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A Sliver of Silver

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"So what's up?" Nick asked after they'd both ordered breakfast. Warrick had practically ordered him to be at the diner after their shift.

"You mean no one has said anything to you?"

Nick didn't feel like pointing out that if something serious or bad was going on, most people in the lab didn't have the nerve to tell him. It was going on four months that he'd been pulled out of the ground, but many of his co-workers still acted as though he could shatter at any moment. "I only started a four-day run tonight," he pointed out, referring to the fact that he was still working only part time. "I've been off for three days. You know that."

"Right." Warrick fiddled with the handle of his coffee cup, looking uneasy.

Nick found that very unusual. As a rule, his friend gave the appearance of being relaxed and laid-back, even when he wasn't. Warrick's fidgeting was starting to make him nervous, especially coupled with the fact that something had been off in the lab tonight. "It seemed like people were looking at me strangely, but I thought I was imagining things."

"Probably not." Warrick stared into his coffee cup a little longer, then looked up at Nick. "A couple of people have been saying that you've been to Pompeii's a few times."

"Oh. That."

Warrick's eyebrows rose at the brief reply. "That," he repeated, then waited for Nick to explain.

"Okay, I've been to Pompeii's a few times," Nick said as though Pompeii's wasn't a popular, upscale, 24/7 gay bar; as though he hadn't hidden his sexuality so completely since college that no one--not even his closest friends--had suspected what his preferences truly were.

"You have," Warrick didn't seem capable of more than two word phrases.

"I have."

The waitress arrived with their food, and when she had left again, Warrick had recovered some of his equilibrium. "So you're bisexual."

"Not really," Nick admitted, speaking directly to his pan fries. "I've been with women, but given the choice..."

"Men.'re gay."


Ignoring his breakfast, Warrick leaned back in his side of the booth and gave Nick a hard look. "How long have you known?"

"Since high school."

Warrick's jaw dropped. "Nick, you're killin' me here."

"I'm sorry," Nick set his fork down--he hadn't actually eaten anything yet, anyway--and took a deep breath. "I wasn't with a guy until college, and even then, I kept pretty quiet about it. I was in a relationship my junior year, but that was...a complete train wreck. After that turned out so badly, I wondered if maybe I only thought I was gay because of...issues I had from when I was younger, and so I went out with women after that, even though...well, it was easier all around. I was scared to death about how my family would react if they ever found out."

"So you just ignored it for...what? Nine years?"

Nick nodded, dropping his eyes back to the table.

"And now?" Warrick's eyes widened as realization hit. "This is only since what happened."

With a ghost of a smile, Nick nodded again. No one seemed to know how to refer the twenty-some hour period he'd spent in a plexiglass coffin. Grissom called it Gordon's Plot, Greg referred to it as his Time Down Under, Catherine just used the term Inside and Warrick always said What Happened. Nearly everyone else could only manage to call it Well...Y'know. "Yeah. No more boxes for me."

"But..." Warrick's eyes narrowed. "Why didn't you tell anyone? I mean, I'm not saying you're obligated, but I thought we were friends."

"We are," Nick said. "I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell all you guys."

"Why didn't you? C'mon, Nick, you didn't think any of us would judge did you?" Warrick leaned forward. "Okay, I know I never actually said so out loud, but I thought you knew that I--"

"I do know," Nick nodded, and he had known that while Warrick usually preferred women, he wasn't entirely straight. "And of course I didn't think any of you would judge. I did mean to tell you, but..." He sighed and pushed his food around on his plate. "I thought I should 'fess up to my family first, so when I went to visit last month..."

Warrick winced in sympathy, "Bad?"

"Better in some ways. Worse in others." Nick found his mouth suddenly dry, "My siblings split down the middle on the subject. My mom...well, she was okay with it after she'd had a couple of days to take it in. My dad..." he shook his head. "Mom said he'd come around eventually. He's always said 'live and let live,' but when it's his own son, things are different."


"After that...I didn't feel like telling anyone else," Nick met Warrick's eyes briefly. "I figured most people would find out eventually. Besides, y'know what? It's not that simple to just toss into a conversation."

That got a reluctant laugh out of Warrick.

"I'm sorry, Rick," Nick said quietly. "You shouldn't have heard about it through the rumor mill."

"It's okay," Warrick assured him. "Like I said, you weren't obligated. And I can see why you had a hard time with it. Of course, now that I know you were at Pompeii's..."

Nick looked up, confused.

"Did you hook up with anyone?"

"Oh," Nick felt his face flush. ", actually. I just...well, I met a few guys, but nothing went much further than that."

Warrick leaned across the table, and lowered his voice slightly. "Nick, when was the last time you were with someone?"

Nick was pretty sure even his ears were bright red by this point. "I told you...I stopped going out with guys after college."


In an effort to stall, Nick finally started eating and chewed very slowly.

"Hey, Nicky, if you can't remember, it's been too long."

Nick glared at him because he couldn't speak around his mouthful of eggs.

"Nevermind," Warrick snorted, any annoyance at Nick obviously long gone. "Ladies' man, my ass--no wonder you'd never do the town with me. You probably couldn't pick up a woman to save your life. And you probably don't know the first thing about hooking up with a guy, if you haven't done it since college."

"Your support is overwhelming," Nick said dryly.

Warrick blinked in surprise. "You've been working in the lab with Hodges too long, man. You're picking up his attitude," he grinned as Nick's glare intensified. "Tell you what we're going to do. I've got the weekend off, and you'll be finished your three days on Saturday morning. Saturday night, I'll go with you to Pompeii's and we'll find you someone to make your day."

Nick couldn't help laughing despite his acute embarrassment. And there was no denying that the prospect of intimacy with someone when he didn't have to maintain a facade any longer was as appealing as it was frightening. "Okay, Rick. The idea of you playing matchmaker is just too damn much to pass up."

"Let's go, man!" Warrick called from the door. "The cab is here." He wondered for a moment if Nick was going to back out, but then his friend emerged from the bathroom.

Warrick gave him the once over, then nodded his approval. Nick had taken his advice and found a shirt that was a size smaller than he usually wore. The snug, wine-colored V-neck and equally snug black jeans were sure to get Nick plenty of attention. As for himself, Warrick had purposely dressed down, wearing a sleeveless crew-neck and old jeans rather than something killer that was guaranteed to get him some action.

"Ready?" he asked.

"As I'll ever be," Nick replied.

Warrick glanced at his watch as Nick locked up and set his alarm. It was nearly one in the morning and Pompeii's would really begin jumping anytime now. No doubt within the hour, Nick would have any guy he wanted.

Two hours later, it was all Warrick could do not to grab a couple of handfuls of that too-snug shirt and shake the hell out of its owner.

Warrick had been right about the attention Nick was getting, but had missed the mark on everything else. A lot of men approached Nick--some merely talked, some asked him to dance and some offered to buy him drinks. Nick was his usual amiable self, and even though he didn't take anyone up on the dancing, he accepted a few drinks and even started flirting mildly once he'd loosened up. He wasn't exactly encouraging anyone, but no one got the cold shoulder, either. Warrick was sure that several of the whispers in Nick's ear were invitations to join them in one of the club's alcoves.

Pompeii's was actually a renovated department store that proved far too large to be a successful club. The owners solved this problem by building open rooms along the outer walls, leaving the center a suitable size for the bar and dance floor. The rooms ranged from a small café to a more traditional back room, with varying levels of intimacy along the way. While Warrick could see why Nick would turn down an invitation to the back room--he wasn't always in the mood to give a free show, either--there were quite a few guys that Warrick thought would be fun to join in one of the alcoves that were furnished with plush lounges and loveseats. Nick was definitely showing more interest in some guys than others, but so far, no one had been able to coax him away from the table.

"Hey, you doin' okay?" he leaned in close and raised his voice so Nick could hear him over the throbbing music.

Nick gave him a bewildered frown, "Sure. Why?"

Warrick watched Nick's expression change a moment before he felt an arm snake around his waist.

"Long time no see."

The voice brought an immediate smile to Warrick's face, along with the memory of smooth olive skin, grey eyes and a very talented tongue. Warrick shifted and returned the embrace, "And you're lookin' good."

"Thanks. I could hardly believe it when I saw you. You haven't been around for a while."

"I'm here now. That's what counts."

"Yes, it is."

Warrick felt the lean body press closer and knew that--although he hadn't planned on it--he'd found someone of his own for the night. Someone safe, not too showy, hot as hell and about as interested in a long-term commitment as Warrick was--in other words, not at all. Then from the corner of his eye he saw Nick's startled expression. "Oh. Sorry. Nick, this is Kaz. Kaz...Nick. He's a friend of mine." He didn't bother with last names.

"Oh," Kaz backed off Warrick a bit and turned his attention on Nick. "You're new here."

"Sort of. I guess. Yeah."

Kaz was nodding his understanding. "Sorry about that, Nick." He glanced at Warrick, "I guess I'm out of luck, then?"

"What?" Warrick frowned, then realized what Kaz was implying. "Nah. Nick and I aren't together. Just friends."

"Really?" The smokey eyes studied Nick for several for more minutes before Kaz turned back to Warrick. "You been here long?"

"A while," Warrick said.

"Been on the dance floor much?" Kaz continued, polite enough to glance at Nick slightly and keep him in the conversation, even though Warrick was plainly his main focus.

"Not me," Nick said with a self-conscious smile.

"I haven't yet, no," Warrick added.

"Yeah," Nick said with a slight frown. "Go on, Warrick. I'm kinda surprised you haven't been out there already."

Warrick balked slightly at the idea of leaving Nick on his own--but then reminded himself that Nick had already been at Pompeii's alone before. For all you know, maybe he's waiting for you to get the hell away from him so he can finally hook up with someone. Considering that idea, Warrick decided it was entirely possible that Nick thought it would be rude to leave him alone or even more likely, that Nick felt uncomfortable with him there. Dumbass, he told himself. Who wants their buddy right there when they're trying to get something going? Adding to that the knowledge that Nick could still embarrass fairly easily, Warrick concluded that the best thing he could do for Nick would be to leave him on his own for a while. "You sure?" he asked.

"Sure," Nick insisted. "Go on. Who the hell told you that you had to babysit me?"

"Okay," Warrick tightened his arm around Kaz's waist and gulped down the rest of his drink. "It'll only be for a couple of songs."

Famous last words.

A couple of songs, then a couple of drinks, then a couple more songs and Warrick found himself in one of the quieter alcoves nibbling on Kaz's ear while Kaz explored his neck. "I really should go check on Nick," he mumbled ineffectually.

"Okay," Kaz murmured, latching onto to a particularly sensitive spot.

"Just for a second," Warrick said more firmly, and pulled back slightly.

Kaz seemed more curious than annoyed. "What's going on?"

"He's still kind of new at this," Warrick explained. "And even if he wasn't, he's had a rough time of it lately."

"Wait a minute," the grey eyes widened. "He's he the guy that was in the news a few months back? Buried alive or something?"

Warrick nodded, not too surprised that Kaz caught on--he already knew Warrick was a CSI, just as Warrick knew Kaz was an engineer for the City. It was another reason they had hooked up in the first place. It wouldn't have been much of a stretch for Kaz to realize that Nick was the CSI that had been in the news not long before. Although Nick had tried to avoid any publicity at all and the LVPD had done its best to oblige and shield him, there had been a flurry of stories shortly after it happened. "Yeah, that's him. And he's only really come out since it happened."

"Hell, no wonder you're worried about him." Kaz gave him another soft kiss, "Come on, we'll go check on him so you don't have to worry. We can always catch up on this in a little while."

"Count on that," Warrick purred as they left the alcove. They made their way back to their table, but Warrick stopped several feet away when he saw a new guy sitting next to Nick. Warrick guessed the man was about his height, although the stranger possessed a lot more muscle. He had blonde hair, a relaxed stance and was leaning in to say something that made Nick start laughing. While not typically handsome, he was undeniably attractive.

Kaz followed Warrick's gaze. "That's Taylor."

Warrick looked at him. "You know the guy?"

"Yeah, Taylor...Dempsey I think. Assistant Prof at UNLV. A friend of mine went out with him for a while."

"Is he an okay guy?"

"Yeah. He hardly ever goes out to clubs," Kaz shrugged. "Into nature and stuff. He teaches zoology. Or is it ecology?"

"I'm not lookin' for the guy's resume," Warrick laughed.

"Kinda sounds like it," Kaz returned.

"I know." Warrick hadn't counted on meeting up with Kaz and as much as he wanted to leave for a place they could get more up close and personal, he didn't want to bail on Nick when tonight had been his idea. At the moment, though, Nick seemed to be enjoying himself more than he had all night, always meeting Taylor halfway when they moved closer to speak, something else he hadn't done with anyone else. If Nick had finally found someone he wanted--and it certainly looked like he had--then Warrick could take off with Kaz without too much guilt.

Taylor saw them approaching first and Nick only noticed when he stopped speaking. Turning, he gave Warrick a teasing grin, "You get lost, Rick?" he asked.

Warrick couldn't help returning the grin, Nick was bright-eyed and flushed and it wasn't surprising Taylor looked completely riveted by him. "Not lost, bro. Just a little distracted."

Kaz, meanwhile, greeted Taylor and then there were joking introductions all around.

"You guys taking off now?" Nick asked.

"Not really," Warrick said slowly, trying to ignore Kaz's hand under his shirt, gently stroking his ribs. "I don't want to bail on you."

"I'll be fine," Nick assured him, even though he wasn't meeting Warrick's eyes. He glanced briefly at Taylor, instead.


"Sure," Taylor answered.

Nick ducked his head with a slightly embarrassed, self-conscious smile and Warrick could tell from Taylor's expression that he found that characteristic especially endearing. Warrick didn't blame him, that unconscious habit of Nick's was cute and hot at the same time--Warrick had always thought so, anyway.

"It's all good, Rick," Nick added, still looking at Taylor instead of his friend.

"Okay," Warrick gave Kaz's tempting behind a squeeze. "Then we're gonna get out of here."

"'Kay," Nick gave him only a quick glance before meeting Taylor's gaze again. "Have fun."

"You got that right," Kaz said with a wicked grin.

A round of good-byes followed, even though it was obvious everyone had other things on their minds.

As he and Kaz wove their way out of the crowded club, Warrick started to wonder if Nick hadn't looked a little upset. There had been a couple of instances--only split-seconds, really--when Nick seemed to be holding Taylor's gaze only so he wouldn't have to meet Warrick's. Out in the parking lot and making his way to Kaz's car, Warrick recalled that Nick had definitely been interested in Taylor even before he'd said he was going. He got in the car, telling himself that most of his concern was probably imagination, based on the guilt he still sometimes felt about Nick's day of torture.

Then Kaz's hand moved from the gearshift to his zipper and Warrick forgot about everything else.

When he didn't get the chance to talk to Nick on Sunday, Warrick decided to stop by before work Monday night.

Nick answered the door, understandably surprised to see him there unannounced. "Hey, Rick."

"Can I come in? I need to talk to you."

Although his expression clearly said--Again?--Nick stepped aside to let Warrick in.

Warrick shrugged out of his jacket. "Didn't get to talk to you yesterday."

"And that's a big deal?" Nick gave him a funny look, heading for the sofa. Then he suddenly froze, "You gotta be kidding me."


"Please tell me you didn't come here to interrogate me about Saturday night."

"Nah." Warrick tried to laugh it off.


"Well, maybe a little."

"Jesus," Nick shot Warrick an exasperated look. "I'm going to need a beer for this. You want?" he asked as he went into the kitchen.

"Better not," Warrick replied, finding some comfort in the fact that Nick appeared more irritated than actually angry. "I have to work in a few hours."

"Right." Nick returned with his beer and a Sierra Mist for Warrick.

"Thanks," Warrick sat down, then waited until Nick had done the same. "So?"

Nick leaned back, eyes on the ceiling. "Rick, this is just too weird. You think I'm going to tell you anything?"

"You don't kiss and tell. That's cool," Warrick opened his drink. "I'm just interested in the basics."

After heaving a very put-upon sigh, Nick relented. "Like what?"

"Like where did you go after you left Pompeii's?"


"Yeah?" Warrick nodded his approval as he glanced around the townhouse. "So what time did he leave?"

"I dunno," Nick replied absently. "Four-thirty or five I guess."

Warrick frowned. That actually wasn't a whole lot of time considering he and Kaz had left the club around four. Unless... "He stayed here Sunday? You guys must have really hit it off."

Nick tried to return Warrick's wicked grin, but his expression gave away the truth.

"Aw, hell, Nick."


"You went home alone, didn't you? You didn't get together with Taylor?"

Nick took a swig of beer instead of replying.

"What went wrong, man? I thought you two hit it off."

"Yeah, he's a good guy."

"Then what the hell?" Warrick frowned.

"Warrick..." Nick shifted and studied his beer bottle. "This is...this is way too weird."

"C'mon, Nick. I thought that was why you went out in the first place."

Nick shook his head. "You met up with someone you already knew. Did you expect me to hop into the sack with a guy I'd just met? Do you do that?"

"Sometimes," Warrick shrugged.

That left Nick speechless.

"Hey, it's different with guys. You telling me you never slept with someone you met the same night?"

"Sure. In college. Maybe a few times since."

"So you think its...wrong?" Warrick asked casually before talking a sip of his drink.

"Nah. No, I just...I've always...I can't seem to..." Nick sighed and dropped his chin onto his chest. "Hell, Rick, most of the time I wish I could."

That struck Warrick as a very strange thing to say. "Wha--" he shook his head. "Why can't you if you want to?"

"Because," a corner of Nick's mouth tucked downward. "Because after we fall asleep I don't think whoever I'm with would like being woken up because I'm hollering or fighting something in my sleep. And it doesn't happen much anymore, but if I feel too closed in, I can start to freak--God, you think I want to have to explain all that to someone I've just met?"

Try though he might, Warrick couldn't think of a single thing to say.

"Don't look at me like that," Nick sounded ticked. "I'm sick of people feeling sorry for me. I'm doing fine."

"I know," Warrick assured him. "But what about before?"

Nick raised his eyebrows in question.

"You hadn't been with anyone for what? Eight months? A year? That can't be good for you."

"Oh, come on," Nick exclaimed in disbelief. "Warrick, you know better than that. That's a myth."

"That's not what I meant, although that part can't be a picnic," Warrick grinned and Nick laughed in spite of himself. "But the rest of it, Nick."

"I know what you're saying," Nick said, all traces of humor vanishing. "And sometimes I really miss...that is, I really want..." He let out another heavy sigh, "But I always back off--I just...I just don't, okay?"

"Okay," Warrick replied quietly. After a stretch of uncomfortable silence, he added, "I'm sorry I took off on you like that."

"Don't be," Nick shook his head.

"You and Taylor looked like you were really into each other. So I thought I'd would leave so that--" Warrick stopped when Nick started laughing. "What?"

"Come on, Rick," he grinned. "I saw why you left. Who d'you think you're kidding?"

Warrick couldn't keep the smile of his own face at the memory of Kaz's supple body and highly charged libido.

Nick snorted, "Don't look so damn smug."

Forcibly, Warrick brought his mind back to the subject at hand. "Why didn't you say something instead of letting me drag you to Pompeii's?"

"What drag? I thought--I thought it would be a good time. It was, too. And maybe to some extent I was hoping I would--hell, Warrick, I've been to Pompeii's before, haven't I?"

"Yeah, but I just--"

"You're acting like you did something wrong," Nick frowned. "Stop worrying about it."

"Yeah, okay. Bad call on my part."

"Not even that," Nick returned.

They sat in silence for some time, then Warrick was compelled to say--"This was kinda weird."

"So damn weird," Nick agreed immediately.

"Had to be done, though."

Nick sputtered out a laugh. "The Mighty Warrick has decreed it."

Another silence fell, broken only when Warrick drained the rest of his drink. "I'd better get to work," he said, standing.

"Okay," Nick stood as well. "I'm back at work tomorrow night, so I'll see you then."

"Right," Warrick hesitated by the door, concerned by the melancholy that still haunted Nick's expression. It had been there since What Happened, and Nick hadn't been able to escape it yet.

Nick's lips tightened as he met Warrick's gaze. "I'm fine, Rick."

"Okay. See you tomorrow."

Driving to the crime lab, Warrick tried to shake the vague idea that had taken root in the back of his mind and was slowly growing into a full-blown plan. Warrick knew--he could list dozens of reasons why--his plan was probably the worst possible thing he could do, but there was also that promise that if luck was on his side, everything would turn out perfectly.

Warrick arrived at the lab and immediately went to the locker room to change. As he pulled off his shirt, the silver chain he now wore underneath got tangled and he had to work it free. He readjusted the small, round talisman that dangled from the chain and the feel of its slight weight made up his mind for him.

It was risky, but Nick definitely needed some help getting back in the game.

After all, what were friends for?

Pompeii's had a fairly decent crowd for Tuesday morning, Nick noted with surprise. Most of the people were, like him, workers who were just finishing a night shift, but there were some people who still hadn't finished partying from the previous evening. It was only a fraction of the crowd that had swamped the place Saturday night, but Nick was actually gratefully for that.

He watched with mild interest as the employees worked quickly to turn Pompeii's from a raucous club into the friendly gay bar it fronted as during daylight hours. All but one of the most innocuous alcoves were closed, as was the dance floor while the café's pocket doors opened fully to make it more prominent. Nick could easily see why the place was so popular and couldn't help but admire the owners' ingenuity. It was certainly a better way to occupy his mind than constantly going over the thoughts he'd been dwelling on since Sunday morning.

Like the fact that he really shouldn't have gotten his hopes up when Warrick suggested finding him someone in the first place. For Warrick to have been talking about himself was far too cliched and just not Warrick's style. Besides, he'd seen the type of women Warrick went for, and if Kaz was any indication, he liked the same qualities in his men. Pulled-together, hip and self-possessed--those were not Nick's strong points.

Nick also knew how this had happened. He knew that he had mistaken the unwavering support Warrick had given him throughout his recovery for something more than friendship. It was nearly impossible not to develop feelings after waking from a nightmare in Warrick's arms time after time and then being soothed back to sleep by the low, melodic voice.

His eyes closed at the memory, and when he heard that same voice murmur "Buy you a drink?" Nick wondered for a moment why he was imagining something like that. When he turned to the side, he startled--not too noticeably, he hoped--at the sight of Warrick actually next to him. Nick forced a laugh, "What are you doing here?"

Warrick's voice lowered a bit more, "I'm trying to by you a drink."

"I of us must have already had one to many," Nick said slowly, because he didn't dare hope for anything else.

A slight chuckle and then Warrick stepped closer to Nick's barstool so that while not acutally touching, Nick could feel the warmth from the larger man's body. "C'mon, Nicky," he purred. "Let me buy you a drink."

"Warrick?" Nick hated that his voice was barely more than a squeak, but he felt completely lost.

"Hmh?" Warrick quirked an eyebrow at him.

Having those green tiger-eyes focused so intently on him was playing havoc with Nick's equilibrium. He'd seen Warrick on the prowl before, but had never experienced the full impact of the man in predatory mode--and that was exactly what it felt like, except that Nick was hoping to get caught.

And maybe mauled a little.

"What are you having?"

Nick hadn't even noticed the bartender's approach, because Warrick never broke their gaze. "Well, Nicky?"

"Sh-Shiner Bock."

"Two," Warrick added. Once the bartender left, he asked, "You ever been in any of the other rooms here?"

"," Nick wondered when his powers of speech would return fully.

The bartender brought their beers and Warrick paid him before it even occurred to Nick to reach for his wallet. "Come on, Nicky. There's always at least one room open."

"'kay," Nick took his beer and got up. Immediately, Warrick's hand settled lightly at the small of his back, guiding him toward the largest alcove.

Nick stopped and looked around curiously. A huge video screen dominated the far wall while more than a half-dozen ultrasuede sofas in shades of black and grey were scattered throughout the room along with matching easy chairs and coffee and end tables.

"At night the video screen shows the dance floor," Warrick told him as they sat on a sofa in the most deserted area.

Nick nodded, very glad he'd stuck to his decision not to dance on Saturday. At the moment the screen showed a movie he didn't recognize--three men were sitting companionably on the sofa nearest it. Two other couples also occupied other sofas, but that still left a fair amount of privacy for conversation.

After they'd set their drinks aside, Nick felt Warrick's hand against his cheek and turned to face those dangerous eyes. Then Warrick leaned in, and Nick reared back, startling himself as much as Warrick. "Sorry," he muttered, unsuccessfully willing himself not to turn red.

Warrick smiled reassuringly, and when he moved in the second time, Nick remained still. Nick reluctantly allowed the little licks and nibbles to coax him into a deeper kiss, sighing softly. He felt Warrick's other hand gently grasp the back of his neck to draw him closer, and Nick wanted nothing more to relax into the kiss. He couldn't bring himself to give in completely though, and after several more minutes, he took both of Warrick's wrists and freed himself.

"What's wrong?" Warrick asked softly.

"Sorry," Nick couldn't meet those eyes again. "I--I can't." He looked around and repressed a shudder.

"Nick?" Warrick asked, and the way he said it reminded Nick of all the times his friend would gently question him about his nightmares.

"Does--I mean, there's still other people here."

"Yeah," Warrick agreed with a slight smile. "What difference does that make?" He brushed his fingers across Nick's cheek. "We're barely doing anything, Nicky. No one cares."

Nick leaned into the caress, hating to ruin this opportunity, but the thought of going any further made his stomach churn. "Why here, Rick? Does it have to be here?"

Warrick's smile slowly disappeared. "Why can't it be here?"

"I know...I know they probably aren't," Nick could barely force the words out. "But the idea that people are watching..." He finally snuck a glance at Warrick and saw tightly closed eyes and a clenched jaw. Nick released the hand at the nape of his neck, but held onto the other.

"I'm sorry, Nick," Warrick finally said. "Jesus, I wasn't thinking at all."

"I just...I know I can't avoid it all the time, but I--" Nick stopped when Warrick pressed two fingers to his lips.

"Don't worry about it. Just tell me one thing--do you want to call this off or take it up somewhere else?"

Nick's heart leapt. "That second one."

The smile returned, more deadly than ever. "You okay to drive?"

Amusement shot through Nick and he glanced at their untouched beers. "Just the one I had before you showed up."

Warrick stood up and held out his hand, "Then why don't I just follow you home?"

Nick just hoped his smile wasn't too goofy as he let Warrick pull him to his feet.

Driving back to his townhouse, Nick had to force himself to concentrate on his driving rather than the lingering sensation of Warrick's hand at his waist as they'd walked to their vehicles. He was turning off the alarm at his front door when Warrick walked up behind him and pressed a soft kiss to the nape of his neck at which point Nick promptly forgot his code for several seconds. When they were finally inside, Nick barely waited for the door to close before turning and wrapping his arms around Warrick's neck.

Warrick let out a low chuckle and drew Nick closer, letting Nick pull his head down the few inches that separated their lips.

Nick lost himself in sensations he hadn't felt in far too long. Warrick's hands tugging his shirt free and slipping underneath intoxicated Nick more than any amount of alcohol ever could. He had sunk so deeply into the haze of lust and emotion that he didn't even register the sound of a trilling phone until Warrick broke off their kiss with a muffled curse.

"Forgot to shut the damn thing off," Warrick muttered apologetically, fumbling for his cell. He glanced at it on pure reflex and froze.

"What is it?"

Warrick showed him the display with read--Grissom ASAP. "I'm not on call. I have no idea what--"

"Better call him back, Rick." Nick would have stepped away, but Warrick kept him tucked close with one arm while he dialed with his free hand.

"Gris, what's up?" Warrick asked when their supervisor answered. "Sara's on call, not me. I--"

Nick frowned as Warrick expression changed.

"What happened? Is she okay?" he asked, making Nick's heart stutter. He knew Warrick's tone meant 'she' was one of the team. "Okay. Yeah, okay. I'll be there in twenty--maybe less."

"What happened?" Nick demanded.

"Sara got her foot caught in a busted stair at the scene. Gris got a uniform to take her to Desert Palm--thinks her ankle might be broken. I've got to help at the scene."

"Yeah, of course," Nick answered, all--well, most--of his libido subsiding at the news.

Warrick gave him a lingering kiss, "We'll finish this another time."

Nick didn't care if he didhave a goofy grin by this point. "Okay."

Then his cell burbled, making Warrick pause by the door. "Grissom?"

"Yep," Nick said after checking the display.

Warrick gave him another smile and a wink before leaving.

"Stokes," Nick said, opening the line.

"Nicky, I need you to head to Desert Palms to stay with Sara."

Grissom sounded a little rattled, and while Nick had to feign surprise, the concern was real. "Why? What happened?"

"She injured her ankle at the scene. Possibly broke it. Make sure she follows doctors orders and take her home instead of back to the crime scene."

No small feat, knowing Sara. Even though this was not the way he saw his day going fifteen minutes ago, Nick was glad to help out one of his friends after they'd spent months doing the same for him. "I'm on my way," he assured Grissom.

If Sara was on pain meds, maybe she wouldn't even notice that Texas-size grin he couldn't seem to get rid of.

Sara's ankle turned out to be badly sprained, not broken, and that wasn't enough to keep her away from work. She was temporarily out of the field, though, and Nick had hoped that would mean a chance for him to get his feet wet again. Grissom turned that suggestion down, insisting Nick remain in the lab for the prescribed six months. Nick wasn't as upset about the refusal as he might have been had Warrick not invited him over after shift.

Nick's common sense kept at him all night, insisting that he not go. Insisting that the interruption had been the best thing that could have happened, especially considering Warrick opted to leave with Kaz instead of him when he had the choice.

His heart, on the other hand, kept arguing that there were dozens of reasons Warrick suddenly wanted him. Maybe Warrick had thought he wasn't interested. Nick had only realized his feelings for Warrick very recently, after all. Maybe Warrick had taken him out to see if he was ready. Okay, so that didn't exactly explain Kaz, but still... Maybe Warrick suddenly saw him with new eyes. It happened to people all the time, didn't it?

Nick knew there was no point in debating it when in the end he would do what he always did in these situations and let his emotions lead him.

Warrick took advantage of his early call that morning by cutting out an hour early. It was a slow night, so he conveniently ignored his paperwork, told Grissom he was bailing and left. On the way home he stopped at Gino's East, thinking that it might be a good idea to take things more slowly this time and hoping breakfast would provide the necessary distraction.

He wasn't sure at what point his plan went wrong, but it had definitely veered off course somewhere. He had known that it wouldn't take much pretense on his part to come onto his friend, even if Nick wasn't his usual type. What he hadn't anticipated was the disappointment he'd felt when he thought Nick was turning him down. And that was nothing compared to the way their first kiss had thrown him off balance. While he had no problem with people playing coy, he also didn't care to waste time tempting a reluctant lover when there were always plenty of equally tempting options out there for him. Nick had not been playing any sort of game--Warrick knew him well enough to know that--and Warrick found he would have been content to spend a long time just coaxing Nick into that kiss.

Once at Nick's the goal of getting Nick into bed had remained the same, but the reasons had become somewhat murky. What was supposed to be light, friendly and fun had suddenly become heated, intense and more emotional that Warrick ever intended.

Warrick wasn't sure how to proceed from this point. He was supposed to want to help Nick, not...well, he wasn't entirely certain what he wanted. But that didn't matter, did it, because this wasn't about him. This was about getting Nick over the nervousness that had developed after too long away from the scene. This was about reminding Nick how great it was so that Nick would go out there and start enjoying himself again. Start getting laid again--well and often.

And possibly by someone else.


That didn't sound like the great idea it had seemed a few days ago.

He was thankful that Nick chose that minute to knock at his door so he didn't have to think too much about why he no longer wanted his plan to succeed. Fortunately, even though the result he was hoping for had changed, the means of attaining it remained the same. And it started with Warrick letting Nick in and embracing him briefly. "I picked up some breakfast on the way," he said, pushing the door shut.

"I'm not that hungry."

"Not for food, anyway, right?" Warrick raised his eyebrows.

Nick grinned, something that had become a rarity. That, combined with the half-eager, half-shy expression in the dark eyes and what he knew to be a delectable body made up Warrick's mind for him.

"C'mere, you," Warrick hooked his fingers in Nick's waistband and tugged him closer.

While Nick's hands slid up to his shoulders, drawing him down for a kiss, Warrick moved his hands around to cup the firm ass and pull Nick flush against him. Nick nuzzled his way across Warrick's cheek and down his jaw line. Growling appreciatively at the sensation of inquisitive lips on his neck, Warrick began tugging Nick's polo shirt free of his jeans. He slipped his hands underneath the fabric impatient for the feel of warm skin over hard muscle.

There were no words, only intelligible murmurs and the occasional gasp or moan. Warrick kept his lips pressed to Nick's temple and his hands on Nick's hips while Nick unbuttoned his shirt, exploring with his fingers and lips as he went. At about the third button he heard a muffled--"Whasis?"

"Hmn?" Warrick felt too good to actually register Nick's question.

"Warrick?" Nick tensed. "What is this?"

Warrick's heart sank when he felt Nick fumbling with the silver chain he never removed. "Nicky..." he grabbed both of Nick's wrists.

"Rick, why are you wearing a--" Nick fell silent for several seconds. "This...this is the same quarter?"

Unable to come up with a single word, Warrick just held onto Nick's wrists.

"Of course it is," Nick said quietly, almost to himself. "You wouldn't wear just any old quarter, would you?" His eyes darted up to meet Warrick's before dropping again, "You...drilled a hole in it?"

"Nick, just...I..."

Nick sighed, shaking his head. "Warrick, I thought we'd cleared this all up while I was still in the hospital." He looked up again, this time holding Warrick's gaze. "You said you carried it with you the whole time I was in that box to remind you--" his concern was obvious in every word. "Aw, Rick, you should have said something. I thought we agreed not to dwell on it. I thought you knew there was no reason for you to still feel--" Suddenly he went from a heated flush to deathly pale in seconds. "Oh."

Warrick could follow the sequence of Nick's thoughts just by his expression. "Nick..." He made the mistake of loosening his grip on Nick's wrists and Nick pulled away until he came up against the wall. "Nicky, I don't know what you're thinking, but--"

"That I can't believe I didn't see this for what it was," Nick's voice was hollow.

Where the hell was his poker face when he really needed it? Warrick knew his stricken expression revealed that Nick had some of it right. "Listen, whatever you think this is--"

"C'mon, Rick," Nick's lips twisted into a bitter smile. "I know what this is. It's a pity fuck."

"No, dammit!"

"Okay," Nick shrugged, "A guilt fuck, then."

"It's not like that...whatever you--just listen to me, Nicky."

Eyes that had sparkled with desire only moments before now shone with tears. "I'm gonna...go now."

Warrick immediately moved to block the door. "Wait, Nick, please. I was...I just..."

"Hey," Nick held up his hands, still trying to maintain some semblance of control. "You made your point, Rick."

"I wasn't trying to make a point," Warrick could barely force the words from his suddenly dry mouth.

"Sure you were," Nick said in a tone he usually reserved for suspects. "Sure. You're never gonna really know who you're with or why, so why bother waiting 'til you think you do? Hey. Got it."

"Jesus, Nicky, that's not it at all. That's not why I did this."

Nick's expression was a horrible mix of triumph and anguished acceptance. "But it wasn't because you wanted me. You practically just admitted as much."

Realizing he had, Warrick struggled desperately to find the right words. "Nick, just...just..."

The moment Warrick moved away from the door, Nick sidestepped and elbowed past him. He was out the door before Warrick could grab him. The few seconds Warrick stood in shock at the sudden end of their conversation were all he needed. By the time Warrick opened the door again, Nick was pulling away onto Durango Road and speeding out of sight.

Warrick shut the door, slumping against it and clenching his teeth to keep the tears at bay while he wondered how the hell he'd just managed to lose something he hadn't even known he wanted.

Nick rested his head on the steering wheel, breathing deeply and blinking rapidly. He had turned off Durango and found a parking spot as soon as possible, knowing he shouldn't be driving, but wanting to be certain Warrick wouldn't know he'd stopped.

Dumbass. Some observant investigator you are. No wonder they won't let you back in the field.

Even worse, it was all he could do not to turn right around and go back to Warrick. He wanted to accept whatever explanation Warrick gave him, no matter how flimsy, and finish what they'd started. He had never dreamed how much he'd missed that level of physical contact, of intimacy, until now when the loss of it was enough to bring fresh tears to his eyes.

Eventually, his vision cleared enough for him to drive, even though the ache in his chest still hadn't gone away. Nick started his truck again, but instead of driving toward West Charleston and his home, he headed for Flamingo and Pompeii's.

Warrick sighed wearily as he slid into a booth near the back of Bev Ollie's. It was a diner near city hall that he and Nick had discovered the year before. He rarely used to end up at this diner alone, but over the past month, he'd gradually become accustomed to it and even learned to appreciate it to some extent. Still, he was surprised and pleased to see Kaz walk in and immediately waved him over. Kaz smiled and made a beeline for him.

"Long time no see," Kaz said as he slid into the booth opposite Warrick. "You haven't been at Pompeii's for quite a while."

"I've been away from the scene before," Warrick shrugged with careful casualness. "For longer than this."

"Yeah, but I thought now that Nick is there so often we'd be seeing more of you, too."

Warrick was grateful the waitress chose that moment to stop by and take Kaz's order.

"So..?" Kaz asked when she'd left.

"So...what?" Warrick countered, beginning to wonder why the hell he'd wanted Kaz to join him.

"If you found somewhere hotter than Pompeii's, I want to know about it."

"Haven't been looking for anywhere hotter than Pompeii's," Warrick muttered, taking a long sip of coffee.

"Ohhh...swung back the other way, have we?"

Warrick rolled his eyes, but ignored Kaz's hint for more information even as he resisted the urge to ask how often Nick was at Pompeii's. Nick had accepted his apology, but things had changed drastically between them, and he had no idea what Nick did away from work. Kaz had a large circle of friends and Warrick knew if he asked, the engineer could probably give him a fairly accurate run down of Nick's doings for the past four weeks.

"Did you and Nick have a falling out?"

"We get along fine," Warrick returned--which was mostly true. Both he and Nick cared too much about their jobs to let this problem affect their work. They were courteous to one another and were even slowly beginning to reestablish a pale imitation of their old banter. Their co-workers had noticed, but no one commented, assuming it was the result of Nick's traumatic experience and subsequent coming out.

"I got the same answer from him," Kaz looked a bit disgruntled.

The waitress brought their food and Warrick immediately dug in, hoping to subdue his desire to grill Kaz like a suspect for information about Nick. One month ago he'd managed to lose a potential lover and his best friend in one fell swoop and it was constantly gnawing at him that he no longer had the right or means to watch over the still-vulnerable man. Finally, he gave up trying to fight his need for answers. Swallowing, he attempted to phrase his question as casually as possible, "Do you meet up with Nick a lot at Pompeii's?"

Kaz's expression clearly said, Who do you think you're kidding?

"Just curious."

Although he gave Warrick a knowing look, Kaz was kind enough not to call him on it. "Not quite as much in the past couple of weeks, but for a while before that, he was there a lot. Making up for lost time, I'd say."

"Lost time?"

"You know. All that time he spent in denial. For a while there I didn't know whether he was out to break a bunch of hearts or get his own broken."

Warrick's club sandwich suddenly tasted like sawdust. "Which was it?"

"Neither, from what I can tell. Nearly everyone I know says he's a real sweetheart, and even though he's not what I usually go for, it's tempting to--" Kaz's grin suddenly vanished when he met Warrick's eyes, and he quickly backtracked. "Well, I'm not his type either. We usually just chat a bit when we run into each other."

Closing his eyes briefly, Warrick struggled with the sudden spike of fury he'd felt at Kaz's teasing words. He reminded himself for the thousandth time that if Nick wanted to sleep with every man in Vegas, it was no longer any of his business--as a friend or anything else.

Kaz studied him briefly, correctly reading his desire for more information. "He's settled down these past couple of weeks. Been seeing one guy exclusively."

Warrick swallowed hard, not knowing which was worse--Nick having several casual partners or one serious one. "Who?" he asked, no longer bothering to act as though his interest was just friendly.

"Mason Price," Kaz said stiffly. "You know him?"

"No," Warrick replied. Everything about Kaz suggested dislike. "You?"

"Not well. He went out with Reade--you've met Reade, right?"

Warrick nodded, recalling a gorgeous blonde with bright blue eyes and a ready smile.

"Well, Mason's a real charmer--at first," Kaz's lip curled.

"What?" Warrick stomach twisted so painfully that he had to push his plate away. "What do you--"

"He's not dangerous--not like that. Not that I've seen," Kaz reassured him. "But he's got a real mean streak when he gets mad. If your guy is still shaky, you really should try to get him away from Price."

"He's not my guy," Warrick said quickly.

"Obviously," Kaz's tone was drier than the Mojave. "Why the hell you didn't snap him up the minute he came out to you is beyond me."

"Me, too."

"Just the one time?"

Nick grinned at Mason's incredulous tone. "I told you that already."

"I thought you were being funny." Mason moved closer to Nick, jostled slightly by the patrons around the crowded bar. "Which room?"

"The Video Room."

"You kill me," Mason chuckled. "That barely counts as one of the rooms."

"I know," Nick shrugged. "You know it's really not my thing, though."

"I know," Mason flipped several strands of dark hair out of his eyes. "But let me give you a tour, anyway."

Nick agreed with some reluctance. He hadn't really wanted to go out at all, not liking Pompeii's when it was this crowded. He had let Mason talk him into it, though, and had actually been enjoying himself so far. Mason hadn't left his side once since they'd arrived, flirting and joking as though they had just met that night even though they'd actually been seeing one another for nearly two weeks.

As much as he liked being with Mason, there was something about him that prevented Nick's feeling from going more than skin deep. Nick couldn't say what it was, but right now, that small distance suited him just fine. He didn't want to risk his heart, which was still a little bruised. He had gotten quite skilled at ignoring the part of him that insisted he was holding off everyone else in the hope that he might have another chance with Warrick someday.

Painful though it had been, Nick knew that the last thing Warrick had ever intended was to hurt him. The only thing that kept him from trying again was the uncertainty of whether Warrick had been motivated by pity or a deeper emotion.


Mason's sharp tone brought Nick back to the present, "Sorry."

Mason smiled when he had Nick's attention and steered him away from the bar to a room so dimly lit that the couples occupying the many lounges could barely be seen.

Nick scanned the room only briefly before turning to look at the people passing in the main club. He smiled involuntarily when he spotted Taylor Dempsey nearby. He hadn't seen Taylor since that first night, even though he'd always hoped to meet up with him again during his time "playing the field." It was a time that hadn't lasted long and hadn't been nearly as pleasant for Nick as people seemed to think it would be. After a nightmare with one partner, a minor freak out with another and someone who had hooked up with him just because of his dubious celebrity, Nick had been glad to leave random encounters to people who could handle it, because he couldn't.

When he met Mason Price--charming, successful, gorgeous Mason--he'd been glad to agree to the man's suggestion that they see each another exclusively. Just a shade shorter than Warrick, Mason also had the sort of take-charge manner that Nick always found a turn on, and though Mason sometimes got a bit too forceful, he would back off as soon as Nick asked.

Despite all that, Nick was happy to see Taylor again. "Hey, Taylor," he said as the man went by, raising his voice to carry over the club's racket. Mason shot him an odd look.

Taylor scanned the crowd near Nick, then broke into a smile when their eyes met. "Nick," he said, his pleasure obvious as he came closer.

"How're you doing?" Nick asked, leaning back slightly when Mason increased the pressure at the small of his back.

"Pretty good. You?"

Nick didn't get a chance to reply, because Mason had slid an arm tightly around his waist and bent to bite his neck none-too-gently. Nick turned to look at him, surprised and a bit annoyed. Mason knew he didn't like anything but the most subtle public displays and usually respected that.

"Sorry," Mason muttered, although his blue eyes flashed dangerously at Taylor.

Shaking his head, Nick gave Taylor an apologetic smile, "See you." Nick wasn't in the habit of stopping to talk to guys in the club, and assumed doing so with Taylor had triggered Mason's jealousy. "Take it easy," he told the taller man.

"Sorry," Mason said again. "I wanted to go. The other rooms will be getting kind of crowded."

"It's not like we're going in any of them," Nick pointed out, but other than that, he let it go.

They had to walk through another dimly lit room, this one furnished with only large pillows and low tables, before they came to a tiny hallway. A broad-shouldered man stepped in front of them, effectively blocking their path. "You're Nick, aren't you?"

"Uh...yes, I am," Nick said uncertainly, then he heard Mason laugh.

"Nice introduction, Cam. Tell him who he is instead of who you are," Mason's arm snuck around Nick's waist again, although not as tightly this time. "Nick, this is Cameron Locke. We go way back."

"Oh. Hi," Nick smiled and held out his hand.

"Nice to finally meet you, Nick," Cameron smiled as they shook hands. "Mason has hardly talked about anything else for the past week."

Nick shot a surprised look over his shoulder at Mason who merely shrugged. "I'll talk to you later, Cam," he said. "I'm giving Nick a tour. He's never been in there," Mason nodded to the room at the end of the hallway.

"Have fun," Cameron said with a mock leer before stepping around them.

Nick allowed Mason to usher him into the room and couldn't help staring at the stark, strange version of the dance floor. In the center of the white-walled room, pairs and groups of men writhed under icy blue light, making good use of the chains, slings and bars that were the room's only decoration.

"Care to join in?"

Shooting a frown over his shoulder to let Mason know what he thought of that idea, Nick moved toward the edge of the room. Although the men along the walls weren't exactly detached observers, at least they had most of their clothes on. Nick was turned on but overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and scents that pervaded the room.

Mason turned Nick so they were face to face. Nick moved closer, wondering how long it would be before Mason would be ready to go home and fuck him into the mattress. Deciding it wouldn't be as hard to wait it out as he'd thought, Nick considered that if the sex when they got home was good enough, he might be willing to return at some point--maybe. Some of the rougher stuff made Nick uncomfortable, even if the participants seemed very willing. When Mason took his chin and tilted his face up, Nick was actually glad for the distraction of a soft kiss. Mason soon deepened the kiss, though, and pulled Nick hard against him.

Nick turned his head away, breaking off the kiss, "C'mon, Mason."

Instead of easing off, Mason clutched at his ass, grinding their hips together and biting down on his neck even harder that before.

"Mason!" Nick gasped at the sudden pain. "Back off!"

"Don't be so damn uptight," Mason growled softly.

Nick pressed outward on the arms surrounding him, but before he could break Mason's hold, another pair of arms circled him from behind, pinning his arms more fully to his side. "I said Mason told me about you, didn't I?"

In his first flash of blind panic, Nick barely recognized the words, let alone the speaker. Then he calmed enough to realize it was Cameron and said, "He lied if he told you I was into this."

"He told me you needed to loosen up," Cameron replied, tugging Nick's shirt up.

Nick heard Mason chuckle and his heart sank. First Warrick and now Mason--apparently he had left any talent for observation he'd once had in a box underground. As hands roamed over the exposed skin of his chest and stomach, any fear Nick felt disappeared under a wave of fury. Amy Hendler, Nigel Crane, Walter Gordon and now these clowns. Christ, did he have an Easy Mark sign that followed him everywhere?

"Get you goddamned hands off me," Nick snarled.

Mason smirked and kissed him again, effectively muffling any other words.

Nick bit down hard, stopping just short of breaking the skin. Mason pulled back with a startled yelp. "I said let go!" Nick insisted, "And I mean now." He dug an elbow into Cameron's ribs to make his point.

People were starting to notice the scuffle even though Mason and Cameron had steered Nick into a corner. "Calm down, Nick," Mason warned him. "You don't want to make a scene."

"You think I care if I make a scene?" Nick asked incredulously. "Not when you're--"

"You work with the cops, don't you? How well will this go over with your boss? Your colleagues?"

That they would threaten his job, that they assumed his co-workers--friends who had been nothing but supportive--were so narrow-minded only enraged Nick further. "My boss isn't the one who's going to be hearing about assault charges." Then he gave Cameron another elbow for good measure.

At that point Cameron released him. "You said he'd just go along with it," he accused Mason.

With one final shove, Nick was able to push Mason away. "Don't you ever come near me again."

Now quite a few people were watching them, and Nick pushed past everyone, walking as swiftly as he could without actually running. He stalked through the club, not even pausing when someone called his name, and didn't stop until he was outside. Thankful for the cool desert air, Nick leaned against the side of the building, suddenly recalling that Mason had driven them to the club and now he had to find another way home. He checked his pockets for his cell, then remembered where he'd left it--in his truck, which was currently in his driveway.


Nick jumped, thinking that it might be Mason, but then recognized Kaz's voice. "Hi," he said, trying to smile. He liked Kaz, who always made a point to talk to him in the club and had even introduced him to some very nice men. He knew Warrick and Kaz were as casual as casual got, and although he envied Kaz, he wasn't actually jealous.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, I..." Nick felt his chest tighten and his stomach twist as reaction began to set in. "Do you know where there's a pay phone?"

"There's a couple inside the club."

Nick couldn't stop the shudder that ran through him. "I'd rather not go back in..."

"Here," Kaz pulled out his own cell and stepped closer, studying Nick. "Do you need a doctor? You're shaking."

"No, just a cab."

"Aren't you here with Mason? I can go back in and get--"

"No!" Nick wrapped his arms around his stomach and forced himself to speak normally. "I just need to go home."

"You don't look too good, Nick. I can give you a lift."

"A cab--a cab is fine."

"Okay." Kaz gave Nick a troubled look as he took out his cell. "Your shirt torn somehow."

Nick straightened his shirt, which was still twisted and bunched and found a good-sized tear in the collar. He saw Kaz watching him with concern and felt compelled to give the man an explanation. "I'm probably overreacting, but--well, Mason wanted me to see the back back room...I just don't like getting...personal around a bunch of other people..."

Kaz gave the cab company the club's address and hung up. "So what happened?" he asked.

"I told him no, but then his friend came and they both..." Several more shudders wracked him at the memory. "They were...well, I got them to back off, so it's not like it's a big deal. I'm still pretty...well, dumb about how all this goes, so maybe--"

"Bullshit," Kaz snapped. "I've seen the way you are, Nick, and I've seen the way Mason is. Taking advantage of someone and making them do something they don't want to do isn't suddenly okay just because you're in a back room."

Nick couldn't think of anything to say to that, and he wasn't certain how steady his voice would be, so he merely nodded.

"Are you sure you don't want me to call someone?"

"Thanks, but no."

Kaz agreed reluctantly and waited with Nick until the cab showed up, again over Nick's protestations. Once he got Nick into the cab and on his way home, Kaz took out his cell again and dialed Warrick Brown's number.

Nick felt better after a very long, steaming shower. Pulling on a pair of boxers and the cozy robe his oldest sister had given him on his last visit home, he left the bathroom and headed for the kitchen with the idea that tea might be better than coffee right now. The sudden, loud banging at his door made him jump and set his heart racing.

It can't be Mason. He wouldn't...

"Who is it?" he called, wishing his voice didn't waver so much.

"Nick! Open up!"

Nick relaxed immediately. "Warrick?" After glancing at the clock, he went to the door and disabled his alarm. Kaz, he realized as he opened the door. "Kaz called you, didn't he?"

"Are you okay?" Warrick demanded.

"I'm fine," Nick assured him, stepping aside to let the agitated man in.

"I'll kill him," Warrick muttered as he walked in. Then, turning to face Nick, he said more clearly, "I swear I'll fuckin' kill him."

"Rick," Nick raised his hands in a calming gesture. "You've never even seen them, you know you aren't going to--"


Oh. Nick winced, "I guess Kaz didn't tell you that."

Warrick stepped closer, his eyes searching Nick's face, "What happened, Nicky?"

"Not a lot," Nick hoped he sounded at least somewhat nonchalant. "Mason and his friend just got a little...insistent when we were in the back room."

Warrick reached for him, then clenched his hands into fists and let them fall back to his sides. "Nick..."

Nick couldn't meet Warrick's horrified gaze. "I didn't go very far..." he repeated, hoping that saying the words out loud would erase the memory of hands groping and pinching, and the feeling of helplessness that never quite went away, even if he had been able to defend himself this time.

"What the hell were you doing in the back room? You're not into--" Warrick stopped and released a heavy sigh. "Sorry. None of my business."

"Mason wanted me to...well, what he said was that he just wanted me to see it," Nick said, thinking an explanation might somehow ease Warrick's anguished expression. "So we went around and looked at all the rooms and we met up with this friend of his just outside--set up," Nick closed his eyes. "That was part of the set up. He must have followed us in--oh, god..."

The next thing Nick knew Warrick was holding him much more tightly than Mason had, but the only feeling it prompted was one of overwhelming safety. Nick relaxed against him, pressing his face into Warrick's neck and just breathing him in.

"I'm sorry, Nicky," Warrick's voice was hoarse. "Oh, Christ, I'm so sorry."

"Warrick, you didn't--for what, Rick?"

"If I hadn't done what I did--if I'd handled it differently..." Warrick took a deep breath. "If I'd realized sooner and not--none of this would have happened if I'd only..."

"Rick," Nick rubbed his back gently. "None of this is your fault. How could it be?"

"If I'd told you that night," Warrick drew back slightly. "If I'd admitted that night what I was trying to do..." Nick kept his head bowed, not wanting to recall that night, either. He couldn't help hearing, though. "If I'd caught on then..."

Nick tried to twist away, "It's okay, I know why."

", you don't." Warrick put a hand under Nick's chin, trying to lift it, but Nick twisted away from that as well. Instead, Warrick lowered his head to speak directly into Nick's ear. "That first time...yeah, I was trying to get you to--I thought I was just...I wanted to get you back in the game. I thought I was helping--"

"I know," Nick murmured.

"--I'm not quite sure about that anymore. And I know by the next day it wasn't about that at all."

Nick wouldn't, couldn't allow himself to think this might be what he hoped it was. He didn't dare speak or look up, so he merely shook his head.

"Nicky, please...tell me there's some way we can give this another shot. Tell me what you want me to do."

Confused, Nick brutally kept his hopes at bay by telling himself that Warrick was once again in his let's-make-Nick-feel-better mode because of what happened at the club. He tried to weigh being hurt again with the possibility of finally having something he'd longed for since he came out. Needing some space, literally, he broke the embrace and stepped back.

"Just tell me what you want me to do, Nick. You want me to lose the quarter?" Warrick voice grew hoarse again. "Just say the word."

That's when Nick's emotional scale began to swing toward believing Warrick, because Warrick obviously didn't want to give up the quarter, but if he said he would, Nick knew he would. Nick didn't necessarily want him to give it up, though, not if it had such meaning. "I want to know why you wear it, Rick."

Warrick was quiet for a long time, "I thought... it was supposed to remind me to never underestimate you again--although that didn't work so well." He took a deep breath, "And I'd remember that it could have been me, and that I never would have made it out."

Nick's head came up as alarm surged through him. "Don't...don't say that."

Blinking rapidly, Warrick closed his eyes briefly. "It was...the last time I saw you before... before everything changed, Nicky."

The sheen of unshed tears in the green eyes left Nick speechless.

Warrick's eyes never left Nick's. "Tell me I didn't mess this up, Nicky. Please tell me I have another chance with you."

The imaginary scale Nick had been using was becoming seriously unbalanced. If this was another plan of Warrick's, it was one he wanted to go along with, no matter how it ended. "Warrick, I--"

"Tell me how I can make it up to you. I know I was all wrong, Nick, but I swear I'll make it up to you if you just tell me how."

Nick's throat tightened when he realized Warrick meant every bit of it, because Warrick didn't just give himself up like that--not so completely, not even to a best friend. With a choked sound of relief, he stepped back into the circle of Warrick's arms, holding on with all his strength and trying to press as close as possible.

"Tell me what you want, Nicky. Anything," Warrick's voice was raw.

"You. That's all I've wanted since--just you, Rick."

Although Nick wouldn't have thought it possible, Warrick tightened his hold even further. "There's got to be some way I can make up for...Nicky, tell me how you want this to be. Not just here and now, but--us. You call the shots."

Since at the moment, Nick felt like he had everything he wanted, he wasn't sure how to reply. Warrick was definitely waiting for an answer though, so he tried to think of something. "When...when I used to have nightmares...if I had trouble going back to sleep, you'd sing to me--that would be nice again..."

Warrick pulled back to stare at him.

Nick let out a jittery laugh at his bewildered expression. "Well, what the hell, Warrick? Do you think I have a list of demands? If you really want to be with me, then...then there's nothing else I want."

Instead of replying, Warrick pressed fervent lips to Nick's forehead, as though branding him.

"'Course, that singing part would be pretty nice..." Nick added tentatively.

Warrick laughed, and this time when he tilted Nick's chin up, Nick did so willingly. "Maybe we'll see whether I can make you sing."

"Hell, Rick, you know I can't sing. You've heard me try and--" Nick saw the distinct gleam in Warrick's eyes. "Oh," he said, feeling his face burn, but not entirely from embarrassment.

Warrick became serious again, staring at Nick intently. "I never wanted to hurt you, Nicky."

"I know," Nick said easily.

"Can you still trust me?"

That made Nick pause, and he considered for a moment before answering. "Trust that you won't mess up again? No." He smiled reassuringly in response to Warrick's wide-eyed look. "We probably both will, Rick. Trust that you'll never try to hurt me? Yes. Always." When Warrick seemed too stunned to reply, Nick twined his fingers in the short dreadlocks and impatiently pulled him down for a kiss.

Warrick's response was immediate, sliding his tongue past Nick's teeth to taste and tease. "God, Nicky..." Warrick trailed his lips up over Nick's cheeks, eyes, forehead and hair, then down again, pausing only long enough to nibble at his ears before moving down to his neck.

Light-hearted and light-headed, Nick clutched at the only solid presence within reach. He felt Warrick freeze briefly, and then press a soft kiss on the tender patch of skin Mason's teeth had left in the hollow of his throat. Nick closed his eyes, overwhelmed by the tenderness in such a small gesture. Then Warrick untied the loosely knotted belt of Nick's robe and began to explore the heated skin beneath with his hands and lips.

His robe off one shoulder and sliding down the other, it suddenly occurred to Nick that Warrick had far too many clothes on. First he tugged the jacket off Warrick's shoulders, and Warrick cooperated by releasing Nick long enough with one arm and then the other to shed it. The shirt was next, and Nick tugged it up as high as he could before Warrick eventually caught on and pulled it over his head. As soon as it was discarded, Warrick pulled Nick flush against him so they were finally skin to skin.

Warrick left a heated trail down Nick's chest and stomach, the silkiness of his tongue making for an intoxicating contrast to the scratching of his goatee as he slowly knelt in front of Nick. He pulled Nick's boxers down and put his hands on the slim hips when Nick shifted anxiously. After a few licks along the length, Warrick took Nick's cock in his mouth, wringing a moan from him.

"Warrick..." Nick quavered, still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Warrick Brown was giving him head in the middle of his living room. His knees began to give about the time Warrick began swirling a very flexible tongue around the head of his cock and Nick knew that Warrick's hands on his hips were the only things keeping him upright. Nick thrust forward--or tried to-but Warrick held him back and moments later backed off, squeezing slightly to keep Nick from coming.

Once Warrick was upright again, Nick pressed against him, kissing him frantically and groaning in frustration when Warrick prevented him from finding the friction he needed. "Not yet, baby," Warrick purred between kisses. "I'm gonna be buried deep inside you when you come."

Nick shuddered at those words in that voice. Christ, no wonder Warrick had men and women constantly falling at his feet.

"Where do you want to take this, Nicky? Bed, couch, wall, floor? Anywhere you want."

As he explored Warrick's neck and chest, Nick didn't really have to think about his options. The few times he had brought someone back to his place, they stayed in the living room or sometimes even the kitchen, but he still had too many privacy issues to be inviting a casual acquaintance into intimacy of his bedroom. That made his choice in this case fairly obvious, "Bedroom," he panted. "But what we need is in the bathroom."

"Get it," Warrick murmured, guiding Nick down the hall, but stopping at the bedroom.

Nick continued to the bathroom, shrugging his robe back on his shoulders without really thinking about it as he went in, retrieved what they needed and returned to his bedroom. He walked in and saw Warrick on the bed, completely naked and not the least bit shy about it. Nick's mouth went dry and he was grateful for the robe, suddenly feeling scrawny and awkward next to him.

"Nicky?" Warrick raised his eyebrows. "Lose the robe, babe, and come on over here."

Nick let the robe slip from his shoulders and onto the floor, regaining some confidence as green eyes slid over him appreciatively. He set the lube and condom on the night stand, dropped the small towel he'd brought on the floor and took Warrick's offered hand.

After Nick was stretched out comfortably, Warrick exchanged several long kisses with him before making his way downward again. Nick noted with hazy surprise that Warrick had taken the lube at some point and now had it with him, warming it in his hands. One of Warrick's fingers began teasing Nick's puckered opening about the same time he took Nick's erection in his mouth again.

"Oh, Jesus..." Nick whimpered trying to spread his legs wider and buck his hips all at the same time. "Fuck, Warrick..."

Warrick released him and wrapped his fingers around the base of his cock, holding Nick off again at the exact same moment he found the prostate. Nick let out a whimper of sheer frustration that turned into desperate moans when Warrick mouthed his balls.

"Warrick...God, Rick, please..."

When the torture suddenly stopped, Nick didn't know whether to feel relieved or disappointed, but then Warrick was kneeling between his legs, leaning over to kiss him as he reached for the condom. Nick's heart started doing double time as Warrick rolled the condom on and took hold of his hips, angling them upward slightly. When he felt Warrick's cock nudging his loosened hole, Nick forced himself to relax, allowing Warrick to slide in with little resistance. He pulled his legs up as high as he could, wrapping them around Warrick's waist and groaning when Warrick thrust himself in to the hilt.

"Sweet Christ..." Warrick rasped, bracing himself over Nick on arms that trembled slightly. "Nicky, you feel so damn good..."

Nick pulled him down for a kiss, moving with the thrusts even as their tongues mimicked the actions of their bodies. Suddenly, Warrick broke off the kiss, burying his face in the crook of Nick's neck and riding him even harder. Nick's cock was trapped between their straining bodies and Warrick's was sliding against his prostate, providing what he needed to send him closer and closer to the edge.

"All mine," Warrick chanted into his neck, and it sounded like both a demand and a prayer. "All mine, Nicky, please..."

That was enough to send Nick over with a high keening cry. Vaguely, he heard Warrick's answering moans and felt the hard, frantic thrusts through the mindless explosions of pleasure that shook him to his core. Warrick collapsed onto top of him, making it even more difficult for Nick to catch his breath, but breathing seemed like such a trivial thing when delicious shudders were still wracking his body.

The last thing Nick ever expected was to be suddenly overcome by tears, and he pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, hoping to banish them. Warrick, sensing his movement, roused himself, kissing Nick softly before moving away to discard the condom. He grabbed the towel from the floor and lay down again, next to Nick instead of on him. "Here, babe, let's just--"

Nick knew why Warrick suddenly stopped, but couldn't bring himself to move his hands while tears still threatened.


He sounded so worried that Nick knew he had to answer, but just couldn't.

"Dammit." Warrick's hand gently encircled one of Nick's wrists. "I wondered if maybe we shouldn't have done anything after what happened. I'm sorry, Nicky."

Sheer confusion finally made Nick move his hands and it was only when he saw Warrick's concerned, almost frightened, expression that he finally recalled what had brought Warrick to his house in the first place. That was enough to make him smile despite the tears that filled his eyes, because Mason and Cameron seemed completely insignificant when Warrick was next to him. "Not that," he assured Warrick, his voice steady enough to surprise them both. " was so...nothing bad, but" He didn't have the chance to explain further because Warrick captured his lips in a deep, but gentle, kiss.

"I get you," he murmured against Nick's lips, then drew back. "I know exactly what you mean."

Nick stared, having never seen such vulnerability in his friend's--lover's--face before. He reached up cup Warrick's cheek in his hand.

Warrick leaned against it briefly before sitting up straighter to clean them both off. He tossed the towel back on the floor and settled himself against the pillows, looking at Nick expectantly.

With a smile, Nick shifted closer and felt a muscular arm slide under his shoulders. Nick sat up just enough to press a kiss to the quarter that was resting on Warrick's chest, then to the skin just over Warrick's heart, letting his lips linger there because he thought he could feel it beating.

"Nicky..." Warrick breathed, but seemed incapable of saying anything more.

Nick let Warrick draw him back down, pressing close to his side. Warrick's hand began stroking his hair, and Nick felt sleep overtaking him. His last conscious thought was that he probably wouldn't be having too many nightmares tonight, probably wouldn't be having too many nightmares anymore and he hoped he could think of another way to get Warrick to sing to him.