A/N: To all you readers out there who are still holding to the hope that I will cough consummate Bobby and Alex’s relationship, so to speak, I have one things to say. Chill! I’m not going down that path! I may ‘blur the lines’ occasionally, but this is not a B/A relationship in the making. Don’t go reading more into certain parts of this chapter than there really are, and remember, it is possible for two people to tell each other ‘I love you’, and maintain a platonic relationship.
Also, I know this is not a particularly long chapter, butin light of the fact that I've stupidly started yet another story, I wanted to get something uploaded before the weekend. Here's hoping this falls in the 'short but sweet' category.
It was already getting dark by the time they arrived at their destination, shortly after five o’clock – dark and cold, judging by the air that hit them when the door was opened.
“You’re gonna want your coats, everyone,” Elliot announced, shivering a little as gust of icy wind hit him.
“Yes, Pop,” Fin retorted, drawing laughter from the others. Elliot shook his head, smiling wryly to himself. Leaving his colleagues at the van to get their individual bags together, Elliot went to check them into the motel. He returned a few minutes later with three sets of keys.
“Okay, who wants?”
Olivia took one set, and Fin took another. Logan reached for the third set, but Munch beat him to it, snatching them quickly out of Elliot’s hand.
“Don’t even think about taking the bed by the window,” Logan threatened him as they headed off to their room. Elliot watched them go, then rolled his eyes.
“I can see I’m gonna have a blast. Okay, how about we meet back out here in, say, three quarters of an hour? Then we’ll go to where we’re supposed to be meeting with the local guy in charge.”
Elliot headed off after Logan and Munch, and Olivia and Lyn made their way to their room. Alex hesitated for just a moment, exchanging reluctant looks with Bobby.
“You know,” Fin said in a quiet voice, “I’d love to give you guys these keys and say go for it. I’d happily pay for a room for myself…”
Bobby stared at him, astonished, while Alex felt a familiar warmth creeping into her cheeks.
“You don’t think that we’re…” she started to ask, only to find that she couldn’t finish that sentence. Fin smiled a little.
“Relax, Alex. I know you guys aren’t together, not like that. But I figured from what Bobby’s been telling me about the nightmares he has, that you probably haven’t been adverse to sharing some creature comforts every so often. Like I said, I wouldn’t mind, and I’m pretty sure that Elliot and Olivia would keep their mouths shut… but I’m not sure that John would.”
“It’s okay,” Alex murmured, struggling to suppress the irrational disappointment she felt at Fin’s words. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to get away with that while we were here. I just hope the rest of you don’t mind being woken up by our nightmares.”
Fin looked sideways at Bobby, and favoured him with a reassuring smile.
“It doesn’t bother me any, and I know that Liv won’t care, either.”
Alex sighed faintly.
Sharing a last look with her partner, Alex turned and headed off after Lyn and Olivia. Bobby watched her go, but rather than turning to go to their room, he instead turned away, looking upwards. Fin came to stand beside him, following his line of sight to the mountain that rose up above the town. It looked innocent enough in the fading light of the day, but the events that had taken place within its borders were anything by innocent.
“You okay?” Fin asked when Bobby showed no sign of moving.
“We’re going to have to go up there, aren’t we?” Bobby said softly, a pain in his eyes that Fin knew he couldn’t begin to comprehend.
“Probably,” Fin confirmed, seeing no point in lying. “You think you can cope?”
“Do I have a choice?”
Tearing his gaze away from the darkening peaks, Bobby turned and trudged across the asphalt to their room.
“That bed okay for you?” Olivia asked as Alex came in. She paused, noting with grim amusement that they’d saved her the bed closest to the bathroom.
“That’s fine, thanks.”
She deposited her bags on the floor at the end of the bed and sat down, carefully stretching her left arm out. Though she was no longer required to wear an arm brace, she’d discovered she still needed to be particularly careful as she was still prone to suffering varying degrees of pain.
“It still hurts sometimes, doesn’t it?” Lyn asked, watching with sympathy. Alex nodded, rubbing at it gingerly.
“Mostly when the weather changes suddenly, but it’s not too bad. I just have to be careful not to jar it. Although, eight hours in that van didn’t help much.”
“How many breaks was it?” Olivia asked. “If you don’t mind me asking, that is.”
Alex shook her head. She didn’t mind talking about it in small doses, but reflecting on or talking at length with anyone other than Bobby or their counsellors about how it happened in the first place was not something she was as yet capable of doing.
Not that she actually remembered it that clearly, except perhaps in her worst nightmares. She didn’t care to remember, either, though she occasionally wondered how much of that part of their little adventure Bobby really remembered. As with the sudden surfacing of his memories of being in Mathers’ van, she suspected he remembered much more than he was willing to disclose, even to her.
“It was broken in five places,” she answered finally, keeping her gaze fixed firmly on her arm as she gently massaged it. She could almost sense them cringing at the thought of such a badly broken limb. “I finally managed to get rid of the arm brace a couple of months ago, although I still have to go for physio a couple of times a month.”
“Still?” Lyn asked in surprise. “I thought you were done with that.”
“No, not yet. A few more months, so my doctor keeps telling me. It’s okay, though. Bobby’s the unlucky one. He should have almost been ready to lose the leg brace by now, but thanks to that son of a bitch in Denton, he’ll be stuck with it for at least another ten months, probably longer.”
“He’s lucky the damage wasn’t permanent,” Lyn murmured. “Deakins, too.”
“What’s Bobby going to do about physio while we’re up here?” Olivia wondered, frowning a little. “He’s supposed to have it every day, isn’t he?”
Alex drew in a steadying breath. Here was yet another thing to worry about. Funny, how those around her had an uncanny knack for pinpointing the exact things that bothered her the most…
“Yes. He… He’s got exercises that he’ll need to do… We can’t do much else about it.”
“Will he be all right with just that?” Lyn asked.
“He’ll have to be, won’t he?” Alex snapped, her already thinly-stretched patience finally breaking. “Salinger hasn’t left us much choice, has he?”
There was a long, uncomfortable silence that hung in the air like a bad smell. Alex sat frozen for a long moment before getting up abruptly and stumbling into the bathroom, pushing the door closed behind her. Once inside, she dropped the lid on the toilet seat, and sat down gingerly, shuddering violently and rubbing compulsively at her upper arms.
She didn’t want to come across as bitchy to her two female colleagues, but the truth was that she just couldn’t talk about any of it. Not the incidents themselves, or the ongoing aftermath. She was already dreading the oncoming night, and if she’d allowed the conversation to go any further, it would only have exacerbated any nightmares she was sure she was going to have.
Standing up shakily, silently hating the vulnerability that she felt she was exuding, she turned on the tap over the basin and splashed icy cold water over her face, trying desperately to get a grip.
Right then, she wanted nothing more than to be with Bobby, sitting cuddled up to him with his arms completely enfolding her. She wanted to feel safe and, right then, Bobby’s company was the only sanctuary that she knew would afford her the comfort and security that she so desperately needed. She wanted it so badly, and it just about killed her to know that it was not a reasonable possibility.
She emerged from the bathroom nearly ten minutes later feeling self-conscious and embarrassed by her apparent snubbing of two women who had nothing but sympathy for her. Aside from a brief, reassuring smile from Olivia, though, neither of the other female detectives reacted at all. Quietly relieved, Alex went about changing into clothes more suited to the cold night.
“Hey,” Lyn said suddenly, looking up at Olivia. “Do you know who the lieutenant in charge is?”
“Got it here somewhere,” Olivia answered as she rifled through her folder. “Yeah, here it is. Lieutenant Gus Brenner. Why?”
Lyn hesitated, risking a glance in Alex’s direction, but the other woman had her back turned and didn’t notice. Lyn went on in a slightly more subdued tone.
“When we were here last, it was a guy called Pete Harrison. He was a complete jerk, didn’t like us coming in and taking over. He really gave us the run-around, and at one point Deakins nearly throttled him.”
Alex looked around, surprised and curious. This was something she hadn’t heard before.
Lyn smiled at the memory.
“Oh, yeah. I remember Harrison was being really evasive, and wouldn’t give Deakins a straight answer. Keep in mind, by that time Deakins was pretty stressed out. Anyway, Harrison mentioned, um… the… the cabin on the mountain, but then he claimed he couldn’t take us up there because he didn’t know where it was. Deakins grabbed him by his shirt collar, dragged him right in close and told him to find someone who did know. It was an eye-opener, that’s for sure.”
Alex felt her throat tighten almost painfully as she struggled to hold back fresh tears.
“He saved our lives. We would never have made it off that mountain alive if it hadn’t been for Captain Deakins.”
“We hear you well and truly repaid the favour in Britain,” Olivia pointed out gently. Alex uttered a short, bitter laugh.
“Sure, if you don’t could the arrow through his gut that left him paralysed for nearly two weeks.”
“Don’t, Alex,” Olivia told her. “That wasn’t your fault, and you know it. If you and Bobby hadn’t done what you did, Graham would have killed him. Deakins said so in his report. We’ve all read it.”
Alex sighed a little.
“Maybe. But we still feel like we let him down.”
“Well, he doesn’t,” Lyn countered fiercely. “And as far as that goes, I think his opinion is the one I’ll rely on.”
Momentary silence fell, and Olivia was about to suggest that they finish getting ready for dinner and the meeting with Brenner when Alex spoke in a choked whisper. Tears that she could no longer hold back overflowed and spilled down her cheeks in a veritable flood.
“I don’t… I don’t want to be here…”
Olivia hurried over to her as Alex broke down, sliding her arms around Alex’s slender shoulders and hugging her warmly.
“I know, honey. If I had my way, neither you or Bobby would be here now.”
Ashamed though she felt of breaking down in front of two respected colleagues, once the torrent had started it would not be stopped. She broke into heavy, ragged sobs, but at the same time resisted Olivia’s offers of comfort.
Realising that Alex wasn’t giving in and letting go, Olivia looked up at Lyn, who stood watching with helpless concern.
“Go get Bobby,” she whispered. Lyn nodded, relieved that there was something she could do, and hurried from the room.
Minutes later she returned with Bobby. The big detective didn’t hesitate, but slipped in to take Olivia’s place on the bed beside Alex. He spared both women a grateful look for having had the compassion and consideration to gethim. Then, his attention was exclusively on the petite woman beside him.
Moving with a care and grace that left both Olivia and Lyn wishing they were in their colleague’s place, Bobby slipped his arms around Alex and drew her to him.
Even as Olivia and Lyn watched, Alex literally crumpled against Bobby’s bulky frame. He dwarfed her, but his size only enabled him to wrap his arms fully around her.
Seemingly oblivious to the presence of the two female detectives, Bobby placed a lingering, tender kiss on the top of Alex’s head. At no point did he try to tell her to hush, or that it was okay. He simply held her, protected and comforted in his arms.
“C’mon,” Olivia murmured, collecting her coat and handbag. “Let’s wait outside.”
Lyn nodded in wordless agreement, and followed Olivia out of the room. Bobby watched them go out of the corner of his eye, then returned his attention fully to Alex.
“I’ve got you,” he murmured, starting to rock her very gently in a soothing motion. “I’ve got you, Alex. Let it out.”
Several minutes passed, and gradually her sobs quietened, and finally stopped altogether. She stayed cuddled in against him, though, reluctant to move away from that protective warmth.
“I can’t do this,” she whispered finally, distraught. “I thought I could, but I can’t. I want to go home, Bobby. I can’t cope with this place… with being here. It’s too much.”
“I know,” he murmured. “I wish it were that simple… That we could just pack up and leave. But we can’t. Not without risking losing our jobs.”
She shuddered against him, a short, bitter laugh escaping her.
“Right now, I’m seriously tempted to tell Salinger that he can take our jobs, and shove them up his ass.”
Bobby’s grip on her tightened just fractionally.
“You don’t mean that.”
There was a hint of desperation in his voice that Alex couldn’t possibly miss. She sighed softly, and hugged him all the more tighter.
“Okay, maybe I don’t. But I’m getting there fast.”
He kissed her gently, once more on the top of her head.
“Be brave, Alex.”
She was silent for a long moment before pulling back gently out of his arms and looking up at him sadly.
“Do you remember the last time you said that to me?”
He looked genuinely puzzled.
“No. When did I say that?”
She wasn’t terribly surprised that he didn’t remember. He’d had a massive concussion at the time, after all.
“We were still tied up in Mathers’ cabin. I think it might have been soon after we both woke up the first time… after you got the tape of both our mouths. I’d just said that Deakins wasn’t going to find us, and you told me to be brave, except you were as scared as I was, even if you weren’t willing to admit it.”
It was Bobby’s turn to smile bitterly.
“I wasn’t scared, Alex.” She looked up at him piercingly, and he offered her a crooked smile. “I was terrified. I hadn’t been as frightened as that for a long time.”
Alex sighed softly, somewhat placated by his confession.
“If we have to go up that mountain, I don’t know how I’ll cope. I really don’t.”
“Well… What if I promise that you won’t have to?”
Alex stared at him sceptically.
“Bobby, you can’t make a promise like that.”
“Don’t forget, we’re not in charge of this investigation…”
“Well, we might not be best friends with Stabler and Benson, but I doubt even they’d force us to go up there if we really couldn’t handle it, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t bother telling Salinger, either. But even if there is anything to investigate up there, it’s not going to need all eight of us. There shouldn’t be any reason why you should have to up there.”
“And what about you?”
“I… I think I can cope.”
“Your eyes are saying something totally different, Bobby. I don’t think you could cope with it any better than I could.”
He reached over and grasped her hands gently in his own.
“Don’t worry about me, Alex. I’ll be fine.”
Once more, she saw a different truth in his eyes, but decided against pushing the issue. He offered her a small smile, one that didn’t quite hide the pain and fear in his own eyes. She returned his smile with a sad one of her own.
“After we went back to work the first time… and then after what happened in Denton… I never for a second thought we’d ever have to come back to this place. Damn Salinger. Damn him to hell.”
He hugged her fiercely, blinking back the tears that threatened in his own eyes.
“I’ll make you a deal. We get through this… together… and when we get back to New York, I’ll help you kill Salinger.”
She smiled into his sweater.
“Can I be as creative as I want?”
“Absolutely. The more creative, the better.”
She laughed, unable to help herself. Bobby smiled, quietly relieved to have gotten a smile and a laugh out of her.
“You ready to get going, then?” he asked, gently disengaging himself from her and standing up.
“I suppose so. I just need to change shoes. I’ll be out in a minute.”
He nodded and headed towards the door. She watched him go, then spoke softly just as he was reaching for the doorknob.
“I love you, Bobby.”
He stopped just short of opening the door, and looked back at her slowly. She smiled faintly, looking slightly embarrassed but determined all the same.
“You’re my best friend. You’re always there when I need you. I… I just wanted you to know.”
A smile broke out across his face, lighting it up in a way that she rarely saw anymore.
“I love you, too, Alex. Thankyou.”
Then he stepped out of the room, leaving her to finish getting ready.
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