mya_rofki: (kingsblkdragon)
[personal profile] mya_rofki






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Floor after floor of cold glass and concrete reared up in front of them. Behind the grey building the sky was a vivid blue. Jared didn’t feel like a troublemaker, but he was pretty sure that was all anybody in this building would see when they looked at him. The early morning breeze blew stiffly into his face, and he shivered. He wanted to pick up his feet and start running in the opposite direction.

The guards at the security desk gave them both the hairy eyeball as they entered. It was only Speight’s presence at his side that kept him moving forward. He headed them towards a line of metal detectors and some kind of x-ray machine for briefcases. This building meant business when it came to security.

“Hey guys, this is Jared. He’s my new apprentice, so be gentle with him, huh?” Speight smiled. Neither guard smiled back. Jared thought about the guards sneering at him his first day in the detention center, and wondered if there was something innately hateable about him.

He used to think he was likeable enough, but now he couldn’t count on both hands the number of people, from policemen to the boys in juvie to the doctor in the infirmary, who’d looked at him with disdain, if not outright hatred, from the first time they laid eyes on him.

Jared was glad the lobby was empty when his collar set off the metal detector. The guards motioned him aside and ran a wand over him. They both kept their eyes fixed on him like he was waiting for his chance to set off a bomb or something the whole time. Once they were satisfied that he wasn’t armed, there was a device they had to activate behind the security desk. Speight made sure Jared understood that once it was on he couldn’t go out past the security desk without getting zapped, and together they watched the back of the guard’s head as he punched in the code. Speight had the same device at his front door, Jared had seen him deactivate it so they could leave that morning. Jared guessed he’d be used to it in no time, but he hated watching it be activated, here or at Speight's. He tensed every time, though he knew it wouldn't zap him.

“You’re all set,” said one guard. The other guard just stared at Jared silently.

“Thanks, Mike,” Speight said, with another smile that wasn't returned.

They were finally getting into the elevator when a voice called out “Hold the door.” For a second Jared thought he’d done something wrong and the guards were calling them back. He searched the last few seconds for anything he could’ve screwed up already. Maybe there was a rule against him taking the elevator. Then he saw a handsome black man in a suit striding towards them.

“That’s the boss,” Speight muttered from the side of his mouth, pushing the Door Open button. Jared unfroze a little, but his heart kept thumping like a rabbit’s. He shuffled slightly closer to Speight to give the approaching man plenty of space. Speight cast an arm around his shoulders, and Jared forced himself not to squirm away.

The boss was solidly built and moved like a force to be reckoned with. His head was shaved bald, and he had a neatly trimmed beard and mustache circling his mouth. His lips were set in a stern line, and he didn’t bother saying ‘thank you’ when he boarded the elevator. He just smoothly turned to face front. He waited for the doors to close before speaking to Speight.

“This is him?”

“This is Jared Padalecki, sir,” Speight answered, giving Jared’s shoulder a comforting squeeze.

“Hello Jared,” the man glanced down. His dark eyes were piercing. “I’m Special Agent Whitfield. I’m the agent in charge of Agent Speight’s team. I’m sure he’s told you that I’m the one who decides whether there’s a place for you here or not.”

Jared nodded quickly and tried to convey in the gesture that he knew everything he could possibly need to already and didn’t need a single second more of Whitfield’s time.

Whitfield looked at Speight. “You have the file on him now?”

“Yes, sir. Do you want a look at it?”

“Please.”

“I’ll have it on your desk within the hour.” After a few seconds of ringing silence, Speight volunteered, “I thought I’d put him next to me, get him started on reading the handbooks this morning,”

“That’s fine,” Special Agent Whitfield grunted. Then he looked at Jared again. “How old are you, Jared?”

“I’m fourteen, sir,” Jared just barely kept himself from stuttering. Whitfield looked him over obviously and his eyebrows furrowed, but whatever in particular he found wrong with Jared, he kept it to himself.

Whitfield waited until they’d exited the elevator to speak again, and when he did he faced Jared head on, halting all their forward progress and pinning him with a gaze that could have made a block of marble squirm.

“We do very important work in this office, Jared. I hope you realize that. Agent Speight seems very confident that he can find a way for you to make a positive contribution, but I want to make sure this is clear: people’s lives hang in the balance of what we do, and I don’t tolerate anyone who gets in the way of that. There are enough obstacles to our investigations already. We don’t need one in our own office. If I think you’re getting in the way of our work, I will withdraw my permission for you to be here. This is my team. Period. Agent Speight won’t be able to get your place here back if you fail to impress me. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Jared mumbled. Whitfield’s hand came at him and he flinched lightly before realizing the man just wanted to shake on it. His face reddened and he quickly grasped it, in agony at the knowledge that his palm was sweating like he'd just run five miles. Whitfield’s grip was solid but not painful. That was a relief, at least; after that warning he’d half expected it to be bone-crushing.

“Welcome then.” Whitfield gave him one more stern look. He turned to Speight and ordered, “Get me that file, and then take a look at the one Cassidy put together for you. She said it should have everything you need to get caught up on the progress we made yesterday.”

“Yes, sir,” Speight answered.

Whitfield turned and disappeared through a door at the front of the room, closing it halfway behind him. The door bore a simple metal plaque that read ‘Special Agent Charles M. Whitfield.’ Jared hoped that Whitfield would spend most of this time in there. He thought it might make things a little less nervewracking.

The rest of the office wasn’t comforting. Everything looked new and modern and state of the art. Jared wondered despairingly just how he was supposed to be fitting in there, when he belonged in high school and couldn’t even manage to tie a tie for himself. In juvie he’d felt like a goldfish in a shark tank, but this office made him feel like the algae on the tank’s walls.

*****

Jared had been given a stack of manuals and booklets a foot high to work his way through, though Speight had assured him that most of the stuff in them would never come up in day to day work. He'd pointed out the sections Jared should really study, and told him to skim the rest. He'd been going on that for about half an hour when he suddenly sensed a presence above him and looked up.

“Hi,” said a man with the most beautiful face Jared had ever seen. Jared gaped at him, fingers gone lax on his brand new copy of ‘GIS Policy Guidelines: An Overview.’

“Jared, this is Agent Ackles; Ackles, my apprentice, Jared,” Speight said.

“Nice to meet you Jared. Welcome to the team,” Agent Ackles said with a bright smile.

“Uh. Thank you, sir,” Jared murmured, still staring. “It’s nice to meet you too, sir.”

“You should have a lot in common, since most people would say you’re both too young to be here,” Speight said to Agent Ackles with a smirk. The words could have been playful, but to Jared, there seemed to be an undercurrent of something not so playful.

Agent Ackles snorted in an unamused way. “Anybody ever tell you jealousy was an unattractive emotion?” he asked Speight, before turning his attention back to Jared. “Ask him which one of us has been here longer. I’ll give you a hint-”

“Don’t you have work you should be doing, hotshot?” Speight cut him off. “Why are you over here harrassing me, when you could be singlehandedly solving our case like always?”

“Aw, Richard, I know it’s a team effort,” Ackles answered, appearing to force a smile. “Which is exactly why I thought I should introduce myself to the newest member of the team.”

“He’s not going to be out in the field or anything. So really, Ackles, don’t worry about him. Worry about your own work instead, so we don’t have a repeat of last week. I know you and Whitfield have that family connection, but even he won’t keep cutting you slack if you keep advocating to lock up the innocent and let the murderers go free. That’s actually the exact opposite of the way he likes to do things.”

“Fuck you,” Ackles snapped, eyes suddenly going sharp. It made his face look a little older, but no less handsome. “I was doing my job, following the evidence. Whitfield knows that, and so do you.”

“Alright, sorry,” Speight answered, holding his hands up. “Didn't mean to hit a nerve. That was a pretty screwed up case.”

Ackles relaxed. “If we never have to deal with another paranoid computer programmer with a thing for blackmail again, it’ll be too soon,” he agreed.

“I still don’t see how he thought he’d get away with it longterm,” Speight mused. “I mean, he was good, but he had to know he’d push it too far sometime. He was paranoid enough to rig his bathroom with security cameras, he didn’t think it would be a good idea to stop blackmailing ruthless people once he’d made his first million?”

Ackles shrugged. “Greed made him stupid.”

“Really stupid,” Speight snorted.

Jared didn’t know anything about the case they were talking about, so he mostly studied Richard Speight and Agent Ackles. They seemed friendly enough now, but he thought there had been some real animosity in their eyes before. He wondered what Ackles had done wrong on the case, and whether Speight was really jealous of him, or didn’t like him for some other reason. He wondered if it was unusual for them to snap at each other, or whether there was a lot of discord on the team. The tension springing up so suddenly had put him even more on edge than he’d already been, if that were even possible, and he hoped that Agent Ackles kept himself well clear of Speight and Jared. Nice as he was to look at, the last thing Jared needed was more conflict in his life.

*****

Jared had been working his way through the handbook for another twenty minutes, when the squad room door flew open and a blonde woman in a black pantsuit staggered in. She carried a stack of magazines up to her chin in one arm, and had another bundle of them tucked under the other arm.

“Who’s up for a little light reading?” she called.

“Oh Cassidy, no,” Ackles groaned from his desk.

“Oh Ackles, yes.”

The blonde woman, Cassidy, began dealing out magazines to Ackles with exaggerated glee.

“Our vic answered an ad from one of these. We’re looking for the words ‘cherry red Ferrari’-”

“Cherry red Ferrari?”

“It’s a code, Ackles. You’ve heard of codes before, right?”

“Oh yeah. I see. I get it now. This case is like a bad spy novel. Let me guess. Our vic answered the ad using the alias Mrs. Moneypenny...”

“Are you calling the Bond series ‘bad spy novels?’” a new voice entered the conversation. Jared looked to the door to see a tall thin man with dark skin and short dark hair. The guy spotted Jared before Ackles could answer him.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

“My new apprentice? Jared?” Speight jumped in, amused.

“Oh! Wow. He came today? He looks... young. How old is this kid?” He seemed to be asking Agent Cassidy, who was studying Jared with both eyebrows raised.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “Why don’t you ask him?”

“He’s fourteen,” Speight said to the new guy before turning to smirk at Cassidy. “I was wondering how long it would take you to notice him.”

“I would’ve in another ten seconds” Agent Cassidy protested. She didn’t look as angry as Agent Ackles had when he was arguing with Speight, but she did look irritated.

“Jared, that observant young man is Agent Hodge, and the *ahem* other one is Agent Cassidy. Team, this is Jared.”

Cassidy narrowed her eyes at Speight.

“Welcome to the team, Jared,” Hodge said quickly.

“Yeah. Welcome,” Cassidy echoed, still looking at Speight, not him.

“C’mon guys fill me in. Who's using the alias Mrs. Moneypenny? Is it you Ackles?” Hodge joked uneasily.

“The vic, apparently,” Jensen jumped in. “Cassidy, you wanna explain a little bit?”

Cassidy finally stopped glaring and turned her attention from Speight to the other two men. Jared ducked his head down and tried to keep reading. The book of guidelines Speight had given him was long and dry. He thought he had a pretty good vocabulary for his age, but that didn’t help much when the subject matter was so boring he couldn’t focus long enough to get any meaning from it. Unfortunately, it was one of the ones Speight said he should actually study.

He tuned out the explanation he didn’t have the background to understand, and the mild bickering that continued, grateful that the team all seemed more focused on each other than on the new teammate in their midst.

*****

He was equal parts exhausted and wired riding back to Speight’s house in the car that evening. It had been a really long day. They’d gotten to work before eight, and hadn’t left until after five. The hours had crawled by, stretched out by his deep fear of screwing up. He’d been thrown into a situation where he couldn’t tell what exactly he should and shouldn’t do, and until he figured that out, he was constantly nervous. Mostly he just kept his head down and tried to fade into the background.

Speight’s team seemed smart and curious as cats. Even after they stopped talking to him or about him he could feel their eyes on him. None of them had seemed unwelcoming exactly. In fact, the couple of times he’d accidentally caught the eye of Agent Ackles he’d been given a smile. Hodge had never smiled at him, but he hadn’t sent him any dirty looks either. He'd mostly just seemed curious. Cassidy had seemed the most perturbed by his presence there, but he wondered if that was just reflected hostility from her feelings towards Speight. And thankfully, the few times Whitfield had emerged from his office, he’d ignored Jared completely. He wondered how long that would keep up, and kind of hoped it lasted forever.

By the time lunch rolled around, he thought he’d succeeded in fading into the background. Speight was the only one who’d said a word to him from lunchtime until quitting time, and all of the surreptitious looks seemed to have stopped. They were all wrapped up in the case, which had started breaking around 11 o’clock, after some kind of financial discovery Hodge made while going through the victim’s banking history.

It shouldn’t have been as stressful as it was, just sitting and watching them work. But it really was. The worst part was that now he had to go home again with Speight, and instead of being able to relax because the hard part was over, he just felt a churning low in his gut starting up again. He just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep for ten hours straight, but he couldn’t even look forward to bed. He was too worried about what would happen there tonight.

Nothing he hadn't expected, as it turned out.

*****

Jared had never been inside Whitfield’s office before, though in the five days he’d worked at GIS, he’d examined it closely from the outside. Speight had begun training him to fill out GIS paperwork, and there was his schoolwork, but even so there had been a lot of hours Jared spent sitting at his desk with nothing to do. When they were deep into the case, everybody, including Speight, seemed to forget all about everything else. He knew the squad room inside and out already. He knew the number of panels in the ceiling, and could draw from memory the exact shape of the stain on the carpet to the left of his desk.

He alternated constantly between boredom and anxiety. Pellegrino hadn’t contacted him yet, and as many times as he told himself it had only been five days, if he let himself think about it too hard he started to panic.

It seemed like he had to keep himself from panicking about something constantly. Then, occasionally something would happen that would justify panicking, and he’d feel numb, like a mouse facing a cobra. For example, he thought he probably should be panicking about being called into Whitfield’s office, but mostly all he felt was curiously disconnected. It was the same feeling he had at night, when Speight...

He looked quickly out the window of the office. When the blinds were up, Whitfield’s office had a clear view of the squad room. Jared was relieved to see that when either Agent Ackles or Speight were seated, his own desk was mostly blocked.

The squad room was set up with two rows of three desks each running lengthwise down it, facing each other. At the front two desks were Agent Ackles and Agent Cassidy. In the middle were Speight and Hodge. Jared faced an empty desk at the back. In between each of the desks enough space was left to walk. Everything in the squad room was sleek and modern and predominantly light: grey and white and clear.

Whitfield’s office had more of a traditional, heavy feel, and was dominated by dark shades of green. Unlike the squad room, which at times had a feeling of uncontrolled chaos, Whitfield’s office was neat as a pin. His desk top was clear, with the exception of his computer, an empty black wire inbox and a carefully stacked outbox, a big mug of pens and pencils, and a forest green leather desk blotter. The desk itself was dark, smooth wood and looked murderously heavy.

Whitfield had gestured him to sit, and then left, saying he’d be back in a few minutes. Jared had sat and watched him leave the office and approach Agent Ackles’ desk. Jared wondered why he’d called him into his office only to leave him there and go talk with Agent Ackles.

He turned around and forced himself to relax into his chair. Whitfield had said he just wanted to talk for a little bit and get to know Jared better. All he had to do was just keep his mouth shut and not panic. It was not a torture chamber, it was an office. He could handle this; he wasn’t going to mess it up.

Whitfield came back. Agent Ackles followed him, carrying another chair. Jared moved aside to let Ackles settle in, and then surreptitiously watched the man sit. Agent Ackles was still the most beautiful man Jared had ever seen. He did his best to ignore it, but it was hard with the man sitting right next to him.

Whitfield moved efficiently around to his side of the desk. There was something relaxed about the way he moved inside his own office. Jared wished that didn’t just make him feel even more anxious.

“You don’t need to be nervous, Jared,” Whitfield said. “This isn’t an interrogation. You know, two years ago, when I was given my own team, I made sure to interview each member of it personally before I brought them aboard. Personalities are important to me. More important than just the proper credentials. It's not enough for everyone to work well, to be a truly great team they have to work well together. I’ve been on my back foot since the beginning with your situation. I have no personal experience with the YOAP, and Agent Speight has only been with us for six months. Hodge and Cassidy have been with me for two years, since the beginning. Jensen, Agent Ackles, has been with me for one and a half, and I don’t know if you’re aware, but I’ve known him a lot longer than that.” Jared nodded slightly. Speight had told him that Ackles was Whitfield's cousin by marriage.

“I trust them with my life and I know the feeling’s mutual. I’m not sure Agent Speight has succeeded in integrating himself into this team as smoothly yet, and that has probably made me more reluctant to interfere in what he’s trying to do with you, your rehabilitation. But I don’t plan to continue being such a distant observer in the future. The fact is that if you’re in my squad room day in and day out, you’re my responsibility as much as any other member of my team. Do you have any questions about that?”

Jared bit his lip. “No, sir.”

Whitfield chuckled. “You still look pretty nervous.”

Jared told himself not to react, but he tensed anyway. In juvie, when people laughed at him it had never been a good sign, only the prelude to humiliation and sometimes pain.

Whitfield looked at him closely and got very serious, very quickly. “Are you okay?” he asked quietly.

“I’m fine, sir,” Jared answered. He kept his voice even and his eyes on Whitfield’s.

“Listen Jared, if there’s ever anything wrong, or you need some kind of help, you shouldn’t be afraid to come to me. I’m a law enforcement officer and my duty is to the people. You’re one of the people, Jared, youthful offender or not. Anything you have to tell me doesn’t have to leave this room, but if there’s anything I can help you with, anything at all, all you have to do is tell me.”

Jared clenched his fists below the level of the desk and thought of what a relief it would be to tell somebody the truth. Then he reminded himself that he had a plan, and that nothing was worth risking being sent back to the detention center. Speight had already done the worst that Jared figured he would do, and it wasn’t that bad. It was up to Jared to fix his life for himself, not lay himself open to a man he wasn’t even sure liked him and beg for help.

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate it, but really, I’m okay. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity, sir, my life is really... it’s really improved, sir. Everything’s fine.”

“Improved from what?” Ackles piped up. Jared jumped a little; he’d forgotten he was there. He ordered himself to pull it together and answered steadily, “Improved from the detention center, sir.”

“Ah,” Ackles answered, with a look of understanding. “That’s not saying much though, is it?”

“No, sir,” Jared admitted.

“What do you like to do in your free time, Jared? Do you play any sports?” Whitfield asked. Jared studied his face, but he couldn’t find anything but honest curiosity. There didn’t seem to be any reason not to answer.

“Uh. No, sir. I like to read, sir.”

“You have a favorite book?”

“No, sir. Not really, sir.”

“Well what kind of books do you like? Adventure? Mystery? Comic books?” Agent Ackles jumped in, smiling.

“All of them. I, uh, I used to read a lot, sir. Anything I could find at the library, and whatever my parents bought me.”

“Where do your parents live?” asked Whitfield.

“Springfield, sir? I- I mean, They must still be there, sir. We moved there when I was ten, for my sister, and I can’t think of anything that would make them leave.”

“For your sister?”

“She’s got leukemia, sir. The treatment center’s there.”

“I see. I’m sorry, Jared. How is she doing now?”

“I- She was back in the hospital when I left, sir. Her remission... it only lasted about a year.”

“You haven’t heard an update recently?”

“Uh, no, sir. Not recently, sir.” Jared twisted at the fabric of his pants, then made himself stop. If Ackles looked down he could probably see it, and Jared didn’t want to arouse suspicion, even where there was nothing to be suspicious about.

“When was the last time you heard from your family, Jared?”

“At my- at my sentencing, sir.”

“Which was...”

“About a month ago, now, sir.” It felt like a year.

“And you haven’t heard from them at all in that time? No phone calls, no letters?” Whitfield exchanged a glance with Agent Ackles. Jared couldn’t read it, and his heart picked up. He began babbling.

“I... No, sir. I don’t even know who told them I entered the YOAP. Someone must’ve. My lawyer, or the warden, somebody. I’m sure they know by now, I just... couldn’t tell them myself sir. I-” He cut himself off.

“Why couldn’t you tell them yourself?" Whitfield asked after a minute. "Didn’t you have phone privileges, visitor privileges?” He looked honestly disturbed.

“I- I don’t... I wrote them from juvie, sir, but then I hadn’t gotten anything back by the time I left and they, uh, they didn’t come on visitor’s day.” He shrugged and fixed his eyes on the desk. “Maybe they wrote and the mail was just too slow to reach me,” he offered. “They... it was all really hard on them, but I know they’d have written back, so something must have gotten mixed up somewhere.” He took a deep breath and told himself to shut up before he fell apart.

“Anyway, it’s too late now,” he said, as easily as he could manage.

“And why is it too late now?” Whitfield asked.

At least that was an easy question. In his week in solitary, Jared had had very little to occupy his mind and a whole lot of things he needed distraction from. He’d lost count of the number of times he'd read the YOAP handbook and brochures, and many helpful phrases from them were etched into his brain.

“Because the program ‘emphasizes isolation from past influences,’ sir: family, friends, anybody that’s part of the offender’s past and might ‘encourage recidivism.’ If anyone from my past contacts me I’m required to tell Agent Speight immediately. And I guess it’s up to him whether I can answer them back.”

“I see. But if you could speak to your parents, wouldn’t you like to?”

Jared frowned down at the desk. If his parents didn’t want to talk to him, he wasn’t sure he could handle learning that right now, but of course they did. They were his parents, and they loved him, and they'd never blamed him for what happened.

“I could guarantee you wouldn’t get in trouble for it.” Whitfield said. “I’d clear it with Agent Speight first. What do you think?”

Jared chanced a glance up. “I don’t know, sir,” he murmured.

“Well, this isn’t a one time only offer,” Whitfield studied him and looked grave. “You can think about it and let me know.”

“Are you afraid they’re angry at you? I mean, you know your parents, we don’t.” Agent Ackles asked, brow furrowed. “You can tell us the truth, Jared. We’ll trust your judgement on this. If you think it’s a bad idea...”

He thought about taking the easy route, just telling them his parents hated him after what had happened. He couldn’t. He’d been doing a lot of disgusting things recently, but lying about his parents wasn’t going to be one of them. Until the very last day in court, they were still assuring him things would be alright, they’d find a way to get him out. He didn’t know why they hadn’t been able to reach him, but he couldn't believe that it was because they’d chosen not to.

“No, they- they never told me they were angry, sir. They didn’t blame me for what happened. But... now that I’ve entered the program... Maybe it’s better if I don’t talk to them anyway. They didn’t want me to enter it, back during the trial when my lawyer brought it up, they said they didn’t like the sound of it.” Jared had been a little confused about their attitude at the time, but now he wondered if they hadn’t just been a lot smarter than him, and worried that someone like Speight would get their hands on him. “If I talk to them they’ll probably say I should end my contract, serve out my term in juvie. They would think that was safer.”

“You can’t tell them you prefer it to juvie?” asked Whitfield.

“They’ll want to know what was worse in juvie, sir.”

“What was worse in juvie?” asked Ackles.

“Everything, sir. I’d rather die than go back there, sir,” he said calmly.

“Jared,” Ackles pressed gently. “What was going on in juvie?”

“I’d rather not talk about it, sir.” He stared at the desk fixedly.

“Alright,” Whitfield agreed grimly. “We don’t have to talk about it, and you don’t have to contact your parents. Just know that I’m available if there’s ever anything you need to discuss, or if you decide a phone call or a letter to the folks is something you’d like to do.”

“And if the boss isn’t available come to me,” Ackles added. “Or, you know, even if he is, you can still come to me. With anything.”

“Thank you, sirs.” Jared said.

“And Jared,” Ackles added with a grin. “If you want to write them and don’t want to tell them how much you hated juvie, you could just tell them all about how awesome your new job is instead.”

*****

“Thanksgiving’s coming up next week,” Speight murmured. “Whitfield, Hodge, and I are signed up to be on-call this year-” he interrupted himself to yawn. “-But if no case comes up, you and I will be having dinner at my mother’s.”

Jared stayed still, curled on his side with his back to Speight. Speight had brought him into his bedroom to sleep, instead of letting him go to his own like usual. He was already feeling scared and confused because of that, and thinking about Thanksgiving didn’t help. He’d never not been with his family on Thanksgiving. It hadn’t always been the happiest holiday for them, but the idea of spending it with a house full of Speight’s family, strangers to him, made him long for his own parents and sisters.

Two years before, Katie had been too sick to leave the hospital, but they’d all gone in and spent all day with her. It had seemed like such a miserable thing at the time.

He remembered coming across his older sister Julie on his way back from the bathroom. She was sitting in a chair in the waiting room, staring at her lap. He’d sat down beside her silently, worried something had happened.

“Mom and Dad wanted to talk to her alone,” she’d said.

“About what?” he’d asked.

“I think they just had some things they wanted to tell her. Because it’s Thanksgiving.” She shrugged. Jared wanted to know why Julie looked so sad, if there really wasn’t anything going on, but he didn’t dare say anything. If there was some secret their parents had told Julie not to tell him, then she wouldn’t. He knew that much.

“Next year will be better,” she’d whispered suddenly, fiercely. There were tears in her eyes. “It has to get better than this.” She pressed her lips together. “She has to get better.”

Jared remembered that he’d almost started crying himself. Just because he wasn’t as close to Katie as Julie was, didn’t mean he wouldn’t have given anything to have her healthy again, to never have to spend another holiday under the harsh fluorescent lights of the hospital.

“She will,” he’d said.

Julie had reached out and taken his hand, squeezed it hard. They’d sat like that for a long time, and even though the mood had been melancholy, Jared remembered thinking that it had been a long time since he’d felt that close to his oldest sister. He remembered giving thanks for that, and feeling guilty that he had something to be thankful for, when they weren't sure if Katie was dying.

The next year had been better, Katie in remission and everybody home. It had seemed like they were never going to have another Thanksgiving as miserable as the one in the hospital.

Speight curled a hand over his shoulder, pulling him out of his memory. “She lives across town, so if we get tired we can always come home early. All three of my sisters are coming with their husbands and kids, so it’s not like she’ll miss us much.”

Jared found himself being gently pulled onto his back. Speight was smiling down at him, but Jared thought there was some serious family bitterness beneath the light words. He found himself smiling back weakly, trying to comfort the man, for some reason. “Is that okay, Jared? I mean, I don’t want to force you into anything if you’re not comfortable. My mother would give me hell, but if you’d rather we could just make our own little holiday, you and I...”

“No, sir. It’s okay, I- We can do whatever you think is best, sir.”

Speight just looked at him a minute, something strange in his eye. “You are so perfect,” he burst out, suddenly. “I knew, when Mark sent me your file, and I read it, and looked at your picture. I knew you’d be worth taking a risk for. I knew people thought I was crazy for doing it. Hell, maybe they still do. But I don’t care. I don’t- you are perfect, you are perfect- I’m sorry I can’t- I’m trying to be patient, but I can’t-” Speight swooped down and began kissing him sloppily. Jared, who’d never kissed anyone before, froze.

He let Speight work his tongue between his lips, let Speight taste every corner of his mouth. He kept waiting for it to get better, but it was gross from start to finish.

Finally, Speight pulled back. He was flushed and his eyes were sparkling manically. “Jared,” he panted. “I know I shouldn’t- shouldn’t tell you this now, tonight. I know it’s only been five days. But to hell with it. You don’t- you don’t need to say it back, but I need to tell you,” Speight took a deep breath and looked deep into Jared’s eyes. “I love you.” Speight beamed.

He started kissing Jared enthusiastically again, and after a little while he took Jared’s hand and pushed it down under the waistband of his pajamas until Jared was touching his penis. Then Jared had that to distract him from the insane declaration. Speight hadn’t made him touch him like that before. He’d been content to just rub himself off on Jared’s back through two layers of clothes every night.

It took a lot of will power to stop himself from panicking, and Jared decided that the ‘I love you’ was really pretty unimportant compared to giving his first handjob ever without freaking out or letting Speight know how disgusting it was.

After he’d finished Speight off, Speight leaned over him and grabbed some tissues from the night stand. Instead of handing them to Jared, he seemed to take pleasure in lovingly wiping each of Jared’s fingers clean.

But the worst of all of it was still to come.

Speight threw the tissues away and came back to bed. He started kissing Jared again, a little more restrained than before, and then he reached his hand down Jared’s pants and wrapped his fingers around Jared’s penis. Jared jumped and tried to pull away, but Speight grasped his hip with his free hand and held him still.

“Shhh,” he murmured. “It’s okay. I’m going to make you feel so good, Jared.”

Jared couldn’t help himself and shook his head.

Speight just smiled down at him fondly. “Has anyone ever done this to you before?”

“No, sir,” Jared whispered, still tensing like he was going to crawl out of the bed.

“Jared,” Speight said warningly. “I know you’re scared, but I promise this will feel good.”

Jared subsided, and Speight began moving his hand. Jared didn’t know where to look. Speight’s flushed face hovered in front of him, but when he closed his eyes, the image lingered on the backs of his eyelids. He felt angry that Speight wouldn’t listen to him and was just going to do this, without caring how much Jared might not want it. He felt cornered, trapped into going along with it the way he’d gone along with everything else. But the worst thing about it was that Speight was right. As much as Jared wanted to pretend it wasn’t true, as ashamed as he was to admit it to himself, on a purely physical level it did feel good. And there wasn’t anything he could tell himself to make that better.

He slept in Speight’s bed that night, with Speight’s arm curled heavily around his waist and Speight’s damp breath warming the back of his neck. He tried not to think of his family, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. He'd never thought he could look back on the Thanksgiving spent in the hospital with longing, but this year, he did.

The next day he wrote to them.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m sorry I haven’t written before. I assume someone told you that I’ve entered the YOAP and they discourage contact with everyone from your past, even your parents. There are some really nice people at the office I’m apprenticing at, though, and they convinced me it was alright to write you and let you know I’m okay.

I am doing well. I like the people here, and the work they do is amazing. They’re all very good at their jobs and they’re very good about teaching me some of the simpler parts of it. I’m also working on earning my GED, so when my sentence is over and I’m free, I’ll have a chance at a real future.

I hope you’re well, and that Katie is still in recovery and doing alright. You’ll have to give her my love and tell her I miss her and the pictures she used to draw me. Tell Julie I love her and miss her too.

I guess that’s about all I have to write. My life is very boring, really. It’s the same routine every day. I feel like I’m really an adult now, because I wake up every morning and go into the office. I’m handling things and I know someday I’ll see you all again, although I know it may be awhile.

I hope you can forgive me for getting myself into this. I never meant for things to happen this way. I never meant to make life harder for us. I hope I can make it all up to you some day, but until then, I’m trying to do the best I can every day not to cause any more worry or stress. Take care of each other and Katie and Julie, and I’ll take care of myself. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Love,

Your son Jared

He thought about asking them to write back, but in the end he decided not to. He was sure they’d know how much he wanted to hear from them without needing to be told.

Whitfield sealed the letter up and stamped it in front of him, then put it in his out tray. Jared still had a lot of trouble reading the man’s face, but he thought he detected some traces of approval there. He didn’t know why it would be important to Whitfield at all that Jared stay in touch with his family, so he figured it was probably just approval that Jared had listened to him. People liked it when they thought someone had listened to them.

*****

They were driving back from a crime scene. In the front Ackles and Cassidy bantered about the price tag for her wedding dress. Speight wasn’t there, because Whitfield had decided to send Jared out with Ackles and Cassidy and keep Speight and Hodge back at the office, researching. Jared had been nervous about it at first, but with the day almost over he could finally relax and admit that it was really nice to be out, doing something different, away from Speight’s hungry eyes. He leaned his head against the window and watched the city go by, only half an ear on the conversation Ackles and Cassidy were having.

“Is it enough to feed a starving child for a year, or are we talking more like the price of a small island nation?” Ackles questioned.

“Fuck you,” said Cassidy smoothly, taking her hand off the wheel to flip Ackles the bird. “It’s my special day. I’m gonna be a princess. You’re not going to make me feel guilty for that.”

Jared hid his smile, just in case, but he was pretty safe from attention in the back seat.

“...anyway, it’s going on my father’s tab, and let me assure you, if he weren’t paying for this dress he wouldn’t be spending it on a starving Ethiopian child or whatever either.”

“Yeah, what’d he be spending it on?”

“My sister’s rehab, probably,” Cassidy snorted.

“Last time didn’t take, huh?”

He wondered if they’d forgotten about him, or if Cassidy was just really open about her family’s dirty laundry all the time. He hadn’t known she’d had a sister. He wondered if her sister were older, like Julie, or younger, like Katie. He thought maybe Cassidy was the older sister. Something about the way she’d shepherded him around the crime scene that day just screamed ‘big sister.’ She’d been kind of bossy, but he hadn’t minded. It had actually set him at ease a little better, since it had seemed like she was paying enough attention that she’d definitely let him know before he managed to screw anything up.

“...expensive type things?” Jensen was asking, when he tuned back in.

“Jewelry type things. My mom’s.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. They could be in a pawn shop anywhere between here and New York right now. Whatever. It’s just jewelry, right...”

Jared’s sisters, Katie and Julie, would never steal jewelry or worry their family if they didn’t have to. He was never as close with them as they were with each other, but he still missed them and definitely worried about them.

After Katie got sick, Julie had started spending a lot of time at the hospital with her while he was still too young to visit and his parents were working. Once Katie got out, it seemed like everybody in the family knew more than he did about what to do for her, what was happening to her, how to make her smile. He’d felt like he was just getting to know her again, and getting used to having a family around, when her remission ended. Then she was back in the hospital, and he got used to the house being mostly his domain even faster than the first time. He fended for himself and kept himself entertained, and when anyone was home he enjoyed the company, but he never expected it.

It was a little lonely. Their house wasn’t in walking distance of any kids his age, and his parents were never around to drive him anywhere.

He’d prided himself on being self-sufficient, but it had seemed like one of the best things that had ever happened to him when Liam Fuller befriended him the first day of school. Liam had a personal driver, and he never let Jared feel weird for always needing a ride. Jared had been so grateful to finally have a real friend. He'd thought his lonely days were finally over. It made him want to go back in time and shake himself.

He didn’t know what lonely was, then. He didn’t know what it was like to really miss his family. He wanted to see their faces, wanted to see them see him. He wanted someone to say his name the way they said it, like they’d known him all his life, like he wasn’t just some amusement to them, or a total mystery.

He wanted them to explain to him that there was a good reason why they still hadn’t written back. He’d sent his letter weeks ago. Thanksgiving had come and gone. Christmas was around the corner. Why didn’t they answer? All he wanted was for them to tell him that. He thumped his head lightly against the window to shake the useless thoughts loose.

“You doin' okay back there, Jared?” Ackles asked, and Jared jerked up to see him turned around in his seat, checking on him. Cassidy’s eyes flicked to his face in the rearview mirror.

“Yes, sir. Thank you sir,” Jared answered quickly.

“Almost back,” Cassidy reassured him, then she looked to Jensen. “Hey, you think the boss’ll let us order pizza tonight?”

“I think he’s not gonna let us go home til we’ve got a lead, so he better at least feed us.”

“Excellent,” Cassidy nodded. “You think Speight’ll let you stay for that?” she asked Jared.

“I hope so, ma’am,” he answered softly. Speight was moody. It was hard to predict when he wanted to hang out with the team and ‘bond,’ and when he’d insist on taking Jared straight home.

Cassidy smiled at him, a real smile. He guessed she must have been impressed at his behavior at the crime scene. It made him want to say I have a sister. I have two. He wanted to tell her that his little sister shared her name: Katie, and that his older sister’s name was Julie, and that Cassidy really reminded him of her..

The words were clogged in his throat and Ackles said “Oh yeah,” and turned up the music loud. There was a song on that Jared knew he liked. A song he’d heard Jensen humming under his breath at the office. He didn’t know what it was called though. He’d never worked up the courage to ask.

There are a lot of things about them that you don’t know. Jared told himself firmly. You hardly know anything about them. There are even more things they don’t know about you. It was better that way, too. It was the way it had to be. He leaned his head against the back of the seat and stared out the window, ignoring the agents in the front and the thick lonely feeling in his chest like a pro.

*****

Jared walked into the little office and gingerly took a seat.

“You must be Jared,” said a man Jared had never seen before.

Jared tried to keep his face blank, but inside, he was falling apart. It had been a month since he’d moved in with Speight. He’d spent most of it looking forward desperately to this day: his first meeting with his YOAP liaison. His liaison was supposed to be like a caseworker, checking in with him to make sure he was alright, but that wasn't what Jared had been waiting for. Pellegrino had told him that the monthly meetings were how they could pass information. He’d spent the entire night before the meeting awake, running over what he should say in his head, trying to decide whether he should be keeping quiet about what Speight was doing to him, or whether he should tell Pellegrino and ask for him to fix it somehow. Pellegrino was supposed to be there.

But Pellegrino wasn’t there. There was only this man. There must have been some kind of mistake.

“I hope your placement is going well for you, Jared,” the man said. “I have something here for you.”

The man held out a silver thumbdrive.

Jared numbly reached across the desk and took it.

“That should copy the entire contents of Richard Speight’s home computer,” the man said. “You’ll need some time though, so next time he leaves you home alone would be a good time for it. You just plug it into a USB port... you’ve used one of these before?”

Jared nodded dumbly.

“Good. Well, this one isn’t any different than what you’ve used before, except that once you plug it in it will automatically start copying. You don’t have to click and drag anything. Just plug it in and let it run. A message will pop up when it’s done. Unplug it, put it somewhere safe, then bring it to your next liaison meeting, next month. Do you understand?”

Jared nodded, managed to work up enough spit in his mouth to croak, “Yes, sir.”

“Alright then. You got any questions?”

“Sir, I...I don’t understand. Where is...” he trailed off, suddenly afraid to say Agent Pellegrino’s name aloud.

“Agent Pellegrino couldn’t be here today,” the man said. “I’m filling in for him. If you’ve got any messages for him, now’s the time. I promise I’ll pass them on in a timely manner.”

Jared shook his head.

“Alright, well if that’s all then-”

“Sir,” Jared blurted. He wanted to ask where Pellegrino was and why he couldn’t be there, and why this man seemed to know about the plan when Pellegrino had said he was working alone. He wanted to ask if he could speak to Pellegrino in person because there was actually something very important he needed to discuss with him.

“Yes?” the man asked, one eyebrow raised.

“I. Uh. What if I’m not ever, uh, alone at the house?”

“It’ll be a lot riskier if you have to wait until he’s asleep,” the man frowned. Jared bit his lip. Speight was bringing him into his own bedroom at night and falling asleep half on top of him.

“I don’t think that will work either, sir,” he mumbled.

“He a light sleeper?” the man asked.

Jared shrugged and nodded, unable to meet the man’s eyes.

“Well, just bide your time and wait until you’ve got a good opportunity,” the man sighed. “Agent Pellegrino wanted me to remind you that you’re no good to him if Speight gets suspicious. There’s no rush. Keep yourself below the radar, that’s the important thing. No unnecessary risks. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Anything else?” the man asked.

Jared chewed on his lip. The man seemed to take that as his answer.

“Alright then. Put that in your pocket. Don’t lose it, don’t let Speight see it, especially not after you’ve copied the hard drive.”

Jared shoved it into his pocket, hand trembling a little.

“You can go ahead and go wait on one of the chairs just outside the door for Speight to come for you,” the man said.

“Sir, I... Will Agent Pellegrino be here next month?” Jared asked desperately.

“I couldn’t tell you,” the man replied. “Why? Something wrong?”

“No, sir, nothing’s wrong,” Jared answered.

He trudged out of the office and waited for Speight to come bring him home again.



Chapter Four

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December 2011

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