Miami Fic Talk Challenge Prompt - #03 - Love
Fic - #18
A/N - Jake no longer works for the team, having gone back undercover.
Watching the old movies in her youth had always given Calleigh a sense of hope for Christmas. Seeing Judy Garland sing by the window, or all of New York come together for one man who claimed to be the big man himself, that was how she imagined Christmas with her own family to be.
Children poking at presents under the tree, groaning when the wrapped surprises felt like boring clothes; a husband bringing her a glass of wine and snuggling in on the couch to watch the same old movies and have that warm feeling spread from her eyes to her toes that told her she was living the dream.
It was actually happening. Maybe a little later than she had planned for at 12 years of age, but happening none the less.
Little Jacqueline was wrapped up tightly in bed, eyes finally closed. It had taken a number of attempts to get the five year old to realise that Santa only came when good little girls had slept all through the night and didn't wake up until it was at least daylight. Of course, she was a child of her mother's and didn't take orders – no matter how subtle – to heart all that easily.
She was told she was allowed to stay up a whole half hour past curfew, but had made it maybe fifteen minutes when her green eyes fluttered closed. She was carried to bed and hadn't stirred since, allowing the adults some time to themselves.
Calleigh tucked her legs further beneath herself and sighed contentedly into Horatio's chest. It was finally all coming together.
She could have kicked herself in that moment. She dared to think optimistically and in that instant came a knock on the door. She closed her eyes tightly; hoping whoever it was would just go away and let her enjoy the moment.
No such luck, as another knock sounded.
"Someone's got to answer it, or Jacquie will think Santa couldn't find the chimney and be down here in a flash," Horatio whispered into her hair, understanding fully why neither of them had moved.
"I was afraid you'd say that," she replied, peeling herself from his embrace.
She padded into the hall, stopping for a moment to see if she could hear any little feet running around upstairs, before opening the door and promptly wanting to shut it again.
"You haven't changed a bit, Cal," he smirked, looking her over in that way that had it been anyone else, it would have resulted in a burning cheek on him and a smarting hand for her.
She couldn't believe her eyes. She didn't know if she wanted to hug him or hit him. What the hell was he doing back there?
"What, no hug?" he asked.
"Mommy!" A voice shouted from above. "Mommy, is it time yet?"
She closed her eyes, all the breath escaping her body. She spun on her heel, "No, honey. Go back to sleep," she called up. Horatio appeared behind her, a hand on her shoulder. "I'll get her. Hello, Jake."
"Horatio…" Jake wasn't sure if it was a question or a statement.
Horatio disappeared upstairs, but Calleigh couldn't bring herself to move. Eventually she tore her eyes away from the confusion on her ex-beau's face and took her jacket from the hook behind the door. She ushered Jake outside.
They sat on the step for a while, neither quite sure how to start the conversation. "So, do you want to start with the questions, or should I?"
"You're a Mom?"
"I am. For the past five years," she smiled lightly to herself, arms hugging her chest against the chill that ran through her body.
"Five? Is he… she…?"
"Yours? Yes, she is."
He raked a hand through his hair, heaving a sigh with wide eyes.
"I found out I was pregnant when you went back undercover. I told myself that I wouldn't tell you until I could tell you in person. I was so excited, Jake. I kept imagining what words I would use, or if I would be showing already and wouldn't need to say a word. But…"
"But I never came back."
"No, you didn't." She turned to him, seeing the regret, the confusion and the smallest flash of excitement skim across his features at a hundred miles an hour. "I tried to find you. I called everyone I could think of, tried every avenue, but it was like you just dropped off the planet. I didn't know if I was more annoyed that I couldn't get a hold of you, or more scared. And then she arrived."
"You were alone?"
"For a while, yeah, it was just me and the baby. Horatio had been my rock, though. He helped me through every step, even calling people he thought could help get to you. Eventually… eventually I told myself that you wasn't coming back and found happiness somewhere else."
"With Horatio…" He breathed, gesturing to the rings on her finger.
She rubbed at the bands with a smile, "With Horatio. He's been amazing, Jake. He's so good with her."
"Does she… does she know about me?"
"She's still too young to fully understand, but she knows that she is incredibly lucky because she has two daddies. One who loved her but had to go away, and the one who choeses to love her."
He turned on his concrete seat, facing her with emotional, yet numb, eyes. "Calleigh, if I had known, God, I wouldn't have gone anywhere. I'm so sorry. I should have been here. I should never have accepted the assignment-"
She put her hand on his knee. "Jake, I know. I know, but life had to go on. It wouldn't have been fair to Jacqueline to have missed out on what Horatio has given to us."
"Mmhmm, Jacqueline Louise. Closest to 'Jake' for a girl I could find."
He smiled. "And Louise for Louisiana?"
"I wanted to make sure she knew her roots," she smiled, looking earnestly into Jake's eyes. She could see him still trying to process everything. She was still trying to mentally pinch herself that this moment was actually happening. She had imagined this conversation so many times over the years, but had eventually resigned herself to never needing to. She had even tried to tell herself that Jake was dead, she might never have known otherwise.
Calleigh had to laugh, though; Jake was never one for good timing. Christmas Eve nearly six years later and he decides to show up? She couldn't imagine what his brain was firing at him.
"How…how long you around for?" She asked.
It took him a minute to respond, his eyes cast to his feet in deep thought. "Erm, I-I don't know. I don't tend to think much past the present."
Calleigh smiled, he hadn't changed. "Okay, well listen. The ball is in your court now. Whatever you decide to do, we're going to be here. Like I said, I want our daughter to know where she's from, but that doesn't mean that you need to be here if you don't want to be. Horatio only wants what is best for Jacquie, so you don't have to worry about him."
"Does she call Horatio 'Daddy'?"
She nodded, knowing that that probably hurt Jake the most, but knowing that he would understand. Horatio was who Jacquie knew as a father, and Calleigh was so thankful.
"Do you…do you want to see her? She should be sleeping, and she's a light sleeper over Christmas, but if we're quiet?"
Jake smiled and nodded. He hauled himself to his feet and followed Calleigh inside. Maybe she hadn't changed physically, but everything else about her was different. She had a home now. A family home, with pictures on the walls and a toy box in the corner. It was everything she had ever wanted.
She guided him up the stairs, and through the door branded with a 'J'.
It was dark, save for a shaft of moonlight through a gap in the curtain, and an ocean-themed revolving night light. She put a finger to her mouth as she sat down on the bed, brushing away a fallen strand of hazelnut-coloured hair. She looked back to Jake with a beaming smile.
He stood in the middle of the room, hugging himself, watching the sleeping child intently. He almost looked scared.
Calleigh held out her hand, ushering him forward. He took a step and held to her hand, kneeling beside the bed. "She's beautiful, Calleigh," he whispered, his voice full of emotion.
Calleigh nodded, knowing it already. Jacquie was beautiful inside and out. Her Mom's green eyes, nose and cheek bones, but her Daddy's jaw line and chin. Her hair was a mix of both her parent's, along with her temperament.
Jacquie had inherited Calleigh's stubbornness and killer stare, but her Daddy's charm which had the same effect over Calleigh as it had from Jake all those years ago. Even though no blood, she could see so much of Horatio in the little girl as well, proving that nature didn't mean everything, that nurture really did have a say in a child.
"I've missed so much."
"There's plenty more to come, Jake," she whispered. They sat there for a while, staring at the child that would bind them together forever. His mind flashed with images of them as a family: Himself, Calleigh and Jacquie. The thought had certainly crossed his mind while away with the assignment, but he thought that he had well and truly missed the opportunity. Maybe he still had, but half of the equation was there: Jacqueline.
God, she was the most beautiful child he had ever seen. His baby girl.
They wandered downstairs afterwards, finding Horatio in the living room. "I thought you could use a drink," he told Jake, handing him a glass of scotch.
"You thought right," he replied, taking a large sip at the liquid. Calleigh disappeared into another room for a moment, leaving Jacqueline's two daddies alone.
"Jake," Horatio started, "I have to say something to you, and I don't want you to take it the wrong way. I was here for Calleigh when she was at her lowest over you. Although she can almost certainly handle herself quite efficiently, I have to say that if you hurt her –or that little girl- again, it won't only be Calleigh you'll have to watch for. Do you understand?"
"Horatio, believe me, I have no intentions to hurt either one. I was half expecting to return to the famous right hook anyway, never a kid though."
"She is an amazing little girl, Jake. A credit to yourself and Calleigh."
"And to you. You've raised her, and I thank you for that."
"It is my pleasure. I may be her Daddy, Jake, but I can never be her father. That will forever be your gift."
Calleigh returned and sat down at the kitchen table, Jake and Horatio joining her.
"I have to ask, Jake," she started. "Where the hell have you been?"
His hands encircled the glass, his eyes intently watching the liquid. "It's still not something I can openly talk about, but I was in Europe. I only stayed away for your safety, Calleigh. The people I was with…they would have stopped at nothing, you have to believe me. However much I hurt you, you have to know it was for your own good."
Calleigh nodded, still fighting the urge to punch him for all the pain his disappearing act had given her. She grabbed Horatio's hand at her side and he held on tightly, knowing that she wanted nothing more than to swing it at his face.
"I understand, Jake."
His eyes found the entwined fingers of his former love and his former boss, and he didn't know how much more he could handle. "I-I should get going." He stood up.
"Wait, I want to give you something." Calleigh took a picture from the mantle – herself and Jacquie at the park – and slid the photograph out of the frame. She scribbled Jacqueline's full name and date of birth of the back, along with her age at the time it was taken, and slid it back into the wooden frame. "Here. Whatever happens, you should have something of your daughter."
He stared down at the picture. "Thank you," he whispered, tucking it inside his leather jacket and zipping it up. He turned on his heel and walked out the door. Horatio slipped an arm around Calleigh's waist and held her tightly as she watched his figure disappear again.
Jacquie bounded down the stairs, almost two at a time, and threw herself on to her knees before the tree. "He came! He came!"
"Well, of course he did, honey. You've been very good this year," Calleigh beamed, taking a seat on the couch. She hadn't had much sleep that night.
Horatio sat down beside her, handing her a letter. "This was on the mat."
She sighed, recognising Jake's handwriting. Horatio went to his daughter's side, helping her to read the tags on her presents.
Calleigh took the letter from the envelope and unfolded it with a heavy heart.
The right decision has never been a strong suit of mine, as you well know. Whether my decision now is right or wrong, we will soon see, but it is the only fair one I can imagine.
Jacqueline has a family; a mother and father who love each other and love her. That is something that neither of us quite managed to find in our own childhood, and I'll be damned if I come in between that for our daughter.
I will think of her every day, and love her forever, but she is in good hands. Maybe when she is older, you can show her this letter and I hope she will understand that I stayed away for her own good. I'm not ready to be a father, I'm still too much of a child myself.
Stay safe, Calleigh. Take good care of yourself and your family.
A sigh escaped her as she folded the letter up again. She couldn't deny that a small part of her was happy. She was immensely happy with Jacquie and Horatio, she had built an amazing life for herself and was truly content. Yes, she would want Jacquie to know her father, and she would in time. When she was old enough, Calleigh and Horatio would sit her down and explain the whole situation to her. They would show her the letter, tell her how much her father instantly fell in love with her, and tell her all about Jake Berkeley. One day, when Jacquie wanted to, they would look for Jake again and go on from there.
Calleigh grinned as she watched Horatio's hands be swatted away as he dared to help Jacquie open her presents. She put the letter on the mantle, in the gap that once held the photograph, and kneeled down beneath the tree.
Horatio pulled her to him and kissed her hair, squeezing her shoulders affectionately. She smiled and kissed his lips, whispering "Just us."
Horatio nodded and kissed her again. "All we need, sweetheart."
Calleigh nodded and joined in the fun of Christmas morning.