Megan Donner sighed as she flipped through the files in her hand once more. She'd interviewed the young man due to arrive over the phone, and he seemed promising. A degree in Biology from Columbia University, graduating with honours just over a month ago. She'd spoken with a few of his professors, and they had all spoken quite highly of the boy. Apparently he had something of a problem with authority at times, but had a true love of science. And that was what Megan was looking for.
She glanced at her watch. He was driving all the way from New York to Miami, apparently. It crossed her mind, again, that this was a very awkward way of meeting her potential new recruit. The other members of the team had all been recruited from Miami, and all had solid reputations within the police force before being transferred to CSI. This was part of the reason Megan was taking a gamble.
The Miami-Dade Crime Lab was competent, it was true. But everyone thought too much like police officers. They needed a fresh perspective, they needed someone who would shake things up a little. And a scientist from New York with a penchant for ignoring orders would certainly do that.
The low roar of a motorcycle shook Megan from her thoughts. A bright yellow Ducati had entered the crime lab's parking lot and was slowly approaching. The man riding it wore a thick leather jacket that seemed to be padded in the front, and a yellow helmet to match the bike. On the back was a bulging duffel bag, and Megan had the uneasy feeling that this may be her new trace man.
The rider pulled into a parking spot near the steps where Megan waited and shut off the bike. He kicked out the stand and dismounted, pulling off his helmet as he did so. Megan studied his face, feeling unsure. His short black hair was sticking out all over the place, as if he'd never heard of a comb. He had stubble from apparently not shaving for several days, and dark circles under his eyes. She wondered if he had even stopped to sleep on the ride down.
Grabbing the duffel bag, the man wandered over to Megan. As he approached, he gave a half-smile. Megan nodded in return, feeling her professionalism returning.
"Timothy Speedle?" She asked, already knowing the answer. The man snorted.
"Only to my mother. To everyone else, it's Speed." His voice was low and gravelly. Megan was about to respond when a bulge in the man's jacket started to move and a muffled crying started. "Shit, sorry about this," Speed muttered before lowering the zip. Megan was stunned when a sling was revealed, holding a very young infant, apparently waking from a sleep. "It's okay Baby Doll," Speed carefully removed the child and held her in one arm instead. "Daddy's here. You can stop crying." And the baby did stop, seeming to feel happier out of the confines of the jacket. Speed looked up at Megan again, taking her shock in stride. He held the baby so she could see the woman, and Megan saw a definite resemblance. The same shock of black hair, the same dark eyes. She was clad in a light pink sleeper, and was clutching a small stuffed anteater in her tiny hands. "This is Daddy's new boss, Megan Donner. Detective, meet my daughter, Avari."
Megan was temporarily at a loss for words. She hadn't known that Speedle had a child. Wasn't even aware that he was married. She realised that if he was right for this job, it would mean uprooting a whole family. Then what he'd introduced her as registered, and she couldn't help smiling. Cocky son of a bitch, he'd already made up both their minds.
"Speed, then... and Avari. And where is Mrs Speedle?" A shadow seemed to pass over Speed's face, and he stopped smiling.
"There isn't one. She..." he looked down at his daughter, then back at Megan. "She's back in Syracuse. I have full custody of Avari. That's not going to be a problem, is it?" For the first time, Megan thought she heard a tremor of uncertainty in his voice.
"Well, not really. But this is a job with uneven hours, and you'll be spending a lot of time here at the lab or out in the field. That's not really conducive to raising a young child, especially on your own. Are you sure you can handle that?" Megan knew the toll it could take on young parents, but found herself hoping that he would stay. After all, someone who would ride a motorcycle from New York to Miami with a newborn infant in the front of their jacket would definitely bring a fresh perspective to the lab. And the boy had charisma, she couldn't deny that.
"I'm sure. I need a job to take care of Avari, and I'm sure we can work something out." His jaw was set, and his eyes determined. Megan nodded.
"Well then, come inside and meet the rest of the team. We have a childcare facility, I'm guessing you'll want to check that out for Avari as well?" Speed nodded back.
"Yeah. She's only four months, I don't think she's quite ready to be stuck in school yet."
Megan quickly did the maths, and found it hard to believe. Four months old would mean that she'd been born around the time that Speed had been taking his final exams. She wondered how in the hell he'd managed to score so highly with a newborn daughter, and hoped that he'd tell her one day.
They approached the reception desk, where Paula looked at them quizzically. Megan was still settling into being the head of the lab, but already knew how valuable Paula was. She had been a patrol cop before a back injury (a legitimate one) had forced her into desk work. She had moved around the departments for a while before finding her niche as the barrier between the lab and the rest of the world. She took her position quite seriously, and while her sharp words were usually enough, she had been known to full body tackle people trying to sneak into the lab without clearance. Megan smiled at her and indicated her companion.
"Paula, this is Speed. He's applying for the Trace position. And that's his daughter, Avari. Can you make up visitors passes for them please?"
Speed nodded at the woman, still cradling Avari with one arm and juggling both duffle bag and helmet with the other. He didn't look like any police officer Paula had ever seen. Didn't look like much of a scientist either, come to that, but she kept her mouth shut. Nodding, she passed over the log book.
"Sign here please. And also for Avari." She watched as he did so, and handed over a couple of passes. "Just clip hers to her sleeper, that'll be fine." Instead, Speed fluffed up Avari's hair and used the pass as a hair clip. The baby laughed, waving her arms around and accidentally throwing the anteater at Megan. She caught it, stifling a laugh, and handed it back.
"Thanks," Speed muttered. "She's quite fond of that thing." As if to prove a point, Avari stuck the anteater's nose in her mouth and started chewing on it. Speed rolled his eyes and clipped his own pass to his shirt collar. Megan smiled and turned to go in search of her crew.
In the break room was Andrew Mackenzie, her ballistics expert, fiddling with the coffee-maker. The man was in his late forties, had been working in CSI since he was thirty, and was looking to retire soon. Megan just hoped he'd wait out another year or two - she didn't think she could handle training two rookies at once. His brown hair was dusted with grey, though his brown eyes still sparkled with life. He was starting to bulge a little around the middle as well, and Megan knew that he was looking forward to being a grandfather soon. He smiled at her as she walked in, shaking his head slightly.
"Damn thing's broken again. I swear it does it on purpose, when it knows I need cafeine." He had a slight Texan accent, though he had lived in Miami since he was a teen. Megan figured he just didn't want to lose his last tie to his home.
"Impressive trick," Speed commented. "I usually find that threatening them with a tyre-iron makes them work." He seemed deadly serious, though there was a slight glint to his eyes that Megan didn't miss.
"A tyre-iron, you say?" Andrew raised an eyebrow. "That's an idea. I usually threaten to throw it out the window. But I think it knows that they're hurricane glass, so it's not much of a threat." The two mean looked at each other for a moment, before cracking into identical grins. "I'm Andrew Mackenzie, but most people call me Andy. I'm Ballistics. You?"
"Tim Speedle. Speed. And hoping to be Trace." Avari babbled up at him happily. "And my daughter, Avari."
Andrew bent down to look at her better, and received a smack around the face with the anteater for his efforts.
"Quite a swing she's got there," he muttered good-naturedly, stepping back. Megan could have sworn that Speed's smile was a proud one.
"Yep. And don't let her grab your hair, she's got a killer grip too."
"Sounds like my first son," Andrew nodded. "When we first had him, Amelia had the longest hair. Within a month, she'd cut it all off because he kept pulling clumps of it out." The two men chuckled, and Megan knew that they'd get along fine.
"As fun as this is," she interrupted their fatherly bonding, "Speed has to meet the others as well. And Andrew, I know you've got work to get back to. Hop it."
Andrew pretended to salute, and ambled out the door, giving up on getting any coffee for now. Megan followed him out, leading Speed toward the evidence locker where she knew the other member of the team would be. Sure enough, Jo was logging the final pieces from the case he and Andrew had wrapped up that morning.
Jo, or Josef Diederich, was a 27-year-old Miami native, though his parents were German. He spoke English fluently, with hardly an accent, though German had been his first language. He did have a peculiar habit of never using contractions. His area of expertise was fingerprints and the like, though he was also very good with mechanics. He had worked patrol since he graduated high school, and had only been a CSI for two years. He and Andrew had a very good working relationship, seeming to feed off of each other. Megan enjoyed their banter and easy back-and-forth discussions. She hoped that Jo wouldn't have a problem with Speed joining them. After all, Jo had been quite close to the man Speed was replacing.
Speed watched as the other man continued to write quickly in the log book. He looked a few years older than Speed, and there was a wedding band on his finger. A short crop of sandy hair was perfectly combed, and when he glanced up pale blue eyes seemed to go straight through his head, leaving him quite unnerved. He refused to show it though, and settled for holding Avari just a little tighter.
"Jo, this is Speed. He may be joining us. Speed, this is Jo, our mechanic and fingerprints man."
The men looked at each other for a moment, before Jo nodded at the infant.
"I do not know how things are where you come from, but around here that is not considered regulation equipment. I suggest trading her in for a field kit."
Speed tilted his head to one side, a grin tugging the corner of his mouth.
"Good advice. That'd probably be more useful at a crime scene anyway."
Jo nodded back before turning back to his evidence.
"What is her name?"
"Avari Chloe Speedle. Why her mother chose Avari as the first name instead of middle is beyond me." Jo chuckled, then paused.
"Well, as long as she does not interfere with work, it is all good. I have to get this logged. Please excuse me." And he turned back to his task, leaving Speed feeling just a little off-balance. Megan just smiled at him and indicated the door.
They passed back into the main hallway, turning towards the elevator. Speed glanced at his leader.
"So, is he always that friendly, or am I just special?"
"You're special," Megan quipped before she could stop herself. The truth was, Jo was always a little stand-offish toward new people. She knew he'd warm up eventually. Probably after he'd hazed the newbie. "One more stop: Autopsy. Our M.E. will never forgive me if I don't introduce you to her."
Speed's ears seemed to prick up. A female medical examiner was extremely rare, and he wondered what she would be like. Avari seemed to have gone back to sleep, for which he was thankful. She'd been fretful the past few nights, leading to not much sleep for either of them. He'd been tempted more than once to just say 'Fuck it' and stay in a hotel for a week to get her settled again before driving, but the thought of a new life in Miami was enough to keep him going.
That, and he didn't have enough money to stay in a hotel for a week. Hell, if this job didn't pan out, he'd be on the streets pretty quickly. He didn't want that to happen, but with his situation... he shook his head. Thinking about that wasn't going to help matters. He needed to think positive. That had never been his strong point, but for Avari he'd give it a try.
The elevator dinged, and he and Megan stepped out. They walked down a short corridor and stopped at an office with the door open, where Speed could see two people deep in discussion.
The woman, whom Speed assumed was the M.E., took him by surprise. She was a lovely looking woman with dark skin and long black hair. Speed wondered for a moment how many female, African-American women there were in the high ranks of medicine. He concluded that there were probably very few - they had two hurdles to overcome, and Speed found himself already respecting the woman for succeeding. She was smiling at the man in the room, seeming to find him amusing.
The man was tall, easily 6' tall, with blazing red hair. He held a pair of sunglasses in his hand, and was absently twirling them by one of the arms. He turned when he saw the M.E. glance over his shoulder, and Speed felt his breath taken away by the bright blue eyes. He quickly blinked and turned back to the woman, determined not to make a fool of himself.
Megan smiled at her friends, and made with the introductions again. The M.E., Speed learned, was Dr Alexx Woods, while the man was Horatio Caine. He was with the bomb squad, which brought him into close proximity with the CSIs on several cases. Alexx immediately reached for the baby. Speed, usually extremely protective of his daughter, found himself handing her over with barely a second thought. Alexx took her gently, cradling her against her chest.
"Aw, hello Sugar. You're a beautiful girl, aren't you? And what's your name?" Her voice was soft and soothing, and Speed found himself liking her already.
"Avari. Her name's Avari... though I tend to use Princess instead," Speed admitted. And it was true, Avari was his little princess. He turned to Horatio at a thoughtful noise from the other man.
"Hmm... Avari... That's from Tolkien, isn't it?" The man looked thoughtful. Speed stared for a moment, before breaking into a smile. Megan realised it was the first proper smile she'd seen from him that wasn't directed at his daughter.
"Yeah, it's a breed of trouble-making little pixies. I think her mother just liked the sound of it."
Horatio nodded, not commenting any further. Alexx was still cooing at the little bundle, who was sleepily waving at her. The woman looked up, smiling happily.
"I just got back from maternity leave myself. Got a two-year-old daugter called Janie and a six-month-old son, Brian. They really make your life different, don't they?"
Speed just nodded, and none of the other adults missed the dark look that crossed his face. Then Avari started to whimper, and concern took the place of darkness as Speed took his daughter back.
"She's probably hungry, hasn't had a bottle since this morning," he muttered, cuddling her close. "Is there somewhere I can fix a bottle for her?"
Alexx nodded and led him to the medical staff room, where there was a small kitchenette.
"Help yourself Timmy, a baby's gotta eat," she smiled before giving father and daughter some room. Speed dropped the duffel bag on the counter and rummaged around inside, smirking to himself. Inside there was only one spare set of clothes for him - the rest of the room was taken up with Avari's things. Diapers, bottles, formula, clothes, toys... everything he could scrounge before leaving New York. A few minutes later and Avari was happily drinking from her bottle, and Speed dropped a kiss to her forehead.
Yes, her arrival had changed everything. Some would say that her arrival had ruined everything, but Speed would never say that about his daughter. He had known he loved her from the time Amanda had said she was pregnant. He hadn't been able to bear the thought of Amanda having an abortion, even though he was sure he'd never be a good father. From the moment she'd been placed in his arms, minutes after being born, Speed had been determined to fight for her, to protect her, to raise her. And that was what he was going to do.
Outside, Megan was talking to Horatio.
"What do you think, H? He's not a cop, I know, but I figure we could use a different perspective."
"I think it's an excellent idea. And he seems to care about his daughter, which is always a good thing."
"Did you notice that look, though?" Megan was a little concerned. "He doesn't seem to resent Avari, but there's something wrong there. And he said that her mother was back in Syracuse. Do you think he can deal with raising a baby and being a CSI?"
Alexx chose that moment to join the conversation.
"It's up to you, of course, but I think he'll be fine." She smiled at Megan's indecision. "He came all this way on a chance, didn't he?"
"Yeah, he did," Megan smiled, remembering his entrance. "Drove all the way here on a motorbike, with his baby daughter stuffed inside his jacket." The others looked at each other sharing a smile.
"If that's not devotion to a job," Horatio smirked, "then I don't know what is."
"They'll be fine," Alexx reiterated. "Just give them a chance."
Megan nodded, and strode into the break room. Alexx and Horatio returned to her office, continuing their earlier conversation. Megan only caught the end of it, and shook her head, chuckling. Something about Horatio advocating napalming the everglades.
She walked up to Speed, who was one-handedly rinsing the bottle in the sink and burping Avari with the other. He seemed quite adept at multi-tasking, at least where the baby was concerned, which was very promising. Megan took a breath, then smiled.
"So, when can you start?"
Speed looked at her in surprise, which was quickly covered with a smirk.
"If I can get Avari into that childcare thing you mentioned... tomorrow."
"Excellent. I'll organise the paperwork." A thought struck her. "Alexx has a spare room at her place, I'll see if you can stay with her until you find a place of your own." Speed looked grateful.
For the first time in months, things were looking up.
Stumbling into the house at 9pm, Speed just wanted to sleep. It was the Friday of his first week with the Miami-Dade Crime Lab, and although he loved it, he was exhausted. He and Avari were staying with Dr Woods, a very nice lady, but with three infants in the house no one was getting much sleep. He willed himself to make it through one more day, as he was rostered for Sunday off. He could get some sleep then. Maybe.
He nodded to Alexx and Denis in the living room, before heading to the spare room he and Avari occupied. The baby was currently sleeping after the motorbike ride home, much to his relief. He gently placed her in the drawer which was her make-shift bed and kissed the top of her head. Despite how tired he was, he stood for several minutes watching his daughter sleeping. It had become a ritual whenever he managed to get her to sleep, seeming to find a little serenity in the tiny form at rest.
Shaking himself, Speed dropped his clothes to the floor and crawled into bed, and was asleep himself within minutes.
In the living room, Alexx rested her head against her husband's shoulder as they watched a sappy movie. With all the destruction and sadness she saw at work, she could never bring herself to put on the news at night. Normally she would be happily crying at the movie about now, but tonight she couldn't concentrate. She was worried about the newest member of the team.
Denis looked down and sighed. He knew that something was bothering his wife, and knew that she wasn't enjoying the movie. He turned it off, then turned to face her.
"Okay Darling, spill. What's got you so distracted?"
Alexx smiled briefly, before glancing toward Speed's room.
"Timmy. I can't help wondering why he's raising that girl all alone. I know he loves her, but a girl needs a momma. And that boy could use some help." Denis nodded. Taking care of Janie when she'd first been born had been difficult enough with the two of them. He couldn't imagine going it alone.
"If it bothers you so much, ask him. You've already half adopted him, and talking it out might be good for him too."
Alexx nodded, then stretched and yawned.
"Well, nothing I can do about it right now. How about we go to bed?"
Denis smiled and followed his wife. He loved her dearly... but her habit of adopting strays could drive him up the wall.
The next morning, Speed was woken promptly at 4:30 by Avari's crying. Dragging himself out of bed, he pulled on a pair of boxers before reaching for his baby.
"It's okay, Daddy's here. Daddy's not going anywhere without you," he smirked to himself. A year ago, he would have never thought he was capable of baby-talk. Now he regularly referred to himself as 'Daddy'. A lot could change in a year.
He quickly changed Avari's diaper, something else he'd gotten used to doing. She was still whimpering, so Speed picked her up and headed to the kitchen for a bottle.
Speed was only slightly surprised to see Alexx there, feeding her son as well. She still breast-fed him when they were at home, something Speed had grown accustomed to. It no longer made him glance hurriedly away, instead he just ignored it, moving around and preparing Avari's bottle. She had calmed somewhat, soothed by her father's presence.
In a few minutes, Speed was leaning against the counter, Avari happily feeding. Alexx decided to take the moment to talk, after tucking herself back in.
"Timmy, do you mind if I ask you a few things?"
Speed smiled to himself. He hadn't been called 'Timmy' since he was five, but it sounded right coming from Alexx. She treated everyone like one of her children, and it was comforting. He directed a one-shoulder shrug to her, which she took as a sign to continue.
"Well, I was just wondering... what happened to Avari's mother?"
Speed sighed. He'd known it would come up eventually, and truth be told, Alexx had waited longer than most people. He waited while Avari finished feeding, then sat down at the table, holding her against his shoulder and rubbing her back.
"Nothing happened to her. She's back in Syracuse, probably. Her dad's probably bought a chastity belt and locked her up in a tower, but she's fine." At the perplexed look Alexx was giving him, he decided to elaborate. "See, Amanda was my girlfriend for a few months in my final year of college. It ended because we really weren't compatible in the long run. Then she found out she was pregnant, and everything changed."
Avari burped and made a happy noise. Speed smiled down at her and brought her down to rest in his arms before continuing.
"We were both freaked. I mean, we'd taken precautions and everything, but I guess it wasn't enough. We knew we were no good together, so marriage was out. We'd probably have ended up killing each other in a year or two, or resenting the kid, and neither of us wanted that." Alexx nodded, glad that Speed had thought about things. "At first Amanda wanted to get an abortion. I don't know why, but I really balked at that. Just the thought of our child dying before it could live... I couldn't accept that. But Amanda was adamant that she didn't want a kid, she didn't want to deal with it, and that she wouldn't make a good mother.
"So I said I'd take her. If Amanda carried her to term and gave birth, I'd take the kid and raise it myself. She wouldn't have to have any input, though I wouldn't keep her out if she wanted to see it. We had the paperwork drawn up and made it all legal, and I took care of her during the pregnancy." Alexx waited, sensing that there was more to this than that.
"Amanda's parents seemed to accept our decision. They weren't happy about the pregnancy, but were willing to let me take the child and raise it. My parents, on the other hand, freaked completely. Gave me an ultimatum: Marry Amanda, or leave home. So I left." Speed couldn't look at Alexx for the last part, and stared resolutely at the baby in his arms, who was gradually going back to sleep. "My college tuition was all paid for, I was living in the dorms so that was okay, and my motorcycle was fully paid up. So I walked out. I refused to force Amanda into marriage just because my parents were prudes. We were doing okay. Then Amanda went into labour about an hour after I finished my last exam. It took a long time, and I wasn't allowed in the room with her.
"Then one of the nurses came out with a little bundle of blankets and handed her to me. Amanda never even held her, couldn't stand the sight of her, so she came straight to me." He ran a finger over Avari's face, smiling gently. "She just signed the birth certificate, naming her Avari Chloe Speedle, and sent her on her way."
He seemed to have finished, and Alexx shook her head sadly. Poor baby, she thought. She'll never know her grandparents or her momma.
"She's got you though," she whispered, looking at Speed. "And you'll never leave her, right?"
"Like I have a choice. Little buglit's not gonna let me forget about her, right Princess?" All he got in return was a sleep-filled sigh.
Later that day, Speed was at the lab with Jo, working on a perplexing case of what appeared to be murder-suicide. He was waiting for a couple of tests to finish, and Jo was matching and ruling out fingerprints. It was a long process, but he seemed to enjoy it. Andy then came into the room and clapped Speed on the back, nearly making him drop acid onto the table. The older man just smiled.
"Alexx has another DB. Go help her with the autopsy, Rookie, we've got things covered up here."
Speed just nodded and carefully put the chemicals away. He was usually messy, it was true, but when it came to dangerous chemicals he was quite particular in how the cupboard was arranged. Locking up, he headed down to Autopsy.
Once he'd left, Jo looked up, smiling.
"We finally have a head trauma?"
"Yup. Alexx already has the head off, I think she's gonna microwave it first." He smiled back at his friend. "Every rookie should get to see a head trauma."
An hour later, Speed wandered back into the lab. He'd realised when he went down that this was going to be some sort of hazing, and had steeled himself for whatever it was. Upon seeing Alexx microwaving a head, however, he nearly laughed. It was just too surreal to be true. The mouth had sparked, and they had retrieved a key which had been lodged at the back of the victim's throat.
Now, he was carrying the victim's skull as if it were a hand-puppet, and was pretending to have a conversation with it, just to unnerve his fellow CSIs. Then Megan and Horatio walked in, and he couldn't help himself. Holding up the skull dramatically, he intoned the famous line.
"Alas, poor Yorrick, for I knew him, Horatio."
Once safely in Megan's office, she and Horatio broke down in laughter. The sight of Andy and Jo both backing away from the young scientist warily as he performed Shakespearian speeches was just too much. At the time they'd just turned and walked away, but now they could admit that they found it funny.
After a few deep breaths, they both regained control, though Horatio still had a smile, and Megan snickered now and then.
"Well, now I know how to haze him," Horatio murmured. Megan raised an eyebrow, and he decided to elaborate. "I'm leaving 'The Complete Works of Sir Francis Bacon' in his locker."
Megan looked confused for a moment, then nodded. "The 'Was Shakespeare really Bacon' argument. Of course."
"Of course," Horatio replied, before handing over the paperwork he'd been sent over with. He had applied for a promotion to Lieutenant, and Megan had agreed to sponsor him. The only downside was that he'd most likely be leaving the bomb squad, but he felt it was time to move on. with a little luck, he'd be moving over to CSI.
Speed opened his locker half-asleep, then jolted awake. There was a book on the shelf in front of him that didn't belong there. He picked it up and let out a snort of laughter. Bacon. He flipped through it quickly, finding a particular quotation underlined. It seemed fitting for his current profession.
"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties." Nodding to himself, Speed tucked the book into his backpack and turned to get Avari and head home.
No, not home, he quickly corrected himself. Alexx's home. I'll get a place of my own when I can afford it, and that will be home.
Nearly a month after moving to Miami, Speed decided that it was time to get his own place. Alexx had been very kind, and hadn't charged him rent, so he had enough from his first pay checks to afford to rent a decent apartment, or even apply for a home loan if it was a cheap house. He hoped, anyway. At the moment he was sitting on the floor in the lounge room, leaning against the couch, while Avari lay on her stomach next to him, playing with his shoelaces. He was looking through the real estate listings in the paper, every now and then showing a picture to Avari and asking what she thought.
Unknown to him, Alexx was standing at the door, just watching. It had become a hobby of hers, watching the way Speed interacted with his daughter. At first she seemed concerned that he was pushing her before she was ready for things, teaching her signing and reading his books to her, but then she realised he was just finding ways to spend time with her. By reading his scientific journals to her, or his science-fiction books, she was able to hear her father's voice and take comfort in the way he held her. And Alexx had to admit that the signing was useful. She couldn't do much yet, but was beginning to make signs when she wanted food. Alexx supposed that as she grew more able to control her movements, she would start signing more.
At a gurgle from Avari, Speed looked at her fondly.
"You enjoy those laces, don't you? Maybe I should get you a cat-teaser, might keep you occupied." He stroked her hair for a moment before going back to the paper.
Alexx smiled and turned away. She had become very fond of her houseguest over the past month, and of his daughter. In turn, Speed seemed to be warming up to her as well, and Avari was happy to go to 'Auntie Alexx' for cuddles. She also seemed to enjoy spending time with Brian, who was only a couple of months older than her, and starting to crawl. This seemed to encourage Avari to try to crawl as well, though she didn't have the strength yet.
Her cell phone went off, and Alexx sighed. She'd been looking forward to catching up on her medical journals, but it looked like that was going to have to wait. Upon hearing the phone, Speed put down his paper and lifted his daughter instead, knowing he would be called in any second as well.
Ten minutes later, Denis walked in the front door and was presented with two infants, as Alexx and Speed headed in to work.
After a gruelling shift, Speed lived up to his name and raced along the streets of Miami. Alexx was already back at her place, and had told him to take his time getting there. He had something to do first. As he pulled up into Brickell Court, he looked around. There were some decent houses in the area, though many had seen better days. At least the land sizes were decent.
He stopped in front of a rather dilapidated one-storey building, where a long-faced young woman in a suit stood absently flipping through some papers. Speed kicked out the stand and dismounted, offering the woman a tired half-smile before looking over the house. She smiled back perkily.
"Good evening, Mr Speedle?" Speed nodded vaguely, and the woman went back to her papers. "Maria Wrightly, we met at the office. This is the place I described, would you like to see the inside?" She had an odd inflection, raising the end of every sentence so that she seemed to be constantly questioning everything. It was slightly annoying.
Speed just nodded again and headed to the front door. The front garden was overgrown, and what he guessed had once been a pond was now just a pit of rocks. The driveway was cracked with weeds sprouting everywhere. It looked promising. A small set of stairs led to a porch in front of the house. The floorboards seemed solid enough, and didn't squeak. Even though little care had been taken with the yard, the house seemed to be in decent repair. Miss Wrightly unlocked the door and they stepped through, when Speed heard a buzzing, as of many flies. Confused, he held up his hand to stop the chattering estate agent and cautiously stepped forward. Peeking around the corner of a doorframe, Speed sighed.
Trust him to go house hunting, and wind up with a dead body in the living room.
Twenty minutes later, Megan had shown up to assist, and Speed was trying not to slap Miss Wrightly around. The estate agent was close to hysterics, having seen a dead body in the house she was trying to sell. Speed just wanted to process the scene and get the case closed so he could go back to Alexx's and see his baby. Megan took the woman aside to ask her some questions while Speed got started on the living room. Megan had lent him her kit, and he was busy snapping photos when Alexx came in.
"Hey Timmy, when I told you to take your time, this is not what I had in mind," the M.E. smiled at her pseudo-son. Speed rolled his eyes.
"Not quite what I had in mind either. I swear, I've met one dead body for every two live people this month."
"Get used to it Baby, it comes with our jobs." Alexx knelt next to the decaying body and carefully examined him. "Hmm. Throat's been slit, ear-to-ear. Whoever did this was vicious, wasn't he Sugar?" She commented to the body. "No ragged edges, so probably looking at-"
"A 6-inch, single-edged dagger?" Speed interjected, holding up the fly-covered weapon he'd found behind the door. He and Alexx looked at each other for a moment, before Alexx spoke.
"Either your attacker is really dumb, or was really scared. I'll get our DB back to Autopsy and get started."
"Thanks Alexx," Speed nodded as he bagged the dagger. He looked around again and sighed. This was actually a pretty cool house. Pity that the agency would have trouble selling it after this. Shrugging, he got back to work, trying to remember where he'd seen the blade before. It was bugging him.
Outside, Megan was finding Maria Wrightly just as annoying as Speed had, though she was better at masking her impatience. She was currently attempting to get prints off of the woman, as she had been inside the house several times. Miss Wrightly was currently crying and insisting that she didn't know what was going on, hands over her eyes.
Megan looked over at the house and shivered. It looked creepy, and she didn't know why Speed would want to buy the place. It was probably infested with rodents, and would fall down in the next hurricane to hit the area. Shaking her head, she went back to the task of questioning the distraught estate agent. She was distracted, however, when Speed reappeared carrying the murder weapon and shaking his head. He had the same expression on his face as when one of the interns had said that eating boiled eggs would make someone constipated. Megan had learned that this was his 'I can't believe just how stupid you are' look, and had seen it directed at suspects several times since. He held up the knife, showing it to the estate agent, and glared.
"Okay you idiot, give us a blood sample and get in the squad car."
Four hours later, they were finalising the paperwork. Megan still had trouble believing that the murderer had been stupid enough to use a knife that a police officer had seen on her desk earlier to murder her boyfriend, and had trusted her ex to hide the body. The ex had done nothing, leaving man and blade at the crime scene, ready to be discovered at the next house-showing.
Speed, on the other hand, was just annoyed that there was a blood stain on his new living room floor.
Megan glanced over at her young protégé, more than a little disgusted. Speed looked up with an innocent look plastered on his face.
"I can't believe you bought that house," Megan said. "It had a dead body in it!"
"Hence the discount," Speed responded calmly.
"That place is just creepy. How can you think about living there?"
"Hey, you saw it after you knew that there was a dead body in it. I saw it before I knew. Therefore I'm the objective one here."
"It looks like it's going to fall down in the first hurricane that passes through," Megan tried a different track, but Speed just shook his head.
"So will all the other houses. That's why it's called a hurricane, and not a light breeze."
Pausing at the door, Horatio watched the interaction with a smile. He hadn't had that much to do with young Speed, aside from the gentle teasing that had gone back and forth between them after the incident with the skull, but could already tell that he was just as stubborn as the rest of them. Megan wasn't going to have much luck dissuading him from his chosen course of action. He chuckled as the two in front of him glared at each other, startling them from their argument.
"H, I didn't see you there," Megan stammered, seeming flustered. He raised an eyebrow, before stepping inside the evidence locker.
"I kind of figured that. Might I ask why you are discussing houses falling down?" He still looked amused, and Speed noticed that although Megan technically outranked Horatio, it was the redhead who had the natural authority. He decided to explain.
"I bought a house today. Megan thinks it's creepy and unstable, which is actually a large part of the appeal," he said pointedly.
"There was also a dead body in the living room," Megan interjected. "How can you want to live in a house where there's been a murder?"
"Cuts down the likelihood of it happening again," Speed muttered before signing his name on the final page. "There, done. I'm off."
Megan glared at his back while Horatio chuckled again, watching the young man leave. He wasn't surprised that a run-down house with a violent history appealed to the scruffy, sarcastic criminalist. Truth to tell, it kind of appealed to him as well. He wouldn't admit that to Megan though.
It was past 10 by the time Speed arrived at Alexx's house, and he winced when he opened the door. Alexx was in the kitchen with Avari, who seemed to have just stopped crying. He took the baby without bothering to get rid of his helmet or bag first, just wanting to be close to her. Alexx looked grateful.
"She's been upset all evening. Only stopped crying when she heard your bike. I think she missed you," the M.E. gently stroked Avari's hair.
"Thanks Alexx. I'm sorry I'm so late, it's just-"
"Paperwork. I know, Timmy, believe me. Paperwork and dumbass criminals make for late nights."
"Exactly," he laughed. "But at least I got a house out of it."
Alexx stopped and gave him a Look. Shaking her head in disgust, she left Speed in the kitchen and went to check on her own kids.
Speed finally removed the helmet and headed toward his room. It occurred to him that he'd have to get some furniture for his new place, and decided to worry about it in the morning. Procrastination was one of his strong points.
Avari was still whimpering, and Speed looked at her in concern. He checked her diaper, which was empty. He'd seen one of her empty bottles in the kitchen, so she wasn't hungry. Sighing, he reasoned that she was probably still upset from not seeing him all day. He grabbed a book at random from the pile next to his bed and started to read aloud as he paced up and down the hall.
He bit back a laugh as he realised which book he'd picked up. It was 'Red Dragon', the first in the Hannibal Lecter books. Ah well, he reasoned, maybe it'll instil a love of crime-fighting in her.
Two hours and seven chapters later, Avari was fast asleep, cuddled into her father's chest. Speed himself had passed out on the lounge, exhausted from the long day, voice raw from reading for so long. That was how Alexx found them the next morning as she came down to give Brian his morning feed, and get herself some breakfast. She smiled as Speed unconsciously brought a hand up to rest on Avari's back. It was the sweetest thing she'd seen in a long time.
A week later, Speed and Avari were in their own home, however it was still fairly empty. Speed slept on a mattress, while Avari still slept in the chest of drawers Alexx had let them have. Speed had also made some make-shift bookshelves from some bricks and planks of wood, and had managed to salvage a broken-down couch from a garage sale. It was enough for them for the time being.
Alexx, however, had other ideas.
"Alexx, I don't need to get anything more," Speed crossed his arms, trying his best to dig his heels in. Unfortunately, he knew he was fighting a losing battle.
"Timmy, Baby, I love you, but you need furniture. Avari's still sleeping in a drawer!" It was beyond Alexx's comprehension how Speed could be so cavalier about Avari's upbringing. He still transported her around Miami in the front of his jacket while riding his motorcycle, and Alexx was fairly sure that if she didn't intervene, she'd be sleeping in a drawer until she was six.
"Key word: Sleeping. She's happy there, I don't see why I should force her out into a crib. She'll be ready for a bed soon enough, that'll be more than enough change for her."
"I don't think so. Timmy, we are going inside, and you are getting some furniture. You need a crib, a dinner table and chairs, a proper bed, and some crockery. I'm sick of seeing you eating off paper plates with plastic cutlery. You can get more later, but you can't keep living like this. Now shift it."
Speed hung his head and sighed. He'd put up a valiant fight, and was getting to the stage where he could resist Alexx for up to an hour, but she always managed to get her way eventually. He knew that this didn't bode well for his future disciplinary measures with Avari.
Back at headquarters, Megan was just finishing up some paperwork when she noticed someone standing at her door. Looking up, she saw Horatio smiling at her and holding a letter. She didn't need him to speak to know what it held - she had signed off on it herself.
"Congratulations, H. I hope you'll be sticking with us for longer than your last couple of jobs." She smiled back and looked down, missing the brief moment of tension that crossed Horatio's features. She looked back up as Horatio replaced his sunglasses. "Oh, Andy's submitted his retirement application. He's also suggested a replacement - some girl named Calleigh Duquesne. A patrol cop from New Orleans, but apparently she's something of an expert when it comes to guns. They met a couple years ago at a conference, and Andy decided to keep tabs on her career."
"And give her a helping hand?"
"Maybe. Her skill seems genuine though, I figure it's worth giving her an interview. I'm giving her a call tomorrow to set up a time. I may need to fly over to consult with her superiors though, so you might be on your own with the boys for a while."
"I'm sure we'll manage. You just focus on the red tape."
"Thanks. Speed's hosting the farewell party for Andy this Sunday, I'm sure you're welcome to join us."
"Speed?" That took him by surprise. "I would have thought Jo, or maybe Alexx..."
"I know. But there's not a lot of room at Jo's apartment, and Speed's become fairly close to Andy. Besides, according to
Alexx, Speed's quite the cook."
"I see. Well, I'd best make sure I'm there then. How's Speed fitting in, by the way?"
"He seems to have adjusted well. He and Jo have clashed a few times, but nothing serious. They're just both extremely snarky individuals."
Horatio chuckled at that. It seemed a fairly accurate description.
TWO WEEKS LATER (stupid writer's block...)
Calleigh Duquesne walked into the lab for her first day of work, filled with jitters. She'd met and gotten along fine with
Megan, and had agreed to leave her life in Louisiana behind for sunny Miami - not that there was much to leave behind. Now it was time to meet the rest of the team, and she was nervous as all hell.
She met up with Megan in the locker room, where the older woman was just putting her things away. Megan smiled over at her.
"So, ready to intimidate the rest of the crew?"
"Absolutely," Calleigh threw a thousand-mega-watt smile back. She usually had fun telling people her specialty, and completely shattering their misconceptions about her. In fact, she'd raised it to an art form.
Hastily stowing her gear, Calleigh clipped on her badge and gun before following Megan up into the lab itself.
As they walked down the corridor to the trace lab, Calleigh could hear music playing. After a moment, she recognised the band as Guns N Roses, and wondered who would be playing that sort of music in a crime lab. Her unspoken question was answered when she and Megan stopped in the doorway, and Calleigh took in the strangest thing she'd seen yet.
In the middle of the room was a table strewn with various equipment. On the opposite side, a young man about the same age as her was dancing and singing along to the music. She had to admit that he was cute, in a scruffy kind of a way. Black hair that stuck out all over the place, a hint of stubble, and decked out all in rumpled black. He was also holding a baby as he danced, who seemed to be having the time of her life.
After watching Calleigh watch Speed for a moment, Megan cleared he throat loudly. Speed whipped around and saw the two ladies watching him, and looked straight back, seemingly unfazed.
"Can I help you?" Calleigh was slightly taken aback by his voice. Laden with sarcasm, this did not seem to be a friendly individual. Megan, on the other hand, brushed it off completely. Maybe I'll get used to it, Calleigh thought to herself.
"Speed, meet Calleigh Duquesne, our new ballistics expert. She's moved here from Louisiana. Calleigh, this is Tim Speedle, but we all call him Speed. And the kid is his daughter Avari." Megan seemed to think of something. "Speed, why is Avari here?"
He shrugged and hugged the baby closer to his chest.
"She was running a bit of a fever this morning, and the childcare didn't think she should be there today."
"So you brought her here?"
"What else was I gonna do with her, leave her home to take care of herself?"
"Fair enough," Megan shrugged and turned to leave, when her pager went off. "Great, we've got a call out. Speed, you take it. Take Calleigh with you and show her the ropes."
Speed nodded and deposited Avari in a box he'd found, giving her her stuffed anteater to play with.
"Come on, newbie," he muttered as he moved past the women. He heard Megan murmur "be nice" low enough for Calleigh to not hear, and he grinned. Today was going to be fun.
At the crime scene, Speed watched Calleigh as she spoke to the patrol officer who had called in the body. He snapped photographs and jotted down notes, waiting for his companion to rejoin him.
A few minutes later she did so, not exactly smiling now but still cheerful.
"Well, Miss Sunshine, what did you gather?" Speed couldn't help himself from pushing at her. He wanted to know where they'd stand, and he'd learned that the most effective way to discover boundaries was to get slapped for crossing them.
Given the amount of times he'd been slapped over the years, he barely felt them any more.
Calleigh just grinned at him, so he knew he hadn't crossed the line yet.
"It seems officer Simmons discovered the body at oh-eight-hundred and called it in immediately after ascertaining that it was, in fact, dead. I'm guessing the hole where his heart should be tipped him off." Speed smirked. It looked like another person who was fluent in sarcasm had been hired. Lord help anyone looking for a pleasant conversation in the lab.
"Anyway, the M.E.-"
"Alexx," Speed interrupted.
"Okay, Alexx has been notified and should be here any minute. Simmons roped off the area to prevent cross-contamination and swears that no one else has been here."
"Great. Know how to work this thing?" Speed indicated a camera identical to the one he held. Calleigh seemed to bristle.
"Of course. I may be a woman, but I know how to work a camera."
"I wasn't insinuating you couldn't because you're female," Speed smirked. "I was insinuating you couldn't because you were a patrol cop. Patrol cops are not known for their technical expertise."
Calleigh was taken aback for a moment, before returning the smirk.
"Oh, you're gonna pay for that."
"Would you care to rephrase that statement in the form of a wager?"
"Do I have to send you two to time-out?" Alexx asked as she ducked under the police tape. Speed and Calleigh turned to her, sporting identical grins.
"Sorry Mom," Speed quipped.
"We'll be good," Calleigh added before taking the camera Speed held out to her. Alexx chuckled.
"Timmy being good? Never happen." She bent over the body and began her preliminary check. "Well, the obvious cause of death is the bullet wound to the heart. No stippling, but I think I see some residue. I'll get our boy here back to the lab and get started on him."
"Thanks Alexx," Speed muttered, turning back to the crime scene. Calleigh was standing at the corpse's feet, looking thoughtful.
"May I look at the wound?" She asked a little nervously. Alexx looked up in surprise.
"Of course you can, Honey. Get on down here."
Calleigh knelt opposite Alexx and gently moved the victim's shirt, studying the entrance wound.
"Looks like small calibre. Definately not a rifle. Oh, I'll have fun with the bullet when we find it." Her eyes had lit up and Speed could tell that this was her calling. He looked down and noticed the sunlight glinting off something near his feet.
Kneeling, he placed an evidence marker down and snapped away with the camera before picking up the bullet casing.
"Oi, Sunshine. A present." He picked up the casing with gloved fingers and held it out to her.
"For me? Aww, you shouldn't have."
Back at the lab, Megan was concerned. She was looking over some of Jo's paperwork, and had started to notice some discrepancies. There was nothing she could really report him for, but she was worried about some of the results.
Shaking her head, she decided to visit Alexx and see if she'd noticed anything off with the younger scientist. Walking through the doors to the morgue, she noticed Alexx, Calleigh and Speed all standing around a body.
"Alexx," she started, "I need some advice."
"Always carry a hanky," Alexx spoke with certainty.
"Use a Magnum 44-40 instead of a Glock," Calleigh nodded.
"There's no such thing as breasts that are too big," was Speed's input.
Megan just looked from one to the other, then shook her head.
"Okay, that was my fault. I should have specified. Speed, Calleigh, can you give us a minute?"
"Well, I've got my bullet," Calleigh shrugged. "I'll be in the gun lab if you need me."
"I've got some soil to identify. Trace lab for me."
Speed and Calleigh wandered out together, chatting amicably about the use of the Magnum, leaving Alexx and Megan together.
"The Glock's not bad, I'll give you that, but I go for Maggie every time."
"Maggie?" Speed grinned at her as the elevator doors opened and they entered.
"Maggie," Calleigh nodded, patting the hip where her Magnum rested. "She's my best friend. And when it comes to dropping a crim, nothing easier."
"I'd say a rocket-launcher would be easier to stop them."
"I said drop, not stop." Speed raised his eyebrow, and Calleigh continued to clarify. "Y'see, all you have to do is aim between the shoulders and the hips. Any direct hit results in a dead crim, the only variable is how long it takes. Easy as that."
"Ah, fair enough." The doors opened again, and the pair stepped out before heading their separate ways.
By the end of the day, Speed was itching to go home. Avari's temperature had gone down and he figured she could go back to child care the next day. Unfortunately, if the pair of them didn't get a good night's sleep, they'd both be cranky, and it looked like Speed was going to be at the lab late. They had identified the cadaver as Jonah Farley, a bartender at a local club. Now they were trying to work out why he had been in that alley that morning, several blocks away from his house and in the opposite direction to the club.
Horatio strode in, having been working on a case with Jo. He didn't like the younger man, but tried not to let it show. Speed, on the other hand, he did like. The young man was snarky and occasionally hostile, but he also had a wicked sense of humour.
"So, how are things with the new girl?" Horatio asked, noting the tension in his new coworker.
"Calleigh?" Speed asked, surprised. "She's great. Definitely knows her stuff. And seems a good sport."
"Hazed her yet?" He was a little concerned as to how a new female would receive her initiation test, but Speed shrugged.
"Not my department. Paula's taking care of it."
"Paula? The receptionist?"
"Yeah. She's a good sport. Should be interesting."
"Your mission is to take this, and record the measurements of all the males working at CSI." Paula handed Calleigh a tape measure with a knowing wink. Calleigh just looked thoughtful.
"On the slack, or standing proud?"
"Hey, Speed?" Calleigh called out cheerfully as she entered the lab.
"What's up, Sunshine?" Speed raised an eyebrow.
"I need your measurements, drop your pants." She smiled brightly and held up a tape measure. A moment passed with both men looking at her, before Speed shrugged.
"Sorry, after Avari was born Amanda cut mine off. I assume I'll get it back once Avari's out of the house."
Calleigh let out a burst of laughter before turning to Horatio.
"What about you, Handsome? Gonna give me your measurements?"
Horatio obviously looked Calleigh up and down.
"Give me yours, and I'll give you mine."
"Deal," Calleigh's eyes sparkled.
"Y'know," Speed commented as he hefted Avari out of her box, "I don't think she needs to hear this. I'm going to get her some fresh air, catch you guys in a minute."
Calleigh and Horatio both let out a chuckle as they watched father and daughter leave the trace lab.
"Where's he going?" Calleigh wondered aloud. Horatio smiled at her.
"Where he always takes Avari to settle her. For a ride on Duchess."
Five minutes later, Speed tore out of the parking lot on his beloved bike, Avari zipped up safely inside his jacket, and he felt all his concerns slip away in the wind. Sure, they'd be waiting for him when he slowed down, but for now there was just the smoothness of the wind past his head, the warmth of Avari at his chest, and the roar of Duchess beneath him.
It wouldn't last forever, but for now, it was enough.
Speed grinned to himself as he watched Horatio in the kitchen. The red-head had offered to help prepare food for Avari's birthday party, and didn't seem to be doing too badly.
Then again, it's hard to go wrong with fairy bread and pink lemonade.
It was Avari's first birthday, and Alexx had insisted that it was important for the toddler to have a party. Speed remembered the conversation well.
Speed and Calleigh had been observing an autopsy, while Alexx chattered away.
"...and pierced the stomach. Death was due to massive internal bleeding, and was very slow. Poor baby was alive for several minutes after being shot."
Speed nodded as Calleigh held out an evidence container for the bullet. She smiled at the 'clink' it made against the bottom and held it up for closer inspection.
"Looks like it matches the 9mm found at the scene. I'll test it to make sure though. Thanks Alexx," she and Speed turned to leave, before Alexx called them back.
"Timmy, I seem to recall that Avari's birthday is coming up. Is that right?"
"Yeah," he nodded. "Little tyke's turning one on Friday."
"Hard to believe, isn't it?" Alexx smiled. "So when's the party?"
"Party?" Speed blinked. "Alexx, she's one. She doesn't need a party."
"Like Hell she doesn't!" Calleigh exclaimed. "Birthday parties are very important for young girls, right Alexx?"
"Right. Timmy, you are giving that baby girl a birthday party. We are all going to come and spoil her rotten with presents. End of story. Now pick a time."
Under the force of glares from both women, Speed held up his hands in surrender.
"Fine, Friday evening after our shifts end. I guess I can whip up something at home."
Now it was Friday afternoon. Speed and Horatio had finished off their case and managed to take off early. Megan, Calleigh and the newbie Chris were still wrapping things up and would be there later. Alexx and her family were coming, as was Andy, with his wife and new grand-daughter, Lizzie. Speed had a suspicious thought that Alexx had wanted this gathering just so that she could socialise with everyone in the same place away from work, though he didn't say it where she could hear him, as he valued his ability to reproduce again in the future.
Speed was currently standing in the doorway to his kitchen, Avari nestled on his hip, as they both watched Horatio finish up. It wasn't until H knocked the tub of butter to the floor that Speed realised that the scrutiny was making his colleague nervous. He derived no little glee from this, and decided to say so.
"Not often you see the unflappable Horatio Caine make a mistake, is it Princess?"
"Ra-ra!" Avari exclaimed. It was the closest she could get to Horatio's name at her age, but he didn't seem to mind.
"Shut up, Speed," he muttered good-naturedly. This earned a grin from the scruffy young man behind him, and a delighted "Speed!" from Avari. It had taken many people by surprise that she didn't say 'dada', instead opting for her father's nickname. He didn't mind in the slightest - after all, everyone else called him that, why shouldn't she?
They kept watching as Horatio cleaned up the mess he'd made, before he glanced at his watch.
"You know, people will start arriving soon. You should probably get her ready."
Speed rolled his eyes, but nodded and walked through the kitchen and out the other door. He really did like this house - every room seemed to lead to every other room, and it was surprisingly easy to get lost, considering how small it was. The fact that there was no logic to the layout played a big part in this. For example, the kitchen opened onto the dining area on one side, and Avari's bedroom on the other. On the other side of her bedroom was the bathroom, but there was no connecting door - you had to do a complete circuit of the house to get to it. Down the hall from the bathroom was the master bedroom, and through that was a room too small to be a bedroom but too big to be a wardrobe. At the moment, it was being used as a miniature library. It was an odd little house, which had rapidly become home.
Speed smiled at his daughter as they dressed her up in a black sun-dress, with a hot pink sash around her middle and pink sandals on her feet. It was certainly eye-catching, which was all part of the plan. If she ever got separated from him in a shopping centre, he'd be able to spot her quickly. The same was true with her knowing his nickname - instead of just saying that she'd lost her daddy, she could have him paged by name. Though going up to a security guard and asking them if they'd seen speed could possibly get them in trouble… but they'd burn that bridge when they came to it.
He finished tying up Avari's hair in dual ponytails, then heard the front door open and Calleigh shout out a greeting. The two of them already had an open-door policy with each other, much to the dismay of Calleigh's boyfriend. He had yet to receive a key to her place.
"Guess what, Princess? Auntie Calleigh's here," Speed informed his daughter excitedly. She let out another squeal, and Speed placed her on the ground so that she could run to greet her 'auntie'. Avari was already very confident when it came to walking and running, though she preferred it when she wasn't wearing shoes. Speed caught up to her in time to watch Calleigh scoop up Avari in her arms and swing her around. It brought a real smile to Speed's face - even though Avari didn't have a mother, she still had motherly affection from all the women at his work. Calleigh in particular seemed to have fallen in love with the little girl, and had brought along a large bag of presents.
"Happy birthday little one," she was currently telling the birthday girl. "Did you have fun today?"
"Birfday!" Came the excited response, followed by a delighted "presents!" as she pointed over to the corner of the living room. Calleigh laughed at the sight.
Apparently, Speed believed in spoiling his daughter. There was a play-table that he'd rescued from a local garage sale, stacked high with picture-books. The man had already instilled a love of reading in Avari, by which they meant that Speed would read to her at any opportunity, and Avari loved spending the time with her father. Calleigh was sure that the love of books would stay with her. There were also some dolls and a large teddy bear which she recognised from a store she'd visited a few weeks back. She remembered telling Megan about the place.
Next to the table was a large wrapped gift. Calleigh raised an eyebrow, and Speed shrugged.
"That one's from Horatio. I figured we'd wait and unwrap the presents once everyone got here, since you're so set on this being a real party."
"Fair enough," Calleigh nodded. "Guess I should put my presents over there too, huh?" Avari clapped her hands, giggling away.
"Hello?" They heard Alexx calling out, and Avari squealed another greeting. The doctor stepped into the room, smiling and carrying her son. Her husband followed with their daughter and another present.
"Hey guys," Speed nodded as Avari ran over for more cuddles. "Horatio's in the kitchen, there's chairs out back. Go wherever you want."
Calleigh slipped into the kitchen to say hello to her other co-worker, while Alexx and Dennis stayed talking to Speed. Shortly after, Andy turned up with his wife, Pamela, and little Lizzie, who was just learning to crawl.
"Howdy Speed," Andy clapped his young friend on the back in greeting. "Good to see you again. You remember my wife?"
"'Course I do," Speed pretended to be insulted. "What kind of a guy would I be if I forgot… uh… what's your name again?"
Pam and Andy laughed, then went out back with Alexx and her family. It was already far too crowded inside the house, but the yard was big enough to hold everyone comfortably.
Next to arrive was Megan and her husband, along with Chris, all of whom carried a present for the birthday girl. Avari immediately ran to Megan, knowing she'd get another cuddle. Cuddles were one of Avari's favourite things to do with people. She didn't seem to have Speed's reservations when it came to letting people know she cared about them.
Since everyone was now in attendance, they all went out into the yard. Horatio was copping a lot of teasing from Calleigh and Alexx in regards to his culinary abilities, and Speed decided to save him. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy seeing the red-head flustered, but he preferred it when he was the cause of the other man's discomfort.
"Wrap up the case then, Cal?" He asked the blonde. Calleigh screwed up her nose in distaste.
"We hit a dead end, with everything. The only clue was a stray leech we found on the carpet. The vic had no leech bites, but it was engorged with blood. We've drawn the blood and put it on file, but there's a good chance we're not gonna catch this guy."
"Damn," Speed muttered. "Hate it when that happens."
"Hey," Alexx scolded, "you two aren't going to spend the party talking work, are you?"
"No, mom," Calleigh and Speed responded in unison. Alexx laughed and shook her head. Those two… they were complete opposites in most regards, but so similar in others. It certainly made them a good team.
Eventually, it was time for Avari to open her presents. Speed enlisted Horatio's help to carry everything outside, and the two made short work of it in spite of the mountain of gifts. First up was the large one from Horatio. Speed helped his daughter rip open the paper, and she squealed in delight – it was a large doll's house in the shape of a castle. Speed shook his head and threw Horatio a grin.
"You're the one always reading her fantasy stories," Horatio shrugged. "Now she can make up her own."
"Fair enough," Speed muttered.
"And to go in the castle," Calleigh said as she held out the bag she'd brought. Avari made short work of the wrapping, and found several dolls and accessories for the castle. It was certainly a popular gift.
"I certainly feel upstaged," Alexx smiled as she held out her gift. It was a couple of new picture-books, which Avari immediately held out to her father.
"Later," Speed smiled fondly at her. "Finish unwrapping first."
Next up was Andy, who handed the little princess a soft package. Inside was a beautiful sky-blue dress that Pam had sewn herself. It looked like something a Disney princess would wear, and Avari clapped her hands in delight.
From Megan and her husband were some accessories for the toy castle – a dragon, a unicorn and some horses. From Chris was some furniture. It seemed the four of them had gotten together to sort out the present for Speed's little girl, and he shot a smile at them all. As much as he had protested the party, Speed was now glad that he had given in.
Later that afternoon, once everyone had gone, Horatio stayed behind, helping to clear up. Speed had gone to put Avari down for a nap, and Horatio was cleaning up the back yard. Granted everyone had been very considerate, and there wasn't much to do, but he couldn't help himself.
Gathering up some plates, he made his way inside. He deposited them in the kitchen sink, then paused as he heard singing from Avari's room. It seemed that Speed was quietly singing a lullaby of sorts. Horatio moved to stand next to the door and peered around the corner.
Inside, Speed was slowly dancing with his daughter cradled in his arms. She was drifting off to sleep, soothed by the rocking and her father's voice. Horatio agreed that it was certainly a lovely song.
"I remember the songs you sang to me
When I was a babe in arms.
Oh, my stars,
Oh, my stars,
Navigate me home.
We are princes and princesses
So our pauper fathers told us,
As they carried us through darkened streets
With eyes, sad as soldiers.
To where no country and no colours and no borders could hurt us again…"
Horatio smiled and withdrew, leaving father and child in peace. It warmed his heart to see them so happy together. He was still recovering from the loss of his brother to the eternal narco-war, and often his thoughts would turn dark. But the simple sight of Speed singing to his daughter was enough to bring him peace for now.
The only problem was that he didn't want to go home to his empty house now. He wanted to stay here, where it was safe, and the outside world didn't exist. Sighing, he went back to cleaning up. Eventually, he knew, he'd have to leave. He just didn't want this perfect day to be over yet.
"It's not like I even hit him that hard," Speed scowled at the Coke Alexx set in front of him. The older woman said nothing, just waiting. Seed had been in a foul mood all day, and was now on suspension for punching one of the lab techs. Megan was at her wits' end, and Speed was refusing to talk to anyone about what was bothering him. So she'd sent the surly young scientist to see his surrogate mother.
They were now seated in Alexx's kitchen, and Speed was gradually starting to open up. It was hard going, though. He was definitely not in a very good mood, and seemed to be convinced that he hadn't done anything wrong. That was probably what concerned Alexx the most. Speed was not a violent person, so for him to feel justified in decking one of his co-workers, something had to be wrong. When nothing more seemed to be forthcoming, Alexx decided to press him a little.
"Timmy, I know you and Zack don't get along, but you've never come to blows before. What changed, Baby?"
"I…" he looked like he was going to dig his heels in, then his shoulders slumped. "It's just been a crappy day. I'll apologise to him and Megan tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay Baby. But I think you should talk this out first. It's not good for you to bottle everything up like this. Talk to me."
He looked around the room, and Alexx was reminded of a caged animal, looking for an escape. This was very bad. She continued to wait, knowing that he would give in sooner or later.
Thankfully she didn't have long to wait. Shoulders still bowed, Speed sighed in defeat.
"Zack was… making comments. About what happened at a crime scene earlier today."
"When that journalist contaminated the evidence?" Alexx pressed gently. Speed nodded.
"Yeah. The whole case could have been lost if H hadn't found another print. And yeah, I should have been watching the tape to make sure no one crossed the line, but I was distracted, and I messed up. But for a lab-rat with no field experience to comment like that…" Speed's dark eyes flashed in anger, and Alexx could see that he was getting worked up again.
"Whatever he said," she tried to soothe him, "it doesn't matter. We both know how hard it can be to keep a crime scene intact, and journalists really have no sense of the appropriate etiquette at a scene."
"Hi said," Speed started, then closed his eyes and continued in a soft voice. "He said that if I can't keep control of a scene, what makes me think I can raise a kid single-handed?"
Alexx's jaw dropped.
"What? Baby, you know that's nonsense! I can't deny that you'll have your hands full, but you've already proved that you're a terrific father! Why would you pay any attention to a comment like that?"
Speed didn't answer. Instead he reached into his pocket and pulled out a letter. He handed it over without a word, looking lost. Alexx opened and quickly scanned it, paling slightly as she did so.
It was from a high-priced lawyer in New York. Avari's maternal grandparents were suing Speed for custody of the little girl. Alexx shook her head several times before she could form words.
"Oh no, that can't be right. They can't do that unless they prove that you're an incompetent father."
"But what if they do?" Speed whispered. "There, she'd have both a male and female guardian, access to the best schools. She'd never want for anything. Here… how can I measure up?"
"Because you're her father!" Alexx exploded. "I don't care what they can offer her – you are Avari's father, and your whole world revolves around that baby girl! I don't care what we have to do, you are not giving her up without a fight."
The ghost of a smile appeared on Speed's face.
"I wasn't planning on giving her up," he clarified. "But how do I afford a decent lawyer to fight this? I'm only just keeping on top of the bills and mortgage now, I can't afford this as well."
"You let me worry about that," Alexx patted his arm. "I know a few people who might be able to help. You're family, and there's no way I'm going to let them take Avari away."
"Thanks Alexx," Speed smiled properly now. "It's good to have family like you."
True to her word, Alexx made several phone calls that night, and called in several favours. At the end, she had a promise to help from Simon Reynolds, a specialist in family law. He was also a single father, and knew exactly what Speed would be facing.
Then she called Megan, to let her know what was going on. As she suspected, as soon as the head of CSI knew the whole story, she promised to overturn Speed's suspension.
"Why didn't he just tell me what was going on with him?" She wondered aloud. Alexx shrugged, then remembered that she was on the phone.
"That boy is extremely stubborn, you know that. It took a long time for me to coax the whole story out of him."
"Well, at least we know now," Megan sighed. "I'll make sure he can get time off when he needs it. Did they say anything about a court date?"
"Not yet," Alexx replied, "and Simon says we might not have to go to court. If he can get Social Services to look over the house and Tim's current arrangements, the judge may decide that there isn't a case for changing custody."
"Well that's something to hope for," Megan sounded a lot more cheerful.
"Just one problem, Sugar: Zack. Speed punched him, and that's going to look very bad. If the other lawyer gets wind of it, he could claim that Timmy is violent."
"But we both know that's not true… would it help if Zack made a statement saying that he provoked Speed?"
"I don't know. At least there was no real damage done. Maybe if we say that they were horsing around and it was an accident… we'll ask Simon about it. I just hope that he has an answer, I don't know what Timmy will do if they take Avari away from him.
Speed sat on his back porch, reading with Avari. They were waiting for the social worker to arrive, and Speed had never been so nervous in his life. It was worse than when Avari was being born, because now he knew what he'd be missing if his little princess was taken away.
Avari, on the other hand, didn't seem to be worried. They hadn't told her why the worker was really coming, opting to say that she just wanted to make sure that Avari was being taken care of. Given that Avari was a few months shy of turning three, she seemed to buy it.
They heard a car pull into the driveway, and Speed swallowed nervously. This was it. He stood and led his daughter back into the lounge room where Simon, Alexx's lawyer friend, was waiting.
"Remember Speed," the young man offered some final words of advice, "they don't actually have any reason to take Avari away from here. The Social Worker just wants what's best for her, she's here to help, so don't lie to her or try to gloss over things. It's going to be fine."
"This is just like being on the stand," Speed muttered darkly. Then the doorbell rang and he took a deep breath. "Here goes nothing then."
He opened the door to find a short, plump, middle-aged woman with steel grey hair and bright blue eyes on the other side. She handed over her identification with a thin smile.
"Mr Speedle?" Speed nodded. "Claire Robbins, Social Services."
"Hi," Speed muttered. Suddenly his throat was very dry, and he stepped to one side. "Come on in. You want a drink or something?"
"Not right now," Claire said as she entered the house. "First I'd like to meet your daughter."
"Okay. C'mere Princess," he held out his hand to Avari, who ran to his side and peered up at the stranger, uncharacteristically shy. "This is Miss Robbins. She's going to talk to you for a while. Miss Robbins, my daughter, Avari."
Claire knelt with a little difficulty, so she was on the same eye level as Avari. Her whole demeanor changed around the child, and Speed began to feel a little more confident.
"Hi there, little one. You can call me Claire, okay?" Avari nodded, still holding Speed's hand tightly. "Do you know why I'm here?"
"Mmhmm. Speed said you need to make sure that he's taking care of me properly. He is, you know."
"Speed?" Claire raised an eyebrow.
Speed closed his eyes, wincing a little. He didn't have a problem with his daughter using his nickname, but he realised that to an outsider, it could seem like there wasn't much love between father and daughter.
"Yeah," Avari continued, unaware of her father's discomfort. "That's my daddy's name. Everyone calls him Speed. Except for Auntie Alexx, she calls him Timmy. Or Baby, but she calls everyone Baby." She seemed to be warming to their guest, who looked questioningly up at Speed. He shrugged back.
"If she ever gets lost, at least she can have me called by name." He hoped that would be enough.
Claire nodded, smiling a little, then turned back to the child.
"And who is Auntie Alexx?" She knew from the file that Speed was an only child, and had no family in Miami.
"She's the doctor at Speed's work. She's really nice, and she takes care of me if he has to work on the weekend. But Megan makes sure he doesn't have to do that too much."
"Megan?" Claire smiled. Avari certainly didn't have trouble communicating, and seemed eager to please. This was a good way of finding out the child's perspective on her current living situation.
"Speed's boss. She's a lot of fun. She and Speed's other work people gave me that doll house for my birthday!" Avari pointed to the castle-shaped doll house. Even nearly two years later, it was still one of her favourite toys.
"Wow," Claire looked impressed. "That is a very special doll's house." She paused for a moment before continuing. "Do you mind if we sit on the couch and keep talking?"
"Okay," Avari let go of Speed's hand and skipped over to the couch. She'd only just learned how, and as a result tended to skip almost constantly.
Claire settled down next to her and dug out a pad and pen from her bag. Speed leaned casually against the wall, realising that it was best to just let Avari keep babbling away.
"So," Claire turned to Avari again, "do you know many of Speed's co-workers?"
"Uh-huh," Avari nodded. "Calleigh's the really pretty lady. She said that she'll teach me to shoot a gun just as soon as my hands are big enough to hold it." Speed winced again. Okay, maybe letting her do the talking wasn't such a good idea. But Claire kept smiling, and nodded for her to continue. "And Ra-ra makes the bestest pancakes. He comes over every Sunday morning to feed us."
Speed cast his eyes heavenward. She had to bring up that little tradition.
After Raymond had been killed whilst undercover, Horatio had started spending a lot of his spare time with Speed and Avari. He seemed to enjoy the peace that the tiny family had achieved, as well as the fact that Speed never asked him questions. They could spend several hours together and only exchange a handful of words.
The random visits had gradually settled into a routine, and now every Sunday Horatio would come over and cook them breakfast, and on Wednesdays Speed would cook them all dinner. It hadn't escaped his notice that Horatio never seemed overly keen to leave, but he hadn't gotten up the nerve to ask him to stay yet.
Now he thought that it might be a good thing he hadn't – after all, he didn't think that a judge would favour two male cops over a child's grandparents.
Claire, however, seemed to be taking it all in her stride.
"And what do you do while Speed's at work?"
"I go to Daycare," Avari nodded happily. "Brian goes there too. I like it there."
"And Brian is…"
"He's my friend. And he's Auntie Alexx's son."
"That's good," Claire nodded back. "Everyone should have a friend."
After that, the visit ran smoothly. Avari gave Claire a tour of the house and back garden, and she could see the love Speed had for his daughter in every room. From the toys scattered around the house, to the picture books on the nightstand next to his bed; from the sponge toys in the bathroom, to the Sesame Street crockery in the kitchen. It was obvious that Speed's world was firmly centred around his little girl.
And in return, Avari was obviously a happy and healthy child. She seemed quite mature for her age, probably due to her father being a scientist, but she still had a childlike fascination with the world around her, and was convinced that there were fairies living in the garden. Given the types of stories Speed read to her, however, she had decided that the best course of action was to set traps to scare them away.
Claire finished up her report that night and forwarded it to the sitting judge in New York. As far as she was concerned, there were no grounds for the lawsuit to go forward.
"Why don't I have a mummy?"
Speed froze. He had been washing the dishes when his four-year-old had decided ask her question. It wasn't something that he could easily answer, and he'd been hoping that he could last a few more years before having to. But, as usual, Avari was working on her own schedule.
"Well, Princess," Speed turned to his daughter and dried his hands on a dishcloth, "you do have a mother. But she lives a long way away, and can't come visit."
"Oh." Avari pondered that for a bit. "Does she love me?"
Great. Another tricky one. The truth was, Speed wasn't sure if Amanda loved her child or not. He sent her a letter and photograph of Avari every year on the little girl's birthday and a Christmas, to make sure she stayed up to date with their child's progress, but Amanda had never written back, or called, or tried to get in contact with them. He wasn't even sure if the letters were being read.
"She…" Speed started, then paused. How could he explain to his princess that her mother most likely didn't love her? "I think that she doesn't know how to love you. But she does want what's best for you, which is why she lets me take care of you."
"Okay," Avari nodded, seemingly satisfied. "Speed?" She asked again, and he braced himself.
"Can I have a pony for Christmas?"
Speed nearly laughed out loud. This was a much better topic of conversation.
"So what did you tell her?" Calleigh laughed. She, Speed and Horatio were all sitting in the break room at CSI, talking over lunch.
"I told her she could have a stuffed one," he grinned wryly. "She's not having a real one until she can buy it herself."
"Meanie," Horatio muttered, to chuckles from the others.
"Well, if you want to spend your spare time shovelling horse shit, you buy one for her and keep it at your place," came the good-natured retort. Just then, Speed's pager went off and he sighed dramatically. "The slave driver beckons once again… catch you guys later." He stood and drained his cola, then tossed the can in the bin on his way out the door. Megan had found their dead guy's next of kin, so he was off to go interview them.
Several hours later, Speed was sitting on a table in the gun lab. Calleigh was testing out a gun that he'd found on a teenager against the bullet he'd found in his victim. She'd just retrieved the bullet she'd fired when Zack, Speed's least favourite lab-rat, came in with some papers.
"I see you found a gun," he muttered to Speed, who was absently examining his knuckles.
"Yup." After their rather physical disagreement just over a year ago, the two had avoided talking to each other any longer than was strictly necessary. This time, however, he hung back to talk to Calleigh.
"It was found on a sixteen-year-old," she sighed as she shook her head. "Seems like any day now they'll be handing out pump-actions with the school supplies."
"Good," Zack declared, to incredulous stares from the other two. "Even kids have the right to bear arms."
"Why?" Calleigh looked dumbfounded. "So if there's a school shooting they can all join in?" Sure she loved guns, but Calleigh was an advocate of responsible gun ownership, not just letting any idiot have such a potentially dangerous weapon.
"Well," Speed shrugged, "my teachers always said to make sure we had enough for everyone."
"I don't think they were talking about bullets though, were they?" Calleigh raised an eyebrow. Given some of the stories Speed had told about his schools, it was entirely possible they were.
"Nah, mostly gum," Speed remained seated on the table as Calleigh started the process of matching the bullets right next to him. Zack looked at the pair as if they'd grown an extra head each.
"Kids should be able to defend themselves!" He exclaimed. "They need to be able to carry weapons in order to feel safe, and be able to protect themselves."
Speed gave him a withering look, and held up his fist again.
"Do I need to give you another one? No? Then fuck off, we've got work to do."
Zack rolled his eyes and stormed out. Calleigh waited until he was out of earshot before she began to giggle.
"Y'know Speed, threatening to punch someone whilst arguing against kids carrying guns… not your most convincing argument."
"He's lucky I didn't threaten to shoot him," Speed shrugged. "And anyway, I'm not a kid."
"I dunno about that…" Speed playfully shoved her shoulder, earning a grin. "Well, you are sitting on my table like a ten year old."
"Am not." Speed said as childishly as he could.
"Oh… you!" Calleigh laughed again. "Shut up while I finish this comparison."
Speed obediently kept quiet, though he still had a smirk on his face. He liked stirring up Calleigh – she always gave as good as she got. After a few minutes, the Bullet Girl smiled at him in triumph.
"It's a match. That gun definitely fired the bullet that killed your vic."
"Thanks Cal," Speed nodded and hopped off the table. "Now to prove that the kid fired it." He sighed. "I really wish Florida had stricter gun regulations."
"You and me both," Calleigh agreed. "It would certainly make our jobs a lot easier."
Speed was awoken on Christmas morning by an excited four year old girl jumping on his bed.
"Wake up, Speed!" Avari squealed in delight. "It's Christmas! Time for presents!"
"Yeah, yeah…" Speed yawned. He'd been up most of the night wrapping her presents, and had only gotten to sleep a couple of hours ago. "Hang on," he muttered as Avari grabbed his hand and tried to pull him out of bed, "we can't open presents yet. We've gotta wait for Horatio."
"Ra-ra's coming?" Avari looked delighted, and Speed chuckled.
"Yeah, it's Sunday, remember? Horatio said he'd still come by and make breakfast for us."
"Yeah!" He hadn't thought that the little girl could possibly get any more excited, but apparently he was wrong. She climbed back up onto the bed, bouncing with joy. "When will he be here?"
"I dunno," Speed threw a glance at the alarm clock by his bed. "Jeez, Princess, it's only six thirty! He won't be here for at least a couple more hours." Horatio knew that Speed was not a morning person, and usually refrained from appearing until nine at the earliest. Avari pouted, and Speed stifled a groan. It was so hard to refuse her anything when she looked at him like that.
"Tell you what," he tried to negotiate with the small girl, "why don't we snuggle up in bed here and I'll read to you until H gets here. Okay?"
"Okay," Avari nodded. Cuddles and stories with her father was a pretty got substitute for presents. For now, anyway.
By the time Horatio arrived at eight, they'd gone through the stack of picture books by the bedside and had started on 'Red Dragon' again. Speed sighed in relief when he heard the doorbell, and Avari ran to see who it was. She peeked through the curtain in the lounge room and let out a shriek of delight.
"Ra-ra!" Horatio waved back to her, and Speed unlocked the door. The two men nodded a greeting to each other as Horatio lifted the happy little girl into a hug. He had to look down and smile – his younger scientist friend had fairly obviously just rolled out of bed. He was still wearing the tracksuit trousers and ratty old t-shirt which served as pyjamas, and his hair was even more of a mess than it usually was, which was saying something. He was also moving fairly sluggishly, as though he had no energy.
Avari, on the other hand, was wide awake and already chattering away about what was planned for the day. In five minutes flat, Horatio learned that Avari and her father were going to Auntie Alexx's house for lunch, and she was going to give Auntie Alexx the biggest hug she could, and then they were going to Megan's for dinner, and she hoped that they had ice-cream for dessert because she hated Christmas pudding. Oh, and she really wanted a stuffed pony.
Smiling, Horatio carried the chattering child with him to the kitchen so he could start cooking. When he put her down, she ran into her room to pick out the clothes she wanted to wear that day, and Horatio smiled over at his friend.
"I figured she'd wake you up early, so I came round earlier than usual. That okay?"
"Hell yeah," Speed nodded emphatically before another yawn split his face. "Six thirty she woke me up. Little beast." Despite the complaining, both men smiled. They both knew that he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Well then," Horatio pulled some ingredients out of the cupboard, "I'd best get cooking. Though from the sounds of it, nothing too filling. Wouldn't want to ruin your appetite."
Speed grinned. He certainly didn't want to offend Alexx by not eating a large lunch. Then he paused.
"So what are you doing today?" He realised that Horatio wasn't going to be attending either of the gatherings that day.
"I volunteered to work today," he shrugged. "Same with Calleigh. I doubt it'll be busy, but they needed someone there just in case."
"That sucks," Speed frowned. He hadn't noticed before, but Horatio always volunteered to work the holidays. He always said that he'd celebrate later, but the man never took a vacation. Speed sighed as Avari came out of her room holding the outfit she'd chosen – a bright red top over black jeans – and acknowledged that most likely it was because Horatio didn't really have much in the way of family any more.
A thought occurred to him then, as Horatio was chopping up some bacon to put in the scrambled eggs, and he grinned. Hopefully Alexx would approve.
Mid-day rolled around, and Horatio and Calleigh sat in the break room at CSI. There really hadn't been much to do today, beyond catching up on paperwork and looking through some cold case files. Now they were taking a break and drinking some coffee. Calleigh hadn't felt like heading home for the holiday, and was grateful that no one had questioned her desire to stay isolated from her family.
Horatio, meanwhile, was thinking about his brother's family. Ray, Jr. was now the only blood relation he had left, but things with Yelina were complicated. He sighed and tried to shake himself out of that particular train of thought.
Suddenly, the pair sat up straight. They'd heard the elevator doors 'ping' open, but they weren't expecting anyone. After a moment, they heard someone calling for them, and simultaneously smiled.
"Ra-ra! Auntie Calleigh! Where are you?"
They both stood and stared through the doorway at the sight that greeted them. Making their way down the corridor were Speed and Avari, the former carrying a large picnic basked and the second carrying a small esky. Speed grinned at them.
"Couldn't have you two missing out on Alexx's cooking," he shrugged in response to their unspoken question. Calleigh took the surprisingly heavy esky from Avari and started to unload it, passing around the soft drinks.
Out of Speed's basket, a feast emerged. There were cold meats, hot mince pies, tubs of various salads and vegetables, fresh bread rolls and plenty of sweets. Once everything was out, the three friends and the little girl all dug in. It was, naturally, delicious, and the talk flowed freely around the break-room table. Speed wouldn't say it aloud, but he much preferred the cosy lunch with just the four of them to the circus that would have been Alexx's extended family. Not that he didn't love the ME dearly, but he really wasn't a people person.
Looking over at Avari, he saw that she seemed to be enjoying herself. She mightn't really understand a lot of the talk, but she'd brought along her favourite present – the stuffed horse that Speed had given her – and had it tucked under her arm while she ate. Every now and then she'd pretend to feed her vegetables to him. After all, horses were 'vegetable-arians', and Horsie needed to eat.
Much to Speed's delight, Avari went to sleep early that night. He gently tucked her and Horsie, whom she refused to let go of, into bed and kissed the top of her hair, happy that she'd had a good day.
After all, he wasn't really bothered by Christmas, but it should be special for his daughter. Christmas, he mused, was a time for children.
"…and that's called 'evaporation'."
"Wow…" Avari's eyes were wide as Speed explained the miracle of boiling water to purify it. She was a great deal like her father, in that she wanted to know how things worked. They'd been reading a book which mentioned surviving in the desert, and she had wanted to know how to make dirty water safe to drink.
Sometimes, Speed wondered if he was pushing his daughter too fast. After all, she was only five years old, and already knew how to write her full name, and could read most of her picture-books. She also already had a sound knowledge of basic scientific principles. Then again, he didn't set out to teach her everything he knew; he merely answered her questions truthfully. There was also the fact that she spent a lot of time at the lab, and she saw a lot of things that other five year olds didn't. Everyone at the lab was good about explaining things to the curious little girl.
All except Zack that is, but she avoided talking to him as much as possible. Neither Speedle liked him much.
Speed then glanced at the clock and smiled. He'd best start cooking, Horatio would be arriving soon. Avari followed his gaze and furrowed her brow, trying to work out the time. She wasn't as good with numbers as she was with letters, and had trouble with the concept of time. Her father decided to help her out and pointed to the numbers as he spoke.
"The small hand is nearly at the seven, and the big hand is at the nine. That means it's a quarter…"
"Quarter to seven?" Avari asked. Speed grinned proudly at her.
"That's right, Princess! Quarter to seven." Speed kept smiling as he moved into the kitchen to prepare dinner. She was without a doubt the smartest little girl he knew. Not that he was biased or anything.
A few minutes later there was a knock at the front door and Horatio let himself in. Avari ran to greet her favourite uncle.
"Hi there, Sweetheart," Horatio smiled as he knelt down to talk to her. "How's your day been?"
"Speed taught me about e-vap-or-a-tion!" She slowed down a little for the long word, but managed to pronounce it correctly. Horatio's eyes widened a little in surprise.
"Wow. I bet that was interesting."
"Yeah. Ra-Ra?" Avari suddenly looked thoughtful, and Horatio braced himself. She usually came out with something complicated to answer when she had that look.
"Are you in love with Speed?"
Horatio fought to keep the panic off of his face. He'd been found out by a five year old! How did that happen?
"What… what makes you ask that?" Horatio stalled. He didn't want to lie to the little girl, but at the same time it was quite a hard question to answer truthfully.
"Well, you spend so much time here. And you never have a lady-friend. And you always seem sad when you have to go. And sometimes you look at Speed like you want to hug him and never stop."
Replace hug with a certain other verb and she's right, Horatio thought to himself. He then sighed and looked down. Avari knew. At least she didn't seem bothered by it – but what if Speed found out? Knowing that he couldn't lie to Avari, he slowly nodded.
"Yeah… I'm in love with Speed." He realised with shock that the first person he'd told about his feelings, was the daughter of the man he loved. This was definitely not how he'd pictured things unfolding. Then again, the little girl in front of him seemed to always have a way of disrupting plans.
Avari nodded at what Horatio told her, happy that he'd confirmed what she'd known for a while.
"Okay. So go tell him." It was the natural next step, obviously.
"I, uh… Avari, I can't just tell him."
"It's… complicated." Horatio realised that he was way out of his depth in dealing with the small child, and for once he couldn't call Speed to bail him out.
"Because there are rules about dating someone you work with. Besides… a lot of people don't like seeing two men together like that. And if Speed doesn't feel the same way, then there would be a lot of trouble, and I don't want to ruin our friendship." He really hoped she'd leave it at that.
"Oh," Avari muttered and looked at the floor for a minute, before raising her gaze back to Horatio.
"Ra-Ra, you're a dummy!" She told him forcefully.
"Why is he a dummy?" Came the amused query from the next room. Horatio looked up to see Speed standing in the doorway, a large grin on his face. He apparently hadn't heard the rest of the conversation, and Horatio was very glad of it.
"Because he is," Avari explained before going over to play with her doll's house. Her father shook his head, chuckling, then turned to Horatio.
"It's enchiladas for dinner. Wanna help?"
The redhead nodded and rose to his feet, following the object of his desires into the kitchen. He wasn't sure why he continued to torture himself by spending so much time with Speed, but he couldn't bear the thought of not seeing him every day. He desperately wished that he could come clean about his feelings for the younger man, but it wasn't that easy. After all, as far as he was aware Speed was only interested in women. He'd never shown the slightest desire for any man he'd come into contact with – and he had a biological daughter as well.
Horatio sighed and tried not to think about his feelings for Speed as he helped to make the dinner. It was like he'd told Avari – it was just far too complicated for him to admit to Speed that he loved him.
Though he did wonder why she called him a dummy.
It was now nearly nine. Speed was giving Avari a bath in preparation for bedtime, and Horatio sat in their lounge room, reading over Speed's latest draft article. He wasn't a keen participant in the world of forensic academia, but Alexx had persuaded him to write an article on identifying chemical compounds in street drugs. Horatio was having a little trouble following some of the processes that he talked about, but he was fully prepared to admit that he wasn't half the scientist that Speed was. After all, he was really only just discovering the sciences involved in his job, being a policeman first. Speed was a scientist first, then a cop.
He was struggling through the section on mould and hallucinogenics, when his younger friend appeared at his side, daughter held in his arms. The little girl was more than half asleep, eyes staying closed a little longer each time she blinked. Horatio smiled and stood to give the little girl a quick kiss on the forehead. It was part of the Wednesday Night Tradition.
"Goodnight, Sweetheart," he whispered to her.
"Night, Ra-Ra," she sleepily whispered back. Speed smiled and turned to go tuck his daughter into bed. Horatio glanced at the clock and decided that he really should be leaving. He didn't want to tempt himself with thoughts of what he couldn't have.
He gathered his things and was standing near the front door, shrugging into his jacket when Speed reappeared. The scruffy scientist made his way over to his friend, and something in the way he moved froze Horatio to the spot. Speed stopped a mere foot away.
"I had a very interesting conversation with Avari tonight," Speed spoke in a low voice. Horatio fought not to show how that voice was affecting him, and swallowed hard. He couldn't find it in him to respond, so the scientist reached out and took his hand. "Stay."
"Are… are you sure you want me to?" Horatio whispered, finally finding his voice. Speed smirked at him.
"Wouldn't have asked if I wasn't."
That was enough for Horatio, and he leaned forward, pressing his lips to Speed's. As he deepened the kiss and wrapped his arms around the man he loved, he realised that Avari had been right. He'd been a dummy for nearly letting this chance slip away.
The next morning, Avari woke early as usual and went out to the lounge room to play until Speed woke up. She paused when she got there, however, and smiled widely. Her cunning plan had worked.
Her father was asleep on the couch, and so was Uncle Ra-Ra. Speed was sitting up, arms wrapped around Ra-Ra, who was curled up into Speed, head tucked under his chin. Avari quietly went back to her room and closed the door, deciding to play there for a while. After all, Speed didn't like to be woken up in the mornings.
Horatio drifted awake and tried to stretch, only to find that he was curled into someone else. As he came awake, various aches reminded him where exactly it was that he'd fallen asleep, and he opened his eyes. Looking around, his memory was confirmed. His head was resting on Speed's shoulder, the younger man's arm wrapped around him protectively, and they were still on the couch. As Horatio gently sat up properly, Speed's eyes opened as well. He grinned as his older companion tried to get the uncomfortable kinks out of his back.
"You know," Speed commented dryly, "that's not the kind of sore I had in mind for the morning after your first sleepover." Horatio's face turned the same colour as his hair, and Speed let out an evil laugh. "We've still got time before we have to be at work. How about it?"
"Speed…" Horatio muttered, half exasperated and half elated. It was an odd mix, but one he often felt around his… he was suddenly at a loss as to how to mentally catalogue Speed. Boyfriend? That sounded as though he was a teenage girl. Lover?... That was probably the closest he was going to get for now.
A glance at Speed's suggestive leer told him that his lover hadn't been entirely joking, and he glanced at the clock.
"Speed, it's nearly seven. You still need to get Avari ready for child care before getting to work yourself."
The scruffy scientist frown, then quickly gave Horatio a kiss before standing.
"Okay. But come back tonight – wait, no, Avari has swimming tonight. Come back tomorrow night, and we'll do it properly." Horatio wasn't given a chance to answer, as Speed wandered away and into the kitchen.
"Princess!" Speed called out to his daughter. "Where'd you get to?"
"Here!" Avari ran out of her bedroom, already dressed. "Can I have chocolate spread for breakfast?"
"If you put it on toast."
"Yeah! Is Ra-Ra staying for breakfast too?"
"I dunno. Hey Ra-Ra!" Speed called out cheekily. "You staying for breakfast?"
"If… if that's okay," Horatio looked from father to daughter. He'd never really been in this position before, but they both seemed to be taking his continued presence in stride. Avari ran to him and took his hand.
"You can sit next to me!"
And that seemed to be that.
"Hey Alexx," Speed called out as he saw her walking down the hall. "You got a minute?"
"Sure, Timmy," she smiled at him.
"I was wondering if you could watch Avari for me tomorrow night." Alexx just looked at him, stunned. He was leaving Avari with someone else when he wasn't at work? That was new.
"Of course I can," she assured him. "Is something wrong?"
"Nah," Speed grinned. "I have a…" he trailed off as he realised that he'd never actually outed himself, and neither had Horatio. And while he was sure that Alexx wouldn't have a problem with it, Horatio might not want the lab knowing about their still-developing relationship just yet. "I have a… friend coming over."
"Oh," Alexx smiled and nodded knowingly. "A significant pause friend. Anyone I know?"
"Yeah," Speed admitted. "But it's still new, and we haven't talked about whether we want to go public or not."
"Fair enough. How about I pick up Avari from child care tomorrow afternoon, and you can come get her Saturday morning."
Speed paused. He wanted some privacy with Horatio, it was true, but was he ready to spend the whole night away from his daughter? He'd never done that before. Alexx stood patiently, knowing that this was something Speed needed to do. After all, Avari wasn't going to stay at home forever.
"Okay," he eventually nodded. "But… call me if anything happens, okay?"
"I will," Alexx assured him. "You have fun with your hot date. Just don't give Avari a younger sibling yet, okay?"
"No fear of that," Speed smirked as he walked away. Although, if it were possible to get Horatio pregnant, he certainly wouldn't mind trying.
Friday evening arrived, and Speed was late in getting home. Megan, not knowing about his plans, had kept him at the lab running tests for half the evening. By the time he pulled his bike into his driveway, Horatio was already there, sitting in his car and wondering what the hell he was doing there.
One look at Speed's predatory smirk, however, was enough to calm his nerves. No matter what happened when the rest of the lab found out, at least they'd go out with smiles on their faces.
Horatio woke late on Saturday morning, only to find the rest of the bed empty. He bit down the disappointment and started to get up. Apparently to Speed, it had been just a fling, one enjoyable night and it was all over.
Slowly he pulled his clothes on – no easy task, as he first had to find them all in Speed's chaotic bedroom – then went to leave. He paused, however, when he saw the note taped to the bedroom door at eye level. A large grin spread across his face as he read it.
I've gone to fetch Avari. Can't stand being away from her any more. You'd better still be here when I get back. But you should probably put some pants on. Avari's not ready for a lesson in sex ed.
Horatio laughed, and went to the kitchen to start making breakfast. After all, he'd been told to stick around. Might as well make himself useful.
"You've been WHAT?" Speed stood in the doorway to the kitchen, staring at Horatio's back. Horatio continued to cook, finding the rhythm of chopping the vegetables soothing.
"I've been placed in charge of the Crime Lab," he repeated. He was still more than a little surprised by the promotion. Truth be told, he'd expected it to go to Speed. While the younger man hadn't even applied for Lieutenancy, and Horatio had achieved that rank several years ago, he was the most senior CSI. It would have made sense for him to be placed in charge of the lab.
That was the main reason that Horatio hadn't turned to look at him yet. Part of him was afraid that Speed was going to be jealous of his new position.
His fear, however, proved to be unfounded when Speed slung an arm around the top of his chest and pulled him back into a hug.
"So, does this mean we get to have kinky sex in your office?"
"Speed…" Horatio laughed. He really should have seen that coming – Speed loved to make him blush. "The rule still stands. No overt displays of affection at the lab."
"Bah, what's the good of you being in charge if we can't use your office to-"
"Hush," Horatio half turned and tapped his nose with a finger as if scolding a puppy. "Honestly, you're worse than a teenager."
"Yeah," Speed gave him his best 'well, duh' look, earning another laugh.
"There's more to being in charge than taking advantage of the privileges."
"Like, I have to interview a new CSI. We've been running on bare bones for months now, and I'm not sure when Megan's going to be back."
"If she comes back at all," Speed muttered. The death of Megan's husband had rattled them all, and everyone at the lab understood when she needed more than the requisite two weeks off to recover.
"Exactly. I have an interview with a young man from the underwater recovery department-"
"Another cop?" Speed buried his head in the crook of Horatio's neck, showing his displeasure. Horatio smiled and continued.
"On Monday, at three. Will you be around?"
"Monday… nope, sorry," Speed reluctantly let Horatio go so he could finish cooking. "It's Avari's first day of school, remember? I gotta pick her up after."
"Of course," Horatio nodded. "No problem, I'm sure you'll meet him sooner or later anyway."
"Yup. Hey, speaking of Avari, where is the little princess?"
"Outside," Horatio nodded out of the window. "I think she's nervous about starting school."
"Really?" Speed raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Huh. Guess I should go talk to her then."
Avari lay on her stomach, chin resting on her folded arms, watching a spider spinning its web between the branches of a bush. A large book about garden insects and arachnids lay open next to her. Speed smiled as he sat down as well, recognising the book. It was one that Horatio had given to her for her sixth birthday a few weeks ago.
"Hi Dad." She'd started calling him that about a month ago. Speed didn't mind at all.
"Something bothering you?"
Speed sighed. She was far too much like him at times. Both tended to squash their emotions and not talk about things that troubled them.
"You sure? 'Cause H seems to think that you're worried about starting school on Monday." The little girl shrugged, but stayed silent. "I don't remember it myself, but my mum used to say that I was terrified of my first day at school. Apparently I clung to her skirt and wouldn't let go for ages. But eventually I did, and that night when she came to get me, I didn't want the day to be over. It was far better than I'd expected."
Avari looked up at him for a moment, before a small smile crept across her face.
"Okay Dad, I'll try it." Speed was puzzled for a moment, before he realised that he'd just talked her into giving school a fair try.
"That's my girl. And I'll be there after to pick you up and take you back to the lab. There's really nothing to worry about."
"Speed, there's nothing to worry about," Calleigh tried to calm her friend. "Avari's a smart girl, she's going to be fine."
"But what if the other kids bully her?" Speed wondered aloud as he paced the Trace Lab. "What if they're jealous of how smart she is and pick on her?"
"Then she'll find a way of stopping them. Speed, you have to trust that she'll be okay. After all, she knows some of the kids from child care, right? It'll be fine."
"If you say so," Speed finally relented and turned his focus to the case instead. Calleigh sighed in relief. He'd been freaking out all morning, maybe now they'd get some work done.
"Speed," the CSI answered his phone. Calleigh looked up at her co-worker, raising an eyebrow in question. "Yeah, that's me." He sounded bored. "What?" He yelped, now sounding surprised and concerned. "Yeah, fine, I'll be there." Now resigned.
"So much for 'it'll be fine'," Speed grumbled as he hung up the phone.
"What are you talking about?" Calleigh asked, confused.
"That was Avari's principle. I need to go in for a meeting after school, to 'discuss my daughter's educational needs'." Speed scowled at the phone in his hand.
"Was there something in particular that the teacher mentioned?" Calleigh wondered aloud, but Speed shook his head.
"Well," Calleigh shrugged, glancing at her watch, "I guess you'll find out in a couple of hours."
"Whatever," Speed muttered darkly and went back to work. "You'll cover for my while I'm gone, right?"
That afternoon, Speed pulled his bike into the school parking lot and jogged up to the building. He realised that he had barely made it in tome, and didn't pay any attention to the other parents milling around, waiting for the final bell to ring. He made his way to the principal's office, and knocked on the door.
"Come in," a gruff voice called, and Speed internally steeled himself for a confrontation. He opened the door to find a large man with grey hair and a thick, bushy moustache sitting behind a desk. In front of it were three chairs, all empty.
"Mr Speedle?" The man rose from his seat, and Speed nodded. "I'm Mr Peake, principal of this school. Please, have a seat." Speed nodded again and sat down. Despite the gravelly voice, Mr Peake didn't set off any of Speed's warning bells.
"Miss Wainthrop is on her way up with Avari, but I wanted to speak to you alone first. Do you know why we asked you to come in?"
"Not a clue," Speed shrugged. "She can't be getting expelled on her first day, she hasn't had time to plan that sort of trouble."
Mr Peake smiled slightly.
"We called you in because Avari seems to be rather… advanced for her age. At recess, she was reading this." He passed over a well-read copy of Red Dragon, and Speed bit his lip to keep from laughing. Trust Avari to bring that to school. "When her teacher asked her about it, your daughter claimed that it is her favourite book, and upon further discussion it was clear that she understood most of what she was reading."
"Yeah," Speed shrugged. "And her second favourite book is Mog Goes To The V. E. T. She just likes to read anything she can get her hands on."
"I understand," Mr Peake nodded. "She also explained to the other children how evaporation works."
"I'm a scientist," another shrug. "When Avari reads about something she doesn't understand, I always explain it to her."
"Hmm. And in class, when asked to talk about something that interested her, Avari gave a short biography of Victor Balthazard."
"His work was very important to forensic scientists everywhere," Speed stated firmly. He wasn't sure he liked where this was going.
"So I heard," Mr Peake smiled, calming Speed slightly. "Mr Speedle, Avari is obviously very intelligent, and would grow bored if kept at her current level. I find that bored children tend to turn into troublemakers, and no one wants that. Instead, I propose to put Avari up a grade, with children who are at a similar stage. There are several children there who are only a few months older than her, and we've had a few children transfer in from other schools, so she shouldn't feel too out of place. I think it's what's best for her long-term educational wellbeing."
Speed sat for a moment, digesting it all. He really didn't want to push Avari too far and too fast, but at the same time, Mr Peake was right about the boredom. After a few minutes, he shrugged again, purely because it seemed to annoy the principal.
"If that's what Avari wants to do, then it's okay by me."
Mr Peake opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by a knock at the door. It immediately opened, and a tall, skinny woman with a pinched-in face came in, followed by Avari. The little girl looked upset, but broke into a smile when she saw her father.
"Dad!" She ran to him, and Speed picked her up as he stood, giving her a tight squeeze.
"I there, Princess. I hear you've been educating the other kids."
"Yeah… am I in trouble?" She looked up at him with wide brown eyes, and Speed stifled a groan. Those eyes got him every damn time.
"Of course not, Princess. That's what they're here for, to learn things. But you need to learn as well, so Mr Peake wants to put you in a different class. You'll be learning new things there. Is that okay with you?"
Avari seemed to ponder it for a moment, then nodded. Speed smiled at her, then turned back to the principal, Avari still in his arms.
"Okay. What do we need to do?"
"Just sign these," Mr Peake passed over some forms. "And in the morning, she'll go to classroom 202. Got that, Avari?"
"Room two-oh-two," Avari repeated. Speed nodded and finished signing the paperwork.
"That's all good," Mr Peake nodded and took the forms back. "Thank you for coming in, Mr Speedle."
"No problem," Speed muttered and nodded a farewell. "Back to the lab now, Princess. We have to see if Auntie Calleigh's blown up the Trace Lab yet." Avari giggled as her father carried her out, still talking. "And H's been interviewing a new guy. We gotta check him out, too. So, how was your day?"
"Okay," Avari said thoughtfully. "Kinda boring. But it should get better tomorrow, right?"
"Right," Speed nodded and set the little girl down on the bike. He helped her put on her special pink biking jacket and then slipped her school backpack over his own shoulders. Both riders put on their helmets, and Avari clung tightly to her father as they raced back to the lab.
"Speed, Calleigh," Horatio started as he stepped into the layout room, only to be cut off as Avari launched herself at him.
"Catch me, H!" She shouted as she jumped off the table. Unfortunately Horatio was a little too far away to catch her – but his companion wasn't.
"Woah there, little girl," the tall, Hispanic-looking man smiled as he caught her. "Y'know, that's how my dad broke his ankle when I was six."
"From jumping off a table?" Avari asked. The man shook his head.
"Nah. He was standing on a rocky embankment, and I was at the top. I yelled 'catch me' and jumped. He caught me, but got his foot caught between some rocks in the process." The other adults winced in sympathy. "I received a swift lesson in Russian swearing after that. It was a very educational day."
"So," Horatio stood in the doorway whilst Speed helped Avari wash her hair. "What did you think of Eric?"
"I like him!" Avari smiled. "He's funny. And tells neat stories."
"Good," Horatio nodded. "And you, Speed?"
Speed shrugged. The guy had saved Avari from a cracked skull, which was an automatic plus in his view.
"You do know he was making eyes at Calleigh, right?" He commented. Horatio sighed.
"Yes, I did notice that. But I think she's smart enough to not get tangled up with him."
"Of course," Speed rolled his eyes. "She's your girl, after all." Horatio paused. They'd had this… not exactly an argument, but this discussion before. He kept quiet as Speed lifted Avari out of the tub and wrapped her in a towel. "Go put your PJs on, Princess. I'll be in soon."
"Okay Dad," Avari moved away, oblivious to the tension between the two men.
Speed stood, his back still to Horatio. The older man stepped forward and wrapped his arms gently around his lover.
"Hey, don't be like that. There's nothing going on between me and Calleigh, you know that. I love you."
"Yeah," Speed sighed, then turned in Horatio's arms to reveal his smirk. "I just like messing with you."
"You… arr…" Horatio growled in exasperation as Speed slipped out of his grasp and went to put Avari to bed. Sometimes it was very difficult living with Speed – but the good times more than made up for the rest.
Speed was in the layout room, sorting through pieces of clothing, when Eric entered.
"Hey… Speed, right?"
"That would be me," he continued in his task. Sure he liked the guy – but that didn't mean that he'd make it easy on him.
"Right. Uh… I'm still trying to get my head around the hierarchy here. H is in charge, but you've been here the longest?"
Speed glanced at the other young man. He seemed to be fishing for information, though he wasn't entirely sure to what end.
"Yeah, I've been here for about six and a half years. H was in the bomb squad at the time, moved to CSI a few months after I got here."
"And Calleigh?" Ah. That was it. Speed stifled a smirk.
"She transferred here a month or so after that."
"Right. And, uh… are she and Horatio… y'know?"
This time, Speed did smirk. Horatio and Calleigh might have been oblivious, but the sexual tension between them was obvious to everyone else.
"Follow me." Speed left the evidence and led Eric to the Trace Lab, his domain. He pulled out a ledger from one of the drawers. "Place your bet."
Eric flipped through, and saw that the entire crime lab had a betting pool going on when Horatio and Calleigh were going to sleep together – or if they already had. He chuckled, then paused near the end.
"Uh, Speed? Did you know that they've placed their own bets in this?"
"What?" Speed grabbed the ledger and read the familiar handwriting.
Calleigh: H finds out about the bets and does Speed in protest.
Horatio: H finds out about the best and fires the lot of you.
"Oh… shit." Speed swore, though he had a smile on his face. He looked up at Eric, who was looking back at him thoughtfully.
"What she wrote," Eric started slowly, "that bit about H 'doing' you in protest… are you and him…"
"Together?" Speed raised an eyebrow. "Yeah. We've been together for a bit over a year. He moved in with Avari and I about four months ago. You got a problem with that?"
Eric continued to look thoughtfully at him for a moment, then shrugged and grinned again.
"Hey, as long as neither of you are coming on to me, it's none of my business."
"Atta boy," Speed muttered as he replaced the ledger. "Now let's get back to work before H makes good on his threat."
Horatio sighed and covered his face with his hands.
"So," his voice came slightly muffled, "naturally you decided to flirt outrageously with him at any opportunity."
"Naturally," Speed shrugged and continued eating.
"And what if he decides to press harassment charges?"
"Then we know he won't fit in at the lab," Speed explained as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"Of course." Horatio sighed again, and removed his hands from his face. Speed was being exasperating again.
"Besides," the young man pointed out, "Calleigh still has to take his measurements. He needs to learn that the lab is a very free-minded place."
"Tell me," Horatio smiled, "did she every actually get your measurements?"
"Yeah," Speed grinned back. "She kept badgering me, so eventually I grabbed the tape measure off her and went to the men's room. Came back and gave her the figures, which she seemed delighted with."
"Well they certainly make me happy," Horatio murmured, earning a smirk.
"What are you talking about?" Avari asked, and the men froze, both with 'oh shit' looks on their faces.
"Uh… arm measurements," Speed quickly responded. "Calleigh has a list of everyone's arm measurements."
"Oh," Avari seemed to accept that. "Why would that make Horatio happy?"
"Because… it means that I know how much stuff Speed can carry at once."
The men looked hopefully at the little girl as she pondered this.
"You guys are weird," she eventually pronounced. Horatio let out a breath in relief, as Speed smirked and nodded.
"Yes, Princess. Yes we are."