A/N: Set between ep.6x10, "CSI: My Nanny," and ep.6x19, "Rock and a Hard Place." Not beta'd. Credit for the lullaby goes to the Dixie Chicks and "Godspeed, Sweet Dreams."
I've been sitting around with this story on my hands for a while. I wanted to avoid too much fluff on this one, but alas, the last chapters commend themselves to much fluff and angst. They are extremely close to being finished, but I would love some input on how it could end, so that I can move on. Tell me what you think!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Eric was exhausted. Collapse-on-the-couch, never-wake-up kind of exhausted. My sisters better be damn glad I love them, he thought to himself. Years ago, when Isabel, Clara, and Gabriela first started having kids, they volunteered to babysit for each other on birthdays and anniversaries.
Slowly, the brood of children began to grow, and the women couldn't take on the responsibility of their own offspring plus their sisters'. Eric became the go-to babysitter.
It was a role he secretly cherished; Eric was the baby in his family—even amongst all his cousins—and he enjoyed getting to be the crazy, fun uncle who spoiled all nine of his nieces and nephews. Well, nine-and-a-half, he thought with a laugh. Clara was expecting again.
This weekend, however, had been demanding for the normally unflappable uncle. Isa's oldest son, Alejandro, came down with the chickenpox this week and the six-year-old was therefore quarantined at his abuela's house. Isa's other three children, Lucas, Mateo, and Magdalena, currently sat huddled with Eric on his living room sofa watching Finding Nemo.
Feeding, showering, dressing, and entertaining three children under the age of five is challenging in itself, but the task quadrupled in difficulty when those three children missed their brother and mami and papi.
Thank goodness for Disney, Eric chuckled, singing along with Dory in his head as he watched the television screen: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimmiiiiing…Oh my God. I need to get out more.
Just then, Eric's phone buzzed noisily on the end table by the couch. He carefully reached over to answer it, hoping against hope that it wasn't work. It was.
"Eric," said the familiar voice over the phone. "It's Horatio."
"Hey, H," Eric sighed tiredly.
"We've got a situation."
"And you need me to come in?"
"Yes, sir, I do." he said apologetically.
"Horatio," Eric paused, looking at the three sleepy little monsters bundled up around him. "Horatio, do you know what you're asking me right now?" He wouldn't normally question his boss—ever—but exactly what was he supposed to do with these kids?
"Eric, I know you've had this weekend off planned for months—"
"H—it's Isa's tenth anniversary. Lucas, Mateo and Lena are here."
"Oh," Horatio quietly chuckled. "I see, then…Well, bring them with you."
"What?" Eric asked, not sure he'd quite heard his LT correctly.
"Bring them with you. You're not going out in the field. But I need you here—the governor's granted a 24-hour stay of execution for Anthony Rutherford. It's your case, and we need all hands on deck."
Anthony Rutherford. That bastard raped and murdered four innocent women in cold blood eight years ago. Eric had only been on the job for a year or so. He worked the case with Calleigh and Speedle, but he was the one to discover and recover the key evidence linking Rutherford to all four murders. And his testimony put Rutherford behind bars, awaiting the electric chair.
Eric sighed again. "Okay, I'll be there. But it might take me a little while to gather everyone up."
"That's fine. Get here as soon as you can."
"Alright. Bye, H."
Eric heard the phone click shut. He looked at his nephews and niece and made a snap decision: they were bathed and dressed in their pajamas, and they would stay that way. He laughed: he was about to trudge into CSI headquarters with three small children, complete with diaper bags and Mickey Mouse footies.
Better get a move on…
Forty-five minutes later, Eric walked off the elevators on the sixth floor of the Miami Dade Crime Lab to a rather curious sight.
"No, you back up! To your left a little—there."
"Simmons, you're like a foot taller than me, bring your end down."
"Bring yours up!"
Eric laughed. Hard. He recognized Ryan Wolfe and a tall African American night shift technician he knew by the name of Walter carrying the sofa from the break room down the hall.
"What the heck are you guys doing?" Eric called good-naturedly.
A red-faced Ryan whipped to look at him. "Not right now, Delko," he paused, taking in the sight of his friend buried under a mountain of…child. "When did you go and pop out a few kids?"
Eric followed Walter and Ryan toward Horatio's office, with his leather messenger bag-turned briefcase over his shoulder, a diaper bag over the other, one cranky twin on each hip, and a tired-looking four-year-old clutching his denim pant leg. Of course, the front wheel on the stroller had decided tonight was the night to snap off.
"They're not mine, you idiot."
"Obviously," Ryan strained under the weight of the couch. They'd made it into H's office now, and the two men set the couch down, facing the one already there. "But whose are they?"
"My sister Isabel's."
"I thought she had four kids?"
"Alejandro's at my mom's. He has the chickenpox."
"Eric," Horatio walked up, taking Magdalena from her uncle's arms so the man could set down his briefcase on one of H's chairs. "Hi sweetheart," he crooned softly to Lena.
He turned to Walter and Ryan, "Thank you gentlemen." The night-shift tech nodded his head and headed out of the office, back to his lab station.
"What's the couch for, anyway?" Ryan asked.
"Well," Horatio said, "These kids need a place to sleep."
"Ah. Right." Ryan didn't really get why Eric had three of his sister's kids at work, or why he'd just carried a massive piece of furniture down the hall to create a makeshift bed for them, but he wasn't about to ask questions.
"Where's Alejandro?" Horatio queried, grabbing a blanket from the bottom drawer of his desk and spreading it out, one-handed, over the conjoined couches.
"Chickenpox. He's at my mom's," Eric explained again. He took in the elaborate set up in Horatio's office and said, "You didn't have to do this."
Horatio was a softy, though, and Eric knew he wanted to make sure his niece and nephews were as happy and comfortable as possible. Not to mention the whole team would be up all night working on this case.
"It's nothing." He set little Magdalena on the bed, and Eric followed suit with Mateo. Then he hoisted Lucas up and over the armrests to join his brother and sister. "Get them settled and I'll get you up to speed. Mr. Wolfe, have you reached our witness yet? It's getting late."
Ryan groaned. He'd called four times. Still no answer. "Not yet. I'll call again. Drop by in the morning," he said as he retreated from the office.
As Horatio filled Eric in on the Rutherford crisis, the young CSI dug in the diaper bag, unloading the essentials: Lucas' stuffed bear and favorite blanket, Mateo's pacifier and ratty stuffed turtle, and Lena's soft little baby doll and an old T-shirt of her uncle's. The last item was inextricably Lena's favorite—she used it as a blanky-substitute and took it with her everywhere.
He removed a few juice boxes and snacks from the bag and went behind Horatio's desk to place them in his small refrigerator. Meanwhile, H continued to update him, simultaneously wheeling his flat-screen TV to the corner of the office at the end of the couches.
Perfect, Eric thought, and pulled out the unfinished DVD he stashed in the bag on the way out the door. He handed it to his boss and Horatio slipped it into the player. Eric took another large blanket out of the bottom of the bag and laid it out for the trio of brown-eyed little Delkos… well, Romeros.
"So," Horatio concluded. "The governor granted the stay based on the unexplained fibers and the stray blood drop on the third victim. He can't ignore your testimony, or the fingerprints and tire treads you analyzed."
Eric ran a hand over his forehead. "But all Rutherford needs is a shred of reasonable doubt for an appeal. Natalia's working on the blood?"
"She's in DNA as we speak, and Calleigh is going back over all the knife marks and spatter patterns."
"Actually, I'm right here," Calleigh called from the open door. "Well isn't this just cozy?" she said with a bright smile as she spied the kids on their 'bed.'
"Tía Calleigh!" Lucas brightened up for the first time in several hours. He stood up, preparing to launch himself at Calleigh, when his uncle warned him, "Lucas…"
Instead, he waited for Calleigh to swoop him into a tight hug. She planted a kiss on his cheek, which he pretended he didn't like, even though the giant grin on his face said otherwise.
Eric gave Calleigh a small smile. The last words they had exchanged before he left work early yesterday were in anger. Eric had stepped between her and a suspect; he ended up with a punch to the face. Instead of being concerned about his well-being, Calleigh snapped at him for interfering. She would have handled it.
They spent ten minutes arguing, Calleigh complaining that he treated her differently, and Eric insisting that he wasn't trying to subvert her authority in the interrogation room.
"Cal, I didn't mean anything by it! He got angry, and I reacted. I'm sorry."
Calleigh rolled her eyes and glared at Eric. "He wasn't going to hurt me, you just made things worse."
"How do you know that, Calleigh? How do you know he wouldn't have done the exact same thing to you?" Eric shuddered with the memory of Calleigh being held at gunpoint by her kidnapper, and him not able to do a damn thing to help her. The image was burned into his consciousness, and he couldn't shake it.
Calleigh knew what he was thinking about. "Do you honestly doubt that I can do my job because of what happened?"
"That's not it at all!" Eric didn't doubt her in the least. His worries about her safety stemmed from his own desire to protect her at all costs.
"Eric, there's no way you would have stepped in front of that suspect if he was threatening Wolfe. You treat me differently, admit it!"
"Of course I do, Cal! But it's not because I don't think you can do your job!"
"Then, why?"She knew the answer to that question. She knew it would hurt him to answer it, and she knew she would regret it later, but she was mad and wanted to hear him admit it.
"You know why, Calleigh."Because I'm desperately in love with you.
He wasn't going to do this. He saw the blaze in her eyes, and he knew she was just angry.
Damn him. Eric saw the fire in her gaze dim down a notch, and he decided to take his chances with the truth. "I get overprotective where you're concerned. You're right. But I can't change that and I won't apologize for it."
The seconds ticked by before she finally responded with a laden sigh, "Eric, just leave. Please." The fight had gone out of her.
He gave a heavy sigh of his own and complied, not wanting to argue anymore. Calleigh didn't watch him leave, and Eric walked out the door without turning back.
Calleigh had tried to call last night, but Eric was juggling three kids and was still a little angry with her; he didn't answer. As he looked at her right now, he knew he wasn't angry. He could never stay mad at her for long. They both apologized with their eyes, and in an instant the whole argument was a thing of the past. They fought, they made up, it's what they did.
Lucas' small voice brought them back to the present. "Tía Calleigh, Tío says we have to stay here t'night," he complained, his happy smile turning into a pitiful frown. "Are you stayin', too?"
"I am," she smiled down at him. "Nice pajamas."
"Where are your pajamas?"
"Well, I have to work for a little while. So I'm not wearing mine."
"Oh. Tío has to work, too," Lucas whispered conspicuously.
Calleigh chuckled and whispered back, just as loudly, "I know." She patted him on the backside and set him back on the couch. She counted only three small heads.
Eric smiled. "He's at my mom's with the chickenpox."
"Where are we with the toolmarks, Ms. Duquesne?"
"Well, I've been over everything three times in the last two hours. I went over it a hundred times eight years ago. We're not missing anything. The same knife killed all four women. The knick on the blade left a distinctive mark on the bones of victims one and three, and the tearing patterns of the wounds are consistent for all four vics."
"That is good news, Calleigh."
"Yep," she agreed. "The problem is, we still don't have the murder weapon, and can't tie it to Rutherford."
"No," Eric sighed, sitting on the armrests of the couch and reaching over to hand Mateo his turtle. "But we do have the tread marks. I'll re-examine the treads, but I'm as positive now as I was then that Anthony Rutherford's tires made those marks."
"We have something to link him to every crime scene," Calleigh remarked. "And evidence interlinking each of the murders. Even without DNA from the rape kits, Eric found an imprint of Rutherford's hand on the thighs of two of the victims. Horatio, how is this even being reconsidered?"
"Politics," he said simply. "We'll let the evidence speak for itself. We need to take a second look at everything, especially the fibers and blood spatter."
"I'm just starting with the blood patterns. I'll let you know what I find," Calleigh said.
"Thank you, ma'am." Calleigh ruffled Lucaslas' hair and placed a quick kiss on Lena's head before she exited Horatio's office.
With one last glance at the children snuggled up on the couches, entranced once more with Finding Nemo, Eric stood up to leave. "They seem settled. I'll start on the treads."
"Find me," Horatio said. Eric snatched his bag and headed to his lab.