The Queue – chapter one
Standard disclaimer applies
A/N – this story follows the events of Fourteen Days but you don't strictly need to have read it. It might be useful to scan the last chapter if you want to know the back-story but all you really need to know is that Peter is living with Nathan, after having been declared mentally unwell. The events of season 1 are still unfolding, just much more slowly.
This fic is only a short one but I'd still really appreciate any feedback you guys could offer. It really does help to get the next chapter turned out and puts a spring in my step for the whole of the day – well, kind of. I have a longer, more serious story planned for the next venture so this is kind of a lull between the bigger stories. Still, I really hope you enjoy another dose of brotherly Peter/Nathan!
BTW – sorry for explaining what a 'queue' is for those who may feel I'm stating the obvious but I don't know how the common the word is in the US, though it's very common in England.
Queue – (noun), pronounced – cue: a line of people or vehicles waiting for something
The idea came to him while he was standing in a queue for the cash machine - quite out of no-where.
The Trinity Clinic boasted a wide range of activities and courses for its unfortunate members, aside from its group and individual therapy sessions. It prided itself on the fine-tuning of the mental and intellectual welfare of its patients: after all, a busy mind was a mind less prone to suicide and irrational thoughts– apparently. But to the parents and guardians of the reluctant inhabitants, with perhaps more money than sense, the clinic appeared ideal.
It was the perfect solution for those parents for whom the idea of having their troubled youngster placed in an institution would not go down well in their social circles. The Trinity Clinic – with its reassuringly ecclesiastical name and academic courses, thrown in to the timetable – was in their minds, more like a college. Little Tommy? In a mental health clinic? Oh no! He was at college – and here they would pause and fix a wide, plastic smile to their faces - for special people. Any kid who believed that line really was in trouble.
Regardless of this, Peter had found himself engaged, through no particular agenda with a Social Studies class. The young man assumed the course was meant for those patients for whom the outside world was an illogical and terrifying place, yet most of the group seemed like well-adjusted young people. Perhaps, he mused, like him they welcomed anything to break up the monotonous routine of counselling, talking about their feelings and explaining the inner most workings of their minds to a room full of people who could really have cared less? The course had reminded him of his college and nursing school days and he had been struck with a sudden pang of nostalgia for learning.
So, even though it required work to be completed outside of sessions, Peter had regularly turned up to the lectures, even enjoying the prospect of the next talk.
His latest assignment was the most important one to date and it concerned social phenomenon: mainly observing it in action and attempting to evaluate the behaviour of others from an objective standpoint. This was something Peter was actually interested in. Looking at people, in a non-pervy or creepy way, had always been something Peter was good at. And given that he was failing just about every other course and Nathan was receiving poor progress updates in his therapy – largely due to the fact that he had to lie through his teeth every time he spoke to a doctor – the young nurse was anxious to prove that he wasn't a total waste of space.
So, they had their brief: find a social phenomenon, observe it, report it, analyse it. Simple really and it got him out the house – Peter had always preferred assignments that got him out of doors yet had sadly never come across many. On returning home the day the assignment was handed out, Peter had excitedly engaged Nathan in the problem. Though the older man had been busy with work matters – when wasn't he? – his brother was still keen to encourage any positive attitude Peter held towards the clinic and his therapy. And there weren't many of them. So, he had poured himself a cup of coffee and both he and Heidi had sat round the kitchen table with Peter, notepad at the ready.
Nathan's ideas had, naturally, mainly involved sports – in particular the behaviour of the crowds and supporters. Peter hadn't been so enthusiastic, though. He wasn't an amazingly keen sports follower and knew that proper observation would involve actually attending a game – maybe even more than one. Besides, the only game Peter could tolerate was baseball and they were out of season.
The politician had taken a long swig of coffee, mentally pushing aside the paperwork on his desk that really needed to be finished, and thought again. All three of them sat so still and thoughtful that they could have been sitting for a painting.
Presently, Nathan suggested something else: political rallies – namely, his own. Peter could observe how a leader or politician stirred up the crowd, roused them – how the crowd behaved. Displaying his confident knowledge of world history, Nathan waved a hand in the air as he rattled off references to Hitler's infamous rallies in Nazi Germany.
At this, Peter had been genuinely interested. That was until Heidi had leant forwards and gently explained to her husband that this would involve Peter writing an essay comparing his political speeches to the Nazis'. That pretty much killed the idea as far as Nathan was concerned.
Having failed to provide anything as equally interesting to tempt his brother, Nathan threw his hands up in the air and admitted defeat.
"Well, I don't know then, Peter," he had exclaimed. "I'm all out of ideas."
Heidi had helpfully then suggested shopping – people's reactions to bargain hunting: the women who wait in line overnight, if necessary, to be first to snap up a clothing range from a celebrity when they went on sale the next morning and the mad scramble that would ensue once the department store doors had opened. Again, though being even less interested in shopping than he was in sports, Peter was intrigued by the idea. However, after a little more discussion, it had emerged that there were no new upcoming clothing or accessories to hit the stands – at least none coming up before his project was due in.
So, ultimately, their little powwow had been useless.
But as Peter now stood in line, waiting his turn to use the cash machine, he noticed something very curious. There were two machines available, side by side, yet only one was being used and the queue was getting longer and longer. He glanced behind him and indeed, several more people joined on to the end. Idly, Peter had taken a look at the unused machine. Being nearer than those towards the back, he could see it more clearly.
There were no 'out of order' notices either taped to the machine or flashing on the screen, nor did there appear to be anything physically wrong with it. Perhaps it was out of money? Who knew? And that was point – who did know? He had assumed, on arrival, that no one was using it for one of the same reasons and it had piqued his curiosity when others had arrived, peered at the machine and obviously come to the same conclusion. Had they looked at him and assumed he knew what was wrong?
After several minutes, people became restless, stepped sideways from the line as if to go and try it, but eventually no one dared leave their place in the line. The queue was there for a reason and the best bet, was to stay in it.
And even when Peter had withdrawn his cash, walked away and carried on with his day, the idea of the queue had caught his attention: just how many people would join a queue without knowing why they were in it and how long would they then stay there? With a satisfied grin, lying awake that night, an idea was spawned and a plan hatched. Only the fine details needed work and when that was done, his experiment would be ready to begin.
On waking next morning, Peter had set straight to work. Their deadline was coming up in three days – that gave him a day to carry out the experiment and a day to write it up. During nursing school and college he had been used to completing projects at the last minute, unlike his brother, Nathan. Despite the brevity of time spent planning and writing, Peter always managed to procure a reasonable grade from it. Not perfect and not, his family suspected, perhaps the very best he could accomplish but it satisfied him just fine.
So on this particular morning, Peter felt confident that not only was time on his side but all would go well. He padded downstairs over the soft, lush carpets on the stairs in bare feet, wearing his jeans and a t-shirt. That was something he rarely did in his apartment: walking in bare feet might often lead to a rather painful, sharp implement imbedded in the sole of his foot.
Sitting down at the kitchen table, Peter flipped open his notepad and began scribbling down a list of essentials. He'd need some accomplices, he'd decided last night – just a few to get the ball rolling and keep things headed in the right direction if they veered off course. There were a few trustworthy souls he could still count on – one or two from the clinic and a couple from his college days. They had recently met up again for a drink so Peter was sure they would be around.
"You're up early," Nathan remarked, walking into the kitchen. He put the morning paper down on the table as he finished fixing his tie. Moving to the side counter where he could see a freshly brewed pot of coffee, Nathan snagged a mug from the shelf above the sink and poured himself a cup. He more inhaled rather than drank it. Peter swivelled in his chair and smiled when he saw the mug he had chosen: it was so old it could belong in a museum but he had bought it for Nathan from a school-trip to Washington many, many years ago. His brother, coffee in hand, now walked over to the table and attempted to peer over Peter's shoulder at the notepad. Immediately and as casually as he could, Peter closed the pad. Nathan noticed this, raised a curious eyebrow but otherwise, chose to make no comment.
Instead he pulled out a chair and sat down, appraising the young man with that look of feigned disinterest that he had perfected over the years. Peter wasn't fooled however and kept his guard up all the same.
"Morning," Peter greeted him, cheerfully. "Today's the big debate, right?"
Nathan had been due to debate with his fellow candidates over pertinent issues in a televised press conference. He was quietly confident though careful to display just the right level of confidence to others: not brash or overbearing but having a calm, unshakable trust in his own abilities. Over the last few nights, Peter, Angela and Heidi had sat on the couch listening to rehearsed-statements and polished speeches. Angela had, they suspected, delighted in trying to trip her son up on his policies and knowledge of the system but, Peter was equally delighted to see, there wasn't a single question he couldn't answer. It made him fill with that illogical feeling of big-brother worship that used to dominate his life for…well, most of it, actually.
"Uh-huh," Nathan confirmed, not sounding especially anxious. But then he wouldn't – he was Nathan. "So what are you doing up so early? It's not even eight. You don't have the clinic today, do you?" Suddenly he appeared uncertain and drew his PDA from his jacket pocket and quickly scrolled through the diary. Normally he wouldn't fault his own account of the days but with the debate looming, the politician couldn't be certain he hadn't let something slip through the net.
But Peter shook his head, even as the diary confirmed it. "It's Wednesday – I'm not in till Friday now."
He seemed relieved. "Oh." Then a short pause. "So what are you doing?"
"Jeez, Nathan! You're like a dog with a bone. Let it go. You know I can get up early for more things than the clinic." Off Nathan's dubious look he adopted an affronted one of his own. "I could even have come down to wish you good luck today."
Nathan scoffed into his coffee cup. "OK," he chuckled. "Now I know you're having me on. Look, just promise me nothing crazy's going to happen today. I need everything to go smoothly." Peter waved a dismissive hand in the air and placed the other one in a reassuring gesture on Nathan's shoulder.
"You worry too much, Nate. Just concentrate on flattening those other opponents – I know you'll do great."
Nathan smiled, appreciatively. "You also know it's politics not football, right?"
Peter shrugged. "Same difference. Is Heidi coming down, soon?" Nathan finished his coffee and went to put his empty mug in the sink.
"She'll be down in a minute. I heard Ma moving about, too." Peter discreetly began to gather his things together. It wasn't lost on his brother. Though his mother and brother were still very close there was a part of Peter that was constantly nervous about spending time alone with her. With Nathan he felt like he could be himself, whatever form that self happened to take. But with Angela, Peter simply could not relax. The young man was constantly aware of being judged, of being held up to the harsh light of day and scrutinised. And if he was found to be wanting, Peter could picture the disapproving, disappointed look on his mother's face.
He had been used, throughout his life, to seeing that same expression worn on his father's face like a daily mask. He had accepted it, built the appropriate walls and defences to convince himself he didn't care and moved on. But if he now saw that same expression on his mother's face, Peter didn't know if his fragile self-esteem could take it. They would need to be very high, very thick walls that he would need to build and Peter began to wonder if he could be lost entirely within them.
His mother had somehow, in the space of a few short months, merged from the happy, benevolent figure he remembered from his childhood into a somewhat greyer, sharper creature with perfectly maintained hair and clothes. The smiles that were bestowed upon him in open delight at birthday parties now seemed tinged with a chilling edge. It wasn't that he didn't love her - it was just that he didn't entirely trust her.
And though it saddened Nathan to see this growing distance between the two of them, at the same time he couldn't deny the underlying satisfaction it caused him, too. His little brother trusted almost too easily and when you lost that trust it could be a crushing blow to the one deprived. The further Peter removed himself from Angela the further her chances of claiming him receded, too.
"I should get going," Peter mumbled. "Busy day."
"I won't ask, then."
Peter grinned at him. "Best not. Say goodbye to the boys for me, if you're still around when they're up." Nathan nodded, distractedly and gave a half wave, his mind already turning to his notes.
Chapter 2 winging its way to you soon – made all the more speedy by your ever-so-kind reviews of this chappie! Pretty please?