A/N: Written for the T.S Eliot Thousand Whispers Challenge.
Would it have been worth while
For a moment, he didn't know where he was.
It took him several minutes to recognize the ceiling, several more to recognize the walls, and even then it didn't seem right. Like part of some dream, faded memory from a lifetime ago, except the couch beneath him felt solid, the blanket worn and rough, and the shrill ringing of the alarm was too piercing to be anything but real. Vibrating noise faded into silence as he shut off the alarm before flexing his limbs in an effort to stretch out the stiffness of slumber. And this was still wrong, because he hadn't been here in months, and he was fairly certain he didn't come here last night.
"Nick?" Said to the darkness and an echo was his only response.
He was standing before he made the conscious decision to move. Padding across dingy carpet and flipping open the blinds to let in the late afternoon sunlight. Dust billowed around him, blanketing him in shades of grey and his nose twitched at the sensation. His eyes squinted at the sudden brightness and it took him a moment to focus on the street outside his window. His window. Not Nick's.
And that was too strange to comprehend because he'd given this place up, let the lease expire and the couch he woke up on was donated to goodwill. As was the table to his left and the bookshelf beside it was resting in Nick's, their, living room.
"What the fuck's going on?" Whispered words and the silence continued to mock him.
He could almost sense its laughter, surrounding him like a shawl until he was cloaked in it. Wrapped so tight he could barely move and the phone sat on the kitchen counter, message light flashing and he turned away from the window. He tried not to look at the floors and were they always this dirty? This stained? He didn't remember, but he was fairly certain the answer was unimportant.
The message was from a telemarketer, promising long distance savings if only he'd switch phone companies. Technically he shouldn't even have a phone, not here. Because this wasn't his life, at least, not anymore, and if this was someone's idea of a joke, he didn't find it very funny. He was dialing Nick's number before the telemarketer's message even stopped playing. Dialing with steady hands and that gave him pause; the inkling of memory flittering into his consciousness and his fingers paused over the last number.
If you could change one thing, what would it be?
I could have done without the lab explosion.
He shook his head at that because it was even more ridiculous than waking up here. Still, he hesitated, taking a deep breath and cradling the phone like a lifeline. The light was still too bright, too surreal and, for a moment, he considered hanging up and returning to the couch. Forcing himself to fall back asleep so that he could wake up from this nightmare.
He finished dialing the number instead, waiting through three rings until Nick's voice echoed through the line, heavy with sleep and Greg forgot how much closer to the lab Nick lived --enough for an added thirty minutes of sleep in the afternoon and of course Nick would still be asleep.
"Stokes," Nick mumbled, sounding more than just tired and Greg wondered when Nick had started sounding so worn.
"Hey, what's going on?" Greg asked, smiling slightly as he leaned against the counter and, despite everything, there was something comforting about hearing Nick's voice.
"G?" And now Nick just sounded confused, like Greg was the last person he expected to hear from and tension flooded Greg's body.
"Were you expecting someone else?" Greg asked, wincing at the accusation and struggling to recall the last twenty-four hours.
He remembered working, remembered a case with two kids and two dead parents. Remembered the look in the girl's eyes as Grissom told her her parents had died. Remembered the resignation and understanding that he hadn't thought a fourteen-year-old capable of. Remembered the defeated way she nodded, accepting the inevitable and leading her younger brother into an empty room to wait for her grandparents.
He remembered the somber mood of the night, everyone talking in hushed tones, putting the pieces of the accident together with the knowledge that two kids would still be without parents, regardless of what they found. Remembered riding home with Nick in silence, pulling into their driveway and eventually sinking next to Nick on the couch. Remembered commenting about the girl's acceptance, the conversation turning personal, something that had only recently surfaced in their relationship.
Do you think she'll be okay? I mean, how do you get over something like that?
Everyone has something in their past they wish they could change, I'm sure this will be her's, eventually, when the reality of it fully hits her.
I hope it never does.
It always does. What about you? If you could change one thing, what would it be?
I could have done without the lab explosion.
He remembered the gentle way Nick held him, finding some odd form of comfort and life in each other while everything around them was blanketed in death. And he could still smell the scent of death, even now, even while listening to the echo of his breath and the soft whisper of Nick's voice.
"Greg, are you all right?" Nick asked, and Greg could practically see his frown.
"Yeah, I think so. Why wouldn't I be?" Greg replied, shifting until his shirt pulled across his back.
"I just, I can't remember the last time you called me. Actually, I think this is the first in a long time," Nick replied, and suddenly it all made sense.
Greg's shirt didn't itch, didn't pull or rub against sensitive skin and he knew, if he looked, the scars he'd grown to hate would be gone.
"Do you believe in fate, Nick?" Greg asked, holding his breath and waiting for Nick's reply.
"I guess so, to be honest, I never gave it much thought," Nick replied, sounding a little more awake and a lot more confused.
"So what happens if you change something, if something was meant to happen and then suddenly, it didn't?" Greg continued, fiddling with the phone cord and running a toe along the line between his carpet and the cracked kitchen linoleum.
"I don't think it works that way, G," Nick answered, and Greg suddenly wished he could see Nick.
Look at him and touch him and then he'd know, because he didn't believe in fate, or even destiny, but now he wasn't so sure. Wasn't sure of anything except that he was here and Nick wasn't.
"No offense, Greg, but I kind of need to get ready for work here. Are you sure you're all right?" Nick asked, concern bleeding into his tone and Greg couldn't help but smile.
"Yeah, I guess I'll see you at work," Greg replied, hanging up the phone before Nick had a chance to argue.
And there was nothing left to do but shower and get ready for work.
He wasn't sure why he was surprised, but he was. And maybe part of him thought he could walk into work, right into the new lab and nothing would have changed. Nothing would have reverted to the way it was and then he could dismiss the entire morning as a hallucination. Except the old lab was still there, completely intact and even his old CD player was sitting on the table.
He trailed fingers across the surface of his workstation, remembering the old grooves and worn finish. It seemed strange, like something from another time and he didn't remember the room being this small. Just like he didn't remember the slight scent of chemicals that the new ventilation system filtered out. The equipment was older than he remembered, duller, and the doors lacked the sparkle of new glass.
"Greg, what are you doing in here?"
Greg turned at the sound of Grissom's voice, frowning slightly and shrugging his answer.
"We have a briefing this morning, everyone's waiting for you," Grissom continued, nodding his head in the direction of the door and Greg followed wordlessly.
He followed Grissom until they found the team sitting around the conference table, all staring at him expectantly and maybe some things do change. Except Nick was staring at him like he expected Greg to break out into song and dance at any minute and Greg wasn't so certain the change was a good thing. He managed to smile meekly, sliding into the free chair next to Catherine and across from Nick. And Nick was still staring at him, a little puzzled and slightly amused so Greg winked, watching a blush creep up Nick's neck and that was worth any future teasing regarding their conversation this morning.
He still wasn't entirely certain what was going on. He was fairly certain the Nick across from him wasn't the Nick he fell asleep with last night. The thought left a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, a tangled mess of pain and maybe, if the day was slow, he could find some time to figure out what had happened and hopefully find a way to fix it. Because there was no way in hell he was going to give up his life with Nick, not for steady hands and perfect skin and a position out in the field. And certainly not because he'd made some idle wish the universe had seen fit to grant.
He listened to the latest round of assignments, smiling when Grissom paired him with Nick and waiting until they were dismissed to follow Nick from the room. Nick didn't say anything, not until they were out in the parking lot, climbing into the lab's Tahoe and starting the engine before he turned to glance at Greg from across the seat. Greg watched Nick struggle with his words, like he couldn't quite figure out what he wanted to say and Greg had to fight against the urge to reach out and touch.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Nick asked, and there it was, the soft light in his eyes Greg had come to associate with slow love making and lazy Saturday afternoons on the couch.
And maybe it had always been there, even before Nick ever got around to saying anything. Maybe he'd just been too busy worrying about Nick's reaction to notice, but now that Greg knew what to look for, it was as plain as day.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Do you want to grab some breakfast after the shift?" Greg asked and Nick's eyes widened just enough to let Greg know he'd shocked the other man.
"G, we tried that, remember," Nick explained, looking very much like a deer caught in the headlights and it all came back to Greg.
They'd dated for exactly three weeks before the explosion. The entire time Nick had been tense and antsy and every day Greg had expected him to bolt. And obviously he had, because Nick looked like he wanted to bolt now and the tension in Greg's stomach moved up to his chest.
"Yeah, I know, I just thought..." Greg trailed off, the car suddenly seeming entirely too small.
"It's just, we work together, and it's complicated, and it could affect our jobs and..." Nick continued, cutting off at Greg's expression.
"It's fine, I'm sorry," Greg reiterated, wondering why one little event could make such a difference.
They drove the rest of the night in awkward, heavy silence and for the first time in his life, Greg wanted to be anywhere but seated next to Nick. And this was not how it was supposed to turn out. Not how it was supposed to work and he sent up a silent prayer for his old life.
To say the day had been awkward was an understatement. Because Greg wasn't used to not being able to touch Nick, not being able to flirt and tease and look forward to the end of the shift when they could go home together. And it still didn't make sense, not in anyway Greg could figure out. Because stuff like this didn't happen to him, didn't happen to anyone and, for a moment, Greg wondered if perhaps he'd fallen and hit his head somewhere. Wondered if he was lying in a coma or maybe this was all some sort of nightmare.
It didn't quell the tension in his body, or the perpetual feeling of nausea and when Greg finally got home, he wished, for just one moment, his hand would shake when he tried to unlock the door. Except it didn't, remaining perfectly steady and he jingled his keys just to hear the familiar sound.
He left the lights off, his apartment bathed in darkness, the only light coming from the harsh neon-yellow streetlamp outside his window. He didn't bother removing his shoes as he crossed the room, coming to stand by the window and staring out at the street below. Rain trickled down the glass, leaving soft streaks that obscured vision and distorted the view. Greg ran a fingertip behind one of the drops, watching as it bled into the others, pooling on the sill until it eventually fell over the edge and onto the street below.
"This isn't how it was supposed to be," he whispered to the night.
Any minute now the sun would crest over the horizon, chasing away shadows and if anything, it only made him feel trapped, locked in a prison of light with nowhere to hide.
"This isn't what I meant." Practically shouted and he balled his hands into fists, fighting against the urge to strike out at something, anything.
Shatter the window and feel the cool rush of damp night air. Watch as shards of glass merged with the rain, falling down onto the pavement. He could almost envision himself following behind, falling in a tangle of broken limbs. The image was so vivid, he stepped back, away from the window and across the room to sink back onto his non-existent couch.
And sleep came, eventually. Long after the sun rose and harsh light lit up the land. Long after the birds stopped singing their morning song and long after he should have fallen asleep. And with slumber, came dreams, haunting him, taunting him. Images of Nick, splayed across a bed of porcelain coloured linen, his skin flushed and smile teasing. And then he was drowning; rain pouring through the broken window and filling the room. Inching higher and higher until there was nowhere left to go. Nothing left to do but breathe deep and succumb to the darkness.
The sun was still shining when he woke, ensconced in warmth and surrounded by the heavy scent of laundry detergent. He knew this place, knew it and craved it but he didn't realize quite how much until this morning. He shifted experimentally, the sheets cool against his bare skin and his back tingled with pain. Raw skin, healed but not quite normal, flexing in protest to the movement. He couldn't remember the last time something felt so good.
He turned onto his side until he was staring at Nick's profile: eyes shut, breath low and even. And he'd watched Nick sleep for months, watched the steady inhale and the almost blissful exhale until he'd practically memorized the rhythm. But he'd stopped, at some point in the past he could no longer pinpoint, he'd stopped, and for the life of him, he couldn't remember why.
Not that it mattered, nothing mattered now except the warm body beside him, the low moan Nick made as sunlight landed on his face. The slight fluttering of his eyes as he struggled into consciousness and the way his eyelashes fluttered as his eyes drifted open, blinking until he brought Greg into focus.
"Morning," Nick mumbled, still half asleep and Greg smiled.
"Do you believe in fate?" Greg asked, shifting until he was pressed into the curve of Nick's shoulder, inhaling deep and running a hand down and across Nick's hip.
"I guess, I never really thought about it. Why?" Nick replied, arm slipping over Greg's waist to pull him close.
"No reason, I just... I think I might," Greg answered, placing a kiss along Nick's collarbone.
"This is what you think about first thing in the morning?" Nick laughed, hands moving in small circles down Greg's back, trailing across marred skin and Greg couldn't help but smile.
"Just this morning," Greg replied, arching back into Nick's fingers and, for the first time in months, he didn't feel the slightest bit self-conscious of his scars.
They were home, Nick was home, this was home, and this was what he meant.