A/N: Yes, I know what I said in an earlier chapter about You-Know-Who turning up again, but my muse is a law unto herself. You guys try arguing with a panther with really big claws.
Seriously, I was going to leave the option of changing this chapter open, but after consulting with another writer, I've decided that it stands as it is, and if no one likes it, then so be it. Basically, I need this chapter to be exactly how it is in order to trigger something that I have planned for a later chapter.
Bobby sighed a little as he shifted positions once more in a useless effort to get comfortable. He hated hospital beds - not least because they were generally too small for his large frame, but primarily because he’d already spent so much time in one. The fact that the mattress was too soft, the blankets were thin and scratchy and the pillows were too hard and lumpy didn’t help much, either.
When Dr Cutler had broken the news that he had to spend a second night in the hospital, he’d seriously felt like crying. Right then, all he wanted was to get home and crawl into his own bed and sleep for the next two days. He’d gotten virtually no sleep the night before the operation – and the combined effects of a sleepless night and the anaesthetic had left him feeling completely drained.
Basically, though, he just wanted to go home.
Deciding that he wasn’t going to get any rest in the narrow hospital bed, Bobby climbed carefully out and made his way over to the window. Fortunately, he had no IV attachments to be careful of.
There had been one earlier, feeding nutrients into his body, but that had been removed before dinner, when Alex’s mother had come back to the hospital with a hot meal for him. The nurses had been bemused by the effort that had been made for him, but Dr Cutler had been pleased – particularly when Bobby had cleaned up just about everything on the plate, including the home-made bread and butter pudding that Helen Eames had brought for dessert.
Alex had made a last-ditch bid to get him home that night, but Cutler had remained firm; tomorrow morning, and no sooner.
Bobby sighed softly as he sank into the large armchair by the window, and managed to awkwardly drag a blanket from the bed up over himself. It was ironic that the visitor’s chair was more comfortable than the bed. Still, he reflected, it could have been worse. It was only one extra night, after all. One long, lonely, miserable extra night…
He settled back in the chair, shivering a little from the cool atmosphere in the room. He wished he could see out the window, but then reminded himself that in just a week’s time, he would be able to do just that. He grimaced a little. Probably would be able to, he corrected himself.
Despite the doctor’s reassurances, he was reluctant to get his hopes up. He wanted to see again, but he dreaded the thought of having the bandages removed only to find he was still blind. The thought terrified him, and it was all he could do to keep that terror at bay.
And that was just one more reason why he resented having to spend yet another night in the hospital. The lack of company left him with too much time to think, and too much time to dwell on all those fears and uncertainties.
Had he been at home, he would have only needed to call out and Alex would have been there. He had no such security here. The nurses were kind enough, but ultimately they were just doing their jobs. No more, no less.
A small smile creased his lips as it suddenly occurred to him just how much he’d come to consider Alex’s apartment home. He was comfortable there. He felt safe…
A soft, bitter laugh escaped him. Safe. Would he ever truly feel safe again? Enough so to be able to function at a socially acceptable level? The truth was, he didn’t know. It was a question that he simply had no answer to. After all, if all this could happen to him once, what was to stop it from happening again?
He had been betrayed by someone that he should have been able to trust with his life, and it was going to be very, very hard to put that level of trust in anyone again.
He laughed again, bitterly amused by the irony of his situation. He knew he’d always had trust issues, and Alex had spent the last four years or so steadily working on him, trying to show him that it was okay to put his trust in those around him. And she had been succeeding, too. Slowly, bit by bit, he had begun to open up. He trusted her implicitly – as partners, that was a given, but with them it went beyond that. He trusted her as a friend as well.
He trusted Deakins. They didn’t always agree, but he respected his captain and trusted him to make the right decisions. Hell, he’d even trusted Ron Carver, even though they butted heads on a semi-regular basis.
But in one fell swoop, all that had effectively been destroyed. The efforts that Alex had made with him, all of it. Gone. It was a hurt that he didn’t know how to recover from.
The sound of footsteps in the doorway of his room drew his attention, pulling his spiralling thoughts away from the oblivion that they had rapidly been heading towards. He said nothing as whoever it was – probably the night duty nurse – came into the room and walked around to him.
“Can’t stand the bed,” he mumbled by way of explanation. “This is more comfortable.”
Nothing was said in reply, but a moment later two gentle hands removed the thin, scratchy hospital blanket, and replaced it with a large, warm quilt, draping it around his body so that it covered him completely from the shoulders down. Then, he was guided forward slightly by those same hands, and a pillow – full and soft – was slipped in behind his head.
Bobby was puzzled, but grateful. One thing was obvious, though. His mysterious visitor was no nurse.
“Who’s there?” he asked tentatively, feeling like an idiot but suddenly needing to know. His question was answered with silence, and Bobby felt the first twinges of fear. Here he was, completely vulnerable, and there was a stranger right in front of him. Although, common sense reminded him that someone intending on hurting him probably wouldn’t have given him a warm quilt and a pillow to begin with.
“Please answer me,” he asked again softly. “Who’s there?”
There was the sound of a sigh, no more than an exhaled breath, and then a familiar voice spoke.
Bobby sat frozen, not knowing what to do or how to react. Finally, he spoke in a trembling whisper.
“Relax, Bobby. I have no intention of hurting you.” There was a hint of mirth to her voice, as though she was surprised that such a notion might occur to him at all. She paused, and then spoke again. “Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. When I came back to New York, I had every intention of hurting you, but someone beat me to it, didn’t they? Your big brother Richard, no less…”
He winced a little, and she sighed again.
“I’m sorry. That was a low blow. Seriously, Bobby, I did have a plan. I had it all worked out. I was so eager that I went straight to your apartment to set it in motion. You can probably imagine my surprise when I got there to find it completely cleaned out and even more so when I tried unsuccessfully to find your new residence.” She laughed softly. “I even staked out One Police Plaza to watch for you, but nothing. No sign of you, or your little… I mean, Detective Eames. And then, the story finally came out in the media.”
“What do you want, Nicole?” he asked hoarsely. “Did you come to gloat? Go ahead. Gloat all you want. Laugh at me. I’m a wreck, a… a joke.”
Her hand closed over his forearm, silencing him.
“Stop it,” she told him softly. “Just… stop it. I don’t want to hear you saying that. You’re not a wreck, Bobby, and you mostly certainly are not a joke. You’re just… going through a difficult time right now.”
He could hardly believe what he was hearing and, for a moment, he almost convinced himself he was just having a very bizarre dream. Except, her hand on his arm was all too real, as was the scent of her perfume in his nostrils.
“A… a difficult time…? Look at me…”
“I am. You’re still the same person you were before this happened.”
He shook his head, and immediately regretted the movement for the sudden vertigo it induced. Groaning softly, he waited for it to subside.
He felt Nicole move, and a moment later a plastic cup was pressed lightly to his lips.
“It’s only water,” she said in a bemused voice when he hesitated. Shrugging off his doubts, Bobby took a slow sip of the water.
“I’m not the same,” he whispered. “I’ll never be the same.”
“Maybe,” Nicole conceded. “But whether that’s ultimately good or bad… well, that’s entirely up to you, isn’t it?”
The bitter feeling that twisted inside his gut seemed to grow at her outwardly blithe words.
“Just like with you, Nicole?”
“I’ll ignore that,” Nicole murmured. “Look, I’ll say what I came to say, and then I’ll go. And I promise you’ll never hear from me again.”
“Why don’t I believe that? You’ve got a golden opportunity here, Nicole. Go ahead, take your best shot! I can’t fight back…”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Bobby, stop being so juvenile. Why can’t you get it through your head that I don’t want to hurt you? If I’d wanted to, I could have done it that day in Central Park.”
Bobby hesitated as he remembered Jo’s description of Nicole.
“You… You were crying…”
“Yes, I was.”
“For what? Lost opportunities?”
“For you, Bobby. For all that I’ve put you through, I would never have wished a fate like this on you. But if you don’t want to hear me out, then fine. I’ll just go.”
He heard her start to move away from him, and was compelled to speak up.
“What is it?” she asked, her voice cool and emotionless.
“Tell me one thing,” he asked tentatively. “Simon Matic’s bank account… It was you who gave that information to Carver, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” she admitted. “It was.”
“Because you deserve compensation for what you’ve been through.”
“I don’t believe that’s the reason.”
“You think I passed on that information because I wanted you to owe me? No, Bobby. Consider it a small degree of compensation for my treatment of you. You owe me nothing.”
“I find it hard to believe that, too.”
“There is one thing I want from you,” Nicole admitted, and Bobby tensed instinctively in anticipation. She smiled wryly. “Relax, Bobby. All I want is a promise that you won’t hold on to your anger. That… That’s where I went wrong. I held on to my anger, and used it as a weapon. Don’t go down that path, Bobby.”
“That’s rich,” Bobby said bitterly. “You, of all people, telling me to forgive.”
“I wouldn’t presume,” she murmured. “All I’m saying is don’t hate. For your own sake, don’t hate. Even if you can never face your brother again, don’t hate.” She paused, and then added softly, “I know you probably won’t believe me… and your partner and captain definitely won’t… but all I want is for you to recover from this, and get back to where you belong… with your squad.”
“Chasing after you?” Bobby suggested dryly, and Nicole laughed softly.
“If that’s what fulfils you. But I meant what I said. When I leave here, you won’t here from me again. That’s a promise I intend on keeping.”
Bobby fell silent, unsure what to say. A moment later, he felt Nicole’s fingers smoothing his hair back with a tenderness that belied her nature, and he had to struggle against the desire to cringe away from her. Nicole sensed his reticence, smiled sadly and withdrew her hand.
“I’m going now. Good luck, Bobby, and take care of yourself.”
And then she was gone, and he was alone once more.
Bobby sat in silence for a long time after she’d gone, before emotion finally overcame him and he turned his face to the side and began to cry softly into the soft pillow. He eventually fell asleep, still crying out his heartache.
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