Chapter One

"No!" she screamed. She jerked up in bed and felt terribly sick for a moment. She held her head in her hands and waited for the nausea to pass. "Damn!" Alex Eames thought. "I finally stop having one nightmare, and another set starts tormenting me." She shivered as the cool air from her open window hit her sweat soaked T-shirt. She checked her clock and discovered she'd been asleep for three hours. Her body felt as if she'd just a run a marathon, a sensation she was familiar with from the time she'd beaten her late husband to a finish line. "Damn," she thought again, and reluctantly left her bed and lurched into the bathroom. She hung her damp T-shirt on the back of the door and stepped into the shower. "Damnit, Bobby," she thought as the cool water poured over her. "Damnit, Ross," she thought as turned off the water and stepped from the tub. "Damn the NYPD," she thought as she dried her body and pulled a clean T-shirt over her head. She fell back on her bed and stared at her cell phone on the bedside table. Part of her desperately wanted to call Bobby and to hear his soft, deep, gentle voice.

"But," Alex thought. "How can I tell him about my nightmare when he caused it?"

She sighed, turned off the light, and fell back on her pillows. Since his return from suspension, Bobby had been heartbreakingly kind to her, bringing her coffee and some treat every morning, buying her lunch at every opportunity (luxuries she was sure he couldn't afford after being without regular paychecks for so long), and, most importantly for her, listening to her and giving her credit for everything she did, and sometimes, to her annoyance, for things she didn't do. He let her take the lead in many of their investigations—something she realized he'd always done to some extent—and tried to defer to her. And Bobby tried so hard to work well with Ross that Alex frequently fought against smiling as her partner twisted in physical and mental knots. She lay on her back and watched as the light slowly grew in her bedroom. At the start of their first case since his return, Alex felt as angry and awkward as she had in the first days of her partnership with Bobby, and the case's high profile and Ross' history with their prime suspect didn't help the atmosphere. But Bobby worked so hard, and he was so careful in his dealings with Ross and her, that she gradually warmed to him. "He's back," Alex thought as she watched Bobby bore in on the suspect. "He's back."

Bobby took little pleasure in their successful resolution of the case. As they went through Kathy's booking, he was efficient and quiet. They finished the process and were signing the last forms when Bobby looked towards Ross' office. "He must feel awful," Bobby muttered.

"Yea," Alex said. "He's human, after all." She placed a form on her finished pile. "But you recognized that."

Bobby bent his head over his desk. "I…I tried to." He watched as she gathered her things. "Is…Is there anything I can do for you, Eames?"

"Just finish up the paperwork," she answered cheerfully. For a moment she considered asking him to buy her a drink, but she wasn't quite ready to be that forgiving. She was also very tired, and he was, in many ways, responsible for her lack of sleep. "But you can get me an extra shot of espresso in my mocha tomorrow." She hoped he might respond with a snort and a comment that she was lucky he brought her any coffee at all, let alone some complicated concoction.

But he only gave her a sad smile and said, "You got it."

Alex was at the elevators when she saw Megan Wheeler. "Megan…any signs of infestation?"

Megan shook her head. "Nope…Nothing…Logan hasn't seen anything either…And no one else on the patrol reports anything."

Alex looked back at Bobby, who was deeply involved in the paperwork. "He could be hiding…"

"I don't think so," Megan said. "The people you've got on patrol come and go at different times…Some are here when he comes in, some when he goes. I don't think anyone comes in as early or stays as late as he does…And we've gotten no reports of anything from the janitorial staff…All of whom love him because he treats them well." Megan smiled. "Maybe Logan's right…That thing was put in his desk by some coward that hasn't and won't be back."

Alex sighed. "I hope Logan's right. But cops with a bad idea can hang on to it for a very long time."

"There's a lot of people keeping an eye out for him," Megan assured her.

"She's still such a kid," Alex thought as she watched the younger detective return to the squad room. "She still thinks things work out for the best."

As she picked at her dinner later, Alex's cell rang.

"Hey, Eames," Mike Logan greeted her. "Rat Patrol reporting."

Alex smiled sadly. "And…"

"Goren's still here, and I'm passing off my duties to Reynolds and Menendez. No vermin sighted during my tour. Or at least no vermin of the rodent variety."

"Thanks, Logan…Thanks for the help…Let the other guys know that too."

She got to bed early that night and had hopes of a good night's sleep, but the nightmare woke her. It was the same one that plagued her since the night she stared down the barrel of Bobby's gun and pointed her own at him. The dream had several variations. In one—the lesser evil of the three—Bobby pulled his trigger, and Alex, scarlet ribbons spreading over her body, slowly fell to the ground. In the second, Alex watched in horror as Bobby jerked like a demented puppet as the bullets from other cops' guns struck him. In the last and worst dream, Alex fired her gun, and Bobby slumped to the floor, and she watched as his eyes first filled with pain and then the life drained from them.

It was the last dream that woke her. "Oh, God, Bobby," she thought. "Do you have any idea of what you've done to me?"

She managed to get back to sleep, and arrived at Major Case that morning in a mood more sympathetic to Bobby. The fact that a large mocha with an extra shot and a gooey cinnamon roll waited on her desk contributed greatly to her better mood. The day was one of those boring ones Alex was increasingly more appreciative of as she grew older. She and Bobby moved steadily through paperwork and case reviews. Bobby worked diligently with none of the complaints that frequently marked his dealings with such things. When she returned from lunch, she studied her partner. His hair was cut and neatly combed, his beard shaved, and his suit neatly pressed, but there were dark circles under his eyes.

"Hey," she said.

Bobby looked up with alarm.

"You eat any lunch?"

"I…I'm ok," he answered.

"That's not what I asked," Alex said patiently. "Did you have lunch?"

"I…I'm not hungry."

"Have a big breakfast?"

"Uh…something like that…" He focused on the report on his desk.

His reply was scarcely satisfying, but Alex decided not to press the issue. The piles of work declined steadily, and by a little before five they were nearly finished.

"Thank you," Bobby said as she handed a form to him, and he looked at her long enough to let her know he really meant the words.

"You're welcome," Alex replied, and she looked at him long enough to let him know that she recognized and appreciated his gratitude. She gathered the completed forms and stood.

"I'm taking these to the Captain," she said. "You sign all of them?"

"Yes," Bobby answered. "Crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is. I swear."

It disturbed Alex that Bobby was only half joking.

Ross saw her coming and opened his office door for her. She deposited the reports on his desk. "There you are, Captain…All finished."

"Thank you, Eames," Ross said, impressed with the size of the pile. "And thank your partner…Both of you have been working very well. And your partner has been…very…"

"Careful?" Alex said.

"That's a good way of putting it," Ross said. "And I appreciate it…I appreciate what both of you are doing. Are things good between the two of you?"

"Getting better," Alex answered. "We've talked. We know what we need to do. And Bobby is trying. As much as he's trying to work with you, he's trying even harder with me."

Ross looked out the office window at Bobby. "He hasn't gotten any more "gifts", has he?"

"No…Thank God," Alex said. "He's under orders to tell me if he does or gets any kind of threat. And he'll tell me, not only because he's afraid of what will happen if he doesn't and I find out, but because it could hurt me."

"I don't like it," Ross said grimly. "I don't like bad cops, particularly bad cops who threaten good cops. Is he worried?"

"Only as much as it bothers me," Ales said. She stood next to Ross and joined the Captain in his study of Bobby. "I'm trying to keep an eye on him. And I've got some help. Bobby has friends and supporters in the squad and in the department. And so do I."

Ross half-smiled. "Just watch your backs. It's good to have you both back."

As Alex spoke to Ross, Bobby desperately tried to keep his attention focused on the reports in front of him. "It's nothing…They're just talking…" He shook his pen to try to release some of his energy. "Calm down, Goren…She's not going to leave…She's told you that…You know you can trust her…Focus…Pay attention…"

"Hey." Alex loomed over him. "It's quitting time. Want to buy me a drink?"

Bobby nearly bolted from his chair. "Of course…"

"Bobby," Alex said patiently. "It's ok. You don't have to do everything I ask. And you certainly don't have to do it immediately."

He calmed. "I'd…I'd like to buy you a drink…But not anywhere too close…"

"I'm with you on that." Alex shouldered her purse. "Wasn't there a place you liked within a walking distance that hadn't been invaded by cops?"

As they walked together to the bar, Bobby, with a catch in his throat, realized that Alex and he were out of step. He made frequent adjustments to his walk to accommodate her shorter legs. A year ago, he wouldn't have had to think about the changes.

Alex cast a quick eye at her partner. "Good Lord," she thought as she watched him stumble as he tried to adjust his stride to hers. "It's worse than our first day together."

They reached the bar and found an empty booth in the back. Bobby scuttled to its darkest corner, and Alex was sure he couldn't see the waitress' light attempt to flirt with him. After they gave their orders, Bobby leaned out of the shadows and rubbed his eyes.

"Tired?" she asked.

"Uh…a little…just getting back in the swing of things." He wasn't going to tell her that his dreams since his suspension had kept him from getting a full night of sleep. A new set—dreams where she shot him, or he shot her, or someone shot them both—had replaced the flickering nightmares of his time at Tate.

"Yea, hard to get back in step," she said.

"And I…I…" he said hesitantly. "Was always pretty offbeat anyway."

"I don't know about offbeat," Alex said and smiled. "But you've always marched to your own drummer."

By the time the waitress returned with their drinks, Bobby felt good enough to shyly return the young woman's smile. For the rest of the evening they refused to acknowledge the elephant sitting in the booth with them. They didn't talk about his suspension or his undercover work or her anger about both. They talked about her family—about how well her mother was doing, about her older brother's new and determined sobriety, and especially about her nephew. He said less, but he always spoke less during conversations about their lives outside of work, probably, Alex reasoned, because he had less of a life outside work, and it wasn't a happy one. He talked about several cars he'd helped his friend Lewis with, and mentioned in passing that he'd have to leave work early the next day to make a session.

"You're still going to those?" Alex asked.

"Uh…yea…" His answer wasn't hostile, but he shifted uncomfortably in the booth.

"Was that…" Alex treaded carefully. "Was that a condition of getting your badge back?"

"No…" He answered with equal caution. "I…I wanted to keep going…They…I…I think…It's helping…" He tilted his head. "It bothers you…"

"That you can talk to a stranger and not me? Yea…It bothers me…"

Her voice wasn't as biting as her words, but Bobby winced.

"Eames…Please…There's so much…stuff…I have to work through." He spoke slowly and carefully, as if he wanted to be sure of his words as much for himself as for her. "And…and you have nothing to do with it…You…You were right…I inflict some of it on myself…But…It hurts you…It has to do with you…I'm trying to figure it out…To stop doing the things that hurt me…To control what I can…It's not because I don't trust you…God…Eames…" He rubbed the back of his neck. "Right now…You're the only one I do trust…But…Talking to someone who's outside…Who…Who I can't hurt…Who can help me get out of my head…"He leaned forward so he was completely out of the shadows, and Alex struggled to hold his gaze. "She's the one who helped me see…that by pushing you away…I'm not protecting you…I'm hurting you…I understand that now…And I…I'm trying…Please…Please…"

She didn't immediately respond, and he slumped back in the booth.

"Bobby." Alex was proud that she could say his name clearly. "I…I think I understand…" She reached across the table to touch his hand. "I…I…when…when I was…When Jo Gage…There were things I could talk about with my counselor that I couldn't with you…You didn't push…I guess I can do the same."

Bobby sat up and leaned forward. "I…I didn't have the right to push…I mean…" He waved his free hand. "It's your right…"

A terrible thought swept through Alex's mind. "Bobby…Have I…Have I been pushing you too hard? Have I been in your head too much?"

"Eames," Bobby said after a moment. "My head is a scary and terrible place." He smiled sadly. "I think you'd know if you got in there. Don't worry. It's good that you push. You…You're good for me…I…I just…I'm not sure I'm good for you."

Her grip on his hand tightened. "I think you are…and that you have to trust me on that."

He stared at their hands. "OK."

They felt strangely exhausted, as if they had just come through some tremendous battle, and they sat in silence for several moments.

"I could use another drink," Alex finally said. "Where's our waitress?"

Bobby stared around him as if he'd just emerged from a deep sleep. The bar was much busier than when they arrived. "She must be dealing with the crowd. I'll go up to the bar."

Out of habit, he picked up his binder as he stood, and Alex smiled at the familiar view of Bobby using it as a shield to help part the crowd. She watched until he reached the bar, and turned away to examine the crowd. She wished she could shut off the cop side of her brain as she scanned the faces.

"C'mon, Bobby," she thought with a smile. "Get back here so I can diss these people with you."

She looked back at the bar, but didn't see Bobby. She stood, and couldn't find him anywhere in the bar. A small bit of fear appeared in her as she pushed through to the bar. Their now harried waitress, waiting for the bartender, was there.

"I'm sorry," Alex said. "The man I'm with…He was up here…"

"Oh, yea," the waitress said. "There were three or four guys who seemed to know him. I think they went out the side door."

The fear grew in Alex as she pushed again through the crowd. Before she opened the door, she pulled out her cell phone and placed her other hand on her gun. Her heart pounding, she pushed the door, and it creaked open to reveal an empty alley. Her heart ceased pounding when she saw Bobby's binder, splayed open and the wind ruffling its paper, lying on the ground.


I'm really lousy at titles.