THE LONG ROAD HOME
A/N: Unless the muse pulls a fast one, I believe this is the penultimate chapter, and what a marathon effort it’s been. Hope everyone’s enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
Approx. a week later
“How is he doing?”
Mike’s head came up at the captain’s murmured query, and then he glanced across to where Bobby was bent over a not insubstantial pile of paperwork. It was the same pile of forms that they had needed to fill out on their return to work nearly a month previous, but Bobby was ploughing through them with an almost unnatural enthusiasm.
“He’s doing okay,” Mike answered quietly. “He’s just glad to be back, you know? That’s a really big thing, considering for a while there none of us knew for sure if he’d be able to come back.”
“I know,” Deakins agreed. “I just don’t want to see him push himself beyond his limits.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Carolyn spoke up from where she sat opposite Mike. “Alex won’t let that happen. She’s been keeping a pretty close eye on him all morning.”
“Don’t forget, the three of you have to leave to be in court soon,” Deakins reminded them. “I don’t think Bobby needs to go with you.”
“Captain, the whole squad is looking out for him now,” Mike pointed out quietly. “He’s okay.”
Deakins observed Bobby in silence for a long moment before conceding with a nod and heading back into his office.
Half an hour after Mike, Alex and Carolyn had left for the courts, Deakins wandered into the break room to find Bobby there, grimacing at the coffee that he’d just poured for himself.
“You’d forgotten how bad that was, hadn’t you?” Deakins asked with a wry grin. Bobby coughed, and set the mug down.
“Repressed is more like it. I really don’t remember it being that bad.”
Deakins paused, eyeing Bobby thoughtfully for a moment. It had occurred to him that in the entire time since Bobby’s rescue, he hadn’t had that many opportunities to talk to Bobby one-on-one. That opportunity was presenting itself now, and he wasn’t going to pass it up.
“Grab your coat,” Deakins told him suddenly. “Forget about that sludge. We’ll go out and get some decent coffee.”
It was, the captain thought, a sign that there still remained some remnants of the Centre’s influence that Bobby never argued, but simply did as Deakins told him. He watched as Bobby collected his coat from the coat stand near his desk, and then the two men headed out together.
“What did you want to ask?” Bobby asked abruptly, once they were comfortably seated in Deakins’ favourite café a block and a half away from One Police Plaza. Deakins regarded him with a raised eyebrow.
“You’re assuming I had something to ask?”
To his quiet relief, Bobby didn’t look away this time when he made eye contact, but rather continued to hold his gaze.
“We… We haven’t really talked,” Bobby murmured. “Not properly. Not just the two of us. I figured you wanted to talk about something… or ask me something.”
Deakins turned his attention to stirring his coffee.
“We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to talk,” he agreed. “But if you don’t want to now, I’ll understand.”
The faintest of sighs escaped Bobby at his words. He did want to talk, but he was at a loss for how to begin.
“Can… Can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” Deakins assured him. “What’s on your mind?”
“Do… Do you regret it?”
The captain paused, eyeing Bobby quizzically.
“I’m sorry, Bobby. I don’t understand what you mean. Do I regret what?”
“All of it,” Bobby whispered. “What you gave up… to save me… Everything you went through… Everything you’re still going through…”
It was with some effort that Deakins didn’t laugh.
“What I’m going through? Bobby, do you realise how ludicrous that sounds?”
Bobby, however, didn’t flinch.
“You killed a man for me,” he pointed out softly. “You… You killed Raines for me.”
“And you want to know how I’m dealing with it?”
“Yes. If… you don’t want to talk about it…”
Again, Deakins had a hard time containing a sardonic laugh.
“No,” he assured the younger man. “No, it’s okay. The truth is, Bobby, I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t affected me. But it’s something that I can live with.” He paused, and then added in a low tone, “And regardless of what we all discussed before the fact, the bottom line is that it ended up being a clear case of self-defence.”
“I know. I… I’m glad for that, for both you and Alex.”
“As for the rest,” Deakins went on, “I don’t regret any of it, and given the choice I’d do it all again without hesitation. That’s how much we care about you, Bobby.”
Beyond the red flush of embarrassment, Deakins had no difficulties seeing the heartfelt gratitude in the other man’s eyes.
“Is that what you’ve been worried the most about?” Deakins wondered, and Bobby gave a lop-sided shrug.
“There are other things. Mostly memories… I’m just trying to take it one step at a time… One day at a time.”
“That’s the way to do it,” Deakins agreed. “And you know you have all our support.”
Silence fell, and for the next few minutes Deakins watched Bobby surreptitiously as they sipped at their coffee. It was remarkable, how far Bobby had come in so short a time, considering how severe his emotional, mental and physical trauma had been. Of course, there were still those signs of trauma, visible to anyone who knew what to look for, but for the most part he had recovered impressively.
In what had been a very important step for him, Bobby had finally gone home to his own apartment on the Saturday just gone – the final step in reclaiming his independence, Deakins had thought proudly at the time. He pointedly ignored the fact that Alex had moved there with him, and that they had very obviously chosen to live together. As far as he was concerned, what he didn’t know he didn’t have to explain to the brass.
“What did you want to ask?” Bobby asked suddenly, breaking the silence that had descended like a blanket.
Deakins regarded him bemusedly.
“You’re not one to quit, are you?”
At that, Bobby blushed noticeably.
“I… I mean… Sorry…”
“Don’t,” Deakins chided him gently. “Don’t apologise.”
He sighed faintly.
“Everyone keeps telling me that.”
“Maybe then you should start accepting it. You don’t have anything to be sorry for. You know, I really admire you, Bobby.”
Bobby’s eyes flickered upwards to meet the captain’s gaze.
“Because you survived that place not once, but twice. That’s something to be proud of. You didn’t lose your identity to them, Bobby. If anything, what you’ve been through should only have strengthened that in you.”
“It did,” Bobby confirmed with a quiet surety. “There were times… even before all this happened… that I doubted who I really was. But this made me face myself. Because… if I couldn’t accept my identity as Bobby Goren… NYPD detective… then I had nothing. I wasn’t prepared to lose everything to them. I thought I had for a while, but you… and Alex… and Mike and Carolyn… all of you… saved me from that.”
“It was a team effort,” Deakins agreed, “but we wouldn’t have had any success if you hadn’t had the courage to fight. Ultimately, it was up to you, Bobby. You’re the one who had to fight, and you did. And I am incredibly proud of you for that.”
Suddenly self-conscious, Bobby rubbed fiercely at his eyes, and abruptly turned his attention back to his coffee. Deakins watched him thoughtfully for a few minutes before speaking again.
“There is something I wanted to ask you.”
“About that night… The night we rescued you from the Centre.”
Bobby went very still all of a sudden, his gaze fixed on his hands as they clutched the coffee mug.
“Wh… What about it?”
“How much of that night do you remember?”
Slowly, Bobby looked up at Deakins, and it was all the captain could do not to wince at the pain that was reflected in those brown eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, gently. “That was overstepping the boundaries. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“No,” Bobby whispered, struggling to regain some composure. “No, it’s okay. You… You have every right to ask that. The truth is… I don’t remember a lot. Most of it’s just a blur at best. I… I remember being in that little room. Raines left me in there for most of the time in the end, and whenever that door opened, I knew something bad would happen to me. When… When it opened that night, I was expecting Raines, or Lyle. But, it wasn’t either of them. It…” He looked up at Deakins, a look of wonder on his face as the pieces slowly began to meld together. “It was you. You were there… but I didn’t recognise you at first. I didn’t know who you were…”
“It had been nine months,” Deakins reminded him gently in an effort to ease Bobby’s embarrassment at that admission. “It wasn’t surprising.”
“I remember you helped me to get up… Then, the next thing I remember, someone was trying to put something on me… a top, or something?”
“Carolyn was trying to put a sweater on you,” Deakins confirmed. “It was cold outside. We didn’t need you getting pneumonia on top of everything else.”
Bobby’s forehead creased slightly in a frown.
“I… I don’t remember Carolyn.”
Deakins watched him curiously.
“Who do you remember?”
Again, Bobby’s face went red.
Deakins had to smile at that.
“Yes,” he confirmed quietly, not missing the relief that lit up Bobby’s face briefly. “She was there, Bobby. As much as I hate to admit it, if it hadn’t been for her, we may not have found you in time… or at all. When you weren’t where we expected you to be, none of us knew what to do. Then she turned up, and she took us straight to you. It was because of her that we were able to get you out.” He paused, considering his next thoughts before speaking again. “You didn’t panic when she approached you. When we got you out of that room, you were one step short of an outright panic attack, but you didn’t panic when she approached you. Why was that?”
Again, Bobby fell quiet as he contemplated what to say. So far, only two people really knew the extent to which Miss Parker had helped him – Alex and George Huang. He’d confided a little in John Eames, but it was Alex and George who knew the truth. In all honesty, he just wasn’t sure how much he felt comfortable telling the captain, knowing full well that she was at least partially responsible for him being taken to begin with.
It was something he’d been conflicted over since even before his rescue, that someone who seemed to have no scruples in stripping his freedom from him could then have put herself so openly at risk by constantly defending him. He’d taken so long in talking to George and Alex about it simply because he doubted they would be able to understand, when he himself did not. He still didn’t really understand her motives, but eventually he’d come to accept what she’d done for him at face value. He had no other choice.
“She… helped me… while I was in there,” Bobby explained softly, his eyes flickering constantly to Deakins, as though trying to gauge his reaction. “I know it might sound hard to believe, but that time when I nearly drowned in the focus chamber… That was only one of many times when she stepped in to help me. She saved me from Raines and Lyle a lot of times. She… She protected me.”
“It doesn’t sound so impossible,” Deakins murmured. “I figured there had to be something positive, because as I said, you didn’t panic when she approached you. And every time you were able to talk about those people in front of us, the hatred that you obviously had for Raines, Lyle and Sydney practically evaporated when Miss Parker’s name came up.”
“She helped me survive that place,” Bobby said softly, “in more ways than one.”
“Do you think you might ever see her again?” Deakins wondered, and Bobby shifted uncomfortably.
“I… I don’t know…”
“Do you want to see her again?”
Deakins was quietly amused to see that Bobby’s incessant restlessness seemed to settle at that question, and a contemplative look stole over his face.
“I don’t know. Part of me hopes yes… but another part hopes no. It… It’s hard to explain.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Deakins told him. “I think you’re doing a pretty good job.”
Bobby stared down into the last dregs of his coffee.
“Can… Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Deakins answered, intrigued. “What is it?”
“Could you tell me… about the rescue? No one else seems to want to talk to me about it. It… It’s like they’re worried it’ll traumatise me all over again, or something like that.”
It took Deakins nearly a minute to find his voice, and when he did, he responded by draining the last of his coffee and getting up.
“Let’s go somewhere else.”
Bobby nodded his consent, and followed him from the café.
“Is there something in particular you wanted to know about?” Deakins asked twenty minutes later when they found a seat in Central Park, in sight of the lake. Bobby hesitated in responding.
“Who organised it?”
Deakins spared Bobby a thoughtful glance. He wondered if, even now, Bobby still had some doubts about how committed Jarod had been to his rescue. After all, while Bobby had been a prisoner of the Centre, Jarod had been effectively a free man. He hoped he’d be able to put those doubts to rest once and for all.
“Jarod was primarily responsible. He pulled in a big favour with someone who he’d previously helped. A Navy Seal Commander, as a matter of fact. Commander Dan Ellis, his name is. He put together a team with the specific purpose of rescuing you, and we made up the numbers.”
“You mean you, Alex, Mike and Carolyn?”
“Yes, but also Jackson, King and Oliver from our squad, and Elliot Stabler, Olivia Benson, John Munch and Fin Tutuola from SVU. You probably don’t remember, but Fin was there when we got to you. He helped me to get you on your feet and out of that little room.”
Bobby’s forehead creased in a slight frown, and Deakins patted him reassuringly on the shoulder.
“Don’t try to force yourself to remember. It really doesn’t matter.
“But… It matters to me,” Bobby stammered, and that brought Deakins up short.
“You really need to know what happened, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Bobby answered simply, and Deakins nodded in acquiescence.
“All right, then. I suppose you could say things really started happening when I got a phone call about a week before it all went down…”
It took Deakins the next two and a half hours to tell Bobby the complete story of the rescue, the tale drawn out by the many questions that Bobby asked. By the time he was done telling the story, though, Bobby had gone very quiet.
“What are you thinking?” Deakins asked softly. “Talk to me, Bobby.”
“I… I was thinking… So many people risked so much for me. I… I didn’t realise…”
“We care about you,” Deakins assured him quietly. “That might not seem so simple and straight-forward to you, but it is to us. You were worth the risk.”
That legendary fidgetiness was coming back with a vengeance, Deakins mused as Bobby suddenly stood up and began to pace back and forth in front of the bench.
“I owe so many people,” he burst out suddenly, startling the captain. “I owe so many people so much… and… I don’t even know where to begin to start…”
“Bobby,” Deakins said loudly, watching with concern as the other man’s agitation levels suddenly seemed to sky-rocket. “Bobby! Stop! Just stop!”
Bobby ceased his pacing so abruptly that it made Deakins’ head spin. He seemed to freeze on the spot, and his breath came in rapid gasps. Deakins was momentarily confused, and more than a little frightened. He had only raised his voice in order to get him to stop and calm down. He hadn’t anticipated this panicked reaction.
“Bobby? Can you hear me?” he asked in a deliberately low voice as he got to his feet. “Look at me, Detective Goren.”
Slowly, Bobby’s eyes came around to meet Deakins’. The captain went on once he was sure he had Bobby’s attention.
“Listen to me, Detective. We are not in the Centre. We’re in Central Park, in New York, and I want you to take a deep breath and relax.”
For a painfully long moment, Deakins thought he wasn’t going to be able to get through to him. But then, suddenly, Bobby let his breath out in a long hiss. He shuddered, and his knees suddenly buckled beneath him. Deakins almost dove forward, catching Bobby as he collapsed, and the two men went down to together.
“Sorry…” Bobby whispered in a barely audible voice. “I’m sorry…”
“No,” Deakins murmured, putting his arms around the younger man’s trembling shoulders without hesitation or embarrassment. “Don’t apologise.”
“Hey, everything okay here?”
Deakins looked up to see a jogger had paused in his run, and was watching them with concern. He nodded, offering the stranger what he hoped was a reassuring smile, at the same time resisting the urge to pull out his badge.
“We’re fine. Thankyou. My friend just needs a minute.”
The jogger went on his way, and Deakins turned his attention to getting Bobby up off the ground and back onto the park bench.
“Easy,” he murmured, grunting a little as he struggled to lift Bobby off the ground. Shuddering, Bobby slumped over on the bench. Deakins watched him in silent concern, wanting to be certain that the panic had fully subsided before daring to speak again. He knew he’d said or done something wrong – he just didn’t know what.
“I’m sorry, Bobby. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to…”
“Not your fault,” Bobby whispered. “Just… remnants.”
“What do you mean, remnants?”
“Remnants of the… the Centre’s conditioning,” Bobby explained softly, tremulously. “It’s what George called it. He said it might happen, that certain words or phrases… or even a certain tone of voice… might trigger an involuntary reaction.”
“Which was it this time?” Deakins asked, anxious for some insight that might help him prevent it from happening again. “Do you know?”
There was silence while Bobby thought it over, and Deakins knew he’d found an answer when he stiffened noticeably, and then winced at what the captain guessed were some painfully vivid memories.
“It… It was sort of a combination. The word ‘stop’… and used like that… shouted at me… That was how Raines put an end to his simulations. I had to learn to totally stop when he ordered me to. Not… Not just physically, but mentally as well. He expected me to virtually just shut my mind down when he ordered me to, and not keep thinking about what I was doing. I’d be beaten if I didn’t. But, it wasn’t as simple as that. When… when you do a pretend, it’s not just play-acting. You become someone else. You take on someone else’s life. And, once you do, it isn’t just a matter of shaking it off. You remember what it was like before, when I’d get inside the head of a perp.”
Deakins nodded in grim silence. Yes, he remembered only too well how deeply Bobby often got into the heads of the criminals, and how difficult a process it had sometimes been for Bobby to work his way back out again. It had never been a simple case of stopping when someone else said so. Sometimes, he recalled, it had taken Bobby days to break the connection he’d created.
Seeing that Deakins remembered, and knew what he meant, Bobby went on shakily.
“That’s what Raines expected me to do. Just stop…” He snapped his fingers lightly. “Like that. Just switch off so I could jump straight into the next simulation. I trained myself to stop, but… it hurt. It physically hurt to do it. I had so many migraines. Sometimes, my head hurt so badly from it that I’d refuse to cooperate, just in the hope that they’d beat me unconscious. It… It was the only relief I got.”
Deakins groaned softly in sympathy pain at Bobby’s horrendous descriptions.
“God almighty… Bobby, I am sorry. I promise I’ll try to be careful in the future.”
Bobby spared his captain a weak smile.
“Like I said… not your fault. I don’t even know what might be a trigger. All I can do is to try and deal with it as best as I can, when it happens.”
“Just remember that you don’t have to deal with it on your own,” Deakins reminded him, and Bobby smiled wearily at that.
“Believe me, I know. Alex won’t let me forget it. I… I suppose we should head back. We’ve been gone a while now.”
Deakins’ smile widened at that.
“Oh, I don’t know. Just between us, I’m enjoying the quiet. Unless you’re in a hurry to get back?”
Bobby was mildly surprised to discover that no, he wasn’t in any particular hurry to return to One Police Plaza.
“Alex will throttle me,” he commented as he settled back on the bench. He could feel himself slowly relaxing as the sun broke through the clouds and took some of the chill out of the air.
“No, she won’t,” Deakins said confidently. “She’ll throttle me. So let’s enjoy the freedom while it lasts.”
Bobby chuckled softly, and consented with nod.
Jackson saw Bobby and the captain go, and was amused more than anything when they still hadn’t returned three hours later. He would have been concerned, but for a brief text message from Deakins that had come through to his cell phone not quite forty-five minutes after they’d gone.
Gone to Central Park. Tell Eames not to panic.
The message had elicited a chuckle. There was nothing about what to tell the Chief of D’s, or the Commissioner or any of the brass if they came looking for him; just a message to tell Alex not to panic. Such a short message, and yet it spoke in volumes.
Therefore, when Alex walked back into the bullpen two hours later with Mike and Carolyn, Jackson was quickly able to allay her fears at finding Bobby gone. From that point on, as the afternoon wore on and still the captain and the detective didn’t return, Alex’s prime emotion was irritation rather than fear. So, by the time the phone on Bobby’s desk began to ring just after four-thirty, Alex’s mood had seriously plummeted. She was just considering whether to completely ignore it when he and the captain finally reappeared. Her attention was drawn immediately to the steaming cup of fresh coffee that he held in his good hand, and the muffin bag that he carried gingerly in his other, partially restrained hand, and her irritation at him melted. Favouring him with a warm smile, she got up and walked around to her partner’s side of their conjoined desks, and picked up his phone.
“You were right,” Deakins murmured in amusement as they both watched the aggravation on Alex’s face fade at the sight of the coffee and muffin bag. “Libations do soothe the wild beast.”
“I may have forgotten a lot of things, but one thing I will never forget is that specialty coffee with four or five teaspoons of sugar is more effective than a bullet proof vest when my partner is pissed.”
Deakins laughed and waved Bobby off, and then detoured past Mike and Carolyn.
“You two, my office. I want an update on the Tribecki case.”
Exchanging rueful grins, the two detectives dutifully followed their captain into his office, closing the door behind them. Bobby watched them go, and then turned his attention back to his partner.
Alex picked up the phone and spoke absently, her attention more on the approaching coffee than whoever was on the other end.
Silence. Alex frowned, wondering if it was a crank call. She was about to hang up when a vaguely familiar voice spoke.
“I want to speak to Detective Goren.”
Alex blinked at the arrogance that radiated through the phone. No ‘please’, not so much as a question. It was a demand, not a request.
“Who is this?” Alex asked, frowning darkly.
“Put Detective Goren on the phone now.”
Alex was on the verge of hanging up anyway when Bobby finally arrived back at their desks and set down the coffee and muffin. He paused, taking in Alex’s newly irritated expression, and spoke in amusement.
“Alex? Who is it?”
“She won’t say,” Alex growled, covering the mouthpiece. “Whoever it is, she wants to speak to you, now.”
Bemused, Bobby took the phone from her.
“This is Detective Goren.”
There was a heartbeat of silence before the voice spoke again.
Bobby froze, his breath catching in his throat. There was no mistaking that voice.
Alex went rigid beside him, and then made a grab at the phone. Bobby was too quick and agile for her, though, even with one arm immobilised. He twisted away from her, keeping the phone out of her reach.
“It’s good to hear your voice,” Miss Parker told him quietly. “You sound good, Bobby.”
“What did you want?” he asked, but though his words were abrupt, his tone was not. She wasted no time in replying.
“I want to see you.”
Somehow, he wasn’t surprised, though he did feel a certain amount of bemusement at the timing of her call. Also, while he felt a sharp pang of fear at the thought of facing anyone at all from the Centre… even with Raines and Lyle gone… at the same time he couldn’t help feeling curious. Even though he was still wary of the possibility of a trap, instinct told him that was not the case this time.
All the same, he had no intention of putting himself at risk, and he knew damned well that Alex would have killed him herself if he did.
“Somewhere public,” he said quietly, acutely aware of the death glare that Alex was giving him. “I’ll meet with you, but it has to be somewhere open where there are a lot of people around.”
“Outside the public library,” she suggested, and Bobby nodded approvingly.
“Good enough. But I’ll warn you now, I won’t be coming alone.”
“I expected as much.” She sounded amused, he thought with some wryness.
“In half an hour?” he suggested.
“I’ll be there.”
The line then very abruptly cut out. Bobby let his breath out in a rush as he dropped the phone back into its cradle, and he turned around slowly to find himself staring into Alex’s furious expression. It was amazing, he thought detachedly, how fast her anger could manifest.
“I can’t believe it!” she exploded. “I can’t believe you! You actually agreed to meet that woman? Are you out of your mind?”
“Look, I know you don’t agree,” he started to argue, but she cut him off with almost painful abruptness.
“Damn right I don’t agree! Even if it’s not a trap…”
She was silenced very abruptly when he pressed a finger gently to her lips.
“Alex, please,” he said softly, “will you at least let me try to explain?”
She fell quiet then, frowning deeply but still willing to hear him out all the same. He went on softly, once he was sure she would listen.
“You… You know what Miss Parker did for me while I was in that place…”
“I know she was responsible for you ending up back there,” Alex snapped.
She huffed in irritation, but conceded.
“I need closure,” Bobby went on quietly. “I need to close the book on this, as much as I possibly can. I… I know it’s going to be with me for the rest of my life, but I don’t want to live with that constant fear of what will happen if I run into someone from the Centre… someone like Miss Parker. I need to be able to face her now, before I lose my nerve.”
“You don’t have anything to prove, Bobby,” Alex argued, but he shook his head.
“I do, though. I have something to prove to myself. I need to prove to myself that I can face my fears.”
Try as she might, Alex could not dismiss his simple reasoning. Though Lyle and Raines were no longer a threat, she knew he was still tormented by the knowledge that other Centre operatives like Miss Parker were still out there. If confronting her now gave him some of that closure that he wanted so desperately, then who was she to argue?
“Please, Bobby,” she told him softly, desperately. “Please, just tell me that you’re not going to take stupid risks. You know this could be a trap. That letter that came last week might just have been an attempt to get you to let your guard down.”
“I know,” he agreed. “That’s why I want you to come with me.”
She blinked, taken aback by his words.
“You… want me to…”
“I’m not an idiot, Alex,” he told her gently. “I need to see her, but I won’t take any chances. I won’t go alone, and I told her that. You were standing right there when I told her that! I want Mike and Carolyn to come, as well. Captain Deakins too, if he’ll come.”
He could feel the relief radiating off Alex like heat as she realised he had no intention of hanging himself out as live bait in the same way that he’d done in order to trap Raines and Lyle. Smiling up at him, her anger completely gone, Alex took his hand to lead him to the captain’s office, where their colleagues were still giving a current progress report.
“C’mon. Let’s go ask them.”
A half hour later, Bobby stood on the steps outside the New York Public Library, flanked by Deakins, Mike and Carolyn, and with Alex standing beside him. So far, there was no sign of Miss Parker, and the agitation levels of Bobby’s companions were rapidly increasing.
“If she doesn’t show in the next two minutes,” Alex said tersely, “then we’re out of here.”
“She’ll be here,” Bobby murmured, raising both Alex’s curiosity and annoyance with his quiet confidence.
“Bobby, we are not taking unnecessary risks. I know you want to do this. I understand why, and I support you. You know that. But I find it hard to believe that that… that woman would just call you out of the blue, for a chat!”
A sad smile flickered over Bobby’s face, and he turned and wrapped his good arm around her in a fierce hug.
“I love you so much, Alex. And I understand that you want to protect me now, and I’m grateful for that. But you aren’t always going to be able to do that. I have to do this now. You have to let me do this. Please… Just be patient.”
Alex sighed and shut her eyes briefly, taking comfort in his sheer physical presence. She would have happily stayed like that, but for Mike coughing and speaking in a low voice.
“Heads up, guys. Here she comes.”
Alex felt momentarily bereft as Bobby gently detached himself from her, only to be reassured when he bent down briefly to kiss her gently.
“Thankyou,” he whispered. Then he left her standing there with the others while he walked forward to face Miss Parker.
“I thought you might have changed your mind,” she commented dryly as he approached. Bobby shook his head.
“No. I needed to see you… to talk to you.” He glanced back briefly over his shoulder. “They didn’t want me to come. They thought this might be another ambush.”
Parker laughed aloud at that.
“After what you did to Lyle and Raines? They’re not that stupid. By the way, I’d like to say well done. In one fell swoop you did something that Jarod has never been able to do. You frightened off the Triumvirate. Lyle and Raines were their golden boys, and their deaths sent a shockwave through the Centre like nothing else, ever.”
Bobby shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
“It was self defence,” he murmured, but Parker smiled knowingly.
“Don’t sell yourself short. I know they tried to use your brother to set you up, but you turned the tables on them. I was impressed when the new got back to me. And just between us, they’re no great loss. You did a good thing there, believe me.”
All of a sudden, Bobby felt somewhat unsteady on his feet. Without waiting for her, he sat down awkwardly on the concrete steps. After a moment, Miss Parker joined him.
“How’s the shoulder?” she asked softly, genuine concern in her tone as she observed his immobilised arm.
“Healing. I had surgery on it last week. The doctor thinks I’ll make a complete recovery.”
“Good,” Parker murmured. “That’s good. I’m glad.”
Silence fell between them – not quite comfortable, but nor was it exactly unpleasant. It was finally broken by Bobby.
“I need to know why.”
She didn’t bother asking what he meant. She already knew.
“It wasn’t out of a guilty conscience, if that’s what you’re wondering,” she told him bluntly. “I don’t do guilty.”
Bobby smiled wryly.
“I can believe that.” He paused, and then added tentatively, “But you can do empathy.”
She looked sideways at him, her expression inscrutable. When she did eventually speak, it was in a noticeably subdued tone.
“The first time I helped you, it was mainly to give Raines grief. But at the same time…” She paused, as though searching for the right words to say. Bobby found that mildly amusing. He recalled that she’d never been short on words before. “You were worth helping,” she said finally, quietly. “What they did to you… Raines, Lyle and Sydney… was even worse in some ways than what was done to Jarod. I had my eyes opened very wide in those five or six years after Jarod escaped. He helped me learn things about the Centre that were beyond horrific.”
“And yet you still work for them,” Bobby pointed out. She offered no apology.
“It’s the family business,” she said with a slight shrug.
“And you want to inherit,” Bobby said dryly. She smiled, taking his comment in good humour.
“Seriously, I tried to walk away from it once. The man I loved was murdered to keep that from happening.”
Bobby grimaced a little.
“So am I. There was a time where I worked for the Centre out of loyalty to my father, but somewhere along the line, that changed. At some point, my motives changed, and when the Director told us about the initiative to get you back, in Jarod’s place, I decided the best thing I could do was to try and protect you within the Centre itself.” She regarded him with visible regret. “I am sorry for the part I played in taking you back, but you need to understand that nothing would have prevented that from happening. I stayed involved to keep Lyle from killing anyone… namely, you.”
“Don’t ask me to thank you for that,” Bobby whispered, and she shook her head.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Once you were back in the Centre, I did what I could to help you… for whatever good it did.”
Bobby gazed at her wonderingly.
“You think I don’t remember how you helped me?”
She returned his gaze with a curious one of her own.
“I would have thought you’d want to forget all of it as quickly as possible.”
A bitter smile graced his pale features.
“I might want to. That doesn’t mean that I can. But more than that… I shouldn’t forget. Not again. I let myself forget what happened to me when I was a boy, and that was a mistake. It can’t happen again. I need to remember.”
“You have the sim discs,” she pointed out. “Let them remember for you.”
“I could do that,” Bobby conceded, “but it’s not that simple. I blocked out what happened to me when I was a kid, and the memories alone damn near killed me when they came back… and they always come back, eventually. I just can’t let it be locked away inside my mind again. As bad as they are, it’d be worse to forget again.”
Parker looked away from him, and her gaze when to his colleagues, who stood watchfully a short distance away.
“They’ve stuck by you,” she commented, suddenly changing the subject. Bobby looked past her, and smiled.
“I know. I’m lucky to have them. I’d still be trapped in the Centre if it weren’t for them.”
Miss Parker regarded him in surprise, but didn’t argue. Bobby, however, caught the look on her face before she could turn away from him again.
“You don’t think that?” he asked, and she gave a small shrug.
“I don’t know. I do think you’re underestimating the number of people who were working to get you out of there, though.”
“You mean you?”
She laughed softly at that.
“I’m not going to lie to you, Bobby. I had no intention of freeing you myself.”
He paused, baffled by her blunt admission.
“I know,” she cut him off. “I led them to you that night, but that was sheer chance. It was an opportunity, and I took it. I won’t say I’d do the same thing again, because if I’d known exactly what was going to happen, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have been down on SL26 helping to move you out of their reach. It was chance, nothing more.” She paused, taking in his dismayed look, and then added gently, “On the other hand, I was also fed up with that smug look on my idiot brother’s face.”
Bobby laughed softly, then, knowing what she was talking about from Deakins’ earlier telling of the story of his rescue.
“Captain Deakins told me that you locked him in my old room on SL12.”
Miss Parker smirked faintly at that.
“Yes. He wasn’t too happy with me over that. I thought it was a nice irony, though. It was a pity that someone let him out before the place blew up. We could have been rid of him and Brigitte in one hit.” She paused, the wistful look fading to become serious once more. “I wouldn’t have gotten you out myself, though. Make no mistake about that, Bobby. I am not my mother. I don’t have her courage… or her morals.”
Bobby decided against arguing with her there, but the look on his face suggested strongly that he believed differently.
“So if you’re not talking about yourself, then who…?”
She hesitated only a moment before answering.
Bobby’s reaction to that name was immediate, and unmistakable. His features clouded over, his brow creased into a deep frown and his entire body seemed to go rigid. Far from looking alarmed, though, Miss Parker seemed amused by his reaction.
“I’m guessing that you don’t believe that.”
“Why should I?” Bobby snapped angrily. “That son of a bitch was no better than Raines in the end. You know the things he did to me… the things he made me do. The… The focus chamber…”
He was becoming more agitated by the second. Miss Parker hesitated, and then laid her hand gently on his forearm. Though it did nothing to ease his growing agitation, it did at least bring his attention back to her.
“What?” he snarled furiously and, to her credit, she didn’t flinch in the face of his anger.
“There’s something about Sydney that you ought to know,” she told him quietly.
“What, that he’s a psychopath and a control freak?”
She smiled in open amusement at that.
“Control freak? Yes. Psychopath? No. That title belonged strictly to Raines and Lyle. No, Bobby, what I’m talking about is that he was actively planning to get you out of the Centre. He outlined to me what he was planning to do to get you out the night that Jarod and your friends came for you.”
Slowly, Bobby quietened down, but his expression was still a mask of suspicion and disbelief.
“I don’t believe it.”
“Well, you’d better, because it’s true. He was prepared to risk his own life to get you out, so how about you try to show just a little understanding?”
“Understanding,” Bobby snorted derisively. “That fucking bastard betrayed me, and he nearly killed me. If it hadn’t been for you and Angelo…”
He trailed off, fairly shaking with a mixture of rage and distress. Miss Parker watched him carefully, acutely aware that there seemed to be no appeasing his anger towards Sydney. He was not going to believe anything she tried to tell him of Sydney’s plans to save him. It was time, she decided, to change the thread of their conversation.
“I didn’t come alone either, Bobby.”
He froze for just a split second, and then launched himself to his feet so fast that it nearly gave her whiplash.
“Alex was right. This was a trap…”
Irritation flitted across Miss Parker’s face, and she stood up to face him head on.
“Don’t be a moron. I’d expect that from Broots, not you. You know this isn’t a trap. Besides anything else, I value my own life more than that.”
Bobby stared at her warily, clearly teetering on the brink of wanting to bolt.
“Then who…? Please tell me you didn’t bring Sydney.”
“No, I didn’t. As much as I like to see him occasionally knocked off his self-made pedestal, I don’t particularly fancy seeing him shot dead. No, I brought someone else who was very eager to see you.”
She turned a little, and Bobby followed her gaze until he sighted a familiar figure standing not too far away. His breath caught in his throat.
“What’s he doing?” Mike wondered with a frown as Bobby suddenly walked away from Miss Parker, and from them.
“Don’t you see?” Deakins asked with a small smile. “Over there, on the other side?”
Alex drew in a small gasp as she recognised the newcomer not from any sim discs that she’d watched, but rather from pictures that Bobby had drawn.
“It’s Angelo,” she whispered.
Bobby walked over to where Angelo waited, the savant watching him with an inscrutable expression. As the two men came face to face, a tiny smile quirked Angelo’s lips.
“Free,” he said simply, and Bobby nodded. All of a sudden, he was having a hard time focusing through the tears that had filled his eyes.
“Yes,” he agreed. “I’m free.”
As he said the words, the realisation finally hit that yes, he was indeed free. He shuddered briefly, and a moment later Angelo stepped in and pulled him into a fierce embrace. Bobby responded by wrapping his good arm around Angelo, hugging him back as much as he was able, and no longer trying to contain the tears, or the sobs that shook his body.
“Thankyou,” he whispered hoarsely, his voice muffled slightly by Angelo’s shoulder. “Thankyou so much, for everything.”
Across the way, Carolyn smiled and spoke.
“Now that was worth taking the chance of coming out here.”
There was a murmur of agreement. Then, abruptly, Deakins left Alex, Mike and Carolyn to approach Miss Parker.
Miss Parker looked around calmly, showing no visible surprise as Deakins came to stand beside her.
“Captain,” she greeted him dryly. “How’s the head?”
He regarded her with some degree of bemusement.
“Fine, no thanks to you. That hit to the head could have killed me.”
“A bullet from Lyle’s gun would have. Believe me, I was doing you a favour.”
Deakins grimaced at her concept of a favour.
“Excuse me if I don’t say thankyou.”
“Did you want something?” she asked tersely, and he nodded.
“Yes, actually. That is Angelo over there, isn’t it?”
Miss Parker looked back to where Bobby and Angelo were still embracing, and Deakins was curious to see her expression soften almost to the point of tenderness.
“Yes,” she confirmed quietly. “It is.”
“Then please, tell me he’s being looked after properly.”
“Now that Raines is finally dead? Yes, he is. Like Bobby and Jarod, he’s free as well now. Sydney is even trying to recreate a formula that will reverse his condition.”
Deakins frowned at the mention of that name.
Miss Parker looked at him bemusedly.
“Yes. He’s not the devil you all seem to think he is, you know.”
“Maybe you can believe that,” Deakins murmured. “But as long as he stays away from Bobby, we won’t have a problem.”
Miss Parker hesitated at that, drawing a suspicious look from Deakins.
“He’s not going to stay away from Bobby, is he?”
“He will for now,” she answered quietly, watching as Bobby and Angelo finally broke apart only to fall into a very animated conversation. It fascinated her to watch them, knowing as she did that Angelo had never exactly been one for a prolonged verbal exchange. “He’s a shrink, though. Sooner or later, his curiosity is going to get the better of him, and he’ll try to make contact. I just hope Bobby will be ready for it when he does.”
Deakins’ expression hardened.
“I doubt he’ll ever be ready for it.”
Miss Parker had no chance to comment further, for Bobby and Angelo came over at that moment. Deakins noted that Bobby looked more settled than he had for some time, and he suspected strongly that it had less to do with his exchange with Miss Parker, than meeting with Angelo.
“It’s time to head back,” he said quietly, and Bobby nodded in agreement. He turned to Miss Parker, gratitude on his face.
“Thankyou,” he said simply.
“You’re welcome,” she answered. “I’m glad I could at least do this for you.”
Bobby hesitated, and then reached somewhat awkwardly into his jacket.
“I wanted to give something to you.”
She watched as he withdrew a carefully folded sheet of paper, and held it out to her. She took it, and her breath caught as she opened it out to reveal a beautifully drawn picture of herself – not as an adult, but as a child wrapped up in the loving embrace of her mother. When she looked back up at Bobby, who was watching with the anxious expression of someone waiting for approval, her eyes were glistening with unshed tears.
Before she could think twice about it, Miss Parker stepped towards him and slipped her arms around him in a warm hug. Bobby held her tightly to him, just for a moment.
“Thankyou,” he whispered into her ear. “And… you’re more like your mother than you think.”
Then he stepped back, and the connection was broken. With one last smile at Angelo, Bobby turned and walked away, back to where Alex, Mike and Carolyn waited. Deakins exchanged a long look with Miss Parker before nodding once, and following his detectives back to their vehicle.
Bobby paused just once to look back before getting back into the SUV, and a sad look passed fleetingly over his face.
Miss Parker and Angelo were gone.
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