THE LONG ROAD HOME
A/N: This was a particularly difficult chapter to write, for a number of reasons. It seemed to grow more and more complicated with every passing day. However, this is how it turned out and I, for one, am satisfied with it. Here’s hoping the length and the quality make up for the wait.
In light of the recent episode ‘Brother’s Keeper’, I’ve amended the chapters in this fic that refer to Bobby’s brother, and changed his name to Frank in accordance with Bobby’s canon back-story.
Also, to those anonymous critics who have been ‘instructing’ me on how the characters should act, and informing me that they will have no credibility if I write them as acting in any way other than you believe they should act – this is a work of fiction. Specifically, MY work of fiction. If you don’t like what the lead characters are doing, or the decisions they make, then feel free to stop reading. I hope you don’t, and can just enjoy the story as it continues to form, but please – if you’re going to criticise, at least have the courtesy to include an email address so that I can respond to your criticisms if I so wish.
“Excuse me?” Mike asked incredulously when Deakins returned to the squad room, and told them of the latest discovery. “Did you just say... a device? So... they micro chipped him?”
Deakins shook his head, and brought out the device, which he'd taken with him from the hospital. He handed it over to Mike, who stared at it in disgust before passing it to Carolyn.
“That,” the captain said grimly, “is no microchip.”
“Shit,” Mike muttered. “Is it still working?”
“We don't know,” Deakins admitted. “I want you to take it down to CSU, and have them check it out.”
“Why?” Carolyn asked, puzzled. “Why not just destroy it?”
“Because if it is still functioning, then we may be able to use it to our advantage.”
“How? By planting it somewhere? Or on someone else? It won't take them long to figure that out.”
“Oh, I see it now,” Mike snorted. “We'll catch a stray mutt... or maybe plant it on a squirrel in Central Park. And then let them go nuts trying to work out why their signal keeps going around and around in circles...”
Deakins chuckled softly.
“As tempting as that idea is, I was thinking more in terms of sending one of our people off with it to lead the sons of bitches on a wild goose chase around the country. If we can buy even just a month or two out of it...”
“That's pretty slim, Captain,” Mike said, his smirk fading.
“I know,” Deakins agreed. “But I'll do anything to keep Bobby safe... Even if it seems like a pointless thing to do.”
“Anything's worth trying,” Carolyn agreed. “And speaking of which, shouldn't we be looking at placing Bobby somewhere more secure? If that thing is still functioning, then wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that the Centre would know where to find him by now?”
“You may be right,” Deakins conceded. “In fact, you probably are right, Carolyn. “But I've left that decision to Alex and her parents to make. They were talking it over when I left the hospital to come back here... although 'talking' is probably a dubious way of putting it. I don't think John and Helen were too pleased with the idea of not having Bobby stay with them.”
“Even if it puts them in danger?” Carolyn asked incredulously, and both the captain and her partner nodded in response.
“Carolyn, you have to remember that John Eames is still a cop. He's retired, but he is still a cop. More than that, he's old school, and loyalty is everything. To John, Bobby is a cop in need of help, and that's all he needs to know. The fact that Bobby is his daughter's partner is purely incidental.”
“I do understand that,” Carolyn assured him. “It's just so dangerous. I can't imagine Alex being willing see her mom and dad in danger.”
“She doesn't,” Deakins answered. “It was Alex who raised the possibility of finding a safe house for Bobby until other arrangements have been made. But as I said, it's up to them to work it out. If they decide it's too risky for Bobby to stay with John and Helen, then I'll arrange a safe house. On the other hand, if John and Helen win out, then I'll organise for a twenty-four/seven watch on their place, in case of trouble.”
“I just can't see Alex losing that argument,” Carolyn said quietly.
“There's one factor you haven't considered, though,” Mike put in, drawing both Carolyn and Deakins' attention.
“What's that, Mike?” Deakins asked wearily.
“This whole safe house idea,” Mike answered. “You put Bobby in a safe house, and you'll effectively be locking him up all over again. You can try to put any spin on it that you like, but it's still locking him up. Have you stopped for even a second to think how Bobby might react to that?”
The looks on their faces told him that they hadn't. Finally, Deakins sighed and sat back heavily.
“Let's just wait and see what Alex says when she calls.”
Bobby awoke to the sound of voices raised in anger, and for a brief moment the blood in his veins froze as his mind took him back to the many times he'd woken in the hospital wing of the Centre, to the sound of Raines and Sydney arguing over effective methods of dealing with him. Gradually, though, it registered in his weary mind that he was not in the Centre anymore, and that the voices he was hearing belonged not to Sydney and Raines, but to Alex and her parents.
He wondered dimly what could have happened to have them arguing so vehemently with each other, but with recognition of their voices came cohesive and ordered thought, and he finally understood what they were arguing about. Or rather, who.
“Alex, we understand your concerns, but we don't need protecting!” John was saying, and he sounded angry enough that Bobby physically winced.
“Against these people, you do,” Alex snapped back. “You don't understand what they're capable of!”
“Honey, I think we have a fair idea,” Helen argued. “We've seen how Bobby is...”
“Mom, please, don't. You didn't see him the night we rescued him. He was almost catatonic, and he clung to me like... well, like Nathan does. And... you haven't seen any of the sim discs. Until you've seen those, you can't begin to imagine what those bastards are capable of. You... You just can't.”
“Alex,” John said in a forcibly calm voice, “I really don't believe he'll be any safer shut away in some hotel room somewhere... or whatever constitutes a safe house these days... as opposed to our home. And staying with us, he's at least with people who care about him.”
Alex made a sound that Bobby distinctly recalled her making on a semi-frequent basis; usually whenever he was being a stubborn idiot. He almost smiled, except for the realisation that they were seriously talking about locking him away in a safe house somewhere.
Panic and dismay struck at the same moment, and he forced his way past the lingering drowsiness caused by the anaesthetic, and managed to open his eyes.
“Do you two want to put a lid on it?” Helen asked quietly. “Our boy's awake.”
Alex and John both ceased their argument instantly, turning instead to Bobby.
“Hey,” Alex murmured. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” he mumbled in answer. “Did they get it...?”
“Yeah, they got it, son,” John confirmed. “It's gone, completely.”
“What... what was it?”
Alex gently stroked his forehead.
“You already know, don't you? I don't really need to say it, do I?”
Bobby sighed softly.
“It was a bug of some sort... wasn't it? To... To track me.”
“Yes,” Alex confirmed, feeling sick at the sight of the anguish in his brown eyes. “It was. And we figure now that that was how Lyle found you yesterday morning.”
“Son of a bitch,” Bobby mumbled, but there was little emotion in his voice. “So... They might know I'm back in New York.”
“It's possible,” Alex agreed with some reluctance.
“Try not to worry about it just at the moment,” Helen said. “Now, you'll have to stay here overnight, sweetheart, but I promise that one of us will be with you, around the clock. We're not leaving you alone.”
Bobby seemed to pay no heed to Helen's words, though. Instead, he stared up at Alex with an intensity that made her want to cringe.
“You... You promised.”
Confusion filled her face.
“What do you mean?”
He drew in a shaky breath.
“You... promised me you wouldn't leave me out...”
“Leave you out?” Alex echoed, more confused than ever. With some difficulty, Bobby elaborated.
“Out of the... the decision-making.”
An instant later, Alex realised what he was talking about, and her cheeks reddened visibly. He was right, of course. She had promised that he would not be left out when there were important decisions to be made regarding his welfare, and yet that was exactly what she was doing right now.
“I'm sorry, Bobby,” she apologised. “Really... but this is serious.”
“I get it,” he mumbled, not quite meeting her gaze. “Having me around will put them in danger. I... I don't want that anymore than you do. Tell Deakins to organise a safe house.”
“Hold on just a second there,” John growled. “Just hang on! Don’t Helen and I get a chance to have a say in this?”
Bobby raised his eyes slowly to meet John’s.
“I don’t want to put you in danger,” he insisted softly. John frowned a little for a moment, considering what to say next, before turning and looking around at Alex and Helen.
“Would you ladies excuse us for a few minutes? I want to talk to Bobby, man to man.”
“Of course. Alex, let’s go and get some coffee.”
Alex hesitated for just a moment, frowning darkly, before she finally conceded and followed her mother out. John waited until the door swung closed before looking back to Bobby.
“I can understand Alex’s point of view. She’s worried about you, and about her mother and me. She’s trying hard to find a way to protect all of us. I can also understand you wanting to go along with her. Maybe you don’t want to rock the boat. Maybe you honestly think it’s the right thing to do. But I’m going to ask you a question now, Bobby, and I want a straight and honest answer from you. No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. Just be straight with me. Tell me, what do you want to do?”
Bobby shuddered, struggling to keep his emotions in check. In his mind, the right thing to do would be to say that he didn’t want to stay with John and Helen any longer, and that he’d feel more secure in a safe house. But that was a lie, and it was a lie that he couldn’t maintain.
“I… I want to stay with you,” he stammered finally. “I don’t want to go into a safe house.”
John regarded him critically.
Bobby’s breath caught in his throat. Why not, indeed… After a long moment’s consideration, he could think of only one thing to say.
“I don’t want to be locked up again.”
That, perhaps, was more poignant an argument than any that John could have thought up, and he felt his stomach twist almost painfully at the realisation that that fear was still acutely present within Bobby’s mind.
“Okay,” he murmured softly, his words tinged with sympathy. “That’s all I need to hear. Now, I’ll go get Alex and Helen, and we’ll talk this through properly. And for the record, son, Helen and I want you to stay with us. We consider it a privilege to be able to help you, and we’re not going to be easily frightened out of doing that.”
Bobby watched, his heart pounding and his eyes stinging with unshed tears, as John disappeared from the room. He lay in silence, feeling sick to his stomach as the minutes ticked by. The rational, logical part of his mind knew that John had to go to the cafeteria three floors down to get Alex and Helen, but another less rational part of his mind whispered that they’d all just decided that he wasn’t worth the time or the effort.
It was all too easy to plant fear and doubt in his own mind, and before long he’d convinced himself that they weren’t coming back. He was just contemplating getting himself up and dressed when the door swung open, and John came back in, followed closely by Alex and Helen.
Alex immediately went to Bobby’s side, taking in his stricken expression with a sad understanding.
“You thought we weren’t coming back.”
It wasn’t a question, and Bobby didn’t pull away when Alex wrapped her arms around him in a fierce, protective embrace. Instead, he leaned into the embrace, taking what comfort he could from the contact. Alex sighed softly.
“I’m sorry. Dad told us what you said… about being locked up again. I never thought about it like that.”
“I know it’d be for the best,” Bobby mumbled, his voice muffled by her sweater. “But… just the thought of being shut in… Not being able to go anywhere… or do anything… It’d be just like being back in the Centre. And… I don’t think I could stand that. Not even for a day.”
“I understand,” Alex whispered. “You can stay with Mom and Dad. I’ll tell Deakins, and he’ll just have to organise extra security.”
“No,” Helen cut in fiercely. “Don’t you apologise for this. It is not your fault.”
“Helen’s right,” John agreed. “This isn’t your fault, Bobby. You can’t take the blame for it. We won’t let you.”
Bobby regarded them bemusedly.
“You’re banning me from feeling guilty…?”
“Damn straight,” John retorted. “There’s no guilt in this family.”
Bobby didn’t respond verbally to that, but the look in his eyes spoke in volumes. Alex saw it, and interpreted it correctly.
“You’re part of this family,” she confirmed, hugging him all the more fiercely. “Don’t ever forget it, okay?”
He nodded, shutting his eyes and finally relaxing in her embrace as he accepted with no small amount of relief that he would be able to continue living with Alex and her parents until such a time as his own apartment was finally ready for habitation once more.
“The safe house idea is nixed,” Mike said as he dropped into his seat across from Carolyn. She sighed heavily, and abandoned all pretence of doing her work.
“I figured that might happen. You were right, it would have effectively meant locking him up again. That would have just been plain wrong.”
“Exactly,” Mike murmured. “But now we’ve got to arrange a watch for Alex’s parents’ place. Just in case. Man, this shit is complicated.”
“But necessary,” Carolyn reminded him. “We can’t let him be taken again, Mike.”
“I know. I just wish it could be over and done with, and we could just get back to life as it was before all this crap happened.”
Silence met that remark, and he looked up to find his partner staring at him in sombre silence.
“What?” he asked, feeling defensive all of a sudden. Carolyn frowned intently at him.
“Think about what you just said, Mike.”
“What? What did I say?”
“You said you wanted things to go back to how they were before.”
“So, do you think that Bobby will ever be able to get back to being how he was before all this started? To how he was before his father sold him to those bastards when he was seven? Everything’s changed for him, Mike. It’s never, ever going to be the same, and you ought to know that! So our lives have been disrupted a little. That’s not such a big deal, is it?”
He raised an eyebrow at her.
“This is pretty rich, coming from the woman who didn’t even want to take part in the rescue to begin with.”
Raw anger flashed across Carolyn’s face, and she stood up so quickly that her chair nearly fell over backwards.
“You know something, Logan? Screw you!”
She started past him, intent on heading for the ladies’ room, but he stopped her in her tracks with a well-placed arm around her waist. She gasped, and a moment later found herself seated firmly in his lap.
“Mike, are you out of your mind…?”
“I’m not letting you up until we sort this out,” he growled, “so you might as just relax and enjoy it.”
She responded with a solid thump to his shoulder, which only drew a wide grin from him. Before either one had any further opportunity to say anything, though, the sound of coughing behind them drew their attention. Mike swung around in his chair, not releasing his hold on Carolyn, and they found one of their fellow detectives standing there, eyeing them in amusement.
“New interrogation technique, Logan?” David Ash queried lightly. Mike grinned, not loosening his grip on his partner.
“We’re having a discussion, Ash,” he answered. Ash raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, sure you are. And you’ll be having another one inside the captain’s office, with the door closed, if he happens to come out here and see the two of you like this.”
With that, Carolyn drove her elbow back into Mike’s gut. The contact surprised Mike, rather than winded him, and his grip loosened on Carolyn just enough for her to pull away.
“Smart ass,” she grumbled, but at the same time was having trouble hiding a grin of her own. Mike winked at her, and then looked back to Ash.
“Did you want something, Ash?”
“Actually, it wasn’t just me,” Ash said, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “We… all of us… we were wondering…”
“About…?” Carolyn prompted him when he hesitated. The detective shifted nervously from one foot to the other.
“Well, about Goren.”
The speed with which their smiles dropped away left Ash feeling as though he should have been running for the hills, but he stood his ground, and braced himself for an explosion. It didn’t come.
“What is it you all want to know?” Mike asked in a noticeably more subdued tone. “And don’t you dare ask if he’s got all his faculties, because he has.”
“We weren’t wondering that, man,” Ash assured him. He paused, and then pulled a chair across and sat down. “Look, you guys all arrived back this morning. You went to meet with the Commissioner, Deakins has been in and out of meetings all day, Eames took off just after lunch… None of us were game to ask anything, you know? But we’re all wondering… how is he? Jeffries said he might not remember any of us.”
“He might not,” Carolyn confirmed. “At least, not to begin with. But that’s not his fault, and it’s not due to brain damage, or anything like that. He’s been gone for eleven months, and the crap that he went through… He needed every scrap of mental strength he had to survive it. It was a little much for him to remember everyone here at the same time.”
“We’re not insulted, Barek,” Ash told her. “The thing is, we just want to know if he’s okay. Or, if he’s going to be okay.”
Mike and Carolyn exchanged glances.
“We think he will be,” Carolyn answered finally. “He might not ever be the same as he was… but we think he will eventually be okay.”
“That’s good to know,” Ash murmured. “Do you think he might come in some time soon? We’d all like to see him.”
“Maybe not quite yet,” Mike said. “I don’t know if it’s so much that he’s not up to it mentally, but physically. He had a run-in yesterday morning with one of the bastards that took him, and he got beat up pretty badly. Alex’s folks had to take him to Mt Sinai this morning for x-rays and scans.”
Ash sucked in a sharp breath.
“So, those assholes are still after him?”
“Yeah, they are,” Mike answered. “That’s one thing you can all do. Keep an eye out for anyone who suspect. We’re not taking any chances this time. We’re not losing him to them again.”
“I’ll tell them all,” Ash promised, getting up quickly. “If any of those fucks from the Centre try to grab Bobby again, they’ll regret it.”
“And Deakins is going to want to talk to you all about putting a watch on John and Helen Eames’ place,” Carolyn added quickly as Ash started to move away from them. “Just for extra security.”
Ash nodded enthusiastically.
“We can start organising a roster now. Thanks.”
“What are they thanking us for?” Carolyn wondered bemusedly as Ash hurried away.
“They want to be involved,” Mike said with a shrug. “It’s as simple as that.”
“It’s never that simple,” Carolyn mused, but Mike shook his head.
“Yeah, it is. Most of them never got a chance to really help out the last time. We’ve just told them the Centre is still after Bobby. What we’ve done is just present them with the possibility of them being able to help in a real, practical way. They’re gonna take whatever opportunity there is to keep Bobby safe… just like us.”
Carolyn pulled a face.
“You know, I almost feel sorry for anyone the Centre sends after Bobby. At the rate we’re going, they’ll be lucky to walk away with their lives.”
Mike’s expression darkened noticeably, and when he spoke, there was no hint of amusement in his tone.
“With any luck, they won’t.”
John Eames sat slumped in the armchair beside Bobby’s hospital bed, tired but unable to sleep. It had been agreed by all of them that they couldn’t leave Bobby alone in the hospital. Concerns of danger had less to do with the decision, though, than the simple fact that they didn’t care to leave Bobby alone in an environment that, despite all intents and purposes, still clearly reminded him of the Centre. None of them wanted him to wake up through the night, alone and terrified, potentially not knowing where he was.
They had no illusions that their presence would stop his nightmares, but at least there would be someone there to reassure him if he did had a nightmare. John fervently hoped he wouldn’t, and the sedative pills that Liz Bauer had instructed the nurses to give him should have ensured that. However, John had his suspicions that Bobby had pulled a fast one on the nurses, and hadn’t taken the pills at all.
He supposed he could understand Bobby’s point of view there. He didn’t want to be in a position where he might be caught unawares; not to mention he clearly had what John suspected were some fairly serious traumas over being drugged. Still, it seemed a little foolish to reject the possibility of a good night’s sleep when he was safe in a hospital room, with a police guard stationed at the entrance to the ward.
Fed up with the uncomfortable chair, John got up and wandered over to look out the window. The streets of New York were never completely still and quiet, even in the wee small hours, and he could see people moving around down at street level. His sharp eyes searched for anyone who might have looked as though they were taking an unusual amount of interest in the hospital, but he could see no one who fitted that profile.
The faint sounds of whimpering drew his attention back to the bed, and its occupant. Turning away from the window, John made his way back over to the bedside just as Bobby started to twist and moan in his sleep. Deciding against waiting for the bad dream to erupt into a full blown nightmare, John reached across and gave the younger man a gentle shake.
Bobby awoke with a start, his breath catching in his throat as he stared blindly up at the ceiling of the darkened room. For several long seconds it seemed to John that he wasn’t seeing anything at all. Then, slowly, he blinked hard and turned his head. John felt a rush of relief as Bobby’s brown eyes focused on him.
“You were having a bad dream,” John told him softly by way of explanation. “I figured I’d wake you up before it turned into a real nightmare.”
A sigh escaped Bobby’s lips, and he relaxed visibly.
“Well,” John murmured, “I couldn’t see the point in letting it go on. Wouldn’t have achieved anything.” He paused, watching as Bobby shifted uncomfortably in the narrow bed. There was barely enough room for him to move an inch in any direction, let alone actually get into a comfortable position. “How’s the back?” he asked quietly as he noticed Bobby wince.
“Want to… sit up…” Bobby mumbled in audible irritation.
“Okay,” John conceded, and leaned in close to allow Bobby to use him for leverage to pull himself up into a sitting position.
“Thanks,” Bobby mumbled again, gratefully accepting the glass of water that John then offered him.
“Are you hungry?” John wondered. It had occurred to him that Bobby had eaten nothing since arriving back in New York early the previous morning. “Dr Bauer said it’d be okay for you to have something to eat if you wanted. I think she had the nurses store some sandwiches in the fridge for you, in case you woke up hungry.”
Bobby wanted to say no, that he wasn’t hungry, but his body clearly had other ideas. He was very neatly circumvented by a distinct growling from his stomach before he could so much as shake his head in response to John’s query. Bobby reddened noticeably in the dark, but conceded with a reluctant nod.
“I… I guess I am kind of hungry,” he admitted. John smiled faintly.
“Okay, then. I’ll be right back.”
When John returned a few minutes later with a plate of sandwiches and a glass of fresh orange juice, he was surprised to find Bobby had gotten himself out of bed, and was now standing at the window. Setting the plate and the glass down carefully on the mobile table, John joined him in staring out at the dark night.
“What’s on your mind, son?”
Bobby glanced sideways at the older man, curiosity in his eyes. Even with his state of mind being what it was, it hadn’t escaped his notice that John had taken to referring to him as ‘son’. Though he said nothing for or against it, Bobby found himself liking the feelings that it stirred in him. It gave him a feeling of belonging, and being wanted. They were feelings that he’d never gotten from his own father, and it warmed him that John seemed to be willing, more now than ever before, to step into that role and be a father figure to him.
“I… I was just reassuring myself that I’ll actually be able to walk out of here in the morning. That they’re not… not going to try and keep me here indefinitely.”
John snorted at that, much to Bobby’s amusement.
“They wouldn’t dare try. I think Dr Bauer is smart enough to not to want to risk my daughter’s wrath. And we both know how frightening Alex can be when she’s angry.”
A ghost of a smile passed fleetingly across Bobby’s face. Relieved to have gotten a smile out of him, John patted him lightly on the back.
“Come and sit down. Have something to eat.”
Bobby nodded, but before he had a chance to move away from the window, his gaze locked onto something down at street level, and he froze. Down on the street, barely visible in the under the dim street lamps, was a distinctive female figure. Though even Bobby couldn’t make out her features in that light and from that distance, what he could make out was the way she held something… like a lollipop… in her mouth as she looked up, seemingly straight at him.
Bobby’s knees nearly buckled beneath him, and it took a great deal of effort and determination on his part simply to stay on his feet. Every instinct screamed run! hide! But he couldn’t move, not an inch.
John was halfway across the room when he realised Bobby hadn’t retreated from the window with him. He looked back, puzzled, and that puzzlement turned into genuine fear at the sight of Bobby standing rigid and barely breathing – on the brink of a fresh panic attack.
“Bobby?” John asked, hurrying back to his side. “What’s wrong?”
Bobby didn’t answer. His gaze was locked on someone… or something far below that John couldn’t make out. A hoarse whisper escaped his lips, but it was too soft for John to be able to clearly understand. He thought Bobby had whispered ‘It’s her’, but he couldn’t be certain. Finally, he laid a hand firmly on Bobby’s arm and squeezed just hard enough to jolt the other man back to reality and force him to look away from the window.
“What’s wrong?” John asked again in a firm voice. “What can you see down there?”
“It’s her,” Bobby said again, this time more clearly, and John could hear the stark fear in his voice as he spoke.
“Who?” John pressed. “Who’s there?”
He stopped, the name going unspoken as he looked back out the window. The street below was empty, with not a soul in sight.
“Th… There was someone down there,” he stammered finally, sounding hopelessly confused. “A woman… Down by the street light…”
“Do you want me to send the guard out to look around?” John asked. Bobby hesitated in answering, searching for signs of mocking and disbelief in John’s face. There were none. He said he’d seen someone down there, and so John didn’t doubt it. But even as he stared down at the now empty street, Bobby found himself doubting what he’d seen, and wondering whether he’d just imagined it. After all, he’d only looked away for a second; how could she have vanished so fast?
“No,” he whispered finally, feeling sick and frightened, and hating that he felt that way. “I… I guess I was just…”
He couldn’t bring himself to say the obvious, and John wasn’t going to say it for him. Instead, he urged Bobby to come away from the window, and back over to the bed.
“Come and sit down, Bobby. You need to eat something.”
Bobby didn’t object as John guided him back to the bed.
For the next few minutes, silence reigned as Bobby slowly devoured the sandwiches on the plate. He was just nibbling on the last couple of quarters when John asked a question.
“Tell me something, Bobby. Is this anything like where you were kept?”
Bobby paused, staring at John for a long moment before shaking his head and setting the sandwich down on the plate.
“No. For starters, this room has windows.”
“You didn’t have a window?” John asked, though he wasn’t particularly surprised by that revelation. Prisoners generally weren’t allowed that sort of consideration.
“Only if you count the ventilation duct. I was kept underground. They never took me to the upper levels, and they never let me go outside.”
Which explains why you look like some of those sorry bastards that get themselves locked up in solitary for months at a time, John thought grimly, though he didn’t say it out loud.
“Sons of bitches,” he muttered instead, and felt the words were woefully inadequate to emphasise how he felt about what he was hearing.
“And the room… My room,” Bobby went on softly. His gaze was fixed on his hands, which clenched and unclenched with incessant anxiety. “It was small… just big enough for a bed, a toilet and a sink, and a desk and chair. The… The cells in Rikers are bigger than my room was.”
“I wish I could say that I understand, but I don’t. I don’t know what it’s like to be locked away… and for my freedom to be stolen from me like that.”
Bobby raised his eyes slowly to meet John’s gaze.
“It was like having my soul sucked out of me. I don’t really know which was worse, being sold to the Centre when I was a boy or being abducted by them as an adult.”
John blinked, staring at Bobby in shock.
“Sold…? What do you mean, you were sold to the Centre? How? And by who?”
It suddenly occurred to Bobby at that point that Alex had, in truth, told her parents very little of his history with the Centre. He considered briefly just how much he was willing… and able… to talk about, and was surprised to discover that he felt that he could talk about it to John.
“I don’t remember a lot of it,” he admitted. “But I do remember the night that Sydney and Raines came and took me away. Dad tried to convince me that I was just going on a holiday, but he knew I wasn’t ever supposed to leave that place. Not alive. He, um… He let them take me away in exchange for them paying for Mom’s treatment, and for him and Frank to be looked after.”
John was silent, staggered by the callous disregard that Goren Snr had displayed for his youngest son. It was inconceivable to him that any man could do to a child what Bobby’s father had done to him. It had been bad enough to think that the man had walked out on a sick wife and two children, but this was beyond anything he had previously imagined.
“Bobby, how long were you in that place for when you were a boy?”
“Five years,” Bobby answered, his voice barely more than a whisper. Icy cold waves of shock swept through John’s body, and he marvelled that he wasn’t sick on the spot. He could see with his own eyes the mere tip of the physical, mental and emotional damage that had been done after only nine months. It left him staggered that Bobby had survived there as a child for five years.
“And… when you eventually went home again… How did your father react?”
A small, bitter smile touched Bobby’s lips.
“He’d left by then… In his words, he was taking some time-out from Mom… but he was still making a show of being there for Frank. You know, being the supportive father… Which was bullshit, because that was the one thing he’d never been. His whole life he’d only ever lived for himself. When Major Charles took me home again, it must have been the first Christmas after he walked out, because he showed up on Christmas Day. It was the only Christmas he came home for after walking out. It was just before noon when we arrived…”
Bobby remained in the car, even after it had pulled up in front of the house. Charles watched him for nearly a minute before speaking.
“Aren’t you going to get out, Bobby?”
The twelve year-old boy looked around at the man who had protected him and taken care of him for the last six months, and it was all Charles could do not to cringe. The haunted look in Bobby’s eyes was almost physically painful to see, and it was something that Charles had not been successful in ridding the boy of. His haunted eyes, and the nightmares that frequently had him screaming out in the middle of the night, seemed to be there to stay.
“I don’t remember this place.”
“I showed you pictures of it, remember?”
“I know, but I still don’t remember it.”
Charles bit back a sigh.
“You don’t have to be frightened, Bobby. It’s going to be okay. Now, why don’t we start by just getting out of the car, and going up to the front door? I’ll be right there with you, just like I promised I would be.”
It looked as though Bobby was going to refuse, and Charles was just debating over what to do when the boy suddenly threw the car door open and climbed out. Hurrying to catch up, Charles quickly got out and strode around the car to join him.
“Ready?” he asked, and Bobby threw him a glance that clearly said ‘no’. Clapping the boy lightly on the shoulder, Charles urged him forward.
They came to the door and Charles was just raising his fist to knock when Bobby spoke softly, scathingly.
“If this is my parents' home, then why are we knocking?”
“They haven't seen you for a long time, Bobby. I don't think we want to give them a heart attack by simply walking in there.”
He paused, expecting further protests, but none were forthcoming. He rapped firmly on the door before he had a chance to lose his nerve. There was a long silence, and then a man's voice shouted from within.
“Goddamnit, Frances, just go see who's at the fucking door!”
Beside him, Charles felt Bobby go rigid at the sound of that voice. He wondered just what memories might have surfaced within the boy, but the door was flung open before he had the opportunity to ask.
Frances Goren froze in the doorway, anything she'd been intending to say dying on her lips as she stared at the tall boy that stood before her. Silence reigned, and both mother and son were still trying to find their voices when that other angry voice spoke again.
“Who the hell is it? If it's the Salvo's, tell 'em we gave already!”
The harsh, angry words seemed to break Frances out of her reverie, and she gasped audibly.
“Oh my god... Bobby... Is that really you?”
Bobby, who up to that point had been staring at Frances with the faintest of frowns, suddenly smiled softly.
Before either had a chance to move towards the other, though, a big bear of a man appeared and shoved Frances roughly to the side.
“What the hell is going on? Who...?”
He trailed off, his face draining of blood in the space of just a few seconds as he stared at Bobby.
“No way...” he whispered hoarsely, looking for all the world as though he'd seen a ghost. And Charles supposed that, for all intents and purposes, he had. “No fucking way... You shouldn't be here... You little bastard, you ran away, didn't you? That's why they quit paying me!”
Charles stepped forward and placed himself squarely between Frank Goren Snr and Bobby, even as the other man started towards his son in an almost explosive fit of anger. All of a sudden, he had serious reservations about leaving Bobby here, but at the same time he really had no alternative. Instead, he spoke in as severe a tone as he could muster.
“Mr Goren, that is no way to greet your son.”
Frank Snr blanched visibly and his gaze lifted to the face of the man who was now standing between him and his son.
“Who the fuck are you?”
Charles glared right back at him.
“I'm the man who is bringing your son home to you.”
“Frank, move!” Frances burst out, and pushed him fiercely aside. An instant later, Bobby found himself wrapped up in a ferocious hug.
“My baby boy... You've come home! You've come home...”
And the next thing, she ushered him into the house.
“Mr Goren,” Charles said in a low, dangerous voice, “don't even think about contacting the Centre to tell them Bobby is here. You are being watched, so I strongly recommend that you do the right thing by your son.”
Frank Snr glanced back into the house, a sour look on his face.
“Fine. Little bastard isn't my problem anymore, anyway.”
And before Charles could ask what he meant, Frank Snr shoved past and walked away down the path, not looking back once...
Bobby shuddered a little, and pushed the remaining sandwich quarters away, suddenly finding himself lacking in appetite.
“When Mom realised Dad had gone, she pretty much forgot I was there. And as for my brother, Frank... He lit into me because I 'drove Dad off'. I spent my first week back home sleeping on the sofa, because that's how long it took Mom to convince Frank to let me back into our bedroom. According to him, I didn't belong there anymore, and I should never have come back. And he never forgave me for Dad walking out that day.” A small, bitter smile touched Bobby's lips. “Dad never came anywhere near the house again after that, so I guess Frank was right after all. It was my fault.”
John sighed and scrubbed at his face with his hands.
“Bobby, that was not your fault. Your coming back was just the excuse that he used. If he'd done the right thing by you, you would never have fallen into the Centre's hands in the first place. None of it was your fault. You can't believe that it was.”
“Intellectually and logically, I can believe that,” Bobby conceded. “But...”
“Emotionally, you're not so certain,” John concluded, and Bobby nodded.
“Yes,” he whispered. John reached across and laid a hand on the other man's left shoulder.
“We can't change the past, Bobby, but we can at least try to make the present and the future better. I know that Helen and I can't replace your parents, but I hope you believe me when I tell you that we were never so happy as when Alex called and told us they were bringing you home.”
“She... She said you insisted I stay with you.”
“That's true,” John agreed. “We did. You're part of this family, son. Don't ever doubt that, or how grateful we are to have you back.”
The faintest of sighs escaped Bobby.
Silence fell for a while, and Bobby was just considering trying to go back to sleep when John spoke again.
“Bobby, can I ask you a question?”
“I... I guess,” Bobby stammered. Again, John paused, as though considering his words before he spoke.
“When that first doctor came... yesterday morning... You were doing okay, until he asked you to strip off. What was going through your mind, then? Because that was one hell of a panic attack you had.”
“I... I'm sorry.”
John squeezed his shoulder reassuringly.
“Don't apologise, Bobby. Just, try and talk to me, son.”
Tears filled Bobby's eyes and spilled down his cheeks, but he couldn't bring himself to speak. Finally, John decided to ask what he hoped would be a less painful question.
“Well... Who was it that you believed you say down on the street?”
Bobby's breath caught in his throat. Of all the questions he thought he could have anticipated, that was definitely not on the list. John went on softly.
“I'm not trying to pry. I'm only asking because you seemed genuinely terrified for a second there, and I'd like to know who I should be looking out for.”
Try as he might, Bobby couldn't argue with that logic. Still, it wasn't quite as easy as that. He was cloaked in silence while he tried to make up his mind over what to tell John.
“Brigitte,” he whispered dismally. “Her name's Brigitte.”
John quickly searched his memory, but he didn't recall that name as being one mentioned by Alex, or any of them.
“Can you describe her?”
“Um... Short... Maybe a little taller than Alex... Bleach-blonde, usually speaks with a British accent... but she's not British. She... She's manipulative... cruel... cunning... She's just as evil as Lyle.”
And that was saying something, John thought grimly, though he didn't say it out loud.
“She tormented you as well, didn't she?”
“Y... Yes. I... I don't know if it was Lyle's idea or not, but I know he was in on it. I... I'm pretty sure he was watching, at least.”
John felt a distinct chill. He had a sudden, horrible suspicion that Bobby was no longer talking about the typical psychological or even physical torment that had been inflicted on him by Raines, Lyle and Sydney.
“What did she do to you, Bobby?” John asked as gently as he could, so as not to appear confrontational to Bobby.
By then, Bobby's breath was catching in his throat. He no longer appeared to be seeing anything, and it suddenly occurred to John that this was the same distressed state into which Bobby had so rapidly descended in the hospital's clinic, before Liz Bauer had arrived. He realised with some irony that they'd come back to the first question he'd asked – why the panic attack over being asked to undress?
After lengthy minutes of silence, John was just about to tell Bobby it was okay, and that he didn't have to answer. But then, Bobby seemed to gather his courage and, with his gaze fixed firmly on his hands, he spoke in a soft, miserable silence.
“I was taken out of my room. It was in the middle of the night… Whenever they came for me in the middle of the night, I knew it was for something particularly bad. I thought Lyle wanted me, but I wasn’t taken to Lyle. I was taken to Brigitte. I… I hadn’t had any contact with her before, but Miss Parker had warned me about her. She’d told me not to trust her… but Brigitte was kind to me. She told the guards to leave, and she sat me down. We… We just talked. She didn’t ask me to do anything. She didn’t treat me badly. That time, I had an open cut from Raines’ last experiment. She… She dressed it herself, and she gave me something to eat, when I hadn’t had anything for two days. Raines… He liked to let me go hungry. He thought it would make me more inclined to cooperate. Brigitte let me have food… She made out like it was our secret, although I suppose, in retrospect, Raines probably knew all about it. All part of the master plan to break me.” Bobby shuddered a little before going on. “She had me brought to her a couple of times a week, for a month or so, and she never did anything to hurt me during that time. I… I should have known better. I know that now… But I started to trust her.”
“Which is what she wanted all along,” John guessed, and Bobby nodded unhappily.
“Yes,” he whispered. “She… She suckered me in good. I was an idiot…”
John, however, objected with a shake of his head.
“No, Bobby. Don’t think like that. Don’t you be ashamed of it. You were in a god-awful situation, and you had every right and reason to grab at every little bit of kindness that you could.”
Bobby rubbed a hand over his eyes. He appreciated the sympathy that John was offering, but at the same time he couldn’t help but feel that the other man didn’t really comprehend the true depth of what had happened.
“For God’s sake, Bobby, it’s just John. Okay?”
Bobby shifted a little in the bed, reddening at the admonishment, but said nothing in direct answer to it. Instead, he continued to speak in a shaky voice, trying to make John understand the awful experience he’d had without saying more than he really had to.
“I… I think I could count on one hand the number of people in that place who were genuinely kind to me. Miss Parker was at the top of that list, along with Angelo, and she warned me more than once not to trust Brigitte, if I ever came into contact with her. In a way, I guess what happened was my own fault. I let me guard down with her, and it gave her the chance she was looking for.”
John grasped his left shoulder in a reassuring grip.
“What did she do to you, Bobby? Talk to me, son.”
Bobby drew in a shuddering breath.
“Her cleaners came for me one night. They took me to the sim room. Brigitte was there, waiting. When I asked her what was going on, she said she had a simulation that she wanted my help with. She had a theory, and she wanted me to help her test it. She said I had to help her, because of everything she’d done for me. I said okay… and that was when she told me take off my clothes.”
John felt himself wince, even though he’d half anticipated what was coming. Bobby went on in a trembling voice, refusing to meet John’s gaze.
“I didn’t do it. I mean… I thought I’d misheard her. I’d hoped I had. But… she walked up to me and said ‘I’ll start you off’. And she began to unbutton my shirt. I tried to pull away from her, but her cleaners grabbed me. She… She undressed me completely. It was humiliating… She made comments on everything… A… About e… everything that she… she saw. She knew she was humiliating me… Th… That’s why she did it. It excited her, to humiliate me like that.” Bobby roughly wiped away fresh tears from his eyes. “The… The last time someone looked at me that closely was when I was f… fourteen… When Mom was caught up in one of her delusions, and was looking for the mark of the devil on me. Brigitte looked at me that closely. She… She looked at me like… like…”
“Like you were her own personal toy?” John suggested softly, and again Bobby nodded tearfully.
John shut his eyes momentarily, swallowing a sigh. No wonder Bobby had panicked in the clinic.
“Okay,” he said softly. “Now I understand why you reacted the way that you did.”
“Despite everything that Sydney, Lyle and Raines had done to me up to that point,” Bobby went on, “I’d never been humiliated by them. Brigitte did that. She humiliated me, and she took away what little dignity I still had. And, it didn’t stay in that room, either. The cleaners all talked. Every time I was taken somewhere, they’d be grinning and laughing at me. It… It happened for weeks afterwards. Plus… I don’t know for sure, but I think that maybe Lyle was there, watching. It wouldn’t have surprised me, at least.”
John regarded Bobby thoughtfully. What Bobby had just related to him was bad enough, but John suspected that there was still more to the story.
“She did something else to you, didn’t she?”
A strangled moan escaped from Bobby’s lips, sending an icy chill down John’s spine. A moment later, Bobby lay back down in the bed, and rolled awkwardly over so that his back was to John. For a good couple of minutes, John stared at Bobby in dismay and growing suspicion. That suspicion was only strengthened when he walked around to the other side to find Bobby in tears.
John Eames had never made detective, but he had served a short stint with the Special Victims’ Unit early in his career, as a uniformed cop. During his time there, he’d learnt to recognise certain signs in victims of sexual assault. Those were the signs he was seeing now in Bobby, and it frightened him badly.
“Bobby, talk to me,” he pleaded softly.
“I can’t…” Bobby whispered in between soft, miserable sobs. “I’m sorry… I can’t. Please… I just want to go to sleep. Please let me go to sleep.”
“All right,” John murmured, feeling intensely guilty all of a sudden for causing Bobby so much distress. “Shut your eyes, son. Go to sleep, and let me keep watch. You’re safe, Bobby. No one can hurt you again. They’d be fools to even try.”
John watched as Bobby literally cried himself to sleep. Once he was certain that the younger man was, indeed, asleep, John moved over to the far side of the room, and pulled out his cell phone and hit speed dial. It was answered quickly at the other end.
“Hi, Lexie, it’s Dad… No, honey, he’s okay. Well, more or less… No, really, you don’t need to come. I just wanted to tell you that it might not be such a bad idea to contact that shrink first thing in the morning. What’s his name…? Huang, right. …No, I don’t know that it’s absolutely urgent… Well, perhaps it is. Just tell him that he might need to have a look through those sim discs. Tell him to look specifically for anything with a woman called Brigitte. …Mm. That’s right. According to Bobby, she was as nasty a piece of work as that Lyle. …No, I can’t really tell him what he’s looking for. Just tell Huang he’ll know it when he sees it.” There was a long silence, and then John sighed audibly. “All right, Lexie. The truth is that Bobby just told me some of what that Brigitte woman did to him, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell me the whole story, and I think I know why.” John paused, eyeing Bobby’s restless form with a deep sadness. “I think… Lexie, I think she might have raped him.”
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