Title: Undercover(s)

Pairing: Calleigh/Natalia CSI Miami

Rating: NC 17

Disclaimer: CSI Miami and all affiliated characters are the property of CBS, Alliance Atlantis Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer. This is purely a work of fiction, no infringement is intended. No profit is being made.

Summary: This is an incredibly belated response to "Cliché Challenge 2007!" I went for "Undercover as lovers" and threw in "one of us almost died; must have sex!" because my muse is rather fond of it. It was started months ago, and I've only now gotten around to finishing it.

A/N: Everything I know about actual police work, I learned from SVU and CSI, therefore I know nothing about actual police/ undercover work. Please excuse any inconsistencies. Unbeta'd, so I apologize for the mistakes.

In all her years as both cop on the beat, and then a Crime Scene Investigator, seeing the brutalized bodies of young women had never become any easier for Calleigh Duquesne. The lens of her camera through which she first viewed the details of the scene and the gloves she wore on her hands helped provide some minuscule emotional distance – tiny yet vital – but they were never enough to truly overcame that first instinctual reaction to the destruction of human life.

Snap, pictures of blood spatter – blood that once flowed steady and hot through a living, loving heart.

Snap, pictures of vacant eyes – once sparkling blue and chocolate brown, now clouded and murky.

Snap, pictures of lives torn apart – literally.

No, it never really got easier – but she had learned to survive it.

Despite her experience however; despite the distance through the camera and the logic of analysis that was as familiar to her as her own hand, Calleigh couldn't seem to push back the feeling of wrongness, this scene inspired. It wasn't anything the CSI could identify or quantify; it was something bone deep and unsettling. It certainly wasn't the scene itself. She had seen murders a great deal more brutal and messy. The picture in front of her was nearly bloodless – the damage to the victims obvious, but cleaned up – as if the perpetrator himself couldn't stand the mess of the kill.

A pristine, tastefully decorated, upscale Coconut Grove home provided a surreal backdrop to the tableau of death laid out in front of the investigator. Naked, with their eyes open and staring, two attractive young women had been posed in a sick parody of life and love.

This was not the first time the ballistics expert had seen this kind of twisted art. This was in fact, the 5th such attack, and like the others, there were subtle differences in the position of the bodies and the scene. Some things however, had remained starkly constant.

"Calleigh," her macabre thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her name. That whisky smooth voice didn't elaborate. He didn't need to. Not after nearly eight years working side by side.

At the request, Calleigh felt her focus sharpen. It helped.

"They were killed with same M.O. Both women were posed facing each other and touching, though the positioning is slightly different, and Alexx says the wounds are consistent with the previous attacks."

"Poor babies suffered a long time Horatio," chimed their M.E. gently, compassion and regret heavy in her voice. "You didn't have a chance, did you sweetheart?" the coroner asked the blonde victim softly as she examined the wounds and measured liver temperature.

"Alexx, are we looking at the same timeline as before?"

"I won't know for certain until we get them back to my table, but based on my first assessment and liver temp, yes, Horatio. I'd say they've been dead about eight hours."

Calleigh felt her jaw tighten at the news, but added her analysis. "They also fit the physical profile of the other victims: one blonde, one brunette, both apparently taken just after clubbing. He stripped them, but their outfits are folded over on that chair, just like the others. And just like the others, this isn't our primary crime scene. The bodies have been brought here and posed, but we still don't know where the actual murders took place. According to the neighbors, the women have been involved for about 6 months. The brunette is 29. Her name is Cynthia Fletcher and she's the registered owner of this house. We still don't have a clear ID on the blonde yet." Calleigh continued in clipped tones, filling her Lieutenant in on the specifics of the crime.

At this point though, it was really just a formality. From the moment Duquesne had met Sergeant Frank Tripp at the door of the residence, she had known from the Texan's expression that they were dealing with another offering from their serial killer, and she was sure Horatio had understood that with his first glance at the scene. Tripp was now out canvassing the neighborhood and Calleigh was joined by her tall Cuban colleague, Eric Delko, who wore an expression of disgust that mirrored her own feelings. Both Eric and Horatio were incredibly protective of the women in their lives, and the blonde knew that seeing murders like this affected both men more than they wanted to admit.

"This is the fifth time this bastard has struck and we still don't have primary crime scenes. This guy is a ghost." Eric spat as he gloved up to assist Calleigh. Standing by the door, Horatio twisted his sunglasses, sweeping the scene with a laser glare and ducking his head.

Placing the shades firmly over his eyes, he looked up, "No, he's flesh and blood, and he's just made his last mistake."

"Which is what?" asked one of the uniformed officers standing around.

"Murder," growled Horatio as he turned and walked out the door.

Somewhere in the background, Calleigh could have sworn she heard a "Who" song playing.

The scene unfortunately didn't take long to process. As with previous crimes, the perpetrator was neat – leaving little to nothing in the way of fiber, DNA or other trace.

"I just hope Alexx can come up with something, we're getting nowhere and the press is gonna go crazy if they catch wind of it," Eric sighed, closing his case.

Calleigh simply nodded. The more she saw these sick "works of art" the harder it was to remain detached. She wasn't sure why these particular murders were affecting her so deeply, and she was momentarily unwilling to explore the depths of her reaction. With the skill of long practice, the blonde locked her feelings away, concentrating on the evidence, the science, and the hunt for justice. At the end of the day, it was all she had.

Emotions once again firmly under control, she replied to Eric. "He's a serial killer, he's going to get overconfident or start destabilizing soon. I just hope we find him before this happens again," she said, taking off her gloves and rolling her head, trying to loosen her neck. The beginnings of a headache were threatening behind her eyes and she could feel the tension in her shoulders.

"Come on, I'll give you a ride back to the lab," the handsome CSI offered, an understanding look on his face.

"Thanks Eric."

"Hey Cal, you gonna be alright? These are some pretty sick cases."

His tone was gentle, and though the blonde appreciated the concern of a friend, she was on duty, and was unable to stop the habitual rise of her defenses at any implication she was less than one hundred percent.

"I'm fine," she shot back, and instantly regretted it when she saw the slightly wounded look on her friend's face. He's only trying to help Calleigh, take it easy.

"I'm sorry," she sighed, unconsciously kneading her neck with her hand. "I don't know what's gotten into me lately. I just want to catch this guy. I didn't mean to take out my frustration on you."

Delko, long used to her nearly obsessive dedication, let it go with a smile, but he made a mental note of his friend's unease. Though an outsider wouldn't have had a clue that Detective Calleigh Duquesne was anything but calm - the consummate professional - the tall man had known her for too long not to be able to read the tiny signs of frustration and unease. She'd been distracted and edgy lately and that worried him.

"It's fine, but the next time, you're buying me coffee," he grinned boyishly, trying to coax a smile from her. It worked, and with that, the CSI's grabbed their kits and left the too-quiet house for the embrace of the thick, bright Miami afternoon.

At the entrance to the lab, Calleigh and Eric parted ways: Eric to process the evidence and Calleigh back to firearms to get caught up on her other pending cases. The afternoon sun was turning the light inside the glass walls to liquid gold, and the energy and purpose of her co-workers surrounded the blonde, easing some of the tension in the small woman's body.

Nearly to ballistics, Calleigh's attention was snared as she passed the DNA lab.

Wearing a snowy lab coat and a rather aggressive scowl, Natalia Boa Vista was glaring at the printout in her hand. Curious, and seeing no reason not to go talk to the younger woman, Calleigh made a detour.

"Glaring at it won't make the results change," she teased gently as she walked in the door.

The brunette's head snapped up and Calleigh thought she detected the faintest stain of a blush on bronzed cheekbones. Natalia recovered quickly however, and the blonde was treated to an impish, rueful smile.

"Yeah well, you never know, it works with the bad guys sometimes." The ballistics expert found herself returning the expression and relaxing as the two discussed the case Natalia was working.

It feels good, the Detective realized. And it did: just having another woman to talk shop with helped a great deal sometimes. The blonde adored her male co-workers and trusted them with her life, but she was beginning to realize just how much she valued her time with the woman in front of her. After the revelation that Natalia was the federal mole, Calleigh had made an effort to start over with her, and was rewarded by Natalia's staunch loyalty and friendship. The taller woman was trying her absolute best to fit into the lab and Calleigh increasingly found herself working with the brunette. At first, it had been because no one else had wanted to, but, as Natalia's skills expanded and she began taking on more responsibility, it was because the smaller woman simply enjoyed their time together. Natalia was intelligent, dedicated and kind. She put up a good front for others, but Calleigh had seen glimpses of how much being the "mole" had cost the younger woman. There was an incredible heart under that flawless skin and keen intellect.

The others had long since started to trust the DNA tech again, but there was a small part of Calleigh that secretly reveled in the closeness she and Natalia now shared. It never failed that simply being around the other woman left the blonde energized and focused, and she found herself looking forward to their field work together. Natalia had even started showing interest in getting qualified to carry, and Calleigh was hoping to be the one to teach her how to shoot.

The easy atmosphere that surrounded them was destroyed however, by a most unwelcome visitor.

"Detective Duquesne, Ms. Boa Vista, may I speak with you for a moment?"

Calleigh felt her jaw tighten and had to fight to clamp down on an almost physical reaction to the man standing in front of her. A quick glance to the side showed Natalia was struggling with the same reaction.

Unable to find her normal polite façade and settling for holding her tongue, the ballistics expert simply waited for the interloper to continue. Natalia however, was apparently unable to summon such patience.

"What do you want Stetler," she asked, and there was an edge to her voice that caused Calleigh's eyebrow to twitch upward and the IAD detective to grind his jaw. Calleigh had to admit the sight brought her a certain amount of satisfaction.

Not one to be deterred long however, Stetler plowed ahead.

"You two are being re-assigned to the new task force that's been put together to in response to these latest attacks. The news of a serial killer will hit the press soon and we need to be prepared."

"You mean you need to be prepared to cover your asses," came another voice from the door, this one low, dangerous and very welcome.

Horatio had entered as Stetler was speaking, and was now looking at the IAD detective with a sidewise glare the Lieutenant normally reserved for particularly loathsome criminals.

So… appropriate really, Calleigh couldn't help thinking as she watched the interplay between her boss and the darker man.

"Rick, I do not like this. These are my CSI's we're talking about. You should have undercover detectives on this."

"And we do, Caine, but the fact of the matter is, this guy is unpredictable. At least, you haven't been able to come up with an accurate profile yet," the IAD detective said mildly, enjoying the spark that flared in Horatio's eyes at his not-so-subtle dig. "We have undercover pairs working the clubs as we speak, but the perp's hunting area is all of Miami. We need more bait, plain and simple, and your CSI's fit the profile," Stetler continued, his false calm hardly covering the pleasure he was getting out of seeing Caine in this position. Before the Lieutenant could refute his reasoning, Rick played his trump card. The crime lab leader might fume and threaten, but there was nothing he could do about a direct order. Stetler was about to witness one of his few true pleasures in life: making Horatio Caine impotent in a situation that involved his people. Nothing infuriated the redheaded CSI more and Rick loved watching the man squirm.

"This comes from the brass, Caine. You don't have a choice. Duquesne and Boa Vista are being assigned to this op for as long as we need them." And with that, he turned to the women in question.

"You'll be taking your orders from the task force leader assigned to this situation. He's expecting you in an hour." With a last significant, not-subtle-whatsoever-look toward Horatio, Stetler walked out, leaving the CSI's together.

"Calleigh," Horatio started, his voice strained.

She cut him off. "Horatio it's alright. I have no problem with being a part of this operation. Stetler may be an ass, but he's right about our need to step up the effort to catch this killer. I've worked undercover before, I'm comfortable doing this, and I'm sure we can find someone to take Natalia's place."

Before the redhead could respond however, Natalia scowled. "Hey, I am not backing out. I can do this, Horatio," she shot back forcefully, not quite glaring at Calleigh.

How dare she! After all this, I thought she trusted me.

As if hearing her thoughts, the smaller woman turned toward her and replied: her voice now taking on an edge. "This isn't about personal trust Natalia, this is about training and experience pure and simple. I've done undercover work, you haven't. This is a high profile case with a very smart and highly unpredictable killer. You shouldn't have to do this: it's too dangerous."

"And I understand the danger. It's a risk I'm willing to take if we can catch this guy," Natalia shot back, trying to ignore the slow creeping fingers of fear that were grasping at the back of her mind. She knew there were other, more qualified people for this job, but something about the thought of being left out of the loop on this assignment – when Calleigh's life might be on the line – filled her with a sick, cold dread.

"You heard Stetler, we're just going as bait. We'll be covered the whole time."

Calleigh nearly growled when the DNA tech didn't back down, and had to work to control the sudden roil of emotion in her gut that the thought of her friend in harm's way caused.

Why can't she see how dangerous this is? She shouldn't be anywhere near this op!

There were few things that slipped past Calleigh Duquesne's iron control, but her fear at seeing her friends hurt was definitely one of them. And right now that fear was making her angry.

"Ladies," came the smooth interruption.

Calleigh hesitated, locked in a staring contest with the woman in front of her for a second before taking a breath and turning toward Horatio. As she did, she saw a flicker of something flash in Caine's eyes, but it was gone before she – even as good at reading him as she was – could interpret it.

"Calleigh, Natalia, I don't like this, and Calleigh, I understand your concerns, but if this is going to happen, then I want to keep it in the family. I want you two to be able to trust your partner. You know how important that can be."

Horatio watched the emotions that battled quickly behind his ballistics expert's eyes and saw the moment she accepted the decision. Natalia for her part looked resolved, but Caine nonetheless saw the shadow of fear she tried to hide.

For his part, Horatio hated the idea of his CSI's – his family – being placed in danger. It had just become crystal clear to the Lieutenant however, that both Calleigh and Natalia would make each other's safety their first priority, and that - as far as he was concerned - was more important than anything. He cared for both women deeply, and if he was forced to put them in this situation, then by God he would minimize the number of outsiders entrusted with their lives. And they did fit the profile: almost eerily so. Despite his anger at Stetler, Caine had to admit the man was right though the coincidence made him uneasy above and beyond just the thought of having Calleigh and Natalia act as bait for a vicious killer.

Still, he was out maneuvered – on two fronts, if the matching steely looks reflected back at him from sparkling sea-green and chocolate eyes were any indication. Horatio wasn't going to just let this go quietly though. Nodding, he canted his head and held Calleigh's gaze. "I won't, I can't stop you," he said. "But you are not doing this alone, alright? Eric and I are going to be with you every step of the way."

The Detective's features softened, and a look of understanding dawned. They had too much history for her to resent him for this, and if she was going to trust someone to watch their backs, it was Horatio Caine. Natalia too wore a look of acceptance and the Lieutenant felt the tiniest hint of relief. Rule number one in his book was still, 'never mess with Calleigh Duquesne.'

The matter closed to his satisfaction, Horatio nodded, turned and walked out, leaving silence in his wake. Readying herself for a return to their argument, Natalia felt herself tensing, only to be stopped by a soft touch on her arm. Starting, she turned to find Calleigh standing close, her eyes soft. All the fight left the taller woman in a rush and she was oddly aware of the heat of Calleigh's fingers on her skin.

"I'm sorry Natalia, I never meant to imply that I didn't trust you, I just…You don't have the training for this and I don't want to see you hurt."

Without thinking, Natalia let her hand reach out and take Calleigh's, giving it a brief squeeze. "Cal, I don't need training for this kind of operation and I am not going to let some stranger watch your back."

Seeing that her friend wasn't going to back down, and not truly having a reasonable argument against her participation, the blonde nodded ruefully in acknowledgement.

"Besides," Natalia continued with a sly grin. "This is a department-paid excuse to go clubbing, there is no way I'm not getting in on this."

Her attempt at humor worked and Calleigh stepped away with a small laugh. As she did however, a subtle, devious look crossed her features and as the blonde turned to walk back to firearms, she called mildly, "Ok, but I get to be the butch one."

It took Natalia several long seconds for her friend's words to soak in.

"Oh no, you don't!" the brunette shot back, as she hurried to catch up with the smaller woman. She was trying desperately to keep the grin off her face.

"Yes I do. I called it first. I get to be butch."

"But you can't be. You're hair is longer than mine and you're shorter. You have to be femme by default."

"Really? And what justification do you have for those guidelines?"

"Its in the 'Lesbian Stereotypes Handbook' I'm sure of it," Natalia replied, arching one eyebrow and trying very hard to look smugly superior. She was pretty sure she was failing miserably.

"Hmm. Interesting, because that same handbook disqualifies you from the position of butch for wearing make up and heels. Besides, I carry a gun, which automatically trumps any and all physical characteristics and mannerisms in the butch-femme debate," the Detective finished smugly, and with a saucy look, strolled through the door to the firearms lab.

"Drat," Natalia muttered just loud enough to make sure Calleigh heard. In truth, the brunette was anything but disappointed. Despite the circumstances, there was a part of the DNA tech that tingled in pleasant anticipation at the thought of working undercover with her friend.

Less than an hour later, they were together again in one of the Crime Lab's many conference rooms. People were crammed in, and there were files, bodies and voices everywhere. At the front of the room, a massive LCD screen showed the locations, victims and the most pertinent information about the previous crimes. Moving to the far side of the room, Calleigh didn't even try to fight for a chair. She simply grabbed herself a piece of wall space and waited.

Unable to stop herself, the ballistics expert analyzed the other people around her. Some she knew from working past cases with, others she only recognized by name. It was easy to pick out the other women that were going to be "bait" and the CSI catalogued them as well. To one degree or another, they all fit the profile – one blonde, one brunette, but Calleigh found herself looking through the eyes of their killer and easily dismissing several pairs. One woman was too stocky, another too dark, that one's hair was too short…

Then Natalia walked through the door and the first thought through Calleigh's mind was: perfect.

The surge of fear that crested inside her shocked the investigator out of her analysis. Angry and disgusted with herself, the blonde took a slow breath. She had never enjoyed profiling – had never been comfortable venturing too deep into the criminal mind and the darkness that lurked there. She gladly left that to others while she focused on the tangible aspects of the hunt – bullets and trace and fibers – things she could see and measure and label. As she caught Natalia's eye and motioned her over, the Detective realized that this was a part of what bothered her so much about the assignment; there was too much they didn't know. The killer had too much of an advantage, and while gambling with her life was something Calleigh Duquesne had long ago accepted as part of her job, the thought of endangering her friend went against her every instinct.

Before her thoughts could grow darker however, the woman in question slipped in behind Calleigh to lean against the wall and several more officers crowded over to them, jostling the southerner into Natalia. Before she could ask them to move away a bit, a soft touch at her hip encouraged the smaller woman to be still. A quick questioning glance and a gentle nod, and Calleigh found herself leaning lightly against the taller woman, back to front. With the crowd of bodies, Calleigh should have been uncomfortable, but Natalia's quiet presence was soothing, and she relaxed into the contact. If she hadn't been so distracted, she might have paid more attention to just how good it felt to have Natalia's soft curves pressing against her; the warmth of her body easing some of the tension from Calleigh's muscles and the subtle fragrance of her perfume tempting her senses.

Before her subconscious could truly make her aware of such things however, the volume in the room suddenly died off and the ballistics expert turned her attention to the front, where a tall, bald African American man now stood.

"Alright everyone, for those of you who don't know me, my name is Captain Elijah Dawson and I'm heading this task force."

His voice was rich and his manner was straightforward. Calleigh didn't know him, but her first impression was a good one. At that moment, a flash of red caught her attention and she looked to see Horatio standing in the doorway. Their eyes met briefly before he looked at Dawson and then back to her. She raised one eyebrow slightly and he nodded. That was all the confirmation the blonde needed. If Horatio knew enough about the man to trust him then so would she. The Detective turned her attention back to where Dawson was giving a short re-cap of the crimes and so missed the brief, considering look her Lieutenant threw at her position.

"Here's what we know. The perpetrator has consistently evaded an accurate profile and left little to no physical evidence at the crime scenes. He has targeted different clubs each time. All of his victims have been women engaged in intimate relationships with each other, and all the victims have physical similarities – one blonde with light eyes, one brunette. All of you are here because we need to catch this guy and reactive measures are not working. We need to bait him, plain and simple. We will have 5 "teams" working the clubs," Dawson said, and motioned to the various pairs of detectives, uniforms and the two CSI's who were going undercover.

"That's the general background; let's make a game plan people."

The meeting was the usual combination of chest thumping, territory staking and actual work. Fortunately - and to Captain Dawson's credit – he kept the former to a minimum and it wasn't too long before Calleigh and Natalia had their assignments and their detail. Much to the CSI's relief, Frank Tripp and several other officers they were familiar with would be their backup. As the two women wove their way through the milling crowd and joined Frank in the hall, he took one look at them and asked,

"So, when are H and Delko joining us?"

Calleigh smiled and she heard Natalia stifle a laugh.

"As soon as we head out."

Tripp huffed. "Good. We'll start the detail from your house Natalia."

The brunette nodded and turned to Calleigh, "Well, we've got time to grab something to eat before we go to the club, want to head out now?"

Since both CSI's were officially no longer assigned to anything but this operation, the two women headed home, agreeing to meet at Natalia's and then head to dinner.

What the hell am I going to wear?

Natalia stood in front of her closet clad only in a fluffy white towel and pondered.

What DOES one wear on one's first pretend date with one's co-worker when the actual purpose of said date is to lure a serial killer, and said co-worker is just a friend, but you still wouldn't mind impressing her. Ah shit, I have no idea.

"Oh honestly Boa Vista, get over it. What is the big deal anyway?, This is undercover work, not a real date, and you do NOT have a crush on her. You don't. So just stop it." the DNA tech muttered to herself with exasperation, finally choosing an emerald green sleeveless dress with a flowing skirt that hung just at her knees. For shoes, she grabbed matching, low heels that were attractive but wouldn't hinder her movement any if she needed to move fast.

Getting dressed and going through the routine of finishing her makeup and hair, the brunette tried to concentrate – to focus on the evening ahead and run over their plan. Much to her consternation however, her consciousness kept slipping; bouncing back and forth between memories of Calleigh today in the conference room, and guesses as to what the Detective might be wearing tonight.

"Damnit, focus. Or you're going to get one of you killed."

That thought sobered her fractious imagination instantly and the DNA tech felt the first butterflies stretch their wings in her stomach. That is, until the bell rang and she opened her door to find Calleigh wearing a stylish black dress and an expression that for one instant, if she didn't know better, Natalia would have called, hungry.

Then her friend walked in the door and the brunette was able to convince herself it was a trick of the light as the two CSI's finalized their plans and Calleigh handed Nat her ear piece.

Several sound checks and the discovery that Calleigh was packing - .38 in a thigh holster – and the two women were ready. Frank Tripp and Horatio would be their primary watchers on the street in a surveillance van that would tail them, while several other officers would be closer – eyes on the ground so to speak – dressed as civilians and trading off positions. Eric had gotten a callout to a scene, so he wouldn't be with them.

"Are you ready?" Calleigh asked quietly. The two friends stood just inside Natalia's door, about to head to the car.

"As I'll ever be," Nat replied, forcing herself to sound more confident than she felt at the moment. Calleigh nodded and looked for a moment like she was going to say something. Tripp beat her too it however.

"In all likelihood, nothing will happen tonight. We have no idea how fast this guy works, but the chances of him targeting you and making a move on the same night are slim to none, so you two just relax and enjoy your night out on the county dime. We'll meet up outside the club." Frank drawled over their earpieces. He was trying to lighten the mood, but Calleigh had already discussed the slim chance of any contact with their perp tonight, so Natalia knew the Texan was only partially joking. Undercover work was all too often a game of waiting.

In some ways though, Tripp's reminder was a curse, because without the threat of imminent danger, Natalia's mind was only too happy to focus on just how damned sexy Calleigh looked in that dress.

Since they weren't really "on duty" until they headed for the club, the two CSI's had decided to grab dinner out and use the time to finalize their cover story. It would also give their surveillance detail time to go ahead of them and get in place.

The restraint was one both women were familiar with, though they had never eaten there together, it was small, with a quiet atmosphere and great food. It was just the kind of place one would take a first date, or a long time partner.

Outwardly, the ballistics expert was calm. Inwardly she was kicking herself. When Natalia had opened the door, the sight of the other woman in emerald green silk had caught the Detective totally off guard. It wasn't that she didn't know her friend was a beautiful woman – she'd have to be dead not to notice that – but Natalia's dress and demeanor in the lab were always casually professional. The woman who opened the door exuded an energy and sensuality that provoked a powerful reaction in the Calleigh. Now, however, was so not the time to start questioning herself or the origins of said reaction.

Focus Duquesne, or you're going to get one of you hurt, she told herself firmly, shoving the disquieting thoughts away.

Her mental castigation was interrupted by a voice laced with humor. "You failed you know." Startled, Calleigh looked up. "You said you were going to be butch. That outfit, Detective Duquesne, is not butch."

"True, but I can hide the .38 in the thigh holster and no-one is the wiser," the southerner shot back with a grin, and just like that, she was back on familiar footing. The rest of the meal passed easily – even the discussion of their cover story wasn't nearly as awkward as a part of Calleigh had feared. She gave herself another mental slap for doubting Natalia's professionalism. You never would have questioned her about anything else, what the hell is bothering you so much? Their check arrived at that moment however, and once again the blonde was forced to push aside her tangled thoughts. Its just this damn case. I want it over. That's all, Calleigh told herself. There was even a part of the Detective that believed it.

"You ready?" the southern accent was gentle.

The two of them sat in the silent car, several blocks from their destination. Calleigh removed her earpiece and turned to look at Natalia. The only illumination came from the lights of the street, and the shadows inside the vehicle were edged in neon shades. Despite the fey atmosphere, the brunette couldn't help noticing the blonde's eyes retained their ability to refract any light source, making them luminous. It was a quality that was slowly becoming dangerous as the DNA tech found herself falling into the trap of those eyes more and more…like right now.

"Yeah," she just managed, trying for breezy and falling a bit short.


"Calleigh, I'm fine." Natalia tried again, taking a breath to steady her nerves. "I won't pretend I'm not out of my comfort zone here a bit, but I can handle this, I've got your back."

The silence was charged for a moment as the two women simply held each other's gaze and then a soft smile tugged Calleigh's lips.

"I know," she said simply. Then her grin turned wicked, "and if you don't, I have backup," she teased, patting her .38.

"I am soooo not touching that one," Natalia laughed as they got out of the car.

As the sounds of a Miami night surrounded them, they slipped into their roles, both pushing aside the realization that it was easy - too easy perhaps - for Calleigh to slip her arm around Natalia's waist, for Natalia to return the favor and for their steps to fall into synch as they made their way along the sidewalk.

The streets were crowded and the energy of the crowds was a living thing of its own. Miami had one of the larger gay populations in the country, so no back alleys and hole-in-the-wall dives here. Although not entirely a "gay" district, their target wasn't the only club that catered to alternative lifestyles in the area – just the most popular. Fence it was called, and it catered to gay, straight, bi. Everyone was welcome, but the electric rainbow sign behind the bar was a pretty good clue as to which side of the club's name most of the clientele was on.

Natalia couldn't spot their backup in the currents of milling, laughing, hurrying people, and finally just gave up. They were meant to be invisible. Her focus was supposed to be on Calleigh anyway. As the blonde reached back and grabbed her hand to keep them from being separated, Natalia realized that wasn't going to be difficult.

In the next moment, she was glad for that slight physical anchor because they paid the door fee, got waved to the front of the line by some very appreciative bouncers – yeah, that still felt good ­– and were plunged into a seething tidal wave of humanity. Men and women in all stages of dress (and not) drifted and danced, moving together and drifting apart in patterns and currents dictated by the heat and music and need to connect, even if only or a moment, with another.

The heat was almost stifling. It had been quite a while since Natalia had been out to the clubs, and she would be the first to admit she was usually cushioned by at least one drink before she braved the dance floor. That would not be the case tonight. Despite the need to act carefree, neither CSI could risk alcohol compromising their perceptions or reactions.

The music was set at standard club threshold – which meant verbal conversation was a fantasy. No one came to Fence to talk. Words were rendered unnecessary however, when, with a daring glint in her eye, Calleigh pulled Natalia onto the dance floor and began to move.

For a moment, the DNA tech hesitated. Surrounded by strangers and drawn to her colleague in a way she didn't fully understand, she felt torn for an instant, afraid in a way that had nothing to do with why they were on this floor in the first place. And then two things happened, the music changed: slowing, going lower and becoming edgier, almost primal, and Calleigh dropped her 'cover' façade and stepped into Natalia. It wasn't the persona that the blonde had adopted in the car, but Calleigh Duquesne, CSI, ballistics expert and Natalia's friend that stood in front of her, and oddly, that was all Natalia needed. Her indecision vanished and she felt the music work its way into her blood, charging her cells and coaxing her heart to beat in time, a heat rising within her that was only distantly related to the press of strangers and the close air. Calleigh saw her acceptance, and between one sonic pulse and the next, the blonde closed that last whisper of space and fit her body against Natalia's and the two began to dance.

The sensation nearly overloaded Natalia's brain. There was none of the awkwardness that usually comes with a new dance partner. They moved together easily and the brunette knew, though she couldn't feel it, that her heart was racing. Her body felt alive, as if every nerve had been asleep until now and had suddenly been shocked awake.

Somewhere in her mind, the DNA tech knew she should be watching the crowd, that she should be on the lookout for trouble, but as silk covered curves pressed against her; as a slender thigh worked its way between her legs and soft knowing hands found her hips, Natalia couldn't bring herself to care. Nor could she think well enough to name the cause of her sudden weakness, though she knew it, deep in her heart. For the moment nothing existed but the feeling of Calleigh in her arms and she willingly lost herself to it.

Calleigh had lost track of time, and realizing it, cursed herself. Without her watch she had no idea how long they had danced and the music was far too loud to ask their detail. She had intended only to briefly reassure Natalia when she stopped pretending to be her cover, but by dropping the act, she had dropped some essential barrier between them. Without the pretence of being someone else to protect her, Calleigh had stepped close to the taller woman and found herself intoxicated. What was intended had been quickly surpassed as Calleigh lost herself in the feel of Natalia's body, in the way they moved together and the heat of the taller woman's skin. It felt so good: too good, and it was with a spike of fear at the depth of her reaction that Calleigh pulled back, searching for Natalia's eyes and finding them hooded and dark and knowing they had to leave before she made a mistake. Still, it was difficult to ignore the flash of disappointment, quickly buried, that flickered across the brunette's features, echoing the pang in Calleigh's own heart as the Detective led the way toward the exit.

The night air was warm and heavy, but still felt refreshing after the thick atmosphere of the club. The two women stopped on the sidewalk. Tired and on edge; caught up in the river of clubgoers and passer's by, they paused simply to breathe. Calleigh scanned the area as Natalia walked up, slipped in behind her and wrapped her arms around the blonde. Calleigh leaned into her, trying and failing to ignore how good it felt to be held; trying and failing to ignore the tightening in her already stimulated body when Natalia whispered in her ear.

Under the pretense of nuzzling the smaller woman's cheek, the brunette whispered, "Any sign of our guy?"

The tinny reply in both their ears was frustrated, and negative.

Calleigh turned her head to ghost her lips across Natalia's cheek and offered, "It's a nice night, we can take a walk from here. He's not going to take his targets in the middle of a crowd."

Horatio's reply was reluctant, but Tripp gave them the go-ahead.

Sliding around to Calleigh's left to free up the blonde's gun hand, Natalia slid back into her role of giddy clubber. It was hard to care about anything beyond the feeling of the blonde's body next to her, but the open air and harsh neon lights of the sidewalk helped her regain her focus somewhat. Still the brunette felt the loss of Calleigh's touch with a keen ache.

For her own part, the Detective nearly sighed with disappointment when Natalia slipped out from behind her, but with the order to walk, she forced herself to refocus. This would be the most dangerous time for them. By now the perp may (or may not) have already targeted them, and they were purposefully putting themselves within his reach. The image of the woman beside her posed, mutilated and lifeless, suddenly flickered through Calleigh's mind, and she sharpened her attention, resolve flooding her.

Not this time. No one is going to touch Natalia.

Down the street the two women walked; laughing, pretending to talk and acting like they couldn't keep their hands off each other, but as the dark, heat driven spell of the club was left behind, both were growing increasingly on edge. They were slowly making their way out of the club district and the crowds were thinning drastically. Natalia scanned each face, trying to analyze the threat, but not seeing anyone overly suspicious.

Calleigh leaned into her and whispered, "Just past that alley and then I want the car."

The brunette focused on the shadows ahead and was about to nod when two things happened simultaneously; the street lamp in front of them went out, throwing them into the semi-darkness, and something tiny and blue flashed in front of them.

The only thing Natalia knew after that was pain: white hot, crackling, living pain.

She never felt herself hit the ground.

The energy felt like needles in her blood, and when it finally stopped, it didn't vanish completely. Like a phantom it danced through her body and over her nerves, leaving sparks and agony in its wake. Natalia couldn't move. Everything seemed distant somehow, as if she was looking through a tunnel. She heard yelling – yelling was bad. She knew that, but for some reason she didn't care right now. She wanted to see Calleigh, but it was dark, and her eyes weren't working very well.

And then her eyes weren't working at all, and she saw nothing.

Calleigh received confirmation of her request for the car and pulled back from Natalia, scanning her surroundings. She'd been getting increasingly restless all night and her instincts were screaming at her to get out of here. The CSI and cop in her forced that clamoring fear down and away – acknowledging it but putting it in its place. But that didn't stop the blonde's hand from sliding toward her thigh and the holster there. She couldn't shake the feeling something wasn't right.

Like a signal, the instant the Detective completed the thought the street light above them went out. A hard shock of adrenaline charged through her, and she knew; this is it!.

That millisecond of awareness gave the blonde just enough advantage to swing to the side – drawing her gun and avoiding the tazer shot aimed her way. Natalia wasn't so lucky. From the periphery of her vision, Calleigh saw the taller woman's body jerk and fall – seizing on the ground as her muscles were overwhelmed.

"Miami Dade PD, drop the weapon!" she yelled at the shadowing figure in front of her.

In her ear she could hear the scramble for her backup and Horatio telling her to hold on, they were coming.

In the darkness and neon-tinged shadows, the Detective could make out nothing but a vague figure. Her night vision was slow to kick in, but she could see his hands were up – and in one of them, he still held the now inactive tazer.

"Drop the weapon and put your hands on your head!" she snarled.

"But I've been waiting so long for you to come to me," came a thready male voice.

Icy fingers of dread crept up Calleigh's spine. Where the hell was backup?"Put it down," she tried again, and nearly cried with relief as she heard the revving of engines and the wailing of sirens."Who ever you are, you're done, there's no way out, put the weapon down."

The next seconds seemed to slow and stretch – the pounding of Calleigh's heart marking time as events played out.

"Hang on Calleigh, we're here," Horatio called through the radio.

"You aren't going to catch me. Not you," snarled the perp, and his hand dove toward his back.

The feel of the trigger was hard and smooth – familiar in a bone deep way to Calleigh's hand – the gun merely an extension of her will.

The shot echoed loudly in the dark, but the sound was swallowed by the crying of the sirens as several cars and Horatio's Hummer screeched to a stop behind her. Chaos ensued as officers swarmed around her. The glaring headlights showed only a masked man dressed in black, lying in a pool of spreading blood.

Her blood still charged with adrenaline, but now warmed by a slowly spreading relief, Calleigh turned to check on Natalia, thankful the other woman had had enough sense to simply stay down during the confrontation.

"Nat," she called gently, kneeling down by the brunette and wincing in sympathy as she saw the tazer tags still stuck in her chest. The DNA tech was going to be very sore.

"It's alright Natalia, he's down."

There was no response.

Calleigh's earlier relief was ripped away in a surge of panic as her fingers felt for a pulse.

There was none.

The entire world receded. Somewhere in her mind, the Detective knew she shouted for rescue, because her throat felt raw and Horatio was suddenly at her side, but all Calleigh knew was her friend's still body.

Tilting Natalia's head back, she pressed her mouth to still warm lips and tried to control her panic as she started CPR.

Too soon, and not soon enough, Horatio was pulling her back as the EMT's swarmed the injured woman.

The Lieutenant held her shoulders, forcing her meet his gaze and stopping her journey into self-recrimination before it could start. "Listen to me Calleigh, listen to me. There is nothing more you could have done. Natalia will be alright. Ok? She's going to be alright."

The terrified woman desperately wanted to believe him, but it was strangely hard to hear his words over the calls of the paramedics.

Calleigh heard the whine of the charging defibrillator, the sickening thud of it hitting flesh, and then the most wonderful sound pierced the chaos: the agonized cry of oxygen starved lungs.

"We got her! Lets get her to the bus," one of the EMT's called, glancing toward Horatio and Calleigh and nodding.

At that moment, the only things keeping the blonde standing were Horatio's comforting touch on her arm, and the public setting. As it was, it took everything in her to simply breathe slowly and stride over to the ambulance. She climbed in and shot the EMT's a look that dared them to protest.

Focused on taking one of Natalia's hands in her own, Calleigh missed the significant look that Horatio sent after her as the vehicle pulled away.

The ride to the hospital was a blur, reality stretching and bending around her in a rush of noise and color. Only when Calleigh was forced to stay behind as the EMT's wheeled the Natalia into the ER did time and awareness seem to snap back into terrible synch.

Forced to stay in the sterile waiting room, the blonde paced, her movements stiff and precise. She felt like an animal in a cage. Her body was wire tight and she knew her reactions were reaching the hair-trigger state.

"Calleigh baby, come here." Filled with the burden of gentle understanding, the soft command cut through the Detective's turmoil. Turning, Calleigh saw her friend and the lab's M.E., Alexx Woods, standing in the hallway. "Come here sweetheart," Alexx coaxed, and Calleigh felt a small thread of her desperation begin to unravel.

The elegant M.E. gave her friend no choice in the matter, she simply walked over and hugged her. For a moment Calleigh stayed rigid, and then something in her bent and the blonde sighed, wrapping her arms around Alexx and accepting the support.

"I talked to the EMT's on my way in, and she was stable by the time they got her here. She's going to be ok Calleigh," Alexx said firmly as she pulled the CSI over to sit down in one of the chairs. Before the blonde could reply however, there was a commotion as Eric and Ryan burst through the doors at a full run and came sliding to a screeching halt in front of the two women.

"Cal! You're ok! What happened, we heard over the radio…" Eric trailed off, terror and concern warring on his handsome features. Calleigh didn't get a chance to tell him however, because at that moment, the ER doctor walked out and found himself the focus of four very intense stares.

Having dealt with law enforcement officers before, the man knew how to increase the odds of his survival and smiled immediately.

"She's going to be fine," he said. He was smart enough to see badges and guns and not even try to ask about family. Cops took it rather personally when one of their own went down and for most of them, their fellow officers were the only family they had.

"Thank God," came a deep voice behind them and Calleigh turned to see Frank Tripp looking relieved and out of breath.

"There's extensive bruising and she'll have to deal with some minor muscle weakness from the electric shock, but her heart didn't stop long enough to cause any damage. Her vitals are strong and her E.K.G. came back normal. They're just going to run some minor checks and then put her in recovery. You can see her then, but I would ask you to keep it to one person at a time. She isn't likely to be awake for a bit anyway."

Five sighs of relief followed him back to the E.R.

Despite her urgent need to see for herself that Natalia was alright, Calleigh forced herself to wait until the others had been and gone. She had one very simple reason. When her turn came, she wasn't leaving. The night nurse had taken one look at her expression and not bothered with the usual "5 minute" warning, and so the Detective now found herself alone, watching the gentle rise and fall of Natalia's chest as if her gaze alone would make it continue.

In the eerie calm of the hospital night, there were no distractions for Calleigh's mind to cling to. The CSI was exhausted and no longer able to stop her consciousness from replaying the events of the evening in brutal clarity and the images battered at her already fragile control. She could feel herself slipping into memory, and so with a sigh that was nearly a sob, she stopped fighting. Slipping her fingers through Natalia's to have something to anchor herself, the blonde leaned back in the hard chair and finally let the images play. She saw it all again – as it had been - and as it might have been.

It was the 'might have been' that nearly made the petite woman sick, as a heavy, terrible dread swept through her. With cruel detail, her mind taunted her with the sight of the paramedics failing to revive Natalia and Calleigh felt the sharp, phantom pang of loss, no less cutting for it being imagined. The grief crowded her chest and stole her breath, consuming her with its cold emptiness.

But it's not real, the Detective clung to that thought, pushing back the fear and forcing herself to breathe.

Unconsciously, her hand had moved to take the sleeping woman's wrist until Calleigh's fingers rested on Natalia's pulse. Like a tiny candle lighting a window in the fiercest storm, that steady beat now drew the blonde back from the darkness of "might have been." Eyes still closed, she concentrated. She acknowledged her fears, understanding but reminding herself they hadn't been realized.

Natalia is safe, and whole and the undercover sting was a success Its over.

But the unease the blonde felt wasn't responding to her attempts at logic. So with only the steady rhythm of the heartbeat under her fingers and the distant sounds of the hospital for company, Calleigh finally allowed herself to ask why?

The question was given form in the still, empty room, echoing in her mind until it consumed her. The answer, when it came, wasn't wholly surprising. It had just never been articulated until now. Funny how nearly losing someone makes you realize what they mean to you. I feel something for her. And its gone way beyond friendship. I think…I think I'm falling in love with my friend.

The understanding filled her – not as something new and unexpected, but as if a curtain in her mind had been pushed aside to reveal a truth that had always been there, waiting patiently for discovery. Pinching the bridge of her nose, Calleigh let her head hang, very aware of the potential for disaster that this not particularly sudden revelation had created. This was not a case; not a problem that could be solved with careful analysis of evidence. This was emotion, which meant it was messy and complicated and she had no idea how to proceed. Falling in love with your friend and co-worker could be hard enough when that person was a man, but this? How would she even know if Natalia felt the same way, and if she didn't…am I strong enough to handle that possibility?

No answer to the silent question was forthcoming and Calleigh's sigh echoed in the silent room. Now what?

Her heart had apparently given her all the answers she was going to get tonight however and she was left with a curious emptiness. The CSI was suddenly aware of being achy, exhausted from the loss of adrenaline and sudden emotional roller coaster of the night, and she wanted nothing more than eight hours of uninterrupted sleep in her own bed. Leaving was not an option however, so Calleigh scooted the chair closer to Natalia's bed and rested her head by the sleeping woman's hand. The Detective was prepared for the usual restless doze of a hospital vigil, but her body seemed to have other ideas and it took only moments before her breathing evened out and the stillness of sleep blanketed the room completely.

The first thought that floated to the slow, dark surface of Natalia's awareness was something along the lines of, this is the worse hangover I have ever had. Everything hurt, to the point she couldn't pinpoint a specific area of distress – it was all one living, pulsing, radiating pain. The DNA tech came to consciousness gradually, in fits and starts. Things came to her in pieces – like shards of glass - she knew they made a whole but couldn't make sense of it yet. She knew she was in pain, but she didn't know why. She felt exhausted and heavy – like a great weight was sitting on her chest and it hurt to breathe. Which led to the realization that she was, in fact breathing, and there was a tube taped to her nose feeding her cold air – oxygen – which led to other sensations.

An IV in her hand, starched sheets over her body, monitor leads taped to her chest and the cold, sterile smell of death. Hospital, I'm in a hospital...shit what the hell happened? And with awareness of her situation came the need to know – to make sense of it – so the brunette struggled to open her eyes.

Thankfully, it was dim in her room so sight was a relatively painless addition to her existence. Blinking, Natalia gradually won the fight to focus and was rewarded with the dim, bland visage of one standard issue hospital room…with one very usual feature.

Resting next to her left arm was a tousled blonde head, the owner of which was slumped in a chair next to the injured woman's bed.

Calleigh, and just like that, memory rushed back: the undercover operation, the club, the attack. She'd been tazered. Well, that explains the feeling like I got run over part, I'm still missing the "Calleigh is passed out next to my bed" part. Even as she thought it however, Natalia remembered other parts of the evening too. She remembered the look in Calleigh's eyes when the ballistics expert had first seen Natalia's outfit, the way the smaller woman had made her feel when they danced together – like she was the only woman on the planet – the feeling of Calleigh's skin against her own and how good, how right it had seemed to hold the blonde in her arms.

Ooooh shit.

Lying there with the heavy, oppressive quiet of a hospital at night pushing in on her, Natalia was forced to examine her feelings for her friend – and conclude they went far beyond mere friendship. The heart monitor beeped steadily, but the brunette no longer heard it. She was back in the lab, remembering how simply being around Calleigh could make her whole day: back in that club, remembering how safe she felt, even though they were supposed to be on a dangerous assignment; back in Calleigh's arms with her whole body singing.

Shit, shit, shit.

Natalia's eyes closed and she stifled a groan of frustration.

How am I going to go to work with her now?

At the moment however, the brunette realized she could put off making any decision. Instead, there was a tempting distraction right next to her bed. Opening her eyes again, Natalia looked at where Calleigh slept, threw the mental dice and came up snake eyes. With a hand that was aggravatingly weak, she reached out and indulged in running her fingers through corn-silk hair.

The brunette didn't have time to enjoy the sensation however, as her touch caused the sleeping woman to jerk awake, blinking in confusion. Natalia was about to tease Calleigh for sleeping on the job. She didn't expect the depth of emotion in the other woman's expression as jade green eyes focused on her.

"Hey you, welcome back," the blonde whispered, taking Natalia's hand in her own and stroking an errant lock of hair from the brunette's forehead. Natalia had to work very hard to ignore how wonderful that touch felt. Calleigh's eyes were suspiciously shiny in the low, flat light of the single lamp however, and the injured woman felt herself start to worry. This wasn't like the ballistics expert. They were friends yes, but…

"Cal, what is it?" she managed to rasp.

Instead of answering, the blonde grabbed the water cup and held the straw to Natalia's grateful lips.

"Our perp caught us in the alley. You got tazered."

"Yeah," Natalia replied ruefully. "I remember that part pretty damn well."

Instead of responding to the dry humor, Calleigh looked away, her expression going dark.

Squeezing their still joined hands, the injured woman spoke softly, "Calleigh, what is it? Did he get away? Did I mess it up?" Suddenly worried that her inexperience and injury had cost them the operation, she was further shocked when Calleigh turned to her, a fierce look on her normally gentle features.

"No," she said forcefully, "we got him. I shot him."

The blonde looked down, and Natalia thought that might be the end of it until she spoke again, her voice barely above a whisper – the sparkling southern accent gone dull and frail.

"Your heart stopped. I hesitated, tried to talk him down after he'd tazered you. I waited and I… we, almost lost you."

A part of Natalia was trying to come to terms with the fact that she had nearly died. It was rapidly being drowned out however, by the part of her that was screaming "she said 'I', she said 'I'!"

The look of naked agony on her Calleigh's face was too much for the injured woman to stand however, so for the second time since she woke up, she made a mental gamble, only this time she went all in.

"Cal," she whispered, "come here."

The blonde leaned in and Natalia tugged at her hand, "Closer," she whispered. Her chest felt like she'd been run over by a car and she knew she'd only get one shot at this.

Before her friend could question, Natalia used her other arm for leverage, pushed herself up, and pressed her lips fleetingly to Calleigh's. She had barely enough time to register just how amazingly soft those lips were before her abused muscles gave out and she fell back to the bed with a soft grunt. Her eyes never left the blonde's face in front of her however, so she was treated to the most amazing display of emotion she had ever seen on the normally stoic woman's features.

Before Calleigh could pull away, Natalia squeezed her hand and said forcefully, "Listen to me Cal, none of this is your fault. You did exactly what you were supposed to. And I know you, you were probably the one to try CPR, am I right?" At the shell shocked nod, Natalia continued, a subtle smirk working its way onto her lips.

"You're going to have to try harder than that to loose me Calleigh Duquesne. I'm not going anywhere," she finished softly, holding her friend's eyes and trying to communicate the weight of what she felt through that look. Come on Cal, ball's in your court, please don't let me down.

The brunette watched, barely breathing, as understanding spread across the Detective's features; understanding, and something more.

Holding the injured woman's gaze, Calleigh whispered, "you promise?" and then she was leaning down and kissing Natalia. And it was anything but fleeting.

The pain, the cold, the sterility of their situation – everything vanished under Calleigh's tender assault and Natalia parted her lips to receive a cautious, seeking tongue. Reaching up, she slid her free hand into thick blonde hair and swept her thumb along a warming cheek.

Their tongues were just beginning a slow dance when the metallic scraping of the door handle turning shattered the moment. Calleigh jumped back and Natalia watched with shocked fascination as the smaller woman went from flushed and aroused to protective in an instant. Standing, the Detective's hand was on her gun and sliding it half out of the thigh holster before the intruder walked in, causing both women to instantly relax, and Natalia to feel very, very sheepish.

Horatio stood in the doorway, looking between the two of them with a definite sparkle of amusement in his eyes. Natalia bit her lip and watched as Calleigh deliberately put the gun on the nightstand and tried to straighten her hair a bit. No one spoke.

Horatio ducked his head, but Natalia could see the knowing grin on his face.

Great, its been all of 30 seconds and we are busted. Fantastic. If she'd had more freedom of movement, the brunette would have slapped her forehead.

Fortunately, Caine didn't let the silence stretch. "Natalia, I'm glad to see you're awake. We were worried." And when he looked their way, the DNA tech could see the genuine concern in his expression. It warmed her, and she felt Calleigh squeeze her hand. The blonde's smile was rueful, but there was no fear in her eyes. Horatio wouldn't betray their newborn secret.

"Calleigh, why don't you take some time off and help Natalia get settled. Neither of you have had a break in far too long, ok?"

Not willing to look a gift horse in the mouth, the two nodded, and with a smooth, "Ladies, I'll make sure you aren't disturbed any more." Their Lieutenant turned and walked out.

A moment of silence hung before Calleigh coughed, and Natalia groaned, and the two fell into rueful laughter until Natalia gasped and held her chest.

"Ooh, laughing, not good. So not good right now."

The Detective's expression turned soft and she reached up to run her fingers through Natalia's hair, stroking her temple. It felt heavenly and the injured woman closed her eyes and sighed.

The thought of having Calleigh in her home excited her, but there was still a part of Natalia that was afraid – unsure of this sudden and drastic change in their relationship. Opening her eyes, she looked at her friend – at the woman she now willingly, if tentatively, admitted she was falling in love with. "Calleigh," she started, intending to ask, why, or if the blonde was sure, or something…but she was cut off by a pair of lips on hers. The kiss was slow and teasing and torturously seductive; an assurance and a promise of things to come. It left Natalia glad she was already lying down, because if she'd been standing, she probably would have fallen over.

"I'm sure," Calleigh whispered in her ear, and that sultry accent made the injured woman's heart beat wild and pain free for the first time since she'd woken. "We'll take things as they come, but I've never been more sure."

"Now scoot over," the southerner commanded teasingly. "You're in no condition to do anything about that look in your eyes, and I'm not spending the rest of the night in that damned chair."

And with that, Calleigh climbed onto the narrow bed to fit herself against Natalia's side, laying her head on the injured woman's shoulder where the low, steady sound of her heartbeat finally eased away the last of her fears. Natalia wrapped her arm around Calleigh, and the blonde reached across to lace their fingers together, completing the circuit.

And that was how the nurse found them the next morning.


Somewhere in the back of Calleigh's mind, some tiny voice was chastising her for not taking this slower, for not drawing it out. But as Natalia's hands roamed her body, mapping every curve and hollow and sending fire racing under her skin, Calleigh told that voice to shut the hell up.

Almost two months they'd waited. It took Natalia time to recover, and despite the pleasure and comfort they both felt waking up together in the hospital (greeted by a very knowing smirk from the kindly older day nurse) neither was the type of woman to bestow her emotions lightly. The first steps were taken slowly, but gradually the touches grew less casual and the looks lingered longer. Slowly, the urge to feel each other's lips grew impossible to resist and the resulting kisses went from exploring and reassuring to hungry. Steadily, the realization of need sank in, held in check only by the hesitancy of the emotional shift they both felt.

But the shift had settled, and was replaced by a bright, hot desire, both reminiscent of, and somehow greater than what they had felt during that first dance at the club.

Natalia arched into Calleigh's mouth as the blonde kissed her away across bronzed skin, here and there nipping gently and drawing soft sounds from the brunette. Fingers tangled in golden hair, pulling her closer and Calleigh obliged, learning with her mouth what things made Natalia cry and plead even as her fingers began their own exploration.

Moving up the taller woman's body, a tug brought their lips together. The soft sounds of need were swallowed by questing mouths as delicate fingers slid gently into slick heat and two became one. Body arching as Natalia claimed her, Calleigh struggled to focus, to not lose herself completely to the feeling. Matching her lover's rhythm, she moved, and together they raced toward the sharp edge of pleasure.

The night looked fondly on as two bodies curled around each other, cream against bronze, only the differing shades to tell where one ended and the other began. Calleigh drifted, warm and sated in a way that went far beyond the physical, content simply to listen to the heartbeat beneath her ear.

She wasn't prepared for the low, delicious vibrations of a chuckle to eclipse the steady pulse.

"Hmmm?" She asked with lazy amusement, looking up at Natalia whose dark eyes had taken on a wicked mirth.

"I'm trying to think of a way to thank Stetler for bringing us together, whether it would be worth the trouble just to watch the expression on his face."

Shocked, unfettered laughter was her only answer, and it was contagious. Outside the night passed unnoticed as inside, two new lovers greeted a new day with pleasure and joy.