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The first step to recovery

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Bobby felt as if his world had been cracked open and thrown askew when he came to in his basement, hands chained to one of the beams and finding his own face leering down at him. It had been disorienting and admittedly, terrifying when he learnt about the reason behind this identity theft.

This was the Phantom that Prosecutor Blackquill had been chasing for close to seven years, and now the wicked villain donned his face for his own nefarious purposes. Bobby remembered glaring defiantly at him, sticking firm with the belief that he won’t get away with this. That the people that he worked with wouldn’t be fooled by his disguise.

But then he saw the Phantom perfectly mimicked his mannerisms, and he had to swallow down the bile that crept up his throat at the horrifying thought that he’d been watched for who knows how long. This faceless fiend could very well blend into his circle of companions with none the wiser of his scheme.

The fact that he intended to use the tentative bond that he built up with Prosecutor Blackquill throughout this rehabilitation process felt like a stab through his chest. Bobby came to the numbing realization that he had to live with the knowledge that this… this monster had plans on manipulating people through his guise of him.

And the fact that he was completely and utterly powerless to stop him struck a deep feeling of despair unlike any he had ever experienced before. The only thing that kept him from succumbing to the waves was the steady belief that justice will still prevail. Prosecutor Blackquill had a sharp mind, and he had a good feeling that those defense lawyers would be able to dig up the real truth.

Whether he’d live to see through it was… questionable, but Bobby could put his belief into this one thing.

The Phantom will not be getting away with this.

Regardless of some well-meaning advice, Bobby immediately returned back to work the moment he was cleared from the hospital and rested for a couple of days. The world had been turning throughout his time spent in captivity, and with it more injustices had happened without him to put a stop to it.

Bobby regrettably hadn’t been there for the trial that finally put the Phantom behind bars whilst freeing Prosecutor Blackquill from his shackles, but he was going to make up for it by putting in double the effort in ensuring that justice would be served.

His coworkers had been concerned for him, believing that he should still take some more time off to properly recover, but he assured them that it was better for him to be out here rather than be confined at home all day. Besides, he had his own work assigned shrink, so he could dish out justice first and talk later. Not that he thought he needed one, but it was standard procedure for anyone on the force who had went through ‘ordeals that caused significant emotional and mental stresses’.

Bobby was fine! If only he could get others to see it but he supposed they’d want to see it for themselves. Just like in court, he needed irrefutable proof of his fineness and what better way to show it by doing some good old fashioned investigating?

His chance came up when they received a call about a murder that had occurred at a local fair, so Bobby pleaded to be put on the case as the lead detective. He had to show his coworkers that he was well enough to return to work so they could stop worrying. While the chief had been a little hesitant, he soon relented.

“I promise I won’t let you down, sir! In justice we trust!” Bobby gave his usual catchphrase – purposely ignoring the slight uncomfortable look the chief sported – before he dashed off to the crime scene. Justice waited for no one, after all!

It was a perfectly mild day at the fair, which Bobby thought was a shame that the fun atmosphere had to be ruined by a murder. That was just how unfair the world can be at times, and how cruel people were capable of being that they can easily snuff out another person’s life.

Well, they weren’t going to get away with it, or his name isn’t Bobby Fulbright, the Champion of Justice!

Bobby easily spotted the crime scene—he just had to find the area where it was cordoned off by police tape. It seemed to be one of those house of mirrors places where people tried to navigate through a maze like puzzle with the walls being nothing but mirrors. Bobby had never personally been in one but he could see the appeal of it.

As he approached the attraction site, Bobby’s ears picked up the sound of light arguing coming from the entrance.

“—I said! We need to investigate the place!” Ah, he knew who that voice belonged to.

“I’m sorry miss, but unless you have permission, we can’t let you snoop around as you pleased.”

“Snoop around!? Why I oughtta--!”

“Wait, don’t do anything—“

“Now who do we have here?” Bobby chose that moment to interject. He planted his hands on his hips, flashing the trio a beaming grin. “If it isn’t Miss Cykes and Mr. Justice!”

Miss Cykes was the first to whirl around, sporting an astonished look. “Detective Fulbright! It’s you!”

Bobby opted not to delve into the hidden meaning behind that remark and instead, chuckled heartily. “The one and only!” He quickly pulled out his badge, pointing at them in his usual fervor. “In justice we trust!”

Mr. Justice wore a similar expression like the chief did earlier – which kind of made his heart twinge slightly in pain – but Miss Cykes easily returned his greeting. With her own hand planted on her hip, she showed him a V sign. “In justice we trust! Honestly detective, I didn’t expect to see you back so soon! I’ve heard from Simon about what happened and thought that you’d take some time to… well, recover.”

A part of him warmed at her look of concern, but at the same time, it made his stomach twist in guilt. He didn’t deserve it, not when she had went through worse.

“Don’t worry about me, Miss Cykes! I just can’t stand the thought of doing nothing when there’s injustices happening as we speak!”

“Well, that’s true…” She looked unconvinced for a moment, but then her small frown shifted into a grin. “Just—don’t push yourself too much, okay detective?”

The laugh didn’t sound as fake as he worried it would. Whether the pair noticed or not through their ‘special abilities’ was another story entirely. Still, he plowed on. “Your concern is noted!” His eyes flicker to the entrance. “I’m assuming that since you two are here, you’re taking up the defense for tomorrow?”

“Yes. The defendant specifically asked for the Wright Anything Agency, and since Mr. Wright is currently away for a few days, the case falls under us,” Mr. Justice replied, arms crossed. “If you’re here, does that mean Prosecutor Blackquill is who we will be up against?”

“I can’t say for certain. I mean, I requested to become the lead detective in this case, but I didn’t check which prosecutor I’m working with,” Bobby admitted sheepishly. “But I think it’s likely that Prosecutor Blackquill will take up the case. It’ll be one of his firsts since his official release, after all!”

That he wasn’t present for, but he would make up for it by combing through the scene for evidence that the prosecutor could use!

“Great. Guess I better prepare myself to be sliced in half…” Mr. Justice muttered, looking somewhat dejected.

“Pssh, you’re being over dramatic, Apollo!” Miss Cykes poked at her despondent partner. “I mean, Simon isn’t that bad. You just… have to be ready for whatever argument he’ll throw at you.” She then turned to him with an innocently wide smile. “And for us to have a chance at countering it, we need to have a look at the crime scene ourselves. That’s so we can have a just trial, don’t you think so detective?”

Bobby had to admit, Miss Cykes sure knew how to speak his language and made appeals in the areas that she knew he’d cave in. Despite knowing it, his heart was just too soft to see it as anything but a genuine desire to seek out justice.

“Alright, alright. You have my permission to look around the crime scene. But--!” Bobby wagged his finger before Miss Cykes could cheer. “Don’t disrupt the crime scene, and if you find anything significant, show it to me, alright?”

“Of course! This isn’t our first rodeo!” The detective swore that Miss Cykes looked at him oddly for a moment, but then she grabbed Mr. Justice’s arm despite his protests. She showed him another grin. “Thanks again, detective! Now, vamonos Apollo! We gotta check out everything that we can!”

He merely watched on in mild amusement as Miss Cykes blazed her way inside, almost physically dragging a complaining Mr. Justice with her as if he weighed nothing.

While they might stand on opposite sides of the courtroom tomorrow, Bobby knew that they had a common goal: uncovering the truth to dish out justice.

A familiar feeling of eagerness stirred up for the first time since his capture. He wanted to bring justice on the wicked and unjust—that was a trait that made him Bobby Fulbright. The Phantom might have mimicked his face and mannerisms, but he could never replicate his deep founded beliefs.

Bobby was still his own person. That fact never changed. The Phantom never had that much control over him, he was sure of it. The detective was out here, intending to investigate the crime scene so that the prosecutor in charge would have information to work with.

That was his task, and he would do a fine job of it for justice’s sake!

With that determination tucked closely to his heart, Bobby went to the on scene officer to get a run down on what happened.

Apparently, a group of five college students came to the fair on a casual outing. Their plan had been to hit up all of the main attractions, with the house of mirrors being one of them. They had entered one by one, with the victim – a Miss Sabrina Williams, who had been working towards getting a business degree – being the third one to enter.

The maze of mirrors wasn’t particularly big, but the routes presented provided a bit of challenge. An average person would take around four to five minutes to complete it, providing that they didn’t hit a lot of dead ends. Roughly a couple of minutes after she went in, Miss William’s personal pocket alarm went off. Her friends knew that she wasn’t the type to push it without reason, so they went through the maze in hopes of finding her, only to come across her lifeless body collapsed in a dead end that was just a right turn away from the exit.

The cause of death ended up being strangulation via a thin wire with the murder weapon still missing. Mr. Tristan Smith, one of the people in the friend circle was accused of the murder as a security feed taken near the exit showed an individual wearing a coat and hat hastily making a retreat around the time of the murder.

It was the same coat that the others recognized to be his, and one that he claimed to have lost just a day prior to this outing. While the exact way on how he returned inside without being spotted still remained a mystery, the fact remained that he was currently their prime suspect based on the footage as well as the conceivable gap in between the alarm being triggered and his arrival at the murder scene.

Now, his objectives for this investigation would be to find the murder weapon, figure out how the murderer could reenter the maze without tipping someone of and anything else that could incriminate the killer. Sounds easy enough.

With that plan in mind, Bobby adjusted his shades, took in a subtle breath before he squared his shoulders. The killer won’t be getting away, not on his watch!

Stepping into this place for the first time was an experience. Bobby had heard about it, understood the concept but actually being here was a whole matter entirely.

The first thing that looked back at him was his own reflection. The lights were dimmed but not enough to cut off visibility, seemingly to set the ambiance. There were mirrors of all kinds, he came to find out the further he went inside. As he passed by mirror after mirror, he noticed how different his reflections became.

Short and fat. Tall and skinny. Triangle-shape. Square-shaped. The kind that twisted his image beyond recognition. And then there were sections where it consisted of nothing but regular mirrors. Regardless of where his eyes were, he was aware of his own reflection from the edge of his vision.

Bobby could see why this would be a fun attraction, but the longer he navigated through the maze, he began to notice… oddities.

Even as he went down a path with the regular kind, he swore that he saw his reflection morphed at the corner of his eyes. When he turned, only his normal reflection greeted him. Bobby swallowed, then pushed on. It was just a trick of the light. It was the whole concept of such an attraction, after all.

Bobby kept telling himself that, but then more of his reflections seemingly warped before his eyes. What made it sickening wasn’t that his entire figure ended up twisted in the mirror, it was just his face.

That face stared back at him, but it didn’t reflect his face.

No, it was just like in the basement, where he stared up at his face. ‘Bobby Fulbright’ smiling down at him, except for the dead eyes that continuously haunted him in sleep. It was a face that wasn’t him, but it had still managed to fool everyone around him.

It was his face, but a face that knew the vile acts he was committing. Just how many lives had that face ruined, Bobby can’t help but thought a little deliriously. His breath came out in short puffs, gloved fists clenching and unclenching by his sides. His wide eyed gaze stared at his reflection—where it morphed into a cruel smile.

Oh Bobby, how could you have done this? Bobby saw his lips move, could hear his voice echoing in his ears. Look at all the injustices you’re doing. Bobby Fulbright, self proclaimed Champion of Justice and yet… see all the lives you’ve ruined with this face? Still ruining?

“No…” he muttered, lightly shaking his head, eyes still stuck on his reflection. “No—I… that’s not me…”

Really? His reflection shot him a mocking look. Are you saying that this face doesn’t belong to you?

“No! I mean—yes, t-that’s… that’s my face but… that’s not--!” His shaking hands were slowly gripping his head, his heart beating a rapid staccato in his chest. This wasn’t real. It was just his own mind twisting itself into knots. Nothing but his imagination running wild and yet…

You don’t sound so sure. The mirror lamented, sounding so real. Maybe… this face wasn’t yours to begin with? The voice had a devilish quality to it now, as if it felt immense glee at how much this tore at his insides. Yes… this face was never yours. Maybe you should just...disappear. I used it far better than you ever had, no? I mean… no one noticed that...

You. Were. Replaced.

It felt like the rug was pulled out under him, and he plunged into murky darkness. The voice got drowned out by the sound of his heartbeat in his ears. Or was that his wheezing breaths? Bobby didn’t know anymore.  

Throughout his time held in captivity, that had been one of the hardest things to swallow. Bobby remembered how powerless he felt upon realizing that the Phantom was using his face for evil, but also the sludge of grief and desperation at the thought that no one knew he had been switched for a fake.

The Phantom was a master of disguise but a part of him had wished for someone to notice that it wasn’t him. He had been replaced. That wasn’t the real Bobby Fulbright. I’m the real Bobby pleasesaVEME

“Detective Fulbright, snap out of it!” Like a crack of lightning, the voice pierced through the fog that enveloped his mind. He felt a steady weight pressed against his shaking hands, gently curling around it to tug them away from his head. Vaguely, he realized that he was sitting on the ground. Bobby struggled to breathe, but he had enough strength to lift his head. Through his shades, he was able to spot the swimming visage of one Athena Cykes.

“That’s it detective. Just focus on me, okay? Can you give me a nod if you understand?” The cogs in his brain took a bit of time to turn, but he was able to give a minute nod.

“Good, good. Now, can you try and breathe for me?” Bobby was trying, but it was so hard. “Detective, keep your eyes on me, alright? Try and follow what I’m doing, okay?” Miss Cykes made a great show of breathing in and out, her hands gently squeezing his.

Bobby shakily squeezed back and tried his best to follow the motions. While it took a bit of effort, eventually he could feel the heaviness dislodging from his chest. His lungs no longer struggle for a deep breath, his vision slowly clearing to see not only Miss Cykes, but also Mr. Justice hovering close by, his expression twisted in open concern.

Once he was certain that the moment had passed, Bobby slumped back against the mirror’s cool surface, his arms falling limp by his side. He closed his eyes for a moment, taking in deep, even breaths. While it was a rare occurrence, he was no stranger to panic attacks. He used to get a couple of them during his early days in the force, when his rose tinted glasses about justice got shattered upon working on his first few homicide cases.

Bobby felt a deep sense of shame settling in. How embarrassing to have experienced one in front of the young lawyers.

“Are you feeling better now, detective?” Miss Cykes asked, prompting him to open his eyes. She was peering at him with open concern, which further twisted the stab of guilt in his heart. Bobby hated making people worry about him, since in his eyes, he should be the paradigm of a strong and steady figure in pursuit of justice for all.

“Yes, I’m fine now. Thank you Miss Cykes,” Bobby replied with a weak grin. He clumsily fished out his handkerchief to dab at his sweaty forehead. “And I apologize for that shameful display just now.”

“I don’t think there was anything shameful about it, detective.” Mr. Justice was the one who spoke up, rubbing his wrist. “And I think you’re not being entirely truthful about being fine.”

“Apollo’s right. I can hear your heart crying out, detective.”

Ah, right. The lawyers under Mr. Wright had those unique abilities. He heard that partially, that was what helped them in unmasking the Phantom. While he was grateful for it, having it used on him was a little intimidating.

“Well… I might have been in a little trouble but you’ve helped me Miss Cykes, so I’m fine now!” Judging by their frowns, he didn’t think they believed him. Bobby let out sigh, letting his grin drop.

“I think you should grab some fresh air and rest for a bit, detective,” Miss Cykes suggested, taking a step back as to give him space. Bobby carefully got to his feet. Despite feeling a little weak, he remained steady enough that Mr. Justice, who had been prepared to support if necessary, stepped back. 

“Thank you for your concern, Miss Cykes but I have to get back to investigating—“

“Which can wait after you take some time to recover,” she countered, glaring fiercely. “Something in here triggered the attack, so it’s in your best health to detach yourself from the source before it happens again!”

Bobby bit his inner cheek, trying to stand his ground. She made a solid point but he had wasted time, pretty much obstructing the path to justice! He needed to get back on track.

And yet, the idea of going through this maze and all the mirrors made him uneasy. Bobby’s eyes involuntarily flickered to one of them, and he flinched slightly upon seeing his reflection, quickly settling his gaze on the lawyers again.

That little act went unnoticed, it seemed. Miss Cykes decided to throw all grace out the window and merely grabbed hold of one of his hands.

His eyebrows rose in surprise, jaw dropping. “Miss Cykes, what—“

“You’re getting out of here, even if I have to forcibly drag you! Just because you’re bigger than me, doesn’t mean I’m not strong, detective.” Her tone was challenging, her eyes fierce as she tugged at his hand, as if daring him to refuse.

Bobby floundered uselessly for a moment, then turned to his only hope of escaping from her surprisingly tight grasp. Mr. Justice merely smiled sympathetically with a shake of his head, pretty much extinguishing his chances.

With his head hung in defeat, Bobby let himself be led by Miss Cykes, feeling very much like a man sent to the gallows.

Bobby had kept his head mostly down as Miss Cykes brought them to the exit. Once outside and free from the reflections, a deep breath did feel easier to take. He had wanted to assure her that he really was fine, but then the reality of what happened sank in. Even if he tried, he didn’t think he’d be able to fool himself.

Heh. Fool Bright indeed.

So he kept his silence, gaze trained on the ground until Miss Cykes brought them to a section of the fair that was a little bit secluded from the main attractions. She only let go of his hand once they were seated on a bench.

Uncomfortable silence draped over the pair, though maybe it was just Bobby. Even with his eyes glued to his lap, he knew that Miss Cykes was watching him. It truly was an awful feeling to know that he worried her enough that she thought this was necessary. If only his stupid mind didn’t freak out like it did, then maybe it would have spared them both the awkwardness.

Eventually, Miss Cykes broke the silence first. “So… did you know why it happened, detective?”

Of course that would be the question she would want the answer to. Bobby wished he could give it to her. “No… I don’t quite believe I do.”

Her frown deepened. “Your heart is in complete discord, detective. I know that I might not be the person you’d want to pour your heart out to or anything with but…” She gripped at her arm, gaze downcast. “…keeping it all bottled up is just going to hurt you. Trust me, I know how that felt first hand.”

And that was precisely why Bobby felt like he didn’t have the right to share his worries with Miss Cykes. It just didn’t extend to her. He wanted to spare people from their concern of him. What he went through was tough, but he was still here, right? They shouldn’t waste their time on someone who had an encounter with the Phantom and lived to tell the tale.

Bobby licked his lips, taking a moment to formulate his answer. “What happened was… unfortunate, but please be assured that I’ve gotten over it, thanks to your help—“

“You saw the Phantom instead of your own face in your reflection, didn’t you?” Her words were soft, but it might as well have been a blade that sliced him in half. His words effectively died in his throat, eyes widening behind his shades. How did she--?

Either her unique ability extended to reading thoughts or he was just that predictable, Miss Cykes continued. “I… I heard your voice in the maze. You sounded like you were… having a conversation with someone. When I realized something was wrong, I went to search for you.”

She nursed her bottom lip. “I came across you slumped on the ground, staring at your reflection with this… terror filled look. It was like… him, when he was finally exposed, muttering about his… true face.” A momentary pause. “Then I noticed that you flinched when you looked at your reflection. It wasn’t hard to figure out what happened.”

Miss Cykes looked away for a moment, but then she turned back with a determined glint in her eyes. Bobby silently admitted that it made his breath hitched.

"Just because he..." She swallowed heavily. "...killed my mom, that doesn't mean you didn't suffer at his hands, too. You were held captive while he fooled everyone with his disguise of you. He used your face when he killed Clay and tried to frame me. And you know what?” Bobby didn’t think he could tear his gaze away from her eyes even if the world ended around him. “Suffering isn't a contest, detective."

Bobby's throat dried up a little, his eyes stinging when she placed a comforting hand over his gloved one. "So you don't have to pretend that you weren't affected for our sake. I know that Simon would think the same way, but you know how he is."

That managed to draw out a short, choked chuckle. "Yeah..."

She flashed him a small, understanding smile, her hand lightly squeezing his. Even as he felt his walls slowly crumble, a part of him was still in awe at how compassionate she was.

Miss Cykes--no, Athena had suffered through a tragedy no child should ever experience, and Prosecutor Blackquill took the fall in order to protect her. Those two lived through their own personal hell for seven long years while he only went through two months.

By right, he thought that he didn't have room to complain. While held captive, Bobby wasn't treated too poorly as he still had some decent use for the Phantom. Compared to Prosecutor Blackquill, he couldn't even hold a candle to the horrors the man went through in the clink. And he was still alive, unlike poor Athena's mother.

Those two experienced pain far longer than he had--but what Athena said rang through. Suffering wasn't a contest.

Bobby suddenly realized that just the mere fact that he was comparing it was a huge injustice, for he was trivializing it as something that can be contested on. That was entirely unfair to Athena, Prosecutor Blackquill and the lives of the people that got snatched by the Phantom.

He... really wasn't living up to the Champion of Justice title, huh?

The detective lifted his shades so he could pinch the bridge of his nose, taking in deep, even breaths to ease the stinging in his eyes. Athena was being so strong for his sake, so he will not cry in front of her—at least, until they were in a more private setting.

She didn’t say anything, looking away as to give him some semblance of privacy. Once Bobby was sure that he wouldn’t burst into tears, he let the shades settled back down.

“Thank you for your kind words,” he uttered softly. She turned back to face him with a gentle smile. “I… I don’t feel like I can tell you right now but…” Bobby flashed her a quiet, almost nervous look. “Maybe… some other time? When we’re not out in the open like this.”

He felt like he made the right choice when her face brightened up. It was like the light shining at the end of the tunnel, in a way.

“Of course!” She clasped her hand together, beaming. “Maybe… after the trial? We can go grab some coffee at this place that I know of, go somewhere private and just… talk.”

For the first time since the attack in the maze, his smile felt genuine. It was small, unlike the usual wide ones that people knew him for but this was his face and this was a real smile.

“I would love that, Miss Cykes.”

“Athena,” she said with a warm smile. “If we’re going out on a coffee date, call me Athena.”

Bobby mimicked her look, the gentleness shaving off years from his features. “Then, call me Bobby.”

“Detective Bobby… I like the sound of that.”

And he liked the sound of it, too. Miss Athena was saying his name because he said she could. It was his decision and not by some spy in disguise or any outside influence.

Him. The real Bobby Fulbright.

Just like that, the weight he’d been subconsciously carrying slid off his shoulders. Bobby felt like he could stand a little straighter, breathe a littler easier knowing that he… wasn’t alone in this. A part of his mind still refused to accept that he’d been a victim of the Phantom or that he deserved to nurse these feelings when others had suffered longer, but he had to come to terms with this bitter fact.

Bobby can’t run away from reality. If he really wanted to be the role model he set himself out to become, than he needed to start facing them head on, regardless of how painful it would be.

Only then would his road to recovery actually begin. Scary at it might look, he could comfort himself on the fact that there was a kindred spirit that he could relate to. Miss Athena was another soul out of many who had their lives ruined by the Phantom’s touch, but still alive to recover from it. To move forward and help bring closure to others. To live on for those who can’t anymore.

And that, Bobby thought, was the justice that he wanted.