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The Exchange by korbjaeger [ - ]
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Category: CSI - General, CSI - Bitextual
Characters: Catherine Willows, Gil Grissom, Greg Sanders, Jim Brass, Nick Stokes, Other, Sara Sidle, Sofia Curtis, Warrick Brown
Rating: PG-13
Genres: Angst, Character Study, Friendship, Humour, Romance
Warnings: None

Summary: Take a pinch of confusion, add a generous cup of tradition, mix with enough LVPD chaos to make it bubble up, and presto...Loads of fluff, only mild angst and naughtiness. And yes, it would have been longer and been up sooner had some nasty flu virus not snuck past the shot I got this year...



Story Notes:
Sorry, it would have been longer and been up sooner had some nasty flu virus not snuck past the shot I got this year...Still better late than never, my "holiday card" to the fic community...

Author's Chapter Notes:
Almonds and oatmeal and rose petals, oh my...



"Wendy Simms, what are you doing?" Mandy Webster plopped down in a rolling chair and scooted to Wendy's side, to see what she was researching on the Internet.

"Trying to find a cookie recipe I won't totally screw up for the exchange," Wendy sighed.

"I thought you had all those cool recipes your mom used to make."

"I do, but...Mandy, the woman is Martha Stewart without the paycheck. She uses all these exotic ingredients and advanced cooking techniques...when I boil water I burn it."

Mandy laughed. "Come on, now. It's just chemistry. Component A plus component B plus component C, subjected to x-amount of heat. That's all."

"Hmm..." Wendy thought about it. "Never quite looked at it that way."

"Try it - it's better than letting the artistry intimidate you."

"What about you?" Wendy leaned toward Mandy. "If I recall, you can whip out a pretty decent spritz cookie."

"Now that..." Mandy said, grinning wickedly, "requires artistry..."

* * * * *

"Snickerdoodles?!" Warrick snorted. "What kind of crazy-ass name for a cookie is that?"

"I'll have you know," Nick beamed, "no matter if they have a silly name or not, my mom made the best ones in Northern Texas." He set the files he was carrying on the top of the lab counter. "Absolute best."

"Aah, I'm just gonna go to the bakery and pick something up."

"Rick? Where's your sense of adventure?"

"Adventure?! Hah...I don't get enough adventure in my life. Picture that."

"You're just being a Scrooge."

Warrick gave his best friend one of his patented give-me-a-break looks. "Nick, let the girls do the cookin'. I'm sure they'll appreciate my making a trip to a nice bakery and..."

"Oh, now, that's just sexist, Warrick Brown. Come on, you afraid of puttin' on an apron and whipping something up yourself?"

"Whipping what up?"

"Oh, I don't know...didn't your grandma used to make cookies for Christmas?"

Warrick closed his eyes and let his mind wander. "Uh...hell, I don't know. I always liked oatmeal-raisin cookies..."

"Fine. Oatmeal-raisin it is."

"What?!"

"After shift, you and I are going to the grocery store, and then we're going to my place and making cookies."

"Stokes, you've slipped a cog..."

"I'm serious. I'm not gonna let you get away with being grumpy this Christmas. Now I know things have sucked lately, but the sooner you get into the swing of things and have a little fun, the better."

Warrick couldn't suppress a smile. He wouldn't admit it, but he was glad he had a friend who cared enough to kick his ass just as readily as give him a hug. There were times he needed both.

* * * * *

Henry set his coffee cup down on the break room table. "My mom always made the best soft gingerbread cookies. It's a wierd recipe, she used to boil part of the ingredients, and there's all kinds of wierd stuff in it...but I want to try it. They're unbelieveable."

"Kringla," Greg said, his tone mirroring the pleasant memories the very mention of the rich little figure-8 shaped cookies brought back. "Nana Olaf made them every year. I actually learned from her. I can make them pretty good myself now."

"How about you, Archie?" Henry asked.

The A/V tech's attention seemed to be elsewhere. He looked a bit melancholy. "Oh...huh?"

"Cookies, man!" Greg grinned. "What exotic treat are you going to concoct for the cookie exchange?"

"I dunno, I might just get the 'blue flu' that day," Archie sighed.

"You can't," Henry protested. "I won't allow it."

"Cookie service is mandatory." Greg added. "Come on, surely you can at least throw together some chocolate chip cookies or something."

"I'm just not in the whole Christmas mood," Archie sighed, leaning back in his chair. "I mean I've had crappy holiday seasons before, but..."

"What happened," Henry asked. "Romantic trouble?"

"Been months."

"Finances?"

"No worse than usual."

Greg leaned in. "The job?"

Archie met his gaze for a moment, then sighed. "Wierdly enough, yeah. I mean...last week I thought about the number of times I've actually seen or heard someone die on tape. An actual human being. You know the Hauser case?"

"Oh, God, you got that video, didn't you?" Greg cringed. "Sorry."

"That was...brutal. Just inexcusable," Archie said, his voice quavering a little. "Nobody should even think about doing that to another living creature, human or otherwise. It was sick. And I guess...I guess it sort of pushed me over a line."

Henry patted Archie's shoulder. "Sometimes I don't know how you do it. I don't envy your job."

"Hey, Arch..." Greg tilted his head. "Maybe a little kitchen therapy would be good for you."

Archie frowned. "Not followin' ya."

Greg grinned. "Give me an hour or so. I think I have an idea."

* * * * *

Hodges sauntered into Grissom's office, wearing a half-smile that was intended to be intriguing. To his supervisor, it was anything but.

Not looking up from his paperwork, Grissom asked, "Do you have the results on Rodriguez yet?"

"Still running GCMS on that. Listen, Gil..." Hodges leaned down, palms on the oak desktop. "You're a scientist too, what do you think of the euphoric...possibly aphrodisiac...effects of pumpkin pie spice when coupled with lavender? You know, there are studies that confirm that the combined aroma causes increased blood circulation in the genital area."

Grissom knew where Hodges was trying to take this. He still didn't look up. "Only in males, Hodges. I've read the same studies."

"Oh..." Hodges started to sit, but a quick warning look from Grissom kept him on his feet.

"Do not tell me you're planning on devising some baked monstrosity containing both pumpkin pie spice and lavender. One or the other is fine...not both. First, the combined taste would be horrible. Second, I don't want my male employees running around the building in a state of arousal. Third..."

Sulking, Hodges backed toward the door. "Killjoy."

"Mass spec. Rodriguez. Don't come down here again without it."

Just let a fella try to put a little holiday romance in the air, Hodges thought, strolling back toward the Trace lab. He shook his head. Grissom was really the wrong one to ask. Still pining for Sara. Maybe...

No. NO. She'd clock me there on the spot.

Hodges spotted Wendy walking into the break room with Bobby, the two of them laughing out loud. He tensed. He wanted to approach her, but...with Dawson around, he'd be too tempted to make some catty remark that would remove him even further from her good graces.

No, in his quest for culinary romance, he was going to be on his own this time.

* * * * *

Vega shrugged. "Why not? So I always bring biscochitos. It's an old family recipe. You have a problem?"

"Not me," Cavaliere replied, grinning. "I love 'em myself. I mean, I always bring cannoli, and nobody complains."

"What's to complain about?" Vega laughed. "You better bring a double batch this year, man!"

Vartann shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Sorry, you guys are getting bakery from me again."

"Tony, ever since you got divorced, you've lost your sense of adventure." Cavaliere stood. "Come on, what, a bowl and some flour and a couple eggs got the better of you?"

"That's easy for you to say." Vartann slumped into a chair. "You guys grew up with this whole life-surrounding-the-kitchen culture thing. Me...hell, my own parents got divorced before I was ten. My mom was always working so hard..."

"And she got bakery," Vega guessed, "because she didn't have time to cook."

"Basically, yeah."

Vega studies Vartann's expression, his body language. He could be a hardassed, snotty SOB at times, but he had his points of vulnerability. And Vega saw one right now.

"Come on, man. I got this recipe..."

"No."

"Three ingredients. Three."

"NO, Sam!"

"Chickenshit."

Vartann looked up sharply at Vega, who was grinning wickedly. The sound of imitated chicken clucks coming from Cavaliere's direction was the last straw.

"All right. All right, let's see your damn recipe."

* * * * *

"Gingerbread?" Catherine plopped the grocery bag down on the kitchen table. "I thought you said baking cookies was...what did you call it, 'retarded'?"

"So last year." Lindsey bounded into the room, long flaxen hair bound back in a businesslike bun. "I let myself get intimidated by it. Now, I'm ready to learn."

"Oh, really!" Catherine gave her daughter a disbelieving look. "And where did this change of heart come from?"

"Like I said, Mom, I'm not letting it intimidate me anymore. Let's see what you got." The energetic teenager looked into the bag. "Plenty of flour, good, molasses...a must. Hey, no vinegar?"

"Got some in the cupboard."

"Good. Baking soda..."

"Now...are you planning to make some of these for your classmates? Because, you know, I need at least a couple dozen for the lab cookie exchange..."

Lindsey shrugged. "So we make a big batch. Cover all the bases, maybe have some left over for us!"

"Okay, so how are we gonna decorate them."

"I've got some great ideas..." Lindsey grinned impishly.

* * * * *

Mandy and Wendy, laughing hysterically, leaned back so that the camera phone Mandy held would capture them both in their flour-covered, half-toasted glory.

Click.

The women looked at the image and laughed again. It was perfect. They looked ridiculous.

"So, who are you gonna send this to?" Wendy asked, reaching for her cup of well-spiked eggnog.

"Oh, I was thinking Henry, Greg, Bobby, Archie, Hodges..." Mandy hesitated and exchanged looks with Wendy. "...not Hodges...I dunno, think the field mice would appreciate it?"

"Tsssss.....sure, send it to Nick and Warrick too."

"Catherine? She'd appreciate it..."

"Yeah, but that's it," Wendy advised. "No uniforms. And not Grissom."

Mandy rolled her eyes. "Anything funny to Grissom right now? Course, you know, that's probably exactly what he needs."

"Exactly what Gil Grissom needs can't be conveyed by a camera phone, my dear." Wendy checked the oven and grabbed a mitt. "Shit! Almost burned this batch..."

"Almost only counts in horseshoes." Mandy inspected the baking sheetful of buttery, colorful cookies Wendy pulled out. "Nah, these are fine. The guys'll love 'em."

"Everyone will."

"But you know, guys especially. Guys love homebaked stuff. It's true, the old cliche about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach."

"Funny, I thought that was aiming a little high."

Smirking, Mandy clinked cups with Wendy.

* * * * *

"This is looking suspiciously like that scene from 'Ghost'. I freaking hate that movie." Archie manipulated the cookie dough clumsily as Henry and Greg assisted him from either side. "We look like we're having a supernatural three-way."

"If you'd concentrate on your technique," Greg scolded, "we wouldn't have to Patrick Swayze you. Come on, Arch, it's cookie dough, not Ecklie's neck. Don't pulverize it."

Rolling his eyes impatiently, Archie losened his grip and kneaded more gently.

"There ya go," Henry encouraged. "Better."

"I'm still not used to this," Archie sighed. "My mom's always been the cookie baker of the family. Last couple years, I had her do the cookies for the exchange. I sorta feel like I'm...breaking tradition..."

Greg picked up on Archie's melancholy tone. "Tradition means a lot to you."

"Ironic, huh?" Archie scoffed. "Me, Mister Science Fiction, Futuristic Gadgetry Guy. Yeah, tradition helps me keep my feet on the ground. And, it, ah..." He swallowed. "It's comforting."

Noting that their companion was getting a little misty, Henry tried to break the mood. "Okay, so you pinch off one-inch balls...sounds painful...and flatten them with the bottom of a glass?"

Greg envisioned a frustrated Archie getting hauled into the ER after shattering a glass into his hand from exerting too much force onto it. "Not a glass. Coffee cup."

"I got plenty of those. Look...Greg, why don't you do the flattening? I'll mix up some egg to brush on top. Henry, you put the almonds on."

Henry grinned. "By Jove, Sanders," he said, mimicking an English accent, "I think he's got it."

Meanwhile, Greg was rifling through Archie's kitchen cupboards. He'd already found a perfect cup for the job - flat bottom, not too fragile - but had other assistance in mind. "I know what'll help this. Lemme see...somebody has good taste. Courvoisier...Cabo Wabo..." He broke into a huge smile and pulled out a unique bottle. "Brennevin?!"

"No way," Henry gasped. "I've heard stories about that stuff."

"All true," Archie cautioned. "I suggest we at least get these things in the oven before...Greg!"

Greg was already pouring servings of the potent Icelandic spirit into small juice glasses.

"Greg," Archie groaned, "these damn cookies are gonna get...charred!!"

"Not before we get toasted..."

* * * * *

Grissom stared at the array of bonbons in the case before him. "I don't know where to start."

Brass shrugged. "Try to think of what nobody else'll bring. That's why I suggested this place, they have the wierd rooty-tooty stuff the girls will appreciate."

Grissom gave him a sideways look. "What about the guys?"

"If they can eat it, they'll appreciate it. You know men are simple creatures, Gil. Our needs are easily defined. Women, on the other hand..." Brass swept an arm toward the glass case. "Just look at how neat they do these things up. Sugar bows, icing snowflakes, why if you set a plate of these in front of Sofia Curtis, she'd..."

"I'd what?"

The sound of the female voice behind them startled the two men, who turned sharply. Brass blushed faintly. "Oh, Soph...I didn't..."

"I'd probably thank you in a professionally inappropriate manner," Sofia replied, her eyes twinkling over an I-got-you half-grin. "Funny, this place is popular all of a sudden."

Grissom shrugged. "I guess we figured you were baking something..."

"I'm pulling a double tomorrow..." She gave Brass a sharp but fleeting glance. "Remember? I won't have time to do any baking."


"Well, then..." Brass cleared his throat. "Maybe we could, ah..." He just couldn't finish the sentence.

Grissom could. "...ask your advice?"

Sofia laughed out loud.

* * * * *

Catherine burst into laughter. Deep, spontaneous, uncontrollable laughter.

On the kitchen table sat cookie sheets lined with finished gingerbread cookies - gingerbread men in colors rimmed with a white border - a "chalk outline', Lindsey had explained. Long bars frosted yellow with "Crime scene" and "Do not cross" iced in chocolate. Stars in white with "LVPD" neatly added around a gooey "emblem" in the middle. Green-frosted holly leaves with "Send to Trace" and bells in yellow, iced in detail to closer resemble small-caliber bullets than their original intent.

"These...are...perfect!" Catherine shook her head. "Lindsey, you're brilliant. You'd better watch out, or I might have you help me out with the exchange every year!"

"Don't press your luck, Mom." The girl's tone was betrayed by a rather proud look in her eyes. She'd impressed her mom...Super-Mommy. It was a big deal.

* * * * *

Hodges stepped back and admired his culinary handiwork.

They were lovely to behold, all right. Pink - he couldn't quite work in enough red food coloring to manage a respectable rose-like shade - and petally, dusted with a coarse, sparkling sugar like ice crystals. They really were gorgeous.

Of course, they'd have to be. A few of them, the first batch, were a hair overcooked. And maybe he'd gone overboard with the dried rose petals. Okay, he'd added double what the recipe called for. But when one was dealing with a recipe like this, elite, luxurious, one wanted to play up the more unique aspects. The women would appreciate the gesture. So would Gil, probably. Nick had a taste for botany; he'd probably be intrigued. Ecklie would admire his attention to detail. Word would spread throughout the department.

Who knew a cookie exchange might herald David Hodges' moment of triumph?

Now...now to package them appropriately. A mere shirt box and waxed paper wouldn't do...

* * * * *

As Vartann set his tray of shortbread on the break room table, Vega looked over his shoulder. "Hey, Tony, looks like you got through it with no casualties!"

"Almost none." Vartann displayed a minor burn on his left thumb. "Took a while to get the knack of those pot holder thingies."

Vega set his biscochitos next to his fellow detective's tray. "But you did it, you accomplished it on your own, it didn't overpower you, and nobody can take that away from you."

"Yeah..." Vartann actually smiled. "Yeah!"

Brass and Grissom followed with their bakery boxes of assorted goods. And, gradually, the table filled, as detectives, lab techs, CSI's filled it with their offerings, as all of the givers, some hung over, some sleep-deprived, others wide awake and chipper, shared a communal sense of accomplishment.

Henry nudged Mandy. "You look good in flour, Mand."

Mandy made a face, but then grinned. "Yeah, and you don't look bad in...what was that stuff you guys had all over you last night?"

"Well, it started out being chopped almonds, but..."

Catherine set her tray of gingerbread artwork on the table, and Brass laughed, a healthy, loud belly laugh such as his co-workers had never heard from him. As the others looked to see what had amused him so, the captain held up a spicy "vic" and said, "Hope this is the only kind we get today..."

Everyone concurred, even though they knew better. A few moments of blissful ignorance was acceptable, this once a year.

Nick bit into an oatmeal-raisin cookie. "Told you you'd do a fine job, Rick!"

"I'd have never gotten through it without you," Warrick sighed. "You sure understand a lot about oatmeal."

Nick smiled warmly. He knew that was Warrick's guarded, public way of telling him, "You sure understand a lot about me." He handed his longtime best friend a sugary snickerdoodle.

"Chow down, buddy, you've earned it."

For the first time in weeks, Warrick broke into a sincere, unforced smile.

Wendy studied the intricate, rosey cookie for a long time. "So artistic, Hodges. You're actually supposed to eat these?"

"Absolutely," the trace tech replied, grinning. "The visual aspect is only half the joy. Savor the aroma, then take a bite."

Wendy did take a whiff. The scent was subtle, but it carried the aroma of the rose petals sufficiently. She nodded her approval then took a bite.

Hodges gazed at her expectantly.

Suddenly, Wendy gagged, grabbed a napkin, and spat the remainder of the bite into the paper. "What the hell?"

Henry frowned. "What's in them?"

Panicking, Hodges shrugged. "Butter, flour, sugar, rose petals..."

"Where did you get the rose petals from?"

"A nursery. Why?"

"Did you make absolutely sure they were pesticide-free?"

Hodges paled, then slapped his forehead. Of all the people in here, I should have thought of that...

"Well..." Wendy tried to dispose of the tainted treat inconspicuously. "I still give you an 'A' for effort. Live and learn."

"I'm sorry, Wendy, I...I guess I was just a little rattled. You know...I was hoping to...impress you, I guess. I mean, when I think of rosebuds, I think of you..."

The sentiment might not have gotten lost in translation had Hodges not been staring at Wendy's bosom at the time.

Jaw slack, Wendy wanted to snap "Rosebuds?!?!", but words failed her. Instead, she grabbed a second rose cookie, held it over Hodges' head, and crumbled it into a cascade of crumbs, all trickling down onto Hodges pefectly-combed hair and impeccably neat lab coat. It wasn't enough. To add insult to injury, Wendy grabbed Archie, standing obliviously nearby working on a cannoli, laid a hard and convincing liplock on him, then stormed to the other side of the room, where Mandy, wide-eyed now, had been chatting with Bobby.

Archie, a bit hung over, blinked. "Huh?"

"Damn," Henry breathed, genuinely impressed.

Still bewildered, Archie turned to Greg. "Was that for real, or just tis-the-season?"

Greg patted him on the shoulder. "Brennevin hallucination."

Archie shrugged and kept munching on the cannoli, ignoring Hodges' daggers glare.

Meanwhile, Brass was piling an assortment of goodies onto a paper plate. Grissom caught him. "Stash for later?"

"Saving some for Sofia," Brass corrected him. "It's my fault she's not here right now, least I can do."

Nodding approval, Grissom looked over the array of sweets again and decided to go for some of Catherine's workplace-appropriate gingerbread. For a brief, fleeting moment, he thought Sara would have appreciated these, would have laughed. He missed that laugh. He thought of her, of ice skating at Union Square, Christmas shopping on Pier 39, buskers playing carols on the streetcorners and in the BART stations, and wondered how she was doing.

All he wanted for Christmas was for the hurting to stop.

Seeing that the cookie party was finally in full swing, Greg grinned wickedly and pulled out his "ace up the sleeve", a sprig of mistletoe that he tucked neatly over one ear. "Now," he announced, "I'm properly attired."

Catherine chuckled; Mandy and Wendy huddled together, themselves grinning over the image of him, Henry and Archie on Mandy's cel phone, the three men covered in cookie components and obviously deep in their cups. Judy, just trailing into the break room, caught sight of the mistletoe and sidled back out, wondering who was going to get caught first and not sure it ought to be her.

Out of the blue, Greg felt a cross between a full body check and a brief but overhard kiss, bowling him backward and into a chair. Startled, he looked up.

Archie was smirking at him. "Brennevin hallucination."

Closing his eyes, Greg sank into the chair. He knew damn well Mandy had her cel phone camera out. He was going to have to check YouTube later in the day to see how invisible he should make himself for the next week.

Crime scene. Do not cross.

Catherine studied the icing caveat and laughed softly. Taking a bite of it seemed to give her a sense of power, even artificial, even if for that one brief, silly moment, over what awaited them later. Robberies, seasonal affective disorder, tree fires, suicides.

But for now, Merry Christmas, every one.