COME BY WAY OF SORROW
By Jeannie Mac
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, and no money is being made.
I'm one of those women, Alex thinks. The ones who get that stunned, lost look and say "But he seemed so nice…"
She watches, frozen stupid with disbelief, as her partner not-so-accidentally hipchecks Kevin Mulrooney into the edge of the evidence table. Then Goren offers her the cuffs. She knows he thinks he's giving her a chance at some sort of…revenge, maybe, or at least vindication. And, of course, it's supposed to be the final blow to Kevin Mulrooney's ego. It's classic Goren Interrogation Theatre, and normally she'd be happy to play her part in the scene. But there's no satisfaction in it this time – only shock, and rising humiliation.
Mulrooney's getting off on it, too; she can see it in his eyes and the arrogant curl of his lip. He's practically vibrating with sick satisfaction, even as his career - his whole life - is falling apart around him. As if none of that matters, as if this was his end-game all along: to force her into the centre of this sordid, murderous mess.
This is a man I might have slept with.
She tries, she really tries to keep her revulsion from showing on her face. She puts on cold indifference like body armour, cuffs him and reads him his rights. When she has to face him again, she makes a point of meeting his gaze and holding it until the uniformed cops finally drag him away.
Then she's left alone with Bobby, which is no reprieve at all. She can feel him watching her, assessing her reactions. Her face feels stiff and stretched, and her throat hurts from the effort of keeping her voice even.
"You expecting me to thank you?"
The words echo harshly off the grey walls of the evidence room.
He takes a breath. "Alex - "
She turns on her heel and heads for the elevators.
Later, upstairs in the conference room, they go through the things the search team found, carefully folded away in one of Mulrooney's closets – and no. No, a stupid symbolic gesture of one-upmanship with the handcuffs is not going to be enough to make this okay. Not even fucking close. Because now she knows that the bastard was in her home.
It's been two years since Jo Gage; two years of nightmares and flashbacks and a lot of damn therapy. Alex has learned – has made herself learn, from one harrowing, exhausting episode to the next – to recognize situations that are likely to trip the wires on her own personal psychological land mine. So, yeah: home invasion by an obsessed murderous perp? Pretty much tailor-made to freak her right the fuck out.
He knew that when he did it.
She is suddenly, nauseatingly certain. Mulrooney has been following her career, that much is clear by now, and he's had plenty of time to pry into all the dark corners of her life. He always was good at research. It was one of the things she'd admired about him, years ago.
"Eames," Bobby is saying again. She can tell from his expression that he's figured it out, too. He reaches out, and she realizes she's crumpling the evidence - a pair of her own underwear, god - in both clenched fists. And then she really, really has to get out of there.
She ends up in the east stairwell, pacing back and forth on the little landing halfway between the eleventh floor and the tenth. Four steps across, four steps back. She doesn't know how long it's been since she left the bullpen. Doesn't want to think about how she must have looked, rushing out of 's concentrating fiercely on matching her breathing to her circuit: inhale, two, three, four, and turn; exhale, two, three, four…
The door to the eleventh floor slams open above her, and she jerks around at the the sound, heart thudding unevenly. It's her partner. They know each other's hiding places, by now. He stops cold when he sees her, and then carefully lets the door fall shut behind him.
Inhale, one, two, three, four, turn, exhale, one, two... In her peripheral vision, she sees him start down the stairs towards her. When he stops beside her on the landing, there's a split second where she thinks he's going to reach for her and she flinches away, she can't help it. He holds up both hands, slowly - unarmed and harmless, Officer, and lowers himself down to sit on the stairs. He understands, she knows that - but the fact that her own partner has to treat her like she's a bomb about to go off is just one more thing to add to today's litany of exhausted, furious frustration.
She does her stupid circuit a few more times, but he fills the stairwell with his bulk and his silence, and eventually she stutters to a stop, back pressed to the wall.
In her head it's a howl of rage, but it comes out through clenched teeth sounding...despairing, more than anything. Broken, like Kevin said, and oh, how she hates that she let him see her like that, ten years ago.
Bobby meets her gaze steadily. She knows all his tells, and so she knows he's worried and angry and disgusted - she can see it in the set of his jaw, the way he's chewing the inside of his lower lip. But nowhere can she detect even a glimmer of pity for her pathetic, misguided former self. All she can see is understanding and acknowledgment: yes, this really, really sucks.
It helps; the suffocating weight on her chest seems to lighten just a little. It takes her two tries to unlock her knees, but eventually she manages. She slides down the wall to a sitting position.
"Mulrooney," she says. "He was in my house."
Inhale, two, three, four, exhale... "When? How many t-times?"
"We'll find out," her partner promises. Then, reluctantly, "You – can't be the one who asks him, though."
And he's right, damn it, of course he's right. She's a fucking person of interest in the case now - maybe even a witness - and she knows exactly how Mulrooney's lawyer will make it look to a jury if she's reckless enough to interrogate him herself.
She presses the heels of her hands into her eyes until she sees sparks.
"Fine," she grits out. "But I can't just…"
She's about to say I can't just go home and wait, but then it occurs to her that no, actually, she really can't go home. Her house is a secondary crime scene now, and they'll be sending a CSU team to process it. Again. She lets her head drop back to thud against the wall, with a wordless noise of rage and frustration.
"Hey, Alex – come on, don't…"
There's a painful little catch in Bobby's voice, and she knows he's inches away from crawling across the landing to pull her into a hug, to hell with whoever might walk in on them, and oh god, part of her wants to let him. Not here. Not now. She draws her knees up to her chest, wraps her arms around them and hangs on tight.
"I need to do something," she mutters.
She can feel his eyes on her, assessing, and she wills him not to say something stupid like you need to take some time. Eventually, he sighs.
"Okay. You'll have to give a statement," he says. "About your… interactions with Mulrooney ten years ago."
She controls her flinch, just barely. You asked for it, so suck it up, she tells herself fiercely. Bobby leans forward a little, trying to catch her gaze; distantly she recognizes the body language he uses when he's about to confront a witness with some particularly painful fact. What now, she wonders dully.
"And...I'm sorry, but – you'll need to look at the rest of the clothes they found. In case Mulrooney took more than one…item."
That should have occurred to me already, she thinks, fighting a fresh wave of nausea.
"I'm pretty sure he didn't," Bobby says hurriedly. "I checked before I came down. But – you'll have to confirm it for the record."
She squeezes her eyes shut again and presses her forehead hard to her knees. So fucking embarrassing.
"It's just, you know," Bobby continues, "I'm not supposed to know the contents of your underwear drawer that well."
There's the barest hint of amusement in his voice, mild and totally incongruous. What the hell...? But then she really thinks about it, thinks about the constipated look Ross would get if her partner were to declare himself an authority on her lingerie. Out of the corner of her eye she catches Bobby's grin, and suddenly she's snickering, helplessly and a little hysterically. The weight on her chest lightens a little further. They sit there for a few seconds in silence while she breathes in, out, in again.
"We'd better get back up there," she says, eventually.
Bobby gives her a look that she has no trouble translating, even though she's usually the one directing it at him: don't give me that bullshit, I know you're not okay yet. She glares back mutinously: so what, I'll fake it till I make it. He shakes his head, and levers himself up from the stairs.
"Okay. I'll see if Wheeler's available to take your statement."
It's the right call, she knows. It's about perception, like Ross said; best if her partner isn't the one asking the official questions. But then she flashes back to the way he needled her, before, with that almost imperceptible tremor of uncertainty in his voice. I asked you if you slept with him, and you didn't answer. He had accepted her cursory explanation last night without another word, and she'd been profoundly grateful then. Still -
He holds out a hand and she lets him help her to her feet. When he starts to turn away she hangs on.
"Hey, wait. Look, I - yeah, I'll talk to Megan. And...to you too. Later. If you want. I wasn't trying to keep secrets, before, I just - "
He squeezes her hand. "I know. It's all right."
She tries to smile at him, but she's pretty sure she doesn't quite pull it off.
Okay then. No way out of this but through.
"Let's get it over with," she says.
"I'm sorry," Megan says, sitting down opposite her in interrogation.
Alex shrugs awkwardly. "Yeah. Look - don't pull any punches, okay? I hate this, but I do not want Mulrooney to skate on a technicality."
Megan does seem to get it, too. She takes Alex through her statement steadily and carefully, covering all the bases without letting so much as a flicker of sympathy or judgement show at any point. Alex remembers belatedly that Megan, too, has been through this before. With her fiancé. God. I'm glad I never had the chance to get that serious about Kevin, she thinks with selfish, guilty relief.
Still, talking about how Mulrooney got his hooks into her during one of the darkest times in her life feels like she's letting him paw through her lingerie drawer all over again. Ross is going to read this, she thinks. Wheeler, Logan, the DA. She suddenly understands, on a new and visceral level, the impulse that made her partner go ballistic in Rogers' lab.
When it's over, she's still not done, because she has to face Ross's attempts at commiseration and concern.
"Where will you stay? The Department can certainly spring for a hotel - "
"No, it's fine, I'll be with family," she says, flicking a gaze at Goren and away.
It's not a lie, not if chosen family counts.
"Good," Ross says. "Go home - get some rest. You too, Goren."
Bobby drives them both to his place, and offers her a drink.
"I have bourbon," he says slyly.
She rolls her eyes. "Beer will be fine, Mr. Hotshot Detective."
He grins. She scratches at a dent in his kitchen table, and marvels inwardly at the fact that she doesn't mind his gentle teasing.
"Bourbon was Joe's thing," she says, surprising herself. "After he died…I started drinking it because it reminded me of him. The taste – the smell…"
She remembers: she could close her eyes and conjure up the memory of his mouth on hers, his warm breath, the way he laughed so easily when he was a little bit drunk. It helped. Sometimes.
"I was just – God, I was so lonely," she blurts. "And Kevin…"
Bobby joins her at the table, pushing a bottle across to her. She wraps both hands around it and hunches her shoulders in renewed humiliation. Such a cliché.
"Yeah. He was…a safe person to talk to. Or - I thought he was."
She clenches cold fingers around the bottle till her knuckles whiten. "So stupid."
"Hey," Bobby says sharply. "Don't do that. You couldn't have known how obsessed he'd get."
"Oh yeah? You weren't there," she snaps. "You don't know what I was like."
That's the worst of it, the part that's twisting her up inside to remember now: how obsessed she was with the Burnham case, how dangerously close she came to stepping over a lot of professional and ethical lines – and how little she cared, at the time. She was so sure, so angry on Jenny Burnham's behalf. Until the case got thrown out, and she had to wonder if she and Kevin were the ones who had screwed it up, somehow, if they'd missed something in their certainty. Now she knows. That damn letter. I should have checked it out on my own. Should have known it was way too convenient.
Bobby snorts, an irritated, disbelieving sound.
"Uh, yeah, actually, I do know. Let's see: not sleeping, drinking too much, angry all the time, making bad decisions...letting a case get personal because it's a distraction, because it's easier to deal with than the real personal stuff…how'm I doing so far?"
Right. Forgot who I was talking to for a second there.
Bobby leans across the table and curls his fingers around hers, gently loosening her grip on the bottle.
"You were grieving," he says simply. "You have to give yourself a break."
She can't get words out around the lump in her throat, but she gives him a look. He grins ruefully.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Do as I say, not as I do…"
The chuckle that escapes her turns into a sob halfway. She gulps it back and covers her face with her hands.
"Can we – can we just go to bed?"
She needs his arms around her, wants to be held close and tight in the dark until she stops feeling so twitchy and unsettled and wrong, till her skin stops crawling and her eyes stop burning.
"Sure," he says, without missing a beat, as if they always turn in at 9 o'clock in the evening. The table creaks as he pushes himself up, and she feels his fingers drift through her hair and down into a brief neck rub. "You go on – I'll be right there."
She heads for his bedroom, changes quickly without turning on the light, and crawls into bed, listening to his nightly perimeter check. She does the same, when they're at her place; neither of them can sleep peacefully anymore without having double-checked all the windows and doors. Not that any of it kept Kevin out, she remembers, and then she's back to breathing and counting, forcibly wrenching her mind away from that train of thought.
When Bobby joins her under the covers, he reaches for her without hesitation, wrapping a long arm around her from behind and curving his body around hers. She's curled into a ball, stiff and tense, but he presses his face into the crook of her neck for a few seconds and lets out a long sigh, and then relaxes against her. She realizes that maybe it's a relief for him too, finally to be allowed to get close, and for some reason that makes her eyes prickle with tears. She breathes, in and out, trying to convince herself that it's okay, now, to loosen the white-knuckle grip on self-control. Her throat aches with remembered grief and loneliness and helpless fury.
"This is going to sound weird," Bobby says after a while, his voice muffled. "But...I wish I'd known you, back then. I wish I could have - been your friend, when you were going through all that."
And that, apparently, is what it takes for her to finally let go enough to cry.
"I probably would have been awful to you," she gets out. She knows it's true...if he'd been around back then, with his all-seeing eyes and his armchair psychology, she'd have lashed out at him right quick to keep him from getting too close.
"Yeah, I know." Bobby runs a gentle hand down her arm and back up. "I'd have let you bitch at me all you wanted. Cards on the table, though: I think I'd have drawn the line at buying you bourbon. That stuff's vile."
She laughs through her tears, brokenly but for real, and elbows him gently in the stomach. "Shut up."
He chuckles, and holds on tight as she cries harder. It goes on for a while, but when it's over she feels like she can breathe properly again for the first time since the evidence room. She sits up and fumbles for the box of tissues on the nightstand; blows her nose and gulps down most of a glass of water.
Beside her, Bobby is still and quiet. He's got an arm stretched out towards her, fingers grazing her hip, as though he's reluctant to let her out of touching range. She hears him draw in a long breath and let it out on a yawn. In the darkness, she leans over him and touches his face.
She feels him shrug a little. He turns his head so that his lips brush her palm.
"Mhmm. Pretty sure it was your turn, anyway."
"A meltdown." His mouth curves, beneath her fingers. "Although I have to say, yours was way less impressive than it could have been."
She snorts. "Oh yeah?"
She doesn't really care; she just wants him to keep talking in that sleepy, peaceful voice, the one that has come to mean home and safe to her, no matter where they are or what he's actually saying.
"Yeah," Bobby continues. "You lost points by doing it privately. Should have had a temper tantrum in the middle of the squad room, thrown some files around, stormed out right in front of Ross..."
God, just the fact that he can joke about that...
"There's a points system?" she says, thinking: we've come such a long way.
"Sure," he mumbles, around another huge yawn that, with her fingers tracing over his jaw, she can feel as well as hear. "You obviously have a lot to learn about freaking out at work, it's lucky you have an in-house expert to consult - "
She cuts him off by leaning down and putting her mouth where her fingers were.
"Love you," she says, against his lips.
His breathing hitches a little and he tilts his head just enough to make it a proper kiss. This is mine, she thinks fiercely. Kevin, you bastard, you didn't take anything from me that really matters. I'm stronger than you know. I survived, and now I have this, and what have you got?
Eventually she lies down, tugging gently on his arm until he wraps himself around her again like a second blanket. He presses a kiss to her shoulder.
"I will be," she says.
She closes her eyes and listens to his breathing even out. She's on the edge of sleep herself when something occurs to her.
"Hey - we're at your place."
"Mmm," says Bobby, which she translates as uh - yeah. So? Sleeping, here.
"That means we can have bagels for breakfast."
Bobby lives four blocks away from Solly's, where they have - in Alex's humble opinion - the best bagels in New York City. None of the places in her neighbourhood even come close.
He huffs out a chuckle, short and soft, and his arm tightens around her.
It's a ridiculously small, incongruous thing to be happy about after the day they've had. Alex doesn't care. She smiles to herself in the dark, and falls asleep thinking about the smell of warm, fresh bagels and the feel of Bobby's mouth on hers, warm too and tasting of coffee when he kisses her good morning.
Author's Note: the title is from a song by Cry Cry Cry, lyrics as follows:
All the nights that joy has slept
Will awake to days of laughter
Gone the tears that you have wept
You'll dance in freedom ever after
You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years