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 36.

The dark grey clouds looking more and more ominous as she neared Greg's place, Catherine screeched to a halt next to Warrick's SUV and jumped out of her car. Just then heaven's gates opened and the rain started pelting down. Very eager to avoid getting totally soaked, Catherine ran the short distance to Greg's door. Only narrowly avoiding a rather nasty tumble, her heel had gotten caught on the treacherous third step, she cursed under her breath before quickly checking if anyone had witnessed her clumsy and rather embarrassing mishap.

Satisfied that no' one was around, Greg really did live in the middle of nowhere, she straightened her jacket and ran her fingers through her hair before resolutely taking the last few steps to the door. Rolling her eyes when she noticed the bust door bell, she decided to give the door a couple of good knocks. From within the house she could hear her daughter yell "I'll get it" and mentally prepared herself for a whirlwind exit by Lindsey.

What only could have been five seconds later, the rather battered door creaked open and a widely grinning Lindsey came into view. "Hi mom, gosh you're wet", she said before grabbing Catherine by the hand and practically dragging her inside. "You've got to watch me beat Uncle Greg, I'm about to pulverize his Nintendo record". Laughing at her daughter's victorious glee at the prospect, she accepted Lindsey's manhandling with maternal resignation and allowed herself to be led into the living room.

Making sure Catherine watched her triumphant victory, Lindsey only let her hand go when they reached the couch; Catherine's sneaking suspicion that she had lost her daughter to the game again soon confirmed when Lindsey hit the resume button. Dripping all over Greg's carpet -she was really soaked through and through, jumping in a swimming pool fully clothed couldn't have made her any wetter - Catherine shrugged off her coat and carefully sank down on Greg's easy chair. She wasn't really worried about the chair getting wet, after all most of Greg's furniture had seen better days. After her little battle with the steps, she just didn't want to take any chances.

Once she was sure she wouldn't topple over, she looked over to Greg and said hello, but only got an animalistic grunt in reply. The surprise and confusion must have shown on her face because Lindsey began to explain: "don't mind Uncle Greg, mom. Sara always says that he's so focused on the game that everything around him just disappears into oblivion. He probably doesn't even know that you're here. Samantha could walk in right now and he wouldn't even notice."

"Right, don't take it personally, you mean" Catherine mumbled, watching her daughter easily wipe the floor with a slightly agitated Greg. The game quickly losing her interest, she turned to Lindsey again and asked: "so pumpkin, how was your day? Did you have fun at Melissa's?"

"Oh yeah," Lindsey gushed, never taking her eyes off the screen. "Her brothers teased us again and her parents wanted to know all about you and Sara, but Melissa and I had a lot of fun. We listened to music, watched videos and painted our nails. You know, the usual stuff." The girl fell quiet for a while, intent on delivering Greg the final blow. "YES, another one bites the dust," she then screamed before doing a rather taunting victory dance.

Throwing his joystick on the couch in dismay, Greg looked up and noticed Catherine. "Oh hi Catherine, I didn't you hear you come in. What in he…. Erm heck happened to you? You look like a drowned raccoon."

Throwing him a look that would make a lesser man shrivel up and die, Catherine haughtily asked: "may I use you bathroom for a minute? I want to freshen up a bit."

"Please, by all means do," he said, "before you frighten Sara to death. There are fresh towels in the hall cupboard." Giving Greg a light smack on the head in passing, Catherine left the living room. "What did I say wrong now?" Greg whined, rubbing the back of his head, but Lindsey just rolled her eyes at his stupidity and went to check the puppies again.

About ten minutes later, Catherine walked back in, looking a lot drier. Settling down on the couch, she asked Greg: "so how did the rehearsal go? Is Sara still nervous about her gig at the reunion?"

"Well, I told her that she has nothing to worry about, but you know how she is, a maniacal perfectionist. The rehearsals went smoothly, especially now Warrick has joined us. We actually sound like a band now," Greg laughed.

"Warrick? Yeah, I thought I saw his car outside. How did he get suckered into helping Sara rehearse?" Catherine asked.

"He offered apparently, said he enjoys jamming with friends. He's very good I must say. Anyway, he and Sara seem to have struck some kind of deal, I don't know the details. All I know is that he tool Stallion for a ride this afternoon."

"Where are Warrick and Sara now?" Catherine then asked.

"They're still in the basement. After we rehearsed all the songs Sara's going to perform at the reunion, they decided to try their hand at a bit of jazz. They don't need me for that, so I decided to keep Lindsey company," Greg said. "Little did I know that she'd annihilate me, your daughter is a real menace on Nintendo."

"That she is," Catherine smiled. "So jazz, huh? Are they any good?"

"Are you kidding? They're fabulous! Go and see for yourself, Lindsey and I'll take care of dinner. Pizza okay with you?

Nodding absentmindedly, Catherine headed for the basement. Not wanting to disturb Sara and Warrick, well if she was totally honest she wanted the chance to observe them unnoticed; she carefully tiptoed down the flight of stairs. Leaning against a wall, half obscured from sight by a big oak beam, she simply listened. She had heard Sara sing before, but Sara's adorable little habit of humming while concentrating or even the tiny blurb of a much younger Sara on stage could never have prepared her for this. She was simply awestruck.

Sara singing live, only accompanied by Warrick's keyboard…. Well there were simply no words for it. She truly sang from the heart, pouring her emotions in every word and Catherine felt humbled by the unmistakingable declaration of love. Although Sara still had no idea of her presence, there was no doubt in Catherine's mind that the words were directed at her. Remaining hidden in the half dark, she stayed silent and let the lyrics wash over her, by now fully determined to give Sara the surprise of a lifetime in the morning.

Unforgettable, that's what you are
Unforgettable though near or far
Like a song of love that clings to me
How the thought of you does things to me
Never before has someone been more

Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that's how you'll stay
That's why, darling, it's incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too

Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that's how you'll stay
That's why, darling, it's incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too

Warrick and Sara weren't even looking at each other, they both seemed lost in a world of their own, instinctively trusting the other to get it right. If Catherine didn't know any better, she'd swear they had been performing together for years. As Sara's last words died out, Warrick turned to Sara and said:" that was really awesome Sara, you've really inherited your grandparent's jazz genes."

Blushing at the compliment and not correcting his logical mistake, she answered:" thanks Warrick, that really means a lot, especially coming from you."

"Hey ….. maybe you'd like to join me sometime when I play in the home? You don't have to of course, but I really think you'd like it. How about it?"

"Sure, that sounds like fun, just let me know where and when," Sara smiled. Just then Catherine, who still had goose bumps all over by the sheer intensity of the performance, accidentally kicked a tin can laying around, the rattling noise making both Warrick and Sara look up. "Hi babe," Sara smiled.

Catherine came out of her dark hiding place and stepped up to the twosome. Giving Warrick a small nod and a light grin, she turned to Sara. Giving her a big smile, she stepped really close, hardly leaving any space between them. Snaking her arms around Sara's neck and back to pull her even tighter, she simply kissed her. They were both oblivious to the world around them and didn't see Warrick shake his head and retrieve his sheet music before ascending the steps and leaving them alone.

Moaning into Catherine's mouth, she let her hands slide down Catherine's back, only breaking away from the passionate, ferocious kiss when her lungs began to protest. Still holding Catherine impossibly close, she whispered against Catherine's mouth: "not that I' complaining, but what was that for?"

Putting her forehead against Sara's, Catherine answered rather hoarsely: "a million reasons, but specifically for being you. I love you Sara."

"I love you too," came the immediate reply. Taking a look around, she shyly added: "ooops, we seemed to have chased Warrick away."

Grinning cockily at that, Catherine decided to change topics and said: "you're a spectacular singer Sara, you really have nothing to worry about in your high school reunion. You'll blow them all away with the power of your voice. I just loved the way you sang 'Unforgettable'."

"I really meant what I sang," Sara admitted shyly.

"I know," Catherine said, giving Sara a light kiss. "Thank you for that and also thank you for the note, I really loved it. I feel the same way: 'you are my world, you're every breath I take, you're every move I make. Other eyes see the stars up in the skies, but for me they shine within your eyes. You are my night and day', I love you more than life itself." When she noticed that Sara was a bit embarrassed by the outpour of emotions, she added:" come on, we'd better get out of here before they send in a search party. Pizza should have arrived by now."

All the way home Lindsey regaled her mother with her adventures while at Greg's. Slightly miffed that she hadn't been offered any tiramisu, Warrick and Sara had gobbled it all up by the time she had arrived, Catherine listened to Lindsey's enthusiastic chatting with a contented smile on her face. They were already home by the time Lindsey got to Boomer and the puppies. Pulling up on the driveway, Catherine had a fair idea of the request that would undoubtedly follow. "….and Boomer just has the cutest puppies, they're really adorable," Lindsey gushed. Only pausing for two seconds, the girl then asked the inevitable question: "mom, can I have a dog?"

Sighing deeply at the heated discussion and temper tantrum that would surely follow, Catherine muttered a hasty "we'll see" before grabbing Sara's overnight bag out of the trunk and heading for the house.

Shutting the car door with an almighty bang, Lindsey put her hands in her coat pockets before stomping off after her mother, her face like a thunder cloud. "You always say that and it always means no," she whined, slamming the front door shut. "Why can't I have a dog? I promise that I'd take care of it, I'll walk it and feed it everyday. All the other kids in my class have pets, why can't I?"

"If all the other kids would jump off a cliff, would you do it too?" Catherine replied in a slightly elevated voice. "That's not a good reason to have a dog, you know? You don't seem to realize what hard work dogs are. They require a lot of time, effort, affection, exercise and training. They chew on the furniture, pee all over the house and dig up the lawn. Besides, they're full of fleas."

"Oooooh, you're no fun," Lindsey bristled. "I wish Dad was still here, I bet he would have given me a dog."

Catherine had no reply to that, partly because she knew it was true: Eddie would have given Lindsey a dog without even contemplating the consequences. Whatever his little girl wanted, she got. He never looked at the bigger picture, instant gratification his only goal. At the same time she felt like she was stabbed through the heart; tiny, maybe even insignificant things made it painfully clear for her that Lindsey didn't have a dad anymore to spoil her rotten, give into her every whim.

Then she got mad, mad at her good for nothing ex husband for getting himself murdered, mad at Lindsey for using Eddie against her to get her own way. Feeling her blood boil, Catherine tried to calm herself down before she said anything she'd regret later on. There was no use in tarnishing Eddie's memory, he still was Lindsey's father after all. The Willows women were at a stand off; they were glaring at each other, both so caught up in their own anger that the roaring engine of Sara's Harley didn't even register.

When Sara entered the house, she immediately got the distinct feeling that something was wrong; the atmosphere in the room was well below zero and Catherine and Lindsey were eyeing each other suspiciously like two cold war opponents. Realizing she'd have to be mediator in the peace talks, she shrugged off her coat before tentatively asking: "what's going on?"

Immediately both Willows women turned to face her and spoke at the same time. "Woah, woah, one at a time," Sara said, "what seems to be the problem? Maybe I can help?" When neither of them answered, she sighed deeply. This was going to be much harder than she originally thought. Sitting down on the couch, she continued: "okay, I have no idea what's going on here and until someone clues me in, I can't help. Now Lindsey, why don't you come sit over here and tell me what has got you so worked up?"

Thinking she might have found a good and powerful ally in Sara - a miniature version of her mother, Lindsey was very apt in playing the political power game- Lindsey immediately obeyed. She sat down next to Sara and simply said: "I want a dog."

"Aha," Lindsey nodded, "and I'm guessing that you're mother is not so fond of that idea? She said no I take it?"

"Well, not in so many words," Lindsey admitted, "she just said <we'll see>> but that boils down to the same thing."

"I see," Sara said. "Now Lindsey, why do you want a dog?"

Thinking she was in with a chance now, Sara was a known animal lover after all, the girl smiled brightly and said: "they're so cute and cuddly. You can take them for long walks, play with them and pet them. They're fun, I love dogs."

"That's all very true Lindsey, dogs are great pets," Sara admitted, earning her a Medusa like stare from Catherine. Giving her lover a sly wink, she continued:" but dogs aren't just for a moment, you have to take care of them for a very long time. When you're out playing with your dolls or playing with Nintendo, you can just stop playing when you're fed up with it. You can't do that with dogs, they need your constant attention. If your mother got you a dog now, you'd be taking care of it until you're twenty five. Tell me, what would you do with the dog when you're at school?"

"Well mom or aunt Nancy could take care of him then," Lindsey reasoned.

Laughing Sara answered: "that's not the way it works, kiddo. You can't just shrug off the responsibility of your dog to someone else. You're the one that wants a dog, so you're the one that needs to take care of it. You can't just lumber your mom or your aunt with your dog. Besides, when you're at school, your aunt is at work and your mom's sleeping. The dog would be very lonely, cooped up in the house all by himself. There'd be pee stains all over the rugs because he can't open the doors by himself, he'd get so bored that he's start chewing your favorite sneaker just to pass the time. Just imagine, you'd need your sneakers for gym class and there'd be doggie drool all over them."

When she noticed Lindsey scrunching her nose and mumbling 'gross', Sara knew that she was on the right track and quickly continued: "of course you'd have to groom the dog: comb his hair, trim his nails and wash him. Do you remember what happened the last time we tried to give Boomer a bath? Greg's bathroom was completely inundated and we were soaked.

Of course it would also be your job to clean up after the dog and let me tell you, dogs can be very messy. They leave hairs all over the house, so you'd be vacuuming every single day. They track in dirt because they don't know how to wipe their paws and sometimes they get diarrhea so you'd have to clean up smelly, runny dog poop. And when you're tied of cleaning up after him, you'd still have to take him for his walk, because a dog needs a lot of exercise.

It all boils down to putting the dog's needs above your own wants. No matter how exhausted you are or how great a television show is, no matter if it's raining, freezing or snowing, the dog still needs to be walked. They throw up at four A.M. on a Sunday morning and bark all night because they think they've heard a cat. They don't sound so cute and cuddly now, do they?"

"When you put it like that, no," Lindsey admitted. "I guess I can play aunt to Boomer; that way I get to do all the good stuff with her while Uncle Greg is left with the nasty, disgusting things."

"Smart thinking short stuff," Sara said, giving her a wink.

"Besides the dog would be chasing Garfield and Tequila all over the house," Lindsey added as an afterthought. When both adults looked at her dumbfoundedl she continued: "now Sara's having a baby, she'll be moving in here pretty soon, so we'd already have two cats. Guess I'll have pets after all. Well I'm off to bed, I'm tired and I have school in the morning. Goodnight."

"Night Lindsey," they both mumbled. Then Catherine added: "I'll be there shortly to tuck you in" while Sara mused the fact that Lindsey was so like her mother: they both always wanted to have the last word.

By the time Catherine came back downstairs, Sara was nervously pacing the living room floor. When she noticed Catherine, she smiled awkwardly to dispel the ominous silence that threatened to fall. Both women were still in a state of shock, they realized that they desperately needed to discuss their long term plans, but neither quite knew how to raise the subject. Now a ten year old had done it for them. They just stood there gawking at each other, until Sara, for the very first time in her life, decided to take the bull by the horns.

Quickly she ushered Catherine to the couch before resuming her pacing, never taking her eyes off the ground. In a rather timid voice, she said: "I've been thinking about what Lindsey just said and she has a good point, you know? I know that I'm not that far into my pregnancy yet, so there's no real need to rush into anything. We don't have to move in together next week or even next month, but we do need to start talking about it. We have a lot to discuss, a lot of decisions to make.

We don't want to leave everything to the very last minute, as you probably know by now I need structured plans to function properly. I realize that I need to lighten up a bit and start living day by day, but I don't like the feeling of our future together being up in the air. I need clarity, I need to know where we stand. Besides pretty soon I'll balloon up to the size of a small elephant and it'll be too late by then.

Moving in together is a very big step, one not to be taken lightly as it'll affect all of our lives. I guess me being pregnant throws a spanner into the works, we don't really have the luxury of taking things slowly, of getting to know each other properly before taking the next logical step. We need to speed up considerably, figure things out as we go along, something I think you should appreciate…."

As Catherine remained silent throughout Sara's lengthy speech, she just sat there watching Sara's pacing with an undecipherable look on her face, Sara grew even more nervous. It never even occurred to her that she hadn't really given Catherine the chance to interrupt. Instead her old self doubts resurfaced, the fear that Catherine didn't want to be with her after all started gnawing at her.

She said: "that is … if you want us to move in together of course. I wouldn't want to pressure you in any way, if you think that we're going too fast for your liking, just say so. We would only be talking about it now, I mean we wouldn't be moving in together just yet. We still have some time, I'm only about ten weeks along now so …."

Catherine realized that she had to stop Sara before she worked herself into a frenzy, Sara's blood pressure skyrocketing wasn't good for either her or the twins. As her lover was still trying to wear a path in the carpet, never once looking up, Catherine decided the best way to get her attention was simply to block her passage. Forcing Sara to look up when they bumped into each other, she gave her a small kiss.

Once she knew she had Sara's full attention, she said: "you're right, we should at least start talking about it. Why don't we sit down and discuss this instead of pacing around like a madwoman?" When Sara obediently sank down on the couch, sending her an impish smile as way of apology, she added: "I think we should move in together and preferably before your last trimester as you'll need a lot more help by then. So the only questions that remain are where and when?"

"I hadn't thought that far ahead to be honest," Sara sheepishly admitted. "I guess that my place is out of the question, I hardly have enough space for you and Lindsey, let alone for a family of five. We would be on each other's lip, pressed together like sardines in a can."

"I guess we would be kind of cramped in your apartment," Catherine said. "Besides, children need space, a garden to play in, a nice and quiet neighborhood. It would be far more practical if you moved in with me, at least for the first couple of years. We could always look for a bigger place once the twins are a bit older. What about furniture though?"

"Well, I have some things I really want to keep, as I'm sure you do too. We'll just have to find a way to combine both of our things. We could always rent a storage place to stock some of our excess furniture for a while, until we figure out what to do with it," Sara suggested.

"I like that idea, we just have to reach a compromise on what we'll keep for now and what we'll put in storage. Those are details we can take care of another time, a far more important question still need to be answered: when?"

"Well, I don't know, when do you think?" Sara said, throwing the ball back into Catherine's corner.

"Well, we're the beginning of December now, why don't we try for the beginning of February? You'd be in your second trimester by then and getting a bit … rounder. You'd need more help by then. Besides it gives us plenty of time to figure out what to do with the furniture. What do you think?"

"That sounds good to me," Sara said.

"Oh, what about your lease? When does that run out? I didn't think about that," Catherine said.

"I own the apartment, well the bank does at the moment. I guess I can either sell it or let it, whichever is more practical. Maybe we should consider letting it while we live at your place, that way my mortgage would be paying itself. When we do look for another place further down the line, I'd sell it," Sara said thoughtfully.

"that sounds sensible," Catherine remarked. When she noticed the advanced time, she added: "I'm glad we straightened this out. Anyway, I'd better get ready for work. Oh, before I forget, you need to call your gran back in about an hour. She called earlier today and was awfully worried about something. Something to do with Thomas I think. She said she'd be home by midnight."

"Thomas? I wonder what that's all about…." Sara said. When Catherine was half way up the stairs, she added: "don't kill Nick when you see him, I rather like having you around. It wouldn't be the same visiting you behind bars." Catherine didn't reply to that, she just stuck her tongue out and resumed her ascent of the stairs.

Chapter 37.

After a rather restless night, her world thrown into turmoil she had kept tossing and turning, Sara really wasn't in the mood to face Bonnie Roberts that early in the morning. Her comments and remarks were undoubtedly well meant and unassuming, but they still rubbed Sara the wrong way, especially on days like these when her fuse was already unusually short. Though using Bonnie as her proverbial punch bag would most probably make her feel better, she reluctantly decided to resist temptation. She had to set a good example for Lindsey after all, verbally abusing her best friend's mom simply wouldn't do, however much it would make her feel better.

Parking her car along the sideway right in front of the Roberts' house, Sara wisely decided to stay in the car and sent out Lindsey to fetch Melissa. As soon as the giggling girls had settled down in the backseat, Sara pulled out, checking the rear view mirror to make sure they were properly buckled up. Not even giving the waving Bonnie a sideway glance or a nod of acknowledgement, she set a course for the girls' school.

Lindsey and Melissa were engrossed in a private conversation, filling each other in on the latest tidbits of showbiz gossip in hushed tones, leaving Sara alone to her thoughts. Totally oblivious to the nervous giggling, secretive whispering and the sly winks in the back, Sara allowed her thoughts to drift back to her rather odd phone call with her gran. Though her gran was one of the most laidback septuagenarians she knew, taking life as it came and never phased by any of the curves Fate threw her way - worrying only gave you wrinkles gran always said – she was now deeply concerned about Thomas.

It seemed that Sara's brother had gone AWOL and that was totally unlike him. Although they were used to Thomas being unreachable for days on end, he always touched base at least once a week, usually calling gran or sending Sara an e-mail. He always said the contact kept him grounded and sane, his demanding and high pressure job taking it's toll on him mentally. Thomas was a very successful stockbroker, having climbed to a top position with in one of Wall Street's most influential companies before he was even thirty five. Now aged forty, he could retire if he wanted to, but he preferred to continue working, work actually being one of the only things he lived for.

Thomas hadn't been in touch with either one of them in weeks and even more baffling, his boss had told gran that Thomas had suddenly taken up all of his vacation days. Thomas, who lived for his work, who hadn't taken a holiday in years, had stepped into his bosses office and asked, no demanded a three month leave. Sara could totally understand her gran's concern and worry, taking a holiday out of the blue, letting no' one know where he's headed, it was just so out of character for Thomas.

Sara was pretty sure Thomas was fine, she knew that he could take care of himself and that he'd resurface as soon as he had recharged his batteries. Thomas always cut himself off of the rest of the world when things got too much for him to bear, so he was most probably just brooding somewhere in peace, taking stock of his life, but still ….. his continued silence and the uncertainty of his whereabouts were killing her. For her gran's peace of mind, not to mention her own, she just wished she knew where he was.

She knew he was going through some kind of rough patch: his latest fling turned sour, the promotion he so richly deserved going to a brown nosing rival, then his job losing it's appeal, joy and fulfillment. The last time they had talked, Thomas had jokingly said that he was probably heading for an early midlife crisis. By the sound of things, he could have been right. Sara just hoped he wouldn't do anything stupid.

Pulling up to the school, she repeated to herself that there was no reason to panic, that Thomas would be just fine. He was a pretty level headed guy after all, he just needed some time out of the Rat Race to find himself again. Almost convinced of the veracity of her mantra, she decided to ban all thoughts of Thomas to the back of her mind. There was no use in her worrying about something she couldn't change anyway, Thomas would contact her soon enough.

Thinking that Catherine's "laissez faire" attitude was finally rubbing off on her, she got out of the car and walked over to the passenger side. Opening the door to let two very eager girls out, she asked: "what has you two so excited then? Don't tell me you can't wait to start school?" When the girls just giggled, never answering the question, she added: "aahhh, it's a secret, huh? I can live with that. Well, have a good day at school and don't forget, I'll be here around three to pick you back up. Remember, even the wisest mind has something yet to learn." Laughing softly when she heard Melissa ask Lindsey what she had meant by that, she watched the girls enter the building.

"That was good advice," Nancy said, scaring the living daylights out of Sara, who hadn't noticed her standing so close.

"What are you doing here?" Sara asked. "I mean, shouldn't you be at work or something? I thought Catherine had told you I'd be taking the kids to school today and tomorrow. Don't tell me she forgot to mention it, I hate for you to have wasted your time."

"Relax," Nancy said. "Catherine told me. I took the day off work today, so I thought I'd have a good gossip session with the both of you. I figured you'd be dropping Linds off so I came here instead of to the house."

"Well, you'll have to settle for just me I'm afraid," Sara said. "Catherine called earlier, she caught a B&E just before shift ended. It seems a pretty open and shut case, but she'll still be a couple of hours at least."

"That's okay," Nancy smiled. "it'll give us a chance to get to know each other a bit better." When she noticed Sara's slightly panicked expression, she added: "don't worry, my bark is worse than my bite. Besides I like you, I think you're perfect for my sister. So… do you want to grab a coffee somewhere?"

"Would you mind if we just headed back to Catherine's place? It's just that I promised I'd be there when she came in," Sara admitted with a sheepish grin.

Laughing at Sara's obvious embarrassment, Nancy said: "that's just fine. Come on, I'll follow you out."

Feeling beyond tired, Catherine walked into the locker room; shift had really sucked the life out of her, she felt completely and utterly exhausted. Though the B&E she caught at the very last minute was pretty open and shut, the culprit had been caught red handed, gathering the forensic evidence at the scene had been very time, not to mention energy consuming. All Catherine wanted to do right now, was crawl into bed and sleep. Changing outfits at lightning speed, she grabbed her purse and all but ran out of there, the sooner she got home the better.

The moment Grissom had handed her the pink slip, she had to refrain herself from cursing loudly; not only did the assignment mean she'd have to pull a lot of overtime yet again, it also threw a spanner into her plans for the morning. Knowing they'd have the house to themselves for several hours, she had wanted to woo her lover, seduce her so that there was no doubt in Sara's mind exactly how much she loved and adored her. Then the B&E came in and Catherine had to kiss goodbye to her grand plans, her Casanova seduction postponed for a day so she could replenish her energy levels.

Yawning widely she got into her car, donning her sunglasses as the radiant December sun was unremorseful in it's brightness. Slowly backing out of her parking space, she put the radio on full blast so she wouldn't fall asleep behind the wheel. One of Greg's CD's making a rather unexpected appearance in her car, she suspected Lindsey was behind this, she sang along to Evanescence's 'Forgive me' while weaving her way through the early afternoon's traffic, cursing every time she encountered stop lights or a tiny traffic jam. Finally arriving home after what seemed an eternity, she groaned loudly when she noticed Nancy's car parked in front of the house. Only Nancy would drive around with a bumper sticker like 'I have PMS and a handgun ANY QUESTIONS?' She loved her sister dearly, but she also knew just how much she loved to gossip. At this rate she would be lucky to get in bed before shift began again.

Stepping inside the house, she threw her handbag and coat on the couch before venturing in further. Guided by the mouth watering aroma of freshly cooked food and the animated chatting, she made her way to the kitchen. Leaning against the door frame, the scene before her put a warm smile to her face: her lover and her sister, standing side by side, cooking and chatting. "So how did your date go last night?" she heard Sara ask. "Did he live up to expectation? Was he everything you thought he'd be?"

"God no, quite the opposite actually," Nancy sighed dejectedly, adding some chopped tomatoes to the pot Sara was stirring. They both had their backs to the doorway, so Catherine was in the perfect position to eavesdrop. "The evening was a total waste of time, money and make up," Nancy continued. "If I had known it would be the date from hell, I would never have bought that expensive dress.

The night started out pleasantly enough, he had me picked up in a rented black limo, a single red rose and a bottle of chilled Champaign waiting for me on the back seat. He spared no expenses, first we went to a show and then we had dinner in an exclusive restaurant. I thought I had picked myself a winner this time, you know? A bonsai tree amongst cacti, a Truffle amongst mushrooms."

Adding some more tomatoes to the soup, Nancy feel silent for a while, gathering her thoughts. Snorting derisively, she continued: "I should have known it was too good to be true. Don't get me wrong, Richard is a very nice and charming man, the epitome of old fashioned charm and class in fact. He played the role of the perfect gentleman brilliantly: offering me his arm, holding the doors open, helping me with my coat. I really can't complain about the way he behaved, he never pressured me or anything, it's just that…. How can I put this diplomatically?

He must be an experiment in artificial stupidity, the blue print for building an idiot, the living proof that evolution can go in reverse. Simply put, he isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, he would even make Homer Simpson look like a Mensa member. He doesn't know anything, nothing even remotely intelligent crossed his lips. It was like talking to a ten year old, although that does Lindsey injustice: I've had more stimulating discussions with her than I ever could have with Richard. At first I thought it was because he was nervous, I know he's shy and withdrawn, he hardly opens his mouth at work. So I tried to keep the conversation going, you know? I asked him questions on several topics, but had no luck.

Normally in situations like these, when men realize that they can't dazzle you with their brilliance, they try to baffle you with their bullshit. You wouldn't believe the nonsense I've heard over the years: crap tales about wealth and success, macho stories of heroism, megalomaniac fabrications of self importance… You name it, I've heard it, but not last night. Richard didn't waffle on about some boring, stupid subject, he hardly said a word all evening. I felt like I was on a date with a damn mime: visually present, just not audibly.

You probably think that I scared the poor man to death, I know I can be domineering and intimidating at times. But nothing could be further from the truth in this case, I really tried to lure him into conversation several times. Nothing worked. He remained monosyllabic at best. Now I finally understand why he's so quiet at work, he probably doesn't know what we're talking about half the time. The only thing he has going for him are his looks, I mean the man's absolutely yummy. Too bad his antenna doesn't pick up all the channels, he's a beautiful idiot."

"Isn't that a bit harsh?" Sara asked. "I mean, he does work at a bank, he can't be that stupid?"

"Believe me, Richard fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on his way down, "Nancy explained vigorously. "Besides, he's only a glorified secretary, not even that come to think of it. He just sorts the mail, waters the plants and handles the phone. I suspect Sheila, that's my boss, wasn't thinking with her brain when she hired him. She probably had an affair with him already, I wouldn't put it past her, she's a man eater.

Laughing silently and shaking her head at her sister's indignant tone, Catherine ventured further into the kitchen. Clearing her throat so she wouldn't scare them to death with her sudden presence, she said: "you're a real agent of Satan, aren't you Nancy? Passing such harsh judgment on Sheila and Richard." Walking over to Sara, she gave her grinning lover a kiss. "I'm really glad I'm home, I'm exhausted," she whispered into her ear.

Turning around to face Catherine, Nancy took note of her sister's wary expression and said: "damn Catherine, you look like shit. Rough shift huh? Anyway, in answer to your question, I may very well be one of Beelzebub's little minions, but my duties are largely ceremonial. Besides you know what Sheila's like, she slept her way through senior management to get to where she is now. It would be just like her to hire Richard just for his looks, just to prove to herself that she can still pull the boys."

"Well, you might have a good point where Sheila's concerned," Catherine conceded. "The woman's a barracuda always on the lookout for a new man. But Richard? Aren't you a bit harsh on him? You should be ashamed of yourself Nancy, you're an intellectual snob. Not everyone knows who Nietzsche is, not everyone's interested in books, poetry or theater. Cut the man some slack."

"I know that not everyone shares my interests, but the man really didn't know a thing. I tried talking to him about a wide variety of subjects, but nothing. You've got to admit, spending the rest of your life with a man who has the mental capacity of a toddler, where's the appeal in that? Looks aren't everything, you know? You need some intelligent conversation from time to time."

"I'm sure you're exaggerating. I mean, every time you go out on a date, you always find some fault in the man. Something you can't possibly live with or so you say. You're on the lookout for a perfect man, a prince charming to sweep you of your feet. I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but that man doesn't exist. Nobody's perfect, we all have our faults and little eccentricities. You're way too picky for you own good. If you keep this up, you'll end up a lonely old spinster," Catherine said.

"I'm not too picky," Nancy sulked, crossing her arms over her chest and giving Catherine a death glare.

Sara remained quiet, intrigued by the verbal sparring between the sisters. Besides, it probably was safer to butt out, the way Nancy was looking at Catherine, it was simply scary.

"Yes you are," Catherine taunted. "Remember Anthony? You rejected him because he was too short!"

"He was a midget," Nancy countered. "He was at least ten inches smaller than I am. He would have needed a step ladder just to kiss me."

"Well, what about Mitchell?" Catherine asked. "I met him, there was nothing wrong with him."


Nothing wrong with him? You've got to be kidding me!" Nancy guffawed. He had a nervous tic, he kept twitching his nostrils and eyebrows all through dinner, it drove me crazy in the end."

"Hmmm," Catherine said, doubting the veracity of that statement. "Well, what was wrong with William then?"

"William was a serial womanizer with a wandering eye," Nancy grumbled. "He flirted with everything that wore a skirt on our date. He kept ogling my cleavage, I caught him drooling over the woman seated next to us and had to tell his pants it's impolite to point at the cocktail waitress. And he stuck me with the bill, the obnoxious little twerp."

"Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that," Catherine laughed. "If I remember correctly he even flirted with me when he came to pick you up. What about John then?"

"Ah John, he was a very charming and intelligent man, we talked for hours and had a genuinely good time. I would have gone on a second date with him if it hadn't been for that huge zit on his nose. I mean, it was monstrously big, a life form on its own. I just kept staring at it, it took over his whole face," Nancy said.

"Nancy, I have to admit, by the sound of things, you are very picky. You set your standards so high, every man is doomed to fail. I don't mean to say that you should have a mad passionate affair with the next man you meet, but you have to give them a fighting chance at least," Sara said. "I do understand where you're coming from however. You want to make sure he's the man of your dreams, the one you want to spend the rest of your life with. But the way you're going about it now, you just set them up for failure. I suspect all that will change when you meet that special man; you'll be so blown away, you won't even notice his tiny quirks."

"I agree with that," Catherine replied. "Love is blind. At first you won't notice his faults and later on, you'll find them endearing just because they're part of him."

"You know," Nancy laughed, "you two could moonlight as agony aunts, you're both perfect at it. Anyway, I'd better get going, I still have a lot of things to do and if the bags under Catherine's eyes get any bigger, they'll need a separate airline ticket."

Giving her sister a friendly swat for that remark, Catherine stood up to let her out. By the time she got back, Sara had already poured her a bowl of soup. "She's right, you know?" she said. "You do look tired. Why don't you have a bit of soup and then head straight for bed?"

"That sounds heavenly. I'm simply exhausted, shift sucked the energy right out of me," Catherine admitted.

"Well, I'll make sure you have a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep. I'll take Lindsey to Sorcha's after school; I've got something to ask her anyway. We'll be very quiet when we get back, so you can sleep right until dinner, okay?" Sara said.

Too tired to even speak, Catherine merely nodded and ate the last of her soup before going to bed.

Chapter 38.

Nodding hello at some of the other women waiting at the school gates, Sara reluctantly went to stand amongst them. Leaning against a brick wall, a little secluded from the main group, she observed them with an amused glint in her eye. She never ceased to be amazed by the vicious way the waiting mothers dissected other people's life just for fun, without a second thought to the emotions and feelings of the people involved.

Without any qualms whatsoever, they were gossiping about one of the women's neighbors, a couple that had apparently shocked and outraged the community by outing themselves as swingers. Moral, religious, political and practical objections discussed, the group gradually moved on to other deviant sexual tendencies. Their attitude towards sex were traditional and ultra conservative to say the least, Sara could feel some curious sideway glances cast upon her, though the women didn't really dare touch the subject of rampant lesbianism in her presence.

Smiling politely whenever she felt someone look at her, she cursed herself for being early and subjecting herself to the group's condemning scrutiny. Looking at her watch to see how many more grueling minutes of utter drivel she had to endure, she was very relieved to hear the school bell ring at last. One minute later the big oak doors burst open, running and screaming kids oozed out of the building, relieved school was over for the day.

The steady stream of elated children had already diminished to a small trickle when Sara finally spotted Lindsey and Melissa. The girls were walking side by side, almost hunched over by the weight of their heavy rucksacks. Walking up to them, she noticed they were involved in an animated discussion. Lifting the rucksacks with remarkable ease, she asked: "hi girls, how was your day?"

"Good I guess," Lindsey mumbled while Melissa remained silent, a slightly dejected expression on her face.

"Why the long faces? What's the matter? Did something happen?" Sara asked concerned.

"No, not really, its just that … well Melissa and I have to make a presentation next week and we haven't got a clue what topic to choose," Lindsey sighed.

Settling the girls in the backseat, making sure they were buckled up, Sara took her rightful place behind the wheel and started the car. Looking at the girls through the rear view mirror, she said: "a presentation, huh? Well, what did the teacher say? I mean, can you choose your topic freely or do you have to talk about something specific, like a historical event?"

"Well, Miss Landry divided the class into groups of two and gave each group three topics to choose from. We have to talk about either gravity, twisters or volcanoes, but we don't know which one to choose," Melissa informed Sara.

"We don't want to bore the others to death with our speech, we want them to be really interested, you know? We want to impress them by showing it in action, either make a model or hold a scientific experiment or something. The problem is, we don't really know how to do that. We really need your help Sara, please?" Lindsey added in a sickenly sweet voice.

When she noticed Lindsey throwing her puppy dog looks, Sara had to chuckle. "You don't have to suck up to me Short Stuff, you know I'd be happy to help. But… I have one condition…" Making sure she'd get her point across, she waited until the girls nodded before she continued:" … you have to remember that it's your presentation, don't expect me to do all the hard work while you two sit back and reap all the praise.

I'll help wherever I can, explain the things you don't understand and help you guys make a model, but I expect you to pull your share. You have to do some thorough research, get to know the phenomena. Why don't you try to find some information tonight? Try to find out which phenomenon interests you more or which one is easier to explain…. You have to keep your presentation simple, if you get too technical, your classmates will nod off. So choose something you understand yourself, okay? How about you do some research tonight, then tomorrow you confer and let me know what topic you've chosen?" Sara said.

"That's a really good idea," Melissa said. "I'll ask my mom to drive me to the library this afternoon. They're bound to have a lot of books we can use. Lindsey, maybe you can search the internet for information?"

"Okay," Lindsey replied, "I'll try to find as much information as possible. Maybe we can include some background stories or some famous examples of the phenomenon? It would break the boring science part up, so the others won't fall asleep that easily."

"I wouldn't consider the science part boring, but I know what you mean. That's a very good idea Lindsey," Sara praised. "Nobody likes lengthy and detailed explanations, you've got to make it tangible, accessible for everybody. Okay so your game plan is to gather as much information as you can today. Look it over, try to understand the science behind it and then decide on your topic tomorrow. We'll take it from there then, okay?" When both girls nodded, Sara put the car into gear and drove off. About fifteen minutes later, they arrived at the Roberts place, Bonnie thankfully nowhere in sight. Helping Melissa across the rather busy street, Sara said: "have fun at the library kiddo and I'll see you tomorrow."

Waving the girl goodbye, Sara waited until she had disappeared into the house before climbing back in the car. Turning to face Lindsey, she said: "your mom didn't come in until late and she's still sleeping. How about we go and see a very good friend of mine? She's a bit weird, but in a good way. I promise that you'll like her. She's a real computer whiz and I'm sure she wouldn't mind helping you out with your mom's Christmas present. How about it?" When Lindsey nodded her assent, Sara drove off to Sorcha's.

Walking back to the alley where Sara had parked the car a couple of hours earlier, Lindsey couldn't stop talking about the wonderful afternoon they had spent at Sorcha's. Delighted to meet Catherine's 'little spitfire' as she called her, Sorcha had pulled out all the stops to keep the girl amused on a rainy Monday afternoon. Giving Sara a sly and conspiratorial wink when Lindsey wasn't looking, she had casually offered to read the girl's palm, knowing from Sara that Lindsey was quite intrigued by all things spiritual and occult.

Giggling nervously, Lindsey wiped her sweaty hands on her jeans before sliding next to Sorcha, eagerly holding out her hand palm side up. Her eyes wide with anticipation and her fingers slightly trembling, she interrogated the old woman on the specific meaning of each line. Making quite a show of it, oohing and aahing at all the right places, Sorcha traced the intricate patterns of Lindsey's upheld palm and whispered her future into her ear. Sara had to bite her lip hard when Lindsey first turned a healthy shade of red before showing a satisfied smirk when she heard what Fate had in store for her.

Over tea and cakes, the old woman had Lindsey and Sara in fits of laughter when she told them anecdotal stories of her mischievous youth in Scotland. Promising Lindsey she'd find it an honor to help her with her special video, she had let her use the computer for her science research while she and Sara talked about Thomas in the kitchen. Both Lindsey and Sara left the house a hell of a lot happier.

"You have some really awesome friends Sara," Lindsey gushed. "I really like Sorcha: although she talks a bit weird and has the strangest taste in clothes, she's really funny. I can't believe she knows how to read palms, I can't wait to tell Melissa what she said about J …. Erm someone I know. I told her dreams come true if you waited long enough. She'll be so jealous because she likes J… erm him too, but Sorcha said I'd marry the man of my dreams when I'm older so …."

Shaking her head at the way Lindsey tried to hide the name of her crush, Sara remained silent and listened to the girl babbling on. "… I can't believe that she saw the Loch Ness monster when she was my age, I would have been so scared. But not Sorcha, she's really awesome. With her help, mom will have the best Christmas present ever. It's really weird that Sorcha knows how to do all that computer and video stuff. I mean, she's like … ancient. Do you know what you're going to get my mom for Christmas yet?"

Startled at the sudden change of topic, Sara took a minute to gather her thoughts. Unlocking the car, she nervously said: "well, you know that my gran's getting married on Christmas Eve, right? I was thinking that I'd sing at the reception. You know, a song especially for your mom to show her how much I love her. What do you think?"

"I guess that's okay," Lindsey said, none too convinced.

"What? Don't you like that idea?" Sara asked, not so sure herself now.

"Well …. I'm sure my mom will love it, she'll cry a lot too, she always does that, but … she only gets to see it once, you know? I mean, if you'd knit her a sweater or something, she could use it over and over again, so she'd always know that you love her," Lindsey explained.

"Well kid, I'm useless at knitting. Your mom would only end up with a sweater that'll shrink to the size of a handkerchief during the first wash. But I can see your point. How about I appoint you the official videographer of the wedding? That way you could tape me while I sing and your mom would be able to watch it over and over again," Sara said.

"Cool, I really like that idea," Lindsey gushed. "So you want me to videotape the whole wedding, right?"

"Yeah, the ceremony, the cutting of the cake, the first dance, the throwing of the bouquet, me making a big fool out of myself on stage, everything. Do you think that you're up to it?" Sara asked.

"Uhuh, of course I am," Lindsey nodded frantically.

"Okay then, we have a deal, but remember….. Not a word to your mother about this, it's our little secret. Hmmm, speaking about your mother, she'll probably be up and about by now, we'd better get back," Sara said, starting the car.

Giving her house key to a pretty impatient Lindsey – the whole drive over from Sorcha's she had been whining about needing the bathroom – Sara got the girl's rucksack out of the trunk and sighed contentedly, peace and quiet at last. Lifting the heavy bag over her shoulder before locking the car, she followed Lindsey in at a more leisurely pace. Dropping the bag to the ground and shrugging off her coat, she was surprised to find Catherine's sister sitting on the couch, reading a gossip magazine. "Hey Nancy," she smiled, "you can't seem to keep away from us today."

"It sure seems that way," Nancy laughed, throwing the magazine back on the table. "Catherine called me over actually, she wanted me to do her this big favor and being the good sister that I am, I immediately rushed over to her rescue."

"Good sister my ass, more like the Wicked Witch of the West," Catherine grumbled, descending the stairs after being ostensibly thrown out of the bathroom by her daughter. "I had to beg her on bended knees to come over, I really had to make her all kinds of promises in return before madam even considered getting her butt over here, but I don't care …. It's worth it."

"What is?" Sara asked perplexed, thinking she had mistakenly landed in an episode of the Twilight Zone. She had no idea what was going on and looked at Catherine for an explanation, but Catherine didn't really notice as she was too busy toweling her hair dry. Though she was still wearing her nightgown – Sara's favorite one, a black silky one that never managed to stay on for long – she looked a whole lot better: the dark circles under her eyes had disappeared and her crystal blue eyes definitely held a mischievous glint. As far as Sara could tell, the nap had done her lover a world of good.

"You are", Catherine finally said, making Sara even more confused. "I'm taking you out to your favorite Italian tonight, so I've asked Nancy to babysit Lindsey. I even made up the spare bedroom so she doesn't have to drive home at an ungodly hour. As soon as my darling daughter has vacated the bathroom, I'll finish getting dressed and I suggest you do the same." Licking her lips sensuously, she took a couple of steps closer to a rather baffled Sara. Slowly running her fingers up her lover's arms, she curled them around her neck, scraping her nails through Sara's hair.

Hoarsely she purred into her ear:" why don't you go for full leathers tonight? You know how it always drives me wild. We could even take the motorcycle if you want." Hearing Sara's breath hitch at the sultry tone, Catherine knew that phase one had gone without a glitch: before the night was over, Sara would be hers. Smirking like the cat that got the cream, she tightened their embrace and gave Sara a fiery kiss, leaving her lover begging for more as she suddenly turned around and went back up the stairs.

Tracing her still tingling lips with her fingers, Sara blinked a couple of times, unsure of what exactly had just happened. Coming out of her daze, she realized just what the night had in store for her and couldn't wait to get Catherine on her own. Remembering Nancy at the very last minute, she held off sprinting up the stairs and mumbled: "erm right, I erm guess I'd better get dressed in that case." Turning beet red when she heard Nancy laugh, she gave up the pretense and all but ran to the bathroom.

By the time Sara had reached the upstairs, Catherine had already disappeared into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. Sara considered knocking, but then decided against it: if Catherine wanted to play hard ball, two could play that game. A devious, almost satanic expression on her face, she retreated to the bedroom to get ready for their date. Not only would she gladly accept the challenge posed upon her, she'd do her damnedest to up the ante a bit further: why should she be the only one suffering from sexual frustration?

Opening the closet, Catherine had already cleared a couple of shelves for her, she considered her options. Sara knew from personal experience that her lover had a thing about leather, so Catherine really hadn't had to point it out quite so blatantly. What an experience it had been too, the sheer memory of it left her weak at the knees. <Damn, I mustn't get sidetracked>, she admonished herself. < I've got a job to do>. Glancing at the stacks of clothes in front of her, trying to come up with all sorts of enticing leather combinations to leave Catherine drooling on the spot, she suddenly had an idea.

Hard to forget how Catherine had been glued to the screen all through the Matrix trilogy, the drooling contest between her and Greg had no clear winner, Sara decided to go for all black. Carrie Ann Moss she was not, but she just might be able to pull off the look: black leather pants, black shirt and a long black coat. An outfit that screamed power, mystery and just that enticing bit of danger. <Hell, maybe she could even comb her hair back Matrix-style?>

"Damn, I need gel for that and I can't get into the bathroom without ruining my plans," she muttered disappointedly. Tying her shoelaces, a thought suddenly came to her: Lindsey might be able to help her out. Jumping off the bed, she quickly made her way to the girl's room and gave three short taps on the door. Patiently waiting for Lindsey to invite her in, she wished the Roberts family could see her now, the epitome of Butch Dyke. Still chuckling lightly at the thought, she stepped into Lindsey's bedroom.

Immediately ready to help Sara out, Lindsey whipped up a can of hair mousse, fixation spray and a comb. Making sure not a hair was out of place, she not only gave Sara the hair style she wanted, but also a big thumbs up. Wishing the girl a good night, Sara had just closed the door behind her when Catherine came out of the bathroom. Extremely pleased to hear her lover's breath hitch, Sara took a moment to look at the vision before her. Before she could even comment however Catherine threw her against the wall, kissing her ferociously.

Never one to stay passive during an electrifying kiss, Sara opened her mouth to let Catherine's probing tongue in. Sliding down the wall a bit, she pulled her even closer, a move that Catherine obviously applauded if her guttural moan was anything to go by. When they finally came up for air, Catherine's eyes were glazed over and her breathing erratic. Hoping that her voice wouldn't betray her, Sara said: "I guess we'd better get to Luigi's then, hadn't we?" Pushing off the wall, she slowly made her way down the stairs, a satisfied smirk on her face. Now she wouldn't be the only one lusting tonight. "Payback's a bitch," she muttered under her breath, "just like me."

Before Catherine had time to react and keep her lover trapped against the wall, Sara had already escaped downstairs. When she heard Stallion's engine roaring to life, she realized that she had lost this battle of wills. But the war wasn't over yet! Knowing just how stubborn Sara could be, it would be just like Sara to prolong her agony and insist they'd go to Luigi's after all, Catherine decided to launch one final attack to win this war: she'd use the drive over to change her lover's mind. She planned on making it a ride to remember, the mere thought sending shivers down her spine. Though she couldn't go too far, she had their road safety to think about after all, she still had some tricks up her sleeve.

Saying goodbye to her sister and telling her not to wait up for Sara - a little gloatingly she'd admit, but revenge is sweet as they say – she walked out the house, determined to make her lover squirm. Making sure she had Sara's attention, putting an extra swagger into her step, she climbed on Stallion, scooting close to her lover. Holding her tightly, her head against Sara's shoulder, Catherine decided to wait until they were on their way before letting her hands wander. She knew she was getting to Sara when her back arched and pressed down even harder, a devious smirk on her face. Teasing Sara so mercilessly was turning her on even more; the power she held over her lover, not to mention the way Sara kept wiggling putting her right on the edge.

She didn't know who was enjoying this more, she or the squirming Sara, but she was secretly relieved when Sara ended their little game by driving straight to her apartment. What happened next was like a dream to Catherine, one minute Sara was cutting Stallion's engine, the next she was kissing her ferociously against her front door. Their tongues entwining again and again, she felt Sara trying to open the door, fumbling with her keys but not willing to stop kissing Catherine, even if it was for just a second. Suddenly the door opened and they stumbled inside, their lips still glued together. Kicking the door shut with her foot, Sara pushed Catherine towards the couch.

So aroused she was shaking lightly she moaned against Catherine's lips: "you don't know how much I need and want this." Pushing her lover down, she went to straddle her. With trembling fingers she pushed Catherine's shirt upward, not even bothering to take it off completely. Opening the bra with a skilled one handed move, she revealed Catherine's breasts and husked: "god, you're so beautiful." Lowering her head, grinning as she heard Catherine's sharp intake of breath, she took an already hardened nipple into her mouth, sucking it lightly before scraping over it with her teeth.

Crazy with lust and desire as Sara now focused her attention to her other breast, Catherine rasped, her breath hitching from time to time: "I want you Sara. I need you to make love to me. I want to scream your name and look into your eyes as my world starts to crumble around me. I need you to touch me, I need you to … fuck me, please Sara." Groaning loudly at the impassioned plea, Sara kissed her hungrily and wildly, drawing her tongue deep inside Catherine's mouth. Her eyes wild and glazed over, Sara suddenly husked: "I need more room for what I have planned."

Looking at Sara, her eyes almost black with unbridled lust, Catherine shivered at the promise of passion and desire in them. Licking her lips in anticipation, she took the offered hand and let herself be led to the bedroom. Leaving a trail of clothes behind them, they fell on the bed in an entangled heap, touching each other everywhere, kissing passionately, their tongues swirling around each other in untamed lust. Still kissing her deeply, Sara pushed Catherine on her back before trailing her lips southwards. Kissing her throat, sucking at her pulse point and biting her gently in the shoulder, she made her way down agonizingly slow.

Her tongue found Catherine's nipple again, swirling around it, licking its tip before sucking on it gently. As she heard Catherine gasp, she licked and kissed her way to the other breast, grazing the hardened nipple lightly before clamping down on it. Groaning loudly at the delicate mix of pleasure and pain, Catherine arched her back and grabbed hold of the bed sheets. Sara's tongue slid ever downward, leaving a wet trail over burning flesh, Catherine's abdomen quivering and thighs trembling as they were traced by light kisses. Her lips rose to meet the soft lips as they continued their sweet assault. "Sara" she growled as she felt her lover's hot breath upon her.

Catherine's musky scent pulling her down, Sara ran the tip of her tongue over Catherine's clit before rolling it between her thumb and finger, feeling her lover shudder at the light touch. Gripping Catherine's thighs, she pushed her tongue deep inside, thrusting in and out time and time again as Catherine quivered uncontrollably beneath her. The growling moans and whimpered groans spurring her on even more, she swirled her tongue over Catherine's painfully swollen and engorged clit. Sucking it in her mouth, she heard Catherine's deep guttural and animalistic scream.

Her hips pumping and jerking wildly, Catherine rocked against Sara's mouth, her body coiling tensely. With one final suck she tumbled over the edge of the abyss, letting out a piercing cry as she felt the spasm of pleasure completely overtake her body. Whimpering softly as her body quieted, she let Sara hold her gently as she tried to catch her breath. After a moment's rest, Catherine lifted up on one elbow and just looked at Sara, a deeply satisfied smile on her face. "That was so amazing, I love you so much," she husked, pulling Sara into a soft kiss. "My turn now," she whispered into Sara's mouth as she felt Sara's wetness coat her thigh.

Slowly coming down from heaven, breathing raggedly, Sara curled into the embrace as Catherine wrapped her arms around her. "This isn't exactly what I had in mind for this evening, you know?" Catherine said after a while.

"Ravishing me wasn't in your plans then?" Sara asked, a warm smile tugging at her lips.

"Well yes it was, I suppose," Catherine answered thoughtfully, "I just intended on going about it differently. I wanted to seduce you, you know? Take you out for an expensive dinner, court you with flowers and poetry before we … erm"

"… before we fucked each other senseless," Sara filled in with a smirk.

"Yeah," came Catherine's embarrassed reply. "You deserve more than that, I wanted to show you how much you mean to me, I wanted to show you how much I love and adore you. I messed up big time, I mean I jumped you the first chance I got, I'm sorry."

Rolling on top of Catherine so she could look her straight in the eye, she stilled her lover's trembling lips with a finger and said: "hush. There's no need to be sorry, I enjoyed every minute of our date. I don't need roses or candlelight dinners to know how much you love me, okay?" Giving Catherine a soft kiss on the lips, she added: "so you wrote me a poem, huh?"

"Yes, I wrote it while I was waiting for Nancy to show up. It's in my purse. It's not really good or anything, but I wanted to let you know how I feel…"

"Let's hear it then," Sara said, scooting up to lean against the headboard.

"Okay," Catherine whispered, rolling out of bed. "I'll just go and get it, don't go anywhere, I'll be right back." Quickly padding into the living room, she took the note out of her purse before climbing into bed again. Straddling Sara's thighs, she said:

As I sit here
I search my heart
For the words to express my inner most thoughts
My hand glides across the paper
In short strokes
It all seems so trivial and ordinary
Compared to what I feel for you
I crumple the paper and start over
Seeking for "that" word
That will say it all
That word that when you read it
You will instantly know how I feel
Its so close
I can almost touch it
Its on the tip of my tongue
But I cannot find it
No matter how hard I search
It escapes me
I will have to be a thief
Stealing age old words
Shared by millions
They are not original
But as I think of them
It feels as if I created them
I treasure you as a person
And I cherish you as a soul
I long and desire to hold you near
For as many days as God allows me to breath

I immediately realize that
my last thought as I write this
Was the same as my very first
I started this letter because I love you
I sought for words to express that
But decided to choose
The three very words
That have been chosen for centuries
They are simply
"I love you"
And I do And Forever I will.

"That's beautiful," Sara whispered with tears in her eyes. "I love you too, so much." Kissing Catherine, she tightened their embrace and rolled them over again. Her hand gliding down, she heard Catherine groan "for God's sake, not now" when a cell phone rang. The shrill tones far too distracting, she got out of bed to find the offensive device. "Sidle," she cursed into the phone.

"Sara? I need you and Catherine to come in now," Grissom said curtly.

"Now? Catherine's shift doesn't start for another hour and I have a day off, remember?" Sara answered.

"We've got another one, I need you both here in twenty minutes," he said before slamming the phone down.

Though their appearance had earned them a few chuckles and jeering howls by both Warrick and Greg – trying to get to work as fast as possible, they had run into the building with their helmets safely tucked under their arms, still wearing their 'date clothes' – Grissom didn't give them time to change in the locker room. Stating they were fine as they were, he simply told them to take a seat so he could begin the meeting. Time was of the essence it seems, the sheriff had just given them 48 hours to solve the case and find the killer, otherwise he'd call in the FBI. As none of them wanted the FBI to rain on their parade, the execution killer was their collar, they quickly shushed and listened to what Grissom had to say.

"I know we don't normally have a meeting before we check out the crime scene, but you'll soon understand why I've made an exception in this case. Our killer has struck again. About an hour and a half ago, a homeless man had the shock of a lifetime when he broke into an abandoned warehouse, looking for some shelter. He immediately realized the severity of the situation and flagged down a passing patrol care. Although they couldn't really make sense of the man's story and were about to pass it off as drunken delusions, it seems our hobo was pretty inebriated at the time, the officers decided to check out the warehouse anyway.

They went inside, pistols drawn and made the shocking discovery. Apparently the scene was so disturbing that on of the officers threw up while the other fainted. Before you say anything, no they weren't rookies, both were senior officers with over thirty years of experience between them. It's safe to say they're not particularly squeamish, they've pretty much seen it all. If the officers' reactions are anything to go by, the scene will be horrendous. If for some reason you can't go on, I want you to tell me, okay? Nobody will think any less of you if it gets too much and you need to take a five minute breather"

When they all nodded, Grissom continued: "our crime scene is quite big and although first indications are that the killer only used one area, we still need to go over the whole warehouse with a fine comb. We can't afford to miss any vital evidence, especially not with this deadline hanging over our necks like the sword of Damocles. After we've sweeped the warehouse, we'll split up. Nick, I want you to find out as much as possible about our victim. We haven't established his identity yet, but David's working on that, I've heard. I also want you to talk to the homeless man, he might know something, the warehouse being one of his favourite sleeping spots.

Warrick and Sara, I want you to go and talk to Professor Landers again. I already called him to explain the situation and he's expecting you. Catherine and I will stay with the body, Doc Robbins is cutting his vacation short to do this autopsy at David's request. Is everybody clear on what he needs to do? Good, let's go then."

They were already on their way out when Nick suddenly asked: "hey Grissom, how did our victim die? You never said…."

A solemn look on his face, Grissom said: "he was crucified."

Chapter 39.

Not wanting to draw unnecessary media attention to the abandoned warehouse, Lord knew the press would be on them like vultures soon enough, Brass sent all but one patrol car back to the precinct, leaving only him, the coroner's assistant and two police officers at the scene. Having seen first hand the horrific and vicious way the way the victim had been executed, all involved understood Brass' desperate plea to keep a tight lid on the macabre find. Brass knew there'd be a leak to the press sooner or later, fast and easy money too enticing for some less conscientious officers, he just hoped he had bought the forensic team enough time to at least investigate the warehouse in relative peace. With the sheriff breathing down their necks, the very last thing they needed right now was the press hounding in on them.

<Tonight has been a first in many ways>, Brass mused philosophically. <My first smoke in five years, the first time I became queasy at the sight of a dead body since the academy and the very first time I wished I followed in my father's footsteps and became an accountant.> Lighting another cigarette with the butt of his old one before throwing it away, he inhaled deeply, letting the nicotine rush through his veins and somewhat appease his shattered nerves. Not really knowing what to say, he remained silent and stony faced, staring into the night as the minutes slowly ticked away.

The full moon and the distant howling of coyotes in the nearby desert gave the scene an almost surreal and definitely creepy feel, he leaned against his car and watched the clouds of dust getting thicker, signalling the imminent arrival of the CSI's. The two officers already briefed on their duties, he turned around and gave them a small nod, making them stand guard at the warehouse entrance. Stubbing out the half smoked cigarette with his foot, he walked over to the SUV's and said: "I wished I could say it's good to see you all, but cases like this….

Anyway, I'm afraid a lot of people have been in and out of the warehouse, making your job a hell of a lot more difficult I know, but only five have been in the vicinity of the body: the homeless guy who discovered the victim, the two patrol officers he flagged down, the killer and me. The homeless man is back at the precinct, being fed, washed and de-liced as we speak. We haven't been able to establish his identity yet, he's still too drunk and incoherent for that, but we're working on it. One of the officers had to be taken to the hospital, last I heard the doctors administered a pretty heavy tranquilizer, so we won't be able to interview him for the time being. The other officer is waiting back at the precinct, I thought you might like to sit in on that particular interview."

"Do we know who the victim is yet?" Grissom asked matter of factly.

"No, not yet, it looks like a print job to me," Brass sighed heavily, "but David needs to get him off the cross first." When he noticed the questioning glances, he elaborated: "the victim's buck naked and I didn't see his clothes or wallet laying around when I went in. At the moment we have no way of identifying him. I just hope he's in the system, otherwise we'll be stuck with a John Doe. Anyway, that's all I know, the rest is up to you. Good luck guys."

Nodding Grissom turned to face the team and said: "Nick, I want you to take the outside, okay? We're on a very secluded part of the industrial zone, so our killer must have brought the victim and the cross here by car. I know that a lot of patrol cars parked here tonight and that it'll be a track marks nightmare, but one of them might be his. It's just a matter of finding the needle in the haystack. I also want you to search for drag marks and foot prints. I have a hunch that our killer tried to re-enact the 'via dolorosa', by making the victim drag the cross all the way inside before killing him. Maybe he even flogged him first, so be on the lookout for blood too. Are you okay with that?" Nodding Nick grabbed his kit and set to work, secretly relieved that he wouldn't see the victim first hand, the crime scene pictures would be hard enough as it is.

"Okay, the four of us will concentrate on the inside," Grissom resumed. "As I understand it, our victim is at the end of the main room, so we'll do things a bit differently this time and work from the outside in. Check the floor, the walls, the ceiling and bag everything you find, no matter how innocuous it may look. Sara, when we reach the victim, I want you to take the pictures while the rest of us check the perimeter around the cross, okay? Anymore questions? Let's go then."

Flashlight in one hand, kit in the other, the investigators entered the dark and creepy warehouse, uncharacteristically startled when a pigeon flew away, looking for a better shelter. They started walking the grid, occasionally crouching down to bag something. Not wanting to overlook vital forensic evidence, they took it slowly, bagging even the most insignificant pieces of trash. When they finally reached the end of the warehouse the sight made their blood curl. The full moon shining through the broken window panes gave just enough light to accentuate the gruesome and grotesque details.

All of them just stood there for a moment, shocked to the core until Grissom quoted: "men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from mistaken conviction." Slowly Sara took the camera out of the bag and began to focus on the details: the nails driven to the hands and feet, the big nail through the penis, the words 'IN NECE' carved into the victim's forehead, the poem pinned to his naked chest, the crown of thorns around his bloodied head, … Taking one picture after another, she slowly felt the bile rise and had to gulp audibly to force it down again. Big beads of sweat pearling on her forehead, she desperately tried to remain detached and was just about to call a time out when Grissom spoke.

Getting up from his crouched position near the cross, he sealed off the last evidence bag and said: "I guess there's nothing more we can do here. Catherine and I will stay here to help David with the body before following him out to the mortuary. Robbins should be there by now. We'll take the victim's fingerprints over there so we can identify him. You'd better go interview Professor Landers, you have his home address, right? Don't forget to remind Nick of the meeting, he already left for the precinct. Could you send Brass in too? He needs to get this evidence to Greg a.s.a.p. See you both at six."

When Catherine and Grissom finally entered the conference room nearly an hour late, a haggard expression on their faces, Nick and Warrick were talking to each other in hushed tones. "Sorry we're late, the autopsy took a bit longer than I originally anticipated," Grissom said, dropping his notes and the case files on the nearby table. Only now looking up, he asked: "where are the others?"

"Greg's busy analysing the evidence, he said that he probably wouldn't make the meeting. Brass had to make a phone call, but he'll be right back," Nick informed him.

"What about Sara?" Catherine asked, pre-empting Grissom's next question.

"Sara looked pretty beat after our interview with Professor Landers, she even fell asleep in the car, so I told her to take a little nap. She's sleeping on the couch in your office. I actually had to promise to wake her as soon as you two got back, so I'd better …", Warrick said, getting up from his chair and pointing towards Catherine's office.

"No, that's okay, I'll wake her," Catherine said, ushering Warrick back down. "I need some files from my office anyway." Turning around, she quickly walked out of the conference room, nearly bumping into Brass as he rounded the corner. Looking through the half open blinds, she saw that Sara was still fast asleep and carefully slipped inside. One of the guys, probably Warrick, had covered Sara's sleeping form with a blanket, effectively wrapping her always cold lover up in a bundle of warmth. Smiling at Sara's almost angelic look, she slowly made her way over and crouched down beside the couch.

Though Sara was quite used to pulling all nighters, truth be told the younger woman lived for them before they got together, she now was out like a light. Catherine guessed that their wild and passionate antics the night before, Sara's pregnancy, her prolonged coffee abstenance and the sheer horror of the case had caught up with her lover, making her nod off before shift was over. By the sound of things Sara had barely made it through the interview, probably purely running on adrenaline before conking out. Reluctant to wake her, but knowing she really had no other choice, Catherine softly caressed Sara's cheek while whispering into her ear: "time to wake up baby."

Slowly rousing from her deep slumber when she felt a soft kiss on her lips, Sara blinked a couple of times, needing a few seconds to realize where she was. Squinting her eyes against the harsh lights from the hallway, she groggily sat up and croaked "hi". Wrapping the blanket around her shoulders, she lazily rubbed her eyes before yawning widely. "Sorry about that," she murmured lazily before leaning over to give Catherine a light kiss. "I'm glad you were the one to wake me."

"Me too," Catherine sighed happily; with cases like this you had to find happiness in the tiniest of gestures. Taking Sara's hand into her own, slowly rubbing the palm with her thumb, she asked: "how are you holding up?"

"I'm okay," Sara exhaled slowly. "I mean, I felt a bit queasy taking the pictures, but…"

"Why didn't you say anything? I could have taken over," Catherine interrupted her.

Shushing Catherine, Sara continued: "the nausea passed. I'm feeling much better now. It's probably because we skipped dinner last night."

"Are you sure?" Catherine asked sceptically.

"Yes, I'm sure. You tired me out yesterday and you made me miss out on spaghetti lupara, but you can make it up to me by taking me out to breakfast later", Sara said.

"Deal," Catherine answered, "breakfast's on me."

"ooooo, that opens up possibilities," Sara teased, waggling her eyebrows.

Laughing Catherine said: "you're a perv Sara, but you're my perv. Come on then, let's have this meeting over with, then we'll see about breakfast." Extending her hand, she pulled Sara off the couch and gave her a friendly push towards the door.

Letting the women take their seat at the conference table, Grissom cleared his throat before saying: "I'm sure I don't have to convince any of you of the severity of this case. Not only is this the third murder in a row, it's also the most vicious one so far: no mercy was shown this time, neither symbolically or in the execution itself. The killer has to be stopped and we have just over 39 hours to do it before the FBI takes over. The clock is ticking, we have no time to lose. Catherine, why don't you start with the autopsy?"

Walking towards the overhead projector to illustrate her account with pretty graphic pictures from the autopsy, she began: "the reason Grissom and I were running late is that we had a slight problem transporting the body back to the mortuary. Basically we couldn't get the victim from the cross; no matter how hard we tried, we couldn't get the nails to come out of the wood. In the end we decided to leave the body attached to the cross and transport it as it is. Then we were faced with a second problem: we found we couldn't get the vertical beam out of the ground. We had to ask Jim to bring us a chain saw. We cut the beam just below the feet, but as it still couldn't fit David's van, we had to saw off a couple of inches each side of the transom.

Of course back at the mortuary, we were still faced with the nail problem. As we couldn't get enough of a grip on the nails to pull them out, we had no other choice than to push them through the flesh, breaking bones and tearing up tissue along the way." When she noticed the slightly green look on the men's faces as they thought about the penis nail, Catherine quickly continued: "the hand nails were inserted just above the wrist, between the ulna and the radius, the arms not pulled too tightly, but allowing some flexion and movement. The left foot was pressed backwards against the right foot and with both feet extended, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed.

The stretched arms supported the whole body weight, putting enormous pressure on the median nerve and causing excruciating pain. To relieve himself of this pain, the victim tried to push himself upwards, but out of course stretching out like that made him put his weight on the metatarsal nerve in his feet. He continuously had to switch between holding himself up by the arms and the feet, fatiguing the muscles to a great extent. Exhaustion made his muscles cramp up, which meant that after a while he couldn't push himself up anymore.

At the same time the stretching also caused his pectoral and intercostals muscles to paralyze: he could still breathe in, but he couldn't properly breathe out. The carbon dioxide levels in the lungs and bloodstream increased, resulting in a high level of carbonic acid in the blood. Decreased oxygen caused damage to the tissue and capillaries began leaking watery fluid into the heart and lungs. The failing heart, the collapsing lungs and the inability to get sufficient oxygen to the tissue essentially suffocated the victim.

As you can see from the extensive bruising to the shoulder, the victim was forced to carry the cross to the warehouse himself. Though it wasn't that far, it must have put him through all kinds of hell. Not only did the cross weigh 140 pounds, the victim had been previously flogged. We couldn't really tell how many times he'd been flogged as the skin of his back was hanging in large ribbons. The whole back was an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue.

The crown of thorns was put on post mortem, perhaps as a sign of derision, I don't know. I know there's a lot of blood, but according to Doc Robbins that's partly due to the carving in the forehead and partly to hematidrosis. That's the bloody sweat syndrome: tiny capillaries in the sweat glands broke due to emotional stress, mixing blood with sweat. He was still alive however when the words were scratched into his forehead and when the poem was pinned to his chest. He died a horrible, excruciatingly painful death and was fully conscious until the very end. The tox screen came back negative: no analgesic drug was administered."

Letting the sheer horror of it all sink in, they stayed silent for a while. Then Grissom said: "it's pretty plain to see that the killer is escalating. The mere killing of the victim doesn't satisfy him anymore, he now has to taunt and torture them to obtain pleasure. His execution methods will get even more debauched and horrific if we don't put a stop to him. Warrick, you and Sara went to see Professor Landers. What did he have to say?"

"Well, leave it to the human race to take something as wholesome as a tree and turn it into a device for torturous execution," Warrick gravely said. "The roots of crucifixion are lost in history, but the practice is most closely associated with the Phoenicians, the Persians and of course the Romans. It involved elevating the condemned man upon a pole, some sort of frame or scaffolding, sometimes a natural tree, thus exposing him to public view and derision. Because of both the effect of crucifixion upon the body and the lengthy period which usually elapsed before death, it represented the most painful, cruel and barbaric form of execution.

It was hardly ever performed for ritual or symbolic reasons; usually the sole purpose was a gruesome and public death, using whatever means that were most expedient for that goal. The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the ancient world can hardly be overstated. It was reserved for criminals of the worst kind: slaves, traitors and deserters. Among the Jews, it carried an additional stigma. The old Testament clearly states 'a hanged man is accursed by God', meaning that the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified.

Crucifixion was considered an ignominious way to die. The purpose of Roman crucifixion was not only to kill the criminal, but also to wreck and dishonor the body. In ancient tradition, an honorable death required burial, so leaving the body to hang on the cross and decay on site was a grave dishonor on the person. It was also a means of exhibiting the criminal's low social status; the elites of Roman society were never subjected to corporal punishment, they were either fined or exiled.

A common prelude to the actual execution consisted of scourging, which caused the victim to lose a large amount of blood and approach a state of shock. For the flogging a flagellum was used: a short whip, consisting of several heavy leather things with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. At first the weighted thongs cut through the skin only, but then, as the blows continued, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing an oozing of blood from the veins and capillaries of the skin and finally spurting arterial bleeding from the vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produced deep bruises that broke open by the subsequent blows. Well, I guess Catherine clearly showed the end result of scourging.

The prisoner then had to carry the patibulum or horizontal beam, not necessarily the whole cross, to the place of execution, which was outside the city in some conspicuous place set apart for that purpose. Before the nailing took place, the spoor, a medicated cup of vinegar mixed with gall and myrrh, was given to deaden the pangs of the victim. Crucifixion was typically carried out by specialized teams, consisting of a centurion and four soldiers. They tied or nailed the condemned man to the cross and then lifted the cross into place. The nails used were tapered iron spikes, approximately five to seven inches long.

There were several types of crosses. First of all, the decussate or Saint Andrew's cross, consisting of two diagonal beams to form an X. The Tau cross or Saint Anthony's cross had a horizontal beam affixed at the very top of the vertical beam, forming a T. The Latin cross was the t-shaped variant, where the horizontal beam was affixed at some distance below the top. Finally you had the Saint Peter's cross, an upside down Latin cross, named after the Christian apostle Peter who requested to be executed this way as he didn't feel worthy dieing the way Jesus did. Our killer used the Latin cross.

Death came usually slowly; it was not unusual for persons to survive for days, depending on exact methods, the health of those crucified and environmental circumstances. According to the theory of the French physician Pierre Barbet, the typical cause of death was asphyxiation like Catherine said, but it could also result from other causes: physical shock, dehydration, exhaustion, …. The common method of ending a crucifixion was by crurifracture, the breaking of the bones in the leg. On the one hand, this prevented the victim from pushing himself up; the tension in the chest couldn't be relieved and rapid suffocation occurred. On the other hand it caused severe traumatic shock by fat embolism. Either way, it was the Roman version of mercy killing.

It was extremely common for the upright pole to be left in place at the standard location of executions. In that case the condemned man only had to carry the horizontal cross-bar, still a very heavy burden. Once there, the execution crew lifted the criminal and the cross-bar up onto the already vertical pole. Most modern depictions place the victim quite high up, but in truth they had their feet just a foot or two above the ground. Like I already said, crucifixion was an extended process; it wasn't unusual for crosses to have a 'seat area' to partially support the weight of the body with the intent of extending the suffering even further.

That wasn't the case here, but the nail through the penis made sure stretching up and down was excruciatingly painful, so the killer didn't really show any mercy either. Another modern misconception is that the nails were driven through the hands. The Romans had discovered early on that the skin just tore away, making the victim fall to the ground. To avoid this, they made sure to drive the nails in between some bones as they can sustain quite a lot of weight." Looking through his notes, he then added: "guess that's about it."

A rather puzzled expression on her face, Catherine said: "let me get this straight, a team was needed to lift the cross-bar and the condemned man up onto the vertical pole?" When Warrick nodded, she exclaimed: "but that means that we at least have two killer on our hands! Our victim weighed about two hundred pounds and the cross about one hundred and forty, that's far too much for one man to lift, we're at least looking for two killers."

Before Grissom could react, Nick said: "I also think we're looking for two killers. I found those drag marks Grissom told me to look for and there were always three sets of footprints: one bloodied footprint, belonging to the victim who was barefoot by the looks of things and two sets of sneaker prints. The odd thing is that one of the sneakers had a really small shoe size, so I guess we're dealing with a man and a woman. Well that or one of the killers is a child."

"Isn't that highly unusual, two serial killers working together I mean?" Brass asked.

Scratching his chin, Grissom answered: "yes, it is, though some serial killer teams have been reported. Of course you have the Moors murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, then the famous Bonnie and Clyde, …. The male-female couple who indulges in random violence against family and strangers is a particular sort of team killers. They kill to satisfy their anger and their inclination to exercise power over those they consider their inferiors, they can develop a murderous drive together, partly from individual impulses to act out and partly because there's someone next to them who sees them at their worst and who nevertheless loves and encourages them. Serial killer teams need a really strong bond, they need to trust each other completely and usually that's their downfall, something happens to break that strong bond. Nick? What did the homeless guy have to say?"

"Not a lot, I'm afraid," Nick sighed heavily. "He saw a man hanging around the warehouse a couple of days ago, but he couldn't give a description. As soon as Billy, that's the homeless guy, saw someone snooping around his favorite hiding place, he left again. Apparently Billy doesn't like people all that much. Anyway I pressed him for details and ascertained he saw the man three days ago, so Saturday night. Last night was the first night Billy went back to the warehouse, so he couldn't really say how long our victim had been there. Was Doc Robbins able to pinpoint time of death?"

"He can't really say, his best guess is Sunday night between eight and twelve in the evening," Grissom said.

"Guess the killer was setting up the cross on Saturday night then," Nick said. "Anyway, Billy couldn't give a description of the car either, he thought it to be a dark blue or black pick up, make unknown. And that's all he knew."

"What about the victim? Do we know who he is yet?" Brass asked.

"No, not yet," Catherine answered. "We took his prints in the mortuary and Jacqui promised to page us as soon as there's a hit. The victim's Jewish though. Although the nail made sure there wasn't much of his erm you know left, I noticed he'd been circumcised. He also had the Hebrew words for love, faith and hope tattooed to his back, at least according to David. Doc Robbins said 'In Nece' means condemned to death in Latin."

Looking at his watch, Grissom said: "it's almost eight thirty, so we still have about thirty eight hours left. To allow continuous coverage of the case, we'd better split the team in two. As Sara's still technically on her day off and I know Catherine had a fourteen hour shift yesterday, I suggest Warrick, Nick and I take first shift while the ladies go home and rest. We'll meet again at four thirty this afternoon for a short update and shift change. Everybody okay with that? Okay, that's settled. Ladies, I'll see you this afternoon.

Chapter 40.

Following the tall brunette out of the building, not bothering to keep up with her lover's slightly longer strides, Catherine's mind was still on the case. She was secretly relieved they had pulled the second shift; the sheer horror of the autopsy was all too fresh in her mind, she realized that she needed to step away, even if it was for just a couple of hours. She desperately needed to unwind before the demons encompassed her completely. A good, long soak in the bath, a relaxing body massage, another passion filled session with Sara in bed, …. Hell at the moment she'd even settle for an absurd argument with her sister to get her mind of the case.

Of course the big problem was that none of them were a real option, they had to head back in far too soon. As it was, she had just over seven hours to replenish her dwindling energy reserves with a well deserved rest. Stepping through the heavy door that Sara kindly held open for her – who said chivalry was dead?- Catherine had to blink a couple of times when faced with the harsh reality of broad daylight. The December sun's unrelenting radiance, the boisterous laughter of innocent children passing by, the sound of birds chirping in the nearby park …. It was just too shrill a contrast to the dark doom the previous night had brought. She simply needed some time to adjust back to the normality of everyday life.

Standing completely still, Catherine inhaled deeply, trying to block the horrendous details of the case from her mind. Feeling the dark veil slowly lift, she finally turned to face the patiently waiting Sara. "Are you okay?" the brunette asked. Catherine just nodded and the pair resumed their short walk to the car park. When they finally reached Sara's motorcycle, Sara had parked in a little secluded area, far too afraid her precious motorcycle would get stolen during the night, Catherine looked up to her lover and was surprised to find dark circles marring Sara's face once more. "Are you sure you're okay to drive?" she asked. "We can always go back in and call a cab or something if you're too tired."

"What? You've got to be kidding me! Leave Stallion parked here all day long?" came Sara's immediate reply. "There's no way I'm leaving my baby behind."

"I always meant coming with you," Catherine smirked, Sara's contrite tone helping to ease her aching heart.

"No, I meant …. Oh, ha ha, very funny," Sara answered, making no effort to hide the sarcasm in her voice. Mounting Stallion and inserting the key into the ignition, she continued: "hop on, I promise that I'll get us home safe and sound. ALL my babies are far too precious to me to wrap them around a tree. Besides, your place isn't that far away and you did promise me an interesting breakfast, remember?" Giving Catherine a mischievous wink, Sara put her helmet on and started the engine.

Giving Sara a rather blatant once over, the wink had sent shivers down her spine, Catherine felt her last reservations melt away and quickly put on her helmet. If she played her cards right, she could have an interesting morning after all, who cares if she lost out on sleep? Sliding behind Sara, holding on to her extra tightly, she indicated that she was ready to go, in her mind going over all the different scenarios of getting back at Sara.

Stallion safely parked in Catherine's garage and the garbage put outside, something they had forgotten in their haste the previous night, Sara went upstairs to freshen up while Catherine flipped through the mail. Satisfied that no urgent payments needed to be made, she propped the bills and junk mail leaflets into her purse. Passing the couch, she unceremoniously dropped her coat and purse on it before proceeding to the flashing answering machine. Pushing a couple of buttons, a metallic voice informed her that she had received three messages. Immediately deleting the whiny salesman's pitch about the many advantages of double glazing, she kicked off her shoes while waiting for the shrill beep to announce the second message.

Wriggling her toes to get the circulation flowing again, those damned heels were murder on her feet, she heard her sister's highly amused voice: "hi Cat, it's me. As neither one of you returned last night, I'm guessing your Rudolph Valentino style seduction paid off. Oh who am I kidding? The way you were both looking at each other last night, I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't pounce on each other the minute you left the door.

Anyway the reason I'm calling …. My neurotic boss has her pants in a twist again about the monthly figures. The stupid idiot called an unexpected meeting tonight, so I guess I'll be raking up a lot of overtime again just to calm her shattered nerves. And before you say it, yes like Bart Simpson wrote on the blackboard 'I will not torment the emotionally frail'. Anyway what I'm getting at is this, I won't be able to babysit Lindsey tonight. I already called Bonnie and she said that she doesn't mind having Lindsey for the night. Erm guess that's all I needed to say, so sweet dreams and I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Mere seconds later the slightly nervous and high pitched voice of Bonnie Roberts came on: "hi Catherine… oh or Sara I guess, I see that you're not home yet. It's Bonnie? Melissa's mom? Nancy told me about your baby-sitting pickle and I'd only be delighted to take care of Lindsey tonight. The girls get on like a house on fire and what's one more, right? Anyway, if you could drop them both off at my place this afternoon, I'll take care of the rest. Bye."

Amused at Bonnie's nervousness, it was obvious the woman didn't like talking to an answering machine, Catherine proceeded to the kitchen, fully intent on making Sara the best breakfast ever. God knew that Sara would need all the energy she could get for what she had planned for her. The mere thought of a repeat performance of last night put a wicked smile on Catherine's face, not to mention that it sent a wave of liquid fire coursing through her veins.

She was busy preparing some freshly squeezed orange juice when Sara entered the kitchen, only clad in boxers and a very short t-shirt. When she felt Sara hug her from behind, the brunette's long hands sliding along her hips and her lips teasing the soft flesh of her neck, Catherine had to swallow a moan. It took all her willpower not to give into the soft and teasing caresses. Turning around, she gave Sara a soft peck on the cheek and said, her voice rather husky: "later. I promised you breakfast, remember? Sit down, I'll bring you some toast."

An adorable pout on her face, Sara said: "later, huh? I'll take you up on that, I took the phrase 'breakfast on you' literally, you know? Guess now I'll have to make you dessert." When she noticed the laden kitchen table, she continued: "wow, is that all for me? You can make me breakfast more often and you're definitely dessert now." Licking her lips slowly, she pinned the older woman down with a ferocious look, making Catherine feel light headed at the thought of what was to come.

Composing herself again, she wanted them to enjoy breakfast first, Catherine put toast and jam on the table before handing Sara a glass of orange juice. Giving Sara a sly wink, she smirked: "that was the general idea. I wanted you to have some real food before you devour me." Sitting down, she started to butter a piece of toast before looking at Sara again. "Nancy called," she said. "She has some sort of meeting tonight so she can't look after Lindsey, but Bonnie offered to look after her. I guess Lindsey will be having another sleep-over at the Roberts' place. Anyway, Bonnie asked if we could drop the girls off at her place after school."

"Oh okay, I'll go pick them up if you want, that should give you an extra hour of sleep. I'll be back for you around four then, that should give us plenty of time to go to work. How does that sound?"

"Around four? I guess that's fine, but what will you do in the meantime? I mean, it'll only take you about ten minutes to get to Bonnie's place?" Catherine asked confused.

"Oh, I forgot to mention this yesterday, but the girls roped me into helping them with their science project," Sara admitted with an embarrassed blush. "I promised that I'd go over it with them today. I'll do that at Bonnie's. It shouldn't take too long, I'll just give them some pointers, push them in the right direction, you know?" she added, before taking a big gulp of the orange juice.

"They suckered you into helping them, huh?" Catherine laughed. "Who knew Sara Sidle could be such a pushover? I bet they only had to flash you one puppy dog look before you gave in."

"Well yeah, I suppose," Sara mumbled, burning a nice shade of pink at being so accurately read. "I did say to them that they had to do all the research," she added somewhat defensively.

Giving Sara's hand a light squeeze, Catherine immediately tried to reassure the younger woman: "I was only teasing you baby. I think it's cute that you're going out of your way to help the girls with their project."

Still a bit defensive, Sara muttered: "well, it's their education we're talking about after all. Besides it allows me to spend some time with Lindsey. This way she can get used to my continued presence, you know? My moving in won't uproot her life too much this way, she'll already be used to me."

Catherine didn't have an answer to Sara's thoughtfulness, never before had any of her lovers taken Lindsey's feelings into account. Dropping the rest of her toast on her plate, she got up and walked over to Sara, who was looking at her uncertainly. Still saying nothing, but smiling brightly Catherine sat down on Sara's lap and gave her a chaste kiss. "I love you baby," she murmured before kissing her passionately. Snaking her arms around Sara's neck when she felt Sara kneading her back, Catherine let out a tiny squeak when Sara suddenly stood up and started walking out of the kitchen. Crossing her legs around Sara's back, Catherine started kissing her lover's neck, making Sara emit a loud groan. It was a miracle they made it to the bedroom without bumping into too many walls or doors and fell onto the bed in an entangled heap.

The neighbors dog's incessant barking slowly woke Sara from her deep slumber. <Probably an adventurous cat daring to enter Beelzebub's domain again>, she thought, <or rather, knowing the Stabler's boxer, a cat with a death wish.> Rubbing her eyes before stretching out with feline grace, she looked over to Catherine's clock and noticed she still had a little time to snuggle up with her lover. Although Catherine had only allowed her a couple of hours of sleep, for some reason she felt totally invigorated. If Catherine wanted to chase away her inner demons with wild and passionate sex, who was she to complain? It was definitely worth losing a couple of hours of sleep over.

She glanced down the length of their bodies all snuggled up together, the sheets a crumpled heap at the foot end of the bed and felt her heart contract. Sometimes she still had to pinch herself to realize that this was for real, that this was her life now. She still couldn't believe her luck in waking up in Catherine's arms every day, laying slightly on top of her, her knee carefully wedged in between Catherine's legs. Carefully, almost reverently, she let her fingers trail from Catherine's shoulder over to her arm, fascinated by the goose bumps that appeared. Startled by her lover's soft moan her fingers halted their gentle exploration, only to resume again when Catherine sighed happily and snuggled in even closer, still deeply asleep.

"The beauty of your glowing body beckons me. To touch, to taste, to love it's glorious expanse, from your forehead to toes, fingers to nose. How I hunger to know you so completely," Sara whispered softly while combing her fingers through Catherine's hair in a gentle caress. Leaning down, she kissed Catherine softly on the nose, making her lover stir from the movement. Soon Catherine slipped into deep slumber again, her rather unladylike snore evidence enough. Carefully extricating herself from the bear hug, Sara slipped out of the bed and padded to the bathroom. Time was slowly ticking away and she still had to pick up Lindsey and Melissa from school.

A quick shower later, Sara was on her way to school, happily munching on a big sandwich to quell her hunger. <If I keep eating like this, I'll look like a Zeppelin in no time>, she thought. <Guess I have Catherine and the twins to blame for that>. Parking the car in the first spot she saw, she looked into the rear view mirror and carefully wiped away the remnants of her lunching fest, a few bread crumbs and a tiny dot of mayonnaise. Getting out of the car, she noticed she still had about five minutes to spare, so she walked over to the school gates at a leisurely pace. Leaning against a parked car, she got a banana out of her bag and expertly began to strip it from its jacket. She had only just thrown away the peel when Lindsey and Melissa popped up beside her, very eager to pick her brain on volcanoes.

Explaining to Lindsey that she had to spend the night at Melissa's, she promised the girls she'd help them as soon as they were there. The short drive over filled with school gossip, it seemed that Miss Andrews, the school secretary, had been caught kissing the janitor in the cloaks room, they soon arrived at the Roberts' place, Bonnie already waiting for them outside. Hearing that there were milk and cookies waiting for them in the kitchen, the girls ran inside, squealing all the way. Now only faced with Bonnie, Sara took the opportunity to thank the woman for having Lindsey over at such short notice. "Catherine and I are really grateful for you helping us out, normally we wouldn't impose on you like that, it's just that Nancy has a late night meeting and neither Catherine nor I can get the night off because of this big murder case, so…"

"Don't mention it, it really is my pleasure," Bonnie said, cutting Sara short. "Catherine mentioned something about a big murder case when she called to confirm Nancy's arrangements. You two do very important work, you keep our kids safe. I'm sure that's an oversimplification of your work, but that's how I see it: by solving all those horrendous crimes and putting the criminals behind bars, you're making the town a safer place and if I can help you achieve that by having Lindsey stay over for the night, well…. I don't have to think twice about it. Can I ask you what you're working on at the moment or is it a secret?"

"Well, I can't say much I'm afraid as the investigation is still on going," Sara said apologetically.

"I understand," Bonnie said with a smile. "Do you want to come in or do you have to get to work right away?"

"Well, I promised the girls that I'd help them with their science assignment, so if you don't mind me taking over your kitchen for about half an hour?"

"Oh yes, that's right, Melissa mentioned you'd help them, that's really nice of you. I drove her to the local library yesterday and she came back with loads of books. She said you told her to thoroughly investigate the subject before making a decision. I'm actually grateful that you promised to help them as science isn't my forte. Anyway, guess we'd better go in then? The girls are probably waiting for you already"

Nodding, Sara followed the woman inside and like she predicted, the girls were already sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by the information they had gathered the previous day. Clearing her throat, Lindsey said: "we followed your advice and got all these books and texts about the three natural phenomena's and then I decided we're going to give a presentation on volcanoes."

Smirking slightly at Lindsey's bossiness, there was no doubt about it, the girl was a real alpha like her mother, Sara said: "that's a good choice, there are lots of interesting things you can say about volcanoes. Do you want to make a model of an erupting volcano for your presentation?" When both girls nodded, Sara continued: "well, I don't really have time to help you build one today, how about we do that over the weekend? With a model it'll be easier to explain how and why volcanoes erupt and if we build it this weekend, you'll both have had some more time to go over the theory, it'll be easier to answer your questions then. Just write down all the things you don't understand and I'll see if I can answer it, okay?"

When both girls nodded again, Sara asked: "do you know where the word volcano comes from?"

"Wasn't there a Roman God called Vulcan?" Melissa piped up.

"That's very good Melissa," Sara praised. "The word volcano comes from the little island of Vulcano in the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily. Centuries ago, the people living in that area believed that Vulcano was the chimney of the forge of Vulcan, the blacksmith of the Roman Gods. They thought that the hot lava fragments and clouds of dust erupting from Volcano came from Vulcan's forge as he beat out thunderbolts for Jupiter, the King of Gods and weapons for Mars, the God of war."

When she noticed the girls were busy scribbling down her every word, she continued: "Volcano-logy isn't the study of mister Spock or Tuvok from Star Trek, but a new science that started in the early 20th century. Volcano observatories were built in Japan and Hawaii. These observatories monitor the world's volcanoes. They study active volcanoes during eruptions. They look for dormant volcanoes ready to erupt by watching for changes like new cracks in the ground, steam coming from vents or plants dying. Sometimes they measure the shape of the volcano, the ground temperature, and the level of gases. Seismometers pick up waves and analyze earthquake activity near the center of a dormant volcano. Because of volcanologists being able to predict when volcanoes erupt, people usually have time to evacuate before the eruption. The land and homes might be destroyed, but the people will be safe.

Have you heard about the Hawaiian legend of Pele?" she then asked. When the girls shook their heads, she said: "The Native Hawaiians knew all about volcanoes. According to them, volcanic eruptions were caused by Pele, the beautiful but tempestuous Goddess of Volcanoes. Pele had frequent moments of anger, which brought about eruptions. She was both honored and feared. She could cause earthquakes by stamping her feet or volcanic eruptions and fiery lava by digging with her Pa'oa, her magic stick. She formed all the volcanoes on Hawaii during a bitter feud with her older sister. Maybe you can include some volcano legends or even some famous volcanoes in your presentation, like Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii, Mount Saint Helens or the Mexican volcano Paricutin?" Sara said.

"Could you tell us something more about these volcanoes?" Lindsey asked.

"Like I said before, this is your assignment; you can't expect me to do everything. All I can say is that each one of the volcanoes that I mentioned has a very interesting story, it's now up to you to do the research," Sara smiled. "Anyway, I've got to go to work now. Why don't you do some further research over the next couple of days and then we'll meet again on Saturday to go over your presentation and make the model?"

Melissa merely nodded, still writing down all the names Sara had mentioned, but Lindsey got off her chair and walked over to Sara. Wrapping her arms around Sara's waist, she whispered: "thanks Sara, you're the best."

Bending down, Sara returned the hug and said: "I'll have a surprise waiting for you by the time you get back from school tomorrow. So, be a good girl for Bonnie and I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"A surprise?" Lindsey squeaked. "What kind of surprise? You've got to tell me, you just can't leave me waiting until tomorrow to find out!"

"Sorry short stuff, you'll just have to wait until tomorrow. Patience is a virtue, you know?" Sara teased. Smiling at Lindsey's pout, she said her goodbyes and left to pick up Catherine.

The little chimney clock that once belonged to Catherine's great grandmother was just chiming four when Sara arrived home. Holding a big bouquet of flowers behind her back, she poked her head around the door and quickly scanned the room, heaving a little sigh of relief when she heard her lover pottering about in the kitchen. Being extra careful not to let the door fall into the lock with a thud, she closed it and leant against it for a minute. Biting her lip she was at a loss what to do next. The plan had seemed so simple on the drive home.

She knew the case had hit Catherine pretty hard, the worried frown and haunted look on Catherine's face this morning almost too much to bear. Every CSI had his or her own way of dealing with it, apparently Catherine chased away the dark with passionate sex. The sex was only a temporary reprieve though, the underlying feelings of despair and hopelessness returning when you least expected it. An adept in temporary solutions herself, Sara knew what she was talking about and it was something she wouldn't wish on her worst enemy. She needed to do something about it, before the darkness completely encompassed Catherine.

Catherine's momentary loss of faith in humanity tugged at her heart string and spurred her into action. She wanted to slay all the demons that plagued her lover, wrap Catherine up in cotton wool and keep her safe, but she realized that Catherine probably wouldn't appreciate the overprotective knight in shining armor routine. She'd feel smothered and close herself off even more, making it virtually impossible to tackle the root of the problem. No, she needed the handle things a bit differently, she needed to let Catherine know that she was there for her without insulting her lover's fierce independence streak. She wanted to cheer her up, not badger her into talking.

It had seemed so simple in the car: she'd offer Catherine a bouquet of flowers and as if by magic, the smile would return to Catherine's face. Yeah, right, as if life is ever so simple. Faced with the cold, harsh reality, she was at a loss what to say. Just how did you get someone to open up to you? Still completely lost in thought, staring into space and nervously biting her lip, she jumped when she heard Catherine's voice: "ah, there you are. I thought I had heard you come in. How was Lindsey? Have the girls made a decision on their project?"

Watching Catherine standing there in the kitchen door, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel, Sara needed a few seconds to find her voice: "erm yeah, Lindsey's fine. She was pretty excited about spending the night at Melissa's again. They decided to do a presentation on volcanoes, so I promised that I'd help them make a model on Saturday. How about you? Are you feeling better? Did you sleep okay?"

Throwing the towel on the kitchen sink, Catherine walked over to Sara and wrapped her arms around her. "The sound of a kiss is not as loud as a canon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer," she whispered, before giving Sara a kiss. "Just being with you makes me feel better. This morning, well the transition from dark to light, from evil to good, … it was just too sudden, you know? I felt trapped by the doom and gloom, I needed to feel alive again. Knowing that you were there for me if I wanted to talk, well that helped a lot."

"You can always talk to me, baby," Sara whispered. Walking over to the dining room table, she said: "I bought you something, it's not much, but I wanted you to know how much I love you and that I'll always be there for you." Handing Catherine the bouquet, she nervously stammered: "I don't know much about roses, but the woman at the store helped me pick them out. Did you know that every color has its own meaning? Cardinal red stands for sublime desire, the yellow ones mean domestic bliss and I also added a few white ones because white signifies loyalty and penetrating love, a love that survives everything."

"They're beautiful," Catherine whispered, "thank you." Making sure the bouquet wouldn't get crushed in their embrace, Catherine tugged Sara down for a kiss. "You really are too sweet for words, Sara. I love you too." Seeing that Sara was really embarrassed, she continued: "I'll just put these in a vase. Then I guess, we'd better get back to work."

Part 41

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