A/N: My very late, post-ep for SVU's Acceptable Loss. (Although it doesn't really reference that episode. Just the way Bobby and Alex were left had my mind wandering.) So this IS LOCI. Appearances by SVU characters, but not a genuine crossover IMO.

It also references that You Tube/NBC video which mentions Alex dating a fireman… YES…I hated that part too! Since they let that unfortunate cat out of the bag, it had to go somewhere. Also the clip about Bobby being in Maine. Hint…the title is a running theme! You all know I'd never leave them broken. ;)

We really don't know much about Alex's mom. For this story, I'm going to assume she's not in the picture. This story sort of overlaps the scene at the bar with Alex and Olivia, and then moves beyond that.

A/N 2 - Sorry, all just updated this for readability. I didn't realize my section breaks got left out.


"All that time together… Two of us. It was like we were married."

She didn't want to keep dwelling on her conversation with Benson that night at the bar. Or the feelings it had stirred up. But she had.

They had talked about their former partners for a while. Just girl talk.

She left the bar that night with mixed feelings and a churning stomach, which didn't help with the four glasses of bourbon she had poured down right on top of it.

Her and Bobby... There were moments in the beginning of the partnership when she was fairly certain it wouldn't work out. He had the most eccentric method of investigating a case; of dealing with witnesses or suspects.

They were too different in their approach. She thought it would compromise their efficiency as a team.

That's why she wrote the letter…

I'm an acquired taste.

She still isn't sure how or when, but eventually, it all came together.

She relied heavily on his skills. They played off of each other. They clicked. They were a great team—one of the best in the department, according to several sources.

Aside from a few breaks, they had spent the better part of 12 years together.

After their last separation, when they both rejoined Major Case working with Captain Hannah, they grew closer than ever.

Then one day, unexpectedly, he left. He put in his papers and said he'd be moving to Maine to begin working on a book.

He said his goodbyes to the department and then he was gone. Just like that.

For the first few days after it happened, she really couldn't wrap her head around the idea. Sort of like a fog that wouldn't quite lift.

On top of that, there was the thought of having to break in a new partner. No one could ever replace Goren. About all she could accept was a temporary replacement.

And she quickly grew tired of the same sort of awkward expressions and comments she'd receive as departmental staff would pass by his empty chair.

'No, I haven't heard from him. Yes, I'm sure he's doing fine.'

But it didn't matter how she explained it to her cohorts, it still stung.

One day, she gets a short email from him saying he's about 800 pages into that book and that it's going well. She responds back with a, 'Sounds great. Would like to hear more about it. Call me sometime.'

After that, there was nothing. He's probably too busy.

It's hard to picture Robert Goren in some place other than New York. He's lived here all his life. She thought eventually, he'd decide he hates it and would want to come back.

She thinks about calling him some nights. Might give her some time to figure things out.

Or maybe to find out how he really feels about her… Even if it changes nothing.

But she never does.

Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months.

And he hadn't tried to contact her either.

So maybe she had her answer.


One day, she's offered a spot on the Homeland Security task force.

It's a change of pace. Something a little different anyway.

Eventually, she falls into a new routine. Well, actually… Just after starting the task force, life sort of gets away from her.

They pretty much threw her into the deep end with the first assignment. Figures it would have to be one of 'those' cases, and one of 'those' suspects where she wished she had Bobby in that interrogation room with her.

But the new job was definitely exciting.

Then, out of nowhere, life throws another funny curve ball at her.

While standing in line for coffee one morning, her eyes begin to wander. She happens glance behind her, about three or four customers back, at just the right time.

This very attractive guy is checking her out.

Tall, with a nice build. Beautiful blue eyes. Great smile.

So she couldn't help but notice.

She lingers long enough by the counter, adding her 8 packets of sugar slowly, until he finishes his order and wanders over to fetch a lid for his coffee.

There's a short, awkward conversation about her sugar-to-coffee ratio. A lot of sparks. Since they were standing in the way of about a dozen other caffeine addicts who were eager to get to work, they said goodbye and moved on.

She goes on to work. He heads off in the opposite direction.

But of course, he kept popping into her mind.

It's a few days later, at around lunch time, when she sees him on 5th Avenue heading in her direction.

What are the chances? she thinks to herself, as her heart begins to beat just a little faster. New Yorkers continue scurrying around them. There really is no good place to stop.

At less than a half a block before their paths would cross, their eyes finally met. He gets closer and closer and she wonders if he'll say something to her as he passes by. Instead, he just smiles a little wider, raises his eyebrows, flashes those sparkling blues at her flirtatiously, and then moves on.

Frustrating… She wants to talk to him, but she has somewhere else to be.

So the blue-eyed mystery man would stay a mystery.

About two weeks later, she's at the bar having a drink before heading home.

She never sees him walk up.

"So how is it that we keep bumping into each other?" he asks casually, sitting down on the bar stool beside her. Whatever aftershave or cologne he's wearing is just powerful enough to entice her—as if those sexy eyes and smile, and nice body (as far as she can tell with clothes on) weren't enough…

She wonders why he's interested? Or, why she's even entertaining the thought of getting to know him? She hasn't had the time to think about meeting someone, much less date.

And maybe she does still think of Bobby. Maybe she still misses him.

But he's a few hundred miles away, and as much as it pains her to think about, he's probably already forgotten about her and moved on.

"Oh, I don't know... Either stop following me, or buy me another drink," she flirts back.

"You leave me no choice," he tells her, flagging down a bartender and pulling out his wallet. He hands the bartender his debit card. "I'd like a Scotch and soda, and refill the lady's drink, please."

"Coming right up," the bartender replies.

"There are stalking laws, you know," she teases.

"Not stalking…just…admiring. See, there's a difference," he tells her smugly.

"You look like the type who could talk his way out of anything… What are you? A lawyer?"

"Close… A firefighter."

She smirks. "How is that close?"

The bartender walks up and sets their drinks down in front of them.

"Well… We both like the heat," he says, tapping his glass to hers. "Cheers."

"Cheers."

"So what do you do?"

"I'm a Lieutenant. Homeland Security Task Force."

"Uh-oh." He grins sheepishly. "So how much trouble am I in for uhh...admiring a lieutenant?"

She grins. "I'll let you off with a warning—for now."

"And what do I owe you in return for the favor?" he says, nudging her playfully with his arm.

"I'll have to think about that."

"So…umm… what's your name?" he asks softly, leaning in to get closer to her.

"I'm Alex."

He extends his hand to her and she accepts. "Nice to meet you, Alex. I'm Grant."

"Nice to meet you too."

He doesn't let go of her hand. Instead he settles both of their hands on top of the bar. His thumb lightly stroking the tops of her fingers.

A little later, while she's in the middle of telling him a story, he leans in and surprises her with a kiss.

He's a little bit bold for her taste. But she can't deny her attraction.

They leave the bar after drinks and go out for dinner, talking and laughing for hours.

The night full of romantic possibilities.


~10 months later~

They head toward the entrance to the home furnishings outlet stores in close contact.

"Well, we've got quite a list here. Where do you want to start?" Grant asks her, once they're inside. He resumes his loving contact with one arm draped over her shoulder.

"I don't know, it's been a few years since I've been here," Alex remarks, glancing around to try to get oriented. "This place is huge. I'd probably get us lost."

"Not like my sister, Francine. Hell, she needs a GPS to get through a Duane Reade."

Alex chuckles. "I remember shopping with her once."

He smiles, leans closer and kisses her briefly. "Well, we've got quite a lot in gift cards. You said you wanted to look at sofas. Want to start there?"

She nods, and they follow the signs to furniture.

A few hours later, they had selected a new couch, a dresser set and some end tables.

As they head to the adjacent small appliances and kitchen store, they pause for an intimate kiss. They're lost in the moment until Grant abruptly pulls back. "Oh, I just thought of something... I'll meet you in there, in about…ten minutes?"

"Okay."

They kiss once more and he leaves.

She enters the store, lingering near the front of the department when some of the items catch her interest.

There are coffee grinders, blenders and assorted kitchen appliances. Her eyes pan over the items on one of the shelves, stopping at the drink blenders.

She sees one on the lower shelf and squats down to look at it. After reading the box, she decides it has all the features she needs. She wants to get it.

They sort of had a target list of things to buy today, but the item is under $50. She didn't have much cash on her or debit cards when they went shopping. With the gift cards they received, she didn't think she'd need to bring much else.

They really haven't had a discussion about money before. For most couples it's a big issue.

Her and Joe never had a problem. But Joe was very laid back. Just hands over his wallet to her without a care in the world. What's his is hers. That's the way their marriage went.

She remembers seeing Joe asleep on the couch, and reaching into his pants pocket for his wallet. She laughed at the idea of having to do this at the time, but she didn't want to give the delivery guy a check.

But Joe didn't mind and he was a very sound sleeper. Only once or twice, she'd accidentally wake him up and it would turn into…well…anything she needed the money for was soon forgotten.

Grant is a little nit-picky, and can be a bit more intense about things. He's a firefighter, and fire aptly describes his nature. But it's also one of the things that makes him appealing.

It also means that he can blow up over little things. And he has.

They both have short tempers.

None of their blow-ups have really been about money so far, but their relationship is still kind of new and there's a lot they are learning about one another.

They dated for about 4 months, got engaged, and then they got married a few months after that. Yep, pretty damn fast. Especially given the hectic demands of their jobs, which typically mean very little time to form a relationship.

But somehow it all happened.

They just got back from their honeymoon about a week ago.

Seems like her life's been on this perpetual roller coaster of highs and lows.

First Goren leaves. Then she gets offered the task force spot. Then she meets Grant.

After that, her dad comes down with pneumonia and winds up in the hospital. He's released a few days later, leaving her and her siblings to help him recover.

Next, a close friend of hers from the NYPD is shot and killed in an armed robbery. Her dad's condition worsens and he's sent back to the hospital.

One night, her brother—also a cop—is shot in the line of duty. Although he recovers, things weren't looking too good for a little while.

She was a wreck. Life had taken off on a course all its own and she was merely along for the ride.

And while all of this is going on, Grant proposes. Rather than say yes immediately, she tells him that she needs some time to wrap her head around everything.

Grant's hurt of course, and there's a fight. At the time, she just couldn't deal with the pace of their relationship among everything else. Red flags were going up.

About a week later, they make up and she gives him her answer.

Then one day, Grant decides they should move up the date of the wedding instead of waiting a year like they had originally planned. Said his family would handle everything, taking the burden off of her and her family during their assorted emergencies.

Grant's family was pretty big and they seemed to have a lot of connections. Everything went pretty smoothly.

It really felt—to her at least—like they wanted their son married. They loved Alex and treated her like family.

Grant had been this sweet, supportive, caring person. He has a bit of a playful, sometimes child-like personality. He made her laugh, and she could get past some of the painful moments. She did grow to love him.

Still, she thought she needed more time… He always did move a little too fast for her.

But she figured that maybe this was his attempt to offer her some happiness at a time when it felt like things were spinning out of control.

Bobby strolls purposefully through the crowds of shoppers.

Some are just poking along. Some have small children tucked in their arms. Some are moving as fast as he is, just as tired and anxious to get the hell out.

He would rather be anywhere else. But he lost a few things in his move back to Brooklyn, and it's getting a little tough to get by without some of them.

Some things were probably due to be replaced anyway. He just wished he didn't need them so quickly.

He wanders over to the counter where he had left a few items with Erik, the cashier. Erik is probably 18 and fresh out of high school. Hardly looks old enough to drive. Nonetheless he's courteous and helpful, and that's made the experience go a little easier.

Bobby sets his lamp on the counter, Erik glances up from his Facebook page, smiles and moves it to the small pile of items Bobby is accumulating. Bobby stops and takes a glance around, trying to recall what else he needs.

As his eyes drift about the front of the store he sees her...

She's at one of the display racks and she's squatting down to look at something on a lower shelf. He can only see her side profile.

And now he's staring.

Golden hair, honey brown eyes, lovely petite frame.

Eames.

Bobby's heart races.

"If you see anything you like, go for it," Erik mutters somewhere behind him—not realizing that Bobby's lost any interest in shopping.

He leaves the counter and starts toward her gingerly. Two teenage boys, standing about midway between himself and Alex, are laughing hysterically at a Twitter post on someone's Iphone.

He steps around them and continues on, still pondering what the hell he is going to say to her when he gets there.

It's been over a year. He's been a jackass for not keeping in touch. Too much time has passed.

And here she is, looking more beautiful than he remembers.

Just so glad to see her.

Soon he's less than a foot behind her, pretending to look at a mixer on a display stand adjacent to hers, while she debates buying the item in her hand. He decides to wait until she's finished to announce himself.

She bumps into him as she's standing back up. "Oh, I'm sorry. I seem to be bumping into people all day, I—" Her eyes finally lift upward, meeting the familiar, inquisitive, dark eyes and friendly smile she'd know anywhere… "Oh my God! Bobby!" she greets him excitedly. The box in her hand is released to the floor by her feet, as they go to embrace.

He lifts her off the ground just a little as they hug. "Eames!" he greets, smiling just a little more because of her warm greeting. She seems just as happy to see him as he is to see her.

He takes a minute to relish everything about her. Everything he's missed by not being in her constant company.

From the gentle scent of her shampoo, body wash, lotion, or whatever she has on that smells like heaven to him, to the way her hair tickles his chin, to the way it feels to have her body this close to his.

Stepping back at last, they smile.

"Wow, it's good to see you!" she comments. "You look great!"

"Thanks, so do you," his eyes skimming over her appreciatively. Black sweater, jeans and boots…everything looks so sexy on her.

"What are you doing here?" they both ask in unison, and chuckle nervously.

"Oh…I just moved back a couple days ago and I—," he responds.

"Moved back?" Alex repeats interrupting him. "Oh good, so you're staying?"

"Yeah, you know… It's hard to stay away," he says, embarrassed by his inability to stop smiling. "I'm back in Brooklyn. Uh…just a few blocks from where I used to live. Lost a few things in the move, so that's why I'm here."

Her smile brightens. "So, how was Maine?"

"Very nice, but you know…umm…" he responds with a half shrug. "I'll have to tell you about it sometime."

"So…ummm…what about your book? Is it done? Can I get a copy?"

He chuckles at her enthusiasm. "Just about done. And yes, you'll get a copy. Probably six to eight more weeks with edits and such."

His mind is going in too many directions. Too much nervous energy. Even starting to talk with his hands. If he doesn't slow down soon, he's liable to bat something off one of the shelves.

Really doesn't need to start making a fool out of himself.

"Then, I'm not sure when it'll be in print. So what are you up to?"

She tells him about the task force.

"Congratulations. Sounds perfect for you."

She blushes a little. "I still don't know how I wound up with it," she recounts humbly, shaking her head.

"Oh, there's nothing you can't do, Eames," he tells her warmly.

"Thank you. So, do you have anything lined up? Another book?"

"Actually… I'll be working with Deakins for a little while doing private investigations. He's hinted that he's got a lot of volume."

"That's great! I haven't heard from him in a while. How is he?"

"Doing good."

Their eyes lock for a moment, he glances away nervously, then his eyes drift back to hers.

They're blocking the aisle, but neither of them seems to notice. Others are having to walk around them to get what they need.

"Ummm… Can I buy you lunch sometime?" he offers nervously. "I would like to catch up. Lots more to tell you."

"Sounds good. I'd like that," she replies.

"Oh, umm…" Bobby pauses to remove his cell phone from his coat pocket. "It's a good thing I found you. Have you…uh… changed your number recently? I tried to call you, b-but it said your number wasn't in service. I asked Logan, but he doesn't have a good number for you eith—" Bobby stops mid-sentence. He finally notices the ring on her finger.

"Oh… yes… Sorry, I just got this. I lost my phone about two weeks ago…" she pauses, remembering that it happened at the beginning her honeymoon. "…and figured I'd better change my number." She reaches into her pocket for her phone, nervously fumbling it a bit, while trying to take it out. Finally she has it, reads the number off to him and he updates her number, closes it and slips it back into his pocket.

"It's really great to see you. Sounds like it's been going well." His eyes drift from her arm up toward her face, then back to her arm again. "So…umm… When did you get married?" he inquires nervously.

"Huh?" Oddly, the question catches her off guard. It's not like she forgot. Just a little caught up in the past.

He gestures toward her left hand.

Her heart beat picks up, eyes drifting about nervously. Stomach is in knots. She has no reason to feel so anxious. It's not like they were involved.

Yet, in some inexplicable way, it's almost like they were.

'All that time together. Two of us. It was like we were married.'

"Alex…?"

"Oh…actually, just…two weeks ago."

He smiles timidly. "Congratulations…again. So..uh..who is he? What does he do?"

"He's a firefighter. Works in midtown. He's around here somewhere…" her eyes briefly pan around their immediate area, avoiding eye contact with Bobby. "Probably went back to look at a recliner next door that he wants to get," she replies.

"So how's everything else going…? How's your family?"

Her expression changes. Oddly, that word seems to shift her emotional load in another direction.

"Umm… It's actually been a hectic few months," she admits wearily.

She's wanted to talk to him. He's just the perspective she needs at times like this. Bobby's practically family anyway. Even her dad won't stop asking about him. He's close to her, nonetheless. Even though they haven't seen each other in a year, it feels like nothing's changed between them.

"I'm sure it has," he replies, noticing something unsettling in her eyes. "Are you okay?"

Her eyes dampen with a light sheen of tears. "Getting there," she replies. She tearfully fills him in on everything. As she talks, he wraps an arm around her and pulls her close to comfort her.

"And how is your dad?" Bobby asks as she finishes, noticing where her immediate concern still lies.

"As stubborn as ever," Alex quips, wiping her eyes and starting to smile a little. "He's actually doing better, but it's been tough."

"Anything I can do to help?" Bobby offers.

She smiles graciously. "I think we're okay. As long as everyone stays healthy. Thanks, though. Just great to see you back."

"Great to see you too. Call me if you need anything?"

"I will," she replies.

Right about that time, Grant walks up behind them.

Bobby's eyes shift to the right, just as Alex feels a light tap on her back.

Has to be her husband, Bobby concludes.

The man's eyes drift over toward Bobby suspiciously, obviously not happy to find some strange man hugging his wife.

Not that he can blame him. He'd feel the same if the situation were reversed.

Well, uncomfortable, maybe...

Then again, he's seen friendlier faces in central booking.

What's with this guy?

Bobby offers a cordial smile back anyway. He gives her one more gentle squeeze, kisses the top of her head and then steps back.

Alex turns to greet her husband, not the least bit surprised to find his unsettling glare and frown.

One of Grant's biggest faults is his jealousy. Doesn't matter who she's talking to. He either gets impatient, cocky or possessive.

Or all of the above.

Grant steps up, wraps his arm around his wife protectively, then continues eyeing Bobby agitatedly.

Alex realizes that introductions are in order.

"Umm… Grant, this is my husb—" She blushes at her mistake.

Bobby bites the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning.

If Grant wasn't so jealous, she wouldn't have to hide her amusement at the oversight.

"Uh…this is my former partner from Major Case, Bobby Goren," she corrects. "We haven't seen each other in a while and were just catching up. Bobby, this is my husband, Grant Wiles."

At this, Grant relaxes a little but he doesn't lessen his grip on her. "Oh… You're that Bobby," he nods as he makes the association. He extends his free hand to shake Bobby's. "She's mentioned you before. Visiting from…uh..Miami, right?"

"Maine," Bobby corrects. "And no, I just moved back to Brooklyn. It's nice to meet you. Congratulations to you both. Uh… Guess I'd better be going. Good to see you again…Alex."

"You too."

Bobby retrieves the box that Alex had set down moments ago and hands it back to her. He holds her gaze for just a second more, wanting to reassure himself that she's okay. "Well, goodbye."

"Goodbye, Bobby." Alex replies, smiling back.

Bobby, nearing the end of the display shelves, takes one last glance at the couple. At this, Grant pulls her toward him for a kiss, deepening it almost immediately.

She doesn't mind the kiss, of course. She does, however, object to his need to be territorial and showy, just to prove a point. She shouldn't have to apologize for having male friends.

She places one hand on his chest and pushes him back gently. "Stop being so jealous!"

"Stop being so cute," he fires back smirking.

She grins at his comment. "Do you think we can we leave soon? I'm getting kind of tired."

"Sure. Just want to look at a couple more things. I'm sorry I was gone so long."

"Did you finally pick out your new recliner?" Grant insists they need a certain kind of recliner for the living room. She could care less about the features he thinks are critical, so she let him pick it out.

"No, but I found us a new ceiling fan for the bedroom. That old one has got to go. Too damn noisy."

"Personally, I prefer it over your snoring," she quips.

He rolls his eyes. "Well, sorry!" his tone etched with sarcasm. "But this one's big, very quiet, has 5 speeds…" he carries on in an exaggerated, snooty, sales-pitch tone, "…easy to clean, earth friendly, and comes with a lifetime warran—"

She tosses him a questioning, half-amused glare.

"What? I like it cold when I sleep."

She lifts her hands in defeat. "Fine, fine, have your high-powered, ceiling fan. I'll swing by the linens department and grab a heating blanket for the bed," she says lightly.

He puts his hand on her hips and guides her closer seductively. "Oh, hey now…you don't need a heating blanket…" he boasts playfully, kissing her once more.

He releases her a minute later and glances down at the box in her arms. "Oh…Did you find something good?"

"Umm…. Yeah, I was thinking about…getting one. You know, I leave in a hurry some mornings and don't have time to stop for breakfast. I can make myself a quick fruit or protein shake and take it with me. Just something I'd like to have."

He takes the box from her arms and reads it. "We don't need this, we have a blender. Two in fact," he says, handing it back to her.

"The appliances your mom gave us? One's a food processor, one's a juicer."

He shakes his head, missing the point. "But… Won't one of those others work for what you need?"

She's had enough of the stores and crowds, she's a little thrown off from the fact that Bobby's back, and she's not in the mood to explain it to Grant.

It's really just an impulse buy.

"It probably would. Let's just finish and go." She puts the box back on the shelf and they continue on.

x x

About a week later, Alex receives a package addressed to her at the office.

She sets it down with her things. Someone in the department sending a belated wedding gift. Some of her friends couldn't make it because of the short notice. She plans to take it home so she and Grant can open it together.

A little later in the day, she happens to glance at the package again. This time, the name and the return address label catch her eye… R. Goren. Brooklyn, NY.

Her eyes widen in surprise. He sent a wedding gift?

For a minute or two, she ponders whether to open it now or wait until later.

Curiosity gets the best of her.

She opens the shipping box and removes the inside packing material.

No card, no note. Just a box gift wrapped in decorative wedding wrapping paper.

She eyes the package a moment longer before tearing open the gift wrap.

Finally she holds the box containing the item in her hands. She loves it. She's grinning to the point of laughing.

It's the drink blender she had left behind at the store.


~8 months later~

Alex walks into the Starbucks and heads wearily toward the back of the long line.

Slowly, and painfully the line creeps forward. It isn't her usual Starbucks, but this morning it was closer.

It's in the middle of a block that's undergoing more reconstruction due to damages from Hurricane Sandy.

Eventually she's finished at the counter, has her drink in hand, and instead of adding her sugar packets, they're quickly shoved into her jacket pocket.

With her head down and her eyes leveled mostly toward the floor, she makes a beeline toward the exit.

As she does, she nearly runs into the next customer who has just walked inside. Fortunately, she maintains her grip on the cup in her hand without spilling it.

"Oh, sorr—" She steps back and her eyes glance up to see who almost wore her Pike Place blend that morning. Of all people... "Hey, Bobby," she greets.

"Hi, Eames."

She had sent him a thank you note for his gift and hasn't heard from him since.

Maybe they were both a little busy. Maybe after the way Grant reacted toward Bobby, he just decided to stay away. She couldn't blame him.

Nonetheless, she's happy to see him. But this really hasn't been a good morning.

She hasn't slept in days. Hasn't eaten much either, although she's not sure she could if she wanted to.

There's another terrorist nut-job on the loose, and the two federal agents she's working with appear to be coming down with the flu, or whatever the hell is going around.

She exchanges a quick hello and then glances toward her intended target. But exiting is easier said than done.

The last two guys in line who had entered after Bobby are blocking the exit. One is a bike messenger who has his bike in the store with him, and the other is some guy in a suit who is distracted by a text message on his phone. The line itself is growing. It leads out the narrow doorway entrance to a boarded sidewalk that's also under construction.

Meanwhile, Bobby's just staring at her. He already knows something's up and he's about to start playing detective.

Sure, she probably looks like hell. She's not surprised.

But she can't do this with him. Not this morning.

Furthermore, if he hugs her again, she's going to break down. Eye makeup won't stand a chance.

Bobby steps out of the line, has her elbow and part of her arm in his hand, and he's not letting go.

"Eames… You okay?"

Emotionally, she's sinking. And he won't stop until he finds out 'why,' either.

Because he's Bobby.

She sucks in a breath, musters her courage by stepping back from his grasp and offering a firm, "I've got to go." She channels the building emotions into a spiteful glare directed at the bike messenger, who is now chatting on his phone and not paying attention to anything beyond that conversation.

Bobby, seeing her predicament, turns toward the back of the line and raises his voice to the customers with authority. "You all are blocking the exit! Move it, now!" After no response from the bike messenger, he takes the guy's arm in one hand, the bike in the other, and moves them both aside.

The messenger looks like he's about ready to tell him off, but after a second look at Bobby's size and opposing stance, he thinks better of it.

Bobby moves three more customers aside, then gives Alex the all clear with a wave of his hand.

She leaves and he follows her. Once she's outside she thanks him, then she spins around on the ball of her foot and takes off at a hurried pace.

Bobby follows her again and catching her by the arm, he stops her. "Eames, you don't look so good. What's going on?"

"I'm fine. Just a busy morning." To top it off, it's just starting to rain. She's still a few blocks from the place she needs to get to in the next ten minutes, and her umbrella is still in the car.

The look in his eyes tells her he's not convinced.

Bobby stands there with her. They're both getting soaked.

"Eames…?"

Her gaze drifts from the meter maid writing a ticket across the street, to the guy attempting to balance his coffee and open umbrella in one hand so he can get a copy of the Wall Street Journal out of the newspaper dispenser.

"I thought you were getting coffee?" she asks, still pondering a way out of his private interrogation session.

"Line's too long," he says with a shrug.

"Well, you scared half of them away back there. I'm sure it won't take you long to scare the rest," she deadpans. As he takes a step toward her, she begins to retreat. "I've got to go. Thanks for helping me get out back there. I'll call you some—."

"EAMES!" He catches her arm just before she turns. He holds her wrist up for her to see. "Look at you, you're shaking! What the hell is going on?" There's compassion in his voice and in his eyes.

She sniffles and lowers her head. Tears hit immediately.

Sensing her unsteadiness, he takes the coffee cup from her hand and guides her toward him with his other arm. Her head finds a spot to rest against his trench coat and he shields her from the rain.

"Is it your family? Your dad…?"

"I—I left him," she answers in a shaky voice.

"Left who? Oh…uh….your husband…? Grant?"

She nods.

He calms and caresses her back and shoulders with his free hand. "Di-did he hurt you?"

She doesn't reply because she's not sure where to begin. Meanwhile, she feels every muscle in him start to tense as he awaits her response.

"Alex… Tell me now," he requests calmly, but with concern rising in his tone.

She settles back from him, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "Yes…but i-it's not what you think. I really can't talk about this right now, I've got to go. I'm in the middle of a murder case."

"Can we talk about this later? Umm… How about lunch?"

She shakes her head. "Not today, I've got an appointment."

"Can we meet after work?"

She shakes her head.

"Saturday?"

"Okay, Saturday," she agrees.

"I've got your number, I'll call you."

She nods and walks away, leaving him standing there to watch her as she disappears into the crowd of morning commuters.

x x

"Everything was great in the beginning. Then one day, he just…changed. I thought it might have been a bad day at work. But he never came out of it."

"So he wouldn't talk to you about it?" Dr. Paula Gyson prompts.

She shakes her head in response, her eyes welling with tears. "He's constantly angry. Always in a bad mood. He's not the same man that I married. I don't even know who the hell he is anymore! I couldn't stand to be around that, so I left him." She wipes her nose with a wadded up tissue.

The doctor leans forward in her seat. "What was the communication like before this happened?"

Alex thinks for a moment, then nods. "Good. No problems."

"Any secrets?"

"Secrets?"

"Do you keep secrets from each other?"

"Umm… No. Well, aside from the fact that I have no idea what's going on with him," she says hopelessly.

"What about intimacy?"

"It's fine."

Dr Gyson lets the question linger a little longer, giving Alex more time to respond. She doesn't. Her focus stays somewhere near the floor.

But after a minute or two of uncomfortable silence, Alex lifts her head and meets Dr. Gyson's questioning eyes. "What?"

"Have you two always been intimate over the course of your relationship?" she presses.

"Up until a few months ago," she admits quietly.

"What happened?" Gyson prompts.

"We'd…start…umm… and then he'd stop us. He'd say he didn't feel like it. Or he just…couldn't."

"Couldn't? You mean…he couldn't perform…sexually?"

Alex nods.

"Has he ever had a problem with sex before?"

"Uh…no. Not that I know of anyway."

"Well, it could be any number of things. Could be ED. He'd have to go for some tests to determine that. But it's something you two would have to work on together as a couple, whether it's treatment or therapy or both. Could be that he's taking his anger out on you because it's easier than admitting there's a problem with him, sexually."

"He says he's tired. If I show that I'm upset or hurt because of it, he implies that it's my fault," she admits hurtfully.

"Would he come with you to a session? Even if we trick him and say it's for you?"

She shakes her head. "I tried that."

"A relationship can't survive with only one person willing to fight for it. What have you two fought about in the past? Is anything else a sore subject?"

She ponders the question. "No, not really. Just the usual little things." Alex's eyes light up suddenly as another thought crosses her mind. It strikes Gyson's interest. "He does have this jealous side."

"How does he typically show his jealousy?"

"Um… mostly he just mopes around and then he'll snap at me for something else. I mean… He doesn't jump down my throat at every little thing, but I can tell when he's getting irritated. Other times he'll act possessive, I'll snap at him, and later we'll fight about it."

Gyson nods.

Alex continues. "And these are just my friends and colleagues," she explains disheartened, "guys I've known for years. We get along great. We pick at each other. They're playful, but it's harmless, really, because most of them are involved or married. I 'thought' that Grant would get along great with these guys. They're all so much alike. But I don't see any reason for him to be jealous over that," she concludes, shaking her head.

"He wants your undivided attention?"

She sighs. "There are times when he seems to…hate whomever I'm talking to."

"I see."

"And some of the guys are…" she pauses to choose her words, "well…a little over-protective of me. Grant hates that. My former partner was that way, too," she adds matter-of-factly.

"Like what?"

"Over-protective at times." Alex grins and shakes her head slightly, recalling one of their earlier cases. "Oh…we had this slime ball a few years back whose victims were all petite women. We set him up. I was left alone with him and the slime ball makes his move, with his current girlfriend—perhaps his next victim—watching. Bobby was…very uncomfortable. Kept hovering close by me even after it was over. And there was attorney named Kevin. He and I worked a case together after my first husband was killed, and Kevin and I almost got involved. Kind of a long story, but it didn't end well. Anyway, Bobby and I wound up investigating this related case some years later. Kevin tried to set me up and…" she shakes her head as she recounts the awkward conversations, the case and the way Bobby voiced his concern about her involvement with Kevin. "…well, Bobby poked around in his usual way, exposing a chapter of my personal life that I wish had never happened. But we figured out Kevin's little plan and made the arrest."

Although Bobby is no longer her client, she's finding it hard to ignore the reaction she's seen from either of them at the slightest mention of the other. "How do you feel about men being overprotective of you?"

"I'm kind of used to it. My brothers were that way too."

"So you really don't object to this…this…'over-protectiveness' that you've seen from your husband, your brothers…or your former partner then. Is that correct?"

"That's what I just said. What are you asking?"

"You haven't tried to put them in their place for being overprotective? You've been a cop for many years. You seem like a woman who is more than apt at taking care of herself. Why wouldn't it make you feel uneasy for someone to be overly-protective of you?"

"When it's shown out of respect and care…I don't really have a problem with it. When it's done simply to prove male dominance, I do," she asserts firmly.

Dr Gyson nods, pausing for a moment before posing her next question. "Does Grant have any reason to be jealous of Bobby?"

"Jealous…of what?" she scoffs. I hardly see Bobby. And they only met once."

"Do you talk about your former partner to your husband?"

"He does come up in conversation sometimes, yes."

"What about the other way around? Is your former partner jealous of your husband?"

"Why the hell would Bobby be jealous? Why are you bringing this up?" Alex charges defensively.

"You," she answers firmly, pointing a finger at her. "Alex, your entire expression changes whenever you mention your partner. It caught my attention. We're trying to find out why your husband has changed his behavior toward you, and why it's affecting your intimacy with him. You've stated that he gets jealous. Maybe he feels inadequate? Meanwhile, you say that you two have had good communication. But how can that be possible? You're both hiding things from each other."

She lowers her head quietly.

"Alex…?"

After a minute, she stands up from the couch and hastily collects her belongings. "I'm sorry. I can't…do this…anymore." She begins to walk toward the door.

Dr. Gyson stands up from her chair. "You can't do what?"

She pauses about two feet from the door, then turns back toward Gyson in tears. "I can't have this conversation with you."

"Why not? What's bothering you? What's making you want to hide?"

She hesitates briefly before answering her. "I love Bobby."

Dr Gyson nods casually.

Alex continues, speaking in broken tone. "I—I wasn't ready…t-to get married. I never wanted to hurt Grant. I loved him, but…there was too much going on. It felt…" she shakes her head, crying softly, "It felt like I was losing people."

Dr Gyson gestures toward the couch where Alex was sitting. "So let's talk about it."

Alex hesitates for a moment, but complies.

"Why do you think you can only say certain things in here?" Gyson asks, when Alex is sitting down again.

She reaches for a tissue. "I don't know…"

"Is the love you feel for Bobby something you don't want to accept?"

"It's complicated." She sniffles. "Bobby left the department. Seemed like there were a lot of things left open. We were getting so close, and I guess…I had begun to think…that it was actually going somewhere. He walked away like we meant nothing to each other. Like we were barely even friends."

"And you didn't try to ask him about it?"

She shakes her head. "After Grant and I got married, I ran into Bobby again. He tells me that he's back in New York…and he… Well, obviously, it would complicate my marriage to have that conversation. So I didn't."

"What about now?"

"What's the point?"

"If you find out how he feels about you, maybe it'll help you put things in perspective where Grant is concerned. You can't help your husband figure out his problems if you're struggling to resolve your own."

x x

Alex sits quietly in her living room taping up a box. Occasionally her eyes drift about the space, reflectively.

Months ago, it looked like a couple starting out.

Today, it's boxes of 'his' and 'hers' on opposite ends of the living room, with the remaining pieces of furniture scattered in between.

So maybe some of this is her fault. She should have been able to help him. Maybe she pushed him too hard.

She just couldn't seem to get through that thick wall he had put up.

One day, about three months into their marriage, he works late and stays out all night.

Early the next morning, he comes home drunk and passes out on the couch. She has no idea if he ever made it into work, but as far as she can tell, it's unlikely.

When she comes home from work that night, he's up and around, but he wouldn't talk to her.

I'm fine… Work's fine… Everything's fine.

She knew something was bothering him.

I don't want to talk right now. Just leave me alone, Alex.

The harder she'd press, the angrier he'd become. Things were never quite the same after that.

He became more and more distant. More irritable.

I'm tired… I want to be alone!

So she threw herself into her job, which wasn't difficult. And with her father still sick, she'd spend whatever time she could with him. It was mostly to avoid Grant.

But it's not like Grant was trying to reconcile with her either…which hurt like hell.

They'd have a few good days in between, usually whenever they happen to be out with friends or family. He'd act playful or affectionate toward her. It was almost like he was trying to work through his problems and get things back to normal.

But it never lasted.

Her thoughts are interrupted when someone knocks on the front door. She blots the tears from her eyes, and goes to answer it.

"Hey, thanks for coming," she greets Bobby as he walks in.

That Saturday, he had offered to come over to the house where she and Grant lived to help her pack up the rest of her things. She has already taken most of what she needs to a new apartment that her sister helped her set up.

"No problem," Bobby responds, smiling as he steps inside. "I brought some more boxes, in case you need them." He has all of them untaped and clutched under his arm, and sets them just inside the entrance way to her kitchen.

"Thanks."

They wander silently toward the living room, Alex leading the way. When she turns around, he's staring at her.

"What happened?" He approaches her slowly with concern in his eyes.

She shakes her head and shrugs. "Just didn't work out."

He knows that's the explanation she's probably given about a dozen times already. He tilts his head to the side in his usual fashion, trying to retain eye contact with her. "Eames…?"

"He…changed," she responds, her expression weary and pained.

"Changed…how?' Taking another step toward her, he puts his hand on her shoulder.

"Something happened... At work? Some emergency call, maybe…?" she supposes with a shrug, "I really don't know. He wouldn't tell me about it. Started putting distance between us all of a sudden. He treated me very coldly, like everything was my fault. There were constant fights. I knew it wasn't like him and this is just something that he's going through. But nothing I said made a difference. He drinks, he mopes, he's not the same man I married. I finally got enough of it and left."

"I'm sorry, Eames."

"I'm sorry for the way he treated you when you met. He's always had this jealous side. But I think…if he got to know you—"

Bobby waves his hand, implying that an apology isn't necessary. "If you married him, he's a good guy." He touches her shoulder. "What about going to see a marriage counselor?"

"Couldn't talk him into it," she responds, shaking her head. "Oh, but…I'm going to see Dr. Gyson."

He smiles approvingly. "She's good…she'll help you. She knows how to push buttons…but she's good."

"Oh, that she does!" Alex concurs.

His smile fades a couple of seconds later. "Umm… So are you and Grant…?"

She nods, anticipating his question. "Yes, we're getting a divorce." Her eyes trail around the living room, recalling the coldness, the fights. Her eyes start to tear up again. "I really need to get out of here."

"It's almost noon, do you want to go get some lunch?"

"Sure." Alex heads toward the door, while Bobby lingers behind. He notices a few boxes that she recently taped and left in the middle of the floor. He moves them over to the stack she has ready to take out, leaving them more room to work.

Just before she reaches the door, it opens and Grant walks inside. He freezes, seeming just as surprised to see her there as she is to see him.

He has some papers in his left hand. After a second glance, she realizes it's the divorce papers. He's already been served.

And no surprise…he's drunk.

He starts toward her unsteadily, trying to refocus his eyes on her blurry profile. The sun peers through the kitchen window hitting him in the side of the face. Can't for the life of him remember where the hell he left his sunglasses. "Alex baby, I—I'm s-so sorry. I don't want a divorce."

She sighs. "I'm sorry too, Grant. But I can't go through this anymore. It hurts too much."

"We can work this out."

"How? I suggested marriage counseling and you said it was a waste of time and money."

Bobby, who had been standing in the living room and blocked from Grant's view by a garment bag hanging over the door frame, finally steps into his view.

Grant's eyes shift between them, his mind creating a less than attractive scenario to explain what he's seeing. His expression rapidly turns from perplexed to angry.

"Grant, you remember Bobby, my former partner from Major Case. He's helping me carry some of my things—"

It happens quickly. The papers in his hand fall to the floor. Grant takes a few steps toward her, and using the back of his hand, he smacks Alex hard across her face. "You little slut! Always have to have a man around you just to set me off! How dare you!"

Alex stumbles backward from the force, landing on her side in the hallway. She holds the side of her face, her eyes drift up at Grant in shock.

Still angry, Grant storms toward her again.

Bobby lunges toward Grant to intercept. Grabbing him by his collar, he shoves him hard against the wall in the entrance way. "If you ever lay a hand on her again—"

Grant retaliates, shoving Bobby back with enough force to free himself from his grasp. "You sonofabitch! Stay out of my house! Stay the hell away from my wife!" He takes a swing at Bobby, which is clumsy and misses. The second swing hooks just under Bobby's chin. Bobby reacts to lessen the blow slightly, but it still stings. He shakes it off and starts toward Grant again.

"Hey! What's going on in here?" comes the authoritative voice from their front porch.

The two of them stop, release one another, and look in the direction of the door.

The door swings open, and Olivia Benson steps inside.

Her eyes drift toward the floor, where she sees Alex holding her jaw and starting to get back up.

"What the hell did I just interrupt?" she spouts angrily.

"He hit her," Bobby answers Olivia. "I stepped in to intervene and he took a swing at me." Bobby turns his head and lightly touches the tender part of his cheek where Grant hit him.

Olivia grabs Grant by the arm, the stench of alcohol hitting her almost immediately. She retrieves her handcuffs, preparing to use them. "Grant, I think you and I are going to head downtown and talk to some friends of mine in central booking."

"Olivia…?" Alex calls to her.

She turns in her direction.

"It's okay. Let him go. I'm not pressing charges."

Olivia turns to Bobby next, who follows suit by shaking his head, realizing it would cause Alex more stress than she needs.

Alex wanders toward Grant, narrowing her eyes at him. "But if you ever do that again…" she threatens.

He nods wearily, the alcohol finally starting to render him more lethargic than combative.

Olivia releases his arm a little forcefully. "Sleep it off, Grant!"

Grant wanders past them, heading toward the living room.

The three of them step out onto the front porch. Olivia turns to her. "Are you okay?"

She nods.

"Has he ever hit you like that before?" she inquires further. Bobby and Olivia watch her for an answer.

"No." She shakes her head at both of them. "That was the first time."

"Are you sure?" Olivia asks to confirm. "You don't need to cover for him."

"He's got a problem, Liv. But he attacks me with words more than anything else."

"And how long has he been drinking?" she asks.

"Like that…?" she gestures inside, and somewhere in the vicinity of the living room couch, where she suspects he is probably passed out. "A few months. Ever since things started to go bad between us." She sighs heavily, a look of fatigue and distress still lingers in her eyes.

Olivia steps closer and hugs her. Stepping back a moment later she adds, "We have your back, Alex. Just let us know what you need."

Bobby nods in agreement.

"Thanks."

"Oh… I just stopped by to see if you needed any help packing," Olivia offers in a more upbeat tone. "I'm free for the afternoon."

"That'd be great, thanks," she responds, starting to smile again.

"We're about to go grab some lunch. Why don't you come with us?" Bobby offers Olivia.

"Sure, I could use a bite," Olivia agrees.

"Let's go."


~6 months later~

"So how was the divorce hearing?" Olivia asks with concern.

They sit at a table at the bar, sipping their drinks. Both having finished up another case that jointly involved the task force and SVU.

"Okay, I guess," Alex replied. "We sorted out the rest of the details privately. Even had a nice long talk."

"Did he…um… Did he ever tell you what was bothering him?"

She nods and sighs. "Yeah, you could say that…"

x x

~A few months earlier…~

"Alex…" Grant begins. He shakes his head, sighs, then lowers his gaze back toward the table.

It's mid-afternoon on a Sunday. Grant asked her to meet him for coffee at a diner.

They've exhausted the usual small talk topics. Grant seems to be stalling on whatever he wants to talk about and the waiter has already pushed bread and dinner menus to hurry them along.

"Grant, what's this about? You said you wanted to talk."

"I've never talked to you about this before…" He begins wearily. "Ten years before I met you, there was this woman named Gloria. This…on-again-off-again, very complicated relationship." Grant stalls for another minute. "Gloria has bipolar disorder. She had a pretty traumatic childhood and struggles with the disorder. Deep down, she's got a good heart and a good head on her shoulders. But emotionally..." he shakes his head, "well…she could have used more support growing up, than what she had."

"Okay…?" Alex replies, wondering where he is going with this story.

"We were going to get married," he finally says. "My family…well, you know how they are. They didn't approve. They didn't like the complications and couldn't see past her illness. And they kept getting caught in the middle of our problems. Gloria has struggled with taking medications, doesn't handle the side effects very well, and winds up back in the hospital. I know it's been hard on my family, but very few people in her life ever gave her a chance. Her disease is not who she is. I was one of the few people who really knew her. One of the few she trusts. I was closer to her than anyone else."

Grant swallows the lump in his throat and continues. "After her last manic spell, she checks herself into Trenton and it was pretty much over for us. I decided that, for everyone's sake, we would not pick this up ever again. I didn't even want to talk about her. Just blocked her out… Then I met you," he gazes at her affectionately.

She smiles back.

"You were the first woman to convince me that I could get past this. I've tried before, but I'm lousy at relationships."

"That's not true," Alex interjects supportively.

"No…it is. I have a hard time trusting others. You know that, because you hate how jealous I get sometimes. And although I felt like I was ready to move on so we could have a future together, I wasn't as strong as I thought." There are unshed tears in his eyes. He bites down on his lower lip, then draws in a breath sharply, "I screwed up, Alex..."

"What do you mean, you screwed up?" she asks, shaking her head in confusion. She has no idea what this is about, but something inside her starts to ache.

He shields his face with his hands, then begins raking his fingers through his hair. "They put Gloria on a new medication. She checked herself out of the facility, and she's…she's actually doing so great," he says with such a glow that she hadn't seen in him before. "She had been staying with a friend, but came back to New York to let me know this. We met for drinks one night…" He shakes his head, seeming surprised and yet ashamed. "It…just happened."

Alex picks up the cues immediately. "You slept with her…"

Grant nods.

"Sex doesn't just happen, Grant!" she fires back.

"I know! I know! I hate what I did to you," he interrupts tearfully. "You got to believe me. Because I wanted so much to be over her!" he sniffles. "I wanted it to be you and me, Alex. You are everything I want in a wife…" his tone gets louder and more insistent, "…None of the complications and heartaches. None of the depression spells and confusion and gambling and prescription drugs and illegal drugs and hospitals—none of the things I fought so hard to get away from!" he recounts angrily and hurtfully. "I never wanted to go back! Didn't even want to think about her. Pretty much pretended that we never happened. But the minute I saw her again… It was different this time. She was actually improving. I was just so happy to see this, after so many years of what we'd been through together... Anyway…after that night, I didn't know how to deal with the guilt. I still loved her, but I was now in love with you too. I was so confused. I screwed up so much. I'm so sorry." He lowers his head and cries.

She's never seen such an emotional response from him before.

She could be angry at him. But why…?

They're divorced now.

She didn't want to hate him. She wanted the anger to stop.

He tells her that Gloria plans to move to Savannah to stay with an aunt. She'll continue treatment and will start taking some courses at a community college.

He plans to move down there to be with her next month.

Maybe it'll work out for them.

x

~PRESENT~

"Wow," Olivia responds, shaking her head in surprise when Alex finishes the story.

"Yeah. I wasn't ready for marriage, but neither was he. If Grant and I had put the wedding off another few months like we had originally planned, we would have known."

"I'm so sorry, Alex," she responds, reaching out to touch her shoulder supportively.

"Thanks."

The two women are quiet for a moment.

"So how are you holding up?"

"I'm okay. Plenty to keep my life busy. Nate's in the school play next month and he's really getting excited about that."

Olivia smiles. "Sounds great."

"Yeah."

Resting her cheek in her palm, she glances at Alex with a smug grin. "So…umm… How's Bobby?"

"He's okay."

Olivia's eyebrows lift suggestively.

Alex catches her unspoken hint. "We're just friends. We have dinner and drinks every couple of weeks when we're not busy. There's nothing more to it than that."

"Bull," she fires back in response to Alex's last remark.

"Liv…" she refutes.

"He's biding his time. Wants to make sure you're okay with the divorce. Then he'll make his move."

"He doesn't see me that way," she responds dismissively. "I think our time has come and gone."

"I'll bet you a bar tab. If he doesn't ask you out on a real date within six months…I'll be shocked."

Alex smirks. "Deal."

"He's got it pretty bad for you, you know," she teases, nudging her forearm.

"Look…" she intercepts, waving her hand to put an end to the topic. "Enough about my love life. How about we talk about yours for a change?"

Olivia swallows the last of her drink and sets her glass down. "Total dry spell."

"No further contact from…uh…Brian? Or…David?"

"Nope," she replies with a half shrug. "And you know what? I'm fine with it."

"What about your former partner?"

She shakes her head. "Elliot's married."

"No, see… He was at the courthouse the last time I was. Had to fill out some paperwork from Kathy's lawyer after his divorce had been finalized."

"So…?"

"So, he and Kathy are divorced."

"What does that have to do with me?"

"We talked. He knows you and I are in contact. He's asking about you."

Olivia shakes her head, disbelievingly. "He's been separated before. Never pushed things between us."

"Well, things change." Alex glances down at her phone, where the time is displayed. "Oh, and by the way… he should be joining us…any minute now," she adds smugly.

"You told him…t-to meet us here?"

She shakes her head. "It was all him. He asked to join us. I said that would be fine."

"Elliot's coming…here…?" Olivia's eyes nervously starting to drift about the pub.

"He's got it bad for you, you know," she fires back. With as many times as she's been given friendly nudges about hers and Bobby's supposed 'developing' relationship over the past few months, she can't resist a few nudges back.

"Alex!" She stares wide-eyed and doubtful at her friend. Maybe she had good intentions, but she's a little unprepared for this.

"What?"

"I'm not ready for this."

"And you thought I was ready to face Goren? Look…starting over isn't easy. Take it slow. Get the friendship back. Let things take their course. Isn't that what you've been telling me?" Alex asserts. "It's going to be okay."

Olivia shakes her head, worry still etched in her expression.

"He's just an old friend. He cares about you very much. And I'll get to be wingman this time."

Olivia smiles shyly.

Minutes later, Elliot walks in. His eyes pan around, searching for them.

Alex stands up and walks over to greet him. "Hey, Elliot!"

"Alex!" He steps up and greets her with a hug and a peck on the cheek. "How's everything going?" he asks, being generally aware of her situation in recent months.

She smiles. "Much better. And you?"

He smiles, leaning back a little. "Much, much better."

"She misses you. Give her some time," Alex whispers.

He nods. "Thanks."

They both turn toward Olivia. She gets up slowly and gazes at Elliot, her expression a mix of uncertainty and hurt.

"Hey, Liv," he greets, tossing that infectious grin of his. He starts toward her.

Olivia sighs. She could run. She could brush him off and get as far away as possible. She'd owe Alex an apology later, but Alex would understand.

She glances over at Alex again and suddenly thinks better of it. Maybe she did have a point—with her actions as much as with her words.

She takes a step toward him, vowing to let the past go. Then she opens her arms, smiles and embraces him. "Hi, Elliot. How've you been?"


~4 months later~

"I wasn't all that angry at Grant for sleeping with her. It surprised the hell out of me, sure. But I…" pausing she collects her words, "…I think he was the only one of us who was actually brave enough to admit to being…in love with someone else."

She's much more comfortable with these sessions now. She and Dr. Gyson have clashed on a number of occasions. Fortunately, it all seems to have worked out.

"I think you've done really great, Alex. I've met a lot of people in similar predicaments or in failing marriages who haven't coped as well as you."

She smiles. "I've got a good support system. And some really good friends."

"That's great too… But I think you've fought long and hard not to let it destroy you."

"Thanks."

"So…" She pauses to pick up her notebook and pen. "Have you done your assignment yet?"

She slowly shakes her head, grinning sheepishly. "Umm… No."

"Alex…" she scolds gently.

"It's just that… I don't know if I'm ready to push things between Bobby and me."

"What I'm suggesting isn't to 'push anything.' It's simply to find out where things stand between you two. You need to have that talk."

She sighs. "It's complicated… I don't want to set us back."

"He needs to know how you feel—and not just the romantic feelings. He also needs to know that he's hurt you and why. Once again, you're in a relationship where the communication is lacking. You can't hope to have a good, healthy relationship—with Bobby or with anyone else—when you hold back your own feelings."

"Yes, but I know Bobby. He'll back away because he won't want to make things awkward between us. I'll lose the friendship."

"You might be surprised. Look, some day you're going to have to choose between waiting for clarity in your relationship with Bobby, or moving on to something or someone else. I'm only suggesting that you take a step now, so you can prepare for where it leads. Even if it's ultimately a loss. You shouldn't have to put off what life still has in store for you."

She steps outside of the doctor's office and closes the door behind her.

It's early evening. Rush hour has already begun.

It's just the start of the fall season and the weather is absolutely perfect.

Rather than take a session during lunch, she's been opting for the last appointment of the day. It seems like a better alternative to heading back to work while her mind is still trying to make sense of the session.

As she starts down the stairs, she thinks about finding a place to eat. Might even swing by and see her nephew before heading home. Sometimes an hour with that kid is all the therapy she needs.

Alex glances off to her right, then stops abruptly on the stairs…

Standing beside the curb, gazing up at her, is Bobby.

His mustang is parked there as well. His arms are folded, and he's relaxed and smiling—maybe even a little smug. Like he's been expecting her. She probably told him when her sessions were, she doesn't remember. They talk on the phone more frequently than they see each other.

She bites the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning.

Then suddenly, she remembers that afternoon a few years back, when they were both still at Major Case.

She had come by to pick him up after a session with Gyson. It was around the time they finished the Kizmet case.

And now here they are…in exactly the opposite places.

She finds it a little amusing.

Taking the last few steps quickly, she wanders toward him. "Umm…Bobby… Wh-what are you doing here?"

"Waiting for you," he answers casually. "So, how'd it go?"

"Good," she replies.

"That's good," Bobby says.

"Well, you know how those sessions are…" she adds, shifting her weight and fidgeting nervously.

He chuckles. "Oh, yes…I know."

Finding no comfortable spot to put her hands, she finally folds her arms. "So…um… Why were you waiting for me?"

"Well… I was hoping you might be free for dinner tonight?"

"Oh…" her eyes widen at the unexpected invite. He probably has an interesting case and wants to talk about it. "Um…sure. What did you have in mind?"

"It's a surprise."

Bobby drives them to the restaurant. As usual, the conversation topics mostly involve work and catching each other up on their recent cases.

She misses the comfort and ease of the partnership. But they can still pick apart cases, suspects and such for hours, even if they aren't actually working the case together.

They do tend to stray to more personal topics.

Bobby always talks about his multiple interests and hobbies, and out comes all of his loveable quirks.

The genius starts to surface as he speaks. There's the sparkle in his eyes when something really interests him. There's the way he explains things with his hands.

It's who he is.

And she loves every minute of it.

They'll also talk about family.

And of course…friends…

Bobby has this friend he met in Maine named Deena.

She has never quite figured out the extent of their relationship. They seem to be pretty close. She assumes that they dated. She wonders if it ever got serious.

Bobby never refers to her in any way other than his 'friend' Deena.

But they are still in touch and her name does come up in conversation.

Deena is this unmarried widow who runs a bookstore. She has an interest in boats, restoring antiques and classic books.

He speaks rather fondly of her. Never any mention of some flaw, or something that he didn't like.

Deena could hold her own against the boy genius, which takes practice.

Seemed like a good match for Bobby.

To Deena's credit, she's probably a terrific person. She sure sounded like it.

So is she jealous of the lovely Deena?

Oh, yes… Guilty as charged.

x x

"Where is this place?" Alex inquires, her eyes drifting up in time to see them pass the exit for West Islip.

"Just a little further," he replies while changing lanes. "It's kind of a surprise for me too," he adds casually. "Deakins recommended it. It's a steak and seafood place. Says we'll have to try the lobster bisque if it's on the menu."

She smiles. "Sounds good. I don't get out this way too often."

"Me either. I thought it would be a nice change of pace from our usual spots. And it's a nice night." His head turns toward her, displaying that charming boyish grin of his before he averts his eyes back to the road.

Moments later, he exits onto a side road, then turns at the entrance to the restaurant.

They get out of the car, and from what she can tell, they'll have to walk up a set of stairs, then down a long pier to get to the entrance.

She takes in her surroundings, her eyes following the intended path along that stretch of pier. There are sconces on every post leading up to the restaurant. Large ropes and anchors for decoration.

There are a few benches outside closer to the entrance, where guests are waiting to be seated. There is also an outdoor bar on the side, which currently has standing room only.

Finally, there's the view that overlooks Long Island Sound. Very pretty. Even better at sunset.

It takes very little arm-twisting to bring her out near the water's edge anyway. She loves it.

An old jazz/blues tune plays from the outdoor speakers. It's a Friday night, so it's obviously going to be busy. There are a few families around, but it's mostly couples.

Bobby puts in his name at the front, then comes back with one of those table pagers in hand and says, "It's about 15 minutes."

Alex nods, and they wander back down the pier away from the restaurant, finding a less crowded spot to stand and wait.

Standing side by side, they gaze out over the small inlet. The traffic at the exit road is just starting to thin. She zones out a little, finding some focal points to rest her eyes. Seagulls perch on a couple of the buoys a short distance away. Further out, a motor boat is speeding along, and all she can see is the white spray trailing behind the boat.

It's been a long day. While she didn't plan on this outing, (she might have dressed a little differently), she's pleasantly surprised.

It's not technically a date. But the setting is rather romantic.

Bobby's arm rests against hers. Being this close to him creates all kinds of stumbling blocks. Her heart beat picks up, she suddenly fails at conversation.

And he looks incredibly good tonight. Dark denim jeans, white button-up shirt, charcoal gray pin-striped jacket. He's wearing her favorite cologne.

She feels that familiar pang of nervousness and uncertainty while remembering Dr. Gyson's suggestions.

They needed to have that little chat.

While mulling over how this topic might ever come up in conversation, Bobby interrupts their lingering silence.

"Um…I have a question..." he prompts. "Just something I've been wondering for a little while now. To be honest, it's kind of bothering me…"

Something in his tone and words causes her to tense up. "Okay…?"

"Why didn't I get an invite to your wedding?" He casually turns toward her.

There's a rather sizeable knot forming in her stomach.

The question about Bobby's invite had been posed to her before—twice, in fact.

Dr Gyson never did get a response.

Olivia pretty much figured out the answer after it was asked.

"Umm… Well, you were in Maine. I guess I figured you would be…busy." It's not a lie. Just not the entire truth.

"I guess I'm kind of…hurt, Eames," he says disappointed. "It's your wedding day. Pretty big day. I'm not so far away that I wouldn't try to make it. I would have liked to know about it, at least. You invited Carolyn Barek, and she's in Virginia. Felt like I was…deliberately left out."

"I'm sorry," she replies despondently.

Right then, it felt like something had zapped all of the energy out of that space where they stood.

Everyone else around them seems to be in good spirits; laughing and having a great time. Whether it's because of the alcohol, the warm fall weather or the coming weekend, there's plenty of inspiration to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the two of them stood by quietly, somberly.

Minutes pass in an uncomfortable silence.

She hurt his feelings. He thinks he's less important to her.

It couldn't be farther from the truth.

Bobby pulls the flashing pager out of his jacket pocket, then turns and walks hastily back down the pier toward the hostess station, leaving her there alone.

"Bobby!"

No response.

"Bobby!"

He had left out one important thing…

"BOBBY!"

He turns around sharply. "What?"

Taking a few steps toward him, she fires back, "I'm sorry about your wedding invitation… But you just dumped the news on the department that you're leaving, move to Maine, and that was it! And now you have the nerve to stand here and complain that I hurt you by not sending a wedding invitation? Do you know how much you hurt me by treating me the way you did?"

"At least I told you!"

"No, you told the damn department!"

"Yeah, so? You're part of the damn department!"

"I was your PARTNER, not just some coworker who you bump into at the snack machine. I thought we treated each other with more respect than that! I thought we were…friends!"

"We are!"

Taking a step closer still, she continues... "I kept you in the loop the 'entire' time I was thinking about becoming a surrogate, because it would mean that I'd be taking leave for a few weeks, you'd get stuck with a temporary partner… And I knew you'd hate that! I gave you notice. You gave me NOTHING! And…you were leaving permanently! You walked out, gave a cold, casual goodbye and left! That doesn't sound very friendly to me!"

"I had to leave, Eames!" he protests, agitated.

"Why?"

"Because…" He shifts his stance awkwardly, doing his best to avoid eye contact. "…I had some things to figure out. I had to find out if there was something more to me than just Major Case."

"And did you?"

"No…I came back."

Alex shakes her head in confusion. "So, I'm sorry…but is this explanation supposed to make me feel better? It wasn't important enough that you tell me you were thinking about leaving or…that you had things to 'figure out'…but….my wedding suddenly matters?"

He sighs, nervously folding his arms and shifting his weight. "Ask me…"

She looks at him quizzically. "Ask you what?"

"Ask me why I came back?"

"Why did you?"

He points at her.

"Me?"

He chuckles nervously. "Yeah, you know… It's interesting. Umm…Deena and I had this long chat…"

Oh geez, that name again… "What about her?"

"She um… She has this theory. Says that I still need to figure things out before I'll ever be able to have a—a normal…" he starts to say relationship then changes it, "…life."

"Figure what things out?"

"My life. All kinds of stuff that's…." he laughs again, "umm…complicated. All reasons why I kept going to see Gyson when my mandatory sessions were over."

"And?"

"I came back!" he responds exasperatedly. "I came back to talk to you, and you…you're…" he chuckles again, like something is hysterically funny, "…you're married!"

Alex shakes her head, "I don't understand…"

He shakes his head, frustrated. "There's nothing to understand, Eames! Just let it go!"

"Then I don't know what the hell you're trying to say to me!"

They're drawing an audience by this time, but neither of them cares.

He shakes his head once again. "I tried… I tried to start a relationship with Deena..."

Anger and jealousy are boiling inside of her. She can barely speak over the lump in her throat. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I think I hurt her..."

"Well then, GO BACK TO HER!" Alex exclaims. She turns her back to Bobby, the ache inside of her is starting to become unbearable. Tears start to fall as she walks away.

When she's a few paces away, there's suddenly a firm hand on her shoulder. He physically turns her around to face him.

He sees her tears. There's only a fraction of a second of eye contact—no time to so much as process what she's seeing in his eyes, before his mouth is on hers.

She's suddenly thrust up against him. Her arms reach around his neck, his arms pull her body tightly to his, while his lips seek and explore hers hungrily. His lips and tongue are so soft and perfect.

Her neck is turned at an angle that's a little uncomfortable, and she briefly considers that he's a lot taller, and this is a bit tougher than she would have ever anticipated. But for all the electricity he's stirring up inside of her from this contact alone, for everything she's enjoying about the kiss—his lips, the stubble on his cheek, the scent of his cologne, his mint mouthwash and the sound of his pleasant moans—she could care less about her cricked neck.

She squeezes him a little tighter, her heart beats faster. A journey of risks and separations and broken roads and failed romances and other losses led them here.

He leans back from her just a little, his dark intent eyes never leaving hers. His fingers graze the side of her cheek affectionately. He wipes away some of her tears.

"I wouldn't have married him, if you had been there. I-I would have walked out on Grant," she explains, shaking nervously. "In hindsight, I probably should have done that anyway, because neither of us was ready. But…you didn't want me. I had to get on with my life—whatever that meant."

"I did want you… I still do." He suddenly realizes the message he sent by walking away instead of dealing with things—just like Gyson and Deena had each warned him. "Alex…you have no reason to be jealous of Deena. I came back here for you."

She smiles a little wider. "I'm really glad you did."

"Umm…" He settles back and pulls the restaurant pager from his jacket pocket, chuckling nervously. "No idea what the wait is going to be like now, or if I can save our dinner plans. But do you think we can continue this date?"

She smiles, realizing that she'll have to owe Olivia a bar tab.

Best bet she's ever lost…

"I'd like that."

He drapes his arm around her, she leans into his side and they walk toward the hostess station.

All that time together… Two of us. It was like we were married…

And a year later…we are.

~The End~

A/N…Please review so I don't think you fell asleep scrolling. ;)