A/N: This is part of a trilogy… sort of. The stories have nothing in common, except that they are all loosely based on Ryan Cabrera's "On the Way Down". The other two parts are at CSI NY and Bones, respectively. Enjoy!

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They had been riding in companionable silence since they had left the lab. They were coming back from Shadow Rock Park, where a body had been found by some campers, and although they hadn't been looking forward to dealing with open air decomp, it felt good to be out of the lab for a change.

He had been fooling around with the radio dial, trying to pick up something he liked. She observed him as he hummed in time with some old country tune and half smiled tenderly at his behaviour.

Nick finally seemed to notice Sofia's look and quickly realized what he had been doing.

"Sorry about that. I used to sing with my parents on the long drives. Guess old habits die hard."

"That's okay, Nick. From what I've heard, you're quite the crooner…"

Nick could feel his ears turning read. Wasn't there anything sacred at the lab any more? This was the second person who had mentioned his impromptu serenade to Mandy, the lab technician. At least Sofia had gone the elegant route, calling him a crooner. Greg had been a tad more blunt and flat out told him that he was too old to try out for American Idol, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, by the looks of the last winner, Taylor something-or-the-other.

"Well… yeah. I guess so."

So it was true. A tiny part of Sofia, the one that got all worked up whenever they got to work cases together, had been hoping it was all Lab gossip, but it seemed no such luck. Sofia could feel the first crack in what could quickly develop into a major heartbreak if she wasn't careful, but she was also certain that it was a bit too late to do anything about it. It wasn't as if she were blind, dammit! The man had the kind of nice guy sexiness that was hard to resist, and he oozed it by the gallon. After dealing with pricks and pervs on a daily basis, both personally and professionally, Nick Stokes gentlemanly ways were a breath of fresh air… unfortunately, pure oxygen had a way to get to your head, and before Sofia knew what had happened she found herself with a major high school crush on her coworker.

Once or twice she had almost convinced herself that he might like her as well, taking into account the way he smiled at her when they worked together. Unfortunately for her theory, he had yet to serenade her. Sofia thought that mayhap it might be best if she found out where she stood right then, She had 3 shifts off starting the next morning, which gave her more than enough time to get drunk on self-pity and scotch and be back on her feet in time to report to work again. "Oh, what the hell" she thought to herself, "here goes nothing…"

"So… Mandy… huh?"

"Uh… yeah… it's one of those things, you know…"

Rip.

"Actually it's pretty stupid to feel about the whole thing the way I do…"

Crack.

"But there are some things you just can't help, if you know what I mean…"

Ka- Boom.

"I bloody well know what you mean…"

"Well… if you need someone to talk about it…"

"Masochist…"

"Oh no… I mean, I appreciate it…"

"Smooth, Curtis, VERY smooth. How about rescheduling our next case together for… let's see… how about never? Would that not be soon enough?"

"… but I have enough with my mother and sisters, thank you."

"What the…? His family KNOWS? Oh shit…"

"Really?"

"Oh yes, big time. I don't want to bore you with ancient history…"

"Ancient? Dear God… I've really made a fool of myself this time, didn't I?"

"Oh, don't worry, Nick. Bore me away. We still have a couple of hours drive."

"Let's state for the record that you started this. I don't know if you know this, but I have 7 sisters. 6 are older than me, which leaves me with only one baby sister, otherwise known as "oops, there goes the condom" as my parents had decided that after having an heir apparent, meaning me, there was no need for another child…"

Sofia listened to the story both enthralled and intrigued. 6 sisters! She was an only child, so she could only imagine what it could have been like to live in such a crowded home. Since it had been only her and her mother since a very early age (truth be told, she barely remembered her father without the aid of photos) she had always yearned for a big noisy family. However, as captivating as the narrative was, she couldn't see for the life of her where did Mandy fit in…

"Anyway… mom got pregnant around the time Manilow made "Mandy" popular. And my mom was crazy about that song. I mean, fan-crazed. She'd play it over and over again until she scratched the record and my dad had to get her another one. One day, when she was about 7 months pregnant, she simply decided that the new baby would be named Mandy. There was no talking her out of it. I remember my dad telling my sister years later that she ought to be thankful she wasn't a guy… cause he was sure being born the wrong sex was not going to change my mother's mind about the name!"

Despite herself, Sofia found herself enjoying the story. She had met the Stokes briefly when they came to Vegas after Nick… after he had been kidnapped, and she could easily picture a younger version of them with a handful of kids running around.

"My older sisters adored me, but they did everything and then some to me. I was dressed up, made-up, attended a gazillion tea parties, had to ride a pink bike… you name the embarrassing situation, I lived it. I was their beloved boy-toy and they did with me as they pleased. Olivia, the second oldest one, who loved to practice make-up techniques on me, often wonders if I don't moonlight as a drag queen…"

"So you don't?"

Nick almost choked. "Of course not! If any, the whole experience made me adore women, not women's stuff…"

That last was said looking directly at her, and Sofia could feel the intensity of his gaze. "Why not do the make-up thing on one another?" she asked, trying to shift his attention off her.

"You haven't met Olivia. She's one tough competitive cookie. She was always striving to be different from the others, and was always setting herself aside in any way she could. Fashion, make-up… those were the easiest to achieve. She wouldn't have been caught dead sharing her secrets with any of my other sisters. It's funny, though… she's the only one that followed my dad's footsteps. She's now a DA in Austin. Last I heard, she's considering becoming a judge, like dad."

"Being CSI is close enough, too."

Tension set on Nick's jaw, albeit momentarily. "Not close enough in my Dad's books. Anyway, when Mandy was born, I felt that she was MY girl-toy. I'll admit I sometimes roughed her up more than necessary, but then again, she's the only one of the Stoke women who can fist fight…"

Sofia laughed out loud. "I bet your mom wasn't that happy to see her baby girl being manhandled by her only son…"

"You just won 10 bucks. For years, it was one of the main reasons for arguments between my parents. My Dad backing me up, my mom defending Mandy… sometimes things got a bit ugly, but we mostly managed to leave our escapades off the dining room table."

"How did you manage that?"

"Ah… that's the point I wanted to reach. Ever since she could talk, Mandy has known where her name came from. By the time she was 5 she was blackmailing me into singing it to her or else she'd tell my mom… whatever I had done that time around. Needless to say, I spent a good portion of my childhood singing that song…"

"Why am I not really surprised?" wondered Sofia.

"Funny. Wait until we get to the Lab. You'll regret making fun of me…"

"Promises, promises…"

"To make the long story short, turns out my mom wasn't the only pregnant woman who fell in love with Barry Manilow back in '74. Throughout the years, my sister found many Mandys, no matter where she went. The final straw was when she went to college and her dorm partner was also named Mandy… our own Lab Mandy."

"Talk about coincidences! I'm guessing Lab Mandy has plenty of dirt on you, courtesy of your sister…"

"Let's put it this way… my singing days are far from over…"

"Hmm… nice to know where can I get some leverage…"

"I'm warning you, Curtis…"

"Yeah. Right. Whatever. I've heard that one before…"

They continued the banter back and forth until Nick came to a small diner on the road.

"Feel like grabbing a bite to eat?" he asked her

"Sure, why not?"

Sofia was feeling a lot better. Nick seemed to regard Mandy at the Lab in the same category as Mandy Stokes, as a sister. Having cleared that up made her spirits lift and the idea of death-by-scotch less appealing, but in all honesty, she was nowhere near finding out where she stood in regards to Nick Stokes. She sighed, and froze wondering if Nick had heard it.

Nick parked the SUV next to the diner. "Don't move", he said, getting out of the vehicle. Walking briskly to the other side, he surprised Sofia by holding the door open for her and offering a helping hand to get off the truck. She gratefully took it, and found herself, 2 seconds later, trapped between his arms.

"Nick…?" she ask, puzzled and nervous by his actions.

"What's bothering you, Sofia?"

"What do you mean? I'm fine. Let's just…" she denied, trying to break loose.

"I don't know what it is, but I know you're NOT fine. Come on, Sofia, you can tell me."

Sofia looked at him, and bit her lip, quickly looking away. Damn man! Did he have any idea what he was doing to her just by looking at her like that? Sofia was pretty certain that he knew the kind of effect he has on women, but that he wasn't aware that she had it on HER. She could feel his questioning eyes trying to read her face, and she knew that she couldn't look at him; otherwise she'd break down in front of him.

"Okay, who's the asshole?"

"What?!"

"I know enough about women to know that embarrassed look. You're not acting worried, so I'm assuming it, whatever it is, has nothing to do with family, money, health or work issues. I'm assuming, then, that it has to do with your personal life… or rather, the lack of a personal life we all have these days. So I'm asking again, who's the asshole who's got you all worked up like this? I know there's no need for it, but would you make it feel better if I kicked his sorry ass back to Texas?"

Texas! What, exactly did he mean by that? Did he know how she felt? Oh shit... "I… Nick, I… forget it, okay? It's not really that important…" Sofia was desperate to get away from him. He was too close for her comfort and she was having a hard time thinking straight… or keeping her composure.

"It IS important if it's making you feel like this…" Nick invaded her personal space, his eyes seeking hers; wanting to read there what she wasn't telling him with words.

That was her breaking point. There was only so much a woman could take in silence and passiveness before deciding to take matters into her own hands, and Sofia had reached that point. If Nick hadn't leaned so close to her face, perhaps she would have held on longer to her denial, but he did, and she didn't. "The hell with consequences", she thought, "things are screwed up as they are, anyway…"

Placing her hand on his cheek, she leaned forward and kissed him. It was brief, gentle and almost chaste, but it was a kiss on the lips nonetheless and if he didn't get the meaning…

Fortunately, Nick wasn't a man that needed to be told things twice. Sofia had barely pulled away from him when she felt his arms enveloping her, crushing her back to him, his mouth on hers, gentle yet demanding; in a kiss that wasn't chaste at all, and their bodies reacted accordingly. Her hands were running up and down his arms, his shoulders, his head. His hands were too busy holding her flush against him, but one of them did manage to cup her rear end once or twice in an attempt to keep her as close to him as possible.

When they finally broke the kiss, they were both flustered and panting. Nick released her body and raised his hands, as in surrender. "I'm just going to say this once, Sofia, so listen, and listen good. If you kissed me in order to shut me up, point taken- get yourself inside that diner and order us something to eat and give me some time to get myself together so we can move on with our day. If you kissed me for some other reason, then …"

Sofia didn't allow him to finish the sentence. She got hold of his head on both hands and began kissing him in earnest, adamant in showing him what she had meant by doing it. Nick allowed himself to get lost in the feeling, kissing her back just as passionately, his hands holding on to her hips.

Slowly, the kiss began changing. It was passionate and deep, but the need in it went beyond the physical craving. It was as if their very own souls were communicating though teeth and tongues and lips, and they both had too many things to tell each other. When they finally broke apart, they stayed holding unto each other, with Nick gently kissing the top of her head ever now and then.

"Didn't you know I had feelings for you?" she asked quietly after a while.

"I had my suspicions, but it felt too much like wishful thinking. You hadn't really let on anything, but you did seem a tad distraught at the idea of me liking Mandy… I just reached the point when I had to know for sure and when I saw the diner I thought…"

"So the whole "let's have a bite" was just a ruse?" Sofia's eyes sparkled with indignation.

"Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. But I couldn't attempt to kiss you while I was driving, and I couldn't think up of any good excuse to get off the road…"

"You mean… you've been thinking about kissing me? Since when?"

"If you hadn't kissed me when you did, I would have done it 15 seconds later. You just beat me to the punch line, that's all. As for the "when" I guess it was after the case with the cult and the shooting stars. That's when I recall spending more time lying awake in my bed wondering how to steal a kiss from you…"

"And I thought you guys just lay awake in bed thinking of sex and sex alone…"

"Would it be too forward of me to admit that it is your face and your body what gets me started and that it is your name the one that comes to my lips when I'm done?"

His honest admission blew her away, hitting her full force. "Oh God…" she half moaned, half whimpered. The imagery was tearing her inside.

Her moan got to him as well. "God, Sofia, don't do that..."

"Then stop putting all sorts of sexual images on my mind…"

"Would you prefer I put them to practice?"

"Nick!"

"Don't worry sweetheart, I promise I'll behave for the time being. But for your information, when I finally get my way with you, I'm gonna take my sweet time making love to you…" Her gasp brought a smile to his face. "But we have a body being shipped back to the Lab and we still have several hours of work ahead of us. But as soon as we get out, I'm taking you out on a proper date. Dining, dancing, a movie… whatever you want. I'll hold your hand the whole time and I'll take every chance to kiss you… might even manage to squeeze a bit of making out in a dark corner…"

"Nick…"

"I know, sorry. I'll stop now. Just wanted you to have something to look forward to when you're stuck with all that hideous paperwork…"

"Somehow I don't think that sliding my hand inside my panties while working in the precinct is such a good idea…"

" Sofia!"

"See what I mean? So unfair to have those kinds of images stuck on your brain whilst trying to do your work…"

"Then I guess we better head back to work… unless you really wanted something to eat…"

Sofia tilted her head up, capturing his mouth with hers again.

"I meant something edible, not that I'm complaining."

"Let's just get something to go and head back to the lab."

This time it was him who leaned down for a quick peck before releasing her. Walking hand on hand, they entered the diner and ordered a couple of sandwiches and some sodas. He pulled her close and held her in his arms as they waited for their food. It felt comfortable, this newfound togetherness; and it felt right. They were both honest enough to admit that they would have liked to ravish each other on the back of the SUV in lieu of getting lunch. They would have liked it a lot.

But somehow, that didn't feel right.

Both their recent life-altering experiences had taught them a thing or two about life, and though they were less reticent about going for the things they wanted, they were more cautious about rushing into things. This, whatever "this" was, felt too darn good to blow it over some juvenile hormonal display. Why settle for a quickie in a back seat when they both have days off coming soon? Days that would surely be spent in bed, slowly discovering each other's rhythms, quirks and desires?

When the food was ready, they walked back to the vehicle, where Nick helped her back in before settling on the driver's seat. Just before he turned the ignition, he seemed to remember something and chuckled softly.

"What's so funny?" she asked.

"I just remembered that Catherine told me to get lucky on the way out of the lab today. Although I'm sure she'll be delighted to hear about this, I'm pretty sure this wasn't exactly what she had in mind when she bid me goodbye…"

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A/N: (sigh) All those of you wishing you had your own Nick Stokes (7 s-i-l's from hell be damned) please raise your hand… and hit the review button. This is for the lovely ladies at CSI forum "Crusin' the SoNic". Keep up the faith,!