Author's Note: Here at last, folks, is Chapter 12, the final chapter of my fic. (Coincidentally, the story is a "dozen" chapters long! LOL). This installment took longer than usual for me to finish and post due to insane job hours and another nasty cold. I also took a bit of extra time writing this last chapter, because I wanted make sure that I got it "just right," or at least as close to "just right" as I could manage. :-)

The beginning of this fic was based on spoilers for "Backfire" (episode 8.20), and the story has come full circle, ending appropriately with that episode as well. ("Backfire" initially aired in the USA on April 19, 2010, around the time I wrote Chapter 8 of this tale). Please note, however, that several elements of Chapter 12 differ from the events that actually took place in "Backfire," and this chapter also contains several add-on scenes; most notably, the one at the end of this piece. As such, it may not necessarily be completely consistent with subsequent episodes. But hey, what's fanfic for, if not to employ a little "creative license" (LOL)!

For the faithful and supportive readers who've been following this fic from its inception, many thanks, and I hope you've enjoyed the ride. And I hope you enjoy this final chapter.

Chapter 12 - New Beginnings

Eric's goal of repairing his unsettled relationship with Calleigh turned out to be much easier to reach in some respects than in others. Despite the emotional roller-coaster that they'd been on for the past few months, the intense attraction between them had never diminished, so getting her to trust him with her body again was a relatively seamless undertaking. Getting her to trust him with her heart was another matter entirely.

In a fitting coincidence, Eric and Calleigh resumed their physical relationship on New Year's Eve - a time for resolutions and fresh starts - and a night that resulted in a new beginning of sorts for the would-be couple. The day after Christmas, Ryan had called to invite Eric to join a contingent from CSI that would be kicking off the New Year at a shindig at Cosmo Lounge, one of the hottest nightspots on South Beach. Wolfe and Delko had remained on good terms after the latter had left the MDPD a few months prior, and the slight tension that had arisen from Eric's misguided decision to serve as Adrianna Villani's forensics expert had quickly dissipated once he quit working for the defense attorney. Though Delko was no longer formally with the department, many of his former co-workers still considered him part of the "CSI family," and Ryan had figured that his one-time colleague might like to celebrate with the group.

Calleigh had also invited Eric to join the CSI gathering at the NYE bash, so he could "hang out with everybody," as she so understatedly put it. Naturally, getting the inscrutable Ms. Duquesne to actually admit that she wanted to spend time with him would've been like pulling teeth. Nevertheless, he still liked to think that at least some tiny kernel of her invitation had stemmed from the fact that she wanted to ring in the New Year with him by her side.

On the night in question, the twosome arrived separately at Cosmo: Although they'd made major progress toward repairing their friendship, in her book, they were apparently still not close enough to show up to events together. (He'd not yet re-earned the privilege of acting as though they were a couple; an issue that he planned on remedying sooner rather than later). Delko got to the venue first and did his best, largely in vain, to mingle to distract himself from Calleigh's absence. When she entered the club about half-an-hour later, Eric was sitting on one of the plush banquettes in a corner that had been commandeered by the MDPD revelers, shooting the breeze with Dave Benton and Mike Travers. Truth be told though, the former CSI was only half-listening to the conversation around him because his eyes kept scanning the growing crowd for Calleigh. When he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up - as they often did in her presence since the first time he'd met her - he knew that she'd arrived.

Eric thanked his lucky stars that he was sitting down when Calleigh first came into view, or else his embarrassing reaction to her would've earned him months of teasing by his male compatriots. She was always absolutely gorgeous to him, even when she was flat in bed with a raging case of the flu, but tonight, she looked like a million bucks, and then some. Much to his chagrin, she'd stopped wearing her signature halters and tank-tops to the office shortly after Speedle's death, but luckily for Eric, she wasn't averse to whipping this type of attire out of her closet for special social occasions. She was sporting a sleeveless, cowl-neck top made out of some type of shimmering material, which provided tantalizing glimpses of her cleavage every time she moved. The blouse's iridescent sea-green hue accentuated the beautiful color of her eyes and offset the natural highlights in her loose, blond mane. And as if that weren't enough to make his tongue hit the floor, her lower body was clad in a pair of leather pants that clung to her delicious curves like a second skin. Capping off her awe-inspiring get-up was a pair of black, patent leather stilettos that had always been his kryptonite, making him feel all of fifteen again, and just as hormonal. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to cross his legs to avoid revealing just how much the sight of her was affecting him.

Calleigh didn't see Eric right away, since Maxine Valera accosted her the second she walked up to the CSI gathering and whisked her away to stand near a sofa dominated by the ladies in the group. In typical fashion, the DNA analyst immediately started talking the fair-haired CSI's ear off; no doubt, about some "cute guy" that the brunette had set her sights on for the evening. When Delko had finally recovered from his dumbfounded state and brought his wayward nether regions under control, he excused himself from Benton and Travers (garnering knowing looks from the two guys), and walked over to meet the woman who'd commanded his attention for most of the night, even before she'd joined the festivities. Between the loud music and the din from the surrounding crowd, Calleigh didn't realize that Eric had approached her from behind until she felt his warm breath on her shoulder and heard the greeting he spoke in her ear.

"Hey beautiful. You look absolutely stunning tonight."

She gasped in surprise - and perhaps, from something more - and, even in the dimly-lit room, he could have sworn that he noticed a blush creeping up her neck. Before Calleigh could fashion a reply, Valera piped up with her always-impeccable timing. Eyebrow raised, the lab tech wryly commented, "Well, I guess this is my cue to make like Casper and disappear, right?" Cutting off Calleigh's automatic denial, Maxine lightheartedly rolled her eyes and continued, "Don't even try to deny it ... you two are practically making googly-eyes at each other. Besides, my Prince Charming awaits." And with that, Valera was gone.

When her notoriously nosy female counterpart was out of earshot, Calleigh whirled around to face Eric. She paused for a beat, and he could see the wheels turning in her head, as though she were considering whether to call him out for greeting her with such an intimate endearment. He'd given her the nickname "beautiful" after they'd started dating (although he'd thought of her that way for years), and he figured that, since they were technically no longer a couple, she'd take him to task for using it. But she apparently decided to let it go, and instead, graced him with one of her megawatt smiles.

"You don't look half bad yourself, hot stuff," she replied, as her gaze roamed over him appreciatively. With a grin of his own, he remembered the first time Calleigh had complimented him with that moniker ... he'd been on cloud nine for days.

The two ended up chatting for close to an hour; as always, their conversation flowed so effortlessly that neither realized that so much time had passed. In fact, they would've kept right on gabbing if Natalia hadn't stopped by to recruit Calleigh for a "ladies room break." (Eric could never figure out why women always seemed to want to visit the restroom in groups).

"See you later, Cal. And don't forget to save me a dance ... preferably right around midnight," he said with a sly smirk, only half-teasing. With any luck, at the moment of truth, he'd be reacquainting himself with the feel of Calleigh's soft lips against his.

"You're something else, you know that, Delko?" she laughed, as she walked away to join Natalia. But the flirtatious look in her eyes revealed that she was more than a bit interested in his proposition.

By the time the "30 minutes 'til midnight" notice flashed across the plasma screens scattered throughout the club, the party was in full swing, and everyone was having a ball, aided no doubt by the half-priced drinks at the bar and seemingly bottomless flutes of free Cristal. Eric had never been a huge fan of champagne; an ice-cold lager being his typical beverage of choice. Besides, the medication he was taking for his still-healing brain injury made over-indulging in booze a really bad idea, so he settled for nursing a couple of lite beers over the course of the evening. Calleigh, on the other hand, had been somewhat more liberal in her alcohol consumption. At this point, the firearms expert was nowhere near drunk (she didn't like the out-of-control feeling that came with being completely plastered), but she was clearly buzzed and feeling no pain. The bubbly she'd consumed had loosened her up, making her a little giddy, and a lot giggly. It was quite entertaining to watch the über-professional, always composed Calleigh Duquesne letting go of a few of her inhibitions and kicking up her heels for a change.

Eleven-thirty p.m. found Eric's fetching erstwhile girlfriend taking the dance floor by storm, with Natalia and a few other equally tipsy female CSI staff-members in tow. He'd barely taken his eyes off Calleigh since she'd walked into the NYE bash, but he couldn't help but notice that several men were circling the ladies like hawks hunting their prey, awaiting the slightest "opening" to swoop in and get their clutches into a member of the clique. And perhaps he was biased, but to Delko, it looked like most of these guys were focused on the golden-haired, green-eyed beauty in the killer stilettos at the center of the fray. (Of course, none of these aspiring Romeos was from the MDPD, since every guy in the department knew better than to stick his nose into whatever was happening between Duquesne and Delko). With a streak of possessiveness that he'd never known he had, Eric sidled up to her, slipped a territorial arm around her waist and drew her close to him, hoping to show her wannabe suitors that she was off the market.

If Calleigh was in any way put off by his testosterone-fueled display, she gave no indication of it. Rather, she reciprocated his embrace by resting her hands on his hips and falling into step with him as a change in rhythm signaled the start of the next song. In no time, the twosome were grinding against each other, simulating the "horizontal mambo" that would be the inevitable outcome of their mutual lust. Much to his delight, in her champagne-induced state of relaxation, she seemed unfazed by the possibility that her co-workers might spot them dirty-dancing. Come to think of it, it was probably just as well, since everyone at the office was already well aware that something romantic was going on between the ballistics specialist and the soon-to-be forensics expert for the State Attorney's Office.

At the rate they were going, it was hardly surprising that Eric and Calleigh heralded the midnight arrival of 2010 in a secluded corner of the nightclub, ravenously devouring each others' lips until the need for oxygen forced them to come up for air. Happy New Year, indeed.

It was well after three in the morning by the time the festivities began to wind down and the crowd started to thin out in earnest. A respectable number of hardcore clubbers continued to stick around, determined to carry out the time-honored tradition of partying until sunrise on New Year's Day, but Calleigh and Eric didn't plan on being among them. Delko didn't know how much longer he could keep his amped-up libido under control, not to mention the overwhelming urge to get his hands on the treasure trove that lay beneath her provocative outfit. And the way Calleigh's hands kept "accidentally" slipping beneath the base of his shirt to touch the bare skin of his stomach, certainly wasn't helping his floundering self-restraint. If they didn't get to someplace much more private - and soon - he was going to get both of them busted for public indecency.

Claiming that she still felt too "buzzed" to safely get behind the wheel, Calleigh asked Eric whether he would mind driving her home. But she'd been far from drunk to begin with, and she'd sobered-up considerably since switching from Cristal to Perrier water a couple of hours ago, so he couldn't help but wonder whether her request was, at least in part, a means for them to take their PG-13 lip-locking to a more "adult" level behind closed doors. Either way, he wasn't complaining. His condo was only a few minutes away from Cosmo, so he suggested that they crash there instead. That way, she could pick up her car later en route back to her place, instead of having to drive all the way down to South Beach from Bal Harbor, and then back up north again. He held his breath a little after making his suggestion, almost sure that she would turn him down cold. But instead, she accepted his invitation with a grateful smile, confirming his hunch about how she really wanted their night together to end.

As expected, they'd barely crossed the doorway of Eric's condo before they pounced on each other, the clattering of popping buttons and rasping of lowered zippers punctuating the usual stillness of the pre-dawn hours. These sounds were soon replaced by pleasured gasps and ardent moans, as the couple made up for the torturous weeks of lonely celibacy that they'd endured since Eric's trip to Puerto Rico. As the two reached one ecstatic explosion after another, Delko definitely saw fireworks, stars, sparklers and the like, and not from the straggling firecrackers still going off in the distant sky. Finally able to give free rein to their mutual passion, the reunited lovers were insatiable, and it was well past sun-up when the exhausted duo eventually took a breather, collapsing into a deep, sated sleep. What a way to ring in the New Year!

Much to Eric's relief - at least, initially - the proverbial "morning after" that memorable New Year's Eve wasn't the least bit weird or awkward. When he and Calleigh finally surfaced around one o'clock in the afternoon, she was all sunny smiles and vivacious energy, as though they hadn't burned up his bedsheets just a few short hours ago. He knew her well enough to recognize that her determined cheerfulness was just a façade; a way to avoid discussing the ramifications of the previous night's intimacy. Nonetheless, he let her evasiveness slide that first day, simply content to bask in the fact that she'd been back in his arms and in his bed, where he planned on keeping her. So they went out for brunch before he took her back to Cosmo to fetch her car, and then they parted ways with a friendly kiss.

In the ensuing weeks, a similar scenario repeated itself for the couple, and often. As he'd predicted, Calleigh chalked their intimate New Year's Eve encounter up to the effects of the champagne (though they both knew otherwise). But then one "slip up" a couple of days later turned into two, then three, and then many others too numerous to count. Each time they slept together, she reminded him of what an unwise idea she thought it was. And each time, with the same flimsy excuse about not wanting to "ruin our friendship," she made him promise that it wouldn't happen again. Eric said the words just to placate her, but that wasn't really what he wanted, deep down. While he surely had no desire for their amazing sex to end (he was a red-blooded male, not a saint, after all), he needed more than simply being her "bed buddy." In all honesty, if someone had told him five years ago that he'd be dissatisfied with toe-curling, friends-with-benefits sex, he would've referred them to the nearest psych ward. And yet, Eric's feelings for Calleigh had landed him in exactly this predicament. However, in his opinion (unlike hers), the answer wasn't to distance themselves from each other physically and emotionally. Rather, he believed that the solution lay in more intimacy, not less, and that the best way to achieve it would be for the both of them to take an honest crack at fixing their relationship.

Thankfully, Calleigh took the bull by the horns before all of their unspoken issues could do any irreversible damage. Right after they'd solved the Bradstone murder case (a matter on which the S.A.'s office and MDPD had collaborated), she accosted him in the CSI locker room with her version of the dreaded, "We need to talk." And although he was by no means immune to the fear that this phrase had been striking in the hearts of men since the dawn of time, in hindsight, talking through it all proved to be a monumental step forward for them as a couple. By putting all of their hurt feelings, lingering mistrust, and insecurities out in the open, they were able to tackle them head-on and resolve them together. In the end, the process made them even closer, and firmer than ever in their commitment to each other and to their relationship.

Since that time (up until her second bout of smoke inhalation), everything has been pretty much perfect, except for one thing: Eric has never actually told Calleigh that he loves her. More opportunities missed; more moments wasted. And now, as she lies motionless before him in the blindingly-white hospital room, he realizes that she might leave this earth, and him, forever, without ever knowing just how much she truly means to him. When she went into cardiac arrest about two hours ago, he felt as if his own heart had stopped right along with hers. His career as a CSI exposed him to some of the most gruesome circumstances imaginable, but none of them even came close to the crushing sense of panic that hit him like a ton of bricks when the shrieking alarm from the vital signs monitor signaled the worst of all possible scenarios. Fortunately, the doctors managed to get Calleigh's heart beating again, but shortly thereafter, she slipped back into unconsciousness and remains in critical condition. Eric's been cautioned that her prognosis will be touch-and-go unless she permanently regains consciousness and starts breathing on her own. He knows that he won't be able to move, breathe, or have the slightest peace of mind until she opens her eyes and he sees for himself that she's come back to him. (He prefers to think in terms of "untils" and "whens" rather than "ifs," because the latter suggests an alternative much too painful for him to contemplate). Consoling himself with the cross that she gave him when he was in a similar position three years ago (and which he's always kept with him since), he prays with his entire being that he'll get the chance to finally share all of his emotions with her, to make it right once and for all.

As though her subconscious can read his mind, Calleigh awakens, blinking rapidly as her vision adjusts to the oppressive glare from the florescent overhead lights. Eyes darting around the sterile room, she tries to overcome the disorientation so typical of patients emerging from prolonged unconsciousness. In an attempt to avoid startling her, Eric squelches the urge to let out an elated holler, and instead, gently slips his hand in hers and squeezes tenderly.

"I'm right here, Cal. Right here," he whispers soothingly. His voice centers her scattered attention and she turns toward him, her gaze changing from one of confusion to one of happy recognition as the cobwebs clear and she realizes that he's right beside her. She acknowledges his reassurance by lightly squeezing his hand, and he's overjoyed that she has the strength to perform the gesture.

"Welcome back," he says with a relieved grin, lovingly stroking her blond locks. She reciprocates with a small smile of her own, which still has the power to warm up the room despite the breathing tube that remains in her mouth. For the next couple of minutes, while Calleigh continues to regain her bearings, Eric revisits the mental catalog of recollections that occupied his thoughts as he waited for her to awaken from her comatose state. And as he murmurs comfortingly to her, he realizes that there are three small, but significant words that he needs to say to her right now. No more delays, no more hesitation. If there's one thing this harrowing experience has taught him, it's that life is too short and too unpredictable for "wait-and-sees." And that second chance you take for granted might never materialize. He'll be damned before he blows another opportunity to let her know how he really feels. It's time.

"Cal, look at me," he begins. "I love you, and I can't lose you, babe." A little nervous about leaving such a major declaration hanging out there on its own, he quickly continues, "Please promise me that, from here on out, you'll leave the fire rescues to the professionals, okay?" Calleigh's eyes grow as wide as saucers at his emotional announcement. She opens her mouth as if to speak, but no sound comes out due to the breathing tube still in her throat.

"Shh," Eric cautions. "I don't think it's a good idea to try talking with the tube still in." His concerned irises - the color of warm, rich Caribbean rum - search her still pale face, trying to gauge her reaction to his long-overdue outpouring of feelings. But aside from her initial shock, her languid affect is making her quite hard to read, probably because she's still a bit groggy from her medication. And it's just the opening that his persistent self-doubt needs to overtake his mind once more. He figures that her temporary muteness might be a blessing in disguise, since, from his vantage point, it seems very doubtful that she's going to reciprocate his heartfelt confession. His gaze flickers to the pen and notepad on the bedside table (out of Calleigh's limited range of sight), but he decides against handing them to her. She needs to rest, and besides, he's in no hurry to read a laundry list of reasons why she can't return his feelings aloud. Better to delay the disappointment that he's virtually sure is forthcoming. Brushing aside his unease, he tries for levity, falling back on the boyish charm that never fails to coax a smile from the object of his affection.

"Can you give me a little nod, so I know we have a deal?" Eric prompts, reminding her of his unanswered request for a promise. Calleigh drops her chin slightly, indicating her assent. "Good, because, left to me, you'd never go near any kind of open flame ever again ... no campfires, no fireplaces ... not even a candle," he adds with a laugh. His attempt at humor has the desired effect on her, provoking what starts out as a giggle, but quickly turns into a strangled grimace.

"Alright ... I think that's my cue to call for a nurse to check you out and get rid of that breathing tube," he smiles, reaching for the "Call" button beside the bed. In less than a minute, an RN swoops into the room, shooing Eric outside as she tends to her patient and pages the doctor.

About thirty minutes later, having completed his examination of Calleigh, the doctor exits the room and approaches Eric, who's been standing with his face practically pressed against one of the large glass windows surrounding the alcove. The physician informs him that, although they still don't know why her heart stopped, the results of her exam and tests have all come back normal. Eric releases a breath he didn't realize he was holding, as the last few hours of agonizing tension leave his body. Anxious to see her, he has to restrain himself from sprinting to her bedside, and instead, quietly enters the room, his footfall barely audible against the cool tile floor. She greets him with a buoyant smile and a small wave, and he notices that her cheeks have started to regain their color, a realization that thrills him tremendously.

"Hi," he greets softly, as he sits beside her.

"Hi," she breathes in reply. As expected, no sound crosses her lips, since her throat and vocal cords are still sore from all the tubes and the smoky, soot-filled air that she inhaled in the fire.

"Don't try to speak," he gently admonishes, chuckling a little at her tenacity. Trust his determined Southern Belle to attempt speech even when her body and voice refuse to play ball. She sighs, relenting for the time being, and then fixes him with her trademark jade gaze ... the one she saves especially for him ... the one that never fails to hypnotize. As he regards her in return, he recognizes a familiar emotion in her eyes that he's certain is reflected in his. Love, perhaps? Or is she merely glad to see him? After all, it would scarcely be unusual for her to be happy to see her boyfriend, especially after surviving the life-threatening events that she's endured.

Before Eric can pursue this train of thought, he notices a movement out of the corner of his eye, and turns toward it. Calleigh follows his line of sight, and they spot Horatio, pacing outside of the room like the concerned surrogate father he is to them both. She's chomping at the bit to give H. a message, presumably about the investigation into the arson that resulted in the death of a teenage boy and put her in the hospital. Her guts and dedication never cease to impress Eric - they've made him a better criminalist, and without question, a better man. They're just two more of the countless reasons why he loves her, and why she completes him so perfectly.

Eric doesn't know how she pulled it off, but by nightfall, Calleigh has managed to get herself sprung from Dade Memorial. The doctors would've preferred to keep her overnight for observation, but without a medical mandate to stay put, he should have known that his headstrong girlfriend would be out of there faster than greased lightning. With the mesmerizing look that always turns him into a spineless "yes-man," she swiftly made mincemeat of his misgivings and pleas for her to remain in the hospital until the next morning. And what's more, she's succeeded in convincing him not only to drive her home, but also to stop by CSI Headquarters on the way, ostensibly just for her to pick up some personal items. Fortunately, he was able to cajole her into agreeing to one condition for her early release from the hospital: Letting him be her shadow for the next twenty-four hours. As fiercely-independent as she is, he's pretty sure that she's not going to like him hovering over her (or "fussing," as she calls it) and forcing her to take it easy, but she's just going to have to deal. Knowing Calleigh, she's liable to push herself too far too soon, and he wants to make sure that she doesn't.

Predictably, however, she's unable to resist trying to squeeze in a little work during their brief stopover at her office. He takes his eyes off her for less than five minutes - to touch base with Horatio about another case - and returns to find both her locker and her desk deserted, with no sign of her nearby. Some sixth sense tells Delko that Calleigh's at the morgue, so - taking a route he knows like the back of his hand - he heads over to that wing of the building. Sure enough, there she is, standing near the entryway with an intensely pensive look on her expressive face, lost in contemplation as she stares across the room at the lifeless body of Patrick Dawson, the teenage boy who died in the same fire that put her own life in danger.

"Babe, work will still be here tomorrow. You should be back at the hospital," Eric says, reminding her of his objections to her early discharge. Her stubborn decision to refuse a precautionary overnight stay is risky enough; he's not about to let her put herself back in the E.R. by overdoing it.

She lets him draw her weary body against his and lays her head on his chest, seeking solace in his solid frame . "Yeah, you know ... you've had this job before. You know sometimes there are just things you need to do," she responds. Well, there's no arguing with that. During his tenure as a CSI, he can't tell you how many times he pulled "all-nighters" - working through his exhaustion - because a case wouldn't let him rest until he finished a particular task or resolved some thorny issue. With all that's happened today, Calleigh hasn't gotten around to filling him in on the details of the arson investigation yet, but Eric can tell that this case has touched her even more deeply than usual. One of the many things he admires about her is her compassion for the victims of the heinous crimes she encounters every day, especially when they're children. He remembers how troubled she was by the recent homicide investigation involving Phoebe Nichols, a teen pop star and mega-celebrity who'd been exploited by everyone around her, including her own mother. But Calleigh seems even more profoundly affected by Patrick's death, which has clearly left her shaken. It's almost as if she had a personal connection to the young man whose life was so tragically cut short.

"It's the strangest thing, but I feel like I knew him," she observes, confirming Eric's intuition. Then she walks over to the deceased teenager and with a gentle touch to his face, whispers, "Rest in peace," as though bidding him farewell. The moving scene brings a lump to Eric's throat as he shares her pain, overcome with emotion for the beautiful, caring woman before him.

Having achieved the closure she sought, Calleigh shuts the refrigerator and turns to rejoin Eric near the doorway, reaching out for him as she steps across the room. He willingly meets her halfway and enfolds her in a sympathetic embrace, sensing just how much she needs it right now. He feels her relax in his arms and she sags against him, letting him support her completely for a change as she lets go of the fear, stress and grief of the past day.

Just when he thinks she's going to pull away, she rises on her tiptoes, her warm breath teasing the shell of his ear as she says the words he's waited forever to hear: "I love you too, Eric." Her whispered confession sends a spark of jubilation streaking down his spine, his heart instantly so full that it feels like it's going to explode out of his chest. He has to grit his teeth to keep from hugging her with all the ardor he feels, fearful of squeezing the air out of her fragile lungs. So he settles for holding her close for a few more moments - though he'd stay like this forever, if he had his way - and then dropping an affectionate peck on her forehead.

As his lips brush against her soft skin, Eric can't help but notice that she's a little flushed. He takes a step back to study her face, and his suspicions are confirmed by the blush on her cheeks and her subtly shy gaze. The observation makes his lips twitch as he tries in vain to suppress a grin at her adorableness. She can face-off with the most intimidating suspects without batting an eyelash, but when it comes to revelations of the romantic sort, she still feels a bit out of her element.

"C'mon, let's go home," she proposes, recovering nicely and eliciting a knowing smirk from him. Her voice is slightly husky with emotion, which pleases him to no end; not to mention the intimacy that her use of the word "home" suggests. As they leave the morgue, she reaches for his hand, sending his pulse happily tripping over itself.

"Sounds good to me," he replies, smiling warmly as he threads his fingers through hers. And with that, the two turn to walk to the elevator, and into their future, together.

A dozen years of "almosts" are finally over.