A/N: Flamipoo asked for a follow-up of Dreams of Hope, maybe Goren and Nate at Christmas. Thank you for that suggestion! This story takes place about four months after the events of Dreams of Hope, during Christmas week. Yes, we will have some angst in here, but I am shooting for a happy ending :-)
Robert Goren studied the board in front of him. Pictures of two victims along with crime scene photos were tacked to the corkboard while the details of each murder were listed on a nearby whiteboard, comparing the similarities and differences of each crime scene. They didn't have any solid evidence that the crimes had been committed by the same person, but a nagging feeling in his gut told him they were. He was missing something, but what?
His partner, Alex Eames, came into the room with a brown paper bag and two cans of cola. "Lunch," she announced.
She looked out the door, but no one was paying attention to them. In a way, she really missed Logan. He would have noticed long ago that something between her and Goren had changed since they'd returned from England four months ago. Although she was often annoyed by his ability to see relationship issues, positive and negative, between her and Goren, she missed the feeling that someone around them cared enough to look.
She set the bag and the cans on the table, unwrapped her sandwich and took a bite. Goren still did not respond to her. Setting down the sandwich, she grabbed his sandwich and walked around the table. She was tempted to tease him, but the risk of discovery was too great given the room they were in. She was surprised that they spent their professional lives among seasoned detectives, and over the last four months, none of them had noticed that anything between them was different. People tended to have some kind of morbid curiosity about how Goren lived his life. They didn't understand him, so that made him interesting. But they were not looking for anything between them to have changed because they didn't believe that, after all these years, she could develop any kind of romantic interest in her difficult partner.
Stepping up to his side, she held out his sandwich. Her hand came to rest against his stomach, and he looked down, then at her. She smiled at him. "Lunch," she repeated.
"Oh. Thank you."
She nodded toward the two boards that held his interest so fast. She knew he was struggling with it. "Has anything reached out and grabbed you?"
He took his sandwich and unwrapped it. "No. Just you."
Looking up, she met his smiling eyes. Poking his side gently, she walked back around the table and sat down, watching him eat as he turned his attention back to the board. He was unable to let go of the feeling that the same person had killed these two young women of privilege. He just needed to find the motivation, the link between them and the proof that he was right.
Goren and Eames tended to leave 1 Police Plaza at odd times, so they were alone in the elevator as they descended to the parking garage level. "Nate really wants to see you, you know," Eames said out of the blue.
"So bring him to town and I'll take you both to lunch and maybe the Museum of Natural History."
"That's a nice idea, but I was thinking...I'm going to my parent's Thursday for Christmas Eve. Nate's going to be there, too. Come with me."
Over the past four months, she continued to see Nate a couple of times a week, and Goren never interfered with that. But he never went with her, either. He still felt responsible for Nate's kidnapping and he convinced himself that Reggie and Aaron still blamed him for what had happened to their son. Eames told him that he had been discharged from therapy and he was doing fine, and she assured him that Reggie had gotten over her initial reaction blaming him for the kidnapping, but he still avoided contact with her family.
He shook his head. "No, thanks, Eames. I...have plans for Thursday."
"I'm going to visit family."
She sighed impatiently. "Your mother and your brother?"
Frank Goren was buried beside their mother because she would have wanted that. Once a month, Goren visited their graves, and Eames never interfered with that. She'd even gone with him once, but she felt out of place, like an intruder into a private moment she had no business attempting to share.
"Yes," he answered.
The rest of the ride was silent, but after they exited the elevator, she said, "You can't keep avoiding my family if you expect us to stay together, Bobby. You have to face them sooner or later. I know you don't believe me, but they keep asking to see you. They want to include you as part of the family. I know you still feel responsible for what happened, but they don't blame you any more. You kept me safe, and you saved Nate's life. You were willing to give your own life so he would go home to them. In the end, that is what matters to them. Besides, as long as we are together, you're part of my life, and they want to make you part of theirs, just for that reason. So I really wish you would quit being stubborn." He didn't answer her. He just looked at the ground and shifted, either nervous or ashamed. She couldn't tell which. She added, "I'll make a deal with you—if you go with me on Thursday, I'll go with you to the cemetery on Friday. I don't think your mother and brother will notice, or care."
He shook his head slowly. "I don't think so, Eames."
"At least think about it for the next day or so? Don't dismiss me outright."
"Dismiss you? I'm not..."
"Yes, you are. I'm not going to stand here in the cold and debate it. I'll see you tomorrow. Good night, Bobby."
He hesitated as she walked away. "Eames?"
She stopped and looked over her shoulder. "What?"
"I kind of was hoping to see you tonight."
She gave him a moment of consideration before she said, "Not tonight."
He watched her walk the rest of the way to her car, get in and drive off without looking his way again. She always punished him, one way or another, when she didn't get her way. Going with her to visit her family would be horribly uncomfortable for him. She would have a much better visit if she went by herself. Why couldn't she see that? He felt she was being unfair again. Instead of making him angry, like it once did, now it just made him sad.
His breath clouded in front of him when he sighed. There was no reason for him to leave now, so he got back into the elevator and returned to the eleventh floor.
Eames went home to a cold, empty house. She knew she was being stubborn, but having him share her time with her family was important. She realized that he had never had the benefit of belonging to a close-knit family, but her parents were willing to draw him in to theirs. All he had to do was accept the invitation. Really, was that so hard to do?
There was something else that was troubling her, though—something that had more to do with turning down tonight's invitation than the issue with her family did. She and Goren were not new lovers. They had known each other for a long time before they took their relationship to the bedroom. Although the circumstances that led to them to deepen their relationship had been extreme, their decision to continue had been made with clarity.
She knew he could be difficult, and the last four months had certainly reinforced that for her. But she knew that loving her came with its price, too. In spite of the difficulties, the relationship thrived. But the one thing that troubled her most ran deeper than that.
For all his emotional issues, Goren was always tender and gentle with her. In the bedroom, he met all her needs and desires, and he never asked for anything from her. That was part of her problem. If he had needs or desires beyond meeting hers, he never expressed them. He rarely ever expressed anything to her, but she did not know how to address that with him.
The other part of the problem was obliquely related to that. Over the past six weeks or so, she had told him that she loved him. It was a huge step for her to express those feelings aloud. She'd never spoken those words to another man, except for Joe.
The first time she said it, he hadn't responded, so she thought he had not heard her and she let it go. The second time, she knew he heard, but he'd distracted her and she never sought a reply. Every time since, he'd either changed the subject or distracted her, but not once had he responded in kind.
She realized it was not something she could let go without addressing. If he did not love her, there wasn't much point in continuing the relationship. She'd reached a place in her life where she needed more than sex. She needed a connection that ran deeper than a physical one. Connecting with Goren on an emotional level was a challenge that she thought she'd gotten past, but maybe she was wrong. So she had to figure out a way to bring the subject up, and that involved proper timing.
During sex and directly afterward were definitely not the times to bring it up. Naturally, during work hours was also the wrong time. So that left the off duty hours around dinnertime but before bed. She wasn't too keen on ruining their dinner, so all that remained was the relaxing hours after their meal.
On the days they went home together, regardless of whose home they went to, after dinner, they would sit together on the couch. She usually watched television while he read. Inevitably, he would end up snuggled against her. Sometimes, he would rest his head in her lap; other times he would draw her close to him. Regardless, he always sought physical contact with her, one of the things she loved most about being with him. But as well as she thought she knew him, Goren continued to surprise her, and she'd finally realized that she would never completely know him.
The one thing she wanted that he seemed unwilling to give her, though, was the emotional connection she needed. His inability to connect was not his fault, she realized, but that realization did not eliminate her need. Some would say she was being foolish. Their physical relationship was more than satisfying, and he showed through his actions that he cared about her. She didn't know why she required more from him; she just did. It was a vital need of hers that he was not meeting and she had to do something about it or it was going to tear them apart.