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 – Basically, it's just something I'd like to see in Season 7

Summary: Nick and Sara pull a really tough case, so they pool their resources to make it through.

A/N: So, I'm sitting here at work running a million reports and not able to do anything else, so the plot bunnies decide to come out and torment me. They really do have big teeth, ya know.

Cowboy Up

These cases suck on my best day, but this one really has me questioning whether or not I should even be a CSI. That kid didn't deserve any of the hell he's got now, and I can't even look at him without thinking about just how damn lucky I am: I got off easy.

Looking around the room, seeing his baseball cards on the desk, the football on his nightstand, the dungarees on the floor and the t-shirt hangin' out of the hamper I can't help thinking that Jamie Fletcher is no different than a million other kids. So, why did that sick bastard pick him for his twisted perversions?

I have to really struggle to keep myself together so I can process the room. Making that son of a bitch pay for what he did to little Jamie is the most important thing in my life right now, and that means I gotta find the evidence that will nail his ass to the wall.

Blowing out a long breath, I've managed to get a grip on what I gotta do, and I finish my survey of the room, collecting an item here and there and sealing them in the evidence bags. Next on my list is printing the room. I've gotta prove that perverted freak was in the bedroom, since he's already copped to being in the house.

The only thing I can be grateful for right now, is that Sara took the lead on this one, which means I don't have to interview the family. The last thing I need to be doing is talking to those people feeling like I do. I mean, how could they invite that low-life into their house with a kid? The answer comes back at me in the form of another question, and that question makes my stomach turn: how could my parents have not known that it could happen to me?

I have to blow out another breath, to calm the nausea that falls over me when I think about that time in my life. And then I have to take some of the blame for what happened afterwards. I mean, I've never told anyone what happened. Well, nobody but Catherine. And I know my mother and father would have taken care of it. There was never a doubt about that one, because if there is one thing I know about the Stokes' it's that they protect their own. Of course, that's also probably why I never did tell them. I just wanted it to be over, and never have to think about it again. Yeah, right. Been workin' real well, so far, huh?

I'm busying myself with the last of the prints from the bed frame when Sara finally makes it back to the bedroom. "Hey, Nick… How're we doing?"

Her tone is calm and reverent, and I know she's doing her best to hold back the pain, too. Sara's always been affected by these cases, but she seems to have found something to get her through them better in the last couple years. But I'll never forget the look on her face when that young rape victim ended up being killed. Sara's got her own demons when it comes to these cases, but if I ask her, then I gotta talk too, and I'm just not there yet.

"Gettin' the last of the prints now… Buncha stuff to send through trace… And…" I lean over and take the underpants out of the paper evidence bag. "These should be the nail in the coffin if DNA can get a hit off them." I can see her wince at my suggestion, but I can feel myself wince even more. The whole thing makes my wonder why in the hell Cath sent the two of us out here on this case. Has the woman lost her mind, or what?

She looks around the room with her maglite, just checking to see if anything else strikes her attention when she says, "Yeah, well… I've got the swabs from the family and some trace I found out in the minivan."

"The minivan?" That confuses me. What does the minivan have to do with anything?

Sara gets this weird look and says, "When I was questioning the parents, they noticed the keys weren't on the rack where they left 'em."

Shaking my head, I have to ask, "So, what kind of trace?" Her face tells me what I didn't want to know and I have to hang my head to try and get my composure back. "He took the kid out, too?"

Sara's face becomes pinched and I know she is struggling to maintain her anger. "Yeah, I guess they were out of beer in the fridge. Found a receipt in the front passenger seat."

"That's just-" I have to bite back the rest, because I don't want Sara thinking I can't handle myself.

"And I guess that wasn't all." My eyes shoot across the room and lock with hers in a panic I simply can't hide. "Looks like it might be two contributors."


"I know, Nick… But keep it down, okay." That sick son of a bitch wasn't just happy destroying the kid by himself.

My rage is beginning to get the best of me and I know Sara can sense it. I'm sure my face is turning red and the veins are starting to pop out of my neck, but this is not the kind of thing anyone can deal with calmly.

"Nick… I'll bag all this up, why don't you get the boxes ready in the car… Get some air." Now I've got Sara handling me like some rookie, and I know it's because I need it, but it still makes me angry.

I take a deep breath, stand up really straight and then nod at Sara, letting her know that I'm not gonna lose it at the scene. No, I'll save this for later. "Thanks… Holler if ya need any help getting' it downstairs."

"I had my Wheaties, so I should be okay." Her careful smirk gives me a renewed sense of humanity. If anyone can find a way to reach down into the blackness and make me chuckle, it's gonna to be Sara, every time.

Somehow, I managed to make it all the way to the car without having to talk to another person. Of course, it could also be that with the rage I'm feeling right now, my face is betraying the emotion and scaring off any would be conversationalists. But whatever it was, I'm grateful for the privacy I need to get my head back in the game.

I've gotten the boxes prepped and put my kit back into order. I'm busy writing out my first report when Sara appears at the back of the SUV with her arms full of evidence bags.

"Hey, let me help with that." I manage to grab the whole top layer just before they all topple out of her grasp.

"Thanks, Nicky… I would've thought I had enough arm to handle the job, but then I got tackled by a uniform." I look up a little startled, but the light in her eyes lets me know she's just got another admirer.

"Ya know… You really oughta figure out some way to bottle that." I can see her blush a little and I know I've got her again.

She tries to recover her tough exterior, but I can see the traces of a smile when she says, "I really don't know what you're talking about."

I decide this may be our only chance at a little levity for the rest of the shift, so I might as well enjoy it. "Oh believe me, I know that… That would be Catherine's gig." Her laughter tells me that I chose right.

"Whatever… Let's get this packed up." She smirks at me and then we get busy with the boxes.

Once we're done, the boxes sealed and signed, she steps back from the SUV with her hands on her hips and says, "Okay, let's get going… I want to make sure Trace and DNA get started on these, so the dayshift monkey's don't muck it up."

"Right." I hold up my hands and say, "Keys?"

"Since when do you drive?"

I don't miss the glint of danger in her eyes, but a deal's a deal. "You drove out… My turn."

Her eyebrow raises in a pointed arch and she shoots back, "We might have to re-negotiate that deal." My defensive posture brings a grin to her face and she sticks the knife in to finish me off. "Besides, I kind of wanted to make it back to the lab BEFORE sunup."

"Hey now! It's been months since I got lost. Gimme some credit." I've got my hand back out for the keys and after a moment she relents.

When she drops the keys into my palms she adds a caveat, "But we gotta stop and get something to eat. I'm running on empty here."

"Right, since when do you eat?"

My jibe is rewarded with her mouth hanging open and the swat on my arm. "Low blow, man. Low blow."

We both climb into the car and pull away from the scene of the crime. And I'm not the only one who's feeling a sense of relief as we physically distance ourselves from the atrocity.

As we reach the main road out of the subdivision, Sara is looking out the window and tapping her fingers to the music on the radio. For a change, she isn't complaining about my musical preferences, so I take it as a sign that she's not really listening to the lyrics, but following the beat out of habit.

Our comfortable silence is broken a few blocks down the main drag when she turns to me and says, "Hey, there's one of the burrito wrap places a couple blocks down… Stop there."

"No way." I've been down this road before and there is no way I'm ever going back.

"Nick, I'm serious… I need to get some food."

Her face tells me in an instant that she's not kidding, but I just can't risk it again. "Sara, I'm not getting out of this car until the evidence is sitting in the vault, so forget it."

"What kind of idiot do you think I am?" There's no way I'm getting' caught in that trap, so I wait for the rest of her speech. "Hit the drive-thru." When I see the smirk on her face, I realize I've been busted again.

"Sorry… I wasn't thinkin' about the drive-thru."

While we're sitting in the drive-thru line Sara gets a call from Catherine and she offers to grab a few more burritos for the rest of the team. Surprisingly, it only takes us fifteen minutes to get out of the place when the clerk brings the box out to our parked car. They even threw in a bunch of chips and salsa because of the wait. I'll have to remember this place for our next call out to Henderson, because the food smells fantastic.

Before we're even back out on the road, Sara is already ripping into her veggie burrito, and I can't hold back the laugh. "Man, it's a good thing you live alone, Sar."

Her head shoots up from her food and she has to wipe away the traces of the hot sauce before asking, "What do you mean by that?"

Her voice is a little clipped, and I feel like I just crossed some kind of line, but I don't know what it is, so I answer honestly. "All those beans in that thing… I know I wouldn't wanna be sharin' covers with ya right now."

She nearly chokes on the food as she tries to hold back her laughter, and I am all too happy to join in. "C'mon, Nicky… When you eat the stuff all the time, you don't have that problem. It's not my fault you eat like crap."

"Look who's talkin'!"

Her smile is guarding something that I can't quite put my finger on, but she just keeps eating, so I let it go.

The rest of the night goes as well as can be expected. The team enjoys the burritos we picked up, and Greg finishes off the chips and salsa. We manage to get all the evidence logged in and the samples sent off to Trace and DNA right around the time the sun is coming up over the horizon.

While we sit in the Layout Room sorting through all the items we pulled from the bedroom and going through the photos of the kid's injuries my gut starts getting all twisted up again. Baseball cards, bruised wrists, dirty socks, eyes swollen shut, pillow case, broken pelvis, a pair of boxing gloves, and a kid's innocence all tied up in these things, but so is the fact that his innocence has been ripped away from him as violently as his body was punished.

It was all just too much and I could feel the bile rising up again. I took a few deep breaths, but it wasn't working and the next thing I knew I had run from the room and now I'm leaning over the commode hurling every ounce of that burrito into the bowl.

The sweat on my face and neck were the only things helping to cool me down, until I felt a wet towel being placed on the back of my neck and comforting hand on the middle of my back.

"Got anymore?"

I take in a deep breath and try to find the strength to answer her. "I don't know where that came from."

"Chipotle's, out on Major and Burkholder." Her attempt at humor is not lost, and I even find the strength to chuckle.

"As much as I'd like to pass it off on the food… I really don't think it was the culprit." When I sit back on my heels and look over at her, Sara hands me another wet towel. "Thanks."


I use the towel to wipe the sweat and remnants of the meal off my face and then I cast my gaze on the ceiling. "Where do these people come from, Sara?"

She blows out a sharp breath and says, "Nicky, if I knew the answer to that, we'd never see 'em again."

Nodding my head, it returns to looking at the floor. In my hands is the second wet towel, but I also realize that in my hands is the justice for the battered little boy lying in a bed at Desert Palms tonight. "I don't know how many more of these I can take, Sar."

Sara says something that completely blows me away, "Will you tell me when you get close?"

"Huh?" I can't think of any kind of intelligent response, so I have to stick with the basics.

"I don't want to see you go over the edge, Nick… Can you promise me that? That you'll let me know when you get too close to it?" The depth of emotion in her voice scares me a little. It scares me, because I know that I am really close now.

"I don't understand." And I don't. Why does Sara think I'm gonna lose it? I thought I was holding it together pretty well.

"C'mon, Nick… You think I've gotten these 'vacations' for good behavior?" As soon as the words leave her lips, I finally understand what's gone on in the past. I mean really, what else could have caused her to butt heads with Cath so bad she'd get suspended for it?

"Sara, I-"

"Look, it doesn't take rocket science to know what's going on right now… And I'm not trying to tell you how to deal with it, because I haven't got the greatest track record myself, but you gotta promise me you'll reach out if you get that far out there."

What I can feel in her words almost makes me want to cry, and I am not a crying kind of guy. But maybe that's part of the problem. I was always taught to suck it up and make it through.

"Cowboy up, Pancho," that's what he said.

"What?" When I hear her asking me to repeat myself, I realize I just said that out loud. I guess I'm gonna have to explain now.

"Sorry, I was just thinking about what my father and my brother used to say when I felt like this." As the words leave my lips I can taste the salt from a tear. I guess I am the crying kind after all.

Wiping the tears away with the back of my hand, I stand up and make my way over to the sink. If I don't get this taste out of my mouth, there is no way I'll be able to keep this nausea at bay.

"So, what does 'Cowboy Up' mean?" When I look up at her voice, I can see her leaning against the stall I've just left with a confused, but reassuring look on her face.

"Basically? Quit bein' a girl and stop you're cryin'." Her glare tells him he better explain. "Hey, I'm just bein' literal here."

"Right… So, does this 'Cowboy Up' work?" I can see the answer on her face as she watches me try to pull myself back together.

"Honestly? Only in the short term." I dry off my face and hands with a towel and then turn to face her. As soon as I look into her eyes, I can't help but fall back onto the sink for support. "For me, it always meant to suck it up until I could fall apart in private later. They were only tears when someone else saw them."

We stood there in silence for what seemed like forever, and I could tell she was working up to something, but I was not prepared for her next question. "Did that also apply to when you wer-" She bit her lip and I couldn't feel my own legs or find a single breath of air. "I mean, I guess I just figured you'd also had an exp-"

For the first time since I've known her, I could see my own pain reflecting back at me from her eyes. Oh man! How come I never made that connection? Well, there's no turnin' back now; might as well jump in head first. "They never knew."

I can't look her in the eyes right now. Now that she knows, now that I know, how will we ever be able to have a normal conversation again? A million things are racing through my mind and until I can feel her hand on my elbow, I didn't know she'd closed the distance between us.

"Did you ever tell anyone?"

I can't look in her eyes, because I know that the pain of what I'm going to say will reflect back at me in those eyes. "Catherine knows."

"I didn't mean here… I meant-"

I just repeat my answer, since it's the only one I have, "Catherine knows."

She chuffs at my answer and the shock of her response makes me lift my gaze to her face when she says, "I guess she figured this was like therapy, or something." My confusion must be showing on my face because she explains her statement. "Catherine has some weird 'trial by fire' approach to things sometimes. Figures if we can hold up to the worst case, then we'll be fine in the future."

I have to let those words sink in, and when it hits me, I remember what Sara said before. I look right into her eyes, because I know that if anyone can help me with this, it's gotta be her. "Sara?"


"I can see the edge now." Without a moment passing I can feel her arms around me and I draw in a deep breath of air.

It's really amazing how much better I feel right now. Just knowing that someone else can understand where I'm at and that they're willing to lend me their strength, no questions asked. Sara and I have been good friends for a long time now, but I really think today is a threshold we've crossed.

"Better?" It's one word, and a question at that, but it sums up everything I'm feeling right now.

I am not alone, not in my thoughts or my feelings, and I can answer truly, "Much." It's my turn now and I wrap my arms around her and squeeze so that she can see that my strength is coming back.

As we stand there, wrapped in each other's embrace, I realize that I have a question for her. "Hey, Sara?"


"How'd you get past it? I mean, seems like you've gotten better at this stuff lately… So, what's your secret?"

I can feel her smile at my question, and even that makes me feel a little better. Even in the midst of this case, she can find something to smile about.

"Honestly? Counseling, which got me to stop running from my past, and taking some very good advice." Her answer makes sense, both the counseling and the fact that running from my past hasn't done me any good yet either. But that last part sounded kind of cryptic.

"What advice?"

When she pulls back to look at me, I can finally see that suspicious smile of hers, "Sounds silly, out of context, but I found a diversion." I guess my scrunched up face told I needed more information. "I was making the job my whole life, Nick. So, everything depended on the job. Now, the job is just a part of my life… It's still an important part of my life, but it doesn't mean life and death for me anymore."

"Sounds almost too easy, Sara."

She pulls me back into a full embrace again and says through a light chuckle, "If only that were true." We both chuckle now, knowing that the truth in her words hits close to home for both of us. "You just gotta find an outlet for all that pain and anger, but it's not as easy as it sounds, since the same things don't work for everyone."

"Maybe I can try some stuff out… What do you do?" That brought out a full on laugh, and I know from her response that I really don't want to know the answer to my question.

As we stand there, locked in each other's arms, laughing, we are suddenly reminded exactly where we are when Hodges comes bursting into the men's room. We both turn to see him dead on as he quickly back pedals out of the room.

The moment the door closes Sara thumps her head into my shoulder and cries out, "Shit, shit, shit!"

"C'mon, it's just Hodges… And besides, we are in the men's room." I try to make light of the situation, but she's not going for it and starts pacing back and forth.

"Sara, seriously, what's he gonna do? Blab around the lab that we were hugging in the bathroom? Hell, we can probably get some mileage out of it for shits and giggles." I have no idea why she is so upset. I mean, I know she hates having any of her personal life out in the open, but this is going way beyond her normal behavior.

That was when Warrick popped his head in the door. "Hey guys… Before it all hits the fan, I suggest you at least get the hell out of john. Coast is clear, for now."

Sara bolts right out of the bathroom and is completely gone before I even make it to the door. Warrick is standing outside the door and shaking his head.

"C'mon, Dog… You gotta face the music eventually."

I've at least got to get Warrick on my side of this thing, so I work on my explanation. "Seriously, man… It was nothing, it's just this case, and I got s-"

We are interrupted by Archie making his way down the hall. "I never knew you had a death wish, Nicky… Nice one."

I look at Warrick for some kind of confirmation as to what that tech-head is talking about, but Greg comes running up to us completely out of breath, "Oh My God! You have no idea what rumor is running through the lab today!"

"Greg, I-"

"Hodges is telling anyone willing to stand still that he caught you making out with Sara in the men's john! How funny is that! Hodges is a dead man when Sara gets a hold of him!" Greg takes one look at the pained expression on my face and then all the color drains out of his face when he asks, "It's not true… Is it?" My hand to God, I swear it looked like someone just kicked his puppy when he asked me that.


"Phew! Don't do that, man… You had me g-"

I've gotta get this taken care of, and fast. I can't afford to lose Sara as a friend. Especially not now. "Warrick, where's Cath?" She's the only person I know who can help me fix this situation.

Before he has a chance to answer, Ecklie comes storming up to us. Great! Just what I didn't need today.

"Stokes, my office… NOW!" There wasn't even a hint of a request in that statement, so I just lowered my head and made my way through the hall.

As I left, I could hear Ecklie asking where Sara was, and all I can think of is that I really hope she's already bugged out of the building.

Sitting uncomfortably in Ecklie's office, I try to work up the strength I'm gonna need to get through this ass chewing. But mostly, I'm trying to figure out a way to explain what Hodges saw without telling him everything. The last thing I need is Ecklie gettin' involved with my issues.

When the door is violently thrown open, I know that my time is up. But I am surprised to find Ecklie leading Sara into the room by her elbow. What doesn't surprise me is Sara ripping her arm out of his grasp and the death glare she shoots when he tries to take offense. Good girl, Sara!

"Try that again, you're gonna need a lot more than a lawyer when I get done."

Pompous ass that he is, Ecklie actually tries to power play her when he says, "Keep it up, Sidle, and you're going to be on the wrong end of a suspension."

"Try me." I have no doubt who'd come out on top of that fight.

Sara takes the seat beside me and crosses her arms over her chest in a typically Sara posture. I don't know what Ecklie is hoping to get out of this confrontation, but it's pretty obvious to me that Sara ain't havin' it.

"What the hell were you two thinking!" Looks like Ecklie isn't going to waste any time on this one and he goes right for the meat. And it's obvious that the rumor mill at the lab is better than any high school in the country. "On duty! In MY Lab!"

That vein on the side of his head is already pulsing, and it looks like Sara isn't going to say anything, so I guess it's my turn to step up. "Look, Ecklie, noth-"

"I don't want to hear your denials, Stokes. Someone SAW YOU! Do you have any idea what this can do to the reputation of this lab!" He starts to pace back and forth behind his desk as he continues to rant, "I have no idea what goes on around here at night, but damnit you two are not going to use MY LAB for your sexual exploits!"

Damn! Just how twisted has Hodges story gotten already? How the hell does a hug from a friend turn into sexual exploits?

I don't have time to come up with an answer, or even to defend myself. As I look over to see Sara's face through all this, the door to Ecklie's office is blown open at the hand of one seriously pissed off Catherine Willows.

"Where the hell do you come off hauling MY team in here, you self-righteous son of bitch!" I haven't seen Cath this over the top in a very long time, and I'll die a happy man if I never have to see it again.

"Maybe if there was SOME form of discipline on Grave's I wouldn't have this kind of crap going on in MY lab." I believe this is where the announcer comes on and says, "Let's get ready to Rummmmmmmmmble!"

"What crap? As far as I know, the only thing going on right now is day shift spreading a bunch of vicious gossip around. In fact, I bet you haven't even talked to any of the parties supposedly involved." Catherine disappears back out the door for a moment, while I can actually watch Ecklie's blood pressure shooting through the roof.

When Cath reappears, she's dragging a very scared looking Hodges in behind her. "I believe THIS is where the whole thing got started." Hodges looks like he'd rather slit his own throat than to be standing in this office right now. "You're gonna talk, now, or I'm gonna make your life a living hell."

"Fine!" Looks like Hodges is gonna try and take the indignant approach. "What do you want to know?"

Catherine looks to Ecklie, who is still just stewing in his own anger, so she throws up her hands in disgust and takes the lead on the questioning, "Whatever… Hodges what did you actually see in that men's room? And I swear to God, if you lie, exaggerate or just plain embellish, I'll have your hide."

"I saw them together in the men's room." I don't think he could have been much more vague with that one, and the disgust is now showing on my face, too.

"That's it? Just 'together?'"

"Yeah…" He looks down at his shoes, like the answer's gonna be there. "They were, um, I guess, just, I don't know… Hugging?"

Now it's Ecklie's turn to get pissed. "Hugging!" He slams his fist into the desk, and I can tell it hurt him, but he's on a roll now. "What happened to on the sink, steaming up the mirrors and your going in there because you heard someone cry out? That's a far fucking cry from 'hugging.'"

Holy Shit! Is THAT what he's been telling people! "What the hell!" I just cannot believe that little slimeball.

"I never said anything about the sin-" His voice started out strong, but it fades out once he realizes what an ass he's made of himself… Again.

Ecklie clenches his jaw and I swear it looks like he's chewing his own teeth when he finally speaks. "Get out… I'll deal with you later."

As Hodges backs out of the room, I watch as the standoff of the century is about to start between Catherine and Ecklie. Under most circumstances, I wouldn't mind having a good seat for this kind of thing, but right now, I'm just a little too close to the blast range for this to be good.

"As for you two-"

"Don't even go there, Conrad." Aw hell… Grissom!

"Gil, what're you doing here?" You would have thought Grissom was his boss the way Ecklie's whole face just went white.

"I got a call telling me that you hauled two of my people in here, without Catherine present, and I was just wondering what gave you the impression you had any right to do so." Man! Grissom is going straight for the jugular this time.

"As the Assistant Director of this la-"

"We both know just how much water THAT argument will hold right now, don't we, Conrad?" Obviously, this has turned into a serious pissing match, and I don't even want to be here for it. "Catherine?"


"Would you escort these two back to your office? To handle the matter… Properly?" Neither of us wait for Catherine to say anything else before we get out of our seats and head out the door. Before she goes Cath leans over and whispers something in Grissom's ear and then joins us outside. My money? That's on her telling him if he kills Ecklie there'll be too much paperwork.

Not a word passes between the three of us as we make our way to Cath's office. When we walk in, she grabs the chair from behind her desk and wheels it around for Sara to sit in and motions for me to take the guest chair. Catherine, however, perches herself on the edge of her desk.

"So, you guys gonna tell me what really happened? Or should I go out there and see how much worse the story's gotten since we went into Ecklie's office?"

"Can it get much worse than it already is?" When I speak, there's a nervous chuckle I hadn't intended to use, but it just came out.

"Around here? Trust me… It can get a lot worse." Sadly, I know she's right. "Now, I'm serious… What happened?"

Sara takes in a deep breath to start the story, but I reach out and put my hand on her arm to stop her. "This one's my bad… I'll tell her." Sara gives me one of those sideways grins of hers, and I know I just made the right move.

"Look, I got a little queasy lookin' at the photos from the scene as we were sorting through the items we took from the house and…" I can feel the bile starting to churn again, just thinking about it. "Anyway, I lost my lunch, and Sara came in after me… To make sure I was okay."

The worry I see on Catherine's face makes it even harder to get through this, but then I feel Sara's hand settle onto my knee and squeeze. It's good to have friends like her. "I'm sorry, Cath, but I'm not sorry about what happened. Sara was there for me when I needed her and I wouldn't take any of it back… Except maybe for that burrito, 'cause they aren't much fun comin' back the other way." Sara and Catherine both give me that understanding smile that all women seem to possess.

"No, I'm sorry, Nicky." That surprises me, because I'm just not used to Catherine talking like that. "I should've given you guys better back up on this case when I got the call from Brass. I hate these things as much as the next person, but there were just too many cases on the board tonight."

Sara takes up the mantle this time. "It's not a problem, Catherine… We just needed some time to re-group… These cases can be real tough, and everyone needs a little breather now and then." She squeezes my knee one last time before returning to sitting back in her chair. "And we've got an understanding now, so there won't be anymore digestive pyrotechnics on this one, huh?"

I know I've got one of those goofy lookin' grins Sara's always razzin' me about, but I still look from her to Catherine and nod my agreement.

Catherine looks from one to the other of us and then smiles. "So, good to hear… And for future reference: if you need a place to talk away from prying eyes and ears, try my office first. The men's room is no place for a conversation."

We all chuckle at her little suggestion, but I can tell she has something else on her mind when she stands up. "Sara, you better get out of here before you get into any more trouble."

"I just need to pack up the evidence and-"

"No need… I had Greg take care of it before he left. Besides, he needed to have something to do so he couldn't hear any more of the gory details about you two in the john… I think his head was about to explode when he heard the 'hanging from the stalls' version." Sara closes her eyes at the suggestion and stands up to the leave as she shakes her head.

"Oh, and Cath… Thanks for calling h-… For calling and everything else."

"Wasn't me… Try Jim." They both exchange a knowing look that kinda confuses me, but obviously it's something I'm not supposed to know.

"Right… Well, thanks anyway."

I watch while Catherine smiles as Sara leaves the room and closes the door. Looks like those two have finally buried the hatchet, which can only be a good thing. That crap went on way too long, if you ask me.

"So, Hopalong… What've you got to say for yourself?"

I try flashing her one of my most charming grins and ask, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

We both laugh and it really helps to lighten the mood in here. Catherine moves her chair back behind her desk and takes a seat. "Okay… Seriously though… Are you okay with this case?"

I take in a deep breath and blow it out sharply. That seems to be my best calming exercise lately. "If you'da asked me a couple hours ago? I'd have a different answer, but right now? I think I'm gonna be fine."

"You sure about that?" I know her concern is genuine and I deeply appreciate it, but sometimes I feel like she's gettin' notes from my mother.

"Yup… Me and Sara had a good talk, despite your opinion on men's room conversations, and I think I'm gonna be just fine." For the first time in a long while, I actually believe what I'm saying. "It's really amazing what a little cathartic upchucking among friends can bring about."

"Well, I can't say as I'd recommend that for everyone, but if it works for you, then okay." Her easy smile lets me know that I said the right thing to make her understand.

"Okay then… You'd probably better get out of here, too." I nod at her suggestion and stand to leave, but she's got one more thing to say. "And, if you don't mind a little friendly advice?"

"Always... What've ya got?"

"Try to keep the banter between you and Sara verbal only for the rest of the week. It'll get the gossip mongers off your backs faster." I guess I never thought about it before, but Sara and I do ham it up quite a bit. So, I guess I can see where lesser people might misunderstand that for something it's not.

"Sounds like a plan… Thanks, Cath."

As I'm about to walk out the door of her office, she has one more thing on her mind. "Oh, and it might be a good idea to stay clear of Grissom until this blows over. Just as a precaution."

I'm sure my face showed my confusion at her parting remark, but I just nod my head and make my way to the locker room. Why in the world would I need to stay clear of Grissom? I mean, he's the one that came in on his day off to confront Ecklie over this whole thing. Granted, Grissom likes nailing Ecklie on his crap anyway, but why would he come in to stick up for us if he was ticked off at us… Not us… She only gave me the warning. Sara.

Man! And here I thought those two had finally gotten past all that crap. Guess some things never change. But wouldn't it be nice if they could just figure that whole mess out? I admire Grissom for a lot of things, but not his relationship skills. Hell! I bet Hodges is better at that stuff than ole Grissom.

None of that matters now, though. I've got my backpack and it's time to head out of here. I'm just glad the guys down in the motor pool were able to fix my ride after that jackass got hold of it a while back.

As soon as my eyes fall onto that shiny, black beauty I know it's only a matter of time before my head'll hit the pillow and I can recharge for another shift. So, I throw the backpack into the passenger seat, climb in, buckle up, turn the key in the ignition and flip on the A/C. Nothing quite like a blast of A/C to help you refocus before the drive home.

Not being a supervisor, I have to park on the other side of the department's SUVs. It sucks, but it also means I can get to the trucks faster when I come in on an early rollout. As I'm adjusting my mirrors again (and I really need to get those fixed, since they've never been the same after the jackass stole my ride) I catch a glimpse of Grissom's classic Mercedes still in the back lot, which means he must still be giving ole Ecklie a thing or two. I almost feel sorry for the guy as I pull out… Almost.

Just as I clear the line of department vehicles a flash of brown hair catches my eye and I turn to see Sara out in the parking lot. My first thought is that she's having car trouble again (worthless, dinky little hybrids), but as I turn my car towards her, I realize she's waiting by Grissom's car.

Note to self: Call Sara and make sure she's still okay later. I can only imagine how NOT in the mood Grissom's gonna be to have a conversation with her about this whole thing right now. I mean, I can't blame her for wanting to set him straight, but still. The guy has a long track record of comin' down hard on the girl, especially when she doesn't deserve it.

As I correct my steering to lead me out of the parking lot and away from Sara, I glance back at my rearview mirror and instantly my foot slams down onto the break. And then, in a panic, I gun the accelerator and peel out of the lot. HOLY SHIT!


Turning away from each other's faces, Sara blushes and says, "I don't know about you, but I think it's a pretty safe bet that he saw us."

Grissom takes her hand and kisses the back of it before opening the passenger door of his car, "Funny… I don't really care right now."