This is it - the end of the story. Sorry for the long delay - work's been very busy and it took a little while to decide the best way to wrap this up while paying attention to canon. Thank you to those who reviewed and supported - I appreciate it very much and I hope you've enjoyed reading the story.
Ryder Medical Center
Natalia stepped out of TJ's room and stopped when she heard her name being called. Turning, she smiled as Eric walked up to her, "Hey, how's Calleigh doing?"
"Still asleep the last time I checked," Eric couldn't help smiling, too. The nightmare was finally ending.
"That's understandable. If I'd gone through all that, I think I'd sleep for a week," Natalia shook her head a little. When the EMTs had unfastened the bulletproof vest Calleigh was wearing, Natalia had been shocked to see blood on her t-shirt. She'd seen the bullet holes and powder burns on Calleigh's sweatshirt but there hadn't been any bloodstains and she'd assumed that the vest had done its work. She had no idea the slugs would penetrate. Fortunately, the vest had slowed the bullets enough and the wounds were superficial although the force of the impact had cracked a rib. "She's lucky that bastard didn't kill her."
Eric raised an eyebrow, "So are you."
Natalia arched an eyebrow right back and folded her arms, "That wasn't luck, that was a stone-stubborn Southern woman with a gun."
"Right, I forgot you prefer trashcan lids," Eric smirked lightly.
"Hey, you know what they say, 'Any port in a storm'. I was improvising." Natalia grinned in return. She turned and started down the hallway, Eric falling in alongside. Natalia smiled again, "So it's true? Calleigh's hearing is back?"
"Yeah," Eric grinned happily, "They're going to release her in the next day or so." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, "How's TJ?"
Natalia rolled her eyes, "It must be a family trait. He's got a concussion and he's complaining about being stuck in the hospital."
"I hear you," Eric did his own eye-roll, wondering idly if pig-headedness could be passed along in one's DNA. If so, he was going to have his hands full with the children. Realizing what he'd just thought had Eric stopping dead in the corridor. Children? With Calleigh? A small smile worked its way out, Well, why the hell not?
"Eric? Hello? Eric?"
Eric blinked and discovered Natalia watching him with folded arms and a smug grin. He ducked his head a little, feeling his cheeks grow warm.
She rolled her eyes and stepped forward, threading an arm through his, "Come on Romeo, let's go see Juliet. I need to thank her for saving my ass."
Somewhat off-balance, he let her drag him along. She knew? How did she do that? HE didn't know for sure until just a moment ago. "Umm, Natalia?" he stuttered a bit, waffling on the best way to approach the topic.
Natalia shot him an amused grin as she walked him down the hallway. That deer-in-the-headlights look was definitely cute on him. "Relax, Eric. I've known, Ryan's known, Alex has known, H definitely knows - I'm pretty sure the only one who doesn't know is Stetler."
"What?" Eric gulped, "But - but - "
Natalia heaved a sigh. Spotting an alcove, she hauled Delko into it. "Look Eric, we're all your friends - you and Calleigh both - and I know this past year has been rough but come on, we're CSIs. You think we can't see what's right in front of us?"
"Natalia," flustered, Eric dropped his head as he rubbed the back of his neck.
She had a pretty good idea what was bothering him, "Hey, I know you were being as honest as you could about us. I also realize that you were on the rebound. I'll admit I wasn't happy with you at the time but that's in the past and I'm okay with it. Besides, like I said, Calleigh's a friend. You're good for her and I think she knows that."
"She's had a funny way of showing it," Eric couldn't help grumbling quietly. "Hey!' He glared at Natalia while rubbing his arm, "What was that for?"
Natalia put her hands on her hips. "That's for being such a guy. For god's sake, Eric." Natalia stepped closer, lowering her voice, "Look, after I got away from my ex-, it was months before I was comfortable around any man. It took even longer for the nightmares to slow down." She glanced away for a second, "After you told me about Owens, I went and asked Alexx about it." She took a deep breath and turned back to Eric with a scowl, "You're lucky she's not locked up in a psych ward somewhere. You think it's easy to put all that behind you? I'm impressed that she made it into work each day. Don't you dare judge her on how she decided to cope. You didn't live through it."
"I could have helped," Eric frowned back at her.
"No - no, you couldn't," Natalia's voice was suddenly gentler. "You've never been in that position. You have no frame of reference. Believe me, she wasn't trying to hurt you, she was trying to survive for you." Eric opened his mouth to argue and Natalia put up a hand, stopping him, "Listen, I understand that you only wanted to be there for her and that it hurt when she walked away. I get it. I really do, but come on, what did you think was going to happen when you started pushing? I've only known Calleigh a couple of years and I know that she keeps everything in. Did you really believe she could go through such a horrific experience and suddenly change how she deals with things?" Natalia's features tightened, "I still have problems talking about Nick and that's been over for years. There's no set timetable on this stuff. She'll talk when she's ready. That could be tomorrow or never. Deal with it. Everyone else has."
Eric glared at her, his mind leaping from one argument to another in his defense and then stopped. What the hell was he doing? For the second time in nearly two years, he'd come close to losing Calleigh altogether. What was he doing dwelling on the past? He finally shook his head, raising his hands a little at the same time, "You're right. I need to let this go."
Relieved, Natalia smiled, "You do." She gestured down the hallway, "Come on, I still want to see Calleigh before I head back to the lab. I've got a couple more hours to put in." They made their way down the corridor and stopped at the door to Calleigh's room.
Eric put a hand out just before Natalia tapped on the door, "Nat, she doesn't know about TJ yet."
"What?" Natalia stared at him in surprise, "Why didn't someone tell her?"
"I'm going to," Eric defended himself, "She fell asleep on me earlier before I could get to that part. All I told her was that we had Ray Don and that her dad was going to be okay."
"Well, that's something," mollified, Natalia knocked lightly and then opened the door and stuck her head in, "Calleigh?" She glanced back at Eric and walked quietly into the room.
Calleigh's eyes blinked open and she smothered a yawn while listening to the sound of knocking. She winced a little as she turned her head towards the door. A headache was beginning to make its presence felt. Despite that, she smiled when Natalia and Eric walked in, "Hey guys."
Natalia grinned as she walked up to the bed, "Hey yourself. You're looking better, how do you feel?"
"I'm okay," Calleigh assured them. Compared to how she'd felt earlier, the lingering aches and pains were an improvement.
Crossing her arms, Natalia shot a glance at Eric before raising an eyebrow, "Uh-huh, try again. I was there, you know, when Ray Don was caught. You were definitely not okay. So unless Louisiana is now found on Krypton, you've still got some healing to do."
Calleigh huffed a little in annoyance. Why was it no one ever seemed to believe her when she said she fine? "Honestly, I'm feeling a lot better. I just need to take it slow for a while." She frowned a bit as she remembered what else Natalia had said, "Wait, you were there?"
Now Eric rolled his eyes as he stepped closer to the bed, "Yes she was, and before Nat goes any further with the 'innocent bystander' routine, it was her and TJ that stopped Ray Don from escaping with you."
"You and TJ?" Calleigh stared at the brunette in worried surprise, "What happened?
Natalia shifted a little uncomfortably, "How much do you remember?"
Calleigh grimaced, gently massaging a temple. The headache was pounding a bit harder, "I remember seeing Dad tied to a chair and then the pallets falling towards me. It gets pretty chaotic after that." She shuddered slightly, "I remember waking up and finding Ray Don standing over me with a pistol. He started shooting into the vest. It felt like a sledgehammer hitting. I couldn't breathe. I guess I passed out again."
Eric nodded, his expression somewhat grim upon learning what Ray Don had done, "He'd booby-trapped the doorway to the storage area with a firebomb. After he had you, he set it off. We had to tear through a wall to get in. By then, he taken you and left through a hole he'd opened to the basement. There was a series of access doors connecting that building with the next four in line. The SWAT commander thought he'd gone that way and sent his teams to try and intercept him." He glanced over at Natalia.
She picked up the story, "TJ noticed a sewer tunnel access in the alley behind the second building and figured Ray Don would head there. No one would listen so he went on his own and I went with him. Turned out, he was right. I called Eric while TJ went after Ray Don."
Calleigh paled, "He went after Ray Don?"
Natalia nodded, "You should have seen him. He hit Ray Don like a linebacker and you all went down. Then he and Ray Don started pounding on each other. I pulled you out of the way." She ducked her head a little, "I probably should have tried to get you further away but I didn't want to leave TJ."
"Which was a good thing," Eric broke in, "Ray Don pulled a gun. He might have shot TJ but Natalia stopped him. Threw a trash can lid and hit Ray Don right in the face."
"You hit him with a trash can lid?" Calleigh's eyebrows climbed towards her hairline.
"Hey, I didn't have a lot of options, you know, and I've always been good with a frisbee. This was just a little bigger." Natalia gestured with her hands, looking torn between embarrassment and exasperation.
"I understand they're going to be standard issue next year," Eric said as solemnly as he could, merriment twinkling in his eyes. He easily evaded Natalia's half-hearted swipe.
"So then SWAT showed up?" Calleigh chuckled lightly at the two.
Natalia stared at the blonde, "No. Ray Don got up, called me a bitch and pointed his gun at my head. You don't remember any of this?" Wide-eyed, Calleigh shook her head. Natalia tilted her head to the side a little, "Calleigh, you shot him. He was about to kill me. You saved my life."
"I shot him?" Calleigh looked from Natalia to Eric.
"You still had your back-up gun. Apparently, Ray Don didn't know you carried one and never thought to look," Eric shook his head, grateful for small favors. "You hit him in the ankle."
"You're kidding," Calleigh stared at Eric in disbelief, "His ankle? Oh good Lord, was I aiming there?"
Eric shrugged helplessly, looking at Natalia while trying not to smile.
Natalia stifled a chuckle. It was obvious the blonde was somewhat mortified. "Well, I thought it was a pretty good shot." She held up her hands, "And before you ask, no I didn't see where you were aiming either. I had my eyes closed."
"What?" Calleigh asked.
Natalia rolled her eyes and directed a withering look at Eric who was grinning widely, "I said I had my eyes closed. That creep was about to shoot me - I wasn't going to watch."
Calleigh smiled in spite of herself, "I can't say I blame you." She sobered a moment later, "TJ? Is he okay?"
"He's got a concussion. They're keeping him until tomorrow, I think," Natalia smiled, "He's not a very good patient. Keeps insisting he's fine." She arched an eyebrow, giving Calleigh a meaningful stare, "I'm beginning to think no one born in the state of Louisiana knows what that word actually means."
Eric snorted in amusement and Calleigh gave him an exasperated glare, "Oh hush."
The sound of the door opening had all three turning. Dr. Castellini paused for a moment on seeing Calleigh's two visitors and then nodded towards them as she picked up the chart from the foot of the bed, "I need to examine Ms. Dusquesne. You can wait out in the hallway, it'll only take a minute or two."
"No problem," Natalia answered. She looked down at Calleigh, "I need to get back to the lab, anyway. I just wanted to check in, see how you were doing and thank you for what you did. I can come visit again tomorrow."
Castellini glanced up from her reading, "You might want to check first. If Ms. Dusquesne is doing as well as I believe she is, we'll be discharging her tomorrow."
"Yes!" Calleigh exclaimed happily.
Castellini chuckled as she shook her head at her patient's obvious delight, "I think my feelings are hurt." She turned her head and raised an eyebrow at Natalia and Eric.
The two CSIs took the hint. Natalia reached forward and squeezed Calleigh's hand, "Thanks again, Cal. I'll give you a call tomorrow." Turning to leave, she gave Eric a look and a grin, "Go for it, Montague."
Eric flushed a bit, "Ah, I'll just wait outside." Suiting action to words, he hurried out.
The two women watched him leave although their expressions were vastly different. Calleigh looked puzzled while Castellini was shaking her head in amusement. When Calleigh turned to look at her, the Doctor assumed a more serious expression. Pulling down the bed sheet, she gestured towards Calleigh's ribs, "Okay, how about lifting the gown and we'll see how the anvil is doing today."
Ryder Medical Center
"Come in," Calleigh called when she heard the quiet tapping on her door. She knew she wouldn't be taking something so minor for granted anymore and smiled a little. To mix a metaphor, being deaf had been an eye-opening experience.
Eric strolled in, not surprised to see that Calleigh was already dressed and her bag was packed. He smiled at her, "Going somewhere?"
She grinned back, leaning against the bed and carefully folding her arms, mindful of the injured hand. The gash had been deep and nasty but no tendons were damaged. With physical therapy, she'd regain full use, "And what leads you to that conclusion, Mr. Delko?"
"Well," Eric assumed a serious expression, "As a highly trained and keenly observant CSI, I'd have to say there are a number of clues."
"Do tell," Calleigh drawled slowly, her smile growing wider.
He solemnly pointed to her overnight bag, "The packed bag is pretty strong evidence,"
She glanced towards it with a bland expression, "Laundry."
"And the fact you're leaning against the bed and not in it," Eric maintained a grave expression with difficulty.
"Stretching my legs."
"You're not in a hospital gown," Eric smirked lightly, folding his arms as well.
"It clashed with my shoes."
"Hmmm," Eric tapped his chin before shrugging, "It appears I've misinterpreted the evidence. I guess I'll just go." He turned around.
Turning back, Eric did his best to keep an innocent expression, "Is there a problem, Ms. Dusquesne?"
She smiled sweetly, "Only if you try to leave without me."
Eric raised his eyebrows while putting a hand to his chest, "Moi? Never." He walked over to the bed, picked up her bag and executed an elaborate bow while gesturing towards the door, "After you."
Chuckling, Calleigh stepped away from the bed and dropped a curtsy that would have done her mother proud, "Thank you, kind sir." She threaded a hand through the elbow he offered as they walked the few steps to the door. There, Eric placed her and the bag carefully to the side, pantomiming grandly that she should stay while he opened the door. Swallowing her smile at his exaggerated charade, Calleigh nodded demurely and folded her hands, the picture of Southern delicacy.
Eric eyed her for a moment to make sure she was still before turning towards the door. Producing a tissue from his pocket, he made a show of shaking it out and dusting off the door handle and then the floor in front of it. Replacing the tissue to his pocket with a flourish, Eric bent down, wiggled his fingers and delicately pulled the door open with his thumb and forefinger.
Dale Lindsay stood there with his hand poised to knock. Calleigh covered her mouth with both hands in an attempt to stifle her laughter while Dale's eyebrows flew upwards. Eric stood frozen, still bent over. The tableau held for a second or two before Eric shot upright, taking a step backwards. Calleigh turned away, laughing helplessly, one hand clutching her side. "Dale! I - uh - I was just - ", Eric stuttered, his face turning red.
Dale grinned at him, "Acting squirrelly?"
Calleigh turned back, still laughing, "Is that the professional term?"
Dale turned to her, assuming a serious expression, "Of course. I am, after all, a consummate professional. On the Freud Wokka-Wokka Scale of Silly, it's below loony tunes and above bonkers." He directed his attention to Eric, "Make an appointment with the receptionist and I guarantee we'll have you bonkers in no time."
Eric raised his hands in surrender, "Alright, alright, you two. I think you've had enough fun at my expense."
Dale lifted an eyebrow again, looking over at Calleigh, "Have we?" Calleigh shook her head, still chuckling. Dale spread his hands, "Sorry, it appears there's still some time left on the ridicule meter." He looked over at Calleigh, "Shall we make fun of his shirt?"
"What's wrong with my shirt?" Eric demanded, glaring between Dale and Calleigh.
"Butterflies and flowers? Dude, are you serious?" Dale raised an eyebrow.
Eric flushed, "My nieces gave it to me for my birthday. They picked it out themselves."
"That's so sweet," Calleigh smiled at him.
Eric smiled back and then shot a triumphant look at Dale, "Hah!"
"My eyes are starting to bleed," Dale shook his head and turned to look at Calleigh, becoming serious once more, "Do you have a moment, Ms. Dusquesne?"
Calleigh sobered at once, glancing at Eric, "I suppose so."
Eric looked between the two, "I'll be waiting in the hall." Shooting a warning glare at Dale as he passed, Eric left the room, shutting the door behind him.
Calleigh folded her arms, unconsciously assuming a defensive position, "What can I do for you?"
"You can agree to talk to someone," Dale replied.
"Why?" Calleigh's expression hardened a bit. "I'm fine."
"You need to put the Ashbys and the Burrus brothers to rest, once and for all," Dale countered.
"I have," Calleigh snapped. "Those three lunatics won't ever bother me again. It's over."
"And what about Rad and Maude Ashby?" Dale asked softly. "You were only sixteen. No one should have had to do what you did. It's been festering for too many years - you need to talk it out."
"Why?" Calleigh demanded, throwing her hands in the air and wincing, "Why the hell would I want to relive any of that? It won't change anything. I've spent years trying to forget it!"
"And the Ashbys, too?" Dale countered, "They were important. They had a hand in raising you. Have you ever been able to think of them without jumping to the Burrus brothers?" When Calleigh glared at him silently, the psychiatrist nodded, "That's what I thought. Ms. Dusquesne, let me help."
"How? By dredging up all those old memories? That's easy for you, isn't it? You're not the one who's going to have nightmares. No thanks," Calleigh shook her head decisively.
"Your nightmares are there because you keep suppressing this," Dale argued. "The pressure's only going to keep building."
"According to you," Calleigh snapped, "As far as I can see, the 'pressure' you're so worried about ended when they slapped the cuffs on Ray Don. What's done is done. I am not going to wallow in the hell they put me through to satisfy your psychiatric voyeurism and that's final. Now if you'll excuse me, I've been discharged and I'd like to get going."
Frustrated, Dale regarded her for a long moment before reaching into a pocket. Pulling out a business card, he held it out, "Take this. If you ever do feel like talking, you can call any time - day or night." When she made no move to take the card, he sighed, "Please? Just humor me. You can shred it later when I'm not around." When she reluctantly took the card, he tipped his head, "Thank you. Goodbye, Ms. Duquesne. Take care of yourself." Turning, he walked out of the room. Eric was back in almost immediately.
He eyed Calleigh cautiously, trying to gauge her mood. Dale could push her buttons faster than anyone he'd ever seen. When she gave him a wan smile, he smiled tentatively back, "You okay?"
"Not according to Dale," Calleigh sighed. "Would you mind if we got going? TJ's going to think something dire has happened and I wanted to see Horatio, too, before we get going." Her father had gotten released this morning, checking in with her before he left. He was still sore but Ray Don hadn't inflicted any lasting damage. Duke wanted to get home to his own bed. He wasn't particularly fond of hospitals either.
"Sure," Eric picked up her bag and gestured for her to precede him. Once in the hallway, he moved up alongside. They walked in silence for a bit while Eric tried to decide if asking her what Dale had said to bother her would make it worse. Having finally been on the receiving side of Dale's questions, he now had an appreciation for just how annoying the psychiatrist could be.
Calleigh looked over at Eric. He was so obviously biting his tongue, she was half surprised part of it didn't fall out. Sighing again, she gave him a rueful smile, "Dr. Lindsay thinks I should keep seeing him so I can share the delights of my storybook childhood."
Eric ducked his head a little, "I'm guessing you told him no." It wasn't really a guess. Calleigh was intensely private.
Calleigh couldn't help frowning, "I did. My family history is none of his business."
Eric was silent for a few steps before venturing quietly, "You know, if you do need to vent about something, I won't mind listening."
"I know," Calleigh's voice was equally quiet.
They fell silent again but reached TJ's room before it could get awkward. Her brother had the door open almost at the first tap and Eric grinned while commenting dryly, "Way to play hard-to-get."
o o o o o
Eric followed Calleigh into the kitchen. TJ had retreated to the guest room as soon as they arrived at her place. Despite his protests about being fine, it was obvious his head still hurt and he was tired. An amused Eric had watched Calleigh, in mother-hen mode, steamroll her brother into bed with ibuprofen, water and strict instructions to rest. Grinning at the memory of the staunch Army captain succumbing meekly to his sister's orders, Eric glanced up and realized she was watching him. "You want some coffee?" she asked, smiling a little.
"Sure," he agreed amicably. Hell, if she'd offered him cod liver and castor oil, he'd have said yes just so he could stay a bit longer. "Want some help?"
"No - yes," she grimaced, unable to open the coffee container because of her hand. Eric unscrewed the lid while she pulled out a new filter and then measured the crystals into the coffeemaker.
"Anything else?" he asked after pouring in the water.
Calleigh gestured apologetically towards a cabinet, "There's some butter cookies in a tin up there. I can't - "
"No, you can't, not with that rib," Eric shot her a stern look before giving her his best smile, "Think of me as your valet for now. Why don't you go sit down and let me get everything ready?"
Calleigh carefully folded her arms, her accent becoming noticeably thicker, "And get drummed out of the Southern hostess corps entirely? I don't think so."
Eric couldn't help chuckling as he raised an eyebrow, "Wow, sounds like a tough group. No leeway for injuries?"
"None," Calleigh assured him, "Proper Southern women can handle social situations that would make a SEAL cry. Don't make me get my apron."
Eric couldn't help laughing as he held up his hands, "Wouldn't dream of it." He went to the cabinet and pulled out the tin of cookies, prying open the lid and putting it on the counter with a flourish. Smirking, he gave a small bow, "The kitchen is now yours. I will be the perfect guest."
Calleigh rolled her eyes before flashing him a dazzling smile, "Welcome, it's so good of you to come. Please make yourself at home, the coffee will be ready soon. May I get you anything in the meantime?"
With an effort, Eric refrained from his first answer. He gestured towards the kitchen chairs, "Is it alright if I sit there?"
Calleigh fluttered a hand - something Eric found completely fascinating. He'd seen what he'd thought of as fluttering before but it was like comparing T-ball to the Major League. There was a languid grace to the movement that sent his pulse racing. Telling himself to get a grip, he wrenched his attention away from her hand to find Calleigh watching him in amusement. "What?" he managed, grateful his voice didn't squeak.
She gave him a slow smile, her accent dripping from her words like honey, "Darlin', you may perch on top of the TV if it makes you happy. Of course, you can sit there."
Eric dropped into the chair with a thump while Calleigh turned back into the kitchen. A few minutes later, she placed a neatly arranged tray of cookies on the table, following that up with coffee mugs, cream and sugar. Eric watched silently - it was like a ballet. Five minutes after that, Calleigh brought the coffee pot over, poured and sat down with him. She waited until he'd taken a sip and smiled, "Well?"
He grinned at her, lifting the mug a little, "Very good - and the floor show was pretty good, too."
Her eyebrows rose in mock outrage, "Floor show? Pretty good?"
"Exceptionally good - perfect - a ten," Eric rattled off, still grinning.
"That's better," looking mollified, Calleigh sipped her coffee. There was a comfortable silence for a few minutes before Calleigh cleared her throat. When Eric looked at her expectantly, she couldn't help dropping her eyes to her hands, absently fiddling with the bandaging, "So... " She paused, taking a breath, and started again, "So - where are we exactly?"
Eric swallowed his flip response of 'in your kitchen' and took another sip of coffee before putting the mug down, "I guess that sort of depends on where we're going."
Calleigh's hands tightened a little as she exhaled slowly, "And where are we going?"
Eric tilted his head, "Does it matter?" He paused, eyeing her before smiling suddenly, "If we're together?"
Calleigh froze for a split second before relaxing and smiling, too, "I guess not - if we're together."
o o o o o
8 weeks later,
Horatio absently fiddled with his sunglasses as he rode the elevator up to the main floor of the lab. He glanced over at Alexx and flashed her a brief smile, "It feels a bit odd."
Alexx nodded, smiling back, "It won't for long. It's your first day back." She shook a finger at him, "Take it easy and don't overdo it. No field duty for another month and that's non-negotiable."
"Yes, Dr. Woods," Horatio refrained from rolling his eyes as he stared at the elevator doors. Even though he wasn't looking at her, he knew she'd know. Finally the elevator stopped and the doors opened. Inhaling carefully, he stepped out onto the floor of the busy lab and smiled. Feeling a light touch on his arm, he glanced over to see Alexx smiling at him. "What?" he asked.
"You," she replied, shaking her head. She waved a hand, "Go. I believe Calleigh's in your office. I'm going back to Autopsy where I might actually be of use."
"Thanks, Alexx," Horatio flashed her another smile, ducking his head a bit. He watched as she got back on the elevator and the doors closed. Turning back around, he walked the familiar route to his office. Along the way, he accepted the smiles and greetings from various lab techs. Reaching the stairs to his office, Horatio paused for a moment, frowning slightly. He had yet to see any of his team. Mentally shrugging, he told himself there was no reason to worry. They were probably out in the field. Crime in Miami rarely took a break.
Slowly, he walked up the stairs. He definitely needed to get back in shape, he hadn't remembered the steps being quite so steep before. Reaching the landing, Horatio paused in front of the door. It was closed and oddly enough, he felt the urge to knock. He shook his head. This was his office, there was no need for knocking and Calleigh knew he was coming in today. Actually, he was a bit surprised she hadn't met him in the lobby. On the other hand, it was entirely possible she was doing her best to clear the never-ending piles of paperwork off his desk before he was officially back. Horatio shook his head. Trying to stay ahead of bureaucracy and its attendant forms was comparable to Sisyphus spending eternity rolling a boulder uphill only to have it roll back down each time.
He was still thinking about it when the door opened. Calleigh stood before him and raised an eyebrow, "Planning on coming in any time soon, Lieutenant?" She smiled at the faint blush that appeared on his face just before he ducked his head and walked forward. Still grinning, Calleigh stepped to the side to let him in.
Horatio's eyes widened when he finally looked up. Now he knew where the rest of his team was. Eric, Ryan, Natalia and Frank were waiting for him with wide smiles. The coffee table in front of the couch was loaded with finger foods. Horatio's smile broke the tableau. Natalia reached him first, giving him a careful hug. Eric, Ryan and Frank stepped forward to shake hands. Finally, he turned to Calleigh. She was standing back a bit, smiling as she watched him reconnect with his team. Hopefully, this signaled the return of the Horatio that he'd been before the tragedies of Marisol and Ray's deaths.
Horatio dropped his chin a bit, giving her a sideways look and a quiet smile. Calleigh accepted his silent invitation, stepping up into his embrace. "It's good to have you back," she whispered quietly.
Nodding wordlessly, Horatio released his hold and let her step back, turning to face the others, "Thank you for this."
"No problem, H," Eric grinned, sharing a look with Calleigh.
"Can we eat now?" Ryan asked, giving Natalia a 'what was that for' look when she lightly elbowed him in the side. "Hey, I missed lunch, you know."
Chuckling, Horatio waved a hand, "Dig in."
They managed about fifteen minutes of eating and chatting before the first pagers went off. Frank pulled his out, "Convenience store robbery gone bad. We've got some bodies." He looked over at Horatio, "Good to have you back." Eric echoed his words as he followed the big man out.
Five minutes after that, Ryan and Natalia's pagers sounded. Natalia rolled her eyes as Ryan tried to finish what he was eating, pulling out her pager, "Got a DB in a vacant lot." She gave Horatio a quick smile, "See you when we get back - don't overdo it." With that, she herded Ryan out the door ahead of her.
Horatio watched them leave before turning back to Calleigh, "That's one way to clear a room." He gestured towards the couch, "Mind sitting down?" Once they were settled, he eyed her carefully, "So, how are you?"
Calleigh smiled at him, "Isn't that my line? You just got out of the hospital."
He raised an eyebrow, "All I did was forget to duck. You got to relive one of your worst nightmares. How are you?"
She studied him for a long moment before dropping her eyes to her hands. The scars on her hand and forearm were still visible while the abrasions on her wrists hadn't left any permanent marks. Finally, she looked up, tossing her hair back a bit defiantly, "I'm surviving. It's what I do."
He nodded slowly, "And do well." Horatio looked down for a moment, "I'm sorry about adding to the burden."
Calleigh shook her head, "Don't apologize, it's not like I haven't done this before. I'm just glad you've had a full recovery."
Horatio tilted his head towards her, "I do need to apologize - I was talking about before the Burrus brothers showed up. I was hurt and angry and I took it out on you and the others. I am sorry."
Calleigh was silent for a bit before nodding slowly, "Apology accepted." She gave Horatio a long look, "Please don't ever shut me out like that again. You mean the world to me and I love this job but next time, I won't stay."
"Understood. There won't be a next time," Horatio replied solemnly. They were both silent for a minute or two before Horatio leaned back, "How's Eric?" He smiled at the look on her face, "I was shot in the chest, not the head."
Calleigh ducked her head, blushing a little, "We're taking it slow for now - seeing where it leads. It's - nice."
"He's a good man," Horatio nodded. "When - and if -," he qualified, not wanting her to feel pressured, "you two decide to go to the next level, I'll run interference with IAB and Rick."
"I appreciate that," Calleigh replied softly.
From there, the two fell into a comfortable conversation as Calleigh brought Horatio up to speed on what was happening in the lab. Tomorrow he would return full-time and Calleigh would return to Ballistics and her role as second-in-command.
One month later, Clavo Cruz would make his escape during a court appearance, starting a chain of events that would turn the CSIs' lives upside down.
- finis -