Legend Has It
It was funny how one person could have touched so many lives. To G. Callen it was downright fucking hysterical. He walked the earth like a phantom traveler, barely bruising the grass or scuffing the pavement, always moving through people, like life. But his nomadic ways, though a childhood habit bourn of sluicing through every crack the Los Angeles Child Protection Service had handy… and maybe a few that even they had forgotten were there; were not absolute. There were those precious few individuals who stood out for him, stood up for him – stayed for him, when he'd let them. And that had all started with Daphne Aelsbury. G recalled coming to Daphne's home late one stormy October evening.
He barely tuned into whatever passed for words of comfort from the latest beige coated, well-meaning, well worn caseworker. Her name was Sarah Midfield. He had long ago started to store personal details of the people he'd come into contact with, though he attached no value to those facts – none of those people were going to be anything personal to him. At a world weary sixteen years of age, he had long ago concluded that finding a family was a special dream reserved for those who still had the luxury of taking part in those expensive pastimes. The cost of dreaming… of actually getting your hopes up, was just too damn rich for his blood. As if to remind himself of this he coughed a little bringing pain to his injured ribs – more bruise than break this time thankfully… but he'd been there too. He'd had to make a quick, aided escape from the last place, when the drunken bastard – who had actually insisted on being called "Mr. Everett" by the poor lost souls that were placed with him for shelter-, had taken a dislike to G's "preety face" smiling at his wife. The douche had seen to it that G wasn't nearly as pretty now. Well unless you were the kind of freak that thought the split lip, two black eyes look was sexy … and he'd been there to.
He "Hmmed" his non-committal way through all the questions Sarah had asked – weather he was still in pain, had he taken his meds, had he left anything behind that he needed, and then alternated between that sound and another equally indistinguishable noise as she tried to provide the silver lining for him, conjured from glowing details about the new "home" he was going to. He finally tuned in fully as the car slowed down to run alongside a fairly sizeable house with a generous porch, warm lighting and stained glass windows on the first floor.
"So" Sarah was winding down "Ms. Aelsbury is a well established Career and currently looks after five other children, she's an artist and works from home, she's fairly famous locally and does a lot of children's illustrations…. I believe I saw a picture by her in the town library the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and…"
"Well there's no place like home is there Sarah?" G asked a little dryly, just to stem the pointless flow from poor sweet Sarah.
"Yes well – Mr. Callen, with your track record…"
G winced, the formal rendition of his name sounding too close to Everett's foul alcohol soaked breath pressed too close to his face.
"I'm lucky to be placed at all – right?" he asked quietly stating facts.
"I'm sorry son; it's not your faul…"
"Well – let's get off to see the Wizard, huh?" he asked brightly reining in his girly moment.
Self pity was of no use to him, and in about five minutes, his self pity would be of no interest to her as she moved on to her next job. There was no point in making this more awkward for the both of them with his moping – this was just how it was.
Meeting Daphne had been a little startling. Oh not the formal "observed" introduction were the social worker stuck around enough to check the "fit". That was making sure the potential guardian didn't appear to overly like or dislike the new animal, before releasing it into the new habitat; the surprise came after; once Sarah had left.
"You look like you could do with a hot bath and some rest… what do I call you?" Daphne inquired casually, her green eyes mapping out the bruises on his cheek and chin.
He stole a glance at her expression, just to get a handle on what kind of zoo keeper Midfield had left him with. She was tall and graceful, graying hair only adding to her striking features- early fifties he guessed. No ring meant nothing, as she was, from her flowing kaftans and new age jewelry, a gracefully aging hippy, and they didn't always hold with conventions like marriage… he just hopped to God there was no Tofu involved!
To his surprise she showed no signs of pity as she took stock of his sorry state. Her face was not unkind and there was nothing threatening in her manner; he'd learned to pick up on those vibes early on, asking to be moved before anything came of those telltale warnings. He wasn't sure what had happened with Everett, the storm had hit quicker than his release papers he guessed. Daphne neither smiled nor scowled – and she hadn't bothered to ask the usual well intentioned, utterly breath wasting questions.
"G or Callen – whichever you like." He answered evenly, still watching her for some hint as to who she was, by now he usually had a pretty decent read on his host.
"Which do you prefer – or shall I go for my own reading … like you are now?" she smiled faintly.
His eyes blinked twice as she caught him off guard, and that only made her smile grow.
"Oh it's alright darlin'" she supplied with a laugh "what's in a name right?"
Despite himself he warmed to her easy manner. "G – I prefer G." he supplied haltingly.
She nodded before approaching him at a pace that he would associate with cornering a wild animal, and he realized that she had no real reason to trust him anymore than he did her. She wasn't behaving like all the others before her. She didn't fall into any of the previously checked boxes. She was behaving like….
"I know the fact that you are in my home doesn't entitle me to any special treatment from you." She started saying while keeping a respectable amount of space between him and her. "you have been in many peoples homes right? But they have not been your home, either through your choice or theirs; so I won't insult your intelligence by telling you to make yourself feel at home- cause we both know how this system works. But I will tell you this – you are safe here, for as long as you choose to be here."
He shuffled uncomfortably as she held his gaze solidly. He was suddenly weary of her, many before had tried to convince him of their need for honesty and "straight talk", but his truths were often more brutal than people realized – especially well meaning people. They didn't want to hear that he didn't need a mommy or a daddy … those days had fled a long time ago, now he was just killing time till his release.
"That's … good to know… what do I call you?" he asked scanning her every expression to see a break in the way too easy going persona.
"Daphne suits me fine, and in case you do stick around for a while this place only has one rule." Her smile was warm though her gaze no less intense.
"What would that be?" he asked stiffly, unable to keep the harshness from his voice as it was usually the "rules" that signaled the anvils.
"Easy kid – I believe it's one you prefer anyway… no Bullshit."
"What?" he asked a little startled at the language from this weirdo who had obviously not studied her 'Would-be Mrs. Cunningham' manual.
"G – would you prefer I gave you the "truth" speech or worse yet run through the 'honor code' routine for you?" Daphne chuckled her green eyes dancing.
"You've been in care haven't you?" he asked impulsively, the light suddenly dawning. "That's why there's probably no Mr. Aelsbury because…." he stopped himself abruptly with a mental kick, turning red he mumbled. "Sorry."
Daphne burst out laughing; the sound and motion shook the hanging rainbow crystals on the lamp near by.
"Oh hell, Mr. hard case – you do still have a soft underbelly I see. Well let's see there's no 'Mr.' Aelsbury cause I kicked his lazy ass to the curb, and yes I am a shinning example of the State's Care system… but I do okay. I am an artist, I specialize in folklore, myths and legends – because when I grew up one of my nicer patrons was a writer who convinced me that my beginnings need not dictate my end. I used to doodle constantly when I wanted to escape whichever horror film was currently passing itself off as my life. I've never had children because I have met too many of the unwanted ones left behind to be that thoughtless, and I am addicted to gardening. And all of those things are true … how about you?"
"How about me?" G deflected easily, moving to take the seat she had indicated.
"I want to know one true thing about you, just one – and mind I'll know if your lying, if you think you're a State bred hard case there boy, your talking to a Lifer!" she smiled in that way that totally expressed her seriousness.
G would never know what came over him right then. Maybe it was the door she left open, maybe he had a concussion from where that bastard Everett had tried to use his head to re-shape his fireplace or maybe it was just a full moon that night? But the harmless truth about his preference for peanut M and M's over any other food, died on his lips. What took its place was a cold dead voice that he kept locked so tightly that even he didn't recognize it as his own.
"What is it you need to know Daphne? You need to know I've been in care since I was five, that the longest I've ever stayed under one roof is three months, the shortest was two hours and that was after that sick asshole outlined our sleeping arrangements? I used to believe that I could hear spirits when I was eight… until I found out that, that was my poor dumb bastard of a roommate not sorting out his sleeping arrangements! That I've fallen down enough malicious friggin staircases to break bones in both shoulders, put my leg in a cast three times and dislocate my kneecap? I slept under the bed between the ages of ten and thirteen. I have been to enough psychiatrists to tell you weather they paid attention in class or screwed their way through college. I don't dream anymore. I stopped self medicating last year – when I watched one of the best friends I have ever made pay her bill when it came due. Is that enough truth for you? I walk round this world like a ghost because I leave no mark, no trace that I was ever there or that anyone would ever give a shit if that weren't the case. Or do you want to know that I am just going through the motions here and in every other living room I walk into – because I am just killing time – inside I am already dead?"
With a start Callen realized he was crying. Not just crying… weeping and she had moved into his space without him even noticing, her arm gently encircled his shoulder.
"I know honey… I remember." She whispered into his short brown hair.
He didn't know how long they stayed there together, not talking and then talking too much. He told her everything, everything that inhabited that angry silence between his eyes, that twisted his mouth at the corner of every smile. But he did recall one thing she said.
"You know why I paint myths and legends G? Because I gave up waiting on fairytales to turn up – I made my own. I took back what was taken from me, my beginnings will not determine my end – tell me the truth … what about you?"
Hetty hadn't asked any questions when Callen had asked for a day. She had raised her eyebrows when he'd asked sheepishly for a wardrobe loan out in keeping with her proposed color scheme.
"You want to wear a black jacket Mr. Callen?" she queried in that neutral way of hers.
Hetty reminded him of Daphne sometimes, her self assured manners, her will, her eye for detail, her knowing smile – her deal with the devil that allowed her to see just enough to be considered spooky!
He had merely nodded not trusting the hold he'd had on himself right then, not after the call he'd received from a hospice in the midtown area. Daphne had kept loose tabs on him it seemed… somehow. He'd been less faithful. He regretted that bitterly … too late now.
Hetty had merely picked out what looked to be the most expensive tailored suit jacket at her disposal and teamed it with dark casual trousers and a near black, navy shirt. G nodded his thanks and as she stepped up on her trademark stool to hand him the garments, she patted his hands briefly and held his over bright eyes a little too long. It caused him to flee the room, narrowly missing Sam and some awkward questions – he was in no mood for more 'Truths' today. He had a feeling he had all he could deal with ahead of him.
He had hit rush hour traffic with a damn near karma kais driving style that put Sam's to shame. He would not be late for this. Rounding the last corner he slowed not wanting to disturb the large crowd gathered round an explosion of flowers and plants. Hell he was sure there was an odd sapling there too. Exiting the car smoothly, he straightened his jacket and went to join a narrow band of skulkers who hung just far enough back to hear but evade all the other mourners. His kind of people… ghosts.
It was a short service, though the assembled loved ones trailed by the coffin in a slow winding procession. He tapped his foot on the headstone he'd been shielding himself behind and dug out his shades, patiently waiting his turn.
You want some truth now Daph?
He called out quietly in the safety of his own head.
You should have made friend with more mutes!!! Or at least fewer fucked up people!
Grinning he imagined her colorful response. He'd stayed with her for five months before she talked him into college.
At her desk Hetty brooded over weather to involve Mr. Getz in the latest development that was Head Special Agent Callen's covert private life. He had been … unsettled. That was the closest Hetty had witnessed the young agent come to exposing any vulnerability, except when he was wounded. She picked up her predecessors' Personnel file notes on Callen and re-read them. Apart from all the glowing commendations Macy had attributed to her lead field agent, was something she quoted from Nate Getz.
Special Agent Callen's background and lack of all traceable ties qualifies him in a
unique way for the most detailed and intricate undercover work. He his confident and calculating, given to bold maneuvers and has the ability to invest himself fully in his work. He is an enormous asset to this team and his outstanding undercover skills put him in the league of the Cold War, Stazi (East German police) Legends.
Putting the paperwork to one side she sipped her now lukewarm tea, in her favorite Victoria and Albert rose spray bone china cup. It would seem that in Agent Callen's case one would have to take the rough with the smooth, because with out the first part – the second would never have come to be. Tapping the file to tidy it once more Hetty allowed it to re-join the rest of the team, undisturbed.
When he finally made it to her shining white coffin, Callen smiled sadly at the garish gilded handle.
"Show-off!" he whispered glancing upwards with one eye closed.
He looked around a little self consciously before placing a now sweaty palm on Daphne Aelsbury's last resting place.
"You were right Daph. Fairytales we make for ourselves are the only ones that come to pass. Thank you… you … saved me." His voice was soft and choked. Forgetting he was not the last he said quietly, but out loud; "And that's the Truth!"
From somewhere off to his left a pretty blonde girl laughed out loud with tears in her eyes and smiled at him.