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 19

A day had passed with no word from her favorite brunette but Catherine's thoughts kept drifting towards her. She hated the fact Sara had to face it all alone. Curled up on her bed, her mind slowly replaying the moments when she had Sara in her arms, Catherine was just beginning to drift off when her cell started ringing. Startled, she reached out to grab it and knocked down the book she had been trying to read earlier. Still lying, cursing under her breath, she pressed the phone against her cheek not remembering to check the caller, "Willows."

"Did I wake you?" Sara's voice sounded distant in her ear.

"Sara?" Catherine shot up in her bed, her heart beating wildly, "Where are you?"

"In Vegas… I'm in my car." Sara paused to prepare herself for the request she was about to make, hoping Catherine wouldn't see it as stepping over the line. "Can I come over?" She asked in a small voice.

Letting out a breath she had been unconsciously holding, Catherine closed her eyes. Someone out there must have heard her pleas tonight. "Come over." She said, smiling a little.

"Thank you." Sara whispered, "See you soon."

With that the line went dead. Catherine jumped out of her bed and not bothering to check her appearance quickly wrapped herself in a bathrobe and dashed down the stairs. The brunette's shaky voice worrying her to no end, she was sure something very wrong must have happened. It was just too soon for Sara to be back already. Before Catherine managed to decide if she should put the kettle on she heard a car pulling in her driveway.

Sara didn't even get the chance to knock; the door opened revealing her blonde obsession looking at her wide eyed with worry. Catherine's hair was mussed from her sleep, her cheeks a little flushed and Sara decided she had never looked as gorgeous as right then. Their eyes met and there almost was no need to talk. Sara tried smiling but her eyes were brimming with tears and she knew she could never fool Catherine. She shrugged, not sure she could form words around the lump in her throat and Catherine just came closer and reached out her hand. Sara took it and walked into the warm embrace. She allowed Catherine to pull her closer till all she cold feel was Catherine's arms around her, her soft neck providing the only place Sara felt safe to hide in, Catherine's steady heartbeat against her calming her shattered nerves.

"That bad?" Catherine whispered feeling Sara's strong body shaking in her arms. Sara only tightened her hold and snuggled closer and Catherine had to close her eyes to stop the tears from spilling. She caressed Sara's back, her hair, the little words coming to her mind, things she wanted to say to Sara or to call her. But they didn't share words like those; all she could have for now was this sensation of having Sara so close and the knowledge she was the one Sara chose to come to.

She could feel Sara relaxing slightly and sighed in relief. "Come inside." She whispered close to Sara's ear. Pulling away slightly and seeing that lost look in Sara's eyes again, she reached for her hand. Entwining their fingers Catherine led her in.

"Are you hungry?" She asked while helping Sara out of her jacket.

Shaking her head Sara sat on the couch. She looked up to see Catherine standing in front of her, unsure of what to do. "I did wake you…" She mumbled, as if only then noticing how tired Catherine looked.

Catherine sat next to her, "So what?" The gentleness in her voice causing Sara to meet her eyes again, she watched a small line of worry appear on Catherine's forehead and wished she could reach out and brush it away.

"I'm sorry." Sara offered quietly.

"I'm not." Catherine smiled a little, adding, "You look like you could use some rest too." When Sara averted her eyes and failed to respond, Catherine offered, "I have a guestroom you could use. What do you say?" Sara simply nodded.

"You remember where it is?" Catherine asked standing up.

"Yeah." Sara nodded again. Lindsey did make sure to show her every corner of the house and Sara smiled a little at the fond memory. "Lindsey's not here?" She asked, thinking how she'd love to see her favorite pouting rebel.

"She's still at my sister's." Catherine told her and Sara nodded and hung her head. "I'll go find some fresh clothes for you to sleep in." Catherine added leaving the room.

Sara took her boots off and padded to the guestroom. When Catherine came through the door carrying a T-shirt and a pair of shorts she found Sara sitting on the edge of the bed, her back to the door. She was staring through the window and looked completely lost in thought. Catherine waited a while, not sure if Sara even realized she was no longer alone in the room. Her breath got caught in her throat when Sara turned to look at her and Catherine noticed silent tears trickling down her cheeks.

"Sara…" Catherine whispered, dropping the clothes on the bed and moving to sit next to the crying woman. Sara looked away, nervously wiping the tears away and felt Catherine's hand reaching for her own. Warm fingers gently entwined with hers, making Sara look up and see the desperation in Catherine's soft eyes. "Talk to me, Sara." Catherine pleaded, "I'm here. Just talk to me… Let it out."

Averting her eyes Sara looked as if trying to find the words. Shrugging a little, she wouldn't look up again and Catherine worried she shouldn't have asked. A broken voice reached her ears, "Nothing's changed."

The meaning eluding her, Catherine frowned, "What do you mean?"

"She hasn't changed…" Sara mumbled absentmindedly. She felt cold, the only warmth coming from the body sitting next to her. She couldn't understand why the tears wouldn't stop. For so many years she refused to shed a single tear and now it felt like all her anger melted away and she had no control of them left. "She's still so distant… So cold." Sara whispered.

Her heart breaking at seeing Sara so upset, Catherine didn't know what to do. She never got the chance to say anything because Sara went on, "On my way there, I tried to imagine the changes one undergoes when in prison so long. I tried to anticipate the difference I might notice once I get there." Frowning a little, thinking that must have sounded like she was rambling, Sara tried explaining, "I figured if I thought about those changes in advance, I'd be able to recognize them in her. And I think I looked pretty hard… But she hasn't changed at all."

Catherine slowly let go of the hand she had been holding long enough to wrap her arm over Sara's shoulders. She couldn't stand to watch Sara tremble and not give into her need to hold her close. It seemed to have helped calm Sara a little and the brunette continued, "I don't think I've ever feared anyone as much as I feared my own mother. I've never felt wanted. It was as if I've always been in her way somehow… An obstacle. An annoyance. I've spent years trying to understand why she had had me at all."

Catherine's fingers rubbing her back, comforting her, Sara found she could actually relax enough to go on without fearing she would be questioned or judged. "She wasn't hurting me all the time, most of the time she didn't even notice me. Like I wasn't there at all…" Her voice wavered a little, "That actually hurt more than any physical pain she ever brought upon me. Her ignorance."

Choking on her tears Catherine desperately tried to stay calm for Sara's sake and not interrupt, hoping it might help her if she said all those things aloud. Struggling to calm her breathing she listened as Sara kept talking, "I could never understand how someone so insensitive, so cruel… could look so beautiful. When she was younger there was an almost angelic look to her face." Her eyes glazed from all the memories rushing back, Sara blinked to clear her vision, "She could fool me so easily. I never could tell when the mood swings would occur, it always happened so suddenly, no warnings. One moment she would look like all was right in her world and then she would suddenly lose it completely." Biting on her lower lip, Sara's face darkened, "God, she could scream… Things were flying around, slaps followed, hits, blows…"

Catherine closed her eyes for a few moments fighting the anger at this woman she had never met. She took a deep breath and focusing on Sara's trembling body continued the soothing motions with her hand. "My entire childhood is like a big blur in my head… it's all mixed together, no beginning and no end." Sara told her after a while, "Somewhere along the way the edges lost the sharpness. And I managed to dull the pain, tune it down at least."

Tears falling down her cheeks, her chin shaking uncontrollably, she tried to form more words, "The worst thing is… I don't fear her any more. She's just a sick woman who will either die of another stroke or go back to prison where no one gives a damn anyway." Wiping her tears away with the back of her hand, Sara looked up into Catherine's eyes for a brief moment, "I'm not scared any more. Now I just feel sorry for her. And it's all in vain…" Shaking her head a little she tried finding words to explain, "She never felt remorse for anything she had ever done. And I don't know if I can stand holding so much grief inside knowing it could never be relieved." Looking up again she met Catherine's tearful gaze and asked just audibly enough, "How can you give forgiveness to someone who simply doesn't care?"

Catherine had no answers. She did the only thing she could think of and pulled Sara in a hug. Nothing mattered in that moment but the precious woman in her arms. She knew she'd do anything, give anything, go anywhere for Sara. She finally let the tears fall freely, complete despair for not knowing how to stop Sara's pain washing over her in waves she feared would drown her. A single loud sob escaped her lips at the thought she had never loved anyone so completely like this woman she had never even kissed.

Sara heard the muffled cries and turned slightly in Catherine's arms, burying her face into her neck, pulling her closer. She felt so much love for her she thought her heart would overflow but didn't dare look into Catherine's eyes, afraid of facing the pain she put there. Catherine's arms wrapped around her tightly making Sara feel safe and for once in her life it didn't make her feel weak to lean on someone else.

Not sure where to go from there and not wanting to let go, Catherine's heart leaped a little upon hearing the soft whisper coming from the brunette, "Stay… Please." She kissed the top of Sara's head before letting go.

"Lie down." Catherine told her gently, getting up from the bed to switch off the light.

Not bothering to change or move the blankets away, Sara did as she was asked and opened her arms to the other woman, waiting for Catherine to lie next to her. She wrapped her in a hug, burying her face in Catherine's hair when the blonde lowered her head on Sara's shoulder. "Thank you." She mumbled tiredly, feeling Catherine's arm tightening its hold around her.

The sleep claiming her, wrapping its fluffy edges around her, Sara sank into the safety of Catherine. A sensation of being held so close overwhelming her, she relaxed and let the gentle darkness descend upon them, one thought still not going away… 'I love you. And some day you'll know.'

The unfamiliar sound pierced through the silence and Sara groaned unhappily. She blindly reached out picking up the phone. Still half asleep she mumbled, "Sidle."

There was a pause and then a familiar yet very unexpected voice stuttered in her ear, "Uhm… Sara?"

Opening her eyes slowly she found herself smiling at the sight of Catherine sprawled all over her still holding her tightly, her face buried into Sara's shoulder. She realized their legs were entwined and marveled at the feel of Catherine's body so close to hers, her hair soft underneath Sara's fingertips. "Sara?" There was that voice again. Oh, right, she picked up the phone. Frowning slightly at the realization whom it belonged to, she asked in confusion, "Griss?"

"Ahm… Uhm…" For once he seemed out of words, "Uh. I wasn't expecting to hear your voice."

"Then why did you call me?" She mumbled suppressing a yawn.

"Actually… I could have sworn I've dialed Catherine's number." He sounded confused.

"Oh… right." Gazing softly at the still sleeping blonde in her arms, Sara nodded against the phone in her hand, "You have." When Grissom remained quiet she added, "She's still asleep, so… What's up?"

"Well…" He paused and Sara closed her eyes again, preparing herself for the questions she was sure would follow. "You need to wake her." He said after a while.

Sara frowned suspiciously, "Why?"

"Lindsey cracked your case."


Chapter 20

Deciding to drive to work together the two women found themselves lost in their thoughts. Sara kept speeding, her mind busy trying to wrap itself around everything that had happened. Stealing glances at her, Catherine watched the familiar determined look on her face. She woke up to find Sara pacing up and down her room while talking on the phone in a hushed voice. The memory of that confused look on Sara's face once she turned and realized she was being watched making her smile, Catherine dropped her gaze. "What?" Sara unexpectedly asked still looking ahead.

Looking up at the brunette again, Catherine raised her eyebrow, "What?"

Stopping at the red light Sara turned towards her, "I asked you first." Trying to keep a straight face she kept staring into Catherine's eyes.

Catherine finally chuckled and looked away shaking her head, "Dork." earning herself an amused snort from Sara. Still inwardly cursing Gil's lousy timing which robbed her of a chance to wake in Sara's arms again, Catherine thought back on their afternoon. They never got around to talking more about Sara's mother nor their case for that matter. When she recognized Sara's car in their driveway, Lindsey came bursting through the front door dragging her aunt along. Nancy left rather quickly and the three of them managed to grab some dinner together. Before they knew it it was already time to leave for work so they've dropped Linds back at Nancy's and were now riding in companionable silence.

"You think Griss will want to hire Lindsey?" Sara joked, hoping to make Catherine smile again. The reality of Catherine's little girl getting so close to the very same psychotic killer they've been trying to catch crashed them both pretty hard.

Catherine smiled a little, "God, I hope not." As Sara was pulling over she mumbled more to herself, "I can't stop thinking what if he had been after girls…" She felt Sara's hand on her shoulder and turned towards her, her eyes filled with tears.

"Don't do this to yourself, Catherine." Sara pleaded softly, "She's okay." Nodding, Catherine looked away. Sara's voice made her look up again, "And so am I. Thank you for being there for me."

Seeing Nick rushing towards them with Brass hot on his trail, Catherine smiled and gently promised, "You can always come to me Sara." Leaving the brunette to work out the meaning on her own, she turned and opened the door, "Come on. Let's see what they've found."

As it turned out, a man matching Lindsey's description had indeed been selling ice-cream on the bus station and once the officers from Brass's team approached their suspect, the guy started running. He didn't get very far and instead of bringing him in for questioning they ended up arresting him after he assaulted one of the officers. They managed to identify him and Grissom wouldn't waste any time so he went searching the suspect's apartment with Brass. By the time Sara and Catherine arrived there was already a pile of evidence waiting for them to be processed, which kept them busy for nearly entire shift. The guy wouldn't talk but the evidence spoke loud enough and the whole team was finally able to sigh in relief.

A cup of Greg's heavenly smelling coffee in her hand, Catherine just got off the phone with Nancy. Her daughter had safely arrived at school and Catherine was already looking forward to going home and taking that long bath she promised herself. The shift nearly over, she went in search of Sara hoping to maybe get the brunette to have breakfast with her.

Not being able to find her and already considering paging her, she overheard Nick telling Warrick it was about time Sara found someone. Apparently some guy came to see her; she was called from the reception just a while ago. Warrick seemed as uninterested as usual, Catherine however suddenly felt sick.

Forgetting all about breakfast, hot rush of jealousy blinding her to her surroundings, she picked up her purse and almost ran out of the break room. She knew she had no right feeling that way and couldn't explain where it was coming from, but she was sure she could strangle anyone who might come between them now. Halting once she spotted Sara striding down the hall to the main exit, Catherine took a deep breath to calm herself a little and continued walking.

Sara walked out of the building unaware of Catherine following her and soon enough there was a tall dark man approaching her, smiling brightly. He opened his arms widely and waited for her to walk right into his embrace, breaking Catherine's heart.

Unable to tear herself from the sight of them standing in the middle of the parking lot not breaking their embrace, Catherine's panicked mind kept racing. 'Why hasn't she kissed him yet?' She wondered silently. Rubbing her face with her hands, not sure whether she was more furious with Sara or herself, Catherine finally shook her head and decided she had seen enough. Exiting the building she quickly got to her car and drove off like a maniac.

Shocked out of the warm embrace by the sound of screeching tires, Sara turned in time to see Catherine's SUV leaving a cloud of dust behind and felt the panic rising.

"What's wrong?" Her companion asked.

"I… Uhm. I have to take care of something. Here… take the keys, get a cab and go home. Get some rest. There's food in the fridge… I'll be home shortly." Kissing his cheek she turned away and hurried to her car.

Speeding away, Sara tried calling Catherine on the phone, worried out of her mind that something had happened to Lindsey. She couldn't think of any other reason why Catherine would leave in such a rush. Praying to anyone who'd listen that the little girl was all right, all the while imagining all kinds of bad scenarios, Sara hardly noticed anything around her. Breaking every speed limit out there she pulled into Catherine's driveway moments after Catherine and jumped out of the car.

Running to her door she kept ringing and knocking at the same time, "Catherine!! Catherine, open the door!" Tears clouding her view, she didn't think she'd be able to handle it if anything did happen. "Catherine!" She was stunned to silence when Catherine indeed opened the door, her hair a mess, eyes red from all the crying and staring wide at her.

"What are you doing here?" Catherine croaked not recognizing her own voice.

Sara just hugged her fiercely making Catherine's breath catch in her throat, "Christ Catherine, what happened? Why did you rush off like that? Is Lindsey all right?" The questions kept pouring out of her. She grabbed Catherine by the shoulders and looked her straight in the eye, "Please tell me Lindsey's okay…"

The pure desperation in Sara's voice making her push her anger aside, Catherine quietly said, "She's fine… Lindsey's fine."

Taking her first deep breath and blinking away the tears that kept pouring down her face anyway, Sara gently stroked Catherine's tear stained face, "Thank God… Then why did you leave like that?"

Stepping away from Sara's touch Catherine defiantly ignored the plea in Sara's eyes, "I think you should leave now Sara."

She tried turning away but Sara stopped her, grabbing her hands, "Why, Catherine?"

"Go away, please." Catherine tried pulling her hands away but Sara would have none of it.

"I'm not going anywhere till you tell me what is going on!" Sara demanded.

"Nothing's going on. Please leave." Finding the courage to look Sara in the eye, Catherine added coldly, "You don't want to keep a guy waiting for too long. He might get impatient."

Stunned once more, Sara shook her head as if to clear it, "What?" She couldn't for the life of her understand what Catherine was talking about.

Rolling her eyes Catherine snorted, "Oh, please!" She felt ridiculous for ever allowing herself to believe their afternoon together meant something to Sara too. "Let go of me." She just wanted to leave before breaking down in front of Sara.

"What guy, Catherine?" Sara asked not letting go. The day was just getting more strange by the second.

"The one you're apparently seeing." Catherine mumbled through clenched teeth.

Staring at Catherine in shock, Sara couldn't decide what was more confusing; Catherine thinking she was seeing someone or the fact it would matter to her this much. "I'm not seeing anyone." Sara said after a while.

Locking eyes with her Catherine smirked, "Oh, sorry. My mistake. I wasn't aware you like hugging strangers for kicks." Watching Sara shake her head incredulously, Catherine sighed and gave in, thinking there was no point in any of it anyway. This conversation really needed to end. "I saw you hugging this big hunk of a man in the parking lot, Sara. And why wouldn't you? He seemed like a good looking guy."

Closing her eyes in sudden realization and mumbling, "Oh… good God, Catherine," Sara pulled Catherine closer and affectively cut off anything else she might have wanted to say by telling her, "That was my brother you saw. Steven."

Catherine just stared at her, mouth agape.

"I haven't seen him in 5 years, he lives in France. He wanted to visit mother before they transfer her back to the Valley State Prison and promised he'd come to see me before going back home." Sara finished quietly.

Unable to contain them any longer the tears spilled from Catherine's eyes and she collapsed in Sara's arms. Deep sobs wrecking her body, she held onto Sara with all her might, her tears breaking Sara's heart all over again.

"Ssshhh… Oh sweetheart, please don't cry…" Sara pleaded desperately, "Please Catherine."

"I'm sorry… so sorry." Catherine kept sobbing uncontrollably.

"What are you sorry for?" Sara kept gently rubbing Catherine's back in a comforting motion, "Everything will be okay…" One hand buried in Catherine's hair, Sara's fingers gently stroked her neck. Unwilling to let go of Sara, not sure if she could even find enough strength to look into her eyes, Catherine buried her face deeper into Sara's neck and held her tightly.

She wished she could hide there forever, the warmth of Sara's body enveloping her. The faint sent of shower gel still lingered on Sara's skin making Catherine's desire for her almost unbearable. Knew round of sobs shaking her violently once she remembered just how much she wanted Sara, Catherine felt Sara softly kissing the top of her head, pleading with her, "Please sweetheart, tell me what's wrong. Let me help you… please."

Something shifted inside of Catherine upon hearing the desperation in Sara's voice. The small endearment that kept falling so easily from Sara's lips not lost on Catherine, she looked up into chocolate eyes full of tears and her breath caught in her throat. She was lost.

Feeling Sara's fingers tenderly stroking her cheeks, not able to deny her feelings any more, Catherine leaned in and captured Sara's lips with her own. There was a brief moment of hesitation and then she thought her heart would burst when she felt Sara tentatively responding to her. Wrapping her arms around Sara's neck Catherine pulled her closer kissing her more passionately. Overjoyed to feel Sara's tongue lightly brushing her lower lip, Catherine opened her mouth. Her tongue darting out, sliding alongside Sara's, she moaned feeling Sara's hands slide down her back to rest on her hips before pulling her closer.

Sara was in heaven. She couldn't believe this was happening, the sensation of Catherine's mouth firmly on hers stirring wild passion deep within her. She couldn't stop kissing those luscious lips so hot beneath her own. Lightly suckling Catherine's lower lip she was delighted to hear another small moan escaping Catherine's throat.

The reality of where they were hitting Catherine out of nowhere, she reluctantly pulled away a little and buried her face back into its hiding place underneath Sara's chin. Placing small kisses down her throat she inhaled the sweet sent of Sara's skin, trying to get her ragged breathing under control.

"Wow…" She muttered, her warm breath tickling Sara's sensitive skin, "I've wanted to do that for a long time."

Tilting Catherine's head upwards, amazement washing over her at the quiet admission and pure honesty pouring from those lovely eyes, Sara traced the lines of Catherine's still swollen lips with her finger. She watched as Catherine's eyes fluttered shut, her breathing quickening again. Unable to resist, Sara leaned down and slowly kissed the soft lips again, "Me too."

"What took us so long?" Murmured Catherine against Sara's lips before losing herself in another kiss quickly deepened by Sara's insistent tongue. She apparently wasn't the slightest bit worried about them making a spectacle of themselves on Catherine's doorstep.

Her fingers buried in Catherine's hair, their lips still locked securely, Sara groaned when her cell phone started ringing. Shuddering at the feel of Catherine's lips lowering onto her neck again, Sara answered her phone, her voice low and dangerous, "What?!" Catherine looked up to see Sara's features softening once she recognized her brother's voice. "Steven… No, everything's all right. Yeah, I'll be there shortly. Try to get some rest." She clicked her phone shut and kissed Catherine's forehead, "I'm sorry Cath… I have to go." Bringing her hand to Catherine's face she gently wiped the tears away.

"It's okay." Whispered Catherine looking into Sara's darkened eyes. Her face still flushed, lips slightly apart and a small smile slowly spreading, Sara looked more beautiful then she could remember ever seeing her. Fighting the urge to grab her and pull her down for another kiss, just the thought of it making her breath hitch, Catherine added quickly, "Don't stay away too long."

"I won't." Sara gently brushed her fingers across Catherine's cheek, "We need to talk about this…"

"I hate that line." Catherine murmured, leaning into the touch with her eyes closed.

Smiling a little Sara admitted, "Normally, so do I. But you know I'm right."

"Which would suggest that I am not. I hate that too."

Sara leaned down and captured Catherine's lips once more before purring in her ear, "You're sexy when you pout..." Feeling Catherine shudder against her she pulled away, shocked to see something raw and wild burning in Catherine's eyes. Gulping, she let go of Catherine while she still had the presence of mind to do it and promised hoarsely, "I'll call, okay? Maybe we could get together before the next shift?"

Catherine nodded, "I'll wait."

Part 21

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