17 – Field Day

Continued from When the Cat’s Away, or a (Not So) Perfectly Innocent Sunday Afternoon

Both Ana and Sara seemed to take the doctor’s stricture for Grissom to avoid anything strenuous for a few days seriously. So Monday found him confined to camp for the duration. And while desk duty was not something he usually particularly relished, the cleaning, sorting and cataloging of insect specimens had yet to lose its novelty and probably wouldn’t for some time as he was still more than a little in awe of the diversity of their basic collections.

That and Stephen had pulled out what he had tongue-in-cheek dubbed the camp’s UFIs and UCIs (Unidentified Flying and Unidentified Crawling Insects, respectively — Stephen wasn’t all that particularly crazy or knowledgeable about bugs) for Grissom to take a crack at. Grissom hadn’t been all that surprised to find that few were easily identifiable beyond the genus level. After all, there were more than 4,000 identified species of insects in Costa Rica and he was bound to come across a few unidentified ones at some point. He’d made a mental note to remember to write to Catherine so she could send those couple of boxes of books he had put aside while he had been packing up his old office. They would certainly come in handy now.

He’d taken a break around two to start on dinner. As they had a ready supply of fresh vegetables from his trip to la feria with Sara on Saturday, he thought a simple stew might be a pleasant change from their usual gallo pinto-centric meals.

Later that afternoon, as he was adding the last of the potatoes, he had to suppress a smile as he thought back to that morning and how Ana and the others had greeted his offer to cook with a great deal of enthusiasm. There was of course a caveat. As apparently Sara had once told them all about his not always infrequent predilections toward entomophagy, the rest of the camp made it very clear that they had no interest whatsoever in actively eating insects. Unlike Sara whose objections tended more towards the ideological, the others’ were predictably aesthetic. For while it was one thing to accidentally ingest an ant or two because the six-legged buggers somehow managed to make their way into everything, eating bugs on purpose was, just as he was informed by Bridget, “Gross.”

He was replacing the lid on the pot when he heard the sound of voices and footsteps coming from the main path. So it wasn’t Sara’s appearance in the camp kitchen that took Grissom by surprise, although it was her appearance and perhaps it wasn’t exactly surprise that he was feeling.

She’d emerged from eight hours of toiling in the near 100% humidity looking hot and sweaty and yet utterly at ease in it. As he watched her drink deeply from a large Nalgene bottle and brush the back of her hand across her forehead, he decided that he needed to amend his once previous pronouncement that sweaty wasn’t sexy.

His appreciative grin turned amused as he noticed that she had somehow during the course of the day managed to get a smudge of dirt along her right cheek. It reminded him of how frequently she’d end up getting covered in oil and grease when she used to dismantle cars in the lab garage. Since it was one of those sights he found more endearing than anything, he didn’t bother to mention it to her when she leaned in to give him a kiss hello.

“Feeling better?” she asked with a warm smile.

“Much.”

“It’s amazing what a little rest can do,” she quipped, then gesturing to the signs of his cooking asked, “Tired of cataloging yet?”

“No, just checking on dinner.”

Her grin only grew. “Good. I’ll tell Ana that you’re fine with another two straight weeks of it. Just in case.”

An eyebrow went up at this. “You wouldn’t.”

“Wouldn’t I?” she replied in what he was starting to discern to be mock seriousness. Her next words were even more blatantly teasing, “But it’s too bad you aren’t getting tired of it. If you were, Ana thought you might like to spend tomorrow out in the field with me instead.”

“Then yes, I am very tired of cataloguing.”

Sara laughed.

“So how did you manage to score that assignment?” Grissom asked after a moment.

“Day with the newbie?” Sara shrugged and sighed. “It was inevitable I suppose. But I think they were trying to put it off for a while.”

“Afraid I might distract you from your work?”

She shook her head. “I have the feeling that they thought it more politic for someone other than me to be the one telling you what to do.”

“I don’t have a problem with you being boss,” he said simply, and genuinely meant it.

Still, Sara queried, “Really?” unable to keep the disbelief out of her voice.

“It’s nice actually,” he admitted. “Not having to be boss for once.”

“Wait until you’ve had dung duty for a month,” she countered, but the prospect didn’t seem to faze Grissom in the least.

“So what’s the reason for the sudden change?” he asked curious.

“They seem to think I’m the only one who can keep you out of mischief.”

“I rather think they’re afraid of incurring your wrath.”

“Funny.”

*******

The stew had been a hit. That night the post dinner activities seemed to settle into the work-related rather than the recreational. Bernie had dish duty. Ana and Stephen huddled over their laptop, struggling to line up their GPS data with the topographic maps of the area, as sadly GoogleEarth didn’t cover the Costa Rican rainforest. Bridget, being neither a math major, nor all that keen on statistics, was having trouble with running her standard deviation calculations on her primate data. Sara having been both, volunteered to help her.  When Grissom decided to get a head start on processing the specimens that had been brought back that afternoon, Luis had gamely offered to assist him.

A little before ten, Sara got up, stretched and wandered over to the table where Grissom and Luis were still busy at work.

She yawned and resting a hand on Grissom shoulder, said, “I’m going to bed. You two don’t work too late.”

Grissom mumbled about wanting to get a bit more done. He watched Sara go for a moment before returning to his cataloging. Once she was out of earshot, Luis, who had been sitting across from him, looked up.

He began in rather unsteady English, “You are looking a tired, Dr. G. It is late. You should go to bed. The work will be here tomorrow.”

Grissom gave Luis a rather rueful smile. The young man was correct on all counts. It was late and he was tired and the work would still be there when he got up. He really should go to bed.

He was about to begin to pack up the insects he had been examining when Luis said, “I will do it. You go. It is not good to leave a lady waiting.”

*******

Sara was in the process of getting ready for bed when Grissom entered their tent. He stopped short in the entranceway, the better to watch her tug her bra out from under her tank top. She caught him at this, smiled and shook her head.

“Why does that always seem to amaze you?” she asked.

He shrugged. “It just does.”

She started to shake out her cotton pajama bottoms, just in case an errant insect or two had decided to take up residence.

“I thought you still had worked to do,” she said.

“It’ll keep,” Grissom replied.

At the incredulous look she gave him, he merely nodded. Sara chuckled softly and said, “Who are you and what have you done with Gil Grissom?”

From the laugh, the smile she was giving him and the lightness in her voice, he could tell she was more pleased than perplexed by his decision.

“You know that hypocrisy doesn’t suit you, dear,” he replied with a smile of his own.

Sara rejoined, “This from the only person I’ve ever known who works even more than I do.”

“Things change. Times change. People change.”

She nodded. “Yeah, they do.”

“After all, you know what they say about change.”

“No, what?” she said, although she was already sure of his reply.

The only constant in the universe –”

Is change,” they finished together.

Sara grinned. “Don’t change too much though,” she said. “I rather like you just the way you are. Well, most of the time,” she qualified.

“You mean as long as I stay out of trees.”

“As long as you keep from falling out of them, yes.”

As she bent to tug off her work pants and replace them with the sleep ones, she noticed that Grissom’s eyes had once again settled on her in the same almost rapt way they had when she had expertly removed her bra through her shirt only moments before.

“See something you like?” she teased.  He only smiled in reply. It was that rare sort of smile that revealed the dimple in his right cheek.

But soon Sara’s mirth turned into a long sigh as one warm hand slid around her waist while his other brushed her now short hair from the back of her neck and Grissom leaned in and nuzzled her there. She was about to turn and kiss him eagerly in response when her sense of prudence returned.

“Gil,” she murmured and reluctantly disengaged herself. “You do remember what the doctor said.”

It was his turn to sound amused. “That wasn’t what I had in mind,” he countered. When she peered back at him in disbelief, he added blithely, “Now who needs to get their mind out of the gutter?”

This time when Sara sighed, “Whatever am I going to do with you?” it was with much fondness and very little real exasperation. Then taking in his half unbuttoned shirt she said, “Does this mean you are coming to bed?”

Instead of answering, he kissed her.

*******

It was still dark when Grissom woke the next morning, crawled out of bed and after quickly dressing in the lantern light, went in search of Sara. It was a short search. She was right where he expected her to be: sitting at the same table he had been using the night before. And already engaged in that morning’s cataloging work. He stopped behind her, smoothed her hair, ran a thumb down her neck before his palm came to rest on her shoulder and he leaned in to place a long lingering kiss on her cheek.

“You been up for long?” he asked.

“Not too long.”

“Define Not too long.”

Sara glanced down at her watch before replying, “About twenty minutes, half an hour.”

Grissom took a seat across from her, notebook and pen in hand, his reading glasses already perched upon the end of his nose, before observing, “You’ve been sleeping better.”

“Only since you’ve come,” she smiled.

“Didn’t take long for me to put you to sleep again then.”

She shook her head. “Nope.”

With the ease and natural rhythm that had come from working so closely with each other over the years, they soon settled into what was quickly becoming their morning routine. For Grissom appreciated the quiet just as much as Sara did and they both took pleasure in the company. Over the following days and weeks, the others simply got used to seeing the two of them at work first thing in the morning. Luis, Bernie and Bridget didn’t quite understand it, but Ana and Stephen did.

*******

Sara and Grissom hiked out on their own just after breakfast, Ana having wanted them to collect and set bait traps in a couple of the nearer plots before they headed in the afternoon over towards the newest one to investigate the best locations for future traps.

Despite her concern that Grissom might have problems keeping up, as she was the one who knew the way, Sara led the way. She needn’t have worried. For as they walked his hand seemed to consistently hover near the small of her back. She found its presence oddly reassuring.

Grissom found that every time he went out, for the first few hours at least, before the heat and humidity began to take their toll, he couldn’t help but walk around in a state of perpetual wonder. It had been a long time since he’d felt that rush and flush of energy at work.

For it was beyond real, the rainforest. And not in a fantastical or grand sweeping romantic way. It was just something that you couldn’t take in all at once and just when he thought he had already caught sight of the most spectacular of things, he’d turn a corner and come across something even more striking. He’d found, too, that words, language, even thought, were inadequate. It was all so overwhelming — the abundance of everything — the plants and trees and flowers, the insect life and birds, an explosion of life in all its diversity.

Needless to say, the forest was far different a world than Vegas. The green was, there was no other word for it — alive — and omnipresent and yet there was something oddly calming about being surrounded as they were. Here everything was verdant and lush, the forest so thick that in some places they could only see thirty feet in front of them as everything else disappeared under a veil of darkness. The trees towered, some more than fifteen stories tall, their branches forming the buttresses of vast living cathedrals. Vines and epiphytes wound their way skyward towards the leaf-woven canopy.  The forest even had a language of its own, one of bird song, insect hum, and occasional monkey chirp.

Often Grissom would wonder what tales the forest would tell if only people possessed the patience to stop and wait and listen.

Although it really was too hot and humid to stand still in one place for very long.

At a rustle in the sparse undergrowth, he and Sara paused. The sinewy curve of a boa slithered along the forest floor. They watched it go in awe rather than fear, Grissom of course not the least bit afraid of snakes.

Not too much later, he did however stop dead in his tracks. His face screwed up in puzzlement and he took several short, quick sniffs through his nose as if he had caught an unusual scent.

“What?” Sara asked.

“You don’t smell that?” he said.

She shook her head. Grissom motioned for her to backtrack towards him.

“Over here. It smells like… garlic,” he said still perplexed.

“Ah,” Sara replied with a knowing sort of expression. “It’s the tree,” she said.

It was his turn to query “What?”

“The tree. It’s Caraocar costaricense. The Ticos call it el arbole de ajo — the garlic tree, since its bark smells like garlic.”

When he continued to look both bemused and yet impressed, Sara shrugged and said, “You aren’t the only one whose head is full of useless information.” At the now challenging look he was giving her, she hurriedly amended, “Seemingly useless.”

To which Grissom only rejoined, “Speak for yourself.”

Sara used the back of her hand to wipe the sweat from her forehead. “You were right though. About the whole there being a difference between wet and dry heat thing. But don’t let it go to your head, Gil.”

His seemingly innocent expression seemed to say that he wouldn’t dream of it.

******

Around noon they stopped to take a break and have something to eat, having found a spot that looked to be fairly free of anything that might want to bite, sting, swarm or scratch them if they sat down, but they put down a piece of plastic tarp just in case.

Sara, having carefully repacked the remains of her lunch things, turned to Grissom and asked, “Has it changed much?”

“Working in the rainforest?” he queried in reply before saying, “Yes and No. The science is still the same. The tech is a lot different.” Then he added with a slight grin, “The company has vastly improved.”

Sara returned his smile. But his expression turned wistful, almost pensive as he said, “I’ve really missed working with you.”

“It’s been a long time,” Sara conceded with more than a twinge of regret in her voice.

“Too long.”

She nodded.

Suddenly, Grissom seemed to be struggling with exactly what he wanted to say. “It’s… It’s just… I always did enjoy working with you,” he finally said. “Well, most of the time.”

“You mean except for those years when we were avoiding each other at all costs?” she asked, sounding chagrined herself.

It was his turn to query, “It wasn’t that long, was it?” in a concerned voice.

“Felt like it.”

He couldn’t dispute that. “But,” he began, a hint of a smile starting to tug again on his lips, “later, after you and I…” his voice trailed off as he met her gaze. “It was like it was in the beginning, only better.”

Her eyes crinkled in delight. “Is that why you teamed us up alone together so often after you came back from Williams? Because you enjoyed my company?”

“Hardly. You were — are — a great criminalist, Sara. Don’t ever forget that.”

She flushed with the unexpected compliment. “We always did make a pretty good team, didn’t we?” she said after a while.

“We still do.”

Sara beamed. “You keep saying things like that and you really will become a distraction.”

“Then you’ll know how it feels.”

*******

They were scouting the latest plot looking for a prime location for the laying of their last dung trap when something caught Grissom’s eye. Sara was too busy musing over what the guys back in Vegas would say if they saw Grissom pulling dung duty, as she recalled all too well their grumbling and protests about Grissom assigning them tasks that had to deal with the less savory sides of life, like excrement. If only they could see Gil Grissom now.

Only when she vaguely heard him call her name was she even aware that he had wandered off. It wasn’t until the second time, when he spoke with far more insistence and force than usual, that brought her coming almost at a run, as she immediately feared that something had to be horribly wrong.

But it wasn’t. Far from it.

When Sara was finally able to find her voice again, it was to whisper in both awe and amazement, “It’s… It’s just as you said.”

And it really was. Really was as if the earth and sky had changed places.

For a rabble of blue morphos were making good use of the uncommonly large swath of sunshine created when one of the emergent level trees had collapsed under the weight of its own canopy and the vines that had clung to it.

The brilliantly blue butterflies were seemingly content to spread their wings wide and sun themselves, the better to keep warm, Sara knew. For as they lacked the ability to internally regulate their own body temperatures, they used each of their nearly three inch wide wings as giant solar collectors. She knew too, that in reality, the blue morphos weren’t really blue at all. They just appeared so because of the way the transparent diamond shaped scales on those same wings refracted the natural ambient light. But all the science didn’t make the moment any less magical.

But not nearly as blindingly astonishing as when the rabble almost nearly as one suddenly took flight. There was the whisper of wings, an instant where the butterflies all seemingly seemed to vanish, before those wings spread wide again and strobed electric-blue, flashed mirror-bright and they were gone.

It was only after the morphos had vanished that Sara realized her camera still hung limply around her neck. In all those moments, minutes even, she hadn’t once thought to snap a photo. Though she doubted she’d need a picture to remind her.

She felt Grissom’s hand slip into hers and turned to him, found his face full of the same marvel and amazement she knew had to be on her own.

“Gil,” she whispered, not having the words, any words, for something that had been beyond breathtakingly beautiful.

He reached up with his free hand and brushed a damp stray strand of hair back behind her ear before pressing a kiss into her palm.

*******

When Grissom and Sara stumbled into camp close to five that evening, they were hot, sweaty, ecstatic over the day and their discoveries and desperate for a shower. Freshly scrubbed and dressed, Grissom went to see if Ana, who had pulled kitchen duty that day, needed any help. She shooed him off. He wasn’t sure where Sara had gone, but Bridget was sitting at the worktable absorbed in a puzzle book. He took a seat across from her and tried to work out precisely what sort of puzzle it was, albeit upside down. But while he soon noticed that she used letters there were no clues like traditional crosswords.

“Alphabetical sudoku?” he queried curiously.

Bridget flashed him the cover as she replied, “Codecrackers. Crosswords without clues or so they advertise. It’s more of cipher thing though. A Kiwi friend of mine got me hooked once and I’ve been hopelessly addicted ever since. Want to try one?”

“I… I couldn’t,” Grissom said. But when Bridget continued to look knowingly expectant he said, “Well, maybe just one.”

She tore a page from out of the puzzle book and began explaining how it worked. It was simple enough. Each letter of the alphabet corresponded to a single number, one through twenty-six. Once you knew which letter belonged to which number you proceeded to fill in all the squares containing that number to ultimately form words. The thing was, all the puzzle makers provided to start off with was one or two letter-number codes. The other twenty-four combinations had to be worked out from there.

“So not only do you need to have a pretty good vocabulary,” Bridget finished, “you also have to have a sense of letter frequencies.”

She handed Grissom her pencil and he began to fill in the letters provided for the numbers twelve and twenty-five, N and H, respectively.

“If you need another letter,” she added, “they list one in the back of the book.”

But Grissom didn’t seem to hear her and was so engrossed in working out the puzzle that he didn’t notice Sara come right up behind him.

Sara on the other hand noting Grissom’s extreme state of preoccupation, shot Bridget a mischievous grin before she ran her nails up his neck and into his hair. Grissom gave an involuntary shiver in response. When he peered up at her his eyes and own smirk told her she was going to be in for it later. Sara simply smiled unconcernedly in return. Bridget however hurriedly rose and asked if either of them wanted any tea. They both nodded.

Sara took a seat next to Grissom and peered over at the puzzle, herself quite curious. He briefly explained how it worked and by the time Bridget returned several minutes later she found the two of them utterly riveted.

Sara was saying, “Thirteen is A. See you get adept, which makes seventeen T.”

Bridget couldn’t help but laugh.

“You know who would love these,” Grissom began.

“Hodges,” both he and Sara chimed.

*******

At the dinner table that night their tale about the morpho sighting brought with it equal measures of envy, incredulity and disappointment in that Grissom and Sara hadn’t thought to take a picture.

*******

After dinner and once the dishes were done, Bridget, still pleased and amused at their reaction to her puzzle book, asked Grissom and Sara if they were up for a game.

“As long as it’s not chess or poker,” Sara replied.

“How about Speed Scrabble?” Bridget suggested, to which Sara eagerly nodded.

Grissom looked nonplussed. “Speed Scrabble?”

“It’s like traditional Scrabble in that you try to make words out of the tiles you have,” Bridget explained.

“Like that Logos tournament four years ago, remember?” Sara interjected.

Like Grissom could have forgotten that. It wasn’t just any day that a man died literally eating his words.

“Except you only play on your own tiles, want to have the lowest score possible at the end, there’s no actual clock and every one plays at the same time.”

“Very similar then,” he quipped.

*******

Grissom, Sara and Bridget all continued to take and play tiles from the center at a fast and almost furious pace until the draw pile was empty.

“Got it!” Sara shouted. Grissom and Bridget looked up. Ana and Stephen who had come over to observe at some point in the middle of the game checked Sara’s tiles. A grin spread over their faces, then Bridget’s. Sara tried not to look too triumphant. Even Luis and Bernie who hadn’t been paying attention, but had heard of Sara’s victory from Ana, were beaming.

Later on, as he and Sara headed off to bed, Grissom said, “Is there a reason why they were all so excited that I lost?”

“Whatever gave you that idea?” Sara replied, trying hard to conceal her amusement. “I mean I won and Bridget lost, too,” she pointed out.

He gave her a you know exactly what I mean glare. Sara shrugged.

“All I know is you should have stuck with the jumbles, Gilbert,” she grinned. “They come in handy.”

Grissom, readily recalling his and Sara’s ongoing debate over the superiority of certain kinds of puzzles, only sighed, “You do realize that you did have an unfair advantage in that game, dear.”

“And I never would have pegged you for a sore loser, dear,” she teased with heavy emphasis on the dear. “The reason everyone was so excited — your word not mine — to see you lose, is the same reason most people are: you rarely ever do. It proves you aren’t perfect, just human like the rest of us.

“Besides, it’s good for you to lose from time to time. And I’m not talking about the times you lose on purpose.”

“I never lose on purpose.”

Oh? her dubious gaze seemed to say. And he thought back. Perhaps there had been a time or two when he had…

“Only under extenuating circumstances,” he amended.

“Like whenever you didn’t want to get stuck sleeping on the couch?”

“And you thought I was a sore loser.”

Continued in Emergence.

A/N: Sadly, I did not invent Codecrackers or Speed Scrabble, but like Bridget became horribly addicted to the former (even more sadly I can’t seem to find them in the U.S.). I picked up Speed Scrabble one generator-lit night in a tramping hut in New Zealand from one of the few Americans I ever met while over there, so where the game actually originates I have no clue. But it is simple enough to play.

All you need are the tiles from a Scrabble game and a pencil and paper for each player. There is no real limit to the number of people who can play at a time, but four is a comfortable number. You lay all the Scrabble tiles face down in the center of your playing space and mix well. Everyone starts with five tiles. The goal is to make them into words using the Scrabble rules – words can only be formed vertically or horizontally and you play as if you have your own Scrabble board in front of you. Each time someone has used all of their tiles they call out “take two” and everyone takes more tiles and tries to add these to the words/tiles they already have. This continues until all the tiles have been used. The first person to use all their tiles ends the game and the score is based on the letters you didn’t use rather than the words you created.

It’s fast and furious but really fun. And yes, as my husband will readily tell you I really am a huge word freak…

*******

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

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