“Schechter?” repeats the voice in Brian’s ear. “Do you copy?”
Brian rolls his eyes. No, he thinks to himself, Your twenty million dollar communication system is fucked. So sorry. “Yeah, I copy,” he says. Copy. What the fuck? These guys always make him feel like he’s in a Bruce Willis movie. A bad one.
The brick wall at his back is cold and rough, uncomfortable even through his thick government-issue jacket and the grass is wet and gross under his ass. Brian has been holed up in less comfortable places in his life, but he’d still rather be home on his sofa watching the game than running around in the rain trying to save the day.
“Do you hear-?” the voice in his ear starts up again and Brian swats at it angrily.
“I’m not going to hear anything if you don’t shut the fuck up,” he snaps because he’s told them this, he’s told them. He cannot read people’s thoughts if he can’t concentrate.
There’s nothing but blissful silence now and Brian sighs in relief, closing his eyes and just listening.
There are soft, frightened sounds coming from his right. It’s almost too quiet for him to hear and definitely too indistinct for him to make out any words; it might be crying.
“There’s something,” he murmurs quietly, knowing that the asshole at the other end of the line will hear him. He pushes away from the wall and runs to the next building along, the third in a series of abandoned warehouses. Closer now, he can pick up snatches of thought: cold and dark and mommy?. He squeezes his eyes shut for a second because Jesus Christ, some goddamn advance warning that he was looking for a kid might have been nice.
There’s a padlocked door to Brian’s right and Brian’s eighty percent certain that that’s the quickest way in. He presses himself up against it and listens hard again, but there’s no sound. Unless this place employs people who’ve been taught to shield their thoughts, there’s no one there. (Brian hopes there’s no one here who’s been taught to shield; shields feel like butting his mind against reinforced lead and trying to break though gives him migraines.)
The padlock comes apart following the judicious application of a lock pick and Brian’s fist and he pushes the door open carefully. Either he’s not careful enough to keep things quiet or this building is just that shitty, because the door grates open with a long, shrill groan.
Brian holds his breath. From somewhere further down the hallway, he hears someone think a question, not exactly alarmed but getting there. Cat he thinks firmly, projecting a general sense of cute and harmless, even though his powers of suggestion are pretty much zero.
It doesn’t work, of course it fucking doesn’t, and then whoever it is, the kidnapper presumably - seriously, Brian’s been given no intel here - is walking toward him. Brian has two choices, back out the door and hope he can get it closed and that no one will look too closely at the lock or-- well, it’s not really a choice. Brian has always been a stay and fight kind of a guy.
The person walking toward him is closer now, almost close enough to see so Brian does a quick scan: he doesn’t have a gun - or if he does, he’s not thinking about it, which in Brian’s experience comes to the same thing - but Brian still takes cover behind a filing cabinet. It won’t be bullet proof but it makes Brian feel better to not be out in the open.
The guy’s thoughts are a mess of anger, blotting out anything concrete and coherent that Brian might be able to get a handle on and use. But he’s thinking about the kid and there’s this rage and that’s all Brian needs to know.
“Is someone there?”
Brian wonders if anyone has ever been stupid enough to answer that question. Then he grins to himself. Why the fuck not? He waits for the guy to round the corner. “No,” he says and pops up from his hiding place while the dude is still thinking wait, what?
“Who are you?” he asks, glaring at Brian, and fuck, he might not have a gun but he has a huge fucking kitchen knife in his right hand. He’s big, tall and broad, but young, way younger than Brian and Brian’s sure he can take him.
“Yeah, I think I’m lost,” Brian tries, opening his hands a little at his sides. Defenceless, he’s totally defenceless.
The guy jerks his head toward the door behind Brian and takes another step forward. “Yeah you are. That door was locked before.”
“Oh.” Brian widens his eyes. “Was it?” Come on, he thinks, Closer.
“It--” One more step and he’s within easy reach. Brian grabs him by both shoulders and pulls, bringing his knee up to crash hand into the guy’s stomach.
He gasps, winded, but he doesn’t drop. Of course not, that'd be too easy.
One of his fists connects with Brian’s shoulder and they fall.
Watch the knife, Brian hears him think, which gives Brian enough of a clue about where it ended up that he can make sure neither of them land on it. He knocks the knife away, tries to go after it but the guy is strong and Brian’s technically stronger, sure, but this dude has a lot of weight on him.
Brian hits out blindly with his right elbow, landing a lucky blow near the centre of the guy’s chest. He rears back but he grabs Brian’s wrists before Brian can get away. Shit, rushing in here unprepared was really fucking stupid.
Oh wait, he still has his mic, doesn’t he.
“A little help here guys?” he asks, grunting as his left arm is released long enough for him to get punched in the face.
There’s no answer in his ear. Great, perfect, the one time he’d actually like a little communication, his mic gets smashed. Fuck.
Knife. Left, Brian hears and he doesn’t plan, just reacts. He throws up his arm, managing to deflect the blow with the side of his forearm and grabbing the guy’s face. He digs his fingernails into his cheeks, just missing his eye sockets, which he supposes is a tactical mistake, but a still a relief because he hates poking people’s eyes out; it’s messy.
The guy howls and Brian feels blood under his fingers. Both his arms are suddenly free and he shoves, launching himself upright and knocking the guy down onto his back. There’s nothing nearby for Brian to hit him with, so he grabs the guy by the skull and smacks his head sideways into the filing cabinet.
His eyes roll back in his head and he goes still.
“Fuck,” Brian says to himself. He sits up and feels for the mic on his collar. Just like he figured, it’s smashed in two and the ear piece is completely gone from his ear. Flying blind, then. On a mission where he doesn't have enough fucking intel. Fantastic.
He stands up then makes a face at himself when he has to kneel back down to check the guy’s pulse, pushing back longish brown hair to find it. Kid looks more like a college student than a kidnapper. His pulse is beating and the scrapes down his face don’t look too bad. He’ll be okay and Brian’s not exactly sorry about that because he doesn’t know the score here, doesn’t have any reason to wish this dude dead. Unconscious and out of Brian’s way, sure, but not actually dead.
Shaking himself out, Brian gets to his feet again and sets off silently down the corridor. There’s no sound, vocal or mental, but Brian stays on his guard. The kid he could hear before has fallen silent and he hopes like hell that he picked the right building.
He reaches the room that his unconscious guy must have been in when he heard Brian come in. It’s a kitchen, one drawer open, presumably where the guy found the knife that’s now hanging comfortably from Brian’s belt - which, now Brian thinks about it, is pretty weird. Still, maybe kitchen knives are the weapons of choice for the modern kidnapper; at least they're better than guns.
There’s a second door leading from kitchen, and something tells Brian he should investigate where it leads. It’s locked but there’s a key hanging from a hook to the left; probably the kidnappers didn’t expect to get interrupted by a random telepathic - very few people do, Brian’s found. He likes to bring the unexpected into their lives.
He strains his... Well, he’s never really had a word for it. His inner ear, maybe? Except, no, he thinks that’s something else already. The thing that lets him hear people’s thoughts anyway, and there’s definitely someone in there. He’s pretty sure it’s the kid he heard earlier and he or she is probably alone since Brian hasn't heard anyone else, but he doesn’t take any chances, turning the key slowly to avoid unnecessary noise. He keeps the kitchen knife is clasped tightly in his other hand.
This door swings open easily and then Brian’s confronted with a steep slope of wooden steps and absolutely no overhead light switch that he can find. Shit, now would be a good time for a flashlight.
He inches carefully down the first few steps but nothing leaps out at him and the stairs don’t give under his weight so he carries on down. It’s stupid, he knows he’s being stupid, backup will notice he’s out of contact soon. He should wait, but if the kid is down here, Brian doesn’t want to leave it alone any longer than he needs to.
Yeah, yeah, so he’s a soft touch. Bite him.
About halfway down, the light from the kitchen behind him stops lighting the steps and Brian presses his hands against the walls on either side so he doesn’t like, fall to his doom or anything unfortunate like that. He doesn’t realise he’s reached the bottom until he goes to take another step and the impact of the stone floor jolts up his spine.
“Hello?” Brian calls softly. The kid is thinking hide, hide, help and, again, mommy. “It’s okay. I’m here to take you home.”
The kid doesn’t believe him, that’s pretty obvious. Brian is ninety percent certain that it’s a boy and from the quality of his thoughts he can’t be more than five. Brian hates trying to read kids’ thoughts; they’re too open, too clear, and they’re hurt and confused a lot of the time.
They’re also not very good at hiding and it takes Brian fifteen cautious steps and three painful collisions with unidentified metal objects to find the kid hiding under what feels like a bed. “Hey,” Brian says. It’s crazily dark in here; it feels surreal. He tightens his grip on whatever part of the kid’s clothing he’s grabbed; he thinks it’s a sleeve. “Hey, come on, come with me.”
“No,” the kid says. His actual voice is hoarse, quieter and more subdued than his brain voice is. “I don’t want to play any more.”
Play? Brian thinks. That can’t be good. “No,” Brian says, trying to use his most non-threatening voice, except he’s never really had an opportunity to develop one of those so he probably ends up sounding like he’s talking to one of Bob’s dogs. “No more playing, I promise. Just come out here and I’ll take you home.”
“I want my mommy,” the kid tells him firmly, like it’s a deal-breaker.
“And I will get her for you.” Brian worked on tours with prima donna rockstars for a decade; he can negotiate like a pro even with no chips on his side.
There’s another pause and then the kid comes crawling out from under the bed, letting Brian fumble for his hand. Standing up, the kid only comes up to Brian’s hip. “What’s your name?” Brian asks, already leading him back to where he hopes the stairs are.
“Charlie,” the kid tells him.
“Hey, Charlie, I’m Brian.” Brian’s reaching hand slaps into a wall where he wasn’t expecting a wall to be. Goddamn it, where are the fucking stairs?
“The stairs are this way,” Charlie tells him, tugging on his hand and huh, right. It’s good that one of them knows where they’re going. A flashlight would be seriously fucking useful though; he doesn’t like the idea of trying to get himself and the kid up the stairs in the dark.
“The flashlight lives over there. It’s too high up for me.”
“What?” Brian asks, stopping and looking down in Charlie’s direction.
“Over here.” Charlie tugs Brian along then pokes him until he raises one hand, cautiously feeling along the sill he finds just above head height.
His hands close around something solid and heavy and he brings it down, finds the switch and turns it on.
Light floods the room and Brian can finally see Charlie, who is tiny and blond and dressed in a dirty, dusty adult-sized t-shirt. The thing that Brian had thought was a bed isn’t a bed at all; it looks more like an operating table. There are straps hanging loosely from the sides and strap marks on Charlie’s tiny arms and Brian doesn’t know what the fuck has been going on here, but he’s pretty sure he’s going to have to kill someone.
Except that’ll have to come later; right now he has a kid to get to safety. He swings Charlie up into his arms and tells him to hang on tight. Charlie does, tiny fists bunching in Brian’s collar and yeah, okay, Brian doesn’t need to breathe.
Brian really does not want to try to carry Charlie out through the house but, looking around, he can’t see an alternative. Secret backdoors are apparently passe for kidnappers’ basements these days.
“There isn’t a backdoor,” Charlie says sadly, little chin digging into Brian’s collarbone so he can whisper in Brian’s ear, “But there’s a window.”
“How did you-?” Brian starts to ask before it all becomes really, sickeningly clear. Clap your hands he thinks and Charlie does without question.
Okay, Brian thinks, these people kidnapped a telepathic little boy; that’s bullshit. Brian is going to kick some motherfucking ass. Charlie giggles and presses his face into Brian’s shoulder.
“Don’t repeat that,” Brian tells him. He looks around. “Where’s the window?”
The window turns out to be a boarded up rectangle of cracked glass near the ceiling. It’s way too high for Brian to reach, but Brian has always been resourceful. He sets Charlie down on the floor and drags the creepy torture bed over to the wall. Tipping it up on one end makes him wish he spent more time at the gym, but he manages it with some huffing and a little bit of puffing.
Brian climbs up onto the now-horizontal headboard first to check the weight. When it doesn’t fall apart underneath him, he helps Charlie scramble up the bed, using the frame like a ladder.
The window is latched but the lock is rusted open, which is the kind of luck that Brian always scoffs at in action movies. He shoves the window open as far as it’ll go and picks Charlie up.
“Okay, kid, can you wriggle through?” Charlie’s tiny but so is the window. Brian hopes like hell he can fit through; it’d suck to have nearly given himself a hernia for no reason.
“There’s cobwebs,” Charlie tells him, head and shoulders through the window. He doesn’t sound like he minds, more like he’d like to stop and have a closer look.
“Yeah, you can talk to the spiders later,” Brian says, giving him one last push. With a wiggle and a flail of legs that gives Brian a glimpse of more bruises on his bare shins, Charlie lands on the grass just under the window.
Thank god for that.
Charlie twists around and sticks his head back in through the window. “Your turn,” he says quickly, like he’s scared Brian’s going to leave him alone out there.
Brian looks pointedly at the window and raises his eyebrows. “Yeah, no,” he says. “There’s no way I’m fitting through there. You stay right there, okay? I’ll come round to you.” Assuming the kidnappers don’t kill him first, obviously.
He only remembers why it’s a bad idea to think things like that when Charlie’s expression turns appalled. His lower lip even quivers, fuck.
“Joking,” Brian says quickly, holding up his hands. “Joking, kid. I’ll be right out in a minute. Don’t make any noise.”
He waits for Charlie to nod then climbs down awkwardly. Something about having an audience, especially a kid who needs to have some faith in him, always makes Brian smoother than he manages on his own.
Now he’s on his own, Brian can take the stairs way faster than he would have risked if he’d had Charlie with him. He keeps the knife held tight in his right hands and briefly lets himself wish he carried a gun.
Before he’s half way up the stairs, Brian can hear that there’s someone awake and moving around out there. Great. He doesn’t think it’s the guy he knocked out, he can't get into this one’s mind hardly at all.
He’s pretty certain the person upstairs is a girl and that she’s spitting mad but that's all he can pick up. He thinks she’s trying to shield, but it feels like she’s so angry that her control on the shields keeps slipping, giving Brian nothing useful except that she'd love to put a bullet in him.
The fact that she’s trying to shield at all throws Brian; even if she knows the NSA are in the house, it’s not like they advertise about employing telepaths and few people even know how to shield.
He creeps up the stairs as silently as he can manage but even so he bets she can hear him coming. The idea of charging out there and getting shot doesn’t really appeal. If he had a hat, he could throw it. He saw that in a movie once and he thinks it might work.
He pulls off his jacket slowly, almost certain that she doesn’t hear, and launches it out the doorway.
There’s instant gunfire and Brian follows a split second later, getting his hands on the woman’s shoulders before he even really sees her. He presses her backwards, trying to keep her gun hand away from him while she struggles and tries to knee him in the balls, luckily only catching the inside of his thigh when he twists in time. Without missing a beat, she punches him in the nose and he feels a cascade of blood rush down over and into his mouth.
Brian spits, hopefully getting blood on her because Jesus, ow.
“Who the hell are you?” she snaps, punching him in the stomach while she struggles to free her gun hand from his grip.
Brian wants to ask her the same thing but he’s busy and, anyway, he probably shouldn’t admit that he has no fucking clue what he’s walked into here.
She’s strong, way stronger than she should be since she’s tiny – seriously, she's about as tall as Brian -- and her gun is inching closer to his face. He needs some kind of leverage, some kind of-- He falls back suddenly, dragging her down with him and rolling out the way on impact so she hits the ground face first. She sits up, blood lining her mouth from a split lip and brings the gun up and around.
Brian kicks out, catching her wrist just where he wanted to. The gun flies away and it takes Brian a second to realise that she fired it before he kicked it out of her hand, doesn’t realise what happened until he’s back on his knees with a burning, nauseous pain pulsing through his left arm.
She launches herself at him, the arm he kicked pressed to her chest and her other hand raised to hit him again.
“Schechter!” someone yells from not very far away and the woman freezes, cursing under her breath.
“Schechter?” she hisses at him. Brian shoves her away with the arm that she didn’t just fucking shoot.
“Cavalry's here,” he tells her with his best shit eating grin. She doesn’t stick around, he didn’t expect her to. He tries to grab her ankle as she bolts, nearly catching her when she hesitates by the basement door but he misses when she runs for the back door instead. He’d chase her but he’s dizzy all of a sudden, probably going into shock. He hates getting shot.
“Schechter?” Someone calls again. It’s Gabe..
“Yeah,” Brian chokes. “Yeah, in here. There’s a kid--”
“Got him,” Gabe says, appearing in the doorway with Charlie peering out from behind his legs.
Charlie runs for Brian and Brian swallows back a groan when he crashes hard against Brian’s side. “Woah, little guy,” he says, sitting down on his ass and letting Charlie crawl into his lap. “You’re okay.”
He looks up at Gabe and makes a face. “There’s a dude around here somewhere with a massive bump on his head and a woman with some serious ninja skills just got away.”
Gabe nods. “We’ve got the guy.” He says something into his radio, directing his team out back then kneels down in front of Brian. “Didn’t I tell you to stay put and wait for backup, Schechter? I’m sure I did,” he says, putting pressure on Brian’s fucking bullet wound.
Brian just smirks, feeling loopy and tired from his rapidly crashing adrenaline. “You can’t fool me, dude. You love that I make your life more interesting.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Gabe flashes him a neon-tinged, technicolour mental image of Gabe’s cock and they’re even. “Looks like you’re getting a trip back to base.”
Brian groans and lets his head thunk back against the wall. Charlie curls up tighter against him. Brian hates the NSA medical centre, some fucking researcher always wants to talk to him about his ‘talent’ while he’s stuck sitting still and can’t tell them to go to hell.
Gabe stands up and pats him on the arm. “Next time you should do as you’re told,” he suggests. Brian entertains himself thinking about skewering Gabe on something sharp and painful. Charlie looks up at him with big, shocked eyes and Brian only now remembers that he needs to be more careful about things like that for now.
Brian pictures himself banging his own head repeatedly against a wall. Charlie laughs.
The NSA medlab is as little fun as it ever is, but at least Brian manages to convince them to patch up his arm without giving him a shot of anything. Painkillers and the like quieten the voices he hears, but it’s all too easy to want to stay that way forever.
They sew up his arm and clean up his scrapes and find him a fresh t-shirt to wear home so he doesn’t have to wear the one that his bloody nose erupted all over, thank god. The last time he came home from one these jaunts, he was wearing somebody else’s blood from wrist to elbow and the family next door stopped letting their kids walk past his house after dark.
Charlie stays firmly attached to Brian’s side, like Brian is a ship that’s grown some kind of kid-sized barnacle. Brian would love to say that he minds, but the kid’s bruises look even worse in the harsh light of the infirmary and Brian can’t even to lie to himself.
Does this hurt? Charlie asks, poking Brian just above his bandage. Both Charlie’s little arms are wrapped from wrist to elbow and Brian can’t think about that too closely without feeling his rage rise again.
“Ow,” Brian says because he’s learned that it makes the kid laugh. Evil, sadistic child that he is.
“I like your friend, Brian,” a laughing voice says, just before Victoria Asher steps into Brian’s cordoned off little cubicle. Victoria is the NSA’s pet telepath; she’s kind of like what Brian would have been if he hadn’t spent all those years on the road doing his best to avoid this shit.
Charlie looks up at Victoria, tipping his head to study her. Hi, there, she thinks at him and he turns pink and crawls around to hide behind Brian.
Brian is not charmed. Victoria might be but Brian is not. No way.
“Charlie, this is Victoria,” Brian says over his shoulder. “She’s come to take you-” home? he thinks at Victoria, quick as a flash, hopefully too quick for Charlie to pick up on. Victoria shakes her head. “She’s come to take you somewhere safe.”
“You said I could go home,” Charlie says, propping his chin on Brian’s shoulder and wrapping his arms around Brian’s neck from behind. “You said.”
“I know.” Brian is flying blind here. All of Victoria’s shields are up; whatever she’s been told, she does not want Charlie to know. Shit. “But Victoria’s real nice.” Inadequate, so fucking inadequate. “And we want to make sure those” assholes “people didn’t hurt you.”
Reluctantly, Charlie lets go of Brian and climbs down off the gurney. “Okay,” he says, looking up at Victoria with his chin set. If Brian were the kind of guy to get mushy over brave little kids, now would be the time. It’s pretty lucky, he thinks, that he’s not that kind of guy.
By the time Brian was sixteen, the fact that he sometimes heard voices in his head was getting to be a thing.
“Brian, stay behind,” said Mr Murray, who was approximately Brian’s least favourite teacher. (There was a lot of competition but Murray was really an asshole.)
Brian scuffed his toe of his Chucks against the leg of Murray’s desk and ducked his head, trying to get a look at his day planner from under his bangs.
“I have your quiz from last week,” Murray said, waving it too quick for Brian to see.
“Yeah?” Brian asked, trying not to look too interested. He knew he’d done well and he knew it had to be killing Murray who liked to think of Brian as a lazy son of a bitch.
“Congratulations,” Murray said dryly, “You’ve earned yourself a retake. Shall we say this Saturday?”
What the fuck? Brian thought and only just managed not to say that aloud. “Why?” he asked instead, seriously not caring how insolent he did or didn’t sound.
Murray shrugged slowly. “Let’s just say that I’m surprised that you could get ninety-eight percent on the test when you didn’t actually attend any of the classes.”
Brian opened his mouth to argue then snapped it closed. “I read the textbook,” he muttered because that was true. And it sounded better than explaining how sometimes he could sit down to take a test and just... know the answers, like they appeared fully formed in his head. He knew that made him sound like a crazy person, but it was also what happened, so.
Murray smiled his wide, ugly smile. Brian had never seen any actual humour on his face. It was creepy. “Then you’ll have no trouble with the retake.” He waved his fingers in Brian’s direction. Brian was tempted to bite them off. “See you on Saturday.”
“Whatever,” Brian said and turned on his heel.
“Arrogant little jerk,” Brian heard Murray say clearly and he turned around, anger spiking. Murray was hunched over his desk, scribbling in his jotter. He didn’t seem to realise Brian hadn’t left yet.
Jesus, Brian could not wait until he could get out of his fucking school.
He was in a foul mood so he didn’t go home, home just made everything worse these days. He stayed in the school parking lot, leaned his hands on the hood of his beaten down old car and scrapped his ragged fingernails against the paintwork.
“Dude, don’t do that,” said a voice behind him and then there were hands on top of his, curling their hands on top of his so his fingers tucked against his palms.
Brian only didn’t throw a fit only because he recognised that voice and his hands recognised those hands.
“The fuck are you doing here?” he asked, because Ewan went to school across town and never usually set foot inside the gates of Brian’s fancy-ass school.
Ewan nosed Brian’s collar aside to lick his neck. Brian hoped Murray was watching and having some kind of stroke. “You were late,” he said like it was normal to miss Brian.
Brian turned around and tipped his chin up a little, as close as he was ever going to get to saying, I’m having a bad day. Kiss me?
Ewan smiled and kissed him, rubbing his smile back and forth across Brian’s lips. This thing they had wasn’t going to last, Brian knew that, Ewan was far too nice a kid to put up with Brian’s punkass-ness for too long but Brian was enjoying this whole having a real boyfriend thing too much to try to rush the ending.
“Stupid fucking school,” Brian grumped once they’d pulled apart.
Ewan made an exaggerated pouty face at him. He was mocking Brian but Brian didn’t actually care. “Fuck ‘em?” he asked and Brian surprised himself by laughing.
“Yeah,” he said, “Fuck ‘em.” He swung the hand Ewan was still holding on to. “Want to get out of here?”
“Oh yes,” Ewan agreed and followed Brian into the car.
Brian was in a way, way better mood by the time he actually got home. That lasted until he was half way through the front door and his dad snapped his name from the kitchen.
Ugh, Brian thought. “What?” he yelled. Things had gotten hot and heavy after he and Ewan had parked up; he’d kind of like a shower or, at least, not to have to stand in front of his dad with dried jizz in his pants.
“In here. Now.”
One day, Brian was going to get the fuck out of this house and never come back. His mom and his brothers would have to meet up with him in places miles from here and his dad could go fuck himself for all Brian cared.
Okay, so maybe Brian had a few rage issues; it’s not like they weren’t justified.
“What?” he asked, trudging into the kitchen where his dad stood against the counter, arms folded over his chest, his I’m your father and we’re going to have a serious conversation expression in full force.
“The school called.” Oh, good. That was always the kind of thing Brian liked to come home and hear. He wondered if Murray had called to whine about Brian’s test or about him getting his gay on in school grounds.
Brian raised his eyebrows inquiringly and tried to look interested.
His father shook his head. “Cheating, Brian? Really?”
Brian had to swallow hard so he didn’t demand to know where his dad got off sounding disappointed in him. It wasn’t like he’d ever put much effort into raising him.
Seriously, fuck that noise. Talk about guilty until proven... Well, no one seemed interested in proving he was anything else at all.
“I didn’t cheat,” Brian said. Answers randomly popping into his head wasn’t cheating.
His father waved a hand, like arguing was just too much effort. “Either way, I don’t appreciate getting calls from your school.”
“Why?” Brian snapped, hearing himself and knowing he should stop there but not stopping. “Did you have to stop banging Mrs Hoyland for a minute to answer the phone.”
He hadn’t known until that moment that the waves of guilt, the snatches of potential apologies he heard whenever Mrs Hoyland, their next door neighbour, came around for lunch with his mom, actually added up to something real, not until he saw the expression on his dad’s face.
“I don’t know what you’re-,” his dad started to deny but it was too late. Brian was furious and kind of freaked out because how did he know that? His breath was coming too hard and he wanted to lash out and punch his dad in the mouth.
“Why don’t you get out,” Brian said, shoving his hands in his pockets so it wouldn’t be obvious that they were shaking. “Go move in with Mrs Hoyland, I don’t care, but stop cheating on Mom.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” his dad said, denying it again, but Brian knew now that he was right.
He was getting a headache and rubbed at the place between his eyebrows. There was a weird buzzing in his ears, adrenaline properly. Except, adrenaline didn’t usually come in the form of whispers: how?, what?, what gave it away? all in a voice that wasn’t quite his dad’s but he somehow knew came from his dad anyway.
Brian rubbed his forehead harder and tried to see if his dad’s lips were moving. Great, his dad was a cheating asshole, and Brian was hearing voices again. His mom was going to have a great night.
“Go to your room,” Brian’s dad said and Brian wasn’t done here but his head really ached all of a sudden so he had no choice, stumbling away and up the stairs.
His headache dimmed once he was in his bedroom and he closed his eyes, kneeling by the bed and pressing his face against the cool sheets. He took a couple of deep breaths.
Stress, it was stress. Stress made you do weird things, it could totally make you imagine that you could hear your father’s thoughts. Right?
Do I have time to get milk? popped straight into his head and he blinked, shook his head, because that hadn’t been his dad. Now his brain was just inventing new voices to fuck with him. Problems on the trains - and that was another voice. If that fucking mailman hits my fence one more time...
“Stop it,” Brian told his brain. Seriously, if it wanted to make shit up, it could at least make it exciting.
Chicken pie tonight.
Brian put his hands over his ears. “La la la,” he hummed to himself.
There was a knock on the door. “Brian?” his dad called. “We need to talk.”
Something’s wrong. Why’s he singing? Fucking kid, nothing but trouble.
Brian lifted his head, inhaling a mouthful of dust and feathers from the comforter. He was fine, totally fine. Just hearing voices, nothing serious.
He stood up, planning to open the door because he never could back down from a fight. As soon as he was on his feet, the voices escalated around him like a tornado, like being thrown into the middle of the Superdome on the day of the Super Bowl: screaming, crying, laughing, shouting, all the sounds hitting him at once until he was sure his ears must be bleeding.
He stumbled, thinking he might be on his knees, but not sure. He thought he heard his dad bang on the door again but couldn’t be sure, couldn’t tell what was real, couldn’t find his voice to call for help.
He let himself sink forward, curled up with his arms over his head and prayed to anyone who might be out there that it would stop.
It’s dark by the time Brian gets sent home. He sits in the parking lot for ten minutes trying to work out whether he needs to call a cab, but he’s always been too independent for his own good so he puts the car in drive and ignores the pain in his arm when he goes to shift gears.
His head’s throbbing by the time he makes it through the city; the last few miles are nothing but a blurred image of dark road, too-bright headlamps and the screeches of horns that have nothing to do with his driving but keep him on edge anyway.
He staggers out of the car and spends too long patting his pockets for the keys before realising that they’re in his hand.
It’s three thirty in the morning and nearly everyone’s asleep but Brian’s filters are all the way down so he still finds himself catching snatches of the neighbourhood. The kid across the road is jerking off, the old lady three houses down is watching infomercials and wondering if she needs another remote-control can opener, and, somewhere in the distance, a baby’s screaming while its mom sits in the shower and cries.
Brian shakes his head. He can’t care, not tonight. He drags himself to his front door and presses his thumb to the keypad. For the first time ever, he’s thankful for NSA-enforced security because he’s not sure he could manipulate a door key right now. These days, ninety percent of the time he's fine with having this gift, talent, random mutation thing of his, but right now he’s firmly in the other ten percent and just wants to go to sleep.
The front door shuts out more than the night and Brian slumps against it, exhausted and grateful to be home. There’s a special lead-alkali glass in the walls that keeps stops other people’s thoughts from floating into Brian’s house. It’s his favourite thing about working for the NSA; he’s never slept as well as he does in this house.
He leaves the lights off and sheds his clothes on the way to his bedroom, falling into bed with a tired groan. The sheets are cold and soft, so soft that they only rub seven million of the ten million places where he hurts.
He knows he’s going to be in pain tomorrow morning and he should take something now to try and stave it off but he also knows that he isn’t going to. To solve this, he shuts off his alarm. There, now he won’t be awake for the morning to worry about it.
That’s a good thought and it’s the one that’s with him as he falls asleep.
Brian wakes to three things at once: someone pounding on his door, his cell phone ringing and the intruder alarm sirening through the house. It’s early, it’s really fucking early, he can tell just by the grittiness of his eyes, and he promised himself a really long sleep.
“Fucking what?” he groans at the ceiling and seriously contemplates sticking his head under the pillow and hoping it all goes away.
Brian sighs, grabs up his phone and heads towards the front door. “Yeah?” he asks, answering it without looking while he stops to pull on the jeans that he left on the floor last night.
“Schechter, what the hell is up with your house?”
It’s Bob. He sounds curious, bordering on pissed off.
Brian stops dead as a horrible thought occurs to him.
“Wait, what? Tell me that’s not you at my door?” He opens the door before Bob can answer him and yep, there’s Bob. Standing on Brian’s doorstep. With a grin on his face and a dufflebag at his feet.
Brian holds up a hand, closes his phone and turns to disable the alarm.
“Is everything okay, Mr Schechter?” Head of Security Amy asks over the two-way speaker. Bob’s thoughts rush together like a giant cartoon question mark.
“Yeah, everything’s good,” Brian tells her. “Sorry.”
He turns away from her recommendation that he have a nice day and puts his hands on his hips. “What have I ever done to make you think I enjoy surprises, Bryar?”
Bob grins at him, shaking his head, and drags himself and his bag into Brian’s house.
Damn, that’s not good.
In fact, it’s bad. Very bad. Brian has nicely defined walls between the various parts of his life; he’s not in any hurry to see them come tumbling down.
“I’m just passing through,” Bob says, “Don’t get your panties in a twist.” He breaks off, gaze zeroing in on the bandage around Brian’s arm. Brian wonders if there’s a way he can stand to make his bruises less visible. He’s feels really naked all of a sudden.
“Bob, honestly, I know you want a piece of this, but do you need to stare?” he asks irritably, going for defensive since he doesn't know what the hell he's supposed to say. He backs up towards his bedroom. “Go makes yourself some coffee or something, I’ve gotta get dressed.” Bob lets him go, which is a small blessing .
Once in his bedroom, Brian takes a moment to stand still and mouth shit to himself very, very firmly. This is going to be a disaster. It’s been hard enough dodging Bob’s calls for that last couple of months and making up crazy stunt school stories when he couldn't avoid talking to him. Pretending he’s doing anything but what he really is while Bob’s actually staying in his house?
Yeah, that’s going to be fun.
Brian takes about ten seconds pulling on a long-sleeve t-shirt and his baggiest, softest jeans before he hurries back out of the bedroom to the kitchen. It’s not like he leaves issues of Telepaths’ Monthly and NSA Minions’ Union newsletters out on his counters, but he’s still antsy.
He finds Bob standing in front of the toaster, a mug of coffee in one hand and a piece of bread in the other. Brian doesn’t remember the last time he bought bread so god knows where and how Bob found it.
“Fair warning,” he says, “That bread may be sentient.”
“Yeah, we had a nice chat,” Bob tells him without turning around. He sniffs the bread, makes a face and drops it back down on the counter. “Eh, I’m not that hungry anyway.”
“There’s Pop Tarts in that cupboard there,” Brian tells him because he may be hard on his bread, but he appreciates pastry for breakfast. And he may not be dancing a jig at the thought of Bob being here, but it’s hardwired into him to feed his artists, even when they’re not his artists any more.
Brian pours himself a cup of coffee while Bob’s burning the Pop Tarts, and then they both sit and eat in near silence, just the occasional so and yeah and hi. It’s always easy to be quiet with Bob, but this time Brian can tell that Bob’s not so much being quiet as biding his time.
“So,” Bob says eventually, pushing his plate away.
“Yeah?” Brian asks. He wants another cup of coffee but he knows Bob won’t let him walk away from this conversation.
“So, when did you move into the house from Eureka?” is not actually what Brian expected Bob to say, he was expecting it to be more the why the fuck haven’t you called me, you asshole? or the you’re hurt, what have you done to yourself? that Brian can hear hammering around in Bob’s brain but no, of course, Bob’s not going to admit to worrying. That’s not how they roll.
“I know, right?” Brian says, trying for casual. “It’s pretty sweet, huh?”
“Did they make you Queen of England or something?” Bob asks. “No one else needs that much security.”
Brian raises an eyebrow. “Yeah, Bryar, that’s it. The crown’s in my purse and the corgis are in the back yard.”
Bob just looks at him. “You’re not nearly as funny as you think you are,” he says.
Brian would love to tell Bob that he’s wrong, that the inside of Bob’s head is smiling, but unfortunately that wouldn’t do much for Brian’s campaign to never, ever let people from his old life know about the telepathy.
“Actually, I married an oil baron,” he jokes instead. “We didn’t want to tell anyone, his family won’t approve.”
Bob snorts. “Right. I can see you as the next Sue Ellen Ewing.” He smirks suddenly. “No, wait, I got it. You’re the fourth Jonas Brother, right?”
“I think there’s already a fourth Jonas Brother,” Brian says absently then groans when Bob’s eyes light up and he starts laughing.
“The fact that you know that is weirder than your creepy talking house, dude,” he says when he’s finally finished snickering at Brian.
Brian rolls his eyes and bites his lip because he is not amused, totally not. “Seriously, it’s no big deal. It’s just the guys I work for,” he says which is true, at least. “And no, it’s not the mob.”
“I wasn’t thinking mob,” Bob tells him, which is a lie. “It’s just, dude, I tried to open your porch and a disembodied voice told me to enter the door code in ten seconds or die.”
Yeah, they’re subtle like that, the NSA.
“She didn’t say ‘or die’,” Brian scoffs, hoping he’s right.
Bob folds his arms. “It was implied.”
Brian can’t help it, he starts smiling.
Damn it, he’s missed Bob. He nudges Bob’s knee with his heel. “It’s just the studio being overprotective,” he promises (lies). “I’m a valuable, stunt-jumping asset these days, remember. Don’t worry about it. Dude, how are you?”
Bob’s not convinced, that much would be obvious even without telepathy, but he apparently decides to let it go for now. “I’m good,” he says then nods slowly, like he’s thinking about it. “Yeah, I’m great.”
Brian’s glad and, yeah, maybe a little bit smug. It had taken a metaphorical stick of dynamite and a literal kick in the pants to get Bob out of the soundbooth and on tour, but Brian had known it’d be worth it.
“What have you done with Stump?” Brian asks. He tries to sound casual like he’s pleased Bob’s been touring with his friend. (It doesn’t work, he doesn’t sound casual, which is stupid because Brian is pleased that Patrick came along and noticed Bob and the talent that Brian had known about for years.)
If Patrick wasn't also someone Bob had spent three months shacked up with and crazy about, Brian would be way better at sounding casual.
Bob grins. “He’s good, I left him in LA visiting the Wentz-spawn.”
Brian rolls his eyes. Of course that's where Patrick is. Brian’s never seen a more amicable split than Fall Out Boy’s.
“You seeing him again?” Casual, casual, Brian’s so fucking casual, he should get a medal for it.
“Dude,” Bob says, which isn’t an answer. Obviously, Brian could rummage around in Bob’s head and find the answer for himself, but he doesn’t do that when anything less than someone’s life is at stake (mostly) and he sure as hell doesn’t do it to his friends (ever). He can’t help hearing surface thoughts, but the deeper ones he tries to let stay private.
“Dude,” Brian mimics.
Bob flips him off. “Jesus, Schechter, no, I’m not dating Patrick again.”
Now Bob’s looking at him curiously and he’s wondering why Brian is asking. It’s kind of awkward because it’s not like Brian can admit why it matters to him.
After a few more excruciatingly long seconds, Brian sits back and Bob clears his throat and, okay.
"Are you planning to stay?” Brian asks, which is maybe not as much of a conversational shift as it should have been.
Bob shrugs. “If your house doesn’t mind,” he says, looking toward the front door doubtfully.
“Seriously, it’s just a security thing on the door,” Brian promises him, “There’s nothing weird inside.” Well, sometimes his bedside radio interrupts its regularly scheduled programming to tell him that the world’s about to end and he better get his ass down to NSA headquarters pretty damn fast. He doesn’t think Bob will ever need to know that though.
Bob doesn’t ask if Brian minds him crashing and there’s no question of Brian telling him to get a motel, even though that would make Brian’s life so much easier. Bob’s come to him and Brian hasn’t seen him for months, not since Brian bailed on that last tour to go get clean.
“Spare room’s down the hall,” Brian tells him. When Bob doesn’t move, Brian rolls his eyes. “I’ll show you. I promise there are no boogiemen in the closet.”
“It’s not boogiemen I’m worried about,” Bob tells him, still looking dubious, but he lets Brian lead him down the hall to the spare room. Brian subtly shifts a potted plant in front of the hidden camera in the hallway that both he and the NSA pretend he doesn’t know about.
Once he’s got Bob settled and unpacking his shit in the spare room, Brian takes his cell phone into the bathroom, turns on the shower and calls Gabe Saporta.
“Are you calling me from the shower?” Gabe asks, sounding hopeful.
“Yeah,” Brian tells him, “I’m all wet and soapy.”
Gabe coughs out a laugh. “How can I help you?” he asks and Brian guesses it is a bit unusual for him to be the one calling. Normally he avoids contacting the NSA as much as he can outside of work-related situations.
Really, there’s no way for Brian to pretend this is a professional call, so he just stops trying. “I just wanted to see how Charlie was getting on?”
“Charlie?” Gabe asks, which doesn’t fill Brian with confidence. “Oh, the little kid. Yeah, he’s okay. Victoria took him back to her place last night.”
Brian grins. “Of course she did. Anything from the guy we caught?”
“Nah,” Gabe tells him, sounding tired. “The doctors haven’t cleared him for questioning yet, you really did a number on him. Fingerprints say he’s Spencer Smith, exemplary student at the University of Nevada, econ major, president of the GSA on campus. It makes no fucking sense how he’d end up working for kidnappers, dude.”
Brian snorts. “You and I both know that was way more than kidnapping. They were experimenting on that kid.”
Gabe sighs. “When they let Victoria at him, she’ll get the whole story out of him. Unless you want to swing by...?” He lets the offer hang and, if Bob weren’t here, Brian might be tempted. He hates interrogations, but he also hates waiting. Plus he really wants answers for Charlie.
“No, look, I’m going to be off the radar for a few days. I’ve got a friend staying.” What he’s really saying is please, please don’t make me have to look like a freak in front of Bob.
“Yeah, sure,” Gabe says easily, “I mean, I’ll try. Wouldn’t want to interrupt your bootycall, right?”
“That’s not what it is,” Brian splutters. Talk about hitting close to the mark.
Gabe just laughs and hangs up on him and Brian’s left to actually try to take a shower. His bruises look amazing in the harsh bathroom light, bright blooms of colour exploding across every knobbly part of him. He probably wouldn’t look any more banged up if he actually were training to be a stuntman like everyone thinks.
After what people liked to call his ‘breakdown’, Brian spent four months being passed around state run psychiatric wards, doctors arguing over him and no one able to agree on what was wrong with him. Then his dad discovered that he did have a conscience and paid for him to move to a place called Walton House, a private hospital with a good reputation.
Brian’s dad had always thought that throwing money at problems would fix them.
Mostly, people didn’t bother with him at Walton, so at first, the shuffle of feet in Brian’s peripheral vision didn’t register. He was used to being ignored, left alone in the corner. He was quiet so the orderlies mostly left him alone.
“Brian,” said a voice. It was Dr Norton, the only one of the dozen people who’d looked into Brian’s case who’d ever made an effort to treat him like he was still a real person.
Brian looked up. Dr Norton was flanked by two guys in sharp suits, but Norton had his hands pushed nonchalantly in his pockets so Brian took his cue from him and didn’t worry.
“These guys want to talk to you.” Norton said. He leaned forward conspiratorially. Reluctantly, Brian shifted his headphones off his ears enough to hear Norton say, “You don’t want to talk to them anymore, you yell for me, okay?” He patted Brian’s shoulder before straightening up and walking away.
One of the guys knelt down in front of Brian, put his hands on the arms of Brian’s chair. Brian closed his eyes and ignored him. Brian had always met everyone’s eyes before, but it had been easy to give that up for some tiny pretense of sanity.
“Hey, Brian,” the guy said. Brian thumbed the curved side of his discman, turning up the volume up. He’d found that the only way to block out the voices completely was music, counting the beat, not letting himself think past the music.
The guy reached out and tugged on the discman and Brian’s eyes flew open. He grabbed it back, holding it to his chest. Yeah, no fucking way was anyone touching that. Even the doctors had learned not to try to take away his music.
“Dude,” the guy said, pitching his voice to be heard. Brian turned up the volume again.
He squinted at the guy. Tall and tanned, nicely suited, he didn’t actually look that much older than Brian. Maybe he wasn’t a doctor, maybe he was an intern. They were even worse.
While Brian watched, the guy held up his hands, like he was trying to show Brian he wasn’t a threat. Except, no, that wasn’t what he was doing. He was showing Brian that his hands were empty. He reached up and twitched the headphones off Brian’s head.
Brian hit out instinctively but the guy was too fast, mega fast actually. An intern with ninja training. Awesome.
“Hi, Brian, I’m Gabe,” he said. He had a soft accent. Brian had just enough time to register that before his brain lost the beat he’d been desperately trying to cling to and the voices came rushing back in.
They were bad today, they were always bad here: screaming, crying, nonsense words with no rhyme or pattern.
“Hey, hey,” said the guy - Gabe. He grabbed Brian’s hands and hey, no. Brian wasn’t keen on unauthorised touching. He was about to pull his hands away when Gabe said, “Concentrate on me.”
Brian frowned. Concentrate on-? Fuck. He jerked helplessly, trying to hunch his shoulders up to his ears, like that would do any good.
“On me,” Gabe said again. “Look at me, concentrate on me, don’t listen to anyone else.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Brian told him, hating that he sounded confused. Seriously, he hated that. Gabe just kept looking at him with his big, creepy brown eyes and then Brian noticed it. There was something like... He could describe it. It was something like silence, right in the middle of all the voices.
Automatically, Brian latched on to it, following it with his mind until the silence got louder and the voices got quieter. The silence was such a shock, it was like someone had thrown a glass of cold water in his face.
Hi, said someone into the silence. Brian couldn’t remember the last time there was just silence. That’s better, isn’t it?
Brian looked at Gabe, but he shook his head. He tipped his chin to the man kneeling next to him. He was also wearing a suit but his hair was a messy mass of curls, his stubble scruffy and there were tattoos poking out from under his sleeves. Brian started to reassess his assumption that they were doctors.
Not that he cared what they were right now. They’d made it quiet.
We’re not doctors. I’m Travis. This is Gabe. We’re with an organisation called the NSA.
The other guy - Travis - his lips definitely weren’t moving. That was bad. Before he’d come here, Brian had almost believed that the voices meant he was reading people’s thoughts. The doctors here had convinced him that was bullshit; he was just sick.
You’re not sick. Could voices in his head sound angry? Because that one did.
“I am,” he tried saying. Travis didn’t look confused, like Brian was answering something that he hadn’t really said.
Think of a number, any number. Travis grinned, revealing a truly badass grill. Make it long.
Brian rolled his eyes; great, these guys had interrupted his nice, quiet mental breakdown to play magic tricks? Still, his mind automatically came up with a number anyway.
Lame, Travis said (said? Thought? Brian was so fucking out of his depth here). That’s your mom’s birthday.
Woah. Brian sat back abruptly, wrenching on Gabe’s grip on his wrist but not managing to pull away. “That’s just freaky.”
“Nah.” Travis’ lips moved this time. It was way less disconcerting. “It’s just telepathy.”
Brian shook his head. “I’m not,” he said, waving a hand. “That.” He’d thought he was, maybe, but he wasn’t.
“Dude,” Travis said, making a little tsk noise like Brian had hurt his feelings. “What the fuck d’you think we were doing just then? I wasn’t talking to myself, you know. And neither were you.”
“But.” Brian opened and closed his mouth. “That’s not--” Brian believed in a lot of shit, okay. His mind was open to pretty much anything ever, but the chances that he and this dude he’d never met had been fucking... mindmelding. No.
“Hey.” That was Gabe. Brian had almost forgotten he was there. “If you’re schizophrenic, or whatever they think you are this week, then you’ll have to stay here ‘til they find the drugs that work right for you. If you’re telepathic, you can leave with us right now.” He beamed a shit-eating grin. These dudes were way too happy; it was weird. “Which is it gonna be, kid?”
Brian looked at him for a long time. Gabe looked back at him, all open expression and relaxed shoulders. Travis at least looked a little bit more sympathetic. No less determined, but more sympathetic.
“Come on,” Gabe said quietly. His hand was still around Brian’s wrist. “Don’t tell me you like it here.”
Brian shook his head and tried not to think about his mom visiting every second Saturday, how Ewan used to visit when he could but hadn’t been here for months. How he could concentrate on less and less of what they said every time and how his dad never visited at all.
He’d been here nine months and there were weeks he didn’t remember.
“Fuck it,” Brian said, uncurling his legs. They were stiff from how long he’d been sitting here. “I’ll go with you.”
Master Post | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four