For my friend and fellow author, maddiemarch. Thanks for inspiring me to write this, which was directly inspired by "Next". This is my take. Hope everyone enjoys this.

"So," Alex asked, "how does it feel to be done with therapy?"

Bobby looked at her, noted her shared happiness at the news that Bobby would be keeping his job. He rubbed the back of his neck, shrugged. "I'm…I'm not."

Her forehead creasing in confusion, Alex pressed. "But I thought she said you're capable of doing your job?"

Nodding, Bobby picked up his drink and took a healthy swallow. "She did. It's just…it's just she said she thinks I could use additional therapy, so…" Another shrug. "I guess…the head games helped me more than I thought. I'm a whole new man!" he joked.

Alex looked down at her own drink, her finger circling the rim of her margarita glass. She had asked Bobby out for drinks to celebrate his latest victory against the brass upstairs and, to her surprise, he had agreed. Since both would be drinking, they took a taxi to a new bar about 20 minutes from Bobby's house.

With a ghost of a smile, Alex noted how at peace Bobby looked. All the shit of the past three years had finally eroded enough to the point that Bobby was once more a bit freer with a quip, a bit more ready with a smile.

"Hey, now," Alex rejoined, after a healthy sip of her own drink. "Don't go changing too much. I kind of like you as-is."

Feeling his face warm a bit, Bobby gave his partner a surreptitious glance. "Desk swiping and anger issues and all?"

With a shake of her head, Alex looked down and shrugged. "At least you're never dull. My life would be a lot more boring without you around."

Deciding he needed a bit more liquid courage, Bobby signaled the bartender for another tumbler of Glenlivet and a second margarita for Eames. Alex.

Funny how, since that day he exited Gyson's office, his partner had become more "Alex" than "Eames". He attributed it to his issues in therapy and wondered if he was finally brave enough to allow some cracks in his walls.

The bartender, a guy probably not long out of college and heavily tattooed, placed their drinks near them. With a quick word of thanks, Bobby and Alex settled back into their discussion.

"Well, it's mutual. You keep me grounded." Bobby admitted. It was Alex's turn to blush a bit as Bobby took a sip. "If not for you, I probably would have joined my mother at Carmel Ridge years ago."

Alex huffed. "That's not true, Bobby. I don't know when you started to believe the bullshit from the brass, but you're not a whackjob, you're not crazy, and you're a good cop."

With a short nod, Bobby wondered how to thank her – again – for her belief in him. Alex noted he was staring at her again, just as he had upon leaving the shrink's office. And it sent a frisson of anticipation along her nerve endings. Actually, that had been going on for a few months now. Ever since the David Kellam case where they indulged in some light flirting. Something they had never done in their first go-round. There seemed to be so many more cases involving relationships and love and whatnot, and Alex had begun to wonder if the universe was trying to send some sort of message.

Then she snorted at her own folly.

"I guess we're good for each other then," Bobby said, swirling his drink and seemingly nonchalant, but Alex sensed a sort of tension.

"A team," Alex agreed. Then: "Is something going on with you, Bobby?"

Finishing his drink as both a stall and as a way to put into words what he wanted to say, he swallowed audibly. He then fixed that assessing gaze on his partner and asked what he had avoided seemingly for forever now.

"Have you ever wondered what happens when this is over?"

Alex's own eyes clouded with a bit of confusion. "This?"

Licking his lips, Bobby elaborated. "Our partnership."

"Oh." Alex acknowledged, with a gusty sigh.

"Well…I did. During our…'sabbatical'." Alex mimicked air quotes at the word.

Bobby seemed surprised at her ready admission. "You did?"

Alex nodded. And turned the question back on him. "Why? Did you?"

Bobby wished he still had some of his drink left but wanted to be clear enough to express himself and, thus, refrained from summoning the bartender again.

"I…didn't." He was both ashamed and intrigued to see Alex deflate. But upon his next words, he saw her eyes brighten a bit again. And it made him wonder if just maybe he wasn't alone on his island of "what ifs?".

"But therapy…it…well, we talked a lot. About me, about my family. Well, some of them."

"Some?"

Bobby shrugged. "My mom, my dad. My legal dad, that is." Bobby explained. "But…" he confessed. "I never talked about… You're still the only one that knows about…"

With sudden understanding, Alex nodded. She squeezed Bobby's hand. "Your secret is still safe with me."

"I know that. You're the only one I trust."

That warmed Alex and she knew it was more than the alcohol. Still, she sounded surprised and noted Bobby's own subsequent surprise. "You do? Sometimes I wondered…"

Alex shook her head. "Forget it. I think it's the margarita." She tried brushing her comment off, but Bobby seemed to take it seriously.

Bobby let his finger play with the condensation left on the bar and his voice was remorseful. "I'm sorry, Eames. Alex." Bobby shrugged.

"Therapy…it showed me I do keep people at a distance. I guess…I guess with my mother, Frank…" Bobby could only shrug. "I learned to keep everything to myself."

He looked up then. "But I'm trying now. I have always trusted you. Probably the only one I do trust with…everything." Bobby gave a wry smile, gave a small laugh to ease the weight of the moment.

"You have Lewis, too, Bobby," Alex pointed out softly.

"But he still doesn't know everything. Not…Not like you do."

"Thank you," she said, her voice filled with gratitude…and something Bobby could not define.

Alex felt a little out of her depth. She and Bobby had never gone so deep into their friendship. But as new as it was, she welcomed the emotional transparency. Even more so once Bobby continued on.

"We…we also talked about…our partnership. You…" Bobby confessed.

"Me?" Alex asked.

"Yeah."

The jukebox was now blaring out classic rock and Bobby became irritated. Reading his thoughts, Alex slid closer so Bobby could hear her. He tried not to react to the faint scent – both perfume and just Alex herself – as she said, "Why don't we continue our talk outside?"

Holding her gaze a few beats longer than normal, nodding, Bobby pulled out his wallet and paid for both of them despite Alex's protests. Once the tab was settled, they headed outside. It was a warm summer night and both Bobby and Alex could smell some far-off lilac bush and could, once far enough from the doorway, hear crickets chirping.

Even with the humidity, the air still felt refreshing after the throng of people inside.

They found a nearby bench and sat. The light from the windows of the bar as well as a streetlight gave them more than enough light to see each other.

"So," Alex nodded. "You said you talked about me?"

Bobby crossed his legs at the ankles and tried to appear relaxed. "Yeah. About what you were like, our partnership. She asked how long we've been partners…"

Alex sensed Bobby was holding something back. But she felt she had gotten more than she ever did from her usually-reticent partner and didn't want to rock the boat, so to speak.

Bobby swatted at a mosquito and then met Alex's eyes again. "I rebelled against therapy for as long as I could before Hannah made it clear I couldn't avoid it anymore."

Alex said nothing, but nodded.

Sighing, Bobby pressed forward. "We got into my defense mechanisms." He broke eye contact to stare up at the sky and the cluster of stars. Alex followed his gaze, but she still listened intently.

"Ooh, sounds like 'fun'!" Alex joked.

"If sticking hot pokers…in…in your gut is fun, sure." Bobby smirked.

"But one I latched on to, I never realized it included me."

"And what is that?" Alex asked.

"Everybody lies," Bobby murmured. He then tore his eyes from the sky to see Alex with her mouth agape, her eyes also focused on Bobby's face instead of the stars.

"You don't really believe that, right? I mean…" Alex tried to process and indignantly rejoined. "I have never lied to you. Not ever."

Hearing hurt mixed with her incredulity, Bobby pointed out, "You reacted a lot like Dr. Gyson did. And," he clasped Alex's hand and was glad she didn't pull away. "No, I know you have never lied to me. But you were probably the first."

Alex didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Bobby spilling his guts to her was something she would have never thought would have happened. She was mollified that he knew that she was always on his side. But it hurt her to think he felt that he had no one else.

"If it makes you feel better, it applies…to…to me, just like I said." Bobby added, as he gave her hand another squeeze.

"How?" Alex asked, her curiosity piqued.

Bobby shrugged. He knew he should answer, but his courage only extended so far.

"Bobby?" Alex pressed, sensing he had more to say.

Letting go of her hand, Bobby stood. He started pacing, unable to look at her.

"In the bar, you said you thought about when our partnership ended."

Alex bit her lip. "And you…didn't." She tried not to sound accusatory.

"Gyson changed that." He scraped at a stone on the sidewalk with his shoe then began to pace again. "I told you that we talked about us, but…"

The silence stretched until it bordered on awkward. Alex mustered up enough courage to urge him on. "But?"

Bobby stared at the bar window, at the crowd inside, but not truly seeing anyone.

"Dr. Gyson asked me…if…if I loved you."

Alex's throat went dry.

"And…" Suddenly, Bobby looked almost angry at the memory, of being put on the spot by Dr. Gyson.

"I lied my ass off. Just like I omitted Brady." He faced Alex then. "I knew I had no choice but to go to therapy or lose my job, but I'll be damned if I'll metaphorically…cut…cut myself open in front of her like that."

The flash of anger came and went like a lightning bolt and Bobby rejoined Alex on the bench.

Alex found she lost the ability to speak. She wanted to know what he said but the detective in her was putting the pieces together on her own.

"I look in the mirror these days, and I see an old man." Bobby confessed.

"No," Alex managed to rasp out.

Bobby again took Alex's hand, his thumb absently stroking the soft skin on the back of it. "I guess…all those cases, Gyson…it got me to thinking. And then I came out of that office and saw you and I…"

Bobby sighed. "Someday, Alex, this...this job will be over for good. And I'm fine with that."

Alex nodded, knowing it was inevitable but still overcome with a sense of loss – even prematurely.

"What I'm not fine with is…is drifting away from you." Bobby stared into his lap. "I…I…I meant what I said in there. You're good for me. I just wonder what comes after, if you'd even want…"

Alex grabbed Bobby's chin, feeling the whiskers on his chin.

"You really don't know, do you?"

Bobby's dark brown eyes were filled with questions. Alex sighed and said, with a trace of amusement, "Some detective you are!"

Before he could interrupt, Alex confessed a bit of her own secrets. "The day Moran told me that you were a liability, he made a point of mentioning my…" She looked down, then back at Bobby. "My 'very strong feelings' for you." Alex gave a laugh.

Bobby stared at her again, certain he wasn't hearing her right, but also hoping he did.

"So," Bobby cleared his throat, looked up at the sky again, then back at Alex. "When this is over…we…we…live happily ever after…together then?"

"Well, as long as you don't make me ride a horse into the sunset," Alex joked.

Bobby gave a bright smile which Alex returned before they drifted into a lengthy kiss. Coming up for air, Bobby responded, "How about riding…riding…off in a vintage Mustang instead?"

With another peck to Bobby's cheek, Alex's eyes danced with mischief as she nodded and quipped, "Sure. But I'm driving."

Fin