"I want my guys back."
Conrad Ecklie looked at the man standing opposite him in his office. Grissom looked haggard, like he hadn't slept a lot, with circles under his eyes. And he looked a lot older than his years. There seemed to be a lot more gray in his hair and beard, though that might be an illusion, and it didn't need a paranormal to read the exhaustion in the man's aura. Anyone could see it.
But Conrad Ecklie was a shaman and he could see auras. Right now, Grissom's was frazzled and splotchy with gray areas that spoke of all that exhaustion and more.
"Gil, sit down."
There was a moment of hesitation, then Grissom shook his head.
"I want a decision, Conrad," he only said.
Ecklie sighed. He and Gil Grissom had known each other for a very long time now, had gone through some very ugly fights at work, had finally managed to get past the animosity, and due to a myriad of circumstances, some more fantastic than others, their roles had changed. Gone was the animosity. In its place was friendship, trust and Ecklie's need as a shaman and former ally to protect Grissom and Nick.
That need of protection had led him to split up the team, with Grissom's consent. It had been a rocky road since then, especially with Catherine's role as a supervisor, working with only two people. She had asked for more manpower, but the city had denied more employees.
Now, after the horrifying ordeal Nick had gone through, after the hours worrying and feeling such terror, Grissom wanted his team back as one. Not two shifts; just one.
"Gil, you know why I split up the team."
"I don't care about the past," was the hard answer. "I want them back. All of them."
"You couldn't have protected Nick any more with him on your team than on Catherine's."
The blue eyes flashed.
"You weren't there. Warrick was. It could just as well have been him," Ecklie reminded him.
"I know that. I know all you want to say, but my decision stands: I want my team back together."
"What about the consequences?"
"I don't care."
Again, the blue eyes flashed. "Ecklie…"
"Gil, please, think. You and Nick are a couple. What happened is the worst that can happen to either of you. You were helpless, Nick was in mortal danger. Believe me, I understand. I feel with you, but even if Catherine agrees to change everything back to the old status quo…"
"She already has."
Ecklie raised his eyebrows. "Has she now?" He should have known Grissom wouldn't come here without all bases covered.
"It's up to you, Conrad, and I'm not begging. Give me back Warrick, Catherine and Nick."
Or else? Ecklie thought. Or else what? You'll quit?
Brown eyes met blue ones and he noticed the flare in the aura, noticed the phoenix sitting on Grissom's shoulder, her feathers burning brightly. Spirit animals were always a dead giveaway of a person's emotional state-of-mind.
"You're being irrational."
"I'm as rational as they come," was the sharp reply. "I know that what happened couldn't have been prevented with me as Nick's supervisor. I know Nick would still have been kidnapped." Grissom's voice wavered imperceptibly at the last words.
"Still you want him back."
"I need him back."
"I don't care about the danger. Many know about me and Nick, and if someone thinks he has to report it…"
"He will come to me, but I can't shield you indefinitely, Gil."
"Give me back my team, Conrad."
Ecklie briefly closed his eyes and sighed. "You asked Catherine already. What about Nick?"
That startled Grissom a little.
"Does he know about your need? Did you tell him?" Ecklie studied the exhausted lines of Grissom's face and got his answer. "You haven't. Do you think he'll take kindly to being babied like this, Gil?"
"Talk to him first. If you still want them back, I'll make it happen."
The reunion was announced two weeks after Nick came back to work from his long recovery. Ecklie didn't know what Grissom and Stokes had talked about, to what lengths Gil had explained his need to have Nick with him again, on the same team, and he wouldn't pry. He hadn't pried throughout the now regular meditation sessions with the Mimic. It was their personal life.
Still he watched. He was a shaman and it had become an instinct already. Watch those under his guard.
* * *
The last few months had been hard on Nick. Recovery from the abduction and subsequent torture had been slow and painful, the ant bites healing with the treatment he got. Physically he had healed. Psychologically there were wounds that were only now scabbing, some scarring, and some that refused to mend. Grissom had been a big help. Even if he had been unable to really do anything, letting Nick do what Stokes felt good with was something helpful as well.
Nick needed space one day, closeness another. He needed the time to deal with his sudden onset of claustrophobia, he needed time to deal with his emotions and reactions. Insects creeped him out, and his lover was an entomologist. It sometimes scared him to be alone in their shared home, looking at Gil’s collection of dead creepy crawlers. Another time it didn’t bother him at all, only to freak when it came to a roach crawling along his arm.
His sessions with Ecklie hadn’t increased in numbers because of it, but they kept a steady weekly meeting. The shaman was helping him obtain an inner balance Nick had never thought he had. He had yet to find a solution to the claustrophobia, but Nick was sure that he would win that battle as well.
That belief was shattered after a very grueling case that had him underground for hours in a windowless room. He had managed to keep his outer calm, but inside he had been screaming a lot. Nick had been so relieved to be outside again, with open space, no walls closing in, he had started to tremble.
“Nick?“ a quiet voice murmured and he started.
Grissom was at his side, the blue eyes worried, compassionate, quizzical.
“I’m fine,“ he breathed, inhaling deeply.
He was fine. Now. In the open.
That had to change. He couldn’t do his job like that!
Grissom was silent, just watching him, those observant eyes studying his every twitch, his every breath. His lover knew exactly what was going on; they had talked about it before. It wasn't like Grissom hadn't been there throughout the nightmares, the horrors he had gone through for the first few weeks, thinking he was about to suffocate. He knew; only too well, only too deeply, and he was worried.
"I'm fine," Nick insisted, unwilling to discuss any of this out here, among the others. He was still successful in hiding his fears from the rest of the team.
Grissom let it slide, just nodded, and they continued their work. Nick
lost himself in the routine of tagging the evidence, making notes, stowing
the bags. It took another two hours for them to finish and by the time
Warrick and Catherine had surfaced from the underground tomb, the sun was
already high up in the sky. Another shift that had ended in overtime.
The drive back was spent speculating about the evidence and Nick was glad that the silence was filled with their chatter. Warrick was driving, he was on the passenger seat. Grissom was with Catherine in her car and would probably spend another two or three hours at the office. Nick planned to log out as soon as possible. He needed to talk to Ecklie and since it was the shaman's day off today, he would probably best call him at home.
There was a wave of indecision to bother their friend on his only day off in months, but the paranormal in Nick was glad to turn to another kindred spirit who had helped already and wasn't as close to him as Gil was.
Nick took out his cell and hit the speed dial button for Ecklie's home.
* * *
It was a surreal and beautiful landscape. Red stone in the middle of a gray, white and brown desert, here and there interrupted by the green of trees and bushes. In the distance were the mountains, a good three hours away by car.
Throughout the weekend this place was usually crowded with people, tourists and locals looking for a bit of relaxation, fun, quiet, nature, whatever. Weekdays outside holiday season were comparatively calm, almost deserted. They had had to come throughout a weekend, though, but their hike had taken them off the beaten path and into the backcountry. Nick had a hiker's permit for such routes and they had parked the car at one of the very remote spots, locked it, and marched off toward the canyons and cave lands.
Ecklie, outside the office, was a very different man than the Assistant Director he was on the job. Nick had known the other side of the former dayshift supervisor for a while now and he still got his surprises. Of course, they had been in the desert for meditation purposes already, but never to hike or spend the night. Now Ecklie was dressed in washed out jeans, a t-shirt for the warm day, hiking boots, and was carrying the backpack and walking sticks they needed for their trail.
"Ready?" he asked lightly.
Nick nodded and shouldered his pack, rearranging it so it sat snugly and still comfortably. "Let's go."
And then they were off, at a good pace, heading for the mountains. Nick was still a bit apprehensive, but he knew he had to face this problem, and he had to face it away from the others. So far the shaman had managed a small miracle where his nightmares had been concerned, but the suffocating feelings he experienced in windowless room were severely inhibiting him by now.
Nick trusted his friend. He knew Ecklie was good as a shaman, though not at the level Caine had been and it would be a while till he was, but that didn't change the faith Stokes had.
He just hoped that this would be another step on the road to recovery.
* * *
It was one of those nice houses in the suburbs of Las Vegas. Not exactly cheap, but also not expensive enough to warrant a double income and no kids to spend more money on. The lawn in front was groomed, the bushes pruned, the single tree looking healthy. The front door was massive wood with a brass knocker that looked like it had been made for a fantasy castle. It was a grinning gargoyle, holding the knocker in his mouth. A clean walkway led up to the door, which now stood wide open, and from inside there was movement.
Warrick Brown, field kit in hand, walked past the yellow crime scene tape, nodded at the officer posted at the open door, and went inside.
The house was airy, kept in light colors, the floor parquet with colorful rugs covering it. There were pictures on the wall of the entrance hall, a family smiling at him as he passed by. Someone had made a bouquet of dried flowers and it hung upside down between two picture frames that had the family camping. The flowers were probably from that trip.
Leaving the entrance hall, Warrick found himself in the living room, which was currently anything but nice and airy and clean. There were people moving about, a flashlight from a camera going off at intervals.
"Warrick," Detective Vega greeted him, the Hispanic's features grave. He was dressed in his usual dark slacks and matching jacket, looking a bit harassed at the moment.
Warrick's eyes were drawn to the single body on the floor – and the incredibly large blood stain spreading out from it. Kneeling next to the body was David, the assistant coroner, just retracting the liver temp feeler from the abdomen.
Gil Grissom had gotten to the scene first and had taken the pictures of the body. Warrick had no idea how the man did it, arriving before everyone else. It was probably some kind of Grissom Radar thing. He had asked Nick about it and Stokes had just chuckled, shaking his head. Now Grissom walked over to him, looking grim.
"Had a broken traffic light and a jam to work through," Warrick told his new old boss, feeling the need to explain why he hadn't been on time. "What's the situation?"
Vega pulled out his notebook and flipped through the pages. "Kathy Templar, age seventeen. Found by neighbor, one Mrs. Marjorie Kennagan. Door was open, according to Mrs. Kennagan, and she walked inside, worried that maybe the dog had escaped. She found Kathy here and called us."
Vega's face grew even more grim.
"We searched the house, didn't touch anything, and when my guys found the mess upstairs, we immediately called a stop."
"What mess upstairs?" Warrick asked quickly, glancing at Grissom.
"Four more bodies," Gil said quietly., voice tightly controlled.
Warrick exhaled explosively. "Shit. Family?"
A nod. "Father, mother, two more kids. And we found something in the bedroom."
Grissom shook his head. "You better look for yourself."
David straightened from the corpse and drew their attention to him. "I'm done here. Same wounds as the others," he reported. "Single stab wound from the front, right into the heart, then a slash across the throat. She bled out afterwards."
"Thank you. We'll call you when we're done and you can transport the bodies," Grissom told him. He turned to Warrick. "Walk-through?"
Brown nodded. He wanted to get a good look at the scene.
And wished he had the luxury to feel the horror, get sick, and just turn around and leave. The other four bodies lay in equally large pools of blood as Kathy had downstairs. Mother and father were in their beds, stabbed, throats cut. The white linens were soaked red. The two kids, a boy of maybe nine and a girl of about five, were in their beds, too. Same method of death.
In both bedrooms, the parents' and the children's someone had scrawled a message onto the wall.
'Do not let them grow. Do not let them procreate. They will kill us all.'
Warrick had no idea what it meant.
"We need more than the two of us," he muttered, reminded of a similar case with a whole family killed except for two surviving daughters, a while ago. The whole team had been working non-stop.
"I already called Catherine and Sara," was the quiet reply.
Right. Nick's day off. Something about taking a break and going for a hike or something, to clear his head.
Warrick steeled himself, trying to calm his emotions as his eyes roamed over the dead children. What kind of animal did such things?
"I photographed the scene," Grissom's too calm voice intruded into his thoughts. "We should clear one room by the other. Want to start with the parents or the kids?"
Warrick gazed at the dead Templar boy. "Let's do the kids first."
Grissom nodded and they set to work, collecting whatever evidence they could find.
By the time they were done. Catherine had arrived, looking grim and pale herself as she surveyed the children's' room, then took over the perimeter. Sara was on the scene no twenty minutes after that, accompanied by Greg, and they began with the parents as Grissom moved to Kathy Templar downstairs and Warrick went through every room in the house.
* * *
Ecklie had no idea what it was that had him on edge as they walked along the bottom of the canyon. The weather was nice, it was cool down here, with a little sunshine touching the high walls, and there were hardly any insects bothering them. Nick was doing great so far, with only a small rippling in the aura around him. He was faring a lot better than Ecklie would have thought, but they had yet to get to the really narrow part, where the walls were higher, pushing in, sloping toward the sky, only to blot it out into darkness at some point. It was a slot canyon, very remote, beautiful in its roughness, its wilderness, and Ecklie had chosen it for only this purpose – get Nick into a place where the shaman had control and where no one could disturb them should something unforeseen occur. If Nick freaked, he could calm him down.
So far, so good.
Except for the feeling.
Shamans didn't just ignore feelings. He knew that much. Ecklie still had to understand a lot about who and what he was, but Nandi's training had fruited. He was getting better and better, was more attuned to nature than ever, but sometimes things happened and he couldn't explain why he felt something like this or something other just snapped to attention when he walked by.
Now there was this tingle, like something was… there. But not really there. It wasn't right here. It was… coming?
Ecklie frowned and stopped again, looking around, but there was only the canyon, the few insects, the rocks within the packed sand they were walking on, a few broken off branches from the last time the rain had washed debris through this place…
Something niggled at the back of his mind and the feeling intensified.
He blinked, wondering what was going on. Sometimes shaman powers were hellishly confusing. Especially those inherited all of a sudden.
"Nothing," he murmured.
But it was something.
Brown eyes narrowed in a mild frown. "You sure? You've been kinda tense in the last hour or two."
Count on Nick to notice, he thought. "I'm not sure something is wrong, Nick. It's just a feeling."
"Ah. Shaman thing?"
Ecklie chuckled a little. "Yes, a shaman thing. Most of the time it's just a shift in the elements, nothing serious."
"And the few times it's not 'nothing serious?" Now Stokes was looking closely at him, his full attention on the other man.
Ecklie didn't know a straight answer to that. One time he had been taken out by a mental blow that had nearly thrown him into unconsciousness, another time he had had bad dreams for days.
"Then it's something," he murmured.
Again, the tingle was there, teasing his mind with the knowledge that something was there, but he couldn't get at it.
"But you can't say what it is."
"No. Never could."
Ecklie shifted a bit uncomfortably. Not because of the questions. He and Nick talked about shaman abilities quite a lot. It was this tingle.
"Getting powers shoved into your face is not a good start for a healthy learning curve." He smirked a little. "Nandi is helping a lot. But since shamans, like people, are not alike, it's a trial and error run with the specifics. The basics are the same for every shaman."
There was a warning flare and Ecklie looked up, frowning at the sky. It was a blue, sunny sky. It was warm and nice, no weather changes, nothing. Still…
The sharp yell had Nick start and he looked up, just to see Conrad Ecklie fling his hands up and… ward off a heavy looking piece of rock that had come their way from above. It seemed to bounce off an invisible shield. Nick knew he was staring as a small part of him reminded him that Ecklie was a shaman.
But his powers are shielded, he thought.
Not any more.
Or so it seemed.
"We need to leave!" Ecklie ordered, pulling him out of his thoughts.
There was an ominous roar, like something large coming at them.
And they were in a narrow canyon.
"No argument from me," he yelled back.
They had come about three feet when everything turned into chaos. Nick cried out in surprise and raised his arms to protect himself, even though he knew he wouldn't survive this one way or the other.
Someone grabbed him around the waist.
Pulled him back.
He collided with something hard but still very yielding.
Human body, he thought faintly.
And then he felt it. It was power. A lot of power. And it rose like a force of nature in itself around him.
The hold on his waist remained, anchoring him firmly against the slightly taller man behind him. Nick doubted he would be able to break it anyway. It was like a vice.
There was the roar of water, the tremble of the ground as the masses washed around them, tearing at the walls, the bushes, the rocks.
* * *
It was way into the evening when they finally cleared the bodies and the coroner cars drove away. The house was under heavy guard from the police as spectators and media had surrounded the property, craning their necks, pointing their cameras at the men and women working the scene, and trying to guess what had happened.
In the parents' bedroom, Grissom stood studying the scrawling on the wall. A brief swab had revealed it was blood, probably from the victims. The writing was precise, not done under pressure, and the words were clear and spelled correctly.
"Any idea?" Catherine asked quietly as she joined him.
"No," was the equally quiet reply.
"Ritualistic? Hate crime? But I don't see why? The Templar's were a normal family."
"Looks can be deceiving, Catherine," Grissom just replied.
She had to agree to that. "So, how do we want to work this?"
"We work it as we always do," Grissom just answered. "Carefully, diligently, with the utmost respect to the victims, and we follow the evidence until it leads us to the killer."
"Nick back tonight?" she wanted to know, trying to distract a little from the grimness of it all.
"No. He went camping. I'm expecting him back by tomorrow evening."
"Good for him. He needs to clear his head."
Grissom gave her an unfathomable look, then just nodded once, turning back to work.
* * *
It was pure hell.
Around Nick, projectiles of all kinds and sizes bounced off the invisible shield Ecklie had erected, but this time not just to protect them for a second.
The shield stayed.
And inside, there was calmness. No water, no debris, no mud. Just… quiet.
Nick heard harsh breathing, felt quivers running through Ecklie – because he was the one holding him. There was no doubt about it. It could only be him.
A resounding crack had him start and he stared in amazement as a tree was warded off.
Ecklie shuddered as if the hit had transferred into him personally.
"Conrad?" he asked shakily.
There was no answer, just a breathy moan of someone close to giving in to whatever was trying to push him over the edge.
Around them the violent flood continued and Nick felt his hair stand on end the longer it took. The sheer force, the strength, had him shiver. He was standing in the middle of a wet hurricane, protected by a magical shield or bubble… and he watched it all.
It was fascinating.
But the strain was slowly getting to Ecklie. It had only been a few seconds, but it felt like hours, like an eternity, and the noise was deafening. The water was thundering around them and it felt like standing in a whirlpool of brackish water, and only the flimsy barrier between them kept them from dying a sudden and very violent death. Nick had no intention to end up being the next body the crime lab could poke and prod at. If they didn't get out of here soon... He didn't want to think about it.
The magical force field Ecklie was creating protected the two people inside it from the certain watery death, but it wasn't going to last forever. Shamans were strong, but there was a limit for them as well. And Nick had the strange feeling that whatever Ecklie was doing, he wasn't doing it consciously. It was instinct, he had never trained for this, and they needed to get out of here as soon as possible.
The magical output moved up a notch and Nick bit his lower lip. The feeling of all this energy around him was both exhilarating and frightening. The power teased him, but if he dared to take a piece, it would devour him whole.
What had been that? He couldn't even touch magic like wizards or witches, or warlocks. Or shamans. He was a Mimic and his powers were passive. He couldn't just want to be a shaman or something like it.
So why had he felt this magic all of a sudden? Maybe because he was a paranormal?
There was a sudden rumble from above and Nick's head snapped up. Brown eyes widened in shock and horror as he watched part of the canyon wall cave under the pressure from the water. Weakened by the elements of millennia, the rock chose exactly this moment to give way. With a cracking and thundering sound it crashed down, spraying water.
Nick yelled a warning, but it was too late and he wasn't heard over the din of the flash flood. All he saw was darkness rushing toward him.
The Mimic instinctively knew that the weakened shields wouldn't survive this. As if to prove this, Nick felt the arms around his waist loosen.
"Conrad!" he exclaimed.
It was too late.
The shield died down and the next avalanche of rocks hit them. More precisely, one struck Ecklie's head. Dark eyes, reflecting a weird kind of glow, rolled up into the head and Conrad Ecklie was out like a light.
"Ah, shit. no!" Nick moaned. "Conrad, don't do this to me!"
He felt a whack to the head and then there was only darkness.
* * *
Nick woke with a terrible headache. It seemed to split his skull, radiating from his forehead to his back and he groaned softly. His eyes were closed – or it was night because he didn't see anything – and every move hurt. Nausea rose inside of him and he swallowed several times – and promptly started coughing. He spit out river water, his head close to exploding.
He groaned softly.
It took a while for the pain to subside enough for Nick to blink his eyes open. He quickly shut them again as a bright flash lit up the murkiness he had briefly seen around him. It was quickly followed by a thundering rumble. His head was throbbing and he felt bruises all over his body. He opened his eyes once more after a while, this time seeing only murky darkness. He felt dizzy and nauseous as he sat up and tried to figure out where he was.
Damn, he thought as the world stopped spinning around him.
Part of him wondered whether he had a concussion or not, another part decided that wasn't the main problem right now.
His voice sounded raspy and dry. Nick winced slightly and wet his lips.
"Ecklie?" he repeated and managed to sit up.
What he saw in the little light that made it through the dark clouds wasn't very uplifting. He was still in the narrow canyon, but the scenery had changed into one of total chaos. There was debris all around him. Dead wood, ragged chunks of rock, twigs and leaves, all strewn around where he lay, with puddles or thin streams of water between them. Nick himself was soaking wet, his clothes had some tears, and he was missing his backpack.
And where the hell was…?
"Conrad!" he exclaimed as he discovered the only human-shaped lump in the whole mess, scrambling to his feet. Well, he tried. Nick stumbled and almost fell, then half crawled, half walked over to the unconscious man.
Ecklie looked terrible. His face was deathly pale where the skin was free of the copious amount of blood that had bled from a deep gash on his head. One cheek was bruised and swollen. Nick dropped to his knees, making a little splash as he landed right in a puddle, but he didn't care.
"Oh shit," he whispered. "Shit, shit, shit."
A faint drizzle had started to fall.
"Conrad? Can you hear me?"
There was no answer. He quickly checked the unconscious man and found more bumps and bruises than on himself, but the more worrying part was the head wound, and the fact that Ecklie hadn't woken throughout the examination of what surely had to be painful injuries.
Nick glanced around the surrounding landscape. Yelling for help was no good and their cell phones had been in the backpacks, though in this place there had been no reception at all.
He cursed softly again.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," he muttered, rain soaking him as it started to fall more heavily.
There had been no forecast about rain! There hadn't been a single indication!
Then again, the weather changes were rather quick sometimes, and even the weather radar only picked up storm fronts when they were already over a certain area. The radar and shamanic senses, he mused.
Nick looked at his unconscious companion, then stiffly got to his feet. They needed shelter until Search and Rescue found them. He was convinced they would. Grissom knew where they were and if neither came back…
He ran a hand through his hair to sweep it back from his face and noticed blood on his fingers when he pulled it away. He finally located a small cut on his right temple at the hairline. He found a bump on top of his head that was pretty sore as well. Nick sighed. One more injury to add to the list.
Shelter, he reminded himself. Shelter first.
So he began looking for something suitable.
* * *
It was late.
At least for a nightshift supervisor who should have left his office three hours ago, gone home, had breakfast, slept some, enjoyed his time off until the next day.
But he hadn't. Hadn't left his office, hadn't gone home, hadn't eaten breakfast anytime before or after what he should have done, and he knew he wouldn't enjoy the weekend.
The case was still open, the evidence was piling up, and his team was putting in overtime. Gil Grissom took off his glasses and pinched the back of his nose, rubbing the corners of his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. There was a slight headache building, ever since this evening, and he knew a migraine was the next level. He had already taken some painkillers to stave off the worst of it, but it would grow into more than the feeling he had right now. It would turn into a nasty pain within the next hour.
He should go home. At least while he was still able to drive, but somehow he found himself stuck in his office. The lights were mostly off. The only light source was his table lamp and the lights from outside. People were walking the corridors, oblivious to his pain, his problems, and his very presence. No one actually stopped and wondered what he was doing here.
No wonder. It wasn't unusual for one Gil Grissom to linger, to keep on working, to forget about schedules and time tables, and himself.
He briefly wished Nick was here, working with him on the case, but he wasn't. He was enjoying his much needed off-time.
The voice caught him off guard, something that rarely happened, and he cursed himself for his slip of attention. Catherine was standing in the door, a mild frown on her face.
"Yes. Anything?" he brushed off her concern.
There was a faint line between her eyes, a frown of disapproval, then she launched into the findings so far. Grissom concentrated on the case again, trying not to think of Nick.
Why was he thinking about him anyway? It wasn't like they had just found each other, fresh in love and pink clouds everywhere. Not that he had ever felt that way anyway, but that was beside the point.
What made him feel so ill at ease with the fact that Nick and Ecklie had gone for this remote hike? They had done it before, meditating in the desert, Ecklie helping the younger man through the terrifying memories. Grissom was thankful to the shaman that he invested so much time and effort, as well as patience.
So what was it?
He heaved a silent sigh and walked with Catherine to the trace lab. Better not linger on this; he was just getting mushy with old age. That had to be it.
* * *
The morning had started with a faint drizzle that had stopped not soon after sunrise. Deep inside the slot canyon, the sun didn't really reach to the bottom. It would be until noon that the shadows disappeared.
Nick had taken long to find shelter for them, limping through the muddy ground, his body aching everywhere. He had finally discovered suitable shelter, but getting Ecklie there had exhausted him. The cave wasn't very big and it couldn't really be called a cave, more like a deep niche. It was enough; it had to be enough. Panting, ribs aching, his injured arm complaining against the abuse, Nick knew he had to at least try and find their stuff. Maybe something had survived. Maybe not all had been swept away by the water.
He had searched through the debris until he had found the remains of one of their backpacks. In one of the thankfully still zipped side bags were some thermo blankets and he had wrapped them around Ecklie, trying to keep him warm. It was worrying that the man hadn't regained consciousness yet.
As if he had heard his thoughts, Ecklie moaned softly and there was a brief frown crossing the bloodied forehead.
"Conrad?" Nick asked.
There was a moment of silence, then, "Nick?"
Nick knew he was smiling a rather stupid smile. "Yeah. Conrad? I know it's a stupid question, but how do you feel?"
"Pain," the other man whispered.
"Oh hell, no!" Nick exclaimed as the other man started to slip off again. He patted one too pale cheek, cursing silently as he touched the cold, wet skin. "Conrad, no! Stay awake!"
"Call help…" Ecklie wheezed.
"I can't. We lost the cells. And there wouldn't be any reception anyway."
"Conrad, I don't have a phone!"
There was no reply, just the shallow breathing. Nick was ready to scream with helplessness. There was nothing he could do, except hope and keep the injured man warm. It was very cold by now and he had no supplies.
"Shit, shit, shit!" He ran a hand through his muddy and wet hair. "Call Nandi. Right. Wish I could. He's slipping and I don't even know how badly he's injured."
Nick had never been more angry at himself for being such a useless paranormal. Being a Mimic meant he had no active powers. He couldn't use magic, he wasn't a shape-changer, he wasn't really all that special. Sure, he could attach himself to another paranormal's signature in a way. But not actively. The two times it had happened it had been forced on him. Well, the first time had been meeting Gil Grissom, and it had done nothing to him but turn him into a Phoenix. Grissom had activated the Mimic in him, bonding him to the older man, and Nandi had once told Nick that Grissom was imprinted on Nick. It sounded strange, but not so bad. Being bonded to Grissom on a paranormal level was just another sign of them being lovers in their lives.
The second time Nick had used the Mimic had been forced. The shamans had assisted a kitsune in pushing him to be what it needed, a source to feed from. When he had snapped back, the Mimic had reached out for Grissom once more, thank god, and had gone passive.
He sighed with frustration. Nick couldn't control what he did with his powers. He couldn't make the decision to become something, just as a strong paranormal couldn't just force him to change. Training his Mimic abilities was not really working out. He was the first Mimic in centuries and no one actually had much of a clue how to give him control.
Ecklie might be able to work some shaman magic and push him into a change, into attaching himself to, say, a warlock, but Nick on his own…?
Nick's eyes were on the unconscious man again. Nandi had recommended meditation, but so far that had only settled his inner unbalance after being buried alive for so many maddening hours. He had never tried that technique for something like this. Maybe it was time.
"Shit, I wish you were awake," Nick mumbled as he got himself into a more comfortable position.
Ecklie would be able to guide him. He could act as an anchor if he lost himself. But as it was, it was Ecklie Nick was trying to Mimic, a shaman, and the man was completely out of it.
"Please let this work," he whispered fervently.
Calming himself, he tried to clear his head. Like he had been taught he began by walking away from his pain and worries, his fear and terror. He sought out that famous inner spot of calmness, something he would have scoffed about years ago. Slowly, one by one, everything fell away. It was only him, inside his body, calm and settled and at peace.
Nick let his breathing even out, aware of only one single point of contact,
where his hand was touching Ecklie. He let himself fall into that sensation,
not pushing, not pulling, not forcing anything.
The canyon was deserted, the midday sun briefly touching the ground, only to move on, shedding new shadows. Insects buzzed among the debris and small animals dared to come back, scurrying along the remains to find something edible. None came close to the small cave. They gave the two men a wide berth, subconsciously feeling the power at work.
* * *
Franklin had the house to himself that weekend. His partner had gone on a hike with Nick Stokes. Not that Franklin wouldn't have come along, but aside from the fact that he was a vampire and sun wasn't really all that good for him in large dosages, this was also not just for fun. Nick was trying to deal with the nightmares and terrors of his abduction and Franklin understood the necessity for privacy. Conrad didn't delve into the sessions he had with the other man, nor did he disclose anything about the terrors, but Franklin had lived long enough to know them intimately. Not abduction nightmares, but he had had his own experiences when he had still been human.
With no work and all the time to himself, Franklin had started to clear out his office space in the attic. It was incredible how much useless stuff one could accumulate. Truly amazing.
His only companion was Cleo, their cream colored familiar, and she was watching with interest as he piled paper into boxes to be thrown away, sometimes pawing at things, playing with a pen or a piece of balled up paper. For all her magical origin and intelligence, she was a cat at heart. A young cat, too. Franklin chuckled as he took a break to play with her, throwing paper balls for her to fetch, which she did. She brought them back, but unlike a dog she didn't place them right in front of him. It was always just out of reach so he had to move.
"You sure know how to keep us both moving," Franklin chuckled.
It was in the early afternoon that she started to exhibit signs of nervousness. She was running around the house, checking each room, sometimes disappearing outside. Franklin watched her, a frown in his forehead, but he wasn't alarmed yet. When Cleo began to mew softly, almost wailing there for a minute, his hackles rose.
She was a familiar and she was Conrad's. Bound to him through her choice. She had selected him as 'her human'. She was aware of him even when he wasn't home, she protected him, and through him also Franklin, and she would show signs of distress if something happened to Ecklie. Only once before had Cleo been that nervous.
"What's wrong with you?" Franklin murmured and watched the cat.
She mewed with even more distress, tail whipping left and right. She barely sat still for a moment, always on the move, staring out windows or the glass door to the terrace.
The vampire hesitated for another hour, but by then she was ready to scale walls. He let her out into the setting sun, but aside from running onto the terrace, she didn't go very far. Standing stiff and alert, Cleo stared out into the garden, then cried loudly, tail still whipping.
Franklin took out his cell phone and dialed his partner's number. It might be stupid to check up on him and he didn't even know if there was reception out there, but he might as well try. As not otherwise expected he got an automated message. The cell phone he was trying to reach was nowhere near a service station.
All he had to go on now was a highly nervous familiar. It was enough to make him nervous, but who should he call? It was even more stupid to immediately go to Nandi. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe…
He sighed explosively. Damn.
Walking back into the house, Franklin tried to settle down his nerves. He was reading too much into Cleo. Way too much. She might be going into heat or something. It might be a cat thing. Another cat in the area. Who knew? Something really, really mundane…
So why couldn't he believe his inner voice?
* * *
Detective Latener, New York Police Department, and latest addition to all of seven Shaman Pairs world wide, sat on his living room floor. Cross-legged, relaxed, meditating. Whoever knew Dee would have laughed at the mere thought of the man doing something as complicated and outrageously spiritual as meditating, but then, these people didn't know who and what Latener had become. No one knew aside from a few friends. The last year had been harrying, dangerous, stressful, and filled with pain and revelations.
Thanks to Ryo, his partner on the job and at home, his lover and his shield, things were smoothing over. The former ally had truly lived up to his new paranormal status as a shield. Not just on a magical level, but on a very real life one as well. Add to that his older brother, someone he had never known existed, who was running interference as an ally, too, Dee was in the best possible care. Being Commissioner Ross Barclay's brother had its perks, he mused, though none of their colleagues knew that fact. For them, the charade went on. For them, Ross and Dee put up verbal fights like in their best times prior to their discovery of their relationship, and it fooled everyone. Sometimes even Ryo shot them worried looks.
Yes, Dee was getting the hang of being both a police detective and a highly placed shaman. Still… the situation he was currently in had never occurred before.
Dee was on the spirit plane, the place where shamans could not only contact each other in their spirit forms, it was also a completely different realms. Not purely benign, it was dangerous to newcomers, able to rip them from their bodies, and it was a direct link to their powers, the elements they touched, the very earth. Dee had trained relentlessly to be able to use what instinct told him he had to be able to master, and he had made leaps in his development.
Gazing at the other presence, he studied the animal. Shamans never saw each other as they were. They were represented by their spirit animals. Dee's was a deer, which he had been surprised about, but Ryo and Barclay had researched the meaning of the deer and it had fit Dee perfectly. The deer walked closer to the smaller animal, gazing at the black raven. It looked wounded, one wing drooping a little, and it appeared confused.
"Who are you?" Dee asked.
The raven started, hopping away from him as if it had just discovered it had company.
"Where am I?"
A male shaman, Dee mused. And apparently someone unused to the spirit plane.
That brought up a ton of questions, mostly: who was he? And why had a new shaman come to be? Dee wasn't as involved in the shamanic world as could be so far, but he had been told a lot about who he was and what shamans were by Brian, his teacher in all things shamanic. Shamans didn't just pop into existence. When one died, his or her power was transferred into a prime candidate. To his knowledge, none had died as recently as the last days.
"You're on the spirit plane. You're new, right?"
Another confused look. "I… What happened?"
Dee walked closer, feeling the strong but slightly wavering aura. There was power inside this new one, but he didn't feel as new as Dee knew he himself was received by older shamans.
Suddenly the raven trembled. "Oh god!"
Dee flinched in alarm at the sudden agitation.
"We're trapped. The flash flood!"
"Flash flood? Where are you? Where's your physical body? And who the heck are you?"
Wide, absolutely black bird eyes stared at him, the raven becoming more and more agitated. "There was water everywhere and Conrad went down. The shield collapsed. The cave… we're in a cave… and he's hurt…!"
"Listen to me!" Latener called, trying to get through the panic of whoever he was looking at. "I can help, but you need to help me a little, too. What is your name and where are you?"
The raven trembled badly and Dee thought he saw something else. Another spirit animal, smaller, less substantial, looking strangely gray. It was sitting or laying behind the raven, motionless.
"Calm down!" he commanded forcefully, stepping closer.
It was a mistake. The raven shot him a frightened, almost terrified look, and the power inside the small bird rose exponentially. He felt the dangerous spike in magic. It was like a furious hiss, coupled with fear and terror at something unknown, and there was the sheer desperation of keeping someone safe. Dee had no time to even cry out in surprise as he was ripped from the spirit plane and flung back into his body.
A gasp left his lips and he sagged. Strong arms came around his body and he instinctively leaned into the support.
"Ryo," he panted. "What… you!"
Dee sat up abruptly and turned, looking into the almost black eyes, worried eyes, of his lover. His shield. Damn!
"You tore me out!" he accused.
"Something was wrong!" Ryo shot back. "I could feel it. There was a threat…"
He frowned. A threat? No. The raven wasn't a threat. It was a lost and lonely young shaman, though none he could identify.
"What happened, Dee?" Ryo demanded.
"Someone needs help. Someone… someone who…." Dee shook his head, confused.
"I ran into a raven, a spirit animal, and it was protecting another, someone very, very weak. The raven feels like a shaman, but he isn't. And…" He trailed off, staring into nothingness as he tried to grasp that feeling. "I need to go back, Ryo. I need to find out where he is. He said something about being trapped…"
"And it could be a trap," Ryo argued, worry rising.
Green eyes met dark brown ones. "He needs help, Ryo. And if it is a trap, I've got you." He shot the other man a wide smile.
Ryo chewed on his lower lip, not happy. Clearly not happy.
"Ryo…" he begged.
The spirit plane was a place that was logically structured one moment and completely confusing the next. It was a world that connected all other planes, a world where shamans moved freely, communed, spoke with each other in a way no human mind would ever be able to understand, and it was the world of the spirit animals.
To enter it while still new to the concept was both highly dangerous and a sure way to get forever lost. A guide was needed as long as the powers contained in a new shaman were not yet in sync with his mind. Even seasoned users could be in danger in this world.
The raven was in danger, Dee knew. Very much in danger. If he got lost…
Ryo sighed. "Okay… Okay, try it again. I'll be here."
Dee leaned forward and kissed him gently. "Thanks."
"You're the shaman."
"Yep. And you're the responsible one." Dee smiled again. "Nothing will happen, Ryo. Nothing."
* * *
Grissom had yet to leave the office. Overtime was a given with such intense cases as a whole family murdered by some crazy person. Then again, 'crazy' was a matter of perspective. Grissom had found many of the suspects either coldly logical, or reasonable, or just misguided.
He studied the pictures taken of the writing on the wall, trying to understand the meaning behind them. They had had an expert in, telling them a few things about the writer. Left-handed, not in a hurry, most likely not as disturbed as many wanted him to be. The media was all over the story and the sheriff had a hard time fielding questions. With Ecklie gone for the day, it had fallen to the next likely person within the CSI to give statements. That meant Grissom. He had yet to even acknowledge there was such a thing as the press and he didn't return calls.
As he rearranged the glossy photographs, part of him was wondering where Nick and Ecklie were. It was already way into the graveyard shift and Nick had planned to be back before Grissom left for work. There hadn't been a beep. Maybe Ecklie had decided they needed another day?
Not likely, another part answered. In the past months the sessions had had a time frame that had always been kept.
So where were they?
Grissom left the wall with the photos and turned to the evidence.
He was worried.
Nick's a grown man, he argued silently.
But he would have called. He had wanted to be home tonight and Grissom was convinced something was wrong. It was this strange gut feeling he sometimes had. The last time it had raised its head throughout the kidnapping. Whether this was any connection with the paranormal bond or just his feeling as Nick's lover, he didn't know. He had never mentioned it. Neither to Nick, nor to anyone else.
Grissom refused to give in to the other voice that suggested he call his lover. He wasn't a worried parent.
Grissom growled to himself and started on an evidence bag.
He wouldn't call.
* * *
The second time was more difficult than the first, mainly because Dee was now looking for something specific and not just drifting. It sounded ridiculous, but it was true that trying to find a specific spot on the spirit plane was harder than just stumbling over something interesting by chance.
So he searched.
It took Dee nearly an hour by his estimate to finally reach the raven again. It sat in the middle of nowhere, black eyes riddled with confusion, one wing still drooping, but now Dee could make out something else. It was like a faint, reddish aura around the black bird. Like… a fire? Flames? Behind the raven lay the grayish, small lump of the spirit animal he couldn't identify.
"Hey," he said softly.
"It's you again." The bird moved nervously. "Who are you?" he asked.
"My name is Dee Latener. I'm a New York police detective and a shaman. Kinda. Not really like that. You might call me a shaman-warlock." He tried to sound light, make the raven relax.
"What's a shaman-warlock?"
So he had his attention. "My mother was a shaman, my father a warlock. I kinda inherited their powers. All of them. It's a bit of a strain sometimes, but I have a partner who works as my shield. You should meet him sometimes?"
The bird looked around as if he was trying to see past the deer, find Ryo's spirit animal.
"He's not here. He keeps watch over me from the outside. So, who's your friend?"
"Oh. I…" The bird looked at the spirit animal behind him and Dee craned his neck a little.
The raven's wings spread, trying to block his view, protecting the other, but it winced as the injured wing moved.
"I don't mean you any harm," Dee assured him. "I came back to help. You're in trouble, right?"
"Listen, I'm not the bad guy. I can see you're injured. And whoever you are protecting is hurt even worse."
The raven moved back again, almost sitting on the unknown second spirit animal.
"What's your name?" Latener tried.
"Nick," the raven said softly.
"Hi, Nick. How about you introduce me to your friend?"
Defensiveness flared once more, but Nick moved a little and Dee got his first, good look. It was a squirrel, but it looked bad. Not like road kill, he thought, but close. No open wounds, but it was grayed out and thin. Its eyes were closed.
"We got caught," the raven said softly. "Flash flood. We're trapped. He's injured. He's… the shaman."
Dee blinked. "Come again?"
"He's the shaman. I'm… well, I'm not."
Confusion rose. If Nick wasn't a shaman, why was he on the spirit plane?"
He asked just that question and the raven shifted nervously. Around him, the strange aura of fire rose and for a second Dee felt it like an actual touch. He reared back and then there was the familiar feeling of his shield interfering.
"No!" he cried, fighting Ryo's pull, but there was no chance he could
get past his guardian.
Dee let himself fall onto the rug, pressing the palms of his hands against his eyes.
His head ached, pulsing with the aftershocks of the rude pull-out. He felt his lover's strong presence, the shield extending all around them, keeping Dee safe and secure.
"I'm sorry," Ryo whispered, touching him gently. The shield was sitting next to him, radiating worry and misery in one. "I didn't… it was instinct. I felt the danger and… reacted."
Dee let his hands fall to his sides. "It's okay, Ryo." He interlaced their fingers, holding on. It was good to have something very real and substantial when coming from the spirit plane. It helped him focus. "They need help."
"The raven and the squirrel." At Ryo's quizzical expression he elaborated, "The raven's name is Nick. The other I don't know. His spirit animal is a squirrel and it's unconscious. Nick said something about getting caught in a flash flood." Dee frowned. "And he said the squirrel's the shaman, not him."
"But… for him to act on the spirit plane…"
"Yeah, I know. Something's strange. And there was this aura around the raven. It flared… just before you pulled me out. Like there was something attached to the raven…" Dee sat up, frowning. "Who do we ask for help identifying spirit animals?"
Ryo's brows rose a little. "There's no list of them. No registry."
"Someone has to know more about this. Other shamans, maybe. We have a raven called Nick with a strange, flame-like aura. We have a squirrel that is a shaman's spirit animal. They are together somewhere and they are trapped. How hard can it be?" Dee asked with false brightness.
His lover's face said it all. "Very." Ryo got up. "I'll call Barclay. He might be able to assist."
Dee grimaced. "Do you have to?"
Ryo swatted him gentle, ruffling his hair. "Yes, I have to. Grow up, Dee. He's your brother."
"You're the better ally!" Dee whined.
"I'll take that as a compliment and yes, my theoretical knowledge is better, but he has contacts I haven't. If he calls his guys and I'll see if I can find some of my old contacts, we might just get something."
Another grimace, but Latener got up from the rug and followed Ryo as he got his cell phone and dialed for their ally.
* * *
On the spirit plane, Nick huddled close to Ecklie. He had no illusions about his ability to protect the man should anything attack them here. The appearance of the deer had been frightening enough. For all his abilities as a shaman, Nick was in no condition to really fight much. Desperation and fear would lend an edge, and he had the instinctive knowledge of the paranormal he was Mimicking, but he also had to protect the other shaman with him, and Ecklie was completely out of it.
The ran settled next to the squirrel, one wing over the motionless animal. It was a representation of Ecklie in this world and it gave him a good impression of how bad off he was.
They needed help.
Nick felt exhaustion ripple through him. He didn't dare leave here in fear of not being able to come back should he had to do so. He had no idea how long his body and mind could uphold the Mimicking. He just hoped it was long enough.
* * *
Ross Barclay stared at his youngest brother and his brother's lover, drawn between laughter and incredulity. He was a tall, blond man with vivid eyes hidden behind glasses. Without them and taking into account the different hair and eye color, there was a close resemblance between the two men that no one had ever seen before. Except Ryo when he had thought about them in comparison. Their parents had been a warlock and a shaman, one of the most unlikely pairings to ever have children, but they had had six. The fours girls and one boy born before Dee had inherited none of their parents immense powers. They had become allies instead. Dee Latener had been born with an incredible power, that of a warlock and a future shaman. His parents had died protecting him from something looking to kill the child and he had been left abandoned in an alley as a baby, found by a police officer. His powers had been shielded by his father's magic and he had remained undetected until a year ago when the powers had broken through with a vengeance.
Dee had grown up in an orphanage, never knowing who he was, until a few years ago. It had floored him, especially considering that the man he hated, the man who had made passes at his partner Ryo McLane, was none other than his older brother. Now Barclay was their resident ally, and as such they had called him for help.
"Are you stupid or just excessively slow today?" Barclay now asked, looking at Dee.
Latener bristled. "Now wait here…!"
"You're a shaman-warlock, part of a Shaman Pair, and you want to start calling whoever you know, asking about spirit animals?" Barclay went on.
"Actually, yes," Ryo confessed softly, drawing the older man's attention to himself.
Barclay shook his head. "You were an ally once, Ryo…"
"I still am!"
"You're a shield."
"I'm not a paranormal and still an ally!"
Barclay groaned. It was a repeated discussion between them. "Fine. So be it. It still tells me someone hasn't done his homework. Has either of you two ever heard of the Nexus?"
"Of course I have. I'm not stupid!" Dee shot back.
Ryo's eyes widened, his mouth opened and he finally moaned. "The Nexus…"
"I see the lights turned back on again."
Dee frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"The lieutenant is right, Dee. We call the Nexus," Ryo explained.
Barclay rolled his eyes as Ryo used his rank. It was also an ongoing debate among them that even though he was their superior officer and boss at work, Ryo should call him by his first name in private. With Dee it was a lost cause anyway.
"555-NEXUS?" Latener asked sarcastically.
"Close," was the blond's answer.
Barclay shot Latener a narrow-eyed look of warning, then flipped open his cell phone and punched several keys. He listened to the ring tone, then identified himself, waiting again.
"Barclay," he repeated his name. "New York ally. I'm working with Dee Latener and Ryo McLane, the Shaman Pair."
"We're famous," Dee muttered. Ryo only elbowed him gently to shut up.
"Hello, Mr. Standish," Barclay went on. "We have a situation here and it requires some help from someone who can possibly identify two spirit animals. Yes… yes…. I can give you Dee, our resident Shaman. He saw them."
Barclay held out the phone and Dee took it, mystified.
"Hey," he said, not knowing who he was talking to.
"Mr. Latener, I presume," a pleasant, male voice came through the speaker. "My name is Ezra Standish. Would you please give me the description?"
And Dee did. As close as he could possibly describe the raven and the squirrel, the only name he had been given, and the strangeness around the raven.
* * *
Vin stretched tiredly and glanced at the desk clock, groaning. Great, he had again worked through the night and he felt it. Sure, he was with the graveyard shift of the Salt Lake City CSI unit, but on his days off he liked to sleep at night and do some daytime things now and then. Buck, his partner and lover, was probably sleeping the sleep of the just, while Vin had checked his emails. He had planned to just browse through them, but then he had been caught in Nexus work and suddenly the sun was about to rise.
He really needed help with this stuff, and it wasn't just Buck he was thinking about.
Yawning again, he was about to shut off the computer when the cell rang. He rolled his eyes and picked up.
"Tanner. Oh, hey Ezra. Still awake, not already, that's the keyword. I was just about to grab a few… uh, sure… fire away."
Vin listened to the description and something shivered through him in slight alarm.
"Ez… I don't know about any squirrels and I have met only three shamans
so far. Caine's dead and he had an owl. Nandi has a cheetah and Brian's
spirit animal is a cockatoo. But the raven… especially with the fire… it
rings a bell and I know you won't like it. Nick Stokes has a raven and
Gil Grissom has a phoenix. If I have to make a wild guess, I'd say your
friend ran into Nick's raven. The phoenix wasn't manifested as a bird,
but the bond showed. The fire is the bond."
In his office at the Grotto, which was just about to close down for the day, Ezra Standish sat up straighter.
"Are you sure?" he asked, knowing that if Vin said it was Stokes' raven then it was that raven. "Yes… I'll call Dr. Grissom to confirm. Thank you, Vin. You were a great help."
He hung up and immediately went through his directory to find the cell number of Gil Grissom in Las Vegas.
* * *
Grissom jerked awake at the insistent ring of the cell phone. He blinked into the twilight, slightly confused as to where he was. The sun was up, that much was for sure, and the grayish light was leaking into the room through the semi-closed blinds. Rubbing a hand over his eyes he reached for the cell with his other, flipping it open.
"Grissom," he murmured.
"Dr. Grissom, this is Ezra Standish," the voice at the other end said.
He jerked awake all of a sudden. Adrenaline rushed through his body like it did when he got a call for a case.
"I'm sorry to disturb you that early, but I need to ask you a question."
Grissom sat up, suppressing a yawn. He had fallen asleep on the couch in a rather uncomfortable position.
"Where is Nick?"
Now the adrenaline shot higher. "Why do you ask?"
"Please just answer the question."
"Nick went on a hike with Ecklie."
There was a brief silence, then vampire asked, "When is supposed to be back?"
Grissom rose slowly, holding the cell phone tightly. He checked his watch. "Last night. What is going on?"
Another brief silence, then the other man sighed. "I received a call from New York about an hour ago."
New York? Grissom wondered. He didn't know anyone there, neither did Nick.
"I won't go into details, but someone who can be trusted in that matter claims he saw a raven on the spirit plane, surrounded by a fiery aura, protecting another spirit animal."
"A squirrel?" Grissom asked, mind firing up immediately.
"Yes. I take it you know that person?"
"Ecklie. He's a shaman."
"Yes, I was aware of that."
Standish knew? Grissom wondered. Then again, Ecklie had mentioned a trip to Salt Lake months ago. Something to do with Franklin.
"Dr. Grissom, the raven was injured, but not badly, but the squirrel is very bad off. Whatever enabled Nick to make this jump to a plane where only shamans can commune, we don't know. What we do know is that they are in trouble. Do you know where they went?"
Grissom was already collecting his things as he listened. "I have an idea. Nick mentioned the area. What else is there I need to know?" His tone of voice was professional, calm, as if they were talking about anyone but his lover.
"Nick mentioned a flash flood and a cave. You might want to check for reports on flash floods in the area."
"I'll call Nandi, let her know what she needs to. She might be able to contact Nick on the spirit plane or help in any other way possible."
Standish's voice was compassionate. "Good luck, Dr. Grissom. Keep in touch."
Grissom acknowledged and snapped the cell shut, already on his way out the door. In the car he hit the speed dial for someone who needed to be informed as well.
"Franklin? It's Grissom…"
* * *
Barclay was close to bursting a blood vessel. Blue eyes lit up with his anger as he looked at Dee, the narrow face reflecting icy fury.
"You don't have any say in this!" Dee shot back.
"You are risking your life! If you get lost in the spirit plane doing this…"
"I'm not going to get lost. And I have Ryo!" Dee argued, gesturing at his shield, who was watching the fight from the sidelines.
"Right! Ryo is your shield, but that doesn't mean it's your green card for the spirit plane. He can protect you in many situations, but he's not omnipotent! You can't rely on him all the time!"
"I'm a warlock-shaman!" Dee almost yelled. "I know my way around the spirit plane!"
Barclay was now almost nose to nose with his younger brother, seething. He was worried and worry usually transformed into anger when it came to Dee Latener. They could talk about anything any time, but whenever tempers rose, things heated up pretty quickly.
"You are," he repeated, slightly calmer. "You just found out about your powers and despite instinctive knowledge and control, you're still learning." Barclay hesitated. "I don't want to lose you again, Dee," he finally added.
Dee's face reflected shock. He stammered something, then cleared his throat and turned away. Ryo watched the whole exchange with amusement, dark eyes sparkling. Barclay grimaced as he watched the fine smile on the other man's lips.
"It's not dangerous," Dee repeated stubbornly.
Barclay groaned softly. "You're too stubborn for your own good."
Dee smirked. "Yeah, so?"
The older man looked at his younger brother, drawn between the need to protect him and to just hit him. He did neither, not giving in to his needs. He turned around and walked away.
He stopped at Ryo's voice and shot him a pointed look. Ryo looked chastised.
"Sorry," he murmured. "Habit."
"I will protect him," Ryo promised earnestly.
"I know you will, but the spirit plane is dangerous."
"I know." And Ryo did. His knowledge about al things paranormal surpassed Barclay's by far. "It's just…"
"You worry. You want to protect him. I want the same, Ross. He's my partner. I will protect him with my life."
Barclay smiled briefly. "Yeah."
He turned away again and left. He wanted to stay, be there in case something went wrong, but he couldn't. It wasn't his place.
* * *
Dee had gotten back onto the spirit plane, against ally and Ryo's advice. He knew it was dangerous, but the raven needed help. Nick was alone out there, protecting an injured man, and whatever the hell a Mimic really was, he wasn't a shaman.
This time it didn't take him as long as before to find the raven. The bird gazed at him, looking weak and slightly gray.
"Hi again," Dee greeted him, stepping closer.
"You're back," was the faint reply.
"Yeah. Sorry about the sudden disappearances. My partner was a bit freaked about the power surge."
"Ryo. We work together, live together, all the fun stuff together." He smiled. Well, as much as a deer could smile. "How is he?"
Nick glanced at the unconscious squirrel. "Not good."
"Neither are you."
"I can deal with it."
Dee studied the black bird, again noting the fiery aura. Bonded to a phoenix, huh? Interesting. You never stopped learning in the shaman business.
"Listen, we called for help. I think they're already looking for you."
"Well, I talked to a guy called Standish. Ezra Standish. He's with the Nexus."
"Yes, I know him."
"Thought as much. Well, he promised to call the rest of your guys, get them going."
The bird trembled a little, looking sicker by the minute. "Oh. Good."
Dee settled down next to the bird, his much larger body a shelter for the two smaller spirit animals.
"Hang on," he murmured.
"I'm trying, but I don't know how much longer I can."
"Can you still feel your body?"
The raven was silent for a moment and Dee was about to nudge it when the black eyes met his. "Am I supposed to?"
"Uh, yeah. Even when a shaman's spirit is here, he can still feel a connection to his body."
"I'm not sure I feel it," was the soft confession.
Well, shit, Dee thought. So not good.
"That's not good, right?" Nick murmured, eyes drooping.
No, it wasn't. Nick wasn't a shaman, he was a Mimic. His body was weakening and with it the connection to the spirit plane was fading, too. Should he lose that vital connection, he would forever be trapped here. Or at least until his spirit faded, too. Looking at him now, that was happening already.
A jerk. Nick opened his eyes, bleary and clouded.
"Nick, you have to go back to your body."
"I'll push you back. It might not be a very nice experience, but you have to leave here."
Dee finally nudged the bird and Nick almost toppled over. The squirrel was simply unresponsive.
"Hey!" the raven protested weakly.
"Stay with me. Concentrate!" the shaman insisted. "Don't resist the push. I'm not sure how much you can withstand, but try to hold it together, okay?"
"What about… my friend?"
"He'll be fine." Dee wasn't really one hundred percent sure, but he wasn't ready to go into a discussion with the raven about safety issues now. "Ready?"
The deer rose. Latener concentrated on finding the faint trail that every shaman had to his body, and when he had finally found it with Nick, he gathered his considerable power.
Okay, here goes, he thought, then released it.
* * *
Flash floods usually result from intense storms dropping large amounts of rain within a brief period. They occur with little or no warning and can reach full peak in only a few minutes. Grissom knew all that as he waited for the results. He had requested information on all flash floods in the area Nick and Ecklie had gone hiking in. The forecast had had no warnings about weather hazards and he knew his lover had checked on them several times. Nick was an experienced hiker and he knew the risks.
As the page came back with the information, Grissom's stomach dropped. There had been a flash flood, one very unexpected one. A weather front had suddenly changed direction and the storms had been more severe than forecast. Flash flood warnings had popped up immediately, but those already in the canyons had had no information.
Like Nick Stokes and Conrad Ecklie.
Grissom's slightly trembling hand reached for the phone. There was a phone registry next to it and he called LVMPD Search and Rescue.
* * *
The Huey helicopter churned through the quickly graying sky. It was getting dark and soon the sun would set completely, making this operation even more difficult than it already was. The team of AIR 7 was aware of the problematic situation, of how long the two missing men had already been out there, and though the survival rate of a flash flood was rather slim, they still knew that if there was a chance that one or even both were still alive, Search and Rescue was their best bet.
The coordinates they had been given were more precise than most of the times they went looking for flood victims, but floods tended to displace whatever they grabbed and tore away. That was one reason why an additional dog team was on the ground already, looking for traces.
It was just before complete darkness that one of the dog handlers radioed them, requesting the Huey to their coordinates.
"We found them. Both are alive but unconscious, hypothermic, and injured."
The pilot acknowledged and the two SAR officers in the back breathed a brief sigh of relief.
"Lucky bastards," one murmured.
The notion was echoed by a vampire in Salt Lake and a Shaman Pair with their ally in New York.
* * *
Nandi had entered the spirit plane, looking for one specific shaman, and she found his spirit animal with practiced ease. The deer stood tall and proud, young but strong, and she was surprised by his aura. A strong shaman, she noticed. And there was a very strong shield with him.
The deer acknowledged her presence, nodding.
"I am Nandi," she introduced herself, her representation in this world a cheetah. "Shaman of Las Vegas."
"Dee," the deer replied. "Nice to meet you. How are Nick and his friend?"
"Recovering. Thank you for your help."
He shrugged, as much as a deer could shrug. "Our meeting was accidental. He was lucky, actually. Glad to hear he's fine."
Their conversation drifted away from Nick and Conrad, getting to know each other. Nandi settled down, as did the deer, and they talked. She was fascinated by the other shaman, sensed his youth but also his strong heritage, and her suspicions as to what he might be because of the presence of the shield grew.
If Dee was part of a Shaman Pair, keeping in contact with him was important. Nandi would see to it that they had a continued ally in this man.
* * *
When they had arrived at the hospital, the paramedics had immediately wheeled Nick and Ecklie to the ER where a flurry of activity had separated both unconscious men. Grissom, who had parked his car and jogged over to the ER entrance, had immediately homed in on Nick. He was worried about Ecklie, too, but his priority lay with his partner. The others would be here soon, too. Franklin was probably scaling walls already. Catherine and the rest of the team had had to stay on their current case, but they had urged him to call the moment there was any news.
Grissom pushed into the ER and scanned for Dr. Lee Kim, their usual doctor, the man who was on call the moment a paranormal in critical condition was admitted, but he didn't see her. There were some familiar faces, nurses he knew from the paranormal community, but also others. Those faces soon separated into only well-known and others, those with no knowledge as to who they were treating somehow ending up with other patients. Grissom smiled faintly at the professional pattern of the paranormals and allies among the medical staff, keeping the secret while also working smoothly to save lives.
He came face to face with Ashton, one of the senior nurses. She smiled.
"They are in good care," she reassured him.
"Where is Dr. Kim?"
"OR. Surgery. Bad case. But don't worry. He's not our only doctor."
Grissom grimaced a little.
"You should make yourself comfortable in the waiting room," Ashton added, more than a hint in her voice. "I'll let you know as soon as you can be with Nick."
They knew. The staff here knew about how close they were, the bonded pair, the most unique beings in their community. Nick was sometimes bothered by the attention they were getting. Not that anyone stared, but other paranormals knew and even if they never saw anyone looking, unaware of how many paranormals they met every day, some of those they unwittingly talked to probably knew. It was a crazy world.
"Thank you," Grissom only said and walked to the very familiar waiting
It was thirty minutes later that Grissom was visited by an unfamiliar doctor. The man smiled at him, his manners mild, comforting, his eyes as dark brown as Nick's and holding the same confidence and calm. Somehow, Grissom found himself very much at ease in his presence.
"Dr. Gil Grissom I presume?" he asked.
Grissom noted the same smoothness in his voice, the same calm he exuded by just physically entering the room.
"I'm Dr. James Wilson." He held out his hand and Grissom shook it. "Nick's fine. He was close to hypothermic, slightly dehydrated and in need of a good night's sleep. No dramatic injuries. A few scrapes and bruises, the worst of it his upper arm. He pulled a few muscles and it looks spectacularly black and blue, but the shield protected him from the worst. I'll give you a prescription for the bruises and the pain, a salve, and he should keep the arm as immobile as possible for a few days. After that, he'll be fine. They'll keep him here overnight for observation. Standard procedure."
"You're not working at this hospital then?"
Wilson raised an eyebrow. "That obvious?"
"You said 'they', not 'we'."
"Ah. Yes. I'm filling in for Kim. He's still in OR and I was around, more or less." At Grissom's quizzical look he added with a friendly smile, "I'm here for a conference, was visiting Kim, and your emergency came in while I was waiting for him to get off duty so we could get a bite to eat. I'm an ally, Dr. Grissom. I was briefed about both patients and I know their specialties."
"I understand. Can I see Nick?" Gil only asked, filing the information away for later.
"Sure. Follow me."
He was led past the ER, past the rooms, and toward a private wing that Grissom recognized as the one reserved for paranormal cases from the time Ecklie had ended up here. It had been before he had become a shaman, when he had been shot in a drive-by. Now Ecklie was back here again, and so was Nick.
"How is Ecklie?" he asked, almost as if in an after-thought. He had pushed the other man aside because of the niggling worry about his bonded partner.
"Fine. Exhausted, concussed, as dehydrated and hypothermic as Nick, and he needed a few stitches. His leg took the brunt of the impact and he tore a muscle there, too. Bruises everywhere. Same goes for his back. He'll be in pain, but not to worry." Wilson stopped outside a private room and smiled compassionately. "Go in. He's asleep, but you can stay as long as you want."
* * *
Grissom stepped into the private room, wondering what it was about him and Nick that they kept on ending up in hospital rooms. The latest crisis had been with Nick being kidnapped and buried alive. The ant bites alone had been worrisome at first, then there had been dehydration and the nightmares. They had just made it through that.
Now Nick and Ecklie had been caught in a flash flood on their days off.
Walking over to the sleeping man, Grissom silently took a seat in the chair next to the bed, reaching for one pale hand. Nick's fingers were lax but warm, and there was an IV line attached to replenish fluids. Grissom carefully touched the smooth skin around it, seeing the bruise from the needle already. Nick still had the tiny red blotch, the scar, from the latest IVs months back. Those marks took a long time to fade.
Closing his eyes, feeling tired beyond belief, Grissom tried to relax, but he couldn't. He had nearly lost Nick again. Sure, Nick Mimicked him, a Phoenix, but that didn't mean death wasn't painful. He would revive, but after death everything changed. Especially when the death happened in public. If Search&Rescue had found Nick dead…
Grissom pushed those thoughts aside and opened his eyes to look at his partner.
A hiking accident. A stupid hiking accident.
He studied the sharp, squarish face, so pale and narrow now with the pain his lover had gone through. The dark hair was unruly, not at all Nick's usual style, and there were purplish bruises underneath the closed eyes.
Nick sighed, a momentary hitch in his otherwise regular breathing, and Grissom leaned forward closing a hand over Nick’s more firmly, making contact to let him know someone was there. Just in case. Nick stirred, the barest movement at first. A restless adjustment of his position followed by a subtle alteration in his breathing pattern, then a brief flutter of his eyelids. The familiar dark brown eyes opened wide for just moment, unfocused and staring -- registering nothing -- then too-heavy eyelids closed and he slipped away again.
Grissom smiled briefly, squeezing the lax fingers once again. He left when the nurse asked him to. Grissom wasn’t about to put up a fight. Nick was in good hands and too drugged to register much. Everyone here knew about their connection, about them being paranormals. He walked out into the fresh evening air and looked around. The sky had begun to grow dark around noon, the small thunderhead southwest of town had evolved into a deep gray sky. It hadn't rained yet, but the sky looked like it might pour down at any moment.
He inhaled deeply, savoring the air, then pulled out his cell phone. He needed to inform the team. Grissom hesitated, frowning. No, not the team. Greg first. This was his specialty. Explaining Nick's hiking accident was one thing, but Ecklie had been injured, too, and this relationship between the three men, their new status as very good friends, had to be kept a secret.
The storm was rolling in fast and he could smell the rain. Gusts of wind swept across the town.
Grissom dialed their ally's number.
"Greg? Grissom. We need your help…"
* * *
Nandi Kidja Kunene, shaman of Las Vegas, had been at the hospital before the arrival of the ambulance and she had immediately homed in on the two unconscious men. Not physically but spiritually. While the doctors and nurses worked on the injuries, she had checked each man. Ecklie's power level was balanced but rather low. He needed some time to get his strength back magic-wise. His unconsciousness had nothing to do with what had happened on the spirit plane. It was simply the concussion and the injuries.
Nick was a different matter. He was still radiating what he had done, actively attaching himself to another paranormal, and Nandi was stunned by it. She knew how determined the Mimic was to control his powers and apparently he had, in a desperate situation. She would have to ask him how he had achieved this remarkable event. Coming down from that 'high' should have been an easy process, but being exposed to the elements and injured had screwed up Nick's system. His aura looked a bit frazzled.
Nandi allowed herself to slide closer to the unconscious mind, attaching
herself to the currently rather open and vulnerable Mimic, who was still
so much a shaman, too.
Wide, brown eyes stared at her, reflecting all the emotions she felt, too, one hand out-stretched, fingers splayed as if pushing something away. Muscles trembled, clothes clung wetly to a slender frame that shook with the echoes of what had occurred, and a soft groan left the bloodless lips of Nick Stokes as his arm fell to his side and the tension drained from his frame.
Nick was kneeling next to the limp form of Conrad Ecklie, who was just as water drenched as he was. The other shaman's eyes were closed, his features slack, skin pale.
She took in the scene, the damage the flash flood had done. The soft hum of power she felt from him was both comforting and frightening. Shaman power.
He had done this. He had defended their friend, he had moved into
the spirit plane, and he had survived.
Nandi pulled back, satisfied that there was no visible damage, just the exhaustion and the power that still needed to bleed off. She knew that with the danger passed and Grissom so close, Nick would instinctively latch into his Phoenix partner once more.
The shaman could only imagine what Nick was feeling, what he was going through. Her knowledge of Mimics was close to non-existent, but she had heard a little about Nick's abilities in the years she knew him now. With his adoption of someone else's abilities came also the knowledge how to handle them, which was good. Nandi hated to think of a man with the power of a shaman and no idea how to control what he had at his disposal.
One of the doctors working on Conrad caught her attention all of a sudden. He was a young man, probably not even in his forties, with boyishly handsome features and expressive brown eyes. He didn't look at her, was completely intent on his patient, but there was something about him.
And then she saw the cat. No, not a cat. At least not a house cat. It was a wild one, long-legged, with rather large ears, and a freckled, light brown fur. The cat was sitting in the corner of the emergency room, gazing solemnly at the scene in front of it, not the least bit disturbed by the fast moving people. Nandi watched it with surprise. As a shaman she could see a paranormal's spirit animal if he had one, but the man this wild cat was linked to was no paranormal. The cat looked at her and she finally could categorize its descent.
She filed the information and the knowledge she had about the animal's meaning away, concentrating on the two patients once more. When Ecklie was admitted to a room, she followed, leaving Nick to the care of Gil Grissom. Ecklie was her main worry at the moment. As a fellow shaman she had to make sure nothing went wrong while he regained consciousness.
And there was also the life-partner, the vampire bonded to the man, who was currently running a groove into the floor. She would have to get Franklin to settle down a little. Then she would attempt to guide her unconscious friend back from the depth. The sooner Ecklie was awake, the better he could heal.
* * *
Franklin had been told to wait in a special waiting area and despite his attempts to get information on the condition of his lover, the nurses had calmly told him to please be patient. The vampire was close to losing what little patience he still had. He needed to be with his partner.
Pale – paler than a vampire normally was – face drawn and more narrow than usual, he fidgeted on his seat, then paced again. He and Conrad had been through a lot of ups and downs. Conrad had been shot by some stupid drive-by shooter. He had been overwhelmed by the power Caine had left in him, and the first few weeks as a shaman had been problematic. There had been so many changes, so much worry, so much pain, but there was also happiness. Conrad was his life-partner. He had fallen in love with this man, slowly but surely, and their year in San Francisco had given him a pretty good insight into him.
Now he had been injured again.
Franklin balled his hands into fists. He couldn't lose him. Never.
"He'll be fine," a soft voice interrupted his thoughts and he felt a gentle aura reach out and calm him.
Gray eyes met dark brown ones and Nandi smiled.
"I checked him and while his power levels are low, there is nothing that a little sleep and rest won't cure."
Franklin hated to sound so insecure. For a two centuries old being he was completely off balance when it came to anything that happened to Ecklie.
One word. Still, it held so much reassurance.
"Thanks," he murmured.
She smiled again, nodding, then walked on. Franklin exhaled sharply and pushed his hands into his pockets.
Conrad would be fine.
Nandi had said so.
Right now he just wanted to reassure himself in person, and the waiting was killing him.
* * *
He felt detached. Almost as if his mind and his body had become separate entities operating independently of each other. He seemed to be suspended in a twilight world in which time and space ceased to have any real meaning, in which he could safely ignore the realities of existence. A vague sensation of unease touched him, not enough to create any sense of distress. That he was unable to move was something of a mystery. He had no memory of anything that had gone on before the here and now; leaving him with no past on which to anchor. He was faintly troubled by the notion that there was something important that he should remember, knowing that somewhere in a far and inaccessible recess of his mind lay the answer but he had neither the will nor the strength to pursue the thought and once again he surrendered to become a being without substance.
A mind floating free.
No, he couldn't just slide back. He needed to… to… what?
There was a presence and it nudged him gently, trying to push him into awareness.
So Conrad Ecklie became vaguely aware. Mostly he was aware of the pain. His back was on fire, there was a shooting pain down his right leg, and a merciless, throbbing headache. Fighting unconsciousness, he tried to open his eyes. He could hear someone moving about, the distinctive sound of medical equipment, and there was the smell of anti-bacterial gel. Nausea passed over him in a wave.
It was a whisper, but he recognized it in a way. His mind dragged itself out of the swamp it was trapped in, but the effort was too much already. He coughed, his body curving forward as he did so, sending new pain searing through his head.
"Shhh," the voice whispered and he felt the soothing caress of a touch. "Sleep. You will be fine."
No longer willing to fight, he succumbed to sleep.
* * *
Nick finished dressing and leaned against the edge of the bed with a heavy sigh. He had spent the night under observation and everything had been fine. The concussion hadn't been all too bad and his bruises were something he could handle. Normal medical stuff.
He rubbed his temples, feeling the start of a headache building behind his eyes. Just the simple task of dressing had left him tired and more than a little grumpy, and now his main ambition was to get out of here.
Mimicking a shaman had taken a lot out of him. A Mimic easily adjusted to being something else, paranormally speaking, but at the time he had been under heavy duress. His body as such had suffered from the beating it had taken, from the cold, the elements in general, the on-set of hypothermia, and dehydration. It was great that he didn't need to actually train those powers he Mimicked, but if those powers started to wreak havoc on his body because he was becoming less and less capable of containing them, that was another matter.
Nandi had been by to check on him on a shamanic level, reassuring Nick that he no longer Mimicked a shaman, that he was once again bonded to Grissom one hundred percent, and aside from the physical effects of the ordeal, he would probably just have a headache from staying on the spirit plane so long.
Mustering his energy in a concentrated effort he launched himself from the edge of the bed and moved to the door. That was exactly the moment the door opened and Grissom walked in, startling his lover. Nick felt the world tilt a little and his headache started hammering more.
"Not so loud," he protested.
Grissom's strong grip on his arms balanced him and he was briefly wrapped in a familiar embrace. He took strength from that strength, from the very presence of his partner, and Grissom gently rubbed his back.
"You should stay a little longer," the older man murmured.
"No way. I wanna go home."
A chuckle answered that. "I'd like nothing more than have you home, but what if…?"
"I was checked. It's nothing a night or two of good sleep won't cure. Gil, please…!"
Brown eyes pleaded with blue ones and Grissom relented.
They made it out of the room, Grissom carrying his small sports bag, and into the parking lot. Nick was too busy keeping on his own two feet to notice much and when he finally fell into the passenger seat, he was weak and his head was close to exploding.
"Here," Grissom said quietly.
A pill was pushed into his hand and he took it without argument. He fingered the tender laceration at his temple, but Grissom caught his hand and gave him a light scowl.
"Let's get you home," his lover only said.
Nick was dead-tired, nauseous, and home was where he really wanted to be.
“Sit back and relax.”
Grissom pulled out of the parking lot and into the traffic.
* * *
Nick was in a bad shape when they got home and Grissom was tempted to just turn around and get them back to the hospital. But Nick insisted he was fine. Pain was erupting in white flashes behind his eyes and he moaned, stumbling against the hallway wall.
"Nick," Grissom whispered, wrapping a stabilizing arm around his waist.
"Head," Nick moaned, unable to form full sentences.
"Let's get you to bed," was his lover's answer.
It was a long way, longer than it should be from what Nick remembered, but finally Grissom lowered him onto the bed and he blessedly sank into the cool sheets.
"Take you medication," Grissom instructed and he did.
The older man was already closing the blinds, well acquainted with migraines, knowing what had to be done. Nick just lay on the bed, willing the pain to subside. His mind was almost blank, unable to really think much, but he was sure of one thing: he didn't want to go back to the hospital.
He started to drift off, the pain medication doing its magic, and for a while there was just blessed fuzziness. He registered Grissom's presence, but only as a touch, a mumble of words he couldn't understand, and warmth.
Finally there was nothingness. Sleep claimed him and the pain subsided into his subconsciousness.
* * *
Catherine Willows had taken over the team temporarily while Grissom picked up Nick from the hospital and got him home. The Templar case was still going strong, their investigations covering a lot of ground, and by now they had two suspects, which was pretty good considering the time that had passed. Brass was taking care of police matters while the CSIs got their evidence in order.
She and Warrick had wanted to drop by the hospital, but Grissom had told him Nick was already on his way home with the firm advice to take it easy and rest for a week. She was relieved that her friend hadn't been more seriously injured, but part of her wanted to yell at him for taking such stupid risks. Hiking in a flash flood area! It didn't help that the forecast had been wrong, that there hadn't been any indication of danger. She just wanted to vent.
In the absence of their boss and one team member, the others were quite busy. Catherine would have expected Ecklie to be on their case, remind them how important the Templar evidence was, but the AD hadn't been in yet and if rumors were correct, he wouldn't be in today.
While Catherine labeled some evidence bags she wondered about that.
She had watched Ecklie closely lately; well, for months. Ever since he
had come back to work in Vegas, ever since becoming the Assistant Director
to the Crime Lab, he had changed. It was a change that had begun before
that unexpected sabbatical and had continued ever since. Confrontations
with Grissom were at an all-time low; sometimes she thought they understood
each other a lot better now than before.
That Ecklie had come back to be in a relationship with a rather handsome blond man had briefly surprised her, but not because the other was a man. It was more of a surprise that anyone could actually be in an intimate relationship with the Assistant Director. Or that Ecklie let someone close. There had been rumors when he had still been a dayshift supervisor, that he was divorced, but there had never been any evidence. Catherine had learned from the best that the evidence didn't lie and that in the absence of evidence, no conclusions could be drawn.
So she watched.
And she collected evidence.
Catherine closed the box and walked to the vault where she handed it over to one of the officers, signing it in.
The world was full of surprises and she would get to the bottom of the changes one day. For now she had a job to do, and friends to worry about, and she planned on calling Grissom the moment she got off work. For all his unruffled exterior, Grissom was more vulnerable than he let on. Nick was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He truly loved him and that was saying something because it was Gil Grissom. Their relationship had been going strong for several years now; Catherine envied them sometimes.
* * *
Ecklie blinked and focused on his visitor, smiling sleepily at the blond vampire.
"You look like crap," he whispered, his throat dry, his tongue twice so, and his lips felt chapped. He hated hospitals. Not because of the food or the smell; just because he only ended up here when he was off really bad.
Like getting shot.
Yes, been there, done that, he mused absently.
Or hit over the head by a giant rock.
Yep, that, too.
Franklin just smiled down at him, fingers caressing his face. "Look who's talking. How do you feel?"
Another smile, reflecting such exhaustion Ecklie wondered when the vampire had last slept. While Franklin, as a vampire, didn't need as much sleep as a human, he still did need it.
"How much time?" Conrad whispered.
"Since you and Nick went for a leisurely hike? A while."
"How long, Franklin?" he insisted.
"Almost two days."
He blinked again. Two days? He had been out there with Nick for two days? The whole weekend?
The caresses never stopped and the sea gray eyes of his lover told Ecklie more than any words could. Franklin had been almost frantic and he was too pale, too drawn looking, to be on his regular diet of shakes.
"When did you last eat?" he asked, catching the hand.
The vampire was icy cold to the touch. Not normal at all.
"Conrad, I'm fine."
"Don't argue with the shaman. You look bad, you feel cold, you sound even worse, and you don't want to know what your aura looks like in my eyes. Go home."
Franklin's face twisted with indecision. "Conrad…"
"Go, before you end up in the blood donor's room."
The vampire smiled faintly.
"Franklin." There was now a faint warning in the not so strong voice, but it carried across to the blond.
"I'd listen to him," a new voice interrupted whatever Franklin was about to say. "Shamans do kick quite a punch I've been told."
Ecklie peered past his lover and met the smirk that was David Hodges. "Where did you come from?" the shaman wanted to know, frowning slightly.
Hodges gestured over his shoulder, vaguely toward the door and the outside. "Coffee machine. Horrible stuff, though. Worse than the sludge at the lab, and that's a compliment."
"David stayed as our ally," Franklin explained. "Greg was needed at a crime scene."
Hodges smiled brightly. "So you got me."
Ecklie almost smiled back, but he was getting sleepy again. Whatever they had given him, it was exhausting.
"Get him home," he murmured, addressing Hodges. "He needs food. And sleep."
"I'm fine," Franklin insisted.
"Right!" Hodges rubbed his hands. "Ally time. You – home." He made a flourishing gesture toward the door again. "Big guy shaman here needs more rest and you're bugging him. So…?"
"I'm not leaving!"
"You are," Ecklie murmured quietly, his powers twitching only briefly, but it made Franklin start.
Gray eyes filled with mixed emotions. Ecklie couldn't hold that desperate gaze for very long as his body reclaimed its need to sleep. The last he saw was Hodges, his face uncharacteristically serious and compassionate.
Franklin was protesting all the way down the corridor where Hodges finally rolled his eyes, something he had been wanting to do for a while, and slapped the vampire's upper arm.
"Will you stop it? You're worse than a ten-year-old! Bitch, bitch, bitch! You know he's okay, he needs sleep, and so do you! Among other things."
Franklin opened his mouth to argue when he caught sight of a man in dark suit pants, a crisp light blue shirt, and a neat tie, watching them with amused eyes. The sleeves of the shirt were rolled up and the suit coat was missing, making the business outfit more leisurely, and he exuded an air of confidence and utter calm.
It was a deserted night in this small hospital wing, one reserved for paranormals. There were quite a few, and their allies, living and working in Las Vegas and the greater area of the city.
Hodges turned, frowning. "What now?"
"Oh, nothing. Just watching." The man smiled and the dark brown eyes lit up with amusement. "We haven't met," the man addressed Franklin. "Dr. James Wilson. I'm visiting. Well, about to leave for home, actually."
Franklin sized the other man up. Handsome, probably in his very late thirties or very early forties, with an open, caring face, barely any lines, and a firm handshake.
"Ally?" the vampire hazarded a guess.
"Yes. I was here for an oncology conference at the Wynn."
Franklin studied him some more. "Oncology?"
"I'm head of the oncology department at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. I was visiting a colleague when your partner was brought in. I was… interested. He's the first shaman I ever met."
There was a little shrug, but it couldn't hide the awe of the man of having seen a real life shaman. Shamans were a secretive group who had just lately shown their faces once more. Well, in Ecklie's case he had been introduced to his shamanic powers by becoming the unwilling recipient of them. Caine, the San Francisco shaman, had died in his arms and, in an act of desperation, transferred his powers into the unsuspecting man.
Franklin smiled dimly. That felt like a life-time ago, and that was saying something since he was a vampire.
"And I never ran into life-partners."
"Yes, yes," Hodges interrupted. "Very fascinating, but if I don't get him home I'll get curfew from the shaman in question, and we don't want to discuss what happens if I also don't manage to feed him."
Franklin felt even more like a ten-year old now. "I said I'm fine."
"You're not," Wilson said before Hodges could. "Go home. Your partner is in the best care."
"Because you say so?" Franklin snapped, then reeled back, shocked by his outbreak.
The doctor only gave him a calm, even look. "Yes."
Hodges gave him another push and Franklin finally relented. Wilson just nodded at them.
"When did you get to be so bossy?" the vampire grumbled as they walked to the car.
"When did you get to be such an obnoxious child?" came the retort.
Franklin smiled a little. For having started out on the wrong foot, the two men had found a common base and a friendship not too long ago. Hodges, their reluctant ally, was coming more and more out of his shell, helping them, being the ally he had always been deep down inside. He liked to banter with the man, enjoyed the wit and sarcasm, and if he wasn't completely off, there was something between the lab tech and their local female shaman. Now that would be interesting.
Sinking down into the seat, he let Hodges drive him home where he immediately went to the fridge and thrust a shake into the blond's hands.
"Drink. Now. Then go and rest. I'll have to go to work. No sneaking out," Hodges ordered.
"Wouldn’t dream of it," Franklin vowed, emptying the plastic bottle of blood.
And he did as ordered. He knew his partner was in good hands and needed him rested when he got home.
* * *
Gil Grissom watched as Nick made his way to the breakfast table, looking
a bit too tired for his liking and Grissom wanted nothing more than to
put his lover back into bed and sit on him till he got better. Nick wouldn't have any of it. He was bruised all over, his head was probably
still aching, but he was valiantly trying to function normally.
The coffee was accepted with a weaker-than-normal smile and Nick drank
it slowly, looking like this was really bliss. Grissom smiled back,
placing some more toast onto the table.
"Catherine called. She said hello and best wishes. She and Warrick might drop by later if that's okay with you."
"Yeah. Fine. Bet they're worried."
Grissom chuckle a little. "Just a bit."
Nick raised an eyebrow, smiling more. "How's Ecklie?"
"Still in the hospital, rather weak, and staying for a few more days."
"He took the brunt of it all," Nick said softly.
"I gathered as much."
Nick looked into his coffee, silent.
Brown eyes rose and met Grissom's. Something had happened out there, Grissom knew. Something that had changed his lover profoundly.
"What happened?" he now wanted to know, voice soft.
"I'm not sure," was the reply.
Nick suddenly got up and paced, then headed for the living room. Mystified, Grissom followed.
"I… something happened, Gil."
"I thought as much," was the mild reply.
Nick looked agitated, almost pained, but it wasn't a physical pain. "Ecklie was hurt and I didn't have the cell phones, and it was getting dark… we were all alone…" Nick scrubbed a hand over his face. "I Mimicked him, Gil."
"What?" Grissom blurted.
Nick had what? His lover didn't have any active powers!
"I Mimicked a Shaman. I was on the spirit plane and I talked to someone. He was the one who sent help. I don't know how I did it, but it happened." Nick's words were coming faster and faster, and his agitation grew. "I was a shaman, Gil. For a moment I was a shaman, but I'm not any more. I don't feel the same any more."
"Like… like when I was on the spirit plane. Nandi said the headache
came from the power I worked, and she said I'm a Phoenix again. I'm Mimicking
Grissom closed the last distance between them. He reached out and touched Nick, feeling the tremors.
"You did what was necessary. You saved your lives."
"But how? I'm not supposed to be able to do anything?" Nick demanded. "I'm a passive paranormal! I Mimic you because you are imprinted on me, but how can I actively Mimic Ecklie?!"
"I don't know," Grissom confessed.
Nick drew a shuddering breath, a fine line of pain appearing between his eyes.
"Headache?" the older man wanted to know.
Nick nodded slowly. "Not to bad. Just a little."
"You should rest. Whatever happened, it took a lot out of you."
Stokes gave an almost desperate laugh. Grissom gently guided him over to the couch and watched as Nick leaned back into the comfortable pillow, feet up, eyes closed. His mind was spinning with the news, with what Nick had told him. This had never happened before. He needed to talk to Nandi.
* * *
When Nick came to visit Ecklie, the other man was already getting better. Aside from spectacular bruising, rivaling Nick's, only the bandage taped to the forehead showed. Everything else was hidden underneath the gown.
"Hey," Nick said, smiling as he entered the room.
Ecklie turned his head away from the TV and used the remote to switch it off. He looked tired, but not like he would drop off any minute. "Hey."
"How are you?"
A chuckle answered him. "Could be better. I didn't know I had so many body parts to bruise. Hurts like hell."
"Tell me about it."
Nick settled on a chair. Ecklie's dark eyes regarded him closely and Nick wondered if the shaman had the same problems as all paranormals who exhausted themselves. He would need time to recover his powers.
"I thought Franklin would camp out in your room," Stokes remarked, breaking the brief silence.
"I sent him home. He can come back when it isn't bright sunlight out there and it's not like I'm going anywhere." Ecklie shrugged almost carefully, aware of the bruises. "He wasn't happy, but neither was I."
You don't like him taking risks, Nick thought. He understood the feeling. He had it with Gil, too.
"How are you?" the AD now asked.
"Headache's slowly going away. It's a real nuisance. The moment you think you won't feel it again, it flares."
"Nandi said something like it." Nick shifted uncomfortably.
"Nick, it's perfectly natural. And what you did… it was amazing."
"Yeah, well…" He looked away.
"You saved our lives."
"No, you did. Nick… Nick!"
He looked up, feeling the slight rise of power with the soft call of his name. So much for recharging powers. Then again, a shaman was powerful and even a drained state would still give him enough to get Nick's attention.
"What are you afraid of?"
Oh great, straight to the point. Nick got up from the chair and walked over to the window.
"What if it happens again?" he finally blurted.
"When… I mean, if we continue the sessions..." Again he shifted unconsciously. He wasn't sure if Ecklie even wanted to continue. "If we continue, I might do it again. I was in the same state of balance and latched onto your powers!"
It was what he was terrified of. He had done this while following the normal steps of achieving his balance and it had happened.
"You won't," Ecklie reassured him. "And we will continue as long as you want me to help you."
"I was unconscious, Nick. I was injured and not aware of what was happening around me. You latched onto me in that state. When we have the sessions, I'm very much aware. I would feel you trying to Mimick me."
"You might not be able to stop me," Nick whispered, scrubbing a hand over his face. "When it happens, it's like an unstoppable force!"
"I could stop you. I might have been able to stop you in my unconscious state, too." Nick stared at him in disbelief and Ecklie smiled. "Nick, a shaman is not defenseless, even me. I might not be fully trained and still learning, but trust me, I can defend myself even while asleep or unconscious. It's natural."
"Because I knew it was you. Because I trust you. Because you were our only way out of this."
Nick swallowed hard. He stuffed his hands into his pockets, hunching his shoulders.
"Do you want us to continue?" Ecklie finally asked, breaking the renewed silence.
"Yes!" There was no thought about it. It had been his lifeline in the early weeks after the kidnapping.
"Then we will. And don't worry about this."
There was a calmness spreading from Ecklie, a warm, gentle aura of reassurance. Nick found himself unconsciously relaxing and part of him cursed the shaman for his tiny manipulations. Another part was just too glad to give a damn. Ecklie had never used his powers at work -- other than to read an aura or two -- but such harmless manipulations like right now stayed away from his ‘official’ job.
"When will you get out of here?" he changed the topic.
"Probably tomorrow. Greg did a great job covering what happened."
Car accident. How Sanders had done it was his secret. He was an ally and as such he had resources Nick didn't dream of. Somehow he had managed to get Ecklie's name into the files about a multiple car accident on the I-15 near St. George. There would be hospital records and police reports, everything needed to cover up that Ecklie had actually been out hiking with Nick and getting caught in a flash flood. No one even knew he was being treated here.
And then again, the normal work of an ally.
* * *
Grissom didn't get much from Nandi. Mimics were so rare, so unknown, that what Nick had done had surprised everyone. Theoretically he should be able to Mimick all kinds of paranormals, but his kind of paranormal also had a natural shielding mechanism to stop him from Mimicking whoever he met. He had attached himself to the strong Phoenix Grissom was and afterwards only shamanic manipulation had made him become a Sidhe descendant that the kitsune inside Hugh Farnham had needed.
That Nick had done this on his own, with Ecklie unconscious and no one else there to help, it was astounding.
"So you don't know and there is no one to ask?" Grissom only wanted to know.
The shaman nodded. "Rest assured that I will look into this, and I want to talk to Ecklie and the shaman in New York who Nick contacted, but right now there is no way to tell how he managed this. Or what the consequences for him are."
Grissom's brow furrowed a little. "Consequences?"
"We don't know how Mimicking a shaman might change Nick's abilities. We don't even know if the Mimickry of the Sidhe launched this one."
"Explain," was the quiet request.
Nandi looked thoughtful, as if trying to find the correct words. "Nick has always only been Mimicking you. He would continue doing so for the rest of your very long lives, Dr. Grissom. You're a natural Phoenix; near to immortal. He is a copy of you. Caine forced him into being something else for Mr. Farnham. It was the first time his powers truly launched and worked. He immediately snapped back to you afterwards because you are his anchor and his reference point, but his abilities were set into motion, so to speak."
"So this past incident might be responsible?"
"I don't know," Nandi repeated. "As I said, he is so very rare."
Grissom was silent, thoughtful, gazing at the female shaman.
"I doubt he will jump into Mimicking someone else, Dr. Grissom," Nandi finally said, as if reading his thoughts. "The first one was launched because of a shaman, the second was under duress and while Ecklie was unconscious, he would have stopped Nick from doing something his subconsciousness wasn't ready to deal with."
"In what way?"
"We shamans are always aware of what is happening around us. Even while asleep or unconscious we defend ourselves against hostile attacks. Conrad classified Nick as a friend and let him do whatever he did, this Mimicking of his powers," Nandi explained. "He won't let Nick slip back into that track when they meet again."
There was a flash of alarm racing through Grissom at that thought. Nick was visiting Ecklie today and he hadn't thought of possible dangers in that innocent meeting.
"Believe me, Dr. Grissom. If that had been a real danger, Conrad wouldn't have started training with Nick. Meditation is always a sure starting point into any kind of power wielding. Nick hasn't Mimicked him so far; he won't do it by accident again."
Grissom tried to calm himself. "How sure are you?"
"There is no proof, there are no prior cases… it's all based on the years we have known each other now."
"The years you watched us."
She inclined her head a little, smiling. "Yes."
Again, silence. Finally Grissom nodded. Not pleased, but he accepted it.
"There is nothing you can do," Nandi added softly, voice full of understanding. "Be there for Nick as you were before. It's your strength."
"He is my strength," Grissom replied softly.
He left, thoughtful, ignoring the bustle of tourists around the hotel, and walked slowly down the Strip. There was a lot he had to think about.
* * *
Ecklie did get home as promised. Franklin was hovering protectively at his side all the way, refusing to let any of their friends drive him, despite the fact that it was bright sunlight outside.
“You take too many risks,” Ecklie muttered as Franklin pulled out of the parking lot.
Gray eyes gave him a pointed look. “I do?”
He rolled his eyes. “I just went hiking and the situation changed. We didn’t have any warning. It’s not like I deliberately looked for a flash flood! You on the other hand…”
Franklin’s features were pale, narrow, still showing signs of his worry. Ecklie reached over and touched one knee almost quizzically.
Those gray eyes met his and he bit his lower lip at the turmoil in there. Neither man spoke any more until they reached their home. The vampire drove straight into the garage and shut off the engine of the car when the garage door closed.
“I couldn’t just sit at home and wait,” he broke the silence.
Ecklie looked at him, noticing the faint glow of the eyes in the semi-light of the car’s interior.
“I know my limitations, Conrad. I haven’t survived as long as I already did without knowing. It’s just…”
Ecklie had removed his seat belt and now leaned over, ignoring the aches
and pains in his body to pull his life-partner into a kiss. Franklin met
desperately, and he stroked over the blond hair with a tender caress.
“I know,” he murmured. “I love you, too. More than anyone will ever know.”
The vampire seemed to shiver and his hands buried in Ecklie’s shirt,
They made it into the house at some point. There was a loud meowing and purring rumble, that of a small cat now racing toward her human at top speed. Tail up, tip at an angle, the whole cat seemed to vibrate and tremble. Cleo’s eyes were huge, she was crying her welcome and protest at his absence, telling him how worried she had been, and Ecklie found himself unable to walk without tripping over the little bundle of fur that insisted to wind around his legs.
“She missed you,” Franklin remarked, a sparkle in his eyes.
Conrad picked up his familiar and she purred loudly, a small engine running on full power. Her head butted insistently against his chin and she clung to his shirt with tiny but very sharp claws.
“Yes, I missed you, too,” he murmured, scratching her.
It only increased her welcome purr and head butting.
Franklin chuckled. His eyes still reflected his own feelings and Ecklie gave him a warm smile.
“Go get yourself a shake.”
“You want something, too?”
He shrugged. He wasn’t really hungry, but a snack might be a good idea.
In the end they were on the couch, Cleo snuggled up to her human on his lap, looking very content. She didn’t leave Ecklie’s side even when it was time for bed and Franklin grumbled all the way as the cream colored tabby tried to insert herself between the two men. She finally relented to the fact that the vampire was bigger and even more stubborn than her, and she curled up on the foot of the bed.
* * *
A week had passed since the rescue from the flooded canyon and Nick was finally free of the headaches and nausea. The aftereffects had lasted longer than expected and he had had Nandi visit him three times in that week, each time checking him over.
The first time had been just a general check-up and he had little to tell her. His mind was a total mess of jumbled memories.
"What do you remember?" the female shaman asked with her soft, gentle voice.
"Not much," Nick confessed, sighing. "I know Conrad and I went hiking. I know he was bothered by something and then there was the flood."
"And about the spirit plane?"
That was even worse to recall. It was as if his brain was trying to
keep him from harm, from seeing and experiencing something he was ill-equipped
to see once
Nandi had tried to discover how he had managed to Mimic a shaman, but Nick wasn't very clear on that either.
"I tried mediation," he told her, frowning. "You said it might help me achieve some kind of control. So I did just that, but I didn't think it would work. It never worked before! I mean, it might have accidentally happened while I was out in the desert with Ecklie…"
"Probably not," she replied thoughtfully. "Conrad can control his powers and he can harness them. He keeps them under tight control around you, not to set off whatever might trigger you. I know what happened with the kitsune. Shamans triggered you.."
Nick lowered his eyes, not at all comfortable with remembering that particular incident.
"I think that your desperation to help, to find some way of using your powers, together with the discipline meditation has given you enabled the Mimic to briefly rise and take a hold of the shaman."
He was silent, contemplating the words. "So it's unlikely to happen again?"
Her brown eyes were compassionate. "I don't know, Nick. Circumstances were helping. You were under a lot of pressure. Conrad was unconscious and couldn't help you. You needed to help and you did what was right."
Nick wondered what Ecklie being unconscious had really done to the power transfer. He doubted an unconscious shaman was truly defenseless. Anyone could come by and do something. But if that was the case, if there were defenses, then Ecklie had subconsciously known Nick was there and let him do this.
Because he trusted him that much.
* * *
Nandi walked into the home of her fellow shaman, exuberantly greeted by a small, cream colored cat. She reached down and petted Cleo, who gave her an extra loud purr.
"Hello, little one."
She had heard the footsteps, though vampires rarely walked loud enough for anyone who didn't have really sharp hearing to detect them. Shamans didn't have that extra edge where their normal senses were confirmed, but they had their magic.
"Hello, Franklin. Just the man I wanted to talk to."
"Uh. 'Kay. Everything all right?"
She smiled at the blond. "Mostly."
Now he fidgeted. "Is Conrad okay?"
Nandi almost felt the rising agitation and she exuded calming waves of earth magic. Franklin shot her an annoyed look and she smiled.
"Everything's fine with him. Actually, I came to talk about Cleo."
The cat in question was sitting on the couch, looking at her with huge eyes. Franklin gave the familiar a curious but also worried look.
"What's wrong with her?"
"She's fine now, but she was very upset when Conrad got hurt."
"I noticed." Franklin reached over and scratched her between the ears.
She purred, leaning into the caress.
"You noticed and did what?" Nandi asked.
"I thought… maybe she was going into heat. I didn't really… well…"
"You know she's a familiar?"
Nandi still smiled. "And you know she is Conrad's? She is attached to him? She protects him, Franklin."
"I know that."
"So you didn't see any problem with her suddenly getting agitated for no apparent reason?"
He fidgeted again. "I thought…"
"She's not a normal cat, Franklin."
"I know that!"
"But you treated her like one. Why didn't you call me?"
Agitation grew and the gray eyes flickered, silver poking through as the vampire reflected that agitation. The pain of Conrad missing, injured, in the hospital, was still too real. Losing his life-partner was the worst thing Franklin could think of and Nandi knew it. She wasn't intentionally cruel, but she had to drive the point home.
"I thought it was nothing," he whispered.
"I wasn't nothing."
"Don't you think I know that now?" he cried.
Nandi sent calmness again, wrapping her magic around him like an embrace. "Franklin," she soothed him. "I know you would never want him to get hurt, but you need to learn that Cleo is an indicator of Conrad's condition. Not small moods but big things, like getting injured or attacked…"
The gray eyes flared again in remembered pain.
Nandi approached him, smiling more. "Just listen to Cleo. Listen to your own instincts. You are life-partners, bonded by something so special, it only happens to a vampire once in a lifetime."
"I know," was the very soft reply in a very small voice.
Cleo meowed and brushed against him, butting her head against him. Franklin gave her a tiny smile and brushed over the short fur.
Nandi knew how scared the vampire was, how badly rattled, and how much he loved the other shaman. She knew he would cling to Conrad like glue for a while, reassuring himself that his lover was alive, and that was good. She just had needed to make sure he understood that Cleo wasn't just a cat. She was a familiar and as such very sensitive to Ecklie's condition.
"You want a coffee?" he offered meekly, breaking the silence.
"I'd be delighted."
Cleo was scooped up and happily snuggled into the hold as Franklin carried her with him as he walked into the kitchen.
Nandi just followed, smiling.
* * *
Nick couldn’t help but think it was a romantic setting. He smiled to himself as he walked into the Tribal Ring. The ‘Ring’ as it was only called, was a new restaurant affiliated with the Shaman Hotel and Casino, located off strip and with a spectacular view of Stratosphere Tower and the lit up Strip at night. Located a the top floor of a brand new building, it had just recently opened and was both a hip restaurant for everyone who wanted something exotic, as well as a place for paranormals to meet.
Grissom had surprised him with the announcement that he had made reservations and Nick had been only too pleasantly touched by it. A young waiter led them to a secluded booth off the main floor. They still had that spectacular view, but Nick wasn’t really interested in looking at Las Vegas at night. He knew the town, knew the sights, the light shows, and it wasn’t why they were here.
After they had ordered and their drinks had arrived, Nick reached for his partner’s hand, interlacing their fingers.
Yes, he was a hopeless romantic. "I like this," he said softly.
Blue eyes lit up with warmth, pleasure racing over the normally not so vividly expressive features. Nick knew Grissom too well not to realize how much thought his lover had put into this.
"I'm glad you like it."
Oh he did. He really did.
They spent the evening eating a great dinner, drinking excellent wine, and Nick had never enjoyed himself more than in this moment. Maybe it was the fact that he had survived all this and Gil was treating him to this wonderful night, but maybe it was just the fact that he loved this man and that they were here, together, with no interruptions.
When they were done and had paid, Nick slid out of the seat, but he stopped Grissom from leaving their island of privacy. Taking his lover's hand he pulled him close, then kissed him. It started out as a gentle touch of lips, then grew into a more intimate meeting of tongues and finally hands. Gil spread his fingers as his hands slid over the narrow hips and firm behind of his lover, and Nick could only feel the contact, the heat, the emotions, all bottled up inside him. They separated, breathing hard, blue eyes as heated as brown ones. Grissom smiled a little devilishly.
"I should take you out to dinner more often if that's the reward," the older man murmured seductively.
Nick laughed. "Yeah, you should."
He felt hot and bothered, wanting nothing more than to throw Grissom against the wall and kiss the living daylights out of him.
"We could rent a room," Gil suggested, almost as if reading his thoughts.
"We could," Nick played along.
"I think we qualify for a discount at the Shaman."
"By the time we're checked in, we could be home and naked in bed already," Nick purred.
Those incredible blue eyes flashed with more fire. Nick smiled with
the same seduction Grissom had used on him and the other man growled softly,
kissing him once more.
They made it out of the Ring, into their car and finally home, but Nick had no real memory of how. He only knew that all the time Gil was touching him somehow, in one place or another, his hand coming to rest on his thigh as they drove. It played over the firm muscles, shy of the more sensitive area where Nick was getting uncomfortably tight now.
Grissom wasn't shy when they were finally out of the car and in their garage, kissing him with more need, more emotion, and with demand. Nick carded his fingers through the short, curly hair, gasping for air between kisses, throughout kisses, groaning when he was pushed against the all and devoured. Grissom could be aggressive, but he rarely showed it as openly as now.
His long-sleeve shirt was pushed up, eager hands gliding over his stomach and sides, and Nick felt something inside of him quiver with growing desire. When those rather nimble fingers started to open his fly, Nick had to lock his knees. He was glad he had done so because suddenly Grissom was there, before him, on his knees, and the wet heat around his own arousal was making him groan his approval. Nick let his head fall back, almost cracking it against the wall, and his hips started to jerk.
Grissom's right hand was assisting in stroking, caressing and squeezing the hardness he was currently making even harder, and the left was keeping a steady hold on Nick's hips.
"Gil," Nick moaned.
Time lost all meaning as his sensation shrank down to the sensation of his lover on him, around him, squeezing and massaging and sucking and…
Nick cried out, knees quivering and trying to keep himself upright. There were strong hands on his hips, stabilizing him, Grissom's soft voice whispering his name, and he blinked dazedly.
"Damn," he whispered.
Gil smiled, looking very self-satisfied. He licked his lips and Nick shivered, then grabbed his lover and kissed him hard. He knew he looked ravaged, he felt ravaged, and with them both still fully dressed, his fly open, his most intimate areas exposed…
A hand was inserted between their bodies and Grissom stroked over him. Nick gasped, highly sensitive and still very much aroused in a way he couldn't explain.
"Bedroom," Gil whispered throatily, starting to tease him more.
Nick was feeling giddy and dizzy and hungry in one, grabbing the older man to kiss him with almost bruising strength.
"Bed," he agreed.
* * *
Franklin smiled as he looked at his sleeping lover. Conrad Ecklie was dressed in a loose, dark gray shirt and matching boxers. He lay on his back, one arm flung over his eyes, the other at his side. The blanket had been tossed from the bed and the t-shirt had ridden up to reveal part of his belly. Franklin silently walked over to the sleeping man. It was still early in the evening, but with what had happened just a few days ago, he was allowed to sleep in.
Watching the rise and fall of the broad chest Franklin undressed quickly. His lover had gotten into a great shape. Hidden underneath the shirts and suits was a body no one suspected he had, and Franklin wasn’t about to share.
Looking at the man on the bed, the vampire smiled as a slight shift let the t-shirt ride up a little further, revealing Conrad’s belly button to his hungry eyes. The little birth scar was one of Franklin’s favorite erotic points when it came to his life partner. Conrad was highly sensitive in that area, easily aroused to the point of release, and Franklin loved to use it to get him going. Licking his lips, he approached the bed and carefully placed his knees left and right of his lover’s hips. The mattress sagged under his weight, alerting the dozing man.
Ecklie moved his arm away from his eyes and sleepy, dark brown eyes blinked at him. “Franklin?” he murmured, then smiled lazily. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself.” Franklin leaned forward and brushed his lips over Ecklie’s.
Ecklie responded, kissing him back, then opening his lips under the soft pressure of Franklin’s tongue. The blond deepened the kiss, hearing the content rumble coming from the man beneath him, feeling the first signs of arousal. He chuckled and drew back, gazing into the smoky brown depths.
Nibbling along the chin, he moved down the neck and Conrad sighed softly, offering his throat, moaning as Franklin lightly teethed the spots he knew would get the best reaction.
He sat back and pushed the gray shirt further up, but he didn’t remove it completely. He slid his hands over the hard planes, exploring well-known territory, playing with the nipples. It got him a gasp and when he suckled at one, Conrad groaned deeply. He licked his way down the middle, stopping just over the belly button. Scooting back, he hooked his fingers under the waistband and pulled the boxer away from his prize, tossing them carelessly onto the floor. Ignoring the straining hardness, Franklin ran his hands up the muscular flanks.
“Franklin,” Conrad breathed.
“Hm?” He kissed his lover, stealing Conrad’s reply. Only the need for air drove them apart.
Ecklie panted, bucking up, rubbing against him. Franklin bit back a moan and quickly slid onto Conrad’s thighs to evade temptation. The shaman grinned at him, mischief dancing in his eyes.
“Evil,” Franklin murmured, flicking a finger at a straining nipple.
Conrad hissed, moving up as Franklin rubbed the sensitive nipple some more. Franklin smiled and proceeded to kiss his lover’s chest, moving south again. Hands on the waist he looked past the panting chest into the lust-filled gaze. Then he ran his tongue over the belly button. He was rewarded with a quiver of muscles. He did it again. Slower this time. Much slower, lips brushing over the skin. More quivers.
Franklin hummed against the warm skin, then nibbled at the navel. Conrad gasped. He continued the soft torture, increasing the stimulation by suckling at the area around the indention, then pushing the tip of his tongue inside. Ecklie groaned loudly, legs suddenly spreading wider. His erection bopped against Franklin, and Conrad tried to push up, get more stimulation.
Franklin complied, but not in any way his lover really wanted. The other man wanted his mouth on his arousal; Franklin was far from that. He kept it on the belly button. Licking, sucking and kissing, pushing his tongue into the sensitive indention, he listened to his lover’s increased pants and whimpers with delight. He held the writhing man by his hips. By now Conrad’s legs were spread wide, knees bent, left and right of Franklin’s head. His hands clenched into the sheets.
“Franklin…. please… touch me, please!”
He chuckled. Not just yet. He had once mused about whether or not he could get his lover to climax without touching him anywhere but at this special spot. He wanted to find out today. Judging from the leakage, from the sticky fluid gracing Conrad’s hardness, he was getting there.
Using one free hand to stimulate Ecklie further, playing over the soft skin of one thigh, he heard Conrad’s breathing hitch in his throat.
The last exclamation turned into an inarticulate cry as the vampire teethed the by no hyper-sensitive skin.
Increasing his efforts, Franklin was pleased to feel his lover’s responses increase the same. Conrad was a very responsive man, more than he would ever have dreamed he could be. He tongued the little indention with more fervor, slipping one hand between the wide-spread legs. Conrad cried out soundlessly as he brushed over him with a butterfly caress. His whole body was quivering now, a fine sheen of sweat glistening on the skin, and he was breathing as hard as if he had run a marathon. Eyes screwed shut, his head thrown back, he was a sight to behold. Franklin smiled, humming against the seriously kissed and licked navel. He knew his lover was close. He just needed the last little shove over the edge. Taking pity, he licked from bottom to top along Ecklie’s straining hardness.
He was rewarded with a cry of release as Conrad climaxed. The dark-haired man went limp, gasping, he flinched only slightly as Franklin cleaned him up. The blond placed a gentle kiss on the slightly reddened skin around the belly button, drawing a whimper.
“Franklin… please….” Conrad protested.
He area had to be highly sensitive and more muscles twitched under the skin. Franklin crawled up to kiss the parted lips. His own arousal bumped against Conrad’s hip. They kissed slowly and Ecklie let a hand travel to the part of his lover craving the most attention. He wrapped strong fingers gently around it, caressing it. Franklin moaned in appreciation.
Their eyes met.
“Conrad…” Franklin murmured, never leaving the stormy eyes. “Want you…”
The answer was wordless but clear as his lover smiled, leaned up to kiss him and then rolled onto his side, offering. Franklin stroked the still slightly quivering flanks, unable to resist a quick excursion to his favorite erotic spot, drawing a yelp. He nibbled at one shoulder, then grabbed the always handy lube. Preparing his lover quickly but sufficiently, Franklin finally eased himself into the tightness, listening to the pleasure-filled gasps that mirrored his own.
He reached his climax quickly, after a few, deep thrusts, groaning as he came. Franklin sank onto the bed, remaining deep inside his lover, wrapping one arm around as his waist as he spooned up tightly. He felt Conrad’s heart hammer under his hand and he nuzzled his neck where the pulse was echoing each beat. As a vampire he was hyper-aware of this spot, of the blood rushing through his lover’s veins, and it turned him on – in a very good way.
“Love you,” he whispered. “I love you so much.”
Conrad entwined their fingers. “Love you, too,” he murmured, pulled their joined hands up to kiss Franklin’s knuckles.
The vampire hugged him tighter. He was rewarded with a clenching of muscles that had him gasp. Ecklie smirked.
“Evil,” Franklin whispered and teethed one ear.
They simply lay together, neither one intent to actually move, dozing in the afterglow.
Franklin sighed softly, feeling happy. The arm around him tightened and he felt his lover's lips on his skin. The vampire knew where the possessive need came from and Ecklie did, too. Nearly losing him… He pushed that thought away. Ecklie was here, safe and sound. His life-partner. His shaman.
* * *
In their townhouse, Nick and Grissom lay together, a tangle of arms and legs. Nick's fingers were drawing soothing patterns on the broad back of his lover and through his short hair. Grissom's eyes were closed, but he wasn't asleep. Their lovemaking had been intense, Grissom's need by far surpassing his rational thinking as he had driven his very willing lover to completion. He knew Nick would be sore, but part of him couldn't find the energy to regret his need. Having his lover with him, alive and well, had triggered this response. It had been even more intense than after the kidnapping.
Nick nuzzled one graying temple and let his lips wander to the ear, nibbling and kissing it. His bruises had almost all disappeared, his body had fought off the effects of Mimicking a shaman while being in a rather bad physical condition, and he was his old self again.
Grissom wondered if he could be who he once was and decided it wasn't really all that admirable to be an emotional hermit with weird hobbies and a stellar reputation in his job. He still had the latter two, but the emotional hermit had been coaxed out of his shell by a young Texan with too much energy and relentless drive.
"Love you," he whispered.
Nick never stopped the caress. "Love you," he echoed the emotion.
Grissom let one hand slide down the smooth, muscular back and come to rest on the firm behind. Nick gasped a little as one finger teased over the cleft and he shuddered as Grissom pushed gently deeper.
He liked touching his lover. He liked to listen to the soft noises of pleasure, the hum of satisfaction, even the purrs that told him he was hitting a tender spot. Nick was sensual, he reacted to such tender stimulants, and Grissom took pleasure in doing just that; stimulating him.
Grissom rolled them around, looking at Nick, taking in the brown eyes that reflected so much. Yes, he loved this man. He wanted him so badly, it hurt sometimes. At work it wasn't much of an effort to keep up professional distance, the one between co-workers, but in their private moments, he longed to have him close.
And close calls just intensified that need. It had happened before and back then they hadn't been able to leave the room for the whole weekend.
Their lips met, the hunger intensifying, and Nick melted under the force
that was his lover. Grissom took full advantage of a very cooperative Nick
Stokes, willing and wanting in his bed.
On the chair next to the window sat a proud, fiery red bird with gleaming feathers, black eyes watchful. Under its wings slept a black raven, protected and guarded and fiercely defended. The phoenix almost purred as it bent its head, the red beak nuzzling the now once again healthy black feather. The raven moved sleepily closer, burying in the feathery embrace.
* * *
"When was the last time you went on a vacation?“
“Hm?” Conrad Ecklie looked up from his work, blinking as he tried to focus on the man who had just entered his office away from the office.
It was a room in the attic. After close to a year of living together, Franklin had proposed to follow up on the initial plans to add another room to the house. Ecklie had planned on doing so since buying his home, but at the time there hadn’t been the necessity. He had lived alone; he hadn’t needed more space. Then he had gone to San Francisco, renting the house to someone else. When he had returned, he had done so with a partner.
Franklin had told him not to worry about his home, that he liked it, but after a few months the old plans had been brought forth again. And Ecklie had hired a company who had quickly transformed the attic into a very nice office for him, complete with computer access, phone lines and whatnot. Franklin had taken over the small office downstairs.
Now his vampire partner sighed and looked at him. “Aside from your time in Frisco, and the odd day or two we spent somewhere, when was your last vacation? And I don't mean your hikes with Nick either. That's work, too.”
He frowned. “It’s been a while.”
“Exactly. You need a break, Conrad.” Franklin’s whole demeanor was serious. "Especially after what happened."
Gray eyes were on the mostly healed injuries. The bruises were gone, the cuts just a red line now.
“I’ve got work to do.”
“Work can wait.”
“And there’s my training with Nick…”
A sigh. “I think Nick understands that you need a few days away, just for yourself.” And for Franklin, was the silent, unheard addition.
“Conrad, ever since we came back from San Francisco, you haven’t had
a decent vacation. Sure, we went to Salt Lake, but that ended badly. I
mean… it wasn’t
exactly the romantic getaway.”
Ecklie sighed. Yes. Not really.
“You were promoted to Assistant Director then. Your work schedule’s changed and you’re under a lot more stress,” Franklin continued. “And then the whole thing with Caine happened. You became a shaman and you spend every free minute either training or working. Then there's nick. Don't get me wrong. I'm not jealous. I love you even more for doing this for a friend, but after the flash flood… you need a break and relax.”
“How about Hawaii?”
“What?!” Ecklie stared at his lover, mouth agape.
“I’ve never been to Hawaii,” Franklin said enthusiastically. “I heard it’s great there. The extinct volcanoes and all…”
“It’s an island!”
“An island with sun! People go there to get a tan!”
Franklin eyed him. “Well, good for you, right?”
He groaned. “Franklin…”
“All right, all right. How about the Bahamas?”
Ecklie couldn’t believe it. “And you’re coming along?”
“To a sunny island?”
“Franklin, news flash! You’re a vampire!”
Another shrug. “Yes?”
Ecklie couldn’t believe it. Then again, he should be used to his lover by now. The man sometimes broadsided him completely.
“You. Sun. Not a good equation.”
“I’ve got a resistance to sunlight. And you know it. I work days, Conrad. I come home in sunlight. It’s no biggie.”
Ecklie rolled his eyes. “It’s no biggie because you need to compensate
with lots of blood. Going to Hawaii or the Bahamas or wherever means five
The vampire sighed. “Oh, okay, you worry wart. Not the islands then. How about Australia? New Zealand?”
Conrad Ecklie was about to bang his head against the table. Franklin smiled as he perched himself on the table.
“So?” he prodded.
Conrad sighed deeply. “What have I done to deserve you?” he muttered.
The low words were still loud enough to be caught by sensitive vampire ears. Franklin just smiled brightly.
“Nothing with sun!” he finally stated firmly.
“Uh, that’s gonna be hard because, you know, it’s normally out throughout the day. Except maybe Lapland or Finland or the Artic this time of the year, though that’s not really a place to spend a vacation.”
Strangle now, guilt later, Ecklie thought. The man was driving him crazy.
And somehow he needed that. Franklin had swiftly changed his life, his outlook on it, as well as his social interaction with people. He knew he owed a lot that he was today to this man.
“Besides, we live in Las Vegas. Sunshine all day. Right in the desert.”
“Franklin,” he sighed, then stopped.
Looking into those sparkling gray eyes he finally rose and stepped between the legs of his seated lover, still on the desk, and wrapped his arms around him.
“I agree to the vacation,” Conrad finally said.
“Great! So where do we go?” Franklin asked, enthusiasm back.
“Well, it’s been a while since you came here with me. How about San Francisco?”
The gray eyes lit up. “A few days in Frisco and then maybe travel?” he suggested.
“Oh, I don’t know. Up the coast, across the border, down again, swing by Salt Lake for a drink in the Grotto… Or we do it the other way around? Salt Lake first, then go on the great tour?”
Last time they had gone there, Ecklie had nearly made the fateful decision to give up on Franklin because he had thought his lover was more interested in one of his own kind, kissing him senseless, than a human lover he was now growing tired of. They had resolved this; it had been a misperception.
“Does this involve vampire power structure matters?” Ecklie guessed.
“Not really. Just… keeping relations good. And it’s a safe place, Conrad.”
Franklin pulled him closer and caught his lips, giving him a sloppy kiss.
“We won’t stay for more than a night. Please?”
Ecklie sighed as he looked into the pleading eyes, the puppy-dog expression. It was tough loving a vampire, he decided. Especially one who was supposed to be two hundred years old and behaved like twenty.
He had never met the Franklin who had been a top dog in San Francisco, only the fallen one, the vampire who had lost his standing and would never aspire to be something more than he now was ever again. He had come out of the disaster around Ezra’s relation to him with his life, which was more than any other Sire who had sired a rogue could say.
Franklin lived that life now. No responsibilities other than the ones he chose to have. They had talked about this side of Franklin before, and it had given Ecklie a completely new understanding. His partner wanted to be what he was now. He liked that life, would defend it.
“Okay, we’ll go by Salt Lake,” he finally agreed.
Franklin beamed and then caught his lips in a full-scale kiss.
* * *
Neither Grissom nor Nick were surprised that Ecklie put in for two weeks
of vacation not much later.