A/N: This has been sitting on my hard drive since the show ended, before I even knew what fanfic was. Don't know where it came from, but probably stems from my frustration with the way things were ended between Jack and Sam, my anger with Sam for making such a stupid decision, and my wish for Jack to be happy for once in his life. I have since forgiven Sam, since she was as much a victim of poor writing as we were, and I feel a J/S or two coming on, maybe soon. In the meantime, I felt the need to free them from my hard drive, even as I realize that my mom will probably be the only one who reads this. I am okay with that. :)

Author: Lori51

Rating: T

Disclaimers: Jack and Sam and the rest of the WAT characters are not mine. Kate and her family I will claim.

Category: Without a Trace, Jack/OC

Drama/Romance

Summary: Jack has just begun learning to live for himself when a case takes him to Texas, where he meets a woman who changes his life, mostly for the better. Can Jack Malone do "happy?" Set post-series. Just a little bit AU. Jack Malone/OC

Prologue

It was still early when Jack Malone let himself into his apartment, winded from his run and feeling better than he had in a long time. The sun was starting to rise, and he opened the curtains to let it in as he ground his coffee beans and dumped them in, added water, and hit the on button. He looked around his place on his way to the shower. Not too bad. For a man whose life had been ended several times, he was finally starting to come alive again. His place didn't look like a bar after closing time anymore, which was good. He didn't smell like a brewery at six in the morning, and he actually welcomed the sun instead of dreading it like the vampire he used to be. He still worked a lot of late nights, but he'd learned to catch up on his sleep and on his life. With the free time he'd discovered in the post-Samantha days, he'd kept up with his workouts, even increased them and added his morning run. He was up to three miles and he had to admit, he no longer prayed for death upon his return. Not bad for a couple months shy of fifty.

After his shower, he dressed, drank his coffee and actually ate breakfast—a new habit that he was warming to. By the time he was driving to work, he felt awake and alive. It was a brand new day.

As the day began and people flooded the streets, no one noticed the little boy curled into the rotted boards of a dirty back alley. He was so thin his cheekbones protruded, his eyes seemed to bug out of his head, and his ribs were clearly visible even through his ratty T-shirt. Those eyes were glassy and wild, and his light brown hair was just as wild, matted with blood. He mumbled unintelligible words to himself over and over, his arms clasped tightly around his waist, rocking almost infinitesimally in the tiny space.

Hours passed, and it was just past the breakfast rush when old Mr. Mares, taking a smoke break in the alley, noticed him there, and called the police.

Chapter One

It was strange being the first one to work. For so many months, he had been phoning it in, coming in late and hung over, avoiding his friends and generally making an ass out of himself. Since Hanna had decided to move back in with her mother and have very little contact with him, he felt cut off from humanity once again. He had genuinely begun to enjoy the domestic existence he had found himself in, only to find himself once again alone. It had hit him hard, and had taken him awhile to find his footing again.

It felt good to be here so early now, absorbing the details of the new case they'd gotten, calling his team in, and not flinching when he saw Samantha Spade breeze through the door. They'd been friends and partners before making the mistake of mucking it up with sex—love—whatever—again—and it seemed that things were finally back to the way they ought to be. They still read each other's thoughts and finished each other's sentences, and he'd accepted that they probably always would.

"Hey," she said with a bright smile as she crossed to her desk, putting away her trendy purse and tucking her gun into her desk drawer. "Morning," he said, ignoring the subtle scent that had swept across the room when she had. She looked up. "What've we got?"

Martin, Danny, Vivian and Jack were already seated at the long table, examining the information they had so far. "Tommy Gomez, age six. Reported missing by a neighbor who witnessed a midnight move, without the kid. PD searched the apartment, found blood, and called it in. We're working on locating the family now."

Barely an hour passed before the facts began to lay out a picture. Jack handed out assignments with the finesse of a field general. "And I'm going to San Antonio." He looked up at Samantha. "You're with me." He looked at his watch. "Our flight leaves in half an hour."

Narrowing her eyes on his broad back as he disappeared into his office, Sam didn't have time to argue with him, but swore that she'd make the time during the trip.

Kate Janoreski was in the middle of an explanation of the water cycle for the benefit of her class of twenty-three Kindergarten students when she was interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come on in," she called, accompanying it with a hand motion as she saw a man in a dark suit hovering in front of her door with its thin window pane. The door opened to reveal a man and a woman, both very austere and official looking in matching dark suits. Police, she thought instantly, the mother in her alarmed right away.

She held up one finger in the universal gesture for "one minute," then turned back to her kids. She picked up a dry erase marker and handed it to Sandy. "Draw the water cycle on the white board, and call volunteers to help you write the words. I'll be right back."

She mustered a smile as she stood and crossed the room toward them, her insides jumping at the thought that something had happened to one of her boys.

"Good morning," she said. "Is it one of my boys?"

The woman spoke first. "No, ma'am. My name is Special Agent Samantha Spade, and this is Special Agent Jack Malone, FBI. We're investigating a former student of yours who's gone missing."

Kate let out the breath she'd only realized she'd been holding. She was able to focus on the agents then. Agent Spade was probably one of the most beautiful women she'd ever seen, tall and femininely muscular with flowing blonde hair and deep green eyes. She had a fantastic body, Kate thought enviously, and was probably about ten years younger than Kate was herself. Agent Spade smiled and put out her hand, and Kate shook it warmly, before turning to the man. She shook his hand automatically, registering the warmth of it, while her eyes were held firmly in his. They were a warm dark brown, the color of rich black coffee, and their magnetism rendered her incapable of speech. His mouth crooked up at one side, and his smile transformed his hard features. He had a strong square jaw, a long straight nose, and dark hair shot with silver that was combed back off of his forehead, worn just a little too long. He had a few years on her, sure, but who the hell cared? She realized she was staring, and she still held his hand in hers, and dropped it abruptly. If he'd said anything, she hadn't gotten it. He reached into his pocket for his badge, and she watched his long fingers dip into his jacket pocket and emerge again, as if in a trance. He showed her his badge, then smiled at her again.

"We're here from New York, Mrs. J. Mrs. J., right?" She nodded. "Most everyone calls me Mrs. J. You can call me Kate, if you'd like." Please.

He smiled again, and she was sure she imagined the flash of heat in his eyes. "Kate. We're investigating the disappearance of a student you had in your class last year, Thomas Gomez." Her eyes closed momentarily, and when they opened again, they were immeasurably sad.

It shook Malone, and surprised him that it did. He'd been doing this a long time. Not much shook him these days, not that that was necessarily a good thing.

"I've been waiting for this," Kate said with a sad smile. "Well, not this exactly, but Tommy was one of the ones I pray for every day. The signs were all there. I tried to get them to say something, anything, that I could report to CPS, but I never could get them to say a thing. They coach them, you know, tell them not to tell anyone." She shook her head. "Those poor little boys were terrified of those women; anyone could see that. I hated like hell to send them home every day, but I didn't have a choice." She cocked her head in confusion. "They were going to school here. Why is this your case?"

"Tommy went missing from New York. Landlord called it in. We found blood, and tracked his guardian here. Then lost her. Went to the last school of record; they haven't seen him. A speech therapist told us to talk to you." He stared at her, about the same time she got a funny look on her face. "What" he asked just as the word "Where" popped out of her mouth. Jack stopped. "Sorry. Go ahead."

"Where's Ricky?" she asked, and he noticed that her face had gone pale.

Now Agent Malone cocked his head. "Who's Ricky?"

Kate became visibly agitated. "You have to find Ricky. If Tommy isn't around to protect Ricky…" she put a hand over her mouth and stopped suddenly, tears in her eyes. "Oh my God, those poor boys."

Jack shook his head as if to clear the cobwebs. He turned to Sam. "Watch these kids a minute, will you? I'm going to take her someplace quiet so I can figure out what she's talking about."

Samantha had a look of sheer panic on her face for a moment that Jack rather enjoyed. Kate pointed to a row of books on a shelf. "Just read them a story. You'll be fine."

She led him to an empty room across the hall, and sat down heavily in a plastic blue chair. Jack sat down across from her, his eyes on her face.

"Tommy and Ricky are cousins. Tommy's mother abandoned him, so the grandmother took custody, wasn't real happy about it, and made sure he knew it. Poor kid had issues on top of issues. She made him think he was stupid, and a burden." Her eyes flashed with fury, and Jack registered that they were a bright blue-green. Before his eyes, she softened. "He was a great kid. So sweet and so earnest. He'd walk over coals to please you, blossom like a flower for just one word of praise. He was older than Ricky by just over a year. He watched over Ricky, protected him, took care of him. They were raised together. Ricky's mom still lived with her mother." She shook her head again, vehemently this time. "God, those two women were a piece of work. A couple of abusers, working on keeping the cycle intact. I was more worried about Ricky than Tommy. Tommy was a survivor, would take anything and just smile through it. Ricky though, he was so fragile. He cried, threw fits, ran away from me. He'd snap and find a place to hide. He spent most of the days for the first six months of school underneath his table, terrified and shaking. He'd been in another class, and cried so much for Tommy that my boss finally just moved him into my class. He still cried." She closed her eyes and scrubbed her hand over her face wearily in a gesture that Jack recognized. "I've been watching the news since they went to that other school, waiting to hear something like this, and praying I wouldn't."

Jack didn't know what to say to this woman. Her love for these kids was plain. He opted for the truth. "This is the first we've heard of Ricky. He wasn't in school in New York with Tommy, and the landlord just told us about the one boy." He took out the school photo and set it on the table in front of Kate. She nodded. "That's Tommy." When she lifted her eyes back to his, they were filled with dread. "If Ricky wasn't there, they've done something to him. I always suspected his mother of abuse. She was so cold to him, and so mean sometimes. I could see him quake with fear. She fed us some cock-and-bull story about his biological father abusing him, but I never believed it. He wasn't skittish around men at all; warmed to them quickly. But women—he was definitely skittish around women. I really had to work to earn his trust. And any sudden move I made absolutely destroyed him. I would make a gesture without thinking, and he'd freak. It would take me an hour to coax him out from under the table. Did you check the grandma's house? Was anyone there?"

"We haven't gotten that far. We don't have that address."

Kate Janoreski jumped to her feet, her eyes alight. "Let me see what I can do about that. Come with me." She took off down the hall, and Jack followed, mesmerized by her passion and by her. She was a few inches shorter than he, lithe and curvy but definitely not skinny, and he liked it on her. A lot. She wore a filmy blue flowered skirt that swirled around her knees as she walked, and he thought she may have a blue blouse on under a bright blue smock made of a pattern of smiling clouds. Ever so often, as she shifted, he would catch a flash of skin, and wondering what she had on under that smock was definitely distracting him from the places his mind should be going right now. She had on chunky-heeled sandals with leather straps that wound around slender ankles, and she ate up the tiled floor with long strides that made him have to work to catch up with her even as he admired those long legs. She had great legs.

She reached a door, opened it, and held it open for him. She stopped at an open door, hesitated, then looked at him with apology in her eyes. "Let me just check with my boss and make sure it's all right."

It was on the tip of his tongue to say he'd be right back with a warrant, but stopped himself. She wanted to find this boy—boys—more than he did; she was just doing her job. He admired that about her. She was passionate about her kids, but still mindful of their privacy. That was a good thing. She came out of the office a second later, flashing him a smile that nearly brought him to his knees right there in the office of her elementary school. "She said to give you whatever you need."

Jack almost groaned out loud. If only.