Post 7x25 - 'Seeing Red'. I just had this fleeting image of Calleigh going to Eric's mother, of all people. Most of this story is based on the expression on her face in the last seconds of the episode, because it nearly ripped my heart out. *Applauds* Emily Procter.
Title based on the ABBA song "The Winner takes it all." Which consists of my favourite lyrics of all time - "The gods may throw the dice, their minds as cold as ice. And someone way down here, loses someone dear."
She'd heard Sharova's words. Eric was bleeding, he was hurt. She could barely breathe as the images of his dead body, floating through the everglades, came unbidden to her mind. Calleigh could barely breathe at the notion of it, barely consciously control her thoughts, her words.
"We can't lose him." She whispered, as close to Horatio as she could manage without throwing herself against him and weeping in his arms.
"I'm not gonna let that happen." He answered and if she was capabable of thinking about anything other than Eric in that moment, she would have noticed the tone of his voice, the reassurance of not only her, on an intimate level -because he knew more about her relationship with Eric than she'd ever admitted out loud- but of himself because Eric was family. She watched him walk towards the water in a rare moment with his eyes unguarded and his heart out on his sleeve, she watched him walk towards the edge of the water, turn his eyes out to the horizon before he covered his hope with his glasses.
There were footprints in the mud and as the wind whipped her in the face, sending her hair flapping around her like a vibrant golden curtain, she allowed herself to hope that the ever-teased 'Diver Man' had swam himself to safety. But it was a more than hopeful thought, a wishful thought that slowly broke down as she followed the path Horatio had taken to the water's edge. She tried to keep herself composed, tried to keep herself from breaking down. But fear was setting in, guilt, hate, shame and an agonizing fear as her tears cascaded down her face. She had argued with him, she had faught with him and she was hating herself for walking away from him without telling him how much she cared. That she said the things she said, because she cared more than she understood.
She could hardly breathe, almost stopping in her path she let her hands fall to her knees, bracing herself as her body wracked with sobs. She tried to keep walking, keep her legs moving. But her lungs were losing out from her tears and as she caught her heel in the mud, she felt Horatio's arms around her shoulders only seconds before she expected to feel her face impact with the ground.
"Calleigh," He urged. "-Calleigh, breathe." He encouraged, holding her close to his chest as she fought to get her tears under control. When she was finally breathing more evenly, she felt his hand moving in a soothing pattern up and down her back. "We're not going to lose him." He insisted, holding her tighter and she nodded against his chest, hating that she was likely leaving mascara stains on his blue striped shirt.
"We can't." She whispered again.
Having a sudden thought, she broke away from his hold. Staggering across the patch of mud, trying to avoid stepping in the footprints Eric had left, Calleigh found herself running towards the track that ran adjacent to the large mass of water beside them. "What if he's still out here, Horatio?" She called, jogging as best she could in mud and heels, ignoring his pleading expression, his miserable silence. She stopped, halfway down the track - and more out of breath from tears, than running - she stared back at him. "Horatio, we have to look, we have to try."
He nodded. Turning around, he waved his arm up over his head and she noticed Frank had been standing by, watching her break down with a hand-full of uniformed officers behind him. Momentarily, she wondered what it had all looked like to them. But with Frank's kind eyes set on her, heading boldly in her direction, she lost the urge to care. Horatio ordered them to search the area, called in a helicopter to keep looking as Calleigh set out on foot through the sludge and the wind, searching, hoping.
"Is she alright?" Natalia asked, walking up behind Ryan who was watching Calleigh through the windows of the breakroom. She was sitting on the lounge, her legs tucked under her and an un-touched cup of coffee, rested in her lap. "She's been sitting there a while."
"Going on two hours." Ryan clarified, crossing his arms over his chest with a frown.
"If this is about Eric's disappearance-"
Ryan cut her off, turning towards her quickly. "Look, she searched on foot for nearly five hours. They scoured those glades and nothing, they found nothing but a set of foot-prints leading into the water. Not a drop of blood, not a single piece of evidence to go on."
"Ryan, i'm not saying that-"
"Natalia, I know, it's just," Ryan breathed out, scrubbing a hand over his tired eyes. "-she thinks she shot him. He was driving out of that warehouse with Sharova in the car, he was in the middle of the fire-fight and you know how good a shot she is," He turned back to Calleigh who'd taken to running her index finger around the rim of the cup almost reverantly. "-worst of all, she knows how good a shot she is. If she did hit him and he's out there-"
"-then she's going to be thinking he's out there, hurt and it's her fault." Natalia's eyes widened, setting on the other woman as she let her chin fall to her chest.
"She should go home." Ryan spoke softly. "But I'm afraid that she'll insist on going alone."
"Ryan, it's Calleigh."
Natalia sounded hopeful. As if stating that this woman before them was Calleigh Duquesne in the flesh, could ease their worry just an ounce. But both knew it couldn't and both knew that at the slightest offer either of them handed up to accompany her home, she'd shoot them down and insist she was fine. Calleigh Duquense, the queen of 'I'm Fine' would send them packing with a kind smile and a quiet appreciation. They needed to find another way.
Before they could disband, however, Calleigh stood up from the lounge and set her cup in the sink before heading in their direction. "Hey guys." She smiled softly as she walked over to them.
"Hey Calleigh," Ryan answered, leaning his head closer to her height as she set her eyes on the floor. "-you're alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." She dismissed him with a brighter smile, though it still didn't reach her eyes. "I'm just really tired, I think i'm just going to head home."
"Are you sure you should go alone?" Natalia blurted and Calleigh chuckled almost humorlessly.
"Doesn't really matter, does it." She answered softly. And they could feel that she'd given up the fight with her facade. She was calm, she was collected, but she had lost the incentive to lie in order to appear, to the world, as if she really was fine. "Goodnight." She whispered and she was gone before they could muster a reasonable response.
Calleigh started out of the parking lot, intent on heading home. But she could still smell him in her car, she could still hear their heated argument on repeat in her head and as she came to her turn she felt her heart churn at the idea of stepping into her house alone. She hadn't slept alone since he was freed from jail and she could either thank or blame Sharova for that, depending on the situation. But ultimately she did appreciate that he'd given Eric back to her, even if he was never to know that he had done it. She just couldn't forgive him this.
Eric was loyal, to a fault. If he found a quality in a person, something worth fighting for, something worth protecting, he would hold on to it. It's part of why she loved him, part of why she knew the team would be less without him. A part of her feared that Sharova had seen it in him, taken what he needed and used it, used him. She didn't want to believe it. She wanted to trust Eric's father as much as Eric himself, seemed to want to. But he was out there, somewhere, and if it wasn't her fault then it was his.
Making a left instead of a right, Calleigh gave up willing her brain to take her home to her empty house where she'd be bombarded with memories of three months of his laughter, kisses and promises, flooding back to her. She let her heart drive and with heavy breath and a heart beat wilder than a beating teiko drum, she found herself in Little Havana, pulling up in front of the cute stone-washed house with the terracotta roof tiles she'd visited more times in the last month than she had ever set foot in Little Havana in her life.
Knocking on the door, she tried her hardest to even out her breathing, to will her tears down and clear her eyes before anyone greeted her. Licking her bottom lip, she startled a little, when the heavy wooden door opened to reveal the woman who stood eye to eye with her, if it weren't for her four inch heels.
"Carmen, I," She tried to speak, but as she set her eyes on those of the woman before her, her throat closed over and her tears came again. "-I didn't know where else to go." She whispered, allowing the woman to take her into her arms and pull her into the house.
"Calleigh, mija, what's wrong?" Carmen wrapped her arm around her shoulders, holding her close to her chest and brushing her fingers through her hair.
"It's Eric," Calleigh cried, pulling away to look into her eyes. "-there was a shooting today. There was so much confusion and I didn't know Eric was-" She breathed. "-I didn't think that..."
"Shhh," Carmen soothed, running her hand along her back. "It's alright, mija."
"No, it's not. He was there and I shot and I didn't know he was in the car but," Calleigh stepped away from her, pressing her palms against her eyes as if she could physically push the tears back down. "-I shot him, Carmen. I shot him and I love him, but he's missing and we searched for hours. I was walking out in those glades in these ridiculous shoes and I couldn't find him, I couldn't..."
Carmen rushed towards her, grabbing her elbows, trying to calm her as she brushed her hands up and down her arms. "Calleigh, it's alright." She smiled. She smiled honestly, she smiled whole-heartedly and Calleigh paused. Her tears stopped for a moment and her heartbeat evened out as she followed Carmen's eyes.
They drifted from her face, over her shoulder and out past the hall, to where the loungeroom met the kitchen. Calleigh turned, afraid of what she'd find there but unwilling to back down from her fears.
But when her eyes fell on him, her heart warmed and her feet sent her flying into his arms. He met her halfway, wrapping his good arm around her waist as her arms wrapped around his neck and she buried her face in his throat. "Eric." She breathed and his arm around her waist tightened, holding her as close to him as he could get her before she leant back to study his face. "I thought we'd lost you." She whispered, reaching up to cup his cheeks, running her thumbs over his cheekbones as she smiled.
Neither of them noticed his mother leave them alone.
"I'm here, Cal." Was his answer and she could feel that he was in pain, but his hold on her was as determined as hers on him and so, she kissed him with all that she had before burying her face in his neck again.
"Why didn't you come back to the lab? How did you get out of there?"
"It's too dangerous, Cal." He breathed. "If I'd gone back to the lab, they'd have known I was alive, I swam through the glades as far as I could get and walked the rest. I couldn't let them think that i was alive. I couldn't put the team in danger like that."
"But you let me think i'd killed you. Eric, we searched for hours."
"I know," He gently reached up to brush a hair out of her face. "-and i'm sorry. You didn't hit me, Calleigh. It was stray fire. I pulled the bullet out in the glades, myself. It wasn't one of yours."
Calleigh gently reached up to run her hand gently over the bandages covering his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Eric."
"Because I didn't trust you. I was hurt and I felt betrayed, but the worst thing is that I didn't trust you to do the right thing in regards to your father. I just want you to know that i'm sorry."
"You've got nothing to be sorry for. You were trying to protect me."
She nodded, not sure of what she could say to emphasize how truely thankful she was that he was alive. "So what are we going to do?" She asked, kissing the edge of his bandages.
Eric dropped his good arm from around her waist, leaning a little back from her in order to reach between them and run his thumb along her badge that was rested against her hip. She felt an involuntary shiver, when his thumb missed on the third stroke and brushed the tiny patch of bare skin peaking out between her shirt and her pants. Pulling the badge off her waist, he raised it, staring at it and Calleigh furrowed her brow when he looked up at her.
"We can run." He whispered, still holding the badge between them and Calleigh knew what he was asking.
"Eric, you're not in trouble. Horatio wants to have you back and safe as much as I do, everyone does."
Reaching up, he brushed his fingers through her hair, watching the blonde locks trickle over his hand. "It's not about that."
"They know about you, Cal. My father knew about you and I because Sarnoff knew. We can run, we can hide and I can protect you as well as you can protect me, but I don't want to drag them all with us."
"They can help us, Eric." She pleaded, hoping she could persuade him to see. But he was determined, it was part of why she loved him. But she was just as bull-headed as he was, sometimes.
He shook his head, before resting his forehead against hers. "No, they can't. They may think they can and heaven help them for trying, but they can't, Cal, and we both know it."
"Eric," she breathed. "-we can't let them see that we're afraid." She reached up to cup his face. "If we're afraid then they can break us. If we run, they'll find us one day. We need to stay here, we need to face this. And we need to do it with our friends, Eric."
"I won't risk your life." He whispered, letting a single tear fall.
"And you think I feel differently?" She smirked. "Eric, I trust you with my life, you know that. But this time, you're wrong. We can't run." She narrowed her eyes, focusing on his with a stark intensity that almost made him shiver as she lowered her voice. "We can't run." He studied her face for a moment, feeling the cool breeze from his mother's back patio brushing against his bare back as they held each other, locked in a battle of wills. A battle that she was winning.
He was terrified for their lives. If Sarnoff had known about them, who else may know. If they could get to Sharova, break him, threaten him, who's to say they wouldn't go for them. Who's to say they wouldn't go for Calleigh. He didn't know if they'd hide out at her house, wait until the dead of night, before making their way silently into her home, covering her mouth with a sweet smelling rag and dragging her off into the darkness. Sleeping peacefully beside her, he'd had that very dream, but never before had he felt it could actually come true. Now she was asking him to risk all that, because she was too proud to run.
"Cal," He breathed, biting his bottom lip.
"Eric," She dropped her hands to his biceps, gripping hard as if to emphasize her point. "We can't run."
He wanted a life with this woman. Point of fact, he wanted to live long enough to have a life with her. He just couldn't see how standing stock still and facing the charging bull, was going to help at all. He'd never been a man who ran from his fears. But he was thinking about early morning smiles, picnics on the beach and children with her smile. He needed to protect that future with everything he had.
"Okay." He nodded and her smile slowly spread on her face.
"Okay?" She questioned, making sure he was sure.
"If you think we can do it, Cal, then we can do it."
"I do," She smirked, resting her palm against his chest and looking down at it. "Just...no more secrets, alright?"
Eric kissed her forehead with a smile, wrapping both arms around her shoulders, mindless of the dull ache in his right. "No more secrets, Cal. I promise."