DISCLAIMER: CSI and the characters within belong to CBS and Bruckheimer, no profit is being made from this.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Nancy

"Hey. C'mon kiddo. Let's get something to eat."

Sara looked up in surprise at Catherine's voice then grinned, pleased that the other woman had finally surfaced. She and Grissom had been involved in a week-long seminar involving various new crime scene techniques and equipment. Neither of her friends had been around at all, even though it was being housed in their building. "They finally let you out?"

Snorting, Catherine nodded and said, "Just temporarily. We'll be back to the grind after lunch. But I think they saw that we were ready to start a revolt if the break didn't happen soon."

"How's Grissom doing with it?" Sara questioned, grabbing her bag and coat.

Laughing softly, taking Sara's arm, Catherine led her towards the stairwell with, "He's in his element. And if I never hear him talk about 4th Century philosophers again, it'll be too damn soon."

Sara echoed the laugh as they headed down the stairs and observed, "He always did appreciate a captive audience."

"Yes, well, I could do without," Catherine answered dryly.

They reached the outer door and crossed towards the parking garage. The sun was merciless as always and, by the time they reached Catherine's car, Sara was sweating under her t-shirt. Waiting impatiently by the door, she said, "Come on, I'm melting here!"

Catherine smirked, observing, "I always knew there was something witchy about you, Sara."

Eyes rolling, Sara heard the muffled thump of the doors unlocking and pulled it open. She waited just as impatiently for the a/c to come on and flipped the passenger side vents open full. It was at least 101F in the shade.

"You are from California," Catherine pointed out, amused.

"San Francisco area," Sara corrected. "Not the same thing at all."

Catherine backed the car out of the spot and asked, "Mind if I stop at the bank first? I need to see about opening Lindsey an account."

Sara was surprised. "Already? What, did she get a job?"

"You can never start too early to learn about financial responsibility. It's one of the most important things that you need to know. A vital lesson for the future."

Arching an eyebrow at her friend, Sara said, "You're practicing that for her, aren't you?"

Catherine laughed softly, merging into traffic as she answered, "Does it show?"

"Just a little. Although, I think I should be offended that you're practicing it on me."

"Who else would I practice on?"

Sara paused for a second thinking that things were suddenly way too filled with flirty innuendo. Again. A quick glance to the other woman showed a smile hovering and Sara mentally groaned with frustration. It was starting to drive her batty, the easy banter between them that so easily turned into flirting. She couldn't tell if Catherine was really flirting with her, as in interested in something more, or just teasing.

Of course, it didn't help that she was desperately wishing it was for more than just teasing. That was the problem. With guys, she could tell right off if they were gay or bi; with women, it was hard to tell if it was wishful thinking, or actual vibes were going off.


"I think Greg's a little closer to Lindsey's age, mentally at least," Sara replied, keeping her tone light.

Catherine chuckled and scolded, "You're so mean to him."

"I am not!" Sara protested.

Pulling into the bank parking lot, Catherine countered, "Yes, you are."

Sara smirked. "Can I help it if he's a closet masochist?"

With an amused head shake, Catherine parked and ordered, "Out of the car, missy. Let's go."

They fell easily into step together, strides matching automatically through years of friendship. It was a busy time of the day, of course, with people going to the bank on payday, even as late in the day as it was, and Sara grimaced. Crowds were definitely not her thing. Fortunately, Catherine seemed to have an appointment, and naturally she'd have thought of that in advance, and so walked right up to a young man's desk with the name plate, Harold Joram.

The young man in question, a handsome blond with pale eyes, stood and held out his hand, greeting, "Ms. Willows?"

Catherine smiled and nodded, accepting the hand. "That's me. And this is my partner, Sara. You don't mind if she sits in, do you?"

Harold held his hand to Sara with, "Not at all. Nice to meet you."

Keeping her surprise at the introduction to herself, Sara nodded and replied, "Same here."

They all sat and Sara leaned back while Catherine and Harold talked about what sort of account Lindsey should have. Had the introduction been a subtle way for Catherine to tell Sara what she wanted? It wasn't like they were paired up exclusively at work, not for the word to fall so naturally from Catherine's lips as it had.

Subtle sucked. When they got out of the bank, she was just going to take a deep breath and tell Catherine how she felt point blank.

Nick groaned as Warrick held up a pair of kings and three of a kind. "You suck."

"No, man, I rock," he corrected, smirking. "Hand it over, baby."

Scowling now, Nick pulled out the twenty from his pocket and held it out. "You know what? I think getting beaten up for my lunch money has more dignity than this. You're a cardshark."

"What's your point?"

"Afternoon, gentlemen. Keeping out of trouble?"

Jumping at Gil's voice behind him, Nick glanced guiltily at the older man and said, "Relatively speaking."

"You do know that gambling at work is frowned upon," Gil pointed out.

"Gambling? Not a chance. Just a friendly game of poker," Warrick explained, dark eyes sparkling.

"I saw the flash of green."

Grinning, Warrick explained easily, "Nick owes me lunch."

"Right," Gil snorted. "Either of you two hooligans seen Catherine?"

Nick thought about it then answered, "She and Sara went to lunch a while ago. Aren't they back yet?"

With a frown, Gil looked at his watch. "No one's seen Catherine since we broke for lunch and it's almost three. It's not like either of them to be late like this."

"Maybe they just got side-tracked. Two women together in a shopping mall? It's been known to happen," Warrick pointed out with a grin. "They're probably on their way back now."

"Catherine wouldn't blow off the seminar like that," Gil pointed out.

Warrick could only nod agreement at that.

Gil's cell rang and he held up a hand, pulling it from his pocket to answer it with, "Grissom…You're kidding me. Oh shit. Yeah, we'll be right down. Thanks, Jim."

Nick definitely didn't like the grim look on Gil's face as he hung up. "What's wrong?"

"Sara and Catherine are being held hostage in a bank robbery across town, along with twenty-odd other customers," Gil reported, already heading for the door.

Nick and Warrick were right behind him.

Catherine stared up at the ceiling, trying not to hyperventilate because it only made the dizziness worse. She could see in her mind where the bullet had gone into her chest to the right side of her breastbone. It would've slid between muscle and bone with ease to burst out the other side of her body and into the wall. Sweat trickled a trail of itchiness down the back of her neck and she longed to scratch it, but couldn't move, surrounded by Sara as she was.

Sara's hands were pressed onto the wound on her chest, the shirt yanked off her slender body to use as a bandage, uncaring of her near nakedness. From the back, Sara's thigh pushed up into the wound, also vainly trying to stop the blood from its steady exit. Sara was bent close, as much pressure as possible going from her arms and leg against the wound to staunch it. "Catherine, stay with me now. Help's going to be here soon. You've just gotta be still and try to breathe easier, okay?"

Swallowing rapidly, trying to get some moisture into the desert formerly known as her mouth, Catherine answered, "Trying…to."

Eyes wide with worry, fear, and anger, Sara ordered softly, "Don't talk, honey, okay? Just breathe and stay here with me."

Honey? Not that she was in any shape to protest, even if she'd been so inclined, which she wasn't. She'd been dropping hints like anvils for months now and had finally just decided on a more direct approach with the younger woman. It figured that something like this would happen to get in the way of that.

"She okay?" Harold whispered.

"She will be if the bleeding stops," Sara answered, grim.

"Hey! Shut up over there!"

Catherine watched from below, fascinated, as Sara's jaw flexed, indicating just how tightly it was clenched and how much emotion was being restrained. She made a vague mental note to have Sara check into possible TMJ problems later.

When they weren't being held hostage.

The whole situation was just so surreal. As often as she'd been around death, danger itself wasn't very familiar. Not that she hadn't met up with it on her job, because she had, but it wasn't like she was a cop and faced it every day. She wouldn't do that to Lindsey, not knowing if her mom would get killed on the job. Of course, as this showed, she could get killed pretty much anywhere.

God, she felt so weak and nauseous! How much blood had she lost? A pint? Two? Had it even stopped coming out of her yet? Just her luck to get caught in the spray of opening fire. At least it was only the one bullet. She hoped. She didn't really want to die like this. Poor Lindsey would have no mother or father, then. She'd be leaving her baby alone, which was worse than the thought of dying.

Only slightly worse than the thought of leaving Sara without ever having added 'lover' to their list of nicknames.

Putting the two together in her head temporarily banished the fog and Catherine grabbed Sara's hand, meeting the other woman's eyes and gasping, "Sara…Sara…"

"What is it, Cat? What?" Sara murmured, leaning close again.

Swallowing heavily, she forced out, "Lindsey. Please. Take her?"

Pain lashed through the wide eyes that stared down at her. "Cat, no, you're going to be fine. I don't need to take care of Linds."

"I said, shut up!"

Catherine looked up at the masked man who was suddenly hovering viciously over them, gun pressed to Sara's temple. She wanted to protest, but was too afraid that the man would pull the trigger. They'd been violent and uncompromising through the entire raid and she knew, knew in her bones, that this wasn't about money.

Calm and quiet, Sara said, "I'm just trying to keep her attention away from the gaping hole in her chest. Is that all right with you?"

All right. Some healthy sarcasm there, but mostly calm and quiet.

There was a brief pause, then the man pulled away the gun and muttered, "Yeah, whatever."

Breathing more normally when he left, Catherine said, "Be careful!"

"Be quiet," Sara replied, looking back down at her. "Just…stay, Cat, okay? Please?"

There was more to that simple plea than the words and the sudden lump in Catherine's throat had nothing to do with her wound. Weakly squeezing Sara's hand, she nodded.

Warrick easily topped most of the people milling around outside the bank for height and used it to their advantage. He found Jim with a minimum of fuss and directed his friends towards the cop, avoiding the camera crews with long practice. Jim was, as usual, in the middle of everything, despite this not being his department. There was just something about the bulldog of a man that got him anywhere he wanted to go.

And if he didn't get in with the grin or flashing eyes, a booted foot accomplished a lot, too.

Jim spotted and waved to them, but his attention was still on another man in an FBI windbreaker, who was saying something that looked pretty urgent. Jim shook his head and snapped something to the Agent, who snapped right back at him. They reached some kind of agreement and Jim strode over to them, stopping with, "Catherine's been shot."

Gil paled at the blunt announcement and demanded, "Is she okay? How bad?"

"Clean wound through the shoulder, but a lot of blood loss," Jim reported. "We're trying to arrange for her transport out, as well as an elderly woman who seems to be having a heart or panic attack. There's also a couple of pregnant women in there who aren't doing so great. What a way to go into labor."

"What's going on?" Nick asked quietly.

Jim grimaced. "FBI's doing the best they can, but we all know the demands are never going to be met. It's not for money. This is political."

Nick glanced at the bank as he questioned, "Political how?"

"Some liberation group claiming we have their people buried deep in some unnamed prison," Jim answered.

"Do we?" Gil countered.

Sighing, Jim rubbed a hand over his face and answered, "I don't know. SAC Connelly seems to think not, but I doubt he'd have the connections to know for sure anyhow."

"So how do we get them out of there? Are these guys ready for a suicide mission, or what?" Warrick asked.

"We're working on it and I don't know."

"Anything we can do to help?" Gil offered.

Snorting, Jim suggested, "Tell them one of your stories and lull them into a coma?"

Gil half-grinned at the teasing, but the expression died aborning. "If I thought it'd help…"

Gripping the taller man's shoulder briefly, Jim agreed, "I know. Just hang in there and I'll keep you guys informed."

Before any of them could say anything else, the small powerhouse was gone, heading for what looked like the command post. Warrick looked over at the bank, a big, commercial building with lots of currently shuttered windows for a front wall. His gaze slid over to Gil, who was also studying the bank, and asked, "What do you think?"

With a sigh, Gil answered, "I think it's going to be a long damn afternoon."

Sara was ready to fly apart, her gaze going between their captors and Catherine. The bleeding had stopped about an hour ago, thank God, but Sara's pants, the makeshift bandage, and the floor were coated with the viscous, red-black liquid. Catherine had finally succumbed to unconsciousness about twenty minutes earlier, despite being allowed water and the attempt to rouse her with smelling salts from the first aid kit. It wasn't shock, Sara was pretty sure, but it wasn't a good sign, either.

The men who were holding them captive had taken up positions in an obviously prearranged pattern. The only one moving around was the leader as he looked over the captives and went back and forth to the phone for negotiations. This had been a well-executed maneuver, from start to finish.

Moving as unobtrusively as possible, Sara reached into Catherine's purse and pulled out her phone. It was brand new because Lindsey had accidentally stepped on the old one. It had all the latest bells and whistles…including a picture taking ability that was about to come in really fucking handy.

Over the next half hour, Sara took surreptitious photos of the men in masks, their positions and where Catherine, herself and the rest of the hostages were. She kept her movements small and barely noticeable to herself, never mind anyone else. Once that was done, she leaned over Catherine as though hugging her to hide typing in a text message: Check your email! Leader moves around. The rest are stationary! - Sara

Sara quickly scanned the address book and sent the message to Gil knowing that he'd answer, and then hid the phone in her pocket. Her fingers brushed tenderly across Catherine's pale, clammy face then combed through the fine, strawberry-blond hair. They had to get out of here. Both of them. Anything else didn't bear thinking about.

Wiping the sweat from his face, Gil accepted the bottled water that Nick held out and chugged half in one gulp. Even at seven o'clock at night, the sun was still up high and demanding its due. His phone beeped, indicating a text message, and he set the bottle on the curb, exchanging it for the phone. Eyes widening in shock as he read Sara's message, Gil lurched to his feet and ran towards the command post, Nick and Warrick directly behind him, though they didn't bother asking why.

They were stopped by the FBI agents acting as guards and Gil exclaimed, "I need to speak to Jim Brass, right now! It's vital!"

"Sorry, sir, but no one can go in except authorized personnel," the man replied.

"I am authorized, damn it!"

The FBI agent just stared at him, unimpressed.

Jim! Jim get out here!" Gil shouted, not wasting time by arguing. "Jim!"

Nick and Warrick took up the commotion and in less than a minute, the cop was barreling over to them. "What the hell is going on here?"

Gil held out the phone, which Jim took and read. He glared at the agents then ordered, "C'mon. I'll get you connected."

A few minutes later, Gil was signing into his email account and bringing the pictures up. They were small, but clear, and Jim and SAC Connelly easily extracted the locations of all the players. Less than ten minutes later, the strike team was assembled and briefed. Ten minutes after that, they and EMTs were standing by, waiting for a go.

At seven thirty-three, snipers shot into the indicated positions and a ten-man team burst into the bank seconds after that. Only one hostage was caught in the crossfire when the leader fired back, despite overwhelming odds. The EMTs went in after the all-clear was given.

Gil, Warrick and Nick hovered anxiously on the sidelines, waiting for signs of Sara and Catherine. Jim showed up with a smile and said, "The EMTs radioed in that Catherine's going to be fine. They're going straight to St. Elizabeth's on Morrow Ave and you can meet them there. Sara's riding in the ambulance."

Relieved, Gil sighed deeply, feeling the tension release a little. "Thanks, Jim."

"Hey, Sara's the hero here," Jim reminded. "We were just the clean-up crew. Now go on. I'm going to be here for hours more, probably."

Gil nodded and motioned to Nick and Warrick, who fell into step with him.

There was a definite fog to get through and Catherine wasn't sure which way was up. This was, she remembered, very like after Lindsey's birth so she had to assume that she'd been under anesthetic for some reason, though she couldn't quite remember why. A soft, familiar murmur drew her attention, pushing steadily against the gray fog surrounding her. The next thing that she noticed was her hand, because it was being held. As she grew more aware, Catherine was finally able to make out that it was Sara's voice and the words.

"…and Lindsey really wanted to wait up for you, but she was completely tuckered out and fell asleep, so Nick and Warrick brought her home. Good thing your place is always neat or they might've caught sight of your dirty laundry, huh?"

Right. Bank. Hostages. Shot in the chest. Now she remembered.

"Sara? Are you all right?" That's what she wanted to ask. What actually came out was, "…ra? 'ight?" amidst a hideous muck of a clogged throat.

"Catherine?" Sara exclaimed. "C'mon, honey, let me see those baby blues."

Well. That would explain why everything was black anyhow. It took a few tries, but finally, Catherine managed to open her eyes. Everything was blurry, even after blinking a few times.

"Hang on, close 'em again, I'll get rid of that crap in your eyes."

Catherine did as ordered and a cool, damp cloth brushed gently across her eyes. Then a dry cloth did the same and finally, she could open her eyes and see. Sara was bending over her, a smile blossoming even as she watched.

"Hey there. About time you woke up, sleeping beauty," Sara teased lightly.

Smiling in return, Catherine cleared her throat and asked, "You okay?"

Sara nodded, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I'm fine. Everyone else made it out, too. Only two other injuries, not counting the bad guys, who are all dead as doornails."

Relieved, Catherine breathed, "Good."

They were both silent as Sara took hold of Catherine's hand and held it, fingers playing lightly together.

After a few minutes, Sara gazed seriously at her and said, "This was too close, Catherine. Too close for me not to realize just how precious the time we have together is. I know we've been dancing around it for a while now, and I've definitely enjoyed it, but…I think I love you, and I know I want you. I also want you and Linds in my life way more than you are now, like, like a family. And I know that it's a crappy time for me to lay this on you, I do know that, but I don't want to chicken out again."

"You? Chicken out? Not likely," Catherine teased gently. The pleading look on Sara's face sobered her and she continued, "You're right. We have been skirting the issue, and for too long. It's just that, I've never done this before. Been in a successful relationship, I mean, let alone one with a woman. I guess that intimidates me."

"Too much?"

The tiny, uncertain voice was so unlike Sara that Catherine squeezed her hand and said, "Hey, it's going to be okay, Sara, I promise. As long as you keep in mind that I don't know what I'm doing...oh hell. What I'm trying to say is that I care for you a lot, Sara, more than friends. And yes, I would love to make a go of this."

Sara smiled brilliantly, eyes shining as she brought Catherine's hand to her lips.

"Hey, how about we try a real kiss?" Catherine suggested.

After only a brief hesitation, Sara leaned forward and touched her lips to Catherine's. It was soft and gentle and Catherine suddenly wanted more. Her mouth opened, passively asking for more, and Sara obliged, slipping her tongue in and pressing her lips more firmly against Catherine's. A shiver that had nothing to do with the chill hospital room ran through Catherine and her heart began racing faster.

A loud throat clearing startled them both and Sara immediately pulled away, but Catherine didn't release her hand.

Looking towards the door, Catherine groaned to herself at finding Gil in the doorway, a definite smirk on his face as he observed, "Well. I guess you're feeling all right."

A rueful chuckle escaped and Catherine nodded. "Yes, thanks."

He came further into the room, stopping beside the bed, and announced, "You have a guardian angel, you know."

"I do?"

"Oh yes," he confirmed, glancing at Sara. "Aside from the bullet just missing your breast bone and spine, Sara used your phone to take pictures of the gunmen and email them to me. I got them to Jim and the rest, as they say, is history."

Catherine blinked in surprise, then looked at Sara with pride and love. "That doesn't surprise me."

Flushing, Sara muttered, "Can we change the subject, please?"

"Yes. The new subject is that you're both on paid leave until Catherine's well enough to return to work," Gil replied.

"Both of us?" Sara asked, startled.

Gil nodded. "She's going to need help at home, after all, and I'm sure you'll ah, want to be there."

Grinning faintly at the mild color entering Gil's face, Catherine observed, "You're a softy."

He gripped her shoulder and said, "You gave us a scare, Cat. Don't do that again."

Moved by the warmth and caring in his eyes, Catherine nodded. "I won't, believe me."

Smiling suddenly, Gil replied, "I'm sure you won't. Get some rest. I'll call Nick and let him know that you're okay and he'll pass the news on to Lindsey when she wakes up. Expect a hyper daughter first thing in the morning."

Catherine nodded and agreed, "Very hyper. Thanks, Gil."

He winked and, touching Sara's shoulder lightly in passing, left the room.

Yawning, Catherine felt the tug of sleep and anesthetic pull insistently on her. Looking at Sara she asked, "Are you going to be here when I wake up?"

Again bringing Catherine's hand to her lips and kissing the palm, Sara nodded. "I'm not going anywhere."

Inordinately pleased by both the statement and the firmness of it, Catherine settled deeper into the pillows, ignoring the twinge in her chest. She would heal and then, maybe, hopefully, she could finally find out what it was like to really be loved.

The End

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