“Lie about what?”
He wouldn’t have lied anyway. He caused enough trouble already by blabbing to that stupid supposed teammate of his from his college days, who had originally maybe sought to to shake Nick’s hand in a legitimate outreach for connection, but took advantage of it. Sold him out--well, without referring to him by name but despite what he told Warrick, he was certain that it would have been traced back to him eventually--for fifteen seconds of nameless fame, which somehow made things even worse because what reason would this guy have to go to the reporters about some “hot tip” directly from the crime lab itself?
It angered him, so much so that he had waved it off to Warrick just seconds prior, claiming that nobody would be able to tell it was him and that it wasn’t as if he had gone to the press himself...
But not enough to stop the anxiety from slipping in the minute Grissom appeared out of thin air just in time for Warrick to encourage him to “fess up” about it.
As he sits in Grissom’s office--which was his own suggestion, when Grissom had posed the inquiry into what he and Warrick had been discussing, yet another nail he hit into his own coffin--hunched over with his elbows on his knees, cupping his hands in front of him in some sort of plea for the older man to let him off gently, it’s the one thing he can’t seem to stop thinking about. Why tell the press? Why did it have to come from this guy? Why Nick? Why?
Grissom, of course, has little sympathy to offer. He lets Nick explain how he had gone down to the valet station to scope out potential escape routes, how he at first didn’t even recognize the guy--he launches into a bit of an unnecessary tangent about playing baseball in college, a symptom of his nervousness--and how he didn’t necessarily pay attention to the phrasing of his words, that perhaps on some level he was trying to sound impressive. Macho. Clever. Being able to sort of pull an one-up on the inferior position of a valet, a position which Nick could now only hope that he could obtain when he gets fired from his dream job.
Grissom was always a hard man to read, even harder than Nick’s own father but Nick was able to deduce one emotion displayed in a heart shattering fashion in the man’s irises; disappointment.
It hadn’t been the first time. Certainly wouldn’t be the last at this rate.
And what worries him the most in this moment, is that Grissom says nothing to him. No life lessons hidden behind stupid riddles that even a third grader wouldn’t fall for. No offerings of a solution. No instruction.
Just a blank face and one word.
But it’s not.
“Griss, listen, I--” he hates how high and soft his voice gets when it’s stressed, as if he didn’t already feel infantilized enough, like he had been called to the principal’s office.
Grissom’s phone rings a few seconds later. He picks it up. Gives Nick a wordless command.
And the passive aggressiveness doesn’t stop there.
Hours later, they’re at another scene. At a different location, the furthest away from murder central you can get.
It’s Nick’s fault, because after getting that tip, the killer changed his MO...and now more people are dead. People that maybe wouldn’t have been killed otherwise.
Because of him.
He’s instructed to close up the buckets of ice that Grissom’s scooping out of the ice machine, after Warrick hands the buckets to Sara, and Sara logs it.
He’s the furthest away from Grissom, and not only that, but given a task that a level one newbie would be charged with.
It’s grueling, even with the small relief of the exposed ice seeping into the the tensely thin temperatures rising to a boiling point, sweat drips out of every pore in his body, worsened by Grissom’s reminder that the evidence is melting.
All because Nick opened his mouth.
Grissom finally finds a knife, and asks Warrick to bag it because his hands are numb.
The not-so-literal ice behind Grissom’s words tell him: It’s Nick’s fault.
Blood is spotted on the outside of the Ice Machine.
Sara and Warrick are delegated with processing it.
Nick, meanwhile, is told by Grissom, “come with me,” and his heart sinks.
This is it.
They had squeezed out as much work as they could get out of him without him making another mistake, and Grissom was going to tell him to hand in his badge, gun and vest and get the hell out of town.
Warrick gives him a gentle look of concern, but his eyes are swirling with frustration and maybe even a little...regret? He can just read it on his face, “don’t say I didn’t warn you,” even though he had told Grissom everything, his confession apparently wasn’t...enough.
Sara’s eyes are unreadable.
No sympathy for the devil.
They’ll probably be glad to see him gone.
Grissom takes him into a motel room, the other half of the crime scene. He’s told to shut the door, and Nick immediately goes on the defense.
“You want to talk?”
“No,” Grissom says, almost condescendingly, and it stings. He’s neglecting the situation, ironically, given how much Nick would love to also pretend nothing had happened, but is plagued with thoughts of nothing but.
They process the room, Nick’s heart beating fast the entire time, though it does start to slow down as they seem to regress back to the way things were before. The smartest man in the lab working with the most dependable. The air starts to feel so much looser than it is outside, even though the power is still off and the A/C isn’t quite on, he’s no longer sweating. No longer feeling collapsible. He awkwardly discusses the functions of the magic fingers on the bed, indulging in an odd daydream of him and Grissom shooting the breeze and getting a relaxing massage on vibrating twin beds, everything that had transpired behind them left in the past. They even share a mutual smile at the prospect of being able to grab evidence off the coins. It’s a lot of coins, a lot of work, but worth it if it brings a killer to justice.
At one point Catherine joins them, asks why here and not the Sphere.
Grissom makes Nick explain.
Because it’s his fault.
And Nick reluctantly admits his failure, though not upfront enough to where Catherine doesn’t actively point the finger at him--though passively reminds him of his literal deathly error, of how the news had “helped” the bad guys--and Catherine is gently shocked while and almost...smug Grissom watches Nick flounder.
He wordlessly sends Nick--no, allows Nick to go back to the lab and get to work.
There’s nearly fifty coins spread out across a pan. He has to lift each one, scan it into the system. Lift the print. Then the next. And the next.
Take one down, pass it around...
He prefers the version Greg once sang.
And right on cue, the man himself walks in, gives him the news that the blood from the ice machine was a mixture of both the victim’s and the killer’s blood, but it’s not for another couple hours until Nick gets something substantial enough to report to the boss.
Still, it’s nice to see Greg’s face. To crack a smile. To be asked, “Hey...everything okay?” when he notices how Nick’s leg is bouncing, how he’s gripping onto the counter as if it’s going to fall away.
He tells him he’s fine, because what would Greg do if he wasn’t?
It’s not until he’s alone, in front of a computer that he allows himself to crumble, but only just a little--rubbing his throbbing forehead and swallowing down the swirling nausea leaping into his throat.
And maybe he’s overcompensating, when he finally gets a hit and rushes to Grissom’s office, beaming--
“Mandy and Cameron Klinefeld. I just pulled their license photos off the DMV. Brass showed them to the motel manager. Couldn't I.D., so...APBs are on the horn,” he smiles, even clapping his hands together in a gesture of “we got ‘em!” that Grissom doesn’t reciprocate.
Grissom doesn’t say anything.
Doesn’t even look at him.
“Come on, Grissom. It's got to be them. Who stays at a motel when you live here?" he almost laughs. Maybe Grissom’s just leading him on, and he’ll turn around and give him the redemption he had been seeking during the entire investigation.
The pride comes before the fall.
“Assume nothing, Nick,” he says, without even so much as a glance in his direction.
The smile starts to slide off his face, the corners still up to keep the bile of Grissom’s words from spilling out.
He stops walking, the invisible tether to his mentor just...disconnected. He’s never felt so alone.
It would have hurt less if he just slapped him in the face.
He doesn’t know where to go. Grissom walked off with the photos. He’s probably taking matters into his own hands. Nick’s all but been kicked off the case at this point, and seems to do nothing but continue to let Grissom down, and down, and down and down again...
He inhales, but there’s already breath stuck in his windpipe.
The sweat’s competing with his heart, which has gone into full overdrive, the two words narrating the rapid beat like a ritualistic chant and it won’t stop until he learns his lesson. Assume. Nothing. Assume. Nothing. Assume. Nothing.
He somehow finds his way to the bathroom, gripping the sink like had gripped the counter, splashing cool water on his face.
It’s not enough.
He grips his forehead, begging with himself, please, just calm down, you’re overreacting.
The door swings open and he immediately stands up, startled out of of his reflection as he hears the soft blare of pulsing, crackling music from a pair of headphones.
Greg, sauntering in to take a quick relief before he heads home for the morning.
Nick didn’t even realize what time it was, that shift change was happening. He wonders how much overtime he’ll be getting from this case.
“Sup, man? You good?”
“Yeah, yeah, G. All good,” Nick lies.
He doesn’t meet Greg’s eyes, just watches his reflection in the mirror as he dances around the bathroom towards the sink next to Nick.
“You look a little...I dunno, pale. Almost as white as that shirt of yours.”
It smells so bad, he’s immediately self conscious of the foul stench, and the stains beneath his armpits.
“Secret’s out, I’m a vampire,” he tries to joke, but he can’t even manage a full chuckle without gulping down the contents of his stomach. “Seriously. I’m fine.”
“If you say so...” Greg sighs, and starts to wash his hands. Nick can tell he’s got the slightest hint of disappointment in his voice.
A younger Grissom.
But maybe one that’ll listen.
“I just...” Nick starts, and he cautiously lets the words out, “I feel sick…so anxious and sick and like my heart is trying to beat its way out of my chest.”
“Sara had mentioned something about you and Grissom acting a little weird...” Greg lowers his voice under the running water. “Somethin’ happen?”
“I...I messed up, Greg. Big time, a-and Grissom, he’s...I can just tell he’s angry at me, but he won’t say anything...” Nick reluctantly begins to mutter. Is he sure he wants to tell loosey-goosey, lost in life Greg Sanders the problems he should be voicing to a therapist or otherwise unbiased third party? Outside of himself and Warrick, Greg’s like the third wheel in the club of looking up to Gil Grissom.
He thinks back to a few years ago, anxiously kicking his feet in the hallway, interrupting an interrogation and getting scolded--no, not just scolded, yelled at for his incompetence in interrupting an important interrogation.
He almost wishes Grissom would have yelled at him now.
“I just can’t seem to win, man,” he breathes shakily.
Greg seems to freeze, unsure of what to say, or even do, as the faucet keeps running, and he lets his hands drop to the bottom like an anchor.
But after a few moments, he turns the water off and rings his hands out, Nick still watching the mirror world as Greg tentatively reaches out to touch Nick’s shoulder, still wet to the touch, but a nice gesture nonetheless.
“Hey, don’t sweat it. You’re like...one of his best students.”
“Yeah, right,” Nick snorts.
“For real, man! And maybe the reason he hasn’t said anything about it is he’s letting you grow from it, you know? It’s annoying, but it’s just his style of teaching, I guess.”
“Maybe,” Nick shrugs. “Or maybe he just hates me.”
“Don’t say that, who could hate you?”
“Everyone,” Nick smiles humorlessly.
“Well I don’t. I love you.”
Greg’s ears burn.
Nick’s tongue pokes out between his lips, his lips gape open, ready to say something, but no words come out.
Greg’s fingers still linger on his shoulder, keeping both men glued to the spot.
It’s not until the song Greg was listening to ends and another one begins that he lets go of Nick--Nick still feels the phantom grip and wishes he had stayed just a little bit longer--and rushes out of the room with a cheery “see ya!”
Nick doesn’t know what to call that moment, it feels akin to all the other playful flirts they’ve shared over the years, but somehow this was more...heartfelt. Sincere. Maybe the beginnings of an actual...romance.
But then again...he shouldn’t assume anything.