His parents drive him home from the hospital. The first thing his father does is ask after his floor rug, the one with the large green T. He doesn't know how to tell them he had to throw it out, because the blood stains were too far deep to be removed, so he doesn't tell them anything at all. He falls down on the couch and pretends to sleep. They let him get away with it. They've always let him get away with everything.
He never told them about Nigel Crane. Or the babysitter, or the guns. After this, he knows he never will.
The phone keeps him from falling too deep asleep. It rings constantly, and he can hear his mother's voice, fielding all the calls. He stumbles to his feet and walks into his bathroom. His father asks him where he's going, but he doesn't bother to respond. He tries not to look at his reflection as he grabs a bottle of sleeping pills from the cabinet. He downs two of them with a glass of water, and then heads off to his bedroom.
He opens the windows, and it's a new compulsion that he finds kind of funny. After Nigel, he couldn't sleep with the windows open, and now he can't sleep with them closed.
He collapses on his bed and closes his eyes. He doesn't have to think for hours.
He wakes up screaming, which is hardly surprising. No, that wasn't a surprise at all, but when he opens his eyes he finds himself staring into Gil Grissom's startled ones, that was certainly out of the ordinary. His hands twist around his bed sheets and he turns to glance at the clock. His eyes are too blurry from sleep to read the time.
"Are you alright?" Grissom asks him, calmly.
He wakes up screaming and Grissom wants to know if he's alright. It's a reasonable question, he supposes, but for some reason it makes him laugh. "Yeah," he says, pulling himself into a sitting position and trying to ignore the growing discomfort in Grissom's expression. "I'm fine. What are you doing here?"
"I thought I would drop by," he says, watching Nick intently. "You were sleeping."
"Obviously," Nick says, trying to smile. "What, were you watching me sleep?" He's been touchy about his privacy, he knows, but what happened was bad enough without being caught on film. If you're going to live a nightmare, better not to have it on videotape. Or maybe he was lucky, if you really thought about it, because it had saved him both times.
Grissom frowns. "You were calling my name," he says gently.
Nick's eyes widen and he pushes himself up from the bed—too quickly with the remnants of the sleeping pills still in his system, and Gil reaches out to steady him when he stumbles. Nick mumbles a thank you, but pulls away, placing a steadying hand against the wall. "Where are my parents?"
"Catherine and I told them to get some sleep. They're in your guest room," Gil tells him.
Nick nods. "Good, they need it. Catherine's here?"
Gil shook his head. "She left an hour ago. I thought she should spend some time with Lindsay."
Nick nodded. "Yeah. Uh, good. She should. You should probably get some rest too, Gris." He starts for the doorway to the hall, but it seems farther away than it should.
Grissom watches him. "How do you feel?"
Nick lets out a nervous laugh, glancing around for a moment. It's surreal enough having Gil Grissom in his bedroom without the awkward small talk. "Better than yesterday," he says, and runs a hand through his hair. Grissom follows him out of the room.
"Look, not that I don't appreciate this," Nick says. "I'd just kind of like to be alone." He'd been alone in the coffin, but it hadn't been so bad, really. All things considered, it could have been worse. At least when he shot out the light he fooled himself into believing he could still breathe.
"I promised your parents I would stay," Grissom says, like that's that, like Nick isn't an adult and this isn't his house.
He doesn't know why that makes him feel claustrophobic except for maybe the fact that these days, it didn't take much. "I don't need a babysitter," he snaps. Then he almost laughs, because there's that too, isn't there? He shakes his head, bites his lip, and reminds himself that worse things have happened to better people than him.
He's seen most of them.
"You can't pretend that everything is fine," Grissom tells him calmly, like he knew what the hell he was talking about or something, but no one had ever stuck him in a fucking coffin and he only just barely stops himself from pointing that out.
Nick Stokes doesn't yell at people for things that are out of their control. Nick Stokes is polite, and he's sure as hell not going to change now, not because of this. He won't let the bastard win. "I know how to deal on my own," he says, instead, and heads towards the kitchen.
There's Captain Crunch in his cupboard. He doesn't know how it got there for a moment, until he realizes his mother must have stocked the house. That always had been her way of dealing. He grabs the box and doesn't bother to get a bowl.
"Maybe that would be more convincing if you hadn't just woken up screaming," Grissom says gently, like he'd caught him out, but he didn't have a clue.
The things he could tell him…it almost set Nick off laughing again. He wonders what Grissom would say, if he would still be so damn calm, if Nick told him he hadn't been dreaming of running out of air, not that time, but hands instead, ghosting across his skin, because one thing inevitably brought around another, and all of his tragedies were fighting their way to the front of his mind—it isn't like this is the first time he's had his life thrown in a tailspin. He was good at holding on until things stopped spinning.
"Maybe I always wake up screaming," Nick says, turning to meet his eyes defiantly. "Maybe it's only the reason that's changed."
Gil doesn't show a reaction, but something changes in his eyes before he speaks. "Is that supposed to be reassuring?"
"It's supposed to prove that I can handle things without your help, Grissom," Nick snaps. "I always have before."
Be polite, Nick. You shouldn't say things like that. Screw you, he thinks, but he hadn't said it then. If he ever sees her again, he'd say it now. Politeness be damned.
"A psychic died in my living room," he tells Grissom casually, like he doesn't already know, like it's some mildly amusing anecdote one might talk about over coffee or something. "Nigel Crane held a gun to my head."
"It's not the same," Grissom says.
What would be the fun in the same? Can't have him getting complacent. He'd told Nigel it wasn't the first time he'd had a gun in face. Oh no, he was getting used to that—had to go one better next time. Just stick him right in the fucking ground.
"Do we still have the tapes?" he asks.
"Its evidence, Nicky, but once the investigation closes no one will see them." Grissom says that like it should be reassuring.
"No," Nick says. "Not those. Nigel's tapes. Do we still have them?"
"Why do you keep making this about him?" Grissom asks, like he's a therapist, and he's trying to find the root of the problem. It makes Nick want to scream, but he doesn't know why because he knows he's only trying to help.
"That isn't an answer," Nick says, pushing the cereal box away from him. He hasn't eaten any. Hasn't even broken the seal.
"Yes," he says. "They're with the rest of the evidence."
The rest being the gun, his clothes; the ones worn by Nigel and the ones worn by him. "Yeah," he says. "Thought so. Criminals are so thoughtful these days, huh, Gris? Taping things for prosperity and all that." If ever a time came when he couldn't see everything just as clearly by closing his eyes, he could always watch the tapes.
It probably shouldn't have been comforting. He's starting to think maybe Grissom is right. He's not dealing at all.
Still, he supposes he should just be grateful the damn babysitter hadn't had a camera.
He hears his parents voices, talking somewhere down the hall, probably still in the guest room, and meets Grissom's eyes. "They don't know about any of that," he says. "I'd like to keep it that way."
Grissom seems surprised but he nods anyway. "Whatever you need," he says, like Nick isn't telling them for himself, and not because he doesn't want to hurt them, and what kind of sense is that? He'd tell them if he could, would do it in a heartbeat, but they're upset enough. They don't deal with things as well as he does.
"You should go," Nick says, getting to his feet.
Grissom is reluctant but allows Nick to lead him to the door. He turns around once he steps on the porch, watching him with dark eyes, like he could see right through him if he only tried hard enough. "You can't let this beat you," he tells him, and his voice is as close to pleading as Nick has ever heard it.
For a minute he just wants to slam the door in his face, just knock it shut to block out all of his well-meaning concern, but he doesn't, only says, "It's not like I've ever let anything stop me before," and then softly pushes it shut—the only sound is the light click as it falls into place.
He doesn't even bother to lock it. It's never done him any good before.
Grissom's front step is an odd place for him to be sitting at eleven at night. It's his boss. Or he was, might be again, depending on what strings get pulled and whether he ever decides what he wants. He's not sure nightshift is the best place for him, not now, though he tells himself he's better, he's fine, he's great. It's been three weeks and it's easier to lie to himself now that his skin is unmarked, and his reflection looks like it should.
It's even easier to lie to everyone else.
He thinks he almost has them convinced. He smiles at all the right times, and these days he can keep all the windows closed without shaking, without breaking down—he doesn't lose control anymore. He forces himself to face it, because that's what he always does, gets back on the horse, so to speak—just keep riding and forget about the fall. Except its a little harder to forget this time, and his parents still look haunted, older than the last time he saw them, like they've aged ten years since last Christmas.
Grissom looks older too, but his eyes are the same as they've always been when it comes to him, completely unreadable. He'd ask him what he's thinking, but he's worried that he just might get the truth. So he doesn't ask—he just stays away, because he doesn't like Grissom seeing weakness in him and he never has. He's better now, though, everyone keeps telling him, and he keeps saying it, too—once he hears it enough, it'll be as good as if he actually were.
But though he'd like to think he was past it, there's part of him that still needs Grissom's stamp of approval on every move he makes. Oh, he's a lot more subtle about it nowadays, and he never asks outright, but it's still there, that odd little need. He doesn't know why he thinks Grissom would be better at running his life than him, but hell, look at the evidence—it made it pretty clear anyone would be.
He was obviously doing something wrong. Maybe he was just one of those people. Like that girl that had her car stolen and was crying, just wouldn't stop no matter what they said, and Warrick had shaken his head and whispered 'Man, she's got 'victim' written on her forehead'. Maybe it was on his, too. Maybe Warrick just didn't want to tell him, didn't have the heart to point it out. He didn't know why he couldn't see it himself, but too many other people had for him to pretend there's not something about him drawing them in.
Even Amy Hendler, desperate as she was, got one up on him. He couldn't even talk her down, either, and if Grissom hadn't shown up again he'd be dead. There were lots of ways he could be dead, actually, and he'd really rather not think about any of them, because he'd seen them laid out in Technicolor more than once and it was never pretty.
His parents were leaving tomorrow. They wanted him to go with him, because he could live to be a hundred and he'd still be the baby, he'd still be the rebel even though he's tried so hard to be perfect—because he's the one that ran off in the first place, ended up in Vegas and nearly got himself killed. This wouldn't have happened, his father had told him, back home.
And maybe it wouldn't have, but other things had. It's not like there was actually somewhere safe he could run to. Better the devil you know, and all that, and he knew Vegas well enough by now. They were already packed because the flight was at 7 AM tomorrow, and there was a ticket on his nightstand—he'd told them not to get it but they bought it anyway. Just in case, they had said.
In case you come to your senses. In case you want to live to see forty.
He'd tear it up to pieces but then they wouldn't let his parents' refund it, so it was still sitting there, untouched, and it had kept him awake. It seems innocuous enough in the daylight but it was vibrating when he turned out the lights. He knew, logically, that it was just the ceiling fan making it move but it wouldn't leave him alone, and he needs the fan on when he can't sleep. It doesn't make the same sound, but its close enough, and sometimes it helps.
Just not tonight—not with tomorrow less than an hour away, and it wasn't that he wanted his parents to stay, it's not like he doesn't want his personal space back and his life again, it's just that once they're gone it's back to where he started, and there's no backing out now, it's already too late. He's told them he's better and now he needs to stay that way. He's lost his window for falling apart.
He went to the shooting range yesterday. Brass suggested it. Work it off, he'd said, all gruffness and concern even over the telephone line. He fired eight times before he realized the bullets weren't taking anything with them, that the anger wasn't bleeding away—the backlash wasn't satisfying and he couldn't think. So he left without checking how centered the holes in the target were and just went home.
He was more of a football person anyway, for working things off, but there was no point playing these days. His tough no-nonsense buddies were all treating him like glass. He'd resent it but he's not completely certain he wouldn't break just like they thought, so he just stopped calling them, and they don't call him, because they don't know what to say.
He's been there a half hour when the door opens, and Grissom steps out to sit beside him. Grissom doesn't ask what he's doing sitting on his porch, in the middle of the night, just looks at his hands and says nothing. It's almost enough to break him, just that, and he wonders if maybe he has turned to glass all of the sudden, but he hasn't shattered yet, and has no intentions of starting now.
"I want the tapes," he says, keeping his eyes on the street, because the guy that did it is dead anyway and there's not going to be a trial, and Nigel wasn't getting out, because even if he got an appeal hearing the tapes of Jane Galloway alone were enough to send him back for the rest of his life. "All of them. Nigel's too."
Grissom could ask him why, could tell him no, could do a lot of things, but all he does is nod. "I'll get them," he says.
"Thanks," he says, and he hates the way his voice breaks over his words, like he's back in that coffin, thinking that he's speaking his last words.
"I don't think Ecklie will put up a fight," Grissom says. "He'd probably even help me destroy them."
Nick looks down at his hands. "I didn't say I wanted to destroy them."
"I know what you said," Grissom tells him.
"I need to see them, Grissom." He doesn't know why, he just knows that he does, because he can't hide from it anymore. Maybe if all he had were memories he could, but he knows it's there, in full-color and surround sound, and he can't ignore that.
"No, you don't," Grissom says firmly, and turns to look at him. "You need to move on, Nicky."
Move on, keep going, don't look back. He's been there, done all of that, and it isn't working anymore because this time it's too heavy to forget, too much to ignore, and all the rest is hovering just behind it because he's never really managed to outrun anything. "Can you get them for me or not?" he snaps, and he hears her voice again, like an echo in his mind, telling him to be polite as she closes the door. And then he hears him. Manners, Nick. Manners—because people don't like it when he's not polite.
He surges to his feet with a suddenness that nearly sends Grissom off his balance too, and runs a hand through his hair. "I'd be dead without those tapes," he tells Grissom desperately, like that explains it, like that's reason enough. Grissom's eyes are wide, but steady, and Nick knows he doesn't get it—doesn't understand.
Grissom would destroy the tapes and move on, but he can't—can't do that. Maybe he just likes torturing himself but he needs to know what's there, what's on them. Not everyone has the luxury of having their tragedies on tape, and if he wants to understand, that seems the quickest way.
"I'll get them," Grissom tells him again, and his voice is calm, it almost always is. He rarely sees Grissom lose control, panic. Even on top of his glass coffin, Grissom's voice hadn't broke. "It's alright—if that's what you need, I'll get them."
Nick nods, but he'll believe it when he sees them, because nothing's gone his way yet. "Thanks," he says again, and this time his voice is calm too. It doesn't break at all.
Grissom shows up the next morning with a box labeled evidence. His parents are gone; they took his ticket with him. Call us, they said, and be sure to come visit.
He opens the door wider and steps aside. Grissom sets the box on his coffee table and stares at it for a moment. "Ecklie pulled some strings," he says. "He told me to tell you he hopes you're doing well."
"Thanks," he says, and it seems he's been saying that to Grissom a lot lately. Thanks for getting me evidence from two separate investigations because I know you probably sold your soul to do it, and thanks for putting up with me—oh yeah, and thanks for that time you saved my life. It's appreciated.
"Just get rid of them, Nicky," Grissom tells him, before starting for the door. "So it will be over."
He says that's probably a good idea, but he doesn't throw them away once Grissom is gone. He doesn't smash them up, or pull out the tape, or throw the box against the wall. He picks up the first one and sticks it in his VCR.
Then he hits play.