THE LONG ROAD HOME
A/N: I blame certain aspects of this chapter on the migraine I had when I was writing it. This is unusually sappy for me. Enjoy it while it lasts, because I guarantee there is more misery and suffering on the way for Bobby before this is over. Especially since my good friend bammi1 gave me a brilliant idea for the conclusion. (insert evil laughter)
A couple of weeks later
Once his hands had healed enough for the bandages to come off, Bobby took to George's request with an enthusiasm that both surprised and encouraged his friends and carers. Drawing swiftly became his focus, and though his communication levels seemed to drop, it didn't seem so much to be concerned about when he appeared so focused. He worked on the picture not in secret, but in private. Everyone knew what he was doing, but he was particularly careful about letting anyone see the picture before time. Even George had yet to see it. Whenever someone happened upon him while he was sketching, he would discreetly cover until he was alone once more.
It was slow going for him, because his hands and arms clearly were still hurting him, but the determination he displayed in wanting to complete the task was comforting to them all. It seemed, finally, that Bobby had a purpose again. George had presented him with an attainable goal, and the change in his was encouraging. It told all of them that there was still hope, and not to give up.
Alex stood just beyond the doorway of the family room, watching as he sat with a sketch book balanced on his knees. He was starting to move more freely around the house now. Just that morning, he'd gotten himself up, dressed, and into the kitchen for breakfast. After breakfast, while everyone else was still eating, he'd moved on to the family room to continue working on his pictures.
It was a big change when, to begin with, he'd been unable to move anywhere without someone to go with him. He still hadn't ventured outside the house, though. Frequently she'd seen him standing at a window, or on the threshhold of a doorway, looking out with a longing that was almost painful to watch. But fear still reigned in him, and he could not bring himself to go outside, no matter how much encouragement and reassurance they all gave to him.
They had to continue to be patient, George told them. He was making progress, without a doubt, but there was still a long road ahead.
Alex noticed, as she watched him, that there were two or three pages of the sketchbook that were turned over. It quickly became apparent that he was drawing more than one picture, but he was yet to show them to anyone – even her.
She didn't take offence to that, regardless of how much she wanted to see. This was something that was important to Bobby, and she didn't want to spoil that by pushing in on him. If it was helping him... and it certainly seemed to be... then she wasn't going to object.
She watched as he paused, as though sensing someone else's presence, and his head turned towards her. She smiled warmly at him, but made no effort to move into the room to join him. If he didn't want company, he would signal that by returning to his sketchings. To her surprise, he didn't.
“You can come in,” he told her softly. “I... I don't mind.”
Encouraged, Alex ventured into the room.
“I didn't want to intrude.”
There was something in his expression that she didn't quite understand, and decided not to try. She was simply grateful that he seemed to want her company.
Alex noted with interest, as she walked over to join him on the sofa, that this time he made no effort to hide the sketch that he was working on, and as she came level with him, she finally got a look at what he'd put so much effort into over the last few days.
She faltered as she drew level with his shoulder, and had to make a conscious effort not to gasp aloud.
The sketch sitting in front of them on the small coffee table was of the man that she recognised as Lyle, one of Bobby's two worst tormentors in the Centre. It wasn't simply a plain sketch, though. The pencil markings on the paper were hard, giving the picture a dark and rough edge – a marked contrast to the soft tones he'd used in creating the pictures of Alex, Deakins, and the others.
The emotions that Bobby had put into the sketch virtually radiated off the paper. Hatred, loathing... but most of all, sheer terror. In the picture, Alex could easily see past the 'baby-faced, boy-next-door' facade, and see the monster that lurked beneath. This was how Bobby saw Lyle – as a true monster; an demon in an angel's guise. Evil personified.
She came back to reality to realise that Bobby was watching her quietly with a piercing gaze that she had long missed. It didn't remain; as she watched, the barriers slid back into place once more, shielding his thoughts from her.
“Can I see what else you've done?” she asked softly, not expecting him to concede. Her surprise was palpable when he picked up the sketch book and carefully turned one page over to reveal a picture of Raines that was similar in tone and feeling to the one of Lyle. Alex shuddered. She didn't fault Bobby for his horrific nightmares, or the humiliating physical reactions that he continued to suffer as a result of those nightmares. Being confronted with an evil face like that every day for nine months would give her nightmares as well. And still, she knew that Bobby hadn't yet confided the worst of what had happened to him during those nightmare months.
He turned the page again, and this time she found herself looking at a picture of a man that she had never actually seen with her own eyes, but knew instantly who he was.
Bobby's picture of Sydney was different to those of Raines and Lyle. It was not so much in the level of cruelty and evil she saw in it, because that was the same in this picture as in the other two. With this picture, there was a much more subtle evil exposed in Sydney's features, masked by a facade of kindness and pleasantness. Where the evil of Raines and Lyle was blatantly clear through Bobby's drawings, the picture of Sydney showed a much more subtle level of evil, as defined within Bobby's own heart and mind.
The cruel deceptiveness that radiated from the sketch gave Alex a chill down her spine. This was a man that Bobby had initially trusted, and who had betrayed him in the worst ways. Alex knew in an instant as she looked at the picture that Bobby would never forgive Sydney for his betrayal.
He turned the page once more, and Alex felt her heart clench almost painfully in her chest.
Here was a picture of a woman that Alex had only seen in person once, but it was someone she had an instinctive and powerful hatred for purely on the basis of the woman's participation in Bobby's abduction. She would have fully expected Bobby to share that hatred, but the picture he was showing her reflected no hatred, no anger and no fear.
Gone were the harsh, hard strokes of the pencil that had defined the portraits of Sydney, Lyle and Raines. Instead, the sketching he'd done was gentle, and showed a great deal of care. He'd gone to a lot of trouble to get this picture just right, and it showed in every line.
Alex leaned in a little closer, her eyes taking in the details with a growing sense of wonder. She took in the long, dark hair that fell around slim shoulders like a soft aura. She stared at the full mouth that was turned upwards in the slightest of smiles, and the high cheekbones that were shaded very lightly to depict faint colour. Most of all, she found herself drawn to looking at the eyes – eyes that were gentle and filled with an under-stated kindness and grace.
She knew, in a moment, that Bobby had seen a completely different side to this woman whilst he'd been in the Centre. He bore no anger towards her, as he did the other three, and she could only wonder why.
“She helped me,” Bobby said softly, drawing Alex's attention back to himself. She looked around at him as he set the book back down on the coffee table.
“In what way?”
It took all of Alex's strength to keep her tone free of accusations and anger. Bobby was trusting her now to listen, and actually hear him out. She dared not betray that trust.
“She tried to protect me from Raines... and she protected me from Lyle,” Bobby admitted softly. “She... She would have gotten me out of there, if she could have.”
Then why didn't she... Alex thought bitterly, but it was a thought she kept carefully to herself.
“It would have gotten her killed, though,” Bobby murmured. “If... if she had helped to get me out... and that had happened to her... I wouldn't have been able to live with it.”
And Alex didn't doubt that. Bobby would never have been able to accept it if someone else had sacrificed themselves for him.
“She never asked me for anything,” Bobby went on, and Alex became painfully aware of the tears that were rolling down his cheeks. “I never had to do anything for her. She didn't even ask me to trust her... but she risked a lot by coming to see me... to talk to me... and help me whenever Raines' men beat me.”
“Oh, Bobby...” Alex whispered. She slipped her arms around him, and drew his head down to her shoulder in a comforting embrace. It took her a moment to realise he was speaking again, his voice just slightly muffled by her sweater.
“And... I... I think maybe she s... saved my life once, too... J... Just before Raines moved me to SL26...”
Bobby had no idea what time it was when the door of his room was unlocked, and cleaners dragged him unceremoniously from his bed. Frightened, he’d put up a struggle, but he was no match for the cleaners. They grabbed him by the arms, holding him with grips that were sure to leave bruises, and dragged him mercilessly from the room.
They dragged him along, and he soon found himself in another wing entirely, in an area of the Centre that he didn’t recognise. He was hauled into a cold, sterile room and, once inside, he was lifted up onto a cold, steel table and his wrists and ankles locked into manacles. A strap was pulled tight around his neck, preventing him from lifting his head, and he felt clamps pressing against his ears to prevent him from moving his head at all.
Raines appeared at his side, syringe in hand.
“Just relax, Bobby,” Raines said tonelessly. “This will hardly hurt at all, if you just stay calm. And once it’s over, you’ll be much more willing to cooperate with me.”
Bobby opened his mouth to protest, only to gag as a thick wad of material was shoved into his mouth to silence him. He cringed as Raines injected the syringe into the side of his neck, and then stepped away. Bobby heard the metallic sound of implements being moved around on a tray, or a table. His mind flashed back to terrifying childhood memories of being operated on whilst still conscious, and his body locked into rigour from terror and anticipated pain.
Raines reappeared beside him, scalpel in hand.
“Just relax. This won't take long.”
He felt the cold blade of the scalpel against his temple, and whimpered helplessly in pain as it sliced into his flesh and created a long incision. Raines set aside the scalpel, and was just reaching for a new implement, when a new voice, unexpected but very welcome, spoke in a furious tone.
“Get the hell away from him, you sadistic bastard.”
He heard Raines hiss angrily.
“What do you think you're doing here?”
Miss Parker walked over, coming within Bobby's limited line of sight, and he caught sight of the gun in her hand that was aimed directly at Raines. Close behind her was Chris, the cleaner that Bobby recognised as being exclusively loyal to Miss Parker.
“Stopping you, you evil little troll. Now, I'll say it once more. Get away from him.”
“You have no business here, Miss Parker,” Raines snarled. “He’s mine...”
“He's not a piece of property, you son of a bitch,” Parker snapped. “Let him up before I give in to this powerful urge that I have to shoot you.”
Raines was unwilling to give up so easily, though, and tried once more.
“This is for his own good...”
The sound of her gun firing shattered the otherwise still atmosphere. Raines stood frozen. The bullet had just barely missed his oxygen tank, and he had no doubt that missing had been no accident. She was all ready to take a second shot, and he knew she wouldn’t miss again.
“Let. Him. Go.”
There was no mistake in her intent and, with resentful acquiescence, Raines motioned for his men to release Bobby. While she kept her gun trained on Raines, Chris moved forward and gently helped Bobby up off the table. He put one arm around Bobby’s waist, while he used the other to press a handkerchief to the bleeding incision.
“C’mon, Bobby,” Chris murmured, guiding him towards the door. “We’ll get you upstairs to the hospital wing.”
Miss Parker followed, not lowering allowing her gaze to leave Raines’ face until she was out the door...
“She got you out of there?” Alex asked softly, hugging Bobby fiercely as he shuddered violently against her.
“I... I don’t know what Raines was going to d... do to me. But... Miss Parker... She s... stopped him. She s... stopped Lyle, too. If it hadn’t been for... for her... I might have been d... dead.”
As much as Alex doubted that truth in her own mind, she could see the sincerity of Bobby’s belief in his own words. More than that, though, she now understood why Bobby’s attitude differed so much when it came to the Parker woman. Regardless of her motivations, she had still been there for Bobby and protected him when there was no one else to do so. For that alone, Alex was grudgingly grateful.
Impulsively, she leaned up and kissed him lightly, first on the chin, then the cheek and finally on the mouth. He drew back a little, startled out of his memories by her actions.
“Wh... What was that for?”
Alex reached up to brush her fingers very gently over the scarred-over wounds that peppered his temples.
“Because I wish I could just kiss away all the bad dreams, just like my mom did for me when I was little. I wish I could just hold your hand, and that it’d be enough for you to know that you don’t have to be afraid anymore.”
Tears shimmered in his eyes.
“I... I can’t help that. I am afraid... and I can’t just click my heels three times, say there’s no place like home and wake up to find it was all just a dream. I... I wish I could... but I can’t. And I can’t stop myself being afraid.”
“I know,” Alex murmured. “I understand, Bobby. Just... Remember that I’m here, okay? Remember that I love you, and I won’t leave you. Not again.”
Bobby mouth went dry at her admission. At no stage had she ever said those three words to him and, for a fleeting moment, he wondered if she was saying it purely out of sympathy for him. But despite everything he’d been through, and everything that had been done to him, he could not turn off that part of him that was a born profiler. He searched her eyes, and her face, for any hint of insincerity, and could find none.
She was telling him the plain truth, and it just about killed him that he could not make himself reciprocrate. He wanted to. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, tell her that he loved her too, and never let her go... but he couldn’t make himself move, and he hated himself for it.
Sensing his inner turmoil, Alex pressed another gentle kiss to his lips, and then drew his head back down to her shoulder. He didn’t resist, and she smiled sadly at the soft sigh of relief that escaped him.
“It’s okay,” she whispered, suddenly fighting the tears that threatened in her own eyes. “You’ve got all the time in the world, Bobby. I promise you, you have all the time in the world.”
Just out of their line of sight, in the shadow of the doorway, two figures stood watching the unfolding scene, each with a different reaction.
“Wow,” Carolyn whispered as they watched Alex kiss Bobby again, before cradling him once more in her arms. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. I mean, I always knew how much she cared about him, but I never imagined...”
Behind her, Mike regarded her in bemusement.
“Never imagined what, Carolyn?”
“Well... Didn’t you just see that? Mike, Captain Deakins is going to have a fit when he finds out.”
The amused look twisted into a wry grin and, before Carolyn could say or do a thing, he leaned down and planted a kiss squarely on her lips. When he broke it off finally, she was left looking just as dazed as she felt.
“Carolyn, honey, I didn’t see a blessed thing. Neither did you. And I’m telling you right now that if Captain Deakins was standing right here, he’d be telling you exactly the same thing.”
He silenced her again with another kiss, this time gentle and lingering.
“Not a thing,” he murmured as their lips parted. Carolyn swallowed hard as any thoughts or worries that had been in her mind fled.
“Not a thing,” she echoed. Mike’s grin widened.
“Attagirl. C’mon...” He slipped an arm around her waist and drew her in close to him, guiding her towards the door. “Let’s go for a nice, long walk.”
Alex heard the murmur of voices just outside the room, and glanced over just in time to see Mike and Carolyn walk past. Neither’s attention appeared to be directed at herself and Bobby – not that she would have cared if it had been. interested her, though, to realise that Mike’s arm was very firmly wrapped around Carolyn’s waist.
Now when did that happen? she wondered in mild amusement. No matter. Her primary focus was sitting with her on the sofa, cuddled in against her like a child desperately in need of comfort.
Not caring who saw, or what they thought, Alex slipped her slender arms as far around his emaciated body as they would go – even half-starved, he was still big enough that she could barely get her arms all the way around him. Then, settling down with him on the sofa, she continued to cradle him to her as sleep first took him, and then her.
“I want to go home.”
The words came out almost petulantly, and George had a hard time not smiling as he instinctively imagined one of the children he frequently counselled sitting across from him rather than a forty-four year old man. He raised his eyes slowly from the sketch book that he’d been looking through, regarding Bobby with carefully veiled interest. In all the talks that he’d had so far with Bobby – he refused to call them sessions – this was the first time that Bobby had verbally expressed a desire to go home. Whenever the subject had arisen, the expression on Bobby’s face had been one of yearning, but he’d also gone very quiet and refused to be drawn on it. George hadn’t pushed for a response. He’d believed that Bobby would talk about his prospects of returning home when he was good and ready, and it seemed he was ready now.
It was a positive sign for Bobby’s rehabilitation, but George still approached the subject with caution. Being ready to talk about it was only the first step of many and he didn’t want Bobby rushing forward, only to fall again. He valued the progress that Bobby had made too much to risk it.
Setting the sketch book down, George spoke quietly to him.
“Do you feel ready to go home?”
Bobby stared at the floor. That was a loaded question, without a doubt, and it was not one that Bobby was sure he could answer to George’s satisfaction. Yes, he desperately wanted to go home. He wanted to see New York again... He wanted to be once more enconsed within the comfort and safety of his own home... But a stark fear gripped his heart at the same time at the thought of it, and at the thought of being back in a place that he had once thought to be a haven, only to be proven so dramatically wrong.
“I don’t know,” he answered finally. George hesitated, watching him thoughtfully, and then tried again with a different question.
“Why do you want to go home, Bobby?”
At that, Bobby gave George an incredulous look.
“I thought you promised you’d never ask me any dumb questions.”
A smile quirked George’s lips.
“I said I’d never ask without reason,” he corrected. “Humour me for a moment, Bobby.”
Bobby sighed wearily. He simply didn’t have it in him to argue with the psuchiatrist, and though a big part of him resented George for using that so willingly against him, another smaller part whispered that ultimately, it was only for his own good. He knew it, and reluctantly accepted it.
“Okay. I... I want to go home because...” He trailed off, and then grimaced. “I feel like I’m trying to think of an answer for one of those stupid competitions... You know, say why in twenty-five words or less.”
George smiled in amusement, but didn’t interrupt. He sat back, and waited patiently for Bobby to overcome his discomfort, and sort out his own thoughts.
“I miss New York,” Bobby said finally, awkwardly. George nodded encouragingly.
Annoyance flickered in Bobby’s eyes, but he didn’t argue.
“I... I want to see my mom... and I want to be back home, in my own place. I want to see my friends again...”
“Is that all?” George pressed when Bobby fell silent.
“I want to... to be able to work again,” Bobby admitted. “I miss my job... I want my life to be back to the way it was before all this happened. B... Before I was abducted. I... I want my life back!”
As he spoke, Bobby’s voice rose in volume, until he was one step shy of shouting, and the agitation in both his tone and his body language could not be misinterpreted.
“That’s good, Bobby,” George told him with a reassuring smile. “That’s the answer I wanted to hear.”
Bobby regaded him sceptically, his body still tense with aggravation.
“But you’re going to say I’m not ready yet, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am,” George answered with plain honesty. “And before you get angry with me, I want you to look me in the eye and tell me honestly if you think you’re ready.”
He couldn’t do either one. His gaze flickered briefly up to George’s, but he couldn’t consciously hold his stare, and he could not insist that he was, indeed, ready to go home. A distressed sob escaped him, and he turned quickly away.
“I... I feel like I just went from one prison to another,” he choked out. “It... It’s not the same as the Centre... and I know everyone here cares about me... but I still feel like everything I do is being watched. I hate it, and I want to be away from it!”
“I can understand that,” George conceded. “But Bobby, you do understand that our concern isn’t intended to make you feel trapped...?”
“I know that,” Bobby whispered as he rubbed roughly at his eyes. “But I can’t help how I feel. I... How long have I been here now?”
“About a month.”
Bobby’s head dropped once more.
“And I’m still too frightened to go outside.”
“That’s nothing to be ashamed of, Bobby. It’s a perfectly reasonable fear, and it’s one that you will eventually overcome.”
“But if I can’t bring myself to go outside here, then what will hapen when I do go home? I’ll probably just shut myself away in my apartment... become a recluse... From a prison of their making, to one of my making.”
“Aptly put,” George murmured. Bobby continued to stare down at the floor, still unable to make deliberate and direct eye contact with the doctor. He felt more tired, and more miserable than ever.
“I just want to go home,” he whispered in defeat.
“Bobby,” George asked after a moment of careful consideration, “what do you see as my primary purpose for being here? Don’t give me a rushed answer. I want you to think it over carefully.”
Bobby fell silent, contemplating the question. The truth was that despite his aversion to psychiatrists, he had found talking with George to be remarkably easy, and it had never cross his mind to question the exact reasons for bringing him to the estate. He was simply glad to have someone to talk to who was detached from the entire sordid affair.
He recalled the point at which George had arrived; specifically, soon after he’d confessed to Mike about harbouring thoughts of suicide.
“To stop me from killing myself,” he said bluntly.
George smiled wryly at the no-frills answer.
“Yes,” he agreed. “That was one of the reasons, to keep you from deliberately harming yourself. Is that all you can think of?”
Bobby shrugged, at a loss to provide a different answer.
“All right,” George conceded. “How about I tell you what I see as my purpose for being here?”
“Sure,” Bobby said flatly. “Why not?”
“I see my purpose as being to help heal your mind, but also to bring you back to a point where you;ll be confident enough not only to return home, but also to return to work.”
“Work,” he muttered dismally. “If there’s even a job left for me to go back to.”
George heard the defeated tone in his voice, and realised that Bobby desperately needed some solid reassurance.
“Do you know that Captain Deakins refused to allow your place in the Major Case Squad to be filled? Even temporarily?”
Bobby looked up slowly at George. No, he did not know that.
“There’s... still a place for me...?”
George nodded with a smile.
“Yes, there is. You don’t have to worry about that. So whether you go back to work with the NYPD will ultimately be up to you. And you have as much time as you need ahead of you, so you don’t have to rush to make that decision.”
Bobby drew in a long, shaky breath. That was the first solid reassurance he’d had that perhaps his life as it had once been was not entirely gone from his grasp, and he was more grateful to the doctor than he could fully express.
“Thankyou,” he whispered, even as his gaze dropped once more. George nodded, and risked reaching across to clasp Bobby’s shoulder in a gentle grip. He was both relieved and grateful when Bobby didn’t resist the physical offer of reassurance.
When he finished talking with George, Bobby headed slowly back to his room to think over all that they’d discussed. He was tired, misreable, and generally fed up with everything. He really wanted to go home, and it hurt badly to think that he was still some ways from having that wish fulfilled.
He passed the family room on his way back to his bedroom... No, not his, he corrected himself dismally, but a room within someone else’s home. He stayed close to the wall, not feeling like dealing with anyone right then, when the sound of music from whatever was showing on the television floated out to him.
He paused just outside the door, not looking in, but his attention caught by the music. It wasn’t typically the type of music he would have listened to by choice, but there was a soulfulness about it that clutched at his aching heart. He thought he recognised the voice of the singer, but couldn’t quite place him. He soon gave up trying to remember, and focused on the words that floated out to him.
Now I can't go on, I can't even start,
I've got nothing left, just an empty heart.
I'm a soldier, wounded so I must give up the fight;
There's nothing more for me,
Lead me away, or leave me lying here.
Bobby’s breath caught in his throat at the words as they registered in his mind. An empty heart... That was just how he was feeling, like an empty shell. And he did want to give up, so badly, because it hurt so much to keep fighting. He felt as though he had no strength left to continue on.
Sound the bugle, tell them I don’t care;
There’s not a road I know that leads to anywhere.
Without a light I fear that I will stumble in the dark;
Lay right down, decide not to go on.
Yes, he thought miserably, that was it exactly. He was stumbling along in the dark, and it would be so much easier to just lie down and quit.
Then from on high, somewhere in the distance
There’s a voice that calls, remember who you are.
If you lose yourself, your courage soon will follow;
So be strong tonight. Remember who you are.
Bobby shut his eyes against a sudden onslaught of tears, and he collapsed heavily against the wall. He had lost himself within the nightmare that was the Centre, and he was still struggling to find his identity again, to find what had been stolen from him. Be strong, he thought numbly, his mind echoing the words that he’d just heard, like a prayer for much-needed strength. Remember who you are...
Who am I? he thought. Who am I...
He was so lost within the barriers of his own mind that he almost missed the small hand slipping into his, and he started a little in surprise. Opening his eyes, he looked to find himself staring down at a young boy who seemed almost painfully familiar to him.
“Jarod...?” he whispered in confusion, and for a brief moment he wondered whether he’d finally tipped over that narrow edge into insanity. The boy shook his head.
“No... I mean, I am... but I’m not. My name is James. I... I’m Jarod’s clone.”
Bobby stared at the boy, startled out of his misery.
“That’s right. And you’re Bobby.”
Without a word, James led Bobby into the family room, but instead of stopping in there, he continued through to the sliding doors that led to a patio area outside. He was just opening the doors up when Bobby finally realised where he was being led, and started to pull back.
With surprising strength for a child, James tightened his grip on Bobby’s hand and refused to let go. He looked back at the older man, and offered him a reassuring smile.
“It’s okay, really.”
When Bobby hesitated, James tried again.
“I was afraid, too, when I first came here. But we really are safe. You don’t have to be afraid to go outside. Come with me, let me show you. C’mon.”
And, putting his trust in the hands of a child, Bobby allowed himself to be led outside for the first time since his rescue from the Centre.
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