DISCLAIMER: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and other related entities are owned, trademarked, and copyrighted by Anthony E. Zuiker, Jerry Bruckheimer Television, CBS Worldwide Inc., Alliance Atlantis Corporation, CSI Productions and CBS Productions. This is fanfiction and is written purely for the enjoyment of fans, and the author acknowledges that no profit is made from the writing and/or distribution of said writing.
SPOILERS: 'Lady Heather's Box', 'Crash & Burn' and 'Playing with Fire'.
SERIES: The 'Un'-titled Series - sequel to Unmasked.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Amy Jo


Part 61

The chaos around me seems to move in slow motion and everything has gone silent. There's a strange feeling of my stomach sinking while its contents threaten to move up. Suddenly I'm feeling very ill.

The look that passed from Sara to Gil was far more intimate than mere friendship. I know because it's a look I was privileged with receiving before I fucked things up and Sara closed herself off from me again. It's hard to describe, but it's a look of sweet warmth that made me want to beat my chest proudly and proclaim to the world that this lovely woman was with me. It's a look that has me nauseated when I see it directed at Gil.

I can't believe I was blind enough not to see that something was going on between those two. She asked for time and space and, like a fool, I gave her what she needed. And in the end, I still lost her. Of all people, I lost her to Gil Grissom. The most introverted, asocial person in Las Vegas.

God, I think I'm going be sick.

I knew they had a thing. Some sort of weird teacher/pupil thing maybe. I know that she really admires his intelligence. But I just can't believe she would seriously entertain romantic ideals about a man so lacking in social skills that he wouldn't know he was on a date if it were plastered all over Las Vegas billboards in glittery, gaudy neon. Hell, I even tried to push him toward Sara once and he didn't recognize that kick in the ass for what it really was.

I am jostled from behind by a passing fireman and the world around me becomes overwhelmingly real again. Sara sits in the back of an ambulance as an EMT looks at her hand and Gil is now talking to the lab director. Even as I look at the activity surrounding me, the hurried rescue workers and the stunned lab workers walking in a daze; even with everything that is going on around me, all I can see is that look in Sara's eyes.

Someone steps into my field of vision and asks, "Ma'am?"

Oh. It's a paramedic. I can't seem to find my voice as I meekly answer, "Huh?"

"Ma'am, are you alright? Are you hurt?"

Looking around for Gil I can't seem to find him anymore and Junior EMT here is blocking my view of the ambulance that I last saw Sara sitting in. I can't quite shake the sinking feeling I have, but I don't think Junior has a cure for heartache, so I tell him that I'm fine and turn to head into the lab.

The emergency spotlights give the lab a yellowish glow rather than its normal fluorescent slightly bluish tinge. I nearly jump out of my skin when someone comes up behind me and puts their hand on my shoulder. Gasping and turning, I'm surprised to see Warrick behind me.

"Cath, you okay?" Warrick says, having obviously noticed that he startled me.

Taking a deep breath and trying to look much more calm than I feel, I answer, "Yeah Warrick, I'm okay. Just taking it all in and you surprised me."

"You sure you're okay? Lately you seem …"

Attempting a smile, I interrupt him, "I'm fine Warrick. Just surprised, that's all." It's not a complete lie and from the skeptical look he gives me, he obviously doesn't believe me. But Warrick is a smart man and he lets it go for now. I've been skirting the truth with him lately, not sure what I can tell him and what I can't. Sooner or later he won't just settle for my excuses anymore and will want a real explanation. I'm hoping he waits until much, much later because I don't know how to talk to him about what's been going on with me lately.

"You just getting here?" he asks, walking and leading me back outside.

"Yeah. What happened?"

"I'm not sure exactly, but there was an explosion in the DNA lab. Gil wants us to interview Greg before we get started here. Covallo is riding him hard on this."

"Great. Just what we need," I say, sighing in frustration. "Politics doesn't mix well with science. Covallo will put the pressure on and expect results in time for the eleven o'clock news sound bite."

"Aren't you always telling Grissom to be more politick?" Warrick says as we step outside.

"No," I say smiling at Warrick, "I'm always telling Gil that he needs to brown-nose some more and stop making enemies in politics. That's not politicking, that's called covering your own ass."

Warrick smiles and makes an understanding noise, but once we're back outside I feel thrust into chaos again and my focus on our conversation is completely gone.

I see Jacqui, my favorite fingerprint tech, with a paramedic getting some cuts on her face attended to. One of the front desk secretaries, Janet maybe, is with another paramedic and holding gauze to her forehead. A few hours later and that could easily be me. There are cuts and scrapes, bumps and bruises, on seemingly every person who was in the lab. Even if I can't remember all of their names, I have never seen so many people I know personally hurt like this. Anyone who was seriously hurt has already been taken to a hospital, but everyone else has minor cuts and bruises. It all feels so very unreal.

A quick glance around the parking lot and, like a mirage, I see Sara sitting there on the curb, holding her hand and looking up at Gil. I can't shake the image and the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach intensifies. I need to get out of here but my feet don't seem to be moving.

"Cath, you sure you're okay?" Warrick asks, snapping me back to reality.

"Yeah," I tell him, even though I most definitely am not okay. "It's just that …"

"Yeah," Warrick says soberly, thinking that it's the scene in front of me that has me feeling both sick and sad. He's partially right, but I don't bother to elaborate. "Let's go check on Greg, okay?"

"You think he's really in any condition to give a statement?" I ask as Warrick leads me toward his truck. "He seemed a little out of it when they wheeled him out of here."

"If he's not, then we'll wait at the hospital for a little while." Warrick's tone turns somber as he says, "Someone should be there for him, ya know?"

"Yeah," I say quietly as I slide in the passenger side of the truck. I don't know where Nick is, but I know that Gil and Sara are still at the labs. We're the only family Greg has in Las Vegas and someone should be at the hospital with him. I just wish Warrick and I could go to see Greg as the friends that we are, not as investigators.

The ride to the hospital is quiet, Warrick and I both too involved in our own thoughts to keep a conversation. Warrick, I'm sure, is still thinking about the lab and everything that happened there. I'm still thinking about Sara and Gil even though my heart aches every time my mind flashes back to that look in her eyes. I can't seem to stop thinking about it, no matter how miserable it's making me feel right now. As we pull up to the hospital, I start thinking in investigator mode and hope that work will provide the distraction I need so desperately right now.

Walking to the ER desk, Warrick asks for information on Greg and we're told that he's already been admitted so we'll have to check with the regular hospital admission desk. I take it as a good sign that he was admitted so quickly. He looked out of it, but his condition must be pretty well if they've already got him in a room.

By the time we reach Greg's room he's laying down in his bed, looking exhausted.

"Hey buddy," Warrick says as he takes a seat next to Greg's bed.

"Hey guys," Greg says, sounding every bit as exhausted as he looks.

"If you wanted a vacation man, all you had to do was fill out the request form," Warrick tries joking with him.

"But that's such a hassle man," Greg smiles weakly. "Besides, don't you like my vacation suite?"

"It could use a little work, Greg," I join in, though the seriousness of why we are here keeps my tone soft and worried rather than light and joking. "It needs a little color and you should really do something with the antiseptic smell."

"But you can't beat the personal servants." His smile grows as he continues, "The staff is definitely hot. I'm thinking of asking my nurse if she makes house calls."

Warrick chuckles and says, "Good to see you're right back to yourself, Greg."

Smile fading, Greg asks, "You guys here about the lab?"

"Yeah," Warrick answers.

Stepping a little closer I notice for the first time how bruised Greg's face is and that there is a bandage on the side of his neck. He really got knocked around in that explosion, but I know he's lucky to be lying here and not up in surgery or worse.

"Look, I'm pretty tired," he says and it's obvious that he is. But we need his statement now before he forgets something.

"This won't take long, Greg. We promise." And I really hope it doesn't. The investigator in me knows that we need his statement now, but the friend tells me that we should be letting him rest.

"Why don't you tell us exactly what happened. As best as you can remember."

With a deep sigh Greg says, "I was working three cases; mixing solvents."

Great. Covallo will read into that and assume Greg blew himself, and the lab, up by mixing the wrong chemicals. Greg can hardly be blamed for the DNA lab being overworked and understaffed, but Covallo will want to point his finger at someone, and it will be Greg unless we can prove otherwise.

"Did you notice anything prior to the explosion? A power surge, a spark, a smell?" I ask, hoping there was a hint of something else so that we can prove this was an accident and not something that Covallo can blame on the lab staff.

"Plastic; burning plastic," Greg says, closing his eyes in either an attempt to remember or just pure exhaustion. "I turned around to see where it was coming from." He winces as he remembers the explosion. "After that, I'm sorry."

"That's okay," Warrick says softly.

"We done?" Greg asks us tiredly.

"Yeah, we're done," I say. I have more questions, and I'm sure Warrick does too, but we can both see that Greg is so tired that he'll fall asleep on us soon. "Feel better, alright?"

"Yeah, get some rest," Warrick says as Greg weakly nods his head.

Greg is sleeping by the time we leave the room and close the door behind us.

"What do you think?" Warrick asks as we try to find our way out of the hospital.

"I think the poor guy is exhausted. And I really wish one of us could stay here with him." Greg might seem to be just a lab tech, but he's part of the graveyard shift family.

"He'll be alright for now. He's got that hot nurse to look after him and he's so tired I doubt he'd notice even if Sara were at his bedside," Warrick says, smiling, obviously thinking of Greg's crush on Sara. At the mention of her name I feel like I've just been kicked in the gut, seeing her again looking up at Gil from her spot on the curb. I barely hear Warrick as he says, "I meant, what do you think about the explosion?"

Quickly turning my mind back to work, I say, "I'm no chemist, but burning plastic doesn't sound like a chemical mixup to me. I think we're looking for something else."

"Me too."

Warrick unlocks his Tahoe and we head back to the lab in silence again. I keep trying to run through different scenarios that would involve the smell of burning plastic, but my mind keeps coming back to Gil and Sara. I thought work would be distracting enough to take my mind off of them, but the closer we get to the lab, the more my stomach turns at the idea of running into one or both of them when we get there.


Part 62

The lab looks eerily normal on the outside; the only indication of the chaos from earlier being the firemen that are still here. The EMTs seem to have all left the lab, as have the hazmat workers. Many of the cars in the parking lot are now gone, bruised lab technicians having been given early leave from work as the remaining firemen check one last time to make sure everything is safe and that the lab is not in any immediate danger of another explosion.

"Hazmat seems to be gone," Warrick observes as we pull into the parking lot.

"Looks like lab director Covallo is still here though," I say pointing toward the only city car in the parking lot that isn't a Tahoe. Seeing the main entrance to the lab open and the man himself stepping out, I warn Warrick, "And here he comes now."

"I think I'll take your advice about politicking," Warrick says as he locks the Tahoe. "I'll see you inside, okay?"

Somehow Warrick manages to avoid Covallo who seems to be on a direct route to me. "Lab director Covallo," I say, greeting him coldly.

"Willows," he returns my greeting just as icily, "I expect a full accounting of what went down here. I want to know everything."

"You'll have my report when all the evidence has been processed."

"You have two days," Covallo says before walking over to his car. Opening the car door, he repeats himself, "Two days. The Sheriff, the mayor, the DA, hell everyone wants to know what happened here."

Sighing in frustration I head inside the lab to find Warrick. At least Covallo gave me two days rather than forcing me to come up with his eleven o'clock news sound bite. He's smart enough to know that it takes more than just a few hours to run the tests, especially with a good portion of the lab out of commission for who knows how long. But he's not above putting one of us way out on a limb to make himself look better. I'm just glad to have him out of my hair for now.

Walking into the lab I see Warrick just stepping out of the locker room, now wearing one of the blue jumpsuits we usually put on when we're working in the garage.

"Apparently hazmat suggested covering up," Warrick explains.

"And here I thought you just wanted to see me in the jumpsuit because the blue brings out the color in my eyes," I say, batting my eyelashes at him flirtatiously.

"Well, that too," I hear Warrick chuckling as the locker room door closes behind me.

A few minutes later, appropriately dressed and feeling decidedly overstuffed with the jumpsuit over my clothes, I join Warrick in the hall. Smiling widely when I see him I take a couple of steps and turn, pretending to model. "So, what do you think? Is blue my color?"

"Definitely," Warrick says, giving me a long look and eventually returning my smile with an approving nod.

"So where do we start?" I ask, returning quickly to a more serious mood. A little harmless flirting is a good boost for my ego, and even a good distraction from everything that has happened today, but we need to get to work and I don't want him to think the harmless flirting is anything but that.

"I think we should start at the center of the explosion and work our way out. Grissom told me the schedule is tight on this one."

I'm glad I was busy pulling on my jumpsuit when Gil came by. I'm trying hard to forget what I saw outside but I'm not ready to look him in the face just yet. Working and flirting with Warrick are both good distractions, but seeing Gil would have intensified the sick heart-aching feeling in my chest. I wonder if it's possible to avoid him for the rest of my life.

Back to work. I've got to get my mind back on work.

"Covallo gave us two days."

"Two days? But that's impossible," Warrick says as he shakes his head in disbelief.

"Certainly not feasible, but if we run everything on high priority we might be able to have enough of it figured out so that he'll get off our backs," I say with a much optimism as I can muster on what's turning out to be a very bad day.

"We can't push priority on this when the lab is going to be working three times as hard to make up for …"

Warrick's sentence goes unfinished as we turn the corner and the DNA lab comes into view. From his silence, this must be the first time he's been back here. Standing next to him, I'm silent too as I look at the destruction in front of us.

Most of the safety glass is just cracked in spider-web patterns but a few of the panels, probably near the epicenter of the blast, are completely shattered. Glass and various bits of destroyed lab equipment and unprocessed evidence litter the hallway and the lab floor.

"Holy shit." The words escape my mouth before I have time to censor them.

"Got that right," Warrick says.

"Archie has the security tapes, right?" I ask, looking around the destruction. I can visualize the lab equipment hitting the safety glass and causing the spider-web cracks. Something much bigger, maybe even one of the tables, had to be what caused the entire panel to shatter.

"He should, yeah," Warrick responds. We're both silent for a few minutes, taking in the destruction of the lab again until Warrick sighs and says, "What a mess. Want to strip it?"

"I'm thinking spiral with an overlap." There's so much to be marked and photographed in here that I think it would be best if we both started at opposite points and worked our way around until every inch of this room has been looked over by both of us. It will be too easy for either of us to miss something if we don't overlap our work. Nodding to my left I tell him, "I'll head this way."

Warrick and I start placing evidence markers and taking photographs of every centimeter of the lab. The two portable floodlight stanchions set up in the lab provide plenty of light to see every tiny fleck of broken glass, burned lab equipment and computers, chemical bottles and more debris than I could have imagined we would find.

Unprocessed evidence lays on every surface, evidence bags and labels melted to the point that some are completely unreadable, unusable trash now. It's impossible to tell at this point how many cases will have destroyed and unusable evidence. Covallo is going to be pissed and will come down hard on all of us.

Hours later, most of the evidence markers in place, I'm standing over one of the tables, certain from the way the center of the table is bent that whatever happened in this room started right here. "Damage radiates from here."

Warrick leans over and studies the table intensely before straightening up and saying, "Well, there's no crater."

"Yeah. So it's not a high explosive," I say, which only eliminates one of many possibilities.

"I guess we're looking for a combustible liquid?" Warrick's tone is questioning but from the looks of this room we both know that he's right.

"Yeah. That narrows things down," I say as I spot a burned up hot plate on the floor just under the table. Noticing that the switch is stuck in the on position, I tell Warrick, "Somebody left the hot plate on under the fume hood. Genius."

Warrick takes a photo of something on the floor to the left of the table and picks up a piece of melted plastic. Showing it to me, he asks, "What do you think? Developer pan?"

"Presence of acetone, methanol, all kinds of combustibles." And those are just a few of the chemicals that are always present in the lab.

"Mix that with a heat source and what have you got?" Warrick asks the obvious.

"This," I say, looking around the lab again. This is what happens when you mix an unattended heat source with any one of the dozens of chemicals in this lab. Broken glass, destroyed evidence, burned and melted lab equipment. Utter destruction.


Part 63

Broken bits of glass and bent metal debris litters the floor. The stench of melted plastic permeates the air. There is destruction everywhere I look in one of the few places that has always been safe, always been immune to the violence and cruelty that is so rampant outside these doors. I need to get out of this building and away from this shattered wreckage before the sight of this gutted lab poisons the safety zone this place has always been for me.

Every scene is abstract; just another crime scene, nothing personal, I can distance myself from what I see. We've been called out on cases to restaurants where I can remember having dinner. I've processed evidence in hotels and casinos where I've been out to see a show or just to loosen up and gamble a little or have a drink. We've been to crime scenes that in one way or another reminded me of my own home. I've always been able to put distance between any personal familiarity of a place and what I see in the crime scene in front of me. But this one, this is too familiar for me to be able to shut off the memories.

I feel very claustrophobic as I'm assaulted by various images of being in this very room. I'm too close to this.

I've given Greg DNA evidence to process in this lab. I've seen Hodges in here going over chemical trace evidence. What seems like only a few hours ago I was in this very lab before clocking out after a really long and tiring double shift. I walked out of this room with Warrick by my side as we theorized about our current case. And now here we both are in the same room, processing burnt bits of plastic and equipment while Greg lies in a hospital bed.

Warrick is intently marking and photographing the few remaining pieces of evidence that we haven't already gone over and barely acknowledges me when I tell him that I need a break and practically run from the room. I don't even bother to take off the stuffy, hot jumpsuit before going outside for some fresh air.

Stepping outside I close my eyes and take a deep breath. That's a little better. I open my eyes and see Sara walking across the parking lot with Nick. I can just barely make out the bandage on her hand and my mind immediately flashes to the image of her sitting on the curb mere feet from where I'm standing now, looking up at Gil tenderly as he carefully holds her hand. My chest tightens and that sick, broken feeling in my chest returns full force.

That's not better. That's not better at all. Going outside was a big mistake.

I quickly turn around and head back inside, nearly knocking over a surprised lab tech that had the misfortune of trying to come out the door I blindly opened and rushed through. Muttering an apology I head toward the safe refuge of the locker room.

I can't even look at her without seeing the memory of seeing her sitting on that curb and looking up at Gil with such warmth and fondness in her eyes. Sure, she was shocked and confused but the affection she feels for him was glaringly obvious. I remember seeing a similar look as we shared a dinner with Lindsey at Sherwood Forrest. I felt such a swelling of happiness and pride to have her looking at me that way. Now all I feel is envious and angry.

I know that I made mistakes. I got angry and yelled at her, criticized her work, deeply hurt her feelings by telling her that she wasn't good enough. I didn't just push her away, I shoved her out of my life at a time when I needed her most and when she needed to know how important she was to me. When she needed to know that she really was a part of my life and not just another fling. I couldn't handle it and in my anger I lashed out and lost her.

Even with Nancy badgering me to repair the damage I had done I couldn't bring myself to face Sara. I couldn't bring myself to face the fact that I belittled Sara for no reason other than my own anger. That I insulted her work, her pride, because I couldn't deal with the fact that my daughter no longer had a father and that Sara wasn't good enough to get the evidence needed to put the murderer behind bars. Even knowing Sara had done everything she could and that sometimes the reality is that not every crime sees justice, even then I couldn't bring myself to apologize to her and grovel for forgiveness.

I waited too long. And then I waited even longer when she said she needed more time. I didn't want to push her again, I didn't want to pressure her. I wasn't my usual self, I was less confident, always on edge and careful to be sensitive of what I said. I didn't want to chance that I'd lose my temper and told her off again.

I worked, no we worked, on our friendship again. We both made an effort to meet outside of the lab; away from crime scenes, evidence tape and the other trappings of our jobs. We met for dinner, for breakfast, and sometimes just for coffee. She asked about Lindsey and I made failed attempts to ask about her family.

She never once mentioned this thing with Gil. Never once mentioned that she felt something more than friendship or a mentor-student relationship. Never mentioned that her admiration for him included not only his intelligence but also something romantic.

My stomach knots and my chest tightens again thinking about Gil and Sara. I feel sick. I feel betrayed.


Part 64

"Cath, you okay?"

I nearly jump out of my skin when I feel a hand on my shoulder and Warrick's soft voice asking me if I'm okay. That must be about the tenth time in the past two days he's asked me that. I've been sitting on an uncomfortable bench in the locker room for who knows how long with my head in my hands fighting back waves of nausea and tears. I'm definitely not okay.

Sara and Gil.

I thought I was giving her what she needed. Time. And after a little time our friendship would grow again and maybe I could find some way to show her what she means to me. Turns out I was giving her time to figure out what Gil means to her.

I feel betrayed even though I know that I really have no reason to feel that way. Sara is a grown woman and she can date whomever she chooses. But god. Why Gil?

Taking a breath and hoping my voice sounds stronger than I feel, I tell him, "Yeah Warrick, I'm …"

"Lying through your teeth," he interrupts me. "Catherine, I know we haven't talked much lately, but I still know when you're lying to me. And you're not fine. Something serious is bothering you."

He looks hurt and I feel even worse for lying to him. I can't seem to do anything right. By respecting Sara and what our relationship was, I end up hurting my friendship with Warrick.

"Warrick I …"

"Can't talk to me about it yet," he says quietly. "I know."

Seeing the slump in his shoulders and the hearing the hurt in his voice I know that I can't keep lying to him. Maybe I can find a way to talk to him without disrespecting Sara. I have a few hours to figure out how as I make an impulsive decision, "How 'bout breakfast after shift?"

He smiles as he says, "Cath, 'breakfast' was over hours ago."

"Nothing's ever 'over' in Vegas, Warrick," I pat his thigh lightly before pushing myself up. "Breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, midnight munchies, whatever. We're both going to need to eat at the end of this shift and I'd like it if my good friend joined me for a meal."

Warrick's small smile grows to a full-fledged toothy grin as says, "I'd like that a lot."

Returning his smile I change the topic, "So where are we with the evidence?"

"Photographed, bagged and tagged," he says. I must have been in here a lot longer than I thought. "I'd say we could catch that meal now, but there's someone we should talk to first."

Covallo has already left and last I knew Grissom was nowhere to be seen. Shrugging the jumpsuit off my shoulders I ask, "Who?"

"A sometimes over-zealous, brown-nosing, mostly irritating lab tech that thought he'd earn points with the boss by working even though he'd been released for the rest of the day," Warrick says with a slight smirk.

"We've already got Greg's statement," I say with a smile, knowing exactly which lab tech Warrick is really talking about.

"I think I need to hear more about his new personal servants," Warrick says laughing. "Seriously, Hodges is still lurking around here somewhere."

"And Covallo might want answers, but he'll freak out when the overtime hits his budget." I slip the jumpsuit over my shoes and hang it back up in my locker. Hoping that the conversation with Hodges goes quickly, I grab my jacket before shutting the locker. "Let's go see what the man has to say for himself."

Warrick follows me out of the locker room and fills me in, "Hodges was working with some powerful stuff in that lab not long before it went boom. He was processing evidence from a meth lab."

"Great," I say sourly. "That stuff loves to go 'boom' in a big way."

"Which is why there are strict protocols. If he didn't follow them to the letter …"

"Then we get the big boom that we had."

We find Hodges extracting chemicals with a pipette in a makeshift lab not far from the explosion.

"Got a minute Hodges?" Warrick asks as we step in behind the tech.


"That's too bad, man. You're going to give us a few anyway. We need to talk about what happened earlier," Warrick explains.

"You mean how some idiot blew up the lab?" He says, shaking his head. "Way to go Greg."

"Hey," Warrick says angrily, "Greg is hurting pretty bad and lying in hospital bed right now because of someone else's mistake."

Before Hodges can snap off some kind of sarcastic comment, I get to the point, "We understand you handled a meth lab yesterday."

"Contaminated filter papers, so what?" Full of attitude. It's no wonder the rest of the techs are having a hard time warming up to him.

"So you had to do a solvent extraction," Warrick says. "What did you use?"

"Chloroform, methanol and acetone. I cleaned the pan."

Acetone. One of the combustibles I initially thought of when Warrick picked a melted developer pan off the floor earlier.

Hodges superior attitude is grating on my nerves. And it's clearly getting to Warrick too as he makes notes and sarcastically asks, "The same way you turned off that hot plate?"

Hodges finally interrupts his work to look at us and says, "If it was on, it wasn't my fault. That thing gets turned on by accident all the time."

It sounds a lot like an excuse for not checking to make sure the hot plate was off and Warrick calls him on it, "Mysterious dude defense."

I look at Warrick and we both roll our eyes before turning back to Hodges. If Hodges didn't turn off the hot plate and then left his chemicals under the fume hood it wouldn't take long at all for the heat to ignite the fumes.

"Well our report is going to reflect the fact that an active heat source was under the fume hood," I tell Hodges.

"I know what this is," Hodges says in that superior tone again, "you guys hear the lies and rumors about me from L.A. You know how much Grissom depends on me so you figure, let's get rid of him. I'll lawyer up before I let you pin the tail on the new donkey."

Lies? Rumors? I wonder if Warrick knows what Hodges is talking about, because I certainly don't.

"Start dialing," Warrick says, actually making Hodges pause his work and look concerned.

We turn and leave the lab and I'm still wondering what Hodges meant about L.A. That might be worth looking into.


Part 65

"This is nice," Warrick says with a small smile.

"Denny's isn't exactly the Bellagio buffet, but I'm glad you think it's nice," I return his smile as our waitress reappears with our coffee.

"Who can afford the Bellagio buffet on our salary?"

Laughing as I mix some Equal into my coffee I say, "Well, maybe on a special occasion."

"And I'm not special?" Warrick holds his hands over his heart as if I've hurt his feelings.

"You think I bring just anyone here? Best coffee in town."

"You think this stuff is the best in town?" He looks at me incredulously.

"Not everyone likes triple grande macchiatos with extra shots of espresso and whipped cream or whatever it is that they serve in those fancy coffee shops." Warrick laughs as I wrinkle my brow at that mockery of coffee.

"I thought you liked some of those fancy coffee drinks?"

"They're not too bad when you get one of the iced ones on a hot day. Cold and super-caffeinated, doesn't get much better than that in the middle of August. But today I just need a regular coffee and a little fake sugar. Besides, you can't get a grand slam breakfast meal at Starbucks."

"So we're here for breakfast huh," Warrick flips through his menu.

"We're here for whatever you want to eat. Like I said, breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever. But where else can you can get good regular coffee and whatever you want to eat?"

"In this town? Anywhere," he reminds me.

"Okay okay, I confess," I say with a smile. "It's been a long day and this was just the first place I could think of."

Laughing again, Warrick says, "Yeah. That's how I end up eating a lot of In 'N' Out burgers and other takeout. By the end of the day you're too tired to think about food even when you're hungry."

Our waitress comes by again to take our order; Warrick gets a standard burger and I opt for a salad. Interrupted and out of small talk, we fall silent. The silence is more uncomfortable than I can ever remember it being with Warrick. I'm ashamed to admit that other than chatting about the weather or some other innocuous topic, I have no idea how to talk to him. I've done a lot of damage to our friendship and a meal at Denny's doesn't even begin to fix that.

Not knowing what else to say I take a deep breath and blurt out, " I started seeing someone recently."

"Oh really?" He asks calmly, even as his eyes widen in surprise. "Serious?"

"It was," I answer quietly. Warrick silently sips his coffee, a raised eyebrow the only indication that he heard my answer. I know he's waiting for me to continue, but I just don't know where to start. At the beginning, right? "It started out a little light and fun …"

"As most new relationships do," Warrick nods with understanding.

"But it kind of got serious pretty quick," I finish.

"And now?"

Sighing, I try to find a way to describe what happened in relatively few words. The past few months have been a whirlwind and I don't need to dump everything on Warrick. I think it's best to take small steps to repair the damage I've done to our friendship.

"Now, well now I'm not really seeing that someone. And they seem to be seeing someone else, so …"

The rest of my sentence goes unfinished as the waitress makes a timely interruption to bring our food. Politely saying thank you to her as she leaves, Warrick looks completely uninterested in his meal as he turns his sympathetic eyes back to me.

"You weren't ready for how serious it was getting," he assumes.

Was I?

At the time, I think I was. After all, Sara and I had known each other for years. It took a long time for our relationship to develop past merely being coworkers. Once we became friends, the mutual attraction was clear, even if I had a difficult time admitting it. We followed instinct and our friendship became more romantic. The little arguments, the countless looks we passed, the subtle touches. As I look back now it's clear that the attraction was there all along but we never acknowledged it. Or, at least, I didn't acknowledge it. Once I did, everything felt natural and right, the way a good relationship should feel.

But Warrick doesn't know that I'm talking about Sara. For all he knows, I'm talking about someone I met just months or even weeks ago. I can't tell him who it really was, so I'll have to be careful not to mention her name. I've never had to hide something like this from him and I feel horrible that I can't be completely honest.

"No, I think I was ready for how serious it was. Even for how serious it could have been."

"But?" A strange combination of curiosity and disappointment crosses his face as he waits for me to answer.

"I could take the easy way out and say it was just a bad time for me to be in a serious relationship. But that's not entirely true." Though Eddie's death when things between Sara and I were getting pretty serious sure didn't help.

"So what is the truth?" He asks.

"It's complicated."

"Cath," he says softly as he reaches across the table and grabs my hand, "All relationships are complicated. That's part of what makes the good ones worth the effort."

Looking down at his hand I'm suddenly nervous and not sure that Warrick is the best person for me to talk about this with. Maybe I should have called Nancy instead. "I have no idea what that means."

Returning my smile and squeezing my hand he explains, "It means that I have all day to sit here with you and listen to how complicated everything is. Because you're one of the good ones. You're worth the effort."

I still don't really understand what he means by that and I'm almost certain that he is passively flirting with me, which is a complication I think I could do without right now. We've flirted in a friendly manner before but I thought we both understood that it was harmless flirting, with no romantic feelings attached. Now I'm not so sure.

"Thank you Warrick," I say, smiling softly and turning my hand to squeeze his briefly. Changing the topic back to something I'm only slightly more comfortable with I ask him, "Have you ever known someone for years and when the possibility of changing your relationship with that person arose, you took the chance and went for it only to have it blow up disastrously in your face?"

"I wouldn't say that it has blown up disastrously," he says with a smile. "But yes, I know what you mean."

I thought he might have been passively flirting with me but seeing the look in his eyes, I'm not sure it's quite as passive as I thought. Warrick has always been sweet and charming in his own way, often saying the right words with a reassuring look or touch. He's been a great friend to me over the past few years, one of the closest friends I have.

I look down at his hand covering mine and then up at the soft, understanding look in his eyes and smile that matches perfectly. Okay. That's definitely a complication I'm not ready to deal with.

Part 66

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