Disclaimer: Don't own the characters, if I did I'd be too busy getting paid to write stuff.

A/N: I've been thinking of Nick's character a little more recently. Just my way of getting it out of my system. The stuff in italics are flashbacks, normal type is supposed to be present time.

Victim: Danielle Eubanks, age 14

Assigned Investigator: Nicholas Stokes

Assigned Detective: Jim Brass

Nick Stokes stared directly into the eyes of a cold-blooded killer. He saw no guilt, no sympathy, no remorse. All he saw was hatred, hiding beneath the surface of dark eyes. Within himself, Nick felt his own hatred bubbling.

This case had put him on edge since the very beginning - most child cases had a tendency to do that to him. He could never understand how people could prey on the small and innocent.

The small body was wrapped up in a white sheet, left in the Vegas desert. It was just like litter, like maybe someone had thrown it through an open car window and the breeze just blew it out to the middle of nowhere. Nick stared sadly as he photographed, trying to concentrate on the scene. He was trying hard to not think about the tragic quality of the case.

Captain Brass stood off a little way from the area, looking a bit more put out than usual. News hadn't reached the media yet, so there were no reporters for him to fight off. In fact, the only other person out there besides Nick and himself was the young man in the squad car. It was some rookie cop who'd been brought along to the scene, more for standard procedure than anything else. There really wasn't much danger for the officers tonight - low threat of the killer returning to the crime scene. And meanwhile the rookie, Douglas or whatever his name was, kept finding excuses to retreat into the car and away from the body.

XXX

The interrogation was over, the case closed, and the suspect would most likely get the needle. It was a slam dunk case with solid evidence. Nick sighed as the suspect was escorted, in handcuffs, out of the interrogation room by an officer. Brass looked down at the young investigator, who was still sitting at the table, and gave him a sad nod. "You okay, Nicky?"

Nick didn't answer, lost in his thoughts. The worst thing about hate is that it just brings out more hate. He hated Richard Vargas for what he did to Danielle. He hated the fact that he couldn't change people or events. And he hated feeling useless.

"Was she…?" Nick tried asking The Doc. It had took him some restraint not to use the word "hurt". That was a pretty stupid question to ask about a murdered fourteen year old girl, but just hurt wasn't quite what Nick had meant. Maybe it had to do with the part of him that went back to being nine years old, after being "hurt" by the last minute babysitter. A nine year old's vocabulary after being touched in the wrong way, and after being left alone in his bedroom, filled with fear, shame, and guilt. Hurt was just the word that came to his mind when the cases he worked involved sexual assault.

Doc Robbins nodded grimly. "Raped."

Hearing the word made Nick feel sick. He knew he should get away from this case, pass it off to someone else. But he'd never been one to take the easy way out, and felt it was morally wrong to start this kind of file and not finish. It was somehow disrespectful.

He left Doc Robbins to finish the examination of the body, and knew it right then - he was going to nail the bastard that did this.

The truth was that he had faced many cases, like this one, that led him to believe in something most kids knew by around the age of thirteen or so. Life sucks. It isn't fair, good things don't always happen to good people, and bad people don't always get what they deserve. It was a fact that Nick tried not to dwell on, but in his darkest of moods, thoughts like that had a habit of eating away at him - until he drank it off.

"No real justice in this world, is there Jim? Not for the families, not for Danielle either."

Seeing Danielle's mom almost broke him, almost snapped what little calm Nick had left. And he hadn't even been the one to talk to her. Brass had done that horrible duty, but Nick had seen her while on his way to get the final report from the coroner. Her husband was practically carrying her out as she sobbed. Nick wanted to say something, but couldn't.

Brass looked at him, thinking. It seemed as if he were about to say something reassuring about the judicial system, but couldn't quite manage it. "Maybe not in this world, Nick, but I prefer to trust in the Higher justice. The kind we don't control." Brass finished, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder.

Nick remembered telling Sara something of the same once, after they'd both worked a very difficult case.

Nick and Sara stood side by side, removing some of their belongings from their lockers. They were both getting ready to head home and catch up on some of the sleep they had missed because of the double shift. "This place just..sucks sometimes, doesn't it?" said Sara.

Nick sighed, trying to think of something comforting to say. He knew she'd had a really hard time, even worse than himself. He was only glad they had gone through this one together, and that they had been able to pull each other back from getting too emotionally involved in the case. It was an odd thing to say, as he hardly ever mentioned his faith around his co-workers. "At least there's a better place after this." he replied with a small shrug.

Sara looked skeptical for a moment, but then looked into his eyes, which were filled with a powerful conviction that she had never seen before. Then she smiled at him. "I suppose there must be. Afterall, God must have something wonderful in store for a great guy like you."

Nick stared at the hand on his shoulder for a moment, then flashed a genuine smile at the detective. "Me too."