Disclaimer: CSI the characters and locals etc are the property of CBS and Alliance-Atlantis Communications. The plot and story ideas are mine.†† This story contains m/m themes.† If you don't like such things. Don't read it.
Eric felt his heart drop. Right through his stomach straight down to his toes. He didn't think Horatio's words could have shocked him more. Horatio was marrying his sister. The man he was in love with was marrying his sister. Or a long moment he stared blankly at the man. How exactly could he respond to that?
By mid afternoon Eric was ready to strangle the next person who questioned him about being unhappy about the wedding. Of course he trusted H. With his life and certainly with his sisters life. And of course he wanted Marisol to be happy. But why did she have to try and be happy with the man he loved. Of course he couldn't blame her for loving Horatio Caine. And honestly couldn't blame H for loving his sister she was a good person in every way... though maybe a little reckless. But why, of all the men and women in the world did the two people he loved most have to fall for each other? Horatio would now always be part of his life. He'd be family now... his brother It was bitter sweet. He'd be always there and always untouchable.
*** *** ***
He went to the ceremony. What else could he do? If he didn't things would be awkward with him and H. Not to mention his sister would think he hated her. And his going would smooth things over with the family when they finally were told. Their mother would be off the deep end on both ends of the spectrum. Thrilled to have her daughter married to such a good man. Furious that Mari hadn't told them or let her plan a huge wedding. H really didn't know what he was getting in to on that front. Trying to picture his reserved boss at a boisterous Delko family gathering brought an amused smile to his face. It was that image that helped him keep a smile on his face through the ceremony. He did love them both and didn't want to upset them by looking anything less than the proud happy brother.
He declined the happy couples offer to join them for dinner. Telling them it was their night and he shouldn't be intruding. They protested, he insisted. Then drove himself home in the slow cautious way of someone who knows they're dangerous. His mind wasn't on the road luckily years of driving forms some good habits and he made it home without incident.
At home he methodically undressed and hung up his suit and got in the shower. He leaned against the tiled wall; willing the hot water sluicing over him to wash away the pain. He felt hollow inside, his chest ached. He never knew you could actually feel a broken heart. Finally his breath caught on a sob and he cried tears disappearing in the showers spray. The cooling water got his attention sometime later jolting him out of his grief long enough to quickly wash then get out of the now cold spray.
In his bedroom he collapsed in the unmade bed without bothering to find anything to sleep in.He dragged the covers up... he could just sleep. There was no hurt when you slept. Mercifully his body exhausted by the long stressful day, complied and he quickly slipped in to a deep dreamless sleep.
**** **** ****
Eric woke the next morning and for a long comfortable moment he just felt warm and well rested.Then the memories of the previous day came rushing in. For a moment he felt physically ill, but it slowly subsided to that hollow dead feeling in his chest.
He didn't want to get up. He defiantly didn't want to go to work. H wouldn't be there; he'd taken time off for a honeymoon. But everyone else would be there. They'd have questions. They'd want to hear how happy he was about it all. He dragged himself upright and in to the bathroom. His reflection seemed to mock him. How could he look so normal when he felt so broken inside. Mechanically he set about shaving and getting ready for worked.
As he worked he mentally rehearsed the answers to the questions his coworkers were sure to ask. Yes he'd gone to the ceremony. Yes it was nice, simple, but that's what Mari and H had wanted. Yes it'd been a surprise but of course he was happy for them. By the time he arrived at the lab he was so prepared he hoped no one would notice anything off in his actions. So prepared he handled the girls gushing about how romantic it was and how wonderful it was that H had found someone at last. So prepared he managed to smile and accept off hand congratulations. Of course he should be thrilled to have someone like Horatio Caine looking after his sister now. So prepared that not one of the people he would have turned to for comfort in any other situation noticed a thing.
So prepared that he didn't notice when the one person he wouldn't have turned to cornered him in the quiet AV lab.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes I..." He started almost automatically. Then he looked up at the other man blankly. "What?"
"Are you okay?"Ryan Wolfe repeated.
"Look Eric I don't know what exactly you feel for Horatio."Wolfe said calmly."But I think its more then friendship.And your sister just walked away with him.And everyone keeps flinging it in your face.
"I... You..." Eric tried to mount a defensive answer but it just wouldn't come."How did you know?" He asked defeated.
"You guys took a long time to accept me."Ryan shrugged deliberately avoiding the fact that Eric had been the worst culprit."I had a lot of time to just observe you guys.Outside looking in you see a lot."
Eric looked at him for a long time. Wolfe was the last person he would have looked to for comfort but right now he was the only one offering any. Then only one who had even noticed his pain. There didn't seem to be anything malicious in his face, just concern."I love him." He admitted in a very low voice. Then back-pedalled a bit. "I love them both. I want them to be happy."
"Okay." Ryan was looking at him knowingly. "Look I know we aren't exactly friends Delko... Eric... but if you want to talk I'm here."
Eric immediately bristled but then let it go. No one else was offering after all. "Yeah... thanks. Don't think I'm ready for that yet. I can't even make sense of most of what I'm feeling at the moment. "He admitted
Wolfe just nodded and silently left the room.
**** **** ****
As the days went by Eric survived. He went through the days mechanically doing his job but there was no emotion in his work. His feelings were all tied up in his pain. He got through each day and went home and slept. Blissful painless sleep. Bedtime was almost a relief now.
At work he found himself gravitating towards Wolfe. It helped a little that someone else knew about his pain. But mostly it was because Ryan was the one person who wouldn't mention the wedding around him. It was the best gossip in the lab in years. So everyone wanted to talk about it. Most especially, talk about it with him, as he was the person closest to it with H still away on his honeymoon. He quickly took to taking his lunch to eat somewhere outside the lab whenever he could, avoiding the veritable minefield of gossips in the break room. Ryan noticed and started to come with him. They'd usually just find a park and eat. They talked sports, and science, and even politics or anything else that took their fancy. But never about their boss or Marisol or the wedding. Then they'd return to the lab and go back to work and he'd feel a little better, a simple hour in which he was free of worrying that anyone would ask him more questions, or that anyone would notice his pain.
Eric had to admit though that he found it a bit strange that something as unlikely as a friendship between himself and Ryan Wolfe was helping to give him a sense of normalcy again.
*** *** *** ***
Two weeks later Horatio returned. Eric tried his best to behave normally around the man but he could tell he was failing miserably by the looks the other man would give him. He just couldn't regain the easiness he'd once had with the redhead. There was still part of him that was feeling angry and betrayed. He knew H hadn't known how he felt so he could hardly be blamed for his actions. But still he just couldn't seem to get his reactions to the man back how they'd been before.
He knew it was just a matter of time before the other man approached him about it. And somehow he didn't think any simple excuses or denials would work. He did his best to avoid being in places H could corner him. Of course as his boss Horatio could demand a talk in his office. But as this was partly personal he didn't really think H would go that way.
Finally the older man managed to run him to ground alone in the trace lab. Eric looked up spotted Horatio watching him and froze. He knew he must have a looked like a deer in the headlights which was probably not helping the situation at all.
The door flew open. "Eric there you are." Ryan exclaimed. "We're supposed to go for lunch today aren't we?"
"Uh... right." He managed. "I just have to clean up here." He said indicating his equipment and sealed evidence.
"Want some help?" Ryan offered. "I'll clean up here while you take that back down to the evidence locker. Then we can get out of here.
Eric almost laughed. Horatio's eyes had gone almost comically wide. Their growing friendship had surprised a lot of people... their changing relationship had even managed to grab a percentage of the gossip as the excitement over the wedding faded. But Eric was sure that Horatio had seen Ryan's actions for exactly what they were, an attempt to disrupt Horatio talking with him.
Minutes later he and Ryan were leaving the lab heading to their favourite lunch spot. "Thanks for that."
"I saw him in the hall. He had that look in his face." Wolfe said. "But you know eventually he's going to manage to corner you. You're going to have to come up with some answers or start acting more normal around him.
"I'm trying." Eric protested.† "Failing miserably obviously. But I just can't seem to relax with him anymore."
Arriving at the park they found a bench in silence and started eating. Finally Wolfe spoke again. "Don't take this the wrong. But really what's changed?"
"What's changed?" Eric snapped. "He only married my sister."
"Well yeah... but really what does that change? Before you loved him, still worked with him without a problem, and saw him as unattainable. Right?"
Eric nodded starting to see where Ryan was going.
"Now you love him, still have to work with him, and he is unattainable."
Eric sighed the other man was right of course. "I know he was never mine to lose. But it still feels like I lost him... and to my sister of all people. I know the chances of anything ever happening between us were astronomical. But it was still a chance." It seemed that having started talking about it he couldn't stop. "And I can't even be angry at the person who took that chance away because it's my sister. If it were a stranger I could call her names and rant about how awful she is for him and she doesn't deserve him. But it's Marisol... and she's actually really good for him and she does deserve someone like him."
Ryan looked at him sympathetically. "I wish I had something to tell you that would make it better." He said. "But I can't think of anything.
Eric looked over at him with a sad half smile. "I know. There's just no easy answer this time."
*** *** *** ***
Slowly after that talk with Wolfe, Eric started to manage to get things under control. He knew he still wasn't acting 100% normal. But normal enough that Horatio let him be. And then... the only thing that could be worse happened. Marisol was shot.
Eric stared at his sister's body. So pale... paler then she'd ever been when she was sick. Had he caused this? His anger towards Mari. He hadn't wished her dead. But sometimes in the dark moments he'd just wished her gone. Wished none of it had never happened. Now she was gone and it didn't change anything as far as his and H were concerned. They were brothers now. He glanced at H staring out the window. Suffering his own grief but allowing Eric this semblance of privacy. Suddenly he knew it wasn't his fault. It wasn't H's fault. But it was someone's fault and he wanted that someone to pay. Bending he pressed a kiss his sisters cool cheek. Then crossed the room to stand next to Horatio.
*** *** ****
They sat together on the beach, watching the moonlit waves. The earliest flight even Horatio's great influence had been able to get them on was in the morning. >They would get Riaz. He would pay for what he'd done to them.
Horatio finally broke the silence. "Iím sorry Eric. He said without looking at him.
"It's not your fault H." Eric said. It wasn't after all not anymore then it was Eric's fault. If the Noches bullet hadn't found her first it could just as easily have been Gloria's; both guns were just as deadly even if the one shooter wasn't a professional.
"It is." The older man insisted. "I knew the risk of retaliation against anyone close to me and I married her anyway. I might as well have painted a bull's-eye on her."
"I know my sister H. Once she got an idea in her head you could never dissuade her."
"There is that." Horatio admitted with a small smile. Marisol had had more then her fair share of determination. "But I agreed for all the wrong reasons."
Eric didn't know how to answer that. Part of him couldn't believe his sister could possibly have coerced Horatio in to anything he didn't want to do. And part of him wanted to be angry... to leap to her defence.
"I loved her Eric but I wasn't in love with her. She knew that but she still insisted we could make it work. I let her convince me. She could make it sound so possible."
"You weren't in love with her." Eric said slowly. "Was there someone else?"
"I meant the vows I took Eric. I would never have been unfaithful to her. The person I loved was someone I couldn't have."
"Did she know that part?"
"She did. Just not who it was."
They fell silent for a long moment.
Finally Eric spoke again. "H... Marisol knew what she was getting in to with you. She wanted to live again. And for a little while you gave her that. Thank you."
"It made me happy... Making her happy she took such joy in everything." Horatio admitted finally looking over at him, their eyes meeting. "But I still feel responsible. Eric. I married her because she was the closest thing to who I wanted and she ended up paying for it."
Eric wracked his brain trying to figure out what the other man meant. The closest to who he couldn't have. Who could he have wanted? There was no one else like Marisol. No other woman he could think of. Then suddenly, as he looked in to those blue eyes the pieces clicked in to place and the world seemed to fall away around him. He jerked his gaze away looking back out over the waves.
"H?" He said quietly still feeling the other man's eyes on him.
"I loved you too you know." Out of the corner of his eye he saw H drop his head and squeeze his eyes shut as though in pain. He suspected the other man was contemplating all the could have beens that he was refusing to consider.
"And now?" The older man asked finally in a rough voice.
"Now it's really complicated." He said simply.
Horatio nodded slowly. "Yes Eric. Yes it is."