THE LONG ROAD HOME

At some point through the night, Alex awoke to a violent trembling sensation, and the soft, pitiful sound of someone whimpering and crying. She groaned softly and tried to move, but to no avail. Her shoulder felt stiff and sore, with a deadweight pinning her down, and the shoulder strap of the singlet top she was wearing was damp. Something also lay heavily across her stomach, causing the muscles to threaten to cramp.

Forcing her eyes open, it took her a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dark. Then, as her vision focused on the dark head at the bottom of her line of sight, she remembered. She’d fallen asleep cradling Bobby in her arms, after he’d been unable to relax on his own. Unfortunately, the position which had comforted and quieted him enough to be able to sleep was now proving to be more than a little awkward for her.

His head was resting on her shoulder, and it was his arm which pressed down so heavily on her stomach. The wetness she felt was from his tears, and the whimpers and sobs came from his lips. Another nightmare, she thought sadly, her fingertips playing lightly over his hair. Grimacing, she shifted her position, and tried to maneouvre herself out from under him, only to have his arm tighten its grip around her waist, almost to the point of pain.

“Damn, Bobby,” she grumbled, wincing in discomfort as the need to urinate suddenly became very profound. Grasping his wrist, she tried to pry his arm off her, only to stop when he gave a wretched sob.

“No...” he moaned in his sleep, clutching at her more tightly still. “Please no... Don’t... Don’t take me away again...”

She froze, and then reluctantly released his hand. She had to find some way to make him let go of her, though – and soon – or she was going to be the one having an accident in bed. Opting for a different approach, Alex began to stroke his cheek and forehead, hoping that the gentle touch would reassure and calm him, and ultimately relax him enough that she’d be able to slip out of his grasp.

She was quietly amazed that he hadn’t been woken by her movements, and she began to wonder in the back of her mind, just how damaged he really was from all sadistic experiments that Raines had conducted on him.

“It’s okay, Bobby,” she murmured to him. “No one’s going to take you away again, I promise. It’s all okay. You’re okay. Hush, now...”

To her concern, though, his distressed sobs only seemed to worsen, and his grip on her didn’t lessen at all. If anything, it became tighter still.

“C’mon, Bobby, please,” Alex begged him through gritted teeth. “Let go of me, baby. We’re both going to be really embarrassed if you don’t...”

There was still no response from him, caught up as he was in the depths of his nightmare. He gave a shaky sob, and nuzzled in harder against her shoulder. Any other time, Alex might have found the gesture adorable, but her comfort levels were dropping as fast as her need to get up was growing.

“Ugh...” she muttered as she squirmed uncomfortably. “You’re sleeping with a teddy bear, tomorrow night, buddy...”

The sound of footsteps outside the bedroom door drew her attention, and she looked up just as George Huang peered in.

“Detective Eames? Is that you?”

Alex nodded, torn between embarrassment and relief.

“Yes, it’s me. Could you give me a hand, please? I need to get up, but I can’t wake him up, and he won’t let go of me.”

George ventured into the room, taking in the curious sight before him with a bemused smile. Alex caught his expression, and scowled.

“Don’t even think about psychoanalysing this. It was the only way to calm him down, and get him to go to sleep in the first place.”

She strategically avoided mentioning her unconventional tactic in keeping Bobby from losing his apparently tenuous grip on reality earlier that evening. To her mind, there was definitely no need for that to become common knowledge.

George smiled wryly, reading more into her expression than she realised she was letting on about.

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Detective. What do you need me to do?”

“Do you think you could pry his arm off me? I really need to go to the bathroom.”

He walked over and took hold of Bobby’s arm. The reaction was immediate – a frightened cry escaped Bobby’s lips and he twisted awkwardly in his sleep, causing Alex to grunt in pain as his grip on her increased markedly.

“Stop trying to be gentle about it,” Alex told him breathlessly. “It’s not helping any.”

Frowning a little, George increased the force with which he tried to release the vice-like grip that Bobby had on his petite partner. Bobby’s distressed sobs increased in intensity but he still didn’t wake up, even when George resorted to prying his fingers off Alex one by one.

“Thankyou,” Alex muttered in embarrassed relief when she was finally able to stand up. “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.”

Then she ducked into the ensuite, closing the door behind her. George smiled faintly, but instead of turning to go, he took the opportunity to observe Bobby neutrally, without Bobby being aware of it.

Without the comfort of a warm body to cling to, Bobby seemed to be almost folding in on himself, curling into a tight, protective ball. Even in the dark, George had no difficulties making out Bobby’s emaciated features, and his too-pale skin. After a moment’s hesitation, George reached down and carefully drew back the collar of Bobby’s pyjama top to reveal the beginning of what looked like a very nasty burn.

He withdrew his hand, not caring for Bobby to wake up to find an unfamiliar face peering down at him, and a hand poking and prodding at him. After all that Carolyn and Jarod had described to him, he reasonably guessed that Bobby would react fairly badly to a situation like that.

“It’s a little scary, seeing the changes in him,” Alex said as she emerged from the bathroom. George looked at her quizzically.

“What sort of changes?”

“Just simple things, really. Before this, he slept in boxer shorts, and nothing else. I suggested he do that tonight... It is pretty warm in here after all... but he nearly panicked.”

“Well...” George mused, deciding against asking how Alex knew what Bobby’s sleeping attire was before his abduction – at least for the time being. “Being unclothed gives a feeling of vulnerability. Bobby wants to feel that he;s safe, and being fully covered, either in bed or during the day, contributes to that feeling of security. It’s not a bad thing, Detective Eames.”

Alex sighed as she sat down gingerly on the side of the bed, and reached over to brush her fingertips lightly over Bobby’s temple.

“And he never used to sleep as deeply as this. Before, he would have woken at the slightest sound, or touch. He would never have slept on like this.”

“Again... is that necessarily a bad thing?” George asked lightly.

“I suppose not,” Alex conceded tiredly. “It’s just...”

“It scares you?” George suggested, and Alex’s brow creased in mild irritation.

“I’m not the one you came to help, Doctor.”

“It’s true, I’m here to help Bobby,” George agreed. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t offer my services to the rest of you. If you want... or need to talk, Detective Eame, I’m here.”

“Thankyou,” Alex murmured sincerely. She paused, and then looked at him with a small smile. “You’re probably going to be here for as long as we are. Just call me Alex. I’m not a cop here. None of us are.”

George nodded amiably.

“In that case, I’ll expect you to call me George. Will you be okay now?”

She nodded.

“Yes. Thankyou.”

He was just turning to leave when she called after him.

“George?”

“Yes?” he asked. Alex hesitated, as though unsure of what to say.

“Thankyou for coming,” she said finally, softly.

It was a plain enough statement, but the emotion in her voice easily conveyed all that she wasn’t saying. George smile warmly at her in response.

“You’re welcome.”


When Jarod awoke the next morning, just before six, the first thing he did was to check his email. For the last two days, he had been anxiously awaiting a special package, and a grin lit up his face as he realised that this morning, it had finally arrived.

Opening the attachment, Jarod watched the footage all the way through with a grim satisfaction before downloading it onto a disc. He then dressed quickly, and hurried from his room to go to the kitchen and wait for everyone to get up.

He wasn't the first one to rise, he discovered upon walking into the kitchen. To his surprise, and consternation, Bobby was already there. He sat at the table, alone and still in the dark, and in front of him on the table was a knife – small, but dangerously sharp.

Jarod stood in the doorway, frozen, his heart in his throat. Right at that moment, Bobby was just sitting there, and wasn't actually touching the blade. His hands rested on the tabletop, and he seemed to be just staring at the blade, but Jarod dared not move or speak lest Bobby be startled, and do something foolish. He was still trying to decide what to do when Bobby spoke softly, so softly that Jarod strained to hear him.

“I'm not going to.”

Consciously willing himself to move, Jarod walked over and gingerly picked the knife up off the table, placing it over on the bench, beyond Bobby's immediate reach. Then, he sat down beside him.

“I thought about it,” Bobby went on in a stilted voice. “I really did. B... Been sitting here for nearly two hours... just thinking about it.”

Two hours...? Jarod thought, shaken. He could have well and truly sliced and diced himself in that time, if he'd really wanted to. He grimaced a little, and made a mental note to tell his mother to lock up all the knives, and anything else that had the potential to double as a weapons.

“Why didn't you?” he asked quietly, hoping for some insight into what was going on inside Bobby's mind. For nearly a minute, Bobby didn't respond. When he did eventually answer, it was with his gaze fixed on his hands as they rested on the table.

“He... He's here now... isn't he? Dr Huang? You brought him here, didn't you?”

“Yes, he's here,” Jarod confirmed. “Do you feel ready to talk to him?”

A bitter, strangled laugh escaped Bobby's lips.

“No. But... I know I need to.”

“Will you be willing to talk to him?” Jarod asked. Bobby's gaze flickered up to meet Jarod's just briefly before returning to the tabletop.

“I'll try,” he said simply, and Jarod nodded encouragingly.

“Well, that's a start.”

“Angelo,” Bobby said suddenly, after a long silence. Jarod looked at him, puzzled.

“What about Angelo?”

“He... He helped me, when he could... He told me to be patient, that you were coming back for me. But... you took so long. I started to think... C... Couldn't help but wonder if you were going to come back.”

Sickening guilt twisted in Jarod's gut, even worse than Alex's questions of him. He knew that telling Bobby of his intial failed attempts would only cause even more pain, and he didn't want to cause more hurt to Bobby than he already had.

“I'm sorry,” he said finally, attempting to offer no explanation.

“Did... I mean... Were you at least trying?”

“Yes,” Jarod insisted, leaning forward in an effort to meet Bobby's gaze, so that the other man could see his honesty. “Yes, Bobby, I promise you that I was. I never stopped working to get you out. I am so sorry that it took so long, and I can't blame you for being angry, but I really am sorry.”

Whether or not Bobby accepted the sincere apology, Jarod had no way of knowing, for Bobby's attention was suddenly fixed on the disc that Jarod held in his hands.

“What's that?”

Jarod glanced down at the disc, and smiled grimly.

“This, Bobby, is reassurance that it's going to a long, long time before the Centre can even begin to think about coming after either one of us again. As soon as everyone else is up, I'll play the disc.”

“What's on it?” Bobby asked.

“A promise that you're safe,” Jarod told him softly and sincerely.


It wasn't long after Jarod found Bobby in the kitchen that Alex came in, frantic with worry after waking up to find Bobby gone. And though neither Jarod nor Bobby said a word when she walked in, aside from a soft greeting, she couldn't miss the knife that Jarod had set aside on the bench. Her gaze went to Jarod, and he answered the unspoken question with a grim look of his own. Alex paled noticeably, and sat down beside Bobby, regret in her eyes.

“I'm sorry,” she murmured. She wanted desperately to reach out, to touch him, but she didn't dare. Not quite yet. “I didn't wake up when you did.”

Bobby didn't respond, but she noticed that his gaze had become fixed on her hands. Hoping he wouldn't react negatively, Alex reached over and gently closed her hand over his. For nearly a minute, Bobby didn't react in any way at all. Then, in a simple but tender gesture, he rotated his wrist, and turned his hand in hers so that they were palm to palm.

Jarod watched in fascination at the simple, wordless interaction between the two. It was true, he reflected in quiet wonder. Bobby really did trust Alex like no other. In the midst of his fears, his trauma, and his slowly degenerating state of mind, he still trusted her whole-heartedly.

He wouldn't look directly at her, though, Jarod noted, and he wondered just what that was a result of – his fears and traumas that had been inflicted on him by Raines' and Sydney's experiments and simulations? Or some deeper trauma or shame that none of them yet knew about. It disturbed him to think that perhaps there might be something more, something worse buried inside Bobby's psyche that had the potential to cause him to literally self-destruct.

Jarod grimaced to himself, and made a mental note to mention it to George. For whatever might be there, it was entirely possible that Bobby would only talk about it within the confidentiality of a psychiatric session.

Alex seemed to be aware of his reticence and, tempted though she was to employ one of his tricks to get him to look at her properly, she restrained herself. Instead, she contented herself to just sit there with him and hope that, for the time being, at least, the simple contact was enough to reassure him.


An hour later saw everyone awake and gathered in the family room, waiting while Jarod set up the TV and DVD player to play the disc he had.

“So, you've got something to show and tell?” Mike asked dryly. Jarod nodded, opting not to take offence at Mike's flippant tone. He'd learnt early on not to take to heart Mike's attitude. He'd learnt not to take any of their attitudes too personally. Concern for Bobby's wellbeing was filling all their minds, and it left precious little room for cordiality. It especially didn't help to know that Bobby was potentially at risk of trying to harm himself and, in Jarod's opinion, the anxiety they were all feeling was more than enough justification to overlook any incivilities.

He really didn't mind. He understood, more than any of them would ever really know.

“Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words,” Jarod said simply, “so this ought to be worth a hundred times that.”

He hit play, and stepped away from the television, to give them all a clear view.

Dan Ellis appeared in frame, his features illuminated by articificial light. He appeared to be crouching in the open doorway of the helicopter and behind him in the distance, nicely framed by the doorway, was the Centre.

Okay,” Ellis said into the camera. “We’ve set down a safe distance away from the Centre. It’s zero-one-thirty, and both buildings have been evacuated. My men have personally assured this. Our intention, after all, isn’t to take lives, but to cripple the Centre.” He shifted to the side, out of sight of the camera, but his voice came through clearly. “Okay, boys. Let’s see some fireworks.”

For the next ten seconds, they were all treated to a clear view of the Centre buildings. Seated between Alex and Mike, Bobby sat stiffly and his breath came in hitched gasps, his gaze fixed on the place where he’d suffered nine months of torment. Mike’s arm found its way around Bobby’s shoulders, and rested there in a comforting gesture.

“Easy, buddy,” he murmured, taking care that his hand didn’t grip Bobby’s shoulder even loosely. “It’s okay, pal.”

A split second later, there was a dull roar, followed by all the windows on the lower levels of the Centre buildings exploding outwards. Thick clouds of dust and fragments followed, billowing outwards and obscuring their view.

The charges had been well placed. Even as they watched, a shockwave passed through the buildings, like a singlular violent tremor, and a massive blast shattered the silence as both buildings exploded simultaneously, lighting up the night with a blaze of rolling fire.

Ellis’ men had placed gas cannisters at strategic points throughout the building, so the explosions came like waves, one after another, moving up and up until the entire structure was a ball of flame and smoke, like a monster consuming itself in a ravenous rage.

They watched in silence as the buildings that had served as the Centre’s prime base of operations crumbled and collapsed, falling in on itself an disintegrating so completely that there was no chance for restoration.

By the time Dan Ellis shifted back into the camera’s view, all that remained of the Centre was an enormous pile of rubble.

And that concludes our involvement in this operation,” Ellis said into the camera. “Take care, people, and thankyou.”

The screen flickered once, and went dark. Silence reigned, and it was a good couple of minutes before Charles finally spoke in a soft, harsh voice.

“Well, good riddance to the place, that’s all I can say.”

Margaret patted her husband’s hand gently, and then looked around at Bobby. What she saw in his expression gave her chills.

“Bobby?”

All eyes turned to him, but Bobby seemed oblivious to the attention. He sat froze, staring at the now blank screen with an expression that was inscrutable. Sparing a worried glance at Mike, Alex gently clasped Bobby’s hands in her own.

“Are you okay?” she asked, hating herself for asking such a fool question, but not knowing what else to say. Bobby didn’t reply, didn’t even look at her. After a moment, Jarod came over and dropped into a crouch in front of Bobby.

“Bobby? Did you see all of that? They won’t be coming after you now. Not for a long time, and by the time they do get themselves reorganised, we’ll have worked out how to protect you from them permanently. Do you understand? You’re safe now, Bobby. You’re safe.”

Bobby’s gaze finally shifted from the blank television screen, and dropped to meet Jarod’s gaze. For several seconds, the two men stared at each other. Then, without warning, Bobby launched himself to his feet, pulling loose from Alex and Mike’s protective hands and sending Jarod crashing over backwards. Distress and panic all over his face, Bobby wheeled around and fled the room, leaving them all behind in stunned silence.

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