A/N: I am not going to apologise for what follows, as unpopular as it may make me with the Bobby/Alex shippers. But those of you who have read all of my stories will know that I do NOT subscribe to the OTP theory where Bobby Goren and Alex Eames are concerned. I happily read stories that have that focus, but I do not write them myself. The muse will go where the muse will go, and in this instance... well, read on, and find out for yourself.
Later that evening
Alex watched Mike surreptitiously over her coffee, trying to figure him out. Dinner at the little Italian restaurant that Mike had picked had been nice… pleasant. She, Mike and Jo had enjoyed a good meal and comfortable, friendly conversation that had been completely free of any innuendos, overt or otherwise.
After sitting with Bobby in the cold, sterile hospital room for nearly three hours, worrying about what the next day might bring, the time out had been just what she needed to soothe her frayed nerves. Between her session with Dr Huang earlier that day, and this pleasant change of atmosphere now, she felt calmer and more in control than she had since… well, since before the attack.
Jo had excused herself before dessert, leaving them along with a small, knowing smile, and that had immediately set the alarm bells ringing in Alex’s mind. Despite her worries, though, Mike had continued to be a perfect gentleman and the conversation had been kept entertaining and clean.
She was sure he was interested, and yet nothing in his conduct towards her had given her any suggestion that he was planning anything. In all honesty, she felt a little disappointed that he hadn’t made a move on her, but at the same time, she was grateful that he was giving her space and time, and not trying to take advantage of the situation.
Despite Mike’s colourful reputation where women were concerned, so far he had not put a foot wrong with her, and the truth was she didn’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved.
“He’s going to be fine, Alex.”
She raised her head a little, smiling at him with the smallest hint of embarrassment.
“I know, Mike. But that actually wasn’t what I was thinking about.”
His smile widened just a fraction.
“I know it wasn’t.”
She blushed red, but made no attempt to defend herself. Mike indicated the small dancing area, and the band that was playing softly.
“Dance with me?”
She accepted, sighing just a little as his arms enclosed her and drew her in close. He was as good a dancer as Bobby, she thought with mild amusement. It was a surprise, but definitely a welcome one.
“Why haven’t you…”
She trailed off, suddenly unsure how to proceed. He pulled back just a little, looking down at her questioningly.
“Why haven’t I tried anything with you? Is that what you’re trying to ask?”
Her blush deepened, but she held his gaze. He smiled down at her reassuringly.
“I like you, Alex, a lot. But I’m not an idiot, either, despite apparently popular opinion. I don’t want to step on any toes, and I don’t want to upset things between you and Bobby.”
Alex’s eyebrows shot up with amused surprise.
“Me and Bobby? Why would you worry about…” And then realisation dawned. “You think Bobby and I are sleeping together.”
It was Mike’s turn to blush in the face of the blunt statement. He half-expected Alex to walk away then and there, but instead she started to laugh softly.
“Okay, I’m glad you’re not pissed at me,” Mike said in bemusement as she giggled helplessly into his shirt, “but I’m kind of confused here…”
“We’re not an item, Mike,” she told him breathlessly. “We never have been. Bobby and I… We love each other, but not like that.”
“You mean you two have never…?”
“No.” She grinned sheepishly. “We did try once, mind you.”
He couldn’t quite hide his curiosity at that admission.
“Yeah, although try is the operative word, there. It was about three years ago. It had been a rough couple of weeks, we’d had a few too many drinks and one of us… I can’t remember which of us now suggested it, but I think it might have been me… One of us suggested that we might as well give substance to the rumours going around about us.”
Mike nearly choked, setting off another fit of the giggles in Alex. She managed to regain her composure and go on after a minute.
“We… We kissed for a bit. We let our hands wander a little… and that was it.”
“So, you’re saying that you never made it past first base?”
“Not even close. We didn’t even get our shirts off.”
Mike mulled over that for a long moment. He was trying to picture it, but couldn’t.
“What was it, that you couldn’t...?”
Alex snorted. “More like, what wasn’t it.”
“No spark?” Mike asked, and Alex grinned self-deprecatingly.
“Nada. It was like making out with my brother.”
Mike snorted with laughter.
“And what about Bobby? What did he think?”
“Well, he spent about two minutes being embarrassed and trying to apologise before we both ended up laughing our heads off. We talked it over, and agreed that it just wasn’t going to happen. After that, we just went from strength to strength in our partnership and our friendship, but we’ve never had the desire to test out the rumours again. We love each other dearly, Mike, but only as friends. That’s the bottom line.”
Mike fell silent, considering her words. Alex rested her head once more against his chest, giving him time to think it through. She wasn’t quite sure what conclusion she was hoping he might come to, but she felt a small thrill of excitement rush through her as she silently considered the possibilities.
After a moment or so, she felt Mike’s hand move from where it rested against her back, and lightly stroke her cheek.
“So…” he murmured, “if I tried to kiss you right now, I could be fairly sure that I wouldn’t get slapped for it…?”
She looked up at him, then, a mixture of surprise and hopeful expectation on her face. As soon as she turned her face upwards, he ducked down and pressed his lips against hers.
Alex gasped a little, feeling a bolt of pleasure and excitement that shot straight to her centre, triggering a range of sensations that she hadn’t experienced for a long time. Her lips parted instinctively, and he accepted the unspoken invitation with enthusiasm.
Alex heard someone moaning softly, and couldn’t be sure if it was her or Mike. Either way, she decided she hadn’t been kissed as good as this for a long, long time. When Mike finally withdrew, she felt a surprisingly potent sensation of disappointment. He smiled down at her warmly.
“I think there was a definite spark in there somewhere. Don’t you?”
“Oh, yeah,” Alex said hoarsely. “Definitely.”
An hour later, they were back at Alex’s apartment. When Mike made no effort to follow her in, though, she looked back at him, puzzled.
“Mike? Aren’t you coming in?”
He smiled faintly.
“I’d love to, Alex, but not tonight. If I do, I’m not sure that I’ll be able to leave again.”
She lifted an eyebrow at him.
“And who’s to say that I’d want you to leave?”
He bent down to kiss her lightly.
“I really do like you, Alex, but I don’t want to kick-start a potential relationship with you by making sex the foundation. I want it to go beyond that.”
He kissed her again, more deeply this time, and hugged her tightly. She sighed softly, regretful but understanding. She also felt more than a hint of gratitude that he wanted more than a one night stand from her.
“Okay, Mike,” she conceded softly. “Thankyou.”
“For everything. For nothing. For just being here.”
He smiled again as he hugged her to him.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
“Seriously,” she murmured. “You came because of Bobby, at a point where our own squad couldn’t even do the right thing and support him. I’ll never forget that, and neither will Bobby.”
“Yeah, well, against my better judgment, I do actually like the guy,” Mike admitted. “When I first heard that something had happened to him, but no one knew what, I wanted to head straight back here to Manhattan. The only thing that stopped me was my captain. But then the rumours kept escalating, and finally someone said they thought he was dead. Then, I wouldn’t have cared if I’d been suspended for it. I headed straight for One Police Plaza as fast as I could.”
“Well, we both appreciated it,” Alex murmured. She leaned upwards and kissed him gently on the mouth. “Mike, are you absolutely sure you don’t want to come in? I really don’t mind, and it’d save you coming to pick me up in the morning. We could go to the hospital together.”
Mike groaned. He could feel his resolve crumbling, and struggled to maintain what determination he still had.
“Alex… do you think this is really such a great idea? You’re emotionally overwrought right now…”
She kissed him again, teasing his lips lightly with her tongue.
“Mike, please… I want the company. I don’t want to be here on my own, where I can start thinking about everything could go wrong. I want you.”
He regarded her amusedly.
“Is that all I am to you? A distraction?”
She kissed him again hungrily, and he had his answer. Giving in and letting reason fly out the window, he locked his mouth onto hers and walked her backwards into the apartment. The door closed behind them and, less than five minutes later, all the lights went out in the apartment, not to come on again until the next morning.
The next morning
Dr Greg Cutler emerged into the waiting room of St Clare’s Hospital, searching out whoever might have been waiting for Robert Goren. There was a host of people there, however, making identification next to impossible. Approaching the information desk, Cutler was finally pointed in the direction of a group of nine or ten people, who sat together on the far side of the waiting room.
Grimacing, he straightened his coat and made his way over to them.
Alex sat silently in the midst of a small crowd of people, trying hard to block their nervous chatter out of her mind. Bobby had been in surgery for nearly four hours now, and she was starting to feel seriously scared. They had been told that the surgery would take perhaps two hours, tops. It should have been simple and straightforward. It was starting to make her physically sick with dread to think about what might have happened to drag it out for so long.
She glanced around in vague distraction as someone said something that drew laughter from everyone else, before sinking once more into her own world of worries.
She and Mike had arrived at the hospital ahead of anyone else that morning, and were just in time to see Bobby before he was taken off to surgery. He’d been quiet, very subdued, and Alex suspected that he hadn’t gotten a whole lot of sleep throughout the night.
It left her feeling guilty that, by comparison, her night had been pretty damned excellent.
They had been waiting for all of ten minutes after Bobby had been taken off to the OR when her parents, her sister and her two brothers had arrived, laden with thermoses of hot coffee and fresh bagels. She’d expected them to drop their load and depart again, but to her surprise, they had all ensconced themselves in the uncomfortable plastic chairs and settled in for the long haul, intent on waiting it out with her and Mike.
She had been surprised, but warmed by the realisation that they all cared enough about Bobby to stay.
Not surprisingly, her father had taken an instant liking to Mike, and the two men had soon been engrossed in each other’s ‘war’ stories. Alex had paid little attention to them, until she overheard Mike telling not only her father, but her brothers as well, the story of how Bobby had saved their lives in the Staten Island prison. She’d been heartened by the enthusiasm with which Mike told the story, and then warmed even more-so at the realisation that it had been no play act on Mike’s part the previous night when he’d told her that he really did like Bobby.
Half an hour after her family got there, Deakins arrived with Ron Carver in tow. That had been a surprise, but then she reminded herself that Carver had sat with Bobby for the better part of a day whilst Bobby had been completely incapacitated with the tube down his throat, reading to him to keep him calm. So, really, it wasn’t so surprising that Carver would be here now.
Then, perhaps forty-five minutes ago, Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson had arrived as well to lend their support. All up, Bobby now had eleven people waiting to learn how the surgery had gone.
Jo was taking the morning to see to personal business, but would be along later to see how the surgery had gone and to find out whether Bobby would be home again that evening.
“Hey,” Mike said suddenly, nudging her gently. “Here comes a doctor.”
Alex’s head snapped up as a tall, dusty-haired man approached, eyeing the group with some hesitancy.
“I’m Dr Greg Cutler,” he introduced himself to them. “You’re the folks that are here for Robert Goren?”
To Alex’s quiet amusement, her father spoke up before Deakins had the opportunity to say a word.
“Yes, that’s right. How is the boy?”
Amusement creased Cutler’s features at the idea of anyone referring to his forty-five year old, six foot four patient as a boy.
“Firstly, are there any family members here? Because I really ought to speak to them first.”
Alex tensed at his words, but Mike’s hand on hers stilled her sharp tongue. Satisfied that she wouldn’t snap, Mike spoke up firmly.
“We are his family, Doctor.”
It didn’t take much effort for Cutler to get the hint. Nodding amiably, he sat down to speak to them all.
“He’s come through the surgery okay, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. You probably gathered that already from the time it’s taken.”
“You ran into problems?” Carver asked, aware of the sudden tension around him.
“Yes,” Cutler admitted, “but hear me out before you all panic. There were no problems when we opened his left eye, but it turned out that there was a small percentage of damage to the right cornea. Now, you know the eyes close instinctively to protect themselves, and that’s what happened when Robert’s left eye was burned. But I’m guessing that the shock and pain from that caused a delayed reflex when his right eye was similarly burned. Unfortunately, it wasn’t picked up on the scans that were done on Robert’s eyes a month ago.”
“How bad is it?” Alex asked, barely able to keep her voice steady. Cutler favoured her with a reassuring smile.
“Not as bad as it sounds. The eye will heal. It’s just going to take a bit longer than we thought. There’s no reason at all why he shouldn’t regain full vision in both eyes.”
A sigh of relief swept across the group in a wave.
“Thank God for that,” Deakins muttered, rubbing self-consciously at his eyes.
“Of course, his sight will recover in the left eye much sooner than the right,” Cutler went on. “He’ll probably need to wear an eye-patch on the right eye for a few weeks, and he will definitely need to wear dark glasses both indoors and out for a month or two at least. Probably longer. He’s going to be incredibly sensitive to light for some time.”
“But he’s definitely going to be okay?” Alex pressed, and Cutler nodded.
“Yes. As far as his eyes are concerned, he should make a complete recovery.”
Alex let her breath out in a rush, slumping against Mike in relief. He hugged her fiercely in return, genuine relief visible on his own face.
“Can we see him?” John asked.
“Just a couple of you for now,” Cutler said apologetically. “He’s still in Recovery.”
After a brief discussion, it was decided that Alex and Deakins should be the ones to go and see him. Grateful for the consideration, they followed Cutler from the waiting room.
“Will he be able to come home this evening?” Alex asked as they walked. It was one of her greater concerns – she knew what another lengthy stay in the hospital would potentially do to his state of mind, no matter how good the care he was getting. Cutler looked apologetic, and she felt her hopes sink at the expression on his face. He wasn’t going to say what she wanted to hear.
“Actually, I’d like to keep him here for a few days at the very least… preferably for a full week. I’m fully aware that it might not be a welcome directive with Robert, but I want to be sure that he doesn’t contract any infections. And, I want to keep a close watch on that right eye.”
“But he is going to be fine?” Deakins asked, frowning. “You said he’d get his sight back.”
Cutler hesitated, choosing his next words with care.
“There should be no physical reason why he wouldn’t get his sight back.”
Abruptly, Deakins understood.
“You’re talking about psychosomatic symptoms now.”
“Yes, I am. I saw Robert this morning, a couple of hours before we began the surgery. His attitude… Well, all I’ll say is that it wasn’t encouraging.”
“He’s been through a hell of a lot, Dr Cutler,” Deakins said, a touch defensively. Cutler conceded to that with a slight nod.
“I understand that. I really do. But it’s not going to help his recovery if he sinks steadily into depression. It’s staggering, the number of cases I’ve dealt with where the patient has physically recovered one hundred percent, but their state of mind has affected them so badly that it’s as though they were still at square one. I don’t want that to be the case with Robert. I want to keep him here for the moment not to monitor his physical condition, but his emotional one.”
Alex drew in a long breath as she considered how to reply to that. She noted that Deakins was making no attempt to respond, but rather watching her to see how she’d react. Well, no big surprise there. Of the two of them, she knew Bobby the best.
“You’re wrong,” she said finally, bluntly. She thought she saw Deakins wince just slightly, but Cutler stopped walking and turned to face her. There was no anger in his expression or in his stance at her statement, just interest.
“Keeping Bobby in the hospital is only going to make things worse. If you want to see him actively try to beat the depression he’s in, then let him go home. Today.”
Cutler looked over at Deakins, who nodded in agreement.
“She’s right. Bobby hates hospitals, and unless he really does need to be here, it will be detrimental not to let him go home.”
“He’ll have around the clock care while he’s here,” Cutler started to argue, but Alex cut him off.
“He’ll have that at home. We have a home care nurse employed to take care of him. Jo’s fully qualified to monitor all his medications, and if he does develop any sort of infection, she’ll know. Please, he’ll be so much better off at home. If you make him stay here, I guarantee his brain will start working overtime about everything that’s gone wrong.. that could still go wrong.”
Cutler raised an eyebrow at her.
“And he won’t think like that at home?”
“He’ll have constant company at home,” Alex persisted. “Jo isn’t just there to physically look after him. She’s become a good friend to him, as well. She’ll look after him as well as the nurses here can, and he’ll at least be comfortable and safe.”
Deakins shot her a look at her choice of words, but said nothing. Cutler considered it for a moment, and then nodded.
“Okay, how about a compromise? I’ll keep him here just for tonight and providing there are no complications, he can be discharged first thing tomorrow morning. But on the condition that if anything goes even remotely wrong, then you bring him back here, immediately. All right?”
Alex and Deakins exchanged glances, and then Deakins conceded with a nod.
He was still asleep when they walked in. Alex went straight up to the bedside and gazed down at him for a long moment before looking back to the doctor with a dark frown on her face.
“Restraints? You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
“They’ll be removed as soon as he’s alert,” Cutler said. “It’s for his safety. He’s likely to be disoriented when he wakes up, and we don’t want him hurting his hands through banging them against the bed rails... or worse, have him bang them against his eyes.”
Alex drew in a long, calming breath. She had to concede that there was logic in that argument. Bobby’s hands were in a fragile enough state as it was without him doing more damage to them while under the haze of anaesthesia. With some effort, she re-directed her thoughts.
“How long before he wakes up?”
“Any time now,” Cutler reassured her. “The anaesthetic is wearing off as we speak. Once we’re sure that everything is as it should be, then he’ll be moved straight into a ward.”
“Not ICU?” Deakins wondered, and Cutler shook his head.
“No. No need for that. He’s doing well. We’ve got no concerns for his physical wellbeing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some paperwork to deal with.”
Deakins watched Cutler go, and then looked back at Alex. Her attention was strictly on Bobby by then. Nothing else mattered, nothing else existed.
Slowly, reluctantly, she tore her gaze away from her partner, and looked back at her captain.
“What is it?”
He joined her at the bedside, taking a moment to think over what he was going to say before he actually said it.
“Why do you feel he wouldn’t be safe here?”
Alex looked at him, puzzled.
“What do you mean?”
“You said to the doctor that if he’ll let Bobby go home, then at least he’ll be comfortable and safe. The comfortable bit I understand, but safe? What makes you think he’d be safer at home than here?”
She sighed and shook her head.
“I don’t know why I said that.” She paused, and then grimaced. “Yes I do. I’m being over-protective.”
“No, you’re not,” Deakins corrected her lightly. “Protective, maybe, but not over-protective. And it isn’t as though he would act any differently if your positions had been reversed.”
Alex leaned across a little and gently brushed a stray curl away from Bobby’s forehead.
“I still can’t get my head around it all. Every night, I lie awake trying to understand, and I can’t. I just can’t fathom how anyone could do this to another person, let alone their own brother.”
“I know,” Deakins murmured. “It’s hard enough to deal with when we’re on the job, and it’s complete strangers, but when it’s one of our own, everything takes on a whole new dimension.”
“It hurts,” Alex whispered. “It hurts so much, and then I have to stop and think that if I hurt this much over it, then how much worse is it for Bobby? I don’t ever want to see him get hurt like this again, Captain. I don’t want to see him get hurt at all. And I don’t know how I can stop it from happening! I’m terrified every time I’m away from him, that I’ll get another phone call… and that this time it’ll be to tell me that he’s dead. I’m so damn scared for him that I can’t sleep at night. And then goddamn Nicole Wallace shows up again…”
“She hasn’t given us any indication that she wants to hurt him, Alex,” Deakins reminded her. “As much as I hate to give her credit for anything, it’s because of her that Bobby is looking at receiving a healthy financial settlement. We would never have known about Simon Matic’s hidden millions if it weren’t for her.”
“I don’t trust her,” Alex insisted, and Deakins smiled wryly.
“None of us do. But we’ll take it one step at a time, and at the moment she isn’t presenting a threat to Bobby. If she really wanted to hurt him, she had the perfect opportunity in Central Park the other day. She could have killed him, and no one could have done a thing about it.”
A rueful look settled on her face.
“You think I don’t know that? I know she could have killed him, and I’m still thanking God that she never tried to hurt him. But I still can’t trust that she’s not planning something.”
“She only has to show her face again, and she’ll be arrested,” Deakins reminded her. “She’s a wanted fugitive. That hasn’t changed.”
Any further comment Alex might have planned on making was effectively silenced when Bobby moaned softly through the oxygen mask.
“Hey,” Alex murmured, lightly stroking his cheek with the backs of her fingers. “Welcome back, sleepy.”
Bobby mumbled something incoherent that was hopelessly muffled by the oxygen mask. Deakins looked around for a nurse, caught her eye and summoned her over. She rechecked his blood pressure and other vital signs before smiling and gently removing the oxygen mask.
“He shouldn’t need this now, but we’ll wait until he’s a little bit more awake before we undo the restraints. I’ll come and check on him again in ten minutes.”
Then she was off to see to other patients.
“Bobby?” Alex asked softly. “You with us, partner?”
Bobby moaned again, but this time was able to form a halfway coherent sentence without the oxygen mask to frustrate him.
Deakins laughed softly.
“That’s good to hear. The surgery went well, Bobby. The doctor says you’ll get your sight back, one hundred percent. It’s going to be okay.”
“Good,” Bobby mumbled. “Wanna see again…”
He grunted slightly, trying to lift his arms, only to find he couldn’t move them. Deakins reached over, and closed one hand gently over Bobby’s shoulder.
“They restrained your arms, Bobby, so you won’t hurt your hands. Just relax, everything’s fine.”
Bobby gave in with a slight shudder, and his body relaxed visibly on the hospital gurney. A moment later, he gave in to the exhaustion and slipped once more back into the painless relief of sleep.
“He out again,” Deakins murmured after watching Bobby for a moment.
“He’s going to be okay, though,” Alex whispered, tears filling her eyes. Deakins nodded.
“Yes, he will. Are you going to be okay?”
She nodded, rubbing fiercely at her eyes.
“I’ll be fine. I’ll be even better when we can get him out of this place, and home safe.”
Deakins looked bemused.
“There’s that word again… safe.”
Alex scowled, even though she knew he was only teasing her now.
“So sue me for wanting to protect my partner. I already messed that up once. I don’t want to mess it up again.”
“Alex,” Deakins sighed, slipping an arm around her shoulders and hugging her in a fatherly gesture. “When are you going to get it through your head that you didn’t fail him? Unless you’ve developed psychic powers that no one else knows about, then there was nothing you could have done, and no way that you could possibly have known he was in trouble. Anymore than he would have known if it had been you.”
She looked up at him tearfully.
“I know that as a fact. I just… I need time to be able to accept it in my own mind.”
Deakins hugged her again.
“You’ll heal, Alex, and so will Bobby. You’ll both be right back where you belong before you know it. But right now, let’s just take one step at a time. Okay?”
Alex looked back at her sleeping partner. One step at a time… That was all they could do. Finally, she conceded with a tired sigh.
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