Warning: If you have any remote liking at all for John Hagen, you won't like this fic. I had a very tough day, and I'm taking it out on my least favorite CSIM character. Enough about Hagen; on to things that matter.
Pairing: H/C, naturally.
Follows: Honor and a Durable Fire. I have no idea how much more there is to this run. My muse refuses to be administered. Also, I know some people had requested a wedding in a hypothetical sequel to a Durable Fire. Maybe next time.
Disclaimer: CSIM is not mine. The novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is not mine. Quotes from it are noted in the text. In an informal survey over the last few days, about 50% of listbuddies I asked have not read this book. By all means, read it. In my humble opinion, it is the greatest novel ever written by an American author. The movie with Gregory Peck is wonderful, too, but please do read the book if you haven't, then reread this fic afterwards. You'll get more out of my story understanding the extended parallel, and you will never forget Harper Lee's novel.
A/N: This fic follows the background that TPTB themselves gave to Calleigh, the first background, where her father was a racist and her name was changed. They have changed this since on the "official" biographies and no doubt will do so again when the mood strikes them.
(Scene Shift - This site refuses to recognize characters to mark them anymore, so I have to use text)
Calleigh was curled in the corner of her couch, so engrossed in the book and her own thoughts that she no longer even reacted to the lightning and rolling thunder of the storm outside. She was revisiting the past, and the storm of her memories was as spectacular, but the rainbow of love arching protectively over her kept her personal lightning firmly rooted in its own time. The past had been overcome – and fulfilled.
"The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets –" Calleigh's lips traced the words as her eyes engulfed them. Her father, still respected and prominent in public during her childhood but a drunken bigot behind his own front door. Darnell had not seen his alter ego at that stage. His family had, and the lesson had been hammered painfully into his children. People are unpredictable, no one is reliable, and life is a cycle of tempestuous disillusionment with all-too-brief glimpses of sunlight that only left you looking for the next shadow's approach.
Calleigh turned back to the cover, holding her place with her finger. Tracing the title. Like everything else in this book, it was a dichotomy expressed in words, hardness adjacent to beauty. To Kill a Mockingbird. This book, oddly, had been a refuge for her in those days. She had found it in the school library one afternoon when she was 10 and was afraid to go home. It instantly captured her like a warm arm reaching through the darkness to encircle her lonely shoulders. Someone else understood. The ugliness, the unfairness, the racism, the injustice – everything that she knew was there, vividly, even the confusion of a child's efforts to make sense of that which had no sense in it. At the same time, for such a dark book, it was light through and through, bright rays stretching out through every page from the character of the one man in the turbulent town who epitomized integrity. His determined, glorious, and ultimately futile battle for justice touched Calleigh like nothing else had in her childhood. To know a man like that, even through fiction, was a revelation. She brought the book home, hid it in her room, and never returned it to the library, gladly accepting the beating she got when her father had to pay for it. She treasured it throughout her childhood, a tightly guarded secret, and read it almost to memorization. The author had known the things she saw behind her own closed doors, and the author had still seen hope in the world.
The book fell open again to the passage she had been reading. There it was, the instant contrast that ran throughout the book, the darkness and the light coexisting, struggling, the light refusing to die. "Gracious child, I was raveling a thread, wasn't even thinking about your father, but now that I am I'll say this: Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets." Calleigh had once thought it would be her ultimate goal to find a man like Atticus, so he could be the father figure she had never had. Her dreams had never dared to go further than finding such honesty and worshipping it at a respectful distance. Love had not even been a goal, a concept beyond even her dreams, until the day she met not a father figure at all but a soul mate, and her first look into his bottomless blue eyes had sent her imagination blazing into an entirely uncharted realm.
Horatio. Lightning snapped outside, and Calleigh turned her hand, letting the lamplight catch the ring and play with it. From that first day, he had been a walking flame through her life, firing her passion, making her dream about things whose only associations for her from her past had been pain. Three years of trying to keep her hands from getting burned, yet being unable to resist the attraction of the flame. Then came the last few months, the stunning realization that the feeling was mutual, the dual flame coming together in searing heat that somehow did not burn either of them, only finally sealed their scars. She had met a man who not only fulfilled her dreams but wildly surpassed them, and he felt the same. It was not fiction. It was totally, vividly, mutually, uncontrollably real.
She returned to the book finally, reading on. It not only reminded her of her past now, but it reminded her of Horatio and her future, their future together. She savored every word. Darkness and light. Pain and struggle. Unfairness. Injustice. Pitiful victims of circumstances. The ugliness of humanity. And overarching all of that, the pure, blazing character of the man who faced all of it and, even when seemingly beaten temporarily, did not compromise himself. She knew him now. She loved him. He loved her equally, his full partner in work, life, and passion. As she continued reading, the storm raged on outside. Calleigh did not notice, her heart safely anchored.
Horatio squatted on his heels beside the body, absorbing every detail at a glance. "Look at that watch," he said. "Rolex."
"He wasn't poor, whoever he was," Alexx agreed.
Horatio was tracking a different level. "He also wasn't robbed, at least not completely. Any crook would have taken the watch if he had time."
Calleigh looked over at him. The sunrise on the beach lit his hair, sending streaks of flame through it. She felt an absurd impulse to ask Speed or Eric to take a picture of him. He felt her attention, and his eyes rose and kissed hers briefly, then went back to work. Subtly and deliciously reminded of their present job, her thoughts followed his. "The wallet's gone, though. Either the killer took it to prevent ID, or a thief coming later was interrupted. You think they were the same, Horatio?"
"No," he said slowly. "Lots of footprints, but that one set, where someone bent down, then ran. I think that was the thief. Get a cast of those, please, Calleigh. Now sorting out the killer will be harder. None of the other marks are as well defined." He stood, studying the footprints.
"No question how he died, anyway," Alexx said. "Strangled by somebody standing in front of him."
"Left-handed," Speed guessed, coming up with the camera to join them.
"What makes you think that?" Calleigh asked.
"Seems like almost every strangler is left-handed. The one thing it's easiest to notice on from the bruises, and what method do the lefties like to pick? Strangling. Or cutting their throats. Almost as easy. Criminals are stupid."
"So are a lot of non criminals," Eric pointed out. "If that's all we needed for an arrest, we'd never get everybody booked."
"Alexx?" Horatio alone had noticed during the banter that Alexx hadn't confirmed Speed's guess.
"I'm not sure." The ME frowned thoughtfully. "Bruising on the right side, yes, but it just looks different somehow than most manual stranglings. I'll have to sort it out."
Eric returned his own attention to the case. "H, I found some gum about ten feet away. It was in those footprints like the ones Calleigh is casting. Killer could have spit out his gum."
"This is the thief," Calleigh replied, carefully finishing her cast of a footprint.
"It's still DNA. Maybe he saw something," Horatio said.
Speed had wandered off with his usual methodical amble, scouting for anything else important at this scene. He suddenly noticed the approaching man. "Hey. Hey! This is a crime scene. You can't come here!" He started forward toward the shambling giant, and the man brushed right past him, knocking Speed down, not even noticing the roadblock.
Horatio smoothly went into action, meeting the man halfway to the body, catching both of his arms and holding him firmly. Horatio was outweighed here, just like Speed had been, but the man stopped, noticing him. Dull, brown eyes met steady, calm, blue ones. They stood face to face on the beach, and for a moment, no one moved. The man looked like Frankenstein's monster. He was huge, probably six feet six or seven if he stood up straight, and at one point, he had obviously had the build to match it, burly without being overweight. That day was long past. The large bone structure remained, but the body had caved in around it, like the mind, damaged irreparably by a long-past storm, still standing like a derelict building only because it has not yet realized it should fall.
Alexx came up beside them, looking into the empty eyes. She spoke to the man himself, though her words were meant for Horatio. "You've had a stroke, haven't you? Can you speak at all?" The eyes shifted to her, but there was no spark in them. "You can still hear, at least. I'm Alexx Woods. This is Horatio Caine. He's in charge of the Miami-Dade Crime Lab." The eyes shifted back to Horatio, and the mouth opened, but no sound came. The lips flapped uselessly, like shutters banging in the wind. He closed them again, but the eyes, though still dull, were riveted.
Horatio spoke gently. "You can't walk through here, I'm afraid. We're investigating a crime. Where do you live? Is anyone with you?" The eyes ponderously went to one of the condos along this stretch of private beach. "Calleigh," Horatio called, and she was at his side instantly. "Would you walk with this gentleman back to that condo and see who lives there?"
"Of course," she said. She put her own hand on the man's arm, warmly touching Horatio's briefly. "I'm Calleigh. Would you like to come with me?" His eyes met her, weighed her, and then he slowly turned his body to face the condo he had looked at. They set off with painful slowness. He walked like a tottering windmill, dragging one leg, arms flailing. Calleigh was dwarfed at his side but still prominent, steadying him, going along without obviously guiding him. Her sunlit voice kept up a constant steam of friendly conversation, and the man never pulled away and never ran over her.
Speed came up beside Horatio, sand which he hadn't bothered to brush off still clinging to his clothes. "Maybe one of us should go with her, H. He knocked me down."
"Calleigh won't have any problem with him," Horatio replied. "He just didn't notice you, Speed. I don't think he'd intentionally harm someone."
Speed shook his head dubiously. "Unintentional harm still hurts."
Horatio looked back at Alexx. "Stroke, you said?"
She nodded. "Severe one. Obviously, he can't speak at all. Coordination is shot, and I'd say, looking at his eyes, that the cognitive processes are seriously affected. On the other hand, there is still some awareness." Her eyes followed the man and Calleigh. "Poor man. Just a shell of what he used to be."
"I'm surprised he's out walking on his own," Eric stated.
"If he's lived here for years, if it's part of his routine, he could still do it," Alexx said. "His mind is stuck on a treadmill of familiar things. Probably, that's his morning route he's taken for decades."
"He wanted to tell me something," Horatio mused, his eyes going distant. "He was trying to communicate."
"If he was trying to communicate with me, I don't want to have the conversation," Speed retorted. "He's obviously a walking vegetable, H. What could he possibly have to say?"
"Still a person," Horatio said firmly.
Speed shook his head. "My grandmother went like that. Years of the shell. She'd already died. Believe me, there's nothing left in there." Startled by his own self-revelation, he returned to snapping pictures.
The other three slowly turned back to the body. "At least he didn't get all the way to the body, H."
"Right," Horatio said. His eyes once more followed that lonely wreck of a man across the sand to the condo, though. He and Calleigh had almost reached it. "He wanted to tell me something," Horatio insisted.
The man stopped at the condo door and fumbled with the latch. "Let me," Calleigh offered. She opened the unlocked door for him. "There you go. Do you live here?"
A voice floated from within. "Matthew? Back already?"
"Hello," Calleigh called. "This is Calleigh Duquesne with the Miami-Dade PD."
A bustling scramble was heard, and the owner of the voice followed it into the front room. "Police? What's wrong? Are you all right, Matthew?" The man had shuffled over to the couch and dropped onto it. He looked up, and his eyes locked with the woman's, then looked away. He said nothing.
"Is he your husband?" Calleigh asked.
"Yes." The white-haired woman glanced back at the pitiful wreck on the couch. He was staring into emptiness. "He had a stroke three years ago, but the doctors say there's no way to tell how much he understands. I still think he's follows quite a bit, don't you dear?" He did not look up. "What's wrong, Matthew?" She turned back to Calleigh. "What's wrong?"
"A man was murdered on the beach last night."
The woman gasped. "Murdered? In our neighborhood? But this is a good neighborhood. We've all paid quite a bit for these condos."
Calleigh tried not to roll her eyes. Was the woman honestly oblivious enough to think money could buy safety? "I didn't catch your name."
"Oh, so silly of me. I totally forgot that. Matthew says – said – I'd forget my head sometimes if it wasn't attached. Was there really a murder?"
"Your name," Calleigh prompted patiently. This would obviously be like interviewing a hummingbird.
"Grace Collins, and this is Matthew. And what was yours? I'm sorry, I know you said it, but I lost it in all the excitement. A murder on our beach!"
"I'm Calleigh Duquesne." But not for long, she thought privately, glancing at her ring. It was a mistake.
"Oh, and you're engaged. How sweet. Matthew and I have been married 54 years, haven't we, Matthew?" Her husband was still staring at the wall. "I do like to include him in things, you know. So, what's your young man's name?"
"Horatio," Calleigh replied, unable to resist lingering lovingly on each syllable. "Now, then, about this murder. Did you see anything odd last night or this morning? Or hear anything?"
"No, I'm afraid not. Last night, I didn't get home until late, and I slept like the dead. This morning, I hadn't left the condo yet. Matthew goes out for his walk every morning, and he still wants to do that himself. We've lived here for years, and it's a perfectly safe beach, isn't it Matthew? Nothing has ever happened here."
Calleigh mentally fired ten shots – other people counted to ten; she took ten mental bull's-eyes – and wrenched the conversation back on track. "Last night, it wasn't a perfectly safe beach. A man was murdered here. So you didn't see or hear anything?"
"No, I'm afraid not. Did you hear anything last night, Matthew? Or see anything this morning? I do like to include him, you know."
"I'm sure he appreciates it," Calleigh said.
The woman's eyes met hers directly for once, shining with undimmed love. "I'm sure he does. He really loves me, you know. Silly little thing, he called me, but he made it sound so wonderful. Does your Horatio ever call you silly little thing?"
Calleigh wasn't sure whether to be amused or irritated at the thought. "Never." Love comes in all flavors, she reminded herself. You can't question 54 years, Cal. She wondered if she and Horatio would make it to 54. Then, she wondered how it would be for her, or for him, if such a cataclysm struck their marriage. There was a new patience and sympathy in her tone as she looked at the "silly little thing" and her shell of a husband, the battle for normalcy, the unswerving devotion. "Mrs. Collins, tell me something about these condos and the people who live here."
The ME's van was just pulling away, followed by the boys in the second Hummer, when Calleigh rejoined Horatio on the beach. They greeted each other with a smile but plunged straight to work. "Grace Collins lives there with her husband, Matthew. He's the one with the stroke. Takes this walk every morning, has for years. She didn't hear anything or see anything, but she didn't get home until 3:00 a.m. She'd been visiting a friend for dinner, and her sister was staying here with Matthew."
"She didn't get home until 3:00? Just visiting a friend?" Horatio's eyebrow arched.
"You haven't met her. Believe me, she could talk the hind leg off a donkey. I'd hate to see their phone bill." She looked back up at the condo and shivered, in spite of the steamy heat of the morning. Horatio slipped an arm around her shoulders, warming her instantly with his presence. "That's pathetic, Horatio. They've been married 54 years, she said. And she can't even talk to him. She's not even sure how much he understands. What if that happened to one of us?"
He squeezed her more tightly. "We would never stop loving. Like she hasn't. Like they haven't. I'm sure, as much as he can understand, the love is still there, Cal."
She leaned into his reassuring strength. Unchanging, unfailing, undying love in spite of circumstances. "What did I ever do to deserve you?"
"Funny, I often ask myself the same question." He kissed the top of her head. "You were yourself."
"So were you. So are you." Unchanging, unflinching integrity. "Horatio, have you ever read To Kill a Mockingbird?"
His mind easily vaulted over to the new subject. "Yes. Years ago, but I've never forgotten it."
"No one could." They stood in mutual, warm silence for a minute, and Calleigh loved him more, suddenly, for not asking her what a book had to do with anything. "Anyway, back to the case, I thought I'd go talk to the sister. She was here staying with Matthew up until 3:00. Maybe she heard or saw something."
"Nice thinking, Cal, as always." He kissed her again, then peeled himself away gradually, their fingertips stretching across the distance and slowly separating last. "Keep me posted. I've got some other leads to chase, so you can drop me back by CSI. And Calleigh, I will always love you." His eyes went to the condo and back. "No matter what. Forever."
"And I will always love you. Forever." Their eyes confirmed the pact, and then, he took one last look around the crime scene. They climbed into the Hummer and left the quiet, perfectly safe beach. Only love is safe, Calleigh thought, eyeing her fiancé. Unchanging. They drove to CSI in serene silence, recharging for the coming ugliness of the crime investigation.
Calleigh entered the Three Palms Rehabilitation Facility and Nursing Home and approached the desk. "May I help you?" the aide asked.
"I'm looking for Marsha Duprey."
"I believe she's up in the feeding room. We're just starting with lunch. Down this hall and third door on the left."
"Thank you." Calleigh passed the cafeteria and the laundry room, then entered the feeding room. There were three patients there, being assisted or entirely fed by three aides. Calleigh studied the three aides. "Marsha?" One looked up, as did her patient, and only then did Calleigh notice the patient. "Hagen!"
John Hagen looked like he wished for an escape hatch in the seat of his wheelchair. Calleigh walked across with a brisk, easy stride and studied him. She had only heard bits since his drunken driving accident three months ago. She knew that there had been complications, several surgeries, and had heard that he had been moved to a rehabilitation facility, but she had never imagined running into him. His legs were encased in complicated metal braces, as was his arm. A deep scar running straight across his forehead marred once-handsome looks. Calleigh swept him from head to toe visually, then said, "Glad to see you're getting better, John." With her standing and him in the chair, she was easily taller than he was. She addressed the aide. "Are you Marsha?"
"Yes. Is there something I can do for you?"
"I'm Calleigh Duquesne with the Miami-Dade PD. I had a few questions for you about an investigation."
"What a coincidence. Mr. Hagen used to be with the PD. Now, John, you've got to hold your fork carefully, like I showed you. This way." She manipulated his fingers. "Now, pick it up to your mouth. Slowly. Don't let it tip. Oops. Only got your bib, fortunately. Come on, try again."
"We've met on the PD, actually." Calleigh favored Hagen with a smile, and he dropped his second sequential bite.
"Now, John, you're getting too hurried. Slow and easy. You've got to teach the nerves and muscles to obey you again." The aide patiently fitted his right hand around the fork once more. "Well, this'll be just like old time's sake for you, John, won't it? Remind you of doing investigations yourself. What can I do for you?"
Calleigh switched her attention back to the woman, still watching out of the corner of her eye Hagen's struggles to make his hand hold the fork. Here there was none of the pathetic but loving bravery in facing circumstances she had seen that morning in the condo. Here was only irritation. She wondered if he ever threw the thing. "I understand that you are Grace Collins' sister, and you stayed with her husband last night."
"Yes, I did. Poor Matthew." She gave a sigh, then patiently retrieved the fork as Hagen dropped it along with the bite. "Slower, John. You're usually better than this."
"There was a murder on their beach last night. Did you hear anything? See anything?"
"A murder? I'm afraid I'm no help. I was watching the late movie, and I fell asleep on the couch. Matthew is really so undemanding; there's not much to do when you're watching him. He can still feed himself, even, although it takes him some time. Not that way, John. Hold your fingers like we've told you. Matthew went on to bed, and I fell asleep in front of the TV. Didn't notice anything."
"Thank you," Calleigh said. She saw Hagen's eyes harden as she turned away, and she held the ring out, giving him a close up. "I'm engaged to Horatio, John. Isn't that wonderful?"
"Congratulations," he managed to choke out.
Just then, another aide spoke from the door. "Marsha? Telephone call."
"Just a minute. Now, John, just keep holding your fingers like we showed you, and take your time. I'm sure you'll do fine. Calleigh can keep you company for a minute, and you two can talk about old times without me listening in." She bustled efficiently out the door.
Hagen's eyes lanced through Calleigh's. "This is your fault, you know."
"My fault? You're obviously delusional as well as hurt."
"I saw you go to him that night. You went into his house. After you led me on, you went to him. That's why I went out drinking. It's your fault."
Calleigh kept her voice unruffled. "I don't recall forcing the drinks or the keys into your hand, Hagen. In fact, I'm sure I didn't. I was otherwise occupied that night, shall we say? You're not holding your fork right."
He threw it, and she dodged nimbly. "You and Horatio will never last," he hissed. "He's older than you."
"We'll last forever," she countered. "Because both of us are making an honest commitment as equal partners. That's something you wouldn't know about. And for your information, he's also the sexiest man I've ever seen, of any age."
Hagen's eyes bulged, but his broken body refused to obey him. Marsha spoke from the door. "Sorry. Just a brief call I had to take. All finished, John? You weren't very hungry today, were you? Come on, it's time for us to take you to the bathroom. Hope you enjoyed visiting with Calleigh for a minute." She positioned herself behind the wheelchair. "I'm sorry I couldn't help you more."
Calleigh smiled at her. "You were a lot of help. Thank you. Goodbye, John. Maybe Horatio and I will come visit you sometime, although we're pretty tied up with planning the wedding right now. See you later." Marsha wheeled him out of the room, and Calleigh exited the building, her mind flooded with memories. Hagen telling her Horatio walked a lonely road. Hagen being condescending about her father. Hagen constantly putting her and Horatio down. Hagen concealing evidence. Hagen blaming the world for his own errors. Hagen sitting in the wheelchair, fighting to hold a fork. Calleigh shook her head. "John, I feel sorry for you," she said. "You never will get it, will you? But I'm glad, for the sake of Miami, that you're not coming back to the force."
"H, we've got an ID on the vic. His fingerprints were on file for the bar association. Steven Barstow."
Horatio looked up from Alexx's autopsy table. "A lawyer?"
"Yeah," Eric replied. "Not one of the more honest ones, either. There had been a few investigations, a few complaints, but nothing substantiated."
"What sort of complaints?"
"Telling people they had a claim legally on some buried treasure, or some big case, or some big something, and taking a retainer from them, then conveniently providing no services. Trouble is, none of the retainers were proven. They were all cash."
Horatio instantly thought of that row of condos, the private beach, money on display. "I think I'll talk to the residents of those condos again." He turned back to Alexx. "Sorry for interrupting you, Alexx. What were you saying?"
"I think the murderer was left-handed, but there's still something not quite right. The bruising is spread out even more than usual on the finger marks. I've never quite seen anything like it."
"Hmm." Horatio filed it mentally. "Thank you, Alexx. Eric, see how Speed's coming with the DNA on the chewing gum and with the footprints."
Calleigh met Horatio as he was exiting CSI. "Hey, Handsome. Any progress?"
"Some. What about you?"
"Only negative. The sister fell asleep in front of the TV. Didn't see anything, didn't hear anything. Oh, and I saw Hagen." They climbed into the Hummer, and she told him about the interview, including the final remarks, as they were driving back to the beach. When she was finished, she looked across at Horatio. He honestly looked sympathetic.
"Poor Hagen. You know, I feel sorry for someone that dense. He just doesn't understand love."
"Or integrity," said Calleigh, looking at his chiseled features as he drove.
Horatio nodded. "Or integrity. Still, I'm glad he's off the force. His medical retirement went through last week. He'll obviously never be capable of it anymore."
They pulled up to the condos and started with the one at the end. By the time they reached Matthew and Grace's, they had heard the same story three times. Those three remembered the nice man who had come to tell them of their good fortune and only needed a small retainer up front for expenses. One of them had actually paid him the night before, after midnight on the beach, but had heard nothing, and this was a small widow so obviously incapable of strangling him that Horatio never doubted her story, though he walked her through it carefully several times. The rendezvous had been set up on the beach because she had company this week, and Barstow was afraid he'd miss a deadline if they didn't start the wheels in motion, as he had put it. The inhabitants of three other condos remembered him vaguely, but nothing more.
"He was screening them," Horatio remarked as they walked up to Grace and Matthew's. "Made sure the fish would bite before he threw his hook."
Calleigh nodded. "Slimy, dishonest creep, duping people like that. You'd think they'd have more sense, but still, this is one of the victims I have trouble feeling sorry for. I'm surprised there haven't been more complaints against him."
"Probably, people are ashamed when they realize they've been taken in." Horatio sighed. "Trouble is, it's almost certainly one of the victims. We know now that he had $10,000 in cash on him last night. The thief must have taken that. But one of the victims took the law into his own hands. I feel sorry for them, Calleigh, but that's not the answer."
She gave his arm a light squeeze as he knocked on the condo door, and Grace Collins quickly opened it. "Calleigh, how nice to see you again."
"This is Horatio Caine," Calleigh started, and Grace instantly seized the name.
"Horatio. So you're Horatio. She was talking about you this morning. I do believe she loves you, young man."
Horatio gave her a relaxed grin. "I do believe it's mutual. May we ask you a few more questions, Mrs. Collins?"
"Of course. Sit down right here, won't you? Matthew, remember these people from this morning? I do like to include him in conversations, you know."
Horatio held out the picture, one they had managed to get from the bar association, not the autopsy shot. "Have you ever seen this man?"
"Why, that's Mr. Barstow! He came around earlier this week. Such a nice man, so caring." Looking at her, the only words Calleigh could think of were her husband's, silly little thing. As Mrs. Collins rambled cheerfully about her encounter with Barstow, his promises, the proposed payment in the next few days, Calleigh suddenly realized that Horatio was somewhere else mentally. She looked back at him, puzzled. He was looking at Matthew, and Matthew was looking back at him. Empty, expressionless, brown eyes, but absolutely locked on Horatio's.
The phone rang. "Excuse me a minute," Grace said, and she hopped up like a bird and went into the next room. "Hello? Mary! So long since I've heard from you. How is . . . "
Horatio tuned the chatter out, got up, and moved to sit beside Matthew on the couch. He held the picture out, showing it to him, and his soft voice held no condemnation at all as he said, "You understood that conversation, didn't you, Matthew? You understood enough, anyway. You heard the other residents talking on your walks, too. You realized what he was doing, and you even found out about the rendezvous somehow. And you love her. You always looked out for her, didn't you?" Matthew stared at the picture, and then his hands came out slowly, and he carefully gripped it, then tore it in two with a sudden, savage power in the large, bony fingers. He stared at the jagged pieces, and Horatio took them gently from him. Matthew looked back up at him, the eyes still empty, and the mouth opened again, trying to push through the barrier that imprisoned his will, trying to say something. The wrecked but still powerful body crashed against the barrier and fell back helplessly. He could not make a sound. Horatio reached out and gripped the hands, the large but quivering hands. "It's okay. I understand, Matthew. And nothing is going to hurt her. I promise you that." Matthew squeezed back, and Horatio felt the powerful but wobbly grip, the grip that would leave uneven, large bruises, stronger on the left.
Grace reentered the room. "I'm sorry, I don't know how I got talking so long there, and you've been waiting. Silly little thing, I know, Matthew. But you love me anyway, don't you?" Her husband's eyes met hers. He said nothing, but the frustration of a few minutes before was absent. He didn't need to say that. He had said it over the years so often that they both still perfectly understood.
Horatio was silent driving back to CSI, but his features were a battleground. Calleigh watched the war but said nothing, giving him space, until he helplessly appealed to her. "What am I going to do, Cal? No court in the state would find him competent, even if it weren't totally justifiable. But I've spent my life revealing the truth in these cases. If I leave it unclosed, I'm lying. If I close it, I'll shatter both of them, and he would still be acquitted at the end of that." His hands clenched on the wheel as if physically wrestling the dilemma.
Calleigh considered. "Horatio, you just called it justifiable. Do you think there is such a thing as justifiable homicide?"
"Yes, but that's not for me to decide. It's for the courts, the juries. I can't play judge and jury, Calleigh. That makes me no better than Hagen."
Calleigh's hand gripped his arm firmly. "Horatio Caine, don't you ever say that again. You are nothing like Hagen. You care about people, and he doesn't. He only cares about himself."
"What am I going to do?" he repeated.
"The right thing, like you always do."
"But what's right here, Calleigh?"
She squeezed his arm. "Horatio, I honestly don't think there is enough actual evidence on Matthew. I agree with you, but we can't state that we know just because he tore a picture in half. I think we can just leave it unsolved without stretching honesty." She knew that he would decide to shelter Matthew and, equally, Grace, but watching the struggle in him, she loved him more. "You are nothing like Hagen," she repeated. "It wouldn't even bother Hagen. We're not suppressing evidence; we're suppressing guesses."
He still was uneasy about it. It bothered her some, actually, but she knew it bothered him more. Could absolute integrity ever suppress the truth without being compromised? They pulled into CSI and rode up silently in the elevator. She kept her hand on his arm all the way, trying to reassure him.
Eric was coming toward the elevator and stopped as they exited. "H! We've solved it!"
Horatio came to a confused stop. "What?"
"The thief. Long larceny record, some drugs. Speed found his DNA in the system from the gum, and the footprint casts match his shoes. He had Barstow's wallet, along with $10,000 in cash. And he confessed."
Now Calleigh was confused. "He what?"
"Well, he left a note, actually. I got Tripp and some officers together, and we went to bring him in. The door was locked on his apartment. Took a bit to break it down. Gunshot right as we came in. He shot himself in the head, and he left a note saying he did it."
Horatio's eyes bored into Eric's, burning clear through the enthusiasm. "What exactly did the note say?"
Eric was getting confused now. "I did it," he quoted. "We're still picking up the loose ends, but it looks like we were wrong on the thief and the killer being different. This guy was even left-handed. We could tell from the suicide shot." He looked from one of them to the other. "That's good, isn't it, H? We got him."
Horatio's voice was numb. "Um, right. Nice work, Eric. Thank Speed for me." He walked on blindly through CSI to his office, and Calleigh followed him up the stairs and closed the door as he collapsed into the chair.
"He must have thought the police knew more than they did," Calleigh mused. "Coming after him for another crime, anyway. He was into drugs, Eric said. 'I did it' is open to interpretation. I'll bet there were other, bigger crimes out there."
Horatio stared at his desk. "It doesn't change the truth. The truth is that this case is now being marked solved under false conclusions."
"You didn't do that."
He refused to compromise. "I'll have to sign off on it, though. My signature, under what I know is a lie." His tortured eyes met hers. "But Calleigh, I can't let that man suffer for what he did. I'm sorry, but looking at the two of them, I just can't. It would destroy them, for no reason, to bring him into the investigation. Besides, he would be cleared, at the end of it. But it isn't my place to make that decision. I took an oath." He unclipped his badge from his belt and fiddled with it restlessly.
Calleigh came around and sat down on the arm of his chair. "And you live up to it. Every single day. You have nothing to reproach yourself with here, Horatio. The case is solved."
"But I'll still know."
She kissed him, trying to distract him, but he refused to accept it. Her cell phone rang at that point, and she pulled away long enough for a brief conversation. "Horatio, I'm sorry, that was my dad, doublechecking for tonight. I was going to take him out to dinner, to celebrate the case he just won." Her own eyes were torn now. "I really need to get going now to get ready in time. But if I call him back and cancel, he'll be hurt, and he'll probably wind up in a bar somewhere."
Horatio looked up at her. "Of course you can't cancel, Cal. Go on. I'll finish up some paperwork here, then go home. You've had this planned all week."
She wavered. "You need me, too, tonight."
He didn't deny it, but as always, he put others first. "He needs you more."
She wasn't too sure of that one. Her dad would probably interrupt her evening later tonight if she cancelled now, though. A much more unpleasant interruption. "Horatio, I've got to get going, but don't you sit up tonight kicking yourself over this. Get some rest, okay?"
He stared back at his badge on the desk. "I'm actually going to officially accept a lie. Never thought I would. I'm sorry if you're disappointed in me, Calleigh."
She kissed him again, then backed away, not insisting on distraction he wasn't ready to accept. Besides, she didn't have time. Her voice held nothing but rock solid confidence, though, as she spoke. "Horatio, you have never disappointed me, in this or anything else. I love you."
His eyes met hers, still uneasy. "I love you, too."
It was three hours later when Horatio unlocked his front door and entered. The house was silent, still, empty. Nothing there but the voice of his own conscience to torment him. Calleigh was out for the evening with her father. He remembered Matthew and Grace again, the commitment still rock solid, the love still there, in the worst of circumstances. He hoped that he and Calleigh could enjoy 54 years together. But he wanted her tonight, and temporarily, she wasn't available.
It was then that he saw the book lying on the table. To Kill a Mockingbird. It was an old, worn, library copy. He noted the book mark, opened it to the very end, and read the unforgettable conclusion where the man of absolute integrity is forced to agree to a lie to protect a retarded man who committed entirely justifiable homicide.
"Atticus sat looking at the floor for a long time. Finally, he raised his head. 'Scout,' he said, 'Mr. Ewell fell on his knife. Can you possibly understand?'"
"Atticus looked like he needed cheering up. I ran to him and hugged him and kissed him with all my might. 'Yes sir, I understand.' I reassured him. 'Mr. Tate was right.'"
"Atticus disengaged himself and looked at me. 'What do you mean?'"
"'Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?'"
"Atticus put his face in my hair and rubbed it. When he got up and walked across the porch into the shadows, his youthful step had returned. Before he went inside the house, he stopped in front of Boo Radley. 'Thank you for my children, Arthur,' he said."
Horatio stared at the words, remembering the story. The retarded man had fought for Atticus' children, had killed the man trying to kill them, but he also, like Matthew, would be shattered by the legal process. So the decision had been made by the sheriff, and Atticus reluctantly agreed to it. The decision had been made for Horatio, too, but he still had to agree to it. It wasn't easy, but it was right. He flipped back to the beginning of the book, wanting the comfort of the story suddenly. He hadn't read it in years. Just inside the front cover, Calleigh's flowing handwriting jumped out at him. "Horatio, throughout my childhood, I considered Atticus Finch the ultimate example of integrity and honesty. No longer. Now, I know you. All my love forever, Calleigh."
When Calleigh softly entered Horatio's house two hours later, he was sound asleep in bed, the book lying loose where it had fallen from his hand, his breathing deep and undisturbed. She watched him for a long moment. They really did have each other for a lifetime, however long that might be, whatever it might hold. His heart, like hers, was safely anchored through the storms. She picked up the book, switched out the light, curled up next to him, and pressed against him tightly. It wasn't a dream, and it wasn't a novel. Her future was right here, and it was real. She lay there in the darkness, lost in love and anticipation, and was finally lulled to sleep herself by the peaceful rhythm of his breathing.