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Secundum Non Maligere

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Life's too short, babe, time is flying.
I'm looking for baggage that goes with mine.

- Mimi to Roger, RENT

 

*

There were two coasters. Damn Nicky's eyes, catching something like that when he should have been caught in Lillie's eyes, the fullness of her voice that pegged her as a singer before Warrick'd heard a note. Had she been counting on that? The power of her beauty at work on two warm-blooded males, too hung up on checking her out to see the heroin, the two and two that added up to four staring Warrick in the face.

Warrick wasn't sure, wasn't sure if she didn't know or didn't care and wasn't sure that it hadn't worked, at least on him. That doubt was only one of the reasons he was back on the casino floor, past the bar tables and the laughing tourists, the electronic chirping of slot machines and sharp patter of coins not much different than a heartbeat.

But Nick had seen it all, and as the case closed he hadn't looked surprised when Warrick walked away.

"Goin to meet Lillie?" There was a splash of something like pity in his eyes riding below the anger, but no surprise.

"Yeah."

There was a too-long pause, and a look in Nick's eyes that said, man, what are you doing? better than words ever could.

"You don't know me," Warrick had snapped, the lie trying to drive home that this was his business, and he needed something besides the job, besides the facts, something like the ache in Lillie's voice. He'd pretended he couldn't heard Nick mutter, "obviously" as he walked away, pretended the hurt in Nick's voice hadn't stuck somewhere deep and clung there.

Truth be told, it almost made Warrick stop, stop and try to him take it back, because as much as he wanted to pretend it was all normal off the clock, his life was always about the job to be done and the facts, 'Rick, the facts, and yes, it was his business, so handle it…

Nick wouldn't let it go, but at least he would let Warrick finish it his way. Something Warrick always appreciated like hell. Even when it pissed him off, like now, or came with the kind of smile that made Catherine blush, Sara mumble, and shit, even made Warrick think things that… well, that he shouldn't be thinking.

Lillie had smiled when he found her, and the fullness wasn't just her eyes or her voice but her lips and hands and the soft curve of her as she pressed against him. A balance of warmth and heat in her eyes, with a hint of something like the music he'd played for her: a flow and drive to it like the ocean. A perfect ending, even as his hands slid down her arm, pushed down her sleeve and brushed against the uneven scabbing of track marks.

Warrick passed the roulette tables, the poker dealers with painfully bright smiles that never quite reached their eyes, until he's crossed the invisible line into blackjack territory. He pulled his wallet from his hip pocket and pulled out a hundred dollar bill, sliding it to the dealer. She began setting his chips on the felt cloth, but Warrick saw instead Lillie's smile freezing and fading as he walked away. Life was too short, he'd told her.

And now you walked away from one addiction and straight back to yours, part of him said. This isn't handling your business, it's fucking it all up, said another.

Fortunately, the chips didn't say anything. Warrick sat at the table, already feeling the edge of anxious thought as the dealer shuffled the cards, sharp practiced movements that made him itchy with adrenaline even as it was familiar, almost soothing.

With the part of his attention that wasn't focused on the cards (and already weighing bets, trying to remember how much he had in his wallet and how much he could get off of his ATM card before it kicked) he noticed a man sit down beside him. Turning his head a bit to get a better look (a good CSI always has an eye on the scene, and on the clock or off he was a good CSI), Warrick felt something hit him low in the stomach, part shame and part shock and part… pure pissed-off.

It was Nick.

"What are you doing here?" Warrick tried to put all the annoyance he could into the words, driving past the friendship and the closeness until he hurt Nick enough so that he'd leave.

Nick slid money towards the dealer and placed his wallet back in his pants pocket, an eerie mirror of earlier Warrick's motion. His smile was easy, smooth like the slight drawl that caught at his vowels.

"Just playing cards with my friend." Nick's Southern came out heavier, with more pauses, when he was upset or drinking, so Warrick wasn't surprised to see a glass on the table of some clear liquid, ice beading the sides wet.

Warrick slid a glare at him, firming his jaw and keeping his eyes hard, but Nick just kept smiling at the dealer, like he wasn't there for Warrick, just needing an inside straight.

"Cards, huh?"

"S'why people come to Vegas, 'Rick, didn't you know that?"

"I thought people came to Vegas because what happens here stays here," Warrick shot back, letting some of the anger and heat that had built at the look in Lillie's eyes slip out, flow through his words. Let Nick know that it wasn't all fun and games tonight.

Nick turned his head to look at him now, even as he glanced at the cards on the table and gestured for another.

"That too," was all he said, but his eyes had darkened, his smile had sharpened with something besides humor that made Warrick suck in a breath and wish for a drink to break the tension with.

He probably's just playing with me, a little drunk and a lot loyal, Warrick thought, wishing the idea didn't disappoint him as much as it did.

Dealer broke at twenty, with both Warrick and Nick sliding over the other side and losing their bets. Without speaking, Warrick laid down more chips, a sizable stack that he weighed with his eyes, almost feeling the heft of unpaid rent and fewer groceries.

He almost wished Nick would say something, would talk him down from the financial ledge he was stepping towards, but he simply placed his bet, watched the cards like they would tell him something important.

"Didn't know you gambled, Stokes," said Warrick, the cards sliding slickly against his palm, and nodding at the dealer for another. 19. Doable.

"Not very good at it," Nick allowed, chasing a smile with a sip from his glass. Moisture caught on the fingers of his hand and Warrick's eyes traced the path of the droplet. Chaos theory, he thought. How appropriate.

"Well, you know what they say; unlucky in cards, lucky in love," and then he almost bit his tongue he closed his mouth so fast, because he'd lost his footing, stumbled and dropped the ball. He hadn't meant that, hadn't meant something that could be so glib and yet so fucking true.

But all Nick said was "yeah," with the drawl of it thick and slow, a hesitation laced through it that made Warrick's breath come short. He glanced down at the cards on the table and realized the buzz was gone; he couldn't remember if he was up or not, or if he even wanted to be.

"Wanna get out of here?" he tried for a casualness that he didn't quite feel and managed a more real grin when Nick nodded.

With a few meaningless words and exchanges of plastic and paper, they both cashed in their chips, pocketing the money in movements that would be freakily similar if Warrick hadn't always seen them do it, move in tandem, side by side through crime scenes. They hit the hallway and all of a sudden, Warrick felt it come back, the sting that he'd wanted to touch with Lillie but couldn't, that he'd hoped cards would cure tonight (but hadn't really ever).

"God, what time is it?" asked Nick, and Warrick felt a laugh pull at his lips even as he looks at his watch, remembering back when they had started the graveyard shift and no one could keep track of the hours, their bodies still craving sunlight and sleep.

"Day time," he answered and Nick laughed, then quieted a minute.

"It sucks, man."

"Yeah, but it beats living in New York."

"You know what I mean," Nick said, an edge in his voice, and the hell of it was Warrick did, even when he didn't want to, so he muttered, "yeah, it does, sometimes."

Nick turned to lean against the wall and Warrick looked, tried not to stare, tried not to think about what he saw, or wished he could see, behind Nick's smile.

"Then what's it all for?" And God, Nick's voice sounded so young, so angry at… who knew? Everything. Nothing.

"What's what for?" Warrick asked.

Nick snorted, a rude noise that sounded like he'd wanted to swear instead, and he stepped off the wall, stood up straight, stepped right into Warrick's space.

"This!" His breath was hot against Warrick's face and he felt his knees shudder a minute, like he should step back but he couldn't. He could never turn away from Nick. "All this shit we put up with, we put ourselves through, like we could have something normal, and it's all fucked anyhow."

"Yeah," Warrick said. Then, because he should, because it's what friends did, he said, "sorry about being an ass."

Nick moved his shoulders, like he wanted to shrug it away, but he really hadn't moved, was still in Warrick's space, just like he'd always been there, a drawling shadow.

"Sorry about Lillie," Nick said in return, and it was simple, three words, but they held a conversation, a passing of banter and one-upping that 'Rick could add to his long list of crash and burns.

"It happens."

"Yeah," Nick breathed, and Warrick couldn't help it, it was too damn much, he sucked in a breath, felt in through his whole body, and whatever was in his eyes, it made Nick widen his, like he wasn't sure about what he'd seen. Shit, shit, shit.

Warrick though of something to say, to bring it down a notch, but Nick inched closer, if that was possible, and there he was, and finally, simply, a soft touch of lips against his, breath sliding across his cheek, and the taste of something minty and then something else that must be Nick and it was a rhythm again, a motion and pressure that slide up Warrick's arms, made his skin tingle until all he could really feel was Nick against him, and all he heard was the slight almost-not sound that Nick made when Warrick opened his mouth a little, met Nick's tongue with his.

It was too much, too much, and Warrick slid sideways, felt the surprise in Nick as he moved away, back.

"What?" Somehow, Nick managed to sound innocent, like he hadn't just been kissing his best friend and co-worker in the hallway of a casino.

"Dude," Warrick tried to keep it gentle, keep it even, like he wasn't wishing he hadn't moved, like taking those two steps hadn't hurt like hell. "I appreciate it, but… you've been drinking, and I don't want this to be something that either fucks up our friendship or becomes the next bad memory when Sara decides to play 'never have I ever' again."

Nick… looked absolutely gutted, and Warrick remembered to keep breathing, remembered that this was good, was necessary, that having Nick be pissed for now was better than losing his best friend for ever.

Then, the craziest of things, Nick grinned. Then laughed. Somehwere amid the shock, Warrick had time to marvel that the boy had ever been single, with the amount of joy and pure sexiness he could pack into a sound like that.

"You think I've been drinking?"

Warrick felt his brain stutter to a stop.

"The glass…" was all he managed, remembering the drink Nick had been holding, the way that Nick's vowels had slowed, drenched in more Southern than normal.

Nick shook his head.

"It was tonic with lime; I wanted somethin' in my hands so I wouldn't get so damn nervous," he grinned and Warrick felt his pulse speed back up.

"But, you sounded… different. I thought…"

Nick thought a moment, then chuckled, a slower and darker sound than his laugh.

"You thinkin' I sound more like a country boy with booze in me? It gets heavier when I'm tired too, but mostly? It's when I get distracted." Here he stopped, stared at Warrick, swallowed. "I was getting… very distracted."

Warrick felt like there was something important he should say, but instead he just leaned in, leaned right back into Nick's space, and kissed him.

"Oh," he said, when they had to breath.

"You know, Warrick, for a damn good CSI… you're not too bright," Nick said, with enough of a laugh that it didn't sting, didn't feel true, because Nick knew. Hell, he knew a lot more than Warrick had ever given him credit for. "Still wanna get out of here?"

His voice, it was like the smile that made Catherine blush, Sara stammer, and Warrick almost burst with the ideas that sprinted through his head. And the best part? He knew Nick was thinking them too. So he grinned, bumped against his shoulder and said, "Sure. But Nicky, I'm drivin'."

Nick grinned, fast and hot, brushed lips against his in something that was less like a kiss and more of a suggestion, a question that had already been answered, and whispered, "race you."

*

They never really figured out who won, though.