Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Law & Order CI, just the thoughts in my head.
Rating: T, for strong language, especially in this chapter
Summary: "Maybe you should just let go." - Alex confronts Bobby after his stunt in Untethered.
Spoilers: Untethered, but pre-Purgatory
Author's Notes: Here's the second and final part, as promised. I still haven't seen Frame yet, so this was written as though everything since Untethered never happened. This went way further into romance territory than I ever expected, but these characters are hard to control.
As always, this is for Joy. Thanks for being the Toby to my Sam and always being there to bounce ideas off of.
The click of a door swinging shut dragged her out of her stupor. Blinking dumbly, Alex surveyed the dim room before her. Bobby was gone.
Rescued from one nightmare, only to be dragged into another.
Pulling her legs out from underneath her, Alex sluggishly sat up straight and scanned the apartment more closely. The remnants of her dream still clung to her mind like lint and for a moment she wondered if her partner's appearance at her side had been yet another figment of her imagination. Still, her cheeks burned from the branding of his fingertips, leaving her certain that Bobby hadn't been a dream. However, now it appeared that he'd vanished into the shadows.
"Where the hell did you go, Goren?" Alex muttered as she clumsily massaged her throbbing temples.
Her eyes lit on his bedroom, the recently closed door betraying his location. This was not how she'd imagined her evening would play out. Alex didn't know what she'd expected, but her forty-something partner locking himself in his bedroom definitely wasn't on the list.
Alex was in no rush to chase after him. She'd been doing it for months and frankly, she was tired; tired of playing catch-up, tired of trying to get him to open up, tired of running interference … tired of trying to hold everything together.
'Maybe you should just let go.'
His last words to her sat heavily in the pit of her stomach, steadily churning all the feelings she'd kept so carefully closeted away into a maelstrom of emotion. Closing her eyes, Alex let the storm overtake her, revelling in the sudden ferocity of feeling after so many months of forced detachment. It had been building for nearly a year and now the wave was overwhelming. Finally released from her self-imposed tether, she let the fury build, layer upon layer, hoping the fire rushing through her veins would burn hot enough to melt the icy tendrils of fear that clawed at her heart.
She couldn't lose him, not now, not like this after all these years. She'd put all her eggs in one basket with him and his severing their connection now would shatter her. Alex knew that he was in this just as deep, but she also knew Bobby. She knew that his twisted sense of self-sacrifice was nearly pathological. She knew that if he believed that she was better off without him he would walk away in a heartbeat.
For a man with so much insight into the human psyche, Bobby could be infuriatingly blind.
Sucking in a deep breath, Alex pushed herself out of the chair and stormed towards the still-closed bedroom door. Before she could talk herself out of it, she twisted the doorknob violently and burst into the room.
"So that's it," she spat, hoping her sudden entrance would catch him off guard. Alex was itching for a fight, but her words died in her throat when she got a look at him.
Bobby sat stock still on the edge of the bed, presenting her with his profile. His shoulders were slumped, eyes unfocussed as he gazed silently at the wall. It was as though Bobby Goren had left the building, leaving the shell that sat before her. For a moment Alex deflated, sympathy welling in her chest, before she ruthlessly stamped it down. Sympathy wasn't going to fix this … fix them, not now.
Pulling herself up to her full height, she started again.
"So that's it, huh?" she repeated, her tone icy. "After eight years you're going to throw it all away with a 'It's been a slice, Eames, see ya.' Is that all I'm worth?"
Bobby still sat unmoving, seemingly oblivious to her tirade. However, her keen eye caught the barest flicker in his gaze, a nearly imperceptible flinch. She knew her words were hitting their mark. She just had to shoot harder. Gaining momentum, she pressed on.
"I never left, Bobby," she continued, her voice barely a pained whisper. "I'm still here."
Suddenly, Alex spread her arms wide. "It's been eight years, Bobby, and I'm still here!" This time his flinch was more noticeable and it fuelled the anger that was still burning inside her. "I never left … after all the crap we've been through, after all the … after everything, I'm still here and what, now you wanna end it? Eight years of partnership and suddenly it's not good enough?" Tears pricked at her eyelids and Alex fought valiantly to keep them in check. He didn't deserve to see her cry.
"Fine," she spat. "You wanna end it … fine! Then be a man and do it yourself, 'cause I'm not gonna do it for you. If you want to say goodbye, say goodbye, Bobby."
Alex struggled to keep the desperation out of her voice, but it crept in nonetheless, adding a ragged edge to her words. She just wanted a reaction; she needed a reaction … some sort of acknowledgement that she was even there, something, anything to let her know that she wasn't alone, that the connection they'd shared for so long really wasn't dead.
But all she got was silence. Bobby still didn't move; he just continued to sit there, staring blankly at the wall. It was as though he'd flipped a switch and shut himself off. Alex was suddenly assaulted with memories of when her husband had finally succumbed to his injuries. The cold that had seeped into her heart when she'd realized he was gone echoed the ache that settled there now and it scared the hell out of her. Finally her fear and fury boiled over in a stream of hot tears that broke through the barrier of her lashes.
"Fuck you, Bobby," she hissed, as she backed clumsily out of the room, eyes clouded with unwanted tears, defeated by his stony silence and humiliated by her own lack of control. "If you're too much of a coward to end this, then you can go to Hell."
She finally got her response.
Suddenly, Bobby reared up off the bed and rounded on her, closing the distance between them in two large strides. His body practically vibrated with anger and frustration as he towered over her.
"D'you think this is easy for me?" he roared, his arms waving in an effort to corral his thoughts.
A big man on the best of days, Bobby suddenly seemed even larger and Alex was struck by the thought, 'This must be how a perp feels.' Still, she refused to be swayed by the sheer force that all of a sudden seemed to emanate from him as he loomed over her like a predator poised to attack. She'd never been afraid of him before, even in his darkest moments and she wasn't about to start now. However, before she could respond, he cut her off, launching back into his rant.
"D'you think I like this? Dammit, Eames, you're the best thing in my life … always have been ... God ... I'm nothing without you."
His words shot through her like a hot knife, settling deep in her chest, sending a burning heat out from her core. Her importance to her partner had always been understood, but something they never actually talked about. He'd let her know from time to time, through little things like a hand to her back or a quick, affirming glance. Now and then he'd bring her coffee just the way she liked it or would offer to finish her paperwork. No, she'd never questioned her position in his life and their partnership, but to hear him put it like that was staggering. It also made his current behaviour that much more painful to bear.
"Then why give up?" she questioned, her voice quiet, almost pleading. "I've never given up, Bobby."
Her last words cut him to the quick like she knew they would. He hadn't been able to wall his heart off completely and Alex was fighting with her full arsenal. She couldn't afford to lose this argument.
Bobby sighed, shrinking back on himself and refusing to meet her gaze. His voice suddenly smaller, he answered, "Because you deserve better. You deserve to have a chance to move forward… to have a normal life."
Alex laughed bitterly. "That's bullshit, Bobby, and you know it."
His eyes swung back to hers and met her fire. Stepping further into his space, she continued, "If you'd get your head out of your ass and stop playing martyr for one minute, you might remember there are two of us in this partnership."
Her outburst shocked Bobby back into silence. He was still trying to feign indifference. She could see it in his eyes that he was still trying to maintain the wall he had built between them in the last year and she was damned if she was going to let him. She just had to push harder.
"You're pulling away because of you, not me," she continued. "I got used to people not seeing me when I'm next to you a long time ago." Bobby opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off. "But now you're not seeing me, Bobby and it's scaring the hell out of me."
He'd been stabbed in the gut. That was the only explanation for the pain he felt at her words. Bobby finally forced himself to look at his partner … really look at her and the image only twisted the knife deeper. Eames looked worn, older suddenly. All his self-assurances that she'd be better off without him began to ring hollow. If he were truly honest with himself, she'd been without him for some time now and it obviously wasn't doing her any good.
Tears pricked at Alex's eyes and she ruthlessly beat them back. Having nowhere else to go, they found their way into her voice.
"I don't know what to do anymore, Bobby. I've stayed. I've tried to have your back, but you won't let me. You just keep pushing and pushing … taking cases too far, stepping too close to the edge and leaving me to pick up the pieces."
Bobby looked stricken as her words swirled around him in the dim light of the bedroom. He looked as though he'd finally seen himself through her eyes. 'Good,' she thought to herself. 'It's about time.'
He awkwardly reached a hand out to her shoulder, but she stepped out of his reach. It had taken her months to build to this point and she refused to be mollified.
"D'you think it's easy for me?" she asked, her voice straining under the weight of her desperation. "D'you think I enjoy watching another man I love slowly die in front of me? 'Cause that's what you're doin', Bobby. You're dying if you keep going down this road and it kills me to not be able to do a damn thing about it!" Her voice finally broke under the strain, shattering as her final words slipped from her throat.
Those last words hung in the silence that descended between them, save for Alex's ragged breaths as she fought desperately to regain her control. As the dust began to settle, her brain finally caught up with her mouth and it was Alex's turn to look stricken. She'd never meant to go that far … to throw herself off a cliff like that, not for anyone, not anymore and not for Bobby, especially now when she couldn't even be sure he would be able, or willing to catch her. She'd had her emotions under control for years. She'd kept her heart out of it, but apparently it had other plans, because now here she was with it on her sleeve, her wounds open and raw, with Bobby staring back at her like he'd never seen her before.
She had to get out of there … now. She had to retreat, lick her wounds and hope that when he finally left for good that she'd be able to find all the pieces of her heart when it shattered.
Muttering a string of curses under her breath, Alex spun on her heel and fled the room, fled the apartment, certain that she'd just screwed up any chance they had at putting what was left of their partnership back together.
Bobby couldn't breathe, he couldn't move. All he could do was stand there as the sheer weight of her words held him to the ground. His analytical mind couldn't help but marvel at how he could be simultaneously elated and devastated. She loved him and it was killing her. What the hell was he supposed to do with that?
Whatever it was, he was going to have to do something quick, because in the time it had taken him to blink, Eames had disappeared into the night, taking with her his last chance at anything resembling happiness.
Of course it was raining.
Wasn't that the quintessential cliché? Wasn't it always raining in chick-flicks when the girl came storming out of the guy's apartment? Alex thought she could almost hear the swell of a phantom string section over the pattering water as she trudged haplessly down the sidewalk to where she'd managed to find a parking space. Except this was no romantic comedy. There was nothing comic about it, in fact. This was very much real life and in this very much real life, Alex had managed to screw up any hope she'd ever had at fixing what was left of their partnership.
The longest relationship she'd ever had with a man, longer than even her marriage and it was all crashing down around her. Not exactly how she'd planned to end the night. She'd planned to knock some sense into her partner, to pull Bobby out of the dangerous spiral he was in and set their relationship on its way back to an even keel. Instead she'd knocked things so far out of orbit with one stupid, dumb-assed slip of the tongue that she seriously doubted they'd ever be able to find each other again.
Reaching her vehicle, Alex stopped with her hand on the door. Slowly, she tilted her head to the sky, letting the cold rain sluice over the flushed skin of her cheeks, washing away any tears that had dared escape her lashes. Blowing out a breath in frustration, she slid her key into the lock, the metal tines meeting more resistance than usual as she forced them home.
It was his ragged voice that stilled her hand. His tattered, "Eames, wait!" shot through her like hot lead, holding her to the spot, heart hammering in her throat. Sucking in a sharp breath, she dropped her head against the cool, wet glass of the driver's side door. She wasn't ready for this ... wasn't ready to face him, not with her wounds so raw, her weaknesses so close to the surface.
She sighed heavily, her warm breath fogging the glass beneath her. All Alex really wanted to do was to go home and nurse her battered heart in solitude. She wanted to crawl into bed with the hope that by morning they could pretend none of this had ever happened... hope that by morning they could just be normal for once. Problem was, she knew that if they were ever going to get to anything resembling 'normal' again, they were going to have to deal with the giant elephant she'd just brought into the room.
Stepping back from the car, Alex stood still for a moment, letting fat, heavy raindrops slap against her face as she tried to regulate her breathing and regain some of her ire from earlier. Anger was the only thing that was going to help her keep her head on straight and get her through this with any of her heart intact. However, when Alex finally turned to face him, any fury that she'd managed to recapture flowed out of her, chasing the rain down the street into the gutters.
He looked smaller somehow.
Bobby approached her slowly, cautiously, like she was a deer or something, ready to bolt at the slightest misstep. This was exactly why she'd resolved a long time ago never to use the 'L' word with Bobby. She knew it would make things weird and she was way too old for 'weird'. In fact, his newfound wariness was pissing her off.
Biting back what felt like the hundredth sigh of the evening, Alex ventured, "Bobby, I'm cold and tired and getting soaked at the moment. Can we just deal with this... whatever it is in the morning?"
Her words seemed to snap him back to reality and Bobby gazed at her incredulously.
"You tell me you love me and you want me to forget about it until tomorrow?"
Alex chuckled mirthlessly in response. "Sure, after everything I've said to you tonight, you focus on that part."
Bobby answered her short laugh with one of his own. "Well, it's not like it's something I hear often, so forgive me for holding onto whatever I can get."
Alex couldn't help the hot prick of sadness that stung her heart. She forgot from time to time just how alone in life her partner really was. Still, that oversight was at least partially intentional. Forgetting was what allowed her to maintain the mask of professional detachment that had got her through each day for the last few years. Forgetting just how much they'd woven their way into each other's lives allowed her to keep things from getting weird.
Apparently, one could only forget for so long.
She opened her mouth to answer, to try and get their conversation back onto its original track and force him to face his self-destructive behaviour, but Bobby cut her off before she could form any words.
"I can't just leave it, Eames ... Alex. I mean, you told me you love me and that it's killing you. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?"
Alex wondered if she looked as much the fish out of water as she suddenly felt, eyes wide and mouth open as her brain tried to make sense of what her partner had just said. Suddenly the pieces fell into place and she couldn't help the somewhat relieved smile that played at the corner of her lips. With all his quirks and eccentricities, Alex forgot that Bobby was still a man and like most men, sometimes he just didn't listen.
Before either of them could screw things up any further, Alex closed the distance between them, silencing any future words with a gentle hand on his cheek.
Then things really got weird.
For the first time in their eight years together, Bobby went utterly still. Her fingers absently traced his jawline and despite the cold rain that slicked their skin, a pervasive warmth trickled from her nerve endings, spreading through her body, only to be completely overwhelmed by the hot flood of awareness that followed when he finally met her gaze.
'Normal' was going to have to be redefined.
Swallowing against her heart that had somehow lodged itself in her throat, Alex forced herself to focus.
"Bobby," She faltered as he brushed a wet strand of hair from her forehead. "Bobby, loving you is not what's killing me." Her mind rebelled at voicing her feelings out loud, but she forced herself to continue. "What's killing me is watching you practically destroy yourself."
Bobby visibly deflated at her words, sagging against her touch as the still-driving rain seemed to drag him down. He closed his eyes, again unable to meet her gaze.
"Alex, I ... I just don't know what else to do."
Alex cupped his face in both hands forcing him to look at her. "For one thing, you can come to me. I ... I know I'm not exactly the poster child for sharing, but I'll always listen. You can always come to me and I'll listen."
"No," Bobby shook his head, trying to break her hold. "No, Alex. You don't want to hear ... my head's a pretty dark place sometimes."
Alex was not about to be swayed. She may have never thought they'd get to this point, but now that they were there, there was no way in Hell she was giving up now. "I'm not afraid of the dark, Bobby," she replied quietly. "And I'm not afraid of you."
He muttered something under his breath that sounded very much like "You should be," but she chose to ignore it. "You know, it's not like you've got the market cornered on troubled psyches. My mind's got a lot of dark corners too. There's a lot there ..." Alex's words stuck in her throat as memories of her kidnapping, her husband's death, her surrogacy and the daily traumas that characterized her life as a detective threatened to rob her of breath. Maintaining her trademark flippant tone was impossible. "There's a lot I've never really talked about."
A few minutes ago, she couldn't get him to look at her. Now, her partner's gaze was unrelenting. She should have felt uncomfortable under his scrutiny, should have backed away like they always did when things got too intense. Instead, all she could do was stare back, volumes passing between them. In the dim glow of the dirty streetlamp, Alex watched with gaining hope as the storm which had blackened his already dark eyes for the last few months cleared ever so slightly. Her heart ached with all she knew she was going to have to tell him, but she also knew that if they were ever going to heal ... if they were ever going to find a new version of 'normal', they were going to have to explore each other's shadows together.
"Bobby," she whispered, her gaze still tethered to his. Carefully, she dropped her hands to his chest, resting her palm over his heart, feeling its rapid rhythm match her own. "The only way this is gonna work is if we face this together. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared, but I'm more scared of where we'll end up if we don't." She sucked in a deep breath before making the final leap. "I want to move forward … and I want to do it with you."
Alex was searching his eyes for any sign of rejection when his eyelids suddenly slipped closed and Bobby leaned forward with a sigh, dropping his forehead to hers. She leaned into his warmth as his gentle breaths caressed her face.
"You really do love me?" he asked, his voice barely audible against her lips.
She smiled gently as she nodded against him, her rain-soaked skin sliding against his. "Have for a while now."
Alex felt him smile in response. "Yeah, me too ..." he answered, his voice a rasp against her ear. "Loved you, I mean." It was as though all the tension in his body flowed out of him with his words and he relaxed against her, dropping his hands to her hips and gently nuzzling her cheek.
She chuckled softly. "I knew what you meant, Bobby." Alex did her best to sound unaffected, but her heart was threatening to beat its way out of her chest.
The rain still poured down around them as they stayed still, drinking in each other's warmth. Eventually, Bobby's arms found their way around Alex's waist, carefully drawing her into his body. She came willingly, tucking her hands under his sodden coat and nearly melting into him as they revelled in their newfound freedom to take comfort in each other. Alex lost track of time as she turned and rested her cheek against his chest, her breaths keeping time with his.
It was because of this that she was quick to notice when Bobby's brain finally caught up with his heart. She could feel it building within him as his mind began piling back up the doubts and fears, kicking his pulse into an erratic tattoo and stringing tension throughout his muscles.
However, before he could speak, before he could let the darkness overwhelm him again, Alex reached up on her toes and silenced any words with a brief, but intense kiss.
"Bobby," she whispered against his lips. "Can we move this inside before we catch pneumonia?"
She couldn't help the small smile that tugged at her lips as she watched him struggle to catch up to her train of thought. Suddenly, the creases in his brow smoothed out and understanding dawned across his features. He realized what she was doing and he was going to let her do it. He was going to let her force him to put his fears back on the shelf for now. He was going to let her ignore the crap they both knew they'd have to deal with eventually and move forward on what was likely going to be a long road.
Bobby gave her his best quizzical look and answered, "You know Eames, that's just an old wives' tale. You can't get pneumonia from being out in the rain."
Alex arched her eyebrow in response. "Humour me."
An honest to God smile bloomed across his face as he slipped an arm around her shoulders. "M'Kay."
She couldn't help the chuckle that escaped her throat as she leaned into his embrace and allowed him to steer them back towards his apartment. The cold, driving rain was quickly forgotten as after eight years of walking side by side, they took their first steps together.