Title: The Art of War
Author: Kristen999 and everybetty (Beth)
Spoilers: General for seasons 1-5. Set several months after "Grave Danger".
Disclaimer: All rights belong to CBS and all their fine writers. Please don't sue. This is just for fun.
Summary: A formidable foe seeks victory when he controls all aspects of power. Warrick and Nick become reluctant soldiers in a battle where their adversary knows their every move.
Notes : This is a co-authored piece by everybetty (Beth) and Kristen999. Each chapter was written by both authors to give a seamless feel and flow to the story. Any comments should be directed to both writers. This is definitely a different kind of story and a pure thrill ride. So, sit back and enjoy this roller coaster, and brace your self for a bumpy ride.
Warnings: This story does contain some course language as well as violent situations.
Warrick Brown stormed outside in the early morning air. The coolness did nothing to tame the fire feeding his temper or slow how fast he barged out of the building. He almost jabbed his eye as he slammed on the shades that were obviously unnecessary at this early in the morning. He dug into his jeans pocket, long strides carrying him away from the building responsible for his pissy mood.
He came across his car, keys jingling, and dropped them once. He cursed as he bent down to swipe them up. He heard the hurried footsteps of shoes pounding the pavement behind him. Within seconds his ears perked up at the sound of rapid heavy breathing from someone trying to catch up to him.
"Hey, Man. Don't go stormin' out like that, when we're not done talking."
Warrick braced himself on the car door, that Texan accent forcing him to turn around.
He was happy he had on his sunglasses, so Nick couldn't see the glare being sent his way.
"Nothin' to jab about, man. It's over. Call it a day," he said, trying to end the conversation before it began. Well, the one out here, anyway.
Nick's hands were on his hips, his eyes blazing, and chest heaving. Warrick recognized 'determined' Nick and knew his escape was now irrefutably delayed.
The other CSI ground the gravel beneath his left boot, channeling energy and frustration.
"All I was saying, was cut him some slack. Greg's still new. He's gonna make rookie mistakes."
Warrick wasn't about to back down from his previous statements. "Rookie mistakes? They're called preconceptions. Biases. You can't unlearn those," he hissed.
Nick slid his tongue between his lips and began gnawing on his bottom one. The gears were turning, justifications being made from the look in his eyes, and the way his shoulders sagged just a little.
There it was. The slight sigh.
"Look, Warrick. Roger Davis fit the profile. He was the same height, the same size. He lived--"
"--On the wrong side of town. On the east side of Fremont, so of course he was the most logical suspect." Warrick cut his friend off in mid sentence. "Greg was just itching to grab this guy and nail him, and then of course he cons you into doing the interview cuz he's too nervous to try to talk down the 'big brother'."
Nick gawked at his partner. He walked past his friend, kicked at his tire and turned around slowly, those brown eyes disbelieving the words he'd uttered.
"You think that?" He inched closer. "Do you really?" he whispered.
Warrick closed his eyes, another good thing about his shades. Always keep the poker face. "No... I don't." He crossed his arms in front of him. "Not of Greg."
Nick stared upwards now, not making eye contact, even if he could. He leveled his gaze and swallowed to ease himself into a calmer demeanor.
"I had to go into that interview. Greg can't lead one. You know that."
Warrick rolled his shoulder blades, the sounds of vertebrae rubbing against each other popped in the early day. "Yeah. It's just that asshole detective..."
"Cavalier," Nick responded with a knowing tone.
Warrick lifted his eyebrows. "Yeah, that guy. That cop was a punk. Rubbed me the wrong way."
Nick tilted his head, another signal of acceptance. "We have to deal with jerks like that day in, day out. I've gotten on his bad side a few times already." He sighed, long and loud. "Just don't pin your anger on Greggo, Man. He's stressed out enough trying to juggle extra lab duty and field work."
Warrick grunted. "He needs to stop kissing so much ass. Real easy fix there."
Nick held his jaw tightly. "Do I need to look for flying Coke cans in my direction anymore?"
Warrick bristled on the inside. "You were in my space, Bro. Telling me to back off, discrediting me in front of that jerk-off cop." He leaned against the smooth steel at his back. The cool exterior of his vehicle felt nice and relaxing behind him. "I shouldn't have thrown it at ya. I'm sorry, Man."
Nick nodded his head absently. "Well, now you know how it feels to be accused of having too much empathy."
Warrick snorted. "I still think we're talking about two extremes. But, it's all good."
Both men stared at each other. An uncomfortable silence lingered in the air. Each criminalist tried to slow down the strung-out emotions that were firing on all cylinders, still blazing hot from just moments ago.
Warrick tried to laugh it off. "You still coming over for the game?"
Nick looked past him. His eyes told Warrick all he needed to know. Damn, but sometimes his partner was a bit over-sensitive.
"Nah, Man. I'm just gonna drink a few beers and head to bed. I'm tired."
The lanky CSI felt the tension ebb away from his shoulders only to be replaced by the heaviness of regret. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow."
Nick gave him one his patented forced smiles. It disturbed him as they always did. His partner was such an easy person to read: fake grins and bad jokes had been signals of a far from easy transition back to field work of late.
Nick slid on his orange-tinted sunglasses, a huge warning to his partner that he was still stinging from the argument considering it was only dawn and they weren't exactly needed yet. Warrick pushed the remote to open the door of his car and was in and starting the engine as his buddy walked away.
"I don't need this today," Warrick growled to himself as he drove back home to his new wife, hoping to put this night behind him.
Warrick smiled when his wife greeted him at the door. She always did that; he'd found it to be a new and welcome experience. To know that no matter how fucked up his day had gone, her warm smile and sensitive hands could make it all melt away.
She held him tight, rubbing at the back of his neck. He again gave a silent thanks that their schedules meshed so well. They both worked graveyard shift, but Tina always tended to get home before him from the hospital, and she would wait up for him no matter how tired or long her own day.
Tina Brown kissed her husband deeply. He ran his hands through shoulder-length hair and picked her up off of her feet as he swung them both over to the sofa. Warrick leaned over his wife with his long lanky body, kissing her cheeks, lips, and neck.
She laughed under him, breaking away enough to gaze into his eyes. "Another bad day?"
He laid his body along the couch, keeping her flush alongside him. Her smaller form kept him warm, and he brushed his fingers gently over her bare arms as he spoke.
"Not really a tough case. Just had to deal with an asshole detective all day. Tempers flared."
She snuggled closer to him, grabbing one of his hands and kissing the finger tips.
"You get into a fight with this detective?"
Warrick closed his eyes, burying his face into her silky dark hair, taking in the scent of apricots from her shampoo. "Sort of. We butted heads, but I kind of got into it with Greg and Nick." Warrick breathed in deeply the relaxing scent, rubbing his hands along her sides. "Mainly with Nick."
Tina rolled over so she was facing her husband. "You and Nick normally don't fight." She cupped his face. "You all right?"
Warrick planted his lips along her forehead. "I will be. I hate fighting with him. He can push my buttons sometimes, but I can punch his right back," he said with regret.
Tina played with the collar of his shirt. "Nick is thick-skinned. You guys are best friends. Buddies do argue from time to time. Sometimes it's like a marriage," she said with a wry grin.
Warrick laughed, surprised at how good it felt. "You comparing me and Nick to a married couple?"
His wife pressed her pointer finger to his lips, silencing him. "Don't laugh, silly. In certain professions the bonds you make with teammates are sometimes as strong if not stronger than the ones you share with your spouse. It might not have the same intimacy, but deep-rooted friendship, especially in a stressful field, is very important."
Warrick smiled. "I married a very smart lady."
Tina's grin widened, her eyes sparkling. "I know. Nick is your best friend so don't worry. You guys have been through Hell and back. He'll be fine."
"Hell and back," he laughed ruefully. "You got that right." He sighed and ran a hand down her back, approaching that fine backside he loved so much when they were rudely interrupted by the phone ringing. His hand abruptly stopped trailing down her hip and dropped dejectedly. "Do not go anywhere. Let me get this."
She gave him a coy smile that said she'd be right where he left her.
He grunted playfully as he disentangled himself from his wife's body and hauled himself off the couch. He jogged to the small kitchen at the back of the house and snatched up the cordless moments before the machine picked it up. A quick glance at the caller ID read "Blocked". He groaned, pissed off that a telemarketer call was interrupting his evening and answered the phone rather sharply.
"Uh.. Ricky? That you, Dawg?"
The voice was tinny, like from a payphone or bad cell connection. Hesitant. Slightly higher-pitched male voice. And familiar somehow.
"This is Warrick Brown. Who's this?" he asked, an edge to his voice.
"It's Kenny, Man. Kenny Longman."
"Kenny Longman? Kenny from Walnut Street?" Deeply buried images started floating to the surface.
"Yeah, Man. Long time no talk."
"Yeah.. long time, Man. What's up?" His voice was casual but he couldn't hide the suspicion that tinted his voice.
"Man, am I glad to talk to you, Bro. I hear you're a cop now, huh?"
"I work with the police, yeah. But what's this all about Kenny? I haven't talked to you in -what? A decade at least? How did you get my number anyway?" Warrick and the rest of his coworkers had long ago taken unlisted numbers to avoid angry calls and threats while they were on cases.
"I found it, Bro. Doesn't matter. I need to talk to you, Man." The voice fumbled on the phone, the sound of the caller's flesh rubbing on the receiver. His voice momentarily faded as if he had pulled his face away, then returned quickly, only to be taken down to a whispery mumble. Warrick tightened his grip on the phone and pushed it harder into his ear to try to catch the caller's words.
"Look, I can't talk here, Bro. I need your help. Can you come meet me?"
"Meet you? Kenny, Man. We haven't talked in like ten years and you want me to jet over there cuz you called out of the blue? Now tell me what the hell this is all about," his voice harshening with impatience.
"Ricky, Man. I can't talk here. You've got to meet me. Please. I'm beggin' you, Man. Don't make me remind you how you owe me."
Warrick sighed and rubbed at his face. Memories he hadn't accessed since his childhood began to rise to the forefront of his mind.
"Yeah. I remember. Where you wanna meet?" he asked tiredly.
"Remember where we used to hang after school?"
"Yeah - the--"
"Yeah! There. Come alone. And come quickly, okay?"
"Yeah- it'll take me about twenty to get there," he said, quickly mapping out the trip in his head.
"I'll be here." The phone abruptly hung up.
The dead phone hung in his hand, still pressed to his face as he tried to digest the substance of the phone call. He closed his eyes and summoned up a picture of the Kenny he knew back then.
Small, wiry little guy. Clothes always two sizes too big, picked up at the local thrift store. Thick glasses with yes, tape around one corner holding on the ear piece. And nervous as a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.
What the hell kinda trouble did you get yourself into now, Kenny?
His next obstacle was Tina. He had her all revved up and ready to go on the couch. Her perfume still clung to his hands and clothes. So how was he supposed to get out of the house without causing her concern? Eight months since they'd been married and he was already sneaking out of the house on her.
He put the phone down and plastered a ticked-off look on his face, which wasn't that hard to do. Slumped into the living room and gave Tina a shrug and an apologetic look.
"Whaaat? Who was it?" she said, disappointment already in her voice.
"It was the lab. They need me to come back in . Catherine had to call in - Lindsey is sick or something. I won't be long though. They called in another replacement- I'm just needed for a bit til they show."
He saw disbelief creeping onto her face and he quickly leaned over and gave her a slow lingering kiss. "And when I get back, we can finish this, okay?"
"I don't know if I'll still want to finish this when you get back," she said, a playful pout on her gorgeous features. He knew she was disappointed but her hazel eyes still had a smile in them.
"Oh, I think I know how to make you want this," he said, returning to give her a longer kiss, then reluctantly pulling away. He left her on the couch, her eyes dreamily half-slit and licking her lips. Damn you, Kenny!
He grabbed up his keys and his jacket and his service piece and badge from where he had unhooked them and left them on the hall table. He pulled open the front door to find his partner standing on his doorstep, finger paused in midair in front of his doorbell. The sight of Nick framed against the early morning sky brought him up short and he stopped mid-stride in the doorframe, juggling his keys in his hand.
"Hey, Warrick. Where you off to in such a hurry?"
Warrick glanced apprehensively back into the house, and, noting that Tina was only barely out of earshot, he pulled the door shut behind him and stepped out to join Nick on the stoop.
"Hey, Nick. I, uh, got a call. Gotta boogie. What are you doing here?"
"I, uh, thought we might talk about earlier. Where you off to?" Nick repeated.
"Nothing to talk about, Bro. I think we said all that needed to be said."
Nick looked questioningly at him, surprised to hear the impatience in his friend's voice.
"Actually," he began slowly, "I'd say with a response like that that we do have some stuff to talk about. Warrick, Man I-
"No time, Nick. No need and no time. Told ya. I gotta jet."
Nick nodded. "Yeah, alright. I get ya. But why so mysterious? Did you and Tina -?
"You know, Nick- what goes on between me and my wife is of no concern to you. So back off and let me by." Warrick planted a forearm against his friend's chest and gave him a shove as he attempted to get by him on the narrow concrete stoop.
Nick took a stumbling step backwards, his ankle twisting painfully as he dropped down onto the soft grass. Warrick saw the pained look on Nick's face and while not knowing about the ankle, noted the pain in his partner's eyes and knew he put it there. He had no time to explain or apologize so he pushed on past and climbed up into the cab of his truck, turned the key over, and threw it into reverse out the driveway, cutting off a car coming down the road, its driver leaning on his horn and thrusting a middle finger into the air out the window. Paying the irate driver no mind he shoved it into drive, and slammed the pedal down, leaving a streak of burnt rubber at the end of his driveway.
Half an hour later he found himself on Chestnut Street back in his old neighborhood. He thought he might get lost but everything was pretty much the way it was when he left. He hadn't been back since college when his Grams passed.
There was the bike shop where he used to hang around staring longingly at the shiny ten-speeds in the window. There was the neighborhood bar, same neon Colt 45 sign glowing above the door. He had a feeling if he went in he'd see the same tired faces perched on stools at the bar, nursing watered-down drinks.
And here was the abandoned building at the corner with Elm that he and Kenny used to hang out in everyday after school. He and Kenny had banded together to hide from the bullies in school; their primary bonds those of fear and a love of science.
Warrick remembered how they first met. He'd been running from Jerome Kendall, a mean hulking beast, still in eighth grade after his second try. Warrick had been his favorite target after the English teacher asked him to tutor Jerome. He had shown up after school, a copy of Great Expectations hugged to his scrawny chest, and Jerome had loomed over him, pointing a fat finger at him over the book. He could still feel the sting of the finger in his sternum as Jerome had told him how he was gonna write that book report for him and it had better get a "C" or else.
Stupidly, he had replied that if he wrote it, it would probably get an A and he watched as anger bubbled up in Jerome's eyes. He'd flung Dickens to the floor and taken off, as fast as his still short spindly legs would take him, out the front doors and into the streets. He rounded the corner on Elm and ducked into an abandoned dry cleaners on the corner, small enough to fit through a gap in the boards covering the entranceway. He had leaned against the wall, his chest and lungs burning as he gasped for air, when he felt a hand on his arm. He had yelped and tried to pull away, whipping his head around to see Kenny crouched down hiding behind the counter, put a finger to his lips and beckon him back into the rear of the building. He joined his new friend, leaving behind the sound of Jerome's voice outside bellowing threats at him.
The building had remained abandoned, no urban renewal in this part of town. He locked up the truck and threw a look up and down the street, not exactly knowing why he was feeling so paranoid, but comforted when he saw no traffic, foot or otherwise. Not unusual at such an early hour.
He eyed the opening in the boards he once fit through with a doubtful eye. Pulling aside the wood he felt it give under his grasp and come free from the surrounding frame. Kenny must have already been in here.
He crouched down and let himself into the room, his eyes taking a minute to adjust to the deeper darkness. A form emerged from the shadows, and stepped out in front of him.
It was Kenny. Same old Kenny. The guy hadn't grown but a few more inches, topping out around five seven. Still weighed a buck and a quarter if that. His clothes fit a bit better but still looked second hand. An olive drab zip-up hoodie over camouflage pants tucked into black boots. The eighties fade was gone, his hair now grown out in long thin braids he caught up in a rubber band at the back of his head. And he stilled bobbed nervously, his hands moving constantly, worrying at a scab or at his mouth where his teeth would gnaw at his nubby nails. Kenny dropped his hand from where it was currently playing with a braid and stuck it out for Warrick to shake in their knuckle-knocking manner. Warrick hesitantly stuck his fist out and let Kenny hit it, stiffening when Kenny leaned over to try to pull him into a one-armed hug. Kenny must have felt his displeasure because he backed off and the hand returned to his hair.
"Ricky, Dude. Damn you got tall!" A low whistle escaped his mouth. "I remember when I used to have a few inches on you."
"Yeah, I grew up, Kenny. And it's not Ricky. It's Warrick. I grew out of that, too."
"Yeah, I guess you did, Ri- I mean Warrick. Man needs his respect, he gonna be a cop an all, I guess."
"I'm not a cop, Kenny. I'm a CSI. A scientist. So now we're all caught up, hows about you fill me in on what the cloak and dagger bullshit is for."
Kenny lowered his voice and leaned in towards Warrick as if he was afraid to speak loudly even in their hidden circumstances.
"I pissed the wrong guy off, Warrick. I uh, sorta took something that didn't belong to me and I got caught."
"So you're a thief now, Kenny? Why you calling me about it? Who's this 'wrong guy'?"
Kenny hesitated, drew in a deep breath and whispered a name Warrick hadn't heard in several years. "I think it was The Voice, Warrick. And he's after me."