Author's Note: This story is based on one of my favourite movies by the same name and in particular, the scene where little Lukas Haas points at the newspaper clipping, identifying the bad guy and Harrison Ford comes over and pushes his hand down before someone sees. Thank you kindly to Australian Peter Weir and the writers for such a beautiful film.
Warning: This fic contains death of minor characters and examines dealing with death by a child. This is a rather dark fic so if you are after a pick-up, perhaps give this one a miss.
"Take a deep breath hon, it wouldn't look good after everything we've done to get here to have you passing out on the way through the door." Federal Agent Peter Burke grinned while squeezing his wife's hand as he guided her up the concrete steps of the Department of Child Services. Elizabeth Burke smiled lovingly at her husband, grateful for his support, both physically and mentally. It had been a long, trying road they'd travelled down during the past five years…
Peter and El had been married three years before deciding it was time to begin a family. The time seemed right in that both of them were settled in their perspective professions - Peter was successfully managing his role as senior agent in charge of the Bureau's New York White Collar Division and El was thrilled with the direction and growth of her own catering company, Burke Premier Events. In a few short years they had accomplished what many couples were unable to achieve in a lifetime of marriage. They had completed renovations of their Brooklyn townhouse, taken on a small investment portfolio, set up a long term college savings account and had even found time to break in a family pet – an adorable little Labrador pup that they'd named Satchmo after El's all-time favourite jazz singer.
After giving the idea some serious consideration, El and Peter decided all that was missing was the pitter-patter of tiny feet. It was indeed time to create a new addition to their family, so they set about having a baby. But sadly for the Burkes, this part of the master plan did not have a happy ending. When El had no luck getting pregnant in the first six months, the anxious couple sought the advice of a specialist, followed recommended directions and measures to the letter, submitted to numerous tests and finally went down the IV path. Unfortunately, they had no more success with medical intervention than they had with their own natural attempts and in the end, had to face the inevitable facts that El getting pregnant was not meant to be.
It was understandable that Peter and El went through a long period of grief once they realised that they would never have a biological child of their own, a concept that neither of them had ever considered to be a possibility. El became depressed and withdrawn, Peter threw himself into his work like he never had before and neither of them were willing, nor wanted to discuss the problem least it bring their pain to the forefront. Unfortunately, a regrettable side effect of this strategy meant the less they avoided bringing it up, the more they avoided each other altogether, and after some time, their loving relationship became just a sad empty shell of its former self. And that may have well been the sad ending for this fairy-tale couple, if not for fate…fate finding its way and stepping in just at the right time…fate in the form of Peter's old friend, Rachel Hammond, moving in across the street.
Years back, Rachel had lived in the same block of flats as a young Peter Burke and their lives had managed to cross several times even after they'd moved away from each other. But still, Peter could barely believe it was Rachel stepping out of the front gate as he crossed the road one morning to his car, mystified by the fact that once again, the tall blonde with startling chocolate brown eyes had coincidently purchased a house in the same street. Of even more surprise however, was that fact that Rachel was holding a child's hand, a sweet young girl, perhaps nine or ten who griped her mother's arm tight as she talked to the stranger. Peter was deeply intrigued. Going back about a decade, he'd seen Rachel nearly every other day – for sure he would have remembered a nine month period when she'd put on weight or a particular day when she arrived home with a bouncing baby girl!
There were so many questions, the last he had heard, Rachel had been appointed Senior Child Welfare Officer at the Department of Justice in Los Angeles. Peter was keen to find out everything Rachel had been up since they'd last seen each other, and while entertaining was the last thing either Burke felt like doing in their current rut, that night they found themselves laying out a banquet for their newest neighbours.
Rachel's little girl, Jessie was a darling and after initially acting all shy around her mommy's friends, she eventually relaxed and began to enjoy herself, joining in the conversation, telling Peter and El stories of school and friends and new music groups that the adults had never heard of and how the hardest part about leaving Los Angeles was having to say goodbye to her treasured Munchie – a beautiful Persian cat that would curl up on the end of her bed at night. Rachel had defended her apparent 'heartless actions' after receiving twin disapproving looks from both Burkes, by informing them that Munchie actually belonged to their elderly neighbour, Mrs Parsons, who had owned Munchie for over fifteen years and treated the cat like it was her own human child. And while Munchie had been allowed to share his time between Jessie's bed and the cat's own king sized ensemble with a two inch thick pillow top, pigs would fly to New York before Munchie would ever be permitted on a jet! Jessie joked saying that pigs flying wasn't beyond the realm of possibility and proudly declared that someone in her science class had even designed a prototype. And before long, the walls of the Brooklyn townhouse heard a sound they hadn't heard for a very long time – laughter. As much as El hadn't felt like visitors, it didn't take long to let the lively spirit of a youngster, infiltrate through her heartbroken bones and seep into her weary heart. And each time the child smiled and laughed, El's heartbeat grew just that little bit stronger.
When Jessie relocated to the back porch to have a cuddle with Satchmo, Rachel took a moment to explain what must have been driving Peter crazy - who was the father and how had she managed to give birth to Jessie without any of her friends knowing. Rachel smiled as she went in to detail of how she had adopted Jessie a little over five years ago and while at the time, it was not something she had planned to do, it was the best decision she'd made in her entire life. Peter and El absorbed themselves in the story as they heard how Jessie's drug addicted mother had been in and out of rehab for the first few years of the young girl's life and how there wasn't a lot Rachel's department could do, other than place the child into the foster system each time the mother relapsed. In the end, Jessie's biological mother took one dose too many and Jessie was placed up for adoption. Rachel made the usual arrangements once the child was officially in the system and even went so far as to pick out a suitable family. But at the eleventh hour, something triggered in her brain or perhaps her heart sending her down a different path and she went through the process of adopting the little girl herself…and no, to this day, she had never had a single regret….
… "You having regrets?" Peter paused with his hand on the door to Ms Hammond's office.
"Uh, sorry hon, what did you say?"
"You having regrets, thinking this was a bad idea after all?" Peter would rather El have doubts out in the hall than inside with Rachel or in front of the boy.
"No…I'm just a little nervous, that's all." The butterflies in El's stomach and the lack of blood flowing to her brain weren't from having second thoughts, far from it in fact. El was terrified something would go wrong, some miniscule part of this process may very well fall through and she'd never experience the joy of being a mother…after all, some things just weren't meant to be.
"He's down in the rec room," Rachel led the Burkes along several long uninteresting halls on their way to the residential quarter of the building. No one had said much since leaving Rachel's office, both Peter and El were deep in thought with all that was about to happen. They'd spent the better part of an hour going through official documentation and guidelines, reviewing the adoption process and signing and initialling what would no doubt have amounted to an entire ream of paper. And this was only for the probationary adoption period. If all went well, in six months' time, they'd have to go through everything again with a judge. It was a lot of paper work, but it was understandable - for one little individual, this was his whole life….
….Rachel had already told them quite a bit about the little boy when she came over to deliver the news that there was a little six year old boy in the care of her department that was to be put up for adoption. His story went that more than five weeks before, he had been discovered wandering through a park in Jersey and brought in to the local police branch by a Good Samaritan. Rachel's team had alerted missing persons departments throughout the country trying to find a clue as to the identity of this youngster - the little boy hadn't spoken a word since being brought in, he had no ID, no labels on his clothing and no one bashing down doors in the Jersey neighbourhood where he was located, trying desperately to find their missing son. When it was obvious no frantic parent was going to step forward to claim him, the child was placed into the care of State. Upon the advice of the in-house psychologist, he was kept at the residential facilities on site rather than shipped off to a foster family. It was no doubt the right thing to do seeing as how they knew nothing about this particular child, well not much more than his shoe size and without some background information, they were unwilling to place him in temporary foster accommodation.
For five weeks, the little chap sat around the centre's rec room with all the other children that were being processed through the system. As the days passed and they were no closer to finding out his actual name, the staff decided to call the boy Georgie. They tried their level best to get him to interact, but frustratingly the child was completely non-responsive, spending the majority of the day staring out the window or wandering aimlessly around the room. Even the child psychologist had been unable to break through the impenetrable wall the boy had built up around himself. The doctor had ruled out Autism believing the barrier was newly acquired, possibly the result of a recent trauma. But all the theories surrounding the small child had been merely speculation, conjectures thrown around the office by staff anxious to solve the mystery of the little boy nobody wanted.
Then ten days ago, a number of questions were answered when Rachel received a visit from Federal Agents of the Violent Crimes Division. After five weeks, it was highly unlikely there'd be a happy ending for the little boy but regardless of always knowing that would be the case, Rachel was rocked by what was laid out in front of her. According to the agents, the body of a young woman had been discovered by wilderness officers along a remote bush track at a nature reserve just outside of the city. The forensic investigation concluded that the woman had died from a gunshot wound and was identified through the DNA database as Adele Caffrey. The FBI had spent the better part of the past fourteen months trying to track down Ms Caffrey, ever since her estranged husband, Carl, a NYPD cop had been mortally wounded at a well-known mob hangout. At the time of his death, Officer Caffrey had been under investigation by internal affairs for suspected diamond trafficking and underhanded dealings with several convicted criminals. His death was unquestionably related to some type of illegal activity and the case had been turned over to the FBI. Adele was wanted for questioning in relation to the case but had disappeared off the grid immediately after her husband's demise, taking her young son and going into hiding. Neither of them had been heard from since. That was until DNA testing at the crime scene confirmed Adele's identity and directed the agents to the Department of Child Services where a match was flagged against 'Georgie's' DNA….
"There he is, the one over by the window." Rachel indicated the young child standing with his forehead resting on the glass pane.
"What's he-" Peter jumped out of the way of a little tyke screaming past him on the way to the bathroom door behind them.
"Move aside or lose a limb, big guy!" The little whippersnapper sprouted on his way past.
"Slow down, Mikey, no running indoors," Rachel admonished in a stern tone.
"Sorry Ms Hammond, but a man's gotta go when a man's gotta go," Mikey groaned before disappearing into the bathroom.
Rachel shook her head while holding in a laugh as she turned back to the Burkes, "What can you do?"
"The kid made a good point," Peter concurred before nodding his head towards the window and trying again, "What's the little guy looking at?"
"What's he looking for?" Rachel corrected sadly. "I imagine he's looking for his mom."
"But he's been told?" El asked with sudden grave concern.
"Yes, of course, Dr Barton explained what had happened once we had confirmation but…it was unlikely he was able to get through. He said acceptance would come with time."
"And in the meantime, he keeps waiting?"
"I'm afraid so El."
El swallowed hard to wash away the lump in her throat. Rachel had warned her, she had warned them both. She'd laid out all the facts, hadn't held back with anything so El felt she had no right to feel shocked, to feel alarmed, to feel already overwhelmed that she was totally incapable of caring for this needy youngster. What skills or experience did she have? Nil, nothing, no experience whatsoever. She'd never so much as cared for a neighbour's child or a niece or nephew. She was probably the most inadequate candidate to become the full time carer for this child who had just lost his mother, had also lost his father and had been living a life of cloak and dagger for almost a third of his young life. But Rachel had assured El that she would know how to act, know how to handle the little one, know the right things to say and do. Rachel had complete faith, as biased and misguided as it was, that her and Peter would be just what the youngster needed to start over. But now, seeing the little chap staring out the window, oblivious to the comings and goings of all the other children playing with their videos games, painting at the craft table or lazing in front of the television, El was swamped with self-doubt. The reality of the scene brought home to El that everything she had been told had indeed been an accurate account – raising this little boy with so many needs was going to be a trying and testing time for all of them.
"Come on," Rachel placed a reassuring hand on El's back and nudged her across the room. "Let's go meet your boy."
Your boy! El almost spun round and bolted out the door. Of course she'd have to take Peter with her – he had a firm grip on her hand and whether it was to support, or to be supported, El wasn't sure, but nevertheless, it would be quite a sight to see two grown adults running from the building! Without any conscious action on her part, El found herself guided into one of the child-sized seats near the window and realised they'd formed a semi-circle around the little boy. He was yet to notice, or pay any attention to the new arrivals for that matter.
Once Peter and El were settled, Rachel smiled reassuringly and winked by way of saying, everything was going to be fine, then she reached out and placed her hand on the little boy's shoulder. He didn't react, he didn't spin to see who it was like you'd expect him to. Instead he remained standing, staring, gazing silently out the window, looking for something…or someone. Rachel spoke with a soft, gentle, caring voice… "Neal…Neal sweetie…Neal turn around please, I want you to meet some friends of mine."
The little boy didn't respond and he made no move his eyes away from the window.
"Neal…" this time Rachel tried with a little more conviction, "turn around please so we can talk."
Still no reaction. It was like he was the only person in the room, the only person left in the whole world…his world.
Rachel stood up and placed her hands on Neal's shoulders then she pulled him towards the spare seat and nudged him carefully backwards until he was sitting down. The little guy took one final longing look back at the window before dropping his head and staring at the ground.
"Neal…I'd like you to meet some friends of mine," Rachel lifted the youngster's chin till he made eye contact with the adults across from him. "This is Peter…"
"Hi Neal," Peter cleared his throat and darted his eyes to Rachel for assurance. He was feeling mighty uncomfortable and had to admit he was totally out of his element.
"And this is my friend, Elizabeth. Some people call her El. You can call her El or Elizabeth, whichever you like better." Rachel turned the boy by his shoulders so he was facing El.
"Hello Neal, it's so nice to finally meet you." El reached out and patted the little boy's knee. It was so tiny, so fragile. Would he break if she hugged him too tight?
"Neal…" Rachel moved back into his line of sight, "We are going to drive over to Peter and Elizabeth's home now. They live across the street from me and they have a bedroom especially for you. It has dinosaur pictures on the wall and drawings of cars on the bedspread, and best of all; you won't have to share your room with a whole heap of other children like you do here. Also, and I'm sure you are going to love this, El and Peter have a puppy, his name is Satchmo. Would you like to go and see him?"
El and Peter looked on expectantly, hopefully, wishing for some type of acquiescence but sadly there was nothing, nothing a blank stare, like nothing had been offered, no suggestion made. It was as though the little guy's body was in the room, but his mind was not. It felt to El like Neal was a million miles away.