A/N: Hello! Before you begin, I'd like to thank you for reading my story. I'd really appreciate a review, too – this is my first CSI piece, and I'd like to know what you think of it.
I don't own the CSI series or characters. I don't even own Cinderella.
Sara Sidle's favorite time of day was bedtime. She loved the simplicity of sleep. When she was asleep, there were no shouting voices. When she was asleep, there were no flying fists. When she was asleep, no one could hurt her or her mother.
But, even more than sleeping, she loved getting ready for bed. She loved brushing her teeth, changing into her pajamas and climbing into her bed. She loved snuggling under the covers and waiting for her mother to come in and read her a story. It was a ritual that Laura Sidle had started when her daughter was a newborn, and one that even her husband knew never to disturb. Sara's bedtime story was the one thing in their lives that was truly sacred.
Sara only ever waited a few moments from when she got into bed until her mother would come into her room. She would smile at Sara and take a book off her teeming bookshelf.
"Let's see," she would say every night. "Shall we read a story?"
"Yes!" Sara would exclaim.
Although Sara had hundreds of books spanning every literary genre, her mother would only read one kind of story at night. She would read anything to her daughter all day long, but she insisted that only fairytales be read before bed. Sara loved to be read to – it didn't matter what was being read – so she never complained.
"What story shall we read tonight?" Laura asked her six-year-old daughter.
Sara scrunched up her face in thought. "One with a princess."
"Most of them have princesses," Laura replied, scanning the books on the shelf. "Shall we read about Cinderella?"
"Okay," Sara agreed.
Laura sat down on Sara's bed, snuggling her little girl close. She began to read, her voice changing pitch with each different character. Sara laid her head on her mother's shoulder, watching the pictures and words fly by. She reached up to twist her fingers in her mother's hair, another part of their nightly ritual.
"And they lived happily ever after," Laura finished. She kissed the top of Sara's head. "You like that story, don't you?"
"Yes," Sara said. She looked at her mother for a minute. "Is that what it's like for other little girls?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, is that what it's like for little girls who have sisters? Do they have to clean their houses while their sisters just sit around?"
"I don't know. I never had a sister," Laura said. "Maybe it is like that for some little girls. Would you like to live like that?"
Sara looked thoughtful, then shook her head. "I wouldn't want to be Cinderella. Her mom was mean to her."
"Her mother had died," Laura reminded her. "That was her stepmother who was so mean."
"She didn't have a mommy?"
"She did at one time."
"And her daddy was dead, too."
"Yes," Laura agreed.
Sara's brows knitted together. "Did her daddy hit her mommy?"
Laura's eyes widened. "What? Why would you think that?"
"Because that's what daddies do."
Tears filled Laura's eyes. "Sara, you listen to me. Not everyone lives like that. Daddies aren't supposed to hit mommies."
"But, Daddy hits you."
"That doesn't mean it's right."
"Then, why does he do it?"
Laura sighed, playing with Sara's hair as she held her close. "Because he doesn't know any better. His daddy never taught him the right thing to do."
"You should teach him," Sara said simply. "I'll tell him, if you want."
"No!" Laura said quickly. "No," she said again, this time gently. "I'll … I'll take care of Daddy, Sara."
She nodded, her confidence in her mother never wavering. "All right."
"And, Sara – you need to understand something."
"This isn't the life you're going to have forever. You're going to be much happier than this someday. Someday, when you're older, your prince will come and rescue you from this life, the same way Prince Charming rescued Cinderella."
"Did your prince rescue you?"
She shook her head slowly. "No. But, it wasn't the same. I wasn't a princess like you are."
Sara giggled. "I'm not a princess, Mommy."
"Yes, you are," Laura said, hugging her close and kissing the top of her head. "You're my princess."
"Does that mean that you're a queen?"
"No," Laura sighed. "It just means that you're a princess."
"Then, I'll be a queen someday."
"I'm sure you will," Laura smiled.
"And when I'm the queen, I'll make sure that daddies can't hit mommies – or little girls."
Tears filled Laura's eyes again, this time sliding down her cheeks. "I know you will, baby. You can do anything you set your mind to."
"I want to make sure that no one gets hurt."
"No one will, if you have anything to say about it." Laura kissed Sara again. "And, now, my little princess, I think it's time for you to go to sleep."
"Okay," Sara agreed, sliding down to rest her head on her pillow. "Mommy?"
Laura stopped with her hand on the light switch. "Yes, baby?"
"When will my prince come?"
"When you're all grown up," Laura said.
"Why do I have to wait so long?"
Laura stepped back over to her daughter's bed and brushed the little girl's dark hair back from her face. "Listen, Sara. There will be plenty of boys who will tell you that they're your prince. But, you make sure that you wait until you've found the real one before you believe him. Not every boy is a prince, and not every boy will rescue you. Do you understand?"
Sara sighed the world-weary sigh of a child who had been told to "wait until you're older" too many times. "Yes. I won't meet my prince until I'm grown up."
"Exactly." Laura brushed another kiss against her daughter's forehead. "I love you, little girl."
"I love you, too, Mommy."
Laura paused in the doorway to look at her daughter one last time before shutting off the lights. Sara was already falling asleep, holding tightly to her favorite stuffed bear.
Laura closed her eyes, praying that she had managed to implant some of her hard-won wisdom in her daughter's mind and heart. She didn't want her little girl to have to live the life that she did. She had to find a way to make sure that she didn't.
Sara never forgot that conversation with her mother when she was a little girl. For so long, she clung to the hope that a prince would come to rescue her from the horror that was her life. She wanted someone to take her away from the shouting, the fighting, the pain, the smashed walls, the trips to the emergency room. She wanted someone to save her from the life that was so normal to her, yet, at the same time, felt so abnormal.
Then, her family fell apart. It was as if she had been transported into the fairytale. Her father was dead, her mother was taken from her, and she was forced to live with strangers. The only difference was that she wasn't forced to clean their house.
No, that wasn't the only difference.
On the night that her father died, Sara learned a valuable lesson. She learned that fairytales weren't real. Princesses weren't special, and, even if they were, she didn't qualify as one. No one was going to save her. The two people who could have – who were supposed to – were gone.
No prince would come to rescue her from this horrible life. She gave up on the idea of a fairytale ending. She gave up on the idea of ever being found by a prince. She had to rescue herself.