DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of these characters, sorry for treading on any toes I do it only for my sanity.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Minor for Bloodlines.

Birthday Surprises
By Debbie

Part 1

Sara Sidle was sitting deep in thought at her local bar. Pleasantly buzzed she thought about her life and her drinking. Six months previously she had been pulled over and been found to be over the legal alcohol limit. That short, sharp shock and the indignity she had felt when she realized her work colleagues all knew about the police letting her off with a verbal caution was enough to curb her drinking a little. Yet, her loneliness stopped it disappearing altogether. Once her shift finished her drink became her only sanctuary and this bar was her home from home. Here Sara had "friends"; in truth people with no name whom she nodded to on entering the bar, and whom she occasionally gave a listening ear to. Not once had she ever returned the favor, or was that had the favor returned.

The brunette stared into her half empty glass of beer. Four years she had been here in Vegas and still she had no real friends. She thought back to that morning when Catherine Willows, her work colleague had approached her.

"Sara, I'm having a party tonight. Please come."

Of course Sara had started to give her apologies, only to be interrupted by the older blonde CSI.

"No excuses Sara. You are coming. Both Lindsay and I want you there, so please, come."

With that Catherine had turned on her heel and left Sara standing, mouth agape. Catherine's tone leaving no argument and yet, as usual, Sara had rebelled against her older colleague. Here Sara was, alone and lonely, not at the party with her colleagues.

Why? The young woman couldn't answer her own question. She knew Warrick and Nick would be there. That Jim Brass and Greg would also more than likely be present. Maybe even Grissom. After all he was a good friend of Catherine. Eons ago when she had thought she wanted Grissom, she had been jealous of Catherine and Gil's friendship. Now, she realized, she no longer wanted Grissom, she couldn't even think of him by his first name, how the hell had she thought she might have a relationship with him. No, Gil Grissom had just been a convenient smokescreen, a way of not having to make an effort in this town, a way of hiding her attraction to the same sex, and her passport to not having to open herself up to her colleagues.

For some reason, tonight of all nights, Sara was drowning in her own arguments. Once again, she looked back to that morning and saw Catherine's deep blue eyes staring into her own. Suddenly, she had an epiphany: if she was to make a go of it in Las Vegas, she had to make an effort to get to know her work colleagues, and maybe to find a friend. She would go to Catherine's party and she *would* enjoy herself.

At Catherine Willows' house meanwhile, the party was in full swing. Catherine was playing hostess as best she could, though her mind kept wandering to the missing Sara Sidle. It didn't help any that her young daughter, Lindsay, was desperate to spend some time with the elusive CSI and was pestering her mom every few minutes to Sara's whereabouts.

After the latest inquisition from Lindsay, Catherine approached her young male colleague, Nick Stokes, "Did Sara give you any signs that she was coming, Nick? Linds is driving me crazy."

Nick smiled at Catherine's plight, "Don't worry, she'll be here. She'll make the effort for this one I'm su..."

Before he had a chance to finish his words a tall brunette threw her arms around his neck and snarled, "So Nicky boy, just where is the guest of honor?"

Glaring at the brunette, Catherine stormed off, throwing over her shoulder, "She'll be here, don't you worry."

Grabbing a drink off the nearby table the blonde woman sighed inwardly. Despite her last words she wasn't really convinced that her female colleague would arrive. Unfortunately, Sara and Catherine had had their differences over the years and, despite the occasional drinks after shift date, and occasional night out as a team, they'd never really got past that awkward state of being work colleagues but not friends. It was something Catherine wanted to redress if she got half a chance. Inexplicably drawn to the younger woman, she had been hoping this night might be the start of something better for them.

As the doorbell rang, she looked up hopefully. Spying Warrick across the room, she nodded to him. Grabbing Lindsay by the hand, he took her out into the hallway and to the front door.

Sara stood on the doorstep, a sheepish grin on her face, carrying a brown paper bag. "Hey! Sorry I'm late, I got a little carried away with my friends."

The lie fell easily from her lips. Glancing down at Lindsay, she was surprised when the young girl enveloped her in a friendly hug, shouting excitedly, "Mom, Sara's here."

Lindsay ran back into the front room as Warrick took Sara's coat and hung it on the clothes peg behind the door. Sara grimaced. She knew that Catherine and Warrick were friendly but hadn't realized they were close enough that he was that comfortable in Catherine's house. For some reason, this knowledge upset Sara. How did Warrick manage to be close to Catherine when she could hardly exchange a civil word with the woman? She quashed her feelings of hurt and slowly followed Warrick through the house.

"I'll fetch you a drink Sara, what do you want?" asked the tall dark man as he threw open the door for Sara to go in front.

Sara didn't answer, she couldn't. A banner proclaiming, "Happy Birthday Sara" in large handmade letters festooned the ceiling and the room was full of her colleagues, clapping and cheering and wishing her a happy birthday. The tall woman was stunned. She hadn't realized people even knew it was her birthday, let alone cared enough to give her a party. Tears sprang to her eyes and she blinked them back rapidly.

Lindsay approached her with a huge basket of flowers and a carefully wrapped present. Bending down to hug Lindsay to her, the child whispered in her ear, "Happy Birthday Auntie Sara, glad you've come." Unable to stop a wide smile gracing her features at the warmth she felt from those unexpected words, Sara looked over Lindsay's head and glanced at the young girl's Mom, Catherine Willows.

Catherine smiled beautifully and raised her wineglass in a toast. Sara smiled back.

Thirty minutes later, Sara still hadn't managed to catch Catherine to say her thanks. A number of times their eyes had met and they had shared a sweet smile but, every time she stepped towards the older woman, another of her colleagues offering their own birthday greetings stopped her. Gil, Warrick, Nick, Jim, Greg, Albert, they were all there, and more. Sara was astounded at the amount of love she was being offered, and inanely glad she had made the decision to attend.

At last, she came face to face with her benefactor for the evening, and for once in her life, Sara was tongue-tied. She began to stutter her thanks, only for Catherine to hold up her hand.

"It's my pleasure, Sara. I couldn't forget the birthday of "our" girl, now could I?"

Again, tears sprang to Sara's eyes. Seeing this, Catherine pulled the taller woman towards her for a hug, whispering gently in Sara's ear, "Hey Hon, don't cry. You do know we all love you, don't you?"

Before Sara could answer in the negative, no, she didn't know. How could she? A strange brunette woman grabbed Catherine's arm and pulled her out of Sara's arms. Shocked at the intrusion, and suddenly bereft of Catherine's warmth, Sara stared at the unknown woman.

In a strange way thought Sara the woman looked a little like herself, same height, same color hair and eyes, same complexion, the only thing missing was the gap in her front teeth. Ebony eyes bore into Sara's own, but the smile that graced her face seemed forced rather than genuine. Hugging Catherine possessively to her side she held out her right hand in greeting. "So, you're the wonderful Sara Sidle, huh? I'm Chris, it's good to meet you at last."

Still blindsided and not really knowing who this Chris was, Sara had the distinct impression that the strange brunette wasn't pleased to meet her at all. Smiling carefully, she shook the cool, clammy hand and said quietly, "Yeah, me too."

Sara glanced at Catherine with a question in her eyes. She could see that Catherine wasn't happy at the intrusion, seeming to want to talk to Sara alone, but she didn't push Chris away, if anything she pulled her slightly closer. Grinning at her victory, Chris pulled Catherine further away, "Darling, I want you to come and meet John, he's my new supervisor, you remember. Please come."

Catherine shrugged her shoulders at Sara and murmured a quiet, "Sorry!" Watching the two women cross over to the other side of the room Sara was befuddled. Who was Chris? And why was she so possessive of Catherine? Surprised that the strange brunette appeared to be able to read Catherine's little glances, Sara knew that she would get a few minutes with her colleague later, and determined to ask her outright her questions.

Sara continued to watch Catherine and Chris walk away from her. Chris was holding Catherine's hand tightly, dragging her towards a small group of people that Sara didn't recognize. It was obvious introductions were taking place and Chris' smile became much more genuine. The transformation was immense; in place of the surly looking woman Sara had just met was a beautiful, brown-eyed Goddess that shared a dazzling smile with Sara's blonde colleague. Sara gave an involuntary gasp as Chris pulled Catherine in for a chaste lip kiss. The emotion in the kiss was evident even from a distance. Who the hell was Chris and what was she to Catherine?

Part 2

Lost in thought, Sara missed the arrival of young Lindsay Willows. Feeling a tug on her trouser leg she looked down, "Hey Linds, whatcha' doing?"

Like all young children addressed in a friendly manner by an adult, the young Willows girl went into overdrive, "Dance with me Sara. Mommy's been too busy. I've been waiting for you. Uncle Nick said you'd come and Uncle Warrick kept answering the door to make sure we could give you the surprise. Mommy said he had to but he didn't mind really; he's mommy's best friend, you know?"

Sara hadn't really known that Catherine and Warrick were that close but it made sense. She spared a quick glance towards Warrick and saw that he did seem to know his way around Catherine's house with comfort. At this moment he was in discussion with Nick and Greg, but she saw that he kept glancing towards Catherine with a look of concern on his face. What was that all about? The tall brunette brought her thoughts back to Lindsay's' words.

"It's taken all week to get this ready for you. Mommy said it had to be just right, so Chris kept getting mad. Boy did she shout the night we made your cake. Mommy said we had to bake it special; just how you like it. Chris shouted, 'what the hell for.' Then they argued some more 'cos Chris had said hell in front of me."

Sara risked another glance towards Catherine and this woman called Chris. The dark haired woman was still possessively holding onto Catherine and Catherine was looking decidedly unamused. Feeling Sara's stare the redhead looked up; locking eyes with Sara they shared a bemused shrug. Sara was pleased to see a look of pleasure cross Catherine's face as their eyes had locked, and her smile widened when she saw that Sara was dancing with Lindsay. Just as Chris noticed the interaction, Sara glanced away quickly giving her full attention back to Lindsay.

"Oh Sara, this is wicked. I so wish you were Chris," whispered Lindsay conspiratorially in Sara's ear. Before she could question that remark, she saw a shadow loom over Lindsay's shoulder, and a deep Texan drawl said, "Sara Ma'am, is this an excuse me dance?" Then bowing to Lindsay, he added, "May I have the pleasure young lady." Nick Stokes waltzed the giggling Lindsay away in an over-the-top dance routine.

Sara turned to leave the dance space, only to be pulled into the arms of the taller CSI, Warrick Brown. Taking her across the room in a much more sedate style, he smiled and wished her a happy birthday. Seeing an opportunity, Sara asked the question that had been burning within her since entering Catherine's house, "Warrick, who is that Chris woman dancing with Catherine? She seems to know who I am but I don't know her, do I?"

"That's Catherine's girlfriend, Sara. Surely you've heard us talking about her; I guess they've been together six months now."

Sara groaned inwardly, she had heard them talking about a Chris, but had just assumed it was still that nightclub manager, Chris Bezich, or something.

Seeing Sara's bemused expression Warrick laughed out loud, "You know, if you'd come to our social get-togethers you'd have known that."

Swiping him across the upper arm she chuckled with him, "I know, I know." There was no need to let on that she had every intention of joining in with as many things as possible from now on.

Dancing with Warrick Sara found time to contemplate that revelation. Straight as a die Catherine Willows was in a relationship with a woman. How had Sara missed that little snippet? And six months at that. So it really wasn't just a one-off date or anything. If the things Lindsay had said earlier were true, it appeared Chris and Catherine were living together to some degree. Sara was stunned. Deep down she felt something tugging in the pit of her stomach, some important piece of information that she was missing, but try as she might she couldn't fathom what the feeling was.

Sara spent another half hour or more meeting and greeting her close colleagues and her not so close colleagues. She wasn't silly enough to think they were there especially for her, but she was pleasantly surprised to know that most had been invited on the pretext of it being her birthday party. The fact that most made it their own job to approach her with greetings was reassuring too. Wandering around and chatting, her eyes kept straying towards her hostess. Catherine was usually deep in conversation with someone, occasionally on her own, but more often than not with the possessive arm of Chris around her.

While talking with Grissom, Sara had actually caught Catherine looking at her and their eyes had met in a warm friendly smile. Turning back to Grissom Sara felt a glare. Over Gil's shoulder she saw the dark eyes of Chris burning into her with a degree of hatred. Sara shivered at the coldness in those eyes, so different to the warmth she had seen in Cath's eyes. Sara gave a shrug, wondering what was driving the hatred directed towards herself.

Another time Sara had turned from a conversation to be greeted by Catherine and Chris sharing a tender kiss, the bolt of energy that had shot through Sara scared her. If she didn't know otherwise she could have sworn it was jealousy. Glancing away quickly she had quickly sought out Lindsay to joke and take her mind off the feelings.

Now, she sat quietly, deep in thought. She was surprised at how good a time she was having. Maybe it was helped by her earlier drinking but, smiling ruefully to herself, she realized she wasn't drinking now and she was actually happier than she had been in a long, long time. It seemed drink wasn't really her savior, but maybe friendships could be.

Suddenly, she noticed a presence in front of her. Looking up into gorgeous, clear blue eyes, she smiled in greeting, "Catherine?"

"Hey Sara! Penny for 'em?" asked Catherine while holding her hand out. Grasping Sara's hand tightly she pulled her up and led her onto the small dance area. Holding each other loosely they danced for a few moments in silence. Then, leaning backwards, but maintaining her hold, Catherine asked, "Where were you earlier? I missed you."

Embarrassed, Sara could only mutter, "Umm…I went for a drink."

"You weren't coming were you?"

"Well… no… I… um… didn't think you really wanted me here," stuttered Sara, ever more embarrassed at her own stupidity.

"Oh Sara," Catherine smiled gently, "So, what changed your mind?"

"You did"

"Me? How?"

"I looked into your eyes as you'd been inviting me and remembered seeing something I hadn't seen before, you wanted me to come…obviously, as I can see now. Anyway, I thought to myself, 'Sara, you can't let that woman down again. It was bad enough the first time, without doing it again' And here I am…having a great time mind." Sara rambled on.

Staring into Catherine's eyes, Sara noticed a flash of hurt as she said her piece. The hurt was quickly replaced by a look that was so much more welcoming and warm. The brunette couldn't take her eyes from the blonde's face and tears began to well. She felt a gentle hand tip her face up so that she had to stare into the depths of blue before her, "Listen to me, Sara Sidle, you have never let me down, don't you know that? You my dear are…"

Before Catherine could finish and Sara could admit that no, she hadn't known that simple fact, their quiet moment was rudely shattered as Chris yanked Catherine away forcibly, screaming, "Come with me you fucking flirt."

Stunned, Sara could only stand and stare. What the fuck had just happened?

Part 3

All eyes turned to the commotion, as Sara stood rooted to the spot. Shocked by the venom in Chris's voice and still stunned from the words Catherine had said, Sara just stared. Watching the arguing couple leave the room she turned away, only to catch sight of a crying Lindsay. She immediately pulled herself together and walked over to Lindsay with words of comfort.

She pulled Lindsay to her side and gave her a hug. Despite having differences with Catherine, the few times she had met Lindsay, she'd always got on with the girl and now, looking down into sad, wide and very blue eyes (just like her Mom's) Sara was hooked. Grinning at her revelation, Sara dragged Lindsay onto the dance space, and before she knew it, she had Lindsay giggling and laughing.

Surprisingly, the party continued to swing along at a very pleasant, friendly pace. Sara was realizing that she had missed so much in her 4 years in Vegas, that she was vowing inwardly to take a much more active part in the social set-up of her workplace. Gradually people began to drift away.

Still there was no sign of Catherine and Chris, so, people migrated towards the birthday girl, Sara, and the hostess's daughter, Lindsay, as they left. At times Warrick joined them, and the three together made perfect replacements for Catherine.

Finally, the party had dwindled to consist of just the members of CSI and Jim Brass. Chatting amiably with the guys, Sara was once again stunned when Lindsay said, "Mom'll not come out now. Will you stay and help me to bed please Sara?"

Sara didn't know if she was stunned at being asked or stunned that Lindsay knew Catherine would not reappear, as if this kind of thing was a regular occurrence. Inwardly Sara cringed, no matter how much she bitched against Catherine she knew deep down that she deserved far better than a partner that was jealous and showed it. In the past Sara had been in an abusive relationship, emotional and physical; Catherine didn't deserve that in any way shape or form. Sara cared enough to offer her friendship in the future, she was beginning to realize that it was only her and Catherine's stubborn attitudes that had prevented them being friends before this. Both of them had worked well together and had the odd occasion where friendship had been attempted, but both of them had backed away for some reason. That had to change. A start would be for Sara to help Lindsay, and then attempt to speak to Catherine before leaving.

Broken from her ruminations by a hand on her shoulder, she turned to look into the eyes of Gil Grissom. His eyes held a look that Sara couldn't quite decipher, it appeared to be a look of understanding, but what did he understand? He hugged her awkwardly and said clearly, "We're going now Sara, please take care of Catherine. Tell her we understand."

Sara smiled and nodded, interested to see that the Grissom that appeared to have no grasp on personal interactions was obviously worried about Catherine. She watched the unemotional man hug and kiss Lindsay too, her smile growing wider.

Then she too was engulfed in more hugs, first by Jim Brass, who took a moment to whisper, "It's good to see you here, Sara. They're a good bunch. I should know. They would help to ground you, you know," and then by the irrepressible Greg.

Finally, it was just her, Lindsay, Nick and Warrick. Nick made to move, picking up and twirling Lindsay around, then turning to hug Sara, "Thanks for coming, Sara, it means a lot, not only to me you know." Before Sara could ask what he meant he was out the door, indicating to Warrick he would wait.

Glancing at Warrick, she shrugged, "What did he mean by that, Warrick?"

"Oh nothing, Sara. I think he knows how much your presence has meant, will mean, to Catherine. Now come here, I want in the hugs. Happy birthday Sara, welcome to the team."

Hugging back slightly, Sara smiled into Warrick's hazel eyes, "Don't tell anyone, but I've had a great time. Sara Sidle is going to become a regular feature of any get-togethers, I promise you."

He laughed out loud, "Great. That's good. Now, if there's any trouble at all, you ring me, ok? Don't worry about the time, just call."

"I will, I will. Now go home, me and the little one have a date with her bed."

Winking at Lindsay, Warrick left the two of them to an eerie silence in the house.

"Come on Kiddo, let's go get you ready for bed."

Up the stairs there was no sound coming from the master bedroom, and while Lindsay was undressing, Sara dared to ask Lindsay if this happened often.

"Mommy and Chris argue all the time. Sometimes it's nice, after all, all families have their differences don't they. Sometimes it's not very nice." Her reply was so grown-up in its delivery that Sara had to grin, but her grin soon turned to a grimace as Linds continued, "Sometimes Chris gets worse than Daddy ever did, she swears so much, Sara, it's frightening. I don't think she's ever hurt Mommy, but mommy often sits and cries at nighttime. What I don't get though, when Chris disappears, then comes home, drunk and all sorry, Mommy always gives in, Sara. Why?"

Sara couldn't answer that question, she knew how hard it was to let go of a relationship that held its good points, so she just shrugged, "I don't know, Linds, I don't know"

Lindsay threw her arms around Sara's neck and crushed her face into the welcoming shoulder, sobbing out her words, "Oh Sara, why can't you be mom's friend and come look after me. I hate Chris."

Hearing a door slam, Sara glanced over Lindsay's shoulder and thought she saw the retreating figure of her redheaded colleague, but couldn't be certain. If it had been Catherine, why hadn't she stopped to take care of Lindsay? Tucking the young girl into bed, she bent down to kiss her cheek, "Night Linds, don't let the bed bugs bite."

Chuckling Lindsay replied, "Mommy used to say that, you know. I miss her so much, she's not like she was. Please come again soon, Sara. Please take mom and me to the fair or somewhere so we can all go on the roller coaster that Uncle Gil likes so much. Please Sara."

"Ok, I will, I promise. I'll talk to your mom and see if she wants to join us. If not, me and you, huh?"

Lindsay smiled beatifically, "Thank-you." she lay her head down and was asleep in seconds, exhausted. Sara touched her forehead and left quietly.

Unsure what to do next, and not wanting to leave Lindsay alone, Sara listened at the door of Catherine's bedroom. There were no voices, just the tormented cries of an upset Catherine. Bracing herself to be thrown out, Sara knocked gently and opened the door, "Cath? Can I come in? Are you alright?" Looking around and seeing no signs of Chris, she ventured in a little further, but still there was no response. Catherine was lying on her bed, sobbing into her pillow. Sara stepped up and put her hand gently on Catherine's shoulder. "Catherine?" she tried once more.

Part 4

Seeing the sobbing blonde woman glance up at her Sara quietly asked, "Where's Chris?"

Catherine turned fully and her face showed surprise, "Huh, She's gone." Then, as if only just realizing who was with her she whispered, "Sara? What..."

Before Catherine could say anymore Sara offered her apologies, "I'm so sorry, Cath. Is there anything I can do?"

Sara gasped as Catherine automatically reached for her and rested her head solidly on Sara's shoulder, "Just hold me, please. Just for a few."

Sara gingerly put her arms around Catherine's waist and rocked her gently to and fro. It was something she had seen Catherine do with her daughter the night her father died, Catherine had soothed Lindsey in exactly this way. At the time Sara had wished it could have been her, her despair at failing to give Catherine, and Lindsey, the closure they needed, had been great. Yet, lonely Sara had no one other then herself to soothe the hurt.

It was around that time that she had taken to going to *her* bar to drown her sorrows. Thinking back to earlier in the evening, she again realized how much more she had enjoyed this night compared to her lonesome forays to that bar. She knew with a certainty that holding this warm body to her chest and gently soothing was much more pleasurable than sleeping in a cold bed and waking with a sore head. She also knew that, the fact Catherine had been hurt for Sara to come to this realization wasn't good, but that with a little effort Catherine and Sara could achieve some good out of the mess if they could bury their differences and become friends.

Sara was surprised to find that she was slowly massaging the small of Catherine's back, and planting small wet kisses to the top of her head. The need to offer protection and comfort was tangible, and the pressure from Catherine's hold was increasing, as she appeared to appreciate the care.

Catherine's thoughts were in turmoil. She couldn't stop the hurt she felt at her lover's betrayal, and yet the soothing from Sara was comfortable and loving. Tonight had just been the final straw in her rocky relationship with Chris. She had known from early in their relationship that Chris had a jealous streak; if Catherine dared to contact Warrick, as she often did, out of work hours, Chris would shout and scream her distrust. If Catherine went out for drinks with the guys, Chris always insisted on tagging along, and usually made a scene about being ignored.

Chris's big mood swings, and potential move towards physical abuse had started when she found out that Catherine had a female colleague too. Thankfully, that predisposition to violence had never actually manifested. One night she had heard Lindsey asking her mother when Sara was coming around because she missed her, and had drilled Catherine about this elusive woman. Catherine had explained her non-relationship with Sara, but had gone on to explain, foolishly as it transpired, that she hoped that she and Sara could become friends. Immediately Chris had decided that Catherine was hiding her attraction to Sara behind antagonism and professional rivalries, and had begun her increasingly jealous behavior.

The build-up to this party had been one fast road to disaster, driven by Chris' jealous rages, and culminating in tonight's fiasco. Now, coddled to Sara's welcome breast and being soothed by nonsensical words and gentle kisses, Catherine wondered if Chris' jealousy had been well founded after all.

And yet, Catherine had loved Chris. At times she had been an attentive and gentle lover, and when in the right mood, a perfect partner and friend, a woman Catherine had wanted to be with. Yet tonight, Catherine knew it was over, she'd had enough of the emotional abuse, and knew she was strong enough to end it, especially if she had the support and friendship of this woman holding her.

Catherine pulled out of Sara's embrace and gave her a watery smile, "Thank you Sara. Is Lindsey ok?"

"She's fine Cath. I put her to bed and she went straight to sleep. Are you going to be ok? Will Chris be back?"

"I don't think so, Hon. I think tonight was the straw that finally broke the camel's back. I've had enough, you know. It's too much like..." Catherine's words trailed off as she saw Sara looking at her with an odd smile, "What?"

"Um... Cath… this had nothing to do with me, did it? Because Chris kind of... well you know... I got the impression she didn't like me... not that I can think why that might be... I'm pretty irresistible, you know... well actually you don't know, huh?" Sara chuckled at her own rambling, and a blush crept up her neck when she realized what she'd just insinuated.

Catherine laughed out loud, "Oh Sara, it's nothing to do with you, as such. Chris, unfortunately, was jealous of anybody that has any kind of hold on me. She thinks that you and I are having this grand affair, and that every night we... well you know." This time it was Catherine's turn to blush.

"As if, Catherine," mocked Sara, "As if." Then, more seriously, she continued, "I have a hold on you? What do you mean, we don't even communicate very well?"

Reaching out to push a strand of Sara's hair behind her ear Catherine began to heal some bridges in a quiet tone, "Sara, we may not be bosom buddies but we are part of the same family and I care about you. You, and me, we're too much alike sometimes, both of us sure in our skills, both of us independent and stubborn, I guess. We need the antagonism to feed our relationship. Can't you see, without that antagonism to fire us, to make us competitive, we wouldn't be the best partnership graveyard, no CSI, has. We just go together, Sara, don't you feel it?"

Sara was stunned, lost for words, and grinning from ear to ear, "Wow, Catherine! What a glowing endorsement. Where were you when I turned to the bottle, huh? Maybe if I'd known that you respected my work I'd have not lost all my confidence and maybe I wouldn't have needed the drink. Maybe?"

"Yeah, I'm sorry for that too. I should have found a way to tell you, and I have I think. Tonight has helped, I hope." The blonde woman took Sara's hands into her own and continued, "Sara, I want to start again. I want to be friends. I want you to become a part of mine and Lindsay's lives."

Squeezing the hands she was holding in silent entreaty, Catherine whispered, " What do you think, can we give that a try?"

Gently rubbing the knuckles of Catherine's hands Sara made a great show of thinking about the question, "Start again, huh? Hmmm, I guess so." Dropping one hand, she grabbed Catherine's right hand with her own and shook it gently, "Hey! Catherine Willows? I'm Sara Sidle, pleased to meet you."

Chuckling, Catherine pulled Sara into a hug, "Come here you fool. We're further down the road than that, my friend."

"I guess we are, Cat, I guess we are," mumbled Sara through the hug. Feeling Catherine flinch, Sara realized she had used the dreaded feline word. Catherine hated that nickname and Sara worried she had blown things already.

But no, Catherine was smiling at her. "You know something, Sara? Everybody thinks I hate that name, I don't. When you've said it to me, I knew that somewhere in there," she indicated Sara's heart, "you cared enough for me to give me a pet name - no pun intended - and I liked it. I think, as my friend, I'd like you to keep calling me Cat, please."

More than pleased, Sara nodded solemnly, "I'd like that, Cat."

"Good, because I think I'm going to need a friend in the next few days. Will you stay?"

Sara was not quite sure what Catherine was asking for, but as Catherine's friend she was willing to give her support whatever and decided there and then that she was ready to take a chance. She whispered into Catherine's ear, "I will."

"Then let's sleep. You can't go home at this time of night and, knowing my daughter, she'll expect you still to be here in the morning. Stay."

And Sara did, sleeping soundly in the knowledge that at last she had a reason to stay in Las Vegas.

The End

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