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 13

Nervously tapping the table with her fingers Catherine glanced at her watch. She had been waiting for Sara to come back from trace for nearly twenty minutes and had just about had enough of it. Their Jane Doe turned out to be a homeless drug addict who probably climbed in that dumpster looking for shelter. Sara was determined to go over every piece of garbage Catherine found in it at least three times and Catherine was slowly losing her patience.

She was getting tired of constantly being confused, never knowing what to expect from the brunette. Granted they have both been under a lot of pressure but when had that not been the case? Yet despite everything, Sara seemed to be opening up a little and Catherine found she cherished those moments. She found herself wanting even more from Sara and it scared her. Every time she would allow herself to think they were making a progress something would come up and they'd end up fighting again. She tried letting more things slide but it seemed impossible, everything was too personal with them. It all mattered too much, what they did, things they said. Sara mattered too much to her. And the fact that she cared, the fact that one wrong word or unexpected reaction from Sara could cause her so much hurt made Catherine feel vulnerable and insecure. She couldn't even tell which emotion bothered her more.

And now Sara was late as hell, leaving her to worry and bite her nails in annoyance at the same time. So what if they've had another round of bitching earlier that evening, did Sara really have to sulk for the rest of the shift? Catherine knew Sara was deliberately avoiding her but they still had to work together. They were supposed to go through their report one more time and get over with the damned case. Sighing, she grabbed her cell and dialed Sara's number.

"Where the hell are you?!" She snarled as soon as Sara picked up, the annoyance overpowering the worry she felt.

"I'll be there Catherine." Sara's calm voice only made Catherine angrier.

"What is with you? This tardiness isn't like you."

"It serves well to annoy you, doesn't it though?" Sara shot back and hung up, leaving Catherine frozen in motion, mouth agape.

"I don't believe this…" She finally muttered putting her cell away.

"Don't believe what?" Grissom asked walking in. She turned around to face him, her cheeks reddening in anger.

"She hung up on me… She actually hung up on me!" Catherine said not noticing his frown.

"Who? Lindsey?" Grissom asked confused.

"No! Sara." Catherine answered watching his eyebrows lifting.

Grissom blinked a few times then coughed slightly, "I take it the case isn't coming along well?"

"Which one?" Catherine sighed heavily, "We're not fighting over a case. Just over the fact we have to work on it together."

"Well…" Grissom handed her some folders and scratched his chin thoughtfully, "After all is said and done, a hell of a lot more is said than done."

"What?" Catherine stared at him incredulously.

"Murphy." He shrugged.

"What does that mean?" She asked annoyed.

"You and Sara are a team and must act accordingly. Put your differences aside and get some work done. The case won't solve itself." Lifting his eyebrows and nodding at her to make a point, Grissom left her office closing the door quietly behind.

Shaking her head, Catherine closed her eyes and took a deep breath before turning around and picking up her phone again.

"Sidle." The familiar voice invaded Catherine's ear.

"Don't hang up." Catherine said a bit surprised Sara picked up at all.

"Why would I do that?"

"How should I know?" She paced around her office, "You hung up on me the last time."

"Oh, so now I'm the unpredictable one?"

"Sara, please don't start again..." Catherine pleaded, worried about that annoyed tone in Sara's voice.

"Start what?" Sara asked innocently.

Catherine sighed, "Why are you so pissed off at me all the time?"

"I'm not pissed off all the time." Sara calmly told her, "Only when you go out of your way to piss me off."

Catherine bit her lip to refrain herself from retorting. Maybe this time she could be the mature one. She took a breath then asked, "Did you ask Gil to be removed from our case?"

"What?" Sara sounded genuinely surprised.

"Did you?" Catherine pressed on, hoping it had been just an empty threat.

"Where is this coming from?" There was that annoyed tone again.

Feeling a little irritated by that point, Catherine coldly informed her, "It's a simple question, Sara."

"No I didn't, Catherine!" Sara answered, her voice rising slightly," Is that what you want me to do?"

"No, that's not what I want." Catherine rushed to tell her, "But you said you would do that and…"

Sara cut her off, "I was angry. I didn't mean it."

Catherine wouldn't be deterred, "…and then Gil came to my office and gave me the big speech about teamwork! I thought…" Once Sara's stifled giggles reached her ear, Catherine protested, "That's not funny, Sara."


"I mean…" She sighed exasperatedly, "Could we just once stop swirling in circles?"


"Oh, come on! It's always one step forward, two steps back Sara."

"That's not swirling in circles, Catherine." Sara noticed amusedly, "That's actually walking."

"Backwards, Sara."

"Yeah, but still walking." Sara happily informed her.

"All right." Catherine gave in, "Then how would you call this dance we do?"

"Tango, maybe?" Sara asked. When Catherine failed to respond, too busy looking for hidden meanings, Sara added as an afterthought, "At least you're acknowledging it takes two to dance it."

"But don't you ever get tired of it?"

"Sure I do, Catherine. Only every time I stop to take a break you start leading again."

Her eyebrows rising, Catherine asked, "Do you have to follow every time?"

"I do love the tango." Came the witty response. Again wondering how she should respond to that, Catherine heard Sara release a breath. Her voice becoming serious again, Sara asked, "Catherine, what do you want from me?"

"I want us to stop fighting." Catherine admitted, "I'm tired Sara."

"So am I."

"Truce?" Catherine offered.

"Why not? Sounds challenging enough."

"Thank you." Glancing at her watch, Catherine noticed, "Shift's nearly over… Want to go for a drink?"

"I'd like that."

"Good. Meet you outside."

Stopping by Gil's office to let him know she was leaving, Catherine hadn't expected to hear Sara's raised voice from behind the closed door, "No I don't need a freaking counseling, Grissom! I'm fine."

"Sara, you need to talk to someone about this… You can't keep burying everything inside."

"Who says I'm doing that?!"

"You are always doing that."

"That's just presumptuous, Grissom!"

Not wanting Gil to upset Sara further Catherine desperately tried to decide if she should interrupt, but then stopped all movement upon hearing her name being mentioned.

"I realize how important it is for you to solve this case; I'm just saying that with all the unresolved issues you and Catherine seem to have, these recent events make it all the more difficult for you to focus on…"

"…on what?? Please don't say 'the evidence'!"

"Catherine?" Greg's voice making her jump and turn around, Catherine cursed his lousy timing under her breath and snarled at him, "What??"

"Uhm… What are you doing?" Greg asked, apparently amused.

Sighing, she asked, "What does it look like, Greg?"

"Eavesdropping, maybe?" Greg wiggled his eyebrows.

"Very good. You'll make a fine CSI some day. Now, scoot!" Turning back to the door Catherine was annoyed at hearing Greg chuckle behind her. "I'm serious, Greg. Beat it." She growled not turning to look at him.

"Uhm, Catherine… Are you not even the slightest bit worried about being caught in this… uhm… compromising position, shall we say?"

"No. I'm rather confident you'll keep my little secret safe, seeing as how I distinctly remember catching you reading 'Playboy' while on clock twice this week. Or have you forgotten about that?"

Blushing, Greg muttered, "Uh… it just came back to me. See you later." walking away in a rush.

Left to wonder what she had missed, Catherine leaned closer to the door only to be forced to move away from it hastily when she heard Sara's approaching footsteps and her parting shot to Gil, "You do remember what I told you then, right? Well it's too late." She opened the door rather forcefully, causing Catherine to jump.

"Uhm… hi." Catherine smiled, all flushed, "I was just about to clock out. Ready to go?"

Sara thought it odd to see Catherine so flustered but chose to ignore it. "Yeah."

"Great." Catherine nodded her relief, "See you outside in a minute."

"You'll have to give me a ride. I took a cab to work."

"No problem."

During their silent ride to the bar Sara mulled over her conversation with Grissom, still a little pissed off at his audacity. She was sure he meant well but to ask her out after all this time? What was that about?

Glancing at Catherine who was trapped in her own little world, wondering if Sara would want to talk about what went on in Grissom's office, Sara thought about everything that had happened in the last few days. Her relationship with Catherine had always been strained at the very least. But lately she could feel something changing between them, bringing them a little closer, a little more aware of each other, a little more considerate. She couldn't tell when those changes began nor what caused them but the air seemed lighter between them and it felt good. They've been talking more and fighting less or at least trying to fix the mess once they've created it. It took a while but Sara finally realized she felt more strongly about somehow making things work between them than she ever felt about anything involving Gil. Now what was that saying about her so called infatuation with him?

The problem was that all her long buried feelings, the ones she tried to push down but never managed completely, kept resurfacing and Sara knew it would only get harder to keep them under control. Letting Catherine in, even a little, was making her incredibly vulnerable and also a lot less guarded. What would happen if she overstepped the line? And how was she supposed to tell where the line was now a days?

Shaking her head, lost in thought, she never noticed Catherine's worried glances thrown her way. "You okay?" Catherine's gentle voice brought her back from her musings.

Looking up into gorgeous blue eyes filled with worry, Sara smiled, "Yeah…" Nodding her head, she added softly, "I'm okay." Catherine smiled back and continued driving.

Marveling at the enjoyable silence that seemed to envelop them, Sara nursed her beer stealing glances at Catherine from time to time.

"This is nice." She mumbled.

Looking up at Sara, Catherine raised an eyebrow in a silent question so Sara rushed to explain, "Us, sitting here. Not fighting." She grinned and winked at Catherine, causing her to return the smile and drop her gaze back to her hands for a moment.

Catherine nodded, "See? We can do this." She raised her bottle to Sara's and they toasted to their little success.

Thinking 'what the hell', Catherine took a breath and pretending not to care much finally asked, "So… What did Grissom want?"

Sara shrugged, "I guess he was just checking up on me."


Catherine was interested to see if Sara would tell her anything. She wasn't proud of listening in on their conversation like that, but what was done was done and she was left to wonder at what Sara was referring to with that last sentence.

"Yeah… Wanted to know how I was doing."

Guess Sara wasn't going to tell her… It shouldn't really matter anyway, should it? Sara did tell him it was too late. Whatever that meant. So why was this bothering her so much? Averting her eyes Catherine missed the frown forming on Sara's face, "Cath?"

"Yeah?" Catherine looked up again.

"What's wrong?"

"Uhm…" Shaking her head she added, "Nothing."

That didn't sound very convincing to Sara's ears. Catherine blushed a little feeling Sara's scrutinizing gaze and shifted uncomfortably. Sara tried ignoring the small pang of hurt and took a large gulp, downing her bottle. A pager going off broke the not so comfortable silence, both of them checking their belts.

"It's mine. It's Warrick." Catherine said, her voice flat. She made no move to call him back.

Hiding her look of wonder Sara motioned to the waitress to bring another round of beers to their table. "Aren't you going to call him back?" She eventually asked.

"Nope. He knows I clocked out."

Not sure how to go about it but hoping she could get Catherine to open up, Sara watched her as she nearly downed her newly arrived bottle in three large gulps. She took a sip herself and chancing another glance at Catherine offered, "You can talk to me about it if you want."

"There's nothing to talk about. It was a lapse of judgment on my part."

Remembering Warrick's latest desperate attempts at getting Catherine to talk to him again, Sara cleared her throat, "Well… He seems to be trying really hard to…"

She was interrupted by a low growl, "To what?!"

"…save your friendship." Sara finished, looking sadly into Catherine's enraged eyes.

Composing herself, Catherine stated firmly, "Too late now." reminding herself and Sara of Sara's parting words to Grissom earlier that day.

Deciding not to push it any further, kind of hoping this truce of theirs could last a little longer, Sara offered, "Are you hungry? This beer is doing wonders for my appetite…"

Smiling a little, Catherine teased, "I'd say your appetite is wondrous with or without the beer."

"Hey now… Not my fault I've got a quick metabolism." Sara mock pouted.

"Right…" Catherine chuckled, "Come on. Let's feed the beast."


Chapter 14

Expecting Grissom to be showing up soon handing them their assignments, the nightshift crew gathered in the break room. Hiding behind the newest forensic journal in her hands Sara pretended to be engrossed in some article while in truth she was trying to gauge Catherine's reaction once Warrick entered the room. Till that moment Catherine had been watching Greg brew a fresh pot of coffee, playfully teasing him about some new girl he was seeing, but the atmosphere quickly changed when Warrick joined the group. Moving to the farthest corner away from him she found herself facing Sara, who forgot to pretend to be reading and instead smiled awkwardly at Catherine. Much to Sara's delight Catherine smiled back and joined her on the small couch.

"All right guys," Grissom announced his presence from the door, "Looks like we'll be having another slow night. Only two cases, one DB in the desert and one suspicious circs downtown." He waited till their grumping quieted down then continued, "I'll take the first one… Warrick, you'll join me. Nick, take the second one. Catherine, Sara…" He trailed off, looking up from assignment clips for the first time to look at them. "How's your case coming along?" Grissom asked.

"Dead end. We're stuck." Catherine admitted unhappily.

"Sara? Any news from Brass?"

"Black is still missing. My hands are tied till they find him." She said, feeling uncomfortable they were discussing it in front of Catherine.

"All right ladies. Stay here and if any new cases come along, take them but page me first. Oh… Catherine, the Jane Doe case?"

"Wrapped it up. The report's on your desk." She mumbled watching Nicky wave them goodbye.

"Good, I'll look at it when I get back. Let's go." Grissom said, waiting on Warrick to come along. Sara didn't miss Warrick glancing towards Catherine again before leaving the room, nor did she miss Catherine defiantly looking away from him at the very same moment.

"Well, my ladies… Guess it's just the three of us then." Greg winked at them, handing them each a cup of steaming coffee.

"Greg, you're needed back at the lab." Grissom called over his shoulder, making Greg curse softly under his breath before grabbing a cup of his own and heading out, "Later, ladies!"

Sighing, Catherine took a first sip enjoying the rich taste. She glanced at Sara who had been watching her closely.

"What?" Catherine asked.

"Are you ever going to tell me?" Sara wondered, realizing too late she had said it out loud.

"Tell you what?" She now had Catherine's full attention which made her blush.

"About what happened between you and Warrick." Sara finished and lowered her eyes, suddenly remembering she had coffee in her hands.

Catherine kept looking at her for a few moments before looking away. It took a while till she gathered her thoughts and then sighing again, decided to relent, "We went out one night for a drink like many times before… but ended up getting drunk."

Her breath catching in her throat, Sara wasn't sure anymore if she wanted to hear what Catherine decided to tell her. Catherine continued, "We shared a cab home, he followed me to my doorstep and while I was fumbling with my keys he grabbed me and kissed me."

Gulping a few times, straining to keep the jealousy from bubbling up, Sara kept staring at her hands. She was feeling irrationally angry at them both. "It was uncalled for and I didn't expect it, but I guess I didn't fight it either." Catherine said, oblivious to Sara's inner turmoil. Sara was actually praying to all the gods above that they hadn't slept together for she wasn't sure she'd be able to deal with it, startled when Catherine went on, "I don't think I've ever been looking for a relationship with Warrick. But then again, all my previous attempts at relationships failed miserably and I started thinking that maybe being with someone who had been a friend first wouldn't be so bad." She looked over at Sara and added, "Obviously, I had misinterpreted that kiss for something it wasn't. The next day I caught him making out with that lab tech." She noticed just then that Sara looked very pale.

"So…" Sara cleared her throat, "You two haven't… I mean…" She realized she couldn't even push it past her lips, not that she thought she had the right to ask but the thought wouldn't go away. She had to know even if the question brought Catherine's fury upon her.

"I'm not that easy, Sara." Catherine sounded a bit offended.

"I never thought you were," Sara rushed to explain, "Only that you've known Warrick for a long time. It wouldn't exactly be considered rushing into things." Now that she knew nothing major happened Sara hoped she'd be able to distance herself enough to push her own feelings aside and just let Catherine talk about it. In the end, she was letting Sara in, trusting her with keeping this to herself.

"I don't go to bed with people after just one date no matter how long I've known them. And that wasn't even a date." Catherine said bringing her attention back to the cup in her hands and Sara was left to wonder why she would use the word "people" instead of "men".

For a while they simply sat there in silence before Sara gently asked, "Well… Then it's just your bruised ego we're talking about here?"

"Just?!" Catherine squeaked, choking on her coffee, "Well excuse me for having a little bit of pride left…"

"Cath… I meant to say it should heal faster than a broken heart would." Sara uttered softly, effectively stopping any further yelling from Catherine.

Cocking her head to the side Catherine tried meeting Sara's eyes while asking, "Were you worried about my heart, Sara?"

"A little bit, yes." Sara admitted, blushing again and looking away.

A smile spreading on Catherine's face, she bit her lip then joked gently, "Why, Sara Sidle… You're not going soft on me, are you?"

Turning her head towards Catherine, adorable pout gracing her lips, Sara muttered barely keeping a straight face, "I don't know what you're talking about." Watching that little smile on Catherine's face blossom into full grin, she could feel her own heart mend a little.

"Don't worry. Your secret's safe with me." Catherine chuckled, both touched at Sara's admission and delighted to see her smiling back at her mischievously. Maybe they were finally on their way towards building some form of friendship here, Catherine thought. Smiling to herself, she continued drinking her all but forgotten coffee, enjoying Sara's once again silent company.

Sometime later that night, coming back from DNA lab Catherine realized she hadn't seen Sara at all once they've parted and decided to go look for her. Lost in thought, she was nearing the break room when she caught a glimpse of a familiar brunette sitting alone in the corner. Peeking inside to get a better view Catherine realized Sara was holding a case file in her hands, staring at some picture in it. Her curiosity getting the better of her, she entered quietly, trying to think of a way not to startle the younger woman.

"Sara?" Catherine announced her presence softly.

Gasping in surprise, Sara closed the file shut nearly jumping off the couch. "Jesus, Catherine…" She mumbled, her cheeks flushed.

"Sorry." Catherine sat next to her, "Are you ok?" Trying to see the file name without being too obvious she had a feeling it wasn't Eddie's. Looking up at Sara, Catherine watched her squirm uncomfortably. Sara nodded unconvincingly, refusing to meet Catherine's gaze. Finally she removed her hand and allowed Catherine to see what it was. She took a deep breath and released it slowly, "I can't think of a way to beat around the bush long enough to prepare you for this, so… I'll just go straight to the point, ok?"

"Ok." Catherine agreed, the anticipation slowly consuming her.

"My mother is serving a life sentence… after being convicted of killing my father." Not looking at Catherine, Sara tried willing her hands from shaking.

For long moments Catherine just sat there, her mouth hanging open. Every time she tried formulating a coherent thought she failed, her mind completely blank. Snapping out of her trance she quietly asked, "When… When did she… I… I mean, how…" She stopped when she couldn't get her voice to work.

"Twenty years ago. She stabbed him with the kitchen knife." Sara's voice sounded detached, "I guess… she decided she couldn't take his beatings and abuse any more." She was marveling at her own ability to talk about it in front of Catherine, wondering how much she would actually be able to say before breaking down.

"Where… were you at the time?" Catherine questioned, fearing the answer.

"On the floor, in a pool of blood. He beat the shit out of me before turning on her. Somehow she managed to get away and came back with a knife. She…" Gulping, Sara trailed off but managed to go on, "She launched at him with this force I don't think she knew she possessed and just wouldn't stop… She just kept stabbing him. There was so much blood, Catherine… " The rest of her sentence cut off when Catherine crushed her in a hug, sobbing silently for the woman in her arms, "Oh Sara…"

Determined to say her piece Sara went on, tears streaming down her face, her breathing labored, "I haven't… I've never went to see her. Not once. I didn't think she'd want me there. I didn't think… I could handle it either." Her voice becoming a mere whisper Sara added, "She wasn't a good mother, Catherine. But she is still my mother." Struggling against the sobs she snuggled closer, "And now… now she could die, and… I don't know how I should be feeling about it."

Catherine kept stroking Sara's hair not wanting to let go of her, not knowing what to say. She wanted to make things better for Sara but knew she couldn't and it made her angry. She wanted to change the past, undo everything bad that had ever happened to her, aware of not even being capable of imagining the horrors Sara must have gone through. Slowly Catherine pulled away just enough so she could brush away the tears running down Sara's cheeks. Looking into Sara's eyes, her fingers once more getting tangled in her hair, Catherine told her softly, "You're entitled to feel anything you want. Except guilt. You did nothing wrong Sara."

Sara didn't know how to respond to that. She stared into those beautiful blue eyes so full of pain, her heart ripping apart for being the one who put it there. She saw compassion and understanding and a glint of something she wasn't sure had ever been there before. The feeling of Catherine's fingers in her hair, the nearness of the body she craved to feel close, the whole experience of exposing her darkest secret to the woman she loved left her shaking in fear and amazement. Catherine was still there, perhaps that being the biggest miracle of all and Sara found herself leaning over and kissing her cheek before feeling Catherine's arms wrap around her again, pulling her close.

Catherine silently cried for the woman in her arms, tears running freely down her face. She felt helpless and lost with no means to help Sara, with nothing to offer except her presence. All she could do was hope that Sara would allow her to be there. She wanted to be the one Sara would lean on and draw her strength from. She felt so much and could do nothing but choke on those feelings, too scared to voice them aloud.

Catherine felt Sara pulling away and reluctantly let go of her, not expecting to hear a whispered "thank you" fall from Sara's lips. She watched in wonder as Sara looked up and gently reached to wipe Catherine's tears away. Her fingers lightly brushed along Catherine's jaw, the light feathery touch making her close her eyes.

The gentle moment stolen away from them when Sara's pager went off, Catherine forced her eyes open and saw Sara fumbling nervously with the offending object.

"It's Grissom…" Sara said, her brow furrowing, "Something's wrong."

"What do you mean?" Catherine asked worriedly when Sara got up still staring at her pager.

Grissom chose that moment to barge into the room, both women looking up in surprise. "We've just got a call. Possible arson." He took a breath before adding, "Robert Black's house just went up in flames."


Chapter 15

Four hours later Grissom finally managed to find his way back to the CSI headquarters. He parked his car and remained inside it, staring hopelessly into the sky. Dark clouds were gathering, promising a nasty storm coming their way and he couldn't help finding it ironic. If he had any strength left he probably would have laughed. Shaking his head he took a few deep breaths and was just about to get out when a light knock to the window on the passenger side startled him. Leaning to the side to get a better view he saw Catherine waiting on him to unlock the door for her. He opened the door and watched her climb in gracefully.

Noticing his disheveled appearance immediately, Catherine decided to keep quiet and give him a chance to tell her what happened in his own time. When the silence stretched too long she got impatient. Not looking at him she asked, "Gil, where is Sara?"

It struck him as a bit unusual that Sara would be her first concern but he chose not to dwell on it. Now was not the time. "She left." His voice sounded flat, "The shift ended an hour ago. I'm guessing she went home."

"You're guessing?" Catherine asked looking up, slightly annoyed at Grissom's apparent indifference.

Turning to look at her, he admitted, "We didn't part in the best of circumstances."

Catherine kept searching his eyes for a few moments, waiting to hear some kind of explanation but none came. Struggling to remain calm she slowly asked, "What happened?"

Grissom hung his head and sighed, "Everything burned to the ground. Along with Robert Black. If we're lucky we'll be able to identify him by his teeth."

A huge bright bolt of lightning suddenly blasted through the sky nearby and mere moments later a thunder rumbled loudly, making Catherine flinch, "Have you found any evidence suggesting the fire was intentionally set?"

"Fire investigators are still on the scene. We did find specific burn patterns and blisters on wood which would suggest arson. We'll know more tomorrow."

Catherine nodded her head slowly and averted her eyes. Raindrops started hitting the window she had been looking through, slowly gaining speed, creating a steady sound she'd be comfortable listening to had she not been on the edge of her patience.

"Did she say she was going home?" She asked, her voice a little shaky.

Grissom turned to look at her, "Since when are you so concerned about Sara's whereabouts?"

Catherine shot him a stern look then mumbled through clenched teeth, "Do I have to drag it out of you, Gil?"

"She's mad at me for making her reopen the case." He told her with a pained expression, ignoring the real question. Catherine closed her eyes for a moment. Turning her head away she took her cell out of her pocket and dialed Sara's number.

"I don't understand why you're being so stubborn." He told her when she wouldn't look at him again.

"What does that mean?" Catherine asked while dialing again after getting no answer.

For a while he contemplated not answering and just kept staring out the window. But then the words came out, "She probably left wanting to avoid having another argument with you."

Raising her eyebrow at Grissom, Catherine said nothing while dialing for the third time, hoping she might annoy Sara and get her to answer her phone. "You're tired, so I'll pretend you didn't say that." She said after a while, adding, "I don't want to argue, I want to know she's all right." Grissom kept watching her in wonder, noticing her frown began to deepen as more moments passed.

"She's not home and she's not answering her cell. Did you drive separately to that scene?" Catherine asked.

"No, we came together. Why?" Grissom's brow furrowed in confusion.

Catherine ignored the question, "How did she leave then?"

"She took a cab."

"What… she just got up and left?" Catherine stared at him incredulously, "Leaving everything behind, her kit, the evidence?"

"Like I said… we parted awkwardly." He looked away as if embarrassed.

"You mean, you had a fight." It was more a statement than a question. Shaking her head Catherine took out a small umbrella from her purse, "And now she's God knows where. Oh this is just wonderful…"

"Do you need a lift?" Grissom asked once he realized Catherine was about to step out into the pouring rain.

"No, my car is right over there. I'll see you tonight, Gil."

He managed to stop her before she reached the handle, "Catherine, I'm sorry."

"What for?" She asked exiting his car, not looking at him, "You're not the one who set that house on fire."

"No. I'm just a fool who never saw it coming." Grissom said remorsefully.

Glancing one more time his way Catherine added more softly, "Go home, Gil. You need rest." before closing the door and running across the parking lot.

"Thought I might find you here, kid." The familiar voice reaching her ears, Sara looked up from her third beer in time to see her favorite cop taking a seat next to her. Jim Brass grimaced slightly at the effort to squeeze himself into the narrow booth. Any other day it might make her smile. Soon the bartender made an appearance and placed a bottle of water in front of Brass before disappearing again.

"Wanna talk about it?" Brass asked the silent brunette, his eyes taking in the half filled bottle of beer before her. Sara's eyes slowly met his and he realized she'd been crying.

She shook her head and averted her eyes, "Not really."

"Might help. You know I'm good at listening." He offered gently. Ever since she left the scene in such haste Brass had been worried about the young CSI he became so fond of.

Sara took a healthy swig before putting the bottle back to the table, "I once tried helping a friend by prying into an old unresolved case. I thought I was doing her a favor." Sara's voice sounded hoarse. She rubbed her face with her hands before running her fingers through her hair and finishing bitterly, "She ended up being transferred from her wheelchair straight into a jail cell due to my 'help'."

"Melissa Winters." Brass nodded his head slowly, his face expressionless. How could he not remember? A respectable prosecutor shot her abusive husband and managed to cover it up. Having her dying husband return the favor she ended up being shot as well, paralyzed in fact. It wasn't until Sara had reopened the cold case that the truth came out.

Sara stared at Brass for a while, searching his eyes. Not finding any of the things she feared might be there, she went on, "She didn't even resent me for it." Her fingers nervously played with the small silver lighter. "I was so angry with her… with myself, for believing in all her big speeches about justice. I almost arrested a wrong guy for a murder he didn't commit." She snorted shaking her head, "But guess what Jim, a part of me was actually disgusted by what I had to do. A part of me kept wishing she aimed more accurately." Their eyes met for a long moment before Sara asked, "What does that say about me?"

"That you're human." Brass answered softly, reaching out to pat her hand.

"Yeah…" She nodded sadly, "Fine human being I am." Pulling her hand away from his gentle grasp she sighed, "I gave a promise to Lindsey Willows and never made good on it." Jim opened his mouth wanting to object but Sara was faster, "I reopened this case and gave false hope to Catherine… Now I can't do anything but take it all away from her again."

"Sara… You're being too hard on yourself, kiddo." Brass gently told her watching her empty her bottle. "Let's skip the next round, shall we?" He offered.

"I'm not drunk, Jim." Sara answered coldly.

"Never said you were. I'd just like to keep it that way."

Ignoring his attempts at making a joke she quietly admitted, "It seems every time I try to help someone I care about, all I do is create an even bigger mess. And don't tell me it's the good intention that counts." She snorted, "We all know what the road to hell is paved with and I certainly seem to be heading in the right direction."

"I don't like you talking this way, Sara. You're starting to worry me." Brass grumbled unhappily. Sara glanced towards him noticing the tired but worried expression on the friendly face. "I'm serious, kid. Maybe you should…" He tried but Sara cut him off.

"What? Take a break? Quit? Seek help? What, Jim?" When no response came she turned her head away mumbling, "I'm sick of all the well-meaning advices."

Brass looked hurt and she regretted her words immediately. She could have blamed her inconsiderateness on the beer but chose not to, "I'm sorry, Jim. I know you care." She waited till he lifted his eyes again, "Forgive me. I'm just really tired." Jim nodded his understanding. He silently watched as she stood up fishing for a few wrinkled bills out of her pocket, then left them on the table and grabbed her jacket. He followed her outside of the bar, noticing she appeared to be completely sober.

"Let me drive you home." Still he offered. The storm had long ended, small raindrops now only drizzling lightly. Sara turned to face him, her eyes a bit softer but still too sad for his liking.

"Thanks, Jim… But I think a little walk would do me good." Gently fixing the collar of his raincoat Sara winked at him, trying to get him to smile.

Brass just nodded his head, "Take care, kiddo." He watched her leave, long legs taking easy strides down the pavement till she rounded the corner and he couldn't see her anymore.

"Sooo…" Nancy dragged, "How are things going in 'Sara department'?"

Catherine looked over at her grinning sister and couldn't help but smile a little seeing her eyes full of expectation looking back at her. She took a sip of her coffee ignoring Nancy for a while, then mumbled softly, "You really should get a life."

"Nah," Shaking her head, Nancy joked, "I'm too busy as it is."

"Yeah, with meddling into mine. It must be exhausting." Catherine managed to say before a kitchen rag came flying in her face.

"Come on. Spill it." Her sister pressed on, plopping down on a couch next to her. Shifting so she was facing Catherine, Nancy watched Catherine lower her gaze, her fingers nervously fumbling with the small rag. Frowning a little Nancy asked, "Not good?"

"I don't know." Catherine shrugged, "Hell, I can't even get her to answer the damn phone." She looked up into Nancy's eyes for a moment, shaking her head, "I think I'm scared a little." Nancy kept quiet, not sure what Catherine meant exactly but figuring she'd better let her take her time. The smile long gone from her face, Catherine kept staring at her hands, "You know, at first I thought I just needed to get laid."

Rolling her eyes, Nancy couldn't stop the comment, "Impressive choice of words. Go on."

Catherine ignored the sarcasm, "But then I realized it's not just about attraction. It runs deeper than that." Every time she closed her eyes she could still feel Sara's lips pressed against her cheek, her arms wrapped around Catherine holding her tight.

"So what's holding you back?" Nancy's voice brought her back. She knew Catherine was anything but shy and wondered what was different this time.

"She so vulnerable right now, Nancy." Catherine said quietly, her voice softening, "The case we're working on is… horrible. Her mother is ill…" Sighing, she admitted, "She has only just started opening up a little. I don't want to take advantage of that."

"Wow, you really like her." It was more a statement than a question really.

Catherine looked up not knowing what to say, 'like' not even being the right word anymore. She settled for, "I really want a chance with her."

"Then give her time." Nancy offered gently, "Just be there for her, Cath."

Catherine had yet to look up again, her voice wavering with uncertainty, "What if… What if I fall completely?" She kept fumbling with the rag, "And she's not there to catch me?"

Stilling her sister's hands and squeezing them gently, Nancy waited till Catherine looked at her, "It's a risk you'll have to take."

"I'd be risking my heart, Nancy." Came the almost broken whisper.

Reaching out and pulling Catherine in a hug, Nancy whispered back, "The only risk worth taking, honey."

The sun was making its shy appearance when Sara finally made it to her apartment. She tossed her keys and jacket aside and proceeded to peel off her clothes leaving little piles behind, not caring she'd have to collect them later. The only thing on her mind was a shower and nothing could stop her on her mission. Well, almost. Passing through her living room she glanced towards the answering machine, surprised to see four messages waiting for her. The first one was from Grissom and she actually skipped it. The second one from warden Monroe she had spoken to the previous day, telling her that her mother had been transferred from the ICU into a regular room and she was now allowed to have visitors. Closing her eyes to calm her breathing a little, she had no time to contemplate the news since Catherine's voice invaded her ears, "Sara? I've tried your cell phone like ten times already… Look, I just wanted to know you were okay. Would you please call me when you get home? Bye." Feeling her heart beating madly, Sara tried remembering if Catherine had ever called her at home in all the years they've worked together. The fourth message playing brought her attention back to the machine in front of her, "Sara, I'm really starting to worry. Where the hell are you?" There was a big pause and a sigh before Catherine's voice went on in a softer tone, "Sara, I'm not angry… We both knew the odds. God, I don't want to have this conversation with your answering machine! Just call me, will you?"

Her eyes brimming with tears, Sara reached for her phone and tried to compose herself before making a call. She glanced at her watch and realized hours had passed since Catherine had left those messages. She dialed, taking a seat on her couch.

A sleepy voice answered after the second ring, "Sara?"

"I'm sorry." Sara almost whispered, tears falling freely. She had to struggle to push the words out, "I wasn't ignoring your calls, I just got home."

"I was worried." Catherine's voice sounded a little hoarse, "You weren't answering your cell."

"I know. I'm sorry…" Sara couldn't think of anything else to say, "I shut it off and forgot about it." She wiped the tears off angrily.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah." Sara lied, thinking she should have been the one to ask that.

"What happened with you and Grissom? He wouldn't tell me anything." Catherine now sounded more awake.

"Uhm…" Sara nibbled her lower lip, "I think I said some nasty things to him."

"Did he have them coming?" Catherine asked in a slightly teasing tone.

"I'm not sure." Sara admitted embarrassed, "I'd say he just happened to be there when the dam broke."



"Well… I'm sure you'll work it out. Any news on your mother?"

"Actually, yes. She has been transferred from the ICU and can have visitors now." Sara sighed before adding, "I was thinking I should maybe… you know, visit."

"Are you sure?" Catherine asked softly.

"Honestly? Uhm, no." Sara admitted, "But I think I might regret it if I don't." Catherine remained quiet for a while, so Sara asked worriedly, "You think it would be a mistake to go and see her now?"

"I can't answer that for you, Sara. All I know of your mother is what you've told me so far. Can't say I'm a big fan…" That actually earned her a light snort from Sara so she promised softly, "I'll be there for you no matter what you decide."

"Thank you. That means a lot to me, Catherine." Sara almost whispered.

"Why don't you get some rest?" Catherine suggested, "We're both on call. You never know how long the quiet will last."

"True." Rubbing her face with her hand Sara remembered to apologize again, "I'm sorry I woke you up."

"Don't be. I'm glad you called."

"See you soon." Sara said, feeling just a bit better, "Say 'hi' to Lindsey for me."

"I will. Bye."

Part 16

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