DISCLAIMER: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and other related entities are owned, trademarked, and copyrighted by Anthony E. Zuiker, Jerry Bruckheimer Television, CBS Worldwide Inc., Alliance Atlantis Corporation, CSI Productions and CBS Productions. This is fanfiction and is written purely for the fun and enjoyment of the fans without profits being made what so ever.
WARNING: its going to get dark. Physical and sexual abuse issued are heavily discussed. Rating M for Mature, subject mater is very much on emotional up-setting level but it is nothing we haven't' seen on the show itself or LAO / SVU.
SPOILERS: Season Two, most specifically "You've Got Male"
THANKS: many, many thanks to Lewis for being my beta.
ARCHIVE: Only with the permission of the author.

6 Degrees
By Elizabeth Carter

Chapter 35

Catherine walked into the bedroom carrying a cup of her own coffee as well as one for Sara, knowing her girlfriend's fiendish need for caffeine once she woke up. Right now Catherine wanted to tempt Sara into the land of the alert and responsive. What she found when she stepped into the room brought a great smile to her lips. She bit her lower lip trying not to giggle.

Sara lay in the middle of the mattress her arm around the stuffed white tiger, and on either side of her almost like guardian angels were Lindsey and Janet. Both little bodies cuddled up to the lanky brunette, one small leg draped over Sara's longer limbs, little arms holding the torso, two heads pillowed on two shoulders. Quietly as she could, Catherine set the coffee mugs down on the dresser; bent down near the door of her room where she kept her private camera case, reached in and withdrew the digital camera. She couldn't resist taking a few shots. The scene was so endearing Catherine immediately wanted it for the wallpaper on her desktop, and a portrait for her wallet, as well. She took a few more close ups of the three girls all snuggled up like a litter of kittens. Unable to resist the urge, the mother in Catherine gave a butterfly kiss to each brow in turn. She found herself grinning at the ghost of a smile that crept upon each slumbering face.

Setting the camera down on the bedside table, Catherine watched for a moment as those she cared for and loved slept in peaceful slumber. Perhaps it was the closeness of the children, the plush tiger or the scent of Catherine herself on the sheets and blankets but Sara had yet to be startled awake by a nightmare. It was a small but most welcome blessing. Better that Sara not dream at all than to be plagued by dreams of terror. Janet too seemed to be void of the nightmares, and Lindsey thank providence rarely had bad dreams.

Earlier of course, Lindsey had to share her bed with Janet and when she woke to use the bathroom she had found her little playmate had gone missing. Worried, the youngest Willows had pulled a Catherine and started to transfigure into 'Mamma bear'. The small eight-year-old visibly relaxed when she saw Janet curled up in Sara's embrace, just like her own mother held her sometimes. Catherine had allowed the girl to climb into bed so she could be a part of the new sleep-over.

Fortunately, Catherine had a king-size bed so she could crawl into her bed with the three other bodies. They had indeed looked like a litter of kittens.

Having woke first from her brief few hours of sleep, Catherine set about her morning routine before she had to take Lindsey and Janet to school. A cup of coffee, shower and then dressed. It was at this point she had come in with a cup of coffee for Sara, but paused to take a picture. The older woman knew that peaceful slumber for Sara was a rare commodity and therefore she was loath to disturb the brunette's sleep. Catherine tip-toed to Lindsey and shook her awake, placed a finger to her lips as the girl roused from the land of slumber.

"Don't wake up Sara, like I said last night when you crawled into bed, she's had bad day. She needs her sleep."

Lindsey nodded and moved from the bed. "That's why you guys came home early. Is it her ribs?"

"That's part of it, Sweety. Something happened at work that hurt Sara, here." Catherine pressed her palm to her heart. "She just needs a little time to feel better, okay?"

Lindsey looked to her hero the 'Slayer of Shelob and rescuer of bouncy balls,' then back to her mother and nodded that she did indeed understand. "Okay."

"Go get ready for school, I'm going to wake up Janet," Catherine kissed her child's brow before she tootled off to her own bedroom. The blonde knelt beside the edge of the bed her finger tips gently touching Janet's arm just as she had with Lindsey waking the child peacefully from her slumber.

"Hey Sunshine," Catherine greeted the large dark eyes that opened. "It's time to get ready for school. Can you slip out from under Sara's arms?"

Janet looked behind her then back to Catherine, "Can I stay with my Sara today? She might need me. Like last night."

Catherine pondered the request for a moment, her hand raking through her strawberry blonde hair. It was true, the only one Sara had responded to was her foster daughter.

"I have to help take care of her. Sara takes care of me...like you do with Lindsey. Please, I need to stay with her today." Janet continued to plead taking the silence of the other woman as a sign of denial.

Catherine smiled, "Okay, Janet. Maybe you should stay with you new mommy. You sure do make difference to her. And she might just need you." She bent down softly and placed a kiss on the child's cheek. "Watch over her, while I take Lindsey to school and explain to Miss Fox why you're not in today and make sure Lindsey gets your homework."

Janet snuggled back down into Sara's arms once Catherine had left and felt the arms around her constrict just a little. It felt warm, safe and pure. It was a sensation Janet had not felt in a very long time, so long in fact it was almost too overwhelming for the child. She didn't understand why she was crying now. She wasn't terrified, wasn't shamed, in fact she felt so loved it astounded her, so why was she crying?

As if sensing the feelings of the child in her arms, Sara's lips pressed softly against the child's crown. The tiny butterfly kiss almost begged Janet to curl up tighter in the woman's embrace. Even if she hadn't been given permission yet, Janet's heart called the beautiful woman embracing her Mommy.

"Sweety?" Clearly Sara had sensed the child's unrest however fleeting it was. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Janet answered honestly. "You make everything okay. I'm just worried for you, Sara." Janet turned in the arms that held her and sat up. Her little fingers brushing away the strands of dark hair covering Sara's cheek. "You're so sad. Why are you sad?"

Sara's immediate answer was to gather the girl into her arms and hold her tightly. The tears that fell this time were not from overwhelming joy but from simply being overwhelmed. Fear, shock, too many memories pressing in on her from the past weeks; "I promise you Janet, I'll take my last breath before I let anything, anyone, harm you." In her heart Sara added, 'or take you from me.'

"Sara?' Janet said into the body that was holding her, "How come, last night you were so sad?"

The young CSI didn't want to answer. But the compulsion to take the fear from the child was great, there was of course no choice left but to answer, "Something happened at work. Something that brought a lot of memories of when I was little."

Janet nodded her understanding--- for her the memory was all too fresh. She loved Cheryl as much as she hated and feared her. Sara had told Janet, she herself had spent sometime in foster care going from home to home from the time when she was thirteen until she was seventeen and in college. Janet knew that 'her' Sara had been beaten as a young girl as well, and so she understood the nightmares and the fears that plagued her hero.

For the first time it occurred to Sara that she wasn't in her own bed, in fact she wasn't in her apartment. The investigator in her took over and saw the lilac bedspread, the numerous pictures of Lindsey on the dresser which told Sara all she needed to know of where she was, just not why.

"We're at Catherine's place."

"'Member? I stayed over cus' Miss Nancy is minding me and Lindsey. Miss Catherine brought you here. She said you were very sad and I was to watch over you, that's why I'm not at school."

"I'm supposed to watch over you," Sara said too quickly almost too sharply making Janet flinch.

"A child isn't supposed to take care of their mothers...."

"But, I want to," Janet said defensively.

Sara frowned, not at the girl, or her words but because she seemed not to understand the notion.

"I can....Sara...help you. Are you mad at me?"

Sara shook her head, the confusion still on her face. "Of course I'm not mad at you. Why would I be mad?"

"Cus you sound like you are, like I did bad for wanting to look out for you," The child was almost crying. "Don't send me away..."

"Oh baby, I didn't mean it like that!" Sara took the girl into her arms once more. "It's just a good mom... or even someone like a mommy, is supposed to do all the 'taking care of', not the other way around."

Sara saw her past.

How many times did she tend to her mother's needs? How many times had she made sure her mother ate, wore clean clothes...bathed—when her mother had suffered her own punishments from Matt, or was far to high on grass, peyote, opium or mushrooms to do anything for herself? When Laura drank so much she passed out, it fell Sara to care for her, clean up the vomit and guide her mother to bed all while trying to duck the backhands that came flying because of displaced anger. Young Sara loved Laura as much as she hated her. Sara had to fend for herself at a too early age, she did it for so long - it was all she knew how to do. To lean on someone else to accept care from someone else, was something very foreign to the young woman.

"But Lindsey helps out her mom! I can help you out. You're not my mom, but you kinda are." Janet's voice became so very soft and shy, Sara had to strain to hear her at all. "I love you, Sara."

"In that case, I'm very happy to have you to help me out. I think maybe it's something we both have to get used to, isn't it?"

Janet nodded. Somehow she knew if she told Sara, she had to take care of Cheryl all the time when her mother drank far too much or shot up with crack or snorted the white powder, it would make Sara very sad, and she might be upset once more. Janet knew Sara wouldn't hit her, but she certainly didn't want her hero to hurt anymore or upset at her. Seeing Sara so sad last night brought out a protective urge in the girl, and she decided she didn't want to see her hero... dare she say it in her heart now her 'mom' like that again.

"Yeah." Janet nodded making the safer answer. "Sara, when you adopt me... do I - can I call you Mom?"

Sara blanched.

"I...I....never got to say it before," Janet said honestly.

"Mom?" The very word was alien on Sara's tongue.

"It's okay ,if you say no."

"Mom?" Sara repeated. Chocolate eyes met chocolate eyes. "You want to call me, Mom?"

Janet nodded.

Sara bit her lip. "But what about...your mother?"

"Well, some kids at school have two moms. Like a real mom and a stepmom, but they call them both moms and some kids even have two dads."

"That's true," Sara noted that today the nuclear family was more than two parents and child. It often included step-parents and by extension step-siblings. And in this case an almost Grecian tragedy verity of a family.

"Mom... huh? It might take me a while to get used to that, but," Sara smiled, "I think I could get used to it. But Sweety... I don't want to get your hopes up... I think we should wait until all the papers are signed and everything. And there are a few things we have to do like meet with the social-workers and everything. They know I want to adopt you, and the paperwork to make that happen is in the works but... it will take time."

"Once it's all legal, I can call you Mommy?" Janet asked her eyes large, earnest and pleading.

Sara melted. She kissed the girl on the forehead, "I'd like nothing better, Baby-girl."

In her heart the jubilation that should have been played out was second chair to the fear that the man who brought such fear to Sara would take her little girl away from her. Matt...Mark.... he was a Sidle, Sara knew this but she didn't knew what to trust.

Matt Sidle was dead.

Mark Sidle was supposed to be dead.

Laura at times had Mark high on LSD when he shot himself, other times it was PCP, sometimes she simply said he just shot himself. To an eight-year-old, all Sara heard was her big brother had committed suicide. It was an elephant in the room and Sara knew she could not hide from it.

Once more Mark found himself brought into the interrogation room he had been in until a late hour only yesterday. His awe-struck mind was still trying to wrap itself around the realization that Sara was not dead, but alive and well.

As his long years in service dictated, he moved in precise if not clipped steps into the room and to the chair. His back ramrod straight, and it remained so in the chair that was positioned directly across from that of Detective Jim Brass.

Jim couldn't look into the eyes of the man and not see Sara, despite his perfect military posture.

Mark hadn't protested the confinement, he took it like a soldier being held on base for questionable acts on a mission. Or in the very lest the brig for actions unbecoming of an officer.

Once he sat, Mark looked from one set of accusing eyes to another. Catherine Willows and Jim Brass could not keep their tempered seething dark emotions that overcame them for what this man had brought to their friend Sara..

Brass slapped a file down on the table in front of the man that had sent Sara into a spiral of deep emotional shock. "I guess you are who you say you are. We can't hold you any more, but we're just talking here. So what is it just fate that brought you here to Vegas?"

"Fate? Fate, Sara once told me when she as a kid, is like a strange, unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like," said the man who, the file supported the claim that yes he was indeed Mark Sidle. Fortunately his driver's licence, dog-tags and USMC status and compliance fingerprinting backed up his claim. He was indeed Mark (no middle name) Sidle.

Brass scoffed in his most unamused voice. "So, Sara is what this 'food' you don't always like and never asked for? Is that why you're stalking her?"

"Stalking her? Hey, I wasn't doing that. I ...didn't know it was her."

"Come again?" Brass pressed, he leaned his square form forward invading Mark's personal space.

"I mean, I came for my daughter. All I knew was that she was in the care of a member of the LVPD. I acquired the INTEL from Child Social Services, after I gave them my ID, and once I knew who had Janet, I wanted to see for myself. I couldn't believe it."

Brass frowned.

"Look Sir, understand that my mother told me my little sister was killed by a drunk driver when she was about eight. I thought that was the truth for years."

"And what you believed it, so you never checked back?" Catherine said.

"I was told I was no longer apart of the family. I was kicked out after I ran away as it was, I was seventeen! I kept writing letters and calling Sara, until I was eighteen, old enough to enlist in the Marines. After I did, my parents wanted nothing more to do with me. See my parents were of the generation that blamed Nam on the GIs and not on the President, ya know? Me, joining up, they thought I must have sided with the devil himself. Not long after I was told Sara was killed. Like, I said Sir, I had no reason to go back, and I was too dumb to think they were lying. Since then I made a career in the Marines, worked my way up to Warrant Officer, now I'm a Second Lieutenant."

"And you had time to sire a kid did you?" Brass was still grilling Sidle as if he were a suspect.

"Military guys do it all the time, we come home on leave to our wives..." Mark gave a lopsided gapped tooth grin that sent a shiver of familiarity down the old detective's spine. It didn't help that Mark held an effeminate face. "Things happen, sometimes on purpose."

"And what you had a kid and decided to leave her with an abusive woman?"

"I...." Mark swallowed the bitterness that had gathered in his throat. "No, Sir. Cher...at the time-- she wasn't like that. I mean, she loved our daughter. Yeah she'd take a few wacks at me, but come on, I'm supposed to be a big tough Marine. If the Core believed one of their own Leathernecks was taken down by Mommy and Daddy dearest than by a girlfriend, I'd be the laughing stock, so I kept it silent. Sidle kids know how to keep their fucking mouths shut. Trust me, we learned that lesson well. You wall it up, don't let anyone deep inside so they can see the scares and you can keep the dark hidden. People just think you're broody and removed and maybe a little elusive. I pushed myself hard, so I didn't have to think of the past, of my failure to keep my promise to my baby sister and get her out of there before she died...or well what I was led to believe she died."

"Why did you leave them? Your daughter and girlfriend?" This came from Catherine. She watched Mark sit in the same chair he had a day ago, his body was militarily rigid as if he were being grilled before a Lieutenant General over a mission gone horribly wrong.

"I..." only now did Mark Sidle's voice betray him and like he had with Brass, the man's dark brown eyes looked slightly above Catherine's head, just as he would have with a superior officer. "I'm ashamed to admit, Ma'am." Ma'am was said as a rank not as a polite salutation.

"Ashamed of having a child? A girl...being all Marine that must have been a blow to the ego." Catherine pressed.

"No Ma'am. Despite what you seen in the movies, Ma'am, Marines....well this Marine's heart melted at the sight at his daughter. She was perfect." Something passed in the dark orbs that reminded both members of the LVPD of the lost look in Sara when she was faced with domestic abuse cases. It was almost more unnerving than Catherine could handle, but she remained locked and fixed on her target.

"What happened?" Brass took over knowing Catherine was unable to.

"I ....hit her, shook her. I was..." his head fell forward. "I was home on leave...well I finished my first tour and I wanted to spend time with Cheryl and our daughter. We had our quality time then she went out with her friends. Left me with our little girl. it was fine - for a while. Janet was teething...crying for hours. She was miserable. She wouldn't stop crying that's when I ...god, I hit her.

"I... I - looked in the mirror and I...I saw her...Not, Janet but Sara and I saw him...Matt. I freaked out. I hit a baby....I ran....I couldn't face her. All, I saw was Sara and Matt. The screams of pain that little girl wailed out cuts my heart even today. I hear it all the time. I heard it out in the Gulf. Her little screams. I couldn't do much as punk kid to stop them coming from Sara when she was so little and then I go and make my own daughter scream those same screams. I ran...ran all the way back to the Corp. I signed up for tour after tour....went career.....spent most of it in the Gulf."

"You thought you might serve in the Gulf, long enough to get killed over there," Brass said, his voice was softer now, the voice of a father who had lost his own daughter to his own negligence and the bottle. "Trying to make up for shaking and hitting your daughter, that night."

Mark only nodded.

"You ran because you figured if you hit a baby, you'd be just like your father."

"The mirror didn't lie, Sir." Mark muttered answering Brass' question. "I never wanted to be Matt. I hate it I look like him, well did before he got himself stabbed by my mother."

"But you left Janet with someone who 'did' hurt her," Catherine wasn't going to let Mark off the hook just yet. A man abandoning his little girl, smacked too much of a two-bit father just like Eddie Willows. A man in love with the idea of having a child, just not wanting the responsibility that came with it. Mark Sidle was a dead-beat-dad, no two-ways about it. Catherine could not exorcize the vision of her lover crouched in the locker-room nor the catatonic state Sara had been in for the last sixteen hours. And she was put there by this man, which was something Catherine was unlikely to forgive anytime soon.

"I never dreamed Cheryl would ever hit Janet or turn into someone like Laura. I thought I was saving Janet. I couldn't save my sister, I could save my daughter. I....sent money for her every month so she'd not go without. I never thought....never thought I made Janet's life worse."

Brass no longer saw the same man he had in this seat only yesterday. He saw a young father who had wanted to do right by his child. A confused kid at the time---who saw too much of his sister in the baby and too much of his father in himself. From hearing Sara's unknowing confession of her past, it was no wonder the young man took off, worried he turned into the man who nearly killed Sara.

The detective almost saw it in his mind's eyes. His voice took on a narrator's tone as he laid out the scene:

The man still young, at his wit's end as his little girl cried endlessly because of her teeth, even fighting a fever. The girl was miserable. Nothing me did made a difference, walking around, singing, rocking, even TV, wouldn't work to stop the squalling. Patience gone, pleading, anger then the realization that his judgment was overtaken by that anger. He shook the child, making her cry all the more. Anger rising to the boiling point. His hand rose, coming down, one sharp swat on the rump and thigh because the hand was so large. Then the crying truly started.

The high pitched wail that echoed deep in the heart. The young man looked up to see not himself in the mirror but his father, the tiny girl squalling with every breath of her lungs, resembled a sister, a young boy could not save. The boy now man became horrified. The child almost dropped because of the memory, the man stumbling back away from the crying child, terror on his face.

Denial crossed his face, he shook his head, fell back against the wall shuddering for what he saw. Screaming against the image he saw in the mirror. Shock took over and fear drove him. Commanded he run from the terrible memories of youth. Ran from the monster that lingered in the mirror that once hunted him, now threatened to become him.

When Cheryl came home did she find a still crying child on the floor where she was dropped, or one who had fallen asleep in her own tears? Did she find her man cowering in the corner and once she approached him, he fled and never looked back? Whatever the case this was the defining moment that set Janet Sullivan....Janet Sidle into the spiral of abuse, Mark had thought to spare her.

"So you believe his story?" Brass asked Catherine as they left the interrogation room and Mark Sidle behind.

"I do and I don't want to." Willows admitted. "He strikes me as much as a loser as Eddie is as a father and maybe even as a husband. But I think...my gut tells me he's okay as a brother."

"How is Sara?" Brass asked with the fullness of concern that should be in a father's voice.

"She was out of it last night. The only one to get anything out of her was Janet. That little girl even got her to drink some water and a little bit of soup. She stayed home from school so she could watch over her - Sara. I didn't have the heart to separate them and make Janet go to school."

"I think it was heart that allowed you to make the decision to make sure they stayed together." Brass said in a comforting tone. "I'm worried about that kid."

Catherine tilted her head at the word kid wondering if Brass meant Janet or the young woman he tended to take as his daughter. Sara was a lost soul who never had parental comfort. Brass took on the role and though neither one spoke of it, the bond became mutual. Both had been given a second chance at having some sense of family.

"I'm worried about her too. Both of them."

For a moment a stillness steeled in the room followed by the shadow of a proverbial elephant. It was broken when the door to the interrogation room opened allowing for the egress of the spookily familiar face of a Sidle. His dark brown eyes studied Brass and Willows for a moment before he opened his mouth to speak.

"I want to see my sister. I need to see her."

"I think that's going to be up to her buddy." Brass said pinning Mark with a gaze that said 'fuck with her and I'll have the whole Force down your ass, starting with my Doc Martins, you'll think you got hit by a SCUD missile.'

"Just tell her, will you?" This time the request was given to Catherine.

If he thought he might gain sympathy from the woman he was sadly mistaken. "From what happened yesterday, you'd be lucky if she says yes. And if she does, its going to be in that room with a whole bunch of cops just behind that glass waiting ...."

Mark looked at the adjoining room for the first time since he had been escorted to the interrogation room. "I just want to see her. Wouldn't you if you thought someone you loved was dead and then find out they're not? She's my baby sister, all I want to do is to see her, talk to her. That's all. Is she okay?"

Catherine entertained the idea of allowing the man who so frightened Sara yesterday to wallow in wonder, but in the end she relented. Indeed she did see love and concern reflected in the dark chocolate pools. "She was catatonic last night. She wasn't responsive to any outside stimuli - save for Janet. The little girl you abandoned, that your girlfriend abused. The little girl Sara wants to adopt. Only Janet got through to her, her 'daughter.' I'll pass along your request. And now I'm passing a warning, don't fuck this up for Sara and Janet. Don't you take that little girl away from Sara. They love each other. If you have any love in your heart for your sister, you won't interfere with her life and the one she wants to give to Janet."

Catherine stepped up to the near six-foot figure and stabbed him in the chest with her index finger, "You do and you'll wish to God you died in the Gulf."

Mark wasn't impressed with the intimidation tactic, he lived through much worse under the hands of his father and by extension his mother not to mention four months in an Iraqi prison. "Sara is my baby sister, I won't hurt her. But I 'will' see her. And I 'will' see my daughter. Ma'am whoever you are to Sara, don't make this harder than it has to be. I just want to see them. I need to see them."

Part 36

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