Out of the Shadows
I can't thank Mingsmommy and Smacky30 enough for all of the work they put into this.
It's finally done! I am considering a sequel, but it's a distant project at this point. Thank you for all of the support that has been sent my way throughout this process.
Still don't own CSI, but enjoy having some fun with the characters!
"Hey stranger," Nick sauntered into the break room. "What are you still doing here?"
"Plotting Miranda's death." Mandy answered stoically as she dropped her head into her hands. While Nick and Mandy were in Dallas, Miranda got into a yelling match with Ecklie, which led to her firing. Mandy had just turned her phone on after landing at McCarran when it began to ring. She was being called into work six hours early, and she and Jacqui had been working twelve hour shifts ever since.
"That bad?" He moved to stand behind her, rubbing her shoulders.
"Uh huh." She could only manage a mumble, too tired to actually move her lips to create coherent words.
"Are they any closer to filling her spot?"
Her head shook slowly back and forth, "It doesn't seem to be a priority now that there's a pissing contest between the shift supervisors and Ecklie." Normally she wouldn't be so harsh, but not having a day off in over two weeks brought out her inner bitch.
Giving her shoulders one last squeeze, he walked over to the coffee pot and returned with two cups, one of which she eagerly accepted. Calming slightly after the first sip, "How's working under Catherine going?"
"Good," he took a sip, "I just wish I could get used to the earlier shift."
Mandy let out a sigh mixed with a half smile as Warrick and Catherine entered the room. She took the last few minutes of her break as assignments were handed out for swing shift.
The door opened only a few minutes after she rang the bell. "I'm too exhausted to make it all the way to my place." They walked into his living room. "You mind if I just get," her words were interrupted by a long yawn, "a little sleep here?"
Wrapping an arm around her, he guided her to the bedroom. "Not at all."
She absently slipped off her slacks and blouse, leaving only her panties and cami on before climbing into the very welcoming bed. Inhaling deeply, she took in his scent from the pillow. It comforted and relaxed her immediately.
Nick pulled the covers over her. "You're already up for the day, aren't you?" She didn't even bother trying to hide her disappointment.
"Yeah, I am." His voice echoed how she was feeling. She knew he was sleeping after his shift now, but had hoped she could crawl in bed with him. It felt like an eternity since they were able to spend any time together. He pulled the sheets further up on her, "I could stay until you fall asleep?"
Her face brightened with a sleepy smile. Turning onto her side to face him, she settled in and began to slip away. The last thing she remembered was his hand stroking her face softly, gently, coaxing her to sleep.
When she woke up she could hear Nick in the other room, talking on his phone. She decided to slip into the bathroom. When they were on the same shift, there were many days they'd sleep together at his place, so Mandy had a few things there. She couldn't help but feel comforted at the sight of her toothbrush next to his in the cup on the bathroom counter. Brushing her teeth and washing her face quickly, she made her way out to the living room.
"Uh huh." Nick was still on the phone while sitting on the couch, his back to her as she entered the room. "Mom, if you want to know what Natalie thinks, why don't you ask her?"
Mandy sat on the edge of the couch, slipping an arm around his neck.
Her presence seemed to startle him at first, but when he noticed that she was still only wearing what she had gone to sleep in, a sly smile spread across his face. "Mom, I have something I need to do before work, I'll call you back later…Love you too…Bye."
He hung up the phone and tossed it to the coffee table before turning all of his attention to his nearly naked girlfriend. He ran a hand up her thigh and she leaned down capturing his lips with hers in a blistering kiss. It had been way too long.
Afterwards, they lay together for a few minutes before Nick had to get to work and Mandy had to pick up the kids. It was a few minutes of stolen pleasure before the rest of the world once again intruded.
That night, a surprise greeted Mandy at the lab; Ecklie, having to approve too much overtime for the county's liking, had left a message requesting that she stay into the day tomorrow, because he had finally set up interviews for the new print tech and wanted Mandy to sit in on them.
Within a few days, Rob Martin was hired and after the initial training and breaking in period, life calmed down for Mandy. Unfortunately, Nick was still on swing shift, and now that she was working her normal shift, they rarely had much time together. They tried to meet for a late lunch before Nick went in, but unless one of them had a day off, their time together was a rarity, so when the opportunity presented itself, they jumped on it.
The Saturday before Christmas, Mandy drove home from work to pick up the kids and take them to Catherine's house for what had been the graveyard shift's annual Christmas Party. Now it included both grave and swing. So what if it was ten in the morning? It was the only time that allowed the groups to gather outside of work.
Catherine had thought of everything: there were breakfast and dinner foods on the buffet and anything a person would want to drink from juice and coffee to alcohol. She even paid Lindsey to keep the kids entertained so their parents could relax and have fun.
Mandy arrived after most of the other guests. Lindsey took Alex and Lily to her room while the adults made their way to the buffet.
Having to work through her break last night, Mandy was starved. She made a bee line for the food. A few minutes later, she was sitting on the couch with a bagel, some fruit, and a glass of wine, a combination she had never had before but was enjoying all the same.
"Anybody sitting here?" She heard a familiar voice inquire.
She was caught a little off guard, so she quickly chewed and swallowed the bagel bit in her mouth before replying, "You." She motioned towards the section of couch next to her.
Nick took the seat, "So, bagel and wine?"
"Hey, don't knock it until you've tried it," she smiled at him. "Besides, I don't have to take a sip to know how Irish your coffee is." She raised her eyebrows and nodded her head toward the coffee cup.
In the background the volume of the music suddenly increased, catching them by surprise. They laughed it off, realizing they were both feeling a little uncomfortable. They had gotten used to being a couple when they were alone, or even with the kids, but they still walked on eggshells around their coworkers.
They kept it all business at the lab, but in social settings, they were still navigating their way. It wasn't like Doc Robbins bringing his wife, or Archie bringing a girlfriend. Both Nick and Mandy had connections to the lab, and that made it all the more difficult at times. They hoped that would change over time, but in truth they hadn't spent a lot of time together as a couple with their coworkers.
As Mandy relaxed back into the couch, Nick picked a strawberry off of her plate, "Did you finish all of your shopping?"
She nodded. "Now I just need to get it all wrapped." She sighed and sipped her wine.
"Well, if you need any help, I've trained with Santa's best elves."
"You know, if you're one of Santa's helpers, it's only fair that you stick around and enjoy the excitement of Christmas morning."
"Why, Ms. Webster, are you inviting me to spend Christmas with your family?"
She cocked her head to the side, "Yeah, I guess I am."
"Momma," Lily came running up, "I want a bagel."
"Here, babe." Mandy broke off a piece of her bagel and handed it to her daughter.
Lily put her hands on her hips and shook her head, "I want my own."
Nick stood, "Come on, Lil, I'll help you get it."
After thinking for a second, Lily took his hand.
Mandy called after him, "Nick-"
He turned, giving a knowing smile, "I know, only half and light on the cream cheese."
"Thanks." She appreciated actually being able to finish her meal for once.
Sara slid into the recently vacated seat next to Mandy. "It looks like Lily's really taken to Nick."
Mandy wistfully watched as Nick picked up the bagel Lily pointed out. "Yeah. They've become quite the pair." It was so nice to see her kids take to Nick, and to see that Nick actually seemed to enjoy spending time with her kids.
The party lasted another couple hours before the crowd dispersed to head home for some much needed sleep before the start of shift that night. Mandy went straight to bed as Lily and Alex helped their grandmother make cookies.
The next morning, Nick went over to Mandy's, arriving just in time to have breakfast with her and the kids. Irene wasn't thrilled to see him so early. She felt the two were spending too much time together in front of the kids, setting a bad example. A fact she shared with Mandy on multiple occasions, while Mandy smiled, nodded, and ignored.
The mood lifted when Irene left. Mandy surprised the kids by announcing, "After breakfast we'll go pick out a Christmas tree."
"Can we go out for lunch, too?" Alex asked.
Mandy glanced to Nick, not wanting to commit him to more than he was ready for. When he gave a subtle nod as agreement, she responded, "We could do that."
Before long the kids were finished with their cereal. "Okay, go get dressed. Lily your clothes are on your bed." Then she turned her attention to Alex, "Your jeans are on your bed. You need a shirt, underwear and socks."
They bounded up the stairs as Mandy called after them, "Don't forget to wash your face and brush your teeth!" She thought for a second, "Alex, help your sister."
Lily called back, "I don't need help!"
Mandy amended her last statement, "Alex, don't help your sister…Unless she needs it."
Nick snickered at the exchange, knowing it was a common one in this house. Mandy picked up her plate and Alex's bowl and took it to the kitchen. Nick picked up his plate along with Lily's bowl and followed Mandy. "Are you sure I'm not imposing by tagging along today?" He set the dishes down next to the sink where Mandy was rinsing the others before leaning back against the counter behind her, crossing his arms in front of him.
Turning off the water, she moved in front of him, wrapped her arms around his neck and said, "I want you with us."
Nick met her gaze, "Are you sure?"
She nodded. "And the kids have fun with you."
He smiled at that bit. "I have fun with them too."
She leaned in and kissed his check before whispering in his ear, "I know." Then she released her hold and went back to cleaning the dishes. "Besides, the tree will be easier to bring back on your truck, than my car, and we'll need you to carry the tree in and set it up. So, there are lots of reasons we want you to go."
Nick stopped in his path back to the table for more dishes. "Smart ass."
Less than an hour later they were in the car on their way to the tree lot. Without much fuss, they picked out what Mandy called, "The perfect tree," and after securing the tree to the back of Nick's truck, they went to a nearby diner for lunch.
They were taken to a booth, and after Mandy sat down, the kids began to argue over who got to sit next to Nick. Mandy couldn't help but feel some pity for the man who didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Eventually, Lily agreed to sit next to her mother, reluctantly, and as long as Nick sat across from her.
They sat quietly, the adults looking over the menu and the kids coloring theirs. The calm was shattered when Lily reached over and grabbed Alex's green crayon. "That's mine!"
"Alex," Mandy admonished. "Quieter voice please."
"She took my crayon!" Alex made a futile attempt to reach for the green crayon.
"Lily?" Mandy hadn't seen the offense, but knew her daughter well enough to believe Alex.
"I needed it!" Lily's grasp on the crayon tightened as she pulled her arms close to her body.
"It's mine!" Alex repeated.
"Hey, Alex," Nick tried to help, "why don't you decide what you want while Lily finishes with the crayon?"
Alex immediately replied, "Chicken nuggets and French fries. I want it back!"
"Lily, give the crayon back." Mandy tried to pry it from her daughter's fingers.
Lily shook her body from side to side and grunted.
"Lillian Eleanor Webster, if you want something, you ask for it. You do not just take it." She stopped trying to get the crayon from the child. "Give it back to your brother now, or we leave and go home without lunch."
Lily thought for a moment, and then threw the crayon across the table to her brother. Who proceeded to use it for all of five seconds and then he was on to something else.
Nick took the whole scene in as Mandy handled Lily.
When Lily was calm and coloring again, Mandy turned with reddened cheeks to Nick. "I'm sorry." She adored her kids, but could still be embarrassed by their behavior, especially when they knew what they are doing is unacceptable.
Nick's arm was draped over the back of the booth, behind Alex. He looked over to Alex's drawing and back to Mandy. "In case you don't remember, I have a bunch of siblings, darlin'. I have had many a crayon taken from me and I've pilfered a few myself."
She looked at him, noting the amusement in his eyes, and nodded. Her whole body relaxed as she released the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding.
After lunch they went back to Mandy's and set the tree up. Then they began to decorate it with all of the kids' ornaments. Some were craft projects from school, others were gifts like, "Baby's 1st Christmas" ornaments. Mandy inhaled the fresh pine scent as she watched her little darlings hastily ply the tree with their treasures. Before long, the bottom half of the tree was completely covered with the kids' creations and special moments. Once that was complete, Nick was pulled into a rousing game of Memory with the kids while Mandy made dinner.
After dinner it was movie night. The scent of popping corn permeated the house thanks to Nick, while Mandy got the kids in their pajamas. He was just adding the melted butter when Mandy brought Alex, Lily, and an armful of pillows and blankets down the stairs. She set the kids up on the floor and then cued up Elmo saves Christmas.
Nick, who had found himself quite at home in Mandy's kitchen, filled two small bowls and one large one with popcorn, grabbed a couple of cold beers, and poured juice into two brightly colored sippy cups. He placed everything strategically on the tray and carried it into the living room just as the movie started.
The kids were settled on the floor with their treats, and Nick and Mandy sat on the couch sharing a bowl of popcorn, drinking their beer and finding more enjoyment from being near each other than any adult could find from Elmo.
After the movie, the kids were put to bed and Mandy pulled out the ornaments for the top of the tree. Nick decided to take a chance. He watched as she sorted through the ornament boxes that had yet to be opened this year.
She carefully placed a hook in a few ornaments and hung them on the tree. "Don't just stand there cowboy, there's enough here for you, too."
He took a breath, gently rubbed her shoulders for a second, and said, "How 'bout if I put the hooks on and you hang them where you want them?"
"Okay." She took the first offered ornament. It was one from when she was a kid. A small brass sleigh with Santa and toys engraved with her name and the year 1978 on it. For Mandy, going through the ornaments every year was like a trip down memory lane. She was reminded of family vactions, special moments, and interests she'd had throughout her life.
One by one Nick attached a hook to each ornament and handed it to Mandy to place on the tree. She took each one and found just the right spot, sometimes sharing memories of the past with him. Then he handed her one that caught her off guard. Nick had placed a simple solitaire at the end of one of the hooks and casually handed it to Mandy.
Mandy, without realizing it hung it on the tree, and then turned back to look at it once again, "Nick?" Her voice was soft and nervous.
He was now standing directly behind her as she turned to face him, he took the ring from her, "Merry Christmas," he smiled the biggest smile she had ever seen come from him. "Spend every Christmas with me." It was a statement, not a question. He took her left hand and placed the solitaire on her ring finger before kissing her again.
Mandy broke the kiss first, "Nick…I don't know if…I uh." She couldn't get the words to come out the way she wanted. So many uncertainties ran through her head. She took a breath and started again. "Nick, it's not just me. I have Alex and Lily to consider."
"I know and I love them, you know that." He held onto her as if letting go meant losing her forever.
"I know." She didn't fight his embrace, but welcomed it.
"I love you. I love Alex. I love Lily." He licked his lips, "Give me one reason why we shouldn't do this."
She actually tried to come up with something, but couldn't. The truth was, the kids adored Nick, and she loved him. She still missed Mike, but Nick had brought her back to life when she felt lost. "I can't. I don't have one." Her voice was barely a whisper.
"Is that a yes?" His was full of hope.
She nodded as tears began to sting her eyes, "Yes."
They fell into a deep, passionate kiss, and eventually moved up to Mandy's bedroom. Nick spent the night for the first time that night, but Mandy refused to let the kids find him there. They woke up early, got dressed, and went down stairs. Nick left to go home and change while Mandy made breakfast for the kids.
She moved a little slower that morning, stopping every couple of minutes to admire the ornament that never made it back to the tree.
Nick brought back some coffee and bagels, purchased during his attempt to give the kids enough time to wake up and get downstairs.
Mandy gratefully accepted the nonfat mocha and chocolate chip bagel he'd brought, and the kids eagerly forgot the cold cereal they'd started eating for the cinnamon and sugar bagels with strawberry cream cheese Nick had brought just for them.
They all sat around the kitchen table. Nick and Mandy sat on one side, and Alex and Lily sat on the other side. After a minute of silence, which the kids barely noticed because they were too busy eating, Mandy started, "Hey guys." When they looked up she continued, "How would you feel about Nick moving in here, with us?" She immediately realized that may not have been the best way to begin the conversation.
"Would Grandma still spend the night with us?" Alex asked.
"On the nights we work, yes." Mandy answered.
"Okay." He shrugged and returned to his bagel.
"Can we do more movie nights like last night?" Lily asked.
"Maybe." She shrugged.
"Is Nick moving in today?" Alex asked.
"No, kiddo." Nick wrapped an arm around Mandy. "Your mom and I are going to get married first."
"Are you going to be our new daddy?" Alex cocked his head to side.
Nick and Mandy exchanged glances. "Alex, no one can ever take the place of your dad, but yes, in a way, Nick will be your new daddy."
The boy nodded slowly, "Do we have to call him Dad?"
"Alex, what would you like to call me?"
"I like Nick." He spoke matter-of-factly.
"Then, Nick it is."
"Can I change my mind later if I want?"
"Of course." Nick smiled.
A few days later, Nick spent Christmas with his new family and a very unsure future mother-in-law.