The characters and situations in this story are the property of Dick Wolf, NBC, and probably other entities I don't know about, and I do not have any permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended, and this story is not for profit.
Author's note: This has no relation to Opaque, it's an entirely different storyline. Many thanks to Autumn for her editing! Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any. Feedback is most appreciated.
Do you have nightmares? somebody asked him once.
Of course he did. Everyone does.
But there are nightmares, and then there are nightmares. There are the bad dreams that wake one with a jerk, paralyzed and panting, the dreams filled with terror even if the cause has no logic. And then there are the imaginings; the fears that creep out of the back of the mind, bringing dread and aversion with them. The ones that get stuffed back under the floorboards as quickly as possible, as if thinking about them might make them true.
Oh yes, he had nightmares. Everyone does.
Eames had been acting...well, off, all day. Goren didn't quite know how to characterize it, so on the way back to One Police Plaza, his partner squinting at the lowering sun, he listed the abnormalities to himself. She was irritable, short-tempered, she rubbed at her temples from time to time. He'd seen her swallow something, an analgesic probably; she was giving every indication of a ferocious headache.
Their day was almost over. They'd made an arrest, who had been sent ahead of them in another car; there would be an interrogation when they got back, but they had little doubt about this suspect.
Bobby snuck a glance at his partner out of the corner of his eye. She was frowning, hunched a little over the wheel as though something pained her. "Are--are you all right?" he asked, beginning to be concerned.
"I'm fine," she said shortly, not even looking at him. With the wisdom gained from the time they'd spent together, he kept his mouth shut. A spatter of sleet rattled against the windshield, not quite enough to make the wipers worthwhile, and Bobby grimaced inwardly at the weather. Winter was grim this year.
When they reached their desks, Bobby started gathering the papers they'd need for their interview, but Alex dropped into her chair with a sigh, looking drained. Dropping her hat onto her phone, she began shuffling through the files on her desk, her expression getting more and more annoyed as she failed to find what she was looking for. Finally, her oath made Bobby really focus on her.
"Uh...try the other side," he said, pointing.
Alex glared at him, then flipped through the stack he was indicating and pulled out one folder. He cocked a brow at her.
Her face relaxed into sheepishness. "Sorry," she said. She tossed the folder onto the chaos on top of her desk and pushed her hands into her hair wearily. "Look, Goren, I'm really tired. Would you mind if I went home early?"
The question was so uncharacteristic for her that it took him by surprise, but he didn't hesitate. "Of course not." She hadn't even taken off her overcoat. "Go home and...and get some sleep."
"I'll do that." She shook her hair out of her eyes and smiled up at him. "See you tomorrow."
He watched her leave, a tiny disquiet growing in the back of his mind, before he scooped up the elusive file and went to find their suspect.
It was impulse, later, that made him call her while he was on his way home. It occurred to him that she might be sleeping, but he figured she'd turn off her ringer if so. What he didn't expect was that she would turn off her answering machine.
The phone rang for a long time. Finally Alex answered. "Hello?"
The tiny disquiet grew just a little. Her voice sounded funny. "Just checking, Eames," he said cheerfully.
"Goren," she said, the word a fraction slurred. "I should have known."
He grinned at the wry tone. "Did--did I wake you?"
"No, I...I just got home an hour ago," Alex replied. "I took a nice long shower and now I'm going to bed." She made muffled sound, which he took to be a yawn.
"All right." He drew in a breath. "You call if you need anything."
Bobby snapped the phone shut and frowned. An hour? But she left at least three hours ago. Had she stopped on the way home? That didn't make sense. If Alex was tired enough to leave work early, she wouldn't have run any errands.
His mouth tightened in the dark, concern rising. She sounded strange. Should I go over there and make sure she's all right?
Reluctantly, he decided it was a bad idea. Alex was probably climbing into bed right that minute. Waking her would improve neither her health nor her temper. He'd see her in the morning, and she'd probably be chipper enough to take the enamel off his teeth.
He ignored the little whisper in the back of his brain. Paranoia, he told it sternly, and concentrated on getting home.
The sight of her empty chair the next morning surprised him so much that he almost stopped walking. He tilted his head, frowning, and strode up to his desk, dropping his gloves onto his blotter and ignoring the wet marks they left. He'd been all but certain that Alex would be there.
There were two message slips on his desk, but neither call had been his partner. As he set them back down, his boss appeared. "Oh, there you are. Eames called in sick," he said casually.
"Really." Bobby turned to Capt. Deakins, regarding the shorter man with interest. "She did look a...a little peaked, yesterday."
"It shouldn't be too much of a problem for you," the other man replied. "After yesterday's wrap-up, all you've got left to do is paperwork, so long as nothing else comes up."
"Oh...joy," Bobby said, earning a grin from his captain and returning it. Something usually did come up, but for the moment....
First things first. Bobby stripped off his overcoat as Deakins left, and sat down. Call Eames. He'd promised himself.
She answered on the third ring this time. "Good morning, Eames," Bobby said, expecting a grumble.
What he got made no sense. "Jack? I thought you were going to call Thursday." Alex's voice was definitely slurred this time, and her tone was all wrong, too high-pitched. All Bobby's instincts went on painful alert.
"Eames, it's me. Your partner, remember?" He tried to make his voice playful, thinking maybe she'd gotten confused, maybe she was still half-asleep, maybe she was having an affair he knew nothing about...anything. Anything but--
"No!" Her voice was petulant, like a young child's. "I don't like that kind. Where's the--" and she trailed off into a mumble he couldn't understand.
"Eames," he said sharply. "Eames! What's the matter?"
"Go away," Alex said wearily, as though her patience was spent. A loud clatter made him wince, sounding as though she had tried to hang up the phone and missed.
"Eames!" But the connection was gone.
When Deakins emerged from his office, he was told that Detective Goren had shot out of the building as though his tail was on fire. Nothing was left but a pair of damp leather gloves.
Fear was biting him, had a vicious grip on the nape of his neck. He could feel the sharp little teeth digging in, growing longer and colder. His rapid strides barely kept it in check.
Alex's door was unlocked. That alone gave the beast a surge of power, sent ice along his veins. He pulled out his gun and wrapped both hands around it, easing the door open and stepping silently inside. The apartment was hot, much hotter than usual, and he could see Alex's coat crumpled on the floor near the coat closet. Alarm surged inside him. Had someone gotten in and attacked her? Were her earlier words some desperate attempt at a code?
But the apartment appeared deserted, with no sign of anyone but Alex. The kitchen was empty; so was the bathroom and the spare room. Bobby pushed open the door to the bedroom, his heart in his throat.
Alex sat curled up on the bed, her legs drawn under and her head resting against the headboard. There was no one else in the room, and Bobby let out a long breath, holstering his weapon. "Eames."
Slowly, her head rolled around to look at him. Her hair was tangled and her eyes were blurry, and he realized that while she was wearing a demure pair of flannel pajamas, the top wasn't buttoned; it gaped open, threatening to expose her chest.
Alex regarded him blankly for a moment. "I thought you were bringing it," she said in a thick voice. "Where's the other one?"
The ice crystallized, and his nightmare rose up howling from the back of his mind. "Other one what?" he asked, keeping his voice as steady as possible.
"You know. The other one," Alex said, frowning, and letting her head fall back against the headboard as though it were too heavy to hold up. ""Mom says the roses were half-made, but I don't believe her," she added conversationally. "Can't you hear her?"
He could hardly breathe for the horror roaring silently in his head. "Alex," he said gently. "Alex, you're...you need to see a doctor." Adult onset...but I thought she was too old...I thought...no...not her...
"Doctor," his partner mumbled, staring at the ceiling. Something inside him seemed to break, and he swallowed hard. I was sure it wouldn't happen to her. I can't stand to watch it happen to her. And he'd thought his worst fear was that it would happen to him.
Fears are insidious. He had hardly acknowledged this one, had suppressed it so firmly that he'd all but forgotten it was there. And now it's here.
"Alex." She wouldn't look at him; her attention seemed to be taken up by the seam where the ceiling met the wall. He'd seen it before. He'd seen it so many times before.
I have to be calm. She has to be kept calm. Some small part of him noted that he wasn't thinking clearly, but he knew he was walking a very thin line within himself. Now was not the time to deal with his emotions.
"The first thing we have to do," he said heartily, trying to project normalcy, "is to make sure you're decent." He sat down on the edge of the bed and took hold of the edges of her pajama top, pulling them together so he could button it. His knuckles brushed the fabric where it lay against her skin, and for a second the roaring grew, a torrent of not-noise so loud he thought he was going to pass out. The new information rushed along his nerves, making him suddenly ill with a wild hope.
Shaking one hand free of the fabric, he placed his palm carefully on her forehead. His hand was so large that it covered her from brows to bangs, temple to temple, and the burning heat of her skin made him take a deep breath, made him let go of the top entirely and use his free hand to pinch the skin above his nose, hard. His eyes squeezed shut, and a tiny sound escaped him.
When he opened his eyes, Alex was regarding him blearily, seeming to find nothing at all odd in his behavior. "You're...you're burning up," he said quietly, taking his hand from her forehead and buttoning up her top with quick, efficient movements. "You probably have the flu." And hallucinations.
Relief made him dizzy when he stood, made him want to shout. Instead he stripped off his overcoat and went in search of a thermometer, and some aspirin.
Thirst dragged Alex toward waking. She ached in every bone, and she didn't want to move, but a feather-light brush of fingers against her cheek made her open her eyes.
It took several blinks to focus. The looming shadow next to her bed resolved into her partner--tie missing, sleeves rolled up, a look on his face that made her think fuzzily that he had recently been through something really nasty--but smiling faintly, and watching her.
"You don't look so good," she said hoarsely, wondering vaguely why he was there and then losing the thought.
Bobby slid an arm under her shoulders to help her sit up, and handed her a glass of water. "Yeah, well, you don't look so hot yourself, Eames." When her shaking arms threatened to spill the glass, one big hand wrapped around her fingers to steady her grip. "Drink all of it," he added, lifting his chin and regarding her sternly.
Feeling like a small child, she did so, then sank back down into the comforting embrace of her mattress. Sleep was already washing up around her again. "I don't remember you getting here," she said, a little puzzled.
"I let myself in," he replied, setting the glass on the bedside table. "You...you needed a little looking after."
"Oh. Okay," Alex mumbled, fighting a yawn. She let her eyes slide shut, then opened them again to look at Bobby. "You'll still be here when I wake up, right?"
The corners of his mouth turned up. "Of course," he said, as though no other answer were possible.
Content, Alex closed her eyes again. Gentle hands tucked the covers in around her shoulders, and she sighed and slid into sleep. Bobby was there. It would be all right.
Within a couple of hours, Alex's fever had dropped to safe levels. Bobby sat down on the bed again to check on her; she was sleeping the limp sleep of the ill. For a long while he just listened to her breathing, watched her face. She was pale and heavy-lidded, and he knew she was sick enough to need care and would probably be a long time recovering. But all he could think of was the relief, the sweet bliss of relief. It's only the flu. It was probably why she'd taken so long to get home the night before.
It was absurd, he realized that. His mind had made an illogical leap, not even considering the most likely cause for Alex's peculiar behavior. But under the circumstances... He shuddered. Horror had come too close.
His mind winced away from the images that had flooded in before. The very idea of his brilliant, sharp-tongued, supportive partner altered forever was something he still didn't want to contemplate.
She looked so small, huddled under the comforter. She didn't look small when she was awake...well, any more than most people did to his superior height. She looked strong, competent, serious, though he knew the acid humor that could break through into a crinkling grin.
Alex was his mainstay. He realized that, though he didn't often think about it deliberately. Somehow, out of all chance, he had the perfect partner--she put up with his quirks, she listened to what he said, and she didn't let him get away with anything. And together, they were nearly unstoppable.
All the times she stepped back and let him pursue a lead; all the times she let him go in for the kill; the times she reined him in, or gave him the one piece of the puzzle that he was missing, or simply let him ramble on until everything fell into place; he remembered every one. All the times their patterns meshed until they didn't even have to glance at each other to know what to do next. Flawless coordination. Interdependence.
He reached out and gently swept her bangs from her eyes. "You rest," he whispered. How many times had she taken care of him, in her own silent way?
It's my turn now. He smiled a little. What else are partners for?