Nick wasn't sure how much later it was that he woke up. All he remembered was crying hard into Warrick's shoulder, and then everything seemed to fade out. He felt a hand on his shoulder tighten, and he slowly allowed himself to open his eyes. It took a few moments to register that Warrick was watching him, and that he had yet to let go of his best friend.
"Oh, man, how long was I out for?"
"Seven and a half hours… without any nightmares I hope."
"Nah, just pitch black or might as well have been for all I remember, I'm thinking I might've dreamt of one of our lab softball games where we kicked dayshift's butts."
"Nice, those games are always great memories. Just seeing Ecklie lose it makes the whole thing worth while."
"Yeah… oh, man, I'm sorry, you've gotta be, uh, uncomfortable… you did manage to sleep for some of that, uh, seven hours, right?" He immediately tried to sit up, only to collapse onto his back.
"Nick, I'm fine. Besides I fell asleep easily, and knowing that you went that long without a nightmare makes it worth it."
"You're the best friend I could've asked for. Not many guys would, uh, go to such lengths to help someone else."
"Yeah, well, you're my brother." He seemed as if though we was going to add something when they heard his phone begin to vibrate quietly. "Just a sec, Nick, I'm just gonna go see who it is."
"No problem, I've already taken plenty away from your life…"
"Nah, not all, Nick." He turned and flipped his phone open, "Brown."
"It's about time you picked up. I've been trying for the last hour."
"Hello to you too, Catherine."
"Huh, oh yeah, uh, hey. How is Nick?"
"Well, you'd be better off talking to him about that, but before I give the phone to him, can I ask why you sound so excited?"
"Well, if Nick is up for it, we're having a big barbecue at my house. Just the gang, and well, obviously Lindsay."
"Oh, and Tina is welcome to come too if she isn't working."
"Actually we aren't, uh together anymore."
"Oh, I'm sorry. What happened?"
"We got in a, uh, argument, about some stuff. We just kinda fell apart." Warrick said, purposely being vague, and hoping that Nick wouldn't figure out that the fight had started because of his predicament. The last thing Nick needs to be feeling is guilt over something that wasn't his fault.
"You gonna be ok?"
"Yeah, definitely, besides I think things are looking up. Well, I'm going to let you talk to Nick now, don't get yourself into any trouble."
"Oh yeah, I think you're the one who needs that warning."
"Uh, huh, right… well, here's Nick…" He finished, handing his cell phone to Nick who was now sitting up with his back to Warrick. "It's, uh, Catherine." Nick nervously took the phone. He was torn between asking Warrick to leave, and wanting him to stay close. Seeing the anxious, confused expression on his best friend's face he had a feeling he knew what it was about. He quickly went over to the dresser across the room and smiled at Nick as he pulled out a pair of earplugs and promptly inserted them.
Nick chuckled quietly, and finally brought the cell phone up to his ear. "Hey Cath."
"Hey, I was wondering where you were."
"Oh, uh, Warrick was putting in, uh, earplugs." He laughed weakly, "I guess he figured that way I could have some, uh, privacy… and not be alone. I know it's stupid-"
"No, no Nick, it's not stupid at all."
"Thanks… what's up?"
"Oh, uh, yeah, how are you doing?"
Nick sighed deeply before answering, "Well, started off bad, just a nightmare that scared me half to death. But then I apparently slept for almost eight hours without any, so I guess that means I'm doing better."
"Good, I'm glad to hear that, Nick. What about physically, are you really worn out, or tired?"
"Nah, not really. I wouldn't mind getting outside for a bit-"
"Great! Uh, I mean, that's good, cause I was hoping you two would come over to my place for a little cookout. Just the team, and Lindsay."
"I'd love that, Catherine. It's been too long since we've all had the chance to just…"
"Hang out." Catherine finished for him.
"Yeah. I miss that. Catherine?"
"What is it Nick?"
"I- the team… d-did it fall apart because of me?"
"Honestly, no. We started to fall apart as soon as Ecklie split us up. It wasn't you Nick. What Walter Gordon did to you didn't help, and neither did this Donovan guy. But, no, it wasn't your fault. Sometimes things like that just happen. Of course it doesn't have to be permanent you know. We're already starting to get back together, and you are a big reason for that. Sometimes it takes a terrible thing to bring people closer, of course we were to blind to see that last year. Now that you've opened our eyes though, we can finally see where we're going, and I'm hoping your eyes lead you and Warrick over to my place in about half an hour."
"Alright, we'll be there. Oh, and, Catherine?"
"Thanks. You guys have no idea how much you've helped me through."
"You're right, we don't know, but we're always gonna be here for you. Besides, I should be thanking you; you're the one who managed to hang on for us. I'm proud of you Nick, you're a good man, and remember that."
"Ok, well, I think Warrick is going to lose it if he doesn't get those plugs out soon. We'll see you in half an hour."
"Bye Nick, and don't whip him too badly if you guys decide to play a game."
"Yeah, I'll try not to, but it could be hard, ya know?"
"Yeah, well, I'll see you soon, bye Nick!"
"Bye Cath." Nick laughed softly as he closed the cell phone and walked up behind Warrick and quickly pulled the earplugs free. "All done, oh, and we're heading over to her place for a cookout in thirty minutes, got it?"
"Yeah man, got it."
"We've got twenty minutes, you want to tell me about Tina?"
"There's nothing to tell, Nick."
"Come on Warrick. I know you don't want me to know something, but how many times in the past few weeks have I laid out my heart and mind to you? I've told you so many of my worst nightmares, my greatest fears… and now when something is wrong you won't let me help you. That hurts, man."
"You're right Nick, but there isn't much to tell. We fell apart. Working odd shifts, spending so little time together… it just didn't work."
"I'm sorry Warrick."
"All those times I asked you to be there for me. All those-"
"Nick, stop. I made the choice, not you. If I had to do it all over again I would've been there even more for you. We fell apart; it was going to happen whether you were around or not. I should actually thank you for helping put an end to it before things got any worse. It wasn't your fault, and the only reason I didn't want to tell you is because I was afraid you'd blame yourself."
"Ok, point taken, but even so I wish you would've told me. Are you gonna be ok?"
"Yeah, man, I'll be just fine, not like I didn't see it coming. Besides I'm not sure I really wanted it to keep going anyway."
"So you wanna whoop me at a game?"
"Man, Nick, I bet you could beat me without even using your hands."
Twenty minutes later Warrick was grabbing his keys, and was smiling. As worn out as Nick was he had still won, and, as usual he was out quite a bit of money. As he reentered the living room with his keys in hand he could see Nick was having some trouble getting up. Without hesitating he hurried over, and helped him stand the rest of the way.
"Thanks man. I guess I was sitting a bit too long."
"Hey, you know you've got to take it easy, Nick. Besides, you do have that physical therapy session later today with the doctor. I've got the chair already in the car, and I'll grab your crutches before we go, ok?"
"Yeah, well, I think we've got some people who are gonna be wondering where we are if we don't get moving."
Fifteen minutes later Warrick was helping Nick out of his SUV. Nick had barely gotten his feet on the ground when Greg rushed over to help him.
"About time you guys showed up! You've left me with Grissom who has been silent the whole time, Sara who is really mad at Grissom, and Greg, who has been bouncing off the walls! The only other sane person here is Lindsay, and she's off talking to her grandma on the phone."
"So the secret is out, Catherine, you need us here, cause we're normal?" Warrick called back.
"Oh no, you two are far from it… but at least for Nick that's in a good way. At least a person can have a real conversation with either of you."
"I resent that Catherine! I can have a meaningful conversation with anyone!" Greg responded quickly, purposely taking on an unusually whiny tone.
"Yeah, with someone who understands the junk you call music."
"Hey, just cause it doesn't 'twang' doesn't mean it's not music, Nick."
"Well, I've gotta agree with him there Greg, you are into some pretty obnoxious stuff…" Warrick added playfully.
Nick was surprised at how alive he suddenly felt. It had been too long since they'd laughed and had just let themselves have fun.
"You can add me to that list; Greg you are too weird for your own good."
"Jim? What are you doing here, I thought you were in California still."
"Nope, Cath, she came back, we just got her checked into a center, and things are looking up. I heard about your little get together so I figured I'd show up. After all, I've earned the invitation, and I mused up enough courage to even bring a guest."
"Ah, that would be Annie wouldn't it?" Catherine exaggerated a sigh, "Yeah, yeah, come on, although I can't promise that there'll be enough food for everyone, so you better hurry. And no running through my house Greg!" She called out after turning around when Greg had just started to bolt for the door.
"But how can am I supposed to eat anything before these two beat me there and eat everything!"
"Come on Greg, give us a break, it's hard enough sparing food for the others, but when we add you to the mix, well…" Warrick commented with the most serious tone that he could muster.
"Then why isn't it hard for you to save food for Lindsay? She eats just as much as we do sometimes!"
"Yeah, well we like her more, so it's easier."
"Ah, come on, Warrick, give the guy a break."
"Thanks, Nick." Greg answered shooting a glare at Warrick before laughing as they made their way inside to grab some food.
"You need to tell him, Grissom."
"Sara, it's over."
"Not for him, he deserves to have someone tell him, and he shouldn't have to find out sitting in front of a computer screen all alone. Like the last thing you tried to hide from him."
"Hey you two! Stop moping around, and get on in here before the food is gone, and you'd better hurry cause there are four people in here eating like there's no tomorrow, and three of us trying to get to the scraps already." Catherine called from the doorway. Sara smiled weakly at Grissom, before heading in through the back door.
He sat there on the bench in silence for a few moments contemplating what Sara had said as he heard shouts and laughing erupt from the home. He leaned back and stared up at the sky wondering what he was supposed to do. It wasn't until he heard Nick clear his throat that he realized he was no longer alone.
"Hey. You wanna tell me why you're out here all alone, when the party is going on inside?"
"Maybe I prefer the fresh air."
"We're only eating inside, Griss. We'll be coming out soon enough to have some fun. Now spill, why are you out here?"
"I don't belong in there, Nick."
"Bull. You belong in there as much as any of us. You're part of our team, and you mean a lot to us. You've saved my life, what three times now? Well, you know what I think? I think you're about to plunge headfirst into depression. Let me tell you, it isn't worth it; I've been there too many times. I know what it's like to be all alone, and I know that nobody should go through life alone. It's a choice, man, and all you have to do is go inside with me, have some food. It won't solve everything, but it is a step in the right direction."
"How do you do it, Nick? How can you just get back up?"
"I don't 'just get back up' you know. I fall down; try to get up on my own, sometimes I can, but when I can't I just give up some of my pride and let my friends and family finish pulling me back up. I guess I just love the horse, and no matter how much falling off that horse hurts, I know that I'll never be able to live with myself if I don't get back in the saddle. I may not be good at my job, I may not be the person I should be, but I am here if you ever want help getting back on your saddle. I am here if you want my help to start feeling alive again."
"Nick, I'm sorry for all those times I put you down. You are a good CSI, and you're a good man."
"It's ok Griss-"
"No, Nick, it's not ok. It's not ok, because I haven't shown you the respect you deserve. Which is why I need to talk to you about, uh, the Donovan case."
"Wh-why do you need to talk about that? I thought they all died in that shootout…"
"One didn't. He's already been arrested, but he said there was another man out there. I don't you to be afraid though, because all the evidence suggests that the man he was talking about is dead. I-I've been meaning to tell you; it's just that you really seem happy for the first time since last May… I didn't want to ruin that."
"You didn't. It might be a while before I stop looking over my shoulder, but it'll happen. If it's any consolation I'm glad you told me. Now why don't we go inside and have some fun for once. Besides, you wouldn't want to miss seeing Greg and Warrick make fools of themselves would you?" Nick grinned as he stood up and began to head for the door.
"Guess not, and thanks Nick."
"It was nothing." Nick smiled as he opened the door and went inside once more. Grissom slowly stood, and stopped at the door looking through the window as his team burst into laughter once more. Then he saw Nick waving him inside, and taking a deep breath he opened the door and couldn't help but let out a chuckle when he saw Greg performing an eating contest with Warrick and Lindsay.
Nick sighed a bit in irritation when he heard someone knock on the door. He quickly grabbed his crutches since his leg was soar from the previous day's therapy session. Warrick had gone out to run some errands, and he figured it would be someone from the team dropping by to check on him.
When he opened the door he was shocked to see a man in an expensive suit holding a garment bag. "Excuse me, are you Nick Stokes?"
"Uh, yeah… why?"
"I was told to instruct a Mr. Nick Stokes to wear this suit, and to make sure you were in the back of my limousine in half an hour."
"Uh… can I ask who, uh, sent you?"
"I'm sorry sir, but he said he wanted it to be a surprise."
"Um, I guess I'll… go change…"
Nick had barely closed the door when his cell phone rang.
"Hey Nick… did you have a limo driver drop clothes off at your house and tell you to change?"
"Yeah, Catherine, just now."
"Sorry, about this, Nick, I think Sam wants to, uh, repay you. Don't worry, if we have dinner we'll still be able to make Lindsay's play tonight, but if you're uncomfortable, or tired, then by all means just tell the guy you can't make it. I'm really sorry, I wish he had at least talked to me about this, but I was just as surprised as you were."
"It's ok, Catherine, I'll go. Guess I'll be seeing you soon."
Thirty minutes later Nick was sitting in the back of the limo idly twiddling his thumbs. He watched various buildings pass by his window, and it wasn't until the vehicle stopped that he realized they were outside Catherine's home. He felt himself start to relax when he saw Catherine carefully lock the door behind her and head towards the sleek black limo wearing a long green evening gown.
She smiled warmly at him, and carefully climbed over his crutches to sit next to him.
"You look nice."
"Just nice, Nick?"
"Ok, ok, you look better than nice."
"Good, I have to admit I have missed actually bothering about my appearance. It's been a while since I've worn my hair down, taken the time to- do stuff with makeup that you couldn't care less about…"
Nick chuckled lightly, "Yeah, not my thing. But, thanks for lightening the mood. I've gotta say I'm nervous as hell."
"Don't be, Sam may be a millionaire, but he is a human being. Besides, I'll be there, and I'm sure my mom will be too. Who am I kidding, I'm nervous too, and they're my parents."
"Ah, that can make it worse. My parents make me more nervous at times than anyone else could ever hope to."
They laughed quietly for another few minutes before they allowed themselves to fall into a comfortable silence, merely looking out the windows of the limousine. When they finally stopped Catherine carefully exited the vehicle making sure her shoes and heels didn't catch on anything. She then pulled Nick's crutches free just as the chauffeur got around to help her get Nick out.
"Sir, if you wish, I can hold these for you inside, in case you need them later, or will you need them to go inside?" He asked calmly with a slight German accent.
"Uh, sure." Nick responded as he gingerly put more wait on his foot. Sensing his unease Catherine immediately wrapped her bare arm around his arm and felt the smooth fabric of his suit coat brush against her. She gave him a smile, and he allowed himself to put a little of his weight on her. They had just made there way inside when a small, balding man stepped in front of them.
"I'm sorry sir, but we require a tie for all patrons."
"I, uh, I can't…"
"Look, my friend is eating here, and he is not going to be forced to wear a tie."
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I cannot allow one person to get away with this, and expect to be able to enforce such a rule with our other clients, all of whom are required to wear a jacket a tie."
"Maybe when you're buried alive and can't breathe, or have two bullets in you, you'll understand. Maybe, just maybe afterwards when you suffer from serious claustrophobia you'd understand why I can't wear a tie without having a panic attack." Catherine was shocked by what Nick had just said. She could see that he was getting irritated, and she hadn't missed the brief fear in his eyes at the prospect of having to wearing something that made him feel as if he was choking.
"Listen, we're here to see Sam Braun, so why don't you just let us through?" Catherine offered, hoping he might accept a more polite, gentler approach.
"I'm sorry, but-"
"But, there won't be any problems, will there?" All eyes landed on Sam Braun as he stepped out into the lobby. "I'd hate to take this to the owner of this fine establishment. After all, he is a good friend of mine, and I know he'd be furious if he heard my daughter's friend had been poorly treated."
"I'm sorry sir, but this… gentleman, refuses to wear a tie."
"He can enter this restaurant without one, if you don't believe me call Charles and ask him."
The scrawny man stuck out his chin and returned to his desk. Nick and Catherine stood in an awkward silence, neither sure of what to do. A few minutes late the man returned and waved them in, not bothering to hide his disdain as Sam removed his own tie, and placed it in his pocket. Soon they were all seated and waiting for their food to arrive. Nick couldn't help but let his social side take over as the four talked over their multiple course meal.
"Alright, now, Catherine, we do have a bit of an announcement to make. Over these past few weeks I've seriously reevaluated some parts of my life. And we were hoping that you would approve of us getting married. Now, I love your mother, and I've always wanted to do right by your family."
"Wow, uh, before I say yes I need to know that you aren't going to hurt her."
"I won't Mugs, I promise."
"Then ok. You have my 'blessing'." She chuckled slightly as they all raised their glasses Nick following her lead. "Oh, damn, we've got to get going, Lindsay's play starts in half an hour. We aren't even going to have time to change…"
"It's alright, we'll just take the limo over to the school now."
It wasn't long before they were seated in a large, crowded auditorium waiting for the red curtains to be pulled back. Warrick had been unable to form a sentence for a few moments when he first saw Catherine, and Greg had let out a slight whistle that earned him a playful slap as she took her seat next to Nick. Sara was sitting, quietly waiting for everything to start with Grissom on her other side. Nick gave Warrick a playful punch as he sat between him and Catherine.
"You got my note, right?"
"Yeah, man, I just hope you had a better dinner than I did."
"Oh, we made sure it was the best they had." Everyone caught the slight glare Grissom shot at Sam Braun as he sat next to Lily on Catherine's other side.
"Are Jim and Annie here?"
"We're right behind you, Catherine."
Catherine jumped, clearly startled. "Well, in my defense, it is dark in here…" she added defensively.
"Yeah, yeah, you're just embarrassed cause you didn't see us."
"Shh, it's about to start." Nick butted in, as he nodded towards the stage just as the lights dimmed and the curtains pulled back revealing an ornate background full of props alluding to an old European street. Their attention focused on Lindsay as she came out onto the stage wearing a long beige trench coat, with a wide brimmed hat. Her long blonde hair was straight, but slightly began to curl towards the bottom like so many portrayals of women from that time period. They all watched as the story unfolded.
The only time Catherine or Nick took their eyes off the stage was the first time Lindsay used the term 'Crimson Puddles' as she and the lead actor began to follow a trail of what was meant to be blood. He smiled slightly and squeezed her hand a bit before going back to watching the play.
Two hours later the were standing and clapping vigorously as Lindsay and the rest of the cast bowed for the audience. The cheers continued as the director of the play came out onto the stage with her own microphone. After several moments the only two left on the stage were Lindsay and the director.
"I want to thank everyone here tonight for supporting our talented cast, and I'd like to extend a thank you to the kids who helped with the lighting, props, and for the costumes. Now, Lindsay Willows has agreed to share another special thank you."
The audience went silent as Lindsay stepped forward. "First, I'd like to thank our Director, Miss Evelyn Richards for making this possible, and for giving me permission to dedicate this play to the one person who made it possible for me to be here. Which is why we've dedicated this play to my uncle, Nick Stokes, who is the greatest guy I've had the joy to know."
To say Nick was shocked would be an understatement. His mouth was hanging open, and a few tears fell, as Catherine gave him a hug, and Warrick patted him on the back.
"Well, there you have it Ladies and Gentlemen. I can tell you that these kids practiced twice as hard as ever to perfect this performance. And, the cast wants to offer their own round of applause to a real hero." She started clapping as the cast came back onto the stage and started clapping as well. Lindsay beat her hands together wildly, smiling at Nick from the stage. It wasn't long before everyone else had also stood and were clapping as well. Catherine had been the first, along with Warrick to stand up and offer their own applause. Greg and the others quickly joined in, leaving Nick speechless.
Nick had never had anyone do something like this for him; no one had ever made him feel like he was this special. The tears were falling more easily now, and for the first time in months they weren't falling because he was sad. Ignoring the slight pain echoing in his leg he stood and hugged Catherine. He felt Warrick holding his shoulder, gently, but firmly, and he could hear Greg's voice whooping for him above the clapping. Even Sara and Grissom were clapping and smiling at him. Warrick wrapped his arms around both him and Catherine. Nick couldn't help but smile, and it was then that he knew they could get through anything life threw their way.
Notes: Well, this is the end, but it is possible that I will write a sequel sometime in the more distant future. Hope you enjoyed it, even though there wasn't much action past the first few chapters. I hope some of you take the time to review, and let me know your thoughts on the story. Also, I'd like to thank everyone who has already reviewed this story, as well as my other stories. I've read every review, and I appreciate all of them a lot! I look forward to reading your comments.