A/N: Ok, I lied. The first chapter was supposed to be a oneshot, but then I got to wondering about what Alex's POV would be. So that's what this chapter is - and this time, it really is the end of the story :)
I suppose maybe I should be glad they happened on the same night. Two life-changing traumas for the price of one; it was certainly more efficient that way. I only had to cry the tears once, half for me and half for him. But still, there's life-changing and then there's life-changing, and though it feels horribly disloyal to think it, I've come to realize that it was probably the first trauma of the night that had a bigger impact on me.
It was the end of another night of trolling the streets. We'd grabbed a fair number of would-be johns, but I'd had to cover more ground than usual - and in new boots - and I was dog tired. My partner, a big guy named Jenkins who trusted me almost unquestioningly, told me in no uncertain terms that I looked ready to fall asleep on my feet. "Go home, Eames," he told me in his gruff voice. "We'll book 'em for you - hey, you should see if you can beat Mike home for once!"
I'd thought about it for a whole three seconds before taking him up on his offer. Home was only a few blocks away, and I couldn't wait to get the boots off. By not going back to the precinct with the guys, I'd have the boots off an hour earlier than I usually would. Hell, I didn't need to be told twice. I accepted his offer with a smile and watched with as he and the rest of the team piled into the two vans we'd come in.
I don't think it really occurred to either of us that I might not be safe walking home; after all, I was the one who regularly kicked Jenkins's ass when we sparred. I was well-trained and I knew how to fight, and besides, the area I was in wasn't the most dangerous in the city. So I just waved the guys off and turned toward home without a second thought.
I was walking south on Ninth when I became conscious of the bum in the alley off to my right. He was big, I could tell even though he was crouched down, but he looked harmless enough - twitching like he had too bad a case of the DTs to worry about a stray hooker - and so when he made no move toward me, I just mentally catalogued him and kept moving.
Half a block later, I decided that there was definitely someone following me. I hadn't been able to catch a glimpse of the guy, but I heard his footsteps as he tried to match them to the rhythm of mine. I was about to whirl around and catch him in the act when I was distracted by a short guy waddling toward me from across the street. "Hey, sweetheart," he said in that disgustingly slick voice that's typical of the type of guy who uses prostitutes. The kind of voice where you can almost hear him thinking, Here's a girl who can't say no. "Need a lift somewhere?" he added, although he was obviously on foot and without a car.
I tried not to wrinkle my nose in disgust as I said calmly, "No thanks." Get lost, creep. Do I look like I'm interested? "I'm done for the night," I told him, keeping in my hooker persona without really needing to think about it.
"Aw, come on," he whined, moving a step closer to me. "You look like you could use some company.
I mentally patted myself on the back for buying these boots as I stood my ground, the same height as him, and looked him dead in the eye. "Not tonight, sugar."
"I'll be quick," he countered, starting to sound pathetic now. "How much you want?"
A guy who said that was never good news. Usually it meant they didn't intend to pay at all. Turning my face away from him as if searching the street, I rolled my eyes and muttered, "More than you can afford." I thought I spotted a human-shaped shadow near the alley, but for now, I just stored that away in my mind as I tried to think of the best way to get my current admirer off my back. "Listen, honey," I told him straightforwardly, "you walk a block over and I'm sure there's gonna be a hundred girls interested in that deal. But me, I'm not, so be a good little boy and move along."
His face changed then, into the kind of sneer that I associated with the jerkiest of johns, the kind who'd try to manhandle you, and I was ready for him when he reached out and tried to grab my arm. "I told you to get lost, buddy," I snapped as I moved out of reach. "So do it, before I decide to make you get lost." I was tempted - very tempted - to skip the warning and just give him a fist to the temple so I could move on toward home, but that wasn't good business, even for a hooker who wasn't really in business at all.
As I was deciding not to kick the shit out of him, though, the guy had apparently been gathering his courage, because when I returned my full attention to him, he lurched forward, seeming to reach for my left arm. I jerked the arm back again, preparing to teach him a hell of a lesson, but he caught me by surprise and his other hand shot out, grabbing me by the throat.
Oh, fuck. Jenkins, why did I send you back? I thought as the guy tried to push me toward the alley. I was a good fighter - better than a lot of the men I worked with - but there were some things I couldn't totally compensate for, and brute strength and large hands on an irrational man were two of them.
"You fuckin' bitch!" he growled as his hand tightened slightly. "I don't think you're gettin' my point." He forced me back another step toward the alley, and I knew that I had to make some kind of move to keep him from getting me into the dark area where no one could see us.
Catching him unawares, I reached up and twisted his wrist, not hard enough to break it, but enough to make him yelp and step back. "I don't think you heard me," I retorted, taking the opportunity to regroup. "Now fuck off." I let out a breath of relief as his face seemed to crumple, and I was preparing to give him one last scare before moving on when his body slammed into mine, launching me into the air and back into the alley.
I landed hard on my butt, but even so, I would have been back on my feet by the time he got to me if I hadn't been wearing those damn boots. Stiletto heels are not great for helping a girl get a grip on the ground, and the precious few seconds I had to recover were eaten up by trying to get the heels to dig into the loose gravel. By the time I raised my head to check out my position, he was almost on top of me, hands out in front of him as if he were going to either scratch me or throttle me.
I wasn't too keen on either idea, but before I could launch a counterattack, he brandished what was either a switchblade or a folding comb - and somehow I doubted he was about to do his hair. "I don't like you, sweetheart, " he said in a low voice that alarmed me more than all his growls and posturings put together. The knife blade flicked open, confirming my fears, and he added as he moved closer, "I think maybe I need to teach you a lesson or two."
Like hell you will, I thought as I shifted my weight and prepared to move. "You touch me and I'll fucking kill you," I informed the guy a split second before I launched the best kick I could manage in my heeled boots. And for a moment, I thought it was going to work. He looked shocked by the attack, but he recovered faster than had any right to. By the time my foot got to his chest, he had his hands ready to grab it, and as he twisted, I could feel the snap in my ankle as a bone gave way. I couldn't hold in the scream of pain, but there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that I was letting the guy take me off my feet.
I gritted my teeth and held myself stiff, even as he continued to hold my ankle and grin dangerously at me. Then the knife came back into view, and I sucked in a breath as it hit me that this guy wasn't just a violent john - no, he wanted to hurt me. The pleasurable anticipation was clear in his eyes, and I looked away, searching the shadows desperately for some way out.
And then I saw the bum, the same one I'd passed earlier, standing slightly behind my attacker. He wasn't twitching anymore, and his eyes, instead of being vacant, were focused on me. No matter how he was dressed, I realized, this was not some homeless junkie. The guy knew what was going on, and he was just waiting to jump into the fray. As my eyes met his, I tried to communicate that I recognized him as a friend without alerting the man with the knife, which was dangerously close to cutting through my boot and into my flesh. The bum must have gotten the message, because he nodded tightly.
A second later, he started to move, and I braced myself as best I could so I didn't go down with the two of them. I leapt back, landed with part of my weight on my bad ankle, and felt it give way beneath me, but I didn't have time to worry about being in pain right now. The guy's knife had gone flying, and I needed to take it out of the equation. So I stood again, thanking the stars for the magic of adrenaline, and grabbed the weapon, not closing the blade as I clutched it and watched the men fight.
It wasn't much of a fight, when I look back at it. The bum was obviously stronger and a better fighter, and as I watched him smash the guy's face into the ground, I fought the urge to cheer.
The guy was still thrashing when the bum jammed a knee into his back, though, and I decided I'd much rather have him keep both hands on the struggling criminal than not, so without really thinking about how it would seem to him, I grabbed the handcuffs that were visible under the tail of his shirt and dropped to my knees, taking pleasure in snapping the cuffs on too tightly.
I wasn't satisfied by that, though, and so I drew back a foot and slammed it into his crotch, not realizing until I made contact that I had used my bad foot. I winced and struggled not to let out a yelp or clutch my ankle, and managed after a second to conquer both urges.
We both just sat there for a second, waiting to see what the guy would do, but he seemed too concerned about his balls - which I sincerely hoped I'd knocked up to his throat - to realize he was in custody. The bum glanced at me and smiled slightly, then stood up and offered me a hand.
I accepted the help, being careful to keep my weight only on my good ankle. He must have noticed, because he looked down at me and said gently, "You ok?"
I grunted an assent, then looked down at my leg, where against the thin leather of the boot, I could see the ankle starting to swell. "Broken ankle," I told him, angry at myself for getting into trouble, now that I had the time to be angry. Then I looked back up at the bum, who was looking even less bum-like than he had been a minute ago. Putting my hands behind my back to hide their trembling, I said, "I assume you have a team out here? Or are you a vigilante?"
He stared at me for a second, looking surprised by my question, then nodded. "They're probably shitting themselves right now realizing that it went down before they could move in. They'll be here in a few seconds." His eyes flicked to my arms, then to my face, then to my leg. "Can you walk?"
God, the last thing I needed was some hero cop trying to carry me out of here. "I can manage," I said brusquely as I bent over to unzip my boot and evaluate the swelling. Shit, it was ugly.
When I looked back up, he was holding something out to me. "Here. It's probably better if you get out of here before they show up. Get the ankle looked at, and call me at the number on the card if you need help paying for it."
I took the card from his hand and looked down at it, then back up at him. This guy was a cop - a homicide cop, no less - and he was telling me to get away from the scene? "You want me to get out of here? Why?"
He looked embarrassed by the question as he glanced over his shoulder, probably checking that we were still alone, then looked back at me. "Because the last thing you need right now is to spend the night in lock-up for hooking. So go."
I stared at him. Was this guy for real? He obviously still thought I was just a working girl, and yet he was concerned enough about me to completely disregard procedure and send me home - after offering to pay for my medical care, no less? I couldn't help it; suddenly the fear of the past few minutes crashed into the absurdity of my current situation and I dropped to my knees, laughing at a shrill pitch that I hated.
I forced myself back to reality after a few seconds and looked up at him, trying to read his face as I said, "If I go, your case is fucked."
He looked surprised that I realized such a thing, but then just nodded dismissively. "I'll take care of it."
Suddenly, I wanted to cry. The bum-who-wasn't was looking at me like he wanted to take me home, feed me, and find me a job; I was sitting on the ground with an ankle that had been broken by some kind of psycho; it was the middle of the night, and I was cold. So I ducked my head and started laughing again to hide the tears that were starting to run down my face. It took a few seconds of fumbling before I could get my badge case out of my stocking and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he backed up, as if he were afraid I was about to pull a gun. I held the case out to him and shook my head, still not looking up because of the tears. "You don't need to worry about me."
He took the wallet from my hand and opened it. I heard him take a breath that was a little too sharp compared to his breathing from the past few minutes as he realized what he was looking at, and then he snapped, "Where the hell's your backup?"
"Probably all in bed by now," I told him as I tried to dry my tears. "We were done; I was walking home."
I could feel him staring at me, his mouth probably hanging open, as he processed what I was wearing and the fact that I was wearing it on the street without backup. "You were walking home dressed like that? Are you fucking nuts?"
I breathed a tiny laugh at his reaction. I probably would have said the same thing to me if I was in his position; it had really been criminally stupid of me to think I could walk home dressed like something out of a Madonna video without getting into trouble. "I figured it was only a few blocks and I'd be ok. Famous last words, huh?" I said quietly.
Instead of answering that question, he just held out his hand again. "Get up," he told me. "Come on, I'll help you stand."
I just looked down at my hands for a second, unable to believe I'd been so damn stupid, and that I'd only gotten out alive by the pure luck of this man being in the right place at the right time. "Thank you," I said as I reached out and took his hand for the second time. "For all of this, I mean. Not just the hand."
As I raised my eyes to look at him, I saw that he was shaking his head. "I wish I had gotten to you before he hurt you."
I wish you had too, my friend. I didn't say that, though, because he was obviously beating himself up about allowing another cop to be injured on his watch. And really, he'd had no choice; he couldn't arrest the guy for being rough with a prostitute who would probably have refused to press charges. He'd had to wait until the guy did something truly dangerous - and frankly, I wasn't sure if twisting a girl's ankle would be enough for me to take the chance of blowing a case if I had been him. "You couldn't move until he did. I understand that, you know," I told him gently, trying to communicate how much I really did understand. "And you could have waited even longer than you did - but you didn't. So, thank you."
He was opening his mouth to respond when a voice called out, "Yo! Goren! What the hell, man?"
He looked up at the man who had spoken; I looked up at him. So his name was Goren, huh? Not a name I knew, but definitely one I'd remember. I looked down at the card I held hand in my hand, now slightly crushed and damp from my sweaty palms. "Looks like the cavalry have arrived," I told him.
"Guess so." He waited for the other man, who looked like he was angry he hadn't been able to get in on the bust, then gestured toward my attacker, who was still face-down on the gravel. "There you go, Greer. Knock yourself out. Or him. Whatever."
I almost giggled at that, at the complete dryness of his voice, but I held it back when I realized that the partner wasn't laughing. Obviously there was tension between these two, and my rescuer didn't need me to add to it.
I was just swallowing my smile when he returned his eyes to me. "We should get you to a hospital."
God, I hated hospitals. I would need to call Michael before I went, so that someone there didn't call and scare the living daylights out of him. I nodded at the bum - no, at Goren, I corrected myself - and said, "I know. I'll call my husband; he's still on duty. Nice big flashing lights to get me to the ER in a hurry."
He didn't quite manage to hide the surprise on his face at that, and I realized that it hadn't occurred to him that I might be married. I wondered how old he'd thought I was - I knew I looked all of twenty, but I would have thought that after he saw my badge . . .
"Sure," he said a second later. "Of course. Let me hook you up with the radio van." Putting an arm around my waist, he helped me stumble to the van. It was only then that I realized how seriously big this guy was, and how goddamn lucky I'd been to have him nearby. I thanked him effusively when he helped me into the van, but he just smiled shyly, ducked his head, and wished me good luck.
And then he was gone, to do whatever it was homicide detectives did after a bust, and I was left alone with two uniforms in the van, both of whom were looking at me like I was some exotic relic they weren't sure what to do with. "I need to get in touch with my husband," I told them. "He's on patrol in the 1-7. Can you guys reach dispatch?"
Dispatch hadn't been able to locate Michael, and it wasn't until I had them call my own precinct that the bad news was delivered. One of the radio operators passed the phone to me and said, "Some guy named Jenkins, says he needs to talk to you."
I took the handset and said, without bothering with a greeting, "I'm fine, Jenks. You can stop worrying."
There was silence on the other end of the line for a few seconds, and then Jenkins replied, "Alex, I've been trying to get in touch with you. There's . . . bad news."
My heart dropped into my stomach, but I told myself that I was just worked up from my ordeal tonight; there was no way something would happen to both Michael and me on the same night. "What's wrong?" I asked Jenkins, wishing I could just avoid the question.
"Michael . . ." He swallowed audibly. "Alex, I'm so sorry. He . . . he's gone. He responded to a robbery and . . ."
I dropped the phone, completely unwilling to listen to or understand what I was being told. I kept thinking that statistically, it was just impossible. Someone must have gotten their signals crossed. I barely registered one of the uniforms picking up the handset and talking to my partner.
In fact, I didn't register much of anything for the remainder of that night, including Jenkins picking me up from the scene and taking me to the hospital, where he told me what had happened to Michael while a doctor set my ankle. He brought me home with him that night, and his wife spent most of the next day hovering over me, helping me process and make decisions that I didn't want to make.
I went back to work, eventually - what else could I have done? - but the night of his death and my near-death haunted me. Sometimes, when it got really overwhelming and I just couldn't stand reality any longer, I'd dig the card out of the pocket in my badge case, where I had put it that first night, and just look at the writing. It reminded me of what happened, of the fact that someone had been there to help me. It made me feel like maybe there was a plan for me, after all; maybe there was a reason I'd been kept alive.
I still had the card five years later when I got the news that I'd be getting a new partner who was transferring into Major Case. My captain sat me down in his office and told me that the man was considered an oddball, but a genius, and that he thought I was one of the few people who could hold their own with this guy.
I'd asked the name of this brilliant detective, and a minute later, returned to reality to find Deakins crouched in front of my chair, patting my cheek and looking at me wide-eyed. "Eames? Are you ok?"
I took a deep breath and swallowed. "You said . . . Robert Goren?"
"Yeah. Why, do you already know him?"
I shook my head. "No, not really. I've just . . . read his name somewhere."
When I was allowed to return to my desk, I just sat, staring blankly at the wall, for what felt like hours. I was tempted to think that it couldn't possibly be the same guy, but at the same time, I knew that it had to be.
I didn't know if he knew my name. I suspected that he didn't, since it hadn't come up in our short conversation and there had never been a trial. Did he know he was being thrown together with the woman he'd once played guardian angel to? Probably not.
And so that first day, when he was scheduled to arrive, I left the card face-up on his otherwise empty desk and made myself scarce until I saw a large body approach the desk and pick up the card. He dropped into his desk chair, staring at the back of the card where I'd written a short message, and I took a moment to just look at him. He was a few pounds heavier, maybe. There was more grey in his hair. But the eyes were the same, and the tentative smile on his face as he looked at the card was the same one he'd given me all those years ago.
I grabbed the two cups of coffee I'd just poured and headed toward my new partner.