DISCLAIMER: Not mine, never will be. All belongs to various mega
rich international corporations, I'm just borrowing for my own
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay, I'm a total CSI newbie so if I've screwed up the characterisation or something equally stupid please tell me. It's the only way I'll learn.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
It was turning into one long, boring night in the Las Vegas Crime Lab. In a city of nearly two million people with god knows how many visiting tourists it was a gajillion to one shot that there'd be a night with no crime. We were starting to think it might just happen though - two hours into the shift and not a case yet. Warrick and Nick and I were bored out of her skulls. Sara had the night off, and I was envying her pretty strongly at that moment. She'd had to be talked into taking it mind you, but I wore her down. We'd all been working pretty hard lately but Sara was turning into a worse goddamn workaholic than Gil, and that is saying a lot.
When Nick started drumming his fingers on the table I decided to go and camp out in Gil's office. He usually has some kind of weird bug experiment going on in there on slow nights so I could amuse myself by being grossed out at that and, more to the point, I'd be able to bag any cases that came in before the guys got their claws into them.
"Catherine," he said with a small smile as I came in. "Just who I wanted to see. This just came in - liquor store robbery."
I smiled widely as he handed me the assignment slip. Thank you Jesus. "Gil," I said. "I could kiss you."
I could hear the smile in his voice as he called after me. "Take one of the guys with you if you want."
I ducked my head back into the breakroom on my way out. Nick and Warrick had fired up that stupid games console in my absence and were totally absorbed. "Hey," I said. "Guess who got a case."
"Aw man," said Nick in his slow Texas drawl. "How do you always get so lucky?"
"It's a gift," I said, and stuck out my tongue. "See you later."
"You need any help?" said Warrick hopefully.
"Nice try." There was no way I was taking a partner along to a simple liquor store robbery. Twice the hands, half the work, and I was bored enough already.
Two hours later and I was back in the breakroom, watching Warrick and Nick playing their Dreamstation or whatever it's called, and even more bored than I had been before. The liquor store robbery was a cakewalk - found the suspect's prints everywhere and ran them through AFIS. Got a hit straight away and the guy rolled over the second the cops got to his house. Goddamn amateurs - can't even give you a proper challenge these days.
"Touchdown!" Warrick yelled, dropping his controller and raising his hands in the air. "Who's the man?"
I was smiling then but that didn't last long. Gil had just walked into the room looking like a goddamn train had hit him. He went over and pulled the console's plug out at the wall.
"Grissom? Whats going on?" I frowned - I'd only ever sseen him like this a few times before, when certain cases had really gotten to him.
"We've got work to do," he said sharply. "We just got hit with three cases. I need everyone."
"Should I call Sara?" I asked, my hand already on my cellphone.
"You can't," said Gil and suddenly, I can't explain why, I got the horrible feeling that something was terribly wrong.
"Hey, I know it's her night off but if we need her-"
"Shut up, Nick," I said, still staring at Gil who'd gone white as a sheet. "Gil...is Sara okay?"
Gil shook his head and I swear to God my whole body went numb.
"Holy shit!" said Nick, but his voice sounded far away.
"What happened?" That was Warrick. I don't know how either of them can even talk right now when my mouth's as dry as a bone.
"She interrupted an intruder at her apartment. Two gunshot wounds; one to the shoulder, one to the chest. She's on her way to the hospital now."
"How," I began to say but I had to stop to clear my throat. "How bad is it?"
Gil couldn't look at me for long. His eyes dropped to the floor as he said: "They got to her early. She's, uh...she's got a chance."
I closed my eyes and covered my face with my hands. I could hear Warrick breathing funny and I was sure he was holding back tears. Goddamn macho guys never seem able to cry, even when they should. But I shouldn't talk, my own eyes were mysteriously dry at that moment and I didn't know why. I felt like I had a golf ball lodged in my throat but the expected tears wouldn't come.
"What the hell are we standing around here for?" said Nick angrily. "We've gotta get over there and find out who did this!"
"Wait," I said, opening my eyes at last. "Grissom, you said there were two other cases."
"What?" yelled Nick but I cut him off.
"The world doesn't stop because our friend got hurt, Nick," I said, not quite calmly. "I wanna find out who shot Sara as much as you do but we still have a job to do."
"Bullshit!" said Nick. "My friend's on her way to hospital with two bullets in her and I'm gonna find out why!"
"No." Grissom looked up and stopped Nick in his tracks with just a look. "You're dealing with the Hit and Run just off the Strip. Warrick - DB at the Champagne Motel. Catherine and I will go to Sara's."
"No way-" Nick began but Grissom cut him off.
"I need cool heads for this one Nick," he said. "Not some angry CSI too blind with rage to see everything we need at the most important crime scene of the night."
Nick took a deep breath through his nose and shook his head. "Right, so you'll take Catherine just because she never liked Sara anyway, is that it?"
I looked up sharply. "You're upset, so I'll pretend I didn't hear that," I said icily. "But for the record, I like Sara just fine."
He let out a hollow laugh as he grabbed the assignment slip for the Hit and Run. "Yeah," he said bitterly. "Whatever." The door slammed behind him on his way out, rattling the glass. Warrick looked at me and shrugged helplessly before he took his own slip and followed at a more sedate pace. Grissom looked at me.
"Catherine-" he began but I waved my hand, cutting him off.
"He's just upset," I said. "He'll apologise when he cools down." Well, I hoped he would. I could barely believe he thought I wasn't upset about Sara but a small part of me was whispering that maybe I deserved it. It wasn't like I'd been the offcial welcoming party when she came to work here - just the opposite, in fact. All I could think of at that moment were all the times I'd gone out of my way to say something cruel to her. Nothing obvious, of course. Just subtle stuff, little jibes, piling up one on top of the other. And I felt like the biggest bitch there'd ever been. No wonder Nick was disgusted with me.
"We need to go," Grissom said, breaking into my little moment of self-beration. I just nodded.
I'd never been to Sara's place before but I wasn't that surprised at what I found. It looked like the kind of place you'd see on the front of a Better Homes magazine. Hardwood floors, nice neutral walls, modern furniture with lots of chrome. All very nice and all, just a little...soulless. It didn't even look like anyone lived there - then I remembered that Sara practically lived at the lab so it wasn't that surprising. Everything was very clean and tasteful and neat - at least it would have been, if it hadn't been burgled that night.
Gil left me to do a walk-around while he talked to the neighbour who'd called 911. I spotted Brass just inside the apartment. "Hey," I said, managing a small smile. "What are you doing here? Homicide leasing you out to the other departments now?" He smiled a little at my pathetic joke and I realised a fraction of an instant later why he was there. The cops were expecting it to become a homicide. They were expecting Sara to die.
"The first officers on the scene said-" Brass began but I wouldn't let him continue.
"She's not going to die," I said forcefully. "She's not."
He turned towards me, slightly taken aback. "Catherine," he said gently. "She was hurt pretty bad."
I could feel that golf ball choking up my throat again. "She told me once that she fell out of a tree when she was a kid," I said, closing my eyes. "In the hospital for weeks with a head injury. Doctors told her parents she might never wake up. Two days later she opens her eyes and goes home with nothin' but a broken arm."
Brass chuckled slightly. "Climbing trees, huh?" he said. "That sounds like Sidle."
"Yeah." I smiled and opened my eyes again. "Little Sara Sidle the tomboy."
Brass put his hand on my shoulder. "She's strong," he said. I let out a shaky breath.
"Yeah," I said. I shook myself a little. "Sorry Jim, this whole thing's just..."
"I know," he said.
I took a deep breath and pulled myself together. "Okay," I said. "What were you saying about the officers on the scene?"
"Right. No signs of forced entry."
"She let him in?"
"Possible," said Brass, though Catherine could tell he didn't much like the idea. "Either that or the door was unlocked, or he had a key."
I walked back to the door. "Who's touched the doorknob?" I asked.
Brass shrugged. "The neighbour next door, the paramedics, and the first cops to get here."
"I'll need all their prints for a comparison," I said, opening up my forensics case and extracting the fingerprint kit.
"Consider it done," he said, and left. I dusted the doorknob and lifted every print I could find - as expected they were a jumbled mess but I hoped we might get something useful out of them. Then I grabbed the rest of my gear and walked carefully inside, hugging the walls.
I hadn't seen the living room properly when I was talking to Brass, I'd just spotted the messy evidence of the burglary over near the TV. I could see everything now and had to hold back an exclamation.
In the back of my mind somewhere of course I knew there'd be blood at the scene, but somehow I'd managed to block that thought out. There was no blocking it now though, I was staring right at it. A pool of dark blood over near a group of doors on the right. I could see a slash of red on one of the tasteful beige walls from where she'd fallen and slid to the floor. A bloody handprint to the right of that.
"Oh God." I turned away, holding my hand over my mouth. I felt like I was going to throw up. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"Hey," said Gil. "It's okay, just take deep breaths."
I nodded and started to breath through my nose. All I could smell was the coppery scent of blood and I felt even worse.
"Breathe through your mouth," Gil instructed. "Pretend you're having a baby."
I bit back a hysterical laugh as I did as he told me. After a little while I started to feel like I could do my job again. "Sorry," I said.
"Don't be," he said, squeezing my shoulder a little before releasing me. "It just proves you care."
I rounded on him, suddenly angry. "But that's not why you brought me, is it?" I said. "You thought I didn't care at all - just like Nick did. Didn't you?"
Gil was maddeningly calm and I wanted to hit him. "No, that's not what I thought. But out of the three CSIs I had to choose from you were the least friendly with Sara and the only one who I could trust to keep a clear head."
"Least friendly?" I knew what he meant but I wanted to hear him say it.
He shrugged. "It's true, Catherine."
"Just because we don't have girly chats and fucking slumber parties?" I was practically yelling at him. "She's still my friend, Gil! It still makes me sick seeing her blood all over the goddamn wall!"
Gil turned away from me and lifted his forensics kit. "This isn't the time or the place, Catherine," he said gently but firmly. "I understand how you feel but if you want to help Sara then do your job. If you don't think you can do that then you can swap cases with Warrick."
I stared at his back as he walked over to the mess near the TV cabinet. I was silently fuming but I was more mad at myself than at him. It looked like everyone thought I hated Sara after all. And, God help me, it broke my heart to think that Sara might believe it too. What if I never saw her again?
Why did I always give her the brush off? Why didn't I go to breakfast with her all those times she asked me after shift? I'd go with Gil, or Nick, or Warrick but when Sara asked I always had other plans. Why was 'some other time' permenantly in the future? Why did it take a couple of bullets to make me realise how much I really care? Why was I such a Grade-A bitch?
"I'm so sorry, Sara," I whispered and if Gil heard me he chose not to say anything. I wiped my stinging eyes with the back of my hands and turned back to the blood over by the doors. I still felt ill looking at it but I somehow managed to steel myself. I frowned as I noticed something odd on the floor leading away from the pool of blood. It took a couple of seconds for it to click. "Shoeprints," I said softly.
"Huh?" Gil looked over from the TV cabinet where he'd been dusting for prints.
"Someone stood in the blood," I said. "And they've left shoeprints all the way to the door." I pulled my camera up to my eye and took a few quick shots, first of the pool of Sara's blood and the wall, then of the bloody prints. I looked up at Gil. "Looks like they were running out of here."
Gil raised an eyebrow. "Then I guess I'll see where they were going." He left, following the trail of shoeprints which were, unfortunately, getting fainter the closer they got to the door. I took one final photograph of the clearest print then took an impression of it for Greg to check in the database. If we were lucky we might get the brand - at the very least we'd have the size. I knew we'd probably have some elimination work to do, but in my gut I felt that I was looking at our guy's trail.
"Dead end," said Gil as he came back into the room. "The Luminol tells me her doormat is covered in blood but there's none on the floor in the hallway. Guy took off his shoes."
I ground my teeth in frustration. "Fuck." Gil raised his eyebrow at my language - it wasn't like me but I didn't care.
"We'll need to see the shoes of everyone who had a legitimate reason to be here after Sara was shot."
Even as he said it I knew there wouldn't be a match. No-one but the suspect would have taken off their shoes.
Gil went off to talk to Brass about getting the shoes as I gingerly stepped around the pool of blood. I found myself in the kitchen doorway. Opposite on the right hand side was another open door which led to the bedroom and straight ahead was a closed door which I assumed led to the bathroom. From the position Sara was in when she was found and the paramedics' description of the entry wounds I knew she had been shot from somewhere around here - either the bedroom door or the kitchen door. That could only mean that the shooter had been in one of those rooms and had surprised her...on her way to bed maybe? She was facing toward the bedroom when she was shot.
I shook my head. I was just letting my theories confuse me. Concentrate on the evidence, Grissom always says so I decided that's just what I should do. Grabbing my fingerprint kit I dusted the kitchen doorknob on both sides and lifted every print I could find. I heard Grissom come back in but he didn't speak to me so I figured he was hard at work dusting the mess of rifled-through personal effects round the TV cabinet. When I was done with the kitchen door I crossed over to the bedroom and flicked on the light.
Sara's bed was unmade and looked recently occupied. That eliminated one theory - she hadn't been just going to bed when she was shot. She'd obviously already been in it and had gone into the living room for some reason - had she heard the intruder?
I shook myself again. There was no point getting bogged down in theories before I'd collected all the evidence. If you do that you run the risk of making the evidence fit the theory and that's not a CSI's job.
I dusted the bedroom doorknob just like the kitchen's and lifted all the prints I could find. But before I left the room I wandered over to the bed. She had a police scanner on her bedside cabinet, thankfully switched off. I smiled a little. I could just imagine Sara being lulled to sleep by the soothing sounds of LVPD despatcher. Lyndsey always has to have a story-tape or something on when she goes to sleep - it looked like Sara had a slightly more grown-up (and slightly more gruesome) variation on the same thing. Next to the scanner was a copy of the murder mystery 'Nemesis' by Agatha Christie. I picked it up and checked which page she was at. "Seventy three," I murmured. "And I bet you've already figured it out." As I put the book back my eye was drawn to a magazine which had been dropped carelessly on the floor next to the bed. I leaned down and picked it up.
It was a copy of 'Out'. Which was kind of ironic considering that Sara, well, wasn't. At least as I far as I knew. Of course, considering how badly I've always treated her I might be the only one in the dark. Why should she trust me with details about her private life? Maybe if I'd spent any time with her outside work it might have come up. It's not like anyone meets you for the first time and says, 'Hi, I'm so-and-so, and by the way I'm a lesbian.' That's the kind of thing you learn about someone by talking to them. And whenever I talked to Sara it was usually to tell her to do something work-related or to push her away when she was trying to be friends.
I jumped slightly and dropped the magazine as if I'd been burned. "Yeah," I called out, in a slightly strangled tone of voice.
"Come here. I found one of the bullets."
I quickly made my way to Grissom's side and looked at the bullet he was holding up with tweezers. I could see traces of Sara's blood on it.
"Where was it?" I asked. "In the wall?"
He shook his head. "No. On the floor. It had lost most of its momentum by the time-"
"By the time it had ripped through Sara's shoulder," I finished for him. I was sure I was going slightly green.
He looked at me and I'm sure he was about to say something but his cellphone surprised us both. He yanked it up to his ear right away. "Yeah, Grissom."
I tensed up. There was no way Sara was out of surgery yet. A call from the hospital now could only mean bad news.
"No. No. No. Nick, if I'd heard anything I'd have called you."
The relief that I felt when I heard him say Nick's name can't be described in words. Let's say that I genuinely thought I was going to faint and leave it at that.
"Nick, you'll be the first to know if I hear anything," Grissom said sharply as he clicked off his phone. He stared at it for a second. "He's awfully upset," he said, sounding genuinely perplexed.
"Sara's his friend, of course he's upset," I replied.
"I don't know, it just seems like more than that. You think they might be dating?"
I had to bite back a laugh as I remembered the magazine I'd left in Sara's bedroom. "I don't think so, Gil," I said, keeping a straight face somehow. "I think they're just good friends."
"Hmm." He put his cellphone away and turned to me. "Listen, Catherine, I'd like you to go back to the lab with the evidence we've collected so far. Brass has the comparison fingerprints and the shoes. If we're lucky that might be all we'll need. I'll stay here and see what else I can find."
"No." That stopped him in his tracks. "I mean, I'd like to stay here, if you don't mind."
"I can't handle sitting in the lab waiting for print comparisons and listening to Greg's so-called humour," I interrupted. "I need to be doing something, Gil." I looked at him, pleading with my eyes.
"Okay," he said finally, and I breathed an internal sigh of relief. "I'll take this stuff back to the lab. You can stay and pick this place clean."
"Thanks, Gil." He nodded and started to make his way out with our bags of evidence. "Call me the second you hear anything," I said.
"I will," he promised.
"I mean it, Gil, if I hear you called Nicky first..." I threatened, with a hint of a smile.
"I wouldn't dream of it."
After he was gone I made my way back to the bedroom. I hadn't lied when I gave Gil my reason for wanting to stay at the scene...but I hadn't exactly disclosed everything either. His little crack about Nick and Sara dating had told me that he didn't know Sara was gay. And if he didn't know there was a good to excellent chance that it was because Sara didn't want him to know. You have to hide something pretty well to get past Gil Grissom, let me tell you. So I figured a little damage control would be prudent. At least it was just me who'd figured it out - and it's not like I was gonna out her to the whole team. I felt that she should be able to tell people in her own sweet time if that's what she wanted. Assuming she got the chance. Oh God...
I can't explain what I did next. One minute I was thinking about Sara and the next I found myself kicking off my shoes and climbing into her bed. I almost imagined I could feel a warm spot where she'd been lying just a few hours ago, even though I knew any residual body heat would be long gone. That didn't stop me from curling up in the centre of her bed. I started to shake softly as her scent overwhelmed me - not perfume because she didn't wear it, just pure, concentrated Sara. I grabbed a pillow and buried my face in it, breathing in and out in a slow rythym. The tears I'd been expecting all night finally started to come and my body shook with sobs. The pillow collected my tears. I hoped there was no evidence on it because I was washing it away in a river of saltwater.
When I was all cried out I pulled my head out of the pillow and blinked a few times. I didn't let go of the pillow though, I just clung on to it even more tightly. My hand brushed against something as I moved and I frowned. Looking over I realised it was a photograph which Sara had been keeping under the pillow. I reached over and grabbed it and suppressed a gasp of surprise.
Staring up at me was a picture of...well, me...taken at the party we had for Warrick when he became a CSI 3. I was looking right at the camera and smiling - probably because I'd had a few too many martinis by that point. I remembered that Sara had said my dress was nice that night and I'd said something sarcastic in response. I remembered the frozen expression she'd worn when I said it and suddenly I also remembered seeing that look again and again - every time I said something pointlessly nasty, in fact.
"Oh God," I groaned as I realised what I'd done. I hadn't just been horrible to a casual friend who could shake it off - that would be bad enough. Sara was in love with me. So much so that she kept a photo of me under her goddamn pillow. I could only begin to imagine how much I'd hurt her. In my mind's eye I could see Sara coming home to this soulless little apartment after I'd said something hurtful yet again. I could see her coming in here and looking at this photo, maybe even crying into this pillow. Thinking that I hated her.
"Sara," I whispered, feeling the tears coming back. "I'm so sorry. I don't hate you. I've never hated you." But I couldn't say any more because I found myself crying into the pillow again.
God knows how many hours later I was woken by the insistant ringing of my cellphone. I thought I was at home for a second until I got a lungful of Sara's scent from her bedsheets and remembered everything. How long was I asleep? I groaned inwardly.
"Willows," I said into the cellphone in the least groggy voice I could manage.
"Catherine, it's Gil. Sara's out of surgery and she's going to be fine."
I lost the power of speech. I wanted to say something but my heart was busy doing the flamenco and I couldn't seem to make my mouth move.
"Catherine? You still there?"
"Yeah," I croaked out eventually. "That's...really great news, Gil." I'm sure he could hear the relief in my voice.
"That's not all. Remember those comparison prints we took from the next door neighbour? They match the ones that were all over the disturbed stuff near the TV."
"Stuff that only Sara and the suspect would have touched," I said coldly.
"Exactly," he said. "Brass is on his way to pick him up now. You should come back for the interrogation."
"I will, but I have to do something first," I said.
"What do you have to do?"
"I'm going to see Sara," I said.
"They won't let you, she's in the ICU."
"There could be evidence on her, Gil."
I could practically hear the wheels turning in his mind. "Okay," he said eventually. "But I want you back here ASAP."
"I will be. Thanks, Gil." I clicked the phone off and sat up slowly. Checking the time I realised I'd been asleep for nearly four hours. Dammit.
I passed Brass on his way into the building but barely acknowledged him. I was in my Tahoe before I knew it and driving with illegal speed to the hospital. I needed to see Sara with my own eyes before I'd believe she was okay. Or maybe I just needed to see her, period.
Let me put it this way - after everything I'd been through that night I was a goddamn mess, mentally and physically. I had a million thoughts bouncing around in my head, and every one was about Sara. I didn't know why I'd never reached out to her as a friend before - God knows, my reactions to her being hurt proved that I cared. Maybe that was it. Did I care too much? Or was I over-analysing everything because I'd figured out how she felt about me? Or had I? Was I seeing something that wasn't there?
I slammed on the brakes, ignoring the blaring horns from the cars around me, and pulled over to the shoulder.
I leaned my forehead on the wheel and breathed deeply. I'm a CSI. I'm trained to find and interpret evidence. And what had I found? A copy of 'Out' and a photograph of me. That wouldn't exactly hold up in court. There were a hundred other conclusions that could be reached from those two things. Okay...so I couldn't think of any right now but that didn't mean there weren't other possibilities.
"Get a grip, Catherine," I said to myself as I pulled out and continued to the hospital at a slightly saner pace.
"Hi, I'm Catherine Willows from the Las Vegas Crime Lab," I said, flashing my badge at a harried looking ICU nurse and trying to look important. "I need to see Sara Sidle."
The nurse looked at me and I knew at once she wasn't going to take any bullshit. "Ms. Sidle's just come out of major surgery. No-one gets in to see her, no-matter what their badge says." She turned her back on me but I grabbed her arm before she could move away.
"Please," I said, and my voice cracked a little. I was dangerously close to tears. "I really need to see her."
The nurse narrowed her eyes and looked at me strangely. "Are you her partner?" she asked.
You could say that, I thought. We were sometimes partnered together at work. But I knew that's not what she meant. "Yes," I said. "I'm her partner."
The nurse looked around a little as if to check no-one else was there then turned back to me. "Two minutes. And no arguments."
"Thank-you," I breathed as I followed her to Sara's bedside.
"Don't be alarmed by all the bells and whistles," the nurse said to me gently. "She's going to make a full recovery."
I nodded but still had to let out a small gasp when I saw the sheer volume of equipment that was connected up to Sara. Tubes, drips, monitors, the works. "Oh, baby," I whispered, sliding into the seat beside her and taking her hand.
"I'll leave you be," the nurse said tactfully but I didn't hear her. I'd forgotten she was there.
I reached up and pushed Sara's hair behind her ear, my hand lingering to cup her cheek. "Sara," I whispered. "I'm so sorry. For...everything." I looked away, worried I was going to start crying again, then took a deep breath and looked back. I smiled with some effort. "We got the guy, sweetheart. Bastard's gonna rot." I found myself stroking her hair as I spoke to her. "I know you won't believe this, but I'm worried to death about you, Sara. So you'd better wake up soon so I can tell you...so I can tell you-"
I was too choked up to continue. I brushed the tears away from my eyes with my free hand then quickly returned it to Sara's hair. I couldn't seem to stop myself touching her. The need to have her in my arms was almost overwhelming but I restrained myself because of her injuries. I did the next best thing. I leaned up and kissed her forehead, inadvertantly letting some of my tears drip onto her as I did so. Then I kissed away my tears and moved down, kissing her eyelids one after the other, then her nose, then her cheek and then finally I pressed my lips to hers.
I'd almost expected her to wake up...my own personal sleeping beauty. But of course, she didn't. "I've been such an idiot," I whispered against her lips. "I've been pushing you away when I should have been pulling you closer." I kissed her again. "Sara," I whispered. "My sweet, beautiful Sara..."
A not so subtle cough alerted me that the nurse was back. I pulled away from Sara and looked round, smiling a little sheepishly. "Time to go," she said, but not unkindly. I nodded and turned back to Sara.
"I'll see you soon, Sara," I said, swallowing against the lump in my throat. Then I lowered my voice a little and added: "I love you." It was a surprise to me when I said it - that hadn't been what I meant to say - but as soon as the words were past my lips I knew they were true.
The nurse put her hand on my shoulder as I pulled Sara's hand up to kiss her knuckles. Then I saw it.
The nail on her index finger was jagged and torn and there, caught on it, was a single light thread. "Whoah," I said, inspecting it more closely. "Where did that come from?"
The nurse frowned and looked over my shoulder. "Could be from a bedsheet," she said.
"No," I said, shaking my head. "Sara's bedsheets are blue. And besides - this is wool." I opened up my case and brought out an evidence bag and some tweezers. As I bagged the thread I looked at Sara's sleeping face and smiled. "You truly are amazing, Sara Sidle," I said. "Robbed, shot, operated on and under anaesthetic...and you're still cracking the case."
I returned to the lab as quickly as I could and barged into the interrogation room, ignoring the 'do not enter' sign. The bastard next door neighbour was already sweating but if he thought the heat was on with Gil and Brass....well, he was sorely mistaken.
"Well, if it isn't the president of the Neighbourhood Watch," I said with a sneer.
"Mr. Andrews was just explaining to us why his fingerprints are all over Sara's things," Gil said calmly.
"Oh, this I gotta hear," I said, flopping down in the chair next to Gil. Brass was somewhere in the shadows and I was sure Nick and Warrick were behind the glass.
"Well, uh, like I said already," he said, licking his upper lip. "Sara, uh, Ms. Sidle gave me a spare key when she went back to California that time a few months back." I remembered that. It was her mother's birthday and she'd gone home for a couple of days.
"Go on," I said.
"Well, uh, I was supposed to water the plants but I, uh-"
"Rifled through her stuff while you were at it?" I finished for him, my anger radiating in nearly visible waves. He went pale. "Should I go back and dust her underwear drawer too, you goddamn sick bastard!"
"Catherine," Gil said warningly. I closed my mouth, not trusting myself to speak. "Mr. Andrews," he continued. "If you haven't been in Ms. Sidle's apartment in several months why did we find your fingerprints on a letter addressed to her, dated yesterday?"
He started to squirm at that and didn't say anything. "Cat got your tongue, asshole?" I said coldly. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I shouldn't be talking to a suspect like that - innocent until proven guilty, and all that bullshit - but I couldn't stop myself. I glared at him.
"What is this, good cop/bad cop?" he said, making the mistake of smiling at Gil.
"We're not cops," I said. "We're forensic scientists."
"And we're both bad," added Gil.
The son of a bitch looked away and didn't reply. So I decided to up the ante a little. "I'm sure, as a concerned and friendly neighbour, you'll be glad to know that Ms. Sidle came out of surgery an hour ago. She'll make a full recovery."
"Really? Oh, thank God, that's really, really good news," he said, and he actually sounded genuine. That threw me for a second but I just as quickly decided he was relieved for his own ass, which now definately wouldn't be taking a seat in the electric chair.
"Your concern is touching," I said, laying on the sarcasm with a trowel. "You'll also be pleased to hear then that she'll be able to identify the man who robbed and shot her." He paled. "That man will be charged with attempted murder," I said. "But you know, there's attempted murder in a nice cell of your own and there's attempted murder crammed in a tiny space with three other guys who haven't seen anything as pretty as you since their last roomate got shipped out with a terminally sore asshole. So what's it gonna be?"
"I didn't shoot her," he yelled, severely rattled. "They already did their tests on my hands, I haven't fired a gun! You can't do this to me!"
I glanced over at Gil, trying not to look too shocked. He nodded slightly and my eyes widened. I looked back at Andrews, hoping he hadn't noticed any of that. "Mr. Andrews," I said. "Do you own a light-coloured wool sweater?"
He looked up. "What?"
"Do. You. Own," I repeated, as if I was speaking to a particularly stupid child. "A. Light. Coloured. Wool. Sweater?"
"Uh...yeah, I guess so," he said warily. "Why?"
"Because I'd like to compare it to this thread I found caught on Sara Sidle's fingernail," I said, producing the new evidence I'd collected at the hospital.
Gil smiled at me and I knew he was pleased. "May we have permission to go to your home and check your sweaters?" he said. Andrews couldn't have looked more scared.
"No," he said eventually, looking down.
"We can easily get a warrant," I said. "Co-operation is one rung on the ladder to a cell of your own."
That hit home, just like it was supposed to. "Okay," he said. "But remember I'm co-operating."
I sneered. "Yeah, you're a real fucking saint." I grabbed the thread and stalked out of there, Gil hot on my heels.
"Catherine?" he said. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to search that son of a bitch's house and find the sweater that goes with this thread," I said sharply.
"I said no, not this time. I'll take Warrick."
"No way, Gil, this one's mine!
"You're tired, Catherine," he said firmly. "And you're taking this really personally."
"Damn right I'm taking it personally, the bastard tried to kill my-" I bit off what I had been going to say. "My friend," I said instead.
"She's my friend too," said Gil. "And may I remind you - he didn't fire the gun." I ran my fingers through my hair and turned to the wall. "If you go there you'll find what you want to find," Gil continued. "But that won't necessarily lead you to what happened."
I sighed. I wasn't in the mood for one of Grissom philosophical 'the evidence cannot lie' speeches. "Fine," I mumbled. "Take Warrick." I turned my back on him without another word and nearly knocked over five people on the way to the breakroom.
It was Nick. I'd had maybe a half hour's peace since leaving Grissom but I couldn't bring myself to snap at him.
"Hey," I replied.
"I'm sorry, about before," he said, sitting down next to me. "I was out of line."
"It's okay," I said wearily.
"No, it's not. I was being a real asshole. I know you care about Sara."
I blew air into my cheeks and exhaled slowly. "I do," I said. "I really, really do." We lapsed into silence. I was thinking about Andrews. I couldn't believe he was innocent. "I was so sure," I whispered, not even aware I was speaking aloud. "So sure he was the guy. I told her - I promised her we had the guy."
"Maybe we shouldn't have been looking for one guy," Nick said thoughtfully. "What if there were two."
I looked at him. "Two guys." I thought furiously. "She's asleep in bed," I said, staring somewhere on the far wall but not seeing it. I was seeing what I was describing. "She hears a noise," I went on. "She gets up to investigate and sees her next door neighbour. She says something or yells, but anyway she gets his attention. She's staring over towards him and then suddenly she hears the kitchen door open behind her. She turns round and there's robber number two, bearing down on her with a gun. Two shots, one goes straight through her shoulder, the other stays lodged a hair away from her heart. Friendly, caring next-door neighbour runs up and she grabs him, tearing her nail and snagging a thread from his sweater. He pushes her off and she grabs the wall as she goes down. He's standing over her and blood gets all over his shoes. He runs but when he gets to the door he stops to think. He can't have a trail of blood leading into his apartment. So he takes off his shoes and runs in to call 911 and change. Leaving just enough time for his accomplice to make a clean getaway." I turned back to Nick, suddenly remembering he was there. "Did we find any good prints on the kitchen doorknob?"
He smiled. "One set came back Sara's. The other - Unknown."
"Unknown," I said, smiling. "Nicky, you are a goddamn genius!" I laughed and threw my arms round his neck. "That bastard Andrews is going to roll over any second," I said jubilantly. "And when he gives us Mr. Unknown..."
"He'll wish he'd never been born," Nick finished for me, grinning. And then my cellphone rang.
"Willows," I said breathlessly.
"It's me," said Gil. "We've found the sweater and there's a piece of Sara's nail still in it."
"Yes," I said and gave a thumbs up to Nick.
"We've also found the shoes he was wearing. They're covered in blood."
"Excellent," I said, grinning madly. "Now get your ass back here so we can lean on this guy."
"Sure thing. Hey Catherine?"
"The hospital called too. Sara's coming round."
I grabbed Nick's hand and squeezed. "That's fantastic, Gil." I said. "Will they let us know when we can see her?"
"Not for a couple days. Though the nurse I spoke to said her 'partner' could see her for a few minutes later today. I wonder who to whom she could be referring?"
"Yeah," I coughed slightly. "That's a puzzler, huh?"
"Hmm," Gil said and hung up.
"Sara's waking up," I said to Nick who squeezed my hand tightly in response.
"Phew," he breathed.
"You can say that again." I let go of his hand and jumped to my feet. "Come on. You can watch me tear our friend Mr. Andrews limb from limb."
Andrews nearly wet his pants when we laid out the sweater and the shoes in front of him. We didn't even have to say a word. He just stared at the evidence on the table, gradually turning more and more green.
"She wasn't supposed to be there," he whispered eventually. "She always works nights. I didn't think she'd be home."
I closed my eyes. I was the one who'd convinced her to take the night off.
"She interrupted you," Gil said.
"Yes," he replied. "And then...and then-"
"And then your friend came out of the kitchen. She turned round and he shot her twice." I was calm but excited as well. Mr. Unknown was within my grasp. I could practically smell him.
Andrews hesitated. "Yes," he said eventually.
"And you went to Sara," Gil prompted.
"Yes," said Andrews, spilling his guts quickly now. "She grabbed my sweater and just looked at me. I...I couldn't stand the way she was looking at me. So I pushed her away."
"And her blood got on your shoes," I said.
"I ran to my own apartment to call 911."
"Taking off your shoes on the way," Gil finished, crossing his arms. I leaned forward.
"If you don't tell us who was with you," I said softly. "You'll do his time for him."
He shook his head. "It wasn't her fault. I made her come with me. I was in deep with the casinos - I needed money fast. Sara had all this really nice stuff. She was never home, she never used it. And I figured she'd be insured, no-one...no-one was supposed to get hurt." I raised an eyebrow. Mr. Unknown was actually Ms. Unkown. But I took it in stride.
"But she was hurt," I said coldly. "She could have died. Now tell me who was with you. Your girlfriend?"
"My sister," he said softly. "Lauren."
I looked at Brass and he nodded. "I'll bring her in." Andrews slumped back in his chair and started to sob. I stood up and walked over to him. I lifted his chin up with my finger so he was forced to look me in the eye. "Sara's very important to me," I said softly. "And I just want you to know - no-matter how sorry you are, it'll never be enough. I hope you get the worst cell with the biggest, ugliest guys around. And I have some favours I can call in." Once I was sure my meaning had been well and truly understood I turned my back on him and left.
"Catherine?" It was Gil, following me again.
"Yeah?" I said, turning back.
"Don't you want to stay to question the sister?"
I shook my head. "Nah," I said. "I'm tired as hell. You guys have got this all wrapped up anyway."
He nodded, but called me back as I was making to leave. "Catherine?"
"Say hi to Sara for me." He smiled.
I was sitting by Sara's bedside with the largest bunch of flowers I could find and wearing a goofy grin. I couldn't seem to stop smiling.
"What are you doing here?" she said, genuinely puzzled.
"Come on Sara, I lied, cheated and bribed my way in here, the least you could do is be pleased to see me."
She blushed. "Of course I'm pleased to see you," she said. "Thanks for the flowers."
I shrugged. "Well, they're not just from me. Nick, Greg and Warrick can't wait to see you. Grissom too, you know, in a sedate way." That drew a smile and I felt sure my heart had stopped beating.
"Hey, did you find the thread?" she said. I smiled.
"I should have known that was deliberate," I said. "Yeah, I found it, and it led me straight to your friendly neighbour Mr. Andrews and his not so friendly sister, both of whom are now in custody."
She nodded and smiled in satisfaction. "Good."
I smiled but gradually grew serious. "Hey Sara?"
"Yeah?" I reached out and took her hand. She frowned. "Catherine?" I squeezed a little to silence her.
"Sara, I-" I began, but trailed off. I didn't know how to tell her about the emotional hoops I'd been jumping through ever since I found that photograph in her bedroom. I didn't know how to tell her about finding the photograph, period. So I smiled and said something else. "Sara I was wondering if you'd come to stay with me for a while when you're discharged," I said.
She did a quick doubletake. "No, Cath, I couldn't ask you to-" she began but I interrupted.
"You're not asking," I said. "I'm offering. In fact - I'm insisting. You're hurt and you'll need someone to take care of you."
Sara sighed. "I can take care of myself, Catherine," she said, but there was a hint of a smile playing round her lips. How could I have missed this for so long? I'm the one who's supposed to be good at reading people.
"I can take better care of you," I replied playfully. I pulled her hand up to my lips and kissed the palm delicately. Her eyes widened slightly as I held her hand against my cheek. "I'm so glad you're allright, Sara," I whispered. I let her hand go and was silently ecstatic when she let it stay where it was, resting against my cheek. I reached out to touch her face. "So glad."
Greg lifted Sara out of her hospital-issue wheelchair and deposited her gently on my bed. Where she belongs, I thought, smiling to myself. Sara caught me looking at her and smiled back. All the hundreds of times that smile's been directed at me and I never got goosebumps like that. I don't know why. I must have been blinder that a bat with cateracts.
"So, Sara," said Greg in his 'suave' mode. "You need anything else? Pizza, ice-cream, a warm body next to you to chase the nightmares away?"
Sara shot him down with nothing more than a smile. "I'm sure if I need any of those things, Greg, Catherine will oblidge."
"Yeah," I chimed in. "I've got pizza on speed-dial and ice cream in my freezer. And check it out," I gestured to myself. "A warm body."
Greg smiled goofily and I knew what we were saying had just gone right over his head. Sara yawned loudly. "Gee Greg, I'm sorry," she said. "I'm really beat."
"Oh yeah, sure," he said, getting the less than subtle hint.
"Thanks for helping out," I said as I walked him to the door.
He flashed me his 'manly' smile. "Anything for a beautiful woman," he said. "Or even two beautiful women."
I pushed him out the door, laughing. "You didn't get laid much in college, did you Greg?" I said and closed the door before he could think of a witty response.
I wasted no time in getting back to the bedroom. "Alone at last," I said with a small smile. Sara raised her eyebrow. "I know," I apologised. "He insisted and I didn't have the heart to tell him no." Sara shook her head with a grin as I walked over to tuck her in. "Do you need anything?" I said, stroking her hair.
"Umm...a warm body next to me to chase the nightmares away?"
I smiled and kissed her on the forehead. "Coming right up." I kicked off my shoes and climbed onto the other side of the bed. I wrapped my arm around her stomach, well below her bullet-wounds. "How's that?" I asked.
"Just right," she said, nuzzling the top of my head. I turned my neck upwards and caught her lips in mine. We kissed gently until I had to pull away and breathe.
"You," I whispered. "Are amazing."
She blushed a little - she really is terrible at taking compliments - and then she surprised me. "I know," she said.
I laughed in pleasant shock and kissed her again. I'll never get tired of this, I thought. She pulled away slightly and yawned. "Aww, poor baby's tired," I teased.
"Mmmm," she replied sleepily. "Stay with me, till I go to sleep," she said. I nodded and watched her as she closed her eyes and her breathing evened out into a deep regular pattern.
"I'll stay with you as long as want," I whispered and kissed her forehead. Then I laid my head on the pillow and let the rythmic motion of her chest lull me into a deep, uninterrupted sleep.
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