11 – Upping the Ante

Continued from A Shadow of a Doubt.

As dawn on that particular Christmas Eve morning still had an hour yet when Sara stirred and began to stretch, she rightly expected her foot to make contact with the warm body beside her. So when it didn’t, she started and was suddenly very wide awake and for a couple of not so fleeting heart-stopping moments, she honestly did believe that what she most dreaded had come to pass, that she had merely dreamt the whole thing.

But then thankfully reason and her senses kicked in. Sure, the space beside her was empty and cool to the touch, but she could still smell Grissom in the sheets.

And so she breathed again.

Though exactly what Grissom was doing up at this hour, Sara had absolutely no idea. The night before he had looked so worn out, something which hadn’t surprised her in the slightest as she knew all too well that spending the day with Bridget frequently meant leaving even the roughly established trails and romping sometimes at full gallop through the forest just to keep up with the howlers. So she had refused his help with the dinner dishes and shooed him off to bed. He must have seen the wisdom of her suggestion in this, for he had readily acquiesced without the hint of a protest.

Not that Sara had really expected him to go straight to sleep, and he hadn’t. When she went to check up on him half an hour later, she found him on top of the sheets, still fully dressed, his reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose and the book he had been in the process of perusing not far from his fingers. She’d marked his place and set the volume on the bedside table before carefully easing his spectacles free. Unsurprisingly, his only response had been to snore ever louder.

That moment so reminded her of the first time Grissom had fallen asleep on her sofa back in that old studio of hers in Vegas all those years ago that Sara couldn’t resist smiling as she rose to dress, recalling as she did so that had been her first introduction to his snoring. While she had regarded that discovery itself amusing, his firm denials were even funnier.

*******

Sara found Grissom busy at work in the kitchen area. Taking in the large number of bowls already full of cut up vegetables, she shook her head and asked, “How long have you been up exactly?”

He glanced up and gave her a warm smile. “A while,” he said.

“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked, resting a concerned hand on his shoulder.

He had to fight back a grin as he replied, “With all the snoring?” as Sara hadn’t been snoring, not really, but he felt that morning that it never hurt to tease.

Instead, he had awakened to find himself confined to the margins of the mattress. For Sara, despite her slight build, had managed sometime during the night to commandeer the majority of the bed. As he had woken up in this exact same predicament in Vegas upon numerous occasions, Grissom hadn’t been surprised, and despite the slight stiffness in his spine, he actually welcomed it, since its occurrence was something that he had actually begun to miss while they had been apart.

He’d been tempted to wake her then, sorely tempted, but when he had glanced down at his watch to discern the time, he realized it wouldn’t be long before Sara would be up anyway and decided instead to let her sleep. Besides, he had work to do.

So he had risen and readied himself as quietly as he could.

Although when he’d spotted his book on the bedside table with his reading glasses tucked neatly on top, the sight gave him pause. Knowing that it had to have been Sara’s doing, warmth had risen in his chest at the thought and he hadn’t been able to hold back his smile. His grin had only grown at the slight soft shuffling half-snore that was Sara’s only reaction to him placing a kiss along the smattering of freckles revealed by the thin strap of her camisole having slipped from one of her shoulders.

He was still smiling now, which was when Sara realized that Grissom was merely parroting what she had told him a few mornings earlier. Nevertheless, she shot him a dirty look before leaning in to kiss him good morning.

He expected a simple peck on the cheek, so when she nudged his chin in order to kiss him fully on the lips, he eagerly and enthusiastically returned the gesture and was if it were possible, even more pleased when her lips parted and the kiss turned into a heady, opened mouthed one that was far less innocent and far more hungry than their usual morning kisses.

Sara, still both breathless and bemused, asked as they broke apart, “Isn’t it a little early to be starting on breakfast?”

“It’s not breakfast.”

When he didn’t continue she said, “So are you going to tell me what you’re up to then?”

He gestured to the organized chaos surrounding him and answered, “Cooking.”

“I can see that, Gilbert. Cooking what?”

“Tamales,” he replied. “Ana was saying how labor-intensive the prep work was so –”

“So you decided to get an early start,” she finished with a nod of comprehension.

“I wanted to get the meat cooked before you got up. But don’t worry, I think I’ve worked out how to make vegetarian ones.”

“That was thoughtful of you. But tamales?”

“Traditional Christmas Eve dish,” he supplied by way of reply.

So Grissom had been paying attention to something other than her at dinner that first night. Not that anyone could have missed the highly animated discussion Ana, Bernie and Luis had been having about the merits of their respective grandmother’s tamales.

Readily recalling the unresolved nature of the conflict, Sara asked, “So whose recipe did you choose? Or are you making three different kinds?”

Grissom shook his head. “No one’s actually and just two.”

Sara laughed. “Still, I am beginning to think Hodges has been rubbing off on you.” At his puzzled expression, she added, “You, um, have something on your nose, Gil. Right there,” she gestured.

He attempted to wipe it away with the back of his hand before he caught on to what she was intimating.

“That’s not why I’m doing it,” he insisted.

Her tone was incredulous. “You’re not trying to impress the new boss then?”

“No,” he countered evenly, giving her a soft smile. “I was in the mood to do something celebratory.” Then when she looked as if she was having a hard time believing this, he added, “As we’ve had precious little to celebrate over the last year.”

Sara nodded sadly at the truth of this, before beginning to roll up her sleeves. “You want some help?” she asked.

“I’d love some.”

*******

Later that afternoon when Grissom returned from his sojourn out in the field with Ana and Stephen, it was to find Sara back in the kitchen again.

“Get all your specimens done?” he asked.

“Surprisingly yes,” she replied. “Amazing what you can accomplish –”

“Without distractions?” he finished, recalling what she’d told him just before he left that morning. While Sara had been bemoaning having to pull a full morning of desk-duty because someone had put her behind, when Grissom had offered to give her a hand, she replied that she would probably get more done if he wasn’t there to distract her.

“With proper motivation,” she offered. He arched an eyebrow at this, but did not ask. “Besides,” Sara continued, “I had other things I wanted to do this afternoon.”

“Oh?”

“Like finish all this up,” she supplied with a sigh, “if we’re to hope to eat sometime before tomorrow. Besides,” she added, “I’m sure even Ana would agree that one cannot live on tamales alone. Even if it is Christmas.”

“Speaking of Ana,” Grissom replied, “she said she would be back in about half an hour.”

“Checking to make sure we’re doing it properly?” Sara queried with a laugh.

Grissom shook his head. “No. She didn’t think we should end up being the ones to have all the fun.”

“That does sound like Ana,” said Sara. “Although she’s usually not all that enthusiastic about cooking. Tamales must be the exception.”

“Probably.”

“But please,” she said, gesturing to the bucket Grissom was carrying and eyeing its contents suspiciously, “don’t tell me those are more specimens for cataloging?”

“Okay,” he seemed reluctant to agree. But when Sara continued to appear concerned and almost crestfallen, he said, “It’s not. Just fruit.”

Slightly confused, she said, “I thought you were helping Ana and Stephen mark out the new plot.”

“I was.”

“And you just happened to stop and pick fruit on the way back?”

“Are you accusing me of shirking work?” he queried in return as he went to wash his hands.

“Never,” laughed Sara.

And they both set to task.

Sara was working on finishing the masa dough when she noticed the way he was smiling at her. Grissom had been like that of late, full of faces that she couldn’t quite read.

“What?” she asked.

“I was just thinking that it was good to come home to you at the end of the day.”

“Don’t worry,” she replied, “I am sure you’ll get your share of desk du–” Her voice trailed off mid-word once what he had just said sunk in. “I, um, wouldn’t exactly consider this all that homey,” she stammered after a while.

“I’ve found that home is more a state of being than an actual physical location,” Grissom supplied.

Sara had to agree. Home was a word she had long had a hard time quite defining, let alone comprehending. Over the years though, she had grown to associate home with that sense of comfort and warmth, security and ease she felt whenever she and Grissom were alone together.

Unable to say anything more, she simply said, “I’m glad you’re home.”

“Me, too.”

And when she smiled, a bright, wide smile that revealed the slight gap between her teeth and showed up even in her eyes, Grissom grinned just as earnestly back.

Although as he eased a curl of hers back behind one ear, he let out an unexpected laugh.

“You uh, have something,” he said, reaching up to wipe the pale powder from her cheek.  But the masa paste was too thick and sticky to simply brush aside. And while the damp corner of a towel did manage to take care of it, Grissom had neglected to wring the cloth out properly so that a slight trickle of water dribbled onto the bare skin just beneath the nape of her neck. This caused Sara to shiver slightly at the shock of it. But it wasn’t until his thumb, apart from just brushing the moisture away, began to slip further along the neckline of her blouse that she began to gnaw at her lower lip.

“Tease,” she whispered.

His eyes were dark, intent and intense as he intoned, “I never tease,” and covered her mouth with his and kissed her until she whimpered with pleasure.

It seemed that after the last several days’ slow, long, lingering dance of seduction, the two of them were both willing and wanting to finally surrender to their mutual desires.

But they hadn’t long to savor the sharp intake of breath, the sighs and nearness before came a discrete cough from behind them.

They spun to find Ana and Stephen standing there, buckets in hand.

Ana, with a barely contained look of amusement, merely placed hers on the counter before she departed saying, “Plantain leaves for wrapping the tamales.”

Stephen soon followed, muttering something about the need to go fetch more water before dinner.

The pair having disappeared as quickly as they’d come, Grissom and Sara turned to each other, their shared expression of guilt and recrimination morphing into hilarity at the absurdity of the situation. They broke out laughing, which led Sara to beam at him all the more, as it was so good to hear Grissom laugh like that again. Not just with a chuckle or a mere hiccup of mirth but with a full deep resonating laugh that softened his face and made his eyes merry.

Once they had both finally caught their breath, she said, “Maybe we better get back to work.”

Grissom nodded and when Ana and Stephen returned five minutes later, he and Sara were once again industriously — and innocently — employed.

*******

Although they were more heard than seen, Bernie and Luis returned to camp not too long after. Stephen begged off kitchen duty to join them. But it wasn’t until just before dark that Bridget stumbled in, looking more than a little harried and full of apologies for being late and explanations of how the troop she had been following that day had decided to lead her on a merry chase for a several hours that morning before settling down for their usual midday nap.

Sara might have been mistaken, but she thought that Grissom’s expression upon hearing about Bridget’s predicament was less than conciliatory.

She and Grissom along with Ana had been finishing things up in the kitchen. Everything pretty much in hand, Grissom excused himself to go get cleaned up. But before going, he paused to place a kiss in Sara’s hair, the act of which caused her to goggle after him.

For while there was nothing inherently scandalous about that particular kiss, that he had kissed her when there were others beside themselves around had genuinely floored her.

What Sara didn’t know though was that while she was intently gazing after Grissom’s retreating form, Ana was just as intently watching her.

“You look surprised,” the older woman quietly observed as she began laying plates on the table.

Still a little dazed, Sara replied, “I guess I am.”

Ana’s tone turned curious. “Is he usually like this?”

“Full of surprises?” Sara considered the prospect for a moment then smiled. “I suppose in his own way, he is.”

Ana’s next words weren’t a question. “You two have known each other for a long time.”

Sara nodded. “It will be… eleven years in February.”

“And yet he still manages to surprise you?”

“All the time,” she confessed.

Ana laughed. “That’s a good sign.”

“That?”

“That your life will never be dull.”

Sara had to chuckle at the apparent veracity of this. She had to admit, too, that life with Grissom was seldom, if ever, dull. It was just that his behavior had been even more inexplicable as of late. That kiss being just the most recent perplexing thing he had done.

It was just that Grissom had never been one for public displays of affection. Kisses and embraces were private, much like most of their life together had been.  The private nature of their relationship had never really troubled her. Both of them were private people, had always been private people. She hadn’t expected that to change just because they were seeing each other. Besides, after all the flack she had gotten over Hank, Sara certainly had no interest whatsoever in having her own personal life made public ever again.

Private was private. And theirs had always been an intimate sort of privacy.

She supposed she should have expected things to be a bit different here. Despite all of Ana’s well-meaning machinations, there really was no actual privacy to be found in camp apart from what rare moments one could manage to carve out during the day. The night afforded even less, with everyone housed in such close quarters.

So the fact that she and Grissom had yet to consummate their new life together hadn’t worried Sara.

It certainly wasn’t for a want of passion. She need only look into his eyes to know he still desired her in that way. But it was more than that and had always been more than that between them.

Besides, she knew, too, that there were far greater intimacies to be found beyond just the physical ones and those were certainly of the sort that Grissom had been more than willing and eager to share with her. But what Sara hadn’t realized until just recently was that Grissom had been over the last several days, however quaint the word sounded, courting her. For that was exactly what he had been doing: slowly, patiently courting her, cultivating again those quiet intimacies they had once shared.

The simple pleasures of being with each other again had reawakened her memories of those days during their first summer together, and yet, these latest days had brought with them all the comfort and joy that only a love grown with time and experience could bring.

Anyway, there seemed to be no reason to rush.

The years had brought her patience, too, that and a greater appreciation for uncomplicated deeds and gestures. Youth may have its vigor, but age and time and Gil Grissom had taught her the real meaning and pleasure of passion. He may not have done so knowingly, but he had.

But while it seemed that Grissom could be an incredibly patient person if the needs warranted it, the needs in this case seemed to be wearing thin on both their parts. For Sara had been finding it harder and harder over the passing days to resist reciprocating his attentions. It wasn’t long before she decided that not only was it foolish, but pointless to fight her feelings and eventually gave into her instincts and her own desires to be near and close to him.

Hence that good morning kiss and the rush she had felt just before they had gotten caught kissing in the kitchen earlier. And yet, Grissom’s last kiss had been a subtle reminder that his passion always existed hand-in-hand alongside his tenderness.

She knew that either and both boded well.

********

As she caught sight of Grissom, his face well lathered with soap and razor in hand, Sara asked, “You aren’t really going to shave it all off again, are you?”

Grissom had intended to do just that, but upon registering that particular disapproving tone in her voice, decided to shelve the idea, at least for now. So he hurriedly shook his head and told her he was just cleaning it up before it got too scruffy and was rewarded with another of Sara’s bright smiles and her leaning in to tell him that she rather liked him scruffy.

But any further discussion on the matter was forestalled by the sound of Ana calling for Sara.

At this, Grissom muttered rather ruefully, “They do like to keep you hopping.”

“Like you can talk,” she replied. “ At least they restrict their summons to times when I am supposed to be awake. You on the other hand…”

As he couldn’t rightly refute this, Grissom merely shrugged and Sara went to see what Ana needed.

It must have been something simple, as it wasn’t long before she returned, just in time to reach up and lightly brush a thumb along his cheek before giving his ear lobe a playful tug, with the airy explanation that he had missed some soap.

Grissom shrugged and said, “Have you ever tried shaving one-handed with only a pocket mirror?”

To which Sara was forced to concede, “No, I can’t say that I ever have.” And knowing Grissom was neither partial to the color pink, nor in the habit of carrying compacts, she asked, “Where did you get the mirror by the way?”

The answer proved simple enough. “Bridget.”

“Trying to make it up to you, is she?”

But before he could reply, Sara leaned in and while he thought she was going to kiss him, she ran her cheek and then her lips along the line of bare skin just above his beard.

“What are you doing?” came his nearly breathless query, one that was born more out of curiosity than criticism.

Her answer was equally low and longing. “Just checking your work.”

“I see,” he said, his own voice almost husky in timbre. Wanting to prolong the intimate contact as long as possible, he murmured, “Close enough for you?”

Her hum of a reply buzzed against his cheek.

*******

It wasn’t until Sara tugged the towel from around his neck that she noticed that Grissom had changed into a bright blue oxford button down that she hadn’t seen him wear since he’d arrived. She smiled appreciatively, having always loved that color on him as it tended to heighten the deepness of his eyes.

“I’m starting to feel underdressed,” she whispered.

“You’re as lovely as always, my dear,” he said and meant it. Just as he had meant it when he had once told her Since I met you when she had asked him Since when are you interested in beauty? even if he hadn’t exactly intended to intimate as much at the time. The words had just come and yet he wouldn’t have taken them back for all the world. For they were true. Sara had long filled him with thoughts on loveliness and beauty.

She was beautiful. He’d always thought so. She most certainly was now. While her hair was more auburn than dark and her skin more freckled than fair, her eyes were as yet that same deep rich brown. And her smile hadn’t changed. When her grin broadened, it was to reveal the slight gap in her teeth that he’d always been fond of for some reason he couldn’t articulate and Sara couldn’t comprehend. It didn’t matter. She was beautiful.

He thought of how Shakespeare had extolled the fairness of his Dark Lady from the sonnet he had read to her two years before when she had presented him with that volume of The Complete Works of Shakespeare:

I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

The sentiment was just as apt now as it had been then.

The cause for Sara’s smile however wasn’t amusement exactly. Instead, she was entertaining appreciative thoughts of her own.

His turning to hang up the towel to dry provided Sara with ample opportunity to take in the rest of Grissom’s appearance, admiring as she did so, the cut and fit his jeans. But upon observing that they seemed to hang a little looser on him than she remembered, her admiration turned to concern. The thinness was certainly more obvious now, as the jeans couldn’t hide the changes the way the baggy khaki pants and loose shirts could.

So that lean, almost haggard look she had first seen him wear the Saturday before hadn’t merely been from tiredness or the heat.  Grissom had lost weight since the last time she’d seen him, which was troubling only because she knew it was unlikely to have been either deliberate or healthy, and it meant that not only hadn’t he been sleeping, he hadn’t been eating either.

At least his appetite seemed to have returned, she mused. The sleep she knew would come in time.

When he caught her scrutinizing him all Sara could do was stammer, “You, uh… you look good.”

Which was the truth in spite of all of her concerns. Not that Gil Grissom wasn’t ordinarily an attractive man. Even hot, sweaty, dirty and disheveled, she found him a sight for sore eyes. But dressed and relaxed as he was at the moment, he was arrestingly handsome.

She supposed that most people would say that he had aged well. She’d be the last person to disagree. In fact, she thought him even more good looking now than when they had first met. And yes, the grey hair was still attractive. Very attractive.

“Actually,” she said, taking a few steps nearer to better narrow the slight distance remaining between them, “You’re looking a little hot,” before reaching up and casually undoing the second button on his shirt and then the third before pronouncing, “That’s better,” with a self-satisfied sort of grin.

“Now who’s a tease?” he asked.

She only echoed his earlier response, “I never tease,” despite the fact that her fingers still lingered at the flesh along his throat and chest that her unbuttoning had so recently revealed.

“I see,” Grissom replied as he took up that hand.

But the kiss she expected him to place into her palm never came. In its stead, the roughness of his beard tickled at the inside of her wrist, only to be replaced by the softness of his lips and the warmth of his breath which led Sara to close her eyes in rapt appreciation.

However, the quiet pleasure was abruptly brought to an end by a loud exclamation from elsewhere in camp.

After too many years of equating such sounds with danger or alarm, Grissom and Sara hurried to find the others.

Thankfully, the cry proved to be one of delight rather than distress.

It appeared that while Ana and Grissom and Sara had all been occupied in the kitchen, Stephen and the guys had been working on a surprise of their own: a tiny tired up tree, alight and decked out with small brightly colored balls and strips of paper and topped with a gleaming gold star.

Sara had to cover her mouth to hide her glee, but her gasp of “It’s a Charlie Brown tree,” slipped out anyway.

*******

Dinner that evening was a festive occasion. It was a veritable feast of almost epic proportions, which explained why it had taken the three of them the rest of the afternoon to prepare. But compared with all that earlier busyness, the meal was a leisurely drawn out affair, with much smiles and laughter being exchanged as they passed the heavily laden platters to each other, attempting as they did so to find room on their own plates for the boiled tamales, arroz or fried rice, fresh tortillas, masamorra corn pudding and sautéed vegetable picadillo. Most of which, the Costa Ricans at least, slathered with generous helpings of salas lizano, a thick, sweet, slightly spicy condiment even more popular and versatile than ketchup was in the United States.

And although the three of them had had to get a little creative in order to replicate Stephen’s favorite holiday dish: candied yams, the honey in place of the brown sugar, and cashews and meringue topping instead of walnuts and marshmallows worked well. The grapes and apples that were typically imported to help celebrate the day were a big hit amongst the Ticos, especially as Grissom had chosen to pan fry the apples in cinnamon and butter before serving them.

Even before the last of the dishes had been devoured, the meal was deemed an enormous success. But the food hadn’t been the only high point. Bernie, whose father was an expert amateur ornithologist, regaled the table with several rounds of Name that Bird, which proved as amusing as it was educational.

Throughout dinner, Sara could feel Grissom’s eyes on her, caught him more than once at it, and was caught by him in return, and each time she felt the hot warm glow inside of her burn ever brighter.

*******

She wasn’t entirely certain which of the guys suggested a celebratory hand of cards after dinner, but Sara was definitely sure that their playing poker against Grissom wasn’t the best of ideas. However, Bernie and Luis insisted on it.

In the end, all Sara could do was caution them to be careful, as otherwise Grissom was likely to take the shirt right off your back.

At this, a few inquisitive eyebrows went up and the two younger Ticos looked perplexed for a moment, trying to determine the precise meaning of the unfamiliar phrase.

When the befuddlement was replaced by several impish grins, Sara quickly qualified, “Not literally.”

But none at the table apart from Grissom, who seemed to be intentionally feigning indifference in this instance, appeared to believe her.

Bernie’s not so delicate inquiry of “You know this from experience?” certainly proved that point.

At the bald innuendo, Sara shook her head and replied, “No.” Then pursing her lips, she uttered another “No” with even more emphasis before she decided it better not to attempt to argue that the phrase was just another English language idiom.

“Fine,” she conceded in exasperation. The guys could learn the hard way for all she cared. “Go ahead and play. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Not particularly interested in witnessing the slaughter, Sara offered to help Ana make coffee and finish up the cake. Before she joined her though, Sara rested a hand on Grissom’s shoulder, bent and whispered into his ear, “You play nice.”

He only grinned as if to say, “Who me?”

*******

The cake was another local holiday tradition, a tres leche, or three milk cake, which was a confection liberally drenched in a rich mixture of heavy cream, rum and sweetened condensed milk. As the dessert needed to be chilled before serving, Ana had baked the cake in a converted Dutch oven on the cook top earlier that afternoon. Now all that remained was to make the whipped topping and cut up the fruit garnish. Sara volunteered to work on the cream.

As she was doing so, she couldn’t help but remember telling Grissom one afternoon quite some time ago that his concerns over the fact that she had been in the process of making him breakfast were misplaced, since whipping cream didn’t really count as cooking per se. After all, its production really just involved the application of basic principles of physics and as she did after all possess a degree in the field, the task certainly fell within her purview.

While she vigorously beat the cream, sugar and vanilla mixture, Sara caught Ana so frequently glancing up from her chopping and peeling to shoot long appreciative looks at the petite Christmas tree that Ana ended up shrugging and admitting that as they didn’t usually have a tree during the holidays, its appearance this year had come as quite a surprise.

“There seem to be a lot of those going around here lately,” Sara replied with a grin.

“So,” Ana began casually as she continued to massacre her pile of mangos, “Is he really that good at poker?”

“Gil? Let’s just say it is a good thing they’re only playing for matchsticks,” Sara replied. “He’s been playing and pretty much winning since before either Luis or Bernie were born. Almost since before I was born.”

“He doesn’t have any tells?”

Sara had to hide her surprise at Ana’s knowledge of poker terminology. “Not that I’ve ever notice,” she replied.

“Perhaps not when it comes to poker,” Ana laughed. “You’ve never noticed the way he looks at you when he doesn’t think you or anyone else is watching?”

Sara had indeed seen that look, but had never thought that anyone else had. But before she could reply, Ana was saying, “Funny, he doesn’t look like a consummate poker player.”

“Well, you know what they say. Looks can be deceiving.”

*******

By the time the topping and fruit were ready and the coffee percolated, Grissom had already amassed an obscene number of matchsticks. So perhaps it was a good thing Ana and Sara appeared when they did, since it gave the others an opportunity to gracefully bow out of the game.

Over the course of the night, the Imperial beer had flowed rather freely, but Ana brought out a bottle of guaro to serve with dessert. Sara declined a mug, but Grissom accepted the one Luis handed to him.

“I would be –” Sara began, but before she could finish getting out her warning, Grissom had downed the helping of clear liquid in a single shot, just as he had seen the others do. He choked, sputtered and coughed over her, “Be careful with that.”

Luis and Bernie chuckled.

Sara grinned and told Grissom, “They probably think it serves you right.”

When he continued to look clueless over what he may or may not have done, Sara simply shook her head in exasperation.

“So what was that?” he asked.

Guaro, sugar cane liquor,” she offered. “It has all the benefits of burning when it goes down, knocking you flat on your ass drunk in no time at all and leaving you with a hell of a hangover in the morning. Of course its brain-erasing properties tend to make you forget all about the last part while you’re drinking it.”

“Personal experience?” he asked more curious than concerned as he hadn’t really seen Sara have a serious drink for nearly three years.

She shook her head. “I only ever had a couple of sips to be polite. Which was more than enough for me.”

Grissom decided to stick to his cafe negro after that.

They were both in the midst of finishing off their cake when Sara leaned in to whisper almost conspiratorially, “So –”

“So?” he echoed.

“So what did you learn?”

Still confused, he asked, “About?”

“During the Pfeiffer case, you know the one with the chocolate-eating poker player, Warrick told me that you had said that poker wasn’t a game of interaction, but rather observation.

“So what did you learn about everyone? You know a bit like psychoanalysis but with cards. Or are you planning on keeping those cards close to your chest as usual?”

He seemed to consider the question. “At first blush?”

Sara laughed, “Considering you’ve been here five days already, I wouldn’t call it first blush, but yes.”

“It’s more of an art than a science,” he cautioned.

“And psychoanalysis usually isn’t?”

He had to concede that was indeed true before he began, “Bernie is the typical beginner. Doesn’t know what he has or how to make the most of it, and tends to talk too much in order to cover his nervousness. That and he tends to flash his cards.

“Luis, on the other hand, out bids and over-plays his hands and doesn’t know when to quit when he is ahead.”

“The follies of youth?” Sara suggested.

“Not exactly.”

“The recklessness of someone with something to prove?”

“Perhaps.”

With a knowing sort of smirk, Sara said, “Why doesn’t that surprise me.”

When she gave no further response, even to the quizzical look he was giving her, Grissom continued, “Stephen may say that he is a terrible player, but he isn’t. He pays attention to the other players, intelligently weighs his options, bets and plays judiciously.”

“But?”

“Sometimes,” Grissom explained, “consistently playing conservatively only leads to a slow, yet steady bleed out.”

“You mean he doesn’t take risks?”

He shook his head. “At cards no. He plays within his comfort zone, but never beyond it. But that fact doesn’t seem to concern or bother him.”

“And Bridget?”

“She can’t bluff, just like you.”

Slightly affronted at this Sara said, “Are you implying that women are incapable of intentional misdirection?”

“Certainly not,” he replied. “But the two of you still can’t bluff worth –”

She cut him off with a terse, “Careful.”

“Anything,” Grissom finished blithely.

*******

During dessert, Bernie was actually able to find a station on his shortwave radio that wasn’t playing the weather, news, futbol or the ever-ubiquitous 24/7 holiday music.

Not too much later, Luis, in a bout of alcohol induced bravado and probably with more than a little prodding from Bernie, got up and rather shyly asked Sara if she would like to dance. As she had been unable to come up with a polite refusal quick enough, Sara ended up allowing the young man to help her to her feet and lead her to a small open space.

Grissom looked more bemused than irritated or jealous, at least until Ana intimated that Grissom should do the same with her and would absolutely brook no refusal. Sara thought it served him right. Although as Ana was a far better dancer than Luis, she had to concede that Grissom had probably gotten the better end of the deal.

But it wasn’t long after the first song ended that Grissom came up behind Luis and giving him a tap on the shoulder, asked to cut in. Sara had to work to hide her relief.

“I’m beginning to think you were wrong about Bridget being Greg’s cousin,” she murmured.

“Luis?” Grissom asked.

“He dances just as bad.”

Which was true. It seemed that Luis — and Bernie too, if Bridget’s face was any indication — possessed not only their former colleague’s enthusiasm for dancing, but also his affinity for stepping on his partner’s toes.

Thankfully, Grissom did not possess that particular foible. He and Sara were comfortably swaying together to a song that had proven to be more slow, soulful and sweet.

Although he seemed preoccupied with something other than dancing. When she asked what was on his mind, he merely continued to give Luis a long, hard look that was both inquiring and certain all at once. Then as a few of his prior observations finally gelled with what had just occurred, Grissom realized out loud, “He’s got a crush on you.”

To which Sara deadpanned, “I hadn’t noticed.” For it had taken her all of the first two days she had been in camp to work that one out. But then Grissom wasn’t always the most adept at reading certain social cues. “Jealous much, Gilbert?” she teased.

He shook his head. “Merely an objective observation.”

Sara looked dubious. “Right. Anyway, it’s harmless. He’s harmless. Reminds me a bit of Dave.”

“Hodges?”

“Hell, no,” she laughed. “Phillips. He tried to ask me out once. It was sweet actually.”

Grissom, who was still rather startled by this admission, said, “And you never mentioned this before because…”

Sara smiled. “While you may deny ever doing it, you do tend to get jealous from time to time. And while you couldn’t give Dave dumpster duty for a month –”

“You are never going to let me live that down, are you?”

“Nope,” she grinned again which turned to laughter when Grissom adroitly spun her out and then back to him again.

“It’s nice actually,” he said after a while. “Watching someone else be trailed around like a puppy dog.”

“We weren’t –” Sara began to protest, but realizing she didn’t have a fact to stand on changed her statement to, “Okay, we were all that bad.”

We?” he queried.

“Maybe I was that bad.”

“No,” Grissom replied and it seemed as if he was about to amend the severity of his charges, until he added, “You were worse.”

Sara shook her head. “If I recall correctly, you didn’t really seem to mind, at least at first.”

“For a long time I suppose I was afraid that was all it was.”

“A innocent school-girl crush?”

“Yeah. But I think I was more afraid when I discovered it wasn’t.”

*******

Between the occasion, good food and liberal amounts of beer and guaro, by the time midnight had long come and gone, everyone, apart from Grissom and Sara who were not only stone cold sober but accustomed to late nights, was rather flushed, relaxed and sleepy. They began to stumble off to bed, still slightly boisterous and celebratory and looking forward to being able to sleep in the next morning.

Before retiring with her husband, Ana had given Grissom an unexpected hug and kiss on the cheek which flustered him and amused Sara to no end.

Despite the mayhem, music and merriment, Grissom had to admit that it had been a rather peaceful sort of way to spend a Christmas Eve.

“It really is beautiful,” Sara whispered in rapt appreciation, still gazing at the little tree, which continued to glisten with its multitude of white lights thanks to the scooter battery Bernie and Luis had brought back with them from town the Saturday before.

Grissom had to agree, particularly at the way those same lights seemed to sparkle in her eyes.

Bernie’s radio warbled on. The music shifted.

When Sara scrambled to her feet, Grissom asked, “Bed?” but she shook her head and extended a hand to him instead.

“Dance with me,” she murmured, for the music had turned unexpectedly soft and sultry again.

He only smiled and drew her towards him. The heat of one of his palms bled through the thin cotton of her shirt onto the small of her back while the other clasped her hand to his chest. Sara laid her head against his shoulder and sighed as the two of them danced closer than they had dared when the others had been around.

With nothing but the tree light and star shine to light their way, they swayed together long after the initial melody faded away.

Sara snuggled deeper into his embrace, whispering as she did so, “I do love you.”

When she felt his grasp tighten around her, she peered up at him and asked with the lilt of a laugh in her voice, “Now who’s surprised?”

“It’s always been a surprise with you,” Grissom confessed.

They were both smiling now, beaming at each other.

Then with a tender sort of seriousness, Sara said, “I do, you know.”

He nodded. “I know.”

The light, almost playful tone of earlier in the day had given way to something else, something more.

Grissom gently turned her until her back rested against his chest. He slid a hand around her waist, placed a kiss into her hair. Sara leaned forward, the better to expose the curve of her neck and he soon started nuzzling the skin there in the way she’d always savored.

“Gil –” she began as her sigh deepened into a purr of contentment.

Since he hadn’t ceased his ministrations, his query of “Hmm….” hummed against her throat.

“That first time when I came over for dinner back at your old townhouse what would have happened if we hadn’t been called in?”

Without hesitation, he replied, “I would have probably asked you to stay.”

When Sara started and turned to face him, he gave her a bemused smile and whispered, “Not like that dear. But to have you near, to simply be able to feel you, hold you, fall asleep with you…”

“And tonight?” she asked, rather breathless as she waited for his response.

But rather than tell her, he showed her.

“Maybe we should –” she suggested several long moments later.

Grissom nodded. “I’ll get the lights.”

Continued in No Need for Mistletoe.

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