It broke him. Or, rather, it allowed inertia to run its course.
He had been broken before picking up the phone and agreeing to take the case. He'd been broken before getting worked over with a crowbar in a meat locker, nearly killed a murderous convict with the strength of a psychotic gorilla, before getting his ass handed to him at the club with a corpse as witness, before breaking Ethan out of the police station, before risking his life in an attempt to save Scott Shelby, before walking into that police station.
The Origami Killer had provided the excuse he needed to stop trying, to let go, to allow the fragile scaffold holding his life together to finally fail.
His facade, his rhythm of competent expertise was shot to shit, battered and bent into meaninglessness. The shakes and the distorted visions caused by Triptocaine withdrawal passed unnoticed. He was so utterly battered and beaten down by four life or death battles in less than as many days that no physician linked the tremors and nightmares to withdrawal. Why would they when his life was a bestselling true-crime novel full of sex, horror and macabre murder?
It wasn't until he publicly lost his shit at the office weeks later that anyone thought there might be more to his post-Scott Shelby condition than bruises and band aids.
There was an intervention, an ultimatum, several weeks at a quiet clinic and an expensive bottle of medication tucked into a stylized case, An antique he picked up at an out of the way shop one rainy afternoon. His file was stamped in red ink the label 'PTSD' scattered throughout it, his withdrawal from the ARI program labeled 'due to outside job stress', if anyone ever put the pieces together it was never documented.
Six months after the death of Scott Shelby and the reunion of the Mars family Agent Norman Jayden was given his second chance.
"Jayden you're a junkie head case fuck up." Special Agent Snaff said with all the warmth of a pissed off bulldog.
Jayden pushed away from his desk and looked up at Snaff, expression blank, too tired, too drugged, too disinterested to muster even the barest expression for the hostile agent.
Snaff and Jayden were permanently assigned to sorting and cataloging cold case files and evidence in the basement of the Boise field office. Jayden stuck around mostly to fuck off his superiors. They couldn't fire him, his public profile was too high but they couldn't - or wouldn't - put him in the field again. Aside from his health problems the beatings he'd taken during the Origami Killer case had proven he was in dire need of remedial hand to hand training. So he rode a desk and spent his days mired in outdated minutiae.
The worst of it was the aching empty hole ARI had left behind. Like a missing tooth that was never replaced, just a bloody socket he poked with his metaphorical tongue every time he opened a new box of files.
It was torture and the only things that kept him coming in was the simple fact that he didn't have anything else.
Snaff was a special Agent because he knew people and was just good enough at playing the political games that made the Bureau run to be an annoyance so he made rank, a classic case of fuck up move up. So he'd landed a cushy safe position to ride out until his pension matured in two years. Enter one Norman Jayden and Snaff's slack ass days of fucking around playing games on his phone and lying to superiors about his progress ground to a halt.
Now the two men spent their days circling each other like stiff legged junkyard dogs waiting for one or the other to bare a throat to be ripped out.
"Love you too." Jayden said neutrally as Snaff stood in front of him arms folded and jaw set.
"Your medical review is in two days fuckhead I hope you fail so hard and so fast they burn your personnel file and disavow you."
"Ah Snaff, you know that won't happen, hell they keep your useless ass around and at least I get shit done."
Snaff moved closer to Jayden arms folded over his gut eyes narrowing to belligerent piggy pinpricks in the wide expanse of his pale flesh.
"Two o'clock on Tuesday asshole."
Norman smiled at him an empty stretching of pale skin over too-large teeth.
Tuesday came, Norman appeared at the appointed time dressed in his second best suit, hair freshly cut, medical file in hand, or at least a USB drive containing the file in his jacket pocket. The board usually consisted of two physicians and a field agent. This time there were a few more suits.
"Agent Norman Jayden, BAU, special projects." A woman announced when he entered. He felt cartoonish and falsely important as he walked up to them. Truth was he was a talented paper pusher too bullheaded and dogged to know when to quit. He wasn't an especially good agent but he was a hell of a closer when it came to difficult cases bogged down with an abundance of conflicting evidence. He had an analytical mind and an instinct for logic but he was shit with people.
All that said, losing his shit, being exposed as an addict –albeit the powers that be had done their damndest to cover it up - risking the ARI project, and exposing the Bureau to a fuck ton of liability issues would almost certainly outweigh his usefulness. Half of what he'd done on the Origami Case, well half of what was actually on the record anyway, could result in criminal charges. Of course there was the problem of Carter Blake and Perry being the worst kind of police facts that had been exposed by Jayden and allowed a lot of the dubious 'police' work on the case to fall on their shoulders.
Jayden stood there shoulders back head high almost positive that he would be walking out a civilian with a medical pension. He could live with that, he had made the decisions that lead to this moment and never apologized for them. For their results, Shaun Mars' survival and the failure of his career...he also made no apologies.
"We've reviewed your medical file. We've reviewed your personnel file. We've reviewed your achievements. We've reviewed the progress you made in the ARI program. We've weighed the pros and cons of keeping you on with the Bureau, we've weighed the pros and cons of firing you and the media frenzy that could produce. We've spoken to everyone you've worked with in the Bureau from the moment you signed your paperwork and arrived at Quantico to Special Agent Snaff." The oldest of the males in the group said crisply. Jayden swallowed and stilled the urge to set his shoulders back and change his stance.
"Frankly Agent Jayden there is no clear cut decision to make. You're a messy problem." The man finished and glanced at his companions. Norman found he couldn't remember the man's name, or any of the others', he knew them, had known one or two for years could remember how they'd met, how they'd worked together but not their names. He felt panic and despair clawing at him and clenched his fists at his sides using the pain of his nails against the soft flesh of his paper-pusher hands to focus and ground him.
"So we're giving you a last chance Agent Jayden. A case, in the field, with a partner, you're scheduled to undergo a series of medical tests and if you prove out you'll be issued with a modified ARI before departure. Your first test is in half an hour."
Norman didn't argue or ask questions just took the address handed to him by the agent outside the door a second chance…and with ARI. Modified? To what end?
His mind churned as he drove to the clinic. He entered and was immediately directed to an exam room. After a timeless yet endless wait spent shivering in a thin paper gown and studying a depressingly bland painting of a country home overrun with roses Doctor Miles Lovell entered. Lovell had been instrumental in the early design of the ARI program. He studied Norman for a long moment before approaching him.
"Jayden." He said neutrally.
"Doc." Jayden replied.
Lovell took Norman's vitals and ran him through a few balance and sensation tests.
"Well, all in all you've recovered better than you have any right to." Lovell sighed.
"Don't sound so excited doc."
"You're still taking your medication?"
"Like clockwork and I haven't gone near Triptocaine since before the first crime scene on the Origami Killer case."
"That's not quite true. Your medication is a maintenance dose of Triptocaine in a slow release form with a half dozen counteragents to dull the high of the compound and eventually wean you from it entirely."
Jayden went very still, "You mean all this time I've still been taking Tripto?" He asked icily.
"Merely as a palliative Agent, if you had gone cold turkey much longer the withdrawal effects coupled with ARI's lingering impact would have permanently damaged your neurological functions."
"And you want me to start using ARI again?" Norman snapped getting to his feet and suddenly feeling ridiculous in the paper gown.
"What you or I want is irrelevant Agent. Fact is you're a savant with ARI and the program needs you. You close cases and save lives with it. Something about you, your personality, psychological profile, biology, something meshes with ARI in a way we haven't seen with any other candidates. Unfortunately due to your Triptocaine dependence we can't be entirely sure just what aspect of remarkable-you the system is bonding with or why it's so effective with you alone. Until we do we're going to keep studying you and allowing you access to ARI."
"Allowing me access? You're the people that called me down here to hop on the roller-coaster again. I'm fine without ARI doc." Jayden snapped and reached for his clothes.
"Please, Agent, think about it. What else are you going to do? Shuffle papers with Snaff or someone worse? Medically retire and write your memoirs? This is what you are somewhat literally I'm afraid. Yes, we'll be using you but think of what you can achieve with ARI. You managed to save the Mars family while suffering crippling withdrawals, you endured what three? Four? Beatings and walked away and are still strong enough to engage ARI again. You're unique Agent Jayden and we need you. There are a lot of terrible people out there, people you can capture with ARI."
"Bullshit Doc, saving people is a useful side effect you want me back so you can study me. Don't feed me shit and tell me its prime steak."
"Agent Jayden, we do want to study you and ARI, of course we do but the entire goal of this project from day one was to save lives and capture evil men and women. You are the best candidate the program has ever seen –"
"What about Tripto?"
Lovell looked grave and sad. Jayden noted the older man's sloped shoulders, his slightly shuffling gait as he moved to the sink and counter on one side of the room, set Jayden's file down and removed his glasses. He slowly sat at the chair next to the exam table and regarded Jayden with hard eyes.
"If you stay on your medication you're on track to be sober and free of the maintenance dose in six months."
"So you're saying I'm clean? I can use ARI again?"
"According to our tests yes. Agent Jayden…I don't want to scare you but if you go back on Tripto while using ARI you'll die, if you go back on Tripto without ARI you'll die. Best case scenario is a massive aneurysm worst case is a crippling stroke, you could lose all mobility, end up trapped in your own body a drooling mess for what's left of your life."
"Drooling mess, that's not very PC doc."
"It's true Jayden, I want you to understand that if you choose to take that shit again it will end your life." Lovell said harshly dull gray eyes momentarily lighting up with real emotion.
"Give me a day to think about it." Jayden said sliding off the table and reaching for his clothes. Lovell nodded and retrieved the file, spared one last glance for Jayden then left. Jayden knew before he finished dressing that his answer was yes.
He waited to call Lovell until the next day, Snaff had been furious and disgusted when Jayden walked in that morning. He had mumbled something about making a call and disappeared into his office.
"Lovell, I'm in." Jayden said as the familiar gruff voice answered.
"You're certain?" The question was perfunctory.
"What do you think?"
"Come to the clinic now we'll verify yesterday's tests and outfit you with a new unit."
Jayden hung up and automatically reached for an empty file box to pack his desk, then realized there wasn't a damn thing in that office, hell that building, that he wanted to take with him.
Lovell met him at the entrance to the clinic, drew three vials of blood and took his vitals.
"Right well, the new interface has two gloves and smaller eyepieces, Agent Naymith is an expert on the improved interface, she will walk you through the basic tutorial, you'll have a couple hours to get used to it before you'll need to catch a cab for your flight."
"Right my new case, I don't suppose you know anything about it?"
"It's time sensitive and politically sensitive." Lovell said escorting Norman to another room.
"Of course it is." Jayden sighed.
Naymith was an older woman, stout but not fat, solid. She handed him an unmarked white box without comment. He opened it and revealed a sleek pair of sunglasses and two innocuous black gloves that appeared to be made from some kind of rubberized cloth with lighter colored patches on each finger and the thumb.
"Put it on." Naymith said jarring Jayden from his observations.
Jayden realized, with surprise, that he was afraid. Frowning at the feeling he carefully slipped on the gloves and then taking a slow breath slipped the glasses on.
Immediately the world broke into pieces and recombined with a semi opaque gray layer over it.
"There's a voice interface option as well, you'll need to vocalize your menu choices."
"Can it be turned off?"
"Yes but you'll need to use the voice menu for seventy two hours after activation."
She didn't reply. Jayden suspected it was a safety feature, if he started babbling nonsense when trying to ask ARI to run a chemical analysis or identity trace they would know to pull him out of the system.
An hour and a half later Jayden left the clinic, after accepting his go-bag and an airline ticket from Lovell, and climbed into a cab. ARI sat in the inside pockets of his suit coat. The gym bag with his essentials sat at his feet and he almost felt normal.
It wasn't until he was on his flight, in-flight magazine open on his lap, that he felt the first itching longing for Tripto. Jayden licked his lips, pulled his tired eyes from the glossy magazine page and focused on the wing of the plane outside his window.
Tripto, the old siren song. He shook his head and ground his teeth in frustration. He had done his own research, knew that Lovell hadn't been lying had, if anything, been soft pedaling the risks. So he picked up the magazine and read every word in every inane article until the craving's teeth had dulled.
He was met at the airport by a dapper young agent, bright eyed and eager she lead him through security with a flash of her badge and out to a black American made sedan parked at the curb.
"Why the VIP treatment?" He asked.
"This case…it's prickly."
"Fill me in."
"Here." She said opening the driver's side door, she stood and handed Jayden a file. He accepted it, tossed his bag into the back seat and got in after it.
"Kids." He said hollowly but unsurprised. If this was meant to be a test it was a beauty, what an excellent decision to test the questionable but potentially useful Agent Norman Jayden by assigning him to a case rife with political tension, with a definite timeline to the death of the latest victim and oh while we're at it, let's make sure it's a fucking copycat of the Origami Killer.
Jayden felt ashes fill his mouth while a high pitched whining buzz filled his ears and his world narrowed and focused like a laser on the image in the file. A ten year old boy, son of the local politically active millionaire, kidnapped by party/ies unknown, the latest in a string of such kidnappings only unlike the Origami Killer these boys weren't drowned. They died of dehydration, evidently imprisoned without water until dead then abandoned in public parks.
Jayden read the file, memorized it, then read it again with ARI active and took notes, ran leads, compared names and crosschecked every damn thing he could think of.
By the time the sedan reached the local police department he had a pretty good idea of who was behind it.
"We're here Agent." The eager young agent said as she parallel parked. Jayden found himself wondering when he had last done that as he extricated himself from the sedan and retrieved his bag and the file. He was still wearing ARI, he took off the glasses but kept the gloves on.
"Do you have any questions about the file?" She asked as he tucked the ARI glasses into his jacket.
"Mr. Harwell, the father, is he in the station?"
"Yes sir he hasn't left since arriving to report the crime."
"Good, arrest him."
"He's the killer."
She blinked at him, deer in the headlights, he felt a stab of frustration nearly force cruelty from him. He blamed his nerves, the trip, adjusting to ARI again, took a deep breath and slowly let it out.
"David Harwell is the killer."
"Based on what sir?" She asked skeptically.
Jayden knew his reputation in the Bureau, a burn out desk jockey with no business in the field, unreliable and suspect.
"David Harwell is facing a major indictment, two of his three major corporations are about to fail, he started killing on impulse, the first boys were sheer luck, he took them because he had access and no one thought twice about it."
"Why take his own son?"
"He's not close to the boy, after his wife's death the boy was raised by nannies and boarding school, Harwell took him because he could and he'll use the sympathy of the press to his advantage when his empire comes tumbling down in three to six months, use the tragedy of his son's death as an excuse for his failure."
Jayden smiled coldly. "I've transmitted it to the local D.A. your field office, the ARI program leads, and you."
She stared at him, not suspicious and not surprised, an evaluative gaze, then nodded.
"Okay, you want the honors?" She asked snagging her cuffs from her belt and offering them to him.
He took them and entered the station.
Harwell was in the only office yelling at a man in a neatly pressed uniform. Jayden assumed he was the elected Sheriff, the officer looked furious and exhausted. Harwell was frothing, face red, as he yelled. Jayden picked up something about a lawsuit before he opened the door to the office interrupting the tirade.
"Sherrif, Mr. Harwell, I'm federal Agent Norman Jayden. Mr. Harwell could you turn around please?" Harwell looked stunned, speechless he glanced at the Sheriff, Jayden snaked a foot out between Harwell's legs and kicked the man's feet aside putting him off balance and slipped behind him, snapped a cuff on his wrist and declared, "David Harwell, you are under arrest for the murders of Sam Lark, Timothy Stevens and the attempted murder of Trevor Harwell." Harwell gaped like a fish as Norman recited his Miranda rights to him.
The sheriff didn't intervene only watched Jayden with tired hooded eyes. Jayden handed a freshly screaming Harwell off to his companion and regarded the Sheriff.
"Did you know?"
"No, knew he was a son of a bitch but didn't know this." The Sheriff was overweight, skin red and battered by the local dry climate and harsh sun, but there was iron under the meat and decay. Hard faded eyes and a worn pistol holster on his hip belied his good ol' boy façade.
"You believe the charge?"
"Seeing that asshole's face when you gave him the treatment? Yeah, yeah I do."
"We still have time to find Trevor."
"You got a plan?"
"I need an empty room as many maps of the local area as you can get on short notice and one hour." Jayden snapped reaching for ARI.
As the comforting flood of pixels warped the world into something he felt he knew and could control he followed the still-nameless sheriff out of his office, through the crowded but now shocked-silent bull pen to an interrogation room.
Jayden used ARI to bring up a rough map of the local area and began a cursory examination.
"ARI, locate Harwell owned land in the area, highlight green." He ordered.
The Sheriff entered with a stack of maps and a deputy on his heels. "These are the best we've got Agent, Jim here is an avid hunter, knows the land hereabouts better than anyone he can answer any questions you might have."
"Thank you Sheriff, Deputy feel free to have a seat." Jayden said studying the map ARI had created for him.
"Deputy could you read the names of those maps out loud please? ARI, download and display listed maps." Jayden ordered. The deputy read through the maps, a half dozen in all, and as he did so ARI populated its rough map with more detail and extrapolated a three dimensional representation of the terrain.
"ARI extrapolate likely location of Trevor Harwell." He waited, the deputy apparently confused but willing to remain silent looked on.
"ARI, display results, project ." Jayden demanded.
A new feature was the ability to independently project data without requiring access to a projector.
Jim studied the map ARI displayed on the blank fly specked wall of the interrogation room's wall. There were four locations highlighted each had a glowing number floating next to it.
"Anything look likely to you Deputy Jim?"
"Just Jim agent." The man said wryly and squinted at the map.
"Now this here is an old mining shack, barely anything to it, just a roof really, could leave the boy there but he'd be dead in a day, most of these poor kids lasted three or four days."
"ARI disregard location one."
"Anything else Jim?"
"Now, all I got to go on here is m'gut really but if I had to choose I'd go with number four."
Jayden studied the fourth location. A wide spot in an abandoned logging road, it had the advantages of isolation, multiple buildings, and it was deep on Harwell corporation owned land. Jayden nodded.
"ARI contact the local field office, patch through to operations, route to my cell." He ordered and pulled the phone off his belt.
"Deputy I'm sure you and your compatriots know this land better than our agents, would you mind leading the raid?"
It was Jayden's attempt to be diplomatic, it also made sense.
The assault was successful the boy was found, cold and dead for two hours at least. Dispirited and aged by years the agents and deputies returned to the small town and started the sad business of wrapping up the case and preparing for court.
Jayden returned to the interrogation room began gathering the maps and mentally composing his final report. The door opened softly and Jayden twisted in place to see who had entered.
The Sheriff regarded him gravely.
"I know who you are son." He said.
"You risked your life to save that Mars boy, were here less than an hour and you had that bastard cuffed and the Harwell boy halfway found."
Jayden just stared at the Sheriff.
"What I'm trying to say son is I don't know if you're a lunatic, a liability, or any of the other crap the media wrote or said about you, but I do know this, you're damn good at your job and I'm grateful you were here."
Jayden felt an unexpected lump in his throat, regarded it with dismay, opened his mouth to thank the sheriff and discovered his voice had fled.
"Just felt you needed to hear that from me. Let my deputies know if you need anything afore you go." He concluded gruffly and left Jayden in peace.
Jayden felt a tear on his cheek, wiped at it with two fingers, looked at it glistening on the ARI glove and then at the door. Absolution provided by a hard but fair stranger, another dead child. Jayden left the station, walked to the sedan, the young agent was waiting for him, her expression tired and resigned. As he got into the sedan he thought he heard thunder in the distance.