Title: Napoleon's Battle Plan

Summary: He was now painfully aware that no amount of planning could stop the Graveyard Shift from opening its annual can of whoopass in CSI softball. "Requital" add-on, but can be read as a standalone.

A/N: To everyone who wanted the Requital softball scene written: here you go. To everyone else: here you go… too. You don't need to have read the other story, but you'll better understand some moments in this one if you have. Also, international readers. I apologize for the jargon... I think it's possible to follow along anyway, though. But who am I kidding, I've never tried to read a fic about Cricket.

Also? Yes. I'm pimping Sports Night. It's one of my favorite shows…ever. So sue me. But then buy the DVDs and send me thank you cards.

Disclaimer: Not mine. I made up the names for the Day Shifters, but I don't own them either.


GRISSOM: Teams, Conrad? I didn't know this was a competition.

ECKLIE: Well, it is, and my crew usually wins.

GRISSOM: Really? Didn't Graveyard beat Day Shift in softball last summer?

ECKLIE: You know, you can joke all you want. It's your ass on the line.

GRISSOM: I think it was 14-3.

CSI 1x07 "Blood Drops"


Network TV can go to hell.

Network TV lousy enough to be cancelled after two seasons and still sell an inconceivable number of DVDs, Conrad Ecklie decided, can go to the seventh level of hell.

It started one day last year when Sidle convinced Grissom to watch an episode of the long-deceased dramedy Sports Night before shift. She was amused that one of the characters used an unorthodox plan to sabotage a co-worker's engagement – 'first we show up, and then we see what happens.' Apparently it was the same plan Napoleon used against the Russian Army.

Then they joked about using that game plan for the annual Graveyard-Day Shift softball grudge match. Or so he overheard from his position by the coffee pot.

The worst part was, they already did use that plan. Every year. Probably without even realizing it.

They just showed up with their fancy bats and their big muscles and their team camaraderie. And then saw what happened. Which of course, was always the same thing as well. Lots of hits, runs, and overall ass-kicking for them.

He hated that plan. And Aaron Sorkin for writing crap that passed for television.

And what's more, he hated the smug looks he'd been seeing from Graveyard players during shift changes all this week. Not for long though – this time, the tide would turn.

And so with nothing but rival motivation and a Diet Coke, Ecklie devoted an entire afternoon to mapping out the 100 percent guaranteed Day Shift Plan for Victory. Yes. Conrad Ecklie's Five Steps For Graveyard Defeat.

Go on, Grissom. Show up and see what happens.


Step 1: Make a list of reasons why Day Shift is far superior to Graveyard and distribute it to boost team morale.

"Hey, Boss?"

Ecklie looked at the Day Shift crowded around his truck in the parking lot of the softball field, reading over the papers he'd just handed out. He required his team to arrive for the game extra early just for this little exercise. No one, he decided, was setting foot onto the field without being properly bucked-up.

"What is it, Allison?"

She gestured to the paper. "I was with you on this 'til #16."

Ecklie scoffed and grabbed the list from her, quickly scanning down its items. More efficient. More responsible. More intelligent. Yadda yadda… ahh, there—16. He looked back up, forehead crinkled in surprise.

"You don't think we're better-looking?"

The team's initial response was eight identical glares of exasperation.

"You honestly believe—"

Allison cut him off. "Warrick Brown. His eyes… they're…"

"Green?" Ecklie supplied.

"…emeralds sparkling in a dusky sky. And his voice is like… gravel dipped in honey."

There was no mirror nearby, so Ecklie could only assume his mouth was hanging down somewhere near his feet at the moment. He watched in muted horror as the rest of his team nodded in agreement and then began voicing opinions in rapid-fire succession. He wasn't even sure who said what. It was like he was caught in the middle of an episode of The View.

"Have you seen Nick shirtless? He could model Calvin Klein with those abs."

"Catherine is a total MILF."

"Sara's legs go alllllll the way down to the floor."

"Greg has that 'I have the Periodic Table memorized, now do me' charm."

"Grissom—"

"No!" Ecklie finally interrupted. He waved his hand dismissively. "Don't… don't say it."

"—got pretty sexy after he grew that beard."

And there. She said it. He sunk his face back into his hands.

"I'm just sayin, the beard is much more Sean Connery than Bob Vila."

This was not happening to him.

"He's a GILF."

"So, that would be a Geek I'd Like To F—"

"THANK YOU!" Ecklie interrupted again, suddenly longing for some Alka-Seltzer.

"You know," Travis began, "we need to consider the law of averages here. The night shift is so inconceivably hot, that the day shift would have to be really unattractive in order to equal things out."

"That's right."

"Yeah."

Just then, a couple of trucks pulled into the lot. Everyone's attention turned to the Graveyard players unloading their gear and walking to the field.

"Even Grissom's bat bag has a certain flair," Lisa sighed.

"Think about it," Travis continued his argument. "The law of averages says we're not just ordinary – we're downright ugly."

Ecklie tried to find a safe place in his brain as the team continued the nonsensical topic.

"And we're doing nothing to fix the issue."

"Forgive me, Sir Andrew, for not hitting up the tanning bed between running all of your fingerprints."

"Right."

"Hey, let's enact a No Mullet Rule."

"Yeah, that'll definitely shoot us straight to the top."

Travis shot his boss a glare. "Y'know, you could at least set an example. Do your part. Grow a beard or something."

Ecklie grumbled a non-response.

Like Hell.


Step 2: Instruct the team to hit the ball at Hodges every time.

Ecklie had just finished jotting down his team's batting order when he saw David Hodges pestering a seemingly annoyed Grissom.

"I'm glad you decided to play me at catcher. Unlike some other slugs around here, I'm a team player. Because that's what we are – a team. And that's why I'll not only play catcher – but I'll do so with gusto."

Grissom shoved the equipment into the lab tech's arms. "Just put on the mask, Hodges."

Check that. Hodges had predictably kissed his boss's ass and was now playing catcher for what Ecklie can only assume was in exchange for priority vacation time. The lab tech didn't want to embarrass himself by booting every ground ball, and Grissom knew Hodges' athletically-challenged nature was only a liability to his team. They were both better off with him safely behind home plate where he couldn't trip over a base. Or that invisible rock on the ground. Which meant—

Step 2.1: Hit the ball at Sanders every time.

Well, the plan was simple enough.

But apparently Ecklie's team would rather not heed his sound advice. The first two batters in this inning had promptly struck out – victims to Grissom's fastball, which despite its misleading name, was slower than a tax return at mortgage time.

He'd have to show them how it's done.

After taking a couple perfunctory practice swings, he settled into the batters box and awaited the pitch. Ecklie eyed Sanders, who was, surprisingly, playing first base; the lab tech was in his own world, bopping his head back and forth and occasionally strumming an invisible guitar. But it was subtle air guitaring, he noticed, as if the younger man was afraid Grissom would turn his head without warning and chew the tech's ass off.

No matter. Subtle or not, the athletic incompetence of Greg Sanders coupled with the boneheaded decision-making of Gil Grissom would be his team's ticket to victory.

And so Ecklie knocked the second pitch right at Sanders, who, predictably, was still paying little attention. By the time the younger man recovered, the ball smashed off his shin and took a funky bounce into right field.

Ecklie slowed as he rounded first and swaggered back to the bag.

"Greg!" Grissom yelled from the pitcher's mound. "No punk rock! Not in the lab, and not in your head while you're playing for me!"

Greg winced as he rubbed his shin.

"It's alright, you got it, Greggo, keep your hands lower," Nick called from his position at shortstop. "Just like we practiced."

Something told him Greg needed a new set of hands before any amount of practice would help.

"Well Sanders," he smirked, "first base huh? Weren't you Beer Wench last year?"

Ecklie took a few steps off the base. This was way too easy.

Greg shrugged. "I just go where the man tells me."

Ecklie snorted. This kid at first? Grissom was nuts. "I think 'the man' may have taken a pitch to the head before the game."

They both watched as Lisa swung and missed at the first pitch before Greg spoke again.

"You know, when I was 9, I got hit by a foul ball at a Dodger game."

"Well you haven't lost your touch, Sanders."

"I was sitting in the front row. Mike Scioscia felt so bad that he let me come into the locker room after the game."

He rolled his eyes, stepping off the base again. "That's wonderful."

"And then he got called outside for a TV interview or something. And he left me in there."

"Great."

"And no one else was really paying attention to me. I mean, maybe they were. But it's not like I wanted to turn and look at 30 grown men walking around in towels or some of them nothing at all. I bet they were nice looking, but I didn't want to chance it. Looking. At the towels, I mean. So I decided to take a souvenir. But I was so nervous that he'd come back and the only thing I saw within reach was a jock strap. I mean, there it was. Just hanging. I don't know if it was used. It looked fresh. White, I mean. Not sweaty. I just grabbed it and took off running. But everywhere I turned was another Dodger player. I was like a hamster in one of those spinny things. Well, not the spinny thing so much as the plastic rolly ball."

Ecklie was now seeing exactly why the DNA lab had such a lousy turnaround rate. Did he ever stop for a breath? And he wasn't even finished yet.

"Other people may've thought it was vaguely gay, but I thought it was a great keepsake."

Dear God.

"I was even thinking about wearing—"

The sudden sound of leather popping and the feel of a weight on his shoulder shocked Ecklie out of his haze.

"Out!" David Phillips, serving as the first base umpire, called.

Ecklie's jaw dropped for the second time that day. He'd been so lost in the sheer annoyance of Greg's Amazing Jockstrap Adventure that he was lulled off the base long enough for Grissom to throw the ball over and allow Greg to tag him out.

He, Conrad Ecklie, was just picked off because of stolen male support equipment.

As the Graveyard players started moving towards their dugout for the side change, the day shift supervisor found himself frozen in place and thoroughly disgusted. That was planned! Sanders was purposefully and maliciously planted at first base just so he could… well, be himself!

His suspicions were confirmed when Grissom simply walked past him with a raised eyebrow and a nearly imperceptible smirk.

Outdone again.

Smug bastard.


Step Three: Do not, under any circumstances, become intimidated by the Graveyard 'All Stars.'

After four innings, the score was a modest 9-0. There was plenty of time to get back in this. The team just had to stick with the plan.

Ecklie grabbed his glove and strode out of the dugout with the newest member of the day shift.

"Hey, isn't it true a couple of their guys played in college," Lisa asked, nodding towards the Graveyard bench. "How'd you stop 'em last year?"

The supervisor tried not to recall last year's 13-2 shellacking. Or the 12-1 score the year before that. Or that delightful 14-3 contest. Or the… oh, Hell. What's the use in telling the truth anymore? Besides, Brown and Stokes hardly needed anymore 'admirers.'

"Oh… I've heard maybe some of them played a little intramural ball or something of the sort," he laughed nervously. "But that was eons ago. Nobody plays the same way as they did in college."

Ten minutes later, he was trying to buy into his own lies as two runners were on base with Nick Stokes up to bat.

Ecklie stepped off the mound and wiped the sweat from his brow. This was ridiculous. Stokes was a 32-year-old scientist, not a 19-year-old college athlete.

"C'mon Nicky, hit me in!" Catherine yelled from third base.

"Yeah, let's go, Cowboy!" Sara added from her spot at second.

Nick tapped the bat head against the dirty plate, and then whirled it out in front of him a few times as he settled into his batting stance.

"Hey, back it up, fellas!" Travis suddenly yelled from center field.

Sweet Jesus Joseph and Mary.

He did not just hear that.

Without thinking twice, Ecklie did what any self-respecting shift supervisor down nine runs and in a precarious situation would do.

"TIME OUT!"

Considering the blank stares he was receiving in return, he wondered if maybe you weren't allowed to call time out in softball. But if anyone wanted to dispute it, he'd like to see 'em try.

"Well hurry up, then! Bring it in here!"

His team trotted to the pitchers mound from their respective positions, and crowded around their leader with questioning looks.

"Listen. I know you guys are in awe of a couple of their sports pedigrees, but seriously. Stokes has a lung capacity of a two year old right now. Nobody needs to 'back it up.' You don't give him the satisfaction of our respect. I swear to God the next person who says anything nice about them will get nothing but trash runs for the next three months."

"I heard they were both second-team All Americans," Travis said.

"And I heard you were second-team All Desk Duty," Ecklie shot back. "Get the hell out there and play ball. Go!"

He fingered the ball inside his glove as he waited for his team to resume their positions. Once everyone was set, he pitched the ball to Nick, mumbling something about national awards being overrated.

Ecklie hardly had time to dive to the ground before the ball was scorched right back at him, nearly taking his head off in the process. Eventually he dragged himself off the ground to see Travis running down the ball in center field.

Catherine scored easily and Sara was rounding third and heading for home. Nick reached second base and showed no signs of slowing down.

"Throw it to third!" Ecklie screamed.

Everyone waited with baited breath as the ball left his hand.

Nick was breathing harshly and nearing third.

The ball was approaching its destination.

Nick dove in a head-first slide to reach the base, just as…

Shit.

…the ball sailed ten feet over its target and careened into the dugout, knocking over a container of Gatorade onto what looked like… yes.

Right onto Ecklie's cell phone.

Nick bounced up and brushed his hands down his dirty shirt front, grinning all the way.

"I thought I told you no sliding or rash heroics 'til next month," Grissom, too amused to be serious, called from across the field in Graveyard's dugout.

"I thought I told you I was fine," Nick yelled back, still wearing that shit-eating grin.

Oh for the love of…

Someone finally retrieved the ball and tossed it back to Ecklie, who sneered at his now sticky, Gatorade-covered hand.

And as if the Sports Gods didn't find that funny enough, Warrick was now up. Well. No more of this crap. He had to knock these people off their pedestals before this game got completely out of hand.

He pitched it high and inside; Warrick had to spin backwards to avoid being hit. The umpire called it a 'ball'.

Ecklie stomped off the mound, throwing his hands in the air.

"Brass! It was right at the knees! Just because Brown is eight feet tall doesn't mean you have to change your strike zone!"

The detective straightened from his position behind the plate, lifting off his mask to reveal a backwards New York Mets cap.

"You're down, what, 127-0? Oh I dunno, Conrad. Maybe you should worry about your team's offense, or lack thereof, instead of my strike zone?"

Ecklie chose to respond in a different manner.

"Hey Brown," he called out, "did you remember to place your bets on this game before you got here?"

"Actually, yeah," Warrick said, wagging the bat behind his shoulder as he awaited the pitch.

"What were the odds?"

"You were favored by 20," he paused. "Oh wait, that was the one on how long it would take before your pompous head got stuck up your own ass."

A pitch and a mighty swing later, the ball flew off the CSI's bat and probably landed somewhere in Arizona. Or maybe it was still in the air. He certainly hit it hard enough. Warrick trotted around the bases amidst the cheers of his teammates. Nick was waiting for him at home plate, and the two did one of those ridiculous celebratory handshakes that all the pros do after home runs. Ecklie put his glove over his face for a moment, hoping everything would go away when he took it off again.

Nope, still on the sorry end of an ass-kicking.

And now…

Oh God.

Andrew, the day shift catcher, pulled what looked like a Sharpie out of his pocket and was… getting their autographs?

"Andrew!"

"Just a sec."

"You're holding up the damn game!" Ecklie's exasperation was palpable.

"Yeah, well I have a string loose on my glove."

"Since when does 'thanks for the autographs' fix a loose string?"

Andrew shrugged.

Fucking hero worship.


Step 4: Make Sidle pissed off at Grissom. Grissom and Sara tension throws off the whole team dynamic.

The great thing about the game of softball is that because there's a side change every inning, it leaves ample time to jaw with the other team as everyone switches places.

This was one of those moments.

Ecklie spotted Sara Sidle crouched over near home plate tying her shoe. He casually walked towards her, considering how he could effectively implement Step 4.

That's when he noticed that Shirley, one of the Graveyard receptionists, was sitting alone in the bleachers holding a notebook.

Ah ha. Sidle could be 'sensitive' about certain topics.

Okay, a lot of topics.

Most topics.

Certainly "gratuitous sexism when choosing players for the shift softball teams" had to be on that list somewhere.

Showtime.

"Hey, Sidle, what's up with Grissom's dislike of women?"

Her head shot up. "Excuse me?"

"You and Catherine are the only females on Grissom's team. As you can see, mine is half female, including the lovely Beulah, our daytime receptionist."

"Your astute observational skills notwithstanding," Sara bristled, "maybe no one else was available."

Ecklie smirked and pointed at the bleachers. "Isn't that Shirley over there? She probably showed up, hoping Grissom would let her play, only to be shot down because he decided it was too important to obliterate us in a meaningless game."

He waited as Sara's gaze landed on Shirley, pausing for only a moment before she stiffly called Grissom over. This absolutely had to work. God knows nothing added to a barrage of Graveyard runs like Grissom and Sidle having rapturous eye sex across the field.

"Gris, why aren't you letting Shirley play?"

Her tone, Ecklie noted with glee, carried the trademark Sidle Disdain. Grissom looked like someone just insulted his pet fetal pig.

"What…?"

Sara continued her attack.

"Isn't she good enough for you—"

Score!

"—Surely she couldn't be any worse than Hodges."

"Sara…"

Grissom paused and shot a suspicious look at Ecklie before launching into an explanation.

"Actually, Shirley has a bad back and couldn't play, but I encouraged her to stay involved. So I taught her the lost art of baseball scorekeeping."

No! Not 'Thoughtful Grissom'. This was bad.

"Oh." Sara sounded more relieved than surprised. "That was… really nice of you."

Grissom just shrugged, already well on his way to the inevitable Sara-Induced Clam-Up.

"I can imagine that you'd appreciate its attention to detail," she continued.

"It's not too complicated, just detailed, as you said."

Ecklie was surprised Grissom managed to string together that many words. He watched as Sara took in his response, not at all liking the look they were sharing. What was supposed to be a wedge-driving spat transformed into just the kind of eye sex he hoped to avoid. The day shift leader suddenly longed for a big, red 'abort' button.

"Maybe you can teach me how to record a home run later," Sara said over her shoulder, as she walked away.

Grissom just stared at her.

"I… okay."

It was entirely possible that Ecklie's ears were bleeding.

Another spectacular backfire.


Step 5: Appeal to the umpire's Inner Jersey and buy him off.

Times were getting desperate.

And as they say, desperate times call for desperate… bribes.

The game was now completely out of hand. How was he supposed to know Steps 1 through 4 would end up being such colossal cluster-fucks?

There was only one way left to save face: stop the game before the official score could become, well… official. And the only person who could stop play was the home plate umpire, one Captain James Brass of Newark, New Jersey.

Many sections of the country produced citizens who were prideful of their birthplace. But Jersey Pride was on an entirely different level. Probably because it's always the butt of everyone else's jokes. And for good reason. That place is a veritable dump.

Ecklie decided to keep that thought to himself as he stood just outside the on-deck circle. Anyone seeing him stand there would just assume he intended to offer encouragement and coaching to his players as they bat. Yeah, right. Like he could give a shit. The spot's proximity to the umpire's ears would be his get out of jail free card. Once Brass was properly buttered up he'd give him a reason to stop the game. A genius move, if he said so himself. And of course he did.

"Yeah, let's go, er, Tony," Ecklie clapped his hands a couple times.

Tony watched the first pitch go by as Brass called it a 'strike.'

"Hey, Brass," Ecklie started, sounding as nonchalant as possible, "Did you hear they opened up a new Pasqualle's on 17th?"

There's nothing a transplanted Jersey Boy missed more than New York Pizza. Well, maybe traffic and exceptionally rude people. But that was about it.

Brass watched as Tony swung and fouled the pitch off before answering.

"You mean the place with the authentic coal oven pizza?" The detective paused while eyeing the pitch. "Ball 1. And the sauce that tastes exactly like Ray's in Little Italy?"

Ecklie tried to contain his excitement. Brass was surprisingly easy. "So you know of it."

"And the meatball subs that have just enough oregano to make you believe you're two blocks from Shea Stadium celebrating a Yankees loss? Ball 2."

Yes. Yes!

"I know how much you loved that stuff, so I can probably get you discou—"

"They feed me and my guys for nothin.' Bein' a Jersey guy and a cop I don't have to say much more than 'gimme a slice' and I get the whole menu for free," the smile was barely perceptible behind his mask. "Oh, and strike 3."

Goddammit.

He sighed and took the bat from Tony. Now it really was all up to him.

Bottom of the final inning, two outs, and Conrad Ecklie, CSI Supervisor Extraordinaire was at the plate.

His upstart Day Shift was poised to make the most improbable, incredible comeback in LVPD softball history. All they needed were… seventeen more runs.

Time to pull out the big guns.

"You know," Ecklie started, watching the first pitch go by. "I think it was a travesty Springsteen didn't win album of the year for The Rising."

Okay, the one thing a true Jersey Boy might miss more than New York Pizza is The Boss.

"Ball 1. He's got nothing to prove. The man's the greatest ever," Brass said in his customary gruffness.

"Well have I got news for you. He's coming to town with the E-Street Band next month and I can get you great seats. When you have connections like I do, you just want to be able to do good with them. Like a modern day Robin Hood." The next pitch sailed by.

"Cute, Conrad. Ball 2," Brass deadpanned: "So cute that I oughta take you with me. Will you wear tights, Robin?"

Ecklie forced a laugh. "Anything to let you see your state's favorite son."

"God Almighty, will you quit the pathetic ass-kissing?" David Hodges, who had been conspicuously quiet throughout the inning, said from his position at catcher. "Catherine already got him tickets. He's going with her."

"Wh—" Ecklie was surprised by the sudden retort from Hodges – so much that he only half-swung at the ball and ended up popping it straight into the air.

"Got it… got it…" Grissom moved under the ball with one hand shielding his eyes from the sun and glove hand poised to make the catch.

And so it was.

Game over.

Graveyard shut out Day Shift 17-0.

Ecklie stood silently on the infield with a hand on his forehead, dumfounded.

"If you really wanted to bribe someone," Brass whispered in that harsh tone he normally reserved for interrogations, "You should have tried SuperDave. He can't get enough pizza. Or tights."

They both looked down by first base as the assistant coroner gave a little wave.

Springsteen's "Dancin' in the Dark" started blaring over the loudspeakers to add the proverbial insult to injury. Ecklie noticed Catherine immediately launched into some absurd dance that seemed vaguely familiar. He was definitely going to be ill.

"Now that's hot. From the classic video. Courtney Cox does that dance on stage with Bruce." Greg suddenly materialized at Ecklie's side and was practically wagging his tongue at Catherine. "Which, by the way, directly influenced the infamous Carlton Dance on Fresh Prince."

Ecklie resisted the urge to slap him upside the head. "Go wash your jock strap, Sanders."

Greg slunk off to join his team in celebrating.

The day shift supervisor was now painfully aware that no amount of planning could stop the Graveyard Shift from opening its annual can of whoopass in CSI softball.

And so he tried not to watch as Grissom's team shared their high-fives and hugs; instead, he dismissed his own team with a wave of a hand as he saw the entomologist approach.

"Better luck next time?"

"You and I both know this is hardly about luck," Ecklie said. "What's your secret?"

Grissom shrugged. "First we show up. Then we see what happens," he paused. "But we're all really on the same team anyway, right?"

And with that, he spun on his heel and walked back to his still-celebrating team.

For such a notoriously emotionless guy, Grissom could really pull off the sarcasm when he meant it. Ecklie sighed. Owned by Napoleon's Battle Plan again.

He watched distractedly as Grissom reached his colleagues and then fished around in his bat bag before pulling out an old Cincinnati Reds hat. Ecklie grew more confused at the scene unfolding after that:

Grissom grabbed Nick's CSI hat from the younger man's head and slung the Reds one on sideways. Nick laughed along with Warrick at the sneak attack, but sobered up when he took off the offending item and saw exactly what his boss had given him.

Under the guise of picking up equipment, Ecklie moved towards the group.

He watched as Grissom and Nick shared a meaningful look.

"It's good to have you back," Grissom said, replacing the hat on Nick's head and giving the bill an extra tug.

Nick just bowed his head in return, or maybe he said something too softly to hear.

Grissom put a hand on the other man's shoulder and turned back to the group.

"Hey, you guys, mind sharing your secrets with the rest of the class?" Warrick protested.

Nick didn't miss a beat. "Gris just told me we're all going out for pancakes. His treat."

Grissom just raised a trademark eyebrow in question. But it was too late. Catherine was already calling shotgun and Sara and Greg were debating maple vs. blueberry syrup.

They all walked off towards the parking lot together like a damn rock band after a gig. A pancake-eating, GQ-modeling, forensic-happy rock band.

It almost wasn't fair. No group of colleagues should be that in tune. That familial. And it wasn't just playing softball. The quality of their work, Ecklie noted with a bit of jealous disdain, was always exemplary. Games like this only put into stark relief the cohesiveness his own team could never duplicate in the lab.

God willing, sometime in the near future, he'd be in a position to shake up the lab and even out the teams for good. Then he'd prove he's just as good as that cock…roach racer. He ran a hand over his face and paused, considering the texture of the late-day stubble.

In the meantime, maybe he'd grow that beard after all.

Gotta start somewhere.

fin.