A/N: So here we are, finally at the end of this not so little journey. This is the final chapter in this particular story, but perhaps not the last that I will write of Bobby in this particular ’verse. We'll just have to see where the muse leads me.
In the meantime, thankyou to everyone who has read and enjoyed (if that is really the word for it) this story. It means nothing if people won't read and review, and I greatly appreciate all those who have done just that.

Approx. 1 month later
SVU Headquarters

Don Cragen looked up wearily from his desk as Elliot and Olivia walked in. They looked just as tired as he felt, he reflected grimly, and no wonder, given that they’d been on the job for almost thirty straight hours, with only a few hours break in between to get some desperately needed sleep.

“You’ve just come from the hospital?” he asked, not bothering to suggest they each go home to rest. Olivia nodded as she dropped into a chair and rubbed one hand over her eyes.

“The kid’s awake, but she won’t talk. We tried every trick in the book. She won’t talk about what happened, and she won’t even look at the pictures to identify Brody.”

Cragen glanced instinctively at the clock.

“We have approximately five hours to convince that little girl to give a statement, and identify her attacker, or Brody is going to walk free.”

“Yeah, and if that happens, he might just go after her again, this time to kill her!” Elliot argued. Cragen was unapologetic.

“If she won’t talk, there’s nothing we can do. I don’t like it any more than you do, Elliot, but that’s the law. We can’t hold him without charge for longer than twenty-four hours, and if she won’t talk, then we have no grounds to charge him! If you want that rectified, then get back to the hospital, and convince her to talk to you.”

Olivia shook her head in frustration. “We got kicked out by her parents, in the end. All she’d say to us was that there was no point talking about it because there was no one who understood what she’d been through.”

Cragen looked up at Olivia, an eyebrow raised.

“That’s what she said? That no one understands.”

“That’s what she said,” Elliot confirmed. “That she didn’t want to talk to anyone who couldn’t understand what she’s been through. She won’t even talk to the counsellor.”

“Sir?” Olivia asked, seeing a familiar gleam in his eyes. “What are you thinking?”

“You say she won’t talk to anyone who can’t understand what she’s been through,” Cragen mused. “So… if we were able to produce someone who could understand? Someone who’s been through a similar experience...”

Elliot latched on to what Cragen was edging towards well before Olivia realised.

“Oh, no… No way! We’re not asking him.”

And, abruptly, it dawned on Olivia, as well.

“You mean Bobby Goren? Captain, we can’t ask him to talk to her!”

Cragen regarded them both with an unapologetic gaze. “This kid was repeatedly raped in her own home by her uncle, over a period of three or four hours. You’ve just said she won’t talk to anyone, because in her eyes no one can understand what she’s been through. If Bobby Goren doesn’t fit the bill, then I don’t know who does.”

“Captain,” Elliot protested tensely, “we can’t use him like that! It’s not right! He’s barely started recovering from what happened to him. We can’t expect him to relive all of that just to help us out.”

“It’s not right,” Olivia insisted. “You know it’s not!”

Still, Cragen was unrelenting.

“You can at least ask him. He’s free to say no, if he wants. But you will at least ask him. Am I making myself clear?”

The two detectives exchanged sombre looks.

“Crystal,” Elliot muttered, and with that he turned on his heel and stalked out of the office, with Olivia close behind.

“So, how do you want to do this?” Elliot asked grimly as they stood on the steps out the front of One Police Plaza. “Do we just take it straight to Bobby? Or do we go through Deakins first?”

Olivia looked unimpressed with both options. “Either way, we’re likely to get a serve for this, from both Deakins and Alex. I still can’t believe Cragen ordered us to do this?”

“He’s right, though,” Elliot conceded reluctantly. “If anyone can get through to this kid, it’s Bobby.”

“And we know what reliving it like that could do to him,” Olivia pointed out. Elliot sighed.

“I know. Damn it, I know.”

The two detectives stood there in silence, torn over what to do. They knew their captain was right. Bobby was, indeed, the logical choice to talk to their young victim, but asking him to do so was an abhorrent thought to both of them. They had too much respect for the recovery he’d made from his own ordeal to want to put him in such a position, where he had to relive everything anew. It was an upset that they both knew he could well do without.

Resolve filled Olivia’s face.

“Let’s take it to Deakins first. He’ll have as good an idea as any whether Bobby could cope.”

Elliot smiled tightly.

“And he won’t hesitate to serve it up to Cragen if he thinks it’s too much of a demand.”

In agreement finally, Elliot and Olivia headed into One Police Plaza together.

They weren’t sure whether to be relieved or not to discover Bobby and Alex absent from the Major Case bullpen. Mike Logan and his partner were nowhere in sight, either, Elliot noted with curiosity.

“Hey,” Elliot murmured as they headed for Deakins’ office, “maybe they’re on a stakeout somewhere.”

Olivia threw him a weary look.

“I doubt it, Elliot. Bobby’s only been back at work officially for a month. Doesn’t he still need to go to physio every evening for his hands? I doubt Deakins will put them on a stakeout until he doesn’t need the physio anymore.”

“Maybe,” Elliot murmured. He sighed softly. “They’re probably just out for lunch.”

“C’mon,” Olivia said. “Let’s get this over with.”

Captain Deakins watched with trepidation as Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson approached his office. He’d sighted them the moment they’d walked around the corner into the bullpen, and he didn’t know what worried him more – that they did not look in the least bit happy to be there, or that they even were there in the first place.

He watched as they looked pointedly towards Bobby and Alex’s empty desks, noted the relief on their faces and felt that ominous sense of foreboding slowly growing. He didn’t know why they were here, and he was fairly sure he didn’t want to know.

They arrived at the door of his office, and Olivia knocked lightly on the open door out of courtesy.

“Excuse us, Captain Deakins. Could we have a word with you, sir?”

Deakins wasn’t sure whether it was a good thing or not that they hadn’t immediately asked where Bobby was. Reigning in his mounting fears, Deakins motioned for them to come in and sit down.

“What is this about, Detectives?”

To his consternation, they exchanged a quick glance before either spoke, as though neither one was sure of what to say.

“Sir,” Olivia said finally, “Captain Cragen… requested that we come. We… We have a problem with a current case, and we think Bobby might be able to help.”

“But he doesn’t have to,” Elliot jumped in quickly. “We don’t want to force him into anything that he’s not ready to do.”

Deakins regarded them both in bemusement, while a small part of him was silently breathing a very big sigh of relief. He had been genuinely afraid that Elliot and Olivia’s arrival meant some new problem… perhaps an appeal by Matic to have his life sentence reduced, or overturned altogether. It was a huge relief that that was clearly not the case.

“Why don’t you just explain to me what the problem is, Detectives, and then we’ll see how we go from there. All right?”

Again, Olivia and Elliot exchanged looks. Deakins was being amiable enough right now, but just wait until he’d heard what the ‘problem’ was.

“We have a difficult case on our hands,” Olivia explained. “The victim is an eleven year-old girl. She was assaulted in similar circumstances to Bobby. Our problem is that we know who the identity of one of the two men who attacked her, but they were both very careful. They used condoms, and they didn’t leave behind any trace. Unless the little girl will identify him formally, we can’t continue to hold him, and then there’s every chance that he’ll go after her again, this time to kill her.”

“She’s too scared to talk?” Deakins queried.

“We don’t think it’s that,” Elliot answered. “She said she didn’t want to talk about it to anyone, because no one understands what she’d been through. They only pretend to understand.”

Deakins rubbed one hand over his face, suddenly feeling very tired.

“Hence the idea to ask for Bobby’s help.”

“We know,” Elliot agreed ruefully. “We didn’t want to come at all, but we’ve only got a few hours left before we have to let this mutt go, and our captain ordered us to come and ask.”

“Tell me honestly,” Deakins asked quietly, “do you really believe that Bobby could get through to this girl.”

“If he can’t,” Olivia said ruefully, “then no one can. Captain Deakins, she was being looked after by her uncle while her parents were away overnight. He called a buddy over, they tied the little girl to her bed and raped her repeatedly over four or five hours.”

Deakins was horrified.

“And she won’t identify him?”

“Part of it is her parents,” Elliot said. “They just won’t believe that the uncle had anything to do with it. And the uncle is claiming he was in the den all night, listening to music with earphones on. He says she let a boyfriend in on the sly, he got rough with her, and now she’s trying to get out of trouble with her parents by accusing him of rape.”

Deakins frowned.

“That’s a pretty flimsy alibi.”

“But it could hold up if she won’t identify him,” Elliot pointed out.

The captain sighed softly.

“I would love to be able to tell you no, that Bobby can’t help you. I really would love to be able to do that. I think this will rock him badly, and it’s a reminder that he just doesn’t need. But the truth is, it’s not my call to make. The decision has to be his, and no one else’s.”

“So you’re saying to go ahead and ask him?” Olivia queried. Deakins looked from her to Elliot piercingly.

“I’m saying to tread very carefully, Detectives. Yes, ask him. But for god’s sake, be sensitive about it. And if he says no, then accept that. Don’t argue with him over it.”

“We won’t,” Olivia promised. “If he says no, then that’s it. We won’t push it any further with him. Uh… Where is he, anyway?”

“Around the corner in one of the task rooms,” Deakins answered. “He’s with Eames, Logan and Barek. Working lunch.”

They stood up to go.

“Thankyou, sir,” Elliot said graciously. Deakins said nothing as they went, and waited until they were out of sight before picking up the phone and dialling the number of Dr Thomas, Bobby’s psychiatrist.

Elliot and Olivia found Bobby in one of the task rooms, just as Deakins had said. They paused before interrupting, watching as he interacted with his fellow detectives.

Though he had long since abandoned the eye patch, he was still restricted to wearing dark glasses both indoors and out to protect his vision. Self-conscious though he had been at first with the glasses, he’d quickly gotten used to having them on all the time. They served a secondary purpose, as well. The terrible facial scarring that he’d been left with on and around his eyes was almost completely hidden from sight when he wore the glasses.

His right hand was now completely free of plaster, and he was only required to wear a brace on it at night-time to keep from injuring it in his sleep. His left hand was still enclosed in a highly restrictive full length brace that ran from the tips of his fingers almost to his elbow, but word was that he had begun having physiotherapy for that, as well, and that it wouldn’t be long before he had reasonable use of it once more.

Physically, Bobby was making progress in leaps and bounds, and the only remaining visible reminders of the attack were his hands and his eyes. What other bruises and scars he still had were well-hidden beneath long-sleeved and high-collared shirts.

Emotionally, things were still raw, and though he was dealing better with the memories, the pain was still all-too-visible for those who bothered to look past the façade. He was still hurting, very much so, and would continue to hurt for a very long time to come. He was learning to function normally again, though, as Elliot and Olivia could see as they observed him.

As they watched, Mike made a comment that they couldn’t quite hear, and Bobby nearly choked on the sandwich that he’d just taken a bite of. Alex banged him on the back and held up a bottle of water for him to sip. Once he’d stopped coughing, he shot Mike a threatening look, and made a retort in a low voice. Alex and Carolyn abruptly burst out laughing and then, a moment later, Mike and Bobby cracked up as well.

Elliot nudged Olivia, and inclined his head towards the interview room. So far, none of the four detectives were aware of their presence, but it would only take one of them to glance up, and they’d be spotted. Best to just go in, and get it over with.

“We just going to ask him in there?” Elliot wondered in a low murmur. Olivia looked at him like he’d just grown a second head.

“Are you out of your mind? Alex and Mike are in there, and they both have guns. No, we talk to him on his own. Now, let’s go.”

“You’re real funny when you want to be, you know that, Bobby?” Mike retorted, trying to sound sarcastic but unable to hide the huge grin on his face. Bobby threw a mock glare in his direction.

“Be thankful I don’t get up and ram this sandwich down your throat. I could have choked, idiot.”

Mike shrugged. “Hey, don’t sweat it, pal. I know the Heimlich manoeuvre.”

“Well, that makes me feel so much better. Next time, though, save the gutter talk for out of the office.”

Mike’s grin widened, if that were even possible.

“Hey, all I said was...”

“I heard the first time, thanks very much,” Bobby growled. “And it’s way too much information about what you and Alex did last Saturday night.”

“I think we made him uncomfortable,” Mike said to Alex in a conspiratorial tone. Carolyn shook her head, thought she was having a hard time not simply bursting out laughing again.

“He’s not the only one, Logan. I suggest you shut your trap before one of us does it for you. I swear, I’ve never had a partner like you before.”

“But you wouldn’t want me any other way, would you, sweetheart?” he teased.

“Mike, please,” Alex said with a smirk. “Some of us are trying to keep our lunches down.”

Grinning, Mike started to return his attention to the file that sat open in front of him when a shadow crossed the doorway, and the four of them looked up to find Elliot and Olivia standing there.

“Hey, you escaped SVU for a while to come play with the big boys,” Mike said cheerfully. Elliot grinned. It was near-impossible to be annoyed with Mike. Even when he insulted you, he did it with such good humour that you had to smile and laugh right along with him.

“Watch it, Logan,” he retorted. “You’ve only been permanent with Major Case for a month. They could still drop you back on Staten Island.”

“In your dreams,” Mike shot back.

“What are you guys doing here?” Alex asked, and though she still had a smile on her face, it had become a tentative one. When Elliot didn’t answer, Olivia bit back a sigh and spoke up.

“We actually need to talk to Bobby.”

“Well, c’mon in,” Alex invited them. “There’s enough room in here.”

“We need to talk to him privately,” Olivia elaborated.

Silence fell. Carolyn, not quite understanding what she was in the middle of, dropped her gaze instinctively to her files. Mike and Alex automatically looked over at Bobby who, in return, was peering up at Elliot and Olivia through his dark glasses.

“This isn’t anything to do with Matic… is it?” he asked, his voice taking on a telltale tremor.

“No,” Elliot answered as firmly as his own nerves would allow him to. “Nothing to do with that son of a bitch, I guarantee it. No… This is something else.”

“If you want to talk to him,” Alex said suddenly, her voice taking on a highly defensive tone, “then you can do it right here.”

“We’d really rather not,” Olivia insisted. Alex bristled visibly, but Bobby reacted faster, standing up and stepping away from the table.

“It’s okay, Alex. I’ll be back in a minute.” He stepped out of the room, past Olivia and Elliot. “This way. We’ll go into booking. There’s no one in there at the moment.”

“Bobby, we’ve got to ask you something,” Elliot said, once they were away from prying eyes and ears. “We didn’t want to put this on you, but we’re caught between a rock and a hard place, and we don’t know what else to do.”

“Spit it out, Elliot,” Bobby said quietly. “Just say it.”

“We’re working a case,” Olivia explained. “A little girl, just eleven. She was violently raped by her uncle. Except, her uncle denies it, wants to blame the assault on a boyfriend.”

“A boyfriend?” Bobby echoed sceptically. “At eleven? Has she even hit puberty yet?”

“Two months ago, according to her mother,” Olivia confirmed ruefully. “We’ve spoken to her friends, and according to them, there is no boyfriend, although her parents are insisting there is one...”

“Even though they’ve never actually met this supposed boyfriend,” Elliot added.

“The uncle was in the house,” Olivia continued on, “but he claims he was in the den all night, listening to music, and never heard a thing.”

Bobby frowned a little.

“What do you need me for?”

“Bobby, she wasn’t just raped once,” Olivia told him gently. “She was tied to her bed and raped multiple times over a period of around five hours. There was no trace left behind, and the little girl won’t talk to anyone about it because in her eyes there’s no one who understands what she went through. We need her to talk, to identify her uncle as her attacker, or we’re going to have to let him go.”

Aware of the ashen colour that Bobby had gone, Elliot spoke quickly, in a low voice.

“Her uncle has a record of violence a mile long, and we’re worried that if he walks, he might try to kill her. But she won’t listen to us, and she won’t talk to us.”

“But you think she might talk to me,” Bobby said softly.

“We’re hoping she will,” Olivia confirmed. “We need your help, Bobby, but we also don’t want to force you into doing something that you’re not ready for. You can say no if you want to. We’re not going to think any less of you for it.”

“No way,” Elliot agreed. “Not at all.”

Bobby didn’t respond. He stood still and quiet, staring at the floor. His first instinct, and it had been a powerful one, had been to scream no at them. No, he wasn’t ready. No, he couldn’t do it. No, no, no, no, NO! But even as he gathered himself to refuse, a single, simple memory brought him up short. His memory took him back briefly to his time in St Clare’s Hospital, after the attack, and to the memory of a visit from a brave young girl who had put aside her own traumas to extend an open offer of support to him.

He had been in regular contact with Maggie Coulter since that initial visit within the sterile confines of the ICU, and her courage and support had meant more to him than he was capable of expressing. How, in all good conscience, could he now refuse to help someone else, when Maggie had made such an effort for him?

“Yes,” he said, in a voice that was barely more than a whisper.

Both Olivia and Elliot started in surprise.

“Say that again?” Elliot asked, certain that he’d misheard. Bobby raised his eyes to look at them both, and beyond the pain and fear they saw a fresh spark of something that they could only define as pure, raw courage.

“I said yes. I’ll talk to her. When you do want to do this?”

“Well… now, if you can come,” Olivia said, stunned.

Bobby nodded.

“Let me tell the captain, and get my coat.”

He walked out of the holding area, head held high. Elliot and Olivia exchanged glances once more before silently following him out.

“Mike, would you just sit down?” Alex growled, tension and worry starting to echo in her voice.

Mike, however, didn’t move from where he stood in the doorway of the task room. It was where he’d been standing since Bobby went off with Elliot and Olivia.

“What the hell do they want with him?” he asked, not for the first time in the last ten minutes. “That’s all I want to know.”

“He’s not being held hostage by them, Mike,” Carolyn pointed out, not lifting her head from where she had her nose buried in a fresh file. “If he doesn’t like whatever it is that they’re saying to him, then he’s free to just walk away from them.”

“What if it is something to do with Matic?” Alex wondered. Carolyn shook her head, finally looking up and focusing a sure look on the other female detective.

“They said it wasn’t. Why would they lie?”

Mike sighed in frustration. “They wouldn’t. But, damn it, if they don’t come back soon, I’m going to go find out what’s going on myself. And if they’ve said or done a single thing to upset him...”

Carolyn raised an eyebrow at him.

“What are you, his keeper? Some sort of self-appointed buffer zone? Bobby’s a big boy, Mike. I think he can look after himself.”

“You don’t understand, Carolyn,” Alex said softly. “Bobby’s been coping well since he came back to work officially, but he still has moments where he struggles. When those moments happen, he really does rely on us to hold him up. We spent a lot of time convincing him he could rely on us like that so, in a way, a buffer zone is exactly what we are… to keep Bobby from crashing and burning if things ever get too hard for him.”

“If you ever have the privilege of being there when he wakes up screaming and crying from nightmares that would turn your hair grey,” Mike said coolly to his partner, “then maybe you’ll think twice about deriding any of us for trying to show him a little bit of support.”

Carolyn grimaced, well and truly chastened. “I’m sorry,” she murmured in a sincere apology. “I didn’t know. It’s really as bad as that?”

“Did you read any of the official case reports?” Alex asked, and Carolyn shook her head in answer.

“I only know what was in the newspapers, and on the television. It was an SVU case… I didn’t think it was my business to go chasing after the reports.”

“Deakins has a copy that Captain Cragen gave him,” Alex told her. “Ask him to let you read them. Tell him I suggested it. Just so you can have a better understanding of what he’s been through, okay?”

Carolyn nodded.

“Okay, I’ll do that.”

“And don’t read them on a full stomach,” Mike advised, his gaze still fixed in the direction of booking. Carolyn glanced at him, and then back to Alex questioningly. To her disconcertment, Alex nodded in agreement.

“He’s right. It’s enough to make anyone sick.”

Abruptly, Mike straightened up in the doorway.

“Hey, here they come… What the fuck...?”

Alex and Carolyn both got up at Mike’s confused exclamation, just in time to see Bobby walk around the corner and cross the floor, heading back towards the bullpen. Elliot and Olivia were close behind, both looking inordinately relieved. Confused and concerned, Mike, Alex and Carolyn left the task room and edged around the corner, just in time to see the three of them disappear into Deakins’ office.

“What do you think is going on?” Mike queried.

Before either Alex or Carolyn had a chance to speculate, Elliot and Olivia suddenly re-emerged from Deakins’ office, this time with Bobby and Captain Deakins in tow. The four headed purposefully across the floor and disappeared around the corner, towards the lifts.

“Okay,” Mike said tersely. “I said it already, but I’m going to say it again. What the fuck is going on?”

Alex shook her head, and was about to suggest they try calling Cragen over at SVU, when Deakins reappeared back around the corner. He paused, his gaze going to where the three of them stood, before grimacing noticeably and heading across the floor to where they stood.

“Well, I guess we’re going to find out,” Carolyn mused.

“Captain?” Alex asked as he walked over to them. “What’s going on?”

Deakins motioned for them to return to the task room. “Let’s go in there and shut the door, and I’ll tell you what’s happened.”

“You okay, Bobby?” Elliot asked as Bobby paused out the front of the hospital.

He didn’t answer, staring up at the less than welcoming architecture with obvious anxiety. It wasn’t the same hospital where he had been treated, but simply standing there was raising enough unpleasant memories to give him considerable pause. He felt a warm hand gently clasp his own, and he blinked and looked around to see Olivia beside him, smiling at him with warm empathy.

“You don’t have to go in there. We understand that it might be too much for you.”

Bobby swallowed back the bile that had been building in his throat. “I have to,” he said softly. “For… for myself as much as anything.”

“Are you sure?” Olivia asked, staring intently at Bobby. She got a weak smile in return.

“If I can’t do this much for someone else, how could I ever face Maggie again? Or even look at myself in the mirror… and believe me, that’s hard enough now.”

“Maggie?” Elliot wondered. “You mean Maggie Coulter...”

“She gave me support when she didn’t have to,” Bobby explained softly. “If she could do that for me...”

“You feel you should be able to do it for someone else,” Elliot finished off quietly. “It’s a noble gesture, Bobby, but if you don’t feel ready to do this, it doesn’t make you any less of a person. If you’re not ready to take this step, we don’t want to force you into it.”

In answer, Bobby let his breath out with a long hiss and took a deliberate step towards the hospital.

“Take me to her.”

Jessie Hill was a very angry eleven year old. She had been betrayed by the three main people in her life whom she had trusted most to look after her.

First, she had been betrayed by her uncle, who had put her through four or five hours of the worst hell imaginable, and then flatly denied it afterwards. Then, she had been betrayed by her mother and father, both of whom had decided to believe Uncle Owen’s version of events rather than hers. She had been labelled a liar by all of them. A vicious, manipulative little liar, were the exact words her furious mother had used.

As far as her parents were concerned, everything had happened exactly as her uncle had claimed. She had let a boyfriend in late at night, they’d had a nice long romp in the sack that had gotten kind of out of hand, and now she was trying to blame her poor innocent uncle just to get herself out of trouble.

Jessie lifted her hands slowly, and looked at the rope burns around her wrists. There were similar markings on her ankles, indicating how she’d been tied down. If she lifted up her nightgown, she’d get an eyeful of the massive bruising on her stomach and chest. She had three broken ribs, a cracked pelvic bone, and numerous other minor injuries. It beggared belief that her parents would so readily believe her injuries were the result of sex with a boyfriend.

She almost laughed at the notion. She didn’t even have a boyfriend, and if her parents pulled their heads out of their asses for five minutes, they might have remembered that. Hell, she still was of the opinion that boys in general were a repulsive disease – something to stay well clear of. There was no way she’d associate with boys, let alone let one into her pants. Hell, no.

She tried, unsuccessfully, to settle back down into the uncomfortable hospital bed. Then there were those detectives, the ones who had tried to convince her to talk to them about what happened. In the end, she had practically screamed at them to get out, but not for the reasons they thought. She wasn’t scared of telling the truth about her uncle. She wasn’t scared of having to testify against him. No, the reason she had told them to get out and leave her alone was because nothing they said or did would be able to change her parents’ opinion that she was a liar.

Her mother and her father refused to believe that a person would willingly do harm to someone else in their own family. If she’d said a complete stranger had climbed in her bedroom window and attacked her, they would have believed her hands down. But because she’d accused her uncle, they had turned on her, instead. They would not believe that dear, sweet, harmless-as-a-fly Uncle Owen would harm her, let along violate her in the way she’d claimed.

Family doesn’t hurt family, Jessie,’ her father had told her sternly after the detectives had gone. ‘You should remember that before telling such horrendous lies.’

She shut her eyes, trying to block out the sight of her father sitting in the corner of the room, reading one of his boring finance papers. She would never forgive her parents for betraying her like this.

The door of her room opened, and she heard her father speak angrily before she even had a chance to open her eyes.

“I thought we told you no more, Detectives.”

“We thought we’d try again once Jessie had had some time to think things through,” came the calm reply.

Jessie half-opened her eyes, and got an eyeful of her father getting into the face of the male detective who had tried to speak to her earlier that day. To the cop’s credit, he wasn’t backing down or showing any sign of intimidation.

“She’s had time to think, all right,” Martin Hill snapped angrily. “She’s going to withdraw those idiotic accusations against her uncle.”

Olivia stepped around and up to the bed, smiling reassuringly at her.

“Hi, Jessie.”

Jessie looked away. “I said I didn’t want to talk.”

“Why?” Olivia asked. “Do you want to withdraw your complaint against your uncle?”

“Go ahead, Jessie,” her father told her sternly. “Tell them.”

Jessie regarded her father with cold, angry eyes.

“No,” she said softly. “I don’t.”

“Damn it, Jessie!” he bellowed, only to suddenly find Elliot in his face.

“Back off, Mr Hill. Let your daughter say what she wants to say, or the first thing we do when we walk out of here is call Child Welfare and have them send an advocate over.”

Olivia gently touched Jessie’s shoulder, drawing the girl’s attention back to her. “Honey, listen to me. You say you don’t want to withdraw the complaint, but unless you talk to us, and tell us everything that happened, we won’t be able to stop your uncle from going free. The only way we can keep him locked up is if you’re willing to talk to us.”

“What’s the point?” Jessie asked bitterly. “He won’t believe me. He’d rather believe Uncle Owen over me.”

“Goddamn it, Jessie, the man is your uncle!” Martin snapped. “He’s family! Family just doesn’t hurt each other, not like that.”

“Exactly what rock have you been living under?” Elliot asked him incredulously. Jessie looked away again, but not before Olivia caught sight of the tears in her eyes.

“You see? He’ll never believe me. Nobody understands. Nobody...”

“That’s not true,” Elliot said quietly. He paused, glancing towards the open doorway, and then spoke gently. “Jessie, we’d like to introduce you to Detective Robert Goren.”

Jessie looked back around slowly, and was slightly taken aback by the huge man who had suddenly appeared in the doorway. Immediately, her gaze was drawn to his face, and to the wrap-around dark glasses he wore. Then, to his left hand, which was completely enclosed in a restrictive brace. He didn’t seem much different to the other two detectives, although there was something about him that attracted her interest. Her curiosity faded quickly, though, and she threw a scathing look in Elliot’s direction.

“Someone oughtta tell him the Secret Agent look with the dark glasses is totally old.”

Bobby smiled, and chuckled softly. “You’re not the first person to point that out, and believe me, I wouldn’t wear these if I didn’t have to.”

Jessie looked back at him, puzzled.

“What do you mean?”

“I have to wear these glasses all the time, indoors as well as out. My eyes are too sensitive at the moment. The light would only damage them.”

For a brief moment, Jessie was almost drawn in by the detective’s soft, lulling tone. Almost, but not quite.

“So you’ve got sensitive eyes,” she retorted. “Big deal. What’s that got to do with me?”

“It’s how it happened that’s relative to you,” Bobby answered. “It’s not anything natural, and it wasn’t an accident.”

“Just what the hell has all this got to do with what’s happened to my daughter?” Martin Hill demanded to know impatiently. Bobby looked around at Elliot.

“Could you dim the lights in here, Elliot?”

Elliot did so wordlessly, and Olivia pulled the shades to keep out any light from the corridor outside. Once the room had been sufficiently dimmed, Bobby reached up and carefully removed the dark glasses, revealing the awful scarring around his eyes. Jessie couldn’t help it. She gasped aloud, eyes widening at the sight.

“Oh god… What happened to your eyes?”

“They were burned shut with a hot poker,” Bobby explained quietly. “They had to be surgically opened again.”

“Who did that to you?” Jessie asked, expecting him to perhaps say that he had been caught out while undercover, or something similar.

“The two men that my brother recruited to beat me, rape and kill me,” Bobby answered simply. Jessie’s breath caught audibly, while Martin Hill stood at the end of his daughter’s bed, staring at Bobby with a mixture of horror and disbelief. Only Elliot and Olivia noticed the slight tremor in Bobby’s stance, and the way his right hand closed into a fist at his side.

“Your… your brother?” Jessie echoed, her voice barely more than a whisper. Bobby approached the bedside slowly, his focus completely on the little girl.

“My brother,” he confirmed. “He planned an attack, and he found a couple of men to help him carry it out.”

“But… why?”

“I don’t really know for sure why,” Bobby admitted. “He gave a lot of reasons, but I’ll never know if any one of them in particular was the real reason for it.”

“Bullshit,” Martin Hill said suddenly, snapping out his momentary shock. “This is all bullshit...”

Without hesitation, Elliot was right back in his face.

“No, Mr Hill, it’s not. And I suggest you shut up right now, and let Detective Goren talk to your daughter. Okay?”

More than a little put-out, Hill backed off, scowling angrily. Where she lay in the bed, Jessie continued to stare at Bobby, no longer even aware of her father’s presence.

“Your brother really did that? He… set you up like that?”

“He did more than set me up,” Bobby said softly, unable to keep the anger and the hurt entirely out of his voice. “He took part in it himself.”

“Did you have trouble making people believe it?”

A small, bitter smile touched Bobby’s lips.

“I could barely make myself believe it. I was in such complete denial that I totally repressed all the memories that included my brother assaulting me. And then, when I did remember, I was sure that it must have somehow been my fault. That my own brother wouldn’t have hurt me like that unless I’d done something to really deserve that sort of punishment.” Bobby paused, glancing briefly across at Elliot. “It took a couple of good friends to make me understand that it wasn’t my fault, that I didn’t have to lessen what he’d done to me just because he was family… or for any other reason.”

Jessie’s gaze dropped to his left hand.

“Did they do that, too?”

Bobby followed her gaze down, and nodded once.

“They put my hands on wooden blocks, and smashed them up with a hammer. Every bone in my left hand was broken.”

Jessie looked back up at Bobby, tears filling her eyes and overflowing.

“Your brother really… I mean… He...”

She couldn’t bring herself to say it. Despite her tough façade, she just couldn’t make herself say it. Bobby said it for her, in a voice that was audibly strained.

“My brother raped me,” Bobby confirmed softly, pain brutally clear in his voice. He looked around at Hill, and the look on his face was such that Hill could not hold his gaze. “Don’t say that families never hurt each other like that, because it does happen. It happens all the time. It happened to me, and it happened to your daughter. Stop denying it, and start supporting her, like fathers are supposed to do.”

The raw emotion in Bobby’s voice, and in his face, could not be denied. Hill couldn’t avoid it, even though he was trying hard enough.

“But…” he stammered. “Owen’s my wife’s brother, for God’s sake...”

“And this is your daughter,” Olivia pointed out firmly. Jessie looked from Bobby to her father, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I loved Uncle Owen, Dad! You know I did! Why would I say he did something like this to me, if it wasn’t true...”

Though Hill still didn’t move, the tears that filled his eyes were a visible sign that some invisible barrier had finally been shattered.

“Oh god… My own brother in-law,” Hill moaned, his words sending a thoroughly unpleasant chill through Bobby. He remembered thinking exactly the same thing when he first began to remember Richie’s involvement in his assault. The truth was, he’d known from the first just how deeply involved Richie had been but, as he had said to Jessie, he had been in such an utter state of denial that he effectively repressed the memories. Memories that had, eventually, forced their way painfully to the surface of his mind.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” Jessie whispered in a trembling voice as she watched her father’s ice-cold façade finally splinter and fall apart. She looked up at Bobby, a desperate hope in her eyes. “If you’ll stay...?”

Bobby nodded once, silently hoping that he would be able to hold down the contents of his stomach long enough for the girl to make a formal statement. God, he was starting to wish he hadn’t had that schnitzel sandwich…

“I’ll stay,” he promised her softly.

Approximately one hour later

It was sheer luck, and nothing more, that Bobby made it to the bathroom down the corridor in time. Giving a fleeting prayer of thanks that the bathroom was empty, he rushed into the nearest stall, collapsed painfully to his knees and threw up violently into the toilet bowl.

Minutes passed that felt more like hours, before he heard the bathroom door creak open slowly, and a familiar voice spoke.

“Bobby? You need some help, man?”

Bobby didn’t answer. Though his stomach seemed to have finally emptied itself, he was still dry-retching in an almost reflexive action. He had no idea how much time had really past by the time he managed to regain control, and pushed himself back from the bowl, reaching up weakly to flush it.

A hand on his shoulder told him he wasn’t alone, and he looked around slowly to find Elliot crouching there, watching him with visible concern.

“I’m sorry, Bobby. I didn’t anticipate her wanting you to stay while she gave her statement.”

“S’okay,” Bobby mumbled, getting awkwardly to his feet. Leaning over the basin, he scooped some water from the tap into his mouth, trying to wash out the acrid taste of vomit.

“No,” Elliot said softly. “It’s not okay. I should have gotten you out of there long ago.”

Bobby stood there in silence, staring at his reflection in the mirror. He’d been shaken, he didn’t deny that. But at the same time, he didn’t feel particularly bad. Exhausted, but not in a bad way. He couldn’t say he felt good, but he definitely was not feeling bad. It was… a curious sensation.

“I’ll be okay, Elliot,” he assured him softly. “You heard what Deakins said, about letting Dr Thomas know that you might need to see him. You want me and Olivia to take you to his office.”

Instinctively, Bobby wanted to say no, but he knew better.

“Yeah,” he murmured softly. “I think you’d probably better.”

One Police Plaza Alex had been acting like a caged lion for a good forty-five minutes, pacing aimlessly around the squad’s bullpen and snarling at anyone who so much as looked at her the wrong way. Eventually, when Mike tried to convince her to settle down and got punched in the chest for his trouble, everyone decided to just leave her to her own devices. And so she continued her restless pacing of the bullpen until Deakins finally emerged from his office and strode across the floor to Mike and Carolyn’s desks.

“Alex. Quit wearing a hole in the floor, and come over here.”

She walked over, her expression dark.

“If you’re giving us a new case now...”

“Trust me, I value my life more than that,” Deakins retorted. “No, I just got a call from Olivia Benson. She and Elliot delivered Bobby to Dr Thomas’ office a few minutes ago.”

“Is he okay?” Mike asked, sounding as anxious as Alex looked, much to Deakins’ quiet amusement.

“According to Benson, he’s a little shaken, and pretty much exhausted, but he’s otherwise okay. He’s with Dr Thomas now, but Benson said they can’t wait there for him to finish, that they have to get back to sort out the little girl’s statement. Alex, go wait for him, and then take him home, okay? Stay with him as long as you feel you need to, and don’t let him come back here before tomorrow.”

She nodded. “I won’t. Thankyou, sir.”

“So, they got what they needed?” Mike asked tightly once Alex had gone.

Deakins nodded in confirmation.

“Benson says that they did.”

The expression on Mike’s face was less than forgiving.

“I hope dismantling Bobby’s state of mind was worth it.”

Deakins shot Mike a hard look.

“It was Bobby’s decision to go with them to the hospital, Mike. No one pressured him into it, least of all Benson and Stabler. Now, I know you care about his wellbeing, and I appreciate that, but do not stand there and denigrate Bobby’s courage, just because you think he still can’t cope well enough to be able to make decisions for himself. He can, and the truth is that he might just be stronger than you’re giving him credit for.”

Mike blanched a little at the verbal reprimand, but didn’t back down.

“Well, I guess we’ll know by tomorrow just how badly this has affected him, won’t we?”

Deakins nodded his agreement.

“Yes, we will, and I think you might just be surprised.”

Dr Graham Thomas’ office

Bobby wasn’t the least bit surprised to emerge from Dr Thomas’ office nearly an hour later to find Alex sitting in the reception area, waiting for him. He was just quietly grateful that he could offer her a genuine smile, even if it felt somewhat jaded to him.

She stood up to greet him, smiling warmly but making no effort to make physical contact, instead leaving that choice to him. She was hugely pleased when he walked over to her, and put his arms around her carefully in a fierce hug, which she returned with enthusiasm.

“How are you feeling?” she asked softly.

“Tired,” he admitted in an equally soft voice. “I don’t think I could cope with going back to work now.”

“It’s okay,” she reassured him. “Deakins anticipated that. He told me to take you home, and that you weren’t to show your face at One Police Plaza again until tomorrow.”

“And you…?” Bobby asked tentatively. She smiled again. She knew what he was hedging at, even if he couldn’t quite bring himself to say it.

“He told me to stay with you as long as I felt I needed to. Don’t worry, Bobby. I won’t leave you alone.”

The relief in his brown eyes was blatantly obvious.


“Can I ask you something?”

Alex raised an eyebrow as she handed him a mug of coffee, and settled down on the sofa beside him with a steaming mug of her own.

“What is it?”

“What would you say if I told you I was considering cosmetic surgery?”

A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, and as much as she knew she shouldn’t, the opportunity was just far too good to pass up.

“Okay, which is it?”

He glanced at her, puzzled.

“What do you mean?”

“Tummy tuck? Liposuction? Or maybe you were thinking collagen injections?”

He smiled wryly. “Sure, like I need liposuction. I think the months of having next to no appetite did wonders for my waistline. Although, the way you and Jo keep trying to force-feed me...”

“You’re never going to let the poor woman live down the hotdog incident, are you?”

“Alex, I had to ride the goddamn subway with a shirt that looked like a Picasso painting. Damn straight I’m not going to let her live it down.”

She laughed softly. “Okay, so why are you really thinking about cosmetic surgery?”

He hesitated, and then removed the dark glasses just long enough for her to get an eyeful of the scarring on his face. “Because of this.”

Her amusement dropped away like a rock.

“Oh… Bobby...”

“If you think I’m being an idiot...”

“No, no I don’t. I understand why you’d want it. And, I guess, if it will help you to feel better about yourself in general, then I’m not going to try and talk you out of it. Just, promise me you won’t choose some third class hack?”

Bobby smiled wryly.

“Don’t worry, I won’t. I talked to Dr Cutler a few days ago, and he said he’d be willing to do it when he’s in New York next… That’ll be around two or three months’ time. I… I guess I can wait until then.”

Alex nodded her approval. “Well, he did a damned good job on your eyes. I think he’d be a good choice. So… You’ll definitely have it done?”

“I think so,” he murmured. “I haven’t made an absolute final decision yet, but I think I will. It… It’s not that I want to feel completely normal… I mean, I do, but I know that cosmetic surgery won’t really change how I feel inside. But I’ll at least be able to feel confident again about talking to witnesses… and to suspects… without having them look at me like I’m some sort of freak.”

“I understand,” Alex assured him. “I really do, Bobby. And you know you always have my support.”

“I appreciate that,” Bobby murmured gratefully.

Silence fell for a little while as they each sipped at their coffees, lost in their own thoughts. When the silence was finally broken, it was Alex who broke it.

“How are you feeling about today, Bobby? About talking to that little girl, and having to listen to her story, I mean. Tell me honestly.”

“Honestly? It hurt to go over everything as bluntly as that. But at the same time, it helped a little, too. I… I felt like… just being able to talk about it at all, and to someone I’d never met before… Well, it was a pretty big step forward. It did hurt, but it wasn’t the same kind of hurt. I… I can’t really explain it, except to say that I just didn’t feel so bad afterwards.”

“I think I understand what you’re trying to say,” Alex murmured. “I’m glad to hear it, too. You’ve talked a few times about wanting to claim your life back, and today I think you really made a lot of progress with that.”

Bobby smiled faintly.

“I think I did, too.”

Alex awoke with a start sometime after midnight, yanked out of sleep with a sickening jolt. For several seconds she couldn’t remember where she was, but then it came back to her. She was in the spare bedroom in Bobby’s apartment, having decided to stay there in anticipation of him having some truly horrendous nightmares, following the day’s events.

Realising that Bobby was the very reason she had been woken so abruptly, Alex slid out of the bed and hurried out and around to his room, already running through the various methods she had of safely waking him up from his nightmares.

She pushed open the door of his bedroom, and stopped short. Illuminated by the soft light of a lamp that he’d taken to keeping on all night, Bobby slept soundly and peacefully in his own bed, apparently undisturbed by dreams of any kind.

Alex blinked, confused. She was sure he must have been having a nightmare. Why else would she have woken up? And then, as she stood there watching him, something occurred to her. She had been woken by something unusual. There had been no cries in the night, no screams, no sobs. Nothing. All was quiet. All was peaceful. Bobby was peaceful.

She had literally been woken by the sound of silence.

Venturing into his room, she took the liberty of drawing the quilt up to cover him properly. Then, in an impromptu gesture of tenderness, she leaned down and pressed her lips gently to his cheek. He stirred a little at the contact, but didn’t wake up. Smiling to herself with a contentment that she hadn’t felt for a long time, Alex backed silently out of the room and returned to her own bedroom, and to the peacefulness of sleep.

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