Author's Notes: This piece is set right after "Hostile Takeover." Therefore, there will be spoilers through that episode. If you haven't seen that episode, this probably won't make much sense to you. Thank you to my beta, Olly, for encouraging me to keep going, even when I was sure I shouldn't.

This is dedicated to The Daughter of santan, who requested this fic. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to finish it, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. Thank you for inspiring me to do this.

Disclaimer: I don't own the show.

Circling what you can't Escape
By Duckie Nicks

The club soda burned in his stomach… or maybe that was just the sting of failure he'd yet to shake. His team stood around him with their martinis in their hands and smiles on their faces; perfect bright curls of lemon cocooned in vodka matched their effervescent laughter in the seaside room, and Horatio knew that he didn't belong.

The need to be part of something had driven him here, to be anywhere but alone in his house. But now that he was amongst his colleagues, he could see that this was a mistake. They were clearly happy, the events of the day not forgotten but completely unimportant to them at the moment. They were at ease with what had happened, consoled by the fact that the villain had been caught. And he couldn't blame them for that or for their need to celebrate, but it made his pain seem that more defined nevertheless.

It made his disillusionment more pronounced.

It forced him to remember that there was a time when he too had felt the same way. Of course, these days, he had a hard time recalling when he had been that innocent and hopeful last, but in the back of his mind, there was a vague memory of those emotions. And he wasn't sure what the turning point for him had been, but he found himself completely devoid of both feelings at this particular moment.

Then again, he supposed that that was hardly a new development.

For Horatio, this was how all of his cases ended these days. He would have loved to say otherwise, but he couldn't. This – the feeling that he wasn't doing any good – had become his norm, and every case now felt like an exercise in futility.

Or worse.

Sometimes he wondered if he was doing more harm than good. And given the state of his family, given the hostile takeover of his makeshift family, it wasn't hard to believe that internal accusation.

No one in the bar would share his feelings. Of that he was sure. The saying was that, if you stared into the abyss for too long, it would gaze back at you, but his team had yet to see what he was looking at. They still looked to him for guidance.

Like he knew what he was doing.

Forcing himself to drink some more of his soda, he nearly choked on the bitter liquid. Or maybe it was just that practically palpable feeling of loneliness that made it impossible to swallow; he didn't really know. But he was too busy sputtering up his sip of club soda to truly consider the matter.

And in the end, was the reason all that important anyway? In Horatio's mind, the answer was a resounding no. Here they all were, his team letting off steam, enjoying themselves like teenagers on spring break, while he, the chaperone, felt completely beholden to the events of the day.

He wished he didn't. He wished he could be like his colleagues, able to push the darkness aside when it began to overshadow every other emotion within him. But something inside of him had changed over the years. The goodness he saw in the world and within himself had shrunk.

The darkness, which he had tried so hard to fight, had in turn grown. Like a malignancy within his body, it had spread inside him, ate away and destroyed what goodness there had been. It had changed the question from if he would give into his eviler impulses to when he would succumb to them – when he would harangue a victim into testifying against her abuser, when he would bend the rules to fit his needs, when he would reach for his gun and without hesitation pull the trigger.

He might have resisted the urge today, might have done his job, as a man in his position should. But already in the back of his mind was the niggling desire to shove all of that aside for the immediate satisfaction violent vengeance could offer.

And it wasn't hard to see that darkness reflected in the world around him. Because, as Horatio gazed around the room, his eyes caught sight of the last person he wanted to be around:


The mere mention of that name made Horatio's stomach clench in undeniable hatred. His blood boiled at the sight of the peacock of a man who seemed incapable of anything other than preening and making false accusations.

For years, Horatio had tried to believe that Stetler had good qualities to him. Horatio had tried to convince himself that I.A.B was an evil born out of necessity, that it served a valuable purpose. But each and every time he had thought that, he'd remained unchanged in his feelings.

And it wasn't hard to understand why that should continue to be the case all these years later. Every now and then, he would have liked to pretend otherwise, but he knew that his problems with Rick had little to do with the nature of his job and everything to do with the nature of the man himself.

Of course, "I'm just doing my job" was Stetler's motto, but Horatio knew differently. He knew Rick enjoyed what he did. He liked suspecting honest cops of misdeeds, had fun casting the entire department under a threatening cloud of innuendo. For him, it wasn't about weeding out those who abused their position. It wasn't about protecting the public or anything remotely along those lines, because he didn't care about the people of Miami or the good cops who patrolled it.

All he cared about was himself.

Every investigation, every interview, every little thing he did – it was all to make himself look bigger, badder, and more important than he really was. And maybe Horatio could understand the need for posturing, but he certainly couldn't accept or appreciate a man who ruined the reputations of others in order to do it. Especially when Horatio found himself constantly facing Stetler's scheming doubt, no, he couldn't respect someone like that.

In fact, he was hard pressed to find someone who did. For as long as Stetler had inhabited his position, he had been hated unanimously. Loathed with an intensity usually reserved for the most violent and insidious of criminals, Rick was so despised it was shocking that he'd been able to maintain a career for as long as he had.

Really it was.

At the best of times, he was a gnat, a nuisance everyone wished to swat dead, and since those moments were few and far between, it was surprising that he hadn't been fired – or murdered – yet.

Or more to the point, it was surprising – no, short of a miracle that Horatio himself hadn't put a bullet in that man's head yet.

Oh, the temptation was there. It was… always there. And the reason for that was very simple: Stetler never seemed to be a place Horatio wasn't.

Case in point, they were in the same upscale bar now. Word had spread through the lab of where they were all going to meet up for drinks, yes, but no one would have given that information to Rick. And yet he'd managed to weasel his way into the gathering anyway.

That fact alone made Horatio, who was already displeased, seethe with anger. That Stetler was also headed his way just amplified those feelings. Hatred compounding in on itself within Horatio's skin, he didn't even have time to fully process what was happening. In a way, he was frozen in place, trapped by the hot emotions boiling within him. His hand bitterly clutching at the cold glass of club soda, he remained where he was, unable to escape before Stetler approached him.



In their suits and ties, they sounded coldly cordial. But underneath, there was a well of animosity that threatened to surface as violently and hotly as magma in a volcano.

"We need to talk," Stetler said in a voice that he was clearly hoping would be authoritative.

At first Horatio didn't bother to respond. Perhaps he should have, but honestly, he couldn't resist pissing Stetler off by simply sitting in silence. As though no one had approached him at all, Horatio calmly shifted in his white leather seat.

Unfortunately though, this didn't make Stetler feel the need to leave. If anything, he just wanted to assert himself more. His hands on his hips, his chest puffed out, he repeated irritably, "We need to talk, Horatio."

"And what… do we… need to discuss?" Horatio cocked his head to the side and resisted the urge to reach for his gun. He honestly had no idea what Stetler wanted but knew that, no matter what it was, it couldn't be good.

"Matthew Sloan."

Horatio worked to hide the surprise he felt. "What about him?"

"I'm being told his arrest wasn't routine." Stetler's wording might have been vague, but the implication was entirely transparent.

He was accusing Horatio of doing something wrong, of being a bad cop.

And Horatio did not appreciate that.

"Your sources are wrong," he said vehemently. He made sure to keep his voice low, as a waitress was eying them (probably trying to decide whether or not she should refill his club soda). But the anger in his tone was anything but absent. "Besides… you work with S.W.A.T. As far as I can tell… arrests, routine or otherwise, are… not in your jurisdiction."

"Maybe not," Stetler conceded in a voice that was a lot louder than Horatio's had been. "But when I get calls from Channel 6 asking me if I want to comment on –"

"Congratulations," Horatio interrupted sarcastically. "It must be a big day for you."

"They're saying you let Sloan's kid watch him get arrested."

"I did," he admitted, confused by the way Stetler made it sound as though something was wrong with that. "Jason… wanted to say goodbye to his father."

Rick's eyes narrowed sharply in response. His lips turning upward into an arrogant smile, it took him a moment to stifle his reaction. Obviously he was pleased by something, but it was also clear that he didn't want anyone to know this. Fighting to control his happiness, Stetler was slow to point out, "That father is the reason one of your lab techs is in the hospital."

"I understand that," Horatio said in a voice that sounded much calmer than he was. Inwardly he told himself that it was stupid to worry about anything this idiot had up his sleeve, but part of Horatio was worried nonetheless. He might have been hiding that concern vocally, but to himself he knew that Stetler had more up his sleeve.

There had to be more.

By default, there must have been, because Stetler didn't care about lab techs or the message Horatio's actions might have sent to the rest of his team. Stetler only cared about himself, and he wouldn't have couched his argument in terms of what it meant to the lab if there weren't bigger problems at hand. In fact, had the issue been solely about their colleagues, he wouldn't have come here at all.

He just wouldn't have cared.

So there must have been something more.

But if that were truly the case, he seemed reluctant to share that knowledge with Horatio. And because of that, Horatio didn't exactly know how to respond. He knew he needed to say something, but what would unsettle Stetler the most?

After a few moments, Horatio decided that he had no clue how to proceed. However, given that their silence was treading into awkward territory (or would have been, had the cacophony of the bar not provided some sound), he knew he needed to say something.


So he settled for saying in slow, even tones, "I am… aware of what he did. However… his son should not be punished for that."

"Cause you're so concerned about that kid," Stetler said with a sneer.

"I am." Horatio couldn't help but be earnest in the face of Stetler's sarcasm.

"Right." Stetler smirked, the victory he felt he was near clearly written on his face. "You care about him so much that you let him say goodbye to the man who abused him."

But what he didn't know was that he couldn't have been further off the mark if he'd tried. He obviously had no idea that Jason had confessed that his mother was actually his abuser, despite the fact that Horatio had documented it only an hour ago.

However, Horatio was nothing if not willing to supply Stetler with that information.

"Actually… during the course of our investigation… we discovered that Mrs. Arrington created those injuries," Horatio explained pedantically. "Had you read the updated report…."

He didn't bother finishing the thought. But then again, he knew he didn't need to; he'd more than made the point – that Stetler was an idiot – clear.

And yet Horatio felt like there was plenty more to say.

Internally he knew that he should leave things where they were. He'd proven Stetler wrong, had shut down his little mission to publicly humiliate Horatio. Rationally he understood that that should have been enough.

He understood that he should have gotten up and walked away from the conversation.

But for whatever reason, his body seemed to be unable to comply with what his mind knew was the right thing to do. And so he was incapable of escaping Stetler's pathetic attempt at making a good point.

"Well, imagine my surprise," he said sardonically, his southern drawl lengthening the syllables in each word. "An official report, which you wrote, backs up your version of events."

In the back of his mind, Horatio knew he didn't have the right to be upset. When you couldn't deny that you had very little honor left, you couldn't get upset at someone pointing that out. You couldn't expect the rest of the world to ignore your indecency.

But that didn't mean Stetler had the right to judge him.

That man didn't have the right to judge anyone.

Horatio understood that he might not have been in the position to judge much these days, but he knew in his heart that he could never be as bad as Stetler. Whatever his faults were, he didn't have the habit of hurting innocent people like Stetler did. He didn't have the history of hitting his girlfriend, of punishing good cops for egotistical reasons like Rick did.

Again, Horatio knew he wasn't perfect. He knew he had screwed up a lot, especially in the last few years. He had a son he'd barely had a hand in raising, which he still didn't have the heart to blame Julia for. He had a wife who'd been murdered, a brother he'd failed to save, sisters-in-law and their children whom he barely got to see.

He had murdered people, never once questioning whether the ends justified the means. In those bleak moments, he'd never considered that he might be wrong. His mind so narrowly focused on what needed to be done, he hadn't had the capacity to question his actions. And if someone else had done so, he wouldn't have understood the query. He really wouldn't have.

Regardless of that though, he still felt that his behavior didn't merit him a ranking below Stetler on a scale of humanity. Horatio could easily concede that he wasn't perfect, but he would never be that bad.

And to have Stetler stand before him now, judging him…

It stirred something within Horatio that refused to settle. The darkness within him, the kind he'd been fighting all day, became infinitely big, thanks to Stetler's words. Shadow enshrouding him within milliseconds, Horatio couldn't stop himself from retaliating if he tried.

His jaw firmly set, he replied in a dangerous voice, "I would never… put a child in harm's way. As you know… I have zero tolerance for abusers."

Each word was said carefully, every syllable perfectly annunciated so that there was no confusion about what he was trying to say.

Nevertheless, Stetler asked angrily, "What are you telling me, Horatio?"

It was a needless question.

He clearly knew what was being implied and even outright stated; his outrage, obvious in the fact that he'd asked the question at all, made that more than apparent.

"Huh?" he demanded insistently when Horatio calmly took a sip of his drink.

"All I'm saying…" he replied languidly, setting his club soda down with a thunk. "Is that you… of all people should know how I feel about people who… harm innocent people."

Stetler scowled in disgust. "You still think I hit Yelina," he deduced.

Horatio smiled at Stetler's behavior. But it wasn't a warm grin, a smile created from happy feelings. Horatio's lips might have been turned upwards, but he was completely joyless at that moment.

As he had been for some time, he thought honestly. Fighting injustice no longer offered him satisfaction; he might have felt helpless to change jobs at this point in his life; he might have hated the idea of abandoning his career, but it definitely didn't make him happy anymore. If anything, seeing the world's evils and combating it with little success had only made him miserable. There had been years where it had felt good to do something to make the world safer, but in the long run, he was sure it had simply left him broken and dejected.

And the idea that Stetler was dumb enough to think all was forgiven and forgotten might have created the tiniest bit of schadenfreude within Horatio.

But he was hardly amused.

"Not all of us… can ignore seeing our friends and colleagues in pain." He cocked his head to the side. "In fact… some of us care about others."

Rick's irises darkened into blackened points. His eyes beady and focused, it was impossible to miss his growing ire. "For the last time, she bumped her face."

"That… is not true."

At that, Horatio stood up. The club soda he'd drank was settling about as well as the painful memories of what had happened to Yelina had. Feeling leaden, bloated, and edgy, he knew it would do no good to continue this conversation. And since he'd only come here to unwind, it really made no sense to stay and subject himself to Stetler's stupidity.

But if Horatio had it in mind to leave, Rick must have had it in his mind to deny him the privilege.

"She say I hit her?" he challenged. He barely gave Horatio a second to comprehend the question before he answered it himself. "Of course, she didn't, and she won't, because it never happened."

Horatio couldn't stop himself from scoffing at the preposterous idea. Shaking his head once, he said with finality, "That will never be true."

"You think you've got it all figured out. You're so sure you know what went on between me and Yelina." Stetler smiled. "But you don't know anything."

Taking a step closer to him, Horatio said, "I know –"

"You really don't, actually," Rick interrupted snidely, matching Horatio's step with one of his own. "Truth is, you don't know much about her life, and you never did."

He paused for what Horatio could only assume was dramatic effect. And then he added, "Like I told you before, she loved your brother, man, not you."

Horatio clenched his jaw but said nothing. Of course, he knew that he should speak; anything that would make Stetler shut up would be a good thing – Horatio knew as much. But he simply couldn't find it within himself to respond. He was too put off by Stetler's logic, too offended even as some part of Horatio couldn't deny that Rick was probably right.

Maybe that should have made it easier to fight back.

But it didn't.

If anything it seemed to stun Horatio into silence. He wanted to say something, knew he needed to, but the revulsion he felt clutched at his throat tightly. Simultaneously feeling unable to breathe and desperate to vomit, no, he couldn't respond. Which meant he was helpless to stop Stetler from saying in a voice just loud enough to cut Horatio to the core, "Know what I think? I think you would hate me this much, no matter what I did or didn't do to her. I think you're so resentful of the fact that I got there before you."


It was a warning that went unheeded.

"You don't hate me, cause I might have hit her." Stetler's voice was becoming more and more confident. The rancor he felt for Horatio was audible in every tone, and the combination of those feelings – Stetler's pride in himself and his hatred for the man before him – infiltrated each word he spat out.

Unspoken was the realization on both of their parts that they had reached a point of no return.

Horatio knew that there was no walking away, not now, not after what Rick had said. And if Stetler still labored under the delusion that this conversation could end in some sort of truce, Horatio could feel his fists clench with the desire to show him just how wrong he was.

But when Stetler kept speaking, there was no denying that he too had come to the same conclusion: in this verbal spat, the only option was to keep going. "You hate me, because, while you were busy jerking off into some sock, I was doing her."

Horatio clenched his jaw so tightly he was sure he had chipped teeth. "You do not want to go down this road."

"The funny thing about all this, though?" Clearly Rick wasn't getting the message – or no longer cared about what would happen. Since Horatio himself strongly identified with the latter option, he supposed it was possible Stetler felt the same way. "You're so jealous, but she wasn't even that good in bed."

Amused at his own words, he started to laugh. A chuckle bubbled in the back of his throat that Horatio could hear and found impossible to ignore.

He tried to tell himself that Rick was simply trying to get to him. Horatio tried to tell himself that walking away really was the only thing he should do now, that winning was an impossibility. He tried to convince himself – really tried to believe that turning his back on Stetler was the right thing to do anyway, that there was grace in turning the other cheek and ignoring something that was only being said to piss him off. But those arguments were lost in the internal din of voices screaming for vengeance.

The dark feelings he'd been fighting all day easily shoved aside what little defense Horatio had against them.

Instantly, his eyes narrowed on Stetler's smug form. Hatred rose within Horatio not unlike the urge to vomit, and before he could even realize what he was doing, it happened.

He hit Stetler.

Knuckles clashed and connected with a solid jaw that made Horatio's bones ache instantly. Rick, having never seen the blow coming, stumbled backwards into a table. The sound of glass breaking behind him mixed with the noise of Horatio's heart beating loudly in his ears. A clamor so noisy it garnered everyone's attention, he felt dazed by the images and sound all around him.

Watching Rick sputter in front of him, Horatio noticed dimly that Stetler's teeth had snagged the soft flesh of his lower lip, and blood had already begun to trickle down his chin in a winding crimson river.

And the thing about all of it that surprised Horatio the most was not that Stetler bitterly shouted in Calleigh's direction, "I want him arrested." It was not that he was angry or that everyone else looked at Horatio as though he were crazy.

It was that their judgment meant nothing.

It was that, for the first time today, he felt happy.

It was that, despite knowing how wrong his behavior had been, he just didn't care at all.

The sound of keys jingling and clashing against metal pulled Horatio out of his thoughts, as did the accented voice that spoke at that moment. "Don't think I didn't have half a mind to let you sleep here over night."

The time after hitting Stetler had flown by in a rush. The arrest, the trip to the station, the booking – it had all past in a haze that Horatio couldn't quite remember. Bits and pieces flitted through his mind, but his memory refused to offer him a full recollection of what had happened.

Actually, the only thing he really seemed to recall was that he'd told Calleigh to either post the bail herself or contact his lawyer.

Which was why it made no sense that, in his first real moment of awareness since that conversation, Yelina was here.

Confused, he turned around, the metal bench he'd been sitting on squeaking loudly. "Yelina." His voice was flat, devoid of any emotion; after all he'd been through today, he didn't have it in him to be shocked at seeing her – or angry with Calleigh. Still he couldn't help but ask, "Why… what are you doing here?"

He tried to say it as nicely as possible, realizing that the question could come out very wrong. But looking at Yelina's mouth frown a little, Horatio wasn't sure he'd succeeded.

"Taking you home," she said firmly.

It was at that moment that he noticed the keys in her hand. Part of him, the lieutenant side to him, cringed at the fact that an officer had given her the right to let him out. Strictly speaking, that was… not legal. But as she pushed the door to his cell open, he supposed he couldn't complain.

At least she'd worked here at some point, he told himself. Granted that offered little comfort, but she was trustworthy, and he guessed he wasn't exactly in the position to talk about legalities anyway.

So instead he asked, "You… posted my… bail?" The question came out awkwardly. But it was hard to find any ease in the situation he found himself in.

And it didn't help when she shook her head and answered without any hint of warmth, "No."

Out of nervousness, he shifted on his feet. "Then –"

"Calleigh called me and said that you, apparently, assaulted Rick Stetler." She folded her arms across her chest in disapproval.

"I did not assault –"

She smirked a little before interrupting, "I assume that you take issue with my choice of words and are not actually trying to convince me that a room full of people conspired against you by all stating that you hit –"

"Yes." He didn't mean to cut her off so abruptly. But seeing the point she was trying to make, he was too exhausted to go through the tedious motions of listening to her.

Truth be told, she seemed to feel the same way. "Call it what you will. I was asked to come down to talk Stetler down."

Horatio sighed, displeased at the news. "You got him to drop the charges," he deduced.

She nodded her head slowly.

"You didn't have to do that," he said out of obligation. There was no denying that he was glad that she had; obviously he had no desire to go to jail. But he also knew that it was the right thing to do – to point out that she didn't have to do what she had done.

"I did." Her voice was quiet but firm.

Taking a couple steps towards her, Horatio told her honestly, "Thank you."

She didn't say anything at first. Instead they fell into a silence that was anything but comfortable. The physical and emotional distance that he had placed between them over the last few years seemed to have had their effect, he thought. And though they were now only a few feet from one another, it felt like he barely knew her these days.

Well, that wasn't exactly true. He was sure that on some level he still knew her, understood her. But the time they'd spent apart had created an awkwardness that hadn't been there before; he might have still known who she was, but unlike before, now he really had no idea how to behave around her.

Ironically, he'd placed distance between them in hopes of eliminating his awkwardness. At the time, he'd probably told himself that he was just keeping her safe, protected from the man he was becoming. But the truth had been more along the lines of: he'd been hoping to once and for all rid himself of the desire for her and the weirdness such feelings created.

Now though it was obvious he'd just made everything worse.

He was still attracted to her.

God was he still attracted to her.

But now they weren't even friends. Standing there in front of her, he just felt like a stranger, the closeness they once shared completely gone. And with that missing, the moment felt even less bearable than it would have been years ago.

Yelina must have felt something similar, because she was quick to disturb the quiet between them. The words uttered as fast as she could speak, she asked, "Should I take you home?"

He shook his head. "I can drive myself."

"You can," she confirmed, though he'd never asked her for permission. "I believe Frank Tripp had your car towed back here for you."

He made a mental note to thank Frank the next time they saw one another. But then Horatio thought that something about all of this didn't seem right. Trying to articulate his confusion, he asked in slow tones, "Then… if my car is here… why did you… offer to give me a ride?"

Her response was immediate. "You hit Stetler, Horatio." She wasn't being judgmental; he could tell that she was simply stating the fact. "Suffice it to say, I thought you could use a break."

"I'm fine," he hastily replied.

He didn't know who he was trying to convince more.

"Okay," she said, nodding her head in agreement. "Well, the offer still stands. If you would like me to take you home, I will."

"Thank you. I…." His voice trailed off as his mind formed the apology he knew he needed to make. "I'm sorry for bringing you –"

"It's no problem." She sounded earnest, which just made him feel guilty for ever trying to avoid her; she was too kind to be subjected to the whims of his insecurities.

And because of that, he could only say honestly, "It is." She opened her mouth to respond, but he quickly added, "But I am… very appreciative."

She offered a faint smile. "You're welcome."

Again they settled into an uncomfortable silence. Horatio was about to make a mental note that this had to stop when Yelina suggested, "We should go get your things."

His ears perked up at the use of the word, we. Since he had said that he was more than eager to drive himself home, he'd expected to part with her here. But with one simple pronoun, it was clear that she had no intention of leaving him just yet.

Part of him wanted to tell her that she could leave. In fact, a very real part of him did not wish to be around her anymore. As nice as she was being, being around her was a painful reminder of… how much better things would have been if his brother had never married her.

Yet Horatio knew he couldn't tell her to leave. She would want to know why, and he couldn't exactly be honest about his reasons, could he?

So he simply followed her out of the small cell he'd been dumped in without saying a word.

They didn't speak again until they were in the parking lot. Although she'd accompanied him every step of the way from the tank, they hadn't talked to each other at all; they'd said things to other people – to the officer who had given Yelina the keys to let him out, to the officer who had taken Horatio's possessions when he'd been arrested, and to Calleigh. But with each of those brief conversations, they had essentially paid no attention to each other.

Now that they were outside, alone, they had no choice. Of course, Horatio had no idea what to say, but he knew that he needed to say something; they couldn't just walk to their cars and end things there. So he said lamely, "I'll walk you to your car."

Though she was walking beside him, it was impossible to miss the way Yelina shook her head. "I think it would be smarter if I walked you to yours."

"I'm fine, Yelina." But the more he said that, the less likely she was to believe it, he realized.

Indeed, her reaction was to stop moving – in the middle of the road no less – and point out with her arms across her chest, "You punched Stetler."

His eyebrows slightly raised, he joked half-heartedly, "Which just proves… I am okay."

She didn't say anything in response at first. Looking at her, he could tell that there were clearly things she wanted to tell him. And given the way her full lips had pressed together into a thin line, he guessed that most of the words she wanted to utter were ones of disapproval.

Not that he could blame her for that.

In the very least, he had inconvenienced her by making her come down here to take care of his mistake. Never mind the fact that he'd never actually asked her to do that, but he supposed that that was a moot point now; whether he'd asked or not, she'd come down to the station to help him.

And that was all made much worse by the fact that for the last several months, they hadn't really been talking.

In his defense, he'd never made a conscious choice to ignore her totally. He might have… distanced himself to a certain degree, but in his mind, he hadn't abandoned her completely; they'd checked in with one another every now and then, but that was it. And to need her help now, to use her so willingly… he hated it more than words could say.

Feeling like little more than a usurper, someone just as bad as Stetler, Horatio was compelled to apologize once more. "I am… sorry for making you –"

"You have done nothing that you need to apologize for," she told him reassuringly.

At that moment, she started to walk again; a car trying to maneuver the parking lot made the motion necessary. However, she didn't move very far. Simply taking a few steps, she was now closer to him than ever.

And though he should have been comfortable around her by now, though he wanted to be, he couldn't help but shift on his feet nervously at the sudden intimacy being thrust upon him. Frankly, her nearness terrified him, and had he not been trapped by her body and someone's Range Rover, he would moved away.

But as it was, he had no choice but to remain where he was. Which was a truly unfortunate turn of events, because it was at that exact second that Yelina asked him, "Why did you do it?"

She wasn't being judgmental as much as silently imploring him for a reason.

A reason he could never give her, he knew.

Because as long ago as her relationship had been with Rick, Horatio doubted very much that she would appreciate knowing how she'd been talked about. And even if she was comfortable with Rick's insults, Horatio, for his part, certainly wasn't eager to relay them to her.

Rather than tell the truth, he chose to evade the question. "Doesn't matter. It –"

"Of course it matters," she insisted. At that, she shook her head slightly, dark curls bouncing with the subtle change in direction. "You don't think you need to talk to someone about this?"

He could reasonably say that he hadn't considered discussing what had happened with anyone. For him, the matter was over and done; he'd fought with Stetler, been arrested, and let go, and that was that. The idea of talking about it hadn't dawned on Horatio at all, and even now, when it had been mentioned, it still felt unnecessary.

Opening his mouth, he was about to explain to Yelina that he hadn't thought about that. He would have liked to say that he had no intention of confiding in someone else about the fight, because in his mind, the fight wasn't something that needed discussion. But he knew she wouldn't respond well to that. If anything, he suspected she would take offense at the idea that he could keep all of this to himself.

But he didn't even get a chance to pay lip service to her question before she seemed to realize what he'd been thinking. And as predicted, she was not appreciative.

Not that that meant she was angry, he conceded. Looking at her, he could tell that the opposite was true in fact. Far from furious, Yelina looked… disappointed – not at him refusing to confide in her, per se.

She had yet to articulate as much, but he knew that she was hardly a vain woman; if there had been a time where she took offense at his secretiveness, she had long since past it. And surely by now, she understood that it wasn't personal, that it wasn't about her.

He just didn't know how to trust anyone very much these days.

But then, he didn't exactly think that was a bad thing. Given how long people stayed in his life, given the way they seemed to constantly leave or worse, he didn't think it was all that sad. From his perspective, it was just smart.

Yelina obviously didn't agree.

Again, she wasn't judging him, not in a derisive manner anyway. But there was a look of pity that flitted across her features. And that expression was fully reflected in the way she spoke.

Her voice filled with sadness and dismay, she said, "Horatio Caine, always alone. Yes?"

Looking away, Horatio fingered the sunglasses in his hand. He was grateful to have them back, the accessory having been taken away from him when he'd been arrested. But he resisted the urge to put them on. "I…."

His voice trailed off with the conscious knowledge that he had no idea what to say. Words needed to come, but as they always did when he was near Yelina, sentences seemed beyond his reach. Speech and language itself seemed to escape him. Whatever he did say in these conversations never meant enough, never could.

So it wasn't all that surprising that what he said at that moment failed to capture the slew of emotions he felt inside. "I… am sure I.A.B. will require me to… speak to someone."

"That is not what I mean."

But she didn't need to say that, because he knew that wasn't what she'd meant. Sure, talking to the department shrink meant talking to someone, but she wanted him to talk to someone he trusted – not someone he was guaranteed to lie to.

"I know what you're saying," he admitted quietly. "But…." He sighed, not knowing how to explain himself.

And so she offered slowly, "You can't trust anyone."

It wasn't a question. To be honest, he would have preferred it to be one, but it wasn't; it was uttered as a fact, one he didn't like hearing her say any more than she must have enjoyed saying it.

"I do trust people," he said, his voice demonstrating just how uncomfortable he was with the idea.

And that wasn't a lie. He had a hard time trusting other people, yes. That was a given. But he didn't think he was incapable of doing that. There were times where he wished he was; even at this second, he wished he was, but he didn't think he was immune to that desire.

Which he was about to tell her and never got the opportunity to say. He opened his mouth to elaborate, but she interrupted, pain filling her voice, "Then you don't trust me."

His gaze snapped back to her, narrowed on her as she spoke. The words, more accented than usual, were a testament to her honesty; she wasn't just saying that to get a reaction from him, he realized.

She was saying them, because somewhere along the way, she had once again become convinced that they were true.

"I do, Yelina," he replied quickly. "I do trust you." Yet he knew he needed to say more than that. If he were to leave it there, she would simply prompt him to elaborate. So he added as carefully as he could, "But… burdening you –"

"Burdening," she repeated. There was a hint of amusement in her voice. "It's not a burden to confide in me. I –"

"Given what keeps happening… I think it is." Horatio said the words slowly, afraid that if he spoke too quickly, the lump growing in the back of his throat would make him sound pathetic.

"Horatio…." Yelina stepped closer to him. Their bodies so near to one another, Horatio was sure he could no longer breathe.

She wasn't touching him, but it didn't matter. His personal space was now filled with her, and despite being in a large, open-air parking lot, there was no escaping that fact. He could feel the warmth radiate from her eyes and body. He could smell the floral scent of her perfume. And though he realized it was impossible, he swore he could feel her say, "You don't have to protect me."

"I do," he insisted immediately.

At that, she did venture to touch him. One of her hands lightly touching his forearm, she let her fingers rest there – but only for a moment. The second her heated fingertips came in contact with him, she practically pulled away.

Her hand limply dropping to her side, Yelina said, "I'm not a little girl. I know how to take care of myself."

"I know." And he did. As strong as his desire was to take care of her, to protect her, he was incredibly aware of the strength she possessed. "But… if something… happened to you… because of me…."

He swallowed hard and back the rest of his thought. Though he wasn't a superstitious man, he dared not finish his sentence.

Then again, he didn't need to. Because she seemed to understand and instantly asked, "What do you think is going to happen?" She cocked her head to the side to demonstrate her curiosity but didn't give him a chance to answer the question. "If something happens…."

She shrugged before reaching out for him once more. This time leaving her hand on his forearm, she said, "That's no reason for you to stay away. I don't want that."

And with her so close, Horatio felt insanely tempted to agree. In the back of his mind, he conceded that it was easy to pretend like he didn't want her when she wasn't around. When he was distracted by work, his friends, or whatever was right in front of him, it was easy to think that he wasn't missing anything. The pang of desire he always felt when it came to her subsided in times like those. Although he could never forget – not completely – he could manage to live with it.

Now though… she was so close. Her hand on him was so warm, her face as beautiful as he had remembered it. Her personality just as lenient when it came to his mistakes, she was making it difficult to remember why he had ever stayed away in the first place.

Indeed, within milliseconds he felt that familiar pull once more. The desire to kiss her right then and there seized hold of him dramatically and completely.

He did not move, the ferocity with which he felt compelled to kiss her ironically stopping him in his tracks. Julia, Rebecca, Marisol – they all made him feel like this before. But the way he wanted Yelina, the way he had always wanted her, was nothing short of core rocking.

Unable to stop or brace himself against the onslaught of emotion, he stood there frozen. Part of him hoped foolishly that she would somehow know precisely how he felt and do the deed herself.

His imagination running wild, he could practically feel her lips on his, the warmth of her hands bleeding through his clothing. It wasn't happening, he knew, but God did some part of himself want it to be so.

But unfortunately for both of them, there was also another piece of him that refused to let him give in to temptation.

Without ever asking it to, reality seeped into his bones like freezing cold water. Filling the tiny crevice of space between him and her, it forced them apart in his mind. They hadn't moved physically, but the desire he had felt so keenly seconds ago now seemed completely out of reach. And before he could stop himself, he felt his mind making himself recall all of the events that had brought him to this place. As though part of his consciousness refused to be eased by her warm ways, as though the darkness inside of him could not recede enough to give him a happier life, he forced himself to remember:

His mother's murder.

The vengeance he had taken on his father.

Raymond's drug addiction and death.

Marisol's death.

The troubles Eric seemed incapable of escaping from that moment on.

Yes, whatever desires Horatio might have had… they could not escape the blackness confined to his memory.

He opened his mouth to try and feebly explain himself, but Yelina held up her hand. "You don't need to explain."

In truth, he did. He wanted to.

But he didn't explain.

For him, there was to be no slaying of the demons that tormented him. Yelina might have been convinced that she could say or do something to erase all of the damage that had been done, that she could allay his fears.

But he knew better.

The blood he constantly felt himself coated in would not evaporate with a few simple words. That urge within him to destroy and maim everything around him would not disappear with a kiss or a kind word. She could love him as completely as she knew how and as totally as he had ever been loved, but it wouldn't stop him from being the shell of a man he had become.

He wanted to believe differently, but again, he knew better.

Only in fairy tales was the notion of redemption possible. In real life, such things didn't exist – couldn't. Because in the real world, other people had a habit of remembering the awful things you did. And in this case, even if Horatio was ready to move past the darkness he'd lived in for years, there would always be someone there to remind him of that time. Stetler would always be there for that task, would always be around to try to push Horatio back into that life. And his hatred for Rick so keen, how could Horatio ever resist?

How could he ever really change if there were continually reasons not to?

The only answer to that question was: he couldn't. He wouldn't be able to, and Yelina deserved better.

So much better than whatever life he could offer her.

He hated that that was the truth. He despised knowing that, for as much as he loved her, he could never be good enough to be with her.

And yet that disgust would never propel him forward, would never get him to cast caution to the side. He might have wanted to, but again, for her sake, he wouldn't.

Looking at her, seeing the pain he felt reflected in her eyes, he said simply, "I'm sorry."

"I know." There was such empathy in her voice that it was almost easy to miss the sadness in it as well. As though she knew what he was getting at, Yelina already sounded as though he'd denied her what they both wanted.

So he wasn't particularly eloquent when he told her slowly, "I… can't."

But as they parted ways, both looking as dejected as they felt, Horatio knew it had been the right thing to do. It really had.

As he started to drive home, the setting sun shined so brightly it made his eyes water; the protective lenses of his sunglasses did little to shield him from the rays, but he didn't concern himself with that.

All he could think was that he had done the right thing… and he would never have Yelina because of it. He had done what he needed to do, what was best for her. But he was being punished anyway. And though he was warm in the car, he couldn't help but coldly think:

It was just one more reason to give into the roguish temptations he felt.

It was just one more reason to give up.

The End