A/N: So we have come to the end of the road, finally. I may feel inclined to add a post-script to this story (and I may write a new story down the track that exists in this particular 'verse), but as it stands, this is effectively the final chapter. Now, I will focus on Blind Trust, Nightmare, and I have an idea for a CI / Pretender cross-over that is itching to be written. Yes, folks, more Bobby-angst on the way.
Some hours later
St Clare’s Hospital, NYC
“Jim? Feeling up to having a visitor?”
Deakins looked up, and smiled wearily as Adkins came into his hospital room. The Commissioner smiled at Angie Deakins, who was standing by her husband’s bedside.
“Angie, how are you?”
“Better, now that they’re all home safely,” she answered, accepting a kiss on the cheek from him. Adkins nodded his agreement.
“Definitely. I’m sorry I couldn’t bring Jim home unscathed, though.”
Her smile faded minutely.
“It’s all right, Gerry. I guess you could say I’m starting to get used to it. And at least this isn’t as bad as the last time. Now, I expect you’ll both want to talk, so I’ll take the opportunity to go and get some coffee. Excuse me.”
Both men watched her go, and then Adkins looked sympathetically at Deakins.
“In the doghouse?”
“Almost was,” Deakins admitted ruefully. “We’ve already talked, though. She’s okay. We’re okay.”
It was all that needed to be said, and Adkins nodded in understanding.
“Good to hear. Now, how are you doing?”
“I’ll be fine,” Deakins answered dismissively. “The bullet didn’t do any real damage. Salinger might have been a crack shot with a sniper gun, but apparently he’s lousy at close range. I have to stay here for a couple of nights while they monitor for infection, but otherwise I’m fine. Do you know how the others are?”
“Well, Logan has a concussion… as you well know.”
Deakins nodded, wincing a little at the memory of the blow to the head Logan had suffered at Salinger’s hands.
“He’s fine, though. Just needs a good night’s rest, according to the doctor who saw him. Stabler’s been admitted. That little rip in his leg turned septic somewhere along the line, and they want to run him on a full course of antibiotics before they discharge him. He’s facing at least a week of mandatory bed rest. Ah… Eames… Now, she’s got a fairly nasty concussion courtesy of the buckshot from that shotgun, and she lost a bit of blood from where Salinger cut her with his knife, but she’s otherwise fine. Again, the main prescription is bed rest, and plenty of it. They’ll be keeping her in for a couple of nights just to be sure, though. As for Goren…”
“It’s not good, is it?” Deakins asked quietly when Adkins paused.
“As far as that leg of his is concerned,” Adkins murmured, “no. It’s not good news. I spoke to his doctor before Goren was taken in for surgery. Apparently they ran just about every scan and x-ray they could looking for any sign that it wasn’t as bad as it appears to be, but his doctor wasn’t hopeful. It doesn’t look like he’s going to recover from this one, Jim. It could be that he’s always going to need some form of support to walk.”
Deakins groaned softly.
“Damn Salinger. Damn him to hell. That’s it, then. Bobby’s finished with the Force.”
“Just a second, Jim,” Adkins argued. “I never said that.”
Deakins looked up at him, puzzled.
“What are you saying? That you’ll find him a desk job somewhere? That would kill him for sure, Commissioner.”
Adkins smiled, then.
“I never mentioned anything about a desk job either, did I?”
“Well, I for one don’t see any reason why he can’t continue with the Major Case Squad. We make all kinds of exceptions for exceptional officers and detectives in order to keep them where they’re at their most effective. It would be hugely detrimental to the city of New York to lose one of the best detective teams that the NYPD has to offer. Don’t you think?”
Deakins let his breath out in a rush, hoping he didn’t look as eager as he felt.
“It’s a hell of a big exception to make, sir.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. Would you say that Detective Goren’s work has been impaired in the time since he returned to work after the Erik Mathers case?”
“Well, no, but…”
“And you believe he’s fully capable of doing the job?”
“Yes, of course…”
“Then what’s the problem, Jim? Because I sure as hell can’t see one.”
A grin broke out across Deakins’ face.
“Don’t thank me, Jim. I’m just acting in the interests of the people of New York. Yes, I know that sounds pompous, but it’ll get the political leeches off my back. Our biggest issue now is making sure that Detective Goren still believes he can make a valid and valuable contribution.”
Deakins smiled tentatively.
“I’m hoping Alex will be able to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid, like quit.”
“You don’t sound so certain,” Adkins commented, and Deakins sighed softly.
“I’m trying to be, but I just don’t know. I sometimes think Bobby would probably walk off the roof of the Empire State Building if it was Alex who suggested it, but with this? I’m not so sure. I want to believe that Bobby can overcome this, if it becomes a permanent disability… and God knows, he’s the most bull-headed man I’ve ever had the privilege to know, but this might be too much… even for him.”
“We’ll work it out, Jim,” Adkins promised him quietly. “Just make me one promise?”
“If he tries to submit a resignation to you, don’t accept it.”
Deakins smiled wearily.
“That wouldn’t stop him. He’d just go over my head.”
“Considering that the next stop after you is me, at least until a new COD is appointed, how far do you think he’ll get?”
“Okay. Fine. I’ll do my best to stop him in his tracks if he tries to do that.”
“Good,” Adkins murmured, satisfied. “Now, maybe you can answer something else for me, Jim.”
“I can try.”
“What is it, exactly, that’s going on between Goren and Eames? They’re not sleeping together, are they?”
“You’ve been wondering about that since seeing the motel room, haven’t you?”
“Honestly? Yes, it’s been bugging the hell out of me. Are they sleeping together?”
“Not in the biblical sense,” Deakins answered with an amused grin on his face. “The truth is, sir, they are sleeping together, but that’s all it is. They sleep.”
“So you already knew about it.”
It wasn’t a question, and Deakins nodded, smiling sheepishly.
“Since Denton. I caught them out by accident. They told me it was the only way they were able to sleep, and not have nightmares.”
“And you believe that?”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
“Then I don’t need to know anything more about it. If you’re satisfied that their partnership is good and healthy, then I’m satisfied. Okay?”
Deakins nodded, more relieved than he cared to let the Commissioner see.
“Yes, sir. Thankyou.”
Adkins grinned, and sank into the chair next to Deakins’ bed.
“Okay. Now, let’s talk about how we can convince Detective Goren that he still has plenty to offer to the NYPD…”
Alex looked around, and smiled wearily from her hospital bed as Olivia walked in.
“How are you feeling?”
“Been better, been worse. Did you just come from seeing Elliot?”
Olivia smiled and nodded.
“Mm. He’s being a typical male, begging for attention. Problem is, I tend to give in more often than not.”
Alex laughed softly.
“Bobby’s the same… although, he’s not always so obvious about it.”
Olivia hesitated, then spoke carefully.
“I thought you might like to know, they found Salinger’s body.”
Alex raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“That was fast.”
“Well, apparently the river was still running fast from a flood they’d had a few weeks back. His body washed up about five miles east of Wolf River. It’s being flown back to New York for formal identification.”
Alex sighed softly.
“Then we can finally put this whole damned saga behind us.”
Olivia paused, and then sat down in the chair by the bedside.
“How are you feeling… really?”
“Honestly?” Alex asked softly. “Pretty drained, actually. I still can’t believe it happened to us again. I never thought we’d get caught out like that again.”
“You’re not omniscient, Alex. You couldn’t have known.”
“That’s just it, though,” Alex argued. “We did know, Olivia.”
“What are you talking about?”
That night… It was only last night, wasn’t it? Or was it the night before…? Damn, I’ve lost all track of time…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Olivia murmured. “Now, how could you have known?”
“Before you and Elliot told us at the motel that the little girl was missing, we had a phone call from Deakins and Commissioner Adkins. They warned us about Salinger. They told us they thought he was headed our way, and if he turned up, to make sure we didn’t get caught alone with him. But that’s exactly what we did. I was stupid, Olivia. I made so many mistakes, and they nearly got us both killed.”
“Alex, don’t do this to yourself,” Olivia murmured. “It wasn’t your fault, honey.”
Alex stared up at the ceiling, tears welling up in her eyes and effectively blinding her.
“Salinger demanded I meet him outside the room. He knew he couldn’t take us out if we were together, and I played right into his hands. I was so damned stupid…”
“Don’t, Alex,” Olivia said, her voice taking on a slight edge. “Don’t start second-guessing everything now. You’re both here, and alive. Isn’t that what counts?”
Alex bit down on her lower lip as her mind went to the sight of Bobby’s swollen, damaged leg.
“Yeah,” she said softly, her voice starting to tremble slightly, “I guess so…”
“What is it?” Olivia asked softly. “What is it that you’re really worried about?”
Alex looked away, trying to get her thoughts in order. It was a good two or three minutes later before she was ready to speak, and she looked back slowly, half-expecting to find Olivia had gotten impatient and walked out. But no, the SVU detective still sat by the bed, watching and waiting patiently until she was ready to answer.
“After the first time… when we were in hospital after being rescued… Bobby’s doctor told him that if his leg was badly injured again… or broken again… that he’d never fully recover from it. When David Graham broke his leg in Denton, we though that was it, then, but he was lucky, and the damage wasn’t as bad as we’d thought. But this time… He’s not going to be lucky like that again.”
Finally, Olivia understood.
“You’re scared he’ll be forced to retire on a disability.”
“What else can he do?” Alex choked out. “If the damage is permanent, he won’t have a choice. They’ll never let him stay on if he’s been crippled. But I can’t be without him, Olivia. I can’t work without him.”
“Can I ask you something, Alex?” Olivia asked quietly, and went on without waiting for Alex to respond. “Do you love him?”
Alex looked at Olivia, taken aback by the unexpected question.
“Do you love him? It’s a simple enough question.”
Still Alex hesitated, staring at Olivia uncertainly. The other woman smiled reassuringly at her.
“I’m not trying to trick you, Alex. I just want you to answer me honestly.”
Alex stared at her hands for a long while before answering softly.
“He’s my best friend, Olivia. He saved my life…”
“And you saved his. Neither of you owes the other anything.”
When Alex still didn’t answer, though, Olivia decided that perhaps she’d better elaborate. “I’m not asking if you’re in love with him, Alex. I’m just asking, do you love him?”
Tears spilled down Alex’s cheeks, and she answered with one word, in a small but firm voice.
Olivia reached over and grasped her hands gently.
“Then even if Bobby can’t continue in the NYPD, you’re never going to be without him. As for working without him… Nothing ever stays that same, Alex. You know that as well as anyone. Sooner or later there’s going to come a time when one or both of you is going to move on from Major Case, and then you’ll find you have to learn to work with someone new.”
Alex slumped back in the bed, blinded by her tears.
“I just don’t know what’s going to happen, Olivia.”
“None of us do,” Olivia murmured. “But don’t lie here making assumptions, either. Let’s just wait and see, okay? Don’t forget, the one person who really wanted Bobby gone from the NYPD was Salinger, and he’s dead. You know Deakins and Adkins will both fight for him. You saw that with your own eyes. Even if it turns out that Bobby is crippled, I wouldn’t put it past them to find some way to keep him on board.”
“He won’t take a desk job,” Alex said, rubbing miserably at her eyes.
“I doubt they’d expect him to,” Olivia said with a wry smile.
“How, then?” Alex asked plaintively. She knew how she must sound to Olivia, and right then she didn’t give a damn. All she could think about was Bobby. “How can they let him stay? If he’s never able to walk again properly…”
“Hey, listen to you!” Olivia cut in incredulously. “I can’t believe how negative you’re being! Alex, do you even know for certain what the prognosis for Bobby is?”
“Well, no, but…”
“But nothing! You don’t know, and neither does anyone else. End of story. You are doing yourself and Bobby a huge disservice, Alex. I really think you need to stop worrying about what’s going to happen. Leave that to Captain Deakins and Commissioner Adkins.”
Alex watched her miserably.
“I’m scared, Olivia.”
Olivia squeezed her hand reassuringly.
“I know. It’s always frightening when you’re facing the unknown, but you have to have a little bit of faith. Trust in everyone around you now. It’s going to be all right.”
Alex shut her eyes, but it didn’t stop the tears. She wanted to believe Olivia. She really did, but faced with the possibility of losing the best partner she had ever had, she just couldn’t quite bring herself to hope.
Commissioner Adkins emerged into the waiting room to find not only Logan, Bishop, Fin and Munch waiting for him, but Don Cragen as well. Adkins approached the small group slowly, his gaze going to Logan.
“What are you still doing here, Logan? Weren’t you told to go home?”
“I’m fine, sir,” Logan protested. Adkins looked sceptical.
“Weren’t the words your doctor used something like ‘Go home, or I’ll admit you and I promise you’ll be dining on hospital food for the next week’?”
Logan grimaced at the thought.
“I just want to know how they all are. Then I’ll go home. Believe me, sir, I’m looking forward to it. But I can’t go until I know they’re all okay.”
Adkins conceded with a nod, and sat down.
“Fair enough. Well, Stabler has a fairly nasty infection that will keep him in here for at least a week…”
“He’s going to hate that,” Cragen said with a wry smile. Adkins nodded
“Yes, well, he doesn’t have a choice. Perhaps next time he’ll think twice before practising the hurdles over wire fences.”
“What about Captain Deakins?” Bishop asked.
“Deakins is going to be fine,” Adkins assured them. “The bullet went straight through without doing any serious damage. He should be able to go home in two or three days. They’re keeping Eames in for a couple of days to monitor her, but she is going to be okay.”
“And what about Bobby?” Fin asked when Adkins hesitated.
“He’s still in surgery,” Adkins answered quietly. “We won’t know what the outlook is for him for a while yet.”
“It’s not good, is it?” Cragen asked grimly. A very soft sigh escaped Adkins’ lips.
“It could be better, but I really think we need to just wait and see before passing final judgements. All right?”
“Commissioner,” Bishop spoke up, “you’re not going to kick Goren off the Force, are you? Because after everything that’s happened, that wouldn’t be fair.”
Adkins regarded her bemusedly.
“There’s a lot in life that isn’t fair, Detective.”
“She’s right, though,” Logan said. “Just because Goren might not be able to walk properly doesn’t mean he can’t do the job. He’s already proved that he can.”
“I’ll say he can,” Munch retorted. Several pairs of eyes looked to him in open amusement, and the detective reddened, but explained himself despite his embarrassment. “Forget that they didn’t want to go anywhere in sight of that mountain. Goren and Eames took on the job that none of us wanted. They read through all the reports, and all the statements, and in the end it was them who identified the killer. Goren profiled him, and then they identified him. If they hadn’t gone up there with us, I think we’d probably still be up there. Don’t get me wrong, we would have solved it ourselves… but it would have taken a lot longer.”
Bishop, Logan and Fin all nodded in wordless agreement.
“You split up Bobby Goren and Alex Eames,” Fin said heatedly, “and the NYPD will be losing one of the best partnerships that it has.”
Adkins looked from Fin to Munch, and then across to Logan and Bishop.
“You all feel that way?”
“I think you could say it’s a unanimous consensus,” Bishop answered calmly, and a wry smile crossed Adkins’ face.
“I see. Well, you can relax, all of you. I have no intention of getting rid of Detective Goren, and I’m well aware of the fact that it would be highly detrimental to separate him from Detective Eames. I’m very much aware of how effective they are together, and I don’t want to see that end anymore than anyone else here.”
A murmur of relief swept through the group, and Cragen coughed loudly to make himself heard.
“I hate to be the one to rain on your parade, but how can he possibly stay with the NYPD if the damage to his leg can’t be healed? I think I know Goren well enough to know that he won’t be satisfied with a desk job.”
“Like Logan said,” Adkins said with a small smile, “Goren has already proven that he can still do the job. But let’s not go leaping to conclusions yet, people. He’s not even out of surgery yet, so let’s just wait and see.”
Some hours later
Bobby awoke slowly, to a stomach-turning combination of dizziness, nausea and pain. He tried opening his eyes in an effort to re-orient himself, but the assault of bright light on his senses was just too much to cope with. He gave in with a low moan, and reluctantly closed them again.
“Nurse, dim those lights, and pull the shades closed, would you?”
There was a brief moment of silence, and then Bobby felt a hand come to rest lightly on his shoulder.
“Try opening your eyes now, Bobby.”
Finding that he didn’t have the strength or the inclination to argue, Bobby simply complied. To his relief, the lights had been dimmed, and he found he could focus on his surroundings, as well as the face that hovered above his own.
“Jack…” he mumbled in a dazed greeting to his doctor, Jack Evans. Jack smiled a little.
“You must really love this place, Bobby. It’s the only conceivable reason I can think of for why you keep getting yourself into such idiotic situations.”
Bobby moaned again, this time in frustration.
“Can you save the lecture for when I’m awake?”
“Oh, don’t you worry. I am. You’re going to be getting an earful later on, I promise you. Right now, though, I need to talk to you. This is serious, Bobby. Can you stay with me, or do I need to wait?”
Bobby shuddered, and pulled himself forcibly back into a clearer state of mind.
“I’m okay. You can talk. This… It’s my about my leg, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. You remember I warned you when you left hospital the first time about what might happen if your leg was broken again? That I told you it could result in permanent impairment?”
“I seem to recall the discussion,” Bobby mumbled, knowing where the conversation was headed, and wishing heartily that he didn’t.
“Yes, you remember it,” Jack agreed. “Then, despite my warning you that you had to be careful, you went and broke it while you were in Britain!”
“That wasn’t my fault,” Bobby protested, hating how weak and pathetic his voice sounded to his own ears.
“It doesn’t matter whose fault it was, Bobby!” Jack said with a shake of his head. “The point is that it happened. Now as it turned out, it wasn’t as severe as I was afraid it might be and again, the damage was reparable. But then you had to go and break it again!”
“Get to the point,” Bobby cut in softly. “Just come out and say it. It’s never going to heal now, is it?”
Jack sighed audibly.
“I’m sorry, Bobby. I really am. I was hoping for the best when they brought you in. I ran every x-ray and scan we had available before we took you in for surgery, and they all gave back the same results. So no, I’m afraid it’s not good news. Not this time.”
Bobby shut his eyes to conceal his distress, but it was a pointless effort. When he finally spoke, it was in a small, trembling voice.
“How bad is it?”
Jack hesitated before answering quietly. He knew from experience that there was no point in trying to keep the facts from Bobby. The detective had a way of finding things out, if it was not already something that he held in the incredible store of knowledge within his own mind.
“We had to completely remove a piece of the femur bone. It had splintered away from the bone, and broken into over a dozen smaller pieces. Whether that was caused by the walking you did, or in the original assault, I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.”
When Bobby opened his mouth to speak, but Jack cut him off.
“Don’t argue with me, Bobby. This is not the time for it. And yes, I know what you did up on that mountain. I’ve already spoken to Commissioner Adkins. I know you picked yourself up and walked a good half a mile to reach your partner, and just between us I think you deserve a medal. But that’s beside the point right now.”
“The point is, I’m not going to recover from this,” Bobby said dully. “That’s what you’re trying to say.”
“Yes,” Jack confirmed quietly. “I really am sorry, Bobby. The damage was just too severe this time. We can’t repair it. You’re always going to need a brace on your right leg. Now, there are measures we can take to minimise the long term impact of this on your life, but we can discuss that later when you’ve had a chance to come to terms with everything.”
“Have you told anyone else yet?”
“Only Commissioner Adkins, and before you even start thinking about having to retire on a disability, I suggest you just wait and listen to what the Commissioner has to say about it.
Bobby regarded Jack dismally.
“What’s it going to matter? What good am I going to be to anyone like this?”
Jack raised a single eyebrow quizzically as he stepped away from the bed.
“I said you’ll always need a leg brace to walk, Detective. I didn’t say you wouldn’t be able to walk at all. And keeping that in mind, how is it any different now to the last several months? No, it’s not going to be easy for you, but I also know for a fact that you’re not one to run away from hard work. Just do yourself a favour, and think it over before you throw in the towel. All right?”
Bobby nodded wordlessly, though he looked less than certain. Jack smiled reassuringly at him.
“Good. That’s all I’m asking. Now try and get some rest, and tomorrow I’ll organise for Alex to be brought up to see you.”
Bobby watched Jack go, and then slumped back in the bed, trying desperately to ignore the excruciating pain in his leg that the painkillers did precious little to ease.
Get some rest, Jack had said. That was rich, he thought bitterly. Jack wasn’t the one faced with the prospect of unending pain.
Feeling sick, and more miserable than he’d ever imagined was possible, Bobby turned his attention to the window. The blinds were still drawn, though, stripping him even of the simple comfort of being able to look at the bright day outside. Consequently, the room was dark and gloomy, matching his bleak mood perfectly.
Despite Jack’s words of reassurance, Bobby knew only too well what his prospects were for staying with the NYPD. He was likely to be faced with a hard choice between too equally unpleasant fates; either to stay and accept a desk job, or to retire on a disability pension.
Both possibilities were equally unpalatable to him.
He was just attempting to contemplate the likelihood of being more or less confined to his home when the door of his room opened, and Gerald Adkins walked in.
“Thought I wasn’t supposed to have visitors until tomorrow,” Bobby mumbled, suddenly too tired to be bothered with formalities. Adkins smiled faintly at the reception.
“I made a deal with your doctor. He lets me in to see you, and I don’t shoot him.”
Bobby laughed softly, despite his despondency. Adkins went on quickly, aware that Bobby’s attention span was probably limited.
“There are a few things I thought you might like to know, Detective. Hopefully it might help to set your mind at ease. Firstly, Salinger is definitely dead. His body was found down river, and it was formally identified only twenty minutes ago. Secondly, Captain Deakins and Detective Eames are both going to be just fine.”
Bobby sighed with audible relief.
“Thankyou, sir. I appreciate being told.”
“I thought you might. One last thing, though, before I get chased out of here…”
Bobby drew in an unsteady breath and braced himself silently for what he imagined could not possibly be good news. Adkins noticed, and had to swallow an urge to smile.
“I don’t doubt you’re probably wondering about the viability of your position within the Major Case Squad. I’m not going to leave you hanging on uncertainties. I’m telling you right now that your job will be there for you when you’ve completed rehab, and you’re ready to go back to work.”
Bobby gaped at him, unable to stop himself.
“Individually, you are an exceptional detective. So is Detective Eames. When you work together, you’re unsurpassed in just about every way. You’re the best we have, Goren, you and Eames both. If you think I’m going to stand back and allow the dissolution of one of the best partnerships the NYPD has seen for a long time, then I’d be inclined to think your dosage of painkillers is far too high. Seriously, though, you really are a great detective. It shouldn’t matter whether or not you need a leg brace and a cane to be able to walk. It hasn’t mattered so far, and I don’t see why that should be the case now. Honestly, the only person who did care was Salinger, and his opinion hardly matters anymore, does it?”
“N… No,” Bobby stammered, staring at Adkins with a mixture of stunned disbelief, and relief. Finally, Adkins allowed himself to relax and smile as he saw Bobby slowly coming to accept what he had just heard.
“The bottom line, Goren, is that you’re still an asset to the NYPD. As long as that prodigious mind of yours is still functioning at full capacity, you still have plenty to offer, and that will continue to be the case until such a time as you decide you’re ready to retire. Understand?”
Bobby nodded, and finally managed to find his voice.
“Yes, sir. Thankyou.”
“My pleasure. Now, get some rest. I’ll stop by again tomorrow, if I can.”
Bobby watched with a tired smile as Adkins headed for the door. The Commissioner was almost out of the room when he paused mid-stride, and looked back in at the injured detective.
“Just for reference, Goren, what would you like me to say if I happen to get another call from David Letterman?”
“Do I really need to answer that?”
Adkins laughed. “Okay, I’ll tell him, but he might just bypass me this time and turn up here at the hospital with a camera crew.”
“Can I have my gun?” Bobby asked, with little hope. Adkins’ grin widened.
“Get some rest, Detective. I’ll fend off the media. But you owe me.”
Bobby smiled to himself as he settled back in the bed and shut his eyes.
“I’ll add you to the list,” he murmured to himself as he felt sleep start to take hold of him once more. His last thought before he slipped back into the peacefulness of sleep was one of gratitude for the good people all around him that made his life so much more bearable.
The following morning,
just before noon
“…water therapy is going to be absolutely vital. We’ll get you swimming just as soon as those pins come out.”
Alex leaned forward a little in the wheelchair as she was pushed towards her partner’s room, listening to what she could of the conversation from within.
“How am I supposed to manage swimming?” Bobby was asking. “You put me in a pool, and I’m not going to be able to get back out again.”
Someone laughed, and as the orderly pushed her around the corner and into the room, Alex saw it was Bobby’s physiotherapist, Luke Travis, along with Dr Jack Evans. Both men were laughing, while Bobby was looking like he wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or embarrassed.
“That’s what ramps are for, Bobby,” Jack said with an amused shake of his head. “Most indoor pools now have them. But the pool in the rehab wing is specially designed. You won’t have any trouble getting in and out.”
“And believe me,” Luke added, “once you’ve had one session of hydrotherapy, you’ll be want to spend as much time as possible in there. It’ll strengthen your leg without putting unnecessary pressure on the limb, and it’ll go a long way towards keeping the muscles in your leg from atrophying.”
“If it’s so good, why haven’t I had hydrotherapy before now?”
“Because,” Luke answered, “before our aims were different. We were working towards one hundred percent recovery. Our aims have changed. Now, we’re aiming at ongoing maintenance, for want of a better word. We’re going to keep you on your feet, Bobby, but it’s going to mean continued care. And that, in turn, calls for a different approach to your therapy.”
“Every day?” Bobby asked, despondent at the idea of having to undergo painful physio on a daily basis potentially for the rest of his life.
“To start with, yes,” Luke conceded. “But the further along we get, the more spaced out the sessions will be. There might be periods when you’re having a particularly bad time of it, and we’ll have to schedule more regular sessions. On the other hand, there’ll be times when you’re doing well, and you won’t need frequent physio. It’s nothing I, or anyone else, can predict. We’re going to have to play it entirely by ear, Bobby. All I want from you is a promise that you aren’t going to quit on me, because how effective it is will depend very much on you. I need you to promise that you’ll put a hundred percent effort into this, every time.”
“Don’t worry,” Alex said abruptly. “He will.”
Bobby looked over at her, and the glum expression on his face dissolved into a warm smile. Jack chuckled.
“We’ll take that as a yes, Luke. C’mon. Let’s leave these two alone.”
Alex watched them go, then looked back at Bobby.
“They don’t think that we’re… you know… do they?”
“Don’t know. Don’t care. Are you okay?”
Alex smiled, and pushed herself carefully out of the wheelchair. Leaning across the bed, she slipped her arms around him, and hugged him fiercely.
“I’m fine,” she murmured, planting a light kiss on his cheek before drawing back again. He frowned, his gaze going to the severe bruising visible beneath her hair, and he reached out tentatively. She swatted his hand away gently. “I said I’m fine. I have a killer migraine, but other than that, I’m okay. I wish I could say the same for you, though.”
His gaze went unwillingly to his damaged leg, and the metal pins inserted into the bone through the flesh. It was the third time he’d had to have the pins, and he hoped to God it was the last.
“I knew,” he said softly, his voice shaking just slightly, “as soon as he broke it… I knew that was it.”
“It might still have been okay, though,” she argued. “But you went after him to save me. You know, they’re all still trying to work out how you managed to walk on a broken leg.”
A bitter smile quirked his lips. “That was nothing compared to climbing that slope with two broken legs. Besides, if it had just been Salinger on his own, I wouldn’t have bothered. But he had you. I couldn’t just lie there and do nothing.”
He regarded her with a slightly puzzled look, sensing she was preparing to make some sort of confession.
“What is it?” he pressed gently when she hesitated.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, her gaze dropping. Bobby stared at her, confused.
“This… All of this. It’s my fault.”
For one of the few times in his life, Bobby Goren was rendered speechless. He stared at Alex, his mouth moving but no sound came out. Slowly, Alex looked back up at him, and was momentarily struck by the comical expression on his face. Before she could help it, a short laugh escaped her.
A grin tugged at the corners of Bobby’s mouth, and a moment later, both were laughing helplessly.
“Stop it!” Alex choked out, her eyes watering as she struggled to reign in her laughter. “I was trying to be serious!”
“You laughed first,” Bobby shot back at her, a wide grin on his face despite the pain of the cut on the side of his face.
“Only because you looked so dopey,” Alex said in between gasping bursts of laughter. “Sitting there, opening and closing your mouth… You looked like a guppy!”
“Gee, thanks, Alex,” Bobby said, but the smirk remained. Alex shook her head as she finally managed to get a hold of herself, and stop laughing.
“I was trying to apologise, you jerk.”
“So you said. You want to elaborate on ‘everything’? That’s pretty broad.”
Alex sighed softly. “We knew to expect trouble from Salinger. Deakins and Adkins both warned us not to get caught alone with him, but that’s exactly what I let happen. I should never have gone outside, and left you in the room alone. My stupidity nearly got you killed, Bobby. And then I insisted on going with them to watch Salinger being caught and arrested. I put myself right in his path, again, and that nearly got us both killed. I screwed up badly, Bobby. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be here in this bed now…”
She was silenced very abruptly when he placed his hand firmly over her mouth. Her eyes widened a little in surprise, and even more so when she saw the warm smile on his face.
“Stop it,” he told her quietly, firmly. “Just… stop right there, Alex. Don’t you dare go blaming yourself for anything that happened. It wasn’t your fault. You want to blame someone? Blame Salinger. He’s the one who’s entirely at fault. You know he is. And as for me being in this bed now… I honestly don’t think it would have turned out any differently even if you had stayed with me. Salinger would have found a way to take us down. It was his sole purpose. You didn’t nearly get us killed. If it weren’t for you, I would be dead. That shotgun was aimed at me. You saved my life. Alex, you saved my life. I can’t ever thank you enough for that.”
She reached up and gently removed his hand from her mouth. Tears glistened in her eyes, but didn’t fall.
“I don’t want to lose you, Bobby.”
His smile widened as he suddenly realised what she was afraid of.
“Hasn’t anyone talked to you yet?”
“Who? And talked to me about what?” she asked with a frown.
“Commissioner Adkins spoke to me yesterday, Alex. I don’t have to take a desk job, and they’re not going to push me out on a disability pension. As soon as I’m able to, I’ll be back at Major Case, with you. I’m not going anywhere.”
Tears flooded her eyes as he pulled her in for another hug.
“Gee, it would have been nice to have been told that yesterday,” she said, her voice muffled by his shoulder. “Then I wouldn’t have had to stay awake most of last night worrying about it.”
“I’m sorry,” Bobby murmured. “I should have asked Commissioner Adkins to tell you. By the time he left here yesterday, though, I was just about at the end of it. After he left, I didn’t wake up again until later this morning.”
“It’s okay,” she told him.
“And as for this nonsense about anything being your fault…”
“I let myself get depressed,” she countered quickly. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, Bobby. I was scared.”
He nodded in sympathetic understanding.
“So was I. I still am, I guess. But at least I have something to aim for. And getting back to work finally is a major goal.”
Alex bit down lightly on her lower lip.
“It’s over, isn’t it? I mean, it’s really over.”
He knew what she meant without having to ask her to elaborate.
“Yeah. It’s over. We walked away from it this time. We took control, and we were able to walk away.”
She sighed softly as she rested her head against his chest.
“I have a feeling the nightmares might finally start to ease off now. I mean… we’re never going to forget it, but we don’t have to let the memories paralyse us anymore, do we?”
“No, we don’t,” he agreed. “And I think you’re probably right about the nightmares, too. Alex…?”
She drew back a little from him, and looked up at him, puzzled.
He stared back at her, his own eyes tearing up visibly.
“For being there for me. Not just over the last year… I mean right from when we first met… from our first day as partners. For everything.”
It was her turn to smile.
“Everything? That’s pretty broad, Bobby.”
“I mean it, though. Thankyou, for everything.”
She leaned back into him, feeling his arms enclose her in a protective hug, and she smiled with contentment that she had not felt for a long, long time.
“Everything’s going to be fine. You’ll be coming back at work, where you belong… And Salinger’s dead. Now, as long as the other keep their traps shut about us plotting to kill him…”
A ripple of laughter passed through Bobby.
“It’s okay. We had witnesses. IAB will never know the truth.”
She snorted, then laughed.
“Stop it, you goof.”
Bobby sighed, then drew back from her, still smiling.
“Come up here, will you? I’m getting a sore back leaning over.”
She grinned, and climbed up onto the bed beside him. The two wrapped their arms around each other, and sank down onto the narrow bed, comfortably entwined.
“You know, we’re screwed if any of the brass walk in right now?” Alex asked.
“Couldn’t care less,” Bobby murmured, his eyes starting to droop as sleep began to take hold. “On the other hand, if Letterman were to walk in, that would be another story…”
“Letterman?” Alex echoed, startled. “Why would he walk in?”
Bobby’s eyes flickered open briefly as he struggled to stay awake long enough to finish the conversation.
“Mm… Adkins said he’d… fend him off… Couldn’t promise it, though…”
Alex laughed softly as Bobby fell asleep against her, and she settled down properly beside him. Right then, she didn’t care who happened to walk in on them. She and her partner were safe, and could finally move on with their lives. The nightmare was over with and, God willing, they would never have to lay eyes on Gore Mountain again.
Bobby would be able to return to work, she didn’t have to face the prospect of a new partner…
The relieved smile on her lips twisted into a tiny smirk. She would have to take Deakins to task later on. She had been to visit him before coming to see Bobby, and he had failed to mention anything about Adkins working things so that Bobby could stay on at Major Case. What he had told her was that Bishop had been in to see him earlier that morning and had submitted her resignation from the Squad. Apparently she had been approached by a newly formed investigative branch of the NYPD, and had decided to take the offer of a position with them.
Briefly, Alex had been concerned that she would be left to partner Logan, even if it was only on a temporary basis. As much as she liked the guy, she wasn’t sure she could handle him as a partner.
Deakins had assured her, though, that that wouldn’t be the case. He already had another detective in mind to bring in as a new partner for Logan; a woman by the name of Carolyn Barek, who apparently had two years’ experience under her belt, liaising with the FBI.
Alex was intrigued by the idea of having another female detective around, and looked forward to seeing what she was like. In the meantime, though, she would be there to help Bobby through his rehab, and eventually they would be back at work – together, right where they belonged.
Slowly, her eyes slid shut as sleep took her in its tender arms, but the smile remained on her lips as a last, comforting thought slipped through her mind. Yes, everything was just as it should be. They were going to be just fine.
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