A ROAD LESS TRAVELED

"How was he?" Alex asked as Mike arrived back at the bullpen twenty minutes later.

"On his way to getting plastered," Mike answered honestly. Alex's face fell at the news.

"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at that. I just wish I hadn't had to leave straight after his mother's funeral this morning."

Mike nodded sympathetically.

"Yeah, well, sadly murder waits for no man or woman, and we really did need your help with this one. Don't be too worried about Bobby, though. I said he was on his way to getting plastered. I never said he actually made it."

Alex frowned up at Mike. She was too concerned for her partner to be playing mind and word games with him.

"What are you talking about? Was he drunk, or wasn't he?"

"Tipsy, at the most. I got there before he was too far gone, and took the liberty of putting the whiskey out of reach. He'd just fallen asleep on the sofa when I left. Hopefully, he might actually get a few hours of sleep in, minus the nightmares. Alex, can you come into the task room with me? I need to tell you something."

"This isn't going to be something I'm going to like, is it?" she asked suspiciously, even as she followed him to said task room.

"Sorry, no. But you need to hear it all the same."

They stepped inside and as Mike shut the door, he caught a glimpse of Ross watching them from his office. The look of suspicion on his face could easily have matched Alex's, if for different reasons.

"Did Bobby tell you anything about the last time he met with Brady?" Mike asked. Alex stared at him piercingly, not entirely sure what to say. She trusted him had trusted him implicitly since the Centre had first set its sights on Bobby approximately three years ago. However, what Bobby had told her about his final confrontation with Brady was intensely personal and she was loathed to breach his confidence.

"I'm guessing he did tell you about the... connection that Brady believed existed between him and Bobby."

Alex's breath came out in a rush. Mike needed to say no more. She knew what he was hinting at, and the only way he could have known about it was if Bobby had told him.

"It isn't necessarily true," she said, perhaps a little more abruptly than Mike deserved.

"No," Mike agreed, "but Bobby said he managed to talk to his mom about it before she died, and that she confirmed that she'd been with Brady around the time that Bobby would have been conceived. He said she admitted to him that she'd never really been sure who his father really was."

"Goddamn it," Alex whispered. Mike uttered a short, ugly laugh.

"Yeah, that's what I said. The thing is, that isn't what had Bobby in knots... At least, not exactly. He thinks that Raines might have found out about the possibility of Brady being his father, and that he wanted to turn Bobby into some sort of psychopath."

"That would be laughable, if it wasn't Raines we're talking about," Alex said bitterly. "I wouldn't have put anything past that crazy bastard. But the thing is, even if Raines knew that Goren Senior wasn't Bobby's biological father, and even if he knew that Brady was Bobby's real father which, by the way, we have no actual proof of without a DNA test."

Mike nodded in willing agreement, and Alex went on.

"Even if Raines had identified Brady as being Bobby's real father, how could he have known that Brady was a serial killer? He didn't even come under suspicion until about ten years after Bobby was born. I understand what Bobby was saying to you, but how could Raines have known?"

"Because he was a cunning, evil son of a bitch," Mike answered with a shrug. "I don't know. This is the Centre we're talking about, and I'm willing to bet that even way back then, they had plenty of resources to be able to find out things like that. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if we found out somewhere along the line that Brady was involved with the Centre, somehow. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all to find out that those bastards knew about it from the first time that Brady killed someone."

"Don't speculate like that, Mike," Alex said wearily. "It's pointless, and you know it. The bottom line is that we have suspicions that Raines might have known about Bobby's true parentage, and may or may not have been planning to try and manipulate that knowledge and, by extension, Bobby to his own ends."

"True or not," Mike said, "it's going to give Bobby nightmares. Maybe not immediately, but soon enough, it will give him nightmares. You know he won't be able to help thinking about it, and when he does, he'll think it to death."

Alex wanted to refute him, and knew that she couldn't. He was right. Once Bobby fixated on this latest revelation properly, it would inevitably cause him nightmares because he wouldn't be able to stop himself thinking about it.

"Let's worry about that later," she said finally. "I don't suppose you got a chance to ask him?"

"As a matter of fact, I did," Mike answered with a sober expression as he recalled the brief and less than comfortable discussion with Bobby. "Can't say he was especially thrilled with the idea, but he accepted in the end that Ross really does need to know the truth. He gave us the okay to tell him."

"Thank god for that," Alex muttered. "And about damned time, too."

"I told him we were going to talk to Ross this afternoon," Mike said. "I called Deakins on the way over here, and he's going to meet us in Central Park. I don't think we'll have any trouble getting Ross out of here. Not when we tell him why we want to talk to him. Oh, and one other thing. Bobby said to tell Wheeler as well. He figured that the only reason we weren't telling her was because we were worried she'd feel obliged to tell Ross. If we're going to tell him now anyway, then there's no reason not to tell Wheeler as well."

"That does make sense," Alex mused. "Okay, then. Both of them, together. I'll handle Ross. You handle your partner."


Ross couldn't take his eyes off the door of the task room that Eames and Logan had disappeared into just minutes ago. He desperately wanted to know what they had to talk about that was apparently so confidential that they felt they needed to take it into another room, and had to consciously ignore the urge to go and interrupt. Whatever it was, there was clear tension between them, and it drove Ross nuts, not knowing what it was all about.

In the last twelve months, since he'd taken over from Jim Deakins as captain of the Major Case squad, Ross had struggled to get a grip on the squad dynamics. It was at least partially his own fault. He knew that and willingly admitted it at least, to himself. He'd come in with pre-conceived ideas about certain members of the squad; specifically about Bobby Goren.

Ross was somewhat embarrassed to admit that he'd allowed the opinions of others to influence him where Goren was concerned and, consequently, he'd never really given the big detective a chance. Despite the man proving his worth multiple times over, Ross knew he'd continued to treat him almost like some sort of pariah, or freak, and in doing so he'd provoked Goren into reacting to his authority with growing hostility.

It was a bad start to what Ross had hoped would be a real career boost, and now he didn't know what to do to rectify it, and put things right. After twelve months, it seemed impossible that the mutual hostility between Goren and himself could be reversed, but he also knew that if something couldn't be done about it soon, then one of them was going to have to leave.

Ross had an unsettling feeling in his gut that it would have to be him.

One thing that Ross found almost impossible to comprehend was the way most of the squad consistently closed ranks around Goren whenever there was potentially any trouble. He'd first witnessed it when Eames had been abducted by Jo Gage but then the tension of the situation had kept Ross from really noticing it. He'd seen it again and again, but most noticeably at Thanksgiving, when Goren's insubordinate attitude could easily have seen him suspended. Ross had been prepared to do it, too, except that a quiet word from Logan had suggested that he would be seriously damaging his still fragile relationships within the squad if he dared to take any sort of action against Goren.

Ross hadn't known what bothered him more; that the squad was so protective of Goren or that Logan, whom Ross saw as old school like himself, was right at the forefront of the squad charge. It was disconcerting, and that was to say the very least.

So Goren had continued to do what he apparently did best bring in the bad guys and garner confessions out of him through interrogations that were more like intricate dances than a clinical dissection. As had been the case many times throughout the last twelve months, Ross had seen Goren using techniques that were utterly unique, and gave Goren an edge like nothing Ross had ever seen before; even in his former partner, Nichols. And yet, despite the consistent results, Ross couldn't bring himself to trust Goren, and it frustrated Ross no end that he couldn't, for the life of him, think why.

The latest and most pressing issue, though, revolved around the Brady case; a sordid matter for all. With Goren's attention divided between his mother's deteriorating condition and trying to find a path through the sordid minefield that Brady had laid for him, Ross had wondered more than once how Goren had been able to function at all. But function he had, and his investigative abilities had uncovered another slew of Brady's victims that had previously been undiscovered.

At first, Ross thought it was a ploy to give Brady cause to stall his pending execution and he'd been fully, if somewhat unfairly, prepared to blame Goren for the mess. After all, it was one of Goren's past conquests... and didn't that just sound positively sordid... who had put Goren in contact with Brady, triggering the whole, ludicrous situation. But no, apparently Brady had no intention of seeking a stay of execution. Ross had been equally relieved and suspicious to learn that the killer was not going to appeal for a stay whilst the new victims were catalogued and investigated.

Ross knew his suspicions were partially justified when Brady continued to demand Goren's attention, but he had no way to know the reasons behind the demands. Brady clearly wanted something from Goren but was either being too obtuse about his motives even for the brilliant detective, or Goren was keeping the knowledge strictly to himself.

He hoped it was the former, though he doubted it, because if he found out that Goren had learnt of some critical piece of information from Brady and was keeping it to himself, then he would draw and quarter the detective, the rest of the squad be damned.

And yes, he knew Goren had been summoned by Brady one last time, and had gone alone. He'd been informed by a former colleague who worked at the prison where Brady had sat on Death Row of Goren's final visit there, although he'd been unable to give any hints as to what might have transpired between the two men. All he'd been able to say was that the CCTV footage had crashed, and that Brady had been left with distinct bruises around his neck after the encounter. Goren had apparently almost run from the prison, looking utterly distraught. The bruises on Brady's neck were believed to have been caused by Goren, but there was no CCTV footage, no witnesses and Brady himself refused to make a complaint. In fact, son of a bitch had almost appeared smug, according to his friend, as though he'd finally gotten what he was after.

Ross didn't want to even contemplate what it was that Brady might have been after, where Goren was concerned. It simply didn't bear thinking about, and a tiny part of him couldn't help but feel that Goren was more than justified in trying the strangle the evil bastard.

Of course, then Goren's mother had died, and Brady had sent his final confession to Goren with that bizarre message about a birthday present, and any intentions Ross had had about finally confronting Goren over everything strange interrogation techniques, the squad's loyalty to him, Eames and Logan's blatant need to protect Goren were lost as Ross tried to get things back on track and under control.

He shut his eyes, fighting off a sudden headache. He wanted to understand the squad, and understand Goren, but he just couldn't help feeling like he was still the outsider, looking in on a close-knit group that he would never be able to break into.

A light rap on the door drew his attention, and he opened his eyes to reveal Eames in the doorway of his office.

"What is it, Eames?" he asked, sounding perhaps a little more stressed that he really wanted to. Eames, after all, had been nothing but respectful to him all the way along. If she was offended, though, it didn't show on her face.

"Captain, Logan and I are heading out to lunch."

It surprised him a little that she had bothered to ask his permission. After all, what times a cop took his meal break at was entirely the prerogative of the cop. He was intrigued, though, as to what might be behind their apparent eagerness to spend time with each other.

"That's fine," he said dismissively. "Just remember, I need that paperwork from the Brady case by the end of the day."

Eames paused in the doorway, looking very much as though she had something to say but had deliberately opted against saying it. For that, Ross was inexplicably grateful.

"Eames? Is there a problem?" he pressed, a little unnerved by her silent presence.

She ventured slowly into the office and when she spoke it was in a lilting and pacifying tone that he had so often heard her use on Goren.

"We want you to come with us, Captain."

For a good several seconds, he was sure he'd misheard her.

"Excuse me?"

She came to stand on the other side of the desk, and the expression on her face was one of absolute seriousness.

"Logan and I are going to Central Park for lunch. We'd like you to come with us. Wheeler, too. Logan is asking her now."

"I gather you're not just concerned about my apparent lack of sun exposure?" Ross commented dryly. Alex cracked a small smile.

"No, sir. It's a little more personal than that."

That got his attention, and he sat up slowly.

"All right, Detective Eames. You have my attention now. Explain yourself."

Alex nodded resolutely.

"You have questions about Goren. We have answers. If you want to hear them, you need to come with us now. This is a once-only offer, Captain Ross, because odds are that if you hold off, tomorrow when Goren wakes up he'll have changed his mind about letting us tell you the truth. Respectfully, sir, I think you really do need to come with us now."

It was a decision that really didn't need thinking about.

"Let me grab my coat."


to be continued...

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