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FIC: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - Part 1/2 - Hotitudinosity
fiction by jalabert
jalabert
jalabert
FIC: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - Part 1/2
Title: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Author: Jalabert
Category: First time
Spoilers: None
Rating: FRM
Pairing: Sheldon Hawkes/Don Flack
Summary: After Danny spills the beans about a secret crush, Don and Sheldon are left to deal with the fallout. (Written for the Challenge: CSI fic contest. It won!)

“If you two are oil and water, what does that make us?”

Sheldon Hawkes looked up from the sandwich he was eating to stare into the intense blue eyes of Don Flack. He had no immediate answer for the unexpected question, but ever one to show grace under pressure, Sheldon smoothly and convincingly feigned ignorance.

“Excuse me?”

“You just said that you and Messer barely got along. I was wondering how you felt about me,” Don replied.

“I didn't say we barely got along,” Sheldon protested, distracting the detective momentarily. “I said we got along like oil and water.”

“And oil and water don't mix.”

“No,” Sheldon corrected. “You see if you put oil and water into a jar and shake it up, you create an emulsion. That's a temporary suspension that--.”

“Yeah; vinaigrette.”

“Huh?”

“I know what an emulsion is, Doc,” Don said impatiently. “It's like a salad dressing.”

“Yes,” Sheldon said, smiling. “Although, that's oil and vinegar rather than oil and water.”

“Yeah, and maybe a little Dijon mustard, some scallion, a bit of salt and pepper...”

Sheldon and Danny exchanged a glance.

“Take out gets boring,” Don explained with a shrug. “I picked up a thing or two on the Food Network.”

“Salad dressing?” Danny said incredulously. “You make salad?”

“You got a problem with salad?” Don challenged. Sheldon quickly intervened, silencing Danny with a stern look.

“You're a man of surprising talents, Flack,” he said conversationally.

“Thank you,” Don replied, still ready to agitate. “So you and Messer are like a vinaigrette. If you don't shake things up occasionally, things come apart.”

“That's not exactly what I meant,” Sheldon replied, his attention more focused on his sandwich than the conversation. His pastrami on rye was threatening to collapse in his hands. Danny, on the other hand, eyed Don suspiciously. “I was making a comment about our relative personalities.”

“And Messer's the oily one, I take it.” Don smirked at his own sandwich. “Figures.”

“Hey!” Danny protested. Even Sheldon couldn't ignore the remark this time and he looked up into Don's piercing gaze.

“Are you calling me sour?” he said with a puckish expression of his own.

“I would never suggest a thing of you, Dr. Hawkes,” he said with such a sincere expression that Sheldon was almost taken in by his act. Almost. “Now Messer, here, he's another matter entirely. He likes sliding into and out of things. I don't see you as the kind of--.”

“Don't go there, Flack,” Danny warned. He reached across the table and took a napkin from the pile next to Sheldon's plate.

“What am I doing?”

“The Doc was just using a metaphor. You're making an innuendo.”

“I'm not making an innuendo.”

“You are; stop it.”

“I'm not making an innuendo.”

“You are!”

“Guys,” Sheldon said evenly. He glanced up at Don, who was wearing a smug grin. He turned his eyes to Danny and the trio continued to eat in silence. When he was done with his sandwich, Don checked his watch.

“That subpoena ought to be ready now,” he said, rising. “I'll collect it and meet you two at Greene's place in half an hour.”

“We'll be there,” Sheldon said, gazing at him thoughtfully. Don nodded and left.

“He is so cruising for it.”

“What do you mean?” Sheldon asked, turning to Danny with a curious frown.

“Oh, come on! You heard what he was implying! He's trying to make it sound like we're doing each other!” Danny protested.

“You think--. Why would he do that?” Sheldon replied. Danny averted his eyes and flustered about for an answer.

“He's trying to make trouble, is all.”

“Trouble for whom?” Sheldon persisted. “I don't see what he could accomplish by implying to the two of us that the two of you are--.” But Danny wasn't interested in pursuing the discussion. He rose and tossed away the last of his sandwich and cleared his area of the table. “Danny?”

“You coming or what?” he said defensively. “We've got to go.” Sheldon swallowed the last of his drink and rose to join him, dispensing with the remains of his own lunch on the way.

“I still want an explanation,” he said. “Why would Flack want to make trouble for either of us?”

“You ask too many questions, Doc.”

“I only ask as many as I have to, Danny. What are you trying to hide?”

“Me? I'm not hiding anything. Open book; that's me,” he said as he ran to catch the elevator. “You coming?”

**

An hour later, Danny and Sheldon were combing through the debris-strewn alley behind the apartment of their suspect. Flack had arrived earlier with back-up, prepared to arrest the man, who unwisely decided to resist. He escaped out of the window and put up a brief fight when he was cornered by his pursuers. The suspect was quickly subdued, but not before he managed to injure Don in the struggle. As the lead investigator on the case, Mac showed up and surveyed the scene, shaking his head.

“What a waste,” he opined. “A man works thirty years to build a career then he throws it all away. And on what?”

“He threw it all away on a chance to get rich,” Danny said.

“I don't think this was about the money,” Sheldon observed, lowering his camera. “I think it was about getting even with a boss who treated him like dirt for three decades.”

“So he thought that stealing a half million dollars and retiring to the Cayman Islands was the best way to even the score?” Danny asked.

“It doesn't matter what he planned to do,” Mac replied. “At the very least, he's going to be spending the first few years of his retirement in a correctional facility. And that's before you add assault on a police officer to the embezzlement charges.” He turned to Sheldon. “Why don't you go to the hospital with Flack? Process him; the suspect threw something at him and got it all over his clothes. We'll finish up here.”

“Right,” Sheldon packed up his gear and made his way outside, where he found Don sitting on the steps at the entrance of the building. The front of his dark suit was covered in some sort of dirt and he brushed at it as he refused medical attention, much to the frustration of the paramedic.

“You could have a concussion, sir,” she said patiently, though it was clear that she was growing annoyed.

“I feel fine!” Don insisted. “Just give me a Band-Aid and a couple of aspirin. I'm out of here.” He started to rise, but she held him in place with a hand to his shoulder.

“You should go to the hospital and have an--.”

“No,” Don replied. “Been there, done that. No more hospitals.”

“Sir, you need to have your head scanned,” the paramedic insisted as Don looked up and saw Sheldon standing at his side.

“I tell you what,” he replied. “if the Doc here says I have to go to the hospital, I'll go. If not, no deal.”

“What doctor?” the paramedic replied.

“Him,” Don said, gesturing at Sheldon, who set down his bag and reached for a pair of gloves. “He's a board-certified surgeon.”

“Really,” she said doubtfully.

“Really,” Sheldon replied, drawing out his wallet to show his identification.

“Take a look, Doc,” Don said, lowering the pad he'd been holding over his brow. “In your professional opinion, do I need to go to the hospital?”

Sheldon pulled on his gloves, pulled out his flashlight and peered into Don's eyes. The detective instinctively flinched, but made himself hold still through the brief examination. Sheldon carefully probed the wound with his fingers, gauging Don's reactions, before he asked him a number of questions and tested his eyesight.

“You know, I'm beginning to think it would have been faster to go to the hospital,” Don deadpanned as Sheldon finally pulled off his gloves.

“You can still go,” he replied wryly. “I agree with the paramedic. You ought to have your head examined. But,” he added quickly, before Don could protest, “there doesn't seem to be any sign of serious trauma or concussion.”

“You won't find anything,” an older, uniformed officer standing nearby said. “All those Flacks are hard-headed.” Sheldon glanced over at him and then at Don, whose lack of a reaction told him that the cop was someone who knew the detective well.

“I'm not going to touch that one,” Sheldon said with a smile. “Okay, Flack, I'll back you up on this one.” He turned to the paramedic. “I think he's fine to go home.” The paramedic nodded and thanked him before she began to dress Don's wound, making flirtatious remarks as she did so. Don rolled his eyes and tolerated her ministrations while Sheldon pulled out his camera and waited for her to finish.

“You know, I never realized being a detective was such dirty work,” she said as she brushed back Don's hair to apply an antibacterial spray to the cut above his eye.

“It's only dirty when the suspect you're chasing decides to throw potted plants at your head,” Don replied.

“You poor thing. Let me clean it for you,” she said as she drew out a wipe and began to unfold it.

“Wait,” Sheldon cried, before she could use it.

“I'm just going to clean his face,” she said.

“Sorry, but that's evidence.” Sheldon explained, backing off a few steps to take several photos of Don's face and clothing.

“It's dirt,” the paramedic protested.

“Everything has to be documented,” Sheldon explained. “I'm going to need your clothes, too, Flack.”

“Right,” he said, rising.

“Are you going change here?” the paramedic asked slyly.

“You are a very naughty girl,” Don said reproachfully before turning to Sheldon. “I've got a change of clothes back at the precinct.”

“I'll drive,” Sheldon said, grabbing for the keys Don pulled out of his pocket.

“You just said I was okay,” Don protested.

“Yes, I did. I said you were okay to skip the hospital. But that doesn't mean you're okay to drive,” Sheldon said. “I'll just see you back to the station and collect your clothes, okay?” He smiled wryly when Don rolled his eyes and led the way to his vehicle. After waiting for Sheldon to unlock the doors, he carefully slid his lanky frame into the passenger seat and pushed it back, even as Sheldon moved the driver's seat in the opposite direction. “Man! You've got some long legs!”

“You know, Doc, if you're just noticing this for the first time, maybe you're not the one fit to drive.”

“Nice try,” Sheldon replied. “And nice car; this is a lot better than the clunkers they give us to drive.” When he got no response, he glanced at Don and saw that he was covering his eyes. “Hurts?”

“Again with the obvious,” Don said wryly. “And I thought you said you and Messer were nothing alike.”

“I never said that. You know, we're not far from Beth Israel--.”

“No hospitals,” Don insisted. “I'll behave.”

“That wasn't a threat, Flack,” Sheldon replied with a smile, but something occurred to him and it quickly faded. “Bad memories?” he asked gently.

“Not so much that as the fact that I hate hospitals, period.”

“Why?” Sheldon asked curiously.

“I just do. I hate anything and everything about them. The smell, the sounds, the people--. No offense, Doc,” Don said apologetically.

“None taken,” Sheldon replied. “I know a lot of people who hate hospitals. I've never really understood why.”

“Bad things happen there,” Don declared.

“Good things happen there, too.”

“People die there.”

“People heal there and recover from illnesses and injuries that might otherwise be fatal.”

“Sometimes.”

“Sometimes,” Sheldon repeated pensively, recalling that there was a time when he, too, found the reality of death in a hospital too much to bear. He fled a promising career as a surgeon and became a coroner in the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner before starting a third career as a crime scene investigator. He shook off the memory and found that he was being observed.

“Penny for your thoughts, Doc.”

“People are born in hospitals,” Sheldon said, attempting to deflect the inquiry. If Don noticed, he let it slide. “Far more people come into the world in hospitals than die there. In fact, most people who go into hospitals come out alive and on the mend, if not perfectly fine.”

“Which of us are you trying to convince, Doc?” Don said softly, letting Sheldon know--not for the first time--that he was far savvier than most people gave him credit for. And--not for the first time--Sheldon appreciated both Don's discretion and his ability to rise above the tendency of other CSIs to sometimes underestimate him.

“Where do you usually park?” he asked as they approached the precinct. He knew he was being evasive again, but he couldn't bring himself to engage with any of Don's questions at that moment.

“Put it anywhere,” Don replied. He sighed painfully and prepared to leave the car.

“What did the paramedic give you?” Sheldon asked with professional interest. “You might need a stronger painkiller.”

“I think I'm good, Doc. I just want to go home, crawl into bed and forget today happened.”

“You should take tomorrow off at the very least.”

“I already have the day off; lucky me.” Don emerged from the car gingerly and stretched as Sheldon collected his kit. He followed the CSI into the building and headed straight for the locker room.

“Flack!” Sheldon called. Don turned and Sheldon held up a hand. “Evidence, remember?” he said as he caught up with Don and followed him to the locker room.

“You've got to watch me undress?”

“Chain of custody. You know the drill.”

“Yeah,” Don said. “This is a simple assault. Why do you have to process my clothes?” he asked as he carefully shrugged off his jacket.

“You want to know the real reason?” Sheldon replied as he held up a bag.

“Yeah.”

“My boss told me to, that's why,” Sheldon said smugly.

“Right,” Don said dryly. He emptied his pockets and placed the items on the bench. “Mac will want to make a federal case out of this. You aren't going to cut up my suit, are you? It's new.”

“Nah, we'll probably just collect samples off the surface and return it. We'd be doing the world a favor if we cut up this tie, though,” Sheldon said impishly as Don dropped the item under discussion into a second bag. He glared at Sheldon, who refused to be daunted.

“Shirt? Pants?”

“Shirt and pants,” Sheldon repeated. Don sighed and turned to his locker, where he had another suit and two shirts hanging, along with a bag presumably containing additional clothing. He removed his shirt and passed it to Sheldon, then bent and undid his shoes before removing his pants.

“I've never had to do this before,” Don said as an aside. “I've made suspects strip countless times for you people, but I've never had to do it myself. It's weird--makes me feel as though my clothing is being incarcerated.” Sheldon smiled as Don turned and handed him his pants. “Wait,” he said, reaching for the belt. “You don't need this, do you?”

“Did the suspect touch it?”

“I don't think he touched any of me,” Don replied, glancing up at Sheldon, who caught a fleeting glimpse of the ocean--cool, blue and calm. “He just threw things. The Yankees should have a relief pitcher with such a good arm.” Sheldon smiled and sealed the last of the bags. He gathered them up as Don collected a towel and his kit and headed for the shower.

“Take it easy, Flack. Get plenty of rest.”

“Yeah,” Don said, disappearing into a stall. Sheldon moved toward the door and was reaching for the knob when Don's voice stopped him.

“Hawkes? Thanks for your help out there.”

“No problem,” Sheldon replied. “You're not going to try to--.”

“I'll grab a cab,” Don assured him. “Promise.”

Sheldon nodded awkwardly and left the locker room. He wangled a ride back to the lab in a patrol car and began to sort out the evidence.

**

It was two days before he saw Don again. Sheldon was in the lab working on evidence from another case when he heard Don's unmistakable voice.

“Hawkes!”

“Yes?” he replied absently, his eyes focused on the specimen under the microscope before him.

“I got your text message,” Don said, entering the lab. “You wanted to see me?” Sheldon looked up.

“Yeah,” he said somewhat hesitantly.

“Well, I'm here,” Don said impatiently. Sheldon took a deep breath and exhaled. “What?” Sheldon walked over to another bench and picked up a report. Don followed him, abruptly stopping when Sheldon spun around to face him.

“I've got the results of the trace found on your clothing. I thought you ought to know.”

“Know what, Hawkes?” Don demanded.

“When I saw you the other day you were covered in some sort of dust,” Sheldon began.

“Yeah, the suspect threw a pot at me.”

“What sort of pot was it?” Sheldon asked curiously.

“I don't know! I was too busy trying to duck to study it. What's going on?” Don asked, his tone turning from agitated to worried.

“Trace came back as calcium phosphates and a few other minerals.”

“And?” Don demanded. “Spell it out in laypersons' terms, will you, Doc?”

“It's bone,” Sheldon said simply.

“Bone?” Don was struck dumb for a moment. “Are you saying that this guy threw his Aunt Agnes at me?”

“Not exactly,” Sheldon said, risking a smile. “It's feline bone.”

“Well, that makes me feel so much better. Some sick bastard threw a funeral urn containing the remains of his beloved Mr. Whiskers at me and you called me here just so you could see the look on my face when you told me. Go on, Doc, laugh it up.” Sheldon quickly schooled his features.

“That's not why I called you,” he said.

“Oh, so seeing the look on my face was just a bonus,” Don said with a glare.

“No, I--.”

“Thanks for the 411, Doc. If I develop a fur ball I'll give you a call.” Don turned to leave.

“Flack!” Sheldon shouted, confused by the detective's reaction. He followed Don into the corridor, running to catch up with the angry man. But the elevator doors opened and Don stepped in, nearly colliding with Danny as he emerged from the crowded car. “Flack!” Sheldon sighed and shook his head as the doors slid shut.

“Did you tell Flack about the cat?” Danny asked as he ambled over.

“Yeah, I just told him.”

“Damn! I wanted to be here for that,” Danny said.

“You know, Danny, sometimes you're a twelve year old.”

“I know,” Danny admitted readily as they returned to the lab. “So I take it he wasn't amused.”

Sheldon rolled his eyes and turned his attention to the microscope.

**

“What have you got?”

“Andrew Donovan. Male Caucasian, stabbed in the chest. His companion over there,” Don said with an inflection that made his opinion of the woman standing near the door eminently clear, “claims that she found him like that and called it in.”

Sheldon looked over at the woman and then back at the body before he drew out a pair of gloves and put them on. He crouched beside the corpse and, with practiced ease, estimated the cause of death and the time that it had probably occurred. He relayed the information to Don, who took notes as he spoke. Don never made eye contact but Sheldon knew that it wasn't the time to pursue the issue. The two men rose as one and turned to confront the woman.

“What was your relation to the victim, Ms. Del Valle?” Don asked.

“We were friends,” the woman replied. “Good friends.”

“How good?”

“We hung out,” she said with a shrug. She looked at the detective more closely and smiled.

“How did you come to be visiting him today?” Sheldon asked.

“He invited me over,” Del Valle replied, raking her eyes over Don.

“When was that, exactly?” he asked.

“About an hour ago,” she replied easily as she continued to assess him. “It took me a while to get here because I had to make a stop on the way.”

“So you'd arrived moments before you called 911,” Don continued. Del Valle nodded. “And when you got here, how did you get into the apartment?”

“I let myself in,” she said, confident that she would be able to charm her way out of whatever he threw at her. “The door was open. I walked in, assuming that he'd left it open for me, but I found him on the floor like--like that.” She abruptly turned away from the corpse on the floor, although to Sheldon's mind her actions were more than a bit contrived. He studied her as Don continued to ask questions. Del Valle quickly dropped the grieving act in favor of playing up to the handsome detective. Don was oblivious--or pretended to be.

“How did you get into the lobby?” Sheldon asked suddenly. “You said Mr. Donovan was dead when you arrived.” The woman turned her eyes to him. She was less certain of the CSI, so she directed her answer to Don.

“There was someone in the lobby when I came in. A woman; she let me in as she was leaving,” Del Valle said with a smile. Don exchanged a glance with Sheldon before waving over a uniformed officer.

“Would you kindly escort Ms. Del Valle to the precinct, please?” he asked her politely.

“Why?” the woman exclaimed. “I've answered all your questions!”

“We have more questions,” Don said as he snapped his book shut. “We'll ask them downtown. Officer?”

“I didn't kill him!” she cried as she was escorted out. “I told you! He was dead when I got here!” The officer led Del Valle out of the room. Sheldon sighed and shook his head before he resumed collecting evidence.

“Are you sure about that time of death, Doc?” Don asked. Sheldon looked up, slightly affronted by the question. He reigned in his annoyance and ignored the fact that Don didn't have the guts to look him in the eye when he made the accusation.

“The liver temp is a reliable indicator of time of death,” he said evenly. “The ambient temperature is normal, there's nothing to suggest that there was excessive heat or cold in the room that might alter the reading. If there was, it'll show up in the postmortem. But for now, I'll stand by my assessment.” He turned back to his work. Don got the message and backed off.

“So we've caught her in a lie,” he said after a moment.

“I'd say so,” Sheldon replied. “Unless you know of a way a dead guy can make a phone call.”

“If she killed the vic, why would she hang around for two or three hours?”

“That's for you to figure out. My job is to prove that she did.” Sheldon pulled out a flashlight and began to examine the area surrounding the body.

“You do believe that she offed him, though.”

“I'd say it was fairly obvious,” Sheldon said as he snapped a shot of a blood drop on the floor and then collected a sample. “Either she did it or she knows who did.” He straightened up and followed the trail to the kitchen with Don at his heels. “Directional blood drops leading away from the body...the murder weapon was probably carried in here still dripping blood. Some of it was later wiped up, but those three spots were missed in the clean-up. The murderer probably washed up in here,” he said as he looked around.

“There's a knife missing from the block,” Don observed as he did a slow survey of the room. Sheldon noticed that the window was wide open and that there was a bit of black residue in the sink. He studied it closely.

“And here's the clincher,” he said, smiling at the charred fragment he plucked from the drain.

“What have you got?”

“It appears to be cotton,” Sheldon said as he bagged it. “The fiber's been burnt. My guess is that our victim's lady friend did the dirty deed then found herself in a jam. A stabbing is a messy business. She had to have been hit with some of the blood spatter.” Sheldon peered closely at every inch of the sink. “Now, if she's watched any of the dozen or so procedural shows on television these days she knows that she's got to get rid of the evidence. She probably changed her clothes--at the very least her top; maybe she tried to wash it. That didn't work, so my guess is that she burned it on the stove,” he said looking over at the faint residue, “and then washed the ashes down the drain.”

“Are you kidding me?” Don said. “She went to an awful lot of trouble to erase evidence.”

“That's what you've got to do if you want to get away with murder,” Sheldon said as he went under the sink and took a sample of the water from the drain. “The window's open to let the smoke and the odor escape. There's a can of room deodorizer on the counter in an otherwise immaculate room. It doesn't smell as though she used bleach, though, so there may be blood residue in the drain that can be matched to the victim.” Sheldon picked up his flashlight and scanned the rest of the room. He found a bit of ash on the curtain and bagged that as well. “Another nail in the coffin.”

“What does she think, we're stupid?” Don said as he scribbled a note.

“I don't know, Flack,” Sheldon replied wearily as he rose and left the kitchen. “But in my experience most murderers are fairly naïve, even if they think they've done their homework.”

“I guess. So why did she kill him?” he asked, looking around for some sort of clue.

“Who knows?” Sheldon replied as he pulled an assortment of supplies from his kit. “Maybe they had a lover's quarrel. Maybe they argued and things got physical."

“Kind of nice looking for a homicidal maniac,” Don replied as he searched for the victim's wallet. Sheldon looked up.

“She was eying you pretty seriously,” he said. Don ignored the comment as he opened desk drawers and peered inside. “Could you go for a woman like that?”

“A suspected murderer?” Don said incredulously. “Not my type.”

“I didn't mean a murderer, Flack. I just meant--well, her looks. Dark, fiery...”

“Lying, conniving, thieving women don't turn me on, either,” Don replied over Sheldon's explanation. “Found it,” he said as he bent to pick up the wallet with his pen. Sheldon walked over and took it from him with a gloved hand. He opened it and peered inside.

“Empty.”

“There's a shock,” Don said.

“This doesn't make sense,” Sheldon said. “If she cleaned up after herself and pocketed his cash, why stick around for the police?”

“Maybe she's not totally stupid,” Don said. “Maybe there's something about her relationship with the guy that would point us to her right away. What better way to deflect suspicion than by hiding in plain sight?"

“Yeah, but that's a pretty gutsy move.” Sheldon moved into the bedroom. “No sheets. Our suspect was very thorough.”

“Maybe she burned them as well.”

“That's a lot to burn, but I suppose it's possible. But she needn't have bothered,” Sheldon said, as he scanned the mattress.

“Did they do the naughty?” Don asked from somewhere behind him.

“Oh yeah,” Sheldon replied. “Fresh deposits. He definitely came before he went.”

“What is that, like a line they teach you all in CSI school?” Don asked puckishly.

“Yes,” Sheldon replied, smiling. “CSI 306: Witty Crime Scene Banter.”

“Nice,” Don said, turning back to the case. “So they get busy and then, like most guys, he takes a post-coital snooze. And while he's down for the count, she decides to avail herself of the opportunity to lighten his wallet. Maybe he woke up and caught her in the act.”

“Maybe. We've got her DNA,” Sheldon said holding up a strand of hair. “I'll bet we'll find more of her on the vic.”

“So we're still stuck on our original question: Why did she stick around and call the police?” Don asked. “Why not leave the body for someone else to find?” Sheldon paused to consider his question.

“Maybe she couldn't leave. Maybe she was a regular visitor who people would be able to identify. Look, she said someone let her into the lobby roughly an hour ago. If we canvass the building we can probably confirm her story, assuming the person who let her in is a tenant. And if that person is a tenant, she could give us an approximate time of arrival for our suspect.”

“Do you think the tenant will confirm her time?”

“Maybe,” Sheldon said, slowly smiling as the wheels began to turn in his head. “What if she left the building and returned?”

“That would fix a time frame for her arrival.”

“It sure would! Ah, but we could easily poke a hole in our lady friend's story by checking the victim's phone records.”

“According to you we don't even need to do that,” Don replied. “If he was dead for at least two hours, there's no way in hell he could have called her at the time she claimed.”

“Unless she had his cell phone,” Sheldon said. “She cleaned up, left with the murder weapon, the bed linen and the victim's phone. She put in a call to herself at the right time and then waited for a neighbor to let her back into the building.”

“That's plausible. Very plausible,” Don said nodding appreciatively. “She probably thought she'd committed the perfect crime.”

“No doubt,” Sheldon said as he gave the room another once over. He spotted the victim's cell phone and carefully bagged it. “I've got a question, Flack. Why haven't you left?”

“Excuse me?” Don looked up as he pocketed his notebook.

“You usually go to the precinct with the suspect. What are you still doing here?”

“Well, it's a good thing I broke my routine,” Don said somewhat evasively. “I think we've solved the murder. Let the DA worry about motive. We've probably got enough here to get a confession, and if not, certainly enough to make a case.”

“Yeah,” Sheldon said as he returned to the living room.

“You about done here?”

“Not quite,” Sheldon answered. He considered saying something more but the morgue attendants arrived at that moment and he backed away to let them do their job. “I'll finish up and check in with you later,” he said, effectively dismissing Don. The detective nodded and left without another word.

**

“Hey, Flack!”

“Messer,” Don returned an easy smile. He walked into the lab, where Danny was studying a slide. “How's it going?”

“I can't complain. You here on business or is this a social call?”

“Business. Have you seen Mac?”

“He's in a meeting with the brass,” Danny replied. “What's the case? Maybe I've got the files here.”

“It's the Greene case,” Don said. “And it was Mac who called me so I have no idea what he wanted.”

“Well, he shouldn't be too long. Kick back and hang out.”

“Actually, I've got to get back,” Don replied, checking his watch. “How long do you think he's going to be?”

“He's been gone twenty minutes,” Danny estimates. “He could be back any time.”

“I'll hang out, then.”

Don pulled up a stool and sat down. The two fell into easy conversation but after just a few minutes, Mac returned and Don followed him to his office. When he was done with Mac he passed by the lab on his way out to say goodbye to Danny.

“Hey Flack! ” the CSI called as Don turned to go. “You want your suit?” Don stopped abruptly and turned around.

“My suit?”

“Yeah. Sheldon brought it in the other day,” Danny explained as he pulled off his gloves. He walked over to a closet and pulled out the suit, which had been cleaned and neatly pressed. “He must have forgotten to mention it last time you came by. Here.”

“Thanks.” Don fingered the lapel of the suit through the protective plastic covering. “Sweet! The tie, too. Thanks, Messer.”

“I'm not the one who did your laundry, but you're welcome.” Danny watched him go, hands shoved into his pockets.

**

Don left the building and walked to his car. He hung the suit on a hook in the back before sliding into the driver's seat, where he stared into space while he warred with his conscience. After a few minutes, Don returned to the building and took the elevator back up to the lab. His phone rang just as the doors closed behind him. Don sighed and pushed the button to return to the ground floor before he answered it, knowing that he'd be on his way to another crime scene. Minutes later, the doors of the second elevator opened and Sheldon emerged along with Stella, carrying a large shopping bag and talking animatedly. Danny caught sight of them approaching and smiled.

“You two look like the cats who got the cream. What have you been up to?” he asked.

“We spent our lunch hour shopping for a birthday gift for my godchild,” Stella volunteered.

She spent our lunch hour shopping for a birthday gift,” Sheldon corrected. “I thought we were actually going to eat.”

“We ate,” Stella said with a mock pout. “I even treated.”

“Thanks,” Sheldon said sardonically. “That was the best hotdog I ever had.”

“Any time,” she replied. “So what's up?” she asked Danny as she slipped on her lab coat.

“You've got a case,” Mac said, entering the lab. “Take Hawkes with you. Danny and I are still working that robbery on Madison.”

“We're on it,” Stella said. She nodded to Sheldon, who reached for his kit.

“Since you so generously provided lunch, I'll drive,” he said.

“You really know how to spoil a girl,” Stella replied with a laugh.

**

When Sheldon and Stella arrived at the crime scene, Don was standing a short distance from the body recording the medical examiner's preliminary assessment. He looked up as the pair passed under the tape and approached the corpse.

“What have we got?” Stella asked as Sheldon pulled out a pair of gloves and knelt beside Peyton. Don's eyes followed the movement of Sheldon's graceful hands as he gave Stella the scant details he'd gathered thus far. She observed him curiously as he spoke.

“Flack?” she said when he stopped speaking and simply continued to stare at Sheldon's back. He slowly drew his eyes to hers.

“That's it,” he said unfased by her questioning gaze. “I'm going to have a word with the manager. He said he saw the vic leaving her apartment last night.” Stella watched him leave, still wondering at Don's fascination with Sheldon. When he was out of sight she turned her attention back to the business at hand and pulled out a camera.

By the time the two of them were done gathering evidence, nearly six hours had passed and Don had made an arrest in the murder. Sheldon was sent to the precinct to process the dead woman's husband. He waited outside the room while Don questioned the man. After about ten minutes, he emerged and apologized for keeping Sheldon waiting.

“Sorry, Doc. I didn't realize you were here,” he said softly. “Why didn't you knock? Come on in.”

Sheldon moved into the room and asked the suspect to disrobe. He collected the jacket, pants, shoes and shirt of the suspect as well as samples of his hair, DNA and scrapings from under his fingernails. Once again, Don found himself staring at Sheldon's hands as he worked. When the suspect eyed him suspiciously, Don glared at him until he was cowed into averting his eyes. As always, Sheldon was methodical and efficient. He sealed the last of the bags and Don nodded to the police officer standing at the door. He waited until the suspect had left the room before he spoke.

“Another slam dunk, eh, Doc?” he said. Sheldon glanced up.

“Ask me after I've had a chance to examine the evidence,” he replied, smiling.

“Oh yeah; you scientist types have to go by the book.”

“Hey, it beats the alternative,” Sheldon said as he snapped the lid of his case shut.

“What, are you saying that years of experience don't count for anything?” Don spat back.

“Whoa, Flack,” Sheldon said, raising his hands to fend off the verbal assault. “No need to get defensive. I'm just saying that regardless of what your years of experience or intuition tells you, it's going to take hard evidence to convince a jury to convict. Hopefully, we'll have what it takes.”

“Yeah,” Don said sheepishly. “Look, Doc,” he began as Sheldon made his way to the door.

“Flack?” Sheldon replied wearily. Don sighed and shrugged awkwardly.

“I'm sorry,” he said softly, not meeting Sheldon's eyes.

“Hey, it's no big,” he said, opening the door.

“And thank you.”

Sheldon paused and turned to frown at him.

“For the suit, I mean. I was at the lab earlier this afternoon and Danny said you'd had it cleaned.”

“Oh; yeah. No problem,” Sheldon said, turning to leave.

“Are you heading back to the lab?” Again, Sheldon turned and looked at him curiously. “Stupid question,” Don said, glancing at the evidence bags in Sheldon's hands. “How about a lift?”

“If it's not out of your way. Stella took the car back with the rest of the evidence. I was going to grab a uniform.”

“No need. Follow me,” Don said gallantly. He went to his desk, where he paused to put his notebook into the top drawer.

“Heading out?” another detective asked.

“Jealous, Wells?” Don teased. He signed out and led the way to his personal car.

“You know, I wouldn't have accepted your invitation if I'd known I'd be cutting into your off time,” Sheldon said.

“And I wouldn't have offered you a ride if I wasn't willing to give it,” Don replied. “Besides, I wanted to apologize for my behavior the other day.”

“The other day?” Sheldon said, squinting to recall the incident.

“I was out of line snapping at you like that with the cat dust and all,” Don said awkwardly. Sheldon smiled.

“Bad day?” he asked perceptively.

“The worst. I--.” Don looked up. “Look, regardless of what I'd been through, you didn't do anything to deserve my lip. I'm sorry, Hawkes.”

“Apology accepted,” Sheldon said puckishly.

“And the suit? That was a classy move. Thanks again.”

“I even returned the tie, though popular sentiment seemed to favor a horrendous lab accident involving a Bunsen burner.” Sheldon looked up in time to catch Don's smile.

“It's not that bad!”

“Not that one, no, but I'm afraid most of your ties are so bad my colleagues were tempted to use it to send you a little message.”

“Your colleagues,” Don repeated, giving him a sidelong glance. “You had nothing to do with it.”

“Hey, I know better than to fight an angry mob,” Sheldon quipped. Don laughed at the remark, but he quickly sobered.

“I've been meaning to ask, but after--. Well...”

“Ask away,” Sheldon prompted.

“There aren't going to be any lasting effects from that cat, are there?”

“No, no. For all intents and purpose it's just regular dust,” Sheldon assured him.

“Cat dust.”

“Yeah,” Sheldon said with a shrug. “It's no worse than any other kind of dust, other than the fact that you know its content. Did you know that most dust is as much as 86% human skin cells? When you walk into that precinct every day, the dust on your desk is--.”

“Don't tell me,” Don interrupted. “As long as it's harmless I'd rather not know.” Sheldon laughed as Don brought his car to a stop at a light a block from the lab. “Are you and Stella planning to process all that evidence tonight?”

“Probably not,” Sheldon replied. “Since we've got a suspect in custody I doubt that there's any real rush. Besides, she's got a hot date tonight.”

“Oh, yeah,” Don said nodding. “I saw her talking to some guy down at headquarters the other day. They seemed pretty chummy so I asked her about him. Turns out they were in the academy together. I didn't think anything of it until he called her back and asked for her number. I bet he's the guy Stell's got a date with tonight.”

“Flack? I never took you for a gossip.”

“There are lots of things you don't know about me, Doc. So if she's off duty, are you off, too?”

“As soon as I secure the evidence, yeah,” Sheldon replied as Don pulled up in front of the lab.

“Go ahead, I'll wait.”

Sheldon was halfway out of the car before Don spoke, so he froze for a second before he continued his movement. He turned and bent to look the detective in the eye.

“I thought you might want to grab a beer or something,” Don said nonchalantly. Sheldon felt his mouth go inexplicably dry, but he nodded.

“I'll just be a few minutes,” he said. He entered the building feeling a bit bewildered and more than a little curious as to what other surprises the evening might bring.

Part 2

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