1: to give something to by way of compensation (as for a service rendered)
2: to pay for
3: to return in kind
Bobby pulled at his sling, adjusting it where it was rubbing the skin raw at the back of his neck.
"Leave that alone," Alex admonished. She spared a quick glance at him before returning her eyes to the road. "Robert Goren, are you nervous?" There was a smirk in her voice.
He shot her a frown, not that she saw it, but it made him feel better. He didn't answer her though. He turned his attention out the passenger side window.
After a minute, Alex glanced at him again, all amusement gone from both her expression and her tone. "You really are nervous, aren't you?"
Bobby answered without turning. "A little."
"Why, for heaven's sakes? You've worked with most of these people for years. How many times have you walked into that room and sat down at your desk? Why is this time any different? "
He let all of his frustration out in a sigh and turned to look at her finally. "For two weeks they believed I hurt you, that I tried to rape you."
"But now they know that you were as much a victim as I was, if not more."
He turned back toward the window. "They still believed it." He didn't think she would hear the soft admission.
"I didn't think that bothered you."
"I didn't either." He sighed. "It's just... when they look at me... they'll be reminded. For two weeks, I really was crazy in their minds."
"But not in your mind."
Bobby shot her a look and caught the ghost of a smile twitching her lips. "That's the worst pun I think I've ever heard out of you, Alex Eames."
She slowed to a stop behind a long line of cars waiting at an intersection and turned to face him. "Joke or not, Bobby, it's the truth. You weren't crazy -- aren't crazy. And they know that. I don't think most of them ever believed it anyhow. They know you better."
Bobby quirked an eyebrow, but didn't answer.
"Besides, since when do you care what anyone thinks?" The light changed, and she turned her attention back to the road. "Or has that been an act all these years?"
"Everybody cares what the people they work with think about them. And yes, I know I've always been considered a little... unorthodox..."
"A little?" Alex chuckled.
"Okay," he conceded, laughing along with her, "a lot."
"A hell of a lot!"
"Watch it, Eames, you're pushing it." His amused tone was at odds with the warning in the words. "Okay, I'm odd, and everyone knows it. But that's not the same as being crazy."
"Bobby, if you're not ready for this, we can turn around--"
He took a moment to really consider her offer, but in the end, he knew it would be no better tomorrow, or the next day... or next week. "No, better to get it over with."
"Like ripping off a band-aid, huh?"
Bobby didn't answer. He continued to look out the window. A light snow had fallen in the night, coating the ugliness of this part of town in a thin layer of white. It took Bobby several more blocks to realize where they were. A sudden impulse overtook him.
He turned to Alex. "Could we make a detour?"
Alex looked at him, her eyebrows raised.
"A short one." He thought for a minute. "No... no, sorry. Never mind."
"We have time," Alex said. "Where do you want to go?"
He felt sheepish having to admit it. "I forgot... it's morning. She won't be out."
"She?" There was curiosity in her voice.
"Someone who... who helped me out. I owe her some money." He looked away, back out the window. "I owe her a lot more than that, truth be told."
"We'll look for her this evening, after work, if you're up to it."
Bobby turned, gracing her with a smile. He knew she'd understand. "Afterwards, I'd like to take you to dinner." At her surprised glance, he added, "There's someone who wants to meet you, and..." he paused, "...I owe her, too."
Just before the elevator doors opened, Bobby took a bracing breath. It was after eight. The squad room would be filled with people, the day having already begun. He should have insisted they come in early, so he could have greeted his colleagues one by one as they arrived for the day, not all at once like this.
It was too late for that now. The elevator doors were open and Alex was looking at him, waiting for him to make the first move. Lifting his chin and squaring his shoulders, Bobby stepped out of the superficial safety of the lift and entered the lion's den.
Just as he'd predicted, the squad room was bursting with activity, but to his surprise, no one seemed to notice him as he made his way quietly across to his desk. He met Alex's gaze across the desks as he removed his coat.
She shrugged. "Be careful what you wish for. At least no one is looking at you like you're crazy." She pulled her chair out to sit, and within minutes she was immersed in the large stack of paperwork in the center of her workspace.
Bobby gave the room one last curious glance, sat down and booted up his computer.
"Hey, welcome back, Goren."
Bobby looked up to see Austin Stowe give a small wave as he passed on his way toward the interrogation rooms.
"See, someone did notice you," Alex said with a smirk.
"I'm... I'm not sure which is worse," Bobby said, only half-joking. "Being looked at like a crazy man... or not being looked at... at all."
"Goren," Anni Loomis said, patting his shoulder as she passed behind him. "Good to see you back."
He turned to answer her, but she'd already disappeared around the corner. He gave a small shake of the head, unsure whether to be relieved or disappointed. He'd been afraid everyone would be awkward around him for a while, but he hadn't expected to be treated as though he'd merely been on vacation.
Bobby dismissed the foolish concerns and turned his attention to cleaning out his bursting email box. Twenty minutes later, he was still sorting through the spam, when Captain Deakins stopped next to his desk.
"Detective Goren," he greeted, "good to have you back. You're looking much better than the last time I saw you."
"Feeling it, too," Bobby assured him. "A week of riding a desk, and then I'll be cleared for active duty."
"None too soon, either. We've got more cases than we've got manpower right now. I need my best detective team back up and running at full power as soon as possible."
Bobby smiled at the compliment. Deakins didn't hand them out often.
ADA Ron Carver entered the squad room and, spotting the trio, crossed to stand beside Deakins. "Good to see you, Detective Goren."
"Thank you. Good to be back."
Carver looked at Deakins. "I've got the files you wanted." He held up a manila folder. "We can discuss them now, if you're ready?"
"Any time," Deakins said with an enigmatic smile.
"Is that the Santiago Alireza case?" Alex asked. At Carver's nod, she added, "Mind if Bobby and I sit in on it? It's got to be more interesting than going over all this paperwork."
"No problem. A fresh perspective might be just what we need." Deakins headed toward the closest conference room. Carver followed on his heels.
Alex stood and waited for Bobby.
"Alireza?" He looked at her. "Should I recognize that one?"
"I doubt it, though you might have seen something in the papers last week. Come on, the captain can fill you in."
Bobby shut down his email program. His eyes raked the squad room as he stood. He was surprised to note it was nearly empty. A glance at his watch told him it wasn't yet lunch time. He glanced at Alex to ask her about it, but she had turned away, heading for the conference room. Confused, Bobby followed.
At the door, Alex waited for him. She stepped to the side and gestured for him to open it. He scarcely gave her strange action a thought until he stepped into the room and was met with a resounding cheer. He stopped dead in his tracks.
The missing detectives from the bullpen were gathered in the large conference room, all facing him, and all wearing matching face-splitting grins. The room was festooned with black balloons, black streamers and cardboard cutouts of tombstones, all of which, Bobby noted, carried his name.
"You gonna stand there all day with your mouth hanging open?" Fin asked, moving forward to pull Bobby into the room, "or you gonna move and let your partner in?"
He didn't let go of Bobby's arm until they were in front of the long conference table. There was a huge cake in the center, it's top decorated to look like a cemetery with tiny plastic mummies and zombies wandering among the tombstones. The message on the cake read, "Mummies, Zombies And Goren Rise From The Dead."
As Bobby recovered from his shock, he found himself grinning widely.
"I'd say the surprise part was a success," Carver said.
"There's no Alireza case?"
"Oh, there's a case." The attorney held up the file. "Just not in this folder."
Bobby shook his head. He turned to Alex, who was standing at his elbow. "You knew about this?"
"Honest to God, Goren," Detective Sweeney bellowed from the back of the room. "How in the hell did you ever make Detective First Grade with detecting skills like that?"
The whole room laughed, and Bobby felt heat rise in his face.
"We got you something." Nolan Howe stepped forward, a neatly wrapped package in his hands.
"You didn't have to..." Bobby stopped, afraid he was sounding ungrateful. "Thank you," he said simply.
He took the package and set it on the table. Unwrapping it one-handed was awkward, but he managed after a few minutes. Inside was a black binder, very similar to the one he'd lost, only this one was leather, rather than vinyl, and across the front had been engraved the message: "Property of Detective Robert Goren. If found without its owner, please return to 1 Police Plaza."
Laughing, Bobby ran his fingers over the gold letters.
"If you lose that one, then we're just going to declare you hopeless," Marcel said.
"I'll try to be more careful with this one," Bobby promised.
Marcel grinned and pulled a Sharpie marker out of his pocket. He held it in the air. "Okay, who's gonna be first to sign Goren's cast?"
Deakins pushed forward and grabbed the marker. "With rank comes privilege."
Alex set a paper plate with a large piece of cake on the table in front of Bobby. He pulled his gaze away from his examination of his autograph-covered cast and looked up at her.
"It's your cake, you have to have at least one piece." She sat down next to him. "Besides, it's butter cream frosting. Your favorite."
Bobby picked up the plastic fork and used the side of it to cut off a bite-sized piece. "Thank you, Alex." He looked up, meeting her gaze.
"I assume you're not talking about the cake, which you could have reached over and grabbed for yourself." She gestured around the room. "You can't blame this on me."
"Nuh uh." She stretched across the table to snag a plate of cake for herself, a corner piece with extra icing. She removed a plastic tombstone and poked it into Bobby's piece of cake. "Wasn't me."
Bobby looked around the room, trying to figure out who, if not Alex, would have gone to the trouble.
"Oh, Bobby, come on. Do you really have to know?" Alex shook her head in mock dismay. "Does it matter?"
"No... no, I guess not. I'm just..."
Bobby chuckled. "Yeah. I don't know who else would have thought of this." His eyes returned to the notebook. "And this... It's... it's... very nice."
Alex let out a frustration-filled sigh. "Do you really have such a low opinion of yourself? Why can't you realize how important you are around here? How respected and appreciated? Someone really did a number on your self-esteem, didn't they?" She shook her head sadly and took another bite of cake.
Bobby dropped his eyes, not willing to take the opening Alex had dangled in front of him. His past was private. The day might well come when he'd feel comfortable discussing it with someone, and he was certain that someone would be Alex. But it wasn't going to be today.
"So, you going to tell me who did this?" he asked, redirecting the conversation to the original topic.
"Let's just say it was a group effort."
Bobby looked at her, surprised. "Really?" His face turned red when he realized how needy that one word had sounded.
Alex laughed, licking the icing from her fork. "Really. So, still think they'll look at you like you're crazy?"
Bobby looked around the room at his colleagues, his friends. Not one had failed to personally stop by and welcome him back, and he had a cast full of autographs to prove it. "Yeah, they will." He laughed at the expression on Alex's face. "But I'm beginning to think that might not be the worst that could happen."
Thank you to everyone who stuck with me to the end. It has been a tremendous pleasure to share my story with you, and I hope each one of you found a little something here to enjoy.