INTO THE SUN

Part 1

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He watched her shadow ghost about the room collecting evidence, first from the body and then the floor. The blonde woman extended her right hand and in a twisting motion fingerprint powder dusted the murder weapon searching for a piece of him. Once she finished with the area around the dead body she glanced around the room and methodically expanded her search perimeter.

She exhaled a tired sigh. She had been up for nearly twenty hours and judging from the clean crime scene so far, she wouldn’t be seeing her bed anytime soon. She moved farther away from the body and purple powder danced along the frosted glass of a large cabinet. The murderer had to have left something behind. They always do. It was her job to find the evidence, a job she performed well. A job she usually did without outside distractions.

A low snort filled the dead quiet of the room. Distraction was an understatement. Her head swam with thoughts of her lover and the important milestone they would celebrate next week...six days, ten hours, and some odd minutes to be exact. Not that she was counting. Her face erupted in a huge smile. Who’d have thought, Catherine Willows would have taken the plunge and trusted again? Surely not her, not in a million years.

Her wrist slowed the back and forth motion as her attention wandered. She would never get done with the crime scene if she didn’t focus on the task at hand. Duly chastised, she concentrated on the fine dust billowing across the glass pane and frowned when she came up empty.

He held his breath as she moved closer to his hiding place. He watched and pondered his options. She had made it easier for him once she had dismissed the cop turning green from the sight and smell of his handiwork. He would have to make his move soon while she was still alone. She was so close now and the stupid cop would be back after puking his lunch.

As her blue eyes searched the surface for evidence, she shifted the lid of the dust powder into her right hand and was surprised to find that the thumb and middle finger of her gloved left hand were sticky. While she inspected the new found substance, a fleeting shadow caught her eye. Just as her brain registered the movement and the alarm bells clanged into action, the cabinet door burst open and she felt an enormous impact knock her backwards.

The fingerprint powder exploded between the struggling bodies and the purple cloud followed them as his momentum and larger body mass quickly carried them to the other side of the room where he pinned her face forward against the wall.

“Suspect on location!” Catherine screamed as she continued to struggle with the intruder. “Suspect on location!” She screamed again, hoping it was loud enough to be heard by the two uniformed police officers outside the home.

Fighting for her life and grunting with physical exertion, a new found adrenaline surge freed her right arm and she immediately backhanded him across his face. The blow momentarily staggered him and before she could totally escape his grasp, he punched her hard in the face. His superior strength sent her reeling and he pushed her as he made his escape out the back. Unable to stop her forward momentum, Catherine fell and slid face first with her right arm fully extended into the congealed blood pooled around the dead man.

“In here!” With weapons drawn the two police officers ran into the room.

“Out back,” Catherine told them and they moved to follow the suspect.

“Cath, are you alright?” Warrick asked as he followed the officers into the room, berating himself for not being there earlier.

She turned to address the uniforms as they ran past her. “He went out back.”

Warrick crouched down and rested a comforting hand on her side. He wasn’t sure if it was to comfort Catherine or himself. He had been terrified beyond reason when he had heard her screams and another blonde had flashed before his eyes and he silently prayed she would not meet the same fate as Holly Gribbs.

“I’m all right,” she whispered. “I’m okay.” Catherine reassured her friend.

Warrick continued on into the kitchen with his weapon firmly grasped in his right hand. He shook with rage and fear. It had been too close, too familiar, but at least this time they hadn’t lost a CSI.

“Talk to me! Anything?” He shouted at the officers searching for the man that never should have been in the home in the first place, not if they had done their job properly.

Catherine pushed up into a sitting position and inspected her blood soaked hands. Her head throbbed and she wanted to touch her forehead to see if it was bleeding, but knew she couldn’t contaminate either the evidence of her assault or her open wound. By the look on Warrick’s face she could tell the injury was bad enough. If her appearance had rocked Warrick, what in the hell would it do to her lover? She groaned and wished she could rewind the day and call in sick.

She felt a trickle of blood run down her forehead and coat her left eyebrow without dripping into the deep blue orb. Guess that answered that question, she thought.

After securing the area, Warrick returned to Catherine’s side. “He must have gotten out the back window.”

She looked at him with a dazed expression. The attack was over and she was safe. She should feel relieved instead of confused and vulnerable.

Warrick secured his weapon and turned on the officer who had followed him back into the living room. “You the first officer on the scene?” He angrily shouted at the rookie police officer.

The young man hung his head and nodded. “Yes, sir. Akers.”

“When you clear a place, you clear it. Do you understand?” The tall black man was spitting mad.

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry.” He refused to look at Warrick, afraid the irate man would lash out at him. He didn’t dare look at the blonde woman sitting on the floor.

“We lost a CSI two years ago because of the same mistake!” Instead of cooling off, Warrick’s temper turned up a degree or two.

The young officer’s head whipped up so fast to stare at Catherine she thought his neck had snapped. She took in his pale complexion and shaking hands. She thought he probably mirrored her own appearance, minus the head wound, of course.

“Warrick, ease up.” She tore her cobalt gaze from the penitent man and looked deep into the frightened eyes of her friend. “My fault, I sent him out.”

Yes, he should have secured the area, but she never should have allowed him to leave her unprotected at a crime scene. She knew better and as Warrick pointed out, bad things can and do happen.

Taking a deep breath, Warrick willed his temper under control. “Use your radio and call for backup.” He admonished Akers, who nodded and walked into the next room as he pulled his radio from his belt.

Warrick approached Catherine and crouched at her feet, staring intently at the bleeding wound on her forehead.

She didn’t want him to see how vulnerable she felt, didn’t want him to know how close she was to losing it.

“Let me see,” he pleaded in a soft voice meant to put her at ease.

“Hey.” She dipped her chin and looked away from his piercing eyes.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m all right,” Catherine tried to reassure him.

Convinced she didn’t want to appear weak in front of him, Warrick let it go for now. He reached his right hand toward her forehead and she flinched at the movement.

“Don’t touch me,” she warned.

His forehead furrowed in an unspoken question. Surely she wasn’t afraid of him.

She held out her bloody hand. “I’m evidence.”

“Yeah,” Warrick agreed with a sad shake of his head.

“I’m okay, Warrick.” Catherine didn’t know what it would take to convince him.

“You sure?”

She smiled and gave him a brief nod.

“You need to call Sara before she hears about this from someone else.”

She held up her bloodied hands once again. “I need to process the evidence before I do anything.”

“I can call her,” he offered.

“NO!” Catherine shouted. In a softer voice she added, “She’ll freak out if I’m not the one to tell her.”

“She’s gonna freak no matter who tells her, Cath.”

“Exactly,” she said. “That’s why it needs to be me. She won’t believe I’m okay unless she hears my voice.”

He would agree with her on that point.

Changing the subject, Catherine nodded her head in the direction of her kit. “Help me?”

Warrick smiled at the smooth curve thrown his way. “Sure.”

After donning his own gloves, Warrick peeled the red gloves off her hands and placed them in an evidence bag. “You’re going to need to take your clothes off, Cath.”

Blonde eyebrows disappeared in her hairline. “I’m gonna tell Sara you said that,” she smirked and then winced when her left eyebrow protested the motion.

Ignoring her comment, he just smiled and carefully helped her to her feet mindful not to touch her and contaminate the evidence of her assault. “Once we get you processed you can call Sara and I’ll take you to the hospital to get checked out.”

“I’m not done here,” the blonde groused.

“I’ll call Grissom and have him send someone else.”

“Who?” She incredulously asked. “Everyone is busy. Which is why I’m not calling Sara until the end of the shift.”

“Catherine,” he admonished. “You know that’s not right. Even if you don’t want to tell Sara, you still need to be seen.”

“I will after I’m done.” Her tone broached no argument. The subject officially closed for now, Catherine was all business. “Let’s just do this.”

Warrick was in complete agreement. If he couldn’t get her to call Sara or go to the hospital, he could at least help her finish the scene as quick as humanly possible. He knew Sara would be mad as hell that she hadn’t been notified about the attack immediately.

He visibly blanched at the thought, which was no small feat for the dark-skinned man.

They walked to the back of the Denali and Catherine opened her spare kit. First she swabbed her head wound and then proceeded to change into a pair of coveralls.

Warrick turned his back and made sure she had all the privacy she needed.

A few minutes later, Catherine was ready. She stared at the house and willed herself to take the first step. Her hesitance surprised her. She was safe. The place was secured and Warrick would be right by her side. There was no reason to be afraid. With a considerable effort, she pushed the mini panic attack to the back of her mind. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“You okay?” Warrick lightly touched her shoulder, concern evident in his voice.

She massaged her throbbing head. “I’ve got a pounding headache.”

“Maybe you should...”

“No, Warrick. I’m not going to let a headache interfere with my job.” Or let a snot-nosed punk paralyze her with fear.

He wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but Catherine was one stubborn woman. He motioned toward the house with an open palm. “Ladies first.”

As they walked back to the crime scene, they noticed two police officers standing on the sidewalk leading to the house, one of them was the same uniformed officer responsible for putting Catherine in danger. Officer Akers stood ramrod straight and he was still as pale as a ghost.

“Ma’am?” He addressed Catherine. “I just want to...” He flinched when Warrick stared daggers at him.

“Warrick,” the blonde warned.

“I...I want...I want to apologize for...for...for putting you in danger,” he stuttered. Even though he spoke to the woman, he kept her companion in his peripheral vision.

Lips pursed and jaw jutted, Warrick loomed into his personal space, intimidating the hell out of him. “Man, I’m not the one you need to be worried about.”

Officer Akers audibly swallowed. A quick glance to her left hand revealed a wedding band. He was sure her husband would have a few choice words with him, with a couple of physical exclamation points to boot. Pardon the pun.

Catherine inclined her head in acknowledgment of the half-assed apology and then the two CSI’s continued up the sidewalk to complete their assignment.

The older officer standing to Akers’s left leaned over and whispered in his ear. “You shouldn’t let him talk to you that way. How are you ever gonna get respect, man?” He hated criminologists and all their fancy talk and fancy equipment. “And never apologize.”

“But he’s right, Mac. I fucked up.” He could say nothing in his defense.

“Never, and I mean never, let a crimi tell you how to do your job.” His voice escalated until he was certain the criminologists could hear him. “They’re fucking cry babies who can’t handle anything on their own.” He stared at Catherine and Warrick’s retreating backs, daring them to stop and confront him. He was disappointed when they entered the house without a backward glance. “And don’t worry about her husband,” he sneered.

The emphasis on husband piqued Aker’s interest. “What’s that supposed to mean?” The rookie asked.

“Her husband’s a fucking dyke,” he spat out the word like it would infect him if he spent too much time forming the letters on his tongue.

“CSI Willows is a lesbian?” He incredulously asked. “But she’s gorgeous, she could have any man she wanted.”

“Fucking waste of a perfectly good piece of ass.” Mac shook his head. “She just needs a good, hard fuck.”

And Mac though he was just the candidate for the job. Too bad he was all mouth and no action, but the kid didn’t know any better. He wanted to break the rookie in proper, which meant he needed to know who was boss and not take shit from anyone, especially geek rent a cops.

 

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A phone chirped and three hands simultaneously reached for their belts.

“Mine,” Sara smiled. When she read the caller ID, her smile intensified. “Sidle,” she purred.

Nick and Grissom exchanged knowing looks. Sara reserved that smile for one person and one person only.

“Tell Cath we said hey,” Nick said assuming Grissom also wanted to send his greeting.

The Texan puckered his lips and made kissy noises to the brunette. He loved that he could so openly tease his friend without fear of recrimination. It hadn’t always been so. Now everything had changed, and the sole instigator was the beautiful blonde on the other end of the phone.

Sara punched Nick in the arm and walked a few paces away from the guys. “Nicky and Grissom say hey,” her voice, low and lilting. “So what’s up?” She teased. “You know I’m not supposed to take personal calls at work.” Sara chanced a glance towards Grissom. “The boss might get mad.”

Grissom shook his head and tried to fight the smile morphing his usual gruff features. It was hard to conceal his happiness for Sara. He had known her for a few years before she had permanently joined his team. She had been quiet and introverted, but with a trigger finger temper that went off like an automatic weapon on suspects and co-workers alike. On second thought, maybe Sara hadn’t changed all that much. She was still quiet and somewhat less introverted, but now her hotheaded tendencies were tempered by the gentle manipulations of one Catherine Willows. He was happy for them both.

“What do you mean, this isn’t a personal call?” She asked, the softness in her voice instantly replaced by a trembling timbre.

Nick knew he shouldn’t eavesdrop on her, but he reasoned how else would he get dirt on her for future ribbing. He immediately noted the change in her voice and when he looked at her face, he knew something was wrong. He nudged Grissom with his hip to get his attention.

The older man looked over his glasses fully intending to reprimand Nick for violating Sara’s privacy. “Nick, you shouldn’t...” his voice trailed off as he too noticed the difference in Sara.

Both men stared at their friend. She was pale and the hand holding her phone began to tremble.

“What’s wrong?” Sara asked, her voice thick with emotion.

The brunette held her breath, silently listening as Catherine began her explanation.

“You were assaulted?” She screamed into the phone. “Where...who...are you hurt?” She couldn’t believe her ears. She needed to get to Catherine. Now. Adrenaline surged and she fought a wave of nausea.

Nick moved closer to her to offer support and Grissom had his phone in hand, dialing without missing a beat from Sara’s conversation.

Sara began to pace the length of the stage, dead body and crime scene totally forgotten. The only thing that existed was the wireless connection to her wife.

“Jesus Christ, who the fuck was supposed to be watching your back?” She knew Warrick had been assigned the case with her. He never would have allowed something to happen to Catherine. Her brow furrowed as she intently listened to the woman on the other end of the phone.

Grissom closed his phone with a snap. He leaned into Nick and whispered. “Catherine was attacked by a suspect. Warrick says she’s got a deep cut and bruise to her forehead.”

Nick’s eyes widened in shock. “She’s okay?” He whispered back.

Grissom answered with a shrug. “Warrick says she refused to leave until she finished processing the case. He’s taking her to the hospital now.”

“I’ll meet you there,” Sara said after Grissom waved to her in dismissal. She jumped off the stage and hit the floor in a dead run, not bothering to look back. In a quieter voice she asked, “Baby, are you sure you’re all right?”

In a flash, the brunette was gone, leaving Grissom and Nick the task of finishing the scene even though they would have preferred to go with her.

 

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The waiting room was beyond full. Sara groaned out loud when she saw the mass of walking wounded, pale faces, and irritable sick kids. She slowly scanned the bodies and faces, looking for the familiar blonde visage of her wife.

She was startled by a gentle tug of her shirt sleeve. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.” She indicated Sara’s vest. “You must be here for CSI Willows. I’ve been expecting you.” The young nurse turned and walked towards the triage area. “She’s already been taken back. Follow me.”

Her boots felt like they had been lined with lead. As they reached the door to the treatment area, Sara willed herself to remain calm. Catherine told her she had a bump and scratch on her forehead where the guy had punched her. Sara wondered how much she had minimized her injury. Knowing Catherine as well as she did, Sara was almost afraid to see for herself, afraid to see how close she had come to losing her love.

Lost in her thoughts and walking on autopilot, Sara was surprised to find herself standing before a closed door. The nurse knocked once and then opened the door for the brunette, but didn’t follow her into the room allowing for privacy.

The door closed at her back and she leaned heavily against the solid wood, confident it would keep her upright since her own legs threatened to buckle beneath her. The room was small and the air oppressive, and she had to take a few deep breaths to clear her head.

Catherine’s slight frame seemed somehow smaller as she sat reclined on the bed with her eyes closed. She was pale and the wound on her forehead was covered by a dressing, preventing Sara from seeing exactly what damage had been inflicted by the blow to her head.

The blonde spoke without opening her eyes. “Has my partner arrived yet?” She asked thinking the intruder was the nurse she had asked to watch for Sara. She was starting to rethink her decision to send Warrick away. She felt alone and vulnerable and wished Sara was there to comfort her.

“Cat?”

The quiet voice sounded more like a lost child, but Catherine instantly recognized it as Sara’s. Blue eyes opened searching for her lover, relieved beyond words that she could finally melt into the safety and comfort of her loving arms.

In seconds, Sara rushed across the room and embraced the blonde woman. She pulled away just far enough to stare intently into Catherine’s blue eyes and place a kiss on her soft lips. “Are you okay?” She couldn’t help the wandering motion of her dark gaze and once again she was drawn to the wound. Catherine had lied. Sara could see that her forehead was swollen and red with a hint of black peeking out in stark contrast from the white bandage. Sara knew from experience that the bruising would be more colorful in the morning.

Catherine nodded and wrapped her arms around her waist and hugged Sara tighter, breathing in the familiar scent and felt all the fear and stress fall away. “I am now,” she answered as she cuddled deeper in Sara’s chest.

A voice cleared, interrupting the women. They were so involved with each other, neither had heard the knock or subsequent entrance of the doctor. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but that laceration needs some sutures. Your friend can step out while I...”

“I’m her wife and I’m not going anywhere,” Sara corrected the young woman, a hint of warning and challenge in her voice.

“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to offend you.” The doctor offered a sheepish smile and extended her right hand and introduced herself to Sara. “I’m Doctor Reynolds.”

“Sara Sidle.” After shaking her hand, the brunette sat on the bed next to Catherine.

Partner, as in wife partner not work partner, thought the doctor. She mentally slapped her forehead. Sometimes she could be dense, as her own wife frequently reminded her.

“How is she really?” Sara asked, ignoring the ice blue glare.

“Your head CT is negative,” she answered, addressing both women.

“Told you,” Catherine squeezed Sara’s arm.

Doctor Reynolds continued, “But you have a concussion and will need to take it easy for a few days.”

Catherine groaned.

Rubbing her shoulder, Sara tried to comfort her. “Honey, it won’t be that bad. We can start our vacation a little early.”

Catherine glared at her. “You’ll still have to work,” she whined.

“I’m sure Grissom will give me time off to take care of you,” Sara reassured her.

“Not that I don’t want you home, but I can take care of myself.”

“Actually,” the doctor interrupted before the discussion changed into an argument, “you will need someone home with you tonight. You’ll need to be awakened every two hours to make sure your head injury hasn’t gotten worse.”

Sara looked at the doctor as if she had grown two heads. “I thought you said she was okay?”

“Sara,” Catherine admonished and held her hand.

“She is, but with any head injury, there is always a slight chance that she could have delayed bleeding. That’s why it’s imperative you wake her and make sure she responds to you appropriately,” Doctor Reynolds informed them. “Unless you want to spend a night here under observation?”

“God, no!” Catherine said vehemently. “I’ll do whatever you say as long as I can go home.”

The doctor flashed a triumphant smile. “Your discharge instructions will include a head sheet that will tell you exactly what you will need to do tonight and what to look for.” She spoke to Sara and then turned her attention back to her patient. “And I still need to suture that laceration.”

In less than an hour, and seven sutures later, Catherine and Sara were finally on their way home.

 

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Soft, even breathing filled the empty space between the two women as Sara navigated the Tahoe home. The movement of the big vehicle lulled Catherine to sleep five minutes after exiting the parking lot. The brunette smiled at her wife, relieved that her injury hadn’t been more serious. A concussion and laceration was bad enough, but she knew it could have been worse, much worse.

She shuddered at the thought of losing Catherine, she honestly didn’t know how she would survive without her. The blonde had been her savior, giving Sara the confidence to believe in herself and accept the unconditional love she had offered.

Even after two years, Sara still couldn’t believe her good fortune. Her life before Catherine was empty, the hollow gaps were filled with memories of pain and misery. The abuse she had suffered at the hands of her parents leeched into every pore and governed her life. Now she had a family of her own, a beautiful wife and daughter, and together they salved the wounds into healed scars. Her former abusive life was no more than a distant memory.

Shaking her head in disbelief, the brunette reminisced about how she had come to meet the love of her life. It certainly had been a convoluted chain of events, deadly and most unpleasant. Life certainly had an odd way of balancing the good with the bad. If Holly Gribbs hadn’t been murdered, then Sara never would have answered her friend’s call for help and she never would have met one Catherine Willows.

Even though Sara hadn’t known Holly Gribbs, the death of the young woman was a vivid reminder of just how dangerous their profession could be. A lesson they all had taken to heart, especially Warrick.

Holly had been fatally shot with her own weapon after she had returned to the scene of a crime without proper backup. Warrick had been assigned to the case with her, but because of a gambling problem and subsequent debt, he had begged off and gone to a casino leaving her all by herself. Sara had been called in by Grissom to investigate Warrick and consequently had been introduced to the love of her life.

Catherine moaned in her sleep as Sara made the final turn into their driveway and then eased into the garage. She carefully leaned over the blonde and lightly pressed a kiss to her pale cheek.

The slumbering beauty stirred and with fluttering eyelashes, turned a brilliant azure gaze onto her charming wife.

“Hey, there you are. You fell asleep on me.” Sara smiled at her.

“Sorry, baby. I didn’t realize I was so tired.” Catherine groaned as she shifted in the front seat of the large Tahoe. She had a pounding headache, which intensified with the slightest bit of movement.

“That’s okay, sweetie.” Sara unhooked her seatbelt. “Stay put, I’ll help you out of the truck.”

In no time, the younger woman was at her lover’s side. She reached in and slid her left arm behind her back and then slipped her right arm under Catherine’s legs hauling the smaller woman out of the passenger seat and into her arms. She cradled her slender body against her chest and carried her through the garage, intent on depositing her into their bed where she could keep her close and safe.

“He didn’t break my legs, you know.” Before the words were out of her mouth, she desperately wanted to take them back.

Pain etched across the brunette’s features and Sara closed her eyes hoping to regain her composure. She felt a warm hand cup her cheek, reveling in the contact as fingertips caressed soft skin, driving all her demons away for the moment.

“Baby, I’m all right,” she spoke softly, trying to smooth over her mistake and reassure her lover she was going to be fine.

She finally opened her sad brown eyes and whispered, “I know, but I can’t stop thinking it could have been worse.”

“You need to let it go, Sara.” She turned her head and kissed her mouth. When Sara smiled into the contact between their lips, Catherine continued. “And you need to let me down.” She squealed when strong arms tightened their grip and she started walking towards the stairs. “You can’t carry me into the house.”

“Says who?” The brunette teased as she played along with Catherine. “It’s not the first time I’ve carried you over the threshold.” Sara ignored her and continued to walk over to the steps leading into the kitchen.

A soft kiss tickled her neck just below her left ear trying to distract the brunette long enough for Catherine to extract herself from the embrace.

“If you keep that up, I don’t think I’ll make it up the stairs without dumping us both on our assess.” Sara laughed, but the smile quickly turned into a frown when the blonde hadn’t cracked a smile. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want Lindsay to see me like this, it will frighten her,” she replied hesitantly as a single tear fell from her crystal clear blue eyes. Her chin quivered in an effort to stop the approaching flood.

Now her reticence was clear to Sara. “It’s midnight, Cat, she should be asleep,” her wife countered and wiped the teardrop from her skin.

“Well, then I don’t want my sister to see me like this,” Catherine pouted, keeping the tears at bay now that she was fairly certain her little girl would be asleep.

“Honey, you’ve been hurt. I don’t think Nancy will think any less of you if you don’t walk into the house on your own two legs.” Sara tried to reason with her stubborn wife.

The counter argument formed as blonde brows crinkled with anxiety. “I didn’t call Nancy, I don’t want to upset her anymore than necessary.” She knew her sister would be very upset if she saw Sara carrying her into the house.

Sara kissed the patch of skin next to the offensive dressing covering her sutures. “Relax, I called her.” Before Catherine could berate her, she forged ahead. “I didn’t know how long we would be at the hospital and I didn’t want them to worry about you.” Sara kissed her softly on the tip of her nose. “No more arguing. Relax and enjoy the ride.”

Catherine acquiesced and snuggled into her neck. “I know another ride I’d enjoy more,” the blonde husked into her ear.

“Tease.” Sara smiled. “Not that kind of ride for awhile, sweetie. You heard the doctor.”

“Yeah well, just remember. If I’m cut off, so are you.”

The blonde laughed as Sara groaned and slowly ascended the stairs.

Sara played along with her, but she really couldn’t complain. It was a small price to pay if she could have her beautiful wife home safe and sound.

Nancy had been waiting for them. As soon as the door opened, they were greeted by a red-eyed blonde. The news had upset her considerably, and even though she knew Catherine was fine, she couldn’t stop the tears falling again when she saw her bruised and battered sister.

Without thinking, Nancy crossed the space between them and embraced both women.

Sara flinched ever so slightly. She was very uncomfortable being touched by anyone except for Catherine, but she was working on it. Sensing Catherine needed the connection with her sister, she endured the close proximity.

Catherine broke the awkward silence. “I’m all right, Nancy. You’ve always said I was hard-headed.” The tears threatened again, but she needed to keep it together for her sister’s sake. She really wasn’t much of a crier, so she attributed her emotional response to lack of sleep, anything else would be unacceptable. She refused to allow this incident, she couldn’t bring herself to think assault, to disrupt her routine anymore than it already had.

Nancy nervously laughed and extricated herself from the two women. “Yeah, but you didn’t have to prove it this way.” All joking aside, Nancy could see that she was far from all right. Catherine’s complexion was paler than usual and her eyes lacked their normal vibrant blue. When Sara shifted her light burden and started towards the bedroom, Nancy knew she hadn’t fooled her either.

“Can you please put me down now, Sara?” Catherine asked politely, but the tone implied a command.

Brown locks swayed back and forth as she shook her head and ignored the indignant blonde.

Catherine cursed under her breath, but decided to keep her complaints to herself as they approached the bedroom and Sara would eventually need to put her down.

As Catherine suspected, Sara gently placed her onto their soft bed and the blonde scooted up to lean against the headboard, making herself as comfortable as possible as a wave of dizziness and nausea fought against the throbbing in her head.

Noticing her paler complexion, Sara tried hard not to panic. “Cat, what’s wrong?” She caressed her white cheek.

“My head hurts and the room is spinning,” she moaned and cradled her head in her hands.

Surprised at Catherine’s candid response, panic surged to the surface. “I’m taking you back to the hospital.”

“I just need to lay down. The doctor said I might experience these symptoms.” She opened her eyes when the bed dipped and she felt the other woman exhale a shuddered breath.

“She also said if those same symptoms continue you need to get back to the hospital,” the brunette argued.

Catherine closed her eyes again and willed the room to stop spinning. “Honey, I need to sleep this off. I’ll feel better in the morning.” She smiled her special smile and watched as Sara visibly relaxed, relieved to see she still had that effect on the younger woman.

Even though Catherine’s argument sounded reasonable, the worried brunette wasn’t totally convinced the blonde was being completely truthful.

The hesitation behind brown eyes told Catherine that her lover needed more convincing. Smiling once again, the older woman leaned forward and pressed their lips together in an affirmation of her love. “Trust me, baby. I would tell you if I felt worse.”

“Okay, if you’re sure,” the hesitation in her voice made the statement sound more like a question.

Catherine kissed her once again and then leaned back in bed and patted the mattress next to her.

Sara eased onto the bed and stretched her lanky frame next to the smaller woman pulling her down with her. “Promise me, Catherine.” Sara stared into impossibly blue depths.

Taking her wife’s trembling hand, the azure gaze never wavered. “I promise.” Turning the hand palm up, Catherine pressed her lips to the soft skin. “I promise, Sara.”

The bedroom door closed quietly behind her as Nancy made a hasty exit. Stealth wasn’t needed however, since neither woman noticed anything other than each other.

 

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The aroma of freshly brewed coffee met Sara’s nose as she quietly closed the bedroom door and made her way to the kitchen. Nancy was sitting at the table absently staring off into the distance, sipping a cup of coffee. The tall brunette poured a cup and took a seat across the table from Catherine’s sister.

“Everything okay?” Nancy asked once Sara was seated opposite her.

She nodded her head. “Yeah, she’s fine. Fell asleep as soon as I tucked her under the comforter.”

“That’s good, but I meant you. How are you?”

Nancy had the same piercing blue eyes of her sister and used them just as effectively. Sara had always admired Catherine’s ability to stare down a suspect and make them feel so uncomfortable, they would be putty in her hands. Now she wished she had discovered an antidote to that particular power of persuasion the Willows women possessed.

Captured within the probing stare she took a deep breath and sighed, she really didn’t like feeling so open and vulnerable. Taking a sip and rolling the hot liquid over her tongue, Sara contemplated her answer. She wasn’t used to sharing her emotions with others, certainly Catherine had flown under the radar, but it was extremely hard for the emotionally closed woman to voice her feelings. She knew Nancy meant well and was just as upset about Catherine’s assault. She didn’t need to compound her unease by platitudes and half-truths. Catherine’s sister deserved better than that.

The cup rattled against the china saucer as Sara put it down. How was she? Terrified beyond belief. The incredibly intelligent woman didn’t think she could articulate her exact emotions. Truth be known, she didn’t want to give voice to them for fear they would come alive and devour her.

A soft touch startled the brunette so deep in thought she hadn’t noticed when the other woman had left her chair and moved to her side.

Nancy gently held Sara’s hand. “It’s okay to feel, Sara.” She was privy to some of her background, enough to know that it wouldn’t be easy for her sister’s wife to easily admit her fears. She didn’t think it was healthy for her to keep everything bottled up inside. “It scared the hell out of me, too.”

Nancy’s simple admission was like the breaking of a dam and the tears fell unchecked. Tears poured down her cheeks until sobs racked her body. Nancy moved without thought and captured the distraught woman in a fierce hug. She had no idea when her own tears began to fall, but she didn’t care.

After indulging her fears, Sara once again took control. She leaned back from the embrace and smiled apologetically. “Sorry.”

Reading her closed body language, Nancy moved away from her as she sensed the younger woman’s need for privacy, and she once again sat in the chair directly across the kitchen table. She was happy that Sara had been comfortable enough to let her guard down, even if it had been a brief lapse in control. She knew only Catherine would be able to quell her fears.

Sara absently played with the coffee cup before bringing it to her lips. The coffee had cooled and it left a bitter taste in the brunette’s mouth. “I’m going to check on Catherine,” she said as she got up from the table and poured the remaining liquid in the sink. “I wish she could sleep through the night, she’s been working too much and is exhausted, but the doctor said I need to wake her every two hours.” Sara gazed out the small window above the sink, catching Nancy’s reflection in the glass. “Can you stay the night and take Lindsay to school in the morning? I don’t want to leave Catherine alone, even for a short period of time.”

“Was planning on it.” She lifted her cup and gestured towards the livingroom. “I’ll take the couch, not like I haven’t spent the night on it before.”

Sara turned and nodded. “Thanks, Nancy. We’ll talk to Lindsay in the morning. I know Catherine wants to see her before she goes to school.” She excused herself to join Catherine in their bedroom.

 

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Catherine softly moaned in her sleep, restless from the continual loop of reliving bits and pieces of the previous twenty-four hours condensed into macabre dreams of a fitful slumber. She tossed and turned in the sheets as if struggling to free herself from the strong grip of the assailant. An unintelligible moan escaped her lips as she thrashed in the linen once again.

Sara heard her moans before she opened the bedroom door and mentally kicked herself for leaving Catherine alone. She quickly crossed the room and then eased into the bed and spooned against the blonde’s lithe back, the contact both soothing and reassuring. Catherine instantly relaxed and fell into a dreamless sleep.

The younger woman sighed and tightened her hold, taking as much comfort in the embrace as it offered the sleeping woman in her arms. It had been one hell of a day, and all she wanted was to fall asleep with the woman of her dreams wrapped safely in her arms, but she was still too keyed up to even pretend to sleep.

With a another sigh she glanced at her watch. Twenty more minutes and she would have to wake her sleeping beauty. The bedside lamp cast an eerie glow across Catherine’s features, highlighting her pale skin in stark contrast to the colorful bruise forming above her left eyebrow. The swelling had been contained and thanks to the ice pack, it looked like Catherine would not develop a black eye.

The tall brunette repressed a shiver at the thought of the much larger man overpowering the smaller woman. He could have killed her if Catherine hadn’t put up a fight. Sara tried to bury those thoughts deep down, but they had a way of insidiously wrangling back to the surface, making it difficult for her to think of anything else.

So consuming were her dark thoughts, that Sara almost forgot the time. Bending her slender wrist so she could read the indiglo of her watch, she was startled to realize that the minutes had passed so quickly and it was time for the first two hour check.

She leaned into Catherine’s neck and pressed a soft kiss between her collar bone and right ear. Catherine involuntarily pushed back, seeking more contact with the warm body behind her. Blue eyes peered behind hooded lids and the blonde turned her head into the kiss. She reached her right hand and wrapped it around Sara’s neck, pulling her closer. Warm air mingled as tongues met and massaged one another and then plundered the inside of Catherine’s mouth.

When the kiss broke, Catherine rolled over onto her back with Sara still snuggled into her side. The brunette propped herself up on her left elbow and slid her right hand under the silky material of her shirt and gently rubbed the soft skin of her wife’s milky white stomach.

“Hey.” Sara’s lips curled into a concerned smile. “How do you feel?” Her voice was soft, almost a whisper.

“I still have a headache and my stomach is upset, but I don’t know if it’s from the concussion or because I’m so tired.”

Long fingers played with strands of blonde hair. “You were moaning and restless when I came in. I don’t think you got much sleep.” She frowned and laid her head on Catherine chest, listening to the steady heart beat and even breathing, anchoring her to her lover. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there...here.”

Catherine noted the slip instantly. “Sara?” When she averted her dark gaze and turned away, Catherine firmly grasped her chin and forced her to look into her eyes. “You can’t be with me all the time. It’s part of the job.”

“I know, but it’s dangerous enough without some asshole rookie shirking his job because he’d never seen a dead body before.” Sara couldn’t wait to lay into Akers, he was in for one hell of an ass-kicking.

“Don’t blame Officer Akers, I sent him out of the room.”

Sara held up her hand. “Don’t, Catherine. Don’t even go there. If he had anything about him, he would have done his job.” And she wouldn’t have needed seven stitches to close a head wound.

Sensing her younger wife was about to explode, Catherine entwined their fingers and then pressed their joined hands to her chest. “Let’s not talk about this anymore. We both need to sleep. We can talk more in the morning. Agreed?”

Sara nodded and laid her head back down on Catherine’s chest.

After a few minutes, neither woman was able to fall asleep. Sara was deep in thought about feelings of helplessness and Catherine wondered if she would ever walk into a crime scene again without being afraid.

“I was afraid to go back to the scene after...you know.” She mumbled into Sara’s soft brown hair, the confession flowed freely.

“Why did you? Why didn’t you let War take you to the hospital right away?” Sara was surprised that Catherine had started the conversation. She wanted to ask why she hadn’t called her, but didn’t want to sound accusatory.

“I knew if I didn’t, I never would.”

“Can you tell me what happened?” Sara hadn’t asked her before and she didn’t want to push Catherine too soon, she knew her lover would eventually tell her.

Nodding her head, Catherine closed her eyes and sighed. “He was hiding in plain sight. I’ll never forget it. Every time I close my eyes, I see that bastard lunging out at me and I can’t get away from him fast enough. I was so afraid, Sara. I was afraid I’d never see you or Lindsay again.” The quiet confession felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She couldn’t admit her fears to her best friend, but in her warm bed in her wife’s arms, Catherine felt safe, and most of all, loved.

“I’ll never let anyone hurt you again, Cat.” Sara vowed as she wiped the pad of her thumb across Catherine’s cheek, obliterating the tears as they fell unchecked.

Catherine wanted to tell her not to make promises she couldn’t keep, but instead placed soft kisses to the crown of her head. “I love you.”

Lifting her head, Sara stared into fathomless depths of blue. “I love you, too.” She laid back down and wrapped her arm around Catherine’s stomach and rested her right leg over the blonde’s thighs. When she felt her lover relax into her embrace, she whispered, “Think you can sleep now?”

“Yeah.” The dizzy spells had passed and the incessant headache was slightly better. She was sure she would feel better after a good night’s sleep. “Don’t leave me.” Catherine’s voice was quiet and needy.

If Sara closed her eyes she would have thought Lindsay had spoken. “Never,” she promised.

A long arm reached across Catherine’s slim body and turned off the lamp, plunging the bedroom into darkness. Like flipping a switch, she felt Catherine ease into slumber. Sara closed her eyes and quickly joined her.

 

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The morning dawned bright and early, the first rays of a new day basked the slumbering women in a soft light. Sara had been awake for nearly an hour and was content to watch the smaller woman sleep. They had changed positions sometime after the last wake up call and Catherine was now familiarly wrapped around the taller woman like a glove. Even though the women’s sleep had been interrupted every two hours, Sara felt surprisingly refreshed and ready to start the day.

A small streak of light filtered into the bedroom as the door slowly pushed open revealing a mass of blonde curls peeking around the doorway. The light from the hallway intensified and was quickly extinguished altogether.

Sara looked down at Catherine and was relieved to see that Catherine’s forehead was covered by her blonde hair, concealing her injury for the moment. Sara didn’t want Lindsay to see the dressing before she had a chance to talk to her.

Sara stifled a giggle as she watched the little girl tiptoe closer to the bed. Any other day, and Sara would have welcomed the intrusion. Since Lindsay had a standing invitation to enter the bedroom as long as the door wasn’t locked, the little blonde would often sneak into her mother’s bed, stealing a quick cuddle before starting the hectic school day. Today, however, was not like any other and Sara was reticent to begin the conversation.

“Breathe, honey,” Catherine’s whispered breath sent shivers down the brunette’s spine. She hadn’t even sensed that her wife was awake. “Everything will be fine,” Catherine reassured her.

What a difference a day makes, or morning to be exact. Last night Catherine had practically begged the brown eyed beauty to let her walk into the house under her own power because she didn’t want to frighten her young daughter. Now, the tables were turned, and Catherine was determined to tell Lindsay about her assault and Sara balked at the implications.

Over the years, especially before her life with Sara, she had always been truthful with her daughter. It was a necessity living a very tumultuous life with Eddie, her ex-husband. He had made numerous promises to Catherine and their little girl, but rarely kept them. Something, or someone, had always taken precedence over his family. At first Catherine made excuses for him, but Lindsay saw through her attempts to smooth things over. In the end, she had developed a closer relationship with her daughter, while her marriage crumbled and totally fell apart.

Sara wondered how Catherine could remain so calm while she was literally shaking with dread. She kissed the top of her head and nodded, afraid her voice would fail her.

Catherine continued to hug her lover’s side, but reached a warm hand to the little girl approaching the bedside. She pulled the covers back, making a space for her little girl and patted the mattress next to Sara in invitation.

Lindsay took her mother’s hand and climbed into bed, snuggling against Sara’s left side, effectively trapping the brunette between the two blondes.

Once Lindsay had shifted and snuggled into the larger warm body, she turned questioning blue eyes to her mother. “Aunt Nancy is sleeping on the couch and you and Sara are supposed to be at work. What happened?”

Rigid with anxiety, Sara relaxed when she felt a warm hand tenderly caress the bare skin beneath her t-shirt. She would follow Catherine’s lead and trust her maternal instincts. Even though they had been together for over two years, married for almost as long, Sara still found it difficult at times to relate to Lindsay. She had been prepared to talk with the youngest Willows, but now that Catherine was awake, Sara felt a guilty relief that the more experienced mother would take over.

Initially the little girl hadn’t accepted Sara, thinking that the other woman wanted to replace her father as her other parent, Eddie had certainly initiated and fostered that belief. Now, as much as she was sure Lindsay accepted her love for her mother and Lindsay herself, Sara still doubted her abilities to communicate with the little girl on a maternal level. That was Catherine’s forte, as much as she tried to learn from her lover, Sara’s broken childhood and abusive relationship with her own parents overshadowed her attempts at a more normal family life.

Despite her short comings, Sara continued to push the envelope and open herself to accept the love offered by the two most important women in her life. She wasn’t ready to run for mother of the year, not by a long shot, but she was getting there, and more importantly, she was beginning to relax and enjoy the journey. Life had a way of throwing curve balls at the most inopportune of moments, Sara was becoming adept at catching some, but heavily relied on and deferred to Catherine’s innate ability to make everything okay.

As if reading her lover’s thoughts, Catherine leaned up and placed a reassuring kiss on the brunette’s lips, eliciting a knowing smile. Catherine definitely made everything A-okay. The last chink in Sara’s armour fell and she sank deeper into the soft mattress, waiting for Catherine to do her magic.

Catherine stretched her hand across Sara’s chest once more, the white of the sterile dressing peeking out from beneath her blonde bangs. A small hand reached for Catherine’s forehead brushing the blonde hair away from the bandage, uncovering not only the bandage, but an ugly multicolored bruise as well.

Blue eyes widened in surprise and Lindsay gently ran her fingers over her mother’s brow. Catherine slightly winced with the motion, and Lindsay hastily withdrew her hand afraid she caused the pain so evident in her mother’s actions.

“Does it hurt, Mommy?” She asked in a small voice. It looked awful and Lindsay wondered what had happened to her mother.

Catherine shook her head. “No, sweetie.” When Lindsay quirked an eyebrow and gave her a disbelieving look, she sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Maybe a little,” she confessed. Seeing the distress in her daughter’s eyes, Catherine sat up against the headboard and opened her arms, beckoning to the small girl.

Elbows and knees found purchase on soft flesh as the littlest Willows launched herself across Sara’s body and fell into her mother’s waiting embrace. Sara groaned and rolled out from under the smaller body and repositioned herself until she too leaned against the headboard, Lindsay now ensconced between the two older women.

“Did a bad man hurt you, Mommy?” Lindsay asked. She knew her mother and Sara had dangerous jobs, but this was the first time her mother had come home with a visible reminder.

Catherine had made a point to distance her work from her home life, she was not happy the two had finally clashed for her seven year old daughter. Deeply sighing, she collected her thoughts and attempted to explain what happened, leaving out the more harrowing parts of the assault. Truth was good, fear was unnecessary.

“Sometimes when we are collecting evidence at a crime scene the bad guy is still there. He knocked me down while he ran away before the police officers could catch him.” Not quite the truth, but it would suffice.

Lindsay lightly pressed her fingertips over the dressing. “Did you fall and hit your head?”

Keep it simple, the more involved the lie, the more likely to get caught. “Yes, honey, I hit my head on the coffee table in the house.”

“Just like me.” Lindsay pulled her bangs away from her forehead revealing a healed scar.

She had fallen, like most kids her age, and hit her head on the corner of the coffee table, requiring several stitches to close the wound. Unknowingly, Catherine had provided a suitable answer, one with which Lindsay could identify.

Satisfied that her mother would be okay, she had survived her fall and stitches after all, Lindsay switched gears in a flash. “But Sara’s going to catch the bad guy, right?” She turned trusting blue eyes first to her mother and then to the brunette, hero worship radiating off the small girl in waves.

“Yeah, munchkin, I will.” Sara was awed that the little girl put so much trust and faith in her to protect her mother. She ruffled her blonde hair. “I promise.”

“Cool. What’s for breakfast? I’m starved.” Apparently Catherine’s explanation was more than enough to satisfy Lindsay’s couriosity and her total belief that Sara would save the day jump started her appetite.

Unable to take her eyes off of her younger lover, Catherine addressed her daughter. “Why don’t you wake up Aunt Nancy and then I’ll be out to make breakfast.”

“Okay,” she kissed her mother and Sara on the cheek and then bounced twice on the mattress and flew out the door.

Crisis averted, Sara shook her head. “That went better than I thought.” It still amazed her how Lindsay processed things. At times the brunette thought the little blonde worried about the most mundane of occurrences and then seeing her mother hurt was barely a blip on the chart. She would never figure her out, not in a million years. Kids were a foreign entity, and Lindsay was no exception.

Catherine cocked her head and studied the younger woman trying to ascertain exactly what she thinking. “Sara, you know Warrick is working the case, and I’ll be back tomorrow.” Allowing Sara anywhere near the case, and the suspect once he was apprehended, was a very, very bad idea.

“I’m going to find that bastard and...”

“And what, honey?” Catherine interrupted. She took her hand and ran her thumb across the bony knuckles. “He got in a lucky punch, he wasn’t out to hurt me, he was just trying to get away.”

“I don’t care what he was doing, I’m going to find him and make that son of a bitch pay for hurting you.” Back rigid against the headboard, Sara crossed her arms and fumed.

The brunette’s pose reminded Catherine of a sullen child. She wasn’t about to tell Sara, though. There was no way in hell that she could change Sara’s mind, so instead she switched gears and tried a different approach. In one fluid movement, the blonde straddled slim hips and cupped Sara’s cheeks. “I kind of like you all macho and protective.”

Brown eyes darkened and dilated when Catherine punctuated her statement with a suggestive grind of her hips. She recognized Catherine’s attempt at diversion, but with those delicious hips undulating back and forth across her crotch, she really didn’t care.

“I though the doctor said no hanky panky.” She smiled and ran her hands up and down Catherine’s back.

“Well, that was yesterday and,” she pulled Sara closer, “today,” she wrapped her arms around Sara’s neck and ran her fingers through her hair, “is another day.” Catherine closed the distance and locked their mouths together in a searing kiss.

“I take it you’re feeling better this morning,” she whispered in between kisses. Sara had no intentions of letting her sneaky lover get very far, but damn did she feel good.

“Mmm, most definitely.” Catherine pushed the thin t-shirt up to expose her wife’s bare abdomen and lightly teased the soft skin beneath her fingertips.

Sara moaned into her mouth and deepened the kiss, thrusting her tongue to taste her lover’s desire. When Catherine slid her hand into her shorts she reluctantly leaned back, breaking contact with her mouth, and grabbed her wrist, stilling her hand’s southern migration.

“Baby, the door isn’t locked,” Sara reminded her ardent lover.

Loathe to remove her hand, Catherine conceded the point. With one last wiggle of her fingers, Catherine pulled out of her shorts. When Sara groaned, she leaned in and captured her mouth and proceeded to kiss the brunette within an inch of her life.

Dazed, and feeling more than hot and bothered, Sara ended the kiss before they both threw caution to the wind and got caught in a rather compromising position by their daughter.

“You’re right,” Catherine admitted in a husky voice. “But, hold that thought. We have all day together.”

As much as Sara wanted to make love with her, she knew it was too soon after her concussion. She would have to be inventive to stave off the amorous blonde.

“Cat, why don’t you make yourself comfortable while I make breakfast.” She held up her hand to waylay any protests. “I’ll come and get you when it’s ready and you can visit with Lindsay and your sister while we eat.”

Grumbling to herself, Catherine scooted under the comforter and watched as long legs glided the tall brunette out the door.

 

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Part 2

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