Note: It's a short chapter...but I feel like it rounds everything out. It's closure to the story line. Hope you enjoy...thanks again for all the comments/reviews! I'm already working on my next piece...hopefully can begin on it in the next few days! Keep on open eye!
He didn't want to make himself move, and quite honestly couldn't. He was glued to his seat. He had been for nearly ten minutes now.
He hit the indiglo on his watch. It was almost time for shift to start. Coming to terms with the situation, Nick slowly climbed down from his truck and made his way to the glass door entrance of the lab. He only hoped he could make it into the locker room without drawing too much attention.
The time off had been good. It had allowed a lot of time for processing and taking inventory. He did really expect it to feel weird coming back at the lab, but it did.
The night air was cool, but not cold, as he walked across the parking lot. Warrick's car, Sara's, Greg's…the team was all here.
Flashing his ID to Judy at the front desk he was surprised how easy, and even genuine, a smile and greeting came to him. He didn't know why he still showed his ID every time he entered the lab, habit he supposed. Judy knew his face as well as anyone else from graveyard shift.
He smiled a little, remembering the time the petit desk clerk had helped them on a case. The sweaters… He cringed at the thought. Kids killing kids, brothers killing brothers just wasn't natural.
Walking through the aquarium-like halls of the lab almost took on the sensation of moving in slow motion. Hodges was in the trace lab talking Greg's ear off about something. Neither man noticed as he passed.
Grissom was in his office. That would be his second stop after his locker.
He managed to make it to his locker and get it open without raising the alarm to his presence. The last thing he wanted was a thousand questions.
How you doing, Nick?
Feeling better, Nick?
Can I get you anything?
The last thing he wanted was to be babied, to be looked on like a cause, to be looked on like Warrick had looked at him a week ago. He was glad that awkwardness had passed with his friend. If there was one thing he couldn't stand, it was the inability to talk to the man that had saved him more than once.
"Damn, man…I'd never seen you so mad," Warrick had said last week as he sat in Nick's house after the Bronco's game. "I don't get it."
"I snapped," he had tried to shrug it off. "Child abuse…it's unforgivable," he shook his head.
"Well, if it helps, we got him for the murder. I think the DA's looking for the death penalty."
"Damn!" Nick sighed leaning back on the couch.
Sure, he'd crossed a line. Sure, he could have lost his job. Sure, he could have ended up with assault charges to his name. But he never regretted his actions. Anyone to take advantage of their own child, to break that special bond, that unique trust, with their own flesh and blood… It was unforgivable.
He'd never told Warrick about his own past. He probably never would. Hell, he wouldn't have told Grissom had he been in the right mind.
Nick prepped his gun, checking the safety and snapping it in his side holster. He really hoped Grissom wouldn't keep him in the lab tonight. He wasn't sure he could handle a full load of Hodges his first night back. But, to be safe, he left his field vest hanging on its hook. He'd come back for it if he had to.
It was time to make his appearances.
First stop, Grissom.
He made his way down the hall, this time eluding the stares of concern and avoiding the call from the trace lab tech.
Making it to his destination, he knocked lightly on the half-closed door, pushing it open as he did so. The Big-Mouth Billy Bass hadn't worked in a couple years. Nick never thought he'd miss the sound of that stupid fish.
"Hey, Griss," he said leaning in the door jam.
"Good, you're here," Grissom said looking up from his desk. He was swimming in the usual pile of paper work. "Shut the door, would you?" he asked motioning the CSI to enter.
Nick complied, taking a seat in front of the man's desk.
"How you feeling?" he asked putting his pen down and removing his glasses.
"Better," he nodded. The answer was truthful. It didn't grate on the man's ears as the usual two-word brush off he was expecting.
"Good," he offered his half smile. "You look good."
"Yeah," Nick smiled. His eyes were bright now.
He really did look different. His hair was shorter. He looked rested. He looked like the "old Nick"…almost. Gil knew he'd never fully be the "old Nick" again, but the man in front of him resembled the "old Nick" more than he had in the past eight months. It was refreshing to see the subtle changes.
"I'm putting you in the field," Grissom said leaning back in his chair.
"Okay," Nick nodded.
"Is it going to be a problem?"
"I can handle it," Nick shook his head.
"Okay," the supervisor nodded returning his glasses to the bridge of his nose.
Nick took the signal and rose to exit the office. He was at the door when the man's voice stopped him in his track.
"Nick, I'm trusting you to make the call on this one. If you can't handle it…"
"I'll pull myself out," Nick nodded holding the man's gaze.
Grissom nodded in response watching Nick retreat into the hallway. He looked like a different man.
Nick made his way down the hall. He could hear Greg and Warrick in the break room, their laughter resonating through the glass-lined hallways. He stood in the doorway of the room watching his three co-workers, his three friends. Greg and Warrick busied themselves with the current NBA game on TV. Sara, to no surprise, had her nose in a case file.
"Nick, you're back!" Greg said, practically beaming as he noticed the man standing at the door.
"How was the vacation?" Sara asked from the table lifting her eyes to smile at the man.
"Relaxing," he replied. "It's good to be back though," he nodded turning his gaze to the TV. "What's the score?"
"Sonics are up by ten," Warrick said.
"Hey Nicky," Catherine smiled as she entered the room. "Welcome back," she offered a hug. How are you? Her eyes begged the question, yet she couldn't get her mouth to form the words. The last thing she wanted to do was coddle the man. She knew how the man relished his space.
The look in her eyes didn't go unnoticed. He knew Catherine as well as anyone and offered a small nod or reassurance to the unspoken question. It seemed to appease her as she ventured over to the coffee maker to pour herself a cup of the black swill.
"Okay, guys," Grissom said joining the team. "I've got a homicide at Mandalay Bay. Nick, Sara and Warrick," he said handing the assignment slip to Nick, "you guys take the DBs at Sunshine Studios."
"The dance studio?" Warrick asked, his interest peaked. He met Nick's gaze, there was a twinkle in both their eyes.
"Alright guys," Sara said standing to intervene. She grabbed the slip from Nick's hand and made her way out the door.
"Hey, I'm driving," Warrick called on Sara's tail. "Welcome back, bro," he smiled giving his partner a pat on the shoulder as he passed him on his way out.
"I'll meet you at the car," he nodded. He had to grab his kit.
"Oh, hey guys," Grissom called catching his CSIs before they were gone. "Take Greg along," he said.
A smiled inched across the face of the young CSI. He quickly stood and followed the trail of Warrick and Sara.
Nick remained in the break room. He looked from Catherine to Grissom.
"Welcome back, Nicky," Grissom nodded grabbing an apple from the bowl on the table as he led Catherine from the room.
"Yeah, welcome back," she smiled, coffee cup in hand.
He smiled to himself. The time off had been good, but it felt even better to be back at the lab, he had to admit. He was meant for this job. He wouldn't change it for the world. He was home.