Author's Note: Set post-8.24 "All Fall Down." Rated PG-13, but could be read as a very strong PG.
It was her first night out of the hospital since the day at the lab that he was trying his hardest to forget, and as Eric drove Calleigh back to her place, the dingy orange hospital patient bracelet wrapped tightly around her wrist, he couldn't find the words he wished so dearly he could say. The words he had whispered to her in the hospital, of "keep fighting, Calleigh" and "I'm not leaving your side," - the latter had been true, until the nurses dragged him out of her room after visiting hours were over - seemed to pale in the harsh light of reality. Was it really just over a year ago when he had uttered, in a different hospital room, that he couldn't imagine his life without her? It seemed almost as though they had aged a lifetime in that year, almost as though it had been a different man.
Something had changed her in the hospital; she seemed quiet, nearly distant, as she shrank against the door and stared straight ahead. He slowed the car to a halt at a red light; he reached over and took one of her hands in his, squeezing gently. A small gesture, to be sure, but a small smile twitched at the corners of Calleigh's lips, and he knew that it was appreciated. "Thanks," she whispered, patting their joined hands and turning away, not breaking the connection he had forged.
The remainder of the car ride seemingly went by in a flash, and before he realized it, they were pulling up in front of her house. "Want me to -" Eric started to ask if he could stay for a little while, make sure she would be fine, before he headed on home.
She interrupted him mid-question with another hand squeeze before separating and saying, "Yes, I want you to stay."
He searched through her cupboards not even ten minutes later, hoping to satisfy her most simple of requests. "You don't have any tea," he said, a small frown on his face as he glanced at the instant soup packets that now littered the counter top. "I can make you soup, though," he continued, his face lifting into a hopeful smile.
She walked out of her bedroom, a fluffy white robe wrapped around her and tied with a matching sash. "I told you, in the cupboard next to the microwave." As if to prove a point, she opened it and without even looking, grasped hold of two chamomile tea packets and placed them in his hand.
"You're welcome, by the way," she said with a weak, tired smile, as she walked over to the sofa to rest while waiting for him to finish.
She looked small, curled into her couch as she was, sunk within the fluffy folds of her robe and buried beneath a soft blue blanket and a matching throw pillow. "Thanks, Eric," she said, accepting the mug from his grasp with a grateful smile, as he settled down next to her.
"No problem," he replied, placing his own mug on a coaster and turning to face her. "How are you feeling?"
She thought for a moment. "Weak, a little tired, glad to be home, though," she said, "I don't get this kind of personal care at the hospital." He only found himself nodding his head in reply, unsure of how to react to her statement. "I'm glad you're here, though," she continued, sipping her tea thoughtfully.
"I wouldn't be anywhere else tonight," he stated.
"What about tomorrow night?" she asked, a coy smile slipping onto her face.
"Whatever you wanted."
"I," she paused, "would want you here with me."
"Then, that's where I'd be." There was no half-truths in his statement; he couldn't think of any place that he'd rather be than with her. And, he thought to himself as he caught a glimpse of a tiny smile hidden beneath a mug of tea, she seemed to have no protest.
It was after both cups laid discarded on coasters and the blanket had migrated over to cover part of Eric's legs as well as Calleigh's that the conversation took a new turn. "I thought," Eric said, slipping his fingers along the hem of the blanket, easing his hand closer to hers, "that I'd lose you this time."
"You're never going to lose me," she said, the faintest hint of a bitter laugh edging her voice, "not if the past hospital visits haven't killed me yet."
"Too many visits," he murmured, "for both of us."
"Eric," she said softly, placing her hand on his cheek, "we're not -"
"I can't lose you, Cal. Not now, not ever."
She nodded, and Eric could almost see, out of the corner of his line of vision, a stray tear or two trickling down her cheek. She was crying. "I thought - I was sure - that I had lost you -" she said, pausing to breathe every few words, "last year -"
He pulled her into an embrace, her head resting on his left shoulder, and he tilted his head down to whisper one simple word in her ear: "never." He simply held her in his arms, holding her against him, feeling her breath flutter softly at the breadth of his shoulders. It felt good to hold her - felt good to know that they were both alive and she was here and nothing, not anything - could stand between them. On the stroke of an impulse, he tilted her chin up and pressed his lips against hers - a silent plea, for what, he was unsure. She pulled him in closer, the smell of hospital disinfectant and cheap hand soap replacing her normal scent; her grip around the back of his head felt so tight, it almost felt as though she was trying to grasp to him, make sure that he was real and this wasn't some dream or dying hallucination.
He drew from her lips the affirmation that they were both alive and unbroken; she sought refuge in his embrace. As they broke apart, pressing their foreheads against each other, staring into each others' eyes - watery green meeting caring brown, she played with the edge of her sash. "I'm kind of tired," she said with a yawn.
"I'll go then," Eric said, reluctantly breaking from their embrace and standing up, "you should rest."
"Or, you can stay, and we can rest together," she said. After seeing a hopeful glint in Eric's eyes, she hastily added, "I'm too tired for anything besides resting, though."
"It's been a long few days."
"Tell me about it."
It was in the dark light of the sky before sunrise when Eric awoke to find himself spooned behind Calleigh, his arms wrapped protectively around her waist. She was so very much alive in his arms, the sound of her soft breathing the only noise in the room. There would be time to show how much she meant to him, how there was no way he'd let anything stand between them.
For now, it was just them, just the two of them, and that was how he wanted it to be.
"Never leaving you," he whispered as he drifted back to sleep. It didn't matter if she heard it or not - she knew the words were true either way.