Title: Wrinkled Skin 1/1

Author: BuffyAngel68

Rating: FRC

Pairing: Greg/Nick -- h/c and support only

Summary: Post-Grave Danger Nick is seeking solace and hope. Who better to give it to him than someone who went through his own brush with death?

AN: My current series is heavy on Nick being the shoulder for Greg to lean on, so I wanted to try this as a change-up. Hope it works. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts!

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THREE DAYS LATER:

As Greg Sanders passed the break-room on his way to change before he quit his shift, he had the impression of someone curled up on the couch. After the stress and grief they'd all gone through over the past few days, he knew it could have been any of his colleagues and friends, but curiosity made him pause and back up a step or two to see which one.

Remembering how they'd all been there for him when he needed them, he'd been more than willing to console and bear up everyone around him, and he wasn't about to pass up someone who might require only an encouraging word or a hug to get them through. He was surprised, however, to realize the person on the couch was Nick. Quietly, he made his way inside and crouched by the sofa.

"Nick?"

Nick Stokes slowly opened his eyes and smiled wanly at the other man.

"Hey, Greggo."

"What're you doing here, man? You're supposed to be home resting up."

"Too damn quiet. I needed to be someplace where there's noise an' lights an' people..."

"Yeah... I get that. I never told anybody this..." Greg confided, dropping to sit on the floor. "... but after the lab went blooey, I couldn't hear for a while. My ears they just... buzzed an' rang, but nothing got through."

"Hell... how long did it last?"

"About twenty-four hours. Thinkin' back, I'm kinda glad it happened. We've got some pretty caustic stuff in the lab, so one of the first things they did was scrub me down so that any chemicals would be washed off... I know I screamed bloody murder, but I couldn't hear myself, so... All my nightmares about the explosion are silent. Maybe that's why."

"Greg... why didn't you ever say anything?"

"It wasn't permanent. When sounds started comin' back a little at a time, I knew I was okay and I made the decision to keep it to myself. Sittin' at home all alone, though, with nothin but CD's, the radio or TV... it drove me crazy. I had to be around real people again..."

"That's why you came back early from leave."

"Yeah... that's why. So see? I really do get it. Now can we talk about the other reason you're here?"

"What?'

"The set of Samsonite luggage under your eyes."

Nick dropped his gaze then reinforced the retreat by throwing one arm over his face.

"Can't sleep." he murmured, tears slowly slipping down his cheeks. "Every time I close my eyes an' drift off, I think I'm gonna wake up... in there again."

A thought slipped up on Greg unexpectedly, one he hadn't even considered until that moment.

"And you can't shower at your place either."

Nick choked out a brief chuckle.

"Am I that rank?"

"No. No way. It's just... I've seen your shower and the way it's built... with the glass doors..."

"Yeah. It's gettin' to be a problem. I can barely stand to be in there long enough to do my business. No way am I gettin' in that narrow shower stall... not for a long time anyway."

"The locker room here should solve that. It's open... no doors at all."

"Huh. You might have an idea there."

"Got another one, too." Greg continued. Removing his jacket and folding it neatly into a square, he turned so that his back was nestled into one corner of the sofa and his head and shoulders were supported by the structure of the furniture and his makeshift pillow. He then held his hand out to Nick.

"What in the world are you doin'?"

"There was only room for you in that... thing, right?"

"Yeah..."

"So, if you wake up holding someone's hand, you'll know you're not alone... and you can't still be in there if you're not alone."

Nick was momentarily struck dumb by the sheer generosity and compassion of what his young friend was offering. When he was able to speak again, his voice was rough with emotion.

"Greggo... you can't do that. I could sleep a good eight hours or more an' by then you'll need a chiropractor just to stand up..."

Greg simply looked up at him and smiled.

"When I got my skin grafts... and I was in so much pain even the morphine couldn't completely handle it, where were you?"

"By your bed-side."

"In a molded plastic, unpadded chair. For at least twelve hours. You never let go of my hand, Nick, and you never showed me anything but straight-up confidence that I was gonna make it. Eight hours sitting on the floor won't come close to making a dent in what I owe you."

"Greg... God, thank you..."

"No problem. Go to sleep."

Twenty minutes later, when Gil and Catherine walked by on their way home, they both spotted the tableau in the break-room. Cath began to cry, though a slight smile broke through after a few seconds. Gil moved off and returned with a sticky-note pad. He wrote a quick message and stuck it on the door before quietly closing the two friends in. Wrapping an arm around Catherine, he led her out.

MUCH NEEDED REST IN PROGRESS. LOOK, BUT PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB!

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LATER:

"Greg... hey, buddy. You awake?"

"I am now." He responded muzzily. "You sleep alright?"

"Better than I ever thought I would again. Straight through... six hours." He said, looking blearily at his watch. "Not as long as I thought, but it still felt damn good

"You ready to go take that shower?" Greg asked, suppressing a groan as he pushed away from the couch and slowly rose to his feet. Nick was pulled up as well, due to his continuing grip on Greg's hand. He looked down at their linked fingers then back up with a hesitant grin. "It's okay. If you still need to feel safe... I don't mind."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Hey... do you mind if I come into the locker room with you? Just for a few minutes. I won't stay, I just wanna show you something."

"Like what?" Nick asked, shooting Greg a dubious look.

"Not that!" Greg replied, whapping Nick in the shoulder. "It is something I don't want everybody knowing about though. Okay?"

"Okay."

As they reached the door, seemingly by mutual agreement, their hands slipped apart, but they still walked close together. As they moved out of the room, Nick spotted the note and tugged it free, laughing softly. "It's Grissom's handwriting."

Greg read it as well, chuckled then handed it back. Nick folded it and slid in into his pocket. When they reached the locker room, Greg moved to the long bench and sat down and Nick followed.

"Okay... man, I hope you understand I'm not making a move on you here. Not that I wouldn't, but... that's not what this is about." Greg explained, reaching for the hem of his shirt. He stopped when Nick responded incredulously.

"You wouldn't? You, the guy who's got a new girl every week and a half?"

"Did I ever mention I can lie really convincingly when I want to?"

"No. No, you never did..."

"We'll discuss my bad boy side later, okay? For now... lemme do this."

After a false start or two, Greg finally stripped off his shirt and draped it over the bench. As he shifted so that his back was to Nick he tensed, hearing the quiet, but sudden intake of breath from behind him.

"God in heaven, Greggo..."

"They're just scars, Nick. I went through hell when it first happened, but now... all they are is wrinkled skin. I... I want you to touch them."

"What? Why?"

"Because maybe if you can prove to yourself that they don't hurt.. it'll give you hope."

"Hope for what?"

"That it won't always be this bad. I want you to see that you can get to a place where the hurt isn't so bad anymore... and the worst of the fear and pain are nothing you can't handle. I wanted you to know that I did it... and you can too. Go on. Please?"

Gradually, Nick reached out a trembling hand and slid his fingers from the base of Greg's neck, over his shoulder blades and down his back. The younger man shivered, but never showed any sign that Nick had caused him pain. Nick pulled away finally and Greg tugged his shirt back on, turning to face his friend and intertwining their fingers once more. "So?"

"It didn't hurt you. Seemed like maybe the skin is a little more sensitive than usual... but no, you didn't act like it hurt."

"Wounds don't last, Nick. They scab over, then, if they were bad enough, they turn into scars. And scars don't hurt. They're a reminder, yeah... and the memories can sting and burn, but even memories fade eventually." he said as he gently separated from Nick and stood. "You're gonna make it." he told him confidently just before he turned to go.

"Hey...uh, if I were to go out and buy... an air mattress... a good one, now... would you..."

"Yeah, Nick. I'll sleep on the floor next to your bed if that's what you need. Now go take your shower."

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END