DISCLAIMER: the characters don't belong to me, but to CBS, Jerry Bruckheimer,...I'm just borrowing them for a while. After I'm done toying with them, I'll give them back in one piece, I promise *evil laugh* Please don't sue, I still don't own anything of value.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: no real spoilers. I'll probably introduce a lot of new characters and change cannon along the way. I don't know anything about Nevada criminal law, so I've probably made huge procedural mistakes. Same goes for medical procedures: I'm not a doctor, so everything you'll read is most probably quite impossible in real life. I don't care, I live in la la land anyway.
WARNING: English still isn't my mother tongue, so you'll probably encounter a lot of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes along the way. Please ignore them, once I come into a little money, I'll invest in a dictionary and a grammar book, I promise.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
THANKS: to my beta for all her help.

By Piranha


Part 1.

Catherine was really enjoying her day off, she and Lindsey had finally been able to spend some quality time together. For the past couple of weeks, she had been pulling a lot of doubles and every time she did have a day off, it had always been Eddie's weekend. So she hadn't really seen her little girl a whole lot over the past few weeks and was relieved to be able to reconnect with her daughter. After a very fun and sun filled afternoon at Lake Mead, they were now on their way to Nancy's for a barbeque and a sleepover. She had just pulled onto Nancy's driveway when her cell phone rang. "You go ahead honey," she said to Lindsey, "I'll be right behind you. I just have to take this call, it might be important." Lindsey just nodded with a very big smile on her face and ran towards her aunt Nancy, who stood already waiting by the front door. Pushing the on button, she said: "Willows."

"Cat. It's Grissom. I know it's you first day off in weeks, but I need you to come in right away. It's an emergency..."

"Grissom, can't you call Sara? I know she has the day off too and you know what a workaholic she is. She wouldn't mind coming in, she'd probably live at the lab if you didn't kick her out and send her home on a regular basis. It's just that we're having a family barbeque and ...."

"No, I need you here and I need you here NOW. I'll explain everything once you're here. You just make sure you get here and make it fast," Grissom ordered decisively, slamming the phone down.

Knowing Grissom would never have ordered her around in such an abrupt and almost pissed off fashion if he hadn't a genuine emergency on his hands, she immediately went inside to explain why she had to go in to work today after all. Climbing in the car she wondered what could have happened. She hadn't missed the frustration, nervousness and anxious panic that had tainted Grissom's normally calm and collected voice. Add to that his obvious reluctance to tell her about it over the phone and Catherine knew she'd better get to the lab and fast. She put her car in reverse and took off at high speed, her tyres screeching and tossing up gravel.

She got to the lab in record time, ignoring the speed limits and running several stop signs. When she walked into the lab, she definitely knew that there was something seriously wrong. The few people she encountered along the hallway all had a deadly serious and pain stricken expression on their face and almost seemed to be working on automatic pilot. A deep fear struck Catherine's heart and with a sick and hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach, she walked even faster towards Grissom's office. She didn't even bother to knock, she just barged in. "What has happened?" she asked anxiously.

Grissom looked up and said: "Catherine, good, you're here." Ushering her to take a seat, he continued: "Look, I don't really know how to tell you this, so I'll just come out and say it........ It's Sara. She's been stabbed this afternoon. She's still alive, but she's in very critical condition. They're performing emergency surgery on her as we speak. According to Brass, who's with her at the hospital, it's touch and go really. She's got a fighting chance IF she survives the surgery, but doctor's aren't really optimistic about that. She's lost a hell of a lot of blood, apparently. She's hanging on to life by a very thin thread. As far as I can make out, she seems to have surprised a burglar early this afternoon. He obviously didn't expect anyone to be home at that time, apparently she's the only one in her building to work the graveyard shift. Anyway, he panicked. There was a struggle and he stabbed her several times with a kitchen knife that was laying around. After that he just grabbed some stuff and left her for dead.

It's Greg who found her. When Sara didn't show up for a trip they had been planning for weeks, he got worried and started calling her. When there was no answer, he decided to go over and found her in a big pool of blood. She was unconscious and felt very cold. He immediately called the paramedics and the cops. Brass heard the call, recognised Sara's address and sped over. He says it was pretty bad: there was blood everywhere and Sara looked barely alive. There's no sign she was raped, but we don't know that for sure yet. Brass asked the hospital to take a rape kit. The doctors promised to do that as soon as surgery is finished. Brass also bagged Sara's clothes, so maybe, if we're lucky, there will be some DNA on it. Anyway, Brass found Greg kneeling down right next to Sara, pleading her to hang on over and over again. He seemed in a very catatonic state, so Brass put him into his car and followed the paramedics out. Greg's in hospital too, being treated for severe shock and probably post traumatic stress. Brass said that when he finally came around, several nurses had to tackle him down and give him a very heavy tranquilizer. Anyway, that's all I know so far. Brass is still at the hospital and he promised to keep me updated. Now I haven't told Warrick and Nick yet, they're handling a triple murder in the suburbs. As soon as they're back, I'll tell them. Now, what I want you to do is to process the crime scene. Okay?"

Catherine just sat there stunned. She couldn't take in what Grissom had just told her. Sara stabbed. Sara in a very critical condition. Sara fighting for her life, all odds against her. She knew she didn't have the best relationship with Sara, but she was still her colleague, maybe even her friend. Despite their numerous catfights and discussions, she still liked and respected her younger colleague. And now to hear this.... It was just too much. Then she remembered Grissom's last sentence. Angrily she yelled at him: "you expect me to process the crime scene at a time like this? What the hell do you think I'm made of? Stone? The only place I'm going is the hospital. Sara needs me. She's more important right now than working the stupid crime scene."

"You can't do anything for Sara there, she's still in surgery and according to Brass she will be for the next couple of hours. I understand how you feel, believe me I do, I feel exactly the same way. I'd rather be in hospital too than being stuck in this office, but there's nothing we can do for Sara there. The only thing we can do for her is pray and catch the bastard who did this to her. You know I'm right, you know that that's what Sara would want you to do. That's why I want you to process the scene. You're the best, you won't miss any vital clues. Nick and Warrick would be too impetuous, they'd be so hell bent on revenge and finding the bastard they'd overlook evidence. I know you'll use that anger to focus even better, you'll feed on it to nail him with irrefutable forensic evidence. That's why I want you to do it. Do you think you're up to it? I want to warn you, Brass says it's not a pretty sight."

"Why don't you do it?" Catherine asked.

"I have to stay here. I still have to call Sara's next of kin, then I have to tell Nick and Warrick and I also have to handle all incoming cases. Don't get me wrong, Sara's case has top priority as far as I'm concerned, but I still have to look at the other cases. Now, do you think you'll be able to handle it?"

"Yeah, I'll do it. I want to nail the creep that did this to her. Just promise me you'll call as soon as you hear anything."

"I promise. As soon as I know anything, you'll be the first I call."

Part 2.

Catherine parked in front of Sara's apartment building and stepped out of the SUV. Getting her bag out of the trunk of the car, she looked up to the building and shivered involuntarily. She really wasn't looking forward to processing this particular crime scene. Intellectually she knew Grissom was right, the only thing she could do for Sara at this moment was to work the scene, but damn it, that didn't mean she had to like it. Mustering up all the courage she could find within herself, she took a deep breath and slowly started to walk towards the staircase. With each step she took, her anguish but also her resolve to find out who did this grew bigger. Stepping up to Sara's front door, Catherine slowly pulled the yellow police tape down. Putting her gloves on, she steeled herself for the sight she was about to see.

Turning the doorknob, she slowly pushed the door open. She scanned the scene from the hallway for a minute and immediately thought Brass hadn't been kidding: it looked like a battlefield in there. Getting more and more angry by the minute, she stepped inside and was immediately met by the overpowering and nauseating smell of clotted blood. Putting her bag down, she took a minute to calm down and gather her thoughts. She knew she couldn't afford to make a single mistake, she didn't want the bastard getting off on a technicality. She had to process the room methodically. Okay, she thought, I can do this. Her plan of attack clear in her mind, Catherine set to work.

First she took pictures of the lounge, where the attack seemed to have taken place. Picture after picture, what happened there that afternoon became clearer in Catherine's mind. She noticed the big empty spaces on the cupboards, the pulled out drawers that had obviously been searched through. Walking towards what she thought to be the bedroom, she saw the messed up bed linen. Apparently Sara woke up, hearing a strange noise and decide to check it out, startling the burglar. Now what had happened next? Somehow the burglar had gotten his hands on a knife, so Catherine decided to go and check the kitchen. Kitchen drawers were opened and knives, spoons and forks lay cluttered all over the kitchen floor. Taking another picture, she knew Sara had somehow driven the burglar from the lounge to the kitchen. Maybe she attacked him with something, making him back up all the way over? Then she spotted a baseball bat, hidden under the kitchen table. Taking a closer look, she saw blood spatters on it. Clever girl, she thought, you've given us DNA.

What happened now perfectly clear in Catherine's mind, she set about finding enough forensic evidence to keep the perpetrator locked up in jail for a very long time. Finding no signs of forced entry, she concluded that either Sara let the burglar in, which didn't seem to stroke with the rest of the evidence, it just didn't feel right, or he had his own set of keys. She dusted the door for prints and found several, which was to be expected. A lot of people had touched that door today: Brass, Greg, police officers, paramedics, ... Still, you never knew, the burglar's might be among them. Next on the list was dusting the cupboards and drawers. The burglar seemed after small things like money, jewellery and valuable ornaments, things he could easily conceal upon his body or in a rucksack. He hadn't touched the bigger, more valuable things like the television set or the computer, although Sara's DVD – player seemed to be missing. She lifted a couple of prints, but wasn't really hopeful. They would probably turn out to be Sara's.

Then she moved on to the kitchen. Again she lifted a couple of prints, dutifully bagging and tagging them. She moved her attention towards Sara's block of knives. Counting the empty spaces on the block and the knives that lay scattered on the floor, she noticed there was one missing. So the burglar had stabbed Sara with one of her own knives and as she hadn't seen one laying around the lounge or near the pool of blood, she knew he had taken it with him. She made a mental note to check the perimeter outside. Running around with a bloody knife would have been far too conspicuous, so the burglar had probably dumped it once he was outside. The baseball bat only revealed one set of finger prints, presumably Sara's. She knew Sara had hit the burglar at least once because of the blood spatters, well that is if the blood didn't belong to Sara. Either way, she knew she had to be extra careful bagging the bat, there was a very good chance there were epithelia on it. Then she moved to the big pool of clotted blood, picking some up on a gauze pad and allowing it to air dry thoroughly. The blood didn't offer any additional forensic evidence, so Catherine moved on to the last item on her mental checklist: Sara's bedroom. They still didn't know whether or not Sara had been raped, so she had to check the mattress for semen and other signs of recent sexual intercourse. She was very relieved to find none, but also knew that really didn't mean anything; he could have worn a condom. She checked the bedroom and the bathroom for discarded condoms, but found none. Nothing more to do in Sara's apartment, she took her bags and put them in her SUV.

Remembering her mental note, she went to check outside the apartment building. Finding nothing in the hallways or the bushes, she decided to take a look at the garbage bins. Sure enough, when she lifted the lid of the second bin, she found a knife covered in clotted blood, laying on some rotting food rests. She took a picture before bagging and tagging the knife. There was still one thing Catherine wanted to do before she returned to the lab. Although she knew Brass would have ordered his officers to canvass the area and talk to the neighbours, she still wanted to ask the building's janitor a couple of questions. When he opened the door, she said: "Hi, my name is Catherine Willows and I'm a Crime Scene Investigator. I'm a colleague of Sara's and right now I'm investigating her stabbing. I know you already talked to the police, but would you mind if I asked you a couple of more questions? It's really important."

"No, not at all," the old man said, "come on in. How is Sara? Is there any news?"

"She's in critical condition, she's in surgery at the moment. The doctors say that if she survives the operation, she's got a chance."

"That's good news," the old man said in a very relieved tone of voice. "She's a fighter, that one. She'll pull through, I just know she will..... She's a really sweet kid, you know, always helping me out: putting out the trash, fixing my old battered car, helping me with the plumbing.... I can't bear the thought she was stabbed and then laid there for hours bleeding to death without me noticing anything. Some friend I am. You know, I've lived here for nearly forty-five years and this used to be a very close-knit community. People helping each other out all of the time, standing by each other through thick and thin. I really don't understand what's happening to this world. If this is progress, I liked the old days better, let me tell you. Anyway, what did you want to ask me?"

"Well, have you been in Sara's flat recently?"

"Yes, just yesterday. She had asked me over for lunch. She knew it was my wedding anniversary yesterday and that I would be a bit depressed now my wife Noreen's passed away, so she wanted to keep me company for a while, you know divert my thoughts a little. Like I said, she's a really sweet kid."

"Yes, she is. Erm, would you mind if I took your fingerprints, Mr....?

"Henderson, Daniel Henderson."

"Mr Henderson," Catherine smiled indulgently. "It's just so that we can rule you out. I mean, I found rather a lot of fingerprints in her apartment and if I have yours, I can compare them with the one's I found. Then I'll know they're not the burglar's. I think we can safely rule you out as the burglar."

"How can you be so sure of that, Miss Willows?" the curious old man asked.

"Well, no offence Mr. Henderson, but if you were the burglar I think Sara could have easily overpowered you. She's much stronger than you are, even if you were threatening her with a knife. And you said she helps you with the trash cans, now I figure that is because you can't lift the heavy bins anymore."

"True enough, I suppose. I really couldn't take on Sara on any day, she's much to strong for me. I've got arthritis you see. But to come back to your initial question, go right ahead my dear, take my fingerprints. I don't mind, in fact I would be really happy to help."

While she was putting ink on his fingers, she asked Mr. Henderson: "has Sara ever mentioned her keys gone missing?"

"Sara's keys? No, not that I know of. She never mentioned anything to me about it. Mine did though, go missing that is. I couldn't find them for two days. Sara had a right laugh about that, said I was going senile in my old age. Suppose she was right though, finally found them in a drawer I had searched a couple of times. Weirdest thing. Must have overlooked them I suppose."

"Hmmmmm. Do you lock your door when you're making repairs in the apartments?"

"No, I don't, everybody knows that. Nothing worth stealing in here anyway."

"Okay, thanks Mr. Henderson, you've been really helpful. You'd better wash your hands before that ink gets everywhere. Oh and I suggest you change the locks in the whole building, I think the burglar swiped your master key."

"You mean, it's my fault Sara's in hospital fighting for her life?" the old man said perplexed and anxious.

"God no, Mr. Henderson, it's not your fault. If it's anyone's fault, it's the burglar's. Sara just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The burglar broke in thinking she'd be at work, so he panicked when she caught him red-handed. It's just fate, I guess. It's not your fault. Anyway, I've got to get back to the lab. Thanks for all your help."

Part 3.

When Catherine arrived back at the lab, she immediately went to drop the evidence bags off for further analysis. She noticed that Grissom's door stood slightly open, so she knocked and walked further in. Looking up, he motioned her to sit down while he finished his phone call. "Okay Jim, I'll tell everyone. Thanks for calling and I'll see you then." Putting the phone down, he quite unnecessarily said "that was Brass on the phone".

"And? Any news?" Catherine asked, trying to edge him on a bit. For a supposedly intelligent man he sure doesn't know when he has to pass information on, she thought.

Grissom leaned back into his chair and fiddling with a paperclip, he said: "Sara has just come out of the operation. There was a hell of a lot of internal damage: fractured ribs, ruptured spleen, a punctured lung.... Apparently the knife just missed her aorta, a bit more to the left and she would have been a goner for sure. Anyway, the good news is that she's in critical but stable condition. The bad news is that she's in a deep coma. Her doctors aren't really worried about that yet. She has just had major surgery that has demanded a lot of her. They think it's just her body's way of making sure she recuperates. They're saying that her chances are still very slim, it's still touch and go, but it's looking better now she has survived the operation. Anyway, they moved her to the intensive care unit. Brass saw her for a couple of minutes and he said she's looking better already. She's hooked up to a lot of machines and has bandages everywhere, but she's not looking so deadly pale anymore. He's hopeful, more hopeful than a couple of hours ago. I guess the doctors did all they could, the rest is up to Sara."

"That's good news, I suppose. Sara's tough, she won't give up without a fight. Can I go to hospital to see her?"

"No, Brass said they only allow one visitor at a time. Besides visitor hours are over anyway. It's eleven o'clock in the evening. No, I want you to go home and sleep. Now, before you start sounding off, hear me out, okay?" Catherine opened her mouth to say something, but then shut it again, slowly nodding at Grissom to continue. "There are several reasons why I want you to go home. One, there's nothing you can do at the hospital, they wouldn't allow you to see her anyway. Two, there's nothing more you can do for her tonight. You have to wait for the analysis' results to come in and now Greg's not here, the labs are a bit backlogged. I've put you exclusively on Sara's case and squared it with the sheriff that you're off the clock. Basically that means you're only working on Sara's case from now on until it's solved and that you can come and go as you please, choose your own hours so to speak.

I'd like you to pick day shift however. That way you can start tomorrow morning, the results will have come in by then. Besides you'd get to see Lindsey more as you'd roughly be working school hours." Catherine decided not to point out to the totally out of touch Grissom that it was the school holidays. No matter what hours she worked, Lindsey would always be home. Grissom just continued: "there's another reason why I want you to pick dayshift, I called Sara's emergency contact number. It seems she only has her grandmother left. Mrs Boudreaux is flying in tomorrow. I want you to pick her up from the airport, she lands at six A.M. Now Ms Boudreaux is 77 and although she's feisty and still very active, she has a bad leg. She asked if you'd be willing to drive her to and from the hospital as long as Sara's in there. I hope you don't mind, but I told her you'd do it. I mean Mrs Boudreaux is a little old lady who doesn't know anybody here, who has to fly in to watch her granddaughter, her only still living relative, fight for her life, ...... I mean she's bound to cry all the time, she'll want to talk about Sara and you're so much better at all that emotional stuff. I mean you're a woman, us guys wouldn't know what to say. Besides she asked specifically for you. Plus it would give you a chance to go in and see Sara."

"That's pretty sexist Grissom, something I would have expected from Greg, not you. But off course I'll do it." When Grissom coloured at being caught red-handed, she continued: "What about the rape kit? And Sara's clothes? Has Brass sent them over yet?"

"No, not yet. Brass said he'd bring them in together. Don't worry, I'll process the clothes myself and leave the results in your tray. Now, go home. I promise I'll call if there's any change in Sara's condition. Don't forget, Mrs Boudreaux lands at six tomorrow morning."

Chapter 2.

Part 1.

At a quarter to six Catherine stood at gate number three, waiting for Ms Boudreaux. The plane had only just landed, so it would be another couple of minutes before the passengers started coming out in droves. Not knowing what Sara's grandmother looked like, she had made a big sign with Ms Boudreaux' name on it. Yawning widely - she only had five hours of sleep - she waited for the passengers to come out. When the noisy chattering increased and the first tourists started to appear, she stood straight and raised her big carton. Scanning the crowds for a little old lady, she was startled when she heard someone say: "you're Catherine Willows, aren't you?"

"Erm, yes I am," she said perplexed, her raised eyebrow evidence of her surprise. "And you are?"

"I'm Manon Boudreaux, Sara's grandmother, pleased to meet you," the woman said, her voiced tainted with a very light French accent.

Looking at the woman from head to toe, Catherine was utterly stupefied. She would never have thought this woman to be Sara's grandmother. She was wearing tennis shoes, a Levi's t-shirt, blue jeans and a short black leather jacket. She would never have thought this woman to be a septuagenarian, she didn't look a day over sixty. God, she must really have good genes, Catherine thought, that or she has discovered the fountain of youth. Shaking herself from her nonsensical trail of thought, she asked: "Can I carry your bags?"

"Would you mind? The rucksack I don't mind, but this stupid bag is wreaking havoc on my knee. I don't mind getting old, but I hate the discomfort it brings."

Catherine noticed the woman was slightly limping and said: "I'm parked just upfront, one of the perks being a CSI is you know a lot of cops, sometimes they throw a blind eye if you park illegally. Anyway, what I wanted to ask you... How come you know who I was? I mean I know I was carrying that carton, but still...."

"That was easy," Ms Boudreaux laughed, "you're the only female colleague Sara has got and besides she described you to a T: well-dressed, blue-eyed blonde, couple of years older than her and about my size. I immediately knew who you were."

"Sara talked to you about me?" Catherine asked aghast.

"Sure, she talks about all of you. I feel like I know the lot of you already: Warrick, Nick, Greg, you and of course Bugman, your boss."

"Bugman," burst out laughing, "that's a good nickname, I've got to remember that one. Sounds like you and Sara are really close, in spite of the miles between you."

Dreamily Ms. Boudreaux answered: "Yeah, we're pretty close, always have been. We talk to each other every day. Well, I say talk, I mean we e-mail or chat on messenger. I nag to her about the stupidity of people my age, my aching limbs and the weather while she tells me about her day, her cases, the way she feels. We just check in with each other I suppose."

"God, you're not at all like I thought you'd be."

Ms. Boudreaux just laughed: "Let me guess, you were scanning the crowd for a little, wrinkly old lady with a bad perm and a tweed costume that reeks of mothballs?" When Catherine nodded sheepishly, she continued: "you're only as old as you feel and I feel like I'm not a day over forty. Well, most days that is. Anyway, raising Sara has kept me young I suppose. She kept me on my toes with all her wild antics, I stayed young at heart. It was to be expected I suppose, I call her Mini Me for a reason." When Catherine looked at her very puzzled, she laughingly explained: "she's a miniature version of me, always has been. The kid's a Boudreaux all right, we all have a bit of a wild and reckless side, we're spitfires. Sara just hides it well under her slightly icy demeanour."

With that the conversation came to an end as they reached the car. After putting the luggage in the trunk and helping Sara's grandmother into the SUV, Catherine took off. Turning to face her passenger, she asked: "Mrs Boudreaux, where are you staying?"

"Just call me Manny, everybody does anyway and I'll be staying at Sara's."

"But you can't," Catherine stammered aghast, earning her a very surprised and curious look. "I mean the place's a mess. I've only just processed the place, it isn't cleaned up yet. You simply can't stay over there. No, why don't you stay in my spare bedroom? I insist."

"That's a very generous offer Catherine, but no. I want to be close to Sara and to me that means staying in her apartment. Don't worry, I know what you meant by messy, I know there will be a lot of blood. I've seen worse things than that in my life, you don't have to be afraid I'll break down or have a heart attack or something. I'll just clean it up, it's no big deal. Really, I'll be fine."

"Well, if you're sure", Catherine said hesitantly. Ms. Boudreaux just smiled and nodded. "You know what? I still have a little time on my hands, I don't have to go in until eight thirty. I'll help you, cleaning must be hell on your knee. You can tell me more about Sara. I mean she's been working with us for four years and she's still very much an enigma. You could be my Rosetta stone so to speak."

Part 2.

Straightening out drawers while Catherine cleaned up the pooled blood, Manny said: "let me guess. Sara's the first person to clock in and the last one to clock out. She hardly ever goes out with any of you guys and she never reveals anything about her personal life, she just clams up like an oyster. She hates talking about herself and seems easily embarrassed when she does let something deeply personal slip. She only has one close friend, Greg, and seems really uncomfortable with close personal contact. Almost like she's terrified by it, she shies away from any form of intimacy. She's gruff and abrupt, almost to the point of being impolite. She pours her heart and soul into her work, always striving to be the best at everything. She's always in work mode, like she can't relax or think about anything else. She's the puzzle you just can't solve, however much you want to. She just doesn't fit the category you want to put her in, every time you think you've finally figured her out, she surprises you with yet another facet of her complex personality."

Seeing Catherine's flabbergasted look, she knew she was right and continued: "that's my Mini through and through. You know, for lack of a better description, I'd say that it's almost like she has two distinct personalities: her professional one she shows the world and her real one she only shows a selected few. You have to understand, there's a reason for that, a reason why she's so distanced. It's a really long story, but I guess I can make a head start on it if you want, before you have to go to work."

When Catherine nodded, Manny smiled and continued: "okay, here goes, the mystery of Sara Sidle. I guess I'd better start at the very beginning and that's by telling you how I met Maurice Sidle, her grandfather. You see, I was born in 1927, the only daughter in a family of five sons. As you can imagine, growing up with five older brothers, I grew to be a bit of a tomboy, always fighting and getting into scrapes. They always challenged me to do things, saying I wouldn't dare do them because I was a girl. That only egged me on further. My mother used to say I was the worst of the whole lot, which actually made me kind of proud. Anyway, I was twelve when world war two broke out and thought it was a bit of a game at first, but then I grew up and knew differently. Appalled by what the Germans were doing, I decided to follow in my brothers' footsteps and join the underground French Resistance. I was sixteen by then, little more than a kid, but I wanted to join the action. You know, stand up for my country and my principles. My whole family was very active in the resistance: laying bombs, hiding people, faking passports. We even smuggled people out of the country. My dad had an old aeroplane the Germans didn't know about and we were the only local Resistance members who knew how to fly. Dangerous stuff, but we lived for the thrill of it.

I was seventeen when I met Maurice. He was the liaison between our local Resistance cell and the U.S. Army. He spoke a bit of French, I spoke a bit of English and you know how it goes. Long story short, we fell in love. He only stayed in the south of France for a couple of weeks, but it was enough for both of us to realise we'd found our soul mate. When the army moved out to liberate the rest of Europe, Maurice promised me he'd come back for me. He kept true to his word, a year later he knocked on my door and asked me to marry him. I accepted and we took off for the United States. Money was a bit tight at first, he worked as a mechanic in a local garage, I stayed at home to look after Nicholas, Sara's dad. When Nick was older and went to school, Maurice and I decided to take the biggest gamble of our lives and set up our own business: an aeroplane company. I was the pilot, he was the mechanic. We started out as a little company, offering private flights to businessmen and delivering all kinds of cargo, but over time we grew bigger and bigger. Let's just say we ended up being one of the largest companies in the branch. You're probably wondering what all of this has got to do with Sara, but it'll become clearer in time. Anyway, the next chapter in Sara's story is her parents, but I'll have to keep that for the next time. You'd better go or you'll be late for work.

"Damn, I didn't know it was so late already, time really flies. Guess I'd better go. Erm when do you want me to pick you up, Manny?"

"I called the hospital, visiting hours for the ICU are from six to seven."

"Okay, I'll be here round five thirty."

When Catherine walked into her office, she saw that Grissom had kept his promise and more: her tray was overflowing with test results. She sat down and started reading the first file, fingerprints. Ten different sets of prints had been found, four unaccounted for. The other six belonged to Mr. Henderson, Brass, three police officers and Greg. Catherine's biggest problem was that the four mystery prints could belong to anybody: the attacker, but also the paramedics on scene, a pizza delivery guy, the postman, ... Somehow she would have to narrow her search down, identify the fingerprints. She grabbed her notebook and started jotting down her plan of action.

The first step she should take was tracking the paramedics down because there was a very good chance some of the fingerprints were theirs. The problem was, if any prints remained, she had no real way of identifying them. The search through AFIS hadn't turned up anything, so she needed another set of prints for comparison and identification. Only when she had a suspect in custody would she be able to do that, so she depended on the other forensic evidence to find out the identity of Sara's attacker.

Getting a bit frustrated, she opened a second file, DNA analysis on the bat. Catherine smiled when she read that the blood spatters didn't match Sara's blood group, that meant Sara had been able to hit him at least once. Reading further, she became a bit puzzled: it seemed that the lab had found two different sources for the attacker's DNA profile: blood and spit. She thought about that for a while. The only thing she could come up with was that Sara clocked him one in the face. A thought that got more merit when she read faint tooth indentations were found on the bat. As the DNA was temporarily worthless until she could come up with a suspect, she now had another avenue to explore: Sara must have hit him incredibly hard, hard enough for him to need medical attention. Maybe she could track him down through the hospitals, it was worth a shot at least.

Getting a bit more hopeful, she took another file out of her tray, Sara's clothing. Grissom reported he found two different DNA profiles, the first being Sara's. When he ran a check on the other profile, he hit another match: DNA on the bat. Well, that doesn't really help me at this time, Catherine thought.

She grabbed the last file, the result of the rape kit. Praying it came back negative, she slowly opened the file: negative, making her release a huge sigh of relief. The only thing Catherine could do at this point of the investigation was tracking down the paramedics and start calling up all hospitals, private clinics and doctors in the area. A busy day of phone calls ahead of her, she set to work.

Part 3.

On the way over to the hospital, Catherine and Manny remained silent, both too anxious and nervous to engage in small talk. Getting directions to the Intensive Care Unit from a bubbly desk girl, they slowly started walking towards the ward. The continued silence hanging over them like a dark cloud, Manny suddenly spoke out: "I called the hospital earlier today, there's no real change. She's not worse, but she isn't getting better either. She's still in critical condition. There are no signs that she's waking up from her coma. The nurse suggested that I'd talk to her, let her know I'm there. It's believed that some coma patients can hear what's being said. I don't know, it's worth a shot I suppose. Visiting is restricted to a few people and they only allow one visitor at a time, so I put both our names down. I thought that maybe you'd like to see her too, you know, so you could tell your colleagues how Mini's doing."

"That's very thoughtful of you Manny, thank you. How about I come back in fifty minutes? That way you can have some private time with Sara, while I go visit Greg. There are a couple of questions I'd like to ask him anyway."

Distracted Manny just nodded, her attention solely on the hospital door in front of her. "See you later then," she said, gathering enough courage to push the door open.

Manny was met by the soft beeping and rhythmic humping of machines. Venturing in a little further, her heart stood still for a minute. Sara looked very pale, she had tubes all over the place and seemed almost completely wrapped up in bandages. Manny's heart broke at the sight. She walked over to the bed and sat down, taking Sara's hand. Tenderly pushing some stray hairs away, she started talking. "Hey Sara, it's me. This is another fine mess you've gotten yourself into, kid. I swear you'll be the death of me someday. I bet you're just laughing it up now, rushing your poor old gran to Las Vegas while you just lay there sleeping the day away. But that's okay, I don't really mind ..... You know, I've been dying to try out those slot machines for ages and I plan to make the most of it. Now you're not here to nag me and tell me off all the time, I'd better take advantage ..........

Anyway, I met your colleague Catherine and I immediately knew what you meant. I can see why you fell for her. I still think you're an almighty coward for not telling her though, but I suppose your love life is none of my business. I'll stay out of it.... for the moment. You're old and wise enough to make your own decisions........... Hmmmm now what can we talk about? You know, it's really annoying and very boring to have a one-sided conversation. I can hardly start arguing with myself, can I? You'd better wake up soon or I'll wither away due to lack of witty comebacks or stimulating conversation. I can even give you a very big incentive; I'm telling Catherine all about you. That's right, you heard right, if you want your deepest and darkest secret to remain just that, you'd better wake up soon and gag me. You know what a blabbermouth I can be once I get started. No? You don't feel like it yet, huh? That's okay, just rest for a while. ...…. Oooooo, I just remembered something. You know Bill, the senile old goat that used to live next door to us,... well I can't really call him old, I suppose, he's quite a few years younger than me... Anyway, you'll never believe what he's gone and done now ...."

"How is she?" Catherine asked when Manny left the room.

"Okay, I suppose. She has to work on her bedside manner a bit, really rude to let me talk and talk without answering back, but otherwise she's fine. There are a lot of tubes and bandages, she actually looks like one of those Egyptian mummies, but at least she's got a bit of colour. I think she heard me talking to her. She didn't react in any way, but still... why don't you go see for yourself? I'll just wait for you out here."

Catherine took a timid step into the room, not really knowing what she should say or do. Sara and her didn't have the best relation, their friendship was tentative and strained to say the very least. She hardly talked to Sara when she was conscious, what could she say to her now she was in a coma? Guess this time we won't end up fighting, she thought. Stepping up to Sara's bed, she cleared her throat and said: "hey Sara, it's me, Catherine. I hope you can hear me otherwise I'd feel very foolish talking to you like this. All the guys send you the best, we really miss you, you know. I know it's only been a day, but the lab doesn't feel the same without you. I kept expecting to find you in one of the smaller labs, hunched over a microscope, reading a magazine on the latest forensic discoveries or busy analysing some evidence you collected. Anyway, I met your grandmother today. She seems quite a character, you'd never think her to be almost eighty. She asked me if I could drive her to hospital every day to see you. Said something about promising you she wouldn't drive anymore after she wrecked her last car. That otherwise she'd just borrow your Harley to come over. You know, I really believe she would just do that. As weird as it sounds, I can really picture her on a Harley for some strange reason. Anyway, visiting hours are over so I'd better go. Manny and I will be back tomorrow." Taking Sara's lukewarm hand, she gave it a light squeeze before leaving the hospital room.

Part 4.

When Catherine dropped Manny off outside Sara's apartment building, Manny asked her if she wanted to come over for dinner tomorrow. "So I can tell you the next chapter of Sara's life story. Bring Lindsey along, I'd love to meet her, Sara's told me so much about her."

"Sara told you about Lindsey?" Catherine asked in an incredulous tone.

"Yes, she did. You sound so surprised? I told you Sara tells me everything that goes on in her life. She considers Lindsey a very good friend. Told me she's a very smart and inquisitive girl, that she takes after you."

"I guess I am surprised. I never even knew Lindsey knew Sara, let alone met her. I mean, neither of them said anything to me about it. Anyway, about your offer, we'd love to. How do you want to do this? Pick Lindsey up before or after hospital? I mean, if Lindsey and Sara are good friends, maybe Lindsey will want to see her. Then again, she's only a little kid, maybe taking her into the hospital to see Sara isn't such a good idea. I wouldn't want her to be frightened. You know, with all the hissing and beeping machines Sara's hooked up to. I'm not sure if she should see that. What do you think?"

"I think children are more resilient than we think or give them credit for, they're able to look past all outer layers and see straight into the heart of the matter. Sure Lindsey would be put off by the tubes and machines and such at first, but she'd be able to see past them, see Sara. If you explained why all the machines are there, I think she'll hardly even notice them after a while, they'll just become a part of Sara. Kids react in a more natural way than adults... I mean I'm pretty sure you also felt foolish and awkward talking to Mini like that, but kids.... They take it all in their stride. I guess what I'm trying to say is, why don't you just ask Lindsey? Let her decide? If you explain Sara's condition to her and tell her all the facts, she'll tell you straight up if she wants to see her, if she feels up to it."

"Yes, that's a good idea. I'll do that. Thanks, Manny. I'll call you tomorrow and let you know what Lindsey decided. Good night."

"Hey mom, aunt Nancy told me you were working another shift and that you'd be home soon. What happened yesterday? Was it something serious?"

"You know what, pumpkin, I'll tell you all about it when we're inside, okay?" Grabbing her purse, she started walking into the house. After seeing Nancy out, she sat Lindsey down on the sofa and started talking: "something bad happened yesterday Linds, that's why I had to go in to work. It's Sara, a bad man attacked her and she's in hospital. Grissom wanted me to go in and find out who did it."

"Is Sara okay?"

"No. Yes. I don't know, pumpkin. She's in a coma, do you know what that means?"

"Yes, I asked Sara about it once after I had seen an episode of E.R. and she explained it to me. She said it's a very deep sleep, so deep you don't really wake up when someone shakes you. She compared it to sleeping beauty. Don't worry mom, Sara hates sleeping, she'll wake up. Can we go and see her?"

"Do you want to? I mean, Sara's hooked up to all kind of machines that make really strange noises. I don't want you to get scared."

"I'm not scared, I know she'll be hooked up to machines and that there will be tubes everywhere, you always see that on E.R. Besides Sara is my friend, I want to tell her she's got to get better soon. She promised me she'd teach me how to play soccer. I know she'll be unconscious and that she won't talk back to me, but I can still talk to her. Sara said that sometimes coma patients can hear stuff. She explained to me that it's like being stuck all alone in a very dark elevator, that you're very afraid and you don't want to move or come out. Like you're too afraid to face the big bad world or something. But that at the same time you also hear what the people on the outside are saying to you: that you don't have to be afraid and that you have to come out. That's why you have to keep talking to them and play their favourite music. I guess Sara's in that elevator now and that we have to coax her out."

"I didn't know you knew Sara that well?"

"Yeah, uncle Greg and Sara are really good friends. When he's babysitting me, she comes over all of the time or we go to her place. She's really cool, you know? She's always telling me interesting stuff and explaining things to me. She was very shy at first, like she didn't want to be my friend, but she's really nice when you get to know her better. Do you remember when Francesca moved in next door? You told me I had to make an effort and get to know her? That she wouldn't know anybody here and would feel very afraid at first? I figured Sara felt the same... that she was afraid because she doesn't know anybody here..." This made Catherine gasp, she was basically being told off by her own daughter. She'd never thought about it this way. Maybe Sara was so stand offish and aloof because she didn't know how to react. It's not like I made any real effort to get to know her. Maybe she did feel like a little kid on her first day in a strange school, not knowing anyone there, not knowing whether she'd find a friend. It's not like I reached out to her when she first came here, is it? Maybe she just thought I didn't want her friendship and stopped trying, just like a kid would do. Her mental musings were cut short when Lindsey continued: "but now she knows me and uncle Greg, so she's not so afraid anymore. So can I go and see her?"

"Yes, I'll take you tomorrow if you like. But I have to warn you: Sara's in ICU and they only allow one visitor at a time. You'll have to let Sara's grandmother go first."

"Manny's here? Great. I always wanted to meet her, Sara's gran is really cool. Did you know she used to be a pilot? And she did a parachute jump last year, she doubled up with Sara for that. It was a birthday present from Sara, she knew her grandmother would love it. Can you imagine a grandmother like that? Sara always says she's a bit of a loon, but that she wouldn't trade her for the world."

"Yes, Manny's here. She asked if we'd have dinner with her tomorrow evening. Guess you're okay with that then?"

"Yeah, I bet she can tell us some funny stories about Sara too. Sara once said she used to drive her gran up the wall with her wild antics, I always wanted to know what she meant by that. Maybe I can ask Manny about it."

Chapter 3.

Part 1.

Dinner was a very pleasant affair, conversation mostly revolving around Lindsey and her constant barrage of questions. During coffee Lindsey took off to play with Sara's Nintendo console – muttering something about finally being able to beat Sara's top score -, leaving the two women alone to talk. "I promised you another chapter of Sara's life story, didn't I? Let me see, now where did I leave off? Oh that's right, I was going to tell you about Sara's parents. Nicolas, my son, met Sophie at university, during some sort of protest, can't remember now what it was about. Anyway, they seemed to click immediately, they became virtually inseparable: when you saw one, you saw the other. It was like watching Siamese twins. In a way their romance always reminds me of 'Love story'. You see, they decided to get married a year later and that didn't go down too well with Sophie's parents. They were very much against the marriage, didn't even show up for the ceremony. Humpf, they even went so far as to deny Sophie's existence, cutting her out of their will completely, never phoning her or talking to her. It was not just Nick and Sophie's hippy life style that bothered them, although it didn't help matters. It was more like they looked down on us. I guess you could call them class snobs. You see, Sophie's parents belonged to the loaded upper society, they probably could trace their ancestors all the way back to the Mayflower. In their eyes, my son simply wasn't good enough for their daughter. He was only the son of a blue collar worker, with a mother who went gallivanting all over the country in her plane, chain smoking all the way. That just didn't do, mothers were supposed to stay at home, participate in all kinds of charity events, do all that mind numbing stuff the rich do. It didn't matter that our company was already quite successful at the time. Anyway, Nick and Sophie got married anyway without their blessing and after they graduated, they opened up a little B&B. They were genuinely happy.

By the time Sara was born, Sophie's parents had started to come around, making a few attempts at a reconciliation. The relationship remained strained though, they only came over to see Sophie and Sara when they were sure that Nick wasn't at home. In the end, it didn't matter, they both died before Sara was three, so she never really got to know her maternal grandparents. I don't think she even remembers them. Like I said, Sophie's parents were loaded, you know old money. In my opinion they only came around because they wanted to get to know Sara, their only grandchild. I think she was the only reason they got in touch with Sophie again. You see, when they died, they left everything to Sara, only giving Sophie a few bits and pieces. Sara inherited the lot, but it's all in trust funds and such things. I don't think Sara ever uses it, unless to give donations to charity. Anyway, life continued as normal, Sara being a rather wild and adventurous child, always getting herself in some kind of trouble. Like I said, she's a Boudreaux. They were happy.

Then something happened. We had just celebrated Sara's twelfth birthday at my place, you know birthday cake, presents, the lot,... They were on their way home when they got hit by a drunk driver. Their car skidded off the road into a rather deep ditch. Nick was killed instantly, Sophie badly wounded. Sara was strapped in the backseat and had nothing. No scratches, no bruises, no broken bones, nothing. It took a while for help to get to them, the drunk driver that had hit them, hadn't even stopped. They were on a very dark and desolate road, not that many people used it at night, too many nasty turns. It took two hours for someone to find them and another hour for the paramedics and the fire brigade to cut Sara free. For three hours Sara sat there, watching her mother slowly die right in front of her. There was nothing she could do, she couldn't get off of the back seat, she was trapped between the seats and wrangled steel. Anyway, something snapped I guess. By the time we got to the hospital, after being notified by the police, she seemed to have retreated into a shell. She recognised us, but didn't react in any way: she didn't talk, she didn't cry, she just stared into space. Psychiatrists said it was shock. After the funeral she got a little better, she still didn't say a word, but at least she started communicating with us in other ways. You know, gestures, tiny notes, ... This went on for months until the trial. The criminal procedure against the drunk driver was a joke, the district attorney was a very nice man and I'm sure that he did his best, but the driver got off on a technicality. Something about bad procedure and chain of custody being broken. Anyway, when Sara heard the judge say the words you're free to go, she turned towards me and said I'm going to be a crime scene investigator when I grow up. I'll make sure the guilty party never gets off. I was so relieved that she spoke after all those months of silence, I didn't even think about what she said.

Anyway, Sara came to live with Moose and me. Erm Sara called Maurice Moose, when she was a little kid, she couldn't pronounce his name properly and always ended up calling him Moose. The name stuck, I suppose. Slowly Sara became herself again. She got into all kinds of scrapes, let me tell you. I think she loved living with us, Maurice teaching her all about engines, me teaching her how to fly. All the while I didn't know how serious she had been that day in court. Although she was quite rebellious as a teenager - her punk years I like to call them -, she had always maintained her grades. Still it came as a very big surprise when she announced she was going to Harvard to get a B.A. in physics in order to become a C.S.I. I thought she had forgotten all about that, I thought she'd become one of our pilots. She seemed to enjoy flying so much, always in the air whenever she could, even working in the company during the holidays to get extra pocket money. ...

Now, I didn't tell you all this for you to feel sorry for Sara. She's over all that, she hardly even mentions her parents anymore. I mean everybody's confronted with loss at some point in their life, you just deal with it and get on with life and she did. But as you can see, her past still has a very big influence on her life. Well obviously it has defined her career choice, but there are also little, almost unnoticeable influences like the emotional walls she puts up, the way she hesitates to open up to someone, the way she crawls back into her shell when she's afraid. All I want to say is that you don't know the real Sara, she keeps that hidden away behind an icy, stoic and almost unemotional demeanour. Try to get to know the real her, you'll be pleasantly surprised. It'll take some effort though, she'll resist you at first, she won't trust your motives. Keep at it anyway, I promise you that you won't be disappointed. She's a great friend when you get to know her properly. Just ask Greg and Lindsey, they'll tell you. I know she likes and respects you, but I also know you're not really friends. No, no, I don't want to lay blame, it's hardly your fault. I know how closed off she can be, it's very difficult to get to know her, she's an asocial hermit to say the least. You know how I said she's a real Boudreaux, always getting into scrapes? She has also inherited something from her mother's side of the family and that's a natural shyness. She finds it very difficult to make a friend, but when she does, it's for life. She would do anything for them, go to hell and back to help them. Anyway, that's enough for today I think. Lindsey is getting very sleepy, she can hardly keep her eyes open." Giving Catherine a big hug, she whispered: "Thank you for listening to my ramblings, it really helps me to talk about Sara. It's almost like I have her here with me."

"No, thank you. I understand Sara so much better now, why she's such a workaholic, why she frets when she can't solve a case, why she keeps everyone at a distance, .... I feel like I'm finally getting to know her."

Part 2.

When Catherine arrived at work the next day, Grissom was waiting for her in her office. Putting her coat on the hall stand, she said: "you're working late, night shift ended over two hours ago."

"Yes, but I wanted to talk to you before I go home, ask you how the case is going. I promised the guys I'd update them tonight."

"Hmmm, the case. Well, frankly the case isn't doing that good. I have practically no clues. I've got plenty of forensic evidence, but no' one to compare it with. I managed to identify another three sets of prints, leaving only one set of prints unaccounted for. But those prints could belong to anybody: they could be the attacker's, but they could also belong to a total stranger who has nothing to do with the stabbing. I'll only find that out once I've got a suspect in custody. So as long as I haven't got a suspect, I'm kind of stuck. Same goes for the DNA I found at the scene. But don't worry, I still have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. I'm calling all hospitals and doctors in the area to see whether the attacker has sought medical attention. Sara seems to have given him an almighty whack, she'll have broken his nose or jaw, maybe even smashed a few of his teeth in. Nothing so far, but I've only made a couple of calls yesterday. Now, I also thought I'd visit the local pawn shops. Manny – that's Sara's grandmother – was able to give me a very good description of the missing stuff and I found the serial number of her DVD-player in one of the drawers. So I'll see how that pans out. Otherwise we'll have to wait until Sara wakes up, she'll be able to give us a full description of the attacker."

"How is Sara? Have you seen her?"

"She's off the critical list. Manny spoke to her doctor yesterday, he says her wounds are healing nicely: no more internal bleeding and she's reacting well to the antibiotics. Physically she's doing better. But she's still in a coma. The doctor's not really worried about that yet. Apparently they ran some tests and there's no apparent sign of brain damage. She responds to external stimuli and her brain waves are all good. She just doesn't want to wake up yet. The doctor says it's because she feels safe in her little world and doesn't want to face the world just yet. She'll wake up when she's good and ready. He advised Manny to keep talking to her, maybe lure her out this way."

"How is Sara's grandmother coping?"

"Okay, I think. She sits with Sara every day, but she doesn't really seem too anxious or worried. Like she knows Sara is going to wake up or something. She's telling me Sara's life story. Did you know Sara was raised by Manny? That she lost her parents at a really young age?" When Grissom just nodded, she said in a very indignant tone of voice: "Why didn't you ever tell us? I mean we'd all have acted differently towards her, you know cut her some slack. We'd have known why she acted so shyly and aloof."

"It wasn't my place to say. Besides, I promised Sara I wouldn't mention her past to anyone, she's afraid people would only become friends with her because of her money. Not that she's extremely well off, but I guess she had a couple of nasty experiences with that in San Francisco. She wants people to like her for who she is, not because of what she's worth. Besides, what difference would it have made? You didn't like her from the start."

"Well, I wasn't actually referring to her inheritance, but to the fact she lost her parents at a young age. But you're right, it shouldn't have made a difference. I never gave her a chance to begin with. It's not that I didn't like her, it's just... With Holly and all that stuff going on, I just resented her for spying and snooping on us.. I know you asked her to investigate on us, that she was just doing her job and I can understand it in hindsight, but at that time..... I guess Sara, being met with such hostility from all of us, just gave up trying to get to know us. She just retreated into her own little shell. Anyway, Manny's story is making me understand her so much better now. She's not impolite or bad with people, she's just extremely shy. She finds it very difficult trusting people. It's very hard for her to lower her emotional walls long enough to get to know someone. But if you keep at it, you'll succeed. I guess she's just afraid to get hurt again, she's lost so many people already. Manny really is the only one she's got left, no wonder they're so close. Manny is great you know. Fun, adventurous, outgoing, ... She used to be a pilot, fought during WW II and even took a parachute jump last year. I mean, she's not your typical septuagenarian. I'm really glad I met her."

"I met her a couple of years ago when I was in San Francisco to give a lecture. I had planned to meet Sara to answer some of her questions on entomology. Anyway, I was waiting outside campus when they arrived on a Harley. Sara riding, Manny sitting behind her, both in leather and jeans outfits. We went for dinner and let me tell you, there was never a dull moment all night. The stories she can tell! Not only about herself, but also on some of the wild things Sara got up to." They both smiled at that, seemingly lost in thought. Looking at his watch, Grissom said: "I'll let you get on with it. Give Manny my regards."

Part 3.

At five on the dot Catherine knocked on Sara's door. A slightly out of breath Manny opened the door and waved her in. "Hey Manny. Are you okay?" she asked.

"Yes, Yes I'm fine. So sorry about this, I'm running a bit late. Daniel, you know young Mr. Henderson from downstairs, took me out grocery shopping in that old banger he calls a car and I guess we just both lost track of time. You know how it is with old people, we just got talking and before we knew it the afternoon was half over. Anyway, I've only just come in. I'll be right with you, I just got to put everything away and freshen up a bit first. So another ten minutes or so and I'm all yours."

"That's okay, just take your time. You don't have to hurry on my account. You know, why don't I put the groceries away and you go freshen up? That way we can still have a coffee before we go, we still have loads of time. Oh and Bugman said to tell you hi."

"Ah, Mr. Grissom, I met him once, years ago now. A very nice and polite man but with a weird fascination for bugs. Can't see the appeal myself, I think they're horrible, creepy little creatures. They make my skin crawl, so I squash them on the spot. But I guess everyone's entitled to one quirky and strange trait. I'm sure I have several myself. Well, I think I'll take you up on your offer, I won't be long," Manny said, disappearing into the bathroom.

She emerged a couple of minutes later, just as Catherine was pouring them both a coffee. As they went to sit down on the couch, Catherine asked: "why didn't you come with Sara when she moved to Las Vegas?"

"Ah, a very good question, my dear. The answer to that brings me to the final part of my little story, the trials and tribulations of Sara's love life. Sara was like any other teenager, she fell in and out of love at a heart beat, dated a lot, although there never seemed to be anyone special ... Sometimes her dates were very weird persons too, let me tell you... At one time she came home with a Goth. I mean, I've got nothing against Goths, don't get me wrong, but when they came in, I thought they had their dates mixed up and were going to a Halloween ball. That fling didn't last long, about a month or so if I remember correctly. Anyway when Sara went to university, she changed. She became a lot more serious about her relationships. You know what I mean, commitment, long term relationships,..... She grew up I guess. What I'm trying to say is, about four years ago Sara got her heart broken when she found out her partner Pat was sleeping around. She had walked in on them "in flagrante delictu" so to speak. Turns out Pat only wanted her for her money, thought that was a guarantee to an easy life. Anyway, Sara was heartbroken. For a while she had really thought Pat was the one, you know? In my opinion, she didn't really love Pat, she only thought she did. I think she fell in love with the idea of love, the possibility of a family of her own. I think it's the betrayal that hurt her most. Pat had hurt her pride, not her heart. I've got to tell you, I never even liked Pat to begin with. We only met once when I dropped by Sara's apartment unexpected, but that one freak meeting was enough. Good riddance is what I thought when Sara told me. Pat was a bit too sly and cunning for my liking.

Anyway, then came Mr. Grissom's offer. It was like a godsend: a promotion and a chance to get away from it all. She begged me to come with her, told me that we had nothing that tied us to San Francisco, that it could be like a fresh start for the both of us. You see, Moose had died two years previously and I had sold the company to a foreign conglomerate. Anyway, I declined. I didn't want to uproot so late in life. I like San Francisco, I have my house there, my friends, my hobbies, my memories,.... When I told her I wasn't coming with her, she thought about turning down the offer. She would have stayed just for me, to take care of me. But I told her not to be so silly. This was really a big chance for her and I told her to take it. She should follow her dreams, make something of her life and she can't do that if she's always running around looking after her silly old gran. Besides I can take care of myself. Anyway, it took a lot of persuading, but she finally agreed. She would move to Las Vegas and we would keep in daily contact through e-mail, messenger, phone,... And that's the story of Sara's life." Standing up, Manny continued: "Guess we'd better be going now, it's a quarter to six."

Catherine walked Manny to the Intensive Care Unit, but then took the elevator to the next floor where Greg was staying. Knocking softly on his door, she walked in further, only to find him busy packing. "Hey Greg, are they releasing you?"

"Yeah, the doctor said that if I wanted to, I could go home. I immediately said I would. Frankly I'm bored staring at these four walls. At least back at the lab, I'll feel I'm doing something useful, that I'm helping out."

"Is someone picking you up or..."

"Nah, I'll just call a cab."

"No need for that. I'll drive you home if you like. I mean I've got to drop Manny at Sara's anyway, your place is on route. "

"Thanks Catherine, that would be great. So Manny's visiting Sara, huh? How are they doing?"

"Well, Manny seems to coping just fine, even more so now we know that Sara's not in critical condition anymore. She's doing much better according to her doctor. She's still in a coma though, but her doctor's not really worried about that yet. He thinks she'll wake up when she's ready. You know, it's like Manny instinctively knows that Sara's going to wake up."

"I wouldn't put it past her," Greg laughed, "Manny is one hell of an intuitive lady. She knows a lot. She's really cool, don't you think? I wish my grandmother could have been like her.... Anyway, when are you planning on leaving?"

"ICU's visiting hours are over at seven, so if you could meet us down there then?"

"Sure, I'll be finished packing by then."

Part 4.

Catherine went back to the ICU again. Knocking softly on Sara's door, she opened it a bit, but stopped dead in her tracks when she heard Manny mention her name. "Well, I must admit your taste has improved over the years Sara. I mean, do you remember your first date? When you introduced us, I couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl. Anyway, I've spent some time with Catherine, I've gotten to know her a little and I must applaud your choice. She's your best crush so far, I mean she's beautiful, feisty, outgoing, .... What I don't know and don't understand is why you're so scared to tell Catherine you love her Mini? I know I nagged you about this before, but I'm your grandmother. I have the right to meddle in your love life or lack thereof in your case. I know Patricia's betrayal hurt you deeply, but you can't let that hold you back. You've got to live a little, Mini, take a risk, you never know, do you? You might regret it later if you don't do it. I mean Catherine's hardly the sort of woman that would laugh at you or throw it back in your face, is she? I know you're not the best of friends, that you two argue a lot... But have you never thought that maybe, just maybe that could be misguided attraction? Like pent up emotion or something. I mean when two people but heads all the time, they usually avoid each other after a while. Not you two, you just keep at it. You'll never know how Catherine feels about you unless you ask her. Just think about that for a while and decide then. Tell her or move on....... Anyway, you remember that little store on first avenue you liked so much? You'll never believe what they did to it....."

Catherine just stood there, nailed to the floor, a million and one different thoughts running through her mind. Sara loves me? She's afraid to tell me in case I laugh at her? How would I have reacted if she told me? How do I feel about her? Am I attracted to her like Manny thinks? Knowing she was running out of time – Greg would be there soon -, she decided to postpone the soul searching for a while. Knocking a bit harder on the door, she ventured in further when Manny looked up to her. "Greg's going to be here soon, he's being released today. I hope you don't mind, but I told him I'd drive him home. No need for him to call a cab, his place is along the way. "

"No, that's okay. I'd be finally able to put a face to Sara's best friend. Erm Catherine? Would you mind chatting to Sara for a bit? I seem all talked out for the moment. I'll just go in the hallway and wait for Greg."

"Erm, yeah, sure, I guess" she mumbled, startling when the door closed with a light thud, leaving her alone with Sara.

Chapter 4.

Part 1.

She just looked at Sara for a moment, really looked at her, from a totally different perspective. She seemed younger and more relaxed in a way. She really is quite beautiful, Catherine thought. She went to sit down on the chair besides Sara and took her hand in to her own. Suddenly very nervous about being in the same room as Sara after that revelation, she stammered: "Hey Sara, it's Catherine. You know I feel really weird talking to you like this. I don't know what to say really, I can't think of anything, well not anything interesting or even remotely relevant anyway. Like I said last time, I met your grandmother. I really like her. She's feisty, quirky and a lot of fun. Life's never dull when you're around her, but I guess you would already know that. She invited Lindsey and me over for dinner yesterday and she talked about you all night long. No need to get worried though, she only said positive and good things, like what you got up to when you were a kid. I never would have thought you to be so mischievous, adventurous and inventive. I mean the prank you pulled on your high school principal, that was a stroke of pure genius. You really are a dark horse, aren't you?

Lindsey told me you've been helping her out with her maths too. She sends you her love by the way and said to tell you she got an A on her last test before the summer vacation. She really likes you, you know? She thinks you're really cool for someone old. Those are her words, not mine. Anyone older than twenty is over the hill and ready to meet his Maker according to her. She probably thinks I'm ancient. Hmmm, I wonder how she sees Manny? I've got to remember to ask her that tonight. Anyway, I wanted to say thank you for tutoring Lindsey last year, her grades have really improved since. She says you explain it so much better than her teacher, that you make maths fun. I don't know how you pull that one off, I always thought maths was the most boring subject ever, but I'm really grateful.

Erm, all the guys at work send you their best. They keep asking about you, they can't wait for you to go back to work. Talking about work, I bet you're wondering how your case is going, aren't you? Well, I made some real progress today. I found your DVD-player in a pawn shop and although the pawn broker couldn't really give me anything helpful – his description was so vague it probably fits half the men in Nevada -, he promised me his surveillance tapes. I'll take a look at them tomorrow. Maybe if I can get a clear picture out of it, somebody will recognise him. I mean he's got to live in your neighbourhood, he knew Mr. Henderson never locks his door. I also checked all the hospitals and doctors in the Las Vegas area, but nothing turned up. Guess he didn't have his wounds treated after all. Don't worry about it though, I'll find him and I'll make sure he goes down for a very long time. I've done everything by the book, so there's no way he's getting off on a technicality.

Anyway, Mr. Henderson was really pleased to hear you're doing better. I think he still feels it's his fault you're in here. You know, that was a really sweet thing you did, inviting him over for lunch on his wedding anniversary to make sure he wasn't feeling too lonely. And he says you're always helping him out. I guess that, in spite of the tough image you like to put on, you're really a softy underneath. I don't mean that in a bad way, I really like it. Guess I should be going now, visiting hour is over. Wouldn't want that head nurse to come in, she's scary." Standing up, she softly caressed Sara's cheek. Looking at her for a minute, seeing the real Sara for the first time, she bent down and gave her a light kiss on the lips, immediately startled by the strong electrical bolts that ran through her at the touch. Touching her still tingling lips, she squeaked "erm I'll see you tomorrow" before she practically bolted through the door.

Part 2.

After putting a grumbling and protesting Lindsey to bed, Catherine sank down on her couch, a glass of wine in her hand. It had been an emotionally draining day: she had involuntarily found out that Sara's in love with her and then there was that electrifying kiss. A million questions ran through Catherine's mind. What does it all mean? How should I handle this? How do I feel about her? Maybe I should look at it rationally, logically, Catherine thought. How did I feel when I found out through Manny? Sure I was shocked, but not in a bad way. It's not like I was freaked by the thought of it. I mean, it just came as a total surprise, it was the last thing I expected. I felt flattered, proud and excited in a way. Oddly pleased that someone as young and beautiful as Sara could fall in love with little old me. I felt a slight tinge of excitement by the prospect.

I had never thought about Sara that way. I always thought she was beautiful and very attractive and always wondered why she was alone most of the time, but I would never have thought her to be in love with me. I had never considered Sara as a possible partner. She never said anything. Hell, I never even knew Sara's attracted to women, I mean she dated that Hank guy for a while before that ended badly. Never really knew what she saw in him though, I thought he was a bit of a loser. And then to string Sara along like that, hmpf the jerk. And Sara was so sweet about it when she found out he was two timing her. I mean she never even told the girlfriend, I asked her about that and she told me that there was no reason for her heart to be broken too. If it had been me, I would have decked him. Now what was I thinking about? Ah, Sara as a potential partner. Nope, the thought never even crossed my mind. In fact, I always thought she hated me, well maybe hate is too strong a word, I thought she disliked me .... Our relationship has always been strained to say the least. Always arguing over stupid things, exchanging insults... Well looking back, I guess I was always the one to start our fights, Sara just retaliated or stood there silently, taking it all in before walking off. Knowing what I know now, I can't say I really blame her for not telling me. She probably thought I'd freak and insult her some more. Hearing all those insults and acidic remarks thrown at her, that must have hurt her so deeply, especially since I was the one to say them to her.

God, I never meant to hurt her feelings, no wonder she doesn't want to tell me, I'd keep silent too if it was the other way around. I just assumed the insults and little digs bounced off the Teflon armour she seems to be wearing. I just thought she was an unemotional cold fish, I mean nothing seemed to affect her. I thought she wasn't interested in making friends, that she only lived for work, that she was rude and impolite to cut everybody off. How wrong could I have been? She just hides her emotions very well, she's shy and reserved and doesn't really know how to talk to people. She only opens up when you make an effort, when she sees you're serious. She has her reasons for keeping everyone at a distance. She just protects herself from pain and possible rejection by putting an icy, stoic shield around her. She feels safe and secure then.

But she's definitely worth breaking down those walls. I mean Lindsey seems to think she's wonderful - pretty cool and wicked for an old person she said - and that's high praise coming from Lindsey. Greg gets on with her like a house on fire, Mr. Henderson says she's a sweet kid, even Brass sped to her rescue, ... Everyone who knows the real Sara seems enamoured by her, so she's definitely worth getting to know better.

Am I attracted to Sara? I always thought she was really beautiful and attractive and if that kiss is anything to go by, I guess there is definitely something going on between us. I don't know..... Maybe Manny's right, maybe the reason we were fighting all the time is because we're attracted to one another. I just started the fights because I didn't realise it, I misinterpreted the signs. I didn't know what pulled me to her time and time again and reacted angrily, lashing out like a scared animal driven into a corner. All I know for the moment is that I definitely want to get to know the real her, not the stoic persona she hides behind. I've got to break down her emotional walls somehow, make her trust me enough to do that. I have to take things slowly, become friends with her. Only then can I figure out what to do next.

Part 3.

When Catherine woke up the next day, she was still laying on the couch. Her soul searching had tired her out too much for her to even think about moving upstairs, so she had just curled up where she was, throwing a plaid over herself. She had been tossing and turning all night long, constantly dreaming about Sara. Groggily she stood up, deciding to ban all thoughts of Sara for a while. She'd take a long hot shower to get rid of all the cobwebs in her head. She knew her little hurricane would come crashing down the stairs soon demanding breakfast, so she'd better get started. Fifteen minutes later, she peeked through Lindsey's door. Seeing her little girl was still fast asleep, she stepped in and gently woke her.

Still sleepy, Lindsey rubbed her eyes and stretched, mumbling an almost inaudible "good morning" before stumbling out of bed. "Linds, why don't you get yourself ready, while I make breakfast, okay? After that I'll drop you off at Nancy's for the day, she said she's taking you swimming, so don't forget to pack your swimming suit." Lindsey just nodded and made her way to the bathroom. At the breakfast table Lindsey chatted animatedly about her plans for the day and her friends, giving Catherine a much needed diversion. Finishing their breakfast, Catherine quickly washed up the cups and plates, while Lindsey went looking for a book she wanted to take with her. Finally ready, they both got in the car and were soon on their way over to Nancy's.

"Hey Greg, what are you doing here? Aren't you still on sick leave?" Catherine asked, throwing her handbag on her desk.

"Yeah, I can't believe Grissom made me to stay home, the lab is seriously backlogged. They need any help they can get. But no, I have to stay home and twiddle my thumbs. Anyway, Brass asked me to come and sign my statement and I just thought that maybe I could help you out with something? Even if it is just to bring you coffee or something. I'll do anything you ask me to. ... To be completely honest, I can't stay at home any longer, it's driving me round the bend. I just keep seeing Sara laying there in a pool of blood and there was nothing I could do to help her. At least at the lab, I would feel like I'm doing something. So please, let me stay?" he pleaded, giving her the puppy dog look.

"Going behind Grissom's back, eh? Sneaky. But I'm actually glad you're here, there is something you could do to help me. But remember, not a word to Grissom about this, okay?" When Greg nodded, Catherine continued: "you're good with computers and such, aren't you? Well, I have a pawn broker coming in with some CCTV – tapes around nine. I want you to look at them, our man should be on there somewhere because he sold Sara's DVD-player yesterday. Mr. Asheef couldn't really remember when the suspect came in, so you'll have to go through the whole tape. When you find him, I'd like you to clean up the image as best as you can. If we have a clear shot, we'll make a picture of it and take it to Sara's neighbourhood. I've got the sneaking suspicion that the attacker is someone local, he just knew too much about the building. So if we show it around, someone's bound to recognise him. Think you can do that?"

"Yeah, piece of cake. Thanks Catherine, I really appreciate this. I know you don't have to do this."

"That's okay, just don't say anything to Grissom about it. As a matter of fact, do me a favour and don't tell anyone about it. You know how he gets, we would never hear the end of it."

Driving over to Sara's neighbourhood, a couple of clear pictures of the attacker in their hands, Catherine suddenly asked: "so where were you and Sara planning to go that day?"

"Why?" Greg asked perplexed, "what's that got to do with the case?"

"Nothing, I'm just being curious, indulge me."

"Oh, okay. It was nothing special really, we were just going to Lake Mead to waterski. I bumped into an old buddy of mine a couple of weeks ago, he has moved back to Las Vegas recently and decided to start up his own business near Lake Mead. He'd always been obsessed with water sports and now he's trying to make a decent living out of it. You know, teaching bumbling tourists how to sail or kayak, renting out equipment, showing them the best fishing spots, ....When I mentioned that Sara was interested in learning how to waterski, he said he could get us a boat and some gear at a mate's rate. We were going to make a day out of it, you know. Get a tan, goof around a bit on the water."

"I didn't know Sara was into all that?"

"Oh yeah, she's into the wild and dangerous, alright. Think she gets that from her grandmother, she's pretty fearless too. Motorcycles, planes, carting, waterskiing, bungee jumping, ... You name it, Sara wants to try it at least once. Most of that stuff scares the living daylights out of me, but Sara, she just loves the thrill she gets out of it, at least that's what she keeps telling me. Frankly I think she's just a secret adrenalin junkie that wants to feel alive. I just go along with it for the ride, I don't even try to do half the stuff she does. Sara's actually lot of fun when you get to know her properly, she's totally unpredictable. And boy, can she cook! I mean, I'm very much a meat guy, but I just love her vegetarian meals. They're to die for. And her music collection! Don't get me started on that one, she has the biggest and most eclectic collection I've ever seen. I mean she really likes all sorts of music: jazz, rock, new age, pop, foreign music; little known bands,...."

Just then Catherine's cell phone rang, making them both startle at the shrill tone. Looking at the tiny screen she was a bit perplexed to see Sara's name appear. A nauseating feeling of dread and panic creeping into her heart, she quickly pushed the on button and answered: "Willows".

"Hi Catherine, it's Manny. I'm sorry to be calling you like this, but I just got a call from the hospital. It's Sara."

Chapter 5

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