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See part one for series info. This chapter had to be split into two, and I knew it looking at the page count in the document itself.

Story: Phoenix
Rating: T for emotional angst, except for a M+ part (for the adult version only)
Summary: As Alex prepares to become a surrogate, Bobby learns his long-absent father has died. Ashes, a symbol of devastation, have been part of Bobby’s life since childhood, and the pile seems to endlessly grow... Will anything come to life from those ashes?
Classifications: strong G&E friendship, G/E
Note: I didn’t know the Year 2 time line when I first wrote this, but after seeing all but one of the episodes – not to mention S5's two-hour episode – I had to go back and make changes. I originally had set this a month before Year 3’s “Undaunted Mettle,” but looking at the time line based on about when Alex gave birth told me that UM is probably set after “A Person of Interest.” For part of part 1, I took inspiration from Kyllikki’s “Signifying Nothing.” Thanks, Kyllikki, for writing that collection of missing scenes from “Phantom.” It helped fuel my imagination.

Spoilers (in no particular order): “The Insider” (1-13), “Anti-Thesis” (2-3), “The Faithful” (1-4), “The Good Doctor” (1-9), “Phantom” (1-16), “The Third Horseman” (1-11), “Chinoserie” (2-5), “Badge” ((1-20) I noticed how Alex commented over Bobby’s failure to notice from papers that Terry Randolph was a woman, and guessed that – given her nickname – something like that happened when Bobby first heard about her), “My Good Name” (4-22), “Legion” (2-18), “A Person of Interest” (2-23), “Cherry Red” (2-19), “The Pilgrim” (2-8), “Jones” (1-5), “Faith” (1-21), and “In the Wee Small Hours” (5-6 & 5-7).

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five


The hour it took Bobby to get there was one of the longest hours of either of their lives. Bobby had to push down the urge to speed to reach her, reminding himself that she doesn’t need anything else to worry about today. His mind raced trying to come up with explanations for why Alex would seek an escape from her family. To him, an overprotective family is better than basically having no family to speak of... None to rely on... Of course, he knows, Alex will never know what that’s like, thank God.

Meanwhile, Alex distracted herself by teaching her oldest nieces and nephews the more advanced rules of poker. She sat by the window so she could see when Bobby came. Her family started when she mentioned that Bobby was coming to pick her up, and the protests soon blended together. Alex had to raise a hand to stop them all. “He’s not up for a crowd, but I know he needs my support.” Because I’m the only one he trusts, she adds silently. “I promised him I’d be available after lunch, and I keep my promises to my partner. We can continue this later.” She knew that the no-excuses tone would seem out of place to some of the family, but her father and all the other cops in the room understand the need for partners to look out for each other. “I’ll walk you outside, Alex,” her dad offered. She nods, and Sheila sighed, heading for the kitchen.

When Bobby pulls up, Alex’s eyes are transfixed by the car. A midnight blue Porsche 914, in excellent condition. Lewis must be helping him baby that car, she marvels. I’m going to drive that sweet ride someday...

Of course, being a member of a family with lots of car nuts, Alex’s plans of getting out quickly – for Bobby’s sake more than hers – are promptly shot to hell. Her brothers and father, as impressed with the car as she is, crowd for a look. But not before her mother – through the occasional forgotten and misused words – and a few of the kids demand that Bobby come in for a minute.

By the time Alex and Bobby are inside his car and her father is leading her brothers back inside, Bobby rubs his forehead in an attempt to get rid of the added mental strain. Between her mother giving him a hug as she urged Alex to bring him to the next family gathering, the children clamoring for his attention through hugs or asking questions, Sheila handing him leftovers for later, and the interest in his car... My head feels like there’s a fuse on it somewhere... I hope Lewis appreciates the calls he's gonna get from the Eames horde...

He lightly shakes his head, then glances over to check on his partner. He’s stunned to see how... open her face looks. How... numb, like someone haunted by something and trying to flee it. It’s a chance to forget the morning, and Bobby will gladly take it. Assuming she doesn’t protest, the little warning voice in the back of his brain – the one that always catches him in forbidden thoughts – reminds him. Softly, he asks, “You want me to take you home?”

Alex’s throat tightens. That empty apartment, warm only because of Java, is so uninviting to her mind. So... lonely. She barely brings her voice to conversation level, quietly pleading, “How about your apartment for a while?”

Bobby blinks, trying to absorb that request. She wanted out of her family gathering, but doesn’t want to go home?

Then he remembers her determination to help him out, and her offer of company last week. She’s living up to the promise? I didn’t ask... I couldn’t... But the need to ease the pain in her eyes quiets all resistance to her request. He nods slowly, and starts the drive.


Bobby opens the door for Alex, habitually letting her enter his apartment first. He closes and locks it, and seizes on any chance to distract himself, finding one quickly. “Let me,” he insists, taking the coat Alex just shrugged off. If he were a little less distressed over the past week, he’d notice that Alex hardly reacts to his actions.

Normally, she handles her own coats, but Alex is willing to let him do it now since she can feel his need for distractions. Also, her senses are taking in the congested feeling of the main room, despite the obvious abundance of cleaning attention. He’s been so overwhelmed that he’s cleaned every surface here as a distraction, she sighs sadly, adding to whatever that cleaning lady does. The most spotless part of the apartment is the rocking chair that belonged to his mother. First time she ever went into his apartment, the same time she started helping him get over Nicole’s antics, she saw the chair while Bobby was making dinner...

He seems preoccupied by scrounging his small pantry for enough to make some pasta dinner for them. An Italian home-made meal? Sounds good to Alex. She’s happy to sip her hot chocolate for the moment while Bobby focuses on the dinner. She’s made him talk enough for the moment. Time to give him a chance to recoup, she decides.

Looking around his apartment, it’s not hard to see what a bibliophile he is. Every shelf has books on it, regardless of the type of shelf it is. An interesting variety of bookends help keep the books from falling over on the corner shelves. Each one probably has a story attached to it. Some look old enough to be heirlooms, maybe from his mother.

One thing’s certainly old enough to be passed down. A rocking chair with cushions that have to go back to the fifties or earlier. Alex walks slowly toward it, examining the contours of the wood and the details on the cushions. It feels well-used and very warm. The latter is unlike everything else in the apartment. At least, she amends, what I’ve seen. The bedroom’s left, but I’ll stay away from it unless I have reason to go inside. Everything else in the apartment speaks to necessity and practicality.

Nothing about family. Aside from one photo album on the coffee table, which looks out of place... Alex guesses that Bobby usually keeps it hidden away. Possibly in the bedroom, or maybe in one of the shelves.

Right next to the chair is a small maple wood table with a drawer. It almost matches the chair perfectly, but the wood design is different. Still, it could be old enough to be connected to the chair, if you assume that Bobby’s kept both well-polished. He’s certainly taken care of both of them. Alex circles them slowly, checking out every angle she can and noting the marks that show the ages of each item.

Hitting a break in the preparation work, Bobby interrupts her contemplation with a gentle question. “Do you want-”

Alex looks up quickly when he abruptly freezes, and starts at the tension brimming in his body. This chair holds mixed memories for him, she suspects, and I’m stirring the pot. She takes a step toward the kitchen, hoping that the physical distance between her and his things will ease his mind and body. “They’re beautiful,” she says, allowing her admiration to show. “You’ve taken great care of them.”

Bobby doesn’t relax right away. It takes several seconds for his body to release, but his voice is tight. “They were my mother’s.” His gaze moves from her to the items in question, his face taking on the mask he wears all-too-often, in her opinion.

She refrains from commenting further. She just walks back into the kitchen. “May I help out?”

Since then, she stays away from that part of his living room. The topic has never come up again, but she always wonders about the story behind them...

Gliding over to the coffee table, she picks up the latest issue of the Smithsonian – she once checked and found it’s an awkward fit on his treadmill, therefore he actually enjoys reading it – from a shelf on her way over. The topics don’t matter; she wants an intellectual distraction, and it should provide material for her and Bobby to discuss.

The rustling of the papers catches Bobby’s attention as he closes the coat closet, and his eyes widen. “Hey, you should rest a bit. I’ll take care of anything you need.”

She pointedly stares at him. “I need something to do.” The words emerge quietly – but forcefully – from the back of her throat. “I had to leave my sister’s house because they weren’t letting me do anything. Don’t act the same, Bobby.”

Bobby watches her face, seeing the steel will in those eyes. Knowing how his partner hates being out of control, he realizes that he has to give her leeway. He sighs, “Okay. If you want to grab yourself a book or turn on music,” he assures her, quietly, “I won’t stop you. But promise me you’ll rest the moment you feel tired.” Please don’t overexert yourself, he silently pleads.

Deciding that that’s the best she can ask for, given his tendency to worry about her, she smiles. “Thank you,” she breathes, lightly kicking off her shoes, the action declaring that she doesn’t intend to leave a for a while. Besides, she silently adds as she also pulls off her socks, my feet need to breathe.

Bobby wishes she’d rest, but he’s pleased to see her smile. It fees like a little sunlight is warming his insides. His freezing insides.

Yet, her presence is also placing a strain on him, a strain he can’t quite identify. Well, he thinks as he remains near the door, it does feel like pressure on the... emotional walls. It must be her sadness, he reasons. If I can lift that, the pressure will go away. Bobby struggles for ideas, and stumbles on a solution. “Want me to fix some Eames Hot Chocolate?” Yeah, the constantly-helping-others part of his mind applauds, the comfort drink of cops that she introduced him to. That should work.

Alex grins, pleased at the thought. She injects a hint of dry humor into her voice – because it’s always worked in past – as she answers, not turning to face him, “Sounds great. You sure you can make it without help?” Because I’ve always been the one who makes it when we’re alone together, she recalls.

She doesn’t see the little emotion on his face vanish in half a second. Bobby stills, swallowing to recover his voice. “I’ve been making every night since last week,” he mutters, barely loud enough to be heard as he walks into the kitchen, dropping his jacket on a chair. Doesn’t help shake off any of the day, he knows. Rarely has...

Alex sucks in a breath. Damn, I should have thought of that, she chides herself, sitting at the end of the couch for support. I hope I can help soothe his mind from... Her mind hesitates at continuing the thought, not sure how deep this round of heartache goes.... Focusing instead on the magazine articles to keep from watching him, her detective mind – running at sub-par thanks to the medication and the day in general – trudges for a safe topic to make him feel safe talking. She finishes flipping through, as none of the articles grab her at the moment, and deposits it on the coffee table. Listening to Bobby wordlessly preparing their drinks, Alex isn’t any closer to an answer to her problem. Even when he comes over with steaming cups.

Bobby, meanwhile, has been struggling to find a topic safe for both of them. Especially for her. Her family is the most important thing in her life, that he’s known for almost as long as they’ve been partners. So, he wonders, what could’ve driven her away from them during a time that they all need to support each other, and her most of all? They’ve always been supportive of her and loved her, even if she took a path they didn’t understand. Why would she want to be away from all that?

His numbed mind draws blanks. He tries discarding his tie to the counter, but even a freer neck doesn’t make things clearer. Just makes his headache slightly milder.

For all his profiling skills, Alex has managed to defy them on nearly every aspect, but he usually doesn’t put her under his mental microscope. It’d be wrong, he’s always felt. It’s a surefire way to drive someone off, so he never used it on any of his partners; doing so would’ve freaked them out enough to cause trouble for him. Besides, leaving is the last thing he wants to make Alex think of. There that time – almost three years ago now – that he thought she might do it; she was mad at his actions during a case. Yet it never happened. She seemed to give him another chance, and it doesn’t look like she’s regretted it.

But that she’s still around in some ways has increased his worrying. It’s too good to last, he’s feared. And now, when that little extra profiling knowledge would really help, he can’t call on it even if he wants to.

He clears his throat to catch her attention, and offers her favorite mug from his belongings, a zany mug he got during his brief stay in China while still in the army. The same stay where he learned the basics of Chinese chess, he remembers. She accepts the mug, distractedly. She looks as lost in thought as I feel, he slowly notices as he sits a foot or so away on the couch. He toes off his shoes and socks to keep them on a more equal level, and it also feels more like their past times like this. On more cheerful occasions...

As they both sip, Alex carefully examines his appearance out of the corner of her eye. He actually bothered shaving for the funeral – if he hadn’t, she believes that nobody would’ve blamed him – and Alex senses he barely slept last night. If at all, she amends, recalling several bad cases that left him shaken. He seems to need a day or two to restore his sleep to whatever hours his body needs...

Seeing him sans jacket and tie is rare. Alex has seen him without a tie or a jacket at work, but never both at once. Losing both has always been a sign that he’s unwinding for the day. It helps his mind play “snappers,” she remembers with a tiny smile. He always puts up a good game, even he knows he’ll lose in the end...

Finishing his drink first, Bobby puts his mug on the table. Seeing her still sipping out of the corner of his eye, he contemplates their options. Does she want quiet, or sounds to distract her, he wonders. Only one way to find out, he decides, lightly clasping his hands and resting his forearms on his lower thighs. “Well,” he says, finally breaking the long silence, “what do you want us to do, Eames?”

That may be his habit, but Alex feels tired of it. In her mood, her family name is the last thing she wants to hear. “Bobby, we’ve known each other for over three years. At least call me Alex when we’re alone, okay?” Her voice is laced with frustration and a plea.

He hesitates. Calling her “Eames” has served multiple purposes over the years. At first to simply keep distance between them while he saw whether she would leave like the others all eventually did. Okay, he corrects himself, I left the last one to join Major Case, but he would’ve left first had I stuck around much longer. Also, it was treating her as a partner, not simply a female cop. Bobby has seen plenty of examples of how hard women in the force have to work to earn a place in the “buddy-boy” system. Being attractive doesn’t help, and he noticed early on that his new partner was pretty in an understated way.

Okay, he amends in his head when he senses that snarky voice coming up for an appearance, extremely attractive, although I'll never admit that I think that way even if someone else describes her as such. He shook his head at himself afterwards for claiming to Keith Ramsey that “hostility” was part of who she is. He knows that she's only hostile to those who deserve it. Alex tends to downplay her looks to assist the tough cop image she likes to project, which has been used to devastating effect. Now that his feelings have taken an unexpected turn, it tries to use those memories to keep her in that safe place in his mind. “Uh...”

Alex can’t believe this. She started periodically calling him “Bobby” a few years ago, and she’s increased it since. She’ll even use it in public now with regularity. It’d be so nice to be addressed by my name, if only in private, she grouses. “Why won’t you actually call me by my name? I’ve only hear you use it to refer to me while talking with a suspect or witness. Why, Bobby?”

His stomach feels like it’s shaking. Why is she asking now, his thoughts stutter as his mind races to find a way to stop this train. “Look, I know there’s been talk about us for most of the last four years. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea because -”

She groans, rolling her eyes and putting down her finished mug. “God, Bobby,” she grates, “all other man/woman teams I know of call each other by their first names after a while. Hell, Morelli and Brayder in our squad? Don’t they call each other by their respective first names? They’ve been partners only about two years,” she adds pointedly.

Crap, Bobby thinks. She’s got me, and she knows it. But he can’t think of anything to say. He can’t bring himself to say her name, so he keeps his lips tightly closed.

Wanting some response, Alex decides to go for a little humor despite the circumstances. She smiles, encouraging him by saying, “It’s not hard. Say it with me, class: “Alex.”” She slowly enunciates both syllables, fighting to keep the smile from splitting her face open at the insanity of it all.

Bobby’s lips twitch as his eyes bulge. What the hell...?

Come on,” she coaxes, grinning as a smile threatens to break out on his face at her sounding like an encouraging teacher, “say it.” Humor me, Bobby?

A short, snorting laugh – the kind he gives when she admits to some unusual taste, such as having had an ABBA fan club card – escapes Bobby’s throat before he can stop it, and a strong urge to continue laughing at the absurdity is right behind it. But he forces the latter down; letting too much emotion through is a bad idea. Nothing good has ever come from doing that. Not now, he feels. It’s best to feel nothing, work towards that.

Except the concealed pain in this precious woman’s eyes – even if it’s not there at the moment – can’t be ignored. Not by Bobby. If I can make her feel better somehow, he decides, then maybe the pressure in my skull will be relieved... He sighs. “Okay, uh... Alex...” God, that was hard, he thinks, but the beaming smile overtaking Alex’s face makes the effort worth it. Strange, he notices, how nice her name feels and sounds on my lips... Maybe I’ll call her that more often, if she’ll smile like that in return... Maybe it’ll help her feel better...

Alex’s mind exclaims in joy, finally he’s said “Alex” to my face! She’s successfully passed through an important door that’s been locked the whole of their partnership. “Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

The tease in her voice draws another grin out of him, but it quickly fades. “Give me a while to get used to that. Old habits are hard to break.”

She shrugs, muttering, “But not impossible.”

Yeah.” After a few seconds, he asks, “So, what do you want to do?”

She sighs. “I don’t know. I just...” What do I want? A few extra seconds only leads to one answer. “I just wanted to be somewhere quieter.”

He blinks. He can imagine that such a procedure would tire you out, and that you might want to avoid noise for a while, but... I’ve never known her to leave a family event except for a call-in. “I could’ve driven you back to your place.”

Alex leans back into the couch, scooting back a little so her lower back is supported. The movement allows her thoughts to organize themselves a bit, so she can seek an acceptable answer. Trouble is, she thinks, is it a good idea to say that I wanted to be there for him? This level of quiet hurt runs deeper than what he felt after Nicole’s game, but she doubts that she can repeat her old reasons and convince him to let it be. Not in my current state. So... “Too quiet. Besides, I wanted... to make it up to you for not being there this morning,” she finishes awkwardly.

Bobby’s stunned, not sure how to respond. Part of him wishes she had been with him, but the other is grateful that she missed the argument between him and David.

They sit in an uneasy silence until she drops her hand over the arm and hits a plastic bag. Curious, Alex leans over to look, and blinks as she reaches inside. Alex’s eyebrows pop up when she sees what it is. “What the hell?” Wait a minute, what are these doing out here? Bobby’s such a private man. Surely these would be kept in the bedroom...

Bobby looks toward her, and freezes. Oh, no, if that’s what I think it is... “Uh, Alex-” He stops when she stiffens, then pulls out a box. His cheeks burn when he sees the pack of condoms in her hand.

Her eyes turn to him, and lightly shaking the box, eyes questioning him without accusation.

He drops his head. “Um, um...” God, why didn’t I remember to put that away in a closet? Well, that would’ve meant I had plans to use them... “That was part of Lewis’ Christmas gift for me. A gag gift.” He flushes harder as the memory of Lewis’ teasing words come to mind. “Said that I... that I needed them with the car I’ve got.”

Another eyebrow raise. Well, Alex thinks, I suppose I can picture Lewis being that kind of joker. Especially if they’ve known each other since high school... Although a 914 doesn’t leave you with much space or comfort... Still... She voices the thought she’s had since seeing the box, gently teasing, “And they’re out here, unopened and in a bag, because...?”

He can’t meet her gaze. Not when his body squirms this much. God, he silently groans, I never thought I’d be discussing this with her... Or with anyone, for that matter... “I... I’ve never needed them.”

Alex blinks, eyes briefly narrowing in confusion. “You’ve had dates,” she points out, putting the box down on the table. She’s taking the chance that keeping it in sight will encourage him to talk.

Bobby shifts. I’ve never discussed my social life with her beyond occasionally mentioning that I had a date, he thinks, and hers doesn’t come up much except for her to complain that it needs help. In fact, he can’t remember her ever telling him if she had an upcoming date. At least not since October, he amends. “Yes, but the issue doesn’t come up.” Because I can tell when a woman’s only interested in that, his mind gripes. I either don’t ask them out or – if they slip through the initial radar – politely encourage them to find someone else.

Alex contemplates that. Why? She wants to know; her curiosity won’t go away unless it’s satisfied. “So... do you mean that none have ever gotten that serious?” She keeps her voice non-judging, to make him feel comfortable talking.

He clears his throat. “Alex, I, uh, I believe that... sex should be saved for marriage.” I’ve seen what can happen when it isn’t... He closes his eyes, red-hot pain searing him as he remembers the looks his mother gave his father when he came home, smelling of other women...

Wow... That might explain part of why he’s such a gentleman, Alex thinks. It’s not entirely a surprise; she’s noticed that he’s naturally shy, especially around women. Unless we’re on a case and he has to charm someone into telling us what we need to know, she reminds herself. Then he can be pleasantly overwhelming. Not, she silently adds, that I’ve experienced it for myself... She shakes off the thought, bringing her mind back to the present. “Well, keep looking,” she encourages. “You’ll find someone eventually, someone you’re willing to make the effort for.”

What the...? Bobby drags his tired eyes – slightly widened in disbelief – to hers. The words seem overly optimistic to someone who’s seen how easy it is for people to make poor choices in that department. “Alex, what are you saying? That there’s this one woman who’s “right” for me?” Sarcasm seeps into his tired voice, a tone that he uses on suspects to throw them off. It also works great for keeping people away, he knows. It’s worked since high school... Normally, he’d never aim any frustration at her, but she’s touching too many things he wants left alone. Come on, Alex. Drop it... I don’t want to push you any further...

Alex wonders where that frustration and anger – which is probably traceable ultimately back to his father’s treatment of his mother – is coming from, but manages to keep her voice calm without needing an extra breath. “Bobby, that’s not quite what I meant.”

Bobby rubs his forehead, massaging the tightening, constricting muscles. He motions for an explanation, murmuring, “Oh?” It’s all he can trust himself to say at the moment. I talk too much when I’m feeling this stressed, he uncomfortably knows, I’m liable to say things I don’t really mean to get people to back off.

He looks like he’s got a four-alarm headache, Alex observes. Considering how to approach the topic, she decides to simply paraphrase what she heard over the years. “My siblings and I were taught that there are probably at least several people – at any moment in your like – out there who’d make a good match for you. Who those people are may vary significantly over your life, and maybe some might be better suited for you than others. I know that there are women out there if you’re willing to look,” she finishes, hoping to encourage him. That she feels a tiny twinge every time she’s aware of his having a date or looking for one, Alex tries to not think about.

It’s a nice thought, Bobby thinks mournfully, but it won’t work for me. He stares at his socks, almost seeing what’s left of his hopes melting fast out of him. He shakes his head with a sigh. “Not for me, Alex,” he mutters.

Stunned, she stares at him. Ever since she stopped looking at him with an overly critical eye, Alex has seen plenty of evidence of his lack of a sense of self-worth. But to hear him say it, her mind whispers in a daze, is another thing... “Bobby, what are you saying?”

The thought that’s been on his mind all his life – and increasingly over the last few years – hovers on his whole consciousness for several seconds. Do I tell her? When she somehow has this enormous belief in how valuable I am as a person? Bobby isn’t sure whether deflating Alex Eames’ opinion of himself would lead to her finally requesting a new partner, but he decides to let it out. Holding it back for too long never helps... “That I’ve got no chance of anyone taking a chance on me. Not with my family history. Not with who I am,” he finishes in a despondent whisper. I’m not cut out to be with anyone, his mind continues as his heart bleeds further...

No, Bobby, Alex silently screams, no! Alex turns to face him more completely. Finding her sternest voice, she declares, “That is not true.” See it, Bobby, she wills, see that!

The walls Bobby’s built over the years are being battered constantly. Like from the ocean during a hurricane, he feels. God, he begs, please let her see that she has to stop, that I might do something rash if she doesn’t... I don’t want to do that... “Alex, stop,” he warns, struggling to keep his voice from cracking under the strain. “There’s no point-”

I will not let him treat himself like this, Alex feels. Especially not in my presence. “You are worth someone taking a chance on you,” she interrupts with total conviction, raising her voice from quiet conversational to slightly raised. “You are a very special person.”

How, his mind shouts, can you – of all people – believe that?! Bobby won’t let himself yell at her, but before he can recover himself, he spits out, “Then why does everyone I’ve ever cared about eventually leave me?” He feels the dam, the levees, and the whole works cracking. He can’t focus enough to stop the leaks, or to help her as he’d hoped to. He’s unable to prevent his hands from shaking, or to hold back another bitter – and slightly louder – question about his life: “And if I’m special, then why is my mom the only one who sees it?”

The words, her mind numbly mumbles, the sheer anguish behind them... It all leaves Alex unable to blink. Oh, God, she silently asks, was his mother the only person who truly treated him well...? She swallows, pushing back her questions, beseeching him to listen to her. She starts another plea, a hint of fear creeping up on her over what might happen if he keeps holding everything in, “Bobby-”

His body starts shaking as well, the gigantic research lab-strength winds in his mind starting to be reflected in his motor control. Don’t look at her, his mind screams in a panic, just don’t! I can’t imagine what might happen if I do, but it cannot be good... for her... “Stop it,” he demands, more forcefully, “please!”

If he were anyone else, she would grab his hands to get his attention, but this is Bobby, who doesn’t like being touched. And I can’t stand by and watch him torment himself like this, Alex’s alarmed mind thinks. As a friend... or as someone who cares too much about him... She shakes her head and leans forward, trying to make him listen. “Bobby,” she pleads, “don’t think like that. You’re too damn hard on yourself.”

The mental turmoil becomes unbearable. This isn’t a hurricane, Bobby decides, this is approaching the intensity of the Big Red Spot. He wants her to stop, and struggles for the how. “Y-You’ve never known w-what it’s like,” he stammers in a rush, “seeing everyone... everyone you love going away.” His hands fidget like nervous chipmunks. I have to convince her, but this might not be it... But the train won’t be derailed. “E-Everyone w-who ever s-should have loved you did. No one ever l-left you.”

Stiffening as she remembers all the things she’s been trying to get away from all day, Alex finds an uprising of anger. You really think you’re the only one who’s had shitty experiences?! Her voice is cold and lethal. “I see... I guess being a cop’s widow doesn’t count...” Her own barrage is overflowing, and the previous need to help Bobby prevents her from shutting up, from stopping the outpouring of painful memories. “Or that I miscarried – yet again – after Toby died... Or that his family always thought I wasn’t good enough for him and openly treated me like dirt after he died...” I certainly do know what it’s like to be disliked and even hated no matter what you do...

His eyes nearly explode from shock. Oh, no, his mind whispers... I didn’t think... I never thought... I hurt her... Realizing that leaves Bobby stricken. “Oh, God...” He tries to get up, but he’s unable to properly control his limbs. “Alex, I’m sorry.”

So am I, she thinks remorsefully, but it’s more important to help you. She sees him pulling away, withdrawing. I can’t let him do that, she feels. It can’t be healthy for him to hold that much back for so long... She tries to not think about how worried she will be about what might happen if she just lets him go. Again, she pleads, urgently, “Bobby -”

How can she do this...? Bobby’s brain is barely able to wrap itself around how she can stand to be around him when he’s in control of his emotions. Now is beyond the impossible dream. “W-Why do y-you put up with me,” he stammers as he fights with his shaking legs. Finally finding the coordination to pull himself up, he nearly whimpers, “How can you think I’m worth anything?”

That’s it, Alex realizes in alarm, I can’t let him go away. Not if he’s in this mood... She evaluates her options, but only one comes to mind. I never thought I’d do this, she thinks as she steels herself, but I’ve got no choice... So she gathers the courage to do something she’s always avoided: she grabs his arm, and pulls him back down with both hands.

The contact sends a shock-wave of energy through both of their bodies. Such a physical connection never existed on their undercover stints; both of them had to remain alert to threats and potential clues at all times. It's like they both keep their energy on a leash. Now, everything is loose, and the current is flowing freely between them.

Bobby sucks in a breath as the tremors become stronger at her touch. He won’t look at her, can’t let her see his eyes, but he does look at her hands out of the corner of his eye. Her hands transfer warmth to his arm, warmth that chisels further at his protective walls. Why can’t I move...? Why do I not want to pull away...?

Alex’s own body shivers, skin tingling where they’re touching. Oh, God, she thinks as her heart becomes a pounding mess, this could be a problem... She swallows, struggling to hold down that feeling so she can talk. “Don’t do this to yourself, Bobby” she begs. “You deserve better than this self-hatred.”

He shakes his head, trying to pull away. The dam is about to break completely, he senses. Why can’t I breathe? Why can’t I move...?

I need you to look at me, she silently implores. But he won’t. Okay, she swallows again, here goes nothing... To drag his attention back to her, Alex puts her right hand against his cheek and gently pulls his face to look at her.

Bobby gasps loudly when her hand makes contact, and his lack of motor control makes it easy for her to move his head. What the- Making eye contact destroys his thoughts, his ability to think coherently; her eyes hide nothing from him. Care, concern, and many more emotions than he’s capable of naming right now are there.

Alex gasps at the raw pain bleeding from his entire being. His body still shakes while she gazes, transfixed, into his eyes. How deeply does it go, she wonders. Or do I want to know the answer...? Would he tell me...? Would he want to...? Softening her eyes as much as possible, willing him to see that she’s going nowhere, she whispers, “You really have no clue how incredible you are...”

What... What... Bobby’s mind grasps at regaining its balance, but it’s a losing battle. The dam is breaking... and he’s not trusting his ability to control anything now.

I mean it, Bobby,” Alex declares, gently tightening her contact with his arm. Her voice takes on a softer, more healing tone, as she adds, “I really do. Nothing will change my view on that. I don’t care what anyone ever told you to think or feel about yourself, or who told you.” She moves the other hand from his check to the back of his neck, and – with a feather-light touch – strokes the knots she can easily feel there. It helps trigger release, she remembers. It might, she hopes, help him feel better... “If nothing else, trust me on this, Bobby. I’m here because you are special, and because I care about what happens to you.”

You are special... I care... Her words reverberate inside his head, bouncing against the weakening barriers. She c-cares... His waving attention is torn between her compassionate face and the tender fingers on his neck. Soothing... Saying it’s safe... But, he asks himself, is it...?

Please, Bobby... don’t fight it... Alex feels tears building as his silence lingers, her chest constricting further. “I’m not going anywhere, Bobby,” she whispers in a balance of firm and gentle. “I’m staying right here with you.”

Oh, God... Bobby’s dazed mind isn’t sure it’s seeing correctly, but his heart is overwhelmed by seeing the wet corners of her eyes. She’s-she’s crying... She means... every word... The last bonds holding Bobby’s barriers collapse, and his lungs explode into choking sobs. Unable to support his weight, he starts sagging down into the couch.

Alarmed by the depth of his anguish, Alex releases his arm and moves her hand to his upper back, over his frantic heart, drawing his head to rest against her shoulder. She softly slides her other hand to his lower back, to coax him into a deeper embrace. Has he ever cried about anything, she wonders as she moves her hand down his back, using the other to ease them both against the back of the couch.

It takes Bobby a few seconds to notice the change of positions, and his first though is, I might crush her... His arms slowly, hesitatingly, wrap around her waist with the idea of supporting his weight. But Alex just tightens her embrace, which re-enforces her words. So he starts clinging to her like a lifeline as she rests against the cushions.

His relenting into her offered comfort doesn’t reassure Alex. Not when he’s crying hard enough to make a wet trail down my arm... She hadn’t imagined how intense the outpouring would be, but she hopes that he’ll be better off once it’s over. Aching for him, Alex leans her head as far into the crook of his neck as his tense and shaking shoulder allows. I need the contact...

Bobby can barely handle the shaking, his breaths raggedly in his throat, making his lungs feel raw. Yet his mind recovers some ability to think in sentences. Alex’s touch, her embrace... Feels like a safe haven... Something I... haven’t... had in over... thirty years...

Part Seven

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June 2019


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