A/N: Okay, this is a character sketch of Horatio Caine ... It started out as just an attempt to expain why he wears dark suits and sunglasses. But then it turned into something else, and I thought it worked as a look at how his childhood shaped him. I'm sorry if any points of it are AU. I've only been watching CSI:Miami for a while, so I haven't seen all the episodes that deal with Horatio's background. I think the only thing I've intentionally guessed at was to say that his family was Catholic. I didn't think it was a far jump considering his Irish background. But still. I know I could be wrong. Forgive me if I am.
Disclaimer: I do not own CSI:Miami or any of its characters.
Windows to the Soul
When he was a child she told him that the eyes were the windows to the soul. When he was very small, he had thought the words genius, proof positive of her wisdom as an Adult, until at last at the old age of eight he realized that it belonged on the same shelf of cliché and platitude as "a penny earned is a penny saved," and "life is what you make of it." And since his mother never seemed to follow any of those platitudes, he wondered for years whether he should even listen to the banal advice she gave with such unswerving gravitas every evening before she tucked him into bed, and pulled the dinosaur covered sheets up to his chin. "Keep watch of people's eyes, Horatio," she had whispered, her voice high and breathy like a creaking wind that slithered between the still leaves on a hot summer evening. "The eyes are the window to the soul."
He had believed her at first. But before he graduated out of his dinosaur sheets he learned the first universal rule of life: never underestimate the extent to which people deceive themselves. He was a child, and children, after all, are willing to believe their parents (particularly their mothers) before all else. For him, she was the fountain of youth and life, the preserver of the Eden in which he lived and breathed and had his being.
But, like most children, he would have stopped believing her eventually. After all, she pretended with an almost childlike excitement that their home was normal, that it was all just play. If she was capable of lying in that, she was capable of lying in anything. In some ways, the realization that his mother lied – that dishonesty could come from between her teeth – hurt worse than his father's swollen rages. Horatio doesn't remember when he first knew that his home was different, when it occurred to him that the alkalidic taste of fear permanently settling like heavy blocks in the pit of his stomach was unusual, when he finally understood that childhood was supposed to be bright, full of wide-eyed innocence realized in sharp Technicolor like Disney characters on film. He only knew that when the realization came, when the fact of his mother's betrayal smacked him across the face with all the sting of the palm of his father's hand, he had cried under his dinosaur sheets after she tucked him in, his tears washing away the still damp feeling of saliva from where she had kissed his cheek goodnight. After all, Disney movies were just pictures on the TV. They weren't true. Or real.
The second universal lesson he learned – at the end of someone's fists – was that no childhood was guaranteed, despite the cheery lessons of Disney films, lessons drenched in so much sugar that they attracted the swarming hordes of mosquitoes and flies from miles away, like bugs to decomposing flesh. Of course, he had only limited experience with Disney movies. The only one they had when he was little was Robin Hood, and he had watched it over and over again with an unblinking concentration unusual in small boys. Horatio couldn't explain it. He only knew that he loved watching the shifting colors and lines of the movie, fascinated by the new details he discovered with every viewing. It was like counting grains of sand in his hand, or leaves on the ground of the Forest of Sherwood. Each was different, possessed of a sparkling uniqueness that made him want to devotedly focus on each one, just as he was sure God did with His creation, who saw with omniscient eyes the beauty and order of everything, from the chalky bird poop on his wooden swing outside to the dusty stained glass windows at St. Anne's Catholic Church. Horatio saw everything. Noticed everything.
Well, maybe not everything. It had taken him almost to the graduation of the dinosaur blankets for big boy sheets, after all, to understand what was going on under the roof of their stuffy little house. He wonders now why it took him so long. Maybe his father got progressively worse as his childhood lengthened, the fists slinging around with more frequency with each drop of whisky that filtered through his veins, slowly poisoning his system until there was no blood or heart left. Indeed, Horatio could vaguely remember times when his mother's softly whispered pleas and promises worked at pacifying the volcanic rage of a husband devouring. And there were times when his father was even happy. If Horatio closed his eyes, he could hear laughter and jokes and smiles. He even had one memory of his father swinging him up into the air, and laughing big booming laughs whenever his son screeched in cooing delight. But it was an old memory, blurred around the edges, and it never seemed to stay behind Horatio's eyelids. It drifted away before he could even get a clear view of it, to see it in the clarity of detail that was his love.
But if Horatio focused on details then Ray hardly saw anything at all. His mother said that Ray only cared about the blur – he was in motion, zeroed in on the finish line, not caring about who he pushed off the road to get there. He never went slow enough to even see the details. There were no road signs, no red lights, no pedestrians in the road. There was only speed, the thrill of wind rushing past red cheeks, and the blur of the finish line. He never perfected the ability to fade into the woodwork that Horatio pulled on like a second skin whenever his father was in the room – that ability which was absolutely essential for a child who plays crash dummy to someone else's fists.
Maybe that was what made the brothers' relationship so treacherous with bear-traps and hidden landmines and pitfalls. Ray could never stay out of the way when their father came home stinking of cheap whiskey and rage and the need to dominate the stuffy rooms of their tiny house. So when Ray inevitably tripped the invisible wire of their father's anger, Horatio had to come out of his hiding place, rapidly changing his chameleon-like skin in a desperate effort to look less like the woodwork, and more like the better target of the two for his father's fists, frantically thankful for once to have red hair like a glaring bulls-eye across his scalp. Ray was too little to have to feel the humiliating burn of shame coat the inside of his mouth like cold wax by submitting to someone else's hands leaving welts on his skin. But Ray was never one for diplomacy or calculated retreats. No one was going to treat him like shit, his actions screamed, and he never cared if his come-and-get-me attitude provoked his father to break Horatio or his mother's bones. It was the selfishness of self-preservation. But, oddly, Horatio was never able to blame him.
He knew, with a kind of resigned clarity, that their house was like Humpty Dumpty and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put it back together again. Because Horatio's mother submitted to the pain, but Ray fought back with a ferocity that battled with their father's domination of the stuffy rooms. They were like fire and water – the sprinkle of his mother's tears never enough to put out the uncontrollable wildfire of his father's rage, and Ray's temper tantrums only adding gasoline to the conflagration. And there was really nothing, in the end, that Horatio could do about it. He could not protect both his mother and his brother, because to do so meant he had to choose between diametrically opposed methods of shielding. He could not fade into the woodwork like his mother to pacify the raging fire and stand up in front of his brother, adding his own accelerant to the flames.
The first time he had understood this was only shortly after he first realized his mother's betrayal. Horatio and Ray had been creating an Olympic level racetrack for their matchbox cars using broken bits of bricks from outside, and stretched out pieces of fabric from their mother's sewing kit. Horatio was taking care of most of the test runs, meticulously repositioning the tattered strips of fabric millimeters at a time. Ray had been the engineer behind the loops and runs and jumps of their racetrack, moving miles ahead of Horatio to create more complications for the talented drivers of their matchbox cars. Their mother was trying to pull together an edible dinner out of the odds and ends still not decaying in their pantry in their kitchen that always smelled, for some reason, of burnt greens and Lysol. Horatio had fallen far behind in his test runs, but was working methodically on Jump 3 (Lucifer's Fall, they had named it, in a stroke of juvenile genius) when their father came home.
Horatio always thought that what happened next was proof that their father couldn't have been the bogeyman and monster and devouring giant all rolled up into one for verylong. After all, Ray and Horatio didn't have the adult wariness to keep a lookout for the stomping giant. It only takes a few punches to get the message across, but it obviously hadn't sunk in yet.
In any case, it hadn't taken their father long to trip over the threadbare strips of fabric and broken bits of brick and matchbox cars and land on the faded linoleum of the living room floor. Horatio remembered it as happening in slow motion, the only time in his life when the world really did slow to match the bubbling panic lacing his tummy. His father had stayed on the floor, maybe as shocked as the two boys that his dominance of the tiny house did not extend to matchbox cars, threadbare strips of fabric, and broken bits of brick. As soon as the world reached equilibrium again and time sped up, Ray and Horatio inched back towards the wall. Their mother had gone perfectly silent in the kitchen, and Horatio could see her behind his eyelids, holding a shaking knife over the barely edible remains of their dinner.
He remembered praying, but not in the cool, dry words whispered in the thick air of St. Anne's Catholic Church, but childish words, hot and slippery, moist with the puffs of breath sliding out of his mouth in short gasps, "Please don't get mad. Please don't mad. Please don't get mad," praying to his father, the browned-haired man sitting on the faded linoleum floor, because not even God the Father Himself could keep the fists from flying. "Please don't get mad. Please don't get mad. Please don't get mad."
But his prayers had been useless. His father had come off the ground, fists swinging, the first punch popping Horatio under the chin from where he stood in front of Ray. To Ray, the pop meant nothing. To his young mind, the worse desecration was the destruction of the racetrack the brothers had so meticulously built up over the course of the summer afternoon. So he brought up his skinny fists and had shouted back, still believing that their father was rational enough to see the errors of his ways. After all, he had grown up with words like "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," and "Love thy neighbor as thyself," and "Pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death," trusted that adults must follow the platitudes of a living religion. Ray was silenced for just a moment when their father's fist came down true to its target. He stood shocked, mouth gaping, with his hand up to his swollen cheek, before shouting even louder about "ruining our toys," and "messing up their game." Horatio never could decide if his brother was brave or foolish.
At this point, their mother, who had always tried to shield the boys from the shattering fists by fading in the woodwork, pacifying the raging anger, emerged from the kitchen, drawn like a moth to a flame at the sound of the smack of fists on little boy flesh. She pleaded with her husband, using words not so different from Horatio's prayers. All it took was one crack of her husband's fists to send her reeling against the dirty walls. She had crumpled there, like a worn bit of fabric strewn in a heap, looking like a little child beneath the two boys. She looked at Horatio and he saw her eyes. They were a clear, shallow, half-hearted blue, and in them Horatio saw for the first time so clearly that she could not, would not, fight for her boys against the dominating presence of their father. She would fade into the woodwork. She would cry. She would plead. She would promise. But she would not take the punches for them. She was a child, and their father was a giant, and the pieces of Humpty Dumpty were simply too big a burden for her to carry, to even try to put together again. And their father knew it. Fee, fie, foe, fum – he smelled the acid burn of hopelessness and resignation and despair.
So when their father had gone after Ray again, pulling him along to the bedroom and the leather belt, there was really nothing for Horatio to do. He had rushed to the kitchen and shoved bits of ice into a worn dishtowel with shaking hands. As he placed it against his mother's cheek, he could hear the sharp slap of a Sam Brown leather belt against skin, and it somehow branded itself across his own back and into his eyes. It was the mark of Cain, symbolizing his betrayal. And that was then he learned the third universal truth. It had been seared into his skin by the fists of his father and the leather of a Sam Brown belt: no matter how much he loved someone, he could never love enough to protect inviolately.
They had forced him to choose, damn it. And Ray knew all along who Horatio would protect, despite the Lord's commandment to be his brother's keeper. Horatio had betrayed him, become the Cain to his Abel, and he knew with a grim certainty that Horatio would remember it every time he heard his last name. So Ray had struck back preemptively by standing up even more outrageously to their father, taking whatever fists came his way without a whimper, knowing that he was only second place to their mother in Horatio's heart. Whenever Horatio tried to explain to him that their mother needed him – that when a fist came at her it was worse than when it came at Ray because she couldn't (or wouldn't) defend herself – Ray had stared at him with a wide-eyed defiance that had chilled Horatio's words before they even left his mouth. Maybe that was why Ray left so early, scraping the shit of his father off his boots with a vehemence that made Horatio know he would never be back. Maybe he was scraping the shit of Horatio off his boots too. Horatio really didn't want to know. But maybe it was why Horatio came to believe that victims must be protected at all costs, because in each face he saw the half-hearted blue eyes of his mother, and the wide-eyed defiance of his brother.
And as for his mother, even though he knew of her betrayal, he couldn't help but feel and odd comfort, like curling up in a dinosaur blanket just warm from the dryer, whenever she willed him to believe her platitudes, or whenever she kissed him on the cheek at night, or whenever she sang him songs of her childhood. His favorite was Scarborough Fair, her light, reedy voice making the song spin around him like the magic of some forgotten place in Sherwood Forest. "Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme … Remember me to one who lives there. He once was a true love of mine…" It was always the last stanza that made him want to believe so desperately in the unreality of his mother's betrayal. If there was any cliché he wanted to believe in it was her song's. "Love imposes impossible tasks. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme …. But yet not more than any true heart asks. I must know you're a true love of mine." In those moments when she sang he felt the world tip back right side up again, back to an equilibrium where choosing between his mother and his brother was not impossible. To a world where the mark of Cain was not in his eyes. When she sang, the details of his world were highlighted in bright Technicolor, and he was free to believe in the power of Robin Hood, the defender of the weak against the strong, of the rich against the poor, again.
He thought that was what ultimately led him to choose a career in law enforcement. It was part of some archaic, old-fashioned need to create with his own hands another Sherwood Forest, where honor and bravery meant something, where promises were kept and dishonesty was just a word. So like a gentleman warrior of old, he brought the zeal of the knight errant into every aspect of his work, delighted out of all proportion with every victory, feeling like a helpless child fading into the woodwork with every defeat. In perhaps one thing he had changed, however.
His attention to detail, while still just as obsessive, had lost that early keen, childish adoration, like St. Theresa in her ecstasy. The frames of Robin Hood, when lit up by Technicolor, felt cheap and neon and hollow compared to the spatter of brain and guts and blood after a violent crime. The police department wasn't the shelter for Robin Hood's Merry Men, and Horatio never forgot that. He no longer relished with a God-like omniscience every detail of the creation, fascinated by every changing atom and particle. Instead of God he became the sacrificial lamb. His work on the field and in the lab was his own kind of penance, the Purgatory where he atoned for having to choose between his mother and his brother. And after he woke up one morning, having finally lost count of the number of cases he had worked, the number of bodies he had seen wrapped in navy plastic, he had learned the fourth universal truth: no one can ever really atone for their betrayals. His mother couldn't. And he, as sure as Humpty Dumpty's brokenness, couldn't either. It was the boiling water of Sisyphus ever receding from the shell-like cauldron of his desire. Every minor victory was followed by a case where he couldn't quite catch the bad guy in time. Maybe he shouldn't have been surprised. The curse of his name followed him from the beginning.
It wasn't until he reach the creaking, aged threshold of adulthood that he'd understood why his mother had insisted, with the deep religious conviction of Christ sweating blood that muggy night in Gethsemane, that the eyes were the windows to the soul. By then he had lost all ability to believe his mother, but after looking into the eyes of countless victims and criminals, pimps and prostitutes, saints and villains, he had learned the fifth, and final, universal truth: some things were true. Some things were certain, and he could see them behind the sheen of liquid in the countless eyes he saw. And he realized that in a world where it was better not to speak, and not to make eye contact, that knowledge was the only gift his mother could freely give him.
But Horatio was never able to completely break free from his childhood instinct to duck and cover and become part of the woodwork, preferring as an adult to wear dark suits that allowed him to straddle the shadows, even the shadows of sunny Florida. He rarely made eye contact, only daring to meet the soul in someone else's eyes when he had something meaningful to say. He preferred instead to wear dark sunglasses, his constant companion since he bought his first pair a few days after he betrayed Ray. He rarely laughed or smiled, knowing Robin Hood could be caught by the Sheriff of Nottingham at any point, despite Robin's miraculous ability to slide past danger with a cocky smile. He preferred instead to get his point across with an earnestness more stinging even than a Sam Brown belt or a smacking fist. But, always, as he looked at his image reflected in someone else's eye, he saw the mark of Cain branded across the dark pupils whenever he made another promise he might not be able to keep. And just in case he could not keep it, he kept the sunglasses close by, ready to shield from others the broken soul revealed in the color of his irises. He might see the mark of Cain in them, but he hoped to God no one else ever did.
After all, there was only one universal truth that made a promise. The other four only took. It was one against four, and even Robin Hood could not always win against such odds.