DISCLAIMER: They're not mine, I promise to put them back where I found them. No money made, no infringement intended.
NOTE: In my little world that team split thing never happened. Special credits go to Sasha, for allowing me to play with her idea and incorporate it into this story. A big thank you to my beta Krys for all her help. Quoted lyrics in chapter 28 written by William Blake, the ones in chapter 33 written by Hermann Hesse.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Strong Enough
By Karen


Chapter 1

Rubbing her tired eyes mercilessly, Sara sighed and leaned back in her chair. The chronic lack of sleep finally taking its toll, she yawned widely, for once being glad to know that the end of shift was approaching. After spending several long and frustrating nights working on a case with Catherine, she couldn't tell what had been more difficult to handle; the fact that none of the evidence led them anywhere or the constant arguing over every little annoying thing, case related or not.

As if it weren't bad enough that they were dealing with some maniac stalking teenaged boys, kidnapping and abusing them, then leaving them dead and mutilated for all the world to see his handiwork, it also seemed that the 'snarling bitching contest' they've started was about to get out of hands any day now.

Leaning over the desk, Sara rested her head between her hands wondering why the only person she ever truly cared about seemed to have a burning desire to bite her head off. Unfortunately, Catherine was also the only person capable of finding just the right things to say to piss her off, not that Sara wasn't good at returning the favor… but it still seemed so pointless. Two rivals, no winners. Both leaving their battlefield with bruises and hurt feelings without ever apologizing.

Shaking her head a little, Sara thought about the irony of it all. She wanted what she couldn't have, took pride in her abilities to do her job only to have them questioned every step of the way, sought acceptance from the only person who refused to give her any. And none of it mattered, not really; her heart still skipped a beat with every thought of Catherine, for every little insignificant smile thrown her way. She refused to give up hope some day things would be different, that hope sometimes being the only thing keeping her together.

Realizing she still had to go see Greg and pick up the latest DNA results, Sara got up deciding to wait for his page in the break room. Close enough to the coffee, she smirked.

Walking down the hallway she noticed the door to Catherine's office being slightly opened. Concerned about her earlier weakness and the headache Catherine said was ruining her day, Sara peeked her head in and saw Catherine resting her head in her hands. With a slight knock to the door she pushed them open and carefully approached, "Cath?"

Catherine's head shot up, her eyes wide.

"Are you okay?" Sara asked tentatively.


Shifting nervously, Sara offered, "Listen, why don't I finish the report and have you sign it later… maybe you should go lie down or something."

"Excuse me?" Catherine's eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"You look like you could use some rest." Sara added softly, taking a seat facing Catherine.

Although seriously tempted, Catherine couldn't just give up without a fight. She'd rather act all tough than admit how badly she really felt. Besides, it was Sara offering a hand and she didn't want to admit she might need it.

"If this is your way of politely suggesting I look like crap…"

"Catherine, come on."

"Then what are you saying? Just because I'm tired I'm not capable of doing my job?" Catherine challenged, staring at Sara angrily. The blonde hadn't really welcomed Grissom assigning Sara to her case and obviously still hadn't gotten over it, making it all the more difficult for both of them every chance she got.

"I am suggesting no such thing…" Sara started but was quickly interrupted, "Then leave me alone." Catherine said, bringing her attention back to the report in front of her.

Sara sighed exasperatedly, leaning on Catherine's desk, "I was just worried about you. You hadn't eaten and you look really pale…"

"Give it a rest, Sara. I'm not going anywhere. Don't you have to go pick up those results?" Catherine asked annoyed, not looking up.

"Fine." Shaking her head, realizing she was getting nowhere, Sara got up turning to leave.

"Close the door behind you, will you?" She heard Catherine say. Feeling defeated, she went to the break room to wait for Greg.

Going over the results for the third time, Sara couldn't help feeling it was yet another dead end. She rubbed her eyes again thinking she should just go home and get some sleep. Perhaps things would be clearer then… or at least her head would be.

She checked her watch realizing she'd been sitting in the lab for nearly an hour, shift had already ended. Catherine had probably left already.

"Sara?" Greg popped his head through the door.

Turning around she saw the young lab tech looking all worried at her. "What's up?"

"I'm off. Just thought I should tell you Catherine's asleep in her office… Maybe you should give her a lift or something?" He grimaced slightly, "I'd offer but she already bit my head off twice today, so…"

"So… you thought maybe she could have another go at me instead?" Sara mumbled bitterly, getting up and stretching.

She realized Greg hadn't stopped staring but actually developed an appreciation for the way her back muscles flexed so she growled, "Aren't you going home?!"

"Yes… yes. I'm gone." He stammered blushing slightly and turned around hoping to get one particular image out of his head.

Locking the evidence Sara decided to stop by Catherine's office again and check upon her. Her blonde colleague could really be too stubborn for her own good sometimes.

Catherine woke up wincing, that damn couch really was uncomfortable. She slowly stretched and got up straightening her clothes. Yawning, she quickly checked her watch and realized it was later than she thought. Good thing she phoned Nancy and asked if she could take Lindsey to school before deciding to take that nap. She gathered her things and went to see if the lab reports Sara probably left for her came up with anything interesting before going home.

Rounding the corner, not looking up from the file she was reading, Catherine heard a muffled sound coming from one of the labs in the back. She thought she could hear Warrick's voice and needing to talk to him anyway decided to check whether it really was him she heard. She opened the door without knocking and gasped, stopping dead in her tracks.

There was Warrick all right, sitting on a table in between two microscopes with that new lab tech from dayshift leaning into him, engrossed in a rather heavy make out session.

They quickly jumped apart, clearly embarrassed while Catherine just stood there staring into Warrick's eyes, feeling the world crumbling around her. "Cath..." He tried but she just turned and left, nearly bumping into Sara who came looking for her. Sara steadied her with her hands, not yet knowing why Catherine looked so shocked.

"I've been looking for you…" She started explaining but didn't get very far.

"Not now, Sara." Catherine mumbled leaving in a hurry, knowing she couldn't stop the tears from spilling.

Confused and worried, Sara didn't know if she should follow Catherine or ask Warrick what just happened, but seeing his flushed face and wild eyes she didn't think that would be wise. It was then that she saw smeared lipstick on his neck and embarrassed look in Annie's eyes and raising her eyebrow finally connected the dots, "Oh, my." She mumbled under her breath turning to leave, but Warrick stopped her, "Sara … I… We... ahem." He shook his head, closing his eyes briefly, "I…"

"I don't… I don't think I need to know." She interrupted him, smiling slightly before leaving.

What she really needed to know was why Catherine got so upset. Surely they weren't the first two people who ever made out in the lab? Suddenly she came to a halt, the reality dawning on her. "Cath and Warrick?? When did that happen?" She asked aloud, then checking if anyone had heard her resumed her hurried walk down the hall.

She caught up with Catherine just as she was entering the locker room, almost slamming the door in Sara's face. "Jesus, Catherine!" was all she could say before hearing a loud bang coming from inside. Sara entered slowly and not being able to see Catherine she tried calling her name a few times but there was no answer. Finally she found her sitting under one of the showers, hugging her legs, her hair covering her face and tears that just wouldn't stop. Her heart breaking, Sara crouched carefully before her and tried taking Catherine's hands in hers.

"Cath…" Sara gently tried.

"Go away, Sara." Came the muffled response before Catherine pulled her hands away from Sara's grasp and covered her face.

"Hey, it's okay…"

"No, it's not okay!!" Catherine protested, still not looking up.

"All right. Come on, Cath, just look at me…" Sara pleaded.

"I don't want to… Go away." Catherine sniffed.

Reaching for Catherine's hands once more Sara managed to pride them away from her tear stained face and squeeze them lightly in her own.

"We don't have to talk about it. We don't have to talk at all. Just let me get you out of here, please?" She offered.

"I don't need help." Catherine told her, refusing to look at Sara.

"You don't have to go through this alone, Catherine."

"Well sorry if I just don't feel like sharing right now!!" Pulling her hands away from Sara's again, Catherine tried to get up but Sara held her down.

"Catherine, don't do this." She pleaded, her voice breaking.

"Let go of me, Sara." There was a low growl in Catherine's voice along with a dangerous spark in her eye directed now directly at Sara.

"Look, I'm sorry you're in pain," Sara desperately tried getting through to her, "I just want to help…"

"I don't need your help and I don't want your pity! Now let go of me."

Giving up, Sara lifted her hands from Catherine's shoulders and watched her hurry away. 'Why the hell do I bother?' She wondered, sitting down on the tiled floor, feeling empty and useless and so painfully alone.


Chapter 2

Coming back to work seemed harder that afternoon, but Catherine did what she had always done so well; she kept her head high, feelings buried deep, mask of indifference firmly in place. Taking a deep breath she stormed into the building and didn't stop till she reached her office. Sara already awaited.

Once she noticed the brunette's hunched form Catherine came to a halt. Sara was sitting in a chair with her head in her hands and Catherine took a moment to notice how tired she looked. She was almost certain Sara hadn't gotten any sleep at all. She looked fragile and vulnerable and for a moment Catherine had to fight the urge to come closer and run her hand through Sara's hair. She wondered why it seemed so difficult for her to just be herself around her younger colleague. Why she could never relax around Sara long enough to actually feel comfortable. She had never been so intrigued nor affected by anyone she had ever met, but no one else could infuriate her quite like Sara either. Sometimes Catherine couldn't tell if she wanted to strangle her or kiss her senseless. There was this attraction, almost like a strange force pulling her towards Sara, she felt the need to let her close and at the same time feared her, feared she would get too close. Somewhere deep down she knew she could fall quickly and if things ever went bad Sara would be too hard to get over, so she never dared letting her guard down.

Looking up, Sara acknowledged her, "You're here… Good." She stood up handing a folder to Catherine, "I need you to go through these when you can. Grissom wanted an update. I don't think I've missed anything, but just in case. I'm meeting Nicky in five minutes; Brass got a call from a possible eyewitness. The guy claims to have seen someone unloading their truck and dragging something heavy around on the night of the last murder…" Shrugging, she added, "Could be nothing, but still… Apparently it happened close to the place where the body was found, it's worth checking out."

Nodding, Catherine mumbled, "Let's hope he'll provide us with some kind of description." Taking the folder from Sara's hand she asked a bit confused, "Is Nick working on our case now?"

"Nah… He'll just drop me off to meet up with Brass, it's on his way. My car's been acting funny today." Sara explained.

"How will you get back?"

"Hopefully Brass will give me a lift… I'll think of something." Moving away while putting on her jacket, Sara heard Catherine calling after her. She turned around and waited, frowning slightly, surprised to see Catherine avoiding eye contact.

"Listen Sara, about that little escapade of mine…" Catherine was fidgeting nervously; it was hard to look at her and not get distracted by all the little things she kept doing with her hands.

Knowing instantly what that was about, Sara shook her head saying, "Don't worry about it." Her voice sounded distant.

"I just…" Catherine trailed off so Sara interrupted again, hoping she could get Catherine to look her in the eye, "You don't have to explain anything to me, Catherine."

"I'm not the nicest person when I feel cornered." Catherine admitted.

"I wasn't trying to corner you. I was just… Oh, I don't know what I was trying to do." Sara averted her eyes, frowning slightly, "I didn't realize that you and Warrick… Well. Never mind."

"There's nothing going on between us." Catherine suddenly sounded very determined and Sara briefly wondered why Catherine would be telling her that now.

"You were just so upset… I wanted to help." She added softy.

"I know. Look, can we just put that behind us?" Catherine finally looked up searching Sara's eyes, "I would really appreciate if you could keep to yourself what…"

Sara interrupted, "As far as I'm concerned nothing happened, Catherine." If only she could tell her heart that.

"Thank you." Catherine had a feeling she shouldn't have even asked but she just had to be sure. She did however notice a slightly wounded look passing Sara's features briefly, but the brunette composed herself rather quickly, "No need for that. I'm off; Nick is waiting for me outside."

Catherine watched her colleague leave hastily and wondered if she should have been more honest with Sara. If she should have told her that she really could have used some company this morning, someone to listen to her ranting, to hold her hand and tell her all would be well, that he didn't deserve her anyway. She couldn't even understand herself why she had been so stubborn and determined to push Sara away when all Sara did was offer help. Would Sara even say any of those things? Would she care enough to stay and listen? Would she hold her hand?

Well, now she would never know.

All she knew was that she had spent a sleepless afternoon, angry with herself for being so naive, for letting herself become vulnerable again, and for whom?

It was Warrick for God's sake, what was she thinking? She did find him attractive but he was so young, he used to look up to her, come for advice. Most of the time she mothered him. When exactly did she start thinking of him differently? Those little flirting moments which would occasionally pass between them… When did she decide to throw all caution out the window and fool herself into believing he actually cared?

Jumping slightly when her pager went off, she checked the displayed message. It was Grissom. Realizing she had spent an entire hour staring at the wall not actually getting any work done, Catherine sighed and went to Gil's office. At least she managed to have a civil conversation with Sara, guess one really should count their blessings, she silently mused.

As soon as Catherine entered Grissom's office, his voice came out from somewhere,

"Have you seen my briefcase anywhere? I had it with me when I came in."

Turning around looking for him, Catherine nearly tripped over a small chair just near the door. "Ahm, no. I didn't even know you carried one…" She mumbled, balancing herself with her hands.

"Well, I do." The voice came out again and Catherine furrowed her brow wondering where the hell it was coming from.

"Since when?" She asked, following his voice. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted a dark leather briefcase protruding from underneath Grissom's coat carelessly thrown over the chair.

"Since Heather suggested I should get one." Grissom finally appeared from behind his desk; apparently he'd been crouching behind it and rummaging through the boxes he kept beside it for some reason.

"Heather? Who's Heather?" She couldn't help being curious, all the while wondering whether it nearly slipped his mouth or if it was Grissom's way of sharing the news casually.

"Never mind, Catherine."

Apparently it slipped, Catherine thought, big grin spreading on her face. "Not Lady Heather??" She asked, unable to hide the amusement from her voice.

"Are you going to help me look?" Grissom asked, already a bit annoyed. He shot a stern glance her way so Catherine backed down a little, although she was nowhere near letting him off the hook.

"Okay… Is that why you paged me?" Catherine asked, pretending to be looking around for the briefcase in question.


"The message said 'Grissom office 911' " She remarked smiling at him.

"Well, it was a very expensive briefcase." Grissom defended himself while opening the cabinet on his right.

"Really?" Catherine smirked. This was just too funny to miss.

"Also a gift."

"Let's see… A gift from Heather?" She could barely keep a straight face, her voice betraying how much fun she was having.

Turning around to face her, Grissom asked all serious, "Your point being?"

"No point… I was just making pointless observations." Catherine blinked a few times, straining to maintain her innocent look.

"There is no such thing, Catherine. Besides, you weren't observing, you were guessing."

"Well, was I right? You're seeing Lady Heather?" She pressed on, wiggling her eyebrows once Grissom shot her another one of his looks.

"I'm not "seeing" her. Occasionally we have dinner together." He answered not looking at her, but Catherine could see him blushing slightly.


When he turned around glaring at her, daring her to make another comment, Catherine quickly added, "I mean… That's nice." She nodded her head vigorously for emphasis.

"You're not helping." Grissom complained miserably, receiving Catherine's giggles in return. "Neither is the giggling." He pointed out.

"Sorry… It's just that I can't remember ever seeing you so flustered." She managed between chuckles.

"I'm not flustered." He said after closing the cabinet again.

"Yes, you are. You've changed twelve shades of red, Gil."

"Now you're imagining things." Crossing his office in a few long strides, he tried putting as much space between them as he could.

"I mean…" Catherine followed him, "What is she going to do when she realizes you've lost her gift? Punish you?" the last few words cracking her up.

"That's it. I'm gonna have to ask you to leave."

"Oh, come on. I'll help you look." She offered, trying to compose herself again.

"I had some very important files in it." He sulked. Thinking now might be a good time to tell him where his briefcase was, Catherine opened her mouth but Grissom suddenly turned around looking at her worriedly, "You're not going to spread the rumor, are you?"

"I'm insulted, Gil." Catherine mock pouted.

"Are you going to?" He asked, almost sounding desperate.

"I could if you asked me nicely…" She wiggled her eyebrows at him, fighting another round of giggles.

"Catherine!" There was actually a warning tone to his voice.

"You said you only dine together. What's there to spread?" She asked before adding menacingly, "Unless…"

"What has gotten into you today?!" Grissom finally barked out.

"Oh, I'm just excited about my old friend Gil getting a life for a change!" Catherine slapped his shoulder playfully.

He shook his head and turned around.

"You know, that reminds me… Don't you think it's been too long since we've all went out together?" Catherine asked him smiling brightly, "Maybe we should do it soon. You could bring Lady Leather… I mean, Heather…" She said, collapsing on the nearest chair in a fit of giggles after seeing his horrified face.

Plopping down to his chair Grissom rubbed his face with his hands, then exhaustedly asked, "You're never going to stop, are you?"

"Hum? Oh, you want me to stop? Don't we need a safe word?" There was just no way she could stop laughing now.

"Get out." He mumbled, incapable of getting angry with his friend.

"You know I love you, right?" Catherine asked, getting up. He nodded tiredly.

"Oh, Gil… There's your briefcase, hidden underneath your coat." She pointed to a chair near the door.

"What?" Grissom looked up, "You've known this all along, haven't you? You must have seen it when you walked in and stumbled over that chair." he accused.

"What is your point?" Catherine asked, slowly retreating towards the door.

"Why are you doing that?"

"Doing what?" She asked innocently, reaching the doorknob.

"Avoiding obvious answers with questions of your own." Gil pointed out.

"Why are you asking questions you already know the answers to?" She winked at him before exiting and closing the door behind, a big grin glued to her face.


Chapter 3

As good as it may have felt to forget all her worries for a while, Catherine soon realized she still stood a good chance of having another one of really bad days. She had only just made it back to her office after grabbing a large cup of coffee from the break room and started reading Sara's reports when her pager went off again. "Damn." She checked around and finally found it under a pile of files. Sighing and checking the message, she turned on her heels and went back to Grissom's office.

"Don't tell me you've lost it again?" She joked when she entered. Grissom was just ending a phone call, raising his hand a little, gesturing for her to be quiet.

"Fine, Nick. She'll be there soon." He said clicking his cell off and putting it back in his pocket, turning towards Catherine, "A body was found on the lake shore, I sent Nick to work on the scene. He called back to tell me the vic is a teenaged boy missing a hand. You need to go there, Catherine. There's a cop waiting for you outside, Nick sent him to come get you."

"What the hell for?"

"He wanted to make sure you find the scene all right. Apparently he got lost twice looking for it." Grissom patiently explained.

"God…" She mumbled hurrying out of the office, grabbing her cell. She tried reaching Sara but only got her voice mail. Leaving her a message to let her know where she was headed, Catherine grabbed her kit and jogged out of the building.

Sara kept staring incredulously at the man sitting in front of her. Brass was standing in the corner across from her watching her try to control herself.

"I'm telling you lady, he was at least six feet tall." The disheveled man repeated for the third time. He kept patting his small lap dog on the head and the tiny poodle kept trying to dodge his hand.

"Tall and naked." Sara added.

"Stark naked!" The small guy announced proudly, "Like the day he was born."

Brass smirked then looked away when Sara shot a stern glance his way. She rubbed her forehead slowly, "Please tell me again what you've been doing there at that time of night?"

The man happily complied, "Gathering mushrooms, ma'am."

Sara looked up to see Jim Brass covering his eyes in a feeble attempt to compose himself. Bringing her attention back to her eager collocutor she slowly asked, "And… was that before or after you've taken your medication?"

The guy frowned, seemingly offended, "I know what I saw. That weirdo parked his truck, gathered up some kind of a black sack with something heavy inside it, threw it over his shoulder and disappeared in the direction I showed captain Brass earlier."

"All right. You've mentioned he was bald?" Sara reminded him.

"Yes, ma'am." He nodded, "Not a hair on his head."

"Anything else that may have struck you as unusual?" She prompted.

"Well, not really unusual…" He looked as if trying to concentrate, "But he did have a tattoo on his lower back. Looked like some kind of a snake, I think."

Sara's eyes widened slightly, "Are you sure?"

"I know what a tattoo looks like! I've got one of my own. Here…" The man stood up and started unzipping his pants only to have both Sara and Brass jumping up nervously.

"Ahm, uhm… That won't be necessary, Mr. Adams. Thank you." Sara rushed to stop him from stripping.

"Perhaps you could try to describe that tattoo a little? Draw it for us maybe?" Brass offered a piece of paper and a pen.

Twenty minutes later they were riding silently, Sara still looking at the piece of drawing Mr. Adams provided for them. Unstable or not, he sure could draw. All she could do was hope they finally had a clue that would lead them somewhere.

Pissed off as all hell, Catherine got out of the SUV and headed across the parking lot, leaving Nick to gather up their equipment and evidence from the scene all by himself.

"Cath, I'm really sorry!" He yelled after her but she never gave any sign of acknowledging him.

All muddy and disheveled, her boots stomping loudly through the hallway, she didn't stop even when Warrick came out of the lab calling after her when she simply passed by him, "Catherine, what the hell happened?" Mumbling curses under her breath she headed straight for the locker room, hoping there was no one in the showers.

Hearing the water running in the back she closed her eyes, "Damn it… Just my luck!" She opened up her locker to gather some fresh clothes and started peeling off the ones she had on, "How could I have been so stupid? I knew it was deeper than it looked!!" She never noticed that the water had been turned off and nearly shrieked once Sara appeared next to her, wearing nothing but a small towel barely covering her up.

"Cath?" She softly asked, padding barefoot towards her.

"Jesus, Sara!" Catherine stared right at her, a blush creeping up her face. Wet from her shower there stood a lanky goddess right in front of her.

"Are you all right?" Sara looked at her with wonder, oblivious to the effect she was currently having on Catherine.

Catherine couldn't tear her eyes away from the vision before her. She was certain she'd never again be able to get that image out of her head, which wasn't exactly making her decision to stay the hell away any easier. And there was that feeling again... that tension which seemed to develop between them whenever they were this close.

Realizing suddenly that she was still staring, Catherine abruptly turned away. "Do I look all right to you?" She snarled, trying hard not to imagine what that body looked like underneath the towel, shaking her head a little as if to clear it.

'Always' Thought Sara, then shook her head slightly, "What happened?"

"Nick and I were at the scene…" Dropping her gaze while taking off her boots, Catherine trailed off when she spotted a small silver ring gracing one of Sara's toes. Feeling a rush of excitement running through her, she blushed harder and turned away from Sara, her heart hammering wildly. "…let's just say I listened to his advice and ended up in a pile of mud." She finished, trying to get her breathing under control.

Not understanding why Catherine seemed so flushed all of a sudden and thinking she was maybe embarrassed about whatever happened on that scene, Sara put a gentle hand on Catherine's shoulder. "You're not hurt, are you?" She asked worriedly.

Shuddering at the contact Catherine suddenly wanted nothing more than to turn around, throw that towel away, pin Sara against the wall and ravish her senseless. Astonished at her own reactions, knowing she needed to get away fast while she still had some control left, Catherine couldn't think of another way to get out of this situation except by doing what she did best. Becoming a bitch Sara already thought she was.

"No, I'm not hurt!" She growled at startled Sara and passed by her, throwing away her shirt on the way to the showers, "Go put some clothes on, you're making puddles on the floor."

Shocked at the sudden mood swing Sara just stood there with her mouth open. 'What have I done now?' Looking around for a bigger towel she saw Warrick standing at the door. He smiled briefly, shrugging a little, then told her Grissom wanted updates before the shift was over so there would be a briefing in ten and she should hurry. Changing into fresh set of clothes, the relaxed feeling her shower provided now switched for annoyance mixed with hurt after yet another exchange with Catherine, Sara stepped out and headed for the break room.

"What happened on that scene, Nick?" Sara asked when she entered the break room and spotted Nick sulking in the corner.

Rolling his eyes he muttered bitterly, "We had to pick up evidence all around the lake shore. There was a piece of clothing hanging from the tree branch, we weren't sure how to get to it, so… I advised Catherine to climb on top of the SUV and try to reach it…" He trailed off clearly embarrassed.

"She fell? How…" Sara tried figuring it out when Nick finished for her, "I was behind the wheel, reversing, trying to bring her as close to the tree as I could, but one of the back tires bumped on a rock or something and she must have lost her footing…"

"You were driving with Catherine on top of the car?? What the hell…" Unconsciously advancing towards Nick till his back bumped against the wall, Sara was almost yelling now, "She could have gotten hurt, you fool, she could have fallen under the car! Jesus, Nick!!!"

Catherine appeared in time to save Nick from getting injured by an enraged Sara, "It's my fault as much as his, just let it go Sara." Sara turned around all red in the face and Nick grabbed the opportunity to scramble away from her. It seemed he now had two angered women after him wanting his head. Too shocked to care about their earlier exchange any more, Sara came closer to Catherine examining her with her eyes, "Are you sure you're okay?"

Losing herself in Sara's eyes filled with fear and concern, Catherine nodded, not feeling up to more snarling. She already felt bad about her earlier behavior, not to mention still a little freaked out by unexpectedly discovering a whole lot more of Sara than would be considered healthy.

Sara surprised her by pulling her in a gentle hug. Wrapping her arms around Sara's waist without giving it too much thought, Catherine relished in the feeling of comfort for a few moments, relaxing her head against Sara's shoulder. She was amazed at how good it felt to be this close to her.

Pulling away a little but not letting go yet, Sara quietly asked again, "You're not hurt?"

"No." Catherine answered looking into Sara's eyes, "The mud softened the fall, I guess." Smiling sheepishly and suddenly feeling awkward, she let go of Sara, looking away.

"Catherine, I'm so sorry." Nick tried again, regret in his eyes.

"I know. Let's just forget about the whole thing, shall we? No harm done. We did get that piece of evidence, right? God only knows how it didn't fall into the mud right along with me… Well. Oh yes, you owe me for the dry cleaners." Winking at Nick to let him know she was letting him off the hook, Catherine unceremoniously plopped down on the couch.

Accepting the cup of coffee from Sara she watched as the young brunette sat beside her, nursing her own cup. The familiar rush of regret washing over her, Catherine reached out a hand and touched Sara's thigh, not missing the slight flinch she caused.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you before." Catherine said barely above the whisper.

Blushing a little, Sara smiled, "It's all right." She looked away quickly, afraid Catherine might see the longing in her eyes.

Smiling back, Catherine squeezed her thigh a little before pulling her hand away. Ignoring another little jump of Sara's leg she silently wondered why Sara seemed so shy. 'After all she was the one who initiated that hug, so why would my touch make her so nervous now?' She mused until Grissom appeared in the room, all business as usual.


Chapter 4

Going over every piece of clothing found on the shore Sara came to the conclusion most of it belonged to the victim. Once DNA results confirmed that, there were still three pieces of cloth apparently not connected with their case. She wondered if it was possible the guy really wore no clothes to avoid leaving traces. It was hard to imagine he would actually risk being seen running around naked, but Catherine took pictures of the muddy soil around the body and a few of them showed imprints made by bare feet. Doc Robbins concluded the body was discarded three days prior and Sara feared there could be more of them they didn't know about. Unfortunately no imprints were found in the park and the first two victims were all discovered in dark secluded alleys. There seem to be no pattern and no one could tell what could be expected next.

And sure enough, somewhere by the end of the shift they got a new call. A young couple stumbled upon a body in the desert. Sara and Catherine were the first to arrive to the scene, Brass already waiting for them. "Prepare yourselves… It looks awful. The worst so far." He told them while guiding them towards the place his officers had already secured, "Apparently the body was still warm when they found it. There's a lot of blood this time."

"Damn… two in one shift." Murmured Catherine while walking behind Sara.

Both women came to an abrupt stop once Brass moved to the side and they caught sight of the boy beaten to death, his features unrecognizable, the sand around him soaked with blood.

"Oh God." Catherine mumbled, struggling to compose herself. The boy was missing a hand and she had to fight the urge to throw up. Sara looked pale as a sheet but managed to squeeze out, "They've touched… the body?"

Brass nodded, "Only to check his pulse, they said."

Neither moved for a moment or two, then Sara pulled out two pairs of gloves handing one to Catherine, asking quietly, "Will you take the pictures or shall I?"

Taking the offered gloves, Catherine nodded, "I'll take them."

"We need to hurry." Sara added absentmindedly, still staring at the victim, "The wind is getting stronger." Her voice sounded strange but when Catherine turned around to look at her, Sara mumbled something about checking for the tire impressions and quickly turned to leave.

"Are you all right? You don't look so good." Catherine asked but Sara never stopped walking away.

"I'm fine." She lied.

She couldn't bear the thought of breaking down in front of Catherine, in the middle of the scene no less. After all, she was the quiet, impassive, broody Sara who never showed too many emotions so why shatter the popular image. She kept taking deep breaths while trying to concentrate on the ground, her hands shaking way too much to even pull the gloves on. When she finally managed to get back ten minutes later, Catherine was sitting on the ground, fighting her own demons.

"Catherine?" Sara approached her slowly.

Catherine simply waved her off, "I'm done."

"No sign of the hand but the cops will keep looking." Sara said watching the blonde woman scramble to her feet, "A lot of tire impressions all around, most of them already smudged. I could only make a guess in which direction he took off…"

"Not a good idea. We can't afford to start guessing now." Catherine sounded irritated and Sara frowned, fighting the need to bite back. She took a few steps towards the body ignoring Catherine's glares, again having to try and stop her hands from shaking.

Bending down she took a closer look at the boy's hand and face and heard Catherine approach her, "I've already checked everything, Sara. No fibers, no traces of any kind. Let's go. David's waiting to take the body."

Straightening up while trying to ignore the bossy tone to Catherine's voice, Sara picked up the camera Catherine left behind.

"Your hands are shaking." Catherine noticed reaching her hand. "Better let me take that."

"Yes…" Sara nodded, handing the camera over to Catherine, "We wouldn't want me messing something up." She shook her head and turned to leave, her eyes never meeting Catherine's.

"Where are you going?" Catherine asked after her.

"I want to talk to the couple who found him. I'll ride back with Brass."

Left alone to stare at Sara's retreating back, Catherine sighed. They didn't even need to yell at each other any more, she thought, and still they managed to find just the wrong things to say.

Catherine was just about to enter the morgue when she saw Sara standing next to the young boy's body. She let go of the door knob and took a deep breath to calm herself. She really wasn't feeling up to another fall out right now. It was at that moment Catherine noticed Sara's body was shaking but it wasn't until Sara covered her face with her hands that Catherine finally realized she was crying.

Covering her mouth with suddenly shaking fingers, Catherine tried to decide what to do. She could leave, she didn't want to embarrass Sara… or she could go inside and try to comfort her. Not that Sara would let her, she thought, guessing she was probably the last person Sara wanted to deal with right now.

Feeling almost desperate, Catherine watched Sara's attempts to calm herself by taking deep breaths and wiping the tears furiously away; but they just kept falling faster, resulting in more deep wrenching sobs. Not being able to stand there doing nothing any longer, Catherine slowly opened the door, gasping when they squeaked unpleasantly causing Sara to turn around abruptly. Cursing under her breath Catherine walked in, her eyes filling with tears in frustration.

"Sara… I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." She tried apologizing.

Sara was already busy trying to flee as quickly as she could. Walking around the body she mumbled, "Never mind, I was just about to leave."

Grabbing Sara's hand Catherine managed to get her attention, "Wait…" Unprepared for the look of complete sadness in Sara's eyes, Catherine just stared at her tear stained face for long moments not knowing what to say. She now knew it wouldn't matter anyway.

"What?!" Sara's harsh voice startling her, Catherine blinked rapidly a few times not able to form words. What was she supposed to say? That it was all right to cry?

"This isn't your fault, Sara." She almost whispered at last, "None of this was your fault. You did your best."

"It wasn't enough." Sara's voice sounded so detached it made Catherine shudder. "It never is." She whispered pulling her hand out of Catherine's grasp.

She started to walk away but Catherine wouldn't let her, "Don't do this, Sara!" Grabbing Sara's shoulders Catherine turned her around, "Don't do this to yourself." her voice cracking a little, making Sara look up at her.

She desperately wanted to pull Sara into a hug, not expecting to hear her ask, "Why do you care?" Before Catherine could formulate her answer Sara once more pushed her hands away. "Was it not you questioning my competence back there?" Sara asked, her anger pushing the grief aside, "Making sure I know how displeased you still are that Grissom assigned me to your case in the first place?" Getting more aggravated by the look of horror washing over Catherine's face, Sara continued in a louder tone, "Let's face it… You really didn't need my help tonight and I would have probably only made an even bigger mess had you not been there. You were right all along, I'm just holding you back." And with that Sara opened the door and walked out.

Not willing to let Sara leave like that Catherine ran after her, yelling once she reached the hallway, "Sara, stop!!" Catching up with her, she pushed Sara against the wall and trapped her placing her hands on Sara's shoulders once more.

"Jesus, Catherine, what else do you want?" Sara asked leaning her head against the wall and closing her eyes.

"Look at me." Catherine demanded. "I've never complained about you being assigned to the case. I was pissed Grissom thought he had to assign anyone, because it meant I wasn't doing my job right. It wasn't personal, Sara!" Satisfied she now had Sara's attention, Catherine went on, "And I wasn't questioning your competence." Not getting a response of any kind but no longer feeling Sara trying to push her away either, Catherine lowered her hands and gently rested them on Sara's forearms, "I've also never said anything about you making a mess nor holding me back, at least not in the sense you're implying. Are you planning on taking anything else I may have said out of the context and throwing it at me?" Lifting an eyebrow at Sara, she added, "Just so I can prepare myself."

Sara couldn't find anything amusing in their current situation. She kept staring into Catherine's eyes, deep hurt still running through her, "What would be the point of that? You already have an explanation for everything."

"What does that mean?" Catherine frowned.

Sighing, Sara ignored Catherine's glare and closed her burning eyes again, "I'm tired, Catherine. Was there anything else you wanted to share with me?"

Trying hard to keep the anger from bubbling up again, Catherine took a deep breath silently willing Sara to look at her. When she did, Catherine squeezed Sara's forearms gently. "Yes," She almost whispered, "I know you're hurting, Sara. I know you're blaming yourself for not catching that bastard yet, although I'm here too… because it's easier for you to do that then except that sometimes our best really isn't good enough." Confused to find her words only fueling that liquid rage in Sara's eyes for now they were brimming with tears again and flashing at her angrily, Catherine opened her mouth but didn't get the chance to add anything else.

"Is that so, Catherine? I'm playing the martyr here?" Sara growled through clenched teeth, angry tears already spilling from her eyes.

"Sara, for God's sake!"

But it was too late; Sara pushed herself away from the wall making Catherine almost lose her balance, and practically ran away once she rounded the corner.

"Damn it, Sara!! Stop running away from me!" Catherine roared at Sara's retreating back just before Sara disappeared behind the locker room door. She was really getting tired of running around after her. Barging into the locker room, the door slamming shut behind her, Catherine came to a halt catching her breath.

Sara was rummaging through her locker, impatiently thrashing things around in it looking for her car keys. "You never could tell when it was time to give up." She mumbled, startled when she felt Catherine grabbing her shoulders strongly, spinning her around to face her. "Take your hands off of me!" Sara whispered menacingly, slightly out of breath.

Feeling Sara tense underneath her fingers, Catherine loosened her hold. "Why are you doing this?" She asked watching Sara struggle to remain calm.

"Doing what? I'm just trying to get the hell out of here and go home." Sara tried shaking Catherine's hands off but Catherine had a nice grasp and wouldn't let go just yet.

"And then what will you do? Drink yourself into oblivion?" Catherine challenged, the look on her face giving away her disgust at the mere thought.

Sara just smirked. She'd been wondering when Catherine would start questioning her about the DUI. "Don't act like a fucking saint, Catherine. It won't work."

"And then what, Sara?" Catherine just wouldn't stop, "You still have to deal with the world in the morning."

Sara ignored her. Grabbing her keys and jacket she started walking away, "It is morning."

"You'd rather consider yourself incompetent then give up this ridiculous notion that everything has to come out perfect!" Catherine ended up yelling after Sara in an attempt to get her attention again. It actually worked; Sara stopped and turned around, the look of disbelief in her eyes.

"What?" She stared at Catherine with wide eyes.

"There is only so much we can do, Sara." Catherine finished softly.

"Is that so?" Sara asked, seemingly calm. Moving back towards Catherine she stopped mere inches from her, "Is that what you were thinking when I couldn't solve Eddie's case?"

Momentarily taken aback, Catherine just kept looking at Sara with her mouth open.

"Did it matter to you then there was only so much I could do?" Sara asked around the lump in her throat. Tears filling her eyes, she looked away shaking her head. She had to leave before she lost it completely.

"I wasn't rational then, Sara." Catherine found her voice again when Sara almost reached the door. Sara stilled, her back still to Catherine. Neither of them moved from where they stood. "I can't believe you'd shove it in my face now…" Catherine almost whispered. Was it always going to stand between them?

"Why the hell not?" Sara's voice cracked a little, a tear trickling down her cheek, "You certainly didn't hold anything back."

Thinking she may have just wrecked all of her chances at ever having Catherine by her side, Sara reached for the door knob. She never even heard Catherine approach her.

"I'm sorry." Catherine said close to her, her arms gently wrapping around Sara's waist from behind. Pressing her body almost flush against Sara's, she softly whispered close to her ear, "I didn't mean those things I've said to you, Sara. I was hurting and didn't know how to face that pain." Catherine's warm breath so close to her skin making her close her eyes and shudder in response, Sara tried to calm her breathing. "It was easier to find someone to blame… than deal with my own feelings of being useless, powerless to make a difference." Catherine admitted, her voice wavering. She took a shaky breath and finally offered, "I'm sorry."

Sara turned in Catherine's arms and crushed her in a hug. Feeling Catherine snuggle closer she could do nothing but whisper back, "I'm sorry too."

Wrapped in each other's arms, tears streaming down their faces, they stood unmoving for long moments. When Nick walked in and stopped dead in his tracks neither moved an inch. Catherine simply looked at him till he nodded slowly; not really understanding what went on between them but still exiting the room without a word.

Part 5

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