Finally, this story comes to an end. Thanks everyone for reading, all the reviews, alerts, etc., and for the great patience you've had because I suck when it comes to frequent updates.
Thanks again and I've hoped you've enjoyed this.
An alarm ripped through the silence of the night and Eric's heavy eyes opened to face the blurred red numbers of the alarm clock; he blinked his eyes and 2:30 read clearly to him as he reached across to turn off the crude sound. His eyes adjusted to the dark room, the silhouette of Calleigh lay in bed beside him and beyond her, just beside their bed, was a bassinet that held their baby daughter; Brooke, unlike her mother, stirred at the sound of the alarm and was whimpering at the sound it had made.
Eric got to his feet and rushed to the bassinet, gently lifting out Brooke and holding her against him.
"Shh," he whispered to her soothingly. "It's okay, baby, it's just time for your bottle."
The doctors had given specific instructions at the hospital to feed Brooke every three hours and they had maintained that for the two weeks they had been home. Eric hadn't really thought of it as two weeks, however, due to the rush and blur of the fortnight, Eric felt like it was just yesterday Dr. Cameron had bestowed upon them the news.
A total of ten weeks had passed since Brooke was born and now Dr. Cameron was looking over Brooke and her progress, the parents watching with minor anxiety as the doctor checked her reflexes, listened to her heart and ran the appropriate tests. When the examination was complete, she faced Eric and Calleigh and a smile spread across her face.
"Two more weeks and you should be able to take her home," she declared; the parents let out a breath they had been holding for the ten weeks and their hearts swelled. "She has met all the requirements for discharge, but we would like to keep her a little longer, just to be sure, and to help you two get ready for taking her home, because obviously pre-term babies may have a different life at home than a regular newborn."
Dr. Cameron instantly started discussing ways to be prepared for when Brooke came home. "We would like to send her home on a heart and breathing monitor that I recommend you use for a few months, just as a way to keep track," she said at one point. Then, "She's going to have to eat every three hours," at another. She recommended for them to take a refresher course in infant CPR and first aid, as well as taking other classes that specialized in bringing home infants that had been in NICU.
Throughout it all, they listened carefully as Dr. Cameron explained the precautions and gave them the literature to read to prepare them further.
"This should help you two get ready, but if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask," Dr. Cameron said with a smile; she left shortly after, leaving the parents alone with their baby.
There certainly was a lot of information to digest and they were certain that caring for Brooke at home wouldn't always be an easy task, but in that moment they just looked at each other and embraced, smiling in delight.
"She gets to come home, Eric," Calleigh laughed, her voice thick with emotion.
Eric couldn't respond; there were no words to convey the relief, the joy or pure amazement he felt. He smiled into Calleigh's hair as his heart raced in excitement; all of the pain they endured over the last few years came to this, the promise of taking their daughter home.
"You get to come home, Brooke," Eric smiled down at his daughter when he and Calleigh leaned out of the embrace, though their arms were still wrapped around one another. "Yeah, you finally get to see where you're going to live."
Brooke stared up at her parents and, as Calleigh looked into those warm brown eyes, her own began to fill with tears.
"You're crying," Eric observed, knowing the source of the tears didn't come from grief.
Calleigh laughed again and looked up at him. "I'm just so happy."
Then the day finally arrived for them to take little Brook home; they put her the car seat and as they pull away from the hospital, the car was saturated with joy and the butterflies most parents felt when it was time to bring their child home. Somehow though, when they showed her around the house and placed her in the bassinet, their worries melted away and they experienced the full impact of knowing their family was now whole.
The high Calleigh received from that was cut short, however, as the issue of work presented itself; it was demanded Calleigh return to CSI or risk her employment being terminated. The heads at IAB had been lenient when it came to her depression and the leave she and Eric took when Brooke was born so suddenly, but they decided enough was enough. They told Calleigh to start working full time again right away, however Horatio managed to convince them to let her only work part time to begin with, knowing how important it was to Calleigh to spend as much time with Brooke as possible.
Calleigh had been grateful to Horatio for persuading them of that, as well as everything else he and the rest of the team had done, however it was with a heavy heart she returned to work. On her first day back she found herself unable to completely concentrate, her mind always traveling back to the baby who was being watched by her grandparents. All she could see that day was Brooke's perfect little face, with big brown eyes and soft dark hair, her small body fitting in her arms; her heart ached whenever the image became too tangible and the part time hours began to feel like a grueling twenty-four hour shift.
Eventually, her time at work would be up and she would be allowed to pick up Brooke from Carmen's and gladly invest hours and hours into holding her daughter in her arms, this time knowing she wouldn't soon have to put her down and leave, as the case had been in the NICU. Calleigh soon became used to the arrangement at work and was able to put forth the dedication in her job she was renowned for, though sometimes her mind would wander back to Brooke and the dull ache would return. Then she'd remind herself that at least they had a baby that was home, safe and much healthier than they could have hoped for; that would usually make her smile and forget about any pain she'd feel.
Eric walked out of the bedroom as quietly as possible as to not disturb his wife, who looked completely at ease during her sleep. Eric couldn't blame Calleigh for being so utterly exhausted, with working part time, taking care of Brooke when home and running on minimal sleep anyone would be exhausted, but he knew Calleigh wouldn't trade those exhausting hours of mothering for the world, he knew she cherished them for all they were worth. How could she not with all they had been through to achieve their tiny miracle?
The highlight of Eric's day was coming home after a work to see Calleigh walking around the kitchen or living room, Brooke swaddled in blankets and being tenderly held in her mother's arms while Calleigh softly sang her to sleep. By this time of day, Calleigh would have changed from her work clothes and was in sweats and an old shirt, her hair would be pulled back into a ponytail that wouldn't necessarily be flawless and every inch of her face would suggest she was tired; then he would see the smile on her lips and any trace of exhaustion would vanish.
Eric crept into the kitchen to prepare Brooke's bottle, careful to make as little noise as possible while doing so. The bottle began to heat and Eric walked around the kitchen, his baby cuddling into his chest; the blanket Carmen made was wrapped loosely around her, one of her tiny hands clutching the edge. He wrapped the blanket around her a bit more and kissed her forehead. Brooke was looking at him, her eyelids drooping slightly over her eyes as she began to contently suck her thumb; the simple action made his heart melt.
"I think you get more adorable every day," he smiled down at her.
Once the bottle was prepared and Eric tested the formula on his skin, he sat on the couch, Brooke resting perfectly in the crook of his arm. He offered her the bottle, but she turned away from it, still sucking her thumb and looking on the verge of sleep.
"I know you're tired, sweetie," he whispered. "But you have to drink this and then you can go back to bed."
With his pinky, he gently removed her thumb from her mouth and tried the bottle again, this time she accepted it.
"There we go," Eric smiled, tipping the bottle to the appropriate angle. "You see, having this will make you grow big and strong."
These were the moments he had always fantasized having during his future with Calleigh, feeding their baby late at night as Calleigh slept due to sheer exhaustion; sure, the journey to this moment had been very different than he pictured, but the destination was almost the same and felt just as incredible as he expected.
Eric sat there until the final drop of formula was gone and it was time to put Brooke back to bed, but now she seemed determined not to close her eyes and stare up at her daddy.
"You wanted to sleep a few minutes ago," Eric sighed, smiling and rocking her in a soothing motion. "Are you trying to mess with me?" he asked playfully; Brooke simply began sucking her thumb again in reply. "Okay, you can stay up for five more minutes, but don't tell Momma I let you, okay, or we'll both be in trouble. We can have this be our first father-daughter secret, sound good?"
Eric got to his feet and walked down the hall, turning into the almost-completed nursery; how they'd managed to bring the nursery together with everything that was going on he'd never know. The walls were now completely painted, the crib assembled, the changing table done, and, thanks to Natalia and Valera's promised baby shower, they acquired many of the odds and ends such as clothes and pacifiers. Slowly but surely the room was coming together and it would soon be possible for Brooke to start sleeping here—though they would probably still keep her in their room longer anyway.
"How're you liking the nursery?" Eric asked, turning on the light to bring on the room's full beauty. "You know, one day you're going to be sleeping in here and playing in here. You're going to have a lot of fun," he added, kissing her forehead.
He walked over to the crib where there was a musical mobile; he pressed the button and a soft lullaby circulated around the room.
"I'd sing to you, but my voice isn't as soothing as Momma's," he whispered.
"Oh, I don't know about that, you've managed to sing her to sleep a few times." Eric turned to find Calleigh in her robe, smiling and leaning against the doorframe.
"What are you doing up?" Eric asked her with a smile at her untidy hair and the circles beneath her eyes.
She shrugged and approached them. "I woke up and had a feeling you'd be in here."
Brooke saw her mother and stretched her arm out to her. Calleigh leaned over Brooke and kissed her as her tiny finger wrapped around her own; Calleigh smiled and leaned against Eric's arm.
"You look tired," he commented.
"We'll all go back to bed soon enough," Calleigh said. She just needed a moment to absorb the room that had developed into a nursery. A room that had once contained hope then bitter disappointment had transformed into one of joy and practically perfection.
The music from the toy began to soften and fade as the lullaby came to an end; Brooke's eyes began to close and her grip on Calleigh's finger loosened.
"She's starting to doze off," Calleigh whispered, sliding Brooke's arm back into the warmth of the blanket; without words, Eric transferred Brooke into Calleigh's arms, who held her close and began to rock her gently. She loved holding her baby so close and feeling her relax as Brooke fell into a deep sleep; Eric knew that and adored seeing the smile that appeared on Calleigh's face.
He lowered his lips to her ear and whispered the words that he had said countless times and would never quit saying…and that Calleigh would never get tired of hearing.
"I love you," Eric breathed. "Both of you."
Calleigh smiled up at him, "We love you too."
Eric wrapped an arm around her, letting her lean into him as they looked down at their beautiful daughter who had now vanished into her dreams. They weren't sure how long after Brooke fell asleep that they stood in the nursery, though it truly didn't matter; all Eric knew was that he was holding on to the family he had longed for years and he would never let go.