A/T: Well… here it is: the very last chapter of Snapshots. This is the part where I confess how wonderful writing these boys has been, so prepare yourselves: I'm incredibly sentimental!
I just wanted to thank everyone who gave me support for this story, especially those who have told me that Snapshots actually inspired them to write about the techs or introduced them into the fandom or something equally as flattering. The thought of being an inspiration to even one person makes all thirteen chapters of this fic 100 percent worth it, and I couldn't wrap this up without telling you all. Thanks to all my LJ pals and to dhodges, the best group of people in the known Western world. Thank you for all the reviewers on and thank you to whoever wrote 4x4, because if you didn't write the David/Nick scene about underage drinking, this fic might have never seen the light of day.
Also, I'd like to thank my parents, grandparents, mailman, fellow- wait, this isn't an awards show, you say? I should stop babbling, you say? Well. Rude much? Geez.
Disclaimer: This is the one part I won't miss. - I don't own CSI, never have, never will.
Act 13: Wherein Smells Are Funky and A Picture Is Taken
"All right, boys," Jacqui began, sighing as she took her place next to the break room's refrigerator. "We all know what time it is."
There was a decidedly masculine groan in response, as was the custom. The woman quickly shushed them, waiting until David, Ronnie, Archie, and Bobby had settled down, ready for their monthly ritual. Because everyone else had neither the time nor the guts to clean out the fridge, the quintet had taken it upon themselves to rid it of its rotten contents. Bowls, covered plates, and brown paper bags containing various lunches were brought in by employees on a nightly basis, but were often left uneaten. Whether it was due to time constraints or forgetfulness, the techs didn't know. What they did know, however, was the forgotten food could only remain there for so long before someone took action.
And Jacqui Franco was that someone.
"Let's get this over with," Bobby muttered, warily eyeing the large appliance. "I can smell something funky all the way over here."
Jacqui quirked an eyebrow as she theatrically opened the refrigerator door, stooping to get a sniff of the diverse offending odors that had been released. Such an act was also a custom; that is, trying to guess what hazardous materials the fridge contained using only their nose. It made things more interesting. Plus, they kept score, and whoever won was treated to a free Friday breakfast at Margo's.
"It smells like…" She trailed off, taking a moment to mull over the aberrant scent. "Broccoli and cheese. Sara brought it in two weeks ago."
"Smells more like that ham sandwich Warrick tossed in at the beginning of the month," Ronnie replied.
"My money's on the salad Catherine never eats. Rotten veggies are just as bad as anything else," Bobby declared before shooting David a silly grin. "What's your deduction, Mister Nose?"
The trace technician heaved a suffering sigh, glancing up from his newspaper. He had hoped that if he remained quiet and still, they would forget he was even there.
So much for small miracles.
"Will I ever live that down?" he asked, rolling his eyes and folding up his paper.
"Never," Archie replied, laughing as he took a bite of his sausage pizza. No matter what they unearthed, Archie was still able to consume his lunch without getting sick. "Your reputation precedes you. Now be a pal and give us an idea of what horrors we're dealing with."
David made a face but complied, joining Jacqui beside the ominous machine, following her previous action: he bent, inhaled deeply (only once; after all, he wasn't suicidal) and then took his seat again.
"Meatloaf," he answered, unhesitating. "With tomato sauce. And Ronnie's right. There's ham in there somewhere."
"No salad?" Bobby asked, unmistakably affronted. "I clearly smell salad."
"Nope," David replied. "It's salad free."
"The stench of bad lettuce is unmistakable."
"Trust me, there isn't an-''
David was interrupted by the sound of the door swinging open and then four voices following. The group turned to see Nick, Greg, Warrick, and David Phillips enter; the three CSIs were immersed in what the coroner was saying, not even noticing the lab rats in the corner. As their talk went on, Jacqui exchanged a sidelong glance with her friends; did they pretend they were just rooting for their own lunch or continue on with their task? Well, it wasn't like their reputations were worth protecting; they had already been labeled as freaks long ago. If Nick and Warrick wanted to give them a hard time about their refrigerator duty, then it was their funeral.
"So there weren't any drugs in his system?" Greg asked, frowning as David idly tried to piece together the conversation. "How can someone consciously take a dive off the Mirage?"
"Pushed," Warrick answered. David rolled his eyes; what an incredible conclusion by Mr. Brown. Yet another case closed!
"Yeah, but there weren't any signs of a struggle," Greg countered. Wait, what was this? Independent thought? It looked like the case wasn't as solid as one would assume.
"Desperate people do desperate things," Nick replied. "We should check his bank statements and see how much he lost. When…" He trailed off before wrinkling his nose and glancing away from his fellow investigators, his eyes landing on the techs and the open refrigerator. David took one look at his face before exchanging a slightly concerned look with Archie: Uh oh. They had never lost a fellow employee to the monthly stenches, but any one of their new visitors might be a casualty.
"What's that smell?"
The other three followed Nick's line of sight, as if just noticing their audience. Great. Sitting in a room with glass walls, going through a demon refrigerator, and it still took several minutes and the stink of rotting chow to get someone's attention.
"It's meatloaf," David replied, going back to his newspaper, hoping the conversation didn't last long. He had no inclination to explain what they were doing; it was long, complicated, and only reinstated that lab rats were strange creatures. "Old, by the odor of things."
"It's salad," Bobby countered. "I grew up on a farm. I know rancid veggies when I smell them."
"Well, my mother worked at a diner. It's meatloaf."
"What do you think?" Ronnie asked, tossing the question to any one of their four new additions. Warrick's eyebrows nearly touched the ceiling at the inquiry.
"You want me to smell in there?" he asked, incredulous. David had a retort at the tip of his tongue, ready for deployment, when David Phillips (never one to be squeamish) walked right over, bent to take a whiff, and then straightened himself back up again. David had to admire that; the man took apart corpses for a living, wiped brain off his shoes, and still had the stomach to inhale the stench of dead cow. If David weren't so head over heels for Nick, he might have had to start stealing Phillips from Bobby. Then again, wouldn't it be weird to date someone with the same first name as you? Huh. He'd have to ruminate over that later.
"Hints of Jello and ham," he announced. Well, they all knew about the ham; it was of the norm, because they always found one of Warrick's ham sandwiches. The Jello, on the other hand, was a surprise. Greg, who had followed him, stuck his head into the large, cold box, took a deep breath, and then retracted himself.
"And salad," he added.
"Ha!" Bobby proclaimed. "You can't call me crazy now."
"Crazy? Of course not," David innocently replied. "Dumb, sure, but never crazy."
Jacqui turned towards the rectangular jail cell of spoiled food items; her eyes swept over the shelves as she silently tried to choose what appeared to be the most hazardous dish. After a quiet moment of thought, she grabbed the first thing she saw, marked 'Sara Sidle', and peeled off the plastic lid. Sure, they tried not to do this in front of the CSIs, but their lunch hour only had about twenty minutes left to go. Nick and Warrick could stay if they chose to, but either way, the cleaning was getting done.
"It's a healthy portion of broccoli and cheese," she announced, victorious as Ronnie sighed and put a check next to her name. She had, after all, guessed that broccoli and cheese would be in there. One point went to her.
"State of the cheese?" Archie asked, effortlessly swallowing the last few bites of his pizza.
"Partially solidified," she responded. A chorus of "out!" rose, Greg happily joining as Nick and Warrick exchanged bewildered glances. Who the hell were these people?
"So you're the ones who clean out the fridge every month?" Warrick asked, a bit uncertain, choosing to stay back while David and Greg found themselves a seat to join in.
Greg grinned and nodded. "Sure. I used to help do this all the time."
"Before he became too important for us," Jacqui replied as she tossed out Sara's bad meal. "Besides, who do you think does this, a pack of magical fairies?"
"We're doing you all a public service," Archie added. "We like to consider this preventative maintenance."
"It keeps you guys from getting sick from the smell and the food itself," Bobby helpfully supplied. "It's a win/win all around."
Jacqui pulled out a small paper bag from the depths of the second shelf. The name 'Judy' was written on the front in loopy letters.
"Oh, Judy," Jacqui sighed, shaking her head mournfully. "Not another tofu grilled cheese sandwich."
"Is it really?" Ronnie asked, clearly surprised. "How much tofu does that woman eat?"
"It would explain her healthy amount of energy," the printer master groused. She opened the bag and stuck her nose in before quickly drawing back.
"It's definitely not recent," she announced, tossing it into the garbage can next to her. "We're trashing it."
"What about that green bowl on the bottom shelf?" Archie asked. "That's been there since the end of last month."
Jacqui paused for a moment before peering at the ominous green bowl with a frown. It had been there for a lengthy amount of time. Who knew what it contained? Salad? Meatloaf? One of Grissom's blood experiments? A body part? She reached for the dish, hesitating only twice, before pulling it out and slowly tearing off the aluminum foil that covered the top. She glanced inside before making a face.
"It's a yellow square," she stated.
"No way," Greg said, shooting up from his chair. "Is that my egg loaf?"
"Your what?" Bobby echoed.
"Egg loaf. It's delicious," Greg replied, taking the dish from Jacqui's grasp.
"But it's old," Nick noted, blanching as Greg took a confident bite. Even Archie, who had a stainless steel stomach, looked horrified.
"Only by a couple of weeks," the blonde replied, shrugging. "It doesn't go bad."
"Sanders, anything edible eventually expires. Give me the loaf before you hurt yourself," David demanded, holding out his hand. "That's disgusting, even by your standards."
"It's fine," Greg insisted, swallowing his latest mouthful.
"You realize that Ryan won't ever kiss you again should he somehow discover you consumed aged dairy product?"
"No way. What man can resist lips like these?" Greg asked, playfully puckering up.
"You're looking at him," David retorted, snatching away Greg's bowl. "I'll be the guy laughing his ass off when you're losing your gut to food poisoning."
"What can I say? I'm a sweet guy," came the dry reply as he tossed the egg loaf into the trashcan and then handed the container back to the young CSI. "Preventative maintenance and all."
"Fine, fine. I won't eat anything else until you give it your patented seal of approval."
"You know, speaking of Ryan," Greg continued, grinning widely as he spoke, "Guess who's coming to visit next week?"
"Is he sweet, good looking, and charming?" Jacqui asked, punctuating her description with a sigh. "You have no idea how much I hate you."
"Aw. Hate. That's-''
"Not strong enough of a term," she interjected. "Loathe? Despise? Detest?"
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but Ryan's mine. Lay off, sister."
"And he's coming down here?" Ronnie asked, ignoring their war of words as he often did. Greg blushed and nodded, dipping his hand into his coat pocket.
"Long distance can only works so well, and I think he'd like Vegas. Anyway, I want to send him a picture to prepare him."
"A picture? Right now? Greg, we're cleaning out the fridge. It won't make the greatest first impress- oo, guess what I found?" Jacqui said, cutting herself off with a completely different question. Their attention was diverted to the small Glad bag she triumphantly held.
"The ham sandwich!" Archie exclaimed. Nick and Warrick exchanged another bemused look. It was a sandwich, not the Holy Grail. What was the big deal? "We're getting so good at this that it scares me."
"Dude, you aren't the only one who's scared," Warrick retorted. Archie lifted an eyebrow in response.
"I beg your pardon? Whose sandwich do you think that belongs to? Don't think we aren't onto you, Mister Brown. And hey, point to Ronnie."
"I can't believe you date these people," Warrick muttered, sending Nick an exasperated look before shaking his head and grabbing the last available seat. Next to him, Ronnie put a check next to his own name and Nick couldn't help but smile.
"My guy's normal, considering the rest of them. What can I say? I got lucky."
"How lucky?" Warrick inquired. Nick choked on his own tongue and spun around, heading for the coffee maker while David sank into his seat, praying the sports section would hide his blush. Where had that question come from? Had Warrick been spending time with Greg and Jacqui again?
Around him, silence reigned.
A moment passed.
Bobby let out a squeak.
Archie's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates.
Ronnie's expression was priceless.
Jacqui set down another mysterious paper bag and slowly approached David. If possible, he sank lower.
"My, my, my. What an excellent question, Mister Brown. Exactly how lucky is our darling David?"
David had been in situations like these where he actually feared for his life, but this particular moment seemed even more threatening. Jacqui was approaching like a hungry fox would a baby rabbit. David concentrated on the words he had been trying to read for the past ten minutes. Did you know the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl? He didn't; then again, he hadn't cared at the time. Now it was the most important event of his life.
"Did you, David Hodges, sleep with Nick Stokes? And didn't tell us?" she asked, her voice tinted with accusation.
"If I said no, would you believe me?"
"You got some?" Greg asked, scandalized as he turned towards Nick, "And refrained from giving details?"
"It's not something decent human beings broadcast, Sanders," David replied, wondering how long a newspaper could hold up against Jacqui's laser beam eyes.
"Yeah, but these aren't any two people," the blonde replied. "This is- I mean, it's you. This is monumental. Phenomenal! Does Daphne know?"
David jerked down the paper within milliseconds of Greg's question, instantly alarmed. He was even more alarmed when he found himself three inches from Jacqui's suspicious gaze; he gave a small jump, unaware she had advanced so closely, before pushing his chair back in an attempt to create some much needed space.
"Woman, give me some breathing room," he ordered, scooting back even further. She merely followed, acting as though David hadn't spoken. "And if you call Daphne, I swear I'll rip you from limb to limb, sparing no appendage. Got it?"
"So you admit to it!" Archie crowed.
"No, but Daph gets ideas in her head and won't let them die. Can't you save me the trouble?"
"Sure," Bobby chanted, a large grin adorning his face. "So you say. What about Nick? We'll get the truth from one of you."
"Doesn't anyone here have any manners?" David muttered, wishing the ground would suddenly develop an appetite and swallow him whole. Greg and Archie exchanged looks before turning back to David and bursting into peals of laughter. David supposed it was a pointless question; they wouldn't know manners if it walked up and tried to sell them insurance.
"Nicky? Is it true?" Greg asked, eyebrows high. Nick didn't respond, merely continued making his coffee. Greg was so immersed in discovering the truth that he didn't notice it was his precious stash that Nick was breaking into. As a matter of fact, the only thing Greg could concentrate on was the crimson blush Nick was sporting. It spoke for him, revealing his and David's activities from the morning of their date.
Another silence descended upon them until Warrick emitted a shocked noise from the back of his throat. "Nick, man, you and…?"
"I'm still in the room," David said, casting Warrick a dirty look. "Not that our lives are any of your business."
"We know," Jacqui hurriedly replied. "We just don't care. Anyway, back to you and Nick. What was it like?"
"Are you seriously asking me that question?"
"When is she not serious about things like this?" Ronnie asked. David paused, because his friend had a point. Sure, he knew they'd ask eventually, but why now? Nick was standing twelve feet away and David didn't have an escape route. He supposed he could finally put his 'climb on top of the vending machines/bust through the ceiling/crawl through the air ducts/get to the roof/scale the front wall of the lab building/make a dash for the car/start driving to Florida' plan into action, but it seemed rather complex in comparison to his situation.
"I'm not telling you."
"What? You're denying us these few precious details?"
"Few precious details? Jacq, they're important parts of my life, not expendable details."
"We know. We just don't care," she repeated. "Spill!"
"You realize Nick's here, right?" Greg asked. "I mean, David's not going to reveal a single thing if the love of his life's listening in."
"Dude, I have no intention of leaving. I want to hear what he has to say too," Nick replied, smiling over his mug of coffee.
"Traitor," David muttered, unable to stop his small smile when he heard Nick laugh. Jacqui gave a knowing 'hm' before crossing her arms over her chest. His elaborate getaway scheme was looking more and more tempting every passing second. He heard Florida was nice this time of year, if one could ignore the hurricanes.
"So? We need specifics! Was it hot? Romantic? Terrible? Give a girl something to think about."
"Something to…? Jacq, I'm not feeding your perverse mind."
"Oh, c'mon. Can't you just hint with some keywords or something?"
"Fine. It was… fine. Now take some deep breaths and calm down."
"Fine?" Ronnie echoed, obviously not believing a word of it. "This calls for the DHT."
"The what?" Warrick asked, puzzled. If anything, this was his crash course into technician culture. It was coming in unhealthy doses, of course, but rumor was Warrick had a great immune system. The techs weren't worried.
"David Hodges Translator," Archie replied, as though the term was common knowledge. "Only the chosen few are born with it. For example, David just said sex with Nick is 'fine'."
"But 'fine' in David's terms isn't the same as 'fine' with everyone else. For example, David once called Ms. Rainey's brownies 'okay'," Bobby continued.
"You don't know her, but she kills at baking. Anyway, when David said 'okay', he meant 'delicious beyond human comprehension'."
"So when he said sleeping with Nick was 'fine', what he really meant was 'I didn't want to get out of bed for a week afterwards.' See how it works?"
"Huh. Interesting," Warrick replied. "That's… interesting."
"That's it, I'm leaving," David announced, standing up and tossing the paper onto the table. "This is ridiculous. And embarrassing. And TMI."
"But we haven't found the meatloaf," Bobby objected. "Besides, we still have ten minutes of break. You can't leave yet."
"What about my picture?" Greg asked
"I'm not stopping you from taking a picture. I am, however, forbidding you from ever using a camera after tonight."
"Agreed. And for those who have the Greg Sanders Translator, 'agreed' really means 'no way.' Warrick, would you do the honors?" Greg asked, tossing the camera towards the older CSI. Warrick made a sound as he caught it before casting Greg an odd look. With a shrug, he lumbered towards the door and then turned towards them while Jacqui temporarily abandoned her task of saving the entire lab from food poisoning and joined them.
They gathered around their table, trying to scrunch together. David, Jacqui, and Greg stood in the back while the others clustered in their chairs. Warrick put his eye to the viewfinder, took a few steps back to compensate for their large group, but shook his head after a moment.
"You guys better get like sardines or Ryan's only gonna meet Archie's left arm and Ronnie's foot."
Greg snickered but they rose and rearranged themselves nonetheless. Jacqui sat next to Ronnie who sat next to Bobby; David Phillips stood next to him while Archie balanced on top of the table. Greg stood on the other side while David hung out in the back, inching towards the right in hopes that he could hide behind Super Dave.
Warrick nodded his approval before putting the camera back up to his eye, ready to get it over with (David was grateful; he wasn't big on pictures) when Greg started and asked, "What about Nick?"
Nick, who had been standing patiently next to Warrick, held up his hand.
"Dude, this is a lab rat thing. I'm a mighty and powerful CSI, remember?"
"Maybe in your dreams," Jacqui scoffed. Who did Nick think he was fooling? "There's room for one more, so get over here."
Nick grinned, knowing it was fruitless endeavor to try and deny both Greg and Jacqui. He stepped forward, but instead of taking the offered space between Archie and Greg, he made a beeline to the back.
David knew Nick probably wanted to stand next to him, which was so like Nick; what he didn't expect was for him to pull David back to the middle instead of his shadowed corner. It was even more surprising for the Texan to wind his arms around David's waist, rest his chin on David's left shoulder, and break into a calm, charming smile.
David tried to fight off the blush that was creeping across his face, because 1) he could practically hear the perverse joke Greg was sure to crack and 2) he never guessed Nick would make such a bold statement. However, no one said anything embarrassing and David's hands reached up to rest on top of Nick's.
"Perfect," Warrick announced, and David couldn't help but silently agree. "Ready when you are."
"All right. Everyone say 'broccoli and solidified cheeeeese,'" Jacqui chimed. The group echoed the phrase, prolonging the 'e' in 'cheese', and David was suddenly struck with the feeling of… well, it was hard to describe. 'Happiness' wasn't quite right, although there was a lot of that in there. 'Contentment' didn't quite work either.
That was it.
He was thankful for tubas and chick flicks, banana cakes and secret iPods, trash bags and carrot juice, Ella Fitzgerald and Hershey wrappers. As crazy as it seemed, he loved panty hose, Star Trek cups, Tabasco sauce, silver nitrate, and goats. He was grateful for alien theorists, plumbing services, and ghost hunters.
But more than anything, he was appreciative of those around him, for friends who loved him and for a boyfriend who loved him even more.
"What are you thinking about?" Nick whispered, lacing their fingers together.
David wanted to say he was thinking about the life he led in L.A. as compared to what he had now. He wanted to explain that he had a lot of problems and insecurities to deal with. He wanted to thank Nick for being patient. He wanted to express what Jacqui, Ronnie, Archie, Bobby, and Greg meant to him.
Even though he never once stated those sentiments with words, they somehow understood his feelings anyway. He was cold when they all first met, insensitive, scarred from his life in L.A., but they never gave up on him. And now? Now they would do anything for each other. That's just the way it was.
David merely smiled as the camera whirred; his hands tightened around Nick's and the flash filled the room with a quick, white light.
You were full and fully capable You were taken with me to a point And so you called and courted fiercely And I salute you for your courage So you were in but not entirely And so you fell and you're intact And I support you in your trusting You found creative ways to distance And so you felt and you're still here Self-protection was in times of true danger
you were self-sufficient and needless
your house was fully decorated in that sense.
a case of careful what you wish for
but what you knew was enough to begin.
so you reached out, entirely fearless
and yet you knew of reservation and how it serves.
and I applaud your perseverance
and I embrace you for your faith in the face of adversarial forces
that I represent.
you were up for this but not totally
you knew how arms length-ing can maintain doubt.
so you dove in and you're still breathing
so you jumped and you're still flying if not shocked.
and I commend you for your wisdom
and I'm amazed by your surrender in the face of threatening forces
that I represent.
you hid away from much through humor
your choice of armor was your intellect.
and so you died and you're still standing
and so you softened and you're still safely in command.
your best defense to mistrust and be wary
surrendering a feat of unequalled measure
and I'm thrilled to let you in
overjoyed to be let in in kind.
You were taken with me to a point
And so you called and courted fiercely
And I salute you for your courage
So you were in but not entirely
And so you fell and you're intact
And I support you in your trusting
You found creative ways to distance
And so you felt and you're still here
Self-protection was in times of true danger
Surrendering, Alanis Morissette
Spread the lab rat love wherever you can!