DISCLAIMER:I don't own them, I never will. Proper rights go to Bruckheimer, CBS and every one.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Some things you should know about my CSI universe. First off, the main cast (excluding Greg, sorry) all have offices, because that just makes sense to me given the amount of work involved in being a CSI (it's not all just fieldwork folks). There will be more explanations of my CSI universe in future parts of this story.
SEQUEL: To On The Surface.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Premature Breakdown
By Amy Jo

Part 13

I try to stay calm as I head out of the room and set the camera down. I sink to the floor next to my equipment and the officer O'Riley left outside the room comes over.

"Ma'am? Ma'am are you okay?"

I look up the officer and nod my head. I'm not okay, but the last thing I need is to freak out in front of some random stranger. I reach for my phone and hit speed dial.

"Willows," I hear Catherine's voice on the other end of the phone. She sounds impossibly far away. When I don't say anything right away she repeats her name, "Willows."

"Catherine?" I don't know if she can hear me. Not only does it sound like reception is horrible, but I can't seem to make my voice work.

"Sara?" She asks. I want her to say something, anything. The sound of her voice calms my heavy breathing. I'm quiet again and I hear her ask, "Sara what's wrong?"

"Umm, Cat can you come to the Venetian?" I still don't have control over my voice and I can tell that Catherine is on the end of the phone trying to put the words together.

When she figures it out she says, "Yeah sure. Sara are you okay?" I can hear the worry in her voice and I know that whatever she was doing when I called she has now completely forgotten about and she is probably half-way to the parking lot.

"No. And Catherine? Bring Nick." I don't give her time to question me as I close the phone, effectively hanging up on her. Probably not the best thing to do, but I can feel tears stinging the corners of my eyes, and I know I wouldn't be able to answer any questions she may have had.

I don't know how long I sit here, quiet tears slipping down my cheeks while the officer on duty stands a respectful distance away. Someone did a good job raising and training this young man because not only can he tell that I don't want him near me as I breakdown, but he does a good job of keeping bystanders away.

I'm still sitting slumped against the wall with my knees pulled up to my chest when I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn my head and look up to see Catherine. Nick is a few feet behind her, talking to the officer. I don't know if I can move, and when I make no effort, Catherine comes down to me, squatting at my side with her hand still on my shoulder.

"Sara what is it?" She almost looks like she's ready to cry too, and I wonder if the look on my face is really that pained.

I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. She slides her arms around my shoulders and pulls me close. I bury my head in the soft fabric of her blouse and try to hold back tears that won't seem to stop. Catherine holds me for what seems like a long time.

When I finally move I notice that Nick has disappeared and the officer is standing with his back to us, giving us the little privacy that can be had in the hotel hallway. I must remember to thank him for his politeness. There aren't that many officers on the force who express this kind of politeness. Most would find my breakdown as a sign of weakness and would not pass up the opportunity to tell me that this is just another reason that officers are superior to scientists.

Catherine has been quiet since she arrived, but now that I seem to have composed myself, she asks again, "Sara what's wrong?"

"The victim, in there on the bed." I can't bring myself to tell her that it's Rayn. I think it might be some form of denial. I was just with Rayn this morning and now. I can't even say it to myself. This is the first case I've been on where the victim was someone I really knew. I don't know if this is how it felt to Catherine when Eddie died, but if she felt even half as horrible as I do now, then I can definitely sympathize with her anger that night.

"I thought it was a suspicious circs case."

"It was, or it is. Whatever. Just go take a look." I remain seated on the floor and watch as Catherine's brow furrows in confusion. I plead with her, "Please. I can't. I just can't."

Catherine gets up slowly and I watch as she disappears into the room. I have a little better control of myself and I stand up just before she comes back out. The look on her face is one of complete shock. She looks at me and I just nod.

"I didn't ask O'Riley for the victim specifics, I just listened as he interviewed the people that found her and then I went in. I found her just like that. I can't do this."

Catherine reaches out and wraps her arms around me again. I didn't think there were any tears left to cry, but they threaten to fall again when she whispers in my ear, "Sara I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Again she just stands there holding me tight in her arms. I am so thankful that she is here for me. I know that if I had to I could deal with this on my own, but having her here makes it so much easier. Catherine puts her hands on my hips and pulls back from me.

"I'll be right back, okay? I need to talk to Nick." She sees the silent agreement in my eyes and goes to talk to Nick.

I pack up the equipment I brought while she is talking with Nick. I leave the camera and the fingerprint cards for Nick and take a deep breath and head into the room. They say what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, and this is something that will only make me stronger.

Catherine and Nick are standing in the living area of the room talking quietly. Nick notices when I enter the room and his eyes open wide when he sees me. Catherine notices the look on his face and she turns to look at me.

"Looks like you got the case you were looking for tonight Nicky," I say weakly with a smile so that he knows I'm mostly okay.

"Sara I." Nick looks like he is going to apologize and I raise a hand in the air to stop him.

"Thanks Nick. I know." He looks relieved that I seem to be handling things okay and that he doesn't have to say anything else. "I uh, I took all the photos you should need and I have the fingerprint cards of the two kids that found her. I'm going to leave them here with you. O'Riley went to speak with the manager again, and I'm sure he'll be back up here soon. I'm going to call Grissom and see if I can just go home or something. I can't be on this one."

Catherine looks at me worried. "Sara, hang on just a second, I'll take you home."

Nick looks shocked but I think he might know that now might not necessarily be the best for me to be driving or to be alone. He looks like he wants to say something and when he does the tone of his voice is completely serious and gentle, "Sara, I'll do everything I can."

"I know Nick. Thank you." I turn and leave the room and Catherine turns to finish talking to Nick. I make sure to thank the police officer outside the door and wait for Catherine by the elevator. I don't know how she plans on getting me home; Grissom is probably expecting her back at the lab. With Warrick already off for the night Grissom can't exactly spare the two of us as well.

When she comes out of the room we take the elevator downstairs and walk out of the building. There is a cool breeze in the night air and it stings when it brushes across the damp skin of my cheeks where my tears had fallen. Somehow the sensation is oddly comforting. But not as comforting as the feel of Catherine's hand when she reaches out and grabs mine.

The simply feel of her hand makes me feel grounded. Like I can handle whatever comes my way if she will be there to hold my hand. It's not a feeling that I'm used to, this kind of dependency on another person. But somehow, with her, it feels right.

Catherine drives us back to the lab. The drive is quiet but she holds onto my hand the whole way back. When we get to the lab she tells me to wait by my car and she will back in a few minutes. I know that she is going inside to talk to Grissom and I want to be there when she does; but then again I don't know if I can deal with Grissom right now, so I wait by my car.

Part 14

I wait for her by my car for what seems like forever. I'm about to give up and go inside to find her when she finally exists the building. Followed by, of all people, Grissom. She sees me look at him and her face instantly turns apologetic.

"Sara are you sure you're all right?" Grissom asks when the two of them walk up to me.

"Yeah Grissom. I'm fine. Well I will be anyway. I'd just like to go home if that's okay." I really want to ask to have Catherine come home with me, but I don't know what they have already discussed and I don't want to push the issue.

"Catherine said you were pretty shook up when she got to the Venetian. I just want to make sure you're okay." If I hadn't already realized it, the tone of his voice would indicate that he has clearly resolved the issue about what to do with the thing between us.

Even Catherine picks up on the change in his voice and looks at me. I really really don't want to talk about this with her right now, but I know that soon we will. I wonder to myself why we couldn't have acted on our attraction to each other when there were less complications in my life. Like before I asked Grissom to dinner.

"Grissom I'll be fine. I think I just need some time by myself to deal with this." I do not, under any circumstances want to be alone, but I certainly don't want to have Grissom worried and calling me or coming over to my place or anything like that.

"Oh. Okay. Catherine said something about taking you home. Is that okay?" The look on Grissom's face is almost painful. While I may not want to pursue anything with him anymore, part of me feels horrible when he looks at me like that.

"Yeah, I don't think I should be driving. I'm still kind of shaky." I hope Catherine can tell that I don't just need a driver, that I need her. I hope she sees it in the look I give her, because I'm not ready to admit this to Grissom. Not like this.

"Okay. Call me if you need anything." Grissom heads back inside and I'm thankful that he has gone so soon. I'm not ready to talk to him yet. We will need to talk, but now I just want to go home and curl up in bed. With Catherine.

I give her my keys and my hand lingers a little longer than necessary in hers. She still looks somewhat confused over the conversation with Grissom, but she smiles and moves around the car to take me home.

During the drive to my place I watch as Catherine debates whether or not to ask me about the interaction between Grissom and I. I don't know if I should talk to Grissom before I talk to Catherine or not. At least then I could say something definite about what's going on. But I also want her input on what I should say to him, so maybe I should talk to her first.

"Are you feeling okay?" She asks me. I really thought she would have jumped right in and asked me about Grissom.

"Fine, I think. Why?" I can't figure out how I feel. I think I've cried as much as I can for one day, and just having Catherine near me calms me down. But there is also a heavy feeling on my heart that makes me feel increasingly sad.

"You want to get a drink, or some food or something?" She asks, even as she steers the car toward my apartment.

"Are you staying with me, or does Grissom want you back at the lab?"

"Staying with you. Why?" She glances over at me, confused.

"You're all the comfort I need," I say quietly; though the blush rapidly turning her face pink shows me that she heard me.

"Who knew Sara Sidle could be so sweet," Catherine says.

"We all have our secrets," I say mysteriously. Though in truth, I have very few secrets from her. If she asked, I would tell her anything she wanted to know. If she's patient enough and can wait until I'm ready to deal with some things, she will know everything about me.

"Apparently," Catherine comments as she pulls into the parking lot of my apartment building. There is just a little bit of hurt in her voice and I know that soon she will know everything about me. It breaks my heart to hear even the smallest amount of hurt in her voice.

We head upstairs to my apartment and for a brief moment all I can think about is how I want to tell her everything and how I want to do it right now. She's a few steps behind me when we get to my apartment door. For the first time the quiet between us is awkward and I don't know what to say to her.

"You're coming inside right?" Okay, so I'm not the smoothest girl on the block, but I needed to end the silence between us.

"Do you want me to?" She seems so unsure. I don't know what changed, but I'm determined to make it right. I unlock the door but don't open it yet.

"Of course I do Catherine. I want nothing more right now than to have you with me. But with everything that's happened lately, I understand if you want to have some time to yourself. I won't make you stay here just because it's what I want. You can take my car and I can catch a cab to work tomorrow."

I really don't want her to go. But I don't want her to stay if she doesn't want to. The last week has been hard on me, but I can imagine that it's been just as hard on her, if not worse.

"Well if I'm going to stay, then you'd better open the door. Unless you were planning on camping out here in the hall," Catherine smiles and laughs under her breath.

"Are you sure? Because you can just go home, or back to work, or whatever." I think I'm in denial that after everything that's happened so far she still wants to be here. And we haven't even gotten through it all yet.

Catherine closes the distance between us and gives me a very brief kiss. Just a brush of her lips against mine. It's all the reassurance I need and I open the door to the apartment and we head inside.

Once inside the weight of the day comes crashing down on my shoulders. I want to talk to her, to explain things. But it will have to wait. Right now I could really use a nice, relaxing nap curled up next to Catherine.

"Wait right here," I say to her and walk over to my stereo. I push play on the CD player and turn the volume to a respectably low level. "Okay, let's go."

"Where are we going?" She teases me, but she knows where we're headed as I pull her toward my bedroom.

"We're going to lay down for a while so I can feel the comfort of your arms around me. So you can keep me grounded and maybe, just maybe the weight from today won't break me."

In my bedroom I toss her some comfortable clothes to change into and I slip into an oversized t-shirt and a pair of boxers. I head into the bathroom to brush my teeth and when I'm done, she's changed her clothes.

I grab her hand and lead her to my bed. "Just for a few hours. Please."

"Anything you need, Sara. Anything."

I cuddle up next to her on the bed, listening to soft music coming from the next room. Despite every bump we've hit so far in our relationship, this moment, here with her is perfect.

The End

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