Disclaimers: I don't own CSI or any of its affiliates.

A/N Series Alert: This is another oneshot prequel to Mad World. The previous Outflux and this one may be read separately and understood. Let me know what you think.

Outflux: Catherine's Peace

Catherine Willows was at a loss. There was no winning this fight, and she had to put aside her pride and her stubbornness and understand the reality that faced her. She sat on her bed with her head fallen in the loose embrace of her own hands frustrated beyond what she could currently deal with. She was ashamed that she had given into her own need to control everything around her for the nth time.

She had believed, perhaps foolishly, that if she just approached Sara in a sensible and logical way—a guise she was positive Sara was comfortable with—that she could paint everything in lofty tones and erase the parts of Sara's history she had not bore personal witness to. Catherine had thought that the power of her love and the power of her self-righteousness could mold things into the way she believed things should be. Catherine knew that her stubborn will had allowed her to succeed where others had failed and she hadn't given herself much room to believe that in this she had the possibility of failure.

Catherine had only allowed herself to believe that she could push Sara into doing what would make things better. Sara would stop calling out to this unclaimed family member 'Melinda' in her nightmares. The pain would be able to cease and become mended by finally doing something to change the road of destiny that Sara had forced herself to walk down, and had sentenced Melinda to as well. Catherine had convinced herself that it was finally time to correct everything that had gone wrong so that they could all move forward in their lives without this singular attachment that separated Sara from truly stepping out of the misery filled shadows of her past.

Catherine was convinced they could get through it together. She wasn't afraid, but she just couldn't have ever guessed at the amount of fear that her partner, her lover held in her own soul. Sara was bogged down by it and Catherine had only recently figured out that she wasn't the person that could take that fear away. It wasn't a thing she could accomplish, despite how much Catherine wanted things to be within her control. It was perhaps an unfair reality, but Catherine really had no part to play in the still unfinished story between Sara and the mysterious Melinda.

Sure, Catherine hired a private detective to gather information. Sure, she had been handed a phone number and address. Sure, she had almost picked up the damn phone to make a fatalistic phone call that would most likely signal the end of her relationship with Sara, but it really wasn't her place to change the reality that existed before her and would surely exist whether she was in Sara's life or not. It was time she tried to accept that truth.

She had put her everything into this last fight. She had pulled out everything from her arsenal and with callous love had flung it onto Sara's already broken psyche. Catherine had brought up Sara's tormented childhood. She had brought up the threats that Sara forced herself to live with. Catherine had even been so brave to bring up the myriad of cases they had worked on in their profession where the results could have changed by someone simply standing up to make a difference.

None of her words could penetrate the terror that existed so brazenly in Sara's eyes. Catherine couldn't mend the pain that flowed under the surface. Catherine couldn't win because Sara simply wouldn't allow it. So, Catherine gave up and didn't bother to follow after Sara's retreating body. She let Sara walk away and silently prayed that whatever she had damaged they could eventually fix.

She lifted her face from her hands and looked down to the floor where Sara had thrown the file folder Catherine had carelessly handed over. She looked down at the pictures that faced her and forced her eyes to focus on a single image. Her hand reached down and brought the picture closer to the light.

The physical similarities weren't starkly apparent at a first glance. Catherine was surprised when she first saw the pictures and saw nothing of her lover in the black and white images. She had been ready to argue with the man she had hired to track down Melinda, but as she opened her mouth to voice her anger her brain finally made the associations between her lover and the images of the teenage girl.

It was easy to see that Sara and Melinda were related. They had the same eyes. They had the same nose, hell their faces almost looked like clones of each other. One simply had to look past the first glance difference that separated Sara from this young woman Sara had hesitantly called family.

Melinda's image looked good in the pictures. She looked…well on the surface she looked healthy and perhaps happy. She was smiling and since the picture was taken on a school campus she looked to be surrounded by friends. There was nothing wrong in the photos that had been taken. There were no conspicuous signs that the teenager was suffering in any way at all.

Catherine knew better than to believe in the lies that the pictures displayed. She could feel the girl's pain deep in her gut when she looked into the eyes that reminded her so much of Sara's. Something was wrong. Something was perhaps terribly wrong and there was nothing Catherine could do to change it. She had tried. She had made the effort and her efforts had been pushed aside.

Part of Catherine felt that if she gave up trying to fix all that was lying in shambles at her feet now, that she would be the coward she had been trying not to be. She knew that if she gave up on trying to get Sara to talk to Melinda then she would be doing it for selfish reasons. She knew that backing off meant giving in to her own fear of losing the love Sara had somehow managed to give her despite the turmoil of emotion that resided within her soul.

Catherine gathered up the pictures and documents that lay at her feet. She put them back in order and then placed them back in the manila folder they had been ripped from. Her eyes gazed upon the top picture of Melinda once more before she closed the folder and clipped it shut with a red colored paperclip.

Without any real thought behind her actions, she leant down and softly kissed the folder. When she pulled her mouth away she whispered a soft apology. With folder in hand she went downstairs and to the fireplace she couldn't ever quite remember using before. She placed the file in the dark open space and then threw a lit match on top of it.

She turned away from the burning paper, unable to stare at it as it was crumbling into ashes. The fire eventually burnt itself out and all that remained was the now burnt paperclip. Catherine cleaned up the ashes and threw everything away except the clip. She wanted to keep it to remind herself of the choice she had consciously made.

Sara came back to the house that night. Catherine made them dinner and after eating they curled up against each other on Catherine's bed. Neither of them brought up their argument. The time for talking about anything having to do with Sara's family was over, and as Catherine was falling asleep in Sara's arms she heard her lover whisper, "Thank you for trying."

It wasn't an apology nor was it an admission of wrongness. It was just a simple acknowledgment of the distance that remained between them and that perhaps would always remain. Catherine couldn't make everything better and Sara couldn't always overcome her fear.

"Let's just get some sleep," Catherine placed a soft kiss of Sara's cheek and when she leaned back into Sara's embrace, she realized a truth she was unwilling to admit before. Catherine realized that she could live with not ever bringing up Melinda again. She was okay with abandoning the child she had been advocate of before. "I love you."