DISCLAIMER: Don't own anything associated with the show… I just like playing with the characters in it.

RATING: T – Teen (language and adult issues)

PAIRINGS: GSR

SPOILERS: Thru Season 6 - Post Ep for WtG

SUMMARY: It's been a month since Brass woke from his ordeal, and Catherine has been doing some serious soul searching.

A/N: Had a little writer's block in another fic and this idea just kind of blossomed, took root, infiltrated and grew over my entire brain like kudzoo. And if you're familiar with that stuff, the only way to get rid of it is to burn it completely out of existence.

Oh yeah, and I had a strange thought when I was coming up with a title for this one... I put a challenge to myself to not use the same letter for my titles... I think "X" and "Z" are gonna be tough! LOL

REVIEWS: Reviews are the way I know if people are enjoying the work or not. So, if you leave one, THANKS! And if not, I hope you found at least a little something to brighten your day, and thanks for taking the time to read.


ABSOLUTION

She had often complained about the size of her office, but in reality it really wasn't any smaller than most. Today, however, it seemed like the walls were moving in on her as her thoughts continued to plague her mind. Those thoughts had been building up for more than a year; ever since Nick had been abducted.

Life was different after that, more so than anything else that had ever happened in her life. His abduction was something she thought about nearly every single day, but more importantly she thought about the "what ifs" surrounding that incident. She started listing them all in her head once again (something she had done almost daily since it happened, and the list just kept getting longer): what if that call had come to another shift, what if Gil had been the one in that box and couldn't help them identify those bugs, what if Warrick had been in there and not handled it the way Nick had, what if she had not been bogged down that night and taken the call herself (what would have happened to her daughter), what if Nick hadn't shot out that heat lamp, what if he ran out of oxygen and they hadn't gotten there in time, what if Gil had been blown up by that man, what if she hadn't gone to her father for the money, what if Sara hadn't gotten that girl to talk to her, what if Sara hadn't made the connection between the ants and the girl's previous life.

It was those last two "what ifs" that bothered her more than any in her list, and it gave her one more "what if" that she had to carry around: what if Sara had been fired a few months before Nick was abducted.

That last one had been plaguing her mind constantly for months now, ever since the Sidley case. Catherine had been working side by side with Sara on that chimney and that was when it hit her: Sara was still a CSI and because of her she almost wasn't. Slowly, over the year since her altercation with Sara, the younger woman had changed. Gone was the angry and aggressive side of her that had always rubbed Catherine the wrong way, and in its place was a more confident, stable, calm and analytical woman.

The changes had seemed quiet, but if Catherine was honest with herself, it could have been loud and crazy and she wouldn't have noticed as she had been very preoccupied with other things. And if she was brutally honest about it, she'd admit that it was because her radar had gotten very selfish during that time as well. That selfishness had managed to touch all the aspects of her life and damaged a lot of her relationships in the process.

It was that realization that made Catherine take a long hard look at her life, and she was not happy with what she saw. She had finally started to work at mending her relationship with her parents and her daughter. Unfortunately, things seemed to have been going better with the former than the latter, but she supposed that was only natural. Lindsay was a teenager and that by itself meant the two women would be butting heads on a fairly regular basis, but at least they were talking again (even if it was at an elevated volume most of the time).

With that progressing as well as it could be, Catherine still had a lot of work to do, so she turned her attention to her other relationships. First on that list was Gil, but true to form, he hadn't even been phased by her often times territorial behavior during their time apart, and in fact he had even tried to apologize for her having to come back to nights at his request. The man never ceased to amaze her in all the years of their association. Most of the time, she was absolutely certain he was completely clueless about the people around him, and then he would blow her mind with an insightful conclusion about someone's behavior or situation. She was convinced that she probably knew him better than anyone else, but she also knew that it was still only scratching the surface. She could spend the rest of her life trying to figure out Gil Grissom, but she doubted she would ever truly understand him.

And then, just when she was starting to make some headway in cleaning up her life, Jim was shot. Jim, the man who had covered her ass more times than she ever cared to think about, the man who had stuck his neck out for all of them whenever the rubber hit the road, and the one man she had never doubted in her entire life. With his life hanging in the balance, Catherine felt like her world was being ripped out from under her. The one constant in her life for more than ten years was being threatened and it scared the hell out of her. When he waved at them through that ICU window she felt her entire world come into focus. She would be grateful for that moment for the rest of her days.

It had been just over a month since that night in the ICU, and Catherine was still trying to work up the nerve to deal with her last bit of unfinished business: Sara. It was right after the ordeal with Jim that Catherine realized she had done a serious injustice to the younger woman. After all the smoke had cleared surrounding Jim's shooting, Catherine recognized that Sara had been the stabilizing factor for most of their team. She had remained calm, tended to the members of the team and still managed to keep her professionalism in place (even when it came to dealing with Gil). She wasn't sure everyone would have been able to hold it together if it hadn't been for Sara, and it made what she had to do even harder.

She was shaken from her thoughts by a knock to the doorframe of her open office. "Sorry Catherine, but Wendi asked me to tell you she's got your DNA results ready."

Sara had only briefly stuck her head in the door and was already on her way down the hall when Catherine called out, "Hey Sara?"

The dark haired woman leaned back just enough to be visible and said, "Sorry, did you need something?"

Catherine took her glasses off and blew out a fast breath before jumping right in. "Ah yeah… Do you have a few minutes?"

Sara's brow instantly scrunched together in the familiar gesture she was used to as the woman tried to figure something out. "Uh, yeah, I guess so..." She looked back down the hallway and Catherine had to wonder what she was keeping the younger woman from, but she quickly turned her attention back to the office and stepped forward. "I was just getting ready to head out, but I guess can spare a few… What did you need?"

Catherine gestured for the brunette to take a seat, so she watched as Sara cautiously sat down in the single guest chair in front of her desk. When she started to fidget in the seat, Catherine understood that she had not spoken again and so she took in a sharp breath and looked for the courage to get the ball rolling. "I've been meaning to talk to you for a while now, but it just never seems to be the right time."

Sara's posture suddenly became defensive and then she launched into a tirade, "Look, if this is HR trying to give me grief about my vacation days again, I've already p-"

Catherine held up her hands and said, "No, Sara… This has nothing to do with your vacation days… This time."

That confused expression was back in place as Sara leaned back in the chair. "Then what's this about, Catherine?"

Her tone told Catherine that this really was long overdue, but that only increased her anxiety. "I know you and I have never really, I don't know, connected? I mean, we've managed to work together without it getting in the way too much, but I've been thinking lately that maybe it isn't enough that we only tolerate each other."

Catherine wasn't sure Sara's eyebrows could get any closer together at this point, and it just made the whole thing a little bit harder. "I tried to figure out exactly when things got this bad between us, and what I found out kind of bothered me."

"I'm not sure where all this is coming from, Catherine, but honestly… None of this is necessary. I mean, it's not like we all have to be swapping lunches and going shopping, as long as we could work togeth-"

Catherine was shaking her head and interrupted before she could finish that statement, "No, Sara… It's not enough. If this whole thing with Jim has taught me anything, it's that we have to be able to trust each other on every level. Watching Gil agonizing over his responsibility for Jim's care made me realize some things about myself. Who's gonna be there to make those decisions for me? Is the whole team going to be there for me like they were for Jim? Would I rate that kind of concern?" That last question had really been bothering her, when she combined it with her treatment of the woman before her.

"Everyone is still feeling that whole thi-"

"Sara, I need to say this, so can you ju-" Catherine stopped herself that time, because she had fallen right back into bitch-mode so easily. I really need to work on that. "Look, I just need to say this, so if you could just listen, that would be great."

Her face visibly softened a little, she uncrossed her arms and laid them in her lap as she nodded her understanding to Catherine. "Okay, so this thing with Jim isn't the first time I've had these thoughts, but the one thing that always comes back is that you and me have some unresolved issues...over your suspension."

Catherine thought she saw something like understanding cross Sara's face, or maybe it was just that her eyebrows weren't kneaded so tightly together anymore. "We always managed to do more than just tolerate each other, until the stuff that lead up to your suspension."

That was when Catherine saw the confusion start to creep back onto Sara's face, so she decided she needed get to the point. "Look, I should've handled things differently, and I'm always gonna have that regret. I'd like it if we could get past that whole business, so I thought it would be good if we got the whole thing out in the open."

Sara was unable to sit quietly any longer and she put a voice to her confusion. "Catherine, I'm not exactly sure what it is you think you owe me, because like I said before, I earned that suspension all by myself."

"Sara, I just ne-… Wait, what?" Catherine's gears ground to a complete halt with Sara's declaration. "When you said what before?"

With her brows pressed tightly together Sara said, "I earned my suspension?"

Shaking her head, Catherine said, "No, the part about having said it before… When did you say it before!"

Sara rocked back against the question and answered through her confusion, "In my apology, of course."

Now it was Catherine's turn to scrunch her eyebrows up in utter confusion. "What apology!"

Leaning forward in a gesture of disbelief, Sara said, "The one I wrote out as part of the after-action report I turned in to Ecklie… Well, yours anyway, since I still refused to bow down to Ecklie."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, that was actually why the suspension stuck, because I wouldn't apologize to that pompous windbag. The Sheriff couldn't budge to lift it as a result, since he didn't want to throw it in Ecklie's face, so they told me to enjoy the vacation."

Listening to Sara's tale was both laughable and infuriating. Catherine decided to go with the latter. "That fucking rat faced, back stabbing, conniving son of a bitch!"

The shock on Sara's face at her outburst was almost enough to deter her from her ranting. "I can't believe that lying mother fucker!"

Sara leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest as she finally responded to Catherine's outburst, "Well, I guess that would explain a lot, huh?"

She shook her head at that logic, not understanding what she had meant, "What?"

"I mean, I gave you, what I thought, was a heartfelt mea culpa and when I got back you were still pretty much keeping me at arm's length." Catherine was beginning to understand why things had been so strained between them for so long; miscommunication. "I just assumed that I had crossed a line that couldn't be fixed. I accepted that and just tried to minimize any further friction for the good of the lab."

"God, Sara… I am so sorry this thing went so far. I just don-" She was interrupted by the ringing of Sara's phone.

Sara took the phone out of her pocket and looked at the screen to see who it was. "I'm sorry, but if I don't take it, h-they'll just keep calling." Catherine nodded that it was all right and tried not to listen, but for her that was simply impossible. "Sidle… No, actually I'm in the middle of something… No, not right now… Can we talk about this later?... No, seriously, I'm right in the middle of something… Okay… Yeah, I'll let you know… Bye."

Sara closed up her phone with an ever so subtle look of bliss that intrigued Catherine. She would have to look into that once the smoke had cleared from this fire. "Am I keeping you from something?"

She immediately pulled herself away from her attention on the phone and Catherine almost thought the younger woman blushed as she answered, "Ah, no, not really." Catherine could actually see Sara switching gears as she started speaking again, "Catherine, you don't owe me anything… I wouldn't have turned in that apology if I wasn't in the wrong. Truthfully, that suspension was probably the best thing that ever happened to me."

Catherine was completely baffled at Sara's admission. How in the world could a suspension ever be a good thing? But then she realized that Sara had taken the pains and time to write her a formal apology, but she had never read it, so maybe the answer laid there. She would have to get with Gil to find out if it was still in her employee file, but of course that meant she would have to tell Gil what had happened. Gil and Sara had managed to finally strike out a decent working relationship, and Catherine was a little afraid of what this news would do to that; do to him. Her fear led her to think of another way around the situation. "Sara, you wouldn't happen to have a copy of that, would you?"

"Ah, yeah, I made a copy of the whole after-action report for my records. Why?"

Catherine wasn't sure she should tell Sara why she was asking her for the document, but in the end, she knew it would have to come out. "Well, first of all, I'd like to see what's kept you and me from getting along for nearly two years. And second, I need to know exactly what I'm looking for so I can nail Ecklie's hide to Burdick's desk."

The two women joined in a shared laughter that could only come from the taunting of a common foe. However, before either could respond Sara's phone started going off again. She gave Catherine an apologetic look and took out the phone. "Sorry about this." She flipped it open and said, "Sidle… No, I'm not done yet… Of course not… Yes, I know… I have no idea… Yes… No, it's not that… Just go ahead… I'll figure it out… Okay, bye." Catherine watched as Sara shook her head and closed her phone once again.

"Problems?" These calls were seriously beginning to get Catherine's curiosity shifted into high gear.

"Not really, I just had an early rollout, so I rode out to the scene with the guys."

"And that was your ride?"

Sara smiled a little uneasily and shrugged as she said, "It's no big deal, really." She shifted in the chair and then, not so subtly changed the subject, "Look, when you didn't say anything after my suspension, I just hoped that we'd be able to at least work together. I never expected us to kiss and make up and be the best of friends, or anything. If I know anything, it's that I'm no picnic when it comes to any kind of relationships. So, I really wasn't upset at your position. And honestly, what I said that day went way over the line. There were some mitigating factors, but that doesn't in anyway excuse what I said, or especially the way it came out. I never should have said those things to you, and I felt bad about that day for a long time. I ju-"

Catherine had heard enough. She couldn't sit idly by and listen to it any longer. "Stop… We've both said things that crossed the line, but that shouldn't have mattered. We have to be able to depend on each other in this job, and I wasn't there for you when it came down to the brass tacks. I should have been with Gil fighting for you, not sitting there with Ecklie, silently letting it all happen."

Sara's face betrayed a hint of emotion she hadn't seen in a long time and it made Catherine's heart cringe just a bit. She decided that she might as well go for broke. She'd always heard that confession was good for the soul. "I guess things haven't changed as much as I thought."

Catherine was met with Sara's startled gaze. "I guess you guys have just gotten better at hiding it?" Sara's nervous smile was all the answer she needed. "Oh well, maybe one day you'll both figure it out."

Catherine stood up, shut down her computer and reached for her purse before smiling down at Sara and saying, "C'mon, I'll give you a lift. I think we've both had enough for one morning."

Sara pursed her lips together in that odd smirk of hers and tilted her head down as she said, "Okay…" She stood up and smiled in a way Catherine wasn't quite sure she'd ever seen before. "I'll meet you outside… I just need to grab a few things."

Catherine waited by her car for a few minutes, shielding her eyes from the sun as she stared at the entrance to the lab. And just as she was about to whip out her phone and call Sara to find out what was keeping her, the lanky brunette walked out the door with the phone at her ear once again. She closed it up as soon as she got within a few feet of the car and smiled. "Hey… Sorry, but I had to get through the geek squad."

Catherine chuckled at the thought of the younger woman's throng of nerdy admirers as she turned to get into her car. "Expressway, right?"

"Um, not anymore." Her answer seemed out of place, but then she continued, "Right out on Boulder Highway."

Their conversation was light as Sara navigated out to her place. Catherine was trying to figure out when the woman had moved, because she couldn't recall anyone talking about it. When her curiosity finally got the better of her, she just had to ask, "So, when did you move?"

She watched from the corner of her eye as Sara worked out the timeline in her head. "Ah, about six or seven weeks, I think."

"And what, no house warming?" Catherine was fishing now.

"Ya know, with everything that's been going on, there just hasn't been the time to even get unpacked all the way." If there was anything going on, Catherine couldn't get a read on what it was, so she let it drop.

When they rounded the corner into the neighborhood Catherine's curiosity had launched into overdrive. They were driving through a series of widely spaced, rolling ranch houses on large plots of land (an acre to an acre and a half). Then Sara spoke again, "Right at the next one, third house in on the left… Just go ahead and pull up the driveway."

Catherine's jaw dropped and she could no longer hold in the things that were going through her mind. "Do I need to worry about where you're spending your time now?"

Sara pressed her eyebrows together and said, "What do you mean?"

"Sara, we work at the same place… And I know I'm not pulling down this kind of green, so it has to be coming from somewhere." Catherine never had been one to mince words, and this was no exception. "And I've noticed you're not chaining yourself to the lab anymore."

Chuckling as they stopped at the end of the driveway, Sara shook her head and said, "No moonlighting, no mysteries, nothing illegal; just some good investment choices, spending most of my adult life having no life and socking everything away."

She opened the door and motioned for Catherine to follow, "You drove all the way out here… So, you might as well come in and get the tour."

Catherine was shocked when Sara invited her in. Since when did Sara share anything personal? But, shocked as she might be, she wasn't about to pass up the chance to see inside this amazing house, as well as Sara's inner sanctum. "Oh yeah, that would be great."

"Just try to remember the boxes are only temporary… I'm taking a few days off next week to try and unbury the mess. It's been making me totally crazy… Plus, I can't even find my scanner."

Catherine nearly snorted at Sara's exasperated admission. "What?"

"I guess some things never change," was the only thing Catherine could say.

Sara turned the knob to the front door, and before Catherine could admonish the woman to be more careful about locking up she gave her a big toothy smile that was obviously suppressing some laughter that was sitting just below the surface and said, "Just remember that, huh?"

They walked into the house and Catherine's nose was instantly aware of the scent of cinnamon and apples. She had never imagined Sara would be one of those potpourri people, but she couldn't imagine any other explanation. When she was about to make a joke about it, Sara threw her keys down onto the entry table and started sorting through the mail sitting there.

She was about to make another comment about how long the woman let her mail build up before she actually looked at it, but then Sara pulled a magazine out of the stack and smiled. Catherine was sure she was going to gush about something to her, but instead she started walking towards the center of the house and called out, "Hey! They finally got my subscription to the American Journal of Forensic Psychodynamics transferred."

Catherine's mouth was open and about to ask her if she had really subscribed to that journal when all the color washed completely out of her face. "And you tried to accuse me of making that one up…" Gil walked out of the kitchen with a towel thrown over his shoulder and pitcher of orange juice in one hand and a basket of muffins in the other. "If you want something stronger, you're out of luck… We still haven't found the liquor." Gil set the food down on the dining room table and then disappeared back into the kitchen.

His voice then called back out to the dumbstruck Catherine. "Cath, you're gonna have a hard time eating breakfast if you get lockjaw standing there with your mouth hanging open like that."

She turned back to find Sara smiling at her with a devilish grin. "I guess we finally figured it out."