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 66

Sliding my hand from under his and feigning more interest in my house salad than is humanly possible, I try not to notice the distinct, if slight, slump of his shoulders. I'm not ready to deal with the fact that he might be flirting with me, but I would like to try to salvage our friendship. And that means being a little more honest.

"Warrick, I …"

"So this someone, he was someone you've known for a while then?" Warrick pretends his hamburger is as good as I'm pretending my salad is. Neither of us is much interested in the food, or even the coffee anymore, but we're both keeping up the pretense of two friends out for a meal together. For the next little while I am going to ignore the fact that I think he was seriously flirting with me.

"A couple of years, yeah," I don't immediately bother to correct Warrick's assumption that the someone I was dating was a man.

"On the job?" He asks casually.

He knows as well as I that between work and Lindsey there's little time to meet anyone, much less start a relationship. Even in Vegas finding someone who works the same strange hours that we do is hard and finding someone who isn't creeped out by the morbidity of how we earn a living is even more difficult.


I can see the slight wrinkle in his brow as he tries to figure out who it might have been. Law enforcement, rescue personnel, someone else at the lab; even though the choices seem limited, there's a lot of people going through Warrick's mind right now as he thinks about my mystery relationship. He doesn't even know I was dating a woman, so right now he's only thinking about the men 'on the job'. And, for now anyway, I'll continue to let him think I was dating a man.

"So what happened that this guy let a woman you like you slip his fingers?" Warrick sounds genuinely concerned, but I notice that his charming smile has returned full force.

"It wasn't like that Warrick," I say with a sigh.

The waitress returns to refill our coffee and ask how everything is. Her interruption gives me a few more seconds to try to explain things to Warrick without making myself sound like the colossal jerk I am. Seeing his charismatic smile and the warmth in his eyes now only reminds that it's easier for me to admit my faults to Nancy, who has seen a lifetime of my screw ups, than to admit them to Warrick who seems to have rose-colored glasses and sees only the good things.

"So tell me how it is," Warrick says as he relaxes and leans back in his chair.

"I didn't slip through anyone's fingers. I was foolish enough to let what could have been a really great relationship implode before I even had the chance to realize just how much this person meant to me."

Once again, I carefully avoid mention Sara's name or even the fact that I was dating a woman. I would like to believe that he would be supportive of anyone I dated, man or woman, as long as he knew I was happy, but I'm not ready to test his reaction. Especially now that I can't be certain that our mutual flirting was harmless on both of our sides.

"Cath, it takes two people to have a relationship and it takes two people to break off a relationship. Whatever may have happened, this guy had to have been willing to see it end if he didn't fight like hell to keep you."

Smiling bitterly I say, "It's hard to fight when I'm pushing them away, yelling at them, or simply not talking."

"Sounds like a typical lover's quarrel. Happens all the time. If he wanted to be with you he would have stayed," Warrick persists.

"With the way I acted, no one would have stayed," I start to explain. "It takes two to have a relationship and with Eddie's death I just wasn't in the relationship anymore. Maybe it takes two to end a relationship, but I think I did a pretty good job of fucking things up all on my own."

"Pretty harsh on yourself, aren't you?"

"No more harsh on myself than you are being on them." Warrick nods his head just slightly, conceding my point. "Really Warrick, this was all me. Lindsey lost her father and even though I don't love Eddie he was still my little angel's father. He may as well have hung the moon and stars and when he died she lost her world."

"Ahhh," Warrick exclaims as if it all suddenly makes sense to him. "The guy couldn't live up to filling Eddie's place in her life."

Sara never tried to take his place. She only wanted to be a part of our lives.

"No. I just exploded. I lost it, Warrick. Eddie was dead and my daughter could have died. I let my rage and fear get the best of me and made some rather insulting remarks, refused to apologize, stopped speaking for weeks. And when I was finally ready to deal with it all, it was too late." Staring forlornly at the empty coffee cup in my hands I finish softly, "I tried, but it was too late."

Warrick remains silent as I continue to stare at my coffee cup. I thought I was doing things right, giving her the time she needed and taking our friendship slowly to earn her trust again. Apparently while I was giving her the time she needed she was developing a relationship with Gil.

After what feels like an eternity Warrick finally asks, "How do you know it's too late?"

I'm just not sure there are words to describe the intense heartache I felt when I saw the look she exchanged with Gil. Quietly I tell him the simple version, "Like I said, this person is seeing someone else now. I'd say that definitely makes it too late."

"And you gave up just like that?" Warrick asks disbelievingly.

"I guess so," I say with a sigh as the waitress returns and slips the check onto the edge of the table, a not so subtle hint that it's time to pay up and go home.

"You guess so?"

"It's still kind of fresh, you know? I didn't find out they were seeing someone else until just today," I explain. "It's better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all, right?"

"Tennyson? You're not going to go all Grissom on me and start quoting random bits of Emerson or Lord Byron all the time, are you?" Warrick chuckles and smiles.

"Gil knows Lord Byron?" I ask incredulously. Gil might be able to random obscure lines from Shakespearian plays and recite the encyclopedia verbatim, but love poetry just doesn't seem his style. Warrick's maybe, or even Nick's, but not Gil.

"I doubt it," Warrick says as he laughs again. Turning serious, he reaches out and takes my hand again. "Seriously Cath, I've never known you to go down without a fight. Better to have loved, sure. But the best thing to do is fight for that love. If this guy is a great as you say, go after him. Show him what he's missing by leaving you for someone else."

"I don't know if that will work," I say mournfully. "I'm the one that screwed up to begin with. When Eddie died I yelled, I insulted, I belittled and finally shut everyone out. There's no way to apologize for that."

"You never know unless you try."

"I did that. I tried explaining, tried apologizing. I didn't make excuses because I know what I did was horrible. But I tried to describe what I was going through hoping for some kind of understanding, not forgivenesss. We took a break from things. Needed some time, you know?"

"And while you were getting back on your feet he found someone else," Warrick correctly assumes.

"Looks that way, yeah."

"Cath, maybe this guy isn't as great as you think. If he couldn't keep it in his pants long enough to wait for you, he can't be all that great," Warrick says angrily.

"It's not like that Warrick," I find myself saying again as I pull my hand away from his. Warrick assumes the man, the person, I was dating was nothing but a horn dog who was after a piece of tail. I know Sara's not like that and I am angry at his insinuation, even though he has no idea who we are really talking about. I grab my purse and reach for a few bills to leave on the table. "I was waiting for them. I waited too long I guess."

Warrick catches the hint and pushes away from the table. Sounding sincerely apologetic he says, "I'm sorry Catherine."

Blowing it off I tell him, "It's okay. It's been a long day and I just need to get home. I'm going to try to catch an hour or so of sleep before Lindsey comes home."

"Look," he says as we head out to the parking lot, "I just don't know if he's as great a guy as you think if he's already off with someone else."

"It's complicated," I tell him with a shrug. "But trust me when I say it was great and if I could have it back, I'd take it in a heartbeat."

Shrugging Warrick says, "Complicated, huh? If you say so. But if it's that great, fight for it. The Catherine I know is fiery and she wouldn't just tuck her tail between her legs and go off sulking."

"Maybe you're right."

"And whenever you are ready, maybe you'll tell me the name of this mystery man instead of playing the pronoun game." Warrick smirks at my look of surprise. "Don't think I didn't notice, I'm a trained investigator you know."

When we reach the Tahoes, I impulsively pull him into a hug. "Sorry I dumped my problems on you, but thanks for coming out. I've missed this."

I'm so distracted wondering just how much he picked up by my careful avoidance of saying a name or even mentioning gender that I almost don't hear him say, "I've missed you too."

His Tahoe pulls out of the lot and as he heads toward home I suddenly have a new problem. I'm partially panicked from wondering if he could have possibly figured out who I was talking about even though I was being deliberately vague. But what has me even more panicked is his parting words.

Sure, I miss Warrick. I miss our easy friendship and the harmless flirting. Now I'm not so sure the flirting was quite so harmless. I'm almost certain that Warrick feels something more than friendship and I just don't know how to deal with that.


Part 67

"I'm just saying you should keep your options open, that's all," Nancy says.

"Keep my options open?" I am completely stunned by Nancy's suggestion. "Are you kidding me?"

"No," she answers seriously.

"But you've been after me for weeks to quote 'get my shit together and ask Sara on a date already'. Now you've changed your mind?"

"No, I haven't changed my mind," she says. "But weren't you just saying how you think Sara is seeing Gil now?"


Sighing she explains, "Well if she is, then maybe you should give Warrick a chance."

"Please tell me you're kidding." I just can't believe what she's saying.

"What? He's young, good looking, intelligent."

"But Nancy …"

"But what?" she interrupts me. "You know I'm right."

"No, Nancy," I say firmly. "You're wrong."

Her eyebrow arches as she challenges me, "Why?"

"You don't think it's morally questionable to lead on a man that I don't want to date just on the chance that the woman I do want to date is temporarily unavailable?"

"What makes you so sure that that she's only temporarily unavailable?" Nancy's relentless disagreement with everything I have said today is really getting under my skin.

"Because the longest relationship Gil Grissom has ever had is with an arachnid." Seeing Nancy scowl at me, I say, "What? It's true."

"Being a little hard on the man you supposedly call your friend aren't you?" she asks, still scowling.

"Sometimes the truth isn't all rainbows and roses, Nancy."

"And the truth is, you once thought that Gil should go for it and take Sara out," Nancy reminds me.

"Actually," I correct her, "what I told him was that he needed to deal with it. Which he did."

"He did?" Nancy is clearly surprised.

"Yeah," I say. With a small chuckle and a bitter smile I tell her, "He sent her a plant."

"A plant?" she looks at me incredulously.

"Yes, a plant," I repeat. "The whole lab could tell that she had a crush; that she was here because she wanted to work with him, to be near him. She threatens to walk away and he sends her a damn plant."

"Wow," Nancy says, still shocked.

"Like I said, the longest relationship he's ever had is with an arachnid. He's just not good at these kind of things."

"But she stayed," Nancy points out.

Sighing, I say, "Yes she did."

"So why did she stay?" Well, at least she's not being confrontational any more.

Why did she stay? She was ready to walk away, to go back home, and she stayed. It certainly wasn't for the money; she could make just as much, if not more, anywhere else in the country. She even got cozy with the feds a couple of times. She's never said it outright but I know she has few, if any, real friends here. Her work is her life. And she was ready to walk away.

So why did she stay?

I say the only honest thing I can think of, "I don't know."

"She stayed because of him," my sister says as if it were obvious. "To work with him, to be near him."

"That can't be why she stayed."

"Why not? It makes sense to me."

Her tone is edging toward confrontational again and I'm not sure I have the energy to keep even this mild argument going. "It doesn't make any sense at all."

She sits silently, apparently waiting for me to continue. When I don't explain any further she asks, "Why not? She was looking for some sign of affection from him and she got what she wanted."

"She didn't get what she wanted, she got a plant. That's not a sign of affection, that's …." I'm not even sure what that is. "That's a god damn plant, Nancy. A sign of affection is sending flowers and decadently expensive chocolates or even taking her out on a date, not shrubbery."

"But she stayed," Nancy points out again.

"But she didn't date him," I remind her. "She dated me."

"But she's not now, is she?" Nancy stresses. "You screwed up and now she's seeing someone else."

"I thought you were on my side here," I say frowning. "You were telling me what a dumbass I was and how I should wine and dine Sara and woo her and earn her trust again. Now all the sudden you're telling me that I should 'keep my options open' and pursue something with Warrick."

"Of course I'm on your side," she says with a soft seriousness that I'm not used to hearing from her. "I'm just thinking that maybe you deserve to be happy."

"I was happy with Sara," I say irritably. Arguing with Nancy about my now non-existent romantic life after long shifts or full double shifts, arguments with my daughter, and nothing but short naps for rest, has left me feeling drained of energy and it's starting show.

"But you fucked that up didn't you?" Without waiting for me to say anything she continues, "And then you waited too long to fix it and now she's with someone else."

"She said she needed time; I was giving her that," I try to explain.

"Are you really that clueless about women? She needed time and persuasion Cath, persuasion," Nancy says as if it were completely obvious.

"How do you know that?"

"Because it's what all women say when they want to be romanced a little, Catherine. You should know that, you tried it yourself with Eddie."

Well, she's right about that. When he would be particular idiotic or pigheaded, I would tell him to give me my time and space and he would come crawling back less than a day later with flowers or chocolate, or like a typical man, lingerie.

"Sara's not like other women, Nancy."

"And neither are you." I'm about to ask her what she means when she explains, "You're too damn stubborn for your own good."

I put on my best pouting face, "Am not."

"Are too," she says, smiling. Turning serious she asks, "You really don't think this thing with her and Gil is going to last?"

"No, I seriously don't. He's a nice man and great friend, but he really has no idea how to be in a relationship."

"Good," she says, smiling broadly. Seeing my confused look she explains, "Then you need to get your shit together and stop moping. Forget about Gil and forget about Warrick."

"But …" I try to interrupt her.

"You need to show her that even if you can be a colossal screw-up, you could still be the right one. You need to send her flowers or candy or whatever, but romance her a little. Woo her."

"You really think so?"

"I really do," she says, nodding firmly.

"Then what the hell have you been talking about all afternoon with this 'keeping my options open' crap?"

"Oh that?" she says, starting to laugh. "That was just for fun. I knew it would get you riled up."

She really knows how to push my buttons and sometimes I hate her for it. But it's really hard to hate someone who is doubled over and turning red from laughter. I'll find a way to get back at her for this.


Part 68

The rush that director Covallo put on the lab explosion means we need to figure out what happened as soon as possible but even Covallo knows we need time off. Otherwise it would be his budget exploding with all the overtime expenses.

Nancy takes Lindsey home with her for the night so that I can have a quiet house for a few hours to try get a little more rest. The nap I had before Lindsey got home from school just wasn't enough, especially not with Lindsey arguing with me and then Nancy goading me all afternoon.

The house is quiet but sleep is elusive. After tossing and turning for about an hour I give up and decide to head into the lab. Covallo will either approve the overtime or I simply won't get paid for it, but there's too much on my mind to let sleep come. Every time I close my eyes I'm assaulted by images of Sara or Warrick or the wreckage of the lab.

Pulling in to the parking lot at the lab, from the outside it looks relatively quiet, as though nothing unusual had happened. Once inside the doors though, the energetic bustling of lab techs and mid-shift CSIs quickly shatters the illusion of calm.

Judy, the front receptionist, tilts her head in my direction as I turn toward the locker room. I can hear her telling someone on the phone, probably a reporter, that the lab is back in working order and busy as ever and that any further questions should go to lab director Covallo. She picks up a small stack of messages and answers another ringing phone line as she shoves them in my direction.

A quick look at the messages reveals that detectives and district attorneys are trying to reach me about several cases, most of which could wait but since I'm here much earlier than usual I decide to head to the break room and return some calls. I make a stop in the records room to sign out the relevant files before starting a fresh pot of coffee and sitting down to reacquaint myself with the cases.

Traffic in the break room soon makes it hard to get any work done as mid-shift CSIs and lab techs stop in throwing me odd looks as they stop in for coffee refills. A few try for some small talk, obviously not paying attention to the stack of files in front of me that indicate I'm trying to get some work done. Grabbing the files with both hands, I delicately balance my coffee on top of the stack and head to Gil's office where it should be traffic free and much easier to get these calls made. Now I have an even better idea of why Sara often disappears to the layout room in the back of the lab. This part of the job would certainly be a lot easier if we all had an office to hide in when we didn't want to be disturbed.

Gil's desk is relatively paper-work free for once and I make myself comfortable. Reaching for his phone I start making calls and a full hour passes before I hang up the receiver for the final time. Feeling as if I've accomplished exactly nothing, I return the files to the records room and start back toward the evidence vault.

I commandeer one of the layout rooms near the chem lab and push a cart laden with evidence boxes to the back wall. A/V must have worked overtime too to get prints of the photos that Warrick and I took what seems just hours ago. I start tacking them to the walls and a spare clearboard, covering any available surface. Sorting through the voluminous evidence bags, I separate each bag into a bin marked to identify its contents. Identifiable lab equipment, metal, plastic, and glass.

I find an oversized piece of paper and make a crude rendering of the chem lab. Flipping on the under-table light I cover my rendering with a transparency film and grab a sheet of colored stickers. Each element gets it's own color and transparency film to help me visualize the effect of the explosion. Red for the metal; brown for the identifiable lab equipment, blue for the plastics, and green for the glass.

The extraneous metal is sorted through first since I know that the metal itself wasn't the cause of the explosion. Next is the lab equipment, which was obviously a factor but not the sole cause. That size of the explosion itself rules out simple equipment malfunction.

The stickers are marked with the numbers from the evidence bags, and I glance at the photos of the evidence markers in the lab to carefully place each numbered sticker in the corresponding location on the transparency. Tedious work, but being able to visualize the explosion this way will make it much easier to determine the origin of the explosion and hopefully with it the actual cause.

Sifting through all the burned plastic and placing little blue stickers on the next transparency, I realize that Hodges' developer pan wasn't the cause either. The pattern of burned plastic from the developer pan is merely pushed out, not explosive. So it wasn't simple equipment malfunctions or Hodges' chemicals.

The little green stickers that represent the oddly colored green glass show a different story though. According to the evidence bags that indicate their location, these bits of glass were found at the outer edges of every part of the lab. This is the primary fragmentation. This is the source of the explosion.

Oh shit.

This green glass, it's not green glass. It's clear glass that originally had an unidentified green liquid in it. Liquid that Warrick and I presumed to be ethyl glycol. Liquid that I placed under the fume hood when there wasn't anyone in the evidence vault to properly log it in. Liquid that I placed under a fume hood with an active heat source.

Oh shit.

It hits me full force and I have to steady myself against the table. It was me. I did this. I blew up the lab. Shit.

Warrick, with his impeccable timing, chooses this moment of realization to walk into the layout room, "Hey."

Taking a breath to calm myself, I greet him, "Hey."

"Wow, you work fast," he says as he checks my progress. I don't bother correcting him by pointing out that I've been here for hours now working on this. Picking up one of the evidence bags with a piece of the developer pan and then pointing at the transparencies he asks, "Which color charts Hodges' developer pan?"

"Blue," I say, sliding the blue transparency over my rendering of the lab.

Warrick studies the transparency for a few seconds. "That's a 180-degree array. That's not the epicenter of the explosion."

Shaking my head and looking at Warrick, I explain, "Hodges' pan wasn't the source; it got pushed out."

"By what?" he asks, confused.

Reaching down, I pull the transparency with green stickers over the drawing of the lab. "By this," I show him. "The primary frag; the green glass."

Looking around the evidence I have laid out, he asks, "Then who blew up the lab?"

Looking at the green stickered transparency and then up at Warrick, I take a deep breath and admit it out loud, "I did."

Stunned, Warrick is silent for what feels like an eternity. He looks at the green transparency and then pulls the blue transparency on top again. Flipping back and forth, he sees the same thing I did. The larger pieces of the developer pan were pushed out by the explosion, but the smaller remnants of green glass in a 360-degree pattern is clearly from the cause of the explosion. Unidentified, highly combustible liquid in a confined space with an active heat source.

"You're sure?"

"No way to deny it," I say.

"You're sure it was you?"

"Absolutely," I say firmly. Grabbing and evidence bag and holding up a piece of the green glass I explain, "This green glass? It's not green glass. It's clear glass. The heat of the explosion melted the contents into the glass itself."

"And what was in the glass?"

"You don't remember?" Seeing his brow furrow, it's clear that he doesn't. "Our 'mysterious dude defense' that we thought was a poisoning."

His eyes open wide as he finally remembers, "The mystery liquid from our DFO. We put it under the fume hood because there was no one in the evidence vault."

"No," I say, "not we. Me. I put it under the fume hood."

"Our case," he says firmly. "We did this."

"No, Warrick. I did."

It's becoming clear to me that he is thinking that he can take some of the blame too. But this was all me. I was the primary on the case. I'm the one who put the container under the fume hood. This is my responsibility. I'm not looking forward to what Covallo will have to say about this; I could get suspended or even fired for this. But I'll be damned if Warrick takes the fall with me.


Part 69


Gil, you need to call director Covallo," I say as I walk into his office.

Taking off his glasses and looking up from his desk he asks, "Oh?"

"I know what happened to the lab," I explain, "and Covallo will want to know."

"What happened?" he asks as he sets his arms on his desk and leans forward.

Might as well just get straight to the point, "I blew up the lab."


"Warrick and I worked a suspicious circs DFO. When we collected evidence at the scene, there was a mystery liquid. No one was working the evidence vault when we got back to the lab, so I put the liquid under the fume hood."

"Against procedure," he acknowledges.

"But common practice," I admit. "What I didn't know was that there was an active or malfunctioning heat source in the fume hood. I saw the hot plate, but didn't check to see if it was on."

"There was no indication that it was in use?"

"Well, like I said, I didn't check. But there was other equipment under the hood too that normally wouldn't be if the hot plate was in use. Hodges seems to think the hot plate gets bumped on by accident a lot."

"So it was an accident," he says.

"Pretty big accident, don't you think?"

"You followed lab practice …"

"But not procedure," I interrupt him. Like Warrick, he seems to be making excuses. But I know this was my fault and I'm prepared for the fallout this will cause. Well, maybe not prepared, but I'm not about to make excuses and pretend like I am not responsible.

"… and equipment failure led to the explosion," he finishes as if I had not interrupted him at all.

"Accident or not, Gil, this was my fault. I blew up the lab and caused thousands of dollars in damages. I sent Greg to the hospital, Sara needed stitches, and you can't hardly turn a corner in the lab without coming across someone that ended up bruised or scratched even superficially."

I almost choke when I mention Sara. I can still see here sitting on that curb, looking up at the man sitting across from me. The affection in her eyes was nearly palpable. And nauseating. I like Gil, but it makes my heart ache to know that he has taken a special place in Sara's heart.

He barely even blinks when I mention Sara and I idly wonder if it's even remotely possible that he didn't see the same thing in her eyes that I saw. Even he can't possibly be that blind to her emotions. Can he?

"But the evidence shows that it was an accident," he ignores my admission a guilt again.

"Gil," I say sharply, hoping to get his full attention. "It doesn't matter if it was an accident. Covallo will suspend me for this. If he doesn't just fire me."

"He can't fire you for an accident," Gil says as he puts his glasses back on and reaches for the phone.

"But he can fire me for doing thousands of dollars in damage to city property," I say quietly as Gil starts dialing Covallo's office.

Gil tells Covallo's secretary that he needs time with the director as soon as possible. He appears to be getting brushed off until he tells her that it's about the lab explosion. Saying thank you he hangs up the phone and turns his attention the photographs on his desk again.

"So?" I ask impatiently, beginning to pace back and forth.

"She'll call when he's ready for us," he says without looking up.

My job, my future, is in the balance and it seems that I'm the only one worried about it. I'll take responsibility for this; it was my fault after all. But it would be nice if Gil showed a little concern about the future of his colleague and friend.

"Shouldn't we go down to his office now?"

Looking up and smirking slightly, Gil says, "I like making him wait."

Startled by his levity, I can't help but laugh. I'm nervous and anxious about what Covallo will do and Gil makes a joke. He's always serious when I tell him to lighten up a bit, so somehow it seems just like him to make a joke at a time when I need him to be serious.

Five minutes later I'm still pacing back and forth in his office, waiting for Covallo's call as Gil sits back calmly looking at pictures of the victim from his case. I've tried distracting myself by glancing at the pictures as nonchalantly as I can when I walk past his desk. The woman is battered and beaten but even my investigative and curious nature is overshadowed by the uncertainty of what will happen when Covallo finds out what happened.

The shrill ringing of the phone interrupts the deafening silence. After a quick thank you, Gil turns to me and says, "He's ready for us."

I know that I need to take responsibility for what happened, but facing the axe now has given me the urge to flee. Gil could take the news of my suspension or firing without me personally being there to explain. I know I need to do this though, so I follow as Gil stands and leaves his office.

The drive to director Covallo's office at the police department is a short drive but it feels like an eternity. I absently wonder why it is that the office for the director of the criminalistics bureau is at the police department and not at the lab itself. Gil, typically, is silent. His silence and the feeling of impending doom looming over my future is making me more nervous with every passing second. I try taking a few deep breaths, which manages to get Gil's attention, but is doing nothing for my nerves.

Covallo's secretary merely nods at us as we walk right past her and into his office.

"Yes sir, that's right," Covallo says into the phone. "Grissom and CSI Willows just arrived sir. I fill you in after they tell me what happened."

Sheriff Atwater must not be in the mood for niceties, nor does it seem that Covallo is when he merely hangs up the phone and turns to us without so much as a goodbye to the Sheriff.

"Well?" he asks impatiently.

"Nice to see you too, director Covallo," Gil says feigning the niceties that Covallo obviously doesn't care for.

"Well," he repeats, "what happened to my lab?"

Even Gil manages to look irritated at Covallo calling the lab his. The man knows nothing of science and has probably only been inside the lab a handful of times. He knows tight budgets and that's why Sheriff Atwater appointed him. Tight budgets and how to get convictions without spending too much of that budget on newer, better equipment or more staff.

I take one more deep breath, deciding that I might as well get this over with. "CSI Brown and I collected evidence on a case involving a woman whose husband had collapsed. We suspected poison. When we returned to the lab …"

"You hadn't identified the liquid?" Covallo interrupts.

Like the wife would just leave it on the table with a nice printed label? Identifying the liquid is what the lab is for. That's what all those brilliant, underpaid minds actually do inside that lab. His ignorance of that one simple thing only reminds me how ill suited he is for his own job.

Taking a second deep breath to prevent myself from lashing out I simply say, "Not yet, no."

"And it was consumed in the explosion so I guess we'll never know what it was," he says, not entirely truthfully.

It is possible that Hodges may be able to melt the glass remnants and tell us what elements don't belong and from there we can determine what the liquid was. But he doesn't know enough about science to figure that out.

"In any event you placed this unidentified chemical under the fume hood," he continues.

"Right," I confirm, wondering how he already knows this. I don't have the report prepared yet, and I only told Gil just a little bit ago. I haven't left Gil's presence since explaining what happened so I know he hasn't had a chance to tell Covallo. So how does he know?

Warrick must have told him. Damn him. If I find out that he's been suspended too, I'll personally tear into him with a verbal tirade that he has never heard the likes of. This was not his fault, not his responsibility, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let him get suspended for something that I alone did.

"Next to an active heat source," Covallo says smugly.

His arrogant attitude is really getting on my nerves. I came here ready to take the responsibility and ready to take the blame, but I don't have to take his attitude with it.

"I didn't know that at the time," I try explaining.

"Because you didn't check," he says condescendingly.

Gil has been silent so far, but he can obviously see that I'm seconds away from losing my temper and he says, "Unlogged evidence gets placed under the fume hood all the time. A hot plate was left on. It's a lab, it's nobody's fault."

But that's not true it was my fault. "It's my responsibility. I didn't follow procedure."

"Why not?" Covallo asks, still arrogant and superior.

I've had it. This man has no idea what the people that work in 'his' lab do for this city, for this county. "Because there's twenty-four hours in the day and I'm pulling sixteen for the county, spending three pretending to sleep, and the other five lying to my daughter that everything's going to be alright."

He leans across his desk, trying to look both serious and intimidating, "There were thirteen active cases in DNA. They are now all tainted or destroyed."

Like I didn't know that? I take a deep breath and try to calm down again. "What do you want to hear? I screwed up. I'm sorry."

"Sorry doesn't cut it," he says as sits back. "You're on suspension; five days unpaid leave."

Well, that takes care of that.

I get up and leave before I shove his superior attitude right back down his throat and end up fired for insubordination.


Part 70


I'm sorry," Gil says as we drive back toward the lab.

"For what?" I ask. It's not like there was anything he could do. I did cause the explosion after all. I'm just glad that I still have a job, even if I am suspended for a few days.

"That you got suspended. And for his patronizing attitude." He notices that I'm about to interrupt him and he continues, "But mostly because I didn't know that you have so little time with Lindsey or for yourself."

He seems genuinely sorry and I'm not sure what to say. "There's nothing you can do Gil."

"You could work less overtime," he says thoughtfully.

"I appreciate that Gil, I really do. But I don't work the overtime because I want to." He looks confused and I say, "I work the overtime because I have to. I'm in debt up to my eyeballs, Gil. The house is mortgaged to the hilt and I still have to provide for my daughter. I need that overtime, even if it only leaves me with a few hours to spend with Lindsey."

"How is she taking all of this?"

I'm tempted to ask what he means, but we're close to the lab and now that I'm suspended I need to finish up my report on the lab explosion and get out of here. "Not very well. But we're working on things."

It's not a total lie, but not the total truth either. I haven't been much of a mother to her lately, so there's been no 'working on things'. But I have a little free time now to figure out how to change that.

Gil and I part ways once we enter the lab as he heads toward his office and presumably the photographs and the case that I interrupted. I stop in the records room to pick up the forms I need to file the official report on the lab explosion and head to the break room for a cup of coffee.

Warrick is nowhere to be seen, which right now is a very good thing. He had to be the one that called Covallo and fill him in on the details of what happened. And if he's half as smart as I think he is, Warrick is staying as far away from me right now as he can, knowing I'll be angry with him for his misguided attempt at doing me a favor.

The coffee in the break room tastes like liquid tar and I realize that I miss Greg and his special blends. It's my fault he isn't here sharing 'exclusive' coffees, flirting unabashed and ineffectively with Sara and blaring his punk band of the week through the halls of the lab. When I've finished this report, I'll go to the hospital and explain what happened to him in person. He shouldn't have to hear from anyone else. There's no way to apologize to him for what happened, but the very least I can do is tell him in person that it was me.

Settling down with really bad coffee and a mini-mountain of forms I start writing out everything that happened leading up to the explosion in the lab, leaving out the personal things that I told Covallo about working too much and sleeping too little. He already knows and if he wants that in the official report he can write an addendum.

I am interrupted a few times by graveyard lab techs curious about what happened. I've seen Hodges walk past a few times, but for once he doesn't bother trying to make inane small talk or nose his way into a conversation that I am having with any of the techs. I almost expected him to come in gloat about how he wasn't the cause of the explosion but I guess the news hasn't traveled that far yet.

I've also seen Sara walk past a few times but she is too distracted by whatever she is working on to notice that I watched her every step. Maybe Nancy was right and I wasted too much time waiting for her when I should have been showing her that I still cared deeply for her and wanted to be a part of my life as more than just a coworker. Watching her walk away once again, I resolve that during my forced days off I will find time to at least talk with her. I need to know one way or the other if she is really serious about this thing with Gil. Because if I still have the remotest chance, I'm going to take it.

I feel a little awkward about the idea of asking Sara to break off whatever relationship she has with Gil, but I don't want to lose whatever chance I may still have. Gil has been a great friend of mine for many years, but I am still convinced that he's not the right person to be with Sara. I don't think he'd know romance if there were textbooks and seminars on the subject. Sara deserves a chance to be swept off her feet.

I'm getting no work done here and the bad coffee tastes even worse now that it's cold. I decide that maybe I can get away with taking a trip to see Greg before getting my final report in. It's late and he's probably sleeping, but I have some time to kill anyway. I don't bother signing out or calling in to dispatch to let them know where I'm headed. I'm going to be on suspension after this shift anyway, so I can't see that it makes that much of a difference whether I finish my report in the lab or in Greg's hospital room.

Changing clothes and grabbing some personal items from the locker room, I drive toward the hospital to see Greg. As I suspected, he's sleeping when I get there, and the nurse tells me that it's long past visiting hours. I explain that I work with Greg and that I know what happened to him and she agrees to let me stay for a little while, telling me that if he doesn't wake up in the next hour that I should leave. Smiling sweetly, I agree; I don't want to cause trouble for Greg and his personal servants.

Unfortunately the hospital must have the same brand of coffee that we have at the lab because the coffee from the machine in the waiting area tastes just as bad as the stuff cold liquid tar I left behind when I came here. Sitting in the one chair in Greg's room that isn't overflowing with 'get well' stuffed animals, I carefully finish filling out the relevant forms.

Setting the forms aside I pass the time staring out the window and watching the lights of passing cars. It never ceases to amaze me that Vegas is constantly brimming with life; even at hours of the day when most people should be sleeping there are so many people out in Las Vegas that the lights make the city look like it is the city itself actually in motion. Greg coughs and stirs a little, one of the sleeping denizens of Vegas showing signs of being awake when he really should be sleeping.

Turning to face him, I smile faintly as he opens his eyes.

"What time is it?" he asks groggily.

"Late," I say softly.

"How long have you been here?"

"A while," I admit. "I got a little time on my hands."

Greg is still pretty sleepy but after a few seconds he asks, "You figured out what happened in the lab, didn't you?"

"Yeah," I say. I haven't really thought about how I would tell him, just that he needed to hear it from me and not someone else. Now that I'm here and he's awake, I become fully aware that no apology will ever make up for what happened. I pull the chair closer to his bed so that I can sit down as I try to explain. "Yeah. And um, I wanted you to hear it from me."

"You don't have to," he says, sounding not one bit more awake than he was two minutes ago.

"Yeah," I say softly. "Yeah, I do."

But how do I say it? I'm sorry will never accurately express how remorseful I feel about my actions and what happened to him. I just don't know what to say.

"Was it an accident?" he asks, yawning.

"Yeah." Maybe if I just stick with the technical information I can get through this and then figure out how to apologize. "I uh, I put an unidentified liquid under the fume hood. The hot plate was either already on or I bumped it on when I put the jar in there."

"And boom," he says with a small smile.

Smiling back, I say, "Big boom."

He must be on some really good painkillers to be smiling right now.

"Greg, I …"

"It's okay Catherine," he says sleepily. "It was an accident."

"But you got hurt pretty bad," I say watching him slip back into dreamland. "You and a lot of other people got hurt. I'm so sorry Greg."

I don't know if he heard me. His eyes are closed and his breathing is heavy; he's fallen asleep again. The nurse taps lightly on the glass and that's my cue to leave. Grabbing my jacket and the file, I leave Greg to his dreams. I'll make sure to come back tomorrow to see if he even remembers, and if he doesn't I'll explain it again. Maybe by then I can think of something more to say than a simple 'I'm sorry'.

Returning to the lab with the final report I head to Grissom's office to leave the file on his desk. He needs to sign off on my findings and then the report can go to Covallo for his review. Rounding the corner to Gil's lab, I stop dead in my tracks at the sight of Sara leaning casually against the doorframe.

I hear her say, "I'm fine."

I'm not close enough to hear what Gil says but I do hear Sara ask, "You talked to Brass?"

Brass? What could Gil have asked Brass? And how does that have anything to do with Sara saying she is fine?

"We got the guy," she says.

Oh. Oh no.

I still can't hear what Gil is saying, but I'm able to put a few pieces together. Sara is obviously hurt, I know she has some scratches on her face and some stitches in her left hand. Whatever it is that these two are talking about, Gil obviously thinks Sara made some sort mistake that Brass saw which could have aggravated her injuries. I don't know what, but I agree with Gil. Sara shouldn't be put in any more danger just to get the bad guy. Brass and the uniforms can do that.

I finally get my feet to work and I'm about to walk up and ask what happened when Sara asks Gil something that slams me to a stop again and makes my heart ache. I don't hear Gil's answer as I rush in the opposite directions toward the locker room, a sick feeling rising quickly in my chest.

Her question echoes in my mind, "Would you like to have dinner with me?"

I feel sick again. My chest is tightening and all of that bad coffee is threatening an even more unpleasant reappearance. I can feel my heart racing, beating impossibly hard and fast. Quick, short breaths. I think I'm going to hyperventilate if I don't calm down.

Even if Gil was blind enough not to notice the way Sara looked him after the explosion, there's no way he doesn't know what she feels for him now. She wants him.

Whatever thoughts I had of asking Sara if we could be something more than friends again was just shot down in flames. She doesn't want me.

The End

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