THE LONG ROAD HOME
A/N: I apologise for the shortness of this chapter, but I get the impression from the PMs I've been getting that folks would rather a shorter chapter than nothing at all. I'm afraid I just didn't have time for anything else.
This will be my last update before the new year, so happy Christmas, everyone.
Margaret was not surprised to find them in the hallway, waiting in silence that was thick with tension. When she emerged from the bedroom, several pairs of eyes turned toward her expectantly, and Alex stepped forward anxiously. Margaret offered her a warm, reassuring smile.
“Go ahead, Alex. He's in his bedroom now.” To Emily, she said, “I’ve cleaned him up as much as I could, and covered the cuts on his arms, but his feet are in a fairly bad way. I got him from the bathroom to his bed, and I doubt he’ll be able to stand up again. The poor baby is going to be bed-ridden while they heal.”
Alex went, not waiting for any further explanation. Emily followed close behind, doctor’s bag in hand.
“So what happened?” Mike asked. Margaret focused a firm look on her husband as she answered.
“He simply has too many awful memories to deal with all at once. It was not a deliberate attempt to harm himself.” She looked to Deakins, her expression softening. “But you already knew that, didn't you, Jimmy?”
He nodded in confirmation, pleased that someone else had been observant enough to realise that as well.
“Yes. All the cuts were only incidental. None of them were deliberate.”
Charles opened his mouth to speak, only to have Margaret cut him off sharply.
“Don't say it, Charles. We are not even contemplating sending him somewhere else.”
He held up his hands defensively, not bothering to argue with her.
“I think we have all the devices here that we need in order to see Bobby through this,” George spoke up. “All the support that he needs is here, with us.”
“When we agreed to do this,” Carolyn spoke up, “we agreed to be in it all the way. We can't just decide to quit on him now, just because it's turning out to be harder to help him than we all expected it to be. Forget about any sense of guilt that any of us might have. We're here because we're the only family Bobby has. He's our friend. We're in this for the long haul. We promised that. We're not breaking that promise now.”
A murmur of agreement swept through the gathered group, and Mike impulsively reached out to give his partner a grateful hug.
“Nicely said,” he murmured, and she answered with a weary smile.
“So what now?” Charles asked, accepting the decision without rancour.
“Now,” Margaret stated before George had the chance to speak, “we leave Bobby in Alex's care for the time being, because he seems to respond to her better than anyone else, and what he needs right now is security and comfort, not psychiatric care.” Her gaze went to George. “No offence meant, Doctor.”
He smiled reassuringly.
“None taken and, for the record, I think you're right.”
Margaret nodded appreciatively of his acknowledgement, and motioned back down the hallway with her hands.
“Let's all stop hovering out here like a pack of vultures, and I'll make a nice hot pot of tea. We can clean the bathroom up later, once Emily has seen to him, and Alex has gotten him settled down again.”
They went, and only Deakins hesitated, standing indecisively in the hallway, and staring thoughtfully at the now-closed bedroom door. He still hadn't moved nearly a minute later when movement at his side alerted him that Mike had come back.
“You worried about Bobby and Alex being alone together?” Mike asked, and Deakins couldn't possibly miss the amusement in his tone. The captain raised an eyebrow.
“Should I be, Mike?”
Mike held his hands up defensively.
“Hey, you're asking the wrong guy. I'm not privy to what goes on in their lives outside of work.”
Deakins couldn't resist a smirk as they walked away down the hallway together.
“So what do you call all those nights that you and Bobby spent together at bars and pool halls?”
Mike shrugged non-committally.
“Let me rephrase that. I’ve never followed them to see where they end up when Bobby and Alex go off together after hours, I've never asked and Bobby never told.”
“So you're saying you don't know if they were...”
“Banging each other before all this happened?” Mike suggested when Deakins hesitated, and the captain rolled his eyes.
“Crude, Logan. But for want of a more discreet phrase, yes.”
“Sorry, Captain. I don't know if they were or not. If they were, then they were damned careful to keep it below the radar.”
“If you did know for sure, would you tell me?”
Mike smiled faintly.
“Out of respect to them? Probably not. Look at it this way, Captain. If they were, was it affecting their solve rate? How they worked together? Any aspect of their work?”
“No,” Deakins conceded. “If anything, their partnership in the twelve months before Bobby's abduction was probably stronger than it had ever been.”
“I'm just going to say this,” Mike said, “and then I'll shut up and butt out. I've been a cop for a long time... and I've been a detective for over fifteen years now. I've had a lot of partnerships in my time, and if I'd ever had the chance to have a partnership like theirs, I'd have done just about anything to hang on to it. If this works out the way we're all hoping it will, and we can get Bobby back to where he was before, then if I were you, I'd be turning a blind eye to anything that might be going on with those two outside of work hours. Because the bottom line is, if Bobby can recover from this, and get back to work, then he's going to need Alex even more than he ever did before. And if there is something more between them, then so be it. Because if we get him back to New York, and back to the squad, only to have the brass split him up from Alex, then that really would kill him.”
“I think that you're probably right,” Deakins agreed soberly. “I hadn't really thought that far ahead, but you are right. When we do get home, I think I'll be working double-time to keep certain things from the brass.”
“Maybe,” Mike agreed. “But there's also another possibility.”
“Oh?” Deakins asked wryly. “And what's that?”
“That they're not lovers. That they never have been. That what they are is just really close friends.”
Deakins smiled at that. He didn't believe that any more than Mike did, but it gave him an out, and a very satisfactory one at that.
“Thanks, Mike,” he said quietly, sincerely. “For that, and for being willing to be here. For being such a good friend to Bobby. He never had that many close friends to rely on before.”
“Neither did I. You know my history, Captain. I burned a hell of a lot bridges in my time. This is one bridge I have no intention of setting fire to.”
Deakins chuckled and clapped him lightly on the shoulder.
“Don't worry, Mike. You've shown well and truly where your loyalties lie over the last nine months, and I guarantee you that it's not a one way street. If you ever find yourself in trouble, I promise you that I'll go to bat for you anytime.”
The gratitude in Mike's eyes was plain to see.
“You're welcome, Mike.”
Alex didn't hesitate when she and Emily walked into the room. Carefully closing the door behind them, she went over to the bed, and sat down beside him. He couldn't quite bring himself to look at her, and she didn't miss the way his face flushed red as she gently lifted his right arm to examine the damage, while Emily knelt down to look at his feet.
“Look at this,” she murmured in dismay.
“I... I didn’t... It wasn’t on purpose,” he mumbled in his own defense. Alex gently lowered his arm back down to his lap.
“I know it wasn’t,” she assured him. She then happened to look down to where Emily had gently lifted one bloodied foot for closer examination. “Oh, Bobby, your feet...”
A single glance told her that Margaret had been right; he wouldn't be walking for a few days at least.
“There are a few bits of glass still stuck in your feet,” Emily murmured as she withdrew a long pair of tweezers from her bag. “They’re not in deep, though. It shouldn’t be hard to get them out. Just try and hold still as best as you can, okay?”
Alex drew Bobby’s head to her shoulder when he sobbed in pain as Emily extracted the first shard from his right foot. She continued to hold him while Emily pulled several pieces of broken mirror from the soles of his feet, and murmured reassurances to him.
“There, that’s it,” Emily said finally as she got up again. “All done. I’ll just get some warm water, and washcloths, and then I’ll clean and bandage your feet.”
She then left them alone.
After a long moment, Alex gently detached herself from him and stood up, intending to find something clean for him to change into. His pyjamas were badly torn and stained with blood, and needed to be gotten rid of. She was surprised, though, when he reached out for her tentatively with one thickly bandaged hand.
“What is it?” she asked, looking back at him worriedly.
“Please, don’t leave me,” he whispered, and she felt her heart break all over again at the anguish and misery in his voice. She had never imagined it was possible to hear so much grief and sadness in one person’s voice.
“I’m not going to leave you, Bobby,” she assured him, abandoning her original intentions and sitting down beside him on the bed. She slipped her arms around him as best as she was able and was encouraged that he didn’t tense at the contact, leaning in and resting his head on her shoulder once more.
“I’m not going to leave you,” she said again. “I was just going to get something for you to change into. Your pyjamas have blood on them, Bobby.”
He went red as he glanced down and realised the truth in her words. When he tried to pull away from her, though, she wouldn’t let him. After a brief moment of resistance, he finally relaxed in her arms, and his eyes slid closed. Alex sensed him relaxing against her, and placed a gentle kiss to the top of his head.
“It’s okay,” she murmured, her lips still pressed to his silver-grey curls. “You’re safe, Bobby. We’re never going to let them hurt you again. I promise you that, and you know I keep my promises.”
Silence fell, and she felt something damp on her shoulder. Tears, she realised. He was crying again.
“What is it?” she asked, not entirely sure if he would even respond. “Talk to me, Bobby.”
She was surprised when he did answer her, tremulous though his reply was.
“When... When I woke up and I was back in the Centre... I was so scared... My mind wanted to... to just shut down.”
“I don’t blame you for that,” she murmured. “I would have been terrified.”
“But... it wasn’t being there that scared me the most,” Bobby confessed. “It... It was the thought of not seeing you again. That... That almost killed me. I tried to remember your face... your voice... but after a while it started to get harder to remember. So... I started drawing pictures.”
Alex watched him curiously. This was the second time he'd mentioned pictures that he'd drawn. In all honesty, she had never known he had any talent in that area, but if what he'd drawn was good enough to help him to remember her face...
“Just of me?” she wondered. “Or of others as well?”
“Of you... the Captain, and my mom... of Mike... I tried to draw a picture of Carolyn, but I couldn't remember what she looked like by then.”
“How did you manage it?”
“Sydney gave me books to write in... to write down any ideas I had. He'd leave me alone in his office, and give me a couple of hours alone to brainstorm. I'd do the pictures then... and I'd fold them up and hide them on myself to sneak back to my room.”
“What happened to those pictures?” she asked, but he gave a slight shake of his head.
“I don't know. I... I suppose they were destroyed. I never had a chance to do anything with them when they came for me, to move me down to SL26. I don't know what happened to them. But I wish I knew... Those pictures helped me keep my sanity in there. I hate thinking they were destroyed.”
“What about your friend, Angelo?” she asked. “Maybe he saved them for you.”
“I'm never going to see Angelo again,” Bobby murmured in a resigned voice. “Wherever he is now, I just hope he's being taken care of... like I am.”
His eyes flickered to her just briefly, and it warmed her to see the genuine gratitude there. Before she had a chance to respond to it, though, Emily returned with a bowl of warm water, cloths, towels and fresh bandages.
“Alex, could you help me?” she asked, and this time Bobby didn't object when Alex moved away from him.
“I... I'm not going to be able to walk,” Bobby stammered as Emily set the bowl down right at his feet.
“No, Bobby, you won't be going anywhere on your own steam for a few days, at least,” Emily confirmed, favouring him with a warm, sympathetic smile. “You really did manage to cut up your feet well and truly. On the bright side, it means breakfast in bed for the next few days.” She paused as she began to lift up one foot, to place in the water. “This is going to sting a lot to start with, Bobby. I had to put a solution in the water to act as a disinfectant, because the last thing we need is for you to pick up an infection. Are you ready? I promise I'll be as quick as possible.”
He shuddered noticeably.
She set his foot down in the warm water, and the response was almost immediate. A choked sob escaped him, and he looked away in pain and distress, but made no attempt to pull his foot out of the water.
“You take care of that foot, Alex,” Emily told her softly, and Alex gently lifted Bobby's other foot into the water.
She felt the muscles in his leg stiffen from the pain, but again he didn't try to pull away. Offering him a reassuring smile that he didn't see for the pain he was in, Alex quickly set about washing his foot clean.
They were as fast as they could manage, but by the time they’d finished Bobby’s face was wet with tears once more, and the water in the large bowl was bright red with his blood. While Alex gently patted his feet dry with a soft towel, Emily took out fresh padding and bandages.
Between the two of them, they soon had Bobby’s feet securely bandaged and, with their help, he manoeuvred backwards until he was lying back on the big bed.
“Okay,” Emily murmured as she collected the towels and her medical supplies. “I’ll leave you guys alone now.”
Once Emily had gone, Alex climbed back onto the bed, and lay down carefully beside Bobby, acutely aware of the new injuries he’d sustained. She settled in beside him, slipping one arm around his waist and resting her head lightly against his shoulder. She felt him sigh more than heard it, and was gratified that he didn’t pull away from her. All the same, she was still aware of the tension in his body as they lay together on the bed.
“She... thinks we’re... together...” Bobby whispered. She reached over to gently cup his cheek, smiling a little at his embarrassment.
“Newsflash, Bobby. Everyone thinks that. They have for a long time.”
The shade of red that his face turned was truly adorable, she thought.
He answered that with silence, unable to look her in the eye all of a sudden, and Alex suppressed a sigh. They had Bobby back physically, but mentally and emotionally? In those terms, the reality was that Bobby seemed to have regressed back to the emotional maturity of a child, and mentally he was not much better off. All she could do, she reflected dismally as she hugged him to her, was to be patient and hope that George could help him.
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