DISCLAIMER: the characters don't belong to me, but to CBS, Jerry Bruckheimer,…I'm just borrowing them for a while. After I'm done toying with them, I'll give them back in one piece, I promise *evil laugh* Please don't sue, I'm a poor uni student, all I have left in my wallet after paying a very hefty entrance fee is a couple of Euro' s. Not worth the hassle.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: no real spoilers. I'll probably introduce a lot of new characters and change cannon along the way. I don't know anything about Nevada criminal law, so I've probably made huge procedural mistakes. Same goes for possible medical procedures: I'm not a doctor, so everything you'll read is most probably quite impossible in real life. I don't care, I live in la la land anyway. It's set about four weeks after the Hank thing.
WARNING: English still isn't my mother tongue, so you'll probably encounter a lot of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes along the way. It's my way of annoying the hell out of everyone lol
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
THANKS: to my betas for all their help.

With a Little Help
By Piranha

Chapter 21.

Sara was dead on her feet. Emotionally drained and physically exhausted, she plopped down on the couch in the lounge. Resisting the urge to put her feet on the coffee table, she closed her eyes for a minute. Although shift had officially ended more than half an hour ago, she felt that she couldn't go home yet.

Always intrigued by people's motives, she wanted to know what on earth could possess a man to dress up as the Grim Reaper and scare old biddies half to death. So she really had no other choice than to wait until the department's psychologist decided to show up, which should be any minute now.

Looking at her watch, seeing the time slowly but steadily tick away, she sighed deeply. She knew she'd better phone Catherine to let her know she'd be late. She didn't want to call her from the lounge though. Granted, it was empty and deserted now, but that could change any minute and she really didn't want dayshift eavesdropping in on a private conversation.

Besides, she knew for a fact that Warrick and Grissom were still around somewhere and although Warrick had played the game fairly up until now, she didn't want to make the bet unnecessarily easy on him either. Considering having an illicit whispered conversation in the middle of the lounge tipping her hand, she decided that her very own little lab would give her the privacy she craved for. As most of the day shift guys were heading out to their various crime scenes, the odds that she'd find the smelly room empty in her favor.

Passing Grissom's office, she was pleased to see that Warrick was still in the middle of an apparently heated meeting with Grissom, the sheriff and Brass. Glad to know that he'd be tied up for a while – the sheriff really likes the sound of his own voice in such meetings – Sara walked towards the lab and closed the blinds. Her mind already on the impending phone call, she didn't notice that the door wasn't completely closed, letting a ray of light escape to the hallway.

Making herself comfortable, she dialed Catherine's number. "Hey sexy, it's me. I hope I didn't wake you?"

"You were, huh? Hope it wasn't a nightmare?"

"Stop it, you're making me blush."

"My night? Well, a bizarre one actually. First I got bitched at by Attila the Hun, then I seriously thought for a while I'd be sacked so I had a mini breakdown and finally I got consoled by a Scottish witch."

"No, I've not been drinking," Sara laughed. "I'll explain everything when I get home, okay?"

"That's actually why I'm calling. I'll be a bit late. I want to quiz Sylvia on my perp's motives first."

"Oh, I'd better warn you, Warrick is on to us… I found him trying to wheedle the identity of my mystery man out of Greg."

"Well, the hickey the size of Nevada that I'm sporting gave him a pretty big clue."

"I actually took your advice, well sort of anyway. I made a bet with him: if he guesses who you are, we'll have dinner with him."

"Tomorrow? No, there will only be four or five of us, Mel couldn't say yet if Alex was coming along or not."

"No, that's okay. I'll cook. Cooking actually relaxes me."

"Anyway, I guess I'll see you later. Love you. Bye."

Unbeknownst to Sara, Warrick had overheard almost the entire conversation. He wanted to say goodbye to Sara, but as soon as he heard his name mentioned, he realized what a golden opportunity this actually was and stayed to listen.

Hiding in the shadows of the hallway, his ear practically glued to the half open door, he felt really bad about eavesdropping, but as he was still not any closer to the identity of mystery man, he decided that underhanded tactics were justified. Smiling at the goofy expression on Sara's face during the entire conversation, he was a bit disappointed that no additional clues had been offered. Thinking he might have lost a battle, but not the war he walked on before Sara caught him red handed.

With a resolute spring in her step, Sylvia Patterson walked into the building, the clicking of her stiletto heels on the tiles letting Sara know the shrink had finally arrived. Turning the key in the lock of her very own office, Sylvia looked up and said: "hey Sara. You're working late again, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I guess. I was actually hoping I could pick your brain. It has to do with the Grim Reaper case I pulled last night."

"Grim reaper? Sounds intriguing. Well, do come into my humble abode." Closing the door behind Sara, Sylvia made a gesture towards the comfy couch before throwing her handbag carelessly into a corner. Hanging her coat on a hanger, she adjusted her glasses for the umpteenth time that morning. They seemed to live a life of their own, always sliding down her nose. Settling down next to Sara, she asked: "so what's this about a Grim Reaper?"

Sara explained the case in detail, ending with: "so what I want to know is what could possess a man to do that? I mean, I find it a bit difficult to put myself into his shoes, I don't know what drives him."

Bumping her glasses up again, Sylvia leaned back and gathering her thoughts, she said: "of course it's a bit difficult to make an accurate diagnosis without a proper psychological examination, but it seems to me that your guy's showing signs of parafilia or sexual perversion.

It means that his sexual response cycle is perfectly normal, but that his sexual preferences are a bit screwed up. He has a recurrent and very strong sexual urge that's considered deviant by society because it's not aimed at reciprocal satisfaction. As he has already repeatedly acted on these secret fantasies and desires, I'd say his sexual perversion is pretty severe and maybe even escalating.

He seems to suffer from multiple perversions: as he gets aroused from dressing up and looking into people's windows I'd say voyeurism, fetishism and sexual sadism."

"Sexual sadism?" Sara asked. "But he doesn't hurt his victims?"

"He doesn't hurt them physically. Well not yet anyway. The way he's escalating I'm thinking that he might just do that in the future. But what I meant was that he hurts them psychologically. Make no mistake, dressing up as the Grim Reaper is a deliberate decision on his part. He knows exactly what it does to his victims, seeing their anguish turns him on. I guess you could call it psychological sadism."

"Could you give me a profile? I mean, I already know what he looks like, but I'm still looking for a needle in the haystack at the moment as the DNA and blood came back unknown. Maybe I could narrow down my search that way?"

"I'm afraid I can't really help you. The information available on parafilia is rather sketchy for the simple reason that there is hardly any research done in that area. What I can tell you is that most sexual perversions develop in late adolescence, early adulthood, so you're probably looking for a teenager or someone on his early twenties.

Most theorists seems to agree that sexual perversion is caused by a deviant psychosexual development: either the sexual urges are infantile, a sexually deviant role model is mimicked or there are biological, mostly hormonal anomalies. Whatever the reason, he'll most probably come from a dysfunctional family. On the outside they may appear to be the All American family, but there's definitely something sinister going on behind closed doors."

"That's just great," Sara sighed, so you're saying that I'm looking for a hormonal teenager who's mad at the world in general or his parents in particular. He still could be anybody."

"In a nutshell, yes. But your perp seems to be escalating: his urges are getting stronger, the intervals between his Grim Reaper acts are getting shorter so he'll start taking more risks to get his rocks off. It wouldn't surprise me if you find some semen on your next crime scene.

But therein also lies the danger. Because he's escalating, there's always a chance he'll start raping women to get his kicks: the psychological advantage he know has won't be enough for him, he'll also need the physical supremacy.

I think that he's operating in a neighborhood that's familiar to him, either because he lives there or because he goes to school there. He needs the familiarity to lower his inhibitions, only there does he feel comfortable enough to give into his darkest urges. That's about all I can tell you I'm afraid."

"Thanks Sylvia, you've been a great help. At least now I have a starting point."

Although her meeting with the psychologist had run smoothly, Sara was still much later than she had originally anticipated. Not only did she have to instruct the beat cops to keep an eye out, just when she was about to leave for the day the mayor had called for an update on the case.

Satisfied with the answers she gave him, never once mentioning the Cruella episode, he thanked her for all her hard work, saying he'd drop in later that night around the time she had her debriefing of the beat cops planned.

Feeling she had run through a myriad of emotions in the course of one single evening, Sara drove to Catherine's house on autopilot. Not really noticing that Catherine's car wasn't on the driveway, she parked her motorcycle near the garage, staying seated for a minute to compose herself again.

Pulling herself together, she got off of her motorcycle and walked towards the house. Just when she was about to knock, she noticed a tiny piece of paper with her name on it, stuck to the door.

Reading that Catherine was dropping off Lindsey at school and that she'd only be gone a couple of minutes, Sara sank down on the doorstep and sighed deeply. Leaning heavily against the front door, she closed her eyes, feeling the fatigue roll over her in waves.

When Catherine found her some ten minutes later, she hadn't budged an inch. One look at Sara told Catherine all she needed to know and gently she led her exhausted lover inside the house.

Quickly devouring the breakfast Catherine whipped up, Sara felt her eyelids steadily grow heavier, so she didn't protest when Catherine guided her to the bedroom and eased her onto the bed.

Not even having enough energy to undress herself, Sara sat docile on the bed while Catherine peeled layer upon layer of clothing off of her before tucking her in. Looking Catherine in the eye, Sara meekly asked her to lay with her for a while. Realizing that there was a deeper meaning hidden behind the simple request, Catherine kicked off her shoes and took Sara into her arms.

A couple of hours later Catherine gently eased herself out of Sara's tight embrace and slid out of the bed. Once she was certain that Sara was still in a deep and peaceful slumber, she tiptoed out of the room and made her way downstairs. A worried frown etched on her face, she sank down on her leather couch, her thoughts drifting back to the woman upstairs.

Sara had slept fitfully, seemingly in the throws of a nightmare until Catherine had started stroking her hair, all the while whispering soft and soothing words. Only then had Sara calmed down enough to allow Catherine a short nap of her own.

From the moment they had started working together, now little over three years ago, Catherine had always known how fiercely independent Sara was. Never one to show her weaknesses and innermost feelings, she'd rather fret on her own than talk to someone about the fears that haunted her.

In Sara's mind asking for help made her a lesser person, so her asking Catherine to lay with her was a real breakthrough in their relationship. It meant she trusted her enough to ask for help. Catherine knew they had a long way to go yet, but at least that all important first step had been taken.

Now Catherine had to make Sara understand that she'd always be there for her, no matter what. She didn't think that Sara realized this yet. Although they had been together for a couple of days now, they hadn't had any deep and meaningful heart to hearts yet, they had been a bit too preoccupied with other things for that.

But Catherine knew she had to talk to Sara about this, not only for her own peace of mind, but more importantly for Sara's own health. All this worrying and nocturnal stress couldn't be good for either Sara or the baby. Remembering Mel's words of warning, the scrapbook she had found and Sara's cryptic phone call earlier that day, she had a pretty good idea what had her lover so spooked, but she was at a loss on how to approach the subject.

She didn't want to come on too strong, pushing Sara would only result in her retreating further into her little shell. Catherine was still trying to come up with a solution to her problem when she heard Sara coming down the stairs. Looking over her shoulder, she couldn't help but laugh when she saw a slightly disheveled Sara standing in the doorway, only wearing boxers and a t-shirt. Thinking that a barely awake Sara looked very adorable, she motioned for her to come sit next to her.

Yawning widely, Sara walked over and sat down, mumbling "good morning" before giving Catherine a chaste kiss on the lips. Before she could even contemplate taking things further, Sara settled down and snuggled closer into Catherine's embrace. Toying with Sara's hair, Catherine asked her: "how did you sleep?"

Closing her eyes again, rather enjoying the sensations that Catherine's fingers were causing, Sara murmured: "like a baby." Not noticing Catherine's furrowing eyebrows, she lazily elaborated: "I can't really explain why, but I sleep so much better when you're with me. I'm usually an insomniac, I'm happy when I manage to sleep four hours most nights. But when I'm with you, it's different. Today I slept for nearly six and believe me, for me that's a record. Guess you have a calming effect on me."

"How come you can't sleep?"

To Catherine's big surprise and maybe even to Sara's own, Sara decided to let her defensive shields down long enough to let Catherine in. Then again, being caught only half awake might also have something to do with it. Either way, Sara started opening up: "cases get to me, especially the ones I can't solve. I know every CSI is affected by certain investigations, especially when they involve children, but … I don't know, some cases seem to have a devastating affect on me.

They haunt me, I keep seeing the victims' faces in front of me, accusing me that I didn't do enough for them. I know everybody has his own way of dealing with it, their own way of clearing their mind. I mean, you have Lindsey to keep you grounded, Grissom has his carnival rides … Now I have you. When a case gets too tough, when I feel I can't handle it anymore, I know I can talk to you and that's a reassuring feeling."

Thinking that letting Sara do most of the talking might be the best way to get her to open up without rushing her, Catherine simply said: " you know I'll always be there for you, baby. You can talk to me about anything: the dreams you have, the fears that keep you awake at night, … anything. So tell me, what do you do when you can't sleep?"

"I hang out with Mel and Greg because they work odd hours too. Other times I just read or I listen to my police scanner. I know it sounds pretty pathetic, but there's something oddly soothing about hearing that crackling voice in the background. It keeps me grounded I guess. Besides, it lets me know whether or not we'll have rough shift ahead of us."

"Speaking of work, I couldn't make head nor tails out of that cryptic phone call of yours. Something about Attila the Hun and a Scottish witch? You must have pulled one hell of a weird case."

"I'll say", Sara laughed before telling Catherine all about Mrs. Burrows and Sorcha.

When Sara was finished with her story, a totally baffled Catherine put her hand on Sara's stomach. "Twins? You're having twins?" she asked, still trying to take this latest tidbit of information in.

"According to Sorcha I am, yes. Identical twins she said."

"Do you believe her?" she asked absentmindedly. Her mind was reeling. Would she be able to handle two babies? Going from a family of two to a ready made family of five, was a pretty gigantic leap to say the least. Was she really ready to handle that kind of responsibility?

Not noticing Catherine's inner turmoil, Sara answered: "normally I don't buy any of that psychic crap, I've seen too many scam artists for that, but I don't know… Sorcha really seems to be the real deal. I mean, she did know an awful lot of things she had no way of knowing, things I haven't told a living soul. So yeah, I guess I do believe her."

"How do you feel about it?"

"Well, I must say that it came as a total shock. I never thought I'd have any children, never mind three. I was still trying to get used to the idea of Lindsey and the baby, but … I think it's great. How do you feel about it?" she asked Catherine a bit anxiously. "I mean you'll be a mom to them too. If you think it's too much, that you can't handle that, I'd fully understand. I'd rather know now than further down the road."

Looking Sara straight in the eye, she assured her: "I think it's great. I must admit that you had me scared witless for a couple of seconds but I love you and I love your babies. Twins may be double the work, but they're also twice the fun. I'm sure we'll be just fine. Besides I'm sure Lindsey and Nancy will help us out. So, why don't we find out for sure? You know, have an ultrasound."

That's a great idea. I'll have Mel set it up. Do you mind coming with me?"

"Mind? Hell no. I'll be there for you all the way, I promise. I can't wait actually, it's the first time I'll be meeting them. Anyway, you'd better get dressed. We have to pick up Lindsey at school and then go to Nancy's."


"Erm yeah," Catherine sheepishly said, "she dropped by yesterday to quiz me about you. You know, the usual big sister routine and now she wants to meet you properly." When she saw the anxious expression on Sara's face, Catherine hurryingly added: you've got nothing to worry about, baby. Nancy already likes you, she called me a fool not to make a move on you sooner. She even called you a four star meal when she ogled you getting on your bike a couple of days ago."

Turning beet red, Sara managed to squeak out: "your sister ogled me?"

"Yeah," Catherine laughed at the strange look that passed over Sara's face, "but don't worry, she only likes men, so I guess you're still stuck with me."

Feeling a bit better at the thought that Nancy already liked her, Sara got out of Catherine's embrace and stood up. Holding out her hand, she asked: "shower with me? I want to show you exactly how happy I am to be stuck with you."

Returning Sara's lecherous grin, Catherine couldn't scramble up fast enough. Hand in hand, the ascended the stairs and ran to the bathroom.

Chapter 22.

Her combat boots untied and her hair still wet, Sara pushed her heavy motorcycle into Catherine's garage before sprinting towards the already running car. She barely had the time to close the door when Catherine backed out of the driveway with screeching tires, almost knocking down a passing pedestrian in the process.

Smiling impishly at the yelling and cursing octogenarian, Sara quickly buckled up when Catherine shifted gear and sped off. They were running incredibly late. Their antics in the shower taking much longer than originally anticipated meant that they didn't have enough time to drop by Sara's apartment first, they had to go straight to Lindsey's school.

Looking over at Catherine, who was zipping through traffic like a woman on a mission, Sara had to swallow a moan when the older woman's tongue slipped out to wet her lips. Their aquatic adventure still fresh in her memory, she felt the old familiar rush of desire course through her veins and had to dip her head to hide the blush that was creeping up her cheeks.

Deciding that it might be safer all around if she kept herself distracted, she tied her shoelaces and combed her fingers though her unruly hair. Sighing deeply when she noticed that the stubborn curls were back with a vengeance, she had that every time she didn't blow dry her hair, Sara looked outside the window, her thoughts wandering to their impending visit to Catherine's big sister.

As they were nearing Lindsey's school, Sara got more and more nervous, finding the prospect of meeting Nancy for the very first time more than a little daunting. Give her a rotting corpse to examine or a burnt out car to dismantle and she would do it with a smile on her face. Meeting a lover's relative however had her quaking in her boots.

Not being the most outgoing, tactful or social person in the world, she had no idea how she was expected to act. She felt totally out of her depth, a bit like a beggar would feel if he was asked to join the queen for afternoon tea and biscuits. She was deadly afraid that Nancy would take one look at her and dismiss her on the spot as unworthy of her younger sister's affections.

She had never done anything like this before. For the now pretty obvious reasons, she never met any of Hank's family members and none of her other relationships had lasted long enough or been serious enough to warrant this 'pleasure'. The only exception of course was Mel, but then again Robert and Jane were her neighbors, a formal introduction hadn't been needed when she and Mel became an item.

No, this was definitely a first time for the now seriously panicking Sara. What if Nancy thought that she wasn't good enough? What if she thought that she was taking advantage of Catherine? What if she hated her? Oh God, what if Nancy poisoned Catherine's and Lindsey's mind against her? She was well and truly doomed. Biting her lip to keep back the tears that were threatening to fall, Sara began fidgeting in her seat.

When Sara started fiddling with the radio, never settling down long enough on a station to hear even half a song, Catherine looked over at the passenger seat with a slightly annoyed look in her eyes. Whatever she was going to say, died on her lips when she caught the angst ridden state her lover was in. The idiom 'a deer caught in the headlights' had never made much sense to her until now.

As she realized that Sara was less than looking forward to meeting her big sister, Catherine's stern expression immediately softened. Knowing exactly what was running through Sara's mind, she reached out and took Sara's hand into her own, lacing their fingers together. Answering Sara's surprised look with an encouraging and reassuring smile, she diverted her attention back to the road.

Her eyes still on the traffic, Catherine cleared her throat and said: "let me tell you a little story and don't interrupt until I'm finished, okay?" When Sara nodded her agreement, Catherine continued: "when I was growing up, I was a wild child. Never listening to my parents, didn't care about school, always sneaking out of the window to go to some party. Nancy had to come and rescue me out of trouble more than once.

I had my fair share of boyfriends, some of them were nice, others … not so nice. Anyway, when I was sixteen I was so sick and tired of being cooped up in Nowhereville USA that I legged it to the big city with my boyfriend. I didn't tell my parents where I was, the only one I kept in contact with was Nancy. I was convinced that I was going to strike it big in the city or at least have some fun trying. My bubble soon burst and I was forced to go back home to Montana with my tail between my legs.

My parents told me that I was on my own, so I borrowed some money from Nancy and came to Las Vegas. Again Nancy was the only one who believed in me. She's always there for me, she stands by me even when the going gets rough. She was there when I was a dancer, when I decided to clean up my act and go back to college, when I was married and during the subsequent divorce. Her opinion matters to me since I never took it in the past and look where that has gotten me. I'm not telling you all of this to scare you, quite the opposite actually.

You see, Nancy has never approved of anyone I was involved with, not my boyfriends back home in Montana and certainly not Eddie … until you. You are the first lover she actually likes and approves of. She even encouraged me to fight for you when I thought all hope was lost.

She's convinced you'll have a positive effect on me, that you'll keep me grounded. You see, she already knows you. I know the two of you have never met and that you only talked over the phone once, but she already has a pretty good idea what makes you tick. I've talked to her about you on more than one occasion, Lindsey can't shut up about you, Greg loves the air you walk on and even Brass sings your praises. Believe me, solemn and taciturn Brass considers you his surrogate daughter.

You've got nothing to worry about, baby. Nancy won't subject you to a harsh interrogation nor will she eat you alive. She might tease you a bit, but nothing to hurt your feelings or make you feel uncomfortable in any way. So calm down, okay? You're not about to meet your judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one."

Feeling infinitely relieved by Catherine's reassuring words, Sara kissed the top of Catherine's hand, giving their still entwined fingers a slight squeeze. A bright smile on her face, she whispered emotionally: "thanks, I really needed to hear that."

Giving Sara a wink, Catherine said: "that's what I'm here for babe, to keep your fears at bay. Damn, would you just look at that? That granny just snatched the last available parking space from right under my nose. That's what you get when you're running late…." Looking Sara straight in the eye, she continued in a very sultry voice: "but it's definitely worth it. I wouldn't mind having more showers like that."

Blushing like mad at Catherine's remark although she silently agreed, Sara pondered their options. Unbuckling her seatbelt, desperately praying that her voice wouldn't squeak, she said: "why don't I go and look for Lindsey while you double park or something? I'll only be a minute." When Catherine agreed, Sara quickly escaped from the car but not before giving Catherine a passionate kiss. That sultry tone wrecked havoc on her already raging hormones.

Just like the day before it was Lindsey who spotted Sara first. "Hi Sara," she said, "you look really great."

"Erm yeah, sorry about that," Sara mumbled, looking at her own clothes. "I didn't have time to stop at my apartment to change, so I'm still in my biker gear."

"Cool, does this mean that we're going home on your bike?" Lindsey asked in a very eager tone of voice. Not really giving Sara time to answer, she continued: "I can't wait to tell all my friends, they'll be so jealous. They didn't believe me when I said that my mom's girlfriend had a Harley."

Laughing Sara answered: sorry to burst your bubble kiddo, but your mom is parked over there somewhere. Besides, she would have my hide if I took you with me on the bike."

"Oh man," the young girl whined, "she's no fun."

Thinking that exactly the opposite was true, Sara simply said: "come on munchkin, we'd better get going before your mom gets a parking ticket. So you told your friends about me, huh?"

Eagerly nodding, Lindsey answered: "yeah, they didn't believe me though. They said that there's no way that someone as old as you drives a Harley."

"Gee thanks Lindsey, now I feel ancient." When Lindsey just shrugged, Sara continued: "they didn't tease you about your mom having a girlfriend?"

"No, not really, most of them have two moms and dads anyway. Only Conrad said some nasty things, but I made him stop."

"How did you manage that?"

"I told him if he didn't stop, I'd tell everyone that he still wets his bed."

"Does he?" Sara asked agog. She couldn't believe a ten year old boy still wetted his bed, unless there were some psychological factors involved.

"No, not that I know of, but the others don't know that", Lindsey replied, giving Sara a sly wink.

"Oh you're evil Lindsey," Sara snorted, "remind me to never get on your bad side." They were still laughing when they reached the car.

"Your sister is really nice," Sara said, leaving Nancy's house. "And a looker too, really my type. I could definitely fall for her, it's a damn pity she's straight."

Catherine just froze, standing still in the middle of Nancy's garden, not quite believing what she had just heard. Then she saw the teasing glint in Sara's eyes and giving her a light slap on the arm, she said: "you rat, you really had me going there for a minute."

Sara just laughed and put her arm around Catherine's shoulder. "You should have seen your face," she smirked. "You were all bug eyed, it was really funny." When Catherine didn't answer, Sara got really worried that she had hurt her lover's feelings. Lifting Catherine's chin up to look her straight into the eye, she declared: "you and Lindsey mean the world to me Catherine. You're all I could ever need or want. I adore you."

When it looked like Catherine was about to speak, Sara simply held out her hand and said: "please let me finish. I really need to say this before I lose my nerve. I know that I get tongue tied talking about my feelings and that I'm not so good at all that romantic stuff, frankly I suck at it big time, but … I want you to know how I feel about you, so I bought you something."

Rummaging through her coat pocket, she held out a little parcel. Shyly she said: "I was planning on giving this to you this morning, but then I fell asleep on you and then this afternoon, we were … Anyway, I wanted you to have this. It's not much and it's not really worth anything, but it will show you how I feel so much better than words could ever say."

"What is it?" Catherine curiously asked, taking the gift wrapped parcel in her hands.

"Why do people always ask that?" Sara muttered. "Why don't they just open it and see?"

Properly chastised, Catherine tore the gift wrap open only to reveal two little boxes. Looking at a slightly nervous Sara, she slowly opened the first box to find a key.

When she caught Catherine's perplexed look, Sara quickly explained: "it's a key to my apartment. I wanted you to know that you're always welcome to my place. No need to ask first because you hold the key to my heart in your hands. Oh hell, I'm explaining it all wrong. I told you that I'm crap at this."

Knowing what a private and closed off person Sara really was and how much it took for Sara to give her that kind of control over her, effectively handing over the keys to her last hiding place, Catherine was infinitely touched by the gesture. "You explained it just right, baby" she whispered, wiping away a lone tear that trickled down her cheek.

"Yeah?" Sara asked, still a bit unsure. Catherine's bright smile however melted away the last of her worries and with a goofy grin of her own, Sara pointed to the second box. Lifting the lid, Catherine was astonished to find two identical Celtic silver rings. Too emotional to speak, Sara misinterpreted Catherine's silence and quickly said: "they're promise rings. If you don't like it or if you think it's too soon, that's okay. I understand. I just wanted to let you know how I feel, but …"

Stopping Sara's nervous rambling with a kiss, Catherine simply said: "I love it and I love you, more than anything in the world." When Sara solemnly put the ring on her finger, she asked: "when did you get them?"

Putting the second ring on her own finger, Sara explained: "I bought them online two days ago when you were still asleep. I had them dropped off at the lab this morning."

Twiddling the ring around her finger to admire it, Catherine whispered: "I love it." Brushing her finger over Sara's ring, she added: "now everyone will know that you're mine."

Sara really hadn't thought of that and impishly she asked:" you don't mind, do you?"

"Hell no" was all Catherine said before kissing Sara passionately. Somewhere in the back of Catherine's mind she thought it was just like Sara to solemnly declare her love and commitment in the middle of Nancy's garden on a pitch dark night, but then all coherent thought was lost when Sara pulled her even closer and returned the kiss.

They were still kissing like a couple of teenagers when they suddenly heard the front door open. A definitely amused voice called out: "hey you two, you'd better get a wriggle on. Sara's shift starts in half an hour." Busted they guiltily sprang apart, both blushing feverishly. Seeing Nancy and Lindsey giggling like mad at their obvious embarrassment, they quickly walked over to Catherine's car and drove off.

"Damn Garfield and Tequila," Sara suddenly exclaimed, "I haven't fed them yet. I won't have time now either if we swing by your place first to pick up my Harley."

"We don't really have time for that either, but don't worry. Here's what we'll do. You have a change of clothes in your locker, right? Okay, so I'll drop you off at the labs, then I'll go home to grab my stuff and then I'll head for your place. Might as well make good use of the key you've just given me. I'll feed the cats."

"You'll spend the night at my place then? Makes sense I suppose as we'll be there all day tomorrow to prepare for the party. Hey, but wait…. How will I get home?"

"Simple, I'll come and pick you up tomorrow morning."

"You don't mind?"

Of course I don't mind," Catherine laughed.

Agreeing with the plan, Sara sat back and relaxed. Before she knew it, they had arrived at their destination. Kissing Catherine goodbye, she got out of the car and walked into the labs, ready to take on whatever the shift might throw at her this time.

Chapter 23.

The debriefing of the patrol cops over with, Sara gathered the information sheets she had received. She was just about to leave the lounge room when the mayor walked in. "Ms. Sidle," he asked.

"Mayor Burrows", she said, shaking the offered hand. "Good evening. I'm afraid the meeting has just finished, but I can give you an update if you want. Maybe show you where we stand before I head into the field?"

"I'd like that, but I don't want to keep you from anything." Inwardly laughing at the overly polite conversation, to Sara it felt like they were sussing each other out, she said: "that's quite alright sir. Jim Brass, the police officer I'm working with on this case, is still at another crime scene, so it really would be my pleasure."

"Brass? I know him. Very thorough man, a good cop. But isn't he homicide? Don't tell me the Grim Reaper has killed someone?"

"No, none of the victims have died. Jim has a personal interest in the case. He knows one of the victims, so he wants the case dealt with swiftly and correctly. Rather than palming it off to one of his inspectors, he wanted to take this one on himself. Erm… before we continue, maybe you would like something to drink?"

When the mayor declined politely, Sara guided him over to Catherine's office where she had an evidence board set up. Gathering her thoughts, she started to explain: "although the Grim Reaper has struck several times this past month, forensically I only have last night's cases to go on.

Although in the other cases standard procedure has been followed, the police interviewed the victims and scanned the neighborhood, the forensic team was never called in as technically the Grim Reaper was only trespassing. The crime committed didn't really justify the expense of a full forensic investigation.

It's too late for me to go and investigate those particular crime scenes now as just too many days have gone past. The investigating police officers, victims, bystanders and the weather will have contaminated the crime scene to such an extent that no reliable evidence will be found.

So like I said, forensically I only have last night's incidents to go on. He struck twice yesterday evening, the first victim being Sorcha Mac Gregor. She was the first victim to be able to give an accurate description of the perp.

In fact she was so detailed that I've asked her to help Archie, our computer expert, to compile an identikit. This is what the Grim reaper looks like. I also investigated the crime scene, the rosebushes near Sorcha's front window. I was lucky enough to find a shoe print, which I later identified as the latest Puma model of sneakers, size ten.

Quite a lot of those sneakers have been sold in the Las Vegas area alone, but what's really interesting is that the left shoe appears to have a very particular tear in the sole, which will help us to further identify the Grim reaper.

I also found a cigarette but the drizzle we had yesterday afternoon ruined our chance of DNA. Besides there's no real way of knowing if it belonged to the perp anyway, for all I know it could have belonged to an innocent pedestrian. The last strong piece of evidence I found at Ms. Mac Gregor's was the Grim reaper's blood.

It seems that Ms. Mac Gregor scared him half to death when she ran out to confront him, making him tear his cloak on the rosebush when he hurried away. The cut must have been rather deep as I found a bloodied thorn.

Not only will the perp have a deep cut on his forearm helping us to identify him, now we also have his DNA on file. I ran his DNA through the computer, but nothing came up which means that he isn't registered as a sex offender.

The second victim was Mrs. Burrows, your mother. She wasn't able to confirm Sorcha's description, but I did find a partial thumb print. Jacqui from the print lab was able to isolate enough identifying marks to run it through the computer, but again no name came up.

This means that he's either never been convicted of a crime or that he had his juvenile record sealed when he became an adult. On it's own all this evidence doesn't really help me as I need to have a suspect first, so I did several things.

First of all, I narrowed down the neighborhood that our suspect is most likely from. Our psychologist confirmed that the Grim reaper most likely acts in his own neighborhood as he needs the familiarity so plotting all the victim's addresses I was able to narrow the search down to a three block radius.

Then I enlisted the help of beat cops. I gave them the composition photograph, I asked if any of them recognized the perp. None of them did, but they questioned the locals and the neighborhood, they went to the school, the arcades and all the other places teenagers usually hang out. They also visited all the shops in the Greater Las Vegas area that rent out party costumes.

None of the owners were able to say if our perp had been there, but they were willing to give us the names of the clients who rented a costume for an extended period or who bought a Grim Reaper costume shortly before Halloween. Now all I have to do is cross reference the lists and I'll have my suspects. With any luck Brass will be able to make an arrest tonight or tomorrow."

Standing up, the mayor said: "you're nothing if not thorough, Ms. Sidle. I have every confidence that you'll find him soon. Thank you for this detailed update." Bidding his goodbye, the mayor left leaving Sara a bit befuddled that he didn't have any questions. Shrugging she sat down at the desk, diligently cross referencing the lists until Brass showed up.

Arriving at the final address on their list, all the other names either cleared or absent, Brass and Sara got out of the car. Although it was the middle of the night, there was still a light burning in the villa. Waiting for the door to open, Sara read the information sheet again.

Kevin Keats, 21. Dropped out of university a week before the Grim Reaper incidents began and a credit card purchase of a Halloween costume in the very same week. Pulling out a photocopy of Kevin's driver's license, she was amazed by the resemblance with the computer simulation.

Just then the door opened and a rather bleary eyed and frumpled looking woman peeked through the hatch. "Yes?" she asked.

Showing her his police badge, Brass said: "police, ma'am. Do you mind if we come in?"

Releasing the catch on the door, the woman motioned them to enter. The three of them standing awkwardly in the cramped hallway, the woman suddenly started wailing: "oh God, it's Kevin, isn't it? Something bad has happened to him…. Why else would the police be knocking on my door? … He had a car accident, didn't he? Is he alright? I told him time and time again he should drive more carefully, but does he listen?"

Interrupting Mrs. Keats' continuous stream of words, Brass said: "we're here on an entirely different matter, ma'am. As far as I know Kevin is perfectly all right. We would like to talk to him though, do you have any idea where he is?"

"Talk to him, but why?"

I really can't divulge that information, I'm afraid, but his name has come up in one of our cases. It's really important that we talk to him, it would greatly enhance our investigation."

"My Kevin is a good boy, I'm sure he has nothing to do with it."

"I'm certain that you are right, ma'am, but we just have to make sure."

"He's at his dad's," the woman sighed, rattling off an address.

"How did Kevin seem to you these past few weeks?" Sara suddenly asked.

"Seem?" the woman repeated confused. "Well, I guess he's been a little more withdrawn and skittish the past two months. I tried asking him what was going on, but he always said that it was nothing for me to worry about. He'd sort it out on his own. I just thought it was his way of dealing with the divorce and I didn't push."

"You're divorced?"

"Well, separated. After 25 years of marriage, Kevin's dad suddenly decides that he's gay and moved in with a man nearly half his age. I'm sure that it won't last, Theo will come to his senses. Like I told Kevin, he's just having a midlife crisis. Anyway, last night Kevin told me that he needed to talk to his dad about something and he left. I haven't seen him since, so I assume he's staying the night."

"Do you mind if I have a look in Kevin's room, ma'am?" Sara asked. Although her gut feeling told her Kevin was the one, she also knew that they didn't have enough for a search warrant. If the woman agreed to a voluntary search, they'd be home free.

"I guess not, anything to help clear my son's name. I suppose it's that good for nothing boyfriend of Theo's that has tarnished my boy's reputation?" the woman spat out bitterly. "Wait until I get my hands on him…"

While the woman continued her embittered rant, Brass listened politely, getting her to sign the consent form for the house search. In the meantime, Sara was already walking up the stairs, Mrs. Keats having indicated with a vague brush of the hand that Kevin's room was upstairs. Once she had found the room, Sara quickly set to work.

Rummaging through the cupboard, she found a Grim reaper costume half hidden behind some boxes. Folding it open, she was pleased to see a large tear on the cape. Knowing she had at last found her perp, she dutifully bagged and tagged the costume before looking for the Puma shoes. She finally found them under the bed.

Laying flat on her stomach to reach them, scrunching her nose when she pulled out a piece of stale pizza first, she immediately checked the soles of the sneakers. Sure enough an irregular pattern on the left sole stared back at her. Taking a picture before bagging the shoes, her work there was finished. She had enough forensic evidence to warrant a DNA sample. Now all they had to do was pick up the perp.

When Brass and Sara arrived at Theo Keats' suburban townhouse, they were not only surprised to find the lights still on, but also to hear frantic screams and wails coming from the inside. Looking dumbfounded at each other for a second, they immediately sprang into action when they heard "no, please don't do this. I don't want this", followed by a piercing scream and loud sobbing.

Not knowing what the hell was going on, but realizing that they needed to get inside and fast, Brass started pounding on the front door, yelling "police, open up." When that didn't seem to get him anywhere, he tried to break the door down, putting his shoulder against it.

Meanwhile Sara frantically searched for another way in, finally spotting a kitchen window slightly ajar. When she called out to Brass, he sped over to the side of the house, rubbing his painfully throbbing shoulder. Giving Sara a piggyback, he ordered her to wait for him and not to do anything stupid.

Knowing Sara's impetuousness and gung ho attitude, he feared she might get herself in a potentially dangerous situation by confronting the perp on her own. As soon as Sara disappeared through the window, Brass grabbed hold of the ledge and started pulling himself up.

Cursing under his breath, muttering that he was getting way too old for this shit, he finally managed to climb onto the window sill and make his way in, knocking down several vases in the process. <Bang goes the element of surprise>, he thought.

Infinitely relieved that Sara had listened to him, in truth the thought had crossed her mind for a second but she had immediately dismissed it on account of her pregnancy, Brass gestured to her to follow him, drawing his gun. Cautiously they made their way to the front of the house, giving each other cover each time they passed an open door or a new room.

Arriving in the living room, they were both horrified by the scene they encountered. Uncocking the safety catch, they raised their guns, aiming at for Sara an all too familiar face. Brass yelled: "police, put that knife down and get your hands in the air." He quickly took stock of the situation: Kevin Keats on his hands and knees with his pants down, bleeding from a cut in the throat. Behind him a guy he knew that he had seen before, equally with his pants down.

Careful not to step into Sara's line of fire, he walked over to the unidentified man. Reaching the bloodied knife, he kicked it in Sara's general direction before gesturing to the man to stand up and back away from Kevin. "Slowly," he snarled, "I have a very itchy trigger finger just dying to pull this trigger. Pull up your pants and put your hands behind your back."

Knowing that Sara still had her gun trained on the man, he put his own gun away and pulled his handcuffs out. He shoved the man none too gently against a wall and secured the cuffs around his wrists, bracing them extra tight as he couldn't stand rapists. After patting him down, he pushed the man back to his knees.

He kept one hand firmly on the man's shoulder while calling for back up, asking them to bring along a second criminalist. Once he heard that both Grissom and two patrol cars were on their way, he nodded to Sara to stand down.

She put her gun away and rushed over to the sobbing Kevin. Helping him pull up his jeans, she checked his throat wound before taking him into her arms, stroking his back in a calming and soothing way. When his sobbing finally subsided, she said: "Kevin, I know that you were a criminal justice student and that you understand the importance of getting you to the hospital. Not only are you wounded, we also have to perform a rape kit. Do you think that you'll be able to handle that?"

When Kevin, on all accounts an adult but right now very much resembling a frightened young boy, nodded Sara continued: "do you want me to call someone? Your mother or perhaps your father?"

In a small voice, he whispered: "I want my mom." Brass indicated that he would take care of that particular call, so Sara continued to console Kevin as best she could. Five minutes later the police officers arrived as well as a solemn looking Grissom.

After being brought up to speed, Grissom told Sara that he would take care of the crime scene and the interrogations of both Kevin and the rapist as Brass and Sara were material witnesses to the crime. He immediately assured her that he wouldn't take her completely off the case, asking her to accompany Kevin to the hospital and then get Sorcha for a line up.

Agreeing with this plan, they set to work, but not before Sara said that she had always known that there was something sinister about Jake Stevens, the temp that had been hired to replace Greg in DNA. Recognition finally dawned on both Grissom and Brass, Grissom immediately called Greg, asking him to double check all of Stevens' work, before informing the sheriff.

Telling the two male officers that Stevens had been properly mirandized, Brass hauled the man to his feet using a little more force than necessary. He then said to the two female officers they had to follow Sara and him to the hospital. This way he knew that Kevin wouldn't be scared during the little trip to the hospital, he seemed to cower away as soon as a man came him.

Standing in the observation room, watching O'Riley and Grissom finish Kevin Keats' interrogation, Sara sighed. Turning to Brass, she said: "the poor boy. I can't help but feel that he's a victim in all of this too. I know that what he did was wrong but I guess the Grim reaper act was just his way of handling Stevens' sexual harassment and intimidation.

In his eyes it was the only way to gain back some of the control, that Stevens snatched away from him. Now he's going to be prosecuted and he'll most likely end up in jail, where the cycle of sexual intimidation, harassment and rape will begin all over again. He doesn't deserve that, but I guess they'll throw the book at him because one of his victims was the mayor's mother."

"I hope it won't come to that," Brass said. "Maybe the judge will take the rape into account and show leniency. It's a tricky situation though. Rape cases are always very difficult and although Keats has both forensic evidence and our statements to substantiate his rape claim, there still exists a strange attitude towards rape.

Female victims are often accused of eliciting the attack. I think I read somewhere that a rapist in Italy walked because the judges of the Supreme Court deemed it in all their wisdom the victim's own fault for wearing tight jeans. If that's the public opinion, but also the legal profession's attitude towards female victims, just imagine how much harder it must be for male rape victims.

Society just isn't ready for the notion of male rape victims. Kevin has the advantage that he was held at knife point, but still …. His fate hangs in the hands of a jury. I hope for his sake that they're progressive and liberal minded because I think that prison isn't the best place for someone as confused as Kevin obviously is. He should get community service and psychiatric help, not a custodial sentence."

They both fell silent for a minute, Brass because he didn't know what more he could add and Sara because she was still mulling over Brass's monologue. "It never ceases to amaze me how long societal attitudes can persist," she said, her eyes still trained on the sobbing Kevin. Not wanting to get into a full blown philosophical debate with Brass, she hardly thought it the time or the place, she simply said: "I wish Grissom had never handed me this case."

Meeting Brass's quizzical look with a small smile, she simply answered: "I'm driven to solve cases to help lessen the victim's suffering, but here it's uncertain who the biggest victim is: the senior citizens who got the fright of their life or a young, confused man who couldn't tell his parents that he was being molested by his dad's boyfriend just because he was too ashamed.

I know we caught a rapist, but still …."

When Sara saw Brass's now slightly worried frown, she added: "don't worry about me, I'll be fine. The case also has an upside, without it I never would have met Sorcha. Speaking of which, where is she?"

"After the positive line up identification, she wanted to go and see Archie about something computer-y. Since he was having a rather slow night, he didn't seem to mind answering all of her questions. I ran out of there when the two of them started spouting techno babble. I came in here to see how Grissom was getting on with the interrogation." Looking at his watch, he added: "I reckon it's time to blow this joint. Do you fancy having breakfast with me and Sorcha?"

Absentmindedly, her thoughts still mulling over the idea of a computer savvy Sorcha, Sara replied: "breakfast? Yeah sure, I guess that's okay. I'll have to ask Catherine first though."

"Catherine?" Brass said with a questioning look.

Coloring a bright shade of red and mentally berating herself for being so careless, Sara stammered: "erm yeah, Catherine and I we're erm kind of together." Not wanting to see the revulsion and rejection on Brass' face - police officers, especially the older generation, were notorious for their narrow mindedness and bigotry – Sara cast her eyes to the ground.

She was pleasantly surprised however because Brass said: "you and Catherine? That's just great, I'm really pleased for the both of you. I always thought that there was more to your mutual animosity than met the eye" before taking her in a bear hug.

Hugging him back, she whispered emotionally: "thanks Jim, that really means a lot." Then as an afterthought, she added: "one thing though, could you keep this between us for a while? We want to tell people in our own time."

Breaking out of the hug, he said: "don't worry about it kid. Your secret is safe with me. Come on, let's go and find Sorcha and Catherine, I'm starving."

Chapter 24

Leaving Brass to round up Sorcha, Sara met up with Catherine just when she was locking the car. Sliding her arms around her from behind, she made Catherine let out a startled squeak, which earned her a light slap when she mumbled an apology in Catherine's ear.

Turning around in Sara's embrace, still leaning against the car, Catherine wiped away Sara's pout by giving her a kiss. Sliding her hands into the back pockets of Sara's jeans to pull her even closer, she asked Sara how her shift went.

Summarizing her evening, conveniently omitting the mixed feelings she had about the case, Sara told Catherine what happened. Despite Sara's casual tone of voice, a worried frown appeared on Catherine's face for she realized that a case like this, with no clear winner, would eat away at her lover. Before she could say anything though, Sara repeated Brass' s offer of breakfast.

When Catherine heard the infamous Sorcha was going to be there too, she quickly agreed, wanting to assess the woman for herself. Before she could be warned that brass knew about them, he popped up beside them, declaring "young love, ain't it grand?"

Turning beet red on the spot, Catherine threw Sara a questioning look. Sara just shrugged and admitted sheepishly: "erm… it slipped out." With the same reservations that had plagued Sara earlier, Catherine searched Brass' face for any hints of sarcasm but found none, only a bright smile.

The last of her lingering fears were quashed when he said: "like I already told Sara, I think that you two make a lovely couple, you complement each other." Not really knowing what to add to that, matters of the heart still quite a mystery to him, he fell silent. Receiving a not too gentle nudge from Sorcha, he hurriedly continued: "sorry, where are my manners? Sorcha, this is Catherine, another CSI from nightshift. Catherine, meet Sorcha, one of my mother's oldest friends."

"Less of the old there Jimmie," Sorcha said, poking him in the ribs before extending her hand to a slightly smirking Catherine. Returning the unexpectedly strong handshake, Catherine realized that Sara was right: Brass really was putty in this woman's hands. When the 'how do you do's' and the usual introductionary pleasantries were over, Brass said: "well ladies, let's go and have breakfast, my treat."

Grabbing a slightly startled Catherine by the arm, Sorcha led them over to their favorite diner. Muttering that this was a not to be missed opportunity, that Brass didn't often spring for breakfast, she started telling Catherine a story about Brass' s apparent stinginess. Rolling his eyes, Brass politely offered Sara his arm.

An only now arriving Warrick looked at them with interest. For a fleeting second he considered it a bit strange that Catherine and Sara were out together, but too absorbed by the gruesome details of his murder case, he didn't really give it a second thought. He was far more interested in Brass and Sara who seemed quite cosy together. "Surely not", he muttered, not really knowing what to think. Grabbing the rest of the evidence bags, he shouted to Nick to wait up.

About an hour and a half later, Sara's eyelids began to droop, fatigue finally catching up with her. When she desperately tried to suppress a yawn, pulling some weird faces in the process, Catherine, who had been watching her closely, had to stifle a laugh. Leaning in closer, she whispered in Sara's ear: "you ready to go, babe?"

Turning to face Catherine, momentarily mesmerized by the amused sparkle in Catherine's eyes, Sara merely nodded and began sliding out of the booth, putting on her leather coat at the same time. Politely helping Catherine into her coat, she kept her hand possessively on Catherine's lower back while saying goodbye to a smirking Brass and a widely grinning Sorcha.

Not quite understanding what was so funny, she decided to let it go, too damn tired to even bother asking. She simply followed Catherine's lead and waved goodbye, promising they'd do this again sometime real soon. Closing the door to the diner shut behind her, Sara was surprised by a cold gust of wind, chilling her to the bone and snuggled closer into her jacket.

"You cold?" Catherine asked.

"Yeah, just a bit," Sara said, "think I'll put the heater on full blast when we're in the car." Fortunately for Sara it was only a short walk to the car.

Getting behind the wheel, Catherine said: "you were right about Sorcha … she really is something else. She took me aside when you and Brass were discussing that old case and let me tell you, I totally understand why you called her a witch. The details with which she described my past, it made my toes curl. She really seems to be the real deal."

"Creepy, isn't it? Because of those details, stuff she really couldn't know about, I'm inclined to believe her." Sara paused for a bit, not knowing if she should ask Catherine about Sorcha's predictions. In the end her curiosity won out and she asked: "did she say anything about us? About our future together I mean?"

Smiling at the eagerness in Sara's voice, Catherine would never have thought Sara to be interested in stuff like that, she answered: "no, not really." The crestfallen expression on Sara's face making her smile even brighter, she continued: "all she said was that we'd have a couple of very gruesome cases on our hands. That they'd have an impact on all of us and would include a fair bit of traveling."

Satisfied with that answer, Sara leaned back and closed her eyes, the heat pouring out from the vents making her even more sleepy. Thinking that Sara had fallen asleep, Catherine was startled when Sara suddenly said: "I saw a totally different side to Brass today. I don't mean his easy acceptance of us, although that also came totally out of the blue, but more the way he behaves around Sorcha.

He seems a totally different person then, more human if you know what I mean. I simply love the way she can turn him into a whimpering lapdog just by looking at him. I know that sounds pretty sadistic, but I'm so used to seeing him as this invincible, infallible cop that it's refreshing to see that I'm wrong. I really thought he'd die from embarrassment when she started telling funny stories about him."

Parking the car, Catherine snorted: "wouldn't you if you were in his shoes? I mean, I know that I pulled some crazy stunts as a kid, but I was an amateur compared to him. How about you? What were you like when you were a kid?"

Taking the keys out of her jacket, Sara opened the door to her apartment. Letting Catherine go in first, she thought about the question. Disappearing into the bathroom, she said: "I was very shy and reserved as a kid. I didn't have that many friends, but I knew I could always count on the ones I had. I was a bit of a geek, I suppose. Someone unwilling to go with the flow just because the populars demanded it.

My fellow geeks and I were outcasts, well that is until Mel showed up. She had everything in her to be the queen of the populars, but she still preferred to hang with us, giving us an elite cult status by doing so. I changed a bit after that, became a bit more daring under Mel's evil influence. She already told you about the blue hair episode and our little trip to San Francisco. Looking back, it was all pretty tame and innocent, but we thought we were so cool at the time."

Joining Sara in the bathroom, Catherine asked: "speaking of Mel, have you asked her about the ultrasound yet?"

Putting the toothbrush back into the glass, Sara said: "no, not yet. I was planning on asking her tonight."

A flabbergasted look on her face, Catherine followed Sara out of the bathroom and into the bedroom. Getting into bed, snuggling into each other, Catherine stammered: "but Greg is going to be there and probably Alex too…. I thought you wanted to keep your pregnancy a secret, at least a little while longer?"

"They already know," Sara said, yawning widely. "I told Greg the day I found out and I had to tell Alex when she kept badgering me to ask you out."

Catherine had a lot more questions to ask Sara, but when her lover's breathing evened out, she realized that they'd have to wait until later.

When Greg and Alex were finally out the door, Mel had been called away on an emergency mid dinner, Catherine and Sara had to scramble to get ready for work on time. They cleared the table and stacked everything in the kitchen sink, deciding to leave the dishes until morning.

Rummaging through her purse in order to find a peppermint. Earlier Sara had accidentally knocked half the garlic jar into the spaghetti when Catherine startled her, Catherine said: "I can't believe that Mel was able to set up an ultrasound for tomorrow morning and with Dr. Martinez no less. She has an excellent reputation. I wonder how she was able to swing that one?"

Taking her eyes off the road for a second, Sara threw her a knowing smile. Abbie still owes her one, Mel saved her hide a year ago, outbidding a totally obnoxious pediatrician." At Catherine's confused look, Sara elaborated: "the hospital organizes a fundraiser each year. Last year someone had the bright idea of holding a slave sale, effectively forcing all the resident doctors to enter.

At the time Abbie was still single and suffering from the unwelcome advances of said pediatrician. He had been bragging all night that he would finally have her where he wanted her and made some crude remarks about what he would have her do. Mel wiped the smile off his face by immediately shouting an astronomical figure as soon as Abbie came on stage."

"Who bought Mel?" Catherine curiously asked.

A blush creeping to her cheeks, Sara sheepishly admitted: "erm… I did."

When Catherine started to laugh, Sara muttered: "the very last time I do madam a favor too, let me tell you. I was broke for a month after that. She can beg and flutter her blue eyes all she wants, she can find someone else to save her bacon next time."

"So you're a sucker for blue eyes, huh? That's good to know," Catherine smirked. "Now I know who to call next time I have a nasty chore to do."

Parking the car near the labs, Sara suddenly said: "quick Catherine, duck." Thinking they were about to be hit by another car or something, Catherine immediately did as she was told. Looking down at Catherine, an amused smirk on her face, Sara said after a minute or two: "as much as I love having your head in my lap, it's okay to come out now. He's gone."

"Who's gone?" Catherine asked, a bit irritated that Sara was laughing at her.

"Warrick. I don't want to make the bet unnecessarily easy on him and us arriving together would be a pretty big clue."

"And us getting caught with my head in your lap wouldn't be?"

"Hmm, I didn't think of that. But it doesn't matter anyway, he didn't see us. He was too busy talking to Greg. Come on, we'd better go. We need to save Greg from Warrick before he lets something slip."

Shaking her head at Sara's almost infantile glee, she muttered: "you're completely nuts."

Finally locating Greg in the DNA lab, the very last place they were expecting to find him these days, Sara said: "hey Greg, where's Warrick?"

Looking up kind of confused, he said: "huh? Oh, he needed to see Doc Robbins about a sword or something." Turning his attention back to the papers in front of him, he cursed, muttering something incomprehensible under his breath.

"What is it? What's the matter?" Catherine asked.

"The result of my last evaluation, I don't understand…."

"Oh give it here," Sara said, making a grab for the letter. "Congratulations Greg, you passed that exam with flying colors. You only have to pass one more to officially call yourself a CSI level one. The final test is planned for a month from now and they advise you to get as many field hours as you can."

"That's what I thought it said," Greg mumbled dejectedly.

"I don't understand," Catherine said confused. "Aren't you pleased that you've passed? And you know that Grissom always lets you tag along with one of us. Getting enough hours in the field shouldn't be a problem."

"Problem is that I'm stuck in DNA again now that Stenvens is arrested."

"You know as well as I do that Stevens was a creep, I'm actually glad that he's not around anymore. But why are you stuck in DNA again? Surely another temp can be hired?"

"No Grissom said that finding a replacement was my responsibility and DNA technicians don't grow on trees, you know? Until I find someone reliable, I'm stuck in here."

"Oh…. Erm…. Well, don't you know someone who's interested in this line of work? I don't know… a friend, a study buddy at university or something? You could also place an ad in the main forensic journals or start calling other labs… I know for a fact that John Matthews from San Francisco isn't happy there anymore, maybe you could give him a call?"

"Thanks Sara, you're a lifesaver. I hadn't thought that far ahead. I know just the girl for the job. She's a bit weird, well extremely weird actually, but very good at what she does. Think I'll give her a call tomorrow, she'll probably jump at the chance. She's stuck in a lab in Alaska and she positively hates snow. If that doesn't work out, I can always place that ad or call your friend."

Shuddering at the thought what the girl would be like if Greg had her pegged as weird, Catherine asked: "so Greg, how did your three days as Mel's master go? I meant to ask you yesterday, but it slipped my mind."

"Mel hasn't had any days off yet. It gives me more time to think up something really nasty. As they say, revenge is a dish best served cold," Greg said, rubbing his hands in glee at the mere thought. In his enthusiasm, he accidentally knocked against Sara's elbow, making her drop the thick file she was carrying, sending papers and crime scene photographs flying everywhere. Crouching down, Sara began to gather the papers that lay scattered around, motioning to Greg that she could handle it.

"Well, I don't know if it helps, but during dinner yesterday Alex said that Mel absolutely hates wearing skirts."

Unbeknownst to Catherine, who had her back to the door, Warrick had just walked in. Having heard the last part of the conversation and knowing that both Greg and Alex were Sara's dinner guests, he asked Catherine: " you had dinner at Sara's last night?" At Catherine's startled nod, he continued: "so you met Sara's new boyfriend? What is he like? Don't tell me it's Brass?"

Before he could ask anything else, Sara popped up from behind the desk and said: "… my lover is everything I could wish for… sexy, attractive, loving, intelligent,… and no, it isn't Jim Brass."

Composing himself after his initial shock of seeing Sara pop up like a jack in the box, Warrick looked around at the faces around him. Greg's smirking grin he could understand, he had just been caught again by Sara after all. But what was up with Catherine's blush?

Nothing had been said or done that could warrant her obvious embarrassment. He pondered the question for a while and only when he noticed the matching rings, did the truth dawn on him. Before he could say anything however, Nick came in, saying: "Hey guys, Grissom's waiting for us in the lounge."

Chapter 25.

When they were all finally seated, Warrick throwing knowing glances and amused smiles to an oblivious Sara and a slightly nervous Catherine, making the latter fidget in her seat, Grissom cleared his throat to get everyone's attention. "Right, now that we're all here… first off, I have an internal announcement: Greg is to resume his responsibilities as a DNA technician for the time being."

"What? But why? I thought you said that he was doing so well. I know that he aced the first two tests, why is he banished back to DNA?" Nick asked incredulously.

Grissom expected this reaction, his team was a close –knit family and although they sometimes complained about Greg's eccentricity and his juvenile antics, they all considered him to be their annoying little brother. Theirs and theirs alone to pick on, so watch out anyone who even contemplated hurting him.

Sighing deeply, he said: "I know. He's not being demoted and the move has absolutely nothing to do with his ability in the field. He's surpassing my every expectation, he's a surprisingly good CSI. He immediately goes to the root of the problem, he has a good grasp of forensic reality and he has excellent detective instincts. He still has a lot to learn, but he shows a lot of promise. It's just that he's needed more in DNA at the moment.

The Grim Reaper case led to the arrest of Jake Stevens on rape charges, so you can see why we need someone reliable in DNA. Not only to handle all incoming cases, but also to check on all of Stevens' work. When word of this arrest gets out, every defense lawyer In Las Vegas will be rubbing his hands. We need to recheck everything handled by Stevens, otherwise we'll be slaughtered in court. Simply put, we need Greg's expertise."

"Rape?" Warrick mumbled, his eyebrows almost disappearing into his hair. Speaking up, he asked: "but why Greg? Surely another temp can be hired?"

"No, the sheriff wants to avoid another calamity like this and changed policy; all lab technicians are to be hired under a permanent contract as background checks are far more extensive then. Anyway, he shoved the hot potato of hiring someone new my way.

Frankly I don't know enough of the ins and outs of DNA to hold the preliminary interviews, so I've asked Greg to handle that. He'll make the first selection and then the sheriff and I will sit in on the final interview. Until a suitable replacement is found, I'm afraid that Greg is stuck in DNA.

Now back to business. Sara, the D.A.'s office has decided to cop a plea with Kevin Keats, which he and his family immediately accepted. He's to undergo psychiatric counseling for the next five years and has to perform 2500 hours of community service. If he re-offends the plea bargain will be considered null and void and he will be prosecuted.

Jake Stevens will be prosecuted for rape and a whole lot of other crimes. Seems to me that the district attorney really wants to throw the book at him." At Sara's nod, Grissom turned to Nick and Warrick and asked: "where are we on the desert corpse case?"

Looking at each other, the guys non verbally decided that Warrick should take the lead. "Well as you already know a local ornithologist found a headless body in the desert about a week ago. His story seems to check out, part of his university course consists of keeping track of the bird population in the mountain area of the desert, in association with the local nature and wildlife fund.

Anyway, he was heading for the mountains when he noticed a couple of vultures circling what he first thought to be the cadaver of a coyote. Only upon close inspection could he see that it was a human skeleton. Putrefaction was already in an advanced stage and critters had done a fair bit of damage. After he puked his guts out, luckily for us a bit further away, he called 911.

I thought the body had been there for at least a fortnight. As Doc Robbins couldn't pinpoint the exact time of death and since you were still away at that bug conference, I called in an old buddy of mine, who still owed me a favor. I think you might have heard of him, Derek Brody?"

Grissom nodded solemnly, stating: "straight A student, assistant to Professor Peabody, the leading authority on entomology. Brody is writing a PHD on the changing use of entomology in forensic science. There was a pretty interesting article by him on beetle pupae in last week's forensic magazine. Anyway, Peabody spoke very highly of him, said he was his best student and that he was already headhunted by the FBI, although he has still a year to go on his doctorate."

"That's right," Warrick said smiling, infinitely proud of his friend's achievements. "I asked Derek to do an entomological timeline and to my great surprise he told me that death had occurred four days prior. Though we're nearly at winter, exposure to the sun's heat, combined with wind and a little shielding, greatly accelerated the putrefaction process.

So by then we knew when he died, but we still didn't know who he was. As you can imagine it's rather difficult to identify a headless corpse. Fingerprint identification was out of the question because of the advanced putrefaction but also because the skin tissue of the hands had been deliberately removed with a corrosive acid.

We really needed to find the head, a virtually impossible task. We kept our eye on the missing persons' list and we searched the desert for five days, covering a five mile area, using sniffer dogs and the latest technology, but nothing. The head is nowhere to be found. Personally I think the killer took it with him as some kind of creepy souvenir.

Anyway, without the head I saw no other solution than to enlist the help of the public. After a rather heated debate, the sheriff reluctantly agreed to a television appeal. Besides basic characteristics as race, height and weight, all we had to offer the viewers were an old Navy tattoo on the victim's forearm and some strange scarring on his back.

Which is not a hell of a lot to start with, but we got a lucky break. We got the usual prank calls of course, but one of the few genuine calls we received was from an old lady who recognized her neighbor in the description. She hadn't seen him for a couple of days, but hadn't reported him missing as he regularly went on unexpected business trips.

She was believable enough to get a search warrant for the neighbor's house. DNA lifted from the house led to the identification of the victim as Archibald Tucker. Doc had to extract bone marrow for that as the body tissue was too degraded for a normal analysis.

We searched the house from top to bottom and although there were definite signs of a struggle, we ruled out the house as the murder scene. He also wasn't killed on the spot where he was dumped as there simply wasn't enough blood. So now we're dealing with several crime scenes: a primary crime scene where the vic was attacked and kidnapped. A secondary scene, location unknown, where he was murdered and a tertiary scene where he was dumped."

Interrupting Warrick, Sara asked: "why do you say kidnapped? Couldn't Tucker have gone with his murderer willingly?"

"I don't think so, no. There were definite signs of a struggle in the house: broken vases, glass everywhere, blood drops serology identified as the victim's. There were deep ligature marks on wrists and ankles and the hands had defensive wounds. Although almost all of the skin tissue of the hands was eaten away by both coyotes as the corrosive acid, clear cuts could be found on the hand bones. Doc Robbins confirmed that the cuts couldn't have come from coyote's teeth.

As Tuner's car keys nor the car itself can be found, I think the killer used the victim's own car to drive to the execution spot. According to the very helpful neighbor, Tucker drove a station wagon, so loads of room to carry a body. There's an APB out on the car, but so far nothing has turned up.

According to Doc Robbins the cause of death was massive blood loss, not very surprising when your head is chopped off. Although Tucker suffered a major heart attack mere minutes before he died, probably from extreme fright, the heart failure wasn't enough to kill him. Though incapacitated, Robbins thinks he was already in a deep coma, Tucker was still very much alive when he was beheaded.

The head was cut off in one single swoop. As no trial marks or ragged cuts were found, a very sharp instrument must have been used. It also indicates that the killer is most probably male as you need a great deal of strength to cut through bone. The angle of the incision led Robbins to conclude we're dealing with a vertical beheading: the victim was on his hands and knees, probably with his hands tied behind his back while the killer stood beside him.

The only way a vertical beheading can take place is by guillotine. As guillotines are hard to come by these days, I'm thinking more along the lines of the medieval version of a guillotine, namely the beheading by sword or axe. Like I said, there's only one incision, so my money's on the sword. Axes tended to need more than one blow before the head came off, at least that's what I remember my history teacher telling me.

As for a motive or the identity of the killer, we're still very much in the dark. The killer left no clues behind. In the house only the DNA of Tucker was found and the dumping site was too old to find something reliable. We were planning on reconstructing Tucker's past as it's our only way in finding out who did this and why. Tucker's daughter is landing tomorrow morning, maybe she'll be able to shed some light.

"I've got a feeling that this will turn out to be a very nasty case," Grissom said. "Probably all of us will have to work on it to solve it. Warrick, I want you to keep Sara and Catherine up to speed on this, okay? Ladies, for you I have a suspicious death in Caesar's Palace. Should it be a slam dunk, I want you to help Warrick and Nick, okay?"

"Sure," Sara said, taking the thick file Grissom was trying to hand to a totally oblivious Catherine. "But what about you? What are you going to be working on?"

"I have an emergency meeting with the mayor, the sheriff and Ecklie to sort out this Stevens' mess. When that finishes, I'll join Nick and Warrick."

Softly singing along with an old rock classic on the radio, Sara patiently waited for the light to turn green. She looked over to the passenger seat and noticed that Catherine was staring out of the window, the thick file Grissom had given her still untouched.

Although she had been uncharacteristically quiet ever since the meeting, Sara knew better than to push. Catherine would tell what was bothering her when she was good and ready and not a minute sooner. So Sara just let her be and continued their drive to Caesar's Palace, her humming the only thing breaking the peaceful silence.

They had almost reached their destination when Catherine turned around. The sheer worry plainly visible on her face, she whispered: "Warrick knows."

Sara immediately knew what Catherine was talking about and gently asked: "and this has you so spooked? You're worried about his reaction?"

Nervously fiddling with the file in her lap, Catherine admitted: "I know that it sounds stupid, Warrick only wants my happiness, but…. Yes, I'm afraid that he'll freak out or something. If he reacted dismissively or if he decided that he doesn't want to know me anymore, I'd be devastated. Heartbroken even. I mean, he's my best friend, he's the brother I never had. His rejection would tear me apart.

He knows that I like women too, I told him that from the word go and he said that he's okay with that. He never met any of my female lovers though; I always talked about them, but I never introduced them. So he might be okay with it in theory, it's a whole different ballgame when you're confronted with it in reality. How did Greg react when you told him? I mean, Greg is to you what Warrick means to me, so…"

Smirking at the memory of that particular conversation, Sara said: "he looked crushed for a minute, but then he got this lecherous grin on his face and I just knew I'd be feeding his midnight fantasies for the few nights.

Nothing really changed between us, he acted a little bit differently around me for a while, but at the end of the night he realized that I was still the same person. Guess he just had to get used to the idea. I do understand your concerns however, I have lost friends and acquaintances over the years by coming out to them. I couldn't understand their reaction at first, but then I realized that they couldn't have been friends in the first place, not if they can't accept me for who I am.

I don't think you have anything to worry about. I mean, it's Warrick we're talking about, remember? He's got to be the most laid back and liberal minded person I've ever met. Sure, he'll have to get used to the idea of us as a couple and he might act a bit strangely around us for a while, but you won't lose him as a friend. He will never reject you. How did he seem? Did he give any hints about his reaction?"

Catherine said: "well, he kept looking over at the two of us and he couldn't wipe that smug smile off his face."

"That's because he won our bet. Now we have to take him out for dinner and I just know he'll order the most expensive thing on the menu, just to spite us for keeping him in the dark," Sara mock whined. Turning serious again, she continued: "all kidding aside, I really think you have nothing to worry about. He didn't look at you like you were the scum of the earth nor did he send you death glares."

Looking back at Warrick's behavior, Catherine realized that she had overreacted and said: "you're right of course. This is Warrick we're talking about. As long as I'm happy, I could be bopping a web footed hairy purple alien for all he cares."

"Gee thanks I think," Sara snorted.

"Oh, you know what I mean," Catherine said with a smile. "Anyway, thanks for helping me see to sense."

"Anytime babe, that's what I'm here for. Anyway, head's up, we're here."

Reassured after her little panic attack, mentally chastising herself for acting so silly, Catherine got out of the SVU and opened up the trunk. When she saw that Sara made a grab for the heaviest bags, she swatted her arm away, stating that she would take care of it. Laughing Sara told her that she was pregnant, not physically impaired, but Catherine would have none of it.

Ever since Sara had revealed they would be having twins, she had been extra protective of Sara, pampering her as much as she could. Ignoring Sara's snigger when she couldn't suppress a groan, she lifted the two heavy bags out of the trunk, leaving two lighter ones for Sara. Having trouble keeping up with Sara's longer strides, cursing Sara under her breath for parking so far away, they headed for the service entrance.

Entering Caesar's Palace through the back, they were deftly guided through a maze of corridors and hallways by an aging and very talkative security guard. To Catherine's infinite relief, he saw that she was struggling and took one of the heavy bags, all the while regaling them with an increasingly absurd but definitely funny story about the time he stumbled upon a dead body.

He had led them to the service elevators when his radio started crackling and with an apologetic expression on his face, he said: "sorry ladies, duty calls I'm afraid. I won't be able to escort you to the crime scene. The body's in room 1514, that's on the fifteenth floor. A colleague of mine is waiting for you there. He's the one that found the body, so understandably he's a bit shaken. Go easy on him, would you?"

When they both nodded, he gave Catherine the bag back. With a half wave, he turned around again and barking orders in his walkie talkie he ran as fast as his stubby little legs would let him, giving the women a good impression of a penguin on speed.

Pushing the button for the elevator, Catherine asked: "what do you make of the desert body case? Creepy isn't it?"

Laughing Sara replied: "I took a look at the crime scene photographs yesterday and I'm glad that I wasn't the one to process that body. If a whiff of Baconman was enough to make me queasy, I dread to think what that would have done to me. The stench must have been unbearable and then all those creepy crawlies, … no thanks."

Catherine had to smile when Sara emphasized her disgust by shuddering and crinkling her nose. Then she asked: "what about the execution style? I mean we don't often come across a beheading, let alone beheadings of the medieval kind."

Scrunching her eyebrows, Sara replied: "well, I don't know really. Obviously the killer was trying to make a point, but I haven't got a clue what that is. All I can remember my history teacher saying is that sword beheading were a privilege of the nobility.

Ordinary people had their head chopped off by a blunt axe, so it took a couple of swings before the head was actually severed. I guess the killer still had some respect for the victim. The blatant disregard for the body however, the way it was dumped, the mutilations tell the exact opposite. Puzzling to say the least. There are just too many questions left unanswered at the moment."

It looked like Catherine wanted to ask more questions, but a soft ping, indicating their arrival at the fifteenth floor, cut their conversation short. A rather pale faced young man looked up when he heard their voices and met them halfway down the corridor. Politely offering them his hand, he awkwardly withdrew it again when he noticed they had their hands full. Laughing impishly, he nodded to them instead.

Nervously scraping his throat, he said: "erm a colleague of yours, a certain Jim Brass called. Said to tell you that he's been held up. He and David are stuck in a traffic jam and they'd get here as fast as they could. He tried to catch you on your cell phones, but got no reply so he asked me to relay the message."

Both woman made a grab for their cell and simultaneously said: "dead battery" "switched off". Switching her cell phone on again, Catherine turned back around to face the security guard and encouraged him to continue with a nod.

"My name is Bill Jenkins," he said, "and I've been working here as a security guard for the past four months. I was the one who found the body. The hotel lobby asked me to check the room when the phone was off the hook for more than an hour, although the victim had specifically asked to receive a wake up call at ten this evening.

When I arrived there was a 'do not disturb' card on the door. I knocked several times, banging on the door in the end, telling I was hotel security. When I got no reply I used the master key and as soon as I was inside, I knew something was wrong. I don't know, some weird vibe or something.

Anyway, I found him on the bed and immediately radioed it in. Then I closed the door behind me because I know better than to disturb a crime scene. I'm applying for the police academy, you see? I know these things. The only thing I touched was the door knob and I was really careful not to touch it on my way out."

"That's good," Sara said absentmindedly, her mind already on the job at hand. Not noticing the crumpling face of the security guard at not being complimented for his quick and clever thinking, Sara brushed past him, eager to start working.

Knowing that Sara was already in full CSI mode and that nothing could deter her from the crime scene at the moment, Catherine said: "you did well Bill. I have no doubt that you'll make an excellent police officer one day. Now, we need to take a look at the crime scene ourselves but then I'll come back to take your fingerprints and to ask you some more questions, okay? So if you could do me a favor? Could you wait out here and make sure no 'one enters the hotel room without our say so?"

Beaming at the compliments received, he nodded eagerly and took on an on guard pose, as if to say he definitely meant business. Inwardly laughing, Catherine picked up her bags and joined Sara, who stood waiting for her at room 1514.

Part 26

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