Warnings: Spoilers to the latest episode (as of 11/24/2007). Mentions of canon pairings, but mostly Gen.


The funny thing was, of course, that he still didn't expect it.

The tiles were cold from the air conditioning and the only lights coming in from the streets this time of night were neon. There was plaster dust beneath the palms of his hands from the warning shot, little pieces digging into the skin as he spread them flat against the floor.

There was a time he would have stayed where he was. God knows that he'd been paralyzed enough, and one would think he'd have the sense to be wary by now. It was bad enough seeing what he did every day, but he had the firsthand experience too, because he'd been there, on both sides of the crime scene tape--he knew what it was like, he always had.

It was always the victim's head he got in. To this day he couldn't figure out what went on in the heads of the killers, the cheats, the rapists. He didn't want to know, and that was why they keep catching him off his guard.

He forgot every day what he learned a little more each night--each and every one of those horrible things people are capable of.

-----

Nick missed her too.

She was like one of those sisters he'd left back in Texas, or a best friend. Nick couldn't do the work relationship thing because he got too attached. So he didn't have colleagues, he had friends. He had family.

Still, he knew it was harder on Grissom, he knew that it had to be. So he went and offered his support in the only way he knew how.

Grissom sat there frowning like he was trying to remember his name, and Nick knew he wouldn't go, or even consider it. He kept the offer open anyway and headed off alone.

The only comfort he had was that he always knew it would end this way, and for once he'd been prepared. Nick knew Sara was going to leave, from the very moment she got what she wanted. Sara was always like that, but Nick didn't hold it against her.

He knew her better than Grissom ever did, or could, and she wants what she can't have. She never wants what she's got.

-----

Hodges looked frantic. He had one hand wrapped around the table leg and the other in his hair, keeping his head down on the ground. They could both hear Catherine talking from somewhere, in that lilting way she had, that particular tone of hers that was never as kind as it seemed.

Nick didn't know where Warrick was, but Brass was standing down the hall in his bulletproof vest, hands out and submissive, looking like some guy you might meet on the street. Harmless. Look at me--I'm your buddy, you can trust me.

Nick could see the gun he had pushed down the back of his waistband from where he was and there were red dots scanning their way across the floor, searching for a target. It would be over just like that if only he had in him to wait.

"Hodges, look at me," Nick whispered, and waited for the other man to meet his eyes. "Don't move."

The he let out a breath and got to his feet.

-----

When Nick first started this job Brass was the boss. Nick had never been able to figure out why Brass liked him so much, when he couldn't seem to stand anyone else. It made it a little hard to make friends at first, because no one liked the teacher's pet, Warrick least of all.

The thing was, Nick liked Brass too, and he refused to join in with the rest of them in putting him down. Brass said what he thought and he was a good man underneath, Nick could see that, even way back then, when few others could.

Nick still remembered the way Brass sat at his bedside years after he'd stopped being his boss, saying he was sorry, over and over, when he thought Nick wasn't awake enough to hear.

Brass almost died once too. Nick remembered it mostly for the blind panic in his heart, the terror at the thought of someone he knew, he liked, someone he saw every single day being torn away without any warning, or for any good reason at all.

But Brass didn't seem so very bothered by it. All part of the job, was all he said, that first day back.

-----

The gun moved from Brass and swung at him. Nick didn't blink. "You don't want to do this," he said.

He wasn't sure it was true. He couldn't possibly know what this man wanted to do, but it was always an icebreaker for a psychopath with a gun. It got the attention away from the rest, anyway. Brass was too far away to do any good. Catherine was on the other side of the glass.

"It doesn't matter," the man said. "It doesn't matter what I want, don't you fucking get that? Why doesn't anyone fucking get that?"

There was a look in that man's eyes that Nick recognized and he met them without fear. "Explain it to us," he said. "Tell us what you want."

"I just want to get out of here, okay?" he shouted. "I've just got to get out of here."

"That's not going to happen," Nick said. "You know that."

The man let out a sob. He was high on something. He scratched behind his ear with muzzle of the gun before lowering it to point again at Nick. "I don't belong here," he said. "I don't. This isn't me."

"Then tell us who you are. We only want to help you," Nick said, and he sounded sincere. Nick always did. He managed it because he actually meant the things he said.

-----

Catherine's been through some things, Nick knew. He just didn't know what.

She was one of those people that never spoke about the bad stuff. She pushed it back, moved on ahead, left it behind. Nick admired that about her, from the first day he met her. She always had a smile ready and a wry comment, she was always the first person he went to when he needed to talk to someone because he knew whatever he told her, she would understand.

She paid his ransom with money she would never have asked for just to use herself, even though she could have had it, could have asked for it, all that time. Nick knew what that had cost her. He knew how little she already had left.

They could always spot each other, and Nick knew it in every single wary glance, every time her fingers twitched at an out of place noise.

Catherine never let anything break her, but that didn't mean she was whole.

-----

"Stop it," the man said. "Just stop fucking talking. I told you. I want out, or I kill him, I swear to god. I'll do it. I've done it before."

"But that was an accident," Nick said. "You never meant to hurt her, did you?"

The man shook his head. His eyes were watery and far away. "I loved her. She was everything. Everything."

Nick remembered when he first saw her. She was on the floor of her bedroom, covered to the neck with a daisy-patterned comforter. The only marks on her were the bruises at her neck, and the little bloody slits where the fingers had sunk through the skin. She'd been only twenty-four years old.

There had been torn photographs littered around the body like confetti. The face of the man had been carefully cut from each one, and the boyfriend was always the most likely suspect anyway.

Nick hated how often it turned out to be him--strangers somehow seemed better.

-----

Nick supported Greg when he came out into the field, but that didn't mean he liked it.

He liked Greg's easy smile and his innocence, his sneakers and his lab coats and his tasteless jokes. Nick knew enough about their line of work to know Greg would lose most of it within the year.

He still remembers him beaten and bloody. It was worse somehow even than the aftermath of that explosion in the years before. There were the knuckle marks and the bruises and worse damage that couldn't be seen.

Nick knew all about what that was like, and he'd wished it was him instead, because he knew already. It wouldn't have bothered him like it did Greg.

And now he never smiles as much and his eyes aren't quite as bright, and Nick can't figure out why he chose this. He doesn't understand why the lab hadn't been enough.

He never could question it too much, or he might have to start wondering about himself.

-----

"I'm not asking for a jet, okay? Jesus fucking Christ, just give me a car, okay? A car. I don't want any money, I just want out." The man was sweating and coming down hard. Every once and awhile that gun strayed a little too far from Nick, a little too close to the intended target.

Nick stepped closer just to get the eyes back on him. "Where do you think you're going to go?" he asked.

The man was pressed up against the wall, leaning awkward against it with that weight pressing down against him. "Where doesn't matter."

Nick remembered those photographs again, that pretty smiling girl with that blank space beside her. He didn't know what to say to this man. He didn't understand why he felt this need to try and save him.

Brass was talking into his walkie-talkie at the end of the hall, eyes glaring across all that distance right at Nick. Sit down, those eyes were saying. Nick stayed standing.

"Where do you want to be?" Nick asked.

-----

Warrick was a survivor if he was anything.

He'd always been rather good at playing the odds, at coming out on top. He had his losses but he rarely left with nothing. Nick certainly knew better than to ever bet against him--he just did it anyway.

Warrick hadn't always been Nick's friend. There was real competition there in the beginning, and less teasing than there was now. Warrick's sharp edges have been slowly wearing down over the years.

Nick used to think Warrick was the most well-adjusted one of them, and he was pretty sure that Warrick used to think it too. Then he married just because that was what people did, and now there was nothing but the marriage license and two strangers living in the same place.

Warrick shrugs it off like everything. "No one gets married only once in Vegas," he told Nick.

Then he just kept going as he had before.

-----

"I was supposed to go to Harvard," the man said. "Harvard. I should be there. That's where I should be."

Nick nodded, but his eyes watched the gun and that man's fingers, digging in, leaving little half circles of torn, red skin. Grissom didn't even look scared, but he couldn't speak past that grip. Nick knew that was for the best, right then. Grissom rarely knew the right thing to say.

"What happened?" Nick asked as he took a slow step to the side. One of the red dots faded off the floor as his shadow swallowed it whole. He wasn't doing this just to give them a better shot.

"I was nervous," he said. "Just needed a little, right? You understand, it was only a little, they said--you know what they said, it's what they all say, and I knew better even then."

"How did it happen?" Nick asked.

The man looked terrified. He looked at Nick like he was the one holding the gun.

-----

Grissom studied things but he did not see them. He did not see people, he saw working biological machines with quirks he never could pin down or understand. He spent his days scouring his books and could figure out human motivations faster than anyone Nick had ever known.

Grissom understood the killers, and human nature, but he did not understand people.

Nick never could figure out why Grissom started dating Sara. For years he had looked through her like she wasn't there, the way he did all of them at some point--he dismissed her as too distracting and focused on other things. Motives. Grissom was always so good with motives, and with the means.

Nick thought he might have finally figured it out. Grissom was as flawed as the rest of them. It was the only thing that made any sense. He wanted to love just like anyone else, he just wasn't sure how.

He always failed because he didn't understand them. And he did not understand what it was to be a victim, because he had never been one.

He wasn't even now.

-----

"She told me to go," the man said. "She knew there was nowhere."

"So you killed her," Nick said. Grissom had his hands around the man's arm, trying to breath through the pressure on his neck. Nick would move out of the way if he had to, and allow the snipers their shot.

"You say that like I meant to," he cried. "She was beautiful, wasn't she? Prettiest girl I ever saw."

The man let go of Grissom all at once, and Grissom slid to floor and then back against the wall. Nick stepped closer even as Grissom tried to tell him to stop, even as Brass motioned him back. He took the gun from the man's limp hands.

He was sobbing now, broken on the floor, and he made no move to stop him. Brass came rushing in to push him to the floor, cuffing his hands as the man begged for forgiveness from someone that wasn't going to hear.

Nick let Sophia have the gun when she walked up to him and then he went right out the doors. He didn't stop until he was at the edge of the parking lot, under the broken streetlight where it was dark.

Grissom was right behind him, and Nick let out laugh, because of course he'd choose now to notice him. Of course.

The flashing neon of the strip colored them both blue and then red and Nick could see the small cuts on Grissom's throat were still bleeding, but Grissom did not reach up to hold it in. He just stood there, staring, watching him like he was something under a microscope or on the page of a book.

"That was stupid," Grissom told him simply.

Nick has never been a hero; he's always only been stupid. Sara used to laugh and ask the difference, but she left without bothering to say goodbye to him. Distantly he knew there had always been some strange balance between the three of them--and if it was shaken when Sara and Grissom were together, it was gone completely now that she wasn't there.

Nick wished he'd thought of leaving first.

-----

Brass lectured him for fifteen minutes before patting him on the back and giving him a job well done. "Go home and get some sleep," he said.

Hodges was waiting outside the door. "That was amazing," he said. "You had that psycho in tears." He was grinning widely now, like he'd forgotten all that terror of before, the sound of that gunshot above their heads. Nick walked away without responding.

He could see the man behind the glass two rooms down, head down on the table, a guard at the door. Brass said he'd get twenty years at least. Nick thought these were always the worst, ordinary people that should be in Harvard, driven to madness like this without knowing why.

Grissom came to stand beside him. "I've been thinking," he said. There were band-aids on his neck now, all the edges pressed down flat and even. Nick recognized it as Catherine's work.

Nick continued to watch the man through the glass. The man didn't move at all.

"You have a gift," Grissom said. "You do, Nick. You reach people."

Nick was so tired of reaching out. It was exhausting and all they ever did was pull away, or pull back and take too much. This was what made him a victim, he understood that now. It made sense that he should stop.

"You want to go grab some dinner?" Nick asked.

Grissom nodded. "I'd like that," he said.

Nick knew he couldn't stop reaching out, even at the cost, not while there were still those few times where people reach back.