DISCLAIMER: I do not own these characters; please forgive my treading on any toes. I do it only for my sanity.
AUTHOR'S NOTE 1: Written for the Dead of Winter Femslash Advent Calendar, December 2nd.
AUTHOR'S NOTE 2: I realize this is not a Christmas story but I thought 2nd December was a little too early for a Christmas theme and so I thought "steps" = "Advent"
SPOILERS: Weeping Willows, Grave Danger, Secrets and Flies.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Getting There Takes Three Small Steps
Step 1: Coming Together
Catherine Willows was lost: figuratively if not literally.
It had been two weeks since Nick Stokes' near miss at the hands of a madman and Catherine was desperate for some peace. Nearly losing her colleague so soon after making an ass of herself in Gil Grissom's eyes troubled the normally self assured woman. Her professional confidence was shot and her personal life was following it down the drain.
Almost too late she had realised that she was losing her daughter. Changing to day shift had seemed to be a perfect solution to her growing estrangement from the young girl and yet that goddamn buffoon, Conrad Ecklie, had ruined even that plan. Swing shift just wasn't working for Catherine: she was still struggling to spend time with her daughter, at logger heads with her mother, unhappy at work, and totally alone. The willowy blonde had always lived her life surrounded by friends: male, female, boyfriends, girlfriends, young, old - it didn't matter who, Catherine would have got along with them. Until now she would have been surrounded by people who loved her, but now, now, she was lonely and it hurt.
Recent developments, or non-developments to be precise, meant she was determined to regain her daughter's trust above all else. She was going to spend time with her daughter whenever possible and her loneliness would have to wait. That was why she was surveying the beach area of the Mandalay Hotel's pool complex. Lindsay was enjoying some time with her school friend and the blonde mother was going to finally have some quiet downtime of her own, time to sit back and enjoy her favorite author while Lindsay enjoyed the wave pool. As a high pitched screech shattered her reverie, she thought, wryly how rarely practice followed theory.
Looking for somewhere to sit Catherine spotted a brunette that appeared somewhat familiar. Her gaze was hampered by the milling bathers and so she continued on towards the small bar area, certain that, she could allow herself one tall highball. As she waited Catherine was surprised to hear the voice she associated with the lissom brunette she had seemingly glimpsed. The voice was instantly recognizable and yet completely different than normal. Listening carefully Catherine realized the ambiguity came from the different intonation. Normally, she heard the voice with a cold, moody, 'I'll talk to you if I must' tone: today the voice held a warm, rich, 'I'm so glad to be here' tone, and Catherine couldn't believe her ears had gotten the owner correct.
Instantly forgetting her drink the blonde was drawn towards the puzzle in front of her. Sure enough the owner of the voice was sitting astride a deckchair. With a start Catherine saw that said brunette, hitherto known as a lonely recluse, was sitting with the arms of a very young man wrapped around her shoulders as he kissed the top of her head tenderly. Yes, Sara Sidle and an unknown youth were laughing uproariously as they pointed toward a younger girl bouncing up and down in the waves.
Drawn towards the pair as if by magnetism Catherine gasped as the girl was engulfed by one of the sporadic six foot waves. She heard clearly as Sara pushed the young man off her shoulders towards the pool, still laughing, the brunette shouted after him, " And don't come back 'til your sister's safe, you goof."
The youth turned back with a grin to flip Sara the bird and laughed again when she returned it in kind.
Amazed at this 'out-of-character' display from her colleague Catherine found herself at the side of Sara's deck chair, as yet un-noticed by the younger CSI. Clearing her throat Catherine drew the eyes of Sara towards her face.
Catherine winced slightly as Sara's eyes immediately clouded, the warmth replaced with wariness; their relationship, always reserved, had failed to warm back up after their public spat a few months earlier, something Catherine was ashamed to admit, was mainly her own fault. Sara had apologised for her words and had even shown remarkable concern during the case in which Catherine had been personally involved with a suspect, going as far as to offer to have Lindsey for a few nights. Catherine, of course, had refused the olive branch and regretted it immensely. Seeing her colleague so relaxed and open she was determined now was the time to offer it back while clearing the air.
Raising her eyebrows Catherine indicated the empty chair to Sara's left and tried again, "Can I join you?"
Smiling evilly mischievously, refusing to let the interruption from her colleague spoil her good mood, Sara teased the older woman hoping for once her jest would be taken in the spirit in which it was intended.
"Of course you can, it's just a matter of flexing your knees and putting your ass on the seat."
Before Catherine could bite she went on in a gentler more welcoming tone, "Question is, do you want to sit with me?"
Not quite willing to give in to the teasing tone Catherine replied with a slight edge, "I do, question is, do you want me to?"
"Catherine?" Sara sighed dramatically and failed to hold in a snigger.
Hearing that barest rumble of a chuckle from Sara's throat Catherine relaxed and mocked sternly, "Please, may I join you?"
Sara indicated the chair by her side and smiled as Catherine took the seat. An awkward silence fell over the pair and Catherine took a moment to locate Lindsey and her friend before turning back to the younger CSI.
"So, what brings you to the Mandalay?"
For a moment Catherine saw a shadow appear in Sara's expressive brown eyes and prepared herself for a brush off answer. She was pleasantly surprised when Sara appeared to give a mental shrug before answering with pride in her voice as she gestured towards the young couple, "The kids are over for a few weeks and wanted to try one of the lazy river raft rides. Here seemed as good a place as any."
Seeing Catherine's eyes widen at the mention of 'kids', unwilling to go down that road just yet, Sara quickly added, "You?"
"Um, same thing really, Lindsey wanted to bring her friend to the park and I wanted, no, I needed , " Catherine saw Sara look up sharply at her admission, " to spend time with my daughter, so here we are."
Sara could see Catherine getting ready to ask who her guests were and prepared herself to be truthful for once. Like Catherine she had decided the time was right to clear the air and introducing her family to the older CSI seemed a good place to start. Steeling herself for the inquisition she called the young couple over.
"Catherine, let me introduce you to my son, Mikel, and my daughter, Marita. You two, meet my work colleague, Catherine Willows, and that young lady over there " she pointed out the frolicking Lindsey, " is her daughter, Lindsey."
Catherine, already stunned by the introduction was further shocked by the grown-up politeness of the youngsters who she could now see were in their early to mid-teens.
After greeting Catherine the two ran back into the waves with a flourish and Catherine, not wanting to scare Sara's openness away by being inquisitive, avoided the obvious questions that were running through her head to go with the teasing, "Son? Daughter? You're not old enough to have children that age."
Sara laughed out loud. "Actually, I am. Just. Mikel's 17 and Marita's 13 but you're right; I only came into their life 10 years ago. Their dad was one of my professors at Harvard, Jurgen Koch. He was killed in a car accident 10 years ago and the rest, as they say, is my history."
Step 2: Falling Apart
It was three months after Catherine and Sara had shared a very pleasant afternoon with their respective children and Sara Sidle was remembering.
Sara had been surprised just how much she had told Catherine of her previous life and how much Catherine had admitted of her own past indiscretions: it had been the first time Sara had realised that not only had Catherine been a stripper but that she'd also had a cocaine habit and, although it didn't excuse some of the things they had inflicted on each other, it did explain and it did allow for them to hopefully build on that pleasant afternoon together.
And they had built on it, sharing a few more joint ventures while Sara's kids were staying over, and sharing a few downtimes since their return to California. In fact the two had shared enough time for Sara to know there was something deep troubling Catherine.
Over the months she had watched Catherine draw more and more into herself. When they were out together she was friendly and open but at all other times she was quiet. Sara grimaced when she realised that she never saw Catherine in the break room with Nick and Warrick, and certainly never saw her at any of the joint break times Gil of all people had tried to instigate after the Nick Stokes incident.
Sara now knew enough about Catherine to know that something drastic was wrong but what, she wasn't sure. Sara knew one thing though, she was going to find out and she was going to help. She owed Catherine that for the understanding the older woman had given her these past few months.
Smiling inwardly Sara remembered the night when her whole life had opened out in front of Catherine and how she had held her breath as she'd feared the rejection that so often followed the knowledge.
It was the second time Catherine, Sara, and all three kids had been together, Catherine had taken her to one side to ask why, if Sara was their mother and their father was dead, Mikel and Marita didn't live with Sara. The brunette was astounded she'd managed to keep the most important detail of her family a secret for so long, and even more surprised that Catherine hadn't heard Mikel and Marita talking about their mother. The brunette CSI had nervously admitted that the reason she had become a parent was because she had been the partner of their mother for 6 years.
She had quietly admitted that her relationship with Toni had started prior to Professor Koch's death and that, by the time he was no longer around, the two women were living together. It had been natural with two young children for her to take on the role of a second parent. Her acrimonious split with Toni five years previous had led to Sara fleeing to Vegas at Grissom's bidding. Finding that Toni was cheating on her with the local police chief had broken Sara's heart and caused her estrangement from the children for 18 months or so. Luckily for Sara the children had been old enough that, when the dust had settled, they had contacted her individually to confirm their love and relationship.
The love of Mikel and Marita had thawed the ice between Toni and Sara too, and they at least now shared a civil relationship built around the welfare of their shared responsibilities. Sara had told this tale in an almost monotone voice expecting Catherine to react with anger; after all Catherine was known to hate adultery of any kind and, as far as Sara knew, was as straight as a die. Yet, Sara was wrong; Catherine just smiled and asked to see photographs of the woman that had tamed Sara for a short while.
Chuckling at that thought Sara heard her telephone start to beep. Standing, Sara spotted her cell next to her wallet and keys. Walking towards the phone, she made a mental promise to challenge Catherine about what was troubling her and soon. As if that thought had been a premonition she noticed with a start that her caller ID showed 'Catherine'.
"Hey!" Expecting her friend she spoke in a welcoming tone and was surprised to hear only silence in return.
A small voice answered with an equally inquisitive, "Sara? Is that you?"
Sara immediately straightened up as she heard the catch in Lindsey's words, "Lindsey? What's the matter, hon? Are you ok? Where's your Mom?"
Ten minutes later Sara was speeding towards The Rampart, a casino she knew to be owned by Sam Braun, a man Catherine had admitted was her 'real' father. It appeared Catherine had had one too many and was refusing to leave a one-arm bandit gaming machine, Sam Braun had rung Lindsey to see if her Aunt was around to help out. Lindsey, however, was with her Grandmother and had therefore thought to ring Sara.
Walking into the casino Sara spotted Sam Braun leaning against the bar with a watchful eye on the lonesome blonde at the gaming machines. Sara watched Catherine pull the one-arm bandit over-and-over only stopping to sip at the glass by her side. The brunette wandered over towards the bar.
"Mr Braun, I'm here to fetch Catherine."
Sam Braun spun around, anger on his face.
"Who the hell are you? Where's Nancy?"
"Sir, Nancy's not available; Lindsey's with her Grandmother and called me." Deciding that politeness was her only recourse to this man she had never really met but whom she already held in a degree of contempt, she held her hand out in greeting. "Sara Sidle, a colleague of Catherine's."
Sara was surprised when the older man's face immediately softened in recognition.
"Ah, the woman that gives my Mugs a run for her money, and the woman that has finally convinced her that she's worth knowing, huh?"
Sara looked stunned.
"What? She's my daughter and no matter what the rest of the world thinks I care for her. I've had you checked out, young lady, I know all there is to know about your life. Everything."
The emphasis on the last word made Sara cringe. She looked towards Sam with a look of some concern. She'd only just become friends with Catherine; surely this man couldn't tear that apart. Again the gruff man surprised her, reaching to rest his hand on her shoulder.
"Men in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, Sara." He smiled then as he muttered, "Hell, I sound like that Grissom bloke of yours now."
Sara couldn't help chuckling at his words; maybe Cath's father wasn't as bad as he was painted.
"Go to her, Sara. I got my guy's to swap her drink for water; she's so far into herself she's not noticed. Something's wrong with my girl, maybe you can get through to her. Go."
With that he pushed her towards the casino floor.
Sara approached Catherine slowly, watching her face for any recognition. She pulled up a chair and seated herself to the blonde's side. Catherine didn't move and the younger woman could see she was quietly crying. Sara gently reached over to touch Catherine's hair before making her presence known verbally.
"Catherine? Come on, hon, it's Sara. I need to get you home. Lindsey's worried, Sam's worried, I'm worried. Come on, let's go home."
Gradually, Sara's gentle murmurings broke through Catherine's reverie. The blonde turned to Sara with a blank look on her face before recognition took place. Sara pulled Catherine into her waiting arms and just held her close as sobs racked the smaller woman.
Sara risked a glance back towards the bar. Sam gave her a warm smile of thanks and indicated he had called for a driver.
Part 3: Getting There
It was now six months since the incident of Nick's kidnap and three months since Catherine's mini breakdown in the presence of Sara Sidle.
After taking Catherine home and reassuring Lindsey that her mom was alright, Sara had just listened to Catherine baring her soul. Lost and lonely the blonde CSI had gradually become more and more insular and the growing friendship she had had with Sara had not been enough to break the cycle. That night in the casino was the bottom of the cliff; Catherine had been taken over by the monotonous pull of the one-arm bandit and, absorbed in its inanity, she had drunk too much and collapsed inwardly.
Over the next few weeks the two women had aired all their inner burdens. Sara talked of her dysfunctional family unit and Catherine of her own; one burdened by the past and one by the present. At the end of their cathartic discussions the two women realised they had much more in common then they had ever thought possible. Their personalities might have been polar opposites but their lives held so many similarities they finally couldn't help but connect.
It was even Sara that had swallowed her pride to approach her arch nemesis, Ecklie, with the suggestion that he might consider recreating the Graveyard team with Catherine still acting in the role of supervisor. It was a suggestion that was welcomed by all the team involved and appeared to be working well.
The Las Vegas crime scene investigation stats had improved dramatically and the entire CSI was benefiting from the relaxed atmosphere a happy Graveyard shift engendered. Day shift and night shift were working well together and even Ecklie and the sheriff were not dissatisfied with the situation and the results.
In this environment of respect and togetherness Sara and Catherine's friendship continued to grow. It was obvious to the rest of CSI that the dynamics of the relationship had changed from antagonistic rivalry to a friendly encouraging rivalry and they were now often paired together on cases, pushing each other to quick and effective investigations. They sometimes still argued the method of working but at least they didn't now take it home.
Working one such case the two women were driven to one more relationship change.
Sara and Catherine were investigating the murder of Christina Adalian, a young mother who was apparently still a virgin. Paged to the DNA lab Sara was running late, collecting some papers that Warrick had found in the young woman's house. Sara popped her head around the door of the DNA lab. to see the new technician hard at work.
"Hey! You paged me?"
The brunette looked up from her papers and smiled.
"Sara Sidle, I presume."
"Wendy? What the hell are you doing here? It must be six years since I last saw you."
"Yeah, well, I broke up with Jen, remembered her saying how happy you appeared to be in the Vegas Crime Lab, saw an advert for Greg's old post and here I am. So, basically it's your fault."
Sara chuckled and strode across the room to give her old colleague a fond hug. Exchanging a few more social niceties Wendy then updated Sara professionally before the CSI nodded and turned to leave.
As she walked towards the door she was stopped by Wendy's quiet question, "Hey Sara, what do you think to Catherine?"
"Huh? She's good. Why?"
"She's gorgeous and um well I just asked her to go to lunch with me. She looked a bit shocked and I just wondered if I'd blown it "
Sara was stunned and intrigued. Just how had Cath reacted to being asked out by a woman? "You asked her out? Already. Jeez Wend, get to know her, huh? What did she say?"
"Well she didn't say no, then again she didn't say yes either. She's busy, I guess."
Sara grinned and left, deep in thought. So Catherine hadn't been annoyed about the ask. The brunette wondered if Cath would go, after all Wendy was a striking woman and, even though she and Catherine spent a lot of off-duty time together with Lindsey, Mikel and Marita, Catherine was always going to be open to more adult friends.
Later, on her way to Catherine's office with the results of her and Warrick's research, Sara realized she was jealous of Wendy's daring to ask Catherine out. The young CSI was really enjoying the shared family time she had with Catherine but occasionally wished they could spend some quality time just the two of them, no work and no kids. Maybe Sara glanced up from her thoughts, maybe what? Her thoughts would have to wait, duty called.
"So Catherine, you going to go?"
The two CSI's were on their way to Project Sunflower's local chapter house and Sara had decided to just bite the bullet. She wanted to know if Catherine was interested in Wendy's proposition and this was her way of asking - straight and to the point.
"Huh? Go where?"
Catherine's succinct answer told Sara that her question needed to be a little less to the point. She elaborated.
"Um, Wendy, in DNA, I know her from before and she said um she said, she'd asked you out, and I um wondered if you were gonna go?" The brunette stopped, realizing she was rambling. She glanced up to see a bemused smile on Catherine's face.
"If I didn't know otherwise Sara, I'd say you were jealous. She didn't exactly ask me out, she asked if I wanted to get lunch so we could talk about dead bodies, or something like that, anyway."
Laughing together the two women locked eyes.
"She was asking you out Cath. Don't forget I know her from before. She was asking you on a date. Would you go?"
About to throw out a joke reply Catherine paused before answering, she could feel that for some reason this answer was important to Sara. "Go out with a woman? Yes, of course. Go out with Wendy? I'm not sure, I think I would need to have a few more conversations with her."
Catherine saw a flicker of something behind Sara's eyes: relief, hope, intent, she wasn't sure, but whatever the look Sara was smiling. The blonde woman took a sudden unexpected leap into the unknown.
"But Sara, why would I need to go out on a date with a tall, Californian, brunette geek? I have my own."
A stunned Sara could only sit and watch as Catherine jumped out of their Denali. She had been so surprised at Catherine's joke question she hadn't realized they'd reached their destination.
"Come on, Sidle, we've got work to do."
Jumping out of the vehicle Sara followed Catherine into the building, grabbing her arm as they entered.
"What did you mean, you have your own?"
"I have my own tall, Californian, brunette, geek date." She winked at Sara.
"Huh? We don't date."
Catherine chuckled, and then became all serious as she requested an immediate visit with Dr. Ryan from the receptionist clerk. As they entered into the plush offices she whispered in Sara's ear.
"So, ask me."
It was the end of a long enjoyable shift for Catherine Willows. She looked up into the blazing Las Vegas sun and grinned; asked to dinner by a younger woman, joking and flirting with Sara, chatting and encouraging her dear friend, Gil, receiving a philosophical reprimand from her supervisor, solving a murder mystery puzzle, things were almost back to her perfect lifestyle.
A shadow appeared to her right and she heard a deep Californian voice whisper.
"Hey, how about lunch tomorrow, just you and me?"
Turning to her right she saw Sara Sidle leaning against her Denali.
"You asking me?"
The two women shared a conspiratorial smile: things were not quite perfect yet but they were getting there.
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