DISCLAIMER: Everything belongs to CBS. I just write Fanfic!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Timeline could be 6th season. Thanks go out to my betas Frantis_Smith and Anik.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Confined, or The Cath Empire
By Rykoe


Almost gently I push aside the long curtain with a single finger, only a little bit, and allow myself a glance over the parking lot. I see my own car on the right side and a white, rather battered looking van on the left. My gaze lingers on the nervously twitching reflections on my SUV's wet roof – yellow, red, blue, yellow, red, blue – and my eyes are drawn to the advertising sign high above the cars – yellow, welcome, red, leisure, blue, motel. The l is missing in welcome, and I wonder for how long it has not been flashing.

A woman is crossing the parking lot. Her light-colored business suit looks immaculate, so does her hair. Only the little dark spots on the back side of her lower legs bear witness to the wet ground she's walking on.

With a quick glance I check the condition of my jeans that are hanging over one of the chairs in the room, and recognize the same spots. It is not so long since the rain has passed, but not so long since I ended up here, either.

I swiftly close the curtain, because I don't want the woman who's now entering an apartment on the other side to see me.

Under the light brown bathrobe which sides are hanging open I'm only wearing undies. When I bought them a couple of months ago, I thought it funny to possess underwear designed and cut like typical men's garments. However, looking around the motel room now I feel completely out of place. I do actually like the colors of my surroundings – beige, brown, and a hint of light blue. But the chairs and cushions are too plushy, and the frames of the table and bed are too playful for my taste. Parts of the tapestry and lamps are even decorated with floral ornaments.

I sigh and tie up the bathrobe. If it had been my decision to make, I would have chosen a different room. And knowing the charge for the apartments here I would have chosen a completely different motel!

Well, the decision has not been mine. She settled for this one, a small but decent motel on the outskirts of Vegas. From the booklets lying around I learned it primarily aimed for tourists, and not so much for business people. The way she gave me directions indicated that she has been here before. I wonder who was with her then.

The sound of running water in the en suite bathroom stops only to set in again a couple of seconds later. She has been in there for almost half an hour now. There is nothing I can do except waiting. It sounds hollow but I'm glad that I quickly used the bathroom before her. I didn't expect her to take so long. After all, she already took a shower at her sister's prior to us coming here.

In my mind I try to mysteriously stretch each minute I don't have to face her. I just don't know what to say. I think I said it all a little while ago when we were sitting vis-à-vis in her sister's living room. But we were not alone then. Now we are. I will simply remain silent. I feel she actually doesn't expect me to do small talk. I just hope she doesn't expect me to do anything, either.

The running water stops again. This time it seems for good. I hear other noises now, the clinking of metal, the heater maybe, or the bin. It probably means she's finished whatever she is doing and that she will come out soon. I'm getting a bit nervous, I can feel it. Observing my own hands opening and closing the belt of the bathrobe is pretty good evidence.

To be honest, I don't want to be here. I believe someone else would be of better help to her right now. Maybe even her daughter. But no one had the heart to pull the girl out of her sleep in the middle of the night at her aunt's house. And the woman herself had problems concentrating when suddenly a group of more or less strangers stood on her doorstep at 2 o'clock in the morning.

When we discussed the options an hour ago everyone seemed relieved when Catherine suddenly announced, quietly but with emphasis, "I want to go with Sara." That was, everyone except me.

I still don't know why she asked for me. My first guess was she didn't know it herself. But looking back I must say Catherine never did something without really wanting it. My suspicion is she wishes to be with someone she knows, but is not too close to her at the same time. I figure that makes me perfect then. Additionally I reckon the whole women thing to be very important for her at the moment. I can't blame her and I won't. All the other possible reasons why she would want to stay with me I'd rather not think about right now.

The door to the bathroom opens and I hear the distinctive click of the light switch before I see her stepping into the room. I'm still standing near the window but managed to fold my hands behind my back by now. I must be looking rather absurd I believe, resembling a little soldier waiting for commands. She, however, doesn't even look at me. While she pads bare-footed toward the nightstand she is opening the ties of her bathrobe, which is a shade darker than mine. The moment it hits the floor I'm letting slip some sort of sigh. I was not sure what she would be wearing underneath, and I don't want to admit right now what I might wish she was wearing. In fact, it's a dark brown shirt with long sleeves and a discreet v-neck. It looks plain, but the way it shifts around her torso when she pushes the comforter aside shows me that it's probably worth a little fortune. Her pajama trousers are made of equal material and color, but mixed with beige they show a checkered pattern. I'm awkwardly aware of my own ludicrous attire beneath the bathrobe.

Apparently she didn't notice my little sigh. With great care she takes off her glasses, folds the frames and finally puts them on the little table. After this she crawls between the bed linens and without any further arranging of the pillows she lays down on her right side, putting both her hands near her face – and then she looks at me.

I fear that's the moment I have to say or do something. Or maybe I don't.

"You turn out the light? … When you're ready?" she asks, and I'm amazed at how clear-cut her voice sounds. She's pulling up her knees and studying her hands.

I don't really know what to do although she gave me rather unmistakable orders. When I'm ready. For what? Ready for stopping to stare at her? Ready for climbing into bed, lying right beside her? It was a long time ago, I can't even remember it, the moment when I felt as helpless as I do right now. But tonight is not about me, it's about her. Bearing this thought in mind, I walk towards the bed, knowing that there will be a light switch over the headboard.

I shortly consider keeping on my bathrobe but dismiss this idea as totally absurd the same second. I never had problems with exposing myself – at the right moment that is – so why is it an issue now? And when she's not even looking at me.

But I guess the reason is that it's Catherine Willows with whom I will share a bed. Why couldn't she go for a nice twin room? I'm pretty sure they've got some of them here. But as I said it had not been my decision to make. Besides, a second bed would not have saved me the embarrassment of displaying my underwear, either. I'm confused. Puzzled about what troubles me more. My state of undress in front of Catherine or the big bed – with Catherine in it.

However, there's no epiphany in sight and I decide to get over it and let my bathrobe fall to the floor. When I'm reaching for the switch that controls the light I could swear I see a little smile on Catherine's face. Too faint to call it amused, but thank you anyway.

I am lying on my back and my gaze wanders over the flowered border of the tapestry and then to the glass lamp shade. Yellow, red, blue, yellow, red, blue. The curtains are not thick enough to absorb the bluish light and its little colored friends from outside. Apparently I forgot to shut down the blinds. I'm pondering to close them now, when suddenly I feel a motion beside me. Catherine shifts and in the semidarkness I can see she adopts a position which mirrors my own. On the back, legs outstretched, arms above the blanket and alongside the torso, and her gaze is facing the ceiling. I notice that her eyes are open, gee, I can even catch the yellow and red lights reflecting in them!

"How are you?" I immediately could slap myself for that question. I don't know exactly what she's feeling right now, but I strongly guess it's too big to press it into an answer to my first class daft query.

She closes her eyes and the reflections disappear. Her breathing only slows down slightly when she finally says, "Okay … now."

Deep inside, where my little dark ego lives, I wish she would turn around, away from me and fall asleep. I'm not good at this. I would give my left arm if I knew what she's expecting from me.

Instead, it's me who turns around after a wide-stretched silence. I lie on the side, facing the window. My mind is suddenly filled with an image of the small group sitting in Nancy Flynn's living room. Was it Flynn? I believe so. I remember Catherine's sister introducing herself, but did she mention her full name? Brass did all the explaining, not very detailed, but to the point. And while Catherine was in the bathroom changing into some of the clothes we had fetched from her home, Grissom sat down beside Nancy and asked her to grand her sister the things and words we were not able to give. And the woman understood.

Catherine was ambushed on her way to work tonight. By now we know it was a young man, who was completely blinded by rage. He felt that his brother's conviction and life sentence for raping and murdering his girlfriend were not justified.

Somehow the media had gotten hold of the main investigators and police officers concerned with the case. Personally, I think this sick pervert picked Catherine, because she was the only woman in the spotlight and he probably thought it would be easier to frighten her. He forced her with a gun to drive through Vegas and finally to turn around and head for her own home. There was no fooling around; he knew exactly where she lived. He kept her there for almost two hours.

At the moment I'm working with Catherine at a big burglary and I was wondering why she didn't show up at the beginning of shift without notifying me. So I called. I tried every possible number I could find, even her mother's who apparently had moved to another state a couple of weeks ago. Warrick, alarmed, too, in the meantime, managed to get hold of numbers of Lindsey and her friends. Maybe something had happened earlier at school and we just couldn't grasp it. But there was nothing. In the end, when a visit to her home didn't show any success and even the tracking down of her mobile signal didn't help, all Brass could do was giving his guys the order to look out on the streets for CSI Catherine Willows.

Two hours later, at around eleven, we got the message that someone from the Willows' home had called 911 but except for some clashing noises we couldn't hear anything on the recording tape.

When we arrived and Brass and some officers stormed into the house I could see a trail of devastation from the living room through the kitchen into the rear part of the house. Broken vases, smashed pictures and paintings, even some dents in the wall. I think I've seen too much of these things in my life, but this time even I could not avert the sick feeling in my stomach. At least there was no blood.

Grissom and I were still standing at the entrance when we heard a shot. I instantly knew it was Brass' gun that was fired but in my mind I could only see Catherine, dead, lying on the floor. Two officers appeared at the opening of the hall and walked back towards the entrance door. One of them cleared us to go and find Brass … and Catherine.

I lift my head and look backwards over my shoulder. I move very slowly in order not to wake her. She has not changed her position and is still facing the ceiling. Her eyes are closed and I assume she is asleep although her right hand twitches slightly. There are lots of things, probably of the unpleasant kind, she has to work through now. Sometimes sleep is the best way to do it – and sometimes the worst.

Suddenly she's turning her head and looks directly at me. She doesn't say anything, but I have the feeling that her wide open eyes try to tell me a story. I can't keep the position I'm in and I can't turn away from her – not anymore. So I shift till I lie on my stomach, but this time I'm facing her.

Her hair has slowly fallen over her left eye and before I can push it back behind her ear – let alone allow myself the thought of how it would feel – she does it herself. I can make out the two small band-aids now. One is placed directly under the hair-line and one is keeping together a wound at her eyebrow. She's probably going to have a short scar there - that is if she doesn't decide to have it removed with lasers. I wouldn't. I also see the swelling on her left jowl, and that's a shame, because she's got a pair of cheekbones to die for, I rather sheepishly think. There is a crack on her lower lip and I see parts of a hand impression on her throat. I've caught glimpses of all this before, in the hospital, and later, when she was sitting across from me at her sister's. But now it seems as if the blue light that sways through the motel room even emphasizes these injuries in letting the skin of her face and hands appear almost white and transparent.

I know she's got more injuries and wounds on her body. I've seen them.

The first thing I noticed when we stepped into Catherine's bedroom was the heavy dark green curtain, covering a large window that stretched across one side of the room. An officer was bent over a man who lay right in front of that window and whose knee looked like a clot of fresh meat, emitting blood in a slow trail onto the beige carpet. At first I thought the guy was dead, but the officer gave me a sign that he had passed out.

Then I remember Brass standing up from his crouched position behind the bed and looking at me. But Grissom was quicker. Carefully, he stepped around the bed and I could only follow him. When I saw Catherine huddled up against the wall I couldn't stop myself from crying out "Fuck!" which earned me startled but understanding looks from both men.

There was blood on the left side of her face and in her hair but I couldn't see where it came from. She wore a light green blouse that, oddly enough, I recognized although it didn't resemble a blouse anymore. It was ripped open and one of the cuffs was torn off, as well as its shoulder piece. Underneath she wore a white chemise, which she desperately tried to pull down after the men helped her standing up. There was no bra, but I was almost sure I had seen one lying on the floor when we left the living room towards the hall. Except for these two thin garments she wore nothing else but dark red panties, the waistband sitting somehow askew over her hips.

My gaze was drawn to her wrists which showed purple marks from having been gripped very hard and when she sat down on the bed, violently shaking, I noticed her knees. They were badly scratched and looked as if they hurt like hell.

Brass, his hand placed on Catherine's shoulder, was talking into his radio while Grissom sat beside her, hugging her and mumbling what I suppose were reassuring words. All I did was standing there, looking at the scene somehow dumbfounded. My mind was screaming to collect the evidence, but my heart just stood still. At least it felt like it did.

Then the bustling set in, Grissom and Brass talking insistently to Catherine, then talking to each other, then into their mobiles, officers and paramedics stepping inside, handing over a blanket, checking the man on the floor and finally getting him ready to transport. In the middle of all this stirring motion, Catherine lifted her head and fixed her eyes silently on me. I was shocked to the bone.

Right now, she's giving me the same look - quiet, unwavering, and it is kind of transfixing me. I wish she would say something. Anything. But all I hear is her steady breathing. And suddenly I begin to relax. That's weird. I should be the one that's giving her, I don't know, support, I guess. But swimming in this blue light, lying so close together, I have the feeling that if I moved my hand only a little bit and touched her, I could actually see a stream of energy that would be exchanging between our different thoughts and coming to a compromise somewhere. I have to blink. I've never felt that balanced before in Catherine's presence.

I don't really know if we've got something in common in general, or if it's only this particular situation that pushes me to admit I don't want to run from this motel room anymore, or from her. I try to dissect all the facts I've got. There's enough time, I don't have to rush. We're both not used to sleeping at this hour of the night anyway.

She's been beaten, so have I. She put up a fight, a good one I have to concede, remembering the scratches and bruises on her attacker's face. I never did. I was a child, I could only wait and cry and wait some more. Since I left my family, or what was left of it, I have only been attacked once in my line of work and I managed to stay calm. Most of the time I don't think about my childhood. That's good, I believe. But sometimes I fear that if I ever get into a physical fight, I won't find the courage to hit back. The way she did.

And then there's the whole sexual thing. I know that the outcome of violence and sexual abuse shows in everybody who has to endure one or both of them in a different way. Thus, I can only speak for myself. My father used to beat up my brother and me on a regular basis. There was no reason at all. He was an asshole, and I'm glad he's dead. But I was old enough to comprehend that there was no sexual undertone to it. Thank God. It was his understanding of how a family should be run, unfortunately too often paired with too much booze.

I look at my hand that lies on the seemingly blue blanket and I see myself standing in the corridor of the hospital four hours ago, watching doctors in blue uniforms rushing by. Usually, the smell of that place doesn't make me squeamish, I shook that off a long time ago. But tonight I almost couldn't breathe properly. I knew Catherine was behind one of the doors, undergoing different examinations and treatments. Routine procedures, I tried to tell myself. In the end, I got called off, in order to get samples from her attacker.

I did not really have time to ponder what exactly had happened to Catherine. And that's why I almost lost it when I got the preliminary report with the statement she had given in the hospital. There had been a knock at her sister's door and I got up because everyone else was talking. It was decided that Catherine should have some time to compose herself. Instead of running into her daughter the next morning, she should stay somewhere else. Just as I was wondering if that meant she would remain with Grissom, a police officer handed me the file and I looked through it while walking back to the living room.

Catherine had stated that her captor talked all the time while they were driving around in her car. He accused, he insulted, and he was getting more and more aggressive towards her. When they reached her home, a long time after Brass had been there, they sat down and he started to play psycho games with her. Then he forced her to undress and go down on him, with a gun pointed to her temple. He told her to get dressed again, and the talking started anew. After that he apparently blew up, beginning a fight, smashing the furniture, dragging her into the bedroom, harassing her physically.

But Catherine fought back and in between was able to hit the emergency dial on her bedroom telephone. When I finished reading I more or less stumbled back to the others and met Catherine at the door to the living room. She was on her way to the bathroom and with one look at the folder in my hands she knew that I knew.

I've got the feeling that I've analyzed enough for tonight. Not really knowing what I'm about to do, I reach out and let my finger stroke along the open palm of the hand that lies closest to mine. When I feel the little resistance that her skin gives my wandering finger I look up into her face. I see her nostrils widen a tiny bit, before she clasps my finger in her hand and her whole body shifts closer to mine, in one smooth motion. Then she closes her eyes again; but with the sudden proximity I'm now able to see a little frown above them, and it seems as if she's trying to push her head deeper into to pillow.

I'm sure, in the past I would have just freed myself from this awkward clutch, but then again I've never been in a comparable situation before. I slowly pull out my finger, but never losing the contact completely I let my right hand twist in order to cover the back of hers. The frown is gone and I think maybe I finally figured out what she's expecting from me.

I feel pretty good all of a sudden, as if there's no more to do or to say. I think I could easily fall asleep while holding her hand although I'm not one bit tired yet. But then I catch sight of erratic movement under her eyelids and I know that there's more.

"You wanna tell me?" I whisper. Again I think my heart misses a beat when she abruptly opens her eyes and stares back at me. Totally unprepared, I'm caught by the white surrounding her pupils. Her mimic I can only interpret as quizzical and asking me for affirmation. So I nod and indicate she should go on. I didn't know it was possible, but she even comes a bit closer, hiding her mouth behind our joined hands. I feel her breath brushing over my fingers when she starts speaking.

"He is so young. He could be my son." She mutters.

I'm momentarily baffled; it's absolutely not what I expected her to say.

"After all his reasoning and confronting me with his sick arguments, I thought I could get through to him. But I messed up. Something I said I guess…," I can feel that she is really brooding over it.

"He freaked. Stuck a gun in my face and told me to undress. Wanted to prove something, he said," She swallows hard.

"And then I had to …" Her voice breaks off and this time it's me who crouches closer and I breathe out, "I know."

"I've never felt so embarrassed in my whole life."

I can't say anything to that. I don't have the slightest inkling when it comes to sex between man and woman that is consensual. I've never had a physical relationship with a man, except maybe for the usual juvenile groping. Discovering rather fast that this was not what I wanted I looked for something else. I'm pretty sure Catherine knows that I'm into women. There were enough hints I couldn't prevent from slipping into my work life. And, to be honest, sometimes, especially when I'm working beside her, I believe, people can just plain see it.

So I'm not really feeling on firm grounds here though I believe that she wanted to tell me something totally different with the word embarrassment anyway. I wait, and start caressing her hand.

"He didn't … I mean he couldn't … I couldn't …Oh, crap!"

She sets about turning around and withdrawing her hand, but I don't let her go. I presume what she's trying to say is that this sick asshole couldn't get off. Thank you, God! But I can't even begin to comprehend how Catherine must be feeling right now.

A weird instinct tells me I should broach the subject again, not letting Catherine slide back into her inner world. A specific memory emerges and, together with the notion that she needs some facts she can hold onto, it forces me to say, "He was stoned. From the amount of drugs in his blood I'd say he got really high shortly before he kidnapped you. The freaking blathering was probably the effect it had on him. Some people just wilt and others go bananas."

From the look on her face I gather she already knew that. And I have a tiny suspicion that she had some first-hand experience herself.

"Most guys think a line will enhance their sexual stamina," Oh shit, she flinches at that one.

"But after a certain time it's the direct opposite." I've got the feeling I should end it here.

By now she has calmly settled back into her former position, and her eyes are fixed on our hands. So are mine.

"When he allowed me to get my clothes back on, I was so upside down I almost didn't know how to do it," she continues, having a crooked smile on her lips.

I find it strange hearing Catherine say the word allowed. Her expression changes again, "He went back to giving lectures; and all the time he was pointing his fucking gun at me!" Her quiet voice rises suddenly.

"And then he lost it completely. He started smashing everything in his way and he screamed and raged about his brother!"

Though I'm still holding her hand – or is she holding mine, I can't really say – her gaze is again diverted to the ceiling. I register the way the features of her face become harder with every word she uses to describe what he did to her. Thankfully, the time span between him setting his mind on raping her, the emergency call and our arrival was rather short. Yet, for Catherine they certainly were the longest twenty minutes of her life. She tells me that he was mad at himself for his unsuccessful attempt and that he used his hands instead.

A couple of silent seconds after she's finished telling me she turns her head again and with a stoic mien says, "That's all."

I'm startled by this sudden change in attitude, but then again, this night did show me what an incredibly strong woman Catherine Willows really is. And I don't know if I should be feeling this right now, but there's something like a tiny bit of pride creeping up in me.

She's here with me, holding my hand, confiding in me. I have the overwhelming wish to reassure her. "You're riding this one out, Catherine. I tell ya."

Her expression has softened and she asks, "You think?"

I only hesitate for a second, "Yeah. With a little help." I'm thinking of her daughter, her sister, and surely she's got friends, outside of work, I mean. Then there's always the option of consulting a psychologist or a therapist. I know these people do a good job. While all these thoughts are running through my head, Catherine keeps this soft look on her face. But then she states a question and she uses a voice I don't recognize as hers, "Would you touch me?"

I think I just forgot to breathe for a couple of seconds, but the first breath of air I'm drawing in when I recover my senses is a rather small and quiet one. Initially, I thought that I have misheard her, acoustically. But no, I'm a hundred percent aware of the exact words she employed. However, the percentage of me knowing the meaning behind them falls to zero. I'm already touching her hand and I fight the urge to lift our joined fingers to point this out to her.

First instinct tells me to withdraw from her, though I don't follow it. I'm convinced that if I'm rethinking what she said it's all going to make sense. There's a little anger swelling in me about myself. If I would only know Catherine better I'm sure I could decipher … the accentuation, I think. As far as she meant 'Would you touch me?' she probably wants to be assured that after the attack she's still worth desiring. That he didn't leave her impure and she can go back to her normal life. And in that case the you would be replaceable with 'Will anyone ever want to sleep with me again?' I'm sort of glad, that I figured this one out in mere seconds. And I could heartily answer her question, if I would do so in the end, with a big yes.

It's the other version of her query, however, the other possible impact it could have implied, that bothers me more. I'm not stupid, or I like to believe that I'm not. An intended 'Would you touch me?' nearly sounds like an invitation, at least it does to me.

It's almost too much for me to imagine myself touching Catherine, touching more than her hand. That's not on my agenda somehow. I'm getting very nervous now, having the feeling that I'm not able to process all of this. And at the same time the faint anger is back, at me making such a fuss and presumably being totally mistaken anyway. I force myself to come to a conclusion. Even if it means I have to search for more clues, and the best place for this might be Catherine's face.

I'm so wrong. It's a mistake to look at her right now, I realize. To her, only seconds have passed, whereas my whole stock of feelings has been whirled around, chewed through and set aside in my inner mind's luggage deposit. Her eyes are still focused on me, and my nervousness prevails. I'm settling for the second option; that's it. To have come so far, all I need to do now is respond to her question.

I hear a car driving up the parking lot, and this gives me an excuse to turn my head towards the window. I catch the approaching beam of the head-lights, before they die down. While I follow the passenger's fading steps back into silence with my ears, I'm painfully aware of the fact that I have to face Catherine again in the end.

This is huge. Being intimate with someone is nothing I usually do off the top of my head. And friends with benefits, that's not what I'm aiming at these days. The sex can be great, beyond any question, but all the thoughts and emotions afterwards, riddled with doubts and silent issues, no, that does not work for me. I try to concentrate on that part of my brain that likes to categorize women and the relationships I have with them into three neatly divided boxes. I know it's not that simple in real life, but it's all I've got at the moment. One, the women I'm not interested in whatsoever, sexually, friendly, socially. Two, my friends; women, I can have fun with, go out with, and share similar interests. Three, women I go to bed with, girlfriends, lovers; with those it's all about passion, love, and trust at the best.

Just when I'm about to silently count the imaginary boxes in my head, in a coincidental correspondence with the lights outside – one, yellow, two, red, three, blue – for the fourth time now, I assume, I notice that Catherine releases her hand from my grip. It suddenly feels as if I have lost something. I don't know what it is but its lack causes my heart to jump a bit.

I narrowly turn around again only to end up staring at her back. With a pang I realize that I shouldn't have taken her question as an invitation like I did. Half of it, or maybe even more, was a simple plea. And with all the things I know about Catherine, I guess it was not an easy one to state.

"Catherine…" I whisper, reaching out my hand once more. But before it can meet her shoulder, she shifts till she lies on her right side again, looking at me. She takes hold of my hand that still hovers in midair, somewhere in front of her chin. And then she does the one thing that I've unknowingly waited for the whole night, she smiles.

I'm in no condition to fully grasp what this smile does to my stomach right now and it's really disturbing me.

Her lips part and I can actually feel what she's going to say only a single heartbeat later, "I'm sorry."

The smile falters a bit, but I don't really mind, because she's moved closer to me again. A fast, cold shiver runs down my back, but it's getting rather warm when I sense the delicate, cool touch of her fingers on my temple. I almost bend forward the moment she pushes some strands of hair out of my face. But I don't. The rational being in me sets out to tell her that it's not a good idea and that I can't sleep with her. So why is the irrational part of me so startled when Catherine all of a sudden speaks under her breath, "I shouldn't have asked you that."

Both her hands are holding mine now. I can only stare when she moves her head slightly forward and kisses my fingers, once. Then she turns around and after a couple of seconds I hear her voice, somehow drawling, "Sara, sleep."

I'm desperately trying to understand what happened here. I feel relieved and at the same time alienated, almost disappointed. No, I can't believe that I toyed with the idea of fulfilling what she was asking for. And now, that her wish has become self-evident even for my eyes, I'm getting a bit miffed. There's this big gulf between what's right and what's been within my reach, and I'm beginning to be cross with Catherine for bringing me to the scratch. Then again, she seems to have realized that she put me in a no-win situation and she herself released me from it. And all before I could even say a word.

Again, I direct my attention to her back as if I could derive any insight from the way she sleeps. Low but audible breaths of air reach my ears. So she's breathing through her mouth and that probably means she is indeed asleep. I can't even get up and leave though I pondered it. She got here with me in my car, so I guess forcing her to call a cab later would be really mean. But what primarily prevents me from doing it is the chance of her waking up and me being trapped in an even more awkward situation than before.

I notice her moving onto her back and pushing away the pillow so that her head comes to lie almost even to the mattress now. Her chin is turned upward and my eyes gain the freedom of unreservedly watching her. My gaze follows the silhouette of her profile, from her forehead to her nose, over her mouth, around her chin and down the neck to the point where her sternum begins and her skin disappears under the shirt. I close my eyes when a wave of shame hits me unprepared, caused by the voyeurism I'm indulging in. But I can't help it; I look at her all over again. I don't know what's happening to me. How fast did my mind wander from a co-worker whose good looks I recognize and acknowledge from time to time, to a woman whose charms I want to wrap up and keep with me? How's that possible?

Catherine starts shifting again, at first to her left till she almost falls off the bed, then to the right towards me. I take a sharp intake of breath when she suddenly frees her legs from the blanket and her left knee touches my thigh. However, I don't even have time to assess this new sleeping arrangement, so soon is it that she starts turning and twisting again.

I get up on my elbow and take a closer look. Realizing with alarm that her breathing has picked up, her facial muscles are strained and that she screws her eyes tightly, I reach out to put an end to her unhealthy sleep. There's a loud gasp when she wakes up.

We stare at each other in silence after she has calmed down a bit. The band-aids attract my attention again, reminding me of the things she has had to endure tonight. And that this Catherine Willows here with me is a different one than the woman I've known for so many years. There is no way possible I could ever put her away into one of my convenient little boxes.

Driven by a crazy thought I decide not to take the easy way out she's given me, when she turned around again. I lift up the large blanket we share and move closer till I'm settled behind her. My right arm finds its way under hers and comes to a halt somewhere in front of her belly. She clutches it and I stop breathing for a moment when she pulls my hand up and my upper arm comes to rest on the side of her ribcage. This is not about sex, I sense. I won't mess it up.

I don't know how much time has passed, but my confidence regarding the ending of this night starts to crumble. In the last couple of minutes alone I have had to withhold myself twice from doing something stupid. My promise not to mess things up should be keeping me wide awake. But I catch myself drifting off and anticipating a soft touch under my fingertips even before my brain can register it. I'm really afraid now that my hands will start to wander over the woman lying in front of me as soon as sleep and contentment reach me.

Catherine released her grip on my arm and seems to be asleep again. The scent of her hair which evokes the image of pure skies and light breezes in my mind and the cushy warmth her body radiates make it difficult for me to maintain the supposedly friendly attitude. The more carnal desires begin to surface. The period of time in which I haven't had sex, with another person that is, had already started to make me feel embarrassed. And lying here with a very attractive woman in my arms really questions my resistance.

There it is again, the dilemma between what I could do and what I should do, or shouldn't. I force myself to keep in mind that Catherine probably expected me to take the lead. Not really knowing what her experience with women is, I just have the feeling that she would be pretty receptive. Simply because she strikes me as someone who's comfortable with her body and loves having sex. That's not something I can say of every woman with whom I've ended up in bed.

However, apart from the predicament I'm going through there's also the pesky feeling of being used. 'You have a problem with a man, come to a lesbian!' I remember while I can't suppress an accusing tone even in my own thoughts. My confusion seems to become apparent when I twitch involuntarily and I shake my head to affirm myself. Catherine is disturbed in her sleep by my motion and, muttering inscrutable words, she snuggles closer. She's not making this easy for me. I'm starting to feel awkward and that I don't like. There are only two ways to bring this to an end. Attack or retreat. Considering I don't have any defense up my sleeve it seems pretty stupid to go for the attack option. But I can't help it.

It's only a test, I'm trying to convince myself when I allow my fingers to touch her forearms and elbows very subtly and slowly. There's no reaction from her. I draw back my own arm and my hand comes to rest on Catherine's waist. I feel a bit sheepish due to my not so accidental move, but somehow it gives me the excuse to go on. It seems I'm very good at outflanking myself tonight. I contemplate if it would be too much to push aside her shirt a little when the desperate urge to meet her skin overwhelms me suddenly. All my concentration is directed to the spot where my fingertips finally touch Catherine's body somewhere in the smooth curve over her hip. The soft fabric of her shirt is giving my hand some sort of cover while I let it draw unhasty circles around her bellybutton. It is as if it's also covering my guilty conscience.

She is not very warm to the touch, though not unpleasant at all. That's the way I always imagined her to be. I mean, I never planned on letting my hand wander over her such as I do now, but whenever I was forced to think about Catherine and her motives in general I envisioned a cool but determined aura around her all along. The weird thing is I like that. Warrick once described her as being hot-tempered and born with a fiery temperament. I don't want to know under which circumstances he got this impression, though I have my guesses. All I know is, every time I've gotten into some trouble with Catherine I saw a perfect combination of agitation and aloofness, red and blue.

But maybe that's just her particular style when being confronted with me. I wonder what I'm going to see tonight – if I carry on with what I'm doing right now. Impelled by this thought I slip my fingers under her waistband and press my palm onto her stomach, very briefly but distinctly. There's the reaction I've waited for; she moans pleasantly surprised and while pulling up her shoulders she curls up a bit, only to stretch herself a moment later. Like a cat.

Though her sigh was rather short it resonates in my mind, and I believe I've never heard something like that from Catherine before, and I just know that I have to hear it again. But she appears to have fallen asleep once more. I, on the other hand, seem to be fully awake, and while my thoughts are running off together with my emotions, all my senses are alert and sharpened. I haven't felt that excited in a very long time.

My palm is already marking circles on her thigh before I actually register it. The moment I deliberately prop myself up on my elbow to gain better access to her leg I realize there's no way back now. One cannot easily explain to a co-worker at the next shift meeting why one had to touch her, especially when it transcends a friendly hug.

Taking my time to get to know the length of her leg, I follow the swaying movements under the blanket with my eyes. I'm not ready yet to look at Catherine's face. There's no way she could be still asleep, not when my forearm is more or less stuck in her pajama, forcing the waistband of her pants to slide down inch by inch.

I can't imagine what I will see in her eyes in the end, maybe some surprise, or confusion. The worst would be something like gratitude. No, I'm not ready for that. I think I'm on a very fast track to cast aside all altruistic motives I still had a couple of minutes ago. My needs are pushing themselves to the fore, and even if I wanted to stop now I couldn't.

All I know is that I have to see more, feel more, and simply have more of this woman here with me. Fully focused I withdraw my hand from her skin, not letting my mind regret the loss of the touch, and resolutely push aside the bed cover. My first thought is to bring my hands in contact with her body again as soon as possible. But then my gaze falls on this small patch of flesh that's exposed between the low sitting waistband and the wrinkled-up shirt. It's almost gleaming in the blue darkness and my eyes are involuntarily fixated on the tiny shadow her right hip throws onto her own stomach.

Catherine is now half lying on her side and half on her back, and I catch myself thinking that maybe looking at her isn't so frightening at all. There's her belly button, and its movement of up and down is somehow putting my mind at ease. While I find the courage to let my glance wander upwards to her face I'm slowed down by the sight of her breasts, their form clearly visible under the top. I realize that I'm staring at Catherine Willows' chest, but my sudden recollection of all the years we've worked together as colleagues cannot fully subdue my desire. Forced by the feeling that she's observing me I lift my head and finally make the connection I was dreading. And there's no surprise, and no confusion, and surely no gratitude in her look.

All I can find in her eyes is something I've never seen there before. It's hesitation, and for a second I believe it is fear. But that's not true, I just know it. She turns fully on her back now, never stopping to mirror my stare, and she waits. Still holding her gaze I reach out and let my finger draw a line between her hip and her belly button. Back and forth, back and forth.

She's not able to keep her eyes open any longer and when I hear her saying my name, almost ordaining, I know that everything is possible from now on. I get up on my knees beside her and don't waste any time in peeling off her pajama pants. She's not assisting me with it, only lying there with her arms positioned somewhere near her face. But her deepened respiration shows me that she isn't averse to it; it's almost as if I can read the curiosity her body radiates. And I'm more than willing to give an answer to that.

When I take hold of her shirt I dally with an idea. "Take this off, Catherine!" I order.

I desperately want a reaction from her, and I get one when she's looking at me, nearly furious. Then she tears the hem of the shirt out of my hands and pulls it over her head. I have to smile at her little outburst; the aloofness seems to be gone.

Basking in the pride that I have gotten her to that point I completely miss my own presumptuousness vanishing into thin air. My God, she looks gorgeous, especially because there's no indication of shame whatsoever in the way she displays herself. I would have expected something different, mainly because of tonight's events.

My hands are already on her ribs before I even realize that I moved closer. This feels incredible. I try to follow the almost unnoticeable shades the lights from outside are giving her skin. My caresses are clearly having an effect on her; she's shifting and moving, and arching into my touch. But her face is averted, not only from me but also from her own body it seems. I think she's trying too hard.

I can't really help her there, I can't coerce her into letting go and pushing everything that happened to her away so easily. All that I can do is make her feel safe and desirable tonight. At least with the last part I shouldn't have any problems. My heart was already beating fast when I only looked at her; now, with my hands on her, it has become almost unbearable – in an extremely good way. The next thing I know is that I get rid of my own underwear, precise and fast. And I'm surprised that I don't feel the little awkwardness that usually goes along with it.

Rather pleased I settle down again right beside her and let my own hips and legs touch hers. She is apparently startled by my nakedness, for her head flips around and her eyes widen on their trail down my body. Now it's me who's curious. I get the feeling she likes what she's seeing, because she has to force herself to look up into my face again.

I wish I could give her a smile right now, but all I can muster is a stare that hopefully isn't bothering her too much. I get my answer when Catherine snuggles closer and meets my body all the length down, but then she averts her head again. This ambivalent game should really trouble me more but I have everything I need within my reach. So I slide my palm over her stomach again, exploring a path that finally leads me to her breasts. She is pressing her lips together; I must be doing something right.

Numerous minutes go by while I map her body and ease into every little curve and mark I meet on the way. I'm somehow reminded of a beautiful princess' sarcophagus at the British Museum I once saw, or the ancient handcrafted pillar stones at Notre Dame. They were there, right in front of me. I was allowed to touch them, smell them, explore them with my hands. They let me believe that I knew them, but they never let me getting into their secrets. But with Catherine I want to try. While I put my left arm behind her head and my hand comes to rest on her chest again, my other hand is on its way to a more hidden place. The moment I touch her between her legs she draws in a very long breath, somehow not startled at all. She looks peaceful now and the beauty of it tugs at my heart.

Carefully I reach lower, absorbing every reaction she's giving me. And though I feel myself getting warmer and warmer inside with each little secret I unfold, I fear it's not working for her. She doesn't act coyly, nor intimidated. Not really being here with me is maybe the best way to describe it. I have some trouble understanding that this has nothing to do with me. I embrace her even tighter; and we are so close now that I can dive into the scent of her, flower meadows after a passing rain. I'm going to lose myself in our closeness if I don't watch out.

In letting my fingers translate what I'm not able to tell her, I push deeper; and suddenly I'm carried away by Catherine's softness. The contradiction between our encounter tonight and the ones we usually have at work is huge and I don't know if I will ever be able to fully comprehend it.

A low moan slips from her mouth. She's reaching for my arm, and for a moment I smugly think she's going to lay her hand on mine, encouraging my explorations. Well, she is not. My fingers are drawn from between her thighs and put onto her stomach, covered by her own hand. Confusion overwhelms me, provoked by sadness and what I fear is my unsatisfied yearning. I was on the brink of forgetting about her and what she needed.

It is hard to get my breathing back under control, especially since she absent-mindedly has started to caress my palm with her fingers.

"Catherine?" I ask, feeling an apology on my tongue though it is completely unintended. Finally this gets her to look at me; but that's not all. With a wonderful languished move she turns onto her side and wraps her arms around me. I never claimed I would understand her, but tonight's ambiguity is wearing me out.

Her eyes are sad, but all I can actually think about is how my body feels where it touches hers. But I didn't know that I hadn't felt anything yet until she slowly lays her palm on my right breast. It is so cautious, but at the same time so focussed, and I'm swept along by the gentleness of it. Her rather fleeting trials change into something different when she decides to cup her hand around my breast, almost appraisingly. At least, that's what I think when I can't keep myself from blushing. When I notice her fingertips running across my chest and coming to a halt at my throat, I try looking down at her eyes, but all I can see is blond hair hiding them successfully.

Her mouth opens slightly, but when all she says is "I don't …", I'm not so convinced that I want to hear the rest of it. An abrupt disappointment washes over me, and agony that maybe we have maneuvered ourselves into foreign waters, too deep to get out safe and sound in the end.

But this woman taught me to assume nothing. I'm about to let go of her when all of a sudden she embraces me again and utters the words "Please. Sara."

I detect desperation, of the voluptuous but nevertheless fragile kind. Inwardly, I say good-bye to my liability because I don't really know what she was asking for. It could have meant anything. I just know that I don't want to lose the connection we share, awkward or not.

I push Catherine onto her back again and begin stroking her with determination. When my fingers wander over the sensitive skin around her hip bones several times, she grabs my other hand that still rests on her shoulder and presses her mouth against the wrist. I feel her lips spreading hot breath like kisses over my pulsating blood. All I'm able to do is push myself closer into her side, till I feel the delicious resistance I so need.

The whispers at my wrist get warmer and more moist, and their insistence seduces me to try again. I slide my fingers lower once more, not too far this time, and when Catherine begins to slowly move her hips I know it was the right decision.

I take pleasure in watching her, the way she brushes her lips over my wrist, her fluttering eyelids and the tension her body displays. She shifts into my quickening strokes, but unfortunately I sense she's trying to convince herself of something I seemingly can't give her. Pure biology; this thought is crossing my mind when Catherine climaxes, rather composed, if that's possible.

Minutes go by, and I'm left fairly disturbed. I think I'll start screaming if she should turn around now. I'm waiting. While I try listening to the far-away noises of the city, I observe the changing of the lights outside again. In their steadiness, the blue, red and yellow have somehow become my accomplices along this more than contradictory night.

Catherine's breathing is back to normal, and she is letting go of my hand. I believe that's the moment I should also withdraw the other one, still resting between her thighs. While getting up on my knees in order to crawl out of bed, I try to find my dignity again. I hear her saying my name, and when I turn around I pray that she is not going to add the words Thank you.

She is propped up on her elbows, and the not so kind part of me, namely the frustrated one, thinks she is flaunting her body, mocking me. It's irrational I know, but it's the only outlet I got at the moment. She's catching me off guard again when she says, "I'm sorry."

'What for?' I want to burst out, but apparently my face did already ask.

"You didn't…" she starts, but I'm interrupting her, "No, you didn't."

I've never seen Catherine Willows blush so hard, and it's getting rather interesting to watch the flush running over her chest as well. I instantly feel the effect this sight has on me, and I have to hide it by awkwardly shifting.

We stare at each other; and I am sorry she didn't get what she was looking for – and I'm even sorrier for myself. My gaze wanders to the bathroom door. I need a moment to myself, and judging the signs of my body, it's going to be a somewhat longer moment, probably with the running water in the background.

Apparently, Catherine senses my discomfort. I've never been good at hiding it anyway. But this time, mixed with sexual tension, it really leaves me embarrassed. She snatches my arm when I'm about to get up, but then seems to think it over. Settling back against the headboard, she fumbles with the blanket and pulls it finally half across her body. I'm left to stare at her legs, precisely at the spot where the beautiful thighs disappear under the fabric – unfortunately.

I just hope my mouth is not hanging open, when she suddenly says, "Don't go, Sara."

She clears her throat, "If you ... want ... I mean, I could..."

My mind is begging her to go on, to finish what she was going to say, but there is nothing. Her face mirrors the taciturnity that I so detest, and her eyes start wandering around again. That's when I lose it.

I crawl over her on all fours, and by that I force her to skid down on the bed. I'm so close now that I can see the crack in her lip very clearly. Catherine nibbles at it, unconsciously, but is quickly put back to reality when she feels the pain.

"Catherine." I growl. I'm surprised that it sounds so demanding. It was meant more as a question. Apparently, I'm thrown off balance by my own mind. I should be more bothered by it, but I'm not. Not when the reason of my imbalance is lying underneath me, offering something I didn't know I was longing for all along.

I pull at the blanket and resolutely push it away. The moment my tongue slides over the skin between her breasts I'm realizing that I don't touch her anywhere else. I become aware of the position we are in, and how light and open my body feels. There's this need to change it into something more physical and real.

She seems to be astonished by my sudden intentness, but I can't play that particular game any longer. I need more. I draw myself up and when I'm settled down again at the end of the bed, I grab her ankles and push them apart. And just because of Catherine's bewildered look, I push a bit more.

Blood is rushing through my head when I look at her, so exposed and vulnerable. A thought crosses my mind, eliciting a brief pain. Chances are that I will never again have a moment like this with her, have her so close to me, so absolute. Fleetingly, I consider giving her more, to try again, to make it … good for her. But everything that has happened until this second, my offers and her reactions, has carried me to an extreme. I have reached a point where I have to satisfy my needs, no matter how uncertain the whole situation seems, and how vague Catherine's alacrity is.

Unlike before, this time I want as much physical contact as possible. I lower myself onto her, sliding my torso along her body till I come to rest between her legs. Feeling our chests pressed together, I wonder for a second if I'm possibly too heavy for her, and whether she's getting enough air. But actually, I can't care less; I need both my hands for something else.

My hips are grinding against hers while I try to get hold of her thighs. Maybe it is not the most comfortable position I'm in, but it is the most thrilling one at any rate. I sense her hesitation disappear, and I'm finally able to clasp her legs the way I wanted and nudge them further apart. She's learning pretty fast it seems. I can feel her crossing her ankles behind the lower part of my back, only very lightly pressing down on it. Her hands she lays on my shoulders, holding on to me. I bet she's regarding me now with curiosity. Usually, I don't like to be eyed as an exhibit, but what's happening here I can't comprehend anyway.

Discovering the texture of her, especially at the point where my flesh loses itself into hers, sends a myriad of little uncontrollable shudders through my whole body. I have the urge to stretch myself and thus let them fade away. But I can't. I'm caught too much, voluntarily, in her clasp. While I find myself pressing down on her, I'm surprised at the instinctive grinding I can't seem to curb somehow.

Catherine's eyes are wide open now, and though her breathing has picked up speed it doesn't match mine ... yet. I desperately want to show her what she's doing to me. So while I let one elbow support most of my weight, I grab her hand and push it down between our bodies. At first a bit reserved she soon finds the last part of the way by her own, this time causing me to widen my eyes in pleasant surprise. Together we find a rhythm that seems to be made uniquely for my needs and me.

I try concentrating again, but the only thing that I can focus on is the movement of her chest. No, I'm mistaken. The hectic up and down of her breasts, pressed together by her arms, one of them still between my legs, doesn't make me focus at all, but it is a tantalizing gratification to my already strained senses. But what drives me over the edge finally is the sight of her face when I catch her looking down along her own forearm and both our adjacent bellies. She has raised her head a bit, clearly for a better view, and I read curiosity and astonished fascination in her eyes. To know exactly what she is seeing and at the same time to imagine what she is probably coming to know when being so close to me, somehow doubles my own sensation's intensity. Or rather triples it? ... I don't really know... and eventually, I don't care anymore.

The first coherent thought I can muster afterwards is that I really like the scent of the place where I am right now. The second is the realization that my forehead and nose are buried in the blanket somewhere over Catherine's right shoulder. What I smell must be the delicious combination of her hair, her skin and a mystical component, yet to be discovered and patented. I grin; maybe it's only the lingering fragrance of freshly washed motel laundry. Nevertheless, I think it is heaven.

I know that I can't breathe through my mouth forever and that I have to come back to the surface of reality sooner or later. Catherine is stock-still, I don't hear anything. Maybe I should start worrying but then I become aware of her breathing again. All the ordinary little things are creeping back into my perception, the fact that my skin is cooling, and the somewhat uncomfortable feeling in one of my wrists. I probably collapsed onto it, and now I have to twist it to allow some blood back in. The mundane move makes me realize that this crazy night is over. That I should disentangle more than just my arms and give Catherine some space.

However, her left hand is still between my thighs, motionless. I prop myself up a bit, but avoid looking at her face. My fingers are on their way down, finally meeting hers. When I reach for her hand to pull it up, I inadvertently touch her somewhere else. Somewhere less ordinary.

A deep gasp jolts my body, though I need only a split second to identify it as coming from her. Nothing is keeping me from looking at her face now. Her lips are slightly parted, but when I touch her again, just to be sure, her mouth opens wide and she pants for breath.

And all of a sudden she's there. Or better, she's here with me, maybe for the first time tonight. I have her name on the tip of my tongue, but I don't want to ruin this. I wish to give her the feeling that whatever she needs is fine with me. So I let her set the pace, and I follow obediently. And while there is no demureness – she bends one of her legs, thus giving me better access – there is also no silence anymore. Catherine gasps and pants, and under the heavy breathing I hear her utter words, so startled and at the same time so demanding. Before they start sounding imperious, I take over again. My claims are getting more fierce, but I get the feeling that is what she wanted all along. Her hands roam over my back, frantically searching for a grip.

This radical change in her bearing is downright confusing me, but I don't want to miss a single moment of it. I try memorizing everything I get from her. The openness she is offering, the promises she displays, the strength of her embrace, but also the clarity of it all and how it is filling ... me.

The natural light of a soon morning is already beginning to sneak into our room, struggling with the bluish obscurity that doesn't seem to get chased away so easily. But there is no shelter anymore for Catherine to hide behind. I see it all, and not only with my eyes. Her aloof commitment from earlier is replaced by an arousal, a heat and a scent that I know too well. I have her now, I know it. My attention is drawn to her moving lips and I desperately want to make them mine as well. It is not really a kiss when I press my open mouth onto hers, absorbing the breaths and verbalisms she is not getting tired of scattering.

After I got a taste of her tongue, I tear my lips away and find myself murmuring words in her ear. They are clearly not what she expected; and to be honest, I don't really know myself how she provokes them in me. Catherine is losing control and that's a sight I will hopefully never forget. She is finally handing it all over to me, and she does so with a contentedness that rattles me to the core.

Time and blissful oblivion pass by. It is almost broad day outside, and unconsciously, I register the arrival of what I assume is the motel's morning shift. I hear banging car doors and giggling. I couldn't fall asleep even though my tired nerves and muscles seemed to scream for some rest. Wanting to absorb everything Catherine would do or say after ... well, having sex with me, I didn't let her out of my sight. Usually, I just want to fall asleep afterwards or maybe hold onto the woman I'm with. But never having slept with a colleague before, especially not with such an ambivalent one, I believe snuggling is not really an option.

Although, watching her, the way she is buried under the blanket again, with her eyes closed, I would really like to touch her. Just her hair maybe. Or even the crack on her lip. It looks a bit chapped, probably due to our not so tender encounter earlier. I am about to move my fingers toward her relaxed features when I realize that actually, I want to embrace her, wholly. I'm startled and confused. Hugging her seems somehow out of place ... now. It is something friends would do, right? We had sex.

A surrendering sigh slips from my lips and I turn onto my back again. I know I shouldn't, and I know that there is no possible way ever, but I wish I could stop time, right here, right now. I don't want to leave this bed, this narrow place, this confined pleasure with Catherine lying next to me. People call me gloomy sometimes, but I fear, no, I know that as soon as I will get out of bed, I'm trapped again by harsh reality. However, I am a big girl, and day-dreaming is not my thing.

Mentally, I give myself ten seconds time until I push aside my part of the blanket in order to get up. I have reached seven when I notice Catherine is playing with a strand of my hair. Turning my head, I forget to count because I have never seen something so beautiful in my life. There is only a hint of a smile on her face, but the same way it reaches her eyes it also reaches me. It invites me to understand a part of her that I have never even dreamed of.

And then she's up and on her way to the bathroom. Okay, so the awkward part has now officially started. I could get up as well and jump quickly into my clothes, to get ahead of her. It is so stupid to think like that. I rather try recalling a mental picture of her walking to the bath, completely and deliciously naked. It plasters a big, but nevertheless satisfied grin on my face, I'm sure.

While I'm waiting for her reappearance, I am hit by a tide of carnal recollections that leave me overwhelmed and glowing from inside. I know myself too well. Those images of her, and the feelings she provoked in me, will doubtlessly show up quite often in the next couple of days, maybe weeks. And I'm sure they will emerge at the most inconvenient places and times – and most certainly when I have to work with her.

I prop myself up against the headboard, and while I pull up the blanket and tuck it under my arms, an uncomfortable thought strikes me. By sitting here and waiting, almost fatalistically, I sure as hell invite her to go all weird on me. Again, like at the beginning of the night, I don't know how to act around her. When I was young I always ran away from situations like this. But it never got me anywhere really. So I learned to face them, to let them happen, sometimes with a stoic defiance that seems to have been creeping into other aspects of my life, too.

I stare at her side of the bed and try to stop my mind from playing tricks on me. Great, an image of Catherine, writhing and groaning, is already bobbing up. My cheeks are burning. But at the same time I have to swallow a bitterness of knowing that maybe, under different circumstances, this could have led to something else.

However, I don't even know what this something is, and I don't know if I could be pursuing it, or should, if anything. We are co-workers first and foremost, and it probably leads nowhere anyway, not with our backgrounds and not with this affaire corporelle as the beginning.

Just when I stumble inwardly over the word beginning, the bathroom door opens and Catherine appears, fully dressed and obviously very eager to leave. I can sense it. She is looking around for her scattered pajama. Finally reaching for its pants still jammed between the sheets, she blushes, but she doesn't look at me. I desperately want her to stop avoiding me and the pink elephant in the room, but I seem to be glued to the bed, mutely. When she puts on her shoes, she's giving me a quick side glance, not embarrassed, thank God, but slightly cautious.

"The burglary. You still working with me on this?" I hope it doesn't sound as distraught as I feel right now. I simply can't let her go and leave me in this uncertainty. Though the case, I admit, is not really the subject on which I need clarification.

Catherine stands up and fumbles with her handbag, searching for something or maybe just pretending to do so. I cannot see her face; it is hidden behind the curtain of her hair. Its light swinging accentuates the bustle with which she is concentrating on her bag.

"I don't really know, Sara." All she needs is a couple of steps toward the door of the room. "Certainly not before graveyard." She is good. She knows that I will get back to the lab as soon as I can, no matter if it is my shift or not.

She stands in the door frame now and the fresh morning air from outside swarms through the room and hits my bare shoulders unexpectedly. I don't care. Daylight forms a halo around her, and it is almost like an apparition when I realize that I want another chance. Not now, not here, but on all accounts. Unfortunately, I'm too afraid to say anything. She draws out her sunglasses and puts them on, only for a second. Then she pushes them to the top of her head. She stares into the sun and wrinkles her nose a bit. I'm used to this gesture of her, it's the Catherine I know so well from work. I think if she would just look at me, only once, everything would turn out right.

"I think I'll get a cab and pick up Lindsey and spend the day with her. Yes." She is quietly talking to herself. Still not looking at me. I'm not prepared for her "See you." It almost meets the bang of the door, and then she is gone.

I'm left to stare at this big piece of wood and somehow it is staring right back at me, radiating an accusing Told you! I don't know what to do. I shouldn't get worried, though. I'm sure my feet will finally drag me to the bathroom. I will get dressed, organize a coffee, drive to the lab and start working. Grissom or Brass, probably both, will ask me how she's doing. And I will say that she's fine, under the circumstances. I don't want to do all this, but in the end I have to and I will.

All of a sudden, the door opens again and Catherine steps back in, fumbling with the keycard in her hands. Maybe she forgot something, I think. But then she closes the door and, never averting her eyes, she walks toward her target, me, with determination in her stride. My rigid bearing is easily conquered by her verve, and when she sits down at my side I need my whole strength of will not to pounce on her. She stares into my face and for a moment I anxiously ponder if this is what you get when you wish for a last look from her.

"Sara, I ... I ..." Apparently, she didn't make up a speech. I appreciate that. But then she swallows and with her features lightened up a bit, she says, "Thank you."

Well, no one has ever thanked me for having sex. And, to be honest, that was a good thing. I'm taken aback by her words, rather painfully. I guess she can tell. She is reaching with both her hands for my shoulders and whispers beseechingly, "Sara, no! What I wanted to say was thank you for staying with me."

And while I feel a bit relieved and try to ignore the too welcome feeling of her hands on my skin, she lowers her head. I consider the odds that she is looking at my cleavage, but I'm left somewhat ashamed due to my lewdness as soon as she continues.

"Thank you for not letting me alone after the ... thing that happened. I did survive this guy by ... pure instinct, I guess. But afterwards, when everything was supposed to be okay, I ... I became so afraid suddenly. It was still choking me, and all that fear of going down and never ... I don't know ... living again." She is very calm now, "So thank you."

I believe I understand what she is trying to say, and surprisingly, it restores some of my inner ease. I think I can live with that, other than the fact that we slept together. That part of the night seems to be less an issue for her than it is for me. Right now, only her immediate proximity prevents me from losing my sanity. But I am pretty sure that I will in the end.

"And then, ..." The fingers of her right hand start wandering coyly over my exposed shoulders and down my chest till they are stopped by the blanket. However, she lets them rest there.

"... then I wanted to express my sincerest hope that one day maybe you could show me your secret..." She lifts her head, "... again."

I have seen her flirt with colleagues, hell, even with suspects and I was thinking that I knew her modus operandi. But for all that, it is not comparable with what she is doing right now. So maybe she is not flirting with me at all, maybe it is just Catherine being herself.

"Secret?" I wonder aloud, baffled at the assonance of our thoughts. I did believe I was the one who wanted to know all her secrets. Well, the more physical ones anyway. What secret could I possibly have that she wants to unravel?

"You know," she says, and her eyes are drawing me in, "... that thing you do."

Softly humming the familiar melody, she bends closer and smiles. "And how you do ..." She delicately kisses me, "... that thing you do."

It is only this short sweet contact between her lips and the corner of my mouth, but coming from her it means a lot more to me than the heated moments we shared earlier. She puts the keycard down on the bed, grabs her bag and with much more composure than before she finally leaves.

I slide down till I lie flat on my back and have the whole ceiling to my study. There is something inside me that cannot decide between being nonchalant and grown-up or overwhelmed and stupidly jubilant. For the first time since the beginning of shift last night, I'm completely pleased with myself. Letting my head sink a bit over the edge of the bed, I discover that I'm able to see the colors of the advertising sign through the flimsy curtains. Slightly distracted, I reflect that, apparently, I didn't mess it up – whatever that is exactly. But it just feels damned good.

To get rid of the slight vertigo, I shortly lift my head, and while my gaze is darting through the room, it is eventually stopped by Catherine's glasses, lying innocently on the bed side table. I grin. Suddenly I don't dread getting up anymore, and having a coffee, and going to work, and waiting for her. My head falls back once more and again, I behold the sign outside. Now, it is upside down and the outlines don't appear very sharply, but the thought crosses my mind that in broad daylight I would never have noticed the broken bulb in the letter l.

The End

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