A/N: This is an interesting experience, effectively writing a story from scratch. I have only a slender idea of where this is going, and already I’ve caught myself by surprise with some of what’s happened so far. But, as a very smart, spunky female detective said in a season one episode, ‘This is gonna go where it’s gonna go.’ But it ought to be an interesting ride in the meantime…

I've also been considering the whole Bobby Goren/Elliot Stabler animosity thing. With the exception of one fic, every story I've read that places those two together in the same room inevitably writes them as thoroughly hating each other - Intellectual vs. physical, etc. I'd fully anticipated that happening in this story, as well, but as I said, I've caught myself by surprise with the way some aspects of this story are turning out. It's gonna go where it's gonna go...

“So how’d it go?” Fin Tutuola asked as Olivia and Elliot joined him and John Munch in a little café not far from SVU Headquarters. Olivia shook her head.

“You needed to be there to believe it.”

“We thought Captain Deakins and Chief Salinger were going to kill each other, literally,” Elliot said with a chuckle. Munch rolled his eyes.

“And we thought the politicians all loved him.”

“Deakins must be the exception to the rule,” Fin retorted. “Salinger’s an asshole, anyway. Now, everyone knows that Deakins is a politician, but if he can’t stand the guy, he must be okay.”

“He sure defended his detectives to the hilt,” Elliot said as he signalled the waitress for coffee. “And believe us, they needed it, after the crap Goren pulled.”

“What happened?” Munch asked.

“Goren slammed Salinger into a filing cabinet,” Elliot explained, “and then he damned near choked him.”

“Any particular reason for it?” Fin asked with an inscrutable look on his face. Elliot and Olivia exchanged glances. Although they understood the reasons now for Bobby’s actions against Salinger, neither of them felt comfortable sharing something like that without consent from either of the Major Case detectives.

“Salinger was just being an asshole about everything,” Elliot said finally, by way of explanation. “He was trying rub their faces in it about us being in charge, and not Major Case. Anyway, you know what the word is at the moment. Goren’s still in a leg brace… I mean, that leg has gotta really still be hurting him. The guy’s got a short fuse at the moment and I guess it just didn’t take much to set him off. But I’ve gotta say, if I’d had my way, I would’ve let Goren just choke the bastard to death.”

“And Salinger didn’t do anything to him over it?” Munch wondered.

“He tried,” Olivia answered. “He was going to have Goren suspended, and charged with assault, but Mike Logan stonewalled him.”

“Logan?” Fin asked incredulously. “How’d he pull that off?”

“He very politely mentioned that one of his best friends is Danny Walker, from the Post. Salinger nearly choked.”

Fin smiled a little to himself, but said nothing.

“So, how do you think working with the great Goren and his little sidekick is going to work out?” Munch asked, ignoring the frown he got from his partner. Elliot shrugged.

“Might be okay. It’s not just Goren and Eames that are coming, though. Deakins is sending Mike Logan and his partner, too.”

“Bishop, you mean?” Fin asked, and Olivia nodded.


“How come? Is Deakins trying to balance out the equation, or something?”

“Or something,” Elliot muttered. “Let’s just say, it’s not for the benefit of the investigation.”

Fin and Munch exchanged looks, and then Finspoke in a subdued voice.

“It’s because Gore Mountain is where that whack job Erik Mathers tried to kill Goren and Eames, isn’t it?”

Both Olivia and Elliot gaped at him in astonishment.

“You already knew?” Olivia burst out. “How come you never said anything to us earlier?”

Munch shrugged. “We thought you already knew. It’s not like it’s secret knowledge.”

Elliot shook his head in annoyance.

“Crap. Thanks, guys. Next time, clue us in, would you? Liv and I felt like idiots, not knowing what the hell was going on.”

“Speak for yourself, Elliot,” Olivia grumbled at her partner.

“So what’s the plan now?” Fin asked, exchanging amused smiles with Munch.

“We’re leaving tomorrow morning,” Elliot explained. “We have to be at One Police Plaza at eight tomorrow morning.”

“Why One Police Plaza? Munch grumbled.

“It’s a more central location,” Olivia said simply. Munch grunted.

“Bullshit. You mean, it’s out of consideration to the Dynamic Duo.”

“Not from Salinger’s point of view,” Elliot retorted, “and he’s the one who organised it.”

“How about actually trying to show a little consideration, John?” Fin growled. “You heard Elliot. Goren’s still in a leg brace.”

Munch was unapologetic. “So sue me for not falling over myself with sympathy for the guy. You guys wanna treat him with kid gloves? Be my guest. But if Goren can’t keep up with us, I for one am not waiting around for him.”

Elliot and Olivia exchanged looks once more. The truth was, prior to that afternoon’s meeting, they had each harboured the same thought. Now, neither was sure what lay ahead.

“Let’s just go one step at a time, okay?” Olivia suggested quietly. “We ought to at least be willing to give him a chance.”

Fin nodded in agreement.

“Okay, so we’re meeting at One Police Plaza tomorrow morning at eight. Then what? We go to the airport together from there?”

“Not exactly,” Elliot said ruefully. “Salinger’s kindly organised a van.”

The statement was met with incredulous stares from Fin and Munch.

“A van,” Munch said flatly after a long silence. “We’re going by van. Did anyone think to mention to Salinger just how far it is to Gore Mountain?”

“C’mon, John, it’ll be fun, man,” Fin said sarcastically. “It’ll be just like going on a road trip. You bring the junk food, I’ll bring the beer.”

“Road trip my ass,” Munch grumbled. “I’m telling you now, if anything is going to put Goren into a foul mood, it’ll be eight hours cramped in a van with seven other people.”

“You think we haven’t thought of that?” Elliot retorted. “And we aren’t the only ones. Deakins tried to push for us to fly there, but Salinger didn’t want to hear it.” He paused, shaking his head. “Come to think of it, it’s surprising that one of them didn’t try throttling Salinger then, either. The stupid moron said he couldn’t see what the problem was, because Goren and Eames had made the trip before, and he’d heard it was a pretty smooth ride.”

Fin was horrified.

“You can’t be serious. He really said that? In front of Goren and Eames?”

“He really said it,” Olivia confirmed, and Fin grunted.

“Sounds like the man has a death wish.”

“All it is,” Munch said, “is that he’s trying to get in as much payback as possible before Adkins comes back from his trip overseas. He’ll be getting his ass kicked all over the place by Adkins in a month’s time, and he knows it. That’s partly why he’s being such a prick now. Unfortunately, Goren and Eames are the ones who have to suffer for it. Then again, better them than us.”

“You might say that now,” Elliot pointed out. “But don’t forget that we’re gonna be stuck with them for however long, aren’t we?”

Fin got up, and Munch followed suit.

“I can think of a lot worse things to have happen, Elliot. How about we just give them a chance? You might think that Goren can be annoying, but he’s good at the job, and so is Eames. With them around, we might be home again just that much sooner.”

Elliot smiled wryly.

“Nice speech, Fin. I could almost believe that you meant it.”

Fin smiled coolly.

“See you tomorrow. We’re gonna head back, report to Cragen, and then head home to get ready.”

Munch nodded in wordless agreement, and the two detectives trudged out of the café in silence.

“You think it’ll really be that bad?” Olivia asked. Elliot shrugged.

“Honestly? I don’t know, Liv. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.”

The following morning

Bobby opened his door the next morning just on half past seven to find Deakins waiting on the other side.

“I’m getting dejavu,” he muttered, turning and limping away back to the sofa. Deakins glanced down at the bags that sat just inside the door.

“You’re not the only one,” he commented as he followed Bobby in. He paused, his gaze going to Alex, who sat in Bobby’s large recliner, nursing a large cup of steaming coffee. She looked tired, he mused as he took in her pale features and the dark circles beneath her eyes. In fact, so did he.

“Time to get moving,” he said unnecessarily, opting not to go for the standard ‘are you ready’ comment. He knew damn well what the answer would have been had he dared to ask that. When neither of them moved, he walked around to put himself in a position where he could see both their faces.

“I gather it was a pretty rough night?”

“You could say that,” Alex mumbled, not lifting her gaze from the steaming liquid in her mug. Bobby looked up at him after sparing Alex a concerned glance.

“Are we going to have to put up with Salinger this morning?”

“Possibly. Why?”

“Then you might want to hang on to my gun. Because otherwise, I might just shoot him.”

Deakins sighed faintly.

“Very bad night, I see. Okay. How about we get down to the car, and you can tell me on the way to One Police Plaza.”

“What’s to tell?” Alex asked hoarsely. “Neither of us slept more than two hours straight last night, and at one point I woke up screaming, then spent the next half hour after that in the bathroom throwing up.”

“I wish I could say forget about this,” Deakins said unhappily. “I really do. If Adkins was here, this would never have gotten this far, but there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.”

“All the times we’d dealt with victims before,” Bobby said softly, his gaze fixed very firmly on the floor, “and we never really had a clue. All those times that we forced a victim to relive what they’d been through, and we never understood how hard it really was. Now it’s our turn…” He looked up at Deakins, then, with a pained stared. “Kind of poetic justice, isn’t it?”

“Okay,” Deakins said quietly, sitting down opposite them on the other recliner. “Listen to me, both of you. I don’t want either of you going thinking you don’t have any support at all.”

“We know,” Alex said acidly. “We have Logan and Bishop…”

“Alex, shut up and listen to me,” Deakins snapped. She stared at him, mildly startled. Deakins was often inclined to tell Bobby to shut up, particularly when he got into his encyclopaedia mode, but she could not recall him ever telling her to shut up.

Assured that he had the attention of both of them, Deakins went on quietly.

“You both have my cell phone number on speed dial. I want you to call me every evening for an update on what’s happening. If you just need to talk, though, about anything, no matter how trivial you might think it is, then I want you to call me straight away. Any time, day or night. The same with your counsellors. You can probably imagine they’re not happy about this…”

“Are you serious?” Alex retorted. “We called and spoke to them yesterday evening when we got back here. They damn near hit the roof.”

Deakins smiled ruefully. “That would explain the phone call I had last night.”

Bobby, at least, had the good grace to look embarrassed, Deakins thought amusedly.

“Well,” Bobby mumbled, “we’re sorry about that. We didn’t mean for them to call and harass you. We would have preferred they do it to Salinger…”

“That would have been difficult when he’s so damned selective about who he gives his phone numbers to,” Deakins mused. “I’m not kidding, though. Call me anytime, day or night.”

“Is that an order?” Bobby asked, just a hint of a smile on his face. Deakins smiled in return.

“If you want it to be. And regarding Logan and Bishop, don’t be afraid to talk to them either. They’ll listen to you, and they’ll probably be a hell of a lot more understanding than any of those four detectives from SVU.”

“That’s right,” Alex murmured. “Those other two from SVU are coming as well, aren’t they? Tutuola and Munch… I heard Munch is a bit of a whack job, the Fox Mulder of the NYPD.”

It was only with some effort that Deakins didn’t laugh outright. As it was, he couldn’t keep a grin off his face.

“He’s prone to conspiracy theories,” he confirmed, “if that’s what you mean. But if Don Cragen has been totally honest with us, then he’s also a damned good detective. As for Tutuola, I don’t know much about him…”

“Fin’s a good cop,” Bobby said suddenly, drawing a surprised look from Deakins.

“You know him?” Deakins asked. Bobby shrugged a little.

“I know of him. We were both in Narcotics. He’s got a good reputation.”

Bobby hesitated, and then stood up abruptly. Alex reluctantly followed suit.

“Okay. Let’s go.” He paused, a frown crossing his face fleetingly as Deakins manoeuvred himself awkwardly to his feet, leaning heavily on his own walking stick for that extra bit of much-needed support. “You… didn’t drive here yourself… did you?”

Deakins raised an eyebrow incredulously.

“Are you kidding me? My doctor would have me hung, drawn and quartered. No, Logan’s waiting with the van downstairs.”

“Logan,” Bobby muttered. Deakins bit back an urge to grin.

“Cut him some slack, Bobby. If it weren’t for him, you’d probably be facing an indefinite suspension and an assault charge for bailing up Salinger yesterday.”

Bobby shook his head, but said nothing. Between the three of them, they got the small amount of luggage down to the underground garage, where Logan was waiting for them in the Major Case Squad’s small van.

“I won’t bother asking if you guys are ready to go,” Logan said as he helped them load their bags into the back.

“Thankyou,” Alex grumbled. Logan looked across at Deakins as Alex and Bobby climbed into the van, but the captain only shook his head.

“Okay,” Logan murmured. “Let’s go. Wouldn’t want to keep the dear Chief waiting.”

“They’re late,” Munch said coolly as they waited by the van Salinger had hired, in One Police Plaza’s underground car park.

“Five minutes, Munch,” Olivia said. “They’re five minutes late. It’s no big deal.”

“They’ll be here,” Bishop said calmly, her attention focused on her copy of the files that Salinger had given to Don Cragen to pass on to them. “You know what downtown traffic is like, this time of the morning.”

Munch grunted. “For all we know, Goren and Eames probably barricaded themselves into their apartments, and won’t come out. Can’t say I really blame them but I, for one, would really like to get going. Eight hours in a minivan is not my idea of a swell time, and the later they are, the longer this is going to take.”

“We’re gonna be in the van the same amount of time, no matter how early or late we leave, Munch,” Elliot pointed out in amusement. “Just chill, okay?”

“Here they come,” Olivia said as a smaller van drove into the car park, and pulled up near the bigger, rented twelve-seater van.

“Okay, we’re all here now,” Cragen said as Bobby, Alex, Logan and Deakins got out, and their luggage was loaded into the other vehicle.

“Where’s Salinger?” Logan wondered, not sounding terribly disappointed at his absence.

“Something about an appointment he couldn’t break,” Cragen said. “Hoping to see him, were you Logan?”

Logan smirked. “Yeah, sure. I was really looking forward to it, Captain.”

“Here,” Cragen said with a smile as he handed files each to Bobby, Alex and Logan. “Some reading material for the trip.” He looked around at all eight detectives. “The local brass will be waiting for you when you get there this afternoon. You’ll have all their resources at your disposal, so don’t hesitate to use whatever you need. And remember, they asked for our help, so don’t take any crap. Ready, people?”

Neither Bobby nor Alex answered that. Instead, they climbed straight into the van, taking the seats at the back, with Bobby sitting in the middle so he could stretch his long legs out. Exchanging bemused looks, the other six detectives followed suit, climbing into the van as well.

“So tell me something, Jim,” Cragen mused as they watched the van pull out of the car park on the start of its long journey north. Deakins looked questioningly at his counterpart.


“You think they’ll make it to Gore Mountain without trying to kill each other?”

Deakins had a smile on his face even before he realised it.

“I hope so, Don,” he said as they turned and headed back towards the lifts. “But if it comes down to one on one, I’ll put my money on my people. Even with the leg brace, Bobby is still formidable, to say the least.”

Cragen gave a short laugh.

“You’re sorely underestimating Elliot and Fin, my friend. I wouldn’t like to be around when either of them are backed into a corner.”

Deakins laughed softly, but his humour was already seeping away as his concern for Bobby and Alex began to rise again.

“They’ll be fine, Jim,” Cragen reassured him. “But if it makes you feel any better, you might like to know that two of our detectives have some history together.”

Deakins looked questioningly at Cragen, wondering if the captain was referring to Logan.

“Who do you mean?”

“Fin and Goren. They worked together in Narcotics for nearly three and a half years.”

Deakins couldn’t conceal his surprise.

“Bobby said he knew about Fin. He didn’t say they’d actually worked together.”

“Well, they did. Fin told me last night, on the quiet. By the sounds of it, they’re pretty good friends. And Fin said that Goren has told him a fair bit about what happened on that mountain.”

Deakins mulled over that as they rode the lift back up to the eleventh floor. There was some relief to be had in that knowledge, but at the same time he wondered whether Bobby had mentioned it at all to Alex. Though he supposed it wasn’t essential information for him to pass on, Deakins could imagine Alex would feel more than a little upset if she wasn’t told.

“…So we don’t have to worry. They’ll be fine.”

Deakins came back to reality, becoming abruptly aware that Cragen had been speaking to him. Cragen was watching him with a bemused smile, seemingly aware that his counterpart had been somewhere else entirely.

“I said, Jim, that Fin promised to keep an eye out for both Goren and Eames. We don’t have to worry.”

Some small measure of relief filled Deakins.


“So where’s the beer, Fin?” Olivia asked, grinning broadly. “Didn’t you say you were going to bring it?”

Fin threw a smirk in Olivia’s direction as he got settled into the second last seat, just in front of where Bobby and Alex were sitting.

“Sorry, Liv. Cragen confiscated it.”

“Crap,” Logan bantered. “That sucks. Well, we’ll just have to make a pit stop, won’t we?”

“Anyone brings anything into this van that has a higher alcoholic content than root beer,” Alex threatened, “and I’ll shoot them myself.”

“Hey, just ’cause you guys are tee-totalling, why should we be deprived?” Logan asked with a laugh. Alex glared at him.

“I have a gun, and I’m not afraid to use it, Logan. Don’t tempt me.”

“Okay, guys,” Elliot said, chuckling. He paused, aware of three lethal glares being thrown in his direction. “And ladies,” he added quickly. “Get settled. We’ve got a long way to go, and I’ll warn you now, I’ll personally throttle the first person who says they need a restroom stop before we’re a hundred miles out of the city.”

Fin hooted with laughter.

“Check out the man, taking control. No guesses who’s got the experience with going on long trips with kids.”

Elliot rolled his eyes.

“Don’t make me bring out the big guns, Fin.”

“If you’re thinking about making us sing travel songs, don't,” Bishop growled warningly where she sat next to Olivia. Elliot grinned and finally dropped into a seat beside Logan as the van turned out of One Police Plaza’s car park, and into the morning traffic.

Fin shifted in his seat, turning to look at the two detectives that occupied the rear seat.

“How’re you two doing?”

“Just peachy,” Alex muttered. Bobby gave her hand a quick, reassuring squeeze.

“We’re okay, thanks, Fin.”

Fin eyed them both critically.

“You didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night, did you?”

Bobby smiled, but it a pale imitation of the real thing.

“Is it that obvious?”

“Man, you look like you haven’t slept for a week.”

“You’re not far off the mark,” Alex conceded, simply too exhausted to keep up the attitude. Fin regarded her with sympathy.

“Don’t bite my head off, but maybe you ought to consider taking something to help you sleep.”

“You mean something like dream suppressants?” Bobby asked. “You know we can’t take anything like that, Fin. That’s all still highly experimental stuff.”

“I know,” Fin murmured. “How are you going to manage, though?”

They exchanged tired looks, and then Bobby spoke softly, in a voice that left Fin feeling none too convinced.

“We’ll manage.”


“I thought we were never going to stop,” Munch grumbled as the van pulled up at a roadhouse just off the freeway.

“What’s the matter, John?” Fin asked. “Getting a numb ass?”

Munch took the liberty of ignoring his partner, instead clambering out of the van and stalked off to the roadhouse for a restroom break, and much-needed food. Grinning wickedly, Fin hurried after him. Bishop went as well, her nose still buried in the thick file she’d been provided with at the start of their trip.

“What do you want to do about them?” Logan asked. Elliot and Olivia looked around questioningly, and saw what Logan was talking about a moment later.

Bobby was slumped against the side of the van, his head kept from banging against the window by means of a small cushion. Alex was slumped against him, with his right arm draped protectively around her shoulders. Both detectives were fast asleep, and apparently had been for some time.

“Maybe we should just leave them,” Olivia murmured. “They look so peaceful. We could always just grab them something to go if they haven’t woken up before we’re ready to move on.”

“We’ve been on the road since just after eight, and it’s twelve o’clock now,” Elliot said. “They might look peaceful now, but that won’t last long if we take off again without giving them the chance to take a rest stop.”

“Okay,” Logan conceded. “You two go ahead. I’ll wake them.”

“You sure?” Olivia asked. Logan nodded.


“Okay, we’ll see you inside,” Elliot said, and he and Olivia climbed out of the van and disappeared into the roadhouse. Logan watched them go, then sat down carefully just within arm’s length of Alex. Benson and Stabler might have been great detectives, but their powers of observation left something to be desired if they thought Bobby and Alex looked peaceful.

Surely he hadn’t been the only one to notice the way Bobby’s right hand held Alex’s shoulder, pulling her closer in an unconscious, involuntary motion; or how his forehead creased just a little and how his breath escaped him in a rush after some several seconds of holding it in. Or, the way in which Alex shuddered ever so slightly against Bobby’s large frame and her hand clutched at his jacket, or the faint whimper that escaped her lips. Or most telling of all, the tears that glistened on Alex’s cheeks.

After taking a moment to consider a plan of action, Logan reach out and touched just the tips of his fingers to Alex’s free hand.

The result was instantaneous. Alex awoke with a violent start, sitting up fast. The sudden movement brought Bobby back into very abrupt awareness, as well.

“It’s okay,” Logan said quickly, anxious to reassure them both. “We’re still in the van. We’ve just stopped for lunch… Thought you guys might appreciate a bathroom break. We’ve been on the road for nearly four hours now.”

“Thanks,” Alex muttered, rubbing one hand quickly across her cheeks and her eyes.

“Are you both all right?” Logan asked cautiously. “I mean…”

“We’re fine,” Bobby cut him off quietly. “Just… give us a minute, okay? We’ll be there in a minute.”

Logan nodded.

“Sure. You want me to order you some coffee?”

“Please,” Alex said gratefully. “The stronger, the better.”

With a last, concerned look at the two of them, Logan climbed out of the van and walked into the roadhouse.

Once Logan had gone, Alex shifted away from Bobby, and rubbed at her eyes.

“I suppose we can be grateful that neither of us woke up screaming,” she mumbled. When Bobby didn’t answer, she looked back at him questioningly. He was staring away from her, out the window. After a moment’s hesitation, she reached across and laid her hand gently over his.

“What is it, Bobby?”

He looked back at her, finally, a familiar pain in his eyes.

“What were you dreaming about?”

She felt a touch of frustration, but swallowed it just as quickly. She knew this game well enough, though ‘game’ was a dubious choice of phrase. Whenever Bobby suffered a particularly bad nightmare, he tried to offset it by drawing out a description of her own dreams. She guessed there was some underlying hope that hers would be worse than his, allowing him to tell himself that his were not so bad, and could be more or less ignored. It was one coping mechanism that he relied fairly heavily on, and though it often didn’t work out the way she suspected that he intended it to, she was more than willing to acquiesce.

“I was back in that damned warehouse. You were on the floor, unconscious… There was blood everywhere, I really thought he’d cracked your skull open. I was kneeling beside you, and I looked up… Mathers was coming at me with that crowbar… I just knelt there and watched him come… I couldn’t move, couldn’t do a damned thing! Just knelt there like some helpless moron, and waited for him to take me out… I was thinking over and over, it’s going to happen again… And I can’t do a thing to stop it…”

She gave a choked sob, and Bobby gently drew her to him in a warm hug.

“What about you?” she asked, her voice trembling just slightly. He answered her question with silence, and she looked up at him, waiting patiently for an answer.

“I remember.”

She watched him, puzzled and concerned.

“What do you remember?”

He shut his eyes, but it did nothing to rid him of whatever images haunted his mind.

“Bobby?” she pressed gently. “What do you remember?”

“Being… Being in his van.”

Alex’s breath caught in her throat. “You mean… You woke up when he was taking us from New York to… to the mountain?”

“I guess so,” he mumbled. “It… It’s not really clear… but yeah. I remember waking up in a small space… We… we weren’t blindfolded, then, or tied up. I was on my back… You were right next to me. I could see the windows of the van when I looked up… The windows were blacked out… or heavily tinted, I don’t really remember… but it wasn’t totally dark. I think he must have used chloroform, or something like it. I know I remember feeling sick, and I didn’t have the strength to move. I could hear sounds… people outside talking, and laughing… but nothing clearly enough to understand. But I could smell gas… petrol… like at a gas station. I… I tried to kick the side of the van, but I couldn’t move. If I’d been able to kick… just once… If I’d just been able to make someone hear me… but I couldn’t move at all… and I couldn’t keep awake for long. I don’t know whether Mathers came in and found me awake, or if I just passed out again… but the next thing I remember after that was waking up beside you in that room in his cabin.”

She slipped her arms around him and hugged him tightly as he shuddered violently, putting up only a token resistance to the tears that were trying so hard to force their way out of his eyes..

“Bobby… How long have you remembered all that?”

“I only remembered it now,” he whispered. “That… That’s what the nightmare I had was about. And when I woke up… for just a split second…”

She nodded in understanding.

“For just a second, you thought you were still in his van.”


She hugged him fiercely.

“I hope you don’t blame yourself for not being able to do anything.”

“No,” he murmured, but his tone suggested otherwise to Alex. She grasped his hand in her own, and squeezed it reassuringly.

“Bobby, if there was anything you could have done, I know you would have done it. If you say you couldn’t move, then I don’t doubt that. Don’t blame yourself. Not now. It’s not worth the grief. Please?”

He shuddered a little, and finally returned her hug.

“I won’t. Thanks, Alex.”

She smiled, relieved.

“S’okay. Anyway, I have a feeling we’re going to have enough to deal with, without sending ourselves on a guilt trip this early into it.”

“This trip is going to bring back a whole lot of memories that neither of us want,” Bobby said softly as he looked out the window again, at the roadhouse. “Maybe some things we hadn’t remembered before now.” He gave a short, bitter laugh. “I’m starting to wish Salinger had suspended me.”

“Don’t say that,” Alex murmured. “How do you think I’d cope if you weren’t here?”

“Deakins told us to survive together,” Bobby murmured. “I think that’s our only chance. It’s the only way we can survive.”

“So,” Alex mused, “what do you think the odds are of us getting a room together when we get where we’re going?”

Bobby looked down at her in amusement, mildly relieved that none of the other six detectives were around to hear that.

“I’d say slim to none,” he answered with a wry smile. “But if you share a room with Bishop… and I share one with Logan, or Fin, at least they’ll know what to expect.”

“As long as she’s careful in waking me up,” Alex muttered, suddenly feeling downright belligerent at the thought of having to share a room with the woman who had once taken her place as Bobby’s partner – even if only temporarily.

“She was a fill-in, Alex,” Bobby said with a small smile as he pulled himself up out of the seat and climbed awkwardly out of the van. “That’s all. As much as I appreciate what she did for us, if I ever had to partner her again, I’d probably shoot myself.” He looked back at her, pausing halfway across the car park to the roadhouse. “You’re my partner. I don’t want anyone else.”

Alex couldn’t suppress the grin that found its way onto her face, and her grin in turn drew a broad smile out of her partner.

“C’mon, you big goof,” Alex said, slipping her arm through his and deciding she didn’t give a damn who saw. “I want coffee.”

“They’re coming,” Bishop murmured as she spotted Bobby and Alex crossing the car park.

“Do we need to be prepared for bad moods and general crabbiness?” Munch asked, sounding like he didn’t particularly care.

“I don’t think so,” Bishop answered. “They’re both smiling.”

Fin grunted. “Good sign.”

Silence fell across the table as Bobby and Alex approached. The two senior detectives exchanged bemused looks as they sat down.

“Finished talking about us?” Alex asked calmly as she spooned sugar into the coffee that Logan pushed across to her. The embarrassed looks shared between the others was more than satisfying to both Bobby and Alex.

“So how long have we got for lunch?” Logan asked, eager to move the somewhat sparse conversation in a new direction. Elliot looked at Olivia, who shrugged a little.

“I think we can take an hour. Even if we got food to go, we wouldn’t get there before four o’clock this afternoon at the earliest, and by the time we get ourselves sorted out, it’ll be too late to start anything today. We might as well enjoy ourselves while we can.”

A murmur of grateful agreement swept through the group, and they began to study the menus in earnest.

“Hey, does anyone know what the sleeping arrangements are?” Logan asked after their orders had been placed at the counter.

“Three rooms at the local motel,” Elliot answered, making a concerted effort to ignore the incredulous stares from his colleagues. “One room for the ladies, two for the gents. Work it out any way you please, guys.”

The silence that met Elliot’s announcement was a long one. Finally, Munch spoke tersely.

“Let me guess. It’s another case of Salinger trying to save a few bucks?”

“Too bad Deakins didn’t organise everything,” Bishop said ruefully. “We might have at least gotten individual rooms.”

“Not to mention flown there,” Olivia added.

“Did you guys really fly business class when you went over to England four months ago?” Elliot asked Bobby and Alex.

“Deakins arranged it,” Bobby said, feeling automatically defensive. “It wasn’t paid for by the Department.”

“It’s okay, I’m not criticising,” Elliot said with a laugh. “Good luck, I say. Five star hotel, too, I’ll wager.”

“It was only a four star hotel, for your information,” Alex grumped, and the rest of the table erupted with laughter. She glared daggers at all of them, ignoring Bobby’s hand that gently grasped hers underneath the table.

“Go ahead, laugh it up. But for the record, we were only there for two nights. I stayed with the local DI for the rest of the time after those first two nights, and Bobby and Captain Deakins spent the rest of the time in hospital, after Erik Mathers’ father nearly killed them.”

The laughter died very abruptly, leaving six detectives more than a little red-faced.

“Sorry, Alex,” Fin apologised quietly. “We didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Are you serious?” Olivia asked incredulously. “The killer you went after in England was the father of the guy who…”

“Who nearly butchered the both of you on the mountain we’re heading for right now?” Munch finished off calmly when Olivia faltered. A second later, the lanky detective yelled in pain when Fin hit him hard on the upper arm.

“Why don’t you go take a powder, John?” Fin growled. “You’re starting to sound like that asshole Salinger.”

“It’s okay, Fin,” Bobby said softly, only to be startled when Alex launched herself out of her chair, jerking her hand away from his at the same time.

“Speak for yourself, Goren,” she spat, and stalked off towards the bathrooms.

“Way to go, Munch,” Elliot said coolly. “It hasn’t even been a full day, and you’ve managed to completely piss one of us off.”

Munch scowled, rubbing gingerly at his arm, but wisely opting to stay quiet. Bobby started up to go after his partner, only to be beaten to the punch by Olivia.

“Stay here,” she told him. “I’ll go talk to her.”

Bobby slumped back in his seat, watching with ill-concealed concern as Olivia disappeared into the bathroom after Alex.

“Are you really okay?” Logan asked quietly.

Bobby stared at the tabletop wordlessly for a long moment. His face had gone a pale shade of green as fresh memories sped through his mind. Memories of his partner and best friend lying on the ground with an arrow through her thigh… Pulling her bruised and battered body out of the freezing cold water of a fast-flowing river… Pulling the arrow out of her thigh, and cauterising the wound… Watching her slump over, seemingly lifeless, impaled by an arrow through her stomach…

All of a sudden, he’d lost any appetite he had. He got up awkwardly, leaning nearly his full weight on the walking stick.

“I’m not very hungry. I think I’ll wait in the van.”

“Great,” Fin growled once Bobby was out of earshot. “Why didn’t you just shoot him, John? It might have been less painful for him.”

“I’m sorry, okay?” Munch protested. “I didn’t think about what I was saying.”

“Yeah, well, you’d better start thinking,” Fin snapped. “It’s bad enough that they have to go back to that place to start with, without any of us being assholes about it.”

Silence fell as a tentative-looking waitress brought the first couple of plates out, one of which was the schnitzel sandwich that Bobby had ordered.

“Can we get that to go, please?” Logan asked, indicating the sandwich. He offered no further explanation and the waitress didn’t ask for one, though she spared them all a wary look as she took the plate back to the kitchen to wrap the sandwich up.

Minutes later, the rest of the food had been delivered to the table, though suddenly none of them felt particularly hungry. They were still picking at their lunches when Olivia and Alex finally emerged from the bathroom.

“Where’s Bobby?” Alex asked, looking at the five detectives at the table in confusion. There was a moment of silence, and then Elliot reluctantly pointed out the window to the van.

“He turned kinda green, then said he wasn’t hungry and that he was going to wait in the van,” Fin explained, wincing a little at the harsh look from Alex. She never said a word, wheeling around and stalking out of the roadhouse to go and check on her partner. Olivia watched her go, then looked back at her fellow detectives with a scathing look.

“And not a single one of you had the decency to go after him, and make sure he’s okay. That’s wonderful. We’re off to a really great start, aren’t we?”

“Take it easy, Olivia,” Munch pleaded. “What were we supposed to do? Offer a group hug?”

“Just try a little bit of understanding in future, please?” she asked, sitting down but all the while keeping one eye on the van parked outside, the two people that now occupied it.


Alex paused for just a moment in the open doorway of the van, acutely aware of the muffled sounds of sobbing from within. After just a moment’s consideration, she climbed in.

She found him in his seat at the rear of the van, slumped over, with one hand pressed over his face. His shoulders shook hard from sobs that were impossible for him to suppress. She couldn’t blame him, she thought glumly as she sat down carefully beside him, and gently wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders. She’d been sobbing like a baby when Olivia walked in on her in the bathroom. And all this because John Munch didn’t have the decency to keep his insensitive trap shut.

Slowly, he became aware of her presence, and his sobs eased a little and he finally drew back from her.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. She grasped his hands in her own, and leaned forward to kiss him gently on his left cheek.

“Don’t apologise, Bobby. It wasn’t your fault. I guess it wasn’t really Munch’s fault, either. We just needed an excuse to blow off steam. When was the last time we had a chance to do that?”

He smiled just a little.

“You mean have a full blown argument? About three weeks ago.”

Alex grinned at him.

“See? We’re about a week overdue. C’mere…”

She pulled him to her in a fierce, protective embrace, which he returned with gradually returning enthusiasm.

“I guess we’re going to have to start trying to be a bit more thick-skinned, aren’t we?” she murmured as she rested her head against his broad chest. “The others are going to get really tired of our ‘poor little us’ routine really quickly, otherwise.”

“It’ll help if we don’t have to put up with asinine comments like that one from Munch,” Bobby muttered. “But yeah… I think you’re right. We’re going to have to try and keep it to ourselves. It’s not going to be easy, but I think we have to, for everyone’s sakes.”

“If we’re really lucky,” Alex said, “we’ll wrap this one up in a couple of days, like we did with the Denton case.”

“Hopefully less dramatically,” Bobby said with a short, strained laugh.

“Well, at least we can be sure Deakins won’t be kidnapped this time.”

That elicited another chuckle, this time more genuine.

“No. Now we just have six other detectives to worry about.”

Alex snorted derisively.

“Screw them. Let them worry about themselves. We know why we’re here, Bobby, and it isn’t to solve this case. Salinger wants to break us. Well, screw him, too. I don’t want to go home from this needing therapy every other day. Let’s just do this… Do whatever we need to… and then get on with our lives. I want my life, back, Bobby. I’m sick of waking up every fucking night, soaked in sweat, crying… or screaming… from nightmares that just about drive me out of my mind with fear. If doing this now… going back to that place… is what it takes to get past that, then… then…”

“Bring it on?” he suggested softly when she hesitated, and a bitter smile crossed her lips.

“Yeah. Bring it on.”

“I’m tired of it, too. How many times have we been told the nightmares would eventually stop?”

“I lost count. I just want to be over this.”

“We might never be… over it,” Bobby mused, “but know what you mean. I want to be able to move on, too. At the moment, the smallest things trigger memories. Sometimes it’s hard not to just freeze up completely. I want that to end, more than anything.”

“It’s funny, you know,” Alex murmured. “The nightmares… the memories… Everything that keeps tripping us up… None of it came into play in Denton when things went haywire. We had a moment of panic, when Deakins went missing, but then we got onto it, and just did what we had to do. How did we do that without going to pieces?”

“Adrenalin,” Bobby said simply.

“I don’t believe that,” Alex argued. “At least, I don’t believe it was only that. I think, when it came to the crunch, we were somehow able to push it all to the side and focus totally on the situation… Not let all our traumas get in the way. I wish I knew how to do that for just the everyday things.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Bobby murmured, shutting his eyes as he rested his cheek gently against the top of her head, at the same time settling down into the seat. “We will… sooner or later.”

Alex sighed, feeling her thoughts start to grow sluggish as sleep began to overtake her.

“Sooner… I hope…”

Bobby didn’t answer, his slow, deep breathing telling her he was already asleep. Smiling inwardly, deciding she didn’t give a shit what the others thought, Alex allowed sleep to take hold and joined her partner in slumber.

“Check it out,” Fin said with quiet laughter as the detectives climbed back into the van nearly an hour later. Logan climbed in after him, took one look at the scene before them, and grinned widely.

“Anyone bring a camera?”

A ripple of laughter went through the group as they got a good look at the couple asleep at the back of the van. Alex and Bobby hadn’t moved from the positions they’d fallen asleep in nearly an hour previous, with Alex curled up against her partner’s large frame, and Bobby’s arms wrapped completely around her with his head resting gently on hers.

“They do look kind of cute,” Bishop said in amusement as Munch scrambled to get out his phone, to take a picture before Bobby or Alex awoke.

“Leave ’em be,” Elliot growled, only half joking. “Munch, don’t even think about it.”

“Just one photo,” Munch insisted.

“You use that thing, and I’ll shove it where the sun don’t shine,” Alex mumbled, woken by the clamour. She carefully extricated herself from Bobby, who stirred briefly, but then settled down once more without awakening. Alex shot Munch a final, warning glare, then looked wearily over at Elliot.

“We ready to get moving again?”

Elliot nodded, smiling a little in appreciation of Alex’s spitfire attitude that put Munch very firmly in his place.

“Yeah. You want to pay a visit before we go?”

“I’m fine,” she murmured. “But I don’t suppose any of you thought to…”

She trailed off, then smiled gratefully as Olivia handed a paper carry bag to her.

“That’s yours and Bobby’s sandwiches. We filled the thermoses with coffee, too.”

“Thanks,” Alex murmured, picking out her sandwich and putting Bobby’s aside for whenever he decided that he wanted it.

“So is everything okay?” Elliot asked, genuine concern in his voice as they all settled back into their seats and the van pulled out onto the road once more. Alex stared at him for a moment, a curious expression on her face. Out of all of their colleagues, Elliot Stabler was not one that she had expected to receive sympathy or compassion from, despite his reputation for treating victims with exceptional kindness.

“Yeah,” she said finally, shaking herself out of her momentary stupor. “Yeah, I think we’ll be okay.” She paused, then added, “I won’t apologise for before, but…”

“You don’t have to apologise for anything,” Olivia interrupted firmly, throwing a dark look in Munch’s direction.

“All the same,” Alex said quietly, “I’d like to explain. We’d both had bad nightmares before Logan woke us up… Bobby had a particularly bad one that triggered some pretty awful memories. We understand that Munch wasn't trying to be spiteful before, but I guess you could say it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” She paused, glancing sadly at her sleeping partner, then looking back to the other six detectives. “We know none of you would be deliberately insensitive, and we appreciate that. But you need to be aware that this won’t be the only time we have reactions like that.”

“It’s okay, Alex,” Bishop reassured her. “We do understand. We’ve all dealt with victims before.”

“Just don’t take it personally if we blow up at any of you,” Alex pleaded. “Because if that happens, chances are it’s because we will have had next to no sleep, and we’ll have come across something that will have triggered a bad memory.”

“We won’t, I promise you,” Elliot said. “Is there anything we can do, though? To counter the whole ‘no sleep’ thing? Do you guys have sleeping pills, or anything like that?”

“No, just our prescribed painkillers,” Alex answered softly, a part of her wishing deeply that she could just come clean and say that the only way to stop the nightmares was to let her and Bobby share a room… and a bed. “I… I don’t think there’s anything you can do to help there. The nightmares are going to come. I don’t think there’s anything that will stop that.”

“Are you absolutely sure?” Fin pressed, staring at her intently. Alex’s breath hitched just slightly in her throat as they locked stares. All of a sudden, she had a powerful sensation that Fin knew. Perhaps Bobby hadn’t actually told him as such, despite the many times she knew they’d talked, but he was obviously intuitive enough to be able to read between the lines and pick out the truth.

Alex had to make a conscious effort to breath evenly. As tempting as it was to just come clean, she didn’t dare. It was one thing for their companions to find them cuddled up together and asleep in the back of the van, but sleeping together in the same bed? Whether she could trust them to keep that under wraps or not, the bottom line was she dared not give away anything potentially damagingthat might get back to Salinger, inadvertently or otherwise.

“I’m sure,” she answered firmly. “We’ll manage. I won’t say we’ll be fine, but we will manage.”

Elliot nodded.

“Okay, then. If you sure. By the way, we worked out sleeping arrangements. You three ladies together, obviously. Fin said he’s happy to share a room with Goren, and Logan, Munch and I will take the third room. Think the big guy’ll be happy with that arrangement?”

Alex nodded, and a glance at Fin confirmed her suspicions that he’d been instrumental in ensuring he and Bobby were roomed together. She flashed him a brief, but grateful look before looking back at Elliot.

“I think so. Thanks, Elliot.”

Elliot nodded placidly, giving away nothing in his own expression.

“No problem.”

Bobby awoke nearly an hour later, suffering cramping legs and a stiff neck, but in a markedly less distressed mood than when he’d walked out of the roadhouse. He accepted the sandwich, the coffee, and the news that he was going to be sharing a room with Fin with open gratitude, and the general mood in the van lightened considerably as a result.

“How far away are we now?” Bishop asked, deliberately not looking at either Bobby or Alex as she asked.

“Another two or three hours, maybe,” Elliot answered.

“And the plan of attack when we do get there?” Munch asked.

“We’ll go straight to the motel when we get there,” Elliot explained. “Check in and get settled into our rooms… Then the local lieutenant is supposed to be meeting us over dinner. We’ll get the rest of the info then. Like Liv said this morning, there’s not really a lot we’ll be able to do by the time we do get there. The best thing we can do is to try and get as good a night’s sleep as we can, and start fresh first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Do we know if they even have any suspects?” Logan asked. “I didn’t see anything like that mentioned in the files we got this morning before we left.”

“No suspects so far,” Elliot replied, “but apparently they’re still waiting on the forensic results from their latest victim, so there’s always a possibility that something might come out of that.”

“Unlikely,” Bobby said as he helped himself to the coffee out of the thermos. “If they found nothing with the first five, they’re even less likely to find something with the sixth. Serial killers usually get better at what they do, not sloppier, and this guy is good at what he does.”

“They all make mistakes and end up screwing themselves over sooner or later,” Logan pointed out. “You two are a perfect example of that.”

Bobby and Alex exchanged glances, but neither said a word in response to Logan, each one thinking the same thing at the same time.

Suck it up

“Maybe,” Bobby said finally, “but we need to be prepared for the likelihood that there won’t be anything to go on from this latest victim. We might just find we have to start from scratch.”

“Great,” Munch muttered. “There’s a cheery thought.”

“We’d all love to be home again within a week, John,” Olivia said wearily. “Just accept that that probably isn’t going to happen.”

“No problem,” Munch muttered sourly, sinking down into his seat. “Not like I have a life outside the job, anyway.”

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