Hey guys! So I know that a lot of you have been politely nagging me to continue this story! I've wanted to, so very badly. But you've all jumped over to "This Woman's Work" anyway, so I'm happy that I could afford you some E/C cutness to make you happy while this was on hiatus. I mostly left this story alone for a while because I wasn't really sure where it was going. I mean, I knew and fundamentally, I still know. But it's taking a differen path and it's doing that on it's own. So I've decided to let it. This is where it forks away from the original plan and comes to where I've decided I like most of my CSI fics. It's living in their world as an entity all it's own. If that doesn't make sense to you, that's alright. As long as the story does and you enjoy it, I'm happy.
I know this is a short chapter. But I felt that elaborating further would take something away from it. I hope to keep updating this, side-by-side with "The Best of All Lost Arts" and while I'm still working out the basis for my "This Woman's Work" epilogue (which is basically a fic all it's own) I'm also running LOTSBigbang, a Legend of the Seeker bigbang challenge, if anyone's interested, over on LJ.
But enough of my shameless self-promotion. *g* I hope you guys enjoy this chapter and can welcome me back with open arms?
(Set post "All Fall Down" and considering everything has happened in the series except, Eric never left CSI.)
Feeling the vibration in his pocket as the doors closed on the elevator, Eric smiled as he pulled his phone out. He knew it'd be another message from Calleigh. They'd been messaging back and forth all day - everyday - and he knew it was purely because she was happy to have the freedom that had come from Stelter's incarceration. They could no longer feel his hot, sticky breath on the backs of their necks and Calleigh was taking full advantage of that - Probably even gloating a little, even though that was completely unlike Calleigh, because after her little run-in with Stetler, Eric knew she'd been on edge. He smiled inwardly, knowing that this new freedom would afford them more stability in their relationship and he looked forward to it.
Ever since they'd stood in the hallway, watching officers cart Stetler away, Eric had felt that it was incredibly ironic. For years they'd had Stetler breathing down their necks about regulations and rules and stomping around the lab trying to catch them all up on something, anything. For years he'd been trying to pin something on one of them, so that he could cover up the fact that all that time, it'd been him.
Calleigh had told him earlier in the morning, with that glistening grin, and that no-nonsense forth-rightness, that she knew he'd missed her and while he could have argued that he'd slept between her sheets - waking to hear her singing softly to the round of her belly - washed in her shower and cooked in her kitchen, each and every day, he simply grinned and nodded his head, accepting her glowing smile of pride and adoration as she cheerily marched away with a bounce in her step. It wasn't like he'd gone anywhere, but now that they no longer had to hide anything, he supposed she was right. He had missed her.
He loved that playful, innocent, giddy side of Calleigh that only came out every once and a while and really only came out with him. Occasionally the team saw it, he knew, like when they were all heading off for drinks and everyone was exhausted but Calleigh - even though, rightfully, she was the one that should be exhausted. Or when she'd hold super-bowl parties with fried chicken and mimosas even though she hated football and couldn't drink. But mostly, the rest of them didn't see that side of her. Deep down, Eric didn't care if the rest of the world saw it as long as he could wake up to that giddy smile and a giggle buried in a pillow that smelt like lavender, every morning when he rolled over and tickled her ribs or pressed an adoring hand to her stomach, feeling their baby move within her.
He knew the message was from her and with a smile on his face, he clicked to open it as the doors to the elevator opened on the floor of the crime-lab. Listening to them open before him, he took a step off as he tried to read the message. But there was nothing there, it was blank.
Eric frowned. Calleigh never sent him a blank message. And quite frankly, he couldn't imagine why she even would.
Confused, he lifted his head only for any thoughts to disappear from his mind in an instant. His phone was forgotten, the silence in the air muffled a whirring in his ears as his wide eyes scanned the area before him.
Everyone in the lab seemed to have fallen where they stood. Papers litered the floor, broken glass lay shattered on the orange linoleum as he studied the sea of white coats that lay sprawled before him. The largest heap in the centre of the hall, called to him like a beacon and in an instant, he was running towards it.
"Walter!" He called, slapping his cheeks to try and get a response out of him. "Walter, hey, hey!" He shook him, his panic rising to uncontrollable levels. The entire team was down. Through the door to the trace lab, he could see Ryan laying in a pool of shattered test-tubes and Natalia was three feet away with her face buried in her hair. He could hear the distant clicking of a clock and suddenly, his heart dropped into his stomach with a sickening dread. Where was Calleigh?
"Calleigh," He breathed, his panic taking over control of his feet as he launched himself from Walter's side. He feared for the lives of his friends, but his mind funnelled all thoughts into a single direction. Calleigh. He had to find her. She had to be okay.
He ran towards the Ballistics lab with his heart pounding in his throat. A million thoughts ran through him. Call 911, call H, call for any kind of back-up that could possibly reach him in a milisecond. But all of those thoughts came second to the need to move faster than his legs could carry him.
Though when he saw her there, sprawled on her side in the centre of the range, his feet seemed to find new momentum. He was by her side in an instant, dragging her body into his lap as he practically wailed her name.
"Babe, breathe, breathe," He begged, shaking her, holding her to his chest as he brushed long tendrils of golden hair from her face.
"You hear me?" He cried, cradling her head in his hands as her body slipped like a dead weight from his arms. Her arms slipped away from him, her hand stretching out across the floor because the fall of her limp body was beyond his control. "Calleigh," He wept, stroking her hair desperately but reverantly. "please." He touched his fingers to her throat, praying to feel the faintest beat of her pulse.
He didn't know what to do. She was unconcious. Barely breathing and as his eyes cast down to the round of her belly pressed to the cold floor, he felt like his heart was going to stop. Please. He begged, raising his tear-filled eyes to the ceiling as he chewed on his lips, not even caring that his lip was already red-raw. Please, I'll do anything, just save them. He was conciously aware that he was praying; something he hadn't found solice in since Marisol's death. But desperate times call for desperate measures and wrapping his arms around Calleigh, feeling the baby squirm within her as she lay prone, he knew that he'd finally reach the absolute of desperation.
"SOMEBODY!" He screamed, knowing that all ears short of the sidewalk were bound to be unconcious to his pleas. "Somebody help!" He continued to call, frenzied in his panic, holding Calleigh's motionless form as tightly to him as he could.
He knew that he needed to get out of there, he needed to get help. But, his first instinct was to protect this woman. His first instinct was to do everything in his power to make her breathe again. "Calleigh?" He sobbed against her chest, cradling her up above the ground with one strong palm pressed between her shoulder-blades and his other hand, curled desperately in the fabric of her blouse at her hip. Her head hung back, the length of her throat exposed to his falling tears as her hair trailed along the ground.
"No." He shook his head, grinding his teeth together defiantly. "Not this time." He stated, taking a deep breath as he slipped his arm under her shoulders. "Not again." He was defiant in his movements, determined in his will as he hooked his arm underneath her knees and swiflty hefted her tiny body into his arms. The added weight of the baby didn't even hinder him, because there was nothing that could have stopped him getting them out of there.
He didn't care how it looked. He didn't care to be counted as the man that went in and dragged his girlfriend and their child out of the life-threatening situation when there was well over a hundred other people, suffering just as she. He knew that Horatio wouldn't fault him for his choice to drag her to safety - if getting her out was simply enough - because Horatio had the same level of love and respect for Calleigh that he did, if it did take a different form. He would rationalize that she was the smallest, lightest, the easiest to carry and seven months into her pregnancy, she was the most at risk. And he'd be right and correct in stating those facts as the reasons why he bolted toward the elevator with her cradled in his arms.
No one needed to know that he'd stepped over countless unconcious bodies to find her in a haze of panic.
Stumbling into the elevator, he dropped to his knees with exhurtion as he reached up and slammed his fist against the button for the ground floor.
"Come on, Calleigh!" He called, shaking her again as her knees fell from his grasp and she lay half across his body, half across the floor again. "Please, Calleigh, you need to breathe."
He knew he was repeating himself. But he didn't know what else he could call that would make her wake up. Sweat broke out on his brow as he shook her, cradled her and caressed her face. Holding his fingers to her throat as he felt the faint beat of her heart keeping them both back from the brink of death.
He knew that as long as he felt the dull thud of her heartbeat against the tips of his fingers, his life would continue to matter.
"Eric, what happened?" The worried voice of Horatio reached his ears before he even realised that the doors had opened. He looked up, clawing at Calleigh to keep her body as close as possible to his own as his tear-filled eyes met those of his brother-in-law. Tripp, standing just shy of his left shoulder with a destraught look on his face, upon seeing the unconcious woman in his arms, let his mouth fall open in astonishment and abject fear.
"I thought," Eric choked, gripping her tighter and checking for her pulse again. "I thought that maybe if I could get her out into the air."
Horatio made his way towards Eric, almost as though he were approaching a sleeping lion. Stepping up to the pair bundled in a heap in the corner of the elevator. "What happened?" He breathed, knowing that time was of the essence, but needing to know.
"They're all down, H. Everyone, the whole lab. She's," His eyes dropped to Calleigh's face and the few errant strands of blonde marring the perfection with flyaways glistening from the sunlight coming through the open doors ahead. "she's not breathing."
To his credit, Horatio wasted no more time with questions. Eric could hear the sound of sirens peeling through the air, coming from a distance and in an instant, Horatio was back to his full height, turning toward Tripp as he issued his orders.
Eric was in a daze. He ignored the two men and their voices muffled by the sound of his own heart, pounding in his ears. He didn't hear the call that Tripp made, for more aid, for more ambulances, for hands, any hands to help them drag the poisoned to safety. And poison it was, he knew. There wasn't anything else that could knock down an entire lab of CSIs and cops without anyone seeing it coming.
Eric wasn't sure when he'd gathered her in his arms again and stood, but he knew that from the Ballistics lab to the elevator, to Horatio and now the stairs outside the crimelab, could only have been a matter of seconds. A whole minute, only maybe.
He held her body tight to his chest, feeling the rolling of her head against his shoulder as he made his way down, watching the flashing lights of the first ambulance on the scene. The back doors burst open and paramedics flew through the air. They gathered around him in a bustling cacophony of shouts and orders as they tried to take her from him. He wouldn't have it, though. Shock had set in and the idea that she just might never breathe again, that he just might never meet their baby, had taken over. He could see the gurney lying motionless in the back of the ambulance and he made a beeline for it.
The paramedics didn't force him to relinquish her, seeing that his mind was set in a singular direction and so obviously grateful that that direction got her exaclty where they needed her. Numbly, he fell against the bench in the ambulance, being jostled about as the paramedics hooked Calleigh up to all sorts of machines and a female paramedic strapped a fetal monitor around her stomach. As hands were pumped against her chest and a mask was placed over her mouth, forcing air into her lungs, he could feel the harsh fabric of her lab-coat against his fingers. Her coat had fallen open and the contrast between her cotton shirt and her polyester coat was startling in this silent, absent world he'd been thrust into. Nothing existed for him but the beeping of their two heartbeats on the machines, a dull rumble that he assumed was voices and Calleigh, laying on the gurney, unresponsive.
He could see one of her shoes laying forgotten on the floor of the ambulance. In their haste to climb in, one of the paramedics must have knocked it from her foot. Staring at the shiney black shoe, he was grateful that it hadn't fallen out the doors as they were slammed shut behind them and the ambulance hurtled off in the direction of Miami General. He was grateful because they were her favourite and they were the only high pair she still found comfortable after all these months.
He frowned, wondering why that even mattered in that instant.