Fandom/Pairing: LOCI AU, Goren/Eames
Word Count: 6,600+
Summary: As piecesofalice so accurately and hilariously said: it's like a Hallmark movie! And it pretty much is. A Hallmark movie mixed with Northern Exposure and...garbage. It's my first hack at an AU, and it's Goren as the police chief of a small town and Eames as a bush pilot. Meet Cute, tension, drug smuggling, steak sammiches...this fic has it all!
Man, I'm trying not to hate it. I hope you try to not hate it too.
Thanks To: anxietygrrl, as always, for advice, encouraging words, and an enthusiasm for free-associating Alaskan-themed jokes; and thanks to piecesofalice for direction that allowed me to add Ross saying "yenta."
Also: This fic has absolutely nothing to do with the Johnny and June duet "When It's Springtime in Alaska." It just made for a nice title. And Goren and Eames are sort of the Johnny and June of the crime-solving set, I guess.
The first time he saw her, he was performing an impromptu visit to the Yorktown regional airport. He worked his way through the regulars at the diner in the terminal--such as it was, with three gates--when he saw her crossing the parking lot.
How he managed to fall in love with her, see who she was under the parka, was anyone's guess. But he did. Or at least he must have judging from the way he froze mid-handshake and watched her stride-skip past the window.
The waitress, a former girlfriend, said, "Her name's Alex. She's a widow. That cannery guy who got brained by a falling pallet in '98 or '99. She flies residents and campers in and out of here."
"Why haven't I seen her around here before?"
"Why don't you ask herself yourself, you big chicken?"
He found himself running to catch up with her, something he hadn't done for a woman in nearly twenty years.
When she turned to look at him, chin pointed out over her scarf and blue eyes wary and tired, her hair fluttered across her face like the Aurora Borealis. And he was speechless, which happened even more infrequently than the running.
"Chief." Her voice was amused, dry, knowing. Next to her jet-black Ford Expedition, she looked like a thimble.
He looked for a parking infraction, briefly considered asking her to marry him. "I don't believe I've had the pleasure. I'm Police Chief Robert Goren."
She looked at his gloved hand for a moment, then slipped her mitten into it. "I have to get home to my dogs."
"I was making the rounds, looking for marijuana smugglers. You wouldn't happen to be one, by any chance?"
"Like you'd even be able to catch me if I was," she replied drolly. Then she popped the locks and got in with a little bounce that made his cardiovascular system hitch.
Alex Eames. Just like that, he managed to see her everywhere. The town afforded enough geographic sprawl that their paths never had to cross, but was small enough that…
He was at the city’s garage, talking to—arguing with—Lewis about a repair on one of the prowlers when she floated by, walking what appeared to be a baker’s dozen of assorted Siberian Huskies and Malamuts.
Lewis tapped him with a clipboard. “Dude, you’re never going to convince me to take the tire rotation off now. I’ve seen a weak spot.”
Goren thought about correcting Lewis. But it was Lewis, who had spent the better portion of one night drinking beer with him outside his house talking about the logistics of driving a vintage Mustang in the Yorktown snow, and who didn’t judge him at all when he choked up a bit placing the ad to sell it.
“You’re taking the tire rotation off, Lewis,” he decreed sternly as she turned the corner, arms extended almost out of their sockets.
During a business lunch with the Mayor, a long-time resident and fellow former teacher, Goren asked, “What do you know about the airport?”
Ross replied, “What do I know zoning-wise or town-economy wise?”
Ross pondered for a moment, tapped a fry against the edge of his plate.
Goren knew what that meant.
“She’s not too fond of the police, Goren. You should know that.”
Goren tried to modulate his expression to resemble that of one he used when he was told he was over the budget.
Putting his hands up in an all-too-common gesture of frustrated protection, Ross shrugged. “I’m trying to help you. I know you don’t want or need a yenta, but…”
It seemed the one place he didn’t see her was the library, a place he stopped by nearly every day.
He thought about how he’d managed to end up in charge of a small town, which meant dealing with small-town people, people who often took on the role of friend when they hadn’t exactly been authorized to do so.
At least when he’d been teaching, the kids hadn’t been interested in being his friend.
Most of the time.
As he flipped through his Psychology Today, he wished—not for the first time—he’d pursued his doctorate in American Literature and dedicated his professional life to publishing and musty, solitaire research.
The next article he paged to was titled “How Much Do You Share?”
He closed it and read a bit of Men’s Health instead: “What To Do When She Plays Hard-to-Get.”
The next time he spoke to her was in town. It wasn't really an accident. He'd told Wally to give him a ring if she came into the store.
He said hello as she walked out the door. "Well," she said, stopping and shifting her bags around, "you've been police chief for nearly two years and I never see you; now, twice in a month. You must be on some kind of community outreach campaign."
"Need some help?" he asked, pointing at the bags.
"No thanks." The wind caught her hair again. He wished she would wear a hat.
"What you said about the smuggling was a joke, I assume."
She shifted the bags again, and he resisted the urge to take them from her. "Mostly. Once I flew some Grateful Dead fans over to Glacier Bay, so you never know." Then she set the bags down. "Is it true you were a history teacher in Washington State before you moved here?"
"History and English. Yes."
"What made you get out of teaching?"
"A friend suggested I might be a natural in law enforcement management."
He paused, listening to the mistrust and hesitation in her voice. "That's him."
She opened the back of her SUV, picked up the bags, and hefted them in, and the hem of her parka lifted enough to show the curve of her encased in denim. Without turning around, she said, "You dated a friend of mine for a few months." Her emphasis on "dated" suggested she wanted to say another word; the word she wasn't using would probably have been more accurate, he imagined, considering his track record the past ten years.
"Oh?" was the most neutral reply he could think of at the moment.
"She said you were the smartest guy she'd ever met."
Goren wasn't quite sure where this line of discussion was going. But she'd turned to face him, blonde hair fluttering all around her face, tiny boots pressed defiantly against the curb, and he didn't want the conversation to end.
"When Declan Gage told me my husband was dead, he didn't say 'sorry.' He said, 'It looks like it was his fault; he wasn't paying attention.'" She paused. "I'll never forget that."
"Declan wasn't...wasn't much for tact." Please put on a hat, he thought. "I'm sorry." And he was sorry, looking at her, her face and manner so pleasant, but her seething just under the surface.
Wally popped out into the street. "Alex, you forgot your dog food."
"On my way. Thanks." She turned back to him. Looked him up and down in a casual yet assessing manner.
It felt like she was the police chief.
"Why didn't you ask which friend I was talking about?"
He shrugged. "I imagine you trust the source, whoever she is."
For the first time since he'd set eyes on her, she smiled. "Well, she was right: you do sound like one of the smartest guys around."
He went back and looked at Joe Dutton's file. The typing was crisp and to-the-point: victim had died from a massive head trauma (the photo was nauseating; it was amazing how "massive" could be an understatement). Judging from the photo of the rope, which looked moldy, it was not remotely Dutton's fault. Goren wished he could call Dec and ask what possessed him to tell a grieving widow such a thing.
But Dec was dead. And had he been alive, he might not have remembered why he said it in the first place.
Goren threw the file on top of several others sitting on his desk and stared at it thoughtfully. Then he looked at the stack of library books next to the files.
45 years old and crushing like a 13-year-old. Using his job privileges to look up devastating personal history.
It was ridiculous and had to stop.
Of course, fate intervened in the form of a bear.
Calls about bear attacks and the death of dogs weren't usually his racket. The DNR and a county deputy usually took care of the all-too frequent occurrence. But he'd heard the Eames name and address come across the radio in his car, and he took the call himself.
He heard baying but saw no dogs. He did see Alex standing by a tall fence dividing a portion of the yard. A light rain was falling, and her hair was weighted down with mist, darkening its color to a moody brown. She was wearing a sweatshirt, and her hands were invisible, curled inside the too-big sleeves.
He'd meant to say something official like "Ma'am," but upon seeing her, all he could manage was, "Miss Eames, are you all right?"
She looked at him levelly, but there was a stunned sadness in her face she couldn't hide. "I'm fine. Is the DNR on their way?"
"Yeah. Yeah, they are."
He stood in profile with her. "How long has the bear been gone?"
"About 15 minutes. Maybe 20." She looked out across her yard, past the kennel, which was empty, and at the enclosed shed. "She was old. Especially for a sled dog. But she was the alpha, and she was feisty in the mornings, when her arthritis hadn't quite caught up with her."
"You run a team?"
She laughed. "No. I adopt retired dogs. You know, usually they just put them down. 'Retire' retire them." She looked at him with a frankness that altered the flow of his blood. "I guess I have a weakness for over-the-hill animals who have one purpose in life."
He found himself standing at a very precarious crossroads. She was opening the door to something, and it was something he'd been thinking about since he'd seen her at the store--and "thinking" was equal to "fantasizing about, sometimes in embarrassing detail"--but he wasn't sure what it would mean at this point. And as she glowed with pragmatic competence and independence, he realized he wanted it to mean something.
Also, he was slightly offended by her implication that he was over-the-hill.
"Where is she?" he said, looking away from her and out towards the shed.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her glance quickly, then take a quarter-step away from him. "Around the other side of the kennel. I rounded up all the others and put them in the shed."
"What was her name?"
Alex wound her fingers into the chain-link fence, swallowed hard. " Coil... it's short for the Gaelic word for puppy. She has an AKC name, but I couldn't tell you what that is."
"Want to go inside, get some coffee while we wait for the DNR?"
She stared off into the distance for a moment or two, clearly fighting tears. Then she turned to him and said, "Okay" without a trace of quaver in her voice.
Without asking, he made the coffee while she sat at the table and fidgeted with her cordless phone, folded and refolded the newspaper. She had a few library books sitting on the counter under her purse, and he almost told her they would've met there today, had the situation been different. But instead he just thought about it. Thought about going to library with her, smelling the warm scent of books and her at the same time.
He was distracted and banged the tenderest part of his upper thigh against a drawer handle. That refocused his mind a bit.
"More sugar than coffee, thanks," Alex said, in response to his unasked question about how she took her coffee. He grabbed the canister and began pouring, maintaining eye contact with her as a means to gauge when enough was enough.
They maintained eye contact a long, long time, by his estimation.
He handed the cup to her. "Do you want a spoon so you can stir that? Or eat it?"
She laughed quietly and briefly. "My father always insisted that coffee made you grow, always poured me a cup with breakfast. I'd add the sugar when he wasn't looking. It's the only way I could stand it."
He poured himself a cup, felt her eyes on his back. By the time he turned, she was looking at her neatly stacked newspaper again.
"I called Todd...my vet... the vet," she said in a rapid, nervous tone that was new to him. "He's coming to take her for cremation." Then she turned her cup in a circle and looked at him confrontationally. "Isn't this call a little inconsequential for the Chief of Police?"
Goren was pondering the significance of her nervousness about Todd the Vet--a sensitive, professional man who seemed to have an ongoing in-flux relationship with his wife that varied from separated to happily producing another child--when he answered, "All of the residents of this town are of consequence." He wasn't sure if he was joking or not.
Her derisive snort decided it for him. "Can I have a bumper sticker now? A button?"
He chuckled, because he had sounded like a jackass. And in the interest of avoiding further jackass-sounding statements, he did not say, "I can't stop thinking about you" or "Are you sleeping with Todd the Vet?"
He took off his hat. "How long have you been flying?"
"About ten years. I wanted to fly commercial jets, but.." she shrugged as if she'd explained she married a cannery worker and settled for bush piloting instead. Then she said, "My dad was a pilot."
"My mom was a teacher."
"Yeah? What did your dad do?"
"Not much of anything. Gambled, mostly. My mom died in a car accident when I was in high school. He sent us to live with his sister in Orting."
"My mom had a stroke when I was eight years old. She died the summer I was heading to college."
The conversation had taken an awkward personal turn. They both were silent for a moment as they looked out the window for the DNR, Todd the Vet, anyone to come along and interrupt them.
"Jack London?" He pointed at the stack of library books. He respectfully neglected to mention Knitting for Dummies, which was jammed just under her purse. "A little cliché for an Alaska resident who adopts retired sled dogs, don't you think?"
"Says the man who said 'all the residents are of consequence' about three minutes ago." Then "And aren't you obligated, as a former high school teacher, to encourage the reading of Jack London?"
He smiled wryly. "There are a lot of things I am obligated to encourage as a former high school teacher and as a police chief but people aren't always interested in my opinions and encouragements."
Todd the Vet and the DNR pulled in one after the other. Goren and Alex set their coffee cups down at the same time and walked to the door. He opened it for her. Her matter-of-factness be damned; he was at least going to try to act like a gentleman, even if he wasn't always one in his mind.
Alex trotted out to Todd the Vet, and he embraced her in earnest for a second before getting the guilty look of a cheating man who is aware of other eyes.
In spite of himself, Goren rolled his.
Alex looked back to him before he reached the DNR reps and said, "Thanks, Chief."
Now was not the time, he supposed, to ask her to call him Bobby.
He ran into her a few weeks later at the terminal diner, and, for the first time since he saw her there, not by design.
He was surprised when she seemed genuinely pleased to see him. "Chief Goren!"
"Miss Eames." He nodded at the empty side of the booth. "Waiting on someone?"
"No." She waved out an invitation; he took it, but not before noting, with relief, that his ex was not waitressing. "I hear they shot that bear in town a few days ago."
"It was wandering around outside of the daycare. They're pretty sure it's the same one, since you said it had a chunk out of its nose after it fought with your dog."
"Coil," she said. He wanted to tell her he remembered that, but refrained, instead repeating back, "Coil."
"That's too bad. I hate when animals are exterminated for just being themselves."
He fought a smile. Clearly, Alex was a woman who hated seeing animals exterminated, period; hence her shed full of baying dogs.
"Been busy?" he said, nodding in the direction of the hangars.
"About to get busier. I have a few groups going in and out to different islands over the next week or so."
"Who looks after the dogs when you're in between locations?"
She smiled ruefully and looked at her hands. "Todd."
In order to avoid saying something or betraying his blasé exterior, he reopened his menu (even though he'd decided on the patty melt almost immediately upon walking into the diner).
"In the interest of fairness, since I put you on the spot about my friend dating you, I should probably tell you that Todd and I have been involved on and off over the past few years."
"You don't say," he said to his menu.
"Don't be a jackass," she said to him.
He closed the menu, set it down, and tilted his head, taking in her stony expression amicably. "Was it Lola?" indicating the nearly empty diner counter where Lola would normally be standing, if it weren't her day off.
"I understand why you hesitated when you said 'dated.'"
"I hesitated because that's not the word Denise used."
"I imagine not."
"You guys ready to order?" said the non-Lola waitress, a high school kid Goren vaguely recognized.
He nodded to Alex, who said, "Grilled cheese with bacon and tomato and an iced tea please."
He ordered his patty melt and handed over both menus.
"I have a familiar name on my flight docket this week," Alex said conversationally.
Goren tensed. He'd dreaded a coincidence of this very nature. "Frank Goren?"
"That's the one."
He was silent. Considered her, looked out the window. As with anything involving his older brother, he struggled with a mix of nostalgia, familial love, and a near-homicidal rage.
She regarded him curiously. "Something wrong?"
"No." A minute ago, he would've been hard-pressed to think of a topic he wanted to discuss less than Todd and Denise.
"Okay," she said. Then she produced her newspaper and started reading.
Goren hadn't realized he could spend almost 20 minutes with someone in a silence that was both tense and amicable. But he could.
"Hey, I didn't know you had this number." Goren was surprised but grateful when Frank answered the phone.
"I'm police, Frank."
"Yeah. Yeah, I know." Already, he could hear his brother regretting the moment he'd picked up the receiver.
"I'd prefer if you'd find another pilot to take care of your run this week."
There was a tense (though not amicable) silence on the other end, followed by a terse-yet-guilty "Why?"
"Because I'm asking you, Frank." There was more edgy silence. Goren added, "Please."
"I'm taking my girlfriend camping, Bobby," Frank huffed.
Bullshit, Goren thought to himself. "Well, then, it won't be too difficult to rearrange your travel plans, will it?"
And as always, when Frank's patience with obfuscating ran out, he turned mean. "Fucking the pilot, huh, Bobby? I didn't think there was anyone left in that town you hadn't fucked."
Goren considered throwing the phone against the wall, pondered getting in his department-issued vehicle, driving to his brother's apartment, and shooting him with his department-issue revolver. Then he took a breath and said, "Always a pleasure talking to you, Frank. If I find out you're anywhere near the airport, I'm going to call in the K-9 unit from Ketchikan."
The dial tone began shortly after Bobby said "K-9."
For his own piece of mind, Goren went to the airport on Friday and set up in a booth with his laptop and a quarterly budget review. He drank coffee while Lola monitored him monitoring the hangars.
"Expecting someone today?"
Lola set the coffee pot down on the table. "Frank, huh?"
Goren felt his hands clench involuntarily. "What did you hear?"
"Alex was in here earlier when she got the call from him. He cancelled last minute. Told her she's supposed to ask you for the deposit."
Leave it to Frank to know exactly what to do to make an issue out of it.
"Is she around?"
"Nope. Went home for the day. Said the run was supposed to involve a return trip, so she didn't have anything else planned for the day. Or evening. You know, if you were wondering."
He stared hard at his laptop and said nothing in response.
Later, he drove out past her place.
Todd's Ford Escape was parked snugly behind her Expedition.
His ambiguous feelings about having called his brother became even more gray.
He avoided her then, or at least avoided looking for her whenever he went out.
It was amazing how she disappeared when he wasn’t seeking her. And how he suddenly felt like she was the one who had turned away from him.
"You have a visitor." The police secretary, who rarely left the front desk and her game of Spider Solitaire, poked her head in his door. He was rereading Iron Will and picking at his lunch, an unappetizing turkey wrap from the "deli" across the street.
"Who is it?" Goren didn't think that Frank had the balls to show up at the station, but he was prepared, as always, to be surprised about his brother.
He closed his book. "Okay."
She was wearing a black turtleneck that made her skin look like porcelain. She had a brown paper bag in her hand. She looked at the wrap, then at him. "That was a nice attempt to eat healthy."
He was sure there was something clever he could say in response, but the combination of her standing in his doorway and the thought that she'd been with Todd only a few days ago was causing so much dissonance that he couldn't think straight.
"Your brother says..."
"...that I owe you a deposit. Sure."
"Well, that was easy." She considered him with what appeared to be a distant sort of concern. "If you know what he is and what he does, why haven't you chased him out of town?"
"Because I'm not a sheriff in a John Wayne movie. And because..." He realized what he was going to say--because he's my brother-- and chose instead to say "because" a second time and leave it at that.
She sat down in the chair across from him and set the brown bag in front of the wrap. "It's a steak sandwich."
He was struck by how much he wanted her to stay, how much he wanted to ask her about her week, how her dogs were since what happened nearly a month ago. And not just because of the sandwich.
"What do I owe you?" He was already in the process off throwing away the wilted and dismantled turkey wrap.
She shrugged. Then crossed her arms against her chest. "I figure we're about even, all things considered. I didn't end up in federal prison, after all."
"If Frank ever stops by to talk to you..."
"It isn't the first time I've had a situation like this crop up, and it probably won't be the last. I know how to handle myself."
"Eat your lunch and stop worrying about it. You'd think you were the chief of police or something." She glanced at his desk and saw his book. She raised an eyebrow. "Reexamining your opinion of London's place in the canon?"
He unwrapped his sandwich. "Something like that." He paused. "Didn't you bring anything?"
She showed him a giant chocolate chip cookie and a paper cup with a string and tag dangling from under the lid.
He smiled but kept his thought that she was a hummingbird to himself. "There's a meeting I need to be at in Juneau on Friday. Do you have an opening in your schedule?"
She placed the heel of one boot gently against the bottom of his desk and said, "Sure."
Her sunglasses hid her eyes, so he wasn't sure if she was teasing when she asked, "You nervous?"
"About meeting with state officials?"
"Air travel is one of the safest means..."
"You're preaching to the choir, Professor. I meant with me as your pilot."
"You seem to navigate on land capably."
She stopped shy of the steps to the plane, turned her gleaming reflective lenses up to his face, and said, "'Capably.' You sure know how to flatter a girl, Chief."
The time seemed right. "You can call me Bobby."
He felt her pondering options, several of them no doubt acerbic.
Instead, she walked up the steps without saying anything at all. He watched her go.
All told, the lack of exchange made him more nervous than any flight on a small-engine aircraft ever could.
Perhaps Alex's noncommittal reaction was a portent of things to come.
After handshakes had been exchanged and coffee had been poured, the lead of the State Trooper task force, an unsmiling and matter-of-fact investigator in wire-rimmed glasses named Carver said, "Acting on a tip from a recent arrest, we have begun an investigation into the Yorktown Airport as a center for drug trafficking. More specifically, your brother, Frank Goren was mentioned. He seems to have moved around the Panhandle recently but is trying to operate out of Yorktown. With your cooperation, we'd like to set up a sting. Of course, you wouldn't be directly involved in the arrest."
"Of course." Goren's tone was neutral, but the mocking he intended in his heart must have showed somewhere. Carver snapped off his glasses and narrowed his eyes slightly, though he didn't speak.
The officer he was more familiar with, Sergeant Deakins out of Ketchikan, said, "We know you've cooperated when it came to dealing with him in the past, and we appreciate it, Bobby."
"Cooperating" meant not standing in the way when Frank was arrested for intent to distribute a few years ago. "Cooperating" meant diligently avoiding contact with Frank in any official capacity.
As far as they knew.
"I heard through the grapevine he'd booked a charter flight a few weeks ago. I called him, told him to find another means of transportation." He paused, watched Carver rub his nose in a patient-yet-aggravated manner. "In the spirit of cooperation."
Deakins continued, also watching Carver. "We're going to bring all the available officers from SEANET in, use your department building as a home base."
Goren nodded, no longer trusting his ability to manage his temper.
Carver jumped in. "We'd like to talk to you about logistics, about the layout of the airport, about the shutdown of exits."
Unwinding his fingers from their death grip, he slid the blueprint of the airport away from Carver and began to trace the ways out.
When he returned to the airport, he found Eames in a knot of pilots, laughing at someone's story or joke. She had a large paper cup that appeared to be empty from the way she was swinging it effortlessly, occasionally bumping it against her thigh.
She glanced at him, looked back to her friends, waved and said, "See you around," and fell in step with him. He wasn't sure how she managed to keep up and not seem like she was running, but she did.
Once they were safely out of earshot, she asked levelly, "What's wrong?"
He was at war in his head--still furious with Carver but more angry at Frank, trying to figure out how he had ended up where he was with these people, trying to work with them, protect them--and found he couldn't manage a sentence. He turned on his heel, began walking back.
She followed him. "Goren..."
He put his hand to his mouth, afraid the jumble of words in his head would come tumbling out in a sort of rage-induced aphasia.
The way she stood there, waiting, concern creasing her brow, hands tucked into her jacket pockets...
He took a breath and told her. Told her even though she was a civilian and an acquaintance. "Frank...my brother...someone offered him up to get a reduced sentence, so they're going to set up a sting. At the airport."
Eames exhaled, rocked back on her heels. Then she nipped at the elbow of his jacket with her fingertips and said, "Why don't we get on the plane? Sit down for a minute?"
Torn between heading back and punching Carver and pressing her against a wall and putting his hands all over her, following her to the plane seemed like the action that would result in the least amount of fallout.
Across from him, in one of the passenger seat, she said, "You probably shouldn't have told me about that."
He took a deep breath. "I know."
"I understand why you're upset. And confused."
He stared at his hands.
She continued. "You're out of all the official business, right? You won't take part in the arrest?"
He shook his head.
"And that makes you...angry?"
"At the guys who are going to arrest him and at Frank?"
He nodded again.
She put her hands on her knees and leaned forward. "Okay. Well. Not a lot you can do about your brother. I mean, I haven't met him, but I talked to him on the phone. What is he...in his 40s?"
He looked at her quizzically.
"He's an adult, Goren. I try not to deal in clichés too often, but it sounds like he made his bed. I'm assuming the phone call you made to him a few weeks ago on my behalf didn't go so well."
"No. No, it didn't."
She shrugged and turned her palms up in a gesture he could only assume meant "Well, there you have it." Then she continued, "And as a law enforcement professional, and a pretty brainy one at that, you know you can't be involved in the arrest. You don't really want to be involved, I imagine. You just want some control in this whole situation."
And, as her knuckles lightly brushed his and a stray bit of hair fell into her eyes, he knew she was right. And he knew that what she was implying was that he wasn't going to have any control over the situation, which made the anger he was holding onto hard to tamp out completely.
After a moment or two of looking at their hands, still so close that if he shifted, he could brush against her bent fingers again, he said, "Have you ever considered a career in law enforcement? Hostage negotiation? Maybe the bomb squad?"
She smiled, tucking her scarf into her jacket snugly. "If you really liked your job, you wouldn't suggest things like that. I'd be police chief in no time."
As she stood and headed towards the cockpit, he said, "Alex?"
She turned. "Yeah?"
"Sure." She paused, her hand on the doorway. "I'm sorry, Goren. I really am."
He thought about Dec, about her husband's horrible accident, about how he'd involved her in his own disaster without thought. "Me too."
The next few days were a blur: extra hours at work preparing for the influx of neighboring police officials, getting the early arrivals who were setting up tech and ops situated, frenzied faxing and e-mailing with the headquarters in Juneau.
In a way, the busy work and prep depersonalized a lot of it. But not all of it.
Two days before the buy was supposed to go down, Goren was reviewing the few arrest reports of the week when his day officer (who worked nights as security at the cannery) burst in. "We have to get down to the airport diner. Now."
When they pulled in, there were several officers, including Deakins, waiting. "Bobby, we need you to wait right here. We have someone working to get your brother talked..."
"What happened? I thought he was supposed to be in Ketchikan until Thursday!"
"We don't know, Bobby. We heard about this the same way you did."
"Who does he have in there?"
Deakins paused, hands on hips, his face fluctuating between professional annoyance and a sort of patient kindness. "His partner, his girlfriend, a teenage waitress, and a pilot."
"Her name is Eames."
Without consciously meaning to, Goren began to head towards the diner, hand on his pistol. Deakins grabbed him firmly by the elbow. "Take it easy. Think about what you're doing."
Goren did. He thought about putting his fist through his squad car window, for starters. But he knew the situation didn't need that kind of distraction.
"What does he know?"
"Apparently, the partner got nervous, admitted to the setup. Your brother panicked. Now, we know he doesn't have a violent record, so we see a peaceful res.."
There was a gunshot.
Amidst the chaos of officers mobilizing, Goren was able to follow the charge into the diner.
Everyone was standing. Everyone but Frank, who was being cuffed. No one appeared to be wounded. And at the center of the maelstrom was Alex Eames, holding onto her hand gingerly.
She hadn't been kidding, he supposed, as he watched her watch him, when she'd said she could handle herself.
According to the witnesses, Frank had become distracted, yelling at both his partner and Carver, who was trying to talk him down via phone, and Alex, without hesitation, had belted the gun out of his hand with some kind of modified karate chop.
She'd passed him once, in the hallway at the station, and offered a sheepish wave, an ice pack pressed inelegantly to her hand.
Not knowing how else to react, he waved back.
Deakins passed along the word that Frank wanted to see him.
Goren stared blankly at the sergeant for a moment, then said, "You can tell him I'll see him when he's been sentenced. If then."
It was a coward's way out, he supposed, but Goren was afraid of what might happen if he were left in a room alone with his brother.
Goren presented briefly at the town meeting the next week, sharing what was being done to slow drug trafficking on the Panhandle—trying to handle his brother's arrest with some degree of directness without seeming too willing to dwell on it—and answered a few questions with the usual band of attendees afterwards.
There was a new face in the crowd.
“Miss Eames.” He felt awkward for a moment, wondering if the thought about Frank had crossed over his face.
“Your recent surge of community activism inspired me. I didn’t hear you mention anything about your department’s grocery-carrying program, though.”
She was teasing him. And wearing a light blue sweater that looked like it could be cashmere. Every professional instinct struggled against every other instinct telling him to reach out and lightly touch her wrist or elbow, anything to release the nervous energy in his fingertips.
She answered his puzzled look. “I was here for the part about contacting the ASPCA to fund a new humane society in the county.”
He smiled at his shoes and said, “I’d pretend to be surprised, but…” Then they shared the discomfiture regarding his timely “Just Say No” portion of the meeting.
It seemed the right opportunity to say "I'm sorry." So he did.
"What are you sorry for? Being wrong about my qualifications for law enforcement? Because I got an earful about my conduct from your friends in Juneau." The self-effacing amusement in her voice was forced. She looked tired.
"I'm sorry you were in the middle of all of that. And I'm sorry about my brother."
"You don't have to be sorry, Goren." Then, while tucking a bit of hair behind her ear, she said, "But thank you."
"Are you okay?"
She tried to smile, but the expression faltered. "Mostly." After a moment, she asked, "How are you?"
He squinted at her as if he could see she were giving off the radiant light of goodness. "I'm mostly too."
The moment lingered, and her tiredness seemed to gradually dissipate. “You mentioned my dogs at lunch a few weeks ago. Asked how they were doing.”
Curious, Goren scratched the back of his head. “I did.”
She folded her arms over her chest and said in a neutral tone tinted in brightness, “Would you like to come over and meet them?”
Normally, Goren would have worried about the various townspeople still milling around. But the nervous energy had escaped from his fingertips; as a result, he didn't care who might be listening. “Tonight?”
“No time like the present.”
He took in her flushed face, the way her fingers twitched restlessly against her leg. “Let me grab my…” He gestured at his leather portfolio.
“I’ll get my coat.”
They took separate vehicles. And her mention of the dogs wasn’t a ruse: he met eight dogs, who were very enthusiastic about greeting him all at once. After his initial reception of various paws and some dog saliva, Alex pointed and called out names by way of introduction. Then she sharply issued a few orders and fed them.
After the chaos subsided into a lot of crunching and low-level growling, she dusted her hands off on her jeans, turned to him and said, “Well?”
“There are a lot of them.”
She shrugged. Then the wind kicked up, creating that blonde flash across her face.
He took a step towards her, then hesitated.
“Are you going to keep looking at me like that? Or are you…”
He kissed her. He had to lift on her elbows to steady her (and, at times, himself).
Pressed into him, hands under his jacket, she said, “We could go in the house.”
He was tempted to quote Robert Burns, offer her wildflowers.
At first it was a tentative tap on her wrist; then he was holding her hand.
It was as easy as that.
Later, on her bed, he had one hand buried in her hair and the other occupied with intricate matters.
She said "Goren" in a half-moan, half-sigh.
He very nearly reiterated that she could call him Bobby. But then the tip of her tongue appeared briefly, followed by a sound that was a fully committed whimper.
He realized, putting his mouth on hers, that it didn't matter. It didn't matter at all.
At one point, drifting in and out of sleep, he heard her say something about an early flight in the morning.
“Do you want me to leave?” He believed he was prepared for her answer either way.
There was a smile in her voice. “No. No, I don’t want you to leave.” He felt her slender fingers at the back of his neck. “But you’ll have to make coffee.”
“I think I can manage that.” He enjoyed the warmth of her slowing breath in the hollow of his throat for a moment. "Should I call Todd? Have him join us?"
She kicked him in the shin--with surprising force for someone teetering into sleep. "I changed my mind. Get out."
"Okay." He fell asleep admiring the crown of her head.