February 25, 2015: OK, I realize that this is a very short chapter, and I'm sorry about that. But I thought you'd all prefer to at least get this much rather than have me try to hold out to write another scene and then ending up waiting another four months. -.-;;; Anyway, in this chapter we FINALLY get out of the Amis headquarters!
…and meet Gavroche. ;D
Muet - Chapter 6
"Mr. Hojas! You are late. What's your excuse today?"
Feuilly threw his duffel bag into a locker and grabbed his work coat, slipping it on as he ducked past his superior and muttered, "Car trouble, Mr. Blackwell. I'm sorry. Won't happen, again."
Mr. Blackwell tapped his pen against the top of the clipboard he was holding, a deep frown resting on his face. "That's what you said the last time. And the time before that. Consider yourself on notice, Mr. Hojas. One more bout of 'car trouble' and I'll see you out of this job so quickly you'll feel like you've been hit by one!"
Feuilly cursed to himself as he ducked out of the staff room, grabbing his own clipboard on the way. Mr. Blackwell was a new supervisor at the Hempstead Center and he'd taken a dislike to Feuilly - Sergio Hojas, as those at the center knew him - from the moment they'd first crossed paths. Lance Blackwell was here to do a job; nothing more. He didn't care about the children they screened. He didn't care about the families they tore apart. He didn't care about anything but the kickbacks he got from the government for every psychic child found in his jurisdiction. This was a step on the ladder upward for him, and he didn't care if he built that ladder out of the bodies and souls of innocent children.
…but he had a point.
Feuilly had been allowing himself to get lazy in his actions lately. He spent too much time in the city, tracking down information, delivering food and antibiotics. He let himself get too wrapped up in the day-to-day lives of his neighbors and their families. He was here to do a job, too. And it wouldn't help any of them if he lost his ability to do it because he couldn't tear himself away from poor Mrs. Cobb who'd begged him to fix her leaky faucet this morning. It wouldn't do to help her, just to let a child slip through his fingers because he wasn't where he was supposed to be to catch them.
As Feuilly settled into his office, he braced his head in his hands and began rubbing futilely at his temples. It shouldn't have been so hard to separate himself from the community and do what he was here to do. It shouldn't have been… but it was fast becoming so. He wasn't fooling himself on that score. And he knew exactly why. He'd been here too long. Once upon a time, he and Courfeyrac had been partners on the outside. They'd worked together, supported each other. They'd work a center for a few months, a year tops, and then move on to the next region. They'd never stayed in one place for this long. But this time… this time it was different. Without Courfeyrac, Feuilly had found that moving on was too difficult. Because somewhere in this warren of corruption was the person who'd made Courfeyrac as an Amis, and in so doing, sold him out to Patron Minette. So, somewhere in this warren was the person responsible for everything that had happened to them since. And Feuilly could not walk away from that. Not when there was still a chance to pay them back in kind. So Feuilly stayed. He grew too attached. And in so doing, he put them all at risk. But until he found the person who'd done this to them… he couldn't possibly have cared less.
There was a short rap on the door, then, which broke Feuilly out of his reverie. Straightening in his chair, he pasted a smile on his face just in time to greet the nervous couple shepherding their five year old child into his office for the testing. Feuilly took a quick glance down at his clipboard, then in the most reassuring voice he could muster, said, "Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Reyes." Turning to the child he said, "And good morning to you, Alexia. My name is Mr. Hojas. I'm just going to be asking you some questions. Nothing to be afraid of."
Except that even as Feuilly directed the girl to put her hands on the sensors in the chair arms and began asking the preliminary calibration questions, he knew that that was a lie. There was everything in the world to be afraid of. As he had introduced himself, the girl's eyes had narrowed, a frown pulled the corners of her lips downwards and she'd opened her mouth to speak. Feuilly had run right over her, his own mind racing. He knew what that meant. After all these years doing what he did, he knew what that meant. Alexia knew his name was not Sergio Hojas… which meant that Feuilly didn't even have to run the tests to learn what he needed to know.
Alexia was psychic.
Feuilly cursed himself for being ten kinds of a fool. Of all the days, of all the times… why now? Mr. Blackwell would be watching him like a hawk, eager for an excuse to show him up after his third lateness this month. Any dithering, any hesitance, any sign of what might be termed incompetence, and Feuilly would be gone from here before he could do anything to help Alexia Reyes.
But Feuilly was in no mood to add to his list of "almosts" today. They needed a victory, however small- he needed a victory.
Feuilly leaned in close to Alexia, in the name of placing a row of sensors on her forehead, and as he did so, he focused a thought on a tight path from his own mind towards hers, just as Prouvaire had taught him to do. If he'd done it correctly, that thought wouldn't be detectable to any other mind but hers, and she would be able to use it to pick up any other focused thoughts he sent her way.
~If you can hear me, kick my knee. Softly. Say nothing.~
A moment later, heart sinking, Feuilly felt the soft hesitant tap of a sneakered foot against his knee. Even as he started to verbally explain the testing process to Alexia's parents, Feuilly focused another thought towards Alexia's mind. ~Good girl. Now this next bit is going to be harder. I'm going to ask you questions out loud and I'm going to ask you questions just like this. When you answer the questions I ask out loud, I need you to think really hard about the answers to the questions you hear in my mind. If you can do that, tap me again.~
It was an old procedure, and a tricky one, to fool the sensors this way. But the Hempstead center was under funded and didn't have the latest technology. They couldn't trick the newer sensors this way, by confusing the information. It was why they stuck to places like Hempstead, Westbury, Central Islip, in the first place. Of course, the downside to that was that people who lived in those territories also had more to gain for the rest of their family if they gave up a psychic child. The royalties could mean a climb to a whole different social stratum. So, Feuilly had to pick his children well. Alexia was an only child. He was banking on Mr. and Mrs. Reyes being reluctant to part with her. It didn't even bear thinking about what would happen if he'd guessed wrong.
Feuilly began running through the list of prescribed questions, while running through an entirely different list inside his own mind. The ability to split his thoughts like that, to focus so completely on things inside his head to the exclusion of the outside world, to step completely outside of linear thinking - those things had made his life miserable as a child and now… now they had been the saving graces of at least thirty-seven children. Hopefully thirty-eight by the time today was done.
Alexia was as good as her word.
The monitor showed exactly the kinds of responses that a non-psychic child would have had. When Feuilly leaned over to pull off the electrodes, he let her find one last thought: ~You were very brave Alexia. I'm proud of you. I hope you continue to hold on to that bravery going forward. You'll need it to deal with what your mommy will find in her pocket when you leave here.~
As Feuilly finished filling out Alexia's paperwork, he slipped a small piece of paper out of his trouser pocket and into Mrs. Reyes'. That small piece of paper contained a code. And thanks to the set of questions he'd asked, Alexia now had the pieces necessary to decode it into a name and a contact number. If the Reyes's chose to contact the person in question, it would start them down the rabbit whole of the Amis' Psychic Underground. If not… well. The 'not' didn't bear thinking about.
Feuilly saw the Reyes's out with brisk efficiency, not giving away even one hint of what had transpired within. The next three appointments went quickly and easily, no surprises, no psychics. And that was all to the good considering how distracted Feuilly now was. Deep behind his own shields, he spent the entire day worrying about Alexia. Whatever happened to the girl was out of his hands, now. He'd done all that he could. Still… he worried.
The last appointment of the day never even made it into Feuilly's office. Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan marched right up to the desk and demanded to speak to the head of the center. Their son was psychic, they said, and they wanted their reward for turning him over. Feuilly recognized them. They'd been in the year before with a daughter, Asia, and the year before that with a son, Norbert. The records showed they'd been in the year before that, as well. Feuilly cringed. Some families were like that - breeding themselves like horses in the hopes of producing a psychic child and claiming the benefits. It was disgusting. It was inhumane. And there was nothing Feuilly could do about it. Mr. Blackwell took that appointment himself, of course; there were better kickbacks if he was the one to "discover" the child.
Feuilly clocked out that night with the image of little Kevin Sullivan's terrified face as they hauled him away already haunting him. It was no consolation that there was nothing that Feuilly could have done to save him… no consolation, at all.
It wasn't until Feuilly pulled open the door to his cramped studio apartment that he felt the tension in his shoulders ease even a fraction. Not even the memory of Alexia Reyes had helped put Kevin Sullivan from his mind, nor did the memory of Bahorel telling him to watch out for his own skin. In the past, this was a night when he and Courfeyrac would have gotten quietly drunk and fallen into a heap on the mattress, holding each other against the nightmares until dawn. Nothing more ever happened between them, but that comfort had been invaluable. Feuilly hadn't realized how long he'd been looking for such comfort and camaraderie until Patron Minette had torn it away from him.
But there was nothing for it now but to press on. To do what he could. To save as many as he could. What choice did he have?
The quiet snick of the window lock opening jerked Feuilly abruptly out of his thoughts. He was reaching for his knife before he'd even registered what he was seeing, but a moment later, a bright voice stopped his hand from even closing on it.
"I wouldn't bother, monsieur. I'm faster than you. I'd be out the window and down the fire escape before you even had that baby in your hand, and you know it."
Feuilly sighed heavily and lowered his hand. The exhaustion and frustration in his response wasn't even feigned. "Gavroche… what have I told you about sneaking in here?"
A flash of white teeth in a dark face was the boy's immediate response, then he shrugged, "Eh. Su casa es mi casa, right?"
Feuilly snorted out a short laugh and crossed the room to ruffle Gavroche's locs. "Pretty sure that isn't what I said about the matter, but I guess I can let it go this time. You're already here, anyway. You hungry?"
"Starving. Always. I'm a growing boy, don't you know?"
As Gavroche settled himself on one of the two barstools by the kitchen counter, Feuilly turned towards the kitchen and began looking for something for them to eat. He hadn't even had time to go shopping when he'd gotten in this yesterday. The best he could find was some pasta and canned meat sauce. Gavroche wrinkled his nose at the offering, but he didn't leave, so Feuilly took that as approval of sorts. As he cooked, he said nothing. Whatever Gavroche had come to tell him, he'd tell him in his own sweet time and not a minute before. Long experience had taught Feuilly that much. The silence was comfortable and, in its own way, the company was comforting. At least with Gavroche here, he wasn't alone.
It wasn't until they were both seated at the counter, plates of spaghetti in front of them, that Gavroche finally said, "They made the call. Thought you'd want to know."
Gavroche didn't have to say the name out loud, and Feuilly didn't dare. After today, no one ever would, again. Even so, with those words, the last of the tension from this morning finally left him. Thirty-eight. Memory or no memory, Enjolras would be happy about that. Feuilly simply nodded in response.
Another few minutes passed with the scraping of twirling forks the only sound breaking the silence. It wasn't until Gavroche laid his fork down and wiped his mouth with his napkin that he added, "I'm here to arrange a meet. Tonight. Eleven o'clock. The abandoned Shamrock station on Henry. Take it or leave it."
That was about the last thing that Feuilly had expected to hear and, when the words penetrated, his heart began to race. It wasn't that Feuilly didn't trust Gavroche, it was just… Feuilly didn't trust Gavroche. Gavroche looked out for himself and the other street kids first.
The last meet Gavroche had arranged had led to Enjolras' abduction. He'd never even apologized. As far as Gavroche was concerned, if an adult was too blind to see the signs of a rotten deal, it wasn't his never mind to warn them. And the profit he'd made off selling out Enjolras had probably kept his kids fed for at least a week. And that was not information that Feuilly ever intended to share with Bahorel. He'd end up tying Feuilly to a chair and not letting him leave the mansion ever again all while ranting about Feuilly's poor judgment. Still… he had to at least try to find out what this was about. Because even though Gavroche couldn't always be trusted, Feuilly was one of the few adults who could see through him to know when that was the case.
Courfeyrac had been the other.
Forcing his heart to calm, Feuilly raised an eyebrow and simply said, "Oh?"
Gavroche drank down the last of his water and nodded before hopping down off the stool and moving back towards the window. Just before slipping out into the night, he turned back to Feuilly and offered him another wide grin. "Yeah. My sister finally thinks you're ready." Giving him a swiftly assessing look, Gavroche added, "But for G-d's sake, clean up a little first. Ep appreciates a man who's well turned out." And with that last cryptic piece of advice, Gavroche was out the window and up the fire escape.
And Feuilly… Feuilly nearly fell off his own stool in shock.
One of the few born to the fold who'd gotten out from under the thumb of Patron Minette. And to this day, no one knew how she'd done it. One day she was as cowed as the next kid they had ground under their heels, the next she was a gang leader in her own right and one of the only ones on the whole isalnd who was strong enough to keep herself unaffiliated, either to the government or to Patron Minette. Eponine Thenardier made her own rules and forced everyone else to live by them, and everyone who was anyone was dying to know how she'd managed it.
And now she was going to the trouble to set up a meet. With Feuilly… or with Les Amis? Right at that moment, Feuilly wished nothing more than to have his partner at his side. Courfeyrac had an instinct for these sorts of things, and he'd have been a damned sight better than "well turned out" to meet with Eponine. She had the best looking man in the city dangling from her little finger like a charm. Feuilly could never even hope to match up to Montparnasse even at his best.
Still… the least he could do was try.
Two hours later, Feuilly was back in his Mustang, heading for Henry Street and an old, abandoned gas station, with no one else knowing where he'd gone except the twelve year old boy who'd sent him there. And all he carried with him was a desperate hope that he wasn't making a tremendous mistake… and the knowledge that no one would be coming to save him if he was.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to come find me on tumblr at eirenical! I promise I don't bite. ^_~