Title: And She's Off
Rating: PG (Though some mention of Calleigh's past that mentions her father was a jerk, its quite mild.
Disclaimer: I do not own CSI: Miami or its characters. This is not intended as infringement, I am not making any money.
Summary: Another 'beyond the scene' Based on the episode "And They're Offed" this is a first time story for our girls that mostly centers on Calleigh…and horses. (Hey, its CANON bitches! Calleigh grew up around them!)
The Miami sun sank slowly toward the horizon, lending the dusty air over the barns a corona of fiery golden light as a parting gift. It winked gently from the still pond in the middle of the deep green oval and glinted off the coats of the two horses walking toward the petite blonde woman.
Dressed in solid black with her hair left free, she looked out of place – standing on her own feet in the heart of a world that rested on four, not two legs. Still, her faint nervousness eased a bit and she felt a grin edge her lips as Trevor approached riding a big chestnut gelding. A true southern gentleman, the boyishly handsome man dismounted and handed her the reins of an elegant dark bay mare.
"I'm glad you came," the groom said, a sparkle in his blue eyes.
The woman was as well, but not for the reasons Trevor was hoping for. Still, he was being kind and her smile in return was genuine.
"So am I," Calleigh Duquesne said softly, reaching out and stroking the mare's cheek. Wise, deep brown eyes regarded her knowingly and the touch of living satin beneath her fingers was like a line thrown from the past, hooking her memory and yanking the detective sharply back to a time long ago.
"Calleigh….Calleigh! Hurry up, we're gonna be late!" The shrill admonishment received no answer.
The early morning sun had just climbed above the tangle of tree limbs that formed the low skyline in rural Louisiana and already it was hot. Hot and sticky. No rain had come for weeks and the sky hung leaden above the road, dull and angry and unending.
Already yards ahead, Missy Swinton kicked a rock off the red clay dust of the shoulder of the road, ignoring it as it disappeared into the tall, unkempt grass. Her focus was on her traveling companion, who was currently ignoring her. Instead, the object of Missy's ire was leaning precariously through a wood and wire fence, trying with one hand to avoid catching her sundress and long golden hair on the barbwire while she stretched her other to its utmost length in the hopes of getting the magnificent creature in the pasture to accept her offering.
"Come on boy, just a little farther," Calleigh whispered softly, watching the (to her eyes) massive paint gelding who stood just out of reach, in turn watching the tiny intruder from the comfort of a tree's shade. Giant hooves occasionally stamped at some fly, and the thick tail made lazy swishing motions, but the horse himself seemed unconvinced that the small human's offering was worth moving himself from the shade.
"Calleigh if we're late to school and you're daddy finds out…." Missy trailed off, not finishing the sentence.
She didn't have to. They both knew what would happen. With a sigh more appropriate for a world weary adult than a tiny child, Calleigh Duquesne wiggled her way back through the fence and admitted defeat – again – in the quest to get one of horses in the Mundon's pasture to eat from her hand.
Brushing her dress off, Calleigh trudged dutifully to the road till she caught up with Missy, who immediately turned and marched toward school, head high and full of righteous indignation.
For her part, Calleigh couldn't stop sneaking glances over her shoulder until the road curved and the pasture with its magical creatures was blocked from sight.
Unfortunately, they were still late, and her daddy did find out. It was not the first time a young Calleigh had run crying from her house into a wet, warm Louisiana evening with her back and bottom stinging from her daddy's belt. It was however, the last time she'd leave without a purpose.
Still sniffling, the small blonde unsurprisingly found herself at a familiar wire fence just as daylight gave way to evening, painting the sky in deep reds and brilliant golds. In the light of the sunset, the horses seemed to glow as if touched by the Angels themselves and Calleigh forgot her pain, her anger and everything else as she just watched them graze quietly.
Totally in thrall, the tiny girl never heard anyone approach.
"Ah, so you're the one that Checkers keeps waiting for. Well come on then, you'll never pet him on that side of the fence."
Jumping so hard she nearly fell, Calleigh scrambled backward, only to be met by a wholly unexpected sight.
Standing not yards away was a slender, grey haired woman, whose face and forearms showed clearly the signs of a lifetime spent in the sun and elements. Her iron grey hair was still thick however, its length braided neatly down her back, and her sky blue eyes were sparkling above a kind smile. Still teetering on the edge of flight, Calleigh felt curiosity stir, and – as would be true for the rest of her life - it was her undoing. Straightening up, she stared at the woman she'd never seen before. The lady was currently dressed in a men's shirt and breeches, but most importantly (to a young Calleigh) she sitting atop a glossy grey gelding like she was part of him. The grey shifted to stamp at a fly, but the woman never moved.
Calleigh was in awe.
Nor were her surprises finished.
With a fluidity that belied her age, the woman dismounted and slipped the reins over the horse's head.
"Come on child," she spoke in an accent that revealed both Louisiana roots, and higher education; smooth and cultured and unlike the rough twang Calleigh heard on a regular basis at home. "I won't bite. Here, meet Cumulous."
And with that, the stranger placed her hand on the horse's neck and suddenly the small girl was nose to forehead with the giant gelding. His eyes were liquid and gentle and his breath when he sniffed her hand was soft. And his nose…his nose was like velvet and he clearly enjoyed her petting it. The gelding's eyes closed in pleasure as she scratched under his chin and the old woman chuckled.
"See you found his weak spot. Looks like you've made a friend"
It was the first time all day that Calleigh smiled.
After that she trailed after the old woman willingly, and in return, was introduced to Checkers (her paint she'd tried for so long to coax to the fence), Buddy (and aging show horse who was living out his retirement) Castor and Pollux, (two former hunters) and Cumulous (named after the clouds, she learned) who was Mrs. Laura Mundon's current project. Her husband long dead, Mrs. Mundon ran a small boarding and training stable, looking after horses and giving the occasional lesson.
"And I could use a little help around here. If you're interested of course."
The words were a gift, and for years afterward, if Calleigh was missing, one needed only to look to Laura's barn or the wooded trails beyond to find her.
Eventually the work and expense became too much for the aging widow and she sold the horses and property, but Calleigh never forgot the lessons she learned at that stable. From Mrs. Mundon (and her horses) Calleigh learned patience, forgiveness, and how to speak without words. She learned that the most pain riddles body can become beautiful when sitting in the saddle and that even children locked in their own minds smiled when they rode. The world always looked better from the back of a horse. Most importantly though, she learned to trust in herself, and to believe she could do anything. Horses slowly taught a young Calleigh that anything was possible.
That belief got her through high school and into college. It buoyed her through her time in the police academy, and steadied her when the head of the Miami Dade Crime Lab came to her with a job offer in one of the largest cities in the country.
The detective came back to herself, taking a deep breath and smelling as if for the first time the rich scents of fresh turned earth and grass, of hay and dust and horses that permeated the air of the track. She felt the peace of it settle over her. She and Trevor were alone with the horses, and as Calleigh swung her leg over the saddle, she wondered when she'd lost that belief. Had it been after Speed's death? Eric's shooting? Alexx's leaving? Had it been John's suicide, or Peter's betrayal or her own abduction?
When had she stopped believing in the possible?
When had she turned away from what could be?
The mare moved into a walk and the blonde's hips shifted automatically. Her memory and mind might be distracted at the moment, but her body knew what to do.
The bay shook her head as if in amusement at the silly human who couldn't even appreciate a simple ride without over thinking it and the ballistics expert had to smile at herself, even if there was a touch of bitterness to it.
"You look good up there," Trevor smiled.
Instead of responding, Calleigh let out a long breath and closed her legs. The mare had only been waiting.
Ears pricked and the detective felt as if a wave rolled beneath her, the almost forgotten sensation of power uncoiling forward under her as the dark horse gathered herself and leapt into a canter. There was a moment of uncertainty – like a surfer struggling to get up on the board – and then Calleigh's body fell into the mare's rhythm and suddenly, the blonde was flying.
She caught Trevor's surprised grin as the chestnut pulled even with his stable-mate, and then Calleigh leaned forward slightly and the mare lowered herself to the ground and found another gear.
The wind whipped through her hair and tore the laugh from her lips as horse and woman lost themselves in the sheer joy of running, and as it passed, it seemed to take from Calleigh the detritus of years: the regrets, the uncertainties, the scars around her heart – all were lifted – if only for moment.
"For someone who hasn't ridden in years, you sure can sit," Trevor teased gently as they put up their tack and finished cooling out the horses.
Calleigh ducked her head and smiled before turning and standing on tiptoe to kiss the young man on the cheek.
"Thank you Trevor, this meant a lot."
Blue eyes danced. "Well, how bout you make it up to me. Dinner?"
"I'd love to sometime, but there's something I have to do tonight," the detective replied, her thoughts already turning in another direction. She'd felt free tonight, for the first time in years, and with that freedom had come desire…and daring.
The drive from the track wasn't overly long, but it took an effort on Calleigh's part to hold on to what she'd felt galloping nonetheless.
Still, she told herself silently, it would be worth it. She was done doubting.
The doorbell sounded quietly in the distance and Calleigh had one brief moment of fear that she wasn't home….and then the door opened to reveal startled brown eyes.
"Calleigh? What…I mean, is everything ok?" Natalia stood in the doorway, obviously not long from the shower with her hair still wavy and damp, in a pair of faded jeans and an old fitted t-shirt. Confusion was written large on her elegant features, but Calleigh saw something else there too, something she had hoped to find, but had been afraid to look for, lest it be absent.
"No, Nat everything's fine." The detective smiled, well aware of what she was about to drop on her colleague, her friend, and maybe, hopefully….something more. Anything…. her heart whispered to her with the sound of hoofbeats, Anything is possible.
Holding Natalia's eyes, she spoke. "I just wanted to say thank you, for all your help on cases lately. It's been great to have you in the field." Calleigh paused, watching the words sink in and the emotions flicker across Natalia's features. "And I wanted to tell you how proud I am of you," the blonde continued softly. "You've come so far as a CSI. I don't think anyone's ever said anything and I wanted to."
The stunned, awed look on Natalia's face and the sudden gentle shine of her eyes was all the response Calleigh needed.
The detective wasn't quite finished however. Moving carefully so not to startle the younger woman, Calleigh took a step closer, stood on tiptoe and kissed Natalia gently on the cheek. The touch was feather light, but the swift intake of breath and the fluttering of Natalia's eyes told the ballistics expert that its impact was as great as she'd dared hope.
And that meant her work here was done. Smiling, the detective turned.
"I'll see you tomorrow Nat. Have a good night."
She hadn't gotten more than three steps when her name, spoken in a voice that only cracked a little, stopped her.
Turning, the blonde found Natalia had followed her down the steps and was standing close again. In the dim light of the porch lamp, her eyes appeared black, reflecting the street lights like regular stars.
"Would you uh." Natalia blew out a breath, straightening and clearly composing herself. Calleigh thought it was endearing.
"Thank you, Calleigh. That means…more than I can say."
The blonde simply nodded, waiting.
"I uh, I was just about to fix dinner, would you like to stay?"
Calleigh's smile nearly split her face.
"I'd love to."
Natalia's in return, was equally bright.
Turning, the brunette gestured for Calleigh to enter as she held the door. As her obvious surprise faded, Natalia's eyes took in the detective's outfit for the first time.
"So, Cal, you wanna tell me why you're wearing knee high leather boots. I mean don't get me wrong, it's sexy as hell, but I didn't peg you for the leather type, Ms. 'I'm a southern lady' Duquesne,"
"Do you want the short answer, or the long answer?"
"The long one, of course."
"Well in that case, I have to tell you about this pasture by my house when I was a little girl…."
The two women disappeared into the house, the night outside quieting as the door closed on the sound of gentle laughter, and possibility.