07 – Settling In

Continued from Awakenings

Sara was so intent in her attempts to determine the species of Cathidium she was in the process of classifying that she didn’t hear Grissom’s approach. This meant that while he had gently placed a hand on her shoulder so as not to startle her, she jumped anyway and ended up dropping the miniscule specimen, forceps and all.

They barely missed bumping heads as they both hurriedly bent to retrieve it, but Grissom, who had the advantage of having not been the one caught off guard, was slightly faster. He eyed the bug curiously for a moment before placing the dung beetle beneath the desk magnifier to get a better look.

“Canthidium variolosum,” he murmured appreciatively. “Nice specimen.”

Sara sighed and shook her head, trying very hard not to be miffed at the fact that he had been able to immediately identify its precise genus and species when she had been pouring over the prospect for the last ten minutes.

Of course this was Gil Grissom after all. It would have been a lot more surprising if he hadn’t known.

Besides, it was really hard to be irritated at him at the moment, present circumstances being what they were.

Not that Sara had ever had much luck staying upset with him for very long, at least not when he was standing right before her and especially when he was, as she discovered when she peered up at him, beaming at her in the way he was now.

He was so flushed that her first thought was to worry about heat stroke. He was certainly a lot pinker than he had been even the day before, despite her earlier strictures about having to frequently reapply sunscreen while out in the field. But the warm glow he was giving off wasn’t just relegated to his face. His eyes were smiling even more brightly than his mouth was. Which was when she realized that look portended something else entirely.

It had been far too long, she thought unable to resist his contagious grin, since she’d last seem him wear that expression, one that was part excitement, part wonder, part practically boyish enthusiasm.

It was an arresting sight.

For while Sara had over the years, frequently glimpsed that look — it had been one of the first things she had noticed about Grissom when they met at the Forensic Academy conference in San Francisco more than a decade ago — as of late, it had been an air he had seemed to wear less and less, especially and understandably after Warrick had been killed.

So she was thrilled — ecstatic even — to see it again. It was almost as if that old spark — that essence of him — had begun to flare back into being once more.

Yet she was so taken aback by it all, that all she could do once she was finally able to find her voice again was stammer out the obvious, “You’re back.”

Grissom nodded.

As he returned the specimen to her, Sara gave him another thorough once over. “And in one piece,” she observed. Then after taking in not just the sunburn and the fact that he looked more hot and sweaty than she was used to seeing him, but that he was also favoring his right side added with a sigh, “Well mostly.”

From her own experience in the forest, Sara knew all too well that the repeated bending, kneeling, scraping, reaching and various other awkward positions that the field work seemed to frequently entail led to sore muscles, stiff joints and a general sense of fatigue. However, Grissom didn’t seem either to notice nor care.

It was then that Sara realized that there was no sign of Ana.

As the new plot was still under development and the path leading to it was little more than a narrow track produced by their infrequent footsteps, her tone was half-perplexed; half-impressed when she said, “And all on your own.”

Grissom withdrew the handheld GPS unit from the pocket of his trousers. “Electronic breadcrumbs,” he offered.

She smiled, thinking she should have known.

Then wondering for a moment if the afternoon had somehow gotten away from her, as it was often wont to do, she glanced down at her watch.

It was only just three.

Considering it was a good half-hour walk back from the site, that meant Ana had only kept Grissom out for a little over two hours, which was peculiar. But then ever since Grissom had arrived, peculiar seemed to have become the new ordinary.

“So what did you do?” she asked, returning the specimen to its case and snapping the lid shut before turning her full attention to him once more.

Grissom looked confused. “What do you mean?” he questioned in return.

“You get sent home early for a reason?”

He gave her a bemused shake of the head. “No, dear.”

Sensing that any further explanation wasn’t likely to be forthcoming, Sara prodded, “So–”

“Ana said she had a few things she wanted to take care of on her own before she came back,” came his matter-of-fact reply.

Sara suspected that there had been more to it than that, but decided not to dwell on their boss’s behavior, particularly when Grissom leaned in so close that she could feel the warmth of his breath on her cheek as he said in all seriousness, and yet not, “I do know how to play well with others.”

She snickered slightly and gave him a swift kiss on the cheek before playfully wrinkling her nose and suggesting he go have a shower. Not because he desperately needed one, but because she knew the warm water would help with the soreness and that it was always a good idea to beat the rush before the others got back.

Of course, she didn’t tell Grissom that.

So she wasn’t surprised when he retreated a couple of steps and inquired, “That bad?”

Sara was having a hard time keeping her face serious when she said, “Not lemon worthy — yet. Which is a good thing.”

“No lemons?”

“In Costa Rica? Nope,” she replied with a shake of the head. “And I’m not sure lime juice would work.”

It was nice, this, being able to tease Grissom again, Sara thought, until she caught sight of the gleam in his eyes, that perilous sort of look that usually meant that trouble — or an experiment — was brewing.

As he turned to go, she called after him, “And I don’t want to find out.”

*******

Grissom emerged from the shower to find that Sara had packed up all of her specimens and was presently at work chopping fruit in the kitchen area. Just as he entered, the kettle on the camp stove let out an impatient whistle.

He chuckled, “Your timing is impeccable.”

“No,” Sara countered, then without missing a beat, deftly poured hot water into a pair of mugs as she replied, “You’re just incredibly predictable when it comes to certain things.”

“Oh?”

She nodded. “Take showers,” she said, motioning to his wet hair. “They are never shorter than five minutes but no longer than ten, unless they are post de-comp ones or it’s been a particularly difficult day.

“Besides, there was only enough water left in the shower you used for a short one,” she added.

“Your powers of observation are impressive as always, my dear,” he murmured in admiration.

She only grinned in response and indicated for him to sit. “You did remember to fill it back up?”

“Of course.”

She placed the two mugs as well as a plate of fruit in the middle of the table, again apologizing for the lack of toast.

Grissom for his part, eyed the mug in front of him with a slight measure of wariness.

“It’s just tea,” she laughed, taking a seat across from him. “I thought the fruit was exotic enough for one afternoon.”

He nodded in agreement and was just about to take a much welcomed and appreciated drink when Sara reached for a small tin already on the table and added a generous helping of a thick and creamy viscous suspension to her mug.

At his wide-eyed questioning look, she quickly explained, “It’s just sweetened condensed milk.”

“Another Tico specialty?”

“No. Indonesian,” she supplied, giving her tea a thorough stir before taking a sip.

When he continued to appear puzzled, she added, “Bridget picked up the habit on a trip to an Orangutan sanctuary in Sumatra. I thought it was weird, too, but it turns out to be addictive.”

She nudged the tin towards him but wasn’t surprised when he declined. Grissom usually took his tea the same way he took his coffee — black.

They sipped at their respective cups for a few minutes in a comfortable silence before Sara picked up a knife and resumed slicing.

Grissom inspected the fruit. “Actually I think I recognize most of them,” he said.

“Star fruit,” he began as if it were obvious — as it was, since the cross-sections of the waxy, vibrantly yellow-green fruit had the five-pointed shape of a star.

Carambola,” Sara interjected in Spanish.

Grissom nodded, as if filing the word away for future reference, then continued, “Papaya,” gesturing to the orange pulpy cubes to which some of the round black seeds still clung.

“You can go ahead and eat it, seeds and all,” Sara said. “Came as a surprise to me. They taste a bit like pepper,” she added in the same way people often said something tasted like chicken.

Grissom who hadn’t known that about papaya seeds either, nibbled experimentally at one to find that it really did.

Finishing up the rest of the papaya, he watched Sara slice neat rows along a ripe mango before pulling the skin off the back. As he went to reach for a piece, however, she batted his hand aside and when he looked rather affronted, told him that she wasn’t done yet and proceeded to squeeze lime juice over the slices before adding a dusting of reddish powder.

Before he could ask, she said, “Chili and yes, this is a Tico specialty.”

Grissom smiled. It was a nice change this, he mused. Sara, instead of him, being the fount of knowledge. And Grissom had always found knowledge, even that of the more esoteric sort, terribly seductive.

He readily hazarded a bite and was pleasantly intrigued by the way the fruit was both sweet and sour; savory and spicy all at once.

“But,” he said, pointing to the last of the remaining fruits, a small pear-shaped one with a deep reddish skin, “that one I don’t recognize.”

“Try it,” she urged.

He did. And had to consider the taste for a moment. It didn’t have a fruity flavor as such, nor was it sweet like the star fruit had been or tart in the way cherries and lemons typically were. If he had to describe it, he would have said the juicy fruit tasted the way he imagined a flower might.

“What is it?” he asked, before indulging in a larger bite.

“It’s only ever found in Costa Rica so there isn’t an actual term for it in English. It’s a manzana de agua which loosely translates as –”

Water apple,” Grissom finished.

She nodded. “Although I’m not sure why,” she admitted.

“Sometimes ‘ours is not to reason why,’” Grissom intoned serenely.

Sara asked with a laugh, “What is it with you and Tennyson?”

He merely smiled and shrugged in response and set about finishing up his fruit.

She was just about to consume the last of her tea, when Sara realized that Grissom had for the last few minutes, been observing her in that quiet, yet intent way he often did when he was considering something.

“What?”

“It’s nothing like I pictured it,” Grissom replied casually.

“What isn’t?”

“You, here in the forest,” he said. “It’s nothing like I pictured it.”

She sniffed, not sure whether she should feel piqued or not. “You make it sound as if the notion was absurd.”

He hurriedly shook his head. “Not in the least,” he protested. Then both his expression and tone softened. “This place — it suits you.”

At the genuine nature of his compliment, Sara gave him a wide, unconstrained grin.

“It has its moments,” she admitted.

“I can imagine.”

She reached out, closed a hand over the one of his that rested on the tabletop. “You don’t seem to be settling in too badly yourself,” she observed.

He returned her smile and gave her hand a gentle squeeze in reply.

“I like the new look,” Sara continued, indicating his change of wardrobe, the khaki-colored pants and camp shirt similar to the one he had worn the day before. “And while it is still strange to see you without a jacket, that hat of yours is just as endearing as I remember it.”

“What,” he asked both amused and incredulous, “do you have against my hat?”

“Nothing,” she laughed. “Nothing at all. It suits you. In a very peculiar and unexpected way. But then,” she continued, leaning in to caress his cheek, “things are often peculiar and unexpected when it comes to you.”

Grissom protested, “There is nothing peculiar about my hat.”

“Of course not,” she conceded. “And you’ve had it forever. By the way, how long is that exactly?”

Having paused to consider his response for a moment, he replied in all seriousness, “Since before you were ten.”

Sara had to choke back a snicker, so perhaps it was a good thing that their conversation was abruptly interrupted by a loud screech.

Grissom’s head shot up.

“It’s just George,” she said airily.

“George?” he echoed.

“Capuchin,” explained Sara. “The animals around here haven’t learned to fear people and the primates in particular tend to be… friendly. Easily lured and sometimes very hard to get rid of. Come on,” she said, tugging Grissom to his feet and together, they quietly tiptoed to the small clearing in front of the main tent. George, the white-headed capuchin, was scurrying across the clothesline.

“You have to be careful what you leave out when he is around,” Sara whispered. “Otherwise it might not be there when you come back. And while he seems to be mostly interested in food, apparently he also has a sock fetish.

“What he does with them once he finds them, we have no clue. Ana’s joked about radio collaring him like Bridget does some of her Howlers, but sadly there just aren’t the resources for idle curiosity.”

That afternoon, George didn’t really seem all that much in the mood for indulging in idle curiosity himself either. Sensing Grissom and Sara’s presence, he scampered back up a tree and was more heard than seen.

As they moved to return to the kitchen area, Sara turned to Grissom and said, “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he nodded.

“Your knee okay?” she pressed, knowing that his old injury had the tendency to flare up and plague him from time to time. When he appeared puzzled by her concern, she said, “You’re limping more than usual.”

“Just blisters,” came his dismissive reply.

“Ah, those are easily remedied,” Sara said and drew him back towards their tent.

Grissom, knowing better than to argue, let her do it without protest.

“We’ll get you some thicker wool socks when we next go into town,” she said as she was examining his feet. “I know it sounds hot, but they’ll keep your feet drier and prevent chaffing.”

She was murmuring about how all of the humidity had a tendency to soften the feet and make them prone to blisters, when she pulled from her trunk the last thing he expected — a roll of duct tape, from which she cut several small pieces and began to affix them to the sores on his feet.

“Keeps the moisture out and the skin from rubbing any further,” she replied offhandedly and then with a grin, “Scientist’s tool of choice. I am starting to think that MacGyver might have been right about the stuff.”

*******

Before long, everyone else began to stumble back into camp. Sara wasn’t sure how the two young men had persuaded her to abandon her thesis for the whole day, but Bridget it seemed had joined Bernie and Luis on their customary Sunday jaunt to town. Stephen, too, must have met up with Ana at some point that afternoon as the two of them returned together, speaking in whispers about something Sara was pretty sure had nothing to do with field work.

This was, of course, her cue to finish up dinner preparations for the night.

As she retrieved the last of the ingredients from the chests they used to keep the animals and insects out, Grissom surveyed the pile and nonchalantly observed, “Still not handling raw meat, I see –”

She nodded and smiled ruefully. “Let’s just say my day is not everyone else’s favorite.”

“Fair enough.”

“But,” she said eyeing him appreciatively, “they will love you.”

“Why do you say that?”

Sara laughed. “Because you’re the only one out of the seven of us who actually knows how to cook.”

“You seem to be doing just fine,” Grissom countered.

She cocked her head and said, “Is there something you want, Gilbert?”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t often stoop to flattery,” she explained, wiping her hands on a towel.

Grissom considered her question for a moment. Truth be told, there were a great many things he wanted, some of them things he was just starting to see as being possible again. He certainly wanted to see her smile at him like she was doing now far more often.

His voice was low, deep and earnest, almost intimate, when he said, “Just because I don’t say certain things often enough, doesn’t mean I don’t realize or feel them.”

“I see,” Sara said with a nod as she could appreciate exactly how much it had cost him just to be able to say those words.

They stood there for what seemed a long time, simply enjoying the comfort of each other’s presence, but it had probably been less than a minute before Grissom wiped his own hands and said, “So what would you like me to do? To help with dinner –” he hurriedly added for clarification.

“Didn’t you just say that you didn’t have a problem with my cooking?”

“I am fully capable of taking direction, dear,” he answered with a wry sort of grin.

Sara shrugged. “It’s just usually you teaching me in the kitchen,” she said by way of explanation

“Like you’ve said, some things change,” Grissom replied. Then as if he were both eagerly and genuinely enjoying the prospect inquired, “So what’s on the menu for dinner?”

Sara readily walked him through the recipes for the sopa negra or black bean soup and stuffed bell peppers that she had planned to make, and they began to set to work in earnest and with little difficulty.

The two of them had spent so long working together that they knew and could easily anticipate each other’s movements, so the simple act of preparing dinner really was simple, despite all the difficulties that camp cooking often entailed. Before long, the comfortable ease they had built up between them over the years returned and that afternoon became just any other ordinary day in the kitchen.

*******

After dinner, Sara excused herself to go have a shower before bed. When she returned to the tent the two of them shared, she discovered Grissom sitting on one of the cots, his nose firmly stuck in a book. It was a sight that did not in the least astound her.

That didn’t mean she was above teasing him about it.

“Don’t tell me you’re hiding already?” she asked as she tucked her dirty clothes away.

He didn’t bother to look up from his book. “I’m not and I don’t,” Grissom replied, even though he knew he did, and that Sara knew too of his tendency to retreat into his office (whether at home or at work) when there was something or someone — or just life in general — that he didn’t want to have to deal with.

This however was not the case that evening, as Sara well knew. Besides, Bernie liked to listen to the radio at night, so it was certainly far quieter and therefore easier to be able to concentrate on one’s reading from within the privacy of the tent.

She paused in her preparations for bed to rest a hand on his shoulder and lean in to see what he was reading.

“Ah, homework on your first day,” she sighed with a conciliatory grin.

“Just catching up on my background reading.”

She laughed. “And you always said I was the overeager one. You want to be left in peace?”

Grissom shook his head and gave her a slight, welcoming smile. “I could use the company,” he said. Although when Sara pulled a novel from her trunk, he gave her choice of reading materials a curious glance.

“Not one word,” she warned.

He merely continued to grin blithely, as if the thought hadn’t even crossed his mind.

She plopped down beside him and just as they had as often as work had ever permitted in Vegas, the two of them began to read together in companionable silence.

After a while, Sara shifted positions so that she could better snuggle into his side, though it wasn’t long before she gave up any pretext of appearing to read.

“Bed?” Grissom suggested.

She shook her head and insisted that he keep reading before resting her head in his lap. She closed her eyes and was soon asleep.

Remembering how he had probably kept Sara up long past her usual bedtime the night before and then proceeded to keep her awake for additional time during the night, he wasn’t surprised that she was tired.

For a while, he watched her doze, then slowly brushed the still damp hair that had fallen over her face back behind her ear. Sara stirred slightly, but did not wake. So Grissom reached over to lower the lamp light until it just spilled bright enough to light the pages he was reading, and with one hand proceeded to gently smooth her curls and lazily caress her back, only breaking contact long enough to turn the pages.

From Bernie’s radio came the sound of ecstatic cheering that usually accompanied one futbol team or another scoring a goal. It added another line to the complex melody of the forest. But the sounds were already beginning to lose much of their strangeness.

To Grissom, it felt so wonderfully surreal and familiar all at once.

Not too much later, realizing just how tired he was himself, Grissom drew back the sheets and eased Sara beneath them, before quietly changing into something better suited for sleeping and joining her.

She had rolled over onto her left side, so he drew himself alongside her and was gratified to find that her body still seemed to instinctively settle into his.

He pressed a smile into her skin when she murmured, he knew more asleep than awake, “Goodnight, Gil.”

And like her, he was soon fast asleep.

Continued in One (Not So Brief) Interlude on Insects.

*******

Have a question or want to leave a comment or concern and don’t have a wordpress account? Please feel free to email me at kadhmercer@gmail.com

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. grissomsgirl72
    Jul 20, 2009 @ 13:14:56

    My gosh you capture the both of them so beautifully and perfect….I love that she’s teaching him the things she is and that he’s so readily receptive to learning from her. It’s nice to see that those like yourself have not abandoned our couple…especially with the wonderful news that Jorja is back for season 10 and who knows, Billy might be around sometime too….

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