A/N: this chapter has been really difficult to finish. in fact, this is not finished. there is a part two. in the computer, it's working title has been, "That Christmas Chapter".
everything is still Dick's. not mine. i heart Goren and Eames.
Perched on a stool near the bar, sucking a swizzle stick. Wiggling her toe. One eye on the screen above the bartender's head, one eye on the only other occupants of the fine drinking establishment, she was alone.
She looked fantastic, she knew, because she'd met with friends from her Vice days, and they'd had a festive, celebratory late lunch. A few drinks. Some laughs.
And then they'd all gone home to their lives.
And now the sun had set, and here she sat, a little too dressy in her holiday getup - the tall, butter-soft, dark brown leather boots and the gorgeous jewel-red cashmere dress, the embroidered silk wrap from the gift shop at The Met - she was a little too conspicuous in this crummy bar, and feeling a little like an idiot.
Still not wanting to go yet. Not wanting to go to her house. The place she lived.
Boo, hoo, hoo.
She tossed her bangs off her forehead with a quick motion.
It could be worse.
Her partner had gone to spend four days in a mental hospital and a motel unit.
And when did this happen? When did she start to feel like this before a short break from 'work'?
At odds? A little lost?
No, just alone. Because she was alone.
So what if she was in a cop bar by herself on Christmas Eve? So what?
This was just one of those things that you get to do when you're a thirty-something widowed and childless cop.
Something like the meal she'd share with the family tomorrow night.
Some pound of flesh.
On what, she didn't know.
They'd held boisterous family affairs at her parents' house. A tree hung with old glass bobbles and icicles and aging glitter-and-glue ornaments, and faded paper chains, and scores of tiny photos in hanging frames, of grinning, freckled kids with Santa and on sleds and in front of other decorated trees from long ago.
A crackling fire and twinkle lights. Everyone together.
She'd always done a formal table - a resplendent homage to Yuletide celebrations of yore. The good china, the silver just polished, and the crystal, the old damask table linens freshly bleached and starched, the napkins rolled up and tucked inside their silver rings.
A cracker on every plate.
And had always made the turkey dressing from scratch, with sage and onions she grew in her garden and harvested herself.
And the pumpkin pie, the raisin pie, the spicy apple pie. The mincemeat tarts.
She'd mulled the wine.
And played Perry Como and Andy Williams and Bing Crosby.
And had always, always tied fresh mistletoe over the entranceway, and holly and ivy on the mantle, fir boughs on the banister.
Norman Friggin' Rockwell.
Eames licked dry lips and swallowed hard against the dusty feeling in her mouth, kept one eye on the cops in the middle of the bar.
Thought about all the happy, happy years, the recipe cards and bowls and utensils and cooking things spread over every surface. Waxed-paper lined tins filled with ginger-spicy tarts and buttery shortbread cookies. The fridge spilling over with eggnog and cranberries. The kitchen filled with steam and laughter, all of them helping her get it all together, get it on the table.
Her prolonged stay in the hospital had wiped out their life savings.
The weeks on the respirator.
The touch-and-go days.
All that, long before her homebound convalescence, or her physio. Or drug costs, or specialists, or therapists.
There had been a third mortgage. Then, they'd had to sell the house.
The new place was a lot smaller.
Now, Dad brought Mom out to wherever they were gathering for the feasts each year.
Here, for Easter. And there for Thanksgiving. Somewhere else for Christmas.
And, to all outward appearances, they carried on with things more-or-less as they had before the stroke.
They visited, exchanged smiles, embraces, and seasonally-appropriate gifts.
They cooked a huge butter-basted turkey in an aluminum foil roasting pan, and ate it accompanied with the usual things - mashed potatoes and gravy and green peas, or brussels sprouts.
Her brother's wife might bring home preserves to share - dill pickles, beets, string beans. Her kid brother would get the pies from a good bakery in his neighbourhood. They'd serve everything on disposable plates to cut down on the clean-up.
Maybe watch something together on the tv.
(You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch ... )
And sit Mom in the middle of everything, and try to keep the little ones from wearing her out.
They took lots of pictures.
They laughed and joked.
Somehow, someone always drank a little too much, and there was often a heated discussion about something that was clearly much more important than that mountain of unaddressed baggage lying just behind everything else.
All seasons or winter tires? The Yankees starting lineup. The price of tea in China.
She'd look for her chance to pull Dad aside and get some numbers from him, and leave him a few cheques.
Then they'd all go home again.
She got to go to the latest apartment that wasn't a home. To her bird.
To all that.
And because all that was just about too bitter even for her, she shifted her well-dressed ass on her stool and ordered another vodka martini.
Overhead at Mr. Martini's bar, Mr. Welsh had just punched George Bailey in the jaw - (an answer to his prayers, he supposed) - and Nick-the-Bartender and Mr. Martini were trying to get him to sit down and rest. But George lurched out into the storm, determined to be miserable.
"Go home, George," she advised the tiny grey character. "Bars and storms are no place to be on Christmas Eve."
"Do as I say, not as I do?"
His stealth-mode thing caught her off-guard and she jumped a little bit. Took a round-eyed, point-three second glance around the bar.
"Jesus, Bobby," she put her hand over her knocking heart.
"Oh, sorry Eames," he filled in the barstool next to hers. "I didn't mean to … . May I … ?"
"By all means."
She craned her neck, looking all around the dim, dirty interior of the place, scanning, then flicked back to him.
"Didn't let any other vapourous apparitions sneak in with you?"
" 'Vapourous'? Who are you expecting - the Spirit of Christmas Past?"
"Anyway, I think I'm kinda big to be vaporous."
It was pointless, dumb, but she asked him anyway.
"What are you doing here?"
"Uh … I'm looking for you? You left early and … . I found the ... I think you meant for me to find it later, but … Eames, thank you."
"Well, 'tis the season and all the rest of it. So, you're welcome. I saw it while I was shopping for Harry Potter stuff for my nieces. I was thinking about what you said, about the source of his sense of humour, and I guess it spoke to me of you."
"Well, it's a beautiful volume. And you're uh, very astute." He observed the cluster of surly drunks for a long moment. Then said to her, "Uh, so, if this is the 'tradition,' if you don't mind, I'd like to, uh, buy you a, a traditional holiday drink?"
"Ahhh … the sympathy drink. How thoughtful."
"No, um … no. Not sympathy. Empathy."
And she could see that he meant it. So she decided to drop the defensiveness and all of the rest of it. Decided that, since it truly could be worse, that feeling suddenly festive was something she could just enjoy without a lot of examination or introspection or fuss.
She gave him a brilliant smile instead.
Waved to the woman rubbing glasses with a white towel, exchanged meaningful glances, was rewarded with another vodka martini, and a 'You, sir?' got him a good scotch, neat.
He turned his full attention to Eames, who was treating him to a quizzical stare
"How did you know where to find me?"
"Well, I am a detective." He wore a small, boyish smile. "What are your plans?"
"Oh, the usual funtastic family meal."
"Yup." She knew it was becoming a nervous gesture, but she brushed her hair away from her eyes, anyway. Lied to his face. Said, "It's nice to catch up with everyone's news. Anyway, how about you? What gives? I thought you'd have gone up already?"
His smile shifted from warm to careful, and he got that pall. He said,
"Uh, no. N-not until the ... 'til later. The weather, freezing rain. You know."
He tilted his glass slightly, turned the dark golden liquor in his tumbler in slow, gentle circles. His face was very still, and Eames felt her heart pinch in her chest.
From the air between them, she picked up the tempo, the now-familiar thrum of panic that was - just like that - coming off him like percussion shock waves, had been rolling off him in varying degrees of intensity at regular intervals since just before Thanksgiving.
She thought about him, shaken right down to his core by that old woman lying there, just below the surface. Bobby with his nostrils flared and his gaze unfocused, sitting on the lid of the toilet with his back to the dead woman in the tub, quietly gasping. Sitting there, taut. Trying so hard to talk, to form a question or connect a thought, like everything was normal.
Like he was okay.
Now, it was Christmas Eve and they were on their own time and she didn't need to make a joke now. She didn't need to run interference or do anything at all but sit here and wait. There were no prying eyes, no not understanding cops or CSU teams milling around and filing past. No people to smell his fear.
So she drank her dry vodka martini and waited.
And eventually he spoke.
"She isn't … uh, responding. To usual treatments. For disruptive deficit symptoms." He studied his hands on his glass while he shared this morsel. Cleared his throat lightly, and explained,
"Those are the, uh … non-schizophrenia-specific symptoms. Like … uh, d-dysphoria. And depression."
"She … . Uh … no." His voice sounded stretched, tinny. He cleared his throat, shrugged slightly. Then sipped up his whiskey, flicked his fingers for a refill.
And then they both looked up at the screen.
She watched the darkest hour of George Bailey's life and thought about the first time they been bellied up to a bar together. She remembered with crystal clarity every single word of the story of Frances.
"I was bigger than her by the time I was ten and … no, I was never really afraid of her - it's more like, being afraid for her."
And Alex knew what he meant by that. She said,
"Well, I see it's time for things to get interesting for old George," gesturing to the scene unfolding in Bedford Falls. "Another tradition."
He was checking the time. Looked at Eames, hesitating.
She organized herself on her stool, feeling a contradictory flood of relief and disappointment, gave him her best 'I'm fine here by myself' smile. Said,
"I can't be the only stop on your rounds tonight, Bobby," she nodded at the clock. "Don't let me keep you from more interesting pursuits."
He looked down at his hands on the bar and frowned, considering something. Then he said,
"She's from Switzerland."
"She went home for the holidays?"
"No, uh. I mean, I have no idea. Her parents live here, they're uh, diplomats. Work at the U.N."
"That sounds serious. You've met her parents?"
"Well, yes, but … uh," his frown deepened. He said again, "She's from Switzerland. They, they speak several different dialects of German in Switzerland, and they also speak Romansch, which is a unique form of - well, it's not German at all, but it's a fascinating variant of, of … . They have this monthly ex-pat thing. At, at a restaurant, at East Eighty-Eighth and Second Avenue."
"So, what … ? Just you and Denise and the Swiss Diplomatic Corps and a little 'spreken zie deutsch' over schnitzel and spaetzle?"
"My impression of you as 'Don Juan DeGoren' just went down in flames."
He didn't smile. He said,
"Well, that's probably a good thing, right? Because it's not true, right?"
"What, don't tell me your department wide rep as a primo stud is based on exaggeration, myth and invention?"
"Well, what about yours?" He asked abruptly, straightening his back, now irritated and prickly, and she felt a pang. Felt sorry for teasing him, sorry for the sudden discomfort, and distance.
"Mine?" She asked. "Do tell."
"'Snow Queen of Queens'?"
He looked up from his study of his hands and his glass, met her gaze. Nodded once.
"That isn't very clever," she said, her smile a little bit wistful. She sighed. "I've never lived in Queens. Well, if that's all the eleventh floor's come up with for 'locker room talk', I'll claim it." She raised her hand, gave her fingers a little wave. "Mine, fair and square."
Their eyes met, held for a long moment, and then they both grinned.
"Happens a lot?"
"No, not anymore. Just when I was newly the 'lonely widow'."
He made his stool swivel around and turned to face her more fully, leaning on his right arm on the bar, and he looked curiously into her face. Arched an eyebrow. Waited for more. So she laughed a little, said,
"oh, you'd be surprised how many of our esteemed colleagues dropped by late nights to check up on me, offer me a sympathetic shoulder to cry on."
He nodded. Said,
"That was, um, 'supportive' of them."
"Yes, very helpful. I felt so cared for." She lifted her martini glass, a mock salute. "Cheers. " And downed the vodka.
"I'm sorry, Eames," he said.
"Why are you sorry?"
"I wish we could behave better than that. That's all."
He kept her gaze. And after a lengthening moment, she snorted. Shook her head.
"You aren't a 'we', Bobby."
The door banged open again and she flicked a glance at the men filing in, being cool, she thought.
But when she looked back, he was wearing his penetrating stare.
So she knew that he'd seen it. The rush to her chest felt like a pillow-fight blow, prickly heat flowing up, up. Up. Almost staining her cheeks, but not quite. She sat a little straighter and tossed her hair away from her face.
"Knock it off, Goren," she said.
He held up his hands in mock surrender.
Then the bartender dropped a tray of deli meats and sliced cheese and olives and cheap snack crackers on their end of the bar, telling them to enjoy some 'complimentary holiday hors d'oeuvres'.
His nose wrinkled, then her stomach audibly growled.
They both laughed.
"You're right, though, I do have somewhere else to be tonight. I have an appointment with some of the best 'all day breakfast' in town, and I was hopin' I could tempt you ... ?"
"Oooh … is that an invitation?"
"Well, only if you want …"
"As if I could even pretend … 'Hungry McStomach' has spoken."
They both slipped on thickly-lined leather gloves. She wound the paisley pashmina around her neck and ears, pulled the heavy hood of her coat up to cover. He withdrew a dark blue watch cap from his pocket and tugged it down over his ears.
Then they stepped outside into a bitter, cruel cold.
A/N: this is set in season two. the dead woman in the tub was Nan Turner, from 'Suite Sorrow'.