THE LONG ROAD HOME
A/N: This chapter did not work out quite the way I’d planned, but I feel satisfied with how it turned out regardless. Thanks again to bammi1 for her help in talking through this ever more complicated fic. I am still staggered at the way it’s grown, and is growing.
WARNING: There are strong themes of sexual assault and rape in this chapter. I’m not amping up the rating, but I figured that I ought to at least include a warning on this chapter. I’ve stopped short of actually going into descriptions, but an active imagination needs little in the way of descriptions.
George Huang ignored everyone in the SVU squad room as he strode through with a box of what looked like unmarked DVDs. His expression was grim as he carried them through into the unoccupied video room, pulled the door closed behind him and began to rummage through the box.
Upon his arrival back at his office the previous morning, he’d been told he was reassigned back to the Special Victims’ Unit; a directive that he was more than happy with. Not only did it place him back where he believed he was most effective, but it also provided him with an opportunity to view some of the worst of Bobby’s sim discs in an environment where no one would probably look twice.
As comfortable as his office at the Burea headquarters was, there were too many eyes and ears there for his liking.
He heard the door open behind him, and lifted his head from the box to see Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler there, watching him with pleased surprise.
“Hey, Doc, you’re back,” Elliot said.
“We thought we’d lost you back to the FBI,” Olivia remarked. George smiled faintly at the two of them.
“Only temporarily. Someone pulled a few strings to get me assigned elsewhere. There was… someone who needed some extra help.”
Well, it was technically the truth, George thought wryly. He turned back to the box, and missed the looks exchanged by Elliot and Olivia.
“Anything we can help you with there, Doc?” Elliot wondered, and George shook his head.
“No thankyou, Elliot. I’m just searching for something.”
Before George had the chance to say anything, Elliot walked over and pulled one of the discs out of the box.
“Well, if you tell us what you’re looking for, maybe we can help you find it. Right, Liv?”
Olivia wandered over, plucking a disc out of the box for a closer look.
“Look, thanks for the offer,” George said in a strained voice, “but I can manage without help.”
For several seconds, George thought they were going to persist, but then Elliot shrugged and tossed the disc back into the box.
“Sure. No problem. Just yell if you change your mind.”
And with that, he strolled casually out of the room. Olivia paused a moment longer, staring at George intently before smiling warmly at him.
“We’re glad you’re back, Doc.”
And then she was gone, too. George breathed a sigh of relief as he turned his attention back to the contents of the box. As sympathetic as he was sure Olivia and Elliot would be, he didn’t feel right letting anyone else see the contents of those discs – especially if one of them contained the sort of material that he had been afraid of all along.
Also, as far as he was aware, neither of them knew a thing about the situation with Bobby Goren. As far as he knew, Elliot and Olivia were under the same assumption as the majority of the NYPD – that Bobby Goren had suffered some sort of personal crisis, and had taken an indefinite leave of absence.
George frowned as he dug deeper through the pile. He’d begun to try and sort the discs out before their return to New York, and it had proved a futile exercise. None of them were clearly marked, and some contained data from more than one simulation or experiment – some of which had been conducted over multiple days. The discs defied his attempts to logically catalogue them, and so he’d finally resorted to marking them as best as he could in accordance with what he’d seen on them.
So far, he’d seen no evidence that suggested any form of sexual abuse or assault had taken place, but that had not been to say there was none. Sure, he knew that Bobby had denied all along that he’d been sexually abused by his captors, but George had never truly believed him. What he did believe was that Bobby did not consciously remember being sexually abused. It was a trauma that his mind had fought hard to suppress, and it had done a damned good job. It seemed, though, that the memories were finally starting to claw their way to the surface, and he knew he needed to know what had happened, so that he could help Bobby get through it without it resulting in a major breakdown.
George’s breath caught on his throat as he finally found a disc that had a lowly sticky note on it, with just one word, followed by three question marks.
Taking the disc out, George slid it into the DVD player, and began to watch.
Olivia Benson glanced around at her partner from where she was still hovering near the viewing room. He was staring at her quizzically, and she motioned for him to come closer. He did so, a bemused look on his face.
“Are you snooping?”
“Yes,” she hissed. “Check it out. See what George is watching?”
Elliot looked, and then his eyebrows shot up.
“Hey, that’s one of those simulation things,” he murmured. “Like what Deakins and that guy showed to Cragen to convince him they were on the level about Bobby. How did the doc get a hold of one?”
“One?” Olivia retorted. “How’d he get a hold of a whole box of them?”
“Well, let’s go find out,” Elliot said, and promptly walked back in.
George didn’t have a chance to switch off the DVD player when Elliot and Olivia walked back in, and before he had a chance to try and deflect their questions, Elliot spoke with a wry smile.
“This person who needed extra help, Doc. It wouldn’t have been Bobby Goren, by any chance?”
George swallowed, and then somehow found his voice.
“You know I can’t talk about that, Elliot. It’s doctor-patient confidentiality.”
“Relax, Doc,” Elliot told him. “We’re not going to go blabbing to everyone. We were just curious over how you came to have all these sim discs of Bobby Goren from when he was being held in the Centre.”
George blinked, stunned.
“You… You know about that? And what these are?”
“We know, because Captain Deakins and that other guy… Jarod… showed one to Captain Cragen, to convince him that they weren’t nuts… and to convince him to let us help rescue Bobby.”
It was impossible for George to conceal his shock.
“You two were involved?”
“Us, Fin and Munch,” Olivia confirmed, and George shook his head incredulously.
“When Carolyn Barek told me the story, she didn’t mention that you were involved in the rescue. She didn’t give any names at all.”
“It was kept pretty tightly under wraps,” Elliot said. “The whole idea was that if the bastards from the Centre didn’t know who we were, they couldn’t scuttle the plan, or use us to try and get Bobby back. So, we never talked about it to anyone, even after it happened. How’d you get involved?”
“Carolyn came to see me,” George told them. “Someone had pulled some strings, and my supervisor yanked me from SVU and told me I’d been reassigned, but couldn’t tell me what the new assignment was. Then Carolyn showed up, and told me about Bobby. She said he needed help, and they believed I could help him. I agreed, and they took me to where he was. I was there for over a month.”
“So, the mysterious new assignment was helping Bobby?” Olivia wondered.
“Right,” George confirmed.
“Which means… if you’re back…” Elliot said. George nodded, smiling faintly at the hope in both of their faces.
“We all arrived back in New York very early yesterday morning. Bobby as well. He’s home.”
“Thank God,” Olivia whispered. “So, is he home, as in his own home? Or staying with someone else?”
“If you want to go and see him,” George told them, “then you’ll need to talk to Captain Deakins about it. I don’t think he wants multitudes of people descending on Bobby all at once. Not to mention, the security issues involved.”
“It’s really not over yet, is it?” Elliot wondered. “There must still be a whole lot of crap for him to deal with. I mean, isn’t that why you’re looking at these discs now?”
George nodded again.
“That’s right. Now, if you’ll both excuse me…”
He trailed off as he turned back to the television screen, and suddenly found himself confronted with evidence of a truth that Bobby had continually denied.
“Oh, crap,” Elliot groaned at the sight that met them.
“This is what you were looking for?” Olivia asked softly, and George sighed as he stopped the disc.
“Yes. He kept denying it, but I felt certain he’d been sexually assaulted. His mannerisms… everything about him practically screams it.”
“Pity we can’t nail these bastards for it,” Elliot muttered harshly. “So, now that you know it happened, what are you going to do with it?”
“I’ll have to confront him with it,” George said. “I’m not looking forward to it, though. I don’t know whether he honestly doesn’t remember, or if he’s just trying to convince himself that it didn’t happen, but he needs to face up to it, and sooner rather than later.”
Elliot and Olivia exchanged thoughtful gazes, each one thinking the same thing. Who better to help a victim come to grips with the reality of having been sexually assaulted, than two Special Victims Unit detectives?
“Grab your coat and that disc, George,” Elliot told him firmly. “We’re going to see Captain Deakins.”
Captain Deakins didn’t know whether to be pleased or concerned when George arrived that morning with Elliot and Olivia in tow. He didn’t doubt that it had something to do with Bobby, and the appearance of the SVU detectives set him very much on edge. He didn’t want any complications that day. His wife and daughters were due to arrive home that afternoon, and more than anything he just wanted to get through the day trouble-free, so that he could go home and spend some quality time with his family.
He sighed heavily as the three visitors made a bee-line for his office. It seemed that his wish was not going to be granted.
“Doctor,” he greeted them wearily. “Detectives. What can I do for you?”
Elliot and Olivia stayed silent and hung back by the door, letting George do the talking for the moment.
“Captain Deakins, have you spoken to Alex this morning?”
Deakins felt an inexplicable chill race down his spine.
“No, I haven’t. Why? What’s happened?”
“Nothing,” George assured him. “Bobby’s okay. The reason I’m asking is because she called me early this morning, after her father called her. All she could tell me was that I needed to find a disc with someone called Brigitte on it.”
“And…?” Deakins asked softly, dreading what might be coming. George let his breath out in a rush. There was no easy way to say what he had to say, except to simply come out and say it.
“Bobby was sexually assaulted, Captain. I found evidence of it on one of the sim discs.”
“Hell,” Deakins whispered, burying his face in his hands in distress.
“I don’t know whether it was a once-off assault, or if it was an abuse that was perpetrated over a period of time,” George went on softly, “but I need to talk to Bobby about it.”
“Did he ever give any hint to you that it had happened?” Deakins asked, and George answered with a shake of his head.
“No. I suspected it all along, but every time I tried to raise the subject with Bobby, he flatly denied it. Either he’s completely in denial over it, or he honestly doesn’t remember it. Unfortunately, I can’t tell which it is.”
A frown passed over Deakins’ face. He didn’t doubt George’s words, but at the same time he found himself searching for even the smallest thing with which to counter the grim claim of sexual abuse.
“Then what triggered the phone call this morning?”
“I don’t know,” George admitted. “If Alex does know, then she wasn’t telling me. All I know was that she was incredibly upset… I’m sure she’d been crying.”
The captain’s stomach rolled unpleasantly, and he took a deep breath to gather himself together. His gaze flickered across to Elliot and Olivia who, until this point, had not said a word between them.
“And you two are here because…?”
Olivia came forward, and spoke in a low, calm voice.
“Elliot and I thought that if Bobby couldn’t bring himself to talk to Dr Huang, then maybe he might talk to us. We deal with this a lot… Maybe we can get him to open up.”
Deakins couldn’t resist the grim smile that tugged on the corners of his mouth.
“I appreciate your concern, Detectives, but it’s not quite as simple and straight-forward as you might think. Bobby’s state of mind at the moment is…”
“Fragile?” Elliot suggested when Deakins hesitated. “Let me take a wild stab, Captain. He’s subdued, and won’t communicate easily with anyone. He has nightmares, but he either won’t talk about them, or he claims he can’t remember them.”
Elliot was interrupted by a short laugh, from the captain.
“Very intuitive, Detective. That description is very accurate, but if you had half a clue as to what Bobby went through in those nine months, then you’d know that those symptoms relate to more than just sexual assault where Bobby is concerned.”
“We’re aware of that, Captain,” Olivia said quietly. “We both saw what was on that sim disc that you showed Captain Cragen before Bobby was rescued.”
Deakins sighed heavily.
“Yes, you did, didn’t you?” He looked over at George. “I don’t want all three of you turning up on John Eames’ doorstep, George. Bobby will smell the ambush coming a mile off.”
“What do you suggest we do?” George asked. Deakins was silent for a long moment before responding.
“Do you have the disc with you now? The one with the… with the evidence on it?”
“Right here,” George confirmed. Deakins held out a hand for it.
“Give it to me. Let me go and talk to him first. Please, George, trust me?”
George was silent for a long moment, looking reluctant. Finally, though, he handed the disc over to Deakins in acquiescence.
“It’s not good,” George told him softly, and Deakins sighed softly.
“That, Doctor, would have to be the biggest understatement I’ve heard yet.”
When Alex arrived at the hospital to collect Bobby and John, she fully expected to be confronted with yet another heart-breaking scene. She expected to find Bobby in a bad state, as had often happened after a particularly bad memory had risen to the surface. It was more than a surprise to her when she approached Bobby’s room to hear the sound of laughter from within.
She paused just outside the door, listening cautiously in case Bobby had already been discharged, and someone else placed in the room. But no, as she listened, she was able to make out the sounds of both her father’s and her partner’s booming, distinctive laughs. Confused, but hopeful, Alex ventured into the room.
The sight that met her sent waves of pleasurable surprise through her. Rather than lying in the bed, Bobby was dressed and sitting in one of the visitor’s chairs. John occupied the other, and both men were grinning widely.
“Alex, c’mon in,” John told her. “You’re just in time. I was just about to tell Bobby about the time you talked Philip into helping you to paint your bedroom.”
Alex looked baffled for a moment, and then mortified.
“Dad, you wouldn’t…”
John looked back to Bobby, still grinning.
“Lexie here decided she didn’t like the colour of her bedroom walls when she was nine, and she bribed Philip to help her paint them.”
“Bribed?” Bobby wondered, and John chuckled at the memory.
“Uh huh. She promised him five dollars and a pack of NBA trading cards.”
Bobby snorted with laughter, despite the glower on Alex’s face.
“It was a fair trade,” she argued. All he did was hold the paint tin.”
“Let me guess,” Bobby said, his voice strained from the effort not to laugh. “She forgot that you need to move the furniture away from the walls, and cover it before you paint?”
“Bingo,” John confirmed. “Paint everywhere. Including all over her. I got home form patrol that night, and Helen had Lexie in the shower, clothes and all, trying to scrub her clean. I tell you, Bobby, I had to go and shut myself in the garage, so the kids wouldn’t hear me laughing.”
“I think all kids have done something like that some time or other,” Bobby said in between hiccupping bursts of laughter.
“Oh, but you haven’t heard the punchline,” John said.
“Dad, don’t you dare!” Alex burst out. Bobby raised an eyebrow as he realised there was one detail that John had neglected to tell him.
“Dad, no…” Alex moaned, but John was not in the mood to show mercy.
“Fluorescent pink. And yes, she had to go to school with pink hair for a month, because that’s how long it took to get that paint out of her hair. Kids at school were calling her Cotton Candy for a the rest of the year. It was industry strength paint, and was far more effective than any hair colouring.”
Bobby couldn’t help it. He burst into roaring laughter at the image presented in his mind of a nine year old Alex with bright pink hair. Alex, for her part, scowled at her father in mock irritation.
“Thanks, Dad. You’ve just stripped me of what little dignity I still had.”
“You’ll survive,” John told her, patting her hand reassuringly. Bobby looked up at her, his eyes watering from laughter, and Alex felt her heart melt. A little bit of embarrassment on her part was nothing if it gave Bobby something to smile at and, for a moment at least, she got to see past the hurt, the fear and the grief to the man that she’d once known.
“Ready to ditch this place?” she asked, meeting his smile with her own, and holding one hand out to him. Gratitude shining in his eyes, Bobby accepted the outstretched hand, and allowed Alex to lead him from the room.
“I’m sorry,” Bobby murmured as he waited with Alex while John spoke to Dr Bauer about medications, and future check-ups. She regarded him in puzzlement.
He was able to hold her gaze for a brief moment before looking away.
“I… We embarrassed you.”
Alex laughed softly, and slipped her arms around Bobby in an affectionate hug.
“Don’t you worry about that. A little bit of embarrassment never killed anyone, and it put a smile on your face. It was worth it for that, if nothing else.”
She knew that she’d said the wrong thing even before she felt him stiffen, and even though she didn’t really understand what it was that she’d said. He started to pull back, but she made a split second decision, and decided that she wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to withdraw from her.
Alex tightened her arms around him, and refused to let go. Rather than apologise, when she really didn’t know what she would be apologising for, she opted for a different tact altogether. Pulling him in as close as he would allow her to, and acutely aware of the way he was trembling in her arms, she murmured softly into his ear in a low, soothing tone.
“I know I just said something wrong, but I don’t know what it was I said that was wrong. I need you to talk to me, Bobby. Don’t pull away from me, please.”
Another violent shudder passed through him but, to her relief and gratitude, he actually answered. His words were whispered, and his tone was shaky, but he did answer her.
“Her… Her name’s Brigitte. I think she worked specifically for Lyle. In fact… I’m sure she did. He… He must have been the one to set her on to me. She worked on me for some time… Maybe weeks… I don’t know for sure. She gained my trust through being nice to me… at a point when no one else was. She got me to trust her, and then she used that to take me apart.” Bobby’s breath caught in his throat. “I… I lied, Alex.”
She found herself stroking his hair in what she hoped was a reassuring and soothing gesture. It seemed to be working, for his trembling gradually began to ease.
“What did you lie about, Bobby?” she asked softly.
He met her question with silence. She waited, and was just about ready to try asking again when he spoke in a broken whisper.
“She raped me.”
An icy shiver swept down through Alex’s body. When she spoke, it took a great deal of effort to keep her voice steady and calm.
“This Brigitte woman, you mean?”
“Y… Yes. She raped me… and I think Lyle might have been watching.”
White hot anger radiated out from Alex’s core, enraged afresh by the Centre’s cruel treatment of him, and by its callous disregard for his humanity.
He didn’t weep, although she thought she caught a gimpse of tears in his eyes. In fact, she thought, he was strangely composed; it was almost as though he’d already accepted the truth, despite all his previous vehement denials of it.
“That’s what you remembered last night?” she asked. When he didn’t answer her, she knew then that it was one horror that he had never forgotten. As much as he had denied it, the truth was that he had never forgotten that it had happened.
“It… It’s the reason I fought back.”
Her mind was a blank, and she realised that she didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Fought back when?” she asked, feeling like a right fool.
“When Lyle tried to take me… in the village. It feels like an age ago now, but it was only a few days ago, wasn’t it?”
She said nothing, waiting patiently for him to elaborate. After a moment, he did.
“I let Lyle take me then. I let him put me in his car, because I was afraid… I was afraid of what he might do to other people if I didn’t. But when we were in the car, he started taunting me. He… He said first that Raines would be happy to see me.”
Alex winced in sympathy. She could easily understand the fear that a remark like that would have raised in Bobby. He went on sofly, his attention focused very intently on their joined hands.
“Then he said that Brigitte would be happy to see me. I guess he saw that that got a reaction, because he added that she’d be really happy to see me. He was grinning at me. And… that was when I knew. I… I knew that he must have seen what she did to me. Even if he didn’t see it happen, he would have see it on a sim disc. But that was the whole point. It… It was meant to humiliate me, and the best way to do that would have been to tell Lyle… to let him watch.”
Alex stared down at their joined hands, and then up at his pale face. His eyes flickered up to meet hers all too briefly, and then dropped away again just as quickly. It occurred to her that he was not offering any details at all of what Brigitte had done to him, but she didn’t push for that sort of information from him. He would give that when he was ready, and not before. She didn’t take for granted how important it was that he was telling her this much, and it touched her deeply that he had trusted her with such a devastating truth.
Instinctively, she knew that for all his coaxing, her father had not gotten this much out of him during the night.
“Do you want to talk to George?” she asked, feeling guilty at knowing that she had already made that call. If he said yes, she would confess to having already summoned him. If he refused, she would contact George on the quiet, and tell him that Bobby needed a little more time.
“I… I know I need to,” Bobby admitted finally, miserably. “But I spent so long denying that it happened. And now, I have to admit that I lied to him. Everything that he’s done for me…”
“You feel bad about that,” Alex guessed, and Bobby nodded unhappily. Alex sighed, and hugged him fiercely. “He’ll understand, Bobby. You know that. No one’s going to be angry at you just because you weren’t ready to face it before now.”
“I know,” he mumbled. “I know that… But it’s not so easy to accept.”
She hesitated, and then stretched up to brush her lips lightly over his cheek. To her great relief, he didn’t stiffen, or pull away. Instead, the faintest of sighs escaped him, and he actually leaned in towards the tender contact.
“Just like most things at the moment, right?” she murmured.
“Yeah,” he whispered.
“You’ll get through this, Bobby,” she assured him. “I really do believe that. It’s going to be okay. Maybe not right away, but eventually everything will be okay again. You’ll see.”
He didn’t speak to respond to her assurances, but instead slipped his arms around her slim body and hugged her back. He placed a tentative kiss on her temple before sighing again and cuddling in against her.
They were still sitting wrapped up in each other’s arms when John Eames and Liz Bauer emerged from Liz’s office a little ways down the corridor.
“Look at them,” Bauer mused with a smile. “I was wondering how long it would be before they really found each other.”
John frowned a little.
“That could get complicated,” John murmured. “They are partners…”
Bauer snorted dersiviely, drawing a surprised look from John.
“Those frat rules are a load of crap. Are you seeing them? I mean, really seeing them? From the moment you arrived here with him yesterday morning, he panicked the moment that anyone tried getting too close. Even us. But he cuddles up to Alex like she’s the one person in the world that he completely trusts.”
“And she probably is,” John conceded. “You have to understand, Dr Bauer, that there’s a lot more to what happened than most of us know. What Bobby remembered yesterday about being operated on without anaesthetic? That’s only the tip of a very big iceberg.”
“I gathered as much,” she said. “But don’t go discounting the strength of their love for each other, either.”
“I’m not, believe me. I know damn well that they’ve been in love with each other since well before Bobby was taken by those people. But I don’t think either of them really knew it back then. They certainly hadn’t accepted it.”
Liz smiled as she observed Bobby and Alex together.
“Well, I think they have now, and all I can say is thank God. Because if you’re right, and he was sexually assaulted, then he’s going to need all the love and kindness that he can get, with no strings attached.”
The trip home was a quiet one. Bobby and Alex sat together in the back seat, leaving John to handle the driving. He glanced at them occasionally in the mirror, and couldn’t help but smile at the way his diminutive daughter cradled her big bear of a partner in her arms. Nor could he miss the way that Bobby so willingly submitted himself to her loving embrace.
He had to admit it, they fitted together beautifully – complete opposites, and yet perfectly matched. All he could hope was that this new-found relationship would not cause them difficulties down the track.
They arrived home and were just going in when another car pulled into the drive. Bobby stiffened noticeably, and Alex queezed his hand reassuringly.
“It’s okay, Bobby. It’s just Captain Deakins. See…?”
Slowly, she felt him relax as their captain got out. He tensed again a moment later, though, when a second door opened, and George Huang got out. He looked from Alex to John, a touch of suspicion in his brown eyes.
“Please, don’t be mad,” Alex begged him. “I called George this morning after Dad told me you’d had a difficult time through the night.”
For several long seconds, Alex genuinely thought he was going to explode with anger, but at no point did she release her grip on his arm. Then, to her surprise and relief, his shoulders slumped and all the antagonism bled out of him.
“Okay,” he mumbled and without another word he turned and walked back into the house, leaving John and Alex standing on the porch.
They found him sitting in the family room, on edge the sofa and staring miserably at the floor. Alex went to his side and slipped her arms around him once more. Though he didn’t object and pull away from her, it was telling that nor did he return the affectionate gesture. He continued to sit there, not responding either physically or verbally. She didn’t take offense, though. It was easy enough to understand his reaction. He’d found it within himself to talk to her about what that woman Brigitte had done, but it was fairly obvious that the appearance of George Huang and the captain meant that he was going to have to relive it, whether he wanted to or not.
Humiliation, Alex reflected, and felt a fresh wave of misery for Bobby. That had been the point of it, and that son of a bitch Lyle was succeeding even now, when Bobby was out of their clutches.
“You know why we’re here, don’t you, Bobby?” Deakins asked softly. Bobby regarded him bitterly, but said nothing.
“Perhaps Bobby and I should go somewhere private where we can talk,” George suggested. That got a reaction.
“No,” he said abruptly, in a rough, guttural tone. George regarded him thoughtfully.
Bobby drew in a long, shaky breath. It was painfully clear that he was finding it hard to maintain control of his emotions.
“You all know now. What’s the point of hiding?”
“What is it that you think we all know?” George asked cryptically, drawing an incredulous look from Bobby.
“That’s stupid question number two, Doc. Care to go for the trifecta?”
George smiled calmly, unperturbed by the harshness of Bobby’s tone.
“Like I said, Bobby, I promise you that I’ll never ask a stupid question without a reason.”
Bobby looked away wearily. Silence reigned for the next few minutes as he considered what to say. The silence was just starting to become distinctly uncomfortable when he finally gave in and responded.
“There was a woman in the Centre… called Brigitte. I think Lyle set her onto me. She… She manipulated me into trusting her. When she succeeded at that, she…”
He faltered, his voice catching as he struggled to find the words. No one spoke, not even to offer a word of encouragement to him, for fear that he would lose his nerve and go silent on them. He continued on after taking a moment to gather his nerves.
“She had the… the guards hold me down. She… She took my clothes off a… and she raped me. I couldn’t stop her. I wanted to… I tried to… but they held me down, and I couldn’t move at all.” The words came out in a rush, and he spoke with his gaze fixed on the carpet at his feet. He glanced up once, briefly, and that was all. “It was meant to humiliate me… to force me into submission… and it worked. Nothing anyone had done to me up to that point humiliated me like Brigitte was able to do.”
He fell into a miserable silence, refusing to look at any of them, even Alex.
“And Lyle knew about this?” Deakins wondered.
“I know he did,” Bobby mumbled. “I think he might have even watched.”
“And Sydney?” George queried. “Did he know?”
It took Bobby nearly a minute to respond to that question.
“I don’t know. I told myself that he didn’t. But… I don’t know.”
“Okay, Bobby,” George went on gently. “You have a decision to make now.”
Slowly, Bobby looked back up at the psychiatrist.
“What decision? I admitted it, didn’t I? What else do you want from me?”
George held his hand out to Deakins.
“Captain Deakins, may I…?”
Deakins handed the sim disc over to George without a word of protest. Bobby’s breath caught in his throat, and he stared at the disc in shock.
“Is… Is that what I think it is?”
“You remember when we first talked about the sim discs, Bobby?” George said. “I asked you what you wanted done with them.”
Bobby nodded, his eyes still locked onto the disc in George’s hand. George went on quietly, acutely aware that Bobby seemed to be right on the edge of another panic attack.
“I asked you if you wanted the discs to be destroyed. Do you remember what you told me?”
For nearly a minute, Bobby didn’t respond. He continued staring at the disc, and they were just starting to wonder whether George’s words had even registered in his mind. It was only when Bobby finally lifted his gaze to meet the psychiatrist’s that they knew he had heard.
“I… I said they needed to be kept safe.”
“And why did you decide that?”
“Because… they’re evidence of what happened to me… and there are answers to… and reasons for my nightmares recorded on them. I… I can’t let myself forget again, but the mind’s natural defence is to repress… So I need to keep the discs, so I never forget.”
George nodded approvingly.
“That’s a good, reasoned argument. Now, you need to apply it to this.”
He waved the disc briefly in the air, and Bobby visibly winced.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked in a strangle tone.
“I can’t dictate to you on this, Bobby. It’s entirely your decision.”
“You’re asking me whether I want to keep it, or destroy it?”
George regarded Bobby passively.
Bobby laughed, then, but it was a thoroughly unpleasant sound.
“You actually need to ask?”
“Not really,” George conceded. “But before I snap this, you need to ask yourself if you’ve honestly faced up to this, or whether there is a part of you that is still denying that it happened. And if, by destroying the disc, are you just aiding that part of yourself in covering it all up again… just like the first time.”
Bobby winced again, and his entire body tensed at George’s choice of words. Alex and John were both looking at George in shock and confusion, but Deakins had a grim look on understanding on his features.
“What are you talking about?” Bobby asked hoarsely. There was a long moment of awkward silence, and then Deakins spoke up in as gentle a tone as he could.
“Bobby, do you remember back to the morning of the day that they took you? When we were all at my home?”
“No,” Bobby mumbled quickly; a little too quickly to be truly convincing.
“I think you do,” Deakins said. “And I think you remember the discussion about how Catherine Parker was able to smuggle you out of the Centre when you were a boy. You were sent to the hospital wing after you were badly injured during a simulation that was set up by Raines. I commented that I hadn’t seen any evidence of injuries on you when Cathering Parker brought you to me, and you said…”
“It wasn’t anything that could be seen on my upper body,” Bobby whispered. His face had turned the colour of ash as he spoke, and his breath caught painfully in his throat. His eyes glazed over and his body slumped limply against Alex as the horrific memories took over his conscious mind.
When Raines led Bobby into the sim room to discover the boy called Kyle waiting there, it took every ounce of mental strength that he had not to simply turn and run. Despite the fact that he had almost one foot and twenty to thirty pounds on the other boy, Bobby wa still terrified of him.
“Sit down there, Bobby,” Raines ordered him, and Bobby sat in wordless terror on the only chair in the room. Raines then drew Kyle away to the far side of the room, and spoke to him in a low murmur. Bobby thought he caught a few words like ‘uncooperative’ and ‘persuasion’, but couldn’t be sure. What he was sure of was that the nasty grin that Kyle kept flashing in his direction only served to compound his fear.
Finally, Raines headed over to the door, pausing once to look back at Kyle.
“Make me proud.”
Then the door slammed shut, and they were alone.
Bobby watched as Kyle came back to stand in front of him, observing him with a critical stare.
“Hey, Bobby. Dr Raines said you won’t cooperate with him. He wants me to convince you to start.”
Bobby opened his mouth to speak, but anything he’d intended to say was gone from the moment that Kyle’s fist connected with his face.
For someone so small and slim, Kyle packed one hell of a punch. Later on, despite everything else that went on, that was what Bobby most clearly remembered. The force of the blow was such that it sent Bobby crashing to the floor. He was still recovering from the shock of the blow when Kyle was suddenly on him.
By the time Bobby had regained his senses, Kyle had found his wrists tightly behind his back, and shoved a gag into his mouth to quiet his frightened cries. Leaning in close, Kyle whispered hoarsely into Bobby’s ear.
“I decide who lives or dies, Bobby. I decide who lives or dies.”
Bobby barely had time to register those words before his sweatpants were yanked roughly down to his ankles, leaving him exposed and vulnerable. And then, he felt Kyle’s hand on his back, waist, and then on his buttocks.
“You get to live today, Bobby, but I’m going to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget, and you’ll never want to defy Dr Raines again. Ever.”
Bobby came out of the memory with a violent start and he doubled over, clutching his stomach and groaning. He heard voices calling to him, trying to get his attention, but the words made no sense to him. His mind was awash with images that he had repressed for a long, long time, and it was suddenly more than he could cope with. He became aware of hands on him, and he suddenly found it impossible to distinguish between the gentle touch of concerned friends, as opposed to the cruel, tormenting touch of the boy that Raines had used to try and bring him into line.
The bile rose in his throat and he fought wilfully against the desire to throw up. Feeling sick to his stomach and overwhelmed with horror, Bobby launched himself from the sofa, breaking free from the people who surrounded him, and fled from the room.
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