Title: Behind the Mask
By: Valerie
Disclaimer: The concept and the people in the story are fictional and the property of several production companies. I only borrow them and return them unharmed and unmarked. No money is made of the story and no infringement is meant.
Pairing: Nick/Flack, Danny/Mac and a little Jim/Ecklie

Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghosts on the links

Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks

Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh

There always another story, there more than meets the eye

(W.H Auden)


-Las Vegas-

‘I want my guys back.'

His eyes still on the retreating emergency vehicle, Gil's voice had not asked, but demanded and to his surprise, Ecklie had complied. He had them back, had Nick and Warrick back under his eyes, under his care and yet, nothing was as before.

On the surface it might have been, the easy banter between Warrick and Nick unchanged and the slight annoyance in Sara's eyes when the boys were laying it too thick, the protective mothering from Catherine, whenever she felt as if one of her children was treated unfairly... It was as if that night had never happened.

Until Warrick came back wearing a ring on his finger.

Gil watched as first disbelief, then anger and finally sorrow crept into Nick's eyes, only to be masked perfectly as soon as the attention shifted from Warrick back to the team. Nick's smile was forced and his voice was slightly strained as he congratulated his buddy, telling him that it was a shame he'd bailed on any chances of a stag's night.

He watched as Warrick's smile faltered for a second at Nick's seemingly easy acceptance of his marriage, saw the quick tightening of the taller man's jaw as Nick hugged him and his heart hurt.

Gil had known that day, that no matter how much he wanted everything to go back to normal, it never would and now he watched Nick stop outside his office, hovering for a moment before he visibly gathered his courage and entered.

"Do you have a second for me?"

No, he wanted to say, no, I haven't, I don't want to hear what you're going to tell me, because I know what it is.

"I have an offer from New York..."

New York... it was about as far away from Las Vegas as one could go. Not only in distance, but mentality wise. Las Vegas was America's playground, New York... New York probably wasn't even America anymore... it was more a universe of itself.

"And you're going to accept it."

Nick blinked for a moment, before he nodded and sat down not meeting Gil's eyes.

"I have to go, Gil, I just can't stay here anymore, there are too many memories here... Too many things I want to forget."

Not only being buried alive, but also Warrick's marriage, Nigel Crane, Amy Hendler, Ecklie and his constant sniffing around...

Gil could understand Nick and yet it still hurt, hurt that Nick was right.

"I understand"

Nick seemed relieved and a quick smile crossed his face. Gil waited for a moment, before he looked at his subordinate and friend... the thought made him stop for a moment, before he nodded slowly, yes, Nick had become a friend too and it was as a friend that he made the offer now.

"If you ever need anything Nick, let me know, just give me a call ok?"

The tears that glimmered in Nick's eyes didn't surprise him, but the honesty with which Nick replied did.

"You too, Gil, you too, never hesitate to call."

He got up and left the office, Gil's eyes followed him and he knew that Nick would not organize a big party; he would go to every one of his colleagues and tell them in person, explain the reasons and then leave.

They all would miss him of course but he couldn't help wondering what Warrick would feel.


*New York*

"I can't believe he fired you."

There was as much surprise as shock and anger in Flack's voice as he looked at Aiden in shock. She shrugged her shoulders and brushed her hair back in a gesture that looked lost and vulnerable and made his heart break.

"He thought that I would one day manipulate the evidence and so he took proactive measures..."

"Proactive measures?"

Don was aware that he was talking too loud, but couldn't help himself, Danny who sat next to him grimaced at the wording and looked at his friends.

"Mac's words not yours aren't they?"

Aiden nodded and looked dejected. She had fought so hard to get where she was, the events of today were only now finally catching up and she started to realize that she really had lost everything that had mattered to her... Looking up she saw Don's concerned look, the supportive way he hovered over her, saw Danny's calm eyes watching her, saw how his hands clenched to fists in anger and with a slight smile, she realized that she hadn't lost everything that mattered.

"Thank you guys for standing up for me, for being here now."

Gently Danny put an arm around her shoulder, pushing her slightly until she gave up and leaned in to the comfort of his body. He saw Flack's smile at the unusual position, but didn't comment on it, just softly told Aiden.

"We're always be there for you, it doesn't matter if you're on our team or not, you're first and foremost a friend."

Her walls broke then and silently, desperately she began to sob. Danny held her close and saw the murderous look, Flack had in his eyes. Silently he shook his head and the heat in his friend's blue eyes calmed down a bit.

Later, after having made sure that Aiden got home, Danny and Flack stood in front of her building. They were silent for a long time, before Flack suddenly started pacing and looked at Danny with a pained look.

"Must have been hard today... I mean Mac..."

Danny smiled sadly and shook his head.

"Not really, not harder than any other day. I only wonder why he never kicked me out, I mean after Tanglewood, after the shooting and everything..."

Flack grabbed him by the shoulder and looked closely at his friend.

"Danny, he didn't kick you out, cause you didn't do nothing wrong!"

Neither did Aiden, Danny wanted to say, but he knew that Flack was right in some way and that Mac hadn't been able to kick him out purely for the accusations he'd faced. And yet...

"Sometimes, I think it would have been better."

Flack squeezed his shoulder in a comforting gesture as he hailed a cab and they set out to go home, yet on the cab ride, Danny suddenly looked at Flack.

"You know, the guy or the girl who replaces her will have a hard time."

Flack's eyes went cold and his voice matched the temperature from outside as he answered.

"Well, I for one will make sure of that."


*Chapter 1*

He'd been to New York for conferences and seminars, but now living in the Big Apple was everything he'd expected and yet so much more, that Nick was still more than slightly overwhelmed when he walked into the building and towards the receptionist.

"Nick Stokes, I am here to see Lieutenant Taylor"

The blond young woman looked at him appreciatively and smiled before she dialed a number and quickly spoke into the phone. Her accent was sharp and pronounced and Nick had to suppress a smile.

Typical New York, short, crisp and to the point... no unnecessary words... Nick smiled as he remembered Grissom's rambling about something and nothing, but as quickly as the smile had appeared, his face darkened again and he swallowed hard.

Leaving Las Vegas had been harder than he'd thought it would be.

Forgetting Las Vegas would be impossible...

"Mr. Stokes?"

He had spoken with Mac Taylor several times, but all the previous conversations had either taken place on the phone or through video conference. The talks had given him the impression of a sharp, intelligent man, someone who didn't tolerate nonsense and who had a very, very strong mind. Nick swallowed hard as he forced a smile on his face, extending his hand and accepting the offered hand of his soon-to-be supervisor.

"Lieutenant Taylor, it's nice to meet you in person finally."

In person all his impressions were proven right, Mac Taylor was impressive, had a presence he hadn't seen in many people before, but there was more than just presence around this man. Nick studied the supervisor for a second and saw the deep lines of sorrow and pain, saw the aura of loneliness that surrounded him like an invisible cloak and sighing lightly he wondered if this was something that was in the job description when becoming a CSI.

"It's Mac... Now that we're officially colleagues."

Nick saw the genuine smile in the other man's face and some of his tension eased a bit. He nodded and smiled lightly and shrugged.

"Well, I'm Nick."

The older man smiled a bit, before he turned and walked towards the elevator. They stood next to each other silently, then Mac explained which section of the crime lab occupied which floor. Nick tried to follow, but after a short time he laughed lightly and explained at Mac's confused gaze.

"I'll just ask my way round, Vegas had everything on one floor..."

He trailed off as memories of the lab rose and he suppressed a shiver. Turning he felt Mac's eyes on him and knew immediately that he was being assessed. Unconsciously he straightened and squared his shoulders not noticing the quick smile that crossed Mac's face. Finally the elevator came to a stop and Mac led him into his office and offered him a chair.

Nick though stood just there for a second, taking in the atmosphere of the lab, noticing the glass walls, the bright cold light of the lamps, the equipment he knew so well and finally he turned around with a smile.

"You've got a room with a view."

Mac's smile got wider and turned genuine again and he shook his head with a smile as he sat down.

"Not many would say this."

Nick heard the underlying question and with another smile and a shrug he agreed with his new boss.

"Maybe, but I've always liked my job and that has not changed..."

His love for his job was probably the only thing that had remained untouched from the events in the last months, and although he'd had a moment when he'd doubted if he could ever be a CSI again, it had never been because of lack of enthusiasm.

"Why did you really leave Las Vegas?"

Surprised he looked up and saw Mac's clear and intelligent eyes on him. The man opposite him was completely different from Grissom and yet they both had the ability to look at a person in a way that made it impossible to lie to them. He sighed, but he'd known all along that he needed to come clear at least with his boss right at the beginning.

It had been weeks since he'd freaked out on a crime scene, but he knew that a panic attack could happen again and that Mac needed to know.

"There were too many memories."

Mac didn't say anything, but Nick had the feeling that his eyes got hard for a second before warming to a soft blue. He swallowed and found the courage to continue.

"I was abducted while I was working a scene and ..."

He hated it how his voice still trembled but at the same time Nick realized that it was the first time he'd actually told anyone about his ordeal. Before everyone had known and the fact that here no one did, made him feel relieved and free. It gave him strength to talk on.

"... I woke up and was buried underground... I... it was a close call and afterwards working back at the lab, back at the nightshift... I tried to go back to normality but..."

How should he explain the real reason without mentioning Warrick? Nick knew that he couldn't tell his new boss that the ultimate stroke had been the fact that his best friend had gotten married, couldn't tell him of the revelation he'd had in this box and his determination to tell Warrick how he felt. And so he just shrugged and waited for the questions.

"Did your team find you?"

It wasn't the question he'd been expecting and although the thought of ants still scared him to death, the memory of Grissom made him smile fondly.

"They did, well Grissom did. I... the box broke and fire ants got access to my body... they almost killed me with their venom but Grissom recognized the breed and that way he knew where to look for me..."

A shiver ran through him as he remembered the realization and fear when he'd seen the first ant, then the second and... Nick got up swiftly and walked to the window staring outside, concentrating on the blue sky and the gleaming skyscrapers of Manhattan.

"They got me out... and I promised to survive."

The hand on his shoulder took him by surprise and he jerked back only to meet the questioning eyes of the older man.

"You did"

It was a short statement and he saw understanding in the blue eyes. Turning back towards the city he nodded and then told Mac the one thing he'd realized on the flight to New York, the flight towards his new life.

"Yes, I did. But in the end surviving wasn't enough."

Mac didn't say anything, just looked at him questioningly and Nick shrugged.

"Had I stayed in Las Vegas, I'd never gotten past the stage of surviving and I don't want that. I don't want to survive, I want to live."


Mac watched as Nick Stokes left the building. He wasn't tall and yet he stood out in the busy New York street. There was something about the younger man that made people take a second look at him. But it weren't his good looks or his unconsciously graceful movements that made Mac watch him as he walked away.

‘I don't want to survive, I want to live.'

He'd read about the events that Nick had talked about and had marveled at the strength of the man who'd been buried, but he hadn't drawn the connection between Nick Stokes and the nameless CSI. Mac smiled sadly, he knew it was wrong to be glad for what had happened, but he couldn't help being grateful that Nick would join his team.

Now he only had to tell the others, silently he sighed. It was bad timing and he wished for Nick's sake that he could have started at a different time. The team would not be welcoming him with open arms, they would instead see him as a replacement for Aiden. Mac looked down at the file and at the notes he'd scribbled during the talk with Nick but he didn't see the letters instead he saw the clear dark eyes of a young man who'd survived and who'd understood something Mac himself had not.

That surviving was sometimes not enough.


Danny watched as Mac walked into the room and as always his heart stopped for a second. Cursing lightly, he called himself all kind of names, but it didn't change anything, never did. Mac had caught his heart the moment he'd chosen him to work for his team.

A team that was now missing a member and Danny saw Stella looking silently at the empty chair next to her, saw Flack's accusing look and sighed lightly. Rationally he understood Mac's reasons, but at the same time he didn't understand why he'd kept him on the team and fired Aiden...

"I called you to let you know that a new colleague will start today."

The short clipped words made Danny tense and he saw Flack's sneer as he commented coldly.

"Fast work Mac, really fast work."

Mac's eyes narrowed for a second, before they turned emotionless again. He continued as if he hadn't heard Flack's words, but as he came to the last sentence, Danny realized that Mac had heard and not only had listened, but had anticipated this reaction from them.

"His name is Nick Stokes, he worked with the crime lab in Las Vegas for six years and before that with Dallas PD for two. He will join our team as a CSI Level 3."

Danny noticed the look Mac sent Stella and suddenly understood that the new guy would have the same level as Stella. She had tensed a bit, but relaxed again probably knowing that with her experience and knowledge she had nothing to fear. It was something else though that struck Danny as he thought about Mac's comment, Aiden had been a CSI Level 1 where as the new guy was Level 3 and without thinking he said what he'd just realized.

"So you didn't hire him as a replacement for Aiden."

Mac looked at him and for a moment Danny saw gratefulness and relief in the blue eyes, emotions that surprised him, but as his supervisor nodded and continued to speak, he understood.

"No, we had talked long before, but until three days ago, I wasn't sure if he'd really accept our offer or not."

Mac paused briefly visibly contemplating something, before speaking again this time looking at Flack intently.

"He's got very, very good credentials, has worked with one of the best teams nationwide and even more worked closely with Gil Grissom for the last six years. I think we can consider ourselves lucky that he chose New York, when he wanted a change and I really hope that you'll make him feel welcome because and I want to make this very, very clear. I did not hire him as a replacement for Aiden."

Again Mac fixed Flack and Danny saw his friend shrink a bit under the glare, but stare back defiantly at the same time.

"Understood Flack?"

The detective watched Mac coldly and shrugged.

"Papers mean nothing... I will treat him with as much respect as he deserves for the job he does and not for who he is."

Danny saw Mac tense at the hard words and jealousy flared as he realized that whoever this Nick Stokes was, he was someone Mac protected, yet at the same time he knew that in Mac's eyes this guy was already a part of the team and therefore part of Mac's family.

Give the guy a chance...

He promised it to himself, but he was hard pressed to act accordingly as he first saw the other man. Nick Stokes was exactly the kind of man; Danny had always wanted to be. Dark haired, lean muscled body, dark, no very dark eyes... And of course from what Mac had told them, he was intelligent and most likely a top CSI.

Danny growled lightly as he saw the honest and warm smile on Mac's face.

Give the guy a chance...

He hadn't expected it to be so hard.


Don watched as Mac introduced the new guy to the rest of the team, Nick Stokes had an easy smile and his openness seemed genuine as he smiled at Stella's friendly teasing for his accent.

"Take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy."

He was slightly shocked as he realized how harsh his words sounded and for a moment there was a tense silence in the room, Danny looked at him and he saw the slight reproach in his eyes, but before anyone could say anything, Stokes shrugged and laughed lightly.

"Make it Texas instead of country and I agree with you... On the other hand you can hardly call Dallas countryside."

Mac sent him a cold, hard warning glare as he introduced him as...

"Detective Don Flack, our link to PD."

He didn't hold out his hand, just nodded curtly and saw the other man tense just a slight bit. The silent tension in the room grew until Stokes once again tried to diffuse it by looking at him with another smile, yet one that didn't reach his eyes.

"Nice to meet you"

It sounded forced and Don saw how Mac's shoulders were tense as he watched the exchange before addressing Danny and asking him to show Stokes around the lab. Don was close to make another scathing remark, when Stokes suddenly looked up and straight in his eyes.

Time slowed, slowed and stopped. Don felt like drowning in those chocolate eyes, eyes that were full of emotions too many too account for but one that made him feel like the biggest ass. Pain...

He wanted to reach out and take the hurtful words, his spiteful behavior back, but his pride held him back and he sneered once again before he broke the stare. Stokes stepped back as if he too had been caught in this eye lock involuntarily and Don could see how a shiver went through the slender body before the other man turned away and left the room with Danny.

"Was this necessary?"

Stella's soft words weren't judging, just asking, but in the turmoil of emotions that Don was experiencing right at this moment, he didn't care.

"Was it necessary for you to suck up to him like this?"

She straightened and glared at him, but before she could reply anything, it was Mac who made it clear that he would not tolerate such behavior.

"Flack, I'll say this once. You treat Stokes the same way as any other CSI, are we clear?"

He looked at the CSI supervisor and shrugged carelessly, course he'd treat Stokes well and if not who'd tell Mac?


Nick still felt almost dizzy from the encounter with the detective. It wasn't the hostility that had thrown him, he'd expected that to a certain degree although not from a cop, it was the pull he'd felt the moment their eyes had met. There had been a connection he'd never felt before not even with...

Steeling himself he pushed any thoughts of Vegas aside and looked at his new colleague. Danny was his name, wasn't it?

"Why do I have the feeling you all don't really want me here?"

He saw the slight surprise in Danny's face, then the guilt and with a sinking heart he realized that he'd been right with his gut feeling. Longing filled him, longing for Vegas for the familiar team, his friends, his family and for a moment he was tempted to say forget it all and go back.

But at the same time Nick knew that he couldn't. There had been... Danny's hand on his shoulder brought him out of his musings and back to reality. He met the other man's eyes and saw genuine remorse there and a light smile that was honest. His heart lifted a bit, maybe it wasn't so bad, maybe he would find friends here.

"Sorry for Flack's words... It's just that Mac fired one of our friends a couple of days ago and we all know that he didn't hire you for her, she was a Level 1 after all and you're Level 3. But Flack's a stubborn bastard sometimes, he'll come around."

Nick could understand now, and it somehow made it better because it wasn't about him personally, it was about what he represented. He smiled at Danny.

"Thanks for telling me"

The younger man grinned and showed him some of the other equipment and soon enough they were discussing methods while examining a fiber selected from a dead body. Nick found himself laughing at some of the antiques of the younger man and added a few of his own. Danny reminded him of Greg and the easy banter between them made him feel more at ease.

"Feel like grabbing some lunch?"

Nick looked up surprised and grinned. He still wasn't used to be back on day shift.

"Sure, I'd love to."

He followed Danny through the maze of labs to the elevators and then out onto the streets, standing there Nick absorbed the rush of people for a second and saw the other CSI look at him with a smile in his face.

"Getting used to New York?"

Joining him and keeping in step as they walked over to a sandwich shop, Nick nodded.

"Getting used to a lot of things, working days again, working in a city like this..."

Danny looked at him sharply as they returned to the lab and sat down in the break room. The way they sat had Nick with his back to the door, something he had avoided doing back in Vegas. It hadn't been that he hadn't felt safe around his colleagues and yet the feeling of danger had never completely left him. Funny that here in this city, this lab with so many people he didn't know he felt more secure. Seeing Danny's look he smiled.

"You were on nightshift?"

Nick nodded and at the surprised look on the younger man's face he elaborated a bit.

"Vegas is a night city, not too much happening during the day and when I applied for a transfer to Vegas there was an opening on the nightshift... So I applied and got the job."

He smiled fondly remembering the first time he'd met Brass and Grissom, a much younger Grissom not so much by age more by experience, responsibilities... Nick felt his smile fading as other memories rose and he quickly grabbed his coke to hide the shivers that ran through him.

"So you were a CSI in Dallas already? Cause Mac told us you were a cop there."

Danny's face showed nothing but open curiosity and Nick didn't mind it. It was after all a normal way of getting to know people and once they'd finished talking about him, he'd ask the same questions. He liked Danny, could see them becoming friends easily. Yet as that thought rose another face showed up in his memory and those cold blue eyes, that had captured him before made him shiver now. Nick pushed it away and sighed.

"I worked there for two years as a cop and then another two as a CSI. But my whole family is in law enforcement, my mom an attorney, my dad a Supreme Court judge... I just wanted to get away from being ‘young Stokes' you know. Then my supervisor told me about the offering and I applied, funny thing is that it wasn't until I got accepted that I realized I would be working with Gil Grissom."

Danny looked at him and there was something in his eyes that Nick couldn't decipher. But then the other man visibly composed himself and asked with a sparkle in his eyes.

"How was it to work for Gil Grissom?"

Nick thought of Grissom and smiled brightly.

"I loved it... He's, I don't know, he's probably the most unlikely person you'd ever see in law enforcement because you know he's not a drill sergeant he's a teacher. He's a complete scientist and doesn't believe or trust in anything apart from science and logic... We've had so many arguments about this, because every once and then I'd push him into formulating a theory and he'd answer me with this contrite look: ‘We don't work on theories, Nicky, we work on evidence…"

Danny grinned with him, but his face turned serious again as he got them a coffee.

"You loved it there, so why did you leave?"

He had known that the question would come up and had thought of many ways to evade it or to answer it, but as he looked in Danny's friendly and somehow confused eyes Nick knew that he couldn't lie and so he simply waved his hand vaguely.

"Stuff happened... too many memories."

He knew that this wasn't an answer and expected Danny to ask more, but to his surprise the other man just looked at him, nodded easily and poured the rest of his coffee in the sink.

"Ready to get back to work?"

Nick smiled relieved, but at the same time he knew that he would tell Danny the truth one day and with a sigh he wondered if he could dare to tell the other man the entire truth.

He had no idea that Danny was wondering the same in the very same moment.


*Chapter 2*

"Don, what do we have?"

Mac's voice was business like and Don reacted to it immediately.

"Male victim, stabbed multiple times in the back... his partner found him when he came home from work."

With those words he pointed towards a man in his fifties, dressed like a typical wall street banker an attire that looked out of place with the tears that ran freely over his face, the desperation in his eyes and the shaking of his hands.

"Ok, I'll go inside..."

Mac trailed off as his phone rang and then spoke shortly with Stella, before turning back to Don.

"Stella needs help, Nick and Danny are on their way over here. Give them your information, they're going to work this scene."

Don's eyes turned hard as he heard this comment and without a word he turned away to tell the other cops to wait for the rest of the CSI's to come and process the scene. Nick and Danny... Since Nick had started four weeks ago, he'd never worked a scene with him, and although he couldn't prove it, he was certain that Mac had made sure that their paths had never crossed.

He hadn't seen the other man for four weeks, hadn't spoken to him since that brief introduction and yet he couldn't forget him.

It wasn't that he hadn't tried, he even went as far as going to a pick up bar but all the good looking young men had not seemed right, they had been too young, too blond or too perfect. Last night when he had been there he'd finally met someone, had taken the edge of with a quick encounter in the back room, but as the young man had looked up after sucking him off, Don had shivered. Dark eyes had looked at him, it had been dark hair that he'd held onto during his climax and yet he had not seen the man right in front of him, but another man.

"Hey Flack, what have you got for us?"

Danny's voice was cheerful and instinctively Don reacted to his friend's good mood smiling for a moment before going somber again as he repeated what he'd already told Mac.

"Did the ME already look at the body?"

For a moment Don was frozen as Nick's slight Texan twang flowed over him like molten honey, then he looked at the other man coldly.

"Not yet, he's there right now."

Nick nodded, stepped back and looked at the apartment building, his eyes scanned the area and for a moment Don was sure that Nick was filming the entire scenery in his mind. He saw Danny looking at him and read the plea in his friend's eyes.

Be nice, please...

Danny had spoken about Nick a couple of times when Don and he had been going for drinks, had mentioned things he'd learned from the other CSI or when the older man had stood up for him against Mac. Their conversations often ended with Danny trying to persuade Don to accept Nick as a true member of the team, but he couldn't. He knew that Danny didn't understand his resentments against Nick and he couldn't explain it without revealing more than he wanted.

He knew that if Danny would press, he'd find the real reason why he pushed Nick away so much. Danny knew about Don's preferences, just as Don knew about Danny's, but he didn't want his friend to know that he'd fallen for a straight, red-neck Texan...

"Who is he?"

Nick's words drew him back to reality and he saw the CSI looking over to the banker, here it comes he thought silently, waiting for the knee jerk reaction as he answered.

"The victim's partner"

No comment or answer, instead Nick walked over to still crying man and introduced himself calmly as Nick Stokes from CSI. Don made a step towards the pair, but Danny's hand on his shoulder held him back.

"Watch and learn"

He saw the smile in Danny's eyes and glared at his friend, but couldn't help watching Nick as he talked to the older man.


"Sir, did you touch the body?"

Nick knew that it was a stupid question and yet it was protocol. The expensively dressed man looked at him without any hope in his eyes.

"Of course, I... I came inside and he lay there... and there was all his blood and I knew but... I still hoped, you know, still prayed..."

He didn't think as he touched the other man's shoulder gently and squeezed it in a gesture of comfort, before he let go and grabbed some items from his kit.

"No one blames you for this Mr. Milner, it's a natural reaction believe me. I just asked because I will need to process your clothing and if possible a DNA sample, so that we can match anything we find."

Tom Milner nodded, but Nick saw that he didn't really understand what Nick said and he smiled sadly, as he put on his gloves and started to pick some fibers from the unmoving man. He was most likely in shock and having some experience with that state, Nick started to talk casually and draw Tom Milner into a conversation while he processed him.

"How long were you together?"

The older man looked up and met Nick's eyes with a sad smile, then he removed his ring and handed it to the CSI.

"Twenty-five years... we survived the oppression in the early eighties and stayed together, then saw our friends die of AIDS and still managed to stay true and now... now that we could have just enjoyed our lives..."

He trailed off and sobs shook his body, Nick stared at the ring in his hand, read the engraving and sighed deeply.

‘Forever might not be long enough'

"It won't help you now, but you've had twenty five wonderful years with the one you love. Believe me this is a gift."

The older man looked at him and Nick realized that Milner had heard the faint envy in his voice and he smiled sadly as he put his samples in the bags and back into his kit.

"Who can I call if I want to hear about the investigation?"

Nick hesitated for a second, his eyes flying over to the detective and he shivered slightly. Don Flack was staring at him with an intense look, a look which he couldn't identify and with a jerk he forced himself back to reality and pointed towards the tall dark haired cop.

"Detective Flack is in charge of the investigations, he will keep you informed. Or you can contact me, if you have any questions."

The second wasn't protocol and certainly wasn't standard, but he had seen the second of hesitation on Tom Milner's face as he'd looked at Flack. Cops and gays... Nick knew enough about this topic to understand why Milner might be reluctant to contact Flack and as he saw the grateful smile in the green eyes, he felt better.

"Thanks Mr. Stokes"

Nick nodded and shook the older man's hand before he turned and walked towards Danny. He smiled at the younger CSI and tried to ignore the curious look in the other's eyes. He wasn't sure what Danny thought right at this moment, but he suddenly realized that his reaction to Milner and the way he'd treated the other man might raise some questions.

Shoulders slumping slightly, Nick sighed. Well, if the question would come up, he'd be honest. He had never hidden his sexuality after his involuntary coming out years ago and he wouldn't start now.

"What have you found?"

Flack's voice was cold and yet there was an underlying emotion that Nick couldn't identify and it irked him but he pushed it aside.

"Not much, but we'll know more once we've analyzed everything."

He turned to see what Danny had found, but Flack reached out and stopped him with a hard grasp on his shoulder. Nick tensed for a moment, his body going rigid before he forced himself to relax. Ever since that night, he reacted badly when someone ‘attacked' him from behind. And even though he knew that Flack was no enemy, he couldn't shake the reaction.

The cop noticed and immediately let go and maybe there was some perverse god laughing at him, but as soon as the contact was broken Nick yearned for it and he inwardly sighed. He wasn't going to go there, wasn't going to fall for another straight man, he couldn't go through that again.

"Why did you give him his card? Don't think I can do my job?"

Flack's voice was muted, but Nick saw the anger in the blue eyes and once again found himself wondering what he'd ever done to deserve this anger. Outwardly though he looked at the cop and shrugged.

"It can be hard for gays to ask the police for help."

Flack sneered lightly as his eyes locked with Nick's. Nick saw a dark kind of humor flash for a moment, before the blue eyes turned cold again.

"You would know about that, wouldn't you?"

He tensed then, really tensed because it was one thing for Flack to insult him on a business level, that he could handle, he would however not let himself be insulted by a straight idiot who just happened to have slipped into his fantasies.

Yet before he could retaliate in kind, his phone rang and with a last cold glare he moved back a bit and picked up.

"Nick, finally, it's good to hear your voice."

The world seemed to spin around him for a moment as Warrick's voice floated over him like a soft warm breeze. He struggled for words and finally just mumbled a hi to which Warrick reacted immediately.

"Shit, did I catch you out on a scene?"

He felt the questioning eyes of both Danny and Flack in his back, when he answered.

"Yes you did, hey listen man can I call you back tonight?"

Warrick agreed and when he hung up he walked over to get on with his work without acknowledging Danny or Flack. And although he was diligently looking at the evidence and carefully searching the flat, he couldn't help but let his mind wander to all those scenes he'd worked with Warrick.

Remembering hurt... and with a sigh he put all thoughts away and yet the sadness lingered on. He missed Warrick, not just the man he'd fallen in love with, but his friend...

He had no friends here, because no one knew him. It was what he wanted, what he'd decided after surviving and yet Nick had never thought how lonely it could be. 


Mac watched Nick work, saw the diligence the younger man took when examining something and smiled at the way he would catalogue everything immediately. His smile though faded as he noticed the tension in the other man's shoulders. Nick was working himself to the ground and although Mac appreciated the success rate the younger CSI had, he had no intention of losing such a talented young man to a burn out.

"Nick, go home"

Startled eyes looked up, the darkness even more pronounced against the pale skin and Mac sighed silently.

"No one expects you to solve the case in one shift... you are actually allowed to go home and sleep."

For a very short moment sadness and pain crossed over Nick's face and if Mac had not been such a talented observer, he would have missed it entirely. It struck a cord though in his heart as he recognized the emotion behind the sadness... Loneliness...

New York could be a hard city to start over, no one knew that better than Mac himself and maybe Nick had not expected it to be this hard. For a moment Mac was silent, then making a decision, he looked at the younger man.

"Feel like grabbing a quick beer?"

There was a surprised smile in Nick's face, before he nodded and started cleaning up.

Later sitting in a quieter boot in one of the less frequented pubs around the office, Mac looked at the younger man sitting opposite him.

"You don't seem happy here."

Nick looked up and Mac felt the dark eyes rest on him for a long time, before the other man shrugged and looked at him closely.

"Neither do you"

It was a statement that few people would have dared to make right to his face and it took him aback for a moment. Then he nodded and acknowledged the truth of what Nick had said.

"New York can be a hard city."

A flash of a smile ran over Nick's face at that statement.

"I know, never realized how hard though..."

He trailed off and looked into his beer. For a moment they were both silent, then Nick spoke again.

"... I was always a people person, but in the last couple of years I've just had too much shit happening to me. When I was... when I was there, I told myself that I had to change, had to stop being the victim, stop being so close to people, stop getting so attached all the time and so I moved here."

Silently Mac wondered if Nick realized how he was currently contradicting his own words. Not the comment about the victim, cause Mac certainly didn't see Nick as a victim, but everything else. Nick's entire persona was that of someone who drew people in, Stella adored him, Danny saw an older brother in him and even Sheldon came out of his shell when Nick was in the morgue.

Not to mention he, Mac himself... When had he had a beer with a work colleague the last time? The memory of drinking a quiet beer with Danny, chatting comfortably enjoying the other man's company made him swallow hard as hurt rose unexpectedly in him. It was long ago before Tanglewood, before Aiden, before the subway...

"But now I'm here and you know it's crazy... I wanted to be alone and to be more apart from people and now that I am, I just feel so damn lonely."

A small, self-depreciating smile crossed Nick's face.

"I guess I'm not Grissom, although I haven't resorted to racing cockroaches yet."

Mac had heard of Grissom's infamous hobby and chuckled lightly.

"So what is it for you then?"

Meeting Nick's eyes with a hard stare, one he'd used as a Marine Mac tried to avoid the question. The younger man though wasn't intimidated at all. Instead he held the look and just returned it evenly until Mac gave in. Silently admitting defeat, Mac realized that he'd just learned something else about Nick Stokes. Behind that charming smile and the soulful eyes was a iron hard will, and somehow it didn't surprise him. Nick had survived an ordeal few would have survived and that alone should have tipped him off.

"I lost my wife four years ago."

For a moment, he stopped almost shocked to realize that four years had already passed. When had that happened? How could it be that the grief still felt this raw?

Looking up he met Nick's compassionate eyes, but the younger man didn't say anything, just waited for Mac to continue.

"She worked in the towers..."

Suddenly he understood how Nick had felt that morning in his office, when he had told him about the abduction. Telling something that everyone around him knew was weird, and in a way it was as if the re-telling put the event even further into the past. Taking his beer, Mac took a large gulp and looked up to meet Nick's eyes again.

"You still mourn her."

Quiet, calm voice, soothing friendly eyes... Nick wasn't the first person to say this and yet something in his manners made Mac's throat close and he had to swallow hard before he could answer.

"Every day"

And yet even as he said it, he knew that it was only part of the truth. He missed Claire, missed her terribly and yet sometimes looking at Danny and seeing the pale skin, the dark rings around his eyes was more painful than the memory of her.

"Who do you miss?"

Surprised, almost shocked Mac looked up. Had Nick read his thoughts?

"What do you mean?"

Absently Nick played with his ring, before he answered slowly.

"In the beginning I mourned for my love, I mourned for the one I loved and lost... Then after a while, I didn't mourn for my lover anymore, I even fell in love again. But I will never stop missing my friend."

Mac didn't know what to answer, couldn't speak and so instead he finished his beer. They left shortly after and as they split at the cars, Nick looked at him carefully.

"Sorry if I've said something out of line..."

He could see that Nick felt bad and instinctively he put a hand on the younger man's shoulder.

"Don't worry... You didn't."

Mac drove home without the music on and in his head Nick's words were repeated again and again. He knew that Nick was right, but where did that leave him?

More important even, where did that leave him and Danny?


*Chapter 3*

"You know sometimes I hate my job."

Danny saw Nick nod slowly as they watched the kid being led away. They had found their killer, a fifteen year old boy who'd tried to prove he was a man. That the initiation into the gang had ended in a murder instead of a break in, had not concerned him too much instead he'd seemed almost proud of it.

"He'll get out and be a hero in the streets."

Nick's voice was tired and Danny looked at his colleague. There was a knowledge in the dark eyes that spoke of too many dead bodies and too many grieving friends and relatives. It was their job and yet Danny realized that Nick still had preserved enough humanity to still let himself get involved. And as if on cue, he saw Tom Milner walk into the office. Nick saw him too and took a deep breath. Danny could see how he was visibly steeling himself, before he walked over and carefully greeted the older man.

Standing back a bit, he watched as Nick talked to their victim's partner, but soon enough his thoughts strayed and he sat down. Mac had paired him with Nick in their last three cases and he'd enjoyed working with the older man. Nick was easy to work with, and although he was theoretically his senior, they worked as a team. On the other hand, he could learn a lot from Nick and the easy bantering between them had made him look forward to work for the first time in a long time.

Sadly he shook his head, he wondered when his dream job had turned into nightmare and why he'd ever thought of escaping his name.

"Danny? Are you ok?"

Nick's voice was concerned and he saw the same concern in the dark eyes. For a moment Danny wanted to brush him off, but right then Nick's phone rang. Quickly he looked at it and tensed. Danny saw the moment of pain in his eyes before he pressed the reject button. It was then that he realized that Nick probably had just as many secrets as he had.

"Do you want to grab a bite later?"

The change in Nick was apparent, he smiled and nodded.

"Love to or even better, why don't you come over for a round of games?"

He hesitated for a moment, then suddenly said.

"Going out with you won't be as awkward as going for a drink with Mac."

Something froze and broke in Danny at those words and he felt jealousy wake in him. And yet at the same time he understood Mac perfectly. Nick was everything someone like Mac would want, intelligent, upstanding, capable and of course not laden with a family like his.

"Drinks with Mac? Consider yourself honored, he's not known for going for drinks."

Nick stopped for a moment and stared at Danny. Then without another word he changed direction and walked towards the break room. Danny followed him but at the same time he wondered why. Once in the empty room, Nick turned around and looked straight at him.

"Danny, I'm... "

He blushed a bit, before he looked determined again.

"Look, I know you care for him... and really I don't want to...

Again he stumbled over his words and if Danny had not been so surprised about Nick's comment, he might have found the scene funny. As it was though, he was torn between horror and surprise. Nick had known about his preferences, he'd told him pretty much on the first case in order to avoid any weirdness, but they'd never talked about Mac... Looking at Nick again, he cursed silently. Damn this guy was good.

"I'm not interested in Mac and he is not interested in me ok... He's just definitely not my type..."

Staring at his friend... his friend? For a moment he paused and considered it, before he nodded and smiled happily. Yeah, Nick was his friend. Danny had to smile as the non-nonsense mask faltered and Nick blushed. For a moment they stared at each other, before without warning Danny started to chuckle first, Nick joined and soon they were howling with laughter.


Don watched Danny and Nick leave the break room laughing. Standing a bit in the shade as he was, they did not see him as they walked passed and stopped to wait for the elevator. The way he stood, he could see Nick's face and his breath caught for a second as he saw the other man laughing carefree and happy. He'd never seen him like this and that thought made him pause for a second. Six weeks on the job and no real smile...

"I did not."

Nick's protest was half hearted and Danny immediately caught on. Grinning at the older man, he responded chuckling.

"Of course you did. I tell you, you did sound like a soap opera."

For a moment there was silence, then Danny yelped and Don saw that he rubbed his arm where Nick had well naturedly punched him. They both looked so young... He froze as a wave of protectiveness flooded him. It was ok to lust after Stokes, but this... no, he didn't want this... protectiveness led to emotions and emotions led to... nothing, they would lead to nothing. And with an angry swallow Don pushed all those feelings away.

"Now how would you know, how a soap opera sounds like?"

Good comeback... Don smiled fondly at Nick's comment and waited for Danny's reaction, yet before he could say anything. Nick's phone rang and with a court ‘Stokes' the older CSI answered. When he hang up, they had a new case and Don knew that their bantering was over. Yet right before the elevator closed behind the two men, he heard Danny say.

"This is not over Nick, I'll get back at you tonight!"

For a long time Don just stood there watching the closed doors. Danny and Nick were going out tonight. And no matter how stern he told his heart that it was not his business whom Nick was seeing after work, because he did not like Nick, he couldn't silence the voice that kept on telling him that it did matter.

Because it hurt that it wasn't him.


"Grissom, hey how are you?"

Nick would have never thought that he'd develop a real friendship with his former supervisor, but since he had moved to New York, exactly that had happened. They talked on the phone at least once a week, using each other as sounding boards for cases or just discussed things they had read in the forensic journal.

Today though was different and Nick felt nervous as he prepared to ask Grissom a favor. Never mind that the older man had told him to do so multiple times, it still felt weird to do so. Yet it was important and so he worked up the courage and after a couple of minutes chit-chat, he tentatively asked.

"Can I ask you something?"

Grissom's immediate answer made him smile fondly, whenever he talked to the other man, he missed Vegas, missed working with him. Hearing Grissom's voice and just talking to him made him tune out all that had gone wrong and at the same time focus more on the good parts.

"If I want to learn more about insects, which book or what would I need?"

He heard the surprise in Grissom's silence and before Gil could say anything, Nick already felt as if he had to justify his question.

"I just want to get over this fear, you know? And I thought, that... well you know that reading about them, learning more about them, understanding everything would help."

Again there was silence on the other side, then Grissom finally spoke. He told him several books and journals and while he spoke his voice was hoarse almost as if speaking was hurting him and with a shiver Nick realized that Gil still was just as affected as he, Nick was. Their talk was a bit strained afterwards and they finally said good bye, yet before he could hang up, Grissom suddenly said something that simply floored Nick.

"You are an exceptionally strong person Nicky... I don't think I ever told you that, but I never met anyone stronger than you are. I'm glad we keep in contact... I would miss you if not."

The click right after the ‘not' made Nick smile a bit and shaking his head he sat down on his couch contemplating the fact that Grissom was definitely much better with people if he didn't have to deal with them face to face.

He just wondered what a psychologist would make from this."


At first Mac had been glad that Nick and Danny got along so well, it would make the transition easier and with Flack's attitude still being so off, he was relieved that the new member of his team had someone close.

But it was one thing to have them get along on the job and listen to their banter and something completely different seeing them going out or listening to them making appointments to meet after work at Nick's place. Mac knew that Nick had found an apartment in Queens, the same borough where Danny lived too.

And no he wasn't jealous, he surely wasn't jealous.

Once again Nick's words from the night three days ago rang through his memory.

In the beginning I mourned for my love, I mourned for the one I loved and lost... Then after a while, I didn't mourn for my lover anymore, I even fell in love again. But I will never stop missing my friend.

Had it been Danny Nick had been talking about?

And yet at the same time he shook his head, there was no indication that Nick might prefer men and even if...

"You wanted to talk to me?"

Danny stood in the door looking at him with the same slightly cold expression he carefully wore whenever he spoke with Mac. The fact that the younger man obviously felt as if he had to protect himself from Mac, hurt the supervisor but he pushed the thought down as fast as it had come up. He had indeed wanted to talk to Danny, but with his emotions and thoughts in turmoil he needed more time to figure himself out, to calm down.

"Can we move it to tomorrow?"

For a second he was sure to have seen disappointment in the younger man's eyes, but it was gone as quickly as it had come up and Danny shrugged.

"Sure, see you then."

Nodding good bye Mac waited for Danny to leave before he got up and closed the door and the blinds. Finally alone with his thoughts he tried to bring order into the chaotic mess in his heart.


"Damn it!"

While Nick cursed, Danny howled with triumph as he won the deciding seventh game of their playoff series... Standing up he balled on hand to a fist.

"And the New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup."

"Dream on"

He grinned at Nick's muttering while the other man reset the game and glared at his Dallas Star team.

"This is the best example of how a game can distort reality... You're now really gonna think, your rangers have a chance."

The door bell rang and grabbing the money, Nick went over to pay for the pizza they had ordered. Danny watched him leave and leaned back in the comfortable couch. Nick's flat wasn't much larger than his but he had somehow managed to turn it into a real home, something that Danny hadn't been able to do with his hole.

He got up and looked at the pictures that hung on the wall. They were unsigned and with a start, Danny realized that Nick had taken them. The black and white photographs were arty, showing a storm in the desert or a sunset over a lake. It was the last one though that caught him and he looked at it closer.

It wasn't a picture that Nick had taken as he was in it too. A group of seven people stood around a lab table and it wasn't hard to guess who they were. CSI Las Vegas, Nick's former team... Leaning in a bit more, Danny looked at the picture recognizing Gil Grissom immediately. It wasn't the supervisor thought who caught his attention, it was the dark skinned, tall good looking man, who stood next to Nick one hand on his shoulder in a casual and yet intimate gesture.

"Hey, you're already bored?"

Nick had walked up next to him and Danny saw the moment of memories as he looked at the picture.

"My former team"

There was something in his voice that didn't seem right, but unlike before Danny didn't let it go.

"You miss him?"

It had been a shot in the dark, but as Nick tensed next to him and looked at him with a suddenly scared look in his eyes, Danny understood that he'd hit the bull's eye.

"I left because of him"

He had his back turned towards Danny and stared out of the window over to Manhattan. Danny could feel Nick's pain almost tangible in the room as a shiver went through the slender body and he continued to speak.

"He got married a couple months ago."

Such a simple sentence, so many emotions behind it and Danny knew better than most how it felt to be in love with someone who didn't love one back.

"I'm sorry Nick, I shouldn't have asked."

Nick straightened and turned around with a smile, a small smile but still a smile. Danny watched him as he sat down with easy, comfortable movements and for a second envied Nick for being so comfortable with whom he was. He sat down less easy and suddenly felt Nick's eyes on him.

"It's ok Danny... I haven't told anyone so far... I'm not exactly used to be out"

He shrugged lightly, but Danny caught the glimmer of pain in the dark eyes.

"... the youngest son of a Texan judge isn't gay you know..."

In a way it was almost funny and with a hard chuckle Danny agreed.

"Yeah, neither is the youngest son of a NY mob boss."

He looked closely at Nick after that comment and saw that his friend wasn't surprised or shocked, instead he saw relief appear in the chocolate eyes.

"You knew?"

With a shrug Nick nodded before he grabbed a slice of pizza and looked at Danny again.

"Some cops told me about it on the second day... Took me aside on a scene and told me they just wanted to give me a piece of advice, since I was from Vegas and probably hadn't heard about the Messer family."

Oh yes, Danny could easily imagine how they would have told Nick and what. It hurt, but at the same time the distrust from other people was something he was almost used to now. It couldn't hurt him anymore, what hurt though was when those that knew him stopped trusting him, those that should know the real him, those he cared for... Mac...

"You didn't tell me."

This time Nick looked up and caught him in his gaze. Danny saw the sincerity there and the open friendship as the other man answered.

"I forgot about it while on the scene and later after I got to know you, it didn't matter anymore."

It was so simple, Danny thought. Such a simple and easy reaction and what would he have given if Mac had told him something like that back when he'd been accused of shooting that cop or even earlier when Sonny had talked about him being a Tanglewood boy.

"Danny, what is wrong?"

Nick's eyes were on him and the concern in his voice made Danny want to cry out. He felt raw and knew that his pain was showing in his eyes as he looked up and met Nick's gaze.

"You didn't know me; you heard their side and still didn't judge me... You got to know me and now you're here and telling me that you trust me."

He hated it how his voice broke, but Nick didn't say anything just waited until Danny spoke again or more accurately whispered.

"I wished Mac had shown this kind of trust in me."

Nick's reaction was unlike anything he'd imagined. Danny watched in surprise as the other man got up and sat down next to him. Slowly he felt one hand on his shoulder, the same way as he'd seen Nick doing it with relatives of victims, but unlike with the strangers Nick didn't stop and slowly drew him into his arms holding him close and tight. The simple care and friendship in this gesture made him tremble with suppressed emotions. When had it been the last time, someone had just held him like this? Danny didn't know.

"Relax Danny, just let go of all this hurt."

Again simple words and again they managed to break through his defenses and clinging to Nick he finally let go off all the frustration and hurt that he had felt in the last couple of months. Nick didn't say anything and as he slowly calmed down Danny felt safe, felt strong arms around him, his head resting against the warm shirt, heart beating calmly against his cheek and hands slowly moving over his back.

He wondered if he should feel embarrassed at breaking down like this, but as he withdrew a bit he saw that Nick's eyes were swimming too and somehow that helped.


Nick smiled a moment, then a shadow moved over his face and he looked away. Danny felt as if he could see Nick steeling himself and anxiety rose in him.

"What is wrong?"

The other man stared in his glass for a moment before he took a deep breath.

"I didn't leave Vegas just because of Warrick."

Danny waited but somehow he felt that Nick was looking for an opening and tentatively reaching out he touched Nick's shoulder and met the tired eyes. It seemed enough because Nick slowly started to speak again.

"I was abducted on a scene... they guy who took me wanted to get revenge at the CSIs for putting his daughter behind bars... it wasn't about the money, he simply wanted us to suffer..."

The words rang a bell and Danny remembered to have read something a while ago, but as Nick shivered he forgot about any news articles and focused on his friend again.

"I woke up and was buried underground... He had left me a tape with a note and..."

Nick swallowed hard while Danny tried to understand what he heard. Rationally he did but it hurt to make a connection between the man sitting next to him and what he told him.

"... a gun."

Danny felt Nick look at him again and saw the memory of the horror, he'd experienced in those expressive eyes. Instinctively he grabbed Nick's hands and looked at them suddenly seeing the faint, very faint scars and Nick nodded slowly.

"Fire ants... He had a fan in the box that transported air into the casket, but at the same time there was a light and everytime the light went on, the fan got turned off..."

He was tense now and almost felt as if he was living this hell with Nick. Shivering he sent a glance towards the picture with the Vegas team. How had it been for them? He tried to imagine what would happen if Stella or Aiden had been in such a situation. Nick's word though cut his thoughts off.

"... I didn't know then but the light was to enable them to see me. The bastard had a life feed from my box to the web... I shot the light, but through the crack in the casket the ants got in..."

Danny could see how a shiver of fear ran through Nick at the memory of those dangerous insects and slowly almost afraid to disturb him, he asked.

"How did they find you?"

Nick laughed once, a short and almost disbelieving laughter then he looked at Danny with something like incredulity in his eyes.

"The ants... Grissom recognized them and they found me."

Danny would have bet anything in his life that it hadn't been this easy and that Nick had suffered almost endlessly until the others had come to his rescue. Quietly he looked at the man next to him, he had admired Nick before for his intelligence, his way with people, but now, knowing more of his past he realized that he'd never seen the strength in his friend.

"Why did you leave then?"

Playing with his glass, Nick shrugged.

"Everyone knew who I was, what had happened you know... The entire lab and police force had been searching for me and I just... I couldn't escape the memories. And then one night, Warrick was wearing a ring and then I knew that I had to go."

"Were you together?"

Nick laughed surprised and shook his head.

"No, we were best friends. I knew that for me it was more, but never really had the courage to change something. Then in that box, I promised myself to tell him and he figured out how short life was while watching me struggle for air... So he got married."

He sounded matter of fact and Danny shivered at the detached way in which Nick talked about his ordeal and yet his eyes showed the truth as they were still shadowed with fear and terror, still filled with pain and suddenly Danny wanted to take this pain away.

Nick deserved to be happy and...

His mobile beeped as if on cue and as he looked at the text from Flack he grinned.

Fate, he decided, it was fate. Cause Nick wasn't the only one who deserved to be happy. Flack deserved it too.


*Chapter 4*

Mac had noticed the change in Nick and Danny's relationship immediately. The two were much more relaxed around each other and at the same time Danny seemed to be almost protective about Nick. He should be glad about them being such good friends, but he couldn't lie to him self. He wasn't happy.

It bothered him and that too bothered him.

Mac had actually been tempted to pair Nick with Stella for their next cases, but the Greek hat just looked at him coldly at the suggestion and told him to suck it up. Or more accurately her words had been ‘if you can't deal with someone wanting Danny, then you should do something more than just stare at him'. He had hidden himself in his office after that. And now he was here, sitting in the car next to Nick while they drove towards the crime scene. 

"You seem to have gotten used to New York." 

God, he groaned at the harsh way his friendly meant words came out. He didn't dislike Nick, he really didn't, it was just that...  

Nick looked at him and for a second it seemed to Mac as if the younger man was laughing at him, the dark eyes twinkling with amusement. 

"I've started to settle in..." 

Nick trailed off shrugging and Mac saw a quick smile that ran over the handsome face before Nick spoke again. 
"Maybe running from Vegas was wrong and cowardly, at least it feels like that sometimes, but I have made that decision and most of the time I am happy with it." 
Mac was tempted to ask how much of Danny's influence was behind the happy part of Nick's words, but before he could say anything Nick continued while he stared thoughtfully out of the car window. 
"I've realized that I can't run away from whom I am." 
And suddenly Mac had the feeling that Nick was trying to tell him something and it irked him that he couldn't figure it out. He didn't know what to answer to the simple statement and they drove to the scene in silence. It took a while as the drive took them from Manhattan to Brooklyn where MTA employees had found two bodies in a closed subway tunnel and as Nick drove up towards the scene; Mac realized that there was a slight hesitancy in the younger man's actions. For a second he wanted to call him on it, when the truth hit him and he tensed. 
He had been this occupied with his jealousy that he had not thought about the specifics of this case when he'd told Nick that he was working with him. All he had cared about was that Nick and Danny were not working on the same case. Mac tensed at the realization of how his own emotions had clouded his judgment. It wasn't his business what Danny and Nick did, no matter how much he wanted it to be and he had no right to punish Nick for being what he couldn't be for Danny... 
He had no right, because it wasn't his business, because Danny wasn't his... 
"Sorry Nick, I had forgotten when I assigned the cases." 
The excuse sounded lame in his ears, but Nick just smiled. Yet even as Mac spoke those words another thought crossed his mind, a thought much worse and again he tensed. 
Had he really forgotten? Or had he unconsciously wanted to punish Nick? 
He shivered at the possibility and felt Nick's eyes on him and looking up met concerned dark eyes watching him carefully. It almost made him cry, the fact that Nick was so concerned when he Mac himself was such an idiot. 
"It's ok Mac, really it is. But are you ok? You are very pale." 
It was in those moments when Mac was thankful for the years of training with the Marines as he called upon his control to appear cool and detached. 
"I'm ok Nick, don't worry. Listen, you don't have to do this, I can call Stella if you want." 
He saw the moment of relief in Nick's eyes, when the younger man's attention was diverted from him and instinctively he followed Nick's gaze to see Don Flack getting out of his car. For a moment Mac was annoyed, but turning his attention back to Nick he was surprised when he saw a myriad of emotions running over the handsome face. 
Fear, anger, care, lust, longing... love? 
Staring in shock, Mac caught himself when Nick got out of the car and hurried to meet the younger man at the back of their car. 
"Nick, you don't have to. No one will think less of you..." 
One look made him trail off and while he watched Nick preparing his kit, he thought about what to say, when Nick spoke suddenly. 
"Mac, we both know that it's not the truth. Don has always been looking for my weakness and I won't give him an open invitation to call my professional behavior into question. 
Mac understood what Nick meant, but he wondered if Nick knew that it was more that professional approval that Nick craved from Flack. He wondered if the younger man had realized that he had called Flack ‘Don' and how his eyes had darkened at the thought of Flack ridiculing him. 
He didn't think that Nick knew. But maybe he realized he was wrong about Nick and Danny. 
And as he followed Nick towards the entrance, he promised himself to find out. 
Nick felt Mac's eyes on him as he took his kit and walked towards the subway entrance. As soon as he had seen Don standing there, he had steeled himself and straightened. He knew that the tall dark haired detective felt nothing but contempt for him, yet even that knowledge didn't change the fact that he dreamed of him at night waking up hard and aching. 
Sighing lightly, he pushed those thoughts away, but the memory of last night came back unbidden. He had dreamed of Don only hours ago, but that dream had been different. He had woken up in the throws of a nightmare shivering and shaking, had once again felt the walls closing in and subconsciously he had conjured up the one image that had kept him sane all those nights right after his rescue. 
Consciously letting go of the dream had he imagined Warrick next to him, the feeling of his friend's arms around him, his beloved holding him close whispering soothing words in his ear, protecting him with his body and love. 
It had worked last night and he had calmed down, but just as he had been about to fall asleep the realization of something being different had made him wake up fully. It hadn't been Warrick's face that he'd seen in his fantasy. No, it had been blue eyes instead of green, dark soft hair instead of unruly curls, a strong body hardened by working outside and on the streets instead of the lanky, muscled body of his friend. 
It had been the memory of Don Flack and not Warrick that he'd used to banish his memories last night and Nick was honest enough with himself to know that simple lust would have never managed to draw Don's image in this crucial moment. No, it were more complex emotions, emotions that he had shied away when he'd been awake but that had now come to surface when he'd been barely conscious. 
The only question was what would he do now, that he couldn't lie to himself anymore? 
"Flack, what have you got?" 
Mac's curt voice tore Nick back to reality and as if on auto pilot, he took the necessary vest and protective shoes before following the other two men into the tunnel. 
"Two bodies, MAT workers found them this morning, when they checked the tunnel. Look new to me, but Hawkes will have to look at them." 
They were on the platform now and Nick felt tension creep into him as he looked towards the darkness of the unused tunnel. He avoided the subway, preferred to walk or take cabs. A light shiver went through him and once again he felt Mac's eyes on him. Concentrating on Don's voice instead of the fear that rose in him Nick listened to the rest of the detective's findings. 
"The tunnel has been shut down three weeks ago for maintenance reasons. So that's the longest they can be there." 
Mac followed Don and jumped onto the railing. Nick hesitated for a second until Flack looked at him and seeing the scorn in those blue eyes Nick took a deep breath and followed the two men into the tunnel. 
"Nick, you don't have to do this." 
Mac's voice was concerned and again Nick was tempted to accept but one look at the dark shadow of Don's body in front of him made him change his mind and he forced a smile as he looked at his supervisor. 
"I'm alright. It's time I get over it anyway..." 
Mac looked unconvinced but didn't say anything else instead followed Flack into the darkness. Taking another deep breath Nick turned on his flashlight. The knowledge that he was dozens of feet underground was unsettling him and memories threatened to come to the surface, memories that he couldn't deal with right now, pushing them down with effort Nick walked faster until he was next to Don. 
"Who has access to this tunnel, when it is closed down?" 
Don's eyes were hidden in the darkness and Nick was grateful for the small mercy, because it meant that he didn't have to see any negative feelings in them. He knew that he wouldn't have been able to deal with them right now. Instead he could pretend that the warmth in Don's voice was real and meant for him, only for him. 
"Theoretically only MTA employees with special clearance, but in reality? Almost everyone." 
Don't stopped and pointed his light towards the area where the yellow tape marked the crime scene. A uniformed cop stood there and saluted. 
"They're over there." 
Mac who had caught up with them looked at Nick and the younger man could almost hear him thinking, figuring out what would be easier on him. It warmed his heart and at the same time annoyed him. 
"Flack, can you light the area and the bodies so that Nick can process them? Officer, can you accompany and help me with the lightning while I look at the perimeter?" 
Flack nodded and in the light of both Nick and Flack's lamp, Nick started to process the bodies. 
"You gotten used to New York?" 
Don's voice was gruff and Nick cursed that he couldn't see the other man's face. He was not in the right frame of mind to play any games and so he just nodded. 
"Took me a while and to be honest, I'm still not used to the cold." 
He bent down while speaking and examined a piece of fabric that was hidden in the victim's hand. He heard Don walk around when suddenly the entire area was drenched in darkness. 
"Flack, I need light here!" 
He stood motionless and tense in the darkness when suddenly green light cast an eerie brightness around the tunnel and he shivered. 
"Hi, CSI guy. You wondering why you're here? Because you followed the evidence. Because that's what CSIs do. So breathe quick, breathe slow, put your gun in your mouth and pull the trigger. Any way you like, you're going to die here." 
He gasped for breath and cried out when he felt the ants biting his skin. Panic and terror gripped him as he felt his movement's restrained and he fought against the walls closing in on him, stealing his air, his room, his life. 
"Let me out, get me out" 
Nick's voice was shaking and he was still caught in memories of his ordeal, still reliving the worst moments of his life not realizing that it was Don Flack who was holding him that he was fighting against the man he had dreamed of. He didn't see the pain and fear in Don's eyes didn't see how the dark haired man was shaking as he tried to calm him. But most of all he didn't know how Don's heart broke in thousand little pieces as he held Nick while the CSI brokenly repeated over and over again. 
"Get me out, please get me out." 
Don was shaking with fear as he struggled to keep Nick still and make sure that the CSI wasn't hurting himself or disturbing the evidence. Somehow he knew that Nick would never forgive himself if he contaminated the scene with this panic attack. The tears and the fear, no terror in the dark eyes tore at his heart, but it were the desperate pleas to ‘get me out' that broke it. 
"Nick, everything is ok." 
And still Nick fought against him, until he suddenly deflated and all fight went out of him. For just a second Don was relieved until he saw Nick's face and froze. There still was utter terror in every cell, but where there had been fight and spirit before they had been replaced by a complete defeat and hopelessness. Without thinking he pressed Nick against his body, caressing his back and repeated again and again. 
"It's alright Nick, you are safe, I am here." 
He had dreamed of this, had dreamed of having Nick in his arms, of caressing him, but this was a cruel perversion of all his fantasies. The man he held now was not the strong, thoughtful and intelligent man he fallen in love with. No, Nick was a quivering mess and the sheer terror in his eyes made Don want to hold him close and never let him go. All pretence of not liking Nick or just wanting him was gone. Instead all he concentrated on was to soothe the other man, tear him back to reality and out of the nightmare that held him captive. 
But even as he caressed the man who'd stolen his heart, even as he whispered soothing words in his ears, Don's mind was working overtime trying to figure out what had triggered the panic attack. He thought even further though and felt himself tense with anger as he realized that something, no someone in Nick's past had put Nick through such a terrible ordeal to have him react like this even remembering it. 
He had to force his hand to remain gentle then and silently promised Nick that he would find whoever had hurt him, find him and make him pay. 
"Nick, Flack are you ok?" 
Mac's voice drew his attention away from the man in his arms and he met Mac's concerned eyes. For a split moment he was surprised to see no shock or surprise in the supervisor's face and in the next moment he felt jealousy but immediately pushed the emotion down. Mac on the other hand had frozen but recovered fast and to walked over to them gripping Nick's face hard. 
"Snap out of it Nick, you're not there anymore, you're safe you made it out." 
Don wanted to scream at Mac for treating Nick so harshly, when he felt the body in his arms tense and looking down he met Nick's eyes that were clear and yet he still could see the terror lurking in the background, carefully hidden and masked. Had it always been there and he had just never looked? Another thought made him shiver, had it been his behavior that had triggered this? Was it him? 
He looked at Nick again and once again their eyes met and he hated himself for the way he'd treated Nick all the time, when he saw the anxiety in those wonderful eyes. Nick expected him to mock him, he realized and for a moment he wanted to draw the smaller man back into his arms, but Nick beat him as he broke their gaze and looked towards the floor. 
The mumbled word made him feel as if he'd been slapped and his self-hatred reached new heights. Hesitantly, not knowing if his touch would be welcome he reached out and touched a tense shoulder. 
"It's ok Nick, nothing to worry." 
The tension in the slender body lessened a bit, but then Nick looked at the crime scene and tensed again. 
"Oh my god, did I contaminate it?" 
Silently thanking the gods for reading Nick right and preventing him from destroying evidence, Don shook his head. 
"No, you didn't..." 
The words, ‘I didn't let you' hung in the air and Nick looked up his eyes open and vulnerable making Don's heart break again. 
One word, then he turned and looked at Mac. 
"If you want me off this case, I will go, but if not I would like to continue. I need to... I need to get over this fear." 
Don saw how Mac looked closely at Nick, saw the assessing the older man did and prayed that the supervisor would order Nick off the scene and home. But instead Mac nodded. 
"Ok, continue"


*Chapter 5*

Sometimes, Danny wondered if Nick had any idea of how he had changed the lab and the team. And every time he did wonder, he realized that his friend had no clue. Of course he hadn't been there before, hadn't experienced the tension and the friction between them, and hadn't seen the almost visible rifts that ran through their team. It was different now, and although Danny was sure that Nick would disagree, it was to a large part because of him joining the team.

Nick joining the team, but even more his easy acceptance of who Danny was, who his family was and the ability to discern between the two had changed the atmosphere and Danny was the one who profited most. Stella had relaxed around him, and when Mac had paired Danny with her for a change this morning, their case had been working well and they had been good together. Good enough in fact for her to apologize to him for her harsh treatment.

"I was wrong Danny and I am sorry, I should have known better."

He had been tempted to tell her that yes, she should have known better, but before he hadn't said anything because it wasn't her doubting him that had hurt. No with all that Stella had seen and experienced in her life, he might have even understood her.

Mac tough, Mac who had specifically recruited him, had known who he was and still had fought to employ him... Mac's distrust had hurt so much more. Mac's cold eyes still haunted his dreams and the harsh voice telling him that Mac did not believe him followed him into his nightmares.

He had hated his job, had hated going to work every morning and yet Danny knew that he would never be able to stay away. His heart didn't let him give up, insisted on staying where the one he loved was.

Why couldn't Mac love him?

Why didn't he trust him?

Why did it have to take Nick being buried alive and fleeing from Vegas to New York for him to enjoy his work again?

And like in a dream he remembered the simple words that Nick had told him.

‘After I got to know you, it didn't matter anymore.'

Why couldn't Mac show the same trust in him?

"Danny, my office now"

He tensed at the hard voice and saw how Stella looked up in confusion at the request. For a moment they both just stared at Mac, who stood in the glass door, shoulders tense, head held high, eyes cold. Danny sighed and looked at Stella with a shrug, surprised to find her glaring at their boss, then shaking her head as he followed Mac to his office.

"Danny, I want you to go home..."

His head jerked and he stared at his supervisor with disbelief. Had he heard right? They had cases, unsolved cases and he was buried in evidence he had to process and just out of the blue Mac ordered him to go home?

"Mac, you..."

But then something happened that made Danny almost gasp with surprise. Mac looked up and met his eyes and for once the blue orbs held no coldness or reproach but guilt and anxiety.

"Nick had a panic attack today on the scene. He insisted on finishing the job out there but after that I sent him home. I need you to check on him. Make sure he is ok."

Nick? Panic attack? For a moment the two things didn't make sense, then his brain caught up with his thoughts and the case Nick and Mac had worked on. The tunnel... oh shit...

"Mac, what happened?"

He couldn't help that his voice was a bit shrill, but the thought of what Nick had gone through made him shiver and the idea of his friend having to face those terrible memories all on his own made him mad. If Mac hadn't paired him off with Stella, then Danny would have been there for Nick.

"Flack's flash-light went out and Nick had a flashback..."

Mac bit his lip in such an uncharacteristic gesture that Danny stared at him stunned.

"I wasn't there when it happened, I was checking the parameter, but when I heard Nick's sobs I went back and found Flack trying to soothe him."

‘... found Flack trying to soothe him.'

Now that was interesting and Danny immediately made a mental note to call the detective and find out how exactly he had tried to calm Nick down and more important if he had done so out of duty or maybe something else. Right now though, his thoughts went back to Nick and sighing lightly he looked at Mac.

"If you knew what happened in Vegas, then why did you assign him on this case?"

Why did you split up our team? It was the unasked question but it stood in the room and to Danny it seemed as if the letters were dancing between him and Mac. Mac, who once again completely against his usual behavior was not looking at Danny when he answered.

"I didn't think of it at that moment."

No, Danny thought bitterly, why would Mac think of it? His intent had been clear this morning: making sure that Danny and Nick didn't work together. Anger rose in him at the thought that just because Mac wanted to punish him for whatever mistake he had made, Nick had had to suffer and before he could stop himself, he glared at his supervisor.

"No, you didn't think, cause all you thought of was that Nick and I were getting along well and you couldn't have it that I might be looking forward to working, that I might actually enjoy my job again. That's why you split us up, that's why you didn't stop to think about Nick, but you know what Mac, it backfired cause I did actually enjoy working with Stella, not as much as I enjoy working with Nick, but still..."

He trailed off having to focus on his words, making himself calm down before he said something unforgivable.

"Danny, you're forgetting yourself here. This is not about you."

Wasn't it ironic how those two sentences actually made him forget himself? Danny was furious with rage at the casual dismissal and focusing his boss with his eyes he spoke silently and with ice cold fury in his voice.

"You're wrong Mac, it was about me. You didn't want me to work with Nick and didn't stop to think one moment about the repercussion your actions might have. And you know what? The sad thing is that it wasn't me who suffered, cause I could have dealt with that. No, you made Nick suffer, Nick who's been through so much and who's not done anything to you but work hard and well."

His heart broke as he spoke on, finally realizing something he should have realized long ago.

"You don't trust me; you don't like me, but for some reason you won't fire me. Is it because you don't want them to tell you they knew all along?"

Danny looked at Mac and realized that the older man stood there frozen, and any other time he would have been concerned at the paleness of Mac's face, the trembling in his hands, but not today.

"You know what? You won... I'll leave, cause I won't risk my friends getting hurt because of you wanting to make a point of pushing me around."

He left right after those words leaving Mac staring at his retreating form unable to form a sentence, unable to do anything but helplessly clutch the back of his chair while he tried to process what had just happened in this room.

"You're wrong Danny"

Desperate words...

"Don't leave"

Painfully hurting

"Come back to me"

A desperate plea, but no one there to hear him.


"Hi this is Detective Don Flack from NYPD, can I talk to Captain Brass please?"

Don felt his heart thunder in his chest as he waited for the secretary to put him through to the Vegas Captain. His father had worked with Jim Brass when the other man had been with the New Jersey police and Don himself too had had a couple of drinks with the older man.

His memory was that of a strong minded and bodied man, someone who'd always looked as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, but at the same time a police officer whose quick wit and sharp intelligence was frightening even for those that had nothing to hide.


Calming himself with a deep breath, he introduced himself and after exchanging pleasantries Don came to the reason for his call.

"I'm actually calling for some information on someone who worked for you guys until a couple of months back and now works for our team."

Silence apart from some static noise and Don wondered if he should have taken a more careful approach. Then though Brass spoke again slowly and it was obvious that he was choosing his words very carefully.

"Whom are you talking about?"

Don braced himself for the impact of his answer and although he knew that Brass would more likely see it as a noisy cop question, he couldn't help the thread of fear that ran through him at the thought of the Vegas Captain guessing the truth. That he wasn't curious about Nick, but that he wanted, no needed to find out what had happened not only to be able to help Nick, but also to be able to forget those memories that had already, only hours later, started to haunt him.

"Nick Stokes"

For a moment there was silence, then Brass did something that made Don's hackle raise like nothing else, he laughed softly, sadly and gently said.


Nicky? Nicky?? How did Brass come to call him Nicky? Glaring at the phone in his hand, Don calmed himself forcibly and listened intently to the once again silent captain on the other side of the country.

"Do you know him?"

What should he answer? That he knew him and had fallen in love with him? That he worked with him and all of his colleagues and friends thought that he hated the other man? That he had held him just hours ago while Nick had sobbed in terror pleading blindly with him to get him out?

"I work with him."

Neutral and careful, the entire phone conversation reminded Don suddenly of a talk between two politicians or lawyers. They were both carefully treading not saying anything before they knew what the other knew...

"Can't tell you sorry."

He feared something like this and in some weird way, his disappointment must have filtered through the ether and to his surprise Brass spoke again.

"Flack, if you care about Nick, not the rumors and not the gossip... "

Brass trailed off and Don heard him say something to someone in the room, before he came back on the phone.

"... ask him and the way I know Nick, he'll tell you. It's his story to tell not mine."

And there was something in Brass' voice, that made Don shiver and suddenly he understood. It might be Nick's story to tell, but Brass had suffered too. Sighing lightly he thanked the other Captain and hang up. For a long time he sat on his desk staring at the papers in front of you, trying to read the information but not seeing it.

"Flack, you alright?"

He looked up and met Stella's concerned eyes; he smiled automatically and offered her a chair answering casually.

"Sure I'm fine"

She looked at him and for a moment he had the distinct feeling that she wanted to say something, but instead she shrugged and sitting down, she started to speak about the subway case and soon enough they were comparing notes about the bodies and the statements of potential suspects.

Don was glad to throw himself into work, glad that the case was complicated enough to require his full concentration. It kept his thoughts and memories away.

And yet he couldn't forget it completely and as the day finally ended he found himself sitting in front of his computer and logging onto Goggle. Don hated himself for how his heart thundered and his fingers trembled as he typed in the key words ‘CSI', ‘Las Vegas', ‘Out', ‘Nick Stokes' and ‘Crime'. For a long time he stared at the screen while his cursor hovered over the search button, then with an almost violent curse he pushed his chair back and shut down the computer.

He couldn't do it, couldn't betray Nick like this, because that's how it felt especially after Brass' words.

‘It's his story to tell not mine'

Don grabbed his jacket and his car keys and before he could change his mind he got out of the office and drove towards Queens.

"Ask Nick, I am sure he will tell you."

He would ask the other man.

And he could only hope that Nick would give him an answer.


"Brass, I need to talk to you"

Warrick's tall frame was darkening his door and Brass sighed silently as he raised one eyebrow and gestured towards the empty chair in front of his desk.

"Come in"

The other man did so and closed the door before sitting down and glaring at the Captain. Brass waited for a couple of moments until he prompted Warrick none too gently.

"So, what's this about?"

"Who were you talking on the phone with before?"

Jim had had a suspicion that this was about the talk he'd just had with the NY detective, but he hadn't been sure if Warrick had picked up what the conversation had been about.

"Detective Don Flack from NYPD"

In his mind he counted to ten while he waited for the explosion, he got to five then he had an irate Warrick practically jumping over the desk.

"You talked to a NYPD cop about Nicky? How could you?"

Angry now, Brass glared right back and answered just as heated.

"I didn't tell him nothing... He asked about Nick and I told him to ask Nick himself. What do you think, I tell anyone calling everything about someone I consider a friend?"

Warrick looked rightfully ashamed and as if his strong façade suddenly were crumbling he slumped back in the chair, his face hidden behind his face as he mumbled.

"Why did he have to leave, Brass? Why couldn't he stay here where he had friends? It's the one thing I still don't get, why did he leave?"

No, Brass thought as his eyes followed Warrick on his way out of his office, no Warrick still didn't get it. It was a pity really, that between the two of them one was too blind and the other too loyal to see or speak the truth that was plain to see for everyone who bothered looking.

And so Warrick had gotten married and Nick had left. Warrick wasn't happy, but something in Don Flack's voice during the phone call made Jim believe that Nick might actually find happiness in the big apple.

He certainly deserved it.

Shrugging lightly, Brass got into his car and drove over to his house while contemplating if he should tell his lover about the phone call or not. Ever since the abduction the other man had become strangely protective of Nick even now that Nick wasn't part of his team anymore he still worried. It would have worried Brass had he not felt as secure in this relationship as he did. Making up his mind, he walked into the living room, tossed his badge and his gun on the table and smiled at he man watching TV.

"Guess who's called today to inquire about Nick Stokes?"

His lover immediately turned the TV off and started grilling him about the call.

"A New York cop?"

Conrad Ecklie grinned and drew Jim towards him.

"Well I didn't fare that wrong with a New Jersey one, so Nick might get lucky."


The entire time since Nick had come to New York, he had felt as if he were living on borrowed time. He had known all along that one day something would happen to make him remember and he would freak out. But still why did it have to happen when he was on a scene with Flack?

Why of all the times did he had to freak out when the one man in the whole of NY he wanted to appear strong for was next to him?

‘It wasn't so bad, after all he didn't mock you instead he calmed you and held you.'

The little voice in his head sounded annoyingly like Danny and with a curse he told it to shut up.

Mac had sent him home after they had finished collecting the evidence in the subway and no matter how much he had protested the supervisor had not budged. It was, Nick reflected suddenly, as if Mac had felt responsible for his flashback, which was of course completely insane. Of course Mac had assigned Nick to the case, but hey it was several months since it had happened and he should be able to get through with something like this without freaking out.

Nick shivered as he thought about the tunnel and yet at the same time he was angry at himself. He hated showing weakness and his behavior today had been one major display of complete and utter weakness.


"That's bullshit"

Danny's comment from the chair made him startle, he had completely forgotten that his friend was here.

"Nick, you know that having flashbacks like this is not pathetic. It doesn't make you weak, just human you know."

Rationally Nick knew that Danny was right, but reason and feelings were two different pairs of shoes and ever since he had come to New York and looked into the bluest eyes he'd ever seen, reason had very little to do with what he felt when he was around Officer Flack.

"Just you know, out of all people it had to happen when he was here."

Danny looked at him with a curious expression on his face and shaking his head he asked.

"What is it with you and Flack? I mean I know he's been an idiot with you, but you're like a different person when he's around. It's almost as if..."

Danny trailed off and Nick groaned lightly when a sudden light appeared in the grayish eyes and his friend smiled.

"You like him don't you?"

Secret against secret, Nick thought. He had seen Danny's attraction towards Mac from day one and so maybe it was just fair that Danny knew about his own stupidity. Still he blushed as he nodded and spoke with the carpet instead of Danny when he silently admitted.

"I do, Danny. It's just that I think it's more than liking him... I think I'm in love with him."

The smile in Danny's face grew brighter and suddenly Nick was angry at his friend and the entire world, how come that everyone seemed to be so happy that he had fallen for yet another straight man? He thought back to the conversation he'd had with Greg and the reaction he'd gotten then.

Hey man that's great! I mean it's shit cause it means you're not coming back, but hey you're in love!!! That's just awesome... Nick I want a picture of this guy and his resume and everything... He's got to pass the Sander's suitability test after all...'

And now Danny, who should really know better; Nick paced his living room aggravated and stopped in front of his friend.

"Stop smiling, it's not funny that I keep falling for straight guys. First Warrick, then Don... why Danny, why do I keep doing this?"

Defeated he sat down bracing him for the inevitable pain this infatuation would bring. Why couldn't he get a break for once? Danny's hand on his shoulder brought him out of his reverie and he saw the deep compassion in the grey eyes. Why couldn't he have fallen for Danny?

"Don is not straight Nick."

Soft words, spoken hesitantly almost as if Danny was reluctant to say them and that more than anything told Nick that his friend had just told him the truth. But his heart was wary to believe what he heard and he stared at Danny shaking his head, denying what he had heard.

"Do you remember when you said that the youngest son of a Texan judge isn't supposed to be gay?"

Nick smiled remembering the conversation that had been the first real bonding between him and Danny and nodded.

"Well neither is the son of a NYPD legend."

Danny fell silent and let Nick think about the truth behind that statement, about the necessity of staying in the closet if one was a cop and yes Nick understood that all, heck he had lived it. He was silent for a long time leaning against Danny, soaking up the security and comfort his friend's arms gave him. Finally though he straightened and touched Danny's hand in a thankful gesture.

"Thanks for telling me, for giving me some hope."

His friend just smiled and had Nick not been so tired and exhausted, he would have seen the sadness and pain that Danny hid underneath the smile, but the day had been hard, he had used all his strength and so he didn't head the silent call for help and Danny didn't call louder.


On his way back home, Danny reflected why he hadn't spoken with Nick about his confrontation with Mac. Hell he had practically quit, why hadn't he told Nick?

Of course Nick had been tired and exhausted, had needed someone to lean onto and not someone who leaned onto him, but Danny had long ago stopped lying to himself. It hadn't only been Nick's condition that had made him remain silent.

He didn't want to say it, cause as stupid as it was there was still this glimmer of hope in his heart that Mac would not take him serious, would instead call him or talk to him in the office... That he hadn't lost everything...

Cursing Danny parked his car and called himself a stupid fool, Mac certainly didn't care about him. And yet he couldn't silence the hope more than he could stop breathing.

Exhausted and depressed he sat in front of the TV watching a game when the door bell rang. Surprised he got up and looked through the spy only to stumble back in shock. His hands trembled as he opened the door and his throat was dry as he addressed the man who stood outside, face serious, hands hidden behind his back.



*Chapter 6*

Stella had watched as Danny followed Mac. She still felt bad for misjudging the younger CSI and although he had accepted her apology she knew that it would take some time until he would be able to really forgive her.

It had been so easy to believe Sonny and just throw Danny into the same basket of people that never really make it out of their background. And shouldn't she have known so much better? Hadn't she always fought against those prejudices herself?

‘Oh the girl from the orphanage, well we'll see if she's any good.'

How many times had she heard such statements or had she felt them implied when people had looked at her? How had it hurt and how often had she sworn that she would never judge anyone based on their background?

And then a would-be thug had come around implicating Danny and she had fallen into the same traps as all those people had fallen when they had read her resume.

Well, she shrugged fatalistically, done was done. She couldn't undo her mistakes, but she had still time to make up for them.

Hearing a door fall closed with a loud bang, she looked up and saw Danny coming out of Mac's office. He was walking fast, his face closed off and hard, but she could see the tension almost rolling off his body in waves. She had seen the way he looked at their boss, but even more she had seen how Mac had looked at Danny too and had cheered at their slowly developing friendship when Sonny Sassone had destroyed everything.

The moment the thug had mentioned Danny, Stella had seen the horror in Mac's eyes and later, watching him withdraw from the younger man, she had realized that Sonny had unknowingly given Mac a reason to shut Danny out and turn away from his feelings.

Stella wanted to tell Danny to believe in the other man and not let himself be pushed away, but she was smart enough to know that Danny would not listen to her. No, with her behavior in the last couple of weeks, she had lost the right to tell Danny anything. For a moment she entertained the thought of calling Nick and letting him know, but then her eyes fell on the glass office and the man who sat at his desk.

"There's always another way; one just has look at all angles."

She smiled as she murmured the words that Mac had drilled into her when they first had started with the CSI department. Stella had heard this sentence so many times; it would probably be the inscription on her tomb stone, now though, now she had definitely found a way to make Mac eat his words... Her shoulders squared, her eyes determined she walked up to her supervisor's office, knocked once and entered without waiting for the answer. What she saw stunned her.

Mac was sitting at his desk, his head in his hands, face hidden, still though his shoulders were rigid, his back straight and smiling sadly Stella realized that his ingrained control was so strong that even now as he seemed broken, Mac couldn't let go and relax.

He looked up and for the split of a second, she saw hope light up his blue eyes, before they dimmed again and he looked at her with his usual cold, yet friendly look.

"Stella, how can I help you?"


Mac was relieved to see his friend, but as he saw her dark eyes and the fury in them he knew that no friendly banter was to be expected from her today.

"I want you to do something for me. I want you to lean back for a moment and close your eyes, imagining everything I tell you with your fantasy, your imagination."

He saw that she was completely serious and so he leaned back and closed his eyes.

"You know what Nick went through, don't you?"

Surprised that she knew too he nodded and wanted to ask her how she knew, but before he could say anything she continued to speak.

"I want you to imagine Danny there, in that small box, trapped under tons of dirt with nothing but a gun and a recorder."

Her words hit him like bullets and before he could stop them, the images started to dance around him and suddenly he could see it, could see Danny trapped in this box, saw his desperation, saw the pain and the fear... But there was something else and as if it was real he saw Danny reach for the gun...

"Nick survived because he trusted his team to find him."

Stella didn't have to say it and Mac's imagination had shown him already before she had spoken, Danny wouldn't trust them to find him, not because he doubted their abilities, but where Nick had known that his team valued him, that his team loved him, Danny would never consider himself important enough.

And again he saw Danny lying in that grave, saw him reaching for the gun but this time, he didn't stop and Mac's body shook as his mind showed him a brutally clear fantasy of Danny killing himself because he, Mac had failed to tell the young man how important he was to him.


Stella was looking at him and he saw that she knew, slowly she walked over and kneeled down next to his chair taking his hand into hers.

"It was just a fantasy Mac, nothing more. But you need to come clear with Danny, not for the lab's sake, not for my sake or even Danny's, it's for your own sake Mac..."

He knew that she was speaking the truth and for a long time, he just looked at her, his oldest and best friend and smiled lightly.

"Thanks Stella, thanks so much."

He felt her eyes on his back as he left the room and it was only when he was in his car driving towards Danny's place that he suddenly felt insecure. He had treated Danny so badly, what right did he have to ask for anything now?

Mac was still hearing that daunting question in his mind, as he knocked at Danny's door and his anticipation changed to fear when Danny opened the door, his face pale and utter shock in his blue eyes.


For a moment he was certain that Danny would close the door in his face again and deep in his heart he knew that he would deserve it. Danny though although hesitant, stepped back and opened the door wider.

"Come in"

Nothing more, but as Mac told himself steadily, nothing less either, if nothing else, then it was a beginning.

"I owe you an apology Danny"

Danny just looked at him for a long time, before he sighed and pointing towards the couch he asked with a quiet calm voice that Mac admired and hated at the same time.

"Want something to drink?"

He considered it for a second, considered having the entire conversation in a polite casual way over a cup of tea and just as he thought about it, the memory of Danny in the grave flashed through his mind and he jumped up unable to sit still and watch how the best thing that had happened to him was about to get destroyed by his stubbornness.

"No, shit Danny... I... look I came here, cause we need to talk, really talk not as supervisor and CSI, but because I was once your friend and then... I was an idiot Danny, but when Sonny mentioned your name something just broke, the thought of you having been part of them..."

Mac wanted so say so much more, but one look at Danny's face made him trail off, there was so much pain in Danny's face that for once he didn't think, just acted out of instinct and he got up and pulled Danny towards him.

"I am so sorry Danny, all I wanted was to protect my heart and I never realized how much I hurt you while I did it. Please, Danny please, forgive me; please give us a chance...."

He rarely apologized, and never ever begged for forgiveness, but this was too important and he pushed his pride aside as he felt the tense body of the younger man against his own. Danny was not struggling against him, but neither did he acknowledge the contact and finally the hug became awkward and with a blush and a heavy heart Mac let him go.

"Mac, you talk about your heart and how you want to be my friend, but will you still be that after you've heard the entire story?"

Danny's voice was emotionless almost as if he were talking about somebody else. Shivering at the detachment Mac looked at the man he loved.

"I gave you my heart long ago, and it hurt no matter how much I tried to close myself off from you. I love you Danny and I will tell you for as long as I need to tell you until you believe me."

He saw the surprise that ran over Danny's face at those honest words; saw how hope made his eyes light up and his heart hurt as he saw how the light died as Danny turned away from him to stare out of the window.

"I was never a Tanglewood boy."

Mac wanted to say something but before he could Danny continued to speak with the same emotionless voice that he had used before.

"I wanted to be one though, believe me, when I was sixteen all I wanted to be was one of them, but Sonny told me that I was too pretty to be a Tanglewood boy..."

The way he said it made Mac's stomach curl in fear at what might come next and Danny's next words confirmed it.

"Sonny told you how they get anything they want cars, money, bitches... What he wanted he got and it was my bad luck that he wanted me..."

He wanted to step closer, to touch the lonely man at the window, wanted to take Danny's pain away, but something in the other man's posture told him, he would not be welcomed right now, later though Mac swore to himself, later he would take away as much of this pain as he could and with his heart heavy, he listened on.

"The first time I fought him, fought him hard and when I came home I told my father about it. Do you know what he did?"

Danny had turned around, his eyes dry but full of emotions, mixed emotions shame and hatred mingled with the pain and confusion of a sixteen year old boy. Mac ached for the boy Danny had been as much as he ached for the man he was now.

"He slapped me across my face and told me that I was a shame to the family. Instead of becoming the new leader of the Tanglewood boys I had become nothing but their leader's bitch... He told me, that if I was not strong enough to fight for myself, then he would not fight for me."

Acid was bitter in Mac's mouth at those words as he remembered how he too had turned his back against Danny when the younger man had asked for help.

"I stopped fighting after that."

Danny's voice had become resigned and this time Mac didn't hesitate as he got up and walked up next to the younger man.

"You never stopped fighting or you would not be here. Forgive me, Danny, for doubting you."

Hesitantly he pulled the now pliant body against his own savoring the first real contact between them.

"I love you Danny."

He hadn't planned on saying that, not so soon, not after Danny had just spilled his darkest secret, but as he saw the look of disbelief and self-hatred in Danny's face turn to hope and something akin to happiness, he was glad that he had said those three words.

"I can't unmake what happened, but let me try to make you forget?"

A soft hand on his face made him shiver, a shiver that just elevated into a trembling when he saw the depth of emotion in Danny's eyes.

"You always did Mac, even when I hated you I would forget about everything apart from you when you were around."

The shiver that ran through Mac now, had nothing to do with passion and everything with what Danny had said.

even when I hated you'

Danny had hated him and as he cradled the smaller body against his own, he promised himself to never ever give Danny any cause for hating him.

"I love you"


"I love you"

How long had Danny wanted to hear these words, how often had he dreamed of Mac declaring his love for him?

So now, he was in Mac's arms, felt strong arms holding him close, felt a solid heart beating steadily against him. Why wasn't he elated? Why didn't he answer the question in Mac's blue eyes?

Danny shivered lightly, shivered until he started to shake and to his horror he felt tears running over his face, he didn't cry in front of people. Nick was the one exception to that rule, but apart from his friend, no one, no one had ever seen him cry since he'd turned sixteen.

"It's ok Danny"

No it wasn't, no one had ever let him be weak and not taken advantage from it and Danny was afraid what would happen now that he had shown Mac all the darkness that was his life. He recoiled as he remembered that there was one thing he had not shown Mac, one thing that surely would make the other man retreat and go back to the cold hard supervisor mode.

And even as a part of him screamed to stay in Mac's arms, to enjoy the offered comfort, Danny forced himself to step back and separate them. He looked at Mac and seeing the honest and true love in the blue eyes he hated himself for doing what he was about to do. But wasn't it better, if he lost Mac now, now that all he had was a memory of being held?

Danny knew that he would never survive seeing the contempt in Mac's eyes after having been kissed and caressed by the older man and with new determination, he stepped back even further.


Tentative, almost insecure... He didn't know this side in Mac and he hurt for him.

"Please Mac, you don't understand. I... I am damaged goods..."

He whispered the last thing and with a shiver removed the shirt he'd been wearing and turned his back towards Mac. He knew that even know more than 16 years later, the mark was still there, still vivid and ugly and as he heard Mac's hiss of breath, he knew that the older man had understood.

"I wasn't worthy of the Tanglewood tattoo, but one night Sonny decided that he had to mark me too... He used his signet ring, just heated it and pressed it on my back... I was his property and anyone who would get close enough to me would be reminded of it..."

Soft hands caressed his back and moved over to his front while at the same time, gentle lips kissed the ugly scars, traced the faded marks of the branding Sonny had forced him to accept. The simple tender care that those soft touches expressed, made Danny shiver and he felt himself trembling too much to give any resistance to the care and love that Mac enveloped him in.

He knew that it was too good to last, knew that nothing this beautiful would ever happen to him, but right at this moment he couldn't fight it.

Leaning back he gave his strength over to Mac and finally spoke those words that he had so longed to say.

"I love you"

He would take what he could now and when it all turned out to be nothing but a dream, he would pick himself up from the floor and move on.


Danny didn't believe him, didn't trust him to not run as soon as something dark from his past came up. Mac didn't blame him; he knew it was his own fault. At every step of their relationship, when he should have trusted, he had responded with doubt.  When he should have listened, he had ignored. And when in the end Danny had asked for help, he had turned his back on him.

Never again, he swore silently.

"Let's go and lie down."

Danny trembled under his hands and he could feel that it had more to do with the tension he tried to suppress than the cold, but Mac wanted to remove any inconveniences from the equation so that Danny and he could finally be just themselves.

The bedroom was bare, no pictures no photos, nothing, just a king sized bed and two bedside tables. Danny stood in the middle of the room as if he had forgotten who and where he was and Mac felt how all his protective instincts woke at the sight of Danny's obvious distress.

"I won't hurt you."

He didn't know where those words came from, but Danny jerked back as if he had hit him. Eyes that suddenly blazed with fury focused on him and he shivered at the unexpected show of emotions. The younger man was across the room and in front of him faster than he'd ever seen Danny move and before he could say anything else, his lips were caught in a fierce kiss.

Mac forgot what he had wanted to say at the touch of those lips. Danny kissed him as if his live depended on it. Lean muscles pressed against him, strength hidden in the leanness, so much strength in the smaller body and Mac let his hands wander, let himself finally touch.

"I am not broken Mac, don't treat me like I am."

There was still fury in Danny's words, but Mac heard the underlying plea and understood what Danny didn't say. Answering the kiss with one of his own, he took his time to map out Danny's mouth, to catalogue his lover's taste and just simply to enjoy the closeness. When they drew apart, he was panting but nevertheless he looked straight at Danny.

"You are not broken Danny neither are you fragile. You are one of the strongest men I have ever met."

It's not you who is fragile when it comes to this, us... It's me... But Mac didn't say it, didn't want to spoil the mood with his own demons and with the same determination that had made him a first class Marine, he pushed the unwelcome memory back and concentrated on the man in his arms.

Danny was looking at him as if he was reading in his eyes and maybe he was. For a long time, they just stood there in the middle of the room, eyes locked, the moment frozen in time. Then slowly, Danny brought up his hand to Mac's face and ran it over the older man's cheek in a soft caress.

"Thank you."

It was a loaded thank you and Mac shivered at the sincerity in the grey eyes. Then the memory of their shared kiss made him shiver and he leaned in to capture Danny's lips once again. They were so soft and with a sigh, he lowered Danny onto the bed covering the half clothed body with his own still fully clothed.

Danny's eyes flew open and with a gasp he wrapped his arms around Mac pressing himself closer to the older man. Mac shivered as warmth spread through his body chasing away the eternal chill in his bones and he closed his eyes as it felt as if Danny was pouring heat and passion into him. Unable to contain a deep moan Mac broke away.

Danny's hands were tangled in his shirt and with a chuckle he removed them and opened the shirt himself, pushed it away and then groaned at the feeling of clever hands opening his belt and his pants. For a second he felt self conscious, but the admiration in Danny's eyes told him everything he needed to know and naked he lay back looking at the still dressed Danny. In the dim light of the room his lover's gaze roamed over his body, his eyes feasting on the curves and muscles.

"Danny, undress yourself, please"

Looking up at the silent plea Danny smiled but there was a fire in his eyes that made Mac shiver with desire. Slowly he removed his pants and underwear, watching as Mac drew in a sharp breath as he settled next to him.

"You are beautiful"

Danny shook his head, but before he could say anything, Mac stopped him. He knew what the younger man had wanted to say, knew that he would have pointed at the mark and so he drew him close, his left hand caressing the mark tenderly.

"You are, Danny. This is your past, it's part of you, part of what made you into the person you are. And this person is beautiful."

He saw the one tear that ran over Danny's face and leaned down to capture it with his lips. His body and his mind fought between just settling and giving Danny the time and rest he obviously needed and kissing the younger man again, kissing him, loving him... Claiming him...

Mac knew that he should do the first one, but the second was so tempting. He was in thoughts and still tried to persuade himself to do the right thing, when something warm, no hot touched his chest and he gasped.

Danny looked at him with a smile and repeated the caress, flicking his tongue over his nipple, kissing it and finally sucking it into hardness. Mac's head spun with desire and he moaned lightly when the touch stopped.

"Like this?"


Danny had rolled them over, so that he was on top, his body stretched over Mac. It was so much better than in those dreams that Mac had never been able to forget. Almost tenderly he wrapped his arms around Danny's back and stroked the length of it, up and down along either side of his spine, massaging, kneading, then caressing.

Their hands were busy now, moving over each other's bodies, exploring, mapping, noting favorite curves and hot spots, while their lips drew warmth from each other, their cocks rubbed and thrust against each other's strength, their hands stoked the flames into fire. It was fast and yet loving, passionate and yet there was still a tenderness to every movement.

But most of all it was the first time since Claire's death that Mac knew the touch of another person, the first time since so many years that someone loved him and the fact that this someone was Danny made him tremble and shake as his body took over and his control shattered.


He cried the one name as his body shuddered and stars exploded in his mind and at the same time he felt the answering shudder and warmth of Danny's release, heard the other man cry out his own name and for a moment darkness surrounded him.

And then it was over, and thought gradually returned.

Mac looked at the man next to him, the man he had thought he had lost, the man he had failed so badly and who had still taken him back into his life. He saw the moment of fear and insecurity in Danny's eyes as he propped himself up on his elbow.

"I love you"

Danny smiled tentatively at those words and Mac knew that he would have to say them many times more before Danny really believed him and with a smile, Mac thought why not start right now.

"I do, Danny, I really do."

Maybe one day, his lover would tell him to shut up, but until then Mac Taylor would make sure that Danny Messer knew he was loved.

Marines always got the job done after all, didn't they?


*Chapter 7*

It was getting dark outside, but Nick didn't notice, forced himself not to notice how the wind was rattling at the windows, how the cold breeze tore the last leaves from the trees that lined his street. Instead he focused on the book in front of him. He had ordered the book and several others on a suggestion from Grissom. It had arrived three days ago, but so far he had not dared looking at it afraid of what seeing the images, reading about the insects would do to him.

Today though he had unpacked it and now it sat on the cocktail table in front of him, he still didn't really dare opening it, felt as if not pictures but real ants would be crawling out as soon as he turned the first page. It had been something of a defiant act to unpack the book today and Nick knew that Grissom would look at him and shake his head with that slow, soft smile of his.

‘You don't have to prove anything.'

He could almost hear his old supervisor, and as if Grissom were in the room he looked up and answered silently.

"It's the perfect time though; I'll anyway have nightmares tonight."

His words echoed in the room and Nick shivered. Yeah, he would have nightmares, but maybe the Grissom in his mind was right, maybe there was no need to make matters worse by starting to read this book tonight.

And yet, if not today, when then?

Nick sighed, he was tired, exhausted from the break down and yet he didn't want to go to bed, instinctively avoiding to think about it. He grabbed the remote control and turned the TV on, there wasn't much on and once again he marveled at the fact that even with 300 channels there was a possibility that he didn't know what to watch.

Finally though he settled on ‘Friends'. He knew the episode, could probably lip-synch to it, but it was still better than any political talk show or heaven forbid some of those obscure cop shows.

Rachel's antiques made him chuckle, when out of nowhere Danny's voice penetrated his thoughts.

"Don is not straight...." 

His interest in the soap waning, he sat there and thought about the sentence. Don Flack was not straight... Where did that leave him?

‘Somewhere great, if you just get your head out of your ass'

Funny how that voice didn't sound like Grissom at all, but then Greg was the more likely person to give him dating advice. For a second he was tempted to call Greg and talk to him, but one look at his watch told him, that his friend was most likely still asleep and he didn't want to disturb him.

If only he hadn't freaked out in this tunnel...

‘... then you would not know how it is to be in his arms, how wonderfully safe he makes you feel.'

Sometimes he hated the voice, but this time he had to acknowledge that there was a point to this. He had felt safe in Don's arms and although the other man had not been able to break him free from his nightmare, Nick still knew that he had felt the care subconsciously, had, despite the terror and panic of his flashback, felt safe in Don's arms.

"Now what?"

He asked the book and whished for a moment Danny were still here, but on the other hand it seemed to much like high school to discuss his infatuation with the cop. His eyes fell on the book again and with a determined look, he grabbed it and opened the first page.

...As surprising as it sounds, ants are overwhelmingly the dominant species on earth. By weight, the world ant population equals the world human population, and represents half or more of the world's insect biomass. These ten thousand trillion creatures are spread throughout the world's habitats, from the Amazon to Finland, from deserts to rain forests...

Fire ants are stinging ants of the genus Solenopsis, of which there are 266 species. They include Solenopsis invicta, commonly known as Red imported fire ant (RIFA).

Each colony produces large mounds in open areas, and feeds on young plants and seeds. Solenopsis often attacks young animals and can kill them. For humans it has a painful sting—hence the name fire ant—and the after effects of the sting are deadly to some individuals. The worker ants are blackish to reddish and vary from 3-6 mm in length. Solenopsis has a very distinctive two-segment antennal club. This is most visible in the front view of the female reproductive ant.

Solenopsis invicta, or Red imported fire ant, was accidentally introduced into the United States via Brazilian cargo entering the port of Mobile, Alabama, in the 1930s. The ants have since spread from coastal areas of Alabama and now infest large parts of the U.S. South, creating a nuisance to farmers and homeowners alike from central Texas to Maryland. Since 2001, anthills have been found in Australia, Philippines, Taiwan, and China

Nick closed the book violently, unable to keep his body from shaking. He had only read the introduction, but still his fingers, no his entire body felt as if those little animals were once again crawling over him and with a desperate sigh he wrapped his arms around himself to stop his hands from scratching and clawing at his skin.

"Stop it, it's not real... it's not real..."

But no matter how often he told himself those words, he still couldn't sit still and as much as he dreaded it, he slowly walked over towards the bedroom. For a long time he stood there and looked at the bed, no, he thought, it wasn't late enough yet and with a second shiver he turned around, walking towards the living room again.

There had to be some game on tonight and as he flipped through the channels he breathed relieved when he found a hockey game. Ice hockey wasn't his first choice of sports but it was better than nothing and the fact that the Rangers were playing the Devils would at least give him plenty of opportunity to tease Danny tomorrow.

Nick smiled as he walked over to the kitchen to grab a beer and settled on the couch. He was just about to get really comfortable, when the door bell rang and with a sigh he got up again.

Mac, he guessed, Mac or Stella or maybe even Danny who had gotten bored at home. Silently he hoped that it would not be his supervisor for as much as he liked Mac he felt awkward around him since he knew about Danny's feeling for him. Stella on the other hand, Stella was fun... Nick smiled as he remembered what Grissom had said as he'd described Stella during one of their nightly talks.

"She sounds like a cross between Greg and Warrick, scary as that sounds."

Opening the door, he smiled at whoever stood on the other side and felt himself falling when blue eyes met his.


He had never realized how tall Don Flack was, Nick thought almost dazedly as the cop stood in his entrance, his dark hair falling into his face, the dark leather coat billowing in the wind. Nick wasn't a small man, but compared to Don he suddenly felt like it.

‘He would keep you safe.'

The thought came unbidden and Nick barely suppressed a shiver. He wasn't generally submissive, but ever since he'd come out of his ordeal, he had dreamed of someone who would take care of him, someone he could lean onto when needed.

"I just wanted to make sure you're ok."

Don stood uncertainly in his entrance and Nick could just about suppress the blush when he realized that he stood in the doorway blocking the entry. Grinning lightly he moved out of the way and let the cop inside.

"I am fine, was just about to watch the game, you want to join?"

Now, where the heck had that come from? There was no way, Nick would be able to concentrate on the game with Don sitting next to him, on the other hand though, he didn't want to be alone, didn't want to face another three, four hours of occupying himself so that he wouldn't think of what had happened today.

But would Don let him do that? Wouldn't the other man start asking questions about the incident?

"Who's playing?"

The question was easy and casual and only now that Don had relaxed did Nick realize how tense the other man had been. It made it easier somehow, the knowledge that what had happened in the subway tunnel was a cause of unease for Don too. He detoured into the kitchen and got another beer, before he sat down next to Flack and answered the question.

"Rangers vs. Devils"

The grin that now threatened to split Don's face into half made Nick's heart stutter for a moment, and he knew that his open admiration was visible. Time seemed suspended as their eyes locked, then the cheers from the TV diverted their attention and Don pointed towards the screen.

"If you cheer for the Devils, I'll personally make sure you'll get a transfer to New Jersey."

Nick laughed at that and chuckled as he thought of Brass.

"A friend of mine in Vegas used to work with New Jersey PD... Bet he would love that."

Don was silent, watching the game and Nick found it surprisingly easy to fall into the old buddy routine of watching a game with a friend. During the first advertisement break, he called for pizza and when it got delivered in the first intermission he was relaxed enough to joke with Don in the easy way, he'd been joking around with Danny from the first day.

"Nick, why did you react like this? What triggered it?"

The question came out of the blue, one second he was watching the Rangers' feeble attempts of playing power play, the next second he felt himself captured in Don's gaze. For a second he didn't know how to react and although a part in him screamed at him to just be straight and honest, Nick couldn't force himself to answer.

The silence hung between them and the longer it lasted the more uncomfortable it got. Finally Don looked away and Nick felt his heart stop when he saw how the cop's fingers trembled as he reached out for his beer.

"Look, I don't want to prey into your private life. I just want to know if it was me..."

Shock was freezing Nick now, and he noticed how Don deliberately spoke with the TV as he hesitated and then continued.

"... I was an ass to you when you started and if that kind of triggered it, I am sure that Mac can have me reassigned..."

Nick reacted before he could think and his reaction was typical for him. Reaching out, he took Don's hand and the other man fell silent. Nick saw the true concern in the blue eyes and sighing lightly, he decided to come clear.

"No, Don... It wasn't something you did... It was just a flashback... being underground, the darkness and then suddenly the green emergency light..."

He saw that his mumbling was confusing the hell out of Don and he stared at his hands as he explained the truth.

"Six months ago, I was abducted while I was investigating a crime scene, I woke up buried underground... The guy who'd captured me left me a tape and a gun..."


Nothing could have prepared Don for the impact of those so simple sounding words and if anyone would have ever told him that terror could be a tangible thing he would have laughed. Not anymore, though...

Nick's voice was detached, but the way he avoided looking at Don, the way he kept staring at his hands spoke volumes of how hard it was to talk about it. Feeling bad for forcing Nick to live through it again, he reached out and tentatively touched Nick's shoulder. Chocolate dark eyes met his and he shivered at the memory of fear that he saw there.

"You don't have to tell me. I don't want to cause more pain."

Nick smiled at that, but the smile faded and he got up to look out of the window, Don spared one look at the hockey game and turned the TV off. Silence descended over the room and for a moment he wished he hadn't turned the background noise off. Then Nick spoke again.

"It was the green light, the sudden darkness and just the knowledge that I was underground which made me freak out. I am sorry, that you had to witness it. I thought I had it under control."

The words were formal, and up until this morning, Don would have taken them at face value and reacted to them by saying good-bye. But something had changed this morning when he had held Nick, a vulnerable, trembling Nick in his arms and now, Don looked deeper and heard the faint trembling in the casual sounding voice, saw the slight tremor that ran through Nick's body as his eyes fell on a book and following the look, Don noticed the book about ants. A terrible suspicion formed in his mind, but before he could say anything, Nick moved and sat down next to him.

"I know you don't like working with me, but..."

Before Don realized what he was doing, he had grabbed Nick's shoulder hard. Seeing the faint wince, he let him go immediately, but still kept his eyes captive.

"Look, my best friend had just been fired, then you came along..."

That and the simple fact that he had felt incredibly drawn towards the dark haired Texan without ever hoping of getting anywhere close enough... well add that together and you get Don Flack, the boy from Neanderthal…

"I am sorry Nick"

He bit his lips, he wasn't good in apologizing, but the smile he got from the beautiful man next to him was worth the moment of embarrassment.

"It's ok... I would have reacted the same, had the positions been reversed."

It was Nick's turn now to worry his lips and the sight was so erotic, that Don had to shift on the couch to hide his body's reaction.


The word came out of the blue and confused him, then though he understood what Nick meant and as if to make it clear, Nick gestured around.

"For checking on me, for helping me down in the subway..."

It hadn't felt like a big deal to him, but as he told Nick so, he was surprised to see a soft smile cross Nick's face.

"Don, there aren't many cops that would have held me close and tried to calm me down the way you did. Most would have called for help or shouted at me... They sure as hell wouldn't have caught dead with me in their arms."

It had never occurred to Don, that his way of drawing Nick out of his memories would raise any questions, but as Nick put it so bluntly, he looked at the other man surprised. Nick laughed lightly, but it wasn't a happy laugh.

"Come on, don't tell me you haven't heard the rumors about me and Danny. I mean latest after the Milner case, I've got the label ‘fag' on my back..."

There was bitterness in Nick's voice, but at the same time Don realized that Nick had accepted the label and wasn't going to fight it. The truth though was, that he had never ever heard anything in that direction, had never gotten anything but glowing comments about the newest CSI member. Most of the cops appreciated his friendly manner and the fact that he'd been a street cop himself.

He wanted to say something about the rumors, but tensed as he understood the underlying implication and felt a rush of heat running through his body. He had known since the Milner case, that Nick was no god-fearing redneck, but now he understood that there was more. Danny's cryptic comment from a couple of weeks back ran through his mind again.

‘If you were from Texas and the son of a judge, don't you think you'd create a perfect mask? Don't you think that behind that mask, there might be a completely different persona?'

Don had never backed out from a challenge, had never cared about risks and he wasn't about to start today, not when it could bring him all he wanted. And slowly moving closer to Nick, he captured those chocolate brown eyes again.

"I held you cause I'd wanted to do that since I met you."

Shock and surprise, but both emotions were immediately replaced by longing and hope and with his heart thundering in his ears, Don leaned closer.

"If I've read you wrong, then now is the moment you slap me and kick me out."

Small crinkles around Nick's eyes and only seconds later Don felt a soft hand on his face.


One word, but so many meanings behind... Too many for Don right at the moment and he decided to worry about it later and live in the now. The now which looked so tempting and with a deep moan he leaned in all the way to capture Nick's lips for the first time.

The kiss was one of the softest he'd ever shared with another person, just a fluttering of lips against each other, no tongue, no teeth just tenderness and care. And yet it left him shaken to his core, Don felt a shiver running through his body and felt the answering shiver in Nick. Looking up he met the other man's eyes and saw so many strong emotions in his eyes, emotions that he didn't dare to name, not yet anyway.

"Don't treat me like I'm weak, like I'm fragile."

Nick's voice was husky, but the words made Don look at him and shake his head.

"How could I? You're the damn fucking strongest person I've ever met."

The coarse words made Nick chuckle, but the light in his eyes dimmed. Don saw the moment when shame flooded them and it angered him more than he wanted to admit.

"Strong? Yeah, I was really strong in that subway."

Eyes narrowing, Don grabbed Nick's chin and forced him to meet his eyes.

"Ever asked for help Nick? Ever realized that it's not weak to be weak?"

Don didn't know where that sudden anger came from, all he knew was that he couldn't stand the self-hatred he saw in Nick's eyes. Fuck it, he thought and with a growl he captured the other man's lips again, this time not soft and tender, but bruising and full of passion.

"That strong enough?"

He was panting when they broke apart, but he was far from done.

"You force yourself to be strong, going underground to prove something, but you don't need to... Fuck Nick, you've already proven how strong you are... I mean fuck, you made it out sane!"


Nick was completely stunned by the outburst, but what shocked him even more was the deep concern, the sudden fear in Don's eyes. Unable to move, he let himself being pulled towards Don and then they were close, almost lying next to each other on the couch, Don's strong taller body sheltering him. But Nick was still too confused, too alert to relax and with a sigh, Don looked at him

"You put so much pressure on yourself, that one day you'll break."

The fear was back in the blue eyes and Nick stared at Don mesmerized by the intensity of his look. Don reached out and carefully moved his hand over Nick's face, then in a whisper, still looking at Nick he confessed.

"I can't let this happen. I care too much for you."

He cares for me. Those simple words made Nick's world spin and suddenly the feeling of security was back, the longing to be safe and with a sigh he relaxed in the comfort and shelter of Don's larger body.

"What can I do to help you?"

Tell me that you love me. It was the first thing that came to Nick's mind, but thankfully he had enough control over his tongue to not say it. Instead, thinking of the long hours ahead of him, he answered.


Don didn't answer, but his arms enclosed Nick further, drawing him against the strong body and for a long time Nick soaked in the feeling of warmth and comfort.

"Why don't we move this somewhere more comfortable?"

Nick was instantly awake and alert. He knew that Don must have felt how he tensed, because immediately he backtracked.

"We don't have to do anything, I just thought you must be tired and I..."

Kissing Don was a great way to shut him up... Oh what the hell, kissing Don was great. But Nick knew that he had to clear any misunderstandings first.

"Nothing wrong... It's just that I asked you to stay and it's not fair to you, cause I'll have nightmares tonight and I don't want to expose you to them... Mmmph"

Obviously Don was a fast learner and Nick reveled in the kiss, forgetting where he was and what he was doing during the sensual assault. He was more than surprised to find himself in his bedroom with Don lowering him onto the bed.

"I told you Nick, I care."

He understood then and his heart beat faster as he handed Don a pair of boxers to sleep and pointed towards the bathroom. The knowledge that Don was putting his longing and desire aside for him, to make sure that he, Nick, would get a good night sleep, it all was much more than he'd ever dreamed off and as he felt strong arms around his body, felt the safety of strong muscles against his back, he realized that for the first time since he'd been buried he wasn't afraid of falling asleep.


The moonlight filtered through the curtains as Don woke up, for a moment he was disoriented and a shiver ran through him at the coldness of the room. Then slowly the reality filtered through and he shivered for another reason. Nick was in his arms, a strong body and an equally strong presence even asleep. The smaller man lay on his side, his back against Don's front and the closeness made Don feel warm and safe. Softly Don moved to look at the other man and gasped lightly when dark eyes met his. For a moment they both stared at each other before Don leaned forward and brushed his lips against Nick's.

Nick's lips were soft and yet strong, just as he'd always imagined them. He moaned as Don's tongue caressed his lips and opened for him. Don's hands were shaking as he cradled the dark head, the entire kiss had an almost dream-like quality to him, the moon light that made Nick's eyes sparkle, his hands that gently held Don in return, it all felt unreal. He didn't know how long they were lying there so close that their breaths mingled. Finally though, Don caressed Nick's face gently.

"Sleep my love, I will be there for you whenever you need me."

Nick's eyes lit up at the words and with a soft smile on his lips, he went back to sleep. Don's last thought before he fell asleep too was how good it felt to call Nick his love and how true it was.


*Chapter 8*

Two weeks had passed since Stella had read Mac the riot act. She still didn't know what had happened that night, but the fact that both Danny and Mac had been late next morning told her that it had been something good.

This was something she couldn't say from their current case... A man crushed by a container, another man beaten to death... It wasn't something she had wanted to work on, but it was her job. Worse even though was the open hostility she and the team had encountered ever since they had started the investigation. It was obvious that the men were intimidated into not speaking with them and sighing audibly she looked up from the place where the other half had been found.

"That was a deep, deep sigh."

Nick looked up and smiled at her. He had changed too and if Stella was right, then the change had happened the same night as Danny and Mac had obviously talked or whatever. There was a dirty part of Stella's mind that wondered if Nick had been part of the ‘discussion' between Danny and Mac and an even dirtier part of her wanted to see that on video, but if she was honest, she didn't believe that Nick was more than a good friend for Danny and Mac.

"I hate working like this, when everyone is scared to even look at you and nothing you see is real."

Nick nodded and shrugged.

"Any scene in a casino felt like this, especially the ones we would work in Sam Braun's casinos."

Her colleague had never talked much about Vegas and now as they both gathered the last evidence from the container, Stella suddenly realized that Nick didn't know that she knew. She would have to tell him, but looking around and seeing the assessing and disdainful glances, she decided to have that conversation somewhere more sociable.

"Casinos, not very friendly places for CSI's?"

Nick laughed at that and shook his head.

"One of the CSI's in our team was related to one of the Casino owners, unfortunately not what you'd call the new breed, Sam Braun is very much old style Las Vegas... It caused tons of problems, cause he would announce that relationship whenever we started investigating him..."

Nick shrugged and then bent down to examine something more closely. Maybe it was chance or fate or whatever that Stella turned around in that moment and saw Don look at Nick.

Don's face was completely open and Stella's breath caught at the emotions she saw in the cop's face and eyes. He was totally focused on Nick and there was an expression of longing and love that made her heart stutter. She was looking at a man in love, totally and utterly in love and it was Nick this love was directed towards.

Her idea of a Danny, Mac and Nick in a threesome shattered and was replaced by the knowledge that Don Flack was the reason Nick seemed happier and more relaxed. And yet, if they were together why the longing in Don's face? Why the sadness when he looked at Nick now?

She had no time to investigate those questions right now, but Stella grinned slightly, she would make sure to bring the topic up next time she was working with Donny. And maybe she could ask for a video then too...

"You look like a cat that's just eaten the canary."

Nick's comment made her smile but she shook her head and waved vaguely.

"Well, if you're happy that's great, cause I've got bugs."

Unable to prevent from laughing at Nick's sour look, she did and saw how several workers turned around to glare at her. It wasn't that though, it was Don's suddenly tense body at Nick's comment that made her tense too as she realized what Nick had said and what he'd been through.

"You ok with them?"

Nick's eyes narrowed slightly and he looked at her, there was something in his eyes that made her shiver, but before she could react to it, it was gone and the younger man shrugged.

"I'm no Grissom, but I've worked with him for six years, so I should be able to figure out what they are and why they are here."

Looking around Nick shook his head.

"It's too cold for bugs here, so they can't be native..."

She watched as he carefully picked the crawlers up and put them in a can with some drops of water. Meeting her eyes he grinned at her surprised look.

"I once let a bug die cause I forgot to put some water in the can, believe me I was in the doghouse for a month after that."

Smiling at his antiques Stella gratefully grabbed Don's hand to help her getting of the container and watched as Nick followed her without help. And yet as the three of them stood on the ground, she noticed how close to Nick Don stood and she was sure that she had seen him quickly put his hand on Nick's back in a reassuring gesture. Pretending not to have noticed anything, she threw Nick a smile.

"Believe me; no one is going to put you in the doghouse here if you kill a bug."

Nick just grinned.

"Grissom's conditioning was thorough."

He put the evidence in the back of the car and sat down in the passenger seat. Looking over to Flack, Stella noticed that he looked at her hard and as her eyes met his, she saw a clear warning in the blue gaze.

‘Don't hurt him.'

Swallowing hard she nodded and was surprised by the smile that crossed Flack's face.

"I'll see you at the lab."

Stella nodded and prepared herself for questions while she drove back to Manhattan.

"Who told you?"

Nick's voice was more or less devoid of emotions and it struck her that she'd never heard him talk like this, Nick was always full of emotions and the difference to this cold detached way made her shiver.

"No one told me, but I read the news coverage and when Mac told me that he was talking to someone from the Vegas lab, I figured you'd have to be the one."

Nick's breathing was harsh and for a moment, she wondered if she'd made a mistake. Stopping in front of a red light she glanced at her colleague and saw that Nick had his eyes closed and was breathing deeply. He was calming himself, she realized.

"You never said anything."

His words were neither accusing nor questioning, it was just a statement and for a moment Stella didn't know how to answer. Then though she decided that Nick deserved the truth.

"I didn't know how to bring it up, I wasn't sure if you'd want us to know."

A smile crossed Nick's face before he answered.

"I came here because no one knew, but then I ended up telling almost everyone. I mean I had to tell Mac right at the beginning and then Danny and I became friends and so I told him and then I freaked out at Flack and he came over and..."

It was interesting how red really suited Nick, Stella thought amused as she noticed the blush that covered his face now. They were silent for a while, but to Stella's surprise, Nick grabbed her hand when they had to stop next time. His eyes were honest and concerned something that surprised her completely.

"Sorry Stella for not telling you, I didn't want to leave you out, I just... I just didn't think."

It made her want to smile and cry at the same time and simultaneously she suddenly felt so old compared to Nick who was still so concerned about others about her feelings... It was something she'd noticed in the few months since she'd been working with him.

Nick certainly put others first and himself last, yet before she could call him onto it, Flack's eyes and warning came to her mind and Stella smiled.

It was ok for Nick to put others first, cause Don would make sure that the others put Nick first.


Danny had a hard time to suppress the shivers as Hawkes showed him and Mac the bruising on the woman's body.

"They tied her to the tree and then hit her with the car?"

It didn't make sense and Mac's shrug told him that his lover? His lover couldn't make more sense of the scene so far than he could. Danny marveled at the fact that he could call Mac his lover, even if it was only in his thoughts.

"She wasn't tied to the tree, that I can tell you."

Hawkes lifted the slender body and turned her around so that they could see her back.

"If she had been tied to the tree, there would be marks from it, but all you can see is the continuation of the bruises from the front."

Mac nodded and Danny saw that his colleague had figured something out.

"Thanks Hawkes, we'll come back later."

They passed the completely covered corpse on the other lab table and with a nod towards it, Danny asked.

"Nick and Stella's case?"

The ME nodded and shuddered.

"Spatula Man, crushed by a container at the port"

Danny shivered too, the thought of being crushed alive was too horrible to consider, but at the same time he was glad to hear that Nick's crime scene was above ground and even more, that his friend was obviously working the case with Flack.

Nick had not told him much about what had happened that night when Flack had shown up unexpectedly at his door step and neither had Flack, but both men were visibly more relaxed around each other and when Danny had asked Nick directly, his friend had smiled and just simply answered.

"He stayed the night and I was able to sleep."

It wasn't the hot and steamy comment that Danny had expected, but somehow the simple answer had carried a lot of emotions and looking at Nick he had seen the love and happiness in the dark eyes. He had hugged his friend then and told him that obviously they both had gotten lucky that night. Nick had laughed and looking at the hickey at Danny's neck he'd commented that...

"Seems like some of us got very lucky..."

Danny hadn't denied it, how could he? He had gotten incredibly lucky and if Mac really meant it when he told him that he was in love with him, then Danny's luck was more than anything he'd ever expected and if he was honest much more than he deserved.

"That was no car accident."

Mac's voice was so sure about that that Danny looked at him surprised, his supervisor had a bag in his hand and a latex suit in his other, heart beating hard Danny crouched down next to Mac and stared at the gag... Bile rose in his throat and he took deep calming breaths when the straps followed.

"This was a scene gone wrong."

He knew that his voice was shaky as he commented and felt Mac's eyes on him. Quickly he grabbed the bag, the suit and the straps.

"I'll get them to the lab and start processing."


Mac's voice held a volume of emotions and questions, but he wasn't prepared to face either right at the moment and almost running he carried the items to the lab where he put them on the table and then really run to the toilet. He was shaking as he leaned against the closed door inside the stall, bile rose against and this time he didn't stop it.

Why did he have to get such a case right now?

He had been able to ban those memories for so long, had suppressed anything that would have reminded of those days, but now after talking to Mac after feeling the open care whenever Mac touched, the contrast to the previous touches he had known was so strong that the memory constantly hovered at the edge of his mind. Danny looked at his shaking hands and growled.

Why was he so damn weak?

Slowly the shivers subsided and he dared to leave the stall. He needed to wash his hands, his face and certainly needed to drink something, needed a chewing gum to get the foul taste out of his mouth.


A soft cloth warm and wet was pressed in his hand, and, as he just stared at it not comprehending where it came from, the same soft cloth tenderly was moved over his face, his hands and finally he saw Mac standing opposite him. The cloth he had held was thrown to the basket and he reached for a bottle of water which Danny took. He felt Mac's eyes on him as he drank and rinsed his mouth, but the older man didn't say anything, just stood there and waited.


He hated how the word couldn't convey what he felt right at the moment, but Mac seemed to understand him as he walked closer tentatively, almost as if he was afraid of scaring Danny. Danny hated that he had put that look of fear in Mac's eyes and before he could stop himself he reached out and caressed the beloved face.

"It was nothing you did Mac, just..."

He broke off, didn't want Mac to know and at the same time called himself an idiot cause it was clear that Mac already knew.


Danny looked up at the soft voice so close to him and he was shocked when Mac just pulled him against his own body, holding him close, banning any bad memories and any remembrance of the humiliations he'd suffered.

"Don't run from me Danny"

The words were soft, but Mac's eyes were clear and strong, this was no plea this was an order and almost against his will Danny felt himself relax in the strong arms.

"I told you that I would be there for you."

Of course he had said it, but wasn't it equally as clear that Danny had not believed him? He looked at Mac and saw the soft smile in his eyes that seemed to exist only for his eyes.

"I know you don't believe me, but Danny I've got the rest of our lives to convince you."

He stared shocked and watched stunned as Mac disentangled himself and left the bathroom as if nothing had happened.

the rest of our lives'

The words rang still through his mind as he finally went back to the lab and found Mac already waiting for him.

"You take the top and I'll start at the bottom."

Mac looked at him and for a second Danny was sure he saw a smirk, but then Mac turned back and put his protection glasses on. They started searching when in the middle of their work Mac suddenly spoke again.

"I'm not sure Danny, but I think I'd prefer it the other way round."

For a second Danny was sure he'd misunderstood, but when he looked up he saw Mac's eyes laughing at him and stuttering he went back processing the latex.

It would certainly take time to get used to Mac teasing him, but should his lover have really meant it, then oh my god...


Don watched from the door as Nick processed the clothing of their dead man and smiled as he found more of the beetles, he'd been so excited about at the crime scene. His lover was completely absorbed by his work and Don enjoyed the luxury of just watching Nick work.

There was a grace to his movements that Don was sure had to be natural, but it was Nick's attitude that made him want to walk over and kiss him. Nick was completely focused and yet he seemed relaxed and at ease. Don's heart stopped for a second as he imagined being the insect on the table, to have Nick focus so completely on him.

It was two weeks since that night when he had held Nick all night, two weeks since that soul shattering kiss and they had seen each other several times since then. But all those times had been either in a pub or a bar or then Danny had been with them. And it wasn't that Don hadn't enjoyed those relaxed evenings full of laughter and just to see Nick's eyes sparkle had been worth every night, but he wanted more.

He wanted to hold Nick again, wanted to really hold him and to kiss him until they both were out of breath, he wanted to feel Nick's hands on him and to get his own hand on Nick's soft skin. He wanted to know how Nick looked when he was out of control, wanted to know how the other man sounded when he moaned his name, but most of all he wanted to claim Nick as his.

Nick was too great a guy and ever since that night, Don had noticed how many people turned around when he walked through the lab or the police office. It made him want to mark Nick, made him want to claim him openly, but he knew that as long as they both worked for the police, it was an impossible wish.

"How long have you been standing here?"

He smiled when he saw the joy in Nick's eyes and casually strolling into the lab, he leaned against the table. They were alone in the lab and maybe it was time to start the seduction of Nick Stokes.

"Not long enough, I love watching you."

Nick looked up and Don saw the confusion in his eyes, quickly he looked around and seeing no one took Nick's hand and kissed the palm.

"Such talented hands"

He nipped at one finger.

"Such capable fingers."

Letting go of Nick's hand he reached out and caressed the face of the other man quickly.

"Such a great mind"

Nick had frozen when he'd grabbed his hand, but now he seemed to come back to live and a shiver ran through his body at the intimate caress and even more so at the heat in Don's eyes.

"Keep this up and my mind is going to implode."

Don saw the passion in the dark eyes, saw the longing and he realized that he wasn't the only one who had waited for two weeks.

"Come around tonight"

His words were a mere whisper, but Nick blushed nonetheless. Don watched as he picked a non existing fiber from the pants and finally looked up.

"I'll try."

He knew that this was as good as a promise that Nick could make with the sometimes crazy hours that they all worked. Still though he felt the need to give the other man a little incentive and after once again ensuring that they were still alone he leaned down and nipped at Nick's neck.

"I see you then."

He left casually and smiled at Stella who chose that moment to walk into the lab.

"Found something?"

Nick grinned at her and pointing towards the glass can, he answered.

"More bugs."

Don smiled on his way out, feeling happy and looking forward to the evening, when his phone beeped. He grabbed it out from his coat and read the short text.

‘Watch out, next time I'll make you squirm at your desk.'

He laughed out loud, but his body tightened at the sudden image of Nick lying naked on his desk. He needed a cold shower now.


Mac's heart was heavy as he watched Danny flinch at the sight of the confiscated utensils from their last case. He saw how memories rose in Danny's eyes and wished that he could wrap the younger man in his arms, but the lab wasn't the place to do this.

The one thing he could do though was get Danny away from those objects that obviously woke bad memories in his mind, yet before he could even say anything, he saw his lover's eyes flash.


Mac hid the flinch at the sharp tone in Danny's voice and looking at the younger man he felt his heart drop. Danny was almost trembling with fury and it was him that fury was directed at. Leaning over the table, keeping his voice down so that no one could hear him speak, Danny hissed at Mac.

"Don't treat me any different than before. You never cared about my emotions before I let it slip that my childhood wasn't a bed of roses, so don't start now."

The words felt like a slap in his face and Mac was glad for all those years of training, all those exercises in control that the Marine Corps had put him through. It had taught him to keep any reaction inside, but unfortunately it hadn't taught him not to feel.

Danny's words, the contempt he spoke with, it hurt him deep to his core.

He had been an idiot, had been a bastard and he knew it, but after the last two weeks he had hoped that Danny had forgiven him, that the younger man had started to understand...

"I always cared"

Danny sneered, but didn't say anything. Instead he started to process the next item. Mac sighed as he saw how his lover's entire body language seemed to shut him out.

"Don't shut me out Danny, don't run from me."

He had said those words only hours ago, when he had found Danny in the bathroom and holding him close then, Mac had been sure that Danny had believed him. Had he been so wrong?

"Stop it"

Again the words hit him hard and with a harsh growl, Mac turned around and stared at Danny.

"My office now"

Stunned surprise at both the sound of his voice as well as the command registered in Danny's face and on some level Mac cheered because it wiped the mask of indifference from his lover's face. Still he didn't show anything, just turned around and walked over without checking if Danny followed him.

The sound of a door closing behind him, made him look up and with a heavy heart he wondered if his dream of loving Danny for the rest of his life would be coming to an end in the next few minutes.

Had Danny decided he'd made a mistake?

Had he done something to make the younger man fall out of love?

Had Danny ever loved him?

"Close the blinds at the door, please"

Mac got up himself and closed the rest of the blinds, shutting curious glances out and him and Danny inside their own world. He didn't want anyone witnessing what could be a very painful experience for him.



They both spoke at the same time and both stopped. Tension hung in the air and Mac cringed at the sudden awkwardness of it.

"Danny, I..."

He trailed off, and for once a rarely felt emotion rose in him. Fear... it was something they had been taught in the corps too, had been trained to never be afraid, but like before they hadn't taught him not to be afraid in such a situation and looking at Danny's rigid posture, Mac felt fear... He didn't want to lose Danny and maybe, he suddenly thought, maybe he should just tell him that.

"I can't lose you."

Surprise lit up in the grey eyes he loved so much and that more than anything else soothed him enough to walk around the desk and carefully touch Danny's shoulder.

"I didn't want to insult you, I just..."

Again he trailed off, how to explain that he always felt the need to protect those he loved? A wistful smile danced around his face as he remembered the beginnings of his relationship with Claire and the arguments they'd had then.

"When I met Claire and we started dating, she would always insist on paying and on walking home alone. I... I couldn't let her do that, no matter that she earned more than I did, no matter that she was capable of fending for herself... We... we argued a lot then..."

They had almost broken up then; Mac swallowed the lump in his throat at the memory of his late wife.

"I wanted to make sure she was safe... I always wanted to protect her from being hurt..."

He had failed in the end, had failed to keep her safe because he had misjudged the world. Mac had been so sure that his wife was safe at work, that the high profiled job at the Towers was the safest place in Manhattan... And then those Towers had fallen... Looking up at Danny with a new resolve, he reached out and caressed his lover's face.

"I failed her, Danny; I didn't keep her safe... But I won't fail you..."

Danny stared at him with shock and remorse in his eyes, and then with a trembling hand he reached out and covered Mac's hand on his cheek.


But Mac needed to say this, he needed Danny to understand.

"I could see how hard it was for you to process those items... and I just wanted to make you feel better..."

Danny shook his head sadly.

"Mac, don't use what we have outside the office as an excuse because you don't trust me to do my job… please don't do this"

You don't trust me to do my job…

Again Mac felt as if someone had slapped him and feeling himself getting angry, he grasped Danny hard by the shoulders forcing him to meet his eyes.

"I do trust you Danny"

He saw the disbelief in Danny's eyes and with a shiver he turned around. His heart hurt, his head hurt, in fact his entire body seemed to ache from what he was going to say.

"I made a mistake not trusting you and not talking to you when the Tanglewood case came up and I will try to make amends for this for the rest of my life... I told you that I will be there for you..."

Mac couldn't look at Danny as he gathered himself to say the last thing he wanted to say.

"But unless you trust me, I can't do it..."

He looked out of the windows and saw the empty space where the towers had been. For such a long time this empty space had been an allegory for the emptiness in his heart and with a shiver Mac turned around to face Danny again.

"Trust goes two ways Danny"

Danny's eyes were wide and he shook his head frantically.

"I trust you with my life Mac."

It was a sad smile that crossed Mac's face as he pulled Danny towards his body.

"But you don't trust me not to leave you... You don't trust me not to hurt you... I know you trust me with your life... But I need you to trust me with your heart too..."

The shiver that ran through Danny at those soft words made Mac tense and he tightened his arms around the younger man. For a long time they stood there, Danny spoke muffled against Mac's chest.

"It's not you I don't trust Mac... It's me... I... I don't deserve you..."

The pain in Mac's heart at those mumbled words was worse than the one before and before he could think about it he reached up and removed his dog tags from his neck. Danny was watching him with wide eyes as he opened the chain and fastened it around his neck.


But Mac didn't let him finish, instead he put his hand over Danny's heart where the tags rested now.

"Whenever you believe that you're not good enough for me, I want you to look at them and remember that I would have been proud to have you in my squad, that I am proud to have you in my team and that I am eternally grateful to be in your heart."

Danny stared at him and with a smile Mac leaned down and brushed his lips against Danny's.

"I love you."


*Chapter 9*

Nick was surprised by the butterflies in his stomach as he knocked on Don's door. Why was he so nervous? He knew that the other man was interested in him, and still he fidgeted as he waited for his lover to open the door.

Lover... Nick shivered at the thought of Don as his lover and suddenly understood the reason for the flutter in his heart, the slight trembling of his hands. It was years since he had more than casual sex, years since he had been with some he cared for, someone who cared for him.

Warrick's image appeared in front of his mind, but unlike before it was not accompanied by longing and pain. He had loved Warrick, but that love had always been a fantasy, something that lived in his imagination and if Nick was honest he wondered sometimes if the reality would have been able to live up to his expectations.

He had loved Warrick, but if he was honest then Nick knew that that love had died the moment he had looked into two stunning blue eyes.

Don... Don was different, everything was different with him. The undercurrent competitiveness that had been a constant factor in his and Warrick's friendship wasn't present and maybe, Nick mused, it was because Don was not a CSI.

"Hey, good you made it."

Don grinned as he stepped aside and let Nick into his flat. For a moment Nick stood there and shrugged out of his jacket, when he found himself suddenly pinned against the wall. Don's lips were hot and insistent on his and Nick immediately opened and let the probing tongue slip inside.

He had dreamed of this, had dreamed of feeling this alive with someone and yet the reality made any dreams look like faded images. It weren't any movements that made the difference, it was Don... It was the simple fact that it wasn't someone he kissed and who was kissing him... It was Don... Don, whose hands now moved restlessly over his back...

Nick moaned and let himself fall into the sensations that Don created for them. Finally the need to breathe grew too strong and with another moan they split apart and yet stayed close enough to feel each other's breaths on their faces.

"I wanted to do that this afternoon."

Don's voice was hoarse with desire and the fire in the blue eyes made Nick shiver. Smiling lightly he lifted Don's hand and locking his eyes with the other man's he sucked one of the fingers in his mouth. Don's eyes widened and he moaned lightly at the provocative image making Nick smile.

"I wanted you to do it."

Another shiver ran through the taller man at Nick's words and Nick smiled feeling elated at the fact that he could drive Don this far, could make him this aroused. Then Don drew him towards the living room and entangled they sat down onto the couch or fell onto it to be more accurate. They laughed as the metal screeched plaintively and somehow the laughter eased the last of Nick's nervousness. He looked at Don who was lying on top of him and smiled happily.

It felt good to have him on top, to feel the strength in the other man's body and to know that Don would never use this strength against him.

"I need you"

Don's eyes darkened at Nick's words, but his hands were soft as he caressed his face. Nick felt cherished at the loving touch and moaned when lips nipped at his neck.

"There is something I want to do..."

Don trailed off and Nick felt how his muscles tensed, questioningly he looked at his lover while his fingers moved through the short dark hair.

‘Silky' he mused, but concentrated on Don again.

"What do you want?"

Hot lips were at his neck now and as if he had suddenly lost control, Don pressed his body against Nick, while he nibbled at the tender skin. Nick felt shockwaves of desire racing through his body, when he understood what Don was doing.

"You don't need to mark me, I am yours already."

The words were out before he could stop himself and he tensed when Don looked up. The feral look in the taller man's eyes made any worries disappear though and smiling he traced one finger from Don's eyes to his lips and down over his jaw to the place where Don had placed the hickey.

"You like that, don't you?"

Using the distraction Nick moved and turned them around so that he was covering Don now and with a smile at the stunned face of his lover he leaned in and devoured his mouth. The moan that his kiss drew from Don made him shiver and without even stopping to breathe he followed with his lips the same path he'd drawn with his fingers finally settling at the neck.

Only there he stopped and lifted his head to meet Don's eyes. The longing there almost took his breath away and for a long time he was frozen, no they both were... Then though Don shivered and reaching out he traced one finger over Nick's lips following the soft curve of his mouth.

"Mark me, make me yours"

Nick didn't need another invitation and with a deep groan he leaned in and tasted Don's skin for the first time. It was slightly salty, spicy as if he had showered with some kind of ginger lotion and then there was something so unique, so special that Nick knew he was addicted the moment he tasted it.

It was Don.

He nibbled and kissed, reveling in the noises he managed to drag from Don and while he feasted on the neck, his hands moved over the soft shirt down to where it ended and with a deep sigh he slipped his hands under it to encounter strong muscles and soft skin. His head was spinning as emotions flooded him from this simple touch. Nick had known that this was not a short encounter, but he had not expected to feel this much, this strong...

"Nick…" Don's voice was trembling with so many emotions and Nick shivered as he understood that he wasn't alone in this.

"I want you, but you need to want this too... I don't want to hurt you..."

Don's concern made his heart melt, but as he cupped his lover's face with one hand he shook his head slowly.

"You would never hurt me Don, just as I would never hurt you."

It was as close to a declaration of love that he dared to go right now, but as Don's eyes flashed Nick smiled and leaned down to find his lover's lips with his own again. Teasing Don with gentle nibbles and flicks of his tongue, coaxing his lips to part under his bold, intrusion.

"Let's move this somewhere else"

Unlike last time it was Nick who said that and Don who tensed, but as their eyes me, Don relaxed and smiled.


Don's voice was softer than Nick had ever heard it and together they got up, moved over the bedroom, hands still lingering, still touching and still close. 

Once in the bedroom Don shed his shirt and pants while Nick followed suit. He watched with a thundering heart as Don lay back on the bed, long legs slender and yet muscular, a toned chest... Don had the perfect body, but it were his eyes that captured him so completely that it was impossible for Nick not to touch, to taste, and he lay down next to his lover as his hands began to explore and his lips grazed and licked every inch of skin he could reach. Drawing back to see Don‘s face, to see his eyes changing, Nick fingered a nipple with deceptive idleness and watched as his lover groaned, dark lashes drifting down to hide his eyes. Smiling, Nick bent his head to taste the nub of flesh, suckling at it and its twin until Don surged against him, demanding more attention. Leaning back to look at his soon-to-be lover Nick's breath stopped for a moment.

„You are incredibly beautiful!"


Don was shaking with desire, his breathing hard and his thoughts nothing but a jumbled mess. He was on fire, had never felt this intensely from just foreplay. Nick's blunt fingers wandered farther down, running along the crease that joined hip and groin, combing through the coarse, crisp hair that surrounded his ultimate goal. When he felt the hand close around his cock, Don's screamed.

"What do you want?" He asked suddenly startling himself as much as Nick. "Anything you want," he whispered, only a little surprised at how much he meant it.

"I want everything,"

Nick said, his voice softer than velvet, the Texan accent more pronounced in the throws of desire. He framed Don's face with his hands and the gesture was so tender and caring that Don's passion ebbed down a bit, enough to see the seriousness in Nick's dark eyes.

"I want everything you can give me."

Don had no words to answer this, this entire encounter with Nick was something he had never experienced before, had no memories to help him through and although he'd never felt this much out of depth, he didn't mind. He felt safe in the emotions he saw in Nick's eyes and so his answer was easy.


Nick swallowed hard and Don saw the shiver that ran through the slender body at his answer. He couldn't lie passively then and reaching out he caressed Nick's back felt the strong muscles, the broad shoulders the biceps. He wanted Nick to feel as much as he did, wanted to bring him to complete ecstasy. He still had the memory of the trembling man in his mind and he wanted to replace that image with another Nick, one in the throws of passion.

He moved them around so that he could touch Nick and slid his hand and lips over the toned chest, nibbling at the skin and heard the moan that was wrenched from Nick. He moved further down, seeking stronger, deeper flavors, closing his mouth around Nick's aching arousal. Nick gasped his name, crying out his delight as his fingers gripped first Don‘s hair, then his shoulders. Then the strong body went still, then arched up as he held his hips and sucked harder to bring forth the pleasure surging through Nick, spilling from him in wet warmth that filled Don's mouth and was swallowed down like some delicious wine.

His own urgency barely contained, Don shifted to lie next to his lover, taking the sated body in his arms and smiling into eyes dazzled with pleasure. Holding him close, he moved against Nick, needing friction, heat-anything. The expression in the dark eyes grew sharper and a lazy smile curled around Nick's lips.

"Something you want Don?"

Just hearing his name in this slightly teasing, slightly accented voice made Don shiver, he was so high strung that he cried out when soft hands touched his own arousal. Nick held his eyes as he covered him with a condom and pushed the lube into his hand

"I need you"

Despite the need he saw in Nick's eyes Don took his time preparing his lover with a care and thoroughness that rekindled the passion in the other man. Their bodies met and mated, Don sinking into Nick until they were joined as perfectly as if they had been meant for each other. There was nothing awkward, nothing rushed; eternity was caught and held in a moment as they moved together, two became one, hands entwined, and the play of tongues mimicking the other mating. The plateau so far away-and then too close, too near, impossible not to plunge over in joyous abandon.

Exhausted from an explosion of pleasure he had never experienced before, Don lay next to Nick, holding him close, just watching him when smiling content dark eyes met his.

"Do you know how I feel?"

Don shook his head and Nick reached out slowly.

"Like I'm finally home."

His breath caught and Don swallowed the lump in his throat. He stared at Nick in wonderment, the words being so true for him too and he knew that there was only one thing to say.

"You are"


"Nick, you and I are going for lunch."

Danny smiled with mischief as he grinned at his friend, who, although he was glowing with happiness, had dark rings under his eyes.

"No questions Messer"

Now, that was impossible, especially since he was dying to find out what had occurred between Nick and Flack, not that he couldn't imagine it, but hey where was the fun in friendship if one didn't even get the juicy details of the other's love life?

"Every question I ask, you can ask me too."

He saw that Nick shook his head in fond amusement, then though the dark eyes narrowed and focused on something at his chest, confused Danny looked down and blushed as he saw that the silver chain was dangling out of his half open shirt. Nick smiled then and patting Danny on the back, he told him still grinning.

"It's a deal Danny, it's a deal..."

Soon enough they were seated in a comfortable boot and Danny was almost bouncing with excitement. He grinned as Nick ordered and still grinned when his friend threw him an annoyed look.

"Stop that grinning… it really doesn't become you."

But Danny was just happy, Mac loved him, really loved him why else would he have given him the dog tags? And yet that wasn't all Mac not only loved him, but trusted him and wonder oh wonder still wanted him despite his past with Sonny.

And of course then there was Nick, Nick who was his best friend and who looked just as happy as Danny felt and he was sure that it had something to do with a dark haired NY cop. And Danny Messer was damned it he wasn't going to get some naughty details from his friend.

"So how good is he?"

Nick sputtered and looked indignantly at him, which of course made him laugh. Then though a look he had never seen on his friend's eyes made him trail off.

"I never felt like this."

How could Nick sound so lost and so completely happy at the same time? Sometimes Danny wondered how Nick had managed to become a CSI and yet still be so innocent.

"Like what?"

Again a smile crossed Nick's face and he laughed a little as he blushed.

"Like I was there... Like I had finally arrived..."

Ok, maybe down in Texas people understood such cryptic remarks but hello, Danny was a New Yorker and as such he just looked confused. Nick must have noticed it cause he grinned and blushed even more.

"You know that feeling that you're somehow on the road, that you have not yet really found your place in life? That although you have a job you love and great friends, there is still something, some part missing?"

Danny's smile faded at the wistful note in Nick's voice and he swallowed hard. Of course he knew that feeling, had felt like this almost his entire life. No matter where he'd gone he'd always been the outcast, the one who didn't really fit, it seemed weird that Nick of all people would feel the same...

"Afterwards, you know after we..."

Nick blushed again and Danny decided to take pity on him and waved him on.

"We were laying in each others arms and I was there, I had finally arrived at my place."

It was the most beautiful thing Danny had ever heard anyone say, but even as he reflected on it, realization hit him hard.

"I know"

Nick looked at him and Danny was sure that his friend had heard the wonder in his voice and a wry grin crossed the handsome face.

"You too eh?"

Danny nodded and smiled lightly, then though he sobered up and punched Nick lightly in the arm.

"Don't think that all that sappiness gets you out of telling me the steamy details. So how was he? You top or him?"

Nick groaned and Danny grinned.

It was going to be a fun, fun lunch.


"I think I will fly to New York for the long weekend."

First Greg thought he had misunderstood, then though he groaned. No, he thought silently, not now, not now that Nick finally seems to get over everything that has happened. But he didn't speak his thoughts, instead just traded a look with Brass who shrugged.

"I mean, just three days you know checking on Nick and maybe hit some bars with him."

He was close to say something then, but before he could another voice butted in.

"You really think Nick would be happy to see you?"

Saved by Hodges, now that was something that didn't happen often and he saw the grin that now adorned Jim's face at the shock in Warrick's face.

"Of course why not?"

Hodges' face was a bland mask as he turned towards Greg and conversationally almost as if Warrick wasn't in the room started to speak with him.

"What do you think Sanders? You think Nick would be happy to see Warrick? I mean the question is a valid one, especially considering he left because of him."

The complete and utter silence that followed the trace expert's statement was louder than anything Greg had ever heard. It made him almost wish he were deaf. Warrick's face was a mask of disbelief, anger and yet underneath all those emotion there was fear too.

"He left because of me? What bullshit is this?"

Not many men in the lab had the courage or idiocy to stand up against Warrick when he was pissed, but then Greg thought with a wry grin, David Hodges certainly wasn't ‘many men'. He stood straight and stared Warrick directly in the eyes as he explained with this cold, clinical voice what everyone had known and no one had so far dared to speak out loud.

"He left cause you got married. Nick was cooping with what happened with him in the box, he wasn't leaving because of that, but he couldn't bear to watch the man he loved being all cozy and happy with his new wife."

For a second Greg wished they were somewhere else, but a quick glance told him that Brass had closed the door and no one could hear what Hodges just had said. Sending a thankful look towards the Captain, Greg was surprise to see a dark smile in the cop's eyes. It seemed as if Brass had known too.

"You're wrong and even if... I mean Nick loved me like a brother and he is my best friend. Why would he leave because of me? You're all nuts!"

Warrick stalked out of the room without another look back and Hodges shook his head.

"What's that river in Egypt again?"

Brass and Greg grinned despite their concerns, but their faces became blank again as they left the office in silence. The first couple of meters were walked in a quiet tension, then though Brass suddenly cleared his throat.

"Nick still calls you, doesn't he?"

Warily Greg nodded not sure what would come next.

"He ever mentioned a cop named Don Flack?"

He didn't want to, honestly, he really tried to keep the smile from his face, but the thought of Nick's last phone call and of the pure and complete happiness in his voice made it impossible. He tried to cover it, but Brass just smiled.

"I thought so, got a call from him a couple weeks back. Made some enquiries, he's a good guy, someone to trust and..."

Greg stared at the older man and was surprised at the concern and honesty in Jim's eyes at those words. Wasn't it amazing how many people still cared for Nick here? Greg allowed his smile to spread and he patted Brass' arm thankfully.


The cop shrugged and turned into another corridor to visit Grissom, yet before he disappeared he turned around again.

"You might want to warn Nick... Just give him a heads up, you know..."

Yeah, Greg mused, yeah he would have to warn Nick and he would add a suggestion cause after all he was sure that the Hamptons were wonderful in winter and there was no better way to spend a long winter weekend than snuggled up with his lover in front of a fire place.


Mac was tired, his body aching as he watched the husband being led away. It were those cases that hurt the most, those couples that had it all and then killed each other. It made him want to scream at them and yet he couldn't.

A hand grasped his under the table and squeezed hard, it brought him out of his stupor and he smiled as he met Danny's eyes.

"Let's go home"

It was said quietly and Mac reveled in the word home. The fact that Danny spoke it so easily made him smile and his heart jump, but he knew that unfortunately he couldn't go home yet. There was still paperwork to be finished and although neither he nor Danny had ever mentioned it, he had to prepare for something else too.

Sonny Sassone's pre-trial would be next week and Mac would possibly be called to testify.

He felt a cold hatred burn in his stomach at the thought of the man who had abused and hurt Danny so badly, he wished he would be able to bring justice to this man himself... Knowing that he couldn't though, Mac was determined that his testimony either now or at the real trial would ensure that Sassone would never ever bother Danny again.

"Hey, you're with me?"

Danny's hand in front of his face made him smile.

"I was just thinking, I'll finish the paperwork and then go home..."

Suddenly insecure he looked at his lover as he trailed off. Danny smiled and looked at him with eyes so full of love that Mac wanted to reach out and touch him.

"I'll be waiting for you... although I won't try and cook."

The sparkle in Danny's eyes was beautiful and Mac couldn't help the smile of joy that spread across his face.

"I'll pick up something on the way."

They walked out of the interrogation room, chatting about the case and the paperwork that still had to be done and Mac marveled how normal it all seemed, how it looked as if nothing had changed between him and Danny and yet everything had.

Smiling lightly he stepped into his office and started writing the report. He couldn't say that the paperwork was a favorite part of his job, but he knew the importance of it and refused to do it with any less diligence than he used for every normal job.

Two hours later the draft was finished and knowing that nothing good would come out from reviewing it at the same evening, Mac stretched and shut down the computer. His eyes burned from staring at the screen and his back reminded him that he still hadn't called office maintenance to replace his chair. Groaning lightly, he got up and stretched again. Something jumped in his back and he frowned.

Maybe Stella was right and he should go and see a physiotherapist, but then another image hit him, an image of a warm room, lit by candles, soft music floating in the air and Danny gently touching him, kneading the painful knots in his back...

Mac smiled; yes he preferred that idea to the therapy. Still smiling he grabbed his coat, when his phone rang. For a second he hesitated, then reached out and answered with a sharp ‘Taylor'.

"Mr. Taylor, there is a man who claims he needs to talk to you at the reception."

The receptionist's voice was slightly annoyed and Mac couldn't help but agree with her, it was almost 7pm and he had wanted to go home, home to Danny. But his duty was too ingrained into him and so instead of following his wish to just send the visitor away, he told the young woman that he would come down and see.

When the elevator doors opened Mac's blood froze at the sight of who sat casually in the waiting area. Bryan Stevens was nothing else but Sonny's lawyer and certainly high on the list of people Mac didn't want to see or speak to.

"Mr. Stevens you know that I cannot talk to you before the trial."

There was something in the other man's silver eyes that made him shiver, something evil and hard. He braced himself against the words, against the attacks, but the lawyer just smiled.

"I think you want to hear what I have to say."

Looking around, he shrugged carelessly and fixed Mac again.

"But I doubt you want to discuss it here in the open, public..."

Something in the way Stevens said ‘public' made Mac tense even more, but despite the sudden fear in his heart, he kept a cold head and answered equally hard.

"This is just perfect here. Open and public is what I want if I talk to you."

He knew that this way no one could ever imply that he'd compromised the trial before it even started. Mac swore that there was no way he would do that, He'd rather compromise himself and send Stella then make even the slightest mistake which would cause Sonny to walk.

"Well, it is your decision Detective Taylor"

Again there was a look in Stevens' eyes that made Mac shiver, but again he suppressed any open reaction and remained standing even though the lawyer gestured he should sit down.

"My client asked me to approach you with the proposal of a deal. He felt that it was only decent to give you a chance to save the reputation of your lab and of course your employees."

Stevens made a rhetorical pause. Mac's heart was thundering, he knew what Sassone would offer, had known it from the moment Stevens had said those fateful words ‘reputation of your lab'.


He knew the truth, knew that Danny hadn't been a Tanglewood boy, but he was sure that Danny had never told the truth anybody else.

"If let's say Mr. Sassone would mention during the cross examination that he has intimate knowledge of one of your employees, I suppose that your evidence and just the general reputation of this lab would be severely tarnished."

He had been right, Mac felt the cold hatred that he had harbored in his heart ever since Danny had told him the truth turn into with hot rage and only his willpower prevented him from attacking the lawyer. Instead he coldly looked at Stevens.

"Are you saying that either I or Detective Bonaserra was ever involved with Mr. Sassone or the Tanglewood boys?"

The smile that crossed the lawyer's face was shrewd, but his eyes were still cold and calculating as he tossed and envelope on the small cocktail table.

"You know that I am not talking about either of you and you know very well which of your employees I mean. But maybe you didn't know the depth of his involvement with Mr. Sassone... or maybe it would be more appropriate to say. How deep Mr. Sassone was involved in him..."

Mac felt blood rushing through his body at the implication and his entire body tensed. He wasn't sure if he would have attacked the lawyer, but before he could say anything a calm and yet deadly cold voice intruded in their exchange.

"I hope I don't interrupt, but there is something I want you to check out Mac."

Nick's eyes were just as his voice was; calm but deadly cold and Mac immediately realized that his colleague had heard at least part of Stevens' last words.

"You aren't interrupting anything Nick, Mr. Stevens was just about to leave."

The lawyer looked at him and with deliberate care took a business card from his pocket and handed it Mac together with the envelope.

"Think about it Detective Taylor, just think about it."

Mac felt Nick's eyes on him as he watched Stevens leave the hall. There was a deep concern in the chocolate eyes, but the younger man didn't ask anything. For a moment they were both silent, then Mac turned around and looked at Nick.

"Can you not mention this to anyone?"

He saw the smile that crossed Nick's face and realized how much like a command his question had sounded. The younger man sobered immediately though and nodded, his eyes were completely serious and to Mac's surprise there was a warning there too.

"I won't, but Mac, don't forget. Danny is my friend too."

Mac nodded, then before he could stop himself, he reached out and grabbed Nick's arm. The Vegas CSI had been someone who'd drawn uncharacteristic reactions from him ever since he met him the first time and tonight was no different. Mac was actually surprised to hear himself ask for help.

"What should I do?"

Nick looked at him and then sighed, finally though he looked at the envelope and back at Mac.

"Talk with Danny, it's his life."

Talk with Danny, it sounded so simple, so reasonable, but Mac knew that although Nick was right, he wouldn't be able to do it. He couldn't talk to Danny about this, because if Danny found out about this blackmail attempt, then his lover would do the one thing Mac would not survive.

Danny would leave.


*Chapter 10*

Mac watched Danny sleep next to him. They had worked a hard double shift to find who had killed the woman and although they had found the killer, they still had been exhausted. He was relieved that tomorrow would be a day off for them or he thought with a glance at the watch on the nightstand, today more likely.

It was three am and he couldn't sleep. The evening had been nice; Danny had scolded him gently for forgetting to bring food and then called the pizza service. During dinner, they hadn't spoken much but the silence had not been oppressive instead it had been an almost comfortable feeling. And then they had crashed and Danny had fallen asleep curled around him.

Mac was awake for two hours now and for the last one hour and fifty minutes he had looked at the man he loved.

Softly he reached out and caressed the relaxed face. Asleep, Danny looked so young, so innocent as if all those memories and experiences that gave him a hard edge when awake were gone and left him bare and vulnerable.

He wanted to protect this man, wanted nothing bad ever happening to him, wanted to make up for all the terrible things he had had to go through. Mac knew rationally that he couldn't protect Danny from being alive, from all the shit that happened in a person's live and he also knew that Danny was strong enough to survive, but his heart kept showing him Danny's tears and the broken sobs and instinctively he reached out and pulled his lover towards him.

Danny mumbled something but accepted the offered warmth and burrowed closer into Mac's body.


The broken whisper echoed in the room and Mac pressed his eyes closed against the onslaught of pain. Danny's simple acceptance, the amount of trust he showed unconsciously touched Mac deep and yet at the same time he felt as if he didn't deserve this trust.

In the living room stood his suitcase and inside there was an envelope with pictures which Mac didn't dare to look at and yet he couldn't forget that they were there.

What was he supposed to do now?

Talk with Danny'

Nick's words resonated through his mind and again he recoiled from the thought, instinctively shied away from the idea of putting Danny through this ordeal, when another memory rose.

‘I left because I couldn't face the memories; I wasn't able to face my past. Danny though stayed here and fought against his...'

Nick had spoken those words a couple of weeks ago, when they had gone for a drink after work. Danny had stood at the bar and had chatted with the barkeeper when Nick had suddenly made the comment. It hadn't been the words that had shocked Mac then, but the tone in which they had been spoken. Nick's voice had been full of admiration at what he perceived Danny's strength.

Once again Mac looked at the young man in his arms, but this time he didn't see the innocence and the vulnerability. No, looking at Danny right now, Mac saw strength and courage.

His lover had survived an ordeal few others could have survived and not only had he survived it, but he had fought back and managed to escape the trappings of his name and family. It would have been easier for Danny to just accept his place in the Messer family, but instead Danny had chosen the hard, inconvenient way.

He had fought and turned his weakness into his strength becoming the man Mac loved.

A light shiver went through Mac as he realized that he'd made the same mistake that the Messer family and Sassone had made. He too had looked at Danny and considered him too weak to survive and just like the family he had almost lost something precious because of that. It was their misfortune and his luck that he had woken up just in time to see who Danny really was...

"You should be sleeping."

A soft hand reached out and moved over his chest.

"I can't."

It was too dark to see Danny's eyes but Mac felt them roaming over his face as Danny lifted his head and looked at him.

"Your back still acting up?"

He moved a little to test it and winced when the tense muscles objected his idea of movement.

"Stop that, you're just going to hurt yourself. Let me ok?"

There was a second of hesitation before he turned onto his stomach and surrendered himself to Danny's touch. Soft yet strong hands slid testing over his back and then he felt Danny bend over his body to retrieve the lotion from the night stand.

"Don't jerk now..."

He smiled when he felt Danny straddle his ass and wondered if Danny would be shocked if he knew how much he craved this position in a less therapeutical and more erotic setting. Soon though the thought was forgotten as Danny's hands returned to his back, kneading and sliding over the muscles in a gentle yet firm massage. Each time Danny moved over a spot he applied more pressure and instinctively Mac tensed up when the touches started to hurt or when his lover's fingers hit a sore spot.

"Shhh, relax Mac... just let me take care of you."

Danny's voice was soothing him and the calm, soft tone he used fit the almost surreal setting perfectly, the darkness in the room only barely broken by the street lights filtering through the curtains, the warmth of Danny's breath at his neck, whenever he bent over him, the musky scent of the lotion and of course Danny's hands on him.

Mac sighed as he felt himself relax and as Danny continued to work out all the knots and tension in his back, he suddenly realized that he had indeed done what Danny had asked from him.

He had let go.

And as if that thought had the power of relaxing him even more, he felt himself slipping into sleep with the last thought being the startling revelation that Danny was the first person in his live who was able to relax him so completely or maybe he mused as sleep flittered around his consciousness, maybe it was the other way round.

Maybe Danny was the only person he was able to surrender to.


Floating in warmth Danny woke slowly and immediately felt Mac's arms around his body. He had woken up several times last night and every time, Mac had held him close, almost as if he wanted to prevent him from leaving.

Silly man, Danny smiled lovingly.

As if he would go anywhere, as if he could go anywhere without feeling as if he had his heart ripped out.

Carefully he caressed Mac's face and then moved to go to the bathroom. Immediately Mac's arms closed tight around his body and he rolled over so that he effectively trapped Danny under himself.

For a second Danny froze, the position made him feel caged and memories threatened to swallow him. Taking a deep breath he forced himself to relax and reminded himself that it was Mac's body that covered him, Mac who would never consciously hurt him, Mac who loved him.

Slowly the panic ebbed away and Danny breathed deeply, when the body above him suddenly tensed and looking up he met Mac's blue eyes with a smile.

"Good morning"

Mac's voice was raspy, but while the voice still had to adjust to the state of awareness, his eyes were already completely alert and Danny couldn't help but marvel at the way Mac could go from total relaxation to an equally total awareness.

"Great morning"

His response made Mac smile but as he tried to wriggle away from his lover, Mac's body tensed on his.

"Where are you going?"

Shaking his head, Danny reached out and caressed Mac's face quickly.


A rueful smile crossed Mac's face and he moved over so that Danny was free. Watching Mac watching him, Danny got up and grabbed his sweats from the floor.

"I'll make breakfast"

Mac's announcement woke his longing for a coffee and so he just growled at the bathroom door and silently promised himself to make it a quick shower. When he came out the smell of coffee and bacon wafted through the apartment. His stomach growled and he grinned at Mac who turned around at the sound.

"Someone is hungry."

Danny ignored the food and walked up to Mac quickly kissing his lover before they sat down and started to dig into their food. It was then, when Danny realized that something was wrong and suddenly concerned he looked at Mac who was just picking at his food. Mac's eyes were dark and his expression was even darker, but what made Danny shiver with a trail of fear was the fact that Mac's hands shook with a light tremble.

"Mac what is wrong?"

For a moment Mac was silent, then he sighed and looked at Danny. There was fear in his blue eyes and something else that was uncharacteristically for him: insecurity.

"We need to talk Danny, I need your help."

He gestured at the food and continued slowly.

"But after breakfast, you... you need to eat."

Pushing his plate away, Danny kept Mac's gaze captive as he shook his head.

"I'm not hungry anymore, what is it Mac? I can see that you are afraid; do you have any idea how that scares me? I have never seen you afraid or insecure..."

He trailed off as he saw Mac pale and silently cursed himself for speaking his mind, then though Mac got up and walked towards the living room. Dreading the conversation that would follow, Danny got up too and sat down next to Mac, he saw the envelope in Mac's hands and once again he saw Mac's hands tremble.

"Danny, please before I tell you what is wrong, please promise me that no matter what I tell you now, you are not going to leave, that no matter what is in this envelope you will stay with me..."

Again the almost pleading note was so not Mac's normal tone that it made Danny shiver and suddenly wary he looked at the envelope.

"Mac I love you and I told you before that I want to be with you forever."

The plea made him remember how Mac had clung to him this night, how he had woken up to find Mac stare at him and suddenly he was incredibly afraid.

"Mac, you're not ill or something, please tell me that you are alright."

Immediately his hands were in Mac's as the blue eyes searched his.

"Nothing is wrong with me. Danny..."

Mac's voice trailed off, but then the former Marine steeled himself and Danny could almost see how his lover drew on his experiences from the corps to continue talking.

"When I got out from the office yesterday night, Sonny's lawyer was waiting for me. He told me that Sonny was offering me a deal: I don't testify and he..."

Danny had frozen when Mac had mentioned Sonny's name and when Mac's voice wavered, he completed the sentence himself.

"... he won't mention me."

And suddenly he understood Mac's fear, cause yes his first instinct was to run and get as far away from Mac as possible just so that his lover wouldn't get hurt. He shivered as he remembered Mac's words.

Danny, please before I tell you what is wrong, please promise me that no matter what I tell you now, you are not going to leave, that no matter what is in this envelope you will stay with me...

"Mac, I am so sorry..."

He swallowed hard and shivered, wished he were somewhere else, wished he had never met Mac Taylor because then Mac wouldn't have to deal with all this and wasn't it typical for him? Wasn't it so quintessential for his life that as soon as he found a piece of happiness, that piece would be ripped from him by his past?

"I'll leave the lab, if you want me to..."


Mac's voice made him look up sharply and he was surprised to see a fierce anger burn in the older man's eyes. Mac stared at him with eyes that were similarly determined and pained as he reached over and grasped his hands.

"No Danny, I don't want you to run."

Danny shivered at the commanding tone and with a shrug he looked at Mac.

"What else can I do? There's no way, I'm going to let you compromise yourself and have Sonny walk free and that's what will happen if he names me a member of the Tanglewood boys."

He felt the shiver that ran through Mac in their linked hands, then slowly almost tentatively Mac spoke.

"You don't have the tattoo."

Danny froze for a moment, and then slowly he understood what Mac wanted him to do. Mac didn't want him to run, instead he wanted him to fight and as their eyes locked, he understood something else too.

He wouldn't fight alone.

And maybe, just maybe if he fought now, he would finally be able to rid himself of the past. Swallowing hard, Danny kept his eyes linked with Mac's as he nodded.


It was a yes to more than just Mac's comment and Mac smiled then and for the first time since Danny had heard his lover utter the name ‘Sonny' he felt relieved. He wasn't sure if this all wouldn't come back to haunt him and Mac, but no matter what the future would bring, Danny knew that he would treasure this one moment forever.

This moment when Mac had shown him that he thought Danny capable of fighting.


"Stella, we have to go out to the port again."

Putting her coffee down, Stella watched Nick's face. He looked determined and had the grim yet satisfied look that indicated he had found something of importance. She followed him to the lab and peered through the microscope. The bug that was crawling in the glass container seemed in good health and for a second she had the crazy thought that it had just winked at her.

She really needed to sleep more.

"Bactrocera oleae or the so called spotted olive bug... Native in two countries, Italy and Greece."

Looking at the little creature again, Stella grinned lightly.

"One more for the Greek-Italian community of New York."

Her comment drew a chuckle from Nick who looked at her with sparkling eyes.

"You're going to adopt it?

Horrified she shook her head and saw the crinkles around his eyes showing that he understood her innate dislike of all things crawling.

"Thank God, cause I promised Grissom to send it to him."

For a second, Stella was tempted to go into the details of a friendship that included sending bugs across the country, but knowing Grissom's reputation she decided that it was maybe healthier to remain silent.

"What is a bug from Italy doing on the body of a man killed in NY?"

Nick smiled and pointed towards the larger computer screen.

"I checked the log file, the container we found him in arrived from Genoa one day before the determined time of death. But that's when it gets interesting.

He pointed at the map on the table.

"This is where we found the container."

She looked at the coordinates and nodded.

"Now all the containers here are designated for immediate shipping."

She didn't understand what Nick was getting at and shrugged lightly. He grinned at her and handed her a sheet of paper.

"New port regulations which have been in place for three months now due to the raising concerns regarding a bird flu pandemic. Every container arriving from a continent where the bird flu has been found has to be completely disinfected before reloading and shipping..."

Stella understood now and Nick obviously saw the light bulb going on in her head as he trailed off and let her finish his findings.

"But since we found the bug alive, the container was not disinfected and that means it shouldn't have been at the immediate shipping location."

Shutting the computer down, Nick got up and grabbed his coat.

"Someone moved the container, hoping that the body would not be found until the next port."

Once again picking up his trail of thought, Stella finished thoughtfully.

"There aren't many that have the authorization to move containers at their whim."

Grinning but looking grim at the same time Nick nodded and together they walked to the car.

"You want to drive?"

She couldn't help the smile that crossed her face as Nick tried to look not too relieved, she knew that her Greek roots came through strong when she was driving in NY traffic and although Nick had never complained, he sometimes had looked at bit green when they exited the car. She tossed him the key and marveled at the fact that in the last two weeks she had seen Nick smile more then ever. It really seemed as if he was finally putting the abduction behind him and moving on... And on the matter of moving on, she remembered that she had to make a call.

Reaching for her phone, she pressed Flack's number and gave him a quick update before agreeing to meet at the port.

"Flack is going to meet us there."

She wouldn't have seen it, had she not looked specifically for it, but for a second Nick's eyes lit up at the mentioning of the cop's name. Within seconds though the light was dimmed again and driving on as if nothing specific had happened Nick just nodded at her comment. For a moment she wondered if she should ask him, but before she could make up her mind, Nick hit the steering wheel hard.

"They kicked Mike Prineman out, just because he talked with us. He told me that he was threatened but he still talked to me and now... Damn Stella, this man has three kids."

"He's young, he'll find something."

But Nick just shook his head and she could see that her answer wasn't enough for him. Sometimes he had scary similarities with Mac or at least with the man Mac had been before Claire had walked into work and never came back.

"So what is it with you and Flack?"

She was glad she had asked this question while they were waiting at a red light, cause Nick's head practically flew towards her. His eyes were wide with shock and she saw fear and horror in his face for a second, then though he smiled uncomfortable and looking ahead again he mumbled.

"Please Stella, don't ask."

For a moment she was taken aback by his reaction and instinctively she reached out and covered Nick's hand on the wheel with hers.

"Nick, I am glad for you."

He squeezed her hand quickly, but although his eyes showed gratefulness, his face was still somber.

"Thanks Stella, it really means a lot. But we can't risk any rumors, you know? It's not because of me, but Don's a cop and believe me I know all about cops and their general opinion of gays."

He shuddered a bit and Stella wondered if it was fear for Flack or an unpleasant memory that made him clutch the wheel as if it were his lifeline.

"I was outed while I was a cop..."

Nick's smile was a twisted and ugly parody of his usual beautiful smile.

"... let's say it wasn't nice and I don't want Don to go through anything like that."

For a long time they were silent, but as they arrived at the port, Stella stopped Nick with a hand on his shoulder before he could get out of the car.

"Anything ever happens, I just want you to know that I've got your and Flack's back. And it's not just me; I know that Danny and Mac would too."

This time the smile was genuine and to Stella's utter surprise, Nick leaned over and kissed her cheek.

"You're a real lady Stella."

She sat there stunned while he got out and quickly grabbed their kits and walked over to open her door. It made her smile, but there was something so natural to Nick's manners that she stopped herself just before a snarky comment slipped out.

It was nice to be treated like a lady every once in a while.


Don saw the silver SUV drive up to the port entrance and smiled as the man next to him growled low in his throat. It was clear that McDonner felt it completely unnecessary for the CSIs to come out here, but Don knew that if Nick and Stella considered it useful, then they had a reason.

It was hard to contain the smile that threatened to split his face when Nick got out of the car and shook his head a bit. How could it be that just the sight of the other man made him go all weak in the knees?

He had woken up this morning and felt Nick's arms around him and the memory of the closeness and love he had felt in that moment made him long for this day to be over. Once again he carefully schooled his face into the normal friendly yet indifferent mask and walked over to greet the two CSI's.

"Took you a while to get here."

Stella looked at him with a grin, but there was more than just amusement in her eyes and to his shock he read a clear warning in her clear blue gaze. Freezing inside he turned to Nick and saw how his lover shrugged easily, Don relaxed then knowing that if Nick was ok with Stella knowing then it was ok.

"What do you want to see now?"

Nick showed the man a sheet of paper and calmly yet coldly asked him if he had heard of the new regulations from the port authorities.

"Sure, every container from Europe or Asia has to be disinfected before shipped out again, what's your point man?"

Stella exchanged a look with Nick and it almost seemed to as if they were silently debating who would continue, but after a second of silence Nick smiled coldly and explained.

"We found the second victim in a container from Genoa, but next to the victim we did find bugs that are native only in Italy."

Don saw that Nick had a point, but right now he was as much in the dark as the man next to him. The difference was, he mused grinning, that he enjoyed listening to Nick.

"The location we found the container however was one for immediate shipping."

It dawned then but before he could even formulate the question in his head, Nick already asked it.

"Who's got the power to authorize such a move?"

McDonner swallowed hard and Don saw how the tall man's eyes frantically moved around almost as if he were trying to find a way to escape. Inwardly steeling himself he just waited for the suspect to break into a run, when the worker gruffly told them.

"Kevin Hannigan and Paddy had it too."

Stella and Nick shared a look with Don and he could almost feel the contentment from Nick. Contrary to Stella and Don, Nick had had Kevin pegged from the beginning, however now they had the evidence to prove it. Don grinned as Nick's eyes captured his for a second.

"Owe you one"

For a moment the light in Nick's eyes disappeared and he looked away, but before Don could question the odd reaction, Stella asked McDonner to show them where Hannigan was and albeit reluctantly the man started to lead them through the narrow corridors of containers to the location where according to the plan, Kevin Hannigan and his crew were currently working.

With Stella and McDonner ahead, Don felt it save to ask Nick, but as if his lover had read his mind, he felt a hand quickly on the small of his back. It was reassuring in a way he had never expected such a tiny little gesture to be, but then everything he'd experienced so far was new with Nick.

"It has nothing to do with you; just the words woke some memories."

He felt the hair in his neck stand up at the murmured words, but once again Nick touched him quickly, before he said equally quiet as before.

"Not from that, just a friend in Vegas used to say that all the time."

Don nodded, but made a mental note to ask Nick about the friend and what did he even know about Nick's life back in Vegas? Shaking his head he made another mental note, when he heard Nick shout Stella's name and time seemed to slow down to slow motion.

He saw how Stella stepped out into the larger corridor, saw Nick walk up to McDonner, saw how his lover turned his head towards the left and the sudden horror of his face, saw the container rushing at Stella at breakneck speed...

And time sped up to normal again as Nick yanked Stella back into the small pathway they had been standing just in time when the container rushed past.

For the blink of an eye Don had eye contact with the man sitting in the car, the man who had wanted to kill Stella or more accurately whoever had been standing in that corridor. Whoever... It could have been Don, it could have been Stella or... Nick...

It was the last thought that made him recover and drawing his gun he took off after Hannigan, chasing between containers for a man who had already killed two people and had been ready to kill yet another. He was in better shape than Hannigan and could literally feel how his anger at the fact that Nick could have been the one killed or injured gave him even more strength.

Hannigan turned around and with a sneer he tossed a metal tube at Don, who stumbled from the abrupt stop he had to make in order to evade being hit. The whole thing had not taken more than twenty seconds, but by the time Don had regained his balance, Hannigan had disappeared into the maze of containers and corridors.

Inwardly Don cursed in all the languages he knew, which weren't many, but enough to keep him going while he searched the next couple of corridors with his gun ready, slowly moving along the containers, constantly covering the edges and dark spots with his weapon.

It was oddly silent for a place as busy as a port and somehow that alerted him even more, made him move even more carefully, check everything twice before leaving a safe spot.

From what they knew so far, Kevin Hannigan had killed two people and tried to kill or at least injure a third one.

Don knew that the man would not hesitate to take him down, useless as it would be...

Once again he covered a crossing with his weapon before he moved to the next container and deliberate moved along the side of it. Hannigan had to be somewhere, he couldn't have dissolved into thin air and there was no way that the man would have been able to run much further... The slight screeching of metal on metal behind him interrupted his thoughts, but as he turned around it was too late.

Kevin Hannigan wasn't smiling or even sneering at him, instead his voice was calm and composed and the gun in his hand never wavered.

"Secure your gun, put it down and shove it towards me, Detective"

Swallowing hard, Don did as he was told and secured his weapon before he let it drop onto the ground. The other man remained motionless, but the coldness in his eyes told Don more than he wanted to know.

Kevin Hannigan was ready to shoot him.

It was weird, how he wasn't afraid of dying, just incredibly sad. Sad because he had finally found something wonderful in his life, something worth living for... and now... Nick's face appeared in front of him and he shivered.

I'm so sorry Nick


*Chapter 11*

Maybe it was fate, Mike Prinemann mused, as he watched the silver SUV drive up at the port once again. Maybe it was just bad luck or whatever, in the end though it didn't matter and yet wasn't it oddly fitting that he was cleaning out his locker while the two people responsible for getting him fired were chatting outside, doing their job...

The last thought sobered him and his eyes went hard. Their job was to find a killer and not just any killer...

His brother's killer...

Mike didn't blame the CSI's for the loss of his job. He had known what he was risking when he'd been talking with Stokes. He had liked the man and had wanted to help, and now he had to pay the price. A small smile crossed his face as he remembered the phone call he had gotten this morning, CSI Stokes had sounded enraged about the fact that Mike had lost his job and had promised to talk with the port authorities. The offer had surprised Mike and he had still been stunned when he had walked to his car.

He was virtually a stranger to the other man and yet Stokes had taken the time to not only find out about his job situation but also to take actions to help him.

Not a typical New Yorker...

Mike smiled sarcastically as he lifted his bag and left the locker room with out looking back.

The silver SUV was still there and so was the cop's car, but Mike saw no one around and without loosing any thoughts about it, he shrugged. They would notify him if they found Manuel's killer, he was sure of that.

Blinking in the brightness of the sun, he walked fast and determinedly passed through the rows of containers. He had worked at the port long enough to know the various short cuts to the employee parking ground and the maze of containers and corridors had long ago stopped to confuse him. The next pathway left, then one right and the next one left again and then it was...

"Secure your gun and put it down, Detective"

Mike froze when he recognized Kevin Hannigan's voice. He heard a shuffle and as he risked a peak around the container, he saw the tall Detective stand completely still while Hannigan had a gun trained on him.

His heart thundered as he moved back into the pathway parallel to the one where his former boss was about to kill a man. His heart was fighting with his brain, telling him that he had to do something that he couldn't just walk away, that it was his duty to try and help the cop. And yet his head argued that there was nothing he could do, that he wasn't armed and that there...

"Kevin Hannigan, lower your weapon, if you as much move or shoot, I will have to shoot you."

A soft accent and the light lilt, Mike knew that the new voice belonged to Stokes, the CSI he'd spoken too and who had called him this morning. And once again he fought with his heart, but this time one thing made him pause longer and finally decide.

CSI Stokes had had no reason to call him and offer his help and yet he had.

For a moment, Mike shivered and then turned around to look for something or someone that could help him.

"You can't shoot both of us; as soon as you fire your weapon you are dead."

The cop's voice sounded reasonable and amazingly quiet for the fact that he was facing the wrong end of a gun, but there was a slight tremble that belied the outward calm.

"If you hadn't put your nose where it doesn't belong, no one would have cared. You really think anyone would have questioned about Paddy's whereabouts?"

Mike's eyes fell onto the ladder that lay forgotten in the corridor and a plan started to formulate.

"And what about Manuel Prineman? He had a brother, was an uncle... How do you explain his nephews and niece that their beloved uncle won't ever come to see them again?"

He had to move slowly in order to make no noise, but he had to repress the urge to scream when Stokes questioned Hannigan, his former boss and his brother's killer. Suddenly anxious, afraid to be too late, he moved faster.

"You think anyone is going to miss you?"

Mike could see them now; saw CSI Stokes standing less than three feet away from Hannigan. He saw the tension in Stokes' body and wondered if the other man had ever shot a person before. Then his eyes fell on his brother's killer and he felt hatred and anger rise in him. Hannigan adjusted his gun and Mike saw how he got ready to pull the trigger...

Everything slowed down, he heard Stokes' frantic ‘no' and without even thinking about it, he jumped. For a second he was in the air asking himself what the hell he was doing, then he collided with Hannigan. He felt the impact of landing on another person, felt how his speed pulled Hannigan down to the ground with him, heard the shot go off and the collision of the bullet with metal and then all he saw was the face of the man who had killed his brother.

"You fucking bastard"

The sickening sound of a jaw cracking was like music in his ears, but before he could throw another punch, he felt two strong hands on his shoulders drawing him away from Hannigan.

"He's not worth it."

Stokes' voice was strained, but his hands were firm as they pulled him further away. Looking around Mike saw that the female CSI stood next to his brother's killer her weapon pointed directly at his face, on the other side stood the detective looking slightly shaken but unharmed.

"Kevin Hannigan, I arrest you fro the murder of Paddy Dolan and Manuel Prineman and the attempted murder of Detective Don Flack and CSI Nick Stokes."

The woman's voice was raspy, but it didn't shake as she continued to read Hannigan his rights while the cop handcuffed him. Stokes looked at him and smiled slowly.

"Thanks, good timing..."

Mike took the offered hand and shook it when the cop appeared next to him clasping his shoulder quickly.

"Thanks man"

It was a short but heart felt thanks, and as they left, Mike remained rooted to his spot for a moment, only now realizing what he had done. Shivering from reaction, he closed his eyes for a second, then relaxed again and finally finished his walk to his car. Smiling lightly, he got into the car.

His wife would never believe him.


Nick groaned when he felt Stella's hand on his arm stopping him from leaving the room. He wanted nothing more than to get out of the lab and home to Don.

He knew that Don was unhurt, that his lover was fine, shaken up maybe, but fine and yet… He still had the urge to see him, touch him, run his hands over his body and make sure with all his sense that his lover was ok.

"I won't keep you long."

There was an honest smile in her eyes and Nick couldn't help but answering it.

"I just wanted to thank you; you saved my life out there."

Smiling lightly, Nick took Stella's hand and pulled her against his body holding her close until the shivers in her body subsided. Only then did he meet her eyes and simply smiled at her.

"You're welcome."

For a moment she seemed taken aback, then though a smile broke out in her face and a look of understanding appeared in her eyes.

"See you tomorrow"

Once again she smiled at him and left. Nick grimaced lightly; the small exchange had woken more memories than he cared for.

"You ready to go and throw some hoops."

Don was leaning casually against the wall and Nick suddenly remembered that they had made a date with Danny and a basketball. Smiling at his lover as he fell in step with Don he pointed towards the files he held.

"Just quickly gonna put this away and I'm ready."

Ten minutes later they both cursed NY for the constant traffic jam, when Don suddenly looked at him.

"What did Stella say to make you look so wistful before?"

Nick smiled and yet at the same time he couldn't help but marveling at Don's ability to not only pick up even the smallest change in his mood, but also to ask him about it when he couldn't escape. It was something he'd never experienced with his former lovers, the attention to him as a person and not just a nice face and it warmed his heart that he, Nick really mattered to Don.

"She thanked me for saving her life; I told her she was welcome... It just woke some memories."

Don was silent, giving him the choice whether to speak or not. It was once again one of those things that made Nick's head spin and him fall in love with Don even more. It also made him explain, knowing that Don would not judge him.

"After they had found me and I was finally released from hospital, I went to the lab and thanked them for saving me..."

Wasn't it weird how even no in memory it still hurt?

"... they all told me ‘not to worry about it', or ‘that it was my job' or as Warrick, my best friend put it ‘it was nothing, Nick'..."

The last had almost killed him back then. He had known, still did, that Warrick cared about him and that his friend had gone through his own kind of hell that night too and still...

"I know they didn't mean it that way, but it was almost as if by dismissing the importance of what they had done..."

"...they were dismissing the importance of your life."

Don's hand was warm and calming on his and wit a grateful smile, Nick looked at him then he chuckled lightly.

"The only one who just told me ‘you're welcome' was Conrad Ecklie my former personal nemesis."

They stopped in front of Danny's house and Don honked three times, Nick though suddenly felt reckless and moving his hand away from Don's he put it on his lover's tight. Immediately the strong muscles tensed and as he slowly moved his hand upwards, Don growled low.

"Don't start something when you have no intention to finish it."

Cupping the hard flesh through Don's trousers Nick just grinned wickedly.

"Who says I don't want to finish?"

Grasping Nick's hand with a moan, Don was visibly drawn between pushing it closer to his groin and pulling it away completely. Danny's arrival solved the issue and Nick felt almost bad when he saw the slightly pained look on Don's face.

Well, he shrugged; he would just have to make up for it later.

Then though his eyes fell on Danny's face and any thoughts about making out fled from his mind at the pale and drawn face of his friend. Nick and Don shared a glance and Nick read in Don's blue eyes what his very own thoughts were too.

What had Mac done now?


Danny knew that at least Nick was just waiting to ask him what had happened, but right now he craved the moment of forgetting that a game of basketball would bring. He would have to talk with Nick and Don, just as Mac was right now on his way to talk with Stella, but that could wait until later.

Right now he needed to release some of the fear and tension in his body.

The drive to the ground where the three of them had their regular basket ball evenings was short and fraught with tension until Danny finally couldn't stand it anymore.

"Look guys, I know you're worried, but can we talk after and just put it aside for two hours?"

He saw the look that Nick and Flack exchanged and then Nick turned around. His dark eyes were concerned but there was understanding there too.

"Of course, but we will talk."

There was no mistaken the command in Nick's voice and somehow it made Danny smile especially when he saw the slightly astonished look in Flack's face. He was pretty sure that Nick had never so far used this kind of voice with his lover, but on the other hand, he was equally sure that the day would come when the Texan would.

As promised they didn't question Danny instead related their day and the latest case to him and Danny clearly heard the trembling that made Nick's voice shake as he spoke about Don being held at gun point. Closing his eyes he imagined for a second how he would have felt if it had been Mac and him instead of Nick and Don and he knew how his friend had felt in this moment.

Don's voice was calmer but the tension in his shoulder spoke of how he too had been afraid, how the events had shaken him too. And then as Nick continued to speak, Danny saw how Don just reached out quickly and took Nick's hand into his. It was such a simple gesture and yet such a strong proof of love, Danny smiled and suddenly felt overwhelmed, not by their love but by their trust.

Neither Nick nor Don had ever said anything, but their willingness to show their relationship when he was around was humbling him because it spoke far louder than any words ever could.

A shiver suddenly went through his body. Would Nick and Don still trust him after tonight?

His eyes moved from Don to Nick and silently he prayed that he would not lose his friend tonight...

"Let's play"

Don's voice broke through his thoughts and he saw that his blue eyes rested on him concerned, but after only a second, he smiled lightly and tossed him the ball.

"You start Messer..."

And just like that the game was on and finally Danny was able to forget. The movements, the simple fact of him being smaller than Don and more slender than Nick gave him a disadvantage that made him concentrate even more on the game... It took his mind of the fact that right now Mac was talking to Stella and that he had to confide in his friends in a couple of hours.

"Got you"

Nick grinned when he bypassed Danny and jumped to sink a ball and Danny grinned as he promised to give back as good as he got.

"Just wait, I'm only warming up"

Two hours later, they were all soaked and panting, but they all had the smile of the truly exhausted in their faces.

"You're paying for pizza."

Nick growled at Danny and Don, but he didn't deny it. Danny grinned even though his body hurt from the last tackle he made to prevent Nick from scoring. As it was they had both ended on the ground, Nick had growled but his eyes had nevertheless sparkled with mirth at their mock combat.

Don had won, Danny had come second by two points and that simply meant that Nick would have to buy them pizza.

"Ok, where to?"

It was either Nick or Danny's place since Don lived on the other side of the city, glancing at his two friends Danny made his mind up fast.


He didn't want to sit down on his own couch and explain it; he didn't want to watch his friends walk out on him. Should they abandon him, he wanted to be able to walk away... Danny knew it would kill him to leave, but he thought of Mac and the support he'd gotten from his lover. It made it easier and still he was afraid as they drove over to Nick's house. He had never expected to find a friend in Nick Stokes and yet he had... He didn't want to lose him now.

Finally at Nick's, Don grabbed the menu and walked off to order, Nick though sat down next to Danny and looked at him. The concern in the dark eyes made Danny want to cry out and curse the injustice, but before he could say anything, Nick gently grabbed his shoulders.

"Danny, I know I said that you have to talk, but if you don't want to..."

His friend trailed off and Danny smiled silently, sadly. It was so Nick, this concern... he shook his head and waited until Don was back in the room before he answered.

"It's something that may affect you too and I just want you to know and give you a chance to..."

He looked away, suddenly at loss, suddenly not sure on how to answer how to say it...


Don's gentle prompt made him look up and with a deep sigh; he looked at the two men who had become his best friends.

"to distance yourself from me."

He didn't dare to look at them then, but as the silence grew he did and swallowed hard at the shock and anger he read in Don's face. Nick on the other hand just looked curious; he had his head slightly to one side and was looking at him as if he were some piece of evidence.

"Why would we do that Danny?"

His voice was soft and calm and both the gentleness and the composure stood in stark contrast to Don's suddenly rigid posture, then almost as if to pacify Don, Nick put one hand on his lover's shoulder and Danny saw the look that passed between them, saw how Don took a deep breath and sat down. He knew that without words, Don had just handed the lead in this conversation over to Nick.

For a moment the obvious love between the two made him smile, then though Nick sat down across him and looked into his eyes.

"Tell us Danny, we are your friends... I don't think that anything can make us turn from you."

Somehow Danny found it very telling that Nick didn't say ‘nothing can make us turn from you', no his friend said that he didn't think... For a second he closed his eyes and recalled Mac's parting words.

No matter what they tell you, no matter how they react, I love you and I will stand by your side.

And slowly, haltingly he started to talk, started to explain and to confess.

"... and Mac is talking to Stella."

He didn't look at them, didn't dare to, when he felt Nick sit down next to him and heard his friend's gentle command.

"Look at me Danny"

The dark eyes were full of compassion and love, not the love Nick felt for Don, but the love of a friend and with a shiver Danny realized that Nick didn't judge him. It gave him enough courage to look at Don who looked at him for a long time, then slowly shook his head.

"You thought we'd kick you out because of it?"

Danny didn't know what to say, wasn't sure if his friends had understood the possible ramifications of the threat.

"What if I am called into witness stand?"

Nick shrugged, but the careless gesture was offset by the concern in his eyes.

"You were never a Tanglewood boy Danny"

No he had never been one, but what...

"And if they expose me? What if they tell everyone the truth?"

It was Don who spoke this time, and Danny could hear the barely concealed fury in the trembling voice.

"I doubt that Sassone willingly reveals something like that to a jury, believe me the statute of limitations for rape might make this a crime that he can't be punished for anymore, but the jury is not going to forget something like that."

It took Danny more than a second to understand and then another long moment to realize that neither Don nor Nick ever questioned if he had told them the truth. None of the man even thought or implied that part of his relationship with Sonny had been consensual.

"He won't portray it as rape, he'll turn it that way that I am the one at fault."

And maybe he was... Some part of him still believed that he had deserved, that had he been stronger and meaner back then...

"Danny no!"

Nick's voice was forceful, and his grip on Danny's shoulder was hard. It drew Danny away from his memories and made him concentrate on his friend. Nick's eyes held him captive as he gentled his hold and started talking.

"Nothing of what happened back then was your fault. You said no, Danny didn't you? I know you did and I know that you fought; cause if you hadn't you weren't here right now. You fought with everything you had and he never asked, never even thought about asking... Sonny just took..."

It was the truth and yet he still heard the voice of his father, the voice who told him that if he wasn't man enough to fight back, he would be treated like a girl.

"I was sixteen, I should have fought harder."

Nick's eyes darkened for a moment, then though his eyes cleared and captured Danny's again.

"It doesn't matter Danny, it doesn't matter if you are six, sixteen or sixty... You have a right to say no and you shouldn't even have to fight. From the moment you said no and he didn't respect it, it was rape."

There was something in Nick's eyes that made Danny shiver; it was an understanding that didn't come from text book knowledge or from researching a crime scene. Another shiver ran through him and without thinking he grasped Nick's hand holding onto it like a lifeline. Nick's words rang through his head; maybe with his friend's help he could silence the voice of his father, the voice that still told him that he had deserved it.

"No child deserves to be treated like this Danny; no adult does deserve this... What happened wasn't your fault..."

He saw the moment of fear and pain as a memory flickered through Nick's eyes and then he felt Don's hands on his shoulder. The taller man stood next to him, his eyes hard with anger, but the gentle touch made it clear that the anger wasn't directed at him.

"Fight Danny, fight that asshole with all you can. We're at your side."

Relief flooded him, but with it came a new concern, one not for himself but for the dark eyed man who still sat next to him. Nick had known what Danny had spoken about and the knowledge hit him like a fist in his stomach.

Nick had known, because somewhen in his childhood, Nick had been a victim too.

A shiver went through Danny, but before he could say anything, Don's grip on his shoulders tightened. Looking up at his friend, Danny saw the warning in the blue eyes and relaxed a bit.

Don would take care of it. 


*Chapter 12*

Don had seen it, had seen the moment of tension in Nick's body when he had reassured Danny and he had known then. A shiver had run through his body and something in his mind had cried out against the injustice of it.

Why Nick?

Why this man, a man he loved so much, a man who had been through so much... why him?

But he had remained silent knowing that he couldn't ask Nick, not in front of Danny and not right at them moment, when Danny had needed their assurance.

Now though, it was different, now Danny had gone home and they were alone. Don saw the tiny shiver that ran through Nick and softly touched his lover's shoulder.

"Are you ok?"

Dark memories shaded Nick's eyes, but as he looked at Don they were chased away by a smile and tugging at Don's hand, made him sit down next to him. Don went willingly, and he felt himself relax as Nick leaned against him and just looked at him.


Some part of him didn't want to know, didn't want to deal with whatever had happened to Nick as a child, and still he asked or wanted to ask, cause as soon as he started to speak, Nick's middle finger silenced him.

"Don't, I just need to be close to you now."

He understood and held Nick close to him, felt the shivers that ran through his body and as if answering the silent scream of Nick's body his own started to tremble too. This day had been exhausting... had been too much and finally everything caught up with him, the moment he'd thought he was about to die, the fear when he had seen Nick appear, Danny's pain and the terrible revelations he'd made and finally the knowledge that Nick too...

"Shsh... I am here Don... I am here"

Don hadn't noticed how he'd whispered Nick's name over and over again. Dark eyes met his and they were full of emotions and understanding.

"You... you were... as a child"

Dark memories seemed to cloud Nick's eyes for a moment before he nodded tersely and reached out to caress Don's face. For a moment Don could only watch in fascination how Nick's face relaxed and the memories disappeared.

"It's in the past Don... It's part of my past..."

He understood everything that Nick didn't say, understood how even though Nick had dealt with it, it still had defined who he was and silently Don swore that he would protect Nick from now on.

"I almost lost you today."

And with that Nick leaned over and kissed him. Don could feel the hunger and underlying despair in the kiss and it made him shiver. There was an urgency to Nick's touches that was new and made him gasp as they separated for breath.

"I was so scared"

Nick's eyes were dark and suddenly Don realized that the despair he had felt had nothing to do with Nick's past and everything with what had happened today. He trembled as he remembered the moment when he had been sure that he would die the sorrow he had felt over leaving Nick behind. Out of instinct his arms closed around Nick's body and he pressed his lover back into the couch.

"You did not, I am here and I'll stay"

But the need that had been banked during the entire evening, during the game and the discussion with Danny, had flared up and neither Don nor Nick could prevent it from burning them. Not that Don wanted to and still some part of his mind tried to hold him back from ravaging Nick, when his lover looked up at him with eyes dark with longing.

"I need you"

The need was so clear in Nick's voice that Don couldn't wait anymore and leaned down, taking Nick's lips in a crushing kiss. The moan that escaped his lover made him shiver, it was a huge turn on that he could make Nick lose his control so fast, so completely. Sliding his hands under the shirt Nick wore, Don caressed his lover's sides and chest, but the need to be close, the need to affirm their closeness made him impatient and he tugged at Nick's clothes.

"Off with them"

Nick just grinned and lifted his head, before he removed the shirt and pants with an almost feline grace. Don's breath caught in his throat, he had seen Nick naked and still he couldn't get enough of the beautiful body, the slenderness which so contrasted with the strong muscles, the long curved cock, the slight imperfections of a mole right at his left hip... It all made Don want to crawl under Nick's skin and stay there forever.

"You are beautiful."

A blush crept over Nick's face, but he recovered quickly and lifted the hem of Don's shirt.

"You are overdressed."

His lover was right of course and quickly Don shed his clothes and joined his lover on the couch, moaning when their naked body's finally touched each other.


Nick's voice still held a tremble of the fear and Don reacted to it by covering him completely and pressing him closer. Another moan was wrenched from Nick, but this time there was no fear just bliss as he opened his eyes and lifted his hands to caress Don's face.

"Take me"

Don felt the passion burning even hotter at the plea, and his body urged him to do so, but his mind reminded him that they didn't have any supplies in the living room and he groaned as he moved to disentangle himself from Nick. Strong hands held him back, and Nick just looked at him before he sucked two of Don's fingers in his mouth.

"Like this Don, nothing between us nothing to separate us."

Their eyes met and held for a moment, and Don was overwhelmed by the amount of emotions that was communicated in that single moment. The trust he saw in Nick's eyes and the love...

"Like this"

He heard himself agreeing and slowly began to ease his fingers into Nick. He knew that his lover wanted him like this, but still he winced as he saw the moment of pain, when he finally breached Nick's body.

"Are you ok?"

Nick's eyes were shut for a moment and he prayed that he hadn't hurt his lover too badly, but then the dark eyes opened and Nick looked at him.

"You're here"

It was almost as if Nick was only now assured that Don was with him, that everything had gone well and seeing the look of ecstasy in Nick's face Don's control snapped and he started to move with hard, fast trusts. Nick's cries accompanied him when the world narrowed down to the two dark pools of his lover's eyes and the heat of Nick's release warmed him as he fell into the pools and into bliss.


Nick chuckled at the comment, but his hand was gentle as he caressed Don's back and his lips softly traced the curve of his neck.

"You can say that"

He looked at his lover and saw him wince a bit as their bodies separated, immediately his concern was back, but before Don could say anything, Nick stopped him.

"It's ok, I'll think of you tomorrow."

Don smiled lightly and slowly got up before he held out his hand and led Nick over to the bedroom. Once there, they cleaned up a bit and slid under the covers. Nick moved to set the alarm and the normalcy of the scene made Don feel wonderfully secure and at home.

"Oh by the way, my mom invited us for lunch on Sunday."

Nick tensed for a long time, then slowly turned over and looked at him.

"Do your parents know who I am to you?"

Don saw the sudden fear in Nick's eyes and cursed himself for not thinking about what he said. Then though, he shrugged slightly.

"Yeah, I mean they know I'm gay, so if I tell them that I bring someone home for lunch, it's kind of clear you know."

Nick's eyes were still fixed on him and feeling a bit as if he were under the microscope Don squirmed for a second, then carefully touched Nick's face.

"Nick, what‘s wrong?"

Nick snuggled against the hand and leaned down close to Don, his head on Don's shoulder.

"My parents know too, but they would never accept a boyfriend of mine in their house. I guess they can accept it as long as they don't have to deal with it."

Don felt remorse for his lover, but he understood that in a place like Texas everything was even more conservative than in New York.

"My dad wasn't happy when I came out to them, but I quickly realized that it was because he was scared of me getting hurt because of it. He has a point, you know... I mean being a cop."

Nick tensed again, but didn't comment on it, just nodded and slowly relaxed again. Don looked at his lover and saw the smile that played around Nick's lips.

"So I'm going to meet the parents, do I have to wear a suit?"

For a moment Don thought about it, not that his mom cared about it, but boy would he love to see Nick in a suit... then a light punch to his arm made him wince in mock hurt when Nick glared at him.

"I'll wear one for your mom, not for you."

Still grinning Don turned towards Nick and brushed his lips against his lover.

"For me you don't have to wear anything."


Mac hadn't known how tense he was until he felt himself relax when the door opened and Danny walked into his flat. He hadn't realized how some part of his mind had already prepared his heart for the hurt and pain of the loss. A shiver ran through him at the realization that Danny had indeed returned to him, but he forced himself to remain seated and wait until his lover came over to him instead of jumping up and pressing Danny against his body.

He had told Danny that he trusted him and he did... and yet still he had been afraid that his lover would run.


Danny leaned over him and pressed a sloppy kiss on his forehead, the easiness of the greeting made Mac relax even further and when Danny finally stood in front of him, he saw that his lover's blue eyes were glowing. He didn't have to ask then and silently he made a mental note to thank both Nick and Don for their support and for standing by Danny.

"They were wonderful, they told me to fight."

There was part happiness and part surprise in Danny's voice and it was the latter that made Mac's heart clench. There was no reason for Danny to be surprised, that his friends wanted to support him and yet something inside Mac told him that none of Danny's previous friends would have stood up for him.

‘Would you have done so only weeks ago?'

He shivered at the truth of the thought. It was correct, he wouldn't have fought for Danny or no, he would have fought for him, but for the wrong reasons... the reputation of the lab, his own reputation... Mac smiled silently.

Wasn't it weird how time could change a person's perception?

Three weeks ago, he would have helped Danny to protect the lab, now though he was ready to risk his reputation and the lab to protect Danny.


Danny sat much closer and Mac realized that he had spaced out on his lover, blushing lightly; he met the concerned blue eyes and reached out to press Danny against his body finally giving into the urges of his heart.

"I am glad you are back."

He could feel the younger man tense in his arms and he knew that Danny had understood what he had not said. Carefully his lover leaned back and Mac was shocked by the honesty and love in the pale blue eyes.

"I won't leave you, Mac... I'd rather leave this job than you."

A shiver went through him at the thought of Danny leaving the lab, he needed him there, needed the sarcastic comments and dark humor at the scene but even more he needed to be able to see Danny and protect him.

He had let Claire out of his sight and she had died.

He wouldn't make the same mistake with Danny.

Mac leaned down and captured Danny's lips with his, the kiss was sweet and loving saying without words how deeply he loved the younger man.

"I love you"

Danny leaned against him and for a long time they just enjoyed the closeness and love, the feeling of being complete next to the other.

"Don said that should I be called to the witness stand he and Nick would be in the audience."

Mac smiled at the comment, but also at the thought of Don and Nick watching over his lover. He trusted both men and knew that Danny would be safe with them.

"Mac, I..."

Danny sounded insecure and as his voice trailed off, Mac felt new concern rise in him. Caressing Danny's sides as he moved them so that Danny was leaning with his back against Mac's chest, he just waited for his lover to continue speaking.

"Was there anything in Nick's file that spoke about abuse in his childhood?"

The question caught him off guard and he felt a shiver run through him at the mere thought and yet...

"No nothing"

Danny nodded and Mac felt the movement against his body.

"So he never told anyone."

Gently Mac grasped Danny's hands in his and lifted them up to his lips.

"Why do you think he was abused?"

A shrug was his answer and Danny was silent for a long, long time. Finally though he started to speak and Mac felt the shiver that ran through his lover.

"When I told them about Sonny... There was something in his eyes, some kind of understanding..."

Danny shivered and Mac felt an answering shiver in his own body. Closing his arms tighter around his lover he silently told Danny.

"Nick knows that he has friends he can talk to... "

It was not enough and both he and Danny knew it and yet it was all they could offer Nick. Danny nodded silently and moved so that he was face to face with Mac.

"Love me"

Mac lifted his hand and caressed the beloved face; he saw how Danny's mind registered the words, saw the surprise that ran over his face and then a slow smile played over his face.

"For now and always"


Danny smiled and leaned down to kiss Mac. He loved this romantic side in his lover, loved how Mac leaned into his kiss, but then he received a shock when Mac drew back and desire clouded eyes met his.

"I meant it, when I said that I want you in me."

Mac's voice trembled and his eyes were dark, glittered with a longing so deep that it made Danny shiver. He had never seen the other man so completely open and vulnerable.


He had never expected that. Whenever he had allowed himself to fantasize it had been him who'd bottomed and Mac who was the top. Never even in his wildest dreams had he expected this, Mac wanted him to be... a shiver ran through Danny.

"I need you to make love to me."

Once again Mac's voice and suddenly Danny's passion flared and he pressed his lover into the couch as he devoured Mac's mouth with his. His lover's taste exploded in his senses and with another shiver his hands slipped under Mac's shirt and he caressed the toned chest.

"Let's move this somewhere more comfortable."

Mac shivered and his hands trembled as he took the hand Danny offered. Mac followed Danny towards the bedroom. It struck Danny then how shy Mac suddenly seemed as he stopped in front of the bed and fumbled with his shirt. Smiling softly, he stopped him and carefully started to undress him.

"Let me do this for you"

He undressed his lover and as Mac lay back onto the bed naked, Danny felt as if he had fallen into another dimension. It wasn't the first time that he saw his lover naked, but he knew that this time something was different. Their eyes locked and held and suddenly Danny shivered amazed at how unguarded Mac was in this moment and how strong it made him feel. This was the real Mac Taylor, the real man behind the mask and it made him fiercely protective of his lover, the aggression he'd felt only minutes ago vanished and as he leaned in to kiss Mac his kiss was tender and soft.

"You want this, don't you?"

A smile lit Mac's face and as he spoke his voice was hoarse.

"Very much"

Their roles were changed; suddenly Danny was the seducer and Mac the one being seduced. He could feel Mac's eyes on his body as he undressed and slowly knelt on the bed. The muscled chest drew him like a magnet and for a long time he just stared at Mac before he began to draw ghostly lines onto the soft skin. He wasn't just caressing, he was writing and silently Danny wondered how long it would take Mac to make out the words he spelled with his hand. The simple fact that he was able to write it and really mean it sent shivers through his body when Mac suddenly tensed and a deep moan escaped him. Danny looked up and saw that Mac had figured out what he had written.



Mac's voice was hoarse and trembled and the truth of that single word rushed through Danny making him shiver and ache to claim Mac. He stopped his touches and captured Mac's lips. Yet just before their lips met he locked eyes with his and whispered.


Danny could feel the strength of Mac's arms as he held him tight, letting him feel his arousal, and he moaned his own hardness brushes against his tight. Their kisses became fiercer and more passionate as his hands roamed over Mac's body kneading my muscles and travelling down to his cock. Disentangling his lips from Mac's Danny slipped down along Mac's body and kissed the tip of his lover's cock. Mac's groan echoed through the room as he arched up.

"Just let go"

Danny's whisper had Mac groan even more and as he leaned down and surrounded Mac with his lips, he felt the shivers that travelled through his lover's body. It was an incredible turn on to know that he could break Mac's control like this and he trembled with desire to bury himself inside his lover.

"Danny please"

He looked up at the whispered words and shivered uncontrollably at the sight of Mac flushed with desire, trembling with need, his body glistening with sweat. Eyes locked he grabbed the lube from the nightstand and slicked his fingers before he gently pressed one against Mac's body. A shiver went through him at the heat of his lover, when Mac suddenly tensed completely.


Danny's words were whispered and he froze when he saw how Mac suddenly held himself rigidly under control.

"It's ok Danny"

No, nothing was ok, any passion had disappeared from Mac's eyes and been replaced by anticipation. Danny swallowed hard as he understood the meaning of Mac's sudden fear.

"You have never done this before."

Mac flushed at his whispered words and refused to meet his eye and Danny's heart felt so full of love and tenderness that he was sure it would burst soon. Gently he removed his finger and moved up to kiss Mac tenderly.

"I've been with guys, I just never..."

Danny smiled at the flush that colored Mac's face and finished the sentence for him.

"You've never let someone love you."

"I am not afraid of you, Danny and I need you."

He reached out and cupped Mac's face as he read the insecurity and fear in his lover's eyes and maybe Mac could read the same fear in his own eyes, because he mirrored Danny's gesture and softly told him.

"I love you and I want to feel you deep in me."

Danny felt his heart beat faster at each word, felt the world narrow down until all he saw was Mac and he shivered.

"You will... I promise you..."

Danny felt as if he was dizzy, Mac's hands roamed over his back, kneading the strong muscles while he let his fingers travel once more over Mac's tights to his opening. There was something about Mac made him ache to touch and be touched in return. He wanted to kiss and love and hug and…. Just everything he could possibly do with him... And he wanted the other man to do everything in return.

"I want you"

Mac aligned their bodies and pressed his hips against his lover. Danny felt his legs go weak and he trembled at the hardness that pressed into him.

"Stop Danny, please"

Danny looked up and froze as he saw the lubricant in Mac's hand and silently prayed that Mac was sure.

"I need you in me, I feel empty without you."

Still though Danny hesitated, insecure and afraid of causing Mac any pain. He knew how terrible it could be if one was forced and he never wanted Mac to go through something like this. He loved him...

"Make me yours"

The whispered plea broke through his dark thoughts and seeing the longing in Mac's eyes he nodded slowly.

"I love you"

Insecure and yet incredibly aroused by Mac's desire and wish, Danny began to prepare him. And this time there was no tensing of muscles only a deep moan that escaped his lover as he felt Danny's fingers deep inside him, then a desperate cry as the pleasure almost got too much. Danny held himself rigid as he watched out for any sign of discomfort but even as he slid in the other man's body all he saw was love and a deep passion.

Finally resting within Mac he looked into the blue eyes and saw the same fire there that raced through his veins.

"You are mine now"

Simple words really, but the effect they had on Mac was breath taking and Danny was transfixed as any fear or sadness just vanished from the blue eyes and deep contentment made them glow.

"I am"


Nick woke up shaking and screaming... and in Don's arms. His lover held him close and even as he wanted to turn away ashamed and embarrassed Don didn't let go, instead he leaned down and caressed his face.

"It's alright Nick, I'm here."

The care and the warmth of Don's voice made him relax and he felt himself on the verge of sleep again when Don's voice floated once again over him.

"I am here, you're safe Nick... I won't let anyone hurt you... You're safe."

It was with that feeling that he fell asleep again and didn't wake up until the alarm clock shrilled in the next morning. The memory of the nightmare came back then and he looked sadly at the dark rings under Don's eyes.

"Sorry that I kept you awake."

Don grinned lightly, and ran his eyes over Nick while he got dressed.

"Don't worry; you're more than worth it."

The obvious leer in Don's eyes and voice made Nick chuckle lightly and he walked over to the kitchen to start the coffee when he saw the light blinking on his answering machine. Frowning he pressed the button and the mechanical voice told him that he had two messages. Don walked into the kitchen grabbed a cup of coffee and handed Nick one too, while some guy told them how great the new phone deal with Vodafone was. Nick shook his head and grinned at his lover when a new voice floated through the room and he froze.

"He Nick, Warrick here... you don't pick up your phone anymore? What's the deal with the 'I'm absent number'? Look I was thinking, since you don't call and everything, I'll come up and visit you... there are a couple of long weekends coming up, just tell me which one is fine with you... Need to get you out a bit... Ok call me... and hey Nick... I miss you bro."

Nick felt Don walking up next to him, felt the gentle touch on his back, but he couldn't move or speak. Everything in him had frozen at the sound of the familiar voice.


He shivered as he saw Don's look, saw confusion and then understanding dawn in the blue eyes and cringed at the uncertainty that accompanied the understanding and yet there was still so much concern, concern for him Nick and instinctively Nick reached out and grasped Don's hand as if it were the only thing that kept him from drowning and maybe it was.

"Who is he?"

And yes, Don of all people had a right to ask this and Nick knew that he should have told his lover long ago, should have come clear the moment they had gotten together and yet his own heart had been to scared and now Warrick's ghost seemed to stand between them and Nick struggled to find the right words. It was too late, he knew and the knowledge hurt, no matter what he was going to say it would hurt Don and he never had wanted that.

"He was my best friend."

The truth and yet not the whole, not even scraping at the surface and as if he sensed it, Don remained silent, waited until Nick spoke again and once again Nick felt as if Warrick was there with him in the room and pushed Don away from him. Mentally his lover seemed to be miles away already.

"I... we had a case, a drug addict found dead in a bar... Warrick fell for the singer in that bar and when she turned out to be a junkie too... he's got a gambling problem and when I saw him sitting down at a table after leaving her, I sat next to him... just wanted to give him some support you know... and then he looked up and... and I fell in love..."

Nick trailed off as Don withdrew his hand. It hurt almost physically the withdrawal of this one touch that had grounded him. His eyes met Don's and for a second he froze at the pain he saw there, then though Don blinked and the hurt was replaced by coldness. A shiver ran through Nick as he recognized the look, it was the same look Don had given him on the first day, the same look he used when he spoke to suspects, it hurt him to see that look directed onto him and yet somehow he felt as if he deserved it. Taking a deep calming breath, Nick forced himself to continue. He had to make Don understand, had to make him see that everything was in the past that Warrick was past…

"When I was..."

Memories threatened at the corner of his mind and he swallowed hard before he spoke again and silently Nick cursed as he heard the trembling in his voice.

"When I was buried, I promised myself to stop hiding and take a chance. But then I was in the hospital and there was always someone around... I just had no time and no courage to talk to him... I just couldn't find the words..."

How would Warrick have reacted? Nick knew that he would never receive an answer to that question and he knew that if he wanted a real relationship with Don he had to push all thoughts of what if aside and forget them. And still right now they were there...

What if he had had to courage?

"And then one morning when I was back at work, Warrick wore a ring... He told me that seeing me like this had made him realize how short life was... and he got married."

Some part of the story still hurt, but as he had told Mac once, he wasn't mourning for what could have been... And still he missed his friend.

"That was why you left Las Vegas"

Don's voice was flat and cold, too cold, too calm and alarmed Nick reached out to touch his lover, but Don just moved out of his reach and the subtle movement felt like a slap in Nick's face.

"Good move Nick, very good move... He's coming to you now... coming to get you back; well played I have to admit that."

The words hit him like physical blows and as Don jumped up from the couch, Nick was frozen with hurt and shock. He forced himself to meet his lover's eyes and cringed at the anger and deep pain that made the blue look diluted.

"Just tell me one thing Nick, if you love this guy, what was I to you? A warm body to fuck? A convenient lay in between or was I just the stupid cop who thinks you really give a damn about him?"

Don's voice broke at the last words and with an angry gesture he wiped the one tear that had escaped away from his face. Nick watched paralyzed as the other man grabbed his coat and walked towards the door. Something in his mind screamed at him to prevent Don from leaving but another part, another voice told him that it was what he deserved... that he wasn't good enough for Don anyway.

‘You deserve love, we all deserve it.'

Funny how he couldn't imagine Gil saying this and yet it was his former supervisor's voice that drowned out the voice of his memories and made him jump up and block Don's path.

"Don't leave, please"

Don's entire body was rigid as he stopped and Nick felt that only Don's innate gentleness when it came to him prevented the other man from shoving Nick aside.

"Get out of my way Nick, you've had your fun now let me go and..."

Once again Don's voice broke and Nick's heart with it.

"I got the message Nick and I won't wait around until this guy arrives... I can't play this game..."

Not moving Nick stared at Don and felt the emptiness where his heart was supposed to be. If Don left now, he would never come back. He couldn't have that couldn't let Don walk out of his life; he was too important, too vital for Nick... And silently Nick remembered what he had told Danny only a few hours ago...

There are some things worth fighting for.

Some things and some people and Don was certainly one of them.

"You were never a game... I never played when I was with you."

His voice was hoarse, but Don didn't seem to notice it as he almost screamed at Nick.

"What am I then? What was..."

"My lover... the one man I love, the one man I want to spend my life with..."

Nick heard his words resound in his hallway and suddenly every sound, every noise was gone. It seemed as if time were standing still as Don stared at Nick and their eyes locked. They had never said it, Nick thought dazedly, had never spoken about love and yet it had always been there. But they had never uttered those three words... Now he had said them, no shouted them, they were his last, desperate attempt to make Don understand and yet it didn't seem to have made a difference.

Defeat made him sway and he looked away from Don, the room suddenly seemed to spin, reality of what he was about to lose seeping in, when strong hands on his shoulders steadied him and almost against his will Nick looked up. Don's eyes were still wary, but the coldness had left.

"When I saw you the first time, I felt as if someone had punched me in my stomach... It was lust Don, simple and pure and nothing more... But then one night I woke up from a nightmare and I realized that it hadn't been Warrick's face that I'd seen and that had calmed me, had made me feel safe again. It was your face, Don, your eyes, your hands, your arms... I knew it then... I knew I loved you..."

He trailed off, when a soft finger was put over his lips. Don eyes were warm, loving and all the pain had vanished.

"You love me."

It was a statement and a question in one and Nick heard the need for reassurance in the casually spoken words. His hand trembled as he reached out to caress Don's face.

"I do"

Don leaned into the touch and Nick felt as if just like that the emptiness inside him was filled again, making him whole and he swallowed harshly. Don's hand mirrored his gesture, cupping his face and Nick closed his eyes as relief and love flooded him.

"I love you Nick Stokes."

Don's voice was formal and serious and somehow the use of his full name gave the statement even more weight. Opening his eyes Nick met Don's gaze and held it as he promised.

"I never played a game, everything we did; everything I did was done because I love you."

He wanted to apologize but Don's lips stole the words from his own before he could say them and pressing himself against Don's hard body, Nick felt the last shred of his fear dissolve in the heat of the strong body next to his.

"I won't let you go."

The way Don said it made it almost sound like a threat, but Nick only smiled and traced the swollen lips of his lover with his fingers.

"I won't leave."

Their eyes met and this time they both could read the love in each others eyes. Don smiled suddenly and pointing towards the phone he said quietly.

"Invite him, let him see what he gave up... and give yourself the closure you need."

The words were spoken lightly, but Nick could feel the tension in Don's body. He knew why Don wanted him to invite Warrick, understood that his lover needed the assurance that Nick chose him even if Warrick was around, but maybe Don was right. Not about the ‘gave-up' thing, not about the assurance, but about the closure.

Nick knew that he had left Las Vegas with open and loose ends still lying around, and that he was far from fully recovered from the ordeal he had gone through, but maybe Don was right, maybe it really was time to start closing that chapter of his life.

"I'll invite him."

For a moment, Nick felt Don tense even more.

"I'll need you at my side. Will you be there?"

The complete relaxation of Don and the wonderful smile told him that it had been the right thing to ask.

"I won't leave you alone, I'll be right at your side."

And Nick knew that Don really would be.

Closure he thought, closure and a new beginning. But maybe that thought was wrong too, because Nick knew that the new beginning had started five months ago, when he had shaken hands... or more accurately tried to shake hands with a dark haired cop with an attitude and the bluest eyes he had ever seen.

His new beginning had started when Don had seen behind the mask that Warrick had never even noticed and as he leaned against his lover Nick nodded silently. Seeing his friend was the right thing to do, the first of many moves to really give him closure and not just escape.



*Las Vegas*

Grissom wasn't used to receive letters and even less so to receive them in his office. But today was one of those days where surprises happened even to him and for a long time he just sat there and stared at the letter on his desk.

He knew the handwriting, had seen it on dozens of evidence tags and reports... There had been a time when he had been more familiar with the handwriting than the man who wrote the short sentences on the tags. Not anymore though, he had gotten to know Nick Stokes surprisingly well over the last five months.

They had become friends.

Grissom was still surprised about that.

Gently and almost warily he lifted the envelope and opened it. The fact that Nick wrote him surprised him and he was even more surprised when he realized the length of the letter. Shaking his head he stared at it as if to determine what to do with it, then though he smiled at his own behavior and unfolded the sheet of paper.

Dear Grissom,

It still feels weird to call you Gil, so sorry should I slip during this letter. I guess you wonder why I even write you one, instead of just calling as I usually do. I don't really know why, but the last couple of days have taken a toll and I feel like I need time to express what I experienced and I wouldn't have that time on the phone.

Don't worry, I'm fine... maybe I'm even better than fine, but only time will tell...

Did you ever know why I really left? I was never sure, you seem so aloof and yet I always had the feeling that you knew a lot more about the things that went on in the lab than you let on. I bet you still pretend not to understand what Sara wants from you. Not that I blame you, but this letter isn't about you... It's me trying to explain something, although I don't really know what.

I left because of Warrick, you knew that didn't you? That's why you never tried to hold me back, wasn't it? Anyway, it hurt to leave, hurt to leave the lab, the people, the city, you, but most of all it hurt because I felt as if I had left before I was supposed to leave.

Most of the time I just felt like a coward for running instead of staying and fighting and believe me when I met Danny here in New York that feeling only got stronger. I told Mac once that if I had stayed in Las Vegas I would have been surviving for the rest of my life and that I didn't want that, that I wanted to live.

It was just a sentence, but it's the truth and it happened.

I am living again.

I am happy.

Last time we talked, you asked if I had intentions to come and visit. I don't know Gil, I am not sure if I am strong enough yet. If Don is with me, then yes, but alone?

It's funny isn't it how I told you about Don, but never about Warrick?

He called me you know, told me that he wants to come to New York and meet me, that we need to catch up and that he misses me.

Don heard the message and we fought. We're fine again, or no we're great. Warrick will come up in February for a long weekend. Don told me to invite him, I don't think I would have. He's right though, I need to see him to get some closure.

And that's probably what I wanted to tell you, why I write this letter. I have found closure and peace. I still wake up and have nightmares, but I know that when I wake up I will be in Don's arms, and I know that I made it out and I managed to go on.

It's more than I expected.

It's closure.

Did you ever find closure?

I know you once told me that you don't take your cases home, but I wasn't just a case and sometimes when we talk, I can hear it in your voice. I worry Gil, I worry about you.

I found a poem yesterday night when I checked the note book of a girl. It's a case, so I won't go into details, but she had copied a poem of W.H. Auden and it made me think.

‘Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghosts on the links

Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks

Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh

There always another story, there more than meets the eye'

I'm sure you know the poem, but doesn't it feel as if Auden had not only described our jobs, but also our lives?

I never realized how much I was hiding until I was near to dying, never understood how many masks I was wearing until Danny and Don saw through them.

How many masks are you wearing to protect yourself?

How many were added that night?

I won't pry Gil, I just want to tell you that I am here, and I have finally found the strength to listen. Finally found enough closure to help you with yours.

And the last thing I wanted to say is thanks, thanks for finding me, thanks for giving me another chance and thanks for letting me go.

I'll call you,


Grissom stared at the letter for a long time until a knock jolted him out of his thoughts. Catherine stood in the door and looked at him concerned.

"Are you alright Gil?"

Swallowing the lump in his throat he nodded and pointed towards the letter.

"From Nicky"

Concern lit up in her eyes and she reached for the paper, but he shook his head and picked the letter up before she could.

"He is fine; I think he has found closure."

Catherine looked at him and then slowly said.

"But he won't come back."

Her voice carried the same sadness as Gil felt in his heart, he knew that the hope that Nick might come back had been foolish and still it had been there. Glancing at the letter he read one sentence again.

‘I am living again.

I am happy.'