Title: Litte Steps and One Big Leap

Author: Sonya Ivanovich

Pairing: Eric/Ryan(pre-slash)

Rating: FRT(Just for safety)

Spoilers: Lost Son, Under the Influence(our introduction to Ryan), Hell Night. And general for Season 4. Also that whole Eric/Ryan/Natalia mess never happened

Summary: Ryan's inclusion to the team came in small painful steps and one big jump.

Disclaimer: I don't own CSI or its franchises, don't sue.

Feedback: No flames please

When Ryan first joined the team, Calleigh, Eric and Alexx weren't thrilled. Calleigh because Ryan's first case was investigating her father's possible DUI/vehicular homicide. Eric because Ryan was taking his best friend's place on the team and something about the young man always made him want to either strangle him or throw across one of the tables and see how big he could make those green eyes. Alexx's reservation was simply because Speed had been her baby and she was a little angry that Horatio hired someone so soon after Tim's death. But that was slowly changing, with Horatio's silent approval of Ryan, each of them were accepting him.

Alexx was the first to extend a hand, she was a mother first and foremost and there was something in Ryan's eyes that screamed that he need someone to look after him. It started when they were investigating the baseball player's death and Ryan looked her in the eye and said that he wasn't trying to replace Speed, he just wanted to do a good job. She could tell that he was sincere and God knows she'd never been able to resist puppy dog eyes. They slowly built a mother/child relationship with Ryan having dinner with Alexx and her family at least once a week, sometimes more, but always at least once.

Calleigh had been a tougher sell. She carried a lot of resentment towards Ryan because of the fact that Horatio hired Ryan and gave him the task of investigating her father's DUI/possible vehicular homicide charge in less than five minutes. As a CSI, she knew that anything she uncovered would be challenged because the suspect was her father, but as a daughter, she didn't want some rookie working her father's case. But she found herself slowly warming up to him. Ryan had proven more than once that all he cared about was giving justice to the victims they encountered every day. Plus, Ryan had a really good sense of humor once you got past the OCD. Calleigh had been amazed to discover that little fact when she'd invited him out for drinks after work, he'd made her laugh so hard that she snorted, something that very seldom happened. Now they went out together as friends, Calleigh was one of the few people who knew that Ryan was gay, so their relationship was more like brother/sister.

Eric was the toughest of the three when it came to accepting Ryan. Speed had been his best friend and he didn't appreciate the fact that Ryan had been hired to take Speed's place. Their relationship had been hostile from the start. At first, it had just been a clash of personalities and then as they worked together more often, it became more of a love/hate. Eric was uncomfortable with the feelings he had for Ryan and the younger CSI seemed to sense that and seemed to conciously or unconciously provoke him. But after Ryan was shot in the eye and the mole problems, and some stern words from Horatio, Eric made a more concerted effort to get along Ryan without wanting to kill him.

For all three members of the team, these little acts were painful, like a splinter in your finger, but once they got it over with, they all found that Speed's death hurt a lot less, it wasn't totally gone, but it wasn't as painful.

Then one day, Eric, Calleigh, Ryan and Horatio were in the locker room getting ready to go home after a tough case when Alexx came in.

"Ryan, don't forget that you promised to help Brian with his science project tonight."

Ryan looked up from struggling with the door to his locker at his adopted mother. "I didn't forget Alexx. Tell Brian I'll be there at 7."

Alexx smiled, "Why don't you just come for dinner, that way you won't have to drive back to your place and then to mine and back."

Ryan smiled, knowing that it wasn't really a suggestion. "That's fine Alexx." He scowled at his locker door which was refusing to open. Finally, he pounded on it twice with his fist and yanked up on the latch and sighed with relief when it finally opened.

Calleigh, Eric, Horatio and Alexx all frowned. No one used that locker, the door had a huge dent from a tech who had lost his cool when Megan Donner, the former dayshift supervisor, had fired him after a random drug test and search had turned up some cocaine that had gone missing during an investigation.

"Ryan, why are you using that locker," Eric asked.

Ryan barely looked up at the group, "All the other lockers are full and the one next to mine is Speedle's, so I'm using this one."

The whole group stared at him, none of them knowing what to say. None of them had realized that Ryan's locker was next to Speed's. Eric looked over Ryan's shoulder; there it was, in black and white: T. Speedle. The tape was starting to peel at the corners.

They all stared at Ryan as if it was the first time they'd ever seen him, even Horatio was stunned, a truly amazing feat. The way he'd told them why he was using the useless dented locker was simple and straightforward, just like Ryan, but it showed the quiet respect that he held for Speed's place on the team even though Tim had been dead for nearly two years.

Ryan had accepted that he'd never completely replace his predecessor, and he was fine with that. He'd accepted their little acts of inclusion but had never tried to take more than what they were willing to offer, just accepting what was given and not grabbing for what he really wanted: total acceptance.

The four of them looked at each other, none of them sure of how to take this realization when Eric suddenly walked over to Speed's locker, peeled the tape off of the door and easily lifted the latch.

"There. Empty locker, dent-free and complete with door that opens on the first try." He smiled at Ryan's stunned expression, " Do you need any help getting your stuff in here or do you want to do it yourself?"

Ryan stared at him for several seconds before stammering out a response, "Uh, you can help if you want, I don't mind."

Eric smiled and he and Ryan began taking things off the shelf in Ryan's old locker and placing them in the new one. Calleigh and Alexx walked up and began taking out Ryan's clothes and arranging them in the locker just like Ryan wanted them. Horatio even stepped in to help in getting things arranged. None of them said anything during or after, but everyone left feeling lighter. Small steps were good, but huge leaps were sometimes, the best things ever.