Notes: Initially inspired by the Pairing Generator's prompt, "Frank Tripp/Yelina Salas/routine," but wandered off the mark after two sentences (if you're curious, it's the last two in the first section). Swear it was inspired before Greg got himself all beaten up in Las Vegas. Speaking of which, I'm going to go hug him while I await your reviews.

Notes, part 2: Set at the end of season 3, shortly after she sends Stetler packing. Only we're going to play with canon and pretend that Ray Sr. never resurfaced, because Undead Raymond makes me want to smash TV screens in hatred.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the people mentioned below. All belong to Jerry, Anthony, Ann, CBS Gods, etc, about whose fascinating characters I can only be glad they let me write. In a move completely unrelated to my inability to think of anything funny to say today, my witty disclaimers are on strike until Natalia is fired, Nick is in jail forever, Yelina returns full time, or my wounded/brooding/angsty lieutenant and his Tale of Woe come back front and center again. No, don't laugh! If you laugh then the strike is rendered null and void! Okay, but it's YOUR fault when Snake Lady is still on the show next week. Apologies to the Nat fans.


Breaking Routine

When Yelina finally gave her statement, what she would remember most clearly was that it had been a routine arrest.

Robert Collins had been the first suspect in Eric's murder case. The execution of a search warrant cleared him of that charge only to promptly implicate him for another crime, something more white-collar, a small penalty but nevertheless strictly enforced. They'd knocked on Mr. Vice President's door and offered him a no-exchange policy on a nice pair of silver bracelets. He offered a sullen look but a refreshing lack of physical resistance as they led him past a hundred employees whose stares weren't yet burned into her brain. He was charged and booked by noon and she left at 3 pm on Thursday, an early start to her early weekend.

The arrest was routine. The rest was not.

She'd expected him to make bail. She had not expected to leave her bedroom and find him blocking the hallway in front of her.

Collins was serenely calm – pleasant, really - as he explained that he wasn't particularly happy with yesterday's events, and suggested that she might want to think twice about moving.

She wasn't staring down a silver barrel, but her lack of a weapon coupled with the arm still hidden behind his back made his smiled warning ominous enough to be effective. She was still calculating a plan of escape when he brought his arm forward. She braced herself for a gun and was confronted with a rock.

It was a weapon just ridiculous enough to make her pause in disbelief, but it was that two-ounce stone from her own garden that brought her down. Struck her forehead just above the eye, with enough force to break the skin and cause her to cry out, clutching her face, and give him enough time to knock her off her feet and flatten her against the ground.

In an instant he had changed from pleasantries to pummeling, spitting obscenities and calling her every vicious, demeaning name he could think of, blaming her for his public humiliation. Any minute she expected some retribution for that last comment, but he only seemed interested in hitting her. Over and over and over, using only one fist but sitting on her, high enough so that she couldn't reach him with her kicks; hands pinned over her head, she couldn't remember ever having been rendered so helplessly immobile.

Her thoughts were concrete for the first ten seconds.

Stupid…he was leaving evidence everywhere, he'd be caught in 24 hours' time and he was multiplying his inevitable sentence tenfold and

And she should have locked her door, but then who locked their door in the middle of the day?

Another blow from something sharper than a fist to the side of her head; she was out and he took his cue to run.

When she woke her head was pounding at multiple points and there were probably a lot of people she should call right now, but she could only think of one number. And there were probably a lot of things she should do to respond, but they were going to be difficult given how much effort it had taken just to get up off the floor. She opened the front door so she wouldn't have to answer it later, passed the mirror without turning her head, went back to the kitchen table and put her head down to cry tears that wouldn't fall.

She hadn't elaborated on the phone, only asked him to come. He thought he heard a tremor in her tone, and while something was clearly the matter, she wasn't panicked, and Horatio decided against backup. Upon arrival, he wondered if that had been a mistake.

The screen door was closed but the other was open, and he immediately drew his gun out on the alert, easing inside, and he made sure the front room was clear before he ventured to call for her.

"In here."

From the tense, muted sound of her voice, he half-expected to find her with a knife at her throat – but she was alone in the kitchen, sitting stiffly at the table, head bent and arms resting on the smooth surface before her, absently picking at her nails. He lowered and then holstered the weapon, but kept a foot of space between them. Her face was hidden by her hair, a deliberate curtain, and he waited for her to draw it back. He was beginning to suspect what he would find behind it, and when she turned to look at him with the same blank, unreadable expression he'd heard in her voice earlier, he was reminded again that being right was overrated.

She spoke no word of explanation and he said nothing in response, but his expression darkened as he took in the bruises rising to the surface, her lip split in two places, the swelling on her cheekbone where it too was laid open, the gash over her eye. His jaw twitched, but he bit back whatever he wanted to say and instead he did the only thing he could think of to help, brushing past her to find a dish towel and ice. He hadn't been here in months, but he still knew where to look.

Or not, he amended, opening a drawer to be confronted with serving utensils.

Yelina had half-turned on the chair to track his movements, and her voice, still subdued, momentarily cracked the silence. "Drawer on the right."

He smoothly closed the first and opened the second to find a checkered cloth before moving to the freezer, thankful that there was a small ice pack waiting for use in the door. He wrapped the towel around it and went back to where she sat waiting. He hesitated a minute before handing it off, pressing it gently to the side of her face until she took it and he sat down in the chair across her. She tried to offer a grateful smile, but the action cracked her lip and brought a fresh bead of red to the surface. He winced along with her, and handed her a tissue so she could blot it away. His hands fell idle and felt useless again; he needed something to occupy them and wished he hadn't left his sunglasses in the car.

He was waiting for an explanation, she knew, and by now she certainly owed him one. In another minute, maybe, she'd have worked up how to start, had he not began first.

"Did he do this?"

If he was trying to keep his tone even, he failed; the resentment in his voice was evident. It was obvious whom he meant by "he," and she was momentarily annoyed by his long-standing grudge that colored his perception. If he'd ever bothered to ask for details, she could have told him that Rick's temper was more than matched by hers, and that the one time he'd struck her had been a knee-jerk response to her slap. Not that she was interested in making any more excuses for a bastard who didn't deserve them, but Horatio's single-mindedness was, on occasion, frustrating. Rick would never have gone anywhere near this far. She wasn't sure he'd believe a simple denial, however, so she set him straight with every detail she could think of, even knowing she'd have to repeat it all later. The more she said, the more she wondered what she'd expected him to do.

She was reaching the end of her recount when she realized that, though he was still listening, the frown on his face was unrelated to her words; he was studying something with a look of agitation.

"Horatio?"

He pushed the chair back and came around to her side of the table, eyes fixated on the spot that, she realized now, had been throbbing dully for the past half hour. Her fingers swept over the swelling above her ear just before he parted her hair to inspect the gash himself. The gentleness of his touch came closer to undoing her resolve than anything else, and it was a relief when he let up and sat down again. He was quiet for another moment; then looked at her pointedly. "That needs stitches."

"It's stopped bleeding," she answered instead, trying to control her breathing and convince the tears on the brink of escape to recede rather than spill over. She surprised herself when she succeeded.

"Someone should take a look at you."

"You are." She couldn't resist being facetious; it was easier to blithely deflect his comments than deal with the gravity of the situation - or torture herself wondering how far to interpret the concern in his eyes.

"Yelina." How was he able to say so much just by using a person's name? He always did that, got hold of something and wouldn't let it go until he had a satisfactory answer.

"It doesn't hurt." Now she was lying through her teeth, and she knew it was obvious that she was doing so. "I don't need to go to the hospital," she repeated, but her tone was losing its conviction, and a shadow of smile appeared on his face.

"Humor me."

She pursed her lips and looked back at him, already aware that he would get his way sooner or later. Sometimes it was easier just to go along with him.

While a doctor examined her, he was on the phone, reporting the incident and already running orders. If he had anything to say about it, Yelina's attacker would be back in a cell before sunset. He was through with the first set of calls by the time the doctor got back to him.

So," he said by way of greeting as he approached the bed she was temporarily - if unwillingly - occupying, "they tell me that you're a very lucky woman."

"No concussion, nothing fractured, four stitches 'just as a precaution,'" she agreed. She looked up at him balefully. "I told you I didn't need the hospital."

"And now we know that."

Deciding not to argue semantics, she changed the subject. "Does Ray know what happened?" She'd asked him not to call the school, but didn't entirely trust him not to run around her orders.

"Not yet," he admitted.

She nodded. "Good. I didn't want to pull him out of class…math test today," she explained.

The discharge forms weren't long in coming after that; while filling them out she decided to wait until the school bus dropped Ray off at home;she'd go to file the report in the afternoon. "And meanwhile, I have the day off. You don't," she added, suddenly stern, before they were even out of the car in her driveway. He opened his mouth to say it didn't matter, but she continued. "Go back to work. I'll be fine." He gave her a measuring look, decided she was sincere, and relented, promising to call her later.

With the suspect apprehended in a matter of hours – he really hadn't tried to cover his tracks; his lawyer was already preparing a psychiatric defense - Horatio was back at Yelina's, dinner in hand. He'd kept his word and called, but it didn't surprise her that the call had ended with a request to open the door he was currently standing on the other side of.

"I didn't think you'd feel like cooking," he offered after she invited him inside. She took it from him with a thank-you, but there was a different question in her eyes, so he answered before she asked.

"We stopped Mr. Collins trying to get on the interstate. He's in custody now," he clarified, hoping the news would settle her, but she only nodded stiffly.

"He's not going to walk this time," he repeated for emphasis when her arms remained crossed.

"I know." These stilted sentences weren't like her; she seemed more rattled now that the initial shock had worn off.

He looked down, and tilted his head thoughtfully. "Would you like me to stay here for a while?"

There, he had her attention. For a moment she looked like she was deciding between insisting it wasn't necessary and apologizing for asking, but in the end she did neither, just pressed her lips together and admitted, in not so many words, that she didn't want to be alone.

'Danger, action, deception, an ancient curse and a modern war,' the back of the box had promised, though the relevance of the last part had yet to be explained, and so far the deception seemed confined to a love triangle among three teenagers.

He was sitting at one end of the living room sofa; Yelina tucked into the other corner. Ray Jr. had started out between them, but eventually decided it was too cramped there and stretched out on the floor, chin in his hands and watching the TV. They made a perfect picture of domesticity, really, and Horatio tried not to think about what this scene should have looked like, would have looked like five years ago.

Plans with friends having fallen through at the last minute, Ray's logic was that it would be cruel and unusual punishment to be expected to stay home without anything to make up for itespecially since they had "a guest." And having outgrown the allure of board games, he had decided that renting a movie was the best possible form of entertainment for them all. Horatio didn't quite see the leap in logic there, but Yelina rolled her eyes, told him not to bother, and let Ray pick out whatever he wanted that wasn't rated R. Which apparently meant teenage treasure hunters…well, it was amusing enough, and certainly provided ample distraction. At least, he thought so.

"This movie is boring," Ray declared at the 45-minute mark, and pushed himself off the carpet. "I'm going to bed." Bed at 9:30 on a Friday night really meant more along the lines of "off to play video games in my room," but either way, he wouldn't be back out before morning.

"Don't forget to brush your teeth," she called automatically. At the needless reminder, he whirled indignantly in the doorway. "Mom!" he protested, embarrassed, with a glance at his uncle, who ducked his head and hid a smile. She didn't back down an inch, merely raised her eyebrows and jerked her head in the direction of the bathroom.

There was no reasoning with her. He did as he was told; the sound of running water followed a moment later. Satisfied, Yelina turned back to the screen, remote in hand, to start the movie again. A minute later, his door closed, and other than the dialogue (and occasional explosion) from the screen, quiet settled back over the room.

Eventually, she found herself stealing glances at him out of the corner of her eye. He could say whatever he liked; she knew he'd been on his feet all day and this evening was the first time he'd paused to rest. Horatio looked as tired as she felt, leaning his head on one hand, gazing somewhat dully at the screen...but he was there. He'd always been there.

Her hand crept across the sofa, hesitated another second, and then delicately but deliberately came to rest on top of his.

He jumped – physically jumped, a reaction she'd fully expected. Startled eyes glanced down, then shot to her face in near alarm. She, however, was still watching the movie in perfect calm, attention apparently riveted by the action on the screen, and his heart slowed down a little bit. It was another three minutes before he dared to move: sliding his hand just enough, without ever fully breaking contact, to thread his fingers through hers. He watched her expression the whole time, as afraid of what he might see as what he might not. She did not return the look, nor turn her head. Her lips did, however, curve up in the tiniest, knowing smile. She was in control. She was also letting him set the pace.

For the moment, he was content with this.

In the background, the main character was arguing with one he didn't recognize, but his sudden difficulty in following the plot had nothing to do with its writing.

The fourteen-hour day had taken its toll, however, and he didn't realize he'd been nodding off until his head sank down and snapped up again with a start. The film was long over. He glanced apologetically to the left, only to find that she had already fallen asleep, curled up on her side with one hand pillowed beneath her head and the other slipped loose from his grasp. Though he doubted the sofa made the most comfortable bed, she looked so worn out that he couldn't bring himself to wake her. Instead he got up, plucked the blanket off a chair on the other side of the room, shook it out and draped it over her. Leaning over her inert form, inches between them, he was tempted to kiss the top of her hair, but he resisted the impulse. He did, however, give in to a selfish desire to sit back for a moment and simply look at her. Light from the TV cast her face in a blue glow, throwing odd shadows but also camouflaging most of the bruises. He tore his gaze away after a moment, but not before his heart had given a familiar twinge he'd spent months trying to bury.

He should have gone home then, ordinarily would have, and yet he made no move towards the door. He knew she'd be fine tonight; it was his own unease that needed reassurance. Theinternal stay-or-go debate batted back and forth for a minute, then shut off as he came to a decision. His joints were going to raise hell in the morning, but it seemed a small price for peace of mind, and with that thought he settled into his own half of the couch. In minutes he had nodded off again, but despite closed eyes, there was no question that he was still keeping watch.

-End.-