Disclaimer: Not mine.

Summary: First chances, second chances, it didn't matter. What mattered was the here and now. He just needed this drink and she was good company. Follow up for Redrum; Cath/Keppler

Good Company

by e-dog

Michael Keppler hadn't really planned on trying to make things better. He didn't come here hoping to make things easier. It simply wasn't what he had set out to do. No, not at all. He wasn't the type to reach out and place healing hands on another comrade's shoulders. He wasn't the type to whisper comforting words like, "It'll be okay."

He just needed the drink and she was good company.

Well, maybe he should put that another way. Catherine Willows was the only one willing to spend time with him outside of work, therefore that made her very good company. Anyone else at the lab, well, forget it. They were either too pissed off or too miffed or too bewildered by what happened to even consider giving him another chance.

He often wondered if he was actually given a first chance.

First chances, second chances, it didn't matter. What mattered was the here and now. He just needed this drink and she was good company. So they talked and commiserated over their loss. Well, she was more visibly upset than he. This wasn't his first rodeo, but for her. . .

The more time that passed, the more he wanted to make things easier for her.

It was funny in a way. This sudden need to feel concern. He hadn't cared this much for another human being since. . .he hadn't cared about anything other than Frank or Amy for a very long time.

"A woman walked into a restaurant, very much like this one," Michael began, his voice low. "It just so happened this restaurant was holding a contest. Prizes and stuff."

Catherine squinted her eyes at him, wondering why he had gone off on such a tangent. He wasn't too sure why he was doing this either. He hadn't really planned on trying to make things better. He knew that he couldn't make things easier for her or for anyone at the lab, but this was the only way he knew. This was who he was.

He played with his glass, the amber liquid swishing back and forth. He couldn't fight the smirk as he continued, "So, the woman ordered a drink. The same one you have ordered tonight, actually."

"A single malt scotch?" Catherine said, an eyebrow now quirked with bemusement.

Michael's grin only grew slightly as he confirmed, "Yes. A single malt scotch."

She grinned at him, the first real smile of the evening. If anything, she found him amusing. He could settle for amusing. Charismatic would've been nicer, but amusing was good enough. The fact that she could feel any kind of loyalty toward him after their last debacle of a case was better than anything he could have hoped for.

He would try to make this evening as tolerable as he could. Not that he was ever good at such things. He wasn't one to console or comfort or anything like that. No, not at all. He just knew that Catherine was still here. She didn't have to be here, but she was. She was still here.

"Do you want another?" he asked, gesturing toward her nearly full glass. He could clearly see she didn't need another one.

"No, I'm good," she said, an inquisitive twinkle in her eyes. Yes, she most definitely found him amusing.

She had no reason to trust him. No reason to still be sitting here with him, swirling the liquid in her glass. She had every reason in the world to leave right now, chase after Nick or Warrick or Sara and rebuild her now fractured team.

Except, she wasn't doing that at all. They had mutually decided to trek out here and share this drink.

It was just a drink and heneeded this drink. As he watched her sip her beverage of choice with troubled lips, he decided she needed this drink too. That maybe, she needed something from him. This was the only thing he knew how to give.

"So, this woman ordered a single malt scotch . . .," Catherine repeated, wanting him to finish his little story.

"Right, she ordered a single malt scotch," Michael forged on. "Each drink came with a raffle ticket. She wrote her name down and dropped it in a hat. She hadn't expected much from it. That is, until her number was called later that evening. She quickly made her way up to the bar and was told to select one of the sealed envelopes laid out before her. So she did. Reading her prize, she jumped around shouting, 'I won a motor home!' She shouted this over and over. People cheered. They were all drunk."

He paused, finishing off his own drink.

A few more moments lingered by before she called out to him, "Mike?"

"Yeah?" he looked up.

"Is that it?" she asked. A small, dubious chuckle followed. Her expression was caught somewhere between strangeness and disappointment. "She just wins a motor home?"

"It gets better," he promised, before flagging down a waiter. He requested casually, "Could I get another one of these? Thanks."

The waiter left.

Michael pushed his empty glass aside and looked at Catherine, his lips forming another thin smile, "Anyway, so this woman goes on and on about winning this motor home. People are drunk and cheering for her and the owner of the restaurant tells her, 'That's impossible! That's not one of our prizes!' This woman insists, however, that she won a motor home. Over and over, telling anyone who will listen that she won this motor home. All the while, the owner of the restaurant is saying, 'No! That's impossible!' This goes on for a little while. Did I mention people were drunk?"

Catherine smiled, showing only faint signs of impatience, "Yeah, several times."

Michael nodded, "Thought I mentioned that. So, people were drunk and rooting about motor homes. Finally, a man tiring of all the fuss snatches the prize from the woman's hand to read for himself what she had won. He merely shakes his head and tells her, 'Ma'am, it says WIN A BAGEL.'"

The punchline to his joke was met with silence, which most of his jokes normally were. Michael watched Catherine's expression go from blankness to amusement to recognition.

"Oh, I get it. Winnabago," Catherine stated simply, before a trite chortle pushed through her lips. "It's a good thing you choose forensics scientist over stand-up comedian. You're horrible at telling jokes."

"Either way, I'd still be working in Vegas," Michael replied wittily.

Her laugh was genuine that time, her smile real. She caught a tear with her index finger before it ruined her eye liner and agreed, "Yeah, you'd still be working in Vegas."

Michael almost managed a laugh himself, hers being so contagious, but years of repressed depression couldn't be shaken in one evening. No. Catherine Willows wasn't the miracle cure for his ailments. He would've liked her to be that cure. He wanted nothing more in the world, actually. If she could save him, then everything he ever thought to be true in this universe would suddenly be untrue.

If everything was suddenly untrue, then life might actually be worth living.

"Mike, thank you. I needed a laugh," she said, her expression softening into something almost childlike and refreshed. She was finally relaxing. It wasn't what he set out to do, but he was glad he could make things a little bit better for her.

So, he simply nodded, her 'thank you' doing more for his psyche than she would ever know.

A comfortable silence fell between them. His second round arrived.

He definitely needed this drink and she was good company.

The End