DISCLAIMER: CSI and all characters are the property of CBS and Bruckheimer.
SPOILERS: Through S4. This is titled after a Julia Fordham song, I Can't Help Myself: "I can't help myself / I'm lost in you"
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Can't Help Myself
By zennie

7. Time out

Sara sighed as she leaned back against the upholstery of the Mustang and closed her eyes, glad to be out of the hospital at last. She was a lousy patient, she knew, and the last day she had been pretty hard to take. Even though Catherine had brought her books, journals, and DVDs, and every one of her CSIs had visited, spending time just sitting was incredibly draining for her. The nursing staff was probably very glad to see the last of her. Even though she was in more pain than she would ever admit, leaving the hospital was a relief.

The mid-morning sun felt good as they cruised, and Sara happily made plans to spend the afternoon on her deck, soaking it all in. If she had to be a lazy bum for the next few weeks, at least she could do it outdoors. She felt rather than saw Catherine's repeated glances her way as they drove, and finally she couldn't take it anymore. "What?" she asked, squinting one eye open.

"I've just been wondering where you got the car."

"Not my style, huh?" Sara replied, catching Catherine's sheepish look as she voiced what the older CSI had been thinking. She laughed and shifted up in the seat, trying to hide her wince of pain and knowing that Catherine caught everything. "My dad. My parents own a B&B outside the city." She considered saying something more about her parents, but her sometimes difficult relationship with them was not something she wanted to share. "I went out to see them when I got back and Dad took one look at my car and decided I needed some color." She shook her head in disbelief that her parents never ceased to amaze and infuriate her. "I think his exact words were, 'White is the color of death. You need some vibrancy in your life. It will help your life energy.' Next thing I knew, I was driving this home." She laughed at how she couldn't argue with his inexplicable gestures even now. "I'm going to give it back to him in a couple of months, when he's forgotten why he gave it to me in the first place, but until then, I'm just enjoying it."

"It's great," Catherine agreed, swinging the car into the garage. "I'm completely jealous." They got situated, and soon were sitting out on the deck, sipping iced tea and drowsing. Catherine noted Sara's outfit lived up to her tomboy status, a pair of cut-off jeans and a black sports bra, but the rather demure attire showed off her long muscular legs and wide shoulders as well as the bruises that mottled her arms and back. Her eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, but she appeared to be dozing, so Catherine examined her at her leisure. She didn't think she had ever seen Sara so relaxed around her before, and she once again regretted being so hard on the young woman. Every insult she had directed at Sara replayed itself before her eyes, as well as every time Sara had tried to open up to her. She remembered the carnival case, where the mother had drowned her child, and Sara's plaintive, "We're not getting lunch, are we?" after they had tangled about Catherine's motivations.

On the other lounge chair, Sara was not only awake, but well aware of Catherine's scrutiny as well. She still wasn't sure what impulse had driven her to invite them to stay with her, and she was undecided on whether she would regret it or not, but since she had left Vegas, Sara had made a concerted effort to be more open and social in her life. Inviting Catherine and Lindsey to stay with her was definitely part of that effort, but there was such a thing as being too open as well. Too late now, she thought to herself, as she swiveled her head to Catherine, eliciting a slight jolt of surprise from the older woman.

"You're working your first shift tonight, right?"

"Yeah," Catherine's voice was lazy and tired, as the heat finally started getting to her. Sara's glance took in her drooping eyelids as well as her very pale skin. "You should go in and take a nap." Catherine grunted her reply, as if words were too much of an effort. "You are going to burn if you sleep out here. Even with the sunblock," Sara said patiently, as if talking to a child.

Catherine sighed. "Yeah, but it feels so good," she pouted.

Sara chuckled. "The sun will still be here later." Catherine grumbled at her logic, but she hoisted herself out of the chair. She paused beside Sara, noting that Sara looked tanned enough to keep her from burning if she fell asleep. "You need anything before I go?"

She considered for a moment. "Yeah, can you bring me the phone? I was going to have the team come over for a quick dinner before shift so I can break the news to them about their new supervisor in person." Shielding her eyes with her hand, she looked up at Catherine. "That ok with you?"

"Yeah, actually, that would be better than them hearing the news as we start the shift."

"I thought so too. I'm just going to order something in since I don't feel like cooking and I'm pretty sure I need to run to the grocery soon. Chinese or pizza?"

"Surprise me."

Catherine ended up being pleasantly surprised by dinner, as Sara ordered in some excellent Thai food and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. The team took the news fairly well, but Jerome didn't look very happy, and Catherine made a note to work on cultivating him. Apparently, pre- and post- shift dinners were a regular occurrence, as all of the younger CSIs knew their way around Sara's kitchen, and there was none of the stiff formality that would signal their unease at being summoned to their supervisor's house. She wondered if Sara did this in a conscious effort to be as unlike Gil as possible; given how she tried to encourage teamwork and frequent, and direct, feedback on performance, Catherine thought this was very likely. She would have liked to complement Sara on how well she was doing, but she was afraid it would sound condescending.

Sara's energy was obviously flagging as Catherine got ready to leave, and she managed to talk her into bed. Amazingly, Sara fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow, and Catherine delayed for a few moments as she watched her slide into a deep sleep. When she got back and was quietly changing into her pajamas, Catherine noticed Sara hadn't moved from the position she had fallen asleep in, and was surprised that she had slept through the night. As she climbed in carefully, still a little nervous about sharing the bed, she saw that Sara's eyes were open, and her sigh was audible, the meaning obvious to them both.

"What?" Sara's sleepy voice belayed her alert eyes. "It's ok, I'll be back to sleep soon. I just wanted to hear how the shift went." Thus began their routine. Once Lindsey arrived, Sara would get up with her and make breakfast, the two of them often disappearing to go to a museum or movie or shopping while Catherine slept. When Catherine got up, the three of them spent the afternoon together, sightseeing or playing in a park before Sara cooked dinner while Catherine took her shower before work. And every night, when Catherine slipped into bed, Sara woke up and, curled up and facing each other on opposite pillows, Catherine would fill her in on everything that happened during the shift.

Catherine had immediately realized that she had underestimated Sara's baby-sitting abilities that first morning she woke up and Lindsey filled her in on the morning that included flying kites on the beach and a walk in the park. As she watched the two together, Catherine realized that Sara was good with Lindsey because she didn't treat her as a kid, but instead talked with her seriously, as if talking to an adult. It didn't hurt that Sara enjoyed the activities she and Lindsey shared as well, another thing Catherine realized the first time she caught them climbing the jungle gym together. There was a charming, kid-like quality to Sara when she let her guard down and just had fun, and Lindsey seemed to bring that out. Surprisingly, it was soccer that they really bonded over, and Catherine knew most mornings while she slept, they spent hours practicing. She had to admit it was a side of Sara she had never imagined, and given that Sara had always said she wasn't good with kids, she thought that it might have surprised Sara as well.

One night, after a particularly draining case involving a child abduction, Catherine slid under the covers and Sara didn't wake up. "Sara?" Catherine asked, gently reaching over and shaking her shoulder. Sara's body lurched under her hand, but she didn't wake up. That's when Catherine noticed a note under the reading lamp on her side of the bed. "C – Doctor gave me sleeping pills and made me take one tonight. Talk to you in the morning – S" Catherine smiled to herself as she read the note, thinking how thoughtful the gesture was as her eyes closed.

When her eyes popped open in the middle of her nightmare, Catherine sat up so quickly she hit her head on the headboard and grunted in pain. The remnants of the nightmare flashed behind her eyes; a little girl who looked like Lindsey, Lindsey herself in a car filling with water, and a trunk lid opening to reveal Sara's bruised and battered face. Her deep breaths calmed her somewhat as sweat cooled on her skin, but the images didn't recede quickly or easily.

"Cath." Sara's voice was so quiet and sleepy she could barely hear it, but the concern was clear. "You ok?"

Catherine slid down in the bed carefully, facing Sara across the pillows. "Yeah." Sara reached over and brushed a few stray hairs off her damp forehead, and she turned her face into the caress as she felt Sara's fingers slide down her cheek. Sara's expression was doubtful as she gazed across, but Catherine saw her eyes blink rapidly as she fought against sleep. "Sure?" Sara asked as she caught and held Catherine's hand in her own, loosely lacing their fingers together in the center of the bed. Catherine nodded and smiled, watching Sara's eyes close. She lay, staring at their entwined hands for a long time before following Sara's example and going back to sleep. When she awoke, Sara was sitting beside her on the bed, a book propped up on her knees and a look of concentration on her face. "You want to talk about it?" Sara's question cut through the fog of sleepiness as Catherine stretched and rubbed her eyes.

"About what?" She answered, hoping maybe if she played it off, Sara would let it drop.

"You screamed, at the end of that nightmare." The scream had pulled Sara out of a deep, drugged sleep to see Catherine bolt upright in bed, the terror in her eyes evident by the light of the reading lamp she had apparently forgotten to turn off, and the sight had occupied Sara's thoughts all morning. So when Lindsey had curled up on the couch to watch cartoons, Sara had ended up back in the bedroom watching Catherine sleep. Which wasn't exactly a hardship, Sara mused, considering how she had memorized the lines of Catherine's face as the sunlight had outlined the sharp angles of her face and cast her lips into sharp relief. Sara would have loved to have captured the play of light across her features, but taking pictures of her while she slept would have been rude to say the very least. She had finally had to pick up a book, but even then, thoughts of waking up holding Catherine's hand had interfered with her concentration.

Catherine sat up, embarrassed by her outburst the night before. "Just a nightmare." Her expression was pensive. "Bad night at work last night." She saw Sara's questioning look. "Later, ok? I… kinda want to spend some time with Lindsey." Disappointment shown in Sara's eyes, but she seemed to read the meaning behind Catherine's words.

"Why don't the two of you go shopping?" she suggested. Catherine opened her mouth to protest, but Sara cut her off. "I need to run to the market this afternoon, and you know I have a limited ability to look at various shades of pink for more than ten minutes, tops." Her apparent understanding soothed Catherine's worry, and she caught her hand and squeezed it, trying to convey her appreciation.

"Thanks. Could you tell Linds to get ready? I'm going to take an early shower." Sara hopped up, and strode out of the door before Catherine called her back. She leaned in the doorway, an eyebrow extended to show she was listening. "Thanks." Sara shook her head silently, as if to say there was no need for thanks, and then she disappeared from the doorway, leaving Catherine to stare after her, lost in thought.

8. Double Dare Ya

Sara hoisted the cloth shopping bag onto the counter from her excursion to the open-air market, noting that she had had all the ingredients now for vegetable burritos, which she had gotten Lindsey hooked on her first night there. Smiling to herself and humming under her breath, she started to prepare and chop the vegetables, thinking about how much fun she had had during the last three weeks. Amazingly, she hadn't been bored being home from work; having Lindsey and Catherine at her house had kept her busy and entertained, and she hadn't even stopped into work near as much as she expected. She had been pleasantly surprised at how well she had handled having house guests as well, since she had been nervous about being unable to handle it. After all, she had been an only child and while there had always been people around her parent's B&B as she grew up, she was used to being alone and having her space to herself. Having both Catherine and Lindsey around could have been the recipe for disaster. Instead, she had found herself letting go of her normal reserve, playing like a kid around Lindsey and exploring San Francisco like a tourist. Lindsey left in two days for a summer camp and Catherine left a week after that, and Sara wasn't looking forward to how quiet the house was going to be.

As she got out the pan for the vegetables, Catherine and Lindsey burst through the door, carrying at least four shopping bags each. They were giggling about something, and Catherine's smile was relaxed and happy, a marked improvement from the drawn and tired expression she had had earlier when she woke. Lindsey dropped her bags just inside the door and bolted into the kitchen to give Sara a quick hug. "Sara! You have to see what I got.' she exclaimed, and Sara couldn't help but put the pan down and give her a hug back, meeting Catherine's amused expression over Lindsey's head. "Is there anything left at the store for other people?" Sara asked, eyeing the multitude of bags.

Catherine managed to look both smug and embarrassed as she caught Sara's comment and glance at the bags. "Linds, why don't you go get your bags and take them out on the deck? We'll eat out there and then you can show Sara your new school clothes." Sara's eyebrow quirked up at Catherine's not-so-subtle jibe before turning back to fixing dinner.

As they sat around the table, Lindsey detailed all the stores and new clothes she had gotten while somehow managing to eat two burritos through the non-stop stream of talk. As soon as she was done eating, she bolted from the table to watch cartoons while Sara and Catherine finished eating. "I couldn't believe how many stores already had school clothes out already, but since we were already there, it seemed like a good time to get a start on it," Catherine explained. Sara nodded attentively, although she had no idea when school clothes came out or what back-to-school shopping entailed. "Did you get anything?" she asked, changing the subject.

"Actually, yes." Catherine sounded quite pleased with her new purchase, whatever it was. "I bought a new dress. Which reminds me…" She paused, her expression looking even more pleased, if that was possible, "I think we should go out to dinner tomorrow night. To celebrate you going back to work." She threw the words out clipped and short, as if she expected Sara to argue with the suggestion, but Sara just shrugged her shoulders and nodded. "Sure. It's Lindsey's last night. We can go to that theme restaurant she likes."

Catherine shook her head firmly. "No. Someplace nice. Not with an inflatable castle." Sara and Lindsey had ended up abandoning her to play video games the last time they had been there. "I want you to make reservations at a nice, upscale restaurant, someplace with a good wine list since I don't have to work tomorrow night."

Sara actually looked disappointed to miss out on the video games; Catherine sighed and rolled her eyes before getting a sudden inspiration. "You know," she began, in that low, sexy voice that she used when she wanted something and wanted to make sure she got it, "I have an idea." Sara managed to keep a neutral expression on her face even though the tone in Catherine's voice made her nervous. Sara had visions of Catherine dragging her into some dress store for something dark and slinky. Catherine's idea confirmed Sara's suspicions. "You should wear something daring to dinner."


"Yeah, daring. Unexpected. Fun. All-out." Catherine's green eyes twinkled mischievously as Sara squirmed at the very idea. "Dressed to the nines." Sara considered the idea, her eyes narrowed as she either tried to think of a way out of it or tried to figure out what to wear. "When you mean daring, you mean daring for me? And not daring for people who are usually less conservative than I, right?" she clarified. At Catherine's nod, she seemed to make up her mind and a smirk pulled the corners of her mouth. "And it doesn't have to be a dress?"


"Ok." Catherine was amazed by her quick acceptance, and the expression on Sara's face, which looked like she was harboring a very interesting secret, piqued Catherine's curiosity. "So what are you going to wear," she asked, fishing.

"You'll see tomorrow night," was Sara's swift rejoinder from behind her secret smile.

Catherine glanced at her watch for the third time in ten minutes, waiting for both of her 'girls.' Lindsey was excited about the special, grown-up restaurant and was over-doing her preparations, but Sara never took this long to get changed, and Catherine wondered if she had gotten cold feet. Sara had seemed so cocky the night before, so she didn't imagine it was that, Catherine thought as she gazed out the sliding glass doors idly.

"Ahem." Sara cleared her throat, announcing her presence, and Catherine spun around, dying to see what Sara was wearing. Catherine knew her mouth had fallen open, but she was powerless to close it as she stared. Sara had indeed picked a daring 'look,' since the outfit was only part of the overall effect of the black-and-silver vision in front of her. The low-slung, soft, well-worn black leather pants hugged Sara's legs like a second skin, perfectly complimenting the tight, form-fitting vest in matching black leather that left her arms and a narrow sliver of skin at her waist exposed. Silver glittered from the choker around her neck, matching the snaps of the vest and the oversized cowboy belt buckle at her waist. Her dark hair had been pulled back in a loose ponytail with a few strands framing her face, accenting darker eye make-up and blood red lipstick she wore, a dramatic change from the neutral peaches and pinks she normally wore. She looked like a bad-ass but stunning biker in her leather and black boots, Catherine decided finally.

While Catherine had been staring in shock, Sara had been admiring Catherine's new dress appreciatively. It was a simple, black dress with spaghetti straps, made of a light, flowing fabric that clung to Catherine's figure in all the right places. Her hair was more curly than usual, and it framed her face and cascading down her back, matching the dress. "You look great," Sara told her, withholding the wolf whistle she knew Catherine would not appreciate. Seeing Catherine staring at her, mouth slightly agape, she had a sudden nervous impulse to run back upstairs and change. "What?"

"Wow," Catherine managed to get out. "Wow. You look… amazing."

"Really?' She asked, blushing a little at the compliment. Catherine nodded, her eyes still wide, as she noticed how adorable Sara looked when she blushed. "Oh yeah," she replied, emphasizing the 'yeah' just enough to deepen the blush on Sara's cheeks. "You think it'll be ok for the restaurant? Or are you taking us to a biker bar?" she teased.

"Cath, this is San Francisco," Sara reminded her dryly. "People wear leather to weddings instead of tuxedos."

Catherine stepped closer, running a finger along the edge of seam on Sara's vest. "This isn't new," she remarked, glancing up at Sara's face just in time to catch a sudden flush reddening her skin. She puzzled over it for a moment, until she realized how close she had stepped, and how intimate a gesture her fingering the skin-tight fabric was. She considered stepping back, but decided that would embarrass them both. Besides, it was fun to toy with the younger woman. "You've had this outfit for a while," she said, her finger still caressing the fabric softly.

"Yeah, I used to wear it out." There was a challenging tone in Sara's voice, as if to say, 'I can play this game too,' and Catherine smiled flirtatiously. She was thinking about a next move, something subtle but provocative, when they both heard Lindsey running down the stairs. On cue, they both took a step back, so they were facing each other across a few feet of carpet by the time Lindsey burst into the room, shouting "Ready."

Dinner was great. Sara had picked a seafood restaurant facing the ocean, the dark wood gleaming in the recessed lighting and candles that graced the tables. Lindsey was in awe, like only a child could be, at the elegance, and she had been on her best behavior. She ordered a kiddie cocktail that came in a martini glass and she had beamed when they had clinked glasses. She was telling Sara all about her camp, a long involved story with lots of tangents, so Catherine could study Sara at her leisure. The candlelight emphasized the contrast between the dark shades she was wearing and her pale skin, and her dark eyes gleamed like liquid velvet in the muted lighting. She really was stunning, Catherine thought, in an unconventional, almost boyish way.

Sara caught her watching, and gave her a slow, deliberately sexy smile. In a lull in the conversation, Sara leaned toward Catherine to whisper, "Like what you see?" in her soft, slow drawl. It took a couple of breaths for Catherine to answer her, as her breath had caught in her throat as Sara's mouth had lowered toward her, envisioning Sara kissing her. "Um," she stammered, "I already told you look great. Fishing for more compliments?" she said teasingly, hoping to put Sara off-balance a little so she herself could recover. The sudden realization that she had wanted Sara to kiss her threw her plans for a loop, and she barely noticed Sara's self-conscious expression as she settled back into her seat. Luckily, the waitress delivered their dinner, and the awkwardness dissipated.

There was a boardwalk just down the road, and they stopped for a stroll at Lindsey's insistence. While Lindsey ran on ahead, Catherine strolled with Sara in the strained silence that had descended on them since dinner. They weren't, Catherine noticed, the only female couple walking with a child, and she smiled to herself, thinking about how things seemed more open, freer somehow, than in Las Vegas. Sara saw her expression and looked at her questioningly, but Catherine just shook her head, leaning in closer to Sara as they walked to where Lindsey waited by the carousel, and wished she had the nerve to take her arm.

As they watched Lindsey ride, Sara cleared her throat, breaking the silence with a quiet, "Hey." She paused for a moment, obviously trying to come up with a topic. "I, um, wanted to tha…" Catherine's finger on her lips cut her words off.

"I know you weren't going to say 'thank you.' I believe I outlawed that some time ago," Catherine said, alluding to their conversation in the hospital.

"What, I can't tha… Hey." Sara grabbed her hand as she smothered the words again. "You paid for dinner, so the least I can do is…" she got out, before her words got choked off again as Catherine twisted her hand out of her grasp. Sara kept trying to speak and keep Catherine's hands away, but somehow Catherine kept eluding her grasp as they wrestled, both giggling and laughing as they fought. Sara managed to get over half the word out after as exorbitant amount of effort, before Catherine's hand covered her mouth completely. Sara stopped struggling, laughing at Catherine's triumphant expression, which turned into a very different expression when Sara pressed a light kiss against the sensitive skin of her palm. The electricity that passed through her body at such a chaste kiss struck her dumb, which Sara's warm breath under her still-raised hand did nothing to help. Then Lindsey was there, shivering a little in the brisk ocean air, and they headed for the car.

Catherine bolt up from the nightmare, this time managing to avoid hitting her head. The images that had bothered her the last few nights flickered like an after-image on her retinas, and she ran her fingers through her hair and shook it out, trying to get rid of the last lingering remnants. When she glanced over at Sara to see if she had woken her, she realized that Sara still wasn't in bed. When they had gotten back from dinner, she had parked herself on the couch and turned on the comedy channel, surprising Catherine because Sara rarely watched TV and never the comedy channel. It was three in the morning according to the clock, and Catherine sighed as she realized Sara might be avoiding her.

The sound from the television got louder as Catherine descended the stairs, and she rounded the corner, expecting Sara to be asleep on the couch. Instead, she was sprawled on the couch, her feet up on the coffee table, laughing at something on the TV. Catherine plopped down on the couch beside her, staring at the oddly animated cartoon she seemed to be watching, and missed Sara's jump as she surprised her. "What are you watching?" she asked, puzzled and sleepy.

"South Park marathon."

"South Park?" Catherine stared at the TV in horror as one of the characters, a little boy, was killed and rats starting eating the body. Her disgusted look then turned to Sara, who was laughing at the gory scene. "You've got to be kidding me."

"What?" Sara said, protested. "It's funny." She saw Catherine's expression of disbelief, and tried to explain. "It's an ironic statement about violence on television." Her expression perked up as another episode started. "This one is great. Carmen fills in for Bob Rooney and is on his own episode of Cops." Catherine spent the next few minutes, watching both the screen and Sara in equal amounts, not sure which was more unsettling.

"So… " Sara began during the first commercial break. "Why are you up?"


Sara turned down the sound on the TV and twisted around so she was facing Catherine, tucking her long legs in and resting her head on her hand. "Same one that's been bothering you these last couple of nights?"

"Yeah," Catherine said carefully, her reluctance to talk about it evident in her manner. "Want to tell me about it?" Sara asked when Catherine didn't say more.

"Not much to tell. A case involving a kid kinda threw me, and I keep seeing the kid and Lindsey in my dreams." She deliberately didn't mention the images of Sara that had recurred at the end of the nightmare. She chuckled a little as the television show came back on and shifted the conversation away from her. "This show isn't that bad." Sara glared at her, but allowed the change of topic, obviously biding her time.

9. Why can't I?

But this just the beginning
We're already wet and we're going to go swimming
Why can't I breathe whenever I think about you?
Why can't I speak whenever I talk about you?
It's inevitable, the fact that we're going to get down to it
So tell me, why can't I breathe whenever I think about you.

-Liz Phair

"So, this case is pretty much done?" Sara asked, staring at the files in front of her, her head resting on her hand. She didn't look up as she spoke. She was oblivious to the bored look Catherine shot her from her perch on the sofa. They had been reviewing case files for the last three hours and Sara didn't seem to be ready to let up any time soon. Catherine had an urge to make a joke about Grissom, but she was pretty sure Sara would not be amused. Even though she had been acting rather odd and quiet since last night, comparisons to Grissom would only bring the wrong kind of attention. "Yeah, we're just waiting for the last bit of trace to get back from the lab."

"Ok, then, the Miller case…." Sara began, but Catherine cut her off by standing up abruptly and saying brightly, "I need some coffee. Want some?"

"Umm, yeah, sure." Sara made a notation in a file and flipped through a few pages as Catherine stood over her shoulder, trying to see what was so interesting and involving that she couldn't look up at all. She leaned down so that her head was level with Sara's, smelling her shampoo and light cologne. "You want anything else?" Sara jumped in her chair, exhaling explosively, before turning her head, almost knocking her head against Catherine's. "Jesus, Cath." Catherine was still looking down at the paperwork, missing Sara's eyes widening at how close Catherine's face, Catherine's mouth, was to her own. Catherine turned her own head, sweeping her hair back as she did so, to find Sara's eyes fixed on her lips. An awkward silence ensued. "Um, no, coffee's fine," Sara stammered, breaking the silence and pulling her head back just a little.

"Ok," Catherine replied, straightening slowly, reluctantly, her mind in turmoil as she headed to the break room. Any more of this tension, she thought as she poured coffee, but her thoughts stopped there. What could she do? What did she want to do? Her brow furrowed as she tried to follow through with a concrete plan or strategy, but nothing suggested itself. This was Sara, her co-worker and now friend, not the latest flavor of the month. And this was the woman who was in love with Grissom, so long and so badly she had to leave her job. Even if she wanted something to happen, she reasoned, it wasn't going to. Catherine sighed and leaned against the counter, rolling her head on her shoulders before picking up the mugs and heading back to Sara's office.

Sara finally seemed distracted from her paperwork, staring off into space as Catherine set her mug down in front of her. Whatever had her distracted must have been a good memory, Catherine noted, because her dark eyes glowed and she had a rueful half-smile on her face. "Thanks." She eyed the stack of files beside her elbow. "We have all week to review these, right?" she asked, a hopeful note in her voice. At Catherine's nod, she muttered a heartfelt 'Good.' "Then I am going to take a walk and check in on this evening's cases. I think Annemarie and Jerome are back from that suspicious circs by now. Wanna join me?"

Catherine watched Sara leave the office after declining her offer, and sighed, leaning back into the sofa. Of course, Sara was thinking about work with such a happy expression. She reviewed the last few days in her mind, especially the kiss Sara had pressed into her palm at the boardwalk, the tingle that had run down her arm and through her body, which repeated every time she thought about it. Damn, she thought to herself, damn, damn, damn.

Sara leaned over Annemarie's shoulder and stared at the file on the table before them. "Bar fight at a lesbian bar. It may be self-defense. You only have the witness's testimony and bruising on both the witness and the vic? And most of the trace is meaningless because the witness admits to contact with the vic." She was silent for a moment, rifling through the photos. "We may have to experiment to see if we can explain all the marks."

"A re-creation?" Annemarie asked. She glanced over her shoulder at Sara, happy to have her real supervisor back again. She had missed the enthusiasm Sara brought to her work, and while Catherine had been an adequate substitute, it was good to have the real thing. She wondered if she could or should tell Sara that, but instead she just smiled warmly, hoping her pleasure would be conveyed.

"Yup!" Sara confirmed, the smile on her face huge. "The vic is about my height. We just need someone about the height and weight of the witness." Annemarie chuckled. She was almost as tall and thin as Sara; with their matching brunette hair, people already assumed they were related. "Yeah, you might be a bit too tall," Sara continued. "We need someone shorter."

"Kesha?" Annemarie suggested. Sara shook her head. "Not back from the field yet. I guess I can get Catherine," she said, reluctantly. "She's about the right size."

"Yeah," Annemarie said, uncertainly, unsure how to read Sara's reluctance. Her support of Catherine had been unwavering, but they had seemed oddly tense at the beginning of shift today. Annemarie had chalked it up to having two strong personalities trying to share the job, but Sara's strange reluctance made her question her earlier interpretation.

Sara reappeared with Catherine in tow. "Ok, Annemarie, walk us through the witness's statement." The two of them moved to the center of the room, facing each other with several feet between them, tension evident in Catherine's frown and the stiff way Sara stood. Jerome joined Annemarie at the table, his eyes dancing above his amused grin. "This should be interesting," he whispered to her, unrepentant even when Annemarie glared at him. She rolled her eyes at his mock-innocent look, but found herself agreeing with him as she watched Sara shift her weight nervously.

"Ok, according to the witness, she was leaving the hallway where the bathrooms are located and our vic grabbed her arm and turned her around. She then pushed the vic, who stumbled back and hit her head on a crate. By the way, the head injury is the cause of death and we've confirmed that the vic did hit her head on the crate. We just need to make sure the witness's statement is confirmed." Annemarie and Jerome watched as Catherine turned and Sara grabbed her arm, pulling her back around. They seemed to be moving through the motions half-heartedly, and they were still uncomfortably far apart.

Annemarie shook her head. "That doesn't account for all the injuries sustained by the two. First, there were bruises on both of the witness's arms. Sara, when you turn Catherine around, grab both of her upper arms instead of just one." Their actors paused, self-consciously sorting themselves out before Catherine turned again.

Catherine found herself spun around and hauled up in Sara's strong hands, both arms gripped tightly. The movement caught her off guard, and she found her hands braced against Sara's collarbone for stability. The sudden closeness threatened her self-control, but then Annemarie's voice cut through the fog. "Yes, Catherine, that hand placement explains some of the vic's bruising," she called encouragingly. Catherine found herself gazing up at Sara's face, searching for some recognition of their intimate, almost erotic, position. Sara's expression was bland and business-like, and her attention seemed focused only on the task-at-hand.

"Can you push me away in this position?" Sara asked Catherine. Catherine's first thought was, 'why would I want to do that?' and she felt a flush rising in her cheeks that she hoped Sara was too focused to notice. She pushed against Sara's shoulders, gently at first and then with more strength, struggling in the grasp that held her. "No, I don't have the leverage," she admitted.

"The witness was up against the wall. And there was another injury on her back, some scraping," Annemarie added, flipping through the pages of the file to a different photograph. Sara had released her grip, and Catherine walked over toward the wall across from the younger CSIs. "Maybe a wall would help the witness get more leverage to throw off the vic?"

"I guess we'll have to try to see." Sara's discomfort was beginning to show on her face and she schooled her expression into the deliberately bland expression she had learned from Grissom all these years. At last, she thought, these last few years of humiliation have some use. She reached up and caught Catherine's arms again, her eyes fixed on her own hands, avoiding Catherine's face.

With her back to the wall, Sara's body suddenly seemed much closer, even though Catherine could tell Sara was deliberately keeping as much space between their bodies as possible. "Well, the scrapes on the witnesses back could have come from struggling to push off the vic," she reasoned. Sara nodded thoughtfully as Catherine mimicked struggling to loosen her hold.

"No, no," Annemarie corrected, "the scrapes are almost completely vertical, and you are moving side-to-side." She pored over the photos for a second before getting an idea. "Sara, pull Catherine up the wall, like you are trying to kiss her." Catherine was glad that Sara's body blocked the line of sight for the two CSIs watching, because she was sure a look of pure panic flashed across her face. She only just hoped Sara didn't see it.

"Like this?" Sara slid Catherine up on her toes, lifting her almost bodily, and Catherine's hands tightened on her shoulders as the space between their bodies shrank. She managed one quick glance at Sara's face, but it was back-it and almost hidden in shadow, the expression unreadable.

"Yeah, like that. That would account for the scrapes on the witness," Annemarie answered excitedly, her voice a lifeline for Catherine as she resisted the temptation to close the distance between their bodies and mouths. She noticed Sara biting her lower lip and realized that Sara wasn't as unaffected as she thought. "Can you push me off now?" Sara said quietly, as Catherine's hands eased on her shoulders. She struggled against Sara's grip again, squirming around and trying to get leverage against the wall. The movement did nothing for her peace of mind, and she stopped quickly.

"No, I can't throw you off from this position. You're too tall," she explained. Sara slid her back down the wall and let go of her arms. "Then how do I end up dead?"

"Not by my actions, not unless you let go and I'm able to push you back then. That might have happened, but that's not what the witness is saying."

"The witness lied." They both walked back over to the table, where Annemarie spread the photos out so everyone could see them. "So we've accounted for the witness's bruises and scrapes, which does not support her statement, and it also explains the bruising on the vic's shoulders." Sara snagged a photo that showed a detail of the victim's neck. "What about this?" she asked, indicating the narrow red mark. "A necklace, maybe?"

"We couldn't find anything at the scene that might have caused that," Jerome piped up. "We considered some kind of ligature, but nothing was there." Catherine, meanwhile, had been flipping through the file. "Our vic is ex-military." She leaned over Sara's shoulder, unconsciously repeating her gesture from earlier in the evening, to look through the magnifying glass Sara was using to examine the marks. "Dog-tags, maybe?"

"Yeah, yeah, maybe," Sara muttered, reaching for another photo of the vic's back. She tapped the photo, and met Catherine's eyes, grinning. "No marks on the back of the neck." Catherine pulled herself upright quickly, and grabbed the file, looking over the witness's statement again. "Our witness had her girlfriend at the bar with her."

"Really?" Catherine nodded. "A third person." Catherine nodded again, her smile meeting Sara's as they figured it out at the same time. "Annemarie, get both the witness and her girlfriend here for an interview. If at all possible, we could use a warrant to see the girlfriend's hands. Jerome, go back to the scene and try to find a necklace or dog tags hidden somewhere in the club." The two younger CSIs left in a hurry, and Sara leaned back against the table.

Catherine stared at the vic's photo. "Sara, we may have missed one thing," she said, pointing down at the photo.

10. Much Ado About Nothing

"What do you mean, we missed something?" Sara leaned in over her shoulder, trying to see the photograph Catherine was pointing to. It was an occupational hazard, the way they all got so close to one another when looking at the evidence, as if physical nearness let them someone see the same way the other saw, as if they could get inside each other's head and perspective if they could just occupy the same space. It was an occupational hazard and an occupational perk as well, Catherine thought, as the heat from Sara's body warmed her back.

The photo they were staring at was a shot of the back of the victim, the one Sara had just been looking at. Catherine tapped a set of marks. "See that? Those look like finger impressions, like the witness was digging her fingers into the vic's shoulders."

"Well, we knew the witness had her hands there," Sara mused, still trying to see what Catherine was seeing.

"She wouldn't have dug her fingers in if she were trying to push her off. She was pulling her closer."

Catherine could tell Sara's face pulled into a confused scowl by the tone of her voice. "But why would she pull an attacker closer?"

"She didn't." Catherine's voice was triumphant and somewhat smug. She loved figuring out the puzzle of people's motivations and emotions, even though it meant ranging a bit afield from the evidence. "This wasn't an attack. It was… foreplay."

"What?" Sara was suddenly upright, her body conveying the shock evident in her voice.

Catherine turned so she faced Sara, surprised by her reaction. "Yeah, the girlfriend didn't walk into an attack, she interrupted a heavy make-out session." Sara's face was screwed up in disgust and she took a step back from where Catherine was leaning against the layout table.

"But there were bruises all over those two women. That was violence."

Catherine shook her head. "No, it was aggression. A little rough, maybe, but not violent," she continued in a reasonable tone, watching to see Sara's reaction. She knew Sara had an issue with violence against women in some crimes, but this seemed a bit much. Sara shook her head with vehemence. "Oh, come on, Sara, you cannot be this naïve. Or prudish."

Sara's head snapped up and her dark eyes bored into Catherine's own pale ones. Catherine had obviously hit a nerve, and she knew she should stop, but the emotional release was a welcome reprieve from the tension bubbling just below the surface of their interactions, so she didn't heed the voice in her head. "Come on, you were insinuating that you had group sex with three other women just a few weeks ago."

Her eyes widened and her mouth moved, but it took a long time for Sara to frame a response. Catherine let her amusement show on her face as she took in Sara's unintentionally comical expression, finally allowing a giggle to escape. That was the wrong thing to do, as Sara's expression grew stormy. "I did not insinuate any such thing." Catherine just grinned at her discomfort. "And besides, this isn't about me. This is about the case."

"No, this is completely about you," Catherine retorted, the mocking tone a quiet counterpoint to Sara's angry words. "You are refusing to consider a theory of the case because you don't like that idea of…" she paused to make her next words even more dramatic, "aggressive sex." Catherine wasn't sure why she was baiting Sara, but it was definitely working, she noted, as she could almost see the anger boiling in the darkness of Sara's eyes. "What's wrong? You never tried it?" she taunted, trying to provoke a response. "Or none of the people you were with let you be the aggressor?" she asked in a flash of sudden inspiration.

Sara's response was swift. One moment, Catherine was leaning against the table, several feet of institutional flooring separating them. The next, she was swept up, Sara's hands gripping her arms almost painfully as she duplicated their previous reenactments. But the sudden movement was nothing compared to the shock of Sara's lips capturing hers. Catherine instinctively tightened her grip on Sara's shoulders, dragging her closer as she parted her lips to deepen the kiss. Sara nibbled on her lower lip while her tongue teased her upper lip, ignoring Catherine's invitation. After several minutes of teasing, Catherine groaned her frustration, the sound breaking the spell.

Catherine staggered back against the table behind her, the support necessary as the strong hands that had held her let go too suddenly. Sara had retreated several steps, her hand shielding her mouth, as if to distance herself from what had just happened. "Catherine, I…" she stammered, "I'm so sorry, I…" Her words were a confused jumble that lapsed into silence.

It still took Catherine a moment to catch up as she tried to recover her footing, literally and figuratively. Sorry? She was sorry for the kiss? "I'm not." She closed the distance between them so she was standing in front of Sara, who was looking everywhere but at her. "I got what I wanted."

"Oh yeah?" Her flippant tone did nothing to mask the bitterness in her voice. "What's that? Proof of your theory of the case?"

"No," Catherine said softly, ducking her head to try to meet Sara's elusive gaze. She stretched her hand out to cup Sara's chin, stroking the soft skin with her thumb gently. Her other hand settled on Sara's hip as she stood on tiptoe to press a light kiss on Sara's mouth. "That's what I wanted," she whispered. Sara was standing, unmoving, and Catherine was suddenly afraid to open her eyes, afraid of what she might see. "Didn't you?"

"Yeah." Sara's breath played over her lips as she spoke, the moment before Catherine felt her lips brush against hers. Catherine flicked her tongue out to taste Sara's lips, catching the bitter taste of coffee, as her hand slid around Sara's neck to hold her mouth there. She marveled as Sara pulled her in closer, the way her body fit perfectly, the way Sara's hands pressed against her back to hold her just so, and the way her hand immediately tangled in Sara's hair. The moment was perfect, and it was over entirely too soon.

Predictably, it was Sara who tried to bring some semblance of reality. "Cath? Someone could come in." Catherine ignored her words and kissed her, trying to distract her. "We're at work."

"We're on a break,"

"We're the supervisors. What if someone needs us?'

"They can page us," she replied sensibly, wrapping her arm around Sara's waist as she felt her try to pull away, clinging and hoping Sara didn't have the willpower to resist. Her lips twisted into a smirk as Sara rained kisses along her cheekbone to her mouth. When their pagers erupted in the quiet of the layout room, Catherine smiled ruefully at how quickly her words were confirmed.

"Damn." Sara broke the embrace and glanced down at her pager. "The witness and her girlfriend are here."

Catherine sighed, her frustration evident. "Back to work?"

Sara chuckled before pressing one last kiss against her lips. "Yeah, back to work." Sara slowly, reluctantly, eased her hold on Catherine's waist, sliding her hands around for extra seconds of contact before letting go.

"I hope Annemarie got that warrant," Catherine said, switching into work mode.

"Let's go see."

Catherine left the interview room with her camera and evidence bag, hoping she had collected enough to close the case. Annemarie was coming out of the observation room, her normal intense expression distracted and worried. She smiled when she saw Catherine, and complimented her on the interview.

"Thanks," Catherine replied, her gaze fixed on the closed door behind Annemarie. "Where's Sara? I thought she was watching the interrogation with you."

The reason for the young CSI's concern was made clear with her response. "She's still in there. Said she'd be out in a minute." They exchanged a worried glance. "She seemed really quiet – do you think she's over-extending herself on her first night back?"

Catherine sighed. "Maybe. I'll go talk to her." She passed Annemarie the camera and bag. "Take care of these for me, will you?" At her nod, Catherine crossed to the door, pausing right before she went in, "We'll be back upstairs in about fifteen minutes, ok?"

"Okay." Annemarie walked away quickly, trying to make sure she caught the rest of the team and made sure they didn't page or call either of them for at least half an hour.

Sara heard the door click shut, and she didn't have to raise her head to know who was in the room – she could smell Catherine's shampoo and feel her stare. She was leaning against the table, shoulders slumped and arms crossed, studying the floor with great interest, completely ignoring the strawberry blonde. As the silence stretched, the effort to keep her head down and avoid the inevitable grew more taxing. She knew she looked like a petulant child, but once she looked up, she would have to say something and she had no idea what to say. Their harmless flirtation had crossed that invisible dividing line from playful fun into serious business and she didn't know what to make of that. She had already ruined one friendship by allowing situations to go too far and she was damned if it was going to happen again.

Catherine's sigh echoed in the small room. "You've had too much time to think," she said softly, moving a couple of steps into the room to see if Sara would look up. "I was afraid that might happen." Sara's shoulders tighten perceptibly and she exhaled noisily, but she stubbornly kept her eyes fixed downward. "I, ah, provoked you earlier so that you would act and not think, go with your feelings."

"Yeah, cuz thinking before making a mistake is always counterproductive," retorted Sara bitterly. If she had been looking up, she would have seen the pained expression that passed over Catherine's face, or the way she took a step back and caught the door handle

"A mistake?"

"Yeah, mistake, error, lapse in judgment. It's a good thing we were stopped before it went too far."

The finality of her tone expressed itself to Catherine clearly. "Yeah," she said slowly, breathing past the lump in her throat. "It's a good thing," she managed before she opened the door and backed out, her footsteps speeding up as she hurried to make it to the locker room, feeling the burning in her eyes.

"So what did you do to Catherine?" asked Annemarie curiously, glancing up from the report she was writing as Sara entered the break room some time later.

"What? Nothing," Sara shot back, almost groaning at the defensive tone in her voice. She poured a cup of coffee, her back to the young CSI, and hoped she would drop the subject.

"It must have been something. Are you two having problems sharing the job?"

Sara shot her a warning glare as she settled into a seat. "Yeah, that must be it," she sighed.

"Huh." Her eyes narrowed, and Annemarie shrugged in response. "I just thought you'd be angry instead of that hangdog expression on your face. You look like a love-sick puppy." Sara choked on her coffee, jumping up and sloshing a third of it all over the table. Annemarie leaped up as well, saving her paperwork from the deluge as Sara, still coughing, grabbed a towel to stem the tide. She managed to mop up the liquid quickly, and she practically ran out of the break room, leaving her coffee and Annemarie watching her retreating back.

She was elbow-deep in the backlog of paperwork when Catherine opened the door to her office almost two hours after the end of shift. "You didn't have to wait for me," she said, with just a hint of malice in her voice.

"I didn't. I'm just trying to get caught up on paperwork." She scribbled a note on the pad of paper and shifted her eyes back to the financial report under her hand.

"You shouldn't be overdoing it your first night back." When Sara didn't reply, she continued, "Come on, let's go."

"I'm fine."

Catherine saw Sara's face looked pale in the scant light from the desk lamp, and she fought her inclination to leave Sara alone, as she so obviously wanted. Instead, she circled the desk, catching Sara's arm to force her to acknowledge her. Sara jerked her arm away as she glared. "Don't."

"Then come on. We're going home." She cut Sara off as she opened her mouth to speak. "I'll stand here all night if I have to," she threatened.

Catherine thrashed her way out of the covers, drenched in sweat as she awoke from another nightmare. Strong arms caught her as she struggled blindly in the dark, and she lost herself in the comfort of the warmth of Sara's body. When she came back to herself, she became aware of Sara's hands softly stroking her back and hair while a mantra of soothing words washed over her. "Shh, it's ok, darling, it's ok. Shhh," Sara whispered over and over, her breath warming Catherine's cheek. Catherine shifted in the embrace, tightening her arms around Sara's waist, her lips searching out Sara's collarbone to press a light kiss there.

"Cath…" Sara began as Catherine nibbled her way up her neck, nuzzling the soft skin with her nose. She felt the hitch in Sara's breath as she circled her ear with her tongue, and she ran a hand up her spine to catch her head as Sara tried to pull away. She gently teased her, blowing in her ear, and the shiver that ran up Sara's back answered her questions. Her tongue darted out to tickle her earlobe, wetting the skin before she blew on it, repeating this gesture over and over again as she felt Sara's hands tighten their grip on her back. Sara's eyes were squeezed closed when she tilted her head to brush her lips against hers.

Part 11

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