DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to CBS and the show CSI. I'm making no profit from this, I'm just 'borrowing' the characters.
Sara stared sullenly up at the strawberry-blonde woman in front of her. "No," she stated with finality.
Catherine's face creased with frustration. "Please?"
"Ask someone else."
"I've asked everyone else. My sister's away, Warrick and Nick are both working and my babysitter is unavailable."
"Eddie?" Sara felt bad for suggesting it, but she was desperate for a way out.
"He's busy." The coldness of Catherine's reply gave Sara all the information she needed to know about what the woman thought of his excuse.
"It's my night off. I had plans."
"You never have plans that don't involve work." Catherine's voice rose incredulously.
"Great way of endearing me to the idea."
"Sorry. What plans am I asking you to disrupt?"
Sara scowled. "Sleeping and listening to the scanner," she admitted sullenly.
Catherine just about managed to hide the grin from her face. "Oh come on. Think of it as therapy."
"Please Sara. You're my last hope."
"Gee, thanks." Sara didn't know whether to be pleased that Catherine knew her well enough to realise that she would refuse, or affronted that she was the last one on the list.
"Please Sara. I missed the last conference because Grissom put me in charge. I never get to go away. It's just until I get back from Minneapolis."
"Catherine, you know children don't like me."
The older woman deliberately kept herself from smiling. She could tell that Sara was beginning to give. "Lindsey thinks you're great," she disputed.
"She hardly knows me," Sara pointed out.
"Now's your chance to change that."
"What if she starts bawling? I'm no good with stuff like that."
"She's a kid, not Godzilla. Talk to her. Work on your people skills. Trust me, they could do with some development," Catherine replied.
Sara rotated the coffee cup on the table in front of her, thinking hard. She liked Catherine a lot, but was surprised that the woman trusted her enough to look after her daughter. The bigger problem was that she wasn't sure she trusted herself to look after her. She had very little experience dealing with children and didn't want to lose face in front of Catherine by demonstrating her ineptitude in dealing with Lindsey. Finally, she looked up and stared at the other woman, clearly reading the hope and pleading etched on her features. "How long?" she asked finally.
This time, Catherine couldn't stop the smile pulling across her face. "The conference ends at 6, I've got a flight booked for 7.15. I'll be at McGarren by 9.45. I'll be back home at 10.30 latest. That'll give you the rest of the night off anyway, or I'll spring you a late dinner as thanks," the CSI 3 offered.
"Just 'till 10.30?" Sara asked, wanting confirmation.
"Yes. Please Sara, I've been wanting to go to this conference for months."
The hope in Catherine's voice was enough to sway the younger woman. "Okay, I'll do it. What time do you want me there?"
Catherine sighed with relief. The hardest part had been to get Sara to agree. But the next hurdle would be no less tricky. She spoke hurriedly so Sara wouldn't interrupt her. "I need you to pick her up from school at 4.30 and then take her home. There'll be food in the fridge for her so you haven't got to test your culinary skills, except by heating it up. Just make sure she does her homework, let her watch some TV and then get her to bed for 7.30. The rest of the evening's your own."
"Whoa, whoa. You want me to pick her up from school? And feed her? This isn't a simple babysitting job Cat. Are you sure you want me to do this?" Sara was beginning to feel panicked. Going round to someone's house, telling a kid to go to bed and then killing some time was one thing. This was definitely something else.
"I know it sounds like a lot. Which is why I asked you. I trust you enough to do this. It's not as hard as it sounds." She ran a hand through her hair absently. "Lindsey pretty much entertains herself in the evening. She might ask you to read to her, but she'll accept it if you tell her that you won't. She's a good kid."
"I know that Cat. It's not her I'm worried about," the brunette replied nervously.
"If I didn't think you could do this, I wouldn't have asked you," the smaller woman stated softly. "So, can I make the reservation?"
"You'd better write down the address of Lindsey's school. And your address for that matter," Sara sighed resignedly. The look of defeat on her face was replaced with a small grin when she saw the look of delight on Catherine's face. "You do realise that you owe me big time now," she pointed out good-naturedly.
"Just let me know when you want to cash it in," Catherine replied happily, before turning to leave the coffee room. "I'll write down everything that you need to know," she promised. "But I've gotta book my place first."
Sara shook her head as the blonde practically bounced out of the room, wondering what the hell she'd let herself in for.
Sara sighed as she leant her head against the back of the sofa. Her respect for Catherine had escalated in the last few hours. She had picked Lindsey up from school and then taken her to the park for an hour. The little girl had been ecstatic and made the most of the outing before they returned home. Sara had helped Lindsey with her homework before they watched a Disney film, both with rapt attention to the screen, and then Sara had tucked her into bed and read to her for a while. The seven year old had fallen asleep well before the end of the chapter so Sara crept out, taking the book with her. Harry Potter sounded a lot more interesting tonight than the forensic textbooks she'd brought round to read.
Now sat on the sofa, Sara felt too tired to read even that. She had no idea that looking after children could be so exhausting. Glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece, she noted that she only had two hours before Catherine got back. Now that Lindsey was in bed, the chances of anything going wrong had been dramatically reduced.
Feeling her eyes grow heavy, Sara made herself get up and get a cup of coffee. She didn't want to get caught sleeping by Catherine when she got home. It was as she was stirring sweetener into her drink that she heard a thud emanating from the back of the house. Wondering if Lindsey had somehow fallen out of bed, and praying that she hadn't inadvertently injured herself, the tall brunette hurried to the young girl's bedroom. As she approached the room, she slowed down, not wanting to burst in on the sleeping girl, and instead, listened at the door to see if Lindsey was awake.
For a moment, she could hear nothing, and then the brunette heard another sound. Because she had been focussing on listening, it was easier for her to locate its source and she turned to the bathroom. She realised that her pulse was accelerating as adrenaline coursed through her veins and she could feel the hair on the back of her neck rise. Something was very wrong.
Sara waited for a moment. Her gun was lying in her bag in the lounge. If she went to collect it, it would leave Lindsey's door unguarded, but if she went to the bathroom, she could leave herself vulnerable to whatever was in there. The CSI 2 rolled her eyes. Catherine's house had an alarm fitted and it had not gone off. She was just being paranoid because she was responsible for Lindsey's safety for the evening. Lindsey had probably woken up and gone to the bathroom.
Straightening, Sara strode over to the bathroom door and tapped on it lightly. "Lindsey, are you in there?" She called out softly. After waiting for a few seconds and not getting a response, the tall brunette turned the door handle and swung the door open quickly.
In the two seconds it took for Sara's eyes to adjust to the change in lumination, she knew that someone was in there and that the person most definitely was not Lindsey, but her reactions were too slow to avoid a punch to the face.
Sara staggered back, and then turned, determined to get to the lounge, her gun and her phone before her assailant did any more damage. She had barely gone two steps before she felt a hand grasp her shoulder and pull her back. She tried to duck away from the grip but was spun round and another blow landed, this time on her right temple. Her vision blurred and she stumbled onto her knees. It was a mistake. Her attacker kicked her in the ribs, flooring her completely before he set to her again. Her first instinct was to fight back, and the young CSI 2 grabbed the leg that swung at her and yanked hard, throwing her attacker off balance.
Given a slight reprieve, Sara tried to get back onto her feet so she could either run for her gun or at least defend herself adequately. She managed to rise onto the balls of her feet but another blow, this time to the occipital region of her head, unbalanced her and she hit the floor again. The investigator knew that she would not have another chance to get away. Sara curled up as best she could against the blows that rained onto her body but felt her grip on consciousness slipping away. All she could think was that she had let Catherine down and that she would not be able to protect Lindsey.
Bizarrely, the attack stopped. She lay on the floor for a second, her breath sounding loud, harsh and laboured to her ears. She didn't even attempt to try and open her eyes, she could already feel that they had swollen up. But the cessation of violence worried her and she wondered what the hell would happen next. Suddenly, she felt her head being tugged up by her hair, and heard the creak and rustle of clothing as her attacker crouched down to her level.
"Next time, it'll be the little girl," he told her cryptically. His voice was deep and rough, his breath bitter on her nostrils, but Sara tried desperately to memorise the tone, accent and anything that might be of use if she had an opportunity to investigate what happened.
She heard him straighten and then the swish of material. Sara knew he was going to kick her before she felt the blow. It was to her head again, and this time, she blacked out.
Catherine gripped the steering wheel of her car tightly as she drove back to her house from the airport. She had enjoyed the conference tremendously and spent much of her time networking with other crime professionals, sharing ideas and discussing the latest techniques available for processing crime scenes. The flight back was uneventful until they touched down at Las Vegas when a security alert meant that she was delayed in leaving the airport.
She had been tempted to ring Sara and let her know that she was running late, but didn't want the young woman to think that she didn't trust her or was checking up on her. Catherine sighed as she stopped her hands from going near the phone once more. She hadn't lied to Sara when she told her that she had asked Warrick and Nick to baby-sit Lindsey but she had checked beforehand to make sure that they were both working. The blonde was certain that Sara would make a good job of looking after her daughter. And she certainly needed something different to be interested in outside of work. Catherine had noticed how dedicated to her job Sara was, and predicted that the young brunette would crash and burn out if she continued at the same rate without finding a let-out somewhere.
The blonde investigator smiled ruefully. Sara had probably benefited just as much from the break away from work as Catherine had from going to the conference for a change of scene. Her smile widened slightly as she heard her stomach rumble. Catherine remembered promising Sara some food if she was up for it. She hoped that the brunette was not going to disappear as soon as she arrived home. The CSI 3 could do with some adult company, even if they did end up discussing work. With a bit of luck she might just keep the conversation away from current cases and the lab, and might be able to prise a fraction of personal information about the intensely private Ms Sidle.
As she pulled onto the drive, she could see a ghostly flickering emanating from the living room. Sara was obviously watching TV. Catherine just hoped Lindsey hadn't managed to con her into staying up too late; her daughter had school in the morning.
She fumbled round for her keys, knowing that the door would be locked after leaving instructions to that effect. The blonde woman called out softly as she stepped into the house, before glancing at the alarm panel in order to reset it. Catherine frowned slightly as she saw that the control panel appeared to have no power going to it, the display a lifeless blank.
"Sara?" she called out again, slightly more loudly, still unwilling to make too much noise in case she disturbed her slumbering daughter. Getting no reply, Catherine dumped her bags on the floor and stepped into the living room. Finding it empty, she moved quickly to search the rest of the house, her pulse quickening as her anxiety rose.
As she stepped into the hallway that led to her daughter's bedroom, she saw a shadowy form lying just outside the bathroom door. The light was too dim to work out exactly what it was, but Catherine felt her stomach lurch at the possibilities.
Slapping at the hall light, she squinted for a moment until her eyes became accustomed to the illumination, but she did not hesitate to close the gap between her and the bathroom. "Sara," she cried hoarsely.
Catherine knelt down swiftly and checked for a pulse at Sara's neck. Satisfied that the woman was still alive and that her airway was not compromised, she stood up and raced to her daughter's room. Catherine threw the door open, heedless of any noise she made and hurried over to Lindsey's bed, crying with relief as she saw the lump under the covers move in reaction to her entrance.
"Mummy?" the little girl questioned sleepily, automatically holding out her arms so that she could embrace her mother.
"Lindsey, you're safe," Catherine sighed, hugging her daughter tightly as she sat down on the bed.
"What's wrong?" Lindsey asked, picking up on Catherine's distress.
"Sweetheart, are you okay? What happened tonight?"
"I'm fine. Sara's neat. She took me to the park and watched a video with me, properly," she informed her mother, pointedly emphasising the last word to remind Catherine of her usual inattention to watching TV with her.
"That's great, honey," Catherine breathed, running a hand through her daughter's hair possessively. "What happened after that?" Catherine was torn with trying to find out what had occurred and getting help for Sara, but her instinct as a mother meant that she had to be certain that Lindsey was unharmed before she did anything else.
"She read to me and I went to sleep," Lindsey answered simply.
"Did you hear anything else? Did anything wake you up at all?" Catherine could feel her voice tighten with anxiety, but she tried to control her fear.
"Only you coming in. Did you have a nice time?"
The investigator choked back a sob of relief. "Yes honey. I had a good time. Now I need you to do something, it's very important that you listen to me, okay?"
Lindsey looked at her mother solemnly. "Okay."
"I need you to stay in your bedroom until I come and get you. You might hear voices out there, but it's really important that you stay in here. I won't be long but there's some stuff that I need to sort out."
"Mummy, what's wrong? Has something happened to Sara?" Lindsey was immediately attuned to her mother's mood and she looked towards the door.
Unwilling to lie to her daughter, Catherine opted for keeping things as simple as possible. "Sara needs to see a doctor. I need to make sure we're all safe so I'm going to be a bit busy for a while. But I will be back to make sure you're okay." She hugged Lindsey again reassuringly and exhaled heavily when she felt her daughter nod into her shoulder.
"Mummy I'm scared," the little blonde girl whispered honestly.
"I know sweetheart, but I'll be close by and I won't let anything happen to you. Just sit tight." With a final squeeze, Catherine pulled herself away.
She hurried back out of Lindsey's room, making sure she closed the door properly before rushing over to where she had dropped her bag. Quickly, she rummaged in the bag and clipped her gun holster to her belt before retrieving her cell phone. Catherine hit one of her quick dials as she ran back to where Sara lay. Skidding onto her knees, the blonde used her shoulder to keep the phone near her ear as she began to check Sara more carefully, running her hands over her head to check for any serious trauma to the skull.
A dismembered voice crackled through the phone's receiver. "Grissom."
"Gil, it's Catherine. Sara's been attacked." The CSI 3 spoke hurriedly, and she failed to keep the panic from her voice.
"Easy, Catherine, slow down. Is she okay?"
Grissom's calming tones worked immediately and Catherine made a concentrated effort to control her fear. "She's unconscious. It looks like she's taken quite a beating," she relayed to her superior.
"Okay. Don't worry, I'm getting Warrick to contact the emergency services. Is the house safe?" Grissom asked.
Catherine looked up and stared into the doorway of the bathroom, before looking up and down the corridor. She had made no attempt to secure the house whatsoever. The woman didn't want to leave Sara's side, but knew that she had to make sure that whoever it was that attacked her was no longer here. She could taste the bitter tang of adrenaline in the back of her throat and could feel her pulse pounding in her neck.
"Catherine? Are you still there?" Gil's voice cut through her turmoil.
"I don't know if the place is safe," she admitted, hushing her voice.
"You have to check," Grissom reminded her.
"I don't want to leave Sara," Catherine objected, looking compassionately at the prone figure of her colleague.
"You won't be able to help her if you're in danger. Come on Catherine, get this right." Grissom knew that there was only so much care and comfort Catherine could take. She responded better to directives or orders.
"Right. Hang on," she replied, steeling herself to investigate further. Catherine stood up and used her left hand to keep the phone near her ear as she used her right to unholster her gun. She flicked the safety off and then scanned the doorway, kitchen area and living room before methodically searching the house. After checking her own bedroom, she returned to Lindsey's, and checked the wardrobe for her own peace of mind. Her daughter had fallen back to sleep, and Catherine's heart hammered furiously as she opened the wardrobe's doors, knowing instinctively that she would shoot first and answer questions later if there was an intruder hiding there, but not wanting Lindsey to witness her in action. Controlling her sigh of relief on finding it empty, she carefully closed the doors before creeping back out of Lindsey's room.
The only place left to search now was the bathroom. Adjusting the grip on her gun nervously, the blonde stood to one side of the door, before pushing it open rapidly and searching the room, checking the corners behind her first. She flicked the light switch on with the phone and surveyed the room carefully. Finally, she spoke into the cell again. "It's clear in here Grissom. It looks like whoever did this came through the bathroom window." She studied the broken glass and various bottles of shampoo and body-wash that had been disturbed by the intrusion.
"Okay. Now hold tight. I'm on my way there with Warrick and Brass. The ambulance should be there soon." Satisfied that, for the moment, Catherine was safe, Grissom returned to reassuring her.
A groan from the hallway caught Catherine's attention immediately. "She's coming round," she told Grissom quickly before cutting the connection and dropping down to sit next to Sara again.
"Sara? Can you hear me?"
"Cat?" The brunette's voice was weak and raspy but Catherine was at least grateful that she had recognised her voice.
"Yeah, it's me. Try to stay still. An ambulance is coming," she told her, smoothing the hair away from the younger woman's face gently.
"Lindsey?" Sara whispered.
Catherine closed her eyes momentarily. Despite suffering the pounding of her life, Sara's first thought had been for the safety of Catherine's daughter. "She's fine. Don't worry about her."
Sara shifted slightly, trying to move her face so that she could see Catherine before realising that one eye was completely swollen shut and the other was looking into the carpet. She could smell the iron aroma of blood and knew that it was her own. Sara could sense that Catherine was close by, and when she felt the older woman's fingertips brush through her hair again, she concentrated on getting her next thoughts vocalised.
"Cat, you have to be careful."
"What? Do you know who did this to you?" the blonde asked immediately.
Sara tried to shake her head but it was too painful. "No..... not what I meant...... don't touch me," she requested stiltedly.
Catherine's hand sprang back as if she'd been burnt. Her heart sunk as she wondered what the hell had happened to the CSI 2 for her not to want anyone to touch her. "Sara," she began.
"You don't have gloves on," Sara wheezed slowly, knowing that Catherine wanted an explanation. "I'm a crime scene."
To Be Continued
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