The characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them; any others are mine, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.

This is in response to an improv challenge at the Unbound forums; again, the first and last lines were givens.

Spoilers: none, but this is fourth season.

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"That's some swarm of mice," Warrick commented, and Catherine heard the gadget lust in his voice, no matter how cool he was trying to be. She rolled her eyes.

"Go ahead."

Warrick turned to her. "What? No, Cat, I came along to help you guys shop. I can go in there whenever." He gestured to the computer superstore whose window display had caught his attention.

Catherine laughed. "We already ordered the cabinets. Your work is done. Go on, you can meet us later." She gave him a playful shove.

"Mom, can I go with him?" Lindsey bounced a little, and Warrick raised his brows at Catherine inquiringly, expression easy.

"I thought we were going to get things for your party." Catherine nodded towards the party store further along the mall hallway. But her daughter's hopeful expression melted into pleading, and Catherine's resolve wavered.

"The last stop's the grocery store, right, Cat? You go ahead. Linds and I'll get the stuff after we check out the computers."

Catherine gave him a sharp glance, but if he was apprehensive about being towed through the store by a ten-year-old looking for hot-pink paper napkins, he wasn't showing it. "All right. We can meet up when you're done." She rummaged in her purse and pulled out three ten-dollar bills, handing them to her daughter. "That's your budget. Make it work."

A huge grin spread over Lindsey's face. "Cool!"

"And as for you..." Catherine gave Warrick a mocking glare. "No video games, or I'll--ahem."

Warrick laughed. "Gotcha, Mom." He put a big hand on the top of the girl's head, turning her gently. "C'mon, kid, we'll make a geek out of you yet." He winked at Catherine and followed Lindsey into the store.

Catherine let the smile out as she watched them walk away, and then headed for the grocery store at the far end of the mall. As much as she valued the time she spent with Lindsey, it was important for the girl to spend time with other adults as well. And there are none finer. Okay, so maybe most of the night shift was a little weird...or a lot...but they were good folks, and Warrick was, in Catherine's biased opinion, one of the best.

She hitched her purse higher and hastened her stride. If they got home soon enough, she might be able to actually make dinner instead of ordering out. Warrick's payment for helping them choose new cabinets for the kitchen was dinner, and Catherine knew he didn't often get home cooking unless he made it himself.

She snagged a cart as she entered the big store, running over a mental list. Pasta, more Jello cups, tissues...oh, and goodies for the party. And Easter's in two weeks, I'd better pick up one of those egg-dying kits while I'm thinking about it. She turned left instead of right; some perversity in Catherine's makeup always made her do grocery stores the wrong way round. "I hate the manipulation," she'd explained blithely to Greg once. "It makes me feel like a rat in a maze, cued to go around all the right corners."

She paced up and down the aisles, throwing cleanser into the cart, hesitating over breakfast cereals, perusing the pillows of chicken and beef. At least with Warrick along unloading the car won't take long. Not that she was planning on buying all that much, but almost every aisle held something that she remembered they needed as soon as she saw it.

I wonder what those two are getting up to. She suspected that her daughter's fidgets would limit their time in the computer store, and had to smile again at the image of Warrick knee-deep in the girly section of the party place. It made a warm spot in her stomach. It's a good thing most men have no idea how cute they look with kids...

And yet her little girl was growing up so quickly--she wouldn't be a kid much longer. Lindsey had developed a crush on Warrick recently, and the grace with which he handled it was another reason Catherine honored him. He treated Lindsey just right, with casual affection that gave no hint of his amusement at the situation. Or how he was, on some hidden level, touched by it.

Catherine glanced at her watch as she steered her cart into the produce aisle, and was surprised to see that more than half an hour had passed since they'd split up. I wonder if Warrick will be able to talk her out of the strawberry-scented theme.

And then she shuddered, considering the alternatives. If he convinces her to get those popping noisemakers instead, I'll kill him.

She chose potatoes and bananas, turned down the lettuce; the mushrooms looked good, so she picked over them for a minute. As she put her choices in the cart, her eye caught on a heap of pale green blossoms. "Already?" she exclaimed.

It wasn't artichoke season yet, but the prickly vegetables looked tempting nonetheless. Catherine loved artichokes. Steam them gently with a little garlic, add mayo...ummmm... She eyed the pile, and began choosing.

"Mommy!"

Catherine turned to see her daughter bounding towards her, happily clutching a shopping bag; Warrick's tall form was not far behind. "Warrick bought me a Playstation!"

Catherine's head snapped around and she stared at Warrick, who was looking distinctly sheepish. Her mouth fell open. "You did what?"

"Well, I..." His lips twitched, and he looked down at Lindsey. "You tell her."

Catherine faced her daughter, who was looking entirely too innocent. "He bought you a Playstation?"

Lindsey's innocent expression disappeared into laughter. "April Fool's!"

Catherine blinked, stunned. Warrick started laughing as well; Lindsey was bent over, clutching her stomach as she giggled.

Catherine shook her head. "Got me," she said, torn between amusement and embarrassment. Warrick waved an apology, holding the edge of the cart for balance as he whooped.

Great, I'm never going to hear the end of this one. Catherine sighed as she bagged the artichokes.

End.