A/N: The sad, sad truth that is the influence of this fanfiction will probably make you people laugh. But… basically, my twelve pound kitten headbutted me in the forehead. I'm not kidding. Through a series of strange and extremely unfortunate circumstances involving eight plastic bags and a closet, Elliott tripped me and sent me toppling, tore around the house at ninety miles an hour in an effort to get the bags off, and ran smack dab into my head in his crazed frenzy while I was trying to get back up. And I'm dead serious when I say he left a bruise, and no one believed my cat did it. I spent the next thirty minutes watching CSI with an icepack on my forehead, begging for a Thunder Geniuses trailer (and didn't get one… damnit) and… well, I came up with this. So, yeah. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: …I'm going on a covert mission to steal the rights to the CSI series from Anthony E. Zuiker. Anyone wanna come?

Summary: Archie comes into work battered and bruised, and claims he fell down the stairs. But when a body appears with injuries consistent to his, was it an accident… or a hit?

.:X:.
bruised
.:X:.

Nick Stokes was in a good mood.

A really good mood. In fact, if the lab had a radio, the station would've been playing that song about walking on sunshine.

He'd just come from the Tox lab, where the lab technician Henry Andrews had just reassured him that the brand of cocaine on his blunt-force trauma victim was solely made by his prime suspect, while the DNA analyst Wendy Simms had just informed him that the epithelials were a match to the same suspect. As if that weren't enough, David Hodges, the Trace analyst, had told him the trace on the dead man's hands were a match to the eyeglasses the same suspect wore.

Talk about your easy case.

Now all that was left was to check up on the audio/visual evidence he'd left with the lab's A/V Archie Johnson.

Archie was typing away as usual, but Nick stopped dead in his tracks, halfway through the door. There was a large bruise running down the left side of the A/V tech's face, a bandage around his right wrist, and he sat very stiffly in his chair, as though slouching hurt. He was also favoring his bandaged wrist, using the left hand much more. At the sound of the footsteps, he looked up and raised his eyebrows in greeting. "Oh, hey Nick. I just got that footage from your case done, if you want it now."

"Nevermind that. What happened to you?" Nick asked, startled.

Archie grinned in what Nick assumed was a sheepish manner. "I, uh… I fell down the stairs. Tripped over my cat, actually."

"You fell down the stairs."

"Yeah."

"When?"

"I dunno, couple days ago. Why?"

Nick shook his head. "Nothing. Nevermind." He grabbed the chair next to Archie and wheeled it around, sitting down and placing the file he'd been holding on the desk.

"You know, that casino had really crappy equipment, they need to call that little business down in Summerland, Trinity something or other… I know the owner, Mike. His stuff's a lot better than anything those big businesses spit out every year…"

There was something about the bruise on Archie's cheek that was bugging him. It didn't look like the kind of bruise a person got toppling down the stairs, or even just falling, for that matter. Nick stared at the tech for a long moment, his brown eyes very serious. "Don't move," he said suddenly, and made a fist with his right hand. He held it up carefully to Archie's face and mentally noted as Archie instinctively recoiled. People who fall down the stairs don't flinch when you go to touch them, he thought.

"That's odd," he said dryly, pressing his knuckles against the bruise and ignoring the tech's hiss of pain. "Looks kinda like a fist impression. You sure you tripped?" Archie's eyes widened minutely, but he stared back at Nick, his face unreadable.

"Yup."

"Huh." Nick lowered his hand and there was a long pause.

"You want the analysis, then?" Archie said, looking back to the screen. His hands shook as he typed a few commands on the keyboard. There were bruises on the knuckles of his right hand too.

"I guess I do."

"Okay, so, your perp walked into the casino at about 10:31—" he pointed with his left hand "—and around 10:34, sat down to play poker at table 27." He laughed in a 'poor guy' way. "Lost all of his chips within fifteen minutes." He typed a few more commands, and pointed again. "Now, here… your perp walks into your vic, they fight, vic wins, and perp marches out in a huff. A few minutes later…" More typing. "Perp follows vic into bathroom, and commits murder." Archie shrugged as he leaned back and sighed. "The guy made it too easy."

Nick raised his eyebrows. "Not bad, Arch. Looks like you pretty much closed the case."

"Thank you, thank you. Flowers aren't necessary. Throw coins, if you will."

"Nice try," Nick said dryly, getting up and patting Archie on the shoulder. "But no dice."

The tech grinned up at him. "I'll get it printed out and everything for the case file."

"Thanks, that'd be great." Nick's cell phone started ringing and he flipped it open. "Hey, Gris. Yeah, I'm done with the Angelis case. Why?" He listened for a moment. "Yeah, alright. Where is she? …'kay. Be there soon." He snapped the cover down and sighed. "I'm literally off this case for thirty seconds and Gris already has me working a new one with Catherine. She was called down, and Warrick and Sara are already working a case…"

"Fun, fun, fun," Archie said brightly.

"Yeah, well, I'm off. Watch out for cats."

"Always."

Nick stored the mystery in the back of his mind. As long as the bruises didn't have anything to do with murder, it wasn't really his business. Whatever.

.:X:.

Catherine Willows looked up as Nick came ambling up in full CSI gear. "Weren't you working the Angelis case?" she asked, her strawberry blonde ponytail swinging. Captain Brass was off to the side, interviewing the poor soul that had found the cadaver.

"Case was closed," Nick said cheerfully. "It was too easy. Wendy, Henry and Hodges both found evidence that'll convict the perp for years, and Archie was able to get motive and exact time."

"Well," Catherine said, cocking an eyebrow. "You seem happy for someone standing over a dead body."

"Aren't I always?" the younger CSI said cheekily, crouching down next to her. "Hey, Super Dave. Whadda we have?"

David Phillips, the graveyard shift's assistant coroner, glanced up from his clipboard. "Well, it looks like a single gunshot wound to the back. Rigor's not fully set, and his liver temp's not even close to ambient, so… I'm guessing he died about six to eight hours ago. Lividity's fixed, though." He pushed up his glasses. "He definitely died here."

"Poor guy took a beating," Catherine said, pulling her gloves on.

"I'll say," Nick said. There were bruises all over the man's face and arms. "Any ID?"

"Nope." David shrugged his shoulders. "Mugging gone bad?"

"Probably," Catherine muttered, looking around. She brightened instantly when she spotted a security camera. "Well I'll be damned," she said cheerfully. "Take a look at that, Nicky." She pointed.

Nick looked up and cracked a smile. "Two easy ones in three days? It must be my lucky day…" Yet there was something about the body that he couldn't place. The face wasn't familiar…

Catherine chuckled. "You better hope."

He shrugged as he walked over to the camera and pulled out the tape carefully, handing it to Catherine.

Whatever.

.:X:.

"COD was a single gunshot wound to the back. It hit his spine and lodged between the eleventh and twelfth vertebrae. Near instant death," Dr. Al Robbins said, and David pulled the cadaver up enough so that Catherine and Nick could see the hole in the man's back. "I sent it to Bobby already. Looks like a hit." Nick nodded. "What about the bruises? Defensive wounds?"

"Actually," Robbins said, looking up at the CSIs over his glasses. "Yes and no. They are defensive wounds, some of them, but those were inflicted around 36 hours ago, consistent with a mob beating." He pointed to the wounds as he said them. "Contusions around his face and chest, two broken ribs, broken hand, a few lacerations… All in the primary stages of healing. Nothing that would kill him."

"Probably would've caused him a lot of pain, though," David commented, writing something on his clipboard as usual.

Nick looked up at the coroners, who seemed to realize they'd said something interesting. Robbins raised his eyebrows. "That mean something to you, Nick?"

"Uh, nothing, Doc." Catherine gave him a weird look, which he ignored. "C'mon, Cath. We've got footage to give to our favorite computer geek," he said, stalking out. Catherine couldn't help it; she looked at the two coroners, who looked shocked. After a moment, she said, "Uh, right. I'd better go see what's bugging the big bad Texan. See you later, Doc, David."

Three minutes later, Catherine tossed the evidence tape at Archie, who still managed to catch it one-handed, again using his left hand. "Careful, Cath," he said, grinning, "I could've missed."

"You never miss," Catherine said, grinning back. She noticed the bruises, but said nothing about them. Hodges had a big mouth; he'd already mentioned that it was no surprise to him someone like Archie would trip over a cat and fall down a flight of stairs. Her sharp eyes told her that was weird, the bruises weren't consistent with a fall, but she ignored it. Muddling in other people's business was her job, but muddling in her co-worker's lives wasn't.

Archie nodded his head. "Can't disagree with you there." He popped the tape into the player as Nick and Catherine plopped down on either side of him. Archie typed in a few keys and the screen produced a grainy, black and white picture of the back of a casino, complete with dumpster, lamp and three-stair doorway.

"Behind the Monte Carlo," Nick said when Archie shot them a questioning look. "We've got a snuff film here."

"Ohh."

The three watched as a man barreled out of the door, looking terrified.

"There's our John Doe," Catherine said, pointing at the screen.

"He looks even worse when he's moving," Nick commented, wincing as the man ran right into a railing and doubled over, clutching at the hand they knew was broken. He looked around frantically, then ran down the stairs. He turned around briefly, to check if anyone was following him, and then he lurched forward and toppled to the ground, blood blossoming from under him. No one ever entered the camera's line of vision, to the CSIs' dismay.

"Well, that's great," Nick said, looking angry. "All we've got is what we already know."

"Archie, zoom in and see if we can get a close-up of our John Doe's face. Maybe we can ID him," Catherine said, tapping her lower lip in thought. When the A/V expert did nothing, she looked sideways at him. "Archie, did you—" she stopped talking, wide-eyed. "Hey, Arch, are you alright?"

All of the color had drained from the tech's face as he stared at the screen. Nick and Catherine exchanged glances, then Catherine reached out and touched Archie's shoulder lightly. He yelped and jumped back, looking startled. Catherine's eyebrows knit together for a second as she took in his frightened expression, and then she said quietly, "You know him?"

Archie swallowed. "Yeah. Uh… he's a… a friend."

"So you know his name."

"Yeah. His name's Ben Davies." Archie paused the video, looking nauseous. "Lives…lived somewhere in Summerland. He mentioned it in passing once." He swallowed again. "We went to highschool together…" He smiled, still looking sick. "He was the only guy in our computer club better than me."

Nick and Catherine exchanged looks again, remembering what Robbins and David had said about the wounds on the dead body. They looked awfully similar to the marks on their normally cheerful tech's face and arms. Nick couldn't help but feel pleased that he wasn't the only one who'd noticed that.

"And… when was the last time you saw him?" Catherine asked carefully.

"Dunno." Archie didn't look either of them in the eyes, pressing the play button again.

"Too bad," Nick said wryly. "He could've warned you that your cat was about to trip you, huh?"

"Someone moved the camera," Archie said, pointing to the screen and ignoring Nick. "You could probably get prints off it."

Catherine shot Nick an "I-thought-so" face, which he replied with the "we'll-figure-it-out" face.

After thanking the tech (and advising him to drink something warm—he looked paler than a ghost), the CSIs converged in the break room.

"What do you think?" Catherine asked, taking a sip of coffee.

"He's hiding something," Nick said thoughtfully. "But it doesn't seem that relevant. It's possible there was a mob hit throughout the city and he was one of the poor unfortunate souls that got a taste of it. Arch never mentioned he was with Davies when he got those bruises. He said he tripped over his cat," he added disgustedly.

Catherine shrugged. "We have to tell Grissom."

Nick grabbed a mug too. "Guess we do."

It definitely wasn't 'whatever' anymore.

.:X:.
end chapter
.:X:.

A/N: Why is it, that, every single time I write something, I feel as if it's going to fast, but the people I show it to don't think so? It's confusing.

Reviews are lovely, and the next chapter will be up some time next week. Til then!