x x x

A/N… Sorry this one turned up a little later than expected. Longest one yet, though. I wish I had more hours in a week, but I do love to write.

We're moving ahead to the future (Jeremy's 17, but he and others are going to recap a bit. Past scenes are in italics.) When we return to present, that's the same time this chapter begins. Alex and Bobby would be in their mid-late 50s (approximately). I'm just picturing them as they appeared in season 10 (or thereabouts), if that helps. Those two are ageless beauties in my opinion.

Crossover alert. I have a little SVU in every LOCI story (and vice-versa), so this chapter gets the SVU. It's basically story support. If you know a little about Elliot's and Olivia's families, great. If not, I don't think you'll be that lost. (Obviously, this goes in a VERY different direction than SVU did.) I took some liberties with the timeline for both shows, too (had to be done. ;) The emphasis is still on Bobby, Alex and their journey.

x x x

Jeremy's POV

I carry the box to the center of our living room floor, plop down beside it and start opening it.

"Any luck?" my mom asks, as she wanders into the living room and sits down on the sofa, a few feet away.

I shake my head in response. "Have you ever tried searching through Dad's book collection for something? Didn't he used to be a fan of library cards? What about E-books?" I pose lightheartedly.

I love my dad and his passion for books. I'm the same way. I'm only groaning about having to search through many stacks of books, and lugging boxes in and out of our attic or the garage, in order to find the one I'm looking for.

"If it's not in his library, then it's probably in one of those boxes in storage," she says.

I pull two books off the top, and a shoe box appears. "And it's all mixed in with other stuff," I add wearily. The shoebox contains small keepsakes. I set it aside.

"I'm sure you'll find it, honey." She picks up her laptop and resumes checking her email.

I remove more things out of the box, setting them on the floor or the coffee table, until I reach the bottom.

No book. So, it's onto the next.

As I begin refilling that box to put it away, I hear the front door open.

"Find it yet?" Allyson asks curiously, wandering into our living room. She lowers her eyes toward the floor and smiles at me.

Allyson Stabler has been my best friend since birth. She's five months younger than I am.

Ally's got it all—brains, beauty, humor, and she's been my faithful companion through just about everything. I love her immeasurably.

She started school a year later than me, but skipped the sixth grade. So we finished the last six years together. We'll be starting college in a few weeks. I'll be eighteen next month.

Her parents are Elliot and Olivia Stabler. She has five older half-siblings. Eli is the next oldest by a couple of years.

Aside from our families being so close and our parents being cops, we've always had a lot in common.

And no surprise, we both want to be cops.

It's a Sunday afternoon. While I should be packing for a camping trip that leaves tomorrow, I've decided to search for this book.

I guess I'm kind of curious about it. Dad's mentioned it a lot. It's mostly about criminal profiling. I only have a couple weeks before school starts, so I thought I'd check it out.

I shake my head in response to her question.

"Give me that author's name again?" she requests, squatting down on the floor beside me to help.

"This one's done, I'm just repacking it," I tell her. "And it's S. Brenwick. It's a red hardback, no jacket. Probably an inch thick."

She nods and settles back. "How long have you been at this?"

"This is the third box. It's not in his library and he doesn't know where it is either," I explain groaning.

Allyson smiles and stands back up. "Well then… I guess I'd better go put on a pot of coffee."

"You think it'll go faster with caffeine?"

"Couldn't hurt." She stops on the way out and turns back toward my mom. "Hey Alex, do you want some coffee?"

"No thanks, sweetie. But the dishwasher is clean, if you're looking for cups," Mom responds.

"Okay, thanks."

Soon, I hear her filling the coffee pot with water. "Hey, Jer, I'm not putting your 15 scoops of sugar in…," she hollers back from the kitchen, "…you'll have to do it yourself!"

She's just messing with me. And yes, I take after my mom when it comes to my preference for coffee. "Oh, what good are you?" I tease her back.

I re-tape that box and pull another one from our attic. Returning to my same location, I plop down on the floor and start opening it.

Allyson returns from the kitchen. I hear the coffee pot brewing, so she's taken care of that important task. She sits down with me.

The first thing I see is a small-checkered, black and white button-up shirt. I take it out of the box and hold it up. "This looks like Dad's…?"

Mom glances over in my direction. "It is his."

"Okay…? So, what's it doing in here?" I ask, setting it aside.

"Oh, I don't know… Probably got shoved somewhere quickly the last time we moved, and we forgot about it," she supposes. "That's probably one of your boxes. If I remember correctly, you took that shirt from him."

"I took it from him?" I repeat quizzically.

She smiles. "Yes. When you were young, you'd put on your dad's shirts as he was getting ready for work. He'd just grab another one out. Not sure if he got a few of them back, including that one. It made for a busy morning, sometimes…"

x x x

Alex's POV

~Past~

I stand at the mirror in the bathroom putting on make-up, while my two-year-old bounces around the bathroom floor gleefully. The arms and tails of his father's dress shirt skim the floor as he moves.

"Are you being Daddy?" I ask him. I lift the mascara brush to put some on.

He giggles at me.

I can't help but smile. He's got so much of Bobby in him. Dark hair, with some curl to it, dark eyes, these adorable little cheeks and the cutest grin.

As I lower my brush, I look over at him. "Could you go ask Daddy if he's ready?"

"'kay," he answers me, and then shuffles out of our master bathroom and into the hallway. "Daaaddeeeee!"

I finish my make-up, check myself once more, then walk out of our bedroom. As I start down the hall, I see no sign of Bobby or Jeremy.

"Hey, guys! We've gotta go!"

Typical mornings in our household. After Jeremy is dropped off at daycare, Bobby and I go to work.

We moved to a bigger place just after Jeremy turned one.

I turn the corner and see Jeremy standing at the entrance to the kitchen gazing in. Something has his attention.

Stopping at the hall closet, I retrieve my jacket and put it on. "Sweetheart, where's Daddy?"

"Daddy on floor," he replies softly. Jeremy bends all the way over, with his head almost touching the floor, so he can look at him…

Well, he is his father's son.

I assume they're playing. Bobby and Jeremy are as close as a father and son can be. Although work still gets in the way sometimes, he'll grab moments to play with Jeremy.

"What's Daddy doing on the floor?"

"Sleeping."

"Sleeping…?" That dreaded feeling creeps up inside me as I move quickly toward the kitchen. "Bobby?"

He's lying on the floor and he isn't moving.

I squat down beside him. "Honey?"

No response. He's pale.

I'm already shaking as I check his pulse. It's weak. At least he's breathing.

There's a red mark on the side of his head and a small cut there. He fell right by the sink and the cabinet door is open.

It looks like he was going for a glass of water.

He's lying on his back, with one arm across his chest and one leg folded slightly underneath him. So he probably lost his balance, tried to grab the counter and hit his head on the way down.

With Bobby, there could be any number of reasons why.

I pull out my phone and can barely get the numbers dialed.

Jeremy wanders closer and squats down on the floor beside his dad, patting him on the arm.

No idea what's going through his mind, or why he thinks Bobby would be sleeping on the kitchen floor. But I'm trying not to sound too panicked as I talk to the 911 operator. Not sure how great of a job I'm doing, either.

When that's done, my next call is to the Stabler's.

The greatest thing we three have besides each other, is the Stabler family. That's Elliot, Olivia and their little girl, Allyson. They're like a part of our extended family and we love them. We all go out to eat, take vacations and spend holidays together. It's been great.

Elliot, Olivia, and Elliot's older children have become our back-up babysitters for emergencies such as these. They tell us not to hesitate to call them. Especially, when it concerns Bobby.

I manage to reach Olivia, and fortunately, she hasn't left for work yet. They're about a block away from us. When they have work emergencies, we'll watch Allyson. We've also taken care of Eli. It all works out.

Olivia arrives just as the medics show up. She'll finish getting Jeremy ready and they'll meet us at the hospital.

I ride with Bobby, giving the EMTs his medical history.

As we arrive, I make a quick phone call to Deakins to let him know what's going on.

Next, I find a seat in the waiting area. It's about forty-five minutes before anyone appears.

"Mrs. Goren?" a woman doctor calls for me when she enters the waiting room. She's carrying a folder, which is probably Bobby's faxed medical records.

I stand up and start walking to her.

This is still the worst part for me. I'm holding my breath from the moment they call my name until I hear what's going on.

"Yes, doctor?"

"Your husband is stable. Everything looks fine." She relays calmly.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Olivia walk in carrying Jeremy. I gesture for her to join us.

"Mom-Mom-Mom-Momma!" Jeremy greets me happily. He holds his favorite stuffed dog in his hand. Olivia must have found it for him before they left.

Olivia steps up and puts her hand on my shoulder supportively. Like I said, they're family to us.

"What happened?" I ask the doctor.

"Not sure, other than a sudden drop in blood pressure," the doctor answers. "Since he fell, we did a head x-ray, which looks fine. Has he had any weakness or dizziness, chest pain, poor circulation, muscle aches, or anything of that sort, recently?"

"No, not at all," I reply.

Her gaze shifts to the folder in her hand. She opens it and skims the page. "I see that he's had a history of cancer. Last recurrence was about a year ago. Has he had a screening lately?" She lifts her head again to look at me.

I nod. "We just got the results back. Everything was fine."

She shrugs. "I've ruled out anything here that might be a medical emergency. He's resting, but you're free to visit with him. When we finish his paperwork, he can leave. Have him make a follow-up appointment with his primary care doctor. Make sure he gets in to see someone sooner, if he's experiencing any dizziness or weakness. Talk to Mark at the front counter…," she pauses to gesture to the man standing there, "…he'll take you to see your husband."

"Thank you, doctor," I reply, just before she leaves.

"Sounds like good news," Olivia says to me.

"Yeah, I'm still a little fuzzy about what happened, but it looks like we can go see him."

She hands Jeremy over to me. "You two go visit. I have to call Fin about a case. I'll be in there in just a minute."

"Thanks, Liv."

"Anytime."

I take Jeremy, then head over to the counter.

Moments later, we enter the room.

"Daddeeeeee!" Jeremy greets him, starting to wiggle in my arms with anticipation.

Bobby, who happens to be awake, glances up at us and smiles.

The first thing I notice is that he's still very pale. It might be this lingering weakness, might be something else. I've become a little adamant about his health lately, but I can't help it. This man and our son, are my world.

"Hey, sweetheart," I greet Bobby.

"Hi, honey," he says to me. I lean over to kiss him. As I do, Jeremy crawls from my arms into Bobby's hospital bed.

"Careful, sweetie…" I say to Jeremy, who plows his way over Bobby's IV tubes and the monitoring equipment.

"It's okay, I've got him," Bobby says, scooping him into his arms. "How's my boy?" he greets Jeremy, giving him a kiss on the head.

"Daddy…'kay?'" he asks. He picks up his stuffed dog and nuzzles it against Bobby's arm.

"Yes, I'm okay. Just got a little weak."

"Do doctor says!" he orders Bobby sternly, wagging a finger at him.

Jeremy often hears me urging Bobby to 'do what the doctor says'—which is what he's reminding him of.

Bobby grins. "Yes, baby. I'll listen to my doctor."

x

We learn a little later, that Bobby's fainting spell was due to a problem with a new medication he takes for his back. Fortunately, that's easily resolved by switching him to a lower dose.

We knew someday that we'd have to explain more to Jeremy than just, 'Daddy's very sick.'

To Jeremy, 'very sick' means he puts a blanket over Bobby, sets his stuffed dog beside him, kisses his head and it'll all be better.

He just has to do what the doctor says.

Bobby has had to undergo chemo for a few small masses since Jeremy was born. He still struggles with the side effects.

We researched the child psychology books and materials, wanting to make sure we were doing the right thing when it comes to explaining cancer to a child.

Our next challenge happens a year and a half later. Jeremy is a month from his fourth birthday.

At that age, he's curious about everything. Lots of questions.

What makes it even harder, is that he's very close to Bobby.

Rather than keeping Jeremy out of the loop, Bobby tries to be open about his condition. I think he's done a great job of answering his questions and helping him understand things without upsetting him.

The flaw in our approach…? Our son's very receptive. Even when we're at the hospital or the clinic and it concerns another patient, he's asking questions.

This one time, we didn't have the opportunity to help him sort it out before it became too confusing.

One afternoon, Elliot has Allyson with him and offers to pick up Jeremy from daycare. He brings him over when Bobby and I get back from work.

Jeremy's up several times during the night with bad dreams. He's very upset and reluctant to talk about them.

The next day, I take him to daycare. Jeremy's fussing and crying. Doesn't want to go inside. I figure he's tired from being up for most of the night.

Since Bobby has a few appointments and plans to be off from work, he keeps him for the day.

That night, more bad dreams. Bobby and I are at a loss.

The next morning, we both take him to the daycare and the same thing happens. He clings to us and refuses to go in.

I let Bobby go on to work and decide to stay with him.

Jeremy and I meet up with Elliot and Olivia at a restaurant in Midtown for lunch. I mention what's been going on with Jeremy to the two of them. They suggest that I take him back to the daycare after lunch, and actually go in there with him for a little while.

I had no reason to suspect his daycare of anything. But I really didn't know where to start. Elliot had a point.

"Makes sense, why didn't I think of that earlier?" I pose in response, feeling a little silly.

"Maybe because you've been up the past two nights with a kid who can't sleep?" Elliot offers with a sympathetic grin. "Don't worry about it, Alex. You're still doing the best that any parent can do."

So we head there next. For an hour and a half, he runs around and plays with the other kids. He does come over to check in with me periodically, but still seems okay.

I talk to the daycare workers for a little bit. One of the ladies had been out for a couple weeks on bereavement leave, and just came back. She lost her father to Lymphoma.

My father had passed away a few months ago too, so I felt that familiar pang. My brothers, my sister and I are still dealing with final expenses and a lot of miscellaneous details.

She and I talk for a few minutes. I know what she's going through, so I try to offer her some support and sympathy.

Meanwhile, where Jeremy is concerned, everything seems normal. The workers say he's been very good. Nothing out of the ordinary, aside from refusing to go in.

Jeremy and I head home after that.

That night, Bobby's running later than usual. After a while, Jeremy's starting to become a little restless wondering where he is. I'm able to settle him down by telling him 'Daddy's on the way.' That works for a little while, then he's anxious again.

Finally, Bobby comes home. He and Jeremy play for a little while and Jeremy goes to bed.

Later that night, the bad dreams return. We hear him crying from our bedroom.

"I've got him," Bobby says, getting out of bed.

Minutes later, Bobby returns. "We've got company," he announces as he walks in. I roll onto my back as Bobby sets Jeremy in the bed between us.

"Hi, sweetie…" I greet Jeremy.

"We'll try this tonight and see if he's able to fall asleep," Bobby suggests. "Might make it a little easier on us too, since we won't have to get up to check on him."

Jeremy rarely has bad nights. Most of the time, the cause is typical. He's sick or has trouble getting settled. We can usually get him to go to sleep.

He does have a little separation anxiety whenever one of us is gone overnight.

There have been a couple times since Jeremy was born, that we brought him into our bed for the night. Bobby has his own difficult nights during treatment, so I don't want to disturb his sleep if I can help it. I'll usually spend the night in the recliner that's in Jeremy's room, rocking him until he falls asleep.

But this is the first time Jeremy's had a few bad nights in a row, without us knowing a cause.

It takes a little adjusting, but soon we're all able to fall asleep.

A little later that night, Bobby awakens me with a light tap on the shoulder. My eyes open and he quietly gestures to Jeremy, who is asleep but becoming restless.

"He's muttering a little. It's hard to pick out what he's saying," Bobby whispers.

Bobby touches his arm to wake him. "Jeremy…? Baby, wake up…."

It takes him a moment. He lifts his head and looks over at him. "Daddy…" he cries.

Bobby sits up in bed, then scoops him into his arms. "Were you dreaming again?" he asks, after Jeremy settles in.

"Uh-huh," the little boy answers tearfully.

"What happens in your dreams?"

"Nothing."

"Is anyone with you?"

He shakes his head.

"Is anyone bothering you?"

"No."

"What do you see?"

"Nothing…"

For the past two nights, this is as far as we get. Bobby decides to press him a little harder. "What about Mommy? Is she there?"

He nods. "Sometimes."

"Mommy's with you?"

"Mommy's home."

"Okay, so you and Mommy are at home in your dreams. Do you see me?"

"No!" he cries out, distressed.

"You can't find me?"

"No!" he asserts again.

Bobby and I exchange a glance.

"When you see Mom, what happens next?"

"Look for you."

"And you can't find me?"

"Mommy don't know where you are too!"

"Maybe I'm at work?"

"No, Daddy! Mommy don't know!" he stresses.

"I'll always come home, you know."

Jeremy's quiet for a minute. Then he looks up at Bobby somberly, "Are you gonna die too?"

Bobby and I exchange another worried look. A heavy sigh escapes his lips. "Why do you ask that, Jeremy?"

"Your cansure."

"My cancer?"

"Uh-huh. Kelly's Daddy got cansure. Kelly says he's with Pop-Pop now."

"Kelly from the daycare," I remind Bobby. "Her father just passed away."

In a cancer clinic, the subject of death comes up frequently.

We could safely dodge that topic around Jeremy, until my father passed away. Jeremy was close to my dad, too. He still looks for my dad, whenever we happen to be over at the house.

So after the funeral, Bobby and I sat down with him and tried to explain death.

"There are different kinds of cancer," Bobby responds. "Do you remember me telling you that?"

Bobby had recently been through a series of treatments. The mass doesn't seem to be shrinking, but we're waiting on more test results.

Jeremy nods. "But you're sick all the time! That not good!"

Our son's getting a little too smart.

"Yes, but I'm going for treatment when they tell me to. I'm eating what I have to. Doing what my doctor says. Doing my exercises. Sometimes the cancer comes back. I don't like it when it comes back, but we take care of it."

"Make it go away, Daddy! I don't want you die!" he says frowning.

I see Jeremy's words bothering him, but he pushes the emotions aside and addresses him calmly. "I'll keep fighting it. You can help me like you always do. Like when I do my exercises? I need lots of help. Think you can sit with me and make sure I do them right?" he poses, eyeing Jeremy affectionately.

He sniffles and nods.

I love that Bobby keeps him involved in his treatment. It's therapeutic for the both of them.

I always knew Bobby would make a great father. He's very patient, nurturing and supportive. He says he uses nothing but the psychology he's learned through the years. He's been very successful at teaching and reassuring Jeremy.

"So tomorrow, Mommy and I are going to go to work, and you're going to go to daycare. Okay?"

"'kay."

"You promise? Mommy and I both need to go to work."

"Uh-huh."

"And one of us will pick you up after work, right?"

"Right."

Bobby hugs him and kisses his cheek. "No more bad dreams. Hey, remember the time we saw the duck chasing the dog in the park?"

Jeremy giggles.

"Or…how about the time at the zoo when you saw that silly monkey who was jumping all over the place, making everyone laugh."

"Uh-huh," Jeremy says laughing a little harder.

Jeremy absolutely loves the zoo. He did get a kick out of seeing that monkey.

"Try thinking about the silly animals when you go to sleep. Then you'll have some happy dreams."

"'kay," he responds smiling.

"So how about….you, me and Mommy go see if that silly monkey's there this weekend?"

Jeremy nods excitedly. "Yeah, yeah, yeah!"

Sounds like a bribe to me. Who knows, maybe it'll help.

"You get some sleep. You'll stay here with us tonight. Tomorrow night, you'll go back to your room. Okay?"

He nods.

"Now…" He lifts Jeremy and turns him around to face me. "Give Mommy a big hug and tell her goodnight..."

He opens his arms and I sit up to hug him. "G'night, Mommy."

"Do you love her?" Bobby prompts warmly, grinning at me.

"Uh-huh," he replies.

"A little…? Or A LOT…?"

"LOTS!" he replies enthusiastically, hugging me tighter.

"Well, tell her," he coaxes.

"Love Mommy LOTS!"

"Awww… I love you too, sweetie. Goodnight."

x

Fortunately, we make it through the rest of the night with no more nightmares.

The next day, I take him back to daycare.

Once again, he refuses.

"You told Daddy and me that you were going to daycare today…"

He shakes his head.

"Go on inside, Jeremy."

One of the girls who work at the daycare stands by, waiting for him to go inside. She tries to encourage him, but he backs away from her.

"Nooooo… Daddy! Daddy! Daaaaaddeeeee!" The little boy stomps his feet a couple times, then starts crying.

I know that he's still trying to work through some of this.

But I can't allow the behavior to continue.

So I do the one thing I hate doing most as a parent… I scold my son.

"Jeremy, no! That's enough! You're going to daycare!"

One of the things about this kid that makes him so wonderful, is that he never pushes it beyond this point.

Whenever we put our foot down, that's the end of it. He realizes he has to behave. I attribute a lot of it to Bobby's patience and constantly working with him.

He looks up at me with those weepy brown eyes and quivering lower lip. The little dark ringlet of hair above his brow is standing up. "'kay," Jeremy responds, although he continues to frown.

I stoop down and give him another hug. "I'll have Daddy pick you up this afternoon, okay?"

"'kay," he says again.

"I love you."

"Love Momma."

He turns toward the daycare worker and starts to go inside.

I wander out of there and the tears hit me.

That fear and the nightmares seem like a normal response for any kid who is trying to understand something that's really beyond his years.

Some of this is difficult to understand, even at my age.

He probably overheard the girls talking about Kelly's dad and someone started a cancer discussion.

They didn't know he had been listening in, or I'm sure they would have tamed down the discussion. Everyone there knows about Bobby.

Jeremy does tend to gravitate toward Kelly and another girl, Sylvia, whom he really likes.

I had hoped that Jeremy would become Bobby's motivation for fighting the cancer, and so far and that's exactly what happened.

But Jeremy loves his father just as much.

As for the nightmares? Yeah, I've had plenty of my own. Probably not that much different from his.

So what do I do…? I tell him to stop worrying about his father and go about his day, as if nothing could ever go wrong.

And he obeys me.

That little boy is stronger than I'll ever be.

x x x

~Present~

Jeremy's POV

I dig a little further in the box and pull out some other things I know are mine. "You're right, Mom. I think most of this stuff is mine. Might as well start marking some of these boxes." I retrieve a marker and sit back down in the same spot. I continue going through it anyway, wondering if there's anything that I don't want packed away.

My hand brushes against something soft and plush. "Hey Mom…I finally found Tart-tart…" I announce chuckling, as I retrieve my floppy-eared stuffed hound dog from the box.

"I wondered what happened to him," Mom replies affectionately.

I carried him around with me as a kid. He's brown, with white and black patches. Very worn over the years. I set him down on the carpet beside me.

Allyson snickers, but I know she remembers him.

Yes, Tart-tart is a strange name for a stuffed dog. No idea where I came up with that. Mom thinks that I was probably trying to say 'sweetheart.' My parents called each other sweetheart, they called me, sweetheart, so yeah, the term has been used a lot.

Anyway, there's one name that I think tops it… Allyson had a pet cat named Ketchup.

Her half-brother Eli found the abandoned kitten and wanted to name it 'Heinz.' "You know…," he tells his younger sister during the introductions, "…like the Ketchup."

So of course, three-year old Allyson decides the kitten should be named 'Ketchup.' Eli developed allergies, so the cat ended up living with Allyson, Olivia and Elliot.

"Hey, Mom… When did I get Tart-tart?"

"You were about a year and a half. Dad went in for chemo and wound up staying in the hospital for a few days. They didn't want kids visiting and he didn't want to upset you. But you were having a lot of trouble sleeping. One day, he finds him at the hospital gift store and wants to get him for you. I took him home, hoping it would cheer you up."

I nod. Searching a little further through the box, I pull out a toy engine. It looks a little familiar. "Who gave me this?" I ask my mom as I hold it up.

"Oh, that one was from Captain Deakins…"

x x x

~Past~

(Still Jeremy's POV)

One of my parents favorite kid-stories to this day, is when I went to Major Case to meet everyone. They had all seen me at four and a half weeks old.

This time, I'm a few weeks away from my second birthday and just starting to talk more.

There weren't too many youngsters in the department at the time, so I got a lot of attention. And they all wanted to hear me talk.

Introductions went like this… 'Hi, what's your name? I'm so-and-so… Can you say that?'

At the time, I had just mastered, 'Momma and Daddy.' Except my D's weren't that great, so Daddy sounded more like Tatty.

I was great at Gs, so I threw those out liberally. 'Doggie' became 'goggie.'

For the longest time, the best I could do for my own name was 'Jer-ME!'

Yeah, lots of stress on the final syllable, and who needs that middle syllable anyway?

My parents did work with me a lot.

So anyway, I liked these people at the precinct, but I had a lot of trouble trying to pronounce their names.

One of the uniformed officers, who happens to like kids a lot, stayed near us and kept prompting me. So I did the best I could.

The first one I meet is Mike.

"I'm Mike Logan…"

All my toddler mouth could come up with is 'Gogan.' Which I thought was pretty good.

He obviously didn't agree. So I ended up with the nickname 'Junior Goren'. He still calls me that to this day, in fact.

The next one is Carolyn Barek.

They want me to say…what?' Who the hell are they kidding?

Best I could do is 'Crayon.'

And on down the list.

The last one I meet is Captain Jimmy Deakins. Very nice guy. I miss him sense he's retired.

At that young age, I wasn't at Major Case too often. Anytime I'd show up, he'll have treats or toys to offer me.

So Captain Deakins steps out of his office. My parents are at their desks, chatting about some case with a couple of uniformed officers.

Mike and Carolyn are perched on the corner of their desks, chatting away. Mike's holding me, Tart-tart is probably somewhere close by, and I'm craning my head around so I can keep my parents in sight. Probably a little mesmerized by the activity in the bullpen.

Deakins comes over to see me.

Just the fact that he's out there draws the attention of others in the squad room. Everyone's eyes are on us as Mike begins introductions.

Captain Jimmy Deakins…Captain Jimmy Deakins… Deakins…Deakins…hmmm… This one's going to be pretty tough. But I make an earnest attempt. I extend my hand to shake his.

I study his face, trying to formulate the sounds in my head. Then I enthusiastically announce the superior officer's name… "GEEEEEEK'n!"

Like I said, Ds were a tough letter to learn. I had no idea what I'd just said.

So my rather loud proclamation cracks up the entire squad room.

Yes, even Captain Geeeeek'n. Poor guy has suffered that nickname through the years because of me. It's a good thing he has a sense of humor.

As for his successor, Captain Ross? Well…I'm glad he had an easy name.

For some reason, I was always a little afraid of him.

x x x

Alex's POV

~Present~

It's mid-afternoon, so I head over to the Stabler's house. We're getting ready for our traditional camping trip with the Stablers. We've gone most years since the kids were little.

At this stage in the preparations, Olivia and I are usually checking weather and making sure we have what we need. There are always a few last minute surprises.

Afterward, she and I sit at her kitchen table, having a beer and engaging in the usual girl talk.

She's been my best friend for years. Very supportive. We're more like sisters.

Allyson comes in while we're sitting there.

"Taking a break from the great book hunt?" I ask her.

"Jer's into it. Don't let the bellyaching fool you. He likes finding stuff from his past, the childhood memories. He's such a softy—don't tell him I said so," she explains with a grin. "I forgot to pack some nail clippers and tweezers," she answers me, then turns toward Olivia. "Hey, Mom… You seen my gray hoodie?"

Olivia nods. "Yeah, it ended up in my pile after we did laundry. It's sitting on top of your dresser."

"Thanks. Are Dad and Bobby still at the range?" she asks both of us.

"I assume so," I answer, turning to Olivia to see if she's heard anything further from Elliot.

"They'll wrap it up soon. Elliot's picking up dinner for all of us."

Allyson nods, then heads for her room.

"Has Bobby got the last lab result back yet?" Olivia asks me.

I sigh, shaking my head apprehensively. "It's the usual waiting game."

x x x

~Past~

(Still Alex's POV)

After dropping Jeremy off at daycare, I head to Major Case. I must look like a wreck from crying.

I did need to stop by the DA's office to talk with Carver about a case that's headed for court. Almost rather do that first.

At the DA's office, the women's bathroom is right by the entrance. Keeping my head down, I could head straight there to clean off my mascara and fix my make-up. After that, I'd just head for Ron's office.

Then I remember that he's stuck in court all morning. So much for that idea.

Guess I'll head to Major Case. Hopefully, no one's around.

As I enter the squad room, I see that I'm out of luck yet again. Bobby and Mike are there. Deakins is out of the office, and everyone else is around or out on assignment.

Bobby's perched on the side of Mike's desk reading a file and Mike is refilling his coffee mug.

I stroll in quickly and drop my stuff without making eye contact with anyone. I snatch a tissue from my desk and move hurriedly toward the bathroom.

Bobby notices me and crosses the room in time to intersect my path. "How'd it go?" he asks.

I don't know why I thought I could get past him. The man knows me too well.

I sniffle and lower my head. Tears resume, because I still haven't worked any of this out. "He's there. He didn't want to go in, so I had to put my foot down."

Screw the make-up. Might as well put a bag over my head.

He guides me into his arms and kisses the top of my head. "You're a great mom," he tells me softly. "He knows you love him. We knew this wouldn't be easy for him to handle."

"It's not easy for me, either…" I admit, my voice breaking.

He releases me briefly, then turns toward Mike. "We're going out for a couple minutes."

Mike waves us on. "Take your time," he adds.

"I needed a breather anyway," he explains. He keeps his arm around me to shield me as we exit the building.

Moments later, we're outside of 1PP. He takes me aside when he finds a spot that's mostly out of the way of foot traffic. He turns to face me. "I think he probably overheard the girls at the daycare talking and they didn't notice him. You know how he adores Sylvia and Kelly."

I nod because I had already concluded the same thing. "I don't want to push Kelly to find out what was said, she's still shaken up," I add. "This last time, her father got the cancer, it spread and he went quickly."

"We already know this is separation anxiety. Jeremy thinks that as long as we're with him, nothing can go wrong. He 'can't find me' in his dreams, so he panics. He hasn't accepted your father's death. He still looks for him whenever we go over to see your family. We just need to work with him a little more…" he sighs. "That was a long day. We probably should have waited before having that talk with him."

I nod and wipe more tears away.

"He also…umm…mentioned that 'you' didn't know where I was in the dream. Alex..he's remembering the times when he's seen you panic," Bobby adds, eyeing me uneasily.

"And that's not helping him," I admit, biting my lip. The tears come a little more freely.

Bobby lowers his head pensively for a moment, then looks back at me. "Look, I—I've been wanting to talk to you about something anyway. I guess now is as good a time as any…"

"What is it?"

He sighs. "Sweetheart, you can't keep lugging so much around… You keep the house running, you're taking care of me and Jeremy, and you're constantly on the move. When you came in to see me in the hospital the last time, I could see it all affecting you and it scared the hell out of me. I know you worry about me. But now, I'm the one who's getting scared… Your health is just as important to me. You lost your father a couple months ago and I know you still need time to deal with that. I—I can't stand the thought of you having blood pressure issues, a heart attack, or some other health problems, just because of everything we have to deal with. Whatever you need to do to reduce your stress, do it. Do it for me and Jeremy… We love you so much."

Like I said. screw the make-up.

"I'm sorry," I offer, crying a little harder. He pulls me into his arms.

"Don't be sorry. You've just gotta take care of yourself. That's the best thing you can do for us."

I settle back a little so I can see him. "It hurts seeing that little boy upset. I can't say anything to help him because I'm just as scared."

Bobby reaches up with the pads of his thumbs and wipes some of my tears. "We've done the best we can to prepare Jeremy. We'll just keep working with him. And whether I have 2, 5, 10 or 20 years left, we have to make the most of what time we have. We love each other, we love our son, and we do our best to stay healthy. We can't worry about what's to come. Or even…my next test result. Promise me you'll work at reducing your stress?"

I lower my head. "I—I…"

He gently lifts my chin so I'm looking at him, "Promise me, baby?" Those dark eyes gaze into mine affectionately.

Everything we've been through only makes me love him more. And every year, it gets a little harder to picture my life without him, should something happen.

So what else could I do, but continue to give him everything I can?

I nod. "I promise."

x x x

Allyson's POV

~Present~

I leave Jeremy to his book search and run home to add a couple of items for this camping trip. Alex had come over to visit with my mom so they could get things ready. After I pack my cosmetics, the three of us girls chat for a bit.

A little later, I decide to head back to the Goren's to see how Jeremy's doing.

For my entire life, almost every memory I have going back to the very earliest, included the Goren family.

They're like a part of our extended family, and I love them very much.

I have five older half-siblings, three nieces, one nephew, eight cousins, five aunts and four uncles. Mom and I are pretty close. I'm her only child and I think that's part of it. Dad's tried to divide his time between all six of his kids and four grandkids. I know he loves me, but let's face it… It's a big family.

I'm close to my half-brother Eli and my cousin Olivia, who is Uncle Simon's daughter. We're Facebook friends. My older siblings, with the exception of Eli, are not around that often. I love them, but we're at different stages in life. They have kids of their own now. I don't see Dad's siblings too often. I'm also pretty close with Uncle Simon.

But no matter how big my family gets, I've remained very close to the Goren family. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with Jeremy.

Being the children of cops is complicated sometimes. So we have that in common.

There's also the whole cop's kid stereotype. People treat you differently.

I got a little bit of advice from my older half-sibs. They've made their share of mistakes.

Our parents love us, but they have a lot to deal with on the job. I guess that's really the bottom line.

So I'm seventeen and a half. Kind of a free spirit. Just your typical, head-in-the-clouds, life-is-meant-to-be-lived, type of girl. A lot like my mom when she was a teenager.

Meanwhile, Jeremy's my down-to-earth best friend. He's my rock. He never lets me get in over my head.

Quite honestly, he's my soul mate.

He's an incredibly sweet person. Seems shy when he first meets someone.

Around his family or closest friends, it's kind of a different story. The shyness goes away and he can sometimes be a goofball. He's still a loveable goofball.

He's a total genius, just like his dad. He's going to make one hell of a great cop.

His family is very important to him. Even when his dad is taking chemo, losing his hair, the rashes, throwing up, or in and out of the hospital, he's always been somewhere close by to tend to what he needs.

Occasionally, he'd reach his limit and come visit me. Usually, he just needs to vent or blow off a little steam before heading back. We play a little basketball, or just chat.

I've done my best to be there for him. Never let anyone know what he's told me in confidence.

That's made us very close over the years.

x

"Jer…?" I call out, as I open the door to his place. Jeremy and I have had keys to each other's place since we were old enough to carry them.

The Goren family moved to Brooklyn for a few years, then came back.

We moved a few times too. Kind of interesting, but the Stabler's and Goren's started out about a block apart and ended up a block apart. Just sort of worked out that way.

The space between our houses is a highly-traveled corridor. I used to wonder why our parents didn't just chip in and get one big place for all six of us, with guest rooms for the rest of the relatives. We're over at each other's places so often.

I enter their living room. There are still a few boxes and things piled where he was sitting earlier, but no sign of Jeremy. The doors to the attic and the garage are both closed. The basement door is open a little and the light is on, so I head downstairs.

There's the washer and dryer, a storage area under the steps with lots of boxes, and a small den. The den is the only part of the basement that's finished. There are a few chairs, a TV, a ping-pong table in the very back, and some coffee tables. It's where the older furniture ends up that they don't want to get rid of. They sometimes use it as a sitting area for parties, or as a TV room.

"Hey…Jer?" I call out. "You down here?"

I take a few more steps, but there's no answer.

"Say something… Make a noise, so I don't think you fell into a box," I tease.

For all I know, he could be hiding somewhere, waiting to jump out and scare me. He's done that before.

There are a couple boxes in the downstairs hallway. I walk around them and make my way toward the den.

He's sitting in there on the floor, with a few boxes around him. One box sits open beside him. There's a couple sheets of paper in his hand.

He glances up at me, then returns his eyes to the papers. "I shouldn't be reading this…"

Obvious question, but I have to ask it. "So why are you?"

"Curiosity. This is a letter from Dad to Mom. They gave each other notes and letters during her pregnancy. Dad was on short-term disability. Mom saves everything from him. In this one…he's telling her things he wants me to know, in case something happens to him. He's very depressed, Ally. Right here…" he points to a section, "he thinks Mom and me would be better off without him…" he lowers his head, but not before I see that it's getting to him.

I sit down beside him and wrap an arm around him. Then, I take the papers from his hand, set them inside the box and close the flaps. "This…is the past. You need to leave it in the past. Everyone says and does things they wish they could take back… How many times have you said that to me, Jeremy?"

"Yeah, I just didn't know my dad once felt this way," he says disheartened.

"He didn't have the family support when he was growing up…remember?"

He ponders it for a moment. "Yeah, I guess…"

"Not until Alex had him by the balls…" I pose with a grin. Alex is one of the strongest people I know. I know about Bobby's family and I can imagine 'somewhat', what his life was like. I imagine she had her work cut out for her, but she would never give up on her family.

He finally smiles. "I love my mom for straightening him out." He stands, picks up the box and carries it over to the stack of boxes behind the stairs. He returns to the den and props himself against the doorway with a frown. "My dad just had another lab test and we're waiting for the results. Even when he's taking care of himself and doing fine, it comes back…" he says frustrated. "I still worry about him."

I walk over and hug him. "You're allowed." He rests his head against my shoulder and lets out a heavy sigh.

We stand there quietly for a few minutes. No idea where his head goes, but it's probably somewhere dark and complex.

"I still haven't told anyone about you turning down that scholarship to Irvine," I add a minute later.

"I know, and I appreciate that, Ally."

"It's one of the top schools in the country for Criminal Psychology…"

"I'm not going 3000 miles away from home."

"It's your choice, Jer. You can still tell them. They'd be really proud of you."

He shakes his head. "No, Dad would tell me to take it and Mom would back him. What if Dad gets sick again? I've got a scholarship to Hudson. Doesn't matter to me if it's not a top school."

"Your secret's safe with me. And for what it's worth, I'd be pretty bummed if you went to California, anyway."

"Thanks. Same here."

I kiss his cheek, then release him.

"I'd better get these boxes put away before Mom has me by the balls," he says, his eyes peering around at the den and the hallway.

"I'll help."

"Who? Me….or her?" he teases smartly.

I roll my eyes and glare.

"Any coffee left?" he asks.

I nod and head for the stairs. "Yeah, I'll get it."

"Hey Ally… It's only 12 scoops of sugar…"

I turn back toward him. "Cutting back?" I tease.

"Yeah, I'm sweet enough," he jokes with a smirk.

I chuckle and continue up the stairs.

x x x

Bobby's POV

~present~

"You think it needs a second coat?" I ask Elliot, as I walk around the back of the car and inspect.

Stabler and I spent part of the afternoon putting the final changes on my newest obsession—this Ferrari GTS.

Call it a mid-life crisis.

How I got it? More or less, being in the right place at the right time. I worked a case with the Feds, recently. One of our witnesses inherited the car, but couldn't afford the repairs. The car needed some serious engine work and three new tires.

To make a long story short, he had to leave the country and decided to sell it quickly. So I made him an offer for it.

Then of course, I called my good friend Lewis.

He made me no promises. Said there were a couple of concerns about getting parts, which could take some time. If it didn't work out, he said he'd buy it from me and sell it for parts.

Probably only end up losing a grand.

So I took a gamble and fortunately, it worked out.

Right now, it looks pretty damn good.

Elliot and I were at the shooting range earlier and I got the call that it was ready. Elliot wanted to see it, of course.

We're in Lewis's home garage, which is three blocks from our house.

Lewis is at a basketball game tonight, but I have a key to his home garage.

All it needed was a couple coats of wax. I told Lewis he could leave that part to me.

So Elliot and I rolled up our sleeves and went to work.

I haven't mentioned it to Alex yet. I wanted to see what Lewis could do before I sprang it on her.

"Nah, I think this one should cover it," he finally answers me. "Need another rag?" Elliot asks, as he fetches a new cloth for himself.

"I'm good," I respond. "So Maureen and Jim liked the restaurant?" I ask, steering our conversation back to the camping site.

"Yeah, they were impressed. It's an extravagant menu. Said it had great views of the lake, too. I figure we can probably hit it tomorrow night when we get there, after we set up camp?"

"Sounds good."

As is customary, the six of us—Stablers and Gorens—are headed upstate for a camping trip.

Not our usual camp spot this year. Elliot's daughter Maureen and son Richard have both been there with their respective families, and they say it's a great place.

We started the tradition of family outings with the Stablers many years ago.

Back when Jeremy was young, my cancer treatment limited our budget and the job had its usual time demands, our choices for family vacations were limited.

One year, Elliot recommends a weekend in Pennsylvania. We rented a couple tents, get some sleeping bags and sort of 'winged-it.' Honestly, that turned out to be one of the best vacations. Especially, for being so impromptu. The kids loved being outdoors and we adults had a lot of fun.

I still had some weak moments. So having the Stablers there also gave Alex a little extra support. These trips really brought the six of us closer.

The kids have gotten older, but they still love it. We go somewhere, just about every year.

Alex and I are still very active. She's now the captain of Major Case. I'm a captain too, by ranking. These days, I'm either working as a consultant for NYPD or assisting the Feds on special cases. Alex and I still get to work together a lot, which is nice. She'll put in a request for me, when she knows the case is right up my alley.

Elliot's retired from the NYPD for a couple years now. He has time for hobbies. He teaches a couple of self-defense courses for women, along with his wife, Olivia. She's the captain of Manhattan SVU.

I've thought about retiring early, but I still love the casework. Hard to give up, I guess. I still have limitations because of the cancer surgeries, recurrences and such.

I'm both nervous and excited about the fact that my son wants to be a cop.

I definitely want him to do what he loves. Obviously, I wish it didn't involve guns, or some of the world's worst psychopaths.

But I know he'll make one hell of a great cop.

x

"Any luck with finding the tickets you wanted to give to Alex?" Elliot asks.

"Nope," I sigh.

I didn't have the slightest idea what to give Alex when our 18th anniversary came up. I found someone selling cruise tickets online. He and his wife couldn't go because he was having surgery the month before the cruise, and wouldn't be able to travel for six to eight weeks after that.

Alex really wants to see the Mediterranean and this sounded perfect.

I held off the surprise and told her the gift would be arriving little later than expected. At the time, the person selling them hadn't responded to my second email. I needed time to get in touch with them.

He still hadn't replied a couple weeks later, so I decided to search online for more tickets.

Nothing panned out and I finally gave up.

"You got her some flowers, didn't you?"

"Yeah. But that's it."

"It was three months ago, Bobby. I don't think she's going to hold it against you. I'm sure she's not even thought about it."

"I've gotta get her something…"

I step back as I finish buffing the driver's side door. Elliot's at the passenger side, near the trunk.

"I can talk to Olivia. See if there's anything Alex mentioned wanting recently…?" he offers.

I continue examining my work, as another idea occurs to me. "You know what? I'm going to give her the car."

Elliot stops buffing suddenly and looks up at me. "This car?"

I nod. "Alex will love it."

"Of course she'll love it," he agrees. "Alex is a car fanatic."

"She's loved cars ever since she was a little girl," I add fondly.

He continues to shake his head in disappointment… "But man….it's a Ferrari!"

I know he understands. He's one of my best friends. He knows how close Alex and I are, and how much importance I place on my marriage.

Obviously, he's got to give me a hard time about it. It's to be expected. We're a couple of middle-aged men and this is a gorgeous sports car.

Black exterior. Leather seats. Original dash. Just stunning.

I no longer have my Mustang. This was going to be its replacement.

He wanders over and pats me on the arm, sighing. "You're killing me, man."

"She'll love it," I argue.

"Yeah, she will."

"Think she'll let me drive it...?"

Elliot chokes out a laugh. "This is Alex we're talking about…right?"

I smirk. "Okay, maybe not."

We continue admiring the car.

"You're honestly going to give this up?"

My mind is made up. It's really not a tough decision. "She's worth it."

x

Elliot drops me off at the house, then goes on to pick up dinner for the group.

I call Alex just before we leave the garage, to find out where everyone is.

Turns out, they're all at our house.

Jeremy and Allyson had spent the afternoon searching for my Brenwick book.

I figured out where it was, but forgot to tell him. I didn't know he planned to read it so soon.

Alex says when she returned to our house, she found Allyson and Jeremy busy reorganizing some of the boxes we had kept in storage. She implied that they were doing a lot more laughing and joking around, so I guess everything is okay.

I walk through our front door. Alex is standing in front of the hallway closet. Looks like she's either searching for something, or trying to put something away.

She doesn't see me come in.

I can't resist. I sneak up behind her and wrap my arms around her.

"Oh shhhit…Bobby!" She startles and drops whatever's in her hand. Looks like they were cloth napkins.

I hear the others in our family room. I didn't want to draw the whole crowd just yet. After giving her a couple of quick kisses on the cheek, I whisper in her ear, "Come with me."

"Wha—? Where are we going?"

I take her hand and lead her toward the door. It's hard to hide my smile as I think about how much she's going to love this. "It'll only take a minute."

Three blocks later, we're at Lewis's garage. I take her toward the side entrance and unlock the door without opening it, then I turn back toward her. "Umm…. I feel bad about this, but I messed up my plans for your anniversary present. It's already three months late."

She rolls her eyes. "Oh geez, Bobby. Don't worry about that."

"I did get you something. It's not your original gift, but I want you to have this." I pause and open the door. Then I turn on the garage light and gesture for her to go inside. "Here it is."

Alex walks in and stops short when she sees the car. She doesn't move or speak.

Once again, I sidle up behind her and wrap my arms around her. "Happy belated anniversary, sweetheart. Greatest eighteen years of my life and counting… I love you so much." I place a couple kisses on her cheek.

Pulling the keys out of my pocket, I present them in front of her. Then, I lean over to look at her face… Just priceless.

She accepts the keys into her palm, still gazing at the car with the most adorable grin. "Y-you got me a-a…Ferrari?"

"All yours, baby."

She turns around to face me. All I see is this excited grin and her sexy, sparkling honey-brown eyes.

Does she know I would give just about anything to see this beautiful expression on her face?

"You got me a Ferrari!" she repeats excitedly. "Bobby…oh my God!" She wraps her arms around me and hugs me.

A moment later, she steps back. She still has this beautiful, beaming, awe-struck expression in her eyes. She takes a couple of awkward steps, looking a little frazzled, as if she's not sure where she should go first.

God, I love her.

I gesture toward the driver's side door, then go to open it. "Go ahead, get in."

She starts toward it, then turns back toward me. "Wait…how…can you afford this?"

"Long story, but I got a good price for it. Needed some repairs and Lewis worked his magic."

She gazes at me a minute longer. "What about your Mustang?"

"What about it?"

"You talked about wanting to replace it someday."

In our household, we already have a sedan and an SUV. I figured we might want to offer the sedan to Jeremy for school.

"I did say that," I answer her. "But this car is yours."

"You sold your Mustang because…of me."

"Yes I did. And it was worth it."

x

It was about twelve years ago when I received the worst possible news. Alex had been shot in the back.

'There was a lot of blood.' was told to me by the ER doctor, followed by the haunting words… 'The next several hours are critical.'

I'll never get that out of my head.

Alex and I were on separate cases at the time, but still partners at Major Case. She was on an undercover assignment. Logan and I were interviewing some witnesses in the Bronx when I got the call.

The person who shot her was Curtis McGent—the dirtiest of dirty cops. And he was supposed to be her back-up.

He blew her cover for about five and a half million dollars.

Alex could have died.

I can't even hear the name McGent, without wanting to punch something.

He lost his badge and is still serving out his 20-year sentence. Should have got life without parole, but he had some tips that the Feds needed on a couple of outstanding warrants. He accepted a deal.

Didn't make up for what he did to her.

She went into the hospital listed as critical. It was four days later when she started to pull out of it.

When I was able to take her home, she had a lot of trouble sitting and standing. She couldn't even attend to basic needs.

So I took care of her. As much as it killed me to see her in so much pain, taking care of her was no hardship.

Olivia and Elliot came to our aid, as usual. They made sure we had childcare, and sometimes helped me with Alex. Jeremy was almost five years old at the time.

The additional expenses were starting to add up. To make matters worse, she started to have these seizures.

We scheduled her for more back surgery.

A second operation happened two years after that, when she started to have a lot more difficulty sleeping.

I thought it was all linked to the incident. But there was some big debate between the doctors, the specialists, the x-ray technicians and the insurance companies, and I was so sick and tired of fighting everybody…

I just wanted my wife to be comfortable.

We didn't have any funds saved up, so I sold the Mustang to pay for her extra medical bills.

Believe me, that car meant nothing compared to her getting a good night's sleep and putting an end to her back problems.

x

Moments later, Alex pulls her new car into the driveway.

She and I step inside our front door, gazing at one another adoringly.

We settle in our front entrance way, I wrap my arms around her and we resume our little moment that had started back in Lewis's garage.

Years later, we're still very, very close.

I stand there, admiring everything about her. Especially, the gorgeous smile on her face.

"You know we're going to be in close quarters over the next few days," she reminds to me, as we exchange a few very pleasant kisses. "We'd better make the most of it tonight."

We'll be staying in a two-bedroom cabin with a large sleeping loft. Jeremy and Allyson will take the loft. According to Elliot, the cabin rooms are private, but not entirely soundproof.

"What'd you have in mind?" I pose. I'm getting worked up just looking into those beautiful, tempting honey-brown eyes.

"I have some ideas," she teases, starting to run her hand up the side of my leg, slowly. Her hand migrates toward the front of my pants.

"Alex!" I gasp.

She chuckles.

"Sweetheart, we have company…"

Suddenly, Jeremy pokes his head out of the living room. "Hey, is that my parents making out in the hallway?" he teases, causing us to stop kissing and glance in his direction.

He chuckles, waves at us, then quickly ducks his head back inside the living room.

Our eyes return to each other. Her hands settle on my ass. She squeezes it to get me going again.

"Glad you like your anniversary gift," I tell her.

"You think I haven't always been hot for you?" she offers, seductively. She leans closer and lowers her voice, achieving that very sexy tone of hers. "Sweetheart… Tonight, the only drive shaft I'm going to be handling, is yours—"

I shove her against the wall, putting my mouth on hers and delivering what I hope will relay a little further how much I want her right now.

It's not just my attraction to her. Although I'm convinced I'll probably never need one of those little blue pills whenever she's around.

I just love her so deeply. Eighteen years of marriage, and she's still my everything.

Jeremy resurfaces from the living room and starts toward us.

When he was little, he'd come up to us whenever we were kissing or just being close. We thought this was typical curious kid-behavior. Just wondering what we're up to.

As he's gotten older, he'll sometimes touch one of us on the arm or on the back, and walk on. Just an affectionate hello.

Occasionally, he'll tease us or do silly things to try to distract us. Or, he'd simply hover nearby until we stopped kissing and noticed him standing there.

We don't mind it. But Alex and I did get him back for the teasing a couple times.

There was one particular time, about two years ago, when things got a little silly.

x x x

~ Past ~

(Still Bobby's POV)

Alex and I had just worked our first case together in months.

She's now the Captain of Major Case, and I'm mostly doing consulting work with the Feds and NYPD.

Prior to this case, we were both so busy, we went for weeks where we only saw each other at home.

She gets this case and goes to the bureau to request me.

I loved the challenge of this particular case, and working with Alex and her team is a privilege all its own.

She runs a solid unit.

This was an intense one. There were about sixteen officers, detectives and agents working with us.

Lots of late hours and long days. Finally, we had it all wrapped up at 6:00 on a Saturday morning.

After the details are sorted out and our seven perpetrators are in central booking, we leave the precinct.

It's 10:00am when we pull in to our driveway. I thought we'd be dead on our feet.

Surprisingly, as we stand at the back patio door, the one thing on our minds isn't sleep.

She flirted with me during the entire ride home. By the time we reach the back patio door, things are starting to heat up.

We're kissing. My hands are probably on her ass, she's starting to rub against me… It's time to get upstairs and finish this.

Meanwhile, Jeremy had been outside washing Alex's car. The bucket of soap and water, some sponges, brushes, towels and the hose are on the grass beside it.

No sign of him when we pull in. He may have gone inside to use the bathroom or to get something to drink.

Our driveway has space for two cars, side by side. Her car is on one side. To give Jeremy room, we pull the SUV all the way up and park it inside the garage. Then we make our way to the back door.

So, while Alex and I are engaged in a very heated kiss, Jeremy sneaks up with his bucket of soap and water, and tosses it at us. Then, he takes off running.

The outside temperatures are comfortable, but not that warm. The water is cold and we're still in our work clothes. I'm wearing a suit.

She and I take off after him, chasing him for a couple blocks until we're able to cut him off and grab him.

I'm not sure how he planned to get away. Despite having been up all night, I don't think I ran that hard.

Obviously, that's not something we expected to come home to.

But we love him and we're not that upset.

He's washing Alex's car just to be nice. He does a lot of things like that to help us out. He's really a great kid.

Raised by two cops—one with cancer, he's smart, generous, and respectful. Alex and I are very proud of him.

He's affectionate, but he can be very playful sometimes.

That's been our way of adapting through the years, when times were tough. Especially, through the cancer recurrences.

You can't take life too seriously.

Alex has always had a playful streak, and I think Jeremy got that from her.

Well, obviously…

So Alex and I decide to have a little fun at Jeremy's expense.

We each take an arm, and walk him back toward our house prisoner-style, without saying a word to him.

I assume Allyson is somewhere close by. They're inseparable. No idea if she's in on this.

We hadn't seen much of Elliot and Olivia for the past few days because of work.

They happen to show up just as we're walking back to the house with Jeremy. They probably saw that we were home and wanted to know what our plans were.

Some Saturdays, we'll all meet up for breakfast. Seems like that would be the plan for this morning, once we change out of our wet clothes.

After that, is a long nap for Alex and me.

Allyson is on our front porch. Elliot and Olivia cross the street toward our house. We all meet in our front yard.

Allyson comes toward the three of us smirking. "Jer...?"

Meanwhile, Jeremy's starting to squirm and play it up like he's in very serious trouble. "Help, they're going to send me to Rikers! I'm going to spend the night in jail! Ally, call a lawyer!"

Elliot and Olivia size up the situation the moment they see us. It takes them no time to figure out what Alex and I are planning to do.

They decide to play along. "What are the charges?" Elliot asks, folding his arms with a convincing expression.

"Assault with a bucket of suds and water," Alex replies wryly.

"Any priors?" Olivia asks.

"A couple of juvenile excessive splashing incidents," Alex quips. "No charges were filed."

"Excessive splashing…?" Olivia repeats, her interest piqued. "Hmm… When was this?"

"He was a year old. All bathtub incidents. Too young to convict," I respond.

"Is there a statute of limitations on excessive splashing?" Olivia ponders.

"Yes there is…but that's okay. It does still prove that our suspect has a history of intent with water," I reply.

"I think we need to read him his rights. And let's make sure the arrest warrant specifies no access to water," Alex adds just before she steps away. I assume she's going for some paper towels to dry off.

Then I see her cut over and head for the garage. I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from grinning, because I know what she's planning to do next.

We're all aware of how completely silly this sounds. It's just comic relief.

Four cops, who happen to be the best of friends, sitting on someone's porch, blowing off a little job stress at two in the morning, can have some very amusing conversations.

Through the years, we've all become a little playful. The kids sort of inspire that, I guess.

They'll indulge us, from time to time. They're just as silly as their parents.

"Are there any other witnesses or accessories to this incident?" Olivia asks, eyeing her daughter suspiciously.

"I left to use the bathroom…," Allyson replies, lifting her hands up in mock surrender. "…I didn't see a thing!"

Jeremy narrows his eyes at her. "You're supposed to help!"

"And perjure myself? Sorry Jer, you're on your own!"

"Was it pre-meditated?" Elliot asks.

"I'd say yes. He knew we were coming home. I texted him an hour ago," I respond.

"Under the circumstances, I think we need to investigate the crime scene. Could you lead the way?" Olivia asks me.

I gesture for them to follow. The five of us head toward the back door. There's still water dripping down the window pane and all over the patio. A row of suds lines the edge of the grass.

"Right here," I reply, when we arrive at the spot.

"Oh, I'd say it's an open and shut case," Olivia alleges.

"No, I'm sorry. No witnesses, no case," Jeremy responds smug, shaking his head.

"WE are the witnesses," I reply.

"You were out all night! Impaired from lack of sleep! You could have concocted your story before coming home." Then he turns toward Elliot. "They were probably making out at 1PP, set off the sprinklers and needed a scapegoat. They have been known to take extra long showers together…" Jeremy argues defensively.

"Nice try," Elliot replies. "They saw you carrying a bucket of suds and water! How do you explain that?"

"They SAW me…?" he repeats disbelievingly. "Impossible! They were busy making out!"

"Ah ha!" Olivia gasps, pointing a finger at him accusingly. "I believe that puts you at the scene of the crime."

He shrugs helplessly. "But, I—"

"It's all on the record. We're ready for sentencing, Judge," Elliot adds with a smirk. His eyes pan over to Alex.

Right then, she slips up behind him and dumps a pail of water over his head. "And I'd say the punishment should fit the crime…"

He then lowers his head in defeat. The water drips from his hair all the way down his t-shirt and shorts.

Alex and I grab our favorite prankster, pull him into our arms, and hug him.

We all start laughing.

x x x

~ Present ~

(Still Bobby's POV)

Jeremy walks up to us and Alex and I stop kissing.

"What is it, sweetie?" she asks, turning to him.

"Nothing. Just letting you know I've got the boxes put away, Mom," he replies.

"Thanks."

"Oh…um… Jeremy?" I begin, guiltily.

"Yeah, Dad?"

"I have the Brenwick book. I took it with me to work one day and left it in my gym bag. Sorry, I just forgot."

Jeremy rolls his eyes and smirks. "That's okay."

I gesture for him to follow me, as I head into our library and fetch my gym bag. I open the side panel and retrieve it. Opening the book, I flip to a section and mark the page. "Thad Barrington... Remember me telling you about that Hasbrouck Heights case? That one is in here."

"Oh yeah… The pipe store owner," he recalls. "The guy who thought he was killing witches. What a nutcase!"

"If you want to profile these guys, you have to know how they tick. This book is one of the best I've found. There are a couple more I thought of recently, but I'll get those for you. You can start with this one. It's a good read, but there are some real head-scratchers in here. Interesting puzzles, nonetheless. Anyway, here you go." I hand it to him. "Oh… And something else…" I reach over to one of the bookshelves and grab my NYPD binder. "I guess…it wouldn't hurt for you to glance through this one. It's some of my cases from about seven or eight years ago. I have some background in here, so you can figure out how I'm focusing with each case. You'll get better at this with hands-on experience. For now…it's how I tick," I add, grinning.

I have a newer binder which I'm using for current work. I save my old case notes, because I never know when I'll want to look back at it. Besides, with Jeremy interested in police work, it gives him a little exposure to cases.

He tucks them in his arm. "Thanks, Dad. Not letting anyone see these."

I smile. "It's okay. Those cases are all public record. I don't always use real names anyway. These are just my thoughts during the process."

He shakes his head. "I'm your son. I've already got a lot to live up to."

I pat him on the arm. "You're going to be great."

Alex wanders in and leans against the door frame. "Find what you're looking for?"

I nod in response.

Jeremy holds up my binder like it's a trophy. "Dad's finally giving away his secrets!" he boasts.

She eyes the binder, then wanders toward us. "Hey… I'm not even allowed to see that!"

"Old cases… But you already know how I tick," I tell her affectionately. I reach for her arm, pull her toward me and wrap my arms around her.

"It only took me…how many years…?" she replies. "I needed to know that when we first became partners."

"You already had an in, Mom. Should have just walked into the bullpen some morning in a short dress and sat in his lap. He'd probably hand over his binder and confess every single dirty thought he had about you," Jeremy teases.

Okay…well, NOW my mind is envisioning Alex walking into the precinct at Major Case wearing something skimpy.

"Is that all?" she inquires.

I grin guiltily and she laughs.

A minute later, the three of us head back into the hallway.

"Oh… Sorry to interrupt your little love fest earlier," Jeremy adds.

"Your father bought me a Ferrari!" Alex announces gleefully, then nods toward the driveway.

Jeremy's eyes widen. "WHAT…?" He glances out the front door, "Oh my God!" Then, he takes a couple steps back toward the living room… "Hey guys! Dad bought Mom a Ferrari!"

Alex pulls the keys from her pocket and tosses them to him as he runs past her, so he can go have a look inside.

He bolts out the front door to inspect the car. Allyson and Olivia dash out a couple paces behind him.

Around that time, Elliot returns from picking up dinner for the six of us. He practically collides with Olivia on the front porch, as she's heading to look at the car. Alex grabs the door and holds it open for him. I take one of the bags to help him.

Elliot stops once he's inside, and gazes back toward our driveway momentarily. Shaking his head, he looks back at me, "Goren…you do realize that your lovely, expensive gift is going to cost me big time? I'll have to find something equally as impressive for Liv's anniversary gift in a couple of months."

"Might want to start with those Tiffany diamond and tanzanite earrings. They look stunning on her, by the way," Alex says smug.

"Stop encouraging her," Elliot fires back.

She chuckles, then wanders outside to join the others.

A couple minutes later, everyone retreats inside to finish setting up for dinner.

x

Later that night, while the other four are outside on the patio, Alex and I are finishing the dishes.

My phone beeps, signaling a new message. My hands are sopping wet, so I reach for a towel, then dig my phone out of my pocket.

"It's the hospital…," I announce, as I glance at the display.

She turns off the faucet and steps up close beside me.

I open the message, and we read it together.

Finally, there's a collective sigh of relief.

Alex turns toward the patio, raising her voice so the other four can hear… "NO CANCER!"

That's closely followed by their enthusiastic hoots, applause and cheers of support.

I guide her toward me for a kiss, we deep it almost immediately. This is always a celebratory moment.

We head out to join the others on the patio, receiving more support from our group. Congratulatory hugs and high-fives.

These people have been with me on this journey for years.

Can't imagine how I could have gotten by without them.

"Do doctor says, Dad…" Jeremy adds with a grin, after he hugs me. He remembers hearing us tell him about that.

"Sounded so cute when he was two," Alex says quietly to me.

It still counts. Even to this day.

It's just after nightfall. We light a couple of citronella candles and sit outside with our best friends.

We toast my latest test result.

Alex sits snuggled up beside me. During a lull in the conversations, she rests her hand against my chest and looks up at me affectionately. "We're beating it!"

I smile back. It's been almost three and a half years since the last bad test result.

"You know… The greatest gifts I have ever received are; you being cancer-free and Jeremy. Nothing will ever top that."

"Not even…a Ferrari?" I tease her.

"No, but I absolutely love the gift. And I love the thought behind it even more."

"You're very welcome."

Our lips meet again.

I don't know if I will ever believe in a time that the cancer won't come back.

I just know I'm very happy with the way things have turned out.

And I have two of the best reasons in the world to keep going.

~The end~

A/N… I'd love to hear your thoughts if you get a minute. Thanks again for the support! 3

Extra thanks to Sell for all the nudges and pokes. Trust me, it really helps to hear that people are reading these stories and waiting for updates.