Summary: They were never meant to last. Horatio/Marisol. No character death, but an ending all the same.

Notes: For the love of all that is holy and good, I swear that someday I will write a completely happy story for my favorite couple. Just not today.

Background: When I was transcribing the lunch scene from "Rampage," I always thought there was more to that little sigh of hers when he gets paged. And I thought that in the long run, if she hadn't been shot, that devotion-to-the-job of his might have led them into trouble. And then Muse snuck up and dropped one of her newborn bunnies in my lap. Actually, this is almost an AU, isn't it?

Disclaimer: I think I'm qualified for at least partial ownership of Horatio now, but whatever. Characters still on loan from Jerry Bruckheimer, Alliance Atlantis, CBS, et al. Title on loan from various other works; I associate it with Paul Monette's AIDS memoir.

Borrowed Time

Thinly veiled disapproval, she thinks, is the way everyone first reacted to her wedding band. Everyone thought she rushed into the decision and told her as much, carefully phrasing it in niceties like "I didn't even know you were seeing someone!" and "He must really be special." Months down the road, when she's trying to understand how it all fell apart, one of the conclusions she ponders will be that if just one of those people hadn't been so focused on her frailty and failing health, then maybe she wouldn't have been so determined to prove them wrong. She married him to definitively mark the beginning of a new chapter in her life.

But she didn't wait for him to ask because she was still afraid the end was a foregone conclusion.

Despite what she told people, despite the most positive encouragement from Horatio, the whole time she was pushing for life, the thought of cancer had remained tucked into a corner of her mind. Later in the attics of it she realized she'd had a romantic notion of it all, dying by inches with him by her side at the last breath. She realized she'd fantasized about twenty years into the future the way someone cherishes a dream they secretly know will never come true. She'd never quite visualized twenty years of a relationship with her illness permanently in remission, and therein laid the problem.

Well, everyone always did call Marisol the impulsive one.

After four months of trying to conceive, they meet with the doctor again. Somehow it doesn't surprise her to learn that they'll never have a child, and it's not the chemo's fault.

Once they're alone he turns his face away, looking down, wearing a heart-wrenching expression: as close to shame as she's ever seen. "I'm sorry, Marisol."

"Oh, Horatio," she says softly, reaching over to take his hand between her palms. "It doesn't matter."

And it doesn't.

But eventually, other things do.

The case that keeps him from home for a double shift and then some. The phone that interrupts one too many meals and whisks him away, reminding her how little he shares about his life, especially the past. She knows his family is dead, but is sketchy on the details. All she knows about the scar on his side is that it came from his last assignment in New York – whatever that was. He's far too talented at easing away from her questions, under the guise of not troubling her, and her starry-eyed infatuation is wearing off.

She's not a patient person. They fight about how much time he spends at work. He says that crime doesn't have set hours. She tells him crime doesn't; he should. She can't help resenting the women he rescues because she used to be one of them. She accuses him of cheating not because she believes it's true or ever will be, but because it's a tangible place to lay the blame.

He apologizes first, per usual, even when she's in the wrong. He rearranged his schedule and took time off to take her on vacation, and she could hardly find fault with him then. He insists that all she has to do is ask, and he'll cut back to be with her. She doesn't try to tell him that after weeks, months, a year, she shouldn't still have to ask.

There's never a specific moment she knows that it's over; only the day she decides she's tired of merely keeping house and confronts him with forms. The world shatters around him. His expression doesn't change.

He fights her choice, in his own way. He has to, because she should know there's not a day that goes by he isn't thankful he met her,that the worst days are made bearable knowing she's there, and if that sounds cheesy and cliché, so be it.

But he doesn't really fight, because she sadly tells him she hasn't been happy in their marriage for a long time, and it's not his fault, exactly. He doesn't know why this is the first he's hearing of it if he's always considered her happiness his first priority, but finds it hard to question her. She fails to mention the other guy, or that maybe her parents were right when they asked her if the age difference wasn't a bit much, but it doesn't matter. The nagging doubt he'd buried after their first date works its way to the surface all on its own, reminding him he always was afraid that life with her came on borrowed time.

After two weeks of stiff pleasantries and strained interaction, he asks her once more if she's sure. She stares him down in silence and he wonders when he stopped being able to see more than his own reflection in her eyes.

He signs the papers and lets her take whatever she wants. She doesn't ask for much but the house is empty when she's gone.

He never wore a ring so there's nothing to take off, but everyone understands anyway. Alexx offers a sympathetic ear, Calleigh soft apologies. Tripp awkwardly attempts a consolation of his own; finally fumbles that it happens to the best of them. Eric doesn't say a word and Ryan doesn't even find out for a week and a half.

Marisol gets her baby and Horatio gets to notch another failed attempt at a happy ending.