Title: POUND OF FLESH
Summary: "They seemed/Like old companions in adversity" A partnership is a curious thing - case in point.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Except for the extras. Go Dick.
Rating: R (for language they would use if any of this were real and not sprung from my fevered imagination)
Author's note: Apologies to Robert Johnson, for stealing a lovely line of his. Also, I have made a couple of assumptions about both Goren's and Eames' personal histories which may not quite be on the money (Alex's accent ... if you can tell whether she's a Brooklyn gal or not, feel free to let me know as I'm not from the US) but that's why it's called fanfiction, right? For the sake of this plot, and given the rather 'independent' nature of the way Goren and Eames work, I've put them on stakeout - possibly unlikely for Major Case, but what the hell. See 'fanfiction', above.
POUND OF FLESH
Like old companions in adversity
William Cullen Bryant
Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments
It's 10.32pm, and Robert Goren has one eye on the alley entrance and one eye on the cockroach near his left foot.
The alley is a dead end, in both traditional senses of the word. Stuck in one of the grungier parts of town, destined never to experience the edification of a yuppy urban renewal, it dwindles off to Goren's right in a drift of cardboard boxes and other loose garbage, corralled in by the back wall of a two storey warehouse. Another side-tunnel in the endless rabbit-warren of the city. The only highlight is a rusted steel sign advertising the name of one of the Triple-X stores out on the main street.
Goren's examined the sign for a long time already. Now he watches the cockroach. Sleek, caramel-coloured, it scuttles around for a while near his booted instep before venturing up onto the frayed and stained hem of his pants.
Bobby thinks about all the people all over the city living in boxes, for whom a cockroach might provide some diversion. Some company, even.
Yeah, he's really getting into the role now. Remembering himself, he grimaces and flicks the roach off his leg.
He looks around discreetly, rocking on his heels, noticing that the inherent monotony of stakeout work has dulled the edge of his excitement a little. But it's still there. The hunter's buzz, the tingle of anticipation in the nerve endings. Sure he's excited - he always gets a little edgy when he knows he's on the right track. It's not a sure thing - nothing sure in this world - but ... there's something. He has a hunch. A taste of it.
Things are quiet so far, but it's still early. The night is still young.
A line from a song drifts in.
"In the still of the ni-i-ight,
I held you, held you ti-i-ight ... "
Goren lets the tenor notes waft through his mind and breathes them away. Trying to avoid distraction. He checks the alley again from his vantage point, hunkered down in a broken cardboard box under the eaves of the building wall he's leaning against. The sky is crying, a steady drizzle; his back is damp from leaning. No action in the alley, and no one coming. Bobby's voice into the wire is a muted rumble.
"Stations check. How we going out there?"
"Check that. This is Two, all clear."
The tiny ear mike is tickling just a bit. Jonas on the fire escape above and to the right. Bobby's eyes flick up automatically.
"Clear at Three. No takers."
Wratten, smoking in front of the pawn shop on the main street off the alley.
"Four all clear."
Guys in the unmarked behind the block.
Then another warm voice crackles in Goren's ear.
"Still fishin' at point. You fellows all nice and comfy back there?"
Bobby's lips quirk up tiredly. Eames sounds tight, a little ticked-off still. He understands why, but they had little choice in the matter and she knows that. You do what you gotta do. They both want this collar, and she's already reminded him twice that he owes her for this. He figures that cobbled down here in the alley, dressed in hobo clothes from Wardrobe that smell distinctly of vomit, with rain dripping off his dirty nose and upper lip, ready to play lead guard dog for her, he's balancing out the score to some extent. Alex can get the rest of her pound of flesh out of him some other time.
"What's the matter, Eames, your shoes pinching?"
He can't help himself, the little tickle, comfortable in the knowledge that Alex won't return the banter with a bite. She's tense, but she trusts him, he notes warmly. Never takes it out on him, knows when to take a joke.
"You're funny, Goren."
Slightly wired on the job, and live to air, they keep the ribbing brief. But it's nice, the interplay. He's lucky, he knows that - he's had other partners who've been less relaxed, less secure in themselves, who've understood him less, tolerated him less.
Bobby's not unaware of the fact that he's got a lot of quirks.
He runs a hand over one gritty cheek and keeps talking.
"How's the local colour?"
Alex is the one out in the crosshairs, he wants everyone to keep that fact in mind. Plus he wants to reassure her that she's got support. Plus he wants to hear her voice in his ear.
"Yeah, well, it is what it is." Her tone is wry, with an edge of weariness. Not so much from the two and a half hours already trudged, but in anticipation of the hours to come. "Quiet night, plenty of lookers but nobody's jumping. Nobody like our guy yet. And yes, my shoes are pinching."
Goren feels it again, the very slight sharpness in her words, and registers that the pissed-off feeling in his gut is for Alex. Earlier, when she'd walked out of the ladies room with her outfit on he'd seen the look on her face and been careful not to gape. Which was hard, by the way. Black tank in some sort of stretchy lace, red leather mini, black stilletto thigh-highs ... Hm. Her expression had been frosty. He hadn't known quite what to say, so he just settled for blinking.
Alex throws up her hands.
"Why do they always get this damned stuff in red and black?"
"I think it's -"
She looks away. "Forget it, Goren, you weren't supposed to answer that one."
Then a little later, as they're pinning on their mikes in the van, she looks at him ruefully.
"Sorry about that before. It's just - y'know. Long tour of Vice."
He nods, understanding.
"I know. And believe me, if there was any other way -"
"S'okay." She shrugs. "This is better than letting Special Victims take the case off us. At least we get a chance to catch the guy." Then her gaze trails down over herself and she snorts, unamused. "Man, though, I always seem to get stuck with the hooker outfit."
Now he's seen her in it he thinks it's obvious why, but he's not about to tell her that. He just crooks a grin.
"Kind of like getting trapped in the typing pool, huh?"
Alex rolls her eyes, her Brooklyn drawl more pronounced.
"Curse of the female copper." She lifts her chin at his smelly-derelict ensemble. "Next time, I get to be the hobo, okay?"
He keeps his expression bland.
"I dunno, Eames. I look bad in black lace."
Put aside for a moment the fact that she looks extraordinary in the clothes - extraordinarily different, extraordinarily ... y'know - he's aware that wearing them makes her very uncomfortable. And it's not just the shoes.
Alex Eames has that scent about her, that pulled-herself-up-by-her-bootstraps smell. It's something she manages well, Bobby's noticed, but it's there all the same. All the little clues. Her taste in clothes, labels more expensive than her mother could have ever afforded. Her subdued makeup and jewellery, always careful to avoid the glitz, nothing tacky. Good shoes. Stylish hair. Sparing with the perfume.
Her values run along a similar theme, like beads on a string - pragmatic, no bullshit, honest, never naieve. Bobby figures that she was naieve once, long ago, but she's shaken it off the way a dog shakes itself after a bath. Naievete as a failing. Certainly a weakness, in her line of work.
Apart from the colour of her hair it's the line of work that gives her away. Bobby tries to remember the percentages, the number of Irish Americans in active police duty in New York at any given time. All those second and third generation potato farmers, hellbent on self-improvement, extended families living in one tiny apartment, and scrimping and saving for the kids' college funds, or maybe swinging by on scholarships ...
Bobby wonders whether Alex was a scrimper or a scholarship. Probably a bit of both.
He's always gentle with her about it. The gentleness is from his own natural store of empathy, and also from the understanding that only personal experience begets (Nikolai and Rayna, giving their children good, strong, American names - like Peter, and Heather, and Robert ... ). Plus he knows that she's so proud she'd probably cold-shoulder him if he mentioned it - or clip him over the ear.
So he doesn't mention it, doesn't mention anything about anything (which she sometimes mistakes for disinterest), doesn't mention the hooker outfit anymore, just draws everyone's attention back to why they're here, listening to the tawdry streetnoise and Alex's quiet tuneless humming as she walks up and down the street near the alley.
"Okay people, I know we've been here a while, but stay alert." Bobby's voice is pitched low and neutral. "Remember the profile: WM, late 30's/early 40's, slim build, brown and brown, long coat, gloves. Keep the picture in your mind."
He's thinking that Mr Mullen shouldn't be too hard to spot on the street.
Alex Eames strolls deliberately slowly, clutches the brown leather jacket around herself against the chill, and hitches up her tired-looking shoulder bag for the umpteenth time. She has goosebumps on her thighs.
Just had to be raining, didn't it?
She seems to remember that there were an inordinate number of nights on Vice when it was either windy or raining. In a way it helps - she only needed one or two turns of the street to get back into the mindset. Layers of reserve and memory peel away. She's streetwalking again.
It's cold, and I'm hungry. Slow business night. Another girl working the corner on the opposite block - hey honey, how's stuff. Pass the Triple X store and the all-night grocer. Solo guy near the fire hydrant. Not our guy. C'mon, c'mon. What's it gonna be, Jack, you gonna stare all night or try it out? God, these boots are killing me.
Better not to think about the boots. Trying to avoid the impression that she's looking for somebody in particular. It's probably Mullen, everything fits - alibi from the wife has plenty of holes, witness ID on the description, psych profile seems right. And Goren's hunch. In Alex's experience, Bobby's hunches are usually worth a thousand psych profiles.
His quiet bass over the wire has faded.
She wonders if he's aware that his prescience about suspects has developed a legendary status around One PP. Probably. Eccentric he may be, but unperceptive he's definitely not. There's an ego in there somewhere, getting a squeeze off it all.
But Alex is always quick to silence the mutterers. It's not ESP. Just good solid detective work, good process, combined with that insight that Bobby has. That knack he's gifted with - getting into people's heads. He gets that concentration, that dreamy look ... She'll glance up from a case-file to see him gazing off into the ether, and then he'll talk it out, a trickled murmur that builds momentum gradually and he'll catch her eye as it all begins to make sense and he'll know.
It's not ESP. But it's kinda freaky sometimes.
"What gave it away?"
"I think it was ... the rat poison."
"Keeping the vermin down. You saw his store - it's the same with the murder scenes. Neat, neat, neat."
"He has a thing about cleanliness ... "
"He has a thing about dirt. He's anti-dirt."
"That's why the gloves - avoiding prints is just a handy by-product. And the murder weapon. Most serial killers enjoy the blood, but not this guy. Too messy."
"So the gun is more about keeping it neat."
"Exactly. See - one shot in the back of the head. No muss, no fuss. And the arrangement, the blood splatter pattern, here - with Chrissy Noakes and Greta Hughes. On their knees in the corner - clean executions. Chloe Hennessy was messier - she fought."
"She was forewarned - the media bulletins. She wasn't as vulnerable a target as he thought."
"Yup. See there - the shot under the chin. Pretty untidy. He must have hated that."
Alex shivers, and sweeps back her damp hair with one thin hand, straightens her shoulders.
That's part of it - the way Bobby sees all the details. And not just sees, but understands ... That's the freaky part, the part that stops her muted envy of his talent cold.
Look through my eyes ...
See it from my perspective ...
Walk a mile in my shoes ...
Walking a mile in someone elses's shoes is one thing, but Alex has no desire to enter into communion with another mind like that. Not with the kind of minds they confront in Major Case.
She likes to think of her awareness as a little treasure chest, waterproofed and padded and padlocked around the outside (criticisms slide off, perps ram against it and bump away) with an internal trashcan that she can empty at the end of every blood-soaked shift, all the scene-of-crime photos and feelings of horror and disgust tumbling into some giant universal waste disposal unit ...
It was the best piece of advice her father ever gave her about the Job.
"Don't take it home with you, Alexandra. Leave work at work. You wanna end up taking those little pills to sleep?"
Alex imagines Goren's mind as more like a house with no door - visitors come in and make themselves comfortable, put their dirty feet up on the coffee table, pick their nose and wipe it on the couch, leave gory handprints on the walls ...
She wonders if it bugs him sometimes. Or maybe he's just used to it.
She'd asked around when the news had first filtered down the grapevine that he was set to be her partner on Major Case. Did a bit of research - you know how it is.
Goren had made First Grade fast. You couldn't fault his arrest record - impressive.
One of the guys she spoke to used words like 'brilliant' and 'genius'. Other words were added to the list - 'independent', 'thorough'.
Somebody else added 'flake' and 'headcase'.
Tucker at Narc, who Alex knew had a thing for Hong-Kong action movies and Marvel comics, offered the cryptic "let's just say it's lucky that Bobby uses his talents for Good instead of Evil, y'know what I mean?"
Ida, in Records, called him 'a real gentleman, just a sweet, sweet guy'.
One of the departmental shrinks that Alex had bumped into asked did she think Goren would mind participating in a psych evaluation.
But the first introduction had made a good impression.
("Alex Eames, this is Robert Goren."
An enormous warm hand, a strong grasp, and her eyes going up ... and up. )
His openness had impressed her. Then she'd settled in to watch him work. Watched him change his behaviour, even his gestures and accent sometimes, with each different interaction, suspects and associates alike.
With Deakins, he slumps just a little. Lets the boss maintain the advantage. With Carver he rises to his full, intimidating height. With her ... always, always a complete gentleman.
Alex lets a grin tickle the corners of her mouth.
The Human Chameleon is just a sweet, sweet guy.
After nearly two years his mind-reading routine had lost the power to shock her, but it sure was entertaining ... Once, early in the partnership, she saw him bump into Kerwin at the water cooler - Kerwin the rookie, a gangly young guy with a tendency to duck and fidget in conversation. Alex found the habit screamingly annoying, while still having the generosity to forgive the kid for the nerves and professional immaturity behind it all. But within two minutes at the cooler there was Goren, fidgetting like a pro - scratch the head, adjust the tie, pull at the shirt sleeves, letting his hand gestures lighten and fly on the air, smiling a mirror of Kerwin's open, unforced grin. Alex had sat and observed the transformation, fascinated.
Another two minutes and Kerwin was chatting relaxedly, the tics smoothing out as his comfort level increased. Two minutes later and he and Goren were two equals, engaged in a discussion of some apparent gravity.
Alex had blinked at Goren's nodding head.
Jesus, he's like a kid. He's as empathic as a child.
(Robert Goren, wearing his Inner Bobby on his sleeve.)
She wondered then if he always did it on purpose or whether he just fell into it automatically. Maybe he couldn't switch it off.
Whatever it was, gift or curse, Goren made it work for him at any rate. And it was damned useful - over the years, she'd learned to appreciate that. As for example.
"So it's Mullen."
"Yeah ... yeah, it's Mullen."
"Good. Great. Can we go book him and go home now? I'm getting sick of looking at these pictures."
Bobby looks over at her from across the desk, wearing a crooked wince.
"Not that easy. SVU still thinks it's a sex crime."
"But we got the labs back on that. Perps a secretor, and here -" Alex taps a photo, glossy gore, with one short nail. " - no evidence that Hennessy had a secretor for a customer within that time frame. What more do they want?"
"They want the case. Huang's insisting pretty hard on the motivation - killing prostitutes, sexually-driven, blah blah blah ... "
Alex notes that he's tired: he wouldn't normally blow off another profiler's evaluation like that. Professional discourtesy. And Bobby's a stickler for etiquette.
"Well, we haven't got more than a whisper for a warrant application. So ... "
Bobby glances up at her speculative tome.
Alex shrugs. Going the whole hog.
"Worth a try."
He lets a smile begin to glow.
"I ... didn't want to say it ... "
"But you were thinking it,"
"Then ... yeah. Let's do it."
"Draw him out."
"No harm in trying."
He narrows his eyes.
Alex blows air out of the corner of her mouth, realising how she's put her foot in it.
"Shit. Yeah, I guess I am."
"Eames - you okay?"
Bobby's sudden voice in her ear almost makes her startle. She straightens and looks around.
"You went kinda quiet there ... "
"Nah, I'm fine." Alex checks the street again. The guy in the yellow jacket, still standing by the hydrant across the street. "Maybe a customer. You ready for that?"
She'd had one other john since the start of the surveillance watch, walking the guy into the alley and letting the boys take over. The 'client' had ben booked and hustled out a back door into a waiting unmarked - the best way they could think of to maintain the pretence that Eames was taking customers.
Alex adjusts her bag and smiles tightly at hydrant-guy.
Time to get to work.
Bobby squats in his box and wipes his face off with his gritty coat sleeve.
"Heads up, people. We got a customer."
He listens to Eames chat the guy up. A little flirtatious banter, hard-edged and direct like a true working girl, then cutting to the chase - agree on a price, talk location. The guy sounds young, and Bobby only has to hear a few words to know that it's not their target. Alex works him like a pro - hah - compromising a bit by agreeing to get into his car if he'll drive into the alley. Goren calculates quickly how to get rid of the car. Maybe Jonas can drive it out and around to the back of the block, nobody will pay much attention to the driver. More important to get Eames back onto the street fast.
Eames' voice now in the enclosed space of the car, more small talk. Bobby's warmed by her professionalism. She's got nerves of steel, this woman. Built that up in Vice, probably, but he figures she's always been tough. He admires that, but he's more impressed by the fact that Alex's toughness hasn't blunted her sensitivity. He's seen her laughing, seen her mellow side.
He realizes that Alex is one of the most forthright people he knows. And sometimes, in the middle of a tough case, it's only by touching base with her guilelessness that he feels human again. It's what -
The car is a big ole gas-guzzler. Roomy. Alex feels the bumps going around the corner - bad suspension - and puts a hand on her slightly fluttering stomach.
She's sitting on he bench seat next to Gary here (probably not his real name), one elbow up on the back of the seat, and the other arm still keeping her bag tight beside her. She thinks briefly that it's nice to be sitting down. Gary eases the car about sixty feet into the alley, then stops and cuts the engine.
"So, uh, how you wanna do this?"
He's a little nervy (Your eyes are big, Gary. Have you been taking speed?), so she smiles calmly. She's seen the big wet cardboard box with the lumpy shape about five feet ahead on her side. This should all be smooth and by the numbers.
"Well, Gary, what usually happens is this: you give me the cash first, and then I make you real happy. That sound good?"
"Sure. Yeah, yeah, that sounds great."
Gary reaches inside his yellow parka for his wallet, and Eames opens her bag and reaches for hers.
He's holding out the green when she looks back at him.
"How's this? Is this okay?"
Alex winces wryly. Sorry, Gary.
"Well, there's just one little problem."
"What? What's the problem?"
Out of the corner of her eye she sees the dark figure coming down the fire escape. Jonas, probably for the car. She flicks open her wallet and shows Gary the tin. He sees her real face for the first time.
"This is the problem, Gary."
That's when things explode.
Goren's peering out from under a crumbling piece of blanket, watching the exchange.
The john's left the light on in the car. Likes to watch, maybe. He's edgy, Bobby notes.
Bobby listens to Alex's dry voice, explaining the facts of life.
Alex has no time to move. The first blow from Gary's clenched fist blasts into her cheek and nose, and her head snaps sideways so fast that she doesn't register the pain for a full three seconds.
"You're a fucking COP? You fucking BITCH, YOU'RE A FUCKING COP?"
Gary's voice is huge, an echoing boom reverberating through the car, through Alex's head. The second punch catches her full in the mouth, and she gasps without meaning to.
Think, Eames, move.
God, this is happening so fast and her head feels fuzzy. Hands reaching blindly for the car door, for her bag. Another hard slap makes her eyes tear up.
"You fucking CUNT. You BITCH. You play me, and then you're a COP?"
No smooth, no by the numbers. Gun in your bag, snap out of it girl. Be in shock later, door handle -
Vinyl under the pads of her fingers, and she forces her eyes open (we do that, when we're in danger, protect the eyes, the groin, the-), trying to scoot backwards on the seat, away from Gary's slapping, shaking hands, Gary's bulging red eyes, Gary's frenzied face. She feels cold metal in her hand, cops another slap and opens her mouth to shout, a grunt all she can manage until her throat clears and -
Suddenly Gary's not there anymore. Through the fireworks in her eyes she can see the driver's side door is open, and dark shapes moving. She's aiming her gun at nothing. Her hands are shaking.
Alex swallows and lets herself droop. Allows herself a decent three second interval before pushing herself unsteadily along the benchseat and out the driver's door into the cold air of the alley.
Bobby's not thinking.
One hitand he's sprung up from his hiding spot and he's not even thinking and second hit and he's taking the distance in long strides and his third hit brain's on automatic as he slides over the bonnet of the car and grabs for the driver's door, he can almost feel the metal give under the force of his hand fourth hit and when he reaches for Gary's hair and drags him out of the car he's just not thinking at all.
Slamming the guy up against the alley wall he hears nothing until the red in his vision clears and then he can hear Gary's wheezing as Gary tries to breath. But Bobby's still not thinking about what it means to have his broad forearm pressed as hard as he possibly can against Gary's throat, and Gary's heels kick feebly on the bricks, and Bobby just keeps strangling him some more until a croaky voice sounds to the left.
Then the wave breaks inside him and he feels his face soften a little and his arm softens too, letting Gary slide down the wall to stand, wobbling, making harsh retching coughs. Bobby still holds the guy with his right hand, but he moves a bit to one side as he registers the gun cocking near his shoulder. When he looks over, Alex is standing there, kind of wilted, grimly determined, and her gun is raised into Gary's face as she weaves a bit on those fucking stupid heels and says, without any fanfare:
"You're under arrest for assault of a police officer."
It hurts to say 'for' and 'of' and 'police officer'. And that's about all she can be bothered to say, so she lets her arm drop, uncocks the gun and flicks the safety, and lets Jonas, bless him, squeeze past and drag Gary away from Bobby's punishing grip, beginning the words of the Miranda which Alex didn't have the energy for.
Then she takes a few steps over to the wall and turns her back to it. It feels cool. She has her eyes closed, touches her bottom lip carefully with the tip of her tongue. When she sighs and opens her eyes, this giant hobo is standing in front of her.
They stare at each other for a good long beat.
Alex starts first.
"I think that fucking asshole loosened a tooth." She sucks her split lip for a second.
Bobby nods gravely.
"Let me see."
And because it's dark, and there's nobody around to see, and goddamn it what the hell, Alex lolls her head back against the cold brick, closes her eyes and lets Bobby reach up to touch her face. He's very gentle. His fingers press ever so softly along the length of her cheekbone to her ear, then down along her jawline. It hurts, but it's not so bad. His thumb presses on her bottom lip to expose the cut. Then he runs the tip of his finger along the bridge of her nose.
Alex opens her eyes. His expression is so tender and serious, so different from the enraged snarl of just a moment ago, that she feels a thump in her chest. She swallows hard and lightens her tone.
"Will I live?"
"Yeah." Bobby's voice is a melancholy sigh - then he segues evenly into deadpan. "But you may never play the harmonica again."
She snorts, but it hurts to grin so she lets it go. Her body has stopped shaking. Bobby's hands still are, she notes, so she makes her voice smooth and business-like.
"I'm fine. It's over. Not quite what I was expecting, but I shoulda thought. "
"He was fast."
"He was fast, but I was slow." She runs a hand through her hair, wincing at the sore spots near her temple. "Anyway."
Bobby tilts his head to look into her eyes.
"You wanna go to Emergency? You could probably do with some patching up."
"Nah." Nope, don't try to shake your head. She narrows her eyes and sucks her lip - the blood tastes biting, salty. "He's not our guy, Bobby."
A snort and a disbelieving look. "Forget it. We can -"
"We can't. SVU will take it off us as soon as spit, you know that." She stares at him squarely. "We still have a chance with this."
"C'mon, Goren, you said it yourself, tonight's the night. I want this. I'm fine, really. We can still do this. Let's go for it."
He looks unconvinced, but not so's it'll take much more wrangling. Alex grins, lopsided, and straightens her shoulders.
"C'mon - look at me. If I wasn't a tempting target before I sure as hell am now. Mullen won't be able to resist."
Bobby looks at her.
Jesus. Nerves of steel - I said that, right? And boy, you just blew your 'professional distance' quota for the night, so ... what've we got to lose?
He puffs out air, not quite believing he's agreeing to this, but contented all the same.
"Okay. All right, let's do it."
Alex's smile widens, in spite of the pain. She loops one arm through Bobby's as she turns them both for the mouth of the alley, leaning discretely as she walks gingerly in her boots. The car is still open - let Wratten sort it out.
"Knew you'd see it my way. Just don't tell me about the bruises, okay?"
"Oh, and Bobby? One more thing ... "
He can hear the grin in her voice. He smiles at what's coming.
"You owe me one."