15 – Another Just-So Story, More or Less

Continued from Up a Tree.

Ten Forty-Five.

Sara did a double take at the watch on her wrist in order to make sure she’d read the time correctly.

It really was ten forty-five.

Which meant that Grissom had been in with the doctor for forty-five minutes. Forty-five minutes.

When Ana had spoken about the visit it was simply a couple of x-rays — just in case. But x-rays certainly didn’t take forty-five minutes. She’d seen Dave do complete body scans in a fraction of that time back in Vegas.

So what on earth could be taking forty-five minutes?

Sara pulled out the shopping list Ana had given her just after the old man who usually gave them a lift had stopped to drop Sara and Grissom off right in front of the doctor’s office. She smoothed it out and mechanically reread it before replacing it in her pocket. Sara needn’t have bothered. She’d already memorized the list more than half an hour ago, but examining it had given her – or at least had given her the illusion – of having something to do. It hadn’t really helped this time or the previous half dozen times. Nor had the pacing she’d begun fifteen minutes before.

It wasn’t that Sara wasn’t used to waiting rooms. She’d spent plenty of time in them. Perhaps too much time. While her intimate familiarity with them in various ERs, hospitals and doctor’s offices hadn’t exactly bred the proverbial contempt; she wasn’t exactly fond of them either.

The professional visits were one thing. It had gotten easier over the years to regard the trips to gather or pick up evidence with the same sort of detachment (and equal measure of distaste) as she did dealing with things like expectorant and two-month-old de-comps in duffle bags.

It had been the personal visits that had really rankled. Even the vaguest hints of memories from her all too numerous childhood visits she always hastily shoved aside. Besides, it wasn’t as if her trips had become any more infrequent as an adult. In Vegas over the years she’d waited to see Nick and Brass and Greg. Waited to see countless doctors herself. But this was really the first time she’d had to wait for Grissom.

It wasn’t a reassuring feeling. The waiting. And waiting in general  was not something she’d ever been all that keen on.

Forty-five minutes. Actually, it was more like forty-nine minutes, but Sara didn’t dare glance down at her watch to make sure.

By the time she had crawled into bed with Grissom the night before, her perhaps more than a little irrational concerns had given way to reason. Grissom was fine. Just a little bruised. And he had seemed okay earlier. Or at least as okay as could be expected after falling more than ten feet off a ladder.

Okay, maybe okay wasn’t really the right word, the more she thought about it.

While she’d been up well before dawn as usual, Grissom had been sleeping so still and sound that she hadn’t wanted to wake him, so she’d let him sleep as late as absolutely possible. But he had risen with such apparent difficulty that she had been compelled to say to him, “I won’t ask you how you’re feeling,” if only to dispel a little of her own concern.

Thankfully, he hadn’t insisted that he was fine and even as stiff and sore as he obviously was, had only mutely readied himself for the day. For her part Sara had tried to exercise with him all the patience he had with her when she had first come back from the hospital. How Grissom had managed to do it without appearing to fuss, she’d wished she knew.

For it was hard not to notice as she lagged behind with him when they walked out that morning, that his pace was a lot slower and his limping a lot worse than usual. The hour drive in the back of the truck hadn’t helped. In fact, by the time they finally made it into town, Grissom was honestly looking more than a little green. It was a state Sara had so seldom ever seem him in, as nothing, no matter how gross, ever seemed to nauseate him. And the only times she’d known him to be sick was when he was suffering his way through a particularly nasty migraine. That he hadn’t said much more during the drive than he had during the walk to the road hadn’t surprised her. It was probably, she reasoned, because he had been too intent on not throwing up.

And now the doctor’s visit, which should have put the last of her fears to rest, had because of its unexpected interminability, only heightened her sense of disquiet.

Perhaps she and Ana had missed something.

Her mind was just about to start a macabre survey of the possibilities when the doctor finally emerged from the treatment room. Sara was instantly relieved to see him smiling at her in a way that wasn’t meant to conceal bad news, and was further comforted when he began in his barely accented English (Ana had informed her that he’d gone to medical school at the University of Michigan) to address her in a relaxed, amiable manner.

“The x-rays were normal. Nothing broken,” he said. “But he did bruise his ribs pretty badly, so some soreness, stiffness and some difficulty breathing are to be expected.”

Sara nodded at this. It was pretty much the same thing Ana had told her the day before.

“I left the stitches in,” the doctor continued. “They’ll need to be removed in a couple of weeks, but you or Dr. Velasquez should be able to handle that just fine. So nothing strenuous for a few days,” he smiled as he opened the door and motioned for her to go through to the exam room.  Sara saw that Grissom was in the process of dressing when she entered. “Just make sure he gets plenty of rest,” the doctor continued. “Otherwise, your husband should be completely back to normal in a couple of weeks.”

She and Grissom had both frozen at this. Husband? they both seemed to be thinking. Sara was about to protest that Grissom wasn’t her husband, well at least not yet, but didn’t and was surprised when Grissom hadn’t moved to correct the doctor either.

Utterly oblivious of his error, the doctor simply shook hands with each of them and gave Grissom one final admonition to stay out of trees, at least for a while before leaving them on their own.

“Did you –” Sara asked, giving Grissom an openly inquiring look.

Grissom shook his head with an equally bemused expression on his face. Then after a moment, one of his enigmatic grins began to spread over his features. But Sara was fairly sure it had nothing to do with the doctor having proven correct Grissom’s assertions that he was fine.

He was instead thinking that being referred to as Sara’s husband did have a nice sound to it.

As he was pondering this, Sara moved to help him work the sleeve of his shirt over his sore shoulder just as she had earlier that morning and just as she had then, she left him to do up the buttons on his own.

As she watched him, the ghost of a tease that at least she hadn’t been mistaken for his daughter, never made it to her lips. And if she was being honest with herself, she rather liked being mistaken for his wife.

For the first time, the fact that it might not be all that long before she actually was Grissom’s wife really struck her. The prospect, rather than filling her with apprehension, gratified her.

When after having finished with the buttons, Grissom peered up to find Sara still scrutinizing him, a soft smile on her lips and her right hand hovering over the ring that dangled on the chain about her neck.

Sara met his gaze and realizing that she’d been caught staring, hurriedly muttered something about them needing to get going as they still had a lot to do.

*******

Ana had given them the week’s produce order to fill. It was light work and mostly restricted to the area near the doctor’s office and Sara knew it. Grissom didn’t, and probably would have thought — although not said — something about not needing to be coddled, having fallen out of a tree or no, so Sara simply handed him the list and led him towards where the town hosted its Saturday farmer’s market or la feria.

As they walked side by side, their fingers brushed and for a moment, Sara curled hers around his. He tightened his own grasp, squeezed her hand and gave her both an affectionate grin and a wink.

While they threaded their way along the busy streets, Sara recounted to Grissom that on her first trip to the market, Ana had told her la feria was such a long-held and revered Tico tradition that they even had an adage about it: Aunque llueve y tuene hay que ir a la feria, which meant Even if it thunders and rains, one must go to the market!

And it seemed like everyone was there that morning. The market was alive with a myriad of sights and sounds and smells. The converted roadway was a cacophony of bustle and busyness, filled with the different tones and timbres of unfamiliar voices quickly carrying on in tongues neither quite foreign or familiar as the shoppers called bright greetings to the friends and relatives they met along the way and the vendors noisily touted their wares.

And what wares there were. Everything imaginable. Beneath the hastily erected plastic canopies and from out of the backs of beat up trucks, produce and product collected and spread. Tables and tarps were over-laden with mass-market merchandise, bargain beauty products, cheap children’s toys, trinkets and t-shirts. Riots of flowers bloomed. New-caught fish reposed in buckets of ice. Lotto venders hawked hopes of instant riches and permanent reprieve from want.

But the real treasures to be found lay in the sheer abundance of fruits and vegetables for sale, all fresquito — fresh. It was these that lent to the feria its organic aroma so unlike the over-processed, almost stale, sterile supermarket air of the States. As well as its brightest hues —

The pale green and golden arrays of bananas, pineapples and plantains. The ruddy oranges of mangos, oranges and papayas. Tomatoes blushed. Large peppers huddled together in their reds and greens. Yuca and potatoes proudly bore their earthy browns. Leafy heads of lettuce, cilantro and celery sprawled unfurled, while garlic hung in bunches alongside dried hot peppers. Melons, split and whole, promised sweetness.

As Ana purchased the rice, beans and corn masa which served as the camp’s main staples in five and ten kilo bags every other week (and which Bernie and Luis had the pleasure of toting back to camp), it was mainly the fresh produce Grissom and Sara had been sent to find. She let him do most of the choosing, as she knew from long past experience that Grissom possessed an uncanny knack, an almost sixth sense, for choosing only the best. Although that feat wasn’t quite as impressive here where all the produce had a certain measure of inherent vitality to it.

And while Grissom’s Spanish was still a little rusty, it was a whole lot better than Sara’s, despite Ana, Luis and Bernie’s best attempts to school her over the weeks she’d been there. So the only way Sara knew if Grissom hadn’t quite asked for something properly was from the traders’ amused and sometimes bemused faces. She certainly knew that look well. They gave it to her all the time. And yet she knew the Ticos appreciated the effort. Far too many tourists either didn’t, or couldn’t be bothered.

Before long, they had filled the mesh bags Sara had previously kept stowed in her backpack to the point of bursting, and the backpack, too. Grissom refused, sore shoulder or no, to have her carry all of their purchases and Sara relented enough to let him take a few as long as he kept them in his left hand.

Suddenly, Grissom stopped short in front of a table littered with electronic goods. Sara wondered why until he pulled out his wallet to pay for several blister packs of batteries.

“For Bernie’s…” he began.

“Radio,” she finished with a smile and readily recalling just how handy that radio had proven to be, she handed the vendor several packages of her own.

But after the first hour or so, Sara could tell that Grissom was beginning to wilt, despite his best attempts to disguise his increasingly frequent pauses as him just wanting to have a better look at everything. Besides, it wasn’t as if they were in a hurry. The list had been short to start with and as she scanned it one last time there was just one stop left. Unfortunately, it was several long blocks away.  And as there was still the hour plus walk home to consider and Sara didn’t want Grissom to wear himself out, she gestured to a small open air cafe, or soda, across the street from the market and suggested that he go have a drink.

“The frescos are really good,” she said. And when he asked where she was headed off to, she simply replied with a teasing sort of grin, “The drugstore. As we’ve suddenly had a huge increase in the need for first aid supplies for some reason or other.”

Grissom didn’t rise to the bait or protest her suggestion. When she asked if the doctor had given him any scripts for medication, he handed a short list over. As it turned out, in Costa Rica few drugs required actual written prescriptions from a doctor.

Sara exchanged the paper for several shopping bags as she said, “When I get back, we’ll have just enough time to have lunch before we have to meet Ana and the guys at the post office to pick up the rest of your things.”

He nodded in agreement and watched her disappear into the crowd before lingering for a moment at one last stall selling produce to make a quick purchase of his own. He then crossed to take a seat at one of the soda’s plastic-clothed Formica tables that looked out into the bustling street.

He asked the young server what she recommended to drink. Not too long after, she brought back a glass full of a clear viscous solution in which tiny arrow-like seeds were suspended that she called chan. It was sweet and cool and refreshing despite its strange appearance.

Grissom sat there surrounded by the sizzle of meat and the hot smells of cooking, listening to the raucous laughter of a pack of children playing an impromptu game of fútbol in the empty field across the way, thinking as he did so that Sara really did mean well and really was trying hard not to fuss.

He would never admit it to her, but in a strangely perverse sort of way, part of him secretly enjoyed her fussing, if only a little bit. So he let her continue to do it, and hoped she wouldn’t find out, otherwise she just might stop and he didn’t really want her to do that.

With a half-amused, half-rueful grin, Grissom thought back on the strictures she had given him before he’d gone out into the field for the first time nearly a week before.

“Make sure to take it easy at first,” she had said and then had laughed “Neither” when he had asked her if that had been her way of telling him he was getting old or was just out of shape.

“The humidity will knock you flat on your ass,” she’d warned. “And heat exhaustion sucks. So promise to take it easy.”

“I will.”

“You’re looking a little pink. The sun is a lot stronger here even with the canopy overhead, so don’t forget sunscreen and make sure to reapply it frequently. And the bug repellent, too.”

“Okay.”

“And drink plenty of water. Sip, don’t gulp. But drink a lot and often. Otherwise you’ll get dehydrated quickly.”

“Yes, dear,” he’d dutifully intoned after her latest recommendation.

For a brief moment, he had half-heartedly thought about reminding her that he had done fieldwork in the rainforest before, but had ultimately decided against it. The truth was that as Sara was the only person he had ever really permitted to fret over or caution him, he had missed it while she had been gone.

And while he had often returned from the field hot, sunburned and bug bit, he had stayed out of mischief for the most part, at least until the day before.

Perhaps he should have paid more attention to her repeated admonishments to be careful. But as they were often said just before or just after she leaned in and kissed him on the cheek to wish him a good day at work, he must have been too distracted for them to sink in properly. Maybe if they had, he wouldn’t have taken that tumble.

And then he wouldn’t be so tired and aching that he hadn’t wanted to challenge Sara’s thinly veiled suggestion for him to sit down and rest for a bit.

Besides, he was enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face and watching the people come and go, remembering as he did so that little more than a week ago he’d been mired in the cold and ice and what remained of Vegas’ rare heavy snowfall. And even though he hurt like hell, he’d never felt so happy in his life.

He wasn’t sure exactly how, but somehow, he had managed to forget that the worst of any injury wasn’t felt the day of, but rather the day after. And this was definitely one of those days when he felt every one of his nearly fifty-three years.

He had slept through Sara’s pre-dawn waking, chores and most of breakfast before she had gently nudged him and he’d awakened to being more stiff and sore than he could remember in a very long time. He had somewhat vainly hoped that the hour walk to the road would help ease some of the tightness, but it really hadn’t and had only tired him instead. He’d mused that at least they didn’t have to walk the remaining twenty-plus miles into town.

But the truck that Ana arranged to pick them up and drop them off again each week turned out to be old, half rusty with age and with a suspension system that obviously needed serious work. Although the roads were so pitted and pot-holed from all the heavy rains from the just waning rainy season that even an entirely new suspension wouldn’t have likely made any difference. So Grissom had felt every bump and jostle shoot up his spine and rattle his ribs. It was only the rush of air after the almost stifling stillness of the inner rainforest that had kept him from being sick from the pain. Perhaps him refusing Ana’s suggestion to ride in the front had not been the brightest of ideas.

So Sara’s gently insisted upon rest actually did feel good and was much appreciated.

He was just about to finish the last of his fresco when he spotted Sara wending her way towards him, parcels in hand. His whole face brightened with a smile and she returned his grin as she dropped onto the stool beside him.

“You find everything you needed?” he asked.

Sara nodded and discretely popped the lids to a couple of pill bottles and shook out the requisite number of pale tablets before presenting them to Grissom without a word of explanation, urging or insistence. As he had frequently done the same in the weeks following her return from the hospital, he knew he couldn’t rightly refuse now with their roles reversed.

So he took them equally wordlessly before saying, “You want to explain how the whole ordering thing works here as apparently they don’t do menus?”

Which she did. Sodas where were Ticos ate. They served comida typico, cheap, fast, fresh food. These small family-owned cafes, which could be found throughout Costa Rica, all pretty much served the same thing. Hence why there was no real need for menus. And while you could order a la cart, for the most part casados, the Tico equivalent to the American blue plate special, made up the bulk of lunch orders.

The name casado having originated from the Spanish root for marry, casarse, reinforced the dish’s tendency to be a marriage or combination of various flavors on a single plate. As the ubiquitous gallo pinto, fried plantains, fresh cabbage salad and extra thick chorreados (tortillas) served with an ample side of natilla or sour cream were the same no matter which casado a person ordered, it was just the meat portion that varied. As Sara never touched anything but the occasional fish, the fried tilapia was all that she could recommend from personal experience.

Grissom agreed with her choice and when they young woman who had served him earlier came to take their orders Sara told her, “Regaleme dos casados con pescado” with an ease and fluency that seemed to impress Grissom.

She smiled at this and quipped, “You know I’ve always known how to order out.”

*******

They were in the middle of making their way through their respective plates when Sara turned to Grissom and said, “What were you two doing in the doctor’s office, brokering the next mid-east peace deal?”

He peered up at her confused.

“You were in there for nearly an hour,” she supplied.

“Apart from the obvious?” he said. “Talking about Vegas. He’d been to Chicago and New York while he was going to school, but had never made it to Vegas. Wanted to know if it was anything like the movies.”

“You didn’t burst his bubble with a bunch of gory stories, did you?” Sara laughed.

“Nothing gory came up.”

“He wasn’t the least bit curious when you told him what you did for a living there?” she asked.

“He didn’t ask. I didn’t offer.”

Slightly bemused, she said, “Not in the mood to talk about dead bodies then?”

“Not really,” he replied. Then he turned his attention to her. “Ana told me you never really talk about it either. What you used to do back in Vegas. And it wasn’t because the topic wasn’t suitable for dinner conversations.”

Sara thought about it for a moment. “People expect it to be exciting, being a CSI. Like it is in the movies,” she shrugged. “But you and I both know that it is a lot of long hours, tedium and long shots. The thing is, that is the easy part of the job.

“I just got tired of seeing the worst in people day-in and day-out. It wasn’t the what that they were doing that was so horrible. Maybe you really do just become immune to all of that after a while.”

Grissom nodded. They were bad enough — the horrors that men do — but they hadn’t been the worst part.

“It was the Why?,” she continued and as if wanting to cut Grissom off before he could comment said, “And yes, I know that the Why? wasn’t really our problem. But it was still there.”

*******

“The fuel gauge is broken,” Sara told the crowd that had gathered around her and the suddenly immobile truck.

“You can tell that in less than five minutes?” Ana asked utterly incredulous.

Sara nodded as she rose from where she had been leaning over to listen for the telltale slosh of fuel. But when she had unscrewed the cap on the tank and given the tail end of the truck a vigorous shake there had been no sound.

“If your fuel gauge says you have fuel and your tank is empty, then your fuel gauge is busted,” she said simply. “At least it’s easy enough to fix. You just need gas.”

After Ana had translated Sara’s diagnosis to the others and handed a small wad of bills to Bernie, he and Luis started off up the road back towards town. Considering that the traffic had been relatively busy all that afternoon, it wouldn’t likely be more than an hour for them to hitch a ride in and back out again.

There was nothing to do but wait.

Sara began to absently wipe off her hands on her pants after having slammed the hood of the truck closed.  Grissom handed her a bandana from his back pocket.

“Thanks,” she said gratefully.

“I never did ask how you got to be so good at cars,” he said.

“That’s easy,” she replied. “My older brother was really, I mean really, into cars. So I learned to make myself useful. Besides, somehow I always seemed to get stuck with auto duty back in Vegas so I tried to make the most of it. You never seemed to mind.”

But before he could reply, Ana tapped her on the shoulder and it was several minutes later before Sara turned back to find that Grissom had left her side.

That hadn’t surprised her. It was far too hot to sit in the truck or loiter too long by the side of the road. The two boys who had been riding in the back with them had hurriedly and eagerly made use of the breakdown as an opportunity to play. After a moment, Sara located Grissom sitting beneath the shade of a chicle tree with another smaller boy of whom she hadn’t taken much notice of before.

That sight was unusual. So she stepped away from where Ana and the old man who drove the truck were gossiping to eavesdrop. She heard the crunch of gravel behind her and found that Ana had joined her, which proved helpful as Grissom was saying something to the boy in Spanish that Sara couldn’t translate.

“Probably talking about bugs,” Sara sighed quietly.

Ana nodded. “Yes. Beetles.”

“Figures.”

But it was soon evident that Grissom hadn’t started in on one of his scientific lectures. Instead, he was telling the boy a story. His usually slightly broken Spanish had smoothed, as if he were retelling the tale from memory.

Of course Grissom’s memory was legendary, beyond so. It was down right scary sometimes what he remembered. He would just pretend not to remember when it proved to be convenient. Although he really did seem to have a genuine block when it came to recalling administrative tasks and managing paperwork.

The story seemed fairly simple. Ana translated it easily.

One day a very long time ago, Parrot came upon Agouti and Beetle having a disagreement. Agouti insisted that as he was so much bigger and faster a runner than Beetle there was no way that Beetle could ever outrace him.

Having always been a fan of challenges, Parrot proposed a race. She would even bestow upon the winner a coat of fantastic colors as a prize. Agouti scoffed at Beetle’s chances and was already dreaming of the coat he wanted: one with spots like Leopard whose fur everyone envied. With Beetles short legs and small body, there was no way he could loose. So Agouti became even more arrogant. Beetle however simply quietly waited for the race to begin.

One. Two. Three. Go! Parrot cried.

But Agouti had forgotten one very important detail: Beetle could fly. So he was shocked to find that when the race had been run, or flown in the case of Beetle, Beetle had indeed won, not by using his brawn, but by using his brain.

Ever since then, Beetle has had a beautiful rainbow coat to wear upon his back while Agouti is still a plain and muddy sort of brown.

“Would you like to see what I mean?” Grissom asked, pulling from his pocket a small tin. The little boy nodded eagerly. Grissom unscrewed the lid and showed him. The boy’s eyes went wide with delight.

Sara knew that it must have been the specimen of Cotinis mutabilis, fruit beetle, Grissom had been so excited to discover hanging around camp several days earlier. So she hadn’t needed to catch Grissom explaining to the boy that it was an escarabajo de las frutas. She knew, too, that it was a very impressive specimen. Even she hadn’t been able to keep from oohing and awing over its brilliantly iridescent metallic green carapace.

The boy examined the beetle for a long time before extending the tin back to Grissom. When Grissom shook his head and told the boy to keep it, the little boy wasn’t the only one surprised.

He protested that he didn’t have anything to give in exchange. Grissom replied that the boy had given him something already. When the boy asked ¿Qué? Sara didn’t need Ana to tell her that una sonrisa meant a smile.

*******

Sara’s prognosis about the truck having indeed been proven correct — once it had been refueled it started back up with only a cough or two of protest — everyone piled into the back and they were off again.

Despite the sounds of Bernie’s radio blaring the latest fútbol match, Grissom had begun to nod off, the pills and exhaustion having finally gotten the better of him. When his head began to sink onto Sara’s shoulder, she pulled her bulging pack onto her lap and eased his head down to rest upon it. Soon he was fast asleep and snoring and she’d been unable to resist running her fingers through his hair as he slept. Perhaps it was all for the best, considering how green he had been on the trip into town that morning.

When she peered into the front cab of the truck, she found that the little boy whom Grissom had been talking with so excitedly earlier was also dozing in his grandfather’s lap. She smiled slightly at the coincidence and remembered back to what Ana had said

Grissom’s tale completed, Ana had pulled Sara off to the side and told her that she’d never heard that story before.

“So you or the guys didn’t tell it to him?” Sara’d asked.

“No,” Ana’d replied and then said, “How did he know?”

“About the story?”

“No, about the little boy.”

For as it turned out the boy whom Sara would have pegged at being no more than eight, was nearly twelve and the other two boys who were his cousins would frequently make fun of him because he was so small and slow.

Sara hadn’t had a response to Ana’s revelation then, she really didn’t know any more of one now.

But the memory of watching him with the little boy had started her thinking.

They never had spoken about them having children of their own.

Even though Sara had barely seen Grissom with kids outside of work apart from Catherine’s daughter Lindsey, she knew that he would be a good father.

He would probably be a little overprotective and she felt sorry for any future boyfriends that might come to call. But mostly she thought of him child tenderly cradled in his arms and of tiny fingers wrapped around his thumb. Of course there would be games of catch and bug-hunting excursions in warm weather and books propped open on his lap ready to read.

No, she had no doubts whatsoever that he would make a good father, especially when she recalled what Warrick had said during his interview for custody of Eli:

“The most important thing you need to know about how to raise a child is how to give a child love. And I’ve been loved. Look, I’ve always tried to be a good man. I’ve screwed up. And when I have, there has always been one man in my life that’s set me straight. I’ve learned a lot from him. How to be fair. How to forgive. How to be inspired. How to inspire others.”

But it had been Warrick’s reply to the interviewer’s response of “sounds like a special person” that had touched Sara the first time she’d seen it, and struck her now.

“He is,” Warrick had said. “If I could have picked my own father, I’d have picked him.”

Sara was glad that the others were so wrapped up in listening to the game on the radio that they took no notice of her. Still, she turned her face away as she blinked back tears.

*******

For Grissom, the walk back to camp seemed to take just as long, if not longer than the walk out had that morning. It was an observation that seemed to run counter to his usual experience that return trips while not in actuality took less time than the original ones, at least seemed to. It was just one of those strange peculiarities of time or of the perception of time at least.

He’d still been mostly asleep when after the truck had come to a stop, Sara had gently shaken him awake. She’d insisted that the others go on and they would follow. Even with the delay brought on by the unexpected breakdown, there had been a good hour and a half left of daylight for them to get back to camp.

They hiked in in single file, as that was all the narrow paths would accommodate and even then the branches overhead and roots underfoot still made the going difficult at times. Sara had taken up the rear again; Grissom imagined the better to keep an eye on him.

She’d been strangely quiet since Bernie and Luis had returned, not having said much more than You’re going straight to bed when we get back as she helped him out of the truck.

He’d been too drowsy and far too exhausted to protest, or even want to.

So that when they finally made it back to camp and to their tent, he turned to her and said, “Sara?” in a slightly concerned voice.

“Hmm?” she replied absently, seemingly intent on unpacking her few personal purchases of the day into her trunk.

“You okay?”

Her answering “yeah” wasn’t all that particularly convincing, so Grissom tried a more direct approach and stated the obvious:

“You’ve been quiet ever since Luis and Bernie came back with the gas.”

Sara sighed heavily before settling on telling him the truth, no matter how much it worried and cost her to do so.

“Ana and I saw you with the little boy,” she began.

He waited for her to continue, unsure of why or how that had managed to so upset her into silence.

But instead of an explanation, she offered him the question, “Where did you hear that story?”

At least it was a simple one to answer. “In a village outside of Manaus more than twenty years ago,” he said. Then with a sort of self-deprecating slight smile he added, “My Spanish was a lot better back then.”

“I thought they spoke Portuguese in Brazil,” Sara asked suddenly very confused.

Grissom nodded. “They do. But I certainly didn’t and the guide I was traveling with who did spoke Spanish and not English so I only ever heard the story in Spanish.”

“It was sweet.”

“The story?”

“No.”

His smile and tone turned reflective, then sad, almost distant. “He reminded me of a boy I met last month.”

“On a case?”

He nodded again. “His mother and uncle had been discovered shot in Korea town and he’d gone missing.”

“But you found him.”

“I almost wish we hadn’t. The poor kid was HIV positive and his mother had him enrolled in all of these clinical trials to help pay for her drug habit. Except the doctors were treating him like a guinea pig. Worse actually. They were practically torturing the kid in the name of science. So when his uncle got out of jail, he tried to put a stop to it, but his mother shot him. And then he shot her.”

“The uncle?”

“No. The boy.”

Sara gaped wide-eyed at Grissom for a moment, both shocked and yet not. It was the not that was hardest part to stomach.

“He was just a kid,” Grissom was saying. “A kid who should have had a mother who looked out and took care of him. Not one who would farm him out for drugs.”

His voice had turned brittle to the point of anger and bitterness. The whats and whys they’d seen over the years had been horrifying enough, but the crimes against children always seem the most difficult to fathom and had been hard for all of them, even Grissom who had always ordinarily been fairly placid and almost stoic about the job.

Sara remembered how he’d lost his temper after having found Zachary Anderson’s infant body on a golf course that first year she’d come to Vegas. How relentless he’d been to help find Jason Crowley and Lucas Hanson when the two boys had gone missing. She’d always thought it had been because of all the victims they encountered children were the most innocent and undeserving of the evil that happened to them, but seeing him with that little boy this afternoon she wondered.

Grissom, sensing that Sara had something else on her mind, left the sad story of Park Bang there.

Although her suddenly saying rather rapidly, “We never talked about children, about having them I mean,” genuinely caught him off guard, despite it being true.

The sum-total of their discussion about anything to do with human reproduction (at least in reference to themselves) had been limited to a rather brief practical conversation about birth control that took all of less than five minutes once Sara had explained somewhat awkwardly that because of a female complaint she hadn’t really wanted to go into detail about at the time, she’d had IUD implanted several years before. While naturally curious, Grissom had known better than to inquire further.

The topic hadn’t really come up since.

“No, we never have,” he admitted.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it,” she replied.

Grissom had. Thought about Sara growing great with child. Thought of feeling the baby writhe and kick beneath his fingertips. Thought of holding the newborn in his arms for the first time. Of course he knew about the dirty diapers, two a.m. feedings, the colic and terrible twos (and later teens) and all of that, too.

So yes, he’d thought about it. But he’d really never got past the image of the child nursing as Sara sang softly in the way she always did when preoccupied, before the more rational part of his mind did the math and he realized he would be more than seventy when that baby graduated from high school. And there was no guarantee that he would live even that long. His own father had been even younger than he was now when he had died so sudden and unexpectedly, and Grissom had known all too well the pain of having to grow up without a father.

He knew the math wasn’t in his favor when it came to genetics either. And while he could readily discount Sara’s fears that there might be a murder gene, he couldn’t so easily dismiss the fact that he had inherited the condition that had left his mother deaf when she was only a child. His mother had lived a long and healthy and apart from her grief at losing her husband, a contented life. He knew she had seldom felt ostracized or diminished because of her inability to hear. But he remembered his own fear at finding out that at forty-six, he was loosing his hearing. Remembered how he had thought that loss would likely cost him the career he had spent his whole life building. He’d been so afraid that he hadn’t really wanted to admit to the loss to anyone and most certainly not to Sara. It had made him feel vulnerable, that he was no longer in control of his own body, let alone his own future.

He knew he had been lucky. The surgery had succeeded in removing the growths and his hearing had returned back to normal. Whether it would stay that way or not, he didn’t know. But that fear of coming so close to losing everything stayed with him. In some ways, it had made him even more cautious. He didn’t want to put anyone else through that. Not knowing what he knew.

Perhaps if he hadn’t been such a coward and a moron and a fool for so long, if it hadn’t taken him nearly eleven years to admit to himself that he wanted nothing more than a life with Sara, it might have been possible. But not now.

And Grissom had long learned not to dwell on things he knew he couldn’t have.

When he didn’t reply for a while, Sara’s shoulders slumped as if a large weight had suddenly settled over her and she turned away. There were just some things that seemed easier to say when you didn’t have to look the other person in the face.

“Gil –” she began and there was a long beat as if she were gathering her breath –and her courage. He came up behind her, slid one arm around her until he held her close from behind.

“Gil… I’m — I’m sorry… I…”

Grissom’s other hand settled on her shoulder at this and her eyes closed at the feel of his thumb running along the inside of her neck.

“I am. But I… I can’t.”

He gently turned her towards him, brushed a stray strand of hair back behind her ear before saying, “I know.”

And he really did. He understood. Understood that it was more than just her feeling uneasy around children. Understood her fear of someday turning into her parents. Of history repeating itself. Understood that she didn’t really have any idea what real parents were supposed to be like in the first place. Even what home really was.

Our life together was the only home I’ve ever really had.

That line from that letter of hers had given him so much sorrow. For even without his father around, Grissom had grown up in a home with a mother who loved and cared for him. He may have lost track of what that was like during all those years when he had been as obsessed as he’d been with his work, but at least he had known home and love in ways she never had.

So yeah, he knew, knew how that never knowing had made it hard for her to    even begin to conceive of herself as a mother. Even though he knew that she needn’t worry. With her almost fierce protectiveness and yet gentle tenderness, Sara would make a fine one. Of that he didn’t doubt.

So when her eyes finally flicked up to his, he wasn’t startled to see both hers and his own regret reflected there.

“Neither can I,” he murmured.

Sara nodded, understanding as he seemed to do and hugged him hard.

“Besides,” Grissom began after a while, hoping to see her smile again, “Hank would get horribly jealous.”

She let out a hiccup that he was happy to hear contained the hint of a laugh when she said, “Probably.”

They were both quiet for a moment. Then Grissom sat and reached for her hand.

“Come here,” he said. She did, curling her legs up beneath her and resting her head on his shoulder.

“I have something for you,” he whispered.

Curious, she sat up and expected him to pull something from out of one of the duffle bags Luis and Bernie had carried in for Grissom. But he reached for the small rucksack he had toted with him into town. From out of it, he pulled an orange of all things. She stared at it, unable to recall Grissom ever having an especial partiality for the fruit.

He pulled a knife from his front pants pocket, deftly sliced the fruit in two and saying something in Spanish she didn’t quite comprehend presented her with one of the halves. At her puzzled look, he repeated it.

“Half… orange?” she asked with a bemused half smile. “Could we perhaps try that in English please?”

“You’re the other half of my orange,” Grissom replied. “It’s a Tico saying. From what I gather it means that you are my other half. My better half,” he confessed.

Sara simply sat there dumfounded before eventually taking the orange section he held out to her. Still stunned, she watched him peel his half and quietly consume it without another word. Then her mind and heart caught up with her hearing and she leaned in and kissed him eagerly. He tasted of oranges and ever since the two of them both harbored a particular fondness for the fruit.

Continued in When the Cat’s Away, or a Not So Perfectly Innocent Sunday Afternoon.

*******

A/N: The story that Grissom tells the little boy is an adaptation of an actual traditional Brazilian folktale and like Kipling’s many animal orgins tales – a just-so story.

******

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