It was the following morning before Alex was finally able to return to Bobby’s side. By the time IAB had finished talking to her the previous evening, she had been in more than a little amount of pain, in particular from her shoulder. Her doctor had come in to check her over, and had prescribed something that the nurse had given her by way of injection. The next thing she knew, it was ten o’clock the next morning.

After wolfing down her breakfast as fast as her mother and the duty nurse would allow her to, Alex was back in the wheelchair and on her way back up to the ICU.

They reached the elevator just as the doors slid open, and Alex breathed a quiet sigh of relief to see Fin there, and not Frank. As much as Frank seemed to be genuine in his concern for his little brother, she just didn’t think she had it in her to be even mildly pleasant to the older man. In her personal opinion, all the care and concern he might have been displaying now did precious little to make up for his neglect of previous years.

“Hey, Fin,” she murmured as the orderly guided the wheelchair into the elevator, and he leaned down and graced her forehead with a light kiss.

“Hey, girl. How are you feeling?”

“Getting better slowly,” she admitted. “But...”

“I know,” he assured her. “There’s still a long way to go... for both of you.”

She grimaced and looked away. That had to be the biggest understatement she’d heard for a long time. Sensing his unintentional faux pas, Fin quickly switched subjects.

“I heard you had to talk to IAB last night.”

“Yes. They talked to Bobby first, and then to me.”

Fin felt a twinge of concern at that, and hoped intently that Bobby hadn’t gone and shot himself in the foot, metaphorically-speaking.

“Do you think it went okay?”

Alex paused in answering. She didn’t really know how Bobby’s interview had gone, but she’d gotten a strong sense from them that it hadn’t been so bad. She also recalled with some degree of bemusement her own interview with the IAB detectives.

“Well,” she said finally, “let’s just say that they didn’t act in the way that you’d expect anyone from IAB to act. They actually seemed to be listening to me, and the questions they asked... They didn’t try to twist anything I said to make it sound like Bobby and I had done anything wrong. And when they were done... after they’d turned off their tap recorder... they told me to look after Bobby, and not to get frustrated with him... That he needed me now more than ever.”

Fin raised an eyebrow at her incredulously.

“You sure they were from IAB? Sure doesn’t sound like IAB.”

Alex had to smile at his tone.

“I know. It was bizarre... but appreciated, too. They... knew about Bobby... about him being paralysed, I mean. And they were kind about it. Sympathetic... I didn’t expect that from them.”

“And they actually told you to take care of Bobby?” Fin wondered. Alex nodded, turning her gaze downward as fresh tears suddenly threatened.

“Yes. And I want to, Fin... But he’s not letting me! He totally shut me out yesterday, and he wouldn’t let me in at all. He wouldn’t speak to me, wouldn’t even look at me! He acted like I didn’t even exist.”

“And you think he’s angry with you?” Fin wondered. Her answer came in a breathless whisper, so soft that Fin had to struggle to hear.


He sighed softly. As much as he understood Bobby’s fear and pain right then, if he was going to treat his partner so indifferently, then perhaps a different method of dealing with him was called for. Right now, though, he needed to offer some solid reassurance to the woman in the wheelchair beside him.

“He’s not angry with you, Alex. He’s angry with himself, and he’s saved, and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. You know what he’s like.”

Alex grimaced. Yes, she knew, only too well.

They arrived at the doors to the ICU wing, and Fin deliberately stepped in to take control of the wheelchair, edging the orderly out.

“I’ll take over.” He paused, taking in the annoyed look the orderly gave him, and smiled. “Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of her. I’d have the whole of Major Case on my ass if I didn’t, right, Alex?”

She had to laugh softly, even though she didn’t feel so much like it.


The orderly conceded, if somewhat reluctantly, and Fin proceeded to push Alex through into ICU.

“I’ve never seen him like he was yesterday, Fin,” she said quietly, unhappily. “After Dr Fielding told him about his legs, he just went so cold. He hates having to take any kind of medication, but he actually asked Dr Fielding to sedate him. For him to ask that...”

“I know,” Fin agreed. “But I’ve seen him shut down like that before.”

Alex looked up at him, puzzled.


“When we were kids, after he found out what was really wrong with his mom. After he found out that she wasn’t ever going to get better. He shut down then, too. Couldn’t get a word out of him for three weeks. He’ll come out of this sooner or later, Alex, but you’ve gotta be patient and give him a chance. It’s gonna take time for him to sort through everything.”

She drew in an unsteady breath. Fin’s words weren’t exactly giving her comfort.

“I understand that, Fin. I really do. But...”


All of a sudden, she couldn’t see for the tears, and when she spoke it was in a voice that she barely recognised as being her own.

“I’m hurting too, Fin! I... I can’t look after us both right now. I just can’t...”

Fin slowed to a halt, and then walked around and crouched down in front of her, taking her free hand in his and squeezing it gently.

“I know, Alex. And believe me, no one’s expecting you to. I don’t believe Bobby is, either, but right now he’s in a dark place where he just can’t respond to you. So until he can, you’re gonna have to trust the rest of us to look after you. Think you can do that?”

She returned his stare with the look of one who had just about been pushed beyond the limits of her endurance.

“Do I have a choice?” she asked softly, and he smiled warmly at her in response.

“No, sweetie. You don’t.”

Alex sighed again, and settled back in the wheelchair. Though submitting herself into the care of others – emotionally as well as physically – was usually a foreign and unwelcome concept to her, in this instance she found herself surprisingly willing to concede. She was tired, and she was hurting, and she barely had the energy to support herself, let alone Bobby as well. If there were others, like Fin, who were willing to shoulder the responsibility for a while, then who was she to argue?

They passed the nurses’ station, and arrived at Bobby room. Fin paused just outside the door, curiosity raised by the sound of voices coming from within, one of which sounded distinctly childish.

He and Alex exchanged a puzzled look, and then he went ahead and pushed Alex around the corner into Bobby’s room.

Sophie stood outside the doors into the ICU wing for the longest time, wanting desperately to go in but also afraid of what she might be confronted with. She wasn’t a child who was naturally inclined to feel fear, but her young mind had reasoned that there had to be something very frightening behind those doors since she had not been allowed to go in even once.

She didn’t believe the tale her mother had told her about having germs that she might pass on to her uncle. She’d washed her hands every day with a thoroughness that was markedly un-childlike, and had bathed every night in their hotel. She was as clean as her mother and father, so that excuse was just that – an excuse to keep her out.

Sophie looked around nervously. Her parents thought she was in the hospital child care centre, where they’d left her each day after that first long day when she’d been left sitting alone outside the doors of the ICU. She’d slipped out while the lady in charge had been busy feeding a bottle to a baby, and she figured she didn’t have long before someone came looking for her. If she was going to act, it had to be now.

Steeling herself as only a child could, Sophie slipped through the doors into the Intensive Care Unit, and began her search for her uncle.

Bobby stared at the bowl in front of him with more than a little distaste. His doctor had expressed a wish the previous evening that he begin to try and digest a little bit of food. Not much to start with, of course, but something. That ‘something’ had been delivered to him half an hour ago in the form of a small bowl of what he had been assured was porridge, but had the consistency of week-old glue. He’d requested a little bit of milk and honey to make it a bit more palatable, only to be told his stomach wasn’t ready to handle anything as sweet as honey.

Then the nurse had gone again before he’d had a chance to ask if he could at least have a little bit of milk. Now, he half sat up, stirring at the gluggy mass in the bowl, wondering if it were at all possible to swallow any of it without having it come straight back up again.

He found himself wishing desperately for one of those mornings when he’d meet Alex and they’d enjoy coffee and whatever they happened to feel like at the time, whether it happened to be a Danish, or a bagel...

And with that desire came a powerful feeling of misery as he recalled once more his treatment of Alex the previous day. He wanted more than anything to be able to tell her that he hadn’t meant to push her away from him, and that he was sorry. But she’d not come back, and he was starting to wonder just how much the IAB detectives had really had to do with that. He still clung to their story, though. The alternative – that she’d not been bothered to come back – was far too painful to contemplate.

Suddenly feeling sick, he shoved the mobile table away. He misjudged his own effort, though, and the jerking motion sent the bowl sliding clean off the top, and the contents slopping messily on the floor.

“Fuck,” he cursed softly, feeling his already depressed mood deteriorate even further. Sighing, he started to reach for the button that would summon a nurse to his room, when he realised he was no longer alone.

Standing just inside the door of his room was a small child, a young girl who he guessed was maybe seven or eight. She was standing there nervously, watching him with wide eyes, and he found himself having to swallow an urge to snap at her. Instead, he looked away in an effort to suppress his temper.


It was said tentatively. Bobby looked back at her slowly. He didn’t like showing any anger at all towards children, but he was having a very hard time keeping from doing just that. When he spoke, it was in a deliberately low voice.

“You shouldn’t be in here.”

Rather than going, as he’d hoped she might, the child ventured further into the room.

“I know,” she admitted. Her gaze went to the spilt food, and then she looked back at Bobby quizzically. “Would you like me to clean that up for you? I don’t mind, and Mommy said I’m very good at cleaning up.”

Bobby felt his heart melt just a little in the face of her sincerity.

“It’s okay,” he told her quietly. “Someone else will do that.”

“Why did you spill it? Aren’t you hungry?”

“Not really,” Bobby answered. Not for that slop, he added silently. He watched as she came around slowly to the side of the bed and, with a childish curiosity that Bobby found endearing, she lifted up his right hand gently and turned it around so that she could look at the name on his hospital bracelet.

“Robert O. Goren.” She looked up at him and a wide smile lit up her young face. “You’re my Uncle Bobby. My daddy is your big brother.”

And then realisation sank in.

“Sophie... You’re Sophie. How did you get in here?”

“I snuck in,” Sophie confessed, and it was all Bobby could do not to laugh at the pride in her voice as she said it. “I asked every day to see you, and Mommy and Daddy kept telling me no. They said I might have germs that’ll make you sick, but I had a bath every single night in our hotel, and I washed my hands and my face before we came to the hospital. But they still said no, so I had to sneak in.”

He did chuckle, then, at her matter of fact attitude, and the way she explained it as though it was so simple. He squeezed her hand very lightly.

“It’s nice to meet you, Sophie.”

Adult and child locked gazes momentarily, and Bobby suddenly found himself under a similar scrutiny to which he had subjected many a suspect. It was a disconcerting experience, he reflected dimly.

Withdrawing her hand from his, Sophie turned away, and Bobby experienced an unsettling feeling that she was going to leave. Instead, he watched in growing curiosity as she dragged one of the chairs over to the bedside, and climbed up on it in order to see him better.

“Does it hurt a lot?” she asked softly, looking at his all-too-visible injuries with a sweet, childish concern.

“Not at the moment,” he answered honestly. He’d received his current dose of painkillers not too long ago, and consequently was not hurting too much at all right then. Sophie regarded him with a mixture of awkwardness and guilt.

“I was going to give you a big hug when I met you, but I’m scared to do that, in case I hurt you. I didn’t want to hurt you.”

Bobby felt tears sting his eyes, and he reached out to briefly cup her cheek before dropping his hand to her shoulder.

“You... You won’t hurt me, Sophie. I... I’d like a hug from you.”

Smiling happily, Sophie leaned in gently against him, slipping her slender arms around his chest and resting her head on his shoulder. Bobby laid his right arm across Sophie’s tiny form, and couldn’t quite suppress the tremors that passed through him, or the tears that filled his eyes at the simple trust shown by a child he had only just met.

“Don’t cry, Uncle Bobby,” Sophie whispered. “I’ll look after you.”

She turned her head, and kissed him briefly on the cheek before resuming her hug.

“Well, ain’t this a sight!”

Sophie started up so quickly at the unexpected voice that she inadvertently bumped one of Bobby’s wounds, and he grunted in pain. Horror filled the little girl’s face at the realisation that she had caused her uncle pain after all.

“I’m sorry!” she burst out, tears filling her eyes. “Uncle Bobby, I’m sorry!”

“It’s okay,” he told her, struggling to keep his voice even. “Really. It... It’s okay, Sophie.”

Fin chuckled as he pushed Alex all the way into the room.

“He’ll be fine, sweetheart. Don’t you worry about him.”

Sophie looked around at Fin, a sheepish look on her face.

“I kinda snuck in.”

“Yeah, I figured you must’ve,” Fin said with a laugh. He wheeled Alex over to the side of the bed, and then reached over and lifted the little girl up. “How about you sit a bit further along here, so Alex can have the chair. Okay?”

He sat Sophie down with care on the edge of the bed, and then turned his attention to helping Alex out of the wheelchair, and into the higher chair, where she could easily reach Bobby.

She noted silently that he was watching her nervously. Nervous, she guessed after their afternoon of non-communication the previous day. In answer to his silent question, she reached up and laid her palm across his. She was filled with relief when he closed his hand around hers, and squeezed lightly.

“Hey,” he whispered, and she favoured him with a warm smile.

“Hey, you.”

“I... I’m sorry... Yesterday...”

She tightened her grip on his hand.

“Don’t apologise, Bobby. Just don’t shut me out. We’re in this together, remember.”

He appreciated her compassion and understanding more than he could fully express and, rather than try to respond he opted instead for directing her attention to the little girl sitting on the bed and watching them with bright eyes.

“This is my... my niece... Sophie.”

Alex favoured the little girl with a smile.

“Hi, Sophie. Nice to meet you finally. I’m Alex.”

“I saw your picture on the TV,” Sophie said. “You work with Uncle Bobby, don’t you?”

“That’s right,” Alex confirmed. “We’re partners, Sophie.”

It didn’t escape Bobby’s attention that Alex spoke in the present tense about their partnership, and not in the past tense. He felt a brief moment of bitterness and anger, but that was rapidly washed away by a feeling of warmth and hope. It struck at him deeply that even though he couldn’t see a way out of the terrible situation he was in, his feisty partner could still stir in him feelings of hope. He truly loved her for that.

“You have an accident, pal?”

Bobby looked at Fin, startled out of his reverie, and spoke in irritation.

“What are you talking about?”

Fin motioned to the upended bowl on the floor.

“I’m talking about that. You have a little temper tantrum, buddy? Didn’t wanna be a good boy and eat your breakfast?”

“Shut up,” Bobby muttered, barely managing to stop himself from adding ‘asshole’ while Sophie was there. “Would you eat that slop?”

“No,” Fin mused, as he peered at the globular mess on the floor. “I guess not.”

“Dr Fielding wants you to start eating, huh?” Alex asked, and Bobby answered with a quick nod.

“Yes. And that’s what they brought for me.”

“I hate to break the news to you, bud,” Fin said in mock seriousness, “but you aren’t quite ready for steak yet.”

“Very funny,” Bobby snapped. “I know that. But even some toast and eggs would have been better than that.”

“Are you hungry?” Alex wondered, and Bobby shook his head gloomily in answer.

“No. Not really.”

She understood that, only too well, and she knew that his lack of appetite probably had more to do with emotional trauma than physical. She knew she’d felt exactly the same when they’d first tried to get her to eat something, and she didn’t really feel much better now. She wasn’t the least bit surprised that Bobby had no appetite, especially for the kind of slop which now adorned the floor.

“I’ll talk to Mom,” she suggested gently. “She’s been bringing food in for me every day, and I know she’d be happy to do the same for you. Maybe she could bring in some soup and some of her home-made bread? And maybe a bit of scrambled eggs for something a bit more solid?”

She braced herself for his refusal, and was both surprised and pleased when he accepted the offer with quiet grace and a grateful smile.

“I… I’d like that. Thankyou.”

“I like eggs,” Sophie spoke up suddenly. “Eggs, with cheese and ketchup!”

Bobby groaned and shut his eyes, drawing laughter from both Fin and Alex.

“Sophie, honey,” Fin said in between chuckles, “I think that maybe that combination is a little more than your uncle can stomach at right now.”

Sophie smiled sheepishly.

“Sorry. Daddy says I have… unique tastes.”

“That one is definitely unique,” Alex agreed. Sophie reached over and patted Bobby’s hand affectionately.

“I didn’t mean to upset your tummy, Uncle Bobby.”

“It’s okay,” Bobby reassured her with a tired smile. “You haven’t upset me at all.”

“Oh, good,” Sophie enthused. “Because Daddy said I couldn’t come see you yet because I might upset you, even though I didn’t mean to.”

Bobby squeezed her tiny hand gently.

“We’ll tell your dad that you definitely did not do that, and that you helped to make me feel a little bit better.”

Sophie’s face lit up like a beacon at his words, and her entire body literally radiated happiness which, in turn, put a genuine smile on Bobby’s face.

“Really?” she asked, and he nodded.

“Really.” He paused, his gaze flickering to the doorway. “In fact, it looks like we’ll get to tell him right now.”

They all looked to see Frank Goren walk in, looking non-too-happy.

“There you are, you little monkey,” he growled, his gaze focused on his daughter. “Your mother and I have been looking everywhere for you! I should have known that you’d be in here. I thought we talked this over?”

“But I wanted to see Uncle Bobby!” Sophie protested. “And you and Mommy kept saying no, so I had to sneak in!”

Frowning, Frank reached out to lift her off the bed.

“Fine, you’ve seen him. Now it’s time to go.”

“No!” Sophie argued, shying away from him. “I don’t wanna go yet. I wanna stay with Uncle Bobby!”

“I don’t think so, pumpkin. Uncle Bobby needs a lot of rest, and he’s not going to get that with you around.”

Sophie’s face fell at her father’s words, but before Frank had a chance to pick her up, Bobby spoke up for her.

“I want her to stay.”

Frank hesitated, looking to his brother uncertainly.

“That’s good of you to say that, Bobby, but you don’t need to…”

“I’m not just saying it to make anyone feel better,” Bobby said as firmly as he was able to. “Except me, that is. She… She helps me to feel better.”

Frank stared at Bobby for several seconds, looking as though he was going to dispute his brother’s words, but instead he relaxed, smiled and nodded.

“Okay. I shouldn’t really be surprised, mind you. I swear, this kid could put a smile on anyone’s face.”

“So I can stay?” Sophie asked hopefully, and Frank sighed in defeat.

“All right, yes. You can stay, as long as it’s okay with your uncle.”

The mile-wide grin was back, and she promptly returned her attention to Bobby.

“Would you like me to read to you, Uncle Bobby? I can read really good.”

Bobby chuckled softly, touched by the offer.

“Maybe later, Sophie. Maybe if your dad will bring a newspaper up…?”

“Hint taken,” Frank said with a wry grin. “I’ll go get one for you now, if you like. What would you prefer to have? The Times…?”

“That would be good,” Bobby agreed appreciatively.

“What about magazines?” Frank wondered, and before Bobby had a chance to respond, Alex and Fin responded for him in unison.

“The Smithsonian,” they said together, exchanged looks, and promptly burst out laughing. Frank chuckled in amusement.

“Might’ve known. Okay, how about I see if I can grab a copy of that, The Times, and maybe a National Geographic? Think that might be enough to keep you occupied for a while?”

Bobby couldn’t conceal his gratitude, not only at the consideration shown to him by Frank, but also at the fact that for once he wasn’t being mocked for his choice of reading material.

“Thankyou,” he murmured.

“Okay,” Frank said. His gaze went to his daughter, who sat happily on the edge of the bed. “And you behave yourself. No bouncing around in here.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

Rolling his eyes, Frank left the room.

“Still can’t believe his change of attitude,” Fin mused. “I just hope he means it.”

Bobby said nothing, but just quietly he shared Fin’s scepticism. As much as he wanted to believe that Frank was being genuine in his concern for him, past experience warned him otherwise. The brother he knew only too well was little more than a carbon copy of their father – a hard-drinking, abusive gambling addict, and Bobby knew from bitter experience that few men like that ever truly changed their ways. All he could hope was that in this instance, he was wrong.

His gaze went back to Alex, and she returned his stare silently, radiating support and love. A faint sigh escaped him, and he felt some of the anxiety and anguish of the last twenty-four hours melt out of him as he felt their emotional connection strengthen once more.

Maybe he was wrong about his brother, and maybe he was right. All he cared about right at that moment was the petite woman sitting at his bedside, and the little girl perched at the end of the bed. Beyond that, nothing mattered to him. Nothing at all.

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