A/N: I find it fascinating that readers are so divided, some siding with Alex and some with Bobby. Several of you have said that a good writer generates strong emotional reactions to a story, and I am humbled by such a huge compliment. Thank you all very much, and I do hope you will continue to read. If any of you derive a fraction of the enjoyment in reading that I get from writing, then I am a happy writer, indeed. Just to let you know, as a 'thank you' to my dear readers and in response to the distress I seem to have caused at the mere prospect of the failure of the marriage between Bobby and Alex, I plan to write a fluffy one-shot to smooth things over among us :-) It might take a little while because I am waiting for the inspiration for said tale, but watch for it.
I would also like to explain that I am a strong believer in the concept that we are not alone in our lives. We exist in a physical plane, but there are metaphysical worlds that intersect our own, planes of other existence. Some people are born sensitive to those other planes, like Melinda Gordon in Ghost Whisperer; others acquire that sensitivity through extraordinary events in their lives, like Eli James, also in Ghost Whisperer. That being said, I refer you to the Choices story "Hurricane Winds," which was a cross-over with the series House, MD. Maggie meets Dr. House...delightful! If you'll recall, during the first chapter, Maggie crashed on the medical evacuation flight to Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. It is from that event that the idea for the latter part of this chapter was hatched.
Enjoy, my friends!
Alex opened the front door early the next morning, letting Zeus into the house ahead of her and Maggie. Ten seconds later, the cat scrambled up the stairs with the puppy in hot pursuit. Smiling, she followed Maggie into the living room, where the TV was on. Maggie scurried over to join him. He hugged his little girl and looked at Alex.
She stopped behind the couch and looked down at him. He seemed a little pale, and tired...no, more than tired. He was worn out. "I see you got your car."
"I couldn't leave it in Canarsie."
"How was your night?"
"Did you sleep much?"
"No. Not at all, actually," he answered with a frown. "Why?"
"You look tired."
He wanted to snap at her, telling her that she had no business expressing concern at the moment, but he held his tongue. She looked around the room. "Where's Mike?"
"Upstairs. You didn't leave any specific instructions for him."
Before she could reply to his sarcasm, he kissed Maggie and got up from the couch, handing her the remote. "I'm going to walk Mommy to her car. I'll be right back."
Alex gave Maggie a hug and kiss and walked out of the house with him. Once outside, he pulled a cigarette pack from his pocket and shook one out. She watched with disapproval as he lit it. "Don't," he warned when he saw her expression. "I realize it was an oversight on your list of things I can't do, but I don't have much else left."
"Please..." he paused to take a deep drag. "Look, I'll make this easy for you. Bring the kids home tonight. This is their home and they should be here. I'll go somewhere else."
His frown deepened. "You don't get to ask that, Alex. If we're apart, then we're apart."
"Maggie will stay here with you. If you're going to test me, then fucking test me. Don't send Maggie with me to make sure I behave. I won't let you do that. She's six and dammit, she's going to be six."
"But what about..."
He waved his hand, interrupting her again. "I said, you don't get to ask. I'm tired of playing games. I'm not going to let you jerk me around like a puppet on strings. I thought...oh, never mind. You're going to be late."
"No," she snapped. "Tell me what you thought. You always do this—you start to talk and then back off. Don't worry about my reaction. Just tell me."
He finished his cigarette and dropped the butt into a coffee can hidden behind a wicker table and chairs. He didn't look at her, though, when he finally spoke. "I thought..." He paused, redirecting his thoughts toward a more complete explanation. "I never considered myself a marrying man. I'd come to terms with the fact that I would die a bachelor. Then...you came along, and over time, you turned my world upside down. Everything I had decided would never happen came about through you. You brought a passion to my life I had never felt before. You gave me love, children, a life I never deserved. I thought I was doing the right thing when I asked you to marry me."
"The right thing? Because of the children?"
"Well, yes...but mostly because I loved you. That was the big thing. I don't have to be married to be a good father. I figured that out long ago. But being a good husband? I thought I could manage that, but I found out the hard way that I have no idea how. I have nothing to work with. It's not the same as being partners, not really. At the end of the day, there's no going home. It's something that's always there, and I get so wrapped up in other things, I sometimes forget that. It's something that has to become part of me, but hasn't quite managed to do that yet." He rested his hands on the railing and leaned on them, looking across the front yard. "I'm not saying it never will. I...I guess I've always been a work in progress. It's just...It's so hard for me to...to become part of another person or to let her become part of me. I can't easily get past that; I can't fathom why you would ever want to be a part of me."
"You don't make it easy, but that's something in life that you really don't have to understand, Bobby. It's something that you just accept on faith."
He sighed. "Faith is something I have always struggled with. Alex, I don't know how to...be any different. I was never meant to be a husband. Nothing in my life ever prepared me for that role, and I didn't realize that until it was too late. I'm so sorry about that. I've put you through so much, and all for nothing. I don't know how to make that up to you, if I ever can. I think you came into this relationship thinking you could change me. When it turned out to be much harder than you thought...I understand why you've given up, and I can't say I blame you. But you gave it a good try."
She frowned. "You're talking like it's over."
"Because it is. Come on, face reality. You can't build a marriage on sex and passion. It doesn't work that way. It never did. We were doomed from the start. I was just too damn stubborn to admit that it would never work. I never should have made marriage an option, and that was my own fault. I set us up for failure."
She felt a panic rise in her chest but she kept it under control. This was something she had not intended. She wanted him to realize what it meant to be a partner in a marriage; she had not intended for him to take it as a sign the marriage was over. It was a belief she did not share, but could she convince him of that? "So why did you propose?"
He thought about it. "I guess I thought marriage was something else. I thought that once you had the love, everything else would fall into place. I was wrong. It was stupid of me to think that. I guess I forgot to factor you into the equation."
"Is this what you did all night? Think about all the ways it doesn't work?"
"Isn't that what you wanted?"
"No! Of course not! Why couldn't you put the effort into all the ways it does work?"
Finally, he looked at her, his expression one of disbelief. "You wanted me to spend the night thinking about sex?"
His expression elicited a laugh from her...and it reminded her of one of the many reasons she fell for him. She gave him a tender smile and breathed a sigh that was half-exasperation and half total love. "Are you telling me that the only thing about our relationship that works is the sex?"
Her laughter and her expression confused him. He wasn't sure how to classify the conversation, but it no longer seemed to be an argument. "Can you tell me something else that does?"
Start with the obvious, she thought. "What about the children?"
"What about them?"
"Parenting is a joint venture, Bobby. I think we've been doing pretty well in raising our children."
"Uh-huh. That's why Harry is still so terrified of me."
Naturally he would focus on the one child who had not yet learned to totally adore him. "He's not. He had a late start in getting to know you, but he's come a long way. Give him time and he will adore you just as much as the other children do. But if you pull out now, Bobby, he might never warm up to you."
"Pull out? You're pushing me out!"
"See? This is what I mean. We don't communicate. Asking you to reevaluate your life is not pushing you out of this marriage. I am not criticizing you."
He looked baffled. "Sometimes I don't think we're having the same conversation."
Amused again, she tried to hide it this time, though it was so hard to hide anything from him. But her amusement turned quickly to concern as the sun cleared the trees and shone more fully on the porch. He was pale, and sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lip, although the day wasn't yet that warm. "Bobby, are you okay?"
"You're gonna be late for work. You'd better get going."
"Don't change the subject."
"Me? You're the one who just changed the subject."
She watched him for what seemed a long time, not surprised that he looked away under her scrutiny. "We can work this out," she said finally. "If we're both willing to put in the effort to change the way things are, we can save this marriage. It's not too late."
"Are you sure about that?" he asked, looking down into the bushes that grew along the porch.
She was surprised by his tone. Rather than hopeful, it was...sad, resigned. Impulsively, she reached out to him, lightly rubbing his arm. "I'm positive."
"You don't want it to be over?"
She had never known a man so much in need of reassurance, especially when he felt things slipping away from him. No wonder he struggled for control. So often, he felt he had none. Again, she cursed his mother for depriving him of the security he should have felt growing up. He had never learned to feel secure in life. She lightly pulled on the hair that curled around his ear. Time for a haircut, she thought randomly before forcing her focus back to the issue at hand. "Of course not. Every couple has problems that have to be worked out. All we have to do is try a little harder. I'm not anxious to end it prematurely. I think there's still enough good between us to offset what's not right and turn it around...if you think it's still worth saving."
"I try, Alex. I've always tried."
"So why are you talking about giving up?"
"It just...it doesn't seem to be enough."
"Don't you think it's worth fighting for?"
He turned around and leaned back against the railing. "Since when does it matter what I think?"
Had he really spent so much time giving in to her that he honestly felt that his opinion did not matter? She stepped up to him and placed her hands on his chest. "You are so quick to give in to me. Maybe you should be more assertive. You have so much passion, but I'd like to see it outside the bedroom, too. Don't always give in and let me have my way. I promise you, I will not leave you just because I don't get my way all the time."
He looked surprised by that revelation. "But..." He struggled with himself for a minute, trying to find the right wording for what he wanted to say. Failing, he went with: "I don't like fighting with you."
"We don't have to fight. I'll work on my temper. We can tone the fighting down to spirited debates. But we have to work on it."
"What about everything else that's wrong?"
"One catastrophe at a time, okay?" She rested her hand on his cheek. "We have a lot of work to do, if we're both willing to put forth the effort, but honestly, I don't think our relationship is as wrong as you think it is."
He studied her face, once again checking to see if she was sincere. She seemed to be. "Do you mean that?"
"Absolutely. We'll talk about it tonight. Take it easy today, will you? You don't look so good right now."
"Don't worry about me. Take care of yourself."
She caressed his cheek, leaned up and gave him a soft kiss before she turned and walked away. He remained where he was and watched her leave. "And she wonders why I drink," he muttered to himself as he went into the house.
Maggie gripped Bobby's hand tightly. Hospitals made her uncomfortable; she'd never liked visiting them. There were smells and noises she'd never liked, people rushing around preoccupied, and there were other things, too. Things she began noticing when she was in the hospital where Dr. House worked; things she noticed more as she got older. For a long time, she didn't know how to classify what she saw. After all, there was light and darkness everywhere. But many things happened that most people couldn't see—things that were driven by light and darkness. She saw the angels who waited to take people to heaven and she saw others waiting for the people who didn't get to go to heaven. The others scared her. They were dark and blurry and...very, very bad.
She noticed that sometimes bad people were surrounded by darkness, like shadows that were not made by the light. She had seen it surrounding Harry's father, which made her even more scared of the man—and more glad that her parents and Your Other Honor made sure he could never be near Harry again. He had been a very bad man.
Maggie had never told her father that Gomez had spoken to her once. She'd been afraid that he would hunt the man down, and she didn't really want her beloved father being that close to the evil that surrounded Gomez. She had no way of knowing that his job brought him into contact with that kind of evil every day.
Usually Gomez talked to the older kids when the teachers weren't around. Every time Gomez showed up, one of the older kids got hurt on the playground, and while the teachers took care of the injured child, Gomez talked with some of the other kids at the far end of the playground. She had seen them exchange things with Gomez, but she never saw what they traded. She didn't understand what was happening, and she thought about discussing it with her father. He always had an explanation for the things she didn't understand. Ultimately, though, she decided against saying anything. Daddy had a lot on his mind and she didn't think it was worth upsetting him. She almost told Mommy and Uncle Mike, but decided that they had too much other stuff to worry about as well. After all, Gomez had never directly approached her.
Then, one day at lunchtime, a fight broke out among some of the older boys. While the teachers were distracted, Gomez appeared by the little kids' playground, near the fence line where Maggie was playing with Harry and Devon. Harry saw him coming and hurried away without saying anything. Harry often spontaneously ran off to be by himself, so it wasn't anything unusual. It wasn't until later, after she got to know Harry better, that Maggie realized why he did that—he was hiding from his father. At that time, though, Maggie didn't who the man was, so she had no more reason to be wary of him than of any stranger...until she saw the darkness that surrounded him like a halo. For the first time, Maggie felt real fear. "What's your name, little girl?" Gomez asked, trying to sound friendly.
Not answering, she backed away from the fence, grabbing Devon's hand and pulling him along with her. Devon didn't like him either, and he gripped her hand tightly. "Come here," the man said, motioning to her as he tried to look and sound friendly.
When she showed no sign of following his request, he held up something that he had been holding. "I have something for you. A present."
Something about the man set off a warning in Maggie's head, and she looked around for a teacher. Fortunately, Mr. Carreras was coming out of the building right then and she called to him. He came right over. "What is it, Maggie?" he asked, squatting beside her.
She turned to point toward Gomez, but he was gone, taking the darkness—and the fear and unrest she'd felt—with him. She told the teacher about the man, but there was nothing to be done since he was gone and she had no idea who he was. She promised she would tell him if Gomez showed up again, but she didn't see him again for a long time.
She got to know Harry better after that, but she didn't understand his fear of his father until she found out who his father was. Gomez was gone now, gone into the darkness where the others had taken him. She didn't know where the darkness led, except that it went to a bad place for bad people, a place where Gomez deserved to be. It was the same place the mean lady must have gone to be, although she had gone there before Maggie was able to see the darkness and the others.
Her grip on Bobby's hand tightened whenever she saw the others hovering in wait to claim a soul. There was a lot of darkness in the world and many souls for the others to claim. Interspersed among the darkness, though, were the angels, also standing by to claim the souls for whom they waited. The angels radiated light and kindness. They waited for the good souls, to guide them on their final journey to heaven.
The angels ignored the darkness; it was too late to save those souls. The others avoided the angels. But they all came together in hospitals and other places where many people died. Those were deeply unsettling places for her.
Bobby felt her unrest and he picked her up. She wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder. He always made her feel better. In his arms, she always felt safe. No harm could come to her when he was close. She closed her eyes, but she knew the darkness was still out there. It never went away.
It wasn't the dark that she feared. She had never been afraid of the dark. What unsettled her most about the darkness and the others were the feelings she got whenever they were close. They radiated negative emotion—fear, hate, rage. Good and evil balanced each other, as did the light and the darkness, for one could not exist without the other, but when good and evil were out of balance...that was when one or the other took over.
Bobby set her down when they got to John's room, but she grabbed his hand before he could knock. The angels were there, like they had been the day that Gramma died. Bobby looked down at her. "What's the matter, baby?"
"You should call Mommy."
"B'cause Grampa is gonna go with the angels soon, Daddy."
"What are you talking about?"
She'd never told him about the angels and the others. She hadn't really understood what they meant when Gramma died. But she understood them better now. "You should call Mommy," she repeated, insistent.
He gave her a funny look, and she knew they were going to have a talk later. But he showed her trust and he called her mother.
Bobby knew by her tone that she was annoyed when she answered the phone. He hesitated for a second before he spoke. "Uh, you should come over to the hospital, Alex."
"Why? How's Dad?"
"Just...you need to be here. Please."
She paused, but there was no change in her tone when she spoke. "Bobby, I don't have time for games."
"This isn't a game. Make time."
She let out a frustrated sigh. "Fine. I'll be there as soon as I can."
He didn't like being cryptic. He knew she was going to read a lot into it that he would prefer she not. But what was he going to say? Hurry up because Maggie says you should? If it turned out to be nothing, he would shoulder the blame, but there was something in his little daughter's insistence that convinced him to call his wife.
He knocked and they went into the room. John was resting quietly, still hooked up to a heart monitor. As they approached the bed, John opened his eyes. He smiled at Bobby, and his smile widened when he saw Maggie. Bobby lifted her and set her on the edge of the bed. John slid his arm around her and drew her into a hug. "How is my princess?"
"Good, Grampa. How do you feel?"
"I feel good, honey." He stroked her hair. "Where's your mom?"
"She's comin'. Daddy called her."
John shifted his attention to his son-in-law, a man he loved like a son. "Are you all right, son?" he asked.
"I'll be fine, John."
The old man could tell that things were not right with the younger man and it had nothing to do with his health. It didn't take a huge leap for him to figure out what it was. "Be patient with her," he said quietly. "She's full of fire and it gets away from her sometimes. There's a fine line between fanning the flames and being consumed by the blaze."
Bobby nodded. He understood John's caution, but it was too late. Her fire had consumed him long ago, and he had not tried to stop it. "Do you remember what you told me years ago? I think it was Maggie's first Christmas."
John nodded. ...maybe you love my daughter too much... "I remember. I never changed my mind."
"And I've come to think that maybe you were right."
"Even then, you were in too deep to get out of it."
Bobby nodded and placed a kiss on Maggie's head. "I know, but I can't help what I feel."
John smiled weakly. "That's how I knew you were right for her. You understand how she is, but you love her without reservation."
John was right. He did love Alex without reservation. Maybe that was part of their problem, but he could not force himself to love her any less. He sighed softly. "That will never change," he replied.
The older man kissed Maggie's head. "This child was born from that love, which makes her very special." He gently guided Maggie into his arms and hugged her. She settled herself against his chest and stayed in his embrace. "She's wise beyond her years. Learn from her."
The old man reached out and closed his hand on Bobby's arm. "Maggie will never steer you wrong, Bobby. She's been blessed by all that's best in you and in Alex. She has her mother's fire and your brave heart, Alex's determination and your sensitivity. And she embraces fully the love you share. I know how Alex can be. Sometimes, the storms she spawns are too fiery to navigate. But don't let her drive you away. When you lose your way, Maggie will be your beacon, the shelter you need to weather the firestorm until it passes."
Bobby shifted uncomfortably. "No, John. She has no place in the disagreements between Alex and me."
"You misunderstand, son. She will never come between you. But she harbors the calm you seek, the calm you both sometimes need. Don't draw her in. Let her bring you out. That doesn't mean she ever has to be involved."
Maggie wasn't listening to what was being said between her father and her grandfather. With her head resting on John's chest, she listened to the beat of his once-strong heart. It didn't sound right to her. She sat up. "Grampa..."
He touched her cheek. "It's alright, princess."
She could see that he had made his peace with his mortality. He knew he was going to go with the angels...soon. She hugged him again. She was going to miss him.
Alex hurried down the hallway toward her father's room with her partner behind her. He hadn't hesitated to accompany her. He didn't know what to make of her husband, but he didn't know the guy, either. So he'd done the only thing he knew to do when Bobby called—he'd gone with her.
Stopping outside her father's room, Alex hesitated to gather herself. She didn't want her father to think she was frantic. She had to be calm and in control, at least on the outside. She looked at Albright, who gave her a reassuring nod, and she opened the door.
The light from the hall spilled across the room onto her father's bed. His eyes were closed, and Maggie was snuggled beside him. Bobby stood near the window, brimming with nervous energy. "Bobby," she softly called to him.
He turned, looking from her to Albright and back, not sure what to make of her partner's presence. Maggie heard her mother's voice, and she sat up. "Mommy?"
Alex looked at Bobby a moment longer before turning her attention to Maggie. She approached the bed. Maggie reached out to her, and Alex hugged her. "I'm glad you came, Mommy," she said softly. "The angels are waiting for Grampa, an' they won' wait any more."
"What are you talking about?"
But Maggie didn't know how to explain it, so she withdrew from her to snuggle with her grandfather again. Alex could feel her husband's presence behind her. She tensed when he touched her, not because she didn't want him to touch her, but because she hadn't expected him to touch her. His grip loosened immediately, but she stepped back into him, which was exactly the right thing to do. Reassured, he slipped his arms around her waist and pressed his face against the crook of her neck. She settled her hands over his, and he brought his mouth to her ear. "We have to talk," he whispered.
The whisper of his breath across her ear made her shudder, and she felt something akin to an electric current zip up and down her spine. By not letting her emotions turn to anger, she allowed her deeper feelings for Bobby to surface. She nodded and stepped away from him. She looked at her partner. "Are you okay here for a minute or two, Cutter?"
He nodded. "I'm fine," he assured her.
"Maggie, Daddy and I will be right back. My partner, Cutter, will stay here with you and Grandpa."
Alex and Bobby stepped out into the hall. "What is it?" she asked.
"Didn't you hear what she said? About the angels?"
"That's just her way of reassuring herself about what's happening."
"I don't think so, Alex. I think it's more than that."
"Bobby, everything doesn't have to be complicated. Sometimes a spade is just a spade."
"And sometimes, it's not. I'm concerned about her."
She could see real worry in his eyes. "What does she say about it?"
"I haven't had a chance to talk to her, but she knows I will."
"Let's wait until then before we start leaping to conclusions."
He gently grasped her arm and very softly said, "He's dying, Alex."
She shook her head. "No. The doctors are going to send him home tomorrow."
"He's not going home. Not here. He's leaving us. He knows it—and so does Maggie."
"How?" she demanded, using anger to mask her fear. "What did you tell her? How does our six-year-old know her grandfather is dying?"
He stood his ground, swallowing the defensiveness that naturally cropped up in the face of her anger. "I don't know how she knows. I just know that she does."
"A new parlor trick?"
"Alex..." He sighed. "I'm concerned about her, okay? I...oh, never mind..."
She grabbed his arm as he turned away. "I'm sorry," she said, realizing that she was driving him away again by finally giving in to anger, her default emotion. He was making an effort, but if their marriage was going to survive, she had to meet him halfway. "We'll both talk to her, okay? We'll figure it out."
His dark eyes searched her face, not sure what to think of her sudden change of heart. Once she made up her mind he was to blame, she usually didn't back down. But she was sincere, and he could see that. Taking a chance, he leaned in and kissed her. He relaxed when she accepted the tender gesture.
When he pulled back, she smiled sadly and touched his face. They went back into the room.