DISCLAIMER: Not mine. No money made. C.S.I. and C and S belong to CBS & Mr. Bruckheimer, while I belong to myself, as does this little story.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was – sort of – inspired by a throwaway challenge that was issued by Jolie in the catherinesara yahoogroup a long time ago (as in May 24th, 2004). The storyboard sat on my hard drive for the past 18 months and would probably have remained there indefinitely if it hadn't been for the constant and supportive nagging of a few people: Storm, Anja, and especially Rykö., so this one's for them!
TIMEFRAME/SPOILERS: late Season Three. Lady Heather's Box; Crash and Burn; Inside the Box; Nesting Dolls.
BETA: This story would never have made it past the A draft without the diligent and valiant editing of Rykö and the greatly appreciated comment(arie)s by Caren.
ARCHIVING: Passion & Perfection and var[title] only.
BANNER: made by Rykö.

By Nique Bartok



I can hardly see the room through my tears; everything is just blurs of color. Olive. Cream. Ochre. Nancy said those were calming, homey colors when we redid the house after the divorce. I would have liked to move then, but with the mortgage, it would have been hard. Another one of Eddie's remnants. He came by money fast, and lost it just as quickly. Sports cars. Booking an entire club for a birthday party. Fancy weekend trips, with me or without me. And drugs.

After the divorce, he was late with the mortgage payment most of the time. And with the alimony. That didn't keep him from spending much more on Lindsey when it was one of his weekends, though. She was his little princess.

Only a few a days ago, she was on her school stage in that little blue dress, and he was late again. At some point, I grew tired of making scenes when he was late for a date with me and showed up smelling like another woman's perfume, but he should have been on time for Lindsey's play.

And I'm crying, even though I cursed that man more times than I can count. Perhaps it's because it's so final that I find myself crying over him, over us, and over what we should have or could have been. About what we were instead, and how it ended now. It's over, but nothing is resolved, not even the case is solved – Sara closed it, without a result, and without the possibility of an indictment.

She let me down and Eddie's killer won't pay for the murder, even though I know who he is. We all know who he is, and if it were me, I would have nailed him. Like this, everything is up in the air and it will never end. Things have been taken out of my hands, and I feel like I'm drifting, not knowing where I'll go from here.

I suddenly remember how Eddie looked after Lindsey's birth, how he held her for the first time, in the hospital. I remember how he used to take her for walks in her stroller, every inch the proud dad. That was before he came home late again, smelling like other women's perfume.

Even if I spent most of the time being mad at him in the end, at least I knew where I was. Now I don't know where to direct my ire, and it had to be Sara Sidle, of all people, to call me on that, to remind me that I should be taking care of Lindsey instead of being mad at the world on her behalf.

Sara, who'd never win an award for social aptitude, making me feel like a failure. I don't take kindly to that. Especially after she failed me in the end, closing the case without a chance at justice.

I hate feeling this out of sorts over something that shouldn't even move me that much, but it just makes me cry harder.

Suddenly, there are little hands in my hair. Lindsey. I haven't heard her come in. And I have to cry even more when she softly strokes my head.

"It's okay, Mommy."

How can my child be such a grown-up now, when I can't seem to stop crying?

She doesn't know yet what she'll miss out on, growing up without a father. I grew up with a mere shadow of one, and I don't want her to go through the same. I'd still rather have Eddie around than no one at all – so he wasn't reliable, and he rarely did right by her, but she adored him, and I think that made him a better dad in return. It's not like I ever could share much of the responsibility of raising Lindsey with him, but now that he's gone, I feel even more left alone. At least I could always let my anger bounce off Eddie.

Now my anger runs free, and again I have to think how Sara sent me home, out of that interview room. Now that my anger has been tempered by sadness, I have to admit that even Sara – self-proclaimed failure at interacting with children – was actually calmer with Lindsey than I was when she conducted the interview in the aftermath of the accident. And not just calm: She was gentle, and the image puzzles me in retrospect.

Lindsey is still stroking my hair, her reassuring warmth pressed against my back, and I can only think that I am the one who is supposed to take care of her. Not the other way around.

But at the moment, I can't stop crying.

Eddie endangered her, she almost drowned because of one of his stupid bimbo girlfriends. I don't even want to cry over him, yet I do. The last time I saw him, we fought. We always fought these past years, but even though I wouldn't have wanted him back as a partner, there's still something that ties me to him and pulls me under along within, something archaic and stark – he is the man who gave me my child.

The thought echoes through my head, and I realize I have to correct myself. He was the man who gave me my child.

I can't stop crying.

Two days ago, my daughter was a princess. Now it seems the fairy tale is over for good.



"Hey Cinderella
Step in your shoe
I'll be your non-stop lover
Get it while you can
Your non-stop miracle
I'm your man…"

It was almost five in the morning, Billy Ocean's latest thinly blaring out of the speakers over the empty stage and plush seats, and over their small group of girls who were sitting closely together at the otherwise deserted bar. The flashy show lights had long since been turned off and only one last group of customers – a couple of young men who kept laughing loudly – remained standing near the doors, as if indecisive whether to leave or not.

She recognized them as she glanced over, it was the same group that had been watching them earlier in the lounge – too cheap or too poor to buy them drinks, though, by the looks of it, it was probably the latter. Reading people became increasingly simple when thrown into such primal conditions – Want. Power. Possession.

In the back, the cleaning crew had already begun sweeping away the glitter, the empty bottles and the occasional shredded piece of underwear. She yawned tiredly, the cold seeping into her bones despite her having changed into jeans and boots. The penny heels would need to be redone, she noted when she gazed down at her shoes. Perhaps she could get that done tomorrow before the show. At the moment, she just wanted to head home and pick up a coffee on the way before she crawled into bed. It wasn't as if she would get a coffee here, with Rob the barkeeper having taken off already, no doubt with some new conquest. All the high rollers had left already, as well, so there was no use in hanging around to see whether one might get picked up for a private dance.

"…Get outta my dreams
Get into my car
Get outta my dreams
Get in the back seat baby…"

"Hi," a voice said a little too closely to her ear and she swiveled around to face one of the young men from the group at the entrance. He was tall, with dark hair that was longer in the back, blue eyes and a ruggedly handsome face. His bleached-out jeans were so tight that he couldn't really hook his thumbs into the pockets, so his cool pose came across a little forced.

He grinned crookedly at her. "I suppose it's kind of a bad time to ask, but would someone as pretty as you go out with me?" His friends had clearly spurred him on, watching their exchange with interest, and now he didn't want to lose his face in front of them. "I work in music management," he bragged and she thought he probably rolled up the recording tapes. On one side, his white cowboy boots were held together with safety pins. "I could make you a singer, you know."

It was a line she heard by the dozen, but the little easy grin he wore – half self-depreciating, half cocky – set him somewhat apart from both the sleazy and the awkward come-ons she was used to. She slowly looked him up and down, barely avoiding rolling her eyes at how he swirled his money clip between his fingers. The way he was flashing his money clearly showed he didn't have too much of it. She leaned back, putting her elbows on the bar behind her and waiting a moment for good measure as she pushed her gum from one cheek to the other. "I just got off work and the only thing I want right now is a coffee, so why don't you make yourself scarce?"

He looked at her for a moment as if he wasn't used to being told off, but then that crooked grin was back. "One coffee coming right up," he said, easily hopping over the counter and moving behind the bar. She thought that Rob would be really mad to see someone else in between his bottles and she grinned at the stranger in reply.

He winked at her, while some of his friends whistled in the back. "Name's Eddie, by the way."

Eddie made her coffee. Good coffee. And she went out with him.



It's the quiet hours of the early morning, before the real buzz of dayshift sets in, the lights in most of the empty labs set on low, enveloping the floor in a tired, a blue-grayish hue. This feels like the longest shift I ever pulled, and I didn't even do a full double. Just hung around a few hours in addition, picking up a few loose ends and trying not to think about Catherine.

It isn't working.

In the end, I go down to take another look at him, inwardly apologizing that I couldn't tie up his case as neatly as I wanted to. He doesn't look threatening, cold and wrapped up in a drawer like that, and I find myself trying to imagine what kind of a dad he may have been. What kind of a husband. All you ever hear around the lab is how bad he was for Catherine, and I've witnessed her yelling at him over the phone more than once when we were working a scene together. When I had just started here in Vegas, there was a bit of rumor that he manhandled her in the lab, out in the open.

It's hard to believe he could be that stupid. Perhaps he was just a hothead. After all, he tried to make it to his girl's school play, even if he was late. And he bought her ice cream instead of meeting his bimbo girlfriend first. Doesn't sound like the worst kind of dad to me. And from how Lindsey spoke about him in the interview, it's clear she has him on a pedestal a mile high. I think of all participants, I feel the most sorry for her.

I could see Eddie being the charming kind of bad guy, I guess, and for a moment, I understand what Catherine might have seen in him once. For a fleeting moment I wonder what drew him to her in return, and I find myself thinking that if she is as high maintenance at home as she is at work, I wouldn't want to be married to her, either. No matter how beautiful she is.

But they were divorced, for God's sake. She didn't have a good word to say about him for as long as I knew her, and now it seems she's more upset about his death than she's mad at him for endangering Lindsey. I don't get it.

As cases go, this wasn't even one of the really bad ones – there was no abuse, no sexual assault, and no dead child. Those are the ones who keep me awake at night, so actually, I shouldn't feel so bad now. There was nothing left for me to do, my knees are from searching through those water tunnels for the murder weapon, on all fours, and I still feel like I didn't do enough. I already know I'll keep my eyes open for that gun for years to come. I'm telling myself it's because I don't like loose ends, but I know I'm lying.

It doesn't help. I truly wish I could have made this one right for her. I'm weary as I leave the morgue, thinking that someone needs to let Catherine know that she can pick up the body for the funeral.

Dammit, does Catherine think I didn't want to solve this for her? I wanted to smack that bimbo girlfriend – Candeece – around that interview room as much as she did, but apart from the whole 'illegal' aspect, Catherine would probably have torn off my head for that one, too.

I'm angry as I pack up my things, and I push the door to the empty break room open more forcefully than necessary when I stop on my way out to deposit my empty coffee mug by the sink. It's then that I see the black leather jacket lying over the arm of the couch. Catherine's jacket. And the guys have left already, every single one of them. Just great.

I sigh as I pick up the garment, deciding I might just as well drop the jacket at her place on my way home. I need to inform her that she can have Eddie's body picked up, anyway. I would really like to send someone else to do that, but all the boys have left already and it was my case, so it's my bloody responsibility. For a moment I toy with the idea of just stashing the jacket into a locker and sending her a text message about Eddie, but that would look exactly like the cop-out it would be. I have to face her again sooner or later. Better get it over with.

The leather feels cool and smooth under my fingers and it reminds me a bit of her. I remember hearing Catherine complain about the money she paid for this jacket, even though she got it on sale already, and I know she'd never leave it behind anywhere. For her to have forgotten the jacket, she must have been really out of it, and for the first time today, I try to push away my anger and instead attempt to imagine how she must be doing.

She's probably feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and don't we all know that she doesn't do helpless very well. No, what Catherine does best is being in charge, and now it was me being in charge of her personal case. I guess I can't really blame her for not taking that well.

As I walk out into the parking lot, taking the few stairs, I have to wince and I know I'll end up with some nice bruises from crawling through the tunnels half of the night. Just what I need. Although I'd take bruised knees over having to face Catherine right now. I'm sure she'll rip my head off all over again and even though I understand she's mad, I don't really want to go through that a third time.

When I got this case, I knew she would flip on me at some point either way. Which leads me to the question as to why I got the case, and not Nick, or Warrick, who are a lot friendlier with Catherine than I am. Though that's probably why Grissom assigned it to me, I conclude grimly as I pull out into the street. I'm the one on the team with the greatest personal distance to Catherine.

But does that make him think I don't care? Hell, it's no secret that Catherine and I aren't exactly getting along, but that doesn't mean this doesn't affect me. She's a colleague. I've been working alongside her for almost three years. Of course I care. I know her. And I know Lindsey; I've seen her around the lab, coloring books, waiting for Mom to sign off and drive her to school, or asleep on the ouch in Grissom's office.

And now that girl got almost killed in a car crash because of some coked up wannabe singer, and Eddie ended up dead, and I couldn't even find the murder weapon to nail the bastard who did it.

Catherine isn't the only one who's feeling angry and frustrated. Does she think I'll sleep well tonight? Or any of the upcoming nights? Well, fuck.

I feel awful. Trying to pry her off that singer was like trying to talk to a wild animal. I know she was just lashing out. Rationally, I get it. Emotionally, I'm pissed as hell. I hate it when she goes all superior on me, playing the age card. She tends to give me the feeling that I'm not good enough. It's a feeling I've battled most of my life, except for in my work, and now she hit me over the head with it right there.

Still, of all the times she bitched at me, I think that today, she had a real reason for exploding in my face. I don't know how I would react if some crazed junkie had almost drowned the person I love most. Though I'd be hard-pressed to give out that title.

I spare a glance at the jacket that's draped on my passenger seat, catching a whiff of leather and her perfume.

I wonder why I even try to reach out now.

My knees hurt. My head hurts. What she said to me hurts.

I look out the window, trying to determine which way to go; it's not as if I were driving around Catherine's neighborhood on a regular basis. I finally decide to turn after the Luxor, catching the announcement for their latest Egyptian styled show as I speed pass.



A flash of bronze skin, sheer hose over lean legs glittering in the flashing lights overhead.

A foot on a chair, the arch tightly stretched over a stiletto heel, sparkling little bands of diamonds tying it to a delicate ankle.

Long, polished nails skimming up well-defined calf muscles.

The scents of sweat, sweet champagne and smoke over the steady beat of the drum.

Black hair, interwoven with beads. Long eyelashes and red, shimmering lips. A sheer white coat falling open to offer tantalizing glimpses of smooth, glistening skin. The coat slowly edging over a shoulder, a bead of sweat trickling down a long neck, almost coming to a stop over a generously displayed curve of chest before disappearing into a tiny golden brassiere that was sparkling under the lights, and with the movements. Fingers edging towards the tiny clasp right in the middle…

The sharp, staccato sounds of stiletto heels on the stage floor, pirouetting and sliding. Bent. Stretched. Lifted high.

Overall, the near hypnotic movement of hips, swaying slowly, following the luring oriental tunes with their wild beats underneath. Slow. Slower. Then fast again. Thighs bent low, circling over an unseen sensual axis, grinding, drawn taut with exertion. Breasts moving with the fluid rush of a quick shake, quivering with the rhythm.

The soft hiss when the tiny band of fabric, stretched tight across smooth hips, finally gave way, first snapping against sweat-soaked skin, then, with a flick of a strong wrist, being torn into its pieces.

She had never seen anything like that.

She had never seen anything like these women. She had never seen Egypt, but that was what it had to be like. Wild, and heady and shimmering golden.



The door bell is ringing and I'm stumbling down the hallway, not sure who would come by now – Warrick has already called to ask me if I need anything, so have Nick and Brass – but it doesn't matter because I'm not in the mood to see anyone.

When I look through the spyhole, the sight that greets me is one I'm not prepared for. Cautiously, I open my door because I'm sure this isn't a social call. Standing on my doorstep, shoulders pulled up defensively, is Sara Sidle. She's clearly uncomfortable and I'm thinking that we're having one thing in common after all.

Why couldn't they have given the case to anyone else, anyone? Knowing Grissom, he gave it to her because Sara is the one with the greatest emotional distance to me. But I don't need distance right now, I need someone who understands what I feel!

"I can't deal with you right now."

Her booted foot is in the door before I can shut it again. "You forgot your jacket."

She holds my leather jacket out to me, and I accept it gingerly, unaccustomed to her gesture. I hadn't even realized I left it at work, but I become conscious of the fact that I'm wearing the same clothes in which I stumbled in here hours ago. It's bright morning out and I blink against the light. I have no idea what time it is, I must have fallen asleep after Nancy picked up Lindsey for school. I didn't want to let her go, or wanted to at least drive her myself, but Nancy is right, disrupting the daily routine would only make it harder on Lindsey.

Sara is looking at me oddly; it must show that I cried. I probably look about as bad as I feel and part of me is impressed, even though I don't want to be, that she has the guts to face me down again already.

She looks down for a second, drawing the tip of her boot across my doormat. "The paperwork is all done. Thought I'd let you know you can pick up…" She stops herself with an unwilling shake of her head, and she looks at me again when she continues. "The lab has released the body."

I can pick up Eddie, she means. I look down at the jacket in my hands, finding that I'm twisting it and then look up at Sara again, at a loss. I've never had to arrange a funeral before. I've processed so many bodies, notified so many loved ones, handed out phone numbers for morticians, but now that it's about me, I don't know where to start.

"You're still listed as his next of kin," Sara states hesitantly and I wonder how bad I must look for her to be so cautious around me.

"I know." I steady myself against the doorframe. I can do this. "I've just never been in charge of a funeral before."

"I could help." Sara seems as surprised by her own cooperativeness as I am, and it must have shown in my face because she immediately hastens to explain herself. "I've done this before." I stare at her dumbly, wondering why the hell she is willing to help me out and for whom she might have had to organize a funeral. I don't even know whether her parents are still alive. My questioning look prompts her to elaborate, even though she lets a moment pass, obviously not really prepared to share that bit of information, "I organized my grandfather's funeral."

Something seems off about that, but it takes me a moment to put my finger on it. "What about your parents?"

She gives me that stoic look of hers, but for a moment, there was a flicker of something in her eyes. She looked vulnerable.

"They weren't around," she finally says curtly, but then she seems to notice that her tone might make me ask more questions, so she tries to make light of it. "Also, my mother's plan of an Indian funeral pyre turned out to be illegal."

Her parents weren't around? – I don't know anything about Sara's parents, but then, I don't know too much about Sara, period. She works too much and keeps to herself. And she usually solves every case you give to her, but she didn't solve mine. Still, that odd vulnerable look piqued my curiosity.

"How old were you?" I ask, trying to be civil. I'm still mad about her closing the case, but I don't want to revisit all that anger now, or I'll yell at her yet again. I'm too exhausted for that. I moved to the side while we were talking and she hesitates again, but then she steps over the threshold. I should probably offer her a coffee.

"Fifteen," she says quietly as I close the door and for a moment, I have to try and remember my question. And even though I'm still angry at her, I can't help but feel sorry for a teenaged Sara who was forced to be an adult when she shouldn't have been yet.

I wish I knew what to say, but we just stare at each other for a moment, as if we were contestants feeling each other out before a competition. She has her hands pushed into the pockets of her pants now and she looks out of place, dressed all in black, standing in my hallway. Finally she shrugs. "You got a funeral parlor already?"

She's blunt, but I don't take offense. It's the tone she has when she is concentrating on getting a task done, all tempering and distractions cut away. I know it's set me off before, but right now, I find it strangely comforting. So I shake my head and gesture at the door to the living room. "Phone's in there."

She just nods and I'm suddenly grateful I don't have to say anything else. There's something like acceptance in her gaze before she turns and walks ahead of me, her shoulders still drawn a little too high. She doesn't even ask for the Yellow Pages, dialing a number from memory, and I hear her talking quietly. When I try to disregard the fact that we're in my home, it feels like working a crime scene with her – attentive, efficient, thorough. She asks me a few things in between, about flowers and how many people I expect, and I decide to make us a coffee after all to feel like I'm doing something as well.

When I look at her from the kitchen door, she's standing with her back to me, talking on the phone. It's a strangely reassuring sight, Sara towering over my phone table: a tall, lanky silhouette, dark against the calm colors of my place.



The lanky brunette was leaning against the doorway, smiling at her where she was wiping off the coffee table, the bottles from last night's game already stashed into a garbage can next to her.

"Morning," the woman said gravelly. She was clothed in nothing but high heels and a robe that wasn't hers. The midday sun reflected off her hair, making the brown curls shimmer with highlights of blonde and red.

"Morning," she answered, her own voice still raspy as well. Her robe looked good on the other woman, she decided. A little shorter than on herself. Aloud, she questioned, "Eddie still sleeping?"

When the brunette nodded, she herself stopped in straightening out the room for a minute, watching the other woman pick up her clothes that were haphazardly strewn all over the room. She must have been staring, because the brunette woman turned around, bent over from where she was currently picking up her skirt.

"I had fun," the stranger stated with an easy grin.

She smiled in reply. "So did I."

It wasn't the first time, and probably not the last time, either. He liked it, occasionally, and so did she. The first time, it had been odd as much as edgy and exciting, at least the bits she remembered, although she had already done a fair deal of all that before, while dancing on stage. The bills flew even more when there were two girls instead of one, and she didn't mind. Nobody in Vegas minded.

A time or two, he had shown up after a fight with another girl, as a peace offering of sorts, and she remembered those nights the most because she had still been mad at him, and the contrast of another woman had been all the more palpable, smoother and less tense, and they had felt so soft in comparison.

On occasion, it had been another dancer, though she tried to stay clear of her own colleagues. Especially those she liked.

At times, she found herself baffled at how seamlessly she fit into Vegas now, and how little still managed to faze her. She had come a long way from waiting tables at the diner, until one night, by chance or not, "Uncle Sam" had walked in and offered her a dancing gig for old times' sake. Now she was one of his top girls, and of all the things she hadn't done before Sam had offered her a job working for him in one of his clubs, there weren't many left.



There aren't many seats left, both sides of the aisle. Seems Eddie was a popular guy, at least in certain circles. There are even some casino types sitting in the back, all wearing shades even though the light is dim inside the small chapel. It doesn't really feel like a chapel, and the supposed minister wears a simple suit and has hair that is too long in the back. He looks too relaxed for me, as if he didn't get yet that death is a serious business and that a little attitude can't cover it up.

I hate it when they try to be cheerful. My father's funeral was that way, in between all the silence and the awkwardness, and I made sure that it didn't happen with Gramps. He wouldn't have liked it, either.

Catherine is handling it pretty well so far, even though she's looking pale and I can tell she's been crying on and off. She's wearing a simple black suit and hardly any make-up, and it's probably the wrong time to notice, but she looks beautiful like that, very classy. Which I couldn't say about too many of the guests. With some of the people she's talking to, I wonder how she knows them, if Eddie introduced them to her, or if they go back to her dancing days.

Lindsey looks kind of lost while Catherine has to make small talk. Seeing her dad in that coffin must be hard, and he looks odd in a proper suit and well-shaven. My father's funeral was with a closed casket.

A bit uncertain, I sit down to Lindsey who is sitting in the first row in a little black dress and shiny black shoes with pink bows. The ribbons in her hair are pink, too, and I suddenly feel a lot more friendly towards Catherine because she didn't force her daughter to dress entirely in black.

Lindsey is picking at the flower decoration, and I watch her for a moment. "Did you know those are lilies?" I reach for one that has tiny specks of pink in its calyx, silently cursing my lack of experience with children.

"It's pretty," she shrugs, but she looks up when I carefully tear the small blossom out of the arrangement and offer it to her. "It matches your bows." I point at her shoes.

She takes the flower and I help her fix it to the front of the dress, and we talk about more flowers because I don't know what I can talk about with her, and then she says that her dad looks so different, and I tell her that on my father's funeral, I didn't even see him. It's not easy for me to talk about it, but Lindsey doesn't seem to notice.

She looks at me with uncompromising curiosity. "But how do you know it was him then?"

"Good point," I allow.

She picks at another flower, glancing over at the polished coffin. "How did he die?"

I don't know what to say. "He got killed," I finally offer.

"In a car accident?" Her eyes are so unguarded, and I just hope she won't lose this when she grows up.

For I moment, I debate whether to lie, but I think she would notice. She has a gaze like Catherine, unnerving and intelligent and bright. She even purses her lips the same way. I wonder if she'll be a lot like Catherine when she grows up. "No, somebody killed him," I finally admit.

"Did you catch the bad guy?"

I have to take a deep breath before I continue. "I wasn't a CSI back then," I tell her. "I was a bit older than you were, but I still went to school."

"Did the police catch him then?" At her honest concern, I feel guilty again that I couldn't prove Eddie's murder.

"Yeah, they caught the one who did it," I say, and I hope she won't ask anymore questions, because I don't want to lie to her, but I don't want to tell her about why my mother is in prison, either. Lindsey doesn't ask anything else, though. She suddenly seems to shrink into her seat and when I look up, I see a shock of pink hair down the room.

Candeece. She is with two men, each of them looking shadier than the other, and from the looks of it, she's on something again. I remember Catherine saying how Eddie's girlfriends often did drugs, and I'm mad all over again, especially as Lindsey cowers away and reaches for my hand.

For a moment, I'm dumbstruck by the feeling of that small hand in mine, but then I square my shoulders and plant myself I front of Lindsey. "Don't worry," I say quietly and squeeze the hand I'm holding a bit. "If she tries to get near you, I'll kick her ass all over the room."

Lindsey almost giggles, and I feel the warmth where she is hiding against my back. I look across the room, trying to see if Catherine noticed as well. She did, and Warrick is standing next to her, looking every bit as protective as I must be right now, but her eyes still rove over the room until she catches sight of me and Lindsey, and for a moment she looks at me as if she's never seen me before. It's weird, and I look at Warrick instead. He nods at me and over the course of the ceremony and condolences, we fall into a routine of sorts, he's staying with Catherine and I'm with Lindsey. The menace in my stance keeps most of the seedier elements at bay, but I'm not taking any chances. For a moment, I wonder whether I should throw Candeece and her cronies out, but she has two guys with her and I don't have a weapon on me. And I really don't want to ruin the ceremony for Catherine.

It still feels weird to be here, right in the middle of Catherine's personal life. It's like attending someone else's family reunion, but I organized most of this for her, and what surprises me even more is that she let me.

She's standing only a few feet away from me now, shaking hands with a few late guests who offer their condolences. This guy next in line is definitely one of the shady kind, with his shirt half unbuttoned, expensive sunglasses and a neck like a bull. He's raising the hair on my arms, especially as I witness how Catherine instinctively leans away from him when he takes her hand.

"It's a shame," he says and his voice sounds like he swallowed lye at some point in his life. I instinctively reach for where my gun would be when he lifts his glasses and looks Catherine down like a product on display. "Long time no see, Kitty."



"Sara, get your ass down here, we'll be late!"

"Coming!" she yelled back, taking the stairs two at a time.

She wasn't too thrilled about having to attend this wedding – an Elvis theme wedding, no less – but foster mom had insisted, saying something about bonding and processing. Just whom was she supposed to bond with if she didn't know any of the guests, much less the bride and groom themselves?

She wondered why exactly the child care people had thought she would blend in well in another family that was big on hippie qualities. They had probably assumed she'd feel at home around things she was familiar with, but it just gave her the creeps. Still, as foster families went, this one wasn't too bad. Even if they had weird hippie friends who got married Elvis style.

"We could drive through Berkeley, you know." Foster mom – Janet – offered as they got in the car.

"I told you I'm trying out for a Harvard scholarship," she deflected immediately. Like she'd try out for more hippie environment and processing. On a cold day in hell.

Janet needed two tries to get behind the steering wheel with her multi-petticoat 50s-styled dress. Foster dad – Reginald – looked even stranger, decked out like Buddy Holly with glasses that consisted mostly of huge black rims. She was so not looking forward to stopping for lunch at a roadside diner. Though she probably should be grateful that they weren't invited to a space wedding where they'd have to show up as aliens. Janet and Reginald would have loved that.

At least this way, she didn't have to get into some ridiculous dress for the wedding. She had borrowed an old sports jacket from foster bro – Regis – who looked the same he did everyday, actually, in his football jacket and jeans. Perhaps Regis was actually 1950s all the time. Now there was a scary thought. He was nice enough, though not very bright, a typical sports jock. He tended to look at her and her books as if she were a rare insect and as if he was trying to figure out which part of it was the head. She generally shied away from him, intimidated by his huge, bulky frame.

Today, though, she looked like a very slim miniature version of him, in her jeans and small white t-shirt, in his old junior league jacket, her chin-length hair slicked back with a whole lot of Regis' pomade. She wore boots, though, instead of sneakers. She had tried to polish them, but they still looked scuffed. It was one of the few possessions she had kept from before it had happened.

She didn't speak for most of the drive, but she never spoke much.

In the end, the wedding wasn't too bad and with everyone around dressed up the same, it was a lot less embarrassing than the lunch break at the truck stop on the highway. Also, she was allowed to have beer since Janet wasn't into oppressive rules, but into something about processing and experience.

At one point, needing a break and being bored with the party around her, she walked outside for a smoke – something Janet wasn't so easy about since she'd apparently had a very hard time quitting a few years back – and looked at the madly blinking lights that seemed to form a carpet all over the city, visible even in this shady backyard.

On her way back in, she wasn't sure which corridor she had come from – they all looked the same, and this place was huge, with different halls, and hotel rooms, too. Further down the hallway, she could hear a slow, steady percussion beat sound from behind a closed door that had a burly guy standing next to it. She thought she could ask him about where the Elvis wedding party was – it was kinda hard to miss, with all the strangely dressed people – but when she walked closer, he just looked her up and down before he grinned at her and opened the door, motioning for her to step in.

Loud music enveloped her immediately, intermingled with the clinking of glasses, with wolf whistles and catcalls. The room was dimly lit, apart from a bar to one side, but at the end of it was a stage with three poles, alight under a disco ball and a multitude of neon flashlights. A cloud of sweat, smoke and booze, and of something else perhaps, something she didn't know, hung over everything. Through the haze, she could make out three women sauntering onto the stage and the music changed into a suggestive beat.

She squinted her eyes, moving a few steps closer. She had never seen heels that high. They were transparent, too, and she couldn't imagine how anyone might be able to walk on these things. All of the women had long dark hair, and they wore sheer coats of some sort and – she squinted again – something underneath that looked like small underwear, but it seemed to consist of nothing but sparkle. One of them, the one in the middle, wore a small corsage, and suddenly the flashlights overhead spun into action, casting glitter all over the scene.

Hips moving from side to side. Thighs stretched taut. Long hair thrown back.

She had never seen anyone move like that, only on TV, and it still hadn't looked like this – absently, she stashed her crumpled package of cigarettes into her back pocket and took another few steps closer, until she found a place where she could lean against a column, half in the shadows. The room was packed. Now that her eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the audience, she could make out men of all ages and a few women who looked like dancers themselves.

Here, she was close to one edge of the stage, to the tall dancer on the right, but she liked the one in the middle best, the one who just… bent over, to let a swarthy guy stash a dollar bill down her cleavage. Her first thought was that the corsage didn't look like it would hold up for long, not with this… body… The woman moved very gracefully, to a point that made the other two girls look a little cheap in comparison.

Her cheeks felt hot, but she couldn't tear her eyes away. The dancer in the middle easily slid a thigh high around one of the poles, gliding downwards and arching her back until her hair almost touched the ground.

The crowd cheered, but she hardly heard it. She hadn't known anyone could bend like that, least of all in those heels, and all she could do was stare at that corsage that sparkled in the lights and think that it was actually way too small.

Another man came up, and the dancer turned, bending over with her back to the guy and letting him stash a bill under the small string of underwear she wore. And even though that smooth curve of ass was in his face, and not in hers, she was the one who couldn't breathe. He just laughed and leaned back, and so did the dancer, flinging long, black hair back over her shoulder. It almost seemed to fall in slow motion, and she still couldn't look away. She had never felt like this. Her palms were sweaty, and the slow beat of the music resounded low in her stomach, making her breaths come shorter. She wanted to grip something, her own heartbeat loudly reverberating though her skull.

Perhaps it was just odd chance, or perhaps it was because she stuck out, since she wasn't cheering and waving bills. Perhaps it was because her white shirt stood out against the column she was leaning against in a flash from the stage lights, but in that moment, when the dancer looked out over the crowd again, her gaze halted when it swept across her. And for one endless moment, as she stared at the dancer, the woman looked straight back at her.



I'm incredibly relieved when I can finally close the door behind me, letting Sara and Warrick walk ahead of me. They're depositing the last of the flowers in the kitchen but I think I might throw them out tomorrow anyway. I don't want to be reminded of the funeral any more than necessary. Lindsey is tiredly clinging to my hand and I know the first thing I'll do is getting her and me out of those black clothes.

I hope she can sleep well tonight. I'm not sure I can.

Warrick stands in the doorway to the living room, looking at me with a worried expression. "You sure you gonna be okay?"

"We'll be fine," I say, more for Lindsey's benefit than my own, before I see Warrick out. He has to go into work, he's already running late.

I don't know how I would have made it through today without Warrick. Or without Sara. They kept everyone and everything that I couldn't handle at bay. In a way, it was touching that so many of Eddie's connections showed up, but there were some I could have done without. Like that singer. I felt like killing her all over again when Lindsey flinched away at the sight of her, but Warrick held me back and to my surprise, Sara put herself immediately between Lindsey and Candeece. I saw Lindsey hiding behind Sara, and even holding onto her hand. I don't know how exactly it happened, but Sara managed to make her feel safe, and even though she's the last person I would have predicted to have a way with kids, in this instance she clearly did. That, and her glare was menacing enough to keep every one of Eddie's shady crooks away from Lindsey for the entire ceremony. I'll have to remember to thank her.

It's strange, even though we spent a lot of time together these past few days over organizing the funeral – most of which she did – we haven't really talked. Not about the fight we had around Eddie's case, not about anything else that would be personal. Just flower arrangements, coffins, seat numbers and songs. She's simply been there, and now that the week has passed in a blur, I realize I'm not even that mad at her anymore.

"I need to get out of this suit," I tell her and for a moment, it seems as if she wants to reply something, but then she just nods.

She points at the flowers and cards. "I'll just get these in order."

I nod, carrying Lindsey into her room. She doesn't protest, even though she is much too old to be carried around. A few minutes later, we walk back into the kitchen, Lindsay in her pajamas with fairy tale characters on them and me in drawstring pants and a soft shirt, in my bare feet. About to enter the room, I'm struck by how easily Sara is moving though my kitchen, sorting through glasses and carafes to make do with the flowers. But that only lasts until she sees us, and then, almost imperceptibly, her shoulders go up a bit again.

I still don't quite understand why she was so helpful about the funeral, but I'm guessing a lot of is a guilty conscience about not being able to nail Eddie's murderer. And then there's something else, I'm not sure what it is exactly, but it must be related to a bad experience with funerals or the death of a family member. She mentioned that her father is deceased, though she didn't mention how he died, so perhaps she also relates a bit to Lindsey's pain and confusion. She didn't say how old she was when her father died, but I'm guessing she was young. Perhaps not as young as Lindsey – who is now quietly having a glass of milk and a cookie, clearly as exhausted as she looks – but too young either way.

We are all lost in our own thoughts for a minute. I feel the worn linoleum under my soles and Sara is putting flowers away. Every other minute, Lindsey takes a bite from her cookie, the crunching sound echoing through the kitchen. I feel oddly at peace.

Lindsey's eyes are getting smaller and smaller, and when I tell her it's bedtime, she doesn't even try to wheedle another ten minutes out of me. She tells Sara good night, sleepily hugging her thighs, and Sara is surprised, I can see that, before she gently strokes Lindsey's head, just once. It's an endearingly shy gesture, but it's protective as well and I suddenly flash to Sara's fury as she interviewed the singer, forcing her to admit she left Lindsey in the sinking car. Telling that junkie that she should have done anything, actually, other than what she did in the situation.

As I put Lindsey to bed, sitting next to her until she's fallen asleep, I wonder how caught up in my own anger I've been to miss how mad Sara was on Lindsey's behalf. She does have a habit of standing up for the kids; I remember her flying off the handle more than once when it came to domestic abuse cases.

I guess what unnerved me most about the way she treated me during this case were the kid gloves – gently asking for the evidence we pulled from the car. Calmly reminding me to go home and take care of Lindsey. As if I couldn't handle things! I would have needed someone to bitch back at me to snap me out of it. Sara usually does. Only this time, she didn't, and now she's in my kitchen and she's still broody and unreadable, but somehow I hope she's still there when I come back out. I couldn't explain it, but I'm reluctant to be on my own tonight.

And she is still there. She's standing in the room as if someone ordered her and then didn't pick her up. Behind her on the counter, she has neatly lined up the improvised vases like specimen jars, even the small lily blossom Lindsey wore on her dress is there, in an eggcup.

"Thanks for helping out," I say and I don't mean the flowers.

Sara just shrugs. She looks at me closely, though. "Will you be alright?"

Now that we don't have flower arrangements and seat numbers to hide behind anymore, talking seems harder. Perhaps we say so little because we don't want to get into another fight. I know I don't want to, I'm much too exhausted. Or perhaps it is because we realize that we don't really know much about each other that we can talk about.

I don't even know what hobbies she has, if she has any, next to her neverending overtime schedule. Or why she had nothing better to do tonight than help a colleague she's barely civil with at a funeral for someone she's never met. Isn't there someone who's disappointed she didn't have time for them today? Someone waiting for her at home right now? She never mentioned anyone. She has a thing for Grissom, though. Or had - they've been kind of reserved around each other lately.

It's my turn to shrug. "It'll take a while, I guess." I'm not even up to lying about how I feel.

This is it, then. Funny, I saw her more off work this week than ever before, and now that it's all over and done, it's strange. Almost as if I might miss this truce.

"Probably." She doesn't lie, either and I like that. That she isn't trying to tell me I'll feel better tomorrow. We reserve that phrase for the bereaved at the lab. She pushes loose from the counter. "I better get going."

"Sara ---"

What do I want to tell her? That I'm still mad at her for closing Eddie's case without an indictment, and that at the same time, I'm not? That I don't understand why she's been supportive this week, with how I bitched at her about the investigation? That I'm sorry about my words, and that, at the same time, I want to bitch at her all over again for the way she sent me home that day?

Sara just looks at me, but doesn't prompt me to go on. "Are you sure you're gonna be okay?" She has her hands tucked into her pockets again and she looks nonchalant, as if nothing could rattle her.

Why do you care, I want to ask her. It's not as if I gave her much reason to. But I don't say it. Instead I shake my head noncommittally. "I'm tired, but I'm not sure I can sleep just yet."

"Let me make you a coffee," Sara offers. It sounds as if she does that a lot, drinking coffee at night. I wonder if she has trouble sleeping.

When she turns to the coffeemaker and reaches for the can of grounds next to it, I suddenly have to think of Eddie and how he made me coffee the first time we met. How it was before everything else. Before the fights and the other women and mortgage payments.

I still can't believe that he'll never be around again. He'll never show up again on my doorstep, late as always, with some over-the-top gift for Lindsey. He's gone. I feel tears trickling down my cheeks again and when Sara turns around, she notices them, as well.

For a moment, the only sound in the kitchen is the gurgling of the coffeemaker and I look at it because I don't want to look at Sara who is standing rooted in place, staring at me. But as I reach to wipe away the tears, she's suddenly moving closer, with her arms half raised as if she isn't sure where to put them.

"Hey…" Her voice is soft and low, the kind you would use to calm a frightened animal, and oddly enough, it works. I don't move away when she uncertainly strokes across my shoulders, and then awkwardly puts her arms around me. It's only a few seconds, but I'm struck by how solid she feels despite her slim frame. She is tall enough for me to lean my head against her shoulder – I should have remembered that she is that much taller - and her black sweater is soft and smells of laundry softener and skin, not of the funereal flowers.

When she lets go of me, the look on her face is serious, with a frown that I'm tempted to call cute. "Are you okay?"

As I nod, I need to remind myself that she always gets this serious look when she really focuses on something. But for all I know, hugs are a serious business for her, too. Not that I ever expected to be on the receiving end of one. Behind her on the counter, I see the lily in the eggcup and there is something else I need to say. "Thank you for looking out for Lindsey today."

She actually smiles at that, and for the first time, that little frown is gone. "You're welcome."



The room around her was a welcome blur of stage lights and hands flashing bills, the sounds of the music pulling her in as she moved. As far as theme shows went, this Egypt thing was one she could have done without, especially since the wigs were heavy, and hot under the light. And the guys didn't want to see fake oriental women, they always gave more freely if they thought someone was a blonde or a redhead. But the Luxor had raging success with an Egypt theme show, so Sam had to have one as well. So here they were.

She thrust her hip out to let a guy stuff a rolled dollar bill under her string, and bent over a little for good measure. Their faces were mellowed away, nothing she would remember. She could just dance – a tiny line before stepping out onto stage worked wonders. She didn't feel how her feet might hurt and she didn't think about this being her fifth year in the business. She was starting to have back aches when she slipped off the heels in the morning. And if she were honest, there was a slight sag to her breasts already – one of the throwbacks of a more ample cleavage that got one cast in the first place. But the lights were merciless. So was the business.

She accepted another bill with her teeth, letting her nails rake down the guy's shirt before she grabbed hold of one of the poles. She knew she was better than the other two girls, but she also knew that they both were younger. Arching backwards, she looked into the audience more closely, finding most of the eyes on her. Off to the side, a flash of white caught her eye, and she saw a lanky young man in a white t-shirt lean against one of the columns with his arms crossed in front of his chest, half in the shadows. No, not a man, she corrected herself as a stage light strayed over the column, a woman, much younger than the ones that occasionally stumbled in here. She wasn't cheering, or holding onto a handful of bills, but she was staring at her with a rapt attention that was out of place even for a strip show.

For a long moment, she looked back at the girl, she couldn't be older than twenty, and was surprised to find her looking at her face. She held the gaze, challenging the girl who finally looked away, her eyes nervously gliding down the body on display, as if she wasn't quite sure she was allowed to look.

This would be fun. Granted, the girl didn't look as if she had any real money on her, but the two guys in suits sitting at the table next to her sure did. Time for a little floor show. A roar went through the room as she broke out of the choreography and stepped down the few stairs into the audience. The regulars, who knew what was about to happen, whistled and yelled. She did this sometimes, when she found someone in the crowd she could play on, a shy fiancé, a military man whose cap she could borrow for a minute, or a woman who didn't really know what was happening to her.

She took her time advancing on the column, and she had calculated right. The young woman didn't move, staring at her like a deer caught in the headlights. When the rest of the room realized where she was headed, the noise went up another notch, catcalls ringing out.

The girl had her hair- it had to be almost shoulder-length - slicked back Elvis style and clearly tried to look nonchalant, but her eyes kept tracking the advancing dancer, moving left and right with the sway of her hips. With her jeans and boots, she looked a bit like one of the cocky dykes who came in now and then and often behaved worse than every man around, but it was pretty obvious that this one wouldn't try to pour beer over her head. She didn't even have a glass.

She only needed one well-placed grip into the collar of that t-shirt to haul the girl into a seat. With one pronounced move, she stepped over her legs, straddling her, but not touching her in any way. From the corner of her eye she saw people move in to get a better view, but the girl didn't seem to notice that she was going to be part of the main event any minute now. She just stared at her, the close proximity clearly affecting her, but she also seemed nervous, as if her reaction was surprising herself.

A newbie? This was going to be even more fun. At the short distance, she could tell that the girl had had a few drinks already, but not so much as to be sloppy. Her eyes were clear, alert and intense.

She moved in closer a little and enjoyed hearing the girl's breath quicken as her hair slid across her cheek. The hollering and catcalling around them increased and her face was so close to the girl that she could hear her swallowing audibly.

Bending over a bit to put her cleavage at the perfect angle, at a distance where the suit-and-tie guys at the next table got the best view, she reached back and slowly began undoing the laces to her corsage, right in the young woman's face.

Sometimes, when she did that with a soldier, or a guy from a bachelor party's crowd, they'd pull on the laces with their teeth if she taunted them enough, but this one – even though for a second, she thought that she wouldn't mind that particular scenario – clearly was too caught up in her own reaction, nervously licking her lips.

The men on the next table cheered, the first dollar bills flying her way. Thrusting her chest out, she moved her hips closely across the girl's jeans, enough to feel the fabric brush against the inside of her thighs, but even though the girl had her hands tightly grabbing the sides of the chair, she didn't look away. Even the loudest guys would blink at this point, but the girl didn't. And it clearly wasn't for lack of interest. There was something obstinate, some challenge in that gaze, too, and it only goaded her on. Perhaps in a minute, she'd simply take a hold of the girl's head and find out at what point she would look away if she moved right against her.



The line of cars is not moving along in the slightest. I honk again, taking my frustration out on the driver in front of me. I'm sitting in a traffic jam, on my night off, on my way over to Catherine's place. To play babysitter, no less.

Why am I doing this again?

It's been almost two weeks since the funeral and Catherine and I have eased back into our usual work relationship: sticking to small talk, and cutting a wide berth around any in-depth topics. Like Eddie's death.

We had our first fight again, too, over processing a murder, where she showed up to the questioning in something so sheer that I could almost see through it, even though I wore sunglasses at the time. Okay, so the suspect confessed to her, but we had enough evidence to nail him anyway. But that fight was almost civil – she didn't pull the age card, I didn't say a word about her outfit, and we didn't yell. Much.

I guess things are pretty much back to normal. Except for the fact that this afternoon, my phone rang and a very demure Catherine asked me whether I could look after Lindsey tonight. Seems her usual babysitters are unavailable and Warrick is working tonight.

I asked whether she couldn't find anyone else, and I might have sounded a bit sarcastic, but then I couldn't keep it up when she said that she didn't like to hire just anyone to look after Lindsey, especially after the accident, and always made sure Lindsey knew the people and had agreed to being babysat by them.

A vote of trust from the Willows household? That's a first. Well, actually the second, to be fair. After all, Catherine let me handle the funeral arrangements.

I remembered Lindsey standing there during the ceremony, forlornly looking at Eddie in the cushioned coffin. That girl's been disappointed enough already, and I wasn't going to be the next one in line. So I said yes, and here I am, standing in front of Catherine's house again, at a time when I really hadn't expected it.

"I'm so glad you could make it." Catherine is standing in the door and if she showed up at the lab in whatever it is she's wearing now, I would say something if we got into a fight. It's low-cut and patterned and seems to be constantly shifting across her torso, and it ends exactly where the waistband of her pants begins, so when she moves ahead of me down the hallway, a bit of skin is showing as she walks, left and right, left and right. I wonder if it's a date she's going on tonight and am thinking that the poor guy probably doesn't stand a chance. Catherine is very good at getting exactly what she wants.

Lindsey is sitting at the kitchen table, looking up at me as I enter. "Hi." She seems much more comfortable with the situation than I am. I wave back at her and lean in the kitchen doorway, wondering what exactly I'm supposed to do now. I've never actually babysat someone before.

In the end, though, it turns out to be simple because Lindsey really knows a lot more about this than I do. I'm conned into a board game with lots of little wooden figures and stacks of wildly colored cards before Catherine even leaves. And when the doorbell rings and Catherine kisses Lindsey goodbye and waves at me, I could swear that she grins at my predicament. Lindsey whips me the first two rounds, but then I start to get better with the tactics and the questions and it turns into an even match. I'm required to sketch an elf at some point, and later, I have to form a pony out of plasticine – Lindsey insists it looks like a cow – and I'm wondering what happened to good old ludo, but I can't deny I'm having fun. So does Lindsey, who is giggling at my attempts to mimic a beaver. I'm telling her that the next stupid action card will go her way, and she giggles again. Her cheeks are flushed from concentration and for a moment, I get a feeling of fond protectiveness that parents must have when they watch their children.

Only once Lindsey asks me about my dad – we have retreated to the couch at this point, having milk and cookies and she can't believe I like drinking a glass of milk just like she does. She wants to know whether I miss him, and I tell her that I miss him the way he was when I was very little, when he brought home ice cream for my brother and me and put on music when I was supposed to go to bed but didn't want to. I can't remember how his face looked back then, though. Mostly, I remember his legs, how I held onto the fabric of his jeans and stood on his feet so he would carry me when he walked.

Lindsey tells me how Eddie used to carry her around on his shoulders, even though she was too old for it already, and then we share another cookie. She shows me her room before she goes to bed and, for a moment, I can't help but feel envious the way I did as a girl when I looked into the rooms of other children, wishing desperately that I had something like that as well – glowing stars on the ceiling, and wallpaper with little scenes from various fairy tales, huge boxes with toys and children's books and a little nightstand with a reading lamp that looks like something straight out of a Barbie movie.

It's a happy room, full of loving little details, and I try to imagine Catherine assembling all this. I've heard a dozen times around the lab how Lindsey is everything to Catherine, but I think I never really understood how true that is until now.

Lindsey makes me read a chapter from the second Harry Potter book as a bedtime story and she makes me sit down on the edge of her bed for that just as I have pulled up one of the small chairs in the room. She switches on the very pink reading lamp and I have to sit next to her so I don't block out the light. She squeals when I put my feet up on the bed, staring at my socks. They're striped and kind of pink and have little hearts and smileys on them and the only thing I have to say in my defense is that they were a gag gift from Greg and that all my black socks are in the laundry.

"They're like totally cute," Lindsey states.

I hope that is something good.

Only after she has fallen asleep, I switch off the very pink light and tiptoe to the door. When I look back at her calmly breathing form, one hand nudged under her chin, there is that surge of fond protectiveness again. It feels strange, but good.

In my socks, I wander into the living room. I've been in here before, right after Eddie died, but I never had a chance to look around. The whole place is a lot less glamorous than I would have expected from Catherine – instead of the Warhol prints, futuristic light consoles and brightly colored, asymmetrical furniture I would have guessed at, there are a lot of light woods, simple shapes and warm, subdued colors like green and ochre. It looks like a modest, loving home. A modest, normal life. From the way Catherine acts around the lab sometimes, hinting at her showgirl past and flirting with all the lab techs, I wouldn't have guessed.

She has quite a few illustrated books, mostly photography, portraits and landscapes, and not just the big names. I read a few more names as I walk past the shelves. Brown. Wolfe. Ishiguro. A few books on horses, which is odd, I think, but perhaps she used to ride at some point. I smile at a line of prominently displayed cooking books that don't look as if they've ever been used.

When I heard Catherine's key in the lock, I'm sitting on the couch with an illustrated book of Nevada landscapes and a mug of tea.

"What are you looking at?"

She leans in the doorway and when I glance up at her, my first, unbidden thought is that she looks really good. Her date probably drove a convertible because her hair is all curly and mussed up, and with how she is leaning against the door, her shirt is riding up again, showing a tiny strip of skin.

"Landscape photography." I answer her question much too late. "I hope you don't mind…?"

"No, not at all." She tries to make out the book I'm perusing upside down, but then looks up at me again "How did it go?"

"It went well." I carefully close the book shut. "She beat me at that game though. Three times." I gesture at the box on the end of the coffee table.

Catherine laughs softly. "She usually beats me, too." Then she walks closer, until she is standing right in front of the couch and I have to look up at her. "Thanks again for jumping in."

"Not a problem." I'm surprised to find all my earlier reluctance gone. Granted, it was a rather unusual night off, but it's not as if I had any great plans.

Catherine peers into the empty tea mug next to me. "Can I offer you a glass of wine?"

"Sure." I wonder if she already had a glass on her date – she seems relaxed and she usually isn't relaxed around me. Much less inviting me to share a glass with her. She disappears into the kitchen and when she comes back, she is carrying a bottle of red and two glasses. The couch cushions move when she settles down and languidly kicks her shoes off. She pushes one foot under her leg and I'm thinking that I've probably never seen her this relaxed, least of all while being this close to me.

I take a sip of wine. "How was your date?"

"Nice." She shifts her glass from one hand to the other. "It wasn't a big date or anything. I just needed to get out there again – to think about something else, after the funeral and the case being closed…"

It's the first time she's mentioned the case to me since the funeral and I should probably pay more attention to that fact, but now she's using one hand to gesture and it makes her shirt ride up that little bit again, allowing a brief glimpse of skin. It's distracting. "I really wanted to find that murder weapon," I murmur instead and then I wonder why the hell I'm bringing up the case again. "I didn't like closing it either."

She shakes her head. "You did all you could." When she speaks again, she is looking at me over the rim of her glass. "I was out of line."

"Well, at least this time you had a reason," I admit grudgingly while I still try to stomach the fact that Catherine just more or less apologized to me. She has the grace to actually look contrite at my comment. It's cute.

I register nervously that there's that unbidden thought again - Catherine being attractive is not exactly news to me, but that I'm having a glass of wine with her on her couch and can't stop glancing at that small exposed strip of skin just over her hips, that is new.

I should probably 'get out there again' as well, when I start to look at Catherine like that. And looking at Catherine is a bad idea for so many reasons, not the least of which being that our relationship is already strained when we're hardly having one. Not to mention that we're team colleagues. Or the little fact that most of the time, she just drives me up the pole.

I don't even want to think about thinking about it. In fact, I'm going to return Hank's call first thing tomorrow. Going out with him was fun enough, and I'm pretty sure it'd be fun again.



The woman's hips were circling low over lap, so low that she could feel the heat emanate from her skin. She could see the muscles in her thighs flex as she moved lower… and lower… and she knew that if she could tear her eyes away for one moment to look down the side, she would see those heels to either side of her legs, most likely leaving imprints in the floor. She thought she ought to have imprints all over her body, from those hands, and those thighs, and those breasts, even though she knew that the woman hadn't touched her at all, apart from hauling her into this seat. She couldn't have moved if she wanted do.

In the background, the men were whooping and hollering, but she hardly heard it. The dancer was smiling at her now, challengingly, never once stopping the slow movement of her hips. With her fingers, she held onto the last lace that kept her corsage together, but she didn't pull on it. Yet.

She couldn't look anywhere else.

The corsage had already loosened enough to offer a tantalizing view of cleft and curve, the lights in the room casting fleeting shadows down the sparkling fabric and over the skin. She saw fingers, carefully manicured, grasping that last bit of lace more deftly, and then, the dancer flicked her wrist and she could feel the tear of the fabric echo down her own spine.

A cheer went through the crowd.

She thought she would explode. She had to swallow repeatedly and didn't know how she could feel so thirsty when at the same time, her mouth was watering so much.

The dancer straightened herself to stand over her, with her own hands covering her breasts, and even though she couldn't see any more skin than before, she couldn't breathe for a moment just the same – there was something about the image that made her heart beat even faster, and she felt lightheaded. Her knees were now held together by the dancer's thighs on either side of her, and she thought they were strong, and her own legs felt weak in comparison. She was sure that if the dancer stepped away now, they'd just fall open, and she'd helplessly slide to the floor.

But instead of stepping back the dancer secured her stance - she could sense the movement through her jeans – and raised her hands behind her head, only to slowly drag them down again, along her neck, across her chest and her stomach.

She could only stare. And then dancer reached over to touch her body, and she could feel nails scraping along her shoulders, grabbing fistfuls of her t-shirt and she was sure she gasped as the dancer arched back in one slow, undulating motion, dark hair falling back all the way until it touched her jean-clad knees. Before she could even take it all in – the lithe, warm body in front of her, skin everywhere she looked, lightly tanned and smooth – the dancer reversed the movement, using her for leverage a she pressed her pelvis right into her stomach.

Heat. Against her shirt, and crawling up her stomach inside her, flushing her cheeks and sinking into every bit of her. She could feel the sequins on the tiny last piece of underwear scrape across the cotton of her shirt, and as she looked up, she could see a drop of sweat rolling down between the dancer's breasts that were bouncing with the movement. She didn't know her mouth had fallen open until she tried to breathe in deeply, catching the mixed scents of sweat and make-up and what had to be sex – real sex, where both people wanted it.

She must have been hung up for a beat too long on the vision of licking that drop of sweat off the smooth stomach in front of her, because suddenly, she heard loud laughing and cheering around her again, and dollar bills were falling into her lap, and the dancer had moved back a little, away from her. But then she bent over again, her legs straight and close together, in those heels, making her hips stand out. She had something of a cat, with her back stretched taut and a few strands of dark hair falling across her face as she advanced again, just a step.

And she had to be the mouse, she thought, as the dancer moved in, and then she didn't think anything anymore and only tried not to whimper when the dancer smoothly stretched closer, letting her breasts brush along her thighs, before she bent far enough to pick the dollar bills out of her crotch with her teeth.

The room around her was suddenly dotted with dark spots and it took her a few seconds to realize that she had stopped breathing. When her vision cleared, the dancer stood over her, grinning at her, one last bill still between her teeth.

Sitting limply in her seat, she was for a moment distracted by the hips that were still moving in slow circles, right in front of her face. The small scrap of sequined fabric glittered in the light. Once again, the dancer bent down to her, the money now in her hand, and she could see lipstick on the bills. The dancer's lips were suddenly close to her own, and then the woman winked at her before she drew back and sauntered back up to the stage.

Everything was a haze. Some broad hand clapped her on the shoulder, there was applause and cheering, but she was still preoccupied by that last glance. With the black hair she'd have expected dark eyes, but they had been blue. A piercing blue, all the more accentuated by long lines of black eyeliner.



The piercing sounds of crushed glass under her shoes echoes through the room as Sara walks across the crime scene. It's a restaurant, into which an elderly woman has crashed her car, right through the glass front. "I'm sorry," Sara offers apologetically when she walks up next to me. "I got wrapped up in..."

"...Hank," I state, nodding over to where the medic is tended to by another medic. Oh, I don't sound neutral at all.

It's been a buzz, Sara dating. The whole lab is talking about it, especially after everyone thought she'd be forever hung up on Grissom, who, ironically, is the only one who doesn't get she's seeing Hank.

Personally, I think that whole Grissom infatuation was rather unbecoming for a woman of her age and skill. She's out of crushing age. But still, with Gil, I could see common ground. Two brains in a pod, so to speak. But Hank? Sure, he's handsome, but other than that, I don't understand what she sees in him. It's funny, I could have sworn that if she ever stopped mooning over Gil, she would date a woman instead.

The guys and the techs at the lab lay into her pretty good about her 'boytoy' – Greg's creation, not mine – and they're teasing her to no end. For some reason, I'm not joining in.

But right now, Sara and I have a crime scene to work, so she'd better tell her boytoy to wait at home. Instead, she goes to see him at the hospital after we finish at the scene. I drive back to the lab already, wondering if for once, she'll show up late, but of course she doesn't. She seems more somber than before, though, and I wonder if they fought.

Hank doesn't seem the type who turns off his sunny boy smile when a pretty girl walks by, and there are a lot of girls out there who are a lot more approachable than Sara is. I don't know why I suddenly feel protective when it comes to her, perhaps it's because my radar is spot on when it comes to men, and hers isn't, and I don't want to see her get hurt.

I hope he isn't treating her badly. Sure, she is broody and intense and hard to get to know – I can't say I know her and I've been working with the woman for three years – but she's very smart, and, if you catch her off guard and with a smile on her face, she's very pretty, and she's as loyal as they come. Not many people would offer to help a colleague who's been distant and confrontational for years organize a funeral.

The puzzle pieces are coming together for me as I work through the seating chart of the restaurant where the crash took place. Hank was there as a customer, and when I call up the customers' photos that I fed into the flashy new software we have, I see the picture of a girl who shared a table with Hank. A table for two.

I don't really want to meddle in Sara's affairs – it's not like it's any of my business – and perhaps it's nothing. But I don't want her to be the last to know, either, in case there is something going on.

I ask her about Elaine Alcott – the girl who shared the table with Hank – when we analyze the chart together, and I'm growing even more suspicious when she mentions that she saw them together at the hospital.

"They must be friends," Sara states and she looks kind of lost. The wheels in her head are apparently beginning to turn, and I just know he's cheating on her. I'm surprised to find how angry that makes me. Why do I even care? Sara is an adult, and her bad taste in men is her own problem.

Still, I don't want her to stare at Elaine's picture on the seating chart for the next half hour, and I more or less send her off to dismantle the car. I'll go see her later – if there is anything to be found on the car, she will find it. She's good with that, and with the power tools and the physical work. And I'll never admit it to anyone, but she actually looks good in those coveralls. Another reason to stop by the garage later.

When I do, I find her in baggy blues, with hair matted to her head and a dark smudge across her cheek, rolling out from under the car. Never be it said that I don't know to appreciate a woman who's been working up a sweat.

Of course, these aren't thoughts I usually entertain when it comes to Sara, of all people. I'm surprised to find myself noticing how she looks when I check in on her and the half dismantled car. I barely catch myself before my eyes can linger on her arms and hands.

What is wrong with me?

I'm still puzzled by my own reaction when I work on the crash reconstruction at the computer later. And it happens again – when she walks in, looking at the screen over my shoulder, I'm extremely conscious of her body so close behind me. I try to blend out the sound of her breathing, but somehow I can't. She's bending down further to point at something at the screen – she is hovering close to me now – and her bare arm brushes against my shoulder.

She smells like shampoo and I think she probably took a shower after taking the car apart. A brief image of Sara under the shower meanders through my brain, long arms and a tapered back, and I force myself to focus on the screen again. She's in the middle of finding out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, and I – after three years, no less - suddenly decide to discover that she's attractive?

When she leaves the lab, I look after her. Snug jeans. Short-sleeved black tee. Long arms and a tapered back. – Something must have been in my coffee today. And it doesn't get better. When we walk down the corridor and Sara tells me about her kamikaze theory – that the old woman intentionally accelerated her car into the restaurant – I'm oddly aware of my own outfit. Of my cleavage. And I try to gauge her reaction. Did Sara look just now?

…Do I want Sara to look?

Instead I advise her to go talk to Elaine Alcott because Sara still doesn't seem to get it. Funny, a few weeks ago, I'd just have shaken my head at her bad taste in men, but now I feel truly sorry for her.

I can't help myself and ask her how it went when she comes back – I know those nonchalantly hunched up shoulders, and I wonder when I have started to pay such attention to her – but she clams up. So I'm guessing she finally figured it out. I'm surprised at my sudden urge to place an arm around her and ask her to tell me what's wrong. The impulse doesn't feel very motherly. Not even sisterly.

And then I finally come face to face with Elaine Alcott myself. Sara and I have to interview someone from the old kamikaze woman's insurance, and she is the responsible account manager. From the way Sara acts around Elaine, it's obvious that she knows Hank cheats on her. And with how Elaine looks at her when she awkwardly hands Sara a stack of folders, I'm sure she knows, as well.

I think I'd like to punch Hank real good.

Elaine is pretty, I think, assessing her frankly. But in comparison to Sara, she looks boring. There is no challenge in her gaze, and no passion to her voice or her thoughts. Taking my cue from there, I'd even say that Sara was the adventure for him, and that Elaine is probably the stable girlfriend. I just know those types. Next thing, he'll be standing in the lobby saying he's sorry and didn't mean to hurt anyone.

And what do you know. As we walk out of the precinct where we filed the paperwork for the case, Hank is standing in the hallway with a hangdog expression.

I'd still like to punch him.

Instead, I hover close to Sara, not even questioning my protectiveness now. "I'll meet you at the car."

When I finally see her walk out of the precinct towards the car, she is looking down, her shoulders hunched up, and I wish I had punched Hank anyway. She gets into the car and I decide to run with my instincts.

"You got plans?"

"Nope." She shakes her head, not looking at me.

I decide to risk it. Perhaps I've danced around this for far too long already. "You wanna get a beer?"

She casts a look at me and when she looks away again, there's a small smile playing around her lips. "Drive."

And I drive. Neither of us speaks for the rest of the way.



None of the other two girls spoke with her as they moved backstage to get some rest and change into the costumes for the next – their final - set. No kidding, her impromptu floorshow with the girl in the audience had thrown all the money her way. She still was the best, she thought as she unrolled the third hundred dollar bill.

Through the curtain to the stage, she could hear the laughter and music, mixed with some impatient shouts for their next dance. The mood was raucous, perfect for more tips. Drawing a flimsy red satin robe close over her show costume, she decided to collect on some of it early and have someone buy her a drink at the bar. Perhaps one of the men with the suits who had sat right next to the girl would ask her for a private dance, and if they kept throwing the hundreds her way, she would be able to take a week off, or 'persuade' the boss to let her choose the next set of new girls herself. She was still the star of the group, but to keep it that way, she better not get someone too young or too talented placed in her sets.

The part of the bar that was closed to the backstage doors was dimly lit, the real players sat further down under the neon spotlights, looking over the girls from the elevated white leather barstools. Already on her way over there, she almost missed the slender figure sitting in the shadows, turned away from the room, her elbows perched on the counter. Next to her sat a glass with a clear liquid, already half-drained. Gin and tonic, she guessed.

One of the bartenders had seen her approach and ambled over. "The usual work lunch?"

"Gin and tonic, Rob." She nodded at the girl who hadn't looked up yet, seeming lost in thought. "And another one for her."

Rob looked over between the two of them, and then grinned, reaching for two tall glasses.

She slid onto the barstool next to the girl, who was startled out of her thoughts. The girl looked up, she really couldn't be any older than twenty. Her face was young, and earnest, and when her eyes slid over her briefly, she seemed almost bashful. The girl kept playing with her glass, clearly steeling her courage, before she nodded at the woman next to her. "Hi."

She had to smile at the reserved greeting, as if she hadn't been right up in the girl's space in front of the whole room mere minutes ago. It was a behavior she wasn't used to in here. She was used to men thrusting drinks into her hands, along with offers of some kind or the other, as soon as she walked into the room. "Hi yourself," she said, half amused at herself for being rattled by the girl's politeness.

Rob used that moment to set two fresh glasses down between them, winking at her again. Unnecessarily so, she thought. The girl looked at the drinks, puzzlement evident in her gaze.

"Thanks to you, I made the biggest tip this week yet." She nudged one glass closer to the girl with two fingers. "It's only fair I buy you a drink."

The girl looked at the glass skeptically. "Shouldn't I be the one buying you a drink?"

She laughed. Shy but proud, she liked the type. Not to mention that adorable frown that creased her brows right then. She circled the rim of her glass with a finger. "How about being a little unconventional for a change?" She began to spin left and right a bit with her barstool, slowly swinging back and forth.

The girl's eyes flickered down to the softly moving stool and then back up. She lifted the glass to her face, sniffed at the contents and then took a careful sip. "Thanks," she said and had to clear her throat. When she sat the glass back down, she squared her shoulders.

Observing the little display, she had to smother another smile. Really cute. Although she wasn't the type Eddie would bring along – for that she looked too stern, too edgy, and not approachable enough, but she liked her. Especially her eyes, all dark and intense, and that cute frown. And the way she tried not to look at her, but failed.

"Sorry if I embarrassed you out there." She nodded towards the stage area and smiled in a way that said she wasn't sorry at all.

The girl took a huge sip of her drink. "A little."

She didn't stop to slowly spin her barstool, even as she leaned a little closer to the girl, dropping her voice half an octave. "It looked like you were enjoying it a little bit, too."

To her credit, the girl didn't blink under her gaze, but her eyes wandered down her robe and over her heels. When she looked up again, a light blush was crawling up her face.

Cute, she thought, letting her eyes trail over the serious face and wide, but thin shoulders. Really, really cute.



I take another long swig of my beer, feeling the cool liquid trail down my throat. We're in a little diner of sorts off the strip, one that I've never been to before. Most of the interior is wood and old, red leather – the seats of the booth we're sitting in are tattered and bleached out, but the place has a warm, cozy atmosphere to it. It feels a bit like a trip back in time, too.

Catherine is only sipping at her beer, I guess it's because she's driving and also because she isn't the one who's just been dumped.

I feel so gullible. To think that I asked him to call me if he needed anything – anything, and he went to Hawaii with his real girlfriend instead. I made a complete fool of myself. The whole lab will laugh at me.

And Catherine. She knew. She knew it, that's why she asked me to go talk to Elaine. Does she have some kind of spider sense when it comes to relationships, or does everyone get it and I'm the only one who doesn't realize what's going on? I feel so stupid.

But it looks like Catherine won't be laughing. She's peeling the silver wrapping from the neck of her beer bottle and just waits. She doesn't gloat, she doesn't swamp me with patronizing advice and she doesn't give me the 'us sistas gotta stick together' speech, either.

She just sits there, sips on her beer and understands I need to work through this in my head. I like that about her. Only belatedly – I have ordered a second beer by then – I ask myself how she knows so well how to react and realize that she's probably been there more than once herself. I wonder how much of a jerk Eddie really was.

Perhaps that's what made her so bitchy – well, you could call it tough, I guess. If someone cheats on you over and over, you probably need to develop some self-defense mechanisms sooner or later. And Catherine definitely knows how to hold her own.

If you aren't on the receiving end of one of her rants, it does have its perks. I liked how she got in the face of the sleazy insurance manager earlier, for example, over the suicide of the old woman who drove the car into the building. Catherine can pull such things off, get into people's faces and rip them a new one and then walk out and leave them stunned in her wake, too mellowed to even protest. I know that if I tried to do that on a case, Ecklie would be waving a complaint at me faster than I can say 'disciplinary hearing'. Catherine can get away with that – must be something about her people skills again – but the thing is that she'd also do it of she knew that she wouldn't get away with it. I admire that about her. Not that she needs to know.

I look at her again, feeling comfortable in her company.

How did it that happen again that we're sitting here, sharing a beer in companionable silence, after nearly three years?

Oh, right. I got dumped by my supposed boyfriend. I should probably be more upset by our break-up. Well, it isn't really a break-up since it was never more than affair, but I still think I should be sadder. Instead, I'm mostly angry at him for pulling this on both me and Elaine, and I'm angry at myself that I let myself be fooled by him. If there is one thing I'm upset about it's my dating track record that just dropped another notch towards hell, but apart from that, I'm enjoying my beer with Catherine.

To be honest, I'm probably enjoying it a little too much. Until a few hours ago, I was sort of involved with Hank – affair or not – and that means I shouldn't notice how good Catherine looks right now, with her jacket still on, but it's falling open to reveal the low neckline of her shirt. And her hair – I hadn't really stopped to think about how much longer she's wearing it now – is tumbling loosely over her shoulders. When she takes another sip of beer, I can't help but watch her throat move as she swallows.



She didn't know where to look.

Swinging left to right on the barstool, the dancer apparently hadn't noticed that her red satin robe had fallen open to reveal long, smooth legs, and it also gaped open over her neck, allowing a long glance down her cleavage.

She wondered if the robe was designed that way because the dancer didn't seem perturbed in the slightest by the amounts of skin she was showing even though she wasn't on stage at the moment. But then, with that body, she didn't have a reason to mind, really.

She remembered the heat of that body, pressed up against her, and wondered if the dancer had put on a new bra beneath the robe. From where she sat – just to make sure, she glanced over again, briefly distracted by the sight of curve against satin – she couldn't tell. Instead, she took another deep swallow from her drink. She didn't know what it was, but it tasted of alcohol, much more alcohol than beer. Before the dancer arrived, she had been drinking water, trying to clear her head and get her wobbly knees under control. The close proximity of the woman next to her wasn't helping. Now the dancer had crossed one leg over the other and was slowly circling her foot at her ankle, the stiletto heel glinting under the dim light with every turn. It was very distracting.

She knew she should say something instead of just sitting there staring at the dancer who was looking back at her with those strange blue eyes. She didn't know what the woman expected, or why she was even sitting here with her. The other two women who had danced earlier were across the room where the men sat who had thrown the bills earlier. And yet, her favorite of the dancers was sitting right next to her. And she had danced with her – if that was the right word for what had happened – earlier. Not with any of the men with the money. She took another sip of her drink. "So what's your name?"

The dancer just looked at her, never stopping to rotate her heel. "Does it matter?"

She blinked, startled for a moment. "Yes –"

The woman was smiling at her, as if she were thinking her question sweet or naïve. Before she could bristle, though, the dancer canted her head to the side. "Just call me Kitty."

"Okay… Kitty," she said and only then it occurred to her that she should perhaps introduce herself as well. "I'm Sara." She stretched out her hand, and again, the dancer smiled in a manner that was short of making her bristle before she took the offered hand.

"I'll call you whatever you like, honey."

The dancer winked, and she almost coughed in reaction, although she hadn't been drinking. The hand in her own was soft and warm, and she tried not to think about how these fingers had been clawing into her shirt earlier. She could still feel their grip on her shoulders.

"Nice thoughts?" The dancer looked as if she knew exactly that she was the subject of these thoughts.

She felt another blush coloring her cheeks. Only then did she notice that the dancer was now holding a cigarette and she fumbled for her lighter before anyone else cold butt in. In the end, she had to climb down from the barstool to fish it out of her pocket and her legs felt wobbly all over again when the dancer leaned down – she was slightly taller now, sitting on that high barstool – and lit her cigarette.

"Thanks..." The dancer breathed out, tendrils of smoke curling around her face. "…Sara."

She could only stare at those lips, forming her name, and even though she was standing a little shorter now, she felt tall and good.

Suddenly, a broad hand landed on her shoulder. "Hey kid, let a real man through, will ya?"

She let herself be pushed backwards, instinctively leaning away from the large, bulky frame of a man who didn't even look at her twice, having already insinuated himself between her and the dancer. "Can I buy you a drink?"

He smelled like alcohol and sweat, and something about him made the hair on her arms stand on end.

"Why don't you save your money for my next set?" The dancer looked the man up and down flirtatiously. "You're gonna need it."

She was shocked, a little dismayed to hear the dancer come on to someone else when she had just been talking to her, but she was more worried that the woman didn't realize the guy was trouble.

"You want to get away with me now, you know it."

Trouble alright. He tried to sound charming, his speech wasn't slurred yet, but his movements were already a little off.

"Sorry, no can do." The dancer easily angled her body away from the unwanted admirer. "I still have to work."

"Don't play coy now." He grabbed her arm, almost succeeding in pulling her off her seat.

The dancer held onto the bar with one hand, looking around as if she were waiting for someone. Security perhaps. But nobody was in sight. Nobody even seemed to notice what was going on.

The man tugged harder on the dancer's arm, and she could see the imprint his grip was leaving on her wrist.

That did it. She tapped him sharply on the shoulder, enough to make him turn around.

"Wha…?"he glared at her drunkenly.

She straightened and looked right back at him. "I believe the lady said no."



"No way."

Hmm. I guess that answers my question as to whether Sara wants to hook up with Hank again. Well, good for her. She seems more angry than sad anyway, now that we're two beers into the morning and she has finally started to talk.

"But it's not just Hank," she explains with frustration. "My whole dating history is…warped, somehow."

"Tell me about it," I commiserate dryly.

"You?" she exclaims. Then she leans back in her seat and she grins a little. "I could make any number of comments here, but I'm holding out for you buying the beers."

Sara, joking with me? Wow. We're entering brand new territory. And I really like that grin.

She just shakes her head at me. "Catherine, potted plants would line up to go out with you." She empties her beer with one long swallow. "And what's worse, you could probably make them dance for real."

I'm sure there was a compliment hidden in there somewhere, but I don't have time to think about that now because Sara is opening up for once, and I'm pouncing at the opportunity. "No, I meant: Tell me about it. Honestly." I let that one sink in before I add, "And just for the record, I've been on plenty of bad dates." I'm thinking about the last one, where Sara was babysitting Lindsey. The glass of wine we had on the couch afterwards was actually nicer than the whole evening out with Brent. "And the man I married didn't exactly turn out to be Prince Charming, either."

"No kidding," she mutters.

I toss her a challenging look. "So, can you measure up to a crook of an ex-husband who screwed half of Nevada behind your back and then left with all of your hard-earned money?"

"Shit." She clearly hadn't expected that. "Did he really do that?"

"You don't wanna know," I nod grimly, but then I cross my arms on the table in font of me, leaning in almost conspiratorially. "So, let's hear it."

"There isn't much to tell." She shrugs. "The man I almost ended up engaged to ran off with my grad work and published it under his own name, but I couldn't prove it – which was the end of my interest in an academic career."

I blink. "Ouch." Internally, I'm cringing. No wonder she has trust issues a mile wide.

"Other than that, let's see –" She ticks them off on her fingers like numbers and I take note of how long and lean her arms are. Again. "The man I wanted for a boyfriend is seeing a dominatrix. – My on and off lover merely cheated on his real girlfriend with me. – My first girlfriend pulled an Anne Heche on me and left me for a man. – Oh, and the first person to ever kiss me was on drugs while they did it." She looks at me in frustration. "Is it just bad luck, or is there something I'm generally not getting? Am I missing a gene?"

Wow. I've never seen Sara act so… human. Who'd think that a woman like her, who comes across so strong and self-sufficient, is beating herself up over a streak of bad dates. Admittedly really bad dates, from what it sounds like. Still, looking at Sara who has scoffed at so many of my more emotional moments in the past, it's very strange to hear her admit to actually missing emotion and closeness. She seems so fiercely independent that half the people probably think she doesn't even want to go out, and the other half is most likely scared of her.

"I didn't really know Hank, not even after all these months." She twirls the second empty beer bottle between her fingers, looking at me pensively. Then she chuckles, but it's entirely sarcastic. "I can't even blame Grissom for falling for a dominatrix, as far as women of the trade go. My own first real crush was a stripper, and I was seventeen back then."

"Not a word against strippers," I interject half-jokingly and she stops short, something in my tone having alerted her.

"Huh?" The typical Sara frown is edging onto her features and I know I'll have to spill the beans.

"Old habits," I explain with a shrug.

Sara's frown deepens. "…But you were a showgirl? …a dancer?"

Leave it to Sara not to listen to the gossip at the lab, I think with a fond smile. "Really, don't Greg and you talk about anything?"

"I just thought you – well, the way you move – " Now she's trying to backpedal. "…gracious and lithe and…" She stops, before she can dig herself in deeper, even though I for one would love to hear more about her thoughts on the way I move.

I know I shouldn't bring it up, not with her, but I can't help myself. "You better be lithe for a lap dance," I state casually.

Sara just stares at me, slightly befuddled, as if she isn't sure what I'm telling her.

I lean back in the booth and keep my gaze level with hers. "When they say around the lab that I was a dancer, they mean that I was a stripper."

Wow. I don't think I've ever seen that particular dumbstruck expression on Sara's face before.

Part 18

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