Staring chapter 2 - Conversation - by Sara's Girl

AN – So...I actually updated this! –shock- I'm really sorry it took me so long to update, I really had no idea where I wanted to take it, because I never expected anyone to want me to continue it!

Thank you for all the lovely reviews and to everyone who gave me a poke to continue with this story. It's appreciated, as are your comments on this new chapter. It's moving slowly, because...well, it's what I do.

Anyone who doesn't like Nick/Greg...sorry...it seems they permeate everything I do, whether I like it or not. It's more alluding to them than anything else, but just a warning :)

XXXXX

Fortunately for Catherine, she was a woman of many talents, observation being just one of them. She was also skilled in the art of avoidance, and she was now calling that skill into practice – namely avoiding Nick Stokes. She felt exposed after their conversation in the corridor. Two days later, she had managed to evade all non-work-related communications and had taken to hiding around corners when she saw him coming. The rational part of her told her it was ridiculous, but self-preservation was a strong instinct for Catherine, always had been.

Now Nick knew her game, and that took it to a whole new level. She knew now, he was watching her, even if she would not speak to him. The observer had become the observed, and Catherine did not like it one bit. Still she watched, she could not help that, but there was an edge about her now, as though she was waiting to be found out. Of course, Nick knew all about watching, didn't he?

She was the one that had called him on it, all those years ago, the one who had noticed and dared to ask the difficult question.

'Nick...why do you keep staring at Greg?'

She had known the answer before it came, but she supposed she just wanted to hear him say it. He had been horribly embarrassed, she remembered. Perhaps this was payback. Not that it was justified, after all Nick had got what he wanted in the end. Catherine sighed as she walked ever so slowly past the DNA lab for the sixth time that night, not daring to stop but keeping eyes angled firmly left as she walked, determined to drink in as much of her dark-eyed subject as she could, whilst still in motion. She was wearing green today, a fine-knit sweater that clung to her curves and showed off the smooth skin of her chest, skin that Catherine suddenly found herself wanting to touch. Her fingertips itched with it, and she tucked them into her pockets as though someone might notice, and just know.

Forcing herself to focus, she walked purposefully into the break room, hoping to find Sara and catch up on the double homicide they were working together. It was a weird case, even by Catherine's standards, and she thought, she hoped, that it would keep her twisted thoughts away from the other woman for at least a few hours.

She should have known that luck was not on her side. Sara was nowhere to be seen, but the room did have one other occupant. That occupant sat, lounging as if in his own living room, untied Converse sneakers up on the table, chair tilted back on two legs, an unruly sandy-coloured head buried in a tattered copy of the Enquirer. Catherine froze in the doorway, knowing he had not yet noticed her, and backing up slowly, preparing for her escape.

He looked up just at that moment and caught the look on her face. Grinned a trademark Greg Sanders smile and lowered the magazine to his lap.

"Hello, Catherine."

"I'd forgotten about you," she admitted with a sigh.

She'd been doing such a good job of avoiding Nick, that she had completely neglected to avoid his partner. To whom Nick told everything.

"That's not very nice, now, is it? I'm hurt!" Greg threw his eyes to the ceiling and clutched at his chest dramatically. "I thought maybe you'd want to talk about your new interest in DNA...you know, seeing as I'm the expert in that field."

Greg was smiling like a shark now, and Catherine had a sudden feeling there was nowhere to hide.

"Ok, Greg," she said wearily, dropping into the chair opposite him and folding her arms across her chest. If she thought Nick was tenacious, Greg was much more of a threat. He probably taught Nick all he knew, over the years.

Quick and painless, like ripping off a band aid. It's only Greg Sanders.

"Say what you need to Greg," she invited, crossing one leg over the other. "And get your feet down off that table."

"Sure thing, Cat." Greg grinned, dark eyes flashing as he complied.

"Don't push it."

Catherine stayed perfectly still and maintained her expression of absolute calm, despite the swirling of impending doom in the pit of her stomach. The voice of reason was screaming now, telling beyond all doubt that this was a very, very bad idea. But no need to let Greg know it was getting to her, because he would never let that go. If she could just ride it out, let him talk, and then she could be out of here and walking very slowly past DNA again before too long. Just checking up on Wendy and her green sweater.

Catherine smiled to herself at the thought and suddenly Greg was laughing. Laughing at her. She scowled, fixing him with her traditional death-glare. Unfortunately, either she had used it too many time on him and made him immune, or Greg really wasn't afraid of her any more, because he just laughed harder. Stretched across the table, leaning towards her.

"I don't know exactly what it is you want, Catherine," he began at last, drawing out her full name pointedly, causing her to roll her eyes. "But I can guess, and may I be the first to say that...that's seriously hot."

Greg smirked and licked his finger, holding it out and making a somewhat theatrical sizzling sound.

Oh, no. No, no, no.

"Na-ah," Catherine shook her head and started to rise from her seat, hoping that 'no way, Sanders' was written across her face clearly enough for her younger colleague to see it. She should, of course, have known better than to think she would actually get any sensible advice out of Greg Sanders. Wondered, not for the first time, how thoughtful, mature, sensible Nick put up with him 24/7.

Maybe he's really good in bed.

Catherine's eyes widened in horror and she paused, halfway out of her chair, hands still gripping the armrests. Where that thought came from, she didn't know, but it needed to be obliterated, immediately. Green sweater...green sweater...green sweater...hidden curves and warm lips and...ok. She breathed, feeling warm again, and dropped back into the chair, defeated.

"I'm messing with you, chill out." Greg looked at her, head on one side, exactly how Nick had looked at her in that corridor. "Have you tried talking to her? Revolutionary concept though that might be?"

"I talk to her all the time," replied Catherine, tossing blonde hair over her shoulder defiantly.

"Yeah, about stuff other than DNA?" Greg raised an eyebrow in challenge and kicked her gently under the table.

She had, of course...there had been the conversation about hairstylists. If you could call it a conversation, which Catherine wouldn't, not if she was being honest. Greg kicked her again.

"Watch it." Catherine drew her feet under her chair and sighed. "Not really."

Greg exhaled dramatically and raked both hands through his unruly hair in frustration. Catherine smiled to herself and debated pointing out to Greg that he had just had a – granted, extremely rare – gay moment. Decided against it, all things considered. She always liked to weigh all of her options very carefully, and in this instance, despite her irritation, she probably needed Greg's help more than she cared to admit.

"Look. Let's get this straight." He paused and Catherine allowed him a grudging curl of her lips in response to his choice of words. "You like her, and you don't know if she likes you."

"I guess that covers it. And just so you know, Greg, if you tell anyone about this I will personally make sure you regret it," she warned.

"Fine, fine. I'm offended that you don't think I have better things to gossip about, but no matter. The point is, you need to talk to her first."

"Why?"

Catherine cringed inwardly, knowing she sounded petulant, and petulant was never a good look on a professional woman in her forties, whatever the situation.

"Because, believe it or not, she's probably a little bit intimidated by you. You know, you're Catherine Willows, for god's sake." Greg shrugged.

"Flattery will get you nowhere, Sanders."

"I'm not trying to flatter you. There's no agenda here, Catherine. You don't have anything I need," Greg asserted, leaning back in his chair once more and shoving hands into his jeans pockets.

Catherine stared at him a moment, turning that particular thought over and over in her head. When had Greg stopped trying to impress her? She hadn't noticed it, but there it was. Catherine resisted the temptation to cover her eyes and wish the world away like she did when she was a kid. Why the hell was this so complicated that she was actually sitting here of her own free will being lectured to by Greg goddamn Sanders. Come back Nick, all is forgiven.

"The point is," Greg continued, sounding somewhat exasperated, "I've been on the other end of the CSI/lab rat relationship dynamic and I'll tell you this for free, she's more afraid of you than you are of her."

"Isn't that what they say about spiders?" asked Catherine faintly, giving in and covering her eyes with her hands.

"Yes." Greg nodded, his face serious. "DNA techs are much like spiders." He seemed to consider this for a moment, and Catherine watched him stand and cross to the door through her fingers. He turned as he pulled the door open. "Hey, maybe you should ask Grissom for advice. I bet he could lend you a textbook."

"Mmmppphhh," said Catherine, dropping her hands and looking for something to throw at him.

"Conversation!" Greg called as he closed the door behind him.

Catherine slumped in her chair and wondered if anyone would notice if she hid in the locker room until the end of shift.

XXXXX

There was one hour left of it when Catherine found herself once more outside the DNA lab. And true to form, she had not hidden anywhere, but pulled herself together, sought out Sara and headed gratefully into the field. It had involved a long drive, and Sara seemed strangely subdued for reasons Catherine did not want to even enter into, not that Sara had ever opened up to her anyway. Giving Catherine plenty of time to think, whether she liked it or not.

And, much as it pained her to admit it, she had arrived at the conclusion that Greg was right. And Nick. Staring was all well and good, but after a certain amount of time it became somewhat undignified. And it was also getting her nowhere. Catherine was certain by this point, if she was certain of nothing else, that this feeling, this attraction, -dare she say it- this desire, was not going away. There had to be words, and actions. Catherine considered herself a woman of accomplishment in both of those areas. She could do it.

So here she was, one hand on the door, about to push it open and take a leap into the unknown. Looking through the glass and watching the other woman stretch, pulling the soft green sweater upwards and revealing a stripe of smooth, tanned lower back. Catherine smiled and wondered idly why she wasn't wearing her lab coat, not that she was complaining. It was a very nice back, at least the bit that she could see. She thought about what that skin would feel like under her fingers, or her lips. Catherine sighed softly and curled her fingers more tightly around the door handle, heated butterflies instantly released into her lower regions with the onset of that thought.

Hesitating, knowing that she could still retreat before Wendy noticed her, Catherine forced a deep breath and shook her head. Pushed the door open. Because she, Catherine Willows, CSI Level 3 and professional hardass, was not afraid. And because staring, or rather observation, she hastily corrected, could only take her so far.

And I'm doing this without a net, she thought. I have no evidence in DNA. No nice, safe, work-related conversation to fall back on. There's always the possibility that she hates me, after the way I...

Catherine's fractured thoughts were well and truly interrupted as the DNA tech turned at the sound of her footsteps and smiled brightly, effectively stopping Catherine in her tracks. Her incapacitated brain faintly registered that this, the same dazzling smile that had started this whole thing off some time ago, had lost none of its potency.

The smile lingered as she gazed at Catherine from behind her desk, all warm dark eyes and soft chestnut strands falling into her face. Catherine fought down the very real temptation to reach out and stroke the errant hair behind her ears and instead attempted to return the smile. Knowing, despite her better efforts, it was coming out as a rather grim, teeth-baring rictus instead of the warm, friendly smile she knew she was capable of. And more to the point, she had yet to say a single word.

'Have you tried talking to her? Revolutionary concept though that might be?'

'She's more afraid of you than you are of her.'

'DNA techs are much like spiders.'

Goddamn Greg Sanders. Catherine groaned softly and crossed her arms protectively across her chest. She didn't realize she had also closed her eyes until she blinked and saw that Wendy had not only put her lab coat back on – much to her disappointment – but was mirroring Catherine's arms-folded, slightly defensive posture.

Not that Catherine blamed her, defensiveness was actually a pretty astute reaction to having her lab invaded by the woman who usually refused to make eye contact with her, and who was now standing here grimacing and saying absolutely nothing. Conversation. Catherine cast about wildly in her head for something, anything but drew a resounding blank. The other woman's sheer proximity and her warm, slightly exotic smell pervading Catherine's nostrils and rendering all normal services temporarily out of order.

"Are you ok, Catherine?" she asked eventually, uncrossing her arms and resting palms flat on the glass top of the desk. Leaning forward and exposing a few extra inches of firm, smooth curves and cream-coloured lace beneath the deep V of that damn green sweater, making Catherine's heart race erratically.

Catherine wasn't sure if it was the leaning or the concerned tone that made her do it, but before she could stop herself, she was stepping closer to the desk and asking the first question that came into her head.

"Do you want to get some breakfast with me, after shift?"

Surprised brown eyes met hopeful blue ones across the desk and Catherine waited, barely breathing. So much for conversation.

TBC!