A/N: Last night's ep convinced me to ignore the correspondence file I have to hand in at midnight and finish this chapter instead. And this fic is going to involve a lot of juggling and handwaving. Just so you know.
Episode 2.10, Extreme
Eric was painstakingly collecting evidence from the shirt he'd worn earlier at the chop shop. The adrenaline had long worn off, and he was aching. Still, he pushed through. As he was tape-lifting, Calleigh poked her head into the lab.
"Hey, prize fighter," she greeted.
"Hey," he said with a short humorless chuckle. "More like prize punching bag."
She looked down at the table. "That's your shirt. Did you forget your lint brush?"
"No, just looking for evidence," he replied, continuing with his work.
She leaned against the table. "Okay, so, let me get this straight. You were walking by, you found a chop shop, you stopped and got into a fight."
She rounded the table, shortening the distance between them. She peered at his work for a moment, then, "How old is she?"
"It's not like that," he replied without a hint of humor. He looked up. "Seriously."
It had taken a lot of convincing to get Eric to agree to let Calleigh drive him home. He seemed to agree more out of sheer exhaustion than anything else, but Calleigh would've taken it any way she could get it. He had barely made eye contact with her all day and what little he'd said had been strictly about work. She'd caught him laughing with Valera and the new girl in questioned documents, so his cold treatment of her had nothing to do with his mood and everything to do with whatever was going on between them.
It was already dark outside when they left CSI. He'd stayed exceptionally late – to make up for the work he'd missed, no doubt – and she'd stayed to ensure he arrived home safely after shift and to figure out why he was acting so coldly toward her. The former had panned out; the latter, she was still working on.
The drive was quiet, strangely awkward, and she could sense his relief when she finally pulled up to his building.
"Thanks for the ride," he mumbled, reaching for the door handle.
"Hang on." She found her hand on his thigh before she could stop herself. "Do you mind if I come up for a bit?"
He sighed, making no efforts to hide his irritation. "I'm tired, Calleigh."
She nodded. "I just want to make sure you're okay."
"I'm fine," he said petulantly.
Calleigh was not so easily deterred. "You won't even notice I'm there."
He chuckled dryly. "Do whatever you want," he dismissed, pushing open the car door. "I'm just going to take a shower and go to bed."
She would be lying if she said that his words didn't sting her, but she tried her best to push the negativity away. She shut off the engine and climbed out of the car herself, remotely locking the doors before heading toward his building. The water was already running in the shower by the time she made it up to his condo. She let herself in and slipped into his kitchen to make him something to eat.
Fifteen minutes after she heard the water turn off, she began to worry. She didn't know the extent of his injuries but she figured from the description that it must've been serious. Unsure, she made her way to the bathroom door and rapped her knuckles gently against it.
His aggravated reply came two moments later. "What?"
She counted to three before asking, "Do you need help?"
"No," he replied immediately, though she could hear the hesitation behind his words.
She waited, heard him banging around in the bathroom, then a frustrated grunt. She tried again. "Eric—"
The door swung open, and he was wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, but that wasn't what caught Calleigh's eye. The skin along his arms and across his chest and abdomen was marred with cuts and bruises, some small and shallow, others larger and sickly purple. Heart pounding, she took a step into the bathroom; he stepped away.
"It's not as bad as it looks," he muttered, fumbling with a roll of gauze in his hands.
She approached him again, horrified, and he looked away as her fingertips trailed a particularly nasty bruise along his ribs. He clenched his jaws to hold back a wince, but she noticed anyway. Her fingers snapped away, though her eyes did not. She tried to say something comforting, something reassuring, but her mouth felt dry and her eyes strangely moist.
"Calleigh, I'm fine," he said, squirming uncomfortably beneath her scrutiny.
She swallowed, feeling the lump in her throat. "Is there something I can, uh—"
He held out the roll of gauze. "Can you just… wrap it around?"
She nodded and took the roll from him, then carefully pressed it against his skin. "Sorry," she murmured when she felt his muscles contract and his body quake. Doing the best she could, she bandaged him up, and she was too focused on her task to notice how close they were, how intimate it'd become. It didn't escape him, however, and he had to force himself to remember his own name when her hands skimmed his skin.
He hated that she had this power over him, hated that he couldn't stay mad at her when she was close enough to touch, to smell. He hated that he was more concerned about the look of guilt across her face than his own injuries. He hated her guilt.
She was efficient, and his torso was quickly wrapped up. She stepped back to study her work. "Are you sure—" She trailed off, her voice sounding foreign and parched.
He winced as he slipped into a shirt. "Yeah."
She nodded and took another step away. She cleared her throat. "I found a can of soup and tossed it on the stove for you."
"You shouldn't have." There was little gratitude in his words, only genuine frustration, indignation, and he was surprised when he felt those same emotions welling up inside him.
"You're mad at me," she observed quietly.
He turned away and ignored her, but when he felt her cold fingers against his cheek, his eyes involuntarily darted to her. Against his better judgment, he shrugged her hand away, watching as it retreated quietly to her side.
Her expression steeled; her voice hardened. "What did I—"
"Why did you ask about her like—" His voice had spilled from his lips angry, loud; it made him dizzy, and he had to take a deep breath to clear his mind. His next words were subdued but potent, quiet but piercing. "You knew how I felt about you and you asked it like you expected—" He shook his head and chuckled bitterly. "Do you even know how that made me feel?"
In that moment, her heart hurt. Ached like she'd never experienced before. Of course. Of course her words had been insensitive. She'd asked because she'd spent the better part of the morning wondering where Eric was and why she didn't know about it, and when she found out it was because of some woman, she'd made an assumption. An ugly, irrational assumption stemming from an ugly, irrational jealousy.
"I know what you thought."
She bit her lip. "I'm sorry," she murmured, sensing that it wasn't enough.
He nodded. "You should go home," he reiterated. "I'll be fine."
She remained stationary. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
He shrugged again. "Go home," he grunted. He couldn't handle her proximity, couldn't handle the conflicting emotions she was evoking. All he wanted was to pop a couple ibuprofens and sleep until noon, though he was sure he'd be awoken in the middle of the night requiring an additional dose.
The two stood in silence for a moment before she stepped back into the bathroom. She slipped easily between him and the bathroom counter, stretching slightly to reach him. Before her brain had the chance to analyze and veto the commands her heart was sending, she pressed her lips to his; they were warm, soft. She pulled away, but she quickly realized that it wasn't enough, and their lips met again, lightly still, slowly exploring. She'd meant it as an apology for things she didn't have the courage to admit, but it was more than that. It was the admission itself, and she hoped that he understood.
Her hands were at his hips, and they slowly travelled up his body. He groaned against her mouth, but she knew immediately that it had nothing to do with their current position and everything with his injuries. She began to pull away, but his hand against the back of her neck stopped her. She felt his lips moving against hers, felt his tongue brush against hers, and the intensity there made her shiver.
It was nothing like that day in the park yet still similar. Her heart hammering in her chest, insistent, and she felt her apology being accepted by him, felt that maybe this time, she wasn't hurting him anymore. Didn't intend to, either.
When they finally pulled apart, he rested his forehead against hers for a moment before opening his eyes. He threaded his fingers through hers, and she gave him a light squeeze.
"When you weren't at the scene," she began in a whisper, "all I could think of was how I wanted to be the only person who could make you late for work." She laughed nervously at her own words. "I know that's selfish and unfair, but—"
He interrupted her by dropping a quick kiss to the corner of her mouth. "Let's move out of the bathroom," he suggested.
She laughed lightly and nodded, then followed him to the couch in his living room. His hand never left hers, and they both sat down, but she suddenly didn't know what to say to him. The awkwardness was beginning to crawl back into the room, and she should've figured it wouldn't be this easy. That sometimes, wounds cut deeper than she had the power to immediately heal.
"I don't have to tell you everything."
His words surprised her. She nodded, swallowing hard. "I know."
He played with her fingers for a moment, contemplative. "I didn't tell you because it's not a big deal." He shrugged, his eyes piercing until he let his gaze drop. "And this thing… if we're going to do this, I have to know that you trust me."
"I do," she promised him. "I'm sorry about today."
He gave her hand a tight, reassuring squeeze. "It's okay." He smiled, looking toward his kitchen. "You made me some soup?"
She nodded, marveling at how easily they slipped back into a comfortable routine. "Come eat some before it gets cold."
He let her lead him to the kitchen and sit him down at the table, then watched as she scooped out a bowl of chicken soup and placed it in front of him. It wasn't half as good as what she could've done had she spent the time making from scratch, but it was sufficient. Better than sufficient, actually, but his mind was too occupied to really dwell on that.
"I'm not mad at you anymore," he said, though it was rather unnecessary. His demeanor had softened, his stance less guarded, and Calleigh had to admit that while his anger lasted, he had the power to really hurt her.
Briefly, she traced her fingertip along his jaw line, observing as his eyes rose to hers. She wanted to tell him that she wanted to take care of him, to make sure the ugly bruises she'd seen disappeared with haste, but instead, she drew her fingers away and asked, "We're okay?"
He nodded. "You're not going to pretend this never happened?"
It stung a little to hear him ask that, to know that he felt the need to. She'd planted the insecurity there, she knew. "I want this as much as you do," she admitted. He appeared surprised, so she continued, "I do, and I don't want to be skittish about it anymore."
He grinned, soup all but forgotten. "Figures I have to get my ass kicked to hear you say that," he said playfully.
She smiled, but it was a little sad. "Be more careful, okay?" She glanced at the digital display on his microwave; it was already late. "We'll talk more when we both get some rest. I should start heading back."
She stood up, and he followed her to his door. "You don't have to go home," he suggested quietly, a request nestled behind his carefully-chosen words. He knew he was asking something neither of them was prepared for, but he couldn't help it, wanted her.
She stood her ground, knowing it was territory she shouldn't explore until they'd talked and his wounds had healed. "Yeah, I should." She slipped on her shoes and pulled open his door. "Call in sick tomorrow, okay?"
Though her concern was appreciated, he shook his head. "I'm fine, Calleigh. I can work."
Her eyes raked over his shirt, along where she knew his bruises were. "Eric, I saw those injuries. Stay home and take care of yourself." She touched his arm gently. "After my shift tomorrow, I'll come by," she offered, knowing that would appease him enough to convince him to take the day off.
"Okay," he relented. "I'll call in sick."
She smiled. "Thank you. Don't hesitate to call if you need anything."
Her smile widened and even in the dim lighting, he could see the color in her cheeks, but she didn't say anything. She pushed herself up on her toes to plant a chaste kiss on his lips, another when she felt his arms circle her waist to hold her there. The second one was longer, and she had to stop it before it turned so fiery hot it burned her.
He was smiling. "One for the road?" he asked, releasing her from his grip.
She laughed. "One for the road."
The second, she thought to herself, to help her through the night.