A few days later...

Bobby's phone rang just as they settled with matching sighs into the back seat of the taxi. He glanced down at it, snickered, and then looked back up at her. "It's Riley."

"Well, answer it," she chided, raising her eyebrows expectantly. "I think you owe him an update."

"Yeah, yeah." Resisting the urge to make a face at her, he unfolded the phone and raised it to his mouth. "What, Riley?"

"Oh ho ho!" Riley chuckled sarcastically. "And he says that like I'm the one who owes him answers. What the hell are you doing, Bobby? You haven't answered your damn phone all day!"

"Uh, yeah, sorry. Been a little busy. Why, is something wrong?"

"Wrong!" Riley almost squeaked. "You're asking me what's wrong? Jesus, I've got my lieutenant halfway up my small intestine right now and you're asking me what's wrong?"

Bobby wondered if he'd be able to switch his phone to speakerphone mode without Riley hearing it, but a look at Alex's face told him that if Riley didn't hear the switch, he'd hear the increased laughter that would come if she could hear what he was saying. "He's been up your ass for a week. What's different about today?"

Riley made a noise of disgust. "He's going to kick you, Goren. He's got half the paperwork done already. Do you just not care anymore?"

"Ok, ok," Bobby said hastily as Riley's voice began to rise in both volume and pitch. "You want me to talk to him?"

"No, I want you to talk to my mother. Hell yes, I want you to talk to him!"

Alex must have been able to hear that exclamation, Bobby realized as he noticed that next to him, she was desperately trying to smother a laugh. Giving her a warning look, he said loudly, "Fine, John. I'll talk to him. Look, I gotta go, and -"

"Don't you dare leave me twisting in the wind on this!"

"- and I'm sure you've got work to do. I'll talk to you later." With that, he slapped the phone closed and dropped it on the seat next to him, giving Alex a dirty look. "He probably heard you!"

Alex gave him an unapologetic smirk. "Good. You're torturing the poor man, Bobby!"

He snorted. "He deserves it for being a pain in the ass."

"Hah. You'll be lucky if he doesn't kick your ass when you show up at his desk."

"That," Bobby said as the cab pulled to a stop in front of his LA apartment, "is why you're going to stand between me and him."

"Wuss," she teased as she slid out of the car.

"Not a wuss." Following her, he slid across the seat and stepped onto the sidewalk. "Just a pragmatist."

Alex snorted.


Later that day . . . Riley didn't bother to look up when the blonde woman stopped next to his desk. He wasn't expecting anyone, and the pair of jeans he could see out of the corner of his eye suggested that she wasn't anyone work-related. Probably someone's wife, he figured, trying to spot her husband's desk.

The woman cleared her throat, and he glanced up, offered her a politely distracted smile, and returned his attention to the paperwork he'd been sorting.

She cleared her throat again, this time adding, "John Riley?"

Ok, maybe she was looking for him. He looked up again and started to say that he was Riley, then stopped with his mouth half-open as he tried to place the very familiar face of his visitor. "Uh, yeah?" he finally managed after a second, unable to pin down her identity.

The stranger - who, he noticed as he continued to study her, was quite attractive - gave him a sweet smile and said, "You know a Bobby Goren?"

Riley blinked.

The woman smirked and leaned against the corner of his desk, crossing her arms. "You don't recognize me? After all that time you spent stealing looks at my picture over Bobby's shoulder?"

"You . . ." He stared at her. "Alex?" When she nodded, he spun around in his chair to get a better look at her. "What the hell are you doing here?"

She grinned. "I'm supposed to mellow you out with my female charm so you don't kill Bobby when he shows up."

"Bobby . . . is going to show up?"

"I told you I'd talk to the lieutenant," Bobby said from behind him. "I didn't say how."

"Son of a bitch!" Riley exclaimed, quickly turning his chair toward the voice. "You could have told me you were in LA when I called you!"

Bobby attempted to look apologetic, but only half-succeeded. "Sorry. You made it too easy." Glancing over his shoulder toward the lieutenant's office, he added, "Is he here?"

"Of course. He's having too much fun beating up on me to take off."

"Good. I'm going to go talk to him."

Before Riley could get another word out, Bobby had turned and was striding away. Settling for the next-best option, he turned to Alex and gave her a hard look. "What the hell?"

She shrugged and walked around to what she assumed was Bobby's chair. "May I?"

"Yeah, go ahead," he said with a wave of his hand. "Ain't my desk. You going to tell me what the hell he's doing, or do I have to guess?"

Alex sighed and sobered slightly as she lowered herself into the chair. "Don't shoot the messenger, ok?"

"Depends on what the message is."

"Uh, well . . . in about ten minutes, you're going to be out a partner," she said with a hint of guilt in her voice.

He slumped back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. "I was afraid of that. So I guess you guys patched things up?"

Alex glanced over her shoulder at the office Bobby had disappeared into, where he could be seen through the glass wall gestulating wildly. "I think so, yeah. Listen, I'm sorry about this. I know you two got along. Bobby says you're the only partner besides me he's ever been able to really work with."

"Ah, well," Riley said dismissively, "I'm an easy guy to get along with. He works with me, keeps his ego out of the way of mine, and he carries around pictures of pretty girls. I've had worse partners."

Shaking her head, Alex laughed lightly. "I don't think you quite understand his history. Partners ditched him right and left before he came to Major Case. Certainly none of them would have covered for him for a week while he went across the country and did god knows what with some woman."

Riley cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his head nervously. "Well, see, about that . . ."

"You going to try to deny it?"

"No, but uh, there's kind of a hitch here. If Bobby weren't leaving now, he'd just be losing another partner anyway."

Alex stared at him in disbelief, eyes narrowing. "You were going to drop him?"

"Not quite." Sighing, he looked away. "Look, don't tell him this, ok? He'll feel like it's his fault."

"He'll feel like what's his fault?" she snapped, no longer inclined to be patient with him now that he was revealing himself as a betrayer.

"My lieutenant . . . he's been pissed at me all week. He figures I know more about where Bobby was than I've been letting on. Which I did. Do."

"And . . .?"

"Uh, a couple minutes after I talked to Bobby today, the boss kind of lost his temper. Turns out he pulled my desk phone records and he knows I've been talking to him. He, uh . . ." He coughed. "He pulled me into his office and announced that if I was going to be insubordinate to my lieutenant, I could damn well go find another lieutenant to do it to."

She blinked. "He fired you? Why didn't you just tell him where Bobby was?"

"Because I told Bobby I wouldn't, damn it!"

It was Alex's turn to slump back in her chair. "You got yourself fired for him?"

"What would you have done?" Riley challenged, on the defensive now.

"I . . . oh."

"Exactly."

Slightly embarrassed to find herself feeling jealous over the fact that Bobby had another partner who was as loyal as she was to him, she looked down at her hands and picked at a hangnail.

"Uh, Alex?" Riley said, looking at her cautiously. "Like I said, it's not his fault and I don't want him - or you - to think I think it is."

Suddenly energized, Alex held up a hand to stop him. "Wait, wait, wait. You're telling me you have no job now?"

"Well, I'm sure he's not going to boot me out at the end of the day or anything . . ."

"But you don't work for the LAPD anymore."

"Uh, right."

She gave him a smile so bright he would have sworn it almost blinded him. "You got any strong attachments to the west coast?"

"Other than surfing?" Riley said, unsure of her point. "Not really."

"Ever been to Manhattan?"

"Ok, now wait," he said quickly. "You don't need to find me a job. I can do that on my own."

She spared him a glance, rolled her eyes, and said, "I'm not trying to find you a job. Well, at least not directly. I'm trying to find my partner a partner."

"You . . . huh?"

"I've got a partner in New York that I've been with since Bobby moved," she explained patiently. "His name's Webster, and when Bobby comes back, he's going to be on his own. He's a nice guy, you're a nice guy . . ." She shrugged. "I figured you might want to give it a try."

Riley let out a stunned laugh. "You're kidding me."

"Nope."

"Does your partner know about this?"

She smiled slightly. "Which one?"

"Hell, either of them!"

"Bobby won't mind," she said confidently. "He'll probably be glad he doesn't have to leave you out here high and dry. And Webster'll at least be willing to give you a chance."

Riley just continued to just stare at her, both charmed and perplexed by her spontaneous offer.

When Bobby returned to his desk a minute later, he found Riley looking still mildly stunned, and Alex watching him with a slight smile. "Well," he said, walking up to where she sat and resting a hand on her shoulder, "at least the lieutenant agrees with me."

"Agrees with you?" she asked, turning to see his face. "About what?"

"About the fact that I should get the hell out of here before he gets really angry and does something we'll both regret," he replied, looking amused. "John, look, I'm sorry about this -"

"No, no no!" Alex jumped to her feet, putting a hand on his chest to stop his apology. "You don't need to feel bad about him."

He looked at her blankly. "I don't?"

She grinned. "No. Turns out that you're not the only one your boss kicked out."

Connecting the dots, he turned to Riley. "Did he . . ."

"Oh, yeah," Riley said cheerfully, "and he enjoyed every second of it. But like Alex said, don't feel bad. You've got an efficient girl here, you know."

Bobby looked down at Alex. "Efficient?"

She coughed uneasily. "Well, I figured since I'm leaving Webster alone so I can partner up with you again, and now Riley doesn't have a partner or a job . . ."

"I see." He turned to Riley. "And you agreed to this?"

"Hey, if you're not cool with it," Riley said, quickly holding up his hands in submission, "that's fine. I can find myself a job out here pretty easy."

"No," Bobby said, beginning to look thoughtful, "I don't have a problem with it. Actually . . ." He gently pushed Alex back into the chair and leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Thanks."

To her own embarrassment, and to the amusement of the two men, Alex blushed. "Stop," she grumbled, trying to brush his hand off her shoulder. "We need to get back; we promised your mom we'd have dinner with her."

"Oh, she wants to escape now that she's done the dirty deed, eh?" Riley teased.

"Bite me," she replied, giving him a sour look.

He leaned forward as if he was considering actually obeying the joking command. "Any time, sweetheart."

Bobby cleared his throat pointedly.

"Uh, right," Riley went on hastily, taking in his soon-to-be-ex-partner's lowered eyebrows. "You guys better get going. I gotta start cleaning out my desk and . . . uh, yeah, you'll just be in the way."

Bobby nodded slightly, satisfied with that response.

Heaving a tolerant sigh at his not-so-subtle possessiveness, Alex elbowed him aside and stood up. "I'll talk to my partner tonight," she told Riley. "And then I'll have Bobby call you and we can work out the details."

"Uh, sure." Still trying to process the events of the past few minutes, he could only nod and watched as the two turned to leave, their hands brushing in the process, then joining as they hit the doorway of the squad room.

Fin


A/N: Ok, that's really the end. Hope you guys enjoyed the ride!