A ROAD LESS TRAVELED

A/N: For a long time, I promised a sequel to "The Long Road Home" and, while I had ideas swirling in my head, nothing ever came to fruition. Well, it's apparently amazing what necessity and desperation can do, because here we are. I present the long time in the making sequel of "The Long Road Home". I just hope it lives up to both expectations, and the standard of its prequel.

I am writing this for August Camp NaNo, so while this chapter is short, it is intended as a taste of what's to come. Once I start posting, there should be fairly regular updates. As a matter of course, you probably ought to read "The Long Road Home" before reading this, if you haven't already done so. Otherwise, there may be some things that simply don't make sense.

This is a cross-over work between Law & Order: Criminal Intent and The Pretender. Bobby and Alex, and Mike and Carolyn are in established relationships. I don't normally ship these characters, but it just happened that way in the previous story. This is set more or less immediately after the season 6 episode "End Game".


Prologue

There is a place in the small, coastal town of Blue Cove, Delaware, that cannot be found on any map. It is a place of mystery and misery. Rumours abound about it, but few know what really goes on inside its walls. Those who do know the cost of loose lips and they value their own lives too much to risk talking. It's called the Centre an innocuous name for a place that is anything but innocuous, and the lives that have been destroyed by it are far too numerous to count.

Years ago, never mind how many, there was something that could be found within the walls of the Centre that no reasonable person would ever have expected. Children lived there, brought there by various means some legitimate, but mostly not. There were three children in particular, whose existences inside the Centre collided regularly, but who all came from very different backgrounds.

Firstly, there was the young Miss Parker, whose father was the Director of the Centre, and whose mother... Well, we'll come to that shortly. Miss Parker spent most of her waking hours in the Centre but, unlike most others, she was free to come and go as she liked. She was not, by any means, a prisoner.

Secondly, there was Jarod. Stolen from his family and brought to the Centre as a young child, Jarod was placed in the newly created Pretender program. An identified genius even at that early age, Jarod was stripped of his own identity and made to become a person who could literally become anyone, and do anything.

For years, Jarod did the Centre's bidding at the behest of his trainer and handler, Sydney. He endured the sort of physical, emotional and psychological torments that no one should ever have to endure, believing that what he did made people's lives better. That all came crashing down on the day that he found out that the knowledge of one small but significant flaw in a building he had designed had been sold to a terrorist group for profit.

Shortly after that, Jarod escaped. He would live on the run for the next five or six years, searching for the family that he had been told was dead, and working to put a stop to the evil that was the Centre.

The third child was Bobby. Sold to the Centre by his father after his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalised, Bobby endured an existence that was made bearable only through the friendship offered to him by Jarod and Miss Parker. He was constantly caught between two trainers the ambiguous Sydney and the ambitious and blatantly sadistic Raines. Bobby suffered inside the Centre for five years before he was secreted out by Miss Parker's mother, Catherine, and hidden away for six months before finally being returned to his family.

The trauma of his existence in the Centre was deeply buried inside his mind, but never really forgotten. Bobby grew up, and eventually settled into a successful career with the New York Police Department, and there he remained until the day that Jarod came back into his life, and his world was turned upside down once more.

The Centre wanted him back, and would do anything to achieve that, Jarod had warned. It was decided that Bobby should go into hiding. It was not an option that anyone liked, but Jarod insisted that there was no safety in continuing as though nothing was wrong. The Centre would claim him back eventually if he stayed in the open. Bobby conceded, but the concession came too late. Thanks to a betrayal from within One Police Plaza itself, Bobby Goren was retaken by Centre operatives Miss Parker and Mr Lyle.

He spent the next nine months in his own personal hell, before being rescued in an operation that was nearly six months in the planning.

The Centre searched for their Pretender, and twice almost succeeded in taking him back. The first time, Bobby fought for his own freedom. The second time, his colleagues fought for him. The second time, Lyle and Raines died trying to reclaim their Pretender.

Bobby was free. The Centre base in Blue Cove was no more, destroyed comprehensively in the immediate aftermath of Bobby's dramatic rescue, and two of its worst protagonists were dead. Finally, Bobby was able to move on, and move on he did.

Now, though, he would find himself facing new challenges a new captain; his mother terminally ill; criminal elements that challenged his ability to stay detached. Through it all, though, he reassured himself with the knowledge that the Centre was no more.

It was a false reassurance. Like so many institutions that fester with evil, the Centre was far more than just a building. That building may have been destroyed, but those responsible for it were not gone, and their ambitions were as strong as ever. In the end, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before Bobby's world and that of the Centre collided once more.

The question was, when it did happen, would Bobby be ready for it?


to be continued...

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