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Love takes hostages. It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens your heart and it means someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses. You build up this whole armor, for years, so nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life . . . You give them a piece of you.” Neil Gaiman

Somewhere, at some point and in some manner she doesn’t quite remember – something has changed. Somewhere in the fluctuating folds of time, something happened to knock their rhythm – the beat to which their partnership and (now that Alex thinks about it) their friendship moved, horribly off kilter. It was as if a domino on the carefully constructed line of the Goren and Eames partnership had been maliciously shoved over, setting all the other dominos to toppling head over heels into oblivion.

Absurdity bells should be going off in her head at this moment, as she stands in the middle of yet another crime scene – officers, CSU and various nameless people buzzing around her – because she is allowing herself to think about the state of her partnership, thus far, with Major Cases’ answer to Sherlock Holmes. Yet here she is, staring at her notepad but not really seeing a word, the world around her faded like a blurred and slowly moving water color.

It was the first case to come across their desk since her partner’s suspension lifted, and Alex had been initially apprehensive. It had been a few weeks since Bobby’s self-inflicted incarceration in that hell-hole of an asylum – and their reunion was anything but warm. The distance between them had been stifling as they greeted at their desks and attempted to go on as if nothing had happened.

Perhaps that’s why she is, for all intents and purposes, daydreaming right now. Bobby coming back to work brought everything back to the forefront and suddenly Alex feels completely and irrationally exhausted.

When did it all go south? At what point did the car run off the road and go careening off the bluff in their partnership? If she had to hazard a guess – and she’s pretty sure she’s right – the week leading up to the death of Bobby’s mother sticks out in her mind as a turning point.

Sure, he’d been more agitated than usual while she was sick – his jerky, disjointed gate more erratic than normal, the way he’d spout comments and theories at random and almost assertively dare anyone to refute them. Normal had never been a descriptive that belonged in the same sentence as the name Bobby Goren, but now that Alex thinks back, his building aggression set off more alarms than anything else.

It’s not that she has a problem with his ‘authority issues’ – sometimes, its refreshing to watch Bobby yank that proverbial authoritative stick away from someone who doesn’t deserve it and use it to beat them senseless with his intuitive talent. But after his mother started her rapid decline toward death, it was as if Bobby was looking for excuses to start a fight… particularly with Captain Ross.

Alex smiles now, as she flips her notepad closed and shakes her head. Credit where credit’s due – Ross, while being suspicious of Goren from the start, has held his own. Deakins had a way of waving Bobby off when on one of his tirades – almost like he was saying: “Look, what ever. People are staring. Do what you need to; just get him out of my office before he breaks something flailing those arms around!”

Ross takes the brunt of Hurricane Goren, and while Alex always tries to divert some of the wind-damage, Ross plants he feet and holds firm. Not that she always agrees with Ross’ actions or decisions when concerning Bobby’s fragile psyche – but that’s another story.

Alex decides that this would be the point on the map where she’d stick in a pin and label it ‘car losses control’. And the irony that she is dissecting the desiccation of their relationship like a crime scene, doesn’t escape her.

Just then, a shadow looms before her and the voice she’s come to hear in her sleep makes the fuzzy background of the crime scene jolt into focus.

“He probably walked in on it…startled the thief. Maybe even tried to fight…?” The upturn in his soft voice is a cue – one for which Alex is expertly trained, catching and picking up the thread of his thought, continuing it as fluidly as if they shared a private psychic link into each other’s brains. After seven years, the art of speaking without words is a talent she and Bobby have perfected, but now, their link has rusted… the tether long since snapped and she fumbles.

“Huh?” Blinking, she catches his eye for a moment, noting the flash of confusion there. It slowly slips behind the guarded disappointment she’s become used to seeing these days. “Yeah. Signs of a struggle… furniture moved around and smashed. I guess he didn’t want to do the smart thing and just let the thief have his stuff.”

Bobby straightens, giving Alex another glance – as if he were looking for something he’d lost, and didn’t quite know where to start – before turning his back on her. She shakes her head, knowing this is yet another slip and that they are just that much farther apart. And she finds herself tasting bitter anger in the back of her throat.

Bobby moves around the room, muttering mostly to himself (but at least he’s smart enough to keep the subject matter of his mutterings on the case at hand) and Alex watches the reactions of the other officers. They watch him cautiously out of the sides of their eyes – it’s obvious the Chief of Detective’s opinion on Bobby Goren’s sanity is shared by the rest of the squad – and they seem afraid to make eye contact with the six foot four bear of a man.

Alex has watched this reaction grow more and more obvious over the past few months, and what is worse… she completely understands it. There was a time when she would have boldly met the eyes of any who dared to look at her partner like a raving loony when he became a little overly passionate about voicing his opinions to his commanding officer – daring them to make a comment to which she would valiantly raise to his defense.

Now, something heavy has settled in her chest that feels an awful lot like apathy. Alex realizes as she stands to the side, watching her partner work – his isolation glaringly obvious in a room full of people – that she has fashioned herself a coat of armor at some point. It wasn’t the same armor she wrought clawing her way up the slope of police department expectations and sexist rhetoric. It is not the shield she uses to keep the horrors of her job out of the tightly guarded chest that is her psyche – while her partner opens the door to his and puts out the welcome mat.

This armor is newer. This armor was created at some point recently, and Alex has a pretty good idea when she’d decided to strap it on.

Where they once filled their time in the car talking out points of a case, bouncing ideas about suspects off of one another, or just enjoying the companionable silence Alex had come to love – this ride back to One Police Plaza is barren, tight and cold.

Alex chances a glance at her partner, who is staring blankly out the window, one hand rubbing across his mouth absently. He hasn’t spoken a word to her since he caught her zoning out at the crime scene, and Alex figures he’s taken it to heart. The more they trip over their own disharmony, the more easily his frustration boils over, she’s noticed.

And it isn’t as if her own temper hasn’t flared a few times of late. After Bobby’s ‘Lone Ranger’ act investigating the inmate torture at Tate Corrections, Alex’s nerves have rapidly gone from frayed to burnt out and charred. Constantly being at Def Con Three mode, watching her burly partner for signs of his next implosion is starting to take its toll.

But it’s in the next moment that Alex realizes Bobby Goren, alone, knows where the chink in her carefully constructed armor is – and she hates him for it.

“You know,” he starts, his voice neutral and flat, “I half figured you’d have a new partner by the time I came off suspension.”

She feels her chest tighten as she’s blindsided by the blow. Her head turns sharply, brows furrowed, though she knows that with the way things have been going, she should have seen this coming.

“Why would you think that, Bobby?” She’s been using his first name a lot lately. Too much. Where had that line of professionalism gone?

He shrugs one huge shoulder. “My suspension. Chief of D’s putting that reprimand in your jacket for helping me…” before she can reiterate for the thousandth time that she chose on her own to help her partner, he continues, “They know I didn’t ask you to, but they still punished you anyway.

Bobby’s eyes are shaded as he nods thoughtfully. “He thinks I’m insane. The Chief of D’s said that…I know you saw it in the transcripts of the hearing…” He looks over at her, eyes dulled and empty, “They all think I’ve finally lost it.”

Alex doesn’t know how to answer. She could try the same old platitudes of: “No, Bobby, they don’t think that…”

Or defense: “They just don’t understand…”

She’ll keep the thought of: “Yeah, well some of the things you’ve been doing lately have had me wondering too,” safely tucked away. There are truths which need not be slung in the faces of vulnerable men.

“You haven’t lost it,” is all she can make come out.

He looks back out the window, nodding to himself and rubbing his chin again. “Maybe it is too late, like you said. Should’ve gotten out while your record was still untainted. But now…” he makes a vague gesture with his hand – as if their futures just blew out the window like a whiff of smoke – and then resumes his observation of the other cars caught in traffic around them.

Alex struggles to breathe around the knot in her throat. As deftly as ever, he’s wormed his way around the breastplate of steel she’s made to cover her heart and pierced her to the core. She thinks back to the day he’d asked her about her concerns for her career since she’d hitched her wagon to his enigmatic star. Her armor had been lashed tight that day, still protecting the wounds that had been laid bare by her husband Joe’s case – and if she hadn’t been hurting still, she would have been able to tell him later that she hadn’t meant her comment about it being ‘too late’ the way it sounded.

But she chose to hurt him. Her insides burn with the memory of walking into that room and seeing her husband’s life and death splashed across the cork board – no different than any other perp’s file. The worst time of her life caught in black and white relief and displayed for all to see.

Hearing the hurt in his voice now, the emotions bubbling beneath the surface of resignation, reminds her of her own voice that day. She felt betrayed and violated – Joe’s death was a piece of her life she kept locked away… feelings she’d never wanted brought into the light. And to have Bobby bring them out, dump them on a table like a huge jigsaw puzzle to be studied made her understand at last what suspects must feel when in his presence. It wasn’t something she ever wanted to feel again.

And she’d found herself hating him again. So, she’d tightened that armor around herself – closed herself off to him, and he’d responded in kind. She had yanked the thread of connection between them from under his bare-nailed final grasp… allowing distance to come to rest in its place.

Looking over at him now, fighting the tears welling in her eyes, Alex knows now why she took up her coat of armor – and she knows now that it is rusting. She’d forgiven him for reopening old wounds, even though it had taken a while, but now the cavern between them seemed insurmountable. As she follows him up to their office, keeping a step or so behind, she wonders if her heart is able to attempt to bridge the gap. She wonders if he is even willing to try.

Alex decides that wondering how or why they had come to this wasn’t important anymore. Deciding if they want to mend their broken partnership is all that matters, and as she shifts in her rusting armor, she knows she still cares about him enough to try. If they can’t fix this, it will leave a gaping six foot four hole in her life – and Alex, who’s had enough losses for one life time, knows one that size would be unbearable.

He’s all but told her he expects her to leave – try and salvage what she can of her waning career and leave him to fall into darkness. He’s cutting the mooring ties, preparing to set adrift and wait for the final blow where his badge and gun are taken permanently. And the self-sacrifice of it all both saddens and angers her.

After all, she’s given seven years and a good portion of her heart to him and this partnership – he should know better than to think she was just going to cut her losses and run!

She’s used to being taken for granted – mostly by the good ol’ boys in blue who consider her a hood ornament to the Cadillac that is Goren’s investigative prowess – but even her aforementioned partner has crashed through the walls of a case, and conveniently forgotten to make sure she was keeping up. She knows he doesn’t mean to, usually he’s very careful to make sure she gets the credit she deserves.

But lately, Bobby’s been smashing through walls he shouldn’t – pushing his way through protocol and procedure and chain of command, not caring about the consequences. And Alex feels like he’s forgotten to check with her, see if she agrees with his course of action – the time when he used to rely on her as the core of his confirmation in himself long lost.

It seems to her that he’s not worried that he’s going where she can’t follow… it’s as if he doesn’t care if she follows at all. In his mind, she’s settled for a future of forever being tethered to his sinking anchor and he’s on his own to take care of the problems in his life, yet again.

Alex puts on her coat at the end of the evening, watching him as he shrugs into his own. They’ve barely spoken twenty words since the ride back and Alex is tired of listening to silence.

It takes her the entire elevator ride to choose her words, and just as they set out of the building – cold winter air prickling her cheeks and nose and causing her to hug her coat tighter, she says, “Hey, Bobby?”

He’s already heading down the steps – but whether it’s the soft uncertainty in her voice that reaches him or the simple fact that he hasn’t heard it much all day, she doesn’t know. He turns and she looks at him…really looks at him.

Alex is stunned by how much he’s aged since his mother’s death (in the last year, really) – by the extra weight added to his already large frame that now makes him look that much more enormous and intimidating. The circles under his eyes are like car tires, hung there after nights of little sleep and an over-load of stress. The inquisitive spark in his eyes is gone and it nearly chokes her up when she thinks about how much she misses it.

But after a moment of him waiting patiently, his hands shifting to his pockets and watching her, she finds her voice. It cracks, but she doesn’t care. “You heading straight home?”

She hopes it doesn’t sound like she’d trying to check up on him, and he seems to take no offense when he answers after a pause. “Uh…no. Actually I was thinking about walking for a while.” He gestures with one hand, “Maybe head toward Battery Park then catch a cab…I don’t know.” He catches her eyes and holds them. “Why?”

She breathes. She’s been holding her breath, probably for months now, and never knew it.

“I was thinking of walking a little too. Too wired to go home just yet.” She moves down the steps to his side, his bulk blocking the wind and she feels like its been an eternity since she’s stood this close to him.

She doesn’t come right out and ask – she waits to see if he picks up on her thoughts and deciphers them like always. He looks down on her, taking in her features and she feels like basking in his gaze.

For a moment, he reverts to his shy persona: shoulders dipped to down-play his height advantage (though it has never been an advantage with Alex and he knows it), head dipping as he looks at his shoes, which actually scuff the ground in a decidedly little-boy way that has always been endearing to Alex.

When he looks back up from under his brows at her, she knows she was right to take the leap. One side of his mouth curls into a smile, and Alex feels another part of her armor erode away to dust.

He never answers, only shifts his body and head in a way that beckons her to come. And she gratefully falls into step beside him as they head down the sidewalk – the passersby fading into the background as the city sounds fall to a gentle lull, almost drowned out by the cadence of their footsteps.

They walk in sync, her short legs keeping time with his long strides, and the topic of coffee comes up – which they both agree is very much needed.

And as they continue on, chatting about favored coffee shops and the intricacies of exotic java blends – their silhouettes seem to meld… their arms even touch from time to time.

At different stages in our lives, the signs of love may vary: dependence, attraction, contentment, worry, loyalty, grief, but at heart the source is always the same. Human beings have the rare capacity to connect with each other, against all odds.”- Michael Dorris