Author: Michmak

Summary: Nick's thoughts about himself, and how Sara has impacted his life, G/S implied, the obvious spoilers from the best Nick episodes

Disclaimer: These characters are not mine. Although, sometimes, I wish Nick was.

Nick Stokes had always been a good actor. Growing up, he had performed in school and church plays, as well as several pieces of local theatre. People had admired him, applauded for him, and told him how talented he was. What they didn't realize was that Nick was acting all the time.

Nick could read people really well. He knew what they wanted to see, how they wanted him to act. When friends and strangers looked at Nick, they only saw what he chose to present to them.

Nick had no illusions - he knew he was good looking. He could be very charming when he wanted to be. People - men and women - found him attractive. When they looked at Nick, they thought "Jock. Looks like a good guy - could be a frat boy - probably fun to hang around with." And Nick, not wanting to disappoint anyone, tried to live up to their expectations.

He had been acting for so long, he often forgot that was what he was doing. He had created a role for himself, and over the years had buried the real Nick Stokes so deeply, he rarely thought of him anymore.

The real Nick was a scared child. Scared of everything. If people knew the real Nick, if he let his fa├žade drop for just one instant, his friends would be shocked.

It hadn't always been this way. When he had been little, Nick had been Nick. He had been adored by his family, had felt safe and protected within the confines of his world. He had been a normal little boy.

However, that had all changed the night his parents had gone out, leaving him alone with a new babysitter. Even after all these years, Nick couldn't think of her as anything else. In his mind, he never pictured her face.

That night, Nick had starred in his own personal horror show: THE LAST MINUTE SITTER. He could picture the movie poster in his mind - like a bad B-film, RETURN OF THE SWAMP THING kind of look - all big letters dripping in blood, a little boy on his bed, his face a mask of terror, and a dark silhouette standing in the doorway..Music thunders..lightening crashes.fade out.

Of course, he couldn't hide what had happened. His parents had known the next day something was up, and when Nick finally told them they had been horrified. He could still remember the look on their faces - his mothers had just crumpled inward, guilt and grief permanently etching it. His fathers' had expressed shock, anger and disgust. The police had been called, the sitter charged, and that was supposedly that.

Of course, young Nick had been sent for sessions with a very nice, if clueless, Doctor. The Doctor had asked him questions - how do you feel? What do you want to talk about? How can I help you? Nick hated going to him. What was the point, really?

Nick knew what needed to be done. He knew what he needed to do in order to get his parents and siblings to look at him like they used to. He didn't want to see the pain in his mothers' eyes; didn't want to have to flinch away from the look of remorse and shame in his fathers eyes anymore. The pity from his brothers. And so, he started acting.

He remembered how he had been before the babysitter, and so he buried his pain, his hurt and anger, and started acting that way again. By closely observing his older brothers, studying how they behaved and changed as they grew older, he acted accordingly as the years progressed.

When it was time for him to be interested in girls, he became interested in girls. When it was time for him to be rebellious, he rebelled. When it was time for him to chose a career, he chose a career. Every second of every day, he acted.

Gradually, his parents stopped treating him with kid gloves. His mother stopped looking at him with concern and guilt. Every once in a while he would still see flashes anger in his fathers' eyes, but even they became fewer and farther between. Even the Doctor believed his psyche had bounced back quickly and fully. Everyone said it was amazing how fast kids recovered from tragedies.

When he has sixteen, Nick had slept with his first girlfriend. That had been the hardest thing he had ever had to do in his whole entire life, but he knew if everyone was gonna finally, once-and-for-all, be convinced that he was normal; he would have to do it.

His girlfriend had been a few years older then he; already experienced. Nick had shut his eyes, gritted his teeth, and tried to concentrate on what it felt like being with her - her hands on his body, her breath in his face, his body inside hers. He concentrated on the differences, not the similarities, and somehow he came out relatively unscathed on the other side. Nick realized he didn't have to act like he enjoyed sex, because he actually did enjoy it. What he didn't enjoy was the closeness afterwards, the inane whispers, the forced sharing of feelings. He could be intimate with his body; but his heart was off limits.

In college, Nick had partied hard. After all, he had a reputation to uphold. He was a good-ole Stokes boy. He spent many nights drinking, partying and laying pretty girls. That's what he was supposed to do. His parents actually had to have a chat with him about settling down and concentrating on a career. Nick remembered them having the same chats with his brothers, and he had felt normal for the first time in years.

Such was his life. And then, he became a CSI. He was an excellent investigator because of all the years he had spent observing the people and things around him, learning how to act like a person. His people skills had become invaluable, and he had quickly been accepted as a valid member of the team.

Then Sara came. Nick just could not figure her out. He knew she was acting - as an actor himself, he always recognized a fellow thespian - and he wondered what walls she was hiding behind. "She was an enigma, wrapped in a mystery,".who had said that? Well, whatever - it suited Sara to a tee.

For whatever reason, he was drawn to her. Maybe it was the well-banked hurt in her eyes - so like the hurt that was always in his for anyone to see if they really looked hard enough. Maybe it was in the brittle way she held herself away from others, while at the same time trying to fit in. Maybe it was the air of sadness that clocked her slender frame like a mantle. Sara was acting, pretending, but she wasn't very good at it. Nick didn't think she had been acting long.

He tried to figure her out. He used his legendary charm on her, he flirted - it didn't work. She had been impervious to his considerable talents. He changed tactics, tried acting brotherly towards her, hoping she would feed him a clue - nothing. The harder he tried to crack her walls, and find the real Sara, the more the real Nick in him started to emerge.

At first, the signs were subtle. He had let himself actually care about someone - a prostitute, to be exact, but actual human emotion had resided in him for the first time in years. When she had been murdered, his heart had hurt. It hadn't been broken, but there had been pain.

His emotions were slowly leaching to the surface, and Nick didn't know how to stop them. He had told Catherine about the babysitter - not a lot, not in any great depth, but he had told her. He found himself getting drawn more firmly into cases, identifying more and more with the victim and the criminals, caring about what made them tick. He had even identified - somewhat - with the man who had stalked him - Nigel. Nigel had been acting too - looking for a life, looking for an identity. Too bad he hadn't realized that Nick's life was all an act as well.

Nick knew it was Sara's fault. He had recognized in her something so elemental, so close to the real Nick, that he was losing control. His masks, his walls, everything was crumbling down around him, and while Nick was scared about what the final outcome would be, he was also looking forward to liberation. He was looking forward to becoming a real person again. The small, hurt child in him had seen a similar hurt in Sara, and instead of building another wall had instead reached out in recognition.

Nick knew he was in love with Sara. He also knew Sara didn't look at him the same way, but he thought that maybe - with patience and time - she may. Right now, Sara was in love with Gris. Nick could see it in her eyes. He also recognized a similar expression in Grissom's eyes when he looked at Sara, and didn't think anyone else was looking. There was tenderness there, deep emotion. Just another person acting.

Maybe Sara and Gris would get together; maybe not. It was hard to say. But Nick, who had been acting for most of his life, was a patient man. Until such a time as Sara no longer loved Grissom, he would wait. He would be by her side, as her friend. As her confidant if she needed one. He would continue trying to find the real Sara, he would continue chipping at her walls, until like his, they began to crack. The real Nick was waiting, just in the wings, ready to step out into the spotlight after twenty-odd years of hiding.

And he had Sara to thank for it.