Sam pushed herself up out of the crouched position she'd been in far too long. Jack was standing off to the side studiously avoiding looking at the pool that was cordoned off with police tape. Two hours ago there'd been the body of an eight year old boy floating in the water, but the coroner's office had long since taken him away. She walked across the concrete pool decking and stood next to Jack, maybe a little closer than she normally would have, but he looked so far away that she felt compelled to go as far as she had to to get his attention.
He looked over at her. "Any thoughts?"
"No new ones."
"I talked to the parents."
"Why the hell weren't they watching the damn kid?" He practically growled the words.
She looked at him, taken aback by his uncharacteristic verbal attack on the mourning parents. "What did they have to say when you asked them that?"
He rolled his hand in the air as he listed their responses, "he was eight, a great swimmer, never did anything he wasn't supposed to..."
"And yet, he was out in the pool, after bed time." It was true that the parents said they had heard something and went to the back door to look out and see what it might have been. They said they saw their son in the pool, and it was clear he was dead. The question, and Jack's suspicion, came because the boy had been left in the pool.
Jack had been adamant. Any parent would have pulled that kid out of the pool and done CPR – I don't care if they thought he'd been in there a day. Something's going on. And he had been suspicious of the parents ever since.
"I'm going to have some black and whites take them down to the station."
She nodded. "Okay."
Maybe, somehow, they'd get to the bottom of what had happened.
It was a tense, quiet ride to the precinct and Sam wasn't sure what was going on with Jack, but she knew something was. The questioning of the parents was handed off to an interrogator and the partners watched through a two-way mirror. Jack got more agitated as the questioning went on and Sam started to become concerned for him when she saw the way he was clenching his jaw. There was more happening than this case – sure it was a bad one, anytime it was a kid it was bad – but he was reacting more than he ever did.
"What's up?" She asked him after a while.
"I didn't say you weren't, but your answer says maybe you aren't."
"Leave it, Carter," he said gruffly. So, she did. For the time being.
Eventually, the parents were released, even Jack had been convinced they weren't a party to any wrongdoing. The idea of foul play had not been abandoned, but the focus of the investigation was shifting. And Jack and Sam were told to go home for the night and start fresh the next day.
Jack tossed her his keys. "Go on down to the truck. I'll be out in a minute and I'll take you home." He'd picked her up that morning, as she'd once again fallen victim to the temperamental nature of her classic car. She wasn't sure why they weren't going to just walk down together, but she'd afford him at least a little privacy.
True to his word he joined her in the truck just a few minutes after she'd turned it on for some cool moving air. His door opened and before he even climbed in a folder hit her lap. He didn't say a word about it as he slid into the driver's seat. He backed out of his parking spot and she started to open the folder.
"Not now," he said, his voice low and quiet.
That made her curious. They rode in silence until he passed her road. "Jack?"
Okay. She could do the diner if that's what he really wanted. But if that was the case, why didn't they go to Millie's over by the precinct? Why drive all the way over to their second home-away-from-home? She didn't ask. She assumed it had something to do with the file in her lap, the one she wasn't allowed to read yet, presumably until they reached their destination. Perhaps he'd thought to let her read it in her home. Maybe he'd had second thoughts about that venue.
They pulled up in front of the diner and instead of turning the truck off, he let it sit idling as he stared out the windshield. She didn't think he was looking into the diner windows. She wondered what had him so far off. "Jack?" She asked for the second time.
He looked over at her slowly, nodded once, then turned off the truck. He got out. She found herself watching him move between the truck and the diner instead of getting out herself to follow him. He looked up when he reached the door and noticed she wasn't with him. His brow knitted together and he strode back to the truck, pulling open her door.
"What's in this file?"
He looked like he desperately did not want to answer that question but settled, finally, on, "A case."
She nodded; she'd figured as much based on the fact that it looked like a case file.
"Closed," he said. "C'mon." He reached out for her and she took his hand, helping her down out of the truck.
Inside, he ordered coffee looking like he needed whisky. She ordered a piece of cherry pie.
"Now?" she asked as soon as the waitress had walked away.
Jack took a deep breath then nodded once, looking like he was steeling himself for the worst. She couldn't imagine what she was going to find in the file that would make him look like that. Like he was getting ready to face a firing squad.
She flipped it open, and she read.
By the time she closed the file her hands were shaking. She had questions, lots of them. She could tell by the steel in his eyes he wasn't inclined to answer them. But she felt like she needed to say something. "You had a son."
"I had a family."
She'd noticed mention of his wife in the file, remembered back to the first night in a diner when he'd told her he was divorced. She now knew his wife's name had been Sara. And his son had been Charlie. And his son had died in a tragic accident involving Jack's service weapon. She couldn't imagine how that must have felt. How it must still feel. And it explained so much about her partner that she fought to breathe past the weight of revelation.
There were photos in the file. She couldn't unsee them. She didn't want to, if that's what he was carrying around, alone now that he was divorced. There had been a photograph of his wife in the file. Sam was startled to find they wore their same-colored-hair in the same style. She had the fleeting, and shameful-under-the-circumstances, thought that Jack's occasional apparent attraction to her was due to her resemblance to his ex-wife.
Her mind was whirring at light speed. She understood, now, why he'd reacted to tonight's case the way he had. She understood, now, why he didn't talk about his past. She understood, finally, why he seemed so reluctant to move forward.
Her heart broke for him.
She reached out a hand and covered his on the table. He looked like he wanted to shake her off but also like he realized that her touch was as much for her as it was for him. He turned his hand under hers and curled his fingers around hers.
"Jack," she breathed his name. She wanted to apologize but knew it would be unwelcomed. She wanted more physical contact, but there was a table and nine months of not making that physical connection between them. She wanted him to tell her how he felt, revealing what he had, but he didn't need to – not verbally – she could see it in his eyes. She settled for saying, "Thank you."
"You deserved to know," he said simply. She could imagine several reasons why that was true, some of those imagined reasons were as unlikely as him now declaring he felt for her the way she felt for him. Some of those imagined reasons were likely wishful thinking. She had no way of knowing which might be true because, as always, he wasn't talking. In the end, she decided he felt that way because she was his partner and even, sometimes, his friend.
She tucked the folder underneath her thigh and pushed her pie away. She couldn't eat it now. And as far as the file went, she'd return it to the precinct, not giving him a chance to flip it open if he felt like punishing himself.
She thought it was a bad idea for him to be alone, but then she realized that just because the information was new to her didn't mean it wasn't the same information he went home alone with every night. Maybe, she thought, it was a bad idea for her to be alone. But she wouldn't prolong their stay at the diner. He'd opened up enough, had left himself raw enough, and he deserved to have the time to lick his newly reopened wounds in private.
"We should go. We've got an early morning."
He looked mildly surprised, like he'd been expecting all those questions she knew he didn't want to answer. But he nodded and stood up, tossed a ten on the table, and gestured her out of the diner in front of him.
In his truck they sat for a moment before he turned the engine over.
"We can pass this case off if it's too much."
He shook his head, "Every reminder is too much. And they come every day. Some things... some people... make it easier." He shrugged one shoulder.
She wondered if she was one of those people. She hoped she was.
The drive to her apartment was silent. "You want to come up?" The question was carefully calculated because her plus him multiplied by the information equaled someplace they weren't ready to go.
"I shouldn't," he said.
She wondered what that meant. He usually said just yes or no, but that sounded like he'd done the same math she had an ended up in roughly the same place.
It also meant that maybe things between them were shifting. Maybe they were both aware. Maybe the desire wasn't one sided. Maybe they were walking a fine line.
She closed her eyes, nodded, and reached for the door handle. "You'll drive safe?"
"I'll drive safe."
It was one of the only permissible ways they had to tell each other they cared. He didn't drive away until she was inside the building. She made it into her apartment before she cried.