Be Careful, Little Eyes
"Shh, shh; it's okay, he can't get you now. You're safe." A hand rubbed gently along small, thin shoulder blades in soothing circles. "He's going away for a very long time and he can't hurt anybody anymore."
Brendan Dean pulled back, and looked into serious eyes, a lump in his throat. A few paces away people were talking; someone saying something about how little kids shouldn't have to see things like this. He looked up; hazel glaring enough to break up the conversation, if not the small knot of onlookers themselves.
"All right, people, give the kid some room," a beat cop pushed back the curious and the ambulance chasers and some reporter that had shown up to try to snap some pictures.
"Want some ice cream? My favorite's chocolate."
"I...I like chocolate, too," the assertion was very quiet, and uncertain.
"What's wrong, buddy?"
"Mommy...mommy says ice cream makes me hyper."
"Poor little kid; he's going to miss her," someone was whispering.
"She does, huh?" A bigger hand curled carefully around a smaller one. Seven years old was far too young to lose one parent, let alone both, and definitely far too young to be the sole witness of their murder. "Well that's okay, chocolate ice cream does that to me too."
"Really?" A small smile. "Can we go get some?"
"Sure, kiddo. And we can talk while we eat it, okay? I need to ask you some important questions." Hesitation. The small hand tightened its grip, the thin frame shivered. "Are you cold?"
"N...no. You want to ask me about what I saw, don't you?"
"No, I don't, not really," the answer is honest, and awkward. "But I have to so we can keep other people safe from him, do you understand?"
Hazel eyes, watching and waiting; Brendan swallowed hard in the pause that existed between them.
"Yes, I understand."
"You're a very smart little boy. Wanna know how I know that?"
"You like chocolate ice cream. All the smartest people like chocolate."
Everything was still far too chaotic; there was a crowd of spectators behind the line of police tape, the coroner was still on the scene, and half a dozen cameras were going off. Brendan frowned irritably as he pushed his way through the crowd, Freya on his heels. He grabbed the arm of the nearest flatfoot and flashed his badge.
"How about you get your partner and clear out some of these ambulance-chasers, hm?" he suggested in a tone that made it less a suggestion and more of an order. "We were told there was a witness?"
"Heh, yeah. Over there," the flatfoot pointed vaguely to his right, and Brendan glanced over at Freya briefly before heading off in the direction indicated.
The NSA agent suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, and Freya fairly flinched at the firestorm of emotions and memories that enveloped her partner like an icy breaker rolling onto shore.
You'll do it or I'll find that little brat of yours and kill him too.
Poor little kid; he's going to miss her.
How did you know to hide in the closet?
Closets are safe places.
You're a very smart little boy.
"Brendan?" Freya reached over and put a hand on his arm; the agent shrugged out of her grasp, coming a few paces away to hunch down in front of a little girl who had both arms wrapped tightly around what looked like a stuffed tiger. The child's face was tear-stained and her eyes were red from crying, and a policewoman was standing with her. Brendan looked up at the cop, and showed her his badge too.
"Can we have a few minutes?" he asked calmly, and the woman handed his badge back and silently moved aside. Brendan waited a moment and then refocused on the little girl. "Hi, there," he started softly. "My name's Brendan. And this is Freya," he motioned to his partner almost as an afterthought; his attention totally on the big blue eyes and the blonde curls. "What's your name?"
"I can't," the little girl whispered, clutching the tiger, eyes filling and spilling over with two fat tears. "The man said he'd hurt me like he hurted Daddy if I tell anything."
It's okay, he can't get you now...
Brendan reached over and wiped away one of the tears with the pad of his thumb. "It's okay, honey, he won't get you, I promise," he said firmly. "And I always keep my promises."
Freya stepped in closer, and knelt down beside Brendan. The dizzying parade of thoughts and feelings still running through her partner's mind was distracting and she tamped down on listening, just a little, and focused her attention on the child too. She offered a comforting smile.
"I bet I can guess your name," she said warmly. "I'm really good at that." She was aware of a soft chuckle from Brendan, and the little girl tilted her head a bit.
"Okay," she said, taking Freya up on her offer with the simplicity of a child.
Freya made a show of concentrating, closing her eyes and putting a hand to her forehead. When she opened her eyes, she smiled. "You are Jennifer Ann and you're...six years old."
Jennifer was all wide-eyed wonder at that, and she giggled. "Can you guess my kitty's name too?" she asked, and held out the toy tiger. Freya made a show of taking hold of the obviously much-loved stuffed animal, and she stroked its head with her fingers.
"Hmm...Let's see here," she said, looking at the toy, but her focus on the child. "What sort of name would you give a brave tiger?" Freya did the whole "thinking" thing again, and when she looked at Jennifer again, she said, "Markie? That's a very brave name," she said with as straight a face as she could, and glanced at Brendan.
Brendan, who seemed for just a moment to be very far away, but at her glance, brought himself back.
"Jennifer," he said with gentleness that Freya wondered about, "Freya and I would like to talk to you awhile, okay? We need you to tell us what you saw the man do and what you heard him say." The six-year-old edged a little closer, fear in her eyes, and she shook her head. "He won't hurt you, Jennifer. I won't let him."
"Maybe," Freya said, looking at Brendan once again before proceeding. "Maybe Markie saw something. Can you tell us what Markie saw?"
The partners watched as the little girl whispered something into the stuffed animal's ear, and then looked up. "Markie says that's okay," she agreed, and Freya smiled.
"Oh, good," she answered the child steadily. "I bet Markie's a very smart tiger."
You're a very smart little boy.
Brendan straightened up and held out his hand to the little girl, and she took hold of the larger hand tightly and willingly. "Do you like chocolate ice cream?" he asked with a smile, and their witness grinned.
"Chocolate is my extra favorite," she said as if it was the biggest secret in the world.
"Oh, then, you just have to be a really smart girl, too," Brendan pronounced. "A very important person once told me that the smartest people all like chocolate ice cream."
The voice outside his apartment door finally garnered Brendan's attention, and he became aware of the accompanying knocking that sounded a little desperate; it must have been going on for a minute or two. Unfolding his lean frame from the couch, he moved to answer the door and was a little surprised to see Freya standing there.
"Hey," he said simply, a little at a loss for words as his partner looked him over worriedly. "What?"
"Are you okay? I've about pounded your door down," McAllister demanded, but there was an unsubtle note of concern in her voice.
"Sure," Dean said loosely, stepping aside so she could enter. He closed the door and followed her back toward the couch, and paused when she stopped. She picked up the pint of ice cream he'd left on the coffee table in order to answer the door.
"Chocolate Chunk?" she raised an eyebrow; Brendan Dean hardly looked like the type to resort to comfort food. In fact, his rail-thin physique routinely had the older women in accounting bringing him all sorts of food to "fatten him up."
Brendan shrugged slightly, spoon in hand and motioned toward the couch.
"What brings you by?" he asked absently as Freya handed the pint back to him and settled down on one end of the couch. Brendan sat on the other end and propped his feet up on the coffee table, digging the spoon into the ice cream.
"I just thought you'd like to know, they found Jennifer's mother; she's all right, and they're both being taken to a safe house," Freya said; it was the last information she'd gotten from Terri Merriweather before coming over. "I thought you'd like to know."
"Could've called," Brendan murmured around a mouthful of chocolate ice cream.
"Yes...yes I could've," Freya agreed, glancing aside. She still wasn't looking at him when she asked, "What happened, Brendan?" Her voice was soft, that tone telling him already that she had an inkling of what the answer would be. When she did look up, Brendan had abandoned the pint of ice cream on the coffee table once again, and he was swallowing convulsively. "Brendan?"
That same floodtide of mental pictures, disjointed, but clear as day, began to play in his thoughts; Freya couldn't shut them all out. But when he finally answered, the NSA agent's voice was almost as soft as hers had been.
"My parents were killed because my father was a material witness," he explained flatly, but there was a slight tremor behind his voice. "I was just a little older than Jennifer is now." Impulsively Freya reached over and curled her hand around his; he didn't pull away.
"Was that why you went into law enforcement?" she asked, and she was surprised when Brendan shook his head.
"Well, not exactly," he amended, and a slight smile touched his lips as he waved the spoon toward the pint. "I was interviewed by a homicide detective over chocolate ice cream; his name was Steven Albright. He was why I wanted to be an FBI agent when I grew up."
Freya squeezed his hand, and smiled comfortingly. "Got another spoon?" she asked, and Brendan actually squeezed her hand back.
"Yeah, second drawer to the right of the 'fridge."
"You know," Freya called out from the kitchen as she rummaged in the indicated drawer. "I have it on good authority that all the really smart people like chocolate ice cream."
"My all time, absolute favorite," Brendan held out the pint toward Freya as she settled back on the couch.