DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters or CSI. I am just letting them out of the box for a while.
SPOILERS: It takes place post-Nesting Dolls and contains spoilers for many other episodes. This story is, at times, quite dark and deals with Sara's childhood abuse.
WARNING: This story deals with the subject of child abuse and its aftermath.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
No Matter How Far You Go
Sara wasn't sure how she made it through her shift. It had been a long night. Thoughts of the meeting she would have with her brother had distracted her to such a degree that she kept finding computational errors or input errors in her test results, so she had spent several hours rechecking everything two and three times. She was grateful for a slow Monday, with no new cases on her plate. She wasn't sure she could have concentrated enough to have gone into the field and collect evidence properly.
She would soon face every fear she had ever harbored, in the form of her brother. He was everything she feared she could become. Violent. Criminal. Soulless. As much as she wanted to believe he was going to make good on his promise and confess, somehow she knew, deep down, that there would be much more to the conversation. Her apprehension was offset by her elation at the parting words between she and Catherine. Sara felt she was on the verge of her most promising relationship since she and Jo had been lovers. The dichotomy of what she was feeling was unfamiliar and frightening.
Opening the new front door of her apartment, she absently noticed how much heavier it was than the old one.
Sara looked up to find Jo on the couch, looking at her. "Hey." Sara dropped her keys and cell phone on the desk and collapsed onto the couch next to her friend. "Nice door."
"Well, the new one the landlord put in was just like the old one, which we now know is relatively easy to break down," Jo said with a smile, rubbing her shoulder.
"So I went and got you a stronger one. Did you know the Home Depot here is open twenty four hours?"
"Everything here is open twenty four hours," Sara said with a chuckle.
"I'm also going to spec out a security system for you."
"No, Jo. You may like living in a compound as strong as Fort Knox, but it's not for me," Sara said, wearily rubbing her eyes.
They sat in silence for a few moments before Jo said, "You talked to Catherine."
"Yeah," Sara said with a smile.
Jo raised her eyebrows. "Well, you're taking it well. I can't say I was expecting you to be smiling."
"Huh?" Sara looked at her friend with a furrowed brow until she realized what Jo meant. "Oh! Well...That's not...um...all we talked about," Sara finished, ducking her head as a flush came to her cheeks.
A slow smile spread across her face as Jo watched her friend. "Oh, yeah?"
"Yeah," Sara said as her blush deepened.
Jo put an arm around Sara and drew the brunette to her body. "I'm happy for you, Sara. I'm not sure she deserves you, but, if she makes you happy, I'm all for it. Of course, if she hurts you, I'm going to have to kill her."
"I hope it won't come to that, but thanks." Sara sank into the embrace of her oldest friend. She let herself drink in the feeling of security Jo always provided for a few minutes before saying, "I'm going to see him tonight."
"I thought you would. You're sure?"
"As sure as I can be." Sara looked at her friend, taking in her tired eyes and somewhat haunted look. "What happened in there today?"
Jo sighed and looked away. "I came perilously close to being thrown into a cell right next to him."
"What are you talking about?"
"I let him get to me," Jo said, shaking her head. "He said some things, Sara."
"No. About us."
"Us? What are you talking about? How could he --?"
"He knows we were together. He knows where we lived. He even knows we had a view of the Charles."
"How could he possibly know all that?"
"Sweetie, I think he has been following you off and on over the years."
"That doesn't make sense. Why would he do that?"
"I don't know, but it's the only explanation. Probably not all the time, but he was definitely there in Boston. He probably watched you for a while when you were in San Francisco. He has definitely watched you in Vegas. He's been in town a while, he wouldn't have been able to resist."
"Great," Sara said as she let her head fall back onto the couch. "I can't even believe this is happening. I never wanted to feel this way again."
"Feel what way? Talk to me."
"He always had to dominate, you know. He always had the power. He always seemed to know things I didn't. He was always--," Sara closed her eyes, "--bigger and stronger." Sara suppressed a shudder as unpleasant memories flew through her mind.
Jo held her friend close and placed a soft kiss in her hair.
"Did he tell you why?"
Jo had been waiting for the question, had been thinking about how to answer for hours, but, still, didn't know what to say to her friend. "Believe me, Sara, someone like him doesn't really need a reason," she answered evasively.
Sara pulled away from Jo and looked her in the eye. "But he did say something." She cocked her head and studied the redhead for moment.
Jo was momentarily thrown by the action. Eric Sidle had done the exact same thing in the interrogation room before asking her about Boston. The similarities Jo could see between Sara and her brother were disturbing. Over the years, Jo had learned that the difference between dangerous criminals and law-abiding citizens was not as black and white as most people think. Sometimes a single large incident or series of small incidents was all that was needed to turn an otherwise normal person into a criminal. What if Sara had been the first-born in the Sidle household and Eric the younger one? Would she be sitting here with Eric while Sara sat in a cell? Or what if even a single adult in Sara's life, a teacher or bus driver, had taken notice of the bruises on Sara's young body and made a report? How might that have changed her friend's life?
"In his mind," Jo said slowly, "he was punishing you."
"What?" Sara whispered.
"Sara, when he left your parents house, he expected you would be there alone for another nine years. Like he was before you were born."
"But I wasn't," Sara said dully, as she realized what Jo was saying.
"No, you weren't."
"And so he -- oh, my God." Sara shot up from the couch and crossed to the window. She felt a heavy weight settle in her chest and her breathing became heavy. "Oh my God."
"Sara?" Jo rushed to her friend's side as Sara bent over, putting her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath. "Sara, honey, you need to calm down."
Sara struggled to speak as she started to get light-headed. "I can't -- I can't breathe."
"You're hyperventilating, Sara. You need to slow down." Jo caught Sara as her legs gave out and they both slid to the floor. "Easy, easy. Relax. Just breathe, Sara. Slow, baby. In and out." Jo continued to speak soothingly as Sara began to settle down. "That's it. There you go. Nice and easy."
When Sara had regained control of her breathing, she sat numbly as Jo held her. "This is my fault. This is all my fault."
"Sara, stop. This is not your fault. The only person responsible for this is Eric. He did those things, not you."
"But if he --"
"He chose the first thing in his mind in order to justify what he did. This is not about you. Not really. He would have found some other equally random reason to do it if he hadn't chosen you. This is not your fault."
"How can you say that?"
"Because it's true. You have done nothing wrong. You pulled yourself out of hell, Sara. You did it all by yourself. He could have done the same thing. But he didn't. The choices he made are his own. His motivation is his own sick creation. All of this is his responsibility. Only his."
"I don't know if I can do this," Sara said as all the fight left her body.
"You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. But remember one thing, Sara. You've got a lot of people in your corner."
"I know," Jo said as she pulled Sara into her.
"You'll be there?"
Catherine entered the break room intent on getting a cup of coffee. She didn't really need the caffeine. She was just looking for anything to keep her occupied. Eric Sidle would be in the building in a few minutes and, a few minutes after that, Sara would be alone in a small room with him. When she grabbed the handle of the coffee pot she noticed it was still filling. "Damn it!"
"I know. I'm waiting too."
Catherine turned toward the voice and saw Jo sitting on the couch, an empty mug in her hand.
"Hey. Where's Sara?"
"In the A/V lab."
"The A/V lab? What's she doing?"
Jo shook her head and sighed. "Torturing herself."
It had been a long day for both Jo and Sara. After finally being convinced to try and get some sleep, Sara was plagued by the worst nightmares Jo had ever seen her have. Sara would awaken in a cold sweat, screaming, unable to completely pull herself out of her torturous dreamscape. All Jo could do was hold her and try to bring her friend some level of comfort and safety, inadequate as it was.
"What do you mean?" an alarmed Catherine asked.
"She wanted to see them."
Catherine's brow furrowed in confusion until she realized what Jo meant. "The pictures?"
"She asked me if he said why he was doing it."
"And you told her?" Catherine asked incredulously.
"I didn't want him to blindside her with it. She needed to know everything before walking in there," Jo replied, hotly.
"Jesus Christ, Jo."
"What? You wanted him to tell her?"
"Of course not! I just.."
"Well, this doesn't sound like good interagency cooperation to me."
Both Catherine and Jo turned to look at the newcomer.
Jo smoothly stood and walked over to the coffee maker, which had now, mercifully, finished brewing. "Just a friendly disagreement, Mr. Ecklie, but thank you for your interest."
"If Ms. Willows is being uncooperative, I can have the case reassigned," Ecklie said looking at Catherine.
As Catherine opened her mouth to make an undoubtedly acerbic and insubordinate response, Jo said, "That won't be necessary. Catherine and her team's work have been exemplary and invaluable. LVPD can expect a formal letter of thanks and recognition from the Bureau."
"I'd appreciate an update on the case," Ecklie said with a smarmy smile.
"Things are progressing well. In fact, we are going to begin another interview in a few minutes, so if you'll excuse us..."
"I'd like to sit in."
Jo looked at Ecklie a moment before answering. "I'm afraid that won't be possible. Bureau policy is very clear in regards to irrelevant personnel being present during questioning," she said with a smile.
"I run this lab, Agent Foster. I'd hardly call that irrelevant," Ecklie responded.
"And I am running this investigation, Mr. Ecklie. So while I appreciate your concern and admire your enthusiasm, I think we can find a way to muddle through without you being there."
Ecklie looked at Jo with a sneer and turned and left the room.
Catherine couldn't help the short laugh that escaped her. "You know, that Southern drawl makes 'Fuck off' sound almost polite."
"It's a gift." Jo drained the last of her coffee and said, "I'm going to check on Brass. He should be here by now. Why don't you see about getting Sara?"
Sara sat in the A/V lab with the door closed. On the large screen in front of her were the pictures of fourteen little girls. Each was smiling into the camera, the pictures having been taken at a time when the children were happy and carefree. A time before Eric Sidle chose them to enact his misplaced revenge. Looking at the pictures of the girls who had been her brother's victims, Sara was struck by their resemblance to the few childhood photographs she still had of herself. Another flash of guilt shot through her. While, intellectually, she knew what Jo had said earlier was true -- that she had no control over what had happened -- her instinctive sense of responsibility was almost overwhelming.
Sara was so focused on the innocent faces on the screen, she didn't hear the door open behind her. When arms snaked around her neck in a loose embrace, Sara was startled, and moved to disengage from the hold, until she recognized Catherine's scent. She immediately relaxed back in her chair.
"What are you doing in here, Sara?"
Sara's eyes never left the screen as she answered with a dark laugh. "Watching my life pass in front of my eyes."
Catherine was quiet as she, too, looked at the photos of Eric Sidle's victims. Now that she knew why the girls were chosen, it was easy to see Sara in each of the pictures. She, again, found herself wondering what Sara looked like as a child. Sadly, she realized, Sara had probably rarely smiled like the girls in these photos. She would have been too haunted, too abused to have the child-like gleam these girls exhibited.
"They're not you, Sara."
"They are now. They'll never be the same again. They won't ever be that happy, that innocent."
Catherine was disturbed by the distant tone of Sara's voice. "They can be happy, Sara. It might take a little longer, a little more care, but they can be happy. They deserve it." 'You deserve it', she added silently.
Sara stood without acknowledging what Catherine had said. "Is it time?"
Catherine regarded Sara carefully as she said, "Brass is bringing him in soon."
"Then we should go."
"Sara, wait." Catherine caught Sara's hand as she started to walk out of the room. "I need to know how you are doing with all this." Catherine held Sara's perpetually cold hand between her own.
"I think you are pretty far away from being fine."
Catherine looked at Sara as she remained silent, looking at the floor. "Sphinx," the blonde said with a small smile as she traced the veins in Sara's hands.
"A few days ago, I was talking to Grissom," Catherine said as she looked up. "He said if I wanted to know anything about you, about your past, that I should ask you. I told him you were like the Sphinx."
Catherine watched as Sara seemed to focus on something inside herself. A darkness descended on Sara's face as she pulled her hand out of Catherine's and crossed to the opposite side of the room. "Yeah, I see that."
Catherine was confused when she saw Sara's body instinctively close in on itself, as though she needed protection from something. "You see what?"
"I see why you think that." Sara's raised unfathomably sad eyes to look at Catherine. "About the sphinx."
"Wait a minute. What just happened?" Catherine said as she crossed to Sara. She tried to take Sara's hand again, but Sara pulled away. "What do you think I meant?"
Sara carefully avoided Catherine's eyes as she answered, "The Sphinx. I mean, that's the Greek symbol for death, destruction and bad luck, right? So, you know, I can see....why you would think that, is all."
Catherine's eyes widened as she heard the answer. "Sara...."
"No. That's cool. I get it. I do. It doesn't matter," Sara mumbled as she made her way to the door.
Sara froze where she stood, unable to disobey the command.
"Look at me."
When Sara didn't respond, Catherine repeated the request more forcefully, "Look at me, Sara." As Sara's fearful eyes met her own, Catherine walked up to the younger woman and took her face in her hands. "I compared you to the Sphinx because you are beautiful and mysterious. You stand there, silently waiting for someone to dare to look beneath the surface and discover all the fascinating things about you that make you unique. You have an outer strength that has protected your heart from the unthinkable, unspeakable things you went through. You survived. You are powerful and brave." Catherine paused. "And I love you."
"I love you, Sara." Catherine head Sara's head firmly in place as it began to shake back and forth. "Yes! I do. And none of this," Catherine said, gesturing to the pictures on the screen, "or anything that is going to happen in that room with your brother, is going to change that."
Sara looked at Catherine through her tears and asked, "Why?"
Catherine pulled Sara's face to her own and kissed her, hoping to communicate all the love she felt. When the kiss ended Catherine leaned her forehead against Sara's and said, "I just do. You're going to have to get used to it."
Any reply Sara would have made was interrupted by a soft knock on the door. They both turned to see Jo standing in the doorway. "It's time."
Sara watched from the observation room as her brother was led into the interview room and handcuffed to the chair and table. Her thoughts were reeling. Memories of her childhood, both before Eric left the house and after, swirled in her head as she tried to prepare herself for the confrontation she was about to have. She was having trouble focusing on anything but the churning of her stomach. She looked at her hands, willing them to stop shaking, when a warm hand grabbed one of her own, lending a comfort and warmth that she couldn't give herself. At almost the same time, an arm wrapped itself around her waist, steadying her for what was to come.
"You can still change your mind."
Sara turned to look at Catherine, "No, I can't."
"You're going to be fine, Sara. You can do this."
Sara closed her eyes as Jo's voice drifted into her ear. Surrounded by the only two women she had ever loved, Sara could feel the truth in what Jo had said. She soaked in the strength of these two amazing creatures. The two people who would be there, comforting her and supporting her, long after the last of her 'family' fell way. After so many years of blindly searching for something she could scarcely define, she knew, at this moment, her longing was over. In this room she had everything she would ever need.
Taking a deep breath, Sara opened her eyes, once again seeing the back of her brother's head through the window. He was alone now. The officers had left and were waiting outside the door. Sara let her mind drift for a moment, before chuckling darkly and saying, "I'm in your shoes."
Catherine looked at Sara quizzically and said, "What?"
"During the Waters case, you said when I was in your shoes, I'd do the same thing. I guess you were right," Sara said with a small smile.
"Of course I was." Catherine squeezed Sara's hand and returned her smile. "You ready?"
"We'll be right here, Squared, alright?"
Sara nodded. "That would be good." When she reached the door of the observation room, Sara stopped and turned around. She walked back to Catherine, leaned in and kissed her. Bringing her lips to Catherine's ear, she whispered, "I love you, too."
Catherine could only smile as Sara turned and left the room.
Eric Sidle looked up as the door opened. A cold smile erupted on his face when he saw Sara enter the room. She sat down, facing her brother. Looking at the mirror behind him, she could feel the presence of the two women who would watch and listen to what would be said in this room. She took a deep breath and looked into her sibling's eyes.
"What? No smile for your big brother, Sara? We both know it's the second best thing you can do with your mouth."
Sara's eyes flickered briefly back to the mirror, before she said, "Is that what we're talking about?"
"What? Don't want to reminisce about the good times?"
"That's not what they were."
"They were for me."
"What do you want, Eric?"
"Just a little chat with my long lost sister."
"Twenty-five years is a long time. What have you been up to?"
Sara looked at him and remained silent.
"Not much for small talk, huh? Come to think of it, you were always as quiet as a mouse." Sidle paused for effect, before leaning in with a leer and saying, "Well, not always."
"What do you want?"
"This is about what you want, isn't it? A detailed account of my many and varied crimes."
"Varied? Seems like you're pretty much a creature of habit."
"Well, you have to stick with what you know."
"How many girls?"
"That's hard to say. They all run together after a while."
"I guess twenty-five years of preying on innocent children is hard on the memory."
"Twenty years. Not twenty-five. I didn't start until I came back to San Francisco."
"Where did you go?"
"A lot of places. Mexico. Texas. Florida."
"You were free. You made it out of there. Why would you come back?"
"I wanted to see how you were getting along without me. But when I got back you were gone. Everybody was gone. Even the house was gone. They were building something else there. You were supposed to still be there, Sara."
"So, what did you do?"
"Started asking questions. Found out what happened. Started looking for you. I couldn't find you."
"Why look for me?"
"Because I wanted to know."
"Come on, Sara. You were there. You have to tell me how it happened. Don't leave out anything."
"Tell me what happened that night."
"Yes. It was something we talked about. Dreamed about. We even made a few plans about how to do it ourselves, as I recall. And you had a front row seat. You saw it all."
"I'm not going to talk about that."
"You owe me that much."
"I owe you shit!"
Catherine watched the scene with a growing knot of discomfort in her stomach. When she heard a sigh come from the woman standing next to her, she turned to Jo and asked, "What are they talking about?"
Jo studied Catherine for a few seconds before shaking her head and returning her attention to the window.
Catherine wasn't sure if that meant Jo didn't know, or wasn't going to tell her. Either way, she knew she wasn't getting an answer.
"You owe me nine years. You were supposed to still be there, Sara," Sidle repeated. "Where were you?"
"I was in the system. I got bounced around a lot. A few months here, a few months there. Nobody could really handle me for long. I was too fucked up."
Sidle nodded. "Were things better for you?"
Sara shrugged. "I guess. They all tried, but I couldn't stand to have anyone touch me, even in passing. I would freak out. Between that and the nightmares, I was too much trouble."
"I had been looking for you for about six months, when I saw you. You were playing alone on one of those merry-go-round things. You looked so happy. I was pissed. You didn't have any right to be happy. So I waited. And watched. And as soon as the woman who was watching you got distracted, I took you and got you in the car. You were so scared you couldn't move." Sidle closed his eyes and smiled at the memory. "You felt just like I remembered. Only better. You were still soft in all the right places, but you had started to fill out, you know, so you had more to give. When I was about to cum, I leaned down to whisper in your ear, when I realized, you didn't smell right. You always smelled so good, Sara -- like that fruity soap Laura always made you use. This girl smelled like sweat and fear. That's when I knew it wasn't you at all.
"So I figured I should kill her. I tried, but I couldn't do it. I had my hands around her little neck and I started to squeeze. But, when I looked at her, I could still see you and I couldn't do it. So I took her to the house, or where the house used to be, anyway, and I left her there. I figured the hard hats would find her when they came to work."
Sara struggled to make her voice work. "She was the first."
"Yeah. I left town after that. But no matter how far I went, you were always there. On some playground, looking so fucking happy. I always thought, 'This time, I will wipe that smile off her face and get some justice.' But you never smelled right." He laughed and said, "You know, I even went to all those girly places -- Victoria's Secret, Crabtree and Evelyn -- trying to find that damn soap, so I could make you smell right. But I never knew what it was called. I never found it. Those sales ladies thought I was sweet, though. Trying so hard to get my girl just the right thing. They all said how lucky you were, to have me."
"How many girls, Eric?"
"I don't know. Forty? Including the ones you already know about. You should have stayed where I could find you, Sara."
"You did find me. You were there in Boston, right?"
Sidle nodded. "You looked so different, though. You looked hard, all skin and bones, not soft like I remembered. But I still watched you. You and that dyke. I even followed you when she took you home to meet Mommy and Daddy. I was going to grab you then, but she never left you alone. I guess she wanted to make sure you weren't giving it up to anybody else. I got tired of waiting, so I left. I knew I could find you in the next town, anyway."
"Laura and Matt would be proud."
"I don't give a fuck what they would think."
"You're so full of shit. All you ever talked about was getting the fuck out of there and making something out of your life. Remember? You were going to be a cop or a firefighter. Now what are you doing? Traveling the country, leaving victims in your wake. Hurting children."
"Someone has to keep the family traditions alive."
"Like being dead? Or in prison?"
"Miss High and Mighty Crime Fighter. Helping the poor and innocent. Does doing all that make you feel better about what you are? Hiding behind your test tubes, hoping nobody takes a good look at you and sees you're really nothing. You self-righteous bitch. You sit there thinking you're so much better than me. Better than them. But, then again, you always did, didn't you? You always thought you were better than all of us, but you never were. Of course, back then you were hiding behind your fucking books. As if they were going to help you."
"Yeah, they helped you get your ass kicked. Every time they turned around you were reading some shit, when you knew what they would do. You could have stopped it. You didn't want to."
"They were never going to stop, Eric. Why would I give it up? I could have burned every piece of paper I ever owned. It wouldn't made a damn bit of difference. They would have made it about something else, just like they did with you. They didn't want you playing music, so you gave it up. But they always found something else."
"At least I always took what I had coming. But you were always looking for ways to save your own skin. What did you do after I left? When you didn't have anybody to send them to? I was looking forward to you feeling just like I did, for as long as I did. But you even got out of that."
"I took plenty. Especially after you were gone. The difference is, I didn't turn into them."
"I didn't have a choice. Neither do you. From the minute we were born, we didn't have a choice. Their blood runs through both of us. You just haven't accepted it yet."
In the observation room, both women were completely focused on the scene being played out behind the glass.
Catherine could feel her stomach churn as she listened to this man try to destroy Sara. His leering references to past sexual acts made Catherine want to march into the room and take Eric Sidle by the throat and squeeze the life out of him with her bare hands, like he tried to do to that child.
Jo watched as Eric Sidle played on every insecurity Sara had. As strong as Sara pretended to be, she was a fragile soul. Jo was worried about where the conversation was headed and hoped her friend could survive it..
Unknown to the other, both women were thinking the same thing.
'Don't listen to him, Sara.'
"I look just like him."
"And you look just like her."
Sara didn't answer. She looked at her reflection in the mirror over his shoulder. Eric Sidle turned in his chair, as much as his shackles would allow, to share the mirror with his sister.
"We're just like them."
"No," Sara said, shaking her head and pulling her eyes away from the mirror.
"Yes. You feel it sometimes. I know you do. I can see it in your eyes. It's always there. That pool of anger in the pit of your stomach. You try as hard as you can to keep it down there, where it belongs, but it keeps growing and spreading, until it can't go anywhere but out. So you let it go, because if you don't, it will drown you, and God help whoever's around, because they might not survive it. It's this monster that never goes away. It just sits there, getting stronger, waiting to get out again."
As Sara listened, she thought about the times in her life when she had lost control. It didn't usually become physical, but her verbal tirades were legendary. She thought about all those fights with Catherine when it was all she could do to control herself.
"We're not normal, Sara. We don't belong around people. It's not safe. We'll always end up hurting them, one way or another."
"Like you hurt those girls."
"Yes. Because when you let it go --let the beast free -- it is such a rush. Like it's the way things are meant to be. Everything feels right. When I had those girls in the car and I looked at them, I didn't see my reflection in their eyes. I saw his. I saw the man that made me what I am. They made us both, Sara. You know that. Every time you look in the mirror, you know it. And so do I."
"No. I don't accept that. I am what I made of me."
"You can lie to yourself all you want, Sara, but not to me. I am the only one who can understand. I was there. I know everything that happened. Even the things you haven't told anyone. Not even that hot redhead. She probably thinks you've told her everything, but we both know you haven't. The most humiliating things, you've kept to yourself. Just like I have."
Sara shot a guilty look at the mirror, acknowledging the truth in her brother's words.
"I am the only person who can understand, because, deep down, you are just like me. We only have each other now."
"I am not like you. When I got out of there, I decided to do something with my life. I have people who care about me."
"You think going to Harvard and fucking that dyke makes you different than me. You think because they let you into that big house down south means you were more than her whore? I don't see you sipping mint juleps on the porch swing now, so she obviously got tired of your well-used ass and sent you back where you belong. Nobody like her is ever going to stay with someone like us, Sara."
"It wasn't like that."
"Sure it was. It's always going to be like that. How long, do you think, before this one does the same thing? Especially now that she knows, I mean, really knows, that you not so young and innocent after all. What's her name? Catherine?"
"Don't say a word about her."
Sidle just laughed. "She was all Mama Bear in here yesterday. It was almost sweet. 'I 'm going to make sure you don't get near her ever again' or some shit. And yet, here we are. She can't protect you from yourself. And she won't be able to protect herself against you."
"But, you know, I have to say, and, I'm speaking as a protective older brother now, I think she's a little old for you. Then again, you always did have a thing for older women. You didn't seem to mind as much when Laura would invite a few girlfriends over, so she could watch."
Sara pushed away from the table and walked to the corner of the room. "Shut the FUCK up!"
"Do you really think she's going to be able to touch you now, without thinking about me, that redhead and all the others who got there before she did? What do you think she's thinking now? Behind that mirror? If she's even still in there? She's probably planning her escape route. To get as far away from your fucked up shit as possible."
"We're done here," Sara said, needing nothing more than anything to get out of the room.
"What's the matter, Sara? Truth hurt?"
"You don't know anything about me," Sara said as she made her way to the door.
"She's cute, you know."
Sara stopped in front of the window and closed her eyes. Although she couldn't bear to hear another word about Catherine, she couldn't stop herself from asking, "Who?"
"Your little friend. Lindsey. That is her name, right? She's cute. She seems to really like that planetarium. I like it, too, actually. I mean, it's so dark in there, anything can happen. Of course, she's not to my taste, but I know a few guys who would just love her."
Sara opened her eyes and looked into the two-way mirror, knowing Catherine would be behind it, seething.
"You were there," Sara said without turning around.
"You're good with her. Movies. That coffee shop. She seems sweet. It would be a shame if anything happened to her."
Sara felt something inside her shift. Imagining she could see the faces of the two women she knew were there, she raised her hand and pressed it to the glass as she sent them both a smile of silent apology. She then took a deep breath and dropped her hand onto the back of the nearest empty chair. Deliberately, she dragged the chair to the door and lodged it under the handle. She then, slowly, turned to face her brother.
Catherine had been ready to stop the interview herself. She needed to get to Sara and reassure her, in any way she could, that her brother was wrong -- that Sara's past didn't change anything between them. To Catherine's great relief, Sara started to leave the interrogation room. Her relief was short-lived when she heard her daughter's name.
Catherine stopped and listened to the threats coming from Eric Sidle. "That son of a bitch," Catherine said as she headed for the door.
"Fuck that, Jo. That piece of shit is threatening my daughter."
The movement of Sara's hand drew their attention. At the same moment, both Catherine and Jo were captured by Sara's gaze as she looked at them through the glass. The expression on Sara's face was as indefinable as it was disturbing. A small smile graced her face before she turned away. They watched as Sara pulled a chair over and blocked the only entrance to the room.
As Sara turned to face her brother, Jo whispered, "Sara, what are you doing?"
Sara calmly, and almost devoid of emotion, began to speak. "It was a Monday." Sara laughed to herself before continuing, "I remember because I was trying so hard to be good. See, I was hoping that, if I was very good, they would let me stay up and watch Magnum, P.I. I loved that show." Sara laughed again and scratched her forehead. "I think it was because everything seemed so beautiful there. In Hawaii. The water, the plants. Plus, you know, the good guys always won.
"We were having dinner. I was strapped into my chair, like they always used to do to us, you know. He was telling her about this woman at work. He wanted to bring her home the next night. Laura told him that I didn't get out of school until four, so she couldn't have me ready for 'guests' until five. But that wasn't what he wanted this time. He wanted Laura and me out of the house, so he could fuck her alone. But, as you know, that's not the way things worked between the two of them. They either took someone on together or they would watch someone take me, and, sometimes, they would join in. But they never, ever brought someone in and were alone with them."
Sara walked up to the table and rested her hip on the corner. "So she was pissed. She said that that would be 'cheating' and if he was going to cheat on her, he wasn't going to do it in her house -- in her bed. He told her that it was HIS house and he could fuck whoever he wanted, wherever he wanted. So she hit him. And he lost it. He grabbed her by the arms, bent her over the kitchen table and took her right there. The whole time he was saying, 'This is my house, bitch. I can do anything I want.' and she just laid there staring at me like I was supposed to do something. What was I supposed to do? When he was finished with her, he told her to clean herself up and then he untied the straps on my chair and dragged me into their bedroom."
Sara closed her eyes at the memory and said, "He had been on top of me for a while, when, all of a sudden, he just stopped." Opening her eyes, Sara continued, "I looked up and his eyes were wide. He looked...I don't know, confused, I guess. Then I saw the tip of a knife coming out of the front of his throat. She must have severed his spinal cord because he never even moved. I tried to get away, but he was so heavy, I couldn't get out from under him. She just kept stabbing him and stabbing him as hard as she could. I don't even know how many times. She was stabbing him so hard that the blade came all the through his body."
Sara stood and lifted her shirt a little to reveal a small, straight, two-inch scar on her stomach. She traced it with her fingertips as she said, "That's how I got this. Then she pushed him off of me -- out of me -- cut off his testicles and put them on the nightstand. There was blood everywhere. On the walls. On the bed. All over her. All over me. She left and I crawled over to the corner of the room. When she came back, she had sponge and a gallon of bleach. She told me to clean up the mess and then she went and took a shower."
Sara slipped her hand into the pocket of her pants, walked over and stood beside him. She turned Eric Sidle's chair away from the table slightly, so she could see the front of his body. Withdrawing an object she always carried with her, Sara leaned down, looking her brother in the eye and extended the blade on her four-inch pocketknife. "It was a lot bigger than this one. She got it from the kitchen." Sara slowly drew the dull edge of the blade across her brother's cheek and down to his throat. "I took the sponge and the bleach and I started to clean up the blood. I didn't have any gloves, so the bleach was burning my hands, but I kept cleaning. I wanted to finish before she got out of the shower, but then I heard someone break the door in and the police were there. A neighbor heard someone screaming and called 911. Later on, I figured out that it was me, that she heard, although I don't remember even making a sound."
Eric Sidle held his sister's eyes as the blade descended down the front of his jumpsuit and came to rest between his legs.
"You're right, Eric. You are just like him."
A pounding on the door drew Sara's attention away from her brother. Looking up, she saw the faces of Catherine and Jo in the window. Jo looked at her with sad eyes and was shaking her head. Catherine's expression was much more panicked. She was trying to get into the room, but the chair successfully kept her out. Sara watched as Catherine pressed both of her hands to the glass and her mouthed formed a silent 'No, Sara.' The caring and love Sara saw in Catherine's eyes was too difficult to look at, so she closed her eyes and, finally, let her tears flow.
The four of them stood in a silent tableau for several long minutes, until Sara opened her eyes and turned back to her brother. With knife still press into his body, she looked into his frightened eyes. They were no longer the eyes from her nightmares, but those of a scared little boy. She remembered seeing that look thirty years ago, before their parents had pitted them against one another, when they were all the other had as they tried to survive the tornado of cruelty and violence that surrounded them both. Finally seeing the brother she had loved and not feared, Sara lessened the pressure on the knife and, through her tears said, "But I am not like her."
Overcome by a wave of sudden exhaustion, both her arms fell to her sides. The knife fell to the floor with a clatter and she slumped to the ground, her back against the wall. Bringing her knees into her chest, she rested her head on them and cried. She cried for herself, for her brother and for all the girls who had been caught up in Eric's twenty yearlong rampage. Hearing another sound in the room, she looked up and saw Eric's tears, as well.
When her breathing returned to normal, she slowly stood up and walked to the door. As soon as she had moved the chair, door opened and she was engulfed in a tangle of arms. The three women stood in a desperate embrace for several minutes, before Sara recovered her voice and said, "I want to go home."
The women broke the embrace and Jo said, "You two go on. I'll finish up here." Receiving nods from the other women, she turned her attention to Eric Sidle.
Catherine brought a hand to Sara's cheek, wiped away the tears that had fallen and said, "Come on, let's get you out of here."
Sara nodded as Catherine put a gentle arm around Sara's waist and guided her to out of the lab.
The ride to Sara's apartment was silent, each woman lost in her own thoughts. When Catherine pulled up to the building, she reached over and took Sara's hand.
"Sara? We're here, hon."
Sara turned her head, looked at Catherine with glassy eyes and distantly said, "OK. Thanks."
Catherine watched Sara's shaking hands fumble with the door handle, before saying, "Relax, Sara. I'll get it." She rushed around to the passenger side of the car and opened the door. She released Sara from her seat belt and helped the younger woman out of the car, disturbed by the chill she felt on Sara's skin. Over the last several days, Catherine had learned that the brunette's body temperature was naturally low, but now Sara felt like ice. Her temperature, combined with Sara's continued trembling, gave Catherine cause for concern about the woman's health. "Sara, we need to get you upstairs. I think you might be going into shock. We need to get you warmed up and into bed," Catherine said gently as she guided Sara into the apartment building.
Using Sara's keys to open the door, Catherine said, teasingly, "Nice door."
Sara looked at Catherine and the door for a moment before her confused fog lifted slightly and she said, "Jo."
Catherine nodded with a smile, glad that Sara had, at least, responded coherently to the comment. She led Sara to the bedroom and sat her down on the bed. She searched through Sara's dresser, looking for some warm, comfortable clothes. Finding some fleecy sweats, she brought them over to Sara. "Here you go." When Sara didn't move to accept the clothes, Catherine placed her hands lightly at the bottom of the shirt Sara was wearing. Watching Sara carefully, she started to pull the shirt up.
Sara weakly covered Catherine's hands and shook her head.
Catherine moved one of her hands to Sara's cheek. "Sweetie, it's OK. We're just going to get you changed, so you can sleep. Let me help you."
When Sara nodded her acceptance, Catherine helped her remove her shirt and pants. While undressing Sara, Catherine noticed, with growing sorrow, not only the small scar on Sara's stomach that remained from her mother's attack on her father, but also almost a dozen scars that looked like burns covering her stomach. Not wanting to dwell on how the marks had gotten there, Catherine closed her eyes, took a deep breath and covered Sara's body with the sleepwear she had chosen.
Some part of Sara's brain was watching Catherine's reaction to her scars. When Catherine closed her eyes, Sara closed her as well, assuming the marks were too ugly for Catherine to look at. When Catherine was untucking the sheets, so Sara could get in bed, she heard Sara's sad voice.
"You don't have to do this. Stay, I mean. I'm fine. I'll be fine."
Catherine looked at Sara, who was looking at the floor and rubbing her hand absently over her stomach. Covering Sara's hand with her own, she said, "I know I don't have to, Sara. I want to. I told you, I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me. And, of course, that means you're also stuck with my daughter. We're going to take care of you, whether you like it or not. So lie down and get some rest. I'll be here when you wake up."
Sara nodded numbly, laid down in the bed and closed her eyes. She fell asleep to the sensation of a hand running slowly through her hair.
The sound of the front door being unlocked and opened brought Catherine out of a light sleep. A glance at the clock told her that she had been dozing for a few hours. Checking to see that Sara was still asleep, she quietly got out of the bed and went into the living room. Not seeing anyone, she checked the kitchen and found Jo sitting at the table, staring at a bottle of scotch. Catherine crossed to the cabinets and opened them until she found where Sara kept her glasses. Taking two down, she sat across from Jo, opened the bottle and poured them each a generous amount.
Catherine took a long swallow and winced as the liquid burned her throat, while Jo just stared into the glass in front of her. When she looked up at Catherine, she said, "He didn't give me any names, mostly because he didn't know what they were. He gave me places and rough time periods for twenty-eight more girls. I gave the list to the boys in the field office. They're going to compare it to cold case files."
"Did you give him anything?"
"Just a guarantee of solitary confinement. He'll still have to do an hour of exercise in the yard everyday, though, so I don't expect he'll live long. How is she?"
"Asleep. She was getting shocky, so I got her into some warm clothes and into bed. She's been sleeping for a couple of hours."
"A few. She never really woke up, though. I managed to calm her, she seems to have settled down."
Jo nodded. "She likes it when you play with her hair."
"Yeah, I figured that out," Catherine said with a smile, remembering the soft mewling sounds Sara made when Catherine had rubbed her head.
Catherine watched as Jo's hand slipped into her pocket and pulled out Sara's knife. She set it down on the table between the two of them. "She scared me today."
"Me, too. But, in the end, she made the only choice she really could."
"I managed to get the video tape. Officially, it's evidence, but...." Jo trailed off.
"Who got it for you?"
"Grissom. Interesting guy, if not a little....odd."
Catherine laughed and said, "Yes. He is."
"He's just eccentric."
The rough voice startled both women.
"Jesus, Sara. I've told you not to sneak up on me like that. You're gonna give me the vapors, as Momma would say." Jo turned to her friend and smiled.
Sara crossed to the table and sat down. She looked at the glass in front of Jo for a moment and then up at her friend's face. Jo continued to stare at the table. Sara casually took the glass from Jo's fingertips and took a sip, placing it back down on the table, out of Jo's reach.
Catherine watched the silent exchange with curiosity, but decided not to comment. "How are you doing, Sara?"
"I don't know."
The three sat silently until a beeping sound filled the room. Jo immediately checked her watch and turned the alarm off. "Damn! I need to get to the airport."
"You're leaving?" Sara asked.
"No, no. I'll be around a few more days. I'm picking someone up."
Jo looked at Sara with a soft smile. "It's a surprise."
Sara let out a sigh and dropped her forehead to the table. "Oh, no."
"Hey! You'll like it. I promise."
Sara's only response was a groan.
"Have I ever surprised you with something you didn't like?"
Catherine watched with a grin as Sara lifted her head off the table and raised an eyebrow at Jo. She was equally amused by the sudden, deep blush that overtook the redhead's features.
"OK...yeah. Don't....answer that."
Both Catherine and Jo were greatly relieved when they heard Sara chuckle.
Her skin color having returned to normal, Jo started to exit, saying, "Anyway, I'll be back in a little while."
Sara reached out a hand to her friend. "OK."
Jo took Sara's hand in hers and leaned down, pressing her forehead against Sara's. "I love you."
Sara smiled and closed her eyes. "I know." Opening her eyes, she looked at her friend. "You OK?"
With a quick glance at the table, she said, "Yeah, I'm OK."
Sara extended her pinkie and said, "Promise."
"Promise," Jo said catching Sara's pinkie with her own.
Jo stood and waved. "I'll see you both later."
Catherine watched the tender moment with a little bit of awe. Just a few days ago, she remembered feeling threatened by the woman who had just left the room, but now she could only thank the powers that be that Sara had Josephine Foster in her life. She wondered what would have become of Sara without Jo's devotion, in all its forms, throughout the years.
"Thank you. For staying."
Sara's voice brought Catherine out of her musings. She looked at Sara, who was intently examining the remains of the golden liquid in the glass that was now hers.
"You don't have to thank me, Sara. I wanted to."
Sara shrugged. "Well, thanks, anyway. After today, no one would blame you if you ran for the hills."
"I don't know about that. I think Jo would have a thing or two to say about it. And so would Lindsey, for that matter. But, more importantly, I don't want to run anywhere."
Sara's resigned eyes met Catherine's. "Why? How could you...What I almost did in there today..."
"Sara." Catherine grabbed the hand Sara was using to fiddle with her glass. "First of all, what you did today, facing him, after all these years, was just about the bravest thing I have ever seen. After everything you have gone through, the fact you had the courage to step foot in that room at all tells me so much about you -- about the person you are. Second, he pushed you. The vile things he said about you, about Jo and about me were enough to send anyone else over the edge, but you were strong. You were trying to get out of there. It wasn't until he started threatening Lindsey -- my baby -- that you lost a little control. Just like I would have. Or any of the guys, for that matter. I was on my way in there, Sara. You know that. I've done it before, but, and this is the really important part, you still had the decency and humanity to pull yourself back and do the right thing."
"Only because I saw you at the door."
"I don't believe that. I have known you for five years. I have seen your dedication, your compassion, and your empathy. I have worked with you and fought with you and gotten drunk with you. And, if I know anything from all of that, I know that you wouldn't have hurt him. No matter how much he had already hurt you."
"I wish I could believe that," Sara said as she tentatively reached out and ran her fingers over the knife that still sat on he table.
Catherine covered Sara's hand with her own. "I'll believe it for both of us until you do."
Sara sighed. "I'm not sure it's that simple, but OK."
Catherine looked at Sara for a moment before saying, "Go get dressed."
Sara furrowed her brow in confusion. "Where are we going?"
"To Nancy's. I need to hug my daughter. And I think you do, too. We'll pick her up, go back to my house and watch something mindless for a while."
Sara nodded. She did want to see Lindsey. After her brother's threats, she wanted to see the girl with her own eyes. She needed to make sure she was safe. "I should call Jo, tell her where I'll be."
"I'll do that while you get dressed. Scoot!"
Catherine watched Sara make her way down the hall to her bedroom. She was glad Sara had agreed to her plan. If she stayed cooped up in this apartment, Sara would do nothing but relive the events of the last several hours. Catherine hoped some time with Lindsey would help Sara remember the good things she had in her life. Sara needed a little normalcy right now and the blonde was determined to give it to her.
"Where's Jo, Mom?"
"She had to go pick someone up at the airport, kiddo."
"I'm a little afraid to find out."
"I'm just kidding, Linds. She said it was a surprise, so I guess we'll find out soon enough."
"Lindsey, thank your Aunt Nancy for looking after you tonight."
Lindsey ran over to the older woman and gave her a hug. "Thanks, Aunt Nancy. I'll see you tomorrow."
"You're welcome, sweetie. And just think, by tomorrow I'll have a whole new list of chores for you to do around here."
Lindsey rolled her eyes. "I know. A deal's a deal, but it was so worth it. Sara loved her present, didn't you Sara?"
"Absolutely. It was the best present I've ever gotten."
"I should hope so, for what it cost. I have to say, Sara, I have never been in a motorcycle shop before. It was...interesting. Especially the employees."
"Aunt Nancy! Those guys were totally tight. They looked just like the guys on American Chopper."
"Who?" Catherine asked.
"Come on, Mom," Lindsey said, as though she were explaining that two plus two equals four. "Paul, Sr., Paul, Jr., Christian, Vinnie and Nick. But Mikey's my favorite. He's funny."
Catherine and Nancy watched as Sara dropped to the couch, trying to control her laughter. They looked at each other and Lindsey with matching expressions of confusion.
"And, again, I say, who?"
"It's a show on the Discovery Channel," Sara said from the couch, chuckling. "They make custom motorcycles."
"Right, I knew that."
"So did I," Nancy chimed in.
"It was so cool, Mom," Lindsey said as Catherine opened the door to their house. "It looked just like a spider. The fenders were all cobwebby. It was sweet."
"Okay, okay. Go to your room and put your things away, please."
Sara watched the girl dash up the stairs with a smile.
"This is all your fault, you know," Catherine said with a mock glare.
"My daughter's newfound fascination with dangerous two-wheeled vehicles."
"Well, a girl's got to have a hobby. In fact, Grissom practically ordered me to get one. Besides, I'd much rather be in control of what I'm riding, than 100 stories in the air strapped into a roller coaster."
"I see your point. But still, couldn't you, I don't know...knit?"
"Maybe macrame or Scrabble. Something not quite as likely to land you in the emergency room."
"That would ruin my rep, Catherine. I've got to live on the edge."
"I don't want you on the edge. I want you on the couch. Where it's safe."
"Well, what about the spontaneous combustion lady? She died on her very own couch."
"Sadly, you didn't prove that, did you, hotshot?"
"I still say it was a plausible theory."
The easy banter was halted by the sound of Lindsey on the stairs.
"So what are we going to do?"
"I don't know, Linds," Sara said. "What do you want to do?"
"I'm kind of hungry."
The planning was interrupted by a knock on the door.
"I don't know if we have any food in the house. We may have to order something in," Catherine said as she went to answer the door. "Who is it?"
"Candy?" Lindsey asked Sara, perking up.
"Sorry, kiddo, but no. It's just an old joke."
"Hey, guys," Jo said as she stepped past Catherine and into the house. "Hey, Sara. I got somebody here that wants to see you."
From behind Jo, a booming voice said, "Where's my sweet girl?"
Sara stared in shock as an older man stepped into the room. "Poppy?"
"Get over here, darlin'," he said softly, extending his arms.
Sara slowly walked over to the man and into his embrace. She immediately let her emotions go and wept while the man rocked her and whispered words of comfort only she was meant to hear.
Not knowing who the man holding Sara was, but knowing this was a private moment between them, Catherine moved away from the couple and went to stand with Lindsey and Jo.
Lindsey looked on the scene with concern. "Who is that? He's making Sara cry."
Jo smiled at the protective tone of Lindsey's voice and said, "It's OK, Lindsey. That's my dad. They haven't seen each other in a long time. She's crying because she's glad to see him."
"Oh, well, that's OK, I guess," Lindsey responded doubtfully.
"You see, Lindsey, Sara didn't really have much of a family when we met. Momma decided she needed one, so my folks, sort of, adopted her. She's been a part of our family ever since."
Catherine looked at Jo and asked, "You arranged this?"
Jo shrugged. "It was his idea, actually. He called me yesterday. He's been worried about her."
"He has great timing."
"Yes, he does."
"That seems to run in the family."
"She needs to be reminded."
"That there are good men in the world."
While Catherine and Jo watched, Sara disengaged herself from her surrogate father and, wiping her eyes, turned to the other people in the room.
Jo stepped forward and made the introductions. "Catherine, Lindsey, this is my father, Joseph Foster."
"It's pleasure to meet you, Catherine. And you, Lindsey."
"It's nice to meet you too, Mr. Foster," Catherine said as she went to shake his hand.
"No need to be so formal, Catherine. Call me Joe," he said as he wrapped a surprised Catherine up in a strong embrace.
"OK, Joe," Catherine said with a laugh.
"Won't that get confusing?" Lindsey asked.
"What would that be, little one?" Joe asked as he bent down on one knee, so he could look into Lindsey's eyes.
"Well, if you're Joe and she's Jo," Lindsey said, pointing to the redhead, "I just think you'll get mixed up."
"Well," Joe said as he lifted Lindsey up in his arms and rested her on his hip, "her name isn't Jo."
"What?" Lindsey asked with a smile.
"My daughter's name is Josephine," he said with a pointed look towards his daughter, who looked as she wanted to blend into the wall. "which is a fine, old Southern name, handed down through the generations, and which doesn't require shortening in any way. Isn't that right, Josephine?"
Sara was laughing as she evaded Jo's attempts to hide behind her. Jo looked appropriately scolded. "Yes, sir," she said before elbowing Sara in the ribs and mumbling, "Shut up."
"So, what are your plans for tonight, ladies?" Joe said as he put Lindsey down.
"We need to order some food," Lindsey piped up.
"That sounds like a great idea, Lindsey," Jo said with a look toward her father. "How about you, your mom and I go pick something up?"
"What about Sara?"
"Sara and I have some catching up to do," Joe said. "We can talk until you get back."
Seeing that the elder Foster wanted Sara to himself for a while, Catherine said, "Get your shoes on, Linds."
"Can we get Chinese?" she asked as she headed off to her room.
"Anything you want, darlin'," Jo called after her.
While they waited for Lindsey, Catherine walked over Sara. "Anything in particular you want?"
Sara shook her head. "Anything's fine. I'm not that hungry."
"Have you eaten anything today?" Catherine asked, taking Sara's hand.
Sara wrinkled her brow in thought. "Um.."
"If you have to think about it that long, then the answer is no," Catherine said with a sigh. "I am bringing you some food and you are going to eat it. Understand?"
Sara looked at Catherine with wide eyes and said, "Yeah, OK."
"I'm ready," Lindsey yelled as she bounded down the stairs.
"Let's hit the road, then," Jo said as she fished out her keys. "Come on, Catherine."
Catherine reluctantly released Sara's hand. "We'll be back soon."
"Hey, Mom, Jo's -- I mean, Josephine's," Lindsey corrected with a giggle, "cool. I bet she knows who they are."
"I know who who is?" Jo asked as they walked to the door.
"The guys on American Chopper."
"Paul, Sr., Paul, Jr., Vinnie, Nick and Christian, but I like Mikey. He's a hoot. Why?"
"Sit with me for a minute," Joe said as he led Sara to the couch. "How are you, darlin'?"
Sara laughed darkly and said, "You know, that's all anyone has asked for the last three days and I still haven't come up with a very good answer. So much has happened."
"So I gather."
"How much did Jo--sephine tell you?"
"Enough to know you were going to need some friendly faces tonight," Joe said as he pulled Sara into his body until her head was resting on his shoulder.
"I'm glad you're here. I've missed you. More than I realized, I think," Sara said, closing her eyes.
"I've missed you too. We all have. You need to come home and visit us soon."
"That's the best idea I've heard in a long time, actually."
"Can you tell me any of what you're feeling?"
Sara sighed. "I don't really know how to feel."
"Nobody knows how to feel, Sara. It just happens without you thinking about it. Josephine said you had a talk with your brother."
"If you can call it that. It was...awful. He was awful. The things he did....."
"...are his responsibility, Sara. There's nothing you could have done to change any of it."
"Not according to him."
"What did he say?"
"That I should have stayed where he could find me. That if I had, he wouldn't have hurt all those girls."
"Do you believe that?"
"Yes. No. I don't know.
"Which is it?"
"Part of me does, I guess. He hurt those girls because they looked like me, acted like me. How am I supposed to live with that, Poppy?"
"I don't know, Sara, but you have to find a way."
"If he could have found me before he found them, then maybe....." Sara trailed off.
"He would have kept hurting you, instead of hurting them."
"At least he wouldn't have hurt them. They had nothing to do with any of it. They never did anything to deserve what happened to them."
"Neither did you, Sara."
Sara only shook her head. "They shouldn't have been punished for my mistake."
Sara remained silent, looking at the floor.
"Sara, what mistake did you make?"
Not meeting his eyes, Sara whispered, "I'm here."
"Sara, all you did was survive. That is not a mistake. You being here could never be a mistake."
"I was always a mistake."
"Just because you were told that doesn't make it true," Joe said, trying to restrain his anger at two people who should never have been parents. "Surviving is not a mistake, Sara."
"Why? Why me? What right did I have? I was nothing."
"You were their child. A precious gift. What right did they have, Sara? To do the things that they did? To harm you? To allow others to harm you? Parents are supposed to protect their children. Not destroy them. Even in the face of all that, you survived. You overcame all of it. You turned yourself into someone that both Madeline and I were proud to call our daughter-in-law."
Sara looked at Joe, surprised.
"What? That is how we thought of you. You became a part of our family, Sara. You still are. When Josephine told us you two weren't together, in that way, anymore, Madeline was so mad, she could have spit. She knew that Josephine had let something special slip right through her fingers."
"I'm not special."
"Are you saying that Momma was wrong? Because, as you know, Momma was never wrong," he said with a smile.
"No," Sara said with a laugh. "I just think that...."
"You are special, Sara. I know that you were never made to feel that way when you were growing up, but Madeline saw it immediately. We all did. Josephine, the boys and I all saw it. You are kind and loyal and precious. Our lives would not be the same without you in them."
Sara and Joe sat in silence for a long time as Sara digested everything she had heard.
While Lindsey was in the restroom, Catherine focused on Jo as they waited in the restaurant's lobby. "You still love her."
"What do you mean?" Jo answered, giving Catherine a measured look.
"Sara. You still love her," Catherine answered evenly, without any hint of jealousy. Her tone was, if anything, curious.
"Of course I do."
"Do you still want her?"
Jo sighed. "Catherine, where are you going with this?"
"I don't know, really. I guess I'm just trying to understand."
"All you need to understand is that Sara is my best friend and has been for eighteen years. I would do anything for her, as she would for me. You shouldn't read anything more into our relationship than that."
"You were together for four years, Jo. As far as I can tell, you were her first love. The first person to accept her. The first person she gave herself to willingly. The first person to make love to her. That sort of a connection doesn't just go away."
"No, it doesn't. But it doesn't always stay the same either. It changed into what we have now. For a lot of different reasons."
"I almost killed him today."
"Why didn't you?"
"I wanted to. I had a knife in my hand. I was holding it at his throat, but I couldn't do it."
"I..... saw Catherine at the door."
"So, if Catherine hadn't been there, you think you would have killed him?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
Joe nodded and thought for a moment before asking, "What would have been so bad about that?"
"What would have been so bad about that?" he repeated calmly.
"About killing him?" Sara asked incredulously.
"Yes. He hurt a lot of people. You most of all. What would have been so bad about making him pay for that."
"It's not my place."
Joe shrugged. "Depends on how you look at it. In many cultures, avenging the wrongs done to you is not only the victim's place, but their honor."
"There wouldn't have been any honor in what I was going to do."
"Because I didn't want to kill him for what he did to me, or even to those girls."
"Then why were you going to do it?"
"He threatened to hurt Lindsey."
"After Harvard," Catherine clarified patiently.
"I was going to the Academy and Sara......Sara and I....we ended up needing different things. Well, not different things, actually. She needed to go back to San Francisco. I needed to let her go."
"Because it was for the best," Jo answered tightly.
"That's not an answer."
"Why do you have to know?"
"Because I don't know if I could have done it. Let her go."
Jo was silent for a few minutes before saying, "It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. My own mother didn't speak to me for two weeks and I thought my brothers were plotting to drown me in the lake for being so stupid. Daddy was the only one who understood. They all knew Sara was special. They all loved her. But I knew that I was doing the right thing. Sara went from Matt and Laura's house to a dozen or more foster homes to my house. She needed some time to just be with herself. We would have been happy together, I have no doubt about that, but her leaving, going back to California, was the right thing for her. It didn't matter if it was the right thing for me. I hoped she would go back there and face some things. Make peace with herself. I thought that if she could do that...." Jo trailed off.
"You thought she'd come back."
Jo sighed and ran a hand though her hair. "Yeah, I did. But that's not the way things worked out. It's not the way things were supposed to be. I am meant to be her friend, in this life and after. You are meant to be her lover."
"Yes. I couldn't stand the thought of that."
"Because you love her."
"Yeah, I do. She's so....innocent. When I look at her, I see everything I never had. A strong will. A loving parent. A light in her eyes. She has all those things and I need to make sure she keeps them. I've already failed her once. Let her father's killers off easy. I can't let anything else happen to her because of me."
"Well, if you had killed him, he would never have been able to touch her."
"If I had killed him, I would never have been able to look her in the eye again."
"She loves you."
"Lindsey or Catherine?"
"I'm not sure she believes that."
"How do you know?"
"I know Sara. She has wanted you since she came to Las Vegas. You are why she stayed in Las Vegas. There was something about you even then, and through the cases, the fights, Eddie's death --- she still wanted you. You just have to make her believe you want her too. What I told you at your house the other night is true. Be patient. Sara has learned to be careful with her heart. You just need to keep after her. She takes a lot of work, but she's worth every minute of it."
"Why are you helping me?"
After a moment, Jo said, "Strictly speaking, I'm helping Sara."
Catherine nodded her head in acceptance. "Ok, but why? When you might still have a chance to get her back?"
Jo looked directly into Catherine's eyes and said, "I want what's best for Sara."
"And it doesn't matter if it's best for you," Catherine said, echoing Jo's earlier statement.
"No. It doesn't."
The two women sat in silence as the minutes passed.
"What? For the advice?" Jo joked. "It's usually pretty pricey, so consider yourself blessed."
"That's not why I'm thanking you, but the advice is good, too," Catherine said with a smile.
"For taking care of her all these years."
"That was my pleasure. But you had better get ready, because that's your job now."
"She has to let me."
"They both love you, Sara, but you have to let them."
"How can I, Poppy?"
"It is both the hardest and the easiest thing you will ever do, darlin'."
"How can I be sure I won't....A few hours ago, I held a knife to my brother's throat. No matter what had happened before, he was my brother. What does that make me?"
"It makes you human, Sara. Don't think for a moment that it makes you anything else. I know that Josephine wanted to do the very same thing more than once. She told me she damn near choked him to death when she first questioned him. That doesn't make her a monster. That doesn't make her anything other than someone who wants to protect a person they love."
"She would never have gone through with anything like that."
"Because she's not that kind of person. She couldn't do it."
"Neither could you," Joe reminded her.
Sara sighed and shook her head.
"Sara, I want you to do something for me. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you could have killed your brother in that room today."
Sara lifted her head and looked into the eyes of the man who had taught her all that a father was supposed to be. She opened her mouth and tried to do what he asked, but found that she couldn't. She closed her mouth and lowered her eyes to the coffee table.
Joe put a strong arm around Sara's shoulders and pulled her into his body. "Alright, then."
"When was your last drink?"
Jo glanced at Catherine and then in the rear view mirror. She saw that Lindsey's attention was firmly on the bubble gum pop playing on her headphones while munching on a fortune cookie she had snagged for the bag of takeout sitting on the seat next to her. "What makes you think I don't drink?"
"Please, Jo. I am an investigator. Not that I would need to be. That business earlier, with the scotch, wasn't exactly subtle."
Jo smiled and shook her head. "My curse is to be surrounded by brilliant and observant women. October 4th, 1998."
"Why did you quit?"
"I was always either hung over or thinking about my next drink. Distracted. And with the kind of suspects I deal with, even a moment's distraction can cause a party that you're not really interested in being invited to. I fucked up. It was long and painful lesson. That's why I stopped."
"Why did you start?"
"It's rude to ask questions you already know the answers to, Catherine."
When Jo, Catherine and Lindsey arrived home, Sara was laughing as Joe recounted a story about Jo being thrown in the lake by her brothers.
"Daddy," Jo said as she rolled her eyes. "Must you always entertain my friends at my expense?"
"Why, yes, I believe I must, Josephine."
"Hey, you two. Hungry?" Catherine said as she put the food down on the table.
"I'm starving, actually," Sara said with a shy smile.
"Good, because Lindsey made us buy enough food to feed Sherman's army."
"Stop picking on me, Jo-se-phine," Lindsey said with a smug smile.
Jo ran after a giggling Lindsey. "Why, you little-"
"-angel," Jo finished innocently, automatically stopping her advance at the sound of her father's reprimand. "I was going to say angel."
"Thanks, Mr. Foster," Lindsey said sweetly, sticking her tongue out at Jo, who returned the gesture in kind.
"Now, Lindsey, what did I say about being so formal with me?"
"Mom said I should call you Mr. Foster, because you're an adult and it's a sign of respect."
"Well, that says a great deal about the way she is rearing you and I appreciate it, but how about you call me Papa J?"
"Yep." He winked, leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "All the grandkids do."
An hour later with everyone's hunger more than satisfied, Lindsey had fallen asleep on Joe's lap. He was gently running his fingers through her hair. "Josephine, why don't you and Sara gather up Lindsey and get her in bed."
"I can do it, Joe," Catherine said as she stood to get her daughter.
"Yes, but I need to take a walk to work off some of this food and I was hoping you would join me, Catherine."
"Oh," Catherine said, a little surprised
"That's OK, Catherine. I'm sure Squared and I can handle it."
"Sorry, Daddy. SARA and I can handle it."
"You know, I have yet to figure out why you have such an aversion to nicknames, Daddy, especially since you let everyone call you Joe. You let me shorten Jasper to Jasp and Maxwell to Max."
"It's different for your brothers and me. It's a long-standing Southern double standard, Josephine. You just have to learn to live with it," Joe said as he stood with a mysterious smile. "Now, Catherine, would you do me the honor?"
Catherine slipped her hand through Joe's extended arm and said, "Of course."
Ten minutes later, with Lindsey was safely in bed, Jo and Sara were sitting on the couch with mugs of hot coffee. Sara was concentrating fiercely on the brown liquid she was holding in front of her.
"What is it, Sara?"
"You're staring at that coffee like you could turn it into tea if you just think hard enough."
"Ah," Jo nodded slowly and smiled.
"Are you OK?"
"Then why did you buy it?"
"To see if I still wanted it. I do that from time to time. Funny thing is, I always want it."
Jo shrugged. "Sometimes, it's a case. Sometimes, it's not. Sometimes, I just want to smell it. Sometimes, I want to do more than smell it."
"Did you want to drink today?"
"Oh, yes. I always want to drink, but I never actually do. I usually don't even open it."
"But, you opened it today."
"Technically, Catherine opened it."
"Would you have had a drink? If I hadn't come in?"
"I don't think so."
"Don't worry, Sara."
"I just...I would hate to think that because of everything...because you've been worried about me....that you would...."
"It wasn't that." Jo ducked her head and studied her own coffee. "At least, not completely."
"I don't..." Jo stopped and sighed. "Change is hard for me sometimes."
"What are you talking about? What change?"
"This. Us. For a long time, you've always been there for me. I've always been there for you. But now....that's not really my job anymore. I'm just trying to wrap my mind around that."
"Because of Catherine."
"She's the one for you. I know that. She'll be there to help you when you need it. To tell you everything's going to be alright. And that's the way it should be. I guess," Jo paused as her voice broke. "I'm just not sure where that leaves me."
"You know what, never mind." Jo said as she got up from the couch and wiped her watery eyes. "It's not your problem. I'll figure it out."
"Wait!" Sara said, grabbing Jo's hand and pulling her back down. "I don't know exactly how all this," Sara waved her hand, a gesture encompassing Catherine's house and all that it now meant, "will affect my life, but I know that I will always need you. We...there's been so much between us, you know. In all these years, neither of us has ever really had someone else. Had a Catherine. I don't know, I guess, I always half thought that someday, maybe, we'd....." Sara left the sentence unfinished.
"I know," Jo whispered.
"I know," she said more strongly, with a genuine smile. "And I am so happy for you, Sara. You're finally getting everything you always deserved."
The two friends sat for a long moment, each recognizing that a new phase of their friendship was about to begin and adjustments would have to be made, on both sides. They would negotiate these changes as they have everything else, with faith and an abiding sense of togetherness.
"I can't wait for them to meet the rest of the family," Jo said with a laugh, trying to lighten the tone of the conversation. "Lindsey will get on great with the kids, but Catherine should be prepared for some hard core interrogation from the boys, you know. Jasp and Max are almost as protective of you as I am."
"She can take them," Sara said with a smile.
"No doubt, but I'm sure Daddy won't let them get too carried away."
Sara frowned and looked toward the front door. "What do you think they're talking about?"
"Daddy and Catherine?"
"Yeah," Sara answered with a confused look.
Jo just laughed and shook her head, "Sara, when I brought you home the first time, Daddy took you for a walk."
"Yeah," Sara said slowly.
"What did he talk to you about?"
Sara's eyes widened in understanding. "Oh my God."
"You have a lovely daughter, Catherine."
"Thank you. She's a good kid. We've had our share of rough times, but Sara's been a great help with her."
Joe chuckled. "As much as Sara likes to think she isn't good with children, we all know better. She is wonderful with all the nieces and nephews."
"You have two sons?"
Joe nodded. "Jasper and Maxwell. They're both married with two little ones. Jasper and Angela have a son, Jonathan, who is eight, and a daughter, Madeline, who is five. Max and Caroline have two boys. Atticus is eleven and Peter is four."
"Madeline was your wife's name?"
"Yes," Joe answered, his voice laced with sadness. "Little Madeline was born a year after her grandmother passed, so she was named after her."
"We had a long life together. I only wish Madeline and Peter could have known their Grammy."
"Sounds like a lovely family.""
"It is. Although it's not quite complete." Joe paused before looking at Catherine. "For years, Madeline and I thought that Josephine and Sara would eventually find their way back to one another."
"Let me finish, please," Joe said softly. "It's clear to me now that that's not going to happen. She's still scared, but I know Sara feels very strongly about you. And Lindsey. She seems more settled than she has been in a long time, despite the turmoil of the last several days. You two are good for each other. Which leads me to the reason for this little walk."
"Yes?" Catherine asked nervously.
"When Josephine first brought Sara home, the whole family fell in love with her. Over the years that she and Josephine were together, Sara became like another daughter to us. That didn't change because Josephine chose to let her go. So, I am, obviously, very protective of her. She has had her share of challenges, as I think you now know. She deserves happiness. I want to know, Catherine, if you are prepared to give her that."
Catherine thought about her answer for a few moments before saying, "Sara and I have a complicated history. I never really gave her a chance when she first got to Las Vegas. We fought. A lot. But, in the last couple of months, seeing the way she is with Lindsey, I've come to look at her much differently than I did before. I see now what an incredible person she is. She is kind and loyal and beautiful. Generous and funny. I love her, Joe, and I want to make her happy."
"Good," Joe said with an approving smile. "Now all we need to do is find someone for Josephine and all will be right with the world. Any ideas?"
"Not right now," Catherine laughed, "but I'll give it some thought."
"I'd appreciate that."
"Sara, if you have any more coffee, you won't sleep for days. Then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing," Jo finish with a smile, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.
Sara flushed and lowered her head. "No, we need to take that slowly. I need some more time before...." Sara trailed off.
"Hey. That's OK. I was just kidding. You should take all the time you need, darlin'."
They were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. Catherine and Joe entered with matching smiles. When both their gazes landed on Jo, she shifted uncomfortably.
"Nothing," they answered simultaneously.
Sara stood and wiped her hands on her pants. She looked at the pair nervously and said, "Did you two have a good....walk?"
"Yes. Yes we did, Sara," Joe answered for both of them.
Catherine smiled at Sara's stuttering, took her hand and said, "Don't worry, Sara. Everything's fine."
"OK," Sara said with a small smile, enjoying the physical comfort the warmth of Catherine's hand provided.
Joe turned his attention to his daughter, who was watching the exchange with a smile, her expression tinged with a hint of sadness. "Josephine. It's time this old man got to bed. Give me a lift?"
"Yes, sir," she replied as she got up from the couch.
"Where are you staying, Poppy?"
"Where there must be a vacant hotel room somewhere in this vast wonderland. I just have to find it."
"Why don't you stay at the apartment?"
"I think it would be a little cramped with you two girls and me there."
"Sara could stay here," Catherine said before she really had time to think about the statement. "I mean, if you wanted to," she finished looking at Sara.
As Sara opened her mouth to respond, Joe said, "That sounds like a fine idea. We can all get together tomorrow for breakfast."
Sara put both hands into the back pockets of her pants and shifted nervously, before saying, "Sure."
"Alright, then," Jo said with a smile. "We'll see you two in the morning. I'll bring you a set of clothes."
"Thank you," Sara said as she embraced her friend, "for everything."
"All you have to do is call."
"The same goes for you."
"Catherine, it was a great pleasure spending time with you this evening," Joe said as he wrapped her up in a big hug. "And you, sweet girl," he said turning his attention to Sara, "I will see you in the morning."
"Thank you, Poppy," Sara said, wrapping her arms around the kind man.
"You've got a good one there, Sara. Don't let her go, you hear?" he whispered in her ear.
"Goodnight, Catherine. I'll see you in the morning," Jo said as she gathered her things.
"In the morning," Catherine said before taking Jo by the hand and embracing her gently. "Thank you."
Jo returned the hug with enthusiasm. "Take care of her. Please."
"Let's get gone, Josephine," Joe said as he made his way to the door.
"Yes, sir," Jo said, following. "See you tomorrow. Bring Lindsey, if you can."
"We will," Catherine replied with a smile.
The drive to Sara's apartment was silent until Joe said, "And how are you doing, darlin'?"
Jo glanced at her father with a small smile, "I'm good, Daddy."
"Yeah, actually, I am," Jo said with a grin. "I mean, things will be different now, but I'm very happy for them. They have the real thing, you know. Like the boys have. Like you and Momma had. They're lucky."
"You'll find it, too, darlin'," Joe said, putting a hand on his daughter's shoulder.
"I hope so, Daddy. I hope so."
"So..." Sara said, exhaling a nervous breath, her eyes on the ground. "If you get me a blanket or something, I can crash on the couch."
"Sara, look at me. Please." Catherine waited until Sara lifted her head, before saying, "A lot has gone on over the last week. I know everything seems like it's happening fast, but we both know that this -- you and me -- has been building for a while. Hell, I'm beginning to think it's been building for five years and I was just too blind to notice it. I know you need time, before we...take things further. You can sleep on the couch if you need to, but I'd like you to come upstairs. To sleep. I want to be close to you tonight."
Sara smiled as she looked into eyes she had dreamed about for five years. "I want that, too."
"Come on, let's find you something to sleep in."
Sara hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. "Catherine, are you sure about this? I love you, but I'm pretty fucked up. I'm not sure when I'll be able to....I mean, when we will be able to....I mean...."
"Sara," Catherine said, stopping Sara's ramble. "First of all, you are NOT fucked up. You are beautiful and brilliant and a million other things. Second, it's not a race. There's no timetable. Do I want you? Absolutely, but I don't want anything you're not willing to give. It will take as long as it takes. I've already told you, I'm not going anywhere. I love you and I'll be right here when you're ready."
"Is there a third?" Sara asked with a grin.
"Third is..." Catherine trailed off as she pulled Sara into a kiss. They kissed languidly, each brush of a lip and stroke of a tongue reaffirming a connection that neither ever wanted to give up. It was a moment Sara wanted to live in. She felt at peace for the first time in much too long.
After releasing a slightly dazed Sara, Catherine smiled. "And fourth, I'm exhausted, so would you come on, already?"
Catherine tugged on her hand and led a willing Sara up the stairs.
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