Title: Before the Dawn

Pairing: Calleigh/Natalia CSI: Miami.

Rating: NC-17

Disclaimer: Oh come on, if I have to say I don't own them… Seriously.

Summary: In the course of helping a battered family, Natalia and Calleigh grow close.

Spoilers: Set somewhere before season 6, but I play fast and lose with timelines and canon. Some spoilers for a few eps in season 4 and 5, but as usual, I take liberties. Nick is a total bad guy and Calleigh's backstory is the original one- where her father was an abusive drunk and not just a useless one.

Warnings: STRONG description of rape and abuse. This fic explores Natalia's past and it's not pretty. I try not to make it needlessly graphic, but this story does deal with both spousal abuse and mentions (vaguely) child abuse.

Authors Note: I am lucky enough never to have experienced abuse, so for me, this is an interesting character study. However, this is a very serious topic that far too many women face and I am in no way attempting to make light of it. If you, or someone you know, are in an abusive situation, PLEASE, PLEASE get help. It's not something that will go away or fix itself and it is NOT your fault! It takes a great deal of courage to ask for help.

The first blow drives the breath from her lungs and the fire of oxygen starvation consumes her awareness. Struggling to breathe, she is helpless against the second punch to the side of head that sends her crashing to the floor; disoriented and reeling.

Her vision darkens as her lungs burn. The world spins, blurring and running like watercolors on canvas and her body aches where his blows have landed. The worst however, is yet to come. His hands are like hot iron vices where they grip her arms. She's lifted bodily and flung; a moment of weightlessness followed by the soft impact with the bed.

She tries to move, to roll over and escape, but it's too late. His face looms in her vision, even as her mind shuts down, retreating from what is to come. He's tearing at her clothes and his hands roam on her body. This is the worst part. He's not fast. If he would just take her and be done, it might be bearable. But he doesn't. He strokes her trembling body, whispering: his breath hot in her ear and his fingers cruel between her legs. Her body betrays her every time, but she's never truly ready when he thrusts into her. Physically, it always hurts, but far worse is the shame and hate that claw at her soul, choking her.

He's quiet. The only sounds are the grunts he's making and the sliding of flesh.

The tears that fall from her eyes are silent…

Natalia Boa Vista fought her way into waking with a scream strangling the breath in her throat. Throwing herself forward, she nearly tumbled from the bed before her brain could catch up with her body and collapsed in a tangled heap of sweat soaked sheets. Her breath came in ragged gasps as the last dark tendrils of the nightmare finally fell away. For a moment it seemed like the worst had passed, but it wasn't to be. With sudden desperation the brunette clawed her way free of the bedclothes and stumbled toward the bathroom. Falling to her knees at the toilet, Natalia promptly retched violently.

When her stomach refused to give up anything more and even the dry heaving had quieted, Natalia stood on shaky legs to clean up. Splashing cold water on her face, she looked in the mirror, cringing at her reflection. Dark shadows clung under eyes that exhaustion had leached to a dull brown, and her normally golden bronze skin looked sallow. With a sigh, the CSI leaned forward, resting her head against the cool glass.

God, they're getting worse. I thought this was over damnit!

It had been years since the real nightmare had ended, and over a year since the man himself had died. Natalia had thought the night terrors were behind her. It seemed however, that they were back to stay - and with frightening intensity.

Come on Boa Vista, get it together. He's dead. He can't hurt you.

They were comforting words, but mere words nonetheless; nothing but fragile syllables with little strength against the darkness still swirling in her mind.

It'll be over soon, Dianna will be leaving. Her new identity should be ready in a week, tops.

Reason and logic however, have never held much sway with nightmares.

Knowing she wouldn't get back sleep right away, Natalia gritted her teeth, went back into the bedroom, changed the sheets and then headed for the shower. Once there, with the hot spray washing away the ache in her muscles and the feeling of filth coating her skin, her mind inevitably wandered back the events that culminated in this moment.

Natalia Boa Vista, like many of her colleagues, had secrets. Many of the men and women she worked with were less than forthcoming about their pasts and often because those pasts were painful. Few people became cops because they had warm and sunny childhoods. In Natalia's case, the pain had been physical: abuse, nearly fatal, by her ex-husband, Nick Townsend.

Everyone dealt with things differently; Natalia fought back in the best way she knew how. She became a link in a diffuse and secretive organization of women; women whose pasts were similar to her own. For the most part, her role in the "underground railroad" was minor - information passing and intelligence gathering. In her job as a DNA tech and criminalist-in-training for the Miami Dade County Crime Lab, Natalia was often in a position to inform others in the railroad of women in need, or to pass information to those same women. Occasionally she had been there when several members had helped move a woman or her family in the middle of the night, but the CSI had never taken this kind of risk before.

And I don't think I'm going to again. Not if every time I let someone stay in my house I end up re-living the worst of what Nick would do to me.

Natalia didn't have it in her to feel resentment though, she understood all too well what it was like to be scared every moment of your life – to feel like you were drowning and there was no way out and nowhere to go - and she would never regret helping in this case. The hot water finally started to work its subtle magic and the exhausted woman grabbed the soap to clean the last of the lingering taint of nightmares and memories.

At the moment, the source of Natalia's unrest was (hopefully) sleeping down the hallway in one of the guest bedrooms. Dianna Powell was living testament to the truth that domestic abuse paid no heed to social standing. From an old money New England family, the woman was the stereotype of the well brought up WASP. Elegant, trim, pale and blonde, Dianna had gone to the proper school, gotten the proper degree, and married the proper man: or so she thought.

And that was almost me, Natalia mused.Not the painfully uptight blonde look, but the married society wife. It had been her mother's dream; it hadn't been hers.

Yeah, I married Nick, so instead of quietly miserable, I was violently miserable. As the brunette reluctantly reached to turn off the hot water, the old, phantom ache in her arm was a callous reminder of just how violent.

Natalia dried off and wrapped a robe around herself, her body on autopilot as her mind, falling into the familiar patterns of a CSI, replayed what she knew about her guest.

The husband was money, and good looking - that was all Natalia had gotten out her quiet, obviously still-shocked guest. At this point the DNA tech didn't really care either. The husband was out of the picture and as far as Natalia was concerned, the less said about him, the better. Dianna was here only for as long as it took for some of the other members of the railroad to prepare a new identity for her. Unlike most runaways Mrs. Powell had managed to escape with some financial security, but that meant a little more care had to be taken with her new life. That was also why Natalia had been asked to shelter the woman at her house. Even if someone did see Dianna, she wouldn't look at all out of place in Natalia's neighborhood and could be passed off as a family friend. Miami might be a long way from Dianna's home of New York, but members of the railroad didn't take chances. That she came from money just meant they were that much more wary.

Reaching a state somewhere beyond tired now, Natalia rubbed her neck and debated going back to bed, or trying to catch up on some of her forensic journals.

"Natly?" Before she could decide, the CSI's debate was interrupted by a small voice from her doorway. Exhaustion falling away in the face of worry, Natalia turned, suddenly alert. Pulling the door open wider, she was greeted by yet another source of disquiet for her – though in this case, an utterly welcome, if heart-wrenching, one.

"I'm here Kathleen, what's the matter, are you ok?" she asked softly.

Dressed in her pink pony pajamas and holding a fluffy purple specimen of what the brunette supposed vaguely passed for the equine species, Dianna's daughter stood in the dim light of the hallway. Kathleen Powell was barely 8 – it still counted, her birthday was last month thank you very much – and already her childhood, what there was of it anyway, had been ripped apart.

Natalia had felt for the little girl from the first. It certainly wasn't hard; bright strawberry blonde hair and large emerald eyes would have been enough to melt harder hearts than Nat's. It was the too thin body, the large purple and black bruise covering the girl's right cheek, and the solemn, almost distant look in those eyes that made the DNA tech burn with a frighteningly intense rage however. Natalia's experience with abuse had been terrible, but she had been an adult, and - as she had finally proven to herself – capable of defending herself and escaping her situation. Kathleen had spent several years watching as her father grew increasingly violent beating her mother before something finally brought him to turn on her as well.

I can't even begin to understand what she's gone through, had been Natalia's only coherent thought when she first saw the girl.

The bruise had faded to several interesting shades of green and yellow, but the haunted, hunted look still lurked in Kathleen's eyes, and Natalia had no idea how to make it go away. She had tried as much as possible to reach out to the girl, but until now, she didn't think she'd made much of an impression.

Maybe I got through after all. God I hope so.

The brunette made it a point to keep her voice low and soothing around the girl, but never talked down to her. She might physically be a child, but her innocence was long gone. And she's just scarily smart sometimes, the CSI acknowledged.

"I had a nightmare," Kathleen shifted and scuffed her toes on the carpet, clutching her pony. "I didn't want to be alone," she whispered softly.

Natalia's heart clenched painfully as the familiar hot ache of rage swept though her. Taking a deep breath and forcing her feelings back however, she held out her hand. "Well, so did I, and you know what? I don't really feel like being alone either. Would you keep me company?"

That statement earned the CSI a long, considering stare. "You really did have a nightmare didn't you? You aren't just saying that to make me feel better."

Oh yeah, scarily smart. She's 8 going on 40. After several days of getting to know her though, Natalia just smiled ruefully as Kathleen took her hand and the two walked over to the bed.

"No, I'm not just saying that. Do you want to watch TV for a bit?" the brunette asked, hoping a change of subject would help get the girl's mind off the dream. Natalia needed time to think as well. She certainly hadn't expected company tonight and the CSI was still raw from her own nightmares. Kathleen's presence was another emotional curveball when she hadn't truly recovered from her uncomfortable awakening.

And why is she here instead of with her mom? Pulling the covers up around the girl, Natalia flipped on the TV and tried not to act shocked when Kathleen scooted over and snuggled against her. "Hey kiddo, it's ok, it was just a dream. You know that."

"Yeah, but it was still scary." Before Natalia could come up with a reply, Kathleen spoke again, "what was your nightmare about?" It was asked softly, and when Natalia looked down, she saw her visitor staring studiously at the TV where some nature show was playing.

Dear God, how do I tell an eight year old my nightmares are about my ex-husband r… Unable to complete the though, she thought for a moment and decided on the truth. Well, some of it.

"I had a dream about my ex-husband. He was hurting me." Unsure of what to expect, Natalia glanced down only to find wide, solemn green eyes looking back at her.

"I'm sorry he did that."

Impulsively, Natalia hugged her, smiling sadly. "It's not your fault. And it's not your fault that your mom left your dad. You know that right?"

Kathleen's gaze went distant, and the CSI cursed herself for a moment until the girl spoke again in a small voice. "I know that. It doesn't help though. It still hurts. I dream about it. I see him hitting my mom, and I hear him yelling, but I can never make out the words. I don't understand. Why did he do that?"

And just like that, she was a scared child asking questions Natalia didn't have answers to, and admitted as much.

A silence settled over the two, broken only by the low noise of the TV. Just as she thought Kathleen was asleep though, the girl spoke again. "Is that why you helped us, because you got hurt too?"

Unsure of where this was going, the brunette answered carefully, "Yes. That's part of it. Not everyone understands that kind of hurt, so it helps if we stick together."

"Oh. Ok"

Natalia had to bite her lip not to smile and shake her head. Kathleen's next words however, were a brutal reminder of the toll her situation had taken.

"I can't talk to mom about my dreams. She gets all sad and when she thinks I can't hear her, she cries. She's sad all the time; she just tries to hide it. I don't want to make her more sad. It doesn't hurt you when I talk about my dreams does it Natly?"

Natalia swallowed hard.

It's a sick world where an eight year old is watching out for her mother.

Aloud, however, she replied, "It only makes me sad that you have bad dreams, but I know what they're like, so you come talk to me any time you want ok? It's been a long time and I'm not sad anymore."

Hey, the son-of-a-bitch is dead, it's over.

"But you still have nightmares?"

Busted Boa Vista. She's got you there. "I do, but they aren't nearly as bad as they were, and they're getting better. And I know I have lots of friends who care about me and would help me now, even if I still had a reason to be afraid. And just like I'm helping you and your mom now, there are going to be lots of other people to help you out and you're going to have new friends too. Now, you just snuggle in here, and try to get some sleep alright?"

"Ok. Thanks Natly," Kathleen mumbled, burrowing into the pile of pillows on her side and promptly falling asleep, leaving the CSI to click off the TV and lie in the dark, thinking about what she had just said.

"I have lots of friends." Friends to help me. Should I? Would it help Kathleen?

The conversation weighed on Natalia's mind until the need for sleep finally won out and she surrendered to oblivion.

The alarm went off too damn early the next morning.


Feeling achy and exhausted, Natalia fought the tenacious desire just to go back to sleep and slowly pried her eyes open. The sight that greeted her however, was enough to warm away the last of her weariness.

Barely visible beneath a pile of covers, the top of Kathleen's head poked out, only the messy crown of her hair and her tightly closed eyes visible next to the obviously tightly clutched, omnipresent pony.

Natalia had never thought about having kids. When she and Nick had first been together - while things were still good - it had simply never come up. They were two people too wrapped up in each other to consider children. And of course later, when he became violent, she stopped thinking about the future altogether. The CSI had never felt particularly maternal, nor felt it was a lack in her life, but sitting here, looking at the blonde lump in her bed, she felt a rush of tenderness and a fierce desire to protect the girl.

The girl, not "your" girl. She has a mother, get a grip on yourself and get your ass to work. You're doing what you can for them.

That last thought got her up and moving. Another shower, a glass of juice and a note for Dianna about where to find her daughter and she was headed to the lab. The whole drive however, she couldn't stop thinking about Kathleen.

Am I doing enough to help her?

Dianna and Kathleen were hardly the first battered family she'd helped, but none had become so personal.

Well, none of them lived in my house before.

What it came down to however, was the simple fact that Natalia Boa Vista was a CSI, not a child psychologist. She didn't even have the kind of direct, personal experience to relate to Kathleen that might help her. She also didn't know of anyone currently working the railroad that did. Most of the women were like her – victims of recent abuse. If they had scars from childhood, she didn't know about it. She was also aware that while there was more than one psychologist within the network, Natalia didn't know them personally, and was loathe to talk to someone she didn't have a connection with.

Which left her with her friends; well, her family almost – the men and women at the lab. It had been over two years since the fallout from the 'mole' scandal, and Natalia no longer had any hesitation about thinking of the team as her family. They had been there – helping her find her sister, and fighting for her innocence when Nick had been murdered - and were supportive of her like no one had been since she was growing up. As much as she might trust her colleagues, however, she was still hesitant to bring outsiders into the "railroad."

Except that there's one person who already knows, she realized as she entered the lab and a flash of bright red caught her eye. It was lunch however, before she had a chance to put her idea into motion.

"Lieutenant, may I speak to you for a moment?"

Natalia immediately found herself the sole focus of her ruggedly handsome and incredibly intense boss, Lieutenant Horatio Caine.

"Ms. Boa Vista, what can I do for you?" he asked, tilting his head; concern evident in his whisky-smooth voice.

"Actually sir, would you mind if we spoke in your office?"

That got a searching look and, "Of course."

Once there, Horatio motioned for her to sit.

"Natalia what is it? I assume this isn't regarding your current case load?"

Natalia regarded the man in front of her. She had come to trust him with her life, and though she had been hesitant to reveal her position in the railroad to him, her faith had been rewarded. In return, he had been supportive when Nick had been killed – believed in her when IAB was breathing down her neck - and more importantly, had revealed something about his own abusive past to her. It was that past she was counting on now.

"You're right, this isn't about any of the current cases. This has to do with my, other work."

Horatio was smart, he knew immediately what she was referring to, but simply gave her a nod and motioned for her to continue. Briefly, Natalia described the situation to her boss, and watched as his eyes sparked with anger. Horatio she knew, ihated/i when people harmed children. Therefore, she wasn't that surprised when he immediately agreed to help.

"Would you like me to come over this evening?"

"I'd appreciate that, thank you Horatio."

"It's my pleasure Natalia, and I'm grateful that you would come to me with this," he said, his head tilted and his eyes compassionate.

Natalia could only nod, relief stealing through her at his acceptance. Even after all this time, it was still hard, this asking people for help, and she had a sneaking suspicion Horatio understood that.

Several hours later, Natalia was beginning to feel like a warmed over corpse. The combination of lack of sleep, the stress and emotional rollercoaster from the nightmares, and her nerves from the earlier meeting with Caine were catching up to her. Her body felt heavy and listless and as she waited for the latest batch of DNA results, she found herself unable to resist the urge to sit down on the stool and rest her head on her hands just for a minute….

"Hey Natalia,"

"Huh?! Hey, what?" The brunette nearly fell off her perch and had to grab at the table to keep her balance.

Groggy and disoriented, it took a moment for Natalia's awareness to stabilize, and when it did, she was greeted by a sight that would have been touching if it weren't so damn embarrassing. Calleigh Duquesne stood in front of her, wearing an expression that was both contrite and worried.

"Natalia, I am so sorry, I wasn't paying any attention when I walked in. Are you alright?"

Rubbing her eyes to try and hide the burn of embarrassment that spread across her cheeks, the DNA tech stood.

"Yeah," she muttered, disgusted with herself.

"Hey," came the soft reproach, "Nat, is everything ok?"

Looking up to see concern in her colleague's eyes, Natalia was sorely tempted. She desperately wanted someone to talk to. No, be honest Nat, you really want to talk to Calleigh, but… But it's the middle of work, and what the hell is she going to do about it anyway. She's not going to appreciate me whining about my personal life. So making an effort to straighten her shoulders, the brunette forced a smile and replied.

"Yeah, no problem. I just didn't get my usual hit of caffeine this morning."

Calleigh looked for a second like she wasn't buying the line, but in the end let it go and turned the conversation to the evidence she had come for. As the ballistics expert turned to leave and Natalia started on the next case however, she felt a tiny pang of disappointment that the smaller woman had fallen for the excuse.

Starting on the next batch of samples for comparison, Natalia's mind, restless and unfocused with weariness, wandered despite her attempts to the contrary. The subject it settled on was well worn; the enigma that was Detective Calleigh Duquesne. Like the woman herself, Natalia had long ago admitted that her feelings for the blonde were…complicated. She had liked Calleigh immediately when she first was assigned to Miami Dade and was relieved to find she would be working with another female CSI, hoping they could become friends.

Despite the easy and comfortable working relationship that developed between them however, the ballistics expert always seemed to hold herself just slightly apart from everyone around her, including Natalia. As if there was some invisible line she simply would not cross, the petite southerner always appeared pleasant, approachable, focused… and slightly aloof.

Calleigh had been one of the first people to forgive Natalia's position as the federal mole and the DNA tech had worked hard to regain the blonde's trust, desperate not to lose the one friendship that - for reasons she couldn't explain - meant more to her than any other.

Some of it of course was simple.

Natalia admired the smaller woman greatly. Nothing seemed to ruffle her – not even personal issues. Even in a rumor mill like the crime lab, people were reluctant to gossip about her, and despite her diminutive size, there wasn't a single person who was willing to cross her (though it was largely agreed upon that Stetler might be dumb enough to try someday. The betting pools on that particular confrontation ran wild).

Calleigh had everyone's respect and most of the male (Hell, most of the female) population of the MDPD sighing longingly whenever she walked by, though she never seemed to notice. There had honestly been days when Natalia was ready to just tie the smaller woman down and take notes on how the hell she did it. What the DNA tech eventually realized however, was that distance seemed to be Calleigh's answer. That tiny degree of separation kept her from becoming entangled in all the various currents of popularity and power that were inherent in a job like theirs.

In the aftermath of the mole fallout, Natalia had refocused on her work and strove to emulate Calleigh. It was a struggle, but she was rewarded by the ballistics expert's trust and loyalty, and the rest of the lab had eventually followed suit. The brunette loved working with the southern detective and found herself looking forward to those rare times they were able to just talk – be it about a case or silly, inconsequential things. Their conversations always left Natalia feeling more centered somehow: energized as if some small craving within her had been satisfied.

Some of it was more complicated.

She considered herself to be Calleigh's friend, and counted herself lucky for it, but there was a small, rarely acknowledged part of her that was frustrated by the blonde's seemingly impenetrable armor. In her more honest moments, Natalia could admit to herself that she longed to close that last, tiny gap between them and find out what lay beneath that calm detachment. Fess up Nat, she's a mystery, and you've always loved puzzles, It was more than that, and Natalia knew it, but she had gotten better at emotional self preservation over the years, and every instinct she had said exploring her feelings when it came to Calleigh Duquesne would only cause her pain – something she couldn't afford to risk.

Such a wish therefore, was doing her no good, and the exhausted woman forced herself to get back to work. DNA was tangible and safe and predictable. It either gave you answers or it didn't, and the answers it did give were printed in black and white for all to see. With a mental nudge, Natalia sank back into the comforting, familiar patterns of trial and analysis. Her subconscious however, took one parting shot at her weakened defenses, and the image of Calleigh, jade eyes reflecting concern and compassion, lingered at the edge of her memory, teasing, for the rest of the day.

Despite Dianna's discomfort at the idea of a guest, dinner that night went fairly smoothly. Horatio rang the door promptly at seven…and he wasn't alone.

Natalia blinked, and Caine grinned gently at her expression.

"I thought, that Sam here might be helpful," he spoke with a tinge of humor in his voice, as he laid his hand on the head of the massive German Sheppard sitting obediently at his side.

"Sam?" Natalia stepped aside, motioning Horatio and his companion in while still trying to process the sheer size of the dog.

"Sam…Sam is a retired police dog who has recently finished retraining as a therapy helper. She's part of the MDPD experimental outreach program. Children, the elderly, people going into surgery, even abuse victims can all benefit from animal contact.

He ruffled the Shepard's fur.

"Sam is very good at her job, and gets along especially well with children," he said, his voice quietly significant. Natalia felt a smile stretching her lips and shook her head.

"I think the only thing she'd like more is if you brought a pony, though that animal is almost big enough."

Horatio ducked his head to hide his smile.

Horatio was charming, and Dianna's upbringing wouldn't let her be awkward with a polite guest, so dinner itself was actually fairly pleasant. For her part, Kathleen was absolutely head over heels in love, and from the position of Sam's head on the girl's lap and the mysterious disappearance of a large amount of chicken for a young girl, Natalia had a feeling it was mutual.

With her attention divided between Kathleen, dinner and her guests, it took Natalia a moment to realize Horatio and Dianna were talking about New York. At first the CSI was impressed. Dianna seemed more comfortable and animated than she had been since Natalia met her, until she noticed Horatio quietly refilling the woman's glass. Their eyes met across the table, and Caine's expression was gently rueful. Natalia trusted him not to go to far, and he obviously wanted to keep her talking, so she turned back to Kathleen, who was holding an entire conversation on her own, with Sam.

Not surprisingly, Dianna retired early and Horatio used the opportunity to go sit with Kathleen where the girl was now brushing the dog in the living room.

What they spoke about, Natalia didn't know, but by the time she went to find them after cleaning up the kitchen, Kathleen was snuggled between Horatio and Sam and very obviously fighting sleep. When the brunette suggested the girl go to bed, it was Caine who offered to tuck her in, and when he returned, he gave her a tired nod.

"She's a very remarkable young lady," he said, accepting the drink she poured him gratefully.

"Got to you too, did she?"

His answer was the customary tilt of his head and a smile. "I think, I think she'll be ok. But it takes time, and she needs to hear that it's not her fault."

Feeling the threat of a headache beginning behind her eyes, Natalia pinched the bridge of her nose and nodded, sighing. Good news, sort of. "Thank you Horatio, I appreciate you doing this."

"Hmm," the gentle sound was an expression of welcome and regret all in one, and Natalia realized just how tired the man looked. It startled her a little. Tired was not a state the brunette was used to seeing in her intense Lieutenant. Before she could say anything however, he straightened.

"Thank you for dinner," he said politely, putting the unfinished drink down and going to collect Sam. "I uh, I have some things that I still need to do tonight."

Natalia simply nodded and moved to walk him out. "Have a good evening Horatio, and again, thank you."

Caine smiled gently, all trace of weariness buried now. "It was my pleasure. You call me if you need any more help alright?"

"Will do. Goodnight."

The redhead nodded and turned toward his car, the massive dog padding silently in his wake.

As the growl of the hummer engine faded, Natalia shut the door and walked back to the kitchen. Her house was quiet – almost eerily so. She was getting used to the subtle, but tangible energy of having houseguests and was a little annoyed to find that she missed it when the others were asleep. Spying Caine's drink, the brunette picked it up and shot it, hissing at the slow burn it left as it hit her gut. It was a waste of good Scotch, but Natalia had a feeling she was going to need a little help sleeping tonight.

Whether it was the alcohol or the toll on her body, the dreams didn't return, but Natalia still woke achy and uneasy the next morning. A shower helped, but she very much hoped it wouldn't be a long day. She checked on Kathleen and Dianna – both still asleep – and headed to the lab. The normally quiet commute was interrupted by a call on her cell that revealed one of her underground contacts: Dianna and Kathleen's identity would be finished by the end of the week and they could move.

A part of Natalia was relieved. Maybe, with her gone, I can stop dreaming of Nick Another, smaller part of her, admitted that she was going to miss having Kathleen around.

That particular predicament was swept aside however, as she walked into the lab to be greeted almost immediately by Calleigh. The smaller woman's expression was tight, almost predatory. It was the look Natalia had come to associate with particularly bad cases, and this was apparently no exception. As the detective explained what she knew and the brunette followed her colleague toward the garage and the awaiting Hummers, all hopes of an easy day were dashed.

Natalia also knew that despite the circumstances, she wasn't the least bit disappointed with her choice in working partners.

Rubbing her neck as she waited for the last batch of DNA results, Natalia resisted the urge to sigh. She hadbeen right. It had been a long day. The saving grace of the case she was working on was Calleigh's presence. As always, working with the blonde had been…singular.

In contrast to her quiet, almost gentle way in the lab, there was a facet to the small detective's personality that came out when she was working cases that was fascinating to watch. From behind the warm and sunny exterior emerged an intense, calculating hunter. It was more than inspiring, it was - Natalia admitted to herself – a little arousing. Despite her apparent single-mindedness however, the energy the blonde exuded was contagious, and Natalia was in no way immune. It was probably the only reason she had made it through the day.

At least it's almost over and I can get home and tell Dianna the news. It might not be happy exactly, but at least she won't be in limbo anymore.

Just about to file the last paperwork of the day, her name spoken in smoky question caused her to turn. Horatio was standing in the doorway of the lab, fiddling with his sunglasses.

"Natalia can I see you in my office for a moment?"

Her weariness momentarily forgotten in light of the unusual request, the DNA tech could only nod and follow, trying to ignore the first creeping touch of uncertainty in the back of her mind. Her mental state was not helped when Caine ushered her into his office and she saw Calleigh, sitting ramrod straight on the couch, her expression unreadable.

"Natalia have a seat," Horatio suggested gently as the brunette's confusion grew.

Is this about the case? I followed protocol, I haven't screwed up in ages, what?

Before she could work herself up too much however, the Lieutenant spoke again.

"Natalia I did some checking last night after I left your house. You know I grew up in New York and started in the police force there. I still have a lot of contacts. I spoke to some of them and what they told me worried me greatly. Natalia I think you might be in danger."

Ok, now I'm officially 'what the fuck?'

Looking at Calleigh didn't help either. The blonde's gaze was focused on Horatio, but there was a distance in her eyes that said she wasn't just thinking about his words.

"Dianna's husband is a very powerful man," Caine continued, snapping Natalia's attention back and making things suddenly, very, very clear. "He's a very powerful man, and he's been asking questions. Natalia, is there any way he can trace Dianna here?"

What he was saying finally registered, and a spike of fear shot through the CSI. "I, I don't think so. I mean this isn't the first time the railroad has done something like this. We have precautions in place."

Caine nodded, but it was clear he wasn't entirely satisfied, and he shifted where he stood before looking up and holding her gaze.

"I understand that Natalia, but I'd like to make a proposal. I don't want anything to happen to Dianna or Kathleen, or to you, ok? I've spoken to Calleigh, and she's agreed to stay with you for a few days, just as a precaution."

Natalia felt like someone had just yanked the rug out from under her.

Calleigh. In my home. Living with me. Shit.

It was suddenly very clear that her day was far from over.

Well, this is awkward. Natalia thought darkly. Or more accurately, I'm awkward. Cal certainly seems fine with the whole thing. Not that I'd know if she wasn't. Oh grow up Boa Vista, Horatio wants her here for protection, she's just a house guest… with a .45. You'll live.

The snarky, uncertain mental dialog however, didn't let up the entire drive home. Part of it was simple exhaustion. Natalia was reaching the end of her reserves, and having Calleigh's presence thrown into the mix wasn't helping her mental equilibrium.

The other part was fear. She was more than tired, she was raw, and she wasn't sure she could control her reactions around Calleigh. Hell, I don't even know what those reactions are! The Detective drew her, that much was for sure, but Natalia's feelings for the woman were a complicated tangle of respect, awe, longing and God only knew what else.

As she pulled up to her house and watched the blonde park her silver Crossfire behind Natalia's own sedan, the brunette took a deep breath to center herself.

Whatever happens, you're going to have to deal and keep it together Nat. Its only a day or so. You'll be fine, she'll be staying in one of the spare bedrooms, you don't have to spend all your time together; you are both professionals…What's the worst that could happen?

Thankfully, the answer to that question wasn't provided right away. Despite her misgivings, Calleigh was a charming and helpful guest. Conversation was kept to safe topics like lab gossip and current cases and Natalia found herself relaxing into the easy banter. Dianna accepted Calleigh's presence with the same distant politeness she seemed to greet everything with, and as usual, retired with a sleeping pill after dinner. The woman's reliance on them worried Natalia, but she knew that others were aware of it and could counsel her better than the CSI.

Kathleen on the other hand, had found a new hero.

"Hey there," Calleigh had greeted the little girl brightly. And then she had said the magic words. "Is that a pony there?" Which was all the cue Kathleen needed to talk non-stop about her toy, and the real pony she had ridden at the barn back in New York, and how, someday, she was going to be a famous 'horse back rider person.' The intense discussion of "bay's versus chestnuts" continued long after dinner, though from what snatches of conversation Natalia caught, the detective's own experience with horses was quite limited. That apparently didn't matter to Kathleen, and for the second night in a row, Natalia walked into her living room to find another of her colleagues completely charmed by her little houseguest.

This time however, she leaned quietly in the doorway and allowed herself a moment to watch her friend. Calleigh's interest was genuine and Kathleen responded to it, better than she had even with Horatio. There was a sparkle in the girl's eyes that had been missing until now.

Cal's really great with her. I wonder if she's ever wanted kids? The thought slipped unbidden to the surface of Natalia's mind, and although it shocked her momentarily, surprise was followed immediately by the realization that it was scarily easy to imagine the diminutive woman as a mother. She'd be great at it.

The thought of Calleigh with a family caused a twinge of something in Natalia, but the brunette pushed it away quickly, instinctively knowing it best left unexamined. Thankfully, Calleigh took Kathleen off to tuck her into bed at that moment, giving the DNA tech time to compose herself.

Emotions under control once again, the brunette couldn't help but chuckle at the bemused expression on Calleigh's face when the ballistics expert returned.

"If it makes you feel any better, she got to Horatio just about as fast,"

The detective just shook her head before her expression became grim. "Did her father do that to her?"

"Yeah. Makes you want five minutes alone with the bastard and a tazer, doesn't it?"

Natalia expected anger, or agreement. She didn't expect the slightly lost expression that drifted over Calleigh's face and the soft reply. "I stopped being surprised at the things parents do to their children a long time ago."

A little shocked, and uncertain how to respond, Natalia found herself asking a question she hadn't intended.

"You ever think about having any of your own?"

"Children?" Calleigh seemed surprised.

"Yeah," Natalia replied gently, unable to take back her words and now genuinely curious of the blonde's answer. "You're great with them."

For a moment, the brunette thought she saw a small flicker of longing on her colleague's face before the detective shook her head ruefully.

"I could never have a child on my own, and my track record with relationships is, well, it leaves a lot to be desired. I never looked at Jake or John as possible fathers, which, all things considered is probably a good thing." She smiled, but it was brittle, and Natalia reached out without thinking and touched her arm.

"Every woman is allowed some bad choices Calleigh. At least you never let them hurt you." Natalia caught herself as the old bitterness crept back in and quickly changed tactics. "You'll find someone who can appreciate just how amazing you are, don't worry." The tone was softly teasing, but the brunette was unable to keep the tiny thread of meaning out of the words entirely and she knew without looking that her colleague had heard.

Inwardly she cringed, steeling herself for censure or awkwardness.

The swift spike of uncertainty had just enough time to race up her spine before Calleigh apparently decided to play along.

"So you think I'm amazing huh?" she teased slyly, laughing when Natalia rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, an amazing shot," the brunette parried. She gave as good as she got, but relief was heavy and freeing as it washed through her and it was an effort not to let it show as the two moved into the living room.

"Oh no, you said I was amazing. So that means you acknowledge my superior skills as a CSI hmmm?"

"Oh whatever. Missy what you might be to bullets, I am to DNA, so don't even start with me."

Back and forth, the easy teasing continued until Natalia, pleading exhaustion, went to bed. The two bade each other goodnight and separated, but the sense of closeness remained, a shared moment of friendship and perhaps a step toward something else.

The blow drives the breath from her lungs, the fire of oxygen starvation consuming her awareness. Struggling to breathe, she is helpless against the second punch to the side of head that sends her crashing to the floor; disoriented and reeling.

Her vision blurs and her lungs burn. The world spins, blurring and running like watercolors on canvas and her body aches where his fists have landed. The worse however, is yet to come. His hands are like hot iron vices where they grip her arms and she is lifted bodily and flung; a moment of weightlessness followed by the soft impact with the bed.

She tries to move, to roll over and escape, but its too late. Her vision is filled with his face, even as her mind shuts down, unable to handle what is to come. He's tearing at her clothes and his hands roam on her body…

NO, no, not again, not this time, I won't…

Natalia threw herself out of the dream, the scream of rage tearing its way from her throat before she could stop it.

Still in the grip of adrenaline and nightmares, she tore at the sheets tangled around her sweat soaked body, managing to free herself only by falling to the floor. Her mind was just starting to catch up to reality when her door flew open with a crash.


Still caught in the distortion somewhere between the nightmare of her dreams and waking reality, Natalia could only stare. Haloed by the dim glow of the hallway light, Calleigh stood like an avenging angel, hair wild and gun drawn.

An avenging angel in a silk nightgown…that shows a lot of thigh, was the incongruent thought that popped into Natalia's fractious, scattered mind.

Still reeling from her dream, seeing Calleigh standing in her doorway struck her with an almost physical impact. Her heart clenched painfully and her already thready pulse jumped.

Tearing her eyes away with an almost painful effort, Natalia railed at herself. Damnit! This is not happening. I cannot feel this way! She is my friend, my colleague and right now, my security detail! Enough of this, its just the nightmares talking, this isn't real, it's just a crush. You'll get over it, Dianna and Kathleen will leave, Calleigh will go and this will all be over. Now breathe damnit!

Eyes shut and fingers clenched in the bed-sheets, the brunette fought to get herself together and didn't see Calleigh approach.

Calleigh scanned the room wildly, adrenaline an electric current in her blood and a bitter taste in her mouth. Seeing only Natalia's crumpled form on the floor and no sign of an intruder, however, she forced herself to take a deep breath, lower her gun, and move to her friend.

Placing the Smith and Wesson on the bed, nightgowns need to have holsters, she knelt down next to Natalia, gently reaching out to lay a hand on the brunette's shoulder. What she felt made her heart ache.

The normally vibrant woman shook like a beaten animal and her skin was clammy. Natalia's rasping breaths echoed harshly in the quiet room. Whatever nightmare had her friend in its clutches was not letting go easily.

Calleigh understood that kind of haunting, choking fear: she had experienced it herself. Without hesitation or thought, she sank down next to the shaken woman and took her into her arms, stroking her hair and holding her close.

Oddly, Calleigh's touch didn't surprise Natalia. Even locked in her internal struggle, she recognized the safety offered through that slight physical contact. That didn't mean it helped though. Her nerves were shot and her muscles locked wire tight. Bit by bit, Natalia tried to force herself to relax. Just as she began to get a handle on her pounding heart however, a slender body wrapped itself around her and she was drawn into a comforting embrace.

Natalia's senses were suddenly flooded with Calleigh: the willowy strength of her arms, the hint of jasmine and vanilla in her shampoo, the warm whisper of silk against the brunette's cheek. Everything else – the nightmare, the tangle of cotton around her legs, the ache in her throat – all of it faded like mist before the Miami sun and there was nothing for Natalia but the woman holding her.

It felt good, and for a time, she simply breathed, accepting the gift of the moment for what it was.

Better than good, it feels perfect….shit. Seeing Calleigh in the doorway had shaken something loose in Natalia, bringing feelings she had tried to bury closer to the surface and she was too raw to control anything right now. It left her vulnerable to desires she knew without examining were dangerous. Despite being physically calmer now, Natalia's emotions were a tangled, thorny mess, and so the brunette reluctantly pulled herself away. She didn't want to let this go, but again, some instinctive reflex said "flee." I have to, before I go and do something stupid.

As if leaving the haven of the smaller woman's touch had shattered some invisible shield, Natalia became aware of the ache in her muscles, the dry rasping of her throat, and the fact that she was now cold from dried sweat and tangled in half her bedding. With reality firmly intruding, she took a deep breath and sat up, prepared to thank Cal and send her back to bed.

The blonde beat her to it.

"Natalia? What just happened?" she asked; her voice low and soft.

"Nothing, it was just a nightmare." Natalia looked up. Yeah, guess she's not buying that one. Calleigh's look said 'bullshit' loud and clear.

"This," the detective said firmly, motioning to their position on the floor in a tangle of blankets, "this is not 'just' anything. Natalia talk to me. Please?"

The brunette had turned away, trying to distance and compose herself, when a whisper of a touch against her jaw stopped her and pulled her inexorably back to shadowed green eyes. Whatever Natalia had expected to see, it wasn't the look of warmth and compassion she found. As much as she wanted to stay right there though, her sense of self preservation took over. Fear of the tangled, turbulent feelings crashing through was a goad, and it sent her into flight.

"I um, I really need to take a shower right now. Thanks for checking on me Calleigh, I'm alright, really, it was just a nightmare."

Nice job babbling Boa Vista, she cursed herself while very pointedly not looking at the silk clad detective as she yanked the covers away and stood up, walking shakily toward the relative safety of the bathroom as quickly as she could.

Once in the shower, Natlaia let the hot spray wash away the sweat and aches, which left her feeling much more relaxed…and completely exhausted, a state that was becoming aggravatingly familiar. The brunette purposefully kept her mind blank, concentrating on the hot water and the way it felt on her body.

There is no point in trying to work this out tonight, I'll just lose it. That didn't stop her mind from lingering on the image of Calleigh as she had appeared in the doorway though, nor her body from responding that it really liked that image.

When she finally felt clean, and had reached a state of bonelessness only possible with a combination of too little sleep and a lot of very hot water, Natalia stepped out and dried off. Wrapping herself in a thick terrycloth robe, she toweled her hair and then went back to the bedroom, realizing she would have to change her sheets again.

What she saw when she got there brought her up short.

Her bed had been remade, and on the edge of it sat Calleigh. The lamp had been turned on, giving one corner of the room a warm glow. The blonde had also taken the time to slip a long white silk robe over her night gown.

Drat, supplied Natalia's mind before she could slap herself.

The detective was now sitting quietly, her hands absently worrying the tie of her robe and a faraway look in her eyes.

At first Natalia thought that Calleigh hadn't heard her enter, until she spoke - her accent soft and her gaze still distant.

"Horatio didn't come to me just because I'm a woman he trusts and a good shot," the southerner spoke quietly, deliberately and with an edge to her voice that Natalia had never heard before. The DNA tech might have grinned a bit at the comment however, but at that moment Calleigh turned to look at her, and the brunette's breath caught sharply at the haunted expression on Calleigh's face. Stunned, Natalia could only watch as her friend stood, walked until she stood close to the brunette, turned her back and slipped her robe off her shoulders to hang around her hips.

Before Natalia's brain could completely short circuit at the sight, she was struck by the realization that Calleigh was trembling? My God, she's shaking…what?

And then she saw them. In the gentle glow of the lamp light and her own shock, the DNA tech hadn't been paying attention to what her eyes had been trying to tell her.

Like a lattice of the finest lace, a filigree of small, slivered scars criss-crossed the detective's back. Here and there lay a larger mark where the skin had ridged ever so slightly.

Without conscious direction, Natalia's hand reached out and traced one of the smaller scars. Somehow - though a part of her expected it - Natalia still felt a sharp ache in her heart at Calleigh's flinch. The smaller ones were so faint and old that only a few could even be felt against the unblemished skin of the rest of her back. Like touching flawed silk, came the errant thought, but Natalia was too shocked and horrified to follow it.

"Calleigh, what…?' was all she could manage, her voice fading away as her hand trailed over the smaller woman's spine and explored one of the larger scars.

"My father's belt," came the tight, too controlled reply "The larger ones…the larger ones are from the buckle."

Natalia felt sick: horror, anger, and a terrible understanding made her stomach roil and her throat close. She was unable to respond – to come up with anything remotely appropriate to say. She just stood, frozen, staring at the sudden evidence of long past cruelty, the endurance of which the detective had never given any clue to.

As the silence stretched, the smaller woman looked back, and the DNA tech saw shame and fear steal over the blonde's features as she misinterpreted Natalia's shock. Just as the detective began to shut down and pull away, Natalia acted, spurred by the sudden emptiness she saw in her friend's normally sparkling eyes.

Without giving herself time to think, she reached out and put her hands on Calleigh's arms.

"Calleigh," she managed, her voice thick. "I'm sorry. I had no idea."

Trying very hard not to think about how good it felt to be touching the smaller woman, she ran her hands up Calleigh's arms, feeling the tightness and the tremors in them. Natalia pulled the silk of the robe back down to where it had hung before and then slowly and deliberately, let her hands run the length of the Detective's back. She brushed the fall of gold hair over one shoulder, and then, taking a huge risk, she leaned forward and gently pressed her lips against one of the more prominent scars on Calleigh's shoulder.

She felt the smaller woman tense for a moment, and then, in a way that made her want to cheer, Natalia felt Calleigh relax under her touch.

Not wanting to push, and knowing she was in terribly dangerous territory, Natalia very deliberately moved back and pulled the robe up to slip it back around Calleigh's shoulders. She was rewarded beyond all hope when the blonde leaned back against her, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world for Natalia to wrap her arms around the smaller woman in a gentle hug.

As her hands slid across warm silk and firm curves and pulled Calleigh close, something seemed to click deep inside the brunette. Like the last tumbler in a long frustrated lock, it fell into place. For Natalia, time seemed to stretch as her senses were overwhelmed by the woman in her arms and the rightness she felt as their bodies fit together. It was nearly excruciating and she clung to the moment, trying to fix it in her heart.

And then Calleigh let go of a soft sigh and the spell was broken as the DNA tech let her go.

Squaring her shoulders, the blonde straightened and turned around.

"I owe you an explanation…" she began but Natalia cut her off with a firm head shake.

"You don't owe me anything Calleigh. I'd like to think we are friends, and if you want to talk to me, I'm here, and I'll listen - but this isn't something I want you to do if it's too painful."

The faintest of smiles touched the blonde's lips and some of the tension seemed to bleed from her body. Moving to sit back on the bed, however, the southerner continued,

"My father has been an alcoholic all my life…" she began, and proceeded to tell Natalia about a childhood the DNA tech would never, in her worst nightmares, have attributed to the calm, poised, unfailingly polite, impossibly dedicated ballistics expert. What she heard made her sick with anger and desperate to reach out to the woman next to her, but unsure of how to do so.

In the end, her subconscious didn't let her over think it. Saying nothing, Natalia reached out and entwined her fingers with Calleigh's, giving her friend's hand a gentle squeeze.

A weary, gentle smile was given in return.

A sense of quiet comfort stretched between the two, the silence healing. Calleigh leaned her head against Natalia's shoulder and the brunette closer her eyes, resting her cheek on the crown of pale hair.

Just as exhaustion was slowly edging in to tip the balance they had created, Calleigh let out a huge yawn. Natalia grinned, the sight was utterly endearing, and unfortunately, contagious.

"Calleigh," she murmured quietly, "Cal, come on before you pass out."

Pulling the covers down, she slipped into bed, gently tugging the blonde with her. Natalia refused to consider the implications of what she might be doing. Right now, the only thing she wanted was to be near Calleigh, and as the detective snuggled closer, the brunette had her proof she wasn't the only one who didn't want to be alone tonight.

With the gentle heat of the smaller woman's body warming, and her solid presence grounding her, Natalia drifted quickly off into blessedly dreamless sleep.

The first tentative rays of sun the next morning were caught and held in warm jade eyes. Calleigh had always loved mornings: the expectant hush in the air as the earth welcomed the new day; the first rise of warmth as the sun touched the land; it had always been a private time for her. Over the years, the southerner had endured a great deal of teasing for her habits. Most people would rather give in to the comforting oblivion of sleep than see the start of a new morning, but the blonde had never regretted her body's natural rhythm. It awarded her rare moments that others might miss: moments like this one where as the first pale bloom of light graced Natalia's face, Calleigh was gifted the simple privilege of being able to watch her friend sleep.

In truth, such experience was rarer than others might think. Calleigh had learned long ago to guard her privacy and her space. Even on the rare occasions she took lovers, there was always a part of her she held separate; safe. Jake had always complained about it at the academy: that she was never there when he woke. John had been more accepting, but - as the tragedy of his suicide later revealed – he had been engulfed by his own problems.

As her mind wandered, making connections unbidden by any conscious control, Calleigh realized that it had been years since she had allowed herself to greet the dawn with another person. If she had stayed the night, she would use her natural habits to be gone before her partner opened their eyes – usually long before the sun gained the horizon. No matter how exhausted she might be, there was always that internal warning; that restlessness that would force her from the warmth of her partner's arms and into the day – at least for a moment – alone.

Last night had been nothing more than two souls desperately needing the comfort and nearness of another. There had been no physical intimacy between them, only understanding and solace. There should have been nothing tying Calleigh to this moment and the woman sleeping next to her, but as the sun fought inexorably to be free of the earth's shadow, the detective felt absolutely no desire to move.

Last night had changed something, eased away some rough edge in her psyche that had been there so long, it had scarred and she had ceased to consciously be aware of it.

Scarred, how appropriate. And that, Calleigh realized, was the key. Her whole life, with all of her other lovers (few though they were) she had never purposefully revealed the evidence of her past. Somehow, she had always known their reactions would be wrong: pitying or disgusted or uncomfortable. For one instant last night, she had feared to see that look of wrongness in Natalia's eyes as well. But then the brunette had stopped her, touched her, and kissed the faded reminder of her pain, and much of the old, ghostly bitterness that still clung to the marks had slipped away, banished by the simple, heartfelt action.

Still, that Calleigh felt no sense of urgency or discomfort now should have merited examination. Basking in the tender brightness of a new Miami day and surrounded by the shared warmth of Natalia's body, however, the blonde felt no desire beyond a simple wish to just be for a moment. She watched the steady, almost hypnotic rise and fall of the brunette's chest and for once, didn't fight the rare sense of contentment that stole through her. Whatever this was, it was fragile and precious and Calleigh was loath to destroy it.

Natalia it appeared, was not a morning person. And even if she was, after last night anyone would be exhausted. I wonder how long she's been having these nightmares. God, Nick's been dead nearly a year…If she's been having them this entire time…. Her heart ached. Natalia had her own scars the detective realized…they just weren't on her skin.

Turning on her side, Calleigh continued her quiet vigil, trying to absorb and make sense of this new understanding of her friend. Her mind replayed the events of the previous night and came to a conclusion that should have worried her, if only because she was just now becoming aware of it. Natalia had become increasingly important to her, to the point where the strangled cry last night had sent Calleigh into protective mode so fast it made her head spin. She hadn't stopped to think or plan or question, she had just acted, driven by the need to get to Natalia. Such action wasn't like her, it was rash and a tactical mistake, and yet…and yet I can't regret it.

Before she could dissect that response, Natalia mumbled something and burrowed closer in her sleep, her hand sliding up to rest on Calleigh's shoulder so that their bodies pressed close together, silk and cotton and curves and heat. The sleeping woman's breath was warm and gentle on Calleigh's neck and the blonde could smell a hint of the brunette's conditioner. The effect was alien, intimate, and powerful.

For an instant, Calleigh teetered on the edge of flight: her old instincts rearing up. They ran headlong however, into her newborn, but strong sense of rightness. The southerner hesitated, and it was her undoing. It gave her mind time to absorb the sensations of being so close to another woman – and not just any woman – Natalia, someone she respected and trusted and had come to regard as a true friend; someone whose presence soothed her no matter how bad the case and whose smile, though rare, seemed to light the room. The warmth and softness and safety of her position were a visceral temptation and without conscious thought, Calleigh found herself surrendering.

Closing her eyes, she drifted, dozing peacefully in the taller woman's embrace, for the first time in years, content to let the day be born fully without her there to see it.

Rising from the nothingness of sleep, in the moment between true sleep and full waking, the mind is slow and awareness comes in fits and starts. Natalia's first realization was that her body felt good – rested in a way that was lately unfamiliar. It was surprising and she reveled in it.

Taking a breath in preparation to stretch however, the CSI moved and was catapulted completely into consciousness. Sensation flooded her brain, bringing the knowledge that she was not alone, that in fact the length of her body was pressed against Calleigh Duquesne, and that the blonde detective was sleeping peacefully, her face mere inches from Natalia's.

For an instant only shock and the brief struggle to come to terms with her position existed, but gradually it faded, leaving Natalia's vision filled with a sight she had never allowed herself to believe possible: Calleigh, relaxed and open in sleep, in her bed. And hard on the heels of understanding came desire: the desire to close that gap - infinitesimal in distance yet infinite in consequences – and kiss the blonde.

It was nearly overwhelming.

The thought of what it might be like to press her lips against Calleigh's, to discern for herself whether they were as full and soft as they appeared, tempted her, tightening her body…and sending a flare of panic racing through her blood.

Dear God, what was I about to do? Natalia froze, trapped by the realization of what she had wanted, her heart beating wildly in her chest.

And just as it had last night when she'd knelt in the detective's arms, Natalia's instincts told her to run; to flee before she made an irreparable mistake that might cost her the friendship and trust of the woman next to her.

Swallowing and barely daring to breathe, Natalia slid slowly from the bed, nearly sighing with relief when the sleeping detective didn't stir. As the brunette walked quietly out of the room, she didn't let herself look back.

She had no need of her eyes to tell her how achingly beautiful the simple image of Calleigh asleep in her bed was.


Up much earlier than her alarm, once out of the bedroom, Natalia was at a loss. Their shift didn't start for several hours yet and normally, the DNA tech would have used the time to catch up on her rest. That was not an option this morning. Despite knowing it for cowardice, the CSI could not go back and risk the possibility of facing Calleigh awake. Not yet anyway.

Desperate for a distraction, Natalia was almost grateful when her stomach chose that moment to remind her she'd been less than consistent in her eating habits lately. Making breakfast was the perfect activity to keep her occupied…she hoped.

Several cracked eggs, spilled milk, a dropped tomato and starting on the second omelet (the first one now resided in the garbage) Natalia was nearly willing to admit defeat. No matter how hard she tried to concentrate, she was unable to stop her mind from returning to those moments just at the edge of waking, where for one perfect fraction of a second, she'd known the feeling of Calleigh's body pressed against her own before the shock and fear had flooded in.

"Hmm, something smells fantastic." The sleep roughened accent yanked the brunette out of her musings with all the subtly of a sledge hammer and her already shaky composure came completely unglued.

Natalia let loose a startled sound that turned into an angry hiss and several choice swear words as the knife she'd been using slipped and sliced across the top of her hand. Dropping the offending instrument hastily, the brunette grabbed for a paper towel but it was already too late. Swift and hot, bright crimson flowed from the cut to stain the onions she'd been half heartedly attempting to dice.

Fumbling for the towel, her actions were stilled as Calleigh gently took hold of her bleeding hand and deftly wrapped a cold, wet towel around it, applying pressure.

The action brought them close together, and though the cut stung harshly, it was the whisper soft touch of Calleigh's fingertips where they rested just beyond the edge of the makeshift bandage that Natalia was aware of. Responding to a force almost gravitational in nature, dark eyes sought and found pale green and there was a part of Natalia that desperately wanted to just stay there.

With an almost unbearable effort however, the CSI tore her gaze away, pulling her hand back with what she hoped was a grateful smile and what probably looked more like a grimace, and closed her fist. The move caused the cut to flare anew and Natalia welcomed the sharp pain, using it to center herself. She felt as if she was spinning wildly out of control, at the mercy of too many forces pushing her in too many directions.

It terrified her.

"Thanks Cal, sorry about breakfast, I'll try and make something without bleeding all over it I promise." The words tumbled fast, driven by a need to put some distance between herself and the detective.

Fixing the smile on her face, Natalia turned briefly to her houseguest before concentrating on the mess she'd made. Grabbing a rag, she tried to ignore the fact that her hands were trembling slightly as she cleaned up the counter.

Studiously not looking at Calleigh, it took Natalia a moment to realize the blonde had not responded. Forcing the cheerful façade, she turned.

"I didn't wake you did I? I'm sorry if I did. Would you like some coffee?"

It appeared however that her defenses were weaker than she'd hoped.

"Natalia, what's wrong?" Calleigh's look was searching and her voice was soft.

Again, that rogue part of the brunette wanted to respond to the gentle question, but it was drowned out by her ingrained caution.

"Nothing's wrong," she replied brightly, but cringed inwardly at the brittleness in her voice.

Daring to glance at the detective to gauge her reaction, Natalia felt her heart catch.

Before her eyes, she watched as Calleigh slowly closed down. An outsider would probably never notice a change in the detective's demeanor, but Natalia had spent a great deal of time learning the nuances of Calleigh Duquesne's expression, and right now, the smaller woman was retreating. The warm, caring friend of last night was locked away and green eyes became shuttered. It was an almost mechanical process and Natalia wanted to just reach out and grab hold of Calleigh, shaking her until she stopped it.

Instead she did nothing.

"I see. Natalia, if this is about last night, I apologize. It wasn't my intention to make you uncomfortable…I," here the blonde paused, obviously searching for something. "I reacted without thinking and that was unprofessional. It won't happen again."

No! No this isn't how its supposed to be! the voice in her heart was screaming silently, desperate to escape.

And then somehow, it did.

"No," Natalia blurted, startling herself as well as the detective. Shaking her head at Calleigh's questioning look, the brunette tried desperately to master the chaos that seemed to exist between her head and her heart. She hadn't meant to speak, the denial was an involuntary reaction to hearing Calleigh blame herself for something Natalia had needed desperately.

Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Natalia looked up, saw the familiar, distant, professional mask worn by the woman standing next to her, and let loose that small part of her that had welcomed the detective's presence in her home from the first.

"Don't apologize Calleigh. It's not you. It was never you.

Blowing out a frustrated breath, Natalia tried to come up with an answer that Calleigh deserved. "I'm just, I'm not handling this well and I'm sorry for that. You did nothing wrong…and everything right. I…last night meant a lot. And I should have said it before, but, thank you."

The last was said softly, almost a whisper, but its affect was powerful. The mask melted from Calleigh's face and the gentlest hint of a smile edged her lips. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on Natalia's part, but she could have sworn that tiny quirk of the detective's mouth was hopeful.

"Are you sure?" The smile vanished and Calleigh's look grew searching and hesitant again. "I've never….I've never deliberately shown anyone my…the scars. I would understand if…"

Whatever the detective was about to say was left unfinished, however, as Natalia again let the oft silenced part of her take control. Shaking her head and reaching for Calleigh's hand, the brunette told the rational, safe part of herself that was now screaming this was dangerous territory to shut the hell up.

"Positive. Last night…Calleigh last night, for the first time in a long time, I knew I wasn't alone. I can't begin to describe how much that means to me. I'm…I think I understand at least a little what it cost you to show me. Thank you."

In response the detective looked away, clearly dealing with her own internal struggle. When her hand moved to wrap her fingers around Natalia's however, the brunette felt her heart leap.

"I trust you Natalia," was all she said, but the soft words, coupled with the strength of the detective's shimmering jade gaze, was enough to make Natalia forget how to breathe. The meaning of those simple syllables wove themselves into a delicious whole, settling around her heart and filling it until she had to swallow for fear it might burst out of her chest.

The morning sun slipped quietly in through the window, lending its hopeful glow to the room. It danced playfully in Calleigh's eyes and drew the highlights from the detective's hair before moving on, wrapping the moment in liquid gold and lending it an almost magical quality. An infinite number of choices and possibilities extended from this crossroads – choices only two hearts could recognize.

"Are you two going to kiss?"

The innocently spoken words might as well have been a bucket of cold water.

The two CSI's practically jumped apart and Natalia felt heat stain her cheeks. Daring a hasty glance at Calleigh, she saw the detective was suffering the same condition and the twitching of her full lips said very clearly that she was trying very hard not to laugh. Turning, Natalia found Kathleen – complete with stuffed pony – standing in the doorway to the kitchen watching the two of them with tilted head and guileless expression. The DNA tech cleared her throat and wondered if it was, in fact, possible to die of embarrassment. "What ah, what would make you ask that?" Natalia finally managed, trying to think of something to say.

Kathleen just shrugged as if the answer were terribly obvious. "People on TV always look at each other that way before they kiss." Her tone of voice added the "duh" very clearly.

"Oh, well…" Natalia started, only to trail off, trying desperately to come up with a response. Calleigh's strangled laughter wasn't helping either and the brunette shot a glare at the detective.

"No Kathleen, we were just having a serious discussion," Calleigh finally stepped in, saving Natalia.

"Ok." The little girl shrugged, apparently losing interest and leaving the two women to share embarrassed glances. "Can I please have something to eat?"

And with that the day gained momentum. Breakfast finally got made and the two CSI's left for the lab, but Natalia could no longer deny that kissing Calleigh had been exactly what she'd had in mind.

Work however, gave neither woman time to truly examine the apparent shift in their relationship. Walking into the lab, they shared one last glance before the pull of duty and the push of uncertainty separated them.

For Calleigh's part, the morning had been at once an aberration, and an affirmation. Rarely if ever did the detective let her guard down, and when Natalia had seemed uncomfortable in the kitchen, for a second the blonde had feared the worst – that she had made a mistake, one that might leave her vulnerable. Something however – some long buried instinct – told the detective to wait, to stand her ground and not run; that Natalia would not betray her.

Her faith had been rewarded, but now Calleigh was left with the question What the hell would have happened if Kathleen hadn't come in?

"Something" with quotes and a capital 'S' she was sure. No matter how often her memory teased her with the image of Natalia still tousled from sleep with her deep eyes catching the morning sun, however, the detective's mind refused to answer that question. Instead, Calleigh was left with an impression of missed opportunity and a sense of frustration that lingered throughout the day.

If there was one skill the detective had in spades though, it was the ability to suppress unwanted emotion and she was in desperate need of that talent now. For the sake of her job, Calleigh took a deep breath and forced her wandering mind to the tasks at hand, using the comforting discipline of analysis and comparison to clear her head.

She didn't see Natalia all day, and no one seemed to notice anything untoward about her behavior, so gradually the ballistics expert relaxed, losing herself in her case load.

She never saw Horatio watching her carefully throughout the shift.

Fortunately for the justice system, Natalia had a slightly better time concentrating on her case load than she had on making breakfast…but only slightly.

Waiting for DNA results, the image of Calleigh at the second before Kathleen had interrupted was replaying, an endless loop in her memory that Natalia couldn't seem to turn off. Something had shifted between them, something important, but exactly iwhat/i that was, remained to be seen. There were too many variables the brunette had no control over, and what control she did have seemed shaky at best.

It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop and Natalia hated it.

Just getting frustrated with herself and the situation however, Natalia's musings were interrupted by a call. It was one of her contacts in the railroad. They were taking Dianna and Kathleen to introduce them to their new 'life' – the cover and situation they had created for the mother and daughter - so Natalia was being given a head's up. Dianna would most likely be moved tomorrow.

Which means this whole situation will be over. With Dianna and Kathleen gone, the nightmares should stop. But that also means Cal will go home.

That last thought bothered the DNA tech, but at the moment, she saw no solution. Natalia wasn't even sure of what exactly the problem was, let alone how to fix it. One thing the brunette knew for certain, however, was that the thought of letting things go back to the way they were, with she and Calleigh careful, slightly distant friends, made something inside her ache.

As it is wont to do no matter how much one desires otherwise, time marched on, and Natalia's shift neared its end. Calleigh and Horatio had been called out on a case and hadn't returned to the lab yet, but Natalia felt no need to stay. She'd gotten the call that Dianna and Kathleen were once again at her house and that things had gone smoothly. Members of the railroad would help move her tomorrow evening and the whole mess would vanish.

Still trying to examine her conflicted feelings about that as she pulled into her driveway and stepped out of her car, Natalia registered the dark movement in her peripheral vision too late.

Her instinctive reaction wasn't enough, and her vision exploded into light and dark as something hard crashed into her head. She felt a stab of pain and then…nothing.

The ride back to the lab from the crime scene was quiet, a respite for which Calleigh was grateful. Horatio drove, and apart from a gentle glance or two, let her have her space.

Unfortunately, the silence did nothing for the blonde's ability to quantify the experience of the last twenty four hours.

Unsurprisingly given their long partnership, Horatio seemed to easily discern her dilemma.

"How is Ms. Boa Vista doing?" he asked, his voice mild as he switched lanes smoothly, attention apparently fixed firmly on the road.

Calleigh knew better and turned to give her Lieutenant and old friend an unimpressed look.

Normally, any question that might be construed as personal directed at Calleigh was automatically answered with "I'm fine." Horatio knew that better than anyone. Which is why, the detective had a sneaking suspicion, he'd asked about Natalia instead.

Damn him.

After a moment's consideration about how much to confide in Horatio, Calleigh finally let a tiny sigh slip past her lips and settled for being mostly literal.

"She's holding up, but she's tired. It's…complicated." probably the understatement of the century.

Horatio, as usual, seemed to hear what she had left unsaid, because he glanced at her and his rich blue eyes were kind. "It will be alright Calleigh, ok?"

Whatever the detective might have added to the subtext-heavy exchange however, was cut off as they pulled into the lab's parking garage. Calleigh still had evidence to catalog before she could head to Natalia's. She just hoped the brunette didn't mind waiting.

Grabbing her kit and a box of trace and striding to the elevator, mind already fixed on getting the evidence logged as quickly as possible, Calleigh didn't notice Horatio's tiny smile following her retreating form.

Once in the lab however, Calleigh gradually began to realize there was another, more pressing matter at hand.

Strolling from the elevator, past DNA and trace and layout, the ballistics expert did not see Natalia anywhere.

Handing the evidence off to Ryan and stowing her kit, Calleigh went to look for Natalia in earnest. When she didn't find her, and when Cynthia, the desk officer, told the detective Natalia had left at the end of her shift, a tiny knot of worry began to tangle itself in her gut. Shaking her head, the ballistics expert tried to shrug the feeling away. It was irrational. It was very probable the brunette had simply left the lab and gone home. There had been no real discussion of what Calleigh's 'security detail' entailed – just Horatio's desire to have someone watch over Natalia and her guests as a precaution. If Horatio had felt the threat was imminent, her Lieutenant would have informed Calleigh and together they would have used more serious measures.

None of that stopped Calleigh from calling Natalia and when the phone went to voicemail, pushing over the speed limit on the way to the brunette's house.

The closer she got – and the more times she called Natalia's cell without answer – the harder the worry knot in her stomach became.

Instincts and training kicking into gear, the detective slowed as she finally turned onto Natalia's street, scanning for unfamiliar vehicles. It was impossible to see through all the trees and foliage in places, but for the moment nothing stood out.

Making one last sweep of the neighborhood, the blonde pulled her Crossfire into the driveway and almost let out a sigh of relief when she saw Natalia's sedan in front of her. Parking the silver Chrysler and getting out, the detective was just about to laugh at herself when she came around the back of Natalia's car and suddenly all relief was banished.

The feeling of wrongness returned with a force that made Calleigh's skin crawl and spiked into fear as she saw the driver's side door of Natalia's car was left open. Senses sharpening, she stretched her hearing. Only the breeze in the palm trees made any sound, but the cop in her wasn't convinced. Drawing her gun, Calleigh took a few more steps, only to stop dead and crouch back behind Natalia's car, heart pounding. There, about ten feet in front of the sedan, one of the brunette's shoes lay in the middle of the drive and just beyond that, around the bend of the driveway that had previously concealed it, was the rear of a black SUV with New York plates.

Grabbing her cell phone, Calleigh hit Horatio's number. His answer was almost immediate.


"Horatio, something's gone wrong. There's a black SUV with New York plates in Natalia's drive – license 236 SKO – in the driveway and no sign of Natalia."

"I'm coming. Calleigh hold on. I need you to wait ok? Promise me you'll wait."

At that moment however, the detective heard the unmistakable sound of a child crying and knew she couldn't obey.

"I'm sorry Horatio," she said quietly and closed the phone, making sure it was on silent, and clicking the safety off her gun.

Calleigh's senses kicked into overdrive and she became almost hyper aware. She could feel every breath in her lungs, hear the pounding of her heart, and taste the tang of adrenaline in her mouth. All of those sensations she pushed back with the hard won skill of long practice, acknowledging them, but not letting them take over.

She scanned her surroundings. One SUV - she was probably dealing with no more than five, but she couldn't be sure.

Suddenly the front door opened and a tall, sandy haired man walked out of Natalia's house, carrying Kathleen in his arms. The detective could see duct tape over the girl's mouth and similar material on her wrists, but that wasn't stopping her from fighting her captor like a wildcat.

A tiny spark of pride lit in the CSI as she changed directions. Her first priority had just become clear.

Keeping low and ducking around Natalia's car, Calleigh moved to the cover of the rose bushes and waited until the attacker had shoved Kathleen non-too gently in the SUV and shut the door before stepping out.

"Freeze," she hissed. "Hands behind your head, up against the vehicle."

The blonde hoped he would surrender; she couldn't afford to give away the element of surprise with a gunshot just yet.

With one hand she reached for her cuffs as the assailant complied with her order. Her heart might have been racing, but her hand was steady as she approached the moment when she would have to put the gun away to cuff him. She hesitated, he moved.

Spinning, her attacker tried a right hook.

Calleigh saw it coming and ducked, popping up and using her momentum to slam he butt of her pistol into his temple as hard as she could. He dropped like a stone. Wasting no time, the detective checked his pulse and cuffed him, running the cuffs through the fancy spokes of the SUV's rims. It would have to do for now.

Jumping up, she yanked open the door and found Kathleen on the floor of the vehicle, tape already off her mouth, working at the bonds on her hands. Her eyes were red and she was obviously crying, but her features bore an expression of fierce determination as she gnawed at the tape.

"Cal!" she cried as the blonde held out her arms and the girl jumped into them. "Cal its my dad and he shot my mom and he's got Natly, he's gonna hurt Natly, Cal…" she babbled.

The blonde pulled Kathleen from the SUV and ducked back behind the bushes, jogging as quickly as she could to her own car while trying to reassure the child. Opening the back seat of her sedan, Calleigh sat the girl inside and held her face.

"Kathleen, Kathleen listen to me. I need you to listen to me. Help is on the way ok? You remember Horatio? Well he's going to be here any minute with a lot of other police officers, but I need to get to Natalia before she's hurt ok. I need you to stay here and stay down on the floor so you can't be seen. Can you do that?"

A part of the detective felt anguish at leaving the girl, but the rest of her was screaming to get inside and help Natalia. So far, she had surprise on her side and a tactical advantage. They wouldn't be looking for Kathleen's captor for at least a few more moments.

Eyes wide, the child nodded solemnly. "Don't let him hurt Natly ok?"

"Never," Calleigh promised; something going cold and hard inside her at the thought of her friend at the mercy of Dianna's husband.

If it weren't for the guns and the fear so thick in the air you could taste it, the scene in Natalia's living room was almost serene. Dianna Powell sat primly where her husband, Martin, had shoved her onto the cream colored love seat. The man himself, college athlete handsome but with a coldness to his eyes that reminded Natalia far, far too much of Nick, sat casually across from her on the matching sofa. His hands were folded and his posture – like Dianna's – was impeccable.

It was the other 'guests' standing or lounging in the airy, bright room that Natalia was watching. She'd seen at least two 9mm and wouldn't bet for a second that was the only fire power on the men who were dressed more for a business lunch than what was essentially a kidnapping.

"One last chance Dianna. I can forget all this. I promise. Come home and we can be a family again.

Say yes, dear God say yes. Back up is on the way. Calleigh will be here, we can get these guys, just stall for time. Please Dianna! Natalia pleaded silently from her position across the room. The CSI could feel without needing to see the gun pointed subtly in her direction and tried to catch the stricken woman's attention with her gaze. She could feel Kathleen trembling against her and held the girl tighter, but knew that at the moment, she was helpless.

All she could do was pray for time.

Natalia saw the moment Dianna made her decision. She didn't know whether to cry with anguish or pride as she saw the hard mask of defiance slip over the woman's frail features.

The brunette saw it coming: railed against it with everything in her soul, but knew just the same she could do nothing to stop it. Her last sight was the Glock being raised before she spun and ducked, pulling Kathleen against her chest and shielding the child from the sight of her mother dying. The hollow sound of the silencer made her whole body jerk and she bit her lip to stop from crying out.

Muffling Kathleen's cries and whispering nonsense in her ear, Natalia remained crouched, unable to summon the courage to turn and look. Calleigh please, she prayed. It had been so long since she had dared to have faith in another person – fearing the vulnerability and weakness of false hope - now it was all she was clinging to.

A sigh was her only warning before a rough hand fisted itself in her hair and yanked her head back hatefully, pulling a tiny cry from her throat. In her arms, Kathleen screamed as Martin's brother grabbed the girl by the shoulders.

"No!" Natalia managed, hating the pleading in her voice. "Leave her alone, please!"

A kick to her kidney was the only response.

Doubling over in pain, Natalia's arms slipped and Kathleen was yanked away yelling.

"Take her out to the car please Nathan, and make sure she's quiet." Martin asked, his focus never leaving the woman gasping for breath in front of him. Seeing her start to collect herself, he moved.

The fist to her jaw snapped her neck sideways and sent Natalia to the floor. The world tilted for a moment and her vision blurred. The kick to her ribs tore a moan from behind clenched teeth and memory swirled up to threaten her.

The blow drove the breath from her lungs: the fire of oxygen starvation consuming her awareness…NO. Not this time.

Her breathing shallow and pained, Natalia dug her fingers into the carpet, focusing her will and dragging her legs under her. Her body tensed in anticipation of the blow she knew was coming, she nonetheless forced herself to stand up and look at her attacker.

Martin smiled, and swung.

Arrogant son of a bitch!

Natalia ducked, aiming a sweeping kick at the man's knees and taking a fierce satisfaction as the impact jarred her leg. He could have his remaining man, Sean, shoot her at any moment, but she had reached a point almost beyond fear. Like hell am I going down without a fight!

Swearing as her foot connected with his knee, snapping it back, Martin staggered, but recovered. He came at her again, but there was a noticeable limp to his walk now. She managed to deflect the resulting punch and got in a good scratch to his arm and another kick to his now weakened leg, but the move put her slightly out of balance, and she couldn't totally avoid the next blow to her temple.

She crumpled to her knees, but gripped the floor and managed not to go down completely. The room spun and she felt a wave of nausea that she clamped down on. Tempting though puking on his boots might be, Natalia Boa Vista was not going to give her attacker the satisfaction of seeing her lose control.

Dizziness made the room spin crazily, and pain was a crushing fiery weight in her skull. Natalia knew she couldn't take much more of this. True, cold, fear began to creep in, despair close on its heels. The brunette couldn't hear Kathleen anymore and there was still no sign of help.

Calleigh, she pleaded silently, desperately trying to focus her sight.

"Not much of a fighter are you?" Martin sneered.

"Go to Hell," Natalia spat.

"Possibly, but you're going to get there long before I do."

"I really don't think so. Put the weapon down and step away Mr. Powell."

Calleigh! Natalia raised her head , able despite blurry vision to make out the blonde standing in the doorway, her gun drawn and a hard, fey look in her eyes.

Natalia felt more than saw Sean move and this time, the crack of the gun was loud as it echoed in her house.

Calleigh hadn't even blinked, but the man now lay unmoving at the edge of Natalia's peripheral vision.

"Natalia?" Calleigh's voice was soft – in total opposition to the coldness of her expression. Her name spoken in that wonderful, familiar accent was enough to get the injured woman to stand, shakily, and move to stand behind the detective.


"It's going to be alright, Horatio's on the way."


"Is safe in my car."

Natalia felt the words like a gentle caress. It was going to be ok. The last thing she heard was the nearing wail of sirens before her body failed her, plunging her into darkness.

The sound of sirens had never been so sweet. Calleigh's arm was slowly starting to feel the strain of holding her position, but she didn't waver. Her breath came slow and steady and there was a stillness in her head: the same stillness that she felt on the range when there were only paper targets in front of her. Calleigh could pull the trigger right now, kill Martin in cold blood and never hesitate. Later, that knowledge would scare her. At the moment, as she saw Natalia crumple to the floor and had to shove down her gut instinct to run to the injured woman, it just gave the detective the ability to stand, unblinking, holding Martin Powell in place with a promise of death.

"What is she to you?" Martin asked her, lifting his chin toward the unconscious CSI, for all the world like they were having a polite conversation over drinks.

Normally, Calleigh wouldn't have answered – playing head games with criminals was dangerous – but she could hear backup arriving, and the question was eerily appropriate given the last 24 hours. For one second, the detective wondered what Martin had read in her defense of Natalia that would lead him to ask ithat /i particular question, but even as she wondered, she realized she no longer cared.

And just like that, she had an answer.

"Mine," Calleigh said simply.

Martin smiled condescendingly. "Well then, you understand why I did what I did."

"No Mr. Powell, I don't. I would die to protect the woman I loved. You couldn't even protect the woman you claim to have loved from yourself."

Anger clouded Martin's features, but whatever he was going to say was lost in the commotion as Horatio, Eric and a number of uniforms burst through the open door and moved to take Powell none-too-gently into custody. Eric especially, after taking one glance at Natalia, "accidentally" let Martin's groin hit his knee.

The man secured, Calleigh turned, only now allowing the fear that had clamored through her to come to the fore as she rushed to Natalia's side, hearing Horatio calling for a medic.

Horatio, the other officer's, all of it faded away. For Calleigh, nothing existed beyond the steady pulse beneath her fingers. Being careful of her spine, the detective moved Natalia into a less twisted position. She was only vaguely aware of Horatio telling her the EMT's were on their way and that Natalia would be ok. Instead, Calleigh concentrated on the soft, continuous flare of blood as it passed beneath the delicate skin under her fingertips and the barely perceptible rise and fall of Natalia's chest.

As long as those two things remained interrupted, she convinced herself everything would be fine.

Calleigh hated hospitals. It didn't matter how much they tried to look 'homey' or welcoming, nothing could disguise the omnipresent scents of death and fear and pain that lingered in the mind long after the other senses had adjusted.

This was not the first time Calleigh's fear had been added to that miasma.

The last time it had been Eric lying there; his handsome face half hidden by stark bandages and his normally twinkling eyes dulled. He'd woken and known her name, but Calleigh's joy had been replaced by anguish as his pained questions about Marisol gave evidence of the damage done by the bullet. Sitting there, holding her friend's hand, Calleigh had been forced to come to terms with the idea that Eric, iher /i Eric, the rash, intelligent, bold CSI she'd known and trusted, might be gone forever.

She would not accept that with Natalia.

The circumstances were different of course. Natalia had not been gunned down, only beaten badly, but the doctor's words lingered in Calleigh's mind: words like "head trauma" "concussion" "internal bruising" echoed hollowly in the space suddenly left by Natalia's absence.

"Just be ok," Calleigh whispered, taking Natalia's hand in her own and trying not to compare the moment to a similar time spent at Eric's side. The lifeless fingers in her hand and the sickly cast to Natalia's normally golden bronze skin, however, made the detective's heart ache deeply.

"She will be," came the soft assurance from the door and Calleigh jerked her head up, relaxing immediately as she saw Eric walk into the room, his expression gently understanding.

The compassion on her friend's face was a little much however, and Calleigh felt tears sting the backs of her eyes. Turning her head so Eric couldn't see, the blonde was stopped by a gentle hand on her shoulder. His dark eyes knowing, the tall CSI just shook his head.

"It's alright Cal, I know. She's going to be ok. Have faith."

And with those words, Eric sat next to her, gently took her free hand and pressed his rosary into it, folding her fingers around the smooth stone beads and small cross, just as she had done for him months ago.

"I'm not…" Catholic the detective started, and then realized it didn't matter. It was the symbol of comfort that mattered, not the religion behind it. "Thank you Eric," she whispered.

In response, he merely laid an arm across her shoulders in a gentle hug. Calleigh leaned into it, glad of the support as she turned her eyes back to Natalia. The brunette rested, the monitors showing no change.

Eric stayed with her for a time, but eventually other duties called him away.

With a last squeeze and an encouraging smile, the handsome CSI left and Calleigh settled in for a long night.

"Just come back to me...please," she whispered into the uncaring silence.

The night nurse came in at some point to check the injured woman's vitals, and though clearly shocked to find someone still in Natalia's room, one look at the detective's face and the older woman just shook her head and walked out, a knowing smile on her lips. No one else disturbed them.

Somewhere beyond the darkness Natalia knew there was something waiting for her: something worth struggling against the entangling tendrils of pain and exhaustion and fear that tried to bar her way out of sleep. And when the injured woman finally managed to open her eyes and clear the tears formed as the low light sent a swift stab of pain through her already pounding skull, she was greeted by the sight of Calleigh sitting close, holding her hand with a rather watery smile on her face, and Natalia knew what that something was.

Hating to see Calleigh distraught, the brunette managed to whisper, "Are we going to kiss?" her lips quirking briefly at the sad attempt at humor.

Somehow, she was only partially shocked when Calleigh answered "Yes" and pressed her lips sweetly to Natalia's.

Once awake, Natalia's recovery had been, if slow, then steady. And Calleigh was by her side every step of the way.

By unspoken agreement, the two simply took each day as it came. No discussions of the events that occurred before the attack took place. Although both sensed it would happen eventually, they were too caught up in dealing with the aftermath…and the inevitable paperwork.

Internal Affairs was there of course, but it seemed that Stetler's survival instinct was better than most had anticipated. Walking into the hospital room to find not just Horatio, but Calleigh as well, arms crossed and a hard look on her face, the IA detective had kept his questions short and simple and hadn't returned. His questioning of the ballistics expert was equally brief (much to the disappointment of many in the lab who where hoping to finally see Stetler get what was coming to him).

Horatio had seen to it that Kathleen never went into Child Services, but was given over to the custody of her mother's parents, an arrangement that seemed to be helping the girl a great deal, even if it meant that she was taken away to Virginia before Natalia had been able to receive visitors. That had brought a hard lump to the injured woman's throat, but it was eased slightly when Horatio revealed the couple had left their contact information and a note encouraging Natalia to reach them when she had recovered. At the bottom of the note was the scrawled drawing of a pony in pink and a small heart. It was signed with a K.

Sitting up in her hospital bed, Natalia hadn't even tried to hold back the tears, and when Calleigh shifted up to sit beside her and hold her, the brunette clung to the support and buried her face in the detective's shoulder, letting go of the grief and anger from the attack.

Several days later, Natalia was discharged with the condition that she irest /i and not return to duty for several weeks, and that she not be alone for a few days.

Turning to where Calleigh stood by her bed, the brunette had merely held out her hand.

Wrapping it in her own, the detective had answered the unspoken question simply. "I'll stay."

This time, Calleigh didn't sleep in the guest room. This time, when the nightmares returned, the detective didn't have to ask about their cause. She simply held Natalia tightly, whispering soft words of comfort and kissing away her tears. This time there was no fear or confusion when the morning sun found them tangled together, and this time, Natalia didn't hesitate when she woke with the desire to press her lips against Calleigh's.

More than that however, they held back from.

Part of it had been practical, of course, Natalia's injuries had not been life-threatening, but they were serious and it took time for her to recover her usual energy.

Part of it went much deeper.

Where once knowledge, understanding and reaction had rested on the steady foundation of shared purpose and careful friendship, the events of the last weeks had torn like a storm over the past and its bedrock of memories and assumptions - weathering and crumbling and transforming it into the soft, shifting sands of emotion and possibility. It was both beautiful and terrifying, and though both welcomed their new found closeness, neither woman was entirely sure how to move forward.

The answer, when it came, was from an unexpected source.

"Ms. Boa Vista, may I see you in my office for a moment?"

Looking up from the layout table, Natalia just blinked at her Lieutenant, the soft summons dredging up a tangle of memories of the last time Horatio had uttered those words.

Apparently understanding the direction of her thoughts, Caine tilted his head and gave a gently encouraging smile. It broke the spell a bit and Natalia shook herself.

"Yeah, of course, sorry, I just…" she trailed off, realizing Horatio probably knew exactly what she'd been thinking and straightened. "Could you give me a moment? I'm almost done and I need to keep chain of custody for this."

"Of course, when you're ready," he replied before turning away.

The DNA tech finished quickly, stored the evidence, hung her lab coat and climbed the stairs to Horatio's office. Once there, she was struck again by an uncomfortable sense of Déjà vu. Calleigh was sitting on the sofa, but fortunately for Natalia's nerves, the blonde gave her a brief smile followed by an expression that said very clearly, "I have no idea what's going on." That more than anything made Natalia relax. If it had been trouble, Calleigh would have known.

At Caine's gesture, the brunette took a seat on the sofa and waited.

"Natalia, it's good to have you back in the lab," Horatio began and she warmed at his words.

"Thank you Horatio. I owe you for that. You and Calleigh."

The Lieutenant smiled gently and ducked his head, his only reply the soft 'hmmm' that managed to convey gratitude and deflect her praise at the same time.

It would appear however, that the Lieutenant was just beginning.

"It's good to have you back, but Calleigh has told me a little of what wasn't in your official report."

Natalia shot a glance at the detective, but the blonde appeared as surprised as she felt.

If Horatio noticed their looks he said nothing.

"What you both went through was very difficult," here the Lieutenant held up his hand, stilling the protests of 'we're fine' that sprang to two pairs of lips. Eyes sparkling now, he went on. "And with that in mind, I'd like to make a suggestion, and an offer."

Now he really had both their attention.

"I'd like you both to take some of the vacation time you've been neglecting to use for years now," this with a significant look at Calleigh, who had the grace to look sheepish.

"And I'd like to offer you the use of my cabin in the Keys."

Only long practice kept Natalia's jaw from dropping. For a moment she was unable to say anything, and a quick glance at Calleigh showed the detective equally moved. The question of How much does he know? flared briefly in her mind before Natalia dismissed it. She had long ago ceased to be surprised at how perceptive Horatio Caine could be.

As her shock gradually faded, Natalia found herself truly wanting to accept. Despite how much she had wanted, needed, to come back to work, she still found herself flinching at shadows and tiring easily. And as much as Calleigh's presence could sooth her, the still tenuous state of their relationship was difficult for her.

What Horatio was offering wasn't just a vacation, it was a chance to truly heal, and Natalia knew deep down that she needed that…desperately.

So it was with an almost palpable sense of relief and a tinge of excitement that the DNA tech caught Calleigh's eyes and heard the blonde reply, her voice betraying her own struggle to come to terms with the gift.

"I…we would love that. Thank you, Horatio."

"Just promise me, promise me you'll take care of each other ok? That's all I ask."

The slow smiles that were not directed at him were all the answer the Lieutenant needed.

There was no sound to signify a human presence on the small island. The soft, ceaseless rush of the ocean against the shore was accompanied only by the gentle, irregular swish as the breeze danced through the palm fronds and touched the small, lazy waves with froth. Drifting over the bright sandy beach, it occasionally paused to ruffle the white canvas walls of the small bungalow and tease at the caramel colored strands of hair of the woman dozing on the cushioned lounge. Every now and again a gull would call, but it was rare. Nothing penetrated the peace of the shade which currently held one blissfully relaxed CSI.

The days on the tiny island had been a gift in more ways than one. Not only was it a breathtaking location, but the isolation provided a needed safety. At first the two women simply enjoyed the closeness and the almost terrifying freedom of being completely alone together. No cases, no lab, no well meaning co-workers: nothing to hide and no one to hide it from.

With that freedom came exploration; specifically, of pasts, present and the future.

Gradually they talked, and truths were revealed, memories dredged and re-examined. Fears old and new brought to light.

And each syllable, each meaning held in the symbol of a word led them closer, on a path to this moment.

Lying on her stomach, facing the jewel clear water and the cloudless azure sky separated only by the glistening sand of the beach and edged by the rich green of palms, Natalia let herself drift. The constant of the ocean and breeze and the soft heat lulled her into a state of pure contentment, but it wasn't until her ears distinguished the soft tread of feet through sand that a smile crept onto her full lips however.

Turning over, Natalia opened her eyes and the smile faltered as a swell of hunger spread through her, tightening something low in her belly.

Calleigh had changed. Instead of the loose button down and shorts of earlier, the detective now wore a solid black bikini, accompanied only by a sheer black wrap tied low on her hips.

Natalia's throat was suddenly very dry.

With easy grace, Calleigh strolled into the shade, and the sparkle in her pale eyes told Natalia she'd been well and truly busted.

Turning in place, the detective shot her a devilish grin. "Do you approve then?"

Natalia swallowed and propped herself on one elbow, holding out her hand, and when Calleigh accepted, pulled the smaller woman to sit next to her on the lounge.

"That's one word for it," she replied softly before kissing Calleigh.

Under the shaded warmth and gentle quiet, the kiss started softly, slowly, and gradually became something more.

Natalia loved kissing Calleigh. Never before had the brunette been with someone who could use the simple meeting of lips to convey an entire language. Calleigh's kisses could mean anything: hello, good bye, I missed you, I iwill/i miss you. They could be encouragement and support, comfort and teasing, or like now, they could mean…

"You know," Calleigh murmured as she pulled back and began to trail kisses along Natalia's jaw. "I think you're wearing too many clothes." Her breath brushed along Natalia's cheek even as delicate fingers began to trace the "V" formed by the white bikini top, causing the brunette's heart to race as the feather light touch followed the swell of her breast.

"Funny," Natalia managed after a moment when her brain remembered how to speak, "I was thinking the same thing," she growled low, turning and brushing her cheek against the other woman's in an almost feral gesture.

For a moment Calleigh didn't reply and Natalia hesitated, unsure if she had misread something. It was only when she turned back to meet the detective's eyes that she realized she hadn't misread at all.

In her time at the lab, Natalia had heard many people call Calleigh everything from 'professional' to 'withdrawn' to 'hard nosed bitch.' Despite the fact that she understood how someone might be fooled by the detective's businesslike façade, Natalia had learned quickly in the last weeks that those people didn't understand the first thing about detective Calleigh Duquesne. If she appeared occasionally distant or formal, it was only to protect herself. Calleigh put up barriers between her heart and the world around her. She would say – Natalia knew – it was to protect others and keep her objectivity on the job.

It was mostly true, but Natalia now knew better; any time she needed to know what Calleigh felt, itruly /i felt, all she had to do was search her eyes. There, Calleigh could no longer hide anything from Natalia.

And right now, those eyes were shining with much, more than the sun. Calleigh feared vulnerability, both physical and emotional, and so when the smaller woman said nothing, but stretched out prone beside Natalia and swept her hair aside, offering clearly the ties of her suit, the power of the simple gesture made Natalia's throat close and her heart fill.

"Calleigh?" All hint of their earlier teasing gone, Natalia knew that they had been moving toward this for some time, but there could be no turning back from this moment once it passed.

"I trust you Natalia," the blonde said softly, and the words, echoing those said weeks ago, filled something small and empty in the taller woman.

Despite her desire to just rip the offending clothing off Calleigh and ravish the smaller woman, Natalia knew now was not the time for that. Later…I hope As she trailed her fingertips down the length of Calleigh's spine and followed their path with her lips, feeling the detective sigh softly, Natalia knew there would be a later.

They had all the time in the world now.

Given permission, Natalia didn't hurry. With soft fingers she once again traced the faded scars on Calleigh's back, here and there pausing to dip her head and brush her lips across them. Tongue followed lips, painting the old marks with fresh desire and drawing a soft gasp from the prone woman.

When Natalia kissed the base of Calleigh's spine, letting her hair trail along the golden skin above the black material, the smaller woman squirmed, and Natalia smiled. Slowly, she slid one palm along the elegant curve of Calleigh's leg, reveling in the smoothness of skin and the soft strength of muscle beneath her light touch. Eventually, she found the barrier she'd been searching for.

Still placing tiny kisses along Calleigh's shoulders, Natalia carefully undid the ties of the blonde's swimsuit. Resisting the urge to hurry, her hand continued its journey, moving slowly over the delicate sweep of the smaller woman's back, feeling the skin warm where her touch traced. The tie at her back and neck were similarly discarded, and Natalia marked the success with a soft plea.


The nearly whispered word hung for a moment before the breeze swept it away, but its meaning remained.

Hesitating for only a second, Calleigh rolled over, letting the swimsuit fall away, a scrap of shadow between them until she was bare to Natalia's sight.

"Incredible," the brunette managed. Like a painting created by a true master, the blonde looked almost itoo /i real, and it was only in reaching out and letting her fingers trace the sun kissed skin that Natalia cold reassure herself this wasn't some dream.

Natalia saw the denial in Calleigh's eyes and halted the words with a finger pressed against full lips.

"You are beautiful Calleigh," she said, cupping the smaller woman's cheek with her palm to reinforce her words. "You said you trust me, then trust in this." And then with a slight, challenging smile, "I'm going to prove it to you."

And she set about doing just that.

Natalia didn't use words, she didn't need to. She let her hands and her lips and her eyes speak for her as she tried to make Calleigh see what she saw.

The passion she drew from the smaller woman told her she had succeeded.

Pressing against her, Calleigh returned Natalia's kisses ardently, her hands sweeping up the brunette's back to yank at her own swim suit ties and pull them away until there was nothing between them but heated skin.

Natalia couldn't get enough of Calleigh: her scent, the feel of her skin beneath her fingers and her body, the cries she made when Natalia took a pebbled nipple into her mouth. The brunette reveled in the gasp she made when Natalia's fingers finally found the wet, silky evidence of her need and felt her whole body tighten as Calleigh bowed against her. But most of all, Natalia thrilled to hear her own name gasped in a roughened southern accent when she finally lay between the smaller woman's legs, and took her into her mouth. Part plea, part something else, Natalia had never heard her name said that way, and she held to it even as she slid tender fingers inside Calleigh and slowly, teasingly, took her to edge of control and back again, only to finally give in when a ragged "Please Natalia," slipped passed the detective's lips.

The sight of Calleigh, eyes shut and back arched as she came hard, body clenching around Natalia's hand, was the most breathtaking thing the taller woman had ever witnessed, and despite the hard, pounding ache of her own desire, she felt her heart swell with fierce emotion that nearly eclipsed the simplicity of want.

With gentle movements she brought Calleigh again, drawing out the moment as long as possible until the blonde whimpered, her breath harsh and uneven.

Kissing a trembling thigh, Natalia moved back up her lover's body until she was holding Calleigh in her arms and watching as darkened eyes gradually lightened.

Still nearly painfully aroused, Natalia couldn't help but feel joy as she held the smaller woman against her, feeling the way they fit together without restrictions of clothing or professionalism or fear. Concentrating on holding onto that feeling, it took the brunette a second to realize that Calleigh's hand was tracing along her hip and over her ribcage and that a delicate tongue was drawing the line of her collarbone.

Drawing a shuddering breath, Natalia pulled back to look at Calleigh. That was as far as she got. With a careful, well timed twist of her body the detective rolled on top of Natalia. Her hair fell around them, a golden curtain that shut out the rest of the world and her eyes sparkled brightly. Natalia slid her hands to hold Calleigh close and gloried in the way the smaller woman seemed to anchor her.

"Incredible," the southern accent was both teasing and wondrous but now it was Natalia's attempt at denial. And just as she had silenced Calleigh earlier, now her lover pressed a soft kiss against her lips to still the words on her tongue.

"You are Natalia. And not just for this," though the grin told Natalia Calleigh thought ithis /i had been pretty spectacular as well. A kiss on her nose let the brunette know the detective knew the direction of her thoughts. "I don't know all of what Nick did to you," a finger stopped Natalia again. "And I don't need to. Whatever you choose to share with me Natalia, I'll take gladly, I just want you to understand how remarkable you are." The last was said in nearly a whisper and though her head didn't want to believe it, Natalia searched Calleigh's eyes and found only truth…and love.

This time, the shock of the detective's words kept Natalia from embracing the double entendre.

"And now, I'm going to help you believe," Calleigh murmured, kissing down the exposed, bronze column of Natalia's throat and licking at the pulse point there.

Calleigh's touch was everything Natalia had ever let herself imagine in her weaker moments daydreaming in the lab or alone in the hospital. Everything and more.

If the smaller woman's kisses could speak a language, her hands turned Natalia's body into an instrument, one that roused to the touch of delicate fingers in a way the brunette hadn't thought possible any more.

Calleigh made her feel glorious and free, and when the smaller woman drew her hand up the silken skin of Natalia's inner thigh and paused, as if waiting for permission, the brunette felt no shame in how ready she was and if permission had been needed she'd have given it gladly. Holding Calleigh's eyes, Natalia let her desire fill her, and when Calleigh moved inside her, not thrusting or pushing, but stroking, teasing and filling, Natalia cried out in pleasure and the last haunting tendrils of her dreams faded like shadows from the sun outside.

Calleigh's body was a delicious weight against her side. The breeze and the waves had long since carried away the last of their passionate cries and now the two women simply rested, complete with each other.

Natalia teetered on the edge of sleep and awareness, suffused with contentment and a sense of total safety she thought perhaps she had never felt.

Ready to let go of waking, the brunette was pulled back however, by her name whispered softly.


Blinking, the CSI looked down to meet the shining jade eyes of her love. iHer /i love. That thought alone crowded out everything else for a moment and it took a second for Natalia to realize that Calleigh was looking at her pensively, her lips pressed together in the way the brunette knew signified some great debate was going on internally.

She didn't have much trouble guessing the cause.

Bending her head and pressing her lips against Calleigh's, Natalia tightened her hold on the smaller woman and smiled gently.

"Its ok. I love you too."

"How did you?"

"Hmm, I've gotten pretty good at reading you Ms. Duquesne," Natalia deliberately kept her tone light, sensing Calleigh still needed time to deal with this new reality. That the blonde would embrace it she had no fear though, and so she just waited.

She was rewarded a long second later.

"You think so huh?"

"Yes I do."

"Well, I love you more so there," Calleigh stuck out her tongue petulantly. Natalia caught it, which resulted in another long, searching kiss before they settled back down.

"Natalia," opening her eyes again, the brunette was surprised to see an unexpected fierceness on Calleigh's face. "I swear I will never let anyone hurt you again."

Her heart suddenly too great for her chest, Natalia had no answer. She simply tightened her hold on Calleigh and swore silently she would never let go of this gift.

Apparently satisfied, Calleigh snuggled deeper into Natalia's body. Gradually their breathing evened out.

Lost in each other, they paid no attention as the breeze quieted, seemingly content, and the sun sank gracefully toward its own rest, turning the sky and ocean to fire and bathing them in gold and light.