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 a one shot set after "Frame."
Characters' thoughts are in italics.
A/N: I haven't posted a story for over a year, but I have never stopped writing. If you enjoy this one, let me know and I may post some of the others.
He awoke quietly on Christmas Eve morning, being careful not to disturb the compact form of his wife lying against against him, cradled snugly in his arms. He looked forward to beginning each day like this. He would lay as still as he possibly could, hoping these moments would stretch to fill every minute of the day ahead. He never felt as complete as he did in the morning, as he listened to her gently breathe and gave thanks for the life she had breathed into him. This morning however, his thoughts turned to the day, a year ago today, that had changed everything.
Bobby Goren stood alone in the living room of his silent New York city apartment and looked out of his window onto the somewhat busy street below. It was late in the evening on Christmas Eve. There was a light coating of snow on the ground and more snowflakes danced in front of his window, forming whirling halos around the street lights lining his avenue. Christmas lights were in evidence, outlining shop windows and draped around lamp posts and wrought iron fences. He observed people hurrying to and fro, probably on their way to holiday parties or Christmas Eve services.
The room behind his inert form was dark, except for the ambient light filtering through the windows. The interior of his dwelling was in sharp contrast to the inviting scene below. It was dark, empty of any holiday decorations and devoid of warmth, just the way he felt inside. The only nod to the holidays in evidence was the one gaily wrapped package given to him by Alex, which was sitting on his coffee table, still unopened. She had pressed it into his hands after he climbed into his car at the end of their shift yesterday and had hurried away before he could say more than thanks. He had felt bad that he hadn't had a gift to hand her back. He had never forgotten her before, but this year the effort to go out and find something, buy it, wrap it and then carry it to work had just seemed like more than he could handle. Alex deserved more, but as his Grandmother used to say, "You can't get blood from a turnip," and this turnip was as dry as dust.
The sadness he had felt for the past six months since Frank's murder had seemed to just keep intensifying as the days churned by toward the end of the year. Thanksgiving had been a solitary, depressing affair and he had no reason to believe Christmas or even New Year's would be any different. He had been issued a few invitations to take part in other people's holiday celebrations, but had found himself unable to face any of them. His few friends and some of the co-workers he was closer to had tried to be kind, at least as kind as he would allow them to be. They had done their best to show him what affection and consideration they could, understanding possibly better than even he did, how hard these first holidays without any of his family would be for him. He had pushed most of these good intentions away. His emptiness was so complete that it left room in his heart for nothing else.
It wasn't like he exactly made a big deal about the holidays anyway, even when his personal life wasn't swirling around the porcelain bowl. He usually preferred to just work his way right through them as crime didn't care what day it was and he could give other people who had kids and family (and a life) a chance to celebrate. At least that was what he told himself, year after year, as he sat in the squad room covering the phones or standing at freezing cold crime scenes with whomever else was catching cases that day. In reality, he was hiding. Hiding from bad memories and the terrible associations the winter holidays brought with them. Because of his Mom's illness, even normal days could be challenging. Trying to add the stress of decorating, shopping and visitors to his Mom's already overloaded system nearly always resulted in disaster and after a while, they all just stopped trying. His Father, well the man he thought was his Dad all those years, made himself scarce, Frank would go missing for days and Bobby would be left to deal with his Mom and her problems all alone. No presents, no decorations, no holiday dinner, not even school to escape to for a few hours of reprieve. Just Bobby and his Mom and whatever chaos her illness brought that day. He got used to treating holidays like any other day and somehow he was never able to shake the habit, even as an adult.
As he was standing there, mired in his misery and working through the jumbled thoughts swirling in his head, his home phone rang. He walked slowly to the kitchen and picked up the receiver of the phone sitting on the counter top. He answered by saying "Goren" instead of hello, mostly out of habit, and was shocked to hear the very familiar voice of Declan Gage answer with, "My boy, don't you say hello anymore? Shockingly bad manners, most unlike you.""
"What the hell are you doing calling my house," Bobby growled out in that deceptively quiet voice of his.
"I wanted to see how you were doing and to wish you a Merry Christmas." When Bobby didn't say anything, Declan continued with, "How are things going, Bobby? Are you getting on with your life now that you are free of all of us burdensome people?"
Bobby felt a white hot anger growing in the pit of his stomach. Declan's unmitigated gall pushed every button he possessed. "Listen to me very closely Declan," he said, fighting to keep his voice as even as he possibly could, not wanting to feed into the older man's game playing any more than he had to. " You are never and I mean NEVER to call my house, my cell phone, the squad room or contact anyone I even remotely know again. I am hanging up now and you will not call back, " and he pressed his finger to the hook to end the call.
He held the receiver in his hand for a minute more, staring at it like it was a poisonousness snake that could attack him at any moment. He could still hear Declan's voice echoing in his ear and he began to have flashbacks to the moment he first saw Frank's lifeless body and then to scenes from his interrogation of Gage, even a few of the terrible confrontations that transpired between himself, Eames and Ross leapt into his head. A blind rage swept over him and before he could get his control back he threw the phone as hard as he could against the nearest wall. When the phone case shattered so did Bobby's tenuous grip on his tattered emotions. He stood in the kitchen, with his chest heaving, tremors running through his entire frame and his mind reeling. He felt the sting of a few hot and bitter tears as they slowly trailed down his face. He suddenly just couldn't take it anymore, any of it. The overwhelming sadness, the utterly pervasive loneliness, the emptiness of his apartment, his life and his very soul. He was so tired of trying, of struggling so hard just to fail over and over again. He felt like he was walking through molasses and that no matter how hard he tried he couldn't free himself from the sticky trap of his recent and distant past.
With a shock he realized he was also tired of living. He just wanted it all to be over. He was used up. He had nothing left. He felt like he just didn't have the strength to trudge through even one more day.
Without conscious thought he found himself standing in his bathroom, staring at a handful of sleeping pills. To be honest, he didn't even remember walking to his bathroom or retrieving the bottle from the medicine cabinet. A huge part of him wanted to just shrivel up and blow away, even as a small part of him was still holding on to the slimmest of hopes. He warred with himself internally. Life; death; like giant scales loaded with the fractured pieces of his existence, balancing back and forth, first one way then the other. His desperation was finally the part that took control. As he moved his hand toward his lips to ingest the pills, he suddenly felt a presence behind him.
He whirled around and found himself standing face to face with his mother.
"Please don't do that," she said in the richly timbered voice he remembered so well.
He took a step back in disbelief. "Mom?" he chocked out.
"Hello Son, " Frances Goren said as she smiled at him sadly. "Bobby, you don't need to do this."
"Mom, I don't understand. You can't really be here." He looked down at his hand, which was now empty. "Did I...did I already take them? Am I hallucinating?"
"No. You haven't taken the pills yet." She turned toward the doorway and called over her shoulder,
"Come with me," before she exited into his hallway.
He stood there for another long moment, frozen in place by shock, heart pounding, trying to decide what was reality, when he heard her voice again.
"Bobby? Are you coming?"
He stuck his upper body through the opening of the bathroom door and craned his neck to watch his mother walk down his hall and enter his living room. "This can't be happening," he said out loud to no one. Great, he thought. Now you are not only hallucinating, you are talking to yourself. He stood there a minute longer, until his curiosity won out over disbelief and he left the bathroom and went in search of his visitor.
As he walked cautiously through the doorway to his living room he saw his mom sitting in his big armchair. He lowered himself onto the couch and looked at her carefully. She certainly looked real to him, though rationally he still couldn't believe that she was really here, that this wasn't just an elaborate dream or a figment of his imagination caused by the pills he must have taken. She was dressed in a fitted white suit dress, her hair worn just the way she wore it when he was much younger, before the schizophrenia began stealing her piece by piece from him. A pang of longing for her hit him so hard he found tears springing unbidden to his eyes. "Is it really you Mom?" he finally said.
"Yes. It's really me." She was calmly looking at him, relaxed and unhurried. No mania, no agitation, no traces of her normally raging paranoia. He really couldn't remember the last time he saw her so unhindered by her mental health issues.
"But you're..," he stopped, the unspoken word hanging in the air between them like frosty breath on a cold morning.
"Dead," she finished for him. "Yes, I'm still that too." She smiled gently at him.
"I don't understand what's going on mom. How can you be here?"
"I'm here because you needed me, Bobby." She leaned forward slightly and reached a small hand out to him. She did not actually touch him, but he could swear she had. He felt her light touch on his arm as surely as he felt the sleeve of his shirt lying against his skin. "I'm here to give you another chance."
"Another chance?" he repeated, his face a study in confusion.
"Yes. A chance to move on. A chance to be happy again. A chance to live your life on your own terms, for yourself for once."
He dragged his gaze away from her before he tried to reply, his misery clearly etched on his still boyish features. "But mom, Frank..." his voice trailed off, grief written clearly on his face.
"Frank's OK now, Bobby. He's safe. You don't have to worry about him or me anymore. We are the ones worried about you, son."
"I'm all right."
"No you're not. The Robert Goren I know would never stand with a handful of pills and think that was his only option."
"I'm just...I'm so tired." His voice was barely more than a gravelly whisper.
"I know you are. I also know that I'm mostly to blame for the state you are currently in Bobby. My illness exacted a terrible price from all of us, but maybe you more than anyone."
"Oh Mom," he murmured sadly. "I love you. I did what I had to do for you. I would do it all again if need be."
"I don't know what I ever did to deserve a son like you." She looked down at the hands clasped neatly in her lap.
Bobby saw the sincerity on her face and felt another pang of sorrow. These were words his mother had never spoken when she was still alive, words he had longed to hear time after time, year after year.
"I wasn't a good mother to you and I am so sorry for that."
"It wasn't your fault, Mom. You gave me what you could."
"I couldn't help that I was sick, but that doesn't change the things that I did to you, all the terrible words said to you, all of the upset I put you through. It breaks my heart to see you so...disheartened and beat down." She paused and waited until he made eye contact. "I was given one chance, just one opportunity, to come back and make things right for you, or really, help you make things right for you, I guess. It's my chance to do the things for you now that I could never do for you in life – namely protect you and stand by you." She reached a hand up toward his face and again he felt a tender caress, this time on his cheek, even though she did not make physical contact with him in anyway. "One last chance to tell you how much I love you."
"I always knew you loved me Mom. Inside, I always knew."
"I don't know how you managed that." Again her sad eyes made contact with his. "You are such a special person Bobby. My greatest blessing. I did many things I'm not proud of, but those things can't be changed. But this...situation... this can. She leaned toward him and looked intently into his eyes. "You have to be brave, Bobby. Its sounds funny me saying that to you, because you have always been brave. But you just have to hold out a little longer. Things are going to turn around honey."
He shook his head sadly. "I don't see how Mom. Everything just keeps getting worse."
She nodded. "I understand that it seems that way, but you just have to hold on tighter to the important things in your life, son and...you have to let Frank and I go. You have to. And Declan, too." She laughed derisively before continuing. "At least that awful man had one thing right, all of us were, and apparently are, holding you back.
He shook his head sadly, looking away. "I don't know if I can do that."
"You can, Bobby. I have always known that you could do anything you set your mind to."
"Mom," he began in a small voice. "Frank's death. It was my fault."
"No! Bobby, it wasn't your fault. It's never been your fault."
"How can you say that?" he nearly spat out. He jumped up and started pacing, wringing his hands, intense agitation clearly evident in every stride he took. "Nicole killed Frank to hurt me like she felt I hurt her. Declan says he unleashed this whole scenario to help me. If I wasn't in law enforcement, no Nicole. If I wasn't so arrogant that thought I needed to be the best profiler in the world, no Declan." He paced for a few long seconds more, then dropped down heavily on the sofa, lowered his head into his hands and began to sob quietly.
His pain was so tangible that his mother could almost feel it in her own heart. She wished, not for the first time, that she could take away all his pain, but she knew that wasn't possible, so she just sat quietly and let him cry it all out.
When his emotional catharsis began to abate, he held his tear stained face up to his mother and asked in a shaky voice, "Why couldn't you help Frank? If you can help me..."
Frances got up and walked over to her son and sat gently down beside him before speaking. "It was Frank's time to go. I couldn't do anything to stop that, but it's not your time. You have many things left to do." She paused and waited until he was looking her straight in the eyes. "Look, you can choose to do whatever you want. You can go take those pills when I leave and still try end it all. I hope you won't."
"It just feels like its too late," he answered in weary voice.
"No. It's never too late as long as you draw breath, son. Everyday is another chance. You just have to take the chances presented to you." "Sweetheart," she said and then kneeled in front of him so he had no choice but to look at her, "You need to leave Frank and I, and all the memories and associations that go with us where we belong – in the past. You did everything you could for both of us. Its time for you to be responsible for only one person – you. Your life needs to defined by more than the ghosts of your past. You did your duty, son."
"I can't leave you behind Mom."
"Yes you can. I'm in your heart, so is your brother. It's time Bobby, time for you to get on with your own life. Stop being so stubborn and accept the love that is being offered all around you."
"Love! What love? I have never felt so alone in my life."
She gave him that look, that stern Mom look he knew so well. "Take your blinders off Bobby. Lewis cares about you, many of your fellow cops think very highly of you, even your boss cares about you, in his own way."
Bobby made a noise that sounded suspiciously like "hmmph".
"Don't snort Bobby, It's rude," she said automatically, then smiled ruefully at the grown man in front of her. "You spend too much time pushing people away so it will hurt less when they finally reject you, because everyone rejects you in the end – right?" He didn't answer so she continued. "The only thing is, that in this quest to not be hurt, you've ended up miserable and alone anyway."
He closed his eyes and sighed deeply before answering her. "Yeah. It's ironic mom. There's nothing I understand better than human behavior. I can figure out the motivation for a suspect's behavior just by the way he sits or how often he blinks or the words he chooses to use. The problem is I apparently have no clue as to why I do some of the things I do."
She was quiet for a moment. "You know, there's one person I didn't mention who loves you with all her heart."
"Who?" He tilted his head at her and it reminded her of when he was a small boy and his curiosity was piqued. He would tilt his head to one side, look up at her with those big brown eyes and start asking twenty questions, all prefaced with "why".
"I'm afraid that's not how it works, Bobby. I can't tell you her name, but you already know who it is. Be brave, let her in. I can tell you that you won't be sorry you did."
"Alex." He said the name almost reverently and his feelings for her was written clearly on his face.
His mother just smiled. The silence stretched between them comfortably for a minute or two before she posed a question. "Do you remember that poem we both loved, the one by Rilke?"
He thought for a moment. "Letters to a Young Poet?"
She nodded. "You were so proud when you finally memorized it."
He smiled slightly at the memory of a time that seemed like ancient history.
"Would you recite it for me?"
He fidgeted fitfully on the couch because he had never enjoyed reciting poetry much, but finally he acquiesced began saying the words in that silky smooth voice of his. "How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us." He paused trying to remember the next line.
His mom picked up where he left off and finished it for him, letting each beautiful word roll easily off her tongue. "So you must not be frightened, if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall."
She reached her hand out to him and he felt like she was holding his hand in hers. "I will not let you fall Bobby. I am with you all the time, just not in such an obvious way, of course. Every crisis in our life brings with it an opportunity for change and growth. This is one of the biggest you will face in your lifetime. Use it Bobby, don't let it defeat you."
"I don't know if I have the strength to go on, mom."
"You do. You've always had it.' She looked at him again, noting how tired and defeated he looked. "Bobby, put your feet up, lay you head back and rest. I'll stay here and watch over you."
"No, I'm not tired," he said even as his eye lids drooped lower and lower.
"Shhhh," she breathed soothingly. "It's okay, I'm right here. Sleep now son."
He settled back and closed his eyes and fell asleep almost immediately, feeling safe for the first time in a long, long time.
He woke up to the sound of his phone vibrating against the coffee table top. It took him a moment to realize where he was. He jumped up and went to the medicine cabinet. He hesitantly opened the door and saw the bottle of sleeping pills sitting there on the shelf. He opened the bottle and saw it was nearly full – just the way it had been before this whole night began. He tipped the contents of the bottle into the toilet and flushed the pills away.
His phone began to vibrate again. He picked it up and saw it was took a deep breath before he answered. "Hello?"
"Where are you Bobby? I've been calling for 15 minutes. Is everything OK?"
Was everything OK, he wondered to himself? Suddenly, it seemed like it was. "Sorry Alex, I guess I was asleep."
"Asleep? Wow. That must be a Christmas miracle."
He could almost hear her smiling through the phone. He smiled slightly himself as he answered her with, "Yeah I guess so. What's up?"
"I am. Up and at 'em and standing in front of your door. Let me in."
He walked to the door, the phone still in his hand and opened it as requested. He found his partner, standing in front of him with a big shopping bag in one hand and a miniature decorated Christmas tree in the other. He clicked the phone shut and reached out to take some of her burden.
"Eames, what are you doing here. Shouldn't you be at your Family's house?" As realization of what day it was dawned over him her felt a sharp stab of panic. " Oh man, are you missing seeing your nephew open his presents from Santa?"
"Don't get all worked up Bobby! Geez," she said as she breezed past him and into his kitchen. "Happy Holidays to you too, partner." She sat the small, potted tree in the middle of his kitchen table. "My sister and her husband decided to spend Christmas at his parents house for once, so Nate had two Christmases this year. We opened all his presents yesterday morning before they left for Connecticut. I figured you wouldn't have plans, so..." She stopped and looked at him carefully. He looked good. No, he actually looked wonderful, rested and calm. There was a slight smile on his face, the first sign of any emotion other than anger and sadness she had seen from him in months.
"You look...different today, Bobby. That must have been some kind of good sleep.
A strange look passed over his face, but he said nothing.
"Bobby, what's up. Did something happen?"
He nodded his assent and then looked away. He stood wringing his hands for a long minute trying to decide if he should tell his partner about his visitor. His Mom's words about him needing to be brave echoed loudly in his head and he decided to just jump in. "My Mom was here, Alex."
Alex didn't know what to say for moment. At first she wasn't sure if he was joking, but from the serious look on his face she got that he wasn't. "Your Mom? You mean in a dream?"
"No. Well, maybe. I...I know it sounds crazy, but she was here."
"Okay," she said simply before reaching out and grabbing his hand. She gave him a tug and then led him to the couch. When they both were seated she let go of his hand, but stayed close to him. "Tell
me what happened."
Slowly, haltingly, he laid out the events of the previous night. Alex was quiet, but her brown eyes never left his face. When the tale was finished, he was utterly surprised to see her eyes fill with tears.
"Alex," he began gently. "Please don't cry."
"What if...if...she hadn't stopped you?" A few tears spilled over and coursed slowly down her cheeks.
"It's a moot point. She did."
"No. It's definitely not a moot point." Anger began to blaze in her eyes. "How long have you felt this way? Why didn't you tell someone, tell me? How could you come to work everyday and fail to mention that you felt like ending your own life? Dammit, Bobby!"
She tried to jump up from the couch, but her grabbed her wrist as gently as he could and pulled her back down. He let go as soon as she was seated again. "Alex, I swear it wasn't like that."
"Then what was it like? I expect a real answer here, Bobby."
"I just...snapped. I don't know how else to describe it."
"Just like that, huh? You expect me to believe that Detective? I wouldn't buy that line of crap from a perp so no way am I buying it from you."
"After Declan called and I...well I smashed the phone and..."
"Wait," she bit out interrupting him. "Declan called you here? How is that possible. Didn't you have your number blocked?"
Bobby didn't answer, he just looked down at his hands.
"Oh hell! What were you thinking? How many times does Declan get to hurt you Bobby before enough is enough?"
"I told him not to call here anymore. I really just forgot to block the number. Look Alex, I am trying to tell you that none of that matters anymore."
"Why? Why does it not matter?" The words were angry, but her face softened just a little as she spoke.
"I finally understand. I, I have to let the past go. I am not good at that, as you know. I can't keep pushing everyone away just because they might hurt me or from the fear that I might...hurt... them."
"Everyone hurts other people sometimes. The more you care the more it can hurt."
"No. I mean..."
Alex stooped him by picking up his hand. You are not capable of that kind of hurt. I don't care who donated some of your DNA. You are an honorable and gentle man with a capacity for love and kindness that is truly 'awesome' to behold."
"Awesome?" he intoned, cocking an eyebrow at her.
"It's Nathan's current favorite word. Seemed appropriate," she shrugged, chuckling at him, her eyes twinkling so brightly he thought they could put any star in the sky to shame.
Slowly, but determinedly, he leaned toward her and pressed his lips gently to hers. To his utter surprise she returned the kiss and then gave him another and another and another.
Before he knew it they were dating, then married and then he was waking up every morning with her in his arms.
Gentle fingers traced a path down his cheek and quickly brought his thoughts back to the present. He turned his head and looked into her beautiful dark eyes and smiled as he said, "Good morning sweetheart."
"Good morning Bobby. Where were you a minute ago?"
"I was just thinking about the ghosts of Christmas past and how thankful I am for you, like I do every morning." He pressed his lips to hers and soon there was no reason for words, just love given and love received, the way it should be when all was right with the world.