mya_rofki: (kingsblkdragon)
[personal profile] mya_rofki


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“She’s seven years old!” Whitfield shouted into his phone, and everyone in the squad room blanched. If he was loud enough to be heard that clearly through his half open office door, it had to be something bad. “How long, exactly, were you planning on waiting?”

Hodge shot raised eyebrows at Ackles, and Ackles mouthed back a word that must have been a name, given that Hodge frowned and muttered “Who?” Ackles rolled his eyes and surreptitiously wrote something on some scrap paper.

Jared had a split second choice between staying up front for a good view of Whitfield, or getting back out of the danger zone, while also being of some small use to Ackles. It was a no-brainer. Jared started oh so coincidentally heading back for his desk from the printer at just the right moment and Ackles handed the paper off to him as if they’d planned it.

Heyerdahl, the paper read in Ackles’ professional scrawl. It meant nothing to Jared. He handed it off to Hodge without looking at him, just in case Whitfield was watching. Not that anybody would get in real trouble for gossiping, but the team liked to impress the boss by keeping themselves as informed as possible without needing to ask questions. It was a pointless game, since Whitfield wouldn’t keep anybody on his team who he didn’t feel belonged there. But everybody played it anyway, including Jared, these days.

Back at his desk, he shuffled the papers he’d printed out and glanced to the side to see Speight just bursting to ask him. He leaned over quickly, murmured “Heyerdahl, sir?”

Speight nodded sagely. “He’s the Chief of Police.” Speight muttered. “I heard he and Whitfield had a nasty territorial dispute during a case about a year before I joined GIS, definite bad blood there. If they have to work together in any capacity on this one there’s gonna be fireworks. Sounds like the man’s already lit the fuse. What was Whitfield shouting? Could you hear him?”

“Something about a seven year old girl who’s missing, sir. It sounded like Heyerdahl had waited too long to inform GIS.”

“What else?”

“I’m sorry, sir. That was all I heard.”

Speight nodded and straightened up to get a better view of Whitfield. Jared chanced a glance towards the front of the office and saw Whitfield talking into the phone, voice lower but his eyes still thunderous. Jared was glad not to be on the other end of that call. After two months on the team, Whitfield still had the ability to make his heart race with no more than a glance. He glued his eyes to his desk and started dutifully filling out the paperwork he’d just printed.

Five minutes later, Whitfield strode into the middle of the squad room, glowering. Jared checked the clock. It was already 4:30 in the afternoon. The call from Heyerdahl couldn’t have come at a worse time. Speight would probably be ordered to take Jared home before rejoining the others. According to the regulations (and child labor laws) Jared couldn’t work overtime like an adult. They’d been stretching the limits of that since the first day, because Whitfield’s team regularly worked past 5:00 on hot cases, but this case was just getting started, and there was no way they wouldn’t be working late into the night. It would more than just stretch the limits a little. But if Speight had to take him home, he would be out of the loop from the get-go, on a case where Whitfield would be just itching for an excuse to snap at people.

He also felt disappointment at the thought that he’d be sent home like a child, when the rest of the team would be working to save a seven year old girl. It was silly, sending him home when he was perfectly capable of working, contributing something.

“Listen up people, we just got a call from metro,” Whitfield cut off his thoughts. “The daughter of a postal worker went missing this morning. They tried to hold off on giving it to us, but post office is government and that makes this ours. Now they’ve gone and blown the first six hours without appreciable results, but that doesn’t mean I don’t expect us to have that little girl back to her family before the night is over. Now cancel your dinner plans and gear up. We’ve got a crime scene, a distraught family, a neighborhood to recanvas... and everything we do, we should’ve been doing six hours ago.”

For a moment there was calm, and then Whitfield roared “Move it people!” and everyone whirled into motion, grabbing guns and badges, shutting down computers, swilling coffee. Jared grabbed a notebook and supply of pens, then pulled on his coat, hat, and gloves. One thing he’d learned about outdoor crime scenes was how cold it could get, standing around waiting for clues to be interpreted and leaps of logic to be made.

Speight shot Jared a glance as he pulled on his own coat, but didn’t say anything. Maybe he didn’t realize the time, or maybe, like Jared, he was hoping nobody else would.

Jared made it all the way down to the garage before getting found out. They were splitting up between two vehicles when Whitfield cast his eyes over the assembled team and focused on Jared.

“Shit,” he growled. “What the hell is he doing out here? Speight?” Whitfield cast around and glared fiercely at Speight. “You gonna take the fucking kid home, or what?”

For some reason, Jared hadn’t realized that of course Whitfield would be furious to see him, and of course Whitfield would blame Speight for it, and of course this was an incredibly stupid plan. Speight was so hard to live with when he was pissed. But it wasn’t even Speight being mad at him that made Jared’s heart sink to his boots, though it should’ve been. It was that glare from Whitfield and the way he’d said it. That fucking kid... It rang in his ears.

“I didn’t want to waste time, sir,” Speight offered weakly.

“So, what? Now you’re wasting even more time with this?”

“Please, sir,” Jared croaked, and he didn’t know where he got the courage, or maybe the blatant stupidity. “I want to help, sir. If I could. I just wanted to help find the little girl.”

Whitfield glared at him and Jared shrank back, ready to duck his head and grovel. And then a miracle happened. Whitfield pinned Jared with an even fiercer glare and barked, “No whining and getting tired of it after an hour! We could be there all night, you understand? And I’m not sparing anyone who could be working just to drive your ass home!”

Jared nodded, mouth open.

“You will do exactly as you're told, including keeping out of the way when people need you out of the way.”

“Yes, sir.”

“If I think you’re getting in the way at any point I will stick you with the local PD to be babysat.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” Jared mumbled quickly, and Whitfield grunted again and turned and got into the nearest car.

“Cassidy, Ackles, you’re with me. Speight and Hodge, meet us there. And you better be five seconds behind us.”

“Yes, sir,” Speight said with feeling. He sent a glare at Jared and gave him a not so gentle shove towards the back seat once Whitfield was turned away, but Jared didn’t care, still stunned.

He spent the car ride fighting off the doubt that started creeping in almost immediately. If he screwed up even the smallest little bit, he had no doubt Whitfield would be all over it, and he might never forgive Jared or look at him the same way again.

Anyway, he wasn’t actually there to make friends and impress the boss. He was worrying about all the wrong things. He was supposed to be keeping his head down and not drawing attention to himself, not risking his place at the office, and by extension, his placement with Speight, before he'd definitely gotten the information Pellegrino needed.

*****

Lindsey Dinwiddie had disappeared from her own backyard, right from under her mother’s nose. The woman was sitting at the kitchen table reading, and when she looked up, her daughter was gone. 10:00am, broad daylight on a quiet street, and someone came and snatched Lindsey Dinwiddie without leaving a trace.

It was cold when they got there, and getting dark. Whitfield chose to talk to the mother first, then review the crime scene, while the other agents paired off to canvas houses. Jared was stuck with Whitfield, trailing silently behind him with his pen and pad ready. He wished he were anywhere else, and couldn’t shake the feeling Whitfield wanted to be the one personally keeping on eye on him, because he wanted to be right there to jump on him if Jared screwed up.

The mother was a pretty brunette woman with thick eyebrows drawn together in worry. She was leaning against a police car, both hands wrapped around a styrofoam cup. Jared wondered why she didn’t get out of the cold with her house right there, and how long she’d been outside.

“Mrs. Dinwiddie,” Whitfield said coolly. “I’m Special Agent Charles Whitfield with GIS. I apologize we’re only just now being brought onto the case, but I assure you that starting from this minute the full resources of GIS will be trained on finding your daughter and bringing her home safe.”

“Thank you Agent... Whitfield? Sorry, just, a lot of people have introduced themselves to me today...” Her eyes were red but dry. Her mouth defaulted into a stiff, untrembling line when she wasn’t speaking. She looked, dazed, like she was in the middle of a bad dream.

“Of course. Yes, Agent Whitfield is correct. Now, I know you’ll have gone over it several times already, but it would really help me if you’d tell me about the events of this morning, in as much detail as you can stand. We can do it right here, or if you think it would help we can go inside where you were sitting?”

“Oh. No. I’d like to be out here,” she said vaguely and Whitfield nodded.

“Alright. Then, let’s start with this morning...”

Jared listened and quietly took notes as the woman went through her morning. Nothing stuck out as unusual to him, so he wrote down everything. Whitfield asked the occasional question to move her along, but didn’t really start joining in until she seemed to have reached the end and run out of steam. Then he began asking more questions. Was there anyone driving past while Lindsay played? Did any of her neighbors look out their windows or come out on their front lawns to say hi? Did Lindsay usually play outside at the same time, and had she ever noticed anyone driving or walking by in the past?

But there was nothing as far as Jared could tell. Whitfield’s face was hard to read at the best of times, but he was pretty sure the man hadn’t found anything to get his brain ticking either. He led Mrs. Dinwiddie through the story again, this time asking for much more detail towards the end. When Mrs. Dinwiddie got to the point where she finished her chapter and looked up to find her daughter gone from her snow fort, she broke down crying.

“I’m sorry,” she choked, “I’m sorry.”

Jared pulled out a tissue and held it out for Whitfield to give to her, but she saw it first and took it straight from him. “Thank you,” she choked, wiping her eyes and nose roughly.

“You’re welcome, ma’am.”

She balled the tissue up and stuck it in her pocket, then seemed to actually see him for the first time.

“What are you doing here, anyway?” she asked hoarsely. Jared stiffened, suddenly afraid she wouldn’t like having a criminal out there at her daughter’s crime scene. “I mean, you’re a little young to be an agent, aren’t you?”

“Uh. I’m an apprentice, ma’am,” he said.

“How old are you?”

“Fourteen, ma’am.”

“You look younger,” she said softly. The way her eyes were still shining with tears as she regarded him made him want to squirm, but he met her gaze and and tried to hold himself still. “Lindsey’s just turned seven, but she’s so tall for her age...” the woman trailed off and her lips trembled.

“Ma’am, I’m going to look over the crime scene now.” Whitfield interrupted, his attention wandering towards the CSIs to their right. “You don’t have to stay out here any longer, if you want to wait with your husband by the phone...”

She shook her head. “I’ll go crazy. I feel terrible, but I can’t sit there staring at that phone another minute. When they asked if I’d come out here to meet you I practically tore the door off its hinges. Are you sure there isn’t anything else I can help with out here? I could talk to the neighbors, they know me, they might tell me something...”

“Thank you Mrs. Dinwiddie, but I think we’ve got that pretty well covered, unless there’s someone in particular around here that’s got a problem with law enforcement?”

“No,” she laughed painfully. “It’s really a very nice neighborhood, everyone around here is just... good people. I can’t believe something like this could happen right here. It won’t be anybody from the neighborhood, I’m certain of that.”

“Sometimes people are very good at hiding who they truly are.” Whitfield didn’t wait for a response. “I’m going to leave Jared right here with you, and if you need anything he’ll come get me. Let him know if you decide to head back to the house too, so I know where you are. And honestly Mrs. Dinwiddie, I know it’s difficult and probably seems useless, but the best thing you can do for us right now is just go through this morning in your own head, detail by detail, try and think if there’s anything at all, no matter how insignificant, that struck you. Also, a list of anybody who Lindsey knows well enough to have gone along with would be good. I mean anybody, no matter how unlikely it seems that they’d take your daughter: aunts, uncles, friends, teachers, neighbors. No one will see it but us. Jared can take that down for you. Those things are how you can help your daughter right now, and they might feel like busywork, but believe me Mrs. Dinwiddie, smaller things have broken a case than most people could possibly imagine.”

“Yes. Yes all right. I understand Agent Whitfield. I’ll do my best.”

“Jared, stay with her, make sure if she needs anything, she gets it,” Whitfield barked, the soft eyes he’d been giving Mrs. Dinwiddie suddenly gone.

Jared nodded quickly and almost added a salute to his “Yes, sir.”

Whitfield didn’t even smile, just nodded and stalked off towards the crime scene.

“Is he always that brusque?” Mrs. Dinwiddie asked, eyes on Whitfield’s retreating back. Jared was startled by the sharpness in her voice.

“He just wants to get your daughter back, ma’am,” Jared ventured. “He hates to waste time, but especially on a case with children, ma’am.”

“Good. That’s good,” she murmured, still frowning. “Does he have children of his own?”

“He’s very particular about keeping his personal life separate, ma’am.” Jared said quickly. He thought it would probably comfort her to know Whitfield had two young daughters, but it wasn’t his place to say. One thing he certainly knew was that Whitfield did not appreciate his family life being dragged into his job. “You should ask him if it’s important to you to know, ma’am...”

She was still frowning. Clearly, for some reason she didn’t trust Whitfield, and Jared cast around for something to say to make her feel better. “Ma’am," he offered tentatively. "I have a little sister. She’s, uh, she’s a few years older than your daughter. If she went missing, I’d want Special Agent Whitfield and the his team looking for her, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” she looked down at him and smiled shakily. “Thank you, Jared. I suppose that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.”

He smiled tentatively back, and she said suddenly, “Why don’t we go inside to make this list after all? We could make some hot cocoa or something. I’m sure you must be freezing!”

“I’m alright, ma’am,” Jared answered quickly, but he was glad to follow her into the brightness and warmth of the kitchen.

She made excellent hot cocoa, and after two months of living with Speight, the taste of real sugar was to die for.

*****

Around 9:00 PM, Whitfield decided to send Hodge, Speight, and Jared back to the office to start background checks on the family and a few of the neighbors who raised some alarm bell or other.

Before they left the crime scene, Whitfield took him aside to ask how Mrs. Dinwiddie seemed to be taking it, and if she’d told Jared anything new. Jared answered his questions as best he could, and it didn’t occur to him until Whitfield nodded thoughtfully and left him that maybe Mrs. Dinwiddie was also a suspect. It didn’t make sense to Jared that Whitfield would trust him to find out information about that though. He decided the man was probably half honestly wondering how she was doing, and half testing Jared’s observational skills. He spent the car ride back to the office going over and over what he’d said, hoping he’d sounded intelligent, at least.

Around 11:00, Jared found himself yawning for what felt like the hundredth time, and Speight caught him at it and ordered him to go take a nap on the break room sofa.

Hodge groaned and said, “Lucky little bastard,” as Jared left, without any real venom. He ended up delaying by five minutes to fix Hodge and Speight each a cup of coffee the way they liked it and bring it to them before finally flopping down on the couch and passing out.

Speight shook him awake around 1AM.

“Any leads, sir?” Jared mumbled, propping himself on one elbow and rubbing at his eye. Speight looked about as exhausted as Jared felt. But as Jared struggled to wake himself up, Speight’s expression brightened. He glanced quickly over his shoulder, then brushed a gentle hand through Jared’s hair.

“What you do to me...” Speight murmured, pulling back. “No. No leads.” He sighed and hauled Jared to his feet. “We’ll get a few hours sleep at home and start again early in the morning.”

They walked through the office, where the rest of the team were all still working. The lights were too bright, and nobody was making any noise but soft shuffling. It was surreal somehow, and Jared knew it was only because he was still half asleep, but for one minute Jared wondered about how it would be if his life were normal. How would it be if he were five years older, and not a youthful offender. If Speight had no problem kissing him in front of the rest of the team, and Jared could just smile and shrug like ‘He’s in love, what can you do?’ And Jared wouldn’t be working to bring Speight down, and his biggest worry would be how to break up with him without hurting him too badly. And these people would really see him as a friend.

“Night guys,” Cassidy called as Speight steered him toward the elevator.

“Goodnight, ma’am,” Jared mumbled. “Goodnight, sirs.”

“Night,” Speight called cheerily at the same time. “See you bright and early.” Everybody groaned.

In the elevator, Speight put a hand on Jared’s shoulder, right about where Mrs. Dinwiddie had put hers earlier that night. Jared thought about her, going to bed without the least idea of where her daughter was or whether she was even still alive. For an instant he felt really lucky, having the whole team safe and sound, knowing he could go to bed without worrying. Then he thought about his real family, how he hadn’t heard from them since he got put away, and how maybe something had happened to them right after and nobody had informed him. How would he know, if something had?

Speight guided him into the car and buckled his seatbelt for him, then kept his hands to himself until they hit a red light about half a mile from home. Jared still hadn’t succeeded in getting his family off his mind by then, so it was almost a relief when Speight reached for him across the divide of their seats, dragged him forward and kissed him soundly.

“Jesus,” Speight grumbled, hauling him back by the shoulders to look him in the face. “This case is getting to me. We don’t catch a break and it’s going to be eating up our lives for weeks. Whitfield’s not going to let it go easily. I haven’t been with him on a child abduction, but Hodge was talking, he says we haven’t seen anything yet. And all night I’d check in on you, and you’d look so...” Speight sighed heavily and pulled a hand possesively through Jared’s hair. “I just wanted to take you home safely.” His breathing got heavier. “Never let you out of my sight.”

He dragged Jared forward and Jared went easily, opening his mouth under a fresh onslaught, and thinking that seeing the aftermath of a child going missing probably pushed all his buttons. As though the man wasn’t paranoid and protective enough on a normal night.

“Jesus Jesus, c’mere,” Speight growled and unclipped Jared’s seatbelt one handed, dragging him forward by the neck with the other. Jared stretched uncomfortably between the front seats, Speight supporting his upper body while his legs curled on the passenger seat.

The light turned green and then red and then green again, before Speight pushed him back over to his seat. He slid his fingers down to capture Jared’s hand and held it the rest of the way home, thumb sweeping restlessly over his skin.

Jared felt a shiver rock him as they pulled up to the house. There was a certain part of him that didn’t hate the way the man looked at him. Not at all. Sometimes, it was the only thing that felt good about a day, knowing that he’d put that look there.

*****

“You need a haircut,” Mrs. Dinwiddie said, sweeping his bangs back from his face. Her skin was cool and dry. She hadn’t been eating enough and her face, especially around the cheeks, looked gaunt and worn. It had been a week since her daughter went missing, and Jared had spent almost every day with her, watching her get thinner.

His hair was too long, because Speight wouldn’t let him get it cut. Speight liked it shaggy and in his way, and didn’t care to hear that Jared preferred it shorter.

Jared didn’t say anything to Mrs. Dinwiddie about that, just looked away. He was sure she would believe him if he told her about Speight, but it wouldn’t be right, putting that burden on her. She had enough to deal with, and she didn't have the power to help him.

“Want to help me make lunch?” She smiled at him and moved away, towards the kitchen.

Jared’s mother had devoted herself to Katie like a personal crusade, but before Katie got sick she’d worked full time, and after, she’d still worked part time. When Katie was in remission or she had a few spare hours, she did a lot of work for cancer research foundations. Mrs. Dinwiddie was probably more focused when her daughter wasn't missing, but she drifted in a way Jared’s mother never had, even when Katie had first been admitted to the hospital. And she was soft in a way his mother never really had been either. She was his idea of motherly, but she was nothing like his mother. She made him miss his mother though, if he started comparing them too much.

Jared followed her automatically, abandoning the living room and its nest of phone tracing equipment, headphones and microphones and snarls of wires that had never been put into use. There hadn’t been a ransom call. There hadn’t been any word at all.

“What should I do, ma’am?” he asked.

“Chop those.” She pulled stalks of celery out of the fridge and set them on the cutting board. “Little slices about this big. We’re making Waldorf Salad. It’s one of Lindsey’s favorites.”

He ducked his head and picked up the knife. He liked being with Mrs. Dinwiddie, but he tried to avoid her eyes when Lindsey came up. It was hard to see that flash of pain, and harder to hide his own occasional, ridiculous, flash of jealousy. He just wondered if his mother missed him the same way. He knew his mother loved him, but it was hard to picture her missing him so helplessly, somehow.

“She could come home today,” Mrs. Dinwiddie said, conversational with just the barest trace of desperation beneath it. He was so used to that strain he hardly noticed anymore, but sometimes he did wonder what her voice had sounded like before. “Imagine if we had Waldorf Salad waiting for her. What a homecoming.”

Mrs. Dinwiddie always waited until she had Jared alone to talk like that. Jared hadn’t told any of the team about it, not even Whitfield, who checked in with him daily for a report on how Mrs. Dinwiddie was holding up. He knew it was foolish, but he felt like he’d be betraying her if he shared his concerns. He wished Mr. Dinwiddie hadn’t decided to go to work like normal every day and abandon her to the house full of investigators. He wished she would talk like this around Whitfield, or Speight, or someone who knew what to say. But she still hadn't really warmed up to Whitfield, and the others rotated in and out frequently.

When he talked with her, Jared always knew he was only making it worse, but staying silent didn’t seem right either.

“What’s her favorite food?” Jared asked, when nothing else occured to him.

“Oh, she has so many favorites,” Mrs. Dinwiddie smiled. She was at another cutting board, chopping walnuts, and her steady rhythmic movements were almost hypnotic. “Hamburgers, lasagna, avocados with thousand island. I’ll make lasagna tomorrow, just have to run to the store for some ingredients in the morning. Do you think Agent Whitfield could spare you? Lindsey always wants to come to the grocery store with me.” She looked over her shoulder at him and smiled, still chopping. It made him nervous and he quickly looked down at his own hands, finished cutting the last inch of celery.

“I’m afraid I probably can’t go with you, ma’am,” he said with his eyes on his knife. “I... I need to be accompanied by, you know, an official guardian.” Her chopping stopped. He looked up to find her watching him with round eyes.

“I just don’t...” she shook her head violently, and for a second he was afraid he’d angered her. “What could you possibly have done?” She demanded. “Is it- Do they at least let you go home at night? Or is there some sort of facility?”

“I go home with Agent Speight, ma’am. He’s my court appointed guardian.”

“Oh. I didn’t... Agent Speight... with the brown hair?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“So how often do you get to see your family?”

“I don’t, ma’am.”

“You don’t?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Not at all?”

“No, ma’am.”

“How long until you do?” she asked intently.

“I was sentenced to ten years.”

“Ten years? But that’s insane. You’ll be twenty-four. You- You’re a child. What could you possibly have done? What were the charges against you, Jared? I mean, really?”

“I, uh- robbery, ma’am, and manslaughter.”

She gaped at him for a minute, then turned helplessly back to her cutting board. With brisk jerky movements she swept her walnuts into a bowl and slammed it back on the counter.

“Did you do it?” She demanded, turning to look at him fiercely. “Did you steal from someone, and what, cause their death?”

“No,” he said fiercely, more fiercely than he’d ever talked to her. “It wasn’t like that, ma'am. Not at all. I was stupid, but it was an accident. We weren’t- we weren’t stealing. Liam and I, my friend Liam, we weren’t stealing, we were just looking at this antique-” at the last minute Jared decided not to say ‘dagger.’ “His grandfather had this antique, and we took it so we could look at it better, and then his grandfather surprised us and we fell down the staircase. And I was okay, but Liam wasn’t. We weren’t stealing and it was just a stupid accident. He died, but I didn’t mean for it to happen. I never thought anyone would get hurt.”

She studied him wordlessly, and after a second he could see tears glimmering in her eyes. “But you aren’t a criminal. How could they-? How could they do that to your mother? How could they look her in the eye and take you away from her for the rest of your childhood? For that? For a mistake?”

He could see that she was upset, but he was startled when she began to cry for real. He hadn’t seen her cry since the first day. She stumbled over to him and pulled him into her arms. Her sobs were wordless and ugly.

There was a noise in the doorway, and he looked up to see Ackles watching the scene with a concerned twist to his brow. A second later Speight popped up behind him and made to brush past him, but Ackles grabbed his arm and shook his head. Speight subsided with a frown.

Okay? Ackles mouthed from the doorway. Jared wasn’t sure, but Ackles’ stealth and his hand on Speight’s arm told him that the answer Ackles was expecting was ‘yes.’ He nodded. Mrs. Dinwiddie was already quieting herself, but she was still dripping like a faucet into Jared’s shoulder and her hands were fisted in his shirt in a deathgrip. Ackles pulled Speight away, and Jared was left alone to run his hands tentatively over her back and support the limp weight of her.

Eventually she lifted her head and wiped her nose sheepishly on the cuff of her sweater. She caught him looking and laughed wetly. “If Lindsey were here I’d be telling her to get a tissue for God’s sakes. God. That’s gross.” She smiled shakily at him and wiped at the tender skin under her eyes carefully.

*****

“She’s getting too attached to him,” Speight whined. Whitfield looked surprised and then rapidly thunderous.

“She’s lost her daughter. You don’t think it’s a good thing to give her what comfort she can find while we search?”

“It’s not healthy.” Whitfield’s eyebrows leaped up, and Speight clarified, “For Jared I mean.”

Jared held his breath and padded a couple steps back behind the doorway.

“Maybe it’s nice and healthy for her, don’t get me wrong,” Speight continued, “But it’s unfair to ask Jared to be some kind of- surrogate child to a grieving mother. It’s too much.”

“Has he said something to you?”

“Have you watched the way she treats him?” Speight snorted in answer. “It's wholly inappropriate, and I don’t want to tell a grieving mother to back off... but he’s fourteen years old, and he’s got plenty of his own issues to deal with. I mean seriously, sir, you can ask Ackles. She was weeping on his shoulder earlier. He doesn’t know what to do with that. She needs grief counseling or something, from a professional, not a child who’s still adjusting to his own situation.”

“I’m not convinced this is as serious as you say, Richard. But I will keep on eye on it,” Whitfield sighed. He sounded exhausted. “We don’t find Lindsey Dinwiddie and I guess it won’t make much of a difference either way how much of a shoulder Mrs. Dinwiddie had to cry on during the search. Speaking of missing persons, have you had any luck with the Padaleckis yet?”

“No, sir.” Speight’s voice snapped with frustration. “I tried calling them again last week, before this case blew up. Left a message, same as all the others. Not a peep out of them.”

Jared felt something in his chest constrict to the point of breaking. He hadn’t known Speight was trying to reach his parents.

“Christ,” Whitfield said, low and serious. “How can they just ignore your calls? Are they not even curious about what’s happening with their son?”

“Fucking assholes,” Speight said in agreement.

“It looks that way,” Whitfield agreed. “But until you actually reach them, let’s reserve our judgement.”

The conversation turned to progress being made on the case. Jared leaned against the wall, his chest burning. After long enough had passed for him to get his breathing under control, he headed back into the kitchen to find Mrs. Dinwiddie.

She was shelling a big bowl of peas, and gladly patted a chair beside her for him to plop his butt in. She smiled as he joined her, started talking about Lindsey right away, picking up the conversation they were perpetually in the middle of.

Jared caught sight of Whitfield in the doorway watching them some time later. No way to tell how long the man had been there, but there was a solemn look in his eye that Jared didn’t like, and when he smiled it was brief and did nothing to reassure him.

It made Jared a little angry, honestly. Mrs. Dinwiddie needed him, and nobody else seemed to help her the way he did. He didn’t know what he was doing right, but something about him calmed her down, and they were thinking about taking that away? It made no sense at all.

*****

Though Jared definitely saw Whitfield try paying more attention after his talk with Speight, Jared found he needn’t have worried about the man interfering. Things started breaking in the case, and soon the team were running off their feet, trying to track down a person who’d posted pictures online of a young girl who it was almost certain was Lindsey. Her face couldn’t be seen in a pictures, but she had a mole that seemed to identify her, and the timing was exactly right. The problem was tracing the anonymous poster, and it required all hands on deck.

Jared was busy too. Mrs. Dinwiddie seemed more absentminded all the time, and Jared had to work hard to try to keep her focused and moving. Once she forgot all about the muffins she was baking, and if Jared hadn’t been home with her she probably would have burned the house down. It made him worry about her, but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to finally feel really useful. If he couldn’t help the team with the rest of the investigation, at least he had his role to play, and he took pride in that.

It was four days later that they found Lindsey Dinwiddie. She was in the back room of a house down the block from her own house. She’d been held there by a neighbor Mrs. Dinwiddie had trusted and never said a bad word against.

Jared watched from the sidelines as Mrs. Dinwiddie walked alongside the stretcher. They were bringing Lindsey to the hospital to get checked out, but the preliminary report from Cassidy and Hodge, who were the ones to break the door down and find her, was that she looked alert and generally unharmed. Even from where Jared stood, he could tell that Mrs. Dinwiddie was lit up with joy.

The stretcher was loaded smoothly into the ambulance and Mrs. Dinwiddie hopped into the back without so much as a glance around. She had her daughter back, and she only had eyes for her.

It occurred to him that he’d probably never see Mrs. Dinwiddie again. Why would he? They didn’t need to be around to guard the phones any more. The investigation needed to be wound up, but a lot of that would be office work, and would focus on the perpetrator, not the victim. He told himself that maybe Mrs. Dinwiddie would come by to thank them, or maybe they’d do some kind of follow up with her, or something. That couldn’t have been the last time he’d ever see her. It couldn’t have been.

Jared knew it was coming all along, but he realized suddenly that he hadn’t been prepared for how it would feel when the case ended. Speight might have been right about this assignment being unhealthy for him.

That night Speight lapped at the back of his neck, mouth sloppy-wet like a dog’s, and Jared barely felt the usual stirring of disgust. He thought he should be worried that he didn’t mind Speight’s messy, possessive kind of love as much as he used to. But maybe it was natural. Speight was like his family now, and a person couldn’t choose their family. A person had to learn to adjust to things they didn’t like about their family, and in return they were protected and taken care of. When he thought about it like that, it seemed more sensible not to worry about how easily he accepted Speight’s affection now.

That didn’t mean he didn’t worry at all any more, but the focus had shifted. Now, he was trying his best to ignore the fact that there were people using the information Jared had given them to work against Speight, to work to put him in prison. He was trying to ignore the thought that had occurred to him, that maybe he should consider giving Speight some kind of warning about that, that maybe he owed it to the man.

*****

“Lindsey Dinwiddie’s out of the hospital,” Whitfield announced to the squad room. “She’s going to be just fine.”

Ackles started a clap that spread quickly through the squad room, then brought it up a notch by cheering and whistling. Speight clamped a hand on Jared’s neck and gave him a happy little shake. Hodge saw it and did the same to Ackles, and Jared and Speight both laughed.

Later, after they’d all drifted back to their desks and begun attempting to get work done again, Whitfield called Jared into his office.

“First, I want to say straight out that you are not in trouble,” Whitfield smiled.

Jared let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

“In fact, I wanted to tell you that everyone was really impressed by your conduct on this case, Jared, including myself. You provided Traci Dinwiddie with support that none of the rest of us had time to give her, and I know that can’t have been easy. One of the hardest parts of this job is interacting with the victims. People who’ve been victimized and brutalized by the malice or even carelessness of their fellow man don’t trust easily, but it’s vital to our job to get them to trust us. You seem to have a genuine knack for that, and I really appreciated it on this case.”

Jared blinked in shock, and barely managed to stutter out, “Thank you, sir.”

“Second, this came for you. I didn’t open it myself, because it’s yours, and it’s private. But I would like you to read it here, if you don’t mind. I’ll be working on my report, so take your time.”

He held out a thin white envelope. Jared’s heart started pounding like a kettledrum, and he was almost afraid to take it for a few shameful seconds. When he finally did, his eyes immediately flew to the return address. He read it, and his heart immediately began to slow.

Agent Whitfield worked steadily at his computer, giving every indication that as far as he was concerned, he was alone in the office. Jared was grateful. He didn’t know why he’d thought it would be something from his parents, when they hadn’t given any indication of wanting to talk to him for three months already, but it embarrassed him that he’d leapt to such a stupid conclusion and gotten so excited about it.

The letter was actually from Traci Dinwiddie. It thanked him for being a friend to her, and for being part of the team that brought her daughter home. It talked about Lindsey, and how well she was doing, and it even included a picture of a cat she’d drawn. The last paragraph was the hardest to read, though it was short. It said that she wouldn’t stop praying for him to see his own family again soon, and that he should stay strong, and that he was a wonderful boy and it had been her good fortune to have met him. For some reason, that part made bitter tears fill his eyes.

It wasn’t like she owed him anything. It wasn’t like he’d expected anything from her. It just hurt to read, for no good reason, and he quickly refolded the letter and stuck it back in its envelope so he wouldn’t find himself reading it over.

Whitfield continued giving the impression that he was absorbed in his work, but he waited to begin talking again until Jared had finished pulling himself together.

“It’s a good thing, to keep your heart open, Jared,” he said quietly. His eyes were full of compassion. “But you have to learn how to guard it, too. Think of it like the world is a wilderness, and you’ve got this fire. You need that fire for light and warmth. You need it to live. And you can share it too, with other people who need a spark or an ember to light their own fire. But if you just let people grab branches willy nilly, pretty soon you’ll have nothing left for yourself. And if you let everyone else crowd around it, pretty soon you can’t get through to feed your own fire, and it goes out. And there are some people who will smother it. There are people who can’t stand to see a beautiful fire, and there are people who just don’t know how to take care of one. You need to guard it carefully, and that way, when you need to share it, you can, and when you need it for yourself, you will have it. It's a little corny, I know, but do you understand what I’m saying here, Jared?”

“I think so, sir,” he mumbled.

“Mrs. Dinwiddie needed the warmth you gave her. It was good of you to offer it to her, and there was no shame in her taking it. But too much of that, well, no person can give so much all the time, and not risk putting their own fire out.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you ever heard the term ‘burn out,’ Jared?”

“No, sir.”

“It’s a term we use in law enforcement; people use it in other professions too. It means someone let their fire burn out. It means they’re done. They can’t help anyone else anymore. Often, it means they don’t even have enough left to help themselves. It happens to good investigators and bad. In fact, often, it happens to the best.”

Jared nodded to show he understood.

“You’ve gotten off to an excellent start here Jared, and I’d like to include you more actively in our investigations. But I do have some concerns. There’s a lot of time left on your sentence, and I feel your situation brings you a lot of uncertainty and stress that no other agent here has to deal with. I don’t want to find myself a year from now, looking back on this moment and wondering what I was thinking, forcing you to take on more than you could handle. If you find a case hitting you hard, or if there’s even a moment where your life, any part of it, begins to feel overwhelming, I want you to promise you’ll tell somebody. It could be Speight, or Ackles, or Cassidy, or Hodge. I’d be honored if it were me. Any one of us is available to you, and if you don’t want to talk to us about specifics, any one of us can get you an appointment with the GIS counsellor. She’s a wonderful woman. I’ve talked to her myself when things were piling up on me. Just, promise me you’ll talk to someone if you even suspect you might need to.”

Jared nodded.

“If I see you struggling, and you don’t ask for help,” he continued in a sterner tone, “I will reconsider."

Jared nodded quickly.

"I’m assuming you are interested in more crime scene visits and observing interviews and things of that nature? You can stay with the strictly secretarial work if you prefer. I certainly don’t want to push you into anything.”

“No, sir. Please, I’d like to do more, if you think I’m ready.”

Whitfield smiled. “All right then. Now get out of here, I think everyone deserves an early day today.”

Exhaustion hit on the car ride home, and for once Speight seemed to be on the same wavelength. They ate frozen dinners in front of the TV, hardly saying a word to each other. When Speight curled around Jared’s back on the sofa later, there was no rubbing or fondling. He just held him, warming him, as the TV flickered brightly and the laugh track sounded again and again.

Jared fell asleep there, and woke up to Speight nudging him to change into pajamas and brush his teeth. Afterwards he tumbled into bed and was asleep almost instantly, drifting off to the gentle carding of soft white fingers through his hair.

He dreamed about sitting on a beach, sipping wine that for once tasted sweet, not sour. Speight wasn't there, but Jared somehow knew that he was in the lone house up the beach, waiting patiently for Jared to get tired of the ocean and go in.



Chapter Five

godaddy tracker

Date: 2010-07-29 10:22 pm (UTC)
varkelton: An Issue of Consent - Hug (A Question of Choice - Embrace)
From: [personal profile] varkelton
Was reading along, and realized I'd mis-copied Chapter 5, so I had to stop and fix it. Thought I'd take a minute to tell you that this is a painfully compelling read. Jared it so broken, and so real, and I really want to kill Speight, and... I'd say more, but the file is fixed and I want to go back to reading. ♥

Date: 2010-07-29 10:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mya-rofki.livejournal.com

Awww! Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know. ♥

(I hope you enjoy the rest of it just as much, my dear.)

Date: 2011-11-29 03:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] angel633.livejournal.com
Poor Jared will his pain ever end.
And i would like to know whats up with that family of his,he really needs them right now.
Love the chapter, it incredible and sad.

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