A/N: Alright, first off I need to give a shout out to AngelPrincessLilac and her 2010 Summer Challenge which has pretty much saved my dying muse. Thank you! Maybe it's the fact that my muse has been on the frits but this piece isn't exactly my normal Hurt/Comfort style. It's not as dark and heavy as I'm used to, so please let me know what you think! If you're reading my longer story, Falling Through Cracks, then this one-shot will give you a bit more insight into my OC, Jared Colby. If you haven't read it (read it! XP) it won't change anything; you'll still know what's going on.
The city of Los Angeles seemed to come alive as the sun went down, growing more and more active as the light faded away. In town the glowing neon of high-rises windows and flashing colours of signs and traffic lights continued to light up the activity but further away from the city center, in the rougher parts of town, the streets were dark and menacing. Yet even there it was no less alive, the darkness played host to shadows and the usual crowd who lived in them. Prostitutes waited for the business that would undoubted come, drug dealers patrolled their turf while their buyers came and went like flies. The homeless settled in as best they could for a night's rest or rose from their makeshift beds to start their day, depending on their shift, and the intoxicated stumbled along. Just another day in paradise.
Officer Jared Colby walked calmly among the practiced nocturnal dance, taking note of everything he saw as a good cop should, but troubling no one. There was just no point. If he called them on all the little things he saw each night then he knew when something big happened they'd never help him. It was simply best to stay on the good side of streets' fulltime residents. And so he continued on his way, a paper bag containing his nightly snack of a raisin muffin held in one hand and a fresh cup of coffee in the other. Reaching his squad car he unlocked the driver's door and climbed inside, setting his meal on the seat beside him and going to start up the engine.
It was only when he'd slipped the key into the ignition slot that he sensed more than heard something move in the back seat. Taking a breath and placing his hand on the gun at his hip he turned around slowly. "Callen?" he called softly, "That you, kid?"
"Who the hell else would it be?" came a muffled voice as the boy in question straightened up, his short blond hair and bright blue eyes coming into view as he lifted himself from the floor to the back seat.
G Callen was only fourteen and while he looked his age Colby knew he had seen far more than any child should have to. He was one of the forgotten children, lost in the system which was meant to protect them. As the boy settled himself in the back of the squad car Colby looked him over critically, searching for any sign of illness of injury. It was not unusual for him to find the teen hiding some form of injury just to avoid having to explain the circumstances and deal with the sympathy that would come with it. It was one of the sad truths of their relationship; Colby was where Callen went when he needed someone to catch him.
They had met about three years ago, when Callen had been just barely eleven years old and in trouble, as usual. Many people had asked him over the years why he continued to help the teen, why not just throw him aside as it seemed he wanted. And it was true, Callen would be the first to say he didn't want or need help, from anyone, ever, but Colby disagreed. Callen was a good kid, he hid it behind a mask of sarcasm and nastiness but Colby had seen it. This was not a one way street either. Colby had seen Callen on some of the worst days of his life but Callen had, albeit unknowingly, saved Colby from the darkness in his. It had been helping the young boy, back when they'd first met, which had kept his head above water after the accident…
Pulling himself from his thoughts Colby turned back to the matter at hand, the teenager sitting in the back of his squad car. "Dammit, Callen, say hello or something next time, I nearly shot you," he told him, but there was no anger in his words.
Callen rolled his eyes. "I was asleep," he retorted, "Open your door louder next time and maybe I'll think about it."
Colby just shook his head. It was not an unusual occurrence to find Callen taking refuge in the back of his car, sometimes when he just needed a safe place to crash, sometimes when he needed more than that. Today he seemed to be mostly in one piece though there was something off about his tone and Colby took the time to consider it as he finally started the engine and pulled away from the curb. The usual snap was there but it seemed forced, almost faked. He chanced a glance in the rear view mirror as they continued down the road and studied Callen's face as the boy stared out the window, and found himself surprised by what he saw. It wasn't much, but it was there. The usually unreadable mask seemed to have slipped and Colby could make out emotions in the teen's features, uncertainty, confusion, pain…
The traffic light ahead of them turned red just as they reached it and Colby slowed the car to a stop. "There's a muffin in the bag up here," he said, giving Callen the opportunity to lead the conversation away from whatever was troubling him if he chose, "Help yourself to it if you'd like."
The boy shook his head. "I'm not hungry," he muttered, continuing to gaze out the window.
With a slight nod the officer allowed silence to overtake them, focusing instead on waiting for the light to change and leaving the boy to sort out his own mind. After a moment green finally illuminated the dark street and they drove on, following Colby's route until behind him Callen let out a soft sigh. Using the rear view mirror once more Colby looked into the back seat and knew instantly that whatever was on the boy's mind would have to be dealt with for he could see Callen visibly fighting to keep the emotions from his face.
"Alright," the officer said calmly, leaving the mirror and focusing on the street once more as he drove on, "So what's managed to get the poster boy for hiding emotions so flustered?"
"I'm not flustered," said Callen defiantly, sitting up straighter and glaring into the rear view mirror so Colby couldn't miss it, "I don't get flustered!" But some of the fight seemed to leave his eyes when Colby merely smiled knowingly at him. "It's nothing, really… Just... They treated me nice, you know? Like they might have actually liked me, like I belonged..."
"You've had good homes before, Callen," Colby pointed out calmly, "It's not like this was the first one to treat you alright."
"Yeah, I know that," Callen snapped, "It's just this one is, this one was... Just…" He shook his head and rolled his eyes in frustration. "Fuck it. It's just different okay?" He fell silent, folding his arms across his chest in a defensive gesture and glaring out the side window.
"Different how?" Colby pushed, watching him in the rear-view mirror once more.
Callen let out an exasperated sigh. "I don't know, okay? It just fucking is! Now forget it, we're not talking or sharing or whatever the hell you want me to do. None of this shit matters anyway so just shut the fuck up and leave well enough alone."
"Cal, if it's got under your skin this bad, it matters," said Colby calmly. He was used to the boy trying to shut down every conversation that got even remotely personal. This was the kind of behaviour that had always got him labelled as troubled; the kind of snappy, nasty conversations that had got him removed from any of the decent foster homes he might have come across. But it wasn't core nastiness that caused this behaviour, as most people believed, it was fear. Fear that by talking, by letting people in, he may reveal a weakness or some way for the world to hurt him more than it already had.
"Why you always got push stuff, Colby?" Callen muttered, leaning back against the seat and closing his eyes. His body language said the conversation was over and done with yet the question left the door open, if only slightly.
Colby took the opportunity without hesitation. "'Cause you've got to talk to someone kid, might as well be the crazy ass cop who lets you ride around in the back of his squad car," he said smiling slightly as he glanced in the rear-view mirror again. "Besides, I could just lock you back there until you talk," he pointed out.
Callen smirked and folded his hands behind his head, keeping his eyes closed. "You know perfectly well I could bust out of this thing blindfolded and with both hands tied behind my back," he said, sounding unconcerned, "And you also know that you'd just sit there and let me do it."
Colby shook his head and chuckled softly. "Sadly, you're probably right," he conceded.
The drive continued in silence for the next few blocks as Colby continued along his beat while every now and then glancing in the rear-view at Callen. The boy had turned to face the window, his legs curled up underneath him as he leaned up against the glass with a faraway look in his eyes. The officer had learned long ago never to attempt to guess what his young friend was thinking. They had such very different ways of thinking, such different views of on life that it was next to impossible for him to guess correctly, not to mention the fact that the teen kept most things so close to the vest that they may as well have been part of it.
"I liked it there," said Callen abruptly, breaking the silence between them, "Mr. And Mrs. Rostoff were good to me and Alina... I was happy there..." He sighed, staring out the window once more with the same glassy expression as before. "I didn't wanna leave them."
Colby pulled over without saying a word, waiting for his passenger to continue at his own pace.
The boy obliged after only a moment's pause. "And now, now it's like I just keep thinking about them," he shook his head and laughed coldly, "Like I can't get them out of my head... I just wanna go back there..."
Colby, who was grateful that he'd had the fore thinking to pull off the road, undid his seatbelt and turned around to face Callen. "You feel kind of empty, don't you? Like some small part of you has been taken away leaving a hole that just kinda sits there?"
Callen, who had lowered his eyes and been studying the squad car's seats with a determined fascination, raised them again to meet Colby's. "How do you know that?" he asked softly.
Colby smiled slightly, considering the teen before him for a moment. "You miss them, Callen," he said simply.
"I don't miss people," Callen fired back coldly, "I don't care about people. Besides, if this is missing someone then why the fucking hell does it hurt so much?"
Colby sighed softly. "Because these kinds of things hurt, Callen. Missing someone hurts, loosing someone we care about hurts. You know this already, it's not like you've never experienced loss before!"
"This is different, Colby."
Colby bowed his head before looking up and making eye contact with him once more. "What about when you lost Jason?" he asked quietly, "Was that different?"
Callen's eyes darkened instantly and his face was wiped clean of any trace of emotion. The subject of Jason was one that was never mentioned, ever, not unless you wanted a quick trip to teen's bad side.
"I don't remember," he snapped, his voice as cold and biting as his eyes.
Colby took the safe option and backed off. He gave Callen a moment to calm down before speaking again. "Did they love you?"
The boy looked confused by the question, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Said they did," he replied, seemingly deciding that his friend wasn't trying to trick him though his voice still reflecting his earlier anger, "But people are lying little fucks, you know that as well as anyone."
Colby raised one eyebrow quizzically. "Did you think they were lying to you?" he asked calmly, once again ignoring the biting and nasty tone of the teen's voice.
Callen looked away to gaze out the window once more. His eyes were beginning to soften as the emotions returned to his face. "No," he admitted finally.
Colby nodded. He knew what had happened, it was just getting Callen to see it that was going to be the trick. "What about you?" he asked, knowing the answer to this question would tell him everything, "Did you love them back?"
Callen looked up allowing their eyes to meet and they stared at each other for a full minute before the teen finally looked away. "I don't know," he admitted softly, an odd closed off expression on his young face, "I don't know what love feels like..."
"I'm not gonna try to explain what it feels like," said Colby, breezing over the reasons why the boy had no idea how to recognize one of the most primal instincts of all. That was a conversation he never wanted to have, ever, even though he knew one day they would have to. "You'll know if you loved them Cal," he continued, "Maybe not right away but you will. It's part of being human."
Callen laughed coldly. "If feeling like this means you're human then I'm not sure that's what I want to be."
Colby felt a pang of anger flare up in his chest. "Don't you ever say that Callen, not ever," he said a little more forcefully than he intended.
The teen's eyes suddenly became wary and his muscles tensed, allowing him to be ready to move at a moment's notice.
Colby cursed himself internally. "There are people who loose their humanity Cal," he continued more calmly, "Can you guess who those people are?"
There was a pause in which Callen considered him cautiously before he finally replied. "Yeah" he muttered darkly, allowing himself to relax slightly, though his eyes still had a rather primal look to them, "I know who they are, the same sons of bitches who're killing it in me."
Colby nodded. "Listen," he pushed forward, knowing he would loose his temper again if he didn't. "I know it hurts right now, and I know it sucks, but you gotta hold on to these feelings man. You're a good kid Callen, a damn good kid and I am not letting you turn into one of those soulless bastards, you hear me?"
Callen nodded. "I hear you," he muttered.
The officer sighed heavily and ran a hand over his face. There weren't many things that got under his skin, it was his saving grace both at work and at home, but when the boy he had worked so hard to help said he wanted to loose the humanity he fought to help him keep it hurt him. But his reaction had been out of hand and Colby knew Callen was still spooked. The boy had been hurt so many times by people who were meant to be protecting him that he really couldn't blame him. "I'm not mad at you, Cal," he sighed, "I just…"
"I know," Callen interrupted softly, "You work your ass off for me and then I go and act like a selfish bastard, you have every right to get angry…"
"It's not even that I get angry at you, Callen," said Colby, shaking his head though he was relieved with the way the teen was handling this, "It's just that you really are a good kid, you could do something with your life and I don't want you to just throw it all away."
Callen's quiet laughter held no humour as he turned back to the side window and gazed out it once more. "I don't know what you see in me," he said finally, "I honestly don't have a fucking clue… But, whatever it is, I hope I don't loose it." He sighed and took a breath to hide the shaking in his voice. "'Cause that's what's keeping you around…" He leaned his forehead against the window and fell silent, that same, strange closed off expression back on his face.
Colby had to admit he was surprised. He knew Callen did appreciate his presence in his life but to hear it said out loud brought a smile to his face despite the situation. Letting the moment carry him, he leaned into the back seat, tugged the teen away from the window clapped him firmly on the shoulder. "You won't loose it," he said softly, keeping his hand in place and squeezing it reassuringly.
There was a moment's silence before Callen finally raised his head and met Colby's eyes with a slight sigh. "So that muffin is up for grabs, is it?" said he softly, managing a weak smile.
Colby chuckled and gave the boy an affectionate shake before turning around and starting the engine once more. "You're welcome," he replied, tossing the bag into the back.
Callen caught it deftly and ripped off a piece which he ate in silence as Colby pulled back onto the road. The silence stretched on and on as Colby continued to weave his way through the maze of streets and intersections. Finally, having come to a stop at a red light, he glanced behind him and chuckled at what he saw. Callen was curled up on his side, one hand still clutching the muffin bag as he slept peacefully, a tiny smile on his face.
Colby smiled and turned around again as the light changed to green in front of him, sure for once of what the boy was dreaming about. "Goodnight, Callen," he said softly.