01 – Acts of God and Other Complications

The Incidental Tourists

Nothing’s ever been easy for Grissom and Sara. So why would attempting to go on vacation prove to be any different?

For travel, like the course of true love, never did run smooth. And in their case, with even the best-laid plans, awry doesn’t begin to cover it.

But then that’s not always a bad thing.

*******

Takes place between episodes 10×17 “Irradiator” and 10×19 “World’s End,” circa April 2010.

With thanks (I think) to MB as this is really ALL your fault.

*******

One: Acts of God and Other Complications

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.”

The best-laid plans of mice and men / Go oft awry.

– “To a Mouse,” Robert Burns

*******

It was supposed to have been simple.

A simple spring holiday in the south of France.

Or so Sara planned it.

Not that anything ever seemed to go according to plan.

Mostly, it had been work getting in the way. Dead bodies tended to trump date nights. So after all the years in Vegas of rain checks and rescheduling, she should have known better. Should have.

But for the most part, Sara’s trips to Paris over the last seven months had been blissfully without complications. Well, as long as you didn’t count her discovering that dead body the December before. So there was no reason for her to think that this time would be any different.

Nor was there for Grissom, who knew nothing about Sara’s plans.  Apart from the fact that his wife was coming for her now customary monthly visit, he wasn’t even aware that there were plans for that particular portion of his two week teaching hiatus while the Sorbonne was closed for its spring holidays.

He certainly hadn’t made any of his own, or at least hadn’t the last time the two of them had spoken of it. Something that hadn’t surprised Sara in the slightest. He’d been even worse than she had about taking time off when they’d both been working as CSIs.

Although Sara had been more pleased than rueful when in reply to her asking if he wanted any plans, he simply smiled and told her, “If they involve you, of course.”

Which Sara took to mean she was free to make whatever ones she wished.

Of course it was never a question of Grissom returning to Vegas for a visit. Off or no, she’d just be called in and they’d barely get to see one another. Besides, Sara was looking forward to taking an actual bona fide vacation with her husband. For while they had done their fair share of traveling since he’d surprised her in Costa Rica that Christmas two years before, apart from their honeymoon, most of it had been work related. They really hadn’t had a chance just to relax and be together. And with her back in Vegas for most of every month, they really hadn’t seen much of France outside of the Paris city limits.

This was the perfect opportunity to change that. And to put into effect a plan she’d begun to formulate ever since that day she and Ray had been out on the Vance Colton case and she’d inadvertently confessed a little more than she’d meant to about the canoe trip she and Grissom had embarked on during their honeymoon.

And considering Provence was home to 17,000 species of insects (nearly half the total number in France), including more than 2,300 species of butterflies, staging another outdoor bug hunting excursion there sounded like a good idea. At least in theory.

She’d been all set to arrive at CDG on Thursday afternoon, where she knew Grissom would be there to pick her up just as he always was.  It didn’t matter that she could make her way back to their Quartier Latin apartment perfectly fine on her own. But as her husband really did seem to sincerely look forward to it, Sara had long ago stopped protesting or insisting that it was a waste of time for him to come all that way just to get her. And truth be told, as silly and perhaps uncharacteristically sentimental as it was, part of her liked finding him waiting for her just outside Customs in the Arrivals Hall.

They’d have a nice quiet evening at home with Hank. Then the next morning, while he was busy with his Friday morning lecture, she would pack up all their necessaries so that they would be ready to depart on the afternoon TGV’s Méditerranée run from Paris to Nice.

Claude Boutin, Grissom’s ever-enthusiastic young teaching assistant, had already agreed to stop by later that day to pick up Hank. When Sara had called to suggest the arrangement, he’d been more than happy to take the dog for the week, particularly as his nephew Charles-Henri had become almost inordinately fond of the boxer ever since they’d taken him in while Grissom had been in the States over the winter holidays.

So everything was set.

Except she’d never managed to make it to Paris. Hell, Sara had been lucky to get out of Vegas at all.

First, with Ray away on sick leave after having been concussed ostensibly by the still as of yet unidentified Dr. Jekyll, the team was already one man short at a time when they needed all the help they could get. If she left, that would leave Nick, Greg and Catherine to cover Grave and whatever inevitable spillover there was with Days and Swing. And while Sara had made it through her fair share of three person shift coverages, she wasn’t about to knowingly inflict a full straight week of it upon anyone else. But Catherine wouldn’t hear of her changing her plans. In fact, she’d practically shooed Sara out of her office insisting that they were perfectly capable of making it without her for a few days.

Then Eyjafjallajokull happened.

The Icelandic volcano with its almost unpronounceable mouthful of a name erupted for a second time in less than a month that Wednesday right before she was to fly out. All across Northern Europe, the airlines, fearing that the tons of ash being continuously spewed into the atmosphere would clog the engine intakes of their planes, began delaying and then canceling flights. By four GMT that afternoon, all flights out of Paris and London Heathrow had been cancelled and the airports shut down indefinitely. The rest of France and much of Europe soon followed.

Sara had been lucky enough to catch the news before she’d gone on shift while the closures were still rumors. Been luckier still to have been able to find an available seat on a flight in and out of Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci. Italy might be a little out of the way, but it was continental Europe at least. And with the trains still running with their routine punctuality, the ride from Rome to Nice would only be four hours longer than the trip from Paris she had originally planned.

So she just had to amend her plans a little. It was no big deal really.

Although breaking the news to Grissom had certainly been amusing.

*******

While keeping up with all the lab’s open cases was a Sisyphean task more than anything, Sara wanted to leave things as much in order as she could before she left. Which was why she could be found still at the lab at two in the afternoon that Wednesday not so patiently attempting to make her way through the mountain of paperwork pertaining to a string of armed robberies she and Greg had finally solved that morning.

As this wasn’t exactly her favorite part of being a CSI, she wasn’t the least bit upset when her phone let out an insistent chirp. It had barely given a second before she picked it up and quickly checking the caller id (not really in the mood to deal with Ecklie at the moment), answered with a sheepish, “Hey.”

“I’m not even going to ask what you’re still doing at work,” came her husband’s rather rueful reply from the other end of the line.

She gave him a shrug she knew he couldn’t see and sighed. There was no point denying it. He always knew.

For a while she hadn’t been able to work out how he did. She doubted he resorted to spying via GPS, though it was certainly possible. In the end, it turned out that more than a year away hadn’t dulled Grissom’s ability to be able to locate exactly where someone was calling from within the lab merely by observing the ambient noise in the background.

“I was going to call you. I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet,” Sara admitted. Which was true. She’d been meaning to call him all morning. It was just that time had managed to get away from her yet again.

Now that she had him on the other end of the line, and not all that interested in beating around the bush, she launched in with, “There’s been a change of plans.”

Grissom’s accompanying “I’m not surprised,” was exactly that, although his “You not coming?” sounded understandably disappointed.

So much so that Sara had to laugh, “Not that big a change in plans,” in answer. “You aren’t that lucky, Gil. Acts of God notwithstanding. Just a little change of plans. I managed to get a flight in and out of Rome,” she explained.

“So I’m meeting you at the train station instead of the airport?” he asked in quick comprehension.

“Friday evening.”

“What time?”

“You should get there around 7:30 or so.”

“So plenty of time.”

“Not really,” she countered.

“Sara, they changed my Friday lecture to the morning almost three months ago.”

“I know.”

“It doesn’t take that long to get to Paris Gare de Lyon,” he argued.

“You aren’t meeting me at the Lyon station. Gare de Nice-Ville.”

With a bemused sort of echo Grissom asked, “Gare de Nice-Ville? As in Nice?”

To which Sara couldn’t help but chuckle again. “Yes, as in Nice, port city on the French Riviera,” she replied. “I’ve already booked your ticket. You just have to pick it up. The train leaves at 1:45.”

His subsequent, “That doesn’t actually answer my question,” wasn’t any less puzzled. Nor was his uncharacteristically direct inquiry of, “Why am I meeting you in Nice exactly?”

To which she offered, “I thought you said you didn’t have any plans for your holidays.”

“So you made some?” he asked, the hesitancy even heavier in his voice.

“You said it was okay,” Sara insisted.

“When?”

“Last time I was there.”

“Why don’t I remember this?”

“I dunno,” came her still amused reply. “I thought you had a memory like an elephant.”

But then her mirth abruptly turned to concern, causing her ask, “You aren’t upset are you?”

“No,” Grissom freely admitted. “Just surprised.”

Sara was soon back to smiling again, as his next words were, “So when exactly were you going to share these plans with me?”

“Friday morning when you came back from your lecture,” she supplied. “And don’t worry. I already talked to M. Boutin. He’s picking up Hank.”

“He’ll never forgive you, you know.”

“Hank? Yeah, I know.”

There was a pause as if Grissom was considering something. “Honey, isn’t it a little early in the season to go to the beach?” he asked at last.

“We aren’t going to the beach.”

“Then where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” Sara said, grinning all the more before asking, the playfulness in the tease obvious even nearly 6,000 miles away, “Don’t you trust me, Gilbert?”

“It isn’t a matter of trust,” Grissom countered. “I’m just not so sure you’re the best person to be planning vacations. Considering your lack of experience,” he added after a moment.

Sara scoffed noisily. “That’s rich coming from you, dear. I just emailed you a copy of your itinerary and a list of what I need you to bring.”

She could hear the click of keys in the background. “Yeah. I got it,” he said after a while. “But let me get this straight. You really aren’t going to explain why I’m packing our old camp clothes?”

“Nope.”

“Or telling me anything else?”

“Apart from I’ll be there to meet you at the train station in Nice on Friday and please bring everything on the list,” she replied, “no. Anyway, I thought you liked surprises, Gil.”

In fact, the way Sara saw it, it wasn’t like the man could really complain considering that he’d pulled more than his fair share of them on her over the last year and a half. Although she did have the sneaky suspicion that when it came to surprises, her husband tended to hold to the belief that it was frequently far better to give than receive.

However Grissom didn’t get a chance to further protest as Sara’s phone chose that moment to interrupt.

“I’ve gotta go,” she said. “Catherine’s on the other line. But don’t worry. It’ll be fun. I promise.”

Unsurprisingly, upon hanging up, she left a slightly perplexed Gil Grissom shaking his head as he gave her list a second look before setting about packing.

*******

This certainly wasn’t how Sara had imagined seeing Nice for the first time. Not how she’d imagined it at all, with her there all on her own. But she’d arrived not much past four that afternoon following fifteen uncomfortable hours of being sardined in various airplanes and then another ten hours split between four different trains, so that the last thing she wanted to do once she’d finally gotten there was to sit around waiting for three hours at the train station.

Desperate to finally be able to stretch her legs, and as unencumbered as she was with just the lightly packed tote she usually traveled with, she wandered south through the avenues of brightly many-hued houses knowing from her earlier researches that she would eventually reach la Mer Méditerranée.

Once she did, she took her time strolling along the seafront boulevard La Promenade des Anglais, taking in as she did so on one side the long line of shops, museums, restaurants, parks, cafés and Belle Époque hotels that gave Nice its well-deserved picturesque reputation and the awe-inspiring vista of the brilliantly blue water that gave the Côte d’Azur its name on the other.

Unlike most beaches Sara had ever encountered, the ones that stretched along La Baie des Anges were not made up of stereotypically smooth, silty white sand, but rather fist-sized flat dark galets, or pebbles, that were from what she’d read neither all that easy to navigate through or all that comfortable to lie upon. Neither of which prevented les touristes and niçois alike from partaking in one of the regions most popular of activities: sunbathing.

A pastime as it turned out of rather accidental origins. In the 1920’s, after an unfortunate and equally unintentional case of sunburn, fashionista Coco Chanel returned to Paris from a holiday in the French Riviera dark skinned. Her devotees, of which there were many, admired the look so much that the tan trend took off from there, so that soon after, whenever the weather was fair and the sun warm and bright, people began to take to the beach and take off their clothes, sometimes nearly all of them, as in Nice topless sunbathing was a perfectly acceptable although not overly widespread custom.

But that day, it was a little too cool and too cloudy for all-out sun worshipping. That didn’t mean Sara had the place to herself. Joggers, cyclists, skaters and dog walkers filled the wide avenue. And from the eponymous chaises bleues, the blue chairs, that like the stands of palm trees, dotted the walkway, people readily engaged in the region’s second most popular pursuit: people watching. For the French Riviera had long been a place where those both famous and not had come to see and be seen.

Despite the bustle of La Prom, being there felt strangely peaceful all the same. Sara leaned up against a railing, her eyes closed, the better to relish the cool caress of the sea breeze on her skin that she found after all the dry Vegas heat, wonderfully refreshing. The salty tang in the air caused her breathing to slow so that she might draw in deeper lungfuls. The ever soothing smack of the waves upon the stone shore reminded her of the sounds made by the Costa Rican rain sticks she and Grissom had encountered in a several of the larger city markets there.

As the moments and minutes passed, that serene placidity grew ever more and more tempered and tormented by an ever-growing sense of anticipation. It was becoming ever harder and harder simply to enjoy the moment when part of her wanted nothing more than for time to hurry along to bring her and Grissom back together again.

At least it wasn’t too much longer now.

In fact, when she stole yet another glance down at her watch, Sara was happy to find that with the twenty minute walk to the station before her, it was indeed time to head back.

After all, she had a train — and more importantly a husband — to meet.

Continued in Lovers Meeting.

*******

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