Authors: Running Up Fawn and Midnight Blue
Disclaimer: All characters related to Without a Trace belong to Hank Steinberg, Bruckheimer, and CBS. We own nothing.
Author's Note: RUF and I came up with this idea regarding Samantha's comment from VfH and how not only her life, but Jack's and everyone else's around her, would've been affected if her mom hadn't found her. As for the ages, we're putting Samantha as 17 when she ran away and Jack at 27 when she ran away. So we present you with this little WIP. Thanks, as always, to Maple Street, the best forum around!
Summary: What if Samantha's mother hadn't found her at the bus stop?
And now we're grown up orphans that never knew their names. It's lonely where you are, come back down and I won't tell 'em your name
-Name by the Goo Goo Dolls
He saw her face once, in a picture. An old, worn, faded picture. One that had been fondled and folded and creased and smudged with newspaper ink and fingerprints and hot tears that stung disbelieving eyes as worlds stopped and ended with her disappearance.
He'd known her only by this picture -- this picture that ensured she would never age from this moment, never be more than the innocent, carefree teenager awaiting the chance to step away from her sheltered world and really live for once, really become who she knew she could always be.
He'd known her name from the smeared ink, her birthday, the color of her eyes and her hair and even the way her lips seemed to curve skyward in unconscious observance of the deity who'd given her life, the one who could take it away just as quickly.
So he'd known these things, the things you see on the outside, the things you identify a person's face with. But you couldn't really know someone, know them fully, until you watched them and heard them speak and knew their favorite things and favorite places, their morals and convictions and every little nuance that, piece by piece, formed together a whole person.
And that was when he wanted to know her. Know the person behind the stormy eyes, the person looking at him from her frozen prison as if to say, 'save me'; and he started to think maybe he could someday, that maybe someday he really could know her.
Jack Malone, when he'd been 27, saw a picture once of Samantha Spade. He liked her then, liked her before he knew her, liked her as his eyes caught hers and he read her name and thought of the sound her name would make as it slipped slowly from his tongue.
He liked her then and his hand brushed over her face as he held her picture.
She'd been missing for two days. Two days more, perhaps, than time would allow. Maybe as he stood she was already gone.
But he hoped in his soul she still lived and waited for him, for someone to come along and save her.
Because, he thought, we all need to be saved.
Ten years ago...
Eleven minutes to twelve and ten steps to the door.
Before she took a single one, Samantha Spade drew a deep, shuddering breath and attempted to slow her racing heart.
The interior of her home, her shelter for seventeen years of existence, the place that should have been her haven, her light, was blacker tonight than she had ever seen it.
She blended into the darkness, donned in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt that served to cover her golden hair, hair that only minutes before she'd pulled into a tight ponytail in front of the mirror in her bedroom, nodding at her reflection for the last time.
Sheer will had allowed her to close that door with barely a final glance back, but she couldn't stop herself from hesitating for a fraction of a second outside her parents' bedroom.
I'm sorry, Mom..
Without a sound, Samantha trailed her fingers down the side of the doorway, capturing in her mind what would be her last image of the woman who brought her life, the woman whose own existence was slowly, quietly, fading out of her weakening grasp.
A twinge of regret and indecision struck Samantha, but it was eradicated the moment her gaze shifted to the familiar emptiness on the opposite side of her mother's bed.
Her father never returned home before two in the morning, a fact that she both fiercely loathed and desperately counted on.
Tightening the straps on the backpack she'd pulled across her shoulders, Samantha walked the final ten steps to the door with her eyes closed. She didn't see her hand reach out and turn the metal knob, nor did she catch a parting glimpse of the darkened hallway, or carpeted floor, or half-open closet, or sleeping cat, or..
Or the life she was leaving behind.
The walk--along the grass so as not to leave a trail of footprints--was so familiar to Samantha that she could allow her mind to wander, all the while making certain she was protected from sight by the combined efforts of darkness and overhanging tree branches.
It was the third time that week she'd journeyed along this silent road. The first time, her initial practice run, she'd almost lost her nerve and turned back. Giving up wasn't a thought Samantha Spade entertained often, however, and so she'd swallowed her fears and continued on, heading back home only after she'd gone as far as time would allow.
The second trial, only two nights before, left her with a strange mixture of exhilarated relief and heart-pounding terror.
The wait was over. Was she ready?
She had to be. It was leave, or stay and suffocate, stay and weaken, stay and watch him destroy her with agonizing subtlety until one day there was nothing left to ruin and he turned his sights on his daughter..
Slinking through the overgrown grass, she came upon the half-hidden sign that informed motorists they were now leaving her town.
She didn't let herself spare a moment, and merely continued on, aware that this wasn't a practice or a trial, this time it was real and there was no turning back.
Careful research promised a bus station in roughly ten miles, and Samantha had the schedule memorized down to the minute.
New York City, departing at 4:18 AM.
There was a back-up at 6:27, but Samantha didn't plan on missing the first.
She didn't have any idea where in New York City she was going, or what she would do when she got there.
What she did have was money slowly obtained over months of saving, a week's supply of clothing, and a burning hope combined with the desire to live. To live, because it wasn't, had never been, would never be, enough for Samantha Spade to merely exist.
Here, she would exist until eventually she became nothing more than a shell of herself, a faint reminder of the girl she had once been and the dreams she'd lost along the way.
There, though..there she would have more to hold onto than faded dreams and whispers of something better.
There, she could breathe, and grow, and live.
Ten years later...
They didn't tell you when you started how this job, this life, would consume you. It made you good, of course, made you passionate and focused on finding who needed to be found and bringing closure to a mother, a father, a husband, and wife.
They didn't tell him it would bleed into him, and that's what it did. Somewhere along the way, Jack Malone stopped being who he once was and started defining himself by the people he needed to find. He stopped being Maria's husband and Hanna and Kate's father -- he stopped being who he had always been.
Jack Malone had become them; the ones he wiped away in mere seconds, the ones he put in dusty file cabinets to be forgotten, the ones whose names used to be called across family rooms and classrooms and picnics and even parks perhaps on sunny days when life once made sense. He wiped away the names who were once more than names. He wiped away whole people.
And it hurt.
So he thought about her sometimes, sometimes when he wanted to and sometimes when he really didn't; those tended to be the times she became most vivid and real and he could almost touch her and bring her back. Sometimes, like today, he wanted to write her name on the whiteboard just to make her real again for even a second.
Sometimes, she came to him in dreams and whispered his name and begged him to find her. He would touch her hair and say a prayer and turn away with nothing but his stained hands and hollow apologies.
He started wishing for things he didn't need and his fears pushed Maria out until they reached a point where he forgot what her lips tasted like, how her hair felt as he ran his fingers through it. He started to forget her favorite song and it occurred to him that maybe he'd never known, so he'd think of Samantha again and wonder what her favorite song was, what it had been, and that maybe if he knew her -- he would never forget.
He walked past his colleagues, his coat wet from the rain outside, and headed towards his office like usual. The routine of it was the one thing he clung to, the one thing he could count on.
"Jack, someone here to see you, " Danny remarked as he walked by.
A good worker, Danny Taylor; passionate and driven and maybe a little too reckless, but his heart was in the right place. He tended to keep to himself though and Jack always wondered that maybe if circumstances and even the people in his life were different, he too would be.
He would always wonder, but never know.
As he made his way to his office, he caught a glimpse of the woman waiting for him. Her hair was old, her skin, aged and worn; what struck him most was the emptiness in her eyes and he wondered how long it had been there. He wondered if maybe she'd always had it or if maybe once her eyes had danced with love and laughter. She had become a gray ghost.
He shook her hand and gestured for her to sit, waiting for her to speak. She seemed hesitant at first, as though her need to be here was ridiculous and pointless, but she eventually reached inside her purse, pulled out a picture, and held it to her chest.
"This will seem odd, Agent Malone, but I -- I need you to find someone for me."
"Why is that odd, Missus, uh?"
"Oh, Spade, sorry. Janet Spade."
His heart skipped a beat, but he gestured her to continue.
"It's odd, Agent Malone, because my daughter has been missing for ten years."
He blinked and fumbled with his tie, a nervous reaction he unconsciously reacted to tense situations with.
"Mrs. Spade, I don't mean to be rude, but why come to us all these years later?"
"Because I'm dying, Agent Malone, and I can't --"
Her hands shook and she held the picture tightly to her chest.
"I can't go away without knowing. Even if she's -- even if she's dead, I just have to know."
"Why do you think she's in New York or anywhere near here?"
"She always talked about coming here, she was so excited about leaving to go to a big city and -- and I just think she's here."
"Was she kidnapped or --"
"I guess there's always that possibility, but I -- I think she ran away."
"Why would she have done that, problems at home?"
Janet Spade looked away for a moment, as though her own ghosts started dancing before her in that question as she clung to her daughter's picture.
"Because I -- I lost her. I lost her a long time ago."
The faint whisper of her solem confession clung to his heart in the place he'd already tucked Samantha Spade away in.
"Wasn't there an investigation of some kind?"
"Yes, of course, but they said she had left most likely of her own free will and I needed to accept that, but I can't, how can anyone expect me to?"
"Mrs. Spade, I'm sorry for your loss, but I don't know what I can do here. She could be anywhere, she could've started a life of her own, she could be on the street in some -- some junkie house, she could be..."
"Dead, yes, I know. And I'm willing to accept it if that's the truth. But I need to at least know. That's all I want."
He looked at his hands, ran one down his face, and wove his fingers together.
It seemed as if God himself was throwing Samantha Spade in his face and saying, 'Here, find her.'He'd reached a point he'd thought about ten years ago himself when he'd first seen her picture and smiled sadly and never let her leave his mind.
It seemed she never would and Samantha Spade was going to find him just as he found her and they would become something together in their own time apart. And he would find her, he knew, find her alive or dead, or maybe half-alive, as they sometimes were; like the hollow chamber of a dark cave that seemed to scream for an escape.
So he shook her hand again, took the picture from her reluctant hands, and promised a fate he couldn't be certain of. He turned, hands in his pockets, and watched the rain fall.
The possibility of her return seemed as bleak as the sun shining on a day like today -- a day when the rain baptized the city in fire and it wept.
The city wept today as his hands shook with her picture. It was a different one. She had been caught unaware, looking off at something -- a person perhaps or a favorite memory as she watched her life move around her.
He'd seen pictures like these before, pictures he would always see in darkness and dreams. But today, it was different, different in a way he couldn't explain. Maybe it was different today because he looked at her and she seemed to bleed a sadness he wanted to wipe away.
It was different today.
Because today, he bled with it.
And he wrote her name in ink.