Author's note: Thus we reach the final (or, perhaps not so final) step of this traumatic little journey. This story may finish, but where one finishes, a new one often begins…

Okay, that's enough tin pot philosophy for me.

I had written out a section where Bobby's brother turns up out of the blue after suffering a massive guilt trip for abandoning his little brother… but I just don't do happy/fuzzy. I'd also planned on this being more long-winded than it actually turned out to be, but the truth is, I'm already working on a follow-on story, andI hope to be able to includethings that I have either skated over in this story, or not touched on at all. I'm also open to suggestions. : )

Enjoy.


EPILOGUE

Four months later

Bobby Goren slowed to a halt at the bottom of the steps that led up to the building that was One Police Plaza, gazing upwards until his eyes fixed on the windows of the eleventh floor. It was, literally, the first time he had laid eyes on the place in over four months. It was the longest that he'd ever been away from work.

It was also the longest time he had ever spent in hospital. Three months, one week, and two days. The time span was burned into his memory, with no hope of being forgotten. Alex, on the other hand, had been able to leave hospital after six weeks, going home to be cared for by her family.

He would never willingly let on just how horribly jealous he'd been, the day that she had been wheeled into his room, dressed and ready to go home. She'd known anyway, though. He had never been able to hide his feelings from her, and that was true now more than ever.

He'd tried hard to smile and be happy for her at the time, but faced with another couple of months within the confines of St Clare's, Bobby couldn't help but feel some bitterness. Had he had family to help look after him as Alex did, he too would have been able to leave hospital, and finish recovering in the comfort of his own home. But he had no family to take care of him. The only person who might have been able to fulfil that role of carer was his brother, and Richie had refused to come.

That had hurt. It hurt far more than Bobby had ever imagined it could. It hadn't been unexpected but, faced with the reality of his brother's callousness, after Alex had been sent home Bobby had shrunk back into his protective shell, locking out everyone around him.

The day after Alex had gone home, Bobby had begged the use of a phone off one of the nurses and had called his mother, clinging to some inexplicable and ill-defined hope of reassurance from the one remaining member of his family that he was close to.

In retrospect, he really should have known better. The tirade he'd endured from her had been one of the worst in his memory and after she had finally slammed the phone down on him (after labelling him an ungrateful, uncaring bastard of a son), he had meekly asked the nurse to take the phone away. He'd seen out the rest of the day in stoic silence, ignoring the few people who had looked in on him. It wasn't until much later, in the dead of the night and with no one else around, that he had at last let go and sobbed his heartache into his pillow.

He'd not attempted to contact his mother again while in hospital. The day after he'd finally arrived home, he had risked phoning her again and he hadn't been all that surprised when she behaved as though the last three and a half months hadn't happened. She'd asked when he was coming to visit her next, and he'd struggled to explain that he had a badly broken leg, and would not be able to drive himself anywhere for another six months while he underwent rehab. It had literally gone in one ear and out the other, and she had asked him the same question another four times before he had finally ended the call.

He wanted to be able to go and visit her, but the only person he trusted to take him to Carmel Ridge was Alex, and she too was restricted from driving until her left arm healed completely.

"Hey, you."

Bobby blinked and looked around, coming back to reality as Alex stopped beside him. She smiled up at him, opting not to say a word about the sad, faraway look she'd seen fleetingly on his face.

"Not nervous, are you?"

He smiled, but sure enough there was just a flickering of nerves there. Alex slipped her right arm through his left, and gently tugged him towards the building.

"C'mon. The longer we wait, the worse it'll be."

"First day is the worst, right?" he muttered.

"Right. Now c'mon."

They started forward, taking their time as Bobby negotiated the few steps with extra care. His right leg, still in the process of healing from multiple fractures, was protected by a full length brace which had the unfortunate side-effect of impeding his movement. Early on during his rehabilitation, he'd learnt the hard way that trying to move too quickly in the brace risked taking a very nasty fall.

The hard way had resulted in an extra three weeks in the rehab wing of St Clare's. He wasn't going to take that chance again.

They got to the top of the steps, and headed together into the lobby of One Police Plaza.


Alex continued to watch Bobby out of the corner of her eye as they headed into One Police Plaza together. She'd not missed the look on his face as she joined him at the bottom of the steps. Fleetingly, she wondered whether it was such a great idea for him to be starting work again today, but dismissed the thought as quickly as it came to her. After enduring so long in hospital, telling him he couldn't go back to work now would be akin to shoving a knife into his back.

She recalled with some reluctance her first visit back to St Clare's for the first of an ongoing stream of physio sessions. She'd left her brother in the cafeteria while she went to visit Bobby, who still had another three or four weeks left before the plaster casts could come off his legs. The look on his face when she walked in would haunt her for a long time. She didn't think she had ever seen him look as miserable as he did when she walked in at that moment.

He had attempted to feign happiness but, as always, he proved to be a hopeless liar when it was Alex that he was trying to lie to. It hadn't taken much in the way of prompting for him to tell her about the disastrous phone call to his mother. Before long, he'd been in tears, and her heart broke for him a dozen times over that out of the only family he had left, his mother was too stricken by mental illness to understand the terrible situation her son was in, and his brother simply too callous to give a damn.

Feeling guilty that she had the loving and supportive family that he could only dream of, she'd spent the next few hours at his side, refusing to leave even when her brother Philip had come searching for her, anxious to get going.

It had been both a blessing and a curse when his rehab doctor finally gave the all-clear for him to go home. He'd been almost euphoric at finally being able to leave the hospital, but that joy had been tempered by a heightened sense of loneliness renewed by his prolonged hospital stay. Alex sensed it in him acutely, and soon took to spending extensive periods with him – always at his apartment, since she had far more freedom of movement than he did.

Not so surprising had been the realisation that in spending time with him to alleviate his feelings of isolation and depression, she found that she could also finally begin to recover from the trauma of their experience. At some point they had reached the same conclusion at much the same time. As they had needed each other to survive, they now needed each other to recover.

Now they were doing something that, at one time not so long ago, both had doubted would ever happen. They were going back to work, and they were doing it together. He'd be fine, she rationalised to herself. They both would be.

Sure there would be plenty of eyes on them to start with, but they could deal with that. Hadn't they always, after all?

She watched closely as he negotiated the steps, acutely aware that a fall would be disastrous. She waited patiently until he was safely to the top of the few steps, then took his arm once more to usher him gently into One Police Plaza.

Not surprisingly, they were beset by officers wanting to wish them well almost as soon as they walked through the doors, and it took them nearly ten minutes and a growing look of pained exhaustion on Bobby's face before they were able to escape to the safety of the lifts.

"It's going to be like this all day, isn't it?" Bobby asked tiredly, leaning back against the wall of the lift. Alex smiled sympathetically.

"Probably. You know, it's not too late to change your mind and go home. No one would think worse of you for it."

"I need to be here," he said quietly. "I was going crazy at home. Even if it's just desk duty for the next month, I'd rather be here than sitting at home staring at the walls."

"I know," Alex agreed. "I feel the same way. Nervous, but glad to be back. We came so close to never seeing this place again…"

Her voice cracked just slightly at the deluge of unwanted memories. Then Bobby's arm slipped around her shoulders and pulled her close in a reassuring hug, gently bringing her back to the safety of the present.

Alex smiled gratefully at him, relishing the contact, thankful that they hadn't (yet) slipped back into old habits. Then again, she had warned him just the day before while they chatted in the living room of his apartment that if he tried to go back to calling her 'Eames', she'd cheerfully smack him upside the head.

He'd answered her with an indulgent smile, and wrapped his arms around her in an all-encompassing hug.

"Alex, you'll never be 'Eames' to me again."

Alex had smiled happily, content to stay wrapped up in his arms for as long as possible. He'd taken to hugging her frequently; a need that she suspected was born of the trauma he'd suffered in that clearing, when he thought she'd died. She didn't mind. She'd found that she harboured an equally strong need for regular physical contact with him, too, and felt a steady, unpleasant anxiety deep in her gut whenever they were not within close proximity to each other.

There was nothing romantic about any of it. The reality was that rather than force them apart, their ordeal had drawn them together in a way that neither of them could have anticipated.

Coming back to reality as the lift slid to a halt at the eleventh floor, Alex looked up at Bobby with an encouraging smile, making no attempt to disengage herself from him.

"Ready?"

He grimaced.

"No."

Alex gently slid her arm back through his.

"C'mon. Let's get this over with."

Letting his breath out in a rush, Bobby allowed Alex to steer him out of the lift, and back into the waiting arms of the place that they hadn't seen for so long.


"Waiting for something, or someone?" Ron Carver inquired when he walked in to find Deakins standing at the window of his office, looking out into the main area of the Major Case Squad rooms.

"Someone," Deakins answered. "They're coming back to work today."

Carver nodded in understanding.

"Ah. Of course. Although, I have to say, I'm rather surprised that Detective Goren was given the all-clear to come back so soon after being released from hospital."

Deakins nodded.

"I know. It's really too soon, but the poor guy was going stir crazy. Even if he can only sit at his desk and read files, it'll be better for him than being stuck at home. Besides, Eames said she wasn't coming back to work unless he did, too."

"Package deal?" Carver mused, and Deakins chuckled.

"Something like that. I think they'll be okay, though. I'll keep them both on desk duty for a couple of weeks, and we'll see how they go from there."

"You really think they're going to be all right?"

Deakins looked slowly around at Carver.

"In what sense?"

"Well… in terms of resuming their partnership. I hate to be a pessimist, Jim, but you've seen how experiences like the one they had can destroy a good partnership."

"I know," Deakins agreed quietly. "I was worried about that, too, especially when Eames' family took her home, and Goren had to stay in hospital. I went to see him that afternoon, after Eames had gone home. He wouldn't even look at me, let alone talk to me, and apparently he was the same with everyone. He just shut down completely. I really was concerned about how he'd react to Eames after that."

"So his brother never turned up at all."

"No. I called him myself and asked him to come. I tried to explain how important it was for Goren to have family there to support him… All the selfish son of a bitch had to say was that he had better things to worry about than his… quote, 'whacked out little brother', unquote."

"Very harsh," Carver muttered. "What did you tell Detective Goren?"

"Nothing. I think he knew anyway, but I wasn't going to be the one to tell him his older brother doesn't give a damn about him. Would you want to?"

"No, I don't think I would. And he really has no other family aside from his sick mother? None at all?"

"None at all," Deakins confirmed grimly. "You know, Ron, I don't think I'd be far wrong in saying that the last three months have effectively been the worst of Goren's life."

"It hasn't exactly been a picnic for either of them," Carver murmured. "I hear tell they were none too cooperative with their counsellors?"

Deakins smiled wryly. Rumours spread fast and far, even in the NYPD. It didn't help that Bobby Goren was notorious for running circles around Departmental psychiatrists.

"Not at first, no. I can't really say much about it, except that Eames would hardly talk, and Goren wouldn't talk at all. Then one of the counsellors had the idea of taking a session with both of them together."

"Group counselling?"

"More or less."

"And did it work?"

Deakins nodded. "It worked so well that they didn't go back to individual counselling. The last report I received from the counsellors stated pretty clearly that it would be highly detrimental to separate them when they return to work. I tell you, Ron, I took a lot of pleasure in handing that report to the Chief of Detectives."

"He wanted to split them up?"

"He was adamant about it. Said no good could come from keeping them together."

"And did he accept the report?"

"Very reluctantly. Ordered me to keep a watch on them for the next few months, and if there's even a hint of trouble, I'm to report it to him immediately. I don't believe there will be, though."

"They're here."

Deakins looked out through his open door in time to see Bobby and Alex come slowly around the corner, arm in arm. Not unexpectedly, silence descended abruptly on the Major Case Squad room as the two detectives entered. Then, to the embarrassment of both, someone hooted loudly and started to clap and cheer. Seconds later, the room was filled with the sound of thunderous applause.

"So much for a quiet entrance," Deakins commented, a broad grin on his face as the two self-conscious detectives made their way through the small but vocal crowd of well-wishers. He stood up and joined Carver at the window, watching as Bobby and Alex manoeuvred through the crowd of Major Case employees, all of whom seemed to want the chance to tell the detectives how glad they were that they were back at work.

Eventually, the crowd dissipated, and Bobby and Alex were finally able to reach their desks. Deakins hesitated, watching with a sense of relief that he couldn't begin to voice. As he watched, Bobby helped Alex remove her coat and jacket, taking extra care to manoeuvre the sleeves around the protective brace that she still wore on her left arm. He hung both items up on the nearby rack along with his own. Then Alex pulled Bobby's chair out for him in a gesture that at first seemed odd – until those watching realised that she was merely helping him to sit down without jostling his right leg.

Deakins was about to turn away when Alex followed that gesture by leaning down and kissing Bobby gently on the cheek.

"Tell me I didn't just see that," Carver said in a low, tense voice. It was all Deakins could do not to laugh aloud.

"All right, Counsellor. You didn't just see that."

"Captain Deakins…"

"Don't say it, Ron. It isn't necessary. Trust me."

He looked back out in time to see Bobby hugging Alex to him briefly before she turned and went to get coffee for the both of them. He smiled a little to himself, feeling an intense sensation of relief and gratitude that his two best detectives were finally back where they belonged.

"Everything's just fine."