Chapter 22

It was well after dark when Calleigh saw the distant headlights approaching. They were well off in the distance, but she saw the two small amber beams bobbing and bouncing their way along the rutted road, and she immediately swung into full alert mode.

Earlier in the evening, she had finally convinced Horatio to go to bed and get some much needed sleep, and Kyle was sprawled behind her in the oversized living room chair, softly snoring. She moved quickly to Kyle and shook him awake.

"Kyle, there's someone coming," she said urgently. "I need you to go be with your Dad, keep quiet, and stay down."

The boy snapped fully awake, realizing the gravity of the situation. And with a quick nod, he did as he was asked.

Calleigh pulled her weapon from its holster and approached the front door, cautiously peering outside at the very edge of the window at the approaching vehicle. She strained her eyes to try and make out any kind of details in the inky blackness. She could vaguely make out some kind of small yellowish running lights… a truck maybe? The vehicle looked large enough to be the Hummer, with Ryan at the wheel...

But no. The Hummer had a barrage of off-road search lamps and fog lights. If it was Ryan, the front of that thing would be lit up like a Christmas tree. But there were only two small, anemic-looking headlight beams. So it wasn't the Hummer. Which meant it was probably a threat. And she was the only defense between it and the two men inside the house who were depending on her.

She heard the soft, muffled stirrings in the bedroom as Kyle woke his father and told him what was going on.

The entire time Ryan had been gone, her mind had been racing, tumbling through every scenario possible as to what could have happened to him, and what sort of danger they could all be in. Well, now her worst fears had been realized, and that danger was here, barreling towards the front door.

She double-checked the perimeter security system, knowing that the second the approaching truck broke the furthest beam, the entire front of the house would be bathed in white mercury-vapor floodlights. It would temporarily blind the occupants of the vehicle, giving her a distinct advantage. And the quiet night air would be pierced with a shrill siren, further adding to the disorientation of whoever was in the truck…

She watched the vehicle drive closer, showing no signs of slowing down…

She flicked the safety off on her weapon, and clutched it firmly as she placed her other hand on the front door knob.

"Kyle, Horatio, both of you stay put," Calleigh said with hushed intensity. "Things are gonna get a little loud and crazy in a minute…"

The truck drove closer, and appeared to slow just a bit, but then it broke the invisible beam of the security system. And all hell broke loose…

The truck was immediately flooded with brilliant white light and a sharp pulsing siren began shrieking at maximum volume. Clearly, the driver was not expecting it, and the truck violently sashayed back and forth a few times before slamming on the brakes and sliding to a gravel-spraying halt several yards beyond the front porch.

Calleigh seized the opportunity and yanked open the front door, charging outside and pointing her weapon aggressively at the vehicle.

"Police, freeze!" she yelled as she burst from the doorway, but then she froze in mid-stride herself at the sight that greeted her. In the flood of light, she could see that it WAS a silver Hummer. Then she also saw the pale white palms of two male sized hands pressed firmly up against the windshield. She stood there for a couple seconds, her brain rapidly processing everything.

It was the Hummer… It was Ryan!

Gasping with relief, she lowered her gun, clicked on the safety, and tapped the button on the small remote clipped to her belt. The brilliant white lights stayed on but the howling siren was silenced. The hands on the windshield went down and the door of the Hummer slowly opened, and a familiar looking figure eased out of the driver's seat.

"Ryan!" Calleigh breathed as she started towards the SUV. But she was stopped in her tracks again as her friend stepped out from behind the door. Ryan's hair was quite mussed, standing straight out in some places, with small leaves stuck in it. His clothes were muddy and still half-wet, plastered to his body in random sections, looking very uncomfortable.

"Hey, Cal," he managed to say. He looked absolutely wiped out.

"Ryan… Oh my God…" she stammered. "What on earth…"

She looked over at the Hummer. The entire front third of the SUV was covered in dried mud. The only lights working were the two main headlights, stubbornly shining through a hazy brown film of dried muck. Hairy strands of green slimy grunge hung from the bumper and grill guard.

"What on earth happened?" She finally managed to ask. "Are you OK?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," he said tiredly. "Had a little run in with a 14 foot Florida resident. Swerved. Almost buried the Hummer in the swamp. Took me a while to get the damn thing back on the road. But I'm alright."

"Well come on inside," came the incredibly relieved response. "Let's get you cleaned up."

She smiled as Ryan closed the Hummer door and followed her into the house. The exhausted man sat down heavily at the kitchen table.

Realizing that all was OK, Horatio and Kyle emerged from the bedroom, and joined Ryan at the table.

Calleigh shut down the outside security lights and reset the alarm system, just to be safe.

"You don't have to do that, you know," Ryan said thickly. "I talked to Eric. Threat was a one-off. Everything's OK. H can go home. We all can."

"Oh that is good news," Cal replied with a bright smile. "But why didn't you call for help getting the Hummer going again?"

Ryan reached into his pocket and slowly pulled out his cell phone. He held it up, and a tiny thin stream of beige-looking water streamed from one corner and made a small puddle on the table.

"I knew I had to get back here, I had to let you know," Ryan continued tiredly. "I knew there was no other way. I just had to get my ass back here."

"Oh, Ryan, I could just hug you," Calleigh said warmly, her voice heavy with gratitude.

But the young man held up his hand. "Ugh, I wish you wouldn't. Right now… what I really need… is a shower, and some sleep. Preferably in that order. And I don't care about the dead animals. I'm gonna sleep right there." He pointed to the big leather couch along the back wall of the living room, which had an enormous elk's head hanging over it.

"You sure?" Calleigh asked questioningly.


"OK, you got it. We'll all regroup and head out of here in the morning." Cal answered.

As Ryan wandered off to a hot shower, Kyle retreated back to his favorite comfy chair and bedded in for the night. Which left Calleigh and Horatio sitting beside each other at the table.

"Are you OK sweetheart?" he asked quietly, clasping his hands in front of him. His crystal blue eyes clouded with concern.

Calleigh closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting her shoulders sag as she exhaled. She looked over at him and held his worried gaze. "Yeah, I'm fine handsome," she said, smiling reassuringly. "I'm just so glad to know that you and Kyle are safe."

"Well, left up to you, I knew we always would be."

She flashed a tired but radiant smile.

"But you know," Horatio continued gently. "Ryan is not the only one who needs some sleep."

Calleigh smiled again and nodded.

Ryan emerged from the shower a few minutes later, with a towel wrapped around his waist. He said a few mumbled words to Calleigh as he flopped onto the sofa and burrowed himself into the blankets she had put there for him. He was fast asleep within seconds.

A few minutes later, Calleigh was snuggled comfortably beneath Horatio, their arms warmly wrapped around each other.

"I'm proud of you," he whispered against her neck.

"Mmmm, thank you," she hummed with a tender smile. She turned and softly kissed his forehead, then gently stroked her hand through his hair and nuzzled against him as they both drifted off to sleep.

Everyone in the house slept deeply and peacefully… knowing that tomorrow they could all go home…

A/N: OK folks… we're heading into the conclusion of this story… Horatio is finally going home, and Calleigh will be right there with him… *grin* As Always, REVIEWS ARE WELCOME!