A/N: Not fluff... but not as dark as previous chapters, either. Yes, I can be benevolent, when the mood takes me.
I'm posting a reasonable length chapter this time around, because I'll be on holiday all next week. On the bright side, I hope to have a couple more chapters ready by the time I come back.
Spoilers for Season 4 episode: 'Want' included.
One Hogan Plaza
ADA Ron Carver sank into his chair, feeling intensely weary. He had just arrived back at his office from court and he wanted nothing more than to shut himself inside his office – preferably for the rest of the day. The case he’d been prosecuting was the last case completed by Detective Goren and Detective Eames. Specifically, it was their last complete case from before Detective Goren had been attacked.
The jury had returned a guilt verdict, much to his relief. It was yet another notch on Bobby Goren’s belt.
Carver sighed softly. He couldn’t help but wonder whether that would be the last case he would prosecute where Bobby Goren had been the investigating detective. He sincerely hoped not, but in all honesty he just couldn’t envisage the detective recovering from what had happened to him; at least, not enough that he would be able to reclaim his place on the NYPD, and within the Major Case Squad.
He grimaced, getting a sudden mental image of his win ratio plummeting. He knew he was a good prosecutor, but the hard truth was that his career simply would not have been as successful as it was without the likes of Bobby Goren on his side. Ultimately, Bobby made his job just that much easier… even if they didn’t always agree.
A wry smile found its way onto Carver’s face as he recalled the number of times he had clashed with Bobby. The very first time had been nearly five years ago, with the case of Morris Abernathy’s murder, and everything that had come after. Then, Bobby had gone behind his back to elicit a confession out of the priest for a second murder for reasons that, to this day, Carver still didn’t know about. Then, he had threatened to have Bobby’s badge if he tried any other similar stunts.
He remembered only too well the slightly sullen, resentful look on Bobby’s face at the time, and he remembered thinking then that their professional relationship was bound for a rocky road. It had been interesting, sure, but nowhere near as turbulent as Carver had expected.
After the case with the priest, Bobby had been more or less well-behaved for perhaps a year before the next… incident. Then, he had conspired with Alex Eames right under his nose to nail one of his own colleagues for trying to frame his wife for attempted murder.
He’d been enraged by their deception, a cool and calculated strategy that had been played out right in front of him with the slickness of a rattlesnake mesmerising its prey. He was sure that, to this day, neither detective had a clue just how close they had both come to losing their ranks as a result of that particular stunt. Indeed, it had only been Jim Deakins’ fervent defence of their tactics that had saved them that time around.
And then, there was the Tagman case.
Carver couldn’t hide the small smile that found its way onto his face. In retrospect, he’d found that he understood the detective’s point of view over whether or not Tagman deserved the death penalty. That didn’t change his stance legally, but he did understand Bobby’s staunch arguments against the death penalty. In fact, he felt he could say that he’d learnt more from that case about Bobby Goren the man, as opposed to Bobby Goren the detective, than anything else in their professional history together.
He couldn’t exactly say he and Bobby were friends. They moved in completely different circles. Where Bobby might have been inclined to joining his buddies at a bar after work for a drink, he himself would more likely be found with his colleagues at an expensive cocktail lounge.
No, they would never be friends, as such, but they did have a mutual respect for each other that had been hard come by and would not be easily discarded. Carver knew he would sorely miss the big detective if it turned out that he would not be able to return to work.
Shaking himself out of his reverie, quietly annoyed at his own negativity, Carver leaned forward in his chair to get started on the waiting paperwork, only to stop short at the sight of the large, plain white envelope that sat innocuously on his desk. There was no postmark, or any other discernible features that would suggest the envelope had been sent either by post or via courier service. There was only his name, printed in clear, crisp letters on the front.
Pressing the intercom button, he summoned his secretary into his office.
“Yes, Mr Carver?” she asked. Carver indicated the envelope on his desk without actually touching it.
“Alison, where did this come from?”
“A woman dropped it off for you about an hour ago. She asked that you get it as soon as possible, that it was important information regarding Detective Goren.”
Immediately, Carver’s mind went on high alert.
“Did she give you her name?”
“I asked, but she refused to say. I got the impression that she expected you to know who she was without having to say so.”
Carver’s stomach rolled unpleasantly. He sent Alison back to her desk and then, taking extreme care to limit his physical contact with the envelope, he slit it open and up-ended it on his desk. To his surprise, and his relief, all that came out was a thin sheaf of papers. There were six pages altogether, five typed and one handwritten. Putting aside the typed pages for the moment, Carver read through the handwritten page with steadily increasing astonishment.
Mr Carver, you will find in this envelope an opportunity to be somewhat more pro-active with regards to the welfare of Detective Goren. As much as I’m sure he appreciated your reading to him while he was in the hospital, it’s time that you made an effort to render more practical assistance.
I trust you will put to good use the information that I’m providing, and not allow it to go to waste. Bobby’s future may well depend on whether you’re willing to set aside your high moral standards for just a short time. Don’t let him down, as so many others have.
Carver picked up the typed sheets and began to examine them closely. Less than five minutes later, he shoved all six pages back into their envelope, grabbed his briefcase and but ran from his office.
Alex looked up as a steaming cup of Starbucks coffee was set on the desk in front of her, the aroma bringing her out of the haze into which she’d descended after she’d started the paperwork, some of which had been waiting to be completed since before the attack on her partner. She looked up, momentarily confused, and then smiled gratefully at her benefactor.
“No problem. I figure that should keep you going for at least half an hour.”
She groaned softly.
“I’d forgotten how much paperwork I still had waiting. What I wouldn’t give for a ritual burning right about now.”
Mike chuckled as he sat down at the desk immediately behind hers.
“We’ve all wished for that at one time or another.”
Alex smiled and was about to return to her paperwork when Deakins called to them from the door of his office. He didn’t look happy at all, they both noted ruefully.
“Eames, Logan, Bobby’s on his way up. Go and meet him, and bring him straight to my office.”
Alex and Mike exchanged startled glances and hurried out of the bullpen to get to the lifts. They got there just as the doors slid open, and Bobby and Jo emerged.
“Bobby, what the hell are you doing here?” Mike asked.
“Hi to you too, Mike,” Bobby retorted.
“Hey, pal, I’m happy to see you, but I think Deakins is ready to pitch a fit.”
“Trust me,” Bobby insisted, “I’m here for a reason. Alex…?”
She took hold of his arm, letting him know she was there.
“What’s wrong, Bobby?”
“Take me to Deakins. He needs to hear this too, and I don’t feel like repeating myself.”
Alex glanced at Jo, but she said nothing.
“Okay,” Alex murmured. “This way.”
Deakins couldn’t keep the frown off his face. As much as he wanted Bobby back on his team, having him turn up at One Police Plaza like this was not going to help anyone, least of all him. When the front desk had called him to say that Bobby was there, he had very nearly told them to refuse him entry. All that had stopped him from doing that was the knowledge that it would do serious emotional damage to the detective’s already fragile mind.
As it was, he was going to have to make a sincere effort not to jump the gun and just rip into the guy.
Clinging to the thought that there was a logical reason for Bobby’s unannounced visit, he watched darkly as Alex and Mike led the way into his office, while Jo guided Bobby and saw him safely into one of the waiting chairs.
“All right, Bobby,” Deakins said in a forcibly calm voice. “What’s this about?”
“Jo,” Bobby said softly, “tell them what happened in the park.”
Jo grimaced. Typical.
“We were in Central Park. I left Bobby sitting on a park bench while I went to get some water. While I was waiting, I looked back and there was a woman standing right in front of Bobby, just watching him.”
Standing behind Bobby, Alex went rigid.
“It was Nicole,” Bobby confirmed. Deakins leaned forward a little, his animosity all but forgotten.
“She spoke to you?”
“No…” Bobby admitted.
“She bolted like a startled rabbit when I came back,” Jo explained.
“Great,” Alex muttered. “Just brilliant. This is all you need, to have that psychotic bitch floating around making trouble for you.”
“I knew she wasn’t dead,” Bobby said softly. Jo looked from Alex to Deakins anxiously.
“I take it this is someone we need to be worried about?”
“If it really is Nicole Wallace,” Deakins said grimly, “then yes. We assumed she was dead…”
“And we all know assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups,” Mike cut in, earning himself a threatening glare from the captain.
“Shut up, Logan,” Alex grumbled. “It was a reasonable assumption. Anyway, we don’t know for absolute certain that it was actually Nicole.”
Deakins slid open a desk drawer and pulled out a thick file, from which he produced a photo. Without saying a word, he passed it across his desk to Jo. She stared at it for a long moment before nodding.
“This is her. Her hair was shorter, and it was brown instead of blonde, but yes. This is her.”
“You keep that psycho’s file in your desk?” Mike asked incredulously.
“Yes,” Deakins answered bluntly. He nodded towards Bobby and Alex. “And so do they. This woman wreaked havoc not once, but three times. We don’t close the book on her until she’s either locked up or on a slab in the morgue.”
“And now she’s back,” Mike muttered. “Wonderful.”
Deakins looked back at Jo.
“You say she was just watching him?”
“Yes. She looked like she wanted to speak to him, but she didn’t. And when I came back, she looked at me for a moment before she took off. I… I could have sworn she was crying.”
“Crying,” Alex said scathingly. “Right.” She shot Jo an angry look. “And you left him alone? In Central Park? What the hell were you thinking?”
“Alex, don’t,” Bobby murmured. “Jo was just getting some water. We, um… had an accident with a hotdog.”
“That would explain the artwork on your shirt, then,” Deakins commented with an amused grin. Bobby reddened a little.
“We’re still working on our co-ordination.”
“Okay,” Deakins said as he slipped the file back into its place in the drawer. “I’ll put out an alert that Wallace is back in town. Other than that, there’s not a hell of a lot we can do, except to keep our eyes open and be on guard. Jo, if you see her again, let us know straight away and whatever you do, don’t try confronting her yourself. She’s dangerous, and not to be underestimated.”
Jo nodded, looking nervous but sure.
“Understood. I’ll keep a close watch, I promise.”
Alex squeezed Bobby’s shoulder lightly.
“If you’ll give me a few minutes to finish some paperwork, I’ll take you home.”
Bobby nodded in wordless consent. Between his discussion with his psychiatrist, and the encounter in the park, his endurance levels had pretty much bottomed out for the day. He was ready to go home.
“Uh, where’s the bathroom?” Jo asked, looking mildly embarrassed.
“This way,” Mike told her, and led the way out of the office. Deakins waited until Mike, Jo and Alex, had left before getting up and walking around to sit beside Bobby.
“I’m sorry, Bobby.”
Bobby’s head turned a little in the direction from which Deakins’ voice was coming.
“For jumping the gun about why you were here. I admit that I was angry. I thought you were just trying to worm your way back in, before you were ready for it. I should have known there was a genuine reason for you being here.”
Bobby shifted uncomfortably.
“I… I do want to be back. I know I can’t yet… Not for a while… even if it weren’t for my hands and my eyes. But… it doesn’t stop me from wanting to come back.”
Deakins smiled a little, encouraged by Bobby’s words.
“I want you back on the squad too, Bobby. It’s where you belong, and we both know that. You will make it, but it’s going to take time, and a lot of it. We all have to be patient, no matter how hard that it is.”
A faint sigh escaped Bobby’s lips as Deakins’ words left him feeling almost sick with guilt. It was confession time…
“Captain… I asked Mike to let me help out with one of his and Alex’s cases… without telling Alex. I… I’m sorry, sir. I just… I wanted to be involved. I wanted to prove that I can still be useful. I needed to prove it… to myself.”
Deakins shut his eyes briefly, making a valiant effort to suppress his anger at the confession.
“When was this?”
“Not… Not quite a week ago. He went over some of the details with me last Sunday while Jo and Alex went out to get take-away. It was only the once. I mean, I asked Mike again a couple of days ago, but he said no.”
Deakins suddenly found himself fighting off the beginnings of a migraine. He felt like one of his kids had just confessed to smoking a joint. He was going to kill Logan.
“Please, don’t be angry with Mike,” Bobby pleaded softly. “He was just trying to help me.”
“I’m sure he was,” Deakins sighed, “and I also know how damned persuasive you can be. Frankly, I’m surprised he had the gumption to refuse you the second time. Damn it, Bobby… Look, you have to step away from all of this. You know that. You have to focus on yourself now, and you can’t do that if you’re wheedling case information out of Mike or Alex. We both know how much you immerse yourself in an investigation, and you aren’t doing yourself any favours by trying to do that now. Please… for your own sake… Take a step back now.”
Bobby nodded, and his head dropped down noticeably.
“Okay,” he conceded softly.
There was precious little life in the detective’s voice. He sounded defeated… lost. Deakins hesitated, and then laid a hand gently on Bobby’s shoulder, acutely aware at the same time of the way the detective tensed briefly at the contact.
“I’m not going to say that I understand what you’re going through, Bobby, because I don’t. But if you ever want to talk to someone who won’t psychoanalyse every word that comes out of your moth, you know where to find me.”
A small smile passed fleetingly over Bobby’s lips, both in response to the gentle joke, and in appreciation of the sincere offer.
“Thankyou, sir. I… I know. I appreciate it.”
Deakins nodded, and was about to suggest they go and meet Jo out in the bullpen when there was a single rap on the door, and Ron Carver walked in.
“Captain Deakins, I need to…” Carver trailed off abruptly when he realised who else was there. “Detective Goren… I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
Bobby shifted slightly in his seat.
“It was an unscheduled stop.”
“Well, I’ll consider it a fortuitous circumstance. I had intended to come and see you next.”
“What’s this about, Ron?” Deakins asked. Carver pulled and extra chair over and sat down.
“Firstly, I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I believe Nicole Wallace is around again. It appears you were right, Detective. She did attempt to fake her own death.”
“We know already,” Deakins said. “That’s why Bobby is here. She showed up in Central Park this afternoon while he and Jo were there. I’m going to put out an alert.”
“Yes, well, you may want to hear what I have to say before you put out the warning beacons.”
Deakins stared at him blankly.
Carver lifted his briefcase onto his lap and withdrew a plain white envelope.
“This was left for me approximately an hour and a half ago, by a woman who refused to identify herself to my secretary.”
“Nicole,” Deakins said grimly. Carver nodded.
“I believe so, but that is not the important part. Look at this.”
Deakins took the papers from Carver, and began to pore over them with a puzzled frown.
“What is it?” Bobby asked softly. He hated being left in the dark like this… pun not intended. He wanted to know what was going on.
“These are bank records,” Deakins said aloud for Bobby’s benefit. He looked up at Carver sharply. “Bank records for an account held by Simon Matic?”
“Precisely,” Carver confirmed. “Take a good look at the last page, where it states the current balance.”
Deakins looked, and his jaw dropped.
“That slimy son of a bitch…”
“We always suspected Mr Matic had a considerable amount of a money hidden away somewhere from the abductions he’d orchestrated, but we were never successful in locating it.” Carver looked over at Bobby. “I couldn’t honestly say what Ms Wallace’s motivations might be in uncovering this information, but I don’t believe that it’s something we need to concern ourselves with, at least for the time being. The bottom line is that with the aid of a good lawyer, you should be able to mount a very good case in a civil trial. I think you have a very good chance to gain substantial financial compensation, enough to purchase yourself a new home, and effectively be financially secure for the rest of your life.”
Bobby’s breath escaped him in a rush.
“How much money are we talking about?”
“According to this statement,” Deakins said, “Matic has nearly six and a half million stashed away.” He looked over at Carver, puzzled. “Shouldn’t you have taken this to Arthur Branch?”
“I did,” Carver admitted. “He was of the same opinion as me, that this information would better serve Detective Goren than being filed away in our archives, gathering dust. Now, I can’t take this on myself, you understand, but what I have done is contacted a colleague of mine, Samantha Denning, who specialises in this type of civil lawsuit. When I explained to her that it was for you, Detective, she quite literally jumped at the chance to help you.”
“Why?” Bobby wondered, confused as to why any lawyer would be eager to help him. Carver smiled, interpreting Bobby’s confusion accurately.
“Detective, as I said, she specialises in acquiring financial compensation for victims of crime, through civil lawsuits. As has been the case for myself, even though she is very good at what she does, over the past five years her job has been made considerably easier thanks to you. The confessions you’ve coerced over the years have allowed her to obtain substantial out of court settlements for her clients, thus avoiding putting them through the trauma of a civil trial. She wants to help you now, Detective, and I think you’re going to find that she’ll insist on doing it pro bono.”
Bobby was silent for a long moment before speaking.
“On one condition. That she includes Maggie Coulter.”
Deakins and Carver both stared at Bobby in astonishment. Neither of them would dispute that Maggie Coulter deserved some form of compensation for her ordeal four years ago, but they also knew for a fact that she did not need the money. She, her sister and her mother were financially secure through trusts from each of her grandparents, and she was financially secure in a way that, up until now, Bobby could never have hoped to be. Carver, however, wasn’t going to argue with him. Not there, not then.
“All right,” he agreed. “I’ll let her know.” He rose up, at the same time shaking his head when Deakins tried to hand back the papers. “Keep them. Those are copies of the originals, which I’ve already forwarded to Ms Denning. She’ll be in touch with you within the next day or two, Detective.”
Bobby drew in an unsteady breath.
“My pleasure. I’m just sorry I haven’t had the opportunity to do more for you before now.”
“Was that all there was?”
Carver froze even as he started to turn towards the door. After a moment’s hesitation, he looked slowly back at Bobby.
“How do you mean, Detective?”
“In the envelope that Nicole left for you. Was it only the bank statements? Or was there something else?”
Carver looked across at Deakins for help, less than willing as he was to tell Bobby about the note. Deakins offered little help, watching him silently, questioningly. Sighing, Carver sat back down. So much for a clean getaway.
“There was a note included for me. It basically said that I was being given the opportunity to provide you with practical assistance, and not to waste it.”
“What the hell is she playing at now?” Deakins growled. “First she tries her damnedest to make your life a living hell, and now she’s trying to help you? It doesn’t make sense.”
Bobby sat still, but Deakins could imagine the gears in his brain were working overtime as he worked the puzzle over in his mind.
“Jo said Nicole was crying… when she saw me in the park.”
“Don’t read more into this situation than what’s there, Bobby,” Deakins advised him. “We’re going to take full advantage of this…” He rustled the papers for emphasis. “But we… you owe Nicole nothing, and if she shows her face again, she will be arrested.”
Bobby said nothing. He had the powerful suspicion that it didn’t matter. Nicole was not going to show herself again. Not to him, and certainly not to anyone around him. There could possibly be a phone call, or maybe a note, but that was all.
He couldn’t be certain of her motives for providing the information about Matic’s hidden savings, but he thought he understood all the same. Nicole saw him as her ultimate challenge – the one person who had seen through her… who had seen who she really was. It was why she had orchestrated the plot with Croyden and the anthrax. That had been exclusively about bringing him down, and she’d failed.
When Nicole had gone out the window with her latest lover, everyone had thought that was the end of her, but Bobby had always believed otherwise. He’d always believed in his gut that she’d be back, and he was right.
He wondered whether Nicole had been drawn back by the story of what had happened to him, or whether she had come back without knowing, with a new plot in mind, only to discover that her adversary was no longer capable of matching wits with her. He had no way of knowing, and he suspected he would never know. But he couldn’t help but wonder all the same.
A hand on his shoulder drew him back to reality with a start.
“C’mon, you,” Alex murmured as she urged him to stand up. “You can daydream all you like at home.”
Bobby meekly allowed himself to be led from Deakins’ office, nodding wordlessly in acknowledgement of the greetings from his Major Case colleagues. Just briefly, he was glad of his sightlessness. It meant he was spared from having to endure the looks that he was sure he was getting. As he was right now, without sight, he could pretend that no one was staring.
Deakins and Mike came with them down to the car park, Deakins explaining the new development to Alex and Jo as they went.
“That is great news!” Jo enthused as Mike helped Bobby into the front seat of the SUV. “Bobby, honey, that could put an end to all your financial worries!”
“I know,” Bobby murmured, feeling less than enthusiastic. “It… It’s good news.”
“I tell you what,” Mike said, “tomorrow’s Saturday. How about I come by tomorrow night, and then the four of us can go out. There’s this great bar that I know…”
“Thanks,” Bobby murmured, “but I don’t think it’d be a good idea.”
“Newsflash, pal,” Mike told him with a grin. “It’s already planned. You don’t have a choice.”
Irritation flashed across Bobby’s face, but he never had a chance to respond. There was a dull thump, followed by a yelp of pain from Mike.
“Hey, what was that for?” he protested.
“It was supposed to be a secret, idiot,” Jo snapped. Bobby’s frown deepened.
“What were you planning on doing? Kidnapping me?”
“Yeah, that’s what we were going to do,” Alex retorted as she slid into the driver’s seat beside him. “Bobby, today is the first day you’ve set foot outside the apartment. You need to get out a bit, try and have some fun. It is still possible, you know.”
He bit his tongue and held back from saying that he simply didn’t feel like having fun.
“It’s a trivia night, Bobby,” Jo explained. “Mike signed us up as a team.”
“Yeah, I figured we’d put that brain of yours to practical use,” Mike said. “Instead of just whipping Jo at Trivial Pursuit, that is.”
Deakins looked over at Jo, eyebrow raised. She smiled sheepishly.
“What can I say? I know you warned me, but I’m a sucker for a cute guy who asks nicely.”
Bobby blushed red, but managed to maintain some dignity by keeping his mouth shut. Deakins laughed and pushed the car door shut once Jo was safely in.
“Alex, don’t worry about coming back to the office now. I’ll see you on Monday.”
Alex nodded in gratitude, and proceeded to guide the SUV out of the car park.
“He’ll be okay,” Mike said quietly as he and Deakins headed back to the lift. “He’ll enjoy tomorrow night, if we can just get him out the door.”
“Well, good luck with that. I’ve never known a man with such a big stubborn streak.”
“No? You don’t know me too well, do you?”
Deakins’ smile turned almost predatory as they stepped into the lift. He reached out and clamped a hand down on Mike’s shoulder, with a grip that was more ominous than friendly.
“Maybe not, Logan, but all that’s going to change. You and I are going to go upstairs, go into my office, and get to know each other a whole lot better. What do you say?”
Mike glanced uneasily at his temporary captain, visibly unsettled.
“Uh… Yeah… I think…”
“You can tell me about yourself… And I can tell you about the ethics of sharing case information with someone who is officially on sick leave.”
Mike first went red, and then white as the implications of Deakins’ words sank in.
“I didn’t give him much,” Mike protested. “Just a few minor things. I thought it might at least make him feel like he’s still useful. That’s one of his biggest fears at the moment, Captain. You know that, don’t you? He feels useless, and it’s killing him inside. Nothing I gave him was of any real consequence, and I think he knew that. It just helped, being able to give a bit of input. I didn’t see what was wrong with that. I still don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Deakins let his hand drop from Mike’s shoulder as he led the way back through the Major Case bullpen, and into his office.
“I understand that, Logan. I really do, and I appreciate that you’ve got that sort of consideration for Bobby. But it’s not helping him, not in the long run.”
Mike dropped into the chair opposite Deakins.
“Letting him know he’s still useful to the squad isn’t helping him? How do you justify a statement like that?”
“He needs complete rest, Logan…”
“And that’s what? Doctor’s orders? C’mon, Captain. You know Bobby even better than I do, and we both know that’s a crock! The guy never stops thinking! Telling him he has to get complete rest is like telling a bird that it can’t fly. It isn’t what he needs. Not what he really needs.”
Deakins stared across his desk at Mike, his expression inscrutable. Mike shifted nervously, and spoke again in a last-ditch effort to defend himself and his actions.
“I’m not going to apologise, because I don’t believe I did the wrong thing. You should have seen him, Captain. When we were talking about the case, it was like he literally came alive. You can’t fake that sort of enthusiasm, sir. He doesn’t need rest… not like his doctor thinks. He needs to feel like he can still make a difference. That’s what he needs.”
Deakins drummed his fingers lightly on the desktop.
“This trivia night thing that you’ve set up…”
“I figured it was a good way to keep his mind active, and distract him from his problems for a little while.”
“It’s at a bar?”
“You know he can’t have alcohol at the moment, don’t you? He’s on a fairly potent cocktail of painkillers and antibiotics.”
“Don’t worry. We’ve already discussed it. None of us will be drinking anything stronger than coke.”
Deakins regarded him piercingly.
“And who, exactly, is ‘we’?”
“Me, Jo, Alex, Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson.”
“Stabler and Benson?”
“We needed a team of six. I figured Bobby would be comfortable with them. Captain, if you really think it’s not a good idea…”
“No, I think it’s a great idea,” Deakins interrupted him. “It’s good thinking, Logan. Just… Be patient with him, please. It won’t be easy to get him out of the apartment, especially now that he knows about it…” He trailed off, realising abruptly that Mike was grinning broadly. “What?”
“The trivia night isn’t tomorrow night. It’s tonight.”
Deakins stared at Mike for several long seconds before sitting back and shaking his head ruefully.
“Mike… I was wrong. You don’t have to worry about me. Bobby’s going to kill you long before I have a chance to do a thing.”
“Where’s Logan?” Bobby asked as Jo guided him to a seat at their allocated table.
“I’m right here,” Mike answered, leaning in close so that they wouldn’t have to raise the voices significantly to be heard. “What’s up, pal?”
“I just wanted to make sure you understood,” Bobby told him. “As soon as my hands have healed up, I am going to hurt you.”
Mike grinned, until his gaze went to Alex, and took in the sympathetic expression on her face.
“He… uh… He’s not kidding, is he?”
Alex shook her head solemnly.
“Great,” Mike muttered, and parked himself conspicuously on the other side of the table to where Bobby sat.
“Hey guys,” Olivia greeted them as she and Elliot arrived to complete the group. Elliot walked around and clapped a hand lightly on Bobby’s shoulder.
“Hey, Bobby. How’re you doing?”
“Aside from the fact that he’s plotting to kill Mike for organising this?” Alex retorted. “Just wonderful.”
“Go easy on him,” Elliot said with a laugh, sitting beside Bobby at Alex’s urging. “It was a good idea. A lot better than the usual Friday night ‘go to a bar and get pissed’ routine.”
Bobby smiled a little, but didn’t reply to Elliot’s casual query after his health, and nor did anyone really expect him to. On the other hand, none of them missed the way that Bobby relaxed as Elliot settled in next to him. Any and all nerves seemed to be fading quickly as he realised that he was surrounded by friends, and had no cause to fear.
Maybe, he thought with a growing sensation of warmth, just maybe it was possible to have some fun after all.
The night progressed smoothly, with no hiccups and no upsets. As Mike had predicted, and everyone else had hoped, Bobby quickly got into the spirit of the evening and began to genuinely enjoy himself.
“Hey, this is great,” Elliot said with a chuckle as the scores were read out, with their team well ahead of all the others. “Next time Munch wants to organise an inter-departmental trivia contest, we’re hijacking you for our team, Bobby.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Alex retorted. “You think we’d let SVU have him? Sorry, buddy, but he’s all ours.”
Bobby snorted lightly.
“Nice to be wanted.”
Sudden silence descended on the table, and the other five exchanged uneasy looks as they tried to work out whether Bobby had been serious, or just joking with them. A moment later, Mike caught the slight twitch in the corner of Bobby’s lips, and laughed out loud.
“Hey, you know it, Bobby. Told you this would be more productive than Trivial Pursuit.”
“I’ll say,” Olivia said with a laugh. “But if we win…”
“If?” Elliot retorted. “What do you mean, ‘if’?”
Olivia rolled her eyes as her partner’s enthusiasm.
“If we win, I say Bobby gets the pick of the prizes.”
Bobby shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t need anything.”
“Don’t be so quick, honey,” Jo said, rubbing his back gently. “I noticed a voucher for a full massage in the first prize package. That would do absolute wonders for you.”
“A full massage?” Elliot echoed. “I’d steer clear of that one if I were you, Bobby. You know what women are like when it comes to pampering. There’ll be one hell of a catfight, I bet…”
A moment later, he yelped as someone’s shoe connected with his shin under the table.
“Unlike most men,” Olivia snapped, “women can actually come to logical, non-violent solutions.”
Mike raised an eyebrow. “So… kicking him under the table proves what?”
A second later, it was Mike’s turn to yell as Alex delivered a well-aimed kick to his shin.
“Ow! Damn it… I think we’re being ganged up on here, guys,” Mike grumbled. Bobby smirked and chuckled softly.
“What do you mean, ‘we’?”
“Oh no,” Elliot protested. “No way, pal! You do not get away with that. You don’t abandon us to side with the women!”
“Never said I was,” Bobby replied nonchalantly. “I just know when to keep my mouth shut. If you two idiots can’t do that, then you’re on your own.”
“Traitor,” Mike retorted. Bobby’s smile widened a little.
“I prefer to think of it as being diplomatic. I knew better than to deliberately try and antagonise Alex even before I was living with her.”
“That’s true,” Alex agreed, and Olivia patted her hand.
“You have him well-trained, don’t you?”
“Mm-hmm. Now I just have to work on Mike.”
“Okay, that’s it,” Mike stated, standing up abruptly. “We gotta regroup. Bathroom break. C’mon, Elliot. Bobby…”
“Uh… I don’t need to…” Bobby started to protest, but that was cut short when Mike and Elliot all but lifted him out of his seat and herded him towards the bathroom.
“I thought we were the ones who were supposed to retreat to the bathroom en masse?” Jo mused.
“That’s our guys,” Olivia sighed comically. “Setting a whole new standard for men everywhere.”
“Yeah,” Alex retorted. “About five notches down from where they were before.”
All three women laughed, and sat back to await the return of the men.
“You can’t seriously expect us to believe that you never piss off Alex,” Mike growled as they took refuge in the men’s bathroom.
“I never said I don’t piss her off,” Bobby replied calmly. “I just said that I know better than to deliberately try. There’s a big difference between intentionally trying to aggravate your partner, and having it happen unintentionally in the process of solving a case.”
“Oh yeah?” Mike retorted. “Okay, smart guy, when was the last time you made Alex mad? And I mean really made her mad.”
“Logan…” Bobby started to protest, but Mike cut him off.
“C’mon, humour me. I want to know that I’m not unique in my ability to annoy the crap out of her.”
Bobby couldn’t contain the grin that found its way onto his face at Mike’s choice of phrase.
“Well, if you put it like that…”
“Yeah, I do. Spill it, pal.”
“The, uh… The Tagman case. A guy was kidnapping and effectively lobotomising women. One woman died, and the other was left a vegetable. We later found out that he’d kept a piece of the dead woman’s thigh muscle to cook and eat.”
“Great,” Elliot muttered. “There goes my appetite for the rest of the night.”
“Carver didn’t want a confession,” Bobby went on quietly. “He wanted the hard evidence so he could demand the death penalty. Alex and Deakins agreed.”
“And you didn’t,” Elliot guessed. Bobby shook his head slowly.
“No, I didn’t. Tagman never intended to kill that woman. What he was doing was evil, and he needed to be locked up so he could never hurt anyone again, but he didn’t deserve to die.”
“Well, no wonder Alex was pissed off,” Mike said. “Did she yell at you in private, or in front of the whole squad?”
“She never yelled at me,” Bobby murmured. “She never raised her voice to me at all. That… That was how I knew she really was angry at me that time.”
“Well,” Elliot said with a wry smile, “I guess you really do know how to piss off your partner, then.”
Bobby grimaced at the discomforting memory of the number of times that he’d landed on Alex’s bad side.
“Oh yeah, trust me. I’ve just about got it down to an art-form.”
Later that night
“Admit it, you did actually have fun tonight.”
Bobby sighed softly in defeat at Alex’s challenge as he settled down into bed after Jo had gone for the night.
“I had fun,” he admitted. Alex smiled as she sat next to him, her arms protectively around his shoulders.
“I’m glad. Bobby, I know you’re never going to be able to forget about what happened, but I hope tonight proved to you that you can still function more or less normally.”
“Normal?” Bobby commented. “Since when was normal ever applied to me?”
She gently stroked his forehead in a soothing motion.
“You know what I mean. Don’t twist my words around.”
“I know,” he murmured. “I’m…”
“And don’t say you’re sorry, either.”
Bobby sighed again and felt himself relaxing against Alex.
“I wasn’t going to say sorry.”
“What is it, then?”
“I… I was going to say, I’m grateful.”
She looked down at him curiously. He was almost asleep.
“Grateful for what, Bobby?”
And then he was out, his body relaxing completely as he slipped into a deep, restful sleep. Taking care not to jostle him too much, Alex shifted off the bed and tugged the blankets up to cover him properly. She crouched there by the bed, watching him for nearly five minutes before her thighs began to protest their position. Rising reluctantly, she took a moment to lean in and kiss him gently on the forehead before slipping quietly out of the room, and leaving him to sleep.
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