This was written for the 12th round of the TalkCSI Nick Fic Song Challenge. The inspiration was the song "Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old), written by Garth Brooks and Randy Taylor.
A man is not old until his regrets take the place of dreams.
- - - - John Barrymore, "Good Night, Sweet Prince" 1943
Jim Brass tried not to laugh as he watched Nick sitting on the tailgate of his Denali, changing his shoes.
"Where was Mitch, anyway?" Nick demanded irritably as he tied the laces on his left shoe.
"He was in his car running plates. C'mon, Nick, it's not that bad," Brass chuckled.
"Not that bad? Yeah…right. Man, if he had taken something else…with Ecklie running things now? Remember that time my truck got stolen? How pissed off McK…" Nick stopped short of saying the former undersheriff's name, almost forgetting for a moment that he was the man who, two years after the stolen truck incident, had gunned down Nick's best friend.
Brass' features softened and he leaned over to look Nick in the eye, putting a hand on his shoulder. "It's just a pair of sunglasses, Nicky."
"My sunglasses, Jim! The little thug just ran over and grabbed them off the hood. You know, officially that compromises all the evidence here."
Brass laughed. "What? Two smudgy fingerprints and half a can of beer?" He pulled his own sunglasses out of his pocket and slipped them on, then looked down at Nick, grinning as the criminalist squinted back at him in the early morning sun.
"Damn it, Jim!"
"All right, all right…what do you want me to do?" Brass asked, trying to be serious. "Where'd you last see him? I'll call it in."
"It was over on 32nd, just past the…" Nick stopped suddenly as he saw the captain still standing in front of him, grinning, with his hands in his pockets, not moving. "Oh…oh yeah…that's funny. You're funny, Jim. Hey, maybe this kid had something to do with this break-in. Did you even think of that?"
"Okay…okay…is that where you're going with this? So the kid made off with a flat screen TV and a laptop, stashed them somewhere, then came back here to steal some shades from a cop?" Brass cocked his head and looked at Nick who had finished changing his shoes and was tossing his mud covered ones into a paper bag. "Evidence?"
"C'mon, Nicky…what's really bothering you?"
"Nothing," said Nick. "It's just…well, what the hell is wrong with kids today?"
Brass sat next to Nick on the tailgate. "You sound like an old man now."
"I feel like an old man, Jim. Didn't you hear me trying to catch my breath back there? I had nothin' on him, man. Used to be…I could…shit."
Brass looked at Nick, even more amused than before. "Watch it. You're talking to a guy with almost 20 years on you."
Nick wiped the sweat from his brow. "You know what I mean. Things are changing. Every day…every minute."
"Yeah? That's news to you?" Brass asked with a smile.
Nick hung his head and shook it. "No," he said softly.
The captain looked at him sympathetically. "You're missing him?"
"I'm always missing him," Nick replied without looking up. "But it's not just that."
Nick lifted his head and gazed ahead, looking down the quiet suburban street. At this time of morning it seemed deserted, but Nick knew they would be back. The moms would come home first to be there when the yellow buses came, bringing the children home. Then the dads would get home, the sun would go down, living room lights would turn on, and another day would be done. Nick shook his head again. "Grissom's gone. Sara's bouncing back and forth. Cath is…well…I don't know if I should…"
"You mean her and Vartann?" Brass interrupted. "It's okay. I know about that."
Nick rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Seriously? Ah hell, of course you do. Doesn't everyone? I mean, I know, so that should be everyone now."
"C'mon, Nick, they didn't…"
"I know…I know." Nick sighed. "Anyway, Ray…he's coming along real good. I think he'll stick around awhile…be a good fit. And Greg…I don't know. Hard to tell sometimes, but I think he's happy with things. Having Sara back has helped."
Brass waited, watching as Nick continued to stare ahead, and when the younger man did not go on, he asked, "And? What about you?"
Nick huffed and turned to look at the captain. "Me? Wish I knew. I just…I mean, is this it for me? Tracking down TVs and chasing punks for another 25 years?"
"You know that's not all it is. Jesus, Nick, think of all the big cases…the ones that really mattered…where you made a difference…to a lot of people. To a lot of people who have you to thank for helping them."
"They're getting fewer and farther between, Jim." Nick shook his head. "People are just crazy these days. You can't…I don't know. And then I go home and…what? Have a beer? Watch a game? Go to bed and start all over again the next day?"
"Huh," Brass said and looked away.
"Oh…nothing," Brass replied, trying to keep a blank face.
"No…what?" Nick insisted.
"Well…" The captain cleared his throat. "It's just…I heard you had a lady friend you were spending time with."
"Lady friend?" Nick burst out laughing. "Now who sounds like an old man?"
Brass laughed as well and then waved a hand, trying to brush it off. "Yeah, yeah…whatever. Come on…spill it. You seeing someone?"
Nick shrugged. "I guess…sort of."
"Oh, I'll bet she's real thrilled with that kind of commitment."
"I just don't know if she's the one, you know?" Nick turned to look at Brass. "And I feel like…time keeps moving on…and I'm wasting it…losing it. I don't wanna be missing out on time with her, you know? Whoever she is. I want the whole package. The house, the wife, the kids…" Nick looked down the street again and threw his hands out. "This. I want this."
Brass nodded, took off his sunglasses, and turned to look at Nick. "Lemme tell you something. This ain't perfect, Nick. Don't be dreaming that it is or you'll end up disappointed." He looked down the street, the sun shining on his round face. "Houses get broken into, wives lie to you, and kids…kids leave you."
The two men sat quietly next to each other for several minutes. Brass continued to stare off down the road, and Nick's head was lowered in thought. Finally, Nick whispered softly, "I still want it though."
The captain turned to look at him. "Go for it then, Nick. With this girl. See what happens."
Nick looked up at him. "Like Warrick did?" He shook his head. "I can't do that. I need to be sure."
Brass stood up and laughed, clapping Nick on the shoulder. "You're in Vegas, Nicky. No sure bets here."
Nick stood up and closed the back of the truck, then joined the captain. "No, I guess there aren't, Jim. But that's supposed to be half the fun, right?"
Brass smiled at him. "C'mon…" He indicated with his head to his car. "I'll buy you breakfast. Mitch will keep an eye on things 'til we get back."
Nick nodded. "Okay. Thanks."
The two men walked to Brass' car and got in. As Brass pulled away from the curb, he reached into the console between the seats and pulled out a pair of sunglasses, then handed them to Nick. "Always keep a spare," he said with a smile and a wink. "Squinting will give you wrinkles, Nicky."