Plus-One - by Sara's Girl
AN – written for Tuppence at WMTDB who wanted a coming-out story from Nick's POV. Fluff/humour/romance with a little angst. Please leave me a review if you liked this (or not) I just love them :)
Nick looked up from the photographs he was studying as Sara walked into the break room and slumped into the chair directly across from him. He hadn't been able to shake the unsettling feeling that something strange was going to happen tonight, ever since he got on shift. His co-worker's pained expression only added to his sense of unease, but he smiled thinly to greet her.
"Not really. Did you get Catherine's memo?"
He thought hard, trying to remember receiving a memo, particularly one that might cause his colleague to screw her face up in that manner. Drawing a blank, he shook his head and raised his eyebrows, inviting an explanation.
"Night of Wine and Roses," she intoned, a wry tilt to her already laconic accent.
Nick laughed and set the photographs down, picking up his coffee cup instead and gratefully switching into break mode. Pushed his inexplicable anxiety aside.
"Night of Fear and Loathing?" he offered with a grin. He was rewarded with a dry cackle and Sara dropped her sour expression.
"Yeah. Ritual embarrassment and humiliation. Night of the Living Dead," she added as an afterthought.
"Not bad," Nick replied thoughtfully. "But, I believe this year it's actually called 'Night of Force and Field.' Which may be the best yet, though the jury is still out."
Sara grimaced and took his cup out of his hands, finishing the contents in one gulp. He frowned and wondered what had gotten her so wound up about this year's LVPD social event. He knew she wasn't a huge fan of parties and dressing up, but there was usually good food and an open bar, and the opportunity to see some of the higher-ups embarrass themselves on the dance floor. It wasn't all bad. In fact, for Nick, last year's event had been the setting for a moment which had changed his life forever, in which years of unspoken conflict and feeling had been resolved, all because of Greg Sanders. Nick blinked and addressed Sara.
"What about it?"
"Well, for a start, it's a horrendous experience, during which I'm forced to make small talk with people like Ecklie, forced to dance by some desperate lab tech or other, and don't even get me started on how behind I get here while I'm being made to have fun."
She had the good grace to smile at her last remark, and Nick was grateful, knowing how seriously his workaholic colleague could take herself at times.
"Oh, I don't know, Sara. I think they're kinda fun. Remember last year when Greg got drunk on champagne and tried to get Grissom to dance with him?"
And, he thought, suppressing a filthy smile, what happened not long after that, when Greg had turned his intoxicated attentions to Nick and sloppily kissed him in the men's bathroom. He had ignited a spark that night that had grown in intensity ever since, and almost one year to the day later, Nick found himself completely and unexpectedly in love with the lab-tech-turned-CSI. He had never been happier or more exhausted, but he hoped he hid it well. Work was complicated enough.
"Yes, I remember, I'm sure Gris does too. Anyway, it's Catherine. She's harassing everyone, doing that mother hen thing. Wants everyone to fill out that list on the wall before the end of the shift. She made a spreadsheet." Sara rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
Before he could respond and gently tell her to give Catherine a break – she was probably only doing what Ecklie had asked her to – he was interrupted by Warrick's noisy entrance to the room. His arms were full of box files and he let the door slam shut behind him.
"Seen Cath's memo?" he asked, discarding his burden and pulling up a seat at the table. Sara made a face. "Can you believe the city's actually springing for partners this year?"
Nick was surprised. That had to be a first; the folks who held the purse strings of LVPD were legendary in their drive to save a buck or fifty, at almost any cost.
"It's ok for people like you, Warrick. You're married. For some of us it's just an advertisement to the world that we're single and hopeless. Honestly, filling out that 'plus-one' box just depressed me." Sara exhaled heavily and fiddled with the edges of Nick's photographs.
"Bet I know who you'd like to go with," Warrick commented under his breath, but loud enough for both of his colleagues to hear.
Sara shot him a warning look and Nick kicked him under the table. Sometimes, he swore to God, that man just did not have a tactful bone in his body.
"So you did fill out the form, like she asked, after all that?"
Nick changed the subject, attempting to divert attention away from Sara's obvious discomfort. Like he had said a thousand times before, workplace relationships were complicated. He was never quite sure what exactly the relationship was between Sara and their supervisor, but there had been a palpable tension there for as long as he could remember, and he often just wished they would come out with it, one way or another, and put an end to all the crazy rumours. He wasn't buying the sad and single act, thought she played it well. He supposed there were lots of reasons why, if they were actually involved, they would keep it a secret. People like Conrad Ecklie, for starters. He would just love to throw a spanner in the works if he found out that two of his CSIs were in a relationship.
Just another reason not to go public about his relationship with Greg. Besides the fact that he just wasn't ready for his co-workers to know he was gay. His parents didn't even know that. Hell, he hadn't known for sure until he found himself pressed up against cold tiles by a champagne-unsteady Greg, feeling warm lips against his and realising, through the alcohol-induced haze, that he wanted Greg's hands on his hips and Greg's tongue in his mouth and Greg's bare skin against his, though that would have to wait. He flushed a little at the memory and couldn't help wondering where Greg was right now, and what he was doing.
He turned his gaze back to Sara, who was nodding.
"Yeah. You'd better do it too, unless you want her on your back. She's pretty scary when she's mad."
Nick did not doubt that.
He watched Greg through the glass wall of the layout room, feeling a rush of love for the younger man that was now familiar but still had the power to knock the breath from him. Greg was sliding pieces of plastic around on the up-lit table top with intense concentration on his face. His warm dark eyes were narrowed as he focused on his task, and Nick smiled with contentment, lingering, one hand on the door, luxuriating in the simple pleasure of observing the man he loved at work. He felt his heart quicken as his eyes ran over Greg's lithe outline in his tight fitting jeans and t-shirt, followed the line of his back and settled on skilful, gloved fingers, manoeuvring puzzle pieces into place.
He wondered idly if Greg might be persuaded into putting on a repeat performance in the bathroom at this year's party, maybe taking things one step further now that there was nothing unsure about their relationship. The thought shot straight to his groin and he pushed the door open, crossing the room to stand behind Greg, so close that they were almost, agonisingly close to but not quite, touching. He could feel the heat radiating from the other man's body, felt him stiffen as he registered his presence. Only for a fleeting moment, he stayed there, never quite forgetting about the transparent box they were standing in, and the curious eyes all around them, complications waiting to happen.
He walked around the table and leaned forward across its surface, resting his weight on his hands braced against the cool glass. Greg dragged his eyes up from his work and his face relaxed into a small, easy smile which gratified Nick. He loved those smiles because they seemed to creep across Greg's face unbidden, outside of his control, and conveyed a genuine, pure pleasure that extended right into his eyes.
"Did you read – "
"Catherine's memo? No, not yet, but Sara gave me the general idea."
Greg's eyebrows lifted at this and he flashed his teeth briefly. "She's certainly a ray of sunshine today."
"That she is. So, we're going, right? I was thinking maybe once everyone's busy on the dance floor you might remind me of what happened last year."
Nick leaned a little closer across the table, eyes fixed on Greg, feeling like he was burning up at the memory and wondering, hoping, it still affected his partner in the same way.
"We?" Greg's liquid eyes were wide. "You mean, go together?"
His voice was incredulous but hopeful, and his mouth, which had fallen slightly open at Nick's comment, was now lifting slightly at one corner.
Nick froze. That was not what he had meant at all, he had simply meant to confirm that he was going, and that Greg was going. Separately. He felt a rising sense of panic at the implication of his words. Greg and I attending the LVPD social together? As a couple? Jesus. He tried to fight the thought down as Ecklie's face crept into his head. Grissom's. Catherine's. Everything would change, everything would be difficult.
Forcing himself to take a breath, Nick reminded himself that it was ok, because Greg understood.
"No, G, not together, of course not."
He smiled in a way he hoped was reassuring and good-humoured. Waited for Greg to laugh like he always did when they talked about coming out at work. Greg did not laugh, though. He sighed softly and looked down at the table.
He hadn't expected this. A simple conversation was turning into something much more complex and he needed to rescue the situation.
"Come on, Greg, you know why not. Because there are people in this department that might try and make it difficult for us. Because it's complicated. Because I'm not ready, you know? This isn't a big deal, is it?"
Greg still wasn't looking at him but he was breathing hard and a little unsteadily. He took his gloves off, first one and then the other, dropping them on the table and lifting hands to rake through his hair.
"No, I guess not," he replied softly, finally. "Maybe I just thought that after a year, you might be ready. I know it's complicated, Nick, of course I know that, but I'll take the complications if it means I can stand next to you and know you're not ashamed to be with me."
Greg's words hung in the air, swirling around Nick like a cold wind. What he wanted to say was 'I'm not ashamed of you. I love you.' But those words did not seem to be able to fight their way out, his throat constricted by fear.
"G, look at me," he managed eventually, and Greg's head snapped up, his expression hitting Nick with unexpected force.
Nick registered the genuine hurt in his eyes with surprise. He suspected that Greg wanted everyone to know, and that his holding back was a source of frustration, but he had no idea that it was hurting him like this. He had thought, assumed, that Greg just accepted it as the way things were for them.Thought that when Greg laughed at the idea of going public, it was because he understood. He reached out and touched Greg's arm gently, in an attempt to soothe.
"Don't," Greg murmured dully, pulling out of Nick's touch. "Someone might see." Nick winced. His voice was not sarcastic, or angry as Nick might have expected, just resigned and sad.
He opened his mouth to respond, but Greg was already walking out of the room. He walked quickly and his head was down. Nick watched him go. Shit.
He had thought better of following Greg and had instead found himself standing in the hallway outside Trace, staring intently at the sheet of paper pinned to the noticeboard. The start of all this. He knew that something was going to go wrong today, he had just sensed it.
The laugh was a distinctive, shimmering sound and Nick did not need to turn around to identify its owner.
"What is it, Catherine?"
"Oh, nothing," she said, slowly, innocently, coming to stand next to him, looking where he was looking. "I was just wondering what was bothering you about that form. You're looking at it like Hodges does when he's doing those number puzzles. Confused."
Catherine fell silent. Finally, she reached out a hand and pointed out the line containing his name, tracing her finger across the paper slowly as she spoke.
"Here you are. Nick Stokes," She clarified unnecessarily, flicking sardonic blue eyes to his for a fraction of a second.
He clenched his teeth and toyed with the idea of grabbing her hand and putting it up her back. He was fairly sure he could incapacitate her without hurting her.
"What you do, is, you tick here to say you're coming." Her finger moved again. "Then you tick here if you need a plus-one." She quirked a thin eyebrow. "That means if you want to bring a date."
"I know that, Catherine."
She ignored him, and continued, her voice dripping with playful sarcasm now.
"And if you are bringing a date, you write their name right here." She stabbed a finger, with a final flourish, at the longer box at the end of each row.
He was going to kill her. He turned to her, then, her face alight with devilment. He wondered why she was making this so difficult for him. Did she know something or was it simply that she had nothing better to do? He wondered, as he had many times before, why it always seemed to be him that she chose as the unfortunate target of her boredom-fuelled teasing. He supposed that Grissom would not be easily ruffled, and that was no fun. Her relationship with Warrick, especially recently, was complicated, so that was no go. Greg seemed to irritate her. Nick wondered if it was because she realised how smart he was and it rattled her. So it fell to him, he supposed, via a process of elimination. He sighed.
"I know how to do it, Catherine."
"Oh, ok. Go on then." She crossed her arms and didn't move from the spot.
Oh, hell no. He shoved his hands in his pockets and started walking away. "Later." He called over his shoulder to her.
"Nick! You're the only one who hasn't...I need to give Ecklie the numbers before..." her voice faded out of range as he put distance between himself and that damn board.
Though he was struggling to get Greg out of his mind, he made a decision to focus on work and hope that he could make it up to him later. Greg would forgive him, surely, he could make him understand. The thought that maybe he could not was fleeting but painful, and he pushed both that and the image of Greg's devastated eyes out of his head and walked in the direction of DNA. Wendy would have his results, and then he would have something else to think about.
As he rounded the corner though, he knew he was out of luck because Wendy was not alone in her lab. Greg was sitting on her swivel chair, carelessly swinging from side to side and looking at the floor. The lab tech smiled at him and grabbed the back of the chair, pushing him hard so that he spun around two or three times across the shiny floor. The door was propped open and Nick hung back, out of sight, to hear their conversation.
"No match, Greg, I'm sorry. Nothing in CODIS either."
"Ok. Not your fault. Are you going to the Night of...whatever it is? The party?"
"No." She sighed. "We drew straws for who had to stay here and cover, and I'm one of the lucky ones."
Greg scuffed his sneaker on the floor and looked up at her.
"That sucks. But, hey, I might come in and help you out, if you want."
"You're not going?" Wendy couldn't hide the curiosity in her voice.
Nick held his breath for a moment. This did not sound good. If Greg was passing up the chance of a party to help out in DNA, things were worse than he had first anticipated.
"I was going to." He shrugged. "But I guess I realised I don't really want to go alone."
"I thought you were seeing someone?" she sounded concerned now, and was touching Greg's shoulder gently.
Nick's eyes widened. Greg told people he was seeing someone? Greg told people he was seeing someone but didn't tell them who. Because of him. Guilt nibbled at him.
"I am," he replied sadly. "But it seems that the, um, person that I'm seeing doesn't want to go with me."
Wendy took a step back from him and placed hands on her hips. "Bastard."
Nick couldn't suppress a gasp. He hadn't thought Greg was out at work either. It seemed Greg was as shocked as he was though because his head jerked up and he made an incoherent sound in the back of his throat.
"Oh, come on, Greg. I know it's a guy. Give me some credit."
Greg nodded slowly, colour returning to his face. "I think he's ashamed of me, Wend."
Nick's eyes closed slowly and he leaned against the wall, feeling sick. How was Greg ever going to believe he wasn't ashamed of their relationship when he was acting like such an ass?
"If he's ashamed of you then he's not worth you being sad over."
Greg did not respond. Merely looked up at Wendy and sighed softly.
Nick knew that it was often when Greg said nothing that really spoke volumes. The very idea that he might agree with Wendy's judgement of him turned him instantly cold. He wanted to be everything Greg needed, and he thought he had done a fairly good job, until now. This was something Greg wanted, and he'd been too afraid to even think about giving it. He pushed off the wall and started walking as he thought. Trying to rationalise what he was afraid of. Making a mental list. Losing his job. Greg losing his job. People treating them differently. People being disgusted. Wendy hadn't been disgusted though, had she? She hadn't known it was him, but he was grateful for that fact because at this moment he felt she might try to hurt him if she knew. What else? It getting back to his parents. Ecklie making a big deal out of it and never letting him and Greg work together again. People laughing.
He stopped. It was all immaterial in the end, wasn't it? The thought of losing Greg swept across all of those other concerns and fears and consumed them, as if they were nothing. Being with Greg this past year had brought him to life, allowed him to experience things he thought were impossible between two people. Greg had trusted and loved so openly and had never held back. The thought that Greg was starting to doubt him because of this stupid fear terrified him more than any amount of name-calling or even unemployment.
He knew he had to fix this, but he wasn't sure yet how he was going to do it. He hoped that when he decided, it was not too late.
Nick gulped down the fear constricting his throat and gripped the pen. Stared at the notice board with fixed determination, as if it were the most fearsome adversary he had ever come across. He felt like he had played out this battle many times before, with his own fear, and every time he had lost and backed down. Every time he had let Greg down. This time, though, remembering the new pain glittering in the younger man's eyes just hours before, it was going to be different. Just a piece of paper. No big deal. You can do it.
Carefully, he ticked the box next to his own name. Slid his hand across the sheet to the column headed 'plus-one'. It was a simple tick or cross box, and next to it the larger box where he needed to write the name of his significant other. With some effort, he drew a tick in the box, and then paused. Eyes flicked up the sheet a couple of names until he found Greg Sanders. Greg had simply indicated his attendance, and every other box had been left blank. Nick wondered if Greg had thought, hoped, that he might change his mind.
Nick stared at Greg's name for a moment, black type on white paper, just like all the others. He couldn't suppress a small but genuine laugh at his partner's unshakeable optimism and suddenly, feeling fortified, he stood back a little, thinking. He wanted to make a statement. Greg would like a statement best, he decided, and he wanted to make Greg smile, to wipe out that hurt from his eyes that he was the cause of. Never wanted to hear that doubt in his voice again.
Nick drew a bold, decisive black line through the entire row that started with his own name. Added a second one, just for good measure and so that his intentions were crystal clear. He then ticked the plus-one next to Greg's name, and in clear letters, wrote 'Nick Stokes' in the empty box next to that. There.
He stepped back from the noticeboard, a heady mixture of terror and satisfaction coursing through his veins. He replaced the pen in his pocket and walked away, looking for something to process while he waited for the inevitable.
It didn't take long. The noticeboard was in a heavy-traffic area of the lab, for the good reason that people who pinned things up there wanted them to be seen by as many as possible. He was in the AV lab listening to Archie's long-winded explanation of how he had managed to restore an erased image and save the day when the door swung open and he heard the sharp clack of Catherine's heels.
"There you are," she began, sounded exasperated. "You're causing quite a stir, you know?"
"Me?" Enquired Archie, turning to face the blonde.
"No. Nick. I guess you figured out how to fill out my form in the end, huh?"
Her tone was as playful as it had been earlier, but the sarcasm was gone and had been replaced by an unexpected warmth. Nick stood slowly and faced her.
"Sorry about the crossing-out," he replied, evenly, trying to gauge her reaction. "I guess I was trying to demonstrate something to someone. Has he said anything?"
"I don't think he's seen it yet. Pretty much everyone else has, though, you're the talk of the lab!" She laughed.
Nick paled. The fear spiked as he tried to read Catherine's eyes.
"It's ok, Nick. Everyone's fine about it, you should have known we would be. In fact a few of us are just relieved you two finally got your act together. Grissom and I thought it would never happen."
"Grissom's seen it?" He choked faintly. His head was spinning.
She nodded. "And Warrick, and Hodges, and Brass, and – "
"And Sara," Sara added, leaning on the doorframe with a bright smile. Nick was starting to feel overwhelmed by the attention and he felt the heat on his face rising.
"Hey, at least you have someone to go with, even if it is Sanders."
He frowned for a moment before realising that she was not criticising him but teasing him in her usual good-natured way. He just had not expected this.
He needed to see Greg. Smiling gratefully at his two female colleagues, he excused himself from the room and walked slowly, looking into each room and lab as he passed. He stopped suddenly, seeing him, standing, as Nick somehow knew he would be, in front of the notice board, staring, his mouth slightly open. He had not seen Nick yet, and for some reason, unexpectedly, he felt nervous. His mouth was dry and his hands were shaking. Was it too little, too late? He was right next to Greg before he noticed him, turned.
Greg's breath caught as their eyes locked and Nick was shocked to see that his eyes were wet. They stared at each other for several seconds, the noise of the lab around them fading as Nick waited, almost not breathing, for Greg to say something.
"Thank you," he whispered finally.
"I'm not ashamed of you. Never."
"I'm sorry it took me so long."
"It's ok. Are you sure about this?"
His affirmation was vehement, and to further drive the point home, he leaned in and kissed Greg softly on the lips. It was brief and did not invite a response right in that moment, but it was a promise. It felt good. When Nick broke the contact, Greg was smiling and a little flushed. He held on to the wall for support as though his legs might let him down, and laughed softly.
"You're going to have to learn how to dance."
Nick slammed his locker door shut and slung his bag over his shoulder. He was humming to himself under his breath and had not been able to keep the smile from his face all night. He felt light without the burden of his biggest secret, and the supportive comments from his co-workers had both surprised and warmed him. He had just stepped into the hallway when he heard the voice calling him back.
Horror swept through him. He had forgotten about Ecklie.
Slowly, like a man facing a firing squad, he turned to look at the other man, framed in the doorway of his office. He took a long, deep breath.
"Do you know how much it's costing the city to put on this year's social event? All LVPD employees, plus all their partners?"
"Ah, no Sir, I don't." Nick wasn't entirely sure it wasn't a rhetorical question, but he answered anyway, just to be on the safe side.
"So, you're going with Sanders. With him." He paused. "That's very economical of you."
Conrad Ecklie smiled then, a flash of warmth tinting his cool eyes just for a second, before he disappeared back into his office without another word.
Nick stared open–mouthed after him. Did that just happen? Did Ecklie...make a joke? A gesture of support? Finally, he broke into an uncontrollable grin and the last shred of his fear melted away. He turned and walked quickly out of the building. Greg was going to love this.