Sleeping with Zach Nichols is definitely not something she planned, or even thought about, before it actually happened.
And neither did he - of that she is certain.
The only thing speaking against that particular hypothesis is the fact that it just sort of keeps happening.
Before she takes over that case, she's only spoken to him briefly in the break room a couple of times when getting tea or coffee or Skittles, and only knows what Wheeler and the office gossip has told her about him – that he is Ross' old partner, that he took a long break after 9/11 and pretty much disappeared into nothingness, and that he is 'most definitely strange, but a very skilled police officer'.
The attraction is neither immediate nor particularly physical at all. She thinks that maybe if it had been, nothing would ever have happened at all. Because physical attraction is easier to discern, easier to resist, than this – this thing that she gets them involved in.
When she first starts working with him, he annoys her a little. He goes off on tangents, doesn't stop to think or explain to her, and simply does his own thing. All. The. Time.
Much like another cop she knows.
But he is friendly, asks her opinion and thanks her for her advice and research. And Wheeler is right – he is a very skilled police officer. When he asks her out for drinks after they've closed their first case, to celebrate their success and Megan's new baby, she accepts without hesitation.
One drink is all she has in mind when he brings her to the small, fashionable and very red jazz bar in the Village, where he claims there will be good music, no cops and a very nice selection of French wines. After all, she has to drive all the way back to Queens.
One drink, however, is not where they stop.
They talk about easy, familiar things – work, Wheeler, her family and a tiny bit about his – and for the first time in ages she gets the feeling that someone is actually listening to, and is truly interested in, what she is saying. Interested in her, and her thoughts and her feelings.
It's a nice change.
And it's probably what causes her to accept a second glass of fancy red wine, and then a third and finally the invitation to have coffee at his place, a few blocks away.
This feeling of being appreciated for what she is – just for once.
He gets her a brandy to go with her coffee, and she smiles and tells him that it was her husband’s favourite drink.
“Joe,” he murmurs and nods knowingly. “He was a good man.”
He tells her how they met a few times on the job, how he knew him through a friend of a friend on the Force, had a few drinks with Joe and the guys in his unit, that kind of thing.
And how he went to Joe’s funeral.
She feels herself stiffen and grow cold and distant at the mention of the funeral. A lot of cops went, she knows that, but she wasn’t aware of them then, and every reminder that she wasn’t alone there that day, with her parents and his, forces her to go back and relive it.
This is where most people stop talking about Joe.
But not Zach Nichols.
He keeps talking; some stupid story about a bar round where they played pool and Joe, never one to turn down a challenge, set out to shoot a billiard ball into a pint of beer – not only destroying 6 glasses in the process, but also knocking out a waitress and causing his partner to need stitches.
She remembers it well. She was so pissed at him that she had him sleep at Kevin’s place for two nights afterwards, but the way Zach tells it has her laughing.
Until she starts crying.
His fingers are light, but warm, on her shoulder – careful, but comforting. His palm slides slowly over her upper arm, while the thumb of the other hand cautiously wipes at the tears on her cheeks. It all sort of happens as if in slow-motion.
He calls her Alex – always Alex, never Eames.
It sounds so soft when it rolls off his tongue, slightly thick and drawn out because of the alcohol he's consumed. She doesn't hear that, doesn't care about that; has had as much to drink as he has, and is much smaller. And his thumbs and cupped palms are way too smooth against her fiery skin.
He’s close; his breath is fanning over her cheek. It’s warm and silky and smells of brandy and strong coffee; the way his lips taste, as she touches hers to his. She closes her eyes to his intense gaze as he deepens the kiss and holds her closer, tighter.
She knows that they should stop. They work together – have partnered up for a case, for fuck’s sake. There are rules to be followed, consequences and day-afters to consider.
And most of all, he’s not...
She stops herself before she can think it, the Forbidden Thought. The thought that may very well mean the end to everything she has held as true for the last nine years. The one thought that could ruin everything.
And then she forces herself not to think anymore.
He’s tall and tanned and lean.
He makes her coffee in the morning wearing just a pair of black jeans, and she can’t help but admire his thin, muscular frame. She’s wearing his shirt from the night before and is perched silently on one of the bar stools in his small but fancy kitchen. He flashes a smile at her every now and then as he produces sugar for her coffee, orange juice, Turkish yoghurt and muesli, bagels and cream cheese. She can barely remember the time she had that much fresh food in her kitchen at any one time and tells him that she would have been fine with just coffee. He only smiles.
“What happens when we get to work?” he asks when he’s seated beside her, spreading cream cheese liberally on the bottom half of a bagel. She really doesn’t know, and tells him so.
“We’re adults,” he says then. “I’m sure we both know how to keep our work separate from our private lives.”
She thinks about her partner, and herself, and wonders how true that really is, but doesn’t say anything.
“It doesn’t have to mean anything,” she says and he nods.
“It doesn’t need to happen again,” he agrees. “We’re adults.” She nods too and they finish their breakfast in comfortable silence.
Then they have sex in the shower.
She’s late for work and Bobby notices.
Of course he does.
He also notices that Nichols is late, arriving three minutes after Eames. It’s hard to miss the furtive glances the other detective keeps throwing at his partner. Or the fact that she barely looks up to greet him as he flings a casual ‘Hey!’ in their direction.
And is that a hickey on her neck?
“How were your last days in Tennessee?” she asks once she is seated and equipped with a pen and a bunch of reports that need signing. He glances quickly from her to Nichols and then back again.
“Busy,” he says, but doesn’t dwell on how exactly they were ‘busy’. “How was Nichols?” Her breath hitches slightly in her throat, and she whips her head up to meet his gaze. He has a strange smile on his lips and she can’t really shake the thought that he knows. Somehow. “I heard you closed the case.” She relaxes visibly, but still eyes him warily.
“Yes, Nichols did a good job with that one,” she says, but knows she doesn’t need to explain it to him. If she knows him right, he’s already familiar with it. “That man could almost outwit even your genius.” She expects him to smile at that, like he usually does, but his gaze is far off and his expression guarded.
She can’t shake the feeling that he knows.
Or the guilt that comes with it.
She barely talks to Nichols for almost two weeks, other than when they happen to meet in the break room or the cafeteria, or that time they share a slightly awkward elevator ride from the parking garage to the eleventh floor.
Or that time they have sex in the unisex bathroom on the ninth floor after she’s ended up in the middle of yet another argument between her partner and her captain. But she’s not sure that it counts, because apart from a few whispered demands to fuck her harder and muffled grunts and groans, they’re not really talking.
Then Goren has to go back down to Tennessee for a week, and Ross partners her with Nichols again.
She doesn’t mind, of course. She enjoyed working with him the last time, even though his mind takes bigger leaps than Bobby’s at times, his ability to explain his thinking to her is disturbingly lacking and his respect for authority and interdepartmental politics is equal to nil.
She takes him home when it is all over. He’s shocked and angry and she promises the emergency medical crew that she will make sure that he eats and has some company.
It’s what good partners do.
She feeds him chicken noodle soup and stays to watch TV with him. He flips through the channels restlessly, finally settling on a documentary about the class system in Ancient Mesopotamia.
“I had her,” he says quietly. “I almost had her.”
“I know,” Alex says, because she protested wildly when the FBI agent gave the word to fire. “It wasn’t our call.”
“Why would someone do that to their daughter?” he asks a while later, and she tears her eyes from the TV screen. She doesn’t answer, because she doesn’t know. It makes no sense to her either. He holds her gaze for a long time, pain and anger flashing over his face.
“She was just a kid, Alex,” he whispers finally. “I should have saved her.”
“There was nothing you could have done,” she says, and that is what she believes. The sniper had orders to shoot as soon as he had a free range, and that is what he did.
“There must have been something...” he says and she reaches out to put a finger over his lips.
“Shush.” He pulls her closer to his chest, arms wrapping tight around her waist. She turns slightly in his embrace and presses a firm kiss to his lips. “There was nothing you could have done,” she repeats, kissing him again to silence any protestations. He sighs and shakes his head, but doesn’t say anything. He just urges her onto his lap and kisses her softly.
She wakes from the sensation of warm rays of sun on her exposed body. She’s lying half draped over Zach; legs tangled together, his arm slung around her waist.
She is almost immediately aware of the fact that he is watching her. She turns her head to meet his gaze and sees him grinning down at her.
“Morning,” he whispers huskily, his long, nimble fingers immediately starting to run over her sides and back, pulling her even closer to him. She smiles at the hungry look in his eyes and reaches up to kiss him.
“Morning,” she answers and her grin only widens as he flips them over and hovers on all four above her. “You’re in a good mood.” He only smiles and continues to cover her skin with licks and kisses.
Her mind is so concentrated on what his lips and tongue and fingers are doing to her sex that she barely even hears the phone ringing an odd ten minutes later, until Zach tries to break away.
“My phone,” he says when she looks at him, confused. “It could be work.” She wants to tell him to screw work, but their rule has always been that work comes first, so she only watches as he reaches out, almost blindly, to grab at the offensive piece of technology.
It’s not until he has flipped it open that she realizes that they have the same ringtone.
“Nichols,” he answers, slightly breathless, and then freezes up. “Goren?”
She sits up straight and can practically feel the colour vanishing from her face. She feels like she might be sick.
“Yes. Yes, of course,” Zach is saying then, sounding apologetic. “Just a second.” He holds the phone out to her and though she is avoiding looking at him she can feel that he tries to seek her gaze.
“Bobby?” She tries to sound sure of herself, confident, like she has done nothing wrong, but it comes out like a question.
“I tried to call you,” he says, sounding upset. “All fucking night. I wanted to know if you were okay, or needed to talk. After yesterday.” He pauses slightly and she searches for words. “Obviously, I shouldn’t have bothered.”
“I don’t care,” he says irritably, sounding tired. She refuses to acknowledge the fact that he might actually care quite a lot. “Look,” he says then, “We have a case. A dead woman on Ninth and 81st. I’ll see you there.” She holds the phone to her ear for several moments after he has hung up, before she finally flips the phone shut and gets out of bed.
“Alex?” The sound of Zach’s voice causes her to stop in the middle of the floor.
“I have to go,” she says, bending to pick up her shirt from the day before. He moves to get off the bed, grabbing his jeans from the floor just by his feet. “We have a case.” Zach nods but continues to dress himself quickly. She’s down the hall before he has time to button his shirt.
“Alex?” he demands again, grabbing her arm just as she is about to open the front door. She finally stops and looks at him, uneasiness and anxiety written all over her face. He holds onto her hands. “What are you doing?” Her shoulders slump slightly, but she holds his gaze.
“He knows.” He looks like there are things he wants to ask her, but all he does is pull her into his arms and tell her that he is sorry. She lets him hold her for a while, but all she can think of is Bobby.
He really knows now.
He barely looks at her when she arrives at the crime scene. She can feel anger radiating from him, in every move and every comment he makes, but she’s not sure what she can do to make things right again. Nor is she entirely willing to accept why he feels like this is a problem in the first place, apart from the obvious breaking of departmental policies.
“How long have you been fucking Nichols?” he asks when they are well on their way back to OnePP, the resentment in his voice barely contained. Her own anger flares instantaneously and she whips her head around to look at him.
“He answered your phone at 5.30 in the morning...”
“Where the fuck do you get off asking me that, Goren?”
“...so what I want to know is if this was a pity fuck because he screwed his shit up yesterday or if you’ve been...”
“No!” she bellows and the SUV turns deadly silent for a moment. “What the hell gives you the right to ask me that?” She stops at a red light and turns her head to look at him again. His hands are clutching his binder so hard that his knuckles are turning white and his eyes are stormy as she forces herself to meet his gaze.
“I’m your partner, I have a right...”
“Right, my partner,” she says, eyebrows raised. He stays quiet and bends his head, as if he knows exactly what is coming.
“My partner,” she repeats, sarcasm dropping from her voice. “Of course I should have told you! After all, you always tell me what’s going on in your life, right?”
“That... that’s different!” he replies hotly. “This is about work. This could affect...”
“Like hell it would,” she snaps and he opens his mouth to reply. “And don’t even think about saying anything about the importance of keeping your partner informed, Detective!” she warns.
“Alex,” he objects, and there’s something in his voice that makes her want to turn around and look at him. She stubbornly keeps her eyes on the unmoving traffic in front of her.
“I don’t want to hear it, Goren,” she says, tired all of a sudden. “Look, you made sure a long time ago that I knew you didn’t want me in your personal life and that you had no desire to be in mine. Let’s leave it at that.” He lets out a shuddering breath, and she almost gives in and looks at him.
“So if I had let you in before,” he asks quietly, “it wouldn’t have been him you were having sex with?” If they hadn’t been in the SUV she’s sure that she would have slapped him, but as it is she only stares out the windshield persistently.
His words hold more truth than she’d ever like to acknowledge.
The tension in the squad room is so thick she’s surprised they can even breathe in there at all. Goren has stopped glaring daggers at her, but still glances angrily at Nichols from time to time. Nichols himself is trying to grab her attention, but she’s doing her best to ignore both of them.
This strategy works flawlessly the entire morning until Zach comes over to ask her out for lunch. She knows that Bobby sees him coming up to their desks – there’s really no other explanation when she thinks about it, because as soon as Zach is within hearing range, Bobby suggests that they go interview a witness. Right that very instant.
Approximately five past noon.
“Oh,” is all Zach says, glancing between the partners to try to discern if this is something that’s mutually decided or not. “I thought you and I might go for lunch.”
“We should really go interview this witness, Alex,” Goren insists and starts collecting the papers spread on his desk before standing up, ready to go. She shakes her head in annoyance.
“I’m going for lunch,” she says, not at all impressed with neither the triumphant look on Zach’s face, nor with the dark, cloudy one on Bobby’s. “Alone.”
She refuses to look at either of them as she picks up her coat and purse and heads towards the elevators.
She comes back to find half of the squad standing outside the break room, and both her partner and Zach missing. She supposes that is never a good thing. She doesn’t even bother with taking off her coat and purse.
“What’s going on?” she demands warily, although she has a pretty good idea already. The detectives in front of her turn around; some hurry back to their desks, while others linger – undoubtedly unwilling to miss the office drama. She pushes through them, mentally bracing herself for what she is sure she will see.
Jefferies is standing between Bobby and Zach, hands flat against their chests, while Nilsson and Rodriguez are fighting to hold Bobby back. They both stop struggling as she comes into view and at least have the sense to look somewhat embarrassed about what they are doing.
She can’t remember ever being more pissed off.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
The two men throw an angry glare at each other and then look back at her. They both open their mouths to speak, but she holds up her hands to stop them.
“I don’t want to hear it,” she says, shaking her head slowly. “Not a word.” Bobby looks as if he wants to protest, but she glares at him and he shuffles uncomfortably on the spot. “From either of you!” With that she walks out of the squad room.
She doesn’t return for a week.
Zach is the first one to call her, and while she’s not really surprised by that at all, there is a nagging feeling of something disturbingly close to disappointment associated with that fact. She tells herself that she was hoping he would be better at respecting her wishes and that it has nothing to do with her partner at all.
Goren, who’s had almost nine years to learn the most efficient way to let her cool off, sends her a text to apologize the next morning. And then he calls. Several times.
She doesn’t return any of their calls. She wants nothing to do with either man after they put her through that. For a while she doesn’t even want to go back to the squad at all, because she is sure they all know now – suspect at a least – and how the fuck would that look?
She knows that this will only add water to the wheels of the cops who still think that women have no place on the Force. It will make her seem weak and, to those who might have forgotten, feminine.
It will also fuel all the rumours of a more personal relationship going on between her and her partner that have circulated since a week after she joined the squad. She is also quite certain there will be more now. About her and Zach.
She considers quitting the Force altogether. But only for a short while, because Alex Eames does not quit like that. Not over men. So all she does is take a week’s paid vacation.
She spends most of it thinking.
She admits that things are awkward.
As awkward as things should be after you’ve been having a sexual relationship with your temporary partner, which sends your ordinary partner into a jealous rage and causes the two of them to fight about you in the middle of the squad room.
She refuses to spend time with either of them away from work, and she makes sure they are both aware of that decision. Goren deals with it better than Nichols, because they go back to being partners and all is normal and as it should be again. Nichols is trickier. He asks her for dinner, tries to apologize and make things up to her. It annoys her to no end, especially since Goren shows no indication of doing the same. She supposes that he knows her too well for that.
She sits at her desk going through LUDS, highlighting strange ones in pink and the ones to their main suspect in green. Goren is muttering quietly to himself as he’s going through his notes opposite of her, but she’s trying her best not to hear it. She can feel Nichols looking at her once in a while, but she tries to not acknowledge him. Stealing a quick glance at each of the two men she tells herself that everything is back to normal - well, almost, anyway.
As they both catch her looking and each flash her a small smile, she quickly goes back to work, wondering who exactly she thinks she is kidding.