A/N: Wow. Two chapters in one week. If I keep that up, I might just finish this story sometime this year... LOL Thanks to all who have submitted reviews. It really does help to know people are reading (and, hopefully, enjoying) your work.
Bobby awoke shortly after five o’clock feeling more rested than he had for some time. Though he didn’t exactly feel a hundred percent, it was still a definite improvement on how he’d felt the previous morning. He suspected that had a lot to do with Fin’s insistence on massaging his leg after waking up from that nightmare through the night.
He sat up slowly, marvelling that the pain in his leg was not as bad as it tended to be first thing in the morning. Again, that was thanks to Fin’s skills.
Though he didn’t need to be up for another couple of hours, Bobby took the opportunity to make his way into the bathroom and have a quick shower. He’d overheard Logan complaining bitterly the evening before about the water pressure in the room he shared with Stabler and Munch, and Fin had discovered their room was no better. Bobby hadn’t said a word about it. The truth was, he was grateful for the weak water pressure in the shower. It meant he could enjoy a good soaking, and not suffer excess pain from the water hammering down on his slow-healing leg.
Dressing warmly, pulling on his winter parka, and pulling his favourite black beanie down over his ears, Bobby made his way out of the room, leaving Fin to sleep.
He paused just outside the door, wincing a little at the sight of the mountain that loomed up in front of him, ominous and threatening in the memories and secrets that it kept. He looked away, unsettled, and that was when he saw her.
Alex sat on a bench seat a few rooms along, staring up at the mountain. Her face was unnaturally pale in the dim light of the early morning, and she had her arms wrapped tightly around her body as she rocked ever so slightly back and forth. Feeling a deep twinge of concern, he made his way over to her.
She didn’t respond, didn’t give any indication that she’d heard him. He sat down carefully next to her, and reached out to brush his fingertips gently against her cheek. Her flesh was icy to the touch, a sign that she’d been sitting out in the cold for some time.
She stirred at his touch, and looked up at him, her eyes full of pain and fear. It only added to the nausea in Bobby’s gut. Fear was not a natural state of mind for Alexandra Eames, and he hated seeing it reflected in her brown eyes.
“Alex, you’re freezing. How long have you been sitting out here?” he asked softly as he slipped his coat off and placed it gently around her shoulders, then gathered her to him in a protective and warming embrace. She melted against his chest, and though she shed no tears, he had no trouble interpreting the slight shudder that passed through her body.
“A while,” she mumbled.
He guessed that ‘a while’ probably more accurately translated into ‘hours’.
“Did you get any sleep last night?”
She shuddered again.
“I don’t think so.”
“Well… What about Benson and Bishop?”
“They… They never woke up. I got to sleep after a while… But I woke up again… I thought I screamed, but I can’t have done. I couldn’t breathe for a minute, I was so scared. Then, I was too frightened to go back to sleep. I… I couldn’t even get up to come and get you. By the time I could make myself move, it was just after three-thirty. I… I couldn’t see the point.”
He hugged her all the more tighter.
“We’ve got to do something about this. You can’t operate without sleep, Alex.”
She pulled back from him a little, and smiled up at him weakly.
“Sure I can. Just get me a coffee with a triple shot of caffeine, and keep ’em coming.”
He couldn’t bring himself to smile. This was two nights in a row now that Alex had had little to no sleep, and he had no intention of letting it go on.
“C’mon,” he murmured, getting to his feet, and drawing her up with him.
“What are we doing?”
“You’re going to get at least a couple of hours sleep.”
She resisted when she realised he was urging her in the direction of his and Fin’s room.
“Bobby, no… We can’t… If it gets back to Salinger…”
“Then I’ll personally shoot whoever opens their big mouth. Right now I don’t care who finds out, Alex. I just care about you. And two nights without sleep isn’t healthy. Now c’mon, and don’t argue.”
She was no match for him ordinarily when he got it into his head that she needed to do something for her own wellbeing, and more-so now that she was semi-exhausted from sleep deprivation. She reluctantly allowed herself to be guided along and into his room.
As he led Alex over to the bed, Bobby paid no heed to Fin, who was still sleeping soundly. Gently, he took his coat from her shoulders and sat her down on his bed. He then sat next to her, removing his leg brace and then his shoes. He pulled off her shoes as well when she made no effort to do so herself.
“What now?” she asked softly, her gaze flickering nervously to Fin. Bobby answered by moving carefully around her and lying down on the bed with his back up against the wall. She regarded him doubtfully, then looked pointedly back at Fin once more.
“He knows already, Alex,” Bobby murmured, taking her wrist and gently drawing her down to him. “Now lie down.”
She finally gave in and lay down beside him on the narrow bed, sighing softly in relief as their arms went around each other in an automatic and instinctive action. Her head rested in against his shoulder and her eyes closed, soothed by the tender way he stroked her hair.
“Sleep,” Bobby whispered. “You’re safe, now. I’ve got you, and you’re safe. Go to sleep, Alex. It’s okay.”
He fell silent as he felt her body relax against his, and her breathing slowed and deepened as she slipped easily into sleep.
A sad smile crept across his face as he pressed a soft kiss to the top of her head. In a way, this wasn’t all that different to that night in Mathers’ cabin, where they had curled up together on a narrow bed, exhausted, frightened and hurting, knowing the potential consequences if they were caught.
A grimace found its way onto his face at that thought.
It wasn’t entirely true that he didn’t care if the others found out. If someone – Munch, perhaps – were to walk in at that moment, and see them like this, he had no doubt that it would inevitably end up back with Salinger, and then they would be facing either forced separation or the sack. Either option was equally unpalatable to Bobby.
In the end, though, both his and his partner’s mental, emotional and physical wellbeing had to take priority. After all, what good was it to them, or their colleagues, if sheer mental and physical exhaustion left them both incapable of doing their jobs?
He drew Alex in closer, taking comfort in the knowledge that he had the power to make her feel safe, and feeling a sensation of warmth grow deep inside him at knowing the reverse was also true. At no moment, waking or otherwise, did he feel as safe as he did when he was with Alex. They gave each other a mutual feeling of comfort and security that they could find nowhere else, and Bobby would be eternally grateful that they had a captain who understood that.
His own eyes closed as he relaxed to the reassuring sensation of Alex curled up in his arms, and his grip on her slim body loosened just slightly as he joined her in slumber.
Fin awoke to the light sound of someone knocking on the door. Yawning widely, his mind still foggy with sleep, he dragged himself out of bed and over to the door, pausing just long enough to glance at the alarm clock. It read quarter to seven. Well, he supposed wearily, it was almost time to get up anyway…
He opened the door to find Olivia standing there, a mildly worried look on her face that faded into amusement at the sight of his pyjamas.
“Ducks, Fin? Somehow I didn’t picture you as a duck person.”
“Don’t start on me, Liv. What is it?”
We were wondering if you or Bobby knew where Alex is. She was gone when Lyn and I woke up this morning.”
Concern creased Fin’s features.
“You think maybe she had a bad dream, and went walk-about?”
“If she had a nightmare, she didn’t wake us up,” Olivia said, a touch defensively. Fin raised an eyebrow quizzically, but decided not to push it.
“Well, she never came knockin’ on our door. I would’ve woken up if she had. Hang on, let me just…”
Fin trailed off very abruptly as he turned away from the door, looking towards Bobby’s bed.
“I’ll be damned…”
“What is it?” Olivia asked, then stepped forward and pushed the door open wider to see what had so surprised him.
“Oh my god,” Olivia whispered in shock as she looked past Fin to the bed on the other side of the room, and at the two sleeping detectives that occupied it. Silence reigned for nearly minute before Olivia ventured another tentative question.
“So… How long do you think…?”
“Wouldn’t have a clue,” Fin answered honestly. “Although… Look, they’re both in their clothes. Probably not that long. Maybe an hour or two, tops.”
“Well, clearly one of them had a bad night,” Olivia murmured. “You know, I’d love to just leave them be, but I don’t know that it’d be a good idea for any of the others to get wind of this.”
“Get wind of what?”
Both Fin and Olivia whirled around to find Elliot had appeared behind them. He looked amiable enough, until his gaze went beyond the two of them, and he finally spotted Bobby and Alex. An instant later, the smile dropped from his face like a rock.
“What the hell…?”
Fin promptly ushered both Elliot and Olivia out of the doorway, pulling the door almost closed behind him.
“Hear me out, Elliot, before you freak. Bobby talked to me about this a little last night, after he woke up from a pretty bad nightmare. He said they do that on a fairly regular basis…”
“What, sleep together?” Elliot asked incredulously. Fin nodded.
“Yeah, but that’s just it, Elliot. That’s exactly what they do. They sleep. Bobby said that all it is, is mutual comfort and security. He said the only times neither of them has any nightmares is when they’re together. That it’s the only time either of them can feel completely safe.”
The stony look on Elliot’s face slowly began to dim and, gradually, understanding flickered in his eyes. Fin pushed the door open again, and motioned for Elliot to look in at the sleeping couple.
“Have a good look at them, Elliot. You look, and if you think there’s anything improper happening there, then go ahead. You call Salinger. Let him crucify them”
“Take it easy, Fin,” Elliot murmured, grimacing at the mere mention of Salinger’s name. “I wouldn’t turn them in to Salinger. Nothing they could do is worth selling them out to that son of a bitch. But I think we’d better have a little chat with them later on this morning, Liv.”
He stepped away from the door, looking briefly away to the mountain.
“You’d better wake ’em up, Fin. Before Munch wakes up, at least, if you know what I mean. And get dressed. Those pyjamas are scaring me.”
“Hilarious,” Fin grumbled, but retreated back into the room without argument.
Shaking his head, but quietly relieved by Elliot and Olivia’s apparent acceptance of Bobby and Alex’s unique sleeping arrangements, Fin walked over and laid one hand gently on Bobby’s shoulder. The big detective awoke immediately, looking up at Fin dazedly.
“Time to get up, Bobby. For both of you.”
A sheepish smile crossed Bobby’s face. Shifting a little, he gently stroked Alex’s cheek with the back of his hand.
“Alex, time to wake up.”
She stirred and moaned softly, then pressed in closer against him.
“Mm, not yet,” she mumbled, her voice muffled by his sweater. “Just a little longer…”
Bobby smiled down at her affectionately.
“C’mon, Alex. I’ll get you that triple strength coffee, and a stack of pancakes to go with it.”
The offer was met with momentary silence.
“Can I have ice cream?”
“Anything you want.”
She gave a long sigh, then pulled slowly back from him and sat up. A moment later, she saw Fin watching them with amusement.
“It’s okay,” Fin reassured her when a mixture of uncertainty and fear passed fleetingly over her face. “I won’t say a word.” He paused, hating to potentially stress them both out, but they had to know. “I think you’d better be prepared for Elliot and Olivia wanting to have a talk with you both some time today, though.”
Bobby and Alex both froze, staring at Fin with identical looks of borderline panic on their faces.
“I’m sorry,” Fin said ruefully. “Olivia knocked on the door. I didn’t even notice you were here, Alex. I opened it up, and she saw you only about two seconds after I did. Then Elliot appeared, and he saw you as well.”
“Well,” Alex said gloomily, “there go our jobs. Salinger will crucify us over this.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Fin said as Alex got up slowly and stretched. “They were a little startled, but Elliot said straight out that no way was he going to sell you guys out to Salinger, not for any reason.”
Alex looked back at Bobby, bemused.
“Stabler has a soft spot. Who knew?”
“And what about Benson?” Bobby asked tentatively. Fin grinned, then.
“Just between us? I doubt she’d admit it, but I think she thought you looked cute together.”
Both Bobby and Alex reddened a little, and Fin chuckled delightedly.
“I don’t think you have to worry, though. It won’t go past Olivia or Elliot. Do you mind me asking, though…?”
“I woke up just after five,” Bobby explained. I couldn’t see the point in trying to go back to sleep, so I got up, had a shower and got dressed. I found Alex sitting outside…”
“I’d been out there since about three-thirty this morning,” Alex said, and Fin blanched.
“You could’ve frozen!”
“I think I nearly did,” Alex admitted ruefully. “Anyway, Bobby came out and found me, and I told him I pretty much hadn’t slept at all, so he brought me back in here…”
“And the rest is history, so to speak,” Bobby concluded.
Fin straightened up and stepped towards the bathroom.
“Well, you both might wanna hot-foot it out of here before Munch surfaces, or you’ll both be history. The way he’s behaving, I don’t know how he’d react to you both being in here together.”
Alex scowled as she got up, and turned to help Bobby with his shoes, and his leg brace.
“He smarts off to us anymore than he already has, and I might just flatten him.”
Fin looked at Bobby, one eyebrow raised, but the other detective only grinned proudly with a look that very clearly said ‘That’s my girl’.
“Okay,” Fin conceded with a chuckle and a shake of his head. “I’m having a shower. I’ll see you both at breakfast.”
Olivia and Elliot were the only ones in the restaurant when Bobby and Alex arrived.
“Good morning,” Elliot said mildly as they sat down. “Sleep well?”
Bobby and Alex exchanged glances. To a casual observer, the question probably sounded completely innocent. They knew better.
“Eventually, thankyou,” Alex answered, her voice giving away nothing. Olivia was watching her intently.
“I was worried when I woke up, and you were gone.”
A dark look flitted across Alex’s face.
“I was gone since three-thirty. And I’d been awake since just after midnight.”
“Nightmare?” Elliot asked softly.
“Bad one,” Alex confirmed, her gaze dropping. She was suddenly ashamed for snapping at Elliot and Olivia had done nothing but show them both sincere kindness and understanding. The last thing she needed to be doing was putting them off-side by letting her usual cynicism and sarcasm rise to the surface. She felt a hand close over her own, and looked up to find Bobby smiling at her encouragingly. She returned the smile, grateful once more for his protective presence.
“Fin told us you saw us,” Bobby said simply, looking back to the two SVU detectives. Elliot nodded.
“Yeah, we did. Did you want to talk about anything?”
There was no demand in Elliot’s voice, only a simple invitation. It was that, and that alone, that got them talking.
Over the next ten minutes, they quietly told Elliot and Olivia about the night in Mathers’ cabin, and how learning to overcome so-called professional barriers had saved both their lives and their sanity.
Elliot and Olivia listened in silence, not interrupting once. Only when the story had been told, did Olivia finally speak.
“Well, I guess it’s pretty clear what we have to do.”
Elliot nodded in wordless agreement. Bobby and Alex regarded them with visible anxiety.
“You… aren’t going to tell Salinger…?” Bobby asked tentatively. Elliot smiled at that.
“Give us some credit, Goren. We hate that asshole as much as you guys do. No, what Olivia meant was, now we know what we have to do to make sure both of you get a decent night’s sleep tonight.” He paused, his gaze flickering past them to the entrance. Bishop and Logan had just entered, and Fin and Munch were close behind. “Just leave it with us, okay?”
Then the other four detectives joined them, and the conversation was effectively ended.
“We’ve got forty-five minutes,” Elliot announced as they all sat down and a waitress approached. “Since the NYPD is so kindly footing the bill for this, I suggest we all get in a good, proper cooked meal while we can. Because once we get started on this case, it’ll probably be sandwiches and take-out all the way.”
“Duly noted,” Alex replied. She looked sideways at Bobby. “Looks like you get to wait until we get home to buy me the pancakes.”
Bobby grinned back at her.
“What? You mean this doesn’t count?”
“Don’t make me hit you,” she warned him, drawing amused grins from the others. She turned her attention to the waitress “In the meantime, I think I’ll have the French Toast, and the strongest coffee you’ve got.”
There was a unanimous murmur of consent over the coffee, though the breakfast orders varied from muesli and warm milk for Bishop to a full cooked breakfast with sausage, steak, egg, mushrooms and tomatoes for Munch.
“What?” Munch grumbled when they all stared at him. “I get hungry in the mornings, and I don’t eat much else through the day.”
“That’s true,” Fin agreed ruefully. “Not that it’d matter. With your metabolism, you could put away six meals a day and never gain an ounce. I only have to look at a Big Mac and I put on a couple of pounds. Lucky son of a bitch.”
A ripple of laughter passed through the group, and they settled down to enjoy what could easily be their last decent, peaceful meal for a while.
Back in New York, later that morning
11th Floor, One Police Plaza
Deakins sat back slowly in his chair. He had just come off a conversation with Bobby and Alex. They had called him immediately after breakfast, as soon as they could get away from their six colleagues. He’d not been surprised to learn they’d had a bad night, and that Alex in particular had suffered greatly. When Bobby told him their motel was almost right at the foot of Gore Mountain, he had had a hard time not swearing out loud. The motel had been organised personally by Salinger, and though Deakins supposed it could have just been a coincidence, he seriously doubted it.
To his greater concern, though, was the news that Bobby and Alex had been caught out by Benson and Stabler sleeping in the same bed. He’d hoped they wouldn’t have needed to resort to that. Now, he could only hope that Benson and Stabler were open-minded enough not to go running straight back to Salinger. Bobby had seemed confident that that wouldn’t happen, but Deakins had his reservations. He’d known plenty of tough-minded cops give in to the likes of Salinger simply to save their own asses. Despite Cragen’s reassurances, he had no reason to believe Benson and Stabler wouldn’t do the same if the proverbial noose was tightened around their own throats. And he wouldn’t put it past Salinger to do it, either.
Deakins tapped a pen absently against the desktop. Something was bothering him greatly about the whole situation, but he just couldn’t pinpoint what it was. He grimaced a little. Yes, he did.
Salinger had had the perfect opportunity in front of him two days ago to have Bobby suspended, and charged with assault, and yet he had backed down when Logan threatened him. Something just wasn’t ringing true.
Cragen was right. Logan was still on fairly shaky ground. It wouldn’t have taken much for Salinger to have him yanked out of Major Case, and back on Staten Island, but he had backed down when Logan made his threats. Almost as though he was desperate to make sure that Bobby went back to Gore Mountain. Desperate…
Not entirely sure what he was doing, Deakins picked up his phone and dialled the number for Salinger’s office. It was answered promptly by his personal assistant, a young man by the name of Warren.
“This is Captain James Deakins, from Major Case in One Police Plaza,” Deakins introduced himself. “I’d like to speak to Chief Salinger, please. Is he available?”
“I’m sorry, Captain Deakins,” the young man’s voice answered. “Chief Salinger’s father passed away, and he’s taken compassionate leave from yesterday. He won’t be back for at least a week.”
Deakins thanked Warren, and hung up. The alarms were ringing loud and clear in his mind. Something was very wrong. He just couldn’t work out what. Standing up, he made his way awkwardly over to the door of his office, looking around until he spotted who he wanted.
“King! In my office, now.”
Oliver King strode over, drawn by the urgency in his captain’s voice.
“I hope not. I need you to do something for me, but do it under the radar. Find out everything you can about Salinger, about his family and anything else you can find.”
“Should I be looking for anything in particular?” King wondered. Deakins looked grim as he sank back into his chair.
“I wish I could give you a more specific idea, but I can’t. Just get together everything you can, and bring it back to me. It would be good if you could get it done before the end of today.”
King stared at Deakins for a long moment.
“Does this have anything to do with that bastard sending Goren and Eames back to Gore Mountain?”
“It might have,” Deakins conceded. King nodded, determination steeling his craggy features.
“Consider it done. I’ll have the information to you as soon as possible.”
He wheeled around and strode out of the office to carry out the task. Deakins watched him go, then slumped back in his chair. He’d learned over the years to trust his gut when it told him something was wrong, and it usually didn’t send him astray. But now…? Now, he prayed to God that he was wrong. He really did.
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