Dedication: To She'sAShipper, my co-author.
A/N – Okay, I am changing this companion piece just a bit. I'm writing it in first person.
NOTE: Companion Paradise Found, from Grissom's point of view.
Disclaimer – CBS/Paramount owns CSI and all the personalities developed within CSI.
As we sit on the primitive transport bus, I'm amazed at the sights and sounds around me. Consuming them with my senses, my glance makes its way all around the bus. An old couple in well-worn clothing sits towards the front. They look to be farmers, based on their garb; and I'm watching them hold hands and share glances. They must be in their seventies, at least. He's a bit gray around the face and hands, as old men become, and she's wrinkled around the mouth and eyes from what looks to be years of laughter. When he looks at her, though, her years seem to fade away, and I can see the simple beauty that still attracts the young man in him.
Glancing over at Sara, I watch her sleep with her head leaning against a light jacket propped on the window of the bus. In the background, I faintly hear the sounds of animals cackling in their cages. Somehow, she and I seem to fit here, and I smile. When my gaze sweeps down to her still-flat stomach, something in me wakes. I can't help but think of the child she carries. The fluttering of anticipation is only overshadowed by the fact that I'll never get to meet him or her. For a moment, I feel like I can't breathe, knowing I'll have to say goodbye to the baby before it's ever born.
I made my choice, though. It's what I'll live… and die with. I'll do so with no regrets.
I've read over the years about how people with long illnesses, mostly cancer try to maintain some control over their lives by choosing the time of their deaths. I don't know if that is actually true, I suppose we'll see. I know I have a hard road ahead, and there will no doubt be days when I regret the silent goal I'm setting or myself now, but still, I'm setting it.
While I'd like to live to see our baby take its first breath, smile its first smile…I know that goal is futile to set, but if I could just feel our child move, just once, even if only for a second, then I'll be able to rest knowing Sara won't be alone when I'm gone.
I've thought long and hard about the choice that I made. I had made it long ago, years of seeing the unfinished business left behind by those who died sudden deaths forced my hand. If an anticipated passing was and option for me, I would take it and the comfort its certainty brought along with it. Still, with a wife, with my Sara's heart to consider I gave my diagnosis and the treatment available due consideration.
Chemotherapy and radiation were options offered by the doctors. However, the cancer was already well set in and spreading rapidly. I could see in the oncologist's eyes that there was no hope. Sara and I argued bitterly for days. She raged at me, and at the doctors. I'd already seen a couple of other doctors, as well, and they said the same thing.
Sara heard their words the same as I did, and while I chose to quietly accept fate, she desperately wanted to battle it. After days turned to weeks with no end to arguing in sight, I finally had to make her see things – as they were.
During the most heated of our exchanges, as she shouted insults and accusations ranging from gutlessness to selfishness, I crossed the room to where she stood, grabbed her wrists to still the flailing of her arms and matched her volume and her tone with the cold hard truth we both knew in our hearts.
"STOP IT, SARA!" I had yelled. Then more softly, "I have cancer. It cannot be stopped no matter what we do and you know it. You know it! I'm dying; and you have to accept it. I know it hurts, my God, honey, I know, but it's the truth. We don't have a lot of time left. Let's not waste it fighting."
"Let's make it a memorable goodbye," I said, struggling with my voice.
As I released my grip on her wrists to take her into my arms, the anger she felt gave way over those days to grief and fear. I could see it in her eyes, and hear it in her voice. The desperation she and I both felt over the next few weeks consumed us.
Yet, we are who we are, and so we went to work. We came home. We made dinner. We slept together; but the playful and wondering passion we felt gave way to desperation neither thought we were capable of feeling.
We made a child.
When I think back to the days Jim Brass struggled for life, I remember the conversation between her and I. I'd said I wanted to die of cancer and go to the Amazon. When the doctor said 'Cancer', the first thing I felt was every ounce of strength flow from me, leaving me limp.
Eventually, the numbness came back, and mine and Sara's conversation flowed through my mind. I realized just how true it was, that I wanted to see the Amazon again. It came second to spending the remaining time, sleeping and awake, with Sara. And now our child.
We've been in this small village on the edge of the rain forest for several weeks, enjoying the sheer beauty of all around us. The colors here are amazing, as passion fruit grows and drops in lusty colors to the ground.
The class from the University showed up several days after us, and we've been hiking into the rain forest, taking samples of the natural life. The vegetation around us is so different from a desert climate. Lush undergrowth, in hues of both deep and faint green, fans out in clearings and sparsely treed areas, giving off a scent that is indescribable. In deeper areas, forest canopies create a lush haze, and amazing flowers in every imaginable color give off a glow in the filtered afternoon sun.
I look at the dozen young men and women working on their Master's degrees, and I wonder what they see. Trying to go back in my mind, I remember the first time I visited the rain forest. The draw as a young man had been the adventure, although I studied and tried to take in my surroundings. Somehow, everything seems so much clearer, more vivid now. The colors are defined, and I take in the shadows under the canopy of the enormous trees. Vivid, almost glowing blue butterflies – blue morpho – wander from one red fruit to another.
It's not only the college students that are accompanying me into the forest. Native children, under Sara's care, taking the chance for field trips have been following behind, watching. I have tried to imagine how they see the habitat. To them, I don't believe there would be much wonder. I asked Sara what she thought a couple of days ago.
She looked thoughtful as she pursed her lips. The familiar wrinkle in her brow appeared, and I smiled at the look of intent concentration on her face. I've always loved that look. It ranks up there with the way her breath catches when I touch her.
"I would think to them, what they see around here is the norm. Having met quite a few of the children while working at the school, I don't believe they see the forest as anything other than a part of their reality," she said. I reached over and squeezed her hand. "I think to them, it simply is."
"Perhaps it's time someone, namely an outsider like me, shows them the beauty in which they live," I replied. "Maybe I should show them what I see in this place."
Her beautiful brown eyes caught mind, and we stared. My hand was still on hers, when I leaned in to kiss her, and eventually seduced her.
Looking around the light hazing down through the high tree tops, I feel a freedom I've never felt before. I am amazed and dazzled at the world around me. I made the choice weeks ago not to regret anything, but I have to work hard at blocking out the mistake I've made over my life in not really seeing the world around me.
"It's time to go," I call out to the students, who eagerly await their return to the little village. I smile at the enthusiasm of a young woman. Her dark hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and for a moment she reminds me of Sara. As we walk back toward the civilization, the mile hike becomes hard on me, and my breathing becomes shallow. I think the students know there is something wrong, and I'm grateful they overlook it. We stop for breaks, but eventually we get there. The pain coursing through my stomach and back starts to become overwhelming.
I would have smiled over their plans to hit the local eatery for food and beer, except my lower back is aching, and with a suddenness I never expected, I feel feverish. Bidding farewell, I make my way home to our hut.
She's waiting in the doorway, just as she has the last few days, with a pill in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. I really hate the pills, and I hate feeling so tired. Yet, I know if I don't take the pill now, it'll become so much worse in just a few hours. So she kisses me lingeringly on the lips, letting her tongue stroke and taste, until she is satisfied she remembers me, and that I remember her. A little boy from the small hut next to ours makes a gagging noise and runs off, lightening the mood.
I take the pill, and eventually nap on our lumpy bed.
Over the course of the next weeks, I find myself becoming more and more tired, with more significant pain flaring and spreading like hot embers through my veins. The pain moves from ache to sharp and piercing, making it difficult to even take a breath at times. I've lost what little appetite I had, but Sara won't let me get away with it.
She threatens me often, and then begs at other times. Eventually, I have found that I can eat the bread and the passion fruit, with a healthy dose of vitamins thrown into the mix. Yet, that doesn't prevent the jaundice from changing my skin to a nasty shade of bruised yellow. I'm taking pills during the day now, too. As much as I hate them, I must swallow them down in order to be able to merely function.
It's when I can no longer hold anything in my system, and the walk into the forest becomes too much that I have my class gathered in front of me. It's the last day of their excursions. I know they've noticed the change in me over the last weeks. I've seen them look at me, or watch me stumble. At one point or another, I've needed their assistance. Yet, until now, no one has ever asked… until the girl that reminds me so much of my curious and serious Sara asks me what's wrong.
For a moment, I don't know precisely what to say or explain. I feel their stares, while I sit on the edge of a boulder and switch my gaze from student to eager student. My response is very simple.
The walk back into town forces me to often stop. This time, instead of my students peeling off to their own endeavors, they walk me all the way home… to my Sara, who is now at over four months, and starting to show the child she carries.
As Sara runs her hand over my tired face, I let my forehead drop to hers. She gives no words of reprimand, because even though she agonizes that I over-tire myself, she loves me enough to let me live as I must. After she hands me a pill and I swallow it obediently, she finally kisses me. The lingering contact is broken by my ragged breathing, and she whispers, "I love you."
It isn't until I've run my hand over her belly, feeling the growing bulge, that I turn my head.
The sight before me humbles me, as I find every student still there. Silent tears run down several faces, including the young man with the playful and inquisitive spirit that has teased and prodded every young woman in the crew. I don't know what to say other than what I have.
I can't even move or speak, as each step forward, and lay at the feet of my wife, a flower or leaf they have collected this day. Without a word, they turn in unison and slowly make their way toward the heart of the village and their last night in the jungles of the Amazon.
Part of me wonders how they will remember this trip in ten or twenty years. I remember my own at their age and think of it with a fondness. I hope they remember the trip fondly, with no grief and no sorrow.
Making my way into our home, I look around the comforts we have built there, and smile in fondness at a quilt. A child gave it to Sara shortly after our arrival, when Sara first started teaching at the local school. A small stone fireplace built primitively with rock and glazed clay takes up almost half a wall on one end of the open room.
As I make my way to the bedroom for a rest, I can smell the earth. The open windows let the breeze waft in the scent of vegetation. The soft and lumpy mattress feels good under my aching body, as the sharp pain gives way to a soft nausea on the edge of my senses. The pill begins to tug me under, as she lays next me. I fall asleep with our child under my hand, wishing and waiting to feel its strong kick.
As my days progress, I find myself losing more and more weight, just withering away to skin and bone. In bed with her, I feel her touch my stomach, and watch tears form and fall when she feels my ribs. It's become so hard just to rise, and with the window in our quiet bedroom open and facing west, I watch the sun set while she reads to me.
It's so damn frustrating anymore, as my body gives way to the disease, and I can barely leave the bed. I make a point of sitting in a chair in front of the house when physically possible. The children of the village come by often to speak to Sara or simply sit with me in quiet comfort. She has surprised me, but even more, she's surprised herself with her love of teaching these youngsters, and her love of the children here.
She's not teaching anymore. Instead, she and I spend our days together. In the background of my mind, there is a buzz that whispers, "Hurry, hurry, no time left." And I spend so many days fighting the pain, I am barely awake. My lucidity has become my goal, as fevers and aching take so much of me. It always soothes me when I hear her voice, even if I hear the tears.
"I love you," I whisper one night, my voice slurred from medication. "Read to me?"
When she asks what I would like to hear, she retrieves my copy of Paradise Lost. She lay between the sunset and me. Shifting to my side, through the piercing sharpness, I see her, and feel her belly against my painfully thin frame.
As she's picking up the book, I wipe away a tear as it slides, and she reads to me, until that faint moment of lucidity is overwhelmed with fatigue, and I sleep fitfully. For days, this becomes our ritual. I see the sun setting over the canopy of green in the distance, and I feel myself so damn lucky to have found her and this place.
Our home is together, and this location has given us a place to feel free from everything evil and cruel in this world. As disease consumes me, I know I am home, laying on this bed, our child next to my body.
"This place. This small home we've made. It should be called Paradise Found," I say with a slurred voice one night. I intently stare into her eyes, as I feel my time drawing to a close. An agony of emotion washes over me as I give in to the sobs that I have thus far withheld, and I feel her shaking in grief of what's to come.
"I love you both," I whisper. As the tears continue to fall from me, I watch the sun slowly dip down over the trees.
I feel her take my hand, and place it on her belly. She knows why I have held on this long. I've surpassed the time of my death by almost a month for this one moment.
As I feel our child, a boy we've named Ethan, kick my hand strong and swift, Sara looks into my eyes and chokes, "We love you, too."
I feel something in me give way, and peace settle over me as the pain is slowly dismissed, when she softly kisses my lips and whispers, "We'll be all right. It's okay to say goodbye."
It took her nearly a week to write the letter. She'd buried him in the rain forest where he had explored and she could walk daily; Surprise and humility overwhelmed her when his students arrived once more, wearing mourning colors of purple and black, as well as sashes of the brightest blues and magentas to be found in the rain forest. Just as they had laid a tribute at her feet, each presented a beetle, and placed the live creature on the mound of dirt before her.
Putting pen to paper, she wrote.
By the time you get this, Gil will have passed away…