“Sara and Keppler, you have a – ”
“No,” Sara interrupted Gil as he handed out his first assignments on his return.
He lifted his head from the files, to look at her, brow furrowed in annoyance and confusion.
“I don’t work with him,” the younger woman continued, confidently, her eyes flitting only briefly to the man she spoke of as if he weren’t present in the room. “Catherine works with him.”
“Not tonight,” he told her, his tone conveying that there was no room for argument.
He didn’t dare look in Catherine’s direction. He could no doubt sense the anger bubbling just beneath the surface of her skin. She watched him stare Sara down, as his ‘girlfriend’ seemed to have missed the veiled message in his earlier statement and had continued to argue. Good for her. He was being an ass and needed putting in his place. She would have her turn once Sara was through with him.
“We had issues while you were away, Grissom. I’ll tell you about them later… But I don’t work with him.”
“I know about your issues, Sara – ”
“How do you know?”
“Catherine called me – ”
“Sara – ”
Catherine frowned. She expected Sara would have told Gil, and that Gil would have told Sara he had spoken to Catherine while he was away.
“When?” the brunette repeated.
“We’re not discussing this. Sara, you’re working with Keppler. If it were Warrick, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. He’s staying to cover while Warrick’s in court, so you will work with Keppler,” he told her in a patronising tone that only increased the speed at which Catherine’s ire flowed through her veins.
It seemed to have the same affect on Sara, who pushed her chair back as she stood. “Whatever you say,” she muttered, snatching the case file out of his hand and storming out of the room.
Keppler glanced at Catherine, and she shot him a sympathetic smile, before he too left the room.
And then there were two. And it was her turn.
“What the hell was that?”
To his credit he didn’t pretend not to know what she was talking about. That actually surprised her a little and briefly threw her off course. Luckily she could cover her momentary panic with a silence of awaiting an answer.
He didn’t offer one.
“I believe I’ve said before that the assignments aren’t a negotiation.”
She laughed bitterly. “I see the break didn’t do you any good.”
He just offered her his look of confusion. And she rolled her eyes.
“You’re supposed to be in love with her, Gil,” she said, gesturing towards the door.
His raised eyebrow made her roll her eyes again.
“I’m not stupid, Gil. I’ve known about you and Sara for quite a while.”
“My relationship with Sara doesn’t mean that she can demand different assignments -”
“No, but it means you should have at least taken into consideration what happened while you were gone! Relationship or not, given what I told you, it’s plain sadistic to make her work with Mike.”
“She needs to learn that she can’t always get her own way.”
“And screw the case?”
“They’re both professionals. The case won’t suffer.”
“Oh because Sara never gets emotionally involved, and you’ve known Mike, what, ten minutes?” she drawled sarcastically.
“Well you know him better than I do, is he not professional?”
She didn’t miss the ice in his tone and she laughed again as his insinuation confirmed her suspicions.
“So you did see,” she stated. “And that’s what this was about.” She shook her head slowly.
“You’ve known him four weeks.”
He shook his head. “And nothing… I guess I should have expected it.”
Her eyes must have glowed with the anger she shot in his direction. “Green is not a good colour on you, Gil.”
He lowered his eyes, contrite. “I’m sorry,” he apologised softly, dropping himself into the nearest seat, and rubbing a hand across his face. “I don’t know why – ”
“You don’t get to do this,” she told him, voice slightly shakier now with what was being revealed. “You chose Sara, you can’t – ”
“I didn’t know I had a choice,” he said, looking up at her.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she blinked stinging eyes and looked away. “There’s always a choice, Gil… You could have chosen not to be with someone you didn’t have feelings for…” She looked back to him as her anger returned. “Just like you could have chosen to inform Sara that you spoke to me while you were away.”
“I hadn’t had the opportunity – ”
“You could have fit it in Gil!” she snapped at him.
“I didn’t speak to Sara until this evening, in the corridor, just before we came in for assignments,” he snapped back.
“You didn’t speak to Sara while you were away?” she asked, incredulous.
He shook his head.
“But you spoke to me practically every day…” She trailed off as the implications of that hit her. “My God, Gil… You could have told her.”
“I told you I didn’t – ”
“Before you left! Before you left you could have ended things with Sara.”
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I was – “
“So what? You thought you’d have as little contact with her as possible, and start some sort of affair with me?”
“That’s not – ”
“That’s exactly how it will look to Sara!” she shouted, slamming her hands on the table as she stood up. “You spoke to me almost every single day while you were gone!… I thought we were rebuilding our friendship. It was nice… But I expected that every time our calls ended, your next call was to Sara. But all the time you were actually… What? … Assessing the situation? Testing the water?”
“We were rebuilding our friendship!” He raised his voice and body to mirror hers, leaning towards her. “I don’t have to explain myself to you, Catherine. My relationship with Sara is none of your business!”
“And my relationship with Mike is none of your business!”
“So you admit that you are in a relationship?”
“I’m not saying anything about that. Because you have no right to ask!”
“So what gives you the right to interfere with me and Sara?”
“You! Casting me in the role of ‘other woman’ - ”
“You’re overreacting - ”
“Am I? You haven’t spoken to your girlfriend at all in four weeks, but you’ve spoken to me nearly everyday. Reverse the roles, Gil, what would you think?”
He held her gaze with an intense stare, not responding to her question.
“Exactly…” she bit out. “I can’t believe you’ve done this!”
“It wasn’t intentional. I’ll talk to Sara.”
“Damn right you will! If I so much as get a dirty look from her, Gil, you won’t know what hit you.”
He opened his mouth to speak but she didn’t let him.
“I take it you have a case for me?”
“Cath - ”
“We’ve got work to do.”
He begrudgingly offered her the file. “Home invasion in Henderson.”
She swiped the file from his hand. “Thank you… Are you on this with me?”
“No. Only needs one of us. I’ll catch up on what I missed.”
He tried again to speak to her before she walked out of the room, but she ignored him. Tension riddled every muscle in her body now her anger was that strong. She was furious with him for doing this; for putting her in this position, but above all that she was most angry at herself. Because despite all the anger she was feeling towards him, she still wanted to help him. She wanted to be able to call him like she had while he was away, to talk to him in the relaxed manner that she had missed for so long. She still loved him… And he didn’t deserve it. Or at least, she wanted to believe he didn’t deserve it.
Fortunately she made it to the locker room before she reached breaking point and she had to release a scream. She yanked her locker door open to shield her from passers by - of course it wasn’t sound proof, but she could always claim it wasn’t her. She was sure she had an angry enough expression on her face to persuade people not to push the matter.
The scream wasn’t enough though, she still felt like strangling him - or pouncing on him - and that wasn’t an option. She leant against the frame of her locker, and tried to take deep, soothing breaths. She had to calm down, she couldn’t let him push her into being unprofessional.
Seconds later, movement of her locker door startled her and she looked up to find Grissom looking at her. She hadn’t heard him come in.
“What do you want, Gil?”
“I’ll take the case, you stay here,” he offered.
“Oh no! No, you are not doing that! I am perfectly capable of working on this case, don’t you dare patronise me!”
“I was trying to make up for what I’ve done.”
“That won’t do it.”
She snatched her jacket from her locker and threw it over her arm. When she moved to close the locker door, his hand closed over hers and stopped her.
“What will do it?”
She glared at his hand and he released hers.
“Catherine I didn’t mean for anything to be interpreted like this - ”
She pushed past him as she responded, “Course you didn’t. You’ve taken to acting before you think.”
This time his hand grasped hers as she passed him and he pulled her back to him. She found herself pinned between him and the lockers, naturally reacting to his proximity, her breathing deepening, and her heart pounding.
She looked up at him defiantly. “Gonna prove my point?” she challenged, ignoring her feelings.
He spoke quietly, seemingly ignoring her comment. “We were rebuilding our friendship, Catherine. I never meant it as anything more than that… I always thought of my relationship with Sara as an entirely separate issue. I’m sorry I didn’t realise that it wouldn’t look that way.”
She couldn’t find a response to that. He looked like he meant it, and he never had been good with personal stuff. She could feel her anger dispersing, no matter how hard she tried to keep hold of it.
“I’m going to talk to Sara. I’ll make sure she isn’t blaming you for anything… There’s a lot I have to sort out, Catherine… But I need to know that I haven’t lost you.”
“You haven’t lost me, Gil… I’m disappointed in you, and we’re going to need time before we’re back to how we used to be. But you haven’t lost me.” She straightened up, bringing her face closer to his as she said, “But I do need you to sort out whatever else is going on in your life before you ever pin me against a locker again.”
Her words seemed to remind him that he had done just that, and he stepped backwards. “Sorry.”
“I’m your friend, Gil. I’ll help you through this, but you can’t do things that make it look like we’re more than friends. That isn’t fair to Sara and it isn’t fair to me.”
He nodded. “I know. And I am sorry.”
Catherine nodded back. “I know you are…” She didn’t really have the energy to say anything else to him. She meant what she had said, but her anger had taken too much out of her for tonight. She needed space away from him. Time to let her fury subside completely; to push her attraction to him to the back of her mind and to get into a state where she could support him through whatever would happen with Sara without either of those getting in the way. “I really need to go now,” she told him, “I think all this has affected our work enough.”
He simply nodded again and she moved to leave. As she crossed the room she replayed the night’s events so far; from Sara’s outburst in the break room, to Grissom’s easy diffusion of her anger just now, and when she reached the door, one statement lingered in her mind:
“I didn’t know I had a choice.”
She paused in her tracks, thinking about Mike, and the fact that she still had not answered Grissom’s question about their relationship. She glanced back to where Grissom was now sitting on the bench in the middle of the room.
He looked up.
“Mike was just giving me a hug… We’re not involved.”
She didn’t wait around for him to respond. She knew how he would interpret that. She stepped into the corridor and walked away.
He had a lot to sort out. But at least now he knew for sure that he hadn’t lost her. Now he knew he had a choice.