Spirit - by Sara's Girl
Warnings: One extremely minor OC (a little old lady). Glitter. Frank Capra movies. Not to be taken too seriously :)
AN - I haven't personally seen this done, but if it has been done, I apologise, because there are only so many original ideas for Christmas fics, I guess.
Set early season 3, because lab rat Greg is my precioussss :)
I nearly gave up on this more times than I can count. The only reason it got completed is because liquid_latex, in her wisdom, really wanted a Nick/Greg Christmas fic written by me. Go figure.
As a result, I have included some of her favourite things/random prompts. Including the following: Glitter, Nick singing, Spanish, pie, candy canes, first kisses and the phrase 'fun sucker.'
Mostly, this is just shameless fluff, written to make me feel warm inside. I offer no excuses or refunds. The section headers/countdown things are a strange side-effect of having recently watched Love Actually. Sorry about that.
Reviews are love! And you know, it's that time of year. Be rude not to ;)
December 20th – 5 days to Christmas
"I can't believe this. I just cannot...how the hell did this happen?" Catherine storms, her back to Nick as she fills her coffee cup and stirs in cream with vigorous ire.
Nick leans back in his chair and doesn't respond. He has a feeling it's a rhetorical question.
"I swear, that man gets more clueless with every year that passes," she continues, pulling up a chair opposite Nick and slamming her cup down on the table. "If it hasn't got six legs, he's just not interested. Five weeks ago, I submitted the forms. And guess what?"
She looks expectantly at Nick and he realizes a moment too late that this time he is supposed to respond.
"He lost the paperwork, and now I'm working Christmas Eve," she replies. Her manicured nails tap out a rapid tattoo on the shiny tabletop and her whole body seems to vibrate with irritation.
Nick shoots his friend a sympathetic smile and sips his coffee. "That sucks, Catherine. I'm sorry."
"Damn right it does," she agrees. "There's just no way I'll finish on time, and I promised Lindsey I'd be there when she woke up on Christmas morning this year." Catherine's glossy lips twist into a rueful smile. "Eddie's going to have a field day when he finds out. I was hardly mother of the year anyway."
Unsure as to the correct response, Nick mirrors her heavy sigh and fiddles with his coffee cup. It's just after four a.m. and Catherine's face appears pale and lined under the harsh strip lighting. As she stares into the middle distance and blows steam from her coffee, Nick watches another emotion rise briefly above the aura of anger and bitterness surrounding her. It's disappointment, and it pulls at Nick.
"I'll do it," he says impulsively.
Catherine's tired eyes snap to his and she blinks. "What?"
"I'll work your shift. I'm already doing the day shift Christmas day, it's no problem," he elaborates.
"Nicky, I can't let you do that," she half-whispers, fingers curling tightly around her mug. The tiny edge of hope in her voice dissolves any doubt Nick might have had about his offer, and he shakes his head.
"Sure you can. You should be at home with your daughter like you promised her."
Catherine's eyes narrow as she stares at him, hard. As though she's trying to make sure he really means it. Nick stares back, unblinking, until her face clears. Seemingly satisfied, she allows a smile to worry the hard line of her mouth and slides a cold hand across the table to wrap around Nick's. She squeezes until he thinks his bones are in danger of cracking.
"Thank you," she says softly.
"No problem," he shrugs. And it really isn't. It's obvious to Nick that the day means a whole lot more to Catherine than it does to him.
As she releases his hand and he rises from the table, wriggling his fingers experimentally, Nick watches his blonde co-worker. Transformed, it seems, by his simple gesture; her whole posture is relaxed and a grateful smile lights her face.
"I don't really like Christmas all that much, anyway," he adds. Halfway out of the door, almost as an afterthought.
Just before he turns away into the corridor, he sees Catherine's expression of disbelief as she turns in her seat, brows knitted, to stare after him. Nick shakes his head and smiles to himself.
What's so strange about that? he wonders. By the time he reaches the trace lab, though, he's forgotten all about it.
"How can you not like Christmas?" Sara's voice startles Nick as he walks slowly down the corridor some hours later, head buried in an autopsy report.
"What?" Glancing up, Nick looks straight into puzzled brown eyes. Falling into step beside him, Sara tilts her head on one side.
"How can you not like Christmas?" she repeats. "Everyone likes Christmas."
Instantly regretting the wisdom of his throwaway remark to Catherine, Nick sighs. He should have known that this would happen. "Women talk," he reminds himself under his breath, swiftly closing his mouth when Sara shoots him a sharp sidelong glance.
"It's fine, I'm just not crazy about it," he attempts, holding the folder close to his chest as a somewhat ineffectual shield. "It was more important to Catherine...is that so weird?"
"It's weird," she affirms, and before Nick can compose a response, she has ducked into the print lab, leaving him alone in the corridor once more.
For a moment, he regards Sara and Jacqui through the glass walls of the lab. Squints as something shiny catches his eye. Jacqui has tinsel in her hair. Nick sighs.
Sara, much to Nick's chagrin, is just the start. By the last hour of his shift, he has had similar exchanges with no less than six people, and suspects that if he hears the word Christmas one more time, he may just spontaneously combust. He can't quite understand what all the fuss is about. This will be his third...festive season...in Vegas and he's never been massively enthused about the whole idea, but it's never been an issue before. Probably, he reminds himself, because he hasn't come out and said it before.
But even so. Surely, plenty of people feel the same way. The way his co-workers are reacting, it's as though Nick has said that he likes kicking puppies, or stealing cars. Nick rubs a hand over his face wearily. Sara makes the least sense out of the lot of them. When he told her he was gay – albeit inadvertently, no one else knows – she barely raised an eyebrow, and yet his lack of festivity manages to trip her weird switch.
With a sense of resignation, Nick pushes open the heavy glass door and enters the Tox lab.
"Hey, Henry," he starts, throwing the dark-haired tech a tired smile. "What was my victim on?"
"Humbug!" Henry grins. Nick grits his teeth. "So, Catherine tells me that you..." Catching sight of Nick's stony face, he pauses. "...heroin and cocaine!" he amends quickly.
The lab rat smiles nervously and slides a print out across the counter toward Nick.
"Great. Thank you."
"Greg's looking for you!" the toxicologist calls out as Nick turns to leave.
"That can't be good," Nick mumbles to himself.
He can't be sure of what Greg might have to say regarding the current hot topic, but he can be sure that he doesn't want to hear it. The DNA tech is the self-appointed embodiment of the holiday season. Mr Festivity. Responsible, at least temporarily, for festooning the DNA lab with strings of sparkly white fairy lights. Rumour has it that Ecklie made him remove them during a particularly bureaucratic moment, but Nick's not entirely sure. Either way, Greg Sanders is fiercely pro-Christmas, and Nick is not in the mood for a lecture.
Just as a precautionary measure, Nick is in the parking lot by 8.02am and is pulling into a space outside his apartment building by a quarter past.
"Good morning, Nicholas!" calls the old lady from upstairs as she struggles with the door and a small dog wearing a tartan coat. "Almost Christmas!"
Nick turns his grimace into a polite smile and holds the door open for his neighbour.
"Good morning, Mrs O'Reilly," he manages, and the old lady smiles. Nick watches her as she shuffles away down the street.
Jolted awake, Nick inhales sharply and turns his head to look at the luminous green digits of the alarm clock at his bedside. It's hours until he needs to get up, and relieved, he allows his eyes to close and pulls his blankets tighter around his body.
Recalling the vivid dream that woke him, Nick laughs softly to himself.
Tied to a chair in the DNA lab, surrounded by the entire CSI graveyard shift. Forced to listen to Christmas carols, interspersed with repeated demands from Greg Sanders that he renounce the devil and enter into the festive spirit, and the arrival of Mrs O'Reilly, only for her to threaten to turn him into a Christmas tree.
He only hopes it's not a premonition.
December 21st – 4 days to Christmas
"Do you need some help?" comes the voice from the door of the layout room.
Nick doesn't need to look up from the assorted trashcan contents he's picking through to identify the owner of the voice. He sighs and smiles grimly. "Slow night in DNA, Greg?"
"Something like that. And you know, I just thought to myself, it's been a while since I talked to my good friend Nick."
The odd edge of speculation in his voice makes Nick look up, straight into the DNA tech's amused dark eyes. The bright smile is so sudden in its appearance that it pins Nick to the spot and he temporarily forgets why he was avoiding Greg in the first place.
"So, is it true?" Greg asks, poking at a crumpled tissue with the tip of his finger.
"Gloves," Nick mutters, distracted. "Is what true?"
Greg withdraws his hand and shoves both into his lab coat pockets. "That you hate Christmas?"
Ah. Yeah. That was why.
"I don't hate Christmas, Greg. I just...I don't care for it."
The smile is replaced by an expression of bewilderment that is almost cute and Nick tears his eyes away and resumes his work, hiding his smile. Greg shifts from one foot to the other at the other side of the table.
"You don't 'care' for Christmas? Nick, that's really sad." He sighs dramatically and changes tack, suddenly sounding almost accusatory. "Anyway, Catherine told me you hate it."
"Catherine is exaggerating. Catherine has been known to exaggerate," Nick mutters, extracting a long piece of blue string from where it is coiled inside a yogurt pot.
"That's a real shame," Greg muses. Nick can hear the smile in his voice but focuses resolutely on his string. "'Cause there was some other stuff she told me about you that I was pretty impressed by...but I guess she was exaggerating about that too, huh?"
Nick pauses. Frowns. If he didn't know better, he'd think that Greg was flirting. He does, however, know better. He knows it's just Greg being...Greg.
"What?" he asks finally, before reconsidering. "In fact, do I want to know?"
Greg pauses thoughtfully. "No, probably not."
"Good." Nick holds the string aloft with his tweezers and examines it. In his peripheral vision, he watches Greg do the same, head of blond spikes cocked curiously on one side.
"But getting back to the point..." he begins.
Torn between aggravation and admiration for Greg's tenacity, Nick closes his eyes briefly. When he opens them, he looks past the dangling string and meets Greg's eyes.
"Look," he sighs. "It's just one of those holidays that's for kids. Or people with kids. Or you know...partners, or what have you."
"Are you lonely, Nick?" Greg's eyes are wide and innocent but his mouth quirks slightly at one corner.
"Shut up. And hand me a bag." Nick points to the stack behind Greg.
"Paper or plastic? And it's ok to admit it, you know."
"Paper." Nick takes the bag from Greg's outstretched hand with obvious impatience. "I have nothing to admit. Jeez, isn't a guy allowed to dislike the festive season without everyone probing him for some deep-seated psychological need?" he demands.
Greg blinks and the corner of his mouth twitches repeatedly.
"Sorry, Nick. I won't...um....probe you any further," he says eventually, tone heavily laced with mock-regret.
Nick thinks about saying something; the remonstration is on the tip of his tongue. But then Greg's dark eyes flash wickedly and so he closes his mouth and turns away. Carefully, he coils the string into a bag and seals it, labelling it for Trace.
When he hears Greg's footsteps retreating, Nick looks up, surprised he's getting off so easily. Greg doesn't turn around but his words as he slips out into the corridor are crystal clear.
"This isn't over."
Perplexed, anxious and a little intrigued, Nick exhales thoughtfully and stares out into the empty corridor long after Greg has disappeared.
Despite Nick's better efforts, those three simple words seem to follow him around for the rest of the night like portents of festive doom.
By the time he has driven home, fixed a post-shift breakfast and eaten it, Nick has almost forgotten all about his conversation with Greg. He's brushing crumbs from his work surface into a dishcloth when the knock at the door comes. Frowning, he wipes damp hands on his trousers and answers it, wet cloth still dangling from his right hand.
He's not sure what exactly he was expecting, but it's fairly safe to say that this wasn't it.
"Hi, Nick. Are you gonna let me in, or what?"
Or what, he thinks privately, but hard-wired good manners kick in swiftly and Nick finds himself stepping back to allow Greg Sanders into his apartment. Greg Sanders, with several meters of fairy lights draped and looped about his person. Carrying a suspicious-looking plastic bag and grinning at Nick like the insane person he clearly is.
"Greg?" he asks faintly. Watching as the blond stalks into his living room, plug trailing along on the varnished boards behind him. He dumps the bag onto Nick's couch. Turns, the plug skittering and scraping across the floor at the movement.
"I hate to ask the obvious question here, but..." Nick pauses. Taking a deep breath, he gathers himself. "What the fuck are you doing?"
The beatific smile that greets Nick's demand is a little disconcerting. Fitfully, he rubs at the back of his neck, pulling his hand away when the forgotten wet cloth smears dishwater and toast crumbs across his skin. Greg merely raises an eyebrow when he swears under his breath and pitches it irritably into the kitchen sink.
"Seems to me that you're a little short on Christmas spirit," Greg observes, slowly unwinding the twisted green cables of lights from around his shoulders. "Figured I'd...you know...remedy it."
"Didn't we already have this conversation? Earlier today?" Nick asks.
"Think of that as more of an information gathering exercise," Greg says obliquely.
"What for?" Nick presses, immediately wishing he didn't sound so goddamn whiny. But he's tired. And Greg is making no sense.
"For my mission, of course." Greg flashes a brilliant smile and wags the plug at Nick. "Making Nick Stokes enjoy Christmas."
Nick groans. "Greg..."
"Where's your wall socket?" he asks, effectively cutting Nick off.
Sharp dark eyes dart around the room, scanning the walls. Nick's nice, neutral-coloured walls. With nary a card, decoration or hint of festivity to mar their pristine surface. He likes it that way. For approximately ten seconds, Nick wonders whether refusing to tell Greg where he can plug in his hideous lights will stop him in his tracks. Until – "Ah! Never mind."
"They work," Nick says drily. His living room is illuminated with the glow of hundreds of tiny bulbs, which Greg now gathers into his arms in a haphazard ball.
"Of course they do. I had them up in the lab until Ecklie saw them, and decided that they contravened health and safety regulations," Greg replies scathingly, eyes narrowed.
"That sounds like Ecklie," Nick says.
"Yeah, damn right it does. Fucking Ecklie. Sucks all the fun out of everything. Fun Sucker," Greg mutters darkly.
He goes to unplug the lights once more, and Nick is surprised to notice that the room seems somehow dull without them. Shaking himself, he is forced to ask for clarification.
"Fun sucker. Did I say that right?" Greg asks, dark brows drawn low, pensively. "Fun sucker."
"I don't know, Greg," Nick replies, amused.
Finally, the younger man shrugs and smiles. "Never mind. So, lights!"
"What has any of this got to do with me?"
"Weren't you listening, Nick?" Greg asks, exasperated. He rakes a restless hand through messy blond spikes. "I'm choosing not to accept your crappy 'I don't care for Christmas' line, and instead, I'm taking it upon myself to fully imbue you with the festive spirit."
"And that somehow involves enforced decoration of my home with...is that glitter?" Nick demands, poking inside the plastic carrier on the couch.
"Never mind that," Greg admonishes, batting his hand away. His skin is surprisingly warm where it grazes against Nick's palm. "Lights first."
"Why do I have the feeling I don't have a choice in this?" Nick grumbles, but he's startled to find that he doesn't really mind at all. It could have something to do with the instantly rewarding smile Greg throws him when he takes a step closer and picks up the other end of the string of lights.
Not that that makes any sense.
They're actually quite tasteful lights, Nick admits to himself. Nothing like the garish, brain-melting mishmash of colours and sparkles and on-off flashing bulbs that his mother favours. He can cope. And, he thinks, turning to watch Greg drape his end of the string across his fireplace, it's actually nice to have some company.
"You need music for this job," Greg says suddenly.
Nick listens with some trepidation as Greg fishes in his bag. Rustling, the squeak of rubber soles on the shiny floor and the whirr of his CD player starting up. He cringes, waiting, half-expecting the first bars of Frosty the Snowman, or similar, as some weird festive form of torture.
When Nick recognises the music, he laughs.
"Well recognised," Greg replies, sounding oddly impressed.
"It's not very festive, is it?" Nick can't resist. Not that he's complaining.
"Would you prefer something with sleigh bells?" Greg inquires. "You ask, I provide..."
"No, no..." he amends hastily. "It's fine. Good. Never thought I'd say that about Iron Maiden."
Greg just laughs. It's a warm sound.
"How come we've been working together as long as we have and I've only just found out about your bah humbug tendencies?"
Nick smiles at the wall and affixes the last bit of cable to the windowsill. Greg sounds almost indignant and Nick finds himself seized by the altogether strange urge to make contact with him in some way. Fingers itching, Nick plugs the lights back in and sits back on his heels to admire the warm glow bathing his living room.
Round one to Greg, so it seems. Not that Nick's going to tell him that.
"Because," he says eventually, twisting around to look at Greg. "I'm not usually around. This is the first year I've stayed in Vegas for the holidays. I always spend Christmas with my family."
"Hmm," Greg murmurs, temporarily mollified. He flops down next to Nick and rests his head against the arm of the couch. "Why not this year?"
"Figured I could use the overtime since I got this place," he says, and though he deliberately leaves out the words 'since Nigel Crane destroyed my last place', the unspoken hangs between them and the split-second wince that distorts Greg's features does not escape his notice.
He shifts slightly, denim-covered knee brushing up against Nick's. Bites his lip in an uncharacteristic display of unease that makes Nick want to smile. Instead, Nick looks at the ceiling.
"And apart from anything else, my mother's idea of Christmas cheer is to try and set me up with any unmarried girl she can think of," he adds, in an attempt to lighten the mood again.
Greg laughs shortly, stretching his long legs out in front of him and examining his untied shoelaces.
"And that's not your idea of fun?" he teases.
Flicking eyes over Greg's face, Nick exhales carefully and considers his response. Not wanting to give too much away. "Let's just say that my mom's idea of what I want is pretty far away from mine. I thought I'd give it a miss this year."
"Yeah," Nick says softly, drawn into curious brown eyes.
"What is your type, out of interest?" Greg's voice is quiet, almost grave. He holds eye contact. "I've always wondered."
"I like blondes," Nick says without thinking. It's just a fractional lift of one corner of Greg's mouth before he turns away but Nick suddenly feels warm. Warm, and gripped by an urgent desire to change the subject. "Anyway," he begins. "Why aren't you with – "
"Balls," says Greg, jumping up.
"What?" Baffled, Nick looks up at him from his kneeling position on the floor. Watches, bemused, as Greg rifles through the crackling plastic bag.
"Balls. Glittery balls. Or baubles, if you like." Greg grins like a loon and tosses a handful of sparkly silver and white decorations into Nick's lap.
Momentarily stunned, Nick stares down as one of the balls succumbs to gravity and rolls down his thighs, leaving an incongruous trail of sparkles all down his black trousers. It plinks softly against the hard floor and brings Nick to his senses. He looks up, stern-faced, at Greg.
Greg opens his mouth to protest, but Nick cuts him off, the pressure to claim back his living room making him strident. "There's no way I am hanging glittery balls up in my house. No way."
"But Nick," Greg wheedles, unabashed. He dangles a shiny silver specimen by its string in front of Nick's face, as though hoping to mesmerize him into submission. "There's no use doing a half-assed job now, is there? In fact..." he crouches down to match Nick's eye level, bauble still dangling from a forefinger. "Only last week, someone said to me 'if something's worth doing, it's worth doing properly.' Ring any bells?"
The spark of triumph flares in Greg's eyes and Nick forces out a long, defeated breath that makes the bauble spin dizzyingly on its string. His words, used against him. Nick had no idea that Greg listened to so closely to what he said.
"Fine. Hang the damn balls," Nick mumbles. "I'm going to make coffee."
When he returns, mugs in hands, he has to stop to take in the bizarre tableau that greets him. Standing silently behind the couch, Nick observes with growing amusement as Greg half-dances half-shuffles across the room, plastic bag dangling carelessly from one arm. Hanging silver and white baubles from every conceivable surface. Singing and throwing in air drums between each dip into the bag.
At Nick's pointed cough, he spins around and only just manages to avoid tripping over his untied laces. As their eyes meet, Greg flushes slightly but hangs defiantly onto the eye contact as though by looking away, he'll have to admit he is embarrassed at being caught out. The blush is unexpectedly charming, and Nick's cutting remark dissolves on his tongue. He picks his way across the room and holds out a steaming mug.
"You've got glitter on your face," Nick points out.
"Oh," Greg replies, unconcerned. "I like glitter," he says absently, staring into his cup.
Unsure how to respond to that, Nick allows his eyes to be drawn along the sparkly stripe smudged across the pale cheekbone. It shimmers softly under the new lights and as Greg blinks, he notices the few scattered silver particles caught in the dark eyelashes. The addition doesn't look as out-of-place as Nick thinks it should, and his stomach twists abruptly.
"I'll get it," Nick rasps, lifting his free hand and taking a step into Greg's personal space. He smells warm, spicy, sweet. Something that Nick can't quite identify.
The pad of his thumb drags on the delicate skin under Greg's eye and he feels the sharp intake of breath against the sensitive inside of his wrist. Feeling suddenly, inappropriately warm, Nick withdraws his hand, leaving most of the glitter in place.
Greg's gaze is questioning, and Nick finds himself avoiding his eyes. He touches Greg all the time in the lab. It makes no sense to suddenly feel embarrassed about it. And yet.
Instead, he glances around the room. Grudgingly, he has to admit that he doesn't hate it.
"Looks pretty good," he concedes. "But this doesn't mean I like Christmas."
"I wouldn't ever expect you to give in so easily." Greg smiles over his coffee cup.
Nick's not sure he wants to know what that means.
December 22nd (just about) – 3 days to Christmas
"Oh...come on," Nick groans as the engine of his car turns over once, twice, and then splutters out pathetically.
Releasing the keys for a moment, he glances at his watch. Two minutes past midnight. More importantly, two minutes since his shift started, and he's still sitting outside his house in a car that won't start. Though the chances of a breakdown on the same day as sleeping through the alarm must be fairly slim, Nick thoroughly fails to appreciate the irony. He hates being late.
Deciding to give it one last shot, he mentally crosses his fingers and flicks the keys in the ignition in a sudden move, as though the element of surprise will hoodwink the engine into submission. Nick holds his breath and listens, but this time there's barely a whimper before it dies completely.
Frustrated, cold and caffeine-starved, Nick lashes out pointlessly at the steering wheel, bashing the heels of his hands against lifeless, moulded plastic.
"God damnit!" he explodes.
His own voice seems inappropriately loud in the small space, and the exclamation rips the breath from him. Resting his head against the driver's side window, he stares through the glass at the pitch-black night, and the displays of sparkling Christmas lights in the windows of the apartment building across the street. From the third floor, a fluorescent illuminated snowman flashes merrily at him, and he scowls.
Reluctantly, he flicks through his cell phone contacts. There's only one person he can think of that not only lives close by, but also might not have set off for work yet. The one person that he's doing a really poor job of avoiding.
It's with a strange sense of resignation that he places the call.
"You might want to move those...somewhere," Greg suggests, waving an arm to indicate the cascade of magazines, journals and books currently taking up the passenger seat of his car.
"You think?" Nick shoots him a dark look but Greg just shrugs.
With a weary sigh, Nick gathers up the offending items and throws them into the backseat. He knows that Greg is doing him a favour. He also knows that he's being unforgivably grouchy, but he can't seem to shake himself out of it. Greg, fortunately, seems completely unfazed by his mood.
Nick shoots him a surreptitious glance as he clears the last of the magazines from the seat. Wholly unruffled, the younger man is drumming long fingers on the steering wheel and staring into the middle distance. Greg keeps the engine running, and the second Nick lowers himself onto the seat, his foot is on the gas.
"Hold up, Greg! Jesus," he complains, slamming the door closed and clicking his seatbelt into place hurriedly.
"Sorry," he says mildly. "Just that you're...we're late. Thought I'd step on it."
"Yeah," Nick says, distracted. Eyes once more drawn to his co-worker, he frowns. Something is off, and he can't quite figure out what. Greg's hair looks different...less...interfered with than usual, he thinks.
The sudden, stark realization that he's analyzing Greg's hair brings Nick to his senses with a surreal jolt.
"Music?" Greg inquires.
"Why not indeed," Greg mumbles under his breath, reaching out for the car stereo. He doesn't take his eyes off the road, and Nick watches his fingers slide lightly over the panel, searching for the correct button.
When, moments later, the car is filled with the sound of sleigh bells and children singing, Nick turns and fixes the lab tech with a murderous gaze.
"Yes, Nick?" Greg's tone is dangerously sweet, but he doesn't look at Nick.
'Would you prefer something with sleigh bells? You ask, I provide...'
The flash of memory combined with the fact that Greg is driving the car convinces Nick to keep his mouth shut for the time being.
"Never mind," he mutters, crossing his arms across his chest and trying to tune out the sound of Christmas carols issuing from Greg's impressive speaker system.
Greg doesn't reply, but his resultant smile radiates pure accomplishment. Torn between smiling back and the disparaging comment half-formed in his head, Nick does neither and just looks out of the window.
By the time they reach the lab, Nick feels somewhat uplifted. It's nothing to do with the carols, or at least that's what he tells himself. They were just...irritating. But the fact remains that by the time he's had coffee, apologised for his lateness and set out for a scene with Warrick, he's positively glowing with wellbeing.
Humming to himself, he picks his way carefully around the edges of the victim's living room, taking countless photographs as he goes. So absorbed in his task that Nick doesn't notice Warrick creeping up behind him until his soft laughter gives him away.
"What's up, 'Rick?"
Nick lowers his camera and turns to face his friend. He arches a questioning eyebrow and Warrick's pale eyes flash with amusement.
"Don we now our gay apparel?" Warrick offers, grinning. "Fa la la la la, la la la la..."
"You said it! Well, actually...you sang it. You were singing, man."
Nick blanches, gripping his camera hard. He closes his eyes briefly and makes a mental note to kill Greg as soon as he gets back to the lab.
"It's not my fault," he attempts, forcing himself to meet Warrick's eyes. "Greg gave me a ride to work today and he forced me to listen to Christmas carols. All the way in."
"Whatever, Nick...you don't have to explain yourself to me," Warrick assures, clearly enjoying himself.
"Good." Nick turns away, opting to maintain a dignified silence rather than attempt any further justification.
"Did you say that Sanders gave you a ride to work?" Warrick asks after a moment.
"Yeah. My car wouldn't start. Why?"
"Nothing, it's just...weird," Warrick muses. "It's his night off tonight. Didn't he mention that to you?"
Nick stares down at his camera without really seeing it. Tries to process his colleague's words. They make no sense. One thing does, though. He looked different because he wasn't dressed for work.
"No, he didn't," he says at last. "Weird."
Behind him, Warrick laughs shortly. "Everything that guy does is weird."
"I guess so," Nick says non-committally.
He tries to push it out of his head as he continues his photographing, but before he knows it, he's humming carols once more. In spite of himself, a small smile creeps onto his face. He wonders if Greg dragged himself out of bed on his night off purely to torture him with festive music.
Nick doesn't know whether to admire his commitment or fear for his sanity.
December 23rd – 2 days to Christmas
Staring disconsolately through the glass of the vending machine, Nick fishes in his pockets for loose change. Nothing looks particularly appetising, but at 4am he'll take what he can get.
What'll it be, he wonders. Disgusting rice crackers or a disgusting cereal bar?
Had he not been accompanied by Grissom on the drive back from the last scene, he would have stopped at his favourite burger joint. Something tells Nick that his supervisor would not have approved the fifteen minute wait necessary even at this time of day.
He's working flat-out, they all are. As usual, the crime rate is accelerating the closer to Christmas it gets. Nick thinks about pointing this out to Greg, but for some reason, he hasn't had a festivity ambush all shift. Strange.
Pushing Greg out of his head, Nick holds a quarter up to the slot. Disgusting rice crackers it is.
"Don't do it!" Greg's dramatic cry echoes around the empty corridor and Nick freezes.
He turns slowly. Eyes coming to rest on the spiky head sticking out from the propped open door of the DNA lab. Clearly, I spoke too soon, he sighs inwardly.
"What's the matter, Greg?"
"Come here," he urges, beckoning with a gloved hand. "I have a much better idea."
"Food?" Nick asks hopefully, the protests of his empty stomach easily overriding any suspicion regarding Greg's intentions.
"Yes." Greg smiles appealingly.
"Ok." Nick drops his quarters back into his pockets and trails into the lab. "But only because you're saving me from a fate worse than rice crackers."
"Rice crackers." Greg shudders. "There isn't one part of that that appeals to me. Have a seat."
Perching on the spare stool, Nick watches Greg as he bends down and rummages in his bag on the floor. The rough navy blue fabric stretches along the line of his back, drawing Nick's eyes. The second Nick realizes he's looking, he looks away, oddly irritated with himself.
When he looks back, he's staring into a plastic tub. Instantly, his mouth waters and he's unable to stop himself from sniffing. The aroma that floats out of the box is one of spices, sugar, the sharp sweetness of dried fruit and the warm, buttery scent of pastry. Almost licking his lips, Nick reaches into the proffered tub.
His sound of protest when the lid is slammed down painfully on his hand is entirely involuntary.
"Greg, what the hell?" Nick rubs his hand and raises hunted eyes to the smug-faced DNA tech.
"Well, Nick, the thing is...the mince pie, while of course a quality pie all year round, is – strictly speaking – a holiday pie. A Christmas pie. It's a festive pie. A..."
"Greg." Nick grits his teeth and interrupts. He has a fairly good idea where this is going.
"I'm famished. I could have been eating rice crackers by now," he points out. Greg wrinkles his nose in distaste at the mere mention of the words, and he has to suppress a smile. After all, this is war. "Can I have one, or not?"
Greg cradles the tub against his chest and chews on his bottom lip as though deep in thought. Nick's empty stomach issues a particularly audible growl. He shifts uncomfortably on his stool.
"You can," Greg says eventually. "But you have to tell me what you want for Christmas."
Taken aback by the non-sequitur, Nick frowns. "Why?"
"Humour me," Greg shrugs. He slides the lid open a fraction with a gloved finger and Nick sniffs helplessly at the air.
Humiliated at being such a slave to his stomach, but at the same time spurred on by the promise of baked goods, Nick thinks hard. Stares down at the polished concrete floor, unseeing, and casts around in his head for an answer. Any answer, really. He can't remember the last time anyone asked him that question. Frustrated, he shrugs and looks up.
"There's nothing I want," he says honestly.
Greg blinks. Stares. "Nothing? You're kidding me, right?"
"No," Nick replies, feeling suddenly uncomfortably empty in a way that has nothing to do with his stomach.
Bemused, Greg holds out the tub once more. "You're a strange man, Nick," he opines, puzzlement clear in his eyes.
The second the powdered sugar and pastry touches his lips, Nick is lost and he devours the small pie in three bites. It's delicious, and Greg doesn't stop him reaching for a second or a third, just stands there watching him intently. As he licks sugar from his fingers, Nick is suddenly very aware of his mouth. He drops his hands to rest on his thighs.
"Thanks," he sighs contentedly. "Did you make them?"
Greg snorts derisively. He sets the tub down and leans against the wall. "Of course not. I get them from a nice little deli just off the strip." Raising a sly eyebrow in Nick's direction, he continues. "The lovely Lorna. Redhead. I like a girl who's good with her hands, don't you?"
He smiles wickedly, inviting Nick to read between the lines. Not that subtlety has ever been Greg's strong suit. That, he expects. What he doesn't expect is the nasty cold feeling that swirls unpleasantly in his stomach at the words. Or the way his heart stutters clumsily for a couple of beats.
Dry-mouthed, Nick wishes he hadn't just eaten three mince pies in quick succession. Made by the lovely Lorna. Scowling slightly, he watches Greg's lascivious smile melt into a mask of confusion.
"You ok, Nick?" he asks, pushing off the wall and taking a step closer.
"Yeah." He forces a brief smile and leaps to his feet, quickly backing towards the door. "Just gotta get back to work. Thanks for the snack!"
"No problem," Greg says softly as Nick takes off down the corridor.
Nick heads for the break room, where he makes gritty instant coffee and drinks it hurriedly, washing the taste of Christmas out of his mouth. The familiar bitter flavour is oddly comforting. Slumping into a chair, he rubs his eyes wearily.
It's obvious now. His formerly friendly, casual, surface-level, mild appreciation of Greg's aesthetics is developing into something much more dangerous. There's no use in denying it. Not when he's apparently capable of insane jealousy at the mere mention of mince-pie-baking shopgirls.
He doesn't want to be attracted to Greg fucking Sanders.
This is all Greg's fault. And Christmas.
"You were right, Greg...I do hate Christmas," Nick tells his coffee cup.
"What did you say?" Catherine asks, voice tinged with curiosity.
Flustered, Nick looks up to see her pouring out her own cup of coffee. He hadn't even noticed her coming in.
"Nothing," he says flatly.
For a moment, he thinks she's going to push the subject, but after a moment Catherine pulls up a chair and asks about his case instead. Light with relief, he pushes his coffee aside and opts for distraction.
"Merry Christmas, Nicholas," tinkles Mrs O'Reilly as Nick turns his key and pushes open the door to his apartment some hours later.
Glancing over his shoulder, he watches her adjust her furry hat and take a firmer grip on the leash of the straining, yapping terrier at her feet. She's clearly on her way out.
"Good morning, Mrs O'Reilly," he replies, biting the edge of his tongue hard.
He smiles at the old lady and receives a look of indulgent pity in return. He lets the door bang shut behind him.
December 24th – 1 day to Christmas
Following the previous day's revelations, Nick does his utmost to stay away from the DNA lab during his next shift. He's unaccustomed to feeling nervous around Greg, and he is irrationally, painfully fearful that this newfound attraction is so obvious that the younger man will see straight through him.
Greg, meanwhile, seems to be employing a blanket coverage approach to his festive offensive. Having transferred the CD from his car to the lab stereo, he props the door open and fills the lab with the sound of Christmas carols at full blast. To his horror, Nick once again finds himself singing along, and even his repeated appeals to Grissom are to no avail.
This, Nick suspects, has something to do with the candy canes Greg is dispensing to all and sundry. He has to do a double-take when he steps into his supervisor's office to see him, head buried in a textbook and gnawing on a red and green striped cane. It's official, he decides. The lot of them have gone crazy.
As he passes the DNA lab on his way out at around 9am, Nick slows down against his better judgement and glances through the glass. The day tech looks up at the movement and smiles at him. While he puzzles over simultaneous relief and disappointment, the light touch on his forearm makes him turn.
"What's up, Cath?" Nick smiles easily at his colleague. She's clutching car keys and a leather handbag, coat slung over one arm; clearly about to leave for home.
"I just wanted to say thank you, again. I owe you big time," she says.
"It's no problem, really," he assures. "Enjoy your time with Lindsey."
"Merry Christmas Eve, Nicky," she offers, a sly smile curving her mouth as she reaches up to envelop him in a brief, one-armed hug.
He watches her turn to leave. "Likewise," he says eventually. Catherine laughs.
It's a cold morning, but as Nick gets into his now-functioning car and drives home, he allows the warm feeling of satisfaction to flood his veins.
It's almost noon when the knock at the door makes Nick look up from the book that he's not really reading. This time, he's almost expecting it, but his stomach tips uneasily all the same.
"Hello, Greg," he says, before the door is even fully open.
"Hola," Greg replies, in a quite frankly terrible Spanish accent. "Feliz Navidad."
Grinning breathlessly, he walks straight past Nick and throws himself inelegantly onto the couch. After a moment, Nick follows him, kicking the door shut behind him. He rests both hands on the back of the couch and peers down at Greg; all long limbs and denim and cold-pinked skin. Sparkling dark eyes and windblown hair. The rich red of his long-sleeved t-shirt contrasts beautifully against the pale expanse of collarbone exposed by his awkward posture.
Nick swallows hard and grips the back of the couch in an attempt to ground himself.
"Spanish, Greg?" he manages at last.
"Just trying to speak your language," Greg shrugs, smile stretching impossibly wide.
"How do you know that I can speak Spanish?" Nick asks, genuinely intrigued.
"I know a lot of things, Nick. I'm like a fountain of knowledge."
"Of course you are," he replies faintly.
"Glad to hear that we're in agreement over something," Greg approves, scrambling to his feet and slapping Nick on the back heartily. "Now...onto the main event. This – " he waves a DVD box in front of Nick's face too quickly for him to recognise it – "Is essential Christmas Eve viewing."
"Oh....god," Nick groans softly. He's yet to see a Christmas movie he likes, and he doesn't think that's about to change.
"You do that," Greg instructs, throwing a small package which Nick catches reflexively in one hand. "And I'll do this."
"Microwave popcorn isn't very Christmassy," Nick grumbles, squinting to see the instructions as he heads for the kitchen.
"You think? I can show you how to dye it with food colouring and make it into garlands, if you like," Greg calls.
The guy must have ears like a bat, Nick thinks darkly. But they are quite nice ears, adds his disloyal subconscious.
"That won't be necessary, Greg," he shouts back distractedly whilst trying to locate a bowl.
As he watches the microwave timer count down the seconds, Nick has to bite his lip to stop himself from asking Greg how exactly one makes garlands out of popcorn. At the same time, it occurs to him that he's no longer even trying to resist Greg's Christmas campaign.
He has fairy lights in his living room, carols in his head and a charming, pathologically flirty lab rat on his couch.
Nick rubs his eyes and waits for the ping.
"Greg, this is a really depressing movie," Nick opines forty-five minutes later through a mouthful of popcorn. He doesn't bother lifting his head from the padded back of the couch where it lolls comfortably; instead just rolling his neck slightly so he can make eye contact with the other man.
"It is not," Greg pouts, crossing his arms across his chest like a sulking child.
His expression is so forlorn that Nick wants to reach for him and smooth out the crease between his dark eyebrows with his fingers.
"It's about a guy who wants to kill himself. On Christmas Eve," Nick points out, not unreasonably. "You're kidding me, right?"
At his words, Greg's disenchantment turns to incredulity.
"Are you telling me you haven't seen this movie before?"
"I am telling you I have never seen this movie before," Nick intones gravely, watching Greg's eyes widen in horror.
"Fuck, Nick...where've you been? Next you'll be telling me you've never had hot chocolate with a candy cane in it," Greg says, lifting a hand to rake through his hair.
"I haven't," he admits freely, unable to stop one corner of his mouth from lifting as he looks at his dismayed co-worker. "What is it with you and candy canes, anyhow?"
Greg smiles and Nick's heart races erratically.
"My Nana always..." Greg's smile falters and he drops his eyes. Rubs at his denim-covered thighs restlessly. Shifts slightly, feet tucked under him. "You're missing out," he says lightly, looking up but not quite looking at Nick.
Nick opens his mouth to ask, but is cut off. "And you're missing the good part," Greg admonishes, scooping up a handful of popcorn and gesturing toward the tv screen. The smile he flashes Nick is one part determined and one part brittle, and Nick suddenly aches.
"This is a life-affirming movie, Nick," he continues. "It's about realizing why you do what you do. It's about not overlooking what you mean to people, and that however crappy things might seem, there's always someone whose life would be a little bit worse without you in it."
The eye contact is brief but it slugs Nick in the guts with unexpected ferocity. "Right," he chokes, looking away quickly but not quickly enough to avoid Greg's wry half-smile.
"So, you know...general festive fun," Greg finishes negligently, drawing his knees up and laying his head along the back of the couch cushions.
By the time the ending credits roll up the screen, Nick's eyes are heavy, but he's determined to see the end. In spite of his scepticism, he's smiling, and much as he hates to admit it, Greg is right. It is a life affirming movie. A life affirming Christmas movie.
Turning to address Greg, Nick's words die on his lips. Not only is he much closer than Nick remembers him being, but Greg's eyes are closed and his breathing is soft and slow. Feet drawn up onto the couch and arms wrapped carelessly around his own torso, Nick can't help but think it looks a pretty uncomfortable sleeping position.
And yet, he's never seen Greg so still; so peaceful. Content. He seems to radiate warmth that Nick can feel through his clothes, even though they are not quite touching. Hardly daring to breathe in case it wakes the younger man, Nick gazes at him shamelessly. He doesn't want to think about what Greg would say if he knew how he was being looked at, so he doesn't think about it.
After all, Nick reasons, he's not the one turning up at his co-worker's apartment uninvited. It's not his fault. Or something like that.
He sighs, the deep inhalation dragging the familiar warm scent of Greg's skin and hair into his nostrils. This time he recognises the unusual sharp sweetness mixed in with the citrusy, slightly spicy aroma. Cranberries, he thinks. How very appropriate.
When Greg smiles faintly in his sleep, it's all Nick can do not to lean in just a few inches and capture his mouth in a soft kiss. The temptation is so strong that it hurts, just a little. Reluctantly, Nick shakes him gently and looks away when he blinks and stretches like a sleepy cat.
"I missed the end," Greg complains as Nick opens the door for him. His hair is flat on one side and he clearly has no idea.
"I didn't," Nick says simply.
"Good. Later, Nick."
Try as he might, Nick fails to catch more than a couple of hours sleep before Catherine's shift starts. The knowledge that he's now working a double only winds him up tighter, and when he does finally drift off, his dreams are haunted by the image of Greg sharing a candy cane with a busty redhead. When the alarm bleeps at ten-thirty, he's relieved.
December 25th – Christmas Day
Nick's relief is short-lived, to say the least. He spends the graveyard shift working with Sara, processing the scene of an escalated bar brawl resulting in two dead and three more injured. All five are colleagues, and all were heavily intoxicated. A stupid argument that turned nasty, and with tragic consequences. He and Sara process the bar and adjacent back alley in near silence.
Back at the lab, Stefan the dayshift DNA tech is playing Greg's Christmas CD and though he's perfectly polite and efficient, Nick feels that it's all wrong somehow. Irrationally, he resents that Greg has booked the time off. As he thanks Stefan and slopes off to the break room to re-caffeinate, Nick finds himself wondering if Greg is sleeping. He hopes not.
Nick considers himself to have a pretty strong stomach, but the second scene is one of those that pushes him to the very limits of his tolerance. The victim, a young mother, killed in her own bed, lying in a pool of blood whilst her three-year old child is left screaming in another room.
"Some sick sons of bitches around, huh?" remarks Sofia from days, neatly echoing Nick's own thoughts. She looks up from photographing the piles of unopened presents under the tree and grimaces.
"Yeah," Nick agrees, grateful for the small show of solidarity. "Let's make sure they don't get away with it."
It's dark outside by the time Nick makes it out to his car. Early evening, though he's not sure exactly what time. Exhausted, bone-weary and drained, he fumbles his car keys twice before he finally manages to successfully unlock the car and slump into the driver's seat.
When his cell vibrates in his pocket, he drags it out and flips it open without bothering to check the caller display.
"Merry Christmas, Nick," Greg declares brightly. "Where are you?"
His voice seems scratchy and far too loud for Nick's fuzzy head and he winces, rubbing his temples.
"What do you mean where am I?" he snaps irritably.
"Chill, Nick. It's not an interrogation," Greg attempts.
"I'm in the parking lot at the lab. Where are you?"
"I'm at your place," Greg replies. "I thought you'd be back now...'cause I was thinking..."
Realizing where this is going, Nick allows Greg's voice to fade into the background, suddenly no match for the pounding in his head and the prickly aggravation in his veins and the heaviness in his chest. He's worn out and miserable and he wants Greg. Greg is calm and happy and doesn't want him. It hurts, and Nick snaps.
"Greg, give it up," he cuts in.
"What?" he sounds confused, but Nick pushes on.
"Just give it up. Do you know what I did today? I was at a scene where a twenty-five-year-old girl'd had her throat cut, while her baby son was in the next room. And then, I sat in while Brass interviewed her ex-husband. And he told us that he killed her because she wouldn't let him have his son on Christmas day. What kind of a reason is that to kill someone? Huh?" Nick finishes in a rush, breathless, gripping the steering wheel with his free hand until his knuckles turn white.
"Nick, I..." Greg attempts, but Nick can't seem to stop the heated flow of stinging words, now he has started.
"People do horrible things to each other every day of the year, and this is no different," he points out. "I don't like fucking Christmas and a week of you getting in my face about it isn't going to change that. Just...give – it - up."
For a moment, there's silence on the other end of the line, and all Nick can hear is the sound of his own ragged breathing and the blood thundering in his ears. As he takes a deep, cleansing breath, the cascade of pent-up anger seems to dissolve as soon as it arrived.
"You're right," Greg says softly, in a small voice that doesn't sound like him at all. "I'm sorry, Nick. I guess I'll see you at work tomorrow."
He ends the call and Nick pulls the phone away from his ear, staring at it for long moments as the beginnings of guilt over his outburst start to lick at his insides. Slowly, he starts the car and pulls away. He needs sleep, that's all. When he wakes up, it won't be Christmas any more.
Slightly cheered by that thought, he makes good time and is home within ten minutes.
The large, bright orange canvas bag resting against the door to his apartment stops Nick in his tracks. He approaches with caution, but when he catches sight of the scrap of paper covered in Greg's handwriting, he sighs, picks up the bag by both handles and carts it inside.
Setting it down heavily on his kitchen table, Nick drops messily into a chair and reads the note.
Don't worry, I didn't cook any of it, Jacqui did. It's safe.
Make sure you heat the meat properly, she said. 3 mins on full power.
The pie is good with ice cream if you've got any.
Brows knitted, Nick unloads the bag onto the tabletop. Numerous plastic containers, holding all of the components of Christmas dinner.
Turkey. Potatoes. Stuffing. Vegetables. Pumpkin pie.
As he glances between each one and the hurriedly-scribbled note, a wholly unpleasant creeping feeling occupies Nick's abdomen. The guilt, already present, flares and morphs into shame, regret and self-loathing. He can't shake the image of Greg standing outside his door, waiting, planning to do something really thoughtful and then...
...and then you yelled at him and told him where to go, Nick's conscience accuses.
Hurriedly, he calls Greg's cell, apologies at the ready. As he listens to soft ringing, he tentatively lifts the corner of one of the containers. A delicious savoury smell drifts toward his nostrils and his stomach rumbles appreciatively, but he feels too guilty to eat until he's spoken to Greg.
And apologised, definitely. Because the thing is...though he's been irritable, resistant and bad-tempered for most of the week, Greg hasn't once complained. Not once. And despite Nick's complaints, none of Greg's...interventions have been unpleasant. He's been charming, engaging company.
Actually, Nick doesn't want him to give it up, at all.
When the line clicks onto Greg's voicemail, Nick drops the phone onto the table and rubs his face wearily. The note catches his eye through the gaps in his fingers.
Don't worry, I didn't cook any of it, Jacqui did. It's safe.
Garnering all of his courage, Nick makes a second call. She answers on the second ring, sounding slightly stunned.
"Nick? What can I do for you?"
"Is Greg with you?" he asks hopefully, and there's a sharp intake of breath at the other end of the phone.
"No," replies Jacqui slowly. "I thought he was with you."
Her accusatory tone fills Nick with self-reproach. "Ah...no," he admits. "He left a bag of dinner on my doorstep, though."
"What did you do to him?" she demands. Nick sits up straight in his chair.
"Nothing! Well...I might have...kinda...torn him a new one over the phone, and now he won't pick up," he cringes. "I was tired, and..." he trails off, deciding that under the circumstances, defensiveness might not help his case.
"You're an idiot," she snaps. "It's Christmas day. He could have been doing anything, and yet what he wanted to do was steal my leftovers and make sure you had some dinner. I'm sure he had other offers, too," Jacqui points out, before lapsing into stony silence.
Something crackles on the back of Nick's neck and he shivers. He wonders if she's trying to tell him something, and then he remembers.
"Yeah, like Lorna the mince pie maker," he mutters wretchedly, folding Greg's note into a small triangle with his free hand.
Jacqui makes a small, strangled sound and Nick frowns. "Lorna from the deli?" she asks unexpectedly.
"Yeah," he mumbles, no longer caring that he's being completely transparent. He closes his eyes.
"Have you met Lorna? She's about seventy," Jacqui offers, sounding amused.
Nick's eyes snap open and a sharp thrill of something skates down his spine.
"So why would he..."
"He'll be at home. Bye, Nick." Jacqui cuts him off and hangs up.
He doesn't know how long he sits and stares at the table, mind racing, but as all the pieces drop into place, one by one, Nick feels more stupid than he has ever felt.
Impulsively, he re-packs the bag and takes it with him when he races back down the stairs and out of the building. In his haste, he almost runs straight into Mrs O'Reilly, hanging onto the arm of a virtual carbon copy of herself, only twenty years younger.
"Hello, Nicholas," she says. "Merry Christmas."
Anticipation making him light-headed, Nick smiles genuinely at the old lady.
"Merry Christmas, Mrs O'Reilly," he returns, gratified to see the surprise and pleasure on her wrinkled face, just before he turns away.
The drive to Greg's apartment building is a short one. And, Nick realizes with an odd twinge of sadness, one that he has made very few times. If he doesn't count the last few days, he can think of very few occasions when he and Greg have hung out outside of work, just the two of them. Now, he can't seem to think of a good reason why.
Maybe he has been lonely. But he wonders when he became so bitter that he'd sooner imagine that Greg was nothing but a flirt, an irritant, a tease; than entertain the idea that Greg might actually be interested in him.
A straight tease. Greg, with his glitter and popcorn and insane smiles. Nick wants to laugh out loud, but it seems wrong somehow. The bottom line is, he's been an oblivious, cantankerous ass and he needs to make things right.
Taking a deep breath, he knocks sharply on Greg's door.
"It's open," Greg calls from inside, and Nick pushes the door open.
The place is almost completely dark, and he squints, pausing to let his eyes adjust.
"Greg?" he calls out uncertainly, unsure of the layout of the apartment without the lights on. Bumping into the wall and the sharp corner of a table before he stumbles into the living room.
The soft glow from the muted tv in one corner, and the lights strung across the biggest Christmas tree Nick has ever seen indoors make it possible to see, and Nick pauses. Greg is sitting cross-legged on the floor wearing threadbare jeans, knitted socks, and a sweater that's far too big for him. He looks small and defeated, the usually expressive face blank.
He looks up. "Oh, hey Nick," he says softly, forcing a smile. His eyes are flat.
Heartsore, Nick sets the bag down and lowers himself to the floor beside Greg.
"You didn't have to...thanks," Nick whispers, indicating the bag.
"I know," he says, looking at the floor. "I...just...I thought about you coming home from pulling a double on Christmas day and ordering takeout, and it...made me sad." Greg shrugs lightly.
Swallowing the painful lump in his throat, Nick reaches out and brushes a hand against the thick wool of Greg's sleeve. It's weak, but Greg looks up. "I'm sorry," Nick says. "I'm really sorry, Greg. I didn't mean what I said. I don't hate Christmas, and you haven't been...I mean, I've really...I'm not good at this," he admits, face heating instantly.
A spark flickers in Greg's eyes for a split second and then disappears again. "It's ok," he replies. "You were right, it's stupid. It is for people with kids and partners. There's no point when you're on your own."
Nick suppresses a groan of frustration and shifts closer to Greg until their knees are almost touching.
"I'm not that close to my parents," Greg offers, pulling his too-long sleeves over his fingers. "My Nana died in the summer. They decided to take my Papa Olaf away for the holidays." He shrugs again and raises his eyes to Nick's. "Christmas was always a big deal, you know. I guess I just thought...I don't know what I thought."
"I'm sorry, Greg," he says pointlessly.
"It's fine. I didn't plan on bumming you out with it, to be honest." He smiles ruefully.
As the true extent of Greg's evasiveness and unexpected vulnerability dawns upon him, Nick realizes that it has to be him, now. He has to be the one to do something. Tension coiling in his stomach, he digs his nails into his palms and says the first thing that comes into his head.
"You know when you asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said I didn't want anything?" he throws out shakily. Greg's eyes sharpen and he nods slowly. "If I thought of something, would you give it to me?" he asks, barely breathing.
Chewing on a thumbnail with painful nonchalance, Greg settles into a kneeling position, tucking his feet underneath him. Almost unconsciously, Nick mirrors the posture and rests his hands on his thighs. Never breaking eye contact. Nick watches him exhale slowly, tremulously.
"Yeah, I think so," he says. "What is it?"
Nick studies his face in the soft light. Greg is all sharp angles and shadows, his eyes intense and searching now. Slowly, he leans in and rises up on his knees, gripping Greg's shoulders and pulling him flush against his body. Pressed against Greg's solid warmth from chest to knees, he's barely breathing as Greg smiles ever-so-slightly and slides careful fingers through his hair.
Warm, sugar-scented breath caresses Nick's lips, so close. Soft wool under his fingers, giving way to smooth skin and surprisingly pliable hair as he draws Greg impossibly closer. Raw with want, Nick gives in and asks for it.
"Kiss me," he whispers, and then Greg's lips are on his.
Just the briefest, lightest brush of mouths; fleeting, agonizing, over too soon. And then again. Again, until he feels Greg's smile and his sharp intake of breath, making him giddy with desire.
It's a rush. Overwhelmed by sensation, Nick's fingers tighten in Greg's hair. Desperate to deepen the kiss, he tilts his head and they bump noses awkwardly. Drawing back a fraction of an inch, Nick curses inwardly and opens his eyes, but then Greg is laughing softly against his cheek and Greg's arms are wound around his neck, and it doesn't matter.
"Shall we try that again?" Greg murmurs, hot breath tickling his ear, and Nick catches his smile.
Drawing a calming breath that does absolutely nothing to soothe the seething pit of need swirling around him, Nick slides his thumbs under Greg's chin and kisses him again.
This time, everything fits. Somewhere in the back of his head, Nick can't quite figure out why he's never done this before. The tip of his tongue touches gently against Greg's, pulling a low, dry whimper from the younger man that makes Nick shudder and drag him closer; needing more contact, more friction, more connection. He tastes minty, soft, slick, sweet, and they tangle and collide until Nick can't breathe and reluctantly, he pulls away.
Nick doesn't want to move an inch, but his knees are creaking ominously and their current position isn't exactly practical in the long term. Grudgingly, he disentangles himself from Greg and flops onto the couch. Greg, looking slightly dazed, drops down next to him and throws his legs over Nick's thighs.
"Mission accomplished," Greg sighs contentedly, lacing his fingers through Nick's.
"You're enjoying Christmas now, aren't you?" he prods, smirking. "Admit it."
Nick turns his head to meet Greg's eyes. It still feels like he's giving in too easily.
"I might need a little more persuasion," he hedges.
Greg raises an inquiring eyebrow and shifts to straddle Nick's hips, pressing him back into the couch.
Either way, he's confident that Greg is up to the challenge.
--If you hadn't guessed, the carol is 'Deck the Halls' and the movie is 'It's a Wonderful Life'.