DISCLAIMER: CSI and all characters are the property of CBS and Bruckheimer. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ok, I know the premise is a little far-fetched, to begin the fic, but hey, I'm trying to move fan universes here. It's really hard work. I could do a mythology reference just to make myself feel better, but really, it would be pretentious.
And I personally think people who write crossover fics should be regulated to the 9th circle of hell, so, well, of course I decided to write a crossover fic. So if anyone wants to know what this circle of hell is like, I'm down here, stoking the fires.
SPOILERS: Through the current seasons on CSI and SVU.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Between Love and Hate
By zennie

2. Kid in a Closet

In the week after the apparent thaw in their relationship, Olivia almost believed that it was for real, and not simply a momentary lull or game-playing on the part of Sidle. She had worked five subsequent cases with the mercurial CSI, since the powers that be still seemed determined to make Olivia and Sara work together no matter what, and each encounter had been professional and courteous, if not good-natured, and once or twice, even friendly. One case in particular had even been a pleasant experience; Olivia had been paired with Sara and Greg, working a triple homicide discovered during a drug raid, which, at first glance, had been a simple case of death by overdose. When the tox screens came back negative for heroin, however, Olivia watched as Sara and Greg dug into the case with a vengeance, puzzling over fragments of leaves and other odd trace elements found on the scene.

Walking into the lab an hour or so before shift was to start that next night, Olivia was searching for Sara so she could get a case update. Olivia stopped a tall, broad-shouldered CSI, staring at the wide expanse of chest exposed by his button-down shirt before glancing up and losing her self in the most amazing pair of green eyes she had ever seen on a man before. She caught herself staring and looked away, but not before his lazy grin alerted her that it hadn't gone unnoticed. Trying to cover, she stumbled over his name to start a conversation. "Um, Brown, right?"

"Call me Warrick," he said in a smoky voice that seemed to rumble up from his chest, smooth as silk.

"Warrick, then," Olivia smiled, "Have you seen Sidle? One of the techs said she might be in early tonight."

He chuckled at her question, and, seeing her puzzled look, explained, "Coming in early implies that Sara actually left the lab today." He shook his head, an amused smile lighting his eyes, as if he was well accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of one Sara Sidle, and pointed over this shoulder. "I saw her in the break room about a half hour ago. She might still be there."

Instead, as she walked into the room, she found the other half of the dynamic duo, Greg, pouring a fresh cup of coffee, his head bobbing and lips moving as he sang along with the new release by the Killers, the volume on the boom box obviously stuck somewhere between loud and too loud.

Clearing her throat to get his attention, he looked up with a panicked expression until he realized who it was, and he let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, hey, Benson, want a cup of coffee? It's from my own private stash, and I don't offer it to just anyone," he cautioned, "only the cute women I work with." Olivia accepted the coffee and ignoring his flirting, as she had been warned by both Brass and Sidle not to give him any encouragement.

Taking an appreciative sip of coffee, Olivia smiled in thanks and asked, "Speaking of cute women you work with, where's Sidle? She paged me half an hour ago."

Greg's lips quirked into a smile at the mention of Sara and nodded toward the couch; only then did Olivia see the lanky form stretched out on the tattered, beat-up loveseat that had obviously seen better days, her head pillowed on a stack of botany textbooks. Greg gazed down at Sara with obvious affection before grabbing his coffee cup and heading out the door, telling Olivia, "I'm going to go set up some experiments in the chem lab. Tell Sara, will ya?" He was out the door and down the hall before Olivia realized that he had left her the task of waking up Sara, obviously a deliberate strategy on his part. After all, Sara well-rested could be surly and difficult; waking an exhausted Sara was probably a good way to have a vital piece of one's anatomy ripped off.

Olivia watched the brunette sleep for a few minutes, delaying the inevitable, finding the vulnerability of the moment endearing. Sara's face, relaxed in sleep, lost much of the edge and intensity that emanated from her eyes, making her appear unscathed and unscarred by the horrors they saw on the job day after day, and Olivia was reluctant to wake her back to those realities. I could just stand here and watch her sleep she realized, but how would I explain that to Brass? Damn, she's cute when she sleeps.

That thought brought Olivia up short as she tried to track down where it came from before she realized it was the second time in as many minutes, I called her cute in front of Greg. What the hell…?

Deciding that anything was better than self-reflection right now, even losing a limb to a grouchy Sara Sidle, Olivia reached out, touching Sara's shoulder lightly, and shook her awake, pleasantly surprised by the sleepy smile gracing Sara's lips as she rolled over, blinking slowly awake. "Mmmmmm, hey. Did I fall asleep?" She asked as she sat up, rubbing her eyes like a sleepy child.

"Must be some exciting reading." Olivia indicated the pile of books.

"Um, yeah." Obviously not awake enough to react to the sarcasm in Olivia's voice, Sara peered around the break room through blurry eyes. "Where'd Greg go?"

"He said to tell you he was going to set up some experiments in the chem lab," Olivia replied. "I just stopped by to get an update."

"Oh… yeah, the case. Uh…." Sara wandered over to the coffee pot and poured a cup, sighing in obvious pleasure as she downed half the glass in one gulp.

When she turned back to Olivia, she not only appeared revived, but almost all traces of sleep were gone, although the dark circles under her eyes conveyed her exhaustion. "I did some research and we may know the cause of death." Sara's pleased grin at solving the puzzle brightened the entire room, and she swept her hand toward the door. "Would you like to join us as we test my hypothesis?"

The next thing Olivia knew, she was observing as Greg and Sara mixed chemicals and measured toxicity while Greg regaled them with stories of the midnight experiments and practical jokes he and his fellow chemistry undergrads had pulled during college. Sara hadn't risen to Greg's teasing to reveal her own undergrad hi-jinks, even after Greg had confided in Olivia that physics students at his school had been the real wild ones, with the theorists being the worst of the bunch. "All that theory made them a little crazy, so they ran around trying to prove all kinds of crazy hypotheses, like sex in an elevator was better than regular sex and drinking upside down would get you drunker quicker."

When Olivia had given him a questioning look, he had shrugged his shoulders and said, pointedly, "Sara's the theoretical physicist," which Sara ignored his provocations with an embarrassed half-smile.

Their experiments proved that yes, the three had died from using themselves as guinea pigs as they tried to create a hallucinogen from plant leaves. Greg was still grumbling about Sara holding out when she leaned over his shoulder with a wicked twinkle in her eyes, and said quietly, "There's nothing special about sex in an elevator beyond the fear you might get caught. Now, airplanes…" She gave him a knowing smirk. "But it really depends on your partner." When he went red, sputtering and gaping at her, Sara winked at Olivia and exited the lab.

Two nights later, Sara was sent to Olivia's open-and-shut domestic violence call. The uniforms were still wrestling a blood-spattered woman out the door when Olivia caught sight of a familiar silhouette and aluminum case, but something seemed off in her demeanor as the other woman drew closer. Gone was Sara's confident stride and cocky grin as she walked through the crime scene. Instead, her haunted eyes followed the uniforms' progress out the door and down the walkway; Sara seemed unaware as she stumbled over a cobblestone, nearly stepping on David as he followed her up the walk too closely.

She didn't immediately open her case and get started on processing the scene, either, and Olivia watched as Sara drifted around the entryway, captivated by the family pictures that were hung there. She didn't seem to hear when Olivia updated her on the case, nodding distractedly as her eyes moved from one picture to the next, a look a immeasurable sadness painted across her ashen countenance. Olivia found, for the first time, wishing that they were better friends, or even acquaintances enough, so that she could ask what was bothering the tall CSI.

As David wheeled the body out, Sara uttered the first words that Olivia had heard from her all night: "Where's the girl?"

"What girl?"

Sara pointed wordlessly at the picture she had been studying, which clearly showed the husband, now dead, the wife, now coated in blood, and a girl in ponytails, now missing. Her voice quiet, stunned that she hadn't noticed before, Olivia whispered, "We didn't find a child when we responded to the call."

"Get all these people out of here," Sara directed as she walked down the hallway, glancing in each room before stopping just inside the second door to the left. Olivia instructed the uniform to clear the house, her eyes never leaving the figure outlined against the white door with a nametag reading 'Megan.' Olivia followed Sara down the hall and scanned the room over Sara's shoulder, noting the numerous pictures of kittens adorning the walls. "She's not in there," she commented, trying to break Sara's strange silence and moved onto the next room before she realized that Sara hadn't followed her, but had instead moved further into Megan's room.

Olivia watched as Sara fingered a ceramic kitten with a gloved hand, walking slowly but purposefully toward the closet on the far side of the room. Once there, she dropped to her knees beside the door, rapping tentatively with a knuckle and calling "Megan?" Olivia frowned at her odd behavior, until a shuffling sound in the closet greeted Sara's actions.

"Megan, my name is Sara. I'm with the police. I, ah, can I open the door so I can show you my identification?" Olivia couldn't hear the words but it must have been an assent because Sara carefully cracked the folding door far enough so that she could stick her badge in and illuminate it with her flashlight. "It's ok," Sara soothed, in response to something Olivia couldn't quite catch. "Why don't I come in there?" The next thing Olivia knew, Sara was slowly crawling into the closet, closing the door behind her and leaving Olivia to stand in the room, alone.

A long time passed before the door folded open and Sara helped a small, thin girl out of the closet, holding her hand reassuringly as Olivia stepped closer. "Megan, this is Olivia. She's with the police too." Still kneeling, Sara reached for her kit, the wide eyes of the girl following her every move. "Remember what we talked about? I need your help to find out what happened tonight." Silent nod. "Ok, first, I need your clothes, so why don't we pick out some clean pajamas for you?" Green eyes glanced at Olivia and then back at Sara. "It's ok, she's here to help too," Sara soothed the girl when Olivia didn't speak. Olivia hated standing there, watching as Sara and Megan picked out a pair of pink footed pajamas with paw prints winding around the legs, since dealing with victims was her job, but Sara had obviously made a connection with the girl and Olivia knew enough not to interfere.

"Now this is that special camera I told you about: it sees things nobody else can see. I'll use it on myself first." Sara aimed it at her arm, snapped a picture, and showed her arm to Megan. "See? Now I need to take some pictures of you." The girl frowned but she nodded, helping Sara adjust her shirt so she could take pictures, letting Sara bag her clothes and help her into fresh pajamas, all without saying a word. When she finished, Sara knelt in front of the girl, gazing at her with searching eyes. "We're going to get you out of here now. You are going to go with Olivia to the hospital so the doctor can make sure you are ok and then some nice people are going to take you to some place safe."

The first real look of terror crossed the girl's face then and she clung to Sara while she buried her face in Sara's suede jacket and sobbed. For someone who had seen or participated in similar scenes more times than she could count, the sight was still painful for Olivia to watch as Sara let Megan cry herself out, her hands rubbing the girl's back in soothing circles. "I know, I know, it's ok, it's going to be ok," she muttered until Megan quieted and Sara wiped the tears from girl's eyes, caressing her cheek softly. "I know someone who will help you. She'll meet you at the hospital; she's a social worker and she's nice. Okay? Now, why don't we pack you some clothes? Is this yours?" Picking up the Hello Kitty backpack, Sara led the girl over to the dresser, making a game of holding up shirts so Megan could give them a thumbs up or a thumbs down, her gloved fingers incongruent with the playful domestic scene.

At the end of the game, Sara squatted in front of the girl, scribbling on a business card. "Now this has my cell phone number, my home number, and my pager. I want you to call me if you need anything or if anyone tries to hurt you again." Sara showed Megan as she put the card in an outside pocket, zipping up the bag securely, before giving the girl a wide smile. "I'll check in on you soon, ok?" The dark head nodded and then, hugging a stuffed animal in one hand, Megan took Olivia's hand in the other and led her to the door. Olivia glanced back at Sara as they crossed the threshold, catching the tall CSI hugging herself, one foot crossed in front of the other, a heartbreakingly sad expression in her eyes.

Two hours later, Sara reported that the UV pictures and physical exam showed a history of abuse, her voice cracking as she spoke, and Olivia had to push down an unexpected desire to gather the tall woman in her arms and comfort her, wondering what could cause the adult in front of her to look as broken as the child. Olivia wisely didn't make any comment about Sara's unexpected people skills in dealing with Megan, and instead invited her to join in the interrogation of Megan's mother. Susan.

Megan hadn't told them who was the abuser and refused to tell any of the events of that night, so it was up to the mother to tell them what had been going on in the house. Sara declined with a curt shake of her head, staring down at blood-spattered pajamas before reaching for a pair of amber glasses and a blue light. She was back to being wrapped up in the case and her work, Olivia could tell, and Olivia spent a brief moment wishing for the return of the more compassionate, more open, woman of earlier in the evening. "Turn off the light as you leave, will you?" Sara asked after a minute, and Olivia complied, leaving her alone.

Susan had had to be sedated when they had gotten her to the hospital, so it was an hour before dawn when Olivia finally got a chance to sit down with her. A slight slurring of her words and a vacant stare were the only indicators of the medications as Susan turned down her right to counsel, but she refused to say anything other than "He got what he deserved." All of her follow-up questions were answered by variations of that basic sentiment until Sara slipped into the room, a manila folder clutched in her hands.

"What did Megan deserve?" she asked quietly, eliciting the first real response from Susan in over an hour.

"Brat didn't deserve anything," Susan sneered, "always whining and crying and bitching and moaning. Made everything about her. Never gave any thought to what I was going through."

"What you were going through?" Sara's rising tone was incredulous. She leaned against the table, her scorn evident in her posture as well as her voice. "What were you going through that was so important that you ignored that your husband was abusing your daughter?"

"You have no idea…"

"Oh, I have an idea," Sara interrupted, pulling a court document out of the folder and showing it to the woman. "He was leaving you. Apparently he was going to marry his girlfriend. Was that what you were going through? Was that what was so important?"

"I gave him everything," Susan snapped, "and I deserved better than to be cast aside for some flavor of the month."

"And Megan deserved to be safe in her own home. You should have protected her," Sara ground out between clenched teeth.

"Look, bitch, when he was hitting her he wasn't hitting me."

Olivia had been watching the back-and-forth with increasing trepidation, sure that an explosion was imminent. Catching a flash in Sara's eyes, she jumped up and grabbed the brunette around the waist an instant before she launched herself across the table at their suspect. Olivia managed to put her body between them, pushing Sara away with brute force and manhandling her out the door.

Once outside, she kept hold of the strong, sinewy body, afraid that if she let go, Sara would have another go at their suspect. Hoping that an appeal to her work might get through, Olivia warned her, "Sara, I understand this is a tough case, but you will not compromise this investigation by getting into an altercation with the suspect."

Sara shrugged out of Olivia's grasp, brandishing the file folder. "Megan was malnourished and beaten repeated for years. She, she did nothing…nothing to deserve that. Damn it!" Sara struck the wall sharply with the flat of her palm before taking a deep breath. After a minute, Sara let out her breath in one long sigh, pushed herself off the wall, handed the folder to Olivia, and made a beeline for the exit doors.

Olivia let out her own sigh of pent-up frustration, knowing that she was as angry as Sara about the case and that she probably would have reacted as badly to the comment had she not been concerned for Sara. That protective instinct surprised her, as had the desire to comfort her earlier. It's not like we never tuned up a suspect or two back in Manhattan, but usually, we're in control. Sara was anything but. But I've stood by and watched El get aggressive with a perp without blinking, without being worried about his job or mine. Olivia puzzled over this for a moment before she directed the uniform take Susan to lock up and went in search of Sara.

Olivia found Sara slumped on the bench, staring down at the cigarette butts scattered on the ground, looking for all the world like an ex-smoker questioning her motivation to quit. Pausing a pace or two behind the bench, Olivia debated the wisdom of sitting down beside her part-time partner and occasional adversary, but then decided that she wasn't known for her wisdom So why start now? No fun in growing up and learning from my mistakes, after all.

She felt her own tight muscles protest as she lowered herself down, eyeing the other woman warily. "Tough case."

"Yeah," Sara exhaled the word in one long sigh, raising her head from her contemplation of the ground to take in the rapidly brightening sky.

"You ok?"


The silence stretched as neither made any attempt at follow-up. Olivia stole surreptitious glances at the woman by her side. Olivia was used to handling people, especially victims, but she found herself at a loss for words with the prickly CSI so she sat and tried to puzzle out the changes that had occurred literally overnight in the younger woman. From tough as nails investigator to caring social worker to avenging angel to what? Sara looked drained and empty, like all the fight had left her in one fell swoop. The tenderness and caring had vanished, but traces remained in her slumped posture and the pain in her eyes. Everybody on the job tried to wall themselves away from the things they had to deal with everyday, and it looked as if Sara's walls had been breached, and then hastily and badly repaired.

Finally, Olivia ventured, "You were good with Megan tonight." She tried for a bit of levity to lighten the mood, "You know, I'm supposed to be the one who's good with the victims. You keep this up, and I'm out of a job."

Sara shook her head in a firm negative. "No need to worry. Your job is safe from me." She started to hoist herself up, but Olivia caught her arm to keep her there.

"You wanna go for a drink?"

Carefully extracting her arm from Olivia's grasp, Sara stood, staggering a little on unsteady, fatigued legs. "No." The note of finality in her voice didn't stop Olivia from trying again. She reached out and caught Sara's hand, her thumb caressing Sara's knuckles lightly. "I'm here, anytime, if you need anything, if you want to talk," she offered, watching as Sara frowned down at their joined hands, deep in thought. As Sara's long delicate fingers slid from Olivia's, Olivia regretted the loss.

Sara stuck her hands into her coat pockets and wrapped the dark fabric around her as she walked away. A quiet 'thanks' drifted back to where Olivia sat and she let her thoughts drift while the sun finally peeked over the hills, ruminating on the feel of Sara's hand in hers. Finally, she too hoisted herself off the bench and went in search of Jim Brass.

She found him in his office, finishing up some paperwork. "Hey," she greeted, leaning in the doorway. At Jim's grunted greeting, she continued, "Can you give me Sara's home address?" He actually looked up from his papers then, setting them aside and looking at her questioningly. "Tough case. I'm worried about her."

Jim nodded and scribbled an address on a notepad. "We all are," he said as he handed it over. Olivia glanced at the paper before slipping it into the pocket of her leather jacket. "Sara could use a friend," he told her, the tone in his voice both hopeful and warning.

"You just don't give up, do you?"

"Hey, Sara, it's nice to see you too," Pause. "And no, I don't." Olivia gave her a smug smile. Sara stood in the doorway to her apartment, arms crossed over her chest, unmoving, glaring, forcing Olivia to ask, "Are you going to invite me in?" Sara turned on her heel and wandered back into depths of her apartment, leaving the door open. Close enough, I guess, Olivia thought as she followed with a rueful grin, casting an appreciative eye around the small yet cozy apartment.

Sara had stopped a few steps into a purple-hued living room, swinging back to confront her guest. "I told you I didn't want to go out for a beer…" When Olivia cast an eye to the bottle in her hand skeptically and gave her a 'try again' look, Sara clarified, "With you." Her glare intensified as she dared Olivia to take offense with her eyes. But surprisingly, Sara looked away first, ducking her head, her mouth pressed into a thin line. "I don't want to talk about it," she said simply, wearily.

"Ok, fine…" Olivia agreed; whatever impulse had driven her here, she wasn't going to give up on it, "we don't have to talk. We can drink some beers, order a pizza, maybe watch a movie…"

"I was going to go to sleep after I finished this," Sara replied stubbornly, hoisting the half-empty bottle in her hand.

"You can sleep?" was Olivia's incredulous rejoinder. Sara's eyes narrowed as she gazed at the shorter woman, and then she averted her eyes again, pursing her lips into a rueful grin. Olivia was smart enough not to gloat over her victory and instead let Sara fume for a moment in silence while she wandered over to the refrigerator to grab a bottle of Heinenken. She popped the top, took a huge swig, and returned to the living room and onto the couch beside Sara. "Yeah, me either," she admitted with a sigh. "So what movies do you have, Sidle?"

A few minutes later, Olivia sighed again, this time in mock-exasperation. "Is there anything here without subtitles? I don't recognize any of these movies. And I hate subtitles," she muttered under her breath, glancing back at Sara lounging on the couch with a fresh beer in her hand. Olivia had been pleasantly surprised to see how quickly Sara had gone from resigned acceptance of her presence to friendly banter as they had debated pizza toppings, and she surmised that Sara hadn't been looking forward to the hours alone with her thoughts any more than Olivia had been. So she kept up the teasing banter as they debated films. "I never figured you for a foreign movie buff. Mysteries or some gory horror flicks, but foreign films?"

Sara smirked. "What, I can't defy expectations? And you don't like foreign films? French? Chinese? Vietnamese?" She named a few countries while Olivia shook her head and shrugged her shoulders, cauring Sara to collapse back to the seat cushions in mock-surrender, eyes wide with wonder. "I thought people were more cultured in New York City."

"We go to the Met, not movies," Olivia sniffed and was rewarded by a slight chuckle from Sara.

"Yeah? When's the last time you went to the Met?"

"Um… 8th grade school field trip?" That was rewarded by an actual laugh. "Hey, I'm a workaholic cop on a civil servant salary. When would I have the time or the cash for the Met?" she shot back, mock-affronted.

Still laughing softly, her eyes alight with the first genuine good humor Olivia had seen all night, Sara pointed to the case in her hand. "Put in Bend It Like Beckham. It's English so there are no subtitles. You'll like it." When Olivia quirked an eyebrow at her, Sara smiled, a trace of irony in her voice as she said, "Trust me."

As soon as the movie had started, Olivia had sprawled out on the couch, hugging a pillow to her chest, as comfortable as if she was in her own home, seeing Sara give a snort of laughter, and then shake her head in amusement, before settling down herself. The movie was, as Sara had told her, a fun, lighthearted movie, and Olivia found herself entranced, although she could feel Sara's eyes upon her occasionally. When the credits came on, Olivia hummed along with the music and started to stretch before she noticed Sara was still staring at the screen. She nudged Sara's foot. "Movie's over."

"Credits are still rolling," Sara replied, nodding to the screen with her head.


"I always watch the credits."

"Oh." Grinning mischievously, Olivia rubbed her foot against Sara's again. Sara moved her foot away with a frown, her eyes glued to the screen. Olivia tried again, this time angling for the ticklish instep and Sara yelped, pulling her feet away quickly before looking at Olivia pointedly. "What?"

"You've seen this movie how many times? And you watch the credits every time?"

"Always." Sara glanced down and caught Olivia sliding her feet across the couch again. "And stop trying to play footsie with me, detective." Olivia could feel her mouth hanging open and a blush making its way up her neck, outlandish accusation catching her momentarily off-guard..

"Um, ah," she stammered as a tight smile curled Sara's mouth, like she was trying to keep from bursting out laughing. When Olivia rolled her eyes to show her opinion of Sara's sense of humor, the brunette did let loose with a laugh, her eyes twinkling. "Sorry, but that was just too easy."

Olivia mock-pouted, and that sent Sara into a fresh round of laughter. "Awww, did I hurt your feelings?" she teased, adding, "I thought New Yorkers had thicker skin than that." When Olivia just raised an eyebrow, Sara grinned widely, flashing that adorable gap between her front teeth. "Especially badass big city cops." She finally relented in her teasing, holding up her bottle, "Want another?" Olivia shook her head. "Something else? Water? Juice?"

"Yeah, orange juice would be nice."

"Coming right up."

Her back popped as Olivia got up and stretched, feeling the muscles of her back and neck loosened considerably from earlier in the evening. I needed this time to unwind and relax too. And the company was surprisingly pleasant. She wandered over to the bookshelf in the corner, glancing over the titles curiously, but she quickly realized that her Bachelor's in criminal justice would do her no good if she picked up the tome entitled Applied Thermodynamics in Forensics. Instead, she picked up a frame and gazed at the creature suspended in the middle, recognizing Sara's impatient scrawl on the card stuck in the corner. Sara joined her just as Olivia asked, "You like butterflies?"

"Not exactly. When you have an entomologist as a boss, you get used to getting bugs as presents," she explained.

"These are from your boss?"

"Yeah. He, we, well, it's kind of a game. Every year for Christmas and occasionally on my birthday if he can't wait, he'll give me a butterfly specimen without identifying it—and usually it's an obscure or rare specimen—and I spend the next couple of weeks poring through bug books trying to identify it."

Olivia frowned and gave the woman at her shoulder a sideways glance. "And this is your boss's idea of a gift? He does understand the concept of gift-giving, right?"

Sara chuckled at that. "Well, one year he did give me an entomology textbook to help with the research. And when he suggested moving on to other bugs, like spiders, I drew the line." She shrugged, a fond smile playing on her lips. "I actually enjoy it. It's fun, and I learn a lot."

"That's your idea of fun? You and your boss must be a match made in heaven, then." Sara stiffened perceptibly and her smile lost much of its radiance, and Olivia wondered what she said to cause such a reaction. Trying to return to the light-hearted banter, she teased, "You're an odd woman, Sara Sidle. Usually the only thing I learn from my Christmas presents is what proof the whiskey is."

"Yeah, well, you see this?" Sara leaned over Olivia's shoulder to lightly trace the curve of the butterfly's wing with a graceful finger, inadvertently pressing her body into Olivia's back as she did so. "The way that curves down, it tells you that…" Sara's words continued, but Olivia lost track as she glanced at Sara and her breath caught in her throat. Sara's face was dimly lit by the blue TV screen, but it only highlighted the gentle curve of her cheekbones, the graceful line of her neck, and did nothing to disguise how her face lit up as she talked animatedly about the process she went through to identify the specimen.

Olivia instantly realized that this was the real Sara, the one who lay hidden beneath the intensity, anger, and ferocious dedication to duty; this was Sara with the walls down, the Sara that the walls were designed to protect. And this Sara was beautiful, breathtaking even, in her vulnerability, blending all the drive of her public persona with a warmth and compassion, a sense of humor and fun, that she kept private and hidden most of the time. And suddenly Olivia realized why everyone's favorite game at the precinct was to try to be on the receiving end of one of those full-on Sidle smiles; her smile was one of the rare times all these qualities came together in public. Watching Sara's lips, a steady stream of talk still pouring forth and her wide smile, Olivia caught herself just as she began to lean in, wanting to capture those lips with her own.

Oh no… I didn't just…

Sara must have noticed Olivia's sudden jolt, because she stopped talking and blushed, a self-conscious expression twisting her features. "I'm sorry, I'm boring you. I get caught up."

"No," Olivia corrected her, hurriedly, reaching out to touch Sara's arm to stop her apology. She let her hand linger there, stroking the soft skin with her thumb.

"You weren't boring me. I just… couldn't really follow the science."

Sara still looked embarrassed, her eyes on the butterfly in front of her. "I always tell my boss that, that ballistics are better than bugs in front of a jury. Less Latin."

Wanting to see her face alight again, and hoping to relieve their dangerous proximity, Olivia directed Sara's attention to another butterfly on the wall. "What about this one?" Olivia had no such luck as a gentle pressure from Sara's hand guided her around, bringing their bodies closer together if anything, the light touch of Sara's fingers setting off a chain reaction of sparks burning a path up and down Olivia's spine.

"Now this one was tricky. Grissom gave me a female, and well, not all books cover the differences between male and female. I, um…" Sara drifted into silence as she glanced over Olivia, staring at her. After a long pause, she asked, "What?"

"I, uh, I should go," Olivia replied, making no attempt to move.

"Ok," Sara said, obviously puzzled, and Olivia watched her face close off and her eyes grow distant, signaling a retreat behind those protective walls. Drawn in, as if following Sara's retreat, Olivia slipped her hand under Sara's chin, caressing softly, as she drew Sara in for a kiss. When Sara didn't immediately pull away, Olivia let her lips linger, willing to keep the contact as long as Sara was. When Sara drew her head back after long, endless seconds, Olivia watched as her eyes blinked open, the hazel depths showing confusion and surprise but, thankfully, no anger and no walls. Olivia moistened her lips, tasting beer and vanilla lip gloss, and whispered, "I have to go." She felt Sara's analytic gaze following her as she shrugged on her leather and let herself out into the harsh Nevada sun.

Part 3

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