Part II – Bobby
He should have felt happier.
There was plenty of reason to be after all. They stood on the brink of exciting opportunity. A new chapter. A chance to try something different, explore uncharted territories, flex idle muscles. It was going to be a positive change, for both of them. Deep down, he knew that. All good things must come to an end eventually, at least in his experience. Yes, a change was overdue, he could acknowledge that. He was looking forward to it, he really was.
And yet, a part of him was sad.
Not because he was leaving the NYPD. Because he was leaving her.
Attendance at the party had far exceeded his expectations. Just when Bobby thought that everyone he knew had already arrived, more came, sometimes one-by-one, sometimes in a jovial cluster. Law enforcement colleagues past, present and future. He wasn't completely naïve – they weren't all there for him. For some, it was more about being seen by the brass or climbing the NYPD social ladder than wishing him well, but Bobby could live with that. They had come, to an event for the man that many had written off as a whack job, and that meant something. Visions of standing in the room, completely alone, had plagued him for weeks prior so the turnout had been a pleasant surprise, a welcome comfort.
The downside of the crowd, of course, was that the likelihood of getting some time alone to talk was slim. And that was disappointing.
He had had lots of time to come to terms with his impending departure and thought that he had. It wasn't like this was his first "last day" after all. That time was different though. That time, he had instinctively known that he would be back, that they both would. His work hadn't been done then. This time, it felt . . . final. As he piled the last handful of books into his cardboard box and looked around the bustling squad room for the last time, reality had hit him, hard. The job that had meant so much to him for so many years had officially ended.
And Alexandra Eames was no longer his partner.
After twelve years, that prospect seemed surreal. And terrifying. She had been a source of strength for him, time and time again. Now he had to move forward, cut the cord, strike out on his own. He would figure it out, find his stride, but he found himself wishing that one of them had had the courage to acknowledge aloud that things were going to change between them and inquire about what was next. It was an important question because the answer wasn't clear.
And because he was in love with her.
The second Alex had entered the back room that night, Bobby's world had shifted on its axis. She looked gorgeous, dressed in a royal blue sweater, black skirt and tall black boots over a pair of patterned tights. Her hair was long, loose and shiny and pairs of gold studs sparkled in her ears. He had marveled, and not for the first time, at how she managed to grow more beautiful with age while, conversely, he deteriorated. His heart thumped viciously at the sight of her. Until that moment, he hadn't realized that he had been feeling tense, ill at ease, even interacting with the guests that he knew well. As soon as she crossed the threshold, he suddenly felt comfortable again, better able to breathe. She was his touchstone, his foundation, his anchor.
Throughout the evening, Bobby found himself subconsciously searching for her. Even when he was surrounded by clusters of people, engaged in conversation, his eyes would drift to her. No matter where she was in the room, his gaze always found her, as if there were a thin, invisible gossamer thread stretched between them. He had always been able to connect with her like that, whether from across a room or across an interrogation table. Even though the nature of their relationship was in question, that bond would never be. Of that he was supremely confident.
At that very moment, Alex was immersed in conversation with Zack Nichols. When she laughed at something he said, Bobby's gut twisted in envy at the ease with which even his awkward friend seemed able to engage with her. When the volume of conversation in the room swelled suddenly, Zack leaned in closer to her, his cheek nearly brushing hers as he spoke directly in her ear. Bobby's free hand clenched into a fist reflexively and his jaw tightened, teeth grinding together. His entire body smoldered with the urge to stalk over and impose some distance between them.
Take it down a notch. You had your chance to make an impression earlier . . . and you blew it.
"Yo, earth to Bobby."
A pair of fingers snapping in front of his face jolted Bobby back to attention. Mike Logan stood in front of him, eyebrows raised.
"You still with me?"
"Yeah, yeah," Bobby stuttered, jerking his eyes away from Alex and returning them to Mike as his face flushed crimson. "Sorry, just . . . uh, you were saying?"
One corner of Logan's mouth crooked up into a small smile as he tilted his head in the direction that Bobby had been staring seconds earlier.
"I was just asking if you planned to keep shooting daggers at Nichols or were going to get your head out of your ass and go talk to her."
Bobby's cheeks burned as he faked a confused frown in a way that he hoped was convincing. "S-sorry, I don't . . . uh, don't know what you're talking about?"
"Eames." Logan winked at him, eyes rife with amusement. "You've been staring at her ever since I got here."
"I have not," Bobby sputtered, barking out a sharp, forced laugh. He shoved the hand not holding his beer glass into the pocket of his jeans and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, fighting desperately to stop his eyes from travelling back over to Alex like they wanted to.
Mike grinned at him over the rim of his own glass. "You're a smart man, Goren, but a terrible liar."
Bobby waved that claim away with a flick of his wrist and a shake of his head. The movement sent some beer sloshing out of his glass and splattering on his shoes.
"I talked to her earlier."
Their botched interaction earlier in the evening replayed in his mind and Bobby kicked himself again for his bumbling ineptitude, his interminable social struggles. He had made a complete ass of himself, unable to find the words to even greet her appropriately, and then he had bailed, slinking away like a coward.
"Maybe so. But I get the sense you've got a lot more you'd like to say to her tonight." Logan's lips curled into a mischievous smile. "Or maybe it's more what you'd like to do with her tonight . . ."
"It's not like that. She's my part-"
Bobby began the familiar protest before realizing that it was a reflexive defense that was no longer true and required amending.
". . . We're just friends."
"Oh, come on," Logan scoffed derisively. "For twelve years you two have been joined at the hip, risking your lives, side-by-side, supporting each other through highs and the lows. The dynamic that creates between two people who are already attracted to each other is undeniable, all those intense, primal emotions. Sexual tension building and building . . ."
Bobby rolled his eyes to try to cover the anxiety that was beginning to bubble in his veins as Mike drew closer and closer to the mark.
"I've got news for you. Lots of people on the force manage to have working friendships with their partners, without having it turn into something more. It's not impossible."
Logan shook his head. "Not impossible, no, but it's hard as hell. Especially when both partners are single and they have worked together as long as you two have. I know what it's like, I've been attracted to my partner before. Granted, you two have shown more restraint than I ever did, got to hand that to you. But you can't tell me you haven't thought, even just once, about taking her to bed now that the NYPD can't stick its nose in your sex life anymore. You're clearly in love with her."
"Please!" Logan interrupted exasperatedly. "Give me some credit. My solve rate may not have been quite as high as yours, but I'm a good detective and you're transparent as hell when it comes to Eames. I've known how you felt about her from one of the very first cases we worked together. The . . . uh . . the . . . you know, the one with the pervy judge . . ."
Logan waved one hand in circles as if to compel the memory forward.
"The Garrett case."
"Yeah, yeah, that's the one. I remember, we were arguing about something or other and Eames was looking it up to settle the argument. I caught the way that you looked at her . . . and I knew right then."
"I'm telling you, it's not like that . . ."
"Okay, fine." Logan held up his hands in surrender before glancing back over at Alex. "Look, if you really don't have any feelings for her, I gotta tell you . . . I held off making a pass at her, out of respect for you, thinking you had a thing for her. Guy code. But if you're telling me now that there isn't anything there . . ."
Knowing he was being baited, Bobby fought hard to keep his face impassive. He thought he had succeeded but a micro expression must have given him away because Logan's face erupted into a self-satisfied grin.
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
Bobby debated keeping up the pretense for only a moment longer before capitulating, exhausted from all the years of maintaining the lie. Sighing loudly, he ran a hand over his face.
"It doesn't matter how I feel. She's not interested in me, not like that, so it's a moot point."
Logan snorted. "The woman stood by you for twelve damn years. Through thick and thin. She took a lot of flak for it but she stayed, even when she could have walked away, even when it hindered her career, damaged her reputation. If that's not love, I don't know what is. You're a lucky guy, Goren. You really are. I would have killed to have a partner that stood by me like she stood by you."
"Loyalty," Bobby replied bluntly. "Simple as that."
"No way." Logan shook his head fervently. "Remember when the defense attorney in the Garrett case tried to discredit you by making Eames read out her request for a new partner on the stand? I remember, I remember how gutted she looked at the prospect of hurting you. Eames - steady, stoic Eames - getting all emotional in court in front of everyone. That's not loyalty my friend, that's love. You two could have a really good thing together. Don't let it pass you by."
Bobby took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, his eyes drifting back to Alex. He was relieved to find her alone again, strolling around the perimeter of the room, ostensibly examining the décor.
"I was hoping to spend some time with her tonight, alone. I had planned to ask her to meet up after the party, have a drink somewhere and talk. But I couldn't find the right words. I don't know how, how to act now. There were always . . . rules of engagement . . . when we were partners. Now that those rules don't apply anymore . . . Well, there's just so much to lose."
"And just as much to gain," Logan remarked, sipping his drink thoughtfully. "But not if you don't take a chance."
Across the room, Bobby watched Alex slip through the retracted glass partition and disappear out onto the back terrace. He felt a twinge of panic, as if he knew somewhere deep down that the universe was slowly closing his window of opportunity. Fear and excitement warred within him, both pushing him forward and pulling him back, a veritable emotional tug of war.
No risk, no reward.
Desperate for a final jolt of liquid courage, Bobby downed the remainder of his beer, wiped his mouth on his sleeve to eliminate the leftover froth and then held out the empty glass to Logan.
"If anyone asks where I've gone . . . cover for me?"
He found her sitting out on the terrace in one of the chairs surrounding the raised gas fire pit, staring into the flames.
A few other guests milled around nearby, talking and smoking, but Alex sat alone, seemingly oblivious to their presence, clearly lost in thought. The firelight illuminated her face and dyed her hair shades of orange and red. A lump of emotion hardened in Bobby's throat as he watched her with affection from the shadows just inside the glass partition.
She was beautiful; he had always known that. It had been easier for him to block that out in the early years of their partnership, when his experience of her beauty had been primarily physical. His mother had primed him since he was a child about the dangers of beautiful women. He had taken that to heart and become relatively adept at not letting a woman's appearance completely disarm him. As their partnership, their relationship, blossomed however, it became harder and harder to ignore because Alex's beauty extended beyond the body to her mind and her soul.
He didn't want to fall in love with her.
But he couldn't help it.
The first time Paula had queried his feelings for Alex, he had panicked. He should have seen it coming; he was the one who had brought her up after all. That had been a mistake, but his resolve to fake his way through the mandated therapy sessions had wavered that day for some reason and a tiny flicker of hope had capitalized on the vulnerability. When she asked how long they had been together - not how long they had worked together - he should have seen the writing on the wall, should have anticipated the direct follow-up question, but it still knocked him off balance.
"Do you love her?"
Bobby realized then that he had fallen a step behind and would have to sprint to catch up, to rebuild his walls. After sidestepping that first question, buying himself a few precious moments to think, he had been ready when Paula pressed further.
"Do you have any romantic feelings for her?"
"No. She's like a sister to me."
He had not been in denial then, although Paula probably thought he was, maybe still did. No, his mind had been completely clear. He was well aware that he loved her. He was equally as well aware that there was no way, in that moment, with his career on the line and lingering uncertainty about Paula's intentions, that he would ever admit it.
A flawed confession.
It would be several months and a great deal of trust building later before Bobby was brave enough to revisit the conversation. That day, Alex had told him that a friend had set her up on a blind date with some firefighter. He had raged internally the entire day, barking at victims, witnesses and colleagues alike, stalking out of the squad room to head to his appointment without even saying goodbye. By the time he arrived at Paula's office, he was mostly just sad and tired of having to constantly fight with his disobedient emotions to keep them trapped below the surface. As he sat on the couch, wringing his hands and imagining Alex with another man, Bobby could think of nothing else to do but come clean, to purge the emotion from his system before it incapacitated him.
"One of our first sessions, you . . . uh, asked me about my partner. About Alex."
Paula smiled lightly. "Yes, I remember. This is the first time I've heard you use her first name."
"Yeah, well . . ." Bobby shrugged his shoulders, eyes trained on his twisted hands. "You asked me if I had any . . . romantic feelings for her."
"Yes. And you told me you didn't."
Bobby looked up and met her steady gaze. "I lied."
Paula's smile widened ever so slightly. "I know."
They spoke of Alex often after that, of his feelings for her, of his anxiety around exploring those feelings. He hadn't felt worthy of her in those early days of therapy. He still didn't, was still afraid of the pain that would follow if she rejected him, afraid of the damage it could do to the friendship that had sustained him for so many years.
No, the fear hadn't changed. What had changed was his willingness to face it.
With Paula's guidance, he had practiced incrementally lowering the guard that had previously kept Alex at arm's length. He talked more openly about his mom, his dad, his brother, his childhood. As he did, he felt something shift in their relationship. It was subtle, and not overtly acknowledged, but he felt it. As his defenses fell one-by-one, she didn't turn away. She stepped closer. Now they were at a turning point, the complicating framework of their professional partnership having fallen away. If there were possibilities for them beyond friendship, now was the time to explore them.
Unfortunately, based on their first interaction of the evening, he wasn't off to a great start.
As Bobby stood there, reliving the past, the patio had emptied and Alex was now sitting out there alone, still staring into the fire, sipping on her bourbon.
No time like the present.
Straightening his shoulders, Bobby stepped out onto the terrace, onto the path that would determine his future.
The day had dawned late spring warm but cooled by the evening and Bobby was grateful for the protection of his suit jacket as he cut across the patio, pulse hammering. Darkness had fallen an hour earlier and the terrace was illuminated only by the fire pit, patio lanterns, tiki torches and the occasional glow of a lightning bug. Lilac bushes lined the flagstones and perfumed the air. Wrought iron patio sets were strategically placed around the space and Bobby had to push in more than one chair as he skirted the small circular tables, iron screeching as it scraped along the flagstone. The grating sound broke into Alex's reverie and she looked up and caught sight of him.
Her smile, although not full of its usual brilliance, still sent butterflies fluttering in his stomach and solidified his resolve.
Multi-colored Adirondack chairs surrounded the firepit and the wood creaked as Bobby lowered himself into the blue one beside her, relishing the warmth of the fire. Alex's eyes reflected the dancing flames as she looked him, saying nothing. Even without words, her message was clear.
"Well . . ." Bobby blurted out suddenly, clasping his hands together to stop them from visibly shaking. "Here we are, again."
"At the crossroads," Alex agreed, smoothing her skirt down around her thighs. "Circumstances are a bit more pleasant this time at least."
Relaxing slightly, Bobby chuckled. "True. This time you didn't have to fire me."
Taking a sip of her bourbon, Alex shifted her eyes away to gaze back into the fire.
"It doesn't seem real in some ways, even though we knew this day was coming for months. It will be a big change for you. Are you ready?"
He nodded solemnly. "I think so, yes. Mostly. It's time."
Alex smiled but it didn't reach her eyes. "What are your plans for your first week of freedom?"
"I don't know." Bobby scratched his chin and shrugged, frustration mounting as he felt the vein of the conversation drifting away from where he wanted it, angry at himself for struggling to find an appropriate segue. "Maybe go to the bank, get my, uh, company accounts set up and a business credit card for expenses."
"Seriously?!" Alex rolled her eyes. "You retire from the NYPD, and then immediately start working again? I know it's your own business, but still. Why don't you take a vacation or something first?"
Bobby chuckled dryly. "I haven't had a vacation in so long, I'm not sure I would know what to do with myself."
"Absolutely nothing! That's the point," Alex exclaimed, placing her tumbler onto the marble rim of the fire pit. "Go somewhere tropical, all-inclusive, where people wait on you hand and foot. Sit by the pool, drink, eat delicious food, get a tan. I know you aren't a beach person, but what about rainforests? Personally I've always wanted to go to Belize or Costa Rica. My brother went to Costa Rica last year, he said it was absolutely beautiful."
"It does sound nice," Bobby admitted, scuffing the heel of his dress shoe on the stones beneath his feet.
An image sprang to his mind, unbidden, of a huge, luxurious stateroom with a panoramic view of an emerald green rainforest as the morning sun rose over the trees, the calls of exotic birds and awakening animals floating in on the breeze through open windows. A king size bed, with plump feather pillows, the crisp linen sheets bright white against the tanned skin of Alex's back as she slept beside him . . .
No, that would not be nice. That would be heaven . . .
"That's what you should do then," Alex declared, slapping a hand lightly on the arm of the chair as if it were a gavel and the verdict was in. "Take a vacation. You deserve it."
Her voice softened as she smiled at him, more warmly this time.
"You really do. I stand by what I said before. You are the best, Bobby. Always will be."
"I'm going to miss you."
The admission flowed organically but Bobby still felt a momentary pang of dread, a desire to grab those dangerous words and stuff them back in. He forced himself to let them float out in the universe, to be heard and acknowledged and was pleased to find it wasn't as painful as he thought it would be.
"I'm going to miss you too. It won't be the same without you." An emotion close to grief flashed across Alex's face before she could mask it. "So is that what today is then? A goodbye?"
"I hope not," Bobby replied honestly. He suddenly felt parched, his courage faltering and he cursed himself for not grabbing another drink before heading outside. He had to clear his throat several times before he could speak again.
"I have something for you."
Rooting around in the pockets of his suit jacket, Bobby located the suede black box and withdrew it.
Watching him, Alex frowned, eyebrows furrowing. "For me? Why?"
Bobby smiled as he handed her the box. "Because you deserve it."
Alex stared at him for another moment, still frowning, before she dropped her attention to the box and flipped open the lid. He felt inordinately pleased when her jaw dropped. He had agonized for hours, irritating several shopkeepers, deciding which one to buy and it had clearly paid off. The diamonds in the bracelet sparkled even in the dim light of the fire.
Even though he knew the answer, he asked anyway.
"Do you like it?"
She stared at the gift, speechless, for another moment before responding. "It's, it's stunning."
"So are you."
For the first time ever, Bobby got to witness Alex completely disoriented and flustered. She looked from him, to the bracelet, back to him, and then down again to stare at his gift, her thumb slowly tracing the 18 carat gold plate on which he had engraved both of their badge numbers, her eyes pools of unshed tears.
"Bobby, I, I can't accept this," she stammered finally, meeting his gaze. "This is a, a Tiffany bracelet, I know how much this cost, it's too much. And besides, it's your party, if anything I should have been the one giving you a gift . . ."
"You did," Bobby replied with a lopsided smile. "You gave me the gift of being my partner for 12 years. I can't think of a more priceless gift than that."
Before he realized what was happening, Alex launched herself out of her chair and wrapped her arms around his neck in a hug. Her soft hair pressed against his cheek, the scent of her shampoo intoxicating. She held him tighter than the last time, in the Captain's office, and for longer as he rubbed his hand up and down her back slowly, closing his eyes, relishing the contact. When she finally pulled back reluctantly, she dropped a kiss his cheek.
No risk, no reward. Carpe diem.
Before she could retreat any further, Bobby turned his head and captured her mouth with his.
Her lips were warm, soft, inviting and he lost himself in them. Slipping one hand up behind her neck, into her hair, he broke the kiss only long enough to draw her into his lap. Both of her legs draped across his as she snuggled in beside him in the chair and he ran a hand up her shin and over her knee, enjoying the juxtaposition of the soft material of her tights against the taut muscles in her legs.
When they finally broke apart, they were both breathless and her lips were as swollen as his felt.
"I think you just answered my unspoken question," Alex murmured, resting her head beside his on the span of wooden slats that formed the back of the chair. "All day I've been wanting to ask you what happens next. Now I think I know. So where do we go from here?"
Bobby grinned before pulling her back in for another long, gentle kiss.
"Well, I've heard Costa Rica is nice at this time of year . . ."