"Grissom... Gil... snap out of it!" Catherine said, as she snapped her fingers in front of Gil's face.
"What? Oh I'm sorry, I was just thinking I..."
Catherine smiled knowingly. "When is he due back?"
"In about three hours. Am I that transparent?" Gil asked.
"Only to those who know you." Catherine assured him.
"These last two months have felt more like two years, I'll just be glad to have him back," Gil sighed.
Catherine put an understanding hand on his arm, just as the phone rang.
Catherine saw Gil's eyebrow furrow, but she couldn't hear the other side of the conversation.
"Okay. No. I'll see you then. Bye."
"Nick... he... they were driving him to the airport... I have to go, I have to..."
"Gil... Gil calm down. Who was on the phone?" Catherine asked him, forcing Gil to keep eye contact.
"Nick's father." Gil replied.
This he understood, simple questions he could answer, the focus of dealing with one tiny detail at a time, rather than the flood of messages cascading around his mind.
"Where is Nick?" Catherine asked.
"Hospital. Charlton Methodist."
"Okay. Now, Gil, what happened?"
"They were driving to the airport, and... a truck had crashed into a family car, Nick was trying to help, there was a little girl trapped. The car, there was gas it... exploded." Gil's head was pounding, he just wanted to get to Nick, but Catherine kept a firm grip on his arm.
"I'll drive you home to get some stuff and to the airport. And I'll deal with the shift. Come on."
Gil was thankful for Catherine's presence. He was not a man prone to emotions, but Nick had opened him up a lot, and now the idea of anything happening to Nick, it petrified him in a way that made him want to hide under his quilt and never come out, something he had never done, even as a child.
The flight to Texas seemed to take forever. Gil couldn't read, couldn't sleep, in the end the only thing he did succeed in doing was annoying the flight attendant when he asked repeatedly how much longer until they landed.
By the time he got off the plane, and through baggage claims Gil was cursing his job for giving him so many detailed ideas about just what a vehicle exploding could do to a person in close proximity. He was so distracted he almost missed Nick's brother James waving for him.
Neither of them bothered much with the normal polite greetings, James leading Gil to his car. He didn't need to ask where Gil wanted to go first, and they headed straight for the hospital in silence.
Gil couldn't hold back the gasp, when after several minutes of arguing with the nurses, he was allowed in to see Nick.
Nick's parents were sitting by the bed, and there were several other family members as well, but all Gil really saw was Nick.
His face and most of his upper body was entirely covered by crisp white bandages. There were four separate IV's and an oxygen tube.
"Gil, we called you as soon as we could." Nick's mother said standing up.
"I know. Thank you Ginny." Gil returned the hug gratefully.
"Nicholas asked for you, he keeps waking up only to slip back into unconsciousness a few minutes later." Ginny told him.
Gil nodded, and took the seat by the bed that Nick's brother-in-law vacated for him.
There was no conversation, the room was eerily silent except for the buzz and hum of the machines Nick was hooked up to.
A few hours passed, before a Doctor came in, insisting they clear out, immediate family only.
"I'm not leaving." Gil was adamant.
"I'm afraid I'll have to call security if you don't, it's immediate family only." The doctor said.
"Doctor, Nick Stokes is my life-partner. I am not leaving him."
"Then I'll have to call security."
"Doctor. Mr. Grissom is as good as married to my son, Nick would want him to be here when he wakes up again." Jonathan Stokes said.
The Doctor looked set to protest again, but nodded and agreed he could stay.
"What can you tell us about Nick's condition?" Ginny Stokes asked.
"Very little more than I could a few hours ago Mrs. Stokes. Nick was very lucky, if he'd been even a few feet closer to that car he wouldn't have survived the blast. So far, he seems to be stable. I'm confident he will survive, but there is extensive trauma and burns." Gil's mind provided him with the helpful image of how Nick's flesh was probably burned and singed under the bandages.
Nick woke up several times, but he was barely lucid, and quickly dropped off again. Gil had almost cried when Nick said he loved him. It wasn’t that Gil didn't already know this, but Nick had never been involved with a man before, and he'd never had the courage to *say* it before.
Gil knew it was fear that was driving Nick to saying it now, but to hear the words at all, let alone while his lover was in such a fragile state, brought him damn close to tears.
Jonathan and Ginny eventually went home to let the family know what was going on, they invited Gil, but he wasn't ready to leave Nick's side yet, he'd promised to get a cab and follow them but it was fairly obvious he hadn't managed it when he was gently shaken awake by one of the nurses the next morning, who smiled, and handed him coffee.
Gil was fairly sure he looked terrible when Nick's parents arrived, and given that he'd never been a vein man he wasn't prone to caring, but Ginny seemed to and insisted that he go to their place for a shower and a home cooked meal.
It almost made him smile, this woman had an exceptionally sharp legal mind, but she was bustling him around like any mother would.
He had to admit he'd been grateful for the shower, and the food, but he'd wolfed it down as quickly as possible. Nick's father had stayed at the hospital, but Gil really wanted to be there for himself when Nick came around properly.
The next several days continued in much the same way. Nick came around for brief periods, but fell back into unconsciousness nearly as quickly, he was confused not seeming to know what was going on anytime he woke up.
Gil had called Catherine several times. Ecklie was spitting feathers, but luck seemed to be on his side because the Sheriff was looking to get reelected and he wanted the vote of the gay residents of Las Vegas... apparently he didn't see the benefit in firing a man for going to visit his male lover when any straight man could have gone to his wife without obstacle.
He'd also spoken to Warrick and Greg, though Sara was apparently still in a great deal of denial, and didn't want to hear about any of it, still Gil expected as much, but even Brass and Al Robbins had made the effort to talk to him for a few minutes, find out how Nick was doing.
The news he was able to tell them wasn't great but it was good, given the circumstances. There was extensive trauma, and the Doctor was fairly sure some cosmetic surgery would be required to deal with the worst of it, but over all Nick was doing well, and they were confident he'd wake up properly soon.
Of course soon to a doctor and soon to a family desperately waiting for the person they loved to wake up... well soon was a relative concept.
It was late when Gil was left alone with Nick. The oxygen tubes had been removed, but he was still being pumped full of drugs. Gil had seen a little of the burns when the nurses were changing the bandages, he knew if Nick didn't have the drugs he'd be in immense pain.
Gil looked up from the book he was reading to find brown eyes staring at him sleepily.
"It's okay Nicky, I'm here."
"I know sweetheart. The doctors are doing everything they can," Gil said, sitting forward closer to him.
"You were being chivalrous again. There was an accident, but you're gonna be just fine." Gil promised.
"How bad is it?" Nick asked, wincing in pain when he started to cough.
"Easy Nicky... here..." Gil pressed ice chips against Nick's lips. While Nick took a few moments to relax, the ice melting in his mouth, Gil pressed the call button.
"Mr. Stokes, glad to see you awake. I'm Macy I'll just page the doctor and I'm sure he'll be down in a few minutes. Are you in any pain?" Nurse Macy Clarke was a bright bustling woman, who had brought Gil coffee, food, and magazines several times while he sat with Nick.
"Everywhere..." Nick whispered.
"We'll see if the Doctor can't make you more comfortable," Macy promised.
"I'm right here. Not going anywhere I promise." Gil murmured, his hand resting on Nick's.
"How bad is it?" Nick asked again.
"It could be much worse. You'll be fine. Just don't scare me like that again okay, I thought... just don't do it again." Gil said, trying to keep his voice level.
"You're not answering my question." Nick said, fear in his voice.
"No I suppose I'm not. It's not good, but it could be a lot worse. There are some pretty extensive burns, but the Doctor's are happy with your progress, they think most of the scaring will fade on it's own, with very little surgery."
"I want to see."
"Nick you're covered in bandages, all you'd see is white."
"Have you seen?"
"Yes, I stayed while they changed your bandages a few times."
Nick paused, his eyes closing, he was still so tired. "Where are my folks?"
"I'm sure the nurse has called them, they should be here soon." Gil assured.
"Ah Mr. Stokes, glad to see you back with us. Now I'm going to up your pain meds a little and we'll run some tests. Your injuries were extensive, but I'm confident you'll make an almost complete recovery. Already many of your burns are starting to heal; scaring should be at a minimum, very little surgery should be needed."
Nick's recovery was far slower than Gil liked, already he was being forced to fly back to Vegas Monday through Friday and back down to Nick on the weekends, but the Doctor's weren't ready to let Nick out yet and they said it might be another month before they were prepared to let him travel.
Gil was just finishing up his shift, in less than an hour he'd be on a plane back to Texas, when the phone went.
"Grissom." Gil answered automatically.
"Nicky, hey, is everything okay? I'll be down there in a couple of hours, is there something you need me to bring or..."
"No... listen Gil I... I don't want you to come down." Nick said.
"Why not, is there something wrong?" Gil asked concerned.
"No. I just don't want you here I... I think it's best we don't... it's over. I don't want this to affect our working relationship so well you've got a while to get use to this before I get back and... I... Goodbye Gil."
Gil started at the phone in his hand long after Nick had hung up, he couldn't wrap his head around what Nick had done this wasn't right, it... Nick loved him, he... why was he doing this?
"Griss..." Sara startled him a while later.
"Sara I... what can I do for you?" Gil asked.
"Shouldn't you be... I mean aren't you... supposed to be on your way to Texas?" Sara asked. If was the first time she'd asked a direct question that in any way related to Nick and Gil.
"No. I..." Gil choked up he couldn't say it out loud he just couldn't.
"Griss I know... I know I've been weird about you guys but well, I can see how happy Nick makes you and I wish it could be me but it isn't and... look just If you need to talk about things I... I guess I mean I know you could talk to me." Sara told him.
Gil looked startled, Sara had been so far into denial Gil was sure she had really convinced herself Nick and he weren't together... of course now they weren't and... "He doesn't want to see me anymore." Gil said, hating the tears he could feel just behind the lids of his closed eyes.
"I'm sorry." Sara said quietly, like she really meant it.
"Was... was there something you wanted when you came in?" Gil asked.
Sara nodded seeming to appreciate that Gil wasn't ready to discuss things yet. "Front desk got this for you; I was going to leave it on your desk for you."
Gil took the offered envelop and thanked Sara, trying to offer a small smile, but it was forced.
Gil opened the letter recognizing Nick's handwriting immediately despite how shaky it seemed.
By the time you get this I'll already have told you that its over, but I feel I owe you more than that. I don't think I'll be able to say this in person or even over the phone so I'm... well I guess I'm taking the easy way out.
I know you put a lot on the line giving us a chance; you knew I'd never been with a man and things were good, they really were, but it's changed. I know you have tried to hide it but I can see the look in your eyes every time you look at me now, I don't blame you, but I won't let you stay with me out of pity.
I hope we can still work together, maybe get back some of the friendship we had before, if not I'll look for another job when the time comes.
Take care Gil and be happy.
Gil felt anger surge through him, did Nick really think so little of him? No, no this was crazy, Nick was hurt and confused. That had to be it. He had to see him, no matter what Nick thought, this wasn't for the best, he couldn't go back to living his life without Nick in it.
Gil felt like the plane took twice as long as normal to get where it was going, but eventually he was hailing a cab and ordering the driver to go as fast as he possibly could, without breaking the law. It still took longer than Gil would have liked, but eventually he was where he needed to be.
"Gil," Nick's mother was clearly surprised to see him.
"I take it Nick told you about the letter he sent me?" Gil asked.
Ginny Stokes looked at the floor, yes she knew. She hadn't agreed with her son's decision, she didn't believe for a second that Gil would love Nick any less because of a few scars, or even a few hundred, but she hadn't been able to sway Nick's mind.
"I want to talk to him alone." Gil said.
Ginny nodded. "Wait here I'll get everyone out." She told him, so Gil waited, hidden from view of anyone in the room until they all filtered out. Nick's sister was still protesting as the door was closed, but once she saw Gil standing there she shut her mouth.
"Thank you." Gil murmured, waiting until they had cleared the hall, before he steeled himself for this conversation.
Gil was fully prepared to argue and fight to stop Nick ending things, he was determined Nick *would* listen, whether he wanted to or not, but when he entered the hospital room, all riled up and ready to argue he was forced to stop short. Nick was curled around himself shaking, tears streaming down his face and the hand knit blanket Gil had given him held close to his face.
Gil's mother had knitted the blanket and Gil had brought it with him last time he was down, it had always comforted Gil when he needed it.
"Oh Nicky..." Gil sighed and sat down close to the bed, pulling Nick towards him, mindful of the bandages but unable to resist the need to hold the man he loved.
"I love you Nicky, I'm not going anywhere, not now, not ever." Gil murmured, touching flesh where he could find it, trying to avoid any patches that would cause Nick pain, but needing the connection.
"Even with surgery I'll never look the same, I'll always..." Nick sniffled, a sob catching in his throat.
"I don't care!" Gil insisted, moving so he could see Nick's face. The skin on one side was red and angry, drawn tightly about and distorted where the flames had left their mark.
"You are beautiful. I wouldn't care if you were covered in boils and oozing puss, its in here that matters..." Gil touched his hand carefully to Nick's chest. "In here, you are the most beautiful person I know." Gil murmured, leaning in to kiss Nick softly. It was dry and Gil was constantly aware that any sudden movement could cause Nick pain, but if felt like a life time since he'd last felt Nick's lip against his own and he savored the gentle pressure.
"I love you," Nick said, his relief almost palpable, tension just seeping from him.
"I love you too Nicky." Gil said, holding him close again. They could survive this, he knew they could and he'd remind Nicky of that anytime he needed reminding, because that’s what you did for the people you loved.
*Six Months Later*
Nick woke up slowly, feeling the gentle weight of Gil beside him, one of hi s lovers arms thrown carelessly over his midriff. It felt good too wake up like this, the first time in too long since he'd be able to just wake up in his own bed, warm and safe.
He left like it was a whole new life he was living now. Six surgeries and he'd never really be the same even with sixty more. He had moved from being a CSI to lab work. He just wasn't ready to face the public on mass yet. He was living in Gil's house... their house... Gil had signed half of it over to him. Slowly life was returning to... well not normal, in the sense of what had been, but a new type of normal that Nick found he really didn't mind.
He still had scaring, he always would, but the worst of it had been dealt with and it didn't seem to matter much anyway. Gil still looked at him the same way, his blue eyes alight with love and he still whispered to Nick when they made love, telling him constantly how beautiful he was, how could Nick not believe it when Gil held such conviction.
"You're thinking too loudly." Gil complained, rolling over so that Nick was under him.
"I think you've spent too much time around Greg." Nick teased.
"Nope, only around you. Now stop thinking." Gil insisted, kissing Nick, until really thinking wasn't an option.