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. 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.

Spoilers: everything, particularly "Bloodlines".

This is obvious, but I'm doing it anyway.


She hated the cold.

It was a bit of a joke, really, after all this time; rueful and repeated. She grew up used to the Bay Area's chilly fogs, but true cold was a rarity in her childhood. Northeast winters had been a real shock, and she'd spent more money than she could really afford her first semester on a big heavy coat, but it was better than freezing in the wind and snow. She still had the coat somewhere in storage, probably in pretty bad shape; she wondered vaguely for a moment if she'd emptied out the pockets before packing it away, but another shiver seized her and the thought fled.

Massachusetts' snows had given way to San Francisco's chill again, and she'd welcomed it; the air was softer there, tempered by the ocean, and while her father had told her he'd once seen snow floating down over those hills, such things were once in a lifetime, and apparently not in hers just yet.

It wasn't like she didn't know what she was getting into, moving to Las Vegas. Weather-wise, anyway. Sure, it was a desert, but she knew quite well that deserts can get very cold at night, with no moisture to hold the heat. Working nights meant she got colder more often, but it was never something she let hinder her. The department-issued jackets were warm, and she had her cap, and if her fingers got cold in their latex, they were always moving and never had time to stiffen up.

The others would tease her from time to time, Warrick with the superior indulgence of the native, Nick with the mischievousness of someone who never got cold, Catherine with just a wink and a grin.

Only Grissom said nothing. He just turned up the heat when he drove.

It really was chilly in the room; she'd scarcely noticed it before, probably because she was moving. Sitting still--

It had been exhilarating when she'd first arrived, the adventure of a new town and a new job, all the little differences and challenges. Sure, she'd had to wear extra layers some nights, but working alongside Grissom and the clever people on his team had kept her mind from the cold. She'd been learning, and that was what she loved to do. Solving the puzzles only made it sweeter.

She wasn't sure when things had started to change, like autumn creeping over summer--not that Vegas really had seasons. Grissom had darkened, turning inward, and she'd found herself working harder to make up for the things that were slipping away from her; his friendship, her contentment, peace of mind. The nightmares got worse, particular cases contributing their own little horrors into the chaos that stormed in her sleeping brain.

Silence--that was part of it. The absence of words, just like falling snow absorbed sound. The hush. She almost made herself hum, just to break it, but she wasn't sure her voice would stay steady.

It had all gone slowly sour. Grissom little better than a stranger, except one didn't have such tension around a stranger; their moments of rapport were rare now. Nick going all strained over that blasted promotion. Catherine in trouble and out of it, harassed and busy. Warrick...Warrick had been there, but as ever she hated to lean on anyone. Independence was what she lived by. So she didn't speak.

And then there was Brass. Who saw through her so easily, who was kind when she didn't want kindness. Who warned her.

She'd been more careful. She pretended the cold didn't get to her, she kept her head up; she learned to turn it into a defense. Chill the heart enough and it doesn't ache so much. She began to covet it, using it as a shield against Brass, against the concerned looks, against the questions. Against Grissom when he looked at her with puzzled eyes, when he tried to draw her out.

Like so much in her life, the alcohol was a paradox. She didn't drink often, but she found herself doing it for all the wrong reasons. She drank it to take the chill off her skin, but also to numb her heart.

It hadn't been so much, really, but then she hadn't eaten in hours. The car had wavered a little, and then there were lights in her mirror, and there was no point in arguing. It all seemed inevitable anyway. She let the officer lead her into the station, not really caring any more what happened. Maybe it was just time to end things.

He'd told her to wait, so she was waiting. She didn't know for what. If they were going to arrest her, they would have done it by now; maybe they had forgotten about her. Maybe she'd just sit here until morning. Or afternoon.

Familiarity in the corner of her eye. The icy embarrassment returned, and she didn't look at him--stared straight ahead, as though that would lessen the blow when it came. The officer must have called him, and it seemed like the universe really didn't like her tonight, because just the thought of him hearing about this was painful enough, and yet here he was.

I keep trying to be your star pupil. Nothing stellar about her now. Not at all.

He sat down next to her, and she waited for the lecture. Nothing hurts quite like disappointing someone you love, after all, and all her defenses seemed to have vanished.

He slid his hand over hers, wrapping her fingers in his, and when he spoke there was nothing there but caring. "C'mon. I'll take you home."

No reproach. No scolding. Just his hand on hers. Just him, there, reaching out.

For the first time in so very long, she began to feel warm again.