*Edit made to Red – I forgot the physical red object! Oh no!
Here's the last chap. Yay! If you've been reading this far and haven't reviewed yet, I'd really appreciate you just dropping me a line or two and telling me you liked it – or not, but if you didn't it was kind of silly of you to read this far ;) If I get to 40 reviews I'll be very happy! By the way, kudos to anyone who spots the Bones reference!
Dedicated to lily moonlight, for always giving me a wonderfully detailed/rambly review (you know I love it!), and sticking with me on this even though Fiesta is not her 'ship. You rock my world, lily!
None of them particularly like attending these black-tie events. It's obvious in the tense way they enter, the cool way they speak to people, the uptight way they behave. It's like being on parade, but without the honour that comes with dress blues. For this, they have to be tarted-up shiny cops. Cop dollies for the fat cats to play with.
This one was the mayor's prerogative. Publicity, and a tying up of loose ends for the press and the rich in the Cabbie Killer aftermath. All cops and CSI's connected to the case were required to attend.
Mac Taylor is especially antsy tonight. Understandable, as his dead wife's son was nearly killed by the Cabbie. All the poor man wants is to go back to the hospital, but he's stuck here.
His partner can tell he's anxious to leave. She's standing beside him now, arm looped gently with his. She's supporting him with her presence as she so often does, but she's also using him as a human shield from the constant stream of groping hands and bad pick-up lines she's been enduring all night. Their closeness is indisputable, and no one dares interrupt the handsome pair.
They do make a handsome pair. They are both wearing black, as is customary, and both wearing it exceedingly well. Her dress is a silky, shimmery material falling over her body like water, cowl-necked, backless and sweeping the floor. His jacket is tailored, no pun intended, and fits him like a glove. His shoes are shined and his shirt is pressed, and the royal blue tie stops the ensemble just short of funeral-esque. They are reluctant to be there, but it looks good on them.
She leans her curly head towards his, offering to make his excuses for him. He smiles fondly and gratefully, out towards the dance floor but meant for her. He says he can at least wait until she is asked to dance before he abandons her. She returns that he may not abandon her to anyone but one of their CSI's, as everyone else she's danced with has had his hands on her breasts or her butt within two minutes.
"What about Flack?" he asks, in what would surely have been a sly tone if he were a sly sort of man.
She is at once suspicious and defensive. She stares him in the eye, refusing point-blank to blush.
"What about him?"
"He's not a CSI, could I let him ask you to dance?"
He is still looking out at the other dancers while aiming his voice towards her, and there is a slight smirk on his face that belies his casual manner. The corners of her own mouth turn up as understanding dawns on her. He knows something has changed between the two, even if he doesn't know exactly how or what, and she knows that he knows, but they will not say anything. Not yet, anyway. They don't need to. They know each other well enough to know that she is not hiding anything from him. She just wants to be sure what is happening herself, before she acknowledges it in a language the rest of the world can understand.
Elsewhere in the room, another pair of investigators are congratulating themselves on a plot well executed.
"They're not dancing," he says.
"They will be," she assures.
"You're very sure about all this."
"Of course I am. I'm a woman, Danny, I know these things."
After a pause in which she gazes around at the people in the room and he contemplates the tray of finger food drifting their way, she says,
"You wanted them to get together, too, you know. It was driving you crazy as well."
"No, no, I wanted them to own up to their feelings, that's all. Different. It's just Flack gets so pathetic when he's moonin' over a woman."
"So you don't think they belong together?"
There is a subtle warning tone in her voice that he has come to recognise, and he backtracks quickly. Rumour has it that this pair are expecting, and he's obviously the kind of father-to-be who will get out of bed at 4am and find the nearest 24-hour delicatessen when she's craving asparagus in strawberry sauce made from white vinaigrette.
"No, no, no, that's not it at all, I'm happy for them, you know that."
The number of 'no's tends to increase with the depth of the hole he digs himself.
"But how do you know they're even together? They've hardly touched or even talked all night, and at these kind of things Flack's usually grabbing every chance he can get to touch Stell. They're not even makin' their gooey eyes at each other when they think the other one's not lookin'."
"Case in point, Mr Messer. They're no longer mooning, as you choose to put it. They've obviously acted on or at the very least accepted their feelings. I would've been surprised if they hadn't after what you were saying to Don – he was driven to distraction, literally."
"That was a good one. You should've seen him whenever Stella walked into a room the rest of that day. Looked like he was going to lose his mind right there."
"Or something else."
"Hey, hey, easy now."
He is flustered himself at the thought of leading her mind to Don Flack Jr.'s trousers and beyond. Her faraway smirk is fairly alarming, in his defense.
"It was brilliant, if I do say so myself. He wouldn't have been able to stop thinking about her all day. Stella was actually hiding from me."
She is triumphant. He is impressed – understandably, since it is rare that Stella Bonasera hides from anything – and a little scared – also understandably. The smirk has still not quite faded.
She leans closer in a conspiratorial manner, returning to his earlier question.
"They've stopped making excuses to talk to each other or touch each other in a public place; clearly they've found an outlet, and they don't have to soak up each other's presence in places like this any more. Besides, Stella's walking around with that happy glow that a woman can only get from one thing."
He raises his eyebrows at her.
"Does Stella know you're interpreting her glow for the whole world?"
"Not the whole world, Danny, just you. And you remember what it's like when you first get that taste of the thing you've wanted for so long – you might even…overindulge a little, so you don't crave it again for a while?"
She is smirking again, but this time he seems to appreciate it.
"I'm Italian, Linds. My cravings are never satisfied. Wanna dance?"
A genuine smile overrides the smirk, and her face glows with it.
"I thought you'd never ask."
As they join Detectives Flack and Angell, among others, on the dance floor, a curly-haired lab tech approaches his bosses, his face so red it looks likely to explode. They give him reassuring smiles, hers wide, his a little more reserved.
"Hi, uh, Stella, Mac."
"Hey Adam," says she.
"Enjoying yourself, Adam?" he asks, with a teasing note in his voice and a twinkle in his eye that only she knows him well enough to notice.
"Yes, yes, thank you, I am. Um, Stella, I was just wondering if, maybe, you'd maybe like to dance? Uh, with me?"
She smiles a big Stella smile at him, peaking his redness.
"Sure, Adam, I'd like that."
She goes to take his hand, but decides against embarrassing him further, and releases Mac with a smaller smile and a wave. He nods his gratitude and disappears.
She follows Adam through the dancers, passing Sid Hammerback dancing with his wife. He pauses to squeeze her shoulder and give her hand to his wife, who shakes it graciously. He bends his head towards them both, too much the gentleman to exclude one lady, and points to the band onstage, at a boy playing the cello. Her face lights up in understanding, and she nods, squeezing both his hands. She excuses herself quickly, aware of Adam waiting somewhat awkwardly for her.
She is visibly surprised by his footwork when they eventually get to dancing. He shares what is, for him, an embarrassing tidbit about himself, letting on how his mother pushed him into ballroom dance classes when he was a boy. She suspects, but does not let on, that he rather enjoyed the classes, and would have enjoyed them more had he not been ridiculed for taking them. Aloud she mentions her own dance classes, and they compare schools and eccentric instructors companionably, laughing at each other's stories until he is tapped on the shoulder by Don Flack. She is also tapped on the shoulder, by his partner, Jessica Angell, and the detectives wordlessly hold their hands out to the scientists. Adam inclines a little bow to Stella, and she dips a tiny curtsey, and they accept their new partners' hands. Surprisingly enough, he does not blush nearly so much at the familiar way Angell clasps his hand as he did when Stella did the opposite. He remains unshy as the music slows and Angell rests her head on his shoulder. He clasps his hands behind her back and leans his head against hers.
Mimicking their position, Detectives Bonasera and Flack sway gently to the music. He strokes her hair, happy to be within reach of it again.
"He has a crush on you, you know," he whispers towards her ear.
"Who?" she murmurs, suddenly sleepy in his warmth, wanting to be snuggling against him in his bed instead of on the dance floor, content to feel his breath rustling her curls as he talks and not really know what he's saying.
She says the syllable fondly, as though touched by the idea.
He is silent, and she is surprised to find herself amused at his territoriality, and not annoyed.
"I have a feeling he's more interested in Angell," she says into his chest.
She feels him move to look at them.
"Whaddya know. Lucky – "
She pulls back slightly, eyes seeking his, but he reads her movement and amends,
They smile knowing smiles, just slightly teasing, and sink back into each other.
They are silent for almost a whole song before she speaks again.
"You remember the jar kid?" she asks.
"Street kid in the alley? Yeah."
He says it offhandedly, as if it's because he remembers all his cases, but he remembers it for the way it affected her.
"I was just thinking about him," she says.
"Should I be jealous?" he asks playfully, and she gives him that smile he loves so much.
"We found his killer," she says after a pause. "We were able to figure out what happened to him, and why."
"Scumbag's been convicted," he tells her. "Thirty-five years for murder and multiple counts of rape and abuse. Seems like Mary Ellen opened the floodgates; once she testified, there were women lining up outside the courthouse to do the same."
She nods, seeming satisfied, but there's something in her eyes that makes him ask.
"What's up, Stell?"
"We never found out his name," she says. "We found out what he was doing, what he wanted to do with his life, but we never found out who he was. If he has a family somewhere out there, they'll never know what happened to him."
He understands, and holds her close.
"There's more than one kind of family," he says softly. "I'm sorry to say it, but his biological family had nothing to do with him. They didn't know who he was before he died and if they cared enough to look for him, he would have had a name in the system. They moved on, and so did he, and that's okay. He had people, Stell. People cared about him, and that's the family that matters."
She presses her face into his shoulder and says nothing, and they sway together, him almost rocking her. He whispers to her softly enough that she can pretend she doesn't hear if she wants to.
"You have people, Stell. We'd always look for you."
She still says nothing, but presses him to her so tightly he knows she heard. He lets her hide her face, circling them around even as the song ends. He looks over her shoulder around at the other dancers. Sheldon Hawkes passes them, now dancing with Lindsey Monroe. He makes a hat-tipping gesture at Flack, though he is not wearing one.
"Don't even think about it, Doc," Flack warns. "This is my favourite song, and Monroe has two left feet."
"She just needs a steady lead, Flack, and I can see you're quite comfortable," the doctor returns. Stella lifts her head, composed once more, just in time to catch the warm, wide smiles her fellow CSI's are giving the two of them. They dance off in another direction, the younger woman actually quite graceful on her feet, and Stella looks up at Flack. He is smiling too, at himself for even thinking he could hide anything from these people.
"Flack, what is this thing between us? What are we doing?"
"You need a name for it, Stell?"
"I wouldn't mind knowing where I stand."
"You know perfectly well where you stand with me, Bonasera, and if you don't, you are in the wrong line of work."
She smiles almost reluctantly, a little frustrated that he can make her smile no matter what kind of mood she's in.
"I haven't told Mac what's going on yet, because I'm not sure I know myself," she tries again.
"Mac doesn't know?" He is surprised by this, knowing how close the two are.
"Well, he does, but I want to actually tell him."
Now he's a little confused, but doesn't prod.
"So, tell him."
"I don't know what to say, that's the thing."
"That's the thing?" he grins. She looks away, unwilling to grin back but unable to keep a straight face.
He takes her face in his hands, and he's serious again.
"Are you happy, Stell?"
"Don, that's not it at all, I just – "
"Are you glad we slept together? Are sleeping together?"
She nods again, not trying to hide her smile this time. He smiles back, unable to resist giving her a fleeting kiss on the lips. She flushes, but doesn't pull away.
"We're still good friends, and we still work incredibly well together, right?"
"Incredibly," she says lowly, and he slightly regrets leading her down that road.
"And you care about me, right?" he continues, trying to steer her back.
"So that's what you tell him. All that."
"What, that I'm glad we're sleeping together?"
He puts a finger over her lips.
"That we care about each other, and we still work well together, and that you're happy."
She hears the hint of pride in his voice, and feels a rush of warmth for the man in her arms.
"I want you," she whispers, breathing the words in his ear.
He ignores the pulse that goes through him as best he can and replies,
He holds her close and she wraps her arms around his neck and snuggles into him. She is happy, she thinks, and relishes the feeling. She is a great believer in appreciating good things when you have them, not realising how good they were only after they're gone. They pull slightly apart when the next song ends, and she fingers his plain black tie.
"I love you all dressed up like this," she says.
He hears the words, knows she doesn't mean them yet, and doesn't mind, because he knows they're not there yet. He doesn't know where they are exactly, or where they're going. But he is happy in the knowledge that she is not afraid to say those three words together in his presence.