The desert stretched for long, unyielding miles. Catherine and Grissom had already entered the bunker, and their voices had faded into the blackness.
Nick couldn't put one foot in front of the other, frozen in the stillness of a desert day. Each muscle tensed until his whole body was like a mound of solid rock. He could sense his toes trying to claw through the soles of his shoes to clutch frantically at the sand beneath.
His skin felt like it was on fire, and Nick dragged his trembling hand up near his face, expecting to see red pulsing welts marring the skin. There had been welts the last time he was underground, and there had been pain and a gun and glass he couldn't break and-
A firm hand on his shoulder freed him from the horror film running rampant through his brain. Nick spun around to find Warrick looking at him. "Hey Rick," Nick said, trying to keep his voice from shaking. "What brings you to our neck of the woods?"
"Hey Nickie," Warrick replied, still not taking his eyes off Nick. "I figured you all could use some help out here."
"Yeah, who knows how many bodies are in there?" Nick strained to will his feet to move forward, his body to move into the bunker, but he couldn't.
"Nick, you don't have to go in there," Warrick said. "I'll go in instead. I'm sure they could use your help back at the first crime scene."
"No!" Nick was shocked to hear himself yelling, his exclamation vibrating desperately. Taking a shallow, shaky breath he spoke again. "No, I'll go in."
"You don't have to prove anything to anybody Nickie." Warrick moved until he was in between Nick and the bunker. "Least of all to me."
"I'm not trying to prove anything!" Nick insisted, his voice growing angrier. He took comfort in the anger and thrust himself into it full force. "I am perfectly capable of gathering evidence! I've been doing it for a long time!"
"I know, I know," Warrick said soothingly, placing a hand on Nick's arm. Nick violently shook the hand off.
"Hey, when you were gambling, did I make you feel dumb and incompetent?" Nick spat out. "Did I make you feel incapable of doing your job?" Once the words had left his mouth, Nick wished he could take them back. He lowered his head, unable to meet Warrick's eyes. He felt a hand on his chin, and his face was tilted up to meet Warrick's sympathetic and kind eyes.
"No you didn't," Warrick answered, a few tears trickling down his cheek. "You stood by me, and you helped me when I couldn't help myself. I just want to do the same for you."
For a long silent moment they stood motionless, the sand stirring at their feet. Then Nick leaned his head onto Warrick's shoulder, and Warrick wrapped his arms around him. "It isn't fair," Nick whispered into Warrick's t-shirt. "I love this job and he's taken it away from me."
"No he hasn't," Warrick said. "No he hasn't. We'll get through this, ok? I promise." Nick nodded, and when he pulled back, Warrick could see a smile starting to fly across his face. Lifting his kit, Nick took a deep breath, and Warrick by his side, they walked down into the darkness together.