grissom saw his fingers move almost imperceptibly, and let out a relieved breath. "What are you still doing here?" he asked softly.

Nick sat up then, letting his head fall back and hit the wall behind him. He didn't answer for a moment, and Grissom was about to ask again when he finally closed his eyes and spoke. "I didn't know where else to go."

His voice sounded so utterly lost that Grissom almost swore. He couldn't believe that in all the confusion, they had forgotten about the one person they had been thinking about the most. They had left him there alone in the interrogation room, with no way home, and no real home to go to, anyway. There was still crime scene tape spun all over his unhinged front door.

He noticed one of Nick's hands had slipped down to clutch around his shirt, over his ribs, and remembering his injuries, on top of everything, Grissom frowned. "How do you feel?"

Nick actually laughed, and Grissom was taken aback. "I think I'm fine," he said, but he could have told him he was perfect and the laughter would still cancel it out. Something was definitely wrong, and not for the first time, Grissom wished people were as easy to figure out as crime scenes. "I left the pain pills at home, but I don't think I need them anymore. I can hardly feel anything."

His frown deepened, and Grissom reached over to turn Nick's face towards him and look at his eyes. They were half closed, and they looked clouded over, not sharp and clear the way they should be. "Maybe we should take you back to the hospital," he suggested, casually.

Nick pulled away, and Grissom didn't miss the wince caused by the abrupt movement. "I'm okay," he said. "Nigel's locked up, right? 25 years to life, Sara said, and he can't hurt anyone anymore."

Nick wouldn't look at him as he spoke, and the words were so stilted they sounded rehearsed. Grissom leaned back on his heels, watching him, while Nick kept his eyes on the tiled floor, his eyes jumping from one smudged footprint to another, as though this was a crime scene, too. "You shouldn't be alone, Nick."

Nick nearly laughed again, but Grissom could see him holding it back. Nick knew laughter in this kind of situation was always cause for worry, and he wasn't going to slip up again. "I'm in the middle of a hallway," he said. "I'm not alone."

"Were you planning on staying here all day?" Grissom asked gently. By seven o'clock, there would be people coming from every direction. Nick may have managed to go unnoticed here for a few hours, but he wouldn't be able to for much longer.

"Of course not," he said, though his voiced seemed to imply he hadn't thought this far yet.

Grissom was studying him like he was evidence, and he felt guilty for doing it, but he couldn't think about any of this too hard or it became real. Right now the most important thing was making sure Nick hadn't gone into shock--after everything, it wouldn't be a surprise. He had just gotten home from the hospital when Nigel Crane had fallen down at his feet.

"You can stop looking at me like I'm going to shatter," Nick said, after a moment, still unable to meet Grissom's eyes. "I'm not."

Grissom wasn't so sure. He knew the first time Nick had been held at gunpoint it had been traumatic, but by later that night he had been laughing about his penchant for trouble with Brass and Warrick, and this was different. This was personal.

He thought about calling Catherine or Warrick, or even Sara, and asking them to come pick him up, but this wasn't something he could delegate. Nick was his responsibility, they all were, and he'd let him slip through the cracks. The evidence had been there all along. Nick had become suddenly touchy about his privacy. He would comment sometimes out of the blue that he felt like he was being watched, and Grissom had never thought anything of it.

Even when Catherine had mentioned in passing that the dry cleaners were losing all of Nick's clothes, he hadn't put anything together. Then again, hindsight was 20/20, and he supposed there really hadn't been enough there to reach a conclusion. That was a small comfort considering what had so nearly happened.

He sighed as Nick's eyes wandered towards the doors. Grissom could see how hard he was trying to pretend that his boss was not sitting right next to him, watching him. "Why don't you come stay with me for awhile?" he asked. The moment he spoke he nearly regretted it. He didn't like having house guests. Not that he had much experience with them.

"Thanks, Grissom," Nick said, tiredly, "but I can't stay with you. I'll get a hotel or something. Really. I'll be fine."

His hesitation slipped away then, and Grissom knew he couldn't leave Nick here like this. Even if he did manage to find a nice hotel, like Jane had done, it hadn't helped her and it certainly wasn't going to help Nick.

"I don't think you will be," he said quietly. "Not like this."

Nick showed no reaction to the words. One of the receptionists walked by, her heels echoing off the floor. She glanced at them, but didn't stop. "Go home, Grissom," Nick said hollowly, once she had gone.

Part of him wanted to, because it would be so much easier to leave Nick here and not think about any of this. If he had a little more time, just another couple hours before he had seen him, he would have successfully withdrawn from the whole situation. But he was starting to think Nick needed a friend more than he needed an investigator, so he didn't move.

"Have you called your family?" he asked. He was going for conversational, pretending as though he had not just been asked to leave, but he didn't do well with small talk and Nick knew it.

"Yes," Nick said, quickly, and Grissom knew it wasn't the truth.

"I'm sure they're worried about you." Grissom watched him, but Nick had hardly looked at him all morning, and it didn't look like that was going to change.

"They're busy," Nick said, and he was beginning to sound impatient.

Grissom sighed, his eyes straying towards his hands. "I'm sure they wouldn't be too busy for you."

"Well you don't know them, do you?" Nick asked. He looked uncomfortable now, but whether it was the pain from his injuries or their conversation, Grissom wasn't sure.

"I have a guest room," he said, abruptly. "And I don't charge a hundred dollars a night."

Nick finally turned and met Grissom's eyes; he looked so resigned that it was Grissom now who couldn't hold their gaze. "Why are you even still here, Grissom?"

"Because you are," Grissom said simply. "And you shouldn't be."

Nick looked down at the floor again, biting his lip. "You're not leaving, are you?"

"Not without you, no," Grissom said. "I have to make sure my CSIs are taken care of, Nick."

"I seriously doubt serving as a halfway house is part of your job description," Nick said wryly.

Grissom gave a half smile, because that was the first time since he'd found him in the hallway that the tone of Nick's voice hadn't scared him. "Come on," he said, standing up, and holding out a hand for Nick.

Nick looked at his hand for a moment, as though he'd never seen one before, but once he'd glanced up to look at Grissom's eyes again he took it, and rose slowly. He fell back against the wall once he was on his feet, biting his lip again, more from pain now than mere discomfort.

Grissom frowned. "Maybe we should stop by your house, get your pills." He regretted his words instantly. Nick went very still, then shook his head.

"No, I don't need them," he said quietly.

They both knew it wasn't true, but if Nick couldn't face seeing his house yet, Grissom wasn't going to make him. "Alright," he said. "I'll get you some Tylenol later."

Looking relieved, Nick nodded. "You don't have to do this," he said again. "You can just drop me off at a hotel."

Grissom didn't bother to respond to that. He simply motioned for Nick to start walking. Nick sighed and then pushed off from the wall. He didn't look steady on his feet, but Grissom knew better than to try and help him--he knew better than to so much as touch him without warning.

He led Nick to his car, and the younger man almost didn't have the strength to lift himself into the seat. Grissom stood behind him, ready to grab him in case he fell, but not reaching out if he didn't have to. If he thought it would have helped he would have, but if it were him, he wouldn't want to be touched.

He had thought Nick might fall asleep during the drive, but if anything, he appeared to be waking up along with the rest of the city. Nick had begun biting the nails of his right hand, and Grissom wondered absently when he had picked up the habit, he almost asked, but Nick had kept his gaze out the window and said nothing, and Grissom was still trying to recover from their earlier conversation and not ready to attempt having another.

He knew Nick should probably talk to someone, but he knew if it was him, he would never say anything at all. He parked on the street in front of his townhouse and turned off the car. He sat there for a moment, trying to think what to do next. Catherine would know exactly what to do, and with a sick feeling, Grissom wondered if it was pure selfishness that had him bringing Nick here. Nick would be better off with Catherine, but if he was with Catherine, Grissom wouldn't get to pretend he was helping.

Nick glanced over at him, probably wondering what his strange boss was up to now, and Grissom tried for a reassuring smile. Nick tried to smile too, but he wasn't doing any better. Grissom finally got out of the car, if only to keep from freaking Nick out, and searched for his house key among the few attached to his key chain. Nick was leaning against the car when he stepped on the sidewalk, and he followed behind him without a word.

Nick glanced around curiously once they were inside. "Nice place," he told him, his eyes running over the titles of the books on his shelves.

Nick had been here before, had said the same thing then, but Grissom only nodded in response. "I'll get you some Tylenol."

Nick turned around, placing his hands in his pockets. "Thanks."

Grissom kept glancing worriedly at Nick as he grabbed a glass and the Tylenol. He couldn't remember ever seeing Nick this reserved, not even after pulling a triple shift. Then again, he'd never seen Nick after getting thrown from a two story window, stalked, and almost killed, either. He supposed the reaction was to be expected, but it was no less worrisome.

Nick swallowed the Tylenol without comment.

"Maybe you should get some sleep," Grissom said, carefully. "I'll show you the guest room."

"I'm not really tired," Nick said dismissively. His eyes went back to the bookshelf, but unlike the last time, Grissom didn't think Nick was actually seeing them.

"You should at least sit down, Nicky," Grissom said quietly. He was trying to be discreet, but he was worried that if Nick didn't, he was going to fall down instead.

Nick nodded and walked over the couch. He sat down slowly, his hand reaching down to wrap in his shirt again, as though he was trying to hold himself together. Maybe he was.

Grissom sat down heavily on the other side of the couch. He took a deep breath, and noticed with surprise the way it seemed to catch in his throat. "Nick, if you need to talkā€¦"

"I don't," Nick said immediately. "Like you said, it wasn't about me. Just bad luck."

Grissom wasn't sure how much he really believed that. It had seemed like the right thing to say at the time, maybe something that would be comforting. But it seemed Nick was only using it as something to hide behind instead.

"I'm used to bad luck," Nick said, quieter this time. "I'll get over it."

Grissom leaned back against the cushion. He thought about saying something else, but no words would come, and he decided the best thing he could do for Nick was pretend not to notice when his eyes strayed upwards--checking his ceilings for holes.

"Are you going to be processing my attic?" Nick asked. His voice sounded normal, just like it always did, as though they were talking about something that had happened to someone else.

"Yes," Grissom told him, and now it was his voice that didn't sound right.

"Good," Nick said distantly. "I'm glad it's going to be you."

Nick didn't say anything else, and they sat there like that, with Grissom on one end of the couch and Nick on the other, until the sun coming through the window behind them got so hot that Grissom had to get up to close the shades.

The End.