Disclaimer: I do not own these characters in any way. Simply borrowing them for my own pleasure.

I did not use a beta reader, so all mistakes are my own.

This is just a short one-shot about a late night at MCS and what Alex may do to relieve her boredom while she waits for Bobby to puzzle over evidence. Set about 3 year into their partnership. No particular storyline.

Characters' thoughts are in italics.

Labels on Pickle Jars

Detective Alex Eames wearily stretched at her desk in the Major Case squad room. She glanced at the clock and was instantly sorry she had. 2 a.m. Again. How many 2 a.m.'s have I spent in this room, at this desk, in this stupid chair over the past couple a years?

Two days ago she and her partner had been handed another high profile case, this one involving a Senator's wife, and they were under pressure to solve it, and fast, hence the late night. Ever since she had been partnered with Bobby late nights had become commonplace, almost mandatory. His brain had no sense of time - day, night - it was all the same to him. Unfortunately her body had a hard time keeping pace, even if his seemingly did not.

She swiveled her chair sideways and looked at her partner pacing around the small glass walled room just off the bull pen that he retreated to when he wanted to study the evidence in depth.

Detective Robert Goren was pinning photographs, notes and evidence reports to a large cork board. It still amazed her that with all the technology at their fingertips - the laptops, the multi-screen evidence display units, the Internet enabled cell phones - that he chose to do most of his leg work the old fashioned way. He could use all that gee whiz gadgetry, and did when it was necessary, but he preferred to liaison with his trusty board when ever he could.

"There's something satisfying about pushing the pin into the cork, it gives me a sense of achievement,"he had explained when she had questioned him about it early in their partnership. Not sure if he was being serious or not (and sometimes it was hard to tell with him) she had simply nodded and accepted it as part of the way he and his mind worked.

"How's it going in there Bobby?" she called out across the empty room. He was rearranging the evidence, again, and he gave her a mumbled answer that sounded like gibberish, but probably meant he needed to think more.

OK, she thought to herself, no need to go in there. Sure, she could watch him watch the cork board, but the phrase "paint drying" came to her mind and she quickly dismissed that idea. Instead, she began to dig in her right hand desk drawer for the half empty bag of skittles she was sure were there. She felt almost giddy when she found the bright blue bag of fruit flavored candy. This is pathetic. Tropical Skittles have been the highlight of my evening thus far. I really need to get a life.

As she ate a couple of them, she looked at the pile of paperwork on her desk and tried to find the motivation to work on some of it, but found none forthcoming. She glanced back at her partner again.

Now he was sitting on the edge of the table in front of all the neatly arranged evidence, just staring. She swore she could almost hear the neurons in his brain firing as he struggled to make the individual pieces mean something. She had no idea how he made that gambit pay off time after time, but she did know there was no rushing it. When he was in this solve mode he reminded her of one of her favorite bed time stories from when she was a child, The Little Engine That Could. She chuckled out loud at the picture that suddenly popped into her mind of big Bobby Goren as the little blue engine with the round rosy cheeks, pulling a train car full of evidence up the NYPD mountain puffing out - "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

Her chuckle startled him and he shot her a quizzical look before turning his attention back to the board.

She studiously ignored his look and popped a few more skittles into her mouth before deciding that she was thirsty. She walked to the break area, grabbed a bottle of water and headed slowly back to her desk. She looked over at her latest sworn enemy, the wall clock, and noted unhappily it was now 2:47 a.m. She could go home, but honestly, he would just call her when the puzzle was finally completed and persuade her to come back, so hanging here saved her the long drive to Rockaway for nothing.

As she passed by his desk, she saw one of his psychology reference books sitting in the middle of a pile of crime scene photographs. It looked very similar to the one she had used years ago in an Abnormal Psychology class when she was in college. She carried it to her own desk and sat down.

She started flipping through the pages and suddenly remembered a particularly raucous study group she had belonged to for that class. When they were cramming for the final exam, someone had come up with the idea of associating the clinical diagnoses with people they knew to as a way to help them remember the correct terms. They had spent nearly a whole night telling stories and choosing disorders for all their friends and themselves. The method had worked and she got an A on the test.

She sat down in her chair and glanced back at Bobby. Yep, still staring, so she cracked open the book and started flipping through the chapters. She began reading over the categories. She found A.D.A. Carver right away (Narcissistic Personality disorder - includes the belief that you're better than others and includes fantasies about power, success and attractiveness) and was working on which category best fit Det. Jefferies (maybe Pathological Gambling – he liked the ponies just a little too much in her opinion) when she came across the page with the heading of Schizophrenia, Schizotypal and Delusional disorders. As she read down the page, Bobby's family history flashed suddenly into her mind.

Her partner was not one to sit and have heart to heart talks about his personal life or private feelings, but over time small glimpses of his painful past and uncertain future had been revealed to her. Her knowledge was mostly gleaned from small conversations they had during or after cases, particularly those involving mentally ill people.

The biggest revelation, however, had come by accident. The slip of an over-inebriated tongue, one late night at a bar, while they decompressed after an especially disturbing confession. The murderer had tried to excuse his actions by claiming a family history of mental illness, though he himself showed no signs of it, unless you counted him being a murderer.

Bobby, as usual, had that legendary Goren empathy thing working and was trying to explain how he felt about the man's motivation. She had disagreed with Bobby's viewpoint, tossed off a remark that began with, "you are crazy if you think" and been shocked when he interrupted her with, "not until I hear the first voice I'm not". His smile had frozen on his lips when his conscious mind realized what his subconscious mind had just thrown out for the world to hear.

She had suddenly found the coaster under her beer needed immediate attention and he had leapt from his seat like he had been shot from a gun and rushed toward the bar muttering that the next round was on him. By the time he returned with their drinks, the moment had passed and they spoke of other things, but Alex had filed it away in the folder marked The riddle of Bobby that she carried deep in her brain.

She was contemplating how difficult it must be for him to live with the loaded gun of possibly looming mental illness she was almost certain he felt was pressed to his head, when she became aware of a large, antsy presence over her shoulder. She tried to nonchalantly close the book before swiveling around to look up at her partner.

As soon as she saw the expression on his face she knew he was acutely aware of what she had just been reading.

"So," he said quietly. "Did you find me in there?"

She heard the self doubt creeping into the few words he had spoken. "What are you talking about Goren?"

He walked over to the desk closest to theirs and leaned against it in what he hoped was a casual pose. "Uh, weren't you reading the diagnoses and deciding which ones fit the people in your life? It's a good way to remember them, you know."

Alex hated when he read her like that, particularly when he was right.

"Yeah, maybe." She jerked her head toward the evidence room and his cork board before adding, "I had to do something until you and your date were finished."

"So which one am I". His eyes were guarded, his arms crossed protectively across his chest.

She knew she had to be careful how she answered. This was a touchy subject for him and she was frankly blown away that he chose to start this conversation at all. For a 6'4", 210 lb, 42-year-old, ex-army, NYPD detective, he could be very insecure about what others thought of him, a character flaw that endlessly endeared him to her. She decided to go with what she felt was her best tactic, her wicked sense of humor.

"Bobby, are you a pickle jar?"

"Ex-excuse me?" He stammered. The look on his face was priceless.

"I said, Are-You-A-Pickle-Jar?"

"Uh, No. What are you talking about Eames.?" This time he glanced over at the clock, wondering if the late hour had finally pushed her over the edge.

She inched her chair a bit closer to where he was leaning up against the side of the desk before answering him. "When I was a kid, my brothers and I would have frequent fights about what girls were supposed to do and not do, like I should want to play with a piece of post-pubescent molded plastic when I could be playing touch football...well, you get my drift. Of course I was somewhat chagrined by all the gender stereotyping."

"Chagrined," was his only comment, but she thought she saw a ghost of a smile playing around the corners of his mouth.

"You heard me. Anyway, this one day the argument got especially physical and my mom was forced to intervene and pull me off my older brother before I could beat the tar out of him."

Now he did smile at her. He could imagine how that went down. He had watched her take down men twice her size without breaking a sweat. He doubted her brothers had been much of a match for his diminutive partner and any war she chose to wage.

After she separated us," she continued, "she sat us all down and asked us if we were pickle jars and tried to explain how dangerous it was to label people as if they were preserved cucumbers. There was no "girl" jar or "boy" jar. She made me understand that it was important to see people for who they are, not by their gender or handicap or skin color. She believed that every person had the amazing ability to be whatever they chose to be and that labels only served to limit a person's potential."

He still had a slightly confused look on his face. Maybe she wasn't explaining herself so well.

"Bobby," she said patiently. "What I am trying to say is that in my opinion, the only thing in this world that benefits from a label is a jar of pickles. As you are most definitely not a dill spear, I did not find you in that book of labels."

She fished the blue bag of candy out of her pocket and held it out to him. "Here, have a Skittle. They're tropical."

He took a yellow one, popped it in his mouth and chewed it thoughtfully. He wanted to let the conversation go, but he found he couldn't, not just yet. Alex knew more about him than most people, knew about his Mom, his unusual childhood. He knew she remembered his slip of the tongue about the voices, even though neither of them had ever mentioned it again.

She saw him chewing on her explanation, right along with the skittle. She could tell by the look in his eyes, her partner specific E.S.P. on full tingle, that even though he was willing to buy what she had said, he needed more. So she gave it to him.

She scooted her chair forward with her feet until she came to rest directly in front of him. "This is something you worry about, huh?" Her voice was quiet and gentle.

He was fiddling with his shirt buttons, his own personal 'tell' about his true discomfiture. "Don't you Eames?"

"Don't I what?" she asked, genuinely confused.

"Don't you worry, a-about me becoming..." He found he just couldn't say schizophrenic out loud, not even to her.

She grabbed one of his warring hands, gentling it with her grasp and looked him squarely in the face before saying, "Like your mom?" She waited until he nodded his assent before continuing. "No. I do not worry about that. You're quirky. You see things in an unusual way. You are never what anyone expects you to be, but in my book, that does not make mean that you are or will suddenly become mentally ill."

"The odds are not in my favor, you know."

"That doesn't seem to have stopped you so far."

His brown eyes flitted over her face for a few more seconds before he nodded once, almost to himself, and said, "Thanks Eames."

"Anytime partner." She released his hand after giving it it a quick squeeze and stood up. Then she cocked her head and gave in to the last playful imp sitting on her shoulder. "I will tell you what I am worried about Bobby."

A look of panic streaked across his face, so she quickly put him out of his misery.

"I am worried how many people I am going to frighten with this face tomorrow, or rather today, if I don't get my full 20 minutes of required beauty sleep sometime in the near future. So, are you gonna share with the class or should I use my powers of telepathy to guess what you found out?"

He chuckled, pushed away from the desk and began walking toward the evidence room with Eames hot on his heels. She was a pistol, his partner. Very special and exactly what he needed and not for the first time he gave silent thanks to whatever force brought them together.

He waited for her to flop into one of the chairs around the table before handing her a toxicology report. "You're gonna love this. Remember the trace amount of organophosphate toxin the M.E. found in Draper's system? Well that by itself wasn't enough for a COD, but when you combined it with..."

She smiled to herself and tried to look interested, as in her minds eye she watched him crest the top of the hill and begin to chug down the other side. She swore she could hear him saying, "I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could!"


A/N: Years ago, I actually had a Psychology teacher in college who used the pickle jar analogy all the time when he was ranting against Psychiatrists (he was a Clinical Psychologist). For some reason the sentence, "Bobby, are you a pickle jar?" popped into my head and wouldn't get out until I wrote this story.