Eames was lying on the couch, watching television and enjoying the smells drifting from the kitchen. True to his word, her partner was fixing her dinner. She was still skeptical, recalling the many meals her mom had fixed that smelled great but lost something in the translation on the palate. Several had been bad enough that not even her brothers would eat them, and she'd seen them eat worms and raw clams. Yuck. But she was going to give Goren the benefit of the doubt. He had a chance to prove he could cook, but she was only giving him one chance.

"Dinner's ready," he called.

She took a deep breath and got up. He smiled at her. "You look like a prisoner being called to her last meal. I don't think it's going to be that bad."

"I guess we'll see, won't we?"

He shrugged as she sat down and looked at the table. Well, he did set a nice table. He set a plate in front of her and filled her glass with wine. Red wine, beef dish…he knew how to choose a wine. That was at least something. She'd choked down many bad meals with good wine. Taking a sip, she smiled. "Good choice."

He just grinned and continued to watch her. She looked down at her plate. Pepper beef with rice. Not too challenging. But she had yet to meet an untrained bachelor who could cook. Every guy she'd ever dated specialized in tuna salad and cold cereal. Not one of her brothers could cook—one of them couldn't even heat a can of soup without causing a catastrophe. Thank God he was married. Her dad did all right, but he stuck to simple meals.

"It's not going to bite you, Eames."

Preparing herself for anything, she took her first bite. He watched the surprise spread across her face, and he turned to his own meal. Score one for the guy. "Where'd you learn to cook like this?"

He shrugged. "I taught myself mostly."

"Really?"

He nodded. "My mom first got sick when I was seven and Dad left when I was eleven. I got really tired of peanut butter and jelly. My brother was always gone at a friend's or wherever, but I never had that option. So I took care of Mom. I taught myself to cook so she would at least eat one good meal a day, and I didn't have to eat sandwiches. I guess you could say I learned to cook out of necessity."

This was the first real look into his difficult childhood he'd given her. She knew bits and pieces...his sick and unstable mother, abusive father, apathetic brother... She couldn't imagine how hard it must have been for him. "Bobby, I'm sorry…"

"Don't!" he started angrily. But he stopped, closing his eyes and forcing himself to calm down. He wasn't mad at her; she couldn't know. Finally, he looked at her. Gently, he said, "Don't feel sorry for me, Eames. I…I couldn't take that. Not…not from you."

She thought about how to word what she wanted to say. "I don't feel sorry for you. That's not what I meant."

He waved a hand. "What's past is past. There's no changing it. Forget about it, ok?"

She just nodded, because that was the answer he wanted. But it was something she never would forget. Every little glimpse he gave her into his past she remembered, and it always amazed her how such a gentle, kind man grew out of such a tortured little boy. She'd known plenty of abused and mistreated kids. She'd arrested many of them, too many. But somehow, Bobby had overcome his childhood. Granted, he was eccentric and quirky in many ways. He definitely was not typical. But the longer she knew him, the closer she grew to him, and the more he endeared himself to her. She could no longer even imagine her life without him in it. She didn't want to. Over time, she was coming to realize that her big, intimidating partner had a very vulnerable side. He kept it well hidden, but she had seen it here and there. Little by little, he was letting her in, letting her see who he was behind his cop façade. He was afraid…afraid he would drive her away, that it would be too much for her. She knew better, but there was no way she could convince him of it, except by staying, which she fully intended to do.

"Ok, Goren," she said with a smile. "You can cook for me anytime."

He laughed. He was never able to stay mad or be annoyed at her for long. "Just say the word," he said.

After dinner, he insisted she take it easy while he cleaned up. "Goren, I…"

He gently pushed her toward the couch. "You just had a baby. I can clean up after myself. Go on."

"It's my kitchen."

"It's my mess."

"At least let me help."

"You can help by staying out of the way. Don't argue."

She let out an exaggerated sigh of annoyance, and he laughed. She was surprised, though, that it didn't take him long to finish. "You're done?" she asked when he came into the living room and sat beside her.

"I also learned to clean as I go. It makes everything a lot easier." She studied him intently and he frowned at her. "What?"

"I can honestly say I have never known a man like you."

"Uh, because I can cook?"

"That's just part of it. You are a complicated man, Goren."

He looked away. He still wasn't sure how much of himself he could let her see before she would take off packing, leaving him alone once again. He fully expected that to happen someday. By hiding as much of himself as he could, he felt he was delaying the inevitable, and as much as he knew it would hurt worse the longer it took, he just couldn't let her go. "You have no idea, Eames."

She slid closer to him, so she could rest her hand on his arm without stretching. "I…I really need to thank you, Bobby."

"For what?"

"For your friendship. There is no one else I could have called this morning who would have reacted the way you did. You never got angry. You just came over because I…needed you."

"What good would it do to get angry? You were scared. I…I could let you be scared."

"Why not?"

He looked genuinely puzzled. "Because I…care about you."

Yes, she knew that. He did care, deeply. He showed that all the time, in little ways. She could see it in his eyes, when he thought she wasn't looking. She turned toward him, looking into his face. "I feel better now than I have in weeks. I promise when I come back to work I'll be back to normal."

"That will be nice. I don't like you being…scared like you were."

"I don't care for it much myself."

He laid his hand on her cheek. "But you call me if you need me, ok? I don't mind."

She believed him. He truly didn't mind. On impulse, she kissed him again. She felt him tense, not sure what that was about, but, deepening the kiss, she could feel him relax, slowly. He drew her closer to him. But he pulled away before they got too close to the edge. He knew that once they stepped beyond that, there was no going back. He refused to take advantage of her vulnerability. "I…I need to go," he managed. "It's late."

She nodded, letting him withdraw, understanding why he had to, for them both. "I…hope I haven't made you uncomfortable."

He shook his head. "No. Not uncomfortable." His voice became softer. "I can't let you…" He trailed off, changing directions. "It's not the time for this. I never want you to regret anything you do with me, and this you might. You need to reestablish your bearings, get yourself back to normal. You said you loved me, and I believe you. I love you, too. That's why I have to go."

She nodded. She knew he was right. "Call me tomorrow?"

"Don't I call you every day?"

She smiled. He kissed her one last time. "Good night, Eames." He brushed her hair back behind her ear and tilted his head to see her face. "You know where I am if you need me."

She nodded. He got up and headed for the door. "Bobby?" He turned. "Thank you."

He smiled, then he grabbed his jacket and left. She leaned back into the corner of the couch. She felt a lot better. He was right…she might regret acting on her hormones now. Then things would change in a way she never wanted them to. She never wanted to be uncomfortable around her partner. Maybe later...he wasn't going anywhere and neither was she.

It really was late. She turned off the television and switched off the lights as she headed for the bedroom. She took a quick shower and climbed into bed. When she was warm and comfortable, she picked up the phone and dialed. He answered on the second ring. She smiled hearing his voice. "Hey," she said.

"Is something wrong?"

"No, not at all. I just…I wanted to say good night."

"Ok…"

"Bobby?"

"What?"

"I…" She hesitated, not quite sure what she wanted to tell him. "Thank you again. I really do love you. That's not…it's not going to change. I don't want you thinking I'm entirely hormonal."

He laughed. "I don't. But thanks. I love you, too. And I mean it."

She smiled. "Good night."

"Sweet dreams, Alex."

She hung up the phone and snuggled down under the covers. She slipped off into a comfortable sleep…and she dared to dream.

fin.