62 – What to Do When You Can’t Make Chicken Soup or Just a Little TLDC (Tender Long-Distance Care)

Gil Grissom’s latest conundrum has nothing to do with bugs, dead bodies or feckless students, but rather what to do when you have a sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching spouse six thousand miles away.

Follows “Better Angels” and takes place between episodes 10×20 “Take My Life Please” and 10×22 “Doctor Who,” circa May 2010.

*******

For Frank (yes, again), who always makes life interesting no matter how bad the sniffles may get. With felicitations and many happy returns (a little late) for your birthday. And no matter what you say, dear, forty-one isn’t old.

********

Sara was in the process of hurriedly pulling her still damp hair into a haphazard ponytail when she padded into the rather over-bright kitchen in her stocking feet, the robe her husband had given her several years back when they’d first started sleeping over at each other’s places on a regular basis, the one with the brilliant blue irises, tugged tight around her usual post shower wardrobe of a camisole and pajama pants.

Normally, she wouldn’t have needed the robe. Certainly not in May when the temperatures in Vegas were known to top out at past ninety degrees on a fairly regular basis. That they’d been having a cooler than typical month hadn’t been the cause for the wearing of additional layers nor the reason for her having lingered unusually over-long under the hot spray of the shower.

The reason was simple really. Somewhere, somehow she’d managed to come down with a cold that she just hadn’t been able to shake.

At first, she’d brushed off the congestion and the scratchy tickle in the back of her throat as a case of sudden spring allergies gone awry or perhaps an indication that she’d pulled a few too many doubles since she’d come back from being in Europe with Grissom. Except the sore throat and stuffiness had morphed into a nasty cough and a great deal of noisy nose blowing; she’d begun to ache all over and feel run down and tired. Even with popping zinc supplements, drinking orange juice by the quart and trying to get at least a little more rest, the damn thing just wouldn’t go away.

Admittedly, the getting more rest bit was relative. They’d been swamped, as there had been a lot more than just love in the air that spring and never seemed to be an end to the varieties of mischief Vegas locals could get themselves into. And the tourists were frequently far worse.

But it was just a cold.

And there wasn’t much she really could do but wait it out.

The others it seemed didn’t exactly agree with her assessment. Nick and Greg had over the last week or so, begun to give her a wider berth about the lab, and Hodges, being Hodges, despite all of her reassurances that no, she hadn’t brought back some mutant exotic European flu, had gone so far as to deem her a walking germ incubator and treated her accordingly, which in this case meant spraying everything she came in contact with what Sara regarded as obsessively liberal doses of sickly sweet smelling disinfectant.

At least Ray had been sympathetic. The day before, when she been huddled over the light table in the layout room and snuffling her way through scanning the blood and body part splattered clothes from the victim of a nasty multiple 419 (and for once grateful that she couldn’t smell anything), he’d come up to her and without preamble opened his hands to reveal a pair of pills in each palm.

“The blue ones will help you get some sleep,” he’d said, by way of explanation. “You should wake up feeling at least a little better.”

“And the orange ones?” she’d asked.

“Should help you get through work a little easier.”

Knowing just how much she’d still had left to do and with a very strange, inexplicable sense of déjà vu, Sara had reached for the orange capsules, given him a wan smile and a genuine thanks.

Catherine on the other hand…

Needless to say, Sara wasn’t particularly happy with her supervisor at the moment.

Sara had just refilled the kettle and set it on the burner to boil for tea and been on her way over to close the blinds, the glare of the midday sun while often welcome, wasn’t quite so at the present as it exacerbated the not so dull throb along her temples, when her phone let out several irritatingly insistent chirps.

Of course the headache being really the least of her worries or aggravations, she, without bothering to check first to see who was calling, reluctantly picked up and answered her cell with a terse and nowhere near welcoming, “Sidle.”

Her unenthusiastic greeting did not go unnoticed.

“Not a good time, dear?” came Grissom’s warm and much more solicitous query from the other end of the line.

To which Sara, despite how miserable she was feeling, found herself smiling slightly.

With a rueful smirk she replied, “No, it’s fine.”

“Sounds like you’re home,” Grissom observed.

“I am actually.”

“Good.”

“Good?” Sara echoed, suddenly suspicious. “Why don’t you sound surprised?”

After all, she very seldom, if ever, got off work on time, let alone was ever home before the scheduled end of shift. Nor were Thursdays her regular day off.

So she was fairly certain there was something in the longer than normal pause that followed. And there was.

Although without any further prodding on her part her husband did admit, “Catherine called. Wanted me to make sure you made it home. And stayed home.”

“I see. You do realize that this qualifies as conspiring with the enemy, Gil.”

While he knew that he might just be opening a can of worms in doing so, he hazarded to ask, “Since when is Catherine the enemy?”

“Since she sent me home.”

“For being sick?”

“Yes, for being sick,” Sara replied testily.

Unfortunately, Grissom’s slightly bemused sounding, “I’m still not entirely understanding…” had after she’d let out an indignant protest of “For two days!” given way to an almost amused and far more impressed than aghast, “She kicked you out of the lab for two days?” which didn’t seem to improve his wife’s temperament in the least.

Her “Was there a reason for this call? Apart from harassment and collusion?” a case in point.

Being however all too familiar with his wife’s tendency to become increasingly cross whenever told what to do, particularly if it was a decree she disagreed with, he knew better than to take it personally. It was, like her proclivity towards crankiness when unexpectedly woken, just part of her personality. Not always the most endearing part, but then he wasn’t without his own not so pleasant idiosyncrasies.

He was also wise enough not to draw too much attention to her bad humor. Sara would calm down and it would all blow over — eventually.

She simply hated being cooped up at home. Nor were enforced days off one of her favorite things in the world. Not that he blamed her.

Still, Grissom did have to admire Catherine’s moxie all the same. It took some guts, more than he ever really had, to actually send Sara home sick.

“You have been sounding progressively worse…” he began reasonably, which was true. The increasingly nasally sharpness and gravel-like texture of her voice as of late not having escaped even his notice.

But before he could finish, Sara cut him off with a sardonic, “Thanks. Love you too.”

Then as if she just thought of it, she asked, “You didn’t have anything to do with this, did you?”

“No, dear.”

“Seriously?” she said. And she certainly sounded it.

“Seriously.”

Whether it was the truth or not, and in this case it genuinely was, Grissom suspected his wife didn’t quite entirely believe him. So when her indecision stretched into silence, he said, “Actually, I was calling to see how you were feeling. But I think I already have a pretty good idea on the answer.”

“I’m fine,” Sara maintained. Although the veracity of this assertion was somewhat undermined by the fact that she hadn’t been able to get far enough away from the mouthpiece before being overcome by an insidiously violent coughing fit.

He urged her to get some water and there’d been a long pause as she tried to catch her breath before he said, “You were saying?”

Sara rolled her eyes, a gesture that was completely lost on a phone conversation.

“It’s just a cold,” she insisted. “You and Catherine and everyone else are making way too big deal out of nothing. I’m fine.”

Grissom said nothing to this. He simply waited, Sara knew, for her to be honest.

She let out an exasperated sigh as she sank down onto one of the stools, too tired and sore to be bothered to stand or pretend. “Like crap,” she finally conceded. “That make you feel better?”

“No,” he replied. “But the truth is always good to hear.”

Over the last year and a half, they’d both been trying to make a concerted effort to be better about not keeping things from each other, a bad habit they’d each possessed and exhibited a little far too frequently in the past. Although more often than not, they weren’t acts of total omission, but rather a more subtle glossing over or downplaying the unpleasant sides to situations or occurrences. Nor was it ever out of malice or deliberate deception either, but instead a genuine desire not to want to unnecessarily worry the other, even if the worry was in fact, inevitable. They’d always known too much not to worry. Sara had certainly done her share of worrying when he’d been the one in Vegas and her the one away.

Yet, a lifetime of habit they both knew wasn’t so easy to dismiss.

“You do realize, Gilbert,” Sara said, the terseness in her voice giving way to smugness, “that hypocrisy doesn’t suit you.”

“Meaning?”

“If I recall correctly, the last time you were sick — with walking pneumonia, wasn’t it? — you were still traipsing around Vegas and lucky not to have gotten yourself blown up.”

“I got called in by the D.A. There’s a difference.”

“Working is still working.”

“Would you have gone home otherwise, Sara?” he countered. As they both already knew the answer to that one, Grissom only added, “In this case, I think Catherine really does have your best interests at heart.”

Sara scoffed, “I think she was more concerned about me contaminating the rest of the lab. From how she was going on, you’d think I had the plague. Besides, if none of them have caught it by now…”

Ever the scientist, Grissom intoned, “Technically, you’re still contagious.”

“This from the man who actually infected the whole lab.”

“That was coincidence.”

“Didn’t make the guys any less difficult to deal with. Or so I was told, repeatedly,” she said, her reply punctuated with a resounding nose blow. “Like I said, there was nothing altruistic about it, Gil.”

“Still,” he said, soft and gentle and she knew concerned. Then more curious than anything, he asked, “Not coughing or blowing up anything green are you?”

“Not that I’ve noticed,” Sara laughed, something he’d been very glad to hear, even if it soon turned out that her amusement was at his expense. “But then I’m not as fascinated by phlegm and mucus as you are.”

“Fever?”

“Negligible.”

Not entirely certain the truth would likely be forthcoming, Grissom ventured to ask anyway, “Been sleeping?”

But Sara readily admitted, “Not really.”

It wasn’t like she didn’t habitually have trouble sleeping when alone in Vegas. And while she’d often joked that her husband’s snoring helped her fall and stay asleep, it really was easier to sleep surrounded by the deep, even rustle of his breath, with the reassuring rise and fall of his chest beneath her cheek and the regular tattoo of his heart beating in her ear.

“Working too much?”

“What do you think?” she queried in return. “You know Vegas.”

“And I know you.” She could practically hear the shake of the head in his “And you wonder why Catherine sent you home.”

“Like I said before, hypocrisy doesn’t suit you, Gilbert.”

He chose to pointedly ignore this. “Are you getting enough fluids?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Eating?”

The hesitation in her next “Yes” he knew to mean when she had the time, which really meant not really.

“You haven’t been throwing up, have you?”

“No. No vomiting, Gil. It’s just a cold not the flu,” she patiently reiterated, although by now, Sara was more amused than irritated at this particular line of questioning. “But tell me, are you working on practicing your bedside manner, Doctor Grissom?”

“No, dear.”

“Then what’s with the twenty questions?”

“Questions I know how to do,” he confessed. “Questions I can do.”

That caught Sara up short.

And for the first time, she realized that him not being there when she was sick was difficult for him. Understood that he really didn’t know how to deal with it. And that not knowing was doubly hard for a man like Grissom, who usually did know what to do or at least seemed to.  When he didn’t, it tended to make him uneasy, at times even nervous to the point of completely shutting down. However, he’d gotten better about it over the years, a little more at ease with not having the answer or knowing exactly what to do, with it being okay to blunder blindly about from time to time like most the rest of the world frequently did.

Still, certain situations proved harder to handle than others. It had been far worse when she’d first come home from the hospital after her time in the desert. Once the initial relief had faded, things had been awkward between them for a while then. Yet even as disconcerted as she’d been during those days, part of her had recognized that Grissom had been feeling impotent, uncertain and even afraid. And even though she’d felt much the same way, they’d both attempted to hide those fears and feelings from each other, as if not speaking about such things would just make them go away.

But today, he really was trying hard not to fuss or nag — at least not too much.

And this time, it was more heartfelt regret and longing than any real frustration that his words conveyed.

Still, she could hear his almost imperceptible sigh of relief once she’d replied, “You’re doing just fine.”

He smiled, too, as he knew she was. He could tell even from nearly 6,000 miles away. Grasped as well that she was telling him what he’d once told her, that time he’d had pneumonia and she’d confessed to being sorry she couldn’t be there to help – that she was and she did.

Although it would have been nice to be there, even if the only thing he could do was keep her company, make her tea and attempt to nudge her off to bed.

The company he could still do, however inadequate it seemed from so far away.  Perhaps even persuade her to go to bed.

Sadly, his mother’s chicken soup was out of the question.

When he lamented as much to her, Sara chuckled, saying, “I never would have thought that you of all people would put that much stock in old wives’ tales.”

“It’s not an old wives’ tale.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really,” Grissom replied, then with all his usual learned seriousness added, “Not only is inhaling the steam and sipping the hot fluid good for easing congestion, in 2000, a University of Nebraska Medical Center study conclusively demonstrated in vitro that chicken soup has certain anti-inflammatory properties which help reduce cold symptoms.

“So it turns out that Maimonides was right.”

“Who?” Sara couldn’t help but ask.

“Twelfth Century philosopher and physician. He recommended chicken broth for ‘rectifying corrupted humors.’”

“Okay, okay,” she conceded. “You’ve proved your point. But I’m still sticking to tea.”

As if on cue, the kettle chose that moment to go off.

“Speaking of tea,” Grissom intoned. “It’s too bad you don’t have any of Ana’s maracujá blend.”

“I think I’ll pass,” Sara replied. The natural analgesic and sedating properties of passionflower tea notwithstanding, the concoction smelled — and tasted — way too much like stewed grass for her liking. “There isn’t enough honey to make that palatable. Besides, you didn’t seem all that keen on the stuff when it was being foisted on you.”

“Chamomile then?” he asked.

“With some of that miel de lavande we picked up in Riez last month.”

“Good. Then bed.”

“You tired of talking to me already?” came her mock-injured reply.

“No. But you need your rest.”

While it really was futile to actually fight him on this, all the same, Sara proposed, “Why don’t you tell me about your day? While I finish my tea.”

Though Grissom made no attempt to hide his reticence, he did, seeming to remember how good it had been to hear her voice and how much better he’d felt after they’d talked that time he’d been sick – how much easier too, it had been to put those last strange days behind him and forget for a little while how lousy he’d been feeling, appear to agree to her compromise as he began, “I ran into Mademoiselle Madeline this afternoon.”

Which caused Sara to break out into a wide grin.

For she had the sneaky suspicion that it was unlikely that there was ever anything accidental about these encounters between her husband and Madeline Bertrand, however infrequent they might be. For she, as Sara knew right well had a bit of a crush on her husband.

Not that Sara had any real cause for jealousy. Well, not when it came to mildly precocious four year olds.

“And how was Mlle Madeline today?”

Très bien.”

“Did she bring her book?”

“Naturally.”

The autumn before, Grissom had, while perusing one of the many green stalled bouquinistes that populated the banks of La Seine near the Cathédrale de Notre Dame, come across a slightly battered (and nearly as old as he was) edition of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline’s Rescue and having just made the acquaintance of the little girl going by the same name the week before, decided to make a present of it. Madeline had been sweet on Grissom ever since and never forgot to bring it with her whenever she went to visit her grand-mère on the rare Thursday afternoons the two had lunch together.

Sara could imagine the scene. The rather mismatched pair sitting outside the Institut de France office of Grissom’s redoubtable professeur de français (one of les immortels of L’Académie française, no less) Mme Laurent. Her husband in his impeccably neat suit and tie, reading glasses perched on the end of his nose; Madeline, well-dressed and well-groomed like most enfants parisiens, her feet dangling over the edge of the too tall for her chair and the two of them peering intently into the open book as he read.

“You must have that book memorized by now,” Sara chuckled. “How does it begin again?”

And with that smooth easy way of recitation he frequently employed and she equally frequently enjoyed, Grissom began,

“‘In a house in Paris that was covered with vines

Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.

They left the house at half past nine

In two straight lines in rain or shine.

The smallest one was Madeline.’”

“While it’s not Shakespeare, it is catchy,” Sara observed. “But don’t they all start like that?” she asked, not entirely sure herself. Grissom, too, paused to think about it.

“Actually, I think they do,” he finally answered.

Sara laughed. “You know it serves you right. For trying to suck up to Mme Laurent.”

When it became readily apparent that her husband wasn’t about to dignify her statement with a response, she suggested, “Perhaps it’s time to get her another book. I could bring one back next time I come. Maybe some Curious George?”

“Not George.”

The strange and sudden vehemence of his reply causing Sara to ask, “You got something against monkeys, Gil?”

“Actually, he’s an ape. Most monkeys have tails.”

“And you’re avoiding the question.”

“According to her grandmother, Mlle Madeline gets into enough mischief as it is,” he explained. “I don’t want to be responsible for giving her any ideas.”

Apparently petite Madeline seemed to already more than live up to her namesake’s reputation for getting into trouble. Although both Sara and Grissom privately doubted that Jeanne-Marie Laurent had any idea what real mischief entailed these days. Of course Madeline was only four.

“Fair enough,” Sara agreed, her voice still rife with amusement.

“You done with your tea?” Grissom asked.

At her grudging, “Yeah,” he said, “I won’t hang up just yet, but humor me, honey. Please.”

Truth was, Sara was tired and their talking and the tea had begun to relax her enough that bed didn’t sound like too bad of a prospect. But wanting to enjoy the familiar rumble of his voice in her ear for just a little while longer, she wasn’t quite ready for him to go just yet.

Though she did make her way back to their bedroom without protest. Not bothering with the light, as she would have known her way to the bed half asleep, she tugged the blankets down and slipped beneath the sheets, all with the phone still wedged between her ear and her shoulder, although not without first commandeering the pillows from her husband’s side of the bed.

“Are you keeping warm at least?” he asked once she’d gotten settled in.

“It would be easier if you were here,” she confessed, “but yeah.”

“This from the woman who complains about me having cold feet.”

“You do. And you can continue to keep them on your side of the bed, thank you very much.”

They both laughed at this.

“Feel better?” he said after a moment.

“A little.”

“You know what they say –”

Laughter is the best medicine,” Sara finished with a smile.

Over the next few minutes they spoke of this and that and nothing really. And under the sway of his gentle, even speech that was almost as soothing as his touch could be, she found her eyes beginning to grow heavy like they so often did.

For Sara, in the dark, curled up beneath the blankets, with his whispers in her ear and her nearly asleep, she could almost imagine herself snuggled against him. Almost.

And Grissom was happy to hear it. Hear her voice grow thick, her words slow the nearer and nearer she began to drift towards sleep.

“Sara -” he said, just before she completely dropped off.

“Hmm?”

“Honey, it’s time for you to hang up.”

“Uh huh.”

“I’ll call you in the morning.”

After a particularly long stretch of silence and knowing that if he didn’t, she would be startled awake by the phone’s shrill protest, he said a little more forcefully this time, “Shut off the phone, dear.”

He waited for the resulting click before he too hung up, saying into the quiet of their bedroom back in Paris, “Good night, Sara.”

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