Fear Of Falling
by Nicole Clevenger

He knows that fear.

Oh, he may not've been diagnosed schizophrenic - may not have been reduced to operating on innocents in order to submerge avoided truths - but that doesn't mean that he doesn't know what it's like to be that kind of afraid. Afraid that one little slip, one tiny crack, is the undeniable beginning to a bottomless downward spiral into madness. Afraid that one bad day signals an entire string of bad days to follow, colorless monotonous days of padded rooms and pills with water in paper cups.

Sitting in a chair beside the bed, Bobby traces the thin blue veins on the back of his mother's hand with a finger. Lightly, skin barely brushing skin, so as not to wake her. He'd left immediately after they'd cracked Dysart, half way to Carmel Ridge before it occurred to him that he'd forgotten to say goodbye to Eames.

Doesn't matter, really - she'll know where he's gone. She always seems to know.

As if it isn't obvious, as clearly as this case had related to his own life. From the moment the whispering suspicion in the back of his mind became a heavy thud of solid realization in the bottom of his empty stomach, all he'd been able to think about was his mother. Her face, laughing as he'd baited Dysart with talk of chop shops and insurance fraud. Her body, strapped to that chair like one of Dysart's lab rats, the needle seconds away from slipping into her eye again and again and again as he took the opening steps of what was usually his favorite dance. Her voice, screaming incoherently somewhere just out of his eye line (little specks of furious spittle at the corners where her lips came together) as he pressured Dysart into admitting what he'd done. She was so loud, there in his head, that it was all he could do to keep his train of thought. To keep the questions coming. To not turn around to see if she might actually be standing there next to Eames, behind him in that small gray room.

But it was just in his mind, and he knew that. He knows that, and that's what makes him different from Dysart. From his mother. He has the ability to distinguish fantasy from fact, to sort out what is happening in his head from what is happening in the world around him. He can take a step back, analyze the delusions and their roots. Take away their power. If there are times when it's more difficult a task to perform, well... No one has to know that. Sometimes he doesn't even admit it to himself.

He should've brought flowers. That last bouquet is already beginning to wilt, petals curling away from the center as if with revulsion at their own decay. Trying to escape their own rotting core. Bobby tugs at his tie, loosening the tight knot. Beside him, his mother sleeps on, entirely unaware of his presence. He wonders if she'd recognize him this time, should she wake up. Sometimes she doesn't.

Can Eames see the potential for his future etched into the faces of men like Dysart? Every time they scrape the barrel bottom and come up with the mentally ill, the unknowing unbalanced, does it make her think of him? Especially the ones who are practiced at the art of covering, of faking their own stability. Does she ever look from them to him and wonder just how far the similarities go?

He does. Every night, brushing his teeth in front of the bathroom mirror. Every morning, watching his reflection drag the sharp edge of latent danger through the shaving cream clinging to the lines of his jaw. Getting dressed. Washing his hands. Sitting in the car, waiting for Eames to come around and take her place behind the wheel. He looks at his eyes in the mirror and wonders if he's simply going through the motions of sanity. Searches for any hint, any minute sign that one looming misstep will reveal him as a fraud.

One stumble to nullify everything he's worked for. His entire life exposed as a talented charade, a clever magic act.

Of course, if Eames is really thinking these same thoughts, she hides them well. He doubts they keep her lying awake at night - or anything close to that level of concern - because he knows that she trusts him. Knows it from the way they move together, sliding effortlessly in and out of roles and support without having to even ask. If she didn't trust him, they wouldn't be this good together. He's had plenty of experience with that alternative, and he knows enough to know that this is different. This is gold.

Why she trusts him is an entirely different matter. He's more used to people backing away - literally or figuratively. Great when it's a suspect, because fear is often the first step before they break. Not so great in a partner, because fear is what'll get you killed when they're too distracted to watch your back. Bobby's used to getting inside people's heads, taking off his shoes and turning things upside down, but there are definitely times when Eames is a complete mystery. Eleven or twelve at night with just enough alcohol in him to make him start thinking about things usually left alone, and he gets a sudden urge to call her up and ask why. He never does, but sometimes he even makes it as far as his hand on the phone or counting the change in his pocket before he stops himself. Maybe he thinks she'll laugh. Maybe he's just afraid to hear what she might say.

His mother stirs, lips moving in a silent dream fragment. He sits and watches the movement of her eyes beneath their closed lids, trying not to imagine what it would feel like to go mad.


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