The NSA doctors don’t want to let them near Ryan once they get him back to the medlab which, well, Brian can see where they’re coming from. The dude doesn’t look good and Brian’s not exactly chomping at the bit to get to spend more time with him.
Gabe shoves his way through the curtain behind Z though when the doctors tell her she can come in, and Brian sighs and sits down outside in case he’s wanted.
He’s not exactly given to deep, introspective examinations of his feelings, but he’s got to admit he feels guilty about what happened with Charlie. As if he wasn’t feeling bad enough about that shit already. If Z’s really his mom and the way she was thinking about him, Brian’s got no doubt that she is, then he basically got in the middle of her rescue attempt and split them up again.
Hey, Victoria says from somewhere in the room and he jumps.
Hey, he thinks back at her, cautious in case her thoughts are still concussed and nauseating. How are you feeling?
Her thoughts shrug at him and she appears from around the corner, walking kind of stiffly, but looking way less pale. She’s wearing hospital green scrubs and Brian blinks because he doesn’t think he’s ever seen her in pants before.
“Stop thinking about my legs,” Victoria tells him, taking the seat next to his. It brings back memories of the first time they met. Except she was way more put together then and he was a little more fucked up. “Just a little,” she says softly and Brian doesn’t know if she’s talking about him or her. He doesn’t ask.
“There’s some fucked up shit going down,” Brian tells her instead.
Victoria hums. “Yes, I know. I scanned the guy you just brought in.” She makes a face. “That was a mistake.”
Brian shudders emphatically and agrees. They sit in companionable, slightly telepathically-scarred silence for a while. It’s impossible to be totally silent when someone can read your thoughts and you can read hers, but they’re both good at pretending for the sake of politeness. Well, Victoria’s polite; Brian just doesn't like to get personal.
Maybe ten minutes later, the curtain shoves aside and Gabe comes stalking out, looking frustrated. He’s followed by a sullen Z who glances longingly over her shoulder once before catching Brian watching and straightening her shoulders defiantly.
Gabe’s frown softens a little when he sees Victoria but he jerks his chin at Brian. “Come on,” he says, “Interrogation.”
“Ooh, I’m scared,” Z mutters, following.
Brian groans and stands up. He’s tired, he’d really like to go home not sit through an interrogation right now. Victoria pats him consolling on the back, and flashes him a picture of her big, fluffy bed and the long bubble bath she’s planning to have very soon. No one will ever believe Brian when he tells them, but Victoria is secretly kind of evil.
Usually, when Brian gets involved in suspect interviews instead of Victoria, Gabe makes him sit in the anteroom and watch through the two-way mirror. Apparently Brian does not make a convincing federal agent which, yeah, he could have told them that when they hired him. Today though, Gabe steers him straight into the main interrogation room.
“She already knows who you are,” he explains quietly when Brian shoots him a look.
It’s a good point, so Brian sits down at the desk and tries to look like he’s not winging it. Luckily, Brian’s damn good at pretending he’s got everything under control.
Z paces the room once, twice. Her long grey cardigan fans out behind her and there are butterfly transfers on her jeans’ back pockets; it makes her look like a middleschooler. She’s got to be older than she looks unless she had Charlie when she was in kindergarten, but Brian would bet she’s still really fucking young.
“Sit down,” Gabe tells her, tone deceptively easy. He kicks out the chair opposite Brian’s and lounges against the wall until Z sits. Gabe smiles. “Want to tell us what you know?”
Z glares at him. “What’s the point?” She points angrily at Brian. “He’ll just get it all out of my head, anyway.”
“You’re shielded,” Brian reminds her and doesn’t mention that sometimes her shields wobble.
Z rolls her eyes. “Right, like you can’t get past that. I’ve heard stories.” She’s putting on this tough girl act, but it’s easy to tell that whatever stories she’s heard have freaked her out.
“We don’t do that,” Brian says quickly.
He doesn’t need the warning look from Gabe to tell him that he could have used that as a bargaining chip. Just the idea of forcibly breaking into someone’s mind makes him want to hurl and he’s not leaving it hanging over Z like a threat. He’s heard the stories too, knows it’s technically possible, but it’s a line he won’t cross. He softens his voice because he’s never going to get anywhere with Z if they keep sniping at each other. “I don’t do that.”
Z looks at him for a long time. “How fucking noble,” she says eventually, sitting back. Brian can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic or not.
He decides to go with no, just because it’s easier. “Can you tell us what you know about--” He flounders, they know so little he doesn’t even know what questions to ask. “About the house.”
“No,” Z says and raises her eyebrows, challenging. Brian blows out a breath and sits back. He’s not going to so much as brush at her mind. If she knows enough to shield, she might know enough to be able to feel him there and then it’ll be as good as proving her right about him. “Not until you tell me what you’ve done with Spencer.”
Brian looks at Gabe. He actually doesn’t know, last he heard, Smith was still unconscious. It belatedly occurs to him that he should have wondered about that, considering he’s the one who knocked him out, but this week has been kind of busy.
Gabe leans forward. “I’ll go get him, but only if you’ll talk.”
Z folds her arms across her stomach. “Spencer first,” she says.
Gabe nods. “Deal.” He bounces up out of his seat, out the door and Brian and Z are left in awkward silence.
“Look, I’m-,” Brian starts then breaks off. He’s really shitty at apologies, especially when he was only partly in the wrong. “I’m sorry about Charlie.”
Z’s eyes flare but she keeps her voice level. “About fucking up my one chance to rescue him or about letting him getting taken again once you had him?”
Brian holds up his hands. “Hey, there is no way I could have known who you were at the warehouse. But, the other thing, yeah. I’m really fucking sorry we didn’t take better care of him.”
Z doesn’t reply, but after a minute she nods slowly. “I’m not sorry I shot you,” she says, “But I’m you know, sorry you got shot.”
Brian can’t help it, he laughs. “Fair enough,” he agrees.
Z’s lips twists like she’s contemplating smiling but before she makes up her mind, the door swings open and Gabe leads Spencer Smith into the room. Spencer looks as much like a college kid as he did when he was trying to smash Brian’s face in, but he’s scruffier now, his beard and hair ragged, a rainbow of green, brown and purple bruises across one side of his head.
Brian feels a twinge of guilt that he could really do without.
“Spencer,” Z breathes, the most emotion Brian’s ever heard in her voice and launches herself at Smith. She jumps up to get her arms around his neck and Spencer huffs but catches her, pressing his face into her shoulder and her face into his.
Brian looks away, catches Gabe’s eye. Gabe makes a big what can you do? gesture.
“Okay,” Z says after a minute. She curls her hand around Spencer’s wrist and leads him over to her chair, pushes him down into it before perching herself on the corner of the table. Spencer makes a protesting sound and starts to stand up, but Z just gives him a look until he sits down again.
“Okay?” Gabe asks. He’s got one ankle folded over the other, his hip cocked, like this is all just a boring Sunday afternoon for him.
Z draws one foot up onto the desk and wraps her hands around her knee. “This guy came to Ryan about a year ago,” she says clearly, “He said he was doing tests on people with special skills like Ryan’s and he was willing to pay.” She bites her lip. “We thought it was weird, but we really needed the money. Everything was fine to start but the he started asking about Charlie. We didn’t tell him anything.”
Gabe nods like he’s saying he believes she didn’t sell out her kid.
“We told him fuck no he wasn’t experimenting on Charlie and he was cool about it but then--” She twists her hands in the hem of her shirt and Spencer squeezes her knee. “Ryan took Charlie out for the afternoon and they never came back.”
“Where do you fit in?” Gabe asks, all his attention switching to Spencer, probably to give Z a moment.
“I’m the only other person who knows about Ryan’s whole telepathy thing,” Spencer tells him, “So Z came to me.”
Brian wonders what that was like, one second being in college, the next having to go rogue, break into warehouses, get beaten up and arrested by the NSA. Dude can’t be having a good month, really.
“How’d you know who we are?” Brian asks, because that’s been bothering him. Z recognised his name the first time she heard it.
Z laughs softly and glances at Spencer. He sucks on his lower lip, glances away then back again. “Yeah, okay, I may have done a little research.” He shrugs awkwardly like he still has some bruising.
“Here at the NSA, we like to call that kind of research hacking,’ Gabe tells him.
Spencer shrugs again, easier this time. “Dr N told Z that the government was using telepaths. We wanted to see if you guys were people we could trust.”
“Dr N?” Brian asks, ignoring the fact that whatever Spencer found apparently told him that the NSA weren’t trustworthy.
“That’s what he called himself,” Z says, “The guy doing all the research. I don’t know what his real name is.”
Brian believes her. Even if he couldn’t pick up the waves of worry from Spencer, he’d believe her; they talk a good game, but it’s so fucking obvious that they need help and they know it.
“Okay,” Gabe says. “Thanks.” He walks forward, one hand on the back of Brian’s chair while he leans forward across the table toward Z and Spencer. “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to prosecute you for shooting Brian or trying to knee me in the balls but you guys have got to stay out of this from now on. It’s way too big for you.”
“No way,” Z says immediately. Spencer takes a second to nod, agreeing with her. He looks tired. Then Z's on her feet again. “No. They’ve got my kid.”
“Yeah, and we’re going to get him back for you.” Gabe walks toward the door. “You guys can wait here ‘til Ryan’s released then we’re going to find you somewhere safe to stay, while we take these assholes down.” He winks at her. “We’re the professionals, baby.”
Z snorts inelegantly. Privately, Brian agrees.
Brian’s head hurts like fuck by the time he gets home. Every beat of his heart sends a pulse of pain from temple to temple and he hasn’t ruled out puking. In fact, puking sounds like it’d be a fun change of pace right about now.
His hands shake so hard on the keypad that he nearly punches his fist through the glass instead. Saving stupid kids from unidentified evil is exhausting, Jesus.
Brian has never loved his hallway as much as he does right now. It’s dark, it’s cool, it’s quiet, it’s--
Actually, it’s not that quiet.
“Schechter?” Bob calls from the living room, sounding like he’s just woken up. God, somehow Brian had forgotten all about him.
Bob rounds the corner into the hallway, but he looks like a pale blur until he’s almost on top of Brian. Brian’s eyes aren’t working right yet; spending too much time using his telepathy always makes at least one of his other senses go haywire.
“Where the hell have you-,” Bob starts to ask then breaks off. “Woah. You look like shit.”
Brian manages some kind of a laugh. It makes him sound like a demented serial killer but that’s okay, he feels like one too.
“Love you too, Bryar,” he says. His bedroom is less than twenty feet away, his bed less than twenty-five; he can get there. He’s just going to lean against this wall for a little while longer.
“Did you hit your head?” Bob asks then frowns, leaning closer. “Did you hit your head? You look totally out of it.”
Brian’s tempted to take a dip in Bob’s head to see exactly how shitty Brian looks to him, but the idea of trying to read any thoughts at all makes him gag a little.
“Brian?” Bob’s voice has gone soft and, great, Brian must look like he’s dying or something.
“I’m okay,” Brian says, “Headache.” He doesn’t mean to lean into Bob, but Bob puts his hand on Brian’s arm so what’s Brian supposed to do?
“Hey,” Bob says, sounding confused but game. He puts his hand on the back of Brian’s neck, hand all warm and heavy and grounding.
“Bad day,” he says into Bob’s shirt.
They stay like that longer than is good for Brian’s mental picture of himself as rough, tough and independent, but if there’s anyone Brian can be a little bit needy with, it’s Bob, has always been Bob.
Shit, Brian missed him.
Eventually, Bob lets go of him, turns him with a firm hand on his shoulder and nudges him toward his bedroom. “Go lie down,” he orders, “I’ll find you some aspirin.”
Brian’s half way through his bedroom door but he stops, shakes his head. “No,” he says, “No aspirin.”
Bob makes a face. “Dude, come on.”
Brian just shakes his head. It takes him that one step closer to puking. “No,” he repeats, knowing he’s being stubborn but, fuck, he watched Gabe slip Ryan morphine earlier and he’d wanted.
Bob grabs his arm before he can turn away. “Schechter, what the fuck is going on with you?” he demands.
Brian shakes his head. “Dude, just leave it.” He doesn’t say please, but he’s tempted to.
“No,” Bob tells him, squeezing Brian’s biceps hard. “No, I won’t fucking leave it.”
Bob’s pissed, but more than pissed, he’s scared, and even though Brian knows that, it doesn’t help.
“Just leave it,” he says and shoves Bob off, barrels his way into the bathroom. He splashes cold water on his face then spends ten minutes with his head pressed to the cool glass, just enjoying the quiet.
By the time he gets out of the bathroom, Bob’s nowhere to be found. Brian can feel him stewing in the living room but he’s too tired to go apologise for being an asshole.
He heads for bed instead, collapsing on top of his comforter fully dressed. He doesn’t even have time to blink before he’s asleep.
Brian’s locked up, locked away, forgotten, unknown. Every day is another round of medications that don’t do anything to take away the voices he hears, of doctors in white coats who shake their heads over him and dwindling visits from friends who don’t know how to talk to him anymore.
Brian shifts and thrashes on his bed, lost in his head. He’s never given up on anything before, but he’s given up on himself.
His mom came once, he thinks she cried; it might have been yesterday, might have been last year. He doesn’t know any more.
The door opens and someone walks in, grabbing his arm and Brian tries to struggle because he doesn’t want any more fucking steroids.
They’re saying, “Shit, Brian, wake up,” shaking him and wait, no, that makes no sense.
Brian’s eyes snap open and he grabs at the person standing over him, choking for breath and holding on to solid shoulders so hard that he thinks he could break them.
“Brian?” Bob asks and Brian makes a sound that isn’t a sob but isn’t anything good and drops his head against Bob’s shoulder.
“What were you dreaming about? What’s Walton?” Bob asks.
His arms are wrapped tight around Brian’s back and Brian should object to that but he doesn’t, because he's still mostly asleep and he’s wholly freaked out. That’s the only excuse he has for grabbing Bob’s collar and dragging him in closer. He hates those dreams, hasn’t had them for a while now, but this one was as vivid as they’ve ever been: Walton House at its fucking finest.
He wants to shut Bob up so he doesn’t ask again and he wants to climb into Bob’s head where there’s always peace.
“Sorry,” Brian says even though he knows Bob won’t know what he’s apologising for and lets himself slip inside Bob’s head a little, past the surface thoughts which are tired and worried and into the place Bob keeps in his head for keeping the beat, like a steady, breathing metronome.
It’s damn soothing and Bob’s right there, saving Brian’s sanity like always, so Brian has to kiss him.
Brian would like it noted that he’s really fucked up right now.
Bob tries to say something against Brian’s mouth but Brian licks his bottom lip and Bob’s mouth just falls open a little, enough. Brian’s not playing fair because he’s right there inside Bob’s head and he knows what Bob wants and--
Shit. Brian pulls back, disgusted with himself. Wow, way to ignore so many boundaries.
“I’m sorry,” he says again. He always promised himself he wouldn’t let this happen. He’s wanted it for years and he’s caught every thought and fantasy Bob’s had about wanting Brian back, but Bob’s never gone for it and that’s what matters. Brian’s learned that what’s inside people’s heads doesn’t matter; it’s what they do that counts.
But Bob’s not shoving him away and he’s not letting Brian go now that Brian’s started to squirm. He smoothes his hands down Brian’s back, holds him firmly. “It’s okay,” he says and there are too many thoughts in his head for Brian to process easily, but he’s not lying. That’s important. “I’m not gonna make you talk.”
Brian almost laughs because that’s actually not the worst of his worries right now. But Bob’s kissing him now, careful kisses that make Brian’s breath catch and his heart start to pound from something other than nightmares.
He closes his eyes and lets himself get lost in it, in the steady rhythm that lets him think nothing but Bob.
Brian wakes again later that night. He’s not sure if he’s embarrassed or relieved that somewhere in middle of all that kissing (fuck, he kissed Bob) he must have fallen asleep. It’s probably for the best.
It’s still not even close to morning, that's why he doesn’t bother getting up. It has nothing at all to do with not wanting to disturb Bob who’s spread-eagled across more than his half of the bed, snoring softly, his back broad and touchable under his t-shirt.
Brian’s not sentimental; he’s just lazy.
Bob twitches a little in his sleep, curling one arm closer to his chest then flinging it out, sudden and unexpected. The surgery scar on his wrist shines whitely in the moonlight and Brian can’t resist touching it, stroking his thumb softly over the old mark.
Whatever Bob’s dreaming about has to be good because he doesn’t wake, just curls his fingers a little toward Brian’s but, fuck no, Brian is not waking up in the middle of the night to hold hands. He has some standards.
Distantly, he hears a car pull up outside on the street, but doesn’t really pay any attention to it. The woman next door works shifts at the hospital; she’s always coming home at weird times.
There’s a sudden crash, loud and shocking in the otherwise silent night and Brian’s out of bed before he registers that a window’s broken, thoughts from outside rushing in through the broken shields.
They coalesce in his mind so he knows what’s coming just before it does, but too late to do anything about it.
“Bob!” he yells, waking Bob and pushing him toward the door just as a whoosh-roar noise of igniting fire fills his ears.
“What the fuck?” Bob staggers against the doorframe, but he stays on his feet.
There’s smoke billowing from the kitchen doorway already and Brian swears, grabbing Bob’s wrist and pulling him toward the nearest exit, the side door off the living room.
Except no, that’s not right. There are people outside that door, waiting for them. They expect them to choose that exit.
“Not that way,” he says and accidentally inhales a lungful of smoke, folding forward with the force of his coughing. He gives up to talking and just plants his feet, physically holding Bob back.
“What the hell?” Bob coughs too. “Why not?”
Brian shakes his head. “Trust me?” he asks, and fuck it hurts to speak. His eyes are smarting. The fire’s spreading way too fast.
The alarm is blaring and that’s good, help will be here soon; not before they suffocate, of course, but soon.
There’s thick smoke between them and the front door, flames are licking the edges of the carpet. God, Brian’s going to kill someone for this.
He grabs Bob’s wrist and pulls him toward the front door.
“Brian, what the-?” Bob protests but breaks off to cough. Brian drops to his knees, dragging Bob down with him and holds his breath, trying not to inhale while they crawl clumsily toward the door.
Shit. He’s had training in this - one thing telepaths are great at is finding unconscious people in burning buildings - but it’s totally different in real life. For one thing, he really misses the oxygen tank.
His head’s swimming; his eyes are watering so hard that he can’t see more than indistinct shapes and he’s not sure they’re going to--
His outstretched hand collides with something solid, warm but wooden and if he had time to spare, he might say a prayer of thanks for that.
The door latch is hot, it burns his grasping fingers, but he gets it open on the second try and they spill outside into dark, quiet, clean air.
“Bob?” Brian looks over his shoulder; Bob’s crawling out after him. His face is red from the heat, lower lip cracked and starting to bleed. There’s black soot in his hair and smeared across his face and chest but he meets Brian’s eye, staggers with him down the path to the sidewalk.
They fall back to their knees, holding each other up, and Brian can’t do anything but fight for every painful breath while fire engines scream around them and Brian’s neighbours start to swarm from their houses.
“Are you okay?” Bob asks, mouth right by Brian’s ear.
Brian nods but he doesn’t let go of his death grip (oh, bad choice of words) on Bob’s forearms.
“What the fuck was that?” Bob says, lifting his head to stare toward Brian’s house. Flames are licking out of all the front windows now and Brian can’t imagine anything’s going to be salvageable. Shit.
He blinks hard.
“I-,” he starts to say, because he’s going to have to tell Bob some of what’s going on now. He can’t see any way around it.
Before he can get the rest of the sentence out though, something along the lines of I kind of work for the government. And there seem to be these people who want to kidnap telepaths. Which, by the way, did I mention that I’m one of those?, a car screeches to a stop an inch from Brian’s bare heel and twin door slams, timed perfectly, tell him the cavalry has arrived.
“Brian!” Victoria shouts at the same time that Gabe is saying, “Schechter, Jesus,” and, great, Brian’s on his knees on his lawn holding onto Bob, his house is burning down and the situation is about to get even more complicated.
Brian staggers to his feet and, after a beat, so does Bob. Bob takes one look at Victoria and Gabe in their power suits, the kind that scream fed to anyone paying attention, and starts radiating confusion.
“Get in the ambulance,” Gabe tells him, gripping Brian’s arm. Brian lets Gabe steer him away from the house and pretends like he doesn’t know Gabe’s relieved he’s okay.
“Bob,” Brian says, looking over his shoulder.
Bob shoots Gabe and Victoria a confused look but he follows Brian into the back of the ambulance.
“We’ll catch up,” Victoria tells them and slams the ambulance door shut.
“Um, what?” Bob asks as the ambulance starts up. “Why do I feel like I’m being hustled away? Don’t you want--”
“It’s fine,” Brian interrupts him. He rubs at his chest. His lungs feel weird. He concentrates on that and not the fact that they’re being whisked away to the NSA and that he still has no idea how he’s going to get out of this without telling Bob the truth.
Brian only realises he’s thumping his own knee when Bob’s hand closes over his. “Okay, Schechter?” he asks quietly, too quiet for the medics up front to hear.
Brian nods jerkily. His chest still feels weird and he knows that the medlab is going to be their first stop. Fucking great.
“I really fucking hate people who try to kill me,” he mutters.
Bob goes still then, “Well, yeah,” he agrees, sounding totally lost but like it’s still a sentiment he can get behind. “You’re going to tell me what--”
“Yeah,” Brian interrupts tiredly. “I’m going to tell you what’s going on.” Somehow. Preferably not the whole truth, though.
They’re rushed straight through to the medlab when they reach the NSA which is a small blessing.
Bob’s staring around himself with wide eyes, eyebrows climbing so high they’re lost under the messy tangle of his hair and his thoughts are a mess, nothing like the calm ones Brian can usually rely on. Pretty much the only thing Bob’s reassuring himself with is Brian’s not freaking out, which makes Brian feel like a giant heel.
Blackinton, one of Gabe’s favourite minions, arrives just as the doctors are telling Brian and Bob that they’re going to live.
“They’re back,” Blackinton says, catching Brian’s eye and jerking his chin toward upstairs.
Brian nods in acknowledgement.
“Yeah, coming,” he says and Blackinton disappears.
“Did we just get summoned?” Bob demands, sliding off his gurney and following Brian across the lab.
“Yeah, no,” Brian says. Then, even though he knows it’s a longshot. “Hey, why don’t you stay down here?”
Bob snorts. “Nice try, Schechter,” he says and, yeah, that’s pretty much what Brian thought he’d say.
Bob’s eyes get wider and wider as he follows Brian into the elevators, up to the thirty-ninth floor and through the maze of corridors to Gabe’s section.
Everyone they pass greets Brian and, just to emphasise that he’s Someone around here, a group of interns stop gossiping and start trying to look like they’re working as he passes by. If he weren’t distracted by Bob’s ever-growing confusion, he’d take a minute to explain to them that, yeah, that’s not how telepathy works.
Victoria stands up when Brian pushes through the swing door to the Major Crimes bullpen. She’s looking better than the last time Brian saw her, way less like she might keel over. Her eyes flick to Bob and nice, she thinks approvingly at Brian. Brian wants to kill her. She grins.
“You okay?” Gabe asks, reaching out like he wants to put his hand on Brian’s shoulder but doesn’t.
Brian clears his throat. Seriously, his throat fucking kills.
“Two guys,” he says, “Did you find them? They were waiting round back, expecting us to come out that way.”
Bob still next to him. “What?” he asks.
No one answers him. Apparently he’s Brian’s responsibility, great.
“No, they’d gone by the time we got there,” Victoria tells him. “What did they look like?”
Brian shakes his head, “Didn’t see.”
“I think maybe I did,” Bob volunteers, still looking epically weirded out by everything.
His thoughts are projecting pretty strongly and Brian latches onto one in particular before he realises he’s done it. Bob did get a look at one of the guys; he saw his reflection in the long hall mirror when they were on their knees, crawling to the front door.
Brian gets a good look at Bob’s memory of the guy but he’s going to wait for Bob to give it because, well. Victoria’ must be seeing what Brian’s seeing though, and before Brian can stop her, she’s flagging down Suarez.
She rattles off a description of the guys Bob saw and Brian swallows hard, watching as Bob’s eyes get wider and wider.
“Okay,” Bob says slowly when Victoria’s finished and Suarez has nodded and hurried away. He looks at Brian then back at Victoria, eyebrows knotting together. “I’m confused.”
There’s a pause then, “No, you’re not,” says Gabe, because he’s an unhelpful asshole.
“No, I’m not,” Bob agrees slowly. It’s actually worse knowing that he’s worked something out but waiting for him to say the words. “I know there’s another explanation here. Please tell me you didn’t just read my mind?” He’s looking at Victoria.
Victoria hesitates. She flashes Brian a quick question and no, Brian has not told Bob and no, she doesn’t get to judge him.
“I did,” she agrees. She sounds apologetic but Brian knows that’s mostly for his benefit. It doesn’t matter to her what Bob thinks of them.
It matters to Brian though.
“Bob,” he says and Bob rounds on him.
“Schechter, you owe me so many answers.” He folds his arms.
“He really does,” Gabe agrees and wow, he is so off Brian’s Christmas card list. “You’re gonna wanna wait and have this conversation somewhere more private.” He waves his hand meaningfully.
Brian sighs. “Yeah, okay,” he agrees; they’ve attracted quite the audience. He puts his hand on Bob’s shoulder and gives him a little push toward Gabe’s office. “Trust me, Bryar,” he adds quietly when Bob hesitates.
That’s the third time he’s used that line tonight and it used to make him feel good that Bob always, always trusts him, but he knows that after they’ve had the conversation that’s coming, Bob’s never going to trust him again.
Bob rounds on him as soon as the door’s shut. “I am having a really bad night, Brian,” he warns, “Don’t fuck with me here.”
Brian shakes his head. “Do I look like I’m fucking with you?” Hell, he doesn’t have enough energy to fuck Bob right now let alone fuck with him.
Bob sits on the corner of Gabe’s desk. He picks up the little green rubber snake that Gabe claims has been known to give inspirational pep talks at three a.m.
Brian scratches his neck. “This is the NSA,” he says, “The National Security Administration. They’re feds.”
Bob raises his eyebrows, all no shit?
Brian winces. “They employ telepaths? Like Asher and-” me. He can’t say it. He folds his arms. “It’s not as weird as it sounds.”
Bob just looks at him for so long that Brian has to look away. He paces away from Bob to stare blankly out Gabe’s window. Even in the middle of the night, it’s a damn good view, right over the bay. Brian tries to hypnotise himself on the flashing lights on top of a building a few blocks over.
Brian, can you read my mind? he hears Bob asks and is answering, “What? No,” before he realises that, oh holy fucking shit, Bob did not ask that question out loud.
Brian makes himself turn around.
Bob’s mouth is slightly open, his eyes very wide. His thoughts are all over the place.
He doesn’t really believe what he’s suspecting, still can’t quite make himself believe it, and Brian knows he could bullshit his way out of this.
He doesn’t though. “Yes,” he says, trying again, and it feels like something hard and fatal is lodged in his chest.
Bob’s eyes go wide. “Shit,” he says then he apparently wakes up to exactly what that means. Fuck, can you read my thoughts right now? Fuck, are you-?
“Bob,” Brian interrupts because he has to, can’t cope with listening to Bob freak out right now. Bob never freaks out. Bob’s calm and logical and calms Brian down when he freaks out. That’s how they work. “Bob, please.”
He puts a hand on Bob’s arm and he’s never begged for anything, but he’ll beg for this. Bob doesn’t give him a chance though; he flinches at Brian’s touch and jerks away, backing up one step then another.
Considering the look on Bob’s face right now, it’s really hard to remember that a couple of hours ago, they’d been kissing and Brian had actually felt good. It doesn’t help at all that Bob’s now thinking of exactly the same thing.
Oh, god. This is pretty much number one on Brian’s list of nightmares.
“Bob,” he tries again. He doesn’t really seem able to say anything else.
“What the fuck?” Bob asks. His voice is quiet and controlled, the way it gets when he’s really, really angry. “You’re a secret government mindreader?” He laughs bitterly. “Is this the fucking Twilight Zone?”
“Telepath,” Brian corrects automatically. “Mindreader isn’t PC.” He’s trying to get Bob to smile, but it falls completely flat. Bob’s retreating in his own mind, skittering around thoughts that he doesn’t want Brian to see, because, because he doesn’t trust Brian any more.
Brian steps back and holds up his hands. “I’m not in your mind right now,” he says, drawing his shields tight around himself because he doesn’t want to listen to Bob start hating him and, even if he did want to, he wouldn’t.
“Well, thank you,” Bob spits, “That’s really fucking reassuring. You’re not in my mind right now. Thanks, Schechter, that makes all the difference.”
He turns toward the door and no, fuck no, Brian cannot let them end like this. Bob’s his best friend; Brian would be even more of a headcase than he already is without Bob.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” he says quickly. He’s normally really bad at apologies, but this one comes easy. “It wasn’t anything personal. No one knows.”
Bob’s eyes go wide then narrow, angrier still. “It wasn’t personal?” He throws his hands up. “If you’ve been in my head all this time, you’ll know just how fucking personal it was.” His chin is set and he meets Brian’s eye.
“I’m sorry,” Brian tries again, no caveat this time.
Bob nods, lips pursed. “Someone said something about a hotel,” he says, hand on the door, “I’ll see you around.”
Late at night, three days after Bob got out of the hospital, Brian got a text message from Gabe.
heard you met my vicky-t. smart girls are so fucking hot right?
Brian rolled his eyes. Still, it was quiet as fuck in his apartment and he’d finished all the teevo-ed episode of Friday Night Lights that he’d been saving for after the album dropped; he figured he might as well reply.
The keys blurred in front of his eyes a little and he rubbed them. Fuck, he was tired. sure, if you say so he wrote back and poured himself some more knock-off JD. It was the only thing that had been left in his liquor cabinet and it tasted like someone had pissed in paintstripper.
Gabe took so long to reply that Brian finished off the bottle while he was waiting. Even then, the reply was only oh yeah baby trust me.
Brian felt weirdly disappointed. It wasn’t like he’d wanted Gabe to pick up Asher’s cause to recruit Brian back into the NSA, he’d just wanted... something.
Fuck it, he’d just wanted some human interaction, even if it came from Gabe. It wasn’t like he was lonely, Brian didn’t get lonely, but Bob had Patrick to take care of him and Brian had felt totally in the way when he’d called earlier and he didn’t really have anyone else.
Or no one else he could call up half drunk and totally depressed, at any rate.
Fucking Asher, he’d been doing fine until she came along, lecturing him on how to live his life and telling him shit about Travis. The idea of Travis in some government rehab centre made Brian feel all twisted up and sick inside.
He picked his coat off the floor and let himself out of his apartment. Except it was too warm for a jacket so he left it on the doorstep. He couldn’t be bothered to care if anyone stole it.
Brian usually avoided the liquor store on the corner of his block because it was kind of sleazy, but it was close so he ducked inside.
If he hadn’t been drinking, if he hadn’t taken some Vicodin earlier, he would have known something was wrong way sooner. As it was, he was halfway into the store before he looked up and saw two shotguns pointed at him.
Well, shit. This was not his week.
“Woah,” he said automatically and held up his hands. He could kick ass when necessary but not two-on-one and not when they were pointing shotguns at him. “You know what, turns out I’m in totally the wrong store.” He started to back away. The door was still open against his palm and if he could just--
He glanced over Shotgun Guy One’s shoulder and, shit.
The cashier - pretty, blonde Greta who wanted to play the piano professionally and always looked at Brian like she was disappointed in him - was crouched on her knees in the middle of one aisle, hands cupped over the back of her head.
“You were going?” Shotgun Guy Two prompted. Brian wondered if he was actually dumb enough to let Brian leave.
“Yeah, not so much actually,” Brian decided and let the door swing closed.
The girl’s - Greta. Brian always felt weird about knowing people’s names when they’d never told him - head snapped up. She didn’t look disappointed this time; she looked like she thought he was crazy.
He could live with that.
Someone gave him a shove in the middle of his back and Brian tripped over his feet and landed in front of Greta.
Shit, well that was embarrassing. Less JD before confronting armed robbers, he decided.
“Hi,” he said to Greta, resisting the urge to rub his knee because, shit, that had hurt. Fuck, this rescuing people thing was harder than it looked. Back at the NSA they’d made out like Brian would be good at it or something.
“Hi,” she echoed, her eyes wide and confused.
“So, I’m Brian,” was about as far as he got in his suave and reassuring introduction before something big, heavy and painful clocked him in the side of the head.
That was that for Brian for a while.
When he blinked his way back to consciousness, his head throbbed and he was propped into a sitting position against a rack of wine coolers. Classy.
“Are you okay?” Greta whispered and Brian winced when he tried to turn his head to get a look at her.
“Peachy,” he croaked. He’d never actually gotten knocked out before, no one had told him it would feel this shitty.
Her eyes flicked over to when the Shotgun Twins were standing talking to each other in harsh whispers. The cash draw was upturned and empty on the counter.
“I don’t know what they’re waiting for,” she murmured. “They’ve got all the money.”
Right, that was where Brian came in. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. He never normally had to work to hear someone’s thoughts; most of his time was spent working not to hear them. There was too much shit in his body though and his head hurt like fuck. He couldn’t hear anything.
“Hey, are you all right?” Greta touched his arm. “Brian?”
“Yeah.” He opened his eyes and frowned when there were suddenly two of her. He blinked until she resolved back into one. Better. “Just got a headache.” That made more sense than my spidey sense is failing me.
Greta hesitated. “I guess we just-- Do we wait?” She looked fidgety like she really wanted to do something.
“I guess.” Except Brian was totally onboard with doing something. If only he could concentrate long enough to think what.
His head throbbed and he reached up to see if he was bleeding, stopped when his hands started to shake. That made no sense, he wasn’t scared. He didn’t really care if someone wanted to put a bullet in his brain. Stupid hands, he thought, watching as they continued to tremble even after he’d curled them into fists.
Greta shot him a look.
“Are you jonesing?” she hissed, like that would be way worse than being held hostage.
“No,” Brian snapped because he wasn’t, no way. He just felt like shit. “I got hit on the head, remember?”
Greta rolled her eyes. “Sure,” she said, “You looked like shit before that too,” and took a bottle of cheap vodka down off the shelf just above her head. She cracked the top off efficiently and handed it to Brian. “On the house,” she added archly.
Brian wanted to put the bottle back out of principle because he wasn’t fucking jonesing. His mouth was dry though and the bitter scent of vodka made him thirsty.
The first gulp didn’t do anything and Brian felt a rush of triumph that felt a little too much like relief. The second was the same but the third-- He took his third swallow and suddenly the shakes were gone. His head felt clear, his stomach settled.
Shit. He took another swig.
“Woah, okay,” Greta said and took the bottle away from him. “That’s enough.”
“I don’t like vodka,” he told her helplessly. Shit. This was... not a good development. Maybe Asher hadn't been so far off after all, oh fuck.
Greta patted his hand. “You’ll be okay,” she said shortly, like she really wanted to be concerned but was kind of preoccupied by the whole thing with the armed robbers. “Now, listen. I have a plan.”
Brian shook his head, trying to clear it, because fuck, yes, they did need a plan.
Greta grabbed his arm and gave him a little shake. “Are you listening to me?” At Brian’s nod, she continued, “There’s a phone in the office out back. If I can get to it, I can call the cops.”
“No. What?” Brian didn’t like that plan. He should be the one doing the heroics; he was a tour manager, hail marys always fell to the tour manager.
Greta shook his head like she’d prefer he wasn’t here. That wasn’t right. He’d come in here to save her. “I need you to stay here,” she told him, using a hand on the shelf to pull herself to her feet.
Brian tried to pull himself up to, but stumbled. His elbow cracked one bottle against another, loud, and Greta dropped back to the floor just before Shotgun Guy One looked over.
“Hey! Keep still,” he shouted, and glared at them for a while before turning back to his buddy.
“Sorry,” Brian muttered, embarrassed. Greta didn’t bother to reassure him. Her eyes were flicking from the Shotgun Twins to the counter and back. Brian guessed that was the way she had to go for the phone.
“Wait,” Brian said. He rubbed a hand over his face, trying to compose himself into something reassuring when she ignored him. He used to be reassuring. “You’re never going to get past them like this. Give me a minute, I’ll distract them.” He was apparently totally fucking useless at plans and saving the day, but he was pretty sure he could still be a decoy.
“How are you going to distract them?” Greta asked suspiciously. “I don’t like this plan if it leads to you getting killed.”
“It won’t.” It probably wouldn’t. Maybe. That wasn’t really the point. He rolled up into a crouch. “Ready?” She didn’t look convinced, but she nodded. “Okay.”
Brian stood up and weaved his way out of their aisle, to the middle of the store. It really wasn’t hard to act like he couldn’t walk in a straight line. Whiskey plus a blow to the head plus vodka made walking kind of challenging.
“Hey,” he called out. The Shotgun Twins’ heads jerked up in a way that would have been comical under other circumstances. “Hey, guys, can you maybe get on with it. I got places to be, you know?” He was exaggerating the slur in his voice, even if only slightly.
“Yeah?” Shotgun Guy One stepped forward. He was blond, kind of skinny, Brian could probably have taken him under other circumstances. “You want I should hit you again?”
Brian smiled lazily and stepped back. “Nah. I was thinking I could just leave.”
“Like fuck,” Shotgun Guy One lifted his shotgun. He had to adjust his hold like he couldn’t get a good grip and Brian wondered if he’d ever shot anyone before.
Brian took a steadying breath and hoped he knew what he was doing. Just a tiny peak into this guy’s head would have been nice, just to know if he was really going to shoot Brian.
“It’s been fun though,” Brian told him. He reached back to where he was expecting the door handle to be. It wasn’t and he stumbled, his hand slid against the door, barking his palm on the wood.
Shit, talk about method acting.
Brian tried to keep his footing, but his centre of gravity wasn’t where he was expecting it to be and he landed on his knees. He winced when someone laughed at him, both of them probably. Fuck, this wasn’t working out how it was supposed to.
“You’re a fucking mess, man,” Shotgun Guy One told him and smacked Brian between the shoulder blades with the butt of his shotgun.
Brian sprawled forward, hands sliding on the dusty floor. He froze when his gaze slid past Shotgun Guys One and Two and saw Greta, totally exposed and halfway toward the counter. “Wait,” Brian rasped, not sure if he was talking to Greta or the guys who were about to turn around and see her.
Shotgun Guy One kicked Brian’s shoulder lazily and turned around. He stopped when he saw Greta. “Jesus, seriously?” he asked and shot at her.
She dove out the way but she was too slow. Brian watched blood bloom across the back of her white shirt and let his head fall to the floor, helpless and sick, before he could see her fall.
There was silence after the gunshot.
Brian closed his eyes. None of this was fucking real, he decided. No way had he just let that happen.
“Shit,” he heard one of the two assholes mutter.
“Come on,” the other one said, “We’ve got to get out of here. Forget the rest of the money.”
Brian didn’t move. Maybe it was his civic duty to stop them or whatever but fuck that. Look where Brian’s help had gotten Greta. He reached out tentatively, wondering if he could lock onto her thoughts, wondering if she still had any thoughts.
All he got was fuzz and he hoped that just meant his telepathy was still fucked not-- not anything else.
“What are we going to do with him?” Brian heard and then his arm was being grabbed and he was pulled back to his knees. Fucking assholes always dragging him around. Not that he cared, he honestly did not care.
He let himself sag against the hold. They wanted him upright, they could fucking keep him that way themselves.
He’d fucked up, it was as stark and as obvious as the end of the barrel that suddenly pressed against his forehead, two cold, metal circles pressing hard into his skin.
Brian had been wondering lately how he was going to die. At least this way would be quick.
“Go on then,” Brian said because he never knew when to shut up. “I’ve got a headache, anyway.”
He closed his eyes.
A shot rang out and Brian... did not die. Huh.
He opened his eyes. Shotgun Guy One was sprawled on the floor, a neat hole in the centre of his forehead and a spreading stain behind his head.
Shotgun Guy Two was staring at him with huge, shocked eyes. He turned to Brian, mouth open.
“Drop the gun,” Gabe’s voice said clearly over Brian’s head and he did.
Brian stared. He genuinely could not believe he was still alive. Only Gabe’s hands on his shoulders stopped him pitching back onto the ground.
“You okay?” Gabe asked quickly.
“Greta,” Brian said pointing.
“On it,” Gabe said, passing Brian off to someone else immediately. The someone else turned out to be Victoria Asher but Brian was feeling too bad to remember that he didn’t like her.
She pulled up onto his feet, not letting him stay and watch Gabe bend over Greta. “You’re a mess,” she told him, helping him to sit down on the steps outside the store.
“Shut up,” he told her, lack the energy to mean it. He let his head fall into his hands, dizzy.
“Here.” Victoria slapped his hand with the side of a cold bottle and Brian was ashamed to admit that his first thought was soaring hope that it was beer.
It was water.
After Brian had drained half, he looked up and found Victoria watching him with serious eyes.
“Stay there,” she said, “I’ll be back in a minute.” Brian watched her move to a car parked along the street, lean her head in to talk to someone in the back. He lost interest and turned back to the store, straining his fuzzy, fucked up telepathy for any kind of clue about how Greta was doing.
“You’re going to strain something,” he heard and whipped his head around so fast it took his eyes a second to catch up.
“Travis,” he said and only didn’t stand up because he was pretty sure he couldn’t.
Travis looked like shit, pale and thin with bags under his eyes but his smile was wide and when he dropped down on the step next to Brian and flung an arm around him, he felt exactly the same.
Brian hadn’t broken down in front of Travis since he was seventeen and newly out of Walton House and he wasn’t going to do it now, but he maybe clung a little to Travis’ forearm when Travis let it dangle casually down over Brian’s shoulder. Travis didn’t mention it.
“Shit, man,” Travis breathed eventually, “You stink of booze. I kind of want to lick you.”
Brian let his head drop forward, shaky. “I really fucked up,” he said, because this was Travis. Brian could say that shit to him.
Travis hummed. “Vicky-T said some girl got shot,” he said, not like he was asking.
“Greta.” Brian swallowed hard. “It was my fault.”
“You shoot her?” Travis asked.
Brian shook his head. “Still my fault,” he said and Travis didn’t argue. They didn’t say anything, just watched as cops bustled around, sealing off the area with tape and roadblocks. There was an ambulance parked right in front of the store. Brian didn’t know if it was a good or bad sign that they hadn’t brought Greta out yet.
After a while, Victoria came out of the store. She knelt down in front of Brian but didn’t try to touch him. “Your girl’s going to be okay,” she told him and Brian stared at her until his eyes prickled and he couldn’t see her anymore.
He blinked and swallowed hard. He couldn’t think of anything to say. She nodded anyway, smiled at Travis and walked over to talk to one of the local cops.
“Okay,” Travis said, sitting back and moving his arm away from Brian. Brian felt cold. “Here’s where I apologise.”
Brian’s head snapped up. “What?” he asked. He was kind of expecting an ass kicking, not an apology.
Travis laughed. “Ass kicking in a minute, yeah? Vicky-T tell you where I’ve been?”
Brian tried not to think rehab but it was basically impossible not to think of something you were trying not to think about.
“Yep.” Travis nodded slowly, like he couldn’t tell the confusion and fucking terror that shot through Brian at that. “We’re kind of big on the whole apologising thing in rehab. So.” He shook out his shoulders, like maybe this was hard for him too. “I’m sorry I told you that you needed pills and booze and shit to deal with being a telepath. You don’t.”
“Maybe you don’t,” Brian said automatically then felt like an asshole. What he should have said was that Travis didn’t teach him that; Travis made it sound okay, but the doctors at Walton House taught it to him first, always telling him he’d be okay if they could just find the right cocktail of drugs.
Travis just shrugged. “You don’t need it,” he said. “Shit like that just masks it, yeah? And you need more every time for the same effect and then you end up drunk off your ass in the middle of a robbery, watching pretty girls get shot.” His bland expression was totally fake. “Or whatever.”
Brian shook his head. He knew something had to change, he just--
He couldn’t cope with the idea of changing it. The last time he hadn’t been able to control his telepathy, he’d ended up in Walton. He could not, would not, go through that again.
“Hey,” Travis said, “I’m not here to drag you kicking and screaming somewhere you don’t want to go.” He grinned suddenly. “Actually, that’s bullshit. I’m going to stick around until you realise you realise I’m totally right.”
“You can’t stay with me,” Brian said, because snark was expected of him, not because he meant it.
Travis sighed, clasping a hand to his chest like Brian had wounded him. That just made Brian think of Greta again and the tiny bubble of pleasure he’d felt at getting to hang with Travis died away.
“Dude, I broke out of rehab for you, you better be fucking grateful,” Travis told him.
“Broke out?” Brian repeated. “What?”
“Well.” Travis made a so-so gesture with his hand. “My twenty-eight days were up but I was kind of planning to stay a while. It’s cool there. They have good TV. But when Victoria let me know you were being a stubborn little bitch about coming to join me, I figured I better come down here myself. Didn’t expect to find you in the middle of a fucking hostage situation though.”
Brian just shook his head because this was all way too much. He was starting to get a hangover even though he wasn’t even fucking sober yet, his telepathy was twitching back to life in fits and snatches, and he just wanted to lie down and sleep for a year.
“If I let you come sleep in my spare room, are you going to lecture me about rehab again in the morning?” Brian asked because he couldn’t face any more tonight.
“Yep,” Travis told him cheerily. He rolled to his feet and pulled Brian up with him. “Every day. Twice on Sundays.”
“Great,” Brian muttered. He didn’t want Travis to lecture him, but he kind didn’t want him not to either. He knew he couldn’t keep on like this. Greta had gotten shot because he’d been drunk off his ass and useless; that wasn’t okay.
He let Travis pull him to his feet and nodded at Victoria when he caught her eye. They were bringing Greta out, carrying her on a stretcher and Brian straightened his shoulders.
“Travis?” he called. Travis turned back a step, let Brian fall in beside him.
“Good TV?” he asked, because he couldn’t think how else to say okay, maybe I’m listening.
Travis draped his arm back around Brian’s shoulders. “The best,” he said and helped Brian drag himself along the sidewalk, back to his apartment.
Master Post | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four