...By doing it on her birthday

He turned the box over in his hands, stealing a moment from the insanity of the crowd outside. Everyone was here for Calleigh and her birthday, and he wasn't going to diminish that at all.

He smiled as he popped the lid open and saw the small ring nestled inside the crushed velvet, the contours of the diamond catching the light of the bedside lamp just right to sparkle brilliantly. She'd love it.

It wasn't the perfect proposal that he had been planning, full of all the romantic clich├ęs that populated proposals, nor was it some spur of the moment thing. But considering whom she was, and who he was, and what they made as a couple, perhaps perfection wasn't what either of them wanted or even needed. All they needed was each other, forget the fancy trappings.

Slipping the box back into his pocket, he grinned at the mirror. He'd wait until things had calmed down. No need to propose in the middle of a crush of people all insistent on toasting her birthday with copious amounts of champagne. She deserved to have a quiet proposal, and not one that was rushed in a dark corner either.

He re-entered the party and grabbed a hors-d'oeuvres from the table. Chewing it silently, he surveyed the room. Calleigh was clearly in her element, flitting from person to person with her glass of champagne, chatting softly with a group before being summoned over to another group.

"Eric!" she said, spotting him out of the corner of her eye. "I thought you had abandoned the party." She looped her arms around his waist and pulled him down for a kiss. "Everyone's being so nice, I can't believe it."

"It's all about you tonight, Cal," he said with a smile. "Bask in it, it's your night."

"It's not just about me," she said in reply, grabbing his hand and tugging him out away from the refreshment table. "We do things together now, remember?"

"You're the one who's having a birthday, I'm not," he said. "This is your night."

"Our night," she insisted with a grin. "Come on, Eric, socialize with me."

He never could resist her grin, not when it lit up her entire face and made her shine like that. "Okay," he said, caving in. "Let's socialize."

As the last of the guests left for the night, wishing Calleigh a happy birthday one last time, she slumped back against the couch, pressing the back of her hand to her forehead. "Eric, remind me again why we held the party at our place."

"Because," he said, sitting next to her and taking her other hand in his, "we couldn't rent a place at the last minute, remember?"

"Oh yeah," she said, glancing around at the stray dirty glasses and plates that littered the room. "I guess we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow, cleaning this up, don't we?"

He shook his head and pressed a kiss to the back of her hand he was holding. "I got Ryan and Natalia to agree to come over and help."

"You didn't!"

He shrugged. "I thought you shouldn't have to clean up from your own birthday party."

"Thank you," she said, smiling. "I'll be sure to thank the two of them when they get here."

They sat in silence for a few moments, Eric mentally weighing his options, feeling the ring box in his pants pocket burning heavily against his thigh. He could do it now, but if he didn't, it would have to wait again, and he wasn't sure when he'd be able to do it if not now. Now or never.

"Calleigh?" he said softly, shifting off the couch and facing her, a smile painted across his face. He steeled himself, preparing to take one of the biggest steps he'd ever have to take.

"Yeah?" she said, looking at him.

"How long have we known each other?"

She creased her eyebrows, deep in thought. "Twelve years," she said, after doing the mental math. "We met twelve years ago."

"And you remember the first time we met, right?"

"I do," she said, laughing slightly. "You wanted to get my number; I told you I didn't date people from the job."

"Thankfully that policy of yours wasn't permanent," he said with a wink.

"Eric, after getting to know you, there was no way that policy was going to stay permanent."

Taking a deep breath, he plunged into the next part of his statement, the one that he had been running through his mind all night. "I knew that you were special, and that I wanted to get to know this woman who wasn't just an amazing crime scene investigator, but an amazing person as well."

"What are you saying?" She felt some tears pricking the corners of her eyes. Damn it, she didn't want to cry. Not when she had enough mascara on to satisfy a small gaggle of supermodels.

He pulled out the box from his pocket. "I want to continue to do things together, Calleigh. I told you once that I couldn't imagine living my life without you, and I still can't." Inhaling deeply, he dropped to one knee and opened the box. "Calleigh Duquesne, will you marry me?"

"Yes," she said, the tears flowing freely, mascara be damned for all she cared. "Yes, I will marry you!" After an initial fumble with which hand to put the ring on, he slid the ring on her ring finger. He punctuated the gesture by descending on her lips for a kiss, she glanced down at it. "It's beautiful, Eric." She admired it by lifting her hand up and looking at how the diamond caught the light.

"A beautiful woman deserves beautiful diamonds," he said softly, taking in the scene playing before him.

"Thank you," she said simply. "It's perfect."

"I'm glad you like it."

"What do you say we take things elsewhere?" she said with a tinge of seduction in her voice. "I want to get out of this dress, and dirty glasses are not what I want to see when I'm celebrating my engagement."

He smiled and took her hand in his. "This way," he said, guiding her to the bedroom. "And we can talk about getting you out of that dress."

"And maybe getting you out of that shirt and pants," she said with a wink, tugging his shirt from his pants and grinning.

"That too."

Author's Note: This originally came from the same abandoned story as yesterday's ficlet in "A Kiss to Build a Dream On."