A/N: Brief one-shot. Just had the urge to write it. I, for one, am most fascinated by the detective work that Toby and Caleb have been doing to keep their girls safe. I figured I would try to get inside their heads a little bit and share with all of you.
Several references are drawn from the show (CeCe Drake, Jason's car accident, Vivian Darkbloom, etc.)
Disclaimer: I stated somewhere in the story that Jason's vehicle is a Ford Focus. I admittedly have no idea what kind of car it is. Think of it as part of my very weak creative license.
Whatever The Cost
"Hey…um…I just called to say I miss you. I'm worried about you and…I just really miss you."
Toby sighed heavily and pulled the phone away from his ear, staring at it mindlessly as though it would give him all the answers he needed.
He had been gone for nearly three days now, and felt no closer to getting the answers he had hoped. Tracking down Jason DiLaurentis was proving to be quite the arduous task, and he no more wanted to visit Mona than he wanted a root canal. But he had already told himself that he would not go home until he had at least a faint idea of how to protect Spencer and her friends.
And that voicemail…She wasn't just worried. There was an unmistakable fear that laced her voice. The fear of somebody who had endured a year of being stalked and manipulated, and was still dealing with the repercussions. Not somebody who had watched her sole tormenter get arrested and committed to Radley Sanitarium, and felt comfortable moving on with her life.
It only fueled his suspicions more. What did she have to worry about? Was she afraid that he was putting himself at risk by digging for answers? Who could possibly be putting these ideas in her head?
He steeled himself for the task at hand and forced himself to set the phone aside. He could not call her back right now. Hearing her voice in real time would only make his mission more complicated. He would be running back to Rosewood in an instant – and he could not make that trip quite yet if he wanted answers.
He studied the computer screen that continued to swim in and out of focus before him, rubbing his tired eyes. Sleep had been something of a luxury as of late. Not only because it was difficult to find rest so far away from home and away from Spencer, but also because his brain never stopped reeling long enough to actually relax.
He had been sifting through the listings of backdoor auto repair shops for hours. But one in particular had stuck out like a sore thumb: Drake & Sons. He remembered seeing the surname plastered all over Spencer's laptop, when she thought he wasn't looking. It was by no means a rare name, but he thought it would at least be a good place to start. It was located off the beaten path, on back roads that did not even show up on the average map. He had considered using the GPS tracker on his phone, but Spencer's paranoia had rubbed off a bit too much. If he was being watched, he could not afford to risk making it too easy for them to catch up.
The door to the motel room opened suddenly, making Toby's heart leap into his throat. He eased when he saw the face of his visitor.
"You should really keep this locked, you know," Caleb chastised as he closed it behind him, surreptitiously peeking through the blinds to ensure that nobody had witnessed his entrance. "You don't want just anybody waltzing in."
He was right, of course. But Toby loathed the idea of being so mistrusting.
"Did you find anything?" Caleb inquired, propping himself up on the dilapidated desk and peering at the computer.
"Maybe," Toby offered. He couldn't be sure it was a lead…yet. "You?"
"Yep," Caleb confirmed. "It's official…they're still getting texts."
This statement was enough to draw his attention. He quickly closed the laptop, so as to address Caleb with full focus. "How do you know?"
"I tested it with Hanna," Caleb muttered darkly. "She took the bait instantly."
Toby groaned, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his face. "I can't believe this. Why didn't they say anything?"
"Same reason as always," Caleb said, his eyes trained distractedly on the other side of the room. "Thinking it's for our own good."
Frustration was bubbling in Toby's stomach. "I'll decide what's for my own good," he declared brashly – "and that's Spencer's well-being."
"I tried to tell Hanna that," Caleb agreed. "She still wouldn't give me much as far as answers go. Some minor explanations here and there – which had more holes than Swiss cheese – but no real information that could get me in trouble." He said the last bit with irritated finger quotations, squaring his jaw.
"This is insane," Toby quipped. "You lock one of these people up and it's like ten more just come crawling out of the woodwork."
Caleb did not respond, but merely rolled his eyes in agreement.
"Who could want to hurt them this badly?" Toby asked aloud. "What could they have possibly done to this person – people – whatever it may be?"
"I don't think they even know. That's the problem."
Toby muttered something obscene under his breath.
"So – what did you get accomplished while I was gone?" Caleb asked, a hopeful sort of optimism bleeding from his tone.
Toby flipped the laptop open once more, faced again with the Yellow Page listing for Drake & Sons. By way of explanation, he simply turned the screen to face Caleb.
"Drake…Drake…" Caleb muttered thoughtfully. "I know that name."
"Because they've been trying to track down someone with the name Drake for weeks," Toby explained. "I've seen the name on Spencer's computer."
"You think that's where Jason would go to fix the front end?" Caleb asked.
"Not sure," Toby muttered. "But it's the closest we've got to a lead. I say we head over there."
Finding the repair shop without GPS had been more of a chore than Toby had previously anticipated. He and Caleb had gotten lost a few times, and were convinced for a while that they must be traveling in circles. They had passed what appeared to be the same cluster of Redwood pine trees at least a dozen times, and it was starting to get dark. The absence of sunlight was only adding to the confusion, and frankly was making Toby feel like the punch line of a horror film.
"Talk about being out in the middle of nowhere," Caleb muttered. "I don't even have service." As if to demonstrate, he raised his cell phone above his head, trying to catch a signal.
"So, basically, we could be killed out here and nobody would find our bodies for days," Toby added with mock cheerfulness. "Lovely."
Caleb shuddered. "We could just be left out here for the bears to finish off. Never to be traced again."
Toby winced at the thought. "How incredibly morbid of you."
"Hey, you started it."
They continued driving for what seemed like hours, though it only spanned a few miles. Caleb had anxiously pointed out that they hadn't seen a Redwood pine in some time, which they took as a sign that they were headed in the right direction.
"Here – right here – it's gotta be," Caleb declared suddenly, gesturing to a small, broken-down building set back at the end of a long drive. Toby nearly missed the turn, and heard the underbelly of his truck grind disapprovingly as he maneuvered over a decorative "WELCOME" rock at the corner of the intersection.
As the shop grew closer, they could now see that the gravel parking lot was filled with abandoned cars – jalopies that never had a prayer of being anything other than scrap metal. The neon open sign had all but burned out, leaving only a portion of the word visible from the long driveway. Some fifty yards or so away was a small nineteenth-century style farmhouse that looked like it had been used as a movie set for Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and was undoubtedly the humble abode of the shop owners.
"Cozy little place," Caleb muttered darkly, peering out the passenger window.
Toby was trying not to think about it. "Look for his car," he said. "It's probably the only drivable vehicle for miles. Shouldn't be hard to miss."
"You think he'd let it sit out in the open?" Caleb inquired. "If he's as shady as you say he is, he probably wouldn't want any attention drawn to it."
"Because so many people are coming in and out of here," Toby quipped sarcastically. Caleb shrugged in prompt agreement.
"Wait – there."
Toby followed the direction that Caleb was pointing in. Lo and behold, there it was – a maroon sedan, complete with the DiLaurentis logo on the driver side door. It had not yet been repaired, he could see. It appeared that somebody had gone to half-assed lengths to keep the car hidden, as it was parked around back of the service station. It was not visible from the road by anybody who would just be passing through.
He parked the truck haphazardly in the circle drive outside the shop, careful to avoid stray car parts that had been littered across the front lawn. As Toby threw it into park, Caleb suddenly grabbed at his forearm.
"You're 18…right?" he asked quietly, as though trying to avoid the possibility of being heard.
"You don't happen to have a gun, do you?"
Toby fought to keep his face impassive. Instead, he pushed open the driver side door and started walking up towards the shop. Caleb followed quickly behind. If he had not picked up on Toby's silent cue, he opted not to ask any more damning questions.
A small bell strung above the door uttered a half-hearted 'ding' as they entered the shop. It was a grimy place that looked as though it hadn't been given a good cleaning in years. Spencer probably would have had an aneurism just looking at the dust bunnies taking up residence in the corners.
There was no one at the front desk. Toby rang the tiny service bell and waited. A minute or so passed before Caleb purposefully nudged him, jerking his thumb towards his train of view.
"Don't touch anything," Toby insisted as both of their eyes fell on the broken filing cabinet in the corner. "Not until we know for sure nobody is around."
Caleb appeared ambivalent about this suggestion, but obliged nonetheless. "Hello?" he called out. Toby could hear that his bravado was beginning to falter. The feeling was admittedly mutual. "Is there anybody here?"
They were met only with a disturbing echo. There were muffled voices coming from the back office that Toby suspected came from a television.
"Nobody here, let's go," Caleb said quickly, making a bee-line for the door. Toby grabbed onto his forearm to stay him.
"Hold on." Being sure to monitor the noise of his footfalls, Toby began to make his way around the front desk. The floorboards creaked tiredly beneath his shoes, ruining any chances of remaining inconspicuous. A faint rustling sound came from somewhere beneath the desk, which caused Toby to pause.
"Toby, c'mon, man," Caleb pleaded quietly.
Toby chose to ignore him. Surging towards the back office, he almost yelled aloud when the source of the rustling was revealed and a well-fed mouse skittered through his legs. "Fuck!"
"All right, I'm officially freaked out," Caleb began urgently. "Creepy farm house, creepy repair shop – set in the middle of nowhere…I swear, I'll never watch another horror movie again. Let's just go."
Toby's adrenaline was pumping with more ferocity since the grand entrance of the rat. He began backing towards Caleb, feeling that his instinct was probably best.
"Check the cabinet," he commanded in undertones. "They must have a file on him."
Caleb complied almost immediately, as if this technique had been his primary preference all along. He began thumbing through beat up manila folders, batting away impatiently at the spider webs that got in his way. "Nothing," he mumbled. "No DiLaurentis – no Jason – no nothing."
Toby thought fast, coming to stand next to Caleb. He kept his eyes on the back room, just in case. "He probably wouldn't give his real name. Look for a familiar name. Like an alias. Or maybe a newer file."
As if on cue, Caleb stumbled over a folder with fresher color than the rest, the inked-in name practically still drying. He fished it out and opened it quickly, scanning the information faster than Toby could keep up.
"It's under the name Darkbloom. Does that ring a bell at all?"
Toby shook his head, pursing his lips together. "Nothing."
"Here – 2009 red Ford Focus. Checked in yesterday."
"Is there a listed address? A telephone number?" Toby asked.
Suddenly, an eerie silence fell over them. The only noise was the tiny pitter-patter of rodent footsteps across the age-old wood paneling of the floor. Caleb looked up to slowly meet Toby's eyes, an expression of pure fear marring his features.
"The TV stopped," he whispered.
"Address. Now," Toby commanded. His hand instinctively went for the inside of his coat, curling around the chiseled metal handle of his .38. He would only use it if absolutely necessary.
"Our motel, our motel!" Caleb announced quickly. "He's staying at the motel!"
There were heavy footfalls now echoing from the backroom. Before Toby could even react, Caleb was already stuffing the folder back into the cabinet.
"Hello? Is someone there?" a gruff voice called out.
"Let's go!" Caleb cried, already making his way to the door. The asinine little bell atop it 'ding'ed once more. It seemed so damningly loud, it may as well have been an explosion.
"Can I help you?" the voice asked, the footsteps approaching more closely now.
The bell's announcement of their presence was enough to light a fire under their asses. Within seconds, they were leaping into the car and pulling out onto the private road once more. Instinctively, Toby flicked off his lights. Just in case. He didn't want the owner to see his license plate or the appearance of his truck.
"You do have a gun. Don't you?" Caleb demanded fearfully as Toby peeled out onto the main road. The question caught him off-guard.
"How do you know?"
"You've had your hand in your coat, ready to draw, for the past minute and a half."
Toby looked down. So he had. He promptly withdrew his hand, as though this simple action erased any previous incrimination.
"You can't be too careful," he muttered. "Whoever this is – the person we're looking for – it could be the person who killed Alison DiLaurentis."
Caleb blanched, holding tight to the handle above his door. Toby was driving quite fast, and was not quite far enough away to feel comfortable slowing down. "Have you ever used it?"
A heavy silence settled between them.
"Well, at least I'm not on your bad side," Caleb said. It had been intended as a joke, but his expression didn't quite translate any perceived humor in the situation.
A few miles out, Toby pressed his foot gradually to the brake. If they were being followed, they surely would have known by now. He was attempting to steady the rapid pace of his heart, and he suspected that Caleb was doing the same.
"Right under or goddamn noses," Caleb was muttering. "Son of a bitch probably checked in right before we did."
"Waste of a trip," Toby agreed. He shuddered at the thought of the rundown store they had just escaped from. Why would Jason go somewhere so shady?
"No, not quite," Caleb disagreed. "We know he has an alias, right? And we know he's got friends in low places."
"Doesn't surprise me," Toby grumbled. "I've never trusted that guy as far as I can throw him."
Caleb was quiet for a moment. "Is…isn't he Spencer's brother?"
"Half-brother," Toby corrected. "It doesn't mean anything. He's the spawn of her dad, after all."
Caleb chuckled. "So what…does that mean he's the spawn of Satan?"
"No, not quite," Toby stated mockingly. "Satan's bottom-feeding attorney, maybe, but not Satan himself."
Though he hadn't really meant it as a joke, Caleb had begun to guffaw in response. Before long, Toby found it impossible to resist laughing, as well. Maybe the joke was truly funny, after all – or maybe the downward spiral of their adrenaline high was making them slap happy.
Either way, it felt good to laugh.
"Right here," Caleb announced, tapping the molding around the old wooden door. "627."
Toby stopped in front of it, giving it a good once-over. It seemed like an awful lot of work to get to where he stood now, and he needed a moment to savor the small victory.
"What do we do?"
"I didn't come all this way for nothing," Toby replied, banging his knuckles on the door. "I want answers."
Caleb took a tentative step forward, his hands buried in his jacket pockets. "Is he dangerous?" he asked quietly.
"Weird, yes. Dangerous? I don't think so."
He heard hesitant footsteps coming from the inside of the motel room. They faltered near the door, and Toby suspected that Jason was peering through the peephole to survey his mysterious visitor. After a pause, the door opened, but only in slight. Jason had not conceded to undoing the chain latch.
"Cavanaugh," he muttered. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Protecting Spencer," Toby stated brashly. "We need to talk."
Jason looked shiftily at Caleb, who stared back with equal determination as Toby.
"It's not a good time. Not here, not now," Jason said in undertones. "Anyone could be watching."
"There's nobody," Toby insisted. "I've been here for three days. Haven't seen a soul."
"It doesn't mean they're not here," Jason argued through gritted teeth.
Toby was fuming now. "Spencer could be in danger," he growled. "And if you care about your sister, you'll let me in and tell me what I need to know."
Jason seemed to be having an internal debate with himself. At long last, he sighed. "Fine."
He shut the door long enough to undo the clasp, and ushered them in hurriedly. Toby didn't need to be told twice. After a nigh unnoticeable hesitation, Caleb followed.
Jason shut the door behind them, peering through the blinds. "How did you find me?"
"Drake & Sons," Toby answered briefly. "What the hell are you doing, going to a place like that?"
Jason gritted his teeth and ran a trembling hand through his hair. "Removed relatives of my ex-girlfriend's family. Let's just say they owed me a favor."
Caleb scoffed disbelievingly. Toby shot him a look.
"Why did you leave Rosewood?" he demanded.
Jason collapsed in an exhausted heap in the battered desk chair. It looked as though he had not slept for days, either. "Spencer already risked enough for me, getting behind the wheel," he said. "I wanted to get this taken care of, far away from her, where nothing could be traced back."
Toby and Caleb exchanged a silent look. There was an unspoken agreement to believe him. On to step two.
"What do you know about the girls still getting text messages from 'A'?" Toby inquired.
If Jason was surprised to hear the pseudonym brought up, he did not show it. He offered a short shake of his head. "Not much," he began. "All I know is that 'A' dug up Ali's body and has been toying about it with Spencer ever since. Planting items that we know for a fact Ali was buried with."
"What?" Caleb demanded, a sickened expression befalling his face.
Jason continued. "I put out a reward for anybody who could tell me anything worth knowing." He turned to Toby. "The only legitimate response I received was from your sister."
Toby's blood ran cold. Leave it to Jenna to be mixed up in something like this. The silence was so deafening, you could have heard a pin drop.
"What did she say?" he asked carefully.
"Said it's Garrett's men…but I don't believe it for a second," Jason declared. "She sounded a little too eager to keep him behind bars. If you ask me, I think it was her."
Toby could feel Caleb's eyes burning a hole through the back of his head. He chose not to acknowledge it.
"Why do you think that?" he ventured quietly.
"Ever since she turned in the missing page of Ali's autopsy report, I've had my suspicions," Jason explained. "Here's this sad, vulnerable blind girl, who nobody would suspect of hurting a fly, nearly giddy at the idea of exacting revenge on her ex-boyfriend. I'm sure you, of all people, know better."
Jenna was certainly a nightmare, but Toby never could have fathomed this level of involvement. They lived in the same house for years. And yes, she was a manipulative bitch from time to time – hell, all the time – but he never would have imagined she could have anything to do with Ali's murder.
He tried to swallow the lump lodged in his throat. It did not budge.
"Did you give her the reward?"
"No," Jason stated. "I told her to bring me proof first, then it's hers. Not a peep since then."
Toby turned to Caleb, who had all but gone ashen-white during the course of the conversation.
"If you want answers, I suggest you start trailing her. I'd be willing to pay you for any information you can bring back to me," Jason offered, his eyes sad. "I just want this to be done and over with."
And suddenly, despite Toby's ambivalent feelings toward Jason, he felt a surprising bout of pity. Shady as he may be, he was simply a man who had not yet been granted peace in the aftermath of his sister's death. Nobody should have to endure such extensive heartache.
And some distant instinct told Toby that Jason would never allow it to happen again. That meant that Jason was on his side, as far as keeping Spencer safe. For now.
"I'll be in touch," Toby stated plainly. He gestured Caleb toward the door, making his way to leave.
"Toby?" Jason began.
Toby turned to face him.
"You should call her back. She's worried sick."
This simple statement stung something fierce. Toby provided a short nod in reply.
As he and Caleb stepped back out and onto the walkway, Caleb turned to him.
Toby was too tired to even think that far in advance, in all honesty. "Sleep," he answered. "We'll plan our next move in the morning."
Caleb nodded curtly. "I'll meet you inside. You have a phone call to make."
Toby did not reply. He did not feel that he needed to. His neglect to follow Caleb back to the motel room should have provided enough of an explanation as to what decision he had made.
He sat on the creaky bench near the courtyard, looking at his phone for some time. He knew it was the right thing to do, despite the fact that he hated the thought of letting any distractions get in his way.
When he finally decided to dial, he was admittedly relieved to get her voicemail. The husky sound of her pre-recorded voice was enough to bring tears to his eyes…he certainly wouldn't be able to handle the real thing.
"It's me," he began. "I can't tell you where I am, but I wanted to let you know that I'm safe." He took a deep breath, gazing out towards the neighboring forest. The sounds of nighttime wildlife were beginning to come alive at the apex of the nocturnal hour. "I miss you, and I love you. I love you so very much. Which is why I can't come home until I've learned how I can protect you."
That same lump was beginning to lodge in his throat once more. "We'll talk soon, I promise. Be careful, Spencer. And for God's sake, make sure you're locking your doors."
He sat there for some time after he had completed the call, soaking in the cool breeze that blew past. He didn't care how much he ate, how much he slept, or whether he lost his job back in Rosewood for his absence – all that mattered right now was keeping her safe. And that was precisely what he was going to do, no matter the cost.
If anybody touched a hair on her head, his thus-far unneeded handgun would be put to use. And rest assured, he would not miss.