A/N: It's official. Either I or my muse are sadistic. I just don't know which yet. But I promise, things will get better soon. I hope.

“Well?” Alex demanded when Deakins slipped quietly out of the room. Her voice was slightly higher-pitched than normal. She was bordering on a panic attack herself, by all appearances, Deakins mused ruefully. He sighed softly, and leant back against the wall.

“He’s hurting, plain and simple. I should have had a counsellor ready to go almost straight away, but I let myself think there was plenty of time. Now, it’s become urgent.”

“It shouldn’t be any surprise that he’s reacting like this,” Logan murmured. “Look at everything that’s happened, everything that he’s remembering.”

“Logan’s right,” Deakins agreed. “We’re going to have to start showing him a hell of a lot of patience. I think we’re just starting to come into the seriously rough waters now.”

Alex shut her eyes against the tears. “I hope SVU take their time building the case against Richie, because if Bobby has to testify against the son of a bitch any time soon, it might just kill him.”

Deakins started to agree, but stopped before he could say a word, his gaze going down the corridor.


They all looked around to see Don Cragen approaching, with Casey Novak beside him. Deakins moved forward to meet them, a guarded look on his tired face.

“If you’re here to speak to Bobby, you’re wasting your time. He isn’t up to it.”

Cragen and Casey exchanged grim glances. Neither one was looking forward to this, but it had to be done. “We’re not here to talk to Goren, Jim. We need to talk to you. Privately, if you don’t mind.”

Immediately, the guarded look became a suspicious one. “About what?”

“Please, Jim, not here,” Cragen pleaded. For several long seconds, Deakins said and did nothing. Then, finally, he turned wordlessly and led the way down the corridor. With a grim glance in Logan, Alex and Danny’s direction, Cragen and Casey followed.

“Now what the fuck is that all about?” Logan muttered.

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Alex murmured. “C’mon. Let’s go back in.”

Logan, however, caught her by the shoulder, stopping her. When she looked back at him in confusion, he shook his head slowly.

“How about we give him a chance to regroup, Alex?”

She looked torn, but finally conceded, albeit extremely reluctantly.

“Why don’t we go get some coffee?” Danny suggested. “I’ll tell Bobby what we’re doing. We won’t be gone long.”

Again, Alex nodded reluctantly, and Danny slipped quietly back into the room. He reappeared less than a minute later, looking more than slightly shaken.

“Is he okay?” Alex asked, unable to keep the anxiety out of her voice. Danny hesitated for just a split second before answering.

“He just needs a little bit of time to himself… as Mike said, to regroup. I spoke to him, but I don’t think he even realised I was there. Maybe when we come back, he’ll have had a chance to recover, and be a little more receptive to his surroundings. C’mon. Let’s go get that coffee.”

Deakins led Cragen and Casey into a small, private waiting lounge at the far end of the corridor.

“What’s going on?” he asked tensely. “Don...?”

“There are a couple of things,” Cragen answered, “and you’re not going to like either one. Goren’s going to have to be told, as well, but you need to know first. The first is that the Feds are looking for Richard Cozza. They’re the ones who got him out of prison, after he agreed to testify for them against members of the Masucci family.”

“And we weren’t notified?” Deakins asked incredulously. “Apparently one of the stipulations made by Cozza was that Goren not be told.”

Deakins’ face went from pale to deep red in the space of just a few seconds as anger took hold.

“Goddamn it! Cozza made a threat against Bobby at his trial, when Bobby testified! They had a responsibility to come to us! Those sons of bitches...”

“They want him back,” Cragen said quietly. “They don’t want us ‘messing’ with their witness. According to them, Goren was just collateral damage.”

“And you’re going to let them have him?” Deakins asked angrily. Cragen smiled grimly.

“I never said that, did I? If they do get him, it won’t be because we didn’t put up a fight. I’ve got Stabler, Benson, Tutuola and Munch all out on the streets, searching for Cozza. I can’t guarantee that we’ll get to him first, but we’re going to damn well try. And if we do manage to get to him before the Feds, I promise you that we won’t be letting him go without a fight.”

Deakins nodded slowly in reluctant acceptance.

“I appreciate your people’s efforts, Don. It might not seem like it at the moment, but I do. It’s just, this whole situation.”

“You don’t have to explain yourself, Jim,” Cragen reassured him. “Goren’s one of your detectives. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

A tired sigh escaped Deakins’ lips.

“It’s more than just that, Don. I don’t just feel responsible for Bobby as his captain… It’s hard to explain, but every other detective in my squad has family to fall back on for support. Bobby doesn’t have that. His mother is institutionalised, and his brother… Basically, the only family he has is his cousin, who lives in Washington DC, his friend Lewis, Alex Eames...”

“And you?” Cragen queried. Deakins nodded.

“Yes. We joke with each other about how our detectives are like our own children, but that’s truer with Bobby than I ever realised.”

Cragen contemplated that in silence for nearly a minute before speaking again. He hadn’t planned on telling Deakins about what the FBI knew of the plan to go after Bobby, but in light of what Deakins had just said…

“Jim, there’s something else,” Cragen said tentatively, and Deakins stared at him with wordless trepidation. Cragen went on quietly, dreading Deakins’ reaction to what he had to tell him. “The Feds… they knew what Cozza, Matic and Richie Goren were planning. They had surveillance on them while they were still in prison. They knew, and they decided not to do anything about it.”

Deakins sank into the nearest chair, his face turning ashen once more. “I can’t tell Bobby that,” he said hoarsely. “That would kill him. He’s confused and angry enough now as it is, that so many people could have done something to help him, but didn’t. To be told that the FBI knew about it in advance, and did nothing… He won’t be able to cope with that.”

“He doesn’t have to be told that until you think it’s appropriate,” Casey told him. “While he’s in hospital, at least, it’s a non-issue. And as far as him finding out any of this at the trial… well, that may be a non-issue, as well.”

Deakins looked up at her slowly. “What do you mean? You offered Matic and Richie a plea bargain?”

“Matic took a plea bargain in return for dropping Richie and Cozza in it,” Cragen admitted, remaining admirably stoic in the face of the visible anger on Deakins’ face. “Now, before you hit the roof, Jim, just hear us out. Matic is going away for life. He’s never going to see daylight outside prison walls again. The plea bargain he took was solely to keep the death penalty off the table. I promise you that miserable son of a bitch is going to die in prison.”

“All right,” Deakins conceded quietly, though he looked less than appeased. “What about Bobby’s brother? What did you offer him?”

“Initially, we offered him a dual charge of conspiracy before the fact for the assault and attempted murder,” Casey explained, “which would have put him back in Rikers for ten to fifteen years. But then Matic made a full statement, and I promise you that I yanked that deal out from under him so fast it made his head spin.”

“But…?” Deakins pressed, sensing something more. Casey looked grim. “Richard Goren suffered a major psychotic break just a few hours ago. The prison psychiatrist has made a tentative diagnosis of severe paranoid schizophrenia.”

“No…” Deakins moaned softly. “God, no… He’ll never go to trial, then”

“No,” Casey agreed quietly. “More than likely not. We’ll send our own psychiatrist out to Rikers to make his own diagnosis, but from what the prison shrink had to say, I believe it’s genuine. After that, I’ll meet with Richie’s lawyer and we’ll negotiate incarceration at a suitable institute.”

“This is going to do more damage than any of the news about Cozza or Matic,” Deakins said softly.

“I honestly don’t know how he’s going to react to it.”

“You don’t have to be the one to tell him, Jim,” Cragen said. Deakins gave a short, bitter laugh.

“The hell I don’t. No, Don, I don’t want news like that coming from anyone else. I’ll tell him, when I think it’s the right time. Just… do me a favour, and don’t talk to anyone else about it, unless you absolutely have to.”

Cragen nodded, happy to comply.

“We’ll keep it under wraps for now, Jim, I give you my word.”

Deakins sighed softly. “Thankyou.”

Bobby was barely aware when Danny came back in and told him that he, Alex and Mike were going to get coffee. He had still been struggling to get a grip on his misery when Danny spoke, and by the time it registered in his mind that they were going off for a while and leaving him alone, it was too late. Before he had a chance to get out a single word, to plead for at least one of them to stay with him, they were gone.

Now, he was alone, with only the silence for company. It was almost more than he could take.
He cursed himself silently, angrily, for jerking away from Alex like he had, even though he logically knew that it was a reflexive action that he couldn’t help. She had to know that too, didn’t she? Know that it wasn’t a deliberate act on his part to push her away from him? He prayed that she did understand, although the less rational side of his mind said otherwise. After all, if he hadn’t jerked away from her, then surely she would still have been there with him. Wouldn’t she?

He himself didn’t really understand why he had pulled away from her. She had touched him similarly only minutes before, and he hadn’t reacted badly. He couldn’t understand what had changed so fast within himself that he panicked so completely at her touch.

All he could think of was that it was more of an instinctive than a consciously thought out action. Sure, he knew all about the ‘pathology’ of the rape victim – the isolation, the aversion to physical contact, the despair and depression… But living it was so completely different to reading about it… or, even seeing it in others. Dimly, he wondered whether this was even remotely how Maggie Coulter had felt after being released from Simon Matic’s clutches, and he found himself filled anew with respect and admiration for her incredible courage.

Another miserable sob escaped him. He didn’t even understand why he was feeling so completely desolate. After all, the news about his eyes had been good. His eyes would heal, his vision would be restored, and he was one small step closer to being able to reclaim his life. That was good… wasn’t it?

Oh yeah, a tiny voice whispered mockingly from somewhere deep within his soul. Really good news. You’ll be able to see with your own eyes the damage that those bastards did, to your body and your home. And maybe, if you’re really lucky, if you ask really nicely, they might even let you look at the crime scene photos. Because you know you don’t have a home to go back to anymore…

Bobby gave a choked sob as he tried to force that vicious little voice out of his conscious mind. It didn’t matter, though. Thoughts of what little he had left to go home to… if anything at all… had preyed on his mind ever since Alex had told him the news about his beloved books.

His books…

Bobby felt yet another sob rising in his throat, and forced it back down. He didn’t know whose idea it would have been to burn all of his books, but that hurt as much, if not more than being violated so brutally. As he had told Alex, some of those books had been gifts from his mother and, in his mind, were irreplaceable. Now, all he had left to cling to was the one book that she had brought for him.

Conscious of the fact that there was no one there to help, Bobby carefully leaned his body forward, reaching out with his bandaged hands until they came into contact with the small mobile table, and the single book which sat on it. Shuddering at the fiery pain that the movement caused him, Bobby closed his hands over the hardcover, and dragged it slowly back towards him. Of course, he couldn’t read it for himself, but he suddenly craved having something to cling to. Anything at all, and right then, the book was his only option.

It was heavy, though – heavier than he’d anticipated. Pain speared through his hands as he tried to lift it, and he cried out involuntarily as the book slipped from his weakened grasp and fell to the floor with a heavy thud. He fell back against the raised section of the bed in misery and frustration, only to cry out again at the fiery pain that ignited in his back. He shifted onto his side as much as he was able, and cried soft, shuddering sobs, clutching his bandaged hands to his battered body while he waited for the pain to subside to a tolerable level.

Gradually it did, and then his thoughts turned to the book, which now lay on the floor, beyond his reach. He dared not lean over to try and grab it, firstly because there was the very real danger he could lose his very tenuous sense of balance and fall right out of the bed, and secondly because with his hands being the way they were, doing so was beyond his capabilities. He slumped down in the bed, feeling even worse than he had before, if that were even possible. He had never felt so utterly helpless before in his life. To be so reliant on others was something that went completely against his nature, and he just didn’t know what was worse; having his independence stripped right away from him, or accepting his current state, but then having to cope when he was left alone like this.

He had no way of knowing when… or if Alex was coming back. For all he knew, he’d hurt her so much that she’d decided she wasn’t coming back. The stark fear of abandonment was ever present in his mind, he thought miserably.

Yes, he knew his fears were illogical, but knowing that did nothing to keep them in check. And he was frightened. He was frightened of being alone, and right now, that was precisely what he was – alone. In his tired, dejected state of mind, he was alone in every possible sense, and he hated it with every fibre of his being. He had never, in his entire life, imagined he could crave company as much as he did right then.

Abruptly, a new sound registered in his ears, the sound of light, tentative footsteps on the floor, just inside the room. Bobby fell quiet, listening intently and trying to determine who his new visitor was. Female, judging by the lightness of the step, but it couldn’t be Alex. She would have identified herself to him. And it wouldn’t have been Olivia. By what he could glean from Elliot’s words earlier, Olivia had more or less been banned from coming anywhere near him. So what females did he know who would want to come and see him? To his private embarrassment, he couldn’t think of a single one. Except…

“Nicole…” he whispered, his adrenalin levels sky-rocketing as the panic hit. His whispered exclamation was met with silence. Then, he heard soft rustling as someone bent over just near the bed. A moment later, the book was laid gently on his lap.

“It… It’s Maggie, Detective Goren,” a soft, female voice said. “Maggie Coulter.”

Bobby’s breath escaped him in a rush as relief mixed with surprise crashed over him. Of all the people he hadn’t expected, Maggie Coulter was probably right up there at the top of the list.
Slowly, as the shock of his initial fears receded, he closed his hands carefully over the precious book, and felt some semblance of calm settle over him once more.

“Thankyou,” he mumbled, feeling awkward, and marginally embarrassed.

“My… My mom talked to your captain,” Maggie went on tentatively. “He told her that you were… were… attacked by the same man who… who...”

She trailed off uncertainly. Bobby said nothing, at a loss for words. So often in his life, he had always known exactly what to say. Right then, though, at that moment, he didn’t have a clue what to say. Maggie went on softly, hoping fervently that she hadn’t made a mistake in coming.

“I wanted to see you… after Mom told me what happened. I… I didn’t know if I could help you like you helped me… but I thought it… um… it might...”

She faltered, acutely and uncomfortably aware of the absolute silence from the man in the hospital bed. Her cheeks burned red as she took his silence as a rebuff.

“I… I’ll go,” she mumbled, mentally kicking herself for thinking at all that he might have appreciated her coming.

“Please, don’t go.”

Maggie froze, even as she turned back towards the door. He’d spoken so softly that for a brief moment she wasn’t sure whether she’d heard right. To emphasize his words, Bobby lifted his right hand weakly off the bed, reaching out tentatively towards her. She returned to the bedside immediately, taking his hand gently in a feather-light touch.

“Okay,” she murmured, relief flooding through her. “I’ll stay...”

Bobby swallowed painfully, and then spoke again.

“Does… your mom know you’re here?”

“She knows,” Maggie confirmed. “She’s waiting downstairs for me. She agreed to drive me here when I told her I wanted to visit you. I, um… I don’t really go anywhere without her anymore.”

“No shame in that,” Bobby told her. “I know,” Maggie agreed. “I’m not ashamed of it. The thing is… It’s because of you that I can even do that much.”

“You took the steps,” Bobby pointed out. “I couldn’t do that for you. You had to do it yourself.”

Maggie gently laid his hand back down on the bed, aware of the pain it was causing him to have it elevated. She didn’t break the contact, though.

“You were the one who got through to me. Mom and Dad and Grandpa sent me to the most expensive shrink in the city, but it was you who got through to me. You made me realise that I didn’t have to be like Matic to be strong. I’m never going to forget that you did that for me. You saved my life.” Maggie hesitated, gathering her thoughts before going on. “When the police came and told us that Simon Matic was out of prison, I was so scared and angry. All I could think of was how you’d told me before the trial that he’d be an old man before he got out of prison.”

“I’m sorry,” Bobby whispered, struck with a guilt that he knew deep down was completely irrational. Maggie shook her head vigorously.

“No, you don’t have to be sorry. I know now that you weren’t told. It’s just...”

“You were afraid he’d come after you,” Bobby said when Maggie stopped.

“Yeah,” she admitted softly. “I kind of shut myself in my room. Mom went ballistic. She went to see your captain. I’d never seen her so mad before. But then, she came home and… and told me about you. I felt so sick when she told me what happened to you. He… He hurt you far worse than he hurt me.”

“Don’t,” Bobby told her, wishing dismally that he could actually take her hand. “Don’t… don’t compare. Don’t… minimise your own hurt by comparing yourself to me.”

“I’m not,” Maggie insisted. “But your hands… your eyes… He did all that to you...”

“He didn’t do it alone, Maggie,” Bobby said softly. “He had two others helping him.”

“There were three of them?” she asked, horrified.

Bobby didn’t respond to that. All of a sudden, he was acutely uncomfortable with the direction this conversation was headed in.

“Is there any… any water there?” he asked, suddenly craving cold water to soothe his sore, swollen throat. Maggie answered in the affirmative, walking around to the other side of the bed and pouring water into a glass. She held it out for him, and he leaned forward carefully, until the straw touched his lips. He was just sipping at the cool water, when Maggie gave a muffled cry of distress.

“Oh god… Your back...”

Bobby let go of the straw and settled back slowly against the pillows once more, mentally berating himself for allowing the girl to have even a glimpse of the mess his attackers had made of his back.

“It’s okay,” he murmured, at the same time knowing he probably would not be able to placate her. “It… It looks worse than it is.”

Tears filled Maggie’s eyes, though, as the gravity of his injuries finally began to sink in.

“They really were going to kill you, weren’t they”

He hesitated in answering. Had it been anyone else, he might not have answered at all. But Maggie Coulter was one person to whom he felt he owed an honest answer.

“I… I don’t think I was meant to live,” Bobby confirmed softly as he again remembering Richie’s promise that he wouldn’t live through his ordeal.

“I’m so sorry,” Maggie whispered tearfully, and that drew a small, sad smile from Bobby.

“What do you have to be sorry for?” he asked in a gently chiding tone.

“I don’t know,” Maggie admitted, feeling embarrassed all of a sudden. “I just… I feel like I needed to say it.”

“Well, you don’t,” Bobby told her, as firmly as he was able. Maggie was silent for nearly a minute before speaking again.

“Do you…. remember what you said to me? In my room that day?”

Bobby didn’t answer. Right at that moment, his memory just wasn’t coping too well, and the memories he had of that day when he and Alex had gone to talk to Maggie were sketchy at best. Maggie spoke after a moment’s silence.

“You told me that I wasn’t weak, I was strong… because I lived through it. I just wanted to say… the same thing to you. You’re strong, Detective Goren. You… You lived through it. Don’t ever forget that.”

Bobby’s breath caught in his throat, and soft sob escaped his bruised lips before he could stop it. Little did Maggie know just how true her words were. He had lived through it. He had lived through hours of torture… just as she had.

He felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder, and he felt himself being drawn down to the girl, her arms going around him in a gentle, comforting hug. He put up only minimal resistance before breaking down in her arms, and crying softly into her shoulder.

Maggie felt, rather than heard, the shuddering sobs that passed through the detective’s body, and felt her own eyes flood with stinging tears in response to his pain. It was a strange reversal of roles that they’d undergone, and yet there was nothing discomforting about it. She shut her eyes against the tears and held him as tightly as she dared, conscious as she was of his injuries.

The minutes passed, and it was only as she felt his sobs easing that she finally drew back from him.

“Thankyou, Maggie,” Bobby whispered, genuinely grateful for her kindness.

“I have to go now,” she told him quietly. “But I could come back again… I mean, if you wanted me too.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Bobby answered. Maggie hesitated for just a moment, then leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek. His breathing quickened briefly at the unexpected contact, but he was relieved that he felt no genuine panic, and no desire to lash out.

“I’ll bring some music with me next time, if you’d like,” she suggested as she headed for the door, and he nodded in wordless encouragement and gratitude. Music would be good. It would go a long way to making the sterile environment a lot easier to cope with.

Maggie murmured a last goodbye, and then she was gone. Bobby listened carefully for the sound of her footsteps, but she apparently walked lightly enough that he couldn’t hear her. He sank back into the multitude of pillows that he was surrounded by, clutching his mother’s book as tightly as he could and trying to sort out his emotions.

Something felt different inside him. It wasn’t a huge thing, just a very small difference. Somewhere, deep inside of him, he felt the tiniest spark of warmth that had been ignited by Maggie’s visit. She had helped him more than she could possibly realise, and he silently thanked God for sending her to him.

There was someone who really did know what he’d been through, someone who wasn’t just grandstanding when she told him that she understood. A small, sad smile touched his lips. Angels came in the most unexpected forms…

He drew in a steady breath, slowly becoming aware that his heart was pounding in his chest. Following his doctor’s instructions, he lay still and kept his breathing long and even as he waited for his heart to stop racing.

It took him nearly a minute to realise that the calming technique wasn’t working, and that his heartbeat was getting faster by the second. He opened his mouth to call out to the officers standing guard outside his door, but no sound came out. Then, as his breath began to seize up in his very lungs and throat, the panic began to take hold.

Bobby gathered what little strength he had and rolled to the side, reaching weakly to the dresser beside his bed, reaching for the button that would alert the nurses on duty. His hands struck the glass, sending it to the floor where it shattered explosively. He found the button, only to discover that his bandaged hands were incapable of pushing it.

Panic hit full force, sending his body into violent, painful convulsions.

His body slipped off the bed and he fell to the floor with a painful crash, bringing down both IV units and the heart monitor into the bargain, and the last thing he was aware of as darkness took him was the horrible, isolating silence.

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