DISCLAIMER: If I owned them, Jorja wouldn't have left. Though, that would mean owning Jorja too which would be both legally and morally wrong. Suffice to say that they're not mine, I'm only playing with them. They belong to CSI, CSI Miami and NCIS.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Conference Entanglements
By Rach


Catherine suppressed a yawn. Only two talks left until the day was over. Surely she could keep focussed for that long. What was this talk about?

A quick glance at her program almost made her laugh. The odd-looking man on stage was talking about the use of stable isotope chemistry applied to elephant tusks to tackle elephant poachers in South Aftica. How was it possible to make something so unusual so very dull.

"The elephant tusk, displaying as it does growth zones similar to growth rings found in many trees, is an ideal target for applying this technique. By comparing the carbon isotopes found in each ring we can obtain detailed migration histories of an individual. Since there will be differences in isotopic patterns even from one side of a game reserve to another we can identify accurately the source of confiscated cargoes of tusks..."

The words were interesting, but that voice could send a hyperactive six year old into an instant coma. Catherine looked at the abstract volume and saw that the speaker had a paper on this topic in press. She could safely tune out and read the paper when it was published.

Catherine let her eyes drift over the crowd. She could see two people with laptops out, apparently working on their own presentations for the next day. Three people were openly sleeping, while one young man appeared to be drawing a comic strip of some kind. She made a mental note to sit behind him tomorrow so she could see what he was working on. A handful of younger delegates were looking down at their laps, probably sending text messages. Most of the people were slouched in their seats trying to look interested.

Except in the front row. She could see a few people there, backs straight, notebooks open, pens moving as they looked up at the visual presentation. Predictably enough the other delegate from her office was sitting there, dark hair moving on her shoulders as she wrote frantic notes: in shorthand no doubt.

"Thank you for that fascinating talk, does anyone have any questions?"

That was Horatio, the CSI from Miami was chairing this session. He'd done a good job, encouraging those speakers who tended to waffle to finish on time, without leaving them slighted.

The first hand up belonged to Sara.

"Can you see any applications of this technique to other forensic problems?"

"There are many applications. Anything that grows takes in elements from its environment. So long as you can differentiate between environments stable isotopes can be used. It may be possible to identify a region or city where a person has lived based on the isotopes sequestered in their bones, teeth, even in certain organs..."

He was off again, telling a story about a fishing competition.

Catherine tuned out the droning monologue, looking ahead in the program. "Body preservation in remote environments," something she hoped not to need anytime soon. Maybe the next person would be able to speak well.

Sara was in heaven. Not that she actually believed in heaven, but if there was one this would be it for her. Learning all day, surrounded by people who were just as interested as she was. At each break in the proceedings she'd meet up with old colleagues, discussing the presentations they had just seen. Tomorrow morning she would be anxious, preparing for her own presentation, but for now the world was a wonderful place.

She put her notepad and pen back in her coloured satchel, whimsically considering how many conference bags she had stashed in her study. Maybe it was time to donate them to the Salvation Army charity shop.

As she walked out of the seminar she saw a flash of red to her right: Catherine Willows talking to Horatio Cane, their ginger heads glowing in the late afternoon sun like a pair of beacons.

At that moment Catherine looked around, then gestured for Sara to come over and join them.

"I don't think you've met Horatio?" When Sara shook her head in response Catherine continued. "Horatio Cane, I'd like you to meet my colleague..."

"Sara Sidle," Cane interrupted, holding out his hand. "You need no introduction. The pleasure is mine."

Sara was shocked at being recognised by a man whose work she had admired from afar.

"I have to confess," he continued, "I've read a few of your articles in the journal of forensic science, I asked Catherine to introduce me."

Sara's attempt at responding was interrupted by a woman's voice calling "Sara, oh my God, you are here." She was enfolded in long pale arms and felt the slap of a pony-tail against her cheek before she could see who it was, but from the look of betrayal on Catherine's face she could hazard a guess.

After his initial surprise at being interrupted Horatio watched with interest the drama unfolding before him. Miss Sidle looked guilty, Catherine shocked, and the young gothic woman was hugging Sara Sidle as if this was the highlight of her day. Was he seeing jealousy? Some form of infidelity? Perhaps not.

"Sorry," the woman said cheerfully, letting go of a shell-shocked looking Sara. "I didn't mean to interrupt, it's just been ages since I saw Sara." She held her hand out towards Catherine. "I'm..."

That was when all hell broke loose.

"I hardly need an introduction to the woman who banged my ex-husband," Catherine's voice was like a hiss. "You got him killed, and left my daughter to drown in a sinking car. I'm just surprised at you..." She swung to face her colleague.

"Catherine, it's not what you think." Sara protested.

"So you're not being greeted by that woman like a long lost friend," Catherine sounded hurt. "What's she even doing here? I thought she was still in jail for child endangerment. I'd have thought someone would have told me."

The gothic girl was looking from woman to woman in confusion. "Child endangerment? I'd never hurt..."

"Not a word from you," Catherine spat out, raising one hand threateningly. "Get out of my sight before..."

Sara stepped in front of her colleague. "No Catherine, you're making a mistake."

"I don't think so."

"Catherine, I've known Abby since before I came to Vegas."

"Abby? Who's Abby? This is Candeece Black."

Horatio noticed that quite a few people were staring at their small group, and decided to intercede.

"Ladies, if I may suggest..." The three women turned towards him, his presence having been forgotten in the budding dispute. "We seem to be attracting a bit of attention with this discussion. May I suggest we take it elsewhere?" He gestured towards a vacant seminar room, and the ladies followed him into it.

"Sara," the Gothic girl spoke first, looking hurt and glancing from the red-head to the brunette. "Why does she think I'd hurt her daughter? You know me, I'd never do something like this?"

"Look lady," Catherine spoke before Sara could open her mouth. "I don't know who you think you're fooling with this act. I don't even know what you're doing here, but if you honestly thought you could be in the same room as me without being thrown out you have another thing coming to you."

"Catherine, shut up and listen for a minute."

"Shut up?" Catherine swung round to face Sara. "Please don't tell me you're taking her side in this. You saw what she did. Lindsay almost drowned because of this woman."

"No Catherine. You have it all wrong."

"I don't think so, and since you're obviously taking that woman's side in spite of what she's done I may as well leave."

Somehow her departure and the slamming of the door only made her presence stronger in the room. Sara stared after her in bewilderment, shaking the gothic girl's hand from her shoulder as she spun to face her.

"God Abs, you know I love you but you have the worst timing imaginable."

Abby simply looked confused. "I don't even know what I'm supposed to have done. Is she crazy? Suggesting that I'd hurt a child. And whatever she's saying I did to her husband. I've never even met her before."

"Yeah, well just when I thought maybe I'd gotten a little closer to her, that maybe I might one day get somewhere, I think you've just ruined any chance that I had."

Abby looked from Sara to the closed door. "With her? Are you sure you're not crazy to even think that?"

"Crazy now, I'm definitely in the enemy camp now."

"Ladies," Horatio spoke quietly. "If you'd like to tell me what's going on here maybe I can help?"

Sara looked from Abby across to Horatio before shaking her head. "I don't think there's any way to help here."

Abby, however, grabbed her friend's arm and dragged her to a seat. "I don't care if it helps or not, for my sanity's sake I think you owe me an explanation. Leave us to judge whether there is help to be had."

"Okay..." Sara looked from her pale gothic friend to the red-headed Miami CSI. "This is going to sound really weird, but basically it goes like this. Abby Sciuto, you have a doppelganger. Amazingly similar, though she doesn't have your sparkling personality. To cut a long story short, your doppelganger was directly responsible for the death of Catherine's ex-husband, and left her daughter to drown in a flooded car..."

"Penny for your thoughts."

Catherine, startled by the voice behind her, turned to face Horatio Cane.

"They're not worth a penny. I'm just thinking that I thought I knew someone, and maybe thought they were someone special, but I've just realised that I didn't know them at all."

She turned back to look over the balcony of the convention centre.

"Let me guess," Horatio spoke quietly as he moved to stand next to her at the railings. "Miss Sidle."

"I suppose that was pretty obvious." Catherine tried to keep the bitterness from her voice. "I'm sorry you got caught up in the middle of that."

"I'm not. Not sorry that is," Horatio continued. "Would it help if I told you that after I left Sara I made a phone call or two. Abby has been working with the navy criminal investigative service for the last 7 years."

Catherine turned in surprise.

"Who is Abby?"

"She's a lab rat for the navy. Apparently she's brilliant at what she does, handles the work of half a dozen of our lab rats and has serious talents with a computer. Lives on caffeine, immerses herself in her work. Highly recommended by connections in the FBI as well as NCIS."

"I don't get it," a bewildered Catherine responded. "What has this paragon of virtue got to do with Sara and that woman."

"That woman, as you call her, is Abby Sciuto. Identity independently confirmed, I can even get you a scan of her navy ID badge, complete with picture."

"That's not right," Catherine protested. "That woman is Candeece Black."

"Sara told us what you must be thinking when she tried to explain to an innocent woman why she was being treated like that. Sara was horrified at what happened, and convinced you must hate her. On the other hand Abby wants to get copies of this Candeece woman's finger prints, DNA and history. She's determined not to sleep until she investigates the doppelganger phenomenon. I think Sara was torn between helping with the investigation and coming to find you."

"She's really not Candeece?"

"Cross my heart."

"Oh God," Catheirne rested her head on her hands. "What have I done?"

Sara was in a funk. There was no other word for it. Laying in her hotel room, watching crappy ads on late-night television because she couldn't even bring herself to reach for the remote and save herself.

Honestly, how could everything be going so wrong? She'd been working so hard over the last few months to build bridges with Catherine. Now it seemed that she had no chance. She'd be lucky if Catherine even spoke to her again. The worst part was that she'd known what Catherine would think if she ever saw Abby, so why hadn't she warned her. True, she hadn't known Abby would be here, her name hadn't been on the delegate list, but forensics wasn't such a small field that she should have considered keeping the two apart forever.

It was the giant pink elephant that kept coming between them. Candeece was all tied up in Eddie's case. The case Sara should have been able to solve, but hadn't. The case Catherine knew Sara should have been able to solve, yet the casefile and evidence were sitting in a box in the refrigerated evidence warehouse with thousands of other unsolved cases.

The ringing of her phone pulled Sara from her contemplative state. She rolled over to pick it up from the side table, noting the number as she flipped it open.

"Abby? What do you want?"

"I just checked, I have a copy of my DNA profile and prints on my computer. A few years ago I put them into a montage to use as my wallpaper. It was cool for a while, it had the full DNA sequence, the usual markers done in black and red, then the print overlayed in bright green. But then I realised that everyone in the office could know all about me from my DNA, so I stopped using it. Do you think you can tell about a person from their DNA sequence?"

"Abby, where are you going with this?"

"Well, I've got mine. Now all you need to do is get your lab to send you this Black woman's prints and profile and we can start looking into this phenomenon. Isn't that cool! Have you rung them up?"

"Abby, it's nine thirty in Vegas. There's no way I'm ringing anyone at this hour to ask a favour."

"But if it's only nine thirty surely people will still be in the office? I often work a lot later than this."

"I meant only as in it's too early. We work graveyard, our shift doesn't start til midnight. The only one of my colleagues who won't be getting up and getting ready for work is Catherine. She's too busy hating me somewhere in this hotel."

Just then there was a knock on the door.

"Look Abs, I've got to go, there's someone at the door. I'll ring tonight and see what I can do."

Sara looked down at her crumpled clothes, shrugged, then walked over to the door as Abby was saying goodbye. She opened the door slightly without removing the safety latch, putting her eye to the crack to see who it was. Blue eyes looked back at her, and a few moments later she had stuffed the phone in her pocket and had the door fully open.

"Can I come in? I don't really want to do this in the hall."

Sara stepped back to allow the red-head into her room, closing the door behind them.

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry."

Both women spoke at the same time, Catherine looking down at the ground.

"I should have given you a chance to explain."

"I should have warned you about Abby."

"I could have trusted you, listened to you."

"I knew you'd run into her one day, I just didn't want to bring up painful memories. I checked, she wasn't supposed to be here."

"She's really not Candeece? Horatio explained, but the resemblance is uncanny."

"She's not, I met her years ago at a conference. When we brought Candeece in for questioning I thought I must be imagining the similarity, but the next time I saw Abby again I took a picture for comparison. If it weren't for the pink hair they'd look exactly the same. I even tried the facial recognition software on it."

"So, a real life doppelganger."

"Either that or long-lost identical twins. Guess we can't rule that out. Abby's pushing me to get Candeece's DNA profile so she can compare."

Sara had sat down on the edge of the bed, leaving the only chair for Catherine to take a hesitant seat.

"You can understand how I could be mistaken then?" Catherine asked anxiously. "Why I was so rude? It wasn't just seeing her, thinking it was Black. It was..."

"It was what? Catherine?"

Catherine looked into Sara's eyes for a moment before looking away to hide her tears.

"I felt betrayed that you could be greeting her like that. I felt that every overture of friendship towards Lindsay and I must be false. Like you weren't who I thought you were."

"Catherine, you know me better than that," Sara moved from the floor to crouch in front of the weeping Catherine. "I've got lots of flaws. You've encountered my temper. But you should know that I would never do that to Lindsay and you."

Suddenly Catherine was in Sara's arms, her head buried in the brunette's hair. "Can you ever forgive me for thinking that?"

Sara found herself stroking Catherine's hair, holding her tight and reassuring her that she was already forgiven. Feeling the muscles in Catherine's back move as slender arms were wrapped around Sara's waist stirred feelings in the brunette, feelings she had been trying to keep in check for a long time. Just as she was about to pull away from her friend she felt soft lips brush her neck and froze.

Catherine pulled back instantly.

"Oh God, I'm so sorry Sara. I just thought... I mean... I wasn't thinking. I didn't mean to do that, it just happened. I was way out of line. I should go now."

She was almost out the door when she heard a whisper behind her.

"It felt good."

She spun to face Sara, a questioning look on her face.

"Catherine, I felt good holding you, and when you kissed my neck that felt good too. So, if the reason you kissed me was that this has been an emotional few hours then that's okay. You can go, but you don't have to feel awkward about it." Sara paused waiting for Catherine to take her exit, but when she didn't leave Sara took her courage in both hands, stepped forward and continued. "But if there was some other reason then maybe you should stay and we should talk about it. Maybe we could also talk about why I felt so good having you in my arms. Because I know the answer from my perspective, but I don't know yours."

Catherine was still standing at the door, but her expression had changed. There was a hesitant smile on her face as she considered her answer.

"You're right. We should talk about it." She stepped forward into Sara's personal space. "I guess I kissed your neck because you holding me felt so good, and because for the longest time I've been wanting to do this." With that she leant forward and brushed her lips against Sara's, then pulled back to look into her colleague's face. Sara's lips were slightly parted and her eyes had drifted shut. "So, what reasons did you want to talk about."

Sara's eyes snapped open, and she grinned.

"I'm not always the greatest at words," she said leaning towards Catherine. "But I wanted to talk about this..."

The kiss that followed wasn't just a brush of the lips. It was an exploration of touch, taste and sensation. When they finally pulled back it was Catherine who spoke first.

"That seemed eloquent to me. I guess the only thing I need to know now is what it means? A kiss can mean comfort, or passion, or..."

Sara took Catherine's hand and brought it to her chest above her heart, then looked down into Catherine's blue eyes. Her heart was beating fast, the rhythm strong under Catherine's fingers. Her eyes were steady as she looked deep into Catherine's gaze.

"It can mean everything, or nothing," Sara whispered. "I'm hoping for everything."

Catherine's smile was echoed on Sara's face as they continued to gaze into each other's eyes. Then their lips came together again, eye's drifting closed as each revelled in the other.

Horatio Cane walked through the nearly deserted corridors of the hotel. It was late, but sleep was proving elusive.

He thought about the drama he had unwittingly participated in earlier that day. An investigator with a criminal doppelganger, that was a turn up for the books. As for the two women who seemed a little more than usually anxious about hurting each other, well time would tell how that would work out. He hoped that maybe he'd given Catherine a push in the right direction.

Not that he was playing match-maker. He just liked to see people happy.

Abby Sciuto sat cross-legged on the bed with her laptop resting on a pillow. She'd been waiting hours for Sara to ring her back with the DNA and prints of the woman who'd been behind the accusations thrown at her earlier. It wasn't like Sara to take this long.

Waiting wasn't good. Waiting gave her too much time to think.

It seemed impossible that she was related to this Black woman, but what if she was? Maybe she had a twin sister, switched at birth. Damn, she'd have to get the woman's birthdate as well. Having a sister would be cool, but not a sister who'd done what this woman had done.

Why wasn't Sara getting back to her? She picked up the phone, then thought better of calling at 2am. It would just have to wait until morning.

Meanwhile she found a people-search engine and ran the name Candeece Black.

The End

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