DISCLAIMER: Don't own anything associated with the show… I just like playing with the characters in it from time to time. Dance Monkeys! Dance!

RATING: K+ – Most Ages

SPOILERS: Episodes 8X02: A La Cart & 8X03: Go to Hell

PAIRINGS: Yo!Bling

SUMMARY: Catherine is faced with the possibilities in her future after a really heartbreaking case.

A/N:This was one of those stories that has ended up completely different from the way it started out. Originally, it was supposed to be ficlet to pay someone for stumping me in a Meme, and then it morphed into a slightly angsty piece with a smut payoff. It has now become an angst monster of epic proportions with no smut at all. While I am very happy with the way it has turned out, I still owe someone a little Yo!Bling smut. I hope you enjoy the final product.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This is largely my own twisted machination, but I was able to get a little help from SmutBeta, and some fantastic "Hack & Slash" beta work from the wonderful GuerillaBeta. Any leftover mishaps belong to me, but the input from these remarkable ladies is, as always, priceless to me.

REVIEWS: Reviews are the way I know if people are enjoying the work or not. So, if you leave one, THANKS! And if not, I hope you found at least a little something to brighten your day, and thanks for taking the time to read.


When the lights came back on, and he was standing so close, so close that she could feel the heat from his body. Catherine was convinced she would have dropped everything in an instant, if only he had given the word. Thankfully, she never had to make that choice, because all he had done was smile. But, oh…what a smile.

Busy trying to find some loophole that would allow her to get the information about her latest case into the most effective hands, her thoughts began to drift. Pouring through regulations and standards and ethics codes was not exactly stimulating reading material after a long shift, and so her mind kept wandering to more pleasant subjects.

At first, she was brought back to Lindsey's last dance recital, and the delicate, graceful steps of her greatest pride. Lindsey was turning in to such a fantastic person, despite the trials and obstacles put in her way. She was confident, and bright, and she was strong. It was that strength that made Catherine the proudest, because it was the one thing she knew the young woman had taken from her.

Thinking about that recital also brought someone else back into her thoughts. Lindsey had gone through Catherine's email in order to invite her mother's co-workers to her first big recital as a lead dancer. To her surprise and concern, every one of them had shown up, even Jim Brass. But it was when she saw that tall figure in the dark, striking suit enter the auditorium that her nerves kicked into overdrive. When he reached their little group, her breath caught in her throat as he flashed that deceivingly shy smile.

He sat beside her for the entire recital, and even with the air conditioning blasting in the auditorium, she still felt the warmth radiating through his suit. It was the single most distracting experience of her life, and she struggled through every minute of the night trying to concentrate on the recital and Lindsey. And every time he fidgeted in his seat, his arm brushing subtly against her, she had to fight the battle all over again.

As they all waited in the lobby for the performers to come out so they could greet them after the show, Catherine desperately worked to keep from making a fool of herself. Thankfully for her, Grissom and Sara had come out for the evening, and much of the focus was on the newly discovered couple. However, not everyone was focusing on the couple and the recovering woman, and it was made apparent to her when she heard that smooth, rich voice speak from less than a foot from her ear.

"You okay?"

Two simple words…but there was absolutely nothing simple about the answer.

Was she okay? She had managed to finally put to rest the demons of her relationship with her father and the events surrounding his death. Of all people, her mother helped Catherine get through that in one piece. And while it was rough going at first, things had been looking up with Lindsey ever since their abduction. Work seemed to have settled down, except for the uproar in the lab over intradepartmental relationships thanks to Gil outing his relationship with Sara. Most everything in her life was working out, for a change. Everything, except…she was still alone.

Yes, she had her daughter, she had her mother, she had friends, but when her head hit the pillow every day she was faced with the loneliness again and again. With every passing year, the prospect of spending the rest of her days alone became more than a nightmare, it was becoming a reality.

As she looked into the small mirror on her desk she sighed. Catherine had been fighting the march of time with everything she could for a long time, but it was a battle she knew she would never win. She balefully wondered how much longer she would be able to attract anything but flies with the way time had begun to ravage her visible assets.

Imagining herself withering away like a forgotten flower was not helping her mood in the slightest. She drew in a deep breath and decided to call it a day. A full eight hours of sleep was beckoning to her, and she could always worry about turning into a wrinkled, lonely, crazy cat-lady when she got up for her next shift. She had plenty of time for dreaming up worst-case scenarios these days.

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The lights in her office were dimmed on purpose, as she struggled to get the image of that young girl out of her mind. Aged before her time, innocence long gone, and only twelve years old. Catherine ached for the girl that should have been more worried about math tests than sex and vengeance.

Seeing her broken and bleeding body lying unnaturally on that floor, the flash of her camera repeating over and over again, it made the ache in her chest nearly unbearable. She kept imagining her own daughter, lost in madness, at war with the world, and filled with far too much anger. That easily could have been her in that motel, killed at the whim of a deranged child, if only she had allowed them both to give in to the anger and the grief. It was a frightening look into what could have been, and she was eternally grateful for everything that stood in the way of that happening; family, friends and strength of will and heart.

The whole experience had been emotionally draining, and Catherine simply needed a little time to collect herself before going home to spend the day wandering through an empty house. If Lindsey had been home, as apposed to away on a trip with her grandmother, Catherine would have done as she always had, and ran home to be with the girl; just to be sure she was truly safe and sound. Instead, she was forced to call her at the hotel in New York, and struggle to keep the emotion out of her voice, so as not to worry her and take away from her trip. She desperately wanted to wrap her arms around Lindsey and wipe all of the images of the dead girl from her mind forever.

Hearing a noise out in the hallway, Catherine fought to at least make the impression of holding it together. When she looked up to greet whoever was out there, she caught the last sight of Gil and Sara walking out of the lab for the day. They were not holding hands, or engaged in any kind of outward displays of affection or intimacy, but their comfortable manner and quiet acceptance of one another as they obliviously walked by her door caused a slow simmer of rancor to begin forming in her gut. And when she watched Sara lay a comforting hand on his arm as they turned down the other hall, a lump rose in her throat that threatened to close off her airway.

Catherine was dumbfounded to witness the obvious caring between the two people, and it suddenly dawned on her just how terribly alone it made her feel to see them together. She hated herself for feeling that way, because she knew that Gil deserved to be just as happy as anyone else, but something in the back of her mind always told her that as long as she was better off than him, personally, she was somehow better. And there he was, dealing with the aftermath of the very same case, and instead of shutting himself off from the emotions and the world he was calmly going home; home to someone who cared for him and about him enough to come in on her day off to pick him up.

It was far too much for her to bear, the jealousy, the fear, the overwhelming weight of her own loneliness. She turned around in her chair to face the wall in an attempt to turn her back on the swirling chaos of dark emotions threatening to reduce her to ashes.

With the turmoil in her mind and her heart, Catherine was oblivious to the world just outside her office door. She only wanted to regain some kind of control over the avalanche of emotions burying her conscious thoughts with darkness and despair.

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Warrick needed to drop off the last report of the night before he could head home. Grissom was off for the next couple of days, so he was headed for Catherine's office. The two had worked out a schedule that allowed for the both of them to have ample time off, without too much overlap, except on the heaviest days. While each was on-call for their third day off, it kept their hours to a manageable rate, limited overtime, and provided a strong focused leadership for the whole shift. And it was working so well, the director was forcing Ecklie to make the change across every shift.

Catherine's office was dark, and that was a good thing. He was a little concerned that she had been struggling with the case of the dead girl and her parents. While Catherine always found the cases with children difficult, Warrick knew that this one seemed to be affecting her a little more strongly than the others. Maybe it was the girl's age, or the fact that she bore a small resemblance to Lindsey, but he could tell that she was straining to keep her composure throughout the case. Whatever it was, seeing her darkened office left him feeling relieved that she had been able to let it go and head home.

He checked the folders one last time in the light of the hallway, making certain that everything was there before he entered the office. Once he was satisfied that it was all in order, he took that one long stride into the dark room and headed for the desk.

Just as he was about to drop the folders into Catherine's inbox, a strange sensation came over him. He took another look around the room and he finally noticed the trembling form in the chair behind the desk. Warrick blinked twice, as though trying to confirm what he was seeing, and then he carefully laid the folders down as he tried to form the words with his mouth.

Swallowing back the rising tide of long suppressed emotion, Warrick stepped around the desk to stand directly behind her chair. He drew in a ragged breath and raised his hands to hover over her shoulders. With the softest of tones he could muster, he quietly whispered, "Catherine?"

When he received no response, he started to lower his right hand as he spoke again. "Cath?" There was still no sign that she was even aware of his presence. Not until his fingers gently grazed the crest of her exposed shoulder.

The moment Warrick's fingers made contact with her skin, every nerve in her body stood on end, and she knew in an instant that it was him. She was still buried under the unbelievably immense weight of her emotions, and the rawness of it all made it impossible for her to do anything but shriek at his touch.

Normally, her shriek would have been enough to send him flying back from the sound, but instead he just held onto her shaking shoulders and tried to offer her some comfort. Warrick could only ever recall seeing her that bad once before, and he was almost afraid to find out the source this time.

He felt, more than heard, the sobs she was desperately trying to restrain, and he struggled to find the words to question her. "What is it?" He had to force the next question from his throat. "Is…Lindsey okay?" With that, Catherine fell into herself, and any semblance of control was lost in the sounds of her quiet weeping.

Without losing complete contact, he moved around the chair to crouch down in front of her and took of her hands into his. Reaching over with the hand that stayed at her shoulder, he tried to raise her chin. He needed to see into her eyes before he was ready to proceed. "What's going on? Did something happen to-…" He was struck silent by the frightened sorrow and shame he found there in her eyes once Catherine's face became visible to him. "Aw, man." Warrick knew then that she needed only thing, and he would always be there to offer it. He leaned forward, placed a gentle hand behind her head, as the other went around her shoulders to catch her up into his arms. He laid her head into his chest and lifted them both to their feet.

In no time at all, Catherine was enveloped by his caring embrace, and her face was dried by his shirt, as he stroked her hair and rocked them into a calmer place. It was the one thing he knew to do, and it was the only thing he had ever been able to give her. Within a few minutes, her sobbing faded away, and he could feel the fatigue falling over her body.

When he felt as though she was finally standing on her own steam again, he looked around the office. Her purse was nowhere to be seen, which meant it was probably in the desk. Her jacket was hanging from the rack by the door, and her computer was already shut down. Warrick quickly devised a plan of action, because he knew at any moment that Catherine would attempt a diversionary tactic to get away from the situation, and slip back into the stony façade she affected so well. He felt in his heart that this was something she needed to get out before she retreated back into bitch-mode.

The moment she started to pull out of his arms, Warrick reached out and took her hand in his. "You need to get out of here… I'll drive," he said.

He thought for a split second that she was about to argue the point when she opened her mouth to protest, but instead, she just looked down and shook her head. Warrick leaned over to the side and held open the desk drawer containing her purse. She silently retrieved the bag and let it hang almost to the floor.

As they rounded the desk together, Warrick finally felt safe in releasing her hand, and he reached out to grab her jacket from the rack. Wordlessly, he held out the garment for her and she turned around to slip her arms into the sleeves, one at a time. When he pulled it up to rest comfortably on her shoulders, he was sure it was the right move. Catherine was completely pliable to his every request, and he was fairly certain that she would go wherever the wind took her at that point. She seemed to him like an autumn leaf, withered and adrift in the breeze, only looking for a place to rest forever. And it was breaking his heart.

Walking side by side through the halls of the lab, Warrick was glad that his keys were in his pocket instead of the locker, because he was not sure how long the spell of compliance would last. He was also happy to make it through those halls without drawing any attention or notice. Catherine would never have been able to forgive herself for losing it like that if anyone else at work ever saw the shape she was in. He knew she was not thinking about it at the time, but later it would weigh heavily on everything she thought and did.

Upon reaching his car, he politely opened the passenger door for her, and held out his arm for her to grip as she lowered herself into the seat. Walking around the front of the car, he could not help but remark to himself just how frail and fragile she seemed sitting there alone. In all the years Warrick had known her, he could never recall a time she seemed so fragile. Scared to death, afraid for her child, grieving for her father, none of it ever seemed to break her spirit, and he was deeply concerned about her well-being as he got behind the wheel.

The car ride was completely silent. He was afraid to even turn on the radio on the off chance it would give her the opportunity to put those solid steel walls back up. But that changed when he pulled into his driveway.

She looked around and tried to get her bearings. "Where are we?"

He shrugged as he put the car into park, "My place." The surprised and confused look on her face gave him reason to explain further. "It's the only thing I got in the divorce, ridiculous mortgage and all." Warrick looked at the front door and huffed. He had never wanted the house in the first place, but his ex-wife had insisted on it, telling him what a great investment it would be in the Vegas housing market. The problem with that logic was the financing they used to get the thing; locking them into the loan for an extended period for the short term lower interest rate. He had another year before he could even begin to refinance the thing, and he could only hope the market kept from crashing in the meantime while he struggled to deal with the variable interest rate loan on a non-variable income.

He pushed the depressing financial thoughts from his mind and returned his focus to the woman beside him. "C'mon," he gestured with his head to the door, "you shouldn't be alone right now, and we both need something to eat."

Catherine sat there for another minute, as though she was trying to come up with a logical reason not to accept his offer, but he was not willing to give in so easily. "Oh come on… You know you can't say no to my grandmother's Creole Spoonbread." The faint beginnings of a partial smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, and he knew that he had won. "Made it last night, and let it set for the morning. Eggs are ready, too. Just have to whip up a little sauce, and heat it all up." He nudged her with his elbow and added, "Best brunch in all of Vegas."

She finally nodded her head and moved to exit the car, but Warrick was quick on his feet. By the time she swung her feet out to make contact with the pavement, he was once again there to offer a steadying arm. His worry was confirmed when she pulled herself from the car on his arm with a weakened grip.

Without thinking about it, he put his hand on her back and proceeded to guide her up to the door. Warrick only broke the contact to unlock and open the door for her.

Once inside, he gave her the brief tour, complete with the stuff he still needed to do to the house to make it more appropriate, and before long he began to feel more than a little foolish. He was rambling on about paint schemes and home improvements when he was supposed to be offering comfort to a friend in need.

Catherine tried to show interest in what he was saying and doing as they walked through the house, but she was still so preoccupied with the way Warrick had found her, that the shame she felt colored everything.

He abruptly cut the tour short to avoid further embarrassment, and because he could tell that she was really not interested in what kind of blinds he wanted in the living room. Moving them to the kitchen, he quickly set to work preparing their brunch.

In the kitchen, she watched as he slipped the dish of spoonbread into the oven to warm before he started pulling random ingredients out to spread out onto the counter. It was almost relaxing, watching him whisk the different items together into two separate bowls. When he smoothly poured the mixtures into two sauce pans, Catherine came to a sudden realization.

"Just when did you get so good in the kitchen?" She leaned forward into the island a little, trying to get a better view of what he doing over the sink.

Looking at his profile, she watched the side of his mouth curl into a subtle grin, just before he answered, "Well, before Grams started goin' downhill, she decided it was high time I learned to cook right."

As he turned back to the island, she saw the product of his hard work; three perfectly clean, perfectly hard-boiled eggs. Seeing the skill with which he deftly sliced the eggs before shoving them to the side made her wonder if his admission was entirely true. Almost as though he was reading her mind he chuckled and said, "I've been her prep-cook since I was a shorty…but she didn't trust me with the tough stuff until I was grown."

"You look like you're doing pretty good to me." Settling back into the chair Catherine remarked to herself that it was the first time in more than twenty four hours that she felt like smiling, and so she did.

"Now that makes the whole cooking thing worth it." That same devilishly shy smile of his greeted hers, and she was unable to stop the short giggle that managed to sneak out of her mouth.

Before she could say anything, he was back at the stove stirring the saucepans. She was grateful that he had turned away, because it meant that he missed the furious blush that rose in her cheeks.

When the cooking was all done, Warrick set up two plates with a good helping of Eggs New Orleans on top of a split English Muffin, and some cut fruit he had in the fridge. In the center of his dining room table was the glass dish of spoonbread and two gravy boats of sauce for their meals; one spicy white sauce for the Eggs New Orleans, and a white wine sauce for the spoonbread. But the real surprise was in the orange juice.

Just as Catherine was about to take a big gulp from her tall glass of juice, Warrick reached out and covered it with his hand. "Go easy on that stuff… I still have to be able to drive you home later, and I refuse to let a lady drink alone."

After he removed his hand and picked up one of the gravy boats, she sniffed over the top of the glass, and caught the faintest hint of the reason for his caution. "How could you possibl-"

"My first solo closed case… You, me, and Brass had breakfast at Grissom's. You got the last of the OJ from Grissom, and I snuck a drink. Had to get Brass to drive me home." Despite her shock at his memory of the day so long ago, she was still able to register the slight color change in his cheeks, and the bashful way he looked away from her.

"Wow! You must have thought I was a lush or something." She shook her head with the embarrassment of the memory, and paid no attention to the hurt look that fell over Warrick's face.

"Never… I could never thin-" The words, thick with emotion, caught in his throat.

Instantly regretting her offhand attempt to throw the attention away from her less than perfect past, she reached out to put a hand on his arm. "I was only kidding… Really." She squeezed his arm and said, "Sometimes, I just need to slow down after a bad day, and when I was still with Eddie, a drink after shift was the only way I could do it. I only did it with Jim or Gil, because I knew I could trust them, and they always took me home." She stopped when she felt his hand over hers and struggled to finish her explanation. "I guess…I've…missed it?"

Warrick nodded his head to show his understanding. "Yeah… Seems like a million years ago…that breakfast. Any breakfast really." He looked up and into her worried gaze. "We used to get everybody together after shift for breakfast, like once a week. I miss that."

The deep sorrow in his tone reached into her heart and made it constrict with the pain carried in his words. "Yeah… A million years ago."

"We… I mean, me, Nick and Sara… We used to go out once in a while, catch a beer, maybe shoot some pool, or just, I don't know, shoot the breeze a little…away from work. But it's been a long time." As Warrick pushed the last of his food around his plate, she could tell that his thoughts had gone down a very dark path.

Catherine finally understood how it had been so easy for Ecklie to break them up a while back. He saw them drifting apart, and managed to find their shatter points to drive his wedges of doubt. And if someone like Ecklie saw it, she could only imagine how they must have looked to everyone else, and each other. Without meaning to, they had each stepped away from the crowd, and even Nick's abduction failed to truly unite them as the team they once were. Not until Jim was almost killed did they seem to begin to drift back together, but it was really Sara's abduction that acted as the catalyst for everyone to cling to each other. It was seeing Gil nearly come undone that finally caused them to snap out of their collective funk to work together as a true team again.

She was about to try and offer some advice, but the next words that came from his mouth left her wondering if she was even capable of such a thing. "Ya know…when Nick was taken, I kind of lost it. I'd already lost so much that year, and almost losing him, it was the final straw for me, and I snapped. I wanted something that was mine, something that I thought I could hold onto when things got rough." His eyes never rose from the table, but instead stayed focused on the spot where their hands rested together.

"Unfortunately, it wasn't until after I married Tina that I found out how wrong I was, or…how much I really had." When he finally looked up from the table to stare directly into her eyes, she was rendered completely speechless.

The raw emotion she saw in his emerald gaze was enough to halt any chance of speaking. "You still have a lot, Cath. I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but you have so much in your life…with or without your father."

That was when something inside of her began to crumble.

She wanted to put on a brave face and tell him everything was fine. She wanted to scream and tell him what an ass he was for trying to break her down. She wanted to collapse on the floor and wail for her losses. She wanted to simply vanish into that dark pit of despair that had been steadily growing unchecked in her middle. But the only thing she was able to do was sit there, her hand clasping desperately to Warrick's arm, as though it was the only thing holding her to this earth, as the tears began to flow freely from her weary eyes.

For the first time in her life, she felt like she could do every single one of those things and there would still be someone there to hold her to this world. She realized that there was no one else in her life that she every truly trusted with her own raw emotions. Warrick was the only one who ever saw her breakdown. The only one who held her together in all the ways that mattered most. Sure, Jim was always protective of her, and Grissom was there for professional advice, and both men would stand up for her under any circumstance. However, she was fairly certain that at the first sight of tears, they would both run for the hills. But not Warrick.

He was just there, neither judging nor preaching. His arms were hers if she needed them, and that was why she had retreated from him after finding out about his marriage. While she was telling the truth when she told him he spoiled her dream, the other truth, the one she kept in her heart, was that she was more worried about losing his unconditional support after his marriage. There would be another woman entitled to that support, and it would not be hers. That was the real reason for her distance from him since finding out about the marriage.

Without warning, the walls around the last of her strength fell away, and her body became wracked with sobs. Not the silent, solitary sobbing from her office, but trembling, whimpering, earth-shattering sobs that took over her entire body.

Her whole focus dwindled down to a sharp point of supreme pain and loss, all of the things that she had been ignoring since even before her father's horrific death came down to that one cacophonous moment of ultimate agony.

Catherine had long abided by the philosophy that if you refused to give it any energy to feed on, that it would die away. She never imagined that her way of dealing with the hard realities of her life would come back to haunt her in such a calamitous fashion.

Every regret, every rejection, every failure, every heartache came back to her in a rush, and it simply overwhelmed her completely. Any ability to communicate, even with her own mind, was lost to the tidal wave of pure grief and despair washing over her in the moments that followed her revelation.

When the waters finally began to retreat again, she was totally spent, and the last conscious thing she managed to fathom with her limited power of reasoning was that she was curled up under a blanket, surrounded in softness and warmth. Once the thought was completed, she fell away into the depths of exhausted slumber.

Her dreams were a swirling mass of mysterious smiles, Lindsey throughout her life, her father's rasping voice, the lilting melody of her mother, and a sense of peace she had trouble remembering experiencing previously. The slow approach of consciousness began to give her insight into the realm of her subconscious, but it only came in fragmented pieces of information.

Gradually, she started to emerge from the comforting cocoon of sleep. It was a remarkable experience to begin waking, feeling refreshed and renewed for the first time in longer than she cared to recall. Stretching her back out into an arch, her hand grazed over the surface upon which she lay, and Catherine was instantly confused.

She was presently lying on a leather couch, but she did not have a leather couch. The only person she knew with a leather couch was Gil, and there was no sleeping on that monstrosity.

Her eyes had not yet deigned to open, so she felt around to try and place her location. The blanket tucked in around her was soft, and very warm. As her fingers dug into the blanket, she decided that it felt an awful lot like cashmere. Living in a house with a kid, she had never bought anything like for her own home, so it was confirmed that she could not possibly be at her place.

The last foggy memory flickered into her semi-conscious mind, bringing it all into focus once again.

Looking around, as she tried to get her bearings, Catherine asked, "Where are we?"

Warrick just shrugged his broad shoulders as he put the car into park, "My place."

The whole thing; the breakfast, the confessions, the breakdown, the sobbing, the unceasing tide of grief and anguish, it all came into crystal clear clarity, and with it came an unbelievable sense of shame and regret. But before the waves could start crashing around her again, before her emotions could race away, she felt the warm tender touch of strong fingers slipping into her hair and gently guiding it away from her face.

The soft light in the room finally danced over her eyelids, and tempted them to flutter open. The first thing her sleep clouded eyes saw was the caring, shy smile below those sparkling green eyes.

"Mornin', Sunshine." He broke eye contact momentarily to glance at his watch and then he shrugged, "Well, afternoon anyway."

Finally understanding that she had fallen asleep at Warrick's place, Catherine sat straight up in a panic. "What time is it?"

Calmly, he handed her a steaming mug of coffee and shook his head. "Don't worry… I called in a couple favors. No work for you tonight."

The panic was still there. "What kind of favor?" She tried to straighten out her clothes the moment she looked down at them. She must have looked a total wreck after falling asleep in her clothes on his couch.

"Sara owed me, when I picked up this weekend thing for her, and she got Grissom to cover tonight. And Nick?" As Catherine worriedly glanced around the room, Warrick pointed to the location of her shoes a few feet from the couch on the floor. "Well, he still owes me from that March Madness disaster, so I just had to call it a draw to get him to cover for me."

Distracted, she could only ask, "You're not going in?"

He subtly shook his head in the negative. "Nah… I didn't want to leave you alone…like that." Warrick once again held out the coffee mug and waited for her to take it.

With a heaving sigh, she finally accepted his gesture. "Thanks." Catherine sat back into the couch and blew over the top of the cup for a moment. "You didn't need to do all that."

"Maybe not, but it's done, so don't worry about it." Warrick seemed to shrug off the attention.

A million little things flew through her mind at once, but first and foremost in her thoughts was the fact that other people knew about her emotional breakdown. As though he sensed her worry, Warrick shook his head again. "No… I told 'em that you were just exhausted, and I had to take you home. Told Sara that I knew you wouldn't ask Gris for yourself." He covered her hand with his and smiled, "And Nick was so happy to be out from under that bet, he didn't even blink, let alone ask why I needed the night off." His smile brightened just a bit more, and his eyes filled with a glint of mischief. "Your cast iron reputation is still in tact."

A nervous laugh erupted from her throat in a blast. It felt strange to be able to laugh like that, in light of the horror which led to her breakdown, but it also felt like a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

Catherine looked around again, and tried to reassess her situation. She was seated on her co-worker and friend's couch, in clothes that she had been wearing for more than forty-eight hours, her hair was probably going in a hundred different directions, and her makeup was most definitely a horrific sight after breaking down into a sobbing mess on at least two occasions over the course of her interaction with Warrick. All in all, she was pretty sure it was right up there with one of the worst days of her entire life.

Before she had a chance to say anything about the situation, Warrick stood up and began to walk to the kitchen, calling over his shoulder, "What would you like to eat? We killed the spoonbread and the eggs, but I can whip up some pancakes if you want breakfast, or I can throw some pasta together."

She was still trying to form a reaction to waking up in his house, so the last question she was prepared to answer was what she wanted to eat. "Ah-"

Interrupting her chances to think once again, he offered, "I laid out some fresh towels and put your emergency bag in the bathroom, so you can take a shower or whatever while I get the food ready."

Rising to her feet, Catherine unconsciously walked into the kitchen with her questions plainly shown on her face. "How'd-… When did you do that?"

"Once I was sure you were really asleep…I took a cab over to the lab and picked up your car." He looked over the back of his shoulder toward the front of the house and the driveway. "It's outside. When I saw your bag in there I grabbed it. Figured you'd want to clean up when you woke up." He smiled at her incredulous expression.

Shaking her head, Catherine was still processing everything that had happened. She finally decided that she needed to simply go with the flow and let the dice fall where they may. "Is there anything you haven't thought of?"

He took the few steps forward that would close the distance between them, picking up a fresh washcloth from the counter along the way. Dropping a hand on her shoulder, he held her steady before bringing the washcloth to her face. "Yeah…didn't think you'd look this good with raccoon eyes, first thing after waking up."

As he gently rubbed the cloth over her cheeks, Catherine looked up into his intensely caring gaze and thought she recognized something burning in his eyes. It had been a long while since the last time she had seen anything like that in the eyes of someone looking at her. And just when she was sure she would never see it again, the fiery embers of desire contained in his viridian stare touched her deep within her soul.

"Warrick…I-"

He moved to silence her words with a touch to her lips. "It's okay… We can talk about it later. I just-…" He looked down for the first time, and quietly admitted, "I just wanted you to know. Just wanted to…" Warrick glanced up again, and she saw the uncertainty in his almost glassy eyes. Locking their gazes, he finally said the words she never thought she would ever hear. "You aren't alone…if you don't want to be. That is, if you want m-"

With her faculties finally having returned, she reached up to silence him with her fingers over his mouth. However, the words simply would not come, so she did the only thing that seemed appropriate. Leaning up on her toes, she put both hands on his shoulders and lifted herself up, as she pulled him down slightly. When her lips touched his cheek, she felt the muscles in his shoulders release the tension as a wave of relief fell over him.

Shy smiles overtaking both of their faces, with their mouths hovering near each other for what seemed like an eternity, they seemed almost afraid of taking things any farther. When the stalemate was finally lifted, it was Warrick who made the first conservative move. He wrapped his arms around her, turned his head and leaned into her neck as they moved into a true embrace.

Enveloped in his solid arms, his face buried in her neck, Catherine was surprised to feel such comfort and caring in such a simple gesture. This was an affectionate and intimate expression of feelings which had simmered below the surface for years. It was tender and sweet and loving. And while it was deeply passionate, it held none of the sexual overtones she had grown accustomed to in her life. It was personal, and it was private, and it showed her the depth and breadth of his caring for her, as she tried to express the same to him through their embrace.

Catherine had waited a whole lifetime to find what was in her arms at that moment, and as he gently rocked them back and forth, she knew that she would spend the next lifetime holding on to it.