Author's Note: Uh oh, two multi-chaps at once. Here we go. As always, thanks to my wonderful beta restless-mess. Hope you all like this.
Still pressing on, arm over arm
Still trying to get both feet back onto the ground
They are harvesting these fields in autumn
We're different now than when we started
Calleigh sighed contentedly, a pleased smirk tugging at the corners of her lips. She liked puzzles; that was part of why she'd become a CSI, after all. And this just so happened to be her favorite kind of puzzle.
She took a deep breath, eyes surveying the multitude of gun parts laid out across the table in her lab. The only thing that confused her was where to start. After a moment's deliberation she picked up the stripped-down upper receiver with a smile and slid the sight into place.
Some jackass thought he was being clever by disassembling the AR-15 he'd used to shoot his girlfriend. Unfortunately for him, he didn't know MDPD had Calleigh Duquesne.
She quickly slipped pins, knobs, and screws into the receiver. She was so wrapped up in slapping parts together that she didn't even notice the person at the doorway until an amused chuckle escaped his lips.
Tensing slightly, she met his eyes and attempted a welcoming smile. Pausing, she held the base of the receiver in her palm and greeted him with a friendly, "Hey."
"Hey, uh…sorry to interrupt," he apologized, motioning towards the parts strewn across her workspace. He stood directly across from her, resting his palms on the table. This was closer than he'd been to her in a long time; it was a little suffocating.
"That's alright," she assured. Her eyes danced over the parts and then back to him. "I know right where to pick up."
"I'm sure," he said knowingly, casting his eyes toward the floor for a moment before hesitantly looking back up at her. Any indication of just how well he knew her seemed a little too intimate and inappropriate right now. "I heard you guys had a bit of a bump in the road with the case, so I wanted to see if you needed me to pick up Brie, but…"
"This will only set us back a few minutes," she finished for him, smiling assuredly. "I can still pick her up…unless you had plans?"
"Oh, no," he insisted, shaking his head. "You're good to go."
"Okay." Calleigh bit her lip, focusing back on the gun to have something to distract herself from the situation at hand. She loaded a spring into place and tucked the corresponding piece in behind it. His eyes lingered on her and it was nerve-racking, so she met his eyes, knowing he'd realize what he was doing. As expected, he pushed off the table to stand upright and averted his eyes.
"Okay," he echoed, nodding. "You'll call me later?"
She smiled, grateful for his deep affections. "Always do."
* * *
Calleigh rapped on the door three times and then waited, biting her lip as she stared at the off-white door. This house, with its Spanish-inspired red clay roofing and the ever-present scent of Cuban food, had always had a special place in her heart. It was a place of warmth and family, of open arms and laughter.
Now, though, those memories were tainted by the current discomfort that swelled within her. She still wasn't used to this.
When Clorinda pulled the door open, the first thing she noticed was that Calleigh looked tired. Not just tired. Exhausted. Her beautiful green eyes lacked their usual gleam, and hints of dark circles could be seen beneath. She'd lost weight, and her delicate frame seemed much too small to carry the burdens she was bearing.
With a smile and welcoming arms, she hastened Calleigh into the house. "Mija, it's so good to see you," Clorinda said softly as she pulled Calleigh into a warm hug. It had only been a week, but Clorinda held her close and lingered as though it had been months.
"Momma!" The small, excited voice interrupted their embrace, and Calleigh had barely caught sight of the familiar blur of dark blonde hair before her daughter was attached to her legs.
"Hi, baby," Calleigh whispered softly as she crouched down and wrapped her arms snugly around the little girl. "I missed you so much." She'd been working so much that it hadn't even hit her until now, as she held her daughter in her arms and the scent of L'oreal Kids shampoo greeted her senses, that two days apart had felt like a lifetime away from her baby.
Calleigh pulled back slightly to take in her daughter's face and smiled, reaching out to twist Eric's sorry excuse for a ponytail around her fingers. Aubrey had a surprising mix of both of them in her features. Her golden hair had undertones of cinnamon and dark brown, and the long locks curled into loose ringlets near the ends. She grinned back at Calleigh with an identical smile, but the full lips that formed it were distinctly from Eric. Her eyes were a striking hazel, brown near the pupil with an explosion of green throughout the iris. And though her skin was golden like Eric's, it was creamier and lighter thanks to Calleigh's own fair skin.
Aubrey's eyes suddenly brightened and Calleigh raised her brows expectantly, knowing some sort of burst of excitement was to follow.
"Abuela and I went to the quarum!" she announced, bouncing up onto her tip toes excitedly.
"The aquarium?" Calleigh asked, matching her daughter's excitement as she gasped enthusiastically. "What did you see?!"
"A tiger shark!" she proclaimed, eyes alight with a love of excitement and danger Calleigh knew all too well.
"I showed her all the beautiful fish," Clorinda began, shaking her head, "But she won't stop about the tiger shark."
"Well you are most certainly a Duquesne woman," Calleigh muttered as she stood up, making Clorinda chuckle.
"They get fourteen feet big," Aubrey continued on, emphatically gesturing with her hands. "Abuela said that's like two Daddies! That's really big."
"That is big!" Calleigh affirmed, smiling. As usual, her enthusiasm for her daughter's learning overshadowed her exhaustion. "What else did you learn?"
"A nemo fish is a clown fish," she recited, then pursing her lips in thought. "Oh! And I saw a fish that did this…" She proceeded to hollow out her cheeks to make "fish lips," widened her eyes to make them appear bugged out, and lifted her hands near her face to imitate little fish fins.
Calleigh laughed, more than she had in days, and tugged her over-zealous four-year-old's ponytail playfully. "Okay, fish girl," Calleigh teased, "Let's get you home and in the water where you belong…and by that I mean in the bathtub. Where's your backpack?"
Groaning, Aubrey ran off in search of her bag and Clorinda fixed her eyes back on Calleigh with a lingering smile at the scene that had just unfolded.
"You could stay for dinner, you know," Clorinda suggested. She looked at Calleigh wistfully, frowning at her apparent apprehension.
"Thank you," Calleigh said, smiling gratefully. She pressed her lips together then, rolling them slowly as she considered the offer. As always, she came to the same conclusion. "It just feels a little weird," she admitted. "I don't want to make Eric uncomfortable…"
Clorinda smiled knowingly and rested her hand on Calleigh's arm appreciatively. "I don't think he'd mind, but I do understand." She sighed, squeezing Calleigh's arm reassuringly as Aubrey trudged back in, dragging her full bookbag.
Calleigh smiled apologetically and opened her arms to give Clorinda a hug, a gesture that had taken her forever to feel comfortable initiating. "Again, thank you so much for watching her this summer," Calleigh said as Clorinda hugged her tightly.
"Don't thank me!" Clorinda waved off the idea. "I love spending time with my grandbaby."
Calleigh took Brie's bookbag and slung it over her own shoulder, leaning down again to whisper into her daughter's ear. Aubrey smiled shyly and hopped over to her grandmother, reaching her arms upward for a hug.
"Thank you for taking me to the 'quarium," she said, kissing her grandmother's cheek as Clorinda wrapped her arms around her tiny body for a moment.
"You are most welcome, mi linda." Releasing her granddaughter with a smile, Clorinda raised her eyes to Calleigh. "Drive safe and call me if you ever need anything."
"We will," Calleigh assured, taking Aubrey's hand as they walked through the doorway.
With a sigh and a solemn glance after them, Clorinda closed the door. So much had changed.
She hadn't meant to eavesdrop, really, but she'd been feeling quite useless sitting in Eric and Calleigh's living room. For a woman who was always taking care of everyone in her family, it was quite difficult for Clorinda to sit back and allow Eric and Calleigh to prepare a family dinner without her help. She'd made it to the doorway of the kitchen when subtle laughter and the sight of Eric up against Calleigh's back deterred her.
She waited for a minute, expecting their moment to end, but Eric swept Calleigh's long hair over to one shoulder and delicately kissed her exposed neck.
"You are making cooking very difficult," Calleigh pointed out, desperately trying to keep her attention on measuring the correct amounts for ingredients.
"Are you complaining?" he asked knowingly. He set his beer bottle down on the counter and slid his hands, cool and wet with condensation from the bottle, down her bare arms.
"I suppose not," she said playfully, and her tone had Clorinda shrinking back from the kitchen with a smile. Calleigh glanced at Eric's beer bottle and frowned. "No fair. I want wine."
"You can have wine," Eric began, grinning like crazy, "in six months."
Clorinda froze, torn between guilt over overhearing something so important and excitement over the prospect of another grandchild – her baby boy's first child.
Eric wrapped his arms around her low on her abdomen and pulled her back to his chest, dotting kisses over her shoulder and neck. "How long," he mumbled in between kisses, "until everyone's gone and I can take this off you?" he asked, playing with the hem of her v-neck tank top.
"Mmm, a couple hours maybe." She smiled as his hand settled over the nearly indistinguishable beginnings of a bump.
Slightly embarrassed, Clorinda laughed silently to herself and hurried away from the kitchen. Though she definitely hadn't needed to overhear that, it made her deliriously happy that her son had found Calleigh. They were so in love, and she'd witnessed the way they just seemed to fall even further for each other every day. Few couples stayed so deeply enamored by one another, but Clorinda was certain that for Eric and Calleigh this phase would never end.
How wrong she'd been.
* * *
God, she had missed this. The past two days had been irrevocably incomplete without cuddles from a four-year-old and bedtime stories. As she settled into the small white bed and Aubrey cuddled up against her side, she wanted to hug her daughter tightly and never let go. She'd missed the smell of Dove soap and the way Aubrey would sit still – a rare thing – while Calleigh weaved her golden hair into French braids.
Impatient for a story, Aubrey flipped the book in Calleigh's lap open and read the title page with ease.
"Are you going to read to me?" Calleigh asked, smiling proudly.
"Uh-huh, I know lots of words."
With a finger carefully following along, Aubrey began reading, getting through the first several pages with only slight difficulty. Halfway through, she was tired and concentrating less, so when she encountered a few words she didn't know, she began to make up her own story. Calleigh laughed, listening to her daughter piece together the pictures and the words she could make out until, with a little help from her overactive imagination, she'd formed some crazy story. Calleigh would've helped her read the actual story, but she wasn't even four-and-a-half yet, and Calleigh wouldn't dare squelch such an imagination.
As Aubrey rambled on, Calleigh found herself feeling something she'd been denying for nearly seven months. She wished Eric could see this. She knew that he did, knew that he read to her just as often as she did, but she wished she could share this moment with him. It was a strange feeling, and she didn't know how to deal with it, so she pushed it out of her thoughts as she swallowed the lump in her throat.
"Are you ready to call Daddy?" Calleigh asked after the long bout of storytelling.
Nodding sleepily, Aubrey rested her head on her mother's shoulder. Calleigh reached over to the nightstand for her cell phone and dialed Eric's familiar number, handing the phone to Aubrey while it rang.
At the sound of his voice on the other end of the line, Aubrey smiled. "Hi, Daddy."
"Hey, princess." Calleigh could hear his voice as she wrapped her arms around Aubrey and pulled her close, resting her own head atop her daughter's. "You all tucked into bed?"
"Yeah," Aubrey said softly, rubbing at her eyes tiredly. "With Mommy."
"I hear you have a new favorite animal."
"The shark!" Aubrey exclaimed, her tiredness wearing off for a mere moment of excitement. "He was really big! Bigger than you! Can I have one?"
"A tiger shark?" Eric chuckled at her innocence. "Where would we keep him?"
"The pool," she replied, a yawn escaping her lips as she rested her head against Calleigh again.
"I think he's a little big for that, Princesa. And a little too mean." He smiled, figuring she probably didn't care. "He needs to live in salt water anyways, like in the ocean."
"Oh." Aubrey sighed, barely able to keep her eyes open.
"What else did you see today?"
Not hearing a response, Calleigh pulled back slightly to look down, finding Aubrey sleeping against her arm. The phone was slowly easing out of her quickly-loosening grip and Calleigh took it from her carefully, taking a deep breath before holding it up to her own ear.
"Hey, Eric?" she said softly, biting her lip. "I'm sorry, she fell asleep… She was really tired after today."
"That's okay, I don't blame her," he said from the other end of the line, running a hand through his short hair as he leaned back into his favorite recliner. "Sounds like she had a big day."
"Yeah, I'm sorry," Calleigh apologized again. "I'll have her call you in the morning."
"Yeah, I'll just talk to her tomorrow. It's okay, Cal," he assured, the nickname accidentally slipping past his lips. He mentally kicked himself.
It wasn't okay. She felt incredibly guilty, and not just because Aubrey was too tired to talk to him tonight. She felt guilty because he wasn't here, because they weren't here together for their daughter. How was depriving her of time with both of them the best option? She knew it was better than the alternative, but she still felt terrible. This wasn't how things were supposed to be. The one thing they'd promised each other they'd never do was fall apart.
"I'll, uh, be around in the morning tomorrow, if you want to call then. I don't have the early call-out," Eric said. He was completely unsure of how to speak to her without the topic of Aubrey as a buffer.
"Have a good night," he wished her, the words seeming far too impersonal.
"You too." She smiled sadly, hating that they had come to this.
The phone clicked off and she was suddenly faced with the task of moving Aubrey without waking her. She carefully pried herself away and gradually lowered Aubrey onto the pillows with minimal disturbance.
"Goodnight. I love you," she said softly, pressing a kiss to her daughter's temple and pulling the sheets over the rest of her body. "I'm sorry," she added in a whisper.
Quietly padding across her daughter's room, she paused at the doorway, flooded with a memory she couldn't repress even if she tried.
The emptiness on his side of the bed had eventually awoken her. She remembered the baby crying, and she'd opened her eyes long enough to see the clock glowing with a red '11:32pm.' Eric had sleepily mumbled that he'd get Aubrey and Calleigh had fallen back asleep easily. But now he still wasn't back, and as her bleary eyes settled on the clock she realized it was after midnight.
Sighing, she drew herself from the bed, feet meeting the cold hardwood floor as she walked across their room and down the hallway.
She was almost certain she was still dreaming when she saw the most perfect picture laid out before her. Eric had fallen asleep in the large wooden rocker situated in the corner of Aubrey's room. Aubrey was in his arms, comfortably asleep against his chest, some frilly pink blanket covering the both of them.
Calleigh pressed her fingers against her mouth with a grin as she admired the scene. She was tempted to let them be, but she knew his back would be killing him by morning if she didn't do something.
Quietly walking over, she placed a hand on the baby's back supportively and rested another hand on Eric's shoulder, slowly sliding it across his bare skin. For a moment she studied the both of them, smiling as she noticed what everyone seemed to upon looking at all three of them – Aubrey was an exact mix of them both. Genetically, it made sense considering incomplete dominance and all, but it still amazed her. Golden blonde-brown curls were already becoming an unruly mess, and her fair skin was beginning to take on darker olive undertones just like her father's.
"Eric," Calleigh finally whispered softly, his eyelids fluttering. "I'm going to lay her back down."
He mumbled something incoherent and she laughed a little, very carefully easing Aubrey into her own arms. With the expertise of a mother who had been doing this a while, she cradled the one-year-old in her arms as though she were still a tiny baby and delicately laid her back down in the crib.
She turned to Eric, who was only slightly more awake now, and smiled amusedly. "Come on, I'll tuck you in, too," she said softly, taking his large hands in her smaller ones.
"Mmm," was all he could manage before he wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. Sighing, he breathed in the familiar scent of her shampoo as he buried his face into her hair. Cuddling up to her as though they were already in bed, he hugged her side, making the walk back to their bedroom an awkward one full of hushed laughter and near-falls.
As they neared the bed he merely fell onto it, bringing Calleigh toppling with him in a fit of protests and then laughter. He immediately sighed contentedly as he pulled her warm body against his, legs intertwining. She smiled back at him as he settled into bed again, the skin-on-skin contact reawakening her in more ways than one.
"Eric," she said softly, her eyes darkening as her leg slid against his suggestively. Biting her lip in a manner that was purely seductive, she grinned devilishly, wrapping her leg around his tightly to push her hips against his. "How tired are you?"
He raised a brow, finding her lips, fair skin, and tiny, tiny shorts far more appealing than the comforts of slumber. Grinning, his hand curled around her upper arm as he eased his weight onto her, gradually pinning her beneath him.
"Not very," he mumbled as his lips brushed against hers. She laughed into the kiss, running her hands over his toned shoulders as she arched her body to press against his.
Reining in her mind, she flicked off the light and headed for her own bed, denying what she was really missing. She refused to acknowledge that she ached to have his arms around her again. She didn't want to miss him; missing him would mean ignoring the past two years.
She forced herself to shut off all emotion. Functioning on autopilot, she unclipped her hair and tucked herself into bed alone. As she slid a hand beneath her cheek, the delicate stone on her ring finger pressed into her face uncomfortably. Annoyed by the constant reminder, she sighed, stretching her hand out in front of her in the dark. The beautiful stone caught the moonlight and she swallowed hard. With an unsure hand she slid the platinum wedding band and engagement ring from her finger, dropping them into the drawer of her nightstand.
Devoid of all emotion, she flexed her fingers and marveled at the emptiness.