Valera shook her head as she climbed into her vehicle. Who did Natalia think she was, anyway? Telling her who she could and could not date; the nerve! If she really didn't want her to go out with Nick, she should have just said so, not try to make up some cryptic excuse. "He's dangerous." Please. The few times she had gone out with him, Nick had been nothing but sweet.
She could see why it bothered Natalia, she really could. It's hard enough to see an ex-boyfriend date someone, especially someone close to you, but an ex-husband dating your co-worker . . . . That really had to smart.
Dangerous. What was dangerous, anyway? She had dated 'dangerous' before. She had loved the thrill and excitement. There was Victor, who liked to speed around on his motorcycle, paying no heed to traffic laws or speed limits. She remembered one time she rode with him and they nearly wiped out going around the corner and the rush of adrenalin that hit her system . . . Andrew, who liked to skydive, parachute, anything that threatened fatality if not done right . . . and who could forget Michael? With a kink for semipublic sex, he had taught Max a thing or twelve about spontaneity.
But all those men had just been for fun, Mr. Right Now, or Mr. Help Me Scare My Straight-laced Parents. Nick, though, he was nice, respectable. She could see bringing him to introduce to her parents and winning their approval – a feat yet to be accomplished in her dating career.
She wasn't going to let Natalia get to her. Even if things were getting extremely awkward between the two women, she really liked Nick.
Natalia's advice be damned. Max could take care of herself.
She stood in front of the bathroom mirror, gloved hands poised above her head. Did she dare do it? She had gotten awfully fond of it, once she stopped having to double-take whenever she saw her own reflection.
It was brighter, flirtier. The bottled-blonde Valera was a new her, a starting over her. After getting suspended and then all the business with the mole, it was time the shake things up. Try something new.
So she did.
No more being lonely. She went out more, flirted more, and dated more.
No more trouble at work. She did her work diligently – no more shortcuts – and kept away from the gossipers in the break room.
No more inane crush on a guy who barely notices girls, unless they're *pretty* and . . . and *blonde*.
With a self-depreciating snort, Maxine began to spread the hair dye methodically, watching the pale locks disappear. Time to start over again.
When they had made their lunch date, she had assumed they were going to a restaurant. It was a complete surprise when Nick had taken her to his apartment for an 'intimate lunch', as he had put it.
Valera finished her coffee and set the mug back on the table. She gave Nick a faint smile, shifting slightly in her seat. "Thanks. Lunch was great."
He stared at her momentarily. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing!" was the knee-jerk reply. "I mean, it's just – this was just – . . . There was this . . . thing at work earlier. It . . . it just got to me, that's all." She smiled brightly, hoping to reassure him.
Nick let out a short laugh and reached across the table to hold her hand. "Good. For a minute there I thought you were getting uncomfortable with me or something."
Something in his tone perked her attention, and not in a good way. "Uncomfortable?"
"Yeah. What with you workin' with Nat and all, I thought for sure she'd have told you some wild stories about me to chase you away."
Valera rolled her eyes. "Well, 'Nat' and I aren't really the best of friends." It was rude, she knew, and not exactly true, but she was still too pissed off at the other woman's earlier actions to really care.
"Listen," Nick began as he stood and started to load the dishes into to dishwasher, "Forget I even brought it up. There are much better things we can do than discuss my ex-wife."
"Oh, like what?"
He pulled Valera to her feet and wrapped his arms around her. "Well, I don't know about you, but *I* got someone covering the cleanup for me." He started to kiss her neck. "I'd be able to take the rest of the day off . . ."
She squirmed uncomfortably in Nick's arms. "Nick, I don't think . . . I got a lot of things to do at the lab. A whole to- do list . . ."
"C'mon. Just stay a little longer."
"Hey, Valera. Did you get my results yet?"
The DNA tech looked up to see Calleigh smiling from the doorway. "Yeah, give me a minute." She finished the sample she was working on and slid it into the machine. Reaching to the other side of the table, she picked up the sheet sitting there. "Uh, the blood from the couch, the floor, and the kitchen knife all matches your vic."
"And the blood on the letter opener?"
"That did not, but it did have seven alleles in common."
Calleigh's forehead furrowed in confusion. "Male or female?"
"And the sister didn't mention any living male relatives," Calleigh murmured, taking the sheet. "Thanks, Valera. This puts a whole new spin on things."
"Glad I could help," she replied.
Calleigh hesitated by the door. "Valera? If you ever need to talk, you know I'm always available, right?"
The tech gave her a small smile. "I'll keep that in mind."
"By the way, I like the new hair."
Valera was panicking. She wanted to leave, but Nick's hold was too tight. She had had guys look at her possessively or lewdly before, but this . . . this was something completely different. The look in his eyes was scaring her. She bit back a gasp of pain as his grip twisted slightly.
She wasn't paying attention to what he was saying. Anything comforting he was whispering into her ear was negated by the frightening look on his face. Would he really hurt her? She didn't want to stick around and find out the answer to that particular question.
Mustering up all her strength, she shoved him away as hard as she could. His hold on her faltered and there was a sickening crack when his head met the floor.
"Nick?" He didn't answer. He didn't move.
Fear of another sort gripped at Valera's chest.
"Hey, Valera. I got some samples for you." Ryan held a several evidence bags. "A couple sets of bed sheets, several semen samples on each of them."
"Sounds like somebody was getting around."
"That's what we need you to find out."
She set down her paperwork and slipped on a pair of gloves. Picking up the first bag, she noticed he hadn't left yet. "What? You going to stand there the two plus hours this is going to take me?"
A slightly panicked look flashed across Ryan's face. "No! No I just - . . . I was just wondering if, uh, if you'd be interesting in getting a drink or something after work?" He tried not to appear anxious, but failed miserably.
Valera kept her gaze fixed on the sample in her hands. "I don't think that would be a good idea."
He gave a frustrated sigh. "Listen, Max, I really think we need-"
"No Ryan." She refuted, leaving no room for argument. When she finally looked up, he was gone. Somehow, it hurt more than if he had stayed.
Valera stalked out of the holding cell. She held her head high, ignoring the stares from her colleagues. Inside, she was dying. How could she have been so stupid?
Part of her was furious with Natalia. First warning her to stay away from Nick then having sex with him behind her back? Talk about hypocritical! The other part of her was trying not contemplate the what if's. Now that she had the reassurance (if you could call it that) that she had, in fact, NOT killed Nick, she couldn't stop her mind from wandering back to the afternoon and what could have happened. What would he have done if she hadn't fought back?
When Valera reached the locker room, she sat down on the bench and let out a shuddering breath. I will not cry, she willed herself, I will not cry, I will not – damn. She wiped her cheeks frantically, trying to stop the tears before they made any progress. She sniffled pathetically.
After a while – a few minutes or maybe fifteen, she couldn't be sure – she sensed someone sit down beside her and flushed with embarrassment. Peeking from behind a curtain of hair, she met the worried gaze of Ryan. Awkwardly, he wrapped an arm around her.
That was all it took. Turning, she started sobbing into his shoulder.
"Hey, Maxine. Could we talk?"
Valera looked up from the computer. Natalia was standing in front of her, fidgeting the file in her hands nervously. "I don't have any results for you and if you came to give me something new, I'm kind of backlogged right now. There are a lot of biologicals to sort through in Ryan's case."
"Oh, I'm working with Ryan," she corrected quickly. "But that's- . . . that's not why I'm here."
Valera bit her lip. "Listen, Natalia, I'm really busy right now, so unless it's about a case . . ."
"Right. We'll just . . . Later, maybe?" The hopefulness was evident in her voice.
"Yeah, later." She watched as the other woman walked across the hallway, joining Ryan in an evidence room. She leaned in close to him, peering over his shoulder. Valera sighed. She hated glass walls.
"I'm an idiot." Max declared, gazing down into her beer.
"No you're not," Ryan said quickly. "You didn't know about his . . . past."
"Natalia tried to warn me, but I blew her off. I figured she was just having a hard time dealing with her ex dating someone she worked with." She paused a beat, then: "Maybe it was just because she was fucking him behind my back."
Ryan spluttered beer over the table in surprise. "What?"
"Nightshift confirmed it with DNA. They were sleeping together." She drained her glass and turned to Ryan. "You know, if this is your idea of cheering me up, it sucks."
He gave an apologetic smile and wrapped an arm around her in a half hug. "Sorry. How can I do a better job?" He leaned in, a breath away from invading her personal space.
Valera was hyperaware of how close they had gotten as their knees brushed below the table. "I can think of one thing," she whispered, her gazed locked with his.
"This." Summoning all her courage (some of it in liquid form), Valera grabbed the collar of his shirt and pressed their lips firmly together.
It wasn't perfect, most first kisses weren't, but it was good. Better than good. As Ryan overcame his shock and began to respond, Max wondered why she hadn't done this sooner.
When they pulled apart to take a breath, Ryan stared at her with a dazed expression. "Valera, what-?"
"Call me Max," she whispered, hauling him forward for another heated kiss.
Valera fumbled through her apartment door. She tried to balance both grocery bags on one hip as she tugged the stubborn key out of the lock. Finally it slid out – just as one bag slipped, spilling oranges, cereal boxes and ice cream across the floor. "Damn it!" She slammed the door shut, cursing as she gathered the stray food.
Her grey tabby cat rubbed against her ankles as she put away the groceries, slamming each and every cupboard door she opened. "Not now, Bailey," she said in annoyance. He gave an indignant mewl, and then padded out to the living room to wait for her.
After changing into sweats, she settled on the couch with an almost empty carton of cookie dough ice cream. She flicked through the channels, finding nothing but romantic comedies and sappy love stories. Finally she gave up, stopping on something that seemed semi-interesting.
"I'm sorry, Lily," the man on the screen said, his voice full of regret.
"You can't leave, Alex!" the blonde replied in a pleading voice.
"It's not right for me to stay. I'll always love you, Lily, but I'm not in love with you. I'm so sorry." With one last look back, he strode out of the room.
The woman flung herself onto the bed, weeping. "Why me? What's wrong with me?"
Valera shook her head. "I know the feeling, Lily." She turned to the cat, who was lounging on the sofa arm. "You won't ever leave me, will you, Bailey?" He blinked, yawned, and abruptly trotted away.
Men, she thought with a disgusted sigh.
Maxine's fingers fumbled with his belt buckle as their lips met in another kiss. Somewhere between the bar and her apartment, the kissing had turned from exploratory and comforting to frantic and needy. She had just succeeded when he pushed her away.
"We . . . I can't do this, Max."
Her face hardened and she stepped back. "What, am I not good enough for you? The kooky lab tech is okay to kiss, but not for sex?"
Ryan gave her a confused look. "No! It's nothing like that. Max, I just-"
"Get out, Ryan." She refused to look at him, but her voice was firm and demanding.
"Max . . ."
Max groaned and tried to burrow further into the afghan. When the loud knocking persisted, she realized it was someone at her door. Sighing, she threw off the blanket and padded over to it. Throwing the door open, she came face to face with a very nervous Ryan Wolfe.
"What do you want?"
"I want to talk. You keep avoiding me at the lab."
"Hmm, I wonder why?" She replied, sarcasm dripping from her voice.
"Can I come in?"
"Whatever." She left him standing by the door and went back to her spot of the couch. He followed cautiously.
"Look, I know you're probably still a little upset about that night . . ."
"There's the understatement of the year," she murmured to herself.
"I didn't mean to offend you," Ryan continued on. "I don't know why you got so mad."
"You turned down sex with me, Ryan. How am I supposed to take that in a good way?"
"I didn't want to do some stupid, drunken one-night stand with you."
"Aren't guys supposed to jump at chances like that?" She replied bitterly.
"I just couldn't. I like you, Max!"
"I would hope so. We are friends."
Ryan let out a frustrated sigh. "No, I like you."
"What-" Valera froze, her mouth in a perfect 'o'. "Oh." That definitely put a different spin on things. "That's – . . . wow."
"Yeah." Ryan stood up and motioned towards the door. "You know what? Forget I said anything. I'm just gonna go."
"No, wait!" She said, grabbing his arm. He turned towards her, looking dejected. She stood and bit her lip nervously. "You - . . . you really like me?" He nodded. "Okay. So, before you leave, I think you should know that . . . I like you, too."
His eyes widened in surprise. "You do?" She nodded.
"I wouldn't have kissed you like that that night if I didn't."
"So . . . what do we do now?"
"We could finish what we started," she said with a hopeful smile.
Ryan grinned back. "Sounds good." He leaned in and brushed his lips against hers tenderly.
Valera wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close. Things were definitely starting to look up.
Summary: Valera is having a bad week. Post-internal affairs RaVe fic.