Disclaimer: Anne Donahue, CBS, Alliance Atlantis and the like own him and Dominic Abeyta gets credit for writing the scenes around which this chapter's based. I own nothing except my interpretation, though if I had a dollar for every bullet Horatio has ever fired, I might be able to change that. I jest, I jest! I merely play with borrowed characters for the enjoyment of myself and other fans. Oh, and I borrowed the title from a lyric in the Josh Groban song "Now or Never."
Spoilers: I said companion piece, and I meant it. This sticks tightly to the outline of episode 5x14, so if you haven't seen it and don't want to know what happens, you might want to steer clear.
A/N: I have a vague set of ideas about how I plan to have all this turn out…I'm putting them all under one story title, but each part will stand on its own and be centered around different characters, a bit like "Moonlight in Brazil" was. Future installments will probably not stick quite so tightly to the framework of the episode(s). I know for a fact that the next chapter, whenever I finish it, will be Eric-centric, post-Man Down and all over the map of crazy.
No Man's Land
Authority comes easily to him - if he wasn't born a leader, life quickly forced him into that role and he hasn't looked back since. He's used to being in charge; more than that he needs to be in control. As long as he holds the reins, unpleasant surprises are kept to a minimum and problems caught before they go south. He trusts no one so implicitly as himself.
There is power in intimidation. His stare has more often than not made taller men step backwards, but the most it seems to do to Clavo Cruz is vaguely amuse him. Horatio's glower never wavers, but he can feel his control slipping away.
It happens almost too quickly for him to react; one moment he is grinding his jaw against the other's insolence, trying to come up with another approach, and the next the guard is doubled over, bleeding from a knife wound. Still reeling from the viciousness of the attack, Horatio's eyes go from the guard being helped to his feet to the prisoner being restrained, expecting to finally see some reaction, some proof of the other man's seething hatred.
Clavo simply smiles, pleased as a child leaving for recess.
This look lodges in his mind long after he's left the prison, when he's poring over evidence from the morning's gun heist. Clavo Cruz does not fit any stereotype. He maims and murders at will, neither shaken by the bodies nor fascinated with controlling their lives. He does not fancy himself God, but behaves as if the people around him are toys, easily battered and tossed aside when it suits him. It's casual, and he's proud of it. Why shouldn't he be? It's allowed him to keep an alarmingly cool head for someone so impulsive, allowed him to orchestrate the confiscation of deadly artillery now threatening one of Horatio's own.
They have never had good luck with transportation routes.
It started with her voice on the phone, then a roar. He feared the worst and driving took longer than another phone call, but he needed to see for himself. Needed to confront the horror to verify its reality, seek a meaning for the splintered timber and faces rushing past in an unimportant blur, the smoking piles of rubble and circus of flashing emergency lights. He saw it all through a haze, vision screened for the one person that needed to be safe. Then she was there, sharp focus and a purple top, and time snapped back into motion, back to the dead officer at his feet and the rogue weaponry and the job at hand.
Alexx is bleeding yet she isn't hurt, not compared to these other citizens. Her injury is neither life-threatening nor serious. He knows this, but it still tugs at him, one more problem that lies unfixed. He can't leave her like that, so he hovers nearby, one eye on her. The cut on her head oozes a line of maroon, trailing down her cheek only a little too far right for a tear track. The doctor ignores it as she dresses another's wounds. He stares at its path until she feels his gaze and wearily turns her head, too tired to tell him he can stand down. There are no more words, only a handkerchief blotting a drop in the tidal wave against them.
The heat outside is oppressive, the promised rain hanging instead in the surrounding air along with the words of Clavo's most recent phone call. They remind Horatio that not only is he under a murderer's thumb, but that murderer is possessed of a serenity that makes him difficult to combat. Resden, Riaz, even Judge Ratner; all these men relished their victories, short-lived as they might have been, over Lt. Caine with deep-seated retribution; their contempt fed his own. Here there is no reciprocating anger to latch onto, and this frustrates him.
Fetch me a million dollars, and don't forget the mojito. He resists the orders, bristling at the tone before catching himself, but not before Clavo grins a little wider at seeing his resentment. Horatio remembers him with dark eyes, cold and empty features of a killer, but they sparkle with boyish delight, bemused by his position as a puppeteer. Horatio swallows his pride (it has trouble going down), and pretends to be complacent. They both know it's only half an act,with Clavo clearly getting off on bending the cop to his will. Resentment burns along the latter's skin while feet continue forward, steady, obedient, mind casting desperately for a way to buck that control.
Inside the bank his brain automatically begins compartmentalizing, noting the presence of two lurking men watching him carefully and proving the phone useless. The money will have to be withdrawn, but synapses continue to fire, forming a plan within the time constraint of the walk to the counter.
Judith Freeman is a pleasant woman who likes her job and does it well, never failing to engage her customers in conversation. She's a bright woman, too, cool under pressure. One quiet sentence and badge scraping across the glass does the trick; a nod to the teller and Clavo will be trailed. No response from the lurkers, that's good. One point. Still, he does not delude himself. The tracer is not a leash. He is banking on chance, and letting Cruz run in the wind to save the life of a woman who may or may not still be breathing when (if) he finds her.
Transaction complete, he's back on the streets with a bag weighing heavy in his hands, but lighter on his mind, secure in the knowledge that with another five minutes of being humbled, the game will be his once more, balance restored with a lead he doesn't intend to relinquish again. Fifteen minutes later he and Eric have spotted the car, where that word "hero" flickers uncomfortably across his thoughts.
Shots ring out, and he has one bitter moment to realize he is still being maneuvered, the immediacy of a hostage outweighing any thoughts of a trap, before he's in survival mode, embroiled in a fire fight with Eric in the crosshairs. The chaos is entirely too familiar, the recesses of his mind settling in odd calm. Even when Delko falls, it never occurs to him that they won't make it out all right.
This, his gun, is power. He has control over direction and trigger, and rarely does it fail him. He plays cautionary defense until he spots the glint of a second sniper in a rearview mirror, crouches and takes aim. With perfect precision, the man tumbles. Routine work, doling out another death.
Nearby, Eric's breathing sounds labored but steady, waiting for rescue, before a single deafening crack drowns it out. Horatio spins and fires back at an invisible enemy, every shot wild until the cartridges are nearly spent. Turns back for help from another pair of eyes.
And Eric is lying like a broken plaything, staring into no man's land.