Bobby was still dozing on the sofa when Alex let herself into his apartment. She stood just inside the door for a minute, watching him with a small, sad smile on her lips as he slept. It was such a rare thing to see him sleeping peacefully that she was sorely tempted to slip back out again before her presence disturbed him. She was just contemplating that very action when he spoke in a voice that was still affected by sleep.

"You gonna just stand there and stare at me?"

Alex smiled wryly.

"Well, I thought I might stand and stare."

Bobby opened one eye and peered at her with what she could only describe as a fuzzy gaze.

"Am I that much of a wreck?"

Her smile and her stomach dropped simultaneously. Ensuring the door was locked behind her, she walked over to the sofa and seated herself carefully on the edge, beside him.

"No, you're not a wreck, Bobby. You're just a man who's grieving for his mom."

He reached up and found her hand, enclosing it in his larger one.

"Thanks for coming to the funeral with me this morning."

She guided his hand to her cheek, and kissed it softly.

"I'm just sorry I had to head straight to work afterwards. I'm off now until tomorrow, though. Ross gave me the okay to come and see you, make sure that you're okay. He said to come back to work when you're ready."

Bobby sighed.

"I just need a few days. I'll be okay... eventually."

Silence fell between them; not exactly comfortable, but not really awkward, either. Alex waited patiently. She knew without it being said that Bobby had a multitude of things on his mind, and it always took him some time to get it all sorted out in his own head before he was able to actually put any of it into words. It was an aspect of his personality that many others didn't understand, and she knew a number of his past partners had frequently gotten frustrated with him for the long periods he tended to spend in silence, mulling over the facts of a case. She'd learnt early on to give him the space and time he needed, and her reward was in knowing that he would always come to her once he'd sorted those facts out, and run his theories by her for corroboration and critique.

Now was not so different, even though the circumstances were. He needed time to work out what it was that he wanted or needed to say, and she was willing to let him take it.

"I told Mike about what happened when I talked to Brady that last time," Bobby said finally, deciding in his own mind that the Brady issue was possibly the least of the discomfiting subjects that he knew he had to talk to her about. That, and it more or less was a precursor to the others.

It took some effort on Alex's part to keep her expression passive, and to avoid showing any negative emotion to Bobby. Even though she had to admit to herself that the idea that Bobby's father might have been Mark Ford Brady made her want to cringe, she reminded herself sternly that Bobby could not be held accountable for his parentage. When he'd told her three days ago about it, she knew her shock had been clear, but he had expected it then. It was vital now that she knew, that she contained her emotions and did nothing to encourage him to think that she thought less of him for it.

"You told Mike that Brady thought you were his son," she clarified finally. Bobby smiled, and chuckled mirthlessly.

"Yes, I told him," Bobby confirmed. "But did he tell you about my little theory?"

Here, Alex hesitated. Again, she could understand the logic behind Bobby's theory, and it certainly offered an explanation as to why Raines had been so eager to get his hands on Bobby once more. Like Bobby, she also knew about Jarod's brother, Kyle, and the horrific psychological reconditioning Raines had committed upon the boy to turn him into a psychopath. It gave her chills to think about the evil troll of a man attempting to do the same thing to Bobby.

"He told me you thought that Raines might have known. How could he have known, Bobby? Brady didn't even come under suspicion for the original murders until years after Catherine Parker got you out of the Centre."

"He might not have known Brady was my real father..."

"Might have been your real father," she corrected him gently. "You don't know for sure whether he was or not, Bobby."

He nodded in concession. She was right and regardless of whether he believed Brady or not, he did not yet have any actual evidence to prove Brady right. Until he did, it was only supposition.

"Might have been. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if it turns out that it's true, that he did know. Even if he didn't know at first, he would have found out. It's just the sort of thing that he would have made a point of learning about. Anything that might have given him more control over me, in any way. I think he wanted to do to me what he did to Kyle. And if he'd had any idea that my real father was... or even just could have been a serial killer, he would have jumped at the opportunity. Genetics... We try to deny them, but they still play a big part in who we are... and in who we become."

The more she thought about it, though, the more Alex doubted it.

"I don't know, Bobby. I mean, I know what you're saying. I understand that, and I don't doubt that you're right, but I don't think Raines had any clue that there was any question over your parentage. Your mother kept that one well and truly under wraps, even at the height of her illness. You never suspected a thing until Brady threw you that curveball, so why would he have suspected it? Besides, above all else, did Raines at any time ever raise the subject of your parents with you?"

Bobby frowned, racking his memory for anything that would back up his theory. Finally, after a good few minutes' silence, he had to concede that he couldn't recall any instances.

"No. Not when I was there for that nine months as an adult, and not that I can remember from when I was there as a kid. I mean, not in terms of questioning who my parents were. He raised the subject of Mom and Dad with me all the time when I was a boy, but only to reinforce that I wasn't ever going to see them again, and that the Centre was my home." Bobby shuddered. "He tried telling me once that he was my new father, and I had violent nightmares for a week afterwards."

"I don't blame you," Alex murmured.

Sighing, Bobby pushed himself up somewhat awkwardly into a sitting position so that Alex could join him properly on the sofa. She curled in against him, slipping her arms around his waist, and he folded his arms around her shoulders to hold her to him. It was a familiar, comfortable and comforting position for them both.

"I get so frustrated," he confessed, at the same time pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head. "I know I'm still working through it all, even now, but I can't help wishing that I could just put it all behind me. I did that once before, though, and look what happened. I buried it so deep inside my mind that it nearly broke me when I was forced to remember it all. I can't let that happen again. As much as I want to forget about it, I can't. I have to remember, for my own sake."

"I know the memories are awful," Alex murmured. "But try and focus on some of the positives. Look at how many people you've helped, and how many criminals you've nailed because of your skills as a Pretender."

"That's the other thing," Bobby said with a bitter laugh. "I can't help but wonder, is this all just one big Pretend? Am I going to wake up one day and realise that I've just been kidding myself all these years? That I'm no more a police detective than I am a doctor, or a lawyer, or any of the other things that I've had to pretend at being!"

His self doubt was nothing new to Alex. Ever since his rescue from the Centre, Bobby had suffered ongoing bouts of self-doubt about who he really was. Even his very name had at one time been a focus of his doubts, thanks to the psychopathic Mr Lyle. She hated that the Centre had so effectively reinforced what had already been a terrible plague on his conscious and unconscious mind that he was living a lie and didn't deserve the life he'd worked so hard to achieve.

Alex didn't really know if it was a trauma from his childhood inside the Centre, or just a part of who he was, thanks to a life of uncertainty with a drunken, absent father and a schizophrenic mother. She suspected that it was possibly a little bit of both. Either way, that ongoing self-doubt was something that he'd never truly been able to rid himself of. Consequently, she was only too glad that he was so willing to let her reinforce his worth, both as a detective and as a man.

"Listen to me, Bobby," she said in a soft but firm tone. She drew gently back as she spoke, not entirely out of his hold but far enough back that she could look him in the eye without having to crane her neck to do so. "You are not pretending at this life. It's who you are. You worked hard to get here, and you fought to keep it when you could just as easily have quit. Don't let Raines' memory destroy what you've achieved for yourself. What you've done with your life is all you. You deserve it, and no one can take it away from you unless you let them."

Sighing again, Bobby leaned down and closed his lips over hers in a prolonged kiss that was anything but chaste. She responded gladly, revelling in the taste of him whiskey, with the faintest hint of tobacco.

"You're wrong about one thing," he said finally when they broke apart. Alex looked puzzled.

"What about?"

"It wasn't all me," he corrected her. "Getting to this point, I mean. Without you, I would never have survived my first twelve months with Major Case. Without you, I wouldn't have achieved the rank of Detective First Class. Without you, I would never have survived nine months in that hell hole, and without you I wouldn't have found the strength to recover from what they did to me in that place. A lot of people helped me, but you saved me."

Alex leaned in to hug him fiercely, tears welling in her eyes at his heartfelt declaration.

"I love you, Bobby. I love you so much."

"I love you," Bobby whispered into her hair. "I love you more than anything, Alex."

They sat like that for some time, comfortable in each other's presence and not feeling any need to talk. When Bobby finally spoke again, it was to ask a question that Alex had been expecting from the moment she entered the apartment.

"Did you talk to Ross?"

Alex couldn't quite keep her breath from catching in her throat. She knew he'd conceded to Ross and Wheeler being told the truth, but a small part of her couldn't help but think that they'd taken advantage of him in the immediate wake of his mother's death. His defences would have been at an all-time low when Mike came to see him and, knowing that he had been drinking as Mike said, she didn't think he would have had much of an ability to argue.

She resisted the urge to apologise, though. That would only potentially make it seem worse, like they'd deliberately conspired against him at a time when he was least able to defend himself, and it really hadn't been like that. Well, maybe it had been a little bit like that, she admitted to herself.

Shaking the thoughts from her mind, she answered quietly and honestly.

"Yes, we did. We included Wheeler as well."

"So now they know."

"Yes," she confirmed. "We arranged to meet Deakins in Central Park, and Mike and I took Captain Ross and Wheeler there. We told him the truth, about the Centre, but I'm not so sure he really believed it to start with."

As she spoke, she could feel his body tensing slightly. When she got to that last bit, though, he went almost completely rigid against her, and his breath began to speed up just a fraction.

"You had to show him a sim disc, didn't you?" Bobby asked. Alex squeezed him reassuringly around the middle. "Which one did you show him?"

Alex shut her eyes.

"Bobby, do you really need to know?"

"I'd like to know how much Ross is likely to think I'm totally out of my mind before I go back to work," he answered bitterly. Alex suppressed a groan.

"He doesn't think that, Bobby. Please, give him a chance. You know it's a lot to deal with. There were times when some of those sim discs through us for a loop as well. Even Jarod was shocked by some of it."

"Mainly because some of them proved what a heartless bastard Sydney really is."

"True," Alex agreed, "but you know what I mean. From Ross's point of view, this is the first he knew about any of this, and we've just thrown him in the proverbial deep end. You have to give him some time to deal with it all, and process it in his own mind."

Bobby considered that for a minute before speaking.

"Do you think he'll accept it?"

"I think he will," Alex murmured, settling against him once more. "He's a reasonable guy, Bobby. It's just that you two have butted heads since day one, and neither one of you has been willing to back off. Give him a chance, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised."

"I want to," Bobby confessed. "I know I said I didn't want him to know, but the truth is that I've wanted to tell him all this year. Part of me doesn't understand why I couldn't bring myself to tell him..."

"I don't know why you procrastinated over it for this long," Alex mused, "but I do think you had a pretty legitimate reason not to tell him immediately. I think if you had, he might not have been as receptive as he was today. I'm just sorry that Commissioner Adkins and Chief Harris aren't here any longer. There's no way Ross could have had any doubts at all if those two had still been around to back us up." She paused, and a rueful look flickered across her face. "There was a time when I never thought I'd say I was sorry that Harris wasn't around."

"He did the wrong thing," Bobby said, "but I can understand why he did it. I don't like it, but I do understand. And the fact is that even if he had come clean about it right at the start, what could we have done? He was right, they would have killed his sister. I don't blame him for putting her welfare ahead of mine. I survived. She wouldn't have."

"You're a bigger person than I am," Alex said. "I know I've said that before, but it still amazes me how you can still see things like that from other people's perspectives."

A wry smile touched Bobby's lips.

"I'm a Pretender, remember? It's what I do."

Alex laughed softly, and stretched up to kiss him again.

"So, do you think you'll be okay?" she asked. Bobby considered the question before answering.

"I think so, eventually. It still hurts, losing Mom, but it's not as though I have to face it on my own."

"No, you don't," Alex confirmed. "You have me, Mike, Deakins, George... You even have Elliot, Olivia, Fin and Munch over at SVU. You're not alone, Bobby. Don't ever let yourself think that you are."

"And I have Jarod and his family," Bobby added.

Alex smiled, recalling the other Pretender's family with fondness. Even though she had clashed a couple of times with Major Charles over his apparent willingness to consign Bobby to a psychiatric hospital, Alex had eventually concluded that he was a good man who loved his family and never wanted them to broken apart again in the way that they had once been. That the whole family had opened their home and their hearts not just to Bobby but to herself, Mike, Carolyn and Deakins as well was something that she would never forget. Alex knew that if any of them ever needed help, she would not hesitate to give it. She knew that Deakins, Mike, Carolyn and, most of all, Bobby all felt the same way.

"Yes, you do," she murmured.

"So what now?" Bobby asked softly. He sounded tired again, she thought. It was no wonder. The last few days had been truly draining for him on both a mental and emotional level. She stood up and held a hand out to him. He took it without hesitation and allowed himself to be drawn to his feet.

"Now, we go and have a lie down for a few hours, and recuperate. Then we're going to Mom and Dad's place for dinner. After that...? We'll just see."

She favoured him with warm smile, not even attempting sexy, and he responded with an equally beautiful smile that was only slightly tempered by the grief he was experiencing.

"What did I do to deserve you?"

She squeezed his hand lightly.

"Believe me, Bobby, I've asked myself the same question plenty of times over, even before we got together."

to be continued...

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