DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to CBS, Jerry Bruckheimer and anyone else with a piece of paper to say so. I'm not one of those people. So sue me. Hey, I was just kidding!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I started this story after the little hint about Sara's personal life mentioned in Early Rollout. As of the completion date of this fic (14th May 2004) it hasn't been mentioned again. Typical, huh? :-)
SPOILERS: Early Rollout, Butterflied, minor for Eleven Angry Jurors.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Wonko

Part 1

Sara woke up feeling groggy and more tired than she'd been before she went to bed. Her head felt like lead and seemed to be vehemently opposed to rising from the pillow. She cracked one eye open and immediately regretted it when she was assaulted by migraine inducing sunlight. She had forgotten to draw the curtains before she'd fallen asleep and now the late afternoon sun was shining on her face at just the wrong angle. She groaned and bit back a wave of nausea.

Drinking alone and drinking during the day. The two things her mother had warned her about the day she turned twenty-one (as if she hadn't been drinking since she was sixteen anyway.) 'If you find yourself doing either of those things, Sara,' her mother had said. 'You know you've got a problem.' So what did it mean when you started doing both?

It had started so innocently. Not long after the lab explosion she had asked Grissom out to dinner and he'd said no. Not just 'no'. More like 'no, and why the hell would you think I wanted to?' She'd come home and been completely unable to sleep - feeling inadequate, rejected and painfully embarrassed. It hadn't seemed like such a big deal when she'd cracked open a bottle of beer (expensive, imported German stuff.) And the next day when she'd been struck by insomnia again it seemed natural to crack open another and drink herself into a pleasant buzz until she was able to doze off.

But then... But then the beer started to get cheaper and it took more than one or two before she fell asleep. She found herself wishing for the end of each shift so she could get home and settle into quiet oblivion for a few hours. Seeing Grissom every day at work was like a constant ache which only alcohol could dull. And eventually beer wasn't enough. Whisky, vodka, rum, bourbon, gin. Whatever was on sale at the liquor store that week. No need to bother with mixers - it was anaesthesia she wanted, and the purer the better.

When it got to the stage that the alcohol was still on her breath when she went to work she started buying cough drops like they were candy. She thought she was being so clever - the medicinal smell would disguise any remaining alcohol and pretending to be sick would give her an excuse to be woozy. Brass saw through her like she was transparent. The night he had his little chat with her she dumped the cough drops and switched to cigarettes. Four and a half years of being a non-smoker went out the window with her first Camel. The cigarettes helped her to relax just like the booze did and the smell of smoke that followed her everywhere covered the alcohol. Her apartment had started to resemble a sleazy bar with bottles and cigarette butts occupying every free surface.

"I am so fucked," Sara whispered to herself bitterly. She forced herself up onto her hands and knees and looked around blearily. So, she'd made it to the bed this time. She'd lost count of the times she'd woken up sprawled over the sofa or the floor - she'd even found herself in the bathroom once. Last night's clothes felt slightly damp against her skin. Her body, in protest of the treatment it had been receiving lately, had obviously tried to sweat out some of the toxins she'd been pumping into it. An empty vodka bottle lay discarded on the bedside cabinet.

The blinking of her alarm clock display told her she had to be back at work in just over an hour. She dragged herself out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. Her reflection shot an accusatory glare at her as she stared into her own bloodshot eyes. "What are you looking at?" she muttered, pulling her clothes off and climbing into the shower.

Thirty minutes later Sara pulled a CSI baseball cap over her still damp hair and grabbed her jacket, cigarettes and car keys from the table by the front door. She hesitated as her fingers closed over the keys.

Forensics 101 - alcohol is absorbed by the body at a steady rate. If you take the amount of alcohol that has been consumed you can predict with a fair amount of accuracy how soon it will leave the system. Sara's mind was slightly dulled thanks to that bottle of vodka but she was still a scientist and she knew she was over the limit. She didn't feel drunk but that wouldn't matter if she was pulled over. Her job was at risk if she got herself in trouble with the cops. And besides - Sara loathed and despised drunk drivers. In her opinion, driving a car when drunk was just as bad as picking up a gun and firing randomly into a crowd. Even if you didn't hit anyone, it was still a fucking crazy thing to do. And she wasn't that far gone.

Not yet.

Sara dropped the keys and grabbed the phone instead, trying to remember the number of her local cab company. It was Friday night and the wait was going to be at least twenty minutes. She didn't use the company often enough for them to put a rush on it for her so she thanked the girl on the other end of the phone and hung up. She drew in a shaky breath and dialled her last resort.

"Catherine? Hey, it's Sara." She straightened her cap and pushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear as she spoke. "Have you by any chance passed my apartment yet? Yeah, my car won't start and I really need a ride." A flicker of a smile ghosted over her lips. "Thanks, Cath," she said. "I'll be waiting downstairs." She hung up and grabbed her stuff again. Catherine had been about two minutes away from her place when she called so she knew she wouldn't have long to wait. She lit a Camel as she walked down the stairs.

The cigarette was burning dangerously close to her fingers when Catherine drew up beside her and she flicked the butt away carelessly. Catherine waved a hand in front of her face as Sara climbed in to the passenger seat of the Tahoe. "Jesus, Sara, are you still smoking those filthy things?"

"You're just pissed they're not your brand," Sara teased gently.

"I'll have you know I haven't had a cancer stick in five years and I'm not planning on changing that," Catherine replied as she reached to change gears. The gearbox grated in protest as she fluffed it yet again. Sara winced.

"You should get an automatic," she said. "Stick-shifts don't like you."

Catherine shot her a glare. "So, what's up with your car?" she asked. Sara frowned briefly then remembered that had been her excuse.

"Oh, uh, I dunno, I'll have to get AAA to tow it to a garage when I get off."

"I thought you were good with cars?" Catherine said. "Can't you have a look yourself?"

"I suppose I could, but my AAA membership cost fifty bucks and I haven't got anything out of it yet," Sara replied with a smirk. Catherine let out a small laugh and they spent the remainder of the journey to CSI headquarters in silence.

They pulled up outside the building at the same time as Nick. Catherine waved at him brightly. Sara's greeting was slightly more subdued. Things had been slightly tense between her and Nick since she had found herself passed over for promotion in his favour. She knew the promotion had hinged on Grissom's recommendation. So, not only had he rejected her personally he had rejected her professionally too. Sara wasn't good with people but she'd always consoled herself by knowing she was damn good at her job. Apparently Grissom didn't agree. It was hard not to take something like that to heart.

The three CSIs entered the break room together and were greeted by a smiling Greg Sanders. "Evening Nick," he said. "Ladies." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"What are you doing here and where's Grissom?" Sara asked. She wasn't in the mood for Greg. Her head hadn't stopped thumping yet and every word was like a physical assault.

"Someone got out of the wrong side of bed," Nick remarked as he poured himself a coffee.

"More like fell out," Catherine added, looking Sara up and down. A flush rose to Sara's cheeks and she suddenly felt very exposed under Catherine's stare. Catherine noticed her discomfort and gentled her tone. "Rough day?"

Sara looked away and cleared her throat. "I just want to get my assignment," she said, avoiding the question.

"Well, to answer your questions," Greg said as he stood up. "I'm here because Grissom wants me to work a robbery with Nick." Nick swallowed his coffee a little too quickly and started coughing. Greg ignored him. "And Grissom is with a DB at a house in Henderson. He told me to send you two over there ASAP."

Sara grabbed their assignment slip from Greg then turned and left without a word of thanks leaving the other three looking at each other with slightly baffled expressions. "God, she's been such a pain in the ass recently," Nick said, taking a final gulp of coffee. "Good luck," he said to Catherine. "I think you'll need it working with her all night."

Catherine smiled and slapped Nick on the back good-naturedly. "Same to you," she said, nodding her head towards Greg. She laughed at Greg's mock offended look and waved as she left the room. "Later guys."

She found Sara outside by the Tahoe with her kit slung over her shoulder. Three cigarette butts lay by her feet. Catherine raised her eyebrows at that and Sara defiantly ignored her. "You ready?" Sara said shortly.

"Yeah," Catherine replied. Sara nodded curtly and started to turn towards the passenger side door. Catherine pinned her in place with a look.

"Okay," she said coldly. "Who pissed in your cheerios this morning?" Sara started to shake her head but Catherine wasn't about to be deterred easily. "You're in a foul mood," she said. "And you can take it out on Greg as much as you like but I'd appreciate it if you at least tried to show me some respect."

Sara's expression turned stony. "Are you finished? Cause I want to get some work done."

Catherine threw her hands in the air and shook her head. "You know Sara, if you're trying to alienate your friends you're doing a bang up job," she said as she walked round to the other side of the Tahoe and jerked open the driver's door.

Sara waited until Catherine had slammed the door closed before she replied: "Can't alienate what you don't have." Then she opened the passenger door and let a tense silence surround them until they reached the crime scene.

Brass greeted them as they climbed out of the truck. "Evening Catherine," he said. He looked pointedly at Sara. "Sara."

"Hey," Sara replied, not meeting his eyes.

"Where's Grissom?" asked Catherine.

Brass pointed up to the second floor of the house. "In the bathroom with the vic. And I'm warning you - this one ain't pretty."

Catherine smiled. "Don't worry Jim, I've got a strong stomach."

Sara started walking towards the house leaving Brass and Catherine alone. Catherine sighed dramatically. "She's starting to seriously piss me off," she said.

Brass looked over his shoulder at Sara's retreating form. "Go easy on her," he said softly.

Catherine frowned but Jim didn't elaborate. "Oookay," she said and shouldered her kit. "I'd better go and earn my tiny paycheck." With a final smile for Brass she followed Sara, catching up to her just as she reached the bathroom door.

Sara felt a wave of nausea hit her and she was suddenly glad she hadn't had time to eat before she came in. The vic was female, probably in her mid twenties, but there was too much blood to see any distinguishing characteristics. She was naked and hanging upside down over the bathtub, suspended from the shower rail with a nylon rope. Her throat, wrists and ankles had been slit and blood had poured from these wounds over her body and down the drain. Her hands were bound together and she had what looked like an apple stuffed in her mouth. Her lifeless eyes stared glassily at nothing.

Catherine reached out and grabbed Sara's arm to steady herself, taking back everything she had ever said about having a strong stomach. "This is fucking sick," she muttered. Sara looked down at Catherine's hand which was still grasping her arm. She frowned as she realised that she couldn't remember the last time someone had reached out and touched her. Catherine was a tactile person but her playful little slaps on the back and comforting shoulder squeezes were reserved for the guys. Had Catherine ever touched her like this before? Sara didn't know and suddenly the idea upset her.

Catherine saw where Sara was looking and bashfully removed her hand. "Sorry," she said with a small smile. Sara continued to stare at the place Catherine's hand had been for a second longer and then looked up sharply.

"It's okay," she said.

Catherine opened her mouth to reply but Grissom interrupted before she could. "Oh, you're here," he said. Catherine and Sara turned towards him simultaneously. Neither of them had noticed him before - a dead body in the room had a tendency to grab your attention to the exclusion of all else, especially when it was so gruesome.

"Hey Gris," Catherine said. She placed her kit on the floor. "Where do you want us?"

Grissom met Sara's eyes briefly before looking back over to Catherine. "You can stay here and help me process this room," he said. "Sara, I want you to do a walkaround of the perimeter. Keep an eye out for her clothes - they're missing. And the victim's girlfriend says there were no signs of forced entry but we have to be sure."

"The victim's girlfriend?" Catherine asked with a cock of her head.

Sara smirked. "You know, Catherine, lesbians aren't mythical beasts. You will actually come across them sometimes." Her tone was dripping with sarcasm. Catherine flushed lightly.

"That's not what I meant," she said defensively.

Sara grabbed her kit and turned to walk out. In the doorway she stopped and looked back at Catherine. "Then what did you mean?" she asked but didn't wait around for an answer.

Catherine sighed as she snapped on a set of latex gloves. "Great, now I look like a homophobe," she muttered.

Grissom was enthralled in his study of the body and didn't say anything.

Sara was glad for the solitude the walkaround allowed her. The last thing she wanted was to be working with Grissom. If she had to be on a case with him she was at least grateful for this short time alone.

She went round the house twice and didn't spot anything suspicious. On her third pass something caught her eye in front of the living room window. Frowning, she squatted down and took a closer look. It was a cigarette butt. Correction - a ton of cigarette butts. Sara felt herself go slightly cold as she realised that she'd walked past this blatant evidence twice and hadn't spotted it. She got out her tweezers and bagged each butt individually, trying not to castigate herself too much.

When she'd finished she wandered back to the front of the house and dusted the door knocker. The prints she found were too jumbled and smeared to be useful but she lifted them anyway. Jacqui in the print lab was good. If anyone was able to get a match from this it was her.

Brass approached her from behind and coughed slightly to get her attention. "Anything good?" he asked.

"Found some cigarette butts by the living room window," Sara replied. "Could indicate that someone spent a lot of time watching the house. No signs of forced entry so I'm guessing she let him in. Door knocker prints aren't great though." Sara turned towards him with a slight frown. "What's the vic's name by the way?"

"Marianne Roberts," he said. "She was a waitress at some diner downtown."

Sara raised an eyebrow. "Pretty nice house for a waitress," she said.

"The girlfriend's a lawyer." Brass pointed at a blonde woman who was standing by a patrol car with her arms wrapped round her torso, looking completely lost. "Her name's Emily Porter."

Sara nodded thoughtfully. "Guess I'll go talk to her," she said. She patted Brass on the shoulder as she passed him.

"Sara?" he said, stopping her. She looked back expectantly.

"Cigarettes instead of cough drops?"

Sara's lips hardened into a straight line as she turned her back on him and made her way towards Emily Porter.

"Emily?" Sara asked gently as she approached the blonde. She looked up at Sara with red rimmed eyes.

"Yes?" she said.

"My name's Sara Sidle, I'm with the Crime Lab," Sara replied, flashing her ID briefly. "I'm so sorry for your loss."

Emily nodded briefly. "You're the first person who's acknowledged I've had one," she said bitterly. "These cops are treating me like my pet dog just died, not the woman I love." She bit back a sob. "Loved..."

Emily sank down to the curb and pulled her legs up to her chest. Sara sat down next to her and put a hesitant arm round her shaking shoulders. "You don't need to stop loving her just because she's gone," she said gently. A silence stretched between them, punctuated occasionally by Emily Porter's muted sobs. "I know this is the worst possible time to be asking questions," Sara continued awkwardly. "But there are some things we need to know."

Emily turned to her with tear filled eyes. "You got a cigarette?" she asked.

Sara produced a pack of unfiltered Camels and offered one to the other woman. "You a big smoker?" she asked, thinking of the cigarette butts she'd spent twenty minutes carefully bagging. Emily let out a short laugh.

"Can't stand the things," she said as Sara lit the cigarette for her. She coughed uncontrollably on her first drag. "Marianne smokes...smoked. I always made her do it out of the window though - I didn't want the smell to get everywhere."

Sara sighed inwardly. That explained the butts outside the window. She lit up a Camel of her own and took a deep, satisfying drag. They smoked in silence for a couple of minutes and then Sara turned to the other woman.

"How long were you and Marianne together?" she asked gently.

Emily threw the cigarette down to the pavement. "Tomorrow is our four year anniversary," she said. Sara closed her eyes briefly and put her arm round Emily again, sensing she was about to fall apart.

"We will find whoever did this to her," Sara said seriously. "I promise."

Emily seemed to shrink before her eyes. "Don't make promises you can't keep," she said. "I'm a lawyer, I know how the system works. It's not about guilt or innocence. It's about who can afford the best attorney."

"The best lawyer in the world can't refute forensic evidence," Sara maintained. "Two of the best CSIs in the country are with Marianne right now listening to the story she's trying to tell us. That story will lead us to her killer. Trust me."

Emily drew in a shaky breath and nodded slightly. "You're right," she said. "I have to have faith in justice."

"I've devoted my life to it," Sara said with a small smile. "It's never steered me wrong."

Emily nodded and seemed to gather herself. "You wanted to ask some questions?"

Sara withdrew her arm from Emily's shoulders and pulled out her notebook. "Yeah," she said, feeling a professional wall go up between them. "What's the name of the diner that Marianne worked at?"

"It's just called Betty's," Emily replied and gave her the address. "It's near my firm's offices - that's where we met." Sara shot her a look of sympathy as her voice wavered.

"Did she ever talk about problems at work? Colleagues, management, customers?"

"No, I don't think so. Wait!" Sara looked up from her notebook. "She mentioned something about a guy who'd been bugging her. Andy something. One of those guys who doesn't know what no means."

Sara raised an eyebrow. "He asked her out?"

"Every single day," Emily replied. "He'd been doing it for weeks but she didn't mention it till a couple days ago."

"Did she..." Sara trailed off, trying to think of a delicate way to phrase this. "Did she seem like she was scared of him?"

Emily shook her head. "She was just annoyed."

Sara nodded. "Okay," she said gently. "Is there anyone else she mentioned? Anyone who might have had a grudge against her?"

Emily shook her head again. "Everyone loves Marianne," she said. She paled. "I mean-"

"It's okay," Sara reassured her hastily. "It's okay." She produced a card from her pocket and pressed it into Emily's hand. "If you think of anything at all - even if it doesn't seem important - call me. Day or night."

Emily nodded and Sara gave her a final pat on the shoulder as she stood up. She walked over to a uniformed cop. "Hey, uh, Officer..."

"Ramsey," he finished for her.

"Ramsey," she repeated and smiled slightly. "Could you sit with Ms. Porter for a while please? We'll need to get a set of prints from her for elimination before she leaves, but I think she needs a few minutes before we do that. Either I or one of my colleagues will be back to collect her prints in a little while."

Ramsey nodded. "Sure thing, ma'am," he said. Sara grabbed his arm as he passed her.

"You married, Ramsey?" she said. He frowned.

"Yeah," he said uncertainly.

Sara nodded once. "Imagine you came home and found your wife murdered," she said, watching him pale. "That's how she feels. So treat her like it, okay?"

Ramsey nodded and Sara let him go. Confident that Emily was in safe hands she went back into the house. She leaned against a wall and breathed deeply, thinking about Emily and Marianne and the love that had so obviously lived in this house until a few short hours ago when someone had come in and brutally destroyed it. Her heart ached. It just wasn't fair. These two women had found love together, and managed to keep it which was something altogether more difficult. Sara felt a sudden flash of boiling hatred for the faceless figure who had committed this crime and deprived the woman outside of all the years that should have been shared with Marianne. She wanted to catch this guy. Badly.

Inexplicably a thought about Grissom flitted through her mind. She knew he had feelings for her; she'd seen him talking to that suspect through the two-way mirror. For a month she'd waited to see if anything would come of it. But there was nothing. Grissom treated her no differently than he ever had and it was like pouring salt in an already angry wound every time he spoke to her. The guy was just too emotionally stunted to accept what she was trying to give him.

God, she wanted a drink.

Shaking herself she climbed the stairs and hovered in the bathroom doorway. "Got anything good?" she asked. Catherine looked up.

"Couple of fingerprints, a shoe print, a few dark hairs. Since both the women who lived here are blondes I'm hopeful about those. You?"

"Nada," Sara sighed. "No forced entry. I found a pile of cigarette butts by the living room window but Emily confirmed they were Marianne's."

"Emily? The girlfriend?"

Sara nodded. "I talked to her. Apparently Marianne was being hassled by a customer at work. You know, one of those 'no means yes' guys?"

Catherine nodded with a rueful grin and Sara realised she'd probably known a few of those guys in her dancing days. Sara shrugged and turned to Grissom. "So, I'm done outside. You need me for anything?"

"No," Grissom answered without thinking or even looking at her. Sara stared at him. Even Catherine stopped working and looked at Grissom like he'd just spouted a second head. Sara let out a bitter laugh.

"No, I guess you really don't," she said. Grissom looked up at her with a frown but she had turned her attention to Catherine. "If you give me the car keys I'll take the evidence back to the lab and see if I can get a rush put on it." Catherine handed her the keys, letting their fingers brush together gently. She met Sara's eyes and tried to apologise for Grissom without words. Sara's lips curled upwards slightly in response and then she was gone. Catherine listened to her footsteps disappearing down the stairs before she turned to Grissom.

"You can be so fucking stupid sometimes, you know that?" she said harshly.

Gil looked pained. "What did I do?"

Catherine shook her head in disgust. "You know what? When you finally come to your senses, I hope she shoots you down. You deserve it."

Sara grasped the steering wheel with shaky hands and tried desperately to keep from crying. Grissom was just so damn insensitive at times it made her wonder what she saw in him. She managed a small smile when she remembered Catherine's reaction to Grissom's clueless response. At least she wasn't completely invisible - someone had noticed her, even if it wasn't the person she wanted.

Straightening her shoulders she put the keys in the ignition and sent out a silent prayer that the drive back to the lab would be uneventful. She had the feeling she'd still fail a breath test if it came to that but she couldn't go back now.

The drive back to CSI was blessedly quiet and Sara breathed a sigh of relief as she drew into the parking lot. Grabbing the evidence bag she made her way first to the print lab where she dropped off the prints both she and Catherine had collected, and the set she had collected from Emily on her way out. Then she headed over to the DNA lab where she was surprised to see Greg.

"Hey, Greggo," she said with a smile, letting him know she was sorry for her earlier abrasiveness. "What are you doing here? Your hot case cool down?"

Greg shrugged. "It was easy. The perp left his fingerprints everywhere. It was no fun."

"That's the life of a CSI," she replied. "We get flashes of interesting stuff but it's ninety-five percent routine."

"I bet your case isn't routine..." Greg mumbled as he took the hair samples she was holding out to him. Sara cocked her head in agreement.

"Actually you're right, this one's pretty gruesome. You should be glad you didn't see it." Greg shot her a look. "I'm serious. You'll need to toughen up a hell of a lot more before you do something like this."

Greg frowned as he pulled one of the hairs out of its bag with tweezers. "You know I'm only a few years younger than you," he said. "I'm not a baby."

Sara put a hand on his shoulder. "Hey," she soothed. "That's not what I meant."

"Sure," he scoffed. "I know what you all think of me."

"Then you must know you're the best DNA tech this lab's ever had and you're becoming a damn good CSI," she replied.

Greg looked up at her. "Really?"

"I don't say anything I don't mean," Sara said. Greg smiled slowly and ducked his head. "Now, how's about you tell me if you can get any DNA out of these hairs?"

"They're promising," Greg said and flashed a grin at her. His eyes flitted to the pager at her hip as it let out an all too familiar shrill whine. Sara squinted as she looked down to read it. It said: 'Join us for the post - G.'

"I've gotta go," she said. "Page me as soon as you get a result."

Ten minutes later, attired in scrubs and latex gloves, Sara walked into the autopsy room to find Robbins, Grissom and Catherine standing around the slab containing the body of Marianne Roberts.

"Hey, Sara," Catherine greeted her.

"Hey. I miss anything?"

Doc. Robbins shook his head. "Not really. The cuts to her throat, wrists and ankles were done post-mortem."

"That would explain the lack of spatter in the bathroom," Sara remarked. "Cause of death?"

Grissom gestured to her face where Sara could just about see a dark bruise covering her mouth. It would be more obvious once she was cleaned up and no longer covered in dried blood.

"Suffocation?" Sara queried and received a chorus of nods in return.

"Looks like she was held down with a hand over her nose and mouth," Catherine said. "And then, for whatever reason, the killer took her into the bathroom, hung her upside down and had a little bloodletting."

Sara shook her head in disgust and looked away briefly. "What's the significance of the apple?" she asked, though she had the feeling she didn't really want to know.

Grissom raised an eyebrow. "You might put an apple in a pig's mouth while it's roasting," he commented. "Perhaps this guy's trying to tell us that's how he sees her? Like she's less than human."

"I think we know who's less than human in this situation," Catherine said, her horror at the idea clearly evident in her voice. "What about the rape kit?"

"It's the first thing on my list," Robbins answered solemnly.

Sara shook herself. "She's bound to have struggled," she said. "Have we checked under her nails?"

Grissom held up a specimen box. "I was just about to take this to DNA. Why don't you two go to her workplace and see what you can find out about this guy who was supposedly harassing her?"

Sara nodded and pulled off her gloves with a snap. Catherine followed suit and reached out to touch Sara's arm when Grissom had left the room. "You okay?" she asked gently.

"Huh? Of course I am, why do you ask?" Sara frowned.

Catherine nodded pointedly at Sara's hands. "Your hands are shaking," she said softly.

Sara looked down at her hands in shock, trying to will them to be still. They weren't co-operating. "It's nothing," she muttered. "I haven't eaten since before work last night." The excuse fell easily off her lips and she deliberately steered her thoughts away from the empty bottle of vodka by her bed.

Catherine shook her head and led Sara out of the morgue. "Honestly Sara," she said indulgently. "I'll buy you something at Joey's on our way to the vic's workplace."

"I'm all right," Sara protested but Catherine cut her off.

"Are you hell," she said. "I'm going to buy you a huge plateful of the greasiest food they have and personally stand over you till you've eaten it. No arguments."

Sara felt slightly nauseous at the thought of food but knew better than to argue with Catherine. She just hoped she could choke it down without throwing up.

Catherine presented her with a plate of eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, toast and hash browns and looked at her expectantly.

"You not eating?" Sara asked, playing with her fork.

"I am but the carnivore meal takes longer to make," she replied with a smile. A moment or two passed in silence before Catherine sighed. "Do I have to feed you?" she asked.

Sara set her jaw and deliberately chewed on a slice of toast. Catherine seemed satisfied for the moment and left to collect her own plate. She returned momentarily with a loaded plate almost identical to Sara's except with bacon and sausage substituted for the tomatoes and mushrooms.

"Do you know how they make sausage?" Sara asked conversationally, smiling a little as Catherine shot her a glare.

"No, and I don't want to," she said pointedly. She turned her attention to her plate and began to wolf her food in a manner that made Sara believe this little detour had been as much for Catherine's benefit as hers. Sara for her part had realised how hungry she was as soon as she started chewing and so was content to let the silence last as long as the food.

Catherine ordered coffee when they were finished. She leaned back in her seat as she took her first sip, regarding Sara contemplatively. "I'm sorry I went off on you earlier," she said softly. Sara shrugged.

"No big deal. It was mostly my fault."

"Maybe," Catherine smiled slowly. "But I should have been more sensitive. I mean, it's obvious you've been having a rough time lately."

Sara felt heat rising to her cheeks. "I'm fine," she lied. Catherine sighed. She loved Grissom like a brother but there were times - like now - when she just wanted to hit him.

"Whatever you say," she conceded, in a tone that made it clear she was conceding nothing. Sara nodded and reached for her wallet. Catherine stayed her hand. "Uh uh," she said. "This is my treat."


"I insist. You can pay next time."

Inwardly Sara doubted there would be a next time but she didn't argue the point. She and Catherine tended to go through phases in their, for lack of a better word, 'friendship'. 'Hot and cold' didn't quite describe it. More like 'lukewarm and cold'. The closest to warm Sara had gotten was an invitation to go and see 'The Return of the King' last Christmas with Catherine and Lindsey. It had been fun - the movie was good and they'd all gone out for ice cream afterwards. She and Catherine had laughed and joked like old friends. But immediately afterwards Catherine had started to cool to her again and relations at the moment could best be described as 'shaky'.

Catherine threw down a couple of bills to cover their tab and made for the exit. Sara followed her and climbed into the passenger seat of the Tahoe, feeling suddenly weary. "How long till the end of shift?" she said, closing her eyes.

"Seven hours," Catherine replied with a sympathetic smile. Sara groaned and then felt a hand patting her thigh. "You can go to sleep if you want," Catherine said gently. "I'll wake you when we get there."

Sara nodded and leaned her head against the window. She could feel her hands shaking again so she wrapped her arms round her torso to cover it.

Her eyes opened in surprise as she felt a soft hand tracing over her forehead, pushing her hair behind her ear. She met Catherine's concerned gaze with a frown. "Catherine?" she questioned.

Catherine smiled. "Maybe you should take the next couple days off," she suggested, her tone gentle. "I've never seen you like this."

Sara closed her eyes, imagining two cold and lonely days in her apartment with nothing but a bottle for company. Tears nipped behind her eyes. "No," she said, schooling her voice so it didn't betray that she was upset. "I think I just need a decent sleep tomorrow and I'll be fine."

For a moment there was silence and then Sara heard the growl of the engine and the protestations of the gearbox and knew that Catherine had let the matter drop. She leaned her head against the window and tried not to think.

The slamming of the car door jerked Sara out of her uneasy sleep and she looked around blearily. Spotting Catherine just outside the car she slipped off her seatbelt and half fell out into the cool night air. Catherine shot out a hand to help her gain her balance. Somehow - Sara had a feeling even Catherine didn't know why she'd done it - this evolved into a loose hug. Sara was frozen for a moment and, when she finally started to bring her arms up to hug her back, Catherine was already pulling away.

"Sorry," Catherine said shortly and Sara sensed the embarrassment in her voice. Clearly she'd interpreted Sara's stupefied non-reaction as a rejection.

"Cat, it's-"

Catherine waved her hand to cut her off. "It's okay," she said. "I know you don't swing with all this touchy-feely crap. Let's just pretend I didn't just make a total fool of myself and get on with what we're supposed to be doing." She walked towards the door of Betty's Diner without waiting for a response.

Sara sighed as she followed. Of all the myths that circulated the lab about Sara the idea that she didn't like human contact was the most widely believed, and the least true. She was actually a very tactile person when she felt safe with someone. She liked to exchange hugs with her friends, not that she'd had many of those since coming to Vegas. She liked snuggling with her lovers and lazily lying in on Sunday mornings tracing patterns over their skin. She tended to be the initiator with her boyfriends. Some of them even said she was too clingy. Her girlfriends were usually more tolerant of her touchy-feely side but those relationships didn't seem to last long either. What had just happened with Catherine was the perfect example of why. When she was caught off guard she tended to fuck up.

Catherine was already talking to the pleasant looking middle-aged woman behind the counter when she caught up with her. By the look on the woman's face Catherine had already broken the news of Marianne's death.

"Oh my God," the woman was saying, her eyes wide and disbelieving. "There must be some mistake. I just saw her a few hours ago."

"I'm sorry," Sara said gently. "It's no mistake." She stood close behind Catherine, noting with alarm how the other woman tensed at her proximity. It looked like this latest 'warm' phase had shifted firmly back to 'icy'.

The woman leaned heavily against the counter, tears pooling in her eyes. Catherine reached out and covered her hand with her own. "Maybe you should sit down," she said gently. The woman nodded dumbly and slipped round the counter to find a seat in the mostly empty diner. Sara and Catherine took seats opposite her and waited till she'd collected herself somewhat.

"I'm sorry," she said, wiping at her eyes. "It's just such a shock..."

"We understand, Mrs...?" Sara trailed off.

"Winchester," she said. "Betty Winchester."

"Betty's diner," Sara thought aloud. Betty managed a watery smile.

"That's right. This is my place."

"And Marianne worked for you," Catherine said, trying to ease into the conversation gently.

"Yes," Betty replied and choked out a sob. "I can't believe she's really gone..."

Sara produced a pack of paper handkerchiefs from her pocket and offered one to the teary older woman. Catherine raised her eyebrow and gave Sara a look that seemed to say: 'It's not like you to be so sensitive'. And Sara met her gaze with one of her own which said 'I'm not a monster, you know'. Catherine looked away, her cheeks colouring slightly.

"Seems like Marianne was well liked here," Sara said, tearing her eyes away from Catherine and attempting to return to their reason for being there.

"Oh, she was a wonderful girl," Betty enthused. "Sweet, kind, smart - and so devoted to that boyfriend of hers."

Sara and Catherine blinked in unison and turned to each other with raised eyebrows.

"Boyfriend?" Catherine said, turning back to Betty and drawing on her years of experience to hide her surprise.

"Yes...Andy something or other. He's always in here..." She trailed off. "Andy Green, that's it."

Sara shot Catherine a significant look as she turned back to Betty. "Do you know where we might find Mr. Green?" she asked patiently.

Betty Winchester shook her head. "I really couldn't say," she said. "Marianne always deals with him whenever he's in. And he doesn't talk much anyhow."

Sara nodded slowly and pulled out another of her business cards. "I think that's all we need for now, Mrs. Winchester. Thank you so much for your time and please accept my condolences for your loss." Betty smiled and grasped Sara's hand.

"Thank you dear," she said. Sara gestured to her business card.

"If you think of anything that might be useful, please call me," she said. "We want to find whoever did this to Marianne quickly and put him behind bars. We appreciate any help you can give us."

Betty took the card and earnestly promised she'd call the second she thought of anything helpful. Sara asked if she'd be all right on her own and Betty told her she'd be closing and going home to her husband right away. Satisfied, Sara and Catherine returned to the parking lot and climbed into the Tahoe.

"Well, that was something of a revelation," Catherine understated.

Sara leaned heavily back in her seat. "Andy was her fake boyfriend," she said. "Maybe he didn't quite understand the arrangement."

Catherine shook her head. "I don't get it. Why have a fake boyfriend in the first place?"

"To remove suspicion," Sara answered shortly. Catherine raised an eyebrow.

"Personal experience?"

Sara frowned. "No," she said slowly. "I've never had a fake boyfriend."

Catherine flushed. "Sorry," she muttered.

Sara's frown deepened. "What did you think?" she asked, injecting a note of steel into her voice so Catherine would answer.

Catherine looked away, wishing the Earth would open up and swallow her whole. "I just...I mean, with the way you reacted to this case and all, and how you called me on how dense I was being at the scene, I uh...well, I just thought that maybe you were...uh..."

"Gay?" Sara finished for her. "You know, Cat, just because I have compassion for Emily Porter and Marianne Roberts it doesn't mean I'm gay. Just human."

Catherine winced. "I know," she said. "I know. Fuck, I don't even know why I thought that, I mean...you're straight, everyone knows that. I mean, Grissom-"

"No I'm not," Sara interrupted her, ignoring the reference to Grissom. Catherine turned to her with a frown.


"I'm not straight," Sara said, looking into her eyes almost defiantly. Catherine looked pained.

"But...you just said..."

"I know," Sara replied. "I'm not gay either." She watched the wheels turning in Catherine's mind for a couple of seconds. "What's behind door number three?"

Comprehension dawned slowly on Catherine's face. "Oh," she said. "Oh." Sara smirked. This was the reaction she usually got. "Why didn't you tell anyone?" Catherine asked. Sara bristled slightly.

"Should I have?" she asked archly. "Whose business is it but mine who I sleep with?"

"Well...no-one's, I guess, but wouldn't you have felt better being yourself?"

Sara looked away and let out a short laugh. "You know what pisses me off most about straight people?" she said. "They assume that for anyone who isn't straight their sexuality is their defining characteristic. Yeah, it's part of me but it's not the most important part. Not by a long shot. When you meet someone for the first time do you say 'Hi, I'm Catherine Willows and I'm a heterosexual'? No? Then why would you expect me to say 'Hi, I'm Sara Sidle and I'm bi'?"

Catherine ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. "I don't," she said. "I mean...oh, fuck it." She leaned over and wrapped her arms round Sara. This time she didn't let go when Sara failed to reciprocate. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm coming off like a real idiot here."

Sara felt the defensiveness drain out of her slowly and she brought her arms up to hug Catherine back. She was surprised. It actually felt nice. "I'm sorry too," she said softly. "I'm just so used to having to defend myself to people."

Catherine tightened the embrace momentarily and then released her. "Really," she said apologetically. "I'm not as dense as this normally."

Sara laughed. "Don't worry about it. It'll take a little time to get used to. Jeez, it took me twenty-four years."

Catherine smiled. "I don't think I'll need that long."

Sara smiled back and, almost without meaning to, she found herself still talking. "The first time I was attracted to a girl I didn't have a clue what was going on. I was like, thirteen or something. My mom told me that all girls go through phases like that but I didn't seem to grow out of mine." Catherine smiled at that and nodded at her to go on. "So I went through High School totally self-conscious, thinking there must be something horribly wrong with me. Then I got to college and finally met like-minded people, and I realised there was nothing wrong with me after all. I came out as a lesbian, even though I was still attracted to men. No-one ever mentioned there was a third option so I felt like I had to declare myself one way or another. And for a while it didn't matter because I fell in love with this wonderful, beautiful girl and for as long as we were together I wasn't even looking at anyone else, male or female.

"We stayed together till graduation and then she dumped me for some reason. Maybe she'd just been doing the college experimentation thing, who knows. I moved back to 'Frisco and after a couple months I met this amazing guy. Needless to say I was confused but he really helped me to see there were other options and I wasn't really being true to myself by identifying as a lesbian. And the rest, as they say, is history. But I'll tell you one thing - it was a million times harder to come out as bi than it was to come out as gay."

Catherine laughed softly. "If everyone is as stupid as me then I can believe that," she said. Sara gave her a friendly smile.

"You were fine," she reassured her. "Really."

Catherine flashed her a look. "You know, I don't think I've ever heard you talk about yourself for more than thirty seconds before."

"There's not much to talk about," Sara replied. Well, except for that big secret she was keeping from everyone - the one that made her hands shake and her brain foggy and had her dreading every visit to LVPD-HQ in case she saw Brass. There was that.

"I find that hard to believe," Catherine said, unaware of where Sara's thoughts had just led her. She reached out and touched Sara's hand. "Let's go out after shift. You can buy me that meal you owe me and we can have a proper talk, okay?"

Sara smiled apologetically and opened her mouth to decline. "Sure," she found herself saying instead, as if someone had taken control of her voice and was answering for her. And Catherine's dazzling smile made her disinclined to take it back.

The shrill beeping of Sara's pager interrupted the moment. Sara squinted down at it. "DNA results are back," she said.

Catherine reached for her seat belt. "Let's go."

Grissom was in the DNA lab with Greg when Catherine and Sara arrived. "Did you find anything out at the diner?" he asked, dispensing with the pleasantries. Catherine cocked her head to one side.

"You could say that," she said then turned to Greg. "Did you find a match for the hairs from CODIS?" she asked.

Greg became animated. "I sure did," he said. "It's-"

"Andy Green," Sara interrupted. Greg looked crestfallen.

"You stole my moment," he said in a small voice.

Grissom looked at her with narrowed eyes. "This is the customer who'd been bothering her?" he asked.

Catherine shook her head. "More than that," she said. "They had some kind of boyfriend/girlfriend charade going on. Seems like Marianne didn't want anyone at Betty's to know she was gay."

"What about the skin under the nails, is that him too?" Sara asked.

Greg confirmed this with a nod. "Epithelials from the nylon rope match him too."

"Something tells me that this is our killer," Sara said, with a glance at Catherine.

"Agreed," Catherine said, nodding decisively. "I'll call Brass and have him picked up." She flipped open her cellphone and went out into the corridor to make the call.

Grissom held out a sheaf of papers to Sara. "Preliminary autopsy report," he explained. Sara took it and turned to leave. "Sara?"

She turned back and looked at him expectantly. He seemed nervous. "I was wondering if you'd...perhaps like to get breakfast with me after work?" he said. Greg looked between them with wide eyes. Sara silently cursed Grissom for doing this in front of him. It would be all round the lab in five seconds flat.

"Uh...." she hesitated, feeling torn in two directions at once. On the one hand, this is what she'd been waiting for all these months. On the other, she and Catherine were just starting to get closer and she'd been quite looking forward to going out with her after shift. It had taken them nearly four years to get to this stage and if she blew Catherine off now it might prove to be a major setback. "Actually Grissom," she said, making up her mind. "I've got plans."

Grissom looked slightly taken aback and suddenly Sara was pissed off. Did he really think he could just drop her and pick her up again anytime he wanted? Hadn't she warned him? 'By the time you've figured it out it may be too late'. That was pretty clear wasn't it?

"Oh," he said. Greg's eyes were practically bulging out of their sockets.

"I think I'll go and study this report," Sara said, shooting Greg a murderous look as she left. Trudging down the hallway towards her favourite lab she mentally cursed Grissom with every foul word in every language she knew. Why did he have to pick the worst fucking moments to mess with her head?

Catherine found Sara in lab number three half slumped over the report. She watched her for at least two minutes but she didn't turn the page. She seemed to be staring unseeing at the paper. Catherine wondered what she was thinking about. "Hey," she said gently and held up her hands in a non threatening gesture when Sara jumped. "Didn't mean to startle you."

Sara shook herself. "No, it's okay," she said. "Did Brass bring in Andy Green yet?"

Catherine frowned and shook her head. "The guy's fallen off the face of the Earth," she said. "There's a warrant out on him but...looks like we'll have to wait this one out." Sara sighed heavily.

"Damn," she said, all her frustrations seeming to be encompassed by that one syllable. She looked over at Catherine, suddenly realising she was wearing her outdoor jacket and holding her purse. "You going somewhere?"

Catherine's forehead creased in a puzzled frown. "Uh, yeah," she said. "I'm going to breakfast and then I'm going home. It's ten after six, Sara."

Sara looked at her blankly. "You're shitting me."

Catherine shook her head. "How long have you been here?" she asked.

"I came straight from the DNA lab," Sara replied.

Catherine leaned over and picked up the report. "Must be one hell of an interesting report..." she mumbled, turning it back to page one.

Sara shook her head. "Not really." She was silent for a moment then seemed to pull herself together. "Listen, Cat, I'm really sorry but I don't much feel like breakfast right now. Would you mind just dropping me off at home please?"

Catherine didn't bother to hide her disappointment. "Sara," she said. It came out more like a whine.

Sara closed her eyes. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I'm really tired."

Catherine relented after a few moments of silence, trying not to let her disappointment cloud her voice. "Okay," she said. "Grab your stuff."

The ride to Sara's apartment was silent save for the background rumble of the local classic rock station. Catherine drew up outside Sara's building and looked over at her. "You sure you don't want to get something to eat?" she asked one last time.

Sara flashed her a tired smile and shook her head. "Sorry," she said. Impulsively she leaned over and kissed the other woman on the cheek. "Rain check?" she whispered close to Catherine's ear. Catherine nodded mutely and Sara pulled back. "See you tonight," Sara said and slipped out of the car. Catherine waited until the brunette had disappeared inside the building before letting off the emergency brake and pulling out into traffic. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end and the skin on her cheek was tingling. She knew why - she just didn't know what to do about it.

Sara dropped her keys three times before she finally managed to unlock the door and enter her apartment. She was immediately depressed by the sight. The place was a mess. Empty bottles and full ashtrays were strewn haphazardly all over the living room. Half empty takeout boxes lay in a small pile next to her sofa. She sighed heavily, wishing she'd gone out with Catherine and delayed coming home to this.

Grissom had upset her. She wasn't sure what was worse - that he'd asked her out a few months after he'd utterly rejected her, or that he'd just assumed she would say yes. Did she really present such a pathetic figure? Did people really think her life was so empty that she'd jump at the first bone Grissom threw her?

Looking around her apartment Sara conceded she could see how they might get that idea.

But she had Catherine. Someone who was definitely becoming a friend. Sara thought that the conversation she'd had with Catherine outside Betty's diner was the longest she'd had with anyone outside a work context in months. And Catherine now officially knew more about her than Grissom did.

And that was sad in itself. Catherine knew one solitary thing about her personal life and that was more than anyone at work, even the man she had all these powerful feelings for. The most powerful of which was, at the moment, anger. He'd messed up her head for the latter half of the shift so badly that she'd blown off her breakfast with Catherine. How long had it been since she'd been out with a friend socially? She couldn't even remember and that depressed her.

Sara briefly considered calling Catherine and telling her she'd changed her mind. She quickly rejected the idea though, deciding she didn't want to look like an idiot too early in their friendship.

Overcome by a sudden wave of lethargy Sara curled up on the sofa and wrapped her arms round her middle. She closed her eyes and a smile ghosted over her lips as she remembered how Catherine had hugged her earlier. That was another 'first time in months' moment. In fact, Catherine had been quite tactile with her this evening. It was nice. And she could still feel the softness of her skin against her lips...

Sara's eyes flew open. "Oh shit," she whispered to herself. "No. Please no."

But there was no denying the evidence. Her lips were tingling. Her stomach was doing gymnastics. Her heart was trying out some tiny experimental leaps.

She was attracted to Catherine.

"When the fuck did this happen?" she moaned, holding her head in her hands. The last thing she needed was another unattainable workplace crush. Especially since she wasn't over the first one yet.

Sara couldn't deal with this, it was just too much. She needed a bit of quiet in her head. Standing up, she made her way over to the liquor cabinet and cracked open a bottle of her most reliable friend - the ever ready Mr. Jack Daniels.

Catherine was more than halfway home when she spotted Sara's pager on the floor, nearly under the passenger seat. "Shit," she muttered, pulling over so she could lean down and retrieve it. Sara was on call - she couldn't be without her pager. Sighing, Catherine flipped open her cellphone and pressed the first speed dial.

"Nancy? It's me, listen something's come up and I'm going to be a little late collecting Linds. No, no, it's nothing big. I'll be running maybe a half hour late. Okay. Thanks, sis." She ended the call and threw her phone onto the passenger seat alongside Sara's pager. Then she performed a U-turn and started back towards Sara's apartment.

She was now heading back towards the city and the traffic was hellish. It took twenty minutes before she pulled up outside Sara's building. She grabbed the pager and practically ran up the three flights of stairs to Sara's apartment, checking her watch along the way. She was going to be late for Lindsey.

Catherine frowned when her gentle knocking at Sara's door received no response. Figuring she must be asleep already Catherine knocked a little harder. Still nothing. "Sara?" she called. "It's Catherine." Then she knocked again, harder still.

The door opened a crack and Sara stuck her head out. "Catherine?"

Catherine held up the pager. "You dropped this in my car," she said with a smile. "You're on call, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Sara said after a slight pause and reached out to take the pager from her. "Thanks, Catherine." With that she closed the door.

Catherine did a quick double take as the door closed in her face. "Oookay," she said. Never one to leave well enough alone, she knocked again. Sara opened it again, still only a crack. "Uhm, have I done something to piss you off?" Catherine asked with a raised eyebrow.

"No." Sara frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Well, you're not exactly being very hospitable. What's up?"

A pause. "Nothing," Sara replied, with effort. "I'm just tired. Okay?"

Catherine looked like she was about to argue, then looked at her watch again. "Shit, I'm so late." She looked up at Sara again and realised she didn't have time to argue. "We'll talk tonight, okay?" Sara nodded and closed the door again.

Catherine trotted toward the stairs, shaking her head in puzzlement at Sara's behaviour. There was something familiar there...something she couldn't quite put her finger on...

It came to her just as she was climbing into the Tahoe. The slurred speech, the glazed eyes, the strange pauses... Sara was drunk!

Drunk at seven am - alone and while on call. Something was seriously wrong with that picture.

Catherine locked up her car again and hurried back up the stairs. She didn't bother with gentle knocking this time. She banged on the door hard with the palm of her hand, yelling Sara's name as she did so.

The door opened with Sara already speaking. "What's going on Catherine?" Catherine ignored her as she grabbed her face between her palms and stared into her eyes. Sara's pupils were dilated and she couldn't seem to focus. Catherine breathed deeply through her nose and smelled the sickly sweet aroma of bourbon on her breath.

"You've been drinking," she accused. "You're on call, Sara."

Sara shook her head dumbly. "I'm okay," she mumbled.

"Your pupils are like fucking dinner plates, you're not okay," Catherine replied harshly as she pushed Sara back and bulldozed her way into the apartment. Her breath caught in her throat at what she saw.

"Haven't cleaned in a while," Sara muttered, wrapping her arms around her own waist protectively.

Catherine cast her eyes over the various bottles and cans and empty glasses covering every surface, and a lot of the floor. "I don't drink this much in a year, Sara," she said. "So unless you haven't cleaned in that long then I think we've got a problem here." She turned round and tried to meet Sara's eyes but the brunette was looking at her feet. A single perfectly formed teardrop fell from Sara's eye and hit the hardwood floor. Catherine was by her side in an instant. She took Sara's face in her hands again, gentler this time, and wiped the tears away with her thumbs. "Why are you doing this to yourself, sweetie?" she asked, trying to express all her affection and concern for the brunette in her unbroken blue gaze.

Sara shook her head. Her mouth was open but no sound was coming out. Catherine pushed a curtain of brown hair behind her ear and continued the motion to stroke the silky strands. Sara couldn't stand to meet her eyes any longer so she looked away. "I didn't want you to see this," she said huskily.

Any residual anger Catherine had been feeling suddenly melted away. She tugged Sara towards the sofa and sat them both down. Wordlessly she pulled Sara close to her, holding her head against her breast and stroking her hair. It was a maternal gesture, but strangely intimate. Sara began to shake gently. Her arms gradually snaked round Catherine's waist and then tightened until she was clinging desperately to the older woman, shaking with deep wracking sobs.

Catherine combed her fingers through Sara's hair gently, looking around the room in quiet disbelief. She couldn't quite take this in. Sara Sidle - cool, controlled, confident Sara Sidle - had been quietly falling apart and she hadn't noticed. Maybe no-one had noticed. It was obvious from the state of the apartment that this had been going on for months. She wondered what might have precipitated it.

A solitary tear fell from her eye as it clicked in her head. She remembered - just after the explosion - Grissom had told her Sara was interested in him but he'd turned her down. She desperately wanted to believe that wasn't the reason but she couldn't deny it fit both the timescale and Sara's behaviour.

"Sara?" she whispered when the brunette had begun to calm a little. "Why?" She didn't really expect an answer and wasn't surprised when she didn't get one. She cleared her throat. "Grissom?" Sara was still and silent for so long that Catherine had almost given up the hope that she might get an answer. Then she felt it. A small nod, barely noticeable, but it was enough.

Catherine felt sure her heart was breaking. She tilted Sara's face so she could look her in the eye. "Oh, Sara," she whispered, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice. "He's not worth this. Not this." Sara looked away.

Catherine stood up and pulled Sara with her. Sara looked at her questioningly. Her face was streaked with tears in a way that would be comical if the whole situation wasn't so tragic. "Where's your bedroom?" Catherine asked. Sara did a quick double take and Catherine let out a short impulsive laugh. "I'm putting you to bed," she explained, tugging on her hand.

The bedroom was in as bad a state as the living room, but on a slightly smaller scale. Catherine sighed. She knew she had to get Sara to sleep before she could deal with it so she sat the brunette down on the bed and collected a nightshirt from her drawers. Sara sat dumbly as Catherine gently undressed her and pushed the nightshirt over her head. Under normal circumstances she would object strongly to this mothering but she could barely find the will to speak at the moment, much less argue.

Once Sara was safely tucked under the covers Catherine wandered into the kitchen in search of a garbage bag. When she reappeared in the bedroom Sara was looking at her through hooded eyelids. "Try to sleep," Catherine instructed gently. Giving her a brief smile she started cleaning the place up, glass tinkling in the garbage bag as it got fuller and fuller. When the bedroom had been cleared to her satisfaction she returned to Sara's side. She traced her fingertips over the other woman's forehead and into her hair. Sara's eyes closed slowly under her touch. Catherine leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "Sleep," she murmured softly. She turned to go but felt her wrist caught between trembling fingers.

"Don't go," Sara whispered in a small voice.

"I won't, sweetie," Catherine replied. "I have to do something but I'll be back before you know it."

Sara let her go and nodded as she turned her head to the side and closed her eyes. Catherine stayed and watched her for a moment before making her way back to the living room.

Her hands were trembling as she sat on the sofa and ran her fingers through her hair. "Fuck," she mumbled, mindful of the woman sleeping in the next room. She covered her face with her hands and breathed deeply.

Suddenly her cellphone sprung to life and she was forced to leap for it so it wouldn't disturb Sara. "Willows," she said, pulling it to her ear.

It was her sister. Catherine paled as she realised she'd completely forgotten about Lindsey. "Oh shit, Nance, I'm sorry," she said contritely. "Listen, you know that little thing I had to do? It's kind of become a big thing. A really fucking big thing, actually." She paused. "Nancy? Do you think you could keep Lindsey today?" There was a pause on the other end of the phone and then Nancy spoke. "Yeah, it's really important," Catherine answered. "I'm with a friend and I can't leave her. She's in a pretty bad place right now. I need to stay with her." A smile spread over her face as her sister expressed her understanding. "You're a goddess, Nance. Thanks."

She clicked off the phone and took another look around the room. She took a deep breath and then forced herself onto her feet. "Okay," she said to herself. "May as well get on with it."

She walked into the kitchen and retrieved another garbage bag. She decided to start with this room since she was there. It was a small kitchen and Catherine could tell that Sara didn't do a lot of cooking in there. Still, it appeared that she hadn't washed a dish in at least three months and there was a pile of food encrusted crockery waiting by the sink.

An hour later all the dishes were clean and dry and in their proper places. She had also cleaned out the fridge and filled a garbage bag with trash - mostly empty bottles and cans. She took another bag out into the living room and began to methodically clean up in there too. After another hour she straightened up and wiped her brow. Her back was aching but the place looked a little fitter for human habitation, and that was something.

It took two trips to transport the three bags of trash from Sara's apartment to the nearest dumpster. That left Catherine with one last task before she was done.

Grabbing a cardboard box she opened up every cupboard and cabinet. Whenever she found alcohol she placed it carefully in the box. It was full by the time she'd looked everywhere. Carefully, Catherine took the box downstairs and stowed it in the trunk of her Tahoe.

Catherine returned to Sara's bedroom and noted with relief that Sara didn't appear to have moved since she'd left her. She stood and watched her sleep for a few minutes, wondering how someone could look so young and so painfully old at the same time. Then, with a tired sigh, she kicked off her shoes and crawled onto the bed next to Sara. She ran her hand over the other woman's face very gently, then wrapped her arm around her thin waist. Her heart was aching with sympathetic pain. The one thing she wanted more than anything else right now was to - somehow - make this all better. With that thought running through her mind, she drifted into an uneasy sleep.

Catherine woke several times during the day and eventually decided to cut her losses and get up just after three o'clock. Sara didn't seem to have moved at all which Catherine was thankful for. She'd been through an emotional wringer and Catherine was a great believer in the psychological healing power of sleep.

Gently she pulled away from Sara and stretched. Sara let out a small whimper but didn't wake up. Catherine ran her finger's through Sara's hair soothingly before she got up and slipped her shoes back on.

She made her way on tiptoes back into the kitchen. She had a look in all the cupboards and the fridge before concluding that there wasn't enough food in the house to feed an anorexic mouse. Hastily she scribbled a note for Sara in case she woke up before she got back and then grabbed her car keys, along with Sara's apartment keys which she found on the table by the door.

She got a little lost on the way to the grocery store, getting progressively more and more worried about Sara the longer she was gone. Catherine didn't want to think about what kind of state Sara might be in once she woke up, and hated the idea of her being alone in the apartment. The actual shopping itself took longer than it should have too, because she had to read the ingredients for practically everything to make sure it didn't have animal fat or gelatine lurking inside it somewhere. It was amazing how many processed foods did. Catherine suddenly realised why vegetarians were generally healthier than their meat eating counterparts - because they were forced to cook more things from scratch. She found herself buying only staples like bread, milk, eggs, rice, pasta and fresh vegetables. Then again, that was probably for the best since she had no idea what kind of food Sara liked.

The back seat of the Tahoe was loaded with paper bags when she finally finished, just before four. She managed to find her way back to Sara's building relatively easily and carried the groceries up to the apartment in two trips.

Sara was still asleep when she went in to check on her, and for that Catherine was immeasurably thankful. She had moved though - she was now curled up in a foetal position, gripping the blanket where Catherine had been sleeping.

Catherine made as little noise as possible while she bustled about in the kitchen, finding chopping boards, knives and pans. About twenty minutes later she had whipped up two passable omelettes, with plenty of mushrooms, onions and red peppers. She took one of the plates through to the bedroom, along with a large glass of milk, both of which she placed on the bedside table. She brushed her fingers over Sara's brow, smiling when the brunette turned towards her, still sleeping. "Sara," she said gently. "Time to wake up."

Sara opened her eyes slowly and groaned when she saw who was standing above her. Catherine laughed. "Okay sleeping beauty, time to eat," she said. Sara sat up gingerly and looked over at the plate Catherine was offering to her. She took it reluctantly, feeling sure she wouldn't be able to eat a thing. Catherine handed a fork. "Eat," she ordered, in her best 'do as I say' voice. Sara half-heartedly took a bite of her omelette.

Momentarily satisfied, Catherine returned to the kitchen to fetch her own plate. She brought it back into the bedroom and sat down next to Sara, who was currently wolfing her food like she hadn't eaten in a week. Catherine ate her own at a more sedate pace, smiling as she did so. It wasn't half bad.

Sara set her plate aside on the bedside cabinet and cleared her throat slightly. "Guess I was hungry after all," she said softly. Catherine laughed.

"Guess so." She was so engrossed in finishing her own plateful that she didn't notice the uncomfortable silence that had spread between them. When she looked up at Sara again she couldn't help but notice her averted eyes and slightly flushed cheeks. "I don't know what you're embarrassed for," she said matter-of-factly, correctly diagnosing the problem.

"You don't?" Sara scoffed.

"No," Catherine replied firmly. "You're my friend and you need help. I'm going to do everything in my power to provide it. That's kind of what friends do, you know?"

Sara looked up sharply. "And since when were you my friend?" she challenged. Catherine felt a wave of hurt pass through her and it must have showed on her face because Sara looked away again. "Sorry," she mumbled.

Catherine took a deep breath. "No," she said. "I deserved that." Another breath, shakier this time. "There are...reasons why I haven't always treated you as well as I should, but I don't think now's the time to get into them. I promise I'll tell you all about it soon. It's always been my problem, nothing to do with you. The important thing is I'm here with you now and nothing is going to make me go away. I don't care if you fight me, if you curse me, if you out and out hate me - I'm in this for the duration. Because let me tell you, Sara - you really need someone to look after you."

Sara wrapped her arms round her torso, trying to make herself look smaller. "I don't need you mothering me," she said, slightly bitterly.

Catherine stared at her for a long moment, then reached out and touched her blanket covered thigh. "I don't want to be your mother," she said in a low voice. Sara looked up and Catherine could tell by the look in her eyes that she didn't understand what she was trying to say to her. Catherine exhaled slowly. And that was probably for the best.

Catherine stood abruptly, taking Sara's plate from the bedside cabinet and stacking it on top of her own. "Drink your milk," she said gently. "I'll be back in a minute, and then we're going to have a long talk."

She took the dishes through to the kitchen, ran some hot water over them and began scrubbing, a little more vigorously than was required. She didn't hear Sara come up behind her so she was a little startled when she felt a hand close over her right shoulder and squeeze gently. "Thanks, Cat," Sara said quietly, and placed the empty glass into the sink.

Catherine turned and watched her retreat into the bedroom, trying to will her eyes not to stray down to the long expanse of bare leg revealed by the short nightshirt. She felt herself heat up a little as her gaze shifted lower, almost of its own volition. A traitorous part of her mind reminded her that she'd seen a hell of a lot more than her legs that morning when she'd undressed her, and Catherine almost melted into a puddle right there.

She spun around towards the sink so quickly she almost made herself dizzy. "Stop it," she muttered under her breath, and pinched her hand until the pain took her mind away from Sara.

Sara pulled on a comfortable old pair of sweats when she returned to the bedroom and slumped heavily onto the bed. Her mind was buzzing with contradictory feelings. On the one hand, she wanted Catherine to stay with her so badly it almost hurt. On the other, she was practically folding in on herself with embarrassment that Catherine had seen her in such a vulnerable state. The evidence of her months of self-destruction had been lying all over the apartment. Catherine had not only seen it but taken it upon herself to clean it up too. Sara was too mortified to be grateful.

She looked up as Catherine walked in, wiping her hands on the front of her jeans. She noticed for the first time how tired the older woman looked. There were slight bags under her eyes and she was slouching a little. "Have you slept?" she asked as Catherine fell onto the bed next to her.

"Yes," Catherine replied. "But not well."

Sara looked down. "Sorry."

Catherine reached out and grabbed her hand. "Don't do that," she said. "You don't have anything to apologise for."

Sara shrugged but didn't protest. Her thumb, of its own accord, began to rub gently over Catherine's hand. She frowned. "Your hand...it's red."

Catherine looked down and coloured slightly as she realised all her pinching had left a mark. "Water must have been too hot," she explained hurriedly, and pulled her hand away from Sara's. "It's nothing." She looked down, trying to stop herself from yawning. She didn't quite manage it.

"We have to be at work in three hours," Sara said softly. "You need to sleep."

Catherine shook her head, but snuggled down into the pillows nevertheless. She reached out her arm and pulled Sara down with her till they were both lying on their sides, face to face. "This is nice," Catherine said. "I don't think I've ever been on the same level as you before."

Sara smiled. "I'm only a couple inches taller than you," she said.

"But you wear those big honking boots," Catherine replied, teasingly.

"My concession to butch," Sara explained.

"Mmm. Well, it's not like I'm complaining."

Sara raised an eyebrow and Catherine blushed lightly. Sara reached out and gave her shoulder a slight push as they both began to laugh. "Why Ms. Willows, if I didn't know better I'd say you were flirting with me."

Catherine sobered. "What if I am?" she said. Sara laughed again but stopped when Catherine didn't join in.


Catherine looked away, her cheeks turning a deep shade of red. "Oh fuck - please pretend I didn't just say that," she said.

Sara was about to argue but then she realised that she didn't have the slightest clue what she was going to do about this latest development. She'd only just acknowledged her own attraction to the woman lying opposite her and, although she couldn't deny the warm, fuzzy feeling it gave her to think her attraction might just be reciprocated, she wasn't quite ready to do anything about it yet. So, instead of saying anything, she let her hand rest on Catherine's hip and waited for the awkward moment to pass.

"How d'you feel about having that talk now?" Catherine asked eventually, when the hottest flush of her embarrassment had passed.

Sara groaned softly. "How about no," she said.

Catherine reached out and curled her arm round Sara's waist. "Tough," she said, snuggling closer to Sara. "I'm going to lie here and make sure you don't go anywhere. And I want you to talk to me. You can tell me anything, as long as it's about you." She laid her head down on Sara's shoulder and half closed her eyes.

Sara was surprised at Catherine's sudden move, but pleasantly so. She snaked her own arm round Catherine's narrow shoulders, pulling her slightly closer. "Do you snuggle like this with all your friends?" she asked, with a laugh in her voice.

"Nope," Catherine replied. "You're special."

Sara smiled sadly. "I...I don't hear that very often."

Catherine tilted her head up. "You should," she said, and dropped a small kiss just under her chin. "It's true." She sighed softly. "Besides," she said. "If I'm going to make a fool of myself I may as well make a big fool of myself."

Sara's skin burned where Catherine's lips had touched it and she swallowed slowly. Their obvious mutual attraction was like a white elephant in the room and she couldn't think of anything to talk about.

"Tell me about what you were like growing up," Catherine suggested gently.

Sara sighed in relief. Now that was a safe topic. She started to tell a story about the time she was roughhousing with her brother and his friends on top of a set of bunk beds and they'd managed to knock her off. The four foot drop, coupled with a bad angle of impact, led to the first of her many broken bones. Being a tomboy, she'd got into a few more scrapes and by the end of puberty had broken her left arm a further three times, and her right leg twice. "I was a little accident-prone," she understated, and was rewarded with a chuckle from Catherine.

"Is that why your left arm is a little weaker than your right?" Catherine asked, running her fingers over the arm in question.

"Yeah," Sara confirmed, frowning. "How did you know I had one arm weaker than the other?"

Catherine shrugged. "I notice things about you," she admitted softly. She lifted her head and found Sara looking down at her with those gorgeous dark eyes. Her hand moved to the other woman's face of its own free will, tracing over her forehead and her cheek, across her slightly trembling lips and finally down over the soft skin of her throat. "I notice everything about you..." she whispered.

Sara felt herself starting to shake. Catherine felt it too and began to pull away, cursing softly. Sara grabbed for her and pulled her tight against her body. "Cat," she said huskily. "This thing you're feeling...you're not alone. I just...don't know what to do about it all yet."

Catherine nodded into the crook of Sara's shoulder. She let out a shaky breath. "I know," she said, nuzzling against the other woman's neck. Sara groaned slightly and pulled back, putting a few inches of distance between them. Catherine blinked. "I envy you, in a way," she said quietly. "You went through all the fear and confusion at thirteen. You've had all this extra time to get used to the idea of being attracted to women. I've only had three and a half years."

Sara cocked her head. "Three and a half years?" she questioned lightly.

"Since I met you," Catherine confirmed, smiling at the look of amused pride which spread over Sara's face. "Don't let it swell your head."

"Is..." Sara began, but trailed off. "Is this why we've never really been friends?"

Catherine swallowed hard. "Yes," she admitted. "I'm ashamed of it, but...I thought I could get rid of my feelings for you by just shutting you out. When I started to get used to the idea of being attracted to you it seemed like I'd pushed you too far. Then I went through all that crap with Eddie, and you dumped that lousy cheating bastard-"

"Hank," Sara corrected her with a smile.

"Whatever," Catherine replied. "Anyway, it seemed like we were getting somewhere after all that. Remember that movie you went to see with me and Lindsey?" Sara nodded. "That was..." Catherine trailed off and laughed at herself. "That was like a trial run for a date. With a ten year old chaperone."

Sara frowned. "But things have gotten worse since then," she said. "Did I fail the test or something?"

"Oh no, sweetie, no," Catherine replied immediately. "It was all me. I just kind of freaked out because it all went so damn well."

Sara pulled Catherine back to her, tucking the red-blonde head beneath her chin. "Cat," she began. "I can't make you any promises."

"I know," Catherine said quickly. "I'm not asking you for anything."

Sara sighed in relief. She felt torn enough as it was, and she was immensely glad that Catherine wasn't going to pressure her. "Grissom asked me out earlier," she blurted, wincing slightly when she felt Catherine stiffen in her arms.

"What did you tell him?" Catherine asked, trying to keep the tightness from her voice.

"I said I already had plans," Sara replied. "But I ended up being so confused I couldn't face you either."

Catherine hesitated slightly and then spoke. "Maybe you ought to see how things turn out with Grissom before we talk any more about...this thing between us."

Sara was silent, rubbing her cheek gently across the silky softness of Catherine's hair. "I don't even know how I feel about him anymore," she said in a low voice. "It used to be exciting...exhilerating, even. Now it just hurts." Catherine squeezed her a little tighter. Sara cleared her throat. "I think...I think that's what the drinking's all about," she admitted. "You know what's it's like when you duck your head underwater? Everything's slower and quieter and lighter. That's what it's like when I drink...like going underwater. It dulls the pain."

Catherine tightened their embrace briefly. "But for how long?" she asked quietly. Sara took in a deep shaky breath.

"Not long enough," she confessed. Catherine pulled her head back so she could look into her eyes.

"You can't stay underwater forever, Sara," she said in a slow, deliberate voice. "You'll drown."

Sara felt tears prick at her eyelids and she blinked furiously. "I know."

Catherine slid up the bed a little and pulled Sara's head to her chest, dropping a kiss into her hair. "I'll keep you afloat," she promised. "If you let me." She stroked her hair gently for a few minutes and, when she looked down into Sara's face again, she realised that she'd soothed her back to sleep. With a small smile, Catherine closed her eyes and tried to follow her.

Sara woke up in Catherine's arms, feeling warm and safe and happier than she had in months. She would have gladly stayed there for hours - days even - but she knew they both had to get ready for work. Gingerly she eased her way out of Catherine's embrace and headed for the bathroom, stopping to collect a fresh set of clothes on the way. In deference to the fact that Catherine would need some time in the bathroom too she cut her shower short and dressed quickly, returning to the bedroom with a towel over her shoulders, occasionally rubbing at her damp hair. Catherine was still sleeping, curled up roughly in the centre of the bed.

"Cat," Sara called. "It's time to get up." Catherine groaned and turned onto her back but didn't open her eyes. Sara smiled indulgently and sat down beside her. "Catherine, honey," she said gently, shaking her a little. "It's nearly time to go to work." That got a better reaction from the other woman. She opened her eyes slowly and blinked to clear her vision. She looked at Sara dumbly for a second before the memory of where she was came back and she groaned.

"What time is it?" she asked, rubbing her eyes.

"Just after seven," Sara informed her. "You've got time for a shower if you're quick."

Catherine nodded and rolled out of bed, landing awkwardly on her knees. Sara laughed as she pulled her to her feet. "You want to borrow a shirt or something?" she asked.

Catherine looked down at her rumpled and obviously slept in clothes. "Sounds like a plan," she replied. Sara rummaged through her drawers, looking for something that would fit without looking too stupid.

"Hmm," she murmured, pulling out a plain white tank top and a light brown turtleneck sweater. "Try these."

Catherine took them with a smile of thanks and disappeared into the bathroom. When she heard the spray begin, Sara wandered into the kitchen to see what she could rustle up for breakfast.

Catherine emerged from the shower to the smell of toast and coffee. She dried and dressed quickly, her stomach rumbling. The borrowed sweater slid snugly over her body and she almost moaned aloud as Sara's scent washed over her. This sweater clearly hadn't been worn since the brunette had taken up smoking again, so it smelled faintly of California orange groves - Sara's own unique, natural perfume.

Sara smiled and held out a mug as Catherine emerged from the bathroom. "Cream and two sugars," she said. "That right?"

"That's right," Catherine confirmed, accepting the cup and inhaling with gusto. She took a sip and grabbed a slice of toast and marmalade from the plate sitting on the kitchen counter. "I love this sweater," she mumbled around her toast.

Sara smirked. "Keep it," she said. "It looks better on you than it ever did on me."

Catherine swallowed her mouthful and placed the toast and cup back on the counter. "It smells like you," Catherine explained bashfully. "That's why I like it."

Sara slowly smiled and stepped closer to Catherine. She placed her hands on the other woman's hips and pulled her forward so they were touching. Catherine slid her hands up Sara's arms and curled her fingers round her biceps. "I'd like to kiss you right now," Sara confessed, smiling shyly. "But it's probably a really bad idea."

"Probably," Catherine agreed breathily, then leaned forward and pressed their lips together, chastely and sweetly. Sara tightened her grip on the other woman's middle briefly, and moaned softly when Catherine pulled away. "I've wanted to do that for years," the older woman admitted, her lips still practically touching Sara's.

"I'm beginning to think I have too," Sara replied, tangling their lips together again ever so briefly before stepping back. "We have to go to work," she said, looking distinctly unenthusiastic about the idea.

Catherine sighed. "I guess you're right." She went into the bedroom to collect her jacket and purse. When she returned Sara was waiting by the door.

"D'you want to take two cars or one?" Sara asked.

Catherine frowned. "I thought there was something wrong with yours," she said, cocking her head in a silent question.

Sara flushed hotly and looked away. "I, uh...I lied about that," she admitted. "There's nothing wrong with the car, I just knew I was over the limit." A wave of hot shame rolled through her and she felt tears pricking at her eyes. "I'm sorry."

Catherine tilted her chin up and gave her a small smile. "Hey," she said gently. "Don't beat yourself up over it, sweetie. You acted responsibly."

"I lied to you," Sara protested.

Catherine smiled. "I forgive you," she said. "As long as you don't do it again." She stroked her hand down the side of Sara's face. "I don't know what's going to happen between us, Sara," she said. "But I do know we have to be honest with each other from this point on, or it's doomed before it starts. Agreed?" Sara nodded dumbly and Catherine rewarded her with another gentle kiss. "Good," she said. "And we'd better take both cars."

Sara smiled and nodded as she reached for her keys.

When she was safely in her car and watching Catherine driving away Sara was glad they'd decided to travel separately. It wasn't that she didn't want to spend time with Catherine - she did - but she felt like she needed her space right now. Catherine's discovery of her little problem, and the subsequent emotional roller coaster, had left her feeling more than a little drained.

She flipped on her car stereo as she pulled into traffic, and smiled as she recognised the CD she'd left in there. It was Mary Chapin Carpenter's last album, and she found herself humming along to the calming sounds of acoustic guitars, piano and a soothing female voice.

Making a brief stop at her local pharmacy she continued her journey to work. Catherine was waiting for her as she pulled into the parking lot. "You hit some traffic?" Catherine asked as the brunette stepped out of her car.

Sara shook her head and held up the white pharmacy bag. "Nicorette patches and gum," she explained.

Catherine raised an eyebrow. "You quitting again?"

Sara smiled. "May as well give up all my destructive habits at once," she said.

Catherine stepped closer to her, then ducked her head sheepishly. "I guess I really shouldn't kiss you here," she said softly.

Sara touched her arm. "It's enough that I know you want to," she replied. Catherine looked up.

"Well, I really, really, want to," she said huskily, and Sara felt her heart give a little jump.

She cleared her throat. "We...uh...we should probably go in," she said.

Catherine smiled and conceded the point, gesturing for Sara to go on ahead.

Sara saw her as soon as she entered the building - the unmistakable form of Emily Porter arguing with the receptionist, looking about ready to pull her over the desk. "What's going on here?" she asked as she stepped up behind the blonde and placed a reassuring hand on the small of her back. Catherine hovered a few feet away, ready to jump in if she too were needed.

"Sara," Emily gasped, turning to her. Sara could see that she was furious but close to tears nevertheless. "They won't tell me anything about what's going on with Marianne."

Sara turned to the receptionist and glared at her. Catherine - who'd been on the receiving end of that glare more than a few times - smirked and almost felt sorry for the clueless woman who was about to get a taste of Sara's righteous anger.

"They what?" she said icily, addressing Emily but boring her eyes into the receptionist's.

"I'm not immediate family, apparently," Emily replied, her voice wavering. Sara rubbed her back slightly to calm her.

"If you're not I'd like to know who is," she said, raising her eyebrow at the receptionist in a silent challenge.

"As I've already explained," the woman said. "I can't release any information to anyone but a parent, sibling or spouse."

Emily looked ready to launch herself over the desk but Sara held her back with a look. "This is Marianne Roberts' spouse," she explained, as if she was talking to a particularly slow-witted child. "They were only missing the paperwork." Sara was sure she saw the hint of a smirk pass over the receptionist's lips and she saw red. "Wipe that smile off your face, bitch, or I'll wipe it off for you," she spat.

The woman had the audacity to look affronted as she stood and drew herself up to her full height. Unluckily for her, Sara still towered over her by at least four inches. "Excuse me, Miss Sidle, I really don't think-"

"No, you don't, do you?" Sara interrupted. "A person comes in here, grieving for her partner, desperate for information and you get hung up on technicalities? What kind of pathetic excuse for a human being are you?" The woman's lips tightened into a straight line but she didn't answer. "You've got nothing to say?"

The woman looked up and repeated: "I can only release information to a parent, sibling or spouse."

Catherine let out a small sound of disgust and stepped up, hoping to avoid the very real possibility that Sara would decide to smack some sense into this woman's head. "Okay, that's enough," she said, slamming her ID onto the desk. "I'm a senior CSI assigned to this case and I'd like an update on the victim's status. Spit it out."

With more than obvious reluctance the receptionist pulled up Marianne's file on her terminal. "The body is ready for release," she said stiffly. "But we'll need her next-of-kin to sign the release form."

"Who's Marianne's next-of-kin?" Sara asked Emily gently.

Emily breathed out shakily. "Probably the father who disowned her when she was eighteen," she said.

Catherine felt her heart clutch in sympathy at Emily's predicament. She turned back to the receptionist, fire in her eyes. "We're here to help people," she said firmly. "Not cause them unnecessary pain. If you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the system, I hope you remember what you've put this woman through tonight." She leaned forward slightly when the receptionist remained unphased. "I'll be watching you," Catherine threatened softly. "One false move and you'll be out of here so fast your feet won't touch the ground." Looking away from her in disgust, Catherine turned her attention back to Sara who was busy comforting a quietly sobbing Emily Porter.

"Listen, Cath, I'm going to take Emily for a coffee or something," Sara was saying.

Catherine nodded, reaching out and touching Sara's arm. "What'll I tell Grissom?" she asked softly.

"Tell him I'm interviewing a witness," Sara replied.

Catherine nodded, trailing her hand down Sara's arm and tangling their fingers together briefly before she stepped away and headed towards the lab. Sara shot the receptionist a final sour look as she ushered Emily out of the building and into her car.

"You don't have to do this," Emily protested weakly as she slumped into the passenger seat.

"I want to," Sara assured her.

Emily nodded and closed her eyes until they drew up outside the coffee shop. Sara opened the door for her and offered her arm to lean against as she got out. "Thanks, Sara," Emily said quietly as she allowed herself to be led inside and seated on a plush sofa.

"What can I get you?" she asked.

"Anything as long as it's hot, strong and black," Emily replied. Sara nodded and went over to the counter, reappearing a minute later with two steaming mugs. She sat down next to Emily and produced a candy bar from her pocket.

"I think you need the sugar," she said, pushing it into the other woman's hands. Emily accepted it gratefully and bit into it like it was the first thing she'd eaten all day. Which it might well have been.

"Thanks for this," she said, taking a sip of her scalding hot coffee. "I spent the day surrounded by all our friends but they're grieving themselves. I needed to get away."

Sara nodded in understanding. "I'm sorry about what happened back there," she said.

"Don't worry about it," Emily replied, waving her hand dismissively. "You get used to crap like that after a while."

"You shouldn't have to."

Emily turned and gave her a watery smile. "I know. But that's just the way things are." Sara sighed and sank back into the sofa. Emily leaned back with her. "Have you learned anything about what happened?" she asked quietly.

Sara hesitated. "There are things I can't talk about," she said, feeling like shit as she did so. "A defence attorney would rip me to shreds if they found out I'd commented on an open case."

Emily sighed deeply and nodded. "I understand," she said.

"I can tell you how she died," Sara said gently. "If you want me to."

The blonde drew in a deep shuddering breath and nodded. "Yes, I think I need to know."

Sara reached out and took her hand. "The evidence suggests that she was suffocated when the suspect placed a hand over her mouth and nose. The position she was in when you found her was staged after she died." Sara felt her hand being squeezed almost painfully but she didn't say anything, or pull away.

"Did he...was she-"

"No," Sara assured her. "There was no sign of sexual assault."

Emily let out a shaky sob. "Well. That's something." Sara agreed. Not much, but something.

Sara allowed Emily time to get herself together before she spoke. "Can I ask you something?" she said when Emily seemed calmer.

"Shoot," Emily replied, wiping at her eyes.

"Did you know that Marianne was closeted at work?"

Emily nodded. "Yes. I'm not out at work either. Are you?"

Sara raised an eyebrow. Obviously she'd set off Emily's gaydar. Lesbians had told her in the past that it was her walk that did it - along with those 'big honking boots' Catherine had mentioned earlier. "I'm not actually gay," she said gently.

Emily looked up in complete mortification. "Oh shit, I'm so sorry!"

"Why?" Sara asked quizzically. "I don't consider it an insult to be mistaken for a lesbian." Emily smiled. "Besides," Sara continued. "You weren't far off. I'm bi. And no, I'm not out at work. Well, not completely."

Emily drained her coffee. "It's hard to judge how people will react," she said. "I was friends with this woman a few years ago who I'd known for ages. I thought I knew her pretty well, but when I came out to her she completely freaked." She placed the empty coffee cup back on the table. "Marianne came out to her parents when she was eighteen. They went nuts. Disowned her, threw her out of their house. She had to drop out of college. I'd recently managed to convince her that I was earning enough to support her if she wanted to go back. She was going to do it." Emily trailed off, too choked up to continue.

Sara opened her mouth to speak but her cellphone interrupted. "Sidle," she said impatiently as she lifted the phone to her ear. She listened patiently for a few moments, then her eyes widened at what she heard. "Bovine?" she exclaimed. Emily looked at her quizzically and Sara moderated her tone. "Greg, are you sure? Yeah, yeah, okay, I'm not doubting you. I'll be back soon. Bye, Greg." She clicked the phone off and turned to Emily. "I've got to go," she explained.

"Was that about Marianne?" Emily asked hopefully. Sara winced. "I know, I know, you can't comment on an open case." She sighed. "My car's back at the station," she said. The drive back to the station was silent and blessedly short. Emily looked over at Sara as she pulled into a parking space. "Thanks, Sara. For everything." Sara nodded and gave her a small smile. Emily stepped out of the car, then turned back. "I think," she said slowly. "I think Marianne mentioned that this Andy guy works in a slaughter-house." Sara raised an eyebrow as Emily continued. "If that helps you any."

"It just might," Sara replied. "Thanks."

Emily managed a thin smile as she closed the door and headed towards her car. Sara hurried inside, in search of Catherine.

"I cannot believe there are 24 hour slaughter-houses," Catherine said as she and Sara stepped out of the Tahoe.

Sara shrugged. "McDonalds needs beef," she said. "This is one of the reasons I'm a vegetarian."

"I thought it was that thing with the pig," Catherine replied, flashing her a smile.

"That too," Sara admitted. Catherine laughed as she approached the security gatehouse and flashed her ID.

"I'm Catherine Willows, this is Sara Sidle. We're here to see Bob Fairbanks." The security muscle inspected her ID with narrowed eyes before letting them in.

"I'll call him down for you," he said, picking up a phone receiver. Catherine and Sara stood a few paces away from him.

"It can't possibly be a co-incidence that there are traces of bovine DNA in Marianne's wounds and our prime suspect works in a slaughter-house," Sara said, almost whispering so the security guard wouldn't hear.

"Agreed," Catherine replied with a firm nod. "I just don't know if we're going to find anything here."

"We have to try," Sara said, straightening up as she spotted a guy in a suit approaching them.

"Ms. Willows?" he said, looking at Sara.

"Uh, no, that would be me," said Catherine, reaching out to shake his hand. "This is Sara Sidle."

The man smiled and reached out for Sara's hand once Catherine had released his. "Sorry," he said. "I'm Bob Fairbanks, the night manager here."

"Pleased to meet you," Sara said. dropping her hand to her side. "We'd like to ask you about an employee of yours, an Andy Green?"

"Former employee," Bob Fairbanks corrected her. "He left work last night almost as soon as he arrived, and didn't even bother to show up tonight. No phone call, no nothing, so he's out of a job."

Sara's ears had perked up when he'd mentioned the previous night. "What time did his shift start yesterday?" she asked.

"Nine thirty," he replied. "We have a record of him clocking in but he took off almost straight away."

Catherine and Sara threw each other matching significant looks. Andy Green had been here just a few hours after Marianne was killed.

"Could we possibly see his locker?" Catherine asked, turning back to Bob Fairbanks.

He shrugged. "Sure. Follow me."

Catherine and Sara shouldered their kits and followed him down the narrow passage. When he opened the door at the end of the corridor they got a sneak peak at hell.

The noise and the smell were almost unbearable. Machinery was grinding and spinning madly, propelling the carcass of cow after cow around the production line. There was blood all over the floor and all over the workers, who were slicing into the hanging cows at breakneck speed. At the sound of knives digging into raw flesh Catherine turned and grabbed Sara, burying her face in her neck. She looked slightly green.

"Hey, is she okay?" Fairbanks asked with concern.

Sara was almost incapable of answering as she was feeling more than a little sick herself. She couldn't take her eyes off the rotating carcasses, and suddenly she realised where she'd seen something like this before. "This is where he got the idea to hang her up by her feet," she said to Catherine who nodded into her neck. "God, I want to nail this sick bastard."

Catherine grabbed Sara's hand and squeezed as she pulled her head back. "Me too," she said. "Oh, and Sara?"


"I think I just became a vegetarian."

Sara smirked and turned to Fairbanks who was looking at them with concern. "She's okay. It was just a bit of a shock."

Fairbanks nodded in understanding. "I sometimes forget people aren't as used to this as I am." He gestured ahead of him. "The locker room is just through here," he said.

Sara nodded and followed him. Catherine didn't let go of her hand till they'd left the stench and noise of the main floor.

"Which one is his?" Sara asked once they were inside the locker room. Fairbanks pointed to one anonymous locker in a row of anonymous lockers. Sara couldn't see anything special about it. "Have you got a way to open it?"

Fairbanks fiddled with a key chain at his belt and finally produced a master key. He started towards the locker but Catherine stopped him with a hand on his arm. "I'll have to ask you not to touch it," she said. Sara snapped on a pair of latex gloves and took the key from him.

The first thing they noticed was the knife. It was huge, unfriendly looking and frighteningly sharp. Catherine pulled a camera up to her eye and snapped three photographs in quick succession.

"That's strange," Fairbanks said. "I wouldn't have thought he'd leave his knife."

Catherine looked up sharply. "This is his own personal knife?"

Fairbanks nodded. "All employees have their own knives," he said. "They're expected to care for them on their own time. No-one would leave their knife in their locker."

Sara was only half listening. She'd just spotted a polaroid photograph taped to the inside door. She plucked it off and held it out to Catherine. "Recognise anyone?" she said.

Catherine's breath caught in her throat. "Marianne," she said.

Sara nodded and turned back to the knife. She lifted it out carefully and asked Catherine to give her the Luminol. She sprayed it and the knife turned blue, as she'd expected. "Blood," she said. "Not too surprising for a knife used in a slaughter-house." She set it down and reached into her kit. "Now to find out if it's human."

Catherine frowned as she spotted something inside the locker, right at the back. She reached in and pulled it out just as Sara's face lit up in triumph. "Human blood," she said, holding up the proof. Catherine held up the T-shirt she'd just pulled out of the locker. Sara's eyes were drawn to the deep red stain covering the front of it.

"Snap," said Catherine.

Sara left the slaughter-house with a sense of grim satisfaction, knowing that they now had enough evidence to send Andy Green to death row - if they ever found him. The sick feeling which had come over her when she realised why Marianne had been hanging when she was found hadn't dissipated yet, but she was feeling better with every lung full of clean desert air she drew in through her nose. Catherine's hand being wrapped around hers as they walked back to the Tahoe helped too.

"I'm never even looking at a steak again," Catherine was saying, looking paler than usual.

Sara let out a small, musical laugh. "I've got a convert?" she said, eyes twinkling as she looked down at Catherine.

"You converted me years ago," she replied in a half growl, grinning widely when Sara blushed. She looked around to make sure they were alone in the parking lot, then stepped forward and pressed her lips to Sara's in an all-too-brief kiss.

Sara let out a shaky breath as she dropped her kit, pulling Catherine to her in a tight hug. "Cat..." she breathed, not really knowing what else to say, or even if she wanted to keep speaking.

Catherine buried her head in that little place in the crook of Sara's neck that seemed to have been created for no other purpose than for Catherine to snuggle into. Her arms tightened around Sara's middle, feeling her world contract into this moment, this embrace. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "We agreed to give each other time to get used to all this before we jumped into anything, and here I am kissing you every five minutes. It must be confusing for you."

Sara shook her head and dropped a kiss onto Catherine's forehead. "Actually, sweetie, when you're kissing me is the only time I'm not confused."

Catherine looked up into smouldering dark eyes and felt her heart give a little leap as she realised they were about to go way beyond sweet and chaste. Their mouths crashed together like breaking waves, lips merging, tongues tangling, teeth clashing. Catherine felt the weight of three and a half years of suppressed desire washing over her, leaving a burning heat in its wake. A throaty groan bubbled up from somewhere deep inside her and she slid her fingers into Sara's hair, gripping tightly. Her back hit the bonnet of the Tahoe with quite a bit of force but she didn't even notice the slight pain. She arched into Sara and threw back her head, Sara's lips finding her earlobe and nipping slightly before trailing down her throat. Sara's leg slipped between her jean-clad thighs, thrusting slightly, and Catherine felt her entire lower body turn liquid. "Sara," she said, a word without a thought attached. She felt nimble long fingered hands slipping under her borrowed sweater, sliding over stomach muscles which were strained taut as wire. An animalistic moan was ripped from her throat as Sara's fingertips ghosted over her breasts, the nipples going diamond hard even through the thin material of her bra. Her hips began to thrust into Sara's thigh of their own accord. "Sara," she whispered hotly. "Sara, baby, I-"

A car door slammed somewhere in the near distance and the two women leaped apart as if they'd been burned. Catherine looked around wildly, trying to smooth her clothes and make it look like she hadn't just been practically having sex on the bonnet of a truck in the middle of a public parking lot.

"Shit, we just did that didn't we?" Sara said in a small voice.

Having decided that the sound hadn't come from anywhere in eyeshot, Catherine turned back to Sara, breathing a little heavily. "We nearly did a hell of a lot more, too," she said.

Sara smiled slowly and stepped closer to Catherine, taking her hands. "We're fucking crazy."

Catherine laughed almost hysterically and wrapped herself round Sara. "Certifiable," she said into Sara's chest, feeling a flush rise to her cheeks. The desire was still there, a smouldering fire deep in her belly, but it was tinged with sanity now and she knew she wouldn't lose control again. She felt a pair of lips press against the crown of her head.

"Have you really wanted me for three and a half years?" Sara said, rubbing her cheek across Catherine's silky red-blonde hair.

A smile jumped to Catherine's lips. "D'you remember the afternoon we met?" she said, and felt Sara nod. "You came in and said 'Do you know where I can find Catherine Willows?' I don't know if it was because I was tired from pulling a double, or if I was just upset about Holly but I wasn't prepared for you when I looked up. You were this...goddess, just standing there silhouetted in the doorway. Just beautiful..." She trailed off. "I didn't understand what I was feeling so I got hostile." She let out a bitter laugh. "A little flaw of mine, as you might have noticed." She looked up, getting lost in the soft brown eyes which were looking down at her with understanding and...was that forgiveness? "You're so amazing..." Catherine murmured, trailing her fingers over Sara's cheek.

Sara looked away bashfully, locking her eyes on a constellation hanging just above the horizon. "I can think of a few things about me that aren't so great," she said seriously. Catherine turned her face back towards her with a firm hand.

"I'll be the judge of that," she said softly and pulled Sara towards her for a kiss. It was less incendiary this time, though the desire was still lurking under the surface. But Catherine wanted to let Sara feel her love, not her lust, so she kept her baser instincts in check.

"Wow," Sara breathed when they parted.

"Yeah," Catherine replied with a soft smile. They gazed at each other in comfortable silence for what felt like hours, but couldn't have been more than a minute. Then Sara forced herself to look away and smiled ruefully.

"We're working," she said, bringing Catherine crashing back to reality. They untangled themselves from each other reluctantly.

"Work, right," Catherine muttered as she pulled out her car keys and unlocked the Tahoe with a click of a button. Sara flashed her a warm smile and made her way round to the trunk to stow her gear.

A second too late Catherine remembered what was in her trunk and dashed round to Sara's side. "Shit," she said, seeing that Sara was standing transfixed by the box full of bottles Catherine had cleared from Sara's apartment. Sara reached out and ran her hand over the neck of a half-full bottle of whisky.

"Was all this really in my apartment?" she asked in a small voice.

Catherine nodded slowly. "Yeah," she replied, placing her hand on the small of Sara's back.

Sara stared at the box for a moment longer then abruptly hefted it into her arms. Catherine stepped back and allowed her to pass as she made her way over to a nearby dumpster. Placing the box on the ground, she opened the dumpster, and frowned at what she saw there.

"Cat," she called over her shoulder. "Bring the camera."

Catherine frowned but did as she was told. Sara gestured into the depths of the dumpster.

"I think I just found Marianne's missing clothes," she said. Catherine took multiple photographs while Sara went to fetch gloves and some plastic evidence bags. "We should take this stuff back to the lab," she said when their latest discovery had been documented and collected. Catherine nodded.

They stopped at the next dumpster they saw on the way to dispose of the box.

Greg's eyes nearly popped out of his head when he was presented with the huge slaughter-house knife. "Are you trying to tell me something ladies?" he asked, looking up at Catherine and Sara with a smirk.

Catherine shook her head, trying not to get sucked into Greg's banter for once. "Just swab it and check the DNA, Greg. We know there are traces of human blood, we just need to prove its Marianne's."

Greg let out a low whistle. "May be a tall order," he said. "Depending on what it was cleaned with."

Catherine held up the T-shirt she had also collected, pointing to the smeared bloodstains. "I think this might answer that question."

"Okay. I should be able to get something then, as long as he didn't use any chemicals."

Sara gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder. "We have faith in you, Greg," she said. "But don't let it go to your head."

They left Greg to do his thing with the knife and the shirt and dropped off the other clothes in the evidence locker to await identification. The break room was their next port of call. Catherine poured Sara a cup of coffee and handed it to her with a gentle smile. Sara managed to spill it a little with her shaking hands. "You okay?" Catherine said with a frown.

Sara nodded as she put the cup down and clenched her hands into fists. She looked away from Catherine as she spoke. "I haven't gone this long without a drink in about three months," she admitted. "This...hand thing happens sometimes."

Catherine reached out and took one trembling hand in her own. "The beginning is the hardest," she said, with a certainty born of personal experience. "You'll be shaky, and irritable, and sometimes you'll want a drink so bad you'll think you can taste it. But it will get easier, I promise you."

Sara looked up sharply. "How do you know? How can you possibly know how I'm feeling?"

Catherine tightened her grip on Sara's hand. "You never wondered why I can identify cocaine with just a look?"

The implied admission hung heavily between them for a few moments, then Sara looked up with tears in her eyes. "You'll help me, right Cat?" she said in a small voice.

Catherine closed the distance between them, pulling Sara's head against her stomach and stroking her fingers through her hair. "I'll do everything I can," she promised. "But you have to meet me halfway."

Sara knew instinctively she wasn't just talking about the drinking. She looked up, her mouth open to speak.

"Sara?" Grissom ducked his head in the door and both women spun to face him. He frowned a little at their close proximity but seemed to shake it off. "402 at a bakery downtown. You're with me," he said, looking at Sara. "Come on."

Sara held up a hand to stall him. "Grissom, I'm on the Marianne Roberts case."

"Are you following any leads right now?"

Sara silently cursed Grissom and his logical thought process. "No, but...there's the paperwork-"

"Catherine can handle the paperwork. I want you."

Sara's heart almost stopped. She looked up at Catherine who had paled slightly at Grissom's words. She managed a small smile for Sara nevertheless.

"Go on," she said. "I'll be here when you get back."

Sara swallowed hard, wishing Grissom would go and leave them alone, even for a few moments. But he was just standing there waiting for her so she had to settle for communicating with her eyes. Only trouble was, even she wasn't sure what she was trying to get across. In the end she had to go with Grissom, without a word.

When they were gone Catherine slumped into Sara's recently occupied chair and covered her face with her hands. "Gil Grissom," she mumbled to herself. "I fucking hate you."

Part 2

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