A/N: I've had this one rattling around in my head for awhile, but it's been making more noise lately, demanding to be let loose. Since things are winding down with a couple of the other stories I have going, I decided to let it have its way and give it its freedom. And it goes without saying that they belong to Dick Wolf, not me. To quote my daughter: Le sigh.
Alex Eames was roused from a sound sleep by a knock at her apartment door. She laid in bed, hoping she was mistaken. The knock sounded again and she looked at the time. 3:13. "Dammit," she muttered as she slid out of her warm bed. Who could be pounding on her door at three in the morning and why?
She pulled on her robe and padded out of the bedroom to the living room. She'd sold her house and returned to the city for several reasons. She'd tried to settle back in after her kidnapping, but even after a year she could no longer get comfortable in the house she once called home. She came to dread going there, using any excuse she could find to stay with her sister or her parents. She'd even slept on Goren's couch a few times, claiming to be too tired for the drive to Rockaway. If he knew any different, he never said. She also felt a real need to remain closer and more available to her partner. After his mother's death, she felt he needed her, even if he wouldn't admit it consciously. She could always find another house next year or the year after. Right now, she was worried about him.
Arriving at the door, she looked through the peephole, surprised to see no one on the other side of the door. Now wait, she thought. I know I heard knocking.
She started when another knock boomed into the quiet of the room and she looked again. No one. Every remnant of sleep slid from her brain as her adrenaline level shot through the roof. She crossed the room to her desk and withdrew her .38 back-up piece. Checking the chamber, she flipped off the safety and returned to the door. Another knock sounded, this one weaker than the ones before. She slid the chain from its clasp and undid the deadbolt. Preparing herself for anything, she held the gun ready and opened the door.
She stepped back, gasping in alarm. She was not prepared for this. Goren was leaning against the wall beside the door, bleeding heavily from a head wound. "Bobby...?"
He stumbled two steps into the apartment. "Eames..."
Another step and he collapsed. She dropped the gun and fell to her knees beside him, feeling for a pulse and checking his breathing. She didn't missed the smell of alcohol on his breath, but she dismissed it; it was not the cause of his collapse. Quickly, she grabbed the phone, made an officer down request for an ambulance and began to examine him for other injuries. She found a knife wound in his side; his shirt and jeans were saturated with blood. In addition to the head wound, his face was scraped and bruised. She searched for the backup piece she knew he always carried. She didn't find it. "Oh, my God..." she whispered. "What happened to you?"
Once the ambulance was gone, she called Ross as she quickly dressed and left for the hospital. Ross said he would meet her there. Her gut was churning as she drove through the dark streets, trying to imagine what had happened to Goren. She'd talked to him around ten. He'd been home; he'd had a few beers and he was in a good mood. She'd teased him a little and they'd said good night. They seemed to be settling back into the old patterns born of a deeply affectionate friendship. She was still the one who called at bedtime because she was the one who went to bed first, but he had started to call at random times when they weren't at work. She sensed that he just wanted to hear her voice, and she was all right with that. She needed to hear from him, to know that he was all right; she still worried about him.
He had not said anything about going out, and she had not expected him to go anywhere. Once home and well into a six pack, or more, the only place he went was to bed. They lived in the same area of the city, but not in the same neighborhood. Although he'd walked from his place to hers before, when restless nights plagued him and he didn't feel he could drive, she had a sick feeling that was not what had happened, though she was at a loss to figure out what could have driven him from his apartment in the depths of a Sunday morning and turned him up, injured, on her doorstep.
She met Ross in the emergency room hallway; they arrived at the same time. "What happened, Eames?" he demanded.
"I don't know. Goren showed up at my door injured and collapsed. He didn't say anything."
"When was the last time you saw him?"
She sighed. "Friday, but I talked to him last night, around ten. He had no plans to go out. He was at my door just after three."
"Well, let's see if we can't figure something out before I call the chief. Goren's not his favorite detective these days."
Eames frowned darkly, but she appreciated the captain's tendency to protect her partner. He'd been through enough lately. He was a month back from his suspension, and although he never discussed what had happened to him at Tate's, beyond the report he'd filed, she knew it still haunted him. He'd fallen asleep on her couch a week and a half earlier, so she knew first-hand that nightmares still plagued his sleep. She wished there was something she could do to help him and it upset her that there wasn't.
They found the cubicle where a team of two doctors and three nurses were working on Goren. Eames watched, her face dark with worry. There was still a lot of blood. She turned away, arms hugging her midsection as she struggled against tears. She did not want Ross to see how upset she was, fearing he would misinterpret her concern. When a strong arm came to rest around her shoulders, she shuddered and finally broke down, turning into the captain's arms.
As he held her, Ross said quietly, "I understand, Eames. You and your partner have been through a lot, and I get that you are close. So it's all right."
She bunched his jacket in her fists. He was right; they had been through a lot. Was it all going to end here?
The hour that passed before a doctor approached them was interminable. Eames did not like the frantic gestures and stressed tones that colored the doctors' demands of the nurses. Eames looked away for a moment, caught off guard by her reaction to the blood that soaked the doctor's scrubs as he approached them. "You are here with Detective Goren?"
"Yes, we are," Ross answered, introducing himself and Eames. "How is he?"
"He's lost a lot of blood, but we got to him in time. Was he in a barfight?"
Ross frowned. "What makes you ask that?"
"His blood alcohol level was elevated."
Eames jumped in before Ross could reply. "I talked to him last night at home. Whatever he had to drink, it was at home, not in a bar."
"Are you certain he was home, Eames?" Ross asked.
"Yes. I talked to him on his home line." She looked at the captain. "He has nightmares. He..."
Ross touched her arm. "It's all right, Eames. You don't have to explain." He turned back to the doctor. "Is he going to be all right?"
"Yes. The knife wound in his side was deep but no major organs appear to have been hit. Whoever did this to him did a number on him. His head injury is serious, but there doesn't appear to be any underlying damage or fractures. He has extensive bruising on his torso as well. Someone beat the crap out of your officer, captain."
Eames moistened her lips. "Can you tell how long it's been?"
The doctor scratched his chin. "Ballpark, I would say he's been bleeding for awhile, but it's difficult to pin down an exact time. Even though no major vessels were damaged, the bleeding from his head and his side was heavy and steady enough to prevent clotting. If he hadn't been found, he would have bled out by sunrise. Everything is under control now, and we're going to watch him. We can't fully assess the extent of his head injury until he's awake."
"Are you going to admit him?" Ross asked.
"That depends on his mental status when he wakes. If there is any indication his head injury is more serious than we believe, then yes. Otherwise, he can go home, if there's someone to keep an eye on him for a few days."
"He lives alone," Ross said.
"He can stay with me for a few days," Eames said.
Satisfied, the doctor nodded and walked away. Ross studied Eames. "Eames..."
"He's my partner, captain. He has no one else."
"What about his brother?"
"Frank?" she snorted derisively. "Frank can't take care of himself. Besides, Bobby disowned him. He's a junkie and he's unreliable, at best. No, he has no family. He just has me."
"Are you sure you want that responsibility?"
She looked at him for a long moment before deciding it was a question that did not warrant an answer. She had accepted the responsibility for dealing with her difficult partner a long time ago. Turning away from the captain, she went into the treatment room where the nurses were cleaning up. Well aware that Ross was watching her, she stepped up to the bed and slid her hand into Goren's. Studying his bruised face, she soon forgot about Ross and wondered what could possibly have happened between the time she'd said good night to him and the time he turned up at her door.
It was midmorning when Goren finally began to come around. He opened his eyes slowly and perused his surroundings. A hospital. What the hell...? He attributed the pounding in his head to a hangover, though he wasn't quite sure what to make of the pain in the rest of his body. He shifted his position and slowly sat up, groaning at the pain that flared in his chest and abdomen. The room began to swim and he settled back on the bed. "Bobby?"
She entered his line of vision from the direction of the doorway, setting a coffee cup on the counter near the sink. She stepped to his side and grasped his hand again. "How do you feel?"
"Not so good. What happened?"
"I was hoping you could tell me that. Do you remember talking to me last night?"
"So what happened after we hung up?"
He raised his hand to run it over his head, looking surprised by the bandage and the pain he encountered when his hand came to rest on his head. "I, um, I watched television for awhile, had a couple more beers, and fell asleep on the couch."
"When did you leave the apartment?"
"Leave? I didn't."
She wasn't sure what to make of his denial. "Bobby, you were at my door at three this morning, bleeding badly. Someone beat the shit out of you."
He gave that some thought, taking stock of his pain. "You'd think I'd remember something like that."
She hesitated before offering a potential explanation. "A blackout?"
"From what? I was drinking beer, Eames, and I didn't have that much. I can tell you what I was watching, if I wanted to. I remember last night, right up until I fell asleep."
"Were you alone?"
He gave her a patronizing look. "Who would I be with?"
"One of your buddies, maybe. A girlfriend...?"
He snorted. "No girlfriend. You should know that. And I haven't talked to most of my buddies since my mother got sick. I don't have many friends."
"What about Logan?"
He frowned. "What about him?"
"You hang out with him sometimes."
He nodded. "Sometimes. Not last night. I was alone, Eames."
The conversation ended when a nurse came into the room. "Oh, you're awake. Good. I'll get Dr. Beringer."
In the few minutes it took her to retrieve the doctor, neither of them spoke. They were trying to make heads or tails of what had happened during the night and why he did not remember it. Eames was glad Ross had not stayed; the captain would have made Goren nervous. The doctor introduced himself and spoke with concern. "How do you feel?"
"Kind of like I was hit by a truck."
"Maybe you were. Do you remember what happened to you?"
"Sorry, no. The last thing I remember was watching television in my living room."
The doctor looked at his clipboard. "Do you know how much you had to drink last night?"
"From around eight or nine until about midnight I had eight, maybe ten beers. I knew it was going to be a difficult sleep night. But I didn't drink enough to make me blackout. I haven't had a blackout since I was in the Army."
Beringer nodded and glanced at the chart in his hand. "That seems about right. Can you tell me what day today is?"
"Uh, it's Sunday."
"Do you know the date?"
"January twenty, uh, twenty-fourth." He knew what the doctor was doing. "My name is Robert Goren. I'm a cop, and this is my partner. I'm in a hospital emergency room in New York City, which is where I live and work. Satisfied?"
Beringer smiled. "I'm satisfied." He looked at Eames. "You can take him home. Just be wary and watch for the symptoms we discussed."
Goren looked from the doctor to Eames. "What's going on?"
Setting the edge of the clipboard on the bed, Beringer leaned on it and said, "Your captain said you live alone, and your partner offered to let you stay with her for a few days, because of the severity of your head injury."
"Other than a headache, my head feels fine."
"The other option is we admit you."
Eames smiled. She saw that coming a mile away. "Then you're stuck with me, Goren." She picked up her coat, and realized he had not been wearing one. "You didn't have a coat."
He looked down at his bloody jeans and bare chest. "Um..."
Beringer said, "I'll get you a shirt."
"Thank you." When the doctor was gone, he looked at Eames. "Is all this my blood?"
"As far as I know it is."
He cocked his head at that response and asked, "What do you think happened to me?"
She rested her hand on his arm, gently caressing his skin with her thumb. "I wish I knew."
The doctor brought him a scrub shirt, and a nurse signed him out so he could leave. After signing the paperwork, he asked Eames, "Does it matter to you where we go?"
"I'm more comfortable in my apartment."
She weighed the options and answered, "Your couch is a lot more comfortable than mine, and you'll probably do better in your own bed. All right. Your place it is."
"You really don't have to stay with me, Eames."
"Let's go. You'll be lucky if I let you out of my sight again."
He raised his eyebrows and she smiled at him. But he said nothing more as he slid from the stretcher and followed her out of the hospital.