A/N: As much as I don't celebrate Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa), our CSI's obviously do so I thought I'd write a nice little one shot in the spirit of the season. Just for the record, I'm a native Chicagoan. And yes, you can actually get all the decorations at a big box store.
Making the Best of It
Eric sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was frustrated and angry and unhappy and homesick....and a million other things at the moment; none of them pleasant. "No, mami, I'm not going to make Noche Buena this year.......Yes, I'm sure. Unless we catch our killer in the next couple of days, I'm going to be stuck in Chicago for Christmas........I know........No, mami, this has nothing to do with who my birth father is. I really am in Chicago. There's snow and ice and we're supposed to be getting something called an arctic blast this weekend. The guys at the Lab here says it's going to be bone-chilling cold. I don't know how they live up this far north.......Of course I'm not alone. Calleigh is with me.......Si, mami, I will. I promise to call on Christmas.....I love you, too."
Calleigh stepped back into their common area in their extended stay hotel suite. She was heavily bundled in a sunny yellow turtleneck and royal blue sweater which set her pale blonde locks off like a Scandinavian halo. She looked, for all the world, like she just came off the slopes and was ready for some hot chocolate. She wasn't weathering the cold any better than Eric was, but the bite in the air made her cheeks flush with an endearing pink. "Well, I'm done updating Horatio. He's not happy, but he's faxing more information down to the Lab later today. Hey, what's wrong?"
"I just had to call my mom and cancel out on Noche Buena. She didn't take it well. It's the first time that I've ever missed out," Eric said, his back to her. He didn't want her to see how sad and disappointed he really was.
Without seeing his face, Calleigh could tell that he was hurting just from the slump of his shoulders to the tone of his voice. She knew how close he was to his family and how much the holidays meant to him. He had always glowed for weeks anticipating the all night Cuban community celebration of Noche Buena, or Good Night, and had even invited her to join his extended Cuban/ Russian family this year. She had been secretly and deeply touched that he thought her so dear in his life that he'd invite her. Then again with what she had read regarding his feelings toward her in his therapist's notes, she wasn't all that surprised. She had meant to bring up the subject of "them" after gaging his parents' reaction to her being there. She wasn't really concerned about his father, whom, after Eric had been shot and she became a veritable fixture in Eric's hospital room, started to refer to her as his Little Babushka. No, it was his mother that she was concerned about. Eric was Carmen's only son and by that reason alone, no woman on the planet was good enough for him. Calleigh hoped to make just passable in that regard. Now, being trapped in the frozen North, she would have to wait for another opportunity to feel out his folks.
Calleigh stood behind him and embraced him, her head resting on his back. His hands suddenly clasped hers. She hoped that he was taking comfort in her simple gesture and from it's return, she knew he was. "I'm so sorry, Eric; I know that call had to be hard for you. I'm so sorry that we couldn't wrap this up sooner and be home for the holidays. You must be so homesick right now. If I had more than little Winnie to come home to, I'd be feeling pretty awful right now, too."
"Do you miss him?" Eric asked suddenly, thinking of the funny little lizard with big amber eyes that Calleigh had rescued from a crime scene the previous spring. She lavished attention and affection on the thing, even to buying it all manner of treats and toys. She carried it on her shoulder around her Lab when she was processing paperwork and read all the details of the case files to it. At first he had loathed it and wanted to smash it into oblivion with the nearest shovel. But, over time, he had come to actually sort of like the little thing. If Calleigh could find sweetness and beauty in something so unlikely as a bearded dragon, then, it had to have some redeeming qualities. As attached as she had become to the lizard, Calleigh must be missing him something terrible.
Calleigh was taken off guard. "Who, Winnie?"
"Well, sure I do, but Natalia is taking good care of him for me. He likes her. She even held the phone to his ear yesterday so I could say hi. It was pretty silly but it made me feel better. I miss reading to him and feeding him and playing with him," Calleigh said, suddenly missing the small reptile all the more. She found contentment in knowing that Natalia and Maxine, on Nat's days off, were taking excellent care of him. Knowing those two, they were probably spoiling him rotten. Maxine probably already had him addicted to pinky mice, which Calleigh refused to feed him. She couldn't bring herself to give him a live and squirming hairless baby mouse. Crickets and meal worms, sure; mice, no.
"We're stuck here for Christmas," Eric said suddenly.
Calleigh sighed. "I know and I'm sorry about that. Serial killers have that kind of unidentifiable untraceable annoying quality to them that they can't be found fast enough. Maybe he'll screw up and we can get him today. Let's think positive."
"What if we can't get him today or tomorrow or this week?"
"Well, our Lt. has invited us over for Christmas dinner and I'm sure there's a good Catholic church around here so that you can go to Mass," Calleigh supplied helpfully.
"Yeah, I guess," Eric said listlessly.
She studied him carefully. He was far more down than she had seen him in a long while. Calleigh thought desperately; she had to do something to lift his spirits. His blue mood could actually get him sick. It was a known fact that when people became depressed, their immune system dropped markedly and they inevitably got sick. Neither of them could afford to get sick in the middle of this investigation. "I think that this year, we need to create our own tradition."
"What do you mean?" Eric asked, mildly intrigued. Calleigh never got excited about the holidays and Eric now realized it was because she really didn't spend them with anyone. She worked on Christmas Eve and Day as well as New Years. It was the one time a year that she willingly took a position on the Night Shift so that someone could have the night off. He suddenly felt terrible for her. She was alone on Christmas every year while he was surrounded by family and friends.
"Well, we're both from Miami, right? Evergreens, while they might grow wild out in the Everglades, aren't exactly a good landscaping choice and almost everyone's indoor trees are artificial. We're palm trees and sand, bright colors and Cuban music. We're more Feliz Navidad than White Christmas, right?" Calleigh asked, a clever idea beginning to grow in her mind. She continued to voice her thoughts, becoming more excited about them by the moment. "Well, why don't we create a Miami Christmas right here in the hotel room? We'll go out and get a fake palm tree and some lights and ornaments, get everything we can possibly think of that reminds us of all the good things at home and then create a unique home away from home celebration for just us."
Eric, imagination beginning to churn, caught up with her excitement. "We've got that little galley kitchen. I bet if we planned carefully, we could make a feast for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! We can get chili pepper lights, turn up the heat and wear shorts and have mojitos and pork and mojo!"
Calleigh grinned at Eric's sudden enthusiasm. "We can find salsa music on the radio and dance until dawn. And we can make everything up so that it's meaningful to only us. This time it's ours and only ours. What do you say, Eric?"
Eric returned her grin, his earlier sadness fading away against the bright prospect of he and Calleigh creating something new and fun together; of them creating something together and of being together on the holiday. "Yeah, I like it! This will be just for us."
Dragging in the wooden palm tree and the other decorations had the other hotel residents raise an eyebrow at the southern couple, but no one ventured a word in their direction, It was common gossip around the hotel that they were Miami police hunting down a dangerous fugitive. If they wanted to be...unique, even quirky, on their off time, no one dared say a word. They had heard the woman was the most deadly shot in a five state area and seemed to wear the gun at her hip like another fashion accessory. No one was willing to test that rumor out.
Eric had gone to put the milk on to warm for their evening hot chocolate while Calleigh finished the last of their Miami inspired decorations. The chili pepper lights hung from the doorways and a lighted parrots and palms string of decorations hung in the window. The tri-level palm tree set had been put up in front of the window and they had managed to find the brightest sets of multi-colored lights they could and those now graced the tree, all along with tropical looking bird ornaments with real feathers and sea shells they bought at a local crafter's emporium. Their tree skirt of choice was a brightly colored beach towel. They had laughed and cried out in surprise and delight as each of the odd decorations showed up at the Lab almost all at once. Ever being mysterious, they kept their purchases to themselves and squirreled them back to the hotel where a tropical paradise began to unfold under their capable hands.
Calleigh fastened the last bird to the smallest palm trio and stood back, surveying her handiwork. "There, I think that does it, Eric. How's the hot chocolate coming?" she asked.
He carried in two steaming mugs, handing her one. He smiled at her, counting himself fortunate that she was the one that Horatio chose to send with him instead of Wolfe. "Here you go."
"You know that we're going to have to take pictures of all of this just to show everyone back home. They'd never believe it otherwise," Calleigh said, gently sipping her chocolate. She had changed from her ever present sweaters and turtlenecks into a tank top and brightly colored gauze skirt. She felt wonderful for the first time since coming to the land of ice and snow. Even the below zero temperatures outside the window couldn't dim her spirits.
"Is it ready to light up?" Eric asked, feeling pretty happy, himself. He, too, had changed from his ever present sweaters into a t-shirt and shorts.
"Just about. It just needs one more thing," Calleigh said, going to her room and rummaging around a little. She came back out with a brightly wrapped gift and placed it under the palms. "Now we can light it."
Eric put his mug down and went into his room, also returning with a brightly wrapped package, placing it next to hers. "Let's light this baby up and take some pictures."
Calleigh shut off all the lights while Eric manned the extension cord and surge protector. Once the last light went out, Eric flipped the switch and the trees and window décor lit the room. It should have been soft and tranquil like traditional Christmas lights, but it reminded them of the neon lining Collins.
"Well, that's bright," Calleigh observed with a laugh.
Eric joined her. "It's what we were going for. This is utterly ridiculous, you know that."
"I know, but I don't care. This is fun. You're supposed to have fun around the holidays, right?" Calleigh said, plopping down on the couch.
Eric joined her."Yeah. You know, I want to invite our Lt. and everyone from the team here to have a little bit of Miami. It's no fair to hog the gaudiness and neon to ourselves. You know they were dying to see what we had delivered."
Calleigh thought for a while before answering. She had certainly become fond of the Chicago team in a very short time. That they'd been offered much holiday cheer and generosity from each team member made her want to reciprocate. "Alright, I don't want to be selfish, but after Christmas."
"This Christmas is ours, right?" Eric said, smiling down at her. Even in the gaudy lighting, she looked beautiful to him.
Calleigh sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder. "Right."
"Go on, open it," Calleigh said, handing Eric his present. She was just about bursting with excitement, knowing he would love his gift. It had killed her that she had to wait so long already.
Eric raised an eyebrow. "Calleigh it's only Christmas Eve morning. We still have to go to work and isn't it traditional to wait until tomorrow morning?"
She shot him a challenging look. "Whose tradition would that be, Eric?"
"You're right; this isn't anywhere near traditional," Eric replied, handing her his. He knew she'd love it. He'd seen the way she had looked at it and noticed how her fingers had trailed across it in the little boutique while they had been tracking down a lead the other week. He went back that very day on his lunch break and bought it. "On three?"
Calleigh's eyes danced. "On three."
On the exact count they each tore into their respective wrappings and each looked up at the other in delight.
Eric turned the book over in his hands. "Treasures Lost at Sea: Diving to the World's Great Shipwrecks". Calleigh, I've been really wanting this but it's been out of stock everywhere I looked. How did you find it?"
"A girl has her little secrets. Eric, this scarf; how did you know?" Calleigh asked, awe in her voice.
"I saw how you looked at it in the store and I knew you wanted it but we were working and you couldn't buy it," he said, taking the hand painted silk scarf from her hands and draping it around her neck. The peacock blues and greens and purples set off her eyes in the most electric emerald he'd ever seen and he was suddenly glad that he'd been watching her that day instead of the lead. "It's beautiful on you."
Calleigh felt herself blush at the look in his eyes and looked down at her hands. Now had to be the time. It was still a couple of hours before they were expected in. The city lay in a pre-dawn slumber and it seemed as if she and Eric were the only two people in the world.
Her voice was a soft whisper, "I read your file and know what you said and before you say anything now, I want to have my say. I've had strong feelings for you for a while now but I know I'm not necessarily a great catch. I have my dad's issues and trust issues and I find it hard to be open with anyone for so many reasons that I never once thought of being more than friends with you. I've underestimated you and your ability to accept anything and everything. You know me better than anyone in the world and you still said what you did to your therapist; that you could still settle down with me."
Eric was confused. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that I know how you feel about me and I don't know what I've been waiting for since then," Calleigh said clumsily. She had always been terrible with verbally expressing her feelings. She gave up the pretense of trying to talk and leaned forward, gently brushing her lips across his in the most feather light of kisses before pulling back, her slowed, seldom used and clumsy romantic mind finally finding the word she wanted. "Yes."
He sat stunned, his lips tingling from her teasingly light kiss. Then her "yes" crept into his realization and he pulled her forward by the scarf ends still in his hands until their lips met more solidly. He let go of the scarf and pulled her closer to him before relinquishing her lips. "So there's an "us" now? Are you sure about this? I don't want to push you into-"
"Eric, I've never been more sure and I've been an idiot to let it go this long without saying anything," Calleigh said, snuggling up to him. It was perfect, really, the way her body fit in his arms. "Let's just go slow and let things happen when they will."
Eric kissed the top of her hair, fingers playing with the ends. "I've waited this long to hold you and kiss you; I can be patient and see what happens."
"I'm not being a tease, you know. I just don't want us to go too fast and create regrets along the way. I've been down that road before," she said, tracing lazy circles on his chest.
"I understand; so have I. You're not being a tease, but I am," he said, placing one of his own feather light kisses on her lips before pulling away entirely and turning on the trees. He returned to the couch and gathered her back in his arms. "I want to be a little selfish and have you all to myself before I have to share you with the world."
She cuddled up to him, enjoying the effortless intimacy they had already found in each other. Sudden excitement and a sense of deep contentment rose up in her. "I'm feeling selfish, too. I'm not sharing you with anyone until I have to."
"Good, that's settled then. We're selfish," Eric said, leaning down and kissing her again. He was contented and could easily stay that way all day. If they played it carefully and it was truly meant to be, then there would be a lifetime of selfish moments just like the one they were having. Eric could live with that.