Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Law & Order CI, just the thoughts in my head.
Rating: T, for strong language
Summary: "Maybe you should just let go." - Alex confronts Bobby after his stunt in Untethered.
Spoilers: Untethered, but pre-Purgatory
Author's Notes: I started this story right after seeing Unteathered and wrote about three quarters of it before Purgatory aired. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough and seeing the next episode sent my muse off the rails for a while. This is a story in two parts. The second should follow shortly.
This isn't my first fanfiction by far, but my first for these characters. I hope you enjoy it.
As always, this is for Joy. Thanks for being the Toby to my Sam and always being there to bounce ideas off of.
The dull thud of a deadbolt sliding open cut through the silence of the empty hallway. The vibration it sent through the flimsy apartment door ran up her arm, filling Alex with a strange sense of anticipation and foreboding. She was entering new territory and she didn't like it.
Slowly, she pulled the key from the lock, feeling each pin as they dragged along the groves in the small piece of metal. Finally free of the door, the key weighed heavily in her hand.
He'd said it was for emergencies.
It was sometime near the end of their second year as partners that he'd slipped the key into her hand in the middle of a stakeout. She'd been fighting sleep when she'd suddenly felt the cool metal and the warm brush of his fingers against her palm. Before she could raise an eyebrow in question, he'd it explained that because he was single, with no real family to rely on, it was only logical that she have a key to his apartment… for emergencies.
Robert Goren, the master of logic.
She'd laughed it off with some comment about probably having to dig him out from under a pile of Smithsonian magazines and life had gone back to business as usual.
She'd given him one of her keys a few days later, leaving it on his blotter with a cherry danish. The shy smile he'd flashed her across their desks made her wish she'd thought of it first.
That was the last thought she'd given to keys until tonight. Tonight, he wasn't answering his phone, wasn't answering his door. Tonight, he'd been suspended from duty pending a psych evaluation. Tonight, he'd only been out of the hospital for two days and she didn't know where to find him.
In Alexandra Eames' book, that constituted an emergency.
Alex had come to the realization in the last few weeks that she didn't like not knowing where her partner was. It wasn't unusual for Bobby to take off in search of a lead, but Alex always had a pretty good idea where he was and what he was doing. Despite all outward appearances, Alex had always been the one in control in their partnership… at least when it really counted.
Bobby may be the big, brash, brainy and somewhat bizarre Major Case detective, the one that made the headlines, dragging confessions out of more perps than a parish priest. But, what most people didn't notice, what never made the papers was that even with all of Bobby's posturing and postulating, Alex was the one holding the reins in her little hands. No one seemed to notice the subtle looks that would pass between them, the ones that asked 'Is this okay?' and the ones that answered 'Only if you keep me in the loop.' No one noticed how she could pull him back from the brink with just the power of a furrowed brow or calm an escalating conflict with his name or a gentle hand against his back.
Bobby Goren cast a pretty big shadow and it was easy to get lost in it. Some days it bothered her. She hadn't completely lost all sense of ambition, but most of the time she enjoyed the shade. She enjoyed it because it was a position she'd chosen, one that Bobby recognized and appreciated. He'd never really had much support in his life, so she'd accepted the role of touchstone a long time ago.
It was an odd arrangement, their partnership. They were a study in contrasts: his lumbering bulk, to her diminutive frame, his awkward, sometimes explosive personality to her quiet and often understated grace. It was a relationship that garnered a lot of whispers and bewildered looks even within their own squad, but it was comfortable and it worked.
At least it used to work.
Lately it felt as though someone had shoved a wrench in the gears. Communication was sparse and they'd been grating on each other's nerves. Alex's frustration only continued to mount as she felt him closing her out, making it harder for her to read him with each new day. Ever since his mother's death, it was as though Bobby had flipped the switch on his connection to her, breaking the circuit, and it scared her. It scared her because suddenly it felt like she was floundering while Bobby drifted farther away, digging into cases that only brought the both of them pain.
It had started a few months ago when he'd reopened her husband's murder. Suddenly, she'd found herself at the wrong end of Bobby's microscope and she'd resented it. Sure, he'd ended up bringing the real killer to justice after nine years, but he'd done it without asking, without realizing what he would put her through. He should've realized it. Two years ago, he would have realized it, but instead he'd just ploughed ahead, ripping open a wound that had taken years to heal.
So she'd inflicted some wounds herself. Alex knew it was petty to let him believe a perp's assessment, to let him think that she felt tainted by her partnership with him. It played on his biggest fears of abandonment, but damn it, he'd hurt her and his continued distance was hurting her still. It was time he took some of his own medicine. Of course, it had only served to pull them further apart, stretching what cords were left between them even tighter.
And now … Alex sighed, leaning her forehead against the cool veneer of the door, clenching the doorknob tightly in her fist … now he'd gone and thrown himself into the jaws of his own personal hell, for what? To rescue a nephew he never knew he had? To quench his obsessive thirst for justice?
When he'd come to her with his plan to go undercover at Tate's Correctional, she should have stopped him. Two years ago, she could've stopped him. Instead, she'd sighed into the phone and couldn't even bring herself to try. She could feel his desperation even through the phone line. Whether it was for his family, his job or his partnership, she couldn't tell, but what she did know what that there was no way he wasn't going to do this. So, the least she could do was keep an eye on him. She was his partner after all. Weren't partners supposed to have each other's backs? Wasn't that the cliché of being a cop?
So, she'd agreed, against every ounce of better judgement, to play the role she'd always played, his link to the outside, his lifeline should things get out of hand. Against her better judgement, she'd let Bobby willingly face his worst nightmares, armed only with a phone number and her voice on the other end of the line. She'd let him go, hoping in some strange way that by doing this for him, by being there for him when no one else would, that maybe it might fix what was broken between them.
She should've listened to her better judgement.
Instead, Bobby had been tortured to the brink of everything he'd ever feared while Alex had had to run to their captain to save him. Instead, she was standing outside of his apartment door, clinging desperately to the last threads of their partnership, with no idea of what she might find on the other side.
'Only one way to find out.'
Squaring her shoulders, she sucked in a deep breath and finally pushed open the door …
He wasn't home.
Rooms felt different when he was in them. His apartment felt cold, empty, void of any life, as though he hadn't lived there for months and Alex conceded that this was essentially true. She'd always hoped that his mother's death would allow Bobby to finally live. She'd hoped that after caring for a schizophrenic for basically all his life, her death would have been sort of a release for Bobby. Apparently, that release hadn't come. In its place had come a kind of purgatory. She just didn't know if it was borne out of an unwillingness to move forward or an unfamiliarity with the steps.
As Alex ran her fingers through the thin film of dust that coated the breakfast bar, a wave of unexpected emotion lodged in her throat. When was the last time he'd eaten a proper meal? She didn't even want to hazard a guess as to when he'd last slept. It was probably around the last time she'd managed to keep her eyes closed for longer than a few hours.
Sighing, Alex pulled her leather jacket more tightly around her, warding off the chill that permeated the room. The desolation that seeped into her bones from every corner of the apartment only served to steel her resolve. They were going to sort this mess out and maybe, if they were lucky, they could move forward, relying on each other to help find those elusive next steps.
Moving deeper into the apartment, Alex scanned the room for a place to camp out and wait. He was going to have to come home sometime and when he did, she would be there, whether he liked it or not. Heaving another deep sigh, Alex decided on the worn wingback chair that occupied the far corner of the living room.
As she sank into the soft leather, a wave of Bobby-scented air wafted up around her, settling over her like a blanket. Suddenly, she felt the pull of exhaustion tugging her eyelids closed, begging her to rest eyes that felt like they hadn't shut in years. Lethargy crept into her brain and she marvelled at how she could relax so completely with just the hint of her partner's presence. Tucking her legs beneath her and settling deeper into the chair, Alex laid her cheek against the cool leather and let sleep slowly overtake her.
His door was unlocked.
Although every fibre of his being sagged with exhaustion, that simple fact didn't escape his notice. Bobby knew that he had been distracted when he'd rushed out in search of his nephew, but there was no way he wouldn't have locked his door. His hand dropped to his hip before he remembered that he'd had to surrender his gun a few weeks ago along with his badge and he had no idea when he'd get it back … if he'd get it back.
Now fully alert and frustrated with his lack of defences, Bobby carefully eased open the door, poised and ready for an attack. Creeping noiselessly deeper into the apartment, he scanned the darkened rooms for any sign of something amiss. Had Donny found him? Had one of Tate's employees decided to take revenge for his poking around where he wasn't wanted? The muscles in his shoulders complained loudly from the tension that strung through his spine like a bow.
This was the last thing he needed. He was still trying to find his way back from Tate's idea of 'heaven' and the stress of a possible intruder definitely wasn't helping matters. With each cautious step, the strain mounted, coiling ever tighter, threatening to snap. Finally, his eyes lit on his chair and all the breath left his body in a rush.
She was the last person he expected to find in his apartment, so it took Bobby a full minute to process that it was, in fact, his partner curled up in his wingback chair like a grown-up Goldilocks. She looked almost childlike, tucked into his dark leather seat. Her face scrubbed clean of its usual makeup, she was almost shockingly pale. His eyes were drawn to where her ash-coloured eyelashes gently grazed her cheeks, accenting a very pale dusting of freckles, a faint reminder of the young woman he'd never known.
He was immediately struck by how small she seemed, her legs folded up beneath her in the oversized chair. Despite their notable size difference, Bobby had never thought of Eames as small. She never failed to fill a room with her presence, making him forget that he had a good thirteen inches on her, even in her tallest heels. But now, hands curled under her cheek and knees pulled into her chest, she looked like a small child and Goren found himself struggling to figure out how to approach this woman he wasn't so sure he knew.
Rationally, he understood that there were sides to his partner that he'd never seen, but it bothered him on some deep, dark, unacknowledged level when he caught a glimpse of one of them. Most of the time, he could pretend that she was as completely invested in their lives as partners as he was. Then something would come up: a mention of her nephew, her sister, or now, the resurrection of her husband's murder that would brutally remind him that she had a life outside of their world together.
'Then, it's not like you've been overly focussed on this world lately anyway.'
The sudden thought left him cold. The most positive relationship of his life and he'd been letting it slip through his fingers. It felt as though he had been haemorrhaging uncontrollably for months. Everyone he cared about was slowly slipping away and it was all he could do to stem the flow: his captain, his brother, his mother and now his partner. Sure, Eames wasn't gone yet, but Bobby knew it was only a matter of time and that this loss would be the one to break him.
He'd already had a taste of that special kind of pain and fear when she'd been kidnapped a little over a year ago. He'd thought he'd lost her then and the hurt and confusion had been overwhelming, debilitating.
"It's frightening when somebody goes away. Especially someone you love so much."
His words to a suspect only a few days prior to Eames' ordeal continued to haunt him. The fear had been devastating and Bobby'd struggled even to function against the roller coaster of emotions. He'd been completely useless in finding her. Impotent. He'd failed her completely as a partner, as someone who … cared about her. Despite her assurances, it was something he'd never really managed to forgive himself for. She'd found her way back to him on her own, both physically and psychologically, and for the last year and a half he'd been trying to figure out what was making her stay.
Bobby had been so sure that when he was released from the hospital it would have been to the news that Eames had put in for a new partner. He'd been certain that this stunt would've finally cut the last cord that bound them together.
'Then why'd you do it?' His inner voice demanded.
He wasn't sure when his inner voice had started sounding like his Eames.
Unable to come up with any answer that wasn't complete bullshit, he turned his gaze back to the woman sleeping only a few feet away. Alex Eames wasn't what one would consider a classic beauty, but she still turned her fair share of heads, both on the street and within the force. She was a study in contrasts, his partner. Barely clearing five feet in her heels, her luminous hazel eyes, up-turned nose and lithe figure gave her an almost fragile appearance… until you really looked. Those who took the time to notice saw the incredible strength that lay within her tiny hands and delicate frame, the sheer vitality that lived behind her eyes. Her smiles, an only too rare occurrence lately, settled him, stilling the spinning world around him.
Bobby suddenly found himself transfixed by the image she created, curled up in his favourite chair like she'd been doing it all her life. The worn leather caressed her curves and a strange warmth slowly unfurled within his chest as he allowed himself to imagine that it was an everyday occurrence, finding her like this … that she'd simply fallen asleep waiting for him to finish making supper or some other mundane thing. For a brief moment, he allowed himself to indulge his dearest fantasy … a life with Alex … not Eames, his partner, but Alex, the woman.
The only problem was that he actually knew very little about the woman who lived inside his partner and it drove him crazy. He wanted to know everything, no matter how small. Did she like to cook? Did sleep come easy for her or did she have to wind down with a book? Did she shower in the morning or did she prefer a long bath before bed? Was she happy? Eight years at her side and he'd never managed to see very far beyond the mask she put on everyday for the world.
His biggest failure.
Still, part of his ignorance was intentional. He never allowed himself to ask for more than she willingly offered. As much as he ached to know her… to really know her, he wouldn't let himself. Bobby was certain that she read his reticence as indifference and that it hurt her, but when it came down to it, he was a selfish bastard. Not knowing was safe. Not knowing was his last refuge for his heart when she finally got fed up and left. After all, knowing someone … loving someone, only made it that much worse when they eventually gave up on you.
Her hair had fallen in a curtain over her eyes, and Bobby needed to see her face. Giving into the impulse he'd suppressed for years, he carefully, slid his fingers through the strands. She was so much softer than he'd imagined. Slowly, and monitoring the cadence of her breath, Bobby slid the wayward hairs behind her ear.
Now that he'd made contact, he couldn't bring himself to pull away. His fingers slid from her hair, gently tracing the delicate shell of her ear. The warmth in his chest solidified into a dull ache as the lamplight glinted off the two diamond studs that accompanied the small hoop that matched the one in her other ear. The two little jewels mocked him, reminding him that she would always have parts of her life that he'd never fit into.
When they'd met, she'd only had the one diamond. He'd noticed it one rare day she'd let him drive. It had been late afternoon and the sun setting behind the skyscrapers had glinted off the earring, dancing into the corner of his vision through the rear-view mirror. He'd never asked her about it, sensing that whatever event she'd chosen to mark with the pain of piercing her ear was something she'd probably not want to share with her crazy new partner.
His suspicions had been confirmed about eight months later, but she'd surprised him by sharing her story over stale pretzels and warm beer in the back of some bar over on Fifth. She'd cautiously told him the story of her husband's murder the night they'd closed the book on their first cop killing. It had been obvious that it wasn't a story she'd told often, and Bobby'd felt this sense of … wonder that she'd chosen to share it with him after less than a year in each other's company. She'd explained that she'd told him so that he would know where she was coming from, so that he could understand her better and be better partners over the long haul. Her honesty and optimism had rocked him to his core. No one he'd worked with had ever suggested it would last. A few weeks later he'd told her about his mother and allowed himself to hope for the long haul.
Her second diamond had come during their third year together. She'd acted as surrogate for her sister, an act of complete selflessness he'd never be able to completely comprehend. During the entire pregnancy, all he could focus on was that the baby would take her away, that she would have to leave him; he would have to do this job without her. While she'd been gone, all he could think about was when she'd be coming back. Then one day, about a week after she had returned, he'd noticed it. The sparkle on her left ear was a little brighter and the shame in his heart at his utter selfishness had grown stronger.
Alex's soft sigh dragged him back to the present. Startled, he snatched his hand away, searching for any sign that she was waking up. When she didn't stir, he carefully released the breath he'd been holding and returned to his silent observation.
'What do you dream about, Alex?'
As though in answer to his silent musing, her breaths suddenly became shallow and faster. Her eyelids began to flutter with the onset of REM sleep. Any hope that her dreams would bring her peace were quickly dashed as a whimper was torn from her throat and she shrunk deeper into his chair. The dull ache in his chest throbbed painfully as he watched the nightmare overtake his partner.
His heart picked up pace, keeping time with her distress. Indecision rooted him to his spot. Years with his mother had taught him that not all nightmares ended upon waking. Frozen, he watched, helpless, as her hands clenched convulsively and her brow furrowed in response to some spectral pain. The throbbing ache became unbearable as he watched her silent suffering.
Her voice finally spurred him into action. A ragged "Bobby," was ripped from her throat and dragged him out of his useless stupor. Gently he cupped her face, swiping at stray tears with his thumbs.
"Eames," he whispered, hoping to bring her back gently. "Eames, I'm here, it's okay. Wake up."
His words only seemed to make it worse. Her arms suddenly thrashed at him and he grunted at the impact, never letting go of her face. This time his wasn't going to let go.
"Eames, it's alright. Eames!"
Her murmurings became more coherent. "Bobby, wait! No… Bobby …" Suddenly with a gasp, her eyes flew open, causing him to rock back on his heels in shock.
"Eames!" His relief was palpable as he watched her regain consciousness and her eyes began to focus.
Sucking in a deep breath, she registered her surroundings.
Now that his panic had subsided, Bobby couldn't help the grim smile that crossed his face. Even in her sleep, he caused her pain.
He still hadn't let go of her face and for a brief moment, he felt her lean into his touch before recovering the distance they'd always held between them like a shield.
"You came back."
He wasn't sure if it was a question or a statement. Awkwardly, he released his hold on her, immediately missing her warmth.
"It's my apartment."
She looked away then, scanning the darkened room as though reminding herself where she was.
"You wanna talk about it?" He knew he had no right to ask. They never talked about it, but then he'd never held her face in his hands and he felt like pushing the boundaries tonight. He felt reckless with the knowledge that he may never get the chance again.
"Bad dream." He knew he wouldn't get far, but then … "It was bright and hot and I couldn't breathe."
Bobby felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. 'She's dreaming about Tate's. She's dreaming my nightmares.'
"I'm sorry," was out of his mouth before he could stop it, but she wasn't listening.
"I could feel you, Bobby," she continued, snagging his gaze with her luminous eyes. "I was trying to hold on, but …" Her irises were clouded with a sheen of moisture. "You just kept slipping away."
The waver in her voice tore through him, reminding him what a selfish bastard he was. The ache had become a burning, but he had to do this. She needed him to be strong for once. Holding her gaze steady and sure, he gave her what he should have a long time ago… her freedom.
"Maybe you should just let go."