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 2

Sara was itching to turn the radio on but she resisted, knowing Grissom hated noise when he was driving. The silence was starting to get to her. She couldn't help but compare this car ride to the one she'd shared with Catherine the previous morning - Catherine had been listening to a classic rock station and singing along under her breath. It had been warm and comfortable. Not like this at all.

She studied Grissom's profile intently as he drove. His face was a puzzle she had never been able to crack. She could never tell if he was happy or sad, calm or angry, frustrated or calm. Did he even feel those emotions? She supposed he must, but she was damned if she'd ever found any evidence for it.

Not like Catherine. It all came down to a comparison now, didn't it? Catherine wore her heart on her sleeve. If she was happy the world knew it within seconds. If she was mad at you for something there was no way you could miss it. When she was upset it was like a dark cloud was following her, darkening the whole atmosphere. And when she kissed her Sara could feel that she loved her.

When had Grissom ever made her feel like that? Oh sure, he'd made the odd throwaway comment ('Since when are you interested in beauty?' 'Since I met you.') Moments she'd clung to when she returned to her apartment morning after morning, cold and alone. Most of the time he just looked right through her. Not like Catherine ('I notice everything about you...')

The click of Grissom's car door interrupted her thoughts and she realised with a start that they'd arrived at their crime scene. "You coming?" Grissom said.

"Yeah," she muttered, sliding out of the car. She grabbed her kit and sauntered over to Grissom, looking with dismay at the burnt out shell of a building that was their crime scene. "Did I ever mention how much I hate fires?"

Grissom shrugged. "Part of the job," he said.

Sara nodded. "Let's get on with it then," she said, waving to a vaguely familiar cop as she headed for what had once been Salieri's Downtown Bakery.

Catherine knew she had to concentrate on this report. The case against Andy Green had to be airtight and she couldn't let a defence attorney get even a sniff of improper procedure. That was why she was so mad at herself for tearing up every five goddamn minutes.

The fifth time it happened she abandoned her paperwork entirely and fled for the safety of the women's bathroom, locking herself into a stall to get a little privacy as she fell apart.

'I want you,' he'd said to Sara, words which Catherine knew the brunette had been waiting to hear for months. It had been glaringly obvious to her for at least a year that Sara loved Grissom, just as it had been obvious that Grissom was oblivious. That had changed now though, as, apparently, had Grissom's willingness to do something about the situation. If Sara wanted him then who was she to stand in the way? She'd said as much that afternoon, lying in Sara's bed, suggesting that she should see what was between her and Grissom before the two women did anything about their mutual attraction. If that had been the end of it Catherine really believed she could have handled it. Sure, her heart would have shattered into a million tiny pieces at the sight of Sara with Grissom, but she'd gone through the same thing with Hank so she knew she could survive it.

But she'd kissed her now. And more than that... What had happened in the slaughter-house parking lot had pushed Catherine firmly past the point of no return. Three and a half years of wanting her, two years of loving her. How was she supposed to resist the siren's song of Sara's lips when she was right there, holding her?

If only she didn't know what her lips tasted like.

If only she hadn't nuzzled into that sweet spot at the base of her throat, feeling how perfectly they fit together. If only she hadn't woken up wrapped around her with the afternoon sun dancing across their bodies. If only she hadn't felt those strong hands caressing her, lighting a fire deep inside. A fire that wasn't going to go out, even if Sara now changed her mind.

Catherine leaned forward so her forehead was practically touching her knees and bit back a sob. Damn Grissom and his fucking awful timing. Why did he have to decide he wanted Sara now? Why couldn't it have been a month ago, a week ago even? Better yet, why couldn't it have been six months ago, before Sara had turned to drink to block out the pain of his rejection? Sara could have been happy and Catherine could have gone on loving her in silence, never being tortured by a glimpse of what might have been.

It wasn't like she wasn't already supremely skilled at hiding her feelings for Sara. For the first year and a half or so it had been nothing but physical attraction, or so she'd liked to kid herself at the time. She still remembered with absolute clarity the moment that had changed. The two of them had been sent out to a crime scene at a convenience store in the ass end of nowhere. They'd been there all night and Catherine was worrying about Lindsey and how she was going to explain to Nancy that she was going to miss driving her daughter to school for the third time that week. She was bitching and moaning and taking her frustrations out on Sara when the brunette simply stood up and handed her a candy bar from the counter in a gesture which clearly said 'start eating and shut up'. But it was the little smirk on her face which broke through Catherine's defences. Oh, Catherine remembered thinking. I'm in love with her. When did that happen?

Catherine's hands balled into fists, nails digging painfully into her palms. If only they'd had a chance to talk, to work out where they stood with each other. She wondered if Sara was as confused on that score as she was.

Sara bagged her final charred cinder of the night with a deep sigh. Fires were universally acknowledged among CSIs to be the worst crime scenes. What the fire didn't destroy the fire-fighters usually did. In this case, however, the burn pattern had clearly indicated arson and the owner had confessed to torching the place for the insurance after roughly thirty seconds of sustained questioning. Grissom had then instructed her to collect samples from the scene in order to determine the accelerant used. It was a completely pointless thing to do when they had a confession but Grissom insisted on being thorough.

"I'm done," she called over to him. "Can we go yet?" She sounded about three years old but she didn't really care.

"Okay," Grissom conceded and then suddenly he was standing over her with that same nervous expression he'd worn when asking her out the night before. "So," he said. "Do you have plans after work today?"

Sara stood up so she was on an equal footing with him. "Why are you doing this?" she asked.

Grissom looked pained. "Doing what?"

"Don't play dumb, Grissom, it doesn't suit you. Why are you asking me out?"

Grissom straightened his shoulders. "We're both single. We get on. You've made it clear you're interested in me. Why wouldn't I ask you out?"

Sara had to bite back a sarcastic response about him being about six months late. "Grissom, do you know where I was born?" she said instead.

Grissom looked surprised. "San Francisco," he replied, with a frown.

"No," Sara said. "I'm from Tamales Bay, about an hour and a half outside of 'Frisco. What's my mother's name?"

Grissom shook his head. "I don't know."

"It's Mary. Where does my brother live?" Grissom once again shook his head dumbly. "He moved to Australia two years ago," Sara supplied, feeling things click into place inside her, finally.

"I don't understand, Sara," Grissom said.

Sara smiled slightly. "No, you don't do you?" she said. "I'm not trying to trick you. I'm just asking you some very basic, simple things about me - and I guarantee you every other CSI on grave knows those three things I asked, because I've mentioned them several times in front of all of you. You're great at figuring out crime scenes, Gris, but when it comes to people you're a little less observant. You don't really know anything about me, do you?"

"What if I want to find out?" he said softly.

Sara looked away with a rueful smile. In her mind's eye she could see what a relationship with Grissom would be like - quiet evenings listening to Mozart and Beethoven, going to art house movies with subtitles, reading forensics books in bed. Cold distance and silence. And then there was Catherine who didn't know the meaning of the word distant. Going out for ice cream with Catherine and Lindsey, seeing trashy movies and snuggling in the back row, singing along to 70s rock in the car - suddenly she wanted all those things with an almost physical pain.

She looked back at Grissom, expecting to feel something and surprised when she didn't. Her love for him - and it had been love, once - had been rejected six months ago. She'd spent the time since then trying to drown her feelings in the bottom of a bottle. Now she was looking for them again and discovering that she had succeeded - they were dead. The pain she'd been trying to dull was grief for the loss of those emotions - but it was grief for the idea of love, not the love itself. That had never got off the ground. There was something else coming alive inside her now. But not for Grissom - for Catherine.

"I'm sorry," she said. "Really, Grissom. But there's someone else."

Grissom looked stunned. Clearly this was something he'd never considered. "Oh," he said. And that said it all.

"Yeah," Sara murmured. Suddenly she wanted to see Catherine more than she'd ever wanted anything. "No hard feelings?" she said, awkwardly extending her hand. He shook it, flashing her a small smile.

"Of course not," he said. "You deserve to be happy, Sara."

Sara looked away with a smile. For the first time in what seemed like forever, she actually believed that herself.

Sara and Grissom went their separate ways when they returned to the lab, about half an hour before the end of shift. Grissom announced his intention to fill out the paperwork on the bakery arson while Sara hurried off to find Catherine. The look in the other woman's eyes as she left with Grissom had been haunting Sara and she needed to find her to reassure her that everything was all right.

Her desk was deserted, as was the break room and all the usual labs. She'd seen her car in the parking lot on the way in so she knew Catherine was still around.

"Hey," she said, ducking her head into the DNA lab. "Have you seen Catherine?"

Greg looked up with a twinkle in his eye. "Well, if it isn't Mrs. Grissom," he said, smirking.

Sara rolled her eyes. "Have you seen her or not, Greg?"

Greg shrugged. "What's it worth to you?" Sara shot him a threatening glare. He held up his hands. "Hey, you know how the rumour mill works in this place. Just tell me - are you and Grissom dating now?"

Sara narrowed her eyes. "No," she ground out. Greg took the hint.

"I saw her go into the ladies' room about twenty minutes ago. She's been in and out of there all night."

Sara frowned. "Is she sick?"

Greg shook his head as he returned his attention to his microscope. "No. She seemed upset actually, but she didn't want to talk about it."

Sara cringed. "Upset?" she said in a small voice.

Greg looked up. "Yeah. Not in floods of tears or anything, but definitely distracted."

Sara cursed inwardly. "Thanks, Greg," she said and turned to leave.

"Hey wait!" Greg stood and brought her over a printout. "I got your results. The human blood on the knife belongs to your vic, and it matches the blood on the shirt. I also found skin cells on the shirt and they belong to your suspect." He smiled. "I believe this is what they call a slam dunk."

Sara took the printout with a wide smile. "All we have to do is find him," she replied, clapping him on the shoulder. "You're the man, Greg. Thanks." Greg beamed with pride as Sara headed off to the ladies' room in search of Catherine.

Catherine was in the middle of splashing water on her face when Sara came in. "Hey, Cat," she said. Catherine glanced over as she reached for a paper towel.

"Hey," she said, rubbing her face dry. Her eyes were red and Sara could tell she had been crying.

"I just spoke to Greg. Looks like we've got a slam dunk on the Roberts case."

Catherine managed a small smile. "That's great. How was your 402?"

"Textbook arson," Sara said, taking a step closer and leaning against the door of a stall. "Grissom made me collect samples for hours though."

"He was probably just enjoying your company," Catherine replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Sara raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow.

"I turned him down again," she said.

Catherine looked up sharply. "Huh?"

Sara took another step closer. "He asked me out again," she said. "But I told him there was someone else."

Catherine's breath caught in her throat. "Really?" Her voice was a throaty shadow of its former self.

"Really," Sara whispered and took another step so she could sweep Catherine up in her arms.

Catherine buried her head in Sara's neck, feeling fresh tears collect in her eyes. She blinked them away furiously. Her fists were grasping the back of Sara's shirt as her arms crushed the brunette against her in an almost painful grip. Sara was running her fingers through Catherine's hair and dropping occasional kisses onto her forehead.

"I can't believe you're really choosing me," Catherine murmured into Sara's soft skin.

Sara shook her head minutely. "I told you I'd give up all my self-destructive habits. Smoking, drinking - and pining after Gil Grissom." She let out a short laugh. "Can you imagine me and him together?"

"I'm trying not to," Catherine replied, gripping Sara slightly tighter.

Sara nudged Catherine's chin up and captured her lips in a brief kiss. "He and I are too alike," she said when they parted. "Being with him would drive me crazy - crazier." She smiled softly. "You and I compliment each other in ways Grissom and I never could. Being with you is like..." she trailed off, struggling for a comparison. "It's like coming up for air," she continued finally. "You're the one who makes me happy. So what choice did I have, really?"

Catherine answered her with a kiss that was both loving and heated, and completely inappropriate for a public rest room in the CSI labs where absolutely anyone could walk in. They were lucky though and remained uninterrupted.

Sara cleared her throat slightly as they parted and looked down into hooded blue eyes. "So," she said softly. "I was wondering if you'd care to join me for dinner this evening. I was thinking Italian...candlelight...non-alcholic grape juice." She smiled. "What do you say?"

Catherine kissed Sara again, softly and sweetly. "Yes," she whispered against her lips. "I'd love to go to dinner with you."

Sara ducked her head, grinning madly. "Okay then. I'll make the reservation and you can pick me up around sixish?"

"I'll be there," Catherine replied, nuzzling into her favourite patch of soft skin in the crook of Sara's neck.

Sara dropped her keys on the table by the door and flopped heavily onto the couch. It had been a long, emotionally draining night. Still, she couldn't help but smile as she recalled the deeply pleasurable sensation of being in Catherine's arms. Her fingers drifted to her lips and her eyes flickered closed. If she concentrated she could almost feel Catherine's lips pressed against hers. She suppressed a moan as a flicker of heat lit up in the pit of her stomach.

With a smile plastered across her face, Sara stood up and headed for the bedroom, shedding her jacket and shirt as she went. She shrugged into the nightshirt she'd worn with Catherine the day before and stepped out of her jeans, climbing into bed. The bedding still smelled like Catherine and she wrapped her arms round one of the pillows, breathing deeply. Her eyes drifted closed.

An hour later she was still tossing and turning. She sat up and ran a trembling hand through her hair. It suddenly seemed very important that she hadn't had a drink for twenty-four hours. She hadn't gone this long in...four, five months? She knew of at least one bottle Catherine had missed, and it was right here in the bedroom. Would it really be so bad if she had a little something, just to calm her down so she could sleep?

Yes, it would, she answered herself a second later. She was going on a date with Catherine later and she wasn't going to show up to it drunk.

She padded through to the living room to retrieve her cordless phone and address book. She really wanted to call Catherine but she also didn't want to seem too pathetic and needy. So, she crawled back into bed and looked up her brother's number.

The phone rang four times before it was answered. "Hello?" came a sleepy voice.

"Hey, Luke," said Sara. "It's me."

"Sara? What's wrong? Is it Mom and Dad?"

Sara frowned. "No, nothing's wrong. I just wanted to talk."

"Sara..." he sighed. "It's three am."

Sara slapped her hand against her forehead. "Oh shit, I'm sorry Luke. I wasn't thinking." She cursed herself silently. If it was eight am on Sunday in Nevada then it was three am on Monday in Melbourne - she knew that, and should have remembered. "I'll let you get back to sleep."

"No, wait." Sara could hear the rustling of bedclothes and a lamp being switched on. "I haven't talked to you in months and I'm awake now."

Sara hesitated. It was true she hadn't called him since Christmas but she felt guilty about waking him in the middle of the night. "Are you sure?" she asked uncertainly.

"Absolutely," he replied firmly and Sara smiled.

"Okay. You do anything interesting today?"

"Yeah, actually. I took Lisa and Jamie up to Healesville for the day."

Sara grinned. "Taking your girlfriend and her little boy to the zoo on Sunday? You're such a good daddy."

"Hey, Lisa hasn't definitely given me the job yet," Luke replied with a small chuckle.

"She will, I guarantee it." For a moment she thought about Catherine and Lindsey. She wondered if Lindsey liked her.

"So...you put away any dangerous criminals this week?"

Sara thought about Andy Green, still at large. She didn't like to talk to her family about her more gruesome cases so she launched into the story of her bakery arson instead.

Luke laughed. "Sara Sidle: keeping the world safe for insurance companies everywhere!"

Sara smirked. "Screw you," she said playfully.

"No thanks, that would be incest," he replied, a smile in his voice. Sara stuck out her tongue.

"Gross," she said. There was a slight pause.

"So, how are things going with you and this Grissom guy?" Luke asked carefully. Sara shook her head even though he couldn't see her.

"Never going to happen," she replied.

"You okay?"

"Yeah...I am, actually. I mean...I was the one who decided it wasn't going anywhere, not him."

"That's my girl."

Sarah frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Come on babe, I've been trying to tell you for years that this guy's no good for you. You need someone who knows how to have fun."

Sara raised an eyebrow and sank further into her pillows. "Are you implying that I don't know how to have fun?"


Sara tried to be offended but just ended up laughing. She was glad she'd called Luke. "If you really want to know," she said. "I'm going on a date tonight with someone else."

"Oooh. Someone from work?"

"Where else?"

"Okay, let me guess." There was a pause as he considered his choices. "Catherine?"

Sara did a quick double take. "How the hell did you know that?"

She had to pull the phone a few inches away from her ear as Luke let out a whoop of victory. "Yes, Sara, way to go!"

"Thanks," she said. "Seriously, how did you know?"

Luke sighed in exasperation. "Come on baby sister, d'you really think you've been fooling me? Ever since you started working at that place it's been Catherine this, Catherine that. Even when you were obsessing over your boss she was still in there. Remember the last time you forgot the time difference and called me in the middle of the night?"

Sara frowned. "No..."

"I do. Vividly. It was after some case to do with her ex-husband's murder that you couldn't solve. Remember how she tore you a new one and you spent three hours on the phone with me crying your heart out? Is this ringing any bells?"

Sara felt her jaw drop slightly. He was right. "Wow," she murmured. "She's always been there, hasn't she?"

"Well, if I noticed..."

Sara shook herself. "Okay, that's enough about my love life. Tell me about Lisa."

They talked easily for another hour or so until Sara was yawning too often to keep up the conversation. "Want me to sing you a lullaby?" Luke asked teasingly.

"Hmm, no, I think I can live without that."

He chuckled softly. "I'm glad you woke me up," he said gently.

"Mmm," Sara replied sleepily, feeling her eyes drift closed. "Love ya, bro."

"Love ya more, sis. Good luck on your hot date."

Sara smiled and clicked the phone off. She was asleep in moments.

Catherine slept fitfully through the morning, feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to come, and got up around one thirty to fix Lindsey something for lunch. She found her daughter watching TV in the living room. "You'll get square eyes," she said, running a hand over the top of her head.

"I asked my teacher and she said that's not true," Lindsey replied, not even glancing up from the Nickelodeon channel.

Catherine shook her head as she wandered into the kitchen. "Teachers," she grumbled. To Lindsey she called: "What do you want for lunch?"

"McDonalds!" came the immediate reply. Catherine felt her stomach turn slightly as she remembered her earlier visit to the slaughter-house.

"No, Lindsey," she said firmly.

"Cheesy pasta, then," Lindsey said, and Catherine turned round to find her hanging in the doorway.

Catherine smiled. "That's more like it," she said and turned to the cabinet to gather her ingredients. Little feet ran back to the TV. Twenty minutes later Catherine was spooning pasta onto two plates, adding tomato and pepper to hers, leaving Lindsey's plain. "Lunch is ready," she called.

"Can I have it in the living room, mommy?"

Catherine ducked her head into the living room. "Uh, uh, you know the rule. We eat at the table in this house." Lindsey trailed into the kitchen reluctantly and bolted her food. "You'll get a stomach ache," Catherine admonished. Lindsey rolled her eyes as she finished eating and disappeared back into the living room.

After the dishes were washed and put away Catherine headed for the shower. She found herself singing as she lathered her hair and laughed out loud. I'm going on a date with Sara, she kept repeating in her mind. A wave of giddiness passed through her, and she spent ten minutes debating with herself over whether to wax her legs. In the end she decided that she would.

Still humming softly under her breath she wrapped up her hair in a towel and pulled on a robe. Lindsey was sitting on her bed when she wandered back into the bedroom. "Hey baby," she said with a smile, rubbing at her damp hair.

"Aunt Nancy said I had to go round to her house early tonight."

"That's right. I'll drop you off at about five thirty." She sat down at her dressing table, looking at Lindsey in the mirror.


Catherine smiled slowly. "I'm having dinner with Sara before I go to work."

Lindsey lit up at the mention of Sara's name. "Sara? Can't I come too, mommy?"

Catherine had to bite her tongue to suppress her laughter. She was way beyond the desire for ten year old chaperones. "Maybe next time, baby," she said as she stood up, heading for her closet. She pulled out two dresses, one black, the other a deep midnight blue. "Which dress do you think I should wear tonight?"

Lindsey looked them both up and down, brow furrowed in confusion. "Sara doesn't care what you wear," she said seriously.

Catherine smiled. "You're probably right, but I do. I want to look nice tonight."

Lindsey considered her options carefully. "Okay...the blue one."

Catherine looked down at the dress with a pleased expression. It was sleeveless and backless and showed just the right amount of cleavage. It had been the one she'd favoured herself. "I think you're right," she said. With that she settled down for an afternoon of meticulous grooming. She had to laugh at herself. She hadn't spent so long preparing for a date since she was a teenager. Sara made her feel like that though - like everything was new and fresh and filled with infinite possibilities.

For three and a half years her analytical mind had tried to quantify and catalogue exactly what it was about Sara she found so attractive. The woman was a mass of contradictions - arrogant yet shy, devastatingly intelligent yet completely lacking in common sense, breathtakingly beautiful and still painfully self-conscious. Eventually Catherine had to admit that she loved everything about Sara, even the things that drove her crazy. Maybe especially the things that drove her crazy. At least with Sara Catherine knew she'd never be bored.

Finally at about quarter to five Catherine slipped into the silky blue dress Lindsey had picked out and began to apply her make-up. She didn't go overboard, remembering that she'd have to go to work later.

"Lindsey?" she called as she hesitated over her jewellery. The little girl came running in, skidding to a halt in the doorway.

"Yes, mommy?"

Catherine smiled down at her and held out her jewellery box. "How would you like to pick out what earrings I should wear?" she said. Lindsey's eyes lit up and she fell on the box with glee. After a moment she picked out a pair of simple diamond earrings and a matching pendant. Catherine smiled. "Good choice," she said, running her hand over her daughter's hair. "And should I wear my hair down or up?"

Lindsey frowned. "Sara likes it up, I think."

Catherine looked down in surprise. "Really. How do you know that?"

"You wore it up when we went to the movies with her. She was staring at you."

Catherine's heart performed an impressive leap and she smiled. "You're very observant," she said to Lindsey and shooed her out of the room, instructing her to get ready to go. She put her hair up in a simple French twist and selected a pair of shoes from her extensive selection. Then she picked out a set of work clothes to change into later and packed them into a small bag.

Lindsey was waiting by the door with her overnight bag clutched in her hands. Catherine performed a small twirl. "Do I look okay?"

"You're beautiful, mommy," Lindsey replied seriously. Catherine beamed at her and leaned down for a hug and a kiss.

"I love you, baby," she murmured into her ear. Lindsey giggled.

"Tickles," she said, squirming a little. Catherine stood up and ushered her daughter out of the door and into the waiting car.

Thirty minutes later Lindsey had been safely deposited at Nancy's and Catherine was on her way to Sara's. She hadn't felt this nervous since...well, ever, actually. Most women would say that their wedding day was the most nerve-wracking day of their life but Catherine had been slightly...very...under the influence when she'd tied the knot with Eddie in a little place off the Strip, all those years ago. She hadn't felt the nervousness beforehand - just the regret afterwards.

Almost before she knew it Catherine was pulling up outside Sara's building. The clock told her she was five minutes early and she debated with herself for a moment if she should go up straightaway or wait. Eventually she shook herself. "You're not a kid anymore, Cathy," she whispered to herself as she stepped out of her car. Arriving at Sara's door, she knocked quickly, before she had a chance to get nervous again and change her mind.

Sara stopped to fix her hair in the mirror before she answered the door, feeling slightly foolish but unable to stop herself. Catherine had already seen her at her absolute lowest, after all. She wasn't likely to be put off if Sara had a hair out of place. But the impulse to be perfect wouldn't be squelched by something so mundane as logic. It was the same impulse that had seen her rooting through her closet for a solid hour, looking for a killer outfit. Now that Catherine was at her door she began to panic again, worried that she'd made the wrong choice. She ran a critical eye over her leather pants and simple tailored white shirt, beginning to wish she'd worn something else. But it was too late - Catherine was knocking again and she had to answer.

Her breath caught in her throat as she opened the door. "Catherine..." she managed to croak out, trailing her hungry eyes over the feast before her.

"Sara," Catherine replied, her voice husky. Her arms slid round Sara's waist as she stepped inside the apartment, kicking the door shut behind her. "You look gorgeous."

Sara looked down at her outfit and felt distinctly underdressed. "I would have worn a dress," she explained. "But I don't own one."

Catherine laughed. "Baby, I wouldn't change a thing. You're utterly breathtaking."

Sara blushed and smiled. "So are you," she said, running her fingertips down the raised curve of Catherine's spine. Catherine shivered slightly. "Cold?"

"Not at all," Catherine breathed, taking Sara's face in her hands and showing her just how hot she really was. Her hands sifted through Sara's hair as they kissed. "I love your hair when it's curly," Catherine whispered against Sara's lips.

"I love your hair when it's up," Sara replied, snatching another kiss. Catherine chuckled under her breath.

"So I've been told," she said, and pulled Sara towards her again. Sara was struggling for breath when her lips were released.

"Kiss me like that again and we might never leave this apartment," she warned.

"Mmm." Catherine trailed her lips over Sara's cheek and down to her throat. "That would be bad."

"Yes...mmm...that would be..." Sara forgot what she was saying when Catherine nipped at her thundering pulse point. Her hands slid down to Catherine's hips, fingers curling around Catherine's waist and gripping tightly. And then, abruptly, Catherine pulled back, an evil glint in her eye.

"So, shall we go?" she said, smiling at the flushed and breathless brunette.

Sara took a moment to get her bearings then looked the other woman square in the eye. "You," she said slowly and deliberately. "Are a tease, Catherine Willows."

"That's as may be, but we do have reservations."

Sara conceded the point and stepped back a few paces. "Yes. So you'd better go out to the car before I forget all about dinner and just carry you through to the bedroom."

Catherine raised her eyebrows at Sara as she passed. "Mmm. I'll remember that for later."

Sara grabbed her jacket and followed Catherine out of the apartment, sliding her hand into Catherine's when she caught up to her, about halfway down the stairs.

"Where did you make reservations?" Catherine asked when they were in the car.

"Little place called La Fiorentina, not far from here," Sara replied, turning the ignition and flicking on the radio. The local country station blared from the speakers and Catherine covered her ears.

"Oh my God, please don't tell me you like country," she said. Sara laughed, and turned down the volume a little.

"What's wrong with country?" she asked, shooting a glance over at Catherine as she changed gears.

Catherine shook her head. "I may have to rethink this whole relationship now," she said, but with a smile to let Sara know she wasn't serious.

They drove the short distance to the restaurant to the sound of Johnny Cash, Catherine studying Sara's profile as she drove. "See something interesting?" Sara joked, looking over at her as she pulled into a parking space.

Catherine smiled. "Yes," she said. "You."

Sara blushed lightly. "I'm nothing special," she said.

Catherine reached out and twined her fingers with Sara's. "Yes you are," she said softly, blue eyes boring into brown. Impulsively Sara leaned in and pressed their lips together.

"You make me feel it," she whispered. Then she pulled away and jumped out of the car, coming round to the passenger side and opening the door for her date. She held out her arm and smiled. "Shall we?"

Catherine accepted Sara's arm graciously and allowed herself to be led into the restaurant, which was already more than half full with diners. "Popular place," Catherine commented.

"Yeah, it's supposed to be really good," Sara replied, smiling at an approaching waiter. "Hi - reservation for Sidle?"

The waiter checked his book then smiled and led them to a table in the non-smoking section. The restaurant was dimly lit by candlelight and had soft violin music playing in the background. "You wearing your patch?" Catherine asked as the waiter held out her chair for her.

Sara patted her upper arm as she sat down. "Sure am."

The waiter handed them two menus. "May I show you the wine list?" he asked.

Sara froze but Catherine smiled up at him, completely unphased. "No thank you," she declined smoothly. "But we'd like a bottle of your best grape juice."

Sara let out a shaky breath when he was gone. "I almost forgot he'd ask that," she said. Catherine reached out and twined their fingers together.

"Don't worry about it," she said softly. "Don't even think about it."

Sara nodded and looked up into shining blue eyes. "You're right," she said, squeezing Catherine's fingers gently. "I have better things to think about now."

Catherine smiled and looked down at her menu, leaving their fingers tangled together on the tabletop. The waiter returned after a few minutes to take their orders.

"So," Catherine said when they were alone again. "Talk to me. Tell me something else about you."

Sara's lips curled upwards slightly. "Like what?"


"I think you believe I'm far more interesting than I really am," Sara replied.

Catherine shook her head. "You're fascinating," she said. "And I want to know everything about you."

Sara looked down bashfully. "I'm not used to talking about myself," she admitted. "You'll have to give me a starting point."

Catherine smiled indulgently. "Okay then. Tell me what you do for fun. Other than listening to your police scanner."

"Photography," Sara replied. "And stargazing. Sometimes at the same time."

"You take pictures of stars?"

Sara nodded. "I sometimes drive into the desert and set up my telescope out there. My camera has an attachment that lets me take pictures through the telescope lens - I've gotten some good shots that way." She glanced up, taking in Catherine's look of surprise. "What?"

Catherine shrugged with a bashful smile. "I just was kind of expecting you to say 'nothing'."

Sara smiled back. "I would have, a year ago," she said. "But I've been kind of trying to get a life." She paused, frowning a little. "Actually, I haven't been out in a while," she said. "I think I last took a picture when I was out in Australia with my brother in August." She smiled at the memory. "We went up into the Northern Territory to get away from the cold down south. I got some great pictures of the Southern Cross." She shook her head. "Man, I really have to get my camera out again."

Catherine stroked Sara's hand softly. "Maybe you could take me out with you sometime," she said quietly. Sara looked up.

"I'd love to," she said, and broke into a grin.

They passed a pleasant ten minutes in small talk until the waiter returned with their food and they were forced to disentangle their hands. Sara took a fork and dug into her pasta. "Mmm," she moaned under her breath. "This is really good." She held out her fork to Catherine. "Here, try it."

Catherine leaned forward with a small smile and took Sara's fork into her mouth, swirling her tongue over it until she'd licked it clean. Sara's breath hitched in her throat. "God," she murmured. "You can make anything sexy."

Catherine laughed. "That's how I used to make my living, remember?" she said.

"If you'd stuck with it you'd be a millionaire," Sara replied. Catherine blushed and looked down.

"You want some of this?" she asked, gesturing to her plate. Sara shook her head.

"You ordered fish," she said. "I'm a vegetarian, remember?"

Catherine frowned. "I thought vegetarians could eat fish," she said.

Sara shrugged. "Some do, some don't. Personally I don't eat anything that used to have a heartbeat."

Catherine looked down at her fish and seemed to consider something. Then she shrugged. "Ah hell," she said. "I'll go veggie after I finish this."

Sara grinned as she took a sip of her grape juice. "So," she said. "I've told you about me - it's your turn."

Catherine smiled and started to tell Sara about growing up on her parents' ranch in Montana. Catherine could ride before she could walk but she only ever used horses as a way to escape out into the plains for a while. She hated the physicality of ranch work, and she hated being around her parents because they always fought. Her father especially was cold to her. She didn't understand it at the time - now that she knew about Sam Braun, though, it had all become clear. She'd fled the ranch the minute she turned sixteen, returning briefly the next year when her boyfriend dumped her for another woman. Vegas was her next stop and she'd been there ever since.

"Pretty boring life story, huh?" Catherine quipped, her throat feeling a little strained from the sustained talking. She looked dow at her plate, surprised to discover that she'd managed to finish her meal while she was talking.

"Hardly," Sara replied. "But that was the abridged version - I want to hear the whole thing."

Catherine smirked. "It's your turn again," she said.

"Oh, keeping tabs are we?" Sara laughed. "Okay, have it your way." She was about to tell Catherine about growing up in her parents' B&B back in California but the waiter interrupted.

"Was everything to your satisfaction, ladies?" he asked as he collected their empty plates.

"Yes, thanks," Catherine replied, smiling.

"Would you like to see the dessert menu?"

Sara looked down at her watch and was shocked to discover that it was already after seven. "We don't really have time, Cat," she said apologetically.

"Just the check please," Catherine said. The waiter returned a few moments later with the bill. Catherine reached for her purse but Sara stayed her hand.

"Hey, I asked you out," she said.

"I know, but I want to," Catherine replied.

Sara shook her head. "You bought me dinner last time," she said.


"The other night at Joey's."

Catherine sat back in her seat. "Was that really only two nights ago?" She shook her head. "Feels like longer."

Sara smiled slowly. "Baby, it already seems like another life." She dropped a few bills onto the table, making sure to leave a decent tip. Catherine stood up and grabbed her hand.

"Outside," she said shortly. Sara grinned as she allowed herself to be dragged from the restaurant and then crushed into the other woman's embrace when they were out in the cooling night air.


Catherine tightened her grip, nuzzling into Sara's hair. "You're mine," she murmured, her voice tinged with wonder. "You're actually mine."

Sara smiled and pressed a tender kiss to Catherine's temple. "For as long as you want me."

Right at that moment Catherine thought that might just be forever, but she resisted the temptation to say it out loud. Instead she threaded her fingers through Sara's hair and pulled her down for a kiss that was supposed to be sweet and gentle. Sara had other ideas, her tongue tracing over Catherine's lower lip insistently, demanding entrance. Catherine was gasping and flushed when they parted. "Let's call in sick," she said, her voice little more than a throaty groan.

"Both of us?" Sara murmured. "Wouldn't they get suspicious?"

"Let them," Catherine replied, capturing Sara's lips with her own once more. "They can all stew in their own jealousy for all I care."

Sara laughed and gently disentangled herself from Catherine's embrace. "You know we can't," she said, taking a step towards the car. Catherine crossed her arms and pouted, but followed nevertheless.

Back at Sara's apartment Catherine went into the bathroom to get changed. Her jewellery went first, then she unpinned her hair and shook it out over her shoulders. She felt sad about taking off the dress - it seemed such a waste to be undressing and not going to bed with Sara. When she was in her work clothes she put her dress on a wire hanger and hung it up in Sara's closet.


Catherine spun round and blinked as a bright light flashed in her face. Sara was hanging in the door frame, smiling and holding what looked like a very expensive camera.

Catherine smiled slowly "What was that all about?" she asked.

Sara shrugged. "Just getting used to using the camera again," she said. "Also..." She trailed off and let out a small self deprecating laugh.

"What, baby?"

"It's silly."

Catherine cocked her head. "Nothing you could possibly be feeling would seem silly to me," she said sincerely.

Sara looked up and locked their eyes together.. "If I take your picture I can keep you forever," she murmured, blushing.

Catherine's face slowly lit up as the explanation sunk in and she walked over to stand in front of Sara, resting her hands on the other woman's hips. "Sweetheart, you don't need a photograph to do that." Sara managed a small smile and then her lips were otherwise occupied.

Catherine and Sara arrived in the break room fifteen minutes late, both slightly flushed and trying not to giggle like teenagers. Nick and Warrick looked at them quizzically. "What's got into you two?" Nick drawled.

Sara smiled. "We're happy, Nicky boy, as crazy as that may sound."

The mood was infectious, spreading first to Nick, then to Warrick who both broke into smiles. "Nothing crazy about it," Nick said. "Just unusual for you recently."

Sara reached out and rubbed his perfectly gelled hair, ruining the style, and shot a sideways glance at Catherine. "Better get used to it," she said. Nick frantically tried to smooth his hair back into place, and was still preoccupied with this when Grissom came in with the assignment slips.

"Welcome back, Warrick," he said, walking over to the coffee machine. "Have a good weekend?"

"Yeah, I hit a few jazz clubs, went to a ball game - just chilled, you know?"

"Well, I hope you're well rested," Grissom replied, handing him a slip.

Warrick groaned. "Double homicide?"

Grissom cocked his head and smiled. "Twice the fun. Take Nicky with you. And Greg."

Sara raised an eyebrow. "You sure Greg's up to something like that?"

Grissom turned to her but didn't quite meet her eyes. "The best way to learn to swim is to be thrown in at the deep end."

Catherine shook her head. "Uh, no Grissom, that's the best way to give someone a lifelong fear of water," she scoffed.

"Best he should find out if he's not suited to the job now, before we waste a lot of the department's money training him. I think he'll be fine."

Sara shrugged. "You're the boss," she conceded.

"Yes I am." Grissom turned his attention to Catherine. "You and I have a DB in Freemont," he said, not noticing that Catherine had stiffened slightly at the prospect of working with him.

"What if Andy Green is brought in?" she asked.

"Sara'll be here. She can call you."

Sara raised an eyebrow. "I'll be here? How come?"

Grissom looked back to her and this time he did manage to look her in the eye. "I was going through my records for the last few weeks," he said. "You owe me three case reports so no more field work until I get them."

Warrick and Nick shot her sympathetic smiles as they filed out of the door, heading for their assignment. "I cannot believe you're sticking me behind a desk," Sara grumbled, shooting Grissom an accusatory glare. He shrugged as he made for the door.

"If you work fast it might only be for tonight," he said.

When Grissom had gone, Catherine came up behind Sara and ran her hand over her hair. "Never mind, sweetie," she said. "At least you don't have to work with Grissom."

Sara looked up. "I chose you, remember? You and Grissom have been friends longer than I've been around - don't let me ruin that for you."

Catherine shook her head. "I'll be fine," she said. "As long as he keeps his eyes off you."

Sara laughed soflty and took Catherine's hand. "I love you when you're possesive."

"I love you all the time."

A strange silence descended over them as Catherine's words hung in the air. Sara looked down at their linked hands and frowned.

"I'm sorry," Catherine said, her face pale. "I didn't mean to say that."

Sara looked up sharply. "Are you taking it back?"

Catherine shook her head. "No," she said. "I just don't want to scare you off."

Sara dropped Catherine's hand and stood up, wrapping her arms around her. "Never happen," she assured her firmly. "You just surprised me, baby."

Catherine sighed in relief and draped her arms round Sara's shoulders. "So you're okay?"

Sara smiled. "The most beautiful woman in the world just told me she loves me," she said. "Why wouldn't I be okay?"

Catherine pulled Sara down for a kiss, not caring that they were in the middle of the break room where anyone could walk in. Sara kissed her back briefly and then pulled away.

"You'd better go to your assignment before I lay you down and ravish you right here," she whispered.

Catherine growled under her breath and her eyes lit up. "The way I'm feeling right now I don't think I'd object."

Sara laughed and pushed her towards the door. "Go on. Work."

When she was gone Sara took a deep breath to collect herself and then headed for her desk. None of the junior CSIs had offices but they'd all appropriated the desks in certain labs to do their paperwork. It seemed like there was more and more of that as the years went on, and they'd all demanded offices of their own at one time or another. Privately Sara thought that The Powers That Be had probably taken one look at Grissom's office and decided that CSIs couldn't be trusted not to turn a room into a house of horrors.

After an hour of brain-numbing tedium Sara returned to the break room for more coffee. She was surprised to find Brass there, sitting at the table and eating something large and fattening.

"Sidle," he said, swallowing a mouthful of his burger. "I was just about to page you. I just got a call from Carson City PD - they picked up your suspect about two hours ago."

"Carson City?" Sara repeated as she sat down. "Shit. The bastard was less than an hour from the state line."

Brass took another large bite of burger and nodded. "Lucky we got him before he made it to California," he mumbled with his mouth full. "Too much red tape otherwise."

Sara nodded in agreement and took a sip of her coffee. "How long till he's back in Vegas?"

Brass wiped his greasy hands on a napkin and looked at his watch. "Just under five hours," he said. "Are you and Catherine coming in for the interrogation?"

"Oh yeah," Sara confirmed. They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. Sara cleared her throat. "Listen, Brass-"

"You know what, you don't need to say anything," Brass interrupted. "I jumped to conclusions-"

"No, you were right," Sara said, before she could change her mind. "You were right."

Brass sat back and looked at her contemplatively. "Okay. So what are you going to do about it?"

Sara smiled. "No, you don't get it, I'm okay now. I've stopped drinking and got rid of all my booze. I'm fine."

Brass raised an eyebrow. "Just like that?"

Sara nodded. "Yeah. It's easy."

Brass looked at her doubtfully but let it pass. "So," he said. "When did it all start?"

"The explosion," Sara replied immediately, then frowned. Now that she thought about it, Grissom's rejection hadn't been the first time she'd turned to alcohol to forget her problems. She'd gone out and gotten completely hammered after she'd dumped Hank, but that didn't count, did it? She'd been with Catherine, after all. But then...there were times before that - all those cases that had gotten under her skin...hadn't her first impulse always been to dive into a bottle and forget about it? All the times she'd woken up in a cold sweat, nightmares still flashing behind her eyes, hadn't she turned to the bottle a little too easily, a little too often?

Brass frowned. "Sara?" he said.

Sara snapped her attention back to him. "The explosion," she repeated firmly. "That's when it started."

Brass held up his hands. "Okay," he said. "I believe you. And when was your last drink?"

"Thirty-six hours," she replied immediately, only then realising that she'd been keeping track.

Brass nodded. "That's good, Sara, really good. But...you can't just give up on an impulse and say you're fine. Alcoholism is a disease - it doesn't get cured in a day and a half."

Sara smiled and shook her head. "I'm not an alcoholic, Jim," she said. "I admit I had a little problem for a while but it's over now. I'm fine."

Brass looked at her sceptically. "Sidle-"

"No," she insisted, standing up. "I'm fine." She turned her back on him and stalked back to her desk, feeling her previous good mood slipping. Had she ever asked for Brass's opinion? Why did he have to keep sticking his nose into her business?

She sat back down at her desk, shaking herself. So what if the drinking had started before the thing with Grissom? It didn't get out of control until after he'd shot her down, and that meant he was the reason. And she was over him now. She was happy. She had Catherine. Catherine was going to keep her afloat - she'd promised.

"She promised," Sara whispered to herself, and tried to concentrate again on her paperwork.

Catherine got her page in the middle of talking to Doc. Robbins about the unidentified DB she and Grissom had been working on. "Sorry, Doc," she said. "The suspect in the Roberts case just arrived at the PD - have to go and interview him."

"I'll leave my report on your desk," he said to her retreating back.

She flashed a smile over her shoulder as she swung open the door. "Thanks, Doc."

Upstairs, Sara was nowhere to be found. The break room was empty, as was the lab where Sara usually did paperwork. She wasn't in the locker room or the bathroom either.


Catherine spun round to see Greg sticking his head out of the DNA lab. "Yeah?"

"Sara told me to tell you she'd meet you at the PD," he said.

Catherine rolled her eyes, wishing he'd told her that before she'd practically searched the whole building for Sara. She managed a smile for him nevertheless. "Thanks, Greg."

Catherine hurried to her car and managed the short distance to the PD in record time. She found Sara looking through the two-way mirror next to the first interrogation room.

"Sorry," Catherine whispered, mindful of the interrogation going on a few short feet away. "Have you been here long?"

Sara shook her head and reached out for Catherine as she approached. Catherine was pleasantly surprised when she found herself wrapped in Sara's strong arms and held tightly.

"I missed you," Sara murmured, kissing the top of her head.

"I missed you too, baby," Catherine replied softly, pulling her head back and looking up into Sara's face with a concerned frown. "Are you okay?"

Sara smiled. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

Catherine decided not to press the issue. "Okay," she said. "You ready to go in?" Sara nodded somewhat reluctantly and released her.

The first thing that struck Catherine about Andy Green was that he looked so normal. He was just a run-of-the-mill blue collar guy. Everything about him - from his short brown hair, to his medium build to his average height - just screamed 'ordinary' - other than the scratch marks on his neck which Catherine duly took note of as she sat down. It was amazing how many brutal murderers looked like anyone you could pass on the street. Scary too.

"Mr. Green," Catherine said. "I'm Catherine Willows, this is Sara Sidle. We're from the Crime Lab - we'll be sitting in on your interrogation."

"What the fuck's a Crime Lab?" Andy Green said gruffly.

Sara's eyes bored into him. Could there really be a person living and breathing who didn't know about forensics? "It's where we analyse the scientific evidence left behind at crime scenes," she said, and sat down next to Catherine, crossing her legs.

Green scoffed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Brass leaned over the table. "In your case, buddy, it means you're screwed."

"That's enough, Detective - perhaps you've heard of a little thing called 'innocent until proven guilty?" Sara looked over at the lawyer. She was young and earnest - probably new to the job. Sara wondered if she'd still defend the guy once she found out just how much evidence was stacked up against him.

"Forensic evidence relies on a very simple fact," Catherine said, turning to their suspect. "You can't go anywhere without leaving a piece of yourself behind. Be it a fingerprint, a footprint, a flake of skin, a hair... And in your case, Mr. Green, you left pieces of yourself all over Marianne Roberts' bathroom."

He smirked, but didn't say anything. Sara had the sudden, barely controllable urge to punch him in the face.

"Marianne Roberts was found hanging upside down over her bathtub," Sara said, never breaking eye-contact with Green. "We found some of your hairs in the bath, and some of your skin cells on the rope used to suspend her. How do you explain that?"

He shrugged. "Never said I wasn't in her house," he said. "We were screwing. Probably touched the rope in one of her kinky little games. Marianne was one hot bitch."

Sara kept her anger in check with a supreme effort of will. "I see. And when was the last time you and Marianne had sex?"

Green sniffed, crossing his arms over his chest. "Friday afternoon," he said.

Catherine leaned forward slightly. "Yeah, here's the thing, Andy," she said. "When we examine a woman's body we can tell when she last had sex. In Marianne's case we know she definately didn't have sex the day she died. In fact, there was no evidence to suggest that she'd ever had sex with a man."

"Which makes sense," Sara said, taking up Catherine's train of thought. "Considering she was a lesbian in a comitted, monogomous relationship. But you knew that, didn't you?"

Andy Green began to laugh. Brass slammed his hands down on the table hard, making even Catherine and Sara jump. "I'd like to know what's funny," he said, and Green shut his mouth.

Catherine looked over at Brass with a slight smile, feeling her already immense respect for him go up a few notches. "Let's cut the crap, Andy," she said, turning her attention back to their suspect. "We know Marianne asked you to pose as her boyfriend. What, did you take that as a come on?"

He shrugged. "Hey, she wouldn't have asked me if she didn't want me. Deep down all these girls just need a good man."

"Even if that were true you hardly qualify as a 'good man'," Sara snapped.

Green looked over at her. "Well, I can see who wears the boiler-suit around here."

"Shut up," Catherine spat, drawing his attention back to her. "So, you thought you could turn Marianne, huh?"

Andy grinned. "I know I could have," he said, and leered at Catherine in a way that made her skin crawl.

"Take your goddamn eyes off her," Sara hissed.

"Worried she'll see something she likes?"


Catherine put a calming hand on the brunette's knee under the table, squeezing gently. Sara looked over and Catherine shook her head minutely. They had an animated conversation with their eyes, and eventually Sara looked away.

"Is that why you were there on Friday?" she asked, trying to keep her temper in check. "Were you going to show her what she was missing?"

Andy Green smiled. Sara felt her blood start to boil. "Something like that," he said.

"Okay, that's enough," Catherine said, cutting off Sara's angry retort. "Let me tell you what happened. You went round to her house to do your 'ugg ugg' caveman crap. She wasn't receptive so you decided to force yourself on her."

Andy Green was sitting with a smirk on his face, completely unmoved. "Bull," he said shortly.

"No, you see, we know there was a struggle," Catherine continued. "We know that someone covered her mouth and pressed hard enough to leave a bruise. And we know she fought against that person and scratched them. Oh...isn't that a scratch on your neck?" She pointed at his neck, raising an eyebrow.

Green brought a hand up to his neck, covering the scratch marks.

"Your DNA was found under Marianne's fingernails," Sara said.

Green squirmed a little. "Okay," he said. "I went there and tried it on with her. But I left when she gave me this."

Sara nodded slowly, letting him think she was buying it. He started to smile. "How'd your skin cells get on the rope then?" she said.

His smile faded and he made no answer. Catherine reached into her briefcase and extracted a photograph of Andy Green's knife. "Is this your knife?" she said.

Green looked at it and his face paled. "No comment."

"That's okay, we already know it's yours. Can you explain why traces of Marianne's blood were found on it?"

"No comment."

Sara nodded and produced a photograph of the bloodstained T-Shirt. "Now this shirt," she said, "has your skin cells all over it. We know you wore it recently. And what do you know, Marianne Roberts' blood is all over it. So, we can place you in the house, we know there was a struggle, we know you tied Marianne over the bath, we know it was your knife that cut her and we have the shirt you were wearing while you did it. We also have Marianne's clothes which we found in a dumpster at your workplace. Now - I'd like to see you explain that."

Green looked over at his lawyer with his eyebrow raised in a silent question. She nodded slightly and he sat back in his chair. "I want to talk to my lawyer in private."

Brass immediately clicked off the tape recorder. "Five minutes tops," he said.

Catherine, Sara and Brass left the room and went a couple of doors down to Brass's office. "Coffee?" he said.

"Please," Catherine replied, flopping down in a chair. Sara stood stiffly near the door.

"Think he'll cop?" she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

"He's probably seeing if the lawyer can cut him a deal," Brass replied as he handed Catherine a steaming mug. "But I'll be recommending a charge of Murder 1 to the DA."

Sara nodded. "Good." Brass handed her a mug and she took it without looking at him.

"Suppose he doesn't confess. What are the chances he'll get off?" Catherine asked.

Brass shook his head. "There's too much evidence. He's going down - you guys saw to that."

Catherine grinned in triumph. "It was mostly Sara," she said, looking over at the other woman. She found Sara staring into space, like she'd forgotten there was anyone else in the room. "Sara?"

Sara's eyes snapped over to Catherine. "Yeah?"

"You okay?"

"Yeah," she said. "I'm just...gonna go to the bathroom."

Catherine almost got up to go after her but Brass held her in place with a hand on her shoulder. "Just let her be alone for a minute," he said.

Catherine leaned back in her seat and sighed deeply. "She shouldn't let this guy get to her," she said.

Brass shrugged. "It's probably a combination of things," he said. Catherine looked up sharply and frowned.

"Has she said something to you?"

Brass shook his head. "I can't really talk about it," he said gently.

"I'll bet this month's paycheck that I know all about it, whatever it is."

Brass hesitated. "What do you know?"

"What do you?" Catherine retorted.

Brass's face broke into a rueful grin. "Would you look at us?" he said. "I won't say anything to protect her privacy and you won't say anything because you're not sure what I know."

Catherine shook her head with a slight smile, then took a deep breath, hoping to God that Brass really did already know what she was about to reveal. "Sara's been drinking."

Brass nodded. "She told you about it?"

"Not exactly," Catherine said, sighing. "I kind of found out on my own."

"Me too," he said. "Takes one to know one, you know?"

Catherine nodded. "She's stopped though," she said. "That's got to say something."

Brass put his hand on her shoulder. "Stopping's not the hardest part," he said gently. "Anyone can stop once. It's resisting the urge to start up again that's difficult."

Catherine looked down at her hands. "Even when the people who love you are doing everything they can to help you?"

"Catherine...there's only so much anyone can do. It's up to her now. And let me tell you, she's got a ways to go yet."

Catherine looked up and was about to say somehing when Sara came back in. "He's ready to talk. You guys coming?"

Catherine drained the last of her coffee and followed Sara back to the interrogation room.

The lawyer looked a little shaken. "My client has decided it would be in his best interest to co-operate," she said, her voice wavering slightly.

"Goodie," Catherine replied sarcastically. She slid a piece of paper over the table to him. "Write down what happened and sign it. Then we'll speak to the DA about formal charges."

Green grabbed the paper and a pen and seemed to hesitate. "It wasn't murder," he said. "I was just trying to shut her up. Not my fault she had to keep screaming."

Sara shook her head. "You killed her while attempting to rape her," she said coldly. "That's first degree murder. And you know what? I don't believe for a second that you didn't mean to do it. What you did to her afterwards proves that."

Catherine reached out for Sara again, trying to calm her down without words. Sara ignored her. "Why did you put the apple in her mouth, Andy?" she said, her eyes never breaking contact with his.

Catherine felt a shiver go through her as his face lit up in a smile. "You really wanna know?" he said. Sara nodded.

"Tell me."

His grin widened. "Because she was squealing like a pig when I killed her."

Catherine flinched in revulsion - even the lawyer looked disgusted. Sara drew herself up to her full height and for an endless moment Catherine thought she was going to pounce on him.

"That's what we in law enforcement call aggravating circumstances," she said shortly, her fists clenched at her sides.

Green snorted. "What the fuck does that mean?" he said.

"That means the DA will be asking for the death penalty," Brass supplied, leaning over him. Catherine watched in satisfaction as Green's face drained of colour.

"It's not so funny now is it?" Sara said, and turned her back on him. The door slammed as she fled the room.

Catherine burst out of the main door of the police department just in time to see Sara's car screeching out into the street at what was probably an illegal speed. "Shit," she cursed, fishing in her purse for her keys as she hurried to her car.


She spun round to see Brass running towards her. "What is it?" she asked irritably. "I have to go after Sara."

"What are you going to say to her when you find her?"

Catherine was at her car now and she leaned against the door, sighing deeply. "I have no clue. I'd sort of planned on just winging it." She ran her fingers through her hair and turned to him. "Do you really think this is about the drinking? Maybe she's just upset about the case-"

"She hasn't even admitted she's got a problem yet," Brass interrupted. "Just be careful what you say to her."

Catherine nodded and climbed into her car. Brass waved as she pulled out of the lot. "Be careful what you say," Catherine muttered to herself. "No fucking shit, Einstein - any other advice?" She shook her head to clear it and tried to concentrate on the road. In the back of her mind a voice was gently reminding her that there were at least three bars between the PD and CSI headquarters. When she passed the first and Sara's car wasn't outside she released a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding. That was something at least. The next two bars were also Sara-free and Catherine felt her heart get a tiny bit lighter. She found Sara's car abandoned in the CSI parking lot.


Catherine was barely in the door when she heard Gil Grissom's voice calling out to her. She groaned inwardly - there was no-one she'd like to talk to less right at that moment.

"Yeah?" she managed, turning to him.

"How did the interrogation go?"

Catherine tried not to make her impatience too obvious. "Confession," she replied shortly. "Listen, have you seen Sara?"

Grissom shook his head. "No, but I need you to go over Doc. Robbins' report on our DB."

Catherine began to curse Grissom mentally with every name she could think of. "Grissom, it's nearly the end of shift. Can it wait?"

He looked a little nonplussed. "Have you got something more pressing to take care of?"

Catherine smiled sweetly. "Yes, actually," she said and with that she turned and left him.

She found Sara in the locker room, leaning with her palms flat against a locker door and her forehead resting on the cool metal. There was dent the size of Belgium at the bottom of the door where she'd obviously kicked it. Catherine hung in the doorway, sensing a strange tension in the air and almost reluctant to announce her presence.

"You going to stand there all day?" Sara asked without looking up. Catherine took a breath and stepped forward a few paces, reaching out to place a hand on Sara's shoulder. The brunette shrugged her off. "Don't touch me."

Catherine pulled her hand back as if she'd been burned. "Sara?"

"Just don't," Sara replied harshly.

Catherine stepped back slightly, feeling apprehensive and even a little scared. "Sara, what's going on?"

She sat down on the bench, waiting for an answer. Suddenly Sara kicked the locker again, making Catherine jump and gasp a little in shock. The noise reverberated eerily in the silent room.

"I'm just wondering what the point of it all is," Sara muttered, without looking at Catherine. She moved away from the badly dented locker, running her hands over her face. "Why even bother to make a life for yourself when guys like Andy Green can just come along and take it all away, just like that?" She snapped her fingers to illustrate her point.

Catherine shook her head dumbly. "I don't understand."

Sara let out a short humourless laugh. "I don't think I can do this," she said.

Catherine felt the blood slowly drain from her face. "Do what, Sara?" she asked, afraid that she already knew the answer.

Sara turned round and met Catherine's eyes for the first time and gestured to the air between them. "This," she said. "Us. I can't do it."

Catherine was on her feet and by Sara's side in an instant. "Sara-"

"No!" Sara shied away from Catherine, arms wrapped round her torso. "It's too hard. I can't."

Catherine took a small deliberate step forward, forcing herself into Sara's personal space. "You're not making any sense."

Sara shook her head slowly. "He killed her. For nothing."

"Marianne?" Catherine frowned.

Sara nodded her head. "Yes, Marianne...and Kay and Pam and Meghan and Susan and Suzanna and God knows how many others."

Catherine shook her head, feeling decidedly out of her depth. "What? Honey, I don't understand."

Sara looked up. "Don't you recognise those names?" she asked. Catherine shook her head dumbly and Sara sighed. "No, I don't suppose you do." She stared at a spot in the middle distance. "I still hear them sometimes," she admitted softly. "And I wonder what the point of any of it is when all we do is clean up the mess after the damage is already done...when we can't save any of them."

"Those women were cases?" Catherine asked, still grasping for purchase in the conversation.

Sara looked up. "Is that all these people are to you?" she said harshly. "Cases?"

"When they're over? Yes," Catherine replied firmly. "If you can't get some distance from this job you just burn out, Sara. And what good can you do then?"

"What good do we do anyway?" Sara replied. When Catherine didn't answer she shook her head a little. "You see?" With that she pushed past Catherine and made for the door.

"Wait!" Catherine called. Sara paused in the doorway but didn't look back. "Where are you going?"

Sara shrugged. "Home."

"And what are you going to do when you get there?"

Sara shrugged again. "Whatever I want."

Catherine took a small step forward. "And what do you want, Sara?" she asked softly. There was no reply but the other woman's shoulders stiffened. Catherine reached out a trembling hand but stopped short of touching her. She could feel the tension radiating off her in waves. "Sara?" she asked again. "What do you want?"

"I want a fucking drink," Sara replied harshly.

Catherine stepped back as if she'd been slapped, feeling tears welling up in her eyes. She'd thought...well, it didn't matter what she'd thought because obviously she'd been wrong. It was almost funny. She had actually believed that a hug and a kiss and a declaration of love would make everything better. That Sara's problem was just going to go away now that Mother Catherine was there to patch her up. God, how stupid she had been. "Sara-"

"Just leave me alone, Catherine."

Catherine's pain turned to anger in a split second. "Don't fucking say that to me," she snapped. "I deserve better than that from you."

Sara rounded on her. "Oh you do, huh? And why's that?"

"Because I'm your-" Catherine retorted, then paused. She wanted to say 'girlfriend' but suddenly that seemed in doubt. "Because I care about you," she amended, taking a step towards Sara.

"Catherine..." Sara said, shaking her head. "I just need to-"

"To what?" Catherine interrupted angrily. "To go back to your empty apartment, dive into a bottle and drown it all out? You really think destroying yourself is going to help all those women you think you've failed?"

Sara's eyes began to water and she looked down. "Justice," she muttered.

Catherine covered the distance between them in one long stride and wrapped her arms round Sara, only squeezing tighter when the brunette tried to pull away. "Is that what you think?" she whispered. "You do your job. You catch the bad guys and you put them in jail. What more do you think you can do?"

Sara shrugged. "It just feels like there should be more..." She trailed off. Catherine held her a little tighter and, gradually, she felt Sara's arms slide up to return her embrace.

"Why are you running from me, baby?" she whispered into Sara's ear. Sara began to tremble gently.

"I-" she said huskily, then cleared her throat. "I don't know how to do this."

"What?" Catherine asked softly, dropping a gentle kiss onto the other woman's cheek.

Sara took a deep shaky breath. "This relationship thing. It's kind of new territory."

Catherine pulled back and ducked her head so she could meet Sara's dark eyes. "Kiss me," she whispered.

Sara's eyes widened slightly and her breath caught in her throat. "Cath-"

"Ssh," Catherine hushed her. "Please. Just kiss me."

Sara frowned but leaned forward nevertheless, pressing their lips together. Catherine slid her hands into a shock of curly brown hair and moulded her body against the length of Sara's. She parted her lips in a subtle invitation which Sara accepted hungrily. A moan bubbled up in Catherine's throat as Sara deepened the kiss and pulled her closer. Her fingers slid through Sara's hair and then down to her cheeks and then her shoulders. "I love you," she gasped in a brief moment when Sara pulled away to breathe and then they were kissing again, clinging to each other tightly.

Catherine pulled away first, face flushed, breathing shallow. She had Sara's shirt balled in her fists and her head buried in the crook of her neck. "Do you feel what I do when we do that?" Catherine asked softly.

Sara had to clear her throat before she could reply. "I don't know," she said. "What do you feel?"

Catherine brought Sara's right hand up slowly and kissed her knuckles. Then she placed it gently onto her chest, allowing Sara to feel the thudding of her heart. "This," she whispered, watching as Sara's breathing became shallow. Then she found her free hand being pulled up to touch Sara's chest where she felt a matching pulse thundering under her fingertips. Catherine's eyes became misty and she had to blink away the sudden moisture.

"Don't cry, Catherine," Sara whispered.

Catherine shook her head. "I'm not," she said.

"You are."

"I'm just wondering what you're thinking," she insisted.

Sara sighed and leaned her head on Catherine's shoulder. "I don't know," she said and swallowed hard. "What would I do if I lost you? What if one of the Andy Greens of this world took you away from me?"

Catherine felt comprehension wash over her and she actually smiled. "Ah, I see," she said. "You're afraid that if you let yourself get attached you'll be opening yourself up to pain if anything happens. Is that it?" Sara didn't reply so Catherine knew she was right. "Maybe you think that not allowing yourself to feel anything will mean you never get hurt. Huh?" Catherine pulled back and took Sara's face between her hands. "You've been doing that for as long as I've known you so let me ask you something. Has it worked so far?"

All Sara could do was shake her head dumbly. Catherine slid her hands down to Sara's shoulders and trailed a series of short butterfly kisses over her face. "Sometimes the world can be cruel," she said. "Sometimes bad things happen to good people and you can't control it. Something might happen to me, I can't deny that. All I can promise you is that I will love you and cherish you and try to make you happy for as long as I'm able. So you just have to decide...if that's worth the risk."

Sara exhaled slowly and nuzzled into Catherine's hair. Her brow was furrowed in concentration and Catherine had the strangest feeling that her scientific mind was busy working out all the odds and probabilities inherent in that risk. Maybe it was.

"Sun's coming up," Sara said softly after a moment, looking out of the window. Catherine smiled.

"Is that supposed to be a metaphor?" she asked. Sara let out a short involuntary laugh.

"No," she said. "Just an observation." They lapsed into silence again for a moment and then Sara pulled back. "Can I come home with you?" she asked in a small voice.

Catherine smiled and leaned in to kiss her. "Yes," she said firmly. Sara smiled and slid her hand down Catherine's arm, tangling their fingers together. Catherine squeezed Sara's hand tightly as she led her out of the locker room.

They attracted a few stares on their way out of the lab but Sara was past caring. Catherine was holding her hand and right at that moment she felt like that touch was the only thing keeping her afloat. If Catherine let go...she didn't want to think about what would happen if Catherine let go. She'd be swept away in the familiar inertia that had always led her to a bottle and she might not escape this time.

Catherine smiled over at her and squeezed her hand a little tighter. "I'm not letting you go, Sara," she whispered.

Sara blinked back tears and squeezed back. "Promise?"


Sara glanced back at her and offered a watery smile. "How did you know I needed to hear that?"

Catherine smiled and shrugged. "I didn't. I just wanted to say it."

Sara tugged on Catherine's hand and pulled the startled but pleased woman into her arms. "Well, I'm glad you did."

Catherine resisted the impulse to kiss her, but just barely. The reception of CSI wasn't the best place for a display like that - and they were already being stared at. She shot a venomous look at the receptionist they'd had a run in with the other day, daring her to say something. The woman coloured slightly and looked away. Catherine smirked and tightened her hold on Sara.

"Hey," she said softly as her eye was drawn to the door. "Isn't that Emily Porter?"

Sara released her and turned around. Sure enough, Emily Porter had just entered the building, accompanied by a shattered looking middle aged couple. "Yeah," she said, and held up her hand in a slight wave. Emily waved back, then turned to the couple. They exchanged a few words then the couple made their way to the reception desk and Emily headed for Sara.

"I'll just wait for you," Catherine said tactfully, placing her hand on Sara's shoulder. Sara covered it with her own briefly and smiled.

"Hi, Sara," said Emily when Catherine had slipped away.

"Hi, Emily," Sara replied, giving her a tired smile. "How are you doing?"

Emily shrugged, wrapping her arms round her middle. "Pretty much how you'd expect."

Sara nodded in understanding. "I want you to know," she said slowly. "We've got Andy Green in custody."

Emily looked up sharply. "Are you sure?" she said breathlessly. "I mean, it was definitely him?"

"Beyond a shadow of a doubt," Sara confirmed. "He confessed. And even if he hadn't the evidence was so strong even OJ's lawyer couldn't have got him off."

Emily let out a nervous giggle, then covered her mouth. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's just...wow, you know?"

Sara smiled. "Sometimes the system works."

Emily grinned. "Occasionally." She shook herself slightly and ran her hands over her face. "I have to tell Al and Bernadette."

Sara cocked her head. "The couple you came in with? Are they Marianne's parents?"

Emily confirmed her assumption with a nod. "They flew in overnight from Texas. They're here to...uh...collect her." She shook her head slightly. "You'll never believe this - they've been trying to find Marianne for years. Once they got over the initial shock they really regretted what they'd done to her but it was too late. And Marianne - there are eight years worth of Christmas and birthday cards at home that she was too scared to send." Emily sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "It's all just so stupid."

Sara shook her head. "No," she said. "It's just sad."

Emily closed her eyes. "Yeah, that too." Suddenly she was smiling. "Al and Bernadette want me to come and stay with them in Texas for a while. They're actually calling me their 'daughter-in-law'."

Sara smiled. "Well, you are. Actually, no, you're their 'daughter-despite-the-law'." Emily let out a genuine laugh at that.

"I'll remember that one," she said.

"You gonna go?" Sara asked.

Emily nodded slowly. "Yeah, I actually am. I'd like to know what Marianne was like before..."

"And they'd like to know what she was like after," Sara finished. Emily nodded.

"That's about the size of it." She looked back at Marianne's parents and flashed them a small smile. "I'd better go," she said, turning back to Sara. "But listen - can I look you up when I'm back in town?"

Sara hesitated briefly. Forming friendships with people she met on cases was a big no-no for her. Then again, forming any friendships at all wasn't something she'd done a lot of lately.

"Sure," she said eventually, and returned Emily's smile. "Oh, wait!" she said, when Emily had turned her back to go.


"I just wanted to tell you something else about the case. It looks like the DA will be asking for the death penalty for Green."

Sara watched a flash of triumph flit over Emily's face and then the blonde closed her eyes and shook her head. "No," she said softly. "I don't want that."

Sara did a quick double take. "Huh?"

Emily looked up at her. "I'd rather defend the son of a bitch myself than let him be killed in Marianne's name."

Sara stared at her dumbly. "Emily," she spluttered. "He killed her."

"You think I don't know that?" Emily snapped. "You think I'd somehow managed to forget that my lover is dead?"

"No, of course not. I'm sorry."

Emily shook her head and sighed. "It's okay, I understand. I have to admit it would give me a certain satisfaction to see him strapped down and put to sleep like the animal he is. But Marianne would hate me if I let that happen."

Sara was beginning to understand. "She was anti?"

"Very," Emily confirmed. "She used to protest every time there was an execution. She did it when she lived in Texas too, which kept her busy as I'm sure you can imagine."

Sara managed a small smile. "Yeah, I can."

Emily was staring at a spot somewhere over Sara's shoulder. "Marianne used to get so angry every time someone was put on death row. She said it might be easier to swallow if they were at least executed straight away but they can be there for five, ten, twenty years. And they never know when they're going to be put out of their misery." She turned back to Sara with watery eyes. "She said no-one had the right to take a life. Not the killers, and certainly not us. Every time we strike out at someone in anger or revenge we let them take a part of our dignity that they wouldn't have had before. Well...that's what Marianne said."

Sara was silent for a moment. "And do you believe that?" she asked softly.

Emily shrugged. "I don't know right now," she said. "But I know what Marianne believed. And I won't let her memory be desecrated by letting something happen in her name that she would have found repugnant."

Sara shook her head slightly and looked over Emily's shoulder to where Catherine was waiting for her in the doorway. The sun was coming up outside, casting light over her back and making her hair shine. A small smile was playing on her lips as she looked back at them. Sara swallowed against a sudden lump in her throat. "Emily," she said with difficulty. "You're a much better person than I am."

Suddenly she found herself being hugged and it was all she could do to reciprocate, wrapping her arms around Emily's softly shaking shoulders.

"I think it's more accurate to say that Marianne was a better person than both of us," Emily managed to say, blinking away her tears.

Sara nodded. "Maybe," she conceded. "I wish I could have met her."

Emily pulled back a little. "You'd have liked her," she said. "Everyone did." Her fingers came up to wipe the tears from her cheeks, then she smiled ruefully. "I'd better go before your girlfriend gets too jealous."

Sara blushed. "Are we that obvious?"

Emily raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah," she confirmed. Her face softened. "She looks like a keeper."

Sara looked over at Catherine and smiled. "Yeah, she is."

Emily placed a hand on Sara's arm. "Thank you," she said softly. "For everything."

"You're welcome."

Emily gave her another brief hug and when she pulled back she was smiling.

"So," said Sara. "I guess I'll talk to you when you get back."

"Count on it." With a final smile Emily turned away and walked back to Marianne's parents.

Sara turned and walked towards Catherine, who was waiting for her in the doorway with a slight frown on her face. "Let's go," Sara said softly.

"If you're done," Catherine replied shortly.

Sara did a quick double take, then smiled. "Now that's cute," she said, breezing past Catherine and out into the chilly morning.

"What is?" Catherine asked as she followed.

"This jealousy thing," Sara answered, flashing a smile over her shoulder. "She wasn't hitting on me, you know."

Catherine flushed. "I didn't think that," she mumbled, in such a way that Sara knew she definitely had thought that.

Sara opened her arms. "C'mere," she said. Catherine didn't even hesitate as she allowed herself to be folded up in Sara's arms, her head fitting snugly just under the brunette's chin. Sara sighed. "I love being with you," she whispered.

Catherine felt a little shiver go through her. "Really?"

A soft pair of lips pressed gently into her forehead. "Really," Sara confirmed.

Catherine looked up and slowly got lost in the other woman's serious brown eyes. "Sara," she said huskily. The urge to kiss her was overwhelming and she knew that if Sara didn't pull away soon she was going to give in to it.

But Sara didn't pull away. Instead she leaned down closer so their lips were almost touching and whispered: "Shall I stop?" Catherine groaned low in her throat and shook her head minutely. Her eyes fluttered closed and then Sara was kissing her with a single-minded, passionate intensity that quite simply and effectively took her breath away.

"I think I need to take you home with me now," Catherine muttered when she was finally released. Sara just nodded as she nuzzled into her neck.

"Sounds like a plan."

Sara climbed into the passenger seat of the Tahoe with a slight smirk on her face. A glassy eyed Catherine took her seat behind the wheel a couple of seconds later. She placed a pair of gently shaking hands on the steering wheel and let out a long breath.

"Shit," she muttered. "We can't go straight home."

Sara cocked her head. "Huh?"

"Lindsey," Catherine explained. "Lindsey is at Nancy's. I have to pick her up and take her to school."

Sara smiled slowly. "I'll take it as a compliment on my kissing abilities that you'd forgotten about that till now."

Catherine rolled her eyes as she turned the ignition. "I'd better stop now while your head still fits in the car."

Sara laughed and leaned down to turn on the radio, tuning it to the local country station. Immediately Catherine turned it over to rock. They had a brief battle of wills which Catherine eventually won. Sara finally relented when the DJ started playing 'Stairway to Heaven'. "It's only because I like this song," she said.

Catherine looked at Sara out of the corner of her eye as she drove, glad her mood seemed to have lightened somewhat. Frankly, Sara had scared her back in the locker room. After all these years of pining after her in silence it was simply unthinkable that she should lose her now. But it seemed that Sara had been able to put her fears to one side, at least temporarily. Now all Catherine had to do was ensure they never surfaced again.

'Stairway to Heaven' finished and Sara immediately turned the radio to the country station, grinning widely as she did so. Catherine just rolled her eyes.

"God you're annoying, Sara Sidle," she said.

"Yup," Sara agreed, grinning even wider.

Catherine shook her head but left the radio station where it was. "So, what were you and Emily talking about?"

Sara gave a brief resume of their conversation and by the time she'd finished Catherine was pulling up outside her sister's house. She shut off the engine and looked over at Sara with a small smile.

"You ready for this?"

"Meeting the family? Not really, but I don't have much choice now," Sara replied.

"You could wait in the car," Catherine offered, but Sara shook her head.

"Then I'd look silly," she said, running her fingers over the back of Catherine's hand.

Catherine made a sound that could only be described as a purr. "Can't have that," she mumbled. Her fingers tangled together with Sara's as she spoke.

"How much does she know about me?" Sara asked.

"Uhm...I may have sort of talked about you constantly for nearly four years," Catherine admitted shyly. Sara flushed lightly.

"Uh oh, what have you been telling her?"

"Oh, just how sweet and wonderful you are," Catherine assured her, breaking out into a grin.

"Is that all?" Sara replied, eyebrow raised.

"Well...I may have mentioned how annoying you can be."

Leaning close briefly, Sara pressed their lips together. "That's why you love me," she whispered, tightening her grip on Catherine's hand.

"That's right," Catherine agreed seriously.

Sara looked down, sporting an adorable shy grin and Catherine felt her heart melt just a little more than it already had. "Come on," she urged, tugging at her hand. "Let's go in."

Sara was barely in the door when a blonde blur rushed over to her and wrapped itself round her legs.

"Sara!" Lindsey squealed.

"Uh, hey munchkin," Sara replied nervously, her hand going automatically to the girl's head.

"Don't I get a hug?" Catherine asked playfully, sensing Sara's discomfort. The brunette shot her a grateful look as Lindsey shifted her attention to her mother. Sara liked Lindsey, but she still wasn't that comfortable around children. But at least she was willing to try, unlike Catherine's very recent ex, Chris 'kids and me don't mix' Bezich.

Almost as soon as Lindsey had let go Sara found herself being attacked by another little blur - but this time it was of the four legged variety. "Hey," she said with a smile, squatting down to ruffle the dog's ears. "Hi there, little guy." She frowned briefly, then looked up at Catherine. "Maverick?"

Catherine flushed lightly. "Yeah, well, he seemed like a nice dog and I didn't want him going to some animal shelter. I'm not home enough to look after him but Nancy was kind enough to take him in."

Sara smiled softly, feeling a rush of affection for the other woman sweep through her. Maybe they weren't just cases to her after all.

"Oh, you're actually here," said a teasing voice. Sara stood up, noticing the other woman for the first time. Nancy was standing in the kitchen doorway with a little smirk playing on her lips. Sara smiled nervously.

"You must be Nancy," she said, extending her hand.

"And you must be Sara," Nancy replied, accepting Sara's hand and shaking it firmly. They seemed to size each other up for a second or two, then Catherine attracted their attention with a cough.

"Have you had breakfast yet, Nance?"

Nancy shook her head. "Nope, not yet."

"Great, neither have we." She looked down at Lindsey. "How about pancakes?"

Lindsey's answering smile would have outshone a hundred watt bulb. Catherine swept her up in her arms and carried her through to the kitchen, leaving Sara and Nancy alone.

"So," said Nancy, stepping back and crossing her arms. "I've heard lots about you."

Inwardly Sara cringed at her tone of voice and body language. She may as well have put a big sign up saying 'I don't trust you.'

"Oh, really?" she said, chuckling nervously.

"Uh huh."

Sara felt her hands start to shake and she shoved them in her pockets to cover it. She wasn't quite sure whether this was another symptom of detox or just pure blind panic.

"All good I hope," she said, trying to smile.

Her response was a raised eyebrow.

Well, fuck this, Sara thought. Aloud she said "I wonder if Catherine needs any help with breakfast," and escaped into the kitchen.

Instantly she felt more at ease. "Hey," said Catherine with a shy smile, holding out her hand. Sara took it and squeezed briefly as she took her place by Catherine's side.

"Need any help?" she asked, her relief at being in safe company clearly evident in her voice.

"No, not really." Catherine frowned. "Are you okay?"

"Yup," Sara lied. She lowered her voice. "Just felt it had been too long since I touched you."

Catherine blushed and Sara took the opportunity to slip away from her and sit down at the table with Lindsey.

"So, how's school, sweetie?"

Nancy entered the room in the middle of Lindsey's extended rambling speech and watched them both contemplatively. Sara tried not to squirm, making sure to smile and laugh in all the right places at Lindsey's story. The little girl stopped talking briefly when she was presented with a plate of pancakes, but after she'd bolted them down she carried right on talking, enjoying her captive audience.

"Okay, Linds, it's time to go," Catherine said, urging her out of her chair.

"Okay, okay," said Lindsey rolling her eyes. Sara giggled slightly at her tone of voice but sobered when Catherine turned her famous glare in her direction. Lindsey grinned.

"Will you be there when I get home from school, Sara?" she asked, wrapping her arms round Sara's middle.

Sara looked up at Catherine in surprise, knowing what answer she wanted to give but unsure if she should. Catherine's eyes were shining and the beginning of a smile was curving her lips upwards. Sara tentatively smiled back.

"Yeah, sweetie, I will."

Lindsey rewarded her with a little squeal and a tight hug. "Cool," she said. "Can we watch The Lion King?"

"Whatever you want," Sara replied indulgently.

Catherine rolled her eyes. 'Whipped' she mouthed silently. "You coming, Sara?" she said aloud.

"Actually," Nancy interrupted. "I was thinking Sara and I could get to know each other a little while you're taking Linds to school." She laughed at Catherine's slightly horrified expression. "Don't worry, you'll get her back in one piece."

Catherine tried to meet Sara's eyes to provide a little reassurance. "Is that okay, Sara?"

"Uh...yeah, sure. Why wouldn't it be?"

Catherine delicately chose not to mention the fact that Sara looked like she'd just been asked to go a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson. "Okay then," she said. "I'll be back in a half hour, tops."

Sara decided to walk the two Willows women to the door. "You know she hates me, right?" she murmured under her breath.

"Lindsey, go on and let yourself into the car," Catherine said, handing her daughter the keys. When Lindsey was out of earshot she turned back to the brunette. "Don't be silly, baby, she just met you."

Sara snorted. "I don't think that matters much."

Shaking her head Catherine wrapped her arms round Sara in a comforting hug. "Don't be so paranoid," she murmured. "She's just a little...protective of me."

Sara broke out in a playful grin. "Mmm. And you need to be protected from me, do you?"

Catherine responded by squeezing a little tighter. "Hmm, maybe. You're pretty dangerous." She nuzzled into her neck and nipped lightly at her pulse point.

Sara's response could only be described as a growl.

Catherine breathed deeply. "Hold that thought," she ground out. "For another half hour." Gently she disentangled herself from Sara's embrace, and placed a soft kiss on her cheek.

"Hurry back," Sara murmured as Catherine started to walk towards her car. Then she squared her shoulders and made her way back into the lion's den.

After ten minutes of driving along to Lindsey's whiny teeny-bopper music Catherine was beginning to long for Sara's country station.

"Honey, mommy's been awake for eighteen hours," she said. "Could we please turn the...uh...'music' down?"

Lindsey grumbled for a moment or two but eventually obliged. The latest manufactured pop band became an ignorable drone in the background, and Catherine sighed in relief.

"Is Sara your girlfriend?"

Catherine nearly crashed the car.

"What the...sorry!" she yelled out the window to a very pissed off SUV driver she'd nearly slammed into. Taking a deep breath she glanced at Lindsey. "What makes you say that, sweetie?"

Lindsey shrugged. "You were hugging and kissing," she said matter-of-factly.

Catherine tried to concentrate on breathing. "I hug and kiss all my friends," she said.

"Oh, okay," Lindsey replied. They lapsed into silence and Catherine thought she'd got away with it.

"Gemma's mommies hug and kiss too."

This time they were sitting at a red light so there was no danger to life when Catherine went catatonic with shock.

"Gemma's...your friend Gemma?" she spluttered. "Gemma's mommies?"

Lindsey giggled. "The light's green," she pointed out.

Shaking herself she applied her foot to the pedal and resumed the journey to school. "Gemma has two mommies?" she said, when she felt she was calm enough to continue the conversation.

"Uh huh," Lindsey confirmed. "You've met them, silly."

Catherine thought back to all the times she'd picked up Lindsey from Gemma's house, or dropped her off for sleepovers. Now that she thought about it, there were always two women there but she'd never thought to connect the dots. "So I have," she said.

"Sara's nice," Lindsey said.

"Uh...yes, she is," Catherine agreed, still feeling decidedly out of her depth.

She concentrated on the road for the next few minutes until they reached the school. The yard was already full of kids and Lindsey waved to a few of her friends.

"See you later, mommy," she said, leaning over to give Catherine a hug and kiss.

"Yeah, later, sweetie," Catherine replied. "Lindsey?"

Lindsey had her hand on the door handle. "Uh huh?"

"Uhm...Sara and I are probably going to be seeing a lot more of each other from now on," she said. "Is that all right?"

Lindsey scooted over and wrapped her arms round her mom's neck. "Grown-ups are so silly," she said with a giggle, and then she was gone, melting into the crowd of children playing in the yard.

Catherine sat watching her for a few minutes. "I've got the best daughter in the world," she murmured to herself. "Thank you god."

She stayed until all the kids had been ushered inside, then she performed a quick U-turn so she could head back to Nancy's. Suddenly she remembered the last boyfriend she'd introduced to Nancy and the awful time she'd put him through. "Ugh," she groaned. She dreaded to think what Sara was going through with her decidedly over-protective younger sister.

Nancy smiled widely as she handed Sara another mug of coffee but Sara had the feeling it wasn't quite genuine.

"It's good to finally put a face to the name," she said.

"Uh...yeah, same here," Sara replied, conveniently forgetting that Catherine had mentioned her sister maybe once in all the time she'd known her. She took a sip of the blessed caffeine, trying not to count the minutes till Catherine returned.

"So, how long have you lived in Vegas?"

"Nearly four years," Sara answered. "Grissom called me out from San Francisco after Holly Gribbs was killed."

"Oh yes, I remember that. It hit Catherine pretty hard."

"Yeah," Sara agreed. "It did."

Nancy took a sip of her coffee. "Catherine talks about you a lot," she said conversationally.

Sara swallowed hard, burning her throat a little in the process. "Really?" she choked out.

A smirk appeared on Nancy's face. "Mmm hmm," she confirmed. "And Lindsey seems to like you a lot too."

"Well, I like her too."

Nancy's smile was genuine too. "I'm glad to hear it," she said. "Lindsey could use a little stability in her life. Things have been tough for her ever since Eddie was killed."

Sara flinched slightly when Eddie's name was mentioned. Nancy couldn't help but pick up on it.

"Something wrong?" she asked.

Sara shook her head quickly. "No, no," she assured her. Sensing Nancy was about to force the issue she relented. "It's just I was the one who had to close Eddie's case," she explained.

The other woman nodded. "I know," she said. "Catherine said you worked harder than anyone she'd ever known."

Sara blinked. "Oh," she breathed. "She uh...didn't say that to me."

"No? I'm surprised."

"Catherine and I..." Sara began, then trailed off. "Well, we haven't really been friends." She shook her head minutely, wondering why she was telling Nancy all this. Talk about giving your opponent ammunition.

"That's because Catherine always wanted to be more than friends," Nancy replied with a smirk. Sara felt her hands start to tremble again and put her mug down before she spilled it.

"Oh, she told you that, huh?" she said in slightly strangled voice.

"Eventually," Nancy replied. "And I think I can assume she got her wish. I don't think you'd be here otherwise."

Sara looked at her hands. "We...uh...well, we're just seeing what happens."

Nancy raised an eyebrow. "Well, Catherine's a big girl," she conceded. "I just hope Lindsey doesn't get too attached while you're figuring things out. Just in case."

Sara looked up sharply. "Lindsey?"

Nancy nodded, taking another sip of her coffee. "I think it's important that she gets a stable environment from the adults in her life, don't you?"

Sara took a deep breath. "Yeah," she replied. "You want me to fill out an application form to test my suitability?" she quipped, trying to lighten the mood.

Nancy didn't laugh. "We're just talking here," she said pointedly.

Sara looked back at her hands. "I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition," she mumbled under her breath.

To her surprise Nancy laughed this time. "No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition," she answered.

Sara looked up and they shared a genuine smile at the joke. Thank God for geekery, Sara thought.

"Listen, Nancy," she said aloud. "Catherine and I are just starting out. We're not exactly at the co-parent stage yet." She held up a hand to forestall Nancy's interruption. "I know that Lindsey is a huge part of Catherine's life. And if Catherine and I are together she's going to be a big part of mine too. But we've barely talked about how this relationship will affect us yet, never mind anyone else." She paused and ran her fingers through her hair. "I don't want to upset Lindsey or disrupt her life," she continued. "But so what if she gets attached to me? I'm not going to disappear off the face of the Earth if Catherine and I decide to just be friends. Frankly I'm quite attached to the little munchkin myself." Sara finished with a gentle smile which, after a few seconds, was reciprocated.

"Fair enough," Nancy said. She stood up. "You want some more coffee?"

Sara exhaled carefully. "Sure," she said, feeling like she'd managed to clear at least one hurdle.

Catherine pulled up outside Nancy's house five minutes later than she'd said she'd be. Cursing the morning traffic she quickly locked up the car and headed for the house. If Nancy had said anything to upset Sara she was going to kill her with her bare hands. It probably hadn't been the best idea to leave Sara alone with her sister. Nancy wasn't to know how fragile Sara was right now, nor how easily she could be pushed over the edge. And if she applied her usual interrogation technique that might be precisely what she did.

"Nance?" she called as she opened the door. "Sara?"

"In here!" Nancy replied from the kitchen. Catherine took a step towards the doorway but was stopped in her tracks by an unexpected sound.


"Oh god, how cute is that?" came Sara's voice. Catherine frowned and continued towards the kitchen.

"Precocious little scamp, wasn't she?" Nancy said with a smirk. Nancy and Sara were sitting huddled together at the table, grinning over a pile of old photographs. Catherine's eyes widened and she snatched the picture out of Sara's hands. It was a photograph of her at about three years old, sitting on some Santa lookalike's lap and pulling off his fake beard.

"You're showing her my baby pictures?" she said incredulously, swatting Nancy on the shoulder.

"It certainly appears that way doesn't it?" she replied, handing Sara another picture, this time of cowgirl Catherine sitting on a horse.

Catherine grabbed that one out of Sara's hands too and added it to the pile which she also swept up into her arms. "I think that's quite enough for one day," she said, looking at the two giggling women with narrowed eyes. "I didn't leave you two alone so you could gang up on me you know."

Sara stood up and pulled Catherine to her gently. "Is it my fault if I think you're cute?" she asked.

Nancy came up and took the photographs from Catherine. "If you two are going to go all snuggly I'd best take these away," she said. "Wouldn't want them getting crushed."

"Good plan," Sara replied with a smirk. Nancy rolled her eyes as she left the room.

"I'll be right back," she said. "Try to keep it PG-13."

Catherine flushed hotly and buried her face in Sara's neck. "You two seem to be getting on," she muttered.

"Mmm hmm," Sara confirmed, dropping a kiss into Catherine's hair.

"I'm sorry I was worried about you now," Catherine added, trying to inject a note of steel into her voice and failing miserably.

Sara laughed. "It takes more than a protective sister to put me off," she said.

Catherine looked up. "Promise?"

"Oh yeah?" Sara whispered, leaning down to brush her lips gently against Catherine's.

"Get a room you two," Nancy joked as she re-entered the kitchen.

"Oh come on," Sara replied, turning in Catherine's arms. "That was barely G."

"Whatever," Nancy replied, waving her hand dismissively.

"Oookay," Catherine exhaled. "I think I have to take Sara away from this bad influence."

Nancy and Sara shared a warm smile and then Sara turned back to Catherine. "Does that mean I get to come home with you now?" she asked.

Nancy covered her ears with her hands. "I don't think I need to hear this."

Catherine grinned and disentangled herself from Sara. "Okay, okay, we're going."

Nancy walked them to the door. "Well, it was a genuine pleasure to meet you Sara," she said, extending her hand.

"And you, Nancy," Sara replied, shaking her hand.

Catherine looked at Sara sideways when they were in the car.

"What?" the brunette asked.

"Nothing," Catherine replied. "I'm just glad you and Nancy are getting on. She...uh...doesn't like many of my partners."

"Oh, and I've got a feeling she doesn't get to meet many of them either," Sara said with a smile.

Catherine nodded. "You could be right," she admitted.

Sara grinned widely as she leaned over and kissed her. "I must be special then," she murmured.

"Very," Catherine replied softly. A glint entered Sara's eyes.

"Take me home, Catherine," she said.

Catherine pushed a few strands of dark hair behind Sara's ear and nodded. "Just try and stop me."

By the time they got to Catherine's house they'd both had plenty of time to become thoroughly nervous. Catherine dropped her keys twice trying to unlock the front door. When she managed it she wasted no time in dragging Sara inside and pressing her against the nearest wall.

"Mmmph," was the only sound Sara could make before her lips were covered by Catherine's, soft and insistent. The only clue that Catherine wasn't as confident as she seemed was a pair of trembling hands which were buried in silky dark hair.

"Cat," Sara groaned, tearing her lips away after a few heady moments. "I..."

Whatever she'd been going to say was swallowed up in a deep moan as Catherine dropped her lips to the soft skin of her neck and ran her tongue lightly along the line of her thundering pulse. Sara's hands moved automatically to Catherine's head to hold her in place.

"Sssh, baby," Catherine muttered into her ear, nipping gently at her earlobe. "Just let me..."

Sara hesitated, her internal conflict plain to see. Catherine stilled her movements until she felt the other woman's head incline in the tiniest of nods.

Her lips moved immediately to a deliciously soft patch of skin at the place where Sara's jaw met her throat, and nipped slightly. Sara took in a sharp breath and exhaled again slowly when Catherine's tongue immediately darted out to soothe the slight pain.

"God, why do you taste so good?" Catherine muttered rhetorically as she trailed kisses over the line of her jaw.

Sara knew she wasn't expected to make any reply but spoke anyway. "Chemistry, I guess," she mumbled.

Catherine made a brief sound of disapproval as she pulled back to meet Sara's eyes. "There's always a scientific answer for you, isn't there?"

Sara hesitated briefly, then shook her head. "No. Not always."


"No," came the firm reply. "Sometimes I don't have any answers at all."

"Like now?" Catherine murmured. Sara felt her hands begin to tremble and she nodded.

Catherine smiled as she trailed her hand down Sara's arm. She joined their hands together and tugged gently, leading Sara to the bedroom.

"Cat," Sara hissed when they were standing at the foot of the bed. Catherine was busy playing with Sara's fingers and didn't respond. "Cat," Sara repeated, a little more urgently. "Maybe we shouldn't...

"I love your hands," Catherine said, ignoring Sara's feeble protest. She lifted Sara's hand and traced the lines on her palm. "No-one knows this," she whispered conspiratorially. "But I think hands are the sexiest part of a woman's body. Those delicate bones and tendons...long slender fingers..." She lifted Sara's hand to her mouth and traced her lips over each finger in turn. "Sometimes when I look at you I can hardly breathe...wondering what these fingers would feel like inside me." Her eyes sparkled as she sucked Sara's index finger into her mouth and ran her tongue over it. Sara's breathing was fast and shallow.

"So," she exhaled shakily and said the first thing that came into her head. "I'm not the only woman you've thought about?"

Catherine smiled as she released Sara's captive finger and moved her lips to her palm. "First," she said, punctuating the word with a kiss. "Best. But not only."

A faraway, pensive expression appeared on Sara's face and she frowned. "Am I...I mean, have you...?"

"You are," Catherine hastily assured her. "I haven't." She placed one of Sara's hands over her heart. "There's only you."

Sara closed her eyes and seemed to have trouble regulating her breathing.

"Baby, what's the matter?" Catherine asked, suddenly concerned.

Sara shrugged and dropped her head forward, letting her hair cover her face. "What if I...I mean, what if I' not-"

"Oh sweetheart," Catherine interrupted, pushing a curtain of dark hair behind Sara's ear. "Don't you know you're everything I want?"

Sara looked up slowly. "Why?" she asked softly.

Catherine frowned. "What?"

"I'm a mess, Catherine," Sara muttered. "I've fucked up every relationship I've ever been in. My life consists of counting the hours till I go to work, and then trying to think of excuses not to go home. I've spent the last six months drowning myself in Jack fucking Daniels. What is there to want about me?"

Catherine blinked furiously against sudden tears. "Everything," she replied, proud that she kept most of the tremor out of her voice. "All the bad. All the good. Everything."

Sara looked up in surprise but before she could say anything she found her lips being attacked and held prisoner by Catherine's. Their bodies crushed together as Catherine tightened her hold. She slid Sara's jacket down over her shoulders as they kissed. The fabric got tangled about itself, trapping Sara's hands behind her back. "Cat," she muttered, tearing her lips away with some effort. "My arms..."

Catherine growled. "Maybe I should leave it like that. Maybe I like you helpless," she whispered.

"Cat," Sara repeated, and this time she couldn't keep the note of panic out of her voice. Immediately Catherine freed her, letting the jacket drop to the floor.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, trailing her hand over a flushed cheek. "Are you all right?"

Sara was silent for a long moment, then she nodded. "Yeah.."

"Do you trust me?"

This time there was no hesitation. "Yes." Catherine smiled.

"Then take off your shirt."

The temperature in the room increased at least tenfold as Sara's trembling fingers fought with the silver buttons of her favourite shirt. It took her much longer than it should have but eventually it slipped over her shoulders and lay puddled at her feet. She was wearing a white tank top underneath. Catherine smiled wolfishly. "I think I'm in love with this top," she murmured. She leant forward and kissed the hollow at Sara's clavicle, feeling with pleasure Sara's laboured breathing.

"Glad you approve," Sara managed through gritted teeth. She closed her eyes as Catherine's tongue traced the ridge of her collarbone.

Catherine smiled. Trailing her hands down Sara's torso she dropped to her knees. The tank top was pushed up over the other woman's subtly muscled stomach as she pressed her lips to the spot just above Sara's navel.

Sara hissed softly through clenched teeth and threaded her fingers through Catherine's baby soft hair. Catherine's tongue licked a delicate trail over her overheated skin and her muscles clenched in response. A low groan escaped her lips as the other woman's tongue danced around her sensitive bellybutton. "Cat," she whispered heatedly. "If you keep doing that I'm going to fall."

Catherine pulled away reluctantly and looked up at Sara with an evil smile. "I'll remember that," she said.

"You do that," Sara replied but closed her mouth when Catherine started unbuttoning her jeans.

"Cat got your tongue?" Catherine joked.

Sara felt sure there was a joke in there, and if she'd been feeling herself she'd have made it. In her current state all she could manage was a low groan.

Catherine felt her face flush with sudden heat and busied herself unzipping Sara's jeans. The sound reverberated unnaturally in the silence of the room. Catherine resumed her attention to Sara's middle but had the freedom to go lower now Sara's jeans were partially undone. When her lips touched the waistband of Sara's underwear she felt a full body shudder pass through the other woman.

"Cat," Sara breathed. "I don't think I can stand much longer." Her legs were trembling nearly as much as her hands.

Catherine ran her hands down Sara's denim clad thighs and smiled wickedly. "Take your top off," she ordered gently. Sara looked down into Catherine's sparkling blue eyes, frowning slightly. The request seemed to take a long time to get from her ears to her brain. After a few moments the tank top was pulled over her head and thrown away, landing somewhere on the other side of the room, forgotten.

"Mmm," Catherine whispered. "I love that top on you but I think I like it better off."

Sara closed her eyes, trying to concentrate on breathing.

Catherine leaned down and gently unlaced Sara's boots. Sara wasn't sure she had the co-ordination to take them off but, somehow, she found herself barefoot.

Catherine's hands slid down Sara's denim covered legs, pulling the heavy fabric along with them. She bestowed a gentle kiss on every inch of flesh that was revealed until Sara's jeans lay pooled at her ankles and she stepped out of them. Catherine smiled. "White cotton underwear," she murmured. "That's sweet."

Sara flushed. "Well, I wasn't expecting anyone to see them," she explained.

"Don't be embarrassed," Catherine replied. She stood up quickly and captured Sara's lips between her own. They kissed slowly, their tongues performing a complicated dance together. "God, you're amazing," Catherine managed to say as they parted, tightening her arms round the taller woman's shoulders. Sara looked down and made no reply. "You are," Catherine insisted.

When Sara remained silent Catherine leaned down and kissed her shoulder, then traced her fingers over the curve of her spine, eventually finding the clasp of her bra. With a smile she gently pulled it over her arms and discarded it. "You are beautiful," she whispered, enunciating each word carefully. She took a step back and looked Sara up and down.

"Cat," Sara whispered, crossing her arms bashfully over her chest.

Catherine gently placed her index finger on Sara's lips, shushing her. Keeping their eyes locked she let that finger trail from her lips down to her chin, to her throat, to the hollow at her clavicle, between her breasts, over her belly and finally to the waistband of her underwear. With a few gentle tugs this last piece of flimsy cotton was removed and Sara stood before her, naked and beautiful. A shiver ran through the brunette from head to toe.

"What's wrong?" Catherine asked gently.

Sara hesitated briefly, then shook her head. "Nothing," she said. "You're just too far away."

Smiling, Catherine took a step forward and twined her fingers with Sara's as she lightly pressed their lips together. She took another step forward, and another, until Sara's knees were touching the edge of the bed. Taking the hint Sara allowed herself to be laid down and Catherine followed her, straddling her hips.

"Catherine," Sara breathed as she looked up at her, then lost the power of speech when Catherine lifted her tank top over her head and threw it over to join Sara's somewhere in the corner of the room. "God," Sara whispered.

"No," Catherine teased gently. "It's just me."

Sara's eyes were dark and serious as she shook her head. "He must have made you with his own two hands," she murmured.

For a long moment Catherine's movements stilled and she fell silent. When Sara's words sunk into her overheated brain she felt tears begin to pool in her eyes. "I love you," she whispered.

Sara opened her mouth to respond but before a sound could escape her lips she found them occupied by a rough, almost bruising kiss. The force of it was pushing her head back into the pillow, pinning her in place. Catherine's tongue traced over Sara's lips and Sara opened her mouth reflexively to allow her entrance. Catherine let out a low groan as their tongues tangled together. She trailed her fingers through Sara's hair, drinking in the small movements the other woman made against her body and the laboured sound of her breathing.

Sara was dazed. She felt like she was lost in an unfamiliar and hostile sea, and Catherine was the only thing keeping her head above water. She clung on tighter to her support, her lifeline...her lover.

Her lover.

God, we're really doing this, she thought giddily. We're really going to...

Before the thought could take proper form the last shred of her coherence was lost in a wave of pure arousal as Catherine's hands flit over her taut stomach muscles. Before Sara had a chance to react those hands were on the move again, edging upwards to cup her breasts. Sara groaned low in her throat. She was as high as she'd ever been, positively drunk with sensation. A little voice was pleading with her for sanity, almost drowned out by the rush of pure animal desire she felt in Catherine's arms. This was something familiar at last, something she could lie back and lose herself in.

Suddenly the little voice turned into a scream and she found herself pushing Catherine away roughly, her breath coming in short sharp sobs..

"Sara?" Catherine sounded almost scared and she didn't blame her. She wanted to say something but suddenly the words wouldn't come. "Oh God...okay baby, just try to breathe."

It was only then that Sara realised she was shaking and crying and hyperventilating all at once, verging on hysteria. Catherine's hands smoothed her hair back from her face.

"Just concentrate on my voice," she soothed. "It's all right. Everything's all right."

Gradually Sara began to calm down, though her breath was still coming in deep shattering sobs. "I'm sorry," she said, covering her eyes with her forearm.

"God baby, don't be sorry," Catherine gasped, horrified. "Don't be sorry." Soft lips pressed against her flushed forehead.

"I-" Sara paused, feeling her throat constrict. "It was just too much," she continued several moments later.

Catherine blinked back tears of her own. "Me?" she asked in a small voice.

Sara shook her head quickly. "Me," she said. "My whole fucked up life." The distant cousin of a laugh bubbled up in her throat. "Something snapped. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think. I felt like I was out of control and...and out of my depth."

Horrified comprehension dawned on Catherine's face. "You mean like when you're drinking."

Sara uncovered her eyes and nodded slowly.

Catherine felt a wave of anguish pass through her. "I'm so sorry," she breathed, burying her face in Sara's neck so she wouldn't have to look her in the eye.

She had fucked up badly. She'd wanted to claim Sara, to leave a mark on her. She'd wanted to take every one of the brunette's niggling little doubts and drown them in a wave of love and sex. And in doing that she'd pushed too hard, too fast. Too soon. And she'd hurt the last person in the world she wanted to feel pain.

"Cat-" Sara whispered, but Catherine cut her off.

"I'm so sorry, baby," she said tightly. "It's all my fault."

"What? Cat, no-"

"It is," Catherine insisted. "I thought I could make everything better. I thought you just needed me to love you and you'd be fine, just like that. But all I do is make things worse."

Sara shook her head as she slipped her arms round Catherine's narrow shoulders. "I do need you to love me," she whispered. "More than anything." She paused. "But we need to go a little slower. When we make love I want it to be everything you've ever dreamed of. But I...I don't think I can be that person for you right now."

Sara's hands ran in slow circles over her back and Catherine found herself relaxing. "Slow," she said softly. "Sounds good."

They lay together in silence for a few minutes more, letting their minds and bodies calm down. Eventually Catherine raised herself up on her elbows.

"God, we look ridiculous," she muttered.

Sara looked around the room. Clothes were strewn haphazardly everywhere but while she was completely naked Catherine was missing only her top. Sara found herself giggling, and the sound broke the tension. "Yeah, we do, don't we?" Catherine rolled her eyes and climbed off the bed, making her way to a chest of drawers. She threw Sara an oversized T-shirt.

"We could just sleep," she said softly. "If you want."

Sara nodded with a gentle smile. "I think that's slow enough."

Ten minutes later, faces washed, teeth brushed, sleepwear on, the two women slipped under the covers. Sara lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling.

"Cat?" she murmured sleepily.


"Don't I get a goodnight kiss?"

"Are you sure? I don't want to rush you, or upset you-"

"Cat," Sara interrupted. "Please kiss me."

Catherine smiled widely as she flipped over onto her side, leaning over the brunette. Their lips tangled together sweetly, careful not to go too far.

When they parted Sara gazed up at Catherine sleepily through her eyelashes. A curtain of red-blonde hair had fallen down around her face, framing flushed cheeks, shining eyes and smiling lips. And Sara knew, in a moment of absolute clarity, that she was in love.

She sighed softly, and tilted her head up to press their lips together in another achingly tender kiss.

Catherine smiled. "Go to sleep, my Sara," she murmured, dropping her head to the younger woman's shoulder.

"Mmm," Sara responded, sliding her arms round Catherine's shoulders. Their curves moulded together perfectly, like they were two pieces of a jigsaw, always meant to be beside one other.

"G'night," she whispered, dropping a kiss into baby soft strawberry blonde hair. Deep, regular breathing was her only response. Catherine was already asleep.

Sara slipped quietly out of Catherine's arms sometime in the early afternoon. Catherine didn't wake up, just curled herself around the warm spot Sara's body had left. Sara had to hunt around a little for her clothes - Catherine hadn't exactly thought to fold and sort them neatly when she was tearing them off her body that morning. She pulled on her jeans and wandered blearily to the kitchen, in search of coffee.

Actually making the coffee turned out to be rather hazardous as she was struck down by another bout of trembling just as the water boiled. She clenched her hands into fists as she leaned on the counter. There was no use trying to pretend this was anything but detox. Her last drink was round about seven am on Saturday morning. She looked at the clock blinking away on the microwave. That made it fifty-five hours since her last taste of alcohol, and she was definitely feeling it.

She'd tried to convince herself the periodic shakes and headaches and bouts of nausea were due to tiredness or stress or nervousness at being with Catherine. But all her excuses were gone and she still felt like hell.

Deciding to forego the coffee for the moment she pulled open the fridge door. Orange juice. That was safe enough.

She was concentrating so hard on unscrewing the cap on the juice bottle that she nearly didn't notice the six-pack lurking at the back of the fridge. When she did notice it she was hard pressed to focus on anything else.

Just the sight of a can of beer was almost enough to double her over with desire. Okay, it was Bud-Lite which she wouldn't normally touch with a ten foot pole but it hardly mattered. It was beer and it was exactly what her shaking hands wanted.

The fridge door swung closed with unexpected force and it took Sara a moment to realise that she had slammed it herself.

"Get a fucking grip, Sidle," she murmured, clenching her hands into fists. "Catherine's in the bedroom sleeping. You're not going to drink in her house. You're not."

She muttered the last two words over and over again as she walked through to the living room and threw herself down on the couch. With a groan she covered her face with one of the scatter cushions.

How was she going to handle this when Catherine wasn't around? Even now she could practically taste the beer on her tongue and she wasn't sure she'd be able to resist when she was alone in her apartment.

The next thing she knew the cushion was on the other side of the room. She'd thrown it with all the strength she could muster and it had knocked one of Catherine's photographs off the mantelpiece. "Shit," Sara mumbled as she got up to retrieve it. She prayed the glass hadn't broken.

Thankfully the photograph had fallen onto the cushion and was undamaged. It was a picture of Catherine and Lindsey in what looked like Sunset Park. Lindsey had her arms wrapped round her mother's neck and they were both smiling and laughing at the camera lens. Sara ran her fingers gently over the glass.

She'd promised Nancy she wouldn't disrupt Lindsey's life, but was that a promise she could keep? Barely two days after her last drink and she was tempted already. Lindsey deserved better than to have yet another hopeless drunk in her life. And so did Catherine.

Sara sighed as she replaced the picture. There was only one thing she could do.

When Catherine woke up it took her a few moments to realise she was alone.

"Sara?" she called blearily. "Baby? Where are you?"

There was no reply. Catherine rolled over slowly and groaned when she discovered that Sara's side of the bed was cold. She reached blindly for Sara's pillow and buried her face in it, inhaling deeply. Sara's scent was plastered all over the bedclothes. A hint of citrus with a backdrop of cigarette smoke that hadn't quite dissipated yet. Catherine groaned low in her throat. Waking up to Sara's scent was all well and good but she'd have preferred to have something a little more solid. Where the hell was Sara?

She sat up slowly, blinking the sleep from her eyes, and looked around the room. Sara's clothes were gone. Sara was gone and her clothes were gone. Catherine's face paled. "Oh shit," she murmured. "Shit, shit, shit!"

She ran her hands through her hair roughly, suddenly feeling completely awake. She must have scared Sara off. What other explanation could there possibly be? God, she'd practically thrown herself at the poor woman.

Catherine felt the beginnings of tears pricking behind her eyelids but she blinked them away furiously. She wasn't going to give up that easily. She wasn't entirely sure what she was going to do but it sure as hell didn't involve lying in bed moping. That wasn't Catherine Willows' style at all.

With a deep sigh she forced herself to get up and quickly located a pair of sweats. She didn't bother to get dressed properly - for the moment, at least, she was only going as far as the phone.

It wasn't until she was halfway down the stairs that she heard the voice, low and husky, unmistakably Sara. Catherine frowned. Who the hell could she be talking to?

"Yeah," she was saying. "Uhm...well I work nights, so...yeah, early evening downtown sounds good."

Catherine stood in the living room doorway, watching Sara talk into the phone. Sara had her back to the door and hadn't seen her. Catherine smiled slightly as Sara twirled her curls nervously around her finger as she talked. Then Sara surprised her. She laughed.

"No way?" she said into the phone. "Do people really try that?" Sara let out another low chuckle. "Well don't worry," she said. "I won't try to use my chips in the casinos."

With a sharp intake of breath Catherine brought a hand up to cover her mouth. A feeling of fierce pride and even fiercer love washed over her and she wanted nothing more than to rush over to Sara and hug her till she could barely breathe. But she had learned her lesson about not pushing the other woman too hard so she restrained herself, with effort.

Sara finished up her phone call and replaced the receiver in its cradle. But she made to move to get up from the sofa. After a few long moments Catherine yawned to announce her presence and sauntered into the room. Sara looked up a little guiltily.

"Hey, Cath," she said.

"Hey sweetie," Catherine replied, leaning against the arm of the sofa and draping her arm round Sara's shoulders. A smile jumped to her lips when Sara's hand immediately reached up to grasp hers.

"You been awake long?" Sara asked.

Catherine shook her head. "No," she replied. Her voice lowered a little. "The bed was too cold without you."

A light pink flush crept over Sara's cheeks. "I uh...guess I'd better fix that then," she said. Catherine nodded as she leaned down and pressed her smiling lips to Sara's briefly.

"Come on," she said, tugging on Sara's hand. "You'll need a few more hours sleep. I think Lindsey's planning to exhaust you tonight."

"Lucky it's my night off then," Sara replied with a smirk.

"Yes, it is," Catherine replied. She gave Sara's hand another gentle pull. "Come on, baby."

Sara let Catherine's hand slip from her grasp. "You go on," she said. "I'll be up in a minute. I'm just going to get a drink." Her face paled as she realised what she'd said. "I mean-" she spluttered but Catherine hushed her with a finger over her lips.

"I know what you meant, Sara," she said softly. She stretched as she stood and headed for the stairs. "Don't be too long," she called over her shoulder.

Sara remained sitting on the sofa when Catherine had gone, looking over at the picture of Lindsey and Catherine on the mantelpiece. After a few minutes she got up and walked over to it.

"Well, I did it," she said to Catherine and Lindsey's frozen smiles. She picked up the photo and traced her fingers over the glass, exhaling softly. "I don't know if it'll help - I hope it will." She took a deep breath. "I know you both deserve better than me...that's why I'm going to try my best to be better from now on." A self deprecating laugh rose in her throat as she realised she was talking to a photograph when the real thing was just upstairs. For some reason she couldn't seem to stop herself from staring at the picture, and when she looked up again she realised that fifteen minutes had passed.

She wasn't sure exactly how long she'd had the card in her purse. She remembered she'd found it along with her receipt when she'd got home from one of her frequent trips to the liquor store. A card inviting her to seek help and come along to one of her local AA meetings. She remembered cursing the smart ass clerk at the store. She'd started going elsewhere after that but for some reason she'd kept the card. Maybe she'd subconsciously known she had a problem even then - although it had taken this long to admit it.

With a soft sight Sara replaced the photograph and wandered through to the kitchen. She decided that water was the safest option this time. Normally she wouldn't drink tap water but she still wanted to steer clear of the fridge and the six little temptations lying within.

Catherine was asleep when she finally made her way back upstairs. Sara took a moment just to watch her before quietly undressing and slipping in behind her. She pressed a kiss between Catherine's shoulder blades and slipped an arm round her waist.

"Hey, Cat," she whispered. "Sorry I was so long." Sara's fingers stroked gently over Catherine's stomach as she spoke.

"I've got something to tell you when you wake up," she continued. "I made a few calls earlier. I figured it was time I got my act together, you know? Anyway...I've taken some more time off work - I think I nearly gave Grissom a heart attack." She took a deep breath. "And I've arranged to go to a meeting on Friday. I don't know if it'll help but I have to try." She opened her mouth as if to say more but then thought better of it. "Well," she said. "We'll talk about it later." Sara pulled Catherine a little closer to her and leaned over so she could kiss her cheek. "Thank you," she whispered.

With a gentle sigh she leaned back against the mattress, waiting for sleep to take over. After a moment, unseen by Sara, Catherine opened her eyes. "You're welcome," she mouthed silently, and smiled.

The End

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