Rated M for future mature content

Learning to Swim

Chapter 1

It wasn't like him to leave without saying goodbye.

It had only happened a handful of times over the course of their partnership, typically because he had stormed out unexpectedly, angry at an authority figure over a real or perceived injustice. But that hadn't been the case today. Today, after Declan Gage had been hauled away to the Tombs, Bobby had emerged from the interrogation room still, settled, quiet . . . almost eerily so. As they sat at their desks, methodically ploughing through the mountain of paperwork that always accompanied a case closure, Alex had found herself glancing up at him often, bracing for an explosion. An explosion that would have been completely understandable, justified even, given the inordinate amount of pain and pressure he had endured over the past few days.

How much can one man take? How much should he have to?

The explosion never came. When she told him that he should go, that she would take care of the remaining paperwork, those tedious bits that she knew he hated, Bobby had just shook his head, smiled and insisted that he was fine to finish. It was a surprise then, when she returned from logging the final bag of evidence in Lockup, to find that he was no longer there. Frowning, she had scanned the squad room, a feeling of dread slithering around in the pit of her stomach. She tried to convince herself that he had just gone to the restroom or had stepped into the stacks to file his notes, but these assurances rang hollow when a quick glance at the coat rack revealed that his overcoat was missing.

The fact that he didn't answer his cell or home phone did absolutely nothing to alleviate her concerns. Alex left messages at both numbers anyway, forcing an infusion of cheerfulness and a note of laissez-faire into her voice as she requested he call her back right away. For over an hour she sat at her desk, toe tapping nervously against its metal leg, staring at her cell phone and willing it to ring. With each minute that passed, seconds ticking by painfully slowly on the squad room clock, her unease deepened. She pretended to be engrossed in imaginary paperwork but saw none of the words on the blank form in front of her, heart and mind miles away.

When he hadn't returned her call two hours later, concern and unease morphed into panic.

Disappearing without saying goodbye was one thing. Not returning her calls was another. The two together were frightening. Bobby always answered when she called. Even when he wouldn't pick up for anyone else, he picked up for her. The only other time that he had avoided her calls had been when he had gone undercover to bring down Testarossa, when he had been trying to keep her from getting involved, to protect her.

Oh Bobby. What are you trying to protect me from now . . .

The degree of loss and trauma that Bobby had endured over the past few days angered her. It wasn't fair. It was too much. His mother's first birthday since her passing, Frank's murder, Declan Gage's twisted betrayal, the Captain finding out about his parentage. Even Nicole Wallace, the only serial killer in Bobby's career to ever give him a run for his money, now deceased before she could be brought to justice. It just wasn't fucking fair. It would have been enough to send anyone over the edge. In her line of work, she had seen people snap over much, much less.

"She thinks that Frank's all I have . . ."

Alex's fear, deep down, was that he believed that too. If he did, what would he do with that knowledge? If he believed that, what else did he have to lose?

Despite what Bobby may have thought when he had burst into Ross' office, irate over the investigation of his phone and financial records, Alex never for one second believed that he would hurt someone else, no matter how close to the ledge he may have been. He had asked her, point blank, hurt, right in front of the Captain if she had thought him capable of something like that, and even though she didn't get the chance to respond, the answer was a clear and resounding no.

What she was less confident about was whether he would do something to hurt himself.

At the two and a quarter hour mark, Alex's adrenaline bubbled up and spilled over the surface. It propelled her up and out of her desk, coaxing her to do something, anything. Grabbing her coat, she nearly jogged to the 1 PP parking garage, heart thundering in her ears. Her hands were trembling so fiercely that she struggled to get her keys into the ignition of her Civic, dropping them twice before finally succeeding.

His apartment was pitch black when she flipped the key in the lock and slipped inside. Moving quickly, Alex poked her head into each room, half fearing what she might find, hoping against hope that he would be there, sitting in a chair and reading or asleep in bed, but each room was still and empty. There was no indication that he had been there at all that evening. No suit jacket slung over the back of a chair, no dirty dishes in the sink. The keys for his Mustang hung in their usual place. Wherever he had gone, he had gone on foot. She checked his neighborhood bar as well, but none of the faces around the tables were the one she really wanted to see.

By the time Alex reached the cemetery, it had started to drizzle. The precipitation turned the grass into a veritable oil slick and she skidded a few times as she hurried up a small hill to Frances Goren's gravesite. The flowers that Bobby had brought in recognition of his mother's birthday sat in a vase, colorful petals a stark contrast against the cold granite of the tombstone. But no Bobby. Crouching down, Alex brushed her fingers over the engraved words as she mouthed a silent prayer, but not for Frances. For her son.

Please keep him safe, protect him. Make up in death for what you weren't capable of offering him in life.

When he still hadn't returned her call by the time she jumped back in her car, Alex started to feel physically ill. Drumming her fingers impatiently on her steering wheel, she squinted through the rain-beaded windshield, pondering her next move. Declan had said that she knew Bobby better than almost anyone and for a moment she cursed herself for her inability to use that knowledge to help him.

Frank. He has to be at Frank's.

There was absolutely no logical reason for Bobby to go to Frank's apartment. It was a dump, the lair of an addict. It held nothing but the most basic of essentials, very little with obvious sentimental value. After it had been photographed by CSU, she had grabbed the few personal effects that Bobby had requested. There was nothing else left for him there unless . . . unless there was something that a man desperate for family would prize above all else but no one else would recognize.

Something that could lead him to Donny.

The drizzle had progressed into a steady rain by the time Alex pulled up in front of Frank's apartment building and she had to make a mad dash from her car to the front door to avoid getting soaked. The flophouse that Frank had called home had no security beyond a grilled gate that hung open, already completely off its hinges, and she was able to easily slip into the building without coming across another soul. On either side of the hallway, the muted drone of televisions mixed with couples yelling and dogs howling. The odor of marijuana and cheap cigarette smoke hung thick the air and made her sinuses tingle and eyes burn.

She was less than ten feet from Frank's door when, from inside, she heard the sound of glass breaking.

Alex's hand automatically flew to her belt where her service pistol would have been waiting had she been on duty. The hand came up empty but her resolve remained intact as she took off at a run, closing the remaining distance between herself and the door in a few seconds flat. The doorknob rattled teasingly but didn't turn. Fortunately the building was old and poorly maintained, the door nothing more than a thin rectangle of cheap wood with rusted hinges and a weak locking mechanism that were no match for her adrenaline. When she threw her shoulder into it, it gave way and sent her stumbling over the threshold, just in time to see Bobby throw a second punch at a mirror, sending glass cascading to the floor like an avalanche.

"Bobby!"

In a move reminiscent of hers just moments earlier, Bobby's hand went to his waistband as he swiveled in her direction, groping for an invisible weapon. When he realized it was only her, his shoulders slumped and he dropped both arms back down to his sides, fingers still balled up in fists. His left hand was coated in crimson blood and a few shards of glass jutted out of his skin, glinting, translucent peaks rising up from a plain.

"Get out of here."

Bobby's voice was hard, rough, uneven, his entire body vibrating with barely suppressed impotent rage as he turned away from her, avoiding her eyes as he always did when emotions got high. The main room of the bachelor apartment around him looked like it had been ransacked, cushions torn off the couch and tossed about, rusty silverware spread all over the tiny kitchen counter, a table on its side, a lamp on the floor, bulb shattered. To the left of the mirror, there was a hole in the wall that had not been there when she and Ross had conducted their initial search several days ago.

Stepping carefully around the scattered debris that littered the floor, Alex approached him slowly.

"You didn't answer my calls."

"BACK OFF," Bobby barked, holding up a shaking hand to stop her. "Don't come any closer. Leave me alone. Please."

Alex halted her forward momentum but held her ground, crossing her arms over her chest.

"I'm not leaving."

"You have to," Bobby snapped, eyes still trained on the floor and the sea of glass under his feet. "I find patterns, Alex, okay, that's what I do. That's what I'm good at. You know that. And the pattern here is clear. Everyone in my life, they-they suffer. They die, they decompensate. The constant, it's me."

"Come on. None of what happened is your fault, Bobby."

He shook his head, glancing up at her only fleetingly before dropping his eyes to examine his mangled hand. When he spoke again, his voice was lower but still edged with steel.

"I'm a ticking time bomb. You know that too now, know who my father is. The recipe for violence, it's, it's in my DNA. Right now people are getting hurt BECAUSE of me. It's only a matter of time until people start getting hurt BY me. All it will take is the right combination of factors to unlock it. Just like it did for, for Declan. I'm a danger to all those I care about. I'm going to hurt someone. And the last thing I would ever want to do is . . . is hurt you."

Crossing the remaining distance between them, Alex inserted herself between him and the wall, right beside the shattered mirror, right into his sphere, right into the alleged danger zone. They were inches apart now and she could feel his breath on her face, the heat that radiated off his body. Reaching up, she cupped his face with both hands and forced him to meet her gaze, her voice steady and firm.

"I'm not afraid of you. I know you would never hurt me."

His eyes bore into hers, intense, fiery, the stubble on his cheeks pricking the soft skin of her palms. He towered over her, hulking, for all intents and purposes pinning her to the wall with his size but she refused to blink, refused to give ground, refused to back down. Refused to leave him like all the others had.

You're not going to push me away. I won't let you.

And then suddenly, just like that, the fight was over.

Alex watched Bobby's rage against the world drain from his features, pour out of his body in a tidal wave of pain. His body crumbled and he slumped forward in a near collapse. He would have crushed her if he hadn't reached out and put trembling hands against the wall on either side of her, bracing himself. She dropped her hands from his face and pressed them instead against his chest to prop him up, share her strength. His chin fell to his chest, his face beside hers, eyes drifting closed as he struggled to steady his ragged breathing.

Alex waited patiently before speaking again, motionless, still refusing to move away as the rise and fall of his chest settled into more normal rhythm.

"Why don't you let me drive you home?"

Straightening up, Bobby opened his eyes slowly and pushed off the wall. Turning away from her, he walked over to the ratty pullout couch and flopped down onto it. The pressure of his weight sent a flurry of dust motes up into the air. She suddenly felt cold, the absence of his body heat noticeable after their closeness.

"I-I can't. He was lying to me. Frank. I know he was. He knows . . . uh, knew . . . where Donny is." Bobby ran his hands through his hair, leaving behind streaks of blood on one side. "Donny is his father's son, they kept in touch. There has to be something here that tells me how I can reach him . . ."

Alex walked over and joined him on the couch, perching herself on the arm opposite where he sat. She gestured at the destroyed space around them, a wry smile lifting one corner of her mouth.

"I think you've done all you can here. You're just torturing yourself. You need to go home, get something to eat and get a good night's sleep. You've been through hell today."

"No, no, it's important." Bobby swallowed hard, leaning back on the couch, scrubbing one hand across his weary face. "He's the . . . the only family that I have left."

She considered arguing the point, reminding him that family came in all shapes and sizes and went beyond blood. That family were the people that cared about you, and you them, and that she was here, and that she cared about him. Deeply, as Declan had said. But the heaviness that creased Bobby's face made it clear he wasn't in a place to hear that, not right now.

"How about we compromise then?" Standing again, Alex brushed a smudge of dust from her pants. "You clearly haven't found what you're looking for here. How about I drive us back to my place, we get that mess of a hand cleaned up, order in some food and brainstorm together how we go about finding Donny. Deal?"

After a moment's hesitation, Bobby agreed.


A/N – I don't often have two stories in progress, preferring to focus on one at a time, but this tale was just begging me to be written! For those who may also be reading "Next", I haven't forgotten about it. It will continue

Huge thank you to WendyCR72 for being my sounding board and reminding me of the value of keeping things simple! If I didn't have her support, not sure I would ever finish a chapter!