DISCLAIMER: Mostly not my characters, but I couldn't resist stealing such
fascinating characters as the writers/actors of CSI created. That's a
compliment. There'll be at least 3 installments to this fic - I think. Who
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Daughter's Mother
Have you ever wondered exactly what moment you stop thinking of someone as merely a colleague and begin to see them as a whole person. A potential friend... or more?
Recently I've found myself considering this. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This should be a narrative, not a monologue.
So, her name is Sara. Sara Sidle.
Mine is Catherine. Not Cate, Katie, Cathy or Cath, and especially not Kitty. Catherine Willows.
I had a manager once who wanted me to use a stage name Katya. Thought it would sound exotic, memorable. And memorable is good if you're a dancer in Vegas. There's more dancers here than on Broadway and probably more stage shows too. That was a long time ago of course, when I was young and had stars in my eyes. When I saw the sequins and dazzle without seeing the sex, drugs and desperation behind the scenes. I danced for years. I wasn't a great dancer, but if you're lucky enough to be born with a good body and a pretty face you don't have to be great in this town. If you can talk to people you'll do even better. The years I was dancing I talked to a lot of people.
That was then, this is now. Now I have a beautiful daughter who's just starting to get grown up. I have a job as a crime scene investigator that requires me to observe, investigate, listen and question. My greatest assets now are my eyes and my mind, not my body.
I love Vegas. I love my work. I love that I can help clean up some of what is so wrong in this town. Vegas is like a melting pot. People come here with dreams, of getting married, making a fortune or making it big. You throw all those dreams into a pot, and stir it around with money, passion and the people who want to get rich off other people's dreams. Too many people leave Vegas with their lives in pieces. If they leave at all.
On this particular night-shift Gil partnered me with Sara. We don't work cases together that much; there's been a few arguments in the past, although we've managed to be professional. The cases just don't normally fall out that way. After I look at the assignment I think I can see why it's the "girls" together today. Dead body outside a "dance club" with a brothel upstairs. Not the type of place I used to work, I worked a much classier joint than this. Definitely no tricks on the side; I like to think that I wouldn't ever have sunk so low.
By the time Sara and I grab our kits and drive out to the scene it's nearly three in the morning. Flashing red and blue lights out the back of the "club" lead us into the alley, and from there into the gated yard where the victim is lying. ME's office have already tagged cause of death as a gun-shot would to the head. Lack of blood suggests that this isn't the primary scene. Sara points out a red smear on the door jam of the club, and suggests that we should look inside.
Loud music and a haze of smoke assault our senses as we walk through the door. The first door we come to is the manager's office, where an overweight middle aged man stares vacantly at a bank of screens. A few words secure our permission to search the venue, with the usual proviso don't go into rooms where "transactions" are taking place.
After a few minutes work we can follow the blood trail to the back stairs, and find traces of blood and poly-cotton at the first landing. The victim may have been wrapped in bedding to be moved. God knows there's enough spare linen in a place like this. After tracking the trail to the top floor we split up, taking rooms on either side of the hall. It's a quiet night, and only two doors have any sign of current occupation. I leave them, I can always come back. In each room I look for blood spatter, for missing sheets, for gun-shot residue, bullet casings, a gun... anything that might tie into the crime. In the process I notice more trace than I ever wanted to see condoms in covered wastebaskets, dirty sheets, the works. Makes me glad my life didn't follow a different path: especially when I reach the front stairs and meet the "madam". Although she talks to me without recognition I know her face from many years before when she'd danced with me at a club.
It wasn't until I'd finished questioning her about the night's trade that I realised Sara should have processed the rooms by now. I walked back along the hall, feeling slightly relieved when I heard her laugh coming from behind a closed door. Relief turned a little edgy when she laughed again the only time I'd heard her laugh like that was after she'd pulled a double shift, then gone out for a knock-off drink with the team. Exhausted and sightly drunk, she'd laughed when Nick and Warrick wouldn't quit trying to set her up with one of Nick's friends. She shouldn't be sounding like that at a crime scene.
When I opened the door and looked in several things took my attention. One was the thick scented white haze that filled the room. Another was the young woman who was sprawled in the centre of the bed, smoking and wearing a negligee which left nothing to the imagination. Third was the edge of a glass pipe sticking out from under a pillow, and fourth was Sara sitting meditation style on the floor holding a bottle of luminol and a torch, looking from one to the other with confusion. Hearing me come in she turned slowly and held up the torch
"Catherine," she said seriously, as she squeezed the torch repeatedly, "I'm sure this room would glow, but I can't work the spray bottle."
I might have been confused if I hadn't been able to smell the opium and marijuana scents in the room. The girl on the bed looked thoroughly stoned, and so did Sara. A few sprays of luminol told me she was right about the room though, and when she pointed under the bed I knelt down to retrieve the bullet casing that rested on the floor. After taking Sara into another room I called Brass up from the courtyard, to witness the GSR test on the half-naked stoned woman. An easy arrest, a quick frisk of the room revealed a gun in the window box, and the case was looking pretty closed.
Which left me to deal with space-cadet Sara. I packed her kit up, took her by the hand and led her back to our vehicle.
"Didn't you realise that room was full of drug fumes?" I asked her as we pulled away from the scene. She just looked at me in confusion. Sara had always come across as so confident and competent, as being fairly worldly. This is when I realised that maybe in some ways she was as naive as my daughter. Somehow it made me look at her again, and wonder about the closed book that was Sara Sidle.
The only sense I got from her was a murmured "Hmm, donuts," as we drove past a donut king. Looking at her I realised there was no way I could take her back to the lab. Maybe donuts weren't such a bad idea, so I pulled over and helped her out of the car. Five donuts and a milkshake later I was wondering where she found room for that food. It's not like she was a big girl, and there was barely an ounce of fat on her. Not that she was too skinny, far from it, but definitely no donuts on the hips. If only I still had a metabolism like that. I'd called Grissom and told him Sara wasn't well and I didn't think she should finish the shift. He said it was a slow night, and suggested I look after her, he'd call me if things got busy. Which left me with a still rather stoned but no longer hungry Sara looking at me with a lazy smile.
"Some on Sidle, I'll take you home," I said briskly. Great plan, but she fell asleep the second she was in the car, and I didn't know where she lived. Being a trained investigator I did the obvious, looking in the wallet to get her address. When I got her there I realised her keys were in her locker at work. Change of plans, and I always carry my keys, so I took her back to my place, helped her up the stairs and led her inside. She sat down on the couch and removed her boots while I went to the fridge to find her something to drink. She'd be feeling bad enough when she woke up without having to deal with dehydration as well.
"The lounge changed colour," Sara said as I came back in. She definitely wasn't coherent yet, so I handed her the glass, put on my best mother voice and told her to drink it all before she went to bed.
"You know," she said as I tried to lead her to the spare bedroom, "That girl reminded me of Alice. Just a bit. Not the clothes, Alice was strictly a sports bra and cotton briefs kind of girl. I'd never date someone who wore a skanky negligee like that."
"Alice?" was what I said out loud. "Date Alice?" was what I was thinking.
"Hmm," she murmurred lazily as she looked at the bed. "College romance. She was athletic, caring, vivacious..." as she spoke she was taking of her jeans, pulling her shirt off, then turned towards me as she unselfconsciously took off her bra. "I loved her, she left me."
She lay down on the bed, curled up on her side with her hands resting on the pillow by her face. "She got married," was the last thing I heard her say before her breathing settled into the rhythm of sleep.
I sat on the edge of the bed watching her sleep, seeing how vulnerable she looked lying there in just her briefs. Trying not to notice the movement of her breasts with each breath. In a few short hours I'd gone from knowing nearly nothing about my colleaugue, to hearing her casually describe what I suspected was her major heartache before falling asleep in my spare room. I'd also learnt that her love had been a woman.
I think it was while I was gently tucking the covers around her that my view of Sara Sidle changed.
I woke up when Lindsay came into my room and jumped on the bed.
"Mom, Aunty Nancy was going to take me to the park, so I went into the spare room to find my roller-blades, and there's a woman asleep in there. Are they her boots in the lounge room? They are cool boots. Is she wearing any clothes?"
If you've ever been woken up by a questioning child you'll know how disorienting it is. The questions keep piling up while you try to navigate your way to consciousness. Luckily I'm used to it, so it was only a few minutes later that I was preparing to sneak into the spare room wearing my pyjama's to retrieve Lindsay's roller-blades. When I work nights Lindsay stays with my sister, who also picks her up from school. They do something after school, then Lindsay is with me for dinner and the evening. I normally take her to my sisters just in time for bed time, then get household chores done before work. It's tiring, but normally leaves the weekend completely free for me to spend with my daughter.
Anyway, I'd gotten the blades from the closet and was nearly back at the door when I heard movement behind me. Passing the roller-blades out I turned back to the bed, where Sara was looking around in confusion.
"Catherine?" she asked sleepily, "Where am I and how did I get here?"
"You're in my spare room, and I brought you here because you didn't have your keys with you and I thought you'd rather not have the whole office see you stoned."
That seemed to wake her up. In fact it made her sit up in bed, then fumble for the covers when she realised what she was wearing. Or wasn't wearing. I picked up her t-shirt and held it out to her, then looked away while she slipped it on.
"Why would you think I was stoned?" she asked briskly. "I've never been near anything like that in my life."
"That was pretty obvious," I said with a grin. I picked up her jeans and threw them to her. "Come out to the kitchen and I'll tell you what happened."
In the kitchen I retrieved cereal and bread from the cupboard, and by the time Sara came out there were two places set for breakfast. I handed her a juice then sat down, gesturing for her to follow suit.
"How are you feeling?" I asked, noting her bleary eyes.
"A little under the weather," Sara said, "And a lot confused."
I put toast on her plate and gestured towards the cereal box. "Eat, it's the best thing for you this morning." Then I started to explain the night before, Sara's eyes widening as I described the scene.
"It's all pretty blurry," she admitted, "Was I really trying to spray luminol from my torch?"
I laughed and she looked slightly hurt. "Don't worry," I said quickly, "It would make a great story, but I won't tell the boys. Not even Grissom."
She looked relieved, and murmured her thanks into a spoonful of muesli. After four pieces of toast and more juice she was starting to perk up, and I was watching in amazement. "I thought it was just the donuts. Where do you put all that food?" She blushed, said she'd always had a good metabolism, the paused. "Donuts?"
Another part of the story to tell her, and promise not to divulge at work. I left out the part where I got her home and she stripped in front of me. I knew she'd be too embarrassed about that. The morning after, coming down from the narcotics she'd inadvertantly inhaled, would probably be an emotional roller-coaster, no sense making it worse than it needed to be.
"Catherine," she said quietly, "Who was in that room with me? I thought maybe it was someone I knew..."
"Don't worry," I reassured her, "Her name wasn't Alice, it was Mariah."
She looked startled, then angry. "What do you know about Alice? Has someone been prying into my past?"
I stayed calm, knowing that part of the anger was chemical. "Sara, no one's been prying." She was pushing her chair away from the table and looked ready to storm out. "Sara," I reached out to grab her hands, "All I know about Alice is what you told me last night."
She deflated, collapsing back into the chair, tears welling up in her eyes. "I told you?" she whispered. "I can't believe I told you. I haven't talked about Alice since college."
Then she started crying; silent tears, the type children cry when they've given up hoping someone will comfort them. All I could do was wrap my arms around her, pull her head down to my shoulder and hold her while her body shook with grief. I mumured in her ear, a reassuring stream of words "It's okay, just let it out. It'll be alright, it's okay that you told me. I won't tell anyone, and you don't have to say anything more if you don't want to..."
Eventually the tears slowed, and I got her another juice.
"I'm sorry," she said, "You must think I'm a real headcase."
I shook my head and smiled, because that hadn't been what I was thinking at all. "Not a head case. You were breathing in THC and opiates last night, so it was inevitable you would be feeling off-balance this morning. I think that's why you're so upset. But..." I hesitated, not sure how she would react to what I wanted to say. "I also think that this is worse because you bottle so much inside yourself." She looked at me, and I could see the barriers going back up in her eyes. "You need to let go sometimes Sara. And, maybe, I think you might need a friend who you can talk to about things."
"That's easy for you to say," she responded defensively. "Good friends are pretty hard to come by you know, especially with the kinds of hours we work."
"I know that," I said calmly. "But, if you ever want to talk, I'm here. Even if you just want someone to have a coffee with, I'd love for you to call me. Just because we work together doesn't mean we can't be friends."
The slow, hesitant way she smiled was like a sunrise, brightening her face and the whole room.
"I'd like that," she said quietly.
And I knew for sure that my way of thinking about Sara had changed.
The fall-out from that night was pretty minor. I had to give a full report of Sara's exposure to narcotics to Grissom, and he gave her a lecture about awareness, and then ordered blood, urine and hair strand screens. They showed that she had been intoxicated, but the lack of toxins in her hair also proved that it was a one off exposure. This gave her a few days to finish paperwork since Grissom wouldn't let her touch evidence while there was any chance that her capacity could be questioned in court. The girl from the brothel confessed, the case was closed.
The guys spent a few days trying to find out why we'd knocked off early, then got distracted when a pretty young receptionist switched to the night-shift.
The main result of that night was that Sara and I started catching up for breakfast a few times a week.
When I said that we've always managed to be professional, I guess that's not quite true. Well, maybe Sara has been, but not me. Even right at the start, when she came looking for me and I pretended that "Catherine" was out in the field. I was also completely unprofessional after Eddie died, and I've never quite managed to apologise for yelling at her, or for implying that she didn't try hard enough to close his case. I know she did her best then, and that I was just looking for someone to blame, but I've just pretended it never happened. Not very kind I guess.
Even with our new breakfast sessions I can't bring myself to apologise. Admitting fault has never been my forté.
But at least we talk. Mostly it's about work; cases and colleagues.
I did ask her once how she'd gotten through high-school and college without recognising recreational drugs.
She snapped "Not all students were party animals like you. Some of us went to classes and studied."
Anytime she snaps at me I can feel my temperature rising. Who does she think she is to criticise me? I fight to keep the reaction buried, and a moment later I feel her hand touch my arm.
"Catherine, I shouldn't get angry but..." she forces a smile, but her eyes look nervous. "You may have been cool at school, but I was... a science geek. How many science geeks were at the parties where you learned about drugs?"
She has a point, but I can't help feeling like she changed what she was saying mid-way through.
"I guess you're right," I say. "But Sara, you're probably lucky not to have been exposed to that stuff. I learnt too much about it when I was dancing. I'm lucky to have gotten clean when I did, lots of girls got caught in a downward spiral. It was only having Lindsay that convinced me to change. A kid can do that too you."
"Lucky me," is the bitter response, then she excuses herself. Five minutes later she comes back from the bathroom and says she has to leave. Her eyes are bloodshot and red, but she's gone before I can ask what's wrong.
Getting to know Sara is like a maze, every time I think I'm getting somewhere she freezes up on me. Then the next time I see her she acts like nothing happened.
The better I get to know Sara, the more I notice things about her. Like her clothes. I'm sure she picks dark colours because she thinks that way she'll get less attention, but the way her clothes fit her means most of the boys notice. Especially Greg his "noticing" is so blatant that I'm surprised she doesn't report him for harassment. I notice the way she strides down the corridors, and how often she hides away in "her" lab.
I notice that she doesn't let anyone get too close, but that she especially seems to avoid Grissom whenever she can without it being too obvious. I wonder if it's because of their "thing", and then wonder if anything ever happened. I also wonder how she went from dating a beautiful girl in college to pining over an older and not so physically attractive man who obsesses over bugs. Actually, the bugs part kind of suits Sara the science geek, it's everything else that makes me wonder.
As I pull into the car park at the start of this particular shift I notice Sara walking towards the door and hurry over to join her. She always smiles when she first sees me, and that smile makes me feel happy. We walk together into the building, exchanging small talk, and are about to head to the locker rooms when we are stopped.
"Sara," calls Lyn the receptionist, the cute one that Nick wants to ask out. "There's a note from day shift that a girl was here earlier to see you. She wouldn't say what about, only that it was personal. She said she'd come back during your shift."
"I wonder who it could be," says Sara when we're in the locker room. "What 'personal' reason could anyone have to see me?"
"Maybe it's an old friend or something?" I suggest. "Someone from San Fran, or Harvard."
"Unlikely," she winces. "None of the people there have kept in touch since I moved here."
With that she moves out into the corridor, heading for the break room. I follow her, but there's no chance to ask anything more because Grissom is waiting to give out assignments. Nick and Warrick get a DB in the suburbs, Greg and Grissom are on a B&E at a gallery on the strip, Sara and I get to process a vehicle as part of an on-going investigation. I normally leave cars to the others, and my face must show my surprise, because Grissom makes a point of telling me I need to get out of my comfort zone, and Sara can teach me. I wonder if I'll ever have learnt enough for this job.
We're heading back to the locker-room to change into boiler suits when Lyn calls Sara to reception. I get changed while Sara heads off, then walk back out in time to see Sara bolt past me and out the fire escape. Then someone collides with me and I hit the floor hard. It takes a few moments for me to sit up, then a strong hand reaches down to me to help me to my feet. I look at the hand, then up at the young woman. Whoever she is she must be the person who upset Sara. I get to my own feet using the wall as support, then turn on her.
"Who are you? What are you doing here? And what did you say to Sara?"
The woman pushes wavy brown hair behind her ears, squares her shoulders and looks me straight in the eye. "My name is Tania Cook, and I'm here to see Sara. I won't tell you what I said, that's between Sara and I."
I'm angry, of course. Not only has she hurt my friend, but now she's holding out on me. So I glare at her. "The exit is that way." I turn her by the shoulders and push her in that direction just as security arrives. I'm just about to go after Sara when the woman calls out to me.
"I'm sorry, but could you at least give her this..." she holds out a piece of paper on which are written her name, date of birth, and a telephone number. I take it, then she walks away and is gone. Meanwhile I head to the fire escape which leads out to the back equipment yard, and there in that farthest corner I find Sara, sitting on a crate with her knees drawn up to her chest.
"Sara?" She doesn't respond, so I sit beside her and put an arm over her shoulder. She stiffens slightly, but I leave the arm in place. "Sara, you look like you need a friend. I'm here for you." She stays stiff for a few seconds longer, then relaxes.
"What's wrong?" I ask. "Who is Tania Cook, and what did she say that made you run?"
"Tania Cook?" she looks up questioningly. "Is that her name?"
"That's what she told me, after flattening me in the corridor. I had security escort her from the building."
"She says she's my sister," Sara said. "I don't have a sister, only an older brother, but she says she was adopted and the agency told her the mothers name was Laura Sidle. My mother."
I didn't know she had a brother. In fact I don't know anything about her childhood other than what she's said about being a science nerd. Then I think back to the woman's face, and that gesture tucking her hair behind the ears. Maybe...
"But Sara, she's a lot younger than you. Surely you'd have been old enough to remember if your mother had another pregnancy."
"Catherine, I haven't seen my mother since just before my 14th birthday." There is a tightness around her eyes as she speaks. "That woman didn't look any older than 20. It's possible. But surely someone would have told me if she'd had a baby. They never mentioned that she was pregnant."
I am wondering why Sara hasn't seen her mother since then. She can't have died, because then there'd be no question of an unknown pregnancy. I look down, and realise that the piece of paper the woman gave me is still in my hand. Then I look at the date of birth.
"Sara, she's older than 20." I do the maths in my head, noticing that Sara has tensed up again. "It says here that she's 23, born on August 14th 1983."
And that's when Sara faints.
She's only out for a minute or two, but that's long enough to scare me witless. I've called security and they're on their way with a stretcher. I've called Grissom to ask if there's anything in her medical that would account for fainting. I have Sara lying in the recovery position on the ground with her head cradled in my lap, my hand stroking her hair.
Her eyes open moments before security arrives. She's dazed, but refuses the stretcher, asking instead for me to help her inside. One of the security guys takes her other side as we help her walk back into 'her' lab where we settle her on the couch. When the security guy leaves and shuts the door I start pulling the "mother" routine, telling her to lie down and close her eyes. I can't help the mothering; it comes out whenever I'm concerned for someone, and is worse when it's someone I care for. Sara protests, saying we have work to do, but I notice that her eyes stay shut and she doesn't move, so I'm know I'm right.
"Sara, you've just had a traumatic experience, and right now you need rest," I say while my fingers gently stroke her brow. "I can start on the car. I'm not completely incapable."
I sit for a moment, listening as her breathing slows. She looks asleep when I head towards the door.
"Catherine," her voice stops me. "My mother definitely wasn't pregnant in 1983."
"Hush Sara, it's okay. Just rest," I say, then turn off the light and close the door behind me.
Processing that car took forever. I did what I would consider a thorough job checking for trace, and found nothing. Then I went to one of Sara's old case files and realised she'd found trace then in places I hadn't even looked. I had to find a manual to show me how to get to the rest of the car, and that showed me something new. In removing the seats to check under the racks I realised that the bolts didn't match, and one seat was a different colour. They'd put in a new seat to conceal what? There's more pieces in a car than I'd ever realised, and that was just inside the cabin. I was leaving the engine to someone who know more about them someone like Sara. But the new seat had a price tag on it, naming a local wrecking yard. Going back to the files I found that the suspect had made a credit card purchase from that yard, but for an amount less than the price on the seat. A couple of phone calls revealed that the wrecked had given him a discount because he "traded in" the old seat, which had not yet been re-sold. Bingo.
Towards the end of the shift Sara came out to the garage, now dressed in overalls. I looked at her sleepy eyes, and immediately walked over to hug her.
"What was that for?" she asks when I release her.
What was it for? I ask myself. Because she looks sleepy, confused and adorable? Adorable? Where did that come from?
"Because you're too clean. Grissom will know you slept all shift. Now you've got grease on you." Okay, maybe it was a lame excuse, but better than saying adorable out loud.
Sara laughs. "Catherine, you don't think they might notice that my grease is now a mirror image of yours? We do work with investigators, they've all heard of transfer." She looked serious, then stepped forward and wrapped her arms around me.
"What's this for?" I asked quietly.
"It's a thank you, because I needed a hug and you gave me one. Lindsay's lucky to have a mom like you." I hear her voice catch on that last sentence, and pull back to look at her.
"Sara, what's wrong?"
"Later Catherine," she says brusquely, "How big a mess have you made of the vehicle?"
I know a change of subject when I hear one, but let it slide. By the time I finish showing her what I've found she's looking pretty impressed.
"Grissom was wrong Cat, you don't need to learn more. You've done well."
I grin, both at the nick-name and the praise, but I have to be honest. "Sara, look behind you."
She turns around, spots the manual on the workbench, and begins to laugh.
"Come on," I say, "It's not that funny! Besides, shift's over in five minutes. I'm going to need a shower to get this grease of me."
"Better grease than some of the other stuff in this job."
Sara hesitates, "Catherine, could you maybe give me a lift home? I'm not feeling up to driving. And maybe we could talk on the way?"
"Of course," I reply quickly. "Meet you at my car?"
I'm waiting for at least 10 minutes at the car before Sara appears. I know I was longer than her in the showers, because I heard her finish then leave. I was expecting her to be waiting for me, but it seems she had something to do.
In the car she is silent, which puzzles me because she said she wanted to talk.
"Is everything okay?" I ask.
"Can you come up to my flat? This probably isn't a conversation to have while you're driving."
I haven't been inside Sara's home. The closest I've been was that night she ended up in my spare room. I'm definitely curious about it, and also curious about what happened today. So of course I say yes. Which is how I end up sitting on the couch in a small, slightly sterile looking lounge room, sipping coffee while Sara sits on the floor watching her coffee get cold.
"Okay Sara, we're not driving now, or at work. There's obviously something you want to tell me, so let's have it."
Sara looks up at me, eye's wide like a deer caught in headlights, then speaks. "I've never told anyone this. I don't know how to."
"Don't worry about what I'll think," I reassure her, "Just let it out."
She looks down at the table. "My mother wasn't pregnant back then. I was."
I am shocked. Stunned. This isn't what I was expecting. "But... you could only have been about 14?"
"I was 12."
This doesn't fit in with what I know about the quiet nerdy Sara. "Who was the father?"
"He... it was..." she hesitates, then continues "I was raped. When I was 11. I... I never had my first period, I got pregnant instead. No-one outside of my family knew. Not even my brother, he was long gone by then. Loose clothes at school, then staying inside all summer so no-one could see."
"But, what about your doctor? The morning after pill? Why didn't your parents do something?"
"It was my mother who kept me inside. Called me a slut and told me how ashamed I should be. I didn't really know what was happening, I was only a kid."
"Oh honey," I find myself on the floor next to her, wrapping my arms around her shaking shoulders and wondering what kind of mother could let her daughter go through that.
"By the end I was thinking that at least I'd have a baby, someone who'd love me unconditionally. But I didn't even get that. My mother looked after the birth, and I guess I lost consciousness. She told me the baby died, that I wasn't even good enough to keep my own daughter alive."
I remembered Lindsay's birth, how scared I'd been even with the nurses and doctors, with Eddie on one side and mom on the other. But I'd been a grown woman, not a kid of 12. What kind of childhood had Sara had?
"Sara honey, what about your dad? Where was he?"
"He called me a slut when he found out, accused me of sleeping with any man I could find. He had to, otherwise she would have known."
I get a dark, sick feeling in my gut. "She would have known what?"
Sara pulls away from me, and looks into my eyes. She seems to be considering her answer, wondering what to say.
"Just tell me Sar."
"Mother would have known who the father was. She would have known that it was him. But I guess she probably did know already. That was probably why she'd always hated me. Ever since I was 5 and he started coming to my room she hated me because he didn't want her anymore. That's why she hit me. That's why she must have given my baby away. But I guess in the end she realised it wasn't my fault; that's why she killed him, not me."
To say I am shocked is like calling the ocean a little puddle. My mind is reeling at what she's been through, and part of me aches to run home, find Lindsay and hold on to my little girl forever. The other part of me is seeing Sara in front of me, seeing her face close up as if she's certain I will hate her for what she's been through. And that part of me reaches out to her, pulls her into my arms, and starts crying.
I feel her arms tighten around me, although her body remains rigid. What must she be thinking? Probably that I'm crazy to be the one crying when she's the one who's been hurt.
"I'm sorry," I mumble against her shoulder. "It's just that... how can you have survived that and still be gentle and caring? How can you do what we do when you've seen so much pain already?"
She's silent for a while, though I feel her body relax slightly, before she replies thoughtfully, "I think that's why I can do it. Because I know how much difference we can make. How important the truth can be."
"And that's why, the cases with kids, or the rape cases..."
"The cases with kids get to you too Catherine. That's the mom in you."
"I know but..." then I pause as several things click together in my mind. "Sara, this means you're a mom too. Your mother may have given the baby up for adoption, but she was your child. Tania is your daughter!"
"But she thinks she's my sister. She thinks she's finding a family, when all there is is a mess. What do I tell her?" She's beginning to sound angry, "I'm not your big sister, I'm your mother. Why did I have a baby so young? Because your father, who's also your grandfather, repeatedly raped me when I was too young to do anything about it, and your grandmother just stood by until she got fed up and killed him. Oh, and I thought you were stillborn; your grandma stole you and gave you away. Welcome to the family!"
Any response I might have made is interrupted by a knocking on the door. Someone has terrible timing, although at least it gives me a moment to think while Sara goes to the door. She looks through the peep-hole, then pulls the door open. "What are you doing here?" she says angrily, and I get up expecting to see Tania on the other side. Instead I see Grissom, looking awkward.
"I thought " he mumbles, "Catherine said you'd fainted, and the guys were talking about a woman coming to see you. I thought I should check on you, I wanted to know that you're okay."
Sara's face and eyes are both red. There's no way she could possibly convince anyone that she was 'okay', and I figure Grissom will insist on coming in. But I wasn't allowing for Sara.
"Gil, there was a time when I would have been thrilled that you cared enough to be concerned. But now I know you're just doing what you think you should do. And even if you've decided you actually do care, it's too late. I've moved on. Now if you don't mind I'm in the middle of something here."
Grissom looks startled, then looks around and sees me in the lounge. "Oh," he suddenly looks sad. "I'll go then. I'm sorry."
"Wow," I say as Sara re-locks the door. "You sure know how to say no to a guy."
She looks startled, almost as if she'd forgotten I was there, then shrugs and moves back to the couch. "I guess you guys noticed that I was interested back then?"
"Noticed?" I try not to laugh. "Sara, you followed his every move, lit up whenever he gave you any kind of praise."
"Maybe a bit, although in light of what you just told me I can understand why you'd pick someone who was admirable but unobtainable. After your childhood I'm surprised you're not a complete basket case."
"I think maybe I am," she says quietly, the changes the subject. "Do you want a drink?" She gets up without waiting for a response, then comes back with two cold beers. "So, do you want to know what a basket case I am?" she says brightly as she hands me one of the beers.
"Whatever you want to tell me," I say cautiously, taking a small sip. She's making me nervous now, her eyes are a little too bright. She lifts the beer to her lips and drinks half the bottle, her throat moving convulsively as she swallows.
"Let's see. I went into the foster care system at 13. They'd arrested mum for dad's murder, then they found me curled up in the closet of my room. I was catatonic for days, by the time I really knew where I was I'd been sent to a foster home. I didn't speak to them for weeks, but I found their bookshelf and spent my time there reading every fiction book I could get my hands on. Shut out the world and escape. Unfortunately that didn't work out so well I'd shut out the world so much that it was a problem. Then there was counselling and therapy. Only about the books, I wouldn't talk about the past. So I changed the novels to textbooks. Meanwhile the father in that home got a job interstate, so I got sent back. I got bounced from house to house for another year or so before I found a place I could settle down a bit. Then I had a great science teacher in my sophomore year she showed me how to see the world as a giant puzzle, with every aspect of science giving clues as to how it worked. I was a science geek, spent months on my science-fair projects, always won prizes. I even won a scholarship for Harvard. That's where I discovered that people were puzzles too."
I'm listening in silence, fascinated to learn more about this amazing woman.
"My first year there I was working in vacations as a lab assistant, running organic chemistry experiments. The next year I got to go to a conference in Miami with my supervisor and some others from the labs. On the flight I was sitting next to Ken, one of the TA's, and he asked me if I'd ever done it on a plane. Of course I hadn't, my father never took me on a plane. Then I realised that Ken wanted to, with me. He was a gentle guy, nice eyes. And I thought, maybe it was time to do what I was sure every other person my age in America was doing. So I did. And I didn't really feel much of anything. I knew altitude was supposed to make things more intense, but the whole process seemed pretty mechanical to me. I tried a few other guys after that, but there was nothing, and I thought that maybe I was just meant to be alone. Until the start of my senior year, when Alice kissed me. She was beautiful and brilliant, and I fell in love. We'd go out every weekend, she loved going to bars. She'd hold my hand, dance close and kiss me like I was the only one in the room."
Even though I know their relationship is history I find myself a little jealous of Alice, for knowing Sara before me, for sharing that bloom of first love. Then I catch myself, why am I jealous?
"Anyway, it wasn't 'til just before graduation that we slept together. She'd been shy, and I was scared that I wouldn't be good. Not that I told her that, or why. It was beautiful. Three days later, after graduation, she broke it off with me. Said she didn't want to be ostracised for her 'way of life'. She said she was going back home and asked me not to contact her. I never did. I turned my back on a masters scholarship and took a job with the San Francisco coroners. I never wanted to see Boston again. Eventually I switched to a CSI job, and I met Grissom at a conference. He was brilliant, quirky, detached. I felt comfortable with him like I hadn't been with anyone since Alice. I actually trusted that he wouldn't hurt me. When he asked me to come work here I leapt at the chance. It took me so long to realise that I was wrong; that he'd never hurt anyone by his actions but only by his inaction."
I've been quiet, but now I speak up. "Sara, there's nothing wrong with your admiration of Grissom. I'd be more worried if you never felt that way about anyone. Besides, it seems like you got over him a while ago, why is it so upsetting now?"
She's silent, watching me cautiously.
"Come on, tell me!"
"Okay," she drains the rest of her beer. "It's upsetting because in the midst of all this I've realised I'm falling for someone else. Someone who's just as unobtainable as Grissom."
My mind is spinning, possibilities whirling through my mind. She's fallen for someone? There's a sinking feeling in my stomach as I consider who it could be. Greg? Hardly unobtainable. Nick? Brass? He's similar enough to Grissom that it makes sense, although he seems to act more paternally to Sara. Then I realise, Warrick. It must be Warrick, he's the only one on the crew who's married. I can't even fault her taste, there was a time when maybe...
I don't want to talk about it, so I try to think of a diversion. I seize the first that comes to my mind and start talking.
"There's a few options with Tania."
She looks confused initially, then nods. She looks so tired. Today must have been terrible for her.
"You wanted to know what to tell her. If she managed to track you down then surely she'd have found records about your mum's trial. So... option one is ignore her, don't contact her at all. But I suspect you won't do that. Option two is to meet with her and talk, but tell her you don't want an ongoing relationship. Option three is treat her like a long lost sister, don't mention your childhood unless she asks, and even then you can choose what to tell her. Option four is tell her as much of the truth as you and she can handle."
She's looking so tired that my mother instinct kicks in.
"You don't need to decide anything now. Come one, it's time for you to sleep. I'll go home. Since your car's still at the lab I'll pick you up for work?"
Somehow I'm out of there, sitting in the car before I even realise that I've run away. Run away from someone who must have had one of the most emotionally draining days of their life. What kind of friend does that? A real friend would have stayed, tucked her in, made sure she was okay. I debate going back up, but see the lights go off. I sit back in the car outside Sara's flat wondering what kind of coward runs out on a friend in need.
Then I realise; the kind of coward who's falling for her friend.
It's all so obvious really. Only it wasn't obvious. Not to me.
I spent years convinced Sara was the bane of my existence. Convinced that she was after my job, undermining me in the office. How juvenile could I be? Sure, I'd been prepared to mother Holly, but I obviously couldn't cope with a competent and attractive woman in my territory? All the fights, all that tension. Why didn't I see it?
Then the second we started getting close to each other it felt natural, relaxed. Except that there was still tension there. Tension that kept us from being able to fully relax. And I didn't know what it was.
Oh God, does she realise what it is? Has she noticed me watching her? Have I been watching her?
I know she's been with a woman before, with Alice... but she was so focussed on Grissom, for years. Now that's past, but apparently she's changed to Warrick. God, how could I not have seen this coming? What can I do about it?
There's only one answer to that question. I can't do anything about it. Sara is traumatised and vulnerable right now. The last thing she needs is a reason to back away from her closest friend.
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