A little mischief and magic combined to highlight exactly what Catherine and Warrick are missing.
A/N: This is my story for the GeekFiction Trick-or-Treat-a-thon. Prompts: Magic and masks. Thanks to KristenElizabeth, ScifiJoan, and dreamsofhim for their time and efforts.
Most people, if asked, would probably choose a major holiday – Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day – as their least favorite day of the year to spend at work. Until tonight Catherine Willows would have agreed with them. This shift was rapidly changing her mind. Mischief Night was quickly working on her last nerve.
First it had been an egging in Henderson, then a series of exploding pumpkins in several casinos. Now she was staring at what had been a small magic shop not far off the Strip. Though there were no signs of forced entry, it looked as if a tornado had torn through the store. A glass case on the far wall had been shattered along with many of the small vials and jars it had contained. The contents of the shelves were strewn across the floor. The display in the front window had been flattened and the word "imposter" had been scrawled across the glass.
Catherine sighed, pulled on her gloves and set to work. She started with the window, collecting a sample of the paint, and worked her way through the chaos towards the back of the store. As she went, she noticed several cans of black spray paint on the floor that seemed a likely match to the writing on the window. One can was even missing a top. She dusted the can, but there were no finger prints. Not even on the nozzle.
She was morosely contemplating the mixture of shattered glass, powders and liquids on the floor and wall in front of her when the jingle of the store's front bell let her know she was no longer alone. Glad for the help, she turned, still crouched, expecting her new companion to be Sara or Greg having come from one of their own scenes. The sight that greeted her instead caused her jaw to drop.
Black boots disappeared beneath black leather pants molded tightly to well-muscled thighs. A plastic sword hung from a belt slung low over lean hips. Well-toned muscle rippled under Warrick Brown's bare cocoa skin. A thin black cloth cut across his face with small holes highlighting the bright green of his eyes. A swirling black cape tied at his throat completed the outfit.
He hadn't spoken as she'd surveyed his body, blatantly displayed for all to see, but as her eyes reached his face and she rose, he swept the cape around himself. "Do you have any coveralls? I don't keep any in Tina's car."
Catherine closed her eyes and gave a slight shake of her head, pulling her mind back into work mode. "There might be a set in the Denali, but I'm not sure they'd be big enough for you."
Her own inner sense of mischief kicked in and she spoke again before she could censor herself, "Besides, I think that's a good look for you, though that cape and mask are going to get in the way."
She couldn't be sure from across the poorly lit store, but he appeared to be blushing. Keeping the cape pulled tightly around him, he surveyed the scene, eyes narrowing in on the small camera mounted to cover the register and the front door.
"Have you pulled the tape from the security camera yet?"
"No, I'm guessing the feed goes to the office." She gestured to a cleverly hidden door not far from where she stood. "I was going to get it when I searched in there."
"All right, I'm going to go grab that set of coveralls and then I'll start with the office."
Catherine stared after him for a few moments before dragging herself back to the task ahead of her. Judging by the mess at her feet and the few unbroken jars and vials remaining in the cabinet this had been a display of potions and powders. Based on the contents of the rest of the store, mostly basic how-to books, trick sets and supplies, she decided the items displayed were more likely to be merely cosmetic rather than actually containing any powers.
She pulled one of the intact jars from the cabinet to examine more closely. The label proclaimed the shimmery pink powder to be "Reveal." She twisted the small jar back and forth, but there was no further information. No directions. No ingredients. No warnings. Curious, she popped the lid off the jar and sniffed. Smelling nothing, she dipped one gloved finger into the powder and held it up for a better view.
Somewhere in the distance she heard the bell on the door chime as Warrick re-entered the store, but she was lost in a world of ever-changing color. The pink of the powder remained constant, but there was a second layer to the concoction. Clear crystals shifted through the colors of the rainbow as she watched, entranced.
"Whatcha got there?" Warrick's low, soothing voice brushed over her shoulder and the crystals pulsed bright red.
Startled, Catherine jerked back into a hard masculine body, jostling the hand that held the jar and sending some of the powder spilling unnoticed onto her bare forearm. Warrick's hands settled onto her waist to steady her and the red of the crystals pulsed deeper.
"I'm not sure," Catherine whispered.
Warrick reached out with one hand and turned the jar she was holding so he could read the label.
"Huh," he grunted. Then he looked back at the contentedly glowing crystals. "Neat trick."
"I'll say. They were changing colors 'til you showed up."
"It must be… magic," he said in his best spooky voice.
Catherine slid away from him, smiling. Neither noticed that some of the powder transferred from her to him. "We'll see what Hodges has to say about that."
She turned back to him and paused, startled to see that while the mask and cape were gone he hadn't changed out of his costume. Only the jar in her hand and the powder on her finger tips kept her from reaching out to caress his bare skin. A faint hint of pink flushed across his cheeks as she stared.
"You were right. The coveralls in the truck didn't fit."
"Oh. Well, let's get this show on the road then so we can get you back to your party." Noticing the grimace on his face she added, "Or not. At least we can get you a change of clothes back at the lab."
Warrick headed into the office while Catherine capped the jar she was holding and returned to documenting what was left in the cabinet before moving to sample the mess on the floor.
When they got back to the lab Catherine offered to take charge of the evidence so that Warrick could go and change without having to parade around the lab half-naked. Unfortunately Greg spotted them on their way in.
"Damn 'Rick! I thought tonight was your night off. Nice duds, but I didn't know we were having a party."
"The hospital has their party the night before Halloween so that everyone's available tomorrow if they're needed. Tina insisted I go with her."
"I guess it wasn't such a happening party since you're here and we're not that busy. Have a good shift." Greg headed for the break room.
Catherine dropped the powder samples off with Hodges then headed for the A/V lab with the video Warrick had recovered from the surveillance system. She popped the tape in and wound it back a few hours. They weren't sure when the damage had been done. The initial report had not been called in by the store's owners, but by a neighbor who'd noticed the writing on the window. Vartann was supposed to be tracking down the owner.
Catherine watched as the image on screen sped forward at several times the normal flow of life. When a blob appeared just beyond the store's door, she slowed the tape and watched in real time until the person walked away again. She rewound the tape and watched again.
The person seemed to appear on screen out of nowhere, cloaked in a dark, hooded cape. The hood was up, obscuring the details of the person's face, but judging by size they were most likely female. For the next ten minutes the person moved only to raise their hands. From the angle of the camera it was impossible to see what was going on in the rest of the store, but at one point a black spray paint can was visible flying across the screen.
Catherine sighed as the person on screen dropped their arms and turned to leave; not enough could be seen to identify the cloaked figure. Just as she reached out to fast forward to the end of the tape to ascertain that this had been the store's only visitor, the figure reappeared. The person came a step closer to the door than on the previous visit and, looking directly at the surveillance camera, threw back their hood. Blonde hair was brushed away, leaving a clear shot of a stunningly beautiful young woman.
Catherine's hand shot forward, freezing the image on screen. She was considering the serene face in front of her, trying to remember the correct sequence to enhance and export a picture of the woman when Archie arrived.
"Damn," the lab tech muttered appreciatively.
"Yeah, I was just about to…"
Archie leaned around Catherine and typed a few commands into the computer. The printer rumbled to life as he stood back. Catherine snagged the photo and rose to go find Warrick, but Archie blocked her progress. He gestured at her arm. "What's with the green powder?"
Catherine frowned and held out her hands, confused. Sure enough, there on her left wrist was a small patch of green skin. She shrugged. "I must have gotten some transfer from the scene. I'll go get it checked out by Trace. Thanks Archie."
She waved and backed out into the hall, coming up hard against a now covered, solid wall of muscle.
"Sorry, I wasn't watching where I was going"
"Apparently," Warrick huffed a small laugh as he set Catherine back on her feet. "You okay?"
"Yeah, fine. We've got a photo of a possible suspect," she said, backing up a half step to lift the photo away from his chest. As her hand moved across her line of vision she noticed that the spot on her arm had changed to a deep red.
'I must have gotten some of that Reveal on me earlier. Wonder why it keeps changing colors,' she thought absently.
Warrick gripped her wrist to tilt the print so that he could see it better. As his fingers came in contact with her skin, Catherine felt her pulse speed and the patch on her wrist tingled, eliciting a gasp.
"Cath?" questioned Warrick.
"I'm fine." She tried to pull her hand away, but he held on. He tucked the stack of papers he'd been holding under his arm along with the photo and cradled her wrist in both hands, twisting it back and forth, checking for injury. Catherine relaxed into his touch and the tingle steadied into a happy hum. Then his thumb brushed over the powder patch and heat flared through her body. Instinctively she reached out to grab his wrist to stop him, causing another flare. Pushing down the unruly reactions of her body, Catherine pulled fully away from Warrick.
"Wow," she breathed using one hand to steady herself against the wall. "What is this stuff?"
"What stuff?" asked Warrick, clearly confused, but there was a note in his voice that made Catherine wonder if maybe she wasn't the only one being affected.
"I think I managed to spill some of that powder on me at the crime scene." She held her wrist so that he could clearly see the red patch on her wrist as it slowly faded in intensity.
"Yeah. I was going to have Hodges test it after I started running our suspect through the databases."
"It's not going to be different from the sample you collected at the scene and he's already got that, right? Have you tried washing it off?"
"No, but you're right… there's probably no point in turning in another sample. All right…" Catherine looked undecidedly at the photo in Warrick's possession.
"I'll go start this running. How bout you meet me in the layout room and we can go over some of the stuff I found in the office?"
Catherine nodded her agreement and headed off for the rest room.
While she splashed a small amount of water on her wrist she considered the implications of her encounter with Warrick.
'Okay, so if it is that Reveal stuff, what's it supposed to be revealing? It was green when I was in the A/V lab and it didn't react to Archie. Did he actually touch me? I don't think so…'
She glanced down at her wrist and noticed that her skin still had a green tint to it. Adding soap to the equation she drifted back into thought.
'Now it's back to green again. So, did it change color because of Warrick or because I was touching any other person? Only one way to find out.'
Quickly, Catherine shut off the water and dried her arm, heading in search of Grissom.
She knocked on his office door a few minutes later. "Hey Gil. You got a moment?"
He lifted his attention from the papers on his desk to her. "What can I do for you Catherine?"
He started to rise as she crossed the room, but she motioned for him not to bother. When she was standing across his desk from him, she held out her left hand so she could see the affected area. When he just looked at it she said, "I need you to shake my hand."
He reached his left hand out somewhat awkwardly and clasped hers. This time there was no tingle or flash of heat, but the color did seem to be changing. Grissom moved to pull his hand away, but she held on, fascinated as the green paled to yellow then deepened to orange.
When she still hadn't let go of his hand after repeated attempts to remove it, Grissom spoke, "Uh, Catherine?"
"Oh." She let go, startled. "Sorry, this stuff really is fascinating." She gestured to her wrist. "Spilled one of the 'potions' from my crime scene. I didn't notice at first, but Archie pointed it out. Seems to change color depending on how I'm feeling or who I'm touching."
He started to speak, but she cut him off. "I already sent a sample to trace. I just wanted to test a theory."
Catherine headed out of Grissom's office and towards the layout rooms to get back to work.
'So it's green when I'm alone, orange with Gil, red with Warrick…it's like one of those mood rings.'
"Find anything interesting?" Catherine asked, walking into the layout room Warrick had claimed.
"Well, the office itself was significantly less disturbed than the store front, but there were a few files that did seem to have been tossed specifically," he replied not looking up from the paper he had been scanning. "Seems one of the store's long time managers was fired recently. I haven't found anything giving a reason."
"You think this former employee could be our suspect?" She approached, but kept the table between them this time.
"Caroline Murphy…her W2 puts her at 25 years old. It's a good possibility."
"Anything else probative?"
"No, but that 'Reveal' stuff is one of the best selling items in the store, and it was moving faster than it was being brought in."
"Brought in?" she asked leaning forward onto the table slightly.
"Yeah, I haven't found any purchase records for it in this mess." He gestured to the papers spread around him. "Of course that doesn't mean they doesn't exist, just that they weren't in the disturbed files."
"Interesting." Catherine reached across the table to pull a piece of paper towards her and their fingers brushed. This time her reaction wasn't as strong, but the way Warrick flinched away made her wonder, again. Catherine pushed the thought aside and focused on the page in front of her.
At first glance it wasn't really anything interesting. It seemed to be a thank you and testimonial addressed to Caroline Murphy about how 'Reveal' had helped this person decide between two potential lovers.
'So what? Warrick and I are compatible? Not like I didn't know that already. Time to finish washing up.'
She stepped back from the layout table. "I'll be right back."
She had just banished the last visible traces of green from her skin when her pager went off. Vartann had found their store owner. She went to get Warrick and head over to the station.
Jeremy Jones, aka Magic Mage, was a walking stereotype, though not exactly the one Catherine had been expecting. Pale white skin, jet black hair, all black clothing, and more black eyeliner than anyone should wear might be considered a statement on a teenager, but on a man approaching 40 it was absurd. The man sprawled across the chair, barely acknowledging the CSIs when they entered the room. Catherine took the seat next to Vartann while Warrick stood to the side.
"So, Mr. Jones," Vartann began.
"Please call me Mage," interrupted the younger man. His voice was smooth, controlled.
"Mage," Vartann's tone betrayed none of the annoyance Catherine was sure he felt. "Do you have any idea who might want to do something like this to your shop?"
The man took a moment to consider the question. "I did have to kick a couple of kids out the other day. They were acting up a bit, might have been on something. I thought they were going to try to steal something. I don't carry anything that expensive, but it's the principle of the thing."
"We'll look into that, if you have any sort of information on them, but there were no signs of forced entry." Warrick joined the conversation.
"I have no idea then."
Catherine pulled the surveillance photo from the file she'd brought over with her, and placed it on the table. "Do you recognize this woman?"
"What does Caro have to do with this?"
"Caroline Murphy?" questioned Catherine.
"Yeah, she worked for me for several years."
"Worked?" asked Warrick, even though they already knew the answer. "Past tense?"
Mage sighed. "Unfortunately. She was a very dedicated employee, but business wasn't strong enough for me to afford to keep her on anymore. You can get too many things online these days. Makes it very hard for smaller stores to compete."
"I see," said Vartann. "Well, I think that's everything for the moment." He looked at Catherine for confirmation. When she nodded he continued, "Thank you for coming in to talk with us. We'll let you know how things turn out or if you can be of further assistance."
Vartann pulled a business card from his pocket and held it out to the man as he gestured him from the room. Mage went quietly with neither thanks nor further questions about Caroline Murphy's involvement. As the door shut behind Vartann, Catherine turned to Warrick.
"Do you believe him?" she asked.
"About the punks? Yes. About why he fired Caroline Murphy? No. His poker face was pretty good, but he was much more fidgety when he was speaking about her."
"There's something he didn't tell us. How relevant it is; now that's a different question."
"Is it really going to matter?" Warrick asked the question he knew they'd both been thinking. "We can't exactly charge her with anything. The tape doesn't show her entering the store, and any prints can be explained by her previous employment."
"Maybe we can get her to confess." Catherine wasn't sure what, if any, charges they could make stick even with a confession, but it never hurt to have all the information. "It can't hurt to bring her in. Unless you want to get back to your party…"
Warrick turned away from her and stared at his reflection in the one way mirror for a moment before answering. "I didn't want to be there in the first place." The words were low and soft, an unexpected confession. Catherine expected him to leave it at that, but he continued. "I feel like some sort of show animal when we go out these days."
She was up and moving before she could think to stop herself. She halted just behind him and laid her left hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry."
His hand came up to rest on top of hers and the touch of skin on skin sent a stronger pulse than usual through her body. She glanced at her wrist, but there was no longer a red patch on her skin. The weight of his hand held hers in place, but she stroked her thumb along his reassuringly. As her thumb moved he drew in a harsh breath and spun quickly to face her, his hand still clasping hers.
"What are you playing at Catherine?" he asked; his voice low and gravelly.
He was so close. His hand pressed hers against his pounding heart and she swore she could feel the back of his hand brushing against her as she breathed. Her body wanted to move forward, to press herself against him. Her mind was screaming at her to step back, that they were at work, that he was still married. As she warred with herself, his free hand came up to cup her chin. As he tilted her face up, she met his eyes and the last of her resistance melted away.
As he leant down to her, she shuffled forward until their bodies touched. His lips brushed hers lightly and he whispered her name. Begging her for what, she wasn't sure, but she was too lost in the moment to go back. She closed the last space between them, giving in to the desire she'd managed to suppress for years.
Heat seeped from his body into hers so that she felt she would never be cold again. She opened her lips to his probing tongue and the taste of him seemed to burn through her body. The sound of the door opening registered with neither of the room's occupants.
"Oops!" A soft feminine voice echoed through the room. The woman kept talking as Catherine and Warrick separated themselves. "Detective Vartann told me you would have questions for me."
Catherine patted her clothes and hair back into place and turned to find the young woman from the surveillance footage standing calmly behind the chair. Caroline Murphy was even more stunning in person than on film. Catherine glanced over her shoulder at Warrick, who had turned to face the mirror again, the set of his shoulders forbidding, before beginning.
"You used to work for Jeremy Jones?"
"Yes, I worked for Jeremy. I practically ran the store for him so he could practice his routines and audition for gigs."
"But he fired you recently." Catherine made it a statement, not a question.
"I refused to prostitute my talent for him."
"Excuse me?" Warrick asked, clearly startled by Caroline's choice of words.
"I didn't mind making Reveal or Illumination for Jeremy to sell in the store. They help people learn about themselves and make better choices. But I wasn't going to put on some tiny costume and be eye candy for his pathetic attempts at 'magic'." Caroline paused and seeing that her point hadn't quite been understood, continued, "What you see in shows and performances… that's just showmanship and misdirection, not magic. Magic should be personal, intimate, quiet."
"So when you refused to perform for him he fired you?" questioned Catherine.
"That was the end result anyway." Caroline shrugged in resignation.
"Is that why you turned the store upside down? To get back at him?" Catherine continued to direct the conversation.
"The only thing I did was protect what was mine from being misused." Caroline's hands tightened slightly on the back of the chair, but that was the only hint of nerves.
"There is a time and a place for everything. Some people try to force things before they're meant to happen and other people try to force an answer when they already know it's the wrong one. I don't sell my products in situations like that, but Jeremy never made those types of distinctions. People can get hurt that way." She spoke animatedly, gesturing with her hands to make her point.
"Do you deny being at the store last night?" interrupted Warrick, sounding tired.
"No, I live just down the street. I walk past the store regularly. It's very convenient, which was one of the reasons I chose to work there for so long." Caroline calmed as she spoke.
Catherine looked at Warrick and realized that they were in agreement. There was nothing they could charge Caroline with. It was time to let them all get back to their lives.
"All right." Catherine nodded to Warrick. "Caroline, thank you for coming in and answering our questions. I'm sure you have other things you could be doing." Catherine rose and reached out to shake Caroline's hand. She expected the younger woman to leave right away, but after dropping her hand Caroline went to Warrick.
She reached out, took his hands, and turned them palm up. Catherine couldn't see exactly what Caroline did, but the weight on Warrick's shoulders seemed to lighten. Caroline brushed her hand over his wrists, and then stroked his cheek once. She pulled away and headed for the door. She paused by the door and turned back. "Everything you've lived through has brought you to this moment, to each other. Your time is coming. Trust in that."
With that parting comment Caroline Murphy walked out of the interrogation room and their lives, leaving behind two stunned CSIs. Catherine wasn't sure how long they stood there in silent contemplation, but when she checked her watch she realized that shift had been over for more than 30 minutes. "Let's call it a day."
The ride back to the lab was silent. Warrick concentrated on the road while Catherine studied him out of the corner of her eye. As he pulled up to the lab to drop Catherine off, Warrick turned to her. "Cath, about earlier…"
She cut him off. "Don't. Please. You know where to find me when you're ready."
"No," she said softly, placing her hand on his arm. "There's someone else you need to talk to first." Catherine climbed out of the car and headed into the lab.
After dropping the file in the stack on Grissom's desk, she went to collect her purse from the locker room. Hodges shouted at her as she passed trace; so she detoured into his lab. He waved a paper at her.
"That powder you sent me…there wasn't anything particularly special about it. Just glitter, some waxes and some dyes, as you'd expect to find in similar beauty products." He handed the piece of paper to her and turned back to his current analysis.
Catherine crumpled the paper and tossed it in the garbage in the locker room. The information was no longer relevant. She grabbed her purse and left the lab. As she climbed into her car, she thought back over her odd shift. It had been a long day and she felt unusually frustrated. The fact that she could still feel and taste Warrick on her body wasn't helping. She knew people wondered how she could understand Gil as well as she did. This, she thought as she damped down her body's reaction to the memory of Warrick, was how. Denial hadn't been ingrained in her from an early age, as it had for Grissom, but since starting this life she had forced herself to learn.
Hopefully it was a skill she wouldn't need much longer.