A/N: Post-ep for In the Wee Small Hours
"Are you sure?"
I glanced up at the bartender, whose skeptical tone served to instantly piss me off, and then I deliberately tapped my empty glass on the bar for a second time.
"Okay, but I'm taking your keys," he stated as he poured me another shot of SoCo.
"Don't be so sanctimonious," I groused. "I'm not a moron."
Just a bitch, my mind supplied.
Volatile and bizarre interrogation techniques…serious doubts about his judgment and his mental stability…
What the hell was I thinking when I wrote that letter?
I don't know, but I know what I wasn't thinking.
I wasn't thinking that six years later it would come back to bite me in the ass.
I'm also pretty sure I never once considered that six years later I'd be hopelessly in love with the subject of the aforementioned letter.
"I'm just trying to watch out for my customers, okay? So…keys?" the bartender asked me.
"I didn't drive here," I answered. "I'll get a cab home."
Satisfied with my answer, the man moved down the row to take care of the needs of his other customers, and I was once again alone with my thoughts.
This case…it's been brutal.
And sometimes they get like that…sometimes they're baffling or disturbing or downright nightmare-inspiring.
But this one…this one threatened my relationship with my partner.
Because as much as he claims otherwise, I know my words had to hurt him, and I'm supposed to be the one person who doesn't do that.
Not because we're in some kind of illicit relationship.
He has no idea that I'm in love with him…no clue that I think about him inappropriately on a fairly regular basis.
And he's not going to know, because that knowledge wouldn't change anything for us except to make things awkward.
He doesn't think about me that way, and I can accept that, but it also makes our friendship and partnership that much more important since I know it's all we'll ever have.
How did the defense lawyer get a hold of that letter anyway?
I felt like blaming Deakins, for letting it leave his sight, or maybe Carver for not warning me ahead of time because surely it had been part of the defense's discovery, but honestly, I can't blame anyone but myself.
Because I'm the one who wrote the damn thing.
And I'm the one who practically broke down in tears while reading it in open court.
And then…and then I had to make excuses for it.
I was used to working with more conventional detectives. Detective Goren's style is definitely unique and an acquired taste.
An acquired taste.
What made me say that?
And later, he essentially thanked me.
For withdrawing the letter.
How messed up is that? I basically touted him as a nut job, and he thanked me.
What if we never get past this?
"It's not a good idea to drink alone."
I turned at the sound of the familiar voice and I watched Carolyn as she pulled off her coat.
"I'm not good company tonight," I warned her. "And how did you know I'd be here anyway?"
"You mentioned once that you come here sometimes after difficult cases," she answered. I mentioned it once, weeks ago. She's almost as annoyingly smart as Bobby. "And since you weren't at your apartment…"
"You went by my place?"
"I was worried about you."
"You're not answering your phone," she said, as if that were evidence of me not being fine.
I let out a heavy sigh, resigning myself to the fact that she wasn't going to go away.
She and I aren't exactly friends, but I think we could be. We're a lot alike, and I did enjoy working this case with her. It was the one bright spot to the whole damn experience, getting to work more closely with her and Logan.
"Sit," I said at last, since she was still standing behind the empty bar stool to my right.
"Are you sure?" she asked, showing the first sign of insecurity.
"You went through the trouble of tracking me down. The least I can do is buy you a drink."
So she sat down on the stool next to me, and I waved over the solicitous bartender.
"Fix her up," I told him.
We didn't talk while he set a clean glass in front of Carolyn and then poured in four fingers of Southern Comfort, but as soon as he moved away again, I turned towards her.
"So what is it?" I questioned.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean what made you look for me tonight? And how'd you know I'd be alone? I could be on a date or…or…something," I said, finishing lamely because I was quickly losing steam.
I'm not irritated by the intrusion. In fact, it's kind of sweet that she's worried about me, and maybe I'm long overdue for having a friend. Someone other than Bobby, I mean.
Besides, me on a date…now there's a funny thought.
When was the last time you were on a date, huh, Eames?
"You don't date," Carolyn said matter-of-factly. "And I heard about what happened in court."
Her voice was quiet, calm and even, and I was oddly reminded of how well she interrogates suspects, using her tone to lull them into a false sense of security.
And then I had to wonder if she was using it on purpose, in an effort to get information from me.
"I do date," I lied. "And everything's fine with that. Bobby and I talked."
"Yeah, he…he said that…"
I paused, taking a moment to kill the rest of my drink, and then I set the glass down hard as I turned to look at her.
"He said he's lucky I withdrew my request."
"Did you talk about it more after that?"
"Why would we?"
"Alex…you know why."
"No, I don't," I said quickly as my heart rate increased.
What the hell does she mean by that?
Now it was her turn to finish her drink, causing a forced delay in our conversation, and as I watched her down the amber liquid, my mind was racing in an effort to figure out how she could possibly know.
And I'll admit it.
My mind's in no shape for heavy lifting at the moment.
Three SoCos ago, I might've been alright, but as it stands, I'm working at about half-speed, which puts me at a huge disadvantage when attempting to match wits with Carolyn.
I called to the bartender and ordered another round.
Maybe if I get her drunk, too, it'll level the playing field.
"I don't really have any friends," she said softly, her gaze focused on her newly filled glass. "I don't usually stick around in any one place long enough to worry about it."
I nodded but didn't respond, just relieved that the focus of our conversation had shifted from me to her.
Because she'd been encroaching into dangerous territory.
"But I enjoyed working this case with you. And Goren, of course, but I mean, it was kind of fun working with another woman for a change. When we rousted those girls in the bathroom at the club…"
"I thought I was going to crack up when that girl raised her hand to talk," I added, both of us chuckling at the memory.
"Me, too," she agreed, flashing me a smile. "And really, as bad as the whole case was, the work itself was pretty good. It was good for Mike, too, I think. Working closely with Goren some of the time. Those two get along really well."
"I noticed that, too," I agreed.
"I think that says a lot about Goren, getting along even when they had different theories about what happened."
"I was going to say the same thing about Logan. Not a lot of people get Bobby, and it's tough to find others who're willing to work with him, and…"
I trailed off as I realized where I was heading.
He's an acquired taste.
So was it really so bad for me to say that about him?
I mean, it's not an insult. Or at least that's not how I meant it. It's just that he takes some getting used to.
"Sorry," I deflected. "So, anyway…you were saying…"
"I guess I just thought that maybe we could be friends," she said after another moment.
She didn't look at me when she said it, and it occurred to me how hard that statement probably was for her to make.
About as hard as it would've been for me.
And yet she'd been the one to take that step.
I like her courage.
And like I said, I don't have many friends, either.
In fact, I can count them on one finger.
"Um…okay," I agreed.
"Yeah? Good. So…why don't we get a table and order some food before they have to carry both of us out of here?" she proposed.
So we got a table and we ordered dinner and we talked.
It took us forty-five minutes to get through the preliminary personal background stuff and a couple of burgers.
And then she jumped in with both feet.
"So are you and Goren…"
She didn't finish that thought, but instead just trailed off and looked at me expectantly.
"Are we what?" I asked innocently, even though I knew exactly what she was talking about, and my initial response that nearly popped out was I wish.
"Well, he's sexy," she said conspiratorially and I felt an irrational wave of jealousy roll through me.
She thinks he's sexy? So if I tell her that there's nothing between us, will she go after him?
And if I tell her there is something between us, then that'll be a lie…so what if I tell her that I want there to be something?
Then she'll know something about me that could be damaging, both professionally and personally if word got out.
But the word's not going to get out, I rationalized.
Carolyn isn't here to set me up. She's not fishing for information so that she can turn around and tell other people in the squad room.
She's here because she wants to be my friend, and she knows I'm in a bad place at the moment and she knows that because she must know how much I care about Goren…otherwise that letter would've been a bump in the partnership road, but that's about it.
It certainly wouldn't have sent me to my favorite I'm-feeling-sorry-for-myself bar.
"Yes, he is," I finally answered, and for some strange reason, I felt my cheeks get red as I said the words.
Probably because it's the first time I've given a voice to my lascivious thoughts.
"Very," she agreed with a smile, and then she waved to our waitress as she winked at me and said, "I think it's time to start on the alcohol again."
I was quiet while she ordered us another round.
I wasn't sure what to say to her, or where this conversation was going, because now I'm suddenly wondering if this whole thing was just an exercise to get inside scoop on Bobby.
But even as I had the thought, I know that's not right. She's not the type to be so underhanded.
"But," she said, picking up our thread again as soon as the waitress left. "He's not as sexy as Mike."
She held my gaze as she said the words, like she was trying to gauge my response.
It was almost a challenge, and now she's waiting to see if I'm ready to walk through that door with her.
And I don't know if it's the SoCo or my lack of girlfriends or just that I'm so tired of keeping my feelings about Bobby a secret…
"I agree that Logan's pretty hot," I said at last. "But he doesn't have anything on Bobby."
She broke into a grin and leaned back in the booth, seemingly relieved that she'd finally cracked my shell.
"So do you want to compare notes?" she asked me.
"On what?" I asked and as she raised her eyebrow at me, it hit me what she meant. "You mean…wait, you've slept with Logan?"
"Are you saying you haven't slept with Goren?"
"No! I mean, yes that's what I'm saying that no I haven't," I managed to say, my brain stuck on the idea of her and Logan like that.
I mean, I like Logan. I think he's a great guy, and I really like how well he gets along with Bobby, but I never would've guessed…
"But you want to," Carolyn asserted confidently.
"Just because I said he's sexy?" I replied defensively. "I said that Logan is, too, but that doesn't mean I want to sleep with him."
"Good, because if you go after Mike, you might have a fight on your hands," she said. "Oh, and for the record, there's not a whole hell of a lot of sleeping going on."
The waitress returned to our table, carrying our drinks, and I used the minute of silence to gather my thoughts.
Carolyn. Is having sex. With Logan.
And they're partners.
And no one knows except…me?
"Who else knows?" I asked her after the waitress left.
"About me and Mike? Just you. I guess I figured that I can trust you, since we…you know. Have something in common."
I stared at her blankly, knowing where she was going but unable to openly acknowledge the accuracy of her insinuation.
Or at least, the fact that I want it to be accurate.
But even without a response from me, she pushed forward.
"The fact that we're both in love with our partners," she said in a mock whisper. "And that part Mike doesn't even know."
"I'm not in love with Bobby," I said reflexively.
"You're not," she replied dubiously.
"No…I…we're friends. That's all."
"Huh. Okay," she said with a shrug as she reached for her glass.
"So wait…I need more details. You and Logan…you're…"
"For a few weeks," she answered with a nod. "And I know you don't know me well enough to know, but I've always had this steadfast rule about partners. They're untouchable."
"But?" I asked in amusement.
"Mike is extremely touchable," she said with a smile. "I just couldn't help myself. He might come off as being kind of gruff, but you know, he's really really sweet."
"I can see that," I admitted.
"Yeah?" she asked thoughtfully, and I swear her whole face changed as she started thinking about him, and it made me wonder if that's what I look like when I'm thinking about Bobby.
Probably, which is most likely how she sniffed me out.
"Yeah, at first I thought it would just be for fun, you know?" she continued. "I mean look at him. You know he's good in bed, right?"
"You want me to answer that?" I teased.
"No," she said quickly. "But trust me. He is. But there's also a lot more to him than that, and it's kind of caught me by surprise. I didn't expect to feel like I do."
"Are you going to tell him?"
"I don't know. I get the feeling that love isn't really his thing, and that if I start making confessions, it'll scare him off."
I can understand that.
I'm afraid if I do anything that might change the status quo with Bobby, it'll send him running.
"How has it been at work?" I asked her.
"We don't have sex at work," she joked. "Although there's that one supply closet that's pretty good-sized…"
"You know what I mean," I replied, chuckling at her feigned consideration of defiling the janitor's closet. "Has it felt strange working together?"
"Honestly, we work better together now than we did before. And as much as Mike likes to kid about stuff, he's taking this seriously. We don't cross the line at work."
"And how often do you get together after work?"
She might not think that Mike's ready to hear about her feelings, but if they're together that much, then he's becoming invested, and I'd bet that he probably feels just as much for her as she does for him.
God, it makes my heart hurt just thinking about it.
I want that.
"So how did you two…I mean, how did it start?"
"You mean the first time we…"
"Well, I kind of screwed up. We were working this case, and I used personal history to try to get the suspect to talk, only it wasn't my history, it was Mike's. At the time, I didn't think about how it would make him feel. I mean, I was all about getting a confession, right? But then it turned out to be even worse than I'd expected, and he was definitely hurt by it, and I felt bad. I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I went over to his place that night…it was around two in the morning, and I got him up from the bed, but I just had to apologize and make things right between us."
"Sounds like you gave him one hell of an apology," I joked.
"I apologized first," she said on a laugh. "And then we talked. And then…I don't know, it just sort of happened. I grabbed my coat so that I could leave, and he took it from me and held it out for me to put on, and when his hands touched me…oh my God, Alex, it was instant electricity. I've always thought that kind of thing was a load of crap, but it's not. He stood there for a second, with his hands on my shoulders, and he was so close, and you know, it didn't help that he was dressed only in boxers and a t-shirt, and that it'd been a really long time since I had sex, but I suddenly realized that I just had to kiss him."
"So you just did it? You two hadn't talked about anything like that before? Had he given you any indication that he was interested or were you just taking a chance?"
I'm well aware of the fact that my questions aren't going unnoticed.
She knows why I'm asking for so much detail.
But I think I'm past the point of caring.
"Well, Mike's a flirt. You know that. So he's said some things from time to time, but basically, no, I had no idea of how he'd respond, other than how close he stood to me after putting on my coat. And even then…I don't know. Maybe I was just really aware of him, you know what I mean?"
"Uh huh," I agreed with a thoughtful nod.
Because Bobby has trouble with personal space sometimes.
He'll lean over me to look at something on the computer, or sit close to me when we're sifting through paperwork…I'm pretty sure he has no idea how his proximity affects me.
"But that night, I just turned around and grabbed on to the front of his t-shirt and I gave it my best shot."
She proceeded to tell me how neither of them even talked…the first kiss led to a second which led to a third…
"And then we did it right there in the hallway," she finished.
And I'll admit it.
While listening to her, I shamelessly imagined it, only substituting me and Bobby.
"On the floor?" I asked, needing the visual for my fantasy, and she didn't seem to mind the questions. I'll blame our unabashed discussion on the SoCo.
"No, up against the wall," she said, closing her eyes for a moment, undoubtedly reliving it. "And it was so…oh my God. So much better than I expected, and trust me, I had the bar set pretty high."
I stared at her for a moment as she smiled and picked up her glass, and then she looked at me and said, "So you're thinking about going over to Goren's place tonight and apologizing, right?"
I nearly choked on my drink at her insinuation.
As if our night would end up like hers and Mike's.
As if I'd ever find the courage to just…kiss him.
"I already told him that I'm sorry."
"Where? At the courthouse? That doesn't count," she stated. "And you know exactly what I'm talking about."
"Hey, if you and Logan are together every night, then why are you out alone tonight?" I asked suddenly, desperate to change the subject.
"Because I told him I was going out to find you," she replied. "He told me to text him when I was done so that he can pick me up. I guess he figured I'd be drinking."
"Smart and sexy. You've got a keeper."
"So do you if you'll get off your ass and go get him."
That's another thing I like about her.
She tells it like it is.
Although what if she's wrong? I mean, it's going to take more than me going after him…he has to want to be caught.
"I'm going to text him now," she continued. "By the time he gets here, it'll be past time for you to go make amends."
"Why are you pushing this?" I asked her, after silently watching her type into her phone.
"I like you. And I like Goren. And I've seen the way you look at each other when you think no one's paying attention."
"We do not," I denied.
"Yes, you do. Both of you," she said pointedly.
"So you're saying you've seen him looking at me."
"A lot," she said with a smile.
She set about offering me specific examples, most of which occurred just in the past few days, when she'd witnessed him checking me out.
Her words served to bolster my confidence a little, but at the same time, the insecure side of me insisted that maybe she was seeing things that aren't there.
Just because she's getting some a regular basis doesn't mean the potential is there for me to do the same.
After a few more minutes, she got a text.
"Mike's here," she said. "You know, we should do this more often. I really enjoyed talking with you."
"Me, too," I agreed.
"Good. And nothing we said here tonight leaves this table."
Her disclaimer should've been meant to cover her ass, but it seems more like she's saying it so that I won't worry about what she might say.
And I'm not.
Oddly enough, I trust her already. Maybe because she so willingly put her trust in me, I don't know.
"Absolutely not," I replied.
She nodded, smiling at me as she said, "Next time we meet for drinks, we'll compare notes. Right?"
She pulled out some cash for her half of the check and then got up from the table. I watched her walk across the bar to the front door, and when she opened it, I saw Mike standing right outside.
And the look on his face when he saw her…what would it take for Bobby to look at me like that?
A miracle, I thought cynically.
Or maybe it'll just take a little courage.
I cashed out and headed for the door, slightly unsteady on my feet, but feeling much more sober than I did a few hours ago when Carolyn showed up.
"A cab, right?" the bartender called out to me.
I nodded at him, but my mind was somewhere else.
What would Bobby say if I showed up at his apartment, unannounced at midnight?
I'm not sure, but as I hailed a cab, I decided that I was about to find out.
Forty minutes later, I'd gleaned new information.
There are fifty-eight steps leading to Bobby's apartment.
Ten out front.
Sixteen per flight, eight going each direction, separated by a four-by-four landing.
Ask me how I know.
Because I went up and down the entirety of them no less than six times while I debated the intelligence of what I came here to do.
I let the flowery images of love and happiness sway me.
The expression on Carolyn's face when she talked about Mike…the fact that Mike left his apartment at midnight just to make sure that Carolyn got home okay.
Well, not home, but back to his place.
But still…if it were just a booty call, he probably would've waited for her to show up. After all, it's not like New York isn't lousy with cabs.
No, he met her because he cares.
Which tells me about them, but what about us?
Would Bobby do that kind of thing for me?
I'm not sure there's much Bobby wouldn't do for me.
That thought came unbidden, and yet it's completely true.
At least as far as partners go.
But I'm not just talking about finishing up those 913's, am I?
I'm actually standing here on his second floor landing at…twelve thirty-five…seriously considering knocking on his door so that I can do what Carolyn did to Mike…apologize and then kiss him senseless.
Alex, you've completely lost your mind.
I did a one-eighty, intent on going back down the stairs and into the real world where I don't hit on my partner, but something stopped me.
I need to at least apologize, I rationalized.
I don't want this hanging over our heads. I mean, we finished out the case just fine, because that's what we do.
We get the job done.
But now that it's over and it's time to move on to the next thing, I can't run the risk of there being any bad feelings between us.
Because I know Bobby…he'll keep it all inside until it eats him up.
And it's eating me up, thinking about how he might feel right now.
Does he know how quickly I withdrew my request?
Does he know that I'd fight tooth and nail to stay with him now?
And that part of the problem in the beginning was me, not him?
I was too rigid…too by-the-book…and much too quick to throw in the towel with that hasty letter to Deakins.
I turned around again, marveling at the fact that I haven't fallen down from dizziness, and I went up the stairs.
Eight…then four feet of floor…then eight…then four feet of floor…then eight…for Christ's sake, why didn't I just take the elevator?
I left the stairwell and found myself standing in the fourth-floor hallway.
It was extremely quiet and as I forced my feet to move, my heels made a loud, echoing sound against the linoleum floor.
But the noise still wasn't enough to cover the thundering sound of my heart beat.
Why am I so nervous about telling him that I'm sorry?
Because seriously…that's all I'm here to do.
Clear the air and make sure we're okay.
There will be no kissing.
I came to a stop in front of his door, and I thought about my earlier conversation with Carolyn.
"So you're saying you've seen him looking at me," I asked her.
"A lot," she insisted.
And why would she lie about that?
Why would she set me up for failure?
I don't think she would.
I raised my hand to knock, but then I stopped, taking a moment to run my hands over my hair. Then I smoothed out my blouse as I looked down at myself skeptically.
Black dress pants, black high-heeled boots, white blouse…
Not exactly the image of seduction, Alex.
I reached up and undid one button in an effort to make my outfit look slightly less professional…and slightly more feminine.
I debated undoing one more, maybe just to see if he'd notice, but decided against it because the possibility that he might not notice was too much for me to handle.
Instead, I simply took a deep breath and then I knocked on the door.
A/N: requested by mitzvahgirl, beta'd by guitar73girl - big thanks to both! And now I'm going to be in trouble with my editor for sneaking back into the FF world, so the next one probably won't come for a couple of days :)