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 16

"This is ridiculous!" Catherine exclaimed throwing a pile of papers on the desk in front of her. "I mean, you can't be serious about this, Sara!"

"Give me one good reason why we shouldn't, Catherine." Sara sat on a chair opposite of Catherine's desk, rubbing her face with her hands nervously, "This guy is mocking us."

"Sara, we've found nothing." Using the wall for support Catherine leaned her back against it. They've spent hours on the new scene after another brutally murdered boy was found. Their perp was definitely escalating but still concentrating hard on leaving no evidence.

"That's why I want to go back to the scene. There has to be something we've missed."

"Sara…" Catherine pleaded, hoping to reason with her somehow.

"We have to or he'll get away with it." Sara sounded determined despite her fatigue. If anyone asked her, she couldn't for the life of her remember the last time she actually managed to get some sleep.

"There's nothing there. We've both went through it several times, as did Nick. The guy is obviously extremely cautious about not leaving anything behind."

"What if he kills again?" Sara muttered more to herself, "Those poor kids…"

Catherine sat on the edge of her desk facing Sara, "I want to nail him just as much as you do Sara. We'll just have to find another way."

"What other way?" Sara asked looking up from the floor, raising her voice in frustration, "We've got nothing! No fibers, no hairs, no prints, nothing!"

"We do have that witness." Catherine reminded her.

Rubbing her temples Sara bitterly agreed, "Who happens to be very unstable and heavily medicated most of the time."

"Well at least he gave us a description." Catherine shrugged.

"Yeah." Sara snorted. "A lot good it did."

"Look, I don't know what to say. We'll have to wait for him to make a mistake."

"And how many boys will have to die till we get a break?"

"Damn it Sara, what the hell do you want me to do?!" Catherine yelled, her patience snapping in half.

Getting up from the chair Sara mumbled, "Not a damn thing." and left Catherine's office without looking back.

Another life lost, another child gone. All her efforts in vain, the little amount of beliefs she still had all shattered now. Was there no justice after all? Catherine once told her that, but Sara stuffed it in the corner of her mind reserved for dark thoughts and words spoken in anger with no true weight. Only they kept coming back to her now and she couldn't tell what was more disturbing, the idea itself or the thought of Catherine losing her faith in their work as well.

Lighting her third cigarette Sara inhaled deeply and closed her eyes for a moment allowing herself to become lost in the sensation. No matter how hard she tried finding a distraction not even smoking seemed to help right now. It tasted like it always did but the fake sense of calmness she so desperately sought for refused to wash over her. She knew she was being unreasonable, making it even harder for Catherine as if their case wasn't frustrating enough. She couldn't help it though, she desperately needed to do something, anything rather then wait for that psycho to strike again. So why not go through the scene again? At least she wouldn't be feeling so useless.

She could hear footsteps approaching but didn't need to turn around, sensing Catherine's presence long before she stopped right beside Sara. Opening her eyes Sara heard Catherine sigh before lowering herself to the stair Sara was sitting on.

Looking ahead, Catherine commented almost casually, "I didn't know you've started again." Her voice was flat but Sara still felt as if she was being scolded.

Wondering if she should be her usual arrogant self, after all Catherine did manage to bring out that side of her so effortlessly, Sara found herself muttering, "Yeah…" Rolling the cigarette between her fingers she added, "I've been hugging a bottle a lot lately. Thought I'd switch to something less likely to get me in trouble with the police." Sara was certain it wasn't wise to confirm Catherine's already present suspicions about having a bit of a drinking problem, but for the moment she didn't care.

"I see." Nodding slowly, Catherine shifted so she could look at Sara, "Switching one addiction with another, eh?"

Not saying anything for a while, taking a long drag instead, Sara turned her head away exhaling slowly, "Do you think I'd be able to switch them so easily if I truly were an addict?" She winced inwardly for that sounded a lot like a desperate attempt at justifying her own recklessness. She almost expected Catherine to call her on it.

Shrugging, Catherine only said, "I suppose not." Still looking at Sara she asked quietly, "Does it help?"

Not understanding what she meant at first, Sara shifted her gaze meeting Catherine's eyes, raising her eyebrows in question.

"Smoking." Catherine explained.

"Calms me down." Sara lied. Well, it used to anyway. "Don't you remember?" She asked.

"I remember." Catherine agreed, "But whatever got you worked up in the first place is still there."

"True." What was she supposed to say, Sara wondered. That it was easier to cover up with a mint in the morning? There were no good excuses, not that she had the desire to look for them anyway.

Taking a deep breath she admitted softly, "I'm sorry about earlier, Catherine."

Suddenly Catherine reached out and took the cigarette from Sara's hand, brushing her fingers against Sara's. She held it for a few moments as if trying to remember what it felt like, almost making Sara think she was about to take a drag herself. But instead she simply threw it to the ground and stomped on it, putting it out.

Silently wondering if Catherine knew she still had an almost full pack in her pocket, Sara was stunned to see Catherine reaching out again and covering Sara's hand with her own. She felt Catherine entwine their fingers, gently squeezing Sara's to get her attention.

Marveling at the warmth of Catherine's skin, Sara looked up from their joined hands straight into Catherine's eyes, surprised to see a little twinkle in them.

"Isn't tonight your night off?" Catherine asked. Sara merely nodded wondering why Catherine would ask. "Why don't you come over tonight? Have dinner with me and Lindsey." Catherine suggested.

Too shocked to move, much less form a coherent answer, Sara just stared at her. They were barely civil to each other all day long and now she was being asked to come to dinner?

"I'd like company for dinner and Linds asks about you all the time." Catherine rushed to explain, fearing Sara might freak out and decline. They both needed a break from work and a dinner sounded distracting enough. With Lindsey there maybe they could just make it without going at each other's throats for a couple of hours.

Raising her eyebrows, this new information being even more confusing, Sara felt a little lost. Lindsey was asking about her? They've only seen each other a handful of times. Granted they had fun the last time Catherine brought her to work, but still… Sara wasn't expecting a rebelling teen to become attached.

Catherine smiled and tried answering some of the questions she knew were forming in Sara's head, "Yes, I actually tell her you said 'hey' whenever you ask me to do so."

A small smile slowly spreading on Sara's face, she finally was able to speak again, "Can I bring anything?"

Feeling relieved Catherine smiled back, "It's not necessary." She got up pulling Sara along, "I should warn you though… Lindsey's been trying to learn how to bake. Ahem. Well, let's just say the desert might be an interesting one."

Chuckling softly, Sara assured her, "I look forward to it." Smiling broadly she gently squeezed Catherine's hand before letting go of it so she could open the door for Catherine.

Entering the building again, Catherine waited for Sara to fall in stride with her before saying, "Come by around 7. I'm on call tonight but hopefully not before 10. Nick and Warrick are supposed to hold the fort till then."

"Okay. See you at 7." Sara smiled, "Thanks for inviting me."

"I'm glad you've accepted." Catherine smiled walking away. She headed to her office, turning half way to see Sara entering the break room. A smile still safely plastered to her face, she had to admit to herself she was looking forward to their dinner too.

A phone rang loudly and Catherine rushed back inside, throwing "be right back" over her shoulder. Leaning back in her chair Sara smiled, feeling relaxed for the first time in longer than she could remember. She had been so worried about what dinner at Catherine's would bring but ended up having a great time with the Willows ladies.

Lindsey opened the door for her and threw herself around Sara's neck as if they were old war buddies and Sara loved her for that. The girl seemed thrilled to finally have Sara over and went out of her way to show her around the house while Catherine finished dinner.

Lindsey's constant chatter during dinner about school and her friends ensured no work related topic ever came up and Sara found she was truly enjoying herself in a relaxed atmosphere.

When the time came for the dreaded dessert; one nicely burned chocolate cake which tasted like punishment for every deadly sin one could ever commit, Sara had eaten two large pieces smiling all the way. She was sure she'd either choke or die trying not to. Catherine staring at her in amazement while trying to push down her own portion and keep it there certainly wasn't helping, but that bright smile full of pride on Lindsey's face kept Sara going. Nancy dropped by at nine to pick Lindsey up and Sara managed to convince Catherine to let her clean up a bit while she got ready for work, grateful beyond words when Catherine slipped two gastric pills in her hand.

So now they were sitting on Catherine's porch, drinking coffee in comfortable silence. Catherine had offered to fix her a drink but Sara settled for coffee knowing Catherine had to go back to work. When Catherine came back bringing the coffee pot with her, she seemed to look confused. She sat back facing Sara and refilled their mugs, apparently still mulling over the conversation in her head.

"Are you okay?" Sara asked worriedly.

"Yeah…" Catherine creased her brow, "That was Gil. He said he would be late tonight." Chewing her lip she looked up at Sara.

"When was the last time Grissom came late for work?" Sara asked frowning. Raising her eyebrows, Catherine found she couldn't remember if he ever did. "What's up with him lately, anyway?" Sara mused aloud, shaking her head slightly and taking a sip of delicious coffee in her hands.

Trying to decide quickly if she should say anything at all, Catherine hid behind the mug in her hands. She wasn't sure Sara even wanted to hear it. Although certain that Sara would never repeat it to anyone else it still wasn't her place to tell.

"Cath?" Sara's voice brought her attention back to the woman in front of her.

Catherine looked up realizing Sara wouldn't back down now that she was already suspicious and Catherine sure as hell wasn't about to lie to her, "Apparently… He's been seeing Lady Heather. But you didn't hear it from me."


Seeing the look of disbelief in Sara's eyes, Catherine briefly regretted the haste decision, afraid she might have made a huge mistake. Chewing on her lip again she sighed deeply then admitted to Sara, "I sort of dragged it out of him a week ago… And he would surely deny it under oath but…" Shrugging, she kept watching Sara's shocked expression, slowly starting to feel nervous. "I'm sorry." She finally managed, "I thought that thing between you was long over." Regretting even bringing it up, Catherine averted her eyes away. She realized she hated the possibility of Sara still having feelings for Grissom.

"There was never anything between us." Sara stated calmly, blank look on her face.

"Oh?" Lifting her eyebrows Catherine waited, her stomach tied in small knots.

"Except a bad case of hero worship on my part, I guess." Sara admitted looking down at her hands.

"For a while it looked like there was more to it than that." Catherine mentioned carefully.

Sara glanced at her, then nodded, "For a while I thought there could be more."

"What changed?"

"I realized it would never work out." Sara simply said, wishing they'd never started talking about it, "He's way too closed off, too emotionally unavailable. I need more than that."

"Then why does him possibly seeing someone upset you?" Catherine inquired gently, taking another sip of coffee.

"Because he asked me out that day you and I went for a drink after shift." Sara answered, looking up once Catherine started coughing in desperate attempts to swallow that one sip she took.

"He asked you out?" Catherine croaked, putting the mug down before she dropped it.

"He said he had reconsidered my offer." Sara said, then seeing Catherine's confused expression added, not looking at her, "I asked him out once."

"You asked him out?" Realizing she was starting to sound silly, Catherine tried to breathe around the lump in her throat. She knew Sara had a soft spot for Grissom but never expected her to actually be the one to make the first move.

"Three years ago, Catherine. It actually took him that long to figure things out." Sara shook her head still unable to believe she once thought he was worth waiting for. Somehow she missed the look of relief crossing Catherine's face.

'Too late now' echoed in Catherine's ears, finally she understood what that was about. Before thinking twice about it she heard herself ask, "And?"

"And nothing, I said no. Which is a really good thing considering he'd already been seeing someone else." Shifting slightly, Sara muttered, "I really don't need another Hank in my life."

Only now realizing why Sara looked so offended, Catherine felt her worries over never getting a chance with Sara dissipating only to be replaced by resentment towards her oldest friend. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself, shaking her head in disbelief.

Finishing her coffee, oblivious to Catherine's efforts to remain calm, Sara wondered bitterly, "I mean, what is it with men? Or is it just my luck, always choosing two-timing assholes?"

Hoping to lighten the mood a bit and also trying to mask her own raising anger, Catherine winked at Sara, "You're asking the wrong woman…"


Chapter 17

Feeling hot lips behind her ear she desperately tried to catch her breath after hearing the low, sexy purr, "So beautiful… all mine." Slender fingers glided over her shoulders, lightly touching her collar bone before one hand pulled her closer to the naked body behind her. The other hand tangled in her hair, pulling it back till she could feel warm breath over her cheek and an insistent wet tongue pushing its way inside her ear, lips suckling her earlobe eagerly. She moaned, shuddering in anticipation, feeling her lover's fingers brushing past her breasts while more strangled words invaded her sensitive ear, "I want to see your head thrown back and your body on fire while you moan my name over and over again…" Her breathing hitched when a knee pushed her thighs apart from behind her. She felt hands pushing her into the wall and then a single finger made its sneaky way between her legs. Her hips bucked and she could hear the grin in her lover's voice, "…so wet for me…" whimpering when the finger lightly teased her for a moment and then withdrew. She moaned louder, feeling hot kisses rain down her shoulders, roaming hands spreading fire all over her back, strong fingers kneading her backside. "Please…" She pleaded breathlessly, her legs threatening to give out.

Loud ringing sound pierced the silence of the room making Sara bolt upright, her breath labored, skin flushed, visions of Catherine's touches still all too clear, "Oh, God…"

There was another ring, this one seemingly louder than before. Tangled in the sheets, all sweaty and out of breath, her heart pounding wildly, Sara realized she needed to answer her phone if she ever wanted that awful noise to stop. Glancing at her watch she was surprised to see it was nearly 3 in the morning, "What the hell? Oh, right… it's my day off." Grabbing the phone she nearly growled, "This better be good!"

"Uhm… Miss Sidle?" The voice appeared vaguely familiar.

"Yes?" Sara answered hoarsely.

"Miss Sidle, this is warden Monroe."

Staying true to his word Grissom left Catherine in charge for a few hours. She handed out the assignments to Nick and Warrick and realized unhappily that she'd have to settle for a lonely night in the labs. Her thoughts kept drifting towards the lovely brunette; ever since that talk she had with Sara, Catherine was becoming more and more certain she should have another one with Gil too. Not being able to forget the look of hurt on Sara's face she was adamant to make sure Gil wouldn't pull another stunt. As much as she enjoyed teasing him before it simply wasn't funny anymore.

By the time he finally did show up nearly four hours into the shift, Catherine managed to work herself up quite nicely. Seeing him walking down the hall towards his office looking all calm and rested, Catherine followed and ended up nearly barging inside in a rather rude manner. Patience had not been a virtue for her these days.

"You've asked Sara out?" She barked at him.

"What?" Grissom's head shot up from the files she'd left on his desk earlier, surprised to see Catherine standing in front of him looking seriously angry.

"You've asked her out while already dating Lady Heather?" She repeated in a cold tone.

Taking his glasses off Grissom stated calmly, "I've never dated Heather, I've told you that." He leaned back in his chair.

"Right. You just eat together." Catherine didn't try to keep the sarcasm out of her words.

"Sara told you I've asked her out?" He honestly couldn't believe that the one person Sara would choose to share that with would be Catherine.

"That is not the point here, Gil." Catherine crossed her arms over her chest.

Realizing Catherine wasn't about to leave till she got her answers, Grissom sighed and decided he had nothing to lose anyway. Not much to gain either, he reasoned. "At some point I thought there could be something between Heather and me. But she was unwilling to even entertain the idea."

"So you went for the second best?" Catherine could feel her blood pressure rising and that was rarely a good sign.

"No." He said shaking his head, "I knew I blew it once before with Sara… I just had to know if she was willing to give me another chance."

"After Heather blew you off." Catherine reminded him sarcastically.

"Actually, she was the one who pointed out to me I should be following my true desires."

Snorting slightly, Catherine mumbled, "Oh, this is rich…" She kept staring at Grissom in disbelief.

"That I shouldn't miss out on opportunities to get what…" Grissom continued but was cut off, Catherine just about reaching the end of her patience.

She leaned over his desk staring at his eyes, "Let me tell you something, Gil. You've had your chances; Sara kept throwing them your way for years, waiting on you to even notice her."

"Why are you so upset with me?" He sounded genuinely surprised.

"Because I care about her." Taking a moment for her own words to sink in, having never said them out loud like that made Catherine realize how true they felt. Composing herself, she added, "And I don't want to see her hurt again. She already had enough misery in her life."

"I'd never intentionally hurt her, Catherine. I care about her too."

Catherine knew he was being honest with her. Unfortunately despite all his good intentions Sara still got hurt. "Then think about what's right and what's fair for Sara for a change." She suggested.

"I have. She doesn't want me. We're all clear on that, right? If she told you about my proposition, then she must have told you about refusing it too." Grissom reasoned bitterly. He resented being forced to explain himself like that.

"I just wanted to make sure…" The rest of her sentence cut off when Sara knocked slightly before entering, looking back and forth from Catherine to Grissom.

"Uhm… Sorry. I can come back later." Sara offered.

"No, stay. We're finished." Grissom said taking his glasses off to wipe them for no particular reason while Catherine stared at Sara, surprised to see her there.

"Something's come up…" Sara told her softly, her eyes silently asking for understanding. Searching Sara's eyes for a few moments, Catherine nodded and took the opportunity to leave.

"I'll be in my office." She said, hoping Sara would come looking for her. Passing by she lightly brushed her fingers along Sara's wrist causing her to look up again. Smiling a little Catherine walked away, leaving a confused brunette behind.

Shifting nervously, Sara moved a little closer to Grissom's desk. She took a seat and glanced towards him, noticing how uncomfortable he looked. She knew her actions yesterday morning had been inappropriate at the very least but couldn't quite bring herself to care anymore. She also knew he'd never bring it up because a part of him felt guilty for lost opportunities, another part for making her work on something hopeless. And then there was this confusion all over his face for not knowing how to comfort her and she almost felt sorry for him.

"The analyses show ignitable liquid residues in fire debris samples we took." Grissom suddenly broke the silence, choosing not to look at her.

Sara nodded, "Arson."

"Yes." He agreed. Looking up at her face he nearly shuddered seeing the cold expression in her eyes. Blinking, he added, "Black's remains have been identified. Brass put out an APB on Kiner."

"Any indication it was him?"

"No solid proof yet, no. But he's looking really good as a suspect." If his words were meant to be encouraging they certainly didn't sound like that to either of them. Clearing his throat Grissom asked gently, "What is it you wanted to talk about?"

"I need to take a few days off." Sara told him, "For real this time." She looked up to see Grissom looking worriedly at her. "I think I'll go and visit my mother."

He nodded slowly before frowning a little, "You could have told me that over the phone."

"Actually, I was going to… I thought you weren't here. I came looking for Catherine."

"I see." The confusion on his face evident, Grissom somehow pulled himself together, "Well then… Guess you got to kill two birds with one stone."

Smiling awkwardly, she muttered, "Right…" Shaking her head a little Sara stood up, not expecting him to call her name. Turning around she watched him struggle with the words he meant to utter before finally settling for, "Take care of yourself."

"Thanks, Griss." She managed a small smile before leaving.

Sitting behind her desk and flipping through the files Catherine found she couldn't concentrate. Something was wrong again, Sara wasn't supposed to be there. She felt anxious and wished she could go back to Gil's office, she needed to know and feared Sara would leave without telling her. Sara's eyes looked so sad, so different than when they parted earlier that night. She closed her eyes for a moment, remembering what it was like to hold Sara, how safe she felt in her arms even when things were falling apart around them. She walked over to the window not really seeing anything behind it, thinking back on the conversation she had with her sister. Was Nancy right? Was Sara worth the risk of having her heart broken? Was she falling or was it an illusion?

The slight knock made her turn around to see Sara walking over to her. Her heart jumped slightly in excitement, Sara did come looking for her. It wasn't until she came closer that Catherine noticed the sadness in her eyes. She looked so lost Catherine wished she could just close the distance between them and crush Sara into a hug. Their eyes met, searching, wanting to know what the other's thoughts were. Finally Catherine quietly asked, "What happened?"

"My mother had another, smaller stroke." Sara told her lowering her gaze to the floor, "They fear her condition may be deteriorating."

"Oh Sara…" Catherine felt torn between doing what she wanted to do and trying to figure out what Sara needed her to do. Still, she came closer and took Sara's hand in hers.

"I've booked a flight for San Francisco. I'm leaving in two hours, I need to be in Chowchilla by morning. I just... I didn't want to leave without telling you." She chanced a glance towards Catherine, trying to smile a little but failing miserably when she saw the look in Catherine's eyes.

Moments later Catherine's resolve crumbled and she wrapped Sara in a hug, murmuring softly, "I'm so sorry." Sara relaxed into the embrace and closed her eyes feeling one of Catherine's hands slide up to tangle in her hair.

Catherine reluctantly pulled back a little to look at the younger woman. Her hands still holding Sara's, she found the answer she'd been looking for in those chocolate pools looking back at her softly. Sara was worth it all, she now knew for sure. "Are you okay?" Catherine asked worriedly.

Sara shrugged, whispering, "It's just something I need to do." Watching her closely, Catherine knew Sara was trying not to show how much she was actually panicking. Nearly certain it was something Sara would never admit to her, Catherine was surprised to hear the quiet admission, "Although I'm not sure… if I'm strong enough to do it."

Smiling a little, trying to mask just how touched and privileged she felt to be the person Sara trusted enough to share her fears with, Catherine informed her softly, "You're the strongest person I've ever met." Her eyes never leaving Sara's, Catherine noticed a deep blush threatening to spread all over the lovely face in front of her. Not wanting to embarrass the shy woman she tried changing the subject, "How long will you stay?"

"I'm not sure. A couple of days I think." Sara shrugged, grateful for the escape. She couldn't quite bring herself to start pondering what exactly Catherine meant by saying what she had said. "Nicky could help you with the case." She added.

"Don't worry about that." Catherine gently brushed Sara's knuckles wondering if it was helping her at all, if her touch meant anything to Sara.

Sara lowered her gaze before starting another round of apologizing, "Catherine, I'm sorry about reopening the…"

Catherine surprised her by cutting her off, "Sara, don't. It's not your fault."

Sara looked up confused, "But it's not looking good…"

"Doesn't matter. There are other things you need to worry about now."

"It's not over yet." Sara said and Catherine just nodded. Both unwilling to let go of each other, they stood there looking into each other's eyes till Sara lost her nerve and looked away, "I should get going." She couldn't trust herself being this close to Catherine.

"Okay." Catherine's voice wavered. Letting go slowly and missing the warmth of Sara's hands immediately, Catherine offered, "Call me if you need to talk, okay?"

"Thank you." Sara smiled. She felt awkward, almost as if things were somehow left undone between them. Not wanting to leave feeling that way, Sara leaned forward and kissed Catherine's cheek softly, leaving the blonde speechless. She turned away and left quietly, not seeing a small smile slowly spreading on Catherine's face.


Chapter 18

Instead of cleaning the house or shopping for groceries Catherine found herself doing what she'd always refused to do, bringing work home on her night off. She spent hours staring at the computer screen trying to find a match for that intricate tattoo design their only eyewitness provided. How he managed to see anything at all in the dark was beyond her, but his drawing lacked details and Catherine couldn't find a single studio or body artist that would recognize it.

She heard Lindsey coming down the stairs and then smelled the familiar cloud of perfume which seemed to have been following her daughter around these days. Shaking her head, Catherine decided it was still better than having to watch her waltz around with her hair up in the air. That phase thankfully ended one morning when the neighbor's three-year-old ran away screaming once he spotted Lindsey in the driveway.

"Are you getting a tattoo?" Lindsey joked, catching a glimpse of the drawing Catherine had been holding.

"No." Catherine growled not looking up, "And neither are you."

Lindsey rolled her eyes and came closer, peering over Catherine's shoulder, "It's nice." Catherine turned her head a little to look at her daughter and saw her frowning slightly. "May I see that?" Lindsey asked taking the drawing from her mother's hands. She studied it carefully for a few moments then nodded her head, "I thought it looked familiar. I know a guy with a tattoo just like this one."

Catherine slowly turned around in her chair facing Lindsey, shooting her a stern look. Lindsey sighed recognizing that look in her mother's eyes which usually appeared moments before she'd start yelling, "Relax, mom. He sells ice-cream on the bus station just across the school."

"Since when?" Catherine asked surprised. She couldn't remember seeing any ice-cream parlors near Lindsey's school.

"I'm not sure…" Lindsey admitted, "Since about a week ago, maybe." She watched her mother in confusion, not understanding why that would matter.

Catherine froze at the thought of her little girl possibly having a contact with a psychopath, even a casual one as it seemed. Her mind racing frantically, she remembered the victims tox screens showed the presence of a barbiturate mostly used for euthanizing horses. Was it possible he was putting it in ice-cream? With the drug depressing the central nervous system the unconsciousness would soon follow, he would have to act fast. It just didn't seem likely. Maybe it was just his way of finding new victims, making contact with them before he started stalking them. Lindsey's voice brought Catherine back, "Mom, what is it?"

Catherine got up and gently pulled the confused girl towards the couch. They both took a seat before Catherine asked, "Lindsey… Could you describe that man to me?"

The look in her mother's eyes full of expectation distracting her, Lindsey looked away so she could concentrate. She seemed thoughtful for a moment before saying, "He's really tall. Like… Like Sara, but taller. And he always wears a baseball cap, but I saw him once take it off for a moment…" She chanced a glance at her mother, "He's bald."

Too shocked to move, Catherine could feel a chill going up her spine. "His skin is really pale, looks unusual." Lindsey went on, confirming her mother's numerous suspicions, "He always wears sunglasses, even when it's gloomy. And Jimmy from my class noticed his arms, he said they didn't have a hair on them and started cracking jokes, like he must be shaving them for some reason but I told him he was being silly, the guy could be albino…"

Catherine gently cupped Lindsey's face stopping her daughter's endless monologue, "Baby, this tattoo… Where does he have it?"

"On his back. He once leaned over the ice-chest and that's when I saw it."

Catherine took a deep breath and wrapped Lindsey in a crushing hug. "Mom… the ribs… Ugh, can't breathe!" Her daughter complained.

"Love hurts." Mumbled Catherine before releasing her hold to stare in her daughter's eyes, her voice shaking, "Lindsey… I don't want you going near that man ever again."

"Why?" Lindsey frowned, "He's really nice."

"He could be very, very dangerous." Catherine explained getting up from the couch and reaching for her phone, "But don't you worry… He won't get a chance to hurt anyone else."

Standing in complete silence at the foot of her mother's bed, Sara watched her unmoving body for long moments. Laura appeared to be sleeping. Her breathing was even, pale color of her skin blending with the sheets covering her body, leaving Sara with an unsettling feeling in her stomach. It felt strange seeing her like this. So… unnaturally still. Not posing a threat to anyone. A needle protruded from the vein in her wrist and Sara noticed for the first time her mother's other hand had been cuffed to the bed. It almost seemed ridiculous to think someone in her condition might try to escape but Sara knew exactly what her mother was capable of, no matter how ill.

Her eyes traveled across Laura's face, it was hard not to notice she was still as beautiful as ever. For some strange reason the years had been particularly kind to this woman, preserving her features and leaving her face unmarred with scars or wrinkles, her long dark hair graying slightly the only sign she was aging at all. She looked as if she had never had a worry in her life. One would expect all those years of hard drinking, all the beatings and abuse or at least twenty years of doing time would have scarred her somehow. Surely they must have or she wouldn't be lying here today, fighting for that misery she called life. But looking at her this helpless and weak who would have ever thought such a ruthless being lied beneath.

She looked smaller somehow, more slender than before, and Sara almost had to fight the urge to take her hand. She didn't dare come closer, old fears still uncomfortably stirring inside her. Shaking her head slightly as if to clear her mind from all the images coming back to haunt her, Sara took a deep breath. She released it slowly only to have her traitorous heart start beating frantically the moment Laura moved her head to the side and opened her eyes.

And there it was, suddenly in front of Sara again. That familiar cold, unwavering look in her mother's green eyes. The eyes she once loved but never trusted, never had them gazing at her lovingly, never knew that look to be soft. She used to dream about them; they haunted her for years, making her wake screaming in sweat. She used to fear looking at them, too afraid to see which emotion they held. And now here she was, staring at them wide eyed, aware of nothing but their emptiness.

"Well, well…" Laura croaked, her voice hoarse but still familiar. Sara flinched a little before putting her stoic mask again. "Never thought I'd live to see the day." Her mother mumbled, slight smirk spreading on her lips.

Not getting any kind of response from her daughter yet, Laura cocked her head a little, "What's the matter, Sara? Wouldn't want to come too close, eh?"

It wasn't before that moment that Sara noticed something being slightly off. Watching her mother try to form words she realized the entire left side of her face had been palsied. She gulped, averting her eyes for a moment to rest them on a bottle of water on the bedside table. Slowly coming closer, ignoring her mother's gaze long enough to fill the glass and put a straw in it, Sara brought it to her mother's lips.

"Have some water." She offered softly, surprised her hands weren't shaking.

"I don't remember asking you for anything." Laura remarked coldly.

Looking into her mother's eyes Sara patiently repeated, "Have some water. You need it." Her dry throat causing her to relent, Laura accepted the straw that was gently brought to her lips.

Setting the glass aside Sara pulled a chair and took a seat close to the bed. Catching Sara's wandering gaze where it landed, her mother smirked, "Like my bracelet?"

Nodding a little, Sara mumbled, "You always did have funny taste in jewelry."

Neither thought it funny. Their eyes finally meeting again, Laura asked with maddening calmness in her voice, "Twenty years, Sara. What the hell are you doing here?"

Sara hadn't said a word. She kept staring in her mother's eyes, searching them in hope there would be some emotion there, something she could recognize.

"Just don't tell me you've missed me." Her mother challenged.

"I wasn't going to." Sara leaned back in her chair.

"What is it then? Came to say goodbye?" Her eyebrows raising slightly, Laura added, "You really shouldn't have bothered… I don't plan on croaking just yet."

Sara nodded her head for the lack of more suitable response. She really couldn't tell how she should be responding to the ridiculous conversation they seemed to be having. She finally found herself asking, "Are you in pain?"

Laura snorted, "Off course not Sara, it's a fucking picnic!" She closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them devoid of any feeling, asking more slowly, "What do you want?"

Sara watched her calmly, trying to think of what it was she indeed wanted. When she failed to come up with an answer Laura tried guessing bitterly, "Explanations?"

Shaking her head, certain at least that no amount of explaining could ever make her understand, Sara quietly answered, "No." Her eyes traveled across Laura's face, wondering if this estrangement existing so painfully between them had ever not been there.

"You want me to ask forgiveness?" The nearly mocking tone to her mother's voice brought Sara's attention back to the present, "To say what? That I'm sorry?"

"Are you?" Sara finally asked quietly.

"No." She sounded so at peace, "He had it coming. We all get what we deserve."

"Did I get it?" Sara asked, feeling the old familiar anger resurfacing, making it hard for her to control her voice, "Did Steven?" She stared relentlessly in her mother's eyes.

"I can't change the past, Sara."

"It's not just about the past." Sara reminded her, "Your actions affected our entire lives."

"And his hadn't?" Laura asked not backing down under Sara's harsh gaze. They stared at each other for long moments before Laura finally said, "I can't give you what you want." She turned her head away from her daughter, making it clear to Sara she considered their conversation finished.

"Did you ever care at all?" Sara couldn't help asking, "Did you ever wonder what happened to us afterwards?"

"Stop fishing for my remorse, Sara. There's none left." Laura told her not turning to look at her. Her gaze seemed distant, not really allowing her to see anything.

Taking a long look at her mother, Sara said more to herself, "There never was any." She stood up without another word and started walking away.

"You look just like him." Laura's voice came after her, rooting her to the spot.

Turning around to look at her mother's face once more, Sara brokenly whispered, "I know."

She watched her mother till Laura again turned her head away, her voice more quiet than before, "Do us both a favor. Don't come back."

There really was nothing left to be said. All they could do was stare at that old ever growing abyss between them. Past could not be undone, the future did not exist for them. And spending present moments together simply felt unbearable.

It wasn't until she got out of the room and reached the end of the hallway that Sara broke down sobbing.

Part 19

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