Waiting – by Sara's Girl
Disclaimer: I don't own CSI. I forget who does, but it's not me.
AN - It's been a very long time, I'm sorry. I still adore Nick and Greg (especially Greg) but I've gone and fallen hopelessly in love with Draco Malfoy, and he's stealing all my fic-writing time ;)
Anyway, I'm out of practise, so please forgive. I started writing this on the back of an envelope yesterday when sitting in a cafe; I guess I thought an outsider POV might be easier after a long break, and also 'cause I love them when they're well-done and always wanted to write one.
This is set in S5 and S6, and there are some blink-and-you-miss-them spoilers. (also, shift-split can bite me)
Anyone who recognises that little quirk of assigning epithets to strangers... yes, Reparations!Harry does it too ;)
For Laura, who apparently misses my CSI fic. Strange lady. Reviews are loved. Mistake has now been fixed – stupid transcripts, stupid writer *sigh*
Stevie Goldstein is a terrible waitress.
She can name all forty-two Presidents, she can finish the New York Times crossword in fifteen minutes and she can order a beer in six languages, but she cannot carry more than two plates at one time.
She did carry three once, for a good eight seconds, before the almighty crash brought Frank himself scuttling out of the kitchen, and then she spent ten minutes cleaning pancake syrup and broken ceramic off the floor.
Reena, the other waitress, says that Stevie only still has a job because she has a nice smile, and because she apologises like only a girl with a Jewish mother knows how. Sometimes, when Reena's not looking, Stevie gives her the finger. She then feels instantly guilty, which somewhat proves the older woman's point.
All this is beside the point, though, because Stevie likes working at Frank's Diner; certainly, she likes it more than she likes her weekend job at Burger King. Here, she doesn't have a wear a stupid uniform, and she doesn't have to flip Whoppers or serve pimply teenage boys who try to look down her shirt when she leans over to hand them their change.
She draws a particular warm pleasure from seeing the regulars, the same faces over and over again. There's the old man who used to tie his Jack Russell up outside until Stevie took pity on him and helped him sneak the little dog inside, as long as it sat under the table and stayed quiet so that Reena didn't see it.
There are the two girls who dance; Stevie doesn't know where they dance, but they always come in with huge baggy cardigans wrapped around them and traces of glittery makeup on their faces. They swear a whole lot, and never order anything to eat, and Stevie thinks they're fantastic.
Her favourites, though, are the nightshift cops who come in most days for breakfast. Or not cops, actually—Reena says they're scientists, and much as it pains Stevie to admit it, Reena is usually right about these things. There's a whole group of them, and they are fascinating.
So much so, in fact, that sometimes Stevie wipes over the same patch of counter for fifteen or twenty minutes whilst straining to hear their conversation. Reena rolls her eyes when she catches Stevie doing this, but she doesn't care, because her observations over the weeks and months have allowed her to collect all manner of pertinent facts about the scientists-not-cops.
For example: Serious Brunette wrinkles her nose when the others eat meat, but she's pretty when she smiles. Which is rarely.
Green Eyes has a brilliant laugh, and he lights up when Streetwise Blonde touches his arm, which she does often. She reminds Stevie of the dancer girls in their cardigans, and she never eats anything, either.
Grey Professor Guy only turns up very occasionally, but when he does, he always orders tea and toast, and Serious Brunette somehow turns even more serious.
Then there's Spiky Blond Punky, who likes pancakes and crispy bacon, sometimes at the same time. He likes to sit next to Dark Hair Great Smile; he waves his hands about in the air a lot when he talks, and Dark Hair laughs at him.
Stevie likes to watch them best, out of everybody.
Dark Hair Great Smile always puts a lot of cream in his coffee, and Spiky Blond Punky always tells him off. It's like tradition, and Stevie thinks she'd be disappointed if Spiky Blond were ever to just let the crime slide by uncommented upon.
"Dude," he'll say. "How can you do that? Caffeine is a sacred substance, and should not be sullied by processed, synthetic dairy products, I—"
Sometimes Dark Hair gets the full, several-minutes-long lecture, complete with frowning and hand-waving, and sometimes Spiky Blond just sighs and shakes his head, and says something like: "I know it's low-grade coffee, man, but seriously."
Stevie feels like she should bristle on behalf of Frank's coffee, but if she's honest, Spiky Blond is right, and it's total swill.
The point is, though, that Spiky Blond doesn't make a fuss about what anyone else eats or drinks. She knows this because she is a dedicated observer, and also because a girl working in a diner five days a week needs something to think about, something to analyse, or else she'd go stark raving insane.
After all, there's only so many times that one can clean the cappuccino machine; there's only so many of Reena's stories one can listen to, and it only takes a certain, finite amount of time to count all of the individual floor tiles (there are 3,150).
Stevie privately thinks that it's a good thing that these guys aren't cops, because honestly, they can't observe for shit. They don't even seem to notice how much time Spiky Blond and Dark Hair spend watching each other. In fact, Stevie is fairly convinced that they don't know the other is watching them.
She watches Spiky Blond stare over the top of his coffee cup at his friend, chew thoughtfully on his bottom lip, eyes intense, and then when he looks away, she knows it's only a matter of time before Dark Hair looks up from his disgusting, healthy breakfast and watches Spiky Blond right back. It's as though they're both looking in secret, and it's sort of exciting and sad all at the same time, because although Stevie hasn't exactly been involved in any epic romances in her twenty-two years on this planet, she has seen that look before, plenty of times.
That look is 'I want you.' That look is 'Why aren't we touching right now?' That look is sometimes, 'I want to fuck you into the floor' and sometimes, 'I wish you could just see me.'
Privately, Stevie thinks that Spiky Blond Punky and Dark Hair Great Smile would make an adorable couple, but she supposes that's for them to decide. Or figure out. All the same, she thinks men are pretty stupid sometimes.
This is what she says, when she finally cracks one morning and asks Reena how long she thinks it will take the two not-cops to get their act together. Both waitresses are leaning on the counter on their elbows, and Stevie is not looking at Reena, but watching Spiky Blond as he turns his back on the rest of the group, rearranges his features into a greasy smile and mutters something unintelligible. Dark Hair laughs into his napkin and slaps him on the shoulder.
"That's good Ecklie, man," he says, and Stevie can't be sure what that means, but Spiky Blond's answering smile is electric.
"You think they like each other? In the fun, naked kinda way?" Reena is saying, next to her. Stevie nods. "You are a very strange young lady, Stevie Goldstein."
Stevie rolls her eyes and picks up her coffee pot; she already knows that, thank you very much.
She doesn't ask Reena about her theories after that, but she does watch. Watches, and listens, and notices. And still, the others don't. Her boys always sit next to each other, always, and those looks only intensify as time passes. Those looks pull at Stevie low down inside, because they're filled with so much want, but they are always careful to look away before the other notices, and sometimes, when she's standing next to the table scribbling on her scruffy pad or pouring out refills, she wants to grab them and shake them.
She imagines that if she did that, they'd either get her fired or start getting their breakfast at another diner; neither outcome would make her happy, so she keeps her mouth firmly closed.
Keeping her mouth closed has always been a challenge for Stevie, and it's an almost impossible task when Dark Hair just isn't there one morning—not unusual in itself, but then he's not there the next morning, either, or the morning after that. He isn't there for two weeks, and though she is able to surmise from the snatches of conversation that he's been hurt, she doesn't know exactly what has happened.
What she does know, though, is that Spiky Blond is in pain, and the others can't even see it. They all care, she can see that. They care that their friend is suffering, but Spiky Blond's dark eyes are screaming. He looks like he hasn't slept at all, and he doesn't smile at Stevie like he normally does when he places his order. She looks at the dark circles under his eyes and refills his coffee when he hasn't asked her to.
"Are you sick, Sanders?" asks Green Eyes. Stevie reckons that's his last name, and as such, leaves it alone.
Spiky Blond shakes his head and looks into his cup and startles, as though surprised to find it full. Stevie, who is still standing there, smiles at him. He blinks rapidly.
"Uh, thanks." He tries to smile and Stevie both aches for him and itches to know what has happened to Dark Hair, and if he will be coming back.
Instead of asking, she simply says, "No problem," and retreats back behind the counter to watch whilst pretending to clean the cappuccino machine again. It's an interesting development, either way. Spiky Blond doesn't just want his friend, his colleague, his sparring partner. No. Spiky Blond loves him.
He does come back, and Stevie is so relieved to see him that she gives him an extra-bright smile as she writes down an uncharacteristically artery-clogging order of fried potatoes, sausage and eggs.
Perhaps it's a life affirming thing, she muses, turning to Spiky Blond, who fixes her with the most suspicious look she has ever seen on his usually-friendly face. Within seconds, her confusion melts into understanding and quiet glee. Dark Hair had smiled back, and now Spiky Blond is jealous.
Stevie waits until she has all the orders to turn around and allow the smirk to spread across her face. Reena shoots her an odd look, and Stevie pokes out her tongue at her.
The group of not-cops, along with old-man-with-dog and cursing-dancing-girls, are such a constant in the ebb and flow of the diner, that change just isn't done. And yet.
Somewhere, between Dark Hair's accident and now, Spiky Blond Punky has changed his style. It has happened so gradually that Stevie hasn't noticed it, but today she notices it. She's scrubbing lazily at a dried-on stain on the counter when he suddenly appears and asks her for toothpicks.
She looks up, right into warm chocolate brown eyes, and is almost blinded by the flash of his appealing, slightly manic grin. The garish patterns are gone; his shirt is a nice blue and white pinstripe, and his longer, toned-down hair waves naturally across his forehead.
Somewhere in the back of her head, she realises that he's looked like this for a while, but she's been concentrating so hard on the way he leans into Dark Hair when he talks, and the way he chews his lip when Dark Hair is talking, that she's missed it.
"Toothpicks?" Stevie repeats absently, registering the fact that he's still waiting. And she's staring.
"It's a toothpick emergency," he says mock-seriously, mouth quirking upwards at one corner. "Please don't let me down... Stevie," he adds, looking at her name tag. Actually at her name tag. Not at her breasts, which makes a nice change. If Reena were here, she'd use that as evidence to support her theory.
When he returns to his table, toothpicks held triumphantly aloft, Dark Hair grins at him and slings a congratulatory arm around his shoulders.
He doesn't ever touch the others, though sometimes Green Eyes slaps him on the back, and Streetwise Blonde often touches the arm of whoever she's talking to. But with Spiky... no. Stevie chews her thumbnail, thinking. Curly Blond Stripy, she thinks decisively, yes, Curly Blond Stripy grants his friend a lopsided smile and then drops his eyes to the floor and flushes ever so slightly pink.
Dark Hair withdraws his arm with blindingly obvious reluctance and accepts the proffered toothpick. He chews on it like a demented farmer and smiles at the back of Curly Blond Stripy's head when he turns to frown and explain something to Serious Brunette.
Stevie can't decide whether to smile, roll her eyes, or stamp her foot. Frank yells from the kitchen and she starts collecting the plates for a table of six. Two at a time.
They sit at the big table in the middle when there's a whole group of them, but at the little tables by the windows when there's only two or three, and Stevie hates that, because they usually have the best conversations then. She only gets snatches of them, though, while she's studiously sweeping or clearing away the adjacent tables, and it's never enough.
She's stacking plates with deliberate slowness two tables away and listening to three of them talking about weddings, trying not to let her reactions show on her face.
"Ah, tradition. Like becoming property exchanged between your father and your husband?" Serious Brunette says drily.
Serious Brunette's a feminist, Stevie ponders. Truly, it's shocking.
"Oh, that's not what a wedding is. It's a public declaration of love," says Dark Hair, smiling.
Stevie smiles at her dirty dishes in spite of herself. He's obviously a romantic. She looks up just in time to see Curly Blond Stripy almost getting caught with a sappy look on his face, but he recovers quickly.
"I'm with Vince Vaughn on this one," he counters, smirking. "Dozens of horny, single women with access to an open bar and coupling on their mind."
Stevie rolls her eyes. It'd be convincing, if not for the look he'd just almost exchanged with Dark Hair, and the way he's almost fellating that bacon strip in his direction, apparently without realising it. She wonders if Serious Brunette needs glasses.
Deciding to put in an appearance, she manages two steps toward her coffee pot before Reena appears as if from nowhere and sets a cup down in front of Dark Hair. She pours, making no bones about the fact that she's listening to their conversation. Stevie exhales noisily, lifting her bangs from her forehead in frustration.
"Weddings are a Rorschach," advises Reena. "Everybody sees what they want to see. My first five were good."
They say nothing, attention caught by the TV news report, but Stevie returns to her table and starts stacking dirty plates again, muttering under her breath about inkblots and traitorous co-workers.
Reena is a dirty liar, for one thing. She's been married three times, and none of them were good, if Stevie's to believe the stories she tells when the diner is empty. And she's a flirt. Not that it matters, because when she looks up again, Dark Hair is ignoring her completely and leaning over to murmur something to Curly Blond Stripy with a little half smile crinkling into lines around his mouth.
It's only a matter of time.
A few days later, they come in on their own. Stevie raises her eyebrows at the sight of them; she's never seen them in here on their own before, and it's late afternoon, not the usual time when she figures their shift must let out.
It's strange, she thinks, because for a few days now, she's been idly wondering if maybe they are together, after all, but just keeping it a secret. Seeing them now, though, it's glaringly obvious that that isn't the case. They're not happy at all, and she hurts for them.
If they were lovers, they'd at least look a little comfortable in each other's company, but this... Stevie sighs and flicks her dishtowel over her shoulder. There's an almost painful desperation radiating out from both of them as they sit opposite each other at a small table by the window. She watches Curly Blond Stripy's face every time Dark Hair looks away or at his menu, and she audibly winces at the agonised longing in his sharp dark eyes.
Dark Hair mutters something and Curly Blond Stripy flashes a wide smile that seems forced but makes Dark Hair smile back, holding the eye contact for longer than he usually does. Curly Blond licks his lips fretfully, and he doesn't seem to notice the cocoa-dark eyes that drop to follow the action, but Stevie does, and she barely resists the temptation to bang her head against the pine-scented counter.
And she thought they were obvious before, when the others were around. Granted, Stevie is no expert, but that is sexual tension—and the rest—stretched to breaking point. It's almost suffocating; she has no idea how they manage to work together every day.
When she takes their orders, they both smile unsteadily at her and speak faster than they usually do. As she wanders slowly back to the counter, she can hear them discussing the results of some test or other—something work-related—but the words don't flow like they used to, and their laughter is dry and nervous. Curly Blond Stripy knocks over the sugar shaker and spills white granules out over the shiny table top in a clatter of glass, and he turns to stare at it, running an agitated hand through the messy waves of his hair.
Her footsteps are as noiseless as she can make them as she approaches with their plates, even though she's forgotten her towel and the hot ceramic is burning her fingers; it's as though the strain is pulled so tight that she might break it and bring everything crashing down. She sets them down carefully and sucks her fingers when she has her back to them.
It's a warm day, and the sunlight is turning golden as it streams through the window and illuminates the pair of them. Stevie sighs and chews her pen thoughtfully. They look beautiful together. Beautiful and agitated and ready to snap.
Dark Hair sits very straight now, and he doesn't touch Curly Blond at all. Stevie takes in his tight lines and the way his fingers grip the plastic edge of the tabletop as though anchoring him to reality and preventing him from reaching across the table, grabbing his friend's collar and kissing him senseless over their steaming plates of food. Because, man, he looks like he wants to.
She can only just hear their words from here, and she strains her ears to follow.
"...working a double this weekend, you got anything exciting planned?"
"Exciting?" Dark Hair laughs shortly. "You must be thinking of someone else, Greg. Football on TV, couple of beers, that's about as exciting as it gets."
Stevie smiles. Curly Blond Stripy looks like a Greg. Sometimes, when she finds out people's names, they don't look right, and then it's just all kinds of surreal.
Curly Blond Greg snorts, looks like he's going to say something, and thinks better of it. Stevie leans a bit further across the counter toward their table.
"What are you doing?" demands Reena from the kitchen door.
"Shh, I missed what they're saying!"
Reena joins her at the counter. "Oh, hell, Stev-o, are we still on this? They are not together!"
"Not yet," Stevie concedes. "But it's only a matter of time."
Stevie looks at Dark Hair, who's looking at Curly Greg, who's looking out of the window. "Five bucks says I'm not."
Laughing softly, Reena holds out a hand for Stevie to shake. "You're on, little one."
It's almost two weeks later before she sees them alone together again. The team breakfasts continue as usual, but that rasp of tension remains between Greg and Dark Hair. Not, she admits, on the scale that it was when they were alone, but it's there. The blatant pining is still very much in evidence, but the good-natured banter and the touching and the impressions and the laughter, all that is gone.
Greg talks to Serious Brunette more often, and sometimes he doesn't say anything at all when Dark Hair puts the cream in his coffee. Stevie wonders how either of them would react to a foot up the ass. Her foot.
It's almost six pm when they come in, and they seem to have brought the weather in with them. The day is hot, grey, stuffy and close; a thunderstorm is clearly on the horizon and everyone seems to be fed up, cranky and fractious. Reena is out back on her tenth cigarette break of the day, and Stevie, equally irritable, is happy to be rid of her.
She watches with rapt attention as they claim a table by the window. They're clearly mid-shift; Dark Hair is wearing a black vest that says CSI on the back, and Stevie makes a mental note to Google it when she gets home. More interestingly than that, even, they are arguing. Well, sniping, really, she supposes. Their voices aren't raised, but Dark Hair is folding his arms, dark brows drawn down, and Blond Greg is shaking his head and narrowing his eyes defensively.
Stevie grabs up her pad, heart racing, and approaches the table, wondering if she can remember the specials, or if she'll have to make them up like she usually does.
"... you just don't see it, do you? She was all over you!"
Greg snorts and spins the plastic ketchup bottle around between his palms. "You're imagining things. Why is everyone so obsessed with who does or doesn't flirt with me, anyway?"
"I don't know, Greg, but I'm definitely not imagining things. If she was any closer, you'd've been wearing her."
Stevie pauses, two tables away. Waits.
"She was a suspect, for... look, I don't know why we're even having this conversation. Why the fuck do you care?"
"I don't," Dark Hair says hotly, after a moment. His hands clench into fists under the table.
Greg stares at him for a while, pain and fury flaring in his eyes, and then stands up. "I thought not. 'Scuse me, Nick, I've got to be somewhere." His voice shakes ever-so-slightly, and Stevie catches her breath.
Nick, she adds to her mental list. Dark Haired Nick with the Great Smile. Alrighty.
Greg pushes past her on his way to the door, and his eyes soften in apology, just for a moment.
"No worries," Stevie murmurs, sliding the order pad back into her pocket and watching him stalk out into the parking lot.
The old man with the dog looks up from his corner table at the mini-commotion, and Stevie shares with him a 'beats me' shrug, before she turns back to see what Dark-Haired Nick will do. For long, drawn-out seconds, he taps his fingers on the table-top, brow furrowed in concentration.
Agonized, Stevie twists her fingers around each other and silently urges him to follow, before the blond gets into his car and drives away. She's starting to think that she needs this as much as they do, and it's nothing to with the five dollars that she'll collect from Reena; she's invested now. She thinks that if he continues to sit there for another ten seconds, she's going to kick him out herself.
Fortunately, Nick seems to shake himself; he rises and heads for the exit.
"Ah, sorry," he mumbles in Stevie's direction, door halfway open, and she just gives him a look.
Checking behind her for Reena, Stevie sidles over to the window and watches from behind a rubber plant. Nick's progress across the parking lot is rapid; he walks with long, graceful strides, but he's not rapid enough; he still has to call out Greg's name in order to stop him from getting into his car.
She can't hear them, though she tries, fingertips pressing against the cool glass and leaving marks. Greg isn't waving his hands like he usually does; both arms are crossed firmly across his chest, until suddenly they're not, and one is raking through his hair, and the other is lifted, hand splayed across his driver's side window as if to hold him up.
He's nodding slowly and his genuine, luminous smile is flashing into life, the one Stevie hasn't seen in a good while, and the corners of her mouth are tugged upwards along with it. She can only see the back of the dark one's head, but she knows that smile is reflected on his face.
And then it's all so sudden. Greg's free arm is wrapping around a black-clad shoulder, and a large, tanned hand is sliding up Greg's arm and through the waves at the back of his neck, threading firmly and pulling, and they're both moving, just a tiny distance... it's been a tiny distance all this time, really, and when their mouths fit together, Stevie sees the pale hand on the driver's side glass slide and clench into a fist.
It's not a long kiss, after all, they're in a parking lot in broad daylight, but for those few seconds, they seem to melt against each other and all of that tension coalesces and crackles and wraps around them—both of them—keeping them together, with lips and tongues and hands and more.
Stevie grins, and when they pull apart and Greg drops his forehead against Nick's shoulder, just for a moment, she laughs softly with delight. Just then, it starts to rain, and she watches both men tip their heads back suddenly, seemingly astonished at the cool water falling onto their skin. Then they laugh, and it seems strange not to hear it.
"Stevie?" yells Reena, making her jump. "Where are you?"
She steps out slightly from behind the rubber plant, reluctantly tearing her eyes away from her observation. "Here. And you owe me five dollars."