THE LONG ROAD HOME
A/N: I was startled to realise at some point in writing this chapter that there is not much left to write of this story. It is, finally, nearing the end, and it’s been a true marathon effort. I think I’ve been working on it fairly constantly for well over a year now, and the plot was churning in my brain long before I threw down the challenge to myself to actually post it and see what would happen. Well, we’ve all seen what happened!
I do feel there are perhaps just one or two chapters to come after this, but I do want to say this – if we get to the end and you feel I haven’t wrapped up all the loose ends, or given Bobby complete closure, don’t panic. Truth is, the muse is already forming a follow-up story. Probably won’t be anywhere near as long as this one, mind you, but there is definitely one in the works, because there is one “loose end” which I have no intention of tying up in this particular story. The opportunities it presents for a new story entirely are simply too promising to ignore.
So, for now, enjoy…
For an indeterminably long time, no one moved or spoke. Bobby and Harris stood frozen as they stared at each other, while the others looked on in a temporary state of apparent impotence. When someone did finally break the silence, it was Harris, and he sounded almost sick to his stomach.
“G… Goren… Y… You’re back…”
Slowly, Bobby shook himself back to reality, and his expression hardened.
“Not yet,” he answered in a soft, but almost frigid tone, “but I will be.”
Harris winced noticeably, and stepped carefully around Bobby.
“Excuse me. Your captain and I have issues to discuss.”
He turned and almost ran for the bullpen, and the perceived safety of Deakins’ office, leaving the Major Case captain well behind. After a long moment’s indecision, Bobby abandoned his friends, and went after the Chief of Detectives.
“Chief Harris. Sir! Chief Harris!”
Harris slowed to a halt, groaning softly as he turned to face Bobby.
“What is it, Goren?”
Bobby regarded him incredulously.
“You can’t guess?”
“You want to know why?” Harris asked, and Bobby nodded.
“Yes. I do.”
“Well, that’s my business, Goren. Not yours.”
“The hell it’s not!” Bobby exploded, all the suppressed fury suddenly bubbling to the surface in a terrifying rush. “You sold me out to them! You turned me over like I meant nothing! Like I was a… a thing to be bartered for! Don’t you stand there, and tell me it’s not my business.”
“It was nothing personal against you, Goren, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Harris insisted, cringing when his words only seemed to enrage Bobby all the more.
“Nothing personal? Oh, well, I’m glad that you can be so fucking indifferent about it! You son of a bitch, do you have any idea what they did to me in that place? Do you?”
“Goren…” Harris started to say, but Bobby cut him off.
“I bet you don’t have the first fucking clue. So, why don’t you take a good look right now?”
And with that, he pulled up his shirt, revealing the horrific scarring across his stomach from Raines’ many experiments. Harris flinched visibly at the sight, his already pale face turned a nauseating shade of green.
“Oh my god…”
“This one,” Bobby said gutturally, indicating a barely-healed laceration that ran across the right side of his abdomen. “This one was done when Raines wanted to test an anaesthetic that he’d created himself. He took out my fucking appendix, Chief Harris. And by the way, the anaesthetic didn’t work. I screamed so hard that I completely lost my voice for a week, and I still remember how much it hurt. And these over here…” He motioned to pockmarks on his skin that looked very much like a cluster of bullet wound scars. “They used me for target practise for a new style of rubber bullet that the Centre had been employed to test. Except, the rubber bullets turned out to be the real thing. Lucky for me that they weren’t aiming for anything vital. And here…” This time, he indicated more lacerations. “Well, these were just for the hell of it, because I wouldn’t cooperate and complete Raines’ simulations. Which, by the way, were usually things like becoming a serial killer. Planning a major terrorist attack. Becoming a child rapist. Things that would make any decent person sick to their damned stomach! I was in that place for nine months, and it was the longest nine months of my life, so do not stand there and say I don’t have the right to know, because I do. I deserve an answer from you. You owe me an answer!”
“He’s right,” Deakins said as he came up to stand beside Bobby in a visible show of support. “After everything that Bobby was put through in that place… by those people… an explanation is the very least that you owe him.”
Harris glanced around, and was more than a little disconcerted to discover that every detective currently in the bullpen was watching him with open hostility. He briefly considered making a break for the elevators, only to realise that Alex Eames, Mike Logan and Carolyn Barek had positioned themselves in the entrance to the bullpen, preventing him from leaving.
“All right,” he said hoarsely, realising that there was no getting out of it. “Let’s go into one of the interview rooms.”
“No,” Bobby said tightly. “Here. Now.”
“Damn it, Goren,” Harris growled, but now they could all hear a distinct hint of desperation in his voice. Bobby, however, had no intention of backing down. He motioned around him in a vague gesture, indicating the other members of the squad.
“They… all of them… they took a big chance for me. Some of them risked their lives. They all deserve to know why, too. So you’ll tell me here… now… where everyone can hear.”
Harris was looking thoroughly ill by then, but he put up no further argument.
“You want the truth?” he asked hoarsely. “The honest to God truth? The truth is that I was a goddamned coward. Instead of doing the right thing and standing my ground against them, I folded like a goddamned suitcase. Yes, I’m ashamed of it. And yes, I’d change it if I could, but I can’t and I’m sorry. That’s all I can say, Goren. I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry,” Alex said harshly as she came forward to stand on the other side of Bobby. “That’s all you can say. That you’re sorry?”
Harris looked from her back to Bobby in distress.
“What do you want me to say? What can I possibly say that could make it any better?”
“Nothing,” Bobby answered flatly. “Not a damned thing. Just tell me why. Why did they choose you to ambush me? What leverage did they have over you?”
Harris stood frozen for several long seconds before finally wilting under the intensity of Bobby’s stare. His pained gaze flickered briefly to Deakins as he answered.
“My sister,” he said softly. Deakins frowned a little.
“Lisa? The one who’s institutionalised?”
“Yes.” He looked back to Bobby. “My younger sister Lisa is severely mentally disabled. She’s forty-six years old, and she has the mental capacity of a five year old. She’s been institutionalised all her life. I’ve always looked out for her as best as I could, but the hospice is the only place where she can stay full time and get the full time care that she needs. She… She was taken out under the pretence of going on a day trip to the zoo, and she didn’t come back. Those two… Lyle and Parker… They turned up in my office the day before they took you. They showed me video footage of my sister, and told me that unless I cooperated and did what they told me, I’d never see her again.” He rubbed fiercely at his eyes. “I’m sorry, Goren, but my sister… I couldn’t let anything happen to her. I just couldn’t.”
“How did they even know about your sister?” Deakins asked.
“I knew the Centre existed,” Harris explained softly. “I knew, because my parents sent Lisa there early on in the hope that they could help her. They couldn’t, of course, and the experiments they conducted on her were inhumane.”
“And yet you still gave me up to them,” Bobby said softly, although there was less animosity in his voice than before.
“They were going to kill her!” Harris burst out. “Or… or worse. I didn’t have a choice, and I knew it would have been pointless to make it an official investigation. Even if it had gotten anywhere, Lisa still would have come back to me in a body bag.” He looked across at Deakins. “You know that as well as I do, Jim.”
Silence met Harris’ words. Finally, after an almost painfully long time, Goren spoke in a noticeably subdued tone.
“I… I understand. Did you get her back safely?”
Harris nodded, acutely aware that his eyes were burning from the unshed tears that he was struggling to hold back.
“Yes. They sent her back to the institute a week after you were taken. I am truly sorry, Goren. If I’d been able to see another way through it, I would have taken it. I am so sorry.”
“I believe you,” Bobby murmured, although the looks on the others’ faces suggested that they weren’t quite as willing to accept his reasons.
“Why didn’t you tell us this sooner?” Deakins asked, frowning darkly. Harris looked around, and then sank into a nearby chair. He looked tired, and defeated.
“What good would it have done, Jim? Really, what would have been the point? It wouldn’t have made the situation any easier for you all to bear, and really… Would you have even believed me anyway?”
“Probably not,” Deakins conceded quietly, and Harris nodded.
“Exactly.” He was silent for a long moment before speaking, his attention once more focused on Bobby. “I know it’s not enough. It’ll probably never be enough. All I can do is tell you again how sorry I am, and that I swear to you that I’ll never let anything like it happen again.”
Bobby stared him down until Harris had to divert his gaze. Only then did he speak.
“I can accept that,” he said quietly. He stood there for another minute before turning abruptly and walking out of the bullpen with his head held high. Silence fell over the entire room like a blanket before Alex turned and followed him, and Carolyn headed out close behind her. Mike paused for a moment longer, fixing Harris with a hard stare before going after his friends. Deakins waited until they were gone before looking back at Harris.
“That’s the best you’ll ever get from him. Don’t expect anything more.”
“I won’t,” Harris murmured as he followed Deakins into the captain’s office, still acutely conscious of the hostile stares from the rest of the squad. “And believe me, I’m grateful for even that much.”
“Can you really?”
Bobby glanced down at Alex as the four friends rode down in the elevator.
“Can I really what?”
“Accept what Harris told you. Can you really accept it?”
He sighed softly in response.
“I can, if only because I know I might have done the same thing if I’d been in his position. I can’t take the moral high ground, not when I know what the reality is. And… he was telling the truth. The captain knew about his sister… knew that she was institutionalised… so that part wasn’t made up. And, I don’t believe he would use her as an excuse like that unless it’s what really happened, anymore than I’d use my mom.”
“Well, you’re a bigger person than any of us, Bobby,” Mike commented wryly. “I’m telling you, I’d happily do another ten years on Staten Island for a chance at punching him out.”
Bobby smiled faintly.
“I’d prefer that you didn’t. I know I have a lot of people willing to support me, but you guys are my best friends. I… I need my friends here. I need you here. Not banished to Staten Island.”
“Bobby, that is probably the nicest thing anyone’s said to me for a long time,” Mike admitted in a subdued voice.
Standing beside each other, Alex and Carolyn exchanged amused grins at the emotion in Mike’s voice.
“Would you two like to be left alone?” Carolyn teased, and yelped a moment later when Mike slipped his arms around her and yanked her backwards so that she fell into him.
“Thanks for the offer, gorgeous, but if I get to have alone time with anyone, I’d rather it be you.”
Carolyn grinned up at him.
“You’re learning, Logan.”
“Hey, who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” He promptly fired a look at Alex, whose mouth was half open, ready to fire a snark in his direction. “Don’t even think about it, Eames. I’ll sic your boyfriend onto you.”
The smirk on Alex’s face melted away as she looked up at Bobby, who was grinning openly at their antics.
“Anytime, Logan,” she said as she got a beautiful, warm smile from Bobby in return. “Anytime.”
A Week Later
“So, how are you feeling now?”
Bobby’s head turned, and a weary smile touched his lips. It was two days after the surgery on his shoulder, and the evening after his first physio session. Though there were no more apparent barriers to his returning home to his own apartment, it seemed that he was in no hurry to do so, and the Eames family were in no hurry to see him go. There had been a token argument on his part that he was stretching the bounds of their hospitality, but Helen Eames had ended up having the last word when she pointed out that he would not get reasonable use of his right arm back for at least a month after the surgery, and she was not going to have him going home, only to slip in the shower and not be able to get back up again. He was going to come home to them to recover properly from the surgery, where he could be properly looked after. Then, and only then, would it be acceptable for him to go home.
Bobby had ceased arguing at that point, much to everyone’s satisfaction.
“Tired,” he admitted finally as Alex came into the bedroom and sat down beside him on the bed. “Good… but tired. I have to admit, I’m kind of glad to be here, and not at home by myself.”
“You wouldn’t have been, but I’m glad, too. I know you’ve got someone to look after you while I’m at work.”
“I’ll be able to join you soon,” Bobby reminded her. “The specialist said I can start on light duties next week, as long as I’m careful not to overdo it.”
“You’re really looking forward to that, aren’t you?” she asked with a wry smile. “You do realise it’s going to be primarily paperwork?”
“At this stage, I’d even welcome that. I need to be back there, Alex.”
She leaned down to kiss him gently.
“I know you do.”
For a while, silence reigned as Alex’s fingers played lightly over his greying hair. Bobby visibly relaxed under her gentle touch, and his eyes fluttered closed as he enjoyed the attention.
“How are you really feeling?” Alex asked finally as she lay down beside him. Bobby smiled, knowing then that she was not referring to his physical wellbeing.
“I feel… happy,” he admitted. “And… safe. I don’t know for sure if the Centre will leave me alone, but we sent them a pretty strong message. And besides… it was Raines who really wanted me back, and he’s dead.”
Alex nodded in agreement.
“Yes,” she murmured, not even attempting to conceal her relief. “He is.”
A smile quirked her lips as her memories took her back to approximately a week after the failed Centre ambush at the café. Raines’ and Lyle’s bodies had been put on ice at the morgue, and left there. Deakins had apparently considered cremating their bodies, only to decide that the corpses would serve them better in one piece.
His decision was vindicated when a formal delegation from the Centre turned up at One Police Plaza three days after the shooting. Alex remembered vividly her, Mike’s and Carolyn’s collective shock when a man that they recognised from Bobby’s sim discs as Mr Parker was escorted into the bullpen, and across the floor to Deakins’ office. In what had been a defiant act of disrespect on Deakins’ part, the captain had met him at the door and refused to allow him past the threshold into the moderate privacy of his office.
“Holy fucking shit...”
Alex looked up from her paperwork in surprise at Mike’s vehement expletive, and a bemused smile touched her lips.
“Did you screw up the T-13 form again, Mike?”
He shook his head, and though his head was still down, his eyes were glued to someone, or something, beyond all their desks.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” he hissed, “but isn’t that the son of a bitch that Bobby said ran the Centre when he was there as a kid?”
Alex looked around sharply, and sure enough, the man whose image had caused Bobby nearly as many nightmares as Raines and Lyle was walking through the bullpen towards Deakins’ office.
“Yes, that’s him,” she confirmed.
“Thank God Bobby isn’t here,” Carolyn murmured. Alex’s hand strayed to her gun as she watched the unfolding scenario, and a tight smile met her lips when Deakins appeared, physically blocking the doorway and refusing Parker entry.
“Aren’t you going to let me in?” Parker demanded. Deakins didn’t flinch at the other man’s outraged manner.
“I prefer to keep my office for welcome visitors,” Deakins replied coldly. “What do you want?”
For a moment, Parker appeared flustered. It was painfully obvious that he was not used to being treated so abruptly. Finally, though, he stammered out the reason he was there.
“I’m here for the bodies of my son and my brother. They were murdered by the police a week ago.”
Deakins raised an eyebrow.
“My Lyle? Mr Raines?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“They were not murdered,” Deakins responded calmly. “They were shot by officers who were acting to defend the life of a fellow officer.”
“Is that what you’re calling it,” Parker snorted. “We’ll see about that.”
“If you’re here for the bodies,” Deakins told him firmly, “then you’ll be escorted down to the morgue to claim them officially. Then, you can leave.”
“Not before I see him,” Parker said suddenly. Deakins’ expression turned downright dangerous. He needed no help to know that Parker was talking about Bobby.
Parker raised and eyebrow.
“You think you can stop me?”
“I know I can,” Deakins snarled, his anger starting to show in the way he clenched his fists, and his face had gone white with barely suppressed rage. “The question is, do you really want to try?”
Parker hesitated noticeably, faltering in the face of the captain’s anger. Deakins took advantage of the other man’s sudden uncertainty, and spoke in a voice that was laced with fury.
“You don’t get to see him now, or ever again, do you hear me? You will never, ever come near him again. Not you, nor anyone else from the Centre, and that is final.”
“We own him…” Parker started to argue, only to step back in visible fright when Deakins abruptly advanced on him.
“You don't own him. You never owned him. You will never own him! He is a free man, and you and your filth are never going to interfere in his life again! Do you understand me? And before you think about arguing further, I suggest you go down and identify the remains of your son and your brother, and take a good look at what their obsession cost them. Then, when you've done that, Mr Parker, you get the hell out of this building, and out of this city, and never show your face here again.”
It had been hard to know at the time which garnered more shock – the fact that someone was daring to threaten him openly, or the fact that his name was known to them. The former director of the Centre had literally fled, then, not game to stay and risk his own skin.
Deakins had waited only until Parker had been escorted out of the bullpen before turning to storm back into his office, but he’d not been quite quick enough to avoid the cheer that went up from the detectives on the floor. Two days later, a letter arrived for Bobby, care of Deakins at One Police Plaza. Deakins had called her, Mike and Carolyn into his office, closed the door and read it to them. It had been short, and very sweet to all their ears.
Dear Mr Goren, we wish to inform you that the Centre has terminated its interest in you.
Deakins had sent the letter home with Alex, so that Bobby to see it for himself. His immediate reaction had been somewhat subdued, but that same night Bobby had enjoyed his most peaceful night since returning home to New York, with his sleep disturbed only briefly by a nightmare that was easily cleansed from his thoughts.
The very next day he’d gone to his physiotherapy session with what his physio had later enthusiastically described to John Eames as a ‘winner’s attitude’.
He was getting better, Alex reflected happily as she cuddled in against him. He was getting better every day in his physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Next week he would return to One Police Plaza to work, and even though it was only desk duty, she could feel the enthusiasm radiating off him like heat. It was an enthusiasm that easily spilled over to her. She couldn’t wait to be able to look up from her desk, and see him sitting there once more. It had been far, far too long since that sight had met her in the squad room.
“You look pretty comfortable there,” a voice said softly, and she glanced around to see her father standing there in the doorway, watching them bemusedly. Alex smiled faintly.
“I am, actually. Why? Am I supposed to jump up and act all guilty, even though technically we haven’t done anything?”
John ventured slowly into the room, peering at Bobby through the dim light. Bobby appeared to have fallen asleep, cuddled in against Alex. He had to admit, they looked right together.
“No,” he murmured. “It’s okay, hon. You two… You’re good for each other. I’m okay with it.”
Alex looked back to Bobby with a loving gaze, taking in his peaceful countenance with satisfaction.
“It’s not a fly-by-night thing, Dad,” she whispered. “We really do love each other.”
John shifted uncomfortably.
“I know that. I can see it. I just don’t want you to get hurt, Lexie. Either of you. You’ve both had more hurt than anyone should reasonably have to bear.”
“We’re not going to hurt each other, Dad.”
John regarded her sadly.
“That’s easy enough to say now.”
Alex frowned in mild irritation.
“Can we not do this now? We’re going to wake him up.”
John stood there indecisively for nearly a minute before conceding and retreating silently from the room. Minutes slid by, and Alex was just starting to drift off to sleep when a new voice spoke in a soft whisper.
“He’s not trying to upset you, you know. He just wants to know that you’re okay.”
Alex smiled wryly.
“I thought you were asleep. Faker.”
She felt a ripple of laughter pass through them both as he chuckled softly.
“I almost was.”
Alex sighed and turned in to him, hugging him fiercely.
“I know Dad means well. Problem is… He and Mom are starting to see you as one of their own kids.”
Bobby chuckled again.
“That could raise some interesting discussions.”
“Exactly. They’re starting to get just a little freaked out. I swear, I feel like a teenager again, with Dad going all protective every time the subject of boys comes up.”
That time, the laughter that came from Bobby was full and rich, and the sound sent waves of warmth through her.
“Seriously,” he murmured, his lips brushing her temple lightly. “Do you think that maybe it’s time I went home?”
Stretching up, Alex pressed a tender kiss to his cheek.
“No. I think it’s time we went home.”
He glanced down at her quizzically.
“T… Together? Us?”
“Yes. Us. Together.”
He fell quiet, and she suddenly wondered if she was pushing for too much, too soon.
Silence. Her heart in her throat, Alex propped herself up on her elbow so that she could see him properly.
“Bobby, please… Talk to me? If I’ve said the wrong thing… If you’re not ready…”
She gasped a little as he slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her firmly down on top of him, not letting go even when he grunted softly in pain as she bumped his shoulder accidentally. Then, his lips were on hers, effectively silencing her.
When he finally broke off the kiss, she opened her eyes again and found herself staring into a pair of warm brown eyes that were alive with a mixture of love and mirth.
“Your place, or mine?”
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