I Will Always Find You, My Love

This story is dedicated to my best friend and Guest Author, D’be-D’be, and was written in response to her request for DP fiction based on the CSI’s fifth season finale called ‘Grave Danger’. Numerous changes have been made, including the ending, so the story would fit into this genre we love to read and write about.

Thanks to Mel for providing me with the medical facts needed in order to create a more accurate description of the care involved in the treatment of fire-ant bites.

And finally, a special thank you to a wonderful new friend, Creativescribbler, who did such a marvelous job of beta’ing the TV episode part of this for me. I do, however, lay claim to all remaining errors and idiosyncrasies. It’s been a new experience for both of us.

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I Will Always Find You, My Love

Written By: LJ

Characters: Gil and Nick
Type: Slash/ discipline partnership


CSI Nick Stokes regained consciousness to discover he was face down in the back of a moving vehicle with his wrists securely tied behind him. Fragments of memories started to surface as his fog of confusion slowly lifted. He remembered driving down the strip toward his latest case after having lost the coin toss for tonight’s assignment to his best friend and fellow investigator, Warrick Brown. Another memory came to light of meeting with a police officer at the crime scene and beginning the task of searching the empty parking lot for evidence. The very last thing Nick recalled was being seized from behind and something pressing against his face.

Nick had been struggling unsuccessfully to free his bound wrists when the SUV slowed to a stop. He rolled over to kick at the back door but before he could do so, arms suddenly appeared from out of nowhere. Hands grabbed him and held him down while holding a cloth over his nose and mouth, sending the young investigator once again into the darkness of oblivion.

************

Nick’s former supervisor, Gil Grissom, and his current supervisor, Catherine Willows, arrived at the scene to be informed by an agitated Captain Jim Brass that Nick had been gone for about twenty-five minutes. Moving slowly amongst the evidence markers Nick had left behind, Grissom and Catherine slipped on rubber gloves and began gathering evidence of Nick’s disappearance. Grissom suddenly stooped to pick up an article of protective clothing left lying on the pavement. Instantly recognizing it as belonging to the man he loved, Gil whispered despairingly, “Where the hell are you, Nicky?”

Catherine walked over to see what Grissom was holding.

“It’s Nick’s!” Grissom uttered, desperately clutching the black vest tightly in both hands as if trying to connect to his beloved partner.

White fibers caught Catherine’s attention. Believing them to be an important clue, she managed to remove the small strands of lint from the vest without disturbing either the evidence or Grissom’s hold on it. Closely watching the emotions briefly passing over the older man’s face, Catherine wondered once again if Grissom and Nick Stokes’ relationship was more than work related. She had started to suspect such a possibility after observing a softening in Grissom’s usual detached and distant manner whenever Nick was nearby. Catherine had also noticed a special gleam would appear in Nick’s eyes almost every time the older man glanced his way. There was often a suggestion of silent messages being exchanged.

Grissom moved on to gather more evidence and his discovery of a coffee cup pre-bagged in a sealed and incorrectly coded evidence bag, together with a closer examination of the bloody entrails, led him to believe that the crime scene had been staged. The small mound of body parts had been the reason behind an anonymous phone call, touching off this evening’s events.

“We have to get everything connected with Nick’s disappearance gathered and back to the lab as quickly as possible!” Grissom solemnly commanded. He was working hard to keep his emotions in check and not let his fear of his lover’s safety override his objectivity. He knew he had to remain levelheaded while working quickly and efficiently to find Nick and insure his life-partner’s safe return home.

************

The next time Nick regained consciousness, his hands had been freed and he was in box barely big enough to lie down in. The young man couldn’t even lift his head. The plexiglass prison had been buried as evident by the dirt completely surrounding it. He had no idea of how long he had been unconscious. Feeling around the confined space, Nick found a gun, florescent sticks and a small tape recorder; items obviously left behind for his use. Clicking on the tape recorder, the frightened young man heard a tormenting, disembodied voice say, “Hi, CSI guy…wondering why you are here? Because you followed the evidence,” The message ended with, “You’re going to die here!”

Nick immediately panicked, kicking, pounding on and clawing at the sides of the box. His efforts availed him nothing. Realizing there was no escape Nick screamed out his terror and began to cry.

“Gil, I need you, man!” he sobbed as his agitated movements continued to be fueled by his panic and fear.

************

Unknown to Nick, the entire lab had been assigned the task of locating him. Assistant Director of the Crime Lab, Conrad Ecklie, had ordered the department work on this one case only.

Having analyzed the evidence on hand, the team met to discuss their findings. Their frustration mounted when they realized how little they had to go on. The so-called body parts left at the scene turned out to be dog entrails. The search made through the records to see if anyone was in town, who may be bearing a grudge against Nick, brought nothing to light. The coffee cup left at the scene bore no fingerprints or DNA nor did the evidence bag it was found in. Catherine reported the cotton fibers on Nick’s vest contained traces of ether. It was believed that the vehicle used to transport Nick had left the area shortly after eleven p.m. The team was no closer to finding a suspect than they had been at the start of the investigation several hours ago.

“Maybe it’s a random act,” Investigator Sara Sidle suggested.

“That’s possible, because whoever did this had no way of knowing Nick would be the one to respond to this case,” Catherine agreed.

“Yeah, it was just bad luck!” Warrick murmured despondently. He was feeling guilty for having won the toss of Nick’s lucky coin. The coin, now a painful reminder of his last moments with Nick, resided in his shirt pocket.

The meeting was interrupted by a disturbance in the hallway. Lab tech, David Hodges was wrestling a package away from a messenger. He was trying to get a hold of it before all the trace evidence could be destroyed. Once it was brought to their attention that the package concerned their missing investigator, Grissom assumed responsibility for examining it to determine what, if any, help it would be in locating Nick. The remaining members of the team waited anxiously in the corridor while Grissom meticulously processed the package.

Once again, no clue about the perpetrator of the crime was forthcoming. However, the envelope did yield a message and visual data enabling Nick’s colleagues to see him. The terse message read, ‘One million dollars in twelve hours or the CSI dies. Drop-off instructions to follow. And now, for your viewing pleasure….you can only WATCH.’

Grissom moved the cursor over and clicked the ‘watch’ button. They saw Nick and could only stare in horror as images of the petrified young man appeared on the computer screen and the reality of what had been done to Nick hit home. An eerie silence filled the room as the team briefly traded stunned looks of shock and outrage before turning their eyes back to the repugnant scene in front of them.

Grissom was the most affected by the images that stole his breath away and left him speechless. His heart was in his throat. His life-partner of less than a year, his one and only true love, his precious Brat was alone and terrified. Grissom couldn’t reach out to him, couldn’t touch him, couldn’t calm him or even reassure him that his ordeal would be over anytime soon. The CSI supervisor could not remember a time when he had ever felt so helpless.

Grissom and Nick Stokes had been attracted to each other from the beginning but had kept their feelings hidden. Things had changed a couple of years ago, when Nick made the first move and asked Grissom out on a date. The men had allowed their relationship to develop slowly over a period of time before reaching the decision to spend the rest of their lives together. It was believed by the people who knew them, that Nick had his own residence when in fact he and Grissom were now sharing a home and had been for several months. Both men had worked hard to maintain a fa├žade in order to protect their privacy, but both of them hated living a lie.

‘When this is over, my love, we’ll be coming out. There will be no more secrets or pretending to be someone we aren’t,’ Grissom silently promised. ‘I love you! I’m proud of you and our relationship and I damn well want the world to know!’

“I don’t think he knows we can see him,” Catherine murmured, bringing Grissom’s mind back to the matter at hand.

The ransom message stated Nick would be kept alive for twelve hours, but Grissom’s number crunching determined there was only enough air in the box for another hour and fifteen minutes. Catherine commented that Nick’s underground prison must have an additional air source along with the live lead that was enabling them to watch their teammate as he struggled with his terror and frenzy. They had no way of knowing exactly when Nick had been placed in the box and as of noon, he had already been missing for over twelve hours.

************

By late afternoon, Brass had reported failure in his efforts to trace the origin of the parcel. Ecklie had notified all lab members of the Mayor’s refusal to bow to the demands of the ransom note. Although it was expected, the decision was still a disappointing blow to the staff and a devastating one to Grissom.

While CSI personnel were taking turns keeping an eye on Nick, Grissom was being introduced to Nick’s mother and father. Grissom could not imagine a worse scenario in which to meet his partner’s parents for the first time. He dreaded having so little information to share with them. He also realized how little he knew about them and that they as yet were unaware of his true relationship with their son. Although Nick spoke only occasionally about his past, Grissom sensed the existence of a strong bond between the young man and his family.

“Judge Stokes, Your Honor. Mrs. Stokes. I’m sorry to be meeting you under these circumstances.” Grissom acknowledged. He stood by with Catherine as Nick’s parents watched the monitor in heartbreaking dismay. They had requested proof their son was still alive. Mrs. Stokes broke down and left the room while Judge Stokes was heard murmuring, “Oh Poncho, what have you gotten yourself into?”

Grissom empathized with their pain and despair; his own feelings of overwhelming helplessness and anguish reappearing. His exhaustion was making it increasingly difficult to deal with the rising flood of emotions and still stay alert enough to concentrate on the evidence as it slowly trickled in. He went to his office to seek privacy and time to marshal the strength needed to cope with whatever lay ahead.

With only four hours remaining until the deadline, and in light of Judge Stokes’ inability to raise the million-dollar ransom in time, Catherine made a decision. She paid her father, an infamous Casino owner, a visit and requested the money on Nick’s behalf. She was hesitant to ask for this favor, given Sam Braun’s past legal woes and his distrust of the department, but Catherine would do anything for Nick.

Grissom was working at his desk when Catherine marched in and plunked the satchel of bills down in front of him. He was dubious about using the money but at Catherine insistence, accepted there wasn’t a better plan at their disposal. Grissom stipulated only he would make the drop. The press would be told an unidentified donor had paid the ransom.

Adhering to the drop-off instructions, Grissom arrived at the old warehouse alone. He cautiously entered and made his way to the back room where he finally came face to face with Nick’s abductor.

“Pretty quiet out there! You came alone and brought the money,” the stranger said.

“Where’s Nick?” Grissom quietly asked, fighting to keep his anxiety down to a manageable level.

“How important is this CSI?”

“I don’t want to talk to you! Where’s my guy?”

“So he’s your guy, is he? You two close?” The man used these bits of information to make assumptions and torment the CSI supervisor. “How does it make you feel to see him in that coffin? Does your soul die every time you push that button? How do you feel, knowing there is nothing you can do to get him out…..helpless, useless, impotent? Well, welcome to my world!”

Grissom stoically refused to make a response to the taunts that would afford the other man any satisfaction in knowing how close he was to the truth.

‘Nicky is more than just my guy. He’s my partner, my lover, my life,” Grissom thought, then silently berated himself. ‘Don’t go there! You have to stay cool, calm and collected for Nicky’s sake.’

Grissom waited to see what this lunatic was going to do next and watched in horror as the man stood up to slowly open his jacket and reveal the explosives attached to his chest. He heeded the warning to move back and stared in stunned silence as the man blew himself up, taking with him the knowledge of Nick’s whereabouts.

************

It didn’t take long for the warehouse to be inundated with medical and law enforcement personnel. Paramedics checked Grissom over and found him unharmed. Uniformed officers were gathering up the money to be returned to its rightful owner while CSI agents were painstakingly combing the scene for clues.

Members of the team returned to the lab and began processing the meager amount of evidence obtained at the warehouse. Sara immediately started fingerprint analysis on the kidnapper’s thumb she had been fortunate enough to find. She hoped it would provide the big break they were all praying for, as a print would be their only possible means of identifying Nick’s kidnapper.

Warrick sat down in front of the monitor to take his turn at watching over his friend. He repeatedly clicked on the light that shut off every two minutes. He was unaware of the light’s connection to the fan that provided Nick with air to breathe or that the young man in the coffin was becoming increasingly agitated.

“What the hell are you doing, Nicky?” Warrick asked, leaning in to get a closer look at the gun in Nick’s hand. His heart was in his throat as he witnessed Nick turning the weapon on himself just as the monitor went black. “You son of a bitch!” he hollered, thinking Nick had just taken his own life. A faint glow illuminated the screen and Warrick’s relief was overwhelming when he saw his friend still alive. Nick had not committed suicide. He had merely shot out the light that had been causing him so much grief.

Warrick could no longer deal with the overpowering emotions threatening to engulf him. He went to the locker room, sat on the bench, lowered his head into his hands and sobbed. When he regained control of himself, the CSI headed back to join the newest member of their team, Greg Sanders, and assist the younger man in his search for more leads.

************

Grissom took his seat at the computer to begin his vigilance over his precious Brat. “Nicky’s keeping it together,” he murmured to himself. “What have you got there, Nicky?” he softly inquired when he saw a small tape recorder in his lover’s hand. Having the ability to read lips, Grisson quickly realized he was privy to his partner’s final good-byes and a statement of Nick’s last wishes.

“Love you, Mom and Dad. I’ll miss you. Thanks, guys! I know you did the best you could to find me. Gil…” Nick started to cry. “I love you so much. I’m proud to have been your partner. I only wish we had found each other sooner. There are so many things we haven’t had the time to do. I-I wanted you to know I’m sorry if I ever disappointed you….”

“No! You never did, Nick!” Grim whispered adamantly.

It was during these final couple of hours that circumstances turned in the CSI’s favor. The thumbprint was traced back to a Kelly Gordon, who was presently serving her third year of a five-year sentence for accessory to murder. Her father, Walter Gordon was believed to be Nick’s kidnapper. Brass and Sara’s interrogation yielded nothing more than Kelly Gordon’s animosity towards the system.

A temper tantrum on Warrick’s part, lead to the discovery of a plexiglas prototype box buried under the floor of the warehouse. With only ninety minutes of air left, the lab had to work feverishly to examine the box for any additional clues that might help in locating Nick.

Maintaining his surveillance, Grissom observed Nick’s convulsive movements and the young man’s cries of pain as the coffin shattered and allowed ants to invade the box and attack its’ occupant.

“My God!” Grissom muttered. “He’s being eaten alive!” He continued to mumble words of encouragement as Nick settled down and began to take self-preservation measures. “Good boy, Nicky! That’s it! Nice…. Stay still, love…. They won’t bite….as much.”

The CSI supervisor watched intently as the ants milled around, impatiently waiting for a close-up of one. “Yes!” Grissom jubilantly exclaimed when one of the insects walked across the lens of the camera.

The clues began to connect as pieces of the puzzle fell into place. The rarity of the fire ant and its’ preference of certain soils, convinced Grissom to narrow the search down to plant and tree nurseries. Warrick’s calculations of the kidnapper’s van mileage narrowed the search further to a twenty-three mile radius. Greg was able to track the webcam’s possible location reducing the radius even more. Sara remembered that Kelly Gordon worked in a nursery located within the perimeters of the search field.

The rescue team of CSI and police personnel had only ten minutes remaining until the deadline as they arrived at the designated area to begin looking for their missing investigator. Adrenaline levels were at an all time high for each member of the search team. At Grissom’s request, a caretaker at the nursery led them to a fire ant hill on the property. Methodically searching along the ground, Catherine first spotted the webcam’s transmitter and then tripped over the air-pipe leading to Nick’s underground prison.

“I found it!” she yelled.

Everyone ran to Catherine’s location. Warrick with the help of a couple of police officers, started digging frantically. They all knew time was running out. When the coffin was uncovered, Greg grabbed a fire extinguisher and as Warrick lifted the lid, he began spraying to kill the fire ants.

“Shorts bursts!” Grissom admonished. “Don’t suffocate him!”

Just as they were about to release Nick from his nightmare, Catherine’s cell phone rang. It was David Hodges calling to warn them about the explosives set to go off when Nick was removed from the box.

“Wait!” Catherine hollered. “Everyone get away from there!”

“I’m not leaving Nick!” Warrick shouted back, anxious to get his friend to safety.

“There are charges under the box!” Catherine’s information momentarily stunned them all.

“Do what she says! Everyone out of the hole!” Grissom demanded, quickly formulating a plan of action. “We need to replace Nick’s body weight at the same time we take him out of there or it will blow up! I have a solution! Get that backhoe over here!” Grissom commanded and knelt on the coffin to let Nick know what was about to happen.

“Nick, listen to me!” Grissom demanded. He was unable to break through the younger man’s panic. “Poncho!” he yelled. The name attracted Nick’s attention but it was his partner’s soothing voice that kept him focus. “Put your hand on mine, Nicky.” Grissom waited for his Brat to comply and sighed with relief when a shaky hand on the other side of the plexiglass reached out to press against his own. “Good boy! Now listen! There is an explosive device under the box. It’s set on pressure switches so we have to equalize your body weight. Nod your head if you understand me!”

Receiving an affirmative nod, Grissom continued, “I’m going to lift the lid but you have to stay lying down. Don’t move until I tell you to or you’ll blow us all up. We’re going to get you out but it will take a few minutes.”

“Don’t leave me,” Nick wailed.

“I’m not going to leave you but you have to stay still. Promise me, Nick!” This time the terrified young man’s nod was not sufficient. “Say it, Nick!” Grissom sternly ordered.

“I-I promise!” Nick sobbed out.

Grissom lifted the top off the coffin and fastened a hoist to his partner’s belt while Nick latched unto Gil’s arm and cried out his relief.

“Okay, Nicky. Close your eyes and hold your breath.” Gil softly instructed and gently caressed his hand down one of his Brat’s wet cheeks before standing up to assist in getting his partner out of the coffin.

On the count of three, the rescue workers yanked on the rope, hauling Nick from his would-be grave just as two hundred pounds of dirt was dropped in and the booby trap exploded.

Nick flew through the air and landed in Gil’s arms. The force of his flight knocked both men to the ground. One very traumatized, badly bitten young man and one older, rather shell-shocked man clung to each other.

“It’s over, baby! I’ve got you!” Gil murmured repeatedly into his Brat’s hair and rubbed gentle circles on the young man’s back. Nick’s sobs gradually diminished as he settled into the security found in his lover’s arms.

“We’ve got to get you to the hospital, Nicky.” Grissom’s statement caused renewed wails of objection.

“Don’t leave me,” Nick pleaded, tightening his grip on the other man’s clothing.

“I’m not going to leave you. I’m staying right beside you.” Grissom continued to offer reassurances as he helped lift his partner on to a stretcher and into the waiting ambulance.

“I want my guys back!” was the last thing Grissom said to Ecklie before climbing into the back of the vehicle with Nick.

The rest of the team stood together and watched as the ambulance drove away. Catherine wasn’t the only one left behind speculating on Grissom and Nick’s relationship.

************

Grissom sat next to the bed where his partner lay sleeping. He repeatedly glanced up from the book he was reading to reassure himself all was well. Or at least as well as could be expected in the circumstances.

He smiled to himself at the memory of the ambulance ride to the hospital. He had spent much of it trying to peel one clinging Brat off his jacket but his limpet refused to let go. It made the removal of Nick’s clothing rather difficult. After putting on gloves, Grissom removed his partner’s boots and stripped him down as quickly as possible to ensure no more ants were causing further bites. He dropped the badly soiled articles into the large plastic bag that had been provided.

During the undressing of his patient, the paramedic efficiently took Nick’s vital signs. Next he made Nick as comfortable as possible by administering a substantial dose of anti-histamine to reduce the itching and some Ibuprofen to lessen the pain. Fearing dehydration and the possibility of his patient going into shock, the paramedic inserted an intravenous line into Nick’s forearm.

This initial care met with several bursts of protest on Nick’s part due to him wanting no one by Gil touching him. He was experiencing mild breathing difficulties as he reacted to the venom invading his body, so Grissom was given the responsibility of holding an oxygen mask over his partner’s face.

Nick’s objections to submitting to physical attention from anyone else continued after arriving in the emergency room. He endured a second examination, was pronounced stable and given additional medications to settle his stomach and prevent a fever. However, his agitation increased when the nurses attempted to bathe him.

Grissom realized the cause of his Brat’s behavior and asked the medical personnel to leave them while he attended to their patient. An older nurse discreetly placed a basin of warm water, some anti-bacterial soap, towels and washcloths on the bedside table and quietly left the cubicle, granting the men their privacy.

Grissom gently washed every inch of Nick’s body, taking infinite care to avoid adding to the pain the young man was experiencing. He never mentioned the stench of sweat and urine that permeated the young man’s body, wanting to save his lover any further embarrassment. Gil murmured terms of endearment while allowing his soothing ministrations to calm and reassure this man whom he loved with all his heart.

Once he was clean, Nick agreed to be seen by a male intern. Dr. McKean patiently explained the benefits of applying cool compresses before placing them over most of Nick’s body and holding them there for a good fifteen minutes. Finally, cortisone spray was applied to the welts in order to keep the forming blisters to a minimum and to aid in the reduction of the swelling and redness.

Nick had then been moved to a private room to sleep off the effects of the medication he had been given. As promised, Gil hadn’t left his partner’s side.

Grissom’s thoughts were interrupted as someone quietly entered the room. He looked up as Nick’s parents approached the side of their son’s bed. The emotional fatigue they were suffering was apparent behind the happiness he could see on their faces.

“How’s he doing?” Judge Stokes asked, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb his son.

“Very good actually,” Grissom answered. “It will take a few hours for the bites to stop burning and then several more days for them to disappear altogether. I’m afraid it may take Nick much longer to overcome the psychological repercussions though,” he quietly added and watched as Mrs. Stokes lightly traced Nick’s cheek with her fingertips before bending over to kiss him. The love these people had for their son was obvious as they stood by his bedside for several minutes and tenderly watched over the child, they had come so close to losing.

Nick stirred and within minutes was writhing around and crying in his sleep. His father moved closer to comfort him. “Sssh, Poncho! You’re all right, son.” Nick’s frenzied behavior continued to escalate and neither Judge nor Mrs. Stokes had any success in pacifying him.

Grissom got up from his chair to sit on the side of Nick’s bed and wrap his arms around his frightened lover. “It’s okay, Nicky. I’ve got you. I’m right here, baby!” Grissom murmured as he pulled the younger man against his chest, slipped his hand into the opening at the back of Nick’s hospital gown and drew circles on his partner’s warm flesh. Nick gradually returned to his pre-nightmare state of calm as a litany of soothing words flowed over him.

Judge Stokes witnessed the dramatic change his son underwent at the gentle touch of a man who was apparently much more than a superior. Being an excellent evaluator of people, he correctly assumed these two men had more than a work-related relationship. He glanced at his wife and they exchanged nods of understanding and acceptance. Their son was gay and he was very much in love with, and loved by, Dr. Gil Grissom. They had suspected Nick’s sexual orientation for a number of years now and were patiently waiting for him to come out to them. Nick’s parents felt it was up to their son to make the first move, but wondered why it was taking him so long to do so.

Grissom looked up to see two pair of eyes observing his interaction with Nick. He didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised when the Stokes gently smiled and nodded their heads.

“Please tell Nick we’ll try to get in to see him when he gets home later today.” Judge Stokes requested as he patted Grissom’s shoulder before heading towards the door. “We’ll call first but in the meantime if you have to get in touch with us, you know which hotel we’re staying at.”

“Thank you!” was Mrs. Stokes heartfelt whisper as she followed her husband out of the room.

“Well, Nicky,” Grissom grinned crookedly. “Looks like we’re out….to your parents anyway.” He resumed rocking his lover while periodically kissing his hair. He felt the man in his arms stir and gazed down into Nick’s sleepy blue eyes.

“You’re still here! You didn’t leave me!” Nick’s voice was hoarse and slurred.

“I’ll never leave you, baby.”

“It took so long. I-I was afraid you guys wouldn’t get to me in time…. wouldn’t know where I was. I-I never felt more alone.” Tears filled the young man’s eyes as segments of his nightmare resurfaced.

“You weren’t alone, Nicky. The entire lab took turns sitting at the monitor and watching over you. We worked as a team putting the pieces together.”

“I almost ended it, Gil. I wanted you so bad but…..” Nick’s voice cracked and prevented him from saying more.

“Ssssh, baby. It’s okay.” Gil gently kissed his lover and soothed him back to sleep. “You should have known I’ll always find you, my love.”

************

“Owwww! What did ya do that for?” Nick asked belligerently. He sat on the end of the sofa, rubbing at the stinging handprint on his wrist and glaring at the man sitting next to him. It was their second day home from the hospital and Nick was already bored.

“You’ve been told not to scratch. Those pustules are going to get infected if you keep it up,” Gil reminded him for the umpteenth time. He worked hard to keep a straight face in light of his Brat’s adorable scowl of indignation. “I’m going to spank you if I catch you doing it again.”

“But I can’t help it! They’re itchy!” Nick complained, trying unsuccessfully not to whine.

“Then let’s get some more calamine lotion on them,” Gil suggested, getting up to fetch the bottle and cotton swabs from the bathroom. “Another few days and most the lesions will have completely disappeared.” Grissom commented encouragingly as he walked back into the room.

“I want to go back to work?” Nick mumbled as he relaxed and let the older man tend to him.

“That’s up to your psychologist. What did Dr. Phelan say when you saw him earlier today?”

“I don’t know,” Nick shrugged his shoulders and looked down at his hands.

“Nicky……what did he say?”

“Maybe next week,” was the muttered answer. “But it’s been almost three days since it happened, Gil. I’ve been home from the hospital for two and I don’t want to just hang around the house when you go to the lab. Besides, I have to face the other teams sooner or later, don’t I?”

Grissom knew the young man was anxious about returning to the lab now that their partnership was common knowledge. Grissom had informed Catherine, Warrick, Sara, Greg and Jim Brass of his and Nick’s partnership when they had dropped by the hospital to check in on Nick. Even though their friends had accepted the relationship, Nick had concerns regarding the CSI members outside their own team.

“It’s going to be fine, Nicky. Everyone is looking forward to your return, love. Just be patient a little while longer.” Grissom screwed the cap back on the bottle. “What would you like for supper?”

“I’m not really hungry, Gil. I ate a lot of that Chinese food the guys brought over earlier, ” Nick explained while absently scratching his leg. “Owww, stop doing that!” Nick wailed when he found himself face down over Grissom’s knees.

“No! You stop it!” Grissom scolded and after landing half a dozen swats on the seat of Nick’s flannel sleeping pants, turned his partner to settle him halfway on his lap with his long legs resting on the sofa. “Consider this your last warning, little boy!”

“Humph!” Nick breathed out as he reached around to rub his stinging backside. “Little boy…yeah, right! I’m as big as you are,” he grumbled. Nick secretly found comfort in Gil’s use of the terminology to let him know when he was dangerously close to crossing the line, even though he didn’t really understand why. He merely accepted it and never bothered discussing it with the older man.

Grissom picked up on his Brat’s diminishing attention span and put it down to Nick being overtired. He also found himself having to struggle at maintaining enough patience to deal with his partner’s tempestuous mood swings. It had been a very tiring forty-two hours since the young man’s rescue. Two long days filled with unexpected visitors and two equally long nights of having their sleep frequently interrupted by nightmares.

Memories resurfaced causing Grissom to remember the several hours spent in an observation unit at the hospital and the unplanned activities that followed. Nick had finally been released early yesterday morning. They had arrived home with hopes of going straight to bed and catching up on some badly needed sleep. Unfortunately, a number of events interfered with those plans being carried out.

Grissom had barely settled his partner in bed when Jim Brass arrived. He only wanted a moment of Nick’s time to ask one or two questions before closing the case. He ended up staying much longer than he had planned, unintentionally leaving behind two emotionally and physically exhausted friends.

Nick parents had dropped by for a couple of hours in the afternoon. They were returning home and wanted to see how their son was doing. Once Nick realized his parents were comfortable with his homosexuality, he had talk freely about this aspect of his life and his relationship with Grissom. Satisfied their son was recovering well and in good hands, Judge and Mrs. Stokes got up to leave.

“Please come out to the ranch for a few days before year end,” Judge Stokes had requested.

“We look forward to having both of you home over the holidays.” Mrs. Stokes had shown her delight when the invitation had been accepted.

His parents’ visit had left Nick feeling upbeat and relieved. The only explanation he could offer as to why he hadn’t come out to them sooner was not wanting to be a disappointment to them. He now knew his fears had been unfounded. Unable to settle down and sleep, Nick had spent the rest of the day aimlessly wandering around the house looking for something to do but coming up empty. He was fed-up and had gotten increasingly worked up as the day had all too slowly come to an end. This unfortunately added to the younger man’s churning emotions, and Grissom had a difficult time getting his Brat to bed for the night.

Both men had endured a second restless night. Nick’s slumber had often been disturbed by frightening dreams of arms reaching out of the shadows for him, disembodied voices tormenting him, and dark, lonely confinement. Each time Nick thrashed about, Gil had awaken to hold his lover and whisper words of comfort until sleep reclaimed them once again.

It had taken Gil over an hour this morning, to coerce his cranky partner into eating breakfast and getting ready for his doctor’s appointment. Nick had been as uncooperative as he dared. He had not wanted to see the psychiatrist to begin with and had done everything possible to prolong the inevitable. As it was, they had arrived at the medical center ten minutes late with Grissom’s temper hanging by a thread.

The two men had just walked in the front door of their home, when Catherine, Warrick, Sara and Greg put in an appearance. They had some good news to share, along with an abundance of take-out Chinese food.

“Guess what Ecklie’s managed to pull off!” Warrick had exclaimed, accepting a cold beer from Grissom. “He’s put the team back as one unit, effective immediately. All six of us will be working together again.”

“That certainly was fast!” Grissome stated as he helped himself to an egg roll and watched as Catherine opened several containers of hot food. He had been more than pleased to have had his request honored so expeditiously. After observing the reactions of his guests, he had come to the conclusion that Warrick and Sara were excited about the change, but Greg seemed uncertain, probably about his place in the new scheme of things, and Catherine appeared undecided as to how she should be taking it. He had also noticed Nick hadn’t made any comment at all but seemed beyond pleased if the ear-to-ear grin spreading across his face was any indicator.

Grissom mentally shook himself to clear his head and concentrate on the here and now.

“Are you sure there is no way I can persuade you to have something to eat, love?” At the shake of Nick’s head, Gil gently prodded, “A drink, maybe. How about a mug of hot chocolate?”

“Okay,” Nick accepted reluctantly. “Don’t forget the little marshmallows!” He reminded his partner as the other man left the room.

“I know just how you like it, babe!” Gil called out from the kitchen. “I think we’re soon going to call it a night, Nick,” he firmly suggested, returning and handing Nick a mug before taking a seat beside him to enjoy his own drink.

“I’m not tired!” the younger man petulantly informed him.

“Yes, you are! In fact we’re both burned out!”

“But it’s not even seven o’clock!” Nick retorted.

“Well, I’m pleased to see your ability to tell time is still functioning well,” Gil hid his smile behind his mug, then decided a change of subject might be in order. “Aside from the topic of your returning to work, how did the rest of your meeting with Dr. Phelan go this morning?”

“Okay, I guess,” Nick murmured with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Tell me about it.”

“I talked to him about going to visit Kelly Gordon in prison.” Nick quietly answered, swallowing a mouthful of the soothing treat that had been lovingly prepared for him.

“And what did he say?” Grissom questioned, letting his interest be known.

“Not too!” Nick responded dejectedly. “But I want to.”

“Why, Nicky?”

“I’d like to meet her. She must be someone pretty special for her father to have gone to so much trouble to avenge her. And then to have deliberately killed himself……man….” Nick slowly shook his head as his voice trailed off.

“Why doesn’t Dr. Phelan want you to?”

“He thinks I’m setting myself up for disappointment. He believes a visit to see her would accomplish nothing because to him she appears to be a cold-hearted woman who couldn’t care less about me or about what happened. He says it may even prove detrimental to my psychological recovery. But he’s wrong, Gil!” Nick stated adamantly, looking over to see his partner’s reaction.

“I realize you’re not going to like this, but I support the doctor’s decision, Nick. Whether you think so or not, we both have your best interests at heart. I want to make myself perfectly clear. You are not to have any contact with Ms. Gordon. Do you understand me, Nick?”

“Yeah, I understand. And you’re right, I don’t like it!”

“Who makes the final decisions around here, Nick?”

“You do?”

“And why is that?” Gil softly asked, wanting the younger man to think about their relationship and the reasons behind their chosen lifestyle. He kept an eye on his Brat while they slowly sipped at their warm drinks. Both men’s thoughts drifted back a couple of months in time when their relationship was still fairly new and to the events leading up to them choosing to incorporate discipline in their partnership.

************

“What makes you think I’ve seen your wallet?” Grissom inquired. A thought suddenly hit him. “Have you lost it again?”

“Nooo. I just can’t remember where I had it last.”

“Nick! You’ve misplaced it three times in as many months, which happens to be the exact length of time we’ve been living together!” Grissom was astounded by the young man’s lack of organization in his personal life. Nick was forever putting things down and not remembering where he’d left them. “I don’t understand it. You are so meticulous at work. Every scrap of evidence you find is painstakingly sorted, analyzed, cataloged and stored away. Yet you are forever mislaying or damaging your own belongings.”

“I know that!” Nick yelled, his frustration at an all time high. ‘Man, you have no idea, but this kind of carelessness is a bad habit I’ve had for years,’ he thought, but kept this information to himself. “But I can’t seem to get a handle on the problem,” he complained, roughly threading fingers through his hair.

“Well, you’ve got to figure something out before it drives us both crazy!” Gil exasperatedly stated as he searched under the cushions on the sofa. He was losing track of the number of items that had gone missing since moving into their bungalow. He was also beginning to pick up on his partner’s other little irritating behavior patterns. Grissom put it all down to them having only been living together for three months and not yet finding their rhythm.

“Would you help me?” Nick had always admired his partner’s calm, sensible approach to things and hoped some of the other man’s laid-back attitude and methodical habits would rub off on him. So far, that had not happened.

“I’m looking, although I don’t know why I should be. I’m not responsible for your things.”

“No. I mean help me get organized and get my shit together.”

“How would I go about doing that, Nick?” Gil had a feeling his partner had already been giving this a lot of thought and was curious to see what the younger man had come up with.

“Maybe if we drew up a list of things I have trouble with and…ah…made rules…you know…with consequences……..” Nick wasn’t sure if he should continue.

“Rules and consequences?” Gil was giving it serious consideration.

“Yeah!” Nick took a deep breath, summoned up his courage and forged ahead. “I been reading about a certain type of relationship on the Internet for a while now. I thought some of it might work for me…..that is, if you thought so, too. It’s called DP or Discipline Partnerships. Come on, I’ll show you.”

Gil followed Nick over to the desk in the corner of the living room and waited with him for the computer to come on. He watched as Nick brought up a site that seemed to deal in depth with this particular subject. ‘So this is what has been distracting him,” he thought and made a mental note to keep an eye on just how much of his free time Nick actually spent on the computer.

“So what do you think?” Nick asked half an hour later.

“It’s interesting and definitely has possibilities.” Gil solemnly commented, reading the printout in his hand.

“Of course we wouldn’t do all of it. I mean, we could forget about the writing lines, corner time and spanking.” Nick looked closely at the older man to see how he was taking this. “Will you be willing to give it a try?”

“No!” Gil firmly responded.

“No? Why not?” was the belligerent come back.

“First, let’s see if I understand you correctly. You want my assistance and you think the best method for dealing with some of your …hmmm, not so strong points, is to incorporate discipline in our relationship, but only if you get to pick and choose what needs changing and how. Have I got this right so far?”

“Pretty much.” Nick answered, nodding his head.

“No deal, Nick. I love you and want to help but it will have to be all or nothing. In other words, we set things up together. Then I have the last say in regards to what you can or can’t do; when, what and how the rules are broken; what discipline, if any, is needed to correct the problem or at least discourage it from being repeated. Once we decide to do this, it’s 24/7 with me in charge.”

Nick stared at his lover as he took the time to think things over. Was he willing to give up that much control of his life? Could he depend on this man to keep him safe and happy within the boundaries they would jointly agree upon? ‘Yes!’ was the resounding answer vibrating through Nick’s head. He instinctively knew Gil would never intentionally harm him, would always have his best interest at heart, and when reasonably possible, would give his needs number one priority. More than anything else, Nick wanted to be the most important person in Gil’s life.

************

“I needed and wanted to have someone I could rely on to help me. Someone I knew would keep me from getting myself in over my head,” Nick spoke introspectively as his soft voice refocused the two men on the present topic of discussion. “I asked you to be that person because I trusted you to do the best you could for me.”

“Do you still feel that way, Nicky?” Gil quietly asked, putting aside his empty mug and pulling his partner close enough to cuddle with him.

Nick thought about the changes over the past couple of months and how he was slowly getting his act together. He no longer felt like his personal life was unraveling. He had someone to depend on for support and encouragement. He found security in the knowledge that the love he had for Gil was returned in equal measure.

“Yeah, I do. It’s just hard sometimes, you know.” Nick muttered and glanced sheepishly at the man beside him. He clearly saw the love his partner had for him and knew he had been understood. “I really would have like to meet her though.”

“I know!” Gil smiled and gently kissed the pout in his Brat’s lips. He got to his feet, gathered up the empty mugs and headed towards the kitchen. “You are going to have another dose of anti-histamine and then we both hitting the sack.”

“But, Gil…” Nick’s voice trailed off as he caught the look on Gil’s face. He pulled his hand out from under his T-shirt where he had been scratching his stomach and grimaced at the blood he saw on his fingers.

“What’s that, Nick?”

“Ah, I think I took the top of one of the bites. But it was an accident. I-I…” Nick felt himself being hauled off the couch before he had a chance to get out an excuse….not that it would have helped. ”Oww!” he yelped as a hard hand landed on his backside and propelled him on his way to the master bedroom.

“Get undressed and into the tub!” Gil ordered as he hustled Nick into the bathroom. He turned on the taps, made sure the water was only lukewarm, sprinkled in some baking soda, and waited for his lover to strip and step into the bathtub.

“Aaah,” Nick groaned contentedly as he slowly sank into the water. He peered through partially closed eyes to watch Gil pick up the scattered clothing and drop the garments into the laundry hamper.

Nick’s peaceful repose was rudely interrupted twenty minutes later, by Gil pulling the plug and demanding he get out of the tub. He begrudgingly did as he was told, not wanting to get his partner anymore riled up than he already was. The soothing bath along with a couple of anti-histamines had greatly reduced the itchiness he had been experiencing earlier. Wrapping the towel around his waist, Nick walked into the bedroom.

“Come to me, please,” Gil patiently requested from where he was sitting on the foot of their bed. He held out his arm and gently took Nick’s hand in his. “What did I tell you I’d do the next time you scratched at those pustules, Nicky?” His voice was kind and completely devoid of anger or accusation.

“You said you’d spank me,” the younger man murmured, nervously shuffling from one foot to the other. Nick stood there gazing into Gil’s loving eyes, as his own filled with moisture. He didn’t have to submit; he had done so when he had agreed to a discipline partnership. It was not necessary to re-submit each and every time there was an infraction of the rules. He just let Gil take over.

“Sssh, it’s okay, baby,” Gil soothed a short time later, pulling his naked Brat down on his chest to cuddle under the blankets. “No more scratching, right?” Feeling Nick’s nod on his shoulder, he tenderly kissed the young man’s head. “How about going to sleep now.”

“I don’t want to,” Nick sniffled and reached around to gingerly massage his sore bottom. He was fully aware that it could have been much worse. “The phantoms will come and take me away again.”

“I’ll be here to hold you if they do,” Gil promised and tightened his arms securely around his lover. “I will always find you, my love.”

************

Two weeks later, things were almost back to normal. Nick had returned to work. The fire-ant bites had fully healed and their after-effects had completely disappeared. Nick was no longer plagued by nightmares, and although he had been able to put most of the traumatic event behind him, he still felt something had been left unfinished. The desire to visit Kelly Gordon grew stronger until one afternoon, unable to resist the temptation any longer; Nick headed for the penitentiary.

“You the one?” Kelly Gordon asked remorselessly and shrugged her shoulders in response to his affirmative nod. “What do you want me to say?” She didn’t want to have anything to do with him and Nick felt the woman only spoke to him under duress.

Nick was looking for closure. He wanted her to know that he forgave her father and didn’t hold a grudge against anyone for what had been done to him. She didn’t appear to care as he emotionally pleaded with her to leave it all behind when the time came for her to be released.

“Don’t take it with you,” Nick begged, close to tears.

Kelly Gordon was unmoved! She looked with disdain at the young man before her, stood up and silently left the room. Nick would never know if he had made an impression or not. He didn’t know what upset him more. The fact that the visit proved to be so pointless or that he had not only disregarded his doctor’s advice, he had also deliberately disobeyed his partner.

‘No one needs to know about this.’ Nick tried to convince himself as he drove through the prison gates. ‘What Gil does know can’t hurt either of us.’

************

“Nicky, wake up! It’s okay! I’ve got you!” Gil soothingly murmured later that night as he held his young lover until the tremors had all but stopped and Nick’s breathing had returned to normal. “What was that all about, babe?”

“It-it was another nightmare. I-I just wanted to talk but she-she wouldn’t let me!” Nick stammered, clinging to the older man.

“Oh, Nicky. I had hoped those nightmares where a thing of the past,” Gil whispered while gently rubbing his partner’s back. “She? Who is ‘she’, Nick?”

“Kelly Gordon,” was the murmured reply as Nick burrowed his head into Gil’s shoulder.

“Why would you be dreaming about her? You’ve never even met the woman.” The silence that followed raised Grissom’s suspicions. He reached over and flicked on the light next to the bed. “I’m correct in assuming you have never met Kelly Gordon, aren’t I, Nick?”

Nick didn’t speak but Gil’s knowledge of his Brat’s body language enabled him to read the young man’s increasing anxiety. “I asked you a question, Nick, and I expect an answer,” Gil admonished.

“Not ‘sactly,” Nick mumbled his response so quietly, Gil almost missed it.

“There is no ‘not exactly’ about it. Either you have met Kelly Gordon or you haven’t. Which is it?”

“I’ve met her.” Nick resigned himself to telling Gil the entire story in order to get the inevitable over and done with. He had never been an accomplished liar and keeping the truth from his partner bothered him, apparently enough to cause a nightmare.

“All right! Do you want to discuss this now or would you rather wait until the morning?” Gil inquired, sitting up and pushing back against the headboard. It was the younger man’s call.

“I want to get it out of the way, Gil.” Nick’s eyes filled as he pulled himself into a kneeling position on the bed and faced his Top. “I-I went to the penitentiary.” He looked in his partner’s eyes and saw a brief flash of disappointment before loving exasperation took its place.

“When?” the softly spoken word was without censure.

“Yesterday afternoon,” Nick sighed, glancing down to watch his fingers twisting the satin edging of the blanket. “Dr. Phelan was right. She didn’t care. I think she may have even been disappointed that her father hadn’t succeeded in killing me.” He gazed into his lover’s gentle blue eyes as his heart twisted in remorse and tears slowly cursed down his cheeks. “I’m so sorry for disobeying you.”

“Nick, you’ve been through a harrowing experience and you need more time to heal psychologically. This is why your doctor was against such a course of action and why I made it perfectly clear you were not to go through with it. Was there something about my dictate that you found confusing?”

“No, I understood it,” Nick shamefully confessed. He sadly shook his head as he acknowledged, “I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I wanted so badly to see her and find out why….only I didn’t….” Nick’s words slowly died off leaving behind an uneasy silence.

“I can only image how upsetting her rejection must have been for you, little one.” Gil had long ago accepted his Brat’s penchant for wearing his heart on his sleeve. He realized Nick would consider Kelly Gordon’s dismissal as some unknown failure on his part. “Nicky, you had several options available to you for dealing with this overpowering urge to do something potentially harmful to your emotional well-being. What could you have done differently, babe?”

Although he was not permitted to express himself by throwing things or having a temper tantrum, Nick knew when distressing situations arose, not only he was allowed, he was actually encouraged to vent as much as he wanted to; be it with words or tears. He also knew he was forbidden, intentionally or unintentionally, to harm himself or others.

“I could have vented until it was out of my system or I could have continued to talk it over with you. I should have asked you for help.”

“Why didn’t you, love?”

“Because,” Nick took a deep breath and finally admitted, “I just had to see her and I knew you’d stop me if I told you. I was aware of making the wrong choice at the time. I really am sorry, Gil.”

“And why do you think you are about to become even more sorry?” Gil asked as he held out his hand.

“Cause you’re going to take over now,” Nick whispered and place his hand in his partner’s outstretched palm.

Within seconds, Nick was facedown over Gil’s lap and his Top’s strong right arm was clearly demonstrating the consequences of knowingly making bad choices. Less that a dozen smacks had landed on Nick’s bare bottom before the young man started sobbing. He cried as much from the guilt as from the painful swats. He recognized the steady, methodical rhythm as an indication of how severe this spanking was going to be. Just when Nick felt his vulnerable sit-spot could not take another direct hit, Gil’s hard hand stopped falling. Nick lay there for a few minutes, clutching the bedclothes tightly in both hands and gasping for air. The hand that had set his backside on fire was now rubbing soothing circles on his back, enabling him to hitch and whimper his way to the relaxed state he sought after each of these episodes.

Gil waited until his Brat had calmed and was settling into a pre-sleep realm before gently badgering him to nestle beside him.

“Why did I spank you, Nicky?” Gil gently asked into the soft hair of his partner’s head resting on his shoulder.

“Because I made a bad choice and deliberately disobeyed you and then tried to keep it hidden, which is the same as lying.” Nick started to softly cry again. “I’m so sorry, Gil.

“Sssh, babe. It’s over and you’re all right.” Gil murmured reassuringly. “Let’s get some sleep. Tomorrow’s a new day.”

“We’re okay, right?” Nick sighed contentedly.

“Yes, we’re fine, my love!” Gil stated and tenderly kissed his lover.

The End