Calleigh knew she should've called before showing up uninvited, taking for granted their friendship, his willingness to sacrifice his own well-being for her, but she hadn't known she'd end up halfway across the city until she had looked up and found herself parked outside his building, and it seemed silly to call when she was moments away already. She just hoped that old familiarity would be enough to explain her assuming visit.
She found his door and knocked immediately, figuring procrastination wasn't going to get her anywhere, and she wanted to see him, even if it was only to have him tell her that it was late and that she should go home.
She knew he wouldn't and felt a twinge of guilt at that.
Eric answered the door wearing a pair of boxers and a muscle shirt. It had been so long since she'd seen him at home that she had to do a double take. Something inside of her flared, too, but it had become second nature for her to suppress it; instinctively, she did. If he noticed her staring, he didn't show it.
He looked surprised to see her there and impulsively took a quick peek down the hall. She wasn't sure what or who he had expected to see, but his gesture made her uneasy.
"Are you expecting anyone?" she asked tentatively, and she hated the way that sounded, hated the way her heart clenched at the thought that he was waiting for someone else.
He shook his head and stood aside. "No, no. Come on in."
She didn't move. "Is this a bad time? I can—"
He interrupted her with a gentle but coaxing hand on her arm, and she looked away to hide her eyes, suddenly aware of how her body hummed in response to his proximity. She walked inside, past him, and watched wordlessly as he closed the door behind them. His hand never left her arm, still didn't as he led her to his living room and sat her down on his couch.
He studied her for a moment, his eyes boring into hers, and she found herself mesmerized, unable to look away, to hide the way she knew best.
"Jake—" But she quickly cut herself off, cursed herself for being so insensitive when she noticed Eric tensing up. She didn't even know where she had hoped to go with that sentence, but it was nowhere she was ready to explore.
A moment dragged out before Eric finally spoke. "How are you feeling?"
She didn't answer, gave his arm a tug of her own. He complied, sat down beside her, and she liked the way the couch dipped under his weight. She shouldn't, she thought, but she did. It fit.
"Thank you for today," she finally said.
Eric shook his head. "Jake—" He swallowed. "Jake found the bullet, I just—"
"No," she interrupted, offering a tiny smile. "At the scene, I mean. That meant—" She bit her lip and looked away for a moment. "That meant everything to me."
He nodded as her hand found his, and she knew that she was gripping his fingers too tightly, but he didn't seem to mind, seemed to understand that this was what she needed.
What she needed. If only it were that easy. And maybe it was, maybe it had been all long but she had been too blinded by the return of an old lover to notice how black and white the whole situation truly had been.
"I'm single again."
She looked away and frowned, despised the way that sounded. It wasn't something she'd normally say, even if she had wanted to convey the event. She'd keep it to herself until something pushed it to the forefront, and only then would she allow a hint to slide through. But she was either too tired or too flooded with a myriad emotions to make good use of her avoidance techniques.
Eric remained silent for a long time, and the subtle change in the rhythm of his breathing was Calleigh's only indication that he had even heard her. His fingers continued to knead hers gently, speaking to her everything he was too afraid to even consciously think about. His silence showed her comfort, hope, an unconditional love that he reserved only for a handful of people in his life.
It hit her then. Hard. Everything, and for a moment, she almost forgot how to breathe.
But Eric pulled her into his embrace and that grounded her, reminded her how to process the oxygen, expel the carbon dioxide.
Calleigh inhaled sharply. "I should've come here because I wanted to see you," she said, shaking her head, "but I came here because my relationship ended." She laughed bitterly. "God, that's so selfish."
He ran his fingers through her hair soothingly. "You don't need a reason to be here, Calleigh," he reassured.
"If I did, it shouldn't be because—"
"Stop." He rolled a quick thumb over her cheek. His voice softened. "You don't need one with me, not here, not ever, okay?"
Feeling undeserving and inadequate, she nodded against his shoulder and snaked her arm around his torso. She couldn't help but like the way she fit into him (and later, much later, the way he fit into her).
Then, to her embarrassment, she fell asleep. She hadn't meant to, but she was so drained from the day's events that as soon as her eyes closed, her mind clouded over and sleep came swiftly.
It was telling that though she'd struggled to find rest at home, hadn't felt the security needed to relax, she had found it here in Eric's calming clutch, his fingers drawing lazy shapes along her arm.
When Calleigh woke up, she felt herself wrapped in a blanket, her head resting against a cushion. It was dark outside, but she could barely remember how the sky had seemed when she had arrived here. She judged that based on his outfit, it had been late, and she felt a small pang of something. The television was buzzing quietly. She squinted, and only then did it really occur to her that this wasn't her television set, wasn't her couch or blanket or cushion. She twisted her body to face the ceiling but realized that her legs were caught. A glance in that direction found Eric sitting there with his eyes closed, his head slightly drooped to the side. Calleigh's legs were resting on Eric's lap, and one of his arms had entangled itself around her ankles.
She sat up as best as she could, trying not to wake him, and when she managed to get herself into a sitting position, she was momentarily struck by how close his face was to hers. She fought the sudden urge to touch him. Not in a sexual way – though she couldn't be sure it was entirely the opposite either – but it had been too long, and the morning's events had left her yearning for a time when they weren't wary around each other, didn't feel the need to deliver calculated words, when she could initiate or reciprocate a hug without the accompanying guilt.
She reached out and ran her fingertip along his jaw line, very lightly, and he responded with a throaty sigh. That wasn't enough to stop Calleigh, though every part of her body was screaming for her to do just that. But there was a disconnect between her brain and her hand, and she curved her palm against his cheek. Slowly, his eyelids lifted, and she watched as his eyes flitted quickly from her face to her hand, then back. His eyes closed again.
"Calleigh," he murmured. His voice was low, gravelly, and she shivered at the sound.
He shifted on the couch, but when Calleigh made an effort to move her legs off his lap, his hands kept them in place. He smiled and opened his eyes to look at her again.
"Hey," she whispered, feeling a smile of her own tugging at the corners of her lips.
"You fell asleep," he remarked groggily.
She smiled and something pulled at her heartstrings. "You did too," she replied softly.
He nodded and stifled a yawn. "Yeah." He paused, took a good look at her and squeezed her arm. "Do you want to talk?" Quietly, like he was scared to broach the topic, conflicted.
And while Calleigh's first instinct was to say no, a rational side told her that she needed to confide in someone, and she couldn't come up the name of with a single person she trusted more than the man sitting in front of her. She took a deep breath.
"He lied to me." She sighed, felt her defenses flying up. "Today," she reiterated. "He lied."
She looked up. "Does it matter?"
He nodded. "Yeah, it matters. Determines the size of the beating he's gonna get," he said playfully.
She chuckled, and her hand found his. "He didn't hurt me, but if he had—"
"You would've taken care of him yourself," he said, finishing her thought.
She nodded but didn't say any more, and she appreciated the fact that he didn't try to push it, waited for her to initiate again, but she didn't. It was enough for one night, and she was grateful that he understood.
"I've lied to you," he said suddenly.
She frowned. "About what?"
"Does it matter?" he teased, echoing her words from a few moments earlier.
He smiled. "Remember my first day on the field?"
She nodded. "Yeah, the Rutherford case. Pretty gory, if I remember correctly."
"The next morning," he said, a shade of embarrassment creeping up his cheeks, "you asked me if the case the day before bothered me, if I slept well."
She felt the nostalgia coursing through her and was momentarily awed by the very fact that he had remembered one of their first conversations. Then again, she realized, so had she. "You scoffed at the idea." She paused, considering where this was going. "That's your lie?" she asked incredulously.
"The smell of blood kept me awake that night," he recalled, and even now, his body tensed at the memory. "I was too proud and stubborn to admit it."
She gave his hand a hard squeeze, then cocked her head to the side. "That's the only lie you've told me in eight years?"
He thought about it for a moment and nodded. "Yeah."
Calleigh bit her lip. She was glad she was sitting down, because the simple rawness of his voice told her that it was true and the confession would've been enough to knock her off her feet. Though she'd known him for a long time, it never failed to astonish her when he was open with her, open and revealing. She could get used to this, she thought. But with Calleigh, it was always difficult to escape the associated guilt.
"I've lied to you more times than that," she admitted quietly.
She waited until her gaze was steady with his before speaking. "Every day, I lie to you. Every time I look at you and—" Her voice trailed off, and she took a deep breath. Swallowing, she rested her head on his shoulder again. "There are so many things I wish I could verbalize," she mumbled, frustration seeping through.
His hand moved to cup her cheek, and a soft whimper escaped her lips. She was too exhilarated by the electricity coursing through her, into him, from him, that she didn't even care that she had whimpered, because suddenly, it didn't matter what he knew about her. She didn't feel the need to gloss over how she felt around him. It was a reassuring thought. Comforting, on a night when very little could've comforted her.
"There's still time for that," he murmured, planting a soft kiss on her forehead.
Suddenly, Calleigh wanted to cry. She didn't, but she wanted to release the fears that had been plaguing her in tear form. It was too much that she had acted so nonchalant about her feelings, dismissed his, and at the end of the day, she had turned to him and he was there, ready to hold her and comfort her and whisper soft nothings into her hair. She didn't feel deserving of this amazing man. The culmination of the past few months crashed down onto her, trapping her, and it was him who was willing to push aside the debris to get to her.
"My whole life," she started, finally recovering her voice, "I've searched for simplicity." She ran her fingers along his ribs, liked the way his muscles tightened at her touch. "Jake is—" She took in a shaky breath. "He's not simple. I mean, he's simple to figure out, but he's not… simple." She chuckled humorlessly and buried her face deeper into his neck. "I'm not making any sense."
"I get it," he reassured.
"You always have," she replied with a light chuckle. "I'm sorry, Eric."
He shook his head, kissed her forehead again. "You don't have to be."
"I am, anyway." She released a breath of air she had been holding. "I didn't listen. To you, to myself, to anyone."
He gave her a soft nudge, and she pulled herself off his shoulder, looked straight at him. She saw it, saw him, saw all the bullshit he had been willing to put up with, just for a chance. Now the tables were turned, and she couldn't help but be afraid that he'd decide that he's put up with enough of her issues.
He ran a swift thumb over her lower lip, and her breath hitched. He smiled.
"It's not too late to listen."
She breathed a silent sigh of relief and reached up, a little hesitantly, but she reminded herself that this was Eric. This. Was. Eric. And years of suppressed affection managed the rest, pushed all inhibition to the farthest recesses of her mind, and as her lips touched his, she knew that this was it. No turning back, not only because she couldn't think of a single reason to, but also because when he sucked softly on her lip for the first time, it was like a switch permanently went off in her head. She was instantly hooked, craved more, felt the heat rising anywhere his hands wandered.
He was gentle, she noted, but his lips were urgent, and his fingers trailed goose bumps across her skin. It was too soon for this to go too far, so before either of them could lose themselves in the feel of the other, she pulled back and rested her forehead against his.
"I'm terrified of messing this up," she whispered, feeling his breath tickle her chin.
He leaned in for a second kiss, even more chaste than the last, and she knew that this was the way it was going to be for a long time, forever. She felt him smile against her lips, and when he pulled away and she opened her eyes, she didn't remember ever seeing something so gorgeous.
Eric's smile widened. "A very smart woman once said, 'Nothing is to be feared. It is only to be understood.'"
"Marie Curie said that," she commented.
"Yeah," he nodded, "and she's got two Nobel Prizes under her belt, so she must be right."
Calleigh smiled, felt genuine bliss for the first time in too long, and he made it easy. Made it easy to smile, to laugh, to forget that she'd almost lost her life earlier that day. Judging by the darkness outside, maybe it was already the next day, maybe she could already speak of her near-death experience using the word 'yesterday,' then later, 'last week,' 'last month,' 'last year,' and she hoped that all those words could be used with Eric by her side.
He took her hand and gently guided it to his chest, over his heart. He pressed her palm against it, and she felt his heartbeat pulsating underneath her fingertips.
"Don't be afraid of this," he told her, and she wasn't sure why, but in that moment, it was the most perfect thing he could've said. Her fear left; he had scared it off.
She closed her eyes, soaked in the feeling of their breaths mingling in the two and a half inches of air between them. "We can do this," she heard herself whispering.
He nodded in agreement, and she felt it against her forehead.
"We can do anything, Calleigh. Anything."