Hellbent on figuring out what Fionna was sensing at Venton, Dan went in early. He reminded himself repeatedly not to get obsessed with the case at hand. He had a family now. Work could no longer dominate his life. But the lies he could see and the ones yet uncovered fed his blood.
He was a cop, dammit, and he’d always be a cop. He wouldn’t allow his alma mater to be dragged through the mud because of some cheap tabloid’s sensationalized lies. He had to figure out how to achieve the ever-elusive balance. He had to leave work at work, which would be much easier to do, he reasoned, if he knew exactly what the hell was going on.
Slowing his pace, Dan narrowed his eyes. A figure swayed in front of his office door in the still-darkened corridors. Instinctively he reached for his Glock then remembered he was no longer an active duty officer and that guns had no business being on school property. Shaking himself, he studied the man standing at his door. Several inches shorter, thin, baggy clothing, baseball cap. A student? Maybe.
Dan’s shield pulsed just under his skin but made no effort to develop its protective energy barrier. He edged closer.
“Mentor Vindico, I was wondering if I could talk with you for a second, please,” the figure begged in a voice Dan recognized.
“Yes, sir. From your Senior Defense class. I really need to talk to you if you don’t mind.”
Dan noted terror played in Jeff’s weary eyes as soon as he was close enough to take him in.
“Of course.” He gestured him inside his office. Whatever was on the guy’s mind, it didn’t appear that he could handle much more. “Have a seat. You want some coffee or a Dr. Pepper or something?” The kid looked sick. Having just looked over Jeff’s file the evening before it took no effort for Dan to remember his academic record. He currently sat in the top four percent of the entire graduating class and was a powerful Ioses predilect. Portwood was interested and told Dan to keep an eye on him.
“No, sir. I’m not hungry,” Jeff managed.
Odd response since he’d been offered beverages and not food. Something was definitely up. Pulling a Dr. Pepper from the stack on one of the side shelves in the office, he chilled the can with his hand and handed it to Jeff.
“Thanks,” Jeff spoke like Dan had just handed him a gold brick.
“What’s on your mind, Strenton?”
“I just need to know that if I tell you something you won’t tell anyone else.”
“I get that need, believe me I do, but as your Mentor, that depends on what you tell me. If someone is in imminent danger either to themselves or others, or I’m concerned for your well-being then I can’t promise you that.”
“Okay, I guess.” Jeff’s face held no color save the flush that formed on his cheeks. His eyes were red and swollen like he’d either been crying or hadn’t slept in days. “I just sort of hoped you’d kind of understand.”
Concentrating, Dan tried to sort through Jeff’s energy. He wasn’t close enough to get much other than fear, and Dan admittedly sucked at reading emotions.
“I’ll do my best.” He plied soothingly.
“‘Well, I mean, I know I’m not supposed to know, but everyone does know because it was all over the papers and the news and stuff,” Jeff lamented.
“What was in the papers?” Dan had no idea where the kid was going, but desperation weighted every word that left his mouth.
“You know, back in the spring when…uh…you, you know, you did what you did, and then the whole Realm found out about Fionna Styler being your girlfriend and that, you know, she was…” he halted abruptly, clearly unable to say the word pregnant.
And suddenly Dan had a very good idea where this conversation was heading. His heart sank rapidly into his stomach. “Yeah, that hasn’t really left my mind, ever. Keep going.”
“So, anyway, I just thought if anyone might understand, you would.”
“How long have you been dating?” Dan asked kindly.
“Four years, ever since we were freshman. I want to marry her. I just don’t think I can yet,” he choked.
Nodding, Dan racked his brain trying to figure out what to say to Jeff to give him some reassurances. “What’s her name?”
“Becca,” Jeff’s voice broke on her name.
“Oh, God, please don’t say…” Dan begged Jeff, the ether, the universe, anyone willing to listen, but his pleas were quickly denied.
“Becca Sapman,” Jeff finally managed.
Dan’s tried not to panic. “As in, Governor Sapman’s daughter?”
“Same Governor Sapman who’s tried to outlaw abortion in the Gifted Realm? The one who adamantly opposes any kind of sexual education? And the one who wants us to have chastity laws for anyone who isn’t married? That one?” The urge to bang his head against his desk took over Dan’s mind for a moment.
“Yeah, that one. As in that Governor Sapman whose one and only daughter, Becca, is the woman I am absolutely completely in love with, and I also got her pregnant.” Jeff confirmed the part of the story that had Dan feeling truly devastated for him.
“How far along is she?”
“I don’t know, like a week I guess,” he explained morosely.
Dan considered that information. His brow furrowed until he’d concluded that Becca must be a week late, meaning that she was probably five or so weeks pregnant.
Dan attempted to offer Jeff a kind smile. Drawing another deep breath, he envisioned himself at twenty-one and how he would have wanted someone to handle this. Forcing all thought of what he would do to Aida’s boyfriend should they find themselves in this situation out of his mind, Dan began to plan.
“Is Becca okay? Would you like to go get her so we can talk? We have a couple of hours before classes start. We could go get coffee or something.”
For the first time since Jeff had entered his office, Dan saw hope begin to try and make an appearance in his eyes. “She’s not sick or anything. She’ll probably kill me when she finds out I talked to you. I told her I was going to. I don’t keep things from her, I swear. I love her, Mentor Vindico.” Making a concerted effort for breath, Jeff fidgeted with a hole in the pocket of his jeans. “Wait, is it normal that she isn’t sick? Is that bad?”
His concern pricked Dan’s heart. He loved this girl, the Governor’s daughter.
“Despite what the papers would like you to believe, I don’t have a tremendous amount of experience, but I don’t think everyone gets sick. Fionna wasn’t sick for another few weeks.”
“Mentor Vindico, I don’t know what to do,” Jeff began to break down.
“First of all, does Becca want to keep the baby? Despite her father’s rather…stringent opinions on it, she doesn’t have to keep it.” Jumping in with both feet had always been Dan’s style. No sense in changing now.
“I don’t know. She just keeps crying. Every time I try to talk to her she loses it and I just end up apologizing over and over again. I can’t believe I ruined her life. Her dad’s gonna kill me. I tried to get her to just run away with me.”
“Real men don’t run away from their problems, and you haven’t ruined anything. Just listen for a minute, okay?” I can assure you that I completely understand what you’re going through.”
“Yeah, but you were, you know, grown, and had a house, and paycheck, and you lived together or whatever,” Jeff argued.
Dan knew immediately that Jeff desperately needed to argue, he needed to scream, he needed to pound something into oblivion. Keeping that in mind, he continued. “Yeah, I had a paycheck, and my girlfriend living with me. I also had a mass murderer after me, and my girlfriend was terrified to tell me she was pregnant because the entire Realm thought she was dating my best friend. And had we come out as a couple, said mass murderer wouldn’t have stopped until Fionna and the baby were both dead,” Dan shocked Jeff enough to get him to listen. “So stress over an unplanned pregnancy is something I do understand.”
Jeff’s eyes goggled as Dan let him in.
“How about we go with I won’t tell anyone about Becca yet, and you keep that little tidbit in here as well,” Dan commanded.
“Yes sir,” Jeff vowed.
“I’ve read and re-read your file. Portwood is very interested in hiring you on, but I don’t really know much about you outside of your academic life, so tell me, best case scenario. How do you see this working?”
“Best case? I don’t know if I can, but I really want to work for Iodex here in D.C., and I think I stand a good chance. I’m top of the class and my combat and defense labs last year were top notch, so I just need a job until I graduate. I want to take care of her. I’d marry her today, but she’s so freaked out, and I still live with my mom. I’m not sure she can afford to live in the apartment we have if I don’t help with the rent.”
“I’ve only looked over your Defense grades. How are your core grades?” Dan continued his inquisition.
“Math and sciences are really high A’s. My lowest is a 98. I had a 97 in Histories of the Realm at the end of the year last year and I usually have a 94 in English, but that’s my worst subject.”
“Do you think Becca’s gonna want to stay in school?” Dan laid it all on the line.
“I don’t know. Like I said, every time I try to get her to talk about it she just starts crying. It kills me.”
A barely audible knock sounded on the door. “Well, maybe she’ll talk now,” Dan had a pretty good idea who was at his office door.
“She didn’t want me to talk to you.” Jeff looked pained.
Dan opened the door, trying to remember the last time he’d seen Becca Sapman.
“Hi, Officer Vindico,” she managed before her tears made their return.
Not bothering to correct her as that’s what she’d been calling him whenever she’d been to the Senate to visit her father for the last decade, Dan offered her a smile. “Come on in, Becca.”
“Jeff,” she hissed. “He’s gonna tell my dad. His dad plays golf with my dad like every week.”
“I’m not going to tell your father, Becca. And this certainly has nothing to do with my father, so have a seat.”
“I had to talk to somebody. You won’t talk to me. I didn’t know what to do.”
Wondering if every mentor got to turn themselves into a relationship counselor or if it was just him, Dan sighed. “First off, let me be the first to say welcome to adulthood. And if you’d like my help, I’m happy to be there for you.”
Jeff and Becca both gave him pleading stares.
“But let me just go ahead and tell both of you, you need to tell your parents. This isn’t going to go away.” Dan went ahead and washed away what had to be a secret hope. He turned to Jeff. “If you really are willing to work hard, I’ll call Officer Portwood and have you appointed as the Iodex intern. You can even train with the Elite team occasionally. But that means you put in half a day here, you do all of your assignments for me, and any other classes within your Predilect, and you have to test out of all of your other classes required to graduate. Then you go to the Senate and work from lunch until Portwood says you can go home. It is a paid position, but it’s not going to allow her to live the way she’s been living, as her father is well paid for being a Realm Governor.”
“I don’t care,” Becca decreed. “My parents are going to kick me out as soon as I tell them anyway. I just want to be with Jeff. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. I don’t need a fancy house or a fancy car. I just need him.”
Jeff took her hand and offered her a sorrowful gaze.
Dan knew Governor Sapman well, and he knew Becca was probably right. The Governor rarely showed sympathy to anyone. Mistakes weren’t allowed.
“I’ll do anything I have to do,” Jeff vowed. “This is all my fault anyway.”
“No, it isn’t, and I’ll get a job, too, after school.” Becca seemed to crawl slowly back to life. “It’s our baby and I love it,” she pled with Jeff, tears falling down her face.
Dan had to give it to him. Jeff nodded his understanding and squeezed her hand. “Then that’s what we’ll do. We’ll love it.” He pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her.
Mildly concerned he was going to witness the events that lead to their procreating if he let them keep going, Dan cleared his throat. “If Fi and I can be of any help, we’d be happy to.” He wasn’t certain why, but he was drawn to help Jeff and Becca. He wanted to be there for them. “But you both need to sit down with the Governor and Mrs. Sapman and with your parents, Jeff, and tell all of them.
“My mom,” Jeff corrected. Dan saw the determination set in his eyes. He turned back to Becca. “I’m not gonna do what my dad did. You’re not going to do this on your own. I’m gonna be there for you and the baby. I swear, Bec, I want to do this.”
Becca dissolved in another onslaught of tears.
“Thank you so much for your help, sir, really,” Jeff pled as he held Becca tenderly to his chest, letting her ruin his shirt.
“Let me know how it goes with your parents,” Dan shoved a wad of tissues into Jeff’s hands. “Emotions run pretty high with pregnancy,” he whispered. “I’ll give Portwood a call.”
“I could never thank you enough.” Jeff continued to wipe away Becca’s tears.
“You just take care of her. That’s all the thanks I need.”
“This is Portwood,” was the greeting Dan finally received when he was patched through to the new Chief of Iodex. Every officer that had answered the phone before wanted to know how Dan’s new job was going and tell him that he was missed. While it was nice to be missed, Dan needed to get to class and still hadn’t figured out anything on the Wilshire case.
“Hey, Landon, it’s Dan.”
“Hey, man, how’s it going?” Portwood sounded pleased.
“I’d say I’ve had better days, but I have you an intern, and the kid really needs the job.” He began explaining Jeff and Becca’s situation.
“If you say he’s the shit, I’ll take him, but I’ll go ahead and tell ya, Sapman’s gonna shit a brick when he finds this out, and you know he’s going to make the kid’s life hell. Scorching the earth is kind of his M.O.”
“Yeah, I know, so I figured I’d send him to the best of the best so you can teach him and protect him from his asshole of a father-in-law.”
“I won’t mention to the Governor that we both think that,” Portwood joked.
“I don’t work for him anymore, feel free to tell him I think that,” Dan came right back.
“Yeah, well, since I do, I think I’ll keep that between the two of us. I’ll send your favorite team down to the school to do a mock interview so this all looks like we did it by the books. We’ll get him in here to start by the end of the week. Why don’t you bring him up here? Everyone would love to see you, and I’d bet my favorite pair of handcuffs that you’re hating your new job.”
“You’d definitely get to keep your cuffs,” Dan assured him.