Fingerprints



"It's not over for me. It's over for Jane Gallaway." -- Nick Stokes



Sara signed off on the last page of the printout and closed the folder. Every case she concluded the same way – paperwork filed away, then an order of Chinese and a bubble bath to wash away the memories. She grabbed a new pen out of the drawer and dropped the old one into the trash. Now she was ready to leave the building and Nick's stalker behind her.

The corridors were busy with the change of shift, and she walked quickly through her co-workers, never acknowledging any of them until one familiar face caught her attention. She turned back and entered the fingerprint lab.

"Nick, what are you doing here? You're suppose to be resting; the case is closed." She studied him closely, his exhaustion was apparent.

"Not for me." There was something in his tone of voice that she didn't recognize.

"Nick?"

He finally looked up and made eye contact with his friend. His expression was closed off, distant. "I need to know how much of my life he invaded." Nick went back to what he was doing, effectively dismissing her. Sara watched for a moment, noting the slight tremble in his hands before she left to find Grissom.



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Gil Grissom, Catherine Willows, and Warrick Brown were finishing the last details on their own paperwork in the conference room when Sara burst in. She didn't waste any time on pleasantries, "Grissom, did you know that Nick was here, working?"

Gil didn't look as surprised as the rest of his team. "On what?"

"The doctor hasn't given him clearance to come back to work yet. What in the hell does he think he's doing?" Warrick made no attempt to hide the worry and anger that had been eating at him since the stalker had thrown Nick out of a second story window. "He's gonna end up back in the hospital if he's not careful."

Sara nodded, "He's working on the stalker case."

"He's got to learn to let this go." Catherine pushed the papers away from her before leaning her elbows on the table. "Otherwise it's going to eat him alive."

Grissom looked thoughtfully at the others. "No, I think he need to follow this through. What was he doing, exactly?"

"Fingerprint analysis. He's got to have a thousand prints that he's pulled."

"Really? Let's see what he's got." Grissom led the way out the door, confident that the rest of the group would follow him.



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Catherine was the last one to leave the room, and then she had to double step to catch up with Grissom before he entered the lab. "I can't believe you're encouraging this."

Gil didn't bother to answer her before he entered the lab. Once inside, he observed the young man bent over the table. He moved closer and cleared his throat, hoping to not startle Nick. Nick tensed, but gave no other acknowledgement of their presence. Gil took another step closer. "Nick, Sara tells me you've been busy." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the others move closer.

Nick continued to process the prints, sorting them into two piles as he finished with them. "I'm sure she did." The shaking in his hands became more noticeable as he reached for the next sample.

Catherine reached across the table and grasped his hand. "Nick, honey, we all understand how difficult this has been for you. But you need to put it behind you now, and move on."

"Yeah, man, let us help you." Warrick moved even closer and this time Nick reacted, pulling his hand away from Catherine and began to pace in the small room.

"You don't get it, do you?" Nick picked up the fingerprint sheets and shook them at his coworkers. "Nigel's fingerprints!" He took the first sheet off the stack he held and slammed it down on the worktable next to Sara. She jumped, but remained silent. "This one came off my coffee maker." The rest of the sheets joined the first. "A jar of relish in my refrigerator. The trophies in the living room. The handle of my damn toothbrush!" Nick leaned against the table and took a deep breath, in an obvious attempt to calm himself. He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes as he continued in a lower voice. "The box of condoms in my nightstand – hell, he handled every packet in it. Some even have saliva on them."

"Oh my God." Catherine paled visibly.

Nick looked at her for a second before focusing on a spot on the far wall. "I found his hair in my hairbrush."

"Nick…" Gil's voice trailed off as Nick continued.

"When I did my laundry the last couple of times, I'd be missing stuff."

This time Catherine made no attempt to move closer to the hurting young man. "What kind of things, Nick?"

Apparently, the wall had lost interest, as Nick's gaze moved to the floor, his hands rubbing the back of his neck. "Some boxers and a couple of T- shirts."

Sara shook her head as she insisted on a rational explanation. "Come on, Nick, you lost them at the Laundromat." Warrick hastened to agree.

"Yeah, man, it happens to the best of us."

Gil hitched one hip up on the edge of the table as he studied Nick's reactions. "Nick, I know this is hard, but you need to sort out the emotions from the evidence. Do you have any proof…" One glance at Nick gave him his answer.

"I found them in the attic, shoved between the insulation and the joists. In case anybody's interested, the semen stains on them aren't mine. Neither are the semen stains on the insulation next to the peepholes he had into my bedroom and my bathroom." He pinched the bridge of his nose as his words faded out.

Warrick moved closer and this time Nick didn't pull away. "Headache?"

"Yeah." His energy spent, Nick's words were barely audible as he swayed backwards. Warrick grabbed his arm before he tipped over.

"You have a concussion, my man. You keep pushing yourself like this, you're going to end up back in the hospital."

Gil moved up and steadied Nick from the other side. "That's right. Let Warrick take you home." He felt the shudder that passed through the young man at the word 'home' and immediately understood. Softening his voice, and bending down to look at the downcast face, he changed his tactics. "Where are you staying?" Behind him, Catherine slipped out, unobserved.

"The Regency." The pull of exhaustion was harder and harder to ignore as Nick fought to keep his eyes open.

Warrick rubbed his hand across Nick's shoulder, wincing in sympathy at the tight muscles there. "You're gonna stay at my place for a while, all right?"

Before he could formulate a response, Catherine returned carrying Nick's coat. Gil moved out of the way as she slid Nick's unresponsive arms into it. Catherine pulled the zipper up as she pressed a soft kiss against his cheek, careful of his recent injuries. "Stay with Warrick, ok?"

Nick pulled back, saw the troubled, concerned faces of his friends surrounding him, and silently nodded his agreement.



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The remaining three members of the team returned to the conference room. Several members of the day unit noticed their presence, but decided not to interfere. Catherine stared at the steam rising from her coffee cup. "We really blew it. We should have gone through Nick's place with a fine toothed comb. He shouldn't have been the one to find all of that.

Sara shook her head. "I never thought he'd get that paranoid about all this."

"Is he?" Grissom looked at the woman across the table from him.

"You don't think he's a little obsessive about this?" Sara stared at her boss. "I mean, Nigel Crane is probably going to spend the rest of his life in prison. Don't you think Nick should accept that and move on?"

Catherine leaned forward and looked at Sara. "Could you? Really, Sara, think about it. To know that someone was watching your every move would be bad enough, but to find out that he's handled everything you own… I'd be more than a little freaked out."

Gil interrupted them. "Ladies! As fascinating as this is, it isn't helping Nick. So the question is, what would?"

Both Catherine and Sara turned to stare at him. Sara raised an eyebrow, while Catherine vocalized the question. "What do you mean?"

"Simple. If Nigel Crane had invaded your life, what would you want done first to get him out of it." Gil pulled a battered leather book out of his briefcase and began looking through it as he spoke.

Sara snorted and shrugged her shoulders. "I'd want him in jail, which is where he's going to be for a very long time."

"No, that's not the first step for Nick, at least it wouldn't be for me." Catherine nodded, as she understood where Grissom was headed. "I'd want every trace of him out of my home. I'd want every peephole removed, everything he ever touched scrubbed clean."

"Why not just move, start over? It's just a house."

Catherine knew that Sara didn't understand the problem. "Sara, tell me about where you live."

"Where I live? I've got an apartment, you know that, Catherine."

"Why'd you chose it?"

"I don't know, it was close to work – convenient to everything. What are you getting at?" Sara leaned back, trying to follow where this conversation was going.

"Can you see yourself living there five years from now?"

"Probably not, so what? Catherine, what does this have to do with Nick not letting go of this?"

"What do you remember about the house you grew up in?" Catherine leaned forward, waiting her response.

"Which one?" Sara gave a short laugh. "My folks moved into a bigger house every time my dad got a promotion."

Gil finally looked up and joined the conversation. "Nick's grandfather gave his parents ten acres as a wedding present. It was part of the ranch the Stokes family has had for over 100 years. Seven kids, they had to add on a few times, but they still live there. It's part of who they are, who Nick is."

"And so, when Nick moved here…" Sara was thinking out loud, her words slow and thoughtful. "He didn't rent an apartment, he bought a house to establish the same, what, security?"

"Security, permanence, identity, the point is, to Nick, it's all the same thing. And that's what Crane violated. Grissom paused, then focused on Sara. Did you notice those ceilings in his place?"

"Yeah, they were beautiful. Not exactly what you find in today's track home, though." In fact, Sara had been surprised by the understated elegance she had seen in Nick's home.

Grissom smiled to himself. He knew exactly what the younger woman was thinking. "That's because he installed them himself. They're a replica of the ceilings in his grandparents' home."

Catherine tossed down her pen in disgust. "And Nigel Crane drilled holes through them so he could spy on Nick. Then he destroyed them when Pierson's body fell through." She paused, rubbing her temples as she thought, before turning to Grissom. "Even if we restore his place to perfection, is it going to be enough? Nick's a strong guy, but everyone has their limits. I think he's going to need more help than some drywall and a gallon of paint."

"That leads to another question." Gil and Catherine turned to listen to Sara. "A lot of strong men find it hard to accept help. Will Nick be willing to take it?"

"You ladies worry about the repairs, I'll take care of the rest." Grissom gathered up his things and moved towards the door. "Catherine, I've already told Nick's insurance company that you will be the one they will be dealing with. Hope you don't mind."

"What! Mind? Gris…where are you going?"

Gil didn't even turn around. "Got to go see a man. Catch you two later."