By the time Brian’s clean and dressed, Bob’s apparently overcome his distrust of the house enough to turn on the TV. He clicks it off when Brian walks into the living room, though, looking expectant.
Yeah, it’s been so long since Brian had company, he has no idea what to do now.
In the end, they end up taking Brian’s car to his favourite diner. If Brian remembers anything about the days following a tour, it’s how fucking hungry he used to get. It’s not that you don’t get fed on tour, it’s just that tour food is always the same. Toward the end, real food is all anyone ever fantasises about. That and a ten-hour shower.
Bob looks curiously around at Brian’s neighbourhood, taking in the fancy-ass houses a couple of blocks down from Brian’s only slightly fancy-ass house and whistles. “Dude, d’you win the lottery?”
Brian raises his eyebrows, hopes Bob’s looking to see. “Nah, got myself a sugar daddy.”
“Right,” Bob scoffs, “He must be desperate.”
Brian picks the first thing he can find out of the glovebox and chucks it at Bob’s head. That turns out to be a mistake when Bob makes a startled noise and swears.
“Jesus, fuck, Schechter,” he says, “Is this blood?”
Brian pulls up to a convenient stoplight and glances over at Bob, who is holding Brian's Gunslinger t-shirt, the one that got doused in blood last night. He'd been wondering where he left that.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” he says, grabbing it back and throwing it over his shoulder into the back of the car. “Had a nosebleed.” That was even kind of true. If you skipped the part where his nose had bled because a crazy ninja woman had punched him in it.
“A nosebleed?” Bob repeats doubtfully. “That looked more like something the CSI dudes should be taking into evidence.” He’s trying to sound flippant but it really isn’t working, especially since Brian can hear him thinking don’t freak out, don’t jump to conclusions. Shit.
“Oh hey, look, we’re here,” Brian announces, swinging into the diner’s parking lot and shutting down the conversation as hard as he can.
Brian’s favourite waitress is serving today. Her name is Jennie, she's twenty-seven, she has an older girlfriend who has twin babies from a previous relationship and she really likes her job. Only those first and last facts are things she’s actually told Brian out loud.
“Hey, Brian,” she says, grinning at him then raising her eyebrows really unsubtly in Bob’s direction. Yeah, Brian comes here too much.
“Morning. This is Bob.”
Jennie waves her notebook in Bob’s direction. “Hey, Bob. Just passing through?”
Bob shrugs. “Maybe,” he says and wait, what, since when is this not a flying visit?
Jennie hums. “We got some pretty nice scenery around here,” she says and she’s looking meaningfully at Brian while she says it.
Jesus fucking Christ, Brian’s waitress is trying to set him up with Bob. Brian would tell her not to bother; he’s already resigned himself to that ship having sailed.
By the time Jennie saunters away, Bob’s pretty much failing to hide his smirk.
“What?” Brian snaps, unimpressed by the knowing glint in Bob’s eye.
“It’s cute,” Bob tells him, “You made a friend.”
“Oh fuck you, I have plenty of friends.”
“Hm,” Bob agrees. His smile fades until he’s staring at Brian with big, blue, worried eyes. Brian hates when he does that.
Bob wants to ask about the blood on the t-shirt and he wants to ask about the bruises on Brian’s body, but Brian can’t let that happen. There’s only so many lies he’s okay with telling.
Luckily, the NSA put him through insanely expensive training for just this sort of shit.
“Man, it’s so good to have a day off,” he says, letting himself sag a little, taking the pressure off some of his biggest bruises. “You would not believe the shit they’ve had me doing this week. I jumped out of a goddamn hot air balloon the other day, seriously.”
Bob’s thoughts don’t exactly get less worried, but they get more assessing. Like he’s prepared to entertain another possibility other than, oh Jesus. Apparently Bob was worried he’s gotten himself an asshole boyfriend or maybe an asshole dealer.
“Hot air balloon?” Bob asks curiously, so Brian concentrates on that. It’s easy to make up a story to amuse Bob with; he has actually jumped out of a balloon. He’s not stupid enough to have cover stories that he can’t talk convincingly about.
“Jeez,” Bob says when Brian’s finished, even lifting the hem of his shirt a little to reveal a bruise. “I hope they’re paying you really fucking well.” He’s still worried but it’s a different kind of worry, an amused kind of offhand worry, the kind you feel for a friend who spends his time jumping onto and out of burning things but who always lives to freak you out with the stories afterwards.
Brian’s pleased Bob’s no longer suspicious but he still feels like an asshole. Stupid fucking NSA making him lie to the guy who’s basically his best friend.
Jennie brings their food and, thankfully, someone else comes in before she can humiliate Brian all over again. Brian glances over at the table she moves onto and automatically scans the surface thoughts of the new customers. It’s instinct, just like skimming your eyes over someone or listening in on a loud conversation, but woah, Brian wishes he hadn’t bothered. Dude is not having a good day.
“Schechter?” Bob asks and Brian jumps.
“Dude, sorry, did you say something?”
Bob just shakes his head and starts attacking his pancakes. “Boring you already?” he asks around a massive mouthful.
“That and grossing me out,” Brian tells him, then take a bigger bite himself.
They eat in mostly silence, which isn’t unusual. Brian’s always been able to be quiet with Bob. Even Bob’s thoughts are quieter than most people’s. A lot of people’s thoughts jump all over the place, and it’s completely fucking exhausting, but Bob’s pretty much always calm. It’s like standing on an empty beach at night or some poetic shit like that.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for the depressed dude who came in before. His thoughts are a dark, muddled mess and it’s grating on Brian’s calm.
By the time they’re on their third coffees, Brian’s not sure he can take it any more.
“Want to get out of here?” he asks, abruptly.
“Sure,” Bob says slowly, looking surprised. He drops some bills onto the table top even though Brian’s already paid the check and left a tip and follows Brian to the door.
In the doorway, Brian stops, curses, and crosses back to the counter, leaning over to slip Jennie five bucks. “A slice of pie for my friend over there,” he says, jerking his thumb at Depressed Guy’s booth.
Depressed Guy gives him a surprised look. Brian shrugs and smiles. Depressed Guy smiles uncertainly back. Brian has no idea if it’ll help, but he’s really bad at doing nothing at all.
“What was that about?” Bob asks when Brian rejoins him for the walk to the car.
Brian shrugs. “Nothing,” he said. “Spreading some good karma.”
“I’m not sure you spread karma,” Bob muses but he bumps Brian’s shoulder and Brian knows he approves even if he doesn’t understand.
It feels good to spend a day with Bob again, even if Brian would have preferred a little warning beforehand. There’s something about Bob that’s helplessly calming; there always has been.
Bob insists on a tour of Brian’s neighbourhood after lunch, which is all kinds of awkward, because Brian has lived here nearly a year but all the work he’s been doing for the NSA has really gotten in the way of exploring.
Still, he manages to bullshit his way through a general history of the area and if Bob knows he’s talking out of his ass, he hides it well.
“Where does that go?” Bob asks, pointing to the gated off side road that leads to the NSA building. It’s guarded by two big dudes with sidearms fastened to each him and, Brian knows, at least three other guns each that he can’t see. The NSA is nothing if not subtle. “Woah, what does having the Men in Black down the road do to your insurance excess?”
“Yeah, last time Will Smith crashed a spaceship on my roof was really hell on the guttering,” Brian says, hoping he sounds normal. It’s kind of hard to banter while internally calling himself an idiot for bringing Bob past this place.
The guards at the gates are professionals, it’s not like they’re suddenly going to give Brian a cheery wave and ask how his mom's doing. Still, Brian doesn’t relax until the gates have shrunk to a dot in the rearview mirror and Bob’s moved on to telling him some story about Patrick, Pete Wentz and an orange mascot costume.
They get home in time to catch a hockey game between two minor teams that Brian has barely heard of. Still, hockey is hockey and Brian takes it as a sign that the universe thinks he deserves a night in front of the TV.
Brian takes the armchair while Bob sprawls out on the sofa, and they waste the evening trashtalking teams that they actually don’t give a shit about.
It might be dumb, but it’s the way of men, and who’s Brian to argue with that?
“Well,” Bob says when even the post-game commentary is over and Brian’s turned off the TV. It’s suddenly really quiet in his living room.
“Your team sucks, Bryar,” Brian tells him, even though it feels forced and awkward now, not easy like it was a minute ago.
At some point when he got up for more soda, he accidentally sat down on the sofa with Bob rather than back in his own chair. It hadn’t felt like a big deal then. Now Bob’s really close. Really close, really warm, and really-- Fuck.
Bob’s thinking about kissing Brian. He’s thinking about leaning in and pressing his mouth to Brian’s. He’s thinking that Brian might let him.
Brian sits back so quickly that he almost ends up on the floor. It’s not exactly a surprise, because it’s not exactly the first time Bob’s thought it. It’s the first time in a long time though, since before Bob hooked up with Patrick, and Brian hadn’t been expecting it at all.
“I should.” He stumbles over the words and he hates that, hates sounding anything less than totally sure of himself. “Long day,” he tries instead. “I’m going to head to bed. You got everything you need?”
Bob’s looking at him like he doesn’t quite understand the words.
Disappointed, Bob’s disappointed. Brian hates that he did that. He tells himself that it’s better than leading Bob on though, because Brian doesn’t date; there’s no way for him to have sex with someone and keep out of their head, and the idea of doing that to someone without them knowing makes him feel dirty as hell.
“No, I don’t need anything,” Bob answers slowly .
Brian nods and he doesn’t run but he does stride with purpose out of the room. He locks his bedroom door behind himself.
Fuck, he thinks angrily, slamming his open palm into the wall. It hurts like fuck and he’s glad he didn’t try it with a fist.
It had been a long day and Brian’s head was pounding; all the kids in the club were screaming and thinking too loud tonight. He liked teenagers, really, he did, but he wished they would tone down their angst some.
Travis and the NSA had taught him pretty much all he needed to know to live a regular life, but tour life wasn’t really regular.
He pushed out the back of the club and fumbled his smokes out of his pocket. It was quiet out here, thank god.
“Gonna share?” someone asked and Brian jumped out of his fucking skin because it was so quiet out here that he’d thought he was alone.
“Yeah, sure,” he said slowly, shaking the packet and holding it out.
The guy stepped out of the shadows and took a cigarette. He was big and blond, wrapped up in a heavy black sweatshirt. “Thanks,” he said, pulling out a cigarette.
Brian stepped forward and lit it without thinking. He could sense the guy’s thoughts now, but they were still so quiet, nothing like the frenetic buzz he’d almost started to think was normal after nine weeks on the road with hopped up, fucked up, overly excitable musicians.
“I’m Brian,” he offered once he’d stepped back. He wanted to lean in and just soak up this guy’s quiet but wow, would that be creepy.
The guy nodded his head. “Yeah, I know. You brought that crowd through here.” He smiled a little to show he didn’t mind. “I’m Bob. I work here.”
“Cool,” Brian said, because House of Blues was pretty fucking cool. “Haven’t seen you around.” Then he winced, because Bob was kind of hot and that had sounded a lot like do you come here often?
Bob just smiled slightly. He leaned back against the wall, smoking slowly. He didn’t say anything else, so neither did Brian.
The club’s soundproofing was pretty good but, this close, Brian could still hear a muted version of the band screaming on stage and the crowd screaming in the pit. He hummed softly under his breath.
After a while, Brian realised that Bob was counting the beat in his head, wincing slightly when Jaeson and Chris went off rhythm.
“You drum?” Brian asked casually when he saw that Bob’s fingers were twitching against the brickwork, giving him an excuse for asking the question he already knew the answer to.
Bob threw his cigarette butt down on the floor and ground it out with his heel. “Kind of,” he said. “Your boys are good.”
Brian shrugged and offered the packet again. It was possible he was trying to get Bob to stay out here with him, which wasn’t his fault; Bob had a calming brain, okay.
“Sure, they’re good,” he said. They were, he was proud of them.
Bob shook his head. “Dude, try to sound like you have a little faith in your band.”
Brian looked up, surprised. Then he saw that Bob was smiling at him, just a soft, half-smile but still: he was teasing him.
Brian couldn’t help it, he rolled his eyes, laughing. No one was ever this easy with him, especially after just ten minutes and two cigarettes.
Brian folded his arms. “Dude,” he mimicked. “I have plenty of faith in my band. How could I not? They have me.”
Bob huffed out a laugh and flicked a little bit of ash off the top of his cigarette. In the dim light, Brian could see that the very tops of his cheeks were pink.
Shit, are we flirting? Bob was thinking and oh, right, fuck, maybe they were.
“I guess I should get back in,” Brian said, straightening up. He could call himself a coward later, he decided.
Bob nodded easily. If Brian hadn’t been able to read his thoughts, he would never have guessed he was disappointed. Which, wow, that was kind of flattering. “Maybe I’ll see you next time you come through.”
Brian couldn’t help it; he knew he shouldn’t, because he didn’t hook up and it was shitty to lead people on. Still, “Maybe,” he said anyway and smiled over his shoulder.
Brian’s getting used to being woken by his phone hours before he’s ready to get up.
This time it’s still dark, and that’s never good. “Yeah?” he manages through a dry, middle-of-the-fucking-night throat.
“Schechter.” It’s Gabe. He sounds tense, grave and pissed and that’s enough to get Brian to wake up because Gabe’s never serious, even when serious should be the only option.
“Thought you weren’t going to need me,” Brian says on autopilot.
“Someone broke into Victoria’s apartment,” Gabe says flatly, ignoring him. “They knocked her out and took the kid.”
“What?” Brian’s on his feet. “Holy fuck, Saporta, what the hell? How could that happen?” Victoria’s place has even more security that Brian’s and, anyway, he’s never known her not to be able to take care of herself. He doesn’t think about Charlie, tiny, bruised Charlie who they just fucking rescued.
“We need you to get your ass down here right now,” Gabe interrupts, ignoring him, “Victoria’s got a concussion and she’s too busy puking to help and we need a telepath.”
“On my way,” Brian tells him and ends the call.
It takes him ninety seconds to get ready to leave, which isn’t long but feels like it’s way too slow. He grabs his emergency bag from the hall closet and is picking his keys out of the dish by the door when a voice stops him.
“Brian?” Bob asks.
Brian manages not to swear before spinning around. Bob’s standing at the end of the hall, looking sleep-rumpled and confused. “What’s going on?”
Shit. “Nothing,” Brian lies. “I’ve just got to go out for a minute. Seriously, go back to sleep.”
“You’ve got to go out?” Bob repeats. “It’s the middle of the night.” He’s finally woken up enough to remember why he’s worried and Brian knows he shouldn’t get irritated, but he does.
“Fuck’s sake, I’m not sneaking out to score,” he snaps, shrugging on his jacket.
“I never thought you were,” Bob retorts and it’s totally not true but Brian doesn’t have time to argue right now.
“Yeah,” Brian says, sagging back against the wall and rubbing a hand through his hair. He’s tired; he wants to be in bed; he wants to be in Bob’s bed. He shakes his head against that particular pity party. “Sorry, man,” he says, meaning it. “Getting called out in the middle of the night makes me grumpy, you know?”
“They seriously expect you to do stunts at three in the fucking a.m.?” Bob asks doubtfully.
Brian looks away. “Night shoot,” he lies with a shrug, “The dude they were using got himself a concussion so they need me to fill in.”
“That’s fucked up.” Bob gives him a smile that isn’t a smile and walks with him to the front door. “Take care out there, yeah? Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
His hand is warm on the small of Brian’s back. Brian will take what he can get. “Bryar, I’m not even going to do half the stuff you would do,” he promises. He hears Bob laughing before the front door closes between them.
The NSA building is always busy, even in the middle of the night. When Brian arrives, it’s even busier than normal. Harassed people with uncombed hair and rumpled suits are running this way and that, looking like they shouldn’t be anywhere but in bed and definitely not at work.
Brian ignores everyone, skidding into the first elevator that arrives and smacking his knuckles against the glass wall the whole ride down to the medlab.
Gabe is pacing back and forth outside a curtained off corner so Brian heads that way.
“Agent Schechter,” a woman in a white coat tries to intercept him. “You need to get your stitches checked.”
Brian waves her off. His arm feels fine; the bullet only grazed him. It's not like it went through or anything. Anyway, he hates being called ‘agent’.
“Gabe, what the fuck?” Brian asks as soon as he’s within shouting distance. “How did someone get in? Did you seriously send Charlie off without any guards?”
“Yeah, there were guards,” Gabe snaps. “Of course there were fucking guards. They’re dead. Victoria’s lucky she only has a concussion.”
That pulls Brian up a little. “And Charlie?” Shit. Shit. Brian promised him he’d be safe.
Gabe just shrugs. Somehow, seeing him at a loss makes Brian feel even worse.
“Did you get anything out of the guy from the warehouse?” Brian waves his hand, he totally remembers the guy’s name. “Smith?”
“Yeah,” Gabe says, “And no. Turns out he knows how to shield. Becket’s been working on him tonight and Victoria’ll have another go tomorrow. Or, I guess maybe you’re going to have to now?”
“Yeah,” Brian agrees immediately. He’s okay with blowing off work to hang with Bob but not when Charlie’s missing.
Before Brian can say anything else, the curtain twitches back and a doctor sticks her head out. "Agents? You can come in."
Behind the curtain, Victoria is sitting on a gurney, gauze taped over her left temple. She looks grey and dazed but her jaw is set; she’s pissed.
“How the fuck did they get the jump on you?” Brian’s pissed too. He’s not blaming her, not really, he just hates the cases that involve kids and he hates that they had Charlie safe and then they lost him.
Victoria’s slow to answer so he dips inside her brain. That’s such a mistake. Her thoughts are a dizzy, concussed mess and he jumps back, physically and metaphorically. He feels nauseous.
Victoria makes a face at him. “Yes,” she says dryly, “Try being me right now.”
“Sorry,” Brian says, chagrinned. It’s pretty fucking rude to go rifling around in someone’s head. “Just.”
Victoria wrinkles her nose. “Yes, I know,” she says. She rubs the purpling skin at the edge of the bandage and makes a face. “I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t know anything was wrong until I woke up on the floor.”
Shit, Brian thinks. That’s bad. That shouldn’t even be possible. He can’t remember the last time he didn’t know where everyone was in a room with him. “Their shielding must be perfect,” he says, thoughtful and appalled.
Victoria nods slowly. She winces. “Yes. But not just their shielding. They got the jump on Angie and Kris too.” At Brian’s frown, she clarifies, “The guards on the door.”
Brian sits down next to her on the gurney. He’s aware that Gabe’s watching them, but ignores him for now. “The woman at the house where I found Charlie was pretty fucking ninja.” He makes a face at himself, remembering. “And she can shield.”
Victoria rubs at her head again and Brian feels bad for bugging her. This is important though. Before he can press her to think harder, Gabe’s hand lands on his shoulder.
But, “Guys,” Victoria says slowly. “I just thought. I was going to call it in, but then I got hit. Charlie was having dreams about this house, on the lakeshore. I think maybe they kept him there before the warehouse.”
Gabe beams at her, wide enough that Brian’s instantly out of place and uncomfortable. “That’s real helpful.” He bounces on his toes. “I’ll send someone down to get details if you’re feeling up to it?”
Victoria rolls her eyes. “I have a headache and I may barf on them but I can describe a house, Gabe, stop fussing.”
Gabe sighs, like he’s a frustrated Don Quixote. “Come on, dude. Vicky-T needs her rest and you and me, we’re going to go get ourselves a task force.”
“Task force?” Brian asks, raising his eyebrows.
Gabe snaps his fingers at Brian. “Damn right, baby. Victoria, my love, take care.” He grabs her hand and kisses the back elaborately.
She flips him off, but she’s smiling.
Bob and Patrick’s first video as an actual established band on an actual established label (yeah, Brian was really fucking proud, so what?) was one of those predictable ones with dramatic camera angles and burning barrels of god knows what all around them.
It wasn’t ideal, but it was all they could afford and with a little bit of luck, it would work. Patrick had enough left-over interest from his days in Fall Out Boy to sustain them through their first single and, after that, well. They were damn good, they’d carry themselves.
Brian wasn’t at the shoot because he had a fuckload of work to do and, anyway, having your manager hanging around while you shot your first video was like having your mom around while you kissed your first boy; it just wasn’t cool.
He was elbow-deep in paperwork when he started to feel weird, antsy and uncomfortable like the air was too thick and his skin was too thin. It was a strange feeling but he was maybe a little hungover from the beers he’d had last night when he couldn’t sleep, so he put it down to that.
Brian took another slurp of coffee, wondered briefly when he’d put a shot in it then shrugged,
Hair of the dog, probably a good idea.
He opened a new email when it pinged into his inbox and rolled his eyes when he saw it was from Pete Wentz. Instructions on the care and feeding of Patrick Stump needed to go to Bob not Brian; Bob was the one who was schtupping him.
Brian moved his fingers on the mousepad, intending to forward the whole thing to Bob, but his hand spasmed over the keyboard, his palm smacking the keys and creating an infinity of Ts.
He pushed away from the desk and shook his head. Jeez, he did not feel good.
Rubbing his temples, he tried to decide if he was having some kind of seizure. He felt dizzy but not dizzy at the same time, like only one point inside his head was spinning.
Fresh air, he decided, fresh air was the way to go. He ignored the way his hands shook when he opened the door leading to the balcony and leaned carefully against the railing.
It was the middle of the day but since no one walked anywhere in LA, it was pretty peaceful. By which Brian meant peaceful for him; the kind of peace where everyone’s thoughts were locked up in the bubbles of their cars, not floating around free on the sidewalk.
But the fresh air wasn’t helping at all and he was starting to feel kind of nauseous. He fumbled out a cigarette because they always helped with hangovers. His fingers jittered embarrassingly on the lighter and his thumb skidded across hot metal and right into the flame.
Brian’s thoughts jolted like he’d woken up fast after tripping in a dream. He could see fire, feel his palms turn sweaty and hot, sickly pain rolling up his legs and a thought pattern that he knew as well as he knew his own.
Just like that, his cellphone was in his hand and he was yelling at the set director before she’d finished answering the phone.
“Shut down the shoot, check on Bob,” Brian told her over and over until it penetrated.
“Schechter? What?” Tara asked, but Brian didn’t shut up until he heard her yell cut.
Brian held his breath. Maybe he was wrong. His telepathy didn’t normally cross the stream into empathy and, anyway, Bob was all the way across town.
The hope lasted just long enough for Tara to come back to the phone and say, “Brian, get here now,” low and insistent before she hung up on him.
Brian broke every traffic law ever on his race through the city, down to the docks where they’d been filming. There was already an ambulance outside the warehouse and he didn’t realise he’d forgotten to put on shoes until he was racing across the gravel to the open, corrugated steel door.
The first thing he saw was a huddle of techs and PAs and Tara who was pale and angry in the middle. He ignored them all until he found Bob, lying on his back on the stage, two EMTs working on his leg and Patrick sitting at his head, talking urgently to him.
Brian’s breath hitched, stuck between relief that he’d been able to stop anything worse happening and panic because Bob was clearly hurt.
He dipped into Bob’s head for a second, got an impression of mingled pain, embarrassment and stoic determination not to make a fuss. The pain was dominant and he had to pull out before he puked.
“Schechter?” It was Tara. She followed where he was looking. “He’s got second degree burns on his leg. Stubborn asshole thought he could wail ‘til we’d finished to tell anyone.” She frowned hard at Brian, dark eyebrows drawn together. “Want to tell me how the fuck you knew something was wrong?”
Brian managed to tear his eyes away from Bob because, shit. This was probably something he should pay attention to. He opened his mouth, hoping a lie would just appear.
“I told him,” a voice piped up from just behind them. Brian swung around to look, wondering who would lie for him and if she’d like a pay raise. She was a tall girl, wearing an outsized purple hoodie. The sleeves fell down over her hands and she was tugging at them nervously.
“Who are you?” Tara asked brusquely.
My new guardian angel, Brian thought.
The girl bit her lip. “I work for the company that owns the warehouse? I called Mr Schechter ‘cause I thought something was wrong?” She blew red-ish bangs out of her eyes and smiled shyly at them both, bouncing a little bit on her toes.
Tara looked at her then shrugged. “Well, thanks,” she said. “Next time, tell me, yeah?”
“Yes,” the girl breathed and kept smiling until Tara walked away.
“Thank you,” Brian said as soon as Tara was out of earshot. Of course, now he had to think up a lie for this girl.
The girl’s smile dropped off like it had never been there. “You need a guardian angel,” she said darkly and turned away.
“Hey, what?” Brian called after her, automatically reaching out to catch her arm, but someone calling his name stopped him.
Patrick was waving to him from the stage. The EMTs were loading Bob onto a board. “Are you going to ride with us to the hospital?”
Brian thought for a second about being trapped in a tiny space with Bob in that much pain and Patrick that freaked out.
“I’ll meet you there,” he said and waved them on. When he turned to look for her, the girl was gone.
By the time Brian reached the hospital, the door to Bob’s room was firmly closed and Patrick was sitting outside, looking miserable on a plastic chair. His head was in his hands, his fingertips tucked under his green trucker hat.
His face was flushed when he looked up at Brian. “Hey,” he said and took his jacket off the chair next to his.
Brian really did not want to sit down; hospitals were one of the shittiest places imaginable for a telepath. But he was still Patrick’s manager, even if they weren’t all that close; Brian couldn’t just leave him.
He took the chair beside Patrick’s and tried to smile reassuringly while keeping a tight hold on his shields. There were a lot of freaked out people in this hospital.
“Burning skin smells weird,” Patrick told him and Brian’s head snapped up.
Patrick blew out a breath and slid his palm over his face. “Shit. Sorry. I’m kind of inappropriate when I’m freaked.” His mouth twisted into an almost-smile. “Something I picked up from Pete.”
“Yeah,” Brian agreed distractedly. Everything was Wentz’s fault; he could get behind that.
Patrick was sitting so close that Brian could feel guilt coming off him in waves. As a manager, Brian knew he should try to reassure him, but as the guy who thought of Bob as his best friend, Brian wanted to know how the fuck you could fail to notice that your drummer was on fire.
“He’ll be okay though,” Brian said eventually. He felt like he’d know if Bob wasn’t.
Patrick nodded. “No one will really tell me anything.”
Brian didn’t answer. He’d never had a problem getting information out of people, especially when they didn’t know they were giving it.
They lapsed into silence. It was pretty awkward. Brian still felt shaky from adrenaline left over from earlier - and he was seriously, seriously curious about what kind of freaky telepathic Bat Signal Bob had sent out - and Patrick was humming to himself softly, the way Brian had learned he did when he needed to calm himself down.
His thoughts were projecting loudly and, normally, Patrick’s thought patterns were almost as calming as Bob’s - drummers, totally the way to go - but today, right now, Brian could really have done without having to know that Bob and Patrick had argued over breakfast this morning and he really hadn’t needed to know that they’d made up - twice - in the shower.
Yeah, okay, it wasn’t like Brian didn’t know they were fucking but he did not need to see that and he sure as hell didn’t need to know how warm and fucking fuzzy Patrick felt about Bob.
It was irrational and stupid because Brian didn’t date so he wasn’t ever going to date Bob even if Bob hadn’t got tired of waiting for him, but Bob was his and, wow. Brian needed to get over himself pretty damn quick or he needed to stop working with Bob and Patrick.
Yeah, those were his options. They were kind of shitty.
He stood up abruptly. “I’m going to get a coffee. You want anything?”
Patrick shook his head. He pulled his hat down further over his forehead and tucked his chin against his chest. Brian didn’t stick around.
He didn’t really want coffee but he got some anyway. Then he crossed the hall to the restroom and poured it down the sink. Shit, but he hated hospitals. If he relaxed his shields for a second, he could tell that there were four people dying right this minute, seventeen people crying and countless numbers trying not to let on just how terrified they were.
He could not deal with this shit, not on top of the very specific brand of terrified that he was about Bob. He needed something to take the edge off, just until he got out of here. Painkillers were best, the stronger the better. They blotted out the telepathy, made it fuzzy and indistinct and way easier to ignore.
Brian checked his pockets, cursed and checked the extra pocket on the inside of his jacket. They were all empty.
Still, he was in a hospital.
Brian had spent enough time in Walton House to know the general layout of hospitals. He ducked out of the restroom and strode along the corridor like he had every right to be there, walking purposefully along the corridor past private rooms and closets then hooked a quick left to where--
Awesome. The drug dispensary was exactly where he’d expected it to be.
There was a bored-looking kid in scrubs sorting boxes just inside the partition and Brian rapped smartly on the glass. “Keyla Matthews in room 7 needs her meds stat,” he told him, with all the fake authority he could muster - and he managed bands who didn’t like to listen to anyone; he could muster a lot.
The kid looked at him curiously, but Brian had chosen deliberately from the flashes of life stories he’d picked up as he walked down the corridor. Keyla Matthews was seven years old and everyone loved her. Brian never claimed to be a good person.
“Right,” the kid said.
“Dr Harris will meet you there,” Brian called after him because he didn’t want Keyla accidentally getting overdosed or anything. Plus the kid would be gone longer if he thought he was waiting for someone.
That was clever, someone said, projecting right into Brian’s mind and he jumped, whirling around.
The girl from the warehouse, the one who’d lied for him, was leaning against the other side of the dispensary. She waved two fingers.
“You,” Brian said and started to walk toward her but, shit, he didn’t have long. He veered off and ducked behind the counter instead.
Painkillers or muscle relaxants? the girl asked. Apparently shy and sweet had been an act; Brian didn’t like her after all all. She did the mental equivalent of tsking at him. That’s rude.
So is stalking. Brian’s hands landed on a bottle of Vicodin and something gnawing and anxious inside him eased a little.
Painkillers then. Very House.
Fuck off. Brian dry-swallowed two little pills then shoved the bottle in his pocket. He slipped back out of the dispensary and smiled at her benignly. Vicodin was good shit; he was already a little fuzzy around the edges and if she was still projecting to him, he couldn’t hear her.
He tapped his ear and ignored when she made a face at him. “Sorry.”
“I think Travis preferred codeine,” she called after him, voice ringing clearly down the corridor.
Brian turned back to face her. “What?” he asked. “Who are you?” Even without the telepathy, he knew before he’d finished asking. “Fuck, you’re NSA.”
She winced. Brian didn’t give a shit. Secret telepaths working for government agencies were the stuff of conspiracy theorists’ wet dreams, but mostly they just pissed Brian off.
The rubber soles on her boots were completely silent as she stalked down the corridor toward him, grabbing his arm and dragging him around a corner into another empty corridor. Apparently the burns unit didn’t get a lot of through traffic.
She pushed him up against the wall and loomed over him.
“Sorry, you’re really not my type” he said, looking up (yeah, she was a lot taller than him, he was used to it) at her.
“Excuse me while I nurse my broken heart,” she snapped. Her fingernails were digging sharply into his bicep. “I want to have a conversation, and I want you to stop shouting about the NSA at the top of your lungs. Can you do that?”
“Yep,” Brian agreed because he totally could. Didn’t mean he was going to, but he could. Her grip on his arm relaxed a little and he brought his forearm up, knocking her hand away.
Her eyebrows raised and he smirked. Oh yeah, he remembered some of the stuff he’d learned in NSA X-Men school, back when he’d do everything the NSA asked just to stop them sending him back to Walton.
“Okay then.” She stepped back and straightened her dress. Brian wondered how she got away with wearing something that short while working for the government, no way could she kick ass in that.
She smirked. “Oh you’d be surprised,” she told him. She sat down on a visitor’s chair and patted the one beside her.
Brian sat down because he wanted to, not because she told him to. He thought that was probably an important distinction, though he couldn’t really be bothered to remember why. Vicodin was pretty strong.
“Travis,” he said, surprising himself by remembering. “You said Travis. Where is he?” It had been four months since Brian had heard from him and that was really not usual. Gabe wouldn’t tell him anything because Gabe was an obstructive asshole.
Brian shook his head. “No way.” Travis fucking loved the NSA. He was totally gleeful about every ass he got to kick, every kid he got to save, and every scumbag he got to punch in the head; he loved getting bad guys off the street. The Travis Brian knew would never leave the NSA.
“All right, you’re right,” she said and Brian felt a surge of triumph until she went on. “Technically he’s in rehab.”
“Rehab?” Brian echoed. Drugs were how telepaths managed to function in the real world; it wasn’t something you could just get cured, not and stay out of the psychiatric ward.
Her hand landed on his arm. Brian jumped and shook her off.
“He told you that the only way for you to get by was to dull your sense, right?” she asked, leaning forward and looking concerned. Bullshit, like she cared about him. “That’s what he was taught and it’s what he taught you. He’s all messed up about that now and he asked me to find you.”
Brian rolled his eyes. “What? He’s had a change of heart and wants to save me?” The drugs were good; they let him pretend to be normal.
“I’d like you to come back to the NSA with me,” she said. “You’re not doing well, Brian, and you can bullshit me all you like but I know.”
He waggled his fingers at her. “Ooh, impressive,” he said dryly.
She sat back and folder her hands neatly on her lap. “You’re spending less and less time at the job you love because the bands and the fans are too much for you to take. You’re in love with your best friend but you’ve got some crazy idea that you’re not allowed to date so you have to watch him hook up with someone else instead. And you just stole drugs from a hospital pharmacy after lying about a little kid. Yes, you’re right, you’re perfectly fine.”
Brian stood up. The corridor roiled a little around him but it stabilised quickly. He was fine. “Fuck you and fuck the NSA,” he said. He wanted to add and fuck Travis but he couldn’t do that; Travis had saved his life.
“Brian,” she called. He didn’t want to stop, but he did. She flicked a card at him and he caught it automatically. Victoria Asher it said and a cell number. “Call if you need anything.”
Brian tipped his chin, belligerent. “What exactly would I need?”
Asher looked from Brian to the pills in his pocket and back up to his face and didn’t say anything at all.
Brian ends up grabbing a nap in Gabe’s office for a couple of hours while Gabe and his team do their thing and pinpoint the house Charlie was having nightmares about. It’s not that he doesn’t want to help, but they’re trained in that kind of shit. Brian is basically just a human lie detector, going where he’s pointed.
When he wakes, it’s the horrible, sickly time of the morning, when the sky’s just getting light but the sun’s still below the horizon, but Brian feels awake, wired.
He digs out his phone and sends a quick, uninformative text to Bob, just shoot running late, be back whenever and shoves it back in his pocket. He hopes Bob doesn’t end up staying with him long; he’s not going to keep believing this bullshit forever.
Refusing to feel guilty, Brian shrugs on his NSA jacket and wanders into the squad room. The jacket makes him feel like an extra from a bad network cop show and the coffee someone pushes on him is cold and muddy, but he’s ready to go, ready to kick some ass.
“Okay, let’s go.” Gabe appears at his elbow and grabs Brian by the sleeve. “Sexy jacket, Schechter.”
“Fuck you,” Brian says easily. “You find the house?”
Gabe rolls his eyes. “Like there was any chance we wouldn’t.”
The house that Charlie was (hopefully) kept in would have been pretty fucking impressive back in Brian’s hometown in Detroit, but in California it hardly stands out at all. It’s three stories tall, with big bay windows and a front yard big enough to almost qualify as grounds.
It doesn’t look like the kind of place that crazy people use to lock up little kids but Brian trusts Victoria; she’s never wrong when it counts.
Come on, Gabe thinks at him, tapping Brian on the arm.
“Shouldn’t we wait for backup?” Brian asks, quiet as he can, just because someone should say it and back when he was tour managing, people used to say he was the sensible one. Plus, he likes to yank Gabe's chain a little: neither of them are huge fans of waiting.
Gabe just looks at him and Brian grins. Yeah, that’s what he thought.
There’s no sound as they creep up the path; it’s so quiet around here that even the dogs don’t bark.
Can you hear anything? Gabe asks. He never speaks when they’re out on these jaunts together. It makes sense because it halves the amount of noise they make if Brian’s the only one talking but Brian’s pretty sure Gabe mostly just thinks it’s cool. That, or if anyone catches them, he wants to be able to blame Brian.
“Nothing,” Brian tells him quietly. It’s creepily quiet, actually, nothing but Gabe’s thoughts and Brian’s own, and, huh, something that may be the thoughts of that bird sitting in the tree up there. That’s fucked up.
Gabe whistles softly and Brian looks up to find him pointing at a crack in one of the windows. Right, like that’s going to help. Still, Brian moves closer anyway just to humor him.
Brian can read minds at a distance of about twenty-five feet. It helps if he can see the person but it’s not essential and bricks and windows aren’t enough to block him, unless they’ve been specially adapted like in Brian’s house.
He’s not expecting that pressing his ear up against the window like fucking Nancy Drew will help at all, but actually, he gets the faintest glimmer of a thought.
Fuck it, a glimmer is enough.
“Yeah, there’s someone in there,” he says, clenching his teeth against the beginnings of a headache. He rubs the centre of his forehead hard.
What’s wrong? Gabe asks.
Brian shakes his head. He’s not sure. He’s listened in on people’s dreams before (yeah, it’s creepy; he’s not proud of everything he’s done) and this feels sort of like that. He’s getting quick flashes of fucked up thoughts, too many and too random to process. Blood, kisses, death, birth, all of it all at once.
Shit, no. Brian instinctively pulls up his shields even though he knows it won't help.
Bad guys? Gabe asks like they’re in a John Wayne movie.
Brian shakes his head. He doesn’t think so. No one with that much craziness going on in their heads can be any threat.
Worth going in?
Instead of answering, Brian tries the window. He doesn’t want to get closer to that jumbled mess of thoughts exactly, but he’s curious now. He’s always so fucking curious; he’s going to count himself lucky if it doesn’t get him killed one day.
Rock on. Gabe grins at him and puts his elbow, very carefully, through the window, smashing the glass with a tiny snick.
The window was like that when we got here, he thinks at Brian and sticks his hand through the hole to open the window.
Brian tries to go through the window first but Gabe gives him his best I’m the one with the gun look and hops over the windowsill. Brian curses Gabe’s epically long legs and follows him way less gracefully.
They find themselves in a big living room with no furniture except some wooden tables and chairs, totally out of place in a room like this. The house is horror-movie quiet and the floorboards squeak because it’s just that kind of day. Gabe stops by the door into the hallway and lifts his eyebrows meaningfully in Brian’s direction.
Brian sighs but lets his shields down. They’re closer to whoever’s here now and the thoughts are getting louder. They still don’t make any sense, like tuning into a hundred TV stations at once. Brian’s headache is getting worse.
There’s a pause and then Gabe pokes him. “I said, what’s wrong?” he hisses.
“Shit, sorry.” Brian rubs his temple one more time then lets his hand drop. “I can’t hear a fucking thing with this-- There’s someone here and they’re,” Yeah, there’s no good way to explain it, “I think they’re in trouble.”
“Charlie?” Gabe asks.
“Nah.” That would be way too easy. “I think it’s an adult. He’s this way.” Brian steps out into the hall, ignoring Gabe when he puts a hand out to stop him.
The thoughts are coming from upstairs. It’s easy to follow them because they just keep getting louder, to the point where he can barely hear his own thoughts under the din.
The stairs give a little under Brian’s feet; they probably creak but he can’t hear it. Gabe probably snaps at him to come the hell back but Brian doesn’t hear that either. He doesn’t want to get closer to the noise, but he has to; that’s about the only way he can think of to stop it.
He’s focused on moving up the stairs as quickly but as silently as he can, so focused that he doesn’t realise someone is running along the corridor above until he reaches the top of the stairs and crashes straight into her.
It’s not the person who’s projecting their thoughts though, it’s someone else. Someone familiar. Someone who nearly gets her fist in his face before he grabs it and twists it behind her back.
The ninja woman from the warehouse kicks out and catches him squarely in the knee. He swears and nearly looses his grip but then Gabe’s there, arm around her waist, holding her back.
“What the fuck’s going on here?” Gabe demands. Ninja Woman bites him and his outraged expression is hilarious. Hey, she shot Brian last time, Gabe should count himself lucky.
“She works for them,” Brian tells him, bending to rub his knee.
“I do not,” she says, the idiot strongly implied. She stops struggling and looks up at Gabe. “You’re Saporta, right?”
“What the hell?” Gabe asks.
She rolls her eyes. “You’re Saporta; he’s Schechter and if you don’t let go of me right now I’m going to kick you in the balls.”
Gabe doesn’t let go, so she tries. Gabe lets go.
Brian expects her to run, but Ninja Woman just leans against the banisters and folds her arms. “Don’t look at me like that,” she says, “The NSA is nowhere near as cunning as you think.”
Brian snorts. “And you want us to believe you’re not one of them?” He wishes Gabe would pull his gun on her. He doesn’t need to shoot her; Brian would just feel better if he knew she wasn’t going to try to kill him again.
She throws her hands up. “I’m not.”
“You shot me.” Brian is maybe still a little pissed about that. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re not one of us.”
“Yeah, well you knocked Spencer out and locked him away god knows where and you took--” She cuts herself off.
“Took?” Gabe prompts.
“Nothing.” She tips her chin up. “What happened to that kid you rescued?”
“How do you know about him?” Brian demands.
“I know everything,” she says grandly, but she looks worried; there’s something there and Brian thinks he might be able to get through her shields if it wasn’t for the constant droning noise in his head.
“Yeah,” he asks, “Then who the hell’s upstairs and why is he playing Jackson Pollock with the inside of my head?”
She pales. “Excuse me,” she says and grabs the banister, spinning past them onto the next flight of stairs up.
Brian looks at Gabe, Gabe sighs. They take off at a run and catch up with her at the top of the stairs, just as she reaches the landing.
It’s fucking loud up here, almost unbearable and Brian follows the thoughts helplessly. He presses his hand to the right door; it’s locked.
“Brian?” Gabe asks. His hand lands on Brian’s shoulder. He must have said Brian's name a couple of times by now, to sound that sharp.
“He’s through there,” Brian manages and stands back so Gabe can do his patented door-kicking move; Ninja Woman gets there before Gabe though, stomping the lock with one clunky boot heel.
There’s a guy lying in a heap on the floor. His arms are spread out in front of him, eyes dazed and unseeing, muttering under his breath. He’s hardly more than a kid, early twenties, no older than Ninja Woman, whose worry becomes a near-panicked internal Ryan, god no, Ryan--.
This close, it’s like someone’s trying to bomb Brian’s brain with Tim Burton nightmares. He can’t--
He staggers back out into the hallway, trying not to puke. People are dying in Ryan’s brain, over and over, different people, different deaths. He’s seeing them and Brian doesn’t think he means to but he’s projecting it and Brian’s got no doubt that it’s real.
Back before the NSA showed him how to control it, Brian’s powers were like this. The voices in his head were constant and unmanagable, overlapping each other until he’d believed the doctors when they told him he was crazy.
This is like that but magnified a thousandfold. Even getting it second-hand, Brian wants to tear his own brain from his skull. There’s no end to the voices: abandoned, crying children, desperate, dying mothers, the very worst the world has to offer and it’s all here trying to carve a space in Brian’s head.
“Ryan,” Ninja Woman whispers, dropping to her knees next to him. He doesn’t react but his dreams quiet a little, just enough for Brian to find his tongue.
“I doubt he can hear you,” Brian tells her. “What the hell is going on?”
When she looks up, her eyes are damp but her jaw is set, determined. “I thought he’d be in the warehouse, but he wasn’t.” She sounds like she’s blaming herself.
“What’s your name?” Gabe asks. He’s way better at this kind of thing than Brian.
“Z,” she says. Brian wonders if that’s a code.
“Is this normal for him?” Brian asks her.
Z looks miserable. “No. Seriously, no. He’s fine normally. They, he went out for coffee a week ago and he never came back. God.” She breaks off, huffing like she’s annoyed with herself for getting upset.
Gabe looks hard at Brian. Brian wonders if he looks as green as he feels. His head feels like it might explode. Gabe presses his gun into Brian’s hand. “Take this. Stay by the door. Shoot anyone who walks up the stairs.”
Brian closes his hands around the butt and doesn’t think about why he doesn’t carry a gun anymore, that the only thing more horrific than listening to someone’s final thoughts is the feeling when they suddenly stop.
Brian watches Gabe go and kneel by Ryan, pull his head up onto Gabe’s thigh. Ryan’s head rolls uselessly. If he wasn’t still projecting a 3D horror movie, Brian would think he was dead.
Gabe fumbles something out of his left breast pocket, a little vial that Brian hadn’t known he still carried. Morphine.
One dose used to be enough to shut off Brian’s telepathy for a couple of hours. Brian isn’t sure it’s going be enough to kill Ryan’s super-enhanced sense long enough for them to get him back to the NSA, but it's worth a shot.
“What are you doing?” Z hisses, leaning forward.
“Trust him,” Brian says, feeling Ryan’s visions start to calm, slow, calm until there’s nothing but perfect peace in Brian’s mind. Well, the perfect peace of Gabe’s thoughts and Z’s patchwork shields, anyway.
He lets himself sag against the wall for a second, relieved.
“All right, let’s get out of here.” Gabe gets his arms under Ryan’s back and swings him up over his shoulder.
“Careful,” Z snaps.
Gabe huffs and makes a face at her. “You want to carry him?”
“I could,” Z tells him.
Gabe looks her up and down. “Yeah, I bet you could.”
They don’t meet anyone on the way out the house and Brian knows he should just feel grateful but it seems too easy.
“Do they just abandon people?” Brian mutters under his breath, leading the way out with Gabe’s gun in his hand.
Z keeps pace with him. “These guys just kind of leave people when they’re through with them. Like they did that little boy you rescued. Speaking of, where is he?” Brian would call her tone casual except there’s an unmistakable edge to her words.
That’s the second time she’s mentioned him. Brian’s head is pounding, his heart racing too hard, and he’s too fucked up that he doesn’t realise that she’s so distracted she’s dropped her shields and he’s reading her mind until he’s already done it. He spins around.
“You’re Charlie’s mom?” he asks, amazed. She’s so young. Still, a lot of things make more sense now.
She only hesitates for a second. “Yes,” she snaps. “And I nearly got him back but then you had to get in the way.”
“Hey, hey. I am fucking trained for shit like that. Are you?” Brian doesn’t feel guilty. How the hell was he supposed to know? The cases he works don’t normally go like this.
“We freelance. We’ve been tracking these assholes for months; you guys didn’t even know they existed.” Her defiant posture wobbles. “Is he safe?”
Shit. Brian hesitates and apparently that’s enough because Z looks up at him with huge, furious eyes.
“Where’s my kid?” she asks, voice carefully dangerous.
“We’ll find him,” Gabe tells her and carries Ryan past them and out the house. Brian doesn’t want to know what Z will do to him if they don’t, but he thinks he’ll probably deserve it.
Master Post | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four