A/N: This takes place during Season 1 –The Pardoner's Tale –-obviously early on in laying the foundation of the relationship between Bobby and Alex.

Franco's Ristorante was a quaint little hole-in-the-wall on the outskirts of Little Italy. It was Bobby's idea to bring Alex there for a quick, informal dinner, before heading back to One PP to follow up on the leads they'd acquired during the day.

It was typically busy for a weeknight. A cozy, family-owned bistro that catered to local businessmen and residents that appreciated authentic Italian cuisine –served in enormous portions--at fair prices. For those reasons, it was easy to overlook the cliché checkered tablecloths and tacky mural of Venice that ran the entire length of the wall.

Bobby smiled as the waitress approached and placed Alex's platter of eggplant parmesan in front of her and his chicken parm at his place setting.

"Wow, you weren't kidding about the portions," she said in amazement.

Bobby merely chuckled, as he placed his napkin on his lap and dug in to his own meal.

Alex felt conspicuous. They rarely ate together, save for grabbing a hot dog or pretzel from a street vendor while they dashed from a crime scene or witness interview.

But this meal wasn't the only new thing that the day had brought to their partnership. Earlier in the afternoon, instead of him taking off without her, following a lead on his own, he had actually invited her to go along to meet one of his friends. For the first time, she felt included –and it felt nice.

"How is it?" Bobby asked needlessly. He already knew that every dish that Franco's kitchen turned out was outrageously delicious.

"Mmmmm," Alex hummed with a slight nod of her head, caught in the midst of chewing. Finally swallowing, she sipped her iced tea and asked, "How about yours?"

"Great," he simply answered.

They ate in silence for a few minutes.

Alex watched him and wondered if the quietness felt as awkward to him as it did to her. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, she asked, "So, you've been friends with this 'Lewis' a long time?"

Bobby smiled, laid his fork on the edge of plate and dabbed the corners of his mouth with his napkin. "Lewis and I have been best friends since we were six years old."

"Wow. Long time," she answered and sipped her drink again. "So, um—back at his garage –that GTO with the bashed in door—guess there's a story behind that."

The comment elicited a chuckle from Bobby –one of the rare times she ever heard him laugh.

"Just, um –some teenage fun," he said, hoping she'd drop the subject.

"Ahhhhh," she teased. "How long did you get grounded for?"

Realizing she wasn't going to drop the subject, he again placed his utensils down and leaned slightly forward, resting his forearms against the edge of the table.

"The um, the bashed in car at Lewis' --it was like my dad's old car. One night –we were 17—and this one night my father came home after drinking too much. When he passed out on the couch I took his keys and sneaked out of the house. Lewis and I cruised around for hours –till this drunk lady leaving a bar ran a stop sign and crashed into us."

Alex laughed. "Guess your dad was pretty pissed off when he woke up the next morning."

"Yeah," Bobby nodded, his smile now faded.

"What'd he do?"

"He um, he beat the crap outta me. Broken nose. Fourteen stitches," Bobby answered matter-of-factly, then cut another piece of his chicken.

The tone of his answer was so nonchalant –so indifferent, that Alex immediately got the impression that beatings in the Goren household weren't such a rare occurrence.

She saw his downcast eyes and the way he withdrew a little. The conversation returned to the facts of their case as they finished the rest of their lunch.

X X X

As she pulled the black SUV from the parking space into the city traffic, she knew what she was going to do the instant they got back to One PP. "I've gotta see the Captain right away and withdraw that letter."

THE END