THE LONG ROAD HOME
A/N: The muse strikes again. The opening sequence of this chapter was supposed to be a heart-to-heart between Alex and the Captain. You can see for yourselves how that turned out.
Jimmy Deakins emerged out of the front doors of the large house, and into the early morning light. It was cold, but not intolerably so, and the weather was worth braving anyway for the vision that the sunrise offered.
He paused, watching in silent appreciation as the colour of the sky altered slowly with the rising sun. This was something he never saw in New York, and could never hope to see. His only regret was that Angie couldn't be there to watch it with him.
Damn, he missed his wife, he thought miserably. It had been less than two weeks since he'd seen her and the girls off to California, but it felt more like a couple of months, and though he knew right from the start that this was going to take time, he still couldn't help feeling slightly resentful at the forced separation from his family.
Not that he blamed anyone for it, and especially not Bobby. The only ones he held responsible were the bastards from the Centre. If not for them, they would have all still been in New York, and Bobby and Alex would still be working together as one of the best detective partnerships the NYPD had ever seen. As it was, he was seriously beginning to wonder whether Bobby would ever recover enough to reclaim his position within Major Case. Even knowing what they did about the Centre’s hellish regime of experiments and simulations, he didn’t think any of them had fully anticipated the level of trauma that Bobby was suffering. There had been moments over the last several days, and more than a few at that, when Deakins suspected Bobby was just one step away from a complete, crippling mental breakdown.
It had been a hell of a long week, he reflected grimly. George Huang's presence had certainly helped, in that Bobby no longer seemed to be on the edge. He no longer appeared to be contemplating suicide, to the relief of them all. Of course, they weren't taking any chances there, either, and it was an unspoken agreement amongst them that they had worked hard to ensure that Bobby was never left alone. Whether the constant supervision bothered him, Deakins didn't know. The truth was that Bobby seemed to be too lost in his own misery to even notice.
Memories were flooding back to him, more with every day that passed. They were both of the last nine months, and of the five years he'd spent in the Centre as a child. None of them were even remotely pleasant, and with every memory that came, Bobby's animosity towards Raines, Lyle and Sydney grew. To everyone's curiosity, though, he didn't display anywhere near the same degree of fear and hatred of Miss Parker. Instead, whenever her name was mentioned, a strange and wistful look appeared briefly in his eyes before the emotional barricades slammed down and they were all shut out from whatever was going on inside his mind.
It was a strange thing, Deakins mused, and he couldn't help but wonder whether Miss Parker was perhaps more like her mother than they all thought.
Even Jarod was baffled. Carolyn had suggested that Bobby might have been suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, but George Huang had dismissed that concern after just a couple of days. Bobby had no attachments, unhealthy or otherwise, to his captors. His greatest hang-ups were over the knowledge that they had all escaped before the Centre was destroyed, and he basically would not feel safe until they were dead.
A grim chuckle forced its way out of Deakins. If there was someone within their midst who was suffering Stockholm Syndrome, it was Jarod. Not Bobby. Deakins wasn’t surprised by it, considering how long Jarod had been in the Centre, but he definitely had an attachment to Sydney that he was not willing to let go of and his discomfort at Bobby’s hatred of Sydney was plain for all to see. To Jarod, Sydney was the father that Charles should have been during his formative years. To Bobby, Sydney was just another person who was responsible for the nightmare that his life had turned into. Bobby was not going to forgive Sydney any time soon, and Deakins hoped that Jarod would be able to accept that fact sooner, rather than later.
The sun was up now, offering a small degree of warmth against the chill of the morning air. Shivering a little, Deakins turned to head back inside, and that was when he noticed the small figure sitting on the swing seat, watching him in curious silence.
“Hi,” Deakins said simply to the child by way of greeting. The boy offered him a half smile.
The captain paused, at a loss for what to say. He hadn’t realised there were any children in the house, and he certainly hadn’t seen this boy around. Margaret and Charles’ son, maybe...?
“My name is James,” the boy introduced himself, and Deakins couldn’t keep from grinning.
“That’s a good name. I’m Jimmy. Nice to meet you, James.”
“It’s not really my name,” James said. “I mean... I was never given a name. I chose to be called James when the father... I mean, when Dad brought me here.”
It suddenly struck Deakins that perhaps this child was yet another victim of the Centre.
“Were you rescued from the Centre?” he asked, sitting down on the swing beside the boy.
“Yes. Jarod and Dad rescued me.”
“And Major Charles adopted you,” Deakins guessed. The boy looked down.
“It’s kind of complicated. I... I was born in the Centre. I don’t really have a mom and a dad of my own.”
Deakins was puzzled, but he sensed the boy’s reticence, and didn’t push for a further explanation. Silence fell, and Deakins was trying to decide what to say when James spoke without prompting.
“I understand why he feels the way he does.”
For a brief moment, Deakins didn’t understand, but then it suddenly occurred to him that James was talking about Bobby.
“How do you mean, James?”
James hesitated before replying.
“He’s scared. I understand that. I was scared too, when Jarod rescued me. And when Dad brought me here, I didn’t want to go outside for a long time, because I was afraid they’d find out where I was, and come for me. I don’t blame him for being scared.”
“I don’t either, James,” he murmured. “But I’m afraid, too.”
James looked up at him curiously.
“What are you afraid of?”
“I’m afraid that Bobby will never recover from what they did to him,” he admitted honestly. “I’m afraid that the man I knew is gone for good.”
It was that fear which had been eating away at him since before they’d rescued Bobby. When he, Alex, Mike and Carolyn had left One Police Plaza that day, they had been riding high on adrenalin, and the hope that they were taking the first steps towards bringing Bobby home and back to where he belonged – with them and with the Major Case Squad. But seeing Bobby so broken left him wondering now if that hope had ever been more than just a naive fantasy.
God, he hoped not, but it still troubled him deeply to think it.
“I see you’ve met our James.”
They both looked around to see Margaret standing there with a warm smile on her face as she observed the two of them. Deakins looked on with a smile of his own as James’ face lit up, and he got up to go and hug her. She returned the embrace with a fierce, protective one of her own before urging him gently towards the door.
“Go on, now. Go get your breakfast, sweetheart. Your sister’s in the kitchen. She’ll get it for you.”
Once he’d gone, she returned her attention to Deakins.
“Early riser, Captain?”
“Force of habit,” he admitted with a wry smile. “And please, just call me Jimmy. I abandoned my rank when I walked out of my squadroom to go to Delaware and rescue Bobby.”
She nodded amiably.
“All right, then. Tell me something, Jimmy. Is it true, that you were the one who helped Catherine Parker to get Bobby out of the Centre when he was a boy?”
There was nothing accusing in her tone, but he felt wary nonetheless, knowing as he did now that while Bobby had been rescued and returned to his family – fractured though it had been – Jarod had been left in the Centre for another twenty or more years. He grimaced a little at the thought, and reflected that it was no wonder Jarod had Stockholm Syndrome.
Margaret walked around, and sat down on the seat beside him.
“It’s all right. I don’t feel resentful that Bobby was rescued, and not Jarod. If Jarod had been rescued back then, he would have probably ended up with a completely new family. At least now, we are together finally. I’m just curious that you helped to rescue Bobby when he was a boy, and then he came to work under you as an adult.”
“It’s a strange coincidence,” Deakins agreed. “When Bobby transferred to Major Case from Narcotics, I have to admit that he wasn’t at all familiar to me... but now that I think about it, I just wonder whether he recognised me, at least on a subconscious level.”
“Was it in the way he behaved towards you?” she guessed, and he nodded.
“Yes. I never really thought about it before, but something Alex said tipped me off. She said that Bobby mistrusted everyone in any position of authority over him.”
“Yes, except me. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but she was right. When Bobby applied for a transfer from Narcotics to Major Case, his former captain came to see me personally. He told me that if I accepted Bobby’s application, I’d have a damned good cop working for me, but that I’d have to be willing to show a lot of patience, and work hard to earn his trust. He said that once I had that, I’d be home free with him, and that he’d do just about anything for me, but it wouldn’t be easy to get to that point.” Deakins paused, smiling faintly at the memory. “I nearly rejected Bobby’s application on that alone. I didn’t feel that I had the time to be pandering to a cop who had trust and authority issues. Especially someone with Bobby’s reputation. I relented though, and decided to give him a chance, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my career. When Bobby started with the squad, I’d tried to prepare myself for anything... but he fell into step with me by the end of his second week. I’d give him an order, and he’d do it without hesitation. The only times he argued with me were when he genuinely believed the decision I’d made was detrimental to the case, and most of the time he’d turn out to be right.
“His Narcotics captain called me a month after Bobby transferred, and I think he didn’t believe me when I told him everything was fine. But it was... and it never occurred to me that there might have been a significant reason behind Bobby’s willingness to serve under me... Behind his willingness to trust me.”
“Do you think that will have changed at all?” Margaret asked, aware of the way he stiffened at her question. “That he would trust you any less now?”
The expression on his face, and in his eyes became anguished, and his shoulders slumped visibly.
“Why should he trust me? I let him down in the worst possible way. I promised that I’d keep him safe, and I let him be taken instead!”
“And then you abandoned everything familiar to you to go and save him,” Margaret reminded him gently. “He might not be capable of appreciating that right at the moment, Jimmy, but he will eventually. Sooner or later, he will. And then, I think you’ll find his trust and faith in you will be stronger than ever.”
He looked away without answering. As much as he wanted to believe that, he just couldn’t bring himself to. There was a not so small part of him that was saying very firmly that Bobby would never be able to trust him again, and he couldn’t stop himself from thinking that was the god-awful truth.
The heavy silence that followed was effectively shattered when the front door behind them all but exploded open, and Carolyn burst out, her tanned features filled with panic.
“Carolyn?” Deakins asked, fear clutching at his heart as he looked at her. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Bobby,” she said hoarsely. “He must have had a really bad nightmare, or something... He went into the bathroom... We thought just to use the toilet... but then there was this awful crash... and the mirror...”
“Barek, what happened?” Deakins demanded to know, putting an extra note of authority in his voice. Carolyn paused, drawing in a shuddering breath as she struggled to rein in her panic.
“Bobby smashed the mirror in his ensuite. He’s cut himself up really badly, but he won’t let anyone get near enough to help him. Not even Alex can get close to him!”
Panic swept down his body in icy cold waves at the frightening news. Launching himself to his feet, Deakins bolted inside, with Margaret and Carolyn close behind.
Mike was standing outside the bedroom when they got there, and his face was the colour of ash.
“Looks like a scene out of Die Hard in there,” he said hoarsely.
“Bobby...?” Deakins asked, and Mike nodded towards the bathroom.
“In there. We can’t get him to move. He just gets hysterical when we try to get near him. This is a bad one, Captain. He’s not even listening to Alex now.”
Deakins crossed the floor to the bathroom and pushed past Jarod, George and Charles to see for himself what had happened. Alex and Emily were standing just inside the doorway to the ensuite, watching in helpless dismay.
The bathroom was a mess. The first thing that drew Deakins’ attention was the bathroom mirror; or rather, what was left of it. The mirror had been smashed, and there were shards all over the floor, making negotiating a path to their distressed friend extremely difficult. Blood mingled in with the glass and it lead in a sickeningly thick trail across the floor to the far corner. That was where Bobby now sat, knees drawn up to his chest and arms wrapped around his body.
His forearms had been cut to shreds by the shattered pieces of the mirror, and so had his hands. Blood flowed freely from several deep-looking cuts. His feet were bare and bleeding and his pyjama pants had been shredded from walking, and then crawling over the dangerous shards.
He was in a mess, Deakins noted in dismay, but it didn’t look like any of the damage done was deliberate. Yes, he’d hurt himself. He’d hurt himself badly... but it wasn’t a suicide attempt. He confirmed that in his mind with a not so small feeling of relief. Bobby hadn’t tried to kill himself. Whatever was going on in his mind right then, suicide was not what he’d been attempting.
He started forward, intending on going to Bobby, but was stopped short when Bobby gave a distressed cry and grabbed a shard of the mirror up off the floor.
“No!” he screamed, and his grip tightened on the shard to the point where it was cutting deeply into his hand. “Get away! Don’t come near me! Stay away!”
Deakins backed off quickly, his heart pounding.
“We can’t get near him without him threatening to hurt himself,” Emily said softly, anxiously. “I don’t know if he’s not recognising us, or if it’s something else entirely... I just don’t know.”
“If we can’t get through to him,” Charles said grimly, “then we may have no choice but to forcibly sedate him, and take him to a hospital.”
None of them needed to be psychic to know that Charles was referring to a psychiatric hospital, and Deakins braced himself, expecting a violent protest from Alex at that suggestion. They were all startled when the anticipated explosion came not from Alex, but from Margaret.
“You will do no such thing!” she snapped, glaring at her husband in anger. Charles visibly cringed away from her, to the grim pleasure of those watching the developing scene. “He needs patience and understanding, Charles. He does not need to be drugged! Don’t you think that would have happened enough over the last nine months? How could you even suggest it?”
Charles waved his hand towards Bobby, agitated.
“You think you can snap him out of it? Be my guest, Margaret. He’s already had a piece of Jarod, when Jarod tried to get close to him. Look!”
She looked, and sure enough there was a thin but long slash on Jarod’s right arm, just below the shoulder. Jarod looked awkward and embarrassed, quickly covering the wound with his hand.
“It’s just a scratch. It’s nothing.”
Still frowning at her husband, Margaret pointed to the bedroom door.
“Everyone, out. Now.” She paused, favouring Alex with an apologetic smile. “You too, dear.”
When Alex hesitated, Margaret took her hand gently and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“Please, Alex, trust him to me now. I’ll bring him back to you, I promise.”
Alex looked from Margaret to Bobby. He no longer appeared to be aware of anyone else’s presence, and his attention was focused on his bleeding hands. He rocked back and forth just slightly, and she could just make out the soft, distressed whimpers that were issuing from his mouth.
“Go on,” Margaret told her gently. “I promise you, I’ll call you back in as soon as he’s back in a reasonable state of mind.”
Alex went, though with extreme reluctance. Margaret waited until they were all gone before turning her attention back to Bobby. For the next couple of minutes, she did nothing stand there and observe him in silence. She watched and she listened. Gradually, in the otherwise silent room, Margaret's sharp ears began to pick words out of the soft whimpers.
“Robert... am... I am... name... is Robert...”
Margaret allowed the softest of sighs to escape her lips as she realised what he was saying.
'I am Robert. My name is Robert.' He was saying it over and over again, as a kind of mantra, as though he was trying desperately to keep a hold on his identity.
Because that was the main thing that the Centre had tried to take from him, she realised. It had tried to take his very identity, to mould him into what they wanted him to be; into what Jarod had been for so long. A pretender, with no identity of his own.
So he needed to be reassured of his own identity? Of who he was? Who better to do that than a loving mother? Deciding on her strategy, she took a step towards him and spoke in a quiet, but stern voice. She knew she was taking a chance – for all her good intentions, she was not his mother, and for all she knew he might end up reacting negatively. It was all she could think of, though, and all she knew, and for the sake of the man cowering before her, she had to take the chance.
“Robert Goren, look at the mess you've made! Is this any way for a police detective to behave?”
Though he didn't look up, Margaret thought that the whimpering did fade very minutely. Encouraged, she went on, taking care to address him by name as many times as possible.
“Robert, I want you to put down that piece of glass, right now. Do you hear me, Robert? You're going to seriously injure yourself, Robert. I want you to put it down immediately. Immediately, Robert!”
She didn't use endearments of any kind towards him. Now was not the time for coddling. Seconds ticked by, and when he seemed to ignore her, she spoke again and put more volume and emphasis on her words.
“Robert Goren, you pay attention and look at me when I'm talking to you!”
Slowly, very slowly, he raised his eyes to meet hers. The heartache and despair she saw reflected in his eyes just about gutted her, but she steeled herself to continue on as she'd started. She dared not approach him yet, not until he'd put down the shard, for there was no telling whether he might snap again and lash out at her.
“Put down the glass, Robert,” she told him firmly. “Do as you're told.”
He opened his hand slowly and the shard slid from his blood-slicked palm to the floor. Margaret nodded her approval, and finally allowed herself to smile at him. He'd done as she'd told him, and now she could feel free to praise him, and offer comfort.
“Good boy, Robert. That's very good, sweetheart.”
His gaze started to drop again, and she spoke quickly to hold his attention.
“No, Robert. Look at me, not the floor. That's it. Now, Robert, I'm going to come over there to you, and you're going to stay calm and quiet.”
It wasn't a request, and she had no intention of taking no for an answer. She saw the confusion in his eyes, and fancied that she could almost hear him say 'you're not my mother'. But he didn't, and when she made her way over to him, picking her way carefully across the floor, he stayed quiet and didn't lash out at her.
He was sitting jammed into the corner between the bathtub and toilet, and Margaret opted to sit carefully on the edge of the tub, where she could get a good look at the fresh injuries.
“Show me your arm,” she murmured, encouraging him to lift up his right up for her to look at. “Good boy, Robert. Let me see it, sweetheart.”
A quick glance, and Margaret swiftly came to the same conclusion that Deakins had reached not long before. Despite the damage done, there was no indication that it was a deliberate suicide attempt. All the wounds on Bobby's arm were indicative that he had smashed a mirror with his bare arms, perhaps in a fit of rage or despair. She couldn't see deliberately made cuts on either arm.
Reaching behind her, she picked up a washcloth from where it was draped over the faucet, and dampening it briefly, she gently rubbed it over his bloody right forearm.
“Now, Bobby,” she said gently, reverting back to his preferred name now that he'd calmed down, “what was all that about? Talk to me, sweetheart.”
To begin with, he didn't say anything, and the minutes dragged by slowly. Margaret was patient, though. She continued to clean his arms, carefully picking out small slivers of glass that remained in the wounds, and all the while waiting for him to gather his strength and sort out in his own confused mind what to say.
“Bad dream,” he whispered finally, miserably. Margaret nodded sympathetically. She'd suspected as much.
“Tell me what it was about.”
Again, not a request. Bobby shuddered a little.
“Don't... I can't...”
“Yes, you can,” she encouraged him. “Talk to me, Bobby. Tell me what upset you so badly that you let yourself get all cut up like this.”
Silence met her request, but she continued to wait with absolute patience. She was confident he would answer her, but he needed time.
“Lyle...” Bobby whispered finally, and Margaret felt her heart wrench in her chest. Lyle. She should have guessed that either he or Raines would be central to this particular trauma.
“Tell me about it,” she murmured, running her fingertips lightly over his hair in a soothing gesture. “What did he do to you, baby?”
With another shudder, Bobby began to speak in a soft, stilted tone, recounting just a few of the horrors that Lyle had put him through.
When the cleaners came for him early in the morning, his first reaction was one of panic. If it had been Sydney who wanted him, he would have come to get him personally. Only Raines sent cleaners to get him. He went though, without protest. Though he knew by now that they wouldn't shoot him – Miss Parker had made it abundantly clear to Raines what she'd do if she ever found bullet wounds on him – they were not adverse to beating him if he gave them a reason to. And as much as he hated cooperating with Raines, he hated the threat of regular beatings even more, and so he'd learnt to cooperate. It was clearly under duress, though, and he never did more than was absolutely necessary.
It was his only way of rebelling against the sadistic doctor, and he knew it was seriously starting to piss Raines off.
He was just waiting for some kind of reprisal for his ‘uncooperative attitude’. It hadn’t come yet, but he’d suspected it wouldn’t be far off. Now, he wondered if the time for that anticipated reprisal hadn’t finally come.
He wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or disturbed when they led him to the sim room, and had him sit at the chair and table in the middle of the room. Raines’ experiments and simulations rarely took place here. Most times he was herded down to one of the lowest sub-levels when Raines wanted him. So maybe, he thought with a small spark of hope, it was Sydney who wanted him after all.
He was stunned when, after sitting obediently, all the cleaners bar one exited the room. Bobby knew the man who stayed only as Chris, and he was one of the few who had shown him any degree of kindness.
“Listen, Bobby,” Chris said in a soft, anxious voice, “whatever they ask you to do, you do it. You hear me? Don’t argue, and do the best you can. You’ve gotta trust me on this. It’d be bad for you if you put up a fight this time. Really, really bad.”
Bobby stared up at Chris, puzzled and disturbed. Chris was hinting at something that he didn’t fully comprehend, and it was starting to scare him. Chris saw the burgeoning fear in his eyes, and nodded grimly.
“That’s good. You should be afraid. It’s not Mr Raines, or Sydney who’s coming for you this time. It’s...”
“Thankyou, Chris. That will be all.”
Bobby felt an icy chill race down his spine at the new voice, and he peered around Chris to see Mr Lyle coming towards him. Chris glanced back at Bobby, and though he didn’t say anything more, the look in his eyes pleaded with Bobby to cooperate fully. Then he was gone, and Bobby was alone with Mr Lyle...
Silence fell, and Bobby sat trembling with his head resting against Margaret’s hip while she wrapped gauze pads and bandages around his arms and hands.
“What happened when Lyle arrived?” she asked finally when he gaze no indication of continuing. A stressed whimper escaped him, and she could almost feel him starting to slip away from her again. Reaching around, she touched her fingertips to his chin and gently tilted his face up so she could look in him the eyes. “Stay with me, Bobby. Talk to me. Tell me what happened?”
He dragged his gaze away from her, but her action had done the trick and, after a brief moment, he began to talk again.
Bobby said nothing in response, watching Lyle with open trepidation. He knew as well as anyone that Lyle was deceptive in his pleasantness. In reality, the man was like a poisonous snake – placid one moment, deadly the next. In some ways, he feared Lyle even more than Raines.
“You’re not going to say hello?” Lyle asked, sounding genuinely disappointed. “Well, I suppose I can understand that. We haven’t exactly gotten off on the right foot, have we?”
Still, Bobby stayed silent, wondering with a growing feeling of fear and nausea just what Lyle wanted with him.
“You look scared,” Lyle commented with a small smile, as though the very idea amused him. “Really, there’s no reason to be scared. I just want to talk to you. That’s all, I swear.”
“What about?” Bobby asked, struggling to keep his voice even, and silently cursing himself when he couldn’t. Lyle shrugged.
“Anything. What would you like to talk about?”
At that, Bobby clamped his jaw shut. He’d learnt quickly – very quickly – that to ask the wrong questions or say the wrong thing would only result in a beating. He knew he risked being beaten for not cooperating with Raines, but damned if he was going to walk into it just for daring to speak.
Lyle chuckled softly, and shook his head.
“Relax, Bobby. No one’s going to come in and beat you for being honest. You want to ask something? Go ahead and ask anything you want. I promise, it’s okay.”
Little though he trusted Lyle, Bobby decided he might as well test the waters.
“What day is it?”
“Tuesday,” Lyle replied calmly. “That’s not all you wanted to know, is it?”
He didn’t reply. The questions he really wanted answers to were questions that he knew without a doubt he would be beaten for asking. Lyle sat down on the edge of the desk, leaning in towards Bobby in a conversational manner.
“Okay, I understand. You’re scared to ask. I get that. Raines can be a little... sadistic when it comes to getting what he wants. I bet I can think of a few things you want to know, though. Let’s see if I’m right. Firstly, your partner... Alex, wasn’t it? She’s doing fine. She misses you, but she’s getting on with her life.”
Bobby’s breath caught in his throat. Part of him wanted to believe Lyle – believe that Alex wasn’t dwelling on him and making herself miserable. But another part rejected his words entirely, whispering that she wouldn’t give up on him. She would never give up on him.
“Your mother is doing okay, too.”
That got Bobby’s attention, and he looked up sharply at Lyle, searching for any hint that the man was lying.
“You really had a great captain,” Lyle mused. “You know, he’s been going to visit your mom every week?”
Bobby didn’t know whether to feel relieved at the news that Deakins had kept his promise, or disturbed that the Centre appeared to be keeping tabs on everyone he cared about.
“What do you want?” he asked, fed up with Lyle’s false niceties. Lyle regarded him with a thoughtfulness that Bobby found disconcerting. After a moment, he pulled a small notebook out of his pocket and set it down in front of Bobby, along with a pen.
“I want you to write down who you are.”
Bobby didn’t move. It seemed a simple enough request, but he did not trust Lyle, not one bit.
“Who... I am?”
“Your name. I want you to write down your name. That’s not such a hard thing, is it?”
Still wary of a hidden agenda, Bobby opened the notebook to the first page and wrote his name down in large letters. Lyle watched with interest, and picked the notebook up when Bobby was done.
“Robert O Goren. What does the ‘O’ stand for?”
“Nothing,” Bobby answered softly. “That’s how it is on my birth certificate.”
“Hmm,” Lyle murmured. He then tore the page carefully from the notebook and held it up in one hand, and a cigarette lighter in the other.
“This is who you are,” he said, indicating the words on the page. “This is your name... Your identity.” He flicked the lighter, and ignited the small flame. “And this is what all that means in here.”
And then Lyle set fire to the page.
Bobby watched, sickened, as the page dropped to the floor and proceeded to burn to ash. He watched as his name became indistinguishable on the blackening paper, and finally disappeared altogether. It was a grimly symbolic, if appropriate, gesture.
Lyle set the notebook down in front of Bobby once more.
“Now, write ‘I am nobody’.”
Bobby didn’t move. He couldn’t. To do as Lyle demanded would effectively mean giving up, and surrendering to the Centre. He couldn’t bring himself to do that, no matter what Lyle did to him.
Getting up, Lyle walked around until he was standing behind Bobby. For over a minute, nothing happened. Then, with terrifying speed and force, Lyle slammed the palm of his hand against the back of Bobby’s head, and forced him down, pinning him against the table top.
“You belong to us, you stubborn son of a bitch. Your whole identity belongs to us. Do you get that? Your name is whatever we decide. We own you, for the rest of your miserable life. The sooner you get that through your head, the better off you’ll be. Now...” Picking up the pen, he forced it back into Bobby’s hand. “Write it!”
With his head pinned to the table, and Lyle’s fingers cruelly exploiting all the most senstive pressure points, in the end Bobby had no choice but to comply. He scrawled it in a shaky hand, even as his vision started to go dark from the pressure on his skull, and with each letter he put down, he felt hope die within him.
When he finally finished, only then did Lyle release his head.
“This is who you are now,” Lyle told him. “Everytime you see yourself in a mirror, you remember this, and you tell yourself that.” He prodded the page for emphasis. “You are nobody. You don’t exist outside these walls. You are only who we want you to be. Do you understand me?”
Bobby sat in shaken and desparing silence as the reality of Lyle’s words finally hit home. He wasn’t going to be rescued. No one was coming for him. He was home, and it was time to act accordingly.
“Well?” Lyle asked.
“Yes,” Bobby whispered.
“I... I understand,” Bobby answered. Lyle nodded in satisfaction.
“Now tell me... and look me in the eye... Who are you?”
Bobby looked up at Lyle slowly, allowing the psychopath to see the despair and misery that had taken hold.
Lyle smiled cruelly.
“Good. We finally understand each other. Maybe this is going to work out after all.”
Bobby looked away from Lyle and shut his eyes. He’d just surrendered his identity... his very life to the Centre, and all of a sudden the future looked very, very bleak...
“Oh, baby boy,” Margaret whispered, drawing Bobby to her as he dissolved into a flood of tears. “You are not nobody,” she continued to whisper into his ear. “Your name is Robert, and you’re a New York police detective. Don’t let that man’s wickedness steal that from you.”
“I tried to fight them,” he choked out. “I tried... but it just was too hard in the end.”
“I understand,” Margaret reassured him. “You had to survive, and if that meant cooperating with them, then that’s how it had to be. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. But sweetheart, tell me... Why did you smash the mirror?”
Bobby shuddered violently against her.
“When I woke up from that nightmare... it was so real that I thought I was still back there... That Lyle had just...”
“Had just what?” Margaret asked, sensing he meant something more than the traumatic story he’d just shared with her. The barriers were back down, though, and she knew she would get no more out of him just then.
“I thought I was going to be sick,” he went on shakily. “I came in here... but then I saw myself in the mirror... and I started to say it... just like Lyle had told me I had to. I started to say I am nobody... I... I couldn’t deal with it... so I hit the mirror. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to break it...”
“It’s all right,” she told him. “Don’t apologise. It’s okay.”
“I... I tried to clean it up... but I just kept cutting myself on the shards... In the end, all I could do was sit here. I was so scared... I’m so sick of being scared!”
Margaret hugged him to her.
“It’s going to be okay, Bobby. Now, I want you to listen to me. Are you listening to me?”
He nodded mutely.
“All right, then. We’re going to get up now, and go back into your bedroom. I’ll call Emily back in... and Alex, too, if you want, and we’ll get you cleaned up properly and dress those cuts. But I need you to cooperate with me now. Will you do that, sweetheart?”
“Yes,” Bobby whispered and, with Margaret’s help, managed to get up off the floor. A pained whimper escaped him as he was forced to stand on cut and bloody feet, but Margaret dragged a thick towel from the rack and lay it down on the floor, to make a path from where they stood, to the bathroom door.
“Three steps now,” she told him. “That’s all. Here we go...”
They moved forward, stepping on the towel and crossing the floor back into the bedroom, where Margaret urged Bobby to sit down on his bed. Before she could go to summon Emily and Alex, though, Bobby reached out for her, drawing her back.
“What is it, sweetheart?” she asked, sitting down beside him and reaching up instinctively with a clean handkerchief to gently rub away the tears that still glistened on his cheeks.
“Thankyou,” he whispered finally. “I... I always imagined this would be what Mom would have been like... if she hadn’t gotten sick.”
Margaret wrapped her arms around him, and drew him back to her for a warm hug.
“Oh, baby boy... I know I can’t replace your mother, but I can promise that I’ll do my best to look after you for her, until you can go home again.”
“You think I’ll ever be able to go home again?” he asked, and she couldn’t miss the bitterness and disbelief in his voice. In answer, she pressed a gentle, loving kiss to his temple.
“You’ll get to go home again, Bobby. My son promised, and he doesn’t make promises that he can’t keep.”
Kissing him again, she rose up and went to get Emily and Alex. Bobby watched her go wistfully. He desperately wanted to believe that, but he knew in his own heart that it was going to be a long time before he would be able to bring himself to.
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