Title: Drive

Rating: T

Summary: Stripper Catherine meets college Sara. Together they discuss what keeps them going.

Disclaimer: I own nothing but my original characters. CSI, its characters and its affiliates all belong to Jerry Bruckheimer, Anthony Zuiker and some other important people.

A/N: I continue to apologize profusely for not updating my other stories. I've recently taken up the piano, part of the reason for my absence. But here's a little A/U fic for in the meantime :) This is in response to the weekly challenge on cathandsara at livejournal. The prompt was "Stripper Catherine meets college Sara". I hope you guys enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it :D

Sara had experienced a lot of bad birthdays in her lifetime. There was the birthday where her parents hired Giggles, the terrifying circus clown, who frightened her so much that she ran to her bedroom and locked herself in the closet for four hours. There was the birthday where her grandparents accidentally bought a gift for her brother instead. And then there were the birthdays where there just weren't any gifts or cake at all.

She had long-since gotten used to the lack of celebratory nonsense, because that was just what it was-- nonsense. So what if she was turning another year older? It was a cause for celebration? Not while she had final exams to study for before the end of the semester.

"Guys, I already told you I can't dance."

'Bullshit, Sara! You really think we're going to believe that?" her potty-mouthed roommate Liz peered at her through the rear-view mirror of the old Cadillac.

"I've seen you shake your ass when you get out of the shower," Joan added her two cents.

"Okay, 'humiliate Sara' time is over!" Sara growled, her cheeks blushing a light shade of red. "Can I please just go back to campus so I can study for the finals?"

"Hell no!" Liz snorted. "You've kept yourself cooped-up in the dorms for three days studying for those stupid things. You need some fun. Besides, it's your birthday! Celebrate!"

"You only turn eighteen once," Joan added, socking Sara in the shoulder, something she absolutely hated.

"Damn straight! We're going to get you laid tonight, Sara."

"Okay, that's it, thank you very much," Sara angrily muttered, already working on unfastening her seat belt.

"Hey Liz, she's making a break for it!" Joan shouted. "Step on it!"

The car instantly sped up at least 20 miles faster.

"Hey!" Sara shouted over the loud roar of the clunky engine. "I hate you guys, you know that?"

"You'll thank us in Heaven."

This was quickly turning into one of the worst birthdays Sara had ever had the displeasure of being able to remember (except the broken beer bottle birthday, nothing could top the broken beer bottle birthday). She was supposed to be in her dorm room studying for exams. Instead she had been kidnapped by her overzealous roommates and was being forced to go to a dance club.

"Dance" and "club" were quite possibly the only two words that didn't exist among Sara's vast vocabulary.

"Okay, we're here!" Liz announced, and the old Cadillac sputtered to a halt at the street corner.

Sara frowned in distaste at the establishment, if you could really call it that. It was dirty and sleazy-looking, just like she had feared.

"Guys, I'm not going in there. Look at it. Do you have any idea what sorts of bacteria could be in there, just waiting to--"

Fingers suddenly wrapped themselves around Sara's slender arm, tugging her out of the car. Before she could even blink, she was standing on the sidewalk, face to face with the gaudy flashing neon lights on the door.

"For god's sake, Sara. Loosen up, will you? Now listen-- you're going to go inside and let them know that Sara Sidle has arrived for her private dance with Cat, okay?"

"Sara Sidle has arrived for her private what with who?" Sara blubbered. It only took a few seconds for her brain to fit the pieces together then. Her eyes instantly widened in horror. "You guys took me to a strip club?"

"No shit, Sara!" Liz rolled her eyes. "Alright, look, this is how it's going to work. We're going to leave you here for a few hours and come back later. We have the only car and I know you have no money with you, so no running away or calling for a cab."

"You guys can't just leave me here!" Sara tried her hardest to control the volume of her voice, but she was pissed. "This is bad part of town!"

"That's how we know you won't run away," Joan added.

"Oh, and we're leaving you a can of pepper spray," Liz took the can out of her pocket, handing it to Sara. "So if anyone tries to rape you, just turn the little knob like this, and--"

"I know how to operate a can of fucking pepper spray!" Sara hissed.

"Uh-oh! Sound the alarm, Sara's cussing," Liz and Joan both giggled.

"I'm going to do a lot more than cuss if you both don't take me back to the campus! Now!"

But before Sara could even finish her sentence, Liz and Joan had both hopped back into the Cadillac and were speeding off down the street, leaving only a cloud of exhaust and an oil leak on the pavement.

Sara fought the strong urge to scream at the top of her lungs or repeatedly bang her head against a wall, or both. Maybe if she screamed loud enough the cops would hear her and come rescue her. Or maybe if she hit her head enough, someone would walk by and see the blood and call an ambulance to take her away.

Good god, she was losing it.

Did halfway houses have pick-up services?

Sara instead settled for letting out a groan, rubbing at her tired eyes. She weighed her options-- she could try to run away, but she was in one of the worst parts of town and she didn't want to end up putting herself in a situation where she actually had to use the can of pepper spray. Two, she went into the club and made a complete fool of herself. Both seemed entirely out of the question.

Sara sized the club up, roof to foundation, brick to concrete. It looked bad, but... maybe it wasn't so bad inside? And a place like this had to at least have a phone, right?

With a sigh, Sara reached for the doorknob, hesitantly turning it before venturing inside. She dragged her feet over the tacky shag carpeting, which was littered with cigarette butts and peanut shells. She instantly crinkled her nose as a strong wave of cigarette smoke and musk and sex assaulted her.

It was hard to see inside. The place was surrounded by a complete fog of smoke and flashing lights. Loud music blared from several large amplified speakers along the walls. A stage and poles were just visible through the smoke.

Covering her nose with her shirt collar, Sara ventured further inside, trying to look for someone who could help her. So far the place only seemed to be able to give her early onset lung cancer.

"Hello!" a man suddenly appeared in front of her, wearing a bright orange tie and a neon green suit. He looked like a used car salesman. "Ronald Stewarts! I run the Titty Bar."

The Titty Bar? It was official, she was in Hell.

"Uh... Sara Sidle..." Sara hesitantly shook the man's hand.

"Sara, eh? I'm thinking more like Starr. But not just Starr like S-T-A-R. I'm thinking Starr with two r's. What do you say, baby? I'll put your buns up in lights!"

Sara wanted to turn and run, and she would've if she was sure she could find the exit again. "Uh, I... I'm not here for a job," Sara had to practically shout over the loud music. "I was just wondering if I could use your phone!"

"Old piece of shit doesn't work!" Ronald told her. "But are you sure? I think you could really do well here."

"Ronny! Is she out there yet?"

Somehow Sara managed to hear the voice over the loud music and the roar of Randy Ronald's raspy chuckle. She couldn't be sure, but the voice sounded female.

"Cool your jets Cat, I'm with a potential employee here!" Ronald barked back.

Cat... Cat... why did that name sound familiar?

"Is she out there or not? And where is my goddamn g-string? Did you let Candy take it again?" the woman now identified as Cat sounded as if she was getting closer, but Sara couldn't see through the smoke.

"Sorry Cat, she needed one," Ronald shrugged. "And what was your appointment's name again? Sasha? Susie?"

"Sara." Cat and Sara both said it at the exact same time. Cat suddenly appeared through the thick cloud of smoke, half naked, wearing only a pair of panties and bra. She had on heavy eyeliner and mascara, a bright red lipstick, and her strawberry blonde hair was tied up in a messy ponytail.

"Oh, here she is!" Ronald motioned to Sara.

"You're Sara?" Cat asked, looking her up and down. "Jesus, why do they keep sending me kids in here? How old are you honey, fifteen?"

"Eighteen," Sara corrected, uncomfortable but determined to stand her ground. Just because a gorgeous half-naked woman was standing in front of her didn't mean she was going to let her talk down to her.

"Eighteen, huh?" Cat asked, a knowing smirk playing across her face. "So your friends sent you in here to get your cherry popped, right?"

Sara wasn't sure how she could be still be blushing. "N-No!"

"So that means you came of your own accord," Cat bit her lip in amusement. "Don't worry sweetheart, I've been with a dyke or two in my time. Follow me to the back and give me five minutes to get ready. Make yourself comfortable, okay?"

Sara watched Cat walk away, her eyes locked onto the perfect set of hips swaying back and forth, just for her. She wanted to look away. She knew it was wrong, it felt so wrong, but she was in a trance. Without telling them to her legs began to move so that she was following the strawberry blonde.

"Right in there," Cat motioned to a room in the back next to the dressing rooms. "I'll be there in a minute."

After she disappeared into the dressing rooms, Sara swallowed her pride and ventured into the mysterious dark room. Feeling along the wall for a light switch, she flicked it on and saw that the room was even smaller than her dorm room and only contained a single chair. Feeling quite inadequate, Sara took a seat in the chair, assuming that it was there for that purpose.

She sat uncomfortably in silence by herself for about five minutes before the door opened and Cat entered. In the few minutes she had left, she had certainly made herself up fast. She was now wearing a shiny silver sequined top that ended just above her abdomen, and a leather skirt that ended about a foot too short. Her feet were clad in red four-inch heels, and Sara wondered how she could manage to walk in them without falling.

"So Sara," Cat began, approaching her like a lioness stalking its prey. "Are you comfortable?"

"Um... to be honest, not really," Sara cleared her throat. "The room is really small and one of the legs on the chair isn't level."

"Of course it's not level, it's used a lot."

"Because it's really old or something?" Sara guessed. "Why don't you get new chairs?"

"My God, you're really bad at this aren't you?" Cat stopped the movement of her hips.

"Uh, I'm sorry," Sara awkwardly replied. "I really only came in here to ask if I could use the phone."

Cat raised an eyebrow in confusion. "You're the Sara I had an appointment with, aren't you?"

"Yeah, but I didn't make the appointment," Sara quickly pointed out. "See, I'm a student over at the campus and finals are tomorrow. I wanted to stay in the dorms and study for them, but my roommates forced me to leave. It's my birthday today and they decided they wanted to make it especially hellish for me by taking me to a club, so they threw me in the back seat of their crappy car, drove me here, and told me I was getting a private dance from a stripper. Oh, and get this! They drove off and left me in a bad neighborhood with a can of pepper spray. I mean isn't that the most ridiculous thing you've ever--"

She only stopped when Cat cleared her throat.

"...Uh, sorry," Sara rubbed the back of her neck. "I'm rambling, aren't I?"

"No kidding," Cat rolled her eyes. "You're telling the truth?"

Sara nodded that yes, unfortunately it was all true.

"Goddamn it!" Cat shouted. "This is just the icing on the fucking cake. First Eddie gets us evicted from the apartment and decides he's just suddenly going to quit his job. And I haven't had a decent-paying john all week, you know that?"

Sara suddenly felt guilty, wondering if maybe she should've taken the dance after all. "I'm, uh... sorry, Cat."

"Catherine. Call me Catherine. Everyone calls me Cat, I forget what my real name is." Catherine sat down on the floor, leaning her head back against the wall, her arms folded across her chest. "And I mean I'm one of the best dancers here, you know? You'd think I'd be able to rain in a little cash, but it seems like every perv that walks through the doors can't jerk off to me anymore. I've lost my jerkability."

Sara didn't exactly know what Catherine meant by that, but she already felt guilty enough. She was clearly upset, and the least she could do was try to say something. "Uh, well... I think you're beautiful."

Catherine looked up at that. "Do you make a habit of telling complete strangers that they're beautiful?"

"No, not really," Sara shook her head. "But... you're upset, and it's just... you know, don't be. You're really pretty."

Catherine stared at Sara in awe, a smile crossing her face. "Wow. That was oddly touching, Sara. Are you sure you're not a dyke?"

"I'm not," Sara fumed, the flame of anger igniting itself again.

"Then what are you?" Catherine asked, inspecting her nails. "Other than a completely innocent student who wanted nothing to do with this place and wanted to study for finals instead, I mean?"

"...I don't know what I am," Sara replied. "But it's really not important, is it? I mean once you find the right person, it shouldn't matter."

"You're young and naive," Catherine shook her head, grabbing a cigarette from a pack she seemed to pull out of nowhere. Sara wondered how she managed to fit it on her outfit. Using a lighter, she lit it and took a long drag. "Your philosophy sounds like it has a happy ending, but it's not based in reality. Want a puff?" she then asked, holding it up to Sara.

Sara only smoked occasionally, to relieve stress. Now definitely qualified as stress. Taking the cigarette, she took a drag and instantly began coughing.

Catherine chuckled, taking the cigarette back. "It's strong stuff; lethal. But I guess you're not as innocent as I thought you were."

Sara blushed a little at that, but tried to hide it. Even though Catherine knew how to get under her skin, for some reason she enjoyed sparring back and forth with her and she enjoyed the few compliments she was getting from her even more. "Yeah, so uh... what do you mean my philosophy isn't based in reality?"

"Well it's really quite simple," Catherine shrugged, sticking the cigarette between her lips. "Every girl fantasizes about meeting the one, right? Well I'll tell you right now that it's bullshit. When you're in love, you're convinced every one of them is the one. I've had fifteen boyfriends and I thought I was going to marry every one of them."

Sara frowned. "But that doesn't mean anything. It just means they weren't right for you. True love takes time, doesn't it?"

"Maybe," Catherine mused, flicking off ash from the tip of the cigarette. "But I'll tell you something, Sara. I'm a few years older than you and I'm beginning to think my prince charming got stuck in traffic or something."

"What about that Eddie guy you were talking about?" Sara asked, taking the cigarette from Catherine when she offered it.

"Ugh, Eddie," Catherine shuddered. "I married him when I was nineteen. It was the biggest mistake of my life, and let me tell you, I've made a lot of mistakes in my life."

"Such as?"

"Well let's see," Catherine closed her eyes to think. "I dropped out of college to be with Eddie, that was a mistake. I married Eddie, that was a mistake. I got mixed up with drugs, that was a mistake. I guess the only good thing that came out of it was Lindsey."

"Lindsey?" Sara asked, "Who's Lindsey?"

Catherine couldn't but smile. "My baby girl. She's going to be two in August." Taking one last puff from the cigarette, Catherine smashed it out on the floor. "I swear, sometimes I think she's the only thing that keeps me going. She's the reason I'm doing this. I'm going to make enough money so that one day I can finally leave Eddie's ass and Lindsey and I can run off somewhere and be live a normal life."

"Good for you," Sara smiled a little. "So from the way you talk about him, I'm guessing that Eddie is..."

"A bastard," Catherine finished her thought. "Yeah, exactly. I would've kicked his ass to the curb the first time he hit me if it wasn't for Lindsey."

Sara's eyes widened. "H-He hit you? What the hell for?"

Catherine shrugged. "He was drunk and strung out on drugs. You do the math."

Sara's fist involuntarily flexed and she bit down on her lip hard enough to draw blood. "You said the first time. He's done it more than once?"

"Well, yeah, maybe a couple of times, but Sara, it's nothing to write home about," Catherine replied, confused. "What's the big deal?"

"No one has the right to hit you, Catherine."

"Sara, honestly, I can handle him. I've got it under control. When he's especially bad, I take Lindsey with me and I stay at my sister's house," Catherine replied.

"...Fine. But if you're ever in the neighborhood around the campus and you can't get a place to stay, my dorm number is 223."

"Sara, really, thanks, but you don't even know me. I'll be fine, alright? And hey, are you bleeding?" Catherine suddenly asked, motioning to her own lip for indication.

"What?" Sara asked, confused. Brushing her fingertips against her bottom lip, she glanced down and saw the blood. "Oh, that. I was just biting my lip, is all."

"Your fists are clenched and your skin looks really clammy, too. Are you sure you're okay?" Catherine asked.

"Uh, yeah," Sara tried to clear her throat. "I, uh... I just get upset whenever I hear about abuse."

"Were you abused?" Catherine asked.

"How do you know?" Sara asked, flabbergasted.

"Call it a hunch," Catherine replied.

Sara gnawed on the inside of her bottom lip, before remembering that she was bleeding. Letting out a sigh, she sat down on the floor across from Catherine, nodding her head. "Yeah, and so was my mom. My dad was an alcoholic and he got out of control all the time."

"Was?" Catherine asked. "You don't mean--"

"Yeah, he's dead," Sara nodded. "My mother stabbed him to death with a butcher's knife."

Catherine's eyes went wide with surprise. Shaking her head, she let out a loud whistle. "Wow. I can't say I blame her."

"Why not?" Sara asked, just curious to hear her rationale.

"How else would I have ever met her gorgeous daughter?" Catherine asked.

Sara turned the brightest shade of red yet, trying her hardest to hide her face. "You're just speaking to a customer right now."

"No I'm not," Catherine seriously replied. "I know I may have been a bitch to you earlier, but you've got the looks, Sara. You're gorgeous. Are you sure you don't want to take Ronny up on his offer?"

Sara cringed. "Uh, no thanks."

Catherine chuckled. "I know, he's a sleazebag. But he's been pretty good to me. So what keeps you going?"

"What?" Sara asked.

"What keeps you going? I mean you obviously had a shitty childhood. So what keeps you going? I have Lindsey."

"...I'm not sure," Sara replied. "I'm not sure what keeps me going. I guess it's the possibility that there's someone out there waiting for me."

Suddenly a loud bell rang, making Sara jump. Catherine remained still, like she heard it all the time.

"What the hell is that?" Sara asked, covering her ears. "The fire alarm?"

"No, that means that your dance is over," Catherine smirked. Getting to her feet, she held a hand out to Sara to help her up.

Sara glanced up at Catherine, unsure.

"Come on, take it," Catherine laughed. "I won't drop you, I promise."

Sara believed her, taking her hand. Catherine managed to hoist her to her feet quickly.

"I... don't have any money," Sara bashfully said.

"Consider this on the house," Catherine smirked. "I didn't actually do anything. Hell, I should pay you for allowing me to talk to someone intelligent."

Sara began to blush again, and she was sure Catherine noticed. It was useless to hide it.

"Hey, Sara?" Catherine asked, thoroughly amused by how red Sara's face was. "I want to give you something before you go. Just a little something to remember me by."

Sara instantly froze at the intense look in Catherine's eyes. She stood, frozen in place, as Catherine leaned over and snaked an arm around her shoulders, drawing her close. The warmth from her body felt amazing. She knew it was right, it felt so right. Velvety lips planted themselves against hers, and never in all of her life had she ever felt something so soft. A warm tongue traced her lower lip, and she opened her mouth, greedy for the intrusion.

The kiss seemed to last forever and not long enough. When Catherine pulled away Sara let out the smallest of whimpers, a pathetic sound.

Catherine chuckled at the look on Sara's face. "Wow. You're a better kisser than I thought. But don't go getting ideas, okay? I only kissed you to get my lipstick on you. We have to make it look convincing for your roommates, right?" she winked.

"...Right," Sara stuttered. The kiss had left her absolutely breathless.

Catherine opened the door to the small room, holding it open for Sara.

Sara began to walk through the door, but stopped, turning to Catherine. "So... I guess this means I'll never see you again."

"I wouldn't be too sure of that," Catherine grinned. "It's a small world. When I get out of this shit hole, look me up."

"I will," Sara smiled at that. "But you never told me your last name. It's Catherine...?"

"Just call me Cat."

And just like that, she disappeared behind a cloud of cigarette smoke.

-------

10 years later...

The Las Vegas Crime Lab was definitely bigger than the coroner's office in San Francisco. It was actually quite intimidating. But Grissom had called her and she had a job to do.

Sara wasn't exactly sure where she was going, but decided on opening a door at the end of the hallway. She peered inside, spotting a blonde woman typing at a computer. She looked down at her paper, to the woman, then the paper, then back to the woman again. Clearing her throat, she mustered up as much as confidence as she could.

"Do you know where I can find Catherine Willows?" Sara asked.

The woman looked over at Sara, a look of recognition crossing her features. She shot her a wink. "She's out in the field. But you can call me Cat."

THE END