Author's Note: Greetings, discerning readers!! My muse and I have been discussing (i.e. arguing about) this story for a few days now and we've finally settled on the following compromise. I also chatted a bit about it with the wonderful, amazing, and talented Alamo Girl (and said chat resulted in us using the same song lyrics – great minds, and all that), who never fails to amuse and inspire me. (BTW – Where's my Tin Man update, girl?) And finally, thanks to GH, I eat a lot of Chinese food, so thanks for the research help!
Any episode through this most current season is fair game. I still adhere to the "Alex Eames is a Cary Grant fan" school of thought, even though I don't own the characters. I also don't own Chris Daughtry and I'm broke (read: horse poor) so please don't sue, just review.
We used to have this figured out;
We used to breathe without a doubt.
When nights were clear, you were the first star that I'd see.
We used to have this under control.
We never thought - we used to know.
At least there's you, and at least there's me.
Can we get this back?
Can we get this back to how it used to be?
"Used To" – Chris Daughtry
They used to get Chinese food every Wednesday. On slow nights, they'd clock out and go down the street to Garden of Eatin' (the city's worst-named Chinese restaurant with the best food in their borough) and order steaming plates of moo goo gai pan, mushu pork, and slippery shrimp with jasmine rice that they'd share while they relaxed and talked about what was going on in their lives. He'd use chopsticks with easy efficiency and she'd favor a fork because by the time they got there, she'd be too hungry to patiently move the rice around with the tips of the sticks, which meant that when he made her laugh, she'd have to cover her mouth demurely with one hand because her bites of food were so big. But her eagerness for the food and her easy laughter only served to make those nights out more special and he was never more at ease than when he was sitting across from a sticky, food-filled table from her and watching her spear one of the last shrimp from his plate without asking, a quirked blonde eyebrow daring him to protest her audacity. (He never did because he never minded and he'd usually push the rest of the shrimp her way just to prove his point.)
On nights that were anything but slow, they'd have egg rolls and mushu pork delivered to One Police Plaza and spread it out in the interrogation room while they pored over paperwork and tried to make sense of their latest case. He'd become so wrapped up in the information in front of him that she'd make a point of setting aside two steaming egg rolls for him and nudge them slowly in his direction every few seconds until they came to rest directly on top of one of his files and were no longer able to be ignored; only then would he realize that his stomach had been growling for ten minutes or more, lay his pen to rest on the battered gray tabletop, and avert his attention from the work to the food. Amused, she'd dig into the now half-empty container of pork she held in her hand and watch him with a smirk while he explained his latest theory around a mouthful of half-chewed egg roll – completely forgetting to be demure and use a hand to block her view of the mastication process the way she always did for him. But she never minded this and instead would listen intently, then slide the first cellophane-wrapped fortune cookie over to him so he could read it aloud.
They used to compare fortunes and laugh at the vague red writing on shiny slips of paper, never believing for a second that such overly-generalized prognostications would come true. Then she'd chuckle because she would mentally add the words "in bed" to the end of one or both of those fortunes, thereby rendering them completely implausible for either party, who spent far too much time at work and with one another to date other people – normal, outside people – for more than a few dinners and movies at a time.
The only fortune he never read aloud to her told him to, "Stop searching for forever. Happiness is right next to you." He never shared it because it was the truest fortune he'd ever come across in a lifetime of eating Chinese food and he didn't want to overwhelm their comfortable partnership – and friendship – by turning things sentimental all of a sudden. Sitting next to her, eating Chinese food and talking about their cases and their lives had come to equal happiness to Bobby Goren and he believed it to be enough simply that he knew it. No need to burden her with the information.
Now, each Wednesday when he takes Chinese food home to his empty apartment and eats it alone, he wishes he had told her when he had the opportunity.
If he'd done that – if he'd just read the damn fortune aloud - he might not have allowed their relationship to get to the point where he took it for granted – where he took her for granted – and he supposes he should have known better than that. After all, a man with a history of nothing but transient, unstable, and – yes – unhealthy relationships really should place a high degree of value the one that breaks that historic trend and comes to mean everything to him, lest he sabotage it and find himself alone.
More than that, though, for the first time in a long time, Bobby Goren actually feels lonely. It's not that he isn't accustomed to being alone or working alone or leading a singular existence; he's spent a lifetime that way, even when he's been in close proximity to other people. Working with Declan Gage was a solitary experience, even when the older man was in the room with him and, by the same token, he often found himself working undercover cases on his own when he was with the Narcotics division. But being alone and feeling alone are two separate ideas and, as he spreads the Chinese food for one out on his kitchen table, he realizes this important fact. He's never had the opportunity to experience actual loneliness because he's never had a relationship as close or as long as that which he shared with Alex.
There's a line in His Girl Friday, an old Cary Grant movie that Alex loves, that observes, "You never miss the water 'til the well runs dry." And that's what this loneliness is for Bobby – the well of their friendship is suddenly dry. All of his prior friendships, romantic entanglements, and even familial relationships were so short-lived and transient that he never had time to get used to them, let alone miss them when they were gone. Even with his mother, her schizophrenia prevented the normal balance they might otherwise have struck, so even though hers was a long-time presence in his life, he never grew to count on her the way that most children count on their parents. Frances Goren had her inner confusion to keep her company and so her son Bobby became a loner who functioned better on his own.
That was, of course, before a twist of fate and the NYPD brought Alex Eames into his life. After she came along, he was a walking contradiction: the loner who was never really alone. The well was always full and he was never thirsty for any sort of other companionship.
It's his fault, too. He drilled the well dry without help from anyone else when he chose, once again, to withhold information from her – except this time, it wasn't a fortune slip inside a crispy cookie. This time, he went behind her back in order to get his suspension lifted and nearly got them both shot in the process. She hadn't yelled, though, or railed at him or punched him or kicked him or even raised her voice beyond that of a loud tone when the depth of his betrayal had been revealed. She had, however, looked briefly as though she'd considered it and he found himself wishing she had. A split lip, a throbbing shin, and even a bullet wound would heal a lot faster than the heart he'd felt rented from his chest when she'd finally spoken. And when she'd said that she was the one who carried his water, that he obviously didn't see the two of them as equals but rather held himself to a higher standard than her, he'd wanted nothing more than to tell her that she was wrong; she wasn't carrying the water at all, she was instead the vessel that kept him floating on the surface, the one who kept him from drowning inside his own mind.
Yet sometimes when you scramble to get back in the boat, you end up capsizing.
He had taken the suspension for both of them, he thought at the time. He kept her name out of it as completely as he could so that his quixotic quest didn't taint her record any more than simple association with him already had. It was the least he could do, he figured, considering she hadn't necessarily believed that he was in the right in the first place, but rather helped him because she believed in him. Friends do that sort of thing for each other, he knew, even though his only real prior experience with that sort of sacrifice came on the occasion when Lewis hadbailed him out of jail at 3:00 in the morning that time he was home on leave. Yet her pointing it out made him ask himself: "When was the last time you did something – anything - for Eames?"
It's the answer to that question that lately keeps him up at night – not indigestion from the egg rolls - because when he looks back at their nearly decade-long partnership, all he sees is Eames making sacrifice after sacrifice for him – not the other way around. She's always the one who played bad cop to his good. She always took the shot when situations became heated and weapons were drawn. She never failed to step back when he took the lead and did the follow-up legwork when he had a hunch. She always came to the rescue when he was in over his head and in need of rescue.
So maybe she was right after all. She was the one who carried the water – and piloted the boat, and manned the crow's nest, and operated the lighthouse on the shore that always guided him home.
Or at least she used to – before the well ran dry anyway.
Now that they've overturned, he replays every decision he made, every step he took, and every conversation he had with Eames in the last few weeks in his mind, turning them over and over the way he used to work cases in the hopes that he'll spot something he missed at the time that can show him where he went wrong. But this isn't a case and his mind won't be tricked into thinking that it is. This time, emotions are involved and every time he tries to replay the scenarios, it snaps the film reel of memory and replaces it with three starkly separate images of Alex Eames.
There's her look of disappointment when he brushed her off in front of the diner – their diner, where they always had early lunch or late dinner on those nights that weren't Wednesdays, the nights they didn't have Chinese.
There's her shocked face when she burst into the room realized that her gun was pointed point blank at his chest and his was pointed at her.
And then the grand finale: the shock, horror, and utter betrayal of a police detective – and a friend – at the moment she realized he'd deliberately withheld information from her. He'd deliberately pushed her out of his life in an attempt to get back into hers – only it was made very clear in her expression that Alex Eames wasn't interested in irony at that point.
Bobby isn't sure how many times he's made her cry in the time that they've known each other, though he suspects it's in the neighborhood of three times. Women like Alex don't break easily – and very rarely break at all – so anytime one witnesses such an incident, it's memorable. He recalls her tears that day in court when the letter she'd written early on in their partnership to request transfer away from him surfaced, and then again last year when they re-opened her husband's murder case. But he doesn't think the flood was nearly as significant on those occasions as the one that his betrayal ultimately led to. If her expression in the jail was any indication, he'd broken her heart into two cleanly severed pieces this time and the pain of that was no doubt worth at least a box and a half of Kleenex.
And that's what it was; no matter how many different ways he attempted to frame and re-frame his actions and decisions, in the end they added up to cold, calculated betrayal. He hadn't meant to be that way, hadn't meant to treat her as though she couldn't be trusted, but he had done so anyway and the facts pointed to nothing more and nothing less. In this case, then, Bobby Goren plus his actions equals one big hypocrite; after all, she used to trust him enough to tell him everything. She told him about her abortion during that awful case seven years ago and then told him before anyone else when she planned to act as her sister's surrogate. She trusted him enough to let him solve her husband's murder. She let him into her life wholly and completely and, while inwardly he'd trusted her implicitly, outwardly his actions had shown that he'd only trusted her to be there to back him up and carry the water.
He used to take her for granted, he realizes.
As he passed fellow Major Case detective Mike Logan on his way out of One Police Plaza that night, Logan had muttered a short piece of advice under his breath:
"Flowers, man. Flowers."
The idea of giving flowers to Alex as some sort of apology – the clichéd sort of apology that men usually default to automatically when they're in trouble with the women in their lives – is laughable, as is the idea that a simple bouquet can patch a relationship that's been battered and beaten into submission before ultimately being ripped apart.
But maybe Logan's thinking in the right direction. Every apology has to start somewhere, right?
Tomorrow morning, then, Alex Eames will arrive at her desk at exactly 8:06 - just like always. Bobby Goren will be seated at his desk, directly opposite her. For all intents and purposes, they will appear as they always used to – the great team of Goren and Eames (or Eames and Goren, depending on one's point of view), back together again. On her desk will be a steaming cup of her favorite black tea chai, a packet of Skittles, and a tiny slip of paper – the faded fortune from inside a long-since-eaten cookie.
"Stop searching for forever. Happiness is right next to you," it will read, though the red letters have turned pink since that long-ago Wednesday when Bobby Goren pulled it out of his cookie and hid it from his best friend. He saved it to remind himself to cherish her and yet still somehow managed to forget along the way. Thus, by passing it on to her – a symbolic gesture more than anything else, since the meaning of the fortune will be lost on her, particularly considering the context in which they currently exist – he hopes to move from valuing her on paper, to valuing her for real.
They won't be the way they used to be; they'll never be that way again. But if Bobby opens up to her the way he should have on that Wednesday all those years ago, they might learn to be better than they used to be.
He finishes his meal and reaches for the nearest fortune cookie. Cracking it open, he reveals the message to be: "A loved one is of utmost importance at this time" and thinks that maybe – just maybe – there's some truth to these things after all.
He hopes so anyway.