A/N: To everyone who left a review or messaged me after the last chapter, expressing concerns over what Bobby's visit with his mother might turn out to be like... Well, let's just say I'm posting this and then ducking for cover.

“Frank!” Frances burst out, delight evident in her voice. “Oh my goodness, Frank! You came to see me!”

“I said I would, didn’t I, Ma?” Frank said with a weary smile as he leaned down to kiss her.

“Yes, you did, and you always keep your word, unlike that ingrate brother of yours.”

“Stop it, Ma,” Frank growled, acutely aware that Bobby had probably heard every word. “Bobby’s here. He came with me.”

“Well, where is he?” Frances demanded, trying to peer around Frank as though Bobby was hiding behind him. “Bobby?”

“Mom, before he comes in, you need to prepare yourself, okay? Remember what I told you when I was here a few days ago?”

Frances snorted derisively.

“I remember you trying to make up ridiculous excuses for your brother not coming to see me.”

It took every ounce of inner strength that Frank had not to just snap at her.

“It wasn’t an excuse, Mom. Something really bad happened to Bobby. He was shot, Ma. He was shot, and the bullet did a lot of damage. He’s paralysed from the waist down. Bobby’s in a wheelchair, Ma.”

If Frances had taken any heed of Frank’s words, though, she gave no sign. Instead, she continued looking past Frank, searching for sight of her younger son. Sighing a little, Frank called for Bobby to come in.

His heart in his throat, Bobby manoeuvred himself into the room, and into the disapproving stare of his sick mother.

“Well, look at this,” Frances retorted scathingly. “How the mighty have fallen. You know I always said you’d come crashing down, didn’t I? The big, tough policeman, so proud and full of himself…”

“Ma, knock it off,” Frank snapped angrily. “Leave him alone.”

Frances looked to Frank with a reproving frown, but didn’t argue.

“All right, then. You’d better tell me what happened.”

Loathed though he was to relive the incident in the warehouse all over again, Bobby nonetheless related it back to Frances. She listened in silence, without interrupting, but Bobby knew from the look on her face that she was not at all sympathetic to him.

“Well,” she said shortly once he’d finished. “Maybe now you’ll stop your delusions of grandeur, and being the big hero, and find yourself a real job like Frank here.”

“Ma, stop it!” Frank burst out. “Damn it, I don’t have a job, so quit holding me up like some goddamn saint! Hell, I’d be lucky if I could get a job as a janitor right now! Bobby’s the one you should be proud of, not me. He’s so good at what he does that even now, when he’s paralysed, there are people fighting over him because they all want him to work for them. The FBI wants him so bad that their top profiler came to New York personally to see Bobby! So just stop with the criticism and the snide comments, okay?”

Frances shifted on the chair, regarding both her sons coolly.

“Is that true, Bobby?”

Bobby didn’t know right then whether to hit Frank or to thank him.

“Yeah, Mom. It… It’s true.”

“Well, then, I guess your mother was wrong. Happy now?”

“Ah, damn it, Ma,” Frank growled, standing up and starting to pace the room in frustration.

“Frank, would you please go and get me a soda?” Frances asked in a suddenly placid voice. Frank hesitated, looking from Frances to Bobby, and back to Frances again.

“Well, can’t we just ask a nurse to get you one?”

“I want you to do it,” she told him. “Obviously Bobby is incapable.”

Bobby winced slightly at the deliberate dig, and Frank frowned darkly at Frances in irritation for his little brother. Frances went on, seemingly oblivious to their reactions.

“Besides, I want to talk to your brother alone for a few minutes.”

A distant alarm bell began to ring faintly in Frank’s mind, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why.

“I don’t know, Ma…”

“It’s okay, Frank,” Bobby murmured, and even as he looked down at his brother, Frank knew that Bobby was bracing himself for a fresh round of verbal abuse. The look in his eyes spoke in volumes.

Let’s just get this over with, and then we can get the hell out of here

Sighing inwardly and hoping he wasn’t making a tremendous mistake, Frank reluctantly conceded and, patting Bobby’s shoulder supportively, he trudged out of the room. Once he was gone, Frances got up and walked over to shut the door. Bobby watched with trepidation as she then came around to look at him head-on, her gaze unforgiving and unbelieving.

“All right. Don’t you think this nonsense has gone on long enough?”

A chill raced down Bobby’s spine at the all-too-familiar tone of her voice.

Please God, not another breakdown, he thought numbly. Not now

“Mom, I don’t…”

“You may have your brother fooled,” Frances snapped. “He always did have a soft spot for you, God love him. But I know better, don’t I, Robert?”

Bobby felt the nausea roll through his stomach. His mother was teetering on the brink of a fresh psychotic break, and he’d told Frank it was okay to go and leave him alone with her…

“Mom, please…”

His words were cut short when she slapped him hard across the face, leaving a fierce red welt on his cheek.

“Stop it. Just stop it. Don’t you dare take that whining tone with me, Robert Goren. And you can get your lazy behind up and out of that chair, too. You’re not an invalid. Good god, Bobby, your father will be home any minute! Do you really want him to catch you fooling around like this?”

For the first time in a long, long while, Bobby suddenly felt like he was seven years old again – frightened, and helpless to stop his mother’s descent into madness. All of a sudden, he wanted desperately to be out of there, and as far away from her as he could get.

“Mom, I can’t get up,” Bobby told her shakily, willing her with all his strength to understand and accept what he was telling her. “Frank told you the truth. I… I’m paralysed.”

His head rocked violently to the side as she hit him again.

“I said enough! Do you want me to have to tell your father about this? So you want him to beat you again? Because that’s what you’re heading for, young man.”

“Ma, please,” Bobby begged, while at the same time trying to manoeuvre himself out of her reach. “Stop! Dad’s not going to walk in… He’s not coming home…”

She hit him a third time, this time backhanding him across the face, and he cried out in pain as he felt his nose break from the impact.

“And whose fault is that, you deceitful little bastard? Now, for the last time, will you get up out of that contraption!”

“Mom, look at me!” Bobby choked out. “Don’t you think I would, if I could? I can’t walk, Mom! My legs don’t work anymore!”

Slowly, Frances turned away from him.

“So you won’t get up.”

“I told you, I can’t,” Bobby insisted.

What happened next happened so fast that Bobby barely had time to register it, let alone physically react to defend himself. When Frances turned back towards him, Bobby had just a second to realise that she’d picked up the water jug from the side table.

He saw it coming at his head, and instinctively tried to pull backwards in a futile attempt to avoid being struck. He was too late, though. The glass jug, made all the heavier by the volume of water it held, collided with his face and smashed against his cheek, jaw and temple.

Pain exploded in Bobby’s face and skull. Worse, the force of the blow added to his own backwards momentum, causing him to overbalance. He went over backwards in the wheelchair, crying out again as he landed in a painful, twisted heap on the floor with the wheelchair partially on top of him.

Dimly, he was aware of his mother standing over the top of him, screaming hysterically, but nothing she said registered in his mind. All he knew was the searing pain in his face.

The last thought that slid through his mind as he gave in to the darkness that was waiting to claim him was why in the hell had they allowed his mother to have a glass pitcher in her room…?

Frank had reached the nurses’ station just around the corner before deciding it was ludicrous to leave Bobby alone with their mother, particularly when she was in such an abusive frame of mind. Asking one of the nurses to get the soda that he was fairly certain she didn’t really want, Frank hurried back to Frances’ room.

He was almost to the door when he realised that the raised voices he could hear close by were, in fact, coming from within her room. Before he could discern what was being said, there was a loud crash from inside, intermixed with an audible cry of pain that Frank immediately recognised as coming from his little brother.

Stricken, Frank rushed to the room and pushed on the door, only to discover that it would not open.

“Ma!” he yelled. “Ma, open the door!”

There was another heavy thump, and then Frances spoke in a disturbingly calm voice.

“Go back to your room, Frank. I’m disciplining your brother.”

“Mom, no!” Frank screamed, pounding uselessly on the door. “Stop! Don’t hurt him!”

“Your father will be home very soon, Frank. Just go back to your room. This isn’t your concern.”

“Ma, open the door!” Frank yelled, but Frances was no longer responding, and from inside the room Frank could hear the disturbing sound of dull thuds – as though something, or someone, was being repeatedly hit.

“Ma, damn you!”

“What the hell is going on?”

It was Dr Shimo, returning with Dr Fielding.

“It’s Mom,” Frank gasped. “She’s in there with Bobby, and I think she’s hurting him. I can’t get the door open, she must’ve locked it.”

“These doors don’t lock, not from the inside or the outside, in case of emergencies.” He tried the door, only to discover that it wouldn’t budge, just as Frank had said. “There must be something on the other side, jamming it.”

“Or someone,” Fielding said in a tense voice. “Bobby! Can you hear me?”

There was no response, just as Fielding had feared.

“Ma, open the goddamn door!” Frank bellowed again, terror starting to creep into his voice.

“Frank, go back to your room!” Frances ordered him. “You don’t want to be there when your father comes home.”

“Mom, you’re hurting Bobby!” Frank choked out in distress.

“It’s for his own good. He’s much better off taking this from me, than his father.”

“Sweet Jesus, she’s going to kill him,” Shimo groaned, even as he hit the panic button that was a part of his pager, summoning help.

“Frank, what was your father’s name?” Fielding asked urgently.

“William… Bill. Why?”

“What was he like with Bobby? Kind? Cruel? Indifferent? Quickly!”

“Sometimes indifferent, sometimes cruel… Although, he hated seeing Mom lay into Bobby. Even though he beat Bobby himself, he saw what he dished out as discipline, but when Mom beat him, it was just because she was crazy, you know?”

Fielding didn’t hesitate. Hoping to God that he was doing the right thing, he turned to the jammed door and spoke loudly in as deep and authoritative a voice as he could manage.

“ Frances! Open up this goddamn door right now!”

Sudden silence fell inside the room.

“Bill?” Frances called out tentatively. Not daring to look at Frank or Dr Shimo, Fielding spoke again, keeping his voice as rough and angry as he could.

“Yeah, it’s me. What the hell are you doing in there?”

“I’m disciplining Bobby! You always said I had to be tougher on him!”

“Goddamn it, Frances, I meant quit pandering to the boy. I didn’t mean go ahead and beat the crap out of him! Now open the damn door, or I swear to God I’ll break it down!”

For the longest minute, they waited in deathly silence, waiting to see whether the trick worked. Just when they all thought it hadn’t, they heard a strange sound on the other side, like something being dragged, and then the door slowly opened.

Shimo wasted no time, sending in the orderlies who had appeared after he’d hit the panic button. Frances shrieked in protest, but her cries went unheeded as she was forcibly restrained on the bed and then sedated by Dr Shimo.

“Oh god, Bobby,” Frank groaned as he fell to his knees beside his brother. Fielding crouched beside him, checking first for a pulse before anything else.

“Pulse is good and strong,” he murmured, sounding relieved. “Frank, go out to the ambulance, and get the guys to bring in the gurney. I want to get him back to St Clare’s as quickly as possible.”

“We have a hospital attached to the centre,” Shimo said as he turned away from Frances’ now-sedated form. “God almighty, she smashed the water jug on his face…”

“Broke his nose… and his cheekbone, too, by the looks of it,” Fielding growled. “Damn it…”

“I shouldn’t have left him alone,” Frank whispered, and both doctors eyed him grimly.

“I’m not going to enter into that,” Fielding told him. “You’ll have enough of a time explaining it to Alex and to your wife.”

The ashen colour Frank’s face told both Fielding and Shimo that that thought had most certainly already occurred to him, and he was not looking forward to it at all.

When Alex, John and Marty arrived back at the reception area, they were first surprised and then alarmed to find Frank sitting there, his face buried in his hands.

“Frank?” John asked softly. “What’s happened?”

“I screwed up,” Frank said dismally. With some effort, he looked Alex in the eye. “I’m sorry, I really screwed up. I left Bobby alone with Mom, and everything went to hell.”

“Where’s Bobby?” Alex asked hoarsely, feeling the distinct clutch of panic in her gut.

“They took him away to treat his injuries,” Frank answered. “Mom… She had a psychotic break, and she went off on Bobby. She smashed a glass water jug on his face. Broke his nose, his cheekbone… Half his face swelled up like a goddamn balloon. He’s gonna have one hell of a concussion when he wakes up. God, I am so sorry…”

“Tell us what happened before you drive yourself mad with guilt,” Marty insisted and, with his gazed fixed on the floor, Frank numbly related what had happened.

“So… Bobby told you it was okay to go,” Alex said when he’d finished speaking.

“Yeah, but I should’ve known better.”

“How could you?” Alex asked softly. “Bobby knows your mother better than anyone. He knows the signs. If he thought it was okay to leave them alone, why would you doubt him?”

Frank sighed, quietly astonished that she didn’t seem to be blaming him at all.

“I suppose… But I still shouldn’t have left him alone with her.”

It wasn’t your fault,” Alex said flatly. Blaming yourself isn’t going to help Bobby. Aside from what you said… is he okay?”

“I don’t know,” Frank admitted miserably. “Bobby looked pretty badly beat up. I was waiting here for Dr Fielding. He said he’d come and let me know how he was.”

“Well, then,” John said resignedly as he sat down. “I guess we have to just wait.”

It was another twenty minutes before Dr Fielding finally reappeared, and he greeted them with a weary nod.

“Where’s Bobby?” Alex demanded.

“Still in the emergency treatment ward. We’re just waiting for the swelling to subside a little.”

“Is he awake?” Frank asked, and again Fielding nodded.

“Yes, he’s awake, and feeling rather sorry for himself. Fortunately, the worst of the damage was to his face…”

“Fortunately?” Alex echoed incredulously. “How can you say fortunately?”

“Alex, he went over backwards in the wheelchair, and it landed on top of him. He could have easily broken his arm all over again, and that would have set his rehab back a good couple of months. He may have suffered a fractured cheekbone, and he won’t exactly be pretty to look at for a week or so, but this won’t affect his rehab. Believe me, it could have been a lot worse, physically speaking.

“I’m glad you said physically, Doctor,” John said ruefully. “Because God only knows what Bobby’s state of mind will be like now.”

“He’ll be okay,” Alex whispered, though whether she was saying it out of any degree of certainty, or purely out of hope, none of them knew for sure.

The journey back to St Clare’s was a sombre one. Bobby would not say a word to anyone, and his mood was obviously not helped by the fact that he was clearly in pain. His uncommunicative manner didn’t get any better upon arrival back at the hospital, and all efforts to draw him into conversation were met by a veritable wall of resistance.

Despite attempts to encourage him to perhaps pay a visit to the hospital library, or go to the garden to enjoy what was in fact a pleasantly warm day, Bobby returned to his room and to bed. He refused to meet anyone’s gaze, or respond to concerned inquiries.

By that time, the left side of his face was virtually unrecognisable, and his eye was completely closed over. His despondency was more than understandable, given the morning’s events, but his utter lack of response and refusal to show emotion had everyone worried.

“I think it might not be a bad idea if it could be arranged for someone to stay with him tonight,” Fielding said quietly as they stood in the passageway outside Bobby’s room. “I really don’t want him to be left alone.”

“Sure,” Frank murmured. “I’ll stay.”

“I don’t mind staying, either,” Marty added.

“If you can sort it between you, that would be great,” Fielding murmured.

“No need,” Alex said abruptly. “I’ll stay.”

Silence met her statement, and the four men stared at her incredulously.

“Alex…” John started to protest, but she cut him off fiercely.

“Don’t, Dad. Don’t stand there and tell me I can’t. I’m not a child, and I’m not helpless. I’m perfectly capable of spending a night here to support my partner.”

“We aren’t saying you can’t, sweetheart,” John tried to placate her. “All I’m trying to say is remember that you’re not yet fully recovered yourself, and you don’t need to be pushing yourself beyond your own limits.”

“That is my partner and my best friend in there,” Alex growled, “and he needs support. He won’t ask for it, though, and he doesn’t easily accept it when it’s offered. None of you have a real clue about what Bobby’s had to deal with all these years with his mom…” She paused, looking grimly at Frank. “Not even you. Over four years, though, he’s opened up to me. He trusts me, and as far as I know, I’m the only one he’s ever accepted help and emotional support from. That’s starting to change now, but not enough. Not yet. So I’m telling you right now that I’m going to stay here with him tonight, because if anyone else stays, you won’t get a solitary word out of him. I guarantee it.”

“She’s right,” Frank said ruefully. “I couldn’t even get Bobby to look at me on the way back here. I think Alex here is probably the only one who might be able to get through to him right now.”

John frowned, but Alex shot Frank a grateful look for his sincere support.

“Alex, you can’t spend all night in a chair!” John protested once more.

“She won’t have to,” Fielding said. “I’ll arrange for another bed to be brought in, just for tonight.”

“I’m fighting a losing battle, aren’t I?” John asked grimly.

“Yes, you are,” Alex agreed. “Please don’t keep arguing, Dad. I appreciate everything you’ve done so far for Bobby, and I know that he does, too. But please, let me take care of him now. He needs me… and I need to be with him. Please…”

“You really think you know the best thing for him now?” Marty wondered, and Alex glowered at him.

“If you weren’t my uncle, I’d be offended by that. And I don’t I know what’s best for him. I know I do.” She turned her attention back to Fielding. “You want someone to stay with Bobby. It’s going to be me. End of discussion.”

Fielding smiled, knowing the argument was well and truly over.

“All right, Alex. Okay.”

“That really is one hell of a doctor that Bobby’s got,” Frank mused quietly as he, John and Marty sat together in the cafeteria, after an almost militant Alex had sent them out of Bobby’s room.

“How do you mean?” Marty wondered. “I mean, I know he’s good, but…”

“This morning, at Carmel Ridge,” Frank told them. “We couldn’t get into Mom’s room when she was beating Bobby. She was totally lost in her delusion, you know? I thought we were going to have to break the door down, and that would have been bad, because it was Bobby that was blocking the door. He was all tangled up in the wheelchair. Anyway, Dr Fielding started talking. He played to Mom’s delusion and pretended to be Dad. He was good, too. Really good. I could’ve almost believed it. He talked Mom into opening the door! I thought Bobby was the only one who could pull off something like that, but Dr Fielding did it… and he saved Bobby from getting hurt even worse. It was incredible.”

“I think that doctor has a soft spot for Bobby,” John mused, and Marty chuckled.

“Like we don’t? We all care about him, Johnny. I just hope he knows that, especially after what happened this morning.”

“While he’s got Alex looking out for him?” John said softly. “Yeah. He knows.”

Neither Alex nor anyone else could get a response out of Bobby throughout the rest of the day. He wouldn’t speak, and would not meet anyone’s gaze. First his lunch, and then his dinner sat untouched. They could not even encourage him to take a solitary sip of water. Even threats of an IV drip could not get a reaction.

By the time the others finally left Alex alone with him for the night, the situation was fast approaching desperate, and Alex knew that if she couldn’t break him out of his depression by morning, then drastic action would have to be taken. She hoped and prayed she could get through to him before then.

For the longest while, Alex sat there, watching as Bobby maintained his stoic façade. He wouldn’t talk to her, or even look at her, and she made no attempt to engage him in conversation. She took his hand in her own after a while, and gently stroked her thumb against his palm. It was only when she leaned forward and pressed her lips to the back of his hand, though, that Bobby finally broke his silence and turned his head slowly towards her.

“What are you doing?”

His voice was soft, and sounded raw with grief. Alex watched him, doing her best to convey love rather than pity through her gaze.

“Whatever you’ll let me do,” she answered him gently. He looked away again, but couldn’t hide the tears that began to slide down his cheeks.

“I don’t know what you expect.”

“Nothing, Bobby. I just want you to know that I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. I promise you.”

His breath caught audibly in his throat, but he said nothing. Silence fell again, and neither of them broke it for some time. When it was eventually broken, though, it was Bobby who broke it, and he spoke in a shattered tone that broke her heart.

“I… I just wanted her to look at me… to show me some sympathy… to… to show she cared. Was that really too much to ask?”

“No,” Alex murmured. “It wasn’t.”

“I… I just… I wanted…”

She squeezed his hand gently.

“You wanted her to be a mom.”

That did it. With those words, the floodgates opened. The tears came in a torrent as Bobby finally broke down and let go of the grief that he had been clinging to all day.

“Why couldn’t she be?” he choked out. “Why can’t she be what I need her to be? What… What did I do wrong?”

Alex made no effort to wipe away the tears she was shedding in response to his heartache.

“I don’t know, Bobby. I wish I did.”

She didn’t try to remind him that he still had the love and support of her own family. She knew damn well that all the love they could give him in no way made up for what he had been missing virtually all of his life.

“What I do know,” she went on shakily, “is that it’s not because of you. It’s not your fault, Bobby. Nothing you did, or didn’t do, caused this and I know that you know it too.”

“Knowing and accepting… are two different things,” he whispered. Alex lifted his hand and held it lovingly to her cheek.

“I know. Bobby, do you think you could answer me one question?”

He guessed what she wanted to ask before the words had a chance to leave her lips.

“You want to know why,” he said. “Why I had to go see her… even though I knew she was going to abuse me.”

“Yes,” Alex answered simply. “I have to know, why would you open yourself up to that? And don’t tell me that you had a responsibility, because that’s bullshit. Your only responsibility right now is to take care of yourself. So why go?”

“I went because I hoped,” he answered. “I hoped it’d be different. I hoped she’d see me this time. Really see me… I was an idiot.”

“No,” Alex said with a sudden ferocity that caused Bobby to look back at her with surprise. “Don’t say that. You’re never an idiot for hoping.”

“I might as well not even exist as far as my mom’s concerned,” he said hoarsely, and she could hear the bitterness in his voice as he spoke. “She thought I was faking being paralysed just because… because… I don’t even know why she thought that! Before she had the break, she… she said it was my own fault… for this…” He motioned vaguely to his legs, unable to suppress a distress shudder. “For having delusions of grandeur, and wanting to be a hero… and the worst part was, I couldn’t contradict her! I just sat there thinking she was right. I… I did think like that, for a long time, even if I couldn’t admit it before. So maybe… maybe this is God’s way of knocking me off that pedestal…”

“Bobby, stop it!” Alex burst out. “Damn it, Goren, don’t you make me slap you!”

He blinked, looking at her in surprise. She glowered right back at him, refusing to indulge him in his self-recrimination.


“No, Bobby, I’m not letting you go down that road. You are not, nor have you ever been arrogant. You’ve never done anything with the intention of being lauded as a hero. I don’t think I’ve ever known a humbler man in my life! And hell, I don’t know anyone else who’s been awarded a Medal of Honour, and then keeps it shut away in his sock drawer where no one can see it!”

He blushed red, but said nothing. Alex went on in a soft, but still fierce tone.

“I may not go to church anymore, except with my family at Christmas, but I don’t believe God is so cruel that he’d do this to someone, just to take them down a peg or two. If He is behind it… and I don’t know about that, either… then I have to believe there’s a deeper reason for it. I can’t believe God would willingly inflict so much pain on someone just for the hell of it.”

Bobby uttered a short, guttural laugh.

“My mom always believed that. She always told me God would punish me sooner or later because I was evil. She… She’d tell me it didn’t matter how much I tried to be good, that I was born evil, and there was nothing I could do about it. When… When I was accepted to the Police Academy, all she said was that pride came before a fall, and that I was going to fall far and hard. I… I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me when she acted like she did. What hurts though… What really hurts is knowing that if it had been Frank who was in this situation, she would have been fawning all over him. I… I just wish I knew why she hates me so much…”

He broke down, sobbing softly as the grief overtook him finally. Alex watched helplessly for just a few long seconds before getting slowly to her feet.

“Okay, pal, move your ass over.”

Her unexpected words jolted him momentarily out of his grief.

“What…? Alex, what are you doing?”

“Honestly, I’m not really sure. Now, move yourself over before I think twice and decide this is actually a bad idea.”

With some difficulty, Bobby shifted himself over, making room on the narrow bed for Alex to climb up beside him. She did so somewhat awkwardly, wincing a little in pain before managing to settle down beside him. Bobby lay frozen beside her, as though afraid to move, until Alex slid her arm around his broad shoulders and hugged him to her, and then stretched up a little to kiss him softly on the cheek.

“We’re not doing anything wrong,” she murmured, anxious to allay whatever fears he was harbouring. “You’re my best friend, Bobby, and you need to see how much I love you.”

Slowly, she felt him begin to relax and, eventually, she felt his arm slip around her waist and pull her in closer.

“I know,” he whispered finally. “I… I know you do, Alex. Thankyou.”

“Don’t be afraid,” she murmured, saying the words aloud as much for her own benefit as for Bobby’s. “It’ll be all right, somehow. And don’t forget, your mother isn’t the only family you have. You have Frank, Emily and Sophie… And you have my family… and we all love you.”

She felt something damp as he pressed his cheek down against the top of her head and realised it was tears.

“Thankyou,” he whispered again, hugging her tightly. “I… I love you, too, Alex. Thankyou…”

Even as he said the words, she felt him relax against her as sleep took him finally. She made no attempt to move, though. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t want to disturb him, as that she simply didn’t want to remove herself from the comfort of his embrace.

Alex continued to watch him for a while in the darkness, reassured by his apparently peaceful slumber. That day had, undoubtedly, been the worst yet for Bobby, but he’d come through it – scarred, but otherwise intact. She wondered… no, she fervently hoped that he was finally coming to the end of that long, dark tunnel he’d been lost in. Watching him now, she thought that perhaps he was.

“Love you,” she whispered, feeling a rush of emotion as she pressed a soft kiss to his cheek. There was nothing romantic in her feelings, and she knew Bobby felt the same way, but regardless there was no denying the power in her love for him, whether it was as a lover or as a friend. “I’ll always be there for you, Bobby,” she murmured. “I promise. You’ll never be alone again.”

Satisfied with the strength of her quiet promise, both to him and to herself, Alex fell asleep.

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