THE LONG ROAD HOME
A/N: I noticed as I was writing this chapter that there are some similarities in events to certain scenes in “Blind Trust”. I did a slight double-take at this, before deciding I didn’t give a damn. The story is still its own entity, and I can’t help that some aspects are similar. What can I say? I just love writing helpless and tormented Bobby.
And no. This is not the last chapter. Not by a long shot.
Emily walked into the family room, tray in hand with a tall glass of chocolate milk and a plate of double choc chip cookies for James, only to stop when she realised he was not there. She paused, considering where he might have disappeared to, when she felt the cool breeze, and realised that the patio door was open.
Curious as to what he might have been doing out there, she set the tray down and went over to see. She was stunned to discover not only James outside, but Bobby as well. As far as she knew, this was the first time he’s set foot outside since arriving at the property. It figured that James would be the one to draw him out, she thought wryly.
She stood in the open doorway, watching with increasing delight as Bobby stood in the direct sunlight for the first time in God only knew how long. He was more than a little skittish, though, she noted. He was holding onto James’ hand in a vice-like grip – not that James seemed to mind at all. The child clutched Bobby’s hand equally firmly, as though he knew that were he to let go, Bobby would flee back inside in an instant. He seemed to be determined not to let that happen.
Emily decided against venturing out to join them. Whatever magic James had woven to coax Bobby into going outside, she didn’t want to break the spell.
Smiling quietly to herself, Emily backed off quietly so as not to disturb them, and hurried from the room.
Several pairs of eyes looked up in surprise as Emily burst into the kitchen, brimming with excitement.
“Do you mean...?” Charles started to ask, and she nodded in eager confirmation.
“Yes! I mean Bobby! James got him outside! They’re out on the living room patio right now!”
“Well,” Margaret remarked with a wry smile, “if anyone other than Alex could have gotten him outside, it was going to be James. He’d understand what Bobby’s going through better than any of us. Even Jarod.”
“How did he look to you?” Deakins asked, at the same time struggling to suppress a desire to go and see for himself.
“Nervous,” Emily admitted. “But I think he must be glad to be outside finally. I’ve seen him standing at windows over the last couple of weeks, looking like he wanted to go out, but he was too frightened. This is a huge step forward for him.”
Deakins nodded in wordless agreement, feeling hopeful once more that maybe, just maybe, Bobby really was on the road to recovery after all.
The first thing that Bobby noticed, above and beyond anything else, was the complete openness of his surroundings. Even before his pale skin registered the bright warmth of the sun, or the gentle breeze, he couldn’t help but notice the wide open land that seemed to stretch out forever.
As James led him over to the half-wall that fenced off the patio, the suffocating sense of confinement that he felt, both from being inside the house and as a result of his own tormented mind, began to ease.
They came to a halt by the wall, but James made no effort to try an extricate his hand from Bobby’s. It was just as well, Bobby thought distantly. He doubted he could have let go, even if he’d wanted to. As it was, he had to consciously make an effort not to grip the boy’s hand too tightly, and end up hurting him.
“You see, Bobby?” James told him quietly. “Do you see what a nice day it is? You don’t want to be inside on a day like today, do you?”
Through the childish coaxing and reassurances, Bobby caught the undertones of a subtle psychology at play. He knew he was being carefully manipulated, and by a child at that, but for once he didn’t give a damn. It was a nice day, and all of a sudden he’d never felt so relieved to be outside in his entire life. The warmth of the sun felt intensely good and, for the first time since he regained full and conscious awareness after his rescue, he could really start to let himself believe that he was free from the Centre.
Right at that moment, Bobby didn’t about Raines. He didn’t care about Lyle, and he didn’t care about Sydney. All he cared about was the overwhelming feeling of relief that was spreading rapidly through his body. He felt a gentle tug on his hand, and looked to see James was pointing off to the right.
“We have horses over there. You could go riding, if you want. And there’s a heated pool further around. And over that way, Mom has a beautiful big garden. I spend hours out there, sometimes. There’s lots to do out here, Bobby. Don’t be afraid to come outside. There’s so much that you’d be missing out on.”
Drawing in a shuddering breath, Bobby turned his face upwards, to the sky. The last time he had been outside, in the sunlight, he’d been fighting off the effects of hallucinogenic drugs, and had been on the run. Now, he was able to stop and look around guiltlessly... and fearlessly.
Overcome with a sudden rush of emotion, Bobby gave a choked sob and slid to the ground, completely overwhelmed. James went down with him, still holding his hand.
“I... I never thought I’d see daylight again,” Bobby choked out, blinded by his tears. “When I escaped, I was glad to be outside... but I was scared, too, because I knew they were coming after me. I didn’t have time to appreciate being outside... and then they caught me, and I was locked back up again. I don’t remember a lot from the night they rescued me. I remember seeing stars, but not much else. I remember being so happy to see those stars.”
“I was really scared when Jarod and Dad got me out,” James admitted. “I’d been told lies about who Jarod was, and I thought he was going to hurt me. And, I’d never been outside the Centre before, so I didn’t know what anything was, much. When Dad brought me here, I was frightened of everything, but most of all I was frightened of going outside. I thought they’d find me, and take me back, but they didn’t. But it took a long time for me to know that I was safe, and that Mom and Dad wouldn’t let the Centre take me back. When I did finally understand, then I really started enjoying going outside. You’re safe, too, Bobby. Your friends won’t let anything happen to you again.”
Bobby rubbed furiously at his eyes, and looked down at his and James’ hands, still locked tightly together, as though in solidarity. He lifted his gaze to the boy’s face, and saw nothing but understanding.
“Thankyou, James,” he whispered in sincere gratitude. “I... I’m sorry...”
“It’s okay,” James reassured him. “I don’t mind. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Bobby sighed faintly and relaxed a little against the wall. Everything was going to be fine. And, for the first time since arriving at the estate, Bobby felt that he could really believe that.
“Heard you went outside today.”
Bobby looked up to see Alex standing in the doorway of his room, watching him with a smile. To her great pleasure, he returned her smile with one of his own, and there was a warmth in it that she hadn’t experienced for a long time.
“I... was kind of goaded into it.”
She ventured into the bedroom, and sat down beside him on the bed.
“Does it really matter? The point is, you made it outside. How did it feel?”
Bobby paused in answering her. He stared at the floor, considering his elation at being outside as opposed to the staggering waves of panic he’d suffered.
“Happy...” he said finally, “but scared, too.”
Alex slipped her hand into his, and was grateful that he didn’t pull away.
“It’ll be a little less frightening every day,” she murmured.
A small, tired smile touched his lips.
“That’s what I keep telling myself. I’m not sure if it’s working or not.”
Her gaze went down to the notebook in his lap, and she caught a glimpse of small, neat letters – Robert Goren. Before she could get a proper look at it, though, Bobby flipped the notebook closed and set it aside.
“Alex, would you...”
“Would I what, Bobby?”
“Would you go for a walk with me, tomorrow? James... He said there’s a garden...”
The warm smile that spread across Alex’s face soothed Bobby’s nerves to a manageable level, and she leaned over to kiss him lightly on the cheek.
“I’d love to. We don’t have to wait until tomorrow, though. We could go now, if you'd like. Dinner won't be ready for maybe half an hour yet, so we have a bit of time.”
Bobby, however, couldn’t suppress the look of panic that lit up his eyes at the thought of venturing outside again that day.
“I... I don’t think I can,” he whispered, and Alex couldn’t miss the raw fear in his voice, or the tremor that passed from his body to hers through their joined hands. “N... Not again today. I... I’m sorry...”
“It’s okay,” she murmured, squeezing his hand to reassure him. “Really, it is. I would love to go for a walk with you, anytime you like. You just have to say.”
The relief he felt was so palpable that even Alex could sense it.
“Thankyou,” he whispered. He hesitated, and then stood up. “I just have to...” He trailed off, and motioned towards the bathroom. She nodded wordlessly, and he shuffled across the floor and into the other room, carefully closing the door after him.
His feet were still hurting him, she noted sadly, and probably would for a while. The cuts had been bad, and were always going to take time to heal. Although, she reflected, the pain from those cuts were probably laughable compared to the pain that he’d suffered whilst in the Centre.
She glanced around while waiting for him to re-emerge, and her gaze fell on his notebook. For several seconds, she simply stared at it. Then, making an abrupt decision, she stretched across and lifted the cover to look inside.
It took a conscious effort on her part to suppress a gasp of surprise. Every line of the front page of the notebook was filled, and it was the same sentence written over and over again.
My name is Robert Goren. My name is Robert Goren. My name is Robert Goren. My name is Robert Goren.
It was written over and over again, filling up the entire page.
The sound of the bathroom door opening caught her by surprise, and she let the cover drop. Looking back, she was relieved that Bobby’s attention was on the floor, and not on her. When he did look back at her, she quietly thanked her lucky stars that he was still some way off his usual hyper-vigilant self. Otherwise, she would have had some explaining to do.
“So, are you hungry, then?” she asked, standing up to join him. He nodded, and she ushered him out of his room with a gentle arm around his waist.
“Oh, and Alex...” Bobby said, pausing in the doorway.
“Mm?” she asked. He smiled faintly at her, his eyes glinting with a hint of mischief.
“Next time you want to know what’s in my notebook, just ask.”
She stared after him as he continued on down the hallway, momentarily dumb-founded. Then, laughing softly, Alex hurried after him.
George sat patiently, watching Alex with a mixture of curiosity and concern. She’d come to him late, after Bobby had finally given in to his exhaustion and turned in for the night. She clearly had something on her mind, but now was having difficulty putting it into words.
“I’m sorry,” she apologised finally. “I just... I don’t know if I’m being paranoid...”
“Why don’t you say what’s bothering you,” George suggested. “Then we’ll discuss whether it’s paranoia or not.”
Alex sighed softly. Fair enough.
“I went to talk to Bobby earlier today. He had a notebook with him...”
George nodded placidly.
“I gave that to him. He’s still having trouble giving a voice to a lot of his fears. We both thought it might be a way for him to get his worst fears out in the open.”
“Well, then,” Alex said grimly, “I think one of his biggest fears is his loss of identity. I got a look inside the book, and he’s written his name, over and over in it.”
George shifted slightly in his chair. That got his attention. He’d worry about discussing privacy issues with Alex later.
“His name, you say?”
“He’d written ‘My name is Robert Goren’ in it over and over again. The first page was filled with it.”
A thoughtful look descended onto George’s face.
“He’s searching for a way to reclaim his identity from the Centre.”
Alex frowned. “I don’t understand. He knows who he is.”
“It’s not as simple as that, Alex,” George told her quietly. “Over nine months, Bobby had it drilled into his head that he was only who the Centre wanted him to be. Nine months of intensive brain-washing, if that term makes it easier to understand. Yes, he knows what his name is. He has a fairly well-rounded idea of who we expect him to be, but he is still trying to recover that part of his personality... and yes, his identity. It’s not something where we can just click our fingers, and everything’s fine. The psychological damage that was done by that place was immense. He’s making good progress, but there is still a lot that he’s trying to come to grips with.”
“Before all this happened,” Alex said softly, her eyes on the floor, “I would never have believed it was possible for Bobby to be this afraid.”
A sad smile touched George’s lips.
“Everyone is capable of feeling terror, Alex. We only need to be placed in the right circumstance. You told me the other day that you were aware that he suffered nightmares a lot before this all happened?”
She nodded in confirmation.
“That’s right. I always just assumed that they were related to his mom... and his dad... but I guess that was wrong.”
“Bobby escaped the Centre physically as a child,” George said, “but he never escaped it psychologically. Not completely. There was always a part of his mind that was trapped in that place. I can understand Charles’ motivations for encouraging Bobby to suppress his memories of the place when he was a boy, but ultimately it was only a band-aid fix. Even if the Centre hadn’t come after him again, sooner or later those memories were going to force their way into his conscious mind, and I think that would have triggered a major breakdown.”
Alex gave a short, bitter laugh.
“He would have thought he’d developed his mother’s schizophrenia after all. He... He said something to me... the day that he was taken...”
“What did he say?”
“He, um... He said it was ironic, that maybe his mom wasn’t so crazy after all. All along, a lot of her delusions had revolved around them coming for Bobby to take him away from her. And the irony was, there really was a them after all.”
“It was probably Bobby’s absence over that original five year period that triggered that particular obsession in her mind,” George mused. “Coming home after recovering from that very first break, to find her youngest son gone... God knows what story Bobby’s father would have given her... And then no word of him for the next five years... It would be interesting to know whether she attempted to report his disappearance to the police.”
Alex nodded. The same thing had occurred to her, but in the end she hadn’t looked into it. She hadn’t been able to see the point. Now, her curiosity was aroused again, and she determined to look it up once they were finally able to return home.
“And then, when he does finally come home, he’s a far different child to the boy she remembers,” George went on. “Really, it’s not hard to see where the basis of that delusion formed. And certainly on a subconscious level, Bobby would have feared the Centre sending someone to take him away again.”
She didn’t respond to that, trying in her own mind to come to grips with the hell Bobby must have lived through – in trying to deal with his mother’s illness and delusions, while at the same time knowing sunconsciously that there was a frightening element of truth to those delusions.
“Be patient, Alex,” George told her softly. “I know you don't like continually hearing that, but I'm telling you anyway. Bobby is making progress, and he'll eventually get through that tunnel to the other side. The man you worked with isn't gone. It's just going to take time for him to climb out of the hole that those people tried to bury him in.”
Alex grimaced a little as she got slowly to her feet.
“That's not a comforting metaphor, George.”
He smiled faintly.
“Maybe not, Alex, but accurate all the same. I'll say it again, give him time.”
She paused in the doorway, and George thought he detected the slightest of sighs from her.
“I am,” she said softly. “Right now, that's all I can give him.”
Some time after midnight
Bobby lay awake long after the house fell quiet. It wasn't so much that he wasn't ired. The day had been a long one for him, and he was tired enough, but his mind was too full to let him relax completely. Ironically, it was the closest he'd come so far to how he'd been prior to his abduction so long ago now.
His thoughts kept returning to earlier that day, when James had led him outside. They'd stayed out there, sitting on the paved ground for nearly half an hour, while Bobby had tried to keep a grip on his panic. He'd been just about ready to break ranks and hightail it inside when Mike and Carolyn happened upon them. Neither had shown any surprise at finding him there. Instead, they'd joined the two of them on the patio, carrying on their conversation as though there was nothing out of the ordinary going on.
At some point, Bobby had pushed through the haze of his own nerves to notice that his friends were holding hands and sitting very close in a very unprofessional way. He wondered vaguely when that had happened, but made no comment.
In the end, Bobby had stayed outside for over an hour and a half – far longer than he'd imagined he'd be able to. Of course, he'd just about been reduced to a nervous wreck by the time he did finally retreat into the house, but the pleasure of all those around him had made it worth while. Especially, he thought with a small smile, Alex.
His smile faded as rapidly as it had appeared, as his mind slipped back again to his conversation with George, prior to his little trip outside onto the family room patio.
His head was practically spinning from everything they'd talked about, but the most predominant thing in his mind was the wish he'd expressed to George about wanting to go home. That desire was powerful, almost to the point of being overwhelming but, like with just about everything right then, there was also a strong and sickening fear.
In this instance, that fear was for what his future held if... No, he thought grimly. Not if, but when he did eventually go home to New York, he honestly had no idea what would be in store for him.
Sure, George had told him that Captain Deakins was holding his position in the Major Case Squad for him, but that in itself was not enough to guarantee he would ever be able to return to his career as a detective. He lay there, trying hard to picture himself as he had once been – a confident, strong-willed police detective with first graded ranking – and he couldn't do it.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't imagine even something as simple as sitting at his desk, inside the Major Case Squad room, doing regular paperwork. He couldn't picture himself interrogating a suspect... He couldn't picture any of it, and the harder he tried, the worse his anxiety became.
He knew what he wanted, and could see no feasible way of reaching those goals. Right then, even his very identity was in doubt, thanks to nine months of steady, unbroken mental assault from the so-called doctors at the Centre.
“My name is Robert Goren,” he whispered, and felt sick once again at the realisation that that simple sentence had little to no meaning for him. “My name is Robert Goren. My name is Robert Goren. My name is Robert Goren...”
Nothing. He felt no emotion and no connection as his name passed his own lips, and it was just the same whenever he heard anyone else in the house say his name. It meant nothing to him.
Tears stung his eyes as he sat up and switched on the bed lamp, reaching across to the bedside table and picking up the notebook that he'd placed there. Slowly, with trembling fingers, he opened it up to stare at its contents. Not only the first page, but several pages after that were all filled with the same words.
My name is Robert Goren.
The same words, written over and over again, with increasing desperation. He glanced up, and flinched visibly as he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror that was built into the closet door. Lyle's words filled his mind, despite his best efforts to stop them. That silky, evil voice whispered persistently in his mind that he was nobody, that his identity was whatever his controllers decided it was.
He froze, his gaze locking onto the last couple of pages that had writing on them. He'd been almost in a trance-like state after a while, writing automatically without really focusing on what he was actually writing. Now, he was seeing. He was seeing it all too clearly.
Halfway down the second last page, the words changed from My name is Robert Goren, to I am nobody.
Bobby sucked in a shaky breath, barely able to believe it. A page and a half, filled with the hated words that Lyle had forced on him so cruelly. Lyle's vitriol had so penetrated his conscious and subconscious mind that he was repeating it without even realising it. He wondered with a growing feeling of nausea how many times since his rescue those words had crept into his thoughts... and into his actions.
In a sudden, almost exlosive fit of rage, Bobby tore all of the pages from the notebook, scattering them over the floor. Then, with a strangled sob of anguish, Bobby climbed awkwardly out of bed and, without pausing to so much as pull on his robe, he made his way out of his bedroom.
Alex awoke with a start, not entirely sure what had pulled her from her sleep. She lay in the silence, and in the darkness, trying to work out whether she'd heard something, or whether she'd woken from a dream. She didn't know. All she did know was that she was suddenly wide awake.
Sighing inwardly, she got up and pulled on her robe, intending to make her way to the kitchen to get a warm drink that she hoped would help her get back to sleep. It was as she emerged into the hall that she noticed the soft light coming from Bobby's room. Concerned that he was perhaps awake as the result of a nightmare, she went to look in on him.
She froze in the doorway of his room, staring at his empty bed in surprise. Maybe he was just in the bathroom, she tried to assure herself. But no – even from where she stood in the doorway, she could see there was no light on in the ensuite. He was not in there. So, where...?
As she ventured slowly into the room, her gaze quickly went to the scattered pages on the floor. She bent down to gather them up, and her sharp eyes were quick to see the same words that had triggered Bobby's emotional reaction. She stared at the words for several seconds, and then her gaze shifted back to the empty bed, and a new thought swept through her mind.
Where was he?
Clutching the pages tightly in her hand, Alex fled the room to get help.
Mike grumbled in annoyance as he was woken unceremoniously to the sensation of someone shaking him hard. His mind still foggy with sleep, he tried to shrug off the offending person, but they would not be dissuaded.
“Go 'way,” he mumbled, trying unsuccessfully to roll over, away from whoever it was. “Too early...”
“Mike, for God's sake, wake up!”
He stiffened, jolted a little further out of sleep not just by the sound of Alex's voice, but in particular by the panic in her voice. Shifting around, he forced his eyes open to find her crouching by the bed with a look of real fear in her eyes.
“Alex...? What's wrong?”
“Bobby's gone,” she told him, and Mike felt his blood chill.
“What do you mean, gone? Gone, as in not in his room? Or gone, as in not in this house?”
“He's not in his room,” she answered hoarsely. “I don't know if he's still in the house or not. I hope he is, but I don't know.”
Mike sat up properly, rubbing at his eyes.
“Maybe he just went to the kitchen, or something. Did you check his bathroom?”
“I checked both,” she insisted. “He wasn't anywhere you'd expect him to be if he'd woken up in the middle of the night. Mike, I found these on the floor of his room.”
He took the pages from her, and flipped through them with moderate interest. When he reached the last couple of pages, though, he froze.
“What the hell...?”
“Exactly,” Alex said. “Mike we have to find him!”
Without any further hesitation, Mike swung himself out of bed and grabbed his robe.
“Go wake Carolyn... and Margaret and Emily, too. I'll get the captain, and George.”
“What about Jarod?”
Mike hesitated, a distinct frown on his face. In all truth, he had never liked or trusted Jarod, and he honestly believed it would be better if they could find Bobby without his help. It was a chain reaction, though – Waking Margaret would inevitably mean waking Charles, and Charles would more than likely wake Jarod before doing anything.
“I'll wake him,” he said grudgingly. “Go on. We'll meet in the family room.”
A few minutes later, the entire household was awake and gathered in the family room, and Alex showed them the pages she'd found. George took them from her, concern written all over his features.
“This is not good,” he murmured.
“Don't start psychoanalysing it now, Doc,” Mike told him. “Right now, we need to find Bobby. Then we worry about inner meanings, and all that shit.”
“Okay,” Charles said grimly. “We'll start with the house, and then move to the grounds if necessary. Perhaps if we split up into groups of two, or three? Alex and Jim, you two search the east side of the house on this floor... Mike and Carolyn, you take the west side. Jarod and George, you take the east side on the upper level, and Margaret, Emily and I will take the west side up there. All right?”
A murmur of agreement went through the group, and they hurried off to begin the search.
“It couldn't be the Centre responsible for this, could it?” Carolyn asked softly as she and Mike hurried upstairs. “I mean, they couldn't have found him, could they?”
“I'm trying to tell myself no,” Mike answered. “But if we don't find him in the house... Well, you saw what he was like outside. If that kid hadn't been holding his hand so tightly, he would've bolted back inside for sure. I don't think he'd go outside. At least, not on his own. Not yet.”
“But to take him from inside this house?” Carolyn asked incredulously. “That's hard to believe, Mike.”
He paused, looking at her grimly.
“As hard to believe that they could have abducted him right from inside the Chief of D's office, in One Police Plaza?”
Carolyn blanched at Mike's blunt reminder and he nodded, satisfied that her memory had been sufficiently jogged.
“Now, can we please concentrate on finding him?”
She nodded in wordless agreement, and hurried down the hall after her partner.
When Alex and Deakins passed through the kitchen, Alex paused to check the drawers with all the knives were still securely locked.
“Just making sure,” she said grimly. Deakins nodded wordlessly. As much as he hated to admit it, when Mike woke him up to tell him that Bobby was missing, it was the first thought that crossed his mind – that Bobby had acquired a knife... or some other sharp implement, and had finally put himself out of his misery. Finding the knife drawers locked and apparently not interfered with was a huge weight off his mind. Of course, that then left the way open for a number of other, equally unpleasant scenarios in his mind.
“Alex, try to think,” he told her as they began to search the rooms beyond the kitchen. “Think about the state of mind that he might have been in, and try to think where he might have gone.”
She glanced at him in aggravation.
“Despite what people seem to believe, I don't actually have a psychic connection with my partner.”
Deakins smiled faintly.
“I never suggested you did, Alex. But you know him better than any of us. Where do you think he might go?”
She looked away, frustrated and frigthened. She could barely think straight as it was, and he was expecting her to second-guess Bobby's movements... and his very thoughts?
“Captain, I can't even be sure what state of mind he's in. Angry... frightened... depressed... I don't know.”
“Let's assume he's angry,” Deakins said. “He's realised just how much the Centre's conditioning has wormed its way into his consciousness. What is he going to want to do?”
Alex raised an eyebrow at him.
“You mean, aside from killing Lyle, Raines and Sydney?”
A wry smile flickered across Deakins’ lips.
“Speaking in immediate terms. What is it that he’s been trying to do ever since we rescued him from that place?”
Alex drew in a long breath, and as she wondered, her mind slipped back to what Bobby had initially written in the pages of that notebook.
My name is Robert Goren...
“He’s trying to claim back his identity,” Alex said softly. Deakins nodded his agreement.
Again, she raised an eyebrow at him.
“Are you going somewhere with this, or are you just hoping that I’ll have a sudden flare of inspiration?”
He let his breath out in a frustrated rush.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, that makes two of us.”
Deakins came to a halt, and looked around them.
“He has to still be somewhere in this house. He wouldn’t have gone outside, not alone.”
“He would if he was desperate enough,” Alex countered. “Or, angry enough.”
“But even if he was that angry... or desperate,” Deakins argued, “he wouldn’t have gone far, surely. He’s even less familiar with this territory that we are.”
“When you’re that angry,” Alex muttered, “you don’t tend to stop and think about those things.”
“Alex, answer me honestly. Do you really believe he might have left the house?”
She stopped, considering that for several long seconds before sighing and shaking her head.
“No,” she admitted softly. “I don’t. I think he’s probably holed himself up somewhere inside.”
“All right, then. Let’s find him.”
“You don’t seem surprised by this,” George commented as he and Jarod searched the many rooms upstairs on the west side of the building.
“Honestly?” Jarod said. “I’m not. I thought he was making progress...”
“He was,” George stated firmly. “He was making a lot a progress. I was actually surprised by how well he was doing. This...” He waved the pages that Alex had handed to him in the air for emphasis. “This isn't necessarily a setback.”
“Maybe not, but I felt for a little while now like there was something simmering beneath the surface, waiting to blow. You have to understand, in the nine months they had him, they would have forced him to undergo intensive reconditioning. He was never going to be able to break away from that in just a matter of weeks. It could be years down the track before he can finally break that hold. He'll find it creeping in on him subconsciously for a long time to come.”
“You think he’s had a major breakdown,” George said quietly, and Jarod nodded.
“Yes, I do.” He paused, taking in the sceptical look on George’s face. “I take it you disagree, Doctor?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” George confirmed. “I don’t believe this is a breakdown of any sort. I think it’s simply a case of Bobby trying to find his own way through everything. Whatever’s happened now, I believe it’s just him looking for solutions that work for him.”
Jarod looked grim as he peered into one room, looking around carefully.
“I hope you’re right, Dr Huang. I really do.”
He retreated out of the room, and started to continue on down the hall, only to realise George wasn’t with him. He looked back to see the doctor staring at a door that he himself had overlooked.
“What’s behind this door?” George wondered.
“A staircase,” Jarod answered, coming back and pushing open the door to reveal a very narrow, rickety-looking set of stairs. “It goes up to the roof. We never use it, though... James is the only one who uses it. He’s the only one who ever goes up there.”
George hesitated for just a moment, his mind working overtime. How, he wondered, could a person leave the house without leaving the house? Go up on the roof...
“He’s up there,” George said abruptly, and with such certainty that it simply didn’t occur to Jarod to argue. “Jarod, go up and talk to him. I’m going to go and get Alex.”
He turned and hurried off before Jarod could argue. The pretender stood there for a long moment before conceding to George’s deduction, and making his way up the narrow stairs.
Alex and the captain had just finished searching their allocated section of the house, and were about to turn their attention to the immediate outside surroundings when George caught up with them.
“Did you find him?” Deakins asked, taking in George’s countenance with a mixture of concern and hope.
“The roof,” George told them. “I think he’s up on the roof. Jarod’s gone up there to talk to him, but you need to get up there, Alex.”
The panic in her eyes was painfully obvious.
“You think he might try to...?”
She couldn’t even bring herself to finish that sentence.
“I don’t know,” George answered honestly. “I hope not, but I really do think you need to go to him. There’s a staircase on the upper floor, on the east wall of the house.”
She needed no further encouragement, and promptly took off at a run. Without a moment’s hesitation, George and Deakins both followed.
Bobby wasn’t especially surprised when he heard the door open behind him. Standing at the very edge of the roof, looking over, he’d seen lights going on all over the place, and he figured his absence had been discovered. He didn’t move, though, or look behind him to see who was there. He figured, they’d identify themselves sooner or later.
“Do you mind if I join you?”
A faint sigh escaped Bobby. Jarod. He was almost disappointed.
“It’s your home, not mine.”
The deeper meaning of Bobby’s words weren’t lost on Jarod. He crossed the roof, and joined Bobby at the edge, looking out into the darkness for a long moment before speaking again.
“Why did you come up here, Bobby?”
His voice was laced with hostility, which Jarod ignored.
“I didn’t say you couldn’t,” Jarod answered calmly, “or that you shouldn’t. I was just curious.”
“I needed time... alone.”
Jarod nodded wordlessly. That was something he could certainly understand, and sympathise with.
“I wanted to go outside,” he said softly. “I... I thought I’d be able to... but I couldn’t.”
“This might be a moot point,” Jarod said with a wry smile, “but you are outside.”
Bobby heard the amusement in Jarod’s voice, and couldn’t hold back the small smile that fought its way to the surface.
“You know what I mean,” he grumbled, but there was no real irritation in his tone. Jarod laughed softly.
“I know,” he agreed. “But seriously, this was a pretty big step, just coming out here on your own. You’ll be going outside again like the rest of us before you know it, Bobby.”
Bobby’s head hung slightly.
“I realised something tonight.”
“I realised that I need to let go of my fear if I’m ever going to get my life back. I... I want my life back, Jarod.”
“I know you do, Bobby.”
After a moment’s quiet, Bobby looked around slowly at Jarod.
“You all thought I’d finally snapped, didn’t you?”
Jarod decided against lying. Bobby was far too perceptive.
“I did,” he admitted. “For the record, though, Dr Huang didn’t.”
That gave Bobby food for thought.
“I think she was just worried,” Jarod murmured. “We all were. Bobby... what you wrote on those pages...”
Even in the dark, Jarod could see Bobby’s grip tighten considerably on the waist-high concrete wall that separated them from a very long drop.
“Even when I’m free, I’m still trapped. When... When I was retaken by the Centre, I swore to myself that no matter what happened, the one thing I’d never let them take from me was my identity. But in the end, I couldn’t stop them. Lyle and Raines... and even Sydney... They all had a part in taking that from me. It was all I had left, and they stripped it away from me like everything else. I... I don’t know who I am anymore, Jarod. I feel like that man that everyone else remembers was just a facade... a front that I put up to hide behind. Except, I don’t know what it was that I was trying to hide. I try to see inside myself, and all I see is a blank sheet of paper. I... I can take on anyone’s identity... except my own, because I don’t know what my identity is anymore!”
Jarod sighed softly.
“That’s not something that I can help you to rediscover, Bobby.” He paused, looking back over his shoulder, and a smile lit up his face. “But here’s someone who can.”
Bobby glanced quizzically at Jarod, and then looked around to see who was there. The relief and gratitude on his face was all too clear at the sight of his diminutive partner.
Alex came forward as Jarod retreated. They exchanged smiles as they passed each other; Jarod’s was one of encouragement, while Alex’s was one of gratitude. Then, Jarod was gone, disappearing back inside, while Alex joined Bobby at the ledge.
“You scared me,” she told him softly, slipping her arm gently through his.
“I didn’t mean to,” he whispered, and she responded by hugging him gently.
“I know, Bobby. But when I saw those pages... and what you’d written... Do you really believe that?”
“I don’t want to,” Bobby told her, grief in his voice. “But... I just don’t know who I am anymore! I... I don’t have an identity of my own. They stole that from me, Alex, and I don’t know how to get it back!”
He blinked, looking down at her in astonishment, and she returned his stare with a fierce look of her own.
“That’s right,” she growled. “You heard me right. That’s bullshit, Bobby. No matter what you think they managed to convince you of, the bottom line is that your identity is the one thing they could never take from you. They just managed to confuse you, and make you think they’d succeeded. But they didn’t. I know you, and I can see the man I knew in your eyes. He isn’t gone... just gone into hiding. There’s a big difference.”
“Did... Did you hear what I said to Jarod?”
“Yes, I heard,” she confirmed, “and I’m telling you right now that Detective Bobby Goren was not a facade. That is who you are, Bobby. You are Bobby Goren. Detective, son, friend...” She paused, reaching up to cup his cheek tenderly. “Lover... They can’t ever take that from you, because it’s too deeply a part of you.” She reached up with the other hand, clasping his face gently between her palms. “Your name is Bobby Goren. That is who you are, and no one can ever, ever take that away from you.”
Shuddering, Bobby turned from her, to stare out into the darkness. Alex felt her heart sink, taking his movement as a dismissal. Suddenly finding it nearly impossible to see, she began to walk away from him, desperate to shield her pain before it became too much to deal with.
“Did you hear that?”
Alex started in shock as Bobby suddenly shouted into the night, a renewed strength in his voice. She looked back at him in astonishment, taking in his tensed body, and the mixture of desperation and determination on his tear-streaked face. He bellowed again, his voice cracking from the effort he was making.
“Did you hear that, you goddamn sons of bitches? My name is Bobby Goren! My name, and you can’t take it away from me! Do you hear me? My name is Bobby Goren!”
She hurried back to his side as he slid to his knees on the ground, slipping an arm supportively around his shoulders as he cried.
“It’s okay, Bobby,” she murmured, kissing his temple softly. “It’s okay.”
“Thankyou,” he whispered, leaning his head against hers. “Thankyou... for everything.” His arms slipped around her, and she felt a not so small thrill when she felt his lips brush lightly over her hair before he hugged her to him.
“I love you, Bobby,” she whispered, not even sure if he could hear her. “I love you, and I won’t let them take you away from me again. Not physically, not mentally, and not emotionally.” She slid her arms around his waist, content to stay there for as long as he wanted to hold her. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
He spoke the words so softly that she almost missed them, and even then it took her a few moments to realise what he’d said. And when she did realise, it took all her strength not to break into a flood of tears right then and there. All she did know for sure right then, as they held each other close, was a renewed determination that the Centre would never again lay their filthy claws on Bobby, and she would die trying to protect him.
Back Home Law and Order: Criminal Intent Main Page Next