Kill Zone Challenge Fic: The Beauty of Kevlar By koaladeb

Disclaimer: I have no rights to the characters used, only an ardent desire to see them happy. with each other

Rating: Pg 13

Pairing: Horatio/Calleigh all the way!

Spoilers: well, duh. it's the Kill Zone challenge. figure it out!

A/N: I make no claims for authenticity on this one. I conveniently twist any and all facts around to suit my own purposes and feel no guilt or shame for doing so. The only exception is when I completely butcher a phenomenal quote from Frederick Beuchner about vocation. The only excuse I can offer is this: the way it is written is the way I usually paraphrase it in my mind. The real quote is actually "where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need." It has often inspired and comforted me, and I truly intend no disrespect for the author. Thank you to Marianne for a super beta, a final line, and a friendship that has blessed me far more than I ever expected- you amaze me!

Dedication: This is for everyone at the H/C Shipper list at Yahoo Groups, the Monday night chat group, and especially to our two wonderful list moms. Y'all are awesome and we love you!

~~~~~~~~~

Calleigh groaned and looked over at the clock. 4:30 am. Good Lord, she only dragged herself to bed three hours ago! She winced and muttered quiet curses as the phone rang shrilly in her ear once again. Plotting target practice scenarios for whoever it was on the other end of the line, she picked up the receiver.

"Douquesne," she growled, her sleep-ridden voice deeper than normal. "This had better be good."

"Now is that any way to greet family?" the voice on the other end replied, betraying a familiar Southern cadence and a chipperness that made Calleigh groan.

"Steve, what in the world could be so important that you would be calling me at this hour? Is this some kind of adult version of sibling hazing?"

"Well," the voice drawled, "I never seem to catch you at home anymore. You're always working. And this was something I needed to tell you in person."

Calleigh forced herself to come fully awake. The last time her brother pulled a stunt like this it was to tell her he was engaged to be married. She wondered what it could be this time. "You've got my attention," she said, her voice returning to its normal range. "Spit it out."

"You're going to be an auntie, Calico"

Calleigh tried to get past the ancient nickname and focus on the content of her brother's reply. She was going to be an aunt. That meant. could it be? Calleigh gasped as her sleep-slowed synapses finally put two and two together and came up with a baby.

Normally, this news would have made Calleigh squeal with delight and start pestering her brother with questions, hunting for details, formulating plans for nursery color schemes and overflowing with joy. To her surprise, though, Calleigh only felt a pang of sadness and an echo of the excitement she should be feeling. Shaking it off, she tried to put some energy into her reply.

"Oh my God, Steve! When did you find out?"

"Three days ago," he replied, already mastering the 'proud papa' tone. "The baby is due the first part of July."

"And how's Laura?"

"Thrilled. I swear, Cal, she's already glowing." No matter what she might be feeling at the moment, Calleigh couldn't help but smile at the awe and affection in her brother's tone. He and Laura only met a year ago, right around the time when her brother had begun to think he would never find someone who would make him want to settle down. Three months later they were married. Calleigh loved her sister-in-law. Laura complimented her brother so fully and naturally. Calleigh and Steven both wondered how he had ever lived without her.

"Wow. Steve, this is amazing. I am so happy for you two."

The conversation continued, Steven's enthusiasm covering Calleigh's lassitude. She let him control the conversation as they discussed his excitement before moving on to the crux of the conversation, his concerns. She listened as her brother voiced his deep-seated fear that he would follow in their father Kenwall's footsteps and become an abusive parent himself.

Pushing aside whatever it was plaguing her, Calleigh focused her energy and reached out to her brother, calming his fears and replenishing the hope and excitement he had found. By the time the sun came up, their conversation drifted back towards happier waters. Instead of survivors bonded together by shared pain they were once again simple siblings, teasing and catching up on lost time.

"I never thought I'd beat you down the isle, Cal, and certainly not to the delivery room," Steven was saying.

"That makes two of us," Calleigh replied softly, fending off another stab of melancholy. Her brother, however, picked up on her disquiet.

"Are you okay?" he asked, focusing his attention on her for the first time.

"Peachy," she answered, not sure if she was trying to reassure her brother or herself. "It's just been a long week."

Steven, however, did not buy her reassurances and intuitively understood the source of her pain. "There's someone out there for you, Calico," he said, drawing her into his warmth by using her nickname once again. "Heck, if I can find true love, there's no doubt in my mind you will too."

Calleigh felt torn between affection and sadness. Though their relationship had been strained for many years when they both left home and settled in different states, Steven had become an important fixture in her life. While she might be able to share most everything with her CSI family, there were some aspects of her life she could not talk with them about openly, namely the abuse and experiences she faced as a child. Steven was someone with whom she could share her scars, because he carried them also. His happiness inspired Calleigh to hope for her own. At the same time, Steven's newfound contentment reminded Calleigh that she was still alone. She sighed.

"I know, and you're right. It's just, well, you know."

"Yeah. I do. But wait. I thought you were seeing someone. Hagan something?"

"John Hagan. Yeah. I'm not seeing him anymore."

"There's something in your tone I don't like, Calico. Do I need to come down there and teach him a lesson about messing with my baby sister?"

Calleigh was going to launch into a detailed explanation about why her latest romance had not worked out when she glanced at the clock and realized she needed to be at work in a little over an hour. Simple fact would be enough. The details would have to wait for another time.

"Everything is fine here, Steve. We just had different opinions about some simple things and couldn't get past them." Calleigh bit back a more scathing analysis. They did disagree about certain aspects of her life, but they were far from simple. The way she lived her life, the way she did her job, the way she viewed cases as the totality of evidence rather than one more gold star on an arrest jacket.

"He's been taken care of, by me, Horatio, and the rest of the team. Steve, I have to go. I need to be in to work here pretty soon."

"I'm not letting you off the phone until I've gathered all the facts and put a smile on your face," came the reply.

Calleigh laughed. "Consider your mission accomplished, then," she said. "There's nothing funnier to me than you playing the big brother."

"Whatever, Calico."

"Seriously. I'm fine. Actually, I'm more than fine. I'm going to be an aunt! I need to go find a baby catalogue or something so I can start figuring out how I'm going to spoil my future niece or nephew rotten!"

"You do that," Steven replied. Calleigh was glad to hear the joy return to his voice. He had grown far too serious over the past couple hours.

"You take care of your family," Calleigh said, not bothering to hide the wistfulness in her tone. Steven would understand she was happy for him and for Laura.

"I will. And you take care of you."

"Always. Love you"

"Love you too." Calleigh was about to hang up the phone when she heard Steven trying to get her attention from the other end. She brought the phone back up to her ear.

"I'm here. What could you possibly have forgotten to say in the two and a half hours we've been talking?" she said, teasing.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he groused. "I just wanted to tell you to keep your eyes out for a package. Laura and I were out shopping the other day and found something that reminded us of you and we decided it couldn't wait for your birthday. Call us when you get it. I know Laura will want to talk to you."

"I will. Give her my love, will you?"

"You bet. Love you, Calico."

"Me too. Bye." Calleigh threw the cordless phone onto the couch and moved to the kitchen to start some coffee. It could brew while she took a shower and got dressed for work. Shaking off a moment of fatigued dizziness, Calleigh reached for her special store of flavored coffee. The prospect of another long day with little sleep was not a happy one, and she needed all the help she could find to get through it.

~~~~~~~~

After a hot shower, a bowl of cereal, and a pot of coffee, Calleigh headed out to face yet another long day of work. She tried to tell herself all of the overtime she was pulling was going to make Christmas shopping much easier on her wallet, but she knew the only reason she spent night after night at the lab was because she had no real reason to go home.

Building up the wall that kept these thoughts at bay, Calleigh pulled in to the parking garage and took a few extra minutes to herself before shutting off the engine, deciding to finish out the song on the radio. She regretted her decision when she stepped out of the car in enough time to witness a sickeningly sweet farewell between one of the lab workers and her boyfriend. Calleigh turned her head to avoid the sight, but couldn't block out the voices as they made plans to see each other after work. She sighed and strode purposefully toward the ballistics lab.

By lunch, Calleigh was feeling better about her life and in general. There was something about working cases and doing justice that always uplifted her spirits. Humming a little tune to herself, she went to the reception area to pick up her messages only to have her spirits abruptly smacked down once again.

There in the lobby stood Alexx's husband and children. In the back of her mind Calleigh remembered Alexx mentioning the kids had the day off from school, some kind of teacher in-service thing, and they were going to take her out to lunch today. Calleigh watched as Alexx came around a corner and was immediately greeted by two small bodies hurtling towards her calling "Mommy! Mommy!" She knelt down and got big hugs from both Janie and Bryan, then stood to receive a gentle, loving kiss from her husband. They all turned and left, holding hands.

Calleigh stood and looked blankly at the main doors for a few moments, caught once again between joy at a family member's happiness and a feeling of isolation at the same time. She gathered up her messages and went back to work, trapped in a melancholy mood that did not leave her again.

~~~~~~~~

The next weeks went on in the same way. Calleigh would drag herself to work, stay there until the late hours of the morning finishing reports, and drag herself home for a few hours of restless sleep. She came in on weekends, covering shifts so other CSI's could spend some time with family and friends.

Everywhere she looked, she saw signs of contentment and happiness. Eric had a new girlfriend, and for once the girl in question wasn't a criminal or a cadaver within three days of their acquaintance. Speed had also struck pay dirt in the romance department when Eric set him up on a double date. They invited Calleigh out for drinks one night, but she decided another double shift in the lab would be preferable to feeling like the fifth wheel and dragging down everyone else's good moods.

Things only got worse when her package arrived. Calleigh did not know what to think when it came to the office instead of her house. Her question was answered when she opened the box and the card inside read, "You're never at home, thought this would be better, Steve and Laura."

Pulling off bubble wrap, she stared at her gift. It was a tea for one set, beautiful and delicate, decorated with a calico pattern. She smiled for a moment, moved at how well her brother knew her. The set was functional yet feminine, and was a loving reminder of family. Then she took in the significance of the gift. Tea for one. A gift for a single person who likes tea. Well, how appropriate.

Suddenly the small pot represented everything that Calleigh hated about her life. Here she was, an intelligent and attractive woman in the prime of life, who drank tea by herself at work because she was never home long enough to even receive a package, let alone share in another person's company. By sheer force of will she managed to settle it back into its wrappings instead of throwing it across the room.

She couldn't talk to anyone about what she was going through. Normally, she would have confided in Alexx, but she couldn't admit to her often-times- counselor her reaction to the family moment she witnessed in the lobby. Speed and Eric were not possibilities either. Though they weren't usually Calleigh's choice of confidants, she occasionally commiserated with the men about broken relationships. How can you tell your friends you're jealous of their good fortune?

Steven was out of the question as well. Asking him to listen to her troubles would only take away from the joy he was feeling at the moment, and Calleigh wanted him to be able to savor every moment of his impending fatherhood. Besides, he didn't need to know how she reacted to his gift.

The only remaining option was Horatio. Being in his presence brought with it a feeling of warmth and security, like a blanket thrown around your shoulders on a chilly day. He was her rock, her source of strength and inspiration. She had gone to him in the past, traded stories of past hurts and present frustrations.

But this. if he thought she was unhappy with her work, he would tell her to take some time off. Calleigh had nothing except her job at the moment, and without that, who would she be?

~~~~~~~~~~

It was yet another restless night when Calleigh decided enough was enough. She was tired. Tired of feeling jealous or lonely every time she saw a happy couple or family on the street. Tired of wondering whether her life or work had any meaning other than filling the hours between periods of fitful sleep. Tired of the aching hole in her heart consuming every ounce of happiness that came her way. She sat up in bed and hugged her knees, wondering when her life had gotten so out of control.

Looking back on the past couple of months, Calleigh realized her recent depressed state had not started with Steven's news, his phone call simply opened her eyes to an already existing problem. No, this dissatisfaction with her life had been festering for a long time, making her wonder if anything she did made a difference.

But was the problem really work, or the fact that she spent so much time at work that she had nothing else in her life? The feelings of loneliness, of jealousy whenever she saw a couple happy together- none of that was work- related.

She thought about her job, remembering a time when she considered it a vocation, her own personal calling. An old professor once told her that your vocation was where your greatest passion met the world's deepest need. Well, she could no longer claim any passion, for work or for life, much as the two had become interchangeable in Calleigh's experience.

And that was the problem, wasn't it? Work was supposed to be what you did, not who you were. Yet somehow she had delved so deep into the job that she neglected the person.

Calleigh sighed and lay back down, curling into a ball underneath the comforter. This train of thought was getting her nowhere. Her mind only ran around in circles, accomplishing nothing and adding to her growing sense of despondency.

~~~~~~~~

Around the lab, people noticed the change in Calleigh, but she withdrew too far into herself to notice the looks of concern cast in her direction. Alexx tried approaching her one day and left confused, wondering what it was about her presence that made Calleigh look at her with guilt. Speed and Eric took it upon themselves to draw Calleigh out and make her laugh, but were also unsuccessful. They could not prompt even a smile.

Horatio hung back, watching others make attempts to break through the wall Calleigh had thrown up around herself. To say he was concerned about her was a severe understatement. Worry over her state of mind and spirit consumed him at the oddest moments, and he longed to reach out and smooth the lines of tension that lately had taken up permanent residence on her troubled face.

Checking timesheets, he was disturbed to notice Calleigh had been working enough hours lately to support two full-time CSIs. He was worried that Calleigh was fast approaching burnout, and had no idea how to help her. He wanted to do something, say something, that would bring back the Calleigh Duquesne he knew and, if he wanted to be honest, loved, but he was afraid his intervention would cause her to snap.

Standing in the hallway outside of the firing range that Friday, Horatio cursed fate and self-fulfilling prophesies. He finally gathered up enough resolve to make an attempt at reaching out to Calleigh and managed to provoke a bewildering argument instead.

It started out simply, another day, another crime. He and Eric processed the scene, and Horatio volunteered to drop off the ballistics evidence they collected. He thought his offerings of casings, spent rounds, and a gun would have been welcomed, as it meant Calleigh would have the opportunity to spend some time on the range.

The former bomb-squad detective marveled at how his attempt at diffusing Calleigh's mood had blown up in his face.

Horatio didn't think he had snuck up on Calleigh, but when he made his presence known by clearing his throat, she jumped at least three feet into the air. He should have taken it as a sign of things to come.

"God, Horatio!" she exclaimed, spinning around to face him, hand over heart. "Do you have to glide around here like some kind of damned feline all the time? I'm not some kind of prey that needs to be pounced on unawares!"

"I'm sorry, Calleigh. I didn't mean to alarm you."

"Yeah, well you did. What do you have for me?"

"Half a dozen spent casings, four recovered bullets, and a weapon that you'll need to run for comparison." He hoped to see her eyes light up at the prospect of a test fire, but her gaze remained blank. She stiffly walked over to a shelf that contained ammunition for test fires.

"Great. What caliber?"

Horatio thought it was a flash of inspiration. A way to draw her out and remind her of the joy she usually had while working a case. Her question reminded him of a conversation they had shared once in this very room, and a joke that she made at his expense.

"How old are you?"

She spun around and faced him, shock and confusion written clearly across her face. A moment later, realization hit, but instead of the smile he was hoping for, he saw anger instead. Before he could try to retract his question, she answered.

"32 caliber rounds. Problem is, I'm 29."

"I know that Calleigh," he said, walking towards her, trying to put a hand on her arm. She tried to walk away from him, but he followed, repeating his attempt to connect with her physically, only to have his hand shrugged off every time he touched her.

"Then what were you trying to say?"

"I was making a joke."

"It wasn't funny."

"You saddled me with a couple of years a while back, I just thought I'd repay the favor. I'm sorry if it came out wrong."

"Whatever."

Horatio fought to remain in control. He was confused at Calleigh's reaction, irritated at her rebuffs, and most of all concerned that she wouldn't look him in the eye.

"What is going on Calleigh?" he asked, continuing to follow her around the room. "Would you stand still for a moment and talk to me? It's not like you to not play along with a joke, especially one about bullets!"

She froze in place for a moment, then spun around with barely-controlled fury. Horatio noticed that she still wouldn't meet his eyes, focusing on a spot on the wall just above his right shoulder.

"Is that what I am to you? Someone to talk to about bullets because that's all I care about? Oh, she's Bullet Girl, you can ask her anything about rifling or trajectories or homemade silencers, but don't expect her to get a joke if it's not about ammunition?"

"That's not what I said at all, and you know it. What is going on with you, Cal?"

"Nothing is going on. I'm running tests, filling out reports, analyzing data. Is there something else I should be doing?"

"Calleigh."

He tried one last time to reach out to her, to force her to make eye contact, but she pulled away again, standing with her back to him. This time when she spoke, he could her in her voice a wavering that indicated she was about to lose it.

"Don't. If you don't like the way I'm doing my job, just tell me and I'll be out of your hair before the close of business."

She then collected the evidence and left the room, not looking back at him.

Horatio didn't know what to do. This was a hundred times worse than what he was expecting. He had hoped it was a simple case of stress and fatigue, but Calleigh's words and actions indicated there was something deeper. The Calleigh he knew would never have interpreted his concern as lack of confidence in her abilities, and she never would have offered her resignation.

He watched, torn, as Calleigh performed a series of test fires, speaking into the empty hallway.

"What is going on?"

~~~~~~~~~~~

At 3:00, Calleigh found herself standing outside Horatio's office with a preliminary ballistics report, a cup of coffee, and a half-finished apology swimming around her mind. Before she had the opportunity to complete it, however, the door opened and Speed came bounding out, nearly running into Calleigh in the process. Attempting to make up for the near-collision, he held the door open for her to pass through. Calleigh looked into the office and saw Horatio sitting behind his desk, looking at her with an expression of surprise and pleasure. Taking a deep breath, Calleigh nodded her thanks at Speed and walked into the office.

Standing across the table from Horatio, she held out the report in one hand and the coffee in another. At least this part of her speech had been worked out, and the goal was to begin with an attempt at humor.

"What's this?" Horatio asked, alternating his gaze between Calleigh's offerings and her face. Everything about her screamed tension, from her stiff stance to strain in her voice.

"You get to take your pick of what you want first," Calleigh replied, forcing a lighthearted smile that would probably buy her all of three seconds. "Report, coffee, or apology?"

"Hmmm.I'll drink the coffee while you share your findings, and we'll move on to the rest of it in time. What have you got for me?"

Calleigh came around the desk, handing Horatio the cup of coffee and laying out the file in front of him. She stood over his shoulder as she explained her findings, pointing out figures in the report as needed. When she was finished, she returned to her previous position in front of the desk, still choosing to stand.

Horatio looked up from the report. "Great work, Calleigh," he said approvingly. He folded up the report. "Now, about the other thing."

Calleigh inhaled and prepared to launch into her rehearsed apology but was forced to silence before she could even begin. Horatio was rising and came to stand in front of her, guiding her towards a chair.

"I want us to be able to take our time with this conversation," he was saying. "And somehow I don't think it will happen if you're standing in front of my desk like some kind of school kid whose been sent to the principal's office. Sit down, Calleigh, and tell me what's going on."

Calleigh allowed herself to lean against the back of the chair and watched as Horatio pulled another one closer in order to sit across from her. She closed her eyes and went over the wording again, determined to control the emotions that had overwhelmed her this morning and preventing another embarrassing scene. When she heard Horatio settle across from her she opened her eyes and looked into his. She could see a thousand thoughts and feelings racing around behind his gaze, but the only emotion she could interpret at the moment was concern.

"What happened earlier in the lab?" he asked, his voice quieter and gentler than it had been when they went over the ballistics report.

Calleigh sighed and dropped her gaze. "I don't exactly know," she confessed, scrapping the speech and running with the harder truth. "I've been dealing with some.stuff lately and when you made the crack about my age, I just lost it."

Horatio frowned and leaned closer. He could tell Calleigh was dealing with something that weighed heavily on her. He could read it in the slump of her shoulders and in the shadows under her eyes.

"I'm sorry if my joke added to whatever is bothering you," he said, grateful when Calleigh looked up again.

"Don't apologize," Calleigh said forcefully. "You didn't do anything to hurt or bother me. I don't think I even heard the exact words you used. Any other day, I would have laughed. I was just dealing with something and the sentiment threw me over the edge. Don't take any of this onto yourself. It was all me."

"If you don't mind me asking, what was it exactly that bothered you? Your birthday is still a good three months off and you've never worried about it in the past. Why is it suddenly such an issue?"

"I'm turning thirty this time," Calleigh answered, her tone flat.

Horatio's brows furrowed in confusion. "And.? I have to say, been there, done that, moved right on to the next decade. And from all I've seen, you have a similar take on the birthday thing too. There is something else going on here, something more than just another candle on the cake."

Calleigh looked at Horatio's desk, not able to meet his penetrating gaze. If she let him look into her eyes right now, he would see it. The depth of loneliness she was experiencing, the sense of being lost and confused as every priority she built her life on suddenly became ashes in her hand, the need enveloping her soul to connect with the man sitting across from her.

Horatio saw through her attempt to deflect. Reaching out, he gently took her chin in his hand, turning her face so he could look into her eyes again. Calleigh was never able to hide anything when you looked into her eyes. But he wasn't prepared for what he saw in the shadowed orbs. For a moment he saw need, but it was quickly buried under something else.

All he could see was emptiness, exhaustion, and a resignation that frightened him. He could find none of her fighting spirit, no spark of mischief or joy. Eyes which normally shined with life now were coated in a mist of tears, and he felt the air vacate his lungs as a burning began in his chest.

"Talk to me, Calleigh," he pleaded, desperate to pull her back from whatever despair gripped her so fiercely.

The compassion was her undoing. Looking into Horatio's steady gaze, Calleigh found the strength to unload part of her burden and articulate the confusion and frustration tearing at her heart.

She told him about her brother, about the morning phone call that had instigated her recent bout of self-examination. She talked about how it felt to see Alexx with her family, about the jealousy sweeping through her while watching Eric and Speed meet people and have lives outside of work. Her eyes swept around the room, unable to accept the compassion she might find there, fearing she would find only pity.

"All I know is my current life is not enough for me anymore," Calleigh finished, eyes locked on her hands, which were twisting together in frustration. "Steven told me about the baby and suddenly I realized I wanted to be at a different place by now. I look at my life and I wonder what the point is anymore."

"What do you mean by a different place in your life?"

"I don't know. I thought that I would have more than just a job to do every day. I've managed to get the whole career thing down pretty well."

Horatio interrupted her. "More than pretty well, Calleigh, you're damn good at your job, probably the best in the business. I don't know what I. what we would do without you."

His compliment did not prompt the desired reaction. Instead of easing Calleigh's tension, it only seemed to deflate her further.

"Yeah, well, that's all well and good, but I've started to wonder if I'm anything other than a good CSI. I'm young, intelligent, I have a great job, and I'm not that hard on the eyes, and yet I spend every night working extra hours running evidence or sitting alone in my apartment. Everyone comes to me to switch shifts because they know I have no where else to be. I need something more in my life than this. I look at Alexx's life and think to myself, I want that. I want love, I want a husband and children, I want to have a reason to leave this building at night, and I don't know how to feel about that."

Horatio listened to her unload her heart in silence. He was afraid that if he allowed himself even a small reply, everything he was thinking and feeling would spill out in a torrent. As Calleigh expressed her inner turmoil and desires, he couldn't help but notice her words mirrored his own unspoken dreams. He didn't want to admit that as she spoke he was assaulted with images wherein he was the one marrying Calleigh, picking a house with her, holding their first child in his arms. Even the idea of walking out of the lab with her, hands held tightly, was enough to make his heart beat double.

And he could say nothing to reassure her. How could he comfort her when he could not even find his own sense of peace? The only things he had to offer were veiled comments and a chance. one his heart did not want him to extend.

He reached out and took hold of her hands, stilling the jerky motions she used to punctuate her thoughts. He took a deep breath and prepared his thoughts. This was going to be hard.

"I can't tell you how to deal with these feelings, only reassure you that they do not mean there's anything wrong with you. We all feel this way from time to time. Normally, I would recommend a couple days off, lots of sleep, lots of ice cream, and a movie filled with either sappy romance or tons of violence and destruction. Always works for me."

The small smile that appeared on her face at his last comment reassured him. Calleigh had stiffened when he mentioned time off, balking at the idea of leaving others to do her work. Always the consummate professional, she never let personal issues take precedence over her desire to see justice done, and he admired her for it even as he cursed the burden it laid on her.

"I can't take a few days off, Horatio. Work is the only thing that makes sense in my life right now, and abandoning it for a couple of days is not going to help me remember why I wanted to do this in the first place."

Horatio nodded. "That's why I said 'normally,'" he answered. "I fully realize you are a special case. That is why instead of giving you some down time, I offer the possibility of a change of scenery."

His comment elicited a look of curiosity mixed with wariness, and the response gave him the strength to continue.

"I received a call from Lieutenant Walters this morning."

"From SWAT? Why was he calling you?"

"It seems that several members of his team are slated to be out of town for the next week. Some are going though mandatory qualifications reassessments, others are representing MDPD at a conference that is introducing new technology and materials. He's short on manpower."

"What does this have to do with me?"

"He admired your work on the Christopher Harwell case last year, told me you handled yourself with a confidence and ability that leads him to believe you could fill in temporarily. I told him I would talk with you about it. I asked you last year if you would ever consider a transfer to SWAT, right now that's what you're being offered, on a temporary basis. It will be a chance to break your routine, get a fresh perspective on what you do. What do you think?"

Calleigh sat back in the chair and thought about the offer. She couldn't deny it was interesting, a chance to get out of the lab and be in the front lines for once, helping bring in criminals, seeing their faces as they realized they were busted. At the same time, she didn't want to be separated from her team, her family, especially the man who sat across from her.

She could see something in his eyes, in the way he held himself still and carefully voiced the offer- he didn't want her to take the assignment. She wanted to believe it was because he didn't like the idea of spending a week apart any more than she did.

Weighing her desires and her needs, Calleigh came to a conclusion.

"Can you spare me?"

For a brief moment, Horatio thought about saying no, keeping her close and telling her they would find another way to work through her feelings. But he couldn't do that to her. Not when he could see how much she needed this chance. He resignedly settled with telling her the truth.

"I don't want to, but we can muddle through. Your work these past few weeks has brought ballistics and trace up to date on every case in the system. It will be fine."

Calleigh nodded. "Tell Walters I'll do it, then. Thank you, Horatio."

"Don't thank me. I'm not the one who offered you the slot."

"True, but you're not stopping me either."

"I would never dream of getting between you and a chance to carry around a semi-automatic."

Calleigh laughed. Trust Horatio to say the one thing that could erase all her concerns about working with the SWAT team.

"You understand me too well sometimes, Horatio, and I can't tell you what a gift that is to me."

"It comes with the territory," he answered, not voicing the remainder of his thought. He was about to say 'of being in love,' but caught himself just in time. "Just as long as you don't get too attached. I don't know how many times I can say this is only temporary."

"I hear you loud and clear on that point."

"Good, 'cause I don't want you to even think about leaving. I don't let go easily."

Calleigh searched his eyes, not sure how to interpret his answer. She saw an echo of the longing she had expressed earlier and wondered. could it be he wanted her to stay for a reason other than finding a new ballistics expert?

"Then don't," she said softly.

They sat for a moment, gazes locked, asking questions but fearing the answers. The air was thick with expectation, and one of Calleigh's hands unconsciously reached out. Before it connected with anything, the moment was broken by a sharp knock on the door.

Horatio twisted in the chair to face the opening door, noting out of the corner of his eye the way Calleigh dropped her hand. He saw Alexx on the other side with a report, and caught her eye. "Give me one more minute," he called. Alexx nodded and the door shut again. When he turned back, Calleigh was already standing.

"I'd better get going," she said, placing a hand on his shoulder, telling him to remain seated and leaving it there. She wanted to stay connected to him somehow. "I need to clear my desk off for the week. Thank you."

Horatio placed his hand on top of Calleigh's. "Call me if you need anything. I mean it. I want to help."

Calleigh smiled at the sincerity she saw in his face. "You already have, more than you know," she answered. She stepped back towards the door, letting her hand slip out from underneath Horatio's. She left his office, smiling at Alexx and holding the door open for the ME to pass through.

As she walked downstairs to start clearing off her desk, Calleigh reflected on the truth of her words. He had helped. He listened to her fears and encouraged her, letting her know she was okay, never making her feel insufficient or unstable. He offered her peace and a chance to regain her passion for her job. Most important, however, was something he gave her without even thinking about it, probably unintentionally. Hope.

She smiled as she remembered the affection in his voice as he joked about guns, the unaffected concern with which he listened to her problems. But the image burned into her mind was the look in his eyes as he made his offer of help. It stirred something within her, and she felt warm at the memory of it. She could tell; she would be seeing it again in her dreams. She began to whistle, looking forward to a night of sleep for the first time in months.

~~~~~~~

On Monday, Horatio made his way to the break room to grab a cup of coffee. He had only been in for two hours and was already feeling tired, and it was all because he was missing Calleigh. He shook his head in wonder. Ever since Calleigh came to Miami, he never spent a Monday morning apart from her, and he never noticed that fact until now.

They would run into each other in the break room, share a cup of coffee and talk about their weekends. He never noticed how one conversation with Calleigh gave him enough energy to face another week.

He sat down in a chair with a sigh. If he couldn't last two hours without her, how was he going to make it through the next seven days?

The sound of Eric and Speed coming down the hallway forced him to collect himself. By the time they walked in, he was ready. He appeared perfectly calm, sipping his coffee and scanning the newspaper.

"Morning," he said, looking up from the Sports section at his team.

"Morning," they answered. Speed walked over to the coffee machine.

Eric paused, looking around. "Where's Calleigh? She's usually here by now, using up all the sugar."

Horatio put down the paper. "She's helping fill in some gaps with SWAT."

Speed whistled while Eric took his turn getting a caffeine fix. "Good for her, bad for us. How long will she be gone?"

"All week."

"Damn," Speed replied. "Who's going to run ballistics while she's playing commando?"

Horatio tried not to feel angry with Speed for his comment. He knew the younger man was joking, but at the same time, the idea that Calleigh would only be missed because of her ability to do her job grated. Didn't anyone else notice how she brought light into the darkness they faced every day? He kept his anger short, but wasn't able to completely erase the disapproval in his voice.

"We'll have to make do without for the week. Everyone will be responsible for processing their own ballistics evidence until she gets back."

He picked up the half finished cup of coffee and headed for his office. He didn't notice the look that passed between Speed and Eric as he left.

"This is going to be a long week," Eric said, watching Horatio make his way down the hallway.

~~~~~~~~~

On Wednesday afternoon, Horatio discovered he had an unexpected, but very welcome visitor.

A call of, "Hey handsome!" wrapped in sweet southern tones washed over him as he opened the door. The tension he carried around all week faded away and he greeted Calleigh with a smile.

"To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?" he asked, leaning against his desk. Calleigh was seated in his chair and he looked down at her with a contented smile.

She shrugged. "Slow day. Thought I'd come over here and see who I could pick up to take me to lunch."

Horatio reached out for her hand saying, "I'm free, Alexx has the day off, and everyone else is at a scene. Come on let's get out of here."

Calleigh smiled and took Horatio's hand, not letting go once she was standing. "Alright, but I'm driving," she answered. "Tell me, what are you going to say to Speed and Eric when they discover they missed out on lunch?"

Horatio didn't even pause. "You snooze, you lose. Next time, process faster."

Calleigh's laugh echoed through the empty office as they strolled to the front door, never letting go of the other's hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seated at a table in an outdoor café, Horatio took the opportunity to observe Calleigh. She was more relaxed, as though her skin were a more comfortable place to be than it had the previous week. He commented as much to her and was pleased to see an easy smile cross her face.

"You were right about me needing a change of scenery, Horatio. This week has been. refreshing."

Horatio tried to smile, but it was a tight grin. Calleigh picked up on it immediately.

"What is it? What's wrong, Horatio?"

He couldn't deflect. She had seen right through him.

"I've been hearing things. I'm being stupid." He looked, but Calleigh was not biting, simply waiting. Horatio sighed and dropped his head.

"Walters called yesterday. He told me what a great job you were doing, how you've started consulting with him on planning insurgences to maximize the team's advantage over the weapons they're facing. I think his exact words were, 'She's an absolute gem, and not hard to look at either.'"

Calleigh leaned back, smiling for several reasons. "Well isn't he a sweetheart," she drawled.

She stifled a giggle at the pained look that crossed Horatio's face, then decided to drop the act. She leaned across the table and grabbed one of his hands, forcing him to look back up.

"Horatio, I'm pleased to know they find me valuable, and I won't lie-I'm having a lot of fun. But CSI is my home. You'll never lose me."

Horatio stared at Calleigh for a moment, then took an exaggerated breath and wiped a hand across his forehead. They both started laughing and all tension was erased. They ordered their food and sat back to wait.

"So how are. other things?" Horatio finally asked.

Calleigh smiled peacefully. "They're a lot better. Talking with you helped, and so did taking a weekend off and pampering myself. Probably the best medicine, however, was all the whistles I received when I walked into SWAT on Monday."

Her smug smile turned into outright laughter when Horatio almost choked on an ice cube. While he regulated his breathing, Calleigh continued.

"Don't panic on me there, Horatio. It was a joke, but it felt good. And it's not like I run off with every man who makes a pass at me. God, if I did, I'd probably be Mrs. John Hagan right now." Calleigh mock shuddered, but she could tell her comment dampened Horatio's mood.

"I don't even like to hear you joke about it Cal. You deserve." he was cut off.

"I know," she said. "And even though I was freaking out about everything last week, you don't have to worry about me going and making a stupid mistake. I know the right guy is out there for me, and I 'm not going to settle for anything less than what I deserve just because I might feel lonely. Been there, done that, not worth the pain it puts everyone through. No, I'll wait and keep the faith that when it happens, it will be worth the wait."

Throughout her comment, Calleigh made a point to keep eye contact with Horatio. She hoped her silent message got across, the one that declared loud and clear she knew who she was waiting for, and it was the man sitting directly across from her.

"It will happen, Calleigh," he replied, holding her gaze.

The moment was broken when Calleigh's cell rang. She picked it up with an apologetic look and answered, keeping the conversation to "Duquesne. yes. I understand. I'll be there in twenty." She closed the phone and looked up to see Horatio signaling the waiter.

"We'll need that order to go, right away," he was saying.

"I'm sorry about lunch," she said, rising from her seat.

"I understand," he replied, "but I'm going to have to insist you make it up to me over dinner. How does seven sound?"

"Perfect." Calleigh smiled and finished the rest of her ice tea standing. Horatio tossed some bills on the table and Calleigh passed him the keys to her car.

"Can you drive?" she asked. "I need to eat and get ready on the way."

"Sure," Horatio answered.

As they drove back to headquarters, Horatio was able to catch glimpses out of the corner of his eye as Calleigh donned a Kevlar vest. When she settled into packing away her lunch, Horatio felt it was safe to comment.

"Not many people can carry off Kevlar," he started, glancing at Calleigh, "but on you it's downright beautiful."

Calleigh smiled over at Horatio. "I've worn a vest more times than I can count in the three years I've been here. How come today is the first time I've heard this particular opinion of yours?"

"I wasn't sure you'd want to hear it from me," he replied as they pulled to the front. He got out of the car and left the door open so he could continue to talk to Calleigh, who slid across to the driver's seat and passed him a takeout container.

She leaned over to whisper conspiratorially. "Handsome, you're the only one I want to hear it from."

Horatio smiled and waited until she rolled down the window to close the door. "Be careful, Calleigh, ok?"

Calleigh winked. "With everything but my heart, Horatio."

~~~~~~~~~

The call came in less than an hour later. Horatio was in trace looking over some results with Eric and Speed when the phone rang, and something in his face as he answered silenced the younger men and drew their full attention.

Hanging up, Horatio wouldn't meet their eyes. "We've been called to the scene of a SWAT raid. There are officers down."

No one said anything, they all had the same exact thought-Calleigh. Moments later they were tearing out of the parking lot headed for the warehouse address given to Horatio.

When they arrived, Speed checked himself so as not to voice his initial reaction. The scene was like something out of a war zone, with casings strewn about, shattered windows, holes and imbedded projectiles in walls, and bodies on the ground. Stepping out of the Hummer, Speed saw two ambulances pull away, headed for the hospital. He counted three dead who looked like they belonged to a street gang, but no officers.

Looking down the alley that ran along the warehouse, Horatio saw a group of SWAT team members gathered down an ambulance. He went running over to join them, searching for Calleigh in their number.

They parted in front of him and Horatio saw her. She was seated on the back of the ambulance, allowing a paramedic to dress what looked like a graze on her right arm. He took a deep breath and sat down next to her, waiting for the team members to give them some space before trusting himself to speak.

"Are you all right?"

"Nothing a couple stitches won't fix." Calleigh smiled, but it was weak, a front for something else. Horatio's suspicions were confirmed when his attempt to touch her prompted a wince.

"Tell me," he commanded quietly.

"There were three that got caught by the vest," she answered, looking away.

Horatio felt sick. The bottom of his stomach had dropped out with her reply. She had been hit three times. without the vest she would probably be dead. His hands started shaking at the thought and he tasted bile.

Seeing he was struggling to maintain an even keel, Calleigh stood to face him and forced his head up to face hers.

"Look at me," she said. "I'm right here. I'm alive, I'm breathing, I'm talking to you." She grabbed one of his hands and held it to her cheek. "Feel this. I'm real. I'm alive."

With her free hand, she picked up the vest beside her and showed it to him, letting him see and touch the scars on the fabric.

"This is the real beauty of Kevlar, Horatio," she said.

Finally he was able to break though the fog and he stood up, folding her into an embrace that was both gentle and fierce as he tried not to exacerbate her wounds. He turned them around so she could sit down again.

"You should be at the hospital," he told her sternly.

"I wanted to wait until you got here," she replied.

Horatio understood why she waited-she had not wanted him to show up and not be able to find her. If anyone else told him about her injuries, he would not have been able to control his reaction and probably would have taken out his emotions on an unsuspecting officer then and there. He could only nod at Calleigh's logic.

"Now that you've seen that I'm okay, I'll go to the hospital and get checked out. And you can tell the rest of the gang I'll see them tomorrow. With this arm I won't be allowed to play with the big boys anymore."

"You're not coming in tomorrow, Calleigh. You're going to stay at home and get some rest."

"Just try to stop me," she answered back. "Besides, it will take me days to go through all the rounds you're going to collect, and I'll be happier and more comfortable in the lab than sitting on my couch watching daytime television. Now go and find me plenty of samples to play with while I get checked out and stitched up. We can meet up at the lab for our dinner date."

Horatio protested. "You need to get some rest, Calleigh. You are not coming anywhere near the lab once you leave the hospital. We can have dinner another time."

"We can have dinner tonight. And I plan to rest- I'm going to crash on your sofa while you either cook or call for takeout. That way, I get my dinner and you get to be in charge of my recuperation for the evening."

A snicker behind him caused Horatio to spin around. Eric, Speed, and the entire SWAT team were listening to their conversation. Horatio's glare only inspired widespread applause, whistling, and a couple of cat calls. He turned to face them fully, intending on putting an end to the display, but Calleigh beat him to it.

"Awww, shut up boys," she called. "Or I'll show you a whole new meaning to the words 'tactical use of weaponry.'"

The laughter subsided to stifled snickers almost immediately, and the SWAT members backed away with their hands up. Horatio heard at least one person say, "I don't want to go anywhere near that." He shook his head and turned back to Calleigh. Trust her to intimidate MDPD's biggest bunch of bad asses with nothing more than resilient nerve and a single, creative threat.

He saw her look over his shoulder before she said, "Go to work. I'll see you later." He turned around and saw Walters walking down the alley. He nodded at Calleigh and went to meet the SWAT team leader. They greeted each other with a nod.

"Take care of her, ok?" Horatio said.

He nodded. "I'll take her to the hospital personally, and bring her to the lab once she's released.

"Thanks." The word passed his lips, but there was a different sentiment in his eyes, something not lost on Walters.

"It's the least I could do," he said. "I'm the one who got her into this."

Horatio nodded stiffly and turned back to the Hummer to collect his kit. Before going into the warehouse, he stopped one last time to look over at Calleigh, registering Eric's presence when the younger man came to stand beside him.

"You're a very lucky man," he said.

Horatio smiled as Calleigh cast a small wave and a large grin in their direction before being helped into a police car.

"Believe me, I know."

~~~~~~~~~

That evening found Calleigh and Horatio sitting together on his couch, remnants of dinner scattered on a coffee table. Calleigh was leaning against Horatio, who had his arms around her. That simple action, cuddling together, felt so right to both people, they knew it was the beginning of permanence, a confirmation of something destined. They didn't talk about it, though, not in so many words. At the moment, they were content to quietly sit together, taking full advantage of the rare moment of peace.

"You really scared me today," Horatio finally said, dipping his head to rest it against Calleigh's. "For a moment there I thought I might lose you."

Calleigh turned slightly, careful so as not to disturb her bruised ribs. "I told you earlier, Horatio, you're never going to lose me."

"Calleigh, this wasn't about you switching departments, this was." his thought was interrupted.

"I know what you meant, Horatio. Because I think of it every time I see you pull you gun at a scene. Ours is a dangerous profession, but it's different taking the risks yourself and seeing someone you love in danger."

Horatio slumped a little, his thoughts drifting to those few moments at the scene when he couldn't find her. "Yeah," he mumbled.

"That's one of the reasons why I held off from this for so long, Horatio," Calleigh continued. "I would dream about us together, about a possible future with you and how wonderful it would be and the next minute it would turn into a nightmare when I realized it could all be ripped away from me with one bullet. I'm afraid of losing you too, Horatio. But it's no reason not to try, to take as much joy and love from what time we are given."

He took Calleigh's words to heart, letting them plant themselves there along with his love for her. He nuzzled her neck and placed a light kiss on her temple.

"So you dream about me, do you?" he teased.

Calleigh groaned. "You would focus on that, wouldn't you?" she griped at him. "Oh well, secret's out. Yes, Horatio, I dream about you."

"I wonder how reality will compare."

"Maybe we should find out."

A slow, sexy smile spread across Horatio's face. In a deep tone, each word rife with his trademark intensity of feeling, he replied handily, "Yeah. Maybe we should."