Sometimes Gil Grissom was so clever in dealing with his staff that he was downright diabolical.
That was the thought that crossed Warrick's mind when he found Nick sitting on the bench and staring blankly into his locker. Although Grissom never came right out and chastised Nick for his mistake, he had dropped plenty of hints to let the Texan know he wasn't happy about the press leak. And while Warrick agreed that discussing a case with an old college teammate was a dumb thing to do, he thought Grissom would have been kinder to pin Nick's ears back for a half-hour and then let it go. Instead, Grissom had left Nick to beat himself up over his mistake and from the looks of it, Nick was giving himself a serious going over.
"We gonna get some breakfast, bro?"
Nick blinked and turned to Warrick without interest. "What?"
"The case is wrapped up, man. We gonna get ourselves some food, or what?"
"Oh. Uh...no, I'm just gonna go home."
Warrick knew that was a bad idea. Normally after such a stressful case, several of the night-shift CSIs would get together at the diner to unwind. Warrick could understand Nick not wanting to be around the rest of the team after this particular case, but no way was he letting Nick go home alone until his friend dropped some of that unnecessary weight from his shoulders. "C'mon, I don't feel like eating alone."
"Where's everyone else?" Nick sounded polite rather than curious.
"Gris has some seminar at UNLV to get ready for, Cath wants to get home because Lindsey doesn't have school today, Greg had a date, and I don't know where Sara took off to." Warrick waited for Nick to reply and when nothing was said, he prompted--"Don't leave me hanging, here. Come on, my treat."
Nick looked at him with a bemused expression and finally gave a reluctant smile. "All right, then. You must want company pretty badly if you're willing to pick up the tab."
Warrick grinned and clapped Nick on the shoulder, then suddenly found himself resisting the urge to let his hand linger. "I'll meet you out front." When Nick nodded, Warrick beat a hasty retreat.
As he got into his jeep to wait, Warrick flexed his hand involuntarily, where it seemed he could still feel the heat of touching Nick. Firmly he reined in his thoughts before they went straying off in that direction again. Unfortunately, the whole down-boy-your-best-friend-is-straight thought process had become so familiar that it was no longer effective. It didn't help that every now and then, there was a flash of something in Nick's expression that suggested he might not be arrow straight.
Warrick had realized he was equally attracted to men and women only a few years after he hit puberty, and had enjoyed himself playing both fields while at university. After becoming a CSI he'd toned everything down and grew up a bit. Still, when he first met Nick Stokes, Warrick had duly noted the handsome face, excellent body and spectacular ass, even though he never considered making a move on the Texas transplant. As he got to know Nick, Warrick soon realized the good looks were only the least of Nick's appeal. Despite this, it wasn't until Nick went crashing through a second story window that Warrick realized Nick Stokes had somehow become one of the most important people in his life. The fact remained though, that telling his best friend he wanted more than friendship was simply a Very Bad Idea.
That's what Warrick was telling himself when he abruptly jerked back to the present to find Nick settling into the passenger seat.
"Everything okay?" Nick asked when he saw Warrick's expression. He paused in the act of pulling on his seatbelt. "Sorry, should I take my own ride?"
"Nah, man," Warrick started the engine. "Just zoning, I guess."
They rode to the diner in silence, and even after they had ordered, Warrick was hard-pressed for something casual to say.
Finally, Nick let out a big sigh. "Look, you want to just get it over with, Rick?"
Warrick's heart stuttered briefly and he panicked, thinking Nick had somehow noticed his more-than-friendly interest. "What are you talking about, man?" Warrick congratulated himself that his tone was natural, even though he was frantically trying to come up with a reasonable explanation.
"Look, I know two people are dead because of me and my big mouth, okay? That's not something you just forget about, okay? No matter how big of an idiot you are."
Warrick's panic dissolved. "You think the vics at The Fez are because of that news report? No way, man. Maybe the location is, but not the murders."
Nick frowned, "Warrick, they--"
"We weren't exactly close to stopping them after the first murders," Warrick pointed out. "I don't like saying it, but if it hadn't been a dead couple at The Fez, it would have been a dead couple at The Rampart or The Excalibur. Hell, it could have been another floor of The Sphere." Warrick paused when the waitress brought their breakfast. "I hate it like hell, but we weren't gonna stop them after the double at The Sphere. Christ, we barely had enough for a warrant after The Fez."
Nick pushed his hash browns around while he considered this, but he didn't look convinced.
"Feel bad for messing up if you really want to, Nick, but don't blame yourself for what happened to the Laggermans. The Klinefelds are to blame for that, and they've definitely paid for it."
A grateful half-smile was all Nick could manage before he went back to picking at his breakfast.
That wasn't quite the response Warrick aiming for. He didn't expect Nick to shake the case right off--Nick just wasn't made that way--but he had hoped that Nick would be less troubled.
For the most part, Warrick accepted the tendency to empathize rather than sympathize as part of what made Nick--Nick. It was at trait that Warrick alternately envied and dreaded. Envied because nothing calmed a hysterical family down better than that soft, concerned drawl and those earnest brown eyes telling them that the Crime Lab was doing everything they could to solve the case. The downside came at times like these when Nick's empathy translated into a feeling of responsibility towards people he only met after death.
"You want me to tell you that you didn't do anything wrong? Sorry, bro, I'd be lying. But you said it yourself--it's not like you ran your mouth to the press."
Nick's eyebrows rose in disbelief. "That's not the way you felt when it happened."
Warrick grimaced, "Yeah, well that's before I knew you were practically going to tap yourself as a suspect for murder." He shook his head, "Let it go, okay? It was a stupid mistake, just like--"
"--I always make?" Nick suggested.
"Stop trippin'," Warrick frowned at him. "At least any mistakes you make are just that--mistakes. There's plenty of CSIs--myself included--who have gone ahead and done things we knew were wrong."
Nick's lips twisted into a wry smile. "Didn't you ever notice? In our office stupidity is a bigger sin than malice."
There was nothing Warrick could say to that, because often that did seem to be the case; but where Nick's insecurity about his intelligence came from was a mystery in itself. Nick had looks, brains, charm and a well-off, loving family back home. Warrick would have understood better if Nick was insufferably conceited and arrogant. He wouldn't have liked such a co-worker, but he certainly would have understood. "If you're talking about cold, hard logic," Warrick admitted, "Then yeah, you don't operate the same way as Grissom. But hell, if everyone on the team only used cold, hard logic we wouldn't solve half the cases we do." He tried to catch Nick's eye, "You know that."
A hint of a real smile finally appeared. "I suppose I do."
"Good." Warrick nodded toward Nick's barely-touched plate. "You gonna eat or not? I paid good money for that food."
Nick actually smirked, "You haven't paid for it yet." After a few beats of silence he added quietly, "Thanks, man."
Warrick nodded in acknowledgment. "Hey, it seemed like something you needed to hear."
Nick glanced up briefly. "And you always tell me what I need to hear?"
"Nah, I tell you the truth--when you need to hear it."
Nick's fork froze halfway to his mouth. "Do you?"
The quiet question held a note Warrick had never heard before and it put his every sense on alert. He tried to catch Nick's eye again, but Nick had resumed eating and was focused carefully on his breakfast, leaving Warrick to wonder if it was just more wishful thinking.
A silence fell over them for the rest of the meal. In between bites, Warrick studied his friend's face, looking for a clue to what Nick was thinking. More often than not, he'd find those dark eyes also studying him before skittering away again.
Nick looked up and Warrick noticed the dark smudges under his eyes for the first time. He sighed and decided this would be a bad time to broach the subject that now seemed inevitable.
"What?" Nick prompted when Warrick fell silent again.
"You look like you really need to crash. Even more than usual for a tough case."
Nick shrugged, looking vaguely disappointed.
Warrick signaled for the waitress to bring the check. "Look, why don't I just take you straight home? Save me having to go back to the lab and you the drive home."
The look in the dark eyes grew so intense that Warrick felt like one of Grissom's bugs on a pin. He didn't know what Nick was looking for, so he kept his expression one of friendly concern.
Nick muttered something as he broke eye contact. Warrick couldn't quite hear it, but it sounded suspiciously like-- "Damn poker face."
Not sure whether he should reply, Warrick opted for a safe: "I'll pay and then we can take off."
As he drove to Nick's place, Warrick tried to think of a way to break the tense, charged silence in the jeep. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out how a few words had changed one friend cheering up another into a minefield of unsaid words.
Warrick pulled into Nick's driveway, half-hoping Nick would invite him in, yet fearful of the exact same thing. He managed a neutral smile and looked over at Nick who seemed a bit reluctant about getting out.
Finally, Nick shook his head and reached for the door handle.
Before he knew he going to do it, Warrick had grabbed hold of Nick's arm.
Nick froze and met Warrick's eyes. Warrick wasn't sure what Nick saw, but he felt a tremor run through the taut muscles.
Seeming to steel himself, Nick covered Warrick's hand with his own. He gave a quick, tight squeeze before gently removing it. His voice was a bit husky when he whispered, "See you at tonight, Rick." A swallow. "At work, I mean." Swiftly he got out and walked to his house.
Warrick watched him go inside, trying to ignore the feeling inside him. It was a feeling that--if he'd been at a poker table--meant it was time to go all in. He told himself it was the wrong time and the wrong thing to do and repeated that sentiment while he was getting out of his jeep and walking up to Nick's door. By the time he found himself knocking on the door, Warrick had given up on any common sense he had left.
Nick opened the door and gave him a bewildered smile. When it looked like he was about to speak, Warrick took several steps forward, crowding the slightly smaller man back into the house. Then he slipped one hand behind Nick's neck and pulled him in for a kiss. Nick froze briefly, then relaxed, even though he didn't get too involved in the kiss, other than to part his lips in response to Warrick's coaxing tongue.
Warrick wanted to push harder for more of a reaction, but instinct told him to keep the kiss soft and undemanding. He deepened it only briefly before pulling away, still unsure what Nick felt or thought.
Nick was looking fairly uncertain himself. In fact, his expression was similar to one he wore when trying to fit two pieces of conflicting evidence to a single crime scene.
"You'll need a ride to work," Warrick was embarrassed to find his voice a bit hoarse. "I'll swing by to pick you up on my way in."
Nick opened his mouth as if to speak, then snapped it shut and settled for just a nod.
Warrick nodded in return and left, closing the door behind him and almost running for his jeep. Once inside, he banged his head on the steering wheel a few times for good measure and drove home for what he knew would be a sleepless night.
Normally, Warrick preferred being paired with Nick or Catherine on a case, but tonight he was glad Grissom teamed him up with Sara. Working with Nick would have been impossible tonight, if the uncomfortable car ride and inane pre-shift banter were any indication. Catherine would have known something was up and found a way to get it out of him--she was too savvy for him to hide anything from her for long. Sara was just as keenly observant, but she rarely bothered focusing that attention on her co-workers--saving it instead for the scene and their boss.
Also fortunate was the relatively straightforward case they were assigned. It was involved enough to keep Warrick's mind occupied and off Nick, but didn't require his best concentration--although Grissom would be pissed to hear that any case didn't get everyone's best concentration. He had a brief moment of concern when it occurred to him that Nick could have been paired with Catherine, in which case she would she would notice and wheedle in half the time. Especially unsettling was the fact that he couldn't even begin to guess what Nick would say to her because he still had no real idea how Nick felt about their...encounter.
Warrick was dropping off some evidence when he heard--much to his relief--that Nick was with Grissom and Catherine was solo. Of course, that meant Nick's shift would likely go into overtime, so even after he and Sara wrapped up their case, Warrick stuck around. He took the opportunity to see to the tedious paperwork and minutiae he and his fellow CSIs always left until the last possible minute.
So even though it was about ninety minutes past the end of night shift, Warrick was still in the lunch room hunched over another mind-numbing report.
Warrick started at the soft voice and looked up. Nick was standing in the doorway, one shoulder propped against the jamb and his arms crossed in front of his chest. Warrick assumed he was aiming for a casual stance, even though he hadn't quite pulled it off. "Hey, Nick," he returned. He could do casual much better than Nick. "You and Gris get your case wrapped up?"
"Uh...yeah." Nick shifted then settled again. "You and Sara?"
"Long time ago." Warrick picked up a sheaf of folders. "Just catching up on some of this paperwork."
"Ah." Nick looked even more uncomfortable. He straightened slowly, "Well, I'll let you get back to work, then."
Warrick started scrabbling his papers together. "You heading out, then?"
"Yeah. I, uh, I was just checking if you wanted to grab some breakfast or something."
Or something, Warrick thought, then immediately regretted it. He forced himself to keep cool and was able to stand without any noticeable embarrassment. "Breakfast sounds good," he agreed as he gathered up his folders and papers without bothering to check their order. He approached Nick, deliberately invading the shorter man's personal space, just to see his reaction.
Nick's eyes widened, but he didn't move away.
Warrick was about to press his advantage--literally--when he spotted Conrad Ecklie walking up the corridor. "I'll pick up some breakfast and meet you at your place," he murmured, brushing past Nick. He headed for the door, nodding curtly at Ecklie as he went by.
Nick looked surprised by his actions, but Warrick knew he would catch on as
soon as he saw Ecklie.
When Warrick actually stopped for a dozen Krispy Kremes on his way to Nick's, it was just more stalling on his part. But he was glad he'd done it when Nick laughed at the sight of the dozen donuts and the tension was broken.
For a few minutes, anyway.
"Sit?" Nick waved a hand in the general direction of his couch.
"Yeah." Warrick dropped the donuts on the coffee table and sat on one end of the couch.
Nick sat at the other end. "So."
"So." Warrick wondered if suddenly scarfing half the donuts would be enough to stall things a little longer.
"So you kissed me."
Scratch that, Warrick decided. His stomach was in so many knots that he wouldn't be able to keep anything down. "Yes...I did."
Warrick shot him an incredulous look and Nick flushed.
"Okay, why. But...how...I mean, when...well, I never knew you...that is, I'm not even sure now if you..." Nick stopped and took a deep breath. "You kissed me, Warrick."
The only thing that kept Warrick from bolting for the door was the fact that Nick didn't sound angry or disgusted, just bewildered. He just wasn't sure whether he should apologize profusely, laugh the whole thing off, or kiss Nick again. Deciding it would be better to wait until a few more things were cleared up, he proceeded with caution. "And that bothers you."
Nick gave him an exasperated look. It was one that meant he knew Warrick was trying to gain the upper hand--normally on a case they were working together.
Warrick almost smiled at the familiar expression. "Okay, we both gonna level here?" At Nick's nod, he went on. "I've wanted to kiss you for a long time and last night--well, yesterday morning--there were some signals that I thought meant you wouldn't mind."
Nick's eyes were wide. "Jesus, when you said level..."
Warrick shrugged and waited. There was no way he way putting all his cards on the table without knowing more about Nick's hand.
Nick ducked his head briefly, then met Warrick's eyes even more briefly. "I didn't mind... not really. But I was never sure...I'd never actually been with...well, have you?"
"Are you gonna ever complete a sentence, man?"
Nick's laugh was jittery. "There were times...when it seemed you were maybe interested in guys, but I never knew for sure."
"I don't exactly broadcast on the job, but yeah."
"So you've been with..?"
A slow nod. "I haven't."
Warrick couldn't help but grin. "I figured."
Nick looked down, but even in profile, Warrick could see that self-conscious smile of his. "I've though about it--off and on--since college, but I never..."
Experiment was the word that immediately sprang to Warrick's mind. Rather than being offended, though, he found himself very intrigued. "Never quite worked up the nerve, hmm?"
Shrugging, Nick gave him another of those quick, searching looks, before glancing away again. "I've had guys hit on me. I almost said 'yes' when my gliding instructor asked, but...jeez, Warrick, about a month after I met you, all I could think of was...since then I couldn't take anyone else up on an offer, even if I wanted too." His voice grew quieter with every word, and his blush extended all the way down his neck.
Warrick was feeling a little warm himself, but not entirely from embarrassment or shock. "And now?"
"And now..." That self-deprecating smile again. "I don't know what now."
"That's okay." Warrick was suddenly unable to keep the grin off his face. "I do." He patted the sofa right next to him. "C'mere."
The short glances were abandoned and Nick stared in disbelief. "What did you say?"
"I'm definitely into you, and it sounds like you're into me. What are we waiting for?" Warrick had no real intention of taking things so fast--not entirely anyway. But it seemed to fluster Nick and Warrick always found flustered Nick as sexy as hell.
Maybe it was the teasing tone, maybe it was because Warrick called him "Nicky" or maybe it was just a matter of falling back onto the safety of old habits, but Nick's flustered look quickly evaporated. The lips thinned, the jaw tightened and the dark eyes flashed with challenge. "Are you giving me orders in my own place?" He slapped his hand down on his side of the sofa. "This is my couch. You want anything, you can come over here."
There was really only one way Warrick could respond to what was basically a dare. He bolted across the sofa, trapping Nick in the corner of it with one arm across Nick's chest, braced against the armrest and the other along the back of the couch.
Warrick was gratified when Nick shied back, flustered again, although trying hard to hide it. He leaned over Nick even further, just to make his point. "Okay, I'm here."
Nick ran his tongue nervously over his lower lip and Warrick only had an instant to wonder whether Nick was trying to be provoking before those lips were pressed against his own.
Upping the ante, Warrick thought with an inward chuckle. Then he devoted all his attention to the kiss. This time, Nick eagerly opened his mouth, meeting Warrick's questing tongue with his own. Nick's hands went to Warrick's sides, and the sensation of curious fingers slipping under his shirt to explore his ribs and back was enough to make Warrick forget that he needed to go slowly. Cupping Nick's head in one hand, he slipped the other arm around the trim waist, pulling Nick flush against him when he straightened off the couch.
Nick stumbled and broke off the kiss to regain his balance. "Wow..." he murmured.
Warrick grinned and tilted Nick's head back for better access to the smooth skin of his neck. Nick closed his eyes and concentrated on the sensations of lips and teeth and tongue, groaning when Warrick bit down on his earlobe.
"Want to take this to the bedroom?"
Nick shivered and when he tried to answer all that came out was another moan. He finally managed a nod, and Warrick rewarded him with another nip to his ear before releasing him. For the thirty seconds it took to get to the bedroom, all Warrick could think of was getting to more of that smooth skin under Nick's clothes. Once inside, he did just that, taking off Nick's shirt and then his own so they could be skin to skin. Nick shuddered again, and took his own turn at exploring with his mouth, drawing several appreciative gasps from his new lover.
Warrick moved back just enough to insinuate a hand between their bodies and gave Nick's cock a hard rub then a gentle squeeze through his jeans. Nick gasped, squirming against him. Encouraged, Warrick undid Nick's belt and jeans enough to slip a hand inside. He was teasing the skin just above Nick's cleft when he realized not all the tremors wracking the shaking body seemed pleasure-induced.
Instead, Nick was holding onto him tightly, and Warrick could feel rapid, panicky breaths against his shoulder. He pulled away--or tried to--Nick refused to relax his grip and Warrick felt rather than heard the "sorry..." breathed against his skin.
Cursing himself for getting so caught up in a lusty haze that he forgot how new this was to Nick, Warrick began placing gentle kisses on whatever part of Nick he could easily reach. "Nothing to be sorry for, baby," he murmured. "My bad. Too fast, huh?"
"Sorry," Nick said again, lifting his head. "I just--"
"It's okay," Warrick assured him with several more soft kisses.
"I want this," Nick said between quick, almost frantic, kisses of his own. "I want you. Whatever you want--I'm ready."
"Whoa," Warrick took Nick's face in his hands. "Whoa, Nick. I know we get competitive, but that's not what this is about. Not anymore."
"Rick, this is..." Nick took a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut. "I want to make sure it's good."
"It is," Warrick replied, leaning in for another deep kiss. Nick sighed and relaxed against him, giving himself up to it. Warrick was the one to break it off and rested his forehead against Nick's. "I'm hoping we go further tonight, but even if we don't. Even if it stops now for tonight--it's good, Nick."
Nick moved his head back enough to look Warrick in the eye. Something he saw there brought a slow smile to his face. "I don't want it to stop here for tonight."
Warrick returned the smile with a seductive one of his own. "Good. But if something is more than you're ready for, tell me."
Nick nodded his agreement, but Warrick decided to pay extra careful attention to Nick's reactions from now on. He knew Nick and he knew Nick was capable of going to great lengths to avoid disappointing someone he cared about. Warrick had no intention of abusing that unspoken trust.
Letting his hands skim slowly down from Nick's neck, Warrick paused at the hardened nipples to tweak and play and elicit a whole new set of tremors from his inexperienced lover. Meanwhile Nick was busily sucking on his tongue in a way that Warrick found very promising, but judging by how hard Nick was grinding his hips, he knew they wouldn't be lasting long enough to try anything like that this time around. Instead, Warrick concentrated on getting rid of the rest of their clothes--actually quite difficult, since Nick had gotten over most of his hesitance and now seemed determined to investigate every inch of dark skin.
When Nick grasped his cock, Warrick had to bite down on his tongue to keep from coming. He closed his eyes and thrust into Nick's hand a few times before regaining control. Opening his eyes, he saw Nick watching him, the dark eyes hot and intense. "Oh, fuck," was all Warrick could manage, making Nick grin wickedly.
It was that grin that made Warrick forget all his good intentions--again. He gave Nick a shove and toppled him back onto the bed, falling on top of him. Then he saw the alarm that flickered across Nick's face and froze.
"Nick? Babe?" He started to lift himself off the warm body beneath him.
Nick shook his head and pulled Warrick back down. "It's okay. It's good..." he whispered before nipping at Warrick's lips.
Warrick was about to ask what had just happened, but Nick tangled their legs together and their cocks slid against each other and coherent thought fled. Even as he ground his hips frantically against Nick, Warrick tried to hold on enough to make sure Nick was all right.
He seemed to be, judging by the way he was bucking against Warrick for all he was worth. "Jesus, Rick," he groaned whenever his lips weren't pressed against Warrick's skin. "Oh, fuck, Warrick."
That was enough to send Warrick right over the edge and Christ, as much as he still wanted to fuck Nick it wasn't going to get any better than this and oh Jesus yeah Nick come on baby likethat likethat just...like...that...
Warrick sprawled over Nick's shaking body, glued to his lover by sweat and spunk. "Hell of an experiment, hey, Nick?"
"Wha--what?" Nick was still trying to catch his breath.
"Nothing," Warrick grinned, burying his face in Nick's neck and breathing deeply.
Nick kept his arms wrapped around Warrick and didn't seem uncomfortable, so Warrick didn't try moving off him.
"Hmm?" Warrick snapped out of a slight doze.
"Did you mean...? This isn't just physical for you, is it?"
"Nope. And it's not just curiosity for you, is it?"
"No. It never was."
"No," Warrick breathed a deep sigh.
"Shit, are we in deep trouble."
"Yeah," Warrick smiled into Nick's neck. "Great, isn't it?" Then he fell asleep to the sound of Nick's drowsy laughter.