A/N: This chapter turned out to be regrettably shorter than I’d hoped, but it’s still five pages worth, so I figured that’s not too bad. I have to admit, I’ll be very interested to see the reactions to this chapter. I dislike begging for reviews, because I think that’s a little demeaning, but I really would love to hear people’s thoughts on the path that this chapter has gone down. My beta reader looked through it and came out the other end slightly on the green side. All I’ll say is this: Fluff with purpose. Enjoy…

Frank left the library alone, after determining the when and where details of his next meeting with Bobby. He’d provided Bobby and his support base with as much information as he could – now, it was up to them.

Once outside, he ducked around behind the steps, out of sight, and waited. Nearly ten minutes later, Bobby and his entourage finally exited the library. His brother, he noted in amusement, had at least three good-sized books tucked under his good arm, and the little spitfire was loaded up with another four or five.

He watched as they climbed into waiting vehicles, and headed away from the building, whisking Bobby away to who knew where. He’d asked Bobby on the quiet just where he was staying, but Bobby had neatly ducked the question and refused to give him an answer. The only response he’d gotten was ‘somewhere safe’. Just quietly, Frank didn’t blame him. As much as Bobby claimed to trust his older brother, the truth was that they still had a long way to go before Frank earned that level of trust from Bobby.

Once the vehicles were out of sight, Frank was just getting ready to do his own disappearing act when a familiar, silky voice spoke from directly behind him.

“Have a happy little reunion?”

Frank turned slowly, his breath catching in his throat at the sight of Lyle. Even banged up as he clearly was, he was still intimidating.

“You’re watching me?” he asked hoarsely. “Or… was it Bobby you were watching?”

Lyle smirked.

“Does it really matter, Frank?”

“I… I guess not. I guess I kind of thought that maybe you would’ve tried take Bobby from here.”

“Too many cops on the lookout for us,” Lyle answered simply. “Did you tell him what I told you to?”

“Yeah, I told him,” Frank said sullenly. “But, he told me a few things, too…”

“Oh? Such as?”

Frank hesitated, staring uneasily at the other man. There was something about the absolute calm that Lyle exuded that genuinely scared him.

“Look… I just need to know… You aren’t going to hurt Bobby, are you?”

The smug smile that he got in response sent chills down Frank’s spine.

“That’s really none of your concern now, is it, Frank?”

“You son of a bitch, you are…”

An instant later, Lyle grabbed Frank by the collar of his shirt and slammed him back into the concrete.

“Listen up, you sorry piece of filth. You listen close. We had a deal, and you are not backing out of it now. No, I don’t want to hurt Bobby, and that’s the God’s honest truth, but whether he gets hurt or not is going to depend entirely on him, just like it always has. He cooperates, and everything will be fine. He doesn’t, and it’s only himself that he’ll be screwing over. He knows the drill, and it’s none of your concern. You just worry about doing the job that we’re paying you to do. Now, just to show you that I’m a reasonable guy, I’m going to sweeten it for you a little. How does an extra ten thousand sound on top of the fifteen hundred we agreed to?”

Frank’s mouth promptly went dry. It had been a long, long time since he’d been fronted with that sort of money.

“T… Ten thousand? Dollars…?”

Lyle sneered at him.

“Well, I don’t mean yen. What do you think, Frank? Is that enough to keep you focused on what’s important?”

Frank shut his eyes, and struggled to settle himself.

“I… I want half. Now.”

A shark-like grin spread across Lyle’s face.

“I thought you might.”

He pulled a wad of cash from within his coat, and pressed it into Frank’s hand, before finally stepping back, leaving Frank to gasp and rub at his throat.

“Asshole,” he rasped, drawing an amused chuckle from Lyle.

“Lucky I’m not out to win popularity contests. I’ve got a job to do, and that’s to make sure that your little brother gets put back where he belongs, in our care. You just make sure you do what you’re supposed to do.”

Frank glared at him sourly.

“Don’t worry, Mr Lyle. I told him exactly what you told me to tell him. I’m meeting him next Saturday for lunch, and we’re supposed to be going to visit our mom together afterwards.”

“How sweet,” Lyle retorted. “Lunch at Angelique’s?”

“Right,” Frank confirmed, his gaze fixed on his feet. “We’ll be there at the time that you said. The rest is up to you.”

Lyle nodded, satisfied.

“Very good, Frank. Now, why don’t you take that money, and go buy yourself some decent clothes? And then go check yourself into a hotel for a few nights? Don’t even think about going wandering, because we will be checking on you. You just won’t know when.”

Frank nodded sullenly, watching as Lyle turned and limped heavily away. It was only once the evil man was out of sight that Frank finally relaxed, and allowed himself a satisfied smirk.

“Gotcha, you demented fuck. Hook, line and sinker.”

He then hurried away from the library, dumping the tainted cash in a bin as he went.

Alex returned to her parents’ home with Bobby, after getting the okay from Deakins to finish up work early. John and Helen had a get-together planned with some friends for later that afternoon, and into the evening, and none of them felt particularly comfortable with the idea of leaving Bobby alone. Bobby himself wasn’t especially keen on being left alone, either, and that was markedly clear by the lack of any protests from him.

He retreated to the family room with his books as soon as they arrived home, and Alex flitted restlessly around the house until her parents finally left. Once they were gone, she headed to the family room and smiled at the sight of him sitting engrossed in one of the books he’d brought home from the library. If she wasn’t mistaken, it was the Sherlock Holmes book that he had been reading when they arrived at the library with Frank.

A slight frown passed fleetingly across Alex’s face at the mere thought of Bobby’s older brother. She still did not trust him, and it troubled her that Bobby seemed to. After all that he’d been through, she would have expected him to be less quick to place his trust in a man who had tried to kill him when they last saw each other. Bobby seemed confident about Frank’s motives, though, and in the end all Alex could do was hope that his trust was not misplaced.

She paused in the archway to the family room, observing Bobby with renewed love and affection. It astounded her how he could still radiate such utter innocence, despite the horrors he’d endured. Sensing her presence, Bobby looked up, and she suddenly found herself on the receiving end of the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. Her heart swelled, and she went over to join him on the sofa.

“You look happy,” she remarked, eager to draw him into conversation.

“I feel happier,” he confessed. “It… It’s like I can see a light at the end of the tunnel now. I… We’re not just sitting around anymore, waiting for them to make the first move.”

“Is that what you wanted to do all along?” Alex wondered. “Take the fight to them?”

“It’s not what I wanted to do. It… It’s what I needed to do. I’m afraid of them, Alex. I’m more afraid of them than I’ve ever been of anything, and they know that. But because they know that, it’s important to me that they also understand that I will still fight them. I… I’m scared, but I’m not beaten.”

Alex couldn’t help herself. His words had stirred her to her very core, and she desperately wanted to respond. Climbing up on her knees beside him, Alex gently drew his face around and kissed him tenderly on the mouth. At first, Bobby’s eyes widened in surprise, but then they fluttered closed, and he leaned into the kiss.

The very air surrounding them became charged as they engaged in a prolonged kiss, and Alex thrilled at the feel of his left arm sliding around her body and pulling her across until she was settled comfortably on his lap.

“Please,” Bobby murmured against her lips, “answer me one thing… and don’t be offended.”

Alex drew back slowly from him, and cupped his face between her palms. She looked into his brown eyes, and spoke softly to him.

“I am not doing this out of sympathy for you, Bobby. I do not feel sorry for you. I admire you… your courage… your strength… everything about you. I love you, Bobby. I…”

She had no opportunity to get anything else out. A moment later, Bobby pulled her back to him, and reclaimed her lips in a heated kiss.

“Love you too,” he whispered, taking immense pleasure in her shiver of delight as he ran his fingertips lightly up and down her side, just barely skimming the swell of her breast. “Love you… so much…”

She moaned softly into his mouth as his tongue explored her thoroughly. Then, suddenly, he was pulling away from her and she found herself looking at him plaintively, not understanding what he’d done wrong. He smiled at her apologetically, anxious to let her know that his withdrawal from her was due to nothing she had or hadn’t done.

“I’m sorry. I … I just don’t think it’s such a great idea to start something that I really don’t think I’d be able to finish.”

When she looked puzzled, he made a sweeping motion to indicate his torso. Then, she remembered the massive bruising, the cracked ribs and other physical torments he was still suffering, and she went bright red.

“Oh my god, Bobby, I’m sorry! I forgot!”

He reached up to push her hair back from her face, and then ran his fingertips along her jawline and over her lips.

“It’s okay, Alex. I forgot too, for a moment there. You’re the only one who could do that, you know. Make me forget everything like that.” A faint sigh escaped him as he gaze up at her with a look that was pure adoration. “I promise you, Alex, when I’m healed up properly, I’m going to show you what it’s like to be truly loved.”

She responded to that with a smile that warmed him from the inside out.

“I already do, Bobby. I can see it right now in your eyes.”

Bobby sighed again, and drew her in close, wrapping his good arm around her and pulling her into his embrace. She relaxed against him, resting her head against his left shoulder and slipping her arms around his body; content for the time being to just hold him, and be held by him.

They remained like that for a while, silent and content in each other’s company.

“Uh… Alex…?”

She was drawn out of her reverie what could have been either minutes or hours later, pulled reluctantly back to reality by the questioning note in his voice.

“What is it?” she asked, and was amused to discover he was blushing.

“I… I was wondering if you could… I mean… I can’t with your mom and dad… But you’ve already… I… Oh, damn…”

He was getting thoroughly tongue-tied, and more embarrassed by the second, Alex thought wryly. She wanted nothing more than to ease his discomfort, but she really had no idea what he was trying to ask her. Instead, she pressed one finger lightly to his lips, silencing his embarrassed stammering.

“Hush. Stop, take a breath.”

He did so, and even as she watched, he visibly settled. Nodding, she removed her finger from his lips.

“All right. Now tell me what it is you want, baby.”

For a fleeting moment, there was a look of sheer joy on his face at the endearment, and then he finally made himself speak.

“I… I’d really like to have a bath, but I can’t manage it on my own. With just one arm, I’d probably slip and fall, and I don’t want to take that chance. Could… could you help me?”

It was with some effort that Alex didn’t laugh purely with delight that he was actually asking her directly for her help. Though it wouldn’t have been intended, she knew that to laugh now would only hurt him, and embarrass him even further, and that was the last thing that she wanted. Instead, she leaned in and kissed him again before slipping off his lap.

“Of course I will.”

She held out a hand to him, which he accepted gratefully and without hesitation. “C’mon, let’s run you a bath.”

A few minutes later found Bobby sitting on a chair in the bathroom, watching while Alex prepared the bath for him.

“You’ve done so much for me,” he said softly. She heard his voice catch, and looked around in time to see tears spilling from his eyes.

“Hey,” Alex murmured anxiously, turning off the bath taps and hurrying over to him. “Why the tears?”

He shook his head and rubbed furiously at his eyes.

“It… It just hit me… how important you are to me. I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for you, and I don’t just mean everything to do with the Centre. Before that, you were there for me when no one else was. I should have told you a long time ago how much you really mean to me.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation,” Alex murmured, “I think you’re well and truly making up for it now.”

She kissed him tenderly before encouraging him to stand up.

“Can you get undressed okay?” she asked, and he promptly turned that adorable shade of red once more.

“I… uh… Yes. It’s just getting in and out of the bath.” He paused, and then favoured her with a shy smile that all but melted her heart. “But, I don’t mind if you help.”

Alex chuckled softly, and willed herself to remember that she was helping him to take a bath, and nothing more. She helped him to remove the arm brace, and then his shirt, swallowing a sob at the sight of the bruising that still covered his upper body so completely. When he began to remove his jeans, though, she started to turn away.

Bobby hesitated, and then spoke softly.

“Alex, you’ve already seen me. Please don’t turn away from me now.”

Alex felt her throat constrict at his words, and she turned back to him slowly.

“I’m not doing that, Bobby. I… I just thought you might appreciate a little privacy. After all, that’s not something you’ve had a lot of lately.”

He actually looked puzzled at her words, she mused.

“But… you’ve already seen me,” he said again, tentatively. “That first night… And when you put me in the bath after I… I had an accident…” His face was flame-red, but he continued on regardless. “And then, after I got away from Lyle…”

“You weren’t exactly at your most alert,” Alex pointed out, but she didn’t try to turn away again.

“No,” Bobby conceded. “But it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve seen me at my most vulnerable and… and I trust you.”

Although she could feel her own face heating up, Alex didn’t look away again. She offered him a reassuring smile, and forced herself not to flinch or look down at the floor as he stripped off his jeans and boxers.

She helped him into the bath with tender care, and sat down on the edge of the tub and watched as he sank into the hot water with a relieved sigh.

“Better?” she queried, and he nodded contentedly.

“Yes. Thankyou. I don’t remember when I really enjoyed taking a bath last, but it’s been a long time.”

Alex leaned across a little and gently brushed back a solitary curl.

“Your hair’s getting long. We’ll have to take you for a hair cut.”

He smiled faintly, and reached up to catch her hand in his own.

“Thankyou, Alex. For everything.”

“You’re welcome.”

Nearly an hour passed before Bobby finally allowed Alex to help him out of the water, dry off and get dressed again. It was only when he was fully clothed once more, with his right arm securely back in the restrictive brace, that Alex finally dared to ask what was on her mind.

“Bobby, I need to ask you something, and I want you to be honest with me about it.”

He regarded her in puzzlement, but nodded his acquiescence.

“What is it?”

“Earlier, in the bathroom… when you were getting undressed… What was the real reason that you didn’t want me to turn away from you?”

Bobby suddenly went very still, with his gaze fixed on the carpet. She wondered fleetingly whether she’d pushed him that one step too far, and then shoved that worry away. He’d said that he trusted her, and she did honestly believe that there was a reason beyond the superficial logic he’d offered. The question was, would he confide in her?

The next five mutes passed in complete silence, but Alex bided her time, giving him all the time he needed to work through it in his own mind.

“She… She raped me,” he said suddenly, after what felt to Alex like the longest silence she had ever endured.

“Brigitte, you mean?” she asked, fighting the urge to pull a face at the hated name. Bobby nodded, still not looking up at her.

“Yes. At… At a point where I didn’t think things could get any worse, she made it worse. And afterwards, I couldn’t do anything to stop from feeling like I was… was…”

“Damaged goods?” Alex put in softly, her heart breaking for him all over again. He nodded quickly.

“She… She made me ashamed of my own body. After what she did to me, I couldn’t bear stripping off in front of anyone, not for any reason. Not… not even for a medical check. In the end, every time they wanted me to strip off for anything, they brought in a team of cleaners, and they’d hold me down and forcibly strip me. It… Every time that happened, it was like I was being raped all over again.”

Alex pressed her fist to her mouth, struggling not to cry. She wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around him, but something stopped her, and a deeper instinct whispered that she needed to hang back, and let him work through it in his own time, and in his own words. And so she waited, and listened, all the while fighting to keep a hold on her own emotions.

“The… the story of what Brigitte did got around,” he told her in a trembling voice. “Whenever they’d strip me, whoever was there… They’d laugh at me, and mock me. And some of them would get this disgusted look on their faces, and turn away from me. I… I couldn’t stop from thinking that there was something wrong with me.”

Alex’s stomach was churning unpleasantly.

“And when I turned away from you, that just reinforced it. I am so sorry, Bobby.”

He looked up at her finally with red-rimmed eyes.

“I… I thought that if… if you could at least look at me without laughing… or having to turn away… then maybe the damage isn’t permanent.”

That was all she could take, and Alex slid across the sofa, closing the distance between them and slipping her arms around him in a warm, protective embrace.

“None of what they did to you is permanent, Bobby, and damaged goods is the last thing that I’d call you. Listen to me, baby. I didn’t turn away from you in there because I couldn’t bear to look at you. I turned away because there was more on my mind that just giving you a bath, and I know you’re not ready for that… yet.”

Bobby couldn’t help it. The absurdity of it suddenly struck him, and he snorted with laughter.

“I… I was worried about whether I was d… damaged goods in your eyes… and you were just thinking about… about sex?”

Alex felt herself flush red, but she made no attempt to pull away from him.

“Great pair, aren’t we?” she retorted, and he laughed softly and kissed her hair lovingly.

“Uh huh.”

“Listen to me, though. You’re not damaged goods, Bobby. Far from it. Do you think you’ll eventually be able to accept that?”

He was silent for a minute as he considered that, before slowly nodding.

“I think so. With… with your help, I will. Thankyou, Alex.”

She sighed with relief and contentment, and snuggled in against him.

“You’re welcome.”

Bobby and Frank met on a Tuesday afternoon, and had planned to meet again on Saturday, leaving three short days in between to make a plan of attack. Deakins didn’t waste a moment, and first thing on Wednesday morning, he summoned all Major Case detectives to his home for a confidential meeting away from potential prying eyes and ears. To that meeting he also called Olivia Benson, Elliot Stabler, Fin Tutuola and John Munch, keeping in mind the held that they had so selflessly given during the original rescue. He wasn’t particularly surprised, either, when Don Cragen showed up right along with his detectives.

Within minutes everyone had gathered together, waiting to hear what Deakins had to say.

“Firstly,” Deakins said to the gathered group, “I want to make it absolutely clear to everyone that what we’re about to discuss is not a sanctioned police operation. The only backup we’ll get is right here in this room. We are not officially cops for this, and if anyone has a problem with that, then they need to get up and leave right now, before I go any further.”

No one moved; not even Cragen.

“All right, then,” Deakins murmured, relieved. “This is the situation. The people who took Bobby Goren and held him for nine months are still after him. Some of you will be aware that yesterday his brother was intercepted at One Police Plaza, and that we uncovered a plan by the Centre to use Frank Goren to lure Bobby out into the open. Frank met with Bobby yesterday afternoon under our strict control, and as result he’s turned against the Centre and has agreed to help us.”

“Help us do what?” Munch asked, although he strongly suspected that he already knew.

“Help us to end the threat against Bobby once and for all,” Deakins answered firmly. “We know for a fact that one of the men primarily responsible for Bobby’s ordeal is here in New York right now, and we’ve been assured that our other prime target will be here by Saturday. We’re relying on their desperation to get Bobby back to draw them out into the open, where we can deal with them.”

“Targets…?” Cragen asked in concern. “Jim, just what are you planning to do, exactly?”

“I told you,” Deakins said tightly, “we’re going to put and end to this once and for all. We’re going to turn the tables on Lyle and Raines, and draw them out into the open.”

“And then…?” Cragen asked, suddenly unsure of the wisdom of involving himself. The grim smile that crept across Deakins’ face right at the moment sent chills down the SVU captain’s spine.

“And then, Don, we’re going to kill them.”

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