It was daytime, stark brightness and heat. Everything too intrusive, the outside world busy with the mundane tasks of the ordinary trapped in routine. Foliage surrounded her yard, sweet scented flowers and luscious greens. Calmness in the midst of desert, though surrounded by walls and gates. Tiny entrances and escapes hidden in the hearts of everyone who visited her world.
She sipped at her glass of water under the shade of an umbrella. An aide silently walked over, nodding once as she stood at attention.
The subdued woman, in a simple dark cotton dress spoke. "Your visitor is waiting."
"Escort him here and then leave us," she replied, her tone kind.
"Yes, Madame." And silently her staff member disappeared.
She reclined in a wicker chair, crossing her legs, the fabric of her black skirt flowing easily. Her guest walked slowly, his stride obviously awkward. Assurance and self-confidence in the physical task unable to mask the uneven gait. She didn't make any noticeable movements; her eyes followed his approach, his tiny laugh lines indicative of uncertainty.
There was no mold of man that she had not met. Every shade, or manner that bent definitions and sometimes defied them. Every litmus test imagined studied.
Her moist lips took in more refreshment, her heartbeat tame and steady. Skin perfect, void of perspiration even in this heat. At the same time as the southern gentleman wiped droplets of sweat from his brow, dark designer sunglasses sticky where the wire met the tops of moist cheeks.
The criminalist stood before her, curiosity piqued, muscles of his throat working in tandem with heavy breathing. Hands went to hips of low riding denim. Rivulets of sweat rolled down the contours of his throat and down skin exposed by the unbuttoned portion of a clean white shirt.
Yes, yet, this very simple man did beep on her radar. Strange indeed.
"Sit down, Mr. Stokes." Even behind those shades undoubtedly his eyes went straight to her dark colored lips.
He shifted his weight back and forth on both feet and finally pulled up a chair. A tongue darted out to wet his bottom lip, then he paused momentarily before speaking. "Um, you asked to see me? Ms--"
She raised an eyebrow, and he ducked his head in reaction, noting his faux pas. Her mouth curved in a smile.
"I mean, Lady Heather," his accent much thicker this time.
"Would you like some water? You must be thirsty." She poured from a crystal pitcher of crushed ice and Evian before he answered.
Nick took the offered glass, cubes swirling when he stirred it with a tilt back and forth of his hand.
His eyes questioned the validity of the gesture, of its ruse. That was quite encouraging, she thought.
He stared at the beverage and chuckled to himself. "You're certainly sure of many things."
"That's one step," Heather replied.
The man drank down greedily, his flushed face relaxing. Once satisfied he set the glass down, fingers rubbing at the condensation. "One step in what?"
She rested her weight on her elbows, closing the distance between them. "In getting what you want."
He pushed his rolled sleeves up further along tantalizing arms, veins close to the surface, a sign of a body type void of most fat. Her guest stared at his hands. "I guess that's true. And what exactly is it that you want from me?"
This mistress didn't need to see the eyes he tried hard to hide behind tinted lenses to sense the raw pain, veiled in a confident voice. "I need your help."
Laughter was a defense mechanism, a sign of insecurity. Heather didn't understand how this man could feel such a thing.
"I'm serious," she explained rubbing a fingertip along the outlined circle of glass, emitting a hum from the contact.
"I'm a crime scene analyst," he defended, sitting back against the wicker. He looked away at some fascinating point in the sky. "One that's on leave for a while."
"Doesn't change the fact that I'm in need of your expertise."
He rubbed at his thigh, face skewed up in a grimace. "Why did you contact me?"
"Would you take your sunglasses off?"
He ran his hand through silky black hair, still avoiding eye contact.
"Do you find it too difficult to look at me?"
He bristled, then removed the obstruction to his face. Dark brown eyes stared at her, a flicker of real challenge.
That's it, she thought.
The silence didn't bother her, though it seemed to cause her companion to fidget.
She took a wedge of lemon, chewed on the end thoughtfully, the sourness flooding her taste buds. "I have a private issue that needs to be dealt with. An investigator of your skill and manners is exactly what I need. I'll compensate you for services rendered."
Anticipation was also part of her forte. Heather sucked on the last of the fruit and dropped it into a now empty glass. "This isn't official. I don't want to attract attention, but I need evidence. Involving the police is not discreet, and I believe in privacy."
"M---, Lady Heather. I'm not sure what it is that you need, but I'm not a private detective, and even if I decided to try to help, nothing would stand up in court. I... nothing I could do would be legal."
Her stomach filled with a soft, warming heat not felt in a while. A tingle from her chest to her limbs, her fingers curled around the smooth glass to allow the sensation to move along nerve endings.
"If I wanted a court date, I'd hire some flatfoot. No, I want someone accurate and not distracted. Proof and the rest will take care of itself."
She was used to coaxing people, making them feel comfortable with something that they wanted. It was a pity that true desire for things created insatiable needs to dissociate from what was so longed for or needed.
"I'm the wrong person to ask. The LVPD, or... I mean, Grissom could--"
Her first real kernel of emotion, a flash then it was gone. Face neutral, easygoing manner back. "I don't think he's right for the job. I need your help." She was manipulating for sure. Voice softer, rougher, making eye contact.
He was melting but something.... Wrong, terrible held him back.
She took a hold of his hand resting on the table, rubbing a thumb over the smoothness of skin there, her fingernails skating over his knuckles.
He swallowed a large lump.
Heather knew it was now or never. "Mr. Stokes, it's difficult to put blind faith in someone... but I sense I can do it with you."
His voice shook. "Lady Heather, I'm not even cleared for field work. Can you really hold that kind of stake in something that you really shouldn't?"
The skin of his palm was warm, that deep rattling tone, brassy and desperate. It had been awhile since her mouth dried up.
They made them naked and bare in Texas.
"I think you're the best hope I have. Can you be anything other than honest?"
His other hand went back to massage the area in his thigh, a source of more than one set of pain.
"We could meet tomorrow night. Then I could show you around, get you settled into the case." Her eyes shined nakedly, her pulse sped up, fingers digging into the skin of his hand not yet released.
"I---I," he gulped. His face contorted in what only a horrid memory could inflict on such raw openness.
"You'd rather sit at home? You could rewind what haunts you forever and over again. Won't take away the pain, in your leg or elsewhere," she dared.
The gall in his features was back, that primal urge couldn't hide what she really saw deep down inside.
Stubbornness. She was right.
"I'll come by and check things out tomorrow. Then we'll talk."
The sunglasses were slapped back on and he stood, hand out to shake hers.
She smirked. Slim fingers took hold of boldness. "Good. Ask for Bridget if I'm indisposed."
He almost gained impassiveness, though that tiny flash was enough to make her stand straight.
"I'm a very good judge of character, even if you don't believe it."
The criminalist seemed to fold in on himself. "We'll see."
He turned to leave, his retreating form the last glimpse until the next night. Lady Heather could not- would not deny a new charge ---it would take some time to decide what to do with it.
He entered his home, the blinking light of his answering machine demanded attention. He threw his mail into the trashcan; a couple important pieces got added to the growing pile of unopened ones. Nick stared at the tiny red light, the number of messages displayed.
Only four this time.
His fingers hovered over the button and instead he bent over and yanked the electrical cord out of its socket and he let it thump to the floor.
"Just leave me alone", he muttered to the now silent machine.
He pulled out his wallet and keys, then carefully placed them on his end table. His hand drifted towards his hip, only to brush over a belt, and nothing else.
He let his palm slide over the side of his jeans, feeling incomplete.
His eyes drifted over at the drawer beneath the items that he had just discarded. His tongue traced over his teeth, eyes squinting.
Fingers massaged his tense neck, willing it all away. The sound of his feet pounding asphalt. The odor of Chinese food drifting from the nearby restaurant.
After several minutes of not moving, eyes glued to that stupid drawer he groaned as he ambled over to his sofa. He bit his lip, settled down to the plush cushions, dragging his dead left leg to lay all the way forward, the muscles of his thigh stiff and so very sore.
He rested his head back, leaned it against the corner. He scanned his living room... kitchen. His garbage piled up in their receptacles and the entire contents of his cabinets overwhelmed the kitchen sink.
He thought about buying paper plates, or hitting the speed dial for his favorite fast food; would be easier than dealing with the mess. No energy or motivation to get up and do anything about it. He rubbed at his leg, lip curling into a snarl. He pressed his fingers over his eyes, trying to understand why he had agreed to assist in something he knew nothing about.
He thought of freshly squeezed lemons and gave his head a shake.
What a strange little world; filled with things he knew nothing about, not that he had ever really cared to.
He fell asleep with the memory scents of carnations and black leather.
"You've got a flinch, Stokes. But you scored high enough on everything to pass. Better work on that for next year."
He woke up hours later, covered in a cold sweat, room filled with his screaming. Then he buried his head into the sofa to cover up his reddened face.
Summary: "When helping others, do not look for a reward; if you are looking for rewards, donít help others.Ē -Chinese Proverb. Nick offers aid to an unlikely person and ends up being helped himself.