DISCLAIMER:I don't own them, I never will. Proper rights go to Bruckheimer, CBS and every one.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Some things you should know about my CSI universe. First off, the main cast (excluding Greg, sorry) all have offices, because that just makes sense to me given the amount of work involved in being a CSI (it's not all just fieldwork folks). There will be more explanations of my CSI universe in future parts of this story.
SEQUEL: To On The Surface.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Premature Breakdown
By Amy Jo

Part 1

I wish I knew what was going on. Nick is driving me to our crime scene, and to be honest I didn't even pay enough attention to the assignment slip to see what crime we're investigating. I sit in the Tahoe quietly thinking about what just happened and what the hell it might mean.

Somehow, I've managed to piss off Grissom. I don't know what I did but I can tell he's angry at me. What frustrates me is that I know he won't talk about it with me either. He'll just go sulk in his office, or in a lab, and then in a few days he'll act like nothing happened. Meanwhile I'm stuck trying to figure things out.

Okay, so Grissom saw me hug Rayn and then he freaked. Well, he freaked in his own way; which basically means I won't be talking to him until he's ready. Or maybe since I've done nothing but talk for the past few days, I'll just seek him out and figure out what's going on. It's not like a hug between friends should cause him any concern. And it was just that, a hug. Hell, at least when Catherine freaked it was somewhat understandable.

The drive is silent, and I'm thankful that Nick doesn't press the issue. I know that he's curious. The look on his face is obvious concern, but I think he can just tell that I'm not going to be talking about it.

The scene is a body dump in the middle of the desert. No tire tracks, foot prints or anything leading to the body or away. The cause of death, on first glance, seems to be a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Execution-style.

The detective on scene is Vega, and I'm honestly glad to see him and not Brass. I don't work with Vega all that much and I'm fairly certain he won't bug me about the bad mood I'm rapidly slipping into.

The only evidence we have is trace from the victim himself. And even that's pretty minimal. Skin under the fingernails, some stray fibers, and hairs that don't match the vic. Other than that, we'll have to wait for Doc Robbins' report to see if anything unusual about the victim shows up in the post.

It's barely two hours from the start of shift before Nick and I are back at the labs, and I'm actually thankful. I don't have any evidence to process myself, everything can be shipped off to the lab techs. This leaves me time to sulk in my office while trying to figure out what's going on with Grissom.

Which is where Catherine finds me when she returns to the lab hours later. Catherine knocks on my open door and enters with a fresh cup of coffee for me. I make no effort to move so she walks in and sets the coffee on my desk, carefully avoiding the mounting stacks of paperwork.

Thankful for the coffee I grab it almost immediately and take a tentative sip. Only to discover that she gave me the wrong coffee.

"Trade ya?" I ask holding out the offensive coffee.

Catherine looks at me quizzically. "Huh?"

"Your coffee. Ill trade you the cup you gave me for the cup in your hand. Pretty simple concept really." She still doesn't know what I'm talking about and takes a sip of her coffee. I can't help but laugh at the puckered face she makes as she drinks what I assume is coffee she prepared for me. At least I was right. We trade cups.

"How'd you know?" She looks satisfied as she takes a sip of her artificially sweetened coffee.

"Catherine, come on. You're talking to someone who thinks of coffee as a food group. I'm going to notice that there's not real sugar in it." I don't know how she knew, but my coffee has just the right amount of sugar in it. If she's not careful, it's going to be the little things like this that make me fall for her hard.

"Guess I should've known." She seems content to sit here drinking coffee, but I know that she came in here for a reason. "Did you know that Grissom is sitting in his office just like you are?"

Ah. There it is. "Nope. He's kind of avoiding me right now."

"Any particular reason?"

Catherine definitely seems worried about this. She's hiding behind her coffee, keeping the edge of her cup at her lips, and her eyebrows are arched in question. This can't possibly be good.

"I'm not sure really. I'm kind of avoiding him too." Well, that's true. Mostly. I think I have a vague idea of why Grissom is avoiding me. But the idea is so preposterous that I can't even be close to sure. And I am avoiding him; or at least not actively seeking him out.

"Oh. So why are you avoiding him?" Still hiding behind the coffee, which she's no longer drinking.

There's really no simple way to explain something I don't understand. The door to my office is still open, so I walk around my desk and close it, hoping that in a more intimate environment Catherine might come out from behind that coffee.

I move back to my desk, but decide against sitting behind it again. Instead, I move around to the front of my desk and stand directly in front of Catherine and lean back against my desk. Catherine leans forward and sets her coffee on the desk behind me. She is so close to me that I can feel her breath on my stomach for an instant before she settles back into the chair.

In that instant I manage to completely forget what it was that we were talking about. Close proximity to Catherine may not have been a good idea. I have her attention sure, but I seem to have lost my focus. She leans back in the chair and I notice that she is still wearing the clothes I had lent her earlier. I know she keeps a change of clothes in the locker room and can't help but smile that she hasn't changed.

"What were talking about again?" I ask her and she just smiles at me. The smile is more a quirk in her lip and a look in her eyes. She knows exactly what she does to me.

The look changes as she says, "Grissom."

Oh yeah. That. "Ah. Well, he's kind of avoiding me, so I'm kind of avoiding him. I'm not sure why he's avoiding me, and I think I'd rather wait until I figure it out before I talk to him. So maybe in like a day or two. Definitely not today."

"Why not today?" I'm not sure if she even knows she's doing it, but she is slowly inching forward in her chair, closing the distance between us.

"Um. Not in the mood to deal with it really."

She's no longer in the chair. She is standing right in front of me. Less than two inches separate us.

"And why is that?"

I feel the brush of her lips against my cheek as she moves even closer.

"I've got other things to deal with today."

The space between us is gone and I shiver when I feel her breath in my ear.

"Like what?"

My body wants to say 'her'; unfortunately for me some masochistic part of brain instead says, "I'm going for drinks with Rayn after shift."

That was all it took to get her out of my office in less than three seconds. Shit.

Part 2

Damn it.

That didn't go well. Me and my stupid big mouth.

I'm out the door right behind her, but she is already gone. There aren't that many places around the lab to hide, and I find her in the locker room pacing back and forth.

"Cat?" She doesn't stop pacing, but I notice the falter in her step as I say her name. "Cat? C'mon what's wrong?"

Catherine just continues to pace. I take a seat on the end of one of the benches and wait for her to decide to talk. I don't want to push right now; she'll tell me when she's ready. Every minute that passes makes me more nervous. Eventually she stops right in front of me. I look up at her and she smiles. She seems to have worked through whatever was bothering her.

"Hey," I say to her finally. "Everything okay?"

She smiles at me; that's got to be a good sign. "Promise not to laugh at me?"

She's so cute. She's nervous about whatever it is that she's going to say. In a small attempt to help her feel better, I lean forward slightly and wrap my arms around her waist, pulling her close. The move puts me nose-to-navel with her and I smile bigger just from being near her.

"I promise. What's wrong?"

"This is so silly. It shouldn't even bother me." I can tell that above me she is shaking her head at her behavior.

As comfortable as I am sitting here with my arms around her, I stand to put us face-to-face. One hand stays on her hip as the other moves to brush her hair behind her ear. It's not necessarily an intimate touch, but I cherish it nonetheless. "Whatever it is, you can tell me. You don't have to, but I want you to know you can tell me anything. Okay?"

"Yeah, I know. But this is really stupid. You know how you said you were going for drinks with Rayn?" She won't look at me and instead lowers her head just enough so that I can't look into her eyes.

I'm not likely to forget something that happened less than a half an hour ago, much less forget something that could cause her to make such a quick exit. "Yeah. You're not worried about that are you? I thought."

"No. It's not that," She cuts me off. But now I'm even more confused than ever. If she's not worried about me going out for drinks, then why did she disappear so fast?

"Okay. But then what was it?"

"This is going to sound so stupid."

My hand reaches out and tilts her head toward me again. "Trust me, nothing you say is going to sound stupid. Just please tell me."

"Okay. But remember, you promised not to laugh." She takes a deep breath before continuing, "It was the way you said it. Your voice, all low and lusty as you said her name. I just didn't like it. It's stupid I know."

Okay, so keeping my laughter in check is a little harder than I thought. "That's it? Christ Catherine, I thought I did something wrong or managed to piss you off or something."

"Told you it was stupid." Catherine raises her head and looks at me. "You want to laugh don't you? I can tell from that big, shit-eating grin on your face."

"Maybe. But I won't. So, you didn't like the tone of voice huh? Well then, maybe you shouldn't try to have a conversation with me when you're doing that."

"Doing what?" She teasing me, I can tell. But I'll play along.

"Well, for starters, standing so close," I pull her closer to me to emphasize my point.

"And the light kiss," I brush a kiss across her cheek, just as she did to me.

"And let's not forget this," I put my lips close to her ear and let out a small breath. I feel as her body shakes just a little from a wave of goosebumbs.

"Catherine," I say her name, and my voice is low pitched as it was earlier. "I'm going to show you something. I want you to say something to me, anything."

I kiss the skin on her neck and feel her pulse under my lips. She hesitates, unsure of what I'm getting at. I know there is a sensitive spot at the base of her neck, that adorable little hollow spot. I put my lips there and lightly stroke her skin with my tongue.

I hear a sharp intake of breath and her voice is weak and low like mine when she says, "Warrick."

I put some space between us. "Not what I was expecting. But see how you said it? You couldn't control the way the words came out."

Catherine's face turns a little red and she says, "No, yes. Well, what I mean is, Warrick is."

I turn my head and there is Warrick. Guess she was trying to tell me someone else was in the locker room. Doesn't matter. I think I proved my point. "Hey Warrick."

"Um. Catherine, we need to get over to the interview rooms, Brass finally got our suspect in. So I'm just going to..." Warrick leaves his sentence unfinished and leaves the locker room. Catherine starts to move but I block her path.

"So we're good?" Because I really need to be clear on this. I don't want her to walk away until we've figured everything out.

"Yeah, we're good. So long as you don't mind my occasional outbursts of stupid behavior." Catherine still looks a little embarrassed at her actions.

"Cat, I don't think you're stupid. Besides it gave me the perfect opportunity to do this," I say as I lean down and press my lips against hers. She's hesitant at first, but a few seconds of light nibbling on her lower lip and she gives in.

I keep the kiss short, after all Catherine has someplace to be and we are supposed to be working now. I seem to have this problem where being near her just makes me want to hold her or touch her. I think I can keep it under control when there are other people around; but here, alone with her, I don't stand a chance. And she's not complaining either.

Catherine pulls away and this time I let her go. I know at least one of us should do something today. With most of my cases up in the air, I haven't got much lab work to do. Most of my work will be the reports and papers I must file.

I watch Catherine as she heads off toward the interview rooms. I can't get the smile off my face. She looks good in my shirt. Somedays I really can be a big dork.

Part 3

I head to the break room in an effort to find Nick. Big shock, there he is reading the sports page. I grab a cup of coffee and sit at the table with him.

"Have you been down to see Doc Robbins on our body dump yet?" Maybe this will give me something to do instead of sitting in my office contemplating the odd turns my life has taken lately.

"Yeah. Nothing unusual for the prelims. COD was the gunshot wound to the back of the head. He'll have tox screens to me by tomorrow and by then the full report should be ready. Looks cut and dried with no leads." Nick sets down the paper as he's talking.

Well, that shoots my idea of finding work outside my office. If I hang out here too long, Grissom is likely to find me and he'll start wondering why Nicky and I aren't doing anything.

"Did Doc get any bullet fragments?" Maybe shooting off a few rounds with Bobby will perk my mood. I really don't like it when the only work left is paperwork. I like the science, the experiments, putting all the pieces together. Paperwork is just time consuming and really dull.

"Not when I was down there. He might have something now. Bored aren't you?" Nick has a knowing smile on his face.

"Oh yeah," I say as I get up to leave the break room. I'm almost in the clear when I hear Nick giving me a suggestion.

"You know, you could always go figure out what's wrong with Grissom." It sounds like a helpful enough suggestion, but that is still something that I want to avoid.

"And why would I do that?" I know he's right, I should talk to Grissom. But I won't for two reasons. First, I don't want to talk to him. Second, I'm not sure I want to know what's wrong. I'm concerned yeah, but whatever is going on with him is his business, not mine. If he wants to tell me, he will.

"Because he was supposed to go out on that body dump with us tonight. And then something happened when he went to find you and now he's virtually disappeared. I just thought you'd be concerned."

Well, I didn't know that Grissom had planned on working with Nick and I tonight. Though I am glad he didn't. With three of us working a case like this one there would be even less work to go around.

"Nick, I don't know. I mean, yes I'm concerned. But I don't think it's my place to talk to him about it. If he wants to, he'll talk to me. Besides he almost always talks to Catherine, not me." Grissom and I have our moments, but he really opens up to Catherine a lot more than he does to me. I'm not sure if I want Grissom and Catherine together talking about me, but if it happens, I'll deal with it.

Nick looks disappointed in my answer and picks up the paper again. "Yeah I guess." He just shrugs and returns to reading the sports page as I leave the room.

Down in the morgue, I find Doc pulling a sheet over our vic as he finishes with his autopsy.

"Hey Doc, got a bullet for me?" I ask as I move over to the table to help him push the body out of the way to make room for another.

"Yeah. I was going to send it upstairs, but you can have it. There's not much of it left, but Bobby might be able to do something with the firing pin impression if you find the murder weapon."

David comes in the room just as Doc hands me the bindle. David walks over to where Doc and I had moved the vic and mumbles something.

"What was that David?" I ask him, not sure if what he said was directed to me or to Doc.

"Oh nothing, excuse me," David replies, looking at his shoes the whole time. He quickly pushes our vic out of the autopsy room and into the freezer.

To no one in particular I say, "Is it just me or is everyone around here acting bizarre lately?"

Doc, being the only person around, answers, "Oh no, you're right. Things are definitely funky around lab today."

I take my bindle and leave the autopsy room laughing at Doc Robbins' choice of words. I'm not sure I ever would have used the word 'funky' to describe the lab. Okay, well maybe if I said 'funky smell' about a decomp, but I doubt I'd ever use that word to describe the people. But he's right.

Upstairs in ballistics, Bobby is test firing a shotgun. I wait until he's pulling the rounds out of the tank before I enter. Bobby sees me and smiles. I know he likes it when I stop by because I'm one of the few people around the lab that can talk about guns just as much as him.

"Hey Bobby, got a present for you," I wave the bindle in the air as I walk up to him.

"Sara. Good to see you. Now that's not really for me is it?" Bobby asks as he moves over to the comparison microscope to examine his test fire round. He often lets me run my own comparisons in his lab; I consider it a favor, I don't really think he lets anyone else use his lab when he's around. He knows that I'm qualified enough and know enough about guns to be able to handle it myself.

"That depends on if you want to sacrifice a microscope and computer to me. I'd love to do this one myself."

Bobby bends over his microscope, adjusting the zoom as he lines up his test fire with a bullet from evidence. "Have at it. Special case?"

"Yeah. Special case of boredom." I kid as I settle myself in front of a scope. "It's either this or more paperwork."

"Ah. I get it. You're just using my lab as an excuse because you don't want to do any of your own work." Bobby looks up from his scope and smiles.

"Damn straight. You know when I started as a CSI I didn't realize they did so much paperwork. The CSI's I knew is San Francisco never talked about the boring parts of the job. Only the field work and exciting things."

The bullet fragment in my scope is barely large enough for me to see the lands and grooves, but they are there. That's a good sign. It'll make it easier to match the bullet to a weapon. But Doc was right, any concrete match will have to come from the firing pin impression.

Before checking into the firing pin, I upload pictures of the lands and grooves from the microscope to the lab computer. Sometimes even I am fascinated at the equipment we get to work with. This comparison scope has a computer link and the ability to take pictures of the bullet. The pictures get uploaded to the computer where Bobby, or in this case I, enter the information from this crime. Then the computer gets to work running a comparison of this bullet to any used in previous crime. The nerd in me thinks it's cool.

A little bit of work on the computer and I'm back at the scope checking the firing pin. I'm no good with firing pins, but I know I need to upload the pictures of the impression. I'd never let Bobby hear me say it, but firing pin impressions all look the same to me.

"Bobby, you let me know if that comes up with anything?" I ask as I return the fragment to the bindle.

"Yeah sure."

I leave the ballistics lab actually feeling like I accomplished something today. With less than an hour of shift left, it's a good feeling.

Part 4

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