A/N: When I started this story, I had no intention of crossing it over with any other show. It was meant to be exclusively a CI/Pretender fic. However, it seems the good detectives from SVU have wormed their way into it. How much of a role they'll have to play further along remains to be seen.

BTW, before any of you say it - yes, I know I'm a bitch. It's one of those facts of life, and I'm not apologising for it. I love my Bobby-whompage far too much.

Bobby awoke with a start, his breath catching painfully in his throat. For a long moment, he lay frozen, not knowing where he was. Then, slowly, realisation dawned that he was not inside the Centre, but lying on a soft patch of grass in what appeared to be a well-hidden culvert. He was surrounded by trees, and he could see the sun shining through the branches that stretched high above him.

Sunlight… He hadn’t seen the sun in nearly two months. And the feel of cool grass beneath him… Bobby suddenly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He was outside… He was out

Slowly, aware that his head was still spinning a little, Bobby got to his feet. His memories of the previous night were sketchy at best, and all he really remembered were feelings. Feeling dizzy… confused… sick… frightened… Above all else, he remembered the nauseating feeling of sheer terror, and though he had no clear memories of the events that had resulted in him escaping, he knew without a doubt that Raines had been behind it.

But a new realisation hit, causing all thoughts of the sadistic Raines to fly from his mind. Escape… He’d escaped… He was free…

He was hit hard with a rush of excitement that he had to fight to stem the tide of. He could celebrate properly when he was home, but for now he had to display caution. He had to take it one step at a time, or he’d find himself right back where he started; and he knew without a doubt that if he was recaptured, then there would be no second chance. This was it – fly or fall. And he had no intention of falling.

Bobby paused to stretch. His limbs ached, and so did his back, but it was an ache he could cope with. As long as he remained free, he felt he could cope with just about anything. As he was stretching out his arms, though, he saw it; a single needle mark on the inside of his right forearm. And then, it all came rushing back.

Groaning, Bobby dropped back to his knees as he was overcome by the haunting memories of the hours he’d spent through the night struggling to overcome the effects of the hallucinogen that Raines had given him. It had been a frightening night, filled with nightmare images – monsters that all had the same face; the face of Dr William Raines.

But in the midst of the nightmares, there had been a saving grace, and that saving grace had borne the face of his partner and best friend, Alexandra Eames. Even though his rational mind knew it was a logistical and physical impossibility that she had been there with him, he still had very vivid memories of her presence throughout the terrifying night, and it had been that presence – real or not – which had given him the strength to hang on to his sanity.

Now, the mental effects of the drug had worn off, leaving him feeling physically sick, but he could deal with that. His priority now was to get to somewhere safe, where he could contact someone who could help him. Specifically, his captain, and his partner.

He soon accepted that he had no idea where he was, and that he was effectively walking blind through the trees. Although he’d managed to sleep off the most direct effects of the drug Raines had given him, he was still feeling dizzy, nauseous and mildly disoriented. More than once, he barely avoided smacking into a tree trunk, but he forced himself to keep walking. He stopped only once, and that was to take a much-needed drink of water at a little stream that he happened across.

He really did have no idea where he was, and he could only hope that he was walking away from the Centre, and not back towards it. And all the while, he had to struggle to tamp down on the elation he felt at being away from the god-awful place.

He figured it was perhaps ten in the morning when he wandered out of the woods and onto a road… almost straight into the path of an oncoming truck. The blast of the horn nearly frightened Bobby clean out of his skin. He stumbled backwards and fell, landing painfully on his back on the hard surface of the road. The truck skidded to a halt a short distance away, the door swung open and a very angry-looking driver climbed out.

“Hey!” he yelled. “Are you outta your fucking mind, buddy? You trying to get yourself killed?”

Bobby tried to get up, but what little equilibrium he still had had been shattered by the fright of nearly being mowed down by a truck.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, suddenly having to try hard not to just throw up. The driver stopped, and stared at him suspiciously.

“Man, are you drunk?”

“No…” Bobby protested. “No… I’m not… Please… I need help. I’m a cop… I… I was abducted…”

Still, the truck driver hesitated.

“You got any ID on you, bud?”

Bobby looked up at him incredulously.

“Sure,” he muttered. “They left that on me, right along with my service piece and my cell phone.”

Finally, the driver moved, and crouched down beside him.

“Sorry. But it can’t hurt to be too careful on these roads. Okay, bud, c’mon…”

Taking Bobby’s arm, he helped him to his feet and over to the truck.

“In you get,” he muttered, pushing the detective up into the cabin of the truck and then going around to get in the driver’s side.

“Your CB,” Bobby said hoarsely as he slumped against the door. “Can you get New York on that?”

“Sorry, bud. This thing’s coverage won’t go that far. I need to get it fixed, but until then, I’m lucky if I can reach the state border with it.”

“Well… Can I… can I use your cell phone?”

“Don’t have one. Don’t like ’em. Look, I’ll call the sheriff in the next town… What’s your name?”

“Goren,” Bobby mumbled. “I’m Detective Robert Goren… Major Case Squad, NYPD.”

“Okay. I’ll call the sheriff and he can get in touch with whoever you need him to. Man… you don’t look so hot. What’d they do to you?”

“I was drugged,” Bobby answered. He was suddenly having a lot of trouble staying awake.

“Looks like you got the crap beaten outta you, too,” the driver observed ruefully as he caught a glimpse of the bruising on Bobby’s arms. His observation went unnoticed – Bobby was already out.

When Bobby awoke again, the first thing he registered were bars. He lay still, staring blankly at them for a long moment before sitting up quickly to take in his surroundings. He was in a jail cell. It appeared to be reasonably clean, but it was still a jail cell.

Getting up slowly, to avoid causing his slowly recovering head too much grief, Bobby made his way over to the bars, and tried the door. Little surprise, it was locked. Groaning, Bobby slumped against the cage as he tried to think his situation through.

He was still trying to get his head around what had happened – the last thing he clearly remembered was nearly getting flattened by a damned big truck – when a tall, muscular man in a sheriff’s uniform came around the corner.

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” the sheriff commented dryly. Bobby looked up at him slowly.

“Why am I locked up?”

The sheriff smirked.

“Drunk and disorderly.”

It was with effort that Bobby didn’t groan.

“I wasn’t drunk.”

A moment later, Bobby gasped as the sheriff snatched hold of his right wrist and yanked his arm out, forcibly turning it over to reveal the needle mark.

“Well, maybe you were high, then. So which is it, boy? You a drunk? Or are you a junkie?”

Bobby glowered at the sheriff.

“You’re willing to leap to the conclusion that someone’s a junkie, based on one needle mark? How the hell did you ever make sheriff?”

“You watch your mouth. Just remember which side of the bars you’re on.”

Yanking his arm back, Bobby turned away and slumped against the bars, shutting his eyes and trying to regain some of his lost composure.

“I’m sorry. I’m just sick and tired of all of this. Look, that needle mark…? It was done against my will. I was drugged. I wasn’t drunk, and I’m no junkie.”

“Sure you’re not. And you weren’t stumbling around on a road, acting like an accident waiting to happen either, were you?”

“I told you, I was drugged,” Bobby repeated, starting to feel desperate. “It only happened last night. The effects are still wearing off. I… I was disoriented.”

“Uh huh.”

“There’s an explanation for all this,” Bobby muttered, feeling his hopes start to plummet.

“Yeah, I got that story from Jack. Kidnapped cop, was it?”

Bobby raised his eyes to the sheriff’s, and spoke in a slow, deliberate voice.

“Call Captain James Deakins at the Major Case Squad, eleventh floor of One Police Plaza in New York City. Tell him you have Bobby Goren in your custody. He’ll confirm who I am.”

The sheriff stared at him for several seconds before bursting into laughter.

“Boy, you nearly had me for a second, there. I almost believed you. I gotta give you credit for creativity, though. Most of the drunks and the junkies I get in here aren’t anywhere near as creative as you.”

“I’m telling you the truth,” Bobby insisted. “Just bring a phone, I’ll dial the number for you!”

“Sure, and I bet it’ll just be one of your buddies on the other end. Do I look like I was born yesterday? You want me to believe you? Then you’d better give me some proof before I start calling my fellow officers in the Big Apple.”

Bobby sucked in a long breath.

“I was abducted from New York maybe two months ago by people from a place called the Centre. I escaped last night. Please… just bring me a phone? Please, all I want is to go home…”

He couldn’t help it; the tears came in a flood as the stress overcame him. The sheriff watched him, his smirk fading.

“Damn, you really aren’t kidding me, are you?”

“No,” Bobby whispered as he walked back and sank down on the bunk, pressing his hands over his face. “I’m not kidding.”

“The Centre, you say? I know that place. You really escaped from there last night?”

Bobby looked back up at him slowly.

“Yes. And the longer you keep me in here, the more likely they’ll be to catch up to me. Please… call my captain?”

“All right,” the sheriff murmured. “I’ll call him, and check your story. What was his name again?”

“James Deakins. Call One Police Plaza in New York City, and ask for Captain James Deakins from the Major Case Squad.”

“Okay. You just sit tight, and I’ll go do that.”

Bobby watched him disappear back around the corner before burying his face in his hands once more, and hardly daring to hope that maybe, just maybe, his ordeal might nearly be over.

Nearly twenty minutes later, the sheriff reappeared and, with a sheepish grin, unlocked the cell door to let Bobby out.

“Sorry, Detective. But you gotta admit, you don’t exactly look like a cop. Anyway, I got a hold of your captain… He’s not an easy guy to nail down! I got a hold of him, and he was pretty damned excited to find out you’re here. He said he’s organising a chopper and he’ll be here himself in a couple of hours. Told me to treat you right, or I’ll have to answer to him directly.”

Bobby smiled wearily as he stepped out of the cell.

“It’s okay. I’ll just be glad to get home.”

“You must have had one hell of a time, though. C’mon through to my office. We’ll get you coffee… and something to eat.”

“Coffee would be good,” Bobby murmured gratefully. “I don’t think I could eat anything, though.”

“Well, just coffee, then. I suppose those bastards starved you?”

Bobby shuddered slightly.

“No… but I think it’s safe to say I’m a lot lighter than I was a couple of months ago.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” the sheriff murmured as he ushered Bobby into his office and bade him sit. “You make yourself comfortable, Detective, and I’ll go get that coffee for you.”

Bobby hesitated, an odd look flickering across his face.

“You said Captain Deakins was hard to get a hold of…?”

“Sure. Tried for nearly twenty minutes before he finally picked up. I told him I’d been trying to get through to him, and he apologised. Said he’d been taking a coffee break. But it’s all fine, and he’s on his way. You’ll be home again before you know it.”

Bobby turned away, his heart starting to pound in his chest as the office door closed. Deakins never took coffee breaks. It was one of the reasons he had the coffee machine in his office, so that he could get himself a cup without having to go more than two feet from his desk. And, he sure as hell wouldn’t have taken a break that kept him away from his office for nearly twenty minutes.

If the excuse given had been that he’d been observing an interrogation, then maybe Bobby would have believed it, but he could not believe that Deakins’ absence from his office was due to an extended coffee break.

Bobby shut his eyes, feeling a fresh wave of a nausea. The story didn’t ring true, because it wasn’t true. Because the sheriff hadn’t called Deakins at all. Which meant…

He rose up a little, peering out through the slats of the blind that covered the window between the sheriff’s office and the rest of the precinct. The sheriff was talking to his deputies in what could only be described as a conspiratorial manner.

Fuck, Bobby thought dismally. He had to get out of there. He had to get out of there fast.

Rising up out of the chair, but taking care to duck down to avoid being seen, Bobby slipped around the desk to the window that looked out onto what he guessed was a laneway of some sort. Wincing at the squeak as he opened the lock, he pushed the window up and climbed out.

His feet had barely hit the ground when he felt the familiar sensation of a gun pressing to the back of his skull, and a strong hand shoved him roughly against the brick wall.

“Well,” Lyle’s silky voice said in his ear, “I guess maybe you’re not as smart as Jarod after all.”

Bobby shut his eyes.

NoPlease, God, no

“That was really inconsiderate of you, Bobby,” Lyle murmured as he patted him down quickly, searching for any hidden weapons. “Disappearing like that, and leaving us all to worry ourselves sick about you.”

“I figured you’d get over it,” Bobby mumbled. A moment later, he grunted as his wrists were yanked behind his back, and tied together.

“Ah, you underestimated how much we’d actually miss you. Now, move your ass, and maybe I won’t decide to shoot out one of your knees after all.”

“Fuck you, Lyle,” Bobby spat. Lyle chuckled softly.

“Bobby, Bobby… Just because the Director gave orders for you to be brought back untouched… doesn’t mean I’ll obey them.”

A moment later, Bobby grunted in pain as Lyle slammed the butt of his gun into the spot squarely between his shoulder blades, causing him to topple forward and mash his face against the brick wall of the building. Then, Lyle kicked his legs, causing his knees to buckle and sending him painfully to the ground. Lyle walked around, observing him thoughtfully before delivering a solid kick to his ribs that left Bobby choking and gasping for breath.

Lyle was just gearing up for another kick when another voice spoke.

“Do that again, you psychotic son of a bitch, and I’ll shoot out your knees.”

Lyle scowled as Miss Parker walked over, her gun aimed directly at him.

“Hey, just teaching him a lesson, Parker.”

“We were given strict orders not to mark him,” she snapped. “Now, pick him up and bring him to the car. We need to get him back and clean him up before Sydney gets back tomorrow morning.”

Lyle watched her stalk off, and shook his head in aggravation as he put his gun away and hauled Bobby unceremoniously to his feet.

“She’s got a soft spot for you, all right,” he muttered. “It’s gonna get her in trouble.” He glanced at Bobby, who was still struggling for breath. “All right, Houdini,” he muttered. “Let’s go.”

“Put him in my car,” Parker ordered. Lyle shot her a suspicious look.


“Just do it, moron,” she snarled at him. Sighing and shaking his head, Lyle walked Bobby across to her waiting car, and pushed him in roughly.

“Careful!” Parker snapped when Bobby hit his head on the door frame as Lyle pushed him in.

“Oops,” Lyle retorted. Glaring at her brother, she walked around to the other side and got in, slamming the door shut after her.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured to Bobby as the car pulled away. “I can’t untie your wrists. I can’t risk you trying to get away.”

He didn’t answer, but instead slumped against the door in silence, his dirty face streaked with blood and tears.

“If Raines hadn’t drugged you last night,” she mused, “you probably would have been able to avoid us.”

Still, he didn’t answer. Parker watched him thoughtfully before pulling a handkerchief from her pocket and reaching over to press it gently to his head, where he’d banged it when Lyle shoved him into the car. He winced and tried to pull away from her, but he was already pushed hard against the door.

“Don’t struggle,” she ordered him. “Your head’s bleeding.”

“Who cares,” Bobby muttered, twisting away from her. “Let it bleed.”

Parker sighed and sat back.

“Sydney’s going to be furious,” she commented finally.

“That I escaped?”

“That Raines experimented on you. The Director’s already pissed. Raines went deliberately against her orders. He’s in some seriously deep shit.”

Bobby looked back at her slowly.

“You think that’s the only reason I ran? Because Raines used me as his own personal pin cushion? I would’ve gone anyway, the first chance I had. And I’ll try again. I’ll keep trying, until I’m free.”

She looked at him sympathetically.

“Do you honestly believe you’ll get that opportunity again? They won’t trust you again, Bobby. You’ll see. You won’t be left alone for any reason. You won’t get the chance to try and escape again.”

Bobby slumped back in the seat, only to give a choked sob as the movement hurt his bound hands and wrists, and wrenched both his shoulders.

“Please,” he whispered. “Can’t you at least tie my hands in front of me?”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, suddenly fighting her own tears. “I can’t.”

He turned away from her, leaning against the window, watching the passing scenery through tear-blurred eyes as his freedom was stolen from him all over again.

Locked back in his room in the Centre, Bobby could only marvel at the futility of his efforts. Worse, though, was coming crashing down from the hope and exhilaration he’d so briefly experienced. For a short while, he had honestly believed he had a chance, and that was the worst of it. For just a little while, he’d been able to taste freedom, only to have it cruelly snatched away from him once more.

He knew Miss Parker was right. They would be watching him extra closely from this point on. There would be no second chances.

Lying down, Bobby rolled over onto his side, facing the wall. He’d be lucky now if they didn’t insist on manacling him every time he left his room.

Shutting his eyes, Bobby strove to picture Alex’s face in his mind, to try and ease his misery. It took some effort, much to his concern, but finally he arrived there at that place deep within the labyrinth of his own mind, where he was together with Alex once more. It was the only comfort he had left, and it was a cold comfort, but he would take whatever he could get.

A soft sigh escaped him as he let his mind all-too-briefly block out everything else. He stayed there, in silent communion with his memories until sleep finally came and took him.

Monday morning
The Centre

Sydney knew something had happened. The moment he walked into the Centre on Monday morning, he knew something had gone wrong. The atmosphere in the place was tense, unsettled… His gut tying itself up in knots, he hurried on to his office, and was not the least bit surprised to find Miss Parker already there, waiting for him. He paused in the doorway, looking at her apprehensively, and bracing himself for bad news.

“Your genius got out on Saturday night, Sydney,” she told him quietly… calmly. Too calmly, Sydney thought. If Bobby had escaped, and was still on the loose, the entire place would have been in an absolute uproar, and Miss Parker wouldn’t have been here, lounging in his chair. She would have been out with a full compliment of sweepers, searching for him.

“Bobby escaped?” he asked tentatively.

“That’s right.” She swung the chair around and stood up to face him. “He got out through the ventilation system. Sweepers are still looking for potential exits from the building, so there won’t be a repeat performance.”

Sydney drew in a long breath. His instincts told him that Bobby was back in the Centre, but the question was, where…?

“Where is he, Parker?” he asked, unable to keep the tension out of his voice. She smiled, but there was nothing pleasant in that smile.

“Relax, Sydney. He’s back in his room, all safe and sound. But in all honesty, he might just have pulled it off… like Jarod did… if Raines hadn’t doped him up with an untested hallucinogenic.”

In the space of just a few seconds, Sydney went from shock to pure rage. Even Parker took a step back from him at the look on his face in that instant.

“That goddamned son of a bitch!” he exploded. Wheeling around, he grabbed a small bag off his desk, and all-but ran from his office.

Bobby hadn’t moved from his bed since he’d been returned to it on Sunday morning. He lay still and silent, facing the wall and ignoring anyone who ventured into his room. He refused to eat anything at all. The rice and vegetables that had been brought for him the previous night had finally been taken away, and now the oatmeal that had been left for him for breakfast sat untouched on the table.

Sydney stood in the doorway, observing Bobby for nearly a minute before venturing all the way into the room.

“Bobby, I am so sorry,” he apologised as he walked over and sat down next to the bed. Bobby stiffened slightly at his voice, but otherwise didn’t move or speak.

“I suppose I can understand you being angry,” he conceded. A strangled sound erupted from Bobby at that.

“You suppose? That’s just great.”

“What do you want me to say, Bobby?”

After a long moment, Bobby turned over to stare at him bitterly.

“You knew. You knew he’d try something. Don’t lie to me, Sydney.”

“I had my suspicions, yes,” Sydney confirmed.

“Then why?” Bobby choked out. “Why did you go away? Why did you leave me to him?”

“I’m sorry,” Sydney whispered, but he made no attempt to explain the reasons for his absence. “Sit up, Bobby. Let me check you over.”

Bobby turned away abruptly, closing in on himself once more.

“Go to hell, Sydney. Just… leave me alone.”

“I can’t do that,” Sydney murmured. “Bobby, listen to me closely. I went to the Director before coming to see you. She’s decided that you’re not to be punished for escaping on Saturday night. She concedes that the trauma from Raines’ experiment could be considered an extenuating reason for your actions. But if you refuse to cooperate with me now, she may lose patience, and simply hand you over to Raines to deal with.”

Bobby didn’t turn away from the wall as he spoke.

“Why am I suddenly finding it really difficult to believe you?”

Sydney hesitated, and then reached out to lay one hand lightly on Bobby’s shoulder.

“Think about it carefully, Bobby. What other option do you have?”

“I have to hand it to you, Sydney,” Miss Parker murmured as they watched Bobby work through a new simulation. “You recovered from that potential disaster quite nicely. I really didn’t think you’d be able to get him back to doing tricks for you for a month, let alone within twenty-four hours.”

“Nevertheless,” Sydney said softly, “his trust in me has been severely damaged. I think he believes it was some sort of conspiracy between Raines and myself.”

Parker looked bemused.

“You have to admit, it did seem a little convenient.”

Sydney bristled visibly at the innuendo.

“I did not conspire with Raines to test some drug on him! You know I don’t agree with that, Parker!”

“Mm, well, good luck convincing him of that.”

Sydney watched her saunter from the room before sighing and turning back to Bobby. Little though he liked it, Parker was right. It would be extremely difficult to regain Bobby’s trust after this. Even now, watching him from the little glassed-in observation deck that oversaw the sim room, Sydney could easily tell that Bobby’s efforts were half-hearted. The taste of freedom he’d had so briefly had only served to renew the bitterness and anger he’d experienced so vividly upon his return to the Centre. He was still cooperating, but only under obvious duress. Sydney suspected it would not take much to push Bobby into completely shutting down, and if that happened…

He watched as Bobby finished the simulation and sat back, folding his arms in front of him and literally shrinking into himself. It appeared that he’d completed the simulation adequately, but displaying nowhere near the brilliance that Sydney knew he was capable of.

The doctor watched, and felt his hopes start to sink that Bobby might ever adjust to being under Centre control. That likelihood was rapidly sliding away, and Sydney suspected he would soon find himself in damage control, simply to keep the hierarchy from deciding Bobby was a lost cause as far as the simulations were concerned, and opting to hand him over to Raines.

If that were to happen, Sydney would seriously consider giving Bobby a weapon, and allowing him the opportunity he’d wished for on his first day back in the Centre – to take his own life and end his misery once and for all. Because if Raines were to get his hands on Bobby with the Centre’s blessings, then his life really would be over.

Sighing inwardly, Sydney headed out of the observation deck to go down and talk the results of the simulation through with his charge.

Bobby’s escapade didn’t go unnoticed outside the walls of the Centre. Word of mouth has a way of getting around, despite the best of efforts to block it. In this instance, it was word of mouth via CB radio that carried the story of Bobby’s escape and subsequent recapture to the borders of Delaware, and beyond.

The truck driver, Jack, went on his way, convinced by the Shell Creek sheriff that he’d intercepted a wanted fugitive, and had done the local area specifically, and his country in general, a favour. As he passed onto the Interstate, he radioed one of his buddies to tell him about the strange guy he’d picked up about ten miles west of Blue Cove. He relayed the guy’s story about being a kidnapped cop with amusement, and then forgot about it.

The story passed on, though, from one trucker to the next until it finally reached the ears of a trucker named Ben who happened to be long-time buddies with a cop who used to be a Narc in the NYPD, and was now with the Special Victims Unit. He’d talked with his buddy only a couple of weeks ago, and that buddy had mentioned a friend of his with the Major Case Squad who had gone missing a month and a half ago.

The official story was the detective had suffered some sort of a breakdown, and had taken a sabbatical from work. The detective knew better, and had told him that the rumour was he’d been abducted right from within the supposedly secure walls of One Police Plaza, and that someone high up in the brass had engineered it. All rumours, nothing substantiated. A friend of a friend had poked around for information, only to be warned to keep their nose out of it.

More suspiciously, the Major Case Squad itself had closed ranks well and truly, and was now apparently operating on a whole new level that was one step away from out-right insubordination – and that action was being led by Captain James Deakins himself. Word was they were taking instructions only from the Commissioner with regard to the cases they caught, and not the Chief of Detectives. One story flying around was that the Chief of Detectives had ventured onto the eleventh floor to confront Deakins over the squad’s behaviour and attitude, only to be literally driven off again by the positively frigidly hostile response from the detectives working there.

But that was all beside the point. This particular trucker had heard the stories, and knew the rumours as well as the official line, and he knew a name. So, when whispers of trucker Jack’s story reached him, he immediately began probing, searching for more information.

Most other truckers he spoke to knew next to nothing, though plenty embellished the tale to pretend that they did. Eventually, though, about a week after first hearing the tale, Ben had a stroke of luck and caught up with Jack at a truck stop somewhere between Pennsylvania and New York. As he had done since first hearing the story, Ben mentioned it to Jack in the hope that this might be someone who knew more than just whispers of the rumours, and was delighted to find that he was talking to the very man that the story had originated from.

He probed for information, which Jack gave up reluctantly – as far as he was concerned, it was old news, and not worth the retelling.

“The guy never mentioned his name?” Ben asked, and Jack shrugged.

“Yeah, he did, but I don’t remember it.”

“C’mon, you pick up a guy that you nearly run over, he tells you he’s a cop who’s been kidnapped, and you don’t remember?”

Jack shrugged.

“Well… I don’t know… Oh… Hang on…Robert, he said. Robert… something. I don’t remember his last name, but it was definitely Robert something.”

“Goren?” Ben suggested. “Could it have been Robert Goren?”

“Hey, that’s it!” Jack agreed. “That’s what he said his name was. Real fruit loop, he was. Abducted, my ass. The guy looked stoned, and he was probably all beat up like that because he’d been wandering around in the friggin’ woods, off his head on coke, or some shit like that.”

“And you left him with cops in the next town you came to?”

“Yeah. They were real grateful, you know? Gave me a hundred in cash for delivering him to them. They said there was an APB, or something out on him. Hey… how’d you know his name?”

Ben stood up. He was feeling sick all of a sudden.

“Because the guy you picked up really was a cop, asshole. He’s been missing for two months, and you pretty much ensured he got handed him back to the bastards that took him in the first place.”

Jack’s jaw dropped.

“Wh… What? You’re shitting me…”

“Go back to your hundred dollar steak,” Ben spat in disgust. “I’ve gotta go make a phone call.”

Special Victims Unit

Fin Tutuola groaned aloud when the phone on his desk began to ring. It had been a hell of a long week, and he was seriously looking forward to getting home, changing and heading off the nearest bar to get drunk. For a moment he seriously considered ignoring it, but decided it wasn’t worth the crap he’d get from Cragen. Snatching the phone off the hook, and ignoring the smirk from his partner, John Munch, he answered the call sharply.


Hey, Fin, it’s Ben Jeffers.

Relief swamped Fin. If it was his buddy Ben, then it wouldn’t be work related. Relaxing visibly, he stretched back in his chair and propped his feet up on his desk.

“Hey, Ben, how’s it going? You in town, buddy?”

Nah, man, I’m in some little shithole town in Pennsylvania at the moment. Listen, I’ve got some news for you. I don’t know whether it’s gonna help any or not, but it’s about that pal of yours the one who’s missing.

Fin sat bolt upright, attracting the attention not only of his partner, but also of Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson, who had been walking past at the time.

“You heard something about Bobby Goren? What? What’d you hear?”

I just finished talking to a guy who told me about a guy that he picked up about ten miles west of a little town called Blue Cove, in Delaware. Said the guy stumbled out onto the road in front of him, and he damn near ran him down. Anyway, the guy tells him that he’s a cop, and that he’d been abducted a couple of months ago. So he picks the guy up and puts him in his truck, but he doesn’t call his captain in New York like the guy wants him to. Instead, he takes him to the next town, Shell Creek, and hands him over to the cops there. And the cops tell him the guy’s a wanted fugitive, or some shit like that. They give him a hundred bucks and send him on his way. But before he handed him over to the cops, the guy told him that his name was Robert Goren, he was an NYPD cop, he’d been kidnapped a couple of months ago, and that he escaped from a place called the Centre.

Fin felt sick.

“And wherever this place is that he escaped from, he’s probably back there now.”

Yeah, well, I only heard the story for the first time a few days after it supposedly happened, and then I didn’t track down the guy who actually found your friend for another week. So it is kinda old news. I’m sorry, Fin. I can’t even tell you where this Centre place is. I looked up Blue Cove, but it ain’t on any map I’ve got.

“Did the guy say how Bobby looked?” Fin asked, struggling to suppress his disappointment.

Not so hot, by the sounds of it. He said he looked like he’d taken a pretty bad beating... and maybe more than one, at that. Although he just passed it off as the result of wandering around the woods on drugs.

“Okay, Ben. Thanks. And if you hear anything else…?”

I’ll be sure to let you know. Talk to you later, bud.

Fin hung up, and looked around at his colleagues.

“Was that about Bobby Goren, from Major Case?” Olivia wondered, and Fin nodded.

“Yeah. A truckie picked up a guy nearly two weeks ago in Delaware who identified himself as Bobby. Apparently Bobby asked him to contact Captain Deakins, but the guy handed him over to the cops in the next town instead. They gave some bullshit story about him being a wanted fugitive, gave the truckie a hundred bucks and told him to get lost.”

“So where is Goren now, then?” Elliot asked. Fin shrugged.

“Who knows? Apparently Bobby told the truckie that he’d been kidnapped two months ago, and that he escaped from a place called the Centre. Maybe whatever the Centre is, that’s where Bobby was taken back to.”

Munch snorted derisively.

“Sounds like the guy checked himself into the funny farm, and then decided he didn’t like it.”

Fin glowered at him.

“Watch it, John. Bobby might be outside the box, but he ain’t crazy.”

Elliot clapped Munch on the shoulder.

“Fin’s right. Goren has an off-the-wall rep, but that whole breakdown and sabbatical story? I’m sorry, but that is total bullshit. Fin, how about you and I take a run to One Police Plaza? We’ll tell this to Deakins, and see what he has to say about it.”

Fin nodded, and launched himself out of his chair, grabbing his jacket.

“Let’s go.”

Mike Logan was the only detective in the bullpen when Fin and Elliot arrived. All the other on-duty detectives were currently out on jobs, while Carolyn had taken Alex out to lunch. He’d declined to join them, despite a warm enough invite from both women. Carolyn had even offered to buy him a steak, and he hadn’t missed the concern in their eyes when he’d quietly refused. In the end, they’d gone without him, but Carolyn had insisted that he let her bring him back a steak sandwich. He’d conceded, if only to get her off his case.

The truth was that he just didn’t feel like food. He used to eat, and enjoy what he ate. Lately, though, he ate just enough to ensure he stayed healthy, and to keep up his energy. He didn’t care what he ate. Food was food. If it went in his mouth, good enough.

“You should have gone with Alex and Carolyn, Mike.”

He looked up as Deakins wandered over to his desk. The captain looked horribly tired, Mike thought dismally. Like he’d aged twenty years in the last couple of months. He bit back a sigh. They all looked like it, and felt even worse.

“Any news?” he asked softly, deliberately keeping his voice low even though there was no one else around right then to hear. Deakins shook his head.

“Nothing more. Jarod said he was heading to Iran to find that friend of his, and that he’d let us know what was happening then. It could be another month or two before we hear from him again.”

“This is killing Alex,” Mike said with a heavy sigh. He glanced up at Deakins. “And you don’t look so hot either, Captain.”

“None of us look like we’re on fire at the moment,” Deakins pointed out. “The whole squad is flat, and it’s starting to show in our stats. The Commissioner is starting to ask some pretty hairy questions… like why we won’t take orders from Harris.”

“Fuck Harris,” Mike muttered sourly. “He sold Bobby out. Fuck him.”

Deakins nodded placidly.

“That attitude, right there. That’s what he wants an explanation for. And I can’t give him one. If I tried, he’d probably have me locked up in a psych ward next to Frances Goren.”

Mike scrubbed his hands over his face, and abandoned any pretence of doing paperwork.

“I won’t kiss ass to Harris just to please the Commissioner, Captain. Neither will anyone else here. They’re all too pissed at Harris over what he did to Bobby. I’m telling you, Captain, when Jarod finally comes back, the whole damn squad is going to want in on the rescue.”

Deakins smiled wryly, but before he had a chance to reply, two men strode around the corner and into the bullpen.

“Elliot Stabler and Fin Tutuola?” Mike murmured. “What are they doing here?”

Deakins took a single step around Mike’s desk as the two SVU detectives approached.

“Is there something I can do for you gentlemen?”

Fin and Elliot exchanged wry looks. They knew that detached tone all too well. It was the same tone their captain used when he was confronted with someone that he really didn’t want to deal with.

“Captain Deakins, we’re here about Bobby Goren,” Elliot started to say, but Deakins cut him off abruptly.

“Detective Goren has taken an extended sabbatical for personal reasons. I don’t know when he’ll be returning to work. Now, if you’ll excuse me, detectives, I have work to do.”

He turned and started to walk back to his office.

“He escaped from the Centre,” Fin called out, and Deakins froze. For several long seconds, the captain never moved an inch. Then, finally, he turned slowly back to the two men. Mike, too, had risen out of his seat and was staring at them in shock.

“What did you just say, Detective Tutuola?” Deakins asked softly. Fin steeled himself, and said it again.

“I said, Bobby escaped from the Centre.”

“All right,” Deakins said tensely. “You have my attention. Talk. Quickly.”

Fin rapidly described the phone call he’d received from his friend, leaving nothing out. Deakins listened, grey-faced, as he spoke.

“He got away…” Mike whispered when Fin finished speaking. “Bobby got away from them…”

“And got picked up by someone who put him right back in their hands,” Deakins concluded bitterly. “Son of a bitch…”

“So…” Elliot ventured. “The sabbatical story…?”

“It’s a cover, Detective Stabler,” Deakins said shortly. “Primarily to keep Bobby’s position in the squad secure. We still hold hopes of rescuing him, and bringing him home. When… not if, but when that happens, I want there to be a job for him to come back to.”

“So, he really was kidnapped,” Fin said hoarsely.

“Nearly two and a half months ago, now,” Mike answered as he sank back into his seat. “Right from inside the Chief of D’s office. That son of a bitch Harris sold Bobby out for a tidy little pay packet.”

“Enough, Mike,” Deakins growled. “We don’t know why Harris did what he did. We may never know the truth. It’s pointless to speculate.”

“And this Centre…?” Elliot wondered.

“It’s a secretive, privately funded organisation,” Deakins explained. “It’s based in a town called Blue Cove, in Delaware. Except, somehow Blue Cove has never made it on to any map.”

“So, you are planning to get him out of there, right?” Elliot pressed. “We’re gonna find this place, and get him out, aren’t we?”

Deakins raised an eyebrow at him.

We, Detective?”

“You don’t think you can leave us out of this, now we know what the real deal is, do you?” Elliot asked, and there was no amusement in his voice or face as he spoke. “A brother is in trouble. If we can help…”

“If you want to help,” Deakins cut him off, “then you’ll act like you don’t know what’s really happening. We’ve already told you that Bobby was betrayed by Chief Harris. We have no way of knowing how far up the ladder this goes… No way of knowing how many of the brass are in the pocket of this organisation. At the moment, nothing is certain, and we can’t take any chances, because it may get Bobby killed.”

“And we already fucked up once,” Mike said bitterly. “We aren’t taking anymore chances.”

“So… isn’t there anything we can do?” Fin asked, a hint of desperation in his voice. “Bobby’s my friend, Captain. I want to help.”

Deakins nodded, sympathy in his eyes.

“I understand, Detective. But all I can offer right now is to promise that I’ll call for you when the time comes.”

“You’re planning something, aren’t you?” Elliot asked softly, and Deakins answered with the slightest of nods.

“Yes,” he said simply, deciding not to waste time on elaborations that would require more details explanations. “That’s all you need to know right now. Yes, something is being planned. We don’t know how long it’s going to take, but if you honestly want to help, then I’ll contact you when it’s the right time.”

“Okay,” Fin conceded finally, reluctantly. “Thankyou, sir.”

“He escaped,” Mike said hoarsely after Fin and Elliot had gone. “He actually escaped… Although, fat lot of good it did him.”

Deakins nodded grimly. “They’ll probably watch him more closely than ever, now. Damn it… If I ever get my hands on the cops who handed him back to the Centre, I may just shoot them myself.”

“Captain, maybe we’d better not mention this to Alex and Carolyn,” Mike suggested. “It’s only going to cause more hurt… for Alex, especially.”

That made sense to Deakins, and he nodded in answer.

“I think you’re right, Mike. Okay. Let’s keep it between us.” He paused, looking around the empty squad room and, inadvertently, to Bobby’s empty desk. Everything on that desk was just as it had been at the time of his abduction, and Alex Eames had assumed the role of guarding it to make sure it stayed that way.

A week after Bobby’s abduction, some poor fool had made the mistake of grabbing a pen from the desk as he walked past, and Alex had flown into a temper that had the poor guy throwing the pen back at the desk and running for his life. No one had dared touch anything since.

Deakins shut his eyes against the sudden wave of nausea and misery. All of a sudden, he wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there.

“Mike, grab your coat.”

Mike looked up in surprise.

“Where are we going?”

“To that sushi place you keep raving about to Alex and Carolyn. I need food and so do you.”

“Carolyn said she was bringing me back a sandwich. I’ll split it with you, if you want…”

“Get up off your ass and move, Detective. I need to get the hell out of this building, and I’m not leaving you here on your own.”

Mike put on a wounded look as he stood and grabbed his coat.

“You don’t trust me on my own? I’m crushed.”

“Oh, I trust you,” Deakins said ruefully as they headed out together. “It’s me that I don’t trust.”

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