Edit: Most likely there will be formatting issues for about 10 minutes after I post it. Bear with the technical difficulties.
Remember when I finally fulfilled that long-overdue fic commentary on "Questions and Pretensions"? Well, there's one more left from that meme. stunt_muppet asked me for Clockwork Silence, which is one of my favorites,and my excuse is that, um, uh, I loved it so much I was unable to be coherent about it until I'd let it percolate for a really long time?
Actually I was just daunted by the length.
Notes: Am I posting this because the CSI Fanfic Awards will be open in 4 days, and this story was previously nominated as a WIP but is now complete and therefore can be nominated in other categories? Of course not. That would be manipulative.
Title: Clockwork Silence
Summary: They have never had good luck with transportation routes.
Word Count: 3450, across 3 parts, before commentary
Rating: T, but only in the sense of "people under 12 shouldn't watch this show anyway."
Right, first, some pre-story commentary:
Right, first, some pre-story commentary:
The No Man’s Land/Man Down 2-parter in season 5 was the last time I was ever able to feel like I could get into Horatio’s head, as far as current canon goes. You don’t want to know how many times I watched this episode, scrutinizing every scene – and this was back in the days of good old-fashioned videotape. I started all three parts of this at the same time (well, within a week), but it took me a solid year to finish fleshing out the second and third chapters enough to post them.
Title taken from Josh Groban’s “Now or Never,” because there are regular periods of silence/introspective thoughts going on in this work, and also because when I’d first heard the song a few months before, I said “Gosh darn it, that phrase NEEDS to be a fic title someday.”
Part 1: 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. [these two sentences: last thing written.]
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.
Original Brainstorm Session: “I am acutely interested in playing on themes of how Clavo gets under his skin more than the other nemeses, leading to his loss of authority/control over the situation. Control - that's one of those Horatio things I don't think I've talked about yet, but amidst all the guilt and suffering, he's also got this scary-intense need to wield the power at all times. Hence the gun constantly at hand, and all the bad guys dying at the end of it.” That being said, it took me FOREVER to decide how I was going to open this fic. The first five words popped into my head after a week, but the rest of the paragraph was torture.
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 is my favorite thing about Clavo. He chills your blood without even trying.]
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.
The image of Clavo Cruz batting toys about is priceless, in my head.
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. [Season 1 continuity!]
It had 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 [love that description]. 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.
I felt the show did not focus nearly enough on the Horatio & Alexx dynamic of this scene, so I pumped it up and made it much better in the process. He actually gets distracted by something outside almost immediately, but I indulged in some time for him to show the type of concern normally reserved for Yelina. This was also the first paragraph I finished.
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 [best description of humidity ever? Yes. Also, the rest of this paragraph was one of the last things I finished; I could not figure out how to transition to the italicized line. Finally I cut the Resden/Riaz line from paragraph two and moved it down here.]
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. [Can’t you just hear him saying that?] He resists the orders, bristling at the tone before catching himself, but not before Clavo grins a little wider at seeing his resentment.
Horatio [a/k/a “Me”] 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.
May or may not have been inspired by me going “HORATIO. I AM NOT USED TO THIS BUSINESS OF YOU NOT HAVING A PLAN.”
Judith Freeman [I looked it up! I’m dedicated!] 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.
I almost followed this line up with Horatio contradicting himself and being certain he’d find her – no if – but then I thought that played too far into his new superhero mindset and deleted it. I’ve been told that was a wise choice.
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.
“Uncomfortably.” Notice another instance of me trying to find the old, human Horatio into the situation. Clavo’s mocking use of the word did not escape me.
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. [I have often wondered, even in the good old days, who Horatio would be without that gun.] 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.
This is my commentary on the sad state of affairs that will only get sadder as the years go on. Here, at least, I tried to inject a little bit of remorse to the back of his thoughts, that some part of him acknowledges that even while it’s become routine, it shouldn’t be.
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.
This is literally the second sentence I wrote, almost before the fic itself was conceived – and which I’ve only JUST THIS MOMENT noticed creates a cool parallel to Clavo treating people like toys.
In the mysteriously lost, hypothetical fourth part to this story, which went back to Horatio’s head but was set in the hospital, I was going to circle back to this idea and end with Eric’s eyes open again – but this time, to blink.
As it is, I was just pleased that I could work the episode title in there as intended.
-Part 2. Limbo
Hands and voices are all Eric remembers of the time just after surgery. Not words, and no specific memories, but familiar touch and tone begin to trickle in days after the first time he wakes up with a blank where yesterday should have been.
The sensory information blends with imagination, until he thinks he can form a picture of those hours he was out. Horatio’s words would have been the same, “Hang in there. Don’t give up,” and Alexx with her soft murmurs, mothering until his own arrived. Ryan, nervous and agitated, no touch there, and always accompanied by Calleigh. Calleigh he can visualize all too well, voice cool and fractured and he knows later Speedle was heavy on their minds.
Can you tell I started this before “Man Down” aired? Not knowing how everyone would be shown, and not wanting to rewrite it, I went with what Eric might have imagined happened instead.
The thing is, Speed wasn’t on his. [I swear, the first time spoilers for Eric getting shot hit, my question was: are they going to call things back to Marisol or Speedle? When the former got a mention the latter didn’t, I knew I definitely wanted to work with a theme of guilt for letting more distant past events fade from thought.]
It’s his second realization of a day that’s barely begun, and why he can’t look Horatio in the eye
when the lieutenant comes in later, expression saying what his words never will. Horatio is here seeking redemption, not from Eric himself but from the sight of him. He needs proof of life, something tangible, to feed his conscience. To tell himself he didn’t lose another. Eric doesn’t interrupt. Lets the companionable silence soothe Horatio and scream accusations at him.
“Speedle lost his life, you lost your badge. So, you even now?” No, he wants to tell Stetler’s echo, and they never were.
I am so happy that Stetler uttered this line once upon a time. It’s like the whole basis for this chapter.
He’s told he’s been shot, but instead of flashing back to his friend, all he can think about is where Marisol’s gone to now. At times he can hear her murmuring, her fingers grazing his with the whisper of a prayer, but the lure of sleep always pulls him back to its depths before he can let her know he’s awake. He keeps missing her; every time he opens his eyes someone else is in her place.
I was really very delighted when he asked for Marisol during the episode, and promptly let my brain run wild this idea. Since he obviously doesn’t remember her death at this point, I think jumping from “shot” to her is more a subconscious connection; consciously it’s just “All right. Can’t quite process that right now, where’s my family?”
The pieces don’t line up when they tell him she’s dead. The cancer won, then, and meanwhile he had failed to uphold his promise that he would always be there for her. The realization leaves him slumped and bitter for the rest of the day. It takes him longer still to understand the gap in time, and when he does, the alternative isn’t any better.
Yes. I do like to imagine that people neglected to mention precisely how Marisol passed away, at least at first. Whether because it slipped their mind to specify or because they thought murder might be a tad too unsettling right now, you can decide for yourself.
Once more the thought of his friend taps around the edges. He can see it in the corners of Calleigh’s eyes; the parallels are too obvious to ignore. But he doesn’t care what medicine and logic have to say, he still thinks a bullet to the head ought to do as much damage as one to the heart. Either they should have saved Speed, or they shouldn’t have saved him.
It’s hard to say which one he believes more. [again: he, a word which here means “I,” but it plays into the guilt theme so we’re good to go]
There’s less sleep than simple loss of consciousness these days, and he doesn’t really dream, although images filter through. Flashes and noise, vague shapes of ideas. He wakes up one morning with not quite a memory, but a recollection that the setup seemed amusing at the time, as Horatio dragged him out of sight. He had been mostly still conscious and biting down on his tongue both against the pain and to keep from laughing hysterically, because it was Brazil all over again but he wasn’t supposed to be the one bleeding.
I can’t even tell you how long I searched for a way to include this humorous-from-my-end observation. Team Horatio + Eric: Whaddya Mean, Not Always Invincible?
You both took bullets for Horatio, are you even now? Are you the favorite? [I’m really fond of this Eric v. Speed competition, so I let Eric’s brain amp it up. And strictly speaking, they were both alone with Horatio when they got hit…]
No, no, no…he beats the voice back to the furthest corners of his mind, knowing full well that it will return. For months, years, every crackle over the radio of “officer down” brought his mind back to the same place, an involuntary stiffening of the shoulders, bracing himself to hear that Calleigh was lying pale and still with blood seeping over her vest, or that Horatio wouldn’t be walking through the door.
It’s in my personal canon.
He can’t imagine being present at such an incident even once, let alone twice. With an uncomfortable swallow, Eric realizes that Horatio has done exactly that, twice watched his team shrink by a quarter before his eyes. Morbid curiosity rising, he wonders who the other man thought of first after the second bullet struck, his friend or his bride or his brother, and decides he doesn’t want to know. There is no satisfactory answer.
Can I delete the last, superfluous sentence there?
Last year’s wound on his arm still bears the faintest bit of a discolored scar, 2006 as good as tattooed on him, but already more healed than his parents. They’ll be crippled long after his hair grows back to cover the mark of 2007, just like the bullet fragments will stay lodged beneath, constant reminders, you survived what your sister didn’t.
This is one of my favorite paragraphs in the whole thing; I think I may have been giddy when I realized the depth of paralleling potential in the two events. I was going to actually include his parents at some point, since the episode ignored them, but I couldn’t decide what they’d say.
It bothers him that he can’t remember the bullet that left the first mark. He’s read the police reports, read his own statements, but he still can’t even see it in the third person perspective, much less the first. The paradox of the falling tree: if he doesn’t remember, did it really happen?
This was Transition Power at its finest. I mean, not that I think Eric is like those crazy conspiracy theorist fans who wanted to believe Speedle was just, um, uh, in Witness Protection, For Some Reason!, but I think it would be really difficult to make yourself fully believe a loved one is dead if you can’t remember anything about how it happened.
Unable to accept her end, Eric confronts the cemetery. It’s supposed to bring him closure, but the first thing he sees upon arrival is an open grave. It yawns, gaping and morbid, two rows from Marisol’s so he can’t possibly avoid seeing it, waiting for him to take his place in the ground where he belongs. His thoughts are half hysteric, it’s not his grave; it’s not. The flowers never reach her headstone and he’s spinning to get out of there, fallen tulip heads melting into mud.
Sometimes I pretend alliteration can save sentences that otherwise end awkwardly. I liked the image of falling flowers, but couldn’t figure out how to describe it.
That being said, the idea of the open grave at the cemetery was a really vivid image in my head, and I fought to figure out where I could transition to it and still keep Speedle’s grave in there too. Erratic time-jumping it is!
Time jumps erratically forward and he’s standing in front of an etching for Tim Speedle, not quite sure how he made it here, with nothing but the apologies he had this time a year ago, and the year before that.
They never talk about him anymore. They used to, that first year of adjustment, even if it was more often than not followed by a biting of the tongue, a guilty look and a quick change in topic. Old habits die hard - but they are not immortal. Utterances of “Speed would…” gradually went from few and far between to non-existent as their daily vocabulary smoothly shrank by two words. And Eric began to understand that time was a corrosive element as much as a healer.
I like all the profound things I am doing with mortal habits and the simultaneously healing and destructive effects of time.
He has nothing left in his hands to mark this visit, but perhaps a fingerprint will suffice. Speed would appreciate the humor. [He would, too.]
Weeks later, even while arguing about his readiness to return to work, his memory remains patchy. There’s a very real possibility, one he refuses to fully acknowledge, that it will never be restored, which doesn’t bode well for his future at all. Where he’ll be then is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, he isn’t dead, but as long as he’s like this he hasn’t really come back to life, either. Flip a coin and he’s standing on the edge, neither here nor there. Life is the better option, he thinks, but the dead at least have peace.
Eric is still in limbo.
And that sentence was the first time I figured out what I was going to call this chapter. I felt very proud.
-Part III: Clockwork Silence
You know what I think is the coolest thing about the whole lyrics-as-section-dividers part? I didn’t have to change the order of the vignettes. It was always Ryan/Calleigh/Alexx/Natalia, and the lyrics just happened to line up with the themes of each character’s scene. Because of course, the lyric dividers didn’t happen for several months after the story was first published, when I was trying to figure out what sort of formatting fanfiction.net wouldn’t strip out, and it occurred to me that “Now or Never” might have some other useful lyrics besides the one I stole for the title.
Tattered thought balloons above our heads
He and Eric have their best conversations in hospitals.
The thought strikes him in the middle of counting the scuff marks between his feet, and Ryan almost laughs aloud at the absurdity of its truth.
He’d figured out long ago that they were never going to be the kind of pals who hung out after work, and that on this team he’d never have the same easy camaraderie he did on patrol. But he’d also somehow thought a life lived half in the lab would mean he didn’t have to worry that any day could take one of them out. His mind always conveniently left out the memory of how he’d gotten the job in the first place.
Final sentence added abruptly during “wait a minute…” moment from the author.
Talking seems superfluous, and he’d probably only embarrass himself, so Ryan doesn’t say anything at all. Instead he hangs half in and half out of the room, standing sentinel. Against what, he doesn’t know, when the most dangerous foes lurk in the room already, but it’s a role with purpose and he needs direction.
I was always very struck by the way, in that Montage O’ Sadness, Ryan was the only one who didn’t enter the room. The idea of him standing guard seemed sweetly appropriate, especially since I was driving myself nuts with no idea how to write this character.
The walls inside the hospital, expanses of confining white, make him uneasy. Glaring lights point out imperfections in a place that can afford none and flimsy curtains provide mere illusions of privacy. Everywhere, reminders of his last visit to a place like this - not the stay, but the aftermath, Eric offering him a ride home without needing to say much more.
They understand each other best, Ryan notes, without words involved. Words between them get in the way; comments become jokes become barbs breed resentment and suddenly they’re at loggerheads again, with no clear reason why.
He should go in. Tell him not to give up. Promise to work on curbing those stupid, petty disagreements.
He crosses his arms the other way and resumes his watch. [Oh, Ryan. The man of inaction.]
Sinking in the weight of all we need to say
The rosary seems inconsequential in the weight of the room, too pale as its tiny beads play across her skin, slipping into his hand. It’s nearly identical to one she collected at a crime scene last week; take it to evidence, seal it in a bag, holiness lost amidst the bullets and blood.
The object is a symbol more of his faith than hers, and she wonders if it means the same when she had to dig it out of the back of her locker, buried there so many months ago it must have been years. But it’s something, at least, a talisman of hope for them both.
I had a long debate with myself about how and why I could get a rosary in the room. I thought of this scene before I re-watched the episode, and my brain just automatically made up one where there wasn’t. I probably should have had her get it from Eric’s locker, at least. But I was determined not to give up my description of “holiness lost.”
His hands are very still, unresponsive, and that’s the most frightening thing in all of this. Eric makes her think of little boys and constant motion. He’s always occupied with something, juggling three leads at once and tapping out drumbeat melodies when the computers run slow. Calleigh wonders if even his dreams have agendas.
Well, if you were reading “Limbo”…
She folds his fingers over the metal to give them something to do, and lets hers linger to feel the independent pulse in his thumb. His nails are short and rough in contrast to the smooth polish of hers, with one bruised dark purple, almost black, like a stain. She tries not to think of omens.
Dear Adam Rodriguez: thank you for falling on your hand while shooting that scene and telling us about your horribly bruised nail. It was very helpful re: omens.
When she speaks, her words echo off spaces, and the sentences sound hollow.
I always wanted Calleigh’s section to be longer, and I think I might have taken a chance on a shippy bend if I’d known how firmly the show was going to cling to that. As it is, though, I think the lingering thumb touch can be construed that way, which is nice.
Whys and what-ifs have since long played out
It’s Alexx who sees his family arrive, Alexx who shoos Calleigh and Ryan home for sleep and makes the order stick in a way that Horatio’s mere suggestion didn’t. In the quiet interim she sits on the corner of the unforgiving mattress and lets her voice fill the time, easy and measured with none of her inner tremor present.
“You’re holding the team together, honey,” she says softly, watching the future without him spin sideways. It will be the last straw for Calleigh, already distanced from Horatio. Alexx has a pretty good idea where she’ll go, and it won’t involve the mentor who’s stopped acknowledging her existence except to authorize her timecards. They’ll be left with Ryan and Natalia and the third new person in as many years, a collection of misfits with nowhere else to go.
Alexx is not calling Ryan and Natalia misfits, much as I might want to bash the latter, but rather that no matter how you look at it, they never were as close to their colleagues as the core of Horatio/Eric/Calleigh/Speedle. Also, I may have been a little bit snarky with the “timecards” line, but IT WAS TRUE.
When the words run out she moves to another language, scanning the charts and test results, her dialect, reading records of chances that another life never had. Sixteen minutes and a hypodermic needle had made the difference between his lying on the bed or her table. The memory stings bittersweet: Tim could have lived.
But she’s in the business of closure, knows better than anyone how questioning what might have been will only drive you mad. This far to the right, Eric wouldn’t have any options. This far to the left, there wouldn’t be a bandage on his head at all. Phantasmagorias not worth chasing - the only truth lies where it’s fallen, possibilities written in invisible ink alongside the painstaking detail of his injuries. The rest is a game of patience and perseverance.
Voice and I had a very animated discussion about what the hell I meant by “phantasmagorias not worth chasing – the only truth lies where it’s fallen.” We determined that I just really wanted to say “phantasmagorias,” so then I threw the invisible ink stuff in as, like, a reference to parallel worlds or something?
Platitudes never solve as much as she hopes. [And that’s how I kept my second-to-last line from sounding cheesy.]
Left us short on happy endings
Never mind that her teammate might be dead, Natalia’s first priority is the evidence. Never mind that Ryan had shot past her at a dead run, or that in two hours her only update had been a secondhand report from Frank; the case takes precedence. When she calls the apology in Calleigh’s voice sounds thin. “We just, we really need you there, okay?” So she smiles and agrees, because it's not like she ever really earned their trust as a permanent member of the team.
The voice in her head mockingly twists the instructions. Stay here and hold down the fort, that’s a good rookie. We’ll call you if anything changes. You know, like if he dies.
This was one of the earlier lines, and one I was always very fond of – because it really did seem almost callous to me that everybody else visited him, but we never saw her set foot in the hospital. I didn’t think it was entirely by choice, even if they didn’t mean to exclude her.
At that her stomach revolts, but there’s nothing there except the morning’s coffee, so her calves stay pinned against the chair as her fingers run mechanical searches for license plates and car models. All of it seems futile, suddenly, when their hostage was probably dead before Eric started looking. This is not what she signed up for, if she ever knew.
They’re not anything now. Even then, they were only an office affair. Everyone knew about it and knew it wasn’t anything special, and everyone knew it didn’t give Natalia any right to be there at this side a year and a half later. She could do her waiting and worrying from the crime lab.
Two years later, and you will still routinely find Natalia sidelined with Tripp and/or confined to the lab when other team members are in serious danger. I’ve always thought it quite telling.
Last November, Natalia would have been there waiting for him to wake up, office gossip be damned. Last November: before she’d started over from the bottom, before he’d looked at her with resentment and a clear accusation of betrayal, deaf to any other explanation.
I hope people were able to get that by “last November” I meant 2005, not the one that happened 3 months prior to the events of this episode. I thought about clarifying, but it ruined the flow.
And when she hears that his mind’s still stuck in last November, all she can think is that she’ll betray him once more.
The end! It does sort of end on a stark, sad note, doesn’t it? All three chapters do, which is why that mysteriously lost fourth part was going to be so helpful, but oh well. I think this works well enough as a conclusion and have no plans to add to it at this point in time.
Thank you for reading the ramblings of my inner mind. :P