Bobby was awake long before dawn on Saturday morning, dragged unceremoniously from sleep by yet another terrifying nightmare. For nearly twenty minutes he lay frozen in bed, heart pounding and breath coming in panicked gasps as he struggled to regain his equilibrium. It was only when he began to calm down and was able to move again that the nausea suddenly hit, and he had to bolt for the bathroom.

He was still slumped on the floor by the toilet bowl ten minutes later when he felt a familiar, reassuring touch on his back, through the soft flannel of pyjamas that really were too warm for him. Then, a dampened washcloth came into his line of sight and gently wiped his mouth clean.

“It’s okay,” Alex murmured, rubbing his back soothingly. “You’re okay. It was just a bad dream.”

Finally, he found the strength to push away from the toilet and get unsteadily to his feet. When Alex started to usher him back to his bedroom, though, he resisted.

“No… Please… Can we go downstairs?”

She was puzzled, but conceded without argument. Holding his arm more to give him a little bit of stability than anything else, Alex guided him down the stairs and into the family room. As Bobby sank down onto the sofa, Alex collected a glass of juice from the kitchen for him, along with a spare blanket from the hall closet.

“Here,” she murmured, handing him the glass and then sitting beside him and draping the blanket over them both. He took a few sips, and then set the glass aside on the little table beside the sofa. Alex then settled in against him, slipping her arms protectively around his waist.

He was unsettled, and she could feel the tremors rippling through his body like aftershocks. It didn’t seem that he was going to initiate any conversation himself, so she decided to try.

“Who was it about?” she asked softly. “Lyle, Raines or Sydney?”

He didn’t respond straight away, but that didn’t concern her so much. She was used to him taking his time to respond to her questions. When he did, though, the answer was not what she had expected it to be.

“Y… You. It was about you.”

Alex blinked in surprise, not sure what to say.


He glanced briefly at her, and then back to some undefined spot on the opposite wall.

“I… I was in the sim room, and Sydney was there. He told me I had to cooperate, or something terrible would happen. I kept saying no… I tried to reason with him, and explain why they couldn’t keep me there against my will. But then Lyle walked in… and he had you.”

Alex felt her stomach roll at the thought of being in the hands of that monster, but she held her tongue and waited for him to finish. He went on in a soft, trembling voice.

“Lyle said that here was a reason to cooperate, and that if I didn’t he… he was going to kill you. You were begging me to save you… so I did the only thing I could. I did the sim. Then… when I was finished, I told Lyle to let you go, but he just laughed. He laughed, and then he broke your neck. He… He killed you, and he said it was my fault because I forced them to take those measures.”

He dissolved into tears, and Alex tightened her grip on his waist slightly. She was no profiler, nor did she have the insight into the human psyche that Bobby did, but she had no trouble understanding that Bobby’s nightmare was a direct result of his fears for her safety in the actions they were to take against the Centre that very day.

“You’re not going to lose me, Bobby. Not today or any other day, and especially not to those sons of bitches. Do you hear me? We’ve just found each other. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”

Somehow, his arms found their way around her body, and she suddenly found herself wrapped up completely in his embrace.

“Do you not want me to be there today after all?” she wondered. His reply was muffled from having his face buried in her hair, and it took her a moment to understand.

“I need you to be there. It… It was just a nightmare. But today… if you’re there, I know they won’t be able to take me again. I know you’ll stop them.”

His simple declaration of faith brought tears to her eyes, and she hugged him all the more fiercely.

“They’ll never get that chance, Bobby. I promise you.”

John arose a few hours later and came out to find Bobby and Alex still on the sofa together. Alex seemed to sleeping, if somewhat restlessly, but Bobby was wide awake. He glanced up as John walked around and sat down opposite them. John paused before speaking, observing the way Alex was cuddled in against Bobby, and how Bobby’s good arm held her to him protectively – almost possessively. Like he was terrified that she’d disappear if he let her go, John mused sadly. How long, he wondered, before Bobby was able to accept that his friends were not going to vanish the moment he turned his back?

“Did you get any sleep at all?” he asked quietly.

“A few hours,” Bobby answered and, despite keeping his voice low, Alex still stirred and opened her eyes.

“Good morning,” John greeted her bemusedly. Alex groaned and tried to push herself up.

“Please tell me you’ve made coffee.”

John chuckled, then.

“I’ve got a pot brewing. It shouldn’t take long.”

“Mm, great. What time is it?”

John glanced briefly at the clock, even though he already knew.

“It’s just on eight-thirty. Why don’t you two have some coffee, and then go shower? Captain Deakins will be here around in a couple of hours to go over everything.”

Bobby looked sideways at Alex, who nodded her agreement, her growing nerves soothed slightly at the thought of a hot shower and hot, fresh coffee – not necessarily in that order.

“Sounds like a plan. Thanks, Dad.”

Deakins arrived at the Eames household just after ten, and Mike and Carolyn arrived soon after. The rest of the squad was already in place, Deakins informed them, and had been since just after five that morning. They had left nothing to chance, including making sure their people were in place before anyone from the Centre arrived on the scene.

“So how is this going to work?” John asked with a slight frown. He wasn’t particularly happy with the plan, and he feared it was putting Bobby too much at risk. At the same time, though, he understood Bobby’s need for closure, and the need to put an end to the threat against him, once and for all. It was for that reason alone that he had kept his objections to himself.

“Bobby will head to the café at the designated time, to meet Frank,” Deakins explained. “The location was apparently chosen by Lyle, so we expect any workers… and probably all the customers as well… to be Centre operatives. We have people whose specific aim is to deal with them. Now, Bobby will be equipped with a microphone, so we’ll be able to hear what’s happening. We won’t be taking any chances, I promise you. As soon as Lyle and Raines appear, we’ll make our move.”

“You say you’re not taking any chances,” John said worriedly, “but really, you are. Are you really sure it’s a risk you’re willing to take? This is Bobby’s life we’re talking about here…”

“It’s the only way,” Bobby spoke up. “I… I can’t live my life always looking over my shoulder. I want this to end. Now. Today.”

There was a determination in his tone that they were all certain was only bravado on Bobby’s part. None of them were going to disrespect that, though. They all knew how hard it had to be for him to be willingly offering himself as bait – regardless of how much back-up they were giving him. There was always the chance for that one mistake that could send everything spinning horribly out of control.

“Do you need us?” Helen asked, anxious and yet eager at the same time. “Can we help in some way?”

Even as Alex was opening her mouth to voice a response to that, Deakins spoke quickly.

“Actually, there is something you can do. You can drive Bobby to the meeting place, and then get yourselves right out of the way until it’s over. All right?”

John nodded in agreement, knowing that it was the best they could hope for.

“Okay. We can do that.”

Deakins looked across at Bobby, taking in his too pale features and tired eyes with sympathy.

“Bobby, why don’t you try to get a couple of hours shut eye? Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look exhausted.”

“I don’t think I could sleep, even if I wanted to,” Bobby admitted, and they could all see the truth in that statement. He was far too wound up to be able to relax at all.

An uneasy silence fell, broken only when John spoke up.

“Liz Bauer called this morning. They’ve scheduled the surgery on Bobby’s shoulder for next week, on Thursday morning.”

“That’s good news,” Deakins agreed. “Did she give any idea of what the recovery time might be?”

“They won’t know until they complete the surgery,” John replied, “but she seemed fairly positive about the outlook.”

“That’s good news in itself,” Alex pointed out. “Liz Bauer isn’t exactly an optimist by nature. She doesn’t believe in giving false hope. If she thinks Bobby is going to make a good recovery, then it’s a fair bet that he will.”

“Bobby?” Carolyn asked, noting how quiet Bobby had gone. “What are you thinking about?”

He initially didn’t answer but, like Alex, none of them grew impatient with him. A minute or so later, he did finally answer.

“I was certain before now, whether I really wanted my job back. I mean, I did… but only because it was something they tried to take from me. But I didn’t really know if it was something I wanted in myself… for myself. I didn’t know whether I’d feel like I was still capable of doing it.”

“And what about now?” Mike asked. Bobby let his breath out in a rush.

“I want to be a cop again,” he said in a soft but firm voice. “It’s who I am… part of my identity. They never really took that from me. I just managed to forget it for a while there. But… I’m a cop… and I want that back.”

A grin lit up Deakins’ face as Bobby spoke, quietly delighting in the way that Bobby was making a deliberate effort to look each of them in the eye as he spoke. His confidence was returning, slowly but surely.

“I’ve been waiting to hear you say that, Bobby. I think you’re ready to have this back.”

Bobby looked up, puzzled, as Deakins pulled something from within his jacket, and held it out to the younger man. Bobby accepted the item, and his jaw dropped in astonishment as he found himself staring at his detective’s shield.

“I… I thought they destroyed this,” he whispered. “They told me they destroyed it…”

“They left it behind when they took you from the Chief of Detectives’ office,” Deakins told him. “I’ve been keeping it safe for you, until you were ready to take up your place with the squad again. Your gun is in the lock box in my office, and you’ll get that back when you’re ready for it, too. And after today, perhaps you can start back at work on light desk duty, if you feel up to it. Okay?”

Bobby nodded, his entire countenance lighting up with fresh hope as he clutched the shield tightly in his free hand.


At eleven on the dot, Alex and the captain headed off to go on ahead to the café where Bobby and Frank were to meet, and where Lyle and Raines thought they were going to spring their trap. An hour later, John, Helen and Bobby headed out as well.

As they’d agreed, Mike and Carolyn followed them to ensure that nothing happened en route. As Mike had reminded them all, Lyle and Raines would not be above staging an ambush before Bobby even reached the café. The trip into the city was uneventful, though, and soon they’d reached the café.

“Are you sure you want to go in there alone?” John asked worriedly, and Bobby paused in getting out of the car.

“I’m not alone, though. Alex… and Captain Deakins… and all of the squad are here. I’m not alone.”

John nodded in acquiescence. It was the response he’d expected, and in all honesty he didn’t know what he could possibly have done to help the situation even if Bobby had expressed a wish for them to go in with him. Given what they expected to have happen, John guessed that his and Helen’s presence would only create a very big problem for Bobby’s supporters.

“Okay. We’re going to pull up just further down the street. We won’t be far away. All right?”

Bobby nodded, gratitude visible in his brown eyes.


“Everything’s going to work out just fine, sweetheart,” Helen assured him, and he smiled faintly in response as he thought of Alex, Captain Deakins and the others all waiting, ready to defend him against his enemies.

“I know it will.”

The very first thing he noted as he entered the café was the absolute lack of interest in him from the other patrons. It was human nature to display some degree of curiosity, even if it came in the form of a simple glance. That not one of them so much as looked in his direction told him beyond a doubt that they were all sweepers from the Centre.

The mere thought of it gave him chills, and he had to make a conscious effort to control his fear.

Nine so-called patrons in all, he mused as he headed slowly to the table where his brother was already seated. Two staff members were visible, and there were probably more out back…

He barely withheld a smirk. He was sincerely looking forward to seeing the look on Lyle’s face when they sprung their own trap. With that sense of amusement, though, there was a deeper sense of fear that he struggled to control, and which tempered any enthusiasm he might otherwise have had. Despite his bravado, he was starkly afraid. If something… anything went wrong, the consequences would be devastating. Not only were there lives at risk, but at the very bottom line was the terrifying knowledge that he could end up back in the Centre’s control.

The thought was nauseating, and he made a silent vow that he would take his own life before allowing that to happen again.

“Hey, Bobby,” Frank greeted him as he walked over and sat down. “Hope you’re hungry. This place serves up the biggest damn plates of pasta. Seriously, they’re huge, man.”

“I may need a doggy bag, then,” Bobby murmured, making a cursory show of looking over the menu before setting it aside. Frank raised an eyebrow at him.

“What’s the matter? Not hungry?”

“Not especially. Listen, can we skip lunch, and just head straight out to see Mom? I really don’t have much of an appetite.”

True to their plan, Frank spoke as though he was trying to convince Bobby to stay.

“C’mon, Bobby, you might not be hungry, but I am. D’you mind if I at least get something to eat?”

Bobby hesitated, shifting uncomfortably before sighing in apparent concession.

“Okay, Frank. Fine.”

“Great. Hey, did you let Mom know we’re coming?”

“She’s expecting me,” Bobby answered quietly. “I didn’t tell her you were coming, though.”

“Oh… You’re saying you want to surprise her?”

“Yeah,” Bobby murmured, while inwardly thinking, more like, didn’t want to disappoint her if you decided to bail again.

Silence fell between the two brothers, and Bobby noticed Frank glancing up regularly to look beyond Bobby, giving the distinct impression that he was waiting for someone. Bobby gave it nearly five minutes before speaking tersely, in an effort to provoke Lyle and Raines into acting.

“Frank, I think it’s time to go.”


“No. We can stop somewhere on the way to Carmel Ridge, if you’re really hungry. I… I want to get out of here. Now.”

And then, Frank’s expression changed and Bobby knew his tormentors had arrived.

A hand descended onto his injured shoulder and squeezed, drawing a choked sob of pain from him.

“You’re not going to leave yet, Bobby,” Lyle said as he walked around and sat down beside Bobby. “That would just be rude.”

Bobby’s breath caught in his throat as his gaze came to rest on Lyle and, despite nearly a week of trying to prepare himself, he couldn’t suppress the very real fear that lit up his eyes. Lyle saw it, and a cruel delight practically radiated off him.

“Now, last time we saw each other, you left me for dead, Bobby. That wasn’t very courteous on your part. The car could have blown up with me in it.”

“Pity it didn’t,” Bobby said, and it wasn’t hard to generate a believable amount of bitterness in his tone.

“Now, be nice,” Lyle chided him. “We’re here to take you home, Bobby. You want to go home, don’t you?”

“Go fuck yourself, Lyle,” Bobby snarled. “I’m not going anywhere with you, you sick bastard.”

A moment later, Bobby grunted in pain as Lyle shot his hand out to grip the back of his neck in a vice-like grip and forced his head down onto the table, pinning him there. At the same time, Lyle ground his other fist into Bobby’s shoulder, drawing a strangled scream of pain from him.

“Hey, don’t do that!” Frank burst out, only to cringe away when Lyle glared at him.

“Get lost, Frank. You’ve played your part. Take your money, and disappear. That is what you’re good at, isn’t it? Disappearing?”

“F… Frank… What did you do…?” Bobby gasped as he struggled in vain to break free from Lyle’s grip.

“I’m sorry, Bobby,” Frank whimpered, putting on what Bobby thought was an A-grade performance. “I… I needed the money. I’m sorry…”

“For ten thousand, he’s not that sorry,” Lyle retorted. “And believe me, it didn’t take much effort to convince him, either.”

Bobby didn’t respond to that, instead scanning the room as best as he was able from where Lyle currently had him pinned.

Raines, he thought frantically. Where the hell is Raines...

The entire plan was useless if he wasn’t there. To eliminate Lyle from the equation but not Raines would not provide him with the peace of mind that he so desperately sought.

“Where’s your keeper, Lyle?” Bobby asked hoarsely. “You didn’t come here without Raines, did you?”

It was then that Bobby heard the familiar metallic squeak of unoiled wheels, telling him that Raines was indeed there.

“No, he didn’t. Let him up, Mr Lyle.”

Lyle released Bobby, and he pushed himself back up slowly. A glance around confirmed his earlier suspicions about the café’s staff and patrons. All of them were on their feet now, guns at the ready.

“This was a trap,” Bobby said quietly. Raines smiled, clearly satisfied with himself.

“And you walked right into it.”

Bobby looked back to Frank, who raised a single eyebrow in a questioning gesture. Bobby let his out in a long, slow hiss. It was time.

“No,” he countered. “You did.”

He just had time to register the confusion on their faces before numerous cops converged on the café, pouring in through all entry points. The next few seconds were chaos as the sweepers were rapidly overpowered before they had a chance to fire a single bullet. Within a matter of seconds, only Lyle and Raines were left standing, both with their weapons drawn and aimed at Bobby.

“Gotta hand it to you, Bobby,” Lyle said as he took in the dozen or more cops who either held the sweepers at bay, or stood with their guns aimed at himself and Raines. “Never saw this coming.” He looked over at Frank. “Maybe I should have offered you twenty thousand.”

“A hundred thousand wouldn’t have been enough,” Frank spat. “Nothing’s worth selling out my little brother. Fuck you, you degenerate scumbag.”

Lyle grunted.

“Same attitude. Go figure.”

Slowly, with all the care her training had afforded her, Alex moved forward. She kept her gun trained squarely on Lyle, knowing that at least one of her colleagues had their focus on Raines.

“Put your weapons down. Now.”

“Or what?” Lyle asked flatly. “You’ll shoot us right here and now?”

“Do you think we wouldn’t?” Deakins asked in a deadly softly tone. Lyle chuckled softly, though he made no move to lower his weapon.

“Yes, I think you probably would. The question you all have to ask yourselves is, is it worth Bobby’s life? Because I promise you I can put a bullet clean through his heart before the rest of you can take me down. Are any of you willing to take that chance?”

Silence met his challenge, and Lyle chuckled again.

“I didn’t think so.”

“We seem to have a stalemate, here,” Raines hissed, but Bobby shook his head.

“Not how I see it.”

“Oh? Care to enlighten us?” Lyle asked bemusedly. Bobby nodded almost placidly.

“Sure. We outnumber you. If you do shoot me, you won’t walk out of here alive. Put your guns down, and maybe that doesn’t have to be the case.”

“There’s just one problem with that,” Lyle said.

“And what’s that?” Mike asked, moving up to stand beside Alex, his gun trained also on Lyle. He was itching for a reason to pull the trigger, but at the same time dared not provoke anything for fear that Bobby might suffer for it.

“You don’t intend on us walking out of here at all,” Lyle said bluntly, turning his gaze back to Bobby. “Do you?”

For the longest time, Bobby and Lyle stood staring at each other in utter silence. Finally, what felt like hours later, Bobby finally spoke in a low, eerily calm voice.


Lyle nodded, as placid as ever.

“I didn’t think so.”

And with that, he pulled the trigger.

Later on none of them would have much success piecing together what followed. Everything seemed to happen all in the same instant, in one massive blur of action.

Bobby jerked as the bullet from Lyle’s gun struck him, and he staggered backwards and fell to the floor. Before anyone had the chance to retaliate, though, Frank uttered a cry of rage, and launched himself across the floor at Lyle, tackling him and causing them both to tumble into the nearby wall. With a snarl of anger, Lyle fired his gun once more, and shoved the other man roughly away. Frank collapsed to the floor, a look of pained surprise on his face as blood blossomed across his clean shirt.

Lyle barely had time to take another step when Alex, Mike and at least two other detectives opened fire. He was dead before he hit the floor, with several bullets in his torso, and one clean kill shot right in the centre of his forehead.

With a snarl of anger, Raines swung his own weapon around, clearly intending on killing Bobby. Neither Alex, Mike, nor Carolyn were fast enough to stop him, but one other person was.

A single gunshot resonated through the sudden silence that had descended on the room, and Raines crumpled to the floor, dead from a bullet wound to the temple. Deakins lowered his weapon only when he was certain that Raines was, indeed, dead, and he looked over at his colleagues with ashen features.

“It’s done,” he said softly, hoarsely. Alex suddenly broke her paralysis, and ran over to where Bobby lay on the floor.

“Bobby? C’mon, baby, open your eyes…”

Bobby’s eyes flickered open, and he groaned softly.


Relief flooded through Alex as she opened up his shirt to reveal a bullet-proof vest, with Lyle’s bullet lodged firmly in the protective metal sheet that covered his heart.

“C’mon, sit up.”

He did so with a groan, wincing at the burning pain as Alex peeled back his shirt and carefully removed the vest.

“Crap, that hurts…”

“Better than getting shot for real, pal,” Mike said wryly. “You okay, there?”

“Yeah,” Bobby mumbled, rubbing gingerly at his chest. “I’ll try to remember that when the bruise comes out... if I even notice it on top of all the bruises I already have.”

“Point taken,” Mike conceded wryly. “I’ll just shut up now.”

Bobby smiled faintly, and then looked around in mild anxiety.

“Is… Is everyone okay?”

“We’re okay,” Alex said tentatively. He looked up at her, suddenly fearful.


She let her breath out in a rush.

“Bobby, Lyle shot Frank.”

Waves of fear and panic swept down through Bobby, and he struggled up despite Alex’s best efforts to keep him from moving.


On the other side of the room, Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler were seeing to Frank, and Olivia favoured Bobby with a reassuring smile.

“He’s going to be okay, Bobby. It went through his side, but it’s a clean wound.”

Moving gingerly, Bobby made his way over to look at his brother in bemusement. Frank returned his gaze with one of mock irritation.

“Asshole. You could’ve told me you were wearing one of those vest things. I thought he shot you!”

“I’m sorry,” Bobby apologised, “but I couldn’t exactly get a hold of you to let you know. But you know, I’m touched. You took a bullet for me, Frank.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.” He paused, groaning as Olivia pressed a fresh wad of material to the wound. “You owe me a new shirt, man.”

Bobby smiled down at his brother, his expression warm.

“Frank, I’ll buy you a whole new suit for this.”

Frank hesitated, and his gaze when to his brother’s face. He was completely taken aback, and overwhelmed by the gratitude he saw there, in Bobby’s face. It had been a long, long time since he’d gotten that from anyone, let alone his little brother. Suddenly embarrassed, he looked away to where Lyle’s body lay in a pool of blood.

“Is he dead? Is it over?”

“He’s dead,” Mike confirmed, and to prove it he and Fin rolled the body over. Lyle’s eyes were wide-open in a dead man’s stare.

“Stupid son of a bitch,” Mike retorted, sounding less than apologetic. “He actually thought we’d take a chance with Bobby’s life.”

“Someone was a good shot,” Fin mused, motioning to the bullet hole in Lyle’s forehead. “That’s gotta be the kill shot.”

Bobby looked around at Alex, but her expression gave away nothing.

“It doesn’t matter who fired the kill shot,” she said calmly. “What matters is that he can never hurt Bobby... or anyone else... again.”

“Neither of them can,” Deakins said softly.

Heart pounding, Bobby moved from Lyle’s body to Raines’. Seeing two of his tormentors dead, with all the power stripped from them, gave Bobby a feeling of release that he couldn’t begin to describe.

“You okay?” Alex asked him softly. He looked back at her, and she was heartened by the smile on his face.

“Yes,” he answered, and he seemed to be surprised by the confidence in his own voice. “I am.”

She returned his smile, awash with relief. Unlike previous times, his reply wasn’t ‘I will be’, but rather ‘I am’. He was okay, she realised with burgeoning joy. He really was.

“All right,” Deakins said firmly, taking charge of the situation finally. “Get the rest of these mutts up and move them out into the vans.”

“You going to kill us too?” one of the sweepers dared to ask. David Ash jerked him none too gently to his feet.

“Are you going to give us a reason to?”

He was answered with sullen silence.

“You’re all going to be escorted out of the state,” Deakins told them. “But first we’ll be recording your identities. If any of you ever set foot inside the Tri-state area again, I guarantee you’ll never see the inside of a courtroom.” He caught the arm of the one who had spoken up. “You go back to where you came from, and you tell everyone there that Bobby Goren is to be left alone. Do you understand me? The Centre is never to come after him again. Never. Understand?”

“Perfectly,” came the sour reply, but beyond the audible attitude, Deakins heard a deeper level of understanding, and more than a hint of fear. Their calculated actions in that little café had finally gotten the message through. They would protect Bobby at any cost, even if it meant taking lives to do it.

“Good,” Deakins said quietly. “Now go.”

The man went, following his fellow sweepers out through the rear entrance. When Deakins looked back around, he was not sure whether to be surprised by the sight of Bobby crouching down beside Raines’ lifeless body.

Aware that pretty much everyone was watching him, Bobby whispered very softly, in a tone that no one else could hear.

“Two down, one to go.”

Then, he stood back up slowly, with some awkwardness as the movement caused a flare of pain through his chest and shoulder. Damn, he was going to be relieved when he finally had that surgery to correct the damage to his shoulder.

“Can we get out of here? Frank needs to get to the hospital.”

Deakins nodded.

“Yes, let’s get going. I need to put in a report about this to the Commissioner, and the other brass.”

“What are you going to tell them?” Stabler wondered, although he sounded less than concerned. To his way of thinking, they’d done a good thing, and there were no regrets to be had. Whether the brass saw it that way was their problem.

“The truth,” Deakins said with a wry smile. “Bobby was meeting his brother for lunch, and two men ambushed him and attempted to kill him. We had undercover detectives on the scene acting as protection for Bobby, and they shot and killed the offenders in the process of defending a fellow officer.”

“Nice,” Mike murmured as they filed out of the cafe, with Fin and Stabler supporting Frank between them. Alex paused, looking back at Bobby who was, in turn, taking another satisfied look at Lyle and Raines’ bodies.

“And what about you?” she asked softly. Bobby sighed as a fresh wave of relief washed over him, and he turned away from the bodies of his tormentors for the last time.

“I’m ready to go home,” he admitted, and for the first time since his rescue, Alex heard acceptance in his voice, along with renewed confidence. He was finally ready to go home, she realised, and felt a touch of sadness mixed in with the joy.

“C’mon,” she murmured, opting not to touch on that subject just yet. “Let’s get to the hospital. Something tells me Liz is going to want to see you, as well.”

He started to protest, until she brushed her fingertips lightly over his chest, where the bullet had struck his vest, and the groan of pain that erupted from deep inside him silenced any protests he’d intended on making.

“Okay,” he conceded wryly. “You win. I’ll go to the hospital.”

Alex smiled and, without another word, led him out of the café.

“It was you. You shot him.”

Alex regarded Bobby calmly as she helped him into a clean shirt in the ER of Mt Sinai. Despite his displeasure, the moment Liz Bauer had seen the way he was moving, she’d insisted on giving him a thorough examination, including a fresh set of chest and shoulder x-rays. He was now waiting on the results of those x-rays to tell him, as he’d grumbled to Alex, that he had a cracked rib, just as he’d suspected.

Frank, as it turned out, was only marginally worse off. Lyle’s bullet had gone straight through his side in a relatively clean through-and-through. It hurt like hell, but that was the worst of it. He would need to spend a couple of days in the hospital to monitor for potential infection, but after that he’d be fine.

“Several of us shot Lyle, Bobby,” Alex pointed out to him. He frowned a little at her evasive answer.

“You know what I mean.”

She was silent while she contemplated his words.

“Yes,” she admitted finally. “I was aiming for that son of a bitch’s head. And if my bullet is the one that killed him, then I won’t be sorry about it. But if you’re saying you’re angry...”

She was silenced very abruptly by his arm around her, pulling her in close, and his lips very firmly on hers. He felt the sigh pass through her, and felt her relax against him before drawing slowly away.

“No, I’m not angry,” he murmured, nuzzling her hair with his cheek. “I was just worried. You’ve had to kill people before, and I’ve seen what it does to you. I didn’t want you suffering that sort of guilt over a monster like Lyle.”

Alex smiled.

“You were worried about me? That’s a bit of a reversal of roles, isn’t it?”

He raised an eyebrow at her, and smiled to show her that he wasn’t offended by her words.

“Is it so hard to believe that I might be thinking about someone other than myself?”

Soft laughter escaped her.

“No, I guess not. I didn’t mean it to sound like you were.”

Bobby smiled, and hugged her fiercely to him.

“How about we start again? I just didn’t want to you living with the guilt of having taken another life.”

She stretched up to kiss his cheek.

“Then stop worrying. Firstly, I don’t view Lyle as being human. He was inhuman, and he deserved to be treated like that... Like he treated you. I hated him for what he did to you, Bobby. He didn’t deserve to live... but at the same time, I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger until you said so. He made the first move, in the end, and he brought it on himself. Truth is that if Frank hadn’t been so quick to jump the guy, I would’ve shot him sooner.” She paused to take a breath. “I have to admit it, Bobby. Frank impressed me. I didn’t know Lyle had upped his offer.”

“Neither did I,” Bobby admitted. “And ten thousand dollars is a lot of money to a guy like Frank.”

Alex snorted.

“It’s a lot of money to me. I’ll always be impressed that he chose you over a quick ten thousand. That says a lot.”

“I know,” Bobby agreed. “He... He could have been killed... but he stood up for me. He didn’t have to, but he did. I’ll always be grateful to him for that... That he did right by me.” He paused, staring down at Alex anxiously. “Are you really okay?”

She hugged him as tightly as she dared.

“I’m really okay. I shot and killed a man who was threatening the life of my partner. It was a good shooting, Bobby. And just between us, I’ve never felt better.”

Still he looked uncertain, though.

“I... I just wanted you to feel right about it.”

“I do, Bobby. I promise you that I do.” She hugged him again. “It’s over. It really is over.”

“Not entirely,” he corrected her after a moment’s hesitation. “The Centre is still out there... and so is Sydney.”

“You think they might still come after you?” she asked worriedly. “Even after what happened today?”

He thought that over for a moment before shaking his head.

“No. I think what happened today is going to send them a pretty definitive warning. But Sydney is still out there, and I wouldn’t put it past him to try and make contact with me.”

“You really think he’d try?” Alex wondered, and a bitter smile crossed Bobby’s features.

“He’s a shrink with an insatiable curiosity. It may take a little time, but he’ll try. He won’t be able to help himself. What really worries me is that I don’t know how I’ll react when he does. Part of me wants to kill him... but another part of me doesn’t want to hurt him because of Jarod.”

Alex sighed softly.

“I’d like to say that you don’t owe Jarod anything, but I guess you do. We would never have gotten you out of that place if it hadn’t been for him.”

“Yes, you would have,” Bobby said quietly. “I know you, Alex. You wouldn’t have given up. You would have found a way.”

“You have an awful lot of faith in me, Bobby Goren,” Alex whispered tearfully. He hugged her close, and kissed her gently.

“Yes, I do. And I know it’s well placed. I love you, Alex Eames.”

A shudder rippled through her, and tears stung her eyes. It was the first time those words had passed his lips, where she hadn’t prompted him by saying them first.

“I love you, too,” she whispered, leaning back into his embrace.

They stood like that for minutes in contented silence before the sound of the curtain being drawn back alerted them to the fact that they were no longer alone. Rather than jumping apart, though, Alex simply turned her head to look at the interloper.

Liz Bauer regarded them with amusement as she pulled the curtain closed behind her.

“I’ll bet you’re both thanking your lucky stars that I’m not your captain.”

“Actually, Liz, it wouldn’t matter if you were,” Alex said calmly. “If he doesn’t know already, then we’re not going to try hiding it from him. I don’t think he’d try to separate us anyway.”

“Well, I won’t be the one to say anything,” Liz assured them. “Okay, Bobby. X-rays are back, and you’ve won yourself a cracked rib, but I guess you already knew that.”

Bobby nodded.

“I figured as much.”

“There’s not a lot I can do for that, except tell you to take it easy for a few weeks, but I guess that since you’ll be back in here on Thursday for your shoulder, it’s something of a moot point.”

A wry smile crossed Bobby’s features.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “It is.”

Liz chuckled, and turned her attention to Alex.

“Get him dressed, and get him out of here. I don’t want to see him back in here before Thursday.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Alex said with a laugh, quietly marvelling that she could once more feel the desire to laugh. It had been a painfully long time since there had been anything to laugh and smile about.

Liz left them alone, and Alex returned her attention to Bobby, swatting away his roaming hand as she tried to button up his shirt.

“Knock it off, Goren,” she growled. “This is hardly the place.”

He smirked, but stilled his hand.

“Think we might be able to stay at your place tonight? You know... for some privacy?”

She quirked an eyebrow at him.

“What happened to not wanting to start what you can’t finish?”

“I’m sure we could figure something out,” he murmured, nuzzling her hair again.

“Chill out, Bobby,” she told him, though she couldn’t keep a grin off her face at his eagerness. “There’ll be plenty of time for that, after you’ve had that shoulder surgery. Until then...”

He sighed comically.

“Okay, okay. After.” He smiled down at her affectionately as she finished buttoning up his shirt. “I really love you, Alex.”

She returned his smile with a brilliant one of her own.

“I know you do.”

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