DISCLAIMER: Of course I don't own it. If I did, do you really think I'd be writing fanfiction? No. I would be writing real episodes and locking up various members of the cast in my bedroom for days at a time to serve my purpose. Mwuhaha.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: So, I started this on a Thursday in history, knowing I could do the in-class assignment at home, worked on it Friday in study hall, having not actually finished that history assignment, worked on it in German after I finished my history, safe in knowing that nothing I did or did not do could change the fact that the teacher wanted to see me after class, and I finally finished it on my computer on Saturday. So, enjoy the angst. The last part is dedicated to Amy and her penguins.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Crystal

They say that eyes are the windows to the soul; then hers has to be the saddest soul I've ever met. That includes my days as a stripper, when I saw all kinds of sad and lonely people looking to ease their own pain. I used to say that for every hungry bachelor looking for a good time at a bachelor party there were four empty shells that used to be people. And they always, always, wore their heartache right on their sleeves for the entire world to pity.

But not her, not Sara. Her pain is really a secret. She does a good job of hiding it, but sometimes - rare times - she'll slip out of kick-ass work mode and you'll see, you'll feel just how much and how deep she hurts. And you have to be an emotionally stunted man the likes of Gilbert Grissom if it doesn't break your heart; it certainly breaks mine, that sad, burdened, distant look in her eyes.

It feels like the windows into her soul are shattered, broken so much that all you can see are bits and pieces of who she once was in the shards of who she might have been. But then, it's always been like that. It's just that now it looks like the window keeps getting more cracks in it. I'm starting to worry that Sara is going to break soon, and I'm starting to wonder if she'll be able to pick up all the pieces and put them back together, or even if she will want to.

It was a long night. It was a bad case. It was one of those nights you wouldn't wish on anyone, and one of those cases that no one wants to handle. It was one of those cases that make you ask yourself why you keep doing your job and how people can be so absolutely evil. It was one of those cases where you try to stay objective at the crime scene, while you're picking apart what's left of someone's life and watching the eight-year-old victim sit silently as one parent is driven away in a body bag in the coroner's van and the other is driven away on a stretcher in an ambulance. It was one of those nights you wish you had called in sick or had the night off, and you curse Grissom for giving the case to you and Sara.

I decide that both Sara and I will try to talk to the girl. I don't know what it is about this whole scene, but something makes me want to keep an eye on Sara. She looks annoyed when I tell her, but I shrug, and she shakes her head, preparing herself to talk to an eight-year-old who is still covered in blood and has yet to say a word to anyone.

Walking towards the ambulance the girl is sitting in, I wonder what happened to Sara growing up. I can imagine what went on in her house as a girl - I am an investigator after all, but I've never said anything. I don't think she would take any kind of comfort from me - we have a history of not getting along, you know. People think we hate each other (there's a running bet over when it's going to get physical) but it's not true. We've had disagreements, and I know she doesn't agree with some of the choices I've made in life, but hate is such a strong word. We know when to bury the hatchet and we work well when we can.

Sara sits down next to the girl while I remain standing. It appears Sara's not going to say anything, so I shoot her an questioning annoyed look, and she shrugs pseudo-innocently. I scoff silently, and soften as I start speaking. "Hi, there," I start, smiling affably, "My name is Catherine and this is Sara."

The girl doesn't say anything, just keeps looking at the ground, nervously occupying herself with the ends of her long sleeves.

"What's your name, sweetie?" I ask.

She finally looks up at me with sad green eyes half hidden under dark brown hair. "Tara," she answers, her voice hoarse.

"Well, Tara, can you tell us what happened tonight?" I ask as delicately as possible.

She nods slightly. "My mom died, and my dad will die," she says in a small voice that sounds so wrong coming from such a small girl.

Sara saves me from the difficult task of having to respond to that, what with the jaw dropped and the surprise obvious. "Were your parents fighting tonight, Tara?" she asks, her voice softer than I've ever heard it.

Tara nods.

"Who got the knife: your mom or your dad?"

Tara's bottom lip quivers, and she shakes her head quickly, looking down again.

Sara looks at me for what to do next. I shrug, at a loss. So Sara decides to shock both of us.

She places a hand on Tara's shoulder. The girl doesn't move, but she finally starts crying. "This wasn't your fault, Tara. Everything that happened had nothing to do with you, but we need you to tell us what happened," Sara says gently, and I am more than a little surprised.

"But it was my fault! I got the knife! I got it! It was my fault!" Tara practically yells, burying her tears in her hands. "I got the knife to keep my daddy away when he came into my room. He gets mad at me and my mom and hurts us, and I didn't want him to hurt me. But my mom came in and then she took the knife and she stabbed him and then she stabbed herself with it. And it was 'cause of me!"

Sara hugs the girl, who hides her face in Sara's shoulder. Sara shoots me another look, and I read it easily. 'And there you have it.'

We take the girl's clothes with us to the lab with the rest of our evidence. Sara looked drained by the time we get back. It had taken a lot to get Tara to let Sara go and leave with a social worker. All of the evidence at the scene supported what the girl had said and Tara's father had eventually made it to the morgue after he died of blood loss on the way to the hospital. Tara was going to be put into emergency foster care since she had no living family.

By the time shift ends, Sara has slipped out of kick-ass work mode and I find her in the locker room sitting on the floor with her knees drawn up to her chest and the back of her head resting against the cold metal of her locker. I contemplate backing out slowly, but finally decide that it's time Sara and I had a heart-to-heart. It's not safe for someone to keep everything bottled up like she does. Cracks in the windows and all that.

So, I take the most decisive action I can think of and plop down unceremoniously on the floor next to her. "What's up?" I ask, and then mentally smack myself. How nonchalantly stupid was that question? 'What's up?' I shake my head at myself, resolving to blame it on the fact that it was a hard night and not the fact that any subsequent conversation with Sara could be alittle awkward since we've never been that close.

"Not much," she answers, her eyes still closed, "just resting alittle."

"Yes, because the locker room floor is so comfortable," I deadpan. "Definitely my go-to place after a long night of work."

She shoots me an irritated look. "Was there something you wanted, Catherine, or were just that bored that you wanted to come play mean? I am not in the mood."

"Believe it or not, I actually did come in here to talk to you nicely."

"About what? A girl doesn't have all day."

I shrug. It's pretty obvious she's not in the mood. "I was just worried about you, that's all."

Sara scoffs. "Oh, yeah, have to worry about the crazy one. No worries; you can leave conscience clear. I'm fine," she says.

She's fine. Yeah, and I'm the Queen of England, President of the United States and Miss Universe all rolled into one, and let's be realistic here; like I'll ever be President. It's my own fault really that this is going badly. I opened poorly, and she fell back on default. "Okay, so I started out bad. I'm trying to be nice. Cut me a break?"

This time instead of irritated, I get downright anger. "Cut you a break?! Oh, yeah, Queen Catherine with the Teflon coating. How many more breaks do you need, Catherine?"

Okay, I suppose I deserve that. "Just this one, please?" I ask, only half-joking. "Look, I do worry about you, and I'm really trying to be a friend here."

She stands up. "I don't need any more friends, thanks," she says, and stalks out.

I sigh before hoisting myself up with a shake of my head, and leave.

I wake up cursing. Damn doorbell. Why, oh why, did I have to buy the place with the doorbell? Okay, so the place is big and spacious. Okay, so the neighborhood is nice. Okay, the real estate agent was freakishly hot and good in bed (And yes, I slept with my agent, but in my defense, it had been a long time and she started it. Who was I to be the one to complain?). Okay, now I know why I got the place with the doorbell. But that does not mean I have to like it.

Grumbling, I put on my robe over my pajama pants with the care bears on them and white tank top.

I open the door, and who should be standing there but Sara Sidle herself. She is still wearing the same clothes she had on at work, and is adorably looking around nervously. Makes me glad I got the one with the doorbell.

"Hey, Sara. Come on in," I invite, backing out of the doorway to let her in.

She appears to take in my appearance. "You were sleeping. Sorry, I'll just, uh, see you at work," she rushes and turns away to leave.

It takes me a moment but my sleep-clouded mind takes in what she said, and I manage to grab her arm, and stop her. "Whoa there! I was sleeping, but I'm certainly awake now, at least mildly so. As to completely coherent, we'll see. Now, get in here, Sidle, before I drag you in kicking and screaming. What would the neighbors think?" I joke, and something in there made her give me a small smile as she follows me inside.

We settle on the couch a few short minutes later with some instant coffee. A couple minutes of silence follow, before I again start the talking.

"So, what brings you around?"

"I was thinking that, uh, well, maybe, I was alittle too quick to pick a fight back in the locker room, so…"

I nod, smiling. "Maybe, just alittle…"

"Trying to apologize," she says, but she looks amused.

"Trying to figure out why," I say back. "I can understand. I'm not a complete witch. It was a long day and you were tired. It's not a problem, as far as I'm concerned."

Her eyebrows furrow. "Well, that was unexpected," she takes a sip of her coffee, "It was a long day. I just kept thinking…" she trails off.

Oh, no. She's not going to stop now. This could be the good start we need. I am determined to keep the lines of communication open for as long as I can, especially since she hasn't wanted to bite my head off yet. "What were you thinking about?"

Sara takes a deep breath, and I can see that she's debating whether or not to stay and talk or leave. I can see her feelings in her eyes. She looks scared, and I'm not sure what she'll say. "Tara," she answers. "I just keep thinking about everything that little girl has been through and everything she's going to go through. God, Cath, it's going to be hell."

"It only lasts for so long. Eventually, it's over," I say, trying to help.

That sad, disturbed look is in her eyes as she looks into the distance, and I wonder just what she's seeing when she starts talking, "It stays with you, though, all the little things. It's hard to forget the hell that your life was when it was supposed to be the best time of your life. It stays with you."

"It all depends on how you look back on it. Some people come out broken and shattered," I start, putting my hand on her shoulder as she turns back to look at me, "and others come out stronger."

"It shouldn't have to be like that," she says incensed and I remove my hand.

I take a deep breath this time. "Sara, you know, you can't save everyone -" I begin, but she interrupts me.

"I'm not trying to save everyone. I'm just trying to, I mean, hell! I don't know what I'm trying to do anymore."

Before she even gets a chance to protest, I pull her into a tight hug. "You're trying to live, Sara, and you can't save everyone, but you could save her if you wanted to."

She chuckles wryly, but doesn't try to move, instead unconsciously wrapping her arms around my waist. "I can't even save myself, let alone someone else."

I put my arms around her shoulders. "You'd be surprised who can save you sometimes," I whisper, and I can feel her start to cry.

"But sometimes you're too far gone to be saved," she whispers, her breath warm on my neck.

"You're never too far gone to be saved, Sara, you just have to let someone close enough to save you."

"But they could hurt you if you let them in."

"You'll never know if you don't take the risk."

"Risks are… scary, Cath."

"Well, their name would be something to evoke images of cute penguins if they weren't scary," I say, and this gets me a definitively unusual look from the woman in my arms who has managed to stop crying. "All I'm saying is to give yourself a chance to save and be saved."

She looks at me, and this time instead of an empty soul reflecting at me, I see some light fixing all the cracks in the windows. She smiles, showing the gap in her teeth. "Penguins, Catherine? Really? Penguins aren't cute," she jokes.

I look briefly insulted. "What's wrong with penguins?" I ask.

"I… I just,… no words, Catherine No words."

I smile at Sara as she pulls out of my arms. "You want to crash here tonight? There's room in my bed for two," I say slowly, wondering if I'm overstepping my bounds. It's too late now even if I have.

Sara smiles brightly to alleviate my worry. "I would say yes, but I like to woo a woman before I climb into her bed, and I should talk to social services now during regular hours anyway." She starts to gather up her stuff.

"Well, if you're going to woo me, remember that I like penguins," I tell her jokingly.

"No. No penguins," she says sternly.

Before she leaves, she gives me a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. I tell her to let me know what she decides about Tara, and she waves as she pulls out of my driveway.

Closing the door, I smile for a better future and brighter things to come. And for repairing windows to let a breeze come through.

The End

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