I can't believe it's time to mark this one as complete! Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading, and especially to those who have been reviewing! I always appreciate your comments and I really hope you enjoy the ending. I tried to give you a long, satisfying dose of fluff with this being the final chapter. And I skipped ahead a little with time again 'cause that's always fun.
Always end up right where we start
'Cause I got time on my hands and hope in my heart
We both understand we weren't meant to be apart
~Sugarland – "April Showers"
From the back, she looked just the same to him. It was almost as though nothing had changed. She was in her perfected shooter's stance at the lab's indoor range, goggles on, ear muffs perched atop her head. She was steady, as always, in high heels that were a shoulder width apart. A plain, long-sleeved green top wrapped round her curves and her typical black pants hugged her hips as she relaxed her entire stance. After a moment, she raised the sights to her eye line and, lining up the shot, hugged the trigger once - and then again.
But the sound was soft, unlike her favorites. It was only a .22, one of the few firearms still safe for her to use. And as she turned to pop out the mag and lay the gun down, he could see that the top indeed hugged her curves, especially the new one that had her belly curving outward in a well-defined bump. He thought back a little and smiled. Eighteen weeks.
She set her gear down and, catching sight of him out of the corner of her eye, turned to smile. "Hey." He had that look in his eyes again – all sympathetic and unsure. Hesitating, she leaned against the counter at the range and sighed. After a moment she met his eyes again, wincing, and asked, "How many hours am I at?"
Eric took a few slow steps forward until he could lean against the divider. Watching her understandingly, he admitted, "Forty-two."
She nodded, half-sitting on the counter and glancing down at her feet as she tried to brush her frustration aside. Working in the lab was so much more than a change of scenery and a decrease in action. She worked hours now, not cases, and the extra hours she used to spend investigating were proving hard to part with. Despite her frustrations, she knew it was the best situation right now. She couldn't work the field anyway, and the downtime had given her the resting time she'd accepted only out of worry early on. She'd had time to slow down this time - and it had been good for her, for all of them.
Smiling sadly in silent acceptance, she headed toward the gel block. "Horatio sent you again?" she asked, turning around coyly as she walked away.
Slipping his hands into his pockets, Eric smiled. "Yeah. Apparently I, uh, "have a way" with you."
Her eyes narrowed on him a little, taking in the beginnings of a smirk forming on his lips. "Mmm," she reluctantly acknowledged, though the corners of her lips were curving upward. Digging the bullets from the block, she studied them for a moment before walking his way again, a playful sway in her hips. But instead of walking to him she brushed right by, eyes dancing with his in mock suspicion as she continued to her workspace.
She was still silent on her stool as she measured and weighed, recorded and studied. He watched her with an entertained look, taking her assured movements and the playful gleam in her eyes. Silent treatment. Clearly she hadn't liked Horatio's words – or Eric's amusement over them.
Eric cautiously stepped forward. "If you leave in the next thirty minutes, I know a certain five-year-old who would be very, very excited to be picked up from school by you."
She was, however, entertained by the notion that she was a force to be reckoned with, something to be handled with careful consideration, and so she smiled. The thought of Aubrey's eyes lighting up at the sight of her with her big black SUV instead of her grandmother in a little white car, along with the knowledge that Eric did know just what strings to carefully pluck, had her softening a little. Damn it.
Lowering her eyes to the eyepiece of a microscope, she took in the curves and ruts of a distinct striation pattern. She compared it to the one a slide over that Frank had retrieved from a scene and exhaled slowly. Match.
It hit her again – that she didn't know how to feel about the results anymore. Professionally, a match was always good. It meant answers. These were just bullets now, not cases – not unless she happened to overhear details from one of the CSIs or detectives. Had she just convicted a deserving murderer, or a scared kid backed into a corner?
That knowledge was, in all practical sense, useless to her now. But she missed it. She missed the passion, the personal knowledge, involved with a case. She missed knowing why people did what they did. She missed the field – the drive to gather information quickly and the adrenaline rush of personally chasing down a perpetrator. She heard it all secondhand quite often, but it wasn't the same.
And usually, he could find the answer to her inquiry by just studying her expression. A relieved relaxing of her features meant she'd found a match, while a flicker of confusion indicated the pieces didn't add up, that the bullets didn't match. Instead she simply blinked, eyes drifting between the two striation patterns once more before she jotted a few notes down.
When she noticed him studying her, she focused on the bullets and bit her lip. "You know how sometimes you don't want to be right? You go through every piece of evidence, and when it stacks up against someone you thought had a lot of good in them, you just don't want to be right?" She sighed, glancing at the computer screen as it blipped through potential matches for another bullet. "Or how good it feels to finally, finally chase someone down after piecing everything together?"
Her eyes finally met his again, finding understanding and concern there, and she relaxed her shoulders. "I miss it," she admitted, candidly open and honest. "I don't feel that anymore. I miss evidence having meaning. I miss the cases… When I had Aubrey I knew I'd be back, so it barely even fazed me, but this is different."
"It doesn't have to be," he assured, stepping in close to her – as close as he would at work. "We said we would try something different, Cal. If it's not gonna work, it's not gonna work. We'll try something else."
He was so calm, so sure, and she let out a weighted breath as her eyes searched his for answers. Everything at home had been so perfect, so natural; she almost hadn't wanted to disrupt it, but she had to be honest with him – and with herself.
"Chasing bad guys is what you do." He smiled reassuringly and tempted the boundaries by sliding his hand through her silky hair. She gave in, letting him cup the back of her head and draw her close. "I never expected, or wanted, you to give it up. I think I actually told you no…"
She closed her eyes and smiled against his chest, the fluttering in her abdomen a new development that had absolutely nothing to do with any romantic notion of butterflies. "On the plus side," she began at the reminder, "we really do have a lot of time now. I definitely won't be chasing any bad guys down for a while."
"No," he agreed, grinning at the thought. "No you won't."
More at ease now, she sighed and slowly pulled herself away from his warmth. Nodding toward the paperwork, she told him, "I'm going to get this to Frank and then yes, I will leave now that you've worked your magic on me." She rolled her eyes, still playfully indignant, and he chuckled.
"Don't be mad. We all have our weaknesses." He grinned, eyes pointedly drawing down and back up the length of her body before focusing on her eyes again.
She shook her head, softly laughing, and collected the stack of papers into her hands. "See you at home in a few hours?"
That grin only spread at the mention of this afternoon, of what they were finally going to do – the three of them, together. "Of course," he answered, never missing a beat.
Neither of them knew how to start. It was a little hard to bring up to a five-year-old in between talk of the days of the months song from school and how to draw tiger sharks. And now she'd run off in search of the stickers they'd distributed in school to add to her picture.
From across the now quiet kitchen, Eric raised his brows encouragingly. Calleigh shrugged helplessly, eyes silently pleading with him. She was great with kids; she knew that, but Eric had this way of putting things in kid terms. Maybe it was because he'd gotten to hold onto his childhood a little longer than she had. Maybe it was because in some ways he was still a kid.
She smiled at the thought, and at the way his eyes were roving over the black v-neck and jeans she'd changed into. In an attempt to get him to refocus, she cocked her head to the side playfully until he noticed. Though he drew his eyes from her belly to her face, that whole refocusing thing didn't quite work because he was now closing the distance between them and reaching for her sides.
He'd just smoothed his palms over the center of her belly when a barrage of noisy footsteps interrupted them.
"Look!" Aubrey demanded, holding a booklet of stickers up to them. "I got stars and moons with faces!"
Eric gasped enthusiastically. "Those are pretty cool, Princesa. Where are the suns?"
Sighing exasperatedly, Aubrey glanced at Calleigh to share in her dismay. "Daddy, there is only one sun and it comes out during the day. Stars and moons are at nighttime."
"Of course." Chuckling, Eric glanced at Calleigh playfully. "How could I forget?"
The rhetorical question went right over her head and she sighed again. "I don't know." Closing the booklet, she literally hopped over to the breakfast nook and climbed up into the booth.
Calleigh pressed her lips together to keep from laughing, avoiding Eric's imploring eyes as she busied herself with finding something in the fridge. Nothing seemed to fit her changing tastes, though, and so she paused, unaware of Aubrey eyeing her.
"Momma, I have to tell you something," she announced, sitting up straight.
Closing the door, Calleigh watched Aubrey curiously. "What do you have to tell me?"
Aubrey pursed her lips in consideration, and with another glance at Calleigh she came out with it. "I think you're eating too much 'cause your belly is really big, like too big to have more food in it."
Calleigh was stunned – too stunned to do anything for a moment but stare back at Eric with widened eyes and silently chastise him for his laughter. "Really?" she finally managed as she made her way across the kitchen to slide in next to her.
"Uh huh." Aubrey pressed a star onto her tiger shark picture and gave Calleigh a very matter-of-fact look.
Glancing back at Eric knowingly, Calleigh took a deep breath in. At least Aubrey had given them a nice lead-in…
"Brie, this isn't from eating too much," she began, waiting for a response. When she received only a very confused and very scrunched up face in return, she started searching for the words, reassured by Eric sliding in across from them. "You know Erica from playgroup…"
Before she could even continue, Aubrey had latched on. "We play on the swings and she's in my class!"
Calleigh smiled encouragingly. "Remember back in playgroup, when her mom's belly got really, really big, and then Erica had a baby sister?"
"Yeah." Aubrey wasn't all that interested because really, the baby had been a little boring. And then it clicked. She dropped the sticker book and literally froze as she looked over Calleigh. "There's a baby?"
"Yeah," Calleigh answered, smiling cautiously.
Mouth open, posed to respond, Calleigh looked to Eric again but found him clueless, too. This was what they'd wanted to avoid: the questions and curiosities that would inevitably follow, especially considering this was Aubrey, who had never failed to say or ask far more than she should.
"It stays in there for a while, and then it'll be out here with us," Eric continued to explain. "Like when Tia Amelia had her baby, and now Aaron has a little brother."
"Wait," Aubrey let out, holding her hands up emphatically. Now that changed everything. "You said sister."
Calleigh's eyes darted between the two of them. "Or brother."
Aubrey looked downright disgusted now – and a little worried. "And he lives with us?"
"Yeah, or she," Eric reminded. "And you two can play when he or she is a little bigger."
But Aubrey was having none of it, and she'd already covered her eyes with her hands. "I can't live with a boy! They're mean and gross!"
Calleigh laughed at her theatrics. "Daddy's a boy."
"No…he's a Daddy."
"Brie." Calleigh began to level with her, resting a hand over her small thigh. "Either way, you'll get to help us take care of the baby and you'll have someone to play with at home. It'll be a lot of fun."
"Only if it's a girl," she insisted.
"Or a boy," Eric challenged playfully. For a moment, though, he considered that a girl might be safer because Aubrey kind of liked to beat up on boys. And then, lowering his head to catch her gaze, he added, "We thought you could come with us today to find out."
Soft laughter echoed throughout the above ground tunnel that connected Dade Memorial to its new parking garage. As they trekked on through to their car, Eric and Calleigh's fingers were weaved together at their sides. Still, he tugged her closer, her shoulder gently bumping his arm as she leaned in against him. They were both still laughing at Aubrey, who was just a few steps ahead, a manila envelope half her size tucked tightly against her chest. She could definitely still surprise them.
Eric shook his head as he watched her, and Calleigh caught the little sigh of relief that left his lips. She bit her lip, grinned, and held his gaze with her excited eyes.
As they rounded the corner into the eerily quiet garage, Aubrey leapt into a run.
"Alexx!" She took off, and Calleigh could just barely make out the familiar figure across the garage.
Aubrey was halfway down the length of cars before they knew it, catching Alexx as she was setting a bag into her trunk.
"Hi, baby!" Alexx let out excitedly, dropping down to hug her. She looked up, instinctively searching for either Eric or Calleigh, or both of them, behind Aubrey. When she caught sight of them off in the distance walking together, relaxed and happy, hands intertwined, she sent a smile their way. Pulling away from the overly excited five-year-old, she tucked Aubrey's long hair behind her ears and cradled her face to check her out. She was knowingly searching for gashes, burns, broken limbs…but Aubrey was surprisingly injury-free. "What'd you do this time?" she finally asked, raising a brow in a glare that was only playfully accusing. "You better not be trying to kick people off monkey bars anymore…"
"Nope!" Aubrey giggled – a little too mischievously – and then rethought her response. "Well, I don't get hurt anymore."
Alexx scoffed at that. Aubrey thought it was because she didn't believe her.
She set the folder down to lift her arms and spin in a circle for proof. "See?"
Laughing, Alexx nodded before she asked Aubrey, "What are you doing here then?"
"Seeing the baby." The folder was quickly back in her hands.
Alexx smiled, thankful they appeared to be just visiting this time. "Do you have a new cousin?"
"No, my baby," Aubrey announced. "We saw it on the computer screen."
Realization quickly flashed in Alexx's eyes, and now that Calleigh and Eric were close enough to really take in she could definitely tell there was a difference. A very, very noticeable difference.
All typical pleasantries tossed aside, Alexx demanded, "Why didn't you tell me? Are you out of your mind?" As soon as Calleigh was close enough Alexx was wrapping her arms around her, pulling her into one of those tight, welcoming hugs. "Look at you." She held her shoulders, again taking in the changes in her body, the calm happiness radiating from her. It was so opposite the distance that had pervaded their lives and hearts when she'd seen them just nine months ago. It almost stole her breath away.
Alexx had had her suspicions. She knew them, and she'd known something was off when, a few years after Aubrey, emptiness and distance had overtaken their lives instead of the family she had a feeling they'd always wanted.
But now they were here, still standing. They'd made it through, and it was clear that it was all working out quite well for them. She'd been right; good things happened when they were together.
"I'm sorry," Calleigh said, affectionately resting her hands over Alexx's forearms for a moment. "We haven't really told many people yet... I just wanted to make sure everything was okay first."
Alexx met her eyes, an unexpected moment of understanding transpiring between them at the unintentional knowing in Alexx's gaze. Calleigh smiled when it became too deep and Alexx did the same, a happy sort of empathy still in her eyes.
"Looks like everything is more than okay," Alexx noted, again glancing toward Calleigh's midsection. She averted her attention for just a moment to wrap her arms around Eric's neck, pulling him down into a friendly hug and whispering something into his ear that made him smile.
"Because I'm huge already?" Calleigh joked, resting her hand over the very obvious bump to her abdomen. "That's your professional medical opinion?"
"Mmhmm." Alexx laughed, but as her eyes took in Calleigh's happy, healthy features and danced between the two of them, her gaze held a little more meaning. "How far along are you?"
Smiling, Alexx turned toward Aubrey again. "So did you find out whether you're getting a brother or a sister?"
"Yes." Aubrey pursed her lips and Calleigh waited for a response with bated breath. "The doctor said brother, but I still think it's a sister," she said assuredly, eyes wide and serious.
Calleigh sighed helplessly, shrugging when Alexx glanced her way. It was touch-and-go. A few minutes ago Aubrey had nearly given herself over to the idea, and now apparently they were back to square one.
Alexx playfully rested her hands on her hips. "Why can't it be a boy?"
"Boys are mean," Aubrey insisted, reflecting every bit of the sass she'd been questioned with as her hands flew to her hips. "And I saw it on the screen and it was way too cute to be a boy… She looks like a baby doll. Wanna see?"
Before Alexx could even respond, Aubrey was already struggling with the latch on the envelope. Ultimately deciding to just rip the uncooperative flap open, she eagerly drew out one of the sonogram images.
"Wow, he is very, very cute," Alexx told Aubrey before looking up to meet Eric and Calleigh's proud eyes. And then, as she took in the growing form captured in the image, the developing features already visible, she was grinning a little. "So eighteen weeks, huh?"
She was already thinking back, adding up the months and tracing time back to Aubrey's birthday, when she'd mercilessly teased Calleigh about the secrets and sneaking around. Nearly five months of pregnancy dated back much, much further even than that, and suddenly she was shaking her head in amusement.
Calleigh knew that look – and so did Eric, judging by the little chuckle currently leaving his lips. "Hey," Calleigh demanded, brows furrowing in playful indignation as she tapped Alexx on the arm. "Stop that."
But the damage was already done. It had only taken her a second to do the math, and now the secret was out: they'd been able to resist each other for even less time than anyone knew of.
Laughing, Alexx tucked the picture back in the envelope and sighed happily. "Well congratulations," she said definitively, looking between them with both amazement and a sense of inevitability. "We need to do lunch sometime and really catch up."
"We will," Calleigh assured with a quick glance at Eric. "We'll call you."
We, Alexx noticed this time and smiled once more. So much had changed again – for the better this time.
"Sounds good." With one more hug to Aubrey's small body, she was watching them leave together, as a family. She studied their retreating forms, mere silhouettes with the glare of the sun streaming in. She noted the way Eric's hand reached for Calleigh's again and then, deciding that wasn't enough, wrapped his arm around her to pull her close and rest a hand over her hip. She saw the way Calleigh instinctively leaned against his strong frame, saw them slow their long steps so Aubrey could reach up and take his free hand.
And suddenly, despite the fact that her long, trying day had just about run her ragged, all felt more than right in the world.
Halfway across the parking garage now, Eric was stuck on Calleigh's reaction to Alexx's problem-solving skills. He'd done the math, too, and with how limited their time together had been several months ago he should've been able to pinpoint it, but he couldn't. The timeframe was too vague, and those months had been such a happy blur of time passing quickly. It wasn't like he'd remember dates, anyway.
But Calleigh had seemed amused – and playfully protective of that information. Something told him it held a little more weight than the knowledge of just how long they'd been together again.
And so, with a playful glide of his palm over her hip, he asked, "Do you know when…?" He trailed off and she looked up at him as he finished the sentence in his eyes.
She pressed her lips together, smiling, and glanced down at the passing concrete as they walked.
"You do." He grinned, watching her expectantly though she refused to meet his eyes.
"Maybe," she admitted coyly, stopping short as they reached her SUV.
"And…?" he implored as he scooped Aubrey up to help her into the booster seat. Once she was safely secured, he returned the envelope to her awaiting hands and shut the door.
Calleigh was trying to stand firm with crossed arms and weakening eyes. She was both in love with and overwhelmed by the implication, and so she'd held onto it like a little reminder.
Her resolve faltered as he gently gripped her hips and eased her against the SUV. "Cal," he urged, and soon his lips were gracing the corner of her mouth. His fingers gently slid through her hair, over her neck, and she was done for.
Rolling her lips and taking in a hasty breath, she asked, "Remember that weekend…?"
"When Aubrey was camping with my sisters," he finished for her, nodding in recognition. A little smirk tugged at the corners of his lips at the memories – her in his striped button-down, the two of them tangled in the Egyptian cotton sheets, her in that temporary house of his that was now just a fading memory… "Of course," he breathed out meaningfully, watching as she raised her brows expectantly. He exhaled, smiled, and leaned in, resting his forehead against hers. "That was a good weekend."
"I know." She sighed – and smiled – as they shared in the meaning behind it all. It hadn't been the first time or even the second, when they were still unsure and confused and hurting. But after they'd purged themselves of grief and hidden scars and they'd just let themselves be, everything had fallen into place. Everything.
That was why knowing had made her ache a little. If she hadn't hidden her guilt, if it had really been this simple to relax and simply be, then they'd wasted so much time.
He thought he caught sight of glossy eyes before she closed them again, and so he cradled her face in his large hands, pressing his lips to her forehead lovingly. And then, with his head resting against hers, her hands holding his sides, he whispered, "We're going to have a son…"
The smile that graced her lips was immediate. "Not according to Aubrey."
Grinning, he kissed her cheek en route to her lips. "She's gonna have to get used to it," he mumbled playfully against her mouth. Sliding his hands down to the sides of her newly growing belly, he pressed his lips to hers until Aubrey began impatiently – and probably disgustedly – tapping the window.
Laughing a little, Calleigh ducked away and reached for the passenger door handle. She paused for a moment, leaning against the open door to simply take him in. "Let's go home," she said.
He smiled, the weight of that single word not lost on either of them. After all they'd been through to get there, it never would be.
Saturdays were sacred. The workweek was filled with court appearances, fieldwork, and evidence cataloguing, leaving them with a few hours in the evenings and even less in the mornings. Sundays were never a guarantee with Eric on call for his new department in the next county over. But Saturdays? Saturdays were for lazy mornings, homemade brunch, and walks on the beach.
That was why, despite the common tropical storm due that evening already rolling in, they were parked on the empty beach that was just a short walk from their new home. The sky was dull and gray, and the wind was whipping through an already chilly morning, but they hadn't minded.
The water was still warm from high temperatures throughout the week and the waves were surprisingly gentle along the shoreline. This was one of those typical Florida storms that seemed to swallow the sea, pulling the water back, collecting it for later ammo to pound at the shoreline. Waves were breaking violently, but only far off in the distance, leaving the foamy remnants of once powerful waves merely drifting ashore.
Aubrey was a little bored with them, but Jackson was transfixed. At just under a year old, he was walking with somewhat sturdier steps these days, but Aubrey still felt the need to hold him back from the weak waves every time he planted a little foot forward. She'd tug on the tiny hand she was already holding and pull him back against her, a frustrated grunt leaving his lips.
From a few yards back, Calleigh laughed, and Eric felt it resonate throughout his own chest. She was tucked against him on the blanket, engulfed in one of his University of Miami sweatshirts as her back pressed against his chest. His arms were wrapped around her, but she was turned to the side a little and curled up against him so she could bury her cold, bare toes beneath his leg.
"Brie, he's okay," Calleigh gently assured her. "He can put his feet in when the waves aren't strong, just not too deep."
Aubrey hesitated, looking between both parents for clarification before saying, "Okay." Releasing him to hold just his hand again, she let him take a few steps forward and waited, watching the water creep up the shore until it brushed their feet.
Jackson shrieked with delight, splashing around a little before the water raced away. Once she realized he was stable enough, Aubrey seemed to visibly relax, her shoulders dropping as she playfully ran her toes through the wet sand.
Calleigh tilted her head up to exchange a knowing, amused glance with Eric. It was still amazing to see her like this. She was still the same Aubrey. Last week she'd knocked another girl over in soccer for failing to bail out at the last minute when she was stealing the ball. She still showed no reservations when it came to taking risks herself, but her little brother, on the other hand, was not allowed to do anything. Being several years older, she'd become fiercely protective in a way that had completely surprised them.
Eric kissed Calleigh's hair as they watched on, their six-year-old gradually easing up and letting him splash through the shallow water on his own. She let him chase after her a little, but never far enough that he'd have to run on the uneven sand.
Calleigh sighed contentedly, turning to let her back fully contour to his chest. This was incredible. She was watching Aubrey, a perfect mix of them both with her dark blonde hair, tan skin, and hazel eyes, and Jackson, who had taken after Eric with dark hair and deep brown eyes, yet still held hints of Calleigh scattered in his smile and light skin.
They had really gotten here. Despite all the changes they'd made – Eric's transfer to another county, a new house that nearly straddled the county lines yet wasn't too far from family, her return as a full CSI – they had easily kept their footing. They chose home over work when they needed – or wanted – to, they made time…they even had rules for making time, like Saturday.
Saturdays were definitely sacred.
She smiled, setting all sweeping realizations aside and simply soaking up the moment. Turning, she pressed her cheek to his chest and kept an eye on Jackson, who was quieter in nature than Aubrey had ever been, and smiled as he copied Aubrey's movements in the shallow water.
"You know," Eric began, a playful lilt to his voice as rested his head against hers to drop his lips closer to her ear. "I was thinking… It's a good thing we decided on this house."
She actually hadn't thought about that yet so she laughed a little, rolling her eyes at the thought. And then she turned coy, asking innocently, "Because we wouldn't be this close to the beach?"
Chuckling, Eric held her tighter. "Yeah," he feigned agreement, smirking playfully. "Because we wouldn't be as close to the beach."
His hands were already searching for the hem of the seemingly endless sweatshirt, finally diving beneath her top and landing on bare skin. "Because it's not like the five bedrooms are gonna come in handy or anything," he teased, fingers trailing over the beginnings of a bump low on her abdomen.
"Mmm…" Calleigh grinned, moving up into the crook of his neck to bury her cold nose against his warm skin. "You don't think he'd like sleeping in our office?"
"No, I don't think she would." He moved his hands to her back, rubbing up and down to warm her up. "I think she will be very happy to have her own room."
She smiled against his chest, taking in a deep breath. "This is crazy," she admitted happily. And wonderful, impossible, completely unexpected…so many things.
"It's amazing," he countered, in awe as he again placed his hands over her stomach, this time through a few layers of clothing.
"It is," she echoed, pressing her palms to the backs of his hands and weaving her fingers around his. That same awe was in her voice, in her eyes as she watched Aubrey crash through the waves a little deeper, a bright smile gracing her features. She had never questioned home again, had completely lost those eight months like a forgotten bad dream after years of stability.
Eric's hand smoothed over her belly and she smiled again. Everything had certainly fallen into place.