Title: Dark Days

Author: Kristen999

Category: Angst/ Drama/ Case file

Spoilers: General for seasons 1-4. Set in Season 5, but no specific spoilers for it.

Disclaimer: All rights belong to CBS and all their fine writers. Please don't sue. This is just for fun.

Summary: Detachment from a case is a necessity. Obsession, however, can be an unavoidable evil. Nick battles his demons during a case of a murdered child.

Notes This story deals with dark and sensitive subject matter. The story takes place during Season 5, but the Team is not split up. I will try to update twice a week. I'm still completing this project.

Thanks: To Tinkerbell for all of her wonderful editing. To Kris, I miss you.

Gil Grissom stared at his calendar in confused silence. He dug through files, expense reports, and pursed his lips. Catherine had just left his office in a hurry after yet another conversation where they'd gotten their wires crossed. The same date, how could he have forgotten... again? He rubbed at his chin, scratching around his beard. He'd already made the decision; it was a fairly easy one after all. His thoughts were interrupted when his Big Mouth Billy Bass began singing.

The supervisor peered though his reading spectacles. He acknowledged the entrance with a nod and invited the person to enter his office. Nick Stokes walked in, not a single amount of hesitancy in his demeanor. Gil raised an eyebrow in admiration; the other criminalist always seemed to be slightly uncomfortable when his presence had been requested in the past. Nick strolled in, cool as a cucumber, and took a seat without asking. Gil chuckled on the inside. The young criminalist seemed so relaxed, Nick the Man in Black. Grissom wondered if he should lightly suggest that the other man try wearing something other than a black T-shirt and jeans.

His amusement quickly dissipated when he thumbed through the file folder in front of him. His CSI was certainly up to the challenge. But it wasn't doubt that tickled at his brain- he just hated to hand over this much responsibility on one plate. This was a three course meal, indeed.

Nick sat patiently in his chair as the older man slid the files over to him.

"Dead boy found in the alley of Tenth and Saint Andrews. I want you to run it."

The younger criminalist picked up the assignment, the location and notes neatly printed on the page. Nick nodded as he gave it a cursory exam. "I'm on it." He looked over at his boss. "Any reason I just didn't pick this off the board or something?"

Gil shrugged almost innocently. "I'm leaving in an hour for that conference... it's mandatory."

Nick leaned back in his chair, still not quite convinced this was the reason for being summoned. "Something special about this case? Body hasn't been identified."

Grissom tapped his fingers on his desk absently. "Catherine has to go with me. It's a prerequisite if she ever wants to get the next shift supervisory position." Gil looked over at Nick, keeping his expression casual. "I'm leaving you in charge of the shift for the next several days while we're both out of town. You'll be lead on this case, as well as overseeing all other regular lab duties."

Nick Stokes beamed with pride as his smile reached from ear to ear. "Yeah?"

His boss allowed a very tiny grin, but it disappeared rather quickly.

"You're lucky it's a slow night. When Sara's done with the Willborne case, she can lend a hand. Till then, you got Warrick and Greg."

The wheel in Nick's head was already shifting gears, and his face grew serious. "Greg's never worked on a murdered child case before."

The supervisor studied the man in front of him. He simply adjusted his weight in the chair.

"You want me to mentor him on this?" Nick asked, even though he knew the answer.

"I think you can juggle it all. He'll need a steady guide on a case like this."

The younger criminalist sat straighter in his chair even if he didn't realize it. "The first one's pretty tough. I'll make sure he learns, and handles it alright."

Grissom slowly stood up from his chair. "I know." The supervisor knew Nick had the empathic skills to help a green criminalist on cases like this. The first dead child case was always the hardest. There were many firsts in this field, all of them were never very pleasant. But it was the job.

Nick got out of his chair. "Looks like I need to get busy, then. I'll let the rest of the team know." Nick was all business as he carefully started planning all the things he would need to set in motion.

The younger man turned to leave, but stopped right outside the door.

"Thanks, Grissom."

The supervisor gave a slight nod. "None needed."

Nick left his office and Gil started to pack away things in his briefcase for his trip. Four days was a very long time to leave someone who was inexperienced in running the unit. Perhaps he should have sought help from another team, but Gil knew he made the right choice. He only hoped that whatever unexpected things that occurred would be a learning experience for Nick.

There were always surprises. They were what made the position so grueling sometimes.

Warrick Brown was polishing off the last bit of his coffee, and glanced at his watch. Grissom was slightly overdue, which was so unlike his boss. He hadn't noticed any bustle about the lab, no hot cases could be tying everyone up. Warrick's police scanner was on the fritz, so he felt like he was in the dark. He was about to search out some change for the snack machine when he heard hurried footsteps enter the breakroom.

"What's up, Nick?" he greeted his partner.

"Not much."

Warrick cocked his head to one side. Nick Stokes was practically vibrating with intense energy. There was a brightness to his eyes, an almost-bounce in his step as he walked over to him. That silly grin of his always gave him away.

Warrick smiled, playing the coy one. "I take it we got another dull night ahead of us?"

Nick's smile disappeared. A mask of seriousness slipped on, and Warrick knew that his partner was all riled up by something. The case in the file folder was not going to be a good one.

"We've got an unidentified child in an alleyway. I'm supposed to grab you and Greg to handle it."

The taller CSI took a deep breath and prepared his mind for the death of another young victim. "I'll drive. Greggo can get in the back seat."

Nick tucked the files under his arm and signaled for his partner to follow him. Both criminalists went down the hall and headed for the parking lot. Bobby Dawson came bounding down the hall, breathless.

He cut into their path. "Good, glad I stopped you before you headed to that scene."

Nick looked at the other man. He placed his hand along the hallway wall and leaned on it. "What'cha need?"

"That slug from the Anderson case came from an antique colt .45, a very rare gun. Must date back to before World War II."

Warrick was intrigued but impatient with this distraction. He glanced over at Nick, who was focused on the weapons expert. Warrick cleared his throat in an attempt to hurry the other CSI, but Nick didn't pay any attention to him. Bobby was still rattling on about the need to find another gun for analysis. Warrick noted wearily that this wasn't really their problem to contend with.

Nick fixed the ballistics expert with an exasperated look. "All right, I get it. You need another Colt...ahhh..." Nick stopped trying to recall the exact model. "You need another gun," he amended.

"Yeah, the gun's worth like close to five grand. I need your signature for authorization to borrow one from the Vegas Weapons' society to run a comparison." The frantic man shoved a form in Nick's hands.

The criminalist looked at it perplexed, but exuded calmness. "Yeah, ah ... sure." Nick scribbled his name to the form and handed it back, arching an eyebrow. "We borrow stuff from them all the time...right?"

Bobby snatched up the slip. "Oh, yeah sure. I mean there's nothing to worry except maybe some insurance issues. But, yeah no problems that should arise." Then the tech was off like a shot down the hallway.

Warrick now stared at his partner, his face furrowed in confusion. "Nick. Why did you just sign off on that?"

The Texan tried to hide his pleasure of leading his partner on for a while. "Oh, I forgot to tell you. I'm shift supervisor, while Griss and Cath are gone. So, that's bossman to you, Rick."

Nick winked at his bewildered coworker. Warrick snorted loudly. "Oh, hell no."

Nick just smiled. "Come on, let's grab Greggo and get to the scene."

The two rounded a corner when Jacqui grabbed Nick's shoulder and led him into her lab. Warrick watched in amusement as she rattled off another round of complications from some case. Nick seemed like he got a handle on the situation before being allowed to leave.

The partners were stopped two more times before they finally found Greg Sanders. The trio slipped out of the building before Nick could be hounded again with another set of problems.

Warrick slipped his keys into the ignition and looked over at the other man, who was on his cell phone trying to track down Sara Sidle to update her about something that Trace had found on her case.

'Nick Stokes is about to learn the wonders of middle management.' Warrick hid a secret smile as he drove over to the scene.

Nick turned around in his seat to speak face to face with Greg Sanders. The newest CSI had passed his first proficiency test only a month previously. He was still learning the ropes for field work, and needed to be as mentally prepared as possible for what to expect.

Greg looked up at his colleague studying him with a wistful expression. Greg adjusted his tie, something he wasn't quite comfortable with. He wore one of his newly purchased suits, a jacket that was too big, and solid colored button up shirt that felt a bit too normal for his taste.

"So, how old is the victim?" he asked in a hushed tone.

Nick kept his body twisted somewhat uncomfortably, to keep the younger man in his line of sight. "We don't know his age." Nick clicked his teeth together. "First thing you need to do is to keep yourself detached. Don't concentrate on his face, or imagine what he might have been like, alive."

Greg stared ahead as his colleague's voice drifted into softer tones.

"It's just a smaller body, another victim who needs us to concentrate on the assignment."

Greg nodded, his voice not quite working. He'd been on cases involving dead children when he was in the lab. He'd been on the other side of things, technical breakdowns of blood, chemicals, and DNA. However, he'd never been closely involved with the body, to the smells and sights of young innocence lost. Greg fiddled with his hands.

Nick twisted his neck to one side, loosening stiff muscles. "Take deep,steady breaths. If you need some fresh air, just step away and refocus your thoughts."

"All right." No snappy comments. Greg could almost hear the inner thoughts of his coworkers. Pure mental preparation. Distraction and concentration. He hoped he could assimilate that same kind of deep focus, without the horror of the crime overshadowing his duty.

Warrick pulled onto a side street. The bouncing red and blue lights of patrol cars flashed in different time intervals from each other. The trio pulled out their kits, and walked stoically towards the yellow tape that flapped in the chilly air.

Jim Brass, his face as unreadable as granite, simply waited for them to approach. He glanced behind his back, his eyes cold and still, a pure reflection of the climate of the evening. "Victim was found in the alley by a store owner. Annie Wilke, age 65, found him when she was taking out the trash. She dialed 911 immediately."

Nick saw David crouched over a small, lifeless form several feet away. "No, eyewitnesses? No one saw a thing?"

The Captain shook his head in the negative. "No reports of a disturbance. This scene... it's... it's strange."

Warrick rubbed the fingers of his left hand together. "What about it?"

Jim shoved his hands into his jacket pockets. "Take a look for yourself."

Nick and Warrick approached the body first, each placing their kits to the side so they could take in the area. David stepped away, his face drawn tight and expressionless in the low lighting.

"My preliminary COD is exsanguination. His throat's been cut. I'd say he's been dead less than an hour." David kept his head down, his words floated out quietly in the air.

Nick crouched down, slipping on his gloves. The smacking sound of latex from two other sets of hands echoed behind him. A young boy lay on his side, his eyes open, the dull blue iris glazed over. The blood from a large wound across his throat stained the beige blanket beneath him. The crimson pool spread past the fabric and into the street.

The child's hair lay in his own blood, his mouth partially open as if suddenly surprised. His right arm was straight out in front of him, his left curled protectively around a small purple stuffed donkey. Even the precious toy had not been spared from being soiled.

The smell of copper perpetuated the air, meaning that the crime was fresh. The blood seemed moist around the pajama top, but the child's legs were still dry. Warrick's feet crunched along the loose asphalt as he walked behind the body, his eyes searching for any disturbances or clues.

Greg remained still; he never took his eyes off the child's face, whose complexion continued to ashen right in front of him.

"Body's clear for you guys." David explained, breaking the silence.

Nick stayed on his haunches, his eyes darting around the shadows. "All right. Warrick, see if you can find any trace of how he got here. Tire tracks, shoe prints, anything to indicate who was here."

Warrick glanced around, noting the debris that littered outside the narrow area behind the store lots. His lips twitched. "Lot of trash around here, but I'll see what I can do."

Nick turned and looked over his shoulder. "Greg, I want you to take photos of the body. Document from several angles. Then we'll move him, see if there's anything we can find."

"What about identifying him?" Greg asked tentatively.

Nick motioned his head in the direction of the small DB. "He's in his PJ's. I doubt he has any school identification on him. We'll have to wait till we can take his prints and run them past the school systems'. Then we'll scour any missing person's reports from the last twenty-four hours."

The younger man shuddered while keeping his breathing even. He looked over at his coworker, who nodded for him to continue. The camera shutter's clicking was the only sound in the silent alley.

Nick shined his flashlight around the blanket and the surrounding ground searching for trace. Each man worked in silence for a long while.

"What are your instincts telling you about the position of the body?" Nick questioned. He wanted to get Greg used to asking things, trying to investigate every avenue while the body was still present.

Greg moved around in a circle, taking in the dark blue cotton, clothes. The blanket was spread out carefully. "He was killed here. There's a large amount of blood."

"Castoff?" Nick asked.

Greg looked at the wall, and noted the splatter of blood drops. He took several photos. Then he knelt down to inspect the wound closer. "Is it okay to move him now?"

Nick tentatively placed his gloved hand on the boys' face, and closed the eyelids. His fingers lingered on the child's cheek, the skin was still warm. Nick removed his hand. "Yeah," he said softly.

David came over with a stretcher, ready to transport the boy back to the lab for an autopsy. The Assistant Coroner carefully placed his hands under the body, and lifted the child carefully, the little boy's arms falling to his sides. Nick shined his flashlight around the now empty blanket, not noticing anything besides the blood pool.

Nick stood up, and Greg slowly made his way next to his coworker. The other criminalist pointed down. "Someone took great care on spreading the blanket around, every inch of it is flat."

"The-the stuffed animal. The killer had to bring it with him," the young criminalist observed.

"The little boy might have not gone anywhere without it. Go ahead and bag it. Might be some initials somewhere on it." Nick moved aside as Greg gathered the toy up.

He inspected the tag and noticed two letters scribbled on it. "JT" He said out loud.

Nick looked at the ex-tech. "It's a start. Let's finish up our collection."

The three criminalists worked in literal silence and gathered what little solid evidence they could find. It was as if the poor child had appeared from nowhere and was dumped without a single thing left behind from the murderer. Nick would occasionally ask Greg several things to get the younger CSI's mind focused on the case. They gathered up the blanket, and canvassed the surrounding area, then moved around in an expanding circumference in their search.

Warrick wandered over towards the temporary supervisor. "I didn't find anything other than trash from one of the cans. I did find a partial set of large prints and I doubt they match the older lady who discovered the body."

Nick processed the information. "Where were they?"

"Several feet from the fence that leads to the side of the store. Gate was unlocked, and it leads to another side street. Easy access in and out. Print was near the fence door. There's a lot of crushed up rock over there, puddles around. Someone stepped in water, then in some of the rock. Made a partial impression in the dust."

Nick wandered over towards the fence and then poked his head around. He noticed the small side street that was cast in shadows. There were no street lights around. He walked down till he reached the main street, and studied the surrounding buildings. Warrick came up behind him, his eyes matching his partner's in a search of the area.

"I came down here when I was looking for tire tracks. Didn't see any buildings that might hide any kind of surveillance cameras. No banks, gas stations, or traffic units around."

Nick imagined a dark car absently cruising around the main strip, then pulling into the alley way. Some shadowy figure walked down, went past the gate and killed the little boy. No one the wiser, no eyes to witness the crime.

Nick shook his head. "Our suspect must know this area. How else did he know that it was hidden back here?" Nick looked at the other criminalist.

Warrick agreed. "Familiarity with this location. Maybe our killer works or lives near by. Might want to get someone banging on doors in the morning. See if anyone has noticed anyone suspicious in the area lately, sneaking around out back."

Nick stripped off his gloves, bagged them and put them in the pocket of his vest. The CSI stretched and bent at the waist. "Let's head back to the lab. Greg and I'll process the blanket and the toy. See if you can get something off those shoe prints."

Warrick looked doubtful. "It's a shot in the dark, man."

Nick shrugged and looked over at Greg who now stood next to him.

The younger man was obviously shaken by the scene. "I guess we'll get the autopsy in a few hours?"

"Depends on how backed up the Doc is." Warrick responded.

"I'll have Brass check those missing children's reports. When the body arrives, let's get his prints and start running them against all the local school systems that participate in the community ID program." Nick gathered up his kit and started towards the SUV.

Greg remained behind alongside Warrick. "How do you guys...I mean, how do you get used to this?"

Warrick turned to look at him, his face passive. "You don't. You deal with it, keep your wits about ya. Then you channel everything into the case."

Greg looked down at his feet and then back up. "You and Nick just seem so collected."

"It's called detachment, Greg. Something you'll learn."

Nick was far enough ahead of his coworkers that he got to the trunk of the vehicle. He put his kit away, and stole a moment to gather his racing thoughts. He tried pushing aside the images of those hollow, glassy eyes. There was a sense of absolute horror reflected in those dead orbs. Nick bit his lip and pushed aside the anger roaring throughout him.

He took a few seep calming breaths, his hands tightening into fists. Then he opened the passenger door as the rest of his coworkers put away their own collections and supplies. Nick slid into his seat and stole a glance in the passenger mirror as his colleagues got into the vehicle. His own brown eyes were darker; they glistened with a hot, fierce intensity.

Nick squeezed the armrest tightly, but then relaxed his body somewhat.

"Good job out there, Greg." His voice was calm and steady without any indication of his easily hidden feelings.


The car drive back to the lab was done in relative silence.