mya_rofki: (kingsblkdragon)
[personal profile] mya_rofki

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One week later, Jared met Special Agent Richard Speight, his target. He was shorter than Jared expected. His brown eyes looked friendly and open. He wasn’t somebody Jared would have instantly suspected of being a criminal mastermind. Jared felt stupid for being surprised by that; Judge Reynolds had looked like Santa Claus.

Speight looked down at Jared and then up at the guards flanking him on either side. He smiled and opened his front door wider.

“This must be Jared. Come in, come in,” he said. He waved them in casually, though none of the three looked like they belonged in a house like Speight’s. Jared knew he should’ve guessed that Speight would be rich, with him being a criminal mastermind, but he still hadn’t expected the size and class of the house. It was white and large, with a long curved driveway and a wide red door. The house looked old, but the paint was pristine and there wasn't a single weed poking up through the brick walkway. It seemed impossible that he should go so quickly from the stark poverty of the underfunded detention center, directly to this. If it weren’t for the circumstances, it could have been the ending of a fairytale.

It was an early morning in November, and the air outside was clear and cold and made his nose hurt. The air as Jared stepped inside felt like a warm embrace. It smelled instantly like home, enough that Jared might have rocked back a step, if the guards hadn’t been there.

“What do you guys need? You want coffee? I’ve got some brewing.” Speight hooked a thumb over his shoulder to point toward what must have been the kitchen. His movements were excited, almost childlike. Jared struggled again to match this guy with the career criminal Pellegrino had described to him.

He was distracted by the drifting scent of fresh coffee and fought off a strong pang of homesickness. In the detention center there was nothing, not a single thing, that smelled like a home. Even the things he’d never really noticed before were all wrong: the laundry detergent was too harsh, the handsoap was too artificial. Everything was institutional and impersonal. And underneath all the chemicals and cleansers polluting the air, there were always still the dirty traces of sweat and piss and blood.

Richard Speight’s home smelled like fresh coffee and lightly scented lemon cleaner, and it filled Jared with a desperate mix of hope and longing. It was hard to believe that a place that smelled so much like home could be dangerous.

Speight gave the guards coffee and wordlessly poured Jared a glass of milk.

“Thank you, sir,” Jared said.

“You’re welcome, Jared,” Speight answered with a smile that Jared itched to return. He wasn't sure he should though. His newer instincts to guard himself against strangers warred with his older instincts to return friendliness with friendliness.

Speight turned to the guards before he'd really made up his mind. The guards had papers to review with him. They pointed out sections he needed to read in their presence, and lines he needed to sign. Jared sat and sipped his milk in the chair Speight had indicated for him and watched the procedure from beneath his lashes. His heart was beating fast, and he kept expecting something to happen, Speight to get doubtful and start asking him probing questions, or the guards to suddenly exclaim that they forgot some form and couldn’t proceed after all.

But nothing happened. Speight signed everywhere they told him to, and the guards slugged back their coffee, and finally they took back all the forms and Speight leaned back in his chair, smiling again. Like he didn’t just finalize anything important. Like he did this sort of thing every day. He struck up a conversation with the guards about baseball.

Speight spoke in an educated tone, clearly upper-class, but not so high-handed that the guards took offense. Maybe they just didn’t mind putting up with it for the excuse to sit around drinking free coffee for a while on a work day.

Nobody tried to include Jared in the conversation, and he was happy to sit quietly and let them talk. He thought that fading into the background would probably be a good strategy. Despite Pellegrino’s certainty that he was the right man for the job, he wasn’t exactly a trained spy.

The guards eventually started to make noises about leaving, and Speight nodded and mentioned that he was cleared to take the whole day off but there were errands to run and some work he should do from home later. Jared’s heart picked up a little as it sunk in that he was about to be left there on his own. He told himself that Speight seemed nice, and that whatever happened he could get through it, and that nothing could possibly be worse than juvie had been.

Then the bigger guard, the one who’d done most of the talking said, “You got the collar control already, right? You know how to work it?”

The control was for the black rubber collar they’d fitted around Jared’s neck before beginning transport that morning. He’d managed to forget about it for a little while, but as soon as the guard mentioned it, he could feel it squeezing his throat again. It was a shock collar, like they used on dogs, but a lot more powerful, and a lot harder to take off.

“Oh yes. They gave me one when they came to set up the perimeter,” Speight answered.

“Alright. We’ll have to test that and we’ll be out of your hair.”

Jared prayed they didn’t mean they actually had to test the shock collar on him, but something in the set of the guard’s jaw made him worried.

“They tested the perimeter alarm when they set it up. There wasn’t any problem with it,” Speight said.

“Yeah well, the perimeter’s the perimeter, and if they say it works then it works. That’s not the issue. The issue is that regulations say we gotta see that your remote for the collar works and that you know how to use it. Sorry, it’s regulations.”

“I see...” Speight frowned and shifted in his seat, then pulled an ugly black remote from his pants pocket. Jared’s heart stuttered. “I assume you take the collar off him to do it then?”

“We prefer if you do it on him, just this once, at the beginning,” the guard said seriously. “It’s not required, exactly, but they say it’s more likely he won’t try and make some kind of run for it if he understands how effective the collar is.”

"Are you kidding me?" Speight asked, eyebrows raised.

"No, sir."

"It won’t hurt him. They’re aware that it’s children they’re dealing with when they program them,” the other guard jumped in.

"Won't hurt him?" Speight said angrily. "It's a powerful electric shock. It's definitely going to hurt him. I thought that was half the point, or the collar wouldn't be such a great damn deterrent in the first place."

"Won't injure him," the first guard corrected. "Listen, Mr. Speight-"

"Agent Speight," Speight interrupted frostily.

"Fine then. Agent Speight. It's admirable that you want to take this young man into your home and give him an opportunity to start fresh, have a productive future and all that. Really. But you're not doing this kid any favors being soft on him now. And if we go back and report to our superiors that we have our doubts about your ability to handle him, well, all I'm saying is, with this being a new program and all, everybody's very eager to have it run smooth. Nobody wants an escape attempt making the news, getting people all riled up when the legislation's only just been passed in the first place. You see?"

Speight sighed and studied the control in his hand with an expression that looked like he was bracing himself for something unpleasant.

“Wait a sec,” the quieter guard said, and for a just a split second Jared thought he might be coming to his defence. “We gotta brace him.” They each grasped one of Jared’s upper arms, and Jared found himself pulled firmly against the back of the chair, trapped. “Alright. Whenever you’re ready, just press and hold the red button. After three seconds it’ll kick on, and then you hold it for just long enough to let him feel it, like, one one thousand, two one thousand. It stops as soon as you release the button again. If you wanted to test the limit you could hold it down until it shut itself off automatically. It'll never go for longer than thirty seconds at a time. If you need it for longer than that, you need to let it up, then hold it down for another three seconds to start it up again."

Jared tried to blank his mind and face. He tried to tell himself that it wouldn’t kill him, even if it hurt. The guard had said so.

He didn’t believe himself. It wasn’t fair that they wanted to put him through this when he was never planning on escaping. He bit his tongue so he wouldn't start to beg.

Speight settled his gaze on Jared’s face.

“Is this okay?” he asked, and even though he was looking straight at Jared, it still took him a minute to understand that Speight was asking him for permission.

“Uh,” he said, startled into incoherence. A split second decision faced him. He felt sick at the thought of being shocked, even for a couple seconds. But he really wanted Speight to like him and trust him. Pellegrino had told him that the wise way to play it would be to be as cooperative as possible. Then Speight would let down his guard faster, and Jared could do what he’d set out to do faster, and the entire nightmare would be over faster. He’d promised himself, lying awake in his cot last night, too wound up to sleep a wink, that he would do whatever it took to free himself. He’d meant it then, when he hadn’t had the reality of it staring him in the face like it was now.

“Um, Yes, sir. I- It’s okay, sir,” he stuttered out, before he had the chance to think better of it.

Speight frowned. “Is this the first time you’ve had it used on you?”

“Yes, sir.”

Speight sighed. “This is insane. But I’ll make it as quick as I can, alright? Two seconds. I promise. Hopefully it’ll be the last time you ever have to feel this.”

Jared’s heart sank, and he realized he’d been hoping Speight wouldn’t actually make him go through with it.

“Yes, sir,” he answered numbly.

Speight carefully put his fingertip on the red button. “Tell me when you’re ready,” he said.

Jared gave himself a mental three count, then, eyes locked desperately on Speight’s, he forced out, “Ready, sir.”

Speight’s finger depressed the button and then they stared at each other, three long seconds ticking by. Jared’s heart raced. His breath choked in his throat. The collar seemed suddenly thicker, heavier.

Jared had braced himself, but when the pain hit he still wasn't ready for it. All of his muscles spasmed and wrenched uncontrollably. His eyes instantly glazed with tears. The guards' hands were the only things keeping him upright; without them, he would've slipped to the floor. He could hear Speight counting aloud, but the words seemed to linger and bend as though time were warping. Each syllable took an hour. He tried to speak, say enough, enough, but he couldn’t make a sound. He couldn’t move his tongue to speak, could only listen and feel the pain.

Then, finally, it was over. He relaxed back into the chair. He felt as limp as a piece of spaghetti.

“Alright?” Speight asked, and pressed his fingers in under Jared’s jaw to check his pulse.

“Yes, sir,” Jared murmured, repressing a shiver. And then, remembering the plan, added meekly “Thank you, sir.”

He told himself that the warm feeling it gave him when Speight looked startled and moved by his gratitude was just the pride of keeping his wits about him and himself on track, even after the worst pain of his life. But Speight’s fingers on his skin were gentle, and Speight’s eyes were soft, and for the first time it occured to Jared to wonder what he should do if Pellegrino was wrong. He’d seemed so convinced, it hadn’t crossed Jared’s mind that Speight might have been innocent. Would Pellegrino hold to the deal if Jared proved that Speight hadn’t done anything wrong? Because really, wouldn't that be the best outcome of all? Then Jared wouldn't have anything to fear here, and eventually Pellegrino would have to admit he'd done his best, and that he owed it to him to help him be free anyway.

Speight got up and left with the guards. A minute later Jared heard the front door open and then close. He straightened his spine. Speight came back from showing the guards out and grinned down at him.

“You look better. You feeling better?” Speight asked.

Jared nodded.

“Well enough for a tour of the house?” Speight asked.

Jared nodded again, and tried to keep his hand from shaking when Speight reached down and clasped it to pull him up.

Speight lead him on a slow tour, telling Jared the house’s history and pointing out antiques of note until Jared gave up on remembering anything but the most important things. The house had apparently been in the family a while, and Speight bought it when his great-aunt passed on, to keep it in the family. Speight’s father was dead but his mother was still alive and had her own house, the same one Speight and his sisters were raised in.

He also started telling Jared about his job as they walked. Jared took particular note of that, since it was the job Speight would be teaching him. The GIS team Speight was a part of handled major crimes in addition to less serious ones. They investigated murders, robberies, and even a few terrorism cases. Any crime that involved or appeared to involve government employees was fair game, and Speight’s team was one of the best. He assured Jared that he’d have a boring, not at all dangerous job, a desk job. He said Jared would mostly learn how to do really basic paperwork for them, and could spend the rest of his time working on his GED.

Jared almost felt like crying at that news.

“Does that sound good?” Speight asked with an arched brow.

“Yeah,” Jared swallowed thickly. “Yes, sir, I... Thank you, sir. I didn't think I’d ever get my diploma, after everything that’s happened.” Jared had worked hard in school, been excited at the advanced classes he could finally sign up for as a high school freshman. It had been a bitter pill to swallow when he’d realized he’d never even get to finish his freshman year.

“Well don’t worry about that anymore, okay? If you want to get your diploma, you’ll damn well get your diploma. We’ll make sure of it.” Speight grinned and Jared smiled back tentatively, which made Speight brighten even more.

The tour ended in a bedroom on the second floor. It was nice and simple, decorated in white and blue.

“This is going to be your room,” Speight said, grinning widely.

Jared stared, struck by a feeling of unreality. That morning his room had been a sixteen by sixteen box in solitary with a slot in the door for meals. He'd been in there for a week (that had felt like a year,) for his own protection. Before Pellegrino had visited, his cell hadn’t even had a door, just bars. He’d lain awake at night listening to the sound of other boys taunting, threatening, and occasionally hurting each other.

This bedroom was neat, clean, and full of furniture that looked brand new and expensive. Speight pointed out a door on the right hand wall, and Jared had the thought that there were no more beautiful words in the English language than ‘private bathroom.’ He couldn’t believe how quickly his life had turned around. He felt like he’d travelled to a whole new planet.

The closet in the bedroom was empty. Speight eyed the thin white t-shirt and baggy gray sweatpants Jared wore and sighed.

“They sent you some clothes, but nothing that’ll do for the office. It’s all just more of the same. If you’re up for it, I was planning on taking you shopping today, so you can come to the office with me tomorrow.”

Jared swallowed against another wave of unreality, and nodded quickly.

“Yes, sir.”

He might not have been so eager to agree if he’d known what a trial the shopping trip would prove to be. He hadn’t prepared himself for how overwhelming it would feel to be out in public again, back in the normal world, but also not. His collar instantly marked him as different to anybody who glanced his way. Just walking from Speight’s car to the store, Jared counted three people who caught sight of it and didn’t stop staring. He guessed with time he’d get used to it, but it left him red and embarrassed as they entered the store.

Jared didn’t need to see a single price tag to know that the store was more exclusive than anywhere he’d been inside before. He guessed he never would have felt comfortable there, but in his cheap juvie clothes and rubber collar, he just wanted to turn tail and lock himself back in Speight’s SUV.

They were instantly accosted by their own personal saleslady. She was cool and elegant, with sleek blonde hair and delicately penciled eyebrows. Once she’d greeted Speight, she looked Jared over, and then she couldn’t seem to keep her eyes off his collar.

The YOAP was a small program as yet, with only about 200 kids in it. Half of them were concentrated in Boston, and half down in Miami: the first two cities in the country to pass the necessary legislation. He didn’t know if she’d ever seen a convict apprentice in real life, whether she’d read editorials on the program or seen something on the news that told her what he was. Certainly, she seemed to reach the conclusion fast enough that the collar meant he was something she’d find on the bottom of her shoe. Maybe she was one of those adults who never viewed kids as real people, but the way her eyes lingered on his neck and skipped over his face said otherwise, and made him hot with shame. Once, he tried to smile at her anyway, but the cold stare she gave him in return told him how little she appreciated the attempt. He kept his eyes down after that.

Jared thought he’d gotten used to being treated differently in juvie, where the guards were king and could be brutal to their charges, but it was different encountering it in the real world. He used to belong there. He used to be another normal kid. It was kind of terrifying to realize that he couldn’t count on being treated as a normal kid anywhere anymore.

It took over an hour of trying things on before Speight was satisfied. By the time Speight guided him to the counter and dropped his credit card with a careless clatter, Jared had the exact pattern of the carpet imprinted on the insides of his eyelids, and had begun an in-depth inspection of his own toes. He was wearing canvas slip-ons that were already fraying at the edges. He wondered if he should mention that he needed new shoes to match his new clothes, but he dreaded the idea of another store, another salesclerk, and maybe next time some other customers to glare and gawk.

“Hey, you doing alright there, kiddo?” Speight asked suddenly, and dropped a warm hand on Jared’s shoulder. Jared couldn’t stop himself from flinching, but he straightened himself up quickly.

“Uh. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

Speight smiled and his hand moved up to cup the back of Jared’s neck, splaying his fingers across both his skin and the collar. He didn’t understand how Speight could touch it so casually. Maybe it didn’t feel the same when wasn’t your neck it was locked around.

Speight removed his hand to sign the receipt. Curious, Jared glanced at it and almost felt his eyes bug out of his head. The bill had come to over 2,000 dollars. He reassured himself that Speight’s house was really nice, that this was all Speight’s idea, and that Jared hadn’t asked him to spend anything at all on him. It still left him feeling uneasy. It seemed like a lot of money to spend on a juvenile delinquent he’d never met before that day. He wondered if behind his smiles, Speight was still feeling guilty for the electric shock.

Speight handed Jared the bags to carry on the way back to the car. He hummed under his breath and walked with a bounce in his step while Jared kept his eyes on the sidewalk. If anyone stared at him he didn’t see it.

Next, Speight took him to a shoestore. Jared did his best to ignore the other customers and spoke only to Speight and the shoe salesman, and only when one of them asked him a question. Speight picked him out sneakers, and two pairs of nice shoes for the office.

He hoped that with the clothes and the shoes they were done, but they continued on to a bookstore next. He had to bite his tongue not to protest that he was tired of shopping and just wanted to go home. He was glad he did when he followed Speight straight to the front counter and they picked up a big stack of textbooks that Speight had ordered for him. Speight had already looked into exactly what it would take for Jared to earn his GED, and gotten the books sent priority so they’d be there when Jared got there.

“Thank you, sir,” he murmured, overwhelmed to an embarrassing degree by the man’s generosity. Speight handed him the books and ruffled his hair. Speight seemed to be a touchy-feely kind of guy.

“I want you to do well here, Jared,” he answered, and Jared believed him.

He gave Jared an overview of the material the books covered as they walked out to the car. It sounded like a lot, but Jared was excited for it, genuinely excited. He had to remind himself that he probably wouldn’t even be there long enough to make much progress. Despite what Pellegrino had said about being patient, Jared planned to work quickly.

Hanging around studying textbooks to get his GED would be stupid when he could be clearing his name and getting free, going back to a real high school.

Jared hoped they’d head home after the bookstore, but instead they went to the grocery store. Speight gave Jared the cart to push and then led him through the aisles. He checked to make sure Jared wasn’t allergic to anything, but he didn’t ask what Jared liked. Jared was disappointed to see that everything Speight put in the cart looked really really... healthy. He picked a lot of frozen dinners, all Healthy Choice or Lean Cuisine. He also grabbed health food bars and apples and plain yogurt.

When he caught Jared looking longingly at the Cocoa Puffs in the cereal aisle he pulled a box of them off the shelf, but it was only to point out the ingredients that he didn’t approve of; sugar and corn syrup and artificial flavoring. He bought some kind of protein powder with seaweed in it for breakfast instead.

Jared’s mom and dad had never cared about anything like that. Jared hoped some of the stuff would taste okay to him. Something about the stern set of Speight’s face as he explained about the link between something called hydrogenated oil and coronary disease told Jared to keep his mouth firmly shut, despite his fear that there might be nothing in Speight’s kitchen that he wanted to eat.

He told himself he’d get used to the food, and that when he got home, his forced stay in healthfoodland would make twinkies taste all the sweeter.

He did his best to ignore the ten-year-old staring at him from the next line over as they waited to pay. He pretended not to see the kid’s mother giving him a suspicious glare, or the way the cashier kept shooting him quick looks as she rang them through. He told himself the manager poking his head out of the office to watch them as they paid was just a coincidence.

“Alright, home again, home again,” Speight sung out on the way to the car. Jared kept his head down and pushed the cart as close to Speight’s heels as he dared. Home again. He couldn’t help thinking about his real home, about how long it had been since he’d had his dad’s homemade macaroni and cheese. It felt like years.

He tried to cheer himself up with the thought that the shopping trip was finally over, and that after that the rest of the day could only be easier, but all he could feel was a kind of gray depression.

He and Speight loaded the groceries into the car and then Speight walked with him to the cart corral to return the cart. He couldn’t even return a shopping cart without supervision.

He finally buckled himself in and leaned his head on the window. Speight was saying something, but he couldn’t find the energy anymore to listen. He just didn’t have it in him. Being in the real world again was more exhausting than he’d ever imagined it would be.

Daylight Savings Time had just ended, and it was getting dark already, though it was only 4:30. He watched a streetlamp flicker on across the parking lot. He wished it weren’t so dark, and getting so cold at night. His eyes drooped closed.

He woke up in the driveway to Speight shaking him gently. He couldn’t manage to suppress a flinch, and Speight looked concerned but let it pass without comment.

“Hey, kiddo, you wanna go inside? Take a little nap before dinner?” Jared forced himself to relax and nodded. Speight pulled back.

Jared was slow unbuckling his seatbelt, still uncoordinated and muzzy with sleep. He was just pushing his door open when Speight was suddenly right there, guiding him down out of the SUV. He didn’t really need help getting out of the car, but Speight kept a hand on his arm anyway. Maybe he was worried Jared was going to try to make a break for it in the ten feet between the car and the house.

He let Speight guide him up to his bedroom and over to the bed. He slipped off his coat and canvas loafers and crawled in as Speight drew back the covers for him.

Something in his belly fluttered a little, having to turn his back as he crawled into bed. He told himself it was just dumb animal instinct. He wasn’t in the detention center anymore. He had nothing to fear from Speight. He deliberately closed his eyes and relaxed his shoulders.

“I’ll come get you in an hour,” Speight said softly. “Sleep well kiddo.” He walked away and closed the door behind him with a quiet click. Jared found himself releasing a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He sank gratefully beneath the waves of sleep.


There was a hand on his shoulder and someone was calling his name. Jared flinched a little before he got his eyes open. He saw that it was Speight and he made himself relax again.

“Sorry, kiddo,” Speight smiled. He was sitting on the edge of Jared’s bed and he didn’t remove his hand, even though Jared was awake. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said.

The room was dim. All of the light had faded from the sky outside, leaving everything inside deep in shadow. The only light came from the door open to the hallway and the little nightlight in the corner. Speight’s exact expression was hard to make out.

“Is it- is it dinner time, sir?” Jared asked softly.

“Yeah,” Speight said, and rubbed his hand up and down Jared’s shoulder slowly through the blanket. “You ready to eat?”

“Yes, sir,” Jared answered, not moving at all. Speight rubbed slowly up and down his shoulder again.

“You sounded like you were having a nightmare,” he said softly. “You alright, Jared?”

Jared suddenly realized that his cheeks were wet. Something in him uncoiled. He couldn’t remember the dream, but it suddenly made more sense that Speight would be touching him. It wasn’t anything to be worried about, Speight was just trying to soothe him.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” he said. Remembering himself he quickly added, “Thank you, sir.”

Speight nodded and stood. His eyes were hidden by the shadows in the room, but Jared was sure Speight was still watching him closely as he climbed out of bed.

They didn’t go to the kitchen, where the guards had sat and drank coffee with them just that morning, which now seemed a million years ago. Instead they went to the dining room. The table was set for two, but it looked like it could seat ten comfortably. There were china plates and linen napkins, heavy silverware that Jared would bet money was real silver. In the center of the table were a stack of pizza boxes and a plastic tub of salad.

“I didn’t know what you liked, so I got one cheese, one everything, and one pepperoni,” Speight said. His smile was bright and easy, his eyes twinkling. Jared smiled back.

“Uh, I, I like all of those, sir. I’m not a picky eater, really.”

“Good,” Speight beamed. “Don’t get used to the pizza though. I figured your first dinner here was a special occasion. It’s not the way we’ll usually be eating.”

Having seen what went into the grocery cart, Jared couldn’t say he was exactly surprised at the news.
“Um, thank you, sir, for the pizza tonight.”

“You’re welcome. It’ll be a treat for me too.”

There was also a wine bottle on the table, and empty wine glasses at their places. He didn’t register that one of them was meant for him until Speight had started to fill the second glass.

“Sir, I-” Jared protested.

“Yes?” Speight asked, still pouring with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m, um, underage,” Jared said stupidly. He wondered if this was a test.

Speight laughed and held the glass out to him. “Just try it.”

Speight didn’t look like it was a test. Tentatively Jared reached out and took the glass.

“It’s one glass, kiddo,” Speight said. “You’ve had a long day. This’ll be nice, help you relax a little. It’ll make it easier to sleep tonight.”

Speight picked up his own glass and wafted it under his nose, then took a delicate sip. Jared wondered if he should do the same but decided he’d probably look stupid, so he just went ahead and took a tiny sip without smelling it first. It tasted horrible, strong and sour. He did his best not to make a face at it, but Speight smirked anyway.

“In my family, we started getting wine as soon as we were old enough to sit with the adults,” Speight said. “I was probably younger than you when I had my first glass.”

Jared nodded and secretly decided not to drink any more of the wine. It was gross. He couldn’t imagine choosing to drink that if you didn’t have to.

“I know it’s a special occasion,” Speight said. “But still, no pizza til you eat your greens.”

Jared had never been a big fan of salad. He sighed internally as Speight heaped a big portion on his plate. His parents never hovered over his shoulder, watching what he ate. His family almost never had dinner together, because his parents were never even home at dinner time. He guessed it was going to be kind of weird, actually having someone around who cared what he ate and wanted him to finish his vegetables.

The salad was spinach or something. It got bunched up in Jared’s throat, and he finally gave in and tried the wine again because he needed something to wash it down. It was just as gross the second time.

“Uh, can I have some water, sir?” Jared asked when his mouth was clear.

“Finish your wine first, Jared,” Speight said easily.

“Sir, I, uh, I don’t like how it tastes. I’m sorry.”

“Not surprising. Wine is an acquired taste,” Speight answered. “But you’ll never get used to it if you don’t start somewhere. And I really think it’ll help you get to sleep tonight. After that nap you had I don’t want you laying awake half the night. We’ve got work tomorrow, big day, you need to be fresh and rested for it. You want to make the best first impression you can, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” Jared mumbled, and choked down a big gulp of the wine. He guessed if he had to drink it, it was best to just get it over with. Speight beamed at him.

He alternated between gross bites of salad and gross mouthfuls of wine as quickly as he could without spitting any of either back on the table. By the time he’d finished, his eyes were watering.

“Good job,” Speight said, and then, looking more closely at Jared, added with concern, “Were they really that bad?”

Jared shrugged, feeling both glad that Speight noticed, and unhappy that he’d had to finish them both before Speight realized how much trouble he was having.

“Your parents never even let you taste wine before?” Speight asked.

“No, sir. And we, uh, never ate a lot of salad or anything, either.”

Speight frowned in disapproval.

“I’ll get you some water,” was all he said, but Jared felt almost like he’d just betrayed his family.

Speight disappeared into the kitchen, and by the time he came back with a glass of water a couple minutes later, Jared was feeling weird. His face was hot, and his thoughts seemed slow.

“So, what kind of pizza do you want?” Speight asked.

“Cheese, sir?” Jared answered. He thought the words came out slightly slurred, and told himself to concentrate if he had to speak again.

Speight put a slice of cheese pizza on Jared’s plate, then one on his own. Jared watched him pick up a knife and fork and start to work on his pizza. He’d always used his hands to eat pizza, but he guessed if Speight used silverware then he should too.

The fork and knife seemed unwieldy in his hands, and he kept scratching his plate and making a horrible screeching noise. He glanced at Speight every time he did, but Speight was always grinning, so he tried not to worry about it. By the time he’d eaten one piece he was certain he was drunk. He thought he might still be a little hungry, but he didn’t want to try to eat another slice. He’d already almost dumped his first one into his lap three times. It was embarrassing.

“Ready to clear the table?” Speight asked. Jared squinted at him and nodded.

“Yes, sir,” he said, enunciating clearly. He pushed his chair back and stood, and had to grab his chair to steady himself. The whole room spun dizzily around for a second.

“Oh no,” Speight laughed, “I’m afraid you’ve proven to be a total lightweight, Jared.”

Jared smiled back at him uneasily.

“How bout I give you a hand with the table tonight, okay?” Speight said, stacking their plates and gathering up their silverware. “You grab our glasses and I’ll get the rest of it.”

Jared nodded and fumbled his numb fingers around each glass. He carried them in seperate hands, so there wasn’t any chance he’d smash them together, and he walked very carefully into the kitchen. Speight pointed out where to put them in the dishwasher. Jared slowly and carefully settled them one by one. When he was finished he let out a sigh of relief that sounded a lot louder than he’d meant it to.

“What?” Speight asked, grinning.

“I was so afraid I would break them, sir,” Jared blurted.

Speight laughed. “How about we do something easy, like watch some TV until bedtime?” he said.

Jared nodded and followed him into the living room, where he had a big plush couch and a wide screen TV. Jared eyed the armchairs flanking the sofa, but Speight grabbed his arm and guided him to the couch, then plopped down next to him. The sudden change in height, combined with the bouncing of the cushions, made his head spin a little.

Speight turned the TV on and relaxed back into the couch, stretching one arm along the back of it behind Jared’s head. He flipped through the channels for a while, seeming to go awfully fast, but maybe it was just Jared who was thinking extra slow. Finally Speight settled on an episode of Friends. Jared had to concentrate harder than he should have to follow the show. Things kept happening that he was certain weren’t that complicated, but for some reason nothing seemed to connect together right. It was like watching TV in a dream. Speight seemed to be following it just fine, laughing along with the studio audience and occasionally sending Jared sidelong glances of amusement. Jared tried his best to return them. He didn’t want Speight thinking he was too stupid to follow along.

Soon Jared’s eyes began getting heavier and heavier. He hoped vaguely that Speight had stopped sending him looks, because he couldn’t even fake paying attention anymore. He caught his head actually nodding and widened his eyes, trying to stay awake. Somehow they just ended up drifting back down again.

He woke up to find that he’d slumped onto Speight’s shoulder and a new episode was starting.

“Hey,” Speight said gently. “Ready for bedtime, kiddo?” He was looking down at Jared, his eyes soft and amber. He smelled good, some kind of expensive cologne.

“Yes, sir,” he mumbled, prying himself woozily up off of Speight. “Sorry sir, I...” he gestured at Speight’s shoulder. Speight’s lips curled fondly.

“Don’t worry about it. That’s pretty much what I get for the wine I made you drink. C’mon. Time for bed.”

Speight walked him to his room and pointed out his toothbrush and toothpaste. He drew back the shower curtain and pointed out where there was shampoo in the shower stall and deodorant in the medicine cabinet for Jared to use in the morning. Jared nodded and turned to find himself brushing against the towel bar. He couldn’t resist running a hand over it. The towels were about as different from the thin scratchy gray towels in juvie as apples were from oranges. His new towels were thick and light blue and perfectly matched the plush bathmats. Maybe the room had already been decorated this way, but Jared couldn’t shake the feeling that Speight had gone out and bought all of this for him, never even having met him. He wondered how much money Speight had spent on him so far. He couldn’t believe anyone could be so generous, even if they were rich.

“Like them?” Speight asked, laughing at him.

Jared smiled up at him sunnily. He didn’t mind if Speight laughed at him.

“They’re so nice,” he said.

Sir,” Speight corrected, reaching out and poking Jared on the nose with a grin. “You always call me ‘sir.’”

“Yes, sir,” Jared said quickly.

“And everybody else at the office too, okay? Everybody is ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am,’ no exceptions.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good boy,” Speight grinned. “You are such a good boy, Jared,” he said happily. “I can’t believe-” he cut himself off and just shook his head, still smiling. “One glass of wine and I feel like I’m drunk,” he murmured to himself.

Jared rubbed his hand across the towels one more time. “I think I am drunk. Sir,” he slurred carefully.

“I know you are,” Speight laughed.

Jared looked around the room again. He didn’t think he’d ever get sick of looking around a place like this, one that had real color and beauty and care put into it.

“Oh, it is so time for bed for you, kiddo,” Speight groaned.

Speight had been right about the wine. Jared fell asleep easily.

He woke up confused. He must have been having a nightmare. He’d dreamed someone was touching him, not hurting him, but running their hands over him. The mattress shifted behind him and his heart almost stopped, but he told himself not to panic. He had no idea where he was, and he thought there had to be a reason he wasn’t alone, if only he could remember. He knew he wasn’t in juvie, but it didn’t smell like home either, so he wasn’t in his bed.

It came back to him in a rush, just as a hand ran gently up and down his curved spine.

“Hey, Jared, you awake?” Speight’s voice ghosted over his ear. Jared told himself he should uncurl and act like nothing was wrong, because probably Speight had a good reason for being there.

He couldn’t make himself uncurl. He couldn’t make himself speak.

“Alright,” Speight murmurmed. “It’s alright.”

Jared remembered he’d had a nightmare earlier that Speight had had to wake him up from. He thought that must have happened again.

Speight wormed his hand up the back of Jared’s shirt and kept rubbing his back soothingly. His hand was soft and warm. It was weird, but it didn’t feel bad, and Jared told himself not to worry, that Speight was just trying to bring him down from a nightmare. He told himself he should say something to let Speight know it was okay, but he still couldn’t bring himself to speak. He would stay curled up until Speight went away again. Once he was alone he could calm himself down easily. It was something he’d learned how to do in juvie.

Speight pulled his hand out from under Jared’s shirt and Jared had a second of relief, thinking Speight was going to leave him alone. The sheets rustled and the mattress shifted behind him. Then Speight curled himself closer around Jared, pressed tight against his back. Speight’s arm snaked around Jared’s waist, and his questing hand pressed in until he was cupping Jared’s groin. There was something pressing into the small of his back. Speight began to rock against him, gently but firmly.

Jared let out a small moan of protest before he could stop himself, and Speight stilled.

“Shhh,” he whispered in Jared’s ear. “It’s okay.”

He started rocking again, but now he kept up a steady stream of words as he did it.

“It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. Shh, Jared, it’s okay.”

Jared clamped his lips shut and breathed heavily through his nose. He couldn’t believe what was happening.

For a while Speight tried to stir interest in Jared by fondling his groin gently. Jared got half-hard, but he was too scared to harden all the way, and as Speight got closer to finishing he forgot about Jared. He rocked faster, spoke faster. His breath came in harsh pants, and his words didn’t make any sense any more. “Shh. Jared. Jared. Oh God. Jared. Oh shh. Oh God.”

Jared squeezed his eyes shut, and bit the inside of his cheek hard. This wasn’t supposed to happen to him. He needed to live with Speight to get himself away from the boys who wanted to do this to him. He wasn’t supposed to have this happen here. It wasn’t fair.

Speight shuddered hard against him and pulled him back tightly. He pressed his sweaty face into Jared’s neck with a groan. Something warm and wet began to soak through Jared’s shirt at the small of his back.

Eventually, Speight kissed Jared’s cheek and pulled himself away.

“Go back to sleep,” he whispered, from somewhere over Jared.

Jared kept his eyes shut tight and nodded slowly. He kept them closed as Speight climbed out of his bed and left the room.

Long after Speight had gone, Jared lay awake with tears running down his face. All he could think was that it wasn’t fair; that wasn’t supposed to happen. He had no idea what he was supposed to do next.

Speight woke him at six the next morning, poking his head in the door to say “Rise and shine, sleepyhead. Shower and get dressed. Breakfast’s in twenty.”

Jared nodded and stumbled out of bed under Speight’s watchful eye. Speight was wearing black silk pajamas and had a towel slung over his shoulder. He was smiling cheerfully, and he didn’t look like the kind of person who just... Jared shut that thought down quickly. He didn’t want to think about that. He had other things to worry about. Speight had mentioned the day before what a hardass his boss was, had warned Jared he needed to be on his very best behavior.

“He’ll have no problem kicking you out of the office if you get in the way, and if that happens it’ll be hard for me to keep you as my apprentice. They might have to send you back to juvie,” Speight had said, and Jared had nodded solemnly and sworn to himself that he wouldn’t do anything, not a single insignificant little thing, wrong. That was easy to say yesterday.

But really, he’d gone over and over it in his mind before he’d managed to fall asleep again, and he didn’t see how anything had really changed. He still had to make this work, at the very least until he could get word to Pellegrino that something was wrong. His choices were still either juvie or Speight’s house, and so far, despite what had happened, Speight’s house was probably the better choice.

He looked over the clothes they’d bought yesterday, all still in their bags because he’d never gotten around to hanging them last night. There were a lot of them. He focused his worry on the immediate problem of figuring out what he was going to wear. He’d pretty much lived his life in jeans and a t-shirt. He had to pick out a shirt, pants, and a tie. He had no idea how to even tie a tie, much less pick the right one. He decided that maybe if he gave himself a little more time to wake up, things would become clearer.

There was a clothes hamper in the corner of the bathroom, and he threw his balled up pajamas into it without touching them more than he had to. Speight had bought him plenty more. He didn’t need to put those ones on again.

He took a nice hot shower, reveling in the privacy and water pressure. He vowed to himself that he would do everything possible to avoid ever having to take a communal shower again. Stay out of juvie or die trying, he repeated to himself. This is better than juvie, no matter what, he repeated to himself.

The bags looked just as overwhelming with his hair dripping and his skin steaming, but he told himself to start with the basics. He dug out underwear and socks, then one pair of khaki dress pants that he remembered Speight saying would be good office wear. He hunted around until he found a plain white collared shirt and put that on too. Then he remembered the undershirts Speight had bought him, took off the collared shirt, and layered it back on over the undershirt. That was how that worked, right? He didn’t want to go out there only for Speight to tell him he did it wrong. He didn’t want Speight thinking about him getting dressed. He was doing fine on his own.

He found the bag with the ties and pulled them out, lined them up on the dresser and held them up at his throat, one by one. They all looked the same to him. Staring at his neck just made the black collar stand out more and more. He tried pulling at the collar of his shirt, but it just wouldn’t go high enough. He wondered if he could tie the tie around it, but knew it would be against the rules. The collar wasn’t just there to control, it was also there to warn regular people what he was. Nervous and frustrated, he grabbed a tie, hung it around his neck, and crept out to the kitchen.

Speight smiled at him from over a cup of coffee.

“Breakfast’s on the table,” he nodded, watching Jared. Jared looked and found a single glass of pink liquid that could only be the protein shake stuff Speight bought yesterday. It was a major effort not to wrinkle his nose even before he tasted it. He took a sip and put it back down.

“I’m, uh, I’m not really hungry, sir,” he said. Speight’s smile disappeared.

“Breakfast’s the most important meal of the day, Jared.”

Jared considered his options. As disgusting as the protein drink was, it wasn’t worth making waves for. It wasn’t like the food in juvie wasn’t even worse.

Jared picked up the protein shake and took another sip. It was slimy and disgusting. It was supposed to taste like strawberry but it just tasted gross instead. He took a deep breath and drank it all. It immediately tried to lurch back up his throat again, but he swallowed it down hard.

Speight came over and put a paternal hand on his shoulder. “Was it that bad?” he asked.

Jared swallowed against another lurch of his stomach.

“I kinda like them myself.”

“I’m just... not very hungry, sir.”

“Nervous about your first day with the team?” Speight’s eyes softened. “Don’t worry, okay? Nothing will go wrong, I promise.” He reached out and began tying Jared’s tie slowly. “I mean, I know we don’t know each other that well yet, but Jared, I’m telling you kiddo, I have a really good feeling that this is gonna work out. Just do your best and you’ll be fine. Okay?” Speight cupped his cheek and crouched a little to look into his eyes.

“Yes, sir,” Jared answered. It felt like there were butterflies violently drowning in his stomach but from somewhere Jared dredged up a weak smile.

“Alright. Brush your teeth and do whatever else you gotta do. We’ll leave when you’re ready, get in there early and impress the boss.”

Chapter Three

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Date: 2011-11-27 06:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Poor Jared i do like this Speight guy,it seems like Jared got in a bigger mess now.
He really needs help.
Loving this story.
Cant wait to read the next.

Date: 2011-11-27 03:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yay! I'm so glad you're still enjoying it!
Jared is definitely in a bigger mess than ever, and needs some help, but I'm afraid he's still got a ways to go before he's in a place where he can ask for it. :(
Thank you for commenting again. :)


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December 2011

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