Title: Passing Judgment on my Life
Fandom: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Characters: Greg, Sara and Nick friendship. Nick and Greg pre-slash.
Warning: Contains references to sexual abuse and rape. Please stay safe when reading this fic.
Summary: Sara and Nick are forced to look at their pasts as they investigate an assault on a child. Started life as a post-ep for 6X05: Gum Drops.
I can’t bear to tell Greg what a coward I am, Nick thought as he walked away from Greg’s apartment building and towards his Denali. Nick felt a twinge of bitterness when he thought about how together Greg was in comparison to him. It was hard not to be envious of the hand Greg had been dealt.
The day he could lounge about in his pyjamas with his boyfriend on one of the sofas at the Stokes’ ranch would be a long time coming. Probably after Cisco and Momma are passed¸ he thought with a shiver of guilt. However indifferent their relationship was, he didn’t want his parents to have to die so that he could really live.
But, how could he be with a man. How could he live a life that his folks at the ranch knew nothing about?
He felt a shudder of revulsion that last night he had stood in the shower, trying to relieve some tension by fantasising about the slim, tender boyfriend he would never have, when his mind drifted to Greg. He hadn’t stopped.
After Nick left, Greg thought for a while about human beings’ capacity for self-deception and how they could pretend that their motivations for doing any given thing were really what they said they were, rather than what they actually were.
Then he slid Brokeback Mountain into his DVD player and his hand underneath his pants, and pretended that Jack and Ennis were really the cowboys that he was thinking about.
Sara sipped bitter coffee in the same diner she and Nick had been sitting in when Grissom’s order to go to Desert Palms and pick up Annabeth David’s SAE kit had come through. She had only been drinking her black coffee and picking at the edge of a danish for five minutes, but she’d nearly gathered her purse and walked out the door seven times.
Nick had suggested that they meet at his place to have The Talk, but she had wanted to meet somewhere public to provide herself with an exit route that was less harsh than just getting up and walking out of someone else’s apartment. Now she was actually sitting in the diner, this slender protection against total humiliation didn’t seem enough.
She chided herself for being ridiculous. It wasn’t as though she and Nick had been whispering each other secrets at 4am that were now being acted upon in the harsh light of day. Well, they were, literally, but they were both mid-shift at 4am and fully dressed with neat hair; not wrapped in tequila haze at an all-night party.
Only the thought of dancing this dance again kept Sara firmly rooted to the plastic banquette. She couldn’t spend the rest of her life sleeping on her sofa and, she rationalised, Nick was as good a research resource as any.
Nick slid opposite her five minutes later and exactly on time; bringing the familiar clean smell of sunshine and soap with him. If the Boy Scouts are ever looking for a signature scent, they could do worse, Sara thought.
Sara’s fears about this meeting had been bad but as Nick ordered a stack of pancakes and some more of the brutal coffee, she was nearing panic. This was such a terrible idea. Their conversation in the desert had established that she and Nick had definitely shared experiences, but what if she told him something and she saw the unmistakeable look of disgust on his face?
She remembered how freaked out one of her foster mothers was the one time she voluntarily broached the subject. Susan had tried to cover it up with you can tell me anything fakery, but Sara had known that she found the subject disturbing.
What if I’ve read this all wrong and Nick is freaked? How could she go back to the lab and discuss decomp and ballistics as if this weird, personal detour had never taken place?
As if reading her mind, Nick grinned suddenly. “Weird, huh?”
“Yes.” Sara’s voice was rusty. Unable to let the silence spool out, she drew a quick breath. “I’m sorry that I left you alone to deal with Greg in McGregor’s office.”
Nick smiled. “It’s OK, Sara. You looked like you needed a break.” His voice was light and warm, and a small part of Sara relaxed slightly.
“Yeah, seeing all those condoms lying there reminded me of the pile my father left in my Barbie bin.” Sara was pushing Nick now, trying to work out from his response to this grim vignette what the parameters of this conversation might be.
Nick had been ready for it. He had remembered the first meeting he had had with his therapist, and angrily telling her the worst of his experiences in the most brutal language to see if she would bail on him when it got rough.
“I suppose,” Sara said. “That I was lucky he was considerate enough to use condoms. Getting knocked up at eleven would have been pretty bad.”
“Being raped at eleven is pretty bad all by itself.” Nick's tone was mild.
Sara’s face tightened, reflecting the twisting in her stomach.
Nick’s expression flickered. “Should I not use that word?”
Sara shook her head emphatically. “It’s the right word. It just makes it more – real, somehow.” She folded her arms across herself.
“Yeah,” Nick’s voice was quiet. “It took me a long time to be able to say that I was raped and it’s still an effort to get those words out, sometimes.”
Sara’s face softened. “Nick, I’m sorry.”
“Thanks,” Nick said. “But why are you sorry for me and not for you?”
Sara bit her lip, thinking, trying to put it into words. “I don’t think about it like that.”
Her voice shook, ever so slightly. “I try not to think about it at all. But when I do it’s either a big storm of memories or it’s bald facts that I can’t feel at all. Feeling sad doesn’t even enter into it.”
“I can relate to that. It’s how things were for me before I got some help.” Sara looked at Nick’s strong, tan arms on the table and tried to make herself unaware that he could really hurt her if he wanted to.
“Sara?” She looked up at Nick’s quizzical expression and she realised she’d zoned out. “What are you thinking about?”
“What if I go crazy?” Sara whispered.
“Yes.” Sara looked down at her barely touched danish. “I came here – and please don’t think I don’t appreciate this – because I can’t do this anymore. I can’t sleep in my bed because that’s where it happened. Every time there’s one of these cases I feel sick to my stomach for a week. What if I go and talk to someone and my whole life turns into this?”
Her voice had risen above normal conversational volume and their waitress looked over.
“Sara, what do you think about when you see a father walking along holding hands with his daughter?”
Sara closed her eyes, fighting back the bile that was bubbling in her stomach.
“I know how that goes. Every time Catherine mentioned Lindsey’s babysitters my skin would crawl. If I saw a kid out with some older teens then I would spend time trying to figure out if they were being mean to the kid.” Nick looked at his hands.
“Wouldn’t you feel better if you lose those reminders? If every case involving a child or an abused woman didn’t hit you where you live?”
Sara shrugged, defensively. Nick groaned inwardly. You sound like an infomercial, Stokes.
He leaned back in his seat. “Well, only you know what’s going to work for you. I guess I’m a little zealous in talking about how great talking is, because I honestly don’t think I’d be here if I hadn’t.”
Sara looked at Nick as if she was seeing him for the first time. “That bad?”
Nick covered the top of his coffee cup with his hand. “Worse than I can describe.” He shrugged. “I guess that’s the point. I’m not in that place anymore so it’s hard to do it justice now, but I felt like I was completely alone. Watching the world from behind a sheet of glass, and unable to take part or have what other people have because I was so tainted.”
“Tainted? You?” To Sara, Nick was ice cream and puppies and the smell of freshly mown grass.
Nick grinned at her confusion. “Yeah, I don’t think people feel dirty because they actually are.”
Sara smiled a tiny smile. “I guess.”
Nick looked at her. “Except, of course, it feels like that’s true for everyone else except you.”
“He said I was a cocktease,” Sara blurted, and suddenly it was out there; one of the three things she had promised herself that she wouldn’t tell Nick. Because what if it’s true? What if Nick agrees?
His hand twitched, like he’d started to reach for hers before he’d censored himself.
He looked stricken. “That’s the kind of thing they say to rationalise their behaviour to themselves. Sara. Parents are supposed to protect their children no matter what. All that ‘you liked it’ stuff is just bullshit.”
“But—“ Sara trailed off. Her stomach lurched at the fact that she had one foot on sacred ground; on the very edge of the precipice that was secret number two.
Nick didn’t need her to say the words and Sara had never felt such pure gratitude in her life, despite the fact that her cheeks were burning with shame.
“My therapist helped me realise that however my body responded, what happened hurt me. It wouldn’t feel like this if that wasn’t true.”
His voice was calm and Sara was struck by the grace that Nick was showing her. However much he had processed and healed, he was still sitting in a diner telling his prickly, defensive colleague that his abusers had at least got him hard and probably made him come.
Sara swallowed, hard. “How did you do it?”
Nick smiled, and she thought, not for the first time, that you could see his heart on his face.
“It’s weird. You talk and think and do these writing exercises. And it’s nothing, but it’s also everything, and something just shifts.” He reconsidered, tapping a finger against his cup. “Of course, it doesn’t mean you’ll never feel bad again. But it’s better. Liveable with.”
He turned his brown eyes on her. “Tempted?”
She chewed her lip. “A little bit.” Sara realised that there was something she had wanted to know and she rationalised that she might never get another chance to ask.
“Is it completely obvious to people at work?”
Nick wrapped his hands around his coffee cup. “People who’ve worked rape and domestic violence cases with you might think that you have a reason to be invested in them, but I kind of look out for that stuff anyway so I’m not a reliable judge.”
He took a sip of coffee and made a face at the taste. “Are you scared people at work know? Because I’m pretty sure no one would think any less of you.”
Sara picked at her napkin. “Catherine would.”
Nick rolled his eyes at that. “Catherine’s talked to me about my abuse a lot. In fact, she’s probably the person at work that I’ve talked about it most with. Not, I guess, that that’s saying much.”
Sara snorted. “I know Catherine said to Grissom that I was unstable.”
“I think that she did that out of genuine concern, because never in a million years could she raise something like that with you herself. “ Nick grinned. “You two have more in common than you give each other credit for.”
“Maybe.” Sara was frowning. “How about Greg and Warrick?”
“Rick is a great guy and we’re tight in a lot of ways.” Nick recalled long conversations about family expectations and the difficulty with meeting them, which Warrick thought were about his non-participation in the Texas criminal justice community and were really mostly about wanting a man in his bed.
Nick hesitated. “I’ve never been able to tell him though.”
“He knew something was up after that case with the therapist and the rebirthing. Remember that?”
“We went out after that shift and got smashed at some dive bar and he kept looking at me like he wanted to ask but he couldn’t find the words.” Or didn’t want to hear the answer, Nick thought.
His mind slid over that still-painful memory. After years of shooting hoops and playing X-box, after helping Warrick through his gambling addiction, he’d hoped Warrick would have been able to step up for him.
When Warrick had dropped him off in the cab that they’d shared that night, Nick had been on the verge of begging him to come in. Nick had wanted them to go into his apartment together, turning on the lights and filling the empty space with beer drinking and companionship and talking-as-men-do. He could tell Warrick didn’t want to, though, and the invitation stuck painfully in his throat. He’d spent a couple of hours crying on the sofa with loneliness; the sense of being indefinably separate from every other living person.
“What about Greg?” asked Sara.
“I really envy the way he’s able to take things in his stride.” Nick smiled up at the waitress as she refilled their coffee. “He doesn’t always choose his moments to raise things very well but I’ve never really known anyone who can just talk about anything at all without getting weirded out.”
Sara raised an eyebrow. “You’re doing a pretty good job.”
Nick waved that off. “It’s strange.”
“I’ve just realised that most people at work know and it’s not really a big deal. I mean, the conversations weren’t comfortable to have but no one who knows has ever treated me one little bit differently. We’re a pretty close team, you know?”
Sara took that in. “What about people you’re in a relationship with?”
“Have you talked about it with Grissom?”
Sara shot him a sharp glance.
“Oh, come on.” Nick held up his hands. “Please don’t tell me that was supposed to be on the down low.” He half-smiled at her annoyed expression.
Sara sighed. “I told him about the stuff that happened between my parents.”
Nick raised his eyebrows in silent question.
“That he hit her. A lot. And that she eventually stabbed him to death to make him stop the hitting and - other stuff.” Sara’s face and voice were both empty.
Nick rested his hand lightly on one of hers, and her hand trembled but she didn’t move it away.
“I spent my teenage years in foster care. I guess I wasn’t the easiest teenager and, ironically, I ended up with two foster fathers who had the same yen for underage skin as my father. I didn’t tell Grissom any of that.”
Nick tightened his grip on her hand. “Why not?”
Sara hesitated before pulling her hand away. “It’s hard to explain.”
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
Sara shrugged. “Gil is older and smarter and more established in his career. I don’t want to feel even more like I’m less than him.” She looked away. “It’s also that Lady Heather fascination. What if this, um, intrigues him more than it repulses him?”
Nick’s jaw dropped when he realised what she was saying. “Sara, Grissom cares a lot about you.”
She stared at him. “Loving someone doesn’t stop you from hurting them.”
He opened his mouth to say that he would hope that loving someone would stop you from getting off on their tales of child molestation and then realised that loving someone didn’t seem to stop you from beating and raping them, so maybe that was a lie.
He shook his head. Surely Grissom would not find this the least bit of a turn-on.
Sara hunkered down in her seat. She looked small and fragile inside the oversize sweatshirt she was wearing. “I couldn’t be with him, knowing that he knows.”
Nick tried to imagine telling a girlfriend and shivered. Sara looked at him appraisingly. “Have you ever told someone you’re in a relationship with?”
Nick crossed his arms. “I haven’t had a serious enough relationship since I went into therapy. Before that I wasn’t really telling anybody. I think that if I did start a serious relationship I would probably go back to my therapist to figure out what I was doing with it.”
Sara thought about discussing Grissom with someone else; trying to get some other ideas on what was going on with them. It sounds OK.
They sat in comfortable silence for a moment. The waitress came back with the coffee pot and Sara smiled up at her. “We’re ok. Could we just get the check when you have a minute?”
Nick looked at her, disturbed. “Did I say something to make you want to go?”
Sara grinned. “You said a lot to make me want to live a better life than the one I have.” She paused. “That sounds really dramatic, but you know what I mean. I just need some space now to figure some things out.”
She pushed her hands up the opposite sleeves of her sweatshirt, giving her a monklike appearance. “This conversation has been the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me.”
She saw the tears spring to Nick’s eyes.
“Crap. I didn’t say that to make you feel bad.” She yanked one of her hands free and placed it over Nick’s, wrapping her slim fingers around his larger ones. “This was just a really, really nice thing for you to have done.”
Nick cleared his throat. “You showed a lot of guts by being here and talking about this. Don’t think I don’t know how hard it is to cowboy up like that.”
Sara hesitated. “How will it be at work?”
Nick grinned. “Same as always.” The smile slid off his face. “You might feel shaky tomorrow; I know I did after speaking to Catherine the first time. It’s hard to reveal so much after keeping it so tight for a long time.”
“If you do feel bad, please know that the only thing this conversation has done is make me respect you more,” he said, fiercely.
Sara smiled. “Ok.”
As they were leaving the diner Sara reflected on how she’d felt when Cassie McBride was found, and when she’d first come into the diner, and felt new and bright. She had no doubt that she would feel like hell tomorrow, but she hoped it wouldn’t diminish her ardour for a better way of being.
She looked at Nick and felt a pang of envy that he was on the other side of the mountain that she still had to climb, but that was overtaken by a wave of gratitude that he had voluntarily climbed down into her valley to show her the way.
Sitting in his car in the parking lot, Nick checked his phone. Greg had sent him a text message. Want to come over for pizza and the game? He realised he did very much want and tried to convince himself that it was just the thought of baseball and pizza that was enticing him.
“How did it go?” Greg asked, as he opened the door to Nick. He looks hot in that shirt, Nick thought before he could filter it.
“Good. Tiring. Progress has been made.” Nick suddenly really wasn’t sure what to say or why he was here.
Greg nodded. “I thought you might be too wiped to cook so I have the takeout menus all ready to go.” He waved his hand at the coffee table and Nick noticed that the photos of Greg and Brian had been moved.
Collapsing onto Greg’s sofa, he accepted the bottle of beer Greg passed him. This was nice; buddies together, checking out the game and eating manly amounts of cheese and dough.
Nick ignored the flutter in his stomach that suggested it might be more than that. He's probably not the least bit interested. And anyway, that just isn’t going to happen for me.