By the time they reached the parking lot, Alex had gotten her legs back under her enough that she could walk with just her partner's assistance. She was clutching at his hand for dear life . . . but at least she was supporting her own weight. "I'll be . . . fine," she assured Deakins, pausing in the middle of the sentence for a hiccuping breath. "Really."
He looked utterly unconvinced. "Eames, I know you're shaken up. Maybe we should -"
"No!" She abruptly stopped walking and glared at him, then shook her head emphatically. "No doctor, or whatever you were about to suggest. Just . . . no."
"You're not -" he began again, but broke off as Goren caught his eye above Eames's head. The younger man shook his head, telling him not to try again. He was tempted to argue the point - after all, for all her inner and outer strength, she was obviously very upset at the moment - but when he looked back at Goren, he reluctantly acknowledged defeat.
"Trust me," Bobby was mouthing at him.
He did trust the detective, and he knew Goren would take care of her. They didn't need him hanging around, he realized. Why would they? They couldn't talk openly with him there. Reluctantly, he nodded at Goren. "I'm parked over on the other side," he announced. "Alex, if you don't need my arm anymore, I'm going to head out."
She nodded, sniffled, and mumbled a "thank you."
"Come on," Bobby told her when Deakins had turned and walked away.
He was silent, communicating his concern by his hold on her hand, until they got in the car. He let go of it then and said, "Give me your phone, Alex."
"Your phone," he repeated, tapping where the phone was outlined in the fabric of her pocket. "Give it to me."
She reached down to get it, then stopped. "Why?"
"Because I'm calling Laura, and I don't have her number in my phone," he informed her, taking matters into his own hands by reaching over and pulling the phone out of her pocket by the antenna. "So I need yours."
"But -" she managed to gasp, raising a hand in protest. "Why can't you just do whatever . . . needs to be done?" She shut her mouth then, noticing that the hand she'd raised was shaking visibly.
He put the phone down in his lap for the moment and leaned toward her, moving slowly. When she didn't pull away, he took her face gently in his hands and, forcing a teasing note into his voice to keep from worrying her, he said, "Because, Eames, as much as I might love you, I'm not trained for this. Anything I do would only be my best guess. Laura's got a lot more knowledge when it comes to helping people, and I want her in on this."
Most of the words went over her head, but she was glad for the physical contact. She nuzzled her face into his hand. "Oh."
"Can I call her now?" he asked, keeping the hand she was nuzzling on her face and dropping the other to reach for the phone.
Her response was a jerky breath and then a sigh.
He decided to take that as a yes, and opened the phone to search for the psychologist's number. Highlighting Laura's entryin her phonebook, he pressed send and put the phone to his ear.
"Hello?" said a female voice after two rings.
"Laura?" he asked, glad that it was her and not Alex's brother who'd answered the phone.
"Yes. Who's this?" she said politely.
"Sorry," he said, reminding himself of his phone manners. "It's Goren. Are you . . . do you have a few minutes?"
"Alex?" she asked matter-of-factly, and before he even answered, he heard the phone being juggled.
She was probably donning reading glasses and reaching for her notes on Alex, he decided. He gave her a few seconds to do that, then said, "Yes, it's about her. We . . . have you talked to her in the past few days?"
"No," Alex spoke up from the passenger seat before Laura's answer came through the phone. "Didn't tell the . . . the family, remember?"
"No, I haven't," Laura said. "Is that her I hear in the background?"
He pulled his hand away from her face. "Yes. She, uh . . . she just finished interrogating Steven Brewer."
"Excuse me?" Laura's strangled gasp was audible even to Alex, who was a few feet away from the phone. "Not . . ."
"It was . . . an unpleasant situation," he tried to explain. "We needed information, and he refused to speak to anyone but her."
"Jesus Christ, Bobby, are you nuts?" Laura almost shouted into the phone. "You brought her to see that -"
"I didn't have a choice!" he shouted back, feeling his temper slip a notch at the suggestion that he'd failed to protect his partner. "She was determined to go in no matter what, and I didn't have the power to stop her!"
"Bobby," Alex said weakly from her seat, "please . . ."
"She . . . she . . . ok, wait." Laura said, trying to calm herself down before she screamed the poor guy off the phone. She knew as well as anyone else how protective Bobby was of Alex, and it was a fair guess that he'd done everything he could to try to prevent the interrogation. "Sorry I yelled. I'm just . . ."
"I know," he said shortly. "Anyway, she came through the interrogation itself with flying colors -"
"Ok. Ok, that's good," Laura broke in, nodding. "But I hear a 'but' coming on."
"She, uh . . ." He glanced over at Alex, trying to figure out how to label her condition. "In the grand scheme of things, her reaction wasn't too bad. Uh, tremors, mostly, and hyperventilation . . . but not a full-blown panic attack. I wanted to talk to you because I . . . this isn't something I've handled before, and -"
"She's too important to risk this being the time you get things wrong?" Laura finished for him. "I know the feeling. Happens every time I call the doctor because one of the twins has the sniffles. But anyway, let me see if I have this straight. She was in complete control while she was face-to-face with - what's his name? - Brewer?"
He couldn't suppress a smile at the memory of how she'd handled herself in that room. "More than that. She was in control of herself and him."
"And after she came out of the questioning - when he was gone - she reacted with distress, but not fear?"
"What's she like now?"
He glanced over at Alex, who was slumped in her seat with her chin on her chest, looking like she was trying to control her breathing. "She's better. The tremors are still there, but pretty much only in her hands. I think . . . I think she's got her breathing under control."
Hearing his words, Alex opened her eyes and nodded an affirmative, then took his free hand, squeezed it, and whispered, "Home?"
"Soon," he told her quietly, then returned his attention to the phone and Laura's answer.
"And she's talking, I assume, since I heard her answering questions in the background?"
"Yes, she's talking. A little too quietly, but that's the only problem."
"In that case," Laura said gently, "whatever you're doing, you're doing it right. Take her home. Give her tea or put her to bed if she wants, but don't force them on her. I think she just needs to get her brain around everything that happened. You said she did really good, questioning him?"
"Really good," he agreed stroking his thumb over the back of Alex's hand and relishing the small smile she gave him.
"Remind her of that if you need to. Often. Other than that . . ."
" What?" he prompted when she let her sentence trail off.
"It's probably too forward for me to put it in these words, but I was going to tell you to just make sure she knows you would love her no matter what hadhappened in that room. Probably not the best thing to tell you, though, considering that I don't presume to know anything about your relationship with her."
"No," Bobby said hesitantly, "you . . . that's pretty much the right interpretation. And I'll do the best I can with it."
"Good. I'll let you go now so you can get her home. Keep doing what you're doing, Bobby - whatever it is, it's worked wonders so far. I'll keep my phone on and charged in case you guys need me, ok?"
"Ok. Thank you, Laura," he said, regretting the fact that there was no way he could fully communicate his thanks for how much she had just set his mind at ease.
"Well?" Alex said when he closed the phone. "What has my own private psychology think-tank decided to do with me?"
"How do you feel?" he asked, ignoring her question.
"Good enough to be annoyed that you and Laura just carried on that whole conversation about me without including me."
"Good." He tipped her chin up and kissed her. "Laura said to take you home and tell you to relax."
"That whole long conversation was all for her to tell you to make me relax?" she said skeptically.
Pulling back into his own seat, he started the car. "She had a lot of questions."
"No kidding." With that, Alex sighed and fell quiet, watching as they passed through the guardhouse and onto the highway.
"Bobby?" she said quietly that evening, turning over in bed to face him and suppressing a smile at the memories brought about by hearing the rustle of her clothing as she moved. By the time they'd made the two-hour drive home, they'd both been completely drained, and the only thing they'd bothered to take off before falling into bed was their shoes.
"I am now."
"What else did Laura say to you?"
He turned onto his back and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her against his side. "Honestly, Alex, she didn't say much else. Mostly it was questions about what had happened and how you were acting."
"Oh," She was quiet for a few more seconds, and then: "Bobby?"
"Do you think I handled it well?"
"Which 'it' are you asking about?" he asked, opening his eyes. "The interrogation, or the aftermath?"
"Both, I guess," she said, resting her head on his shoulder. "But the actual interrogation, especially."
He was silent for a few seconds, trying to compose his thoughts, and then he pulled her up to stretch out on top of him. "That interrogation," he said emphatically, taking her face in his hands and drawing it down so he could see her eyes up close, "was masterful. That's the only word for it."
"Masterful?" she repeated dubiously. "Why?"
He released her face and moved his arms down so he could link his hands in the small of her back. "First of all, you deliberately went into a situation that had gone wrong once before. You got startled a few times, but then, so did I. That resistance to fear was impressive in its own right. You presented your questions like the pro you are and you squeezed every bit of information we needed out of him."
"Ok," she cut in, "but that's not -"
"Shh," he said, covering her mouth and grinning when he felt her stick her tongue out against his hand. "There's more. You took every nasty question or comment he threw at you and either turned it around on him or ignored it - and you held onto your temper long after I would have lost mine."
"But what I loved the most," he went on, ignoring her interruption, "was watching your reaction when he made that move for you. You had him pinned to the wall before I could even start moving, and you didn't so much as blink, just kept on questioning him." He paused to kiss her temple, then added, "You impressed the hell out of me, Alex. You have no idea how proud I am of you after watching that scene."
"I impressed you?" she asked, sounding almost shy.
"God Eames, everything you do impresses me!" he said, wondering how the hell she could think otherwise. "And now that you know that, can we get out of these clothes and go to sleep without jackets and belts, like normal people?"
"Hey, I don't know about you," she said, tugging playfully on the front of his shirt, "but I happen to like sleeping in your clothes."
"You're welcome to them," he said, starting to unbutton his shirt. "I just want to get them off me right now."
With a shrug, she rolled off him and pulled off her own sweater. "Bobby?"
"What now?" he asked with a sigh, ridding himself of his undershirt.
Purposely timing the action so she could have an excuse to look away, she twisted around and unhooked her bra as she said, "When you were trying to get me to give you my phone before, in the car . . . you said you loved me."
He froze with his belt half-unbuckled. He'd almost managed to forget he'd let those words slip out . . . why was she bringing it up now? "Uh, sorry," he managed, clearing his throat and forcing his hands to start functioning again. "I was just . . . uh, you know . . . it slipped out. I wasn't thinking."
"Oh." She rolled away from him and dropped her bra on the floor. Then, still keeping her distance from him, she moved her hands to the button of her pants. "Does that mean you didn't mean it?"
Bobby groaned. "Look, Alex -"
"Answer me," she demanded, turning over and meeting his eyes. "Did you not mean it, or did you just not mean to say it?"
"Why are you -"
"Because I want to know, damn it!" she snapped. "You put the words out there; I should be allowed to ask for an explanation."
She wasn't going to let him get out of this without answering, he realized with sudden clarity. He was completely stuck. "I . . . I didn't want to upset you, and there was just never a time -"
"Bobby," she interrupted in a silky voice, leaning close to him, "if you don't answer my question, you're sleeping in the hallway tonight. Not even the couch - the hallway."
"Yes, I meant it," he replied with a sigh. "I just didn't think you wanted -"
"You could have asked me."
"You're right, I could have. But I didn't," he admitted, not knowing what else to say.
She waited a minute for him to ask the obvious question, but somehow she wasn't surprised when he didn't. Sitting up, she jabbed a finger at him as if she were accusing him of something and said, "I want you to pay attention when I say this. Got it, Goren?"
He nodded silently, trying to keep his eyes on her face and not her half-naked body.
"I haven't needed you here with me for almost two weeks, but I haven't said a word about you leaving. You know why?"
He shook his head this time, still mute.
She sighed and slid down in bed again until her head was almost buried in the pillows. "It was because I love you and I want you here, and I was afraid if I gave you the chance to move out, you'd take it."
Silence descended heavily on the room for a minute before Bobby leaned over and pushed the pillows away from her face. "If that's true, why didn't you save us both a lot of embarrassment and just say it back when I said it this afternoon?"
"You didn't look like you even knew you'd said it. I had no idea if you meant it or if it was just part of your spiel to get the phone."
Another moment of silence, and then: "Alex?"
"What?" The word ended on a squeak as she felt one of his hands creep up her belly. In retaliation, she moved her hands to the belt he hadn't quite managed to unbuckle before they fell into this conversation.
"I love you. And I don't want to move out."
He was creating a clean slate for them to both say it out loud. She sighed happily and freed one hand to touch his face. "I love you too. But Bobby . . . if you stay here . . ." she said, letting the sentence trail off mysteriously.
"What?" he asked, suddenly nervous.
"You've gotta start paying half the utilities," she informed him with a grin just before she lowered her head and kissed him.
A/N: Well, it's over . . . thank you to everyone who's been reviewing so faithfully through 3 months and (I kid you not) 107,000 words of pointless fluff!
A/N 2: I'm not too big a fan of the sappy ending, but it just insisted on dropping itself in there and refusing to move. Apologies to all literary critics (because you know, a lot of them are closet fanfic nuts, uh-huh, I swear)!