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 41.

Despite an extended make out session in the kitchen, Catherine wanted to thank Sara properly for her thoughtfulness; they managed to arrive at work with a few minutes to spare. Entering the building through a side door, they unhurriedly made their way over to the locker room to change. Throwing her satchel in the locker room before closing it shut, Sara turned around to face Catherine. Slowly she sank down on the wooden bench, patiently waiting for Catherine to finish getting ready.

Having the distinct feeling that somehow they'd end up trudging through the mud again before shift was over, Catherine sensibly opted for jeans and boots. Tying her shoelaces, she felt her lover's eyes boring into her. Feeling nervous energy roll off Sara in waves, she looked up, a bit non plussed at the close scrutiny Sara had her under. "What is it? What's the matter?" she asked, giving an encouraging smile when she didn't immediately answer.

Nervously biting her lip, Sara held her gaze for a few seconds before standing up and starting to pace the locker room. "It's just that…. I know that this case gets to you. I mean, yesterday's crime scene came right out of one of Stephen King's horror novels and I'm sure we were all shocked by the malicious and vindictive nature of these crimes, but still ….. I know that I've said this before and I don't want to sound like a record stuck on repeat, but I'm here for you. If you feel that you can't handle it anymore, if you feel overwhelmed, perhaps even overpowered by the darkness, you can always talk to me. Believe me, bottling it all up isn't good for you. It just starts gnawing at you from the inside," Sara stammered, afraid she wasn't explaining it properly.

Getting up from her crouched position on the floor, Catherine slowly closed the distance between them. Taking Sara's hand between her own, she gave it a reassuring squeeze before settling them both down on the bench. She gave Sara a chaste kiss on the lips before whispering: "thank you baby."

I mean it, you know? You can always lean on me," Sara spoke softly, still looking at their clasped hands.

Lifting Sara's chin so she could look her in the eye, Catherine said: "I know that you do. I promise that if I can't take it anymore, I'll come to look for you to take you up on your offer. Okay?" When Sara nodded, she continued: "come on, we'd better get going before the guys send out a search party."

Politely nodding hello to everyone they passed, narrowly avoiding a full on collision with Ecklie as he entered the lounge room mere seconds before they rounded the corner, Catherine and Sara slowly made their way to Grissom's office. Accustomed to the relative peace, quiet and serenity night shift offered, they were both amazed at the transformation the labs underwent during daytime. Of course it was a lousy time to come in at work; things always were more hectic at shift change: swing shifters rushing in at the very last minute while day shift slowly trickled out. Still, the building was awash with activity: lab techs were busy analysing the evidence, their eyes glued to the microscope, porters rushed around with their trolleys, their cargo perilously close to falling off as they meandered through the busy hallways and police officers leading manacled suspects to the holding cells, unfazed by the hurl of abuse sent their way. How anyone could get any work done in this cacophony of sound was beyond them.

Finally they reached their destination and with a small tap on the door, they entered Grissom's little dungeon. Even broad daylight couldn't make the office less creepy; the rows of bugs and medical oddities, stashed away in jars of formaldehyde, alone were enough to scare even the bravest of men. Add to that spiders in various shapes and sizes and you get Grissom's little house of horrors. Grissom looked up as they entered and waved them in further, never ending the instructions he was giving Archie: "… see if the computer can find a match between those three names, okay? Results are to be reported to night shift, no' one else, you hear?" When Grissom didn't continue, the computer geek merely nodded and rushed back to his media lab, slamming the door in his haste.

Shifting his attention to Catherine and Sara, Grissom said: "good, you're here. Sit down, there have been a few developments. Seattle have finally fedex'd Tucker's case files, the first crates arrived just as you left and they've been coming in until noon. As the judge handled hundreds of high profile cases during his career and the crates were arranged in no particular chronological order, it was rather pointless to start reading the files one by one. Instead I asked Warrick and Nick to help the computer team digitally upload the files. They finished about an hour ago, then I sent the boys home for a well deserved rest. I really don't trust that snot nosed punk Ecklie uses as his computer technician, so I asked Archie to come in a little early. He's the best, after all. I don't know a lot about computers, but once I explained our problem to him, he said that writing a program to cross reference all the data shouldn't be too hard. I specifically asked him to search for connections between our three victims."

"Victim number three has been identified then?" Catherine interrupted him.

"Yes, we were able to establish identity about half an hour ago," Grissom said almost smugly. If Sara didn't know any better, Grissom only had one facial expression after all, she'd say he positively beamed at the announcement. "The missing person's files and AFIS turned out blank, but then I ran AFIS again, including all governmental personnel to the search. Apparently our John Doe belonged to the Seattle judiciary, just like Archibald Tucker, our first victim. His name was Robert Connelly and he was an assistant district attorney. That's all we know about him so far, so putting together a more thorough background will be one of your priorities. I already informed Brass and he promised to call a couple of police buddies in Seattle to get the inside scoop on Connelly.

The connection between Tucker and Connelly seems rather clear, but we still don't know how Butler fits into all of this. The connection between the victims is the key to the whole case. I'm guessing Connelly argued a case before Tucker, somehow also involving Butler. Though we don't know much yet, we're a lot closer to cracking the case than we were last night. Not only were we able to formally identify the third victim, Greg also isolated a blood drop on the crown of thorns that didn't belong to the victim. As it's only a tiny amount of blood, it's taking him a bit longer to extract DNA. Results should be in in a couple of hours. You never know, we might get lucky, the killer's DNA might be on file."

"Why is it taking Greg longer? Surely we have priority on Ecklie with this case?" Catherine asked.

Before Grissom could answer, Sara piped up: "I'm sure it's not a matter of who's team using the DNA labs first. As Greg has only found a minute drop of blood, he doesn't have enough DNA to run a full analysis. He has to duplicate the DNA first using a polymerase chain reaction."

Grissom nodded his head before clearing his throat. "Well ladies, I guess you have your work cut out for you. Nick, Warrick and I will be back after midnight to take over. Remember, the clock's ticking." Grabbing his coat, he stood up and walked to the door. "Before I forget, watch your backs, Ecklie's been sniffing around. He's telling all and sundry that he'd have caught the killer by now. No need to tell you that everything's on a need to know basis." Giving them a rather odd half wave, he walked off, leaving the women alone in his office.

"Ecklie watching our every move, that's all we need. As if we're not under enough pressure as it is, working against the clock," Catherine growled, putting her handbag on Grissom's desk before ruffling through some papers. When she found what she was looking for, she read: "Robert Connelly, born on the fifteenth of February 1964, joined the D.A.'s office in 1989. Hmmm, indeed not much information to go on. How about you get started on a thorough background check, while I'll go see what Archie and Greg are up to?"

"Sounds good to me," Sara replied, getting out of her chair. "Hey, didn't you say Connelly joined the D.A.'s office in 1989? That means he's a fair bit younger than Tucker…. The criminal case that connects the three victims must have been handled after 1989 then. That's another parameter Archie can add to the program, it should narrow the search down a bit," she added pensively.

"What's going through your mind?" Catherine asked when she noticed the far away look in Sara's eyes.

"Well, I was just thinking about the obols, you know the two fifty cent coins that were placed on Butler's eyelids. Maybe their issue dates are significant too?" Sara theorized.

"You might be onto something here," Catherine said with a small smile before digging through Grissom's case notes. "The one on the right eye was issued in 1991, the other one in 2004."

"Well 2004 can't be the connection between the three victims," Sara said with a frown. "Tucker was already retired as a judge and working over here, while Butler lived in Texas. Maybe the 2004 coin has another meaning, perhaps something that happened in that year, triggering the killers …. I don't know, I'm just guessing over here. 1991 is possible though. If the connecting case happened in 1991, it must have been one of the first major cases Connelly handled."

"It could even have been the first case he handled on his own," Catherine added. "Don't assistant district attorneys second chair for a while until they get a hang of it? Anyway, this is all pure speculation on our part, we don't have a shred of evidence to back our theory up. If it's true though, the case was a make or break situation for Connelly's career. A hell of a lot of pressure, no room for indecision or leniency. He had to show the constituency he took a firm stance against crime, probably came down on the defendant like a ton of bricks. An ideal situation for feelings of injustice …. Yes, I really like where this theory is going. The only way to find out if it's valid, is to put it to the test, which means…."

"… that I do a thorough background check on Connelly and then try to find out where Butler was in the period 1989-2000," Sara finished for her. "I'll get right on it." Giving a startled Catherine a quick kiss on the cheek, Sara walked out of Grissom's office.

When Greg promised to page her as soon as the DNA results came in, Catherine decided a strategy meeting was in order and went in search of Sara. Holding thick files under her arm, she looked all over the lab, but came up empty handed; nobody had seen Sara since she left Grissom's little dungeon. Catherine knew that Sara's little disappearing act was nothing to be concerned about; her lover wandered off sometimes to clear her head and gather her thoughts, often coming back with a new perspective on the case. Sara was the prototype of the professional Einzelgänger, someone who need tranquillity and solitude to function properly. She liked working alone, unbothered by anyone else, which was probably the reason why she had adopted that favorite little lab of hers.

As they really needed to confer, the clock was ticking after all, Catherine considered paging her but then decided against it. She could give her another half hour. There was no need to alarm Sara; wherever she was, she'd probably think Catherine had another breakdown and rush to her lover's rescue at break neck speed, endangering herself and the babies. <Better let sleeping dogs lie for the moment> Catherine thought.

She decided to start reading the case files instead and headed for her office, the lounge room a bit too crowded and Grissom's little dungeon definitely too creepy for her liking. Never noticing the half closed blinds, she barged right in, surprised to find Sara leaning back comfortably in her leather chair. She was so baffled to find Sara in her office, admittedly the one place she hadn't checked, she didn't even notice Sara's feet firmly planted on the desk. Sara acknowledged her arrival by looking up and giving her a small smile, but immediately resumed her telephone conversation. "Catherine just came in …. Uhuh…. A religious freak? …. Uhuh…." <Brass> Sara mouthed, twiddling with the telephone cord.

Nodding Catherine put the files on the desk and sat down, trying to follow the one sided conversation. When she couldn't make head or tails of it, Sara's answers too short and cryptic, she gave up and let her roving eye wander over Sara. <She really seems at ease talking to Brass>, she thought <which is nothing short of a miracle given Sara's slightly misanthropic tendencies and Brass' gruffness. Marveling at the way Sara's face changed when she laughed, Catherine mused <they seem to have a special connection, they both trust each other enough to let their guard down. They recognized a need in each other, they never realized they had.>

Glancing over Sara's lengthy frame, still somewhat amazed that this beautiful, young woman really loved her, Catherine's eye finally fell on Sara's muddy boots on top of the desk. Slightly irate at the thoughtlessness, she glared at Sara, pointing at the offending feet but the younger woman didn't really notice, too busy laughing at something Brass said. Deciding another tactic was in order, Catherine got up and pushed Sara's feet off, which earned her a surprised look and a rather bashful grin. "… okay, we'll see you in about forty minutes then. Bye Jim." Putting the phone down, Sara gave her a gap toothed smile as way of apology and said: "that was Brass, he called some of his police buddies in Seattle. He's on his way over to give us the inside scoop." Pointing to the stack of files, she asked: "what are those?"

Marvelling at the way Sara could switch back to full business mode so easily, she had been goofing around with Brass only a minute ago, Catherine sat back down and said: "those are the transcripts of all the cases Connelly argued before Tucker, either as first or second chair. Never once is Butler's name mentioned, so unless you've found out something more about his past, we'll have to read each and every one of those and then call the Seattle D.A.'s office for further information. Anyway, I put them in chronological order and skim read the 1991 files. Your theory is looking more and more likely, Connelly argued some potentially controversial cases then."

When Catherine sighed despondently, Sara searched the desk for a tiny piece of paper and said: "Butler lived in Washington between 1990 and 1992, residing in one of Seattle's suburbs. Apparently he'd pulled a major contract with the Washington Board of Education to upgrade their computer system. Whatever the link is between the three victims, we've narrowed it down to that two year period. You say Butler's name is nowhere mentioned?" When Catherine shook her head, Sara just muttered: "damn."

"Maybe we have to look at it another way," Catherine said after a while. "I can see why the killers went after a district attorney and a judge. We know Butler wasn't a witness, otherwise his name would have popped up in the search. Given his I.T. background, it's hardly likely that he moonlighted as a bailiff or stenographer. To invoke the wrath of the killers, he must have played a major role in the court case. He was one of the key players, we just have to figure out what his role was."

"A member of the jury," Sara suddenly exclaimed, "the jury that unjustly convicted the defendant according to the killers."

"Call Seattle," Catherine ordered, "get them to fax you a list of all the jury members on the Connelly/Tucker trials in the 1990-1992 period. Then we'll …" Catherine didn't finish that last sentence as a rather excited Greg barged into the office, grinning from ear to ear. "I've got a match," he almost shouted. "Well, a partial match, but that's still good, right? I know that I said I'd page you, but I assumed you'd want to know the results right away and I was so shocked to find a match …"

Noticing that Greg's wild gesticulations and excited ramblings had grabbed Ecklie's attention, Catherine interrupted him: "the door Greg, close the door and for God's sake don't shout. A. We're not deaf and B, we don't want everybody and their gran finding out."

Properly chastised, Greg turned around and slammed the door shut right before Ecklie's face, the blinds rattling with the force used. "Sorry," he smiled impishly. "Anyway, as I was saying, I got a partial match on the blood drop. It's not a perfect match as some alleles don't add up, but it's close enough to know that one of the killers is a blood relative."

"A blood relative to whom?" Sara asked.

Pushing a computer print out in Catherine's hands, Greg said: "Blake Covington III, convicted of first degree murder in 1991 and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He died in prison in 1997, after an inmate brawl apparently."

"Sentenced to death, just not in the traditional way," Catherine thought out loud. "Guess I can understand the injustice angle now." Remaining silent for a moment to absorb all the information, she knew Sara and Greg were waiting for her orders. "Sara, call Seattle and find out if Butler was on the Covington jury. Greg, I'm pulling you off DNA. I want you to find out as much as you can about Blake Covington the third and his family, okay? I'll familiarize myself with the Covington trial. We'll meet in the conference room in half an hour, Brass should be here by then."

Sara and Greg were talking about the impending arrival of Greg's Alaskan friend when Catherine walked into the conference room with some much needed refreshments. She carried the tray over to the table and poured Sara a glass of orange juice before remarking: "I wonder what's taking Brass so long? He should have been here fifteen minutes ago." Sara just shrugged at the statement and took a sip of her juice, eyeing Greg enviously as he poured himself a cup of coffee. Watching the unsuspicious Greg spoon whipped cream into the cup, she licked her lips and fought an internal battle. She was just about to give into temptation when Brass barged in, a chagrined expression on his face.

"Sorry I took so long," he mumbled, throwing some papers on the table before loosening his tie. Shrugging off his coat, his shoulder holster plain for anyone to see, he took the seat next to Sara. "I ran into Ecklie and had a hard time getting rid of the power hungry weasel. You'll never guess what the evil little twerp wanted now ….. he tried to enlist my help in convincing the sheriff the case should be handed to his team. I mean, what does he take me for? I not so politely told him to shove it where the sun doesn't shine. Spineless creeps like him make me glad to be a lowly homicide detective again. What the hell is he still doing here anyway? Didn't day shift finish hours ago?"

Pointedly ignoring the amused smirks on Sara's and Greg's face, Brass ranting and raving really was a sight to behold, Catherine answered: "Ecklie's an opportunistic bastard. You know how much he hates Grissom, he'll take every opportunity to outdo him. He's jealous as hell we pulled this case, he's not into criminalistics to catch the bad guys, he's into it to gain political power. I'd call him a vicious piranha if it wasn't an insult to the animal. Even piranhas wait until other piranhas are sick or dying before they devour them." Taking her seat at the head of the table, she continued: "anyway, we'd better get this meeting started. Just so that everybody's in the loop, I'll recap what we have so far.

"Archibald Tucker was our first victim. Found beheaded in the desert, Tucker was a revered judge in Seattle before moving down to Las Vegas. The third victim has been identified as Robert Connelly, an assistant district attorney in Seattle, specialized in homicide cases. Sara found out that victim number two, IT specialist William Butler, lived and worked in the Seattle area between 1990 and 1992. Further research indicated that the three victims share a very special link: a criminal case. Butler was head of the jury in the people versus Blake Covington III, a case Connelly argued before Tucker in 1991. Covington was accused and subsequently convicted of murdering his elderly mother. Sentenced to thirty years in prison, he died a few years later, allegedly in an inmate brawl. Greg, what did you find out about the Covington family?"

Consulting his papers, he said: "the Covingtons are old money, America's answer to aristocracy. Blake Covington II invested heavily into real estate and the stock market, before taking a big gamble and becoming the main backer of Microsoft. The gamble paid off and the Covingtons are one of the wealthiest families around. Covington had a keen eye for business, although he also was quite ruthless at times. Anyway, he married Francesca Cabot in 1957. The couple only had one child, Blake Covington the third.

He followed in his father's footsteps, taking over the Covington empire at the time of his father's death in 1986. He made some bad investments, especially in connection with Silicon Valley, but all in all he was able to retain the family's wealth. He married Erica Forsyth, the daughter of a local industrialist, in 1982. They have two children, Joel and Frederica, twins born in 1984.

The Covingtons led a rather public life, they were always in the papers, but never in a scandalous way. That is until 1991 when Blake Covington III was arrested for the murder of his mother. After the well publicized trial, Erica and the children disappeared from the Seattle scene. They left Washington and started a new life in New Mexico. I did some digging and found that Erica Forsyth died from cancer in 2004, leaving her children orphaned at the age of twenty. Both were at university at the time, Joel a philosophy and ancient theology major, Frederica a penology and ancient cultures major."

"Hmmmm, their educational backgrounds certainly explain the symbolism used in the executions," Sara remarked. "So their mother died in 2004, huh? The obols, the coins on Butler's eyes, must symbolize the loss of their parents then: their mother to cancer in 2004, their father to prison in 1991. I'm guessing that they've planned these murders for a long time, their mother's death was the trigger to put their plan into action. What do we know about their grandmother's death?"

"Hold on a minute," Brass interrupted. "Aren't we getting ahead of ourselves here? I mean, you already have the twins pegged down as our killers, do we have proof of that? Other than gut instinct I mean?"

"Well, I must admit that most of it is circumstantial at best," Catherine said, "but we do have one solid lead: the blood drop Greg managed to isolate on the crown of thorns. DNA analysis proved that the killers are related to Blake Covington III. Greg checked the family tree and the only remaining relatives are the twins. Now in answer to your question Sara, I read the court transcripts and it appears Blake Covington gave his mother an overdose of morphine. He was the only suspect and never denied giving the injection. It was a mercy killing in his eyes, his mother was dying a slow and painful death, he just wanted to end her suffering. That's not how Connelly saw it however. He went all out on Covington. At one point, he even arrested Erica Forsyth as an accessory as she knew of her husband's plans. He made an example of Covington: murder is murder, no matter how rich you are."

"That sounds about right," Brass added. "I spoke to some police buddies of mine and they said that Connelly was pretty right wing conservative. Life is holy and thou shalt not kill and all that."

They were all silent for a while, trying to take it all in. "Okay," Catherine then said. "We know who did it and why they did it. Now how are we going to find them?"

"I'll take care of the police angle," Brass said. "Put out an APB, alert airports and train stations, …."

"We also need to check rental car agencies, hotels, motels, …" Sara added. "Maybe they have a house nearby, wasn't their granddad into real estate."

"Hang on, I have something right here," Greg said. "I had Archie do an advanced search …." He didn't get to finish his sentence as Brass snatched the document out of his hands. "That's not so far away from here," Brass said. "I'll call for back up and have an uniform meet us with a search warrant. Let's go."

Chapter 42.

In hot pursuit of Brass and Greg, Catherine and Sara drove through the Las Vegas suburbs, the break neck speed and squealing tires causing the occasional pedestrian to look up and shake his head in utter dismay. Sirens blaring each time they cleared an intersection, they sped through the busy evening traffic with remarkable ease. Impending night fall and light drizzle thwarting the high speed race, Sara kept her eyes on the road, only half listening to Catherine's telephone conversation. When the end button was pushed, she diverted her attention to the passenger's seat for a second, with a questioning gaze in her eyes. "What did Grissom say?" she finally asked, her eyes glued back to the road again.

"He'll call Warrick and Nick and they'll join us there as soon as possible. He said not to wait for them, but to go right ahead with the bust, providing we have enough police back up and we stick to procedure," Catherine replied rather absentmindedly. "Did you pack the bullet proof vests? We left in such a hurry, I didn't think to check…."

"Yes, I put them in the back," Sara reassured her. When she noticed Catherine's worried frown, she continued: "hey relax, it's just another bust. We've done this a million times before. Brass knows what to do and we have four patrol officers as back up."

"Yes, I know," Catherine sighed, "it's just that … I don't know, I have this nagging feeling that something's going to happen. Crazy I know, but I can't seem to shake it. But you're right of course, we have more than enough back up and if we stick to procedure, what can go wrong?"

Not really knowing what to say to that and not one to make false promises, Sara remained silent; she just reached over and gave Catherine's hand a reassuring squeeze. Taking a sharp left, they turned onto a rather narrow dirt road, the Covington estate slowly coming into sight. Pulling up beside Brass, Sara cut the engine and just sat there for a minute, taking in the scene. Parked outside the entrance gate, the unmarked police cars obscured from sight by some high trees near the house, she had a pretty good view.

An old colonial style house, surrounded by high trees and thick shrubs, it had once been the pride and joy of Francesca Cabot. Now it just looked derelict and rundown with weeds overtaking the cracks in the pebbled driveway, long tangled grasses dominating the front lawn and a garden fountain covered in moss and algae. The upstairs curtains dangled wildly in the wind, a lone window shutter clapping to its own rhythm. The porch roof looked on the verge of collapse, leaning dangerously to one side and missing more than a few tiles. The downstairs windows were nailed shut and a few steps seemed to be missing from the porch. An ominous looking gargoyle looked down from the bell tower, Sara whispered "it's the ultimate haunted house", shivering involuntarily when a church owl hooted in a nearby tree.

Taking a deep breath, telling herself not to let Catherine's paranoia spook her, she pushed her fears aside and got out of the car, flashing Catherine a grateful smile when she handed her a bullet proof vest. Zipping it close, she checked her torch and ammunition before slowly making her way to the others. "It looks pretty deserted," Greg remarked, squinting his eyes as he observed the house for the first time.

"Appearances can be deceiving," Brass gruffly replied. "How do you want to do this?" he then asked, looking at Catherine. "Do we wait for Grissom with the risk of getting spotted or …"

"Grissom's E.T.A. is twenty minutes and I don't know about you guys, but I don't particularly fancy sitting here twiddling my thumbs in this blistering cold," Catherine said with more bravado than she actually felt. "The longer we wait, the bigger the chance we're spotted from the house. We have more than enough back up, I say we do it now."

Nodding solemnly Brass took one last look at the house and said: "okay. Catherine and Sara, why don't you take the back with Matthews and Broderick? Greg and I'll take the front. Now Greg, I know that you have little to no field experience, I want you to stick close to either me or Officers Brown and Thompson over here, okay?" When Greg nodded, glad just to be included in the action, the detective continued: "we're dealing with two deeply disturbed and highly dangerous individuals here, so watch your backs. No heroics, understand? Proceed with caution, give your partner cover at all times and keep your eyes peeled. Okay? Let's go knock on that front door then!"

Opening the creaky gate, they proceeded through the dark night, the cloudy sky providing little to no illumination. Suddenly the wind picked up, rustling the trees while low rumbling could be heard in the distance. Their guns drawn, but flat against their leg, the neared the pitch dark house in total silence, all of them focused on the task at hand. With one hand signal Brass sent Catherine, Sara and the officers round the back while he slowly ascended the few remaining porch steps. Pushing Greg behind him, he waited for the two officers to take up their position before banging on the front door, shouting: "police, open up."

When no movement was heard, he tentatively reached for the door knob as an officer kept his gun trained on the door. When it didn't open, he took a deep breath and with one swift move he kicked the door in, immediately taking cover again. The door swung open, revealing a dark and deserted hallway. Officer Brown giving him cover, Brass slowly entered the house. With crossed hands, his right one holding his gun, the left one the torch, he cautiously made his way in. From across the hallway, he saw Catherine and Sara enter the kitchen with the same caution.

Clearing one room after another, taking stock of all the little clues the rooms offered, both teams met in the hallway. Her gun trained on the kitchen, watchful for any sudden movement, Sara whispered: "they can't have left long, the embers in the fire place are still warm."

"We'd have passed them on our way over," Brass whispered back. "There's only one way leading up to this place. They're still here. You take the basement, we'll take the upstairs. Be careful."

Nodding Catherine signalled a patrol officer to take the lead. Opening a door immediately below the staircase, he pressed himself against the wall before taking a tentative look. When he gave the all clear, Catherine slowly descended the steps, keeping a watchful eye for sudden movements. Taking cover behind a brick wall, she ordered Sara to begin the descent with a small waive of her gun. Her own fast and shallow breathing the only sound in the eerie silence, Catherine jumped when she suddenly heard a dull clang behind her.

Her heart pumping in her chest, her finger lightly squeezing the trigger, she swallowed hard, thinking her time had come. More rattling was heard and out of the blue a hungry big rat appeared, sniffling her nose energetically before tiptoeing away. A grimace on her face, she watched the rat disappear into a tiny hole. Her focus and attention only wavering for a fraction of a second, she suddenly heard Sara shout "look out", followed by two loud bangs and then eerie silence.

Seconds later a heavy body slumped against her, hollow green eyes staring right at her until the body slid to the ground, blood pooling from a gaping hole in his head. In a reflex reaction, she kicked away the gun still firmly held in the man's hand. Joel's blood all over her, still in shock about what just happened, she took a couple of deep breaths to steady her racing heart. When Sara stepped beside her and asked her if she was alright, she could only nod, not really trusting her voice.

Sara looked at her, trying to ascertain the validity of that claim and she must have convinced her somehow, because before Catherine knew it Sara winked at her, whispering "cover me". She wanted to shout "no, not yet" and "let me just catch my breath for a second", but it was already too late, Sara slowly proceeding into the half dark, her back pressed against the wall. Her police instincts kicked in and Catherine edged around the wall, following her lover into the unknown.

Given back cover by the two police officers and hearing Brass and Greg coming down, the two women ventured in further, keeping their eyes and ears open. Thinking they'd reach the end of the basement any time now, a sudden reflection of light on metal caught Catherine's eye. She turned and jumped towards Sara, but even before she could warn her lover, she heard the sickening sound of a knife slashing through flesh. With an animalistic scream, Catherine pulled the trigger over and over again until her clip was empty. "Officer down, officer down," she shouted as she crouched beside Sara. The two patrol officers quickly disarmed the heavily bleeding woman slumped next to Sara and called an ambulance.

"Sara! Sara! You've got to stay with me," Catherine pleaded, slowly caressing her cheek. "Come on baby, open your eyes. Tell me that you're alright. Come on Sara, you've got to stay with me." Catherine ripped open Sara's vest and gently checked her for wounds. "Come on baby, wake up. Tell me where you're hurt."

Sara's eyes fluttered open, her pupils unfocused and dilated. Gulping audibly and gasping for breath, she croaked: "my …arm … and leg…. Make a ……… tourniquet and turn me …. on my side."

Desperately looking around the grungy basement for something to use, barely acknowledging the arrival of Brass and Greg, Catherine completely lost it. Totally panicked, running around aimlessly, she mumbled outloud: "a tourniquet. She's right, I need to make a tourniquet. What the hell do I make it with? MacGyver I'm not."

Sharing a pointed look with Brass, who was kneeling down beside Sara, trying to assess her wounds, Greg grabbed Catherine roughly by the shoulders and forced her backwards, out of earshot. "You've got to calm down Catherine," he spoke to her sternly. "You running around like a headless chicken, totally panicked, isn't helping Sara. You've got to get your act together. Focus on Sara, sit down beside her, hold her hand, make her hold on, you hear?"

Dumbstruck by Greg's forcefulness, Catherine gawped at him, realizing that he was right. Her voice trembling with emotion, she tried to explain: "it's Sara and there's just so much blood. I can't lose her Greg, not now. I've only just found her. She wants me to make a tourniquet, you know to stop the bleeding, but I can't find anything useful in this dump."

"Erm, okay," Greg replied, racking his brains, trying to come up with a solution. He ripped out his belt and pointed to Catherine's boots. "Your shoelaces," he said. "Use them for Sara's arm, you can use my belt for her leg."

With renewed purpose Catherine sat down next to Sara and turned her on her side as requested. Kicking off her combat boots, she used the laces to tie off Sara's arm right above the wound. Repeating the action with Greg's belt, she released a shaky breath of relief as the steady flow of blood turned into a small trickle. She took Sara's hand into her own and started talking to her in hushed tones, decidedly ignoring her lover's pale complexion. So focused on Sara, she didn't even notice Brass getting up and walking towards Greg.

Taking the rather solemn looking Brass aside, his eyes never leaving Sara's prone form, Greg said: "I think we have a problem."

"I know," Brass sighed worriedly. "the cuts might not be long, but they're quite deep. Muscle and sinew damage are a distinct possibility. It doesn't look like an artery's hit, but still … the tourniquets are only buying us fifteen minutes. After that, there's a chance that Sara looses the use of her limbs."

"It's not only that," Greg said, perking Brass' interest. Stepping even closer, he said: "Sara's pregnant and…" Clamping his hand over Brass' mouth just in time, the detective was about to let out a startled yell, Greg continued: "don't. I don't think Catherine has realized it yet, but… there's a very good chance that Sara will miscarry. Severe blood loss, blood pressure dropping,… It doesn't look good. Catherine doesn't need the additional stress, she's barely holding it together now. When she realizes that the babies are at risk too… They're both so happy about this. I don't know, I think she might snap or something. You need to call an air evacuation ASAP."

Walking a bit further away so Catherine wouldn't overhear, Brass called a medical helicopter, relaying all the relevant information to the medical operator. Motioning Greg, he said: "they'll infuse her as soon as they get here. They need to know her blood type."

"She's B+," he promptly answered, remembering the last time they donated blood together. It all seemed a lifetime ago now. He wouldn't know what he'd do without Sara, she was like the sister he never had. He was completely lost in thought, barely acknowledging Brass' next words: "their E.T.A.'s eight minutes. I guess all we can do now is wait."

Time seemed to crawl as they waited in total silence for the helicopter to land. Brass paced the basement, checking his watch every five seconds while Greg nervously bit his thumb nail, his eyes glued to Sara. At last they heard the soft humming of a helicopter landing nearby. With a quick look in Brass' direction, Greg whispered: "I'll go get them, you try telling Catherine."

<Easier said than done>, Brass thought. Walking over to Sara, he sank down beside her, his heart breaking as he took in her pale complexion. Her breathing very shallow and erratic, a pained expression on her face, she was still conscious. A slight smirk on her mouth, she tried to reassure Catherine in her own way, telling that everything would be alright. Touching Catherine's arm to get her attention, he whispered: "the medic's are here. They said they'd infuse her right away to lessen the chance of miscarriage."

"Oh God, I hadn't even thought of that," Catherine sobbed, immediately sobering up as Brass gave her a stern look. "You don't … have to whisper, "Sara interrupted them, struggling to talk, "I know ….what you two are …. talking about. Why do …. you think I ….. suggested using a tour… a tourniquet? … Not only does it …. lessen the amount …. of blood I lose, it ….. also keeps my blood …. pressure rela….tively stable. Don't worry,….. I'm not about …. to lose these ……babies. "

When the medics followed Greg down the basement stairs, their dull footsteps echoing through the eerie silence, Brass whispered to Catherine: "let's give them some room to work, eh?" Noticing the unshed tears brimming in her eyes, he enveloped her in a reassuring hug. Taking comfort in the stoic detective's calm and strong presence, Catherine let herself be led a bit further away. Observing how the medics knelt down beside her lover and started working on her, taking all kinds of tubes out of their bag, she was grateful for the comforting arm Greg put around her and gave her young colleague a tight smile.

"Sara," Hank gasped in shock as he crouched down beside his former lover. Though he knew crime scene investigators held a relatively dangerous job, sometimes assisting the arresting police officers with their bust, never in a million years had he expected Sara to be his patient tonight. <Female police officer, early thirties, stab wound to upper arm and leg, massive blood low, ten weeks pregnant> was the operator's cryptic message before he and his colleague hopped in the helicopter. <Oh God, she's having my baby>, he realized in a flash. <I'm going to be a dad.> Searching her eyes for the truth, he knew it had to wait until later, saving Sara was far more important than confirming possible paternity.

Remembering how despicable he had behaved towards her and eternally grateful for the second chance she had given him with Elaine by walking away gracefully, though he knew she had done it through a miasma of pain, he vowed to do everything in his power to save her. To save her and the baby he immediately corrected himself. Opening a capsule with his teeth, he watched her eyes flutter open and a panicked look settle down. "Don't worry about it now, we'll talk about it when you're up and running again," he whispered softly.

When she nodded, he gave her a reassuring smile before continuing: "you received two knife wounds in the arm and leg. A surgeon is scrubbing up as we speak to take a look at it as soon as we reach the hospital. Though you may be left with some scars, with physio you'll have full use of your arm and leg again in no time. I'm more concerned about your blood loss. The tourniquets and turning on your side were very good ideas, but we'll start pumping some blood and fluids in you just to be on the safe side. I'll also give you a light sedative for the pain, so don't be scared if you start feeling drowsy, okay? Don't worry about a thing Sara, you're in very good hands."

Right before she slipped into a medicated oblivion, Sara realized that although Hank was an asshole, using her as his bit on the side, he took pride in his work. He was an excellent paramedic, who took his job seriously. If he said everything would be alright, well… then she should believe him.

Getting up from his crouched position, Hank radioed the pilot they'd be right out while his colleague inserted the last IV drip. A worried expression on his face, he walked over to Brass, Catherine and Greg. "I won't beat around the bush," he said solemnly. "I know that you don't like me and you have every reason not to, but that's not what's important right now, Sara's health is. She's lost a lot of blood. We're pumping blood and fluids into her as we speak, which should hold her over until we reach the hospital. I'm not going to lie to you, though Sara is quite stable at the moment, I can't guarantee the effect of the sustained trauma on the babies."

Catherine started to cry at that, hugging Greg tightly. When Hank stood to leave, Brass grabbed him by the arm and said: "I'm B+, just like Sara. Maybe I can help? Maybe you could do an infield transfusion or something?"

A small smile breaking for the first time since he delivered the grim news, Hank replied: "you're a lifesaver detective, literally. We'll hook you up in the helicopter. Let's go, we have no time to lose." With that he returned to his colleague, giving him some instructions. Two minutes later, the three men were on their way to the helicopter, the paramedics carrying the gurney while Brass held the fluids up.

A freak thunderstorm erupted with ferocious, unforgiving intensity, white bolts of lightning permeating the ink dark night, followed by deafening cracks of thunder. Rain pelted down in heavy, angry drops, soaking the totally oblivious Catherine to the core. As the wind picked up, she shivered, goose bumps appearing all over her body. Her sweater clinging to her body, her hair a mess of wet tresses, the normally so fashion conscious woman watched the whole scene play out with seemingly clinical detachment. Rooted to the ground, the ice cold wind forcing her to squint and a sense of complete hopelessness engulfing her, even threatening to overtake her, she watched the medics push the gurney into the helicopter. As they closed the door, she could see them roll up Brass' sleeve. The rotors swinging around with ever increasing speed, the helicopter started up and slowly lifted from the ground, to disappear into the dark night.

"Come on Catherine," Greg said, shaking her from her daze. "Brass gave me the keys to his car, I'll get you to the hospital in no time. The patrol officers promised to give us a police escort, turn on the siren and clear the road. Officer Brown volunteered to stay behind to look after the crime scene and debrief Grissom. I've already called Doc Robbins, he's on his way to take care of the bodies."

The death of Joel and Federica Covington, their main suspects, not even registering, Catherine just nodded, thinking that was the reaction Greg expected of her. Her mind was a total blank, she stared ahead not really seeing anything, her throat was so constricted that she couldn't utter a word. Greg gently directed her to the car, opening the door and fastening her seatbelt when she made no attempt to do it herself. <She's in shock>, he thought.

In the car Catherine slowly came to her senses, as Greg turned the heater on full blast to end her constant shivering. Blinking, a lone tear rolling down her cheek, she turned to face Greg and sobbed: "oh God, I have to let her parents know and I don't know how to reach them. And then her gran! How on earth am I going to tell her gran? We're supposed to be going to her wedding in two weeks." Frantically she began to search her bag for her cell phone.

Wanting to avoid Catherine's return to a full fledged panic, Greg quickly said: "don't worry about it, I'll call her folks. You just concentrate on Sara, okay?"

"Okay," she said, "thanks Greg." Looking through the window, wanting to know how close to the hospital they were, she suddenly exclaimed: "Hank was one of the paramedics! He'll realize that he's the babies' father."

"You're getting ahead of yourself," Greg said. "Take this one step at a time. You don't know what Hank will do yet, you don't even know for sure if he realizes that he's the babies' father. Before you start worrying about how Hank might or might not react, focus on Sara. She needs you to be strong for her now."

"You're right," Catherine said with steel in her voice. "I need to be there for Sara, I'll worry about the rest later."

"Maybe you should call your sister? She can keep you company while I go to Sara's apartment and alert her folks," Greg said, trying to get Catherine's mind off Hank.

"Could you also make her an overnight bag or something?", Catherine asked. "Sara will need some nightwear. I don't know … a couple of pajama's and some slippers or something. You know how she feels about those hospital gowns, she'd rather be dead than be caught in one of those." The possible truth of her awkward phrasing, Sara dying, hit Catherine hard.

"Consider it done," Greg quickly said, trying to get rid of the awkward moment. "I'll grab her some magazines and books too, you know how she gets when she's bored. She'll have the hospital staff up in arms in no time if we don't give her something to keep her distracted."

Smiling at that statement, Sara really was like a petulant child when bored, Catherine dug up her cell phone and called her sister. Explaining to Nancy what happened, she was relieved to hear her sister would be right over. She had only just turned off the telephone when Greg came to a screeching halt before the hospital entrance. Promising he'd be back as soon as possible, he drove off to Sara's apartment. Mustering up all her courage, Catherine took a deep breath of air and entered the hospital.

Chapter 43.

Sitting down on a hard wooden bench, her head leaning back against the tiled wall and her eyes closed, Catherine listened to the typical hospital sounds: the soft beeping and the rhythmic hissing of machines, doctors called over the loudspeaker, gurneys wheeled around over the shiny linoleum and nurses rushing about. Frustrated at the total lack of information since Hank's update half an hour ago, Catherine sighed loudly; though she'd only been in the hospital for about an hour, it already felt an eternity.

Hank stood waiting for her when she arrived, temporarily postponing his return to active duty to give her an update. To her relief, he told her that Sara was being prepped for surgery and, though they still remained in critical condition, the babies seemed to be holding on. All through the transport, they had maintained fetal monitoring and there were no signs the babies were in distress. Sara's quick thinking with the tourniquets and laying on her side had probably made all the difference. Now the babies' survival depended on how they withstood the surgery as fetal mortality, especially this early in the pregnancy, was closely linked to maternal stress and shock. With a whole team in the operating room to monitor even the slightest change, the babies stood a fighting chance, to which they both felt grateful.

For a moment Catherine wanted to lash out at Hank for his appalling behavior towards Sara, for stumbling upon the truth and for a million other reasons she didn't dare name, but something held her back. Maybe it was the worry so clearly etched on his face, the fact that he went out of his way to give her an update,… She didn't really know what it was that made her change her mind, but now she saw Hank in a totally different light. Suppressing her tempestuous jealousy, she could even half understand why Sara had fallen for him in the first place. He might be a love rat, but it was clear that, in his own way, he cared deeply for Sara, so he couldn't be a total bastard. His pager alerted him of his next emergency call, Catherine thanked him for the update and watched him disappear to the ambulance bay.

Rolling her neck to avoid the crick that threatened and rubbing her temples, Catherine jumped up when Brass slumped next to her, handing her a mug of coffee. "Sorry I took so long," he mumbled. "I can't stand the sludge those wretched machines serve, so I searched for the cafeteria. I talked a night nurse into giving us coffee from the doctors' secret stash. The old battle axe took some persuading, but I managed in the end. I nearly didn't find my way back. This place is a damned maze; you need a map and compass to navigate your way through." Normally taciturn, the little speech left Brass parched and he took a big gulp of coffee before putting his mug on the empty seat next to him. Feeling the adrenaline slowly seep out, he sighed and leaned back in his seat, absentmindedly rubbing his arm.

The motion didn't go unnoticed and turning to face him, Catherine said: "Jim, I can't thank you enough for what you did. Your blood transfusion is one of the reasons Sara and the babies have a fighting chance. I know how much you dislike needles, so it really means a lot."

"Don't worry about it," he replied. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat, Sara's like a daughter to me. Ellie and I …. Well our relationship is strained to say the least. That's mostly my fault, I was never there for her when she needed me. When I met Sara, I felt I was given a second chance. I don't know, something clicked right away. She's full of contradictions: a dogged determination at work, but socially so insecure at times it breaks your heart. She seems distant and cold until you get to know her better. She likes to act tough, but at the same time there's something vulnerable and innocent about her… I'd do anything for her, overcoming my phobia of needles was the least I could do." Uncomfortable with the sudden outpouring of emotions, Brass abruptly changed the subject:" where's Greg anyway? He'd better not have crashed my car, I've seen the way he drives."

Chuckling at Brass' expression, Catherine replied: "he went to Sara's apartment to call her parents and pack an overnight bag. Though Sara's really not all that fashion minded, she'll blow a fuse when she wakes up in that hospital issue nightie …."

"Ah, here you are, I searched the whole hospital for you two," Warrick interrupted them. Pulling Catherine into a bear hug, he asked: "how's Sara doing?"

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Catherine replied: "she's in surgery at the moment. She received pretty deep knife cuts to her upper arm and thigh. Thank God she was wearing her bullet proof vest at the time or her back would have been sliced open too. She's lost a lot of blood, but she and the babies stand a fighting chance."

"Babies? Sara's pregnant?" Warrick asked, his eyes wide with shock.

"Yes, Sara's pregnant with twins," Catherine stated proudly, knowing the cat was out of the bag anyway. "Surprise," she added as an afterthought.

"So you're going to be a mom again, huh? Congratulations," Warrick enthused, enveloping Catherine in a hug again. "I guess that in a couple of months time, we'll have some ankle biters running around. Two mini Sidles, the world may never recover," he added jokingly, his sea green eyes sparkling with barely hidden mischief.

Swatting Warrick's arm, Catherine laughingly protested: "hey, that's my girlfriend you're talking about. Besides you've got it all wrong, the way Lindsey and Sara keep ganging up on me I may never recover. It'll be four against one then. Oh God, I'm doomed." Theatrically throwing her head between hands, doing a rather good impression of Edvard Munch's 'the scream', the men burst out in laughter. The laughter died down quickly as a passing nurse threw them a rather acidic look, making Catherine remember where they were and sober up. "Well that is if the babies survive surgery, it's still touch and go at the moment."

Sitting down beside Catherine, Warrick pulled her against his shoulder and said: "hey, what's all this? It's not like you to be so pessimistic. You said yourself that the babies have a fighting chance. Sara's hard as nails and tough as old boots. Man, that's one stubborn chick, she's like a pit bull once her mind's made up. If those babies are anything like her, they'll pull through, they'll be too damn pigheaded to even consider another option. Hell, they'll fight tooth and nail just to make your life a misery for the next eighteen years. They won't let a tiny hiccup like this ruin their dastardly schemes. I'm even willing to bet that they already have all their plans laid out for running rings around you and Sara."

When Catherine smiled through her tears, brass added: "Sara told me recently that she was a bit of a wild child as a teenager, always sneaking off with her girlfriend when her parents thought they were sleeping. Just imagine: two beautiful, intelligent children, always getting good grades at school, always willing to help, two perfect little angels really…. until you have your back turned that is. If the twins are anything like their mother, you'll have a bumpy road ahead of you."

When Catherine groaned loudly at the thought, remembering all the stupid things she did as a teenager, the men couldn't hold a snigger. "Oh don't worry Catherine," Warrick placated her, "I'm sure you and Sara will keep them on the straight and narrow."

"Don't worry, the twins won't get away with anything, Catherine knows every trick in the book, she pulled the wool over our parents' eyes often enough," Nancy said, throwing her bag on the ground and wrapping Catherine in a hug. "Hey sis, how are you doing? Sorry I'm so late, couldn't find my damn car keys again. What happened? I couldn't make head nor tails out of the story you told me over the phone."

Two hours later the little group had gained two additional members, Nick and Greg. Nick pulled Catherine aside for a moment, apologizing profusely for his asinine behavior the day he walked in on her and Sara. He wasn't homophobic, it was the shock of seeing two of his best friends, whom he considered to be his sisters, making out with each other. Besides he considered himself a pretty good CSI and he didn't see that one coming. He always thought that there was sibling rivalry between them. Anyway, in a weird way, walking in on them had made him feel a professional failure. He didn't mean the way he had reacted and hoped they could still be friends, now that he had gotten over himself. Looking into the tall Texan's blue eyes, Catherine realized that he was completely sincere and pulled him into a hug.

Sitting back down, she said: "so tell me, what does the crime scene look like? Don't get me wrong, I'm one hundred percent convinced that we got the right guys, but our evidence was fairly circumstantial."

Looking at his watch, Nick said: "well, I actually don't have that much time, I promised Grissom that I'd get the extra lighting and then head straight back. I just dropped by to get an update on Sara's condition." Seeing the disappointed look in Catherine's eyes and knowing better than to jeopardize their newly found and still fragile truce, he quickly continued: "but I guess I can spare another five minutes."

Seeing all eyes suddenly turned on her, Nancy mumbled: "Oh right, I guess I'd better get some air in that case."

As soon as Nancy was out of earshot, Nick said: "we now have to deal with two completely different investigations, today's events on the one hand and the search of the Covington estate on the other, Grissom called in some swing shift investigators. Thank God Ecklie had just left for the night. Knowing him the slimy bastard would have used Grissom's plea to weasel his way into the case. You all know how low he'd stoop for an opportunity to bask in glory or to simply get one over Grissom.

Anyway, as soon as Connie and Peter arrived, we agreed that Grissom and I should concentrate on the execution killings while night shift investigates the shootings and Sara's stabbing. Grissom and I are just too closely tied to Sara, so we stepped away from that investigation to avoid any hint of inner impropriety. You know how the press is, as soon as they discover we did the investigation ourselves, they'd hint at a hush job. Oh, before I forget Catherine, Connie and Peter asked if you could drop by the lab tomorrow night, they need to take your statement. Peter will drop by the hospital later to bag yours and Sara's gun, but the interview can wait until tomorrow, they have to call internal affairs first anyway."

Groaning loudly in frustration, Catherine mumbled: "Oh God, I completely forgot there'd be an investigation of the shootings. Just great, I really can't wait to justify the use of lethal force to a couple of pencil pushers of the internal affairs office, like I don't have anything better to do right now."

"Don't worry about it, I'm sure it'll only be a formality," Brass said. "I can sit in on the interview as your union representative, if you want? Although I participated in the bust, I wasn't really present at the time of the shooting, so I see no conflict of interest."

"Thanks Jim, I'd really appreciate that," Catherine said, a bit weary of bureaucratic sharks like IA officers. Turning to Nick again, she added: "please go on."

Nick looked startled for a moment and mumbled: "now where was I? Oh yes. Like I said, Grissom and I focused on the execution killings, more specifically we searched for hard evidence that the Covingtons were involved. We haven't gotten very far in our search yet; so far we've only partially processed the basement and we still have to go over the rest of the house. Anyway, conveniently hidden out of sight by some large crates, we found a metal door leading to an adjacent cellar. Well cellar…. Little dungeon of horrors would be a more accurate description.

We haven't entered the room yet, there wasn't enough light. We didn't want to accidentally step into a pool of dried blood or erase foot prints, destroying vital evidence. That's actually why I went back to the lab, we needed more UV lights and ALS lamps. Still, even with the dim light of our torches, we were shocked by what we found: iron shackles and chains on the walls and floor and some sort of memorabilia cabinet with a bloodied ritual sword, syringes, a flog, videotapes, ….

Every instrument used in the murders was clearly visible from the entrance. I even saw a head preserved in formaldehyde, which I presume is Archibald Tucker's missing head. That's all I know so far, I'll have more information for you tomorrow. Guess I'd better go now, let me know how Sara's doing, okay?" With that he left, leaving the four of them alone with their thoughts.

"Creepy," Greg said after a while, shivering slightly at the thought of a decapitated head staring him right in the face.

Looking at her watch, Catherine said: "don't you think it's taking rather long? I mean, she's been here over an hour… Oh God, you don't think that there's something wrong, do you?"

Before Catherine could reverse into a full fledged panic for the umpteenth time that evening Nancy, who had returned with a cup of coffee in her hands, said: "think about it rationally for a minute Cat, Sara first had to be prepped for surgery. That takes at least ten minutes. Then they have to take her to the operating room, hook her up to all those machines and anesthetize her. Only then the actual operation can start. So actually, they haven't been that long yet and you do want them to do a proper job, don't you? You wouldn't want them to rush or put the babies at risk."

"Yes of course you're right. I don't know what's wrong with me, one minute I'm cool, calm and collected, the next I'm spiraling out of control. It's so unlike me, I normally keep a cool head in crisis situations. Like the time I had to save Lindsey out of Eddie's car, I stayed calm then, I did what I had to do. What's wrong with me? Why can't I be like that now?" Catherine asked, looking at her big sister as if she were the oracle of Delphi, the beholder of all truths.

"Oh honey," Nancy said, rubbing her sister's back, "there's nothing wrong with you. There's no standard reaction to a crisis, just as there's no standard crisis situation. The way you behave, the way you feel and think, … it all depends on the situation you're facing. So yes, perhaps you're a bit emotionally all over the place at the moment, perhaps you have difficulty thinking clearly, but that's all very understandable. You stayed calm and collected when you shot Sara's assailant, didn't you? You're just someone who stays collected in situations you have control over. I mean, when Lindsey nearly drowned, her life depended on what you did next, didn't it? When Sara was attacked, her life and your life too depended on what you did next, didn't it? You stayed calm and collected both times, because you had some semblance of control over the situation. At the moment, you have no control whatsoever, you can't influence the outcome because everything is in the hands of the surgeons and that's making you so scared and volatile. You're someone who craves control and that's not something to be scared or ashamed of."

"You're making me sound like a power hungry alpha," Catherine grumbled, though she realized the veracity of the statement.

"Well yeah, but just a tiny one, an alpha-ette if you'd like," Nancy laughed before adding, "and a closet control freak."

"Oh no," Catherine whined in mock despair, "all this time I thought my casual outlook on life was rubbing off on Sara, it now seems her control freak tendencies are rubbing off on me instead."

"Don't worry about it," Nancy laughed, "I still love you."

"Well yes," came the grumbled reply, "but you're supposed to, you're my sister."

"Feeling better?" Nancy asked.

"Yes, I suppose, I'd kill for another coffee though. Hey Jim, do you think you could show me the way to the cafeteria? Maybe talk the head nurse into giving us a decent cup again while you're at it?" Catherine asked, getting up from the wooden bench. She needed a diversion at this time. Not only psychologically, but also physically; sitting on that torture bench had left her numb and stiff.

"Sure, follow me," Brass said.

When Catherine turned, Nancy answered her unasked question: "yes, we'll come get you as soon as there's news."

Both holding steaming mugs in their hands, Brass and Catherine walked back to their little hallway at a leisurely pace, Brass keeping her distracted with funny anecdotal stories about Sorcha. Still laughing at Sorcha's little mishap with an Irish setter pup, Catherine rounded the corner of the hallway and noticed Nancy and Warrick were talking animatedly, their heads only centimeters apart and their voices a mere whisper. As soon as Nancy spotted her though, an almost eerie silence fell as Warrick and Nancy straightened up and stopped talking. Narrowing her eyes at the scene, noticing the pink blush on their cheeks, the strangest thoughts ran through Catherine's mind:<did they hear something about Sara? Nah, that can't be they're blushing. Maybe they were flirting with each other or gossiping behind my back?> Determined to find out what they were hiding, Catherine went over to her sister.

"Thanks," Nancy said as Catherine handed her a mug of coffee. "No news yet."

Searching Nancy's face for clues, Catherine gave her sister an inquisitive look but soon gave up as Nancy just stared right back at her, an amused smirk on her face. Catherine decided to let it drop for the moment; she'd know soon enough anyway, Nancy never could keep a secret from her. She sat down, holding the mug a bit further away as the sudden movement splashed coffee over the rim. Only then she noticed one of them was missing. "Where has Greg disappeared to?", she asked before taking a sip.

"He had to go to the Mc Carran," Warrick informed her. "He suddenly remembered that his Alaskan friend Gina is flying in tonight. He's picking her up and driving her to his apartment. He promised he'd be back."

"Who's Gina?" Brass asked, feeling totally out of the loop as Catherine just nodded at the news.

Turning to face the rather perplexed looking Detective, Warrick continued: "well, you know that Greg is trying out for the vacant position of CSI, right? He passed all of the tests so far, but the powers that be threatened to cut down his field hours if he didn't find a replacement DNA technician. With Stevens arrested for rape, the lab is understaffed, leaving Greg temporarily stuck in his little cubicle. That's where Gina comes in, she's an university friend of Greg's and jumped at the chance to take up Greg's old position. I guess she's sick and tired of the cold and snow. Anyway, she still has to pass an interview with Greg, Grissom and Mobley, but I'm sure that's just a formality. She has excellent credentials."

"So young Greg's going to be a full time CSI then?" Brass asked, not really knowing how he felt about that.

"Yes, God help us all," Catherine laughed. Just then a rather weary and defeated looking surgeon entered the hallway through the swing doors. Snatching off his mouth piece and combing his fingers through his receding hair, he looked around before walking towards them. "Friends and family of Sara Sidle?" he asked.

Chapter 44.

As the surgeon slowly approached, wiping perspiration from his forehead with his arm, they all stood up, looking at Catherine to take the lead. Grateful for Warrick's comforting arm around her shoulder, she grabbed her sister's hand for moral support and squeezed it tightly. Her legs trembling, her throat constricted by nerves, she managed to squeak: "I'm Sara's partner. How is she doctor?"

The way she kept fiddling with Sara's promise ring made the surgeon realize Catherine meant domestic partner and a small, but genuine smile appeared on his face. Inviting them all to sit down again, he said: "the operation was a complete success. Sara's in a stable condition and being transferred to ICU as we speak as a precautionary measure. That way we can keep monitoring her throughout the night. Because Sara was wearing a bullet proof vest at the time, the wound on her back wasn't all that severe, more like a big laceration. The tenson fasciae latae, a muscle in the lower back, wasn't touched at all, so she only needed stitches. Her back should heal pretty quickly with minimal scarring.

The stab wounds to her upper arm and thigh were deeper however and needed reconstructive surgery. It's a miracle no arteries or major veins were cut, though it was a case of millimeters where her thigh was concerned. A quarter of an inch to the right and she would have bled to death before the paramedics got there. As it is Sara only suffered muscle and sinew damage. She had tiny tears in the gracilis and semimebranosus muscles of her thigh. It's a bit difficult to explain the procedure, but I guess you could say in laymen's term that we sewed it back together. There should be no permanent damage to her leg, perhaps she'll experience some stiffness over the next couple of weeks, but that should pass.

It was pretty obvious that Sara was stabbed in a downwards movement, her shoulder being the point of entry and took the full brunt of force. The knife went clean through the flesh of the shoulder, scratching the head of humerus and the acromion before receding down her upper arm. The deltoid muscle in her arm was almost completely sliced in two. She'll need a couple of weeks of intense physiotherapy to regain full use of her arm. All in all I'd say that Sara's a pretty lucky lady, it could have been much worse."

"What about the babies?" Catherine then asked.

"Sara's about ten to eleven weeks pregnant, which means the uterus is well protected by the pelvis bone and the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus serves as an excellent shock absorber. She hasn't received any direct trauma to the uterus, which is also very good. Pregnant women are physiologically prepared for hemorrhage because of normal hematological adaptations: increase in plasma volume and red cell mass. In short, a pregnant woman has extra blood, so she can compensate for blood loss. The problem is that as the mother tries to compensate for blood loss, blood flow is shunted away from the fetus. To avoid that, pregnant patients are transported on their side to increase uterine blood flow on the one hand and receive more fluids on the other.

However, your quick thinking with the tourniquets and turning Sara on her side, not to mention the in situ blood transfusion, have minimized the negative effects. Sara's own gynecologist was present during the operation to keep an eye on the babies. Though it's a bit early to be a hundred percent certain, the babies seem fine; they showed strong and regular heartbeats throughout the surgery. Of course we'll keep monitoring her and the babies for the next twenty four hours, just to be on the safe side."

"Will this affect the babies' development? I mean, were they cut off from oxygen? Will there be brain damage?" Catherine asked.

"Again, it's too early to say," the surgeon replied, "but it's still very early in the pregnancy, the blood flow to the uterus was never completely cut off so they had oxygen at all times and their heart beats remain strong and healthy, all good signs. I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were you. I'll take you to see Sara now if you want, the nurses should have her settled down by now." When they all stood to follow him to the intensive care unit, the surgeon added: "only one of you though. Although Sara's not in critical condition, she doesn't need the additional stress. Besides the anesthetics won't have worn off yet. The rest of you can visit her tomorrow."

"You go see her," Nancy said, giving her sister a big hug. "We'll wait here until you're back. Then I'll take you home, you need sleep. Only the adrenaline has kept you up all these hours, you're physically and emotionally drained."

"Yeah, you're right. I need a clear head to face the internal affairs squad. I just need to see Sara before we go, I need to be sure she's really fine," Catherine said. "Otherwise I'd never be able to sleep anyway." Seeing the understanding in the other's eyes, she turned to the surgeon and nodded, indicating she was ready to go.

As they walked through a maze of similar looking hallways, the surgeon told Catherine: "don't be alarmed by the machines, that's just so we can keep monitoring her and the babies." He opened the door to a darkened room and said "ten minutes only, okay?" before walking over to the nurses' station.

With a weary heart Catherine watched the surgeon walk off before turning towards the half opened door. Though she knew that the worst was over, that Sara and the babies were out of danger, she was still a little apprehensive of entering the darkened room. Her reaction didn't make any sense, she knew that she should be jumping for joy right this minute, but all she felt paralysed by fear, fear of losing a loved one. Only now did she truly realize what Sara meant to her. If someone had asked her this morning if she loved Sara, she'd have answered "yes of course, with all my heart", but only now did she realize how numb and empty her life would be without her, how her world would come crashing down if Sara wasn't there. She had never loved someone so deeply before and felt totally humbled.

This was a once in a lifetime love, they were soul mates, meant to be together … How had Sara put it again? They were angels with only one wing, unable to fly without each other. Sara had realized this long before her, otherwise she wouldn't have given her a promise ring, she wouldn't have given her an out twice. Unlike her, Sara understood the deep emotional connection they shared and embraced it fully, realizing that this was THE love affair everyone kept yearning for. The passion, true love all those sappy song keep referring to, the eternal love all those Harlequin paperbacks are bragging about, well with a little twist this time around anyway, …. Catherine always laughed at them, ridiculing the portrayal as idealistic drivel, playing into man's wish for a happy ending, telling herself it would never happen. Chivalry and romance were dead after all.

'For better or for worse, in sickness and in health,…', she had said those words once, fully meaning them at the time, but soon realizing that they were hollow. She had stayed with Eddie for a long time, putting up with a lot of his crap, thinking that love wasn't the fairy tale everyone made it out to be, that this was real life and that this was how love was supposed to be. Had you asked a teenage Catherine if she believed in the concept of soul mates, of love ever after, she'd have laughed in your face. There's no such thing as love, there's only lust and as soon as the passion fizzles down, well that's it, you just move on to the next person. Be with someone for the rest of your life? No way, she'd be bored out of her skull, variety is the spice of life after all. It was a notion that stayed with her the rest of her adult life, varying slightly as she matured and met different people. A vision colored by the many unhappy couples she encountered, bitter divorces she witnessed …. Hell, even her parents had been miserable together for as long as she could remember. How can you believe in love with role models like that?

Only now, when she was well into her forties, did she realize what complete crap her childhood vision was. Sara was the only one for her, the other half of her soul, all others paled in comparison. She hadn't exchanged vows with Sara, well not yet anyway, but she finally understood what they meant and that was exactly the way she felt about Sara. Sure they'd have rows and disagreements in the days and years to come, they were both too hot tempered, stubborn and passionate not to. If Catherine was totally honest, she had to admit that watching Sara with her temper unleashed was sexy as hell, but they'd never evolve into a second Catherine and Eddie. They'd never get physically and psychologically violent, tear into each other just for the sake of it, stop talking to each other or working at their relationship because there's nothing worth fighting for in the end.

Catherine now realized that they had something unique, something worth fighting for, someone to come truly home to. And Sara, despite all her innate pessimism, despite all scientific facts to the contrary, had known this all along. A rational scientist believing in the idealistic notion of true and ever lasting love. The sudden epiphany firmly planting its seeds in her mind, she vowed to do something about it. As soon as Sara woke up, she'd tell her how much she loved her. 'Until death do us part' wasn't long enough in her eyes, she wanted to spend more than a lifetime at Sara's side.

Pushing the slightly ajar door open further, Catherine slowly walked into the darkened room. Taking in the different hissing and bleeping machines, noting their different uses, she stood still at the foot of the bed. Sara already looked much better: she was sleeping peacefully, her breathing deep and steady and didn't look so deadly pale anymore. She moved to the side of the bed, wiping away a stubborn curl of hair from Sara's forehead. Sara stirred under the tender caress and mumbled something incomprehensible, but didn't wake up.

Catherine sat down on the chair and took Sara's left hand into her own, needing to feel Sara's warmth to be completely sure she was fine. Slowly caressing the hand, stopping for a minute to feel Sara's strong heart beat, she rubbed the promise ring with her thumb. She now knew exactly how she'd show Sara she truly loved her, she'd ask Sara for her hand in marriage. She wouldn't do it as soon as Sara woke up though, that wouldn't be terribly romantic getting down on one knee in between hissing machines and bedpans. Besides, she needed to shop for rings first anyway and ask for Lindsey's opinion. Marriage meant a big change for all of them, Lindsey needed to have her say in that too, but Catherine didn't think gaining her daughter's permission would be a big problem, Lindsey was crazy about Sara. No, she'd hold off asking for a while and try to think of the perfect moment.

Smiling, she bent down to put a tender kiss on Sara's lips, just as a nurse came in. "You'd better go now," the nurse whispered. "She'll be awake tomorrow."

"Should her condition change, you will let me know, won't you?" Catherine asked.

"Of course, are you put down as her emergency contact number?" the nurse queried.

"Oh, I'm not sure if Sara got around to changing that, we haven't been together that long, I don't know," Catherine stammered dumbfounded.

"Well, follow me to the nurses' station, we'll check just to be on the safe side," the nurse said. Giving Sara's hand one final squeeze, Catherine followed the nurse out. Grabbing Sara's file, the nurse read out: "Sara Sidle, emergency contact Catherine Willows and Gil Grissom." Look over her glasses at Catherine, she said: "I'm presuming you're Catherine?"

"Um yeah," Catherine said.

"Should there be a change in Sara's condition, you'll be immediately notified. I do understand what you're going through, the uncertainty involved in a hospitalization. Tell you what, I'm on call all night, if you're worried and you can't sleep, just call, alright? This is the number," the nurse said, scribbling down on a piece of paper. "She's fine at the moment though, the operation went without a glitch. "

Looking at the tiny note, Catherine said: "thanks, I really appreciate this." Giving the friendly nurse one final smile, she walked out of the tiny cubicle and went in search of the others.

Catherine fell into a deep slumber the moment her head hit the pillow, dreaming incessantly of Sara. Never even hearing the loud blaring of her alarm clock, she only woke up when the phone rang. Reaching over to the night desk on automatic pilot, knocking down the alarm clock and a glass of water in the process, she groggily mumbled "hello" only to hear the dial tone. Grumbling she put the phone down again and scooted further down the bed so she could reach the glass and the alarm clock without leaving her safe cocoon.

When she noticed the time, blinking a couple of times to verify her eyes weren't lying, she scrambled out of bed, almost tripping over the shoes she had so carelessly thrown across the room last night in her fatigue. Brass could be here any minute, he had promised to come and pick her up for her Internal Affairs interview this afternoon and she was nowhere near ready. She ran to the kitchen to start up the coffee maker before sprinting to the bathroom to take a quick shower.

She was only just out of the shower when the door bell rang twice, two short buzzes indicating Brass' arrival. Tying the sash of her robe, she took a fresh towel out of the linen closet and toweled her dripping wet hair dry while descending the stairs to open the door. "Sorry about this," she mumbled, her head hidden beneath the towel. "I overslept, so I'm running a bit late. Just make yourself at home, there's fresh coffee in the kitchen. I'll be right down."

"Don't stress, we have all the time in the world," Brass said as she disappeared back upstairs again. Not sure she had even heard him, he walked into the kitchen, heading straight for the coffee pot. Searching Catherine's kitchen cabinets for a mug, he poured himself a cup and then leaned back against the counter. The strong coffee tasted like nectar compared to the sludge he was used to at the precinct. Finishing the cup in no time, he rinsed it out before putting it in the sink. He walked back to the living room, letting his curiosity get the better of him.

Though he knew Catherine quite well, he had never been in her house before so he grabbed the opportunity to snoop around with both hands. He always thought that a house's interior told so much about the people living there, that it was a reflection of the inhabitants' soul. You could definitely see that Catherine was a people's person: there were pictures of family and friends everywhere: Lindsey, Warrick, Nancy, Nick, yes, even Grissom and Greg took prominent places in the living room. He smiled when he even found one of himself, taken at last year's Christmas party. Walking over to the oak dresser, two pictures of Sara caught his attention.

On the first one, she was perched upon a high chair, her hands loosely around a microphone and a dreamy, almost innocent expression on her face. Elegantly dressed in black, she resembled one of those old night club diva's, singing soft jazz and the blues. On the second picture, she looked completely different. Gone was the elegant air of sophistication, only to make room for a sensual display of raw power, sex appeal and even a wink of mischief. Sara was sitting down on her Harley, completely clad in black leather and smiling into the camera, her eyes sparkling brightly as if she knew something the others didn't.

The contrast between the two pictures couldn't be bigger and yet it was so typically Sara. She was mercurial, effortlessly slipping from one role into another. She truly was an enigma, you'd need a lifetime to get to know her properly and yet you'd still be surprised from time to time. He was truly grateful to call her a friend, though he considered her more of a surrogate daughter. His mind still on the mystery of Sara, he sank down on the couch to wait for Catherine.

Throwing the damp towel on the bed, Catherine opened her bedroom closet, looking for the perfect outfit. She opted for smart but elegant, a trouser suit with a white silk blouse and black pumps. To Catherine, the way a person dresses, tells a lot about their personality. She liked dressing up, wearing elegant clothes, she felt good in them and even needed them sometimes as a confidence boost. Dressed to the nines, she felt in total control, she then knew she was up for any challenge.

In her mind, her suit portrayed her as a confident woman, in control of herself and her emotions. A little arrogant, headstrong and maybe even demanding and overbearing at times, but all in all someone you could count on. That was precisely how she wanted the Internal Affairs officers to see her. Of course, she couldn't take it too far, she couldn't let the officers think she was so posh that she was afraid of getting her hands dirty or breaking a nail. Coming off overly female was definitely out of the question. Oh, who was she kidding? They'd already be biased, after all the police force was notorious for its prejudice against female officers. They'd have her pegged as some kind of butch woman, desperately wanting to be a man. True, it was mostly the older generation that thought that way and she wasn't really a police officer but a criminalist, still….. she was caught in a case of 'damned if I do, damned if I don't': either branded as a posh 'it' girl, too lazy to lift a finger or as a she male police wannabe.

Back in the bathroom, she combed and blow dried her hair, making sure not a hair was out of place. Applying some subtle make up, less was more after all, she took a critical look at her own appearance. Content with the outcome, she told her reflection "you can do it Catherine, you have nothing to worry about. You did nothing wrong and if push comes to shove, Brass is there to watch your back." Closing her eyes for a minute to find the inner strength she was renowned for, she left the bathroom and went downstairs.

Though her heels click clacked on the wooden stairs, Brass was so deep within his own thoughts that he looked startled when she put her hand on his shoulder. "You seemed far away," she said.

"Sorry about that, I was just thinking about something. Anyway you look …. Well, simply amazing actually," Brass said with a smile.

Wiping away some imaginary dust from her blouse, Catherine asked: "you don't think it's over the top, do you?"

"No, not at all," Brass replied. "You look just fine, don't worry about it. Erm…. I don't really know how to tell you this but….. erm, you'd better not mention your relationship with Sara. You know how the police are, not broad minded at all and if they knew you and Sara are lovers, they might put a totally different spin on things. You know, police officer shoots down girlfriend's assailant in vindictive rage." Before Catherine could protest, he quickly continued: "You and I know that's not what happened, but …. Better be on the safe side, huh? I know that you don't like it, hell I don't like it one bit either, but you know how it is…. Appearances and first impressions are everything. I'm terribly sorry about this, but…"

"I know it's not your fault," Catherine reassured him, "and I know that's not the way you think either, you've always been supportive of us. I have to confess, I've been thinking the same thing. I don't like denying what Sara and I have, but that's the way it's got to be. Especially the older generation seem bigoted against women. I'll just be the female colleague and close friend. I mean, only night shift knows we're together, I don't think Internal Affairs will know any differently."

The relief evident on his face, Brass said: "Good. Erm shall we?" Offering Catherine his arm, he led her to his car and soon they were on their way to the labs where Catherine's formal interview would take place. She had requested that venue especially, thinking she'd feel more at ease there than over at the precinct.

Waiting for the light to turn green, Brass looked over to the passenger seat and said: "picking the labs for your formal interview was a very good idea. Even if it's just psychologically, it gives you an advantage over them. You're on your home turf so to speak. Have you given a thought to where exactly you want it to be held? I mean the lounge, the conference room, the interrogation room,….?"

The light turning green, Brass drove off again while Catherine answered: "I haven't really figured that one out yet. I just thought we could whatever labs available or maybe use my office, though that might be a tad too informal. Why? Do you have something better in mind?"

"Well, I'd suggest Grissom's office," Brass said. When he noticed the rather flabbergasted expression on Catherine's face, she looked at him like he'd lost his marbles, he quickly continued: "bear with me for a moment, would you? You and me, we've pretty much seen it all: decapitated heads, nailed penises, severed limbs, exploding heads,…. We're not easily grossed out and though we might both find Grissom's little dungeon tacky, odd and creepy, it doesn't really scare us. It's just not the way we'd decorate our office. The rat squad however are pencil pushers, they've never done a day of honest police work in their whole life. Hell, they've probably never seen a body up close.

In my opinion the only pleasure they get is making the life of fellow officers as miserable as possible. Granted, they do a good job sometimes getting rid of rotten apples, but in general they put the squeeze on good cops for no apparent reason than the sadistic pleasure of watching them squirm. I just thought if we turned the tables on them, scaring them witless in Grissom's little dungeon of horrors, might be… well kind of fun."

Catherine had to laugh at Brass' smirk and glittering eyes. "You're right," she said. "However much I loathe Grissom's office, the rat squad as you so succinctly call them will be more grossed out than I'll ever be. You know Jim, you have a rather sadistic streak yourself."

"No, not really," he replied, "I've just seen too many promising careers destroyed by their overzealousness. Anyway, we're here. What do you think, a cup of coffee before we face them?"

"Sounds good to me," Catherine said, unbuckling her seat belt and getting out of the car.

Chapter 45.

Frequently halted in their progress by well meaning lab techs and passing day shift colleagues congratulating them on the bust and inquiring about Sara's condition, Brass and Catherine slowly made their way to the lounge, relieved to see that apparently Ecklie was out in the field, his office closed and darkened. Their luck was short lived however as he stood waiting for them in the lounge, strategically hidden out of sight near the coffee machine. Pouring himself a cup before turning around, a sardonic and insincere smile on his face, he sneered: "so I hear congratulations are in order, you've finally caught your serial killers.

About time too I reckon, it took you guys long enough; three gruesome murders before you even had an inkling. You know that Mobley was this close to handing the case over to me, he had enough of your pussyfooting around, he wanted results and knew I'd get them. The case should have been mine to begin with. At least my team wouldn't have botched up the bust like that: going in on flimsy evidence, both suspects shot dead and one officer seriously wounded. What were you trying to achieve anyway? Poetic justice? Firing squad as the ultimate execution method? Not what I'd call a good end result.

And then Sidle almost getting sliced in two. Mind you, that was probably her own fault though with her cavalier attitude. I've said it before and I'll say it again, she's a loose canon with a gun in her hand, there's no way I'd want her on my team. But all in all a good result for me, at least now the sheriff will know that high profile, sensitive cases should be handled by day shift. I guess I should be thanking you, you just saved me a trip to Mobley's office."

Ecklie's callous, insensitive taunts and sneering jibes making her beyond angry, Catherine had to be physically held back by Brass or she'd have jumped the by now openly smirking head of day shift. Whispering to Catherine that he'd take care of this, Brass launched into an acerbic diatribe of his own: "at least night shift caught their serial killer, last I've heard the case on your serial killer, the casino strangler, is still wide open. Despite abundant physical evidence and psychological profiling, not one serious suspect in sight. Well, unless you count that Arabian diplomat you picked of course.

Didn't he end up suing the police department for brutality and wrongful arrest? He was ten thousand miles away for at least three of the four murders, a little detail that escaped your attention as you were too busy manhandling him. One quick check of his international passport would have told you though. Wasn't arresting him your idea? I've heard Sophia, your second in command, was dead set against it until you efficiently shut her up by demoting her to swing shift on a insubordination charge. That doesn't really look good on your resume now that you're angling for the lab director job, now does it?

And what about the Landry case? Didn't the suspect end up holding a gun to your head because you went in without proper backup, because you were hell bent on headlining the papers? Oh, I forgot, you actually achieved that little feat…. You and your pee stained pants were all over the ten o'clock news if I recall correctly. Who knew one of Landry's bullets would be a dud? You shouldn't be standing here by all accounts. Isn't it funny how people react differently in times of crisis? You pee your pants, while Sara, the loose canon with a gun I think you called her, saved Catherine's life by shooting down Joel Covington.

You're a disgrace to the profession Ecklie, all you care about is your precious little career. Now get out from under my eyes before I decide to screw it all up by telling the sheriff and the mayor all about your backstabbing ways. I hate snitches, but I'd gladly turn into one if it meant getting rid of you. I bet they'd be really interested in finding out how you tried to bribe me into helping you land this case."

"That won't be necessary Jim," a booming voice behind them said, making them all turn around. "Conrad, my office nine o'clock tomorrow," the mayor continued, it's time you and I had a little chat about ethics, professional integrity and collegial courtesy. I've had it up to here with your scheming ways, you might be able to wrap Mobley around your little finger, but I can see right through you."

"But mayor, it's not true what he said," Ecklie stammered, looking white as a sheet. "I'd never do such a thing, I…"

"Conrad, I was standing here all along, I heard everything you said. Besides I've had complaints before about you and your underhanded ways," the mayor boomed, definitely not caring about the crowd that had gathered in the hallway. "Now scram, I want to talk to Miss Willows and captain Brass in peace." When Ecklie cowered away, leaving the lounge with his tail between his legs like the little bully he really was, the mayor closed the door behind him, effectively shutting out the curious crowd. Indicating Brass and Catherine to take a seat, he walked over to the coffee machine.

"Coffee anyone?" he asked, holding the pot up. Pouring three cups, he continued: "you know, one of the reasons I love coming to the labs is that you have damn good coffee. Especially when that spikey little lab tech's working, Greg I think his name is. My secretary never seems to get it right, she'll me either liquid tar or glorified dishwater." Handing them the mugs before taking a sip of his own, he sighed: "now this is what I call coffee."

Taking a seat in the leather couch opposite them, making himself comfortable, he suddenly noticed their rather worried expression. Straightening his tie, he said: "relax, I'm not here to give you an ass chewing, I'm here to thank you for all your hard work in what the press now call the execution killings. I know that you didn't have a lot of clues to go on and that you all pulled double, even triple shifts. I also know that I didn't make it easier on you by lumbering you with a deadline. It's not that I didn't have any faith in you, I did but you've got to see it from my position. I'm responsible for this town, for the safety of its inhabitants and the countless tourists. Vicious serial killers roaming the street are bad for business, so I had to make an executive decision.

If it's any consolation, the case would never have been handed to Ecklie, despite all his statements to the contrary. He might be Mobley's puppet and the sheriff and I might not see eye to eye on a lot of things, but we had agreed to call in a special FBI task force. Anyway, that's all idle chatter now, everything worked out for the best in the end and I'll be proud to announce at the press conference later this afternoon that our very own LVPD caught the serial killers.

How's Miss Sidle doing by the way? I had the pleasure of meeting her in connection to the Grim Reaper case. She seemed like a very dedicated officer, not easily deterred. Not even by my dragon of a mother. What? Even though she's my mother I know what she's like. Anyway, how is Miss Sidle doing? Is there any news?"

"The operation was a success," Catherine said. "She's out of danger and there shouldn't be any permanent damage."

"I'm very glad to hear that," the mayor said with a sincere smile. "Give her my best." Looking at his watch, he stood up and shook both their hands. "Anyway, I've got a press conference to go to. I just wanted to thank you personally for all your hard work." Giving them both a courteous nod, he left the lounge room.

Both Catherine and Brass sank back down on the couch, not really knowing what to say. "That was surreal," Catherine finally muttered.

A knock on the door made them both look up. Two burley men were standing in the door way. "Catherine Willows and Jim Brass?" one of them asked. When they both nodded, he flipped open his ID and said: "Cartwright and Holland, Internal Affairs, is there an office where we can talk?"

Leaning back in Grissom's chair, the leather creaking as she shifted position, Catherine had trouble suppressing a smirk when she noticed the burley men fidgeting uncomfortably in their seats, intimidated by the medical oddities on display. Cartwright turned quite pale as he noticed Grissom's beloved pet spider move in the terrarium, he hadn't thought it was alive, he gulped audibly before mumbling: "interesting office your boss has. Is that a tarantula?"

"Yes, it is," Catherine answered with barely concealed glee. "Her name's Arachna, although I sometimes think Harriette Houdini would be more appropriate as she has a tendency to escape and wander around the office." The man's light shudder did not escape her attention, Brass' little plan seemed to be working perfectly, she continued: "gentlemen, would you mind if we get started? I'd like to visit Sara later on and you know how limited visiting hours are in the intensive care unit."

"Yes, of course, we understand," Holland stammered, his eyes glued to a jar on the cabinet behind Catherine, one Catherine knew contained a flayed hand. Clearing his throat to mask his unease, Holland reached down for his briefcase and took out his notes and a tiny tape recorder. The tape recorder began to run as soon as he spoke again.

"Formal interview of Miss Catherine Willows, CSI level three, in connection to the shooting of Joel and Frederica Covington, the prime suspects in the execution killings. The interview is being held in the Las Vegas Crime Labs at the request of Miss Willows. Those present are George Holland and Mark Cartwright, IAB officers; Catherine Willows, Las Vegas Crime Lab and captain James Brass, Las Vegas Police Department. Captain Brass is sitting in on this interview as Miss Willows' union representative.

Before we get started, let's get some formalities out of the way. As you probably know Miss Willows, the new regulation stipulates that every officer involved in a shooting must follow counseling. You have the choice between a counsellor of your own choosing or a police counsellor. These sessions are mandatory and only when the counsellor gives the green light can you return to active duty. It's also customary during an Internal Affairs investigation that the officer involved refrains from field duty until they're officially cleared. You have a choice between desk duty and paid leave of absence. What will your choices be?"

Pushing paperwork for a couple of days did not sound too appealing, Catherine answered: "I'll take the leave of absence. As far as the counselor's concerned, we have our own counselor, Sylvia Patterson, I'll take my session with her if that's alright?"

"That's just fine. Anyway, the investigation is pretty routine and shouldn't last more than a couple of days. As soon as we've made a decision, you can return to active duty," Cartwright informed her. "Now, we already interviewed the police officers present at the shooting, so we have a fairly good idea what happened, but why don't you tell us in your own words? You can skip forward to the moment you entered the basement."

Clearing her throat, Catherine answered: "okay. Well as you know we split up, Jim and Greg took the upstairs while Sara and I took the basement. I entered first; it was pretty dark and we only had our flashlights to go by. I descended slowly, keeping an eye out for sudden movements or strange noises. I didn't know the layout of the basement and didn't want any nasty surprises. As soon as I was down, I took cover behind a concrete wall and signaled to Sara to begin her descent while I gave her cover from below and the officers from above. I think Sara was half way down the stairs by then, when I heard a rattling noise behind me. I thought it was one of the Covingtons closing in on me, so I listened carefully for footsteps, but I couldn't hear any. When a big hairy rat popped out of nowhere, I just assumed he'd made the noise.

I don't know, I guess my attention must have faltered for a split second because the next thing I knew Sara was shouting 'watch out', followed by two loud bangs and a heavy bleeding body falling against me before slowly slumping to the ground. It was Joel Covington. Although I could immediately see he was dead, I still kicked the gun out of reach while Sara ran down the stairs. She asked me if I was alright and then told me to give her cover as she stepped over Joel's body to venture further into the cellar. I immediately followed her, both of us given cover by the police officers above.

It was really dark, we couldn't see all that much, so we had to rely on sound mostly. We advanced slowly and had almost reached the end of the cellar when I noticed light reflected on the blade of a knife, but before I could even warn Sara, who was walking slightly in front of me, I heard the sound of metal cutting through flesh. I don't know if you've ever heard that, but let me tell you it chills you to the core. I just turned and started shooting in the direction of the reflection."

"Weren't you afraid you'd hit your colleague?" Holland interrupted her.

"No," Catherine immediately answered, "I had heard and seen Sara slump to the ground so I knew I wouldn't hit her."

"In your opinion, did Miss Sidle act recklessly in any way? Could she have prevented being assaulted?" Cartwright asked.

Catherine realized these were standard questions, but was still indignant they tried to pin this all on Sara. Remembering Brass' advice, not to let them rattle her, she mentally counted to ten before she answered: "No, she stuck to procedure at all times. We stuck close to the wall, we were given back cover by the two police officers. There's simply no way she could have seen this coming. Like I said, it was pitch dark in that cellar. We couldn't risk turning on the lights as we'd have been sitting ducks for a hidden Frederica Covington. As it is, it was only by sheer luck I noticed the knife, from an officer's flashlight reflecting on it, but as everything happened in a split second, I didn't have enough time to warn her."

"How many times did you hit Frederica Covington?" Holland asked.

"I know I pulled the trigger six times," Catherine answered, "I couldn't be a hundred percent sure of the suspect's position, you see. I know I hit her twice."

"How can you be so sure?" Cartwright wanted to know.

"That's easy," Catherine explained, "I listened to the sound of impact. I know four of my shots hit the concrete wall behind her. My first and last shot hit the suspect. A bullet hitting a body sounds quite differently."

"Shooting six times, don't you think that's kind of overkill?" Holland asked, trying to rattle her.

"No, not really," Catherine answered, "like I said, I listened to the sound of impact, I knew my first bullet had hit the suspect, but I didn't hear her slump to the floor, so I knew she was still a danger. I stopped shooting as soon as I heard her fall to the ground. I rushed over to Sara's aid while an officer, I can't really remember his name now, disarmed the suspect."

"Was the suspect still alive at the time?" Cartwright asked.

"Yes, though barely," Catherine told him. "She was bleeding heavily and coughing up a lot of blood. I think one of the bullet perforated her throat."

"Now a totally different question," Holland said, "why did you decide to go in? You could have easily waited another fifteen minutes for the rest of your colleagues to get there?"

"It was my decision to go in," Brass said, making the IAB officers turn around. "Well, a joint decision anyway," Brass said. "We had informed Grissom, that's Catherine's boss, of our plans and he agreed we should go in. We had more than enough back up: five police officers for three criminalists. Anymore people and we'd been hindering each other. It was a sound decision and I still stand by it."

Nodding at Brass' explanation, Holland turned around again and told Catherine: "that's it for now. If we have more questions, we'll be sure to contact you. Our investigation should be concluded by the end of the week. The pathologist promised he'd fax us the autopsy reports later today and swing shift is compiling their report on the shooting as we speak. We still have to interview Miss Sidle, but that can wait for a couple of days until she's out of ICU. Anyway, thank you for your cooperation and we'll let you know."

"Well that went pretty smoothly," Catherine told Brass as soon as the IAB officers were out of Grissom's office. "I thought they'd ask me the same question over and over again…. I don't know, that it'd be a hell of a lot harder somehow."

"I know what you mean," Brass said. "But let's not dwell on that. What's next?"

Looking at her watch, Catherine answered: "Nancy said she'd drop Lindsey off after school. They should be here any minute now. I thought we could get us something to eat before we go to the hospital. How does that sound?"

"That's fine," Brass answered. "Would you mind if we went to your office though? A prolonged visit to Grissom's office always gets on my nerves." Catherine just laughed and guided the detective to her own office.

Waiting for Nancy and Lindsey to arrive, Catherine and Brass were talking quietly amongst themselves when Jasmine, the girl from the front desk, interrupted them. "Sorry to barge in like this," she said apologetically for her rather brusque entrance, "but it's just that I saw you come in earlier Catherine and now there's someone at the reception asking for Sara and I thought that it might be better coming from you that she's in the hospital, you being her colleague and all. To tell you the truth I don't really know how to tell someone bad news, so I was hoping…."

As Jasmine hadn't stopped to breathe once and was by now turning quite red, Catherine quickly said: "you did the right thing Jasmine. You didn't happen to catch his name, did you?"

"Erm no," the girl answered, "it didn't really occur to me to ask, I just panicked and told him to wait there."

Before the girl could get all flustered again, Catherine said: "come on, let's find out who he is in that case." Talking to Jasmine in hushed tones, Catherine tried to reassure the very shy and easily embarrassed girl with friendly banter. She was just complementing her on her silk blouse, as they rounded the corner and entered the reception area. Men in all shapes and sizes sat waiting, so Catherine asked: "so who is it?"

As she laid eyes on the man in question, Jasmine unconsciously licked her lips before whispering in Catherine's ear: "it's that stud sitting against the wall over there, the one reading the paper." A dreamy expression in her eyes, she added: "isn't he yummy?", promptly turning beet red again as the man chose that moment to look up.

Patting the girl on the arm, Catherine gave her a sly wink and said: "you've got good taste Jasmine, he's a stud alright." Walking away from the slightly drooling girl, Catherine took a closer look at the man. In his early forties and immaculately dressed, he looked like he had just walked off the cover of a fashion magazine. The tiny scar above his right eye, the small cleft in his chin and the jet dark hair turning slowly grey gave him an air of distinguishment. Standing up as he she neared him, Catherine offered him her hand and said: "Hi, I'm Catherine Willows, a colleague of Sara. I understand you've been asking for her?"

"Yes," the man said, "I already passed by her apartment, but she doesn't seem to be home, so I thought I'd try here. This is her home away from home after all." When they both smiled, he added:" I'm her brother Thomàs," giving her hand a firm shake.

"Thomas, it's a pleasure to meet you. Sara's told me so much about you that I feel like I already know you," she said.

"All good I hope?" he laughed, his suave smile and jet black eyes enough to make a lesser woman weak at the knees. Andy Garcia really was a pimpled, awkward schoolboy compared to Thomas. Unfortunately for him though, Catherine had pawned her heart off to his sister. Immune to his Latino charm, she just smiled and said: "why don't you follow me to my office? We'll have a little bit more privacy there."

To Be Continued

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