DISCLAIMER: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and other related entities are owned, trademarked, and copyrighted by Anthony E. Zuiker, Jerry Bruckheimer Television, CBS Worldwide Inc., Alliance Atlantis Corporation, CSI Productions and CBS Productions. This is fanfiction and is written purely for the enjoyment of fans, and the author acknowledges that no profit is made from the writing and/or distribution of said writing.
SPOILERS: 'Lady Heather's Box', 'Crash & Burn' and 'Playing with Fire'.
SERIES: The 'Un'-titled Series - sequel to Unmasked.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Amy Jo

Part 21

There's a little coffee house not far from the lab that has really good coffee and I take Warrick there. I get something caffeinated with lots of real sugar, already feeling worn down even though the day has really yet to begin for me.

"Go ahead," I say once we've found a semi-secluded table to sit at. I sound defeated, even to myself. I know that he will pick up on that.

"How's Lindsey? Is she doing alright?" He asks, genuinely concerned.

If Nick or Greg, or even Gil, asked this question I could brush it off with 'fine'. But I know that Warrick's concern is goes beyond simple caring for a coworker. Despite the fact that he is younger than me, he likes to act like my big brother. My protector. He knows more about me than anyone else at the lab. Well, almost anyone else.

"She's doing remarkably well. Jeremy is getting a puppy and he's going to let her help take care of him." I warp my hands around the warmth of the paper cup; it's oddly soothing.

"So she has something to take her mind off things, then," Warrick says happily. "And what about you?"

"What about me?" Just because I know what he's getting at doesn't mean I have to want to answer his questions.

"How are you doing?" He gives me his most soulful caring look.

"Me? I'm good." Maybe, just maybe, that will be good enough for him.

"Really?" He asks, unbelieving.

"I think so. Lindsey is okay now, and I've got my work. I think I'm alright." I sound just about as confident as I feel, and Warrick knows I'm feeding him bullshit.

"C'mon Cath, be honest with me here." His hand reaches out and takes my hand, squeezing gently and still giving me that look.

"That's as honest as it gets, Warrick. I think we're going to be okay."

I can't tell him everything, even though I know that's what he wants. It might help a little bit if I fully understood everything that has been going on in my head lately. But since I don't the best answer I have is that I think we're going to be good. He still doesn't believe me.

"Look, things are going to be hard. I know that. Lindsey lost her father and I lost …"

I don't know what I lost. I lost Eddie, but I can't seem to figure out if that means anything more than losing the father of my daughter. I have relatively good moments when that is all it is, as awful as that sounds. I have bad moments when the loss tears at my heart and I can't figure out why.

Warrick continues looking at me, waiting for me to explain further.

Thinking back to the scene I made in the interview room, and the hurt that flashed in Sara's eyes as we stood in the hallway, I finish quietly, "I lost something really important."

Warrick thinks for a moment about what I've said. I can see the questions in his eyes, and watch as he shakes his head, cleaning the questions out.

"I screwed up tonight, you know," I tell him, hopefully changing the subject for a little while.

"What happened?" He asks, still concerned.

"The girl that was driving Eddie's car… Well, I may have threatened to kill her." Warrick's eyes widen in shock. "More than once." He looks like he wants to say something. "In front of Sara and Vega."

Warrick lets out a low whistle. "Shit, Cath."

Silence descends on the table. I can't tell him about the blow up with Sara without revealing too much about our relationship to him. And while I really might want to talk to him about that, it's not something I can do alone. I'd need to talk to Sara and see how she feels about telling our coworkers about us. That look of hurt flashes before my eyes again and I can't help but wonder if there's still an 'us'.

"There's more," Warrick says knowingly. Something in my eyes must have given me away.

"Yes there is," I say, hoping my tone is solid enough that he won't ask.

"And you can't tell me about it?" Intuitive, isn't he?

"No. Not right now." I don't know why I give him the false hope that I may be able to someday come to him to talk about everything.

"Will you? When you can?" The concern in his voice alarms me.

"When I can. If I can."

He doesn't seem convinced, not that he really should be. But he drops that issue and returns to the one he can ask about. "You haven't talked to Grissom yet, have you?"

"Not about what happened. I talked with him briefly about the case." My coffee sits in front of me, I've almost forgotten it was there. When I take a sip it is lukewarm and my nose wrinkles in distaste.

"You should talk to him," Warrick tells me. As if I didn't know that already.

"Yeah. I know. But I think I want to wait. If I tell him now, he'll pull me of the case and force me into time off. I need the work right now."

Warrick nods his understanding, "But you will talk to him?"

"I will." I nod my head vigorously, as if that adds some weight to what I'm saying.

"You know, he's probably back at the lab by now. Why don't we grab some fresh cups and head back?" Warrick asks, already pushing his chair away from the table.

I follow him, not really sure if I'm ready to go back to the lab. What if I see Sara? What if Sara has already talked to Grissom and he decides that I'm not fit to work right now? I guess we'll find out when we get there.

Part 22

When we get to the lab Warrick puts his hand on my shoulder and stops me briefly. "You go ahead and catch up with Gil, I've got something I need to look into."

Warrick wanders off somewhere inside the labs and I head toward Gil's office. I don't know why I bother, he spends less time in here than the lady that gets paid to do the cleaning. I'm just about to close the door to Gil's office when the phone on his desk rings.

"Willows," I answer.

I wouldn't normally answer the phone in anyone's office except mine. But there's an unspoken rule around the lab that calling Gil's desk is a last resort of sorts. You should page him first and if he doesn't respond to that, then a call to his cell phone is the next step. With the limited amount of time he spends in here, it's unlikely that you can find him by calling this number. Gil probably has his head stuck in some evidence somewhere and is currently ignoring his pager.

"Catherine?" The voice on the other end of the phone belongs to Brass.

"Yeah Jim?"

"Why are you answering Gil's phone?" He asks, sounding unsure.

"I was just looking for Gil. You called and he wasn't around. I figured it was important."

"Well it is. Find him." Jim tells me.

"What's going on Jim?" I ask in immediate response to his brusk tone.

"We've got another db. He's not going to like this."

Considering that it's our job to deal with dead bodies, I wonder just what Jim means. "What's the name on the db?"

"Rebecca McCormick. Get over there." And with that, Jim hangs up on me.

Well, he was right. It's generally not good in our line of work when the suspects start dropping dead.

I search the halls for Gil and find him as he's coming out of Greg's lab.


Gil was headed out of the lab in the other direction and turns to face me when I call out his name.

"We got a problem."

Gil quirks his eyebrow in that questioning way, waiting for me to continue.

"Just got a call from Brass. Actually you just got a call from him." I watch as Gil checks his pager and then his cell phone, seemingly surprised to see messages from Brass on both of them. "Anyway. We've got another db on this case."

"Another? And Brass is certain it's related to this case?" He questions, probably realizing that it took us a bit of work to figure out that the deaths of Trey and Croix were related.

"More than certain. Our db is Rebecca McCormick."

I think Gil would curse right now, if he ever did that. The look on his face is something of a cross between disappointment and anger. "Let's get going then."

Since he hasn't mentioned anything, I'm going to assume for now that he hasn't had a chance to speak with Sara or Vega. Actually, I'm not sure that Sara would be the one to tell him. I may have pissed her off, but I think she'd rather just see me calm down than have to deal with Gil. But Vega would have to say something.

We head out to the McCormick place and he asks for details, seeming frustrated that I don't know anything. I want to him that if he had bothered to answer his pager, or his cell phone, that he could have all the details he wanted from Brass. As it is, we're going into the scene pretty much blind.

There are quite a few cop cars outside the McCormick residence, but no sign of Brass. When we enter the house, Mrs. McCormick can be seen on the stairs, looking as if she tripped on her way up. But the nasty red mark around her throat gives away the cause of death immediately.

"Stranglings are intimate. Crime of passion."

Gil doesn't respond right away and I catch him looking off into another room of the house as he says, "Or not."

I turn and follow his gaze to see Mr. McCormick calmly pouring himself a glass of milk at the kitchen counter. I should be at least mildly surprised at his lack of reaction, and yet after having talked with this man and seen the way he treated his wife, I'm not surprised at all.

One of the officers instructs Mr. McCormick to sit in the living room, far enough away from the body of his wife that Gil can process the scene in peace. With my previous opinion of this man, pompous asshole, it's probably not best that I do the interview. But with only Gil and I here, even with my slightly skewed opinion I'm still the better option for talking to him.

When I walk in the living room he's tapping his fingers against his lips, looking for all the world as if he's pondering the meaning of life or something equally important. I sit in a chair across from him and start the interview.

"Mr. McCormick, were you the one that found your wife?" I ask.

"Yes." He turns his eyes to me, trying his best to give me that soulful look in an attempt to let me know that though he might not show it, he is deeply hurt by the death of his wife. The look doesn't work.

"On the stairs?"

I really doubt that he would have moved the body to that position, but it is also an unlikely position for her to have fallen to in her death. Stranglings really are personal, the murderer exerting his power over the victim, showing who is in charge. But no one lets themselves be strangled. There would be a struggle, signs of a fight. Mrs. McCormick seems to have been trying to get upstairs, where she would actually be trapped by her pursuer. Most people try to get away, run outside, find help, something. But the position of her body indicates that this was not case with Mrs. McCormick.

"May I see your hands, please?" I ask him.

With an exaggerated sigh he pushes his hands toward me slightly, palms up. I have to lean out of the chair to take a look, and after a second I realize I'm going to have to get all the way out of the chair if I'm going to get a good look at his hands.

Everything seems clean, and I ask him to turn his hands over. I'd like to look closer at his fingernails. Honestly, right now I'm not sure what I'm looking for. She doesn't seem to have struggled any, and the ligature mark on her neck tells me that he didn't strangle her with his bare hands.

I sit back down in the chair. "They look clean."

"Shouldn't they be?" He questions.

I'm trying to figure out what happened here, and it takes me a second to answer his question. "I don't know. If it were my spouse I would have touched the body."

It's a natural reaction, I think. Spouse, relative, complete stranger. The first normal response is to touch the body, maybe check for a pulse or other signs of life. He doesn't seem to have done anything of the sort.

"I didn't," he says as if that were the most natural response. No attempt to help her, save her. Nothing. Callous.

From where I'm sitting, I have a fairly clean view of everything that Grissom is doing. I watch as he finds something interesting in the ligature mark and pulls it out with a pair of tweezers.

I can't think of anything else to ask Mr. McCormick. Maybe I'm too distracted to keep working, or maybe I just need to know more about her death. Whatever the reason I give him the standard speech about staying close and join Grissom with the body.

Processing the rest of the body, and the scene after her body has been removed is much simpler than trying to think too much about what happened here. I'm beginning to understand just why Gil prefers the evidence over people.

By the time we get back to the lab Gil has noticed my distraction. He sends me off to my office, telling me to do paperwork or something equally mundane. I'm not sure if that's something I can do with a completely clear head, but I agree. I think I'm still avoiding having to come clean about what happened in that interview room earlier today.

Time passes slowly. Most of the paperwork on my closed cases is already done and right now the only open case I have is the one with Gil. I know that Gil has once again gone off to visit with Lady Heather, and part of me thinks I should go with him. But the day is wearing me down and I don't have it in me to go.

Rumor circulates around the lab that Sara is closing out Eddie's case. By listening to a little gossip I learn that she couldn't pin the murder on anyone. Despite knowing that this is sometimes the case, I'm furious.

I search her out, knowing exactly where to go. I find her in the evidence vault; evidence laid out in front of her as she bags and tags everything for storage until the case moves to trial. She doesn't hear my approach, but I make my presence known.

"So you're calling it." There is anger and pain in my voice and from the way she pauses before responding she hears everything I'm not saying.

"I got two liars and no murder weapon, and no choice." I can hear the hurt in her voice. The pain there is unbelievably real. "I'm going to nail the singer on child endangerment and fleeing the scene, and the dealer goes up on possession for sale."

Not the ending I had hoped for. A small part of my brain knows that she's doing what she can to get this solved. But that doesn't mean that I need to agree with it. I need to be able to tell my little girl someday that the bad man that killed her father is gone forever. That he won't be able to cause anyone else the same kind of pain that she feels. That I feel.

And I can't do that. Because the singer will plead, and the dealer will be out on good behavior before Lindsey is even in high school.

"What a great bedtime story for my little girl."

"Cat, I did my best."

And it wasn't good enough.

I look at her briefly, hearing the pain still in her voice, seeing the guarded look of hurt in her eyes. I can't think of anything to say to her and the silence hangs between us before I simply walk away.

I've had enough of this day. I've dealt with enough. I leave the lab without bothering to check in with Gil. I don't bother catching up on our own case, I don't tell him I'm leaving. I just go.

I drive to Nancy's place, trying my best not to think of everything. I just want to get my little angel and take her home. Comfort her if she needs it, but really just spend time with her. See her smile, hear her laugh.

Nancy wants to question what I'm doing there so early, but when she sees the look in my eyes she simply calls to Lindsey and tells her that I am here to pick her up. I'll have to talk with Nancy about this sometime, but I simply can't do it today.

Lindsey is tired and goes straight to bed when we get home. I wanted more time with her, but she's had a full day and I can't keep her awake. With nothing better for me to do, I go to bed as well.

It finally gets to me just as I've settled into the comfort of my bed. He is gone and there will be no justice for Lindsey. I've hurt Sara, with my words and with my silence. She doesn't deserve the pain I've caused.

Once the tears start, I am powerless to stop them. Lindsey was supposed to be sleeping, but I feel her arms wrapped around me, comforting me and telling me that everything is going to be okay.

And I know it's not going to be.

Part 23

I wake up hours later. It's still dark outside and Lindsey is wrapped in my arms. I don't remember falling asleep, I don't remember when she curled up next to me. She is so beautiful asleep. No worries, nothing to care about and what would seem to be pleasant dreams as she is smiling in her sleep. It's been a long time since needed me to hold her while she slept.

I can't help but think of how reversed our positions are. She didn't come to me because she needed someone to hold onto, someone to chase the fears away for her. She came to me because that was what I needed. I needed the comfort, someone to hold onto while I lost my grip on myself.

I'm disappointed in myself for letting her see the weak side of me. It's stupid and irrational of me think that she would never see me cry, but I still didn't want her to. I might tell her that when she's upset it's okay to let it out, to cry on someone's shoulder; but I'm supposed to be the strong one.

I don't want to disturb her, so I simply hold her closer and drift back to sleep.

The second time I wake up the Vegas sunrise has filtered into the bedroom and Lindsey is gone. I jump out of bed, panicking slightly. I didn't notice that she had left and I'm suddenly worried about what may have happened. I've barely made it three steps out my bedroom door when I see Lindsey walking toward me at the top of the stairs.

"Mom?" She asks quietly, probably noticing the slightly frightened look on my face.

"Hey sweetie," I say calmly. "What are you up to this early?"

"Early?" Lindsey questions with a laugh. "Mom, it's after 10:00 a.m."

"After ten?" I can't be that late in the morning already, can it?

Lindsey rolls her eyes at me before disappearing in the bathroom, probably the reason she came up here in the first place.

I make my way downstairs and it is indeed after 10:00 a.m. I notice the remnants of Lindsey's breakfast, an empty bowl and spoon and a glass with the last dregs of some orange juice. I pick up the dirty dishes and put them in the dishwasher, all the while thinking about how I slept through her breakfast.

The television is on in the living room and I can just barely hear the faint voices of cartoon characters. I haven't been home much in the past two days and the house is a little messy from lack of attention. There are also quite a few messages on my answering machine that I'm studiously avoiding.

"Hey baby," I say when she bounces down the stairs and into my arms for a hug. "Sorry I slept so long."

"It's okay mommy, you were really tired," she loosens her grip and smiles up at me.

"I guess I was," I say quietly. I hadn't felt all that tired when we came home and I didn't feel tired when I first woke up this morning. But I have slept much longer than usual; I guess the days were just caching up with me.

Lindsey pulls back from me, taking my hand and leading me to the couch. "Aunt Nancy called while you were sleeping."

"She did?" I try to sound more enthusiastic about that than I really am.

"Yeah," Lindsey says as she sits us both down on the couch. When did she suddenly become the adult in our relationship? "She said she's going to bring lunch from that Italian place you like so much and Jeremy and I can play while you two talk."

I rely a lot on Nancy to help me take care of Lindsey but usually I'm the one that goes to her, it is hardly ever the other way around. I know that Nancy is going to want to talk about Eddie when she comes over and I wonder if there's any good way to break the news to Lindsey.

She already knows her father is dead, but it's going to be difficult to tell her that he was the victim of a crime and that mommy couldn't find the bad guy. That's what I do and Lindsey knows what my job is. Well, she doesn't know what she would call the 'boring stuff', everything to do with evidence, but she does know that I go out every night and help the cops find the bad guys. She's been to the lab a few times and knows that my job isn't terribly exciting, but she tells me she's proud of what I do.

"Linds, baby," I say softly. I'm not sure what to say, and with her looking up at me expectantly I simply admit it, "About your dad, honey. I … I don't know what to say."

I feel the sting of fresh tears at the way the happiness leaves her face. I could nearly choke on the size of the lump in my throat.

"Don't cry, mommy," she says as she leans in for a hug, the softness in her voice causing a tear to fall. "It's okay."

"Linds," I choke back the rest of the tears, startled at how easily they seem to be coming now. She's holding on tight and it becomes clear to me that she is crying too. "Oh, baby."

"Did you get the bad guy?"

It takes me a minute to understand what she said, her words mumbled into the fabric of the tank top I fell asleep in. She's holding on tight enough to nearly squeeze the air out of my lungs. I feel horrible for ruining the happy mood she was in earlier. But I can't put this off any longer.

"No, honey. I didn't." And it's the hardest thing I think I'll ever have to tell her. It wasn't even this hard to tell her that he was dead. She may have hoped, as I did, that Eddie was still alive after I rescued her, but she's smart enough to know it wasn't likely so the news that he didn't make it was not a big shock.

But this. I'm admitting failure to her. I failed to protect her from the situation in the first place. And, in the end, I failed to find the person responsible.

It doesn't matter that it wasn't my case. What matters is that Lindsey truly believed I would be able to find the bad guy. She had relied on me for that, and I couldn't do it. I don't even get the satisfaction of telling her that I may not have found the bad guy, but that someone did. Instead there are theories that can't be proven and that she wouldn't understand anyway.

Lindsey holds on tight and we are silent for a very long time. I'm completely at a loss for what to say. I can't tell her that we will find him someday because if we don't have enough evidence now, the chances of that ever changing are nearly astronomical. And it just doesn't feel adequate to tell her that I tried. Or, more accurately, that Sara tried.

If I mention Sara, Lindsey is likely to ask something about her. I don't have any answers for that area of my life lately either.

Wow. There's no better feeling than waking up in the morning and feeling like a complete and utter failure who has managed to screw up nearly everything in her life in the span of less than three days.

The long silence between Lindsey and I ends when she looks up at me, eyes puffy from crying and with seriousness I cannot fathom simply states, "It's going to okay Mom. You'll see."

I want to ask where that certainty came from. How does she know? And why is it that my little girl seems so much more composed about what has happened than I do? It is truly a shame that she is so grown up for her age, she deserved a chance at her childhood and now it feels like it's all been ripped away.

Part 24

There's a loud banging coming from my front door, and it makes both Lindsey and I jump. That has to be Nancy and Jeremy with our lunch, and judging from the harsh treatment she is inflicting on my door, I would guess that she has her hands full and probably poor Jeremy's as well.

Unwilling to simply leave Lindsey sitting on the couch, I do something I haven't done in a long time; I pick her up and take her with me to answer the door. She told me once a few years ago that she was getting too big for this, and though it's something I really do enjoy, I agreed. She's getting bigger and I faced the fact that I'm not getting stronger; I'm still quite fit, but not enough to keep up with her growth spurts. But this time she doesn't object at all as I carry her with me.

Lindsey's legs are wrapped tightly around my hips and her arms squeezing my neck. With one hand I pull the door open.

"Damn, Nancy. You keep kicking at my door like that and you're going to break it," I tell her, attempting to smile.

She stalks past me, arms full and heads straight for the kitchen. Jeremy follows, his arms so full that you can barely see him at all. I close the door behind the pair and walk toward the kitchen.

"Jeez, Nancy. Did you buy the entire restaurant or what?" I say watching her empty the contents of the various bags onto my counter.

"No," she says with a smile. "I simply bought lunch from the restaurant. I cleaned out the grocery store, though."

The light humor between us is quite a relief from the way the morning started. And from where I know my afternoon is headed.

When Jeremy has set his bags on the floor next to Nancy I let Lindsey out of my arms, knowing she will be happier if she can go play with her cousin. They head off toward the living room, leaving Nancy and I to deal with whatever she bought.

"How's she doing?" Nancy asks when I walk around to her side of the counter to help.

"I'm honestly not sure. I think she was doing good until I had a mini-breakdown." I say as I start to put the groceries away.

"Mini-breakdown?" Nancy asks, eyebrow arched to emphasize her question.

"We came home last night and she was so tired she went right to bed. But I couldn't sleep. I think everything that's happened in the past few days caught up with me and opened the floodgates," I explain quietly. "She must have woken up and heard me crying. She came in and comforted me, telling me everything was going to be okay."

I see a look of sympathy in her eyes. "Oh. I suppose you didn't take that very well, always trying so hard to be the strong one."

"I couldn't stop crying. I wanted to, she doesn't need to see me like that."

"Catherine. This may be hard for you to believe, but you don't always need to be strong. She doesn't expect you to be superwoman or anything. She just expects you to be her mom," Nancy says as she lays her hand on my shoulder.

"I know. But I …"

"You can't protect her all the time," she says, pulling on my shoulder and forcing me into a hug. When she lets go she continues, "Trust me, she's much better off knowing that you are mourning his loss too. Can you imagine what she would think if you showed no emotion about his death?"

I hadn't really thought about that. With her last memory of Eddie and I being an argument, I can imagine she would not see me as superwoman but more like super-bitch if I showed no emotion at all.

"Do you always have to be right?" I ask her in mock annoyance.

"Yes. I do," Nancy says sticking her tongue out at me childishly before bursting into giggles.

Reaching some silent mutual understanding, we put the rest of the food away without speaking. The lunch she brought from the restaurant is still relatively warm, but she turns on the oven to heat it up before we eat.

When we're finished Nancy turns and asks, "Why don't you go grab a shower? I'll keep an eye on the kids and lunch."

I nod and head upstairs. A nice long, hot shower sounds amazingly good. Maybe it will restore some of my energy. Thirty minutes later I walk back down the stairs feeling slightly rejuvenated. The hot water eased some of the stress in my muscles, and the routine of it reminds me that not everything in my life has been altered even if it feels that way. Amazing how something so simple manages to make me feel better.

Nancy must have known I was coming down because I hear her tell the kids that it's time for lunch. I'm surprised to see that the food is already on the table; simple spaghetti and garlic bread for Lindsey and Jeremy with salads and what looks like manicotti for Nancy and I. I didn't realize how hungry I was until I started eating. And apparently I wasn't the only one, as everyone digs in right away and no one talks until we're finished.

The kids wander off to the back yard to play as Nancy and I clean up. Table cleared and dishwasher running, Nancy and I head into the living room. I curl up on one of the couch and she sits in the chair close by. It's unnerving to have her look at me so intensely, as if she can figure everything out by just looking at me.

"You seemed pretty upset when you came by last night." Nancy says quietly.

"I was," I say with a sigh. It's better to get all this talking done now, but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy it.

"What happened at work?"

"A lot of things."

"Care to elaborate on that at all?" She asks with a smile. She knows this game as well as I do.

"Not particularly," I tell her. "But you're not going to give up on me are you?"

"Cath, if I was going to give up on you, I'd have done it a long time ago. Someone needs to stick around and kick your ass into gear every now and them." Her smile let's me know she's kidding, but only a little. Her tone is deadly serious.

"Yeah, yeah. I know. You could do it a little less often, you know," I say in mock irritation.

"But it's so much fun," Nancy says, pouting.

"So what do you want to hear first? You want to know about Eddie's death? Or maybe about how I threatened to kill a suspect? Or we could even talk about how I basically called Sara incompetent at her job."

Nancy whistles low and says, "Shit Cath. That's worse than I thought."

"Hey you know me. If I'm going to do something, I go all out. I guess yesterday was just the day I decided to go all out and fuck everything up."

"Sounds like you did a good job of that. I'm sure there's a beginning to that story somewhere, why don't you just start there." Nancy settles into her chair, her movement letting me know she expects to go into detail about things and not just gloss them over.

I take a deep breath and start the story.

Part 25

"I think it's safe to say that the beginning would be when I threatened the suspect. Or maybe not so much a suspect as Eddie's latest fling. Some young, pink-haired, snot of a girl."

"Bitter much, Cath?" Nancy says with a smile. I know she's trying to put humor into this as a way to make it easier for me to deal with everything.

"Oh please, Nancy. She was probably barely old enough to drink legally." There's a hint of a smile on my face and Nancy smirks, her job accomplished.

"So at some point you decided to threaten her?"

"Yeah. Not exactly the brightest thing I've ever done. But you should have heard her Nancy. Talking about Eddie and Lindsey the way she was. She doesn't think she did anything wrong, but she didn't try to help anyone but herself. I lost it when she called Lindsey a screaming brat."

Nancy merely nods and stays silent, waiting for me to continue.

"I let my anger get to me. I stormed in that room and threatened to hunt her down and take her life with my bare hands. And Sara and Vega saw it all."

"Sara didn't pull you off the girl right away?" Nancy asks, momentarily confused.

"Not right away. I think she waited until about the third or fourth threat to force me out of the room. It's pretty safe to say that my behavior shocked her."

"Or maybe she thought you were justified." Nancy says after a minute of silence.

I don't know what I expected to hear her say about what I did, but that certainly wasn't it. I can't hold back the shock in my voice when I ask, "What?"

"Well think about it," Nancy tells me as if this is something I should have done already. "This is a woman who obviously cares about you. And she didn't toss you out of that room right away. Maybe she thought your anger was justified."

"No one is justified to make the kind of threats I did. You can't just …"

"You and I both know you wouldn't follow through," Nancy admonishes me. "You wouldn't do that to Lindsey, leaving her without a mother so soon after the loss of her father. But your anger is a different story. You had every right to be pissed at this young woman who disregards the safety of someone so young and vulnerable as Lindsey."

"But Sara is not like that. She's a steadfast CSI and I completely deserved her anger when she pulled me out of that room."

"But you didn't agree with that at the time." Nancy says knowingly.

"Well of course I didn't. I was angry, fuming would be more accurate, and this girl was going to slip through the cracks because Sara was tiptoeing around the issue."

"Did you stop to think that maybe Sara was being careful about this case because of its personal effect on not only you, but her?"

"Anger doesn't let you think," I say quietly. "And what do you mean its effect on her?"

"Sara is someone special to you, right?" But she doesn't wait for me to answer. "Have you thought about what you might mean to her? That maybe you and Lindsey are special to her too, and what happened that night wasn't just about you, Lindsey and Eddie? Maybe it had an effect on her that you don't know about because you didn't take the time to talk to her."

"When was I supposed to talk to her? When I was worried about Lindsey? When I was confused about what I felt for Eddie and how his death could possibly have affected me so much? Or maybe when I was I was out working a case in a lame effort to avoid what was happening?"

"Any of those times would have been good Cath," Nancy says softly. "I might not know Sara that well, but I'd wager good money that she wanted you to talk to her about any and all of those things so that maybe she could help you, be there for you, even comfort you when you needed it."

"She wanted to. I wouldn't let her."

"Why the hell not?" Nancy gives me that 'you are such a dumbass look' that she perfected so many years ago.

I try to blow it off, knowing that there's more to the story to tell and she hasn't even heard half of it. With a weak smile I say, "Because I'm an idiot?"

"We all already know that," Nancy says with a smirk.

"I didn't think it was a good idea to let her get too close while she was working Eddie's case. Conflict of interest and all that."

"And she wouldn't already have a conflict? I mean, she is your girlfriend and all …" Nancy lets the end of that sentence hang in the air between us.

"Probably not anymore."

"What?" Nancy seems shocked.

"Well as you are so quick to agree with, I'm an idiot. We've already established that I wouldn't let her close when I needed her," Nancy nods her head in agreement. "And then after she pulled me out of that room I basically told her I could do the job a hell of a lot better than she could. Oh, and later I insulted her again when she closed the case without a murder charge."

"Oh girl, you really fucked that up." Nancy stares at me in wide-eyed disbelief.

I wave my hand in dismissal, "If you're going to do something, do it right."

"You're going to make it right, though? Beg, grovel, and use overt romantic gestures until she forgives you?"

"Nancy, I really don't know if I can make this better. I mean, I hurt her. It was so easy to see the pain in her eyes, and I put it there. I injured her pride. I insulted a big part of who she is."

"She isn't just the job, Cath. I understand that it's part of who she is, but she's also a woman who cares about you. Who cares about your daughter. Someone who makes you happier than you've been in a very, very long time. You can't let that go. You've got to find a way."

"I screwed up Nancy. This might not be something we can bounce back from. We're still in the beginning stages of this relationship and I've already screwed up."

"Yeah. You mentioned that. Woo her. She's worth it, you know," Nancy says with a smile.

"I thought you said you didn't know her that well?" I question.

"But I know you. And if she can put up with you then she's definitely worth it." Her smile turns into a smirk. If she were close enough I think I'd reach out and smack her.

Part 26

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