A/T: Like Snapshots, it'll feel like a child flying the coup when I finally finish this up. You love your children (or stories) and don't want to let them go, but you know they've matured and will do great things. (Well, I'm not sure how much a fic itself can do, but I can hope!)
Disclaimer: Never mine, but oh! If only they were.
To Braeca: You're the best! You're right: I portrayed early-Ryan; the quiet, timid one… but I figured if someone threatened Greg, he might get a little vicious. -snorfle- Like watching fluffy little puppies growl at strangers. Hilarious. :D
Dedicated to both Braeca and Onigami Nanashi, who seem to believe in this story more than I could ever imagine.
Out With It
Act 13: The Long Road Home
This morning I tried to gain calm and strength for the separation.
-Tsarina Alexandra to Tsar Nicholas of Russia, 1915
The problem with having an all-expense-paid trip to another city was the one approving the check –that is, Miami-Dade County- didn't want anyone to hang around after the case was closed. In their eyes, a few extra days off were tax dollars poorly spent. Ryan was sure that if he were a politician (and thank God he wasn't) then he would whole-heartedly agree, insisting that the investigators jump the first flight back to their home state and quit sucking up the city funds.
But he wasn't a politician.
So he wasn't surprised (disappointed, yes, but not surprised) when Horatio called his cell the next evening. It wasn't a welcome call, considering that Ryan was in Greg's kitchen, cooking them up something halfway edible to eat while Greg attempted to find some clean forks. Ryan had somehow known that the call would come and the latest hours he had been spending with Greg were often punctuated with glances towards his cell, as though it were some sort of hazardous, threatening object.
He stared at the small phone for a moment, listening to its shrill ring and watching it vibrate across the table surface. Perhaps if he willed it to stop, it actually would? Maybe if he silently demanded that people leave them alone, they would listen?
But the ringing didn't stop and he couldn't stand to listen to the noise any longer. He snatched it up, flipped it open, and answered, "Ryan speaking."
Ryan immediately grimaced. The only one who ever called him by that name was his third grade teacher and Horatio Caine. Considering he had happily said sayonara to Mr. Flannigan in elementary school, the only other possibility was his boss. Ryan swallowed the feeling of sickness that clambered around in his gut and willed himself to speak, stealthily sneaking towards the living room, having no desire for Greg to overhear their conversation.
"H. What's up?"
"I've put the word to Miami that we've wrapped up the Jenkins case," came the calm reply.
Ryan's grip tightened around the phone and he leaned heavily against the couch armrest. "Ah," he said, feeling his heart nearly stop beating. It wasn't much of a response, but he was lucky to manage even that one-syllable utterance. He wanted to ask why Horatio had dialed Miami so soon. Even better, he wanted to say That's nice, but I don't think I'll be joining you. I'm kinda happy where I am. However, Ryan didn't imagine either of those two replies would go over very well with his employer. "I see."
"We're on the first plane to Miami," Horatio continued. "I stopped by your room at the hotel, but you weren't there."
"I'm at Greg's."
There was a hint of amusement in Horatio's voice as he said, "I thought so. Eric seems to be missing as well."
"I have a couple of guesses to where he might be hiding out."
"You aren't the only one," the red head responded. "Listen, we're meeting up Henderson Airport."
"Yeah," Ryan confirmed, hoping Horatio couldn't hear the disbelief in his tone. "I'll meet you there. What time?"
Ryan tried not to choke on his own tongue, because Horatio couldn't possibly have said what Ryan thought he'd just said. Two hours? That was ridiculous. More than ridiculous, it was absurd! He didn't care how much money this investigation might cost the county, Ryan couldn't honestly believe that they were being hoarded back to their home state already. They had closed the case a mere twelve hours ago. It wasn't fair.
"Two hours?" he echoed, wondering whether the dazed, incredulous voice he heard was really his.
There was a pause at the end of the line before Horatio's words broke through the silence. "I'm sorry, Ryan."
"So have you forgotten what this room looks like?"
Eric's question barely broke through Ryan's dead water thoughts as he stood in the middle of the hotel room, looking around him as though he didn't understand where he was. All that he could seem to concentrate on was the memory of Greg's face; the expression Greg wore when Ryan said they were leaving Las Vegas in two hours. The meal they'd been preparing sat uneaten as they stared at each other for a long, quiet moment. Two hours. They had fallen into a routine, had a relationship, and it was going to slip between their fingers in one hundred and twenty minutes. It wasn't fair, wasn't right, but what could they do? Stop time?
"Ha ha. I'm fairly sure you've been memorizing the inside of Nick's house the past few days, Fabio," Ryan retorted as he managed to find the bedroom. The hotel room was oddly familiar, a predictable reflection of every other disgusting lodge he'd ever stayed in. It all felt so strange now; to think he'd arrived here and unpacked with no expectations. As a matter of fact, he had been counting down the days until he could leave. And now? Now he wished the hours would simply stop and he and Greg could continue on with their lives without Miami politics polluting the air.
"Ouch," Eric replied, but it lacked the usual playfulness it had when they'd first arrived. Their banter was painfully forced. Ryan wanted to tell him to give it up, that they both saw through each other's camouflage, but he didn't want to see the dread Eric was hiding underneath his artificial persona. Ryan was fairly sure Eric didn't want to see his, either.
They began packing in silence. It wasn't uncomfortable; as a matter of fact, it was almost like they didn't even realize the other man was there. They were in a zone, lost to their thoughts while going through the motions akin to a robot. Ryan found his shirts and slacks, folding them neatly, cleaning his toothbrush with alcohol and storing his hygiene products in Ziplock bags. Eric, on the other hand, was freer with his packing habits. He mainly stuffed his used clothes into the case, leaving any unworn things folded. Secondary items were thrown on top and then it was forced shut. They cleaned out the fridge and bathroom, making sure the drawers were empty and nothing was left behind.
The two collapsed onto the couch, as though they had gone through some sort of vigorous act. It was, in their defense, exhausting. Their feelings weighed them down, acting as invisible chains that wrapped around their necks and made them exert more energy than usual.
Ryan's voice, despite its soft tone, seemed to amplify itself in the middle of the lackluster room.
"How did you say goodbye to Nick?"
There was a silence in response. Ryan idly wondered if he should have even asked the question in the first place. He turned, looking at Eric through intent, weary eyes. They both knew this conversation was coming; there was no point in avoiding it. Besides, why not get it over with in the privacy of their quasi-living room?
"I told him H called. I told him we leave in…" Eric glanced at his watch before sighing. "An hour."
"And he's a scientist. We both know there are a lot of variables in a relationship. For one, people tend to 'fall in love' when they don't have a long amount of time together. There's also the honeymoon period, where Nick and I overlook each other's faults that'll drive us crazy later. And then there's the logistics of the entire thing, because long distance never works. So he dropped me off here, we said goodbye, and they're gonna meet us at the airport for a final farewell."
It wasn't what Ryan wanted to hear. His biggest concern was that Eric usually played the optimist role while Ryan was far more practical. It sounded as though Eric had reached into Ryan's head, grabbed a speech, and used it for himself.
"You sound like me with all that common sense," Ryan said, giving Eric a tired smile. "It's scary."
"If your emotions don't give you a break, you gotta guard yourself with reality," Eric replied. "You taught me that. If it weren't for you, I don't think I could get through this in one piece."
There was another lull in the conversation as they gazed out the large window and into the Las Vegas skyline. Ryan turned to face his friend once more.
"And you really believe all that stuff you just said?" he asked. He was surprised to hear Eric give a stark laugh, laced with loneliness and regret.
"No, I don't," he answered, a small smile twisting his lips upward. "I don't believe a word of it, but it's the only thing that's gonna keep me sane."
"Two hours? Ryan, no, how could they- you have to tell Horatio two hours isn't enough," Greg said, well-hidden apprehension tingeing his voice. "Think of all the lose ends. What about- what about the paper work? Besides, it takes a long time to pack everything up in a hotel. You need a couple more days."
All Ryan could do was clutch his phone as they stared at one another, the full reality beginning to sink in. "I don't think he's going to buy that," Ryan finally managed to whisper. He blinked, trying to rid himself of the stinging in his eyes.
"You'll meet me there, right?" Ryan asked, slightly embarrassed by the hint of desperation in his tone. "To see us off?"
Greg watched the other man through brown eyes. It was all moving so quickly, so crazily.
"Of course. I'll get Nick to give me the flight."
On the way to Henderson Airport, Ryan and Eric did paper, rock, scissors to see who got the window seat. Like always, Eric was victorious, but Ryan didn't really mind. There were other things weighing more heavily on his shoulders that he'd rather not dwell on. The only thing that kept him from breaking down was the thought of seeing Greg before the flight back to Miami. It wasn't his fault that the hope of making it work kept building up inside of him. He had never wanted anything so badly as he wanted the relationship with Greg to continue.
The airport was extra busy, considering the fact there was one less operating in the Las Vegas area. Ryan was sure they could flash a badge or state I.D. and skip a few waiting lines, but they weren't in a particular rush. They still had thirty minutes until the plane even started boarding passengers, so they waited as security swept them over with metal detectors and checked their baggage. Ryan never thought he'd reach this point, but he actually wanted the lines to take their usual slow pace. Maybe then they'd accidentally miss the flight. Maybe there would be bad weather. Maybe the plane would have a few technical difficulties. He didn't care how it happened; he just wanted an excuse to stay in Vegas.
Considering circumstances weren't usually in his favor, Ryan knew those situations weren't plausible. The lines were moving in a timely manner, it was a clear day outside, and he was fairly sure the plane was in good working condition. Before he knew it, ten minutes had passed and they were sitting in the plastic seats, waiting for someone to start calling their flight number. The chairs were uncomfortable, but Ryan's mind had long since zoned out. Calleigh, sensing the heavy cloud over he and Eric, began chatting as she always did, a bright smile on her face as she went on about… well, Ryan wasn't quite sure what it was about, exactly, but he was certain she was putting an interesting twist on it. If only he could pay attention instead of waiting for a certain group of faces to appear. If only he could detect Catherine's blue eyes or Warrick's unmistakable voice; then maybe Greg would be with them, ready to see Ryan off.
Voices seemed to fade as Ryan glanced out the large windows, watching planes creep forwards on immense landing strips. Men and women in uniforms were running about, preparing the flights while attendants began boarding first, ready for yet another journey across the country. He took a deep breath, trying to ready himself. This was the day he'd been waiting for. Anxiously at first, and then dreading it as he began to know Greg better. Either way, this trip was unavoidable. It didn't make the separation any easier, and he could only hope Greg wasn't going through the same thing. It would be presumptuous of him to assume Greg was feeling his own heart break as every second ticked by, but-
No, Greg loved him.
The watched the hectic travelers around him as thoughts raced through his head, tiny tornadoes of jumbled words. He never believed that someone could love him like he wanted them too, but he and Greg had gone through far too much to doubt Greg's feelings. Greg had kissed him first, believed in him, and Ryan had heard how strongly Greg reacted when Ryan was stuck after the bomb exploded. He released the air in his chest, not even realizing he'd been holding it, and told himself to calm down. Greg was coming. There was no reason he wouldn't.
He was brought back to reality when he felt Eric yawn next to him. He turned and gave Eric an amused smile.
"Yeah," Eric replied, grinning sheepishly. "I was just getting used to graveyard and now I'm back on days. That's wrong, man."
"Then go ahead and crash. It's not like my shoulder isn't as comfortable as it was on the way here."
"Thanks, but I'm going to try and keep my dignity this time."
"So what are you saying? My shoulder isn't good enough for you?"
"No offense, but you're a little boney."
"Yep. Painful to sleep on."
"You weren't complaining the first time."
"I was desperate the first time. I hadn't had my coffee."
"Or your Skittles."
"What can I say? They're delicious."
"Tell that to your poor teeth."
"Hey, I take good care of my teeth. I want them to last me until I'm too old to bother with dentures." Eric made his point clear by giving Ryan a big grin, purposely showing two rows of straight, white teeth. "See? No cavities. Besides, I believe you also took part in the Skittle consumption."
"You're my bad influence."
"A lot of people seem to say that," Eric murmured. "Not only that, but- uh oh. Calleigh looks happy."
Ryan followed Eric's gaze until it landed on the blonde, who was standing up and waving to someone behind the duo. She was wearing an excited smile, and before Ryan and Eric could even see who was receiving such undivided attention, she hopped over their row of seats and raced a few yards over.
They heard her say "Hey guys!" and turned just in time to watch as she gave Sara a big bear hug. "You're so sweet for coming! We know it's early for you."
"More like late, but we're night owls," Sara replied, returning the hug with equal force. "Besides, did you really think we weren't coming to see you off?"
"We were hoping," Yelina replied, Warrick giving her a nod as he took residence next to her. Although the rumor that men and women couldn't work together without being romantically interested in one another still reigned, it was obvious that Warrick and Yelina were strictly professional. On the other hand, you don't spend the greater part of two weeks in another person's constant presence without becoming either best friends or bitter enemies. Ryan was pleased to know that they had taken the friendly route instead, but as happy as he was to see such familiar faces, he found himself quickly searching for a familiar shock of blonde hair. He turned towards Sara, trying to hide his excitement as best he could.
"Is Greg with you?"
Sara's smile instantly faded. "I thought he came with you."
Ryan felt the disappointment grow even as he heard himself say, "I guess he's coming by himself." He wanted to smooth over the sudden worry on her face even as his heart hit the tile floor. After all, everyone expected that Greg would be the first to arrive, not the last, and it was only natural for a CSI to expect the worst. Car wreck? An accident of some sort? For a moment, it didn't look like Sara was going to believe them. To emphasize his point, Ryan added, "He's perpetually late for everything."
The joke seemed to calm her enough so that she returned to conversation of her fellow co-workers, the exchange light hearted between the two CSI teams. Ryan found himself participating if only to pacify any worries while constantly glancing around, waiting for Greg to show. It was no secret that Greg could be fashionably late if he chose to be so, but would he really waste time on a day like this? Ryan fought away the nervousness.
"Is this seat free? If it isn't, I'm taking it anyway," said a voice from behind. Ryan had to smile as he turned to see David Hodges climb over the back of the bench and slide in next to Ryan. Ryan had to admire that; while most were too timid to admit they wanted something, David just walked over and asked for it. Ryan knew he needed to start working on that quality.
"Nice to see you're using your manners, Hodges," Catherine retorted, rolling her clear blue eyes. "What are you doing here anyway?"
"I was in the neighborhood," David answered. "Just thought I'd take a casual walk around the airport. I do it all the time."
Warrick scoffed at the plain sarcasm. "You came here to see them off like the rest of us, man. I know you've been trying to keep it a secret, but you've got a beating heart in there somewhere."
"Don't let word get around."
"Y'know, I just might. God knows I'm still trying to get you back for that marker."
"Trying and failing, but I applaud the attempt," David replied.
Ryan felt calmed by the familiar banter. It felt odd leaving these people; they were like family. He was half expecting it to be a dream where he could just wake up and continue on with his life in Las Vegas without bear the burden of saying goodbye. But Eric, Horatio, Calleigh, and Yelina didn't seem to have that same feeling. Ryan inwardly sighed. Maybe he was too freakishly sentimental.
Or maybe he's been living in the wrong city all these years.
Conversation began once again. Ryan participated as best he could, but his mind wandered without his permission and he frequently found himself trying to catch up with the current topic. He resisted the urge to keep checking his watch or looking around, because Greg would get there when the time was right. In the meantime, Ryan tried to enjoy the company of his friends, even as he felt precious minutes quickly tick away into eternity.
David Hodges, on the other hand, didn't accept things so easily. He knew Greg could be fashionably late, but for him not to be there when Ryan was concerned made David uncomfortable. He couldn't imagine Greg not joining them for the hell of it. There had to be a logical excuse, something that could only happen to Greg, like getting stuck in the middle of a freak blizzard in Vegas. Or maybe it was more like that Western Union commercial, where the guy swerved to avoid the puppy, but somehow hit a traveling circus and the sword swallower, showing off at the time, ended up spitting out the sword that managed to soar through the air and puncture the driver's tire.
Yeah. Something like that. David wouldn't be surprised.
But David doubted it was snowing anywhere in Nevada, and he especially doubted that any freak circus was traveling through Vegas, considering the city had enough freaks to offer as it was. For some reason, David suspected that Greg hadn't even left his house yet, and if that was the case, then something had to be done.
David calmly rose, hopped back over the seat, and headed towards the restroom. He halfway expected someone to ask where he was headed off to; luckily, they all seemed to get the hint. Of course, if they saw him going towards the restroom and then asked where he was going, it was quite possible David would have lost all faith in their investigative abilities. One would think that working with CSIs would be less complicated.
He tore open the bathroom door and, ignoring the men at the urinals (because he hated public restrooms), dug out his cell phone before dialing Greg's number. He crossed one arm across his stomach in impatience as he stood in the corner, back facing the room, waiting as the line rang several times. What was the deal? Greg always picked up unless he was asleep. Then it took him a century.
David was startled into action when he heard a weak "Hello?" on the other end. He wanted to start lecturing Greg right then and there, but the tone of Greg's voice made him think twice. It sounded so… small. And despairing. And David was no good with either of those things.
"Greg," he hissed, ignoring the strange looks from men who were actually there to relieve bladders. "Where the hell are you?"
"I- David? Hey," Greg replied, uncertainty lacing his words. David hated the cheerlessness that sounded so foreign on Greg's tongue. He was vibrant and bright; now it sounded as though he were dead, a shell of who was. "You're calling me? What's up?"
"Flight four-sixty in about thirteen minutes. Please tell me you're stuck in traffic," David retorted, ignoring his better judgment. It never got him anywhere anyway.
There was a terrifying silence on the other end before Greg said, "I see."
"Good for you."
"You're coming, right? You're on your way here."
Another pause punctured the quick conversation before a shaky sigh was heard on Greg's end. David unconsciously clutched his phone even harder, sending a bearded man a glare when said man proceeded to stare without any attempt to hide it. Some people just didn't have any manners. "Greg, what is it? Just spit it out."
"Seeing him would only make this worse," Greg replied. The technician could tell he was on the verge of crying. "I can't-''
"Can't? Can't what? Spell? Buy decent music? Drive?" David irritably questioned. "You have thirteen- make that twelve minutes to get your ass down here. Got it?"
"David, I don't know how to say goodbye."
"Then learn," David testily replied. "He's waiting for you."
"You think I don't know that? My God, what do you think I've been dreading all this time? What do you think I've been trying to plan since the very beginning? I've been preparing myself for this and it's all gone to waste!'' David could practically see Greg pacing back and forth in his living room, running a hand through spiky hair. "I've tried everything I can dream up, but it's- when I see him, David, I won't be able to- it's easier this way."
"Easier for who?" David fought back. "Look, I know this is hard. Bear with me. You? You love him. And Ryan? He's waiting for you to show up. I swear I'm two seconds away from dragging you here myself."
Leaving no room for argument, David snapped the phone shut before staring at the silver object in his hand and briefly wondering how he could explain to Ryan that Greg wasn't coming. Of course, he wouldn't just go out and declare that hey, your boyfriend chickened out. On the other hand, how long could Ryan hang on before spontaneously combusting? David sighed and shoved the phone back into his pocket. He never should have called. He never should have gotten involved in the entire mess; all he had wanted to know was whether Greg needed a lift or something and Ryan was too faithful to phone. And why shouldn't he be faithful? The last Ryan heard, Greg's car was in perfect working condition. David was certain that if Ryan were to ask, he could fall back on the old "stuck in traffic" story and try to cover for Greg. Still, that felt wrong. Ryan didn't deserve a lie in his last few minutes before heading back home.
With a frown, he exited the men's room and hurried back towards the CSI group, finding his spot next to Ryan before trying to wear his usual bored expression. He took an inconspicuous glance at his watch before feeling Ryan shift to look towards the doorway yet again.
Ten minutes. They had ten more minutes and some perky woman was already calling seats over the intercom anyway. David ground his teeth. The voice was jarring.
The conversation froze, words colliding into each other, entire sentences hanging in mid air. The woman on the intercom was still speaking as Sara and Calleigh, Yelina and Warrick, Nick and Eric exchanged regretful expressions. It seemed as though everyone recognized this moment. They all knew that this was it: the final goodbye. They couldn't ignore their departure anymore, couldn't pretend that there were a few more days left before they had to face this.
"Well," Calleigh began, slowly standing up. She glanced towards Horatio before sighing, a small, dainty exhalation of air. "They're calling our flight."
"This is my least favorite part," Sara confessed as she stood up to give Calleigh a hug. Ryan watched this with a somber expression; it was painful to see such good friends saying goodbye. It was only made worse by Warrick and Yelina shaking hands farewell while Catherine exchanged parting words with Horatio. Ryan didn't even look towards Eric and Nick; that would only tip him over the edge. He wanted to show that he was strong and unaffected, but it was a hard thing to accomplish when it was a lie. He had been waiting for this very day. He dreaded Las Vegas in the beginning, dreaded the uncertainty, and now…
It's all I can do to leave.
"I'm sorry," David muttered next to him, seemly able to read his mind as they stood from their chairs.
"It's not your fault," Ryan replied, giving him an understanding smile. It faltered for a moment before he shot David a slightly suppliant look. "I know this isn't what you'd usually do, but… would you tell him-?"
"He already knows, Ryan," David replied. "Trust me."
Ryan took a trembling breath before nodding. "Right. You're right."
"Of course I'm right. That's just a given," the technician replied, ending the light remark with a small, apologetic smile. He wanted to say that he understood where Greg was coming from, understood why he hadn't shown. At the same time, he couldn't really excuse it. He knew Greg was either at home drowning in his own misery or breaking numerous road laws just to make it to the impending flight on time. Nonetheless, Ryan responded with a short laugh. David gave him a suspicious look.
"Are we having an emotional send-off here?" he asked. "Because it looks like you're about to hug me or something and- wait, what- Ryan, don't you dare-''
David made an irritated sound as Ryan's arms clasped around his neck and gave him a brief but strong hug.
"As unbelievable as this sounds, you're a great friend," Ryan said, breaking away and looking at David with intent. David kept his reply silent; he could see that Ryan was bravely keeping himself together when all he probably wanted to do was fall apart. "And I'm glad to have met you. Tell Archie I said bye and to… I don't know, live long and prosper or something."
David couldn't help the small smile that grew on his lips. "I'll make sure to relay the message."
"Good," Ryan replied, and turned for one moment longer, hoping he might spot a familiar blonde rushing through the crowds. Instead, he saw Eric and Nick say their adieus. How did Eric hide it so well? Pretend to be so unaffected? Ryan wished he could possess that same quality. Instead, Eric was laughing and cracking a joke, acting as though it wasn't tearing him apart, while Ryan was barely able to keep himself in check. Ryan's heart stilled as Eric and Nick heard the stewardess on the intercom, informing passengers that they were preparing for takeoff soon. He saw Eric sigh and tell Nick goodbye. And when Eric began walking away, Nick suddenly reached out, grabbed his wrist, and turned him around for one last kiss, a desperate farewell.
Without a word, Ryan turned away and quickly entered the covered gangplank, walking several yards until he was on the plane and then proceeded to find his seat. It was as though he were on autopilot. He slid in and stared out the window, squeezing his fists so that his hands would stop shaking. It wasn't his place to watch the send-off and he couldn't bring himself to watch anymore anyway. It hurt. Ryan wanted to yell, to hit something, because it wasn't supposed to be this way. He had warned himself over and over, every waking minute. Eric had cautioned him as well. Told him to be careful, and what good did that do either of them? Nothing. It didn't give them a damn thing.
Because Eric was sliding in next to him, suspiciously quiet, and Ryan didn't want to see the look on his face.
They were going to get back to Miami. They were going to forget they were ever here, and it was going to be a healthy change. It was stupid to get upset over Greg not being there; besides, there were a dozen reasons why he didn't show up. Traffic was horrible. His car could have broke down. Whatever the cause, something stopped Greg from coming. Ryan knew Greg wasn't being selfish or lazy, because Greg wasn't like that. He was a good, caring person, and Ryan knew something must have had happened. He sucked in a deep, shaky breath. He prayed that Greg was all right.
Before Ryan knew it, the pilot was asking everyone to buckle his or her seat belt for takeoff. Ryan didn't want to dwell on what that meant: leaving Las Vegas, leaving Greg and David and the lab, leaving everything to go back home. He closed his eyes as the engines boosted, tried to clear his mind when he felt the plane jerk forward. He didn't particularly enjoy flying, but he felt too empty to care whether he was comfortable. He was hit with déjà-vu, because Calleigh was talking, Yelina was listening, and Horatio was reading something work-related.
Eric had fallen asleep, leaning against Ryan's shoulder and breathing softly. Ryan closed his eyes again before swallowing. This was practically a mirror image of how they'd been when they had first arrived. Of course, Ryan had been anxious then.
Now he was just miserable.
"Goodbye? There's nothing good about saying goodbye," Greg said, giving Ryan one last kiss before the cab rolled up and drove Ryan towards the hotel.
Ryan couldn't say that he had missed Miami without lying, because he hadn't missed his hometown. The sun was still as bright and the labs were still the same, but Eric seemed to be lapping it up. It was as if the Miami locale had given him back his drive and Eric could do little but be thrilled at the familiar territory. Ryan had to smile; his best friend had been unhappy in the middle of the desert. He was meant to live by the ocean. As a matter of fact, the only thing that had made the trip worthwhile was…
Ryan grimaced as he flopped down onto a lab chair, listlessly waiting for the print database to do its magic. It was difficult to throw oneself into work when part of your job required waiting, because waiting gave Ryan too much time to think. One miserable weekend had passed since he left Nevada, and he wasn't feeling any better.
Quite frankly, Nick was the only aspect of Las Vegas that Eric missed. But when Ryan thought of Eric, he was reminded of Nick and when he thought of Nick, he was reminded of Las Vegas.
And whenever the city's name entered his mind, one face would flash through his memory.
Ryan had always believed that the scientist inside of him could trump whatever crazy emotion that overtook him. If he were detached for long enough, then he would inevitably forget Greg and his coffee and music and pancakes. He'd forget the tropical fish and sneakers and trail mix. Maybe he was romanticizing the entire relationship; maybe they never would have worked out if given the chance. Maybe he only thought he loved Greg.
Maybe that was a load of crap.
With a frustrated sigh, Ryan sat up and tried to concentrate on his work. He had known that entering into a relationship with Greg would result in this; he didn't regret a single moment. The pain was terrible, but he could handle it.
"Honey, you look good in a lot of things," said a familiar voice from behind, "But misery isn't one of them."
Ryan jumped only slightly before turning to see Alexx Woods standing in the lab doorway, a smile on her red lips. "Now, I've got the details from Calleigh, Eric, and Horatio," she began, walking towards him in her professional black blouse and slacks. "But you've been pretty quiet when it comes to Vegas. I want the dirt."
Ryan felt his stomach revolt at the words. He loved Alexx; she was a true angel, but how was he supposed to forget Vegas if people kept bringing it up? Either way, he couldn't let her know what had happened. She would worry and pry until he lost his mind (although he honestly wouldn't have her any other way.)
"It's just another city, Alexx. I'm afraid I don't have anything interesting to share."
"Another city? Baby, it's Vegas. Sure it's a tourist trap, but all those fountains and lights? You've gotta have something to tell."
"It's really nothing special," he insisted, turning back to the computer he'd been working on while hoping she'd change the subject.
Alexx snorted and Ryan sighed. Change the subject? When pigs flew. Alexx wanted to know, and she wouldn't give up until her need for details was satisfied. "Sure. Maybe the city isn't anything special, but rumor is you met someone. How could you keep that from me?"
Ryan's eyes widened slightly as he turned back to face her. "How did you-?"
She waved her hand to stop him mid-sentence, as though impatient with the question. "When girls get together, things are said."
"Calleigh," Ryan groaned, tilting his head back. "She really told you?"
"She's worried," Alexx promptly replied. "And so am I. Besides, were you hiding it from me?"
"Not on purpose," he mumbled when, in reality, he had hoped she would never find out. What had he been thinking? It was Calleigh.
"Sure, Slick. You can't expect me to believe that." She quickly grabbed a rolling chair before sitting next to Ryan, leaning in conspiringly. "Was he cute? Funny? Good in bed? You can tell me anything."
Ryan's lurched back. Yes, he and Alexx were tight and yes, he loved the woman to death. But really. "Alexx! What-?"
"Honey, Calleigh isn't good at keeping secrets," she interrupted, before moving back to her previous point. "Blonde, lanky, Greg. Am I hitting the mark?"
"Maybe," he muttered, realizing the looming conversation was inevitable. His only hope was a freak natural disaster, and even then, Alexx probably wouldn't cease her questioning, ignoring all tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, and tidal waves until she felt fully informed.
She let out a knowing 'hm' before nodding. "And? What was he like?"
"Alexx, I really don't-''
"Baby, I'm not giving you an option. Tell all."
Ryan sighed and glanced at the machine sorting the prints. It didn't appear as though the computer was going to save him; it sat on the table, innocently running through the database. Was there nothing that could halt this discussion?
"Fine," he replied, leaning forward and lowering his voice. "But if you let the word slip, I won't be responsible for my actions."
"Cross my heart," she replied, obviously eager to hear the details as she drug her right forefinger over her chest in an X motion. She grinned before crossing her left leg over her right and leaning closer.
Ryan glanced at the machine for the last time, praying it would beep or even explode. Anything.
"He's a CSI One in Vegas," he finally admitted, turning back to his friend. "The case was so sprawling that everyone teamed up. I got stuck with print and DNA duty."
Alexx wrinkled her nose. "Is that all? Didn't you go into the field?"
"Eventually. The point is that he had my same problem."
"CSI in the lab?"
Ryan nodded. "Exactly. I first met him while he was drumming with some test tubes."
Alexx raised an eyebrow. "Are you kidding me?"
"If only I were," Ryan replied, unable to stop the laugh that escaped his lips. "We partnered up, you know? Worked together and became friends."
"And?" she asked, anticipation lacing the query. "Did he throw you down on the evidence table and have his way with you?"
Ryan paused before sending her a look that was both baffled and embarrassed. "You kiss your children with that mouth?"
She grinned again, making her look like the human reincarnate of the Cheshire cat. "I've got to get my entertainment somewhere."
Ryan sighed and didn't even bother to glance at the still-running machine. "Actually, he kissed me in the lab. He was making coffee and-''
"Were you holding a cup at the time?"
Ryan paused but nodded at the unexpected question. "Yeah. Why?"
"You dropped it."
Alexx shook her head, allowing it to droop in despair. "You dropped the coffee. Baby, you're going to have to stop doing that."
Ryan had the sense enough to be annoyed. "I've only done that a few times, Alexx."
"So are you going to see him again?"
Ryan allowed his indigence to fall before forcing himself to smile. "I don't think so," he replied, trying to keep the feeling of sickness from hitting too hard. "Can we not talk about it?"
There was a sigh next to him, and Ryan knew she was morphing into her motherly mode. He didn't want that. He didn't want to remember. He didn't care how many weekends or weeks or months or years passed, because he doubted he'd ever fully forget Greg.
A warm hand touched his shoulder. "Don't you call each other? E-mail?"
"There's no point," he said, his voice strangely harsh. "It would only prolong the inevitable."
He met her concerned gaze. He didn't want to be short with her, but the memory made him sick to his stomach. He would give anything to be back in Vegas, but could he ever leave his friends? He made friends with Gil's team too, of course, but that didn't change the fact that he'd still be separated from Eric, Calleigh, Alexx, and even Horatio.
"I'm sorry," he finally said, his words soft and flat. "I didn't mean… I know you're just concerned. You and Cal both are, but I promise I'm fine. I'm just trying to forget it, is all. The sooner it's gone, the sooner I start feeling better."
Alexx sighed. "I know, baby. You love him. That's okay."
"It wasn't ever supposed to be this way," he said, closing his eyes. "I wasn't supposed to meet anyone."
"I don't think you have any say-so over that," she gently replied.
He felt a strange stinging in his eyes. "I told myself not do anything," he said, his voice raising. "I told him that I'd only be coming back here. There's no point in getting stuck in some painful cycle, right? I just kept repeating that, but I didn't listen to myself, Alexx. I blew off all common sense."
The tears leaked past his eyelids, and the ones that didn't catch onto his lashes fell against his cheeks. He wiped them away impatiently. The loneliness he'd been feeling, the desolation, the loss; it began adding up, pushing and pushing until he couldn't push back anymore.
"I feel like an idiot. I am an idiot. Crying like I had any rationality," he muttered, but didn't fight it when Alexx scooped him into a big hug.
"Well, it's only natural," she murmured, her voice warm and comforting. "When you miss someone-''
"I love him, Alexx. I love him, I miss him. I just want to forget him because I can't breathe otherwise," he confessed, words slightly muffled as he hugged her tight.
He glanced through the glass walls of the Miami-Dade crime lab. Eric was hunched over an evidence table, scrutinizing some security photos. Was he really happy? He was happy to be back home, but when he thought no one was looking, he often wore a frown that hadn't been there before. Ryan was sure he could never really know, but if Eric wanted to tell him, the younger CSI would certainly understand. He was experiencing the same feeling of emptiness; it was strong and consuming.
As if feeling Ryan's analyzing gaze, the Cuban glanced up from his job and their eyes met through the glass, as if to ask What are we going to do?