Refuge 4/4 By koaladeb

Disclaimer information in part 1


A dozen ways to answer her question swirled around in Horatio's brain, each playing out with possible consequences in an instant. One choice stood out as the most basic, the most honest way to respond, but carried with it the most risk.

If he had thought about it, he would not have done it. But the combination of the look in her eyes, the desperation in her voice, and the fear in his heart erased all doubt and decided his course of action.

"This," he said, before leaning over and gently touching her lips with his own.

It was not a passionate kiss, nor was it filled with desperation. It was unwavering, confident, soft and sweet, filled with promise, absent of apology. Horatio kept it light and short, not wanting to overwhelm her or attempt to replace her feelings of distress with passion. Above all, he was trying to give her an honest answer, one that had to be communicated in actions instead of words.

The contact lasted only a brief moment, but when he pulled away he could see Calleigh had closed her eyes, and as he continued to look, tears slipped through her lids and began tracking down her face. Horatio could see how tightly she was holding on to her control and decided to push further, knowing she needed to let go.

He pulled her into his arms, increasing his hold on her when she tried to pull away. Tossing the bag of food off the bed and grabbing Calleigh's knees, he pulled her legs across his body before drawing her head to rest against his shoulder and chest. He cradled her as much as their position could allow.

"Let it out, Calleigh, just let it out," he said.

He could feel it when she finally released her pent-up pain. Tremors coursed through her whole body and he could hear soft gasps turn into wrenching sobs. He began to whisper words of comfort and stroke her hair, her back, any part he could reach while still holding her tightly against him.

Eventually, the shaking subsided, and the sobs diminished into ragged breaths. Horatio continued to sustain his grasp on her, letting her know he would anchor her through the emotional aftermath now the worst of the storm had passed.

"Why are you here?" It was the same question she had asked earlier, but this time, he could hear gratitude and a measure of peace in her voice instead of that aching hollowness.

"Because you were what pulled me back when I went through this after Ray," he answered. "Because I knew there was a chance this could destroy you. Because I couldn't bear to lose the one person in this world who means everything to me."

This time, when Calleigh pulled away, he let her, understanding she would need space and perspective to weigh his answer.

She looked into his eyes, searching to find validity in the words he offered. Horatio let himself be completely open to her examination, taking in the sight of the red that framed her puffed up, bleary eyes. Even after crying, Calleigh was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

After a couple of minutes, she sighed and closed her eyes, then reclaimed her previous position in Horatio's arms, laying her head in the hollow between his neck and shoulder this time. Her arms were draped loosely around his sides again, and even though Horatio knew he was supposed to be the one offering comfort, he couldn't help but feel comforted himself, as though Calleigh was holding him as well, with what little strength she had left in her. He marveled at her beauty once again, this time, the beauty of her heart.

"Tell me about Ray," she asked quietly.

Horatio complied, knowing she needed this sign of trust in order to open up about her own experience.

"You know he died under somewhat. suspicious circumstances," he stated.

Calleigh thought back to a conversation she had with Eric the previous year. He had come to her asking about Ray, and Calleigh had told him, "I don't think anybody knows the truth of Raymond Caine. Not even Horatio." She merely nodded against his neck, not wanting to interrupt his thoughts.

"The autopsy showed he was high on meth at the time of his death. There was no way to find out if he was using or if it was an attempt to make him look dirty, so IAB went about trying to find out. I swear; those people have no concept of common decency. I had just lost my brother, the last of my immediate family, and they wanted to do nothing but question me about Ray's actions. Those first couple weeks were spent making funeral arrangements, being grilled by IAB, packing up his belongings, working shifts."

"You had no time to assimilate what had happened and grieve, did you?" Calleigh asked.

"No, I didn't." He felt Calleigh pull tighter against him and his pain lessened at the memory. He squeezed her back and placed a kiss on the top of her head before continuing.

"That's why I took a week off after everything was over. I was where you were earlier. I wasn't sure of anything anymore, whether Ray had turned, if it had become too much for him to handle. I wanted to think so badly he was a good cop right until the end, but I couldn't be sure, and I felt like I was betraying him by not taking his side. I second-guessed every decision I had ever made with him, every conversation we had those last months, every occasion when I even saw him. I felt like I was a failure as a brother, and it made me question my ability to understand the individuals in my life, my ability to read people in general, my ability to do my job."

"Your reputation was tainted by your association with Ray, you had no family left to turn to, no friends you thought you could confide in, and no faith in yourself. Sounds frighteningly familiar. That week you took-you ran, didn't you? Just like me."

"Yes. Though I actually made it to Key West," he teased. He felt Calleigh snort and shake him a little bit. He tilted his head so he could rest it on Calleigh's. They sat that way for a few moments.

"I thought about quitting," he told her honestly. "I thought I had nothing to go back for. My purpose wasn't clear to me anymore, and I didn't believe in my own abilities."

"So what made you come back?" Calleigh asked.

"You," he said simply. "My third day out, you called my cell to tell me about a case you were working on. I don't even remember the details, just that there were some technical ballistics details that had gotten you all fired up and you were thrilled when you pieced it all together. I remember there was something in your voice, the passion you had for the job and the way you wanted to involve me and ask my opinion even though it was your area of expertise. It made me want to come back just to be around you, to absorb some of that dedication and passion and reclaim it for myself. And when I did, you never wavered, never doubted, never questioned. Your faith in me gave me back my faith in myself, and your compassion and caring gave me back my hope."

He heard a sniff and looked down to see Calleigh had tears streaking down her face again. He started to apologize, but she stopped him with a hand over his mouth.

"Don't apologize," she said. "You just gave me the most incredible gift. I never knew."

Horatio placed a soft kiss on Calleigh palm and threaded a hand through her hair, pulling it away from her face and settling it over her shoulder. He gave her a small smile and wiped the last of the tear tracks from her eyes.

"Ok, I shared," he said. "Now it's your turn."

He wasn't surprised when Calleigh buried her head in his shoulder again. He hadn't been able to look into her eyes when he was speaking, either. He knew he would have found compassion and support there, but that kindness would have made him unable to finish, and it was the same for Calleigh. He held her even tighter, if that was possible, attempting to give her some of his strength.

"My story is similar to yours," she said. "When I found out what John was, I was in shock, and before I had the chance to even process the information, I was being ordered to recount, in detail, every minute I had spent with him over the course of our entire acquaintance. They kept asking me how I didn't know, why I didn't suspect. Pretty soon the voices asking those questions weren't the IAB guys, they were inside my head."

"So the first chance you got, you took off," Horatio supplied.

"Yeah. The worst part is, I knew something like this could happen. There was an arrogance about him that only comes with feeling superior and powerful, of looking down on certain people, and you can't serve justice with that attitude. He reminded me of my father-they have that same arrogance, blindness, weakness, whatever you want to call it."

Horatio suddenly understood. "You wondered how you could have not picked up on it in Hagan after escaping it from your father." Her silence was his answer, and he pushed her back a little so he could look into her eyes and tell her something.

"You are not the same person who left Louisiana. You are different, stronger, wiser, and even more wonderful, if that's possible. Trusting someone, looking and hoping for the best in them, believing in them despite their weaknesses, these are not flaws. They're the qualities that saved me, that made me fall in love with you."

Calleigh heard his words and let them fill the gashes that had been ripped into her heart, both years before and just that morning. His words had power because they were spoken in love and because she knew he meant every single one of them-she could hear it in his voice, see it in his eyes; she could even feel it in the way he held on to her.

She couldn't express the emotions that had now taken up residence in her heart. They were too light, too peaceful and gentle to be disturbed with description, so she took a page from Horatio's book and let actions speak on her behalf.

She reached up and touched his face, exploring its contours and definitions. With wonder she traced his eyebrows, the line of his nose, the fullness of his mouth. After learning his face anew by sight and touch, she leaned in to rediscover its taste.

The kiss was once again gentle, but on this occasion no one pulled back for a long time. Calleigh loved the fact that Horatio applied no pressure, making no attempt to lay claim to her with the kiss. She wasn't ready, and he wasn't willing for this new development to advance any further just yet. Later, once everything was out in the open, desire would have its reign, but for now, all they needed was simple contact, an affirmation of hope confirmed, of feelings requited.

When they finally did break apart, Calleigh looked over at the small alarm clock and was shocked to discover it was well past midnight. She reluctantly pulled back from Horatio.

"What do we do now?" she asked.

Horatio shrugged. "I signed us both out and everyone is making sure we're not called in on anything for the next couple of days. We can go back tonight if that's what you want, or we can stay here and get some sleep."

Calleigh looked around the room and frowned. "I'd rather stay and get some sleep, but I didn't bring anything with me."

Her reply was met with a nod of understanding. "I didn't bring anything either," Horatio said, "I was too busy trying to locate a certain ballistics expert."

Calleigh sighed and settled back into Horatio's embrace. Her next comment was soft, muffled by his shirt and her weariness.

"I'm glad you found me."

Horatio rested his head on top of Calleigh's. "I'll always find you. Come on, let's get some sleep."

Looking down, he could see she was already halfway there. With a smile, Horatio resettled her to a reclined position and worked the covers down. He gently removed her shoes and covered her with the light blanket before removing his own. Locking the door and turning out the light, Horatio took a deep, cleansing breath and climbed into the bed.

Pulling her closer, Horatio wrapped his arms around Calleigh and took a moment to remind himself he was not dreaming. Even in the darkened room, he could see the outline of her form, smell her shampoo, feel the warmth of her body next to his, hear her soft exhalations as her breathing continued to adopt the deep and steady rhythm of sleep. If he concentrated, he could even taste traces of her on his lips.

Focusing on the beautiful simplicity of the moment, he was unprepared for Calleigh to make one last attempt at conversation.

"What will we do tomorrow?" she mumbled.

"Whatever you want," he replied quietly back to her. "We can stay here, go home, or just take a couple of days and play tourist, if that's what you want."

Calleigh sighed and tilted her head up, eyes still closed, to place a soft kiss on his jaw. "I want to spend time with you," she answered, settling back into her previous, comfortable position. "We still have things to talk about." Her voice faded out and her breathing once again sought a steady cadence.

Horatio tightened his grip, allowing his eyes to close as well. "We will," he promised to her quietly. "But for now let's just sleep."

Her response was to make one last attempt at cuddling closer before gliding into unconscious rest, establishing a harmony of contact to match a mind and heart at peace. Horatio smiled before joining her in sleep, finding his own refuge in the promise of a new day.