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

Chapter 5.

Part 1.

"The doctors think she's waking up. She's been moving her hand quite a lot and according to the doctor it's more than just muscle spasms. Anyway, her brain wave patterns suggest she's trying to wake up. Good news, huh? Now, she's not awake yet, but the doctors want me to go in and talk to her. You know, to try and coax her awake by boring her to death with my ranting. I know you're at work right now and that you really shouldn't leave, but do you think you can swing by to give me a lift to the hospital? I'll understand if you can't, running away from work to satisfy the whim of an old lady is not a done thing, but I thought that maybe you'd like to be there too? I mean, you must have a million and one questions to ask Sara about her case. If you can't, I'll just call a cab or maybe Greg."

"That's really good news Manny and don't worry, of course I'll drive you to the hospital. Greg and I are heading to your place as we speak. We'll be there in five minutes, so see you then. Bye." Pushing the end button, Catherine turned towards Greg and said: "good news. The hospital just called Manny, they say Sara's starting to come around. So slight change of plan, we're going to pick up Manny and drive her to the hospital."

"God, that is good news," Greg said, the sheer relief evident on his face. "I just knew she would make it, she loves life too much to give up without a fight. She's got too much fighting spirit. Is she fully awake yet or ...?"

"According to Manny she's just showing signs that she wants to wake up. The doctors asked her to go in and talk to her. You know, lure her out of her sleep or something. I'm sure with the three of us chatting to her, she'll be awake in no time, even if it is just to tell us to shut the hell up already."

After a short drive to the hospital, Catherine, Greg and Manny were on their way to Sara's room. A nurse stopped them at the door, saying that it was all right for the three of them to go in together and that the doctor would be there soon to talk to them. Manny opened the door and quickly walked in, Catherine and Greg hot on her trail. Manny and Greg went to sit on opposite sides of Sara, each taking a hand into their own. Catherine just stood at the foot of the bed, looking at Sara's regular breathing and quickly moving eyelids.

"Hey Mini, it's me," Manny started, "Catherine and Greg are here too. The doctors told us you're finally starting to come around. At last I should say, I've never known you to sleep so long in your life. You've just snoozed for four days straight, I just hope that doesn't mean you'll be four times as grumpy when you wake up, you're bad enough as it is. According to the doctor you're doing much better, your wounds are healing up quite nicely. You'll have a couple of scars, but none too visible. What's another one, eh? You already have quite a collection. Anyway, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand."

All three of them looked intently at Manny and Sara's locked hand. Ever so slowly they saw Sara's slender fingers curl their way around Manny's hand palm, giving it a tentative and light squeeze. "Good girl," Manny croaked emotionally, softly stroking Sara's cheek.

A tear sliding down his cheek, Greg stood up and gave Sara a light kiss on the forehead before whispering: "I'll be back tomorrow Sara." He turned towards Catherine and Manny and a bit louder he announced: "I'll just go and tell the guys the good news. They should be arriving at the lab by the time I get back there. I'll just call a cab. Oh and don't worry Catherine, I won't tell Grissom I was with you all day, helping you out. I'll just tell him I was with Manny when the hospital rang." When he saw Manny's curious look, he added: "Catherine will explain. Anyway, see you guys later. See you tomorrow Sara."

When Greg left, Catherine went and took his place by the bed. "Hey Sara, it's Catherine. I'm so glad you're waking up. I missed you, you know. We all missed you, Manny, Greg, Lindsey, me, Mr. Henderson,.... It just isn't the same without you." Just when Catherine was about to say some more, a doctor and some nurses came in.

"Good evening ladies," the burly man said. "Now Sara's starting to wake up, we can start taking some of these machines away. She's breathing on her own, so we can take her off of the vent, she doesn't need the respirator anymore. The heart monitor can go too. Now, I want you to understand that although Sara's starting to come around, that doesn't mean she'll be fully conscious immediately. It can take coma patients a couple of days to become fully awake and lucid, it differs from person to person. Sara will be drifting in and out of consciousness over the next few days. She's doing just fine at the moment, her brain wave patterns show she's becoming more and more awake all the time, but still.... Don't expect her to open her eyes and start cracking jokes just yet, okay? It's very important to keep talking to her, so she doesn't slip back, although she hasn't shown any signs of that. Now, if you could leave the room for a couple of minutes, just so that we can give Sara a quick check and take the machines away? Thanks."

In the hallway Catherine and Manny just hugged each other tightly, relief and happiness washing over their faces. Stepping out of the hug a minute later, Catherine told Manny: "I'll just give Lindsey a quick call. She'll be very pleased to know Sara's waking up. I'll be right back." As she couldn't use her cell phone in the hospital – a nurse rudely made that clear by snapping her phone shut when she had started dialling- she had to wait until she was on the parking lot before she could tell her daughter the good news. By the time she got back, Manny was already sitting next to Sara again, talking to her in a soft and animated voice. Catherine resumed her previous position and taking Sara's hand, squeezing it lightly, she silently listened to Manny's stories. By the time visiting hour was over, Sara had squeezed both their hands a couple of times, each time a little more tightly, but hadn't opened her eyes yet. Both giving Sara a little peck on the cheek, they promised to return tomorrow as soon as visiting hour started.

Part 2.

Arriving very early at the lab the next morning, Catherine was just pouring herself a cup of strong black coffee when a tired looking Grissom walked into the lounge. "Working late again, are you? You're quickly going to replace Sara as the resident workaholic if you keep this up," she laughed.

"Uh yeah, I just needed to tie up some loose ends of a murder case I'm working on and as I knew you'd be coming in soon, I kept myself occupied with paper work. I wanted to talk to you about Sara's case before you head back out again. You know, to see how the case is developing."

"You could have just called me if you wanted an update, no need for you to hang around the lab if you're so obviously tired." When she saw Grissom had a flabbergasted look on his face – as if that particular thought had never even crossed his mind-, she quickly continued: "anyway, I had a major breakthrough yesterday. The pawn broker that has bought Sara's DVD brought his CCTV-tapes over and erm I was able clear the tape up a bit, enough to get a clear picture of the seller. I was planning on showing it around Sara's neighbourhood today, to see if maybe anyone recognises him. We still won't know if he's the attacker or not, he could be an accomplice for all we know, but we'd have enough grounds to get his fingerprints and DNA. We'll let the evidence talk. If he's just an accomplice, maybe we can put the squeeze on him for a bit. Being an accomplice to attempted murder means years of jail time, so if the D.A.'s willing to throw him a bone, he might talk. Besides, we still have Sara. She's slowly starting to come around, she'll be able to positively identify her attacker. So the case is looking rather good at the moment."

"That's good news, not just about the case, but about Sara too I mean. Greg came in and told us yesterday."

"About Greg. I think you should cut him some slack. I talked to him a bit yesterday and he feels useless being stuck at home. He feels like the walls are coming down on him, he just keeps seeing Sara laying there. He'd much rather be back at work, helping you guys out. I think he's up to it and you do have a serious backlog. It would help you both out actually. Think about it, yeah? Anyway, I'd better go, I'll call you if I have any news, ok?"

Catherine drove towards Sara's neighbourhood, her first stop being Manny. Although she had only intended saying a quick hello, she ended up being invited for lunch. It seemed that Greg had volunteered to do some shopping for Manny and that she was planning on thanking him with a home cooked meal. Promising Sara's grandmother to come back around twelve, she left Sara's apartment and started knocking on the neighbours' doors. Half an hour later she was sure that luck wasn't on her side that day: one neighbour was still at work, another only seemed to speak what Catherine guessed to be Russian and yet another had only recently moved in and didn't know anybody yet. Getting a bit frustrated by her lack of progress, she decided to drop by Mr. Henderson. He had once mentioned to her that he had lived in this neighbourhood for over forty years, so she figured there wasn't much he didn't know about its residents, past and present. As always, Mr. Henderson was very accommodating, inviting her in and offering her some coffee while he searched for his glasses. Sitting back down Mr. Henderson put his glasses on and took the photograph in his hands, staring at it intently. When Catherine noticed his furrowing eyebrows, she asked him: "what is it Mr. Henderson? Do you recognise him? Do you know who this is?"

"Yes, I think so. He looks a bit like Mariah's son. Now what was his name again? Stephen! Yes, that's it, Stephen McCaffrey."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Pretty sure, yes. I mean I haven't seen the boy in a while, but he looks just like him. Either that or it's his doppelganger. Why? Do you think he's got something to with it? That he stabbed Sara?"

"I don't know yet Mr. Henderson, but I'd like to talk to him. What can you tell me about him?"

"Well, Stephen used to be a very nice kid, although a bit spoiled. You see, Mariah and John McCaffrey had nearly given up hope when Stephen came along. They absolutely doted on him, spoiling him to death and giving in to his every whim. Of course, he grew up to be a little spoilt brat. Things got worse when he got to high school. He started hanging around with a very bad crowd and became even more of a handful. His parents couldn't handle him anymore, he got into all sorts of trouble. I know for a fact that he's been expelled from two different schools and there were some rumours that he was behind some violent burglaries, although nothing was ever proven. I never believed it anyway. Stephen was a spoilt little brat, but he wasn't malicious or violent. He was more like a wild kid, not a budding criminal. I think he just went through a bad period. Anyway, the McCaffreys had the police knocking on their door every five minutes: vandalism, truancy, graffiti, ....Then suddenly when he was about sixteen, he turned over a new leaf: he went to school and got better grades, he made some new friends, even started working in a local shop. He even helped me a couple of times, you know with painting and plumbing. The McCaffreys were very relieved to have their golden boy back. It didn't last though. Five years later, I think he was about twenty-one then, he started drinking. The McCaffrey did everything they could to help him, going as far as locking him in his room for two days to go cold turkey. They even sent him to very expensive private clinics to help him kick off, but to no avail. He ran away each time, always to be found in a bar. Last I heard he's living a couple of blocks from here, still drinking quite heavily. Rumour has it, he's even hooked on drugs now, but I don't know that for sure. Pity though, he had such a potential. He's only twenty-five, but I've been told he looks like an old man.."

"Thanks Mr. Henderson, you've been a great help, again. I've got to go, take care now," Catherine said, leaving the old man to his thoughts. Once outside she flipped her cell phone open and called Brass. "Hey Jim; it's Catherine. I finally got a suspect. Stephen McCaffrey and he looks very promising: suspected drug addict, rumours he committed violent burglaries in the past, but never proven, used to live in Sara's neighbourhood, he'd be about twenty-five now. Can you look him up in the computer? .... 23 Magnolia Avenue, ok. .... No criminal record? Maybe he had his rap sheet sealed when he was 21? ....Yes, I'll meet you there. Bye."

Looking at her watch, she knew she couldn't make lunch, so she called Manny. "Manny? It's Catherine. I'm very sorry, but I won't be able to make it, something came up. Is Greg there yet? Uhuh, could you pass him to me for a minute? Thanks. ...... Greg? Good news, I've got a suspect. I'm on my way over there now. Could you do me a really big favour? Could you drop Manny off at the hospital this afternoon? Tell her I'll be there around seven to pick her up again..... Thanks Greg, you're a lifesaver. Oh and I put in a good word for you this morning with Grissom, told him he should let you go back to work. .... Ah, he called already, that's good news. Anyway, I'd better leave you to it. Bye."

Part 3.

By the time Catherine arrived at the suspect's address, Brass stood already waiting for her down the street. "Hey Catherine. Now before you ask, I'm already working on a search warrant, but it's going to take some time. You only called me fifteen minutes ago and so far we've really only got him on handling stolen goods. But don't worry, I'm tracking down Judge Waterston, he'll sign the warrant. In the meantime, why don't we take him downtown, you know make him sweat a bit?" Catherine just nodded.

They both stepped up to the front door. The house really looked like a shamble, it definitely had had better days: the paint was peeling off, the garden looked a right mess and the steps squeaked dangerously when they stepped on them. Brass pushed the doorbell, but when he couldn't hear any sound of a bell, he knocked a couple of times on the door, yelling loudly: "police, open up." They heard a lot of loud groaning and stumbling before the door slowly opened, revealing a very shabby looking Stephen McCaffrey.

"Yeah? What's this about? Don't tell me that old woman next door has been complaining again about something?" he yawned widely, a disinterested look on his face.

"My name's Brass, I'm with the Las Vegas police. This is Catherine Willows, a crime scene investigator. Are you Stephen McCaffrey?" Brass asked. When he only received a blank stare, he continued angrily: "the question is simple enough, are you or aren't you?"

"Yes I am, now what's this all about?"

"We'd like you to come downtown with us. We've got reason to believe you're involved in an attempted murder. We'd like to ask you some questions."

"What? A murder? You've got to be kidding me? I haven't done anything like that."

"Yes, that's what they all say. Now put some clothes on, you're coming with us," Catherine snarled.

Brass followed the suspect in to make sure he didn't do a runner while they waited. When he and McCaffrey stepped back out a couple of minutes later, Brass ordered the two waiting police officers to take him to the police station. Turning towards Catherine, he said: "I think he's telling the truth, I don't think he's the one that attacked Sara. It doesn't look like he's been in a big fight recently. His jaw looks alright and I took a very close look at him while he dressed: no wounds or scratches anywhere. But still, he might be able to tell us something. He's gotten his hands on Sara's DVD somehow."

When Catherine and Brass walked into the interrogation room, she gave the attending police officer the message to leave them alone with the suspect. Sitting down in front of Mr. McCaffrey, she began placing a couple of pictures on the table. Tapping her finger on the first photograph, she began: "this is Sara Sidle, a colleague of ours. A couple of days ago she was sleeping in her bed after a long night at work when she suddenly heard a strange noise. She decided to check it out and took a baseball bat with her to defend herself. She surprised a burglar and a struggle ensued. She was able to give him a good whack to the head before he stabbed her five times, leaving her bleeding to death on the cold floor. He grabbed a couple of things and ran." Showing the suspect a blown up picture of him in the pawn shop, she continued: "This is you three days ago, selling the DVD-player that had been stolen from Sara's home. We've not only got you on surveillance tape, we also have Mr. Asheef, the pawn broker, coming in later to positively identify you. So you see why you're our number one suspect. Have you got anything to say to that?"

"I didn't kill that woman, I've never even seen her before. Why would I kill her? And I didn't know that DVD-player was stolen."

"Then how do you explain you selling her DVD-player?"

"I didn't steal it, I swear. My roommate asked me to sell it. Told me it used to belong to his parents and that he needed the money for his sister or something. He asked me if I could sell it for him."

"Why didn't he do it himself? Seeing it was for his sister?"

"I don't know, I didn't ask him. He seemed really agitated and nervous, so I figured Donna, that's his sister, was in trouble again. I thought I was helping him out. I swear I don't have anything to do with that murder. I know I have a bad reputation, I mean I'm pretty sure that old witch from next door has been spouting stories again, but I wouldn't do something like that. I'm trying to get my life together again. I haven't touched a drink in six months and have been clean for four months. Besides you said that woman had been able to hit him once before she was stabbed. That police officer stood by me while I got dressed, he can tell you I haven't got any bruises."

"Would you mind if I took some DNA and fingerprint you? If you're innocent like you say you are, this will prove it conclusively."

"Yes, go ahead. I don't mind."

"Open up wide, please Mr. McCaffrey," Catherine said, scraping along the inside of the suspect's cheek with a swab. Then she inked his finger, pressing them down on a piece of paper. Turning towards Brass she said: "I'll just drop this off at the lab and tell them to rush it. I'll be right back." Catherine left the interrogation room and quickly walked towards the lab. Finding Hodges perched above a microscope, she knocked and walked in. "Hodges, I need a favour. Could you check this DNA and these prints against the DNA and prints in Sara's case? The quick test will do. We've got a suspect in custody, but he says he's innocent. I'm inclined to believe him, but I need to know for sure. Could you give this priority? I'm with Brass in interrogation room one, come and get me as soon as you have something, okay? Thanks."

Stepping back into the interrogation room, she asked: "Do you know a Mr. Henderson?"

"Old man Henderson? Sure. He's the janitor of a big apartment building in my old neighbourhood. Really nice man, as a kid I could always talk to him. I mean, his door was always open. The whole neighbourhood walked in and out of his house all the time, you know for a chat or to borrow something. I heard his wife passed away recently, must be rough on him. Anyway, what's that got to do with anything?"

"Have you talked to your roommate about him?"

"Yeah, a couple of times. Henderson was one of the only people who gave me a second chance when I was a kid. You know, I was really wild for a period, got kicked out of a couple of schools, got into trouble with the law.... When I wanted to change, he was one of the only people who believed in me and that meant a lot, still does. Anyway, I talk about him sometimes."

"Tell us a bit more about your roommate."

"Patrick? He's only been living with me for four months. I needed a roommate to help me out with the rent. I don't want to depend on my parents anymore, I want to show them I can do this on my own. Anyway, he answered the ad I put in the local paper, I liked him and he moved in. He works in one of the casinos as a slot attendant, so we rarely see each other. He works nights, I work the day shift. I'm only home because Saturday is my day off. He's the legal guardian of his kid sister Donna, who's in boarding school. She's sixteen and going through a bad period. Their parents just passed away in a car crash and I guess Donna's not handling it too well. She's always in some kind of trouble. Patrick has been called to her school a couple of times, even had the police knocking on the door once when she was staying here for the holidays. She's staying with one of her aunts now. You know, that's why I sold that VCR, I thought Donna was in some sort of trouble again and he needed the money."

"Do you know where we could find this Patrick? What's his full name? What does he look like?"

"Patrick Mulroney, he works in Cesar's palace. I don't really know where you can find him, it's not like I keep track of him all the time. I haven't seen him today nor yesterday for that matter, In fact, I don't think I've seen him since Tuesday or Wednesday. I think he has found himself a girlfriend or something. I borrowed him the money for the DVD, I know I would get it back when I sold it. Anyway, he's a pretty big guy, 6foot4, 200 pounds. He's got black hair, blue eyes and he's trying to grow a beard although I keep telling him he looks like an idiot. He drives an old pick up truck."

"Any other distinguishing features, like a tattoo or a scar?"

"Not that I know of. He does look like he's been in a hell of a fight, his face is bruised and swollen. When I asked him about it, he just shrugged and muttered something about a pub brawl."

"Do you know where he was Monday afternoon?"

"I wouldn't know. I was at work until five thirty in the afternoon, you can check that with my boss. I work at the local supermarket, you know stacking shelves and cleaning the place up a bit. Then I went to an A.A. meeting, also something you can check."

Just then there was a knock on the door. Catherine went to answer it and whispered to the person on the outside. Coming back in, she told McCaffrey: "We've compared your fingerprints and your DNA with the one's we've found at the scene and they didn't match. Before you think you're off the hook, that only tells us that you haven't broken into Sara's apartment and that you weren't the one to stab her. You're still a suspect: either as an accomplice to attempted murder or as a fence. I'll be going over your place with a fine tooth comb in a minute and you'd better have been telling us the truth or you're going down for a long time. We'll be keeping you here for the moment until Jim over here has checked your alibi."

Once they were in the hallway, Brass told Catherine: "I think he's telling us the truth, I think he only wanted to help his mate. I've talked to him while you were at the lab and he seems pretty serious about changing his life around. I don't think he would jeopardise his whole future like that on a burglary. Anyway, I'll check his alibi and then I'll see what I can find out about this Patrick Mulroney. If I find him, I'll call you, okay?"

"Yeah, I'll be at McCaffrey's place. Hodges told me that Waterston came through with the search warrant. It only covers the house, not Patrick's rooms. So if you could get another warrant for Patrick rooms? I'll get started on Stephen's part of the house in the meantime."

"No problem, I'll call the D.A. right away, I'll make sure you have the warrant by the time you get there."

Chapter 6.

Part 1.

Getting her gear kit together and making a couple of phone calls, it took Catherine nearly half an hour before she could take off. Arriving back at Stephen McCaffrey's house, the new warrant given to her by a police officer, Catherine snapped on her gloves. Walking in, she immediately saw that although the outside looked pretty shabby the interior was doing much better. It looked like Stephen had done his best to make his house a real home concentrating on the inside first: a fresh lick of paint on the walls, new tiles on the floor, even a few pots and plants around the house. It looks very clean for a bachelor's place, Catherine thought, maybe McCaffrey cleans his house as a way to redeem himself. Walking through the house, she noted that there was a kitchen, a lounge, a bathroom and two bedrooms.

She decided to concentrate on Patrick's room first. She immediately knew which room was Patrick's, it was much messier and definitely cluttier than the rest of the house. Although it was a pretty big room, there wasn't much furniture in it: a bed, a cupboard and a desk. But still the room looked pretty crammed. Patrick just left stuff everywhere: books and magazines lay in big piles on the floor, his dirty clothes were thrown into a corner of the room,....Putting down her briefcase, she got her camera out and took some pictures. The bed didn't look slept in, so McCaffrey had probably been telling the truth when he said he hadn't seen Mulroney in a couple of days.

Catherine knew the only way to nail the attacker was through fingerprints and DNA, so she decided to dust the room for Mulroney's prints. Lifting a good print off the door handle, she then concentrated on finding DNA. Looking around in the room, she spotted a hair brush. She knew that trying to get a hair out of the brush with a pair of metal tweezers could damage the hair strand, so she opted for bagging the whole brush. I'll let Hodges or Greg deal with that particular task, she thought. Sifting through Mulroney's big pile of dirty clothing, she came across a bloodied T-shirt and a pair of jeans with blood spatters on it. She knew they couldn't belong to Stephen, they were much too big for the rather small and skinny man. She immediately put them into an evidence bag, making a mental note to have the blood compared to Sara's.

Opening the cupboard, she saw it was practically empty. Seems Mr. Mulroney has done a runner, she thought. He was in quite a hurry too, she added, when she found only one shoe. Squatting down, she noticed a carton box in the back of the cupboard. Pulling it towards her, she started rummaging through it, but found nothing interesting, only high school memorabilia and old photo albums. Sitting down on the bed, she searched through one of the bedside tables, finding an empty jewellery box. As it looked exactly like the one Manny described missing, she bagged it and went over to the desk. The only thing of interest she found were Mulroney's bank statements. Flipping through them, she saw he was in debt, quite heavily in fact. It seemed like he couldn't afford to keep his little sister in boarding school. Money problems, the age old motive flashed through Catherine's mind. Nothing more to do in Patrick's room, she gave the rest of the house a quick but thorough search, coming up empty-handed. It really looked like Stephen McCaffrey had nothing to do with it. The only thing he was guilty of was trying to help out a friend.

Stepping up to her SUV, Catherine remembered her promise to Grissom to keep him updated. As it was already five in the afternoon, she knew he'd be up and about, so she decided to give him a call. Hitting his number on speed dial, she waited to hear his rather grumpy "Grissom." "Gil? It's Catherine. I'm just calling you with the latest developments. It appears that the man on the surveillance cameras had nothing to do with it after all. He was doing a friend a favour. He did point us in the direction of his roommate Patrick Mulroney though. Brass had already secured a search warrant for the first suspect's house, he then had it extended to the second suspect's room, so legally we're in the clear. I've only just finished searching Patrick Mulroney's room, but I found some incriminating things like bloodied clothing and Sara's jewellery box. I lifted his prints and bagged his hairbrush, so we'll be able to compare it with the DNA I found at Sara's apartment. Nothing's definite yet, but it looks promising. I think I've nailed him. Brass is trying to track him down as we speak, but it seems he's done a runner: most of his clothes were missing and his roommate hasn't seen him in a couple of days. I'm heading towards the labs now, so I'll be able to tell you more by the time you get it for work. Looks like I'll be pulling some overtime today. So I'll see you later, okay?" Deciding she'd better let Nancy know she'd be late, she put in another quick call before driving back to the labs.

She was just on her way over to her office after dropping the evidence off at the lab, when she ran into Brass. "Catherine," he said, "I was just about to call you. McCaffrey's alibi checked out. His boss says he worked until a quarter to six on Monday and the A.A. confirmed his presence at their meeting that night. He couldn't have helped Mulroney. I had to cut him loose, but I did warn him not to leave Nevada. I also asked him to notify us when he sees or hears from his roommate. I think Mulroney skipped town. His boss told me he hasn't gone in to work in a couple of days. They checked his locker, but he seems to have cleared it out. The last time he was seen by one of his co-workers was on Monday. He seemed very nervous and agitated according to the colleague. He walked in, cleared out his locker and walked out, never mentioning a word. The co-worker did say he looked like he'd been in a fight. Although he was scheduled to work that night, he never showed. I've also tracked down the aunt McCaffrey mentioned, but she hasn't heard from him. I've put an APB out on him and alerted the airports, bus companies and such. I'll find him sooner or later. So, how did you go? Did you find anything incriminating?"

"Yeah. I've brought it back with me for further analysis, but I'm pretty confident. And you're right, he has done a runner: most of his clothes were missing. Anyway, by the time you've tracked him down, I'll have gathered enough forensic evidence to send him down for a long time. I'd better get to it, I'd like to analyse the clothing before I head towards the hospital to pick Sara's grandmother up." Saying their goodbyes, they both went their separate ways.

Part 2.

Putting another pair of gloves on, Catherine took the T-shirt and the jeans out of the evidence bag and put it on one of the lab tables. She grabbed the overhead magnifier and began peering through it, looking for dirt, hair, spittle, .... Anything that would make their case against him stronger. Carefully lifting a couple of hairs, she put them into another evidence bag for Greg to identify later that evening. When she was satisfied that there was nothing more to find, she cut a bloodied piece out of the T-shirt. Another piece of evidence for Greg to work on. Noticing it was already six thirty, she snapped her gloves off and went back to her office to retrieve her coat and handbag. She left a tiny note on Grissom's desk saying she'd be back later after picking up Manny and grabbing a bite to eat. Five minutes later she was on her way to the hospital.

She arrived at the hospital with only a couple of minutes to spare, so she briskly walked towards Sara's room. Knocking on the door, she stepped in further only to be greeted by a desolate and deserted room. Looking around a bit perplexed and anxious, she stopped the first nurse that passed. "I'm looking for Sara Sidle, she's not in her room? Did they take her for X-rays or something?"

"Sara? She's gone...," the nurse started saying. When she saw Catherine becoming deadly pale, she quickly continued: "hey, it's okay. You didn't let me finish, I was going to say that Sara's gone to another ward. They've moved her from ICU to room 375. Just take the elevator over there to the third floor. If I'm not mistaken room 375 is right in front of the elevator."

"Thanks, sorry about that. I just thought something bad had happened to her."

"No, it's my fault. I should have chosen my words more wisely. Anyway, she's doing much better all the time. Just go and see her, put your mind at rest."

Smiling Catherine walked over to the elevator and impatiently pushed the button. When the elevator didn't arrive soon enough for her liking, she turned around and opted for the stairs, taking two steps at a time. Slightly out of breath, she knocked on Sara's door before walking in. Stepping closer to her, she asked Manny: "how is she doing?"

"Much better. She squeezed my hand a couple of times, letting me know she hears what I'm saying. She still hasn't opened her eyes though. I talked to her doctor about it, but he said not to worry. Apparently the combination of painkillers, antibiotics and serum are keeping her a bit drowsy. She's only got the energy to listen for the moment, but he thinks she'll be opening her eyes soon. I think he said something like when the fog in her head has lifted enough. Anyway, I'll be right back, I just need to stretch my legs a bit. I'm a bit cramped sitting in that torture chair all afternoon. You just stay here and talk to Sara for a while. I'm sure she's sick to death of hearing my voice." With that Manny left the room.

Sitting down, Catherine took Sara's hand in her own, knowing this was the only way they could communicate with each other for the time being. "Hey Sara, It's Catherine, but I guess you know that. Manny told me you can hear what's being said. That's very good news! You just keep working on getting better. I've made a lot of progress on your case today...." Suddenly a thought popped into Catherine's head. She continued: "but if you find it too upsetting to hear about it, just let me know, okay? Squeeze once if you want me to shut up about the case, squeeze twice if you want me to talk about it." Patiently Catherine waited for Sara's answer. Then she felt a first tentative squeeze, quickly followed by a much stronger second one. "I guess you're curious, huh? I thought you'd be. Well, I've got a suspect. It's not the same one I started out with this morning, but that's kind of a long story. I'll tell you about it later. Anyway, I've searched his house and found a lot of evidence. I still have to analyse it later tonight, but it's looking good. The bad news is that the suspect is nowhere to be found, but Brass is tracking him down and you know how tenacious he can be. He's like a dog with a prize bone. So I know that by the time Brass has hauled him back to Las Vegas, I'll have enough forensic evidence to nail him to the wall. Hey... do you think you could pick him out of a police line-up? Not now of course, but later when you're feeling better. I know we'll have enough to convict him anyhow, but you positively identifying him would make the case that much stronger..."

Catherine was so focused on her story; holding Sara's hand tight for even the lightest of squeezes that she hadn't seen Sara opening her eyes. Sara blinked a couple of times, trying to lift the haze that lay over her eyes like a veil. Slowly her vision became normal again and she was able to see Catherine clearly. She was still babbling on, totally oblivious to Sara's admiring stare. Sara wanted to say something to her, but her throat was so dry and parched she only managed a croaky "Cat". When Catherine heard her name, she immediately lifted her head. Seeing Sara's big brown eyes stare back at her, an amused smirk on her face, she leapt up and took Sara in a bone crushing hug. When Sara squeaked a little, she let go and stammered: "God, I'm sorry. I totally forgot about your fractured ribs. I'm just so glad and relieved you're finally awake. Wait until Manny sees this, she'll be so thrilled. Are you feeling okay? I didn't hurt you too much, did I? Can I get you anything? Maybe I should call a nurse, let them know you've regained consciousness." Leaning over Sara – unknowingly giving her a nice view of her cleavage – she pushed the button. When Sara audibly gulped, she said: "how silly of me, you must be so thirsty. Do you want a glass of water?" When Sara just nodded, she continued: "I'll just go and get it. I'll track Manny down too while I'm out there. I'm sure you want to see her. Don't go anywhere, I'll be right back."

By the time Catherine had found Manny – she stood outside on a balcony smoking a cigarette she'd swiped off someone, talking animatedly to another patient – the nurse had already been and gone, informing Sara the doctor would come and see her soon. She had even dropped off a bottle of water before Catherine and Manny walked back in. "Hey gran, nowhere to be found again, huh? I bet you were gossiping again," Sara laughed, her voice still a bit hoarse and croaky.

Manny just smiled indulgently. "Mini, you know me too well. So finally decided to wake up? About bleeding time too, I was running out of conversation and that would have been a first for me. How are you feeling? Any pain?"

"No, not really. I think they've given me painkillers strong enough to subdue an elephant. I'm a bit thirsty though, could you give me a glass of water? I can't really move yet, I'm kind of numb all over."

"I'll do it," Catherine said. She walked over to Sara's bedside table and poured a glass of water. Then she went to sit on the bed, heaving Sara into an upright position and putting the glass to her mouth. Sara was kind of embarrassed at first at being as helpless as a baby, but that feeling quickly subsided and she started guzzling at the water. When she had drunk it all, she went back to lay down and said to Catherine, looking her straight in the eye: "Thanks Catherine. Not just for helping me just now, but for everything. I don't know what to say.... Except thank you."

"That's okay, it was my pleasure. I know you would have done the same if it was the other way around." Right on cue the doctor came in.

"Ah Miss Sidle, you're awake I see. That's very good. I'm sure you have a lot of questions about your current condition, so I'll try and explain it to you, okay? You were brought in on Monday in a very serious condition: you had a ruptured spleen, fractured ribs, a punctured lung, a couple of deep cuts in your chest and abdomen AND you had lost a lot of blood. Your blood loss actually saved your life in my opinion. Because of your blood loss, you were in a hypothermic state. Now hypothermia means a very severe drop of the body's temperature. Because of the blood loss, the amount of blood in your vessels was insufficient, causing your body's oxygen supply to diminish gradually. Your organs didn't receive enough energy to maintain their functions, which is why your temperature started to drop. Laying on those cold tiles for hours didn't help matters. Now the brain is the organ that needs the most energy, so in your case the hypothermia made your brain shut down. That's why drowning victims can sometimes be revived after being in freezing water for a very long time. Although you had no visible heart beat upon your arrival and you arrested a couple of times during the operation, we knew you had a chance if we could warm you up. Scans show you have no brain damage, so that ....."

The last statement made Catherine jump. She hadn't known Sara had actually died. She knew she had been in a very serious condition, but to die on her? She suddenly realised that could have lost Sara forever and that thought made her heart break. She knew she had to think about something else or she would start crying, so she concentrated on the doctor again.

"... and that's why you'll have no side effects of the coma. I know you're feeling quite numb now, but that's because of the painkillers. We were able to repair your spleen and your lung, they're healing just fine, the antibiotics seem to be doing their job brilliantly. It's your ribs that are causing you all this pain. There's nothing much we can do about fractured ribs, they have to heal themselves and that's sometimes a long and very painful process. We're giving you a very strong painkiller at the moment, that's why you don't really feel the pain. You'll be able to move around more tomorrow, you're also a bit stiff from being immobile for so long. Now, I don't want you to jump out of bed and doing cartwheels across the hallway from the moment you're up. You'll have to take it easy for a while, you can't put any unnecessary strain and pressure on your ribs or it will take much longer for them to heal. I'll send a nurse in later to tape them up a bit tighter. Now you're awake, you're bound to move around more, which could be quite painful. By taping them, we're constricting your movements and that will help your ribs a bit. Do you have any questions? No? I'll see you tomorrow then. Try to get some rest." Wishing the three of them a good night, the doctor left the room.

They continued to talk for a little while longer, but when Sara's eyes began to droop, Manny said: "guess we'd better go too. I'll see you tomorrow, Mini. Good night." Kissing Sara on the cheek, she started walking towards the door.

"Good night Sara," Catherine said, bending down to kiss her on the other cheek. Just then Sara turned her head towards her, making the kiss land on her lips instead of her cheek. "Erm... I'll erm.... see you tomorrow," Catherine stammered. Manny who had watched the whole scene just chuckled silently. Mini, still sneaky and mischievous when she wants to be, she thought. Too bad it doesn't happen more often.

Walking towards the car, Catherine asked: "do you fancy grabbing a bite to eat? I know a very good Italian not too far from here, my treat."

"Sure," Manny replied, "even I'm not stupid enough to turn down a free meal like that."

Catherine laughed and said: "I'll just call Grissom to tell him the good news and to say I won't be going in after all. That won't take long."

Part 3.

When Catherine walked into her office, she found it a bit odd to find her tray totally empty. She knew that it had been Greg's first day back at work, so she was expecting at least partial results on the blood and the hair fibres she had brought in from Mulroney's room. Frustrated at her lack of progress – without those results there really was not a whole lot she could do that day -, she flicked her computer on. Waiting to hear the rather annoying jingle of Microsoft Windows, she decided to clean her desk up a bit. Frankly it looked a right mess. When the comp was finally up and running – earning a big heavy sigh from Catherine – she checked her mails and was very surprised to find a flagged one from Greg. It seemed that the lab had quite a serious backlog and although Greg wanted to give priority to Sara's case, Grissom had hovered around the lab all night long, making that virtually impossible. He went on telling he had only stepped out for a quick shower and breakfast and that she should beep him as soon as she got in. That way he'd know the coast was clear for him to come back in and work her evidence. A big smile on her face, Catherine immediately beeped Greg. She knew that there was one thing she could do without Greg's help: run her prints through AFIS and hope they'd match the one's from Sara's apartment. The computer was just giving her the results, a perfect match, when Greg walked in. "Grissom's not lurking around the corner, is he?" Greg asked rather anxiously.

Catherine laughed and said: "No, don't worry, he'll be asleep by now. I really appreciate you coming back in Greg, thanks."

"That's okay, I mean you did me a favour too by letting me stay and help you the other day. I figured I owed you one, besides it's for Sara. Anyway, what have you got there?"

"Oh, well the print I found in Mulroney's room matches my unknown print from Sara's apartment. Now, that only means that someone that has been in Mulroney's room has also been in Sara's apartment, but it's very likely to be Mulroney's own print, isn't it? Anyway, as soon as Brass finds him, I'll take his print and compare it with these two sets."

"That's great. I'll get started on your DNA straight away, it won't take that long."

"Thanks, Greg, I ..." She stopped mid-sentence when her cell phone rang. "Willows.... That's great news Jim, when will you be here? ... okay, Greg's just about to process the DNA I found, so..... you already have a warrant for his DNA? .....Okay, I'll see you then, Bye"

"Brass just got a call from Reno police, they just picked up Mulroney. Brass is going over there to bring him in. He'll be back round three. I guess we'll have DNA and prints to compare with sooner than I thought."

"I'm not saying anything until my lawyer gets here," Mulroney lisped. He was sporting a large and very swollen bruise on his face and was missing his front teeth.

"That's you prerogative," Brass said in a very calm voice although he was inwardly seething, Mulroney had been on his nerves since Reno. "We've got a warrant for your DNA....", he continued. When he saw Mulroney was about to say something again, he held his hand out to interrupt him. "....but if you'd rather wait for your lawyer, that's fine. We're very patient people, Mr. Mulroney. We know you'll have to give it to us in the end anyway. Besides, we've already taken your fingerprints, so all you're really doing is postponing the inevitable." A soft rap on the door alerted Brass to Catherine's arrival. When she walked in with a big smile on her face, he turned towards her and said: "Mr. Mulroney has decided to wait for his lawyer before he answers our questions."

"That's up to him, I suppose, but it's only stay of execution. His prints are a perfect match. The forensic evidence already places him at the scene of the crime. I'd like to see him try and talk himself out of that one," she smirked.

Then Benjamin Johnson came barging in, an up and coming and very cocky lawyer. Brass had already dealt with him on several occasions and knew what a slimy bastard he could be. Looking at his client, he said: "I hope for your sake that's not your handiwork Brass or we'll be going for police brutality and confession under duress."

Showing an insincere smile, Brass answered: "oh, don't worry Johnson, we've got several witnesses saying he's got these bruises since Monday, the day of the attack on Miss Sidle. Besides Mr. Mulroney has refused to answer any of our questions until you got here. We've just informed him that his prints match the ones we've found at the scene. Explain to him that this warrant gives us the right to take a DNA sample, would you?"

Taking the warrant in his hand and scanning it thoroughly, he just nodded his head towards Mulroney. "Open wide," Catherine said, swabbing his cheek. Then she left the interrogation room and rushed to the labs to have it analysed and compared by Hodges as Greg had gone home a couple of hours ago to get some sleep. The test took about forty minutes and Johnson was getting very impatient, fidgeting in his chair and tapping his fingers on the table incessantly. Finally he burst out: "are you going to start this interrogation or what? I'm wasting valuable time here."

"I very much doubt that, Mr. Johnson, it's Sunday. Even snake lawyers like yourself don't work on a Sunday. Has your mother never told you that patience is a really good virtue? You didn't hear me complaining you kept us waiting for fifty-five minutes before finally deciding to make an appearance. Besides, what are you getting so worked up about? You'll bill Mulroney for these minutes anyway, very easy money since you didn't have to work for it."

Catherine walked back in and whispered something into Brass' ear, making him smile from ear to ear. She sat down beside him and said: "we know you did it Mr. Mulroney and we can prove it too. There's no way to refute the forensic evidence: we've got your fingerprints in the apartment, your blood on the baseball bat Sara used to defend herself, your DNA on Sara's clothes. That's not all, we've also got Sara's blood and a couple of her hairs on your clothing, her jewellery box in your room and your roommate's statement that you asked him to sell her DVD-player. So there's really no need for you to confess, we've got enough forensic evidence to send you down for a long time. All I want to know is why? Why Sara? Why stab her five times and leave her bleeding to death?"

Johnson knew it was time to do some damage control and whispered in his client's ears to come clean and give as many extenuating circumstances as he could. Mulroney finally understood that it was over and began talking: "yes, I broke into that woman's apartment. I needed cash and I needed it quick too. I owe a loan shark a lot of money, so much that I really can't afford Donna, that's my kid sister, in her boarding school any longer. I thought I would be able to pay him back sooner, but our inheritance still hasn't come through, something about procedure to be followed. I saw burglary as my only way out. I knew the janitor never locked his door, Stephen has told me a lot of stories about him. How he was the only one to give him a second chance and all that sentimental crap. Anyway, I waited until he went out to run an errand and stole the master key. I had a copy made and returned it a couple of days later. By Monday I was so desperate, I just decided to go for it. I chose that woman's apartment, because it's partially out of sight. When I didn't see any curious neighbours hanging about and didn't hear any noise coming from the apartment, I just figured she was at work and went in. I had never done something like that before, so it took a couple of minutes for me to find my bearings. I must have made a noise because next thing I know she came lunging at me with a baseball bat. She kept taking swings at me, backing me all the way back to the kitchen. She hit me a couple of times too, across the face and on the ribs. I just panicked. I grabbed a knife and just stabbed her. I'll never forget her face, it's been haunting me ever since. She just looked at me incredulously, her eyes wide with shock and disbelief before she fell down to the floor. I just grabbed a couple of things and hightailed it out of there. I threw the knife in a garbage bin and got into my car. I never meant to hurt her, I swear. She wasn't supposed to be there, I just panicked."

"I would have believed you panicked if you had only stabbed her once, but you stabbed her five times. You're just lucky she survived, although she had to be revived a couple of times. Now you only face attempted murder, but still..... you'll rot in jail anyway and that's all I want." Grabbing her papers, she stood up and left the room, leaving a very stunned Mulroney behind. He finally realised what the future had in store for him and broke down crying.

Chapter 7.


When Catherine walked into Sara's hospital room later that night to pick up Manny, she was yet again greeted by an empty room. This time she didn't panic though, she knew Sara's adventurous and inquisitive streak would have made her explore her surroundings; she simply wasn't one to lay in her bed all day when there were other things to do. She knew Sara and Manny couldn't have wandered off that far, after all Sara had only been awake for a day and in all probability she was still attached to all kinds of drips and tubes. Besides Manny was there to keep an eye on her, to make sure she didn't overdo it. So it was really only a matter of looking in the most likely places: TV room, cafeteria,…Ultimately she found them in the last place she searched, the smoker's balcony. They were both sitting in a plastic chair, their feet resting on the edge of the low brick wall. They seemed very relaxed, chatting animatedly with each other, a cigarette between their fingers. As she was half hidden behind a plant, they hadn't seen her yet, giving her the opportunity to observe them undisturbed for a while.

Although she couldn't hear what was being said – traffic noise and the chattering of the other patients too intrusive and distracting -, it actually didn't matter. Just watching them interact with each other, observing their body language was telling her heaps. They were obviously very at ease with each other, unknowingly touching each other all the time and gesticulating wildly to get their point across. You could clearly see they loved each other, it was evident in their eyes, their smiles and in the way they sometimes told each other so much without uttering a single word. Looking at the both of them in profile, she only now noticed how much they resembled each other. They really were two peas in a pod. Sure, their noses where different and they didn't have the same eye colour, but otherwise Sara was almost a carbon copy of Manny. I guess she's not only Manny's spitting images in character, but also in mannerisms and looks, Catherine thought. I mean, they both hold their cigarette in the same weird way, they both scrunch their noses to show their disgust and they both have a cute tiny gap between their teeth. Catherine smiled to herself, knowing and seeing first hand what Sara would look like in forty years time.

Focusing solely on Sara, she couldn't get over how different Sara acted and looked when she was around Manny. Somehow she seemed more relaxed and carefree, less cagey, rigid and suspicious. I guess she doesn't need her emotional walls around her gran, her gran's one of the only people she trusts implicitly, Catherine thought with pain in her heart. I wonder if she'll ever act like that around me? If she'll ever relax enough to just be herself? I must find a way to chip away at that protective shield. Catherine's mental musings were cut short when someone bumped into her, forcing her to take a step forward onto the balcony in order to keep her balance. Alerted by her presence, Catherine noticed Sara slipping behind her defensive armour, her posture growing more rigid, her smile dropping a notch or two and her eyes losing their mischievous sparkle. Her heart contracted at the sight, but it made her resolve to gain Sara's trust and melt down that icy façade grow even bigger.

"Hi Catherine," Manny said, "pull up a chair, we're just watching the sundown. It's quite spectacular."

"Don't mind if I do," Catherine replied, sitting down next to Sara, making sure she didn't get tangled in Sara's tubes and the drip. Sara just gave her a tentative smile and an almost whispered "hey Catherine". Manny and Sara turned their attention back to the scene before them and as Catherine saw Sara slowly relax again, she decided to keep quiet. In comfortable silence the three of them watched the sun slowly sink beneath the horizon. The golden rays of light wrapped the city up in a protective orange bubble, giving it a peaceful and ethereal appearance, almost like a calm before the storm. The imaginative bubble burst soon though and reality came crashing in when bold, ugly and very flashy neon lights began lighting up the town, earning a very disappointed sigh from Sara.

Turning towards Catherine, Sara asked: "how was your day? Did you make some progress on my case?"

Catherine, a bit sad that Sara was only comfortable enough to talk shop with her, replied: "today was excellent, actually. Brass got a call from Reno late this morning, a patrol spotted your attacker speeding on a tiny dirt road and pulled him over. When he ran a check on the car, he found out the driver was wanted and contacted Brass immediately. Jim went to pick him up immediately. In the mean while, Greg was pulling some overtime on the DNA samples I had found in the suspect's room. By the time Brass got back with Mulroney, that's his name by the way Patrick Mulroney, erm where was I? Oh yes, by the time Brass got back, I had all the forensic evidence I needed to wipe the floor with him. Mulroney tried to act like a tough guy, even insisted on waiting for his lawyer before giving us a DNA sample, but that was only postponing the inevitable. He was a complete match, both on the DNA samples as the fingerprints he left behind in your flat. When he heard that, he just crumbled. He confessed everything. You don't have to worry about anymore, he's in remand at the moment and he'll be in prison for a really long time. By the way, you seem to have a hell of a back swing, Brass said to tell you he has already put your name down in big bold letters for nightshift's next baseball game against Ecklie and his stooges in six weeks time. You know, you knocked Mulroney's front teeth out, bruised his ribs and he has a tiny fracture in his collar bone."

"Really? Good. The bastard deserved everything he got. And tell Brass I'll think about it, I mean I love baseball, but it's been a long time since I've actually played it. I guess you could call Monday as sort of warming up. Anyway, Mulroney confessing and behind bars is very good news. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was a bit worried with him at large, you know? I'm glad he's in remand. I don't know what to say except ........ Thank you," Sara said with a very big smile on her face. Very slowly she got up from her chair and closed the tiny gap between her and Catherine. Crouching down, making very sure she didn't hurt her ribs in the process, she gave Catherine a tentative hug. Putting her arms around a pleasantly surprised Catherine, Sara whispered in her ear: "thank you. I know how hard you worked to catch him. I just want you to know how much I appreciate that. Thank you."

Leaning further into Sara's hug, really enjoying the younger woman's breath on her face and her arms around her shoulders, Catherine whispered back: "that's quite all right. No need to thank me, I know you would have done the same if it had been the other way around. You know, I've been meaning to tell you for a very long time that I didn't mean what I said when you asked about getting Lindsey a gift. I was just tired and worked up. I took my foul mood out on you, I shouldn't have done that, you certainly didn't deserve it. I'm sorry, not just for that little remark but for all of them, you know? I'm sorry." When she saw that her apology was a bit too much for Sara to take, she slowly came out of the tight embrace, saying: "come on, let's get you back to your room. Kneeling down must be hell on your ribs, you can't be comfortable in that position." They made their way back to room 375, Sara giving both Manny and Catherine an arm as she was still a bit wobbly on her legs.

"Guess that means you're back on graveyard shift, huh?" Manny asked. "Will you still be able to drive me or should I take a cab?"

"No, don't worry, I'll still be able to drive you. Grissom gave me a week off, I only have to go in next Sunday night. I'm sure we'll think of something by then. Maybe Greg could drive you and I could pick you up or something, I'm sure he'd be very happy to help."

"That won't be necessary," Sara piped up. When four very confused eyes stared back at her, she continued: "I spoke to the doctor this morning, asked him when I could go home. As long as my test results are good and I have someone to take care of me, he sees no real reason to keep me here. My lung and spleen are fine and there's nothing really he can do for my ribs, they have to heal by themselves. He'll run further tests, but he says that if I want to I can go home on Friday."

"Asked him? Nagged him to death more likely!" Manny stated. "Are you sure about this Mini? I mean, you've only come out of the coma yesterday and you want to go home in a couple of days? Isn't that a bit early? I don't want you to have a relapse or something."

"Gran," Sara whined, "you know how much I hate staying in a hospital. I'm just fine and you'll be there to help me, won't you? Besides I'm sure Mr. Henderson and Greg wouldn't mind helping you out. I just want to be home, you know? Sleep in my own bed, eat some real food instead of that colourless and tasteless drab they call food here. I promise I'll take it easy, I won't even leave the couch if you don't want me to."

"OK. OK. Stop with those puppy eye looks already, I give in. As long as your doctor agrees with it, I guess you'll be coming home on Friday," Manny said. "Guess my care free days of leisure and debauchery are over, huh? Now you're coming back, I'll have to get rid of all the incriminating evidence."

Part 2.

After a quick lunch with Lindsey, Catherine set about getting ready to pick up Manny again. She wasn't expecting Nancy, who would look after Lindsey, until around two, so she still had some time. As Lindsey had been staying over at a friend's house and then Eddie's the last couple of days, a long vacation away from home Lindsey had called it, she had spent most of her afternoons and evenings at the hospital. The guys had dropped in a couple of times, teasing Sara a bit about her aptness with a baseball bat, but mostly saying they missed her and hoped to see her at the lab soon. Catherine thought it very cute to see Sara blush when Nick begged her to replace Grissom at the next ball game, something that earned him an indignant "hey" from her boss. And when Manny told her about the time she had caught Sara trying to sneak back in after one of her nightly escapades, she thought Sara was about to die from embarrassment. She had heard Sara muttering something about wishing the earth would swallow her up before throwing the covers over her beet red face. Sara seemed a bit more at ease in her presence, something Catherine was damn proud of. They still didn't have any heart to hearts, but at least they had started to talk about other topics besides work. She had actually been very surprised that Sara quite often shared her ideas and opinions on certain matters, something she previously thought to be impossible. She knew she still had a very long way to go, but she felt that she had taken an excellent start: Sara was beginning to open up to her. She still didn't know how she felt about Sara, but she thought that would become clearer in time. Besides, she didn't know if Sara still felt the same way and she was too afraid to ask. She was a bit embarrassed to admit she had been eavesdropping on a private conversation and she was sure Sara would hate being put on the spot like that. For now she would travel the rocky and tentative road towards friendship, the rest she would figure out later.

Just as Catherine was putting the finishing touches on her make up, Lindsey waltzed into the room. "Hey mom," the girl said, "can I come with you to the hospital? I haven't been to the hospital since Sara came out of her coma and I'd really like to see her. So can I?"

"I guess so, if you really want to. Are you sure you want to come to the hospital? I mean, I usually stay there for hours and there's nothing really to do there, you know? Won't you get bored? You could always wait until Sara's home, she's being released tomorrow."

"No, that's okay. I won't get bored. Manny always has something funny to say and maybe Sara could show me that cool card trick she was telling me about. I'm sure I'll be fine. Anyway, I can always call aunt Nancy if I get bored. Besides school starts again next week and aunt Nancy promised to take me to the mall tomorrow, so I won't be able to visit Sara on another day."

"Okay then, if you're sure. I'll just call Nancy and tell her there's been a change of plans. Maybe you could look for a deck of cards in the meantime? If you want Sara to show you that trick, she'll need it. Then we'll go and pick Manny up, Okay?" The girl just nodded, shuffling through the drawers, trying to find a deck of cards.

By the time Manny, Lindsey and Catherine stepped out of the elevator, Sara was already walking towards them. She had been looking out of her window and had seen them come in. Catching up with Sara, Catherine took a moment to just look at her. The younger woman was wearing black silk pyjamas, a pair she hadn't seen before. She thought Sara looked really cute in them, especially when she noticed the little Garfield embroided on the breast pocket. Sara was smiling brightly, a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. "Hey munchkin", she said to Lindsey, "I'm very glad to see you. Guess you want to know how I did that trick, huh?" When Lindsey nodded eagerly, Sara took her by the hand and started walking in the other direction again. Whispering quite loudly in Lindsey's ear, she said: "we just have to escape to my secret hiding place first. The head nurse is on the warpath again and I don't want to end up in her evil clutches. Do you remember that Roald Dahl story Matilda you read a couple of weeks ago? I swear the head nurse is Miss Bulstrode's evil twin." Turning her head towards Manny and Catherine, who were walking behind them, she gave them an amused wink and asked Manny: "did you have any trouble bringing it in?" Manny just shook her head conspiratorially, tapping the rucksack she was carrying over her shoulder. Catherine didn't know what was going on, but she was very happy to see this carefree, fun-loving and very relaxed side of Sara and just followed her out to their usual place, the balcony.

When they got there, they sat down on the plastic chairs, Catherine next to Manny and Lindsey in between both Sidle women. As soon as they were seated, Manny passed the rucksack to a very eager and impatient Sara. Catherine, very curious to find out just what Manny had smuggled in, looked over impatiently. Sara put the rucksack on the ground before her and began rummaging through it. "Hey munchkin, do you want an apple?" On Lindsey's nod, she pulled out a bag full of fruit and handed the girl one. She immediately began rummaging through the rucksack again, almost putting her whole head in the bag in her eagerness to find what she was looking for. "Aha, there it is", she mumbled, pulling out a plastic bottle of buttermilk and a big Tupperware box. "Gran, where did you put the fork?" she asked.

"The cutlery's in the front pocket. I put a couple of napkins in too, just in case", Manny replied.

Meeting Catherine's curious and amused gaze, Sara sheepishly answered the unasked question: "I'm hungry. The food they serve here is bland and boring. Besides it tastes like carton. I had this huge craving for homemade paella this morning, so I called gran and asked her to bring some in for me. As the head nurse caught me ordering a veggie pizza this morning and gave me a very stern lecture, I told gran she had to make sure that wannabe dictator didn't catch her." Opening the plastic box, Sara began eating her paella, groaning her approval at the very first taste.

A little while later, Catherine was talking to Manny when she heard Lindsey ask: "so what did you feel while you were in a coma? What was it like? Could you hear what was being said?" Cringing at her daughter's inquisitive bluntness, she was about to tell her off when Sara answered: "it was the weirdest thing. I could feel and hear everything, but I just couldn't wake up, no matter how hard I tried. I know you came in once and that gran and your mother visited me daily, but I just couldn't open my eyes. My eyes seemed to weigh a ton. I guess I was trapped in that elevator I told you about, too scared to move or to speak. Anyway, after a while I could move my fingers a bit, but I had to concentrate really hard for that. Like I had to kick-start my brain or something. But eventually it became easier, so I talked to gran by squeezing her hand. I felt really weird, you know? Like I was floating around the moon without a spacesuit, my mind wasn't very clear, I couldn't concentrate on anything for very long. Slowly that fog began to lift, so when your mom came to visit me, I was able to open my eyes. I think I scared her to death though when I croaked her name. I mean, you should have seen her face, I thought her eyes were going to drop out of their sockets, it was priceless," Sara chuckled.

Then Lindsey asked: "were you afraid after you were stabbed? Did you know what was happening to you?"

"You mean, was I scared of dying? No, not really. You know how they always say that your life flashes before you when you're in very serious condition? I had that too. I could remember everything that has happened in my life, both the good things and the bad things. My parents buying me my very first bike, you know a bike with very thick tyres and side-wheelies, how they consoled me when I fell off the swing in our backyard and broke my wrist, my twelfth birthday party,.... I knew I didn't have that many regrets. Anyway, I wasn't afraid of dying because I saw my mother kneeling beside me all the time, saying I didn't have to be afraid, that everything was all right, that my time hadn't come yet. That was really cool, you know? I hadn't see her in over twenty years and she just looked like I remember her. She just looked so beautiful, dressed in one of those hippie dresses she liked to wear and a bright light surrounding her. I felt really happy, protected and safe seeing her. I mean rationally and scientifically I know she was probably a figment of my imagination, I was delirious and unconscious at the time. But in my heart I'd like to think I saw my mother. That somehow she knew I was in danger and came down to help me. She told me to hang on, that help was on its way and the next thing I know I was in the hospital. "

"Do you believe in heaven? I mean, do you think your mother was like an angel, sent down to help you?"

Both Manny and Catherine had been listening to the conversation intently and were very curious to hear Sara's answer. "Do I believe in heaven? Well, yes and no. I don't think that heaven is a place in the sky where you go to after death, that when you die you take an elevator ride to meet Saint Peter at pearly gate to face your final judgement. I also don't believe that there are cute little angels with tiny little wings and chubby red cheeks playing and running around in the clouds. That's just how religion and society like to see heaven, as a place where it's better than on earth, a paradise where you're finally being rewarded for all the good things you did when you were alive. I do believe that when you die, you're reunited with the people you love, that you meet them again and that you get to do what you always wanted to do. So I guess I don't see heaven as a place, but more as a feeling of being loved. To me heaven differs from person to person. My idea of heaven is meeting my parents again, to talk to them and get to know them. I know I'm not making much sense, but that's the way I see it. In my opinion, death is nothing to be afraid of. You only leave your body behind, your spirit lives on forever. You just leave this world for another one, where all your loved ones are waiting for you. I guess you could say that you don't actually die, you just live on in another way. Anyway, you and me won't find that out for a very long time, so I don't want you to worry about that yet, okay? Now, do you want me to explain that trick to you? It's actually really simple, all you have to do is...."

Catherine sat there stunned. She had just witnessed Sara talking philosophy with her daughter, answering Lindsey's blunt and curious questions with an ease she hadn't expected from the younger woman. They had talked about life and death like it was the most normal topic in the world and at the same time, Sara had tried to alleviate any fear or qualm Lindsey might have had. Her respect for the young woman grew even bigger. Maybe I can have Sara talk to Lindsey about the birds and the bees, she smirked, she's obviously a natural.

Part 3.

As Sara wasn't being released until after five, Catherine and Manny had decided to go grocery shopping before going over to the hospital. Loading bag after bag of fresh food into the SUV (Sara had called Manny that morning, rattling off a big list of items she wanted to have), they decided they deserved a coffee for all the hard work they had put in. Sitting down in a quaint little bistro, Catherine thought about the varied items that had disappeared into Manny's cart: fresh herbs, fish, French cheeses, fruit, vegetables she didn't even know the name of,... Stirring into her cup, Catherine looked over at Manny and said: "I would never have thought that Sara would be so fussy about her food. I mean, I've never even heard of half the stuff she had you buy."

"Well, Sara loves food and I guess you can say she's quite fussy. That's partly my fault though. When she was living with us, I often didn't have the time to cook for her, you know? I was always far too busy in the office and told her to just order some take away. I guess she just got fed up eating all that junk food, because one day she went to the local bookstore and bought the first cookbook she saw. When she couldn't figure out what half the words in there meant, she went to the neighbours for help. Our neighbour was a really good chef, even had his own successful restaurant in San Francisco. The food he prepared simply tasted divine, but the man was hopeless to work with. He was terribly fussy and had one hell of a temper, always shooting his mouth off at his helpers, telling them they were useless idiots who couldn't even boil an egg. As you can understand, his employees didn't stay long. Anyway, I don't know exactly how she pulled it off, she probably nagged him to death, but in the end he agreed to teach her how to cook. They started with really simple things, you know like salads, roasts, soups,... He must have been impressed with her though, because next thing I know he employed her as one of his weekend sous-chefs. She did simple things around the kitchen and in return he continued teaching her how to cook. And she can cook! You must come over sometime to find out, you won't regret it. The old goat taught her well. I guess she just inherited his fussiness along with it."

When Catherine and Manny walked into Sara's hospital room, the doctor was just Giving Sara some last minute instructions. "...so I strongly advice against heavy lifting. You also need to keep your ribs taped up quite tightly. You'll probably won't be able to pull that trick off yourself, but I'm sure you can get someone to help you with that. Now, although we have given you a very heavy course of antibiotics, you still have to make sure your wounds and scars don't get infected. Clean them twice a day with antiseptic and make sure that they're covered at all times. You can take a bath or a shower, but you have to clean the wounds thoroughly afterwards, you never know if some soap's been left behind. I don't think I've got anything more to say, so I guess I'll see you next Friday when you come in to get your sutures out and your ribs checked. I see the cavalry's here, so I'll leave you to it." With a final "good day ladies" the doctor was out of the room.

Looking over from Sara's bags, all neatly packed and stacked on the table to Sara, who was busy putting her coat on, Catherine smiled and said: "I guess you really can't wait to get out of here, huh? Did you get told off again by the head nurse?"

Sara turned a nice shade of pink at being caught and mumbled almost inaudibly: "hmpff that power-hungry little dictator, no wonder I hate hospitals so much", making both Manny and Catherine smile. Speaking up a bit, Sara turned towards her grandmother and asked: "did you find everything?" When her gran nodded, she turned back towards Catherine and said, rather shyly: "Catherine, would you and Lindsey like to come over for dinner tomorrow evening? Just my way of saying thank you for all your help. You know, not only finding my attacker, but also playing cabby for my gran. I know what a handful she can be."

Watching Manny give Sara a mock wallop, Catherine replied: "it was my pleasure, really. We'd love to come. Do you want me to pick up something, erm like dessert maybe or some wine?"

"No, that's okay. I've got everything under control. Okay, so that means there's five of us." When she saw Catherine's confused look, she continued: "I've also invited Greg, he came over yesterday and I think he's feeling a bit guilty over my attack. I don't know why though, it's hardly his fault. Anyway, I thought it would show him that there are no hard feelings. Besides, he needs a good feeding now and then, you wouldn't believe the stuff he eats half of the time," Sara said, her scrunched nose an obvious sign of her disgust. "Erm, how does seven sound to you?"

"Seven's fine. I can't wait actually, Greg and Manny have both been raving about your cooking." When Sara turned beet red with embarrassment, Catherine continued: "Ready to go? Do you still need to fill in some forms or....?"

"No, I've already taken care of that. We just have to tell Attila the Hun, I mean the head nurse, that we're going. She said I had to be wheeled out of the hospital. Policy or something."

Five minutes and an embarrassing wheelchair ride later, the three of them got into the SUV and drove off.

Part 4.

Ten days later Catherine was sitting in her office, fiddling with a tiny paperclip, a very annoyed look on her face. She was completely and utterly bored. It was an exceptionally slow and calm night: only two cases had come in and the boys were taking care of that, leaving her to twiddle her thumbs in an almost deserted lab. She didn't know what to do really, she had tied up all the lose ends of her pending cases and she had even completed the hated paperwork, which normally took Grissom hours of nagging to get her even started. She didn't feel like watching television – like Bruce Springsteen loves to say 57 channels and nothing on-. She had already gossiped with a very busy Greg until he had finally tossed her out of his lab in order to get some work done and she couldn't be bothered with the latest computer game that the boys raved about.

Her thoughts began to wander to Sara. Her little project seemed to be progressing marvellously: they were spending more and more time together and they weren't at each others throats all the time. They still had occasional discussions or heated differences of opinion, but they only lasted for a couple of minutes. They were both rather pigheaded and opinionated, so it couldn't really be avoided anyway. Besides it relieved the static and loaded tension that lingered between them, although Sara didn't really seem to notice that or she simply chose to ignore it. Anyway, they were getting closer each day and Sara didn't seem so cagey anymore in her presence. She was beginning to open up, telling her more about her inner fears, dreams and desires, allowing Catherine to get to know her better. And Catherine liked what she discovered: a loyal, trustworthy, deeply caring and sometimes easily embarrassed woman. She knew her project wasn't done yet, Sara was like an onion or perhaps a Babushka: when you took off one layer, an even deeper, complexer one appeared. It would take years to completely figure Sara out, but Catherine knew she was a very patient woman. The only downside was that Sara still hadn't mentioned anything about her feelings for Catherine and although Catherine knew that there was definitely something between them, something she'd like to explore if and when given the chance, she hadn't dared to bring it up herself.

Dinner had been a real eye-opener, telling her so much more about the real Sara, not the persona she became at work. She had not only found out that Sara was indeed a terrific cook – actually she had never doubted that, Sara seemed good at everything she put her mind to-, she had also seen first hand that Greg and Sara were really close friends, almost like siblings. It was like they knew each other inside out, completing each other sentences all the time, goofing around with each other, even teasing each other about embarrassing moments. During the four years that Catherine had worked with Sara, she had never wondered what Sara did in her spare time or who her friends were, she had never even thought about Sara to be completely honest. Now she knew Sara spent practically all of her time either with Greg, helping out Mr. Henderson or tinkering with one of her toys: her laptop, her Harley or the battered old truck she was restoring herself. She really seemed to have a knack for engines, no wonder she insists on working on and processing the cars at work, Catherine thought.

And Lindsey seemed to know her way around Sara's apartment pretty well, so she must have spent quite some time in there in the past. Sara and Manny had even taken care of Lindsey for a couple of days when she was back on graveyard shift and Nancy was away at a conference. When she asked Lindsey about it, she told her Sara and Manny were a lot of fun. They insisted she did her homework first, which Lindsey thought to be a bit of a drag, but Sara always helped her with it, explaining the things she didn't understand. She even made it fun and she didn't mind answering all of Lindsey's questions. Sara had a lot of patience, she seemed to look past her daughter's often very rude, impertinent and insolent way of voicing her questions and just answered them as best as she could. That's probably because she reacts and behaves the same way Lindsey does, Catherine thought, they're both a bit blunt in their dealings, like they've not fully mastered the rules of accepted social behaviour yet.

She had also found out about Sara's fierce independence, that she'd rather struggle and fumble with something on her own before she asked anyone for help. A couple of days earlier she was running a bit late and had asked Manny to take Lindsey to school. When she had finally arrived at Sara's apartment, she wasn't answering her door. Getting a bit worried as Manny couldn't have been back yet, she had run to Mr. Henderson to get his master key. She had found Sara in the bathroom trying to disinfect the wounds on her chest and on her back, but not quite succeeding in it. When she had asked Sara if she needed any help, she had immediately noticed her total embarrassment at being caught in a moment of helplessness and the mental struggle that went on in her head before she finally mumbled an obviously humiliated yes. Guess she thinks asking someone for help makes her seem weak, Catherine thought and she knew that if there was one thing that Sara hated it was appearing weak and vulnerable in front of others. One of her long talks with Manny had revealed that. Catherine had always thought that the cases they handled didn't affect Sara at all, that she remained stoic, unemotional and in control all of the time. She had never seen her cry over a case or get really angry. She had been very surprised to learn from Manny that certain cases haunted Sara for weeks, that sometimes she was so angry she had to blow off steam by punching a boxing bag. That other times they made her so sad, she cried herself to sleep or so frightened, she slept fitfully for weeks. It seemed to Catherine that Sara bottled her emotions up, that she didn't want her colleagues to see how affected she was because that would make her weak, she obviously thought it would make her a lesser CSI in their eyes. Only a selected few got to see the vulnerable side of Sara: Manny, Greg,... I guess me too now, Catherine thought, although quite by accident.

The very same day she had helped Sara with her wounds and the taping of her ribs, Catherine had also seen a very angry and frustrated Sara. Sara had called Grissom to find out when she could go back in for work, as the doctor had cleared her for desk duty. When she had found out she had to be cleared first by the department's psychologist, she had remained quite calm and polite on the phone, but as soon as she had hung up all hell had broken loose. She had ranted and raved, all the time pacing up and down her apartment. Sara didn't even seem to remember that Catherine was there. She was so focused on her own anger and indignation that the rest of the world had somehow slipped into the background. Catherine realised that Sara was spiralling out of control and had stopped her by grabbing her arm. Startled that someone had witnessed her mini breakdown, Sara had just looked at her with wide open eyes before bursting into tears. Pulling the very vulnerable Sara back to the couch, she had taken her into her arms and tried to console her as best as she could. When the sobbing began to lessen eventually, she had asked Sara why she was so mad. After all it was just an informal interview with a psychologist and Dr. Wong wasn't that terrible, she was very friendly and easy to talk to. Hitching now and then throughout the story, Sara had told Catherine about the period right after her parents' death when she had been examined by several psychologists. Although she knew they had only been trying to help, most of them had terrified her as a little girl, a fear that seemingly still lingered inside her. She really didn't want to talk to the psychologist, it would only remind her of a period she'd rather forget. Besides she had trouble opening up to people, she really didn't feel like talking to a total stranger about her feelings. Catherine didn't really know what she had to say to that, only that if Sara wanted to, she would go with her to that interview for moral support. Sara just looked at her for a couple of minutes, gauging the seriousness of the offer. Just when Catherine was about to retract her offer, thinking she had somehow offended Sara, Sara shyly accepted, mumbling her thanks and giving Catherine a hug. At that moment Catherine realised she had seen a glimpse of the real Sara and felt incredibly happy: Sara seemed to trust her enough to show her more emotional, vulnerable side. Besides she couldn't get over the way Sara felt in her arms, the way they just seemed a perfect fit. Right at that instant she knew she felt something for Sara too and if Sara wouldn't take the first step, then it was up to her. She decided to give Sara a bit more time, just until she was over the attack and everything was normal again. Then she would make her move. Right now, she had Sara's birthday to think about. Manny had mentioned it to her in passing a couple of days ago and had asked her if she wanted to help her organise a surprise birthday party. Nothing to big, just a couple of friends, Manny was sure it would distract Sara. Catherine had readily agreed and even offered up her place to hold it, but now she was a bit at a loss: what could she buy Sara? Maybe she could ask Manny for some advice, see if she has any ideas?

Chapter 8.

Part 1.

A couple of days later, Manny and Sara were driven to Catherine's house by Greg under the pretence of a late lunch. The older CSI had asked them over so she could repay them for dinner and give Manny a farewell lunch at the same time. At least that was what she told Sara when she issued the invite. To Catherine's infinite surprise - after all Sara wasn't known for her sociability, shooting down nearly all invites made by her colleagues prior to her attack - Sara had readily accepted. But Sara had her own reasons for accepting. Not only was she very curious about Catherine's place and very eager to spend some more time with her and Lindsey, she also wanted to escape her own house for a while. Being cooped up in her tiny apartment all of the time was doing her head in, no matter how many visitors she received. She knew they all meant well, but even their sometimes boisterous company couldn't lift her spirits. She was getting very restless, she wanted to get out a bit more, spread her wings so to speak.

Sara was in a sullen, cranky and solemn mood, restricting her answers to monosyllabic mumblings, deeply lost in thought all the way to Catherine's house. She was convinced everybody had forgotten about her birthday. The others she could understand, she was pretty sure they didn't know when her birthday was, she was never one to divulge personal information like that. But her gran, of all people, she should know and remember. Sara couldn't really understand why she was feeling this way, normally she didn't care about her birthday one way or another. She tried to treat it like any other day, after all it only reminded her of her parents. But this year was different, this year she wanted to celebrate the very fact she was still alive. Getting nearer to Catherine's place, she tried to paint a smile on her face, even if she did feel like crying.

When they reached Catherine's house, Lindsey came storming out and yanked the car door open, talking animatedly about something she wanted to show Sara and pulling at her arm before she had even taken off her safety belt. Laughing at Lindsey's youthful exuberance, Sara let herself be dragged towards the house, nearly having a heart attack when everybody she knew yelled "surprise" the moment she stepped inside. Rooted to the spot and turning bright red, she barely managed to stammer "thanks you guys, I wasn't expecting this" before she was engulfed in hugs and kisses.

The party in full swing, Sara was talking to Nick, Brass and Greg about the upcoming baseball match when Lindsey came over and started pulling on her sleeve, causing Sara to look down. "Come on Sara," she said, "you've got to come dance with me."

"Erm sure, munchkin, but I've got to warn you, I really can't dance, I'll probably step on your toes all the time. Wouldn't you better off dancing with Warrick or your mom?"

"No, I want to dance with you as it's your birthday. Why don't you pick me up? That way, you can't step on my toes and I'll be able to tell you stuff, you're way too tall otherwise."

"Good idea squirt." Squatting down on her knees, her ribs no longer bothering her that much, Sara picked Lindsey up with a considerable ease and slowly made her way over to the middle of the living room where Manny and Grissom were already dancing to some slow jazz song.

From her little secluded spot in the kitchen, where she was busy mixing drinks, Catherine just stood observing Sara and her daughter, smiling brightly when she saw Sara laugh out loud at something Lindsey had whispered into her ear. She was remarkably pleased that Lindsey and Sara seemed to get along so well, it made her hopeful for the future. Catherine knew she had gotten so much better at reading Sara's facial expressions, it was like she had finally figured out what was going on inside Sara's head. She knew that Sara had been genuinely flabbergasted when she had first walked into the house, the surprise very clear on her face. A birthday party with all her friends and colleagues seemed to have been the very last thing on her mind. She also knew that Sara had felt slightly embarrassed, the younger woman really didn't like being the centre of everybody's attention but had fumbled her way through the well wishing and congratulatory hugs in her own endearing way. Sara also seemed so very happy with the warmth, friendship and love bestowed on her by her colleagues, a bright smile plastered on her face all of the time. That smile alone had made the party worthwhile in Catherine's eyes. She had been quite anxious over it, not really knowing how Sara would react and what she should get her. In the end she had just taken Manny's advice and bought her a tiny golden necklace. Sara's reaction had told her all she needed to know: the tiny tear that threatened to flow, the smile that even lightened up her eyes and the bear hug she was embraced in.

Glancing towards the living room again, Catherine noticed that the dancers had switched partners, Sara now dancing with Grissom. Noticing how closely they were dancing, Catherine felt a surge of jealousy start in the pit of her stomach, a feeling that grew even stronger when she saw Grissom whisper something in Sara's ear which made her hug him even tighter. Although she knew Sara didn't have any romantic feelings for Grissom, something a late night confession had made perfectly clear, she didn't like Grissom's arms around Sara. As far as she was concerned, Sara was hers and hers alone. Trying to get her raging jealousy under control, she slowly made her way over to the dance floor and tapping her boss on the shoulder, she said: "do you mind if I cut in?" Grissom missed the almost predatory and threatening look she threw his way and just smiled graciously, stepping aside to go talk to Brass. Sara and Catherine stood there awkwardly for a moment, both not really knowing what to do next. Then Catherine just slid her arms over Sara's shoulders, drawing her in closer, making Sara automatically wrap her arms round Catherine's back. They danced silently for a couple of minutes, both enjoying the feel of the other in their arms. Suddenly Catherine looked up and whispered into Sara's ear: "you seem happy."

"I am. This birthday party is just what I needed. Normally I don't really celebrate my birthday, but this year.... I don't know, I just felt like celebrating with all my friends, so thanks for this. Oh and I really like the necklace you bought me, I've been admiring the very same one in the jeweller's window for some time now."

"No need to thank me, it was all Manny's idea. She wanted you to have the best birthday ever. You know, I'll really miss her when she flies home later tonight."

"Yes, me too."

"So what was Gill whispering in your ear or is it a secret?"

"No, he just told me Dr. Wong turned in her evaluation this morning. Seems she declared me fit for duty, so I can go back to work. Grissom said he'd be expecting me tomorrow night and I'm not restricted to desk duty. I can go out in the field immediately, I just have to be careful and let you and the others do all the heavy stuff. I don't really care, I'm just glad I can get back to work."

"See, I told you that you'd ace that interview, you had nothing to be afraid of. You know, this is nice, we should do this more often."

"What? Dancing together?"

"Erm well, yes that too, but I actually meant hanging out together. Not just with the gang, but also just the three of us, you, me and Lindsey."

Looking down at her feet, Sara whispered shyly: "yeah, I'd like that too. Maybe we could make it a weekly event?"

Part 2.

Three months later.

Sara pushed back from her desk and glanced out of the tiny window in her office, staring outside. It was already getting light out, bright orange and red rays of light chasing the scary, gloom and dark cover of night away, announcing that yet another long shift was slowly drawing to an end. She felt tired. She would never admit it when asked, but she was still feeling the after effects of her attack: she tired more easily and she had lost a bit of her strength. She was actually very glad she had two days off to look forward to, now she had only tomorrow's shift left to get through. I'll probably just fall in bed and sleep the two days away, Sara thought. Oh no, I have that thing with Greg, damn. I really don't feel like going out tomorrow night, I just want to crawl into bed. But I guess I gave Greg my word and a promise is a promise. Oh well, I'll stay for a couple of drinks and then give my excuses, I could always cite fatigue.

Completely lost in thought, Sara made her way to the locker room, deciding to break a habit of a lifetime and clock out early for once. Changing into a pair of leather pants on automatic pilot, she didn't hear Catherine come in. The older woman just took a moment to take in the vision before her, eagerly drinking in the sight of a semi-clad Sara. She really was very beautiful, slim and muscled at the same time. Realising that Sara had no idea she was there, she reached out to touch her on the arm to get her attention, startling Sara in the process. "Hey Sara, want to grab some breakfast?," she asked.

"I'd love to, but not today. I'm beat, think I'm going to head straight home. I desperately need some sleep. Tell the guys next time, okay? Oh and I won't be able to make it tomorrow night, I've got this thing with Greg. You know that he's got a major crush on Jasmine, the girl at the front desk? I guess you do, he can't seem to shut up about her. Anyway he finally had the guts to ask her out. She agreed to go on a date with him, but only on the condition he found a date for a friend of hers, Stella I think her name is. Greg has been nagging me all week to go with out with them, saying Stella is really nice and that she's looking forward to meeting me. I know how much he likes Jasmine, so I said I'd do it. I'm sorry to cancel so late, but I completely forgot to tell you about it until just now. I'm sorry."

Catherine was rather shocked to hear Sara was going out on a date, but tried to hide it saying: "that's okay, we can always get together again next week, don't worry about it." Noticing Sara's slumped shoulders and slightly bagged eyes, she immediately knew Sara had overdone it again today and continued: "You look dead on your feet, do you want me to drive you home?"

"No, that's okay. Thanks anyway. I came on my bike last night, I don't like leaving her on the parking lot all day long. Anyway, I'll see you tonight. Tell Lindsey I said hi and tell her I'll make it up to her. You know, I hate cancelling on our weekly get together."

As their weekly date with Sara was cancelled, Lindsey had decided to spend the night at her aunt Nancy's, leaving Catherine all alone in a big and empty house. With nothing planned for the evening and no Lindsey to take care of, Catherine's mind drifted to Sara. Sara, whenever she thought about her, she always felt like a lovesick teenager. She grinned like an idiot, threw lingering looks Sara's way and got goose bumps whenever Sara accidentally touched her. She just wanted to be with her all the time. She really couldn't help herself, she knew that she couldn't focus at work whenever Sara was near. She was acting totally out of character, something that didn't go unnoticed by Warrick. Warrick, full of brotherly concern, had sat her down a couple of weeks ago and asked her what was going on. Although he had already guessed that something had changed between her and Sara over the last couple of months, he was still shocked to hear from Catherine that she was totally in love with the younger CSI. He had been very sympathetic, trying to tell Catherine he thought Sara felt the same way, but was too shy to do anything about it, that she should just take the plunge and tell Sara. But when he saw his words fell on deaf ears, that Catherine was too afraid to even contemplate telling Sara, he told her straight off to either tell Sara or get her act together before she messed up a case.

Catherine realised that she couldn't go on this way, that she was bound to start making mistakes at work. She knew Warrick had been right, but she really didn't know what she should do. By dropping such a bomb on her beloved, she could be putting herself in a very awkward and vulnerable position. What if Sara turned her down? What if Sara didn't love her anymore? She knew that Sara enjoyed her company, that she trusted her and even considered her a very good friend. Sara had told her just that on numerous occasions. But that wasn't enough for Catherine, she wanted more than just friendship. Every time they spent some time together, she just fell more in love with Sara, she absolutely adored her, she even loved all her little quirks and idiosyncrasies. She knew that there was no way she could ever get over Sara, her feelings for her were growing bigger everyday, she knew she loved Sara with all her heart.

Although Sara had really opened up to her, told her all about her desires, wishes and feelings, she had never once mentioned her crush on Catherine, leaving the older woman rather insecure and worried. She knew that Sara was becoming more and more comfortable around her, touching her sometimes to get her attention and giving her an occasional hug, but still no real tangible evidence that Sara loved her too. No kisses, no soft caresses, no longing and lingering stares. Catherine had known that it would be up to her, that Sara would be too shy to make the first move, but she had always put it off. She had wanted to give Sara some time and now she was going on a date with someone else. Catherine had waited too long apparently. She should have taken Warrick's advice and just told Sara how she feels about her. "Now I'll have to watch her fall in love with someone else, see her do all the things I want her to do with me", Catherine thought. "God, how could I have been such a coward? I should have told her straight away. But maybe I'm not too late? It's only their first date and Sara has never met this Stella before. I know Sara doesn't open up easily, so she'll be feeling really awkward and shy. Who knows, maybe she won't like her, the date was kind of forced on her by Greg. It's not like she picked and chose that Stella herself. But what if she does like her? Oh God, what if it's love at first sight? Either way, I guess it's now or never time for me now. I have to let Sara know how I feel about her, let her decide between us. Ultimately it's up to her. I've got nothing to lose now and everything to gain".

Her mind made up, Catherine decided to go over to Sara's apartment and wait for her. She knew that there was every chance that Sara wasn't home yet, but she wanted to talk to her as soon as possible, even if that meant seeing her say goodbye to that Stella woman or even worse, seeing her kiss her goodnight. Desperately trying to get the mental image of Sara kissing somebody else out of her head, she grabbed her keys and jacket and walked to her car. During the short drive, she rehearsed her little speech over and over again, trying to find the right words to say to Sara.

Part 3.

When knocking on Sara's door got her no reply, Catherine resigned herself for a rather long wait. It was only ten o'clock, for all she knew Sara could be hours, especially if she was enjoying herself. Hell, would she even come home? No, don't think like that, she chastised herself, try to keep a positive outlook, you never know what the night might bring. Shivering involuntarily in the rather chilly October night, she slid down the door and sat down on the floor, wrapping herself deeper in her jacket to keep the cold wind out.

After four sodas, Sara decided she'd had enough, she was going home. Watching Greg's nauseatingly sweet lovey-dovey mutterings and gestures was enough to scare even the most hardened and seasoned soldier into hiding. If I have to stand another minute of his lovesick drooling, I'll scream, she thought. No wonder the guy never gets lucky, she smirked, he just tries to hard. She really liked Greg, she considered him her best friend, but there were limits to what she'd do in the name of friendship. She figured she had gone above and beyond the call of duty for him and enough was enough. She had gone on this stupid double date thing although she hadn't really felt like it, she had tried to be the perfect date for Stella and had even tried to make a go of it with her. But to no avail. Although Stella was very nice, incredibly good looking and a really interesting conversationalist, you just couldn't force these things. The spark just wasn't there. Guess I'm still too hung up on Catherine, Sara thought. Making her excuses to her companions, she slowly made her way to her motorcycle.

So very used to driving around Las Vegas, she used the bike ride home to gather her thoughts. Maybe gran's right, Sara thought. Maybe it's time to tell Catherine how I feel, I can't go on like this, it's not healthy. I compare every woman I meet with her and they all fall short. If I don't watch out, I'll become the proverbial old and lonely woman with twenty cats. I should just tell her, get it off my chest. Maybe, just maybe she feels the same way. I mean, we do get on much better than before, spending nearly all of our spare time together. I can talk to her about everything, she really understands me. I feel like I can really open up to her, tell her about my fears and desires. I finally got to know her and now I know for certain she's the one for me. I know she likes me and considers me a friend, but maybe she too feels something more. I caught her looking at me a couple of times and there was definitely more to her stare. Maybe I just have to take the biggest gamble in my life and tell her that I love her. If she doesn't feel the same way, well then I guess I'll finally know for sure. I'd be able to move on, I wouldn't continue pining for her if I knew it was useless. Gran was right, I have to stop being a coward, I have to know either way. Guess I can go over to her place first thing in the morning, no sense in putting it off any longer.

The roaring of a motorcycle woke Catherine from her slumber. When she heard the engine die down, she stood up and went to look at the parking lot. A dark figure, totally clad in leather, got off the bike and just stood there for a minute, fiddling with her gloves. Catherine immediately knew who it was, she would recognise that figure everywhere, even if the helmet made her look like an alien out of a fifties B movie. The helmet came off, dark and curly hair springing lose, making Catherine's heart beat even faster. Sara looked as gorgeous as she always did, but that tough biker chick attitude just added something extra, something Catherine simply couldn't resist. Noticing it was still fairly early and that Sara was alone, she let out a huge sigh of relief. Guess I still have a chance, Catherine thought. Watching Sara take the steps two at a time, she suddenly got very nervous, her rehearsed little speech completely forgotten. Sara didn't seem to have noticed her yet, so she took a moment to observe her, desperately trying to remember what she was going to say. In the end, she just whispered a rather hoarse "hey" when Sara reached her door.

Abruptly shaken from her deep thoughts, Sara looked up, straight in the clear blue eyes of Catherine. Gulping loudly, desperately trying to suppress the strong desire she always felt whenever she was near Catherine, she croaked huskily: "Hey Catherine." Damn, did that have to come out so huskily, Sara thought. Clearing her throat, not really ready to face Catherine just yet, she continued in a steadier voice: "What are you doing here? Nothing has happened, has there? Oh God, is it Lindsey? Is she OK?"

Knowing she had to put a stop to Sara's panicked mumblings and desperately needing to be close to Sara, Catherine put her hand on Sara's cheek. Both revelled in the touch and just looked at each other, seemingly getting lost in each other's eyes. In the end, Catherine broke the silence and said: "nothing has happened, I just wanted to talk to you and I couldn't wait any longer. There's something I've got to tell you."

"What a coincidence, there's something I've got to tell you too. I was planning on stopping by at your place tomorrow, but seeing you're here now, I guess there's no time like the presence."

Getting really worried, thinking that Sara was about to tell her she and Stella were together, she squeaked out: "let me go first please, otherwise I'll bottle out and I've really got to tell you this." When she saw Sara was looking at her intently, her curiosity evident in her scrunched eyebrows, she gulped nervously and mustered all her courage together. "OK, OK. I can do this. .... Erm Sara, can we go inside first? I'd rather not tell you in this hallway."

A bit confused, Sara just replied: "ok." Nervously fumbling with her keys, Sara managed to open her door after a couple of tries and let Catherine in. Plopping down on the couch next to an obviously very agitated Catherine, Sara said: "okay. So what's so important that you were waiting for me in the blistering cold?"

Part 4.

Catherine didn't really know where to start and just blurted out: "I love you." Seeing the shocked look on Sara's face, she quickly stood up and began pacing the room. When it became clear that Sara wasn't going to react in any way to the bombshell she had just dropped - Sara just sat there completely silent, her eyes never leaving Catherine – Catherine continued: "damn, that wasn't the way I wanted to tell you. You know, I had a whole speech prepared, I rehearsed it over and over again on the way over here. I just wanted every word to be perfect, but the moment I saw you stepping off of your bike, I just plain forgot everything I was going to say. I guess I'm not making much sense, am I? I'd better start at the beginning. You know, when Grissom called me in on my free day all those months ago, I was severely pissed off. I yelled at him that he should call you, that you wouldn't mind the overtime.

Then I found out you were stabbed by a burglar and I was shocked. I can't really explain how I felt, I thought I was going to lose you before I even got to know you properly. I know that's partly my fault. I never gave you a chance when you first started working here, but I guess there's nothing I can do about that now except to say I'm sorry. Anyway, then I met your grandmother and she painted a totally different picture of you. She and a couple of your other friends like Lindsey, Mr. Henderson and Greg told me how you really were. They showed me a Sara that I didn't know, they helped me see the real you, the side you only show the people you trust. I just felt awful knowing you didn't trust me enough to be yourself around me and I said to myself that I just had to gain your trust. I wanted to get to know the real you, become friends with you.

Then I accidentally overheard a conversation between you and your grandmother. I guess you can't really call it a conversation since you were in a coma at the time, but you know what I mean. She told you to stop being such a coward, to tell me how you felt about me, to tell me that you love me. A couple of minutes later, when I had found my bearings again, I made some sound to let Manny know I was there. She asked me to come in and talk to you right after that declaration. I didn't know what to say to you and just rambled on and on about inconsequential stuff. Anyway, just before visiting time ended I kissed you. Even though it was just a light peck on the lips, electrical bolts ran through me. I never felt like that before. That was the real eye-opener for me. I had never thought of you that way, but ever since that kiss I can't stop thinking about you. That night I couldn't really sleep, I kept thinking about how badly I treated you in the past. I guess Manny was right, I think the catfights we used to have were due to sexual attraction. I just didn't see the signs, I didn't realise I was attracted to you so I just lashed out.

Anyway I still wasn't sure about the way I felt about you, but I did know that I wanted to get to know you better. I decided to play it cool and become your friend first, I would think about my feelings later. That second accidental kiss just confirmed my belief that there was definitely something between us, something I by then knew I wanted to explore if you were willing. But you never said anything. Then I thought it was because you still didn't trust me or because you weren't over your attack yet, so I decided to wait. But still you didn't say anything. I was beginning to think I had imagined it all, that I'd never heard that particular conversation, that you didn't love me after all. I didn't have the guts to make the first move, until now. When I heard you were going on a date, I just felt so jealous. I decided it was now or never, that I had to take the plunge, that I had to tell you that I love you. So here I am. Am I too late? Did you fall out of love with me?"

Totally flabbergasted, Sara just looked at Catherine. She couldn't take in what she had just heard. How much time they had lost by their own fear, their inability to come forward with their thoughts and feelings! When she saw that tears were brimming in Catherine's eyes, she realised she still hadn't reacted at all to Catherine's sweet, but rather unusual declaration of love. Catherine really thought she was turning her down. She sprung up, ran over to Catherine and just took her in her arms. She started saying "I'm sorry" when she felt Catherine stiffen and trying to get away. Hugging her even tighter, she continued: "I'm sorry I took so long, that was actually what I was going to talk to you about. Tonight, when I was out on my date with Stella, I realised that gran was right, that I had to tell you I love you. I was so sure you didn't feel the same way that I tried to deny my feelings. That didn't work though, I realised tonight I keep comparing my dates to you and that they don't stand a ghost of a chance. It's you I want, it's you I love. I love you too, Catherine."

The End

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