Actions

Work Header

Crusade

Work Text:

Night in Miami was to the rich and famous a time for drinking, dancing and partying. They rarely saw beyond their clubs, their restaurants or their luxurious properties. But for some, night in Miami involved dodging the less than stellar elements of the society to make it safely to their homes, condos or shelters. Linda, one of those lost and forgotten members of society attempted to do just that when she was waylaid by one of the numerous gangs that littered certain sections of the city no tourist ever saw; or no tourist ever saw and lived to tell the tale.

“C’mon girl”, Pablo the leader of the mish mash band said. “Help a brother out in times of need”

Linda who had walked these streets all of her fifty years rolled her eyes. “Get lost Pablo. You know I’m not going to just give you the money”

“You will if you want to live”, one of the newer elements of Pablo’s crew said earning himself a whack from the leader.

“Shut it kid. Kid’s new Linda, ignore him. Look I know you got paid today and I’m not asking for everything. Just some of it”

“Why so you boys can go to Richie and blow it all off. Why don’t you try and rob him instead?”

“You’re kidding me, right? You know Richie carries a pretty big stick. Now come on, all I need are a hundred bucks”

“Yeah right. Get lost Pablo”, Linda repeated trying to step around him, but Pablo grabbed her arm first and then her purse. “Let me go”, she yelled clawing at his face, but his boys intervened. “Pablo, I swear, I need that cash so if you…”. She barely had time to be astonished by the glint that suddenly appeared before one of Pablo’s men dropped. It wasn’t until the third one met the same fate, that the gang wised up.

“What the hell?”, Pablo exclaimed his own gun out. “You don’t know who you’re messing with man. I can…”. The shot hit him square on the head and Linda on whom the blood had sprayed screamed. The rest of the gang scattered, all except the hotshot who fired a couple of rounds from a Magnum .45, but the sound only made him an easier target. Linda’s continued screams were the last thing the kid heard before he dropped

 

“There goes my reading”, CSI Timothy ‘Speed’ Speedle of the Miami Dade Crime lab muttered at the sound of the soft beeps. He turned to the body sleeping peacefully beside him and frowned wondering if their boss Horatio ‘H’ Caine would understand if he ‘accidently’ broke the pager belonging to Eric ‘Delektorsky’ Delko.

As if in answer to his thoughts his phone rang. “Speed”, he said taking care to keep his voice low. “You sure?”, he asked tone clearly unhappy. “Yeah fine H, I’ll tell him… Yeah sorry… Yes, he’s sleeping… Finally…. No, it’s fine… He’ll kick my ass and you know it… I know H… Don’t worry… See you in ten minutes”. His smile vanished the minute he hung up. Setting his phone on the bed Speed still stalled as he gazed at the curly-haired handsome face beside him. Knowing he had to get up now or risk Horatio calling again he ran his thumb down the side of the tanned face and watched amused as Eric tried to bat it away. “Wake up babe”, he muttered as he pressed a kiss to the back of the neck. All he received in response was a contended sigh and he chuckled. A part of him really wished they could both play hooky and damn the consequences, but he knew that wasn’t an option. Quite apart from the fact that he’d be letting Horatio down – he had too much respect for his boss to even think about it – he also knew Eric would feel like a failure. And that was the last thing he wanted

Steeling his heart Speed tapped Eric’s shoulder gently and when that didn’t work tried harder. The brown eyes opened suddenly startling him. “Just me babe”, he said taking care to sound non-threatening

“I’m aware”, the cold voice so unlike Eric said, and he resisted the urge to groan. He hadn’t wanted or needed this tonight of all nights. “If I wasn’t, I’d have broken your nose by now”

“Can you get up”, he requested. “H will be here in five minutes”

“Eric doesn’t work the night shift”

“I know, but Horatio needs our help”

“You mean he needs your help”

Speed groaned. “I wish I could just let you… Eric”, he corrected at the icy look. “Stay out of it. But the crime scene it’s… messy”. His boyfriend’s look never wavered. “C’mon man, you know what’s going to happen if…”, he trailed off when ‘Eric’ sat up and turned away

“You woke him up”. The whispered accusation made Speed’s heart clench. “Three days Tim, it took me three days and you woke him up”

“I… I know. I am sorry Luke”. The man known to the world as Eric Delko all the time and to only two people as Luke Alvez as well turned around pinning Speed with his glare. Then his face softened at his lover’s – he hated Eric’s juvenile version of boyfriend – miserable countenance

“One of these days Alexx is going to catch you saying my name instead of Eric’s and throw me in a psych ward”. His morbid humour did nothing to help the situation and he knew it. “I know, I know…”, he said before Speed could retort. “I don’t need a psych ward. I just need some help. You and I both know if I do that Eric loses his job and this job has quite literally become his life. He’s wanted this since he was fifteen”

“Horatio’s…”

“Horatio knows nothing”. The sudden anger had Speed wince. Luke hated Horatio Caine with a passion and Speed was sure the inverse was true as well. That the two men could even stand to be in the same room was because of the fact that they both loved Eric. And Eric loved them. “Sorry”, Luke apologised into the sudden silence. “I shouldn’t have… Is he…?”

“Coming to pick us up yes”

“Now I really wish you hadn’t woken Eric up”

“I had to Luke. We have five dead bangers”

“Wonderful, a full-on gunshot scene. H does know I take over for them, right?” The question was sarcastic, and it was all Speed could do to keep a lid on his temper

“You done with the whining?”, he asked his own voice cold. “Cos, I told H ten minutes and it’s almost eight”

Luke’s shoulders well and truly dropped, and his anger fled in the face of Speed’s own. “Sorry”, he apologised again this time reaching for Speed and kissing him softly at first then pouring all the passion and love he felt into his actions. Hands running up and down his lover’s still naked back, he almost lost himself in the sensation before he heard the dull vibration of Eric’s phone. “Fuck”, he cursed

“Sorry, kinda don’t have time for that”. Speed’s breathless response had been automatic, and Luke found his amused chuckle swallowed by his lover’s lips. One hand reaching for the phone, he waited till the kiss broke off to answer it with a curt “Yes”. He had a feeling he knew who was at the other end. Speed’s continued kissing of his neck and jaw didn’t help and his, “Will be there in ten Lt.”, came out more breathless than he expected it to. Speed broke off the kisses and groaned anyway

“Did you have to?”, he whined knowing Eric wouldn’t call Horatio, Lt. ever. Laughing Luke hung up

“C’mon”, he said helping Speed off the bed. “Your Lt.’s waiting”

 

The laughter from ‘Eric’, before the line went dead, had Horatio ‘H’ Caine automatically smiling as he scanned the parking lot of Speed’s apartment out of habit. His mind however had already shifted to the first time he had met the young Cuban, who along with Speed had somehow become a huge part of his otherwise lonely life.

It had been one of his last calls for the bomb squad. A serial bomber who had been terrorising the city for four days had already stretched their resources thin. Upping his game as all serials tended to do, he had this time killed the parents, and strapped a bomb to three young children before he had called it in.

Eric Delko from patrol had been the first on scene and had established a perimeter. Horatio who had been the only one from the squad – they had had four calls simultaneously – had identified him as a rookie at first glance. But new to the job or not the young man had performed admirably. Following Horatio’s instructions to the T, he had played partner and helped the redhead in disarming the bomb. Then with three traumatised young children all under the age of twelve, he had with the redhead helped calm them down going as far as to comfort them physically till child services arrived. Horatio had found him a few minutes later leaning against his patrol car a bottle of water in his hands

“You did good today”, he had said going to stand beside him and Eric had smiled shyly.

“Thank you for teaching me what to do sergeant”, he had deflected but Horatio had only shaken his head

“I meant what I said Officer Delko?”

“Please call me Eric”

“Eric. My name’s Horatio”

“I know who you are sergeant”, Eric had said with another shy smile

“Please call me Horatio”, he had responded making the young cop chuckle. “And like I said, you did well. You think about joining the bomb squad?”

Eric’s headshake had been quick. “Sorry sir… Horatio… but… I’ve had my eye on another department”

“Which is?”, Horatio had asked curiously

“Underwater recovery”

 

What Eric had failed to mention that day, was that he had only wanted to join the underwater team, so he could learn about his environment. His real interest had in fact been forensics, but Horatio would come to know about this, only after he himself had joined CSI. But by then, he would have met Tim Speedle, and permanently lost his heart to the scruffy scientist only to lose him – you can’t lose something you’ve never had, he chided himself just like always – to Eric

And speaking of the couple. The glass rattled startling him the slightest bit and he unlocked the door to let Speed and Luke Alvez – and it was definitely Luke Alvez with the way he was glaring – in. Horatio looked into his rearview mirror and did the same. Childish, but they all knew he wasn’t a fan of the young man in the back

Speed’s very loud silence told them both more than words and they both looked away from each other. “Let’s go”, the trace expert ordered his patience shot and Horatio started the engines

 

Just like every major metropolis in the world, Miami had areas – despite well-intentioned and not so well-intentioned efforts by lawmakers at gentrification - that were less suited to the faint hearted. It was in one of those locations that Horatio and his two companions ended up in to find the female half of their team hard at work. One glance at the scene told them that none of them were going home any time soon

Frank Tripp, the bald-headed Texan grunted a greeting when he saw the three men descend from the vehicle. “What do we have Frank?”, Horatio asked while Speed and Luke, waited for their assignments.

“What we have is something weird”, Tripp responded then chuckled when the heads of both young men whipped to him. “Normally I’d say it’s one gang-banger shooting another one, cleaning up their own messes but this time”. He waved a hand towards the five bodies and the puddle of blood and filth that was their crime scene

“Looks just like what you described Frank. What’s the problem?”, Speed asked him, but Horatio had already noted the anomaly

“It’s been raining the whole evening”, he remarked ducking under the tape as a perplexed Speed and Luke followed, taking care as to where and what they stepped on

“And yet all we have are one set of foot-prints from where the bullets emerged”, Megan finished for him

“Wait just a fucking minute”, Speed exclaimed. “Are you saying one guy did this?”

“Yup”, Calleigh who had been on the bodies with Alexx confirmed. “And just like at our last three scenes. We have no casings”

“A revolver then”

“Yup and I bet I can match them to a Colt .45 just like the rest of them”. Horatio had no doubt Calleigh could do just as she had promised. She was the best after all, which was one of the reasons he had hired her

“Ladies and gentlemen, we officially have a serial”, Luke said his mind on the footprints he was analysing.

“We had a serial three cases ago”, Speed muttered frustrated. He hated bloodbaths with a passion mostly because Luke tended to be around more often than not; and he wouldn’t be in a good mood either

“All right let’s focus”, Horatio ordered. “Calleigh continue on the bodies please, Speed, Megan the perimeter. Eric you’re with me and Frank”. Before Luke had time to respond Horatio had already turned to the detective. “Witnesses?”, he asked

“Yeah one. Her name’s Linda Cortes”

“Get anything”

“Not yet. Poor thing’s scared out of her mind”

“Let me talk to her”, Luke offered. Horatio stared at him for a minute, but he met the Lt.’s gaze steadily and received a curt nod in return

 

“Ma’am”, Luke said as he reached the ambulance. Linda Cortes who Frank had described accurately as ‘Out of her mind with fear’ shook her head and before he could ask asserted that she hadn’t seen a damn thing. But Luke had been doing this for a while and could spot a lie a mile away. Heck he’d been able to spot a lie a mile away ever since he’d been six years old; one of the reasons he and Eric had stayed alive as long as they had. He didn’t contradict her but did point to the space on the rear step then sat down when she nodded giving her the ‘height advantage’ so to speak

“Are you all right?”, he asked his gaze on the powder burns on her left cheek and that act of compassion shattered her fake composure

“He… he just started shooting”, she said with a cry. “He… he just… it wasn’t a man… it was… he was…”

“Ok Linda”, Luke stopped her. “Linda listen to me all right. Just listen to me for a minute”. His genuine concern had her pause. “Just relax for me for a second and take a couple of deep breaths all right”, he continued, instinctively copying what he had just said. Linda followed looking a lot less pale. “Can I get some water for her please”, he requested the paramedic who’d been hovering, and she complied. He waited till the witness had taken a couple of sips. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to Linda”, he said reassuringly. “But if you do feel like talking…”. He waited till he had received a shaky nod. “Can you start from the beginning for me?”, he requested

 

“No way I heard that right. So, she’s useless then”, Frank said the minute the Cuban reached them. Luke who normally got along well with the Texan frowned his annoyance plain

“She was just scared Frank”

“She said a ghost killed the bangers Delko”. Luke closed his eyes both to avoid snapping at the detective and to force down the bile rising in his throat as he recalled just what Linda Cortes had tearfully explained. Ignoring the annoying detective, he turned to Eric’s boss who waited patiently. And just like that his temper spiked at the worry he could see in those blue eyes. Giving Horatio a look that said, ‘I can do my job, so you damn well stay out of our head’, he clarified her statement. “Our attacker sounds like a moral enforcer”

“What do you mean Eric?”, Horatio asked ignoring his ever-present hostility

“Linda says she knows the bangers. Pablo Maceira is the leader of a small-time gang. They mostly go around the neighbourhood collecting ‘donations’”

“Street thugs”, Tripp realised. “Every bad neighbourhood has one”

“That’s right. Linda says Pablo wasn’t so bad. She apparently knew him. He rarely got violent. Most people cooperated because he was a nuisance. All he wanted from her was 100 bucks to score some drugs”. He turned back to the still distraught woman. “She says she would have normally let him have it, but apparently her kid’s been sick these last few days, and she needed the money for the treatment”

“So, she didn’t want him dead”, Tripp surmised

“Hm, hm. She’s more scared of our ‘ghost’, than she was of this gang. According to her, all she saw, was the glint of the gun at first”

“Then why does she call him a ghost then?”

“At first?”

Luke chuckled at the simultaneous questions. “Because Frank”, he said turning to the detective. “The only thing she could see of this guy… or really tall woman”, he amended, “Was the long black coat he wore. She called it a cape”

“At first?”, Horatio repeated

“Getting to that”, Luke responded slightly annoyed. “During one of the muzzle flashes she caught a face. All white, no distinguishing characteristics. She called him an angel of death”

“Shooter wore a mask”

“Anything else Eric?”, Horatio asked him, and Luke shook his head.

“Sorry boss, nothing definitive. She hasn’t told me how she got the powder burns on her face but I’m guessing he took a shot at her”

“Then why didn’t he kill her?”, Tripp asked. “Why leave us a witness?”

“That’s why you think he was a moral enforcer”

Luke nodded at Horatio’s question. “She did mutter something about being innocent. I think he said that to her”

 

By the time a tired and frustrated CSI team made it back to the lab their actual shifts had started. “Anything?”, Speed asked Luke a couple of hours later in the trace lab. The headshake and the smile told him it was Eric he was dealing with

“I’m not going anywhere near the crime scene photos”, Eric promised him. “And I got zip. What about you?”

“Autopsy confirms your witness’ story. Clothes were a bust. One of the kid’s hoodie had GSR on it but we already know he fired a couple of rounds”

“Any foreign DNA?”

“Nope. We recovered the bullets from a .45 and shell casings”

“So the idiot hit nothing?”, Eric asked with a groan. “Wonderful. Think we’ll solve this any time this century”

“We got to. I’m not doing anymore overtime”

“Sorry Speed, but flag on the play”, Horatio who had as per usual sneaked up on them said making Eric chuckle. His amusement put a smile on the redhead’s face. Speed rolled his eyes

“You remember the interview Eric?”, Horatio asked knowing who he was speaking to

“Got caught up yeah”, Eric answered. “And I found something that doesn’t add up”

“The comment from our vigilante”

“Yeah H. Why would she need to tell herself she was innocent?”

“You think she was somehow involved in this?”, Speed asked them both sceptically. Eric shook his head before he could finish his question

“With how scared she was. I don’t think so. But I had Frank run background on her. And”, he added with a grin. “You know what I was about to say”. When Horatio didn’t answer with anything other than another smile he continued with an eye roll. “She’s squeaky clean. No record. Not even a ticket”

Speed shot him a frustrated look. “Wanna get to the point anytime soon Delko. Or should I make myself a cup of coffee then come back”

“The point Speedle”, Eric said with another eye roll. “Is if she was clean why did she need to remind herself of that?”

Speed understood. “The powder burns on her face. You think it’s a warning”

“Yup. Our killer knew she was guilty of something”

“But not enough to kill her”, Horatio finished with a grim look on his face

 

Linda Cortes’ one bedroom apartment, Eric and Horatio discovered was less than a block away from the crime scene. “According to Frank, she lives in this building with her two kids. A daughter, fifteen, she’s the one that’s sick and her son eight”, Eric explained

“Ok. Let’s go in and talk to her”

 

The talk did not go well. Linda stuck to her story that the powder burns had been an accident, but Calleigh and Speed had been meticulous; there hadn’t been a banger in the path of the bullet which had been found lodged in a dumpster

“Ma’am”, Horatio said becoming slightly frustrated. “I promise you we aren’t here to arrest you. We’d just like to…”

“I told you Lt.”, Linda interrupted him. “He did not say anything to…”

“Mama”. Eight year old Mateo Cortes had heard the raised voices. Eric smiled and waved to him but the kid’s frown didn’t go away. “What’s going on mama?”, the little boy asked Linda his eyes wide.

“Nothing for you to worry about baby. Why don’t you go inside and…?” But Horatio had caught the bruise marks – looking suspiciously like a handprint - on his arm.

The small living room meant the redhead was next to the child in barely two strides. On one knee he pushed the thin t-shirt all the way up to Mateo’s shoulder. “How did you get this son?”, he asked taking care to keep his voice soft

It was Linda who answered. “That is none of your concern Lt.”, she said curtly but Horatio wasn’t swayed

“That looks like someone grabbed your son. Hard”, Eric said his hand subconsciously going to his gun. “Either you tell us what happened or we can have Child Services here”

“That’s blackmail”, Linda protested

“I don’t mean last night ma’am”, Eric corrected. “I meant your child”

Linda bit her bottom lip. “I grabbed him ok”, she said at last and Horatio chuckled.

“Your hands Ms. Cortes are small. Smaller than mine. And that print… that was made by someone whose fingers are bigger than mine. Someone who is closer to Officer Delko’s size. So why don’t… you give me… his name”

“Mateo go to the bedroom”, Linda ordered and this time Mateo obeyed. Linda stalled worrying her lower lip again. “I… I can’t tell you”, she said at last her fingers going to the cross around her neck. Both Eric and Horatio stared at her, their suspicion plain. Linda Cortes had sounded afraid yes; but their instincts were telling them she was afraid of them

“All right Ms Cortes, we’ll just have child services come in here. They can investigate what’s going on. Now where’s your daughter?”

“She… she’s at school Lt.”

Horatio laughed. “Last night you told us she was sick”

“She felt…”

“Cut the crap”. Eric’s voice broke like a whip around the room and Horatio frowned. “Look Ms. Cortes”, the young CSI continued ignoring his boss making Horatio wonder if Luke had in fact come back. “We all know you’re lying to us. Why don’t you make this easy on you and tell us what we need to know?”

“I told you I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m innocent. And I don’t have to…”

“Ms. Cortes, this man whoever he is, he knew you. He knew you had done something to warrant a warning but not death. Now I’m guessing whoever gave Mateo that bruise, you’re protecting him”, Horatio said following Eric’s lead and losing his sympathetic attitude. “But here’s the thing. Is protecting this man worth losing your children forever?” Eric’s chuckle when she didn’t answer was bitter. Horatio nodded. “You had your chance. Eric call child services. Also call the girl’s school, verify Ms Cortes’ story and find her for me please”

“You got it boss”, Eric said picking up his phone and walking outside

 

“Alonso Zapatero”. Alonso a six-foot three inch Hispanic male sat comfortably in a chair in the interrogation room leading Speed and Tripp to believe he was accustomed to this. Not that they had needed the confirmation. His long record of possession and assault charges had clued them in as to what kind of an asshole they were dealing with. “You know it takes a special kind of dirtbag to hurt a kid”, Tripp said circling around his prey. Speed who had taken a seat opposite the career criminal didn’t look away from Zapatero’s face

“Who said I hurt anyone man”

“The handprint on Mateo Cortes’ arm says so”, Speed said sliding him a photo. “We already matched yours to these”

“Yeah so I grabbed him so what? Kid wasn’t looking where he was going. A car would have hit him if I hadn’t”

“Nice try Alonso”, Tripp said with a grin leaning close to Zapatero’s face. “So what about the bootprint you left on the fifteen-year old’s stomach. Or the lacerations on her leg”

“Linda Cortes came to know about this and told you to stop hitting her children”, Speed continued. “But… you… you didn’t, did you?”

“You can’t prove…”

“Cut the fucking crap. For once we don’t need a fucking confession from you asshole”

“Keep it together Frank”, Megan who was observing the interrogation along with Horatio muttered. “We need to know who knew about the abuse so keep it together”

“Who the fuck did you brag about this to?”, Speed, who seemed to have read his former boss’ mind asked

“I told you…”

“And I told you to stop shitting us”, Tripp said slamming a hand on to the table. “Someone knew what you did to those kids so do yourself a favour and tell us this guy’s name. Cos if not… well they don’t like people who hit kids where you’re going”

Zapatero seemed to consider this offer. “Look man, I… I can’t go back to jail. Now I’ll tell you but you gotta let me go man. I mean I won’t do this again or…”

“You didn’t tell anyone, did you?”, Tripp realised and Megan had to unfortunately agree. “Well I hope you enjoy your stay in solitary pal”

 

“Ms. Cortes, Alonso already said you knew about the abuse. There’s no point in denying this”, Eric who was fast losing his patience said. “All right fine”, he continued when Linda remained silent. “We can charge you with neglect at the least, we can add obstruction to it…”

“I’ll tell you but only if you give me my kids back”, Linda interrupted him

Horatio’s laughter contained zero amusement. “I don’t think so ma’am. Those children are safer without you”

“I want a lawyer”, Linda Cortes said tight-lipped

 

“You’re… you’re kidding me”, a shocked Eric asked Horatio a few hours later.

“I wish… I wish I was Eric”, Horatio said softly not happy about the situation any more than his subordinate was. “Look”, he continued quickly. “I need you to concentrate on…”

“H, the state’s attorney is going to send the kids back to her for a lead that may or may not pan out”, Eric interrupted him voice loud

“Not without riders Eric. We will…”

“You and I both know that isn’t going to…”

“Alonso is in jail Eric. He isn’t going to…”

“Alonso isn’t the danger to those kids. She is”, Eric yelled well and truly losing his patience. “Those kids deserve better than a mother who doesn’t give a damn if they live or die”. He stopped when the silence around him turned thick. A silence that told him half the lab had heard him. “I… I am sorry”, he apologised knowing he’d been out of line. “I’m really sorry H. I… I shouldn’t have…”

Horatio shook his head. “Believe me Eric, I’m not… I don’t like this at all. But we have no lead”

“Yeah”, Eric agreed with a headshake. His anger having drained out of him all he was left with was a bone deep exhaustion. “Yeah… I… I guess you’re… right”. Muttering something about coffee he left Horatio’s office

 

“You all right”

“You heard that huh?”, Horatio asked Speed with a short laugh.

“More like half the lab heard that and I heard the aftershocks. Out in the field”, Speed explained at Horatio’s look. “You ok?”

“Nope. And guess who’s come back?”

“Luke”, Speed muttered. “Where is he?”

“Breakroom”

 

“You know Horatio’s only trying to help right. I think you…”

“I’d rather you left this alone Calleigh”, Luke, a cup of decaf in his hand said when Calleigh approached him in the breakroom a few minutes later.

“I know you think those kids…”

“Officer Duquesne”. Luke’s tone could have charitably been called civil and Calleigh startled. “There are certain things about… my life you know nothing about. I suggest you stay out of things you don’t understand”

“Fine Officer Delko, but…”

“Calleigh”. Speed stopped her comeback. “Eric’s right. Whatever goes on between him and Horatio is none of our business”. Hell even he wasn’t stupid enough to poke his nose in that complication. At least not often. Calleigh stared at both men for a minute, the hurt on her face visible only to those who knew her well. Without another word she left the breakroom. “That went well”, Speed muttered pinching the bridge of his nose while Luke did his best to ignore him

 

“Damien O’Neill, 25 years young. According to Linda Cortes he saw her daughter Kristy’s bruise. Asked her about it. Now Kristy never said anything but Mateo who liked to go over to Damien’s house to play his keyboard did” Frank handed Horatio a photograph of a smiling young man

“It says here that Damien’s a musician”, Megan who had been looking through his very thin file said. “Apart from a couple of speeding tickets and one DUI, this guy’s clean. Are we sure he’s our killer?”

“Did I forget to tell you he was arrested for assaulting a bully when he was a minor? Or that his mom died at the hands of her abuser who got off on a technicality about a year ago?”, Frank asked Megan with a grin

Horatio’s entire concentration seemed to be on the face in front of him. “What are you thinking?”, Megan asked as she spotted his look

“He’s not our guy”, Horatio said his confidence plain.

“What do you mean he’s not our guy?”, Frank asked him flabbergasted.

“Because Frank”, Horatio explained patiently. “He let Linda Cortes live”

“Yeah so?” But Megan had caught on. As had Tripp just a second later. “His anger should have been on her”

“But instead he attacked the gang bangers”, Megan said

“Maybe it was cos she was the mom you know. I mean he could have thought she was getting hurt too”, Tripp argued. “He could’ve been planning to go after Zapatero too”

“Maybe”, Horatio conceded even if his gut was telling him otherwise. “Let’s bring him in”

 

“So, Damien, you know Linda Cortes and her daughter Kristy huh?”, Tripp asked Damien as Megan stood in a corner of the interrogation room.

“I’m more familiar with their son Mateo, but yes, they are my neighbours”

“He’s not our guy is he?”, Luke who was outside with Horatio and Speed asked

“It’s scary how much you guys think alike”, Speed said pointing between the redhead and his lover and earned himself glares from both of them. Glares he was thick-skinned enough to ignore

“No he isn’t, but he knows something”

“So, Eric was right. We sent Linda’s kids…”

“Let’s… let’s not go there”, Horatio warned Luke and Speed winced. ‘Yeah sure H’, he thought. ‘You might as well have waved a red flag in front of him’

“Wait just a damn minute”, Damien’s voice cut off Luke’s reply and Speed thankfully concentrated on the interrogation. “I did not kill anyone”

“Nice try kid, but you knew Linda was letting her kids get hurt”

“Of course I knew. I heard their arguments. Linda yelled at him most days. But that bastard never listened. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t leave him”

“Just like why your mother wouldn’t leave your stepdad?”, Megan asked and Damien tensed

“My mother has nothing to do with…”

“You stood by and watched her get hurt but decided you wouldn’t do the same with these kids. So you took a shot at her”, Tripp interrupted him. “What I don’t get is why did you kill the bangers? Apart from the fact that they were, you know, bangers. Cos if that’s why I can tell you every jury you go in front of will understand”

“I already told you”, Damien said voice louder. “I did not kill anyone”

“Keep your voice down”, Tripp warned him.

“So what you get to…”

“Frank” Megan stepped up when Tripp got into the kid’s face

“I want a lawyer detective”, Damien interrupted face tight. “I did not kill anyone and I’m going to sue you for…”. Horatio entered the interrogation room stopping his rant

“Where were you two nights ago Mr. O’ Neill?”

“Oh so now you…”

“We…we have fifteen people dead in three weeks Mr. O’ Neill so if you have an alibi I suggest you stop wasting my time”

“You brought me…”

“Frank, charge him with obstruction and get him a lawyer”, Horatio ordered having had enough of their witness

“Poker game”, O’ Neill answered when Tripp got him to his feet. “I was at a poker game at a casino in the Everglades. And you should have led with that question. Now I want a lawyer so I can sue your entire department for dragging me here”. All three cops ignored him

 

“Did he come here on his own?”, Luke asked Frank who glared

“So, what now you’re his lawyer Delko”

“He was trying to protect…”

“Stop it both of you”, Horatio snapped while a worried Speed and Megan looked on. “Let’s… uh… It’s been almost forty hours guys. Let’s all go home. Get some rest and…”

“What about Kristy and Mateo?”

“C’mon kid” Speed tried dragging Luke off when Horatio’s eyes turned cold. “Let’s get some sleep like H said”. Luke removed Speed’s hand from his arm

“You put them there”, he said his voice frigid. “You left two defenceless kids with a parent…” The punch had Megan gasping and Frank yelling a “What the hell”. Luke wiped the blood off of his lips. “What can’t handle the truth then?”

“Kid stop it”, Speed warned him. “You wanna keep this job I suggest you leave with me”. For a second the trace expert was worried he wouldn’t be heard. But for once Luke remained sensible enough to leave when the situation called for it. Speed breathed a sigh of relief. “We’ll see you guys tomorrow”, he said then left after his lover

“Horatio?”, Megan asked the question in her voice plain. But Horatio had no answer that would satisfy her. Eyes fixed on the path the two young men had taken all he could tell her was to go home and get some rest

 

“Why the hell does it feel like I was punched?” The innocent question from Eric had Speed sighing.

“I hate it when Luke leaves you… or more accurately us to deal with the mess”

“He and Horatio fought”, Eric realised. “He isn’t telling me about what”

“Yeah well he wouldn’t. Luke baited Horatio with Mateo and Kristy”

For once Eric agreed with his alter when it came to Horatio. “Those kids deserve better than her Tim”, he argued

“Trust me kid. I know that as well”. Eric winced when he remembered Speed’s parents hadn’t been all that great either. “But so does H”

“He may have seen it on the job Tim, but H has no…”. Eric stopped the light bulb going off. An impressive stream of curses followed

 

“I’m sorry”

“You figured it out huh?”, Horatio asked as he threw a file on his desk. Eric took it as the invitation it was and opened it. He gasped at the bruises. “Keep going”, Horatio ordered and he did. When he was done he looked for the shredder. “Tearing it up does nothing Eric”, Horatio said reading his mind as usual

“Yeah well neither does keeping it. You have enough scars already”. He fed each page of the document including the photographs and watched with satisfaction when all that remained were scraps of paper; which he made sure to collect. He’d use lighter fluid when he got home and burn the whole thing. “Look H, I stand by what I said yesterday”, he said as he stood up. “Those kids deserve better”. Horatio threw him another file. “Calleigh”, Eric realised. “That’s what she was trying to tell Luke”

“Hm, hm yes”, Horatio agreed

“How much trouble am I in?”, Eric asked him point blank. Horatio chuckled

“Apologise to Calleigh and we’ll call it even. Workplace arguments are common Eric”

“But I just lost Calleigh’s friendship and trust didn’t I?”, Eric said sitting tiredly on the chair in front of Horatio’s desk.

“Well… trust can be earned”, Horatio reminded him

Eric nodded absentmindedly. “It’s just… you and Luke…”

“Luke thinks I want him gone forever”

“It’s not that Horatio”, Eric said with a bitter smile. “Luke wants him gone forever too. I’m just not strong enough to let him go”

Horatio’s face softened. “I don’t believe that for a second Eric. You… you’ve kept going despite so much pain. You’re stronger than you think”. Eric didn’t have an answer to Horatio’s confidence

 

The ballistics lab was and always had been Calleigh’s domain so far as Eric had seen these last six months. Even Horatio deferred to the ‘bullet girl’s’ expertise when he was in there. Which was why Eric knew walking into her space when he had pissed her off wasn’t the best idea he had ever had. He waited for her to finish firing her latest batch of bullets and put the gun down beside her because in the state he had put her in she was liable to shoot him and call it justified

“I’m sorry”, he said when she removed her mufflers knowing she had been aware of his presence all this while

“I’m busy Officer Delko, perhaps you can…”

“I know child abuse Calleigh. Intimately”, he interrupted and her face softened. “But… I… that’s not… that’s not an excuse for my behaviour”

Calleigh sighed. “I was going to tell you I had made other arrangements for those two children with a contact I made in CPS”

“I know. H showed me the file”, he confessed. “I… I was… I was mad”, he said at last with a bitter smile. “I… I just… the system always seems to fail those who are innocent Cal and that hurts”

“That’s why we’re here Eric”, Calleigh reminded him gently.

“We don’t seem to be enough”

“I know we can’t save everyone, but we are human Eric. You have to accept that sometimes we fail”

“Horatio isn’t supposed to”. He left with that cryptic statement

 

“Look I’ve had enough of cops for one day so just leave all right”, an annoyed Damien said when Eric turned up on his doorstep

‘Technically it’s two days’, Eric thought but thankfully enough for everyone’s sanity didn’t lead with that. “We failed you didn’t we?”, he asked instead. “I mean the system”

Damien’s sigh was very loud. He waved Eric in and pointed to the cooler in the corner. “Beer?”

“Sorry man, on the job”, Eric said showing him the shield even if he had been pegged as a cop already. “Look Damien, I know we haven’t exactly…”

“I saw CPS take Kristy and Mateo away”

“Excuse me”

“Earlier today”, Damien explained. “I saw some people take Kristy and Mateo away”

‘So, Horatio kept his promise’

‘You need to concentrate on the interview’

Damien’s “You all right man”, had Eric nodding. “Yeah it seems sometimes the system works”. The way he said told the young witness that he understood

“I asked my mom… begged her to leave him. I mean… I was old enough to support her. She could have come lived with me”

“But she said no”

“Said he was a good guy most of the time. He was just a rich bastard who bought her expensive gifts to hide his vices. You know what the worst part was?”

“No what?”, Eric asked softly when Damien paused

“I came to you guys. I told you guys she was getting hurt but you said…”

“She was an adult. That she had to tell us”

“Yeah”, Damien said vehemently the tears in his eyes plain. “You couldn’t care about a good person like my mom but you’re worried someone’s killing off some bangers. Streets are safe without them”

Eric understood. He really did understand where Damien was coming from. Hell there were moments he wished he could have just shot some of the monsters who used their money and power to get themselves off. But he also knew the reality. He just hoped he could convince Damien of it. “Who’s this?”, the young man asked when he placed a photo on the table.

“His name’s Rico. Was part of Pablo’s gang?”

“Was?”, Damien asked with a swallow. “But he looks so young”

Eric nodded. “Sixteen years young. He joined the gang because he couldn’t find any work. Or so his family thought”, Eric said with a bitter chuckle. “At best he wanted to belong, at worst he was a lazy kid who didn’t care about the consequences of his actions. But he hadn’t killed anyone. Yet”

“But… if he didn’t do anything wrong…?”

“You may think I’m lecturing Damien you may even think I’m telling you all this to sway your opinion… but… this killer doesn’t care. He doesn’t discriminate between Pablo and a kid like Rico”

Damien bit his nails. “How do I know this guy won’t come after me?”, he asked at last

“You know we can protect you”. He ignored the harsh laugh. “Look man”, he said standing up. “I’m not here to strong arm you into anything. It’s fine if you don’t wanna tell us”, he said picking up Rico’s photo

“So you showed me the picture for fun then”

“No Damien I didn’t. I showed it to you so you know what this guy’s capable of. That he isn’t the hero you think he is”. He held up a hand. “I know you think the system isn’t perfect, and maybe it isn’t. I know you think whoever’s shooting them is human so he isn’t perfect as well, but he’s not giving them a trial. He acts as if he’s judge, jury and executioner and one day he’s gonna get a lot of innocent people killed with that attitude so…”

“Wait”, Damien said when he reached the door. “I… I wanna help”. Eric turned and nodded

 

“He definitely looks like a killer. More so than that kid we picked up”, Frank said as he stared at the arrest jacket of one Victor Cruz. “So he’s our guy”

“According to Damien, Victor’s the only other person who knew of the abuse”

“Yeah but Victor’s a banger himself”

“Look closer Frank”, Eric said as he pointed to the last charge

“Yeah so he assaulted the leader of the gang he was part of. Infighting’s common among these guys. I don’t have to tell you that”

Eric was already shaking his head. “He assaulted the guy cos the moron raped and murdered Victor’s sister. And when Victor tried telling the arresting officer this the detective refused to let him flip, instead said his family had this coming”

“Hold on a second Delko”, Frank objected. “I know the guy who…”

“His partner was killed by Victor, Frank”, Eric interrupted him. “I’m not saying Detective Cado was right or wrong in his judgement. I’m saying Victor has motive”

 

“Eric’s right. The gun in Victor’s apartment matches all of these bullets”, Calleigh confirmed to Horatio and Tripp a few hours later.

“All righty, let’s go talk to Victor then. Nice job Calleigh”

“Thanks Horatio but we both know Eric put this whole thing together”. Horatio knowing Calleigh had chosen to forgive Eric for Luke’s harsh words smiled.

 

“Nice job kid”, Speed said when they had obtained a confession from Victor

Eric winced at the compliment from his boyfriend. “No matter what I told him, I tricked Damien into giving up a name Tim, so no not a good job”

“You took a killer off the streets Eric”, Horatio reminded him. “And who is to say Damien wouldn’t have become a target one day”

“He wouldn’t have H, we both know it”, Eric said shaking his head. “Victor knew exactly what he was doing. Despite the fact that he killed Rico”

“You can’t know that Delko”

“Actually I can Frank”, Eric argued. “I can, cos he didn’t kill Linda Cortes”