Written for squarey in the l_and_o_santa secret santa exchange.
Characters: Goren, Eames
Word Count: 3011
Disclaimer: The characters and universe of Law & Order: Criminal Intent belong to Dick Wolf, NBC, USA, etc. No copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author’s Note: Set the day after the end of “Purgatory.” The partnership timeline assumes they had a year together before the series started, since Alex says, “Eight years I’ve had your back” during that episode.
Summary: “‘Goren’ and ‘normal’ rarely appeared in close proximity in most sentence constructions (well, except when they were connected by “is not,” though that was the exception that proved the rule), but he’d at least had habits and routines . . . .”
“Goren” and “normal” rarely appeared in close proximity in most sentence constructions (well, except when they were connected by “is not,” though that was the exception that proved the rule), but he’d at least had habits and routines that had become as familiar to Alex as the weight of her gun between her palms (and just as strangely comfortable, although that was one of those thoughts she could no longer afford to entertain).
She didn’t think he’d been gone so long that she’d forgotten his habits, but then she supposed that six months was long enough to slide into new ones. This was his third trip to the men’s room since she’d arrived to find a coffee and a raspberry Danish sitting hopefully on her desk. (She never had been one to cut off her nose to spite her face, so she had bitten into the pastry and said, “Thanks, Mike,” to Logan, who happened to be passing by. He’d slanted a warning glance toward her silently deflating partner but wisely, in her opinion, kept his mouth shut.)
His third trip in as many hours. That’s what happened to men when they reached a certain age--it was a step towards making up for childbearing, her mom always said. And when had energetic, boyish Bobby become a “man of a certain age?” Probably about the time he progressed from quirky, slightly unstable partner to arrogant, selfish bastard. Served him right. (He must have stirred up a lot of dust in setting his desk to rights, because she could feel her eyes prickling, and it was all she could do not to rub at them. Blinking would have to suffice--if only all irritations disappeared that easily.)
As the morning wore on and her patience with their paperwork wore thin, Alex began to catalog the new behaviors just to keep her brain from lapsing into catatonia (because, really, Goren could have returned from his suspension chewing his nails and making daisy chains out of the paperclips, and she wouldn’t have cared one whit. Really.). Besides the incessant trips to the bathroom, he also had already sidled into the staffroom more frequently than he used to in an entire week, and every time she returned to her desk, he closed a drawer and rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth.
Perhaps the most exasperating thing, though, was that he told her where he was going every time he moved more than five feet from his desk.
What he was trying to do was painfully obvious, and she was having none of it, so at his sixteenth murmured, heel-scuffing notice she snapped, “You can go to hell, for all I care. Just do it quietly.” His hands fumbled the empty coffee mug he was about to refill, nearly letting it smash to smithereens on the floor, and his lips parted as though “I’m sorry” was on the tip of his tongue but slid down his throat instead.
Alex just glared at the form beneath her pen and said a quick prayer of contrition for hoping that an intricate, high profile homicide would be perpetrated soon to distract her from committing a murder of her own.
No one obliged. A promising call came in at three, but before they could even grab their coats it was followed by a call from SVU. It turned out that a rookie dispatcher had mistaken the address, and it wasn’t the mayor’s housekeeper but one of the city’s other young immigrant women deemed insignificant by the powers that be. Major Case wasn’t needed. (Story of her life, lately. However, unlike some people, she didn’t have a pathological need to be needed, especially not by a self-destructive loner who would sooner be shot by his partner than admit her into his confidence. Nope, she was just fine on her own.)
Alex stewed, and Bobby tried to hunch down behind the stacks of files and reference books that had suddenly sprouted from his bare desk, and the rest of the afternoon crawled by in strained silence. When their shift ended, they went their separate ways quietly. This time, his mouth did not ask if he would see her in the morning, although his eyes begged it (which she didn’t see, because she wasn’t looking, because she didn’t (couldn’t) care).
“What?” The urgency in his voice tripped her concerned reflex before she remembered that she was pissed at him.
“There’s been a water main break by my place.”
He’d called her for this? He couldn’t pick up the phone to let her know he was going undercover, but he could call her about his plumbing woes?
“So?” she asked witheringly.
“They turned off my water.”
“So?” she repeated with as much venom as she could muster.
“I, I’ve got no water.”
“Do you need new batteries for your hearing aid? I already told you once--I’m not your fucking water carrier! You can buy your own water just like the rest of us.”
Alex could hear “I can . . . I can buy . . .” as she slammed her phone shut and threw it at the couch. She could see it blinking forlornly up at her from between the cushions, as though asking what it had ever done to incur her wrath. She glared. It blinked a few more times and went dark. Wonderful. He had her anthropomorphizing her cell phone.
Seething quietly, she turned the television on and dared the remote control to try to throw a guilt trip on her for use of excessive force (and immediately felt rather silly). The show just starting was one of half a dozen police procedurals saturating the evening tv schedule. It was a good target for her frustration, and soon she was engrossed in loudly pointing out the inconsistencies, rulebook infractions, and absurdities with which such shows were rife.
During the climax, one of the lead detectives coaxed the crucial piece of evidence out of the victim by leaning in with shimmering eyes and revealing that he, too, had been raped as a teenager by his stepfather. Alex groaned at the melodramatic coincidence; it sounded like something out of their own case files. It was right out of Goren’s playbook, having a past that intersected the lives of both victims and criminals so frequently that it verged on the ridiculous (ridiculous, and pathetic, too, that this was often the only way he would (or could?) share these intimate details with her). In fact, now that she thought about it, their partnership has eerily resembled one of those shows.
Season 1 – Whacko meets widow. Offbeat intellectual meets tough-as-nails cop’s cop. Tall meets short. Predictably, they butt heads. He casually drops hints about his ill mother and motley past. She starts making jokes to see his startled grin rather than muttering snarky deprecations behind his back. They each begin to bend.
Seasons 2 through 6 – They hit their stride, working together like a well-oiled machine and sending their solve rate through the roof. He alludes to an increasingly disturbing picture of his childhood. She lends her womb to her nephew for nine months, and they both discover how much they miss each other. He even acquires a recurring Professor Moriarty who tweaks his tail and always eludes him at the end of the episode.
That’s not enough to maintain projected viewer interest, though, so Season 7 starts out badly and degenerates from there. She’s kidnapped by his former mentor’s daughter. His institutionalized mother is diagnosed with terminal lymphoma and draws out her death and her son’s anguish to exquisitely excruciating levels. She tries to reach out the best she can, but he rebuffs her, so she retreats, and he does what he’s been threatening to do for probably his entire life and begins to fall apart in earnest.
And now, Season 8. They’ve been put through the wringer repeatedly. Her past and his sanity get cracked open and strewn about like so much dirty laundry for the world to see. He gets suspended, and she gets in hot water for trying to be the one person who won’t let him down. She shouldn’t have bothered, as it turns out that he doesn’t share her definition of loyalty. In the season finale, he betrays her, and they reunite over opposing gun barrels.
Season 9 – They’ll fumble around, trying (maybe) to repair a trust that has been riven irreparably, but never quite succeeding. The show will be getting passé by then, and running out of new spins to put on old crimes. Besides, they no longer conform to the viewing public’s notion of hot, young detectives. They’re both more creased and rumpled and careworn; he’s grayer and heavier and often looks as though he can hardly dress himself in the morning, much less dash nimbly after fleeing criminals. After all the drama, there’s only one more trick the writers could possibly have up their sleeves. The show’ll be on its way out, anyway, so they might as well go out with a bang. One of them will bite it--shot or stabbed or blown up, managing to whisper just a few gut-wrenching last words while bleeding all over the other’s lap. It won’t matter which one it is--she’s not quirky enough to survive the ratings wars on her own, and he simply couldn’t function without her--either way, the show would be over. The actors would move on to other roles, and . . .
The credits, black and white and somber, interrupted her TV Guide musings, and she tried to imagine never seeing Goren again.
She was angry, yes, incredibly so. (She’d tried not to be, because anger meant that she still cared, and caring for someone who so obviously could not even comprehend it was just asking to have her heart broken.) However, even her iron will couldn’t snap off the tenuous filaments of their bond that had inexplicably survived these past few years.
Alex dusted off a bottle of water from her winter emergency cache, and before the more rational part of her could protest, “But he’s still a self-absorbed ass of questionable mental stability,” her knuckles were beating a crisp tattoo against his door.
It cautiously opened a few feet, and a disheveled Robert Goren filled the gap, gaping at her in surprise. Gone were the tie and suit jacket, and his shirt was open at the collar and cuffs and starting to come untucked from his pants.
His throat worked a few seconds with those funny little vocalizations she never knew she missed, and then he stammered, “You-- What are you . . . doing here?”
“My partner called. And even if he’s an utter bastard--” He flinched, and maybe this was some small acknowledgement of his guilt. “--he’s still my partner. So I’m here.” She held up the peace offering. “And this doesn’t count, because it’s my water. Consider it a loaner.” She tried to smile, but ended up just baring her teeth at him, so she quickly pinched her lips together again.
“Oh, um, thanks.” He snatched the bottle out of her hands, cracked the seal, and guzzled half the contents before coming up for air.
She wasn’t concerned, she really wasn’t. It was none of her business, but . . . “You okay?”
“Me?” He looked startled, and she wondered for a moment if she was being kept in the dingy hallway outside his apartment because he had a visitor. She dismissed the thought just as quickly as it had materialized, because who would want to waste a perfectly decent evening with him? (Besides her, apparently, but that really wasn’t relevant.) Except that kind of girl, and she desperately did not need her brain going there tonight.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Just, uh, just . . . er, tired. Y’know, first day back and, and all. Thanks for . . . .” He waved the bottle, nearly smacking her in the face with it. “G’night.”
Alex caught the closing door with her boot. He was trying to hide something, and it had flustered him enough that he was only making the vaguest of gestures at attempting to conceal his deception.
“Not so fast, Goren. We need to talk.”
“Talk?” He perked up a little at the word, but was nudging her foot out of the door’s path with one of his own size thirteens. “Ok, yeah, we’ll . . . talk. Tomorrow.”
“No,” she said with more conviction than she felt. “Tonight.” Taking him by surprise, it only took a swift shove to force the door to swing back into his entryway.
Panic flashed across his face, and she really, really hoped she wasn’t about to come face-to-face with a hooker clad in leather and wielding a whip (although, given his predilections, she’d probably be naked and reading from a leather-bound book, instead). Steeling her resolve, Alex ducked beneath his arm and marched into his kitchen.
Most of the room was in disarray, except for a couple dozen half-liter bottles of water lined up neatly in ranks across the counter. A line of empties paraded along the rim of the sink, and four five-gallon water cooler jugs occupied most of the table.
The hooker would have been less confusing.
Alex wheeled around to demand an explanation and was momentarily thrown off-balance by the look of abject shame that clouded his features.
“What the hell, Bobby?”
“They turned off my water,” he mumbled plaintively, and he looked at her as though beseeching her to understand. When she just stared back helplessly, he turned and slouched into the living room and collapsed onto the couch, which protested with a loud creak. The water in his bottle sloshed back and forth as he tipped it from side to side in his lap. Tiring of this contemplation, he gulped the rest of the contents in one swig, swiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Then Alex remembered. Hypotension. Tachycardia. Delirium. All the medical terms blurred together in a cold miasma of fear and guilt. Until dehydration. Cracked lips pleading for water. Sunken eyes staring dully at the wall above her head. She thought she’d never forget that sight, but she’d spent the past six months trying to do just that. It hadn’t even crossed her mind since she barged through that door and stared into the gun barrel of the one man she’d thought was above corruption (as it turned out, he was). Apparently, he hadn’t been able to forget so easily.
Her knees seemed to be reduced to gelatin, and her stomach rolled. Falling down or heaving up her dinner probably wouldn’t improve the situation, so she dropped onto the couch next to him and swallowed back her rising gorge. He’d somehow produced another bottle like a magician suddenly flourishing a bouquet of roses, and she gently eased it out of his grasp and sent it rolling toward the opposite wall.
“You’re not okay, are you?” It was a stupid question, she realized even as the syllables slipped softly from her lips, the very epitome of rhetorical.
His fingers looped around his wrist, and he answered anyway. “When have I ever been?” The feeble smirk didn’t even reach the other side of his mouth. “I, I know it’s illogical. Well, I mean, it started out as a logical response for my body, but my brain knows better. I understand why it happens; I can even pinpoint the, the precipitating event. I just can’t . . . stop.”
“But you’re here,” he continued. “You, um, actually . . . came. So, I’m more okay than I’ve been in, in a long while.”
He swallowed convulsively, his jowls bobbing and his throat clenching. His throat. By all rights, there should be a bullet hole there, where the stubble he’d scraped off that morning was already making a valiant comeback. Anyone else would’ve done it. Hell, eight years ago, she would’ve done it. (When a dog or a horse is broken beyond repair, the most humane option is a bullet. Alex thought of Old Yeller and protecting herself and putting Bobby out of his misery.)
She’s changed, though, and, like the hair on his head, everything she thought was black-and-white had muddled into gray. Her own throat ached with the fierce, sharp hurt of tears too long detained from their natural course. It was a self-inflicted pain imposed by her pride, and the irony of the phrase finally provoked the tears to spill over her cheeks.
She curled her hand over the ragged hole in his throat that was not there and buried her face in his shoulder, snuffling up the salty water dripping from her nose along with the scent of his sweat and deodorant. Tentatively, his arm wrapped around her, his long fingers skittering around for an appropriate spot to rest that wasn’t breast or rear or inner thigh before settling warmly over her navel.
Maybe it was the pent-up relief (and surprise) that he still numbered among the breathing; maybe it was the dampness seeping into her scalp where his cheek rested against her hair; or maybe it was the realization that, like her hopes for promotion, she’d given up on normality several years ago. Maybe she’d finally cracked, and they were just waiting for the men in white coats to cart them off to a double occupancy padded cell.
Whatever it was, it pricked a hole in her anger, which deflated (with remarkably little effort) into a fragile forgiveness and an irresistible desire to move her hand from his throat to his other shoulder (rather a stretch) and cling tightly to his warm, comfortable, very much alive body.
She did, and he let her, and the world did not implode.