de·fect (n.)

An imperfection or lack that causes inadequacy or failure; a shortcoming or deficiency.

To abandon a position or association, often to join an opposing group:

Rose popped the trunk on the black convertible and loaded up her bags. She checked over her shoulder but, in the predawn light, there was nothing to see. There was certainly no one coming after her which was a first. She tied her hair into a ponytail and slid into the driver's seat, adjusting her sunglasses on top of her head. She pulled her brace onto her right arm and took a deep breath, staring forward. It was time. She turned the key in the ignition and the car purred to life.

She turned right, not bothering to look in the rear-view mirror as she left her life behind. She didn't feel an ounce of regret – not one. She was eighteen and this was the time when other kids in the city were setting out on their lives. She wasn't going to be left behind, just because someone had thought that her life had to go a certain way.

"I am making my own choices now. I am going to live. I am going to have fun!" Rose said aloud, forcing herself to really let it sink in.

And she felt fun, in flirty little shorts and a halter top, flip-flops on her feet. She was even wearing lip gloss! It was the end of June and she was ready for the beach. But she wasn't in the mood for New York beaches. No, she was claiming her freedom by driving all the way to L.A. to stand on a beach on the opposite side of the coast. She'd never been allowed to even leave the state!

Why not extend it? Why ever come back? She could leave the continental USA if she wanted! There was nothing stopping her now. Oh, people would look for her. They would try to stop her but Rose knew how to move undetected. They would never catch her.

She laughed and pushed down on the gas pedal as the city started disappearing behind her. She was going to find out what it was like to sleep without the traffic sounding below, see the stars without streetlight interference, and just be a normal girl in a place where she wasn't expected to be anything more than that. The road ahead was beautiful, clear, open and –

Not open at all.

Rose slammed on the brakes, sending the car skidding across the pavement. The boy who'd nearly been in the path of her car picked himself up off the side of the road, where he'd landed in the dry ditch after diving out of the way.

"Watch where you're going!" he shouted.

"Me?" Rose snapped, veering her car back into her lane and pulling up next to him. "I'm in a car! This is a road! You were standing in the road!"

"I'm hitchhiking. How else am I supposed to get someone's attention?" He leant against her door. "Where are you headed, by the way?"

"Hitchhiking? Pretty sure the 70s made it clear that 'hitchhiker' means 'I'm going to murder you'."

"I'm just trying to get out of town," he said. "I don't care where I end up as long as it's away. And, you can search me if you want to. I'm not carrying any weapons."

Rose eyed him carefully. He was short but bulky, like he spent a lot of time working out. He probably knew how to use those muscles but she wasn't worried about it. She knew what she was capable of. And he had dyed hair! The tips of his jet-black hair were dyed a lime green and that, above all else, made Rose feel like he wasn't going to attack her. She knew it was irrational but, what the hell, so was packing up and leaving New York City and that was exactly what she was doing.

"I don't know where I'm going," Rose said. "So, just jump out when you want to."

"Seriously?" He grinned at her. "Thanks!"

He tossed his lone backpack onto the floor of the passenger seat and then sat down heavily. "My name's Jake, by the way."

Rose reached out and shook his hand. "I'm Rose."

His fingers were warm and calloused, as if he'd been working as a labourer for many years, even though he couldn't have been much older than she was. She let go of his hand and pointed the car forward again.

"No GPS?" Jake asked.

"Nope. I'm ending up where I'm ending up," she said vaguely. She had an end goal, of course, but he didn't have to know or care about that. If she hit every small town in the middle of here and there, she'd be satisfied. If he wasn't happy about it, she'd just leave him in one of them. Or if she found he was too annoying to travel with. "A couple of rules if you're going to be in my car."

"Sure," Jake said. "I'm a good boy; I can follow rules."

There was something mischievous in his dark brown eyes that made Rose think that 'good boy' wasn't the most common way that someone would have described him. He was wearing long, cut off shorts and a plain, long-sleeved white t-shirt. His backpack looked like it had seen better days. With his messy, black and green hair, he looked more like a troublemaker that would sit at the back of the classroom, not even aware of what a rule was, let alone how to follow them.

"No asking why I left."

"Only if I get the same in return."

Well, it was only polite, she supposed, and she hadn't really intended on asking, mostly because she didn't care. Now that he had told her not to ask, though, she was suddenly plagued with curiousity.

"No touching my music."

"You're not playing any," Jake said. "Seriously, silence will drive you insane."

"Maybe it would you," Rose replied. "I'm on this trip to enjoy myself and do nothing of importance. If you get in the way of that, I reserve the right to kick you out whenever I please."

"All right. Stranger in your car, I get it. Anything else?"

"Not that I can think of right now," Rose admitted, "but I also reserve the right to come up with any later."

"Fair enough," Jake said and he made himself cozy in his seat, leaning his head back. "This is a nice car, though."

"Thanks, I stole it."

He laughed and Rose allowed herself to grin too, because he sincerely thought she was joking.

"I do like that not eating in the car isn't a rule. I have a friend, hated anyone to eat in her car. She bought it herself and even though it was a beater, she wanted to keep it nice."

"It's a road trip," Rose pointed out. "Pretty sure that eating fast food with one hand while driving to the next destination is, like, half of the experience."

"Did you read that out of the road trip manual?" Jake asked.

Rose glared at him.

"Just asking! Because if you did, you clearly skipped the part about the road trip soundtrack! You're supposed to make your own mixed CD and cruise –"

"CD?" Rose asked. "What is this, 2005?"

"Or Spotify playlist or whatever! Personally, a road trip tape would be the pinnacle of teenaged road tripping."

"A tape?" Rose repeated. "What, no record player in the backseat and a trunk full of vinyl?"

"I just think tapes are neat," Jake said. "I'm not, like, a purist or anything because they don't really have good sound but –"

"They're neat? I think I plucked you from a different decade."

"I like 90s hip-hop," Jake said. "You can't sue me over that. Actually, you should let me play some so that we can jam out, sing along, have fun."

Rose shook her head.

"Aw, come on –"

"My car, my rules."

"I'm asking for permission," Jake said. "It's not breaking a rule if there's an addendum."

"You've been sitting in my damn car for fifteen minutes and you want an addendum."

"Yeah. Being quiet was not one of the rules."

"I just don't think it would be fun to blare music I don't know," Rose said.

It was true. Not only did she not know anything of 90s hip-hop specifically but she didn't even really know any music. She didn't really know anything about the outside world and that was why she was here. She wanted to learn, to know, and discover. She hadn't anticipated on someone sitting next to her in the passenger seat who already knew all of the things she didn't. She was used to being the smart one; the one who was in control. Next to Jake's real-world experience, she knew she fell short, and she didn't want to admit it. Even over something as stupid as a music genre.

"Oh, bet you know this one," Jake said.

Rose expected him to touch the radio or pull out his phone and start blaring music. Instead, he burst out rapping and it was all Rose could do to keep her eyes on the road instead of staring at him incredulously.

"With so much drama in the L-B-C

"It's kinda hard bein Snoop D-O-double-G

"But I, somehow, some way

"Keep comin up with funky ass shit like every single day

"May I, kick a little something for the G's (yeah)

"and, make a few ends as (yeah!) I breeze, through

"Two in the mornin and the party's still jumpin

"cause my momma ain't home –"

"No!" Rose finally exclaimed, knowing that he could probably do the whole song without a hitch. He just seemed like that type of person. "No, I don't know this song."

"You didn't even let me get to the chorus!" Jake said and then he launched into it. "Rollin down the street, smokin' indo, sippin on gin and juice

"Laid back (with my mind on my money and my money on my mind)

"Rollin down the street, smokin' indo, sippin on gin and juice

"Laid back (with my mind on my money and my money on my mind)."

"No," Rose repeated. "I don't know it."

"Gin and Juice is a classic, girl," Jake said. "You've got to let me put it on. Otherwise, it's going to be a long drive."

"I might get bored when we hit Philadelphia and just turn around," she said. She had no intention of ever turning around but the less he knew about anything, the better for her.

"You will get bored, all this quiet. The sounds of wheels on the road is not enough."

"Nope, I won't be talked into it."

"We don't have to play my music. We can listen to yours. What is it? Pop? Folk? Hardcore metal? Please say hardcore metal, that would be so hot."

Rose tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, absently thinking that she should paint her nails. First stop she made, she'd get nail polish. Bright red, something crazy, just because she'd never been allowed to before.

"I don't like music," Rose said. It was better to make it sound like a choice: I don't like music rather than I wasn't allowed to listen.

Jake scoffed. "Fine, all right. I don't believe you and we'll come back to this but I don't want to be kicked off in Philly."

"Why?"

"Not far enough away," Jake said. "I have nothing against Philly but I want to put at least half the country between me and home before I settle."

Rose almost asked why but then she caught herself. That was against the rules and she couldn't fight with him about breaking the music rule when she immediately asked him what he was running from.

"So, you got the road trip hand book in here?" he asked.

"What? No? Is that a real book?"

Jake laughed at her. "No. You need to chill a little, Rose, anyone ever tell you that?"

"I have reasons for being the way I am," Rose snapped.

"Probably under the 'don't ask' banner, huh?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, I guess Deep Questions is out."

"What the hell is Deep Questions? And, keep an eye out for Philly signs. I'll want breakfast by the time we're around there."

"Road trip game, obviously. It's a way to get to know the people you're travelling with better."

"Road trip game?" Rose tried not to scoff as she said it. This sounded very normal and playing a road trip game with a hitchhiker had to be a better experience than being alone. He might bail by the time they hit the Midwest or before and then she'd have many states to be alone. "Isn't it just I Spy?"

"No," Jake aid. "I Spy is boring and also I'm really bad at it."

"How can you be bad at I Spy?"

"I just don't notice things, I guess," Jake said, laughing it off. "Um, hey, Would You Rather is fun! I can be bad at that sometimes too because I don't get that creative with it but let's give it a shot."

Rose grit her teeth and then asked, "How do you play?"

"Man, talk about me being from another decade, I think you just popped into existence in this car."

"Great, thanks," Rose said. "I definitely wanted to hear that. Just be nice about it."

Jake briefly explained the game, which basically boiled down to picking two undesirable things and forcing the other person to pick which one they'd rather do.

"All right, easy one for the first one: only eat or only drink?" Jake asked.

"Only drink," Rose said. "That first drink of water after a work out is everything to me."

"Gross but agree because beer."

"Would you rather," Rose began and then she frowned. "This is hard."

"Yeah, that's the point. Usually when I play it at parties, things get dirty fast."

That was making Rose even more curious about his past. A guy with friends and parties to go to was not the kind of person that up and ran away from his life. He was the kind of person that had everything going for him.

"Would you rather time travel to the past or the future?" Rose asked.

"Oh, good one. Future. I don't care about what happened. I want to know where I end up because, right now, I have no idea."

"Yeah but if you know how your future is going to turn out then you might make different choices and not get the future you think that you are."

"I'm not here for a philosophical debate," Jake said, "even if I agree you have a point. Okay, would you rather have an extra arm or an extra eye?"

"Extra eye. I guess. Depends on where it is," Rose mused. An eye in the back of her head would be useful. An eye in the middle of her back wouldn't be.

"You don't get to know. That's the thing."

Rose had to admit, to herself only, that the game did make the time move along faster. Not only were there the questions but the conversations that sprung up between each question. It was nothing heavy, just the discussion of why it was less gross to kiss someone who had never brushed their teeth than to lick the sole of someone's foot. Rose was glad when they reached Philadelphia because she was starting to run out of things to ask him.

"What are you thinking for breakfast? McDonald's? Because, I kind of hate their coffee. I'm a Starbucks coffee kind of guy."

"That surprises me," Rose admitted.

"I am all nonsense and so it only makes sense that I'd require whipped cream on my coffee."

Rose laughed. "You know what, let's sit down somewhere today."

"Yeah, where?"

"We'll see where calls to me."

"All right, your car, your call, I guess," Jake said. "But, I don't have a lot of money so my vote is for McDonald's."

Rose waved her hand. "I'll pay."

"Huh? I can't let you do that; you don't even know me."

"My choice, I'll pay. You choose, you pay," Rose said. "I think that's reasonable."

Jake shrugged. "Thanks."

Rose pulled up found a parking spot and put the top on the car up.

"I'm going to go see what's around. You coming?"

"You're my ride," Jake said. "I'm following you. Plus, I've never been here before. Walk might be nice."

Rose delicately drew her purse strap across her body while Jake threw his bag over his shoulder before they started down the street. The first restaurant they came across was called LaCroix.

"This place," Rose decided. It looked nice, well-kept, and also her stomach was grumbling so badly that she didn't know if he had the willpower to walk by it. She had left so early this morning that she hadn't time to eat.

"This place?" Jake crossed his arms over his chest. "Looks fancy. And we definitely don't look fancy."

"Come on," Rose said. "If they don't let us in, they don't let us in, but we might as well see."

It turned out that Jake's fears were unfounded. There was an opening in the reservation booklet, which was only sheer dumb luck, judging by how crowded it was, and they were led to a table in the corner by the hostess who laid out menus and told them that their server would be with them shortly. Jake picked up his menu and immediately gasped.

"Lobster and caviar eggs? Rose, you know how to pick 'em."

Rose laughed. "I don't know if I want caviar on my eggs."

"Have you eaten caviar?"

"Haven't you?"

Jake scoffed. "Haven't I? Who are you where everyone in your world has eaten caviar?"

"Nope, ties into the running away thing," Rose replied. "Not allowed to ask."

"Hello, I'm Hans and I'll be your server this morning!" A well-dressed waiter poured water into their glasses. "Can I interest you in anything to drink?"

"I'll have a coffee, please."

"Cream and sugar on the side, miss?"

"Yes, thank you."

"I'll have a macchiato," Jake said.

"I'll return for your food orders shortly."

"What's even in a macchiato?" Rose asked once Hans had left.

"Don't know, don't care, back to things I'm not allowed to ask about –"

"I thought you were a rule follower?"

"We're eating breakfast, we've ordered drinks, I have about forty-five minutes to an hour of free range."

"Not what breakfast means."

"I just want to know this: you're not, like, a foreign princess on the run or something, are you? There's not secret service coming after me because they think I've kidnapped you. I just want to know that I don't have to fear for my life."

She wasn't a princess but simply saying that wasn't enough. And, so, she just winked at him.

"Yeah, all right," Jake said, "I get what you're laying down. But – and I'll tell you this of my own free will – you are not harbouring a fugitive from the law."

"Thank you for that. I guess."

"Have we decided on food items?" Hans asked as he laid down their drinks.

Honestly, Jake had distracted her and she quickly began to scan the menu.

"I'll just get the Norwegian Benedict," Jake said.

"And I will have the Avocado Toast," Rose replied.

Hans assured them that their food would be with them shortly and then he swept away.

"But, seriously, you don't have to pay for this. It's kind of expensive."

"Seriously," Rose replied, "don't worry about it. My choice, my treat."

Jake picked up his macchiato and sipped, looking around the room while Rose studied him. He was handsome, with the black eyelashes surrounded his small, dark eyes. Of course, what did she really know about handsome men? They were firmly in the world of things that she had no experience with. She just knew that, sitting here, she liked the way that his sleeves had to stretch to fit over his biceps.

"Gotta ask you another question," Jake said.

"All right."

"This one isn't against the rules."

"I'll be the judge of that."

"I just want to know how old you are. Look, I'll make myself vulnerable first: I'm eighteen."

"It is a very personal question," Rose said playfully, "but we're the same age so I don't feel bad about sharing that with you."

When the food came, Rose found out that Jake was a moaner when it came to food, although he called her a slob and had to remind her several times that there was something on the end of her nose. It was surprising to Rose that she was so comfortable sitting there at the table with him. This virtual stranger that she'd nearly run over that morning.

When the meal was finished, Rose counted out bills from her purse and tossed them on the table.

"Is that a hundred percent tip?" Jake asked, following her out the door.

"He was very nice," Rose said.

"Yeah, he was, but whether or not he deserved a hundred percent tip wasn't my question. My question is who can afford to tip that much?"

"He works hard. He earnt it. More than the person I stole the money from."

Rose unlocked the car door but Jake remained on the sidewalk. She dropped the top of the convertible down, the mid-morning sun warming her skin immediately.

"Are you coming or not?"

"Are you a princess or a fugitive?" Jake asked. He tossed his bag on the floor and jumped the door. "I have questions."

"Right, but questions," Rose reminded him, "are against the rules."

"Yeah, but –"

"Anywhere in Pennsylvania that you absolutely need to see or should we just see how far we get before we need lunch?"

"Is there anything to see in Pennsylvania?"

Rose turned the ignition and started off, not caring what road she was taking as long as it was in the opposite direction she'd left behind. They were still too close for comfort.

Jake snapped his fingers. "You were in the mob."

"We're not playing this game."

"Then, can I play some music?"

"I thought you were good at following the rules," Rose reminded him.

"I am good at trying to."

"You left that part out."

Jake tilted his seat back, tucking his hands behind his head.

"You're not going to kick me out of the car."

"Don't be so sure."

Rose snorted but Jake just closed his eyes and began to hum loudly, as if to make up for the lack of music, and they drove on.

(-.-)

Haley sat in the corner of the kitchen, listening to her father talk on the phone.

"I understand that but he is my son, he's never done anything like this before! … Yes, he's eighteen … Yes, he left a note … No, you don't understand, Jake wouldn't have run away! He's missing!"

Except, of course, he wasn't missing. He had run away. It was Haley who had found the note, sent in by her father to wake Jake because even though it was summer vacation, he wasn't allowed to sleep until noon. She'd walked into his room, finding that the only thing in his bed was a sheet of paper. Jake's bed being empty wasn't anything new – emergencies for the American Dragon could happen any time of day, after all, but the paper was. She picked it up, needing a moment to decipher her brother's scratchy, narrow writing.

I'm sorry but I can't be here anymore. I need to clear my head and find my own path. Tell Gramps I'm sorry and that he's been a great teacher. It's not his fault that I failed. I'm safe (you know I can take care of myself) and I'll call or come back when I feel ready. I need to breathe and I can't do that at home.

Mom, Dad, Haley, I love you.

-Jake

"Mom!" she'd shouted, because there was nothing else to do. Jake had turned eighteen, he was free to leave, but he couldn't. Not like that. Not without goodbye, not without her even realizing that he was thinking about doing it or preparing to do it. He couldn't just vanish in the middle of the night with no assurances or phone calls.

It was Gramps that had taken it the hardest. He didn't let anyone see it but the minute that Susan had called Lao Shi to tell him what had happened, he had come over to the Long house and had been sitting on the couch with Fu. Haley and Susan had both tried to speak with him about whether he'd noticed anything – as far as they knew, he was the last person to see Jake, but Lao Shi had just shaken his head. Fu had whined, though, which made Haley feel suspicious of her grandfather. The next calls were to Trixie and Spud, who both claimed ignorance, saying they had tried texting Jake for a house party last night but he'd never responded, the way he wasn't responding to texts or calls now.

Deep down, Haley didn't really believe that Jake was in any danger and, unlike her father, could accept that there were reasons that he might want to run off and vacation from his life, but she didn't want to think it was what he had done. To just up and leave them? It didn't feel like the Jake that she knew but, despite living with each other for all of her twelve years, Haley had to admit that she probably didn't know Jake that well. Maybe that was why he'd run away. Maybe he felt like he didn't know himself either.

She slipped from the kitchen chair as Jonathan continued to argue with the cop on the other end of the line, eavesdropping on her mother and grandfather.

"Dad, you have to tell me if there's anything that happened. Anything that would make him run away because if there was something then he'll work through it and come home but if nothing happened, if he's just been feeling like this, then I'm scared he'll never come back. I mean, did we put too much pressure on him? The whole dragon thing, did he feel like that was all that he could ever be? Is that why he left?"

"Jake loves his job," Gramps said, "I assure you that, despite the pressure, he excelled. He cared. Our last mission went poorly. He felt responsible. If there is something for him to work through, it may be that."

"So, he'll come home. He'll call soon and let us know that it's okay and he'll be home. It'll be okay!"

Haley could hear the forced optimism in her mother's voice and, she had to admit, that she didn't agree. It didn't seem that simple. Jake had been through a lot of things in his years as the American Dragon and had suffered a lot of disappointments and bad missions. Whatever had caused him to run, to abandon the responsibility which he not only embraced but loved, Haley knew that it had to bad. Really bad.

She wanted him to come home but she knew that it wasn't going to be quick and it wasn't going to be easy.

All right, here is the first chapter of Operation Defect. For the first time ever a Jake/Rose story of mine might not get crazy angsty … No promises, though.

I hope you enjoy this new take on Jake/Rose and I'll see you next Thursday for our second chapter!

Let me know what you think of the chapter and don't forget that you can find me on tumblr: we - are - all - of - legend - now!

~TLL~