Yay! The end!
Freya entered a large bright room, following Brendan's mother. On the right side of an enormous bed, she saw her feverish partner propped up on a mountain of pillows. He looked exhausted, but amusement lit his eyes.
"Hey," he rasped. "I'm glad you came." :Could you please tell her I'll be fine?:
"I would, but you don't look fine."
Paget frowned, glancing at the dose of medicine still on the bedside table. "Well, you won't get better without taking you medicine." :If he smirks at me one more time...:
"You should listen to your mother," Freya said, watching him watch Paget as she flitted around the room.
:It makes me sleepy. And I don't feel like sleeping right now.:
"I know it makes you sleepy. That's the whole reason you're here. You know... to rest."
:It's going to drive her crazy every time you answer without me saying anything aloud.: Brendan grinned devilishly. "I will in a minute."
Freya rolled her eyes. "Stop torturing your mother, and take your drugs." Watching him swallow the pills, she sat on his bed. "I know you've been worrying a lot about, well, everything. But you gotta know everything is taken care of. The office will be closed next week, or until HQ decides to open it again."
Brendan straightened on the pillows. His lethargic mind shifted into gear, making a list. "Harper must be beside himself. I'm going to type up my report as soon as my mother lets me into her office." He narrowed his eyes at the woman standing by the window.
"Don't be givin' me the evil eye, Brendan Dean. You will have access when your fever goes away."
She moved away from the window, green eyes hard and worried. :This is what he does, isn't it? Wheedle his way into things, convincing everyone he can do any thing when he can barely stand.:
"Mom. I'm not going anywhere. I promise I'll stay in bed, if I can just use your laptop." He gave a charming smile.
His mother reflected the smile. "Sorry, Pip. My game face is way better than yours."
Watching the exchange with interest, Freya started to understand their dynamic. "I think you lost this round, Brendan."
The other two men entered the room, seeing the mother-son standoff.
"Well, Michael. It looks like the Judge and the Fed are in negotiations."
Welles' tired eyes crinkled at the corners. "I'm guessing there's some sort of electronic device involved, maybe a laptop. And Agent Dean wants to type up a report."
"Got it in one, Michael," Freya said quietly.
"Will everyone quit gangin' up on me? Sick person here." Brendan sank back to the pillows, looking more exhausted.
Reaching over, Paget smoothed back her son's hair, checking his fever. There hadn't been a change since early this morning, and she was afraid having visitors hindered her efforts to care for him. "Yes, sick person. Let's all go downstairs for lunch."
"Cool," Brendan said, tossing back the covers.
"Ah, ah! You know we're not talking about you!" The Judge pointed a severe finger at her son. "You will stay in that bed the rest of the day, young man."
:I can't believe she's doing this in front of everyone.: Pulling the covers back, Brendan pouted. "Yes, ma'am."
His mother nodded sagely. "Good. Freya, I'll let you stay if you can convince him to keep still." :If he moves, shoot him!: she thought with her own devilish smile.
Freya grinned; she definitely liked his mother. "Yes, ma'am!"
"I'll send Martha up with a tray." She kissed Brendan's head. "Sleep if you have to, all right, Pip?"
"Fine." :Man, I hate when she calls me that. Whatever happened to Scout?:
When they left, Freya hopped over his legs and landed on the other side of the bed. "This bed is way bigger than the one you have at your house."
Brendan smiled sleepily. "I know. Not nearly as comfortable, though." He curled on his side to face her. :I keep getting stuck in his memories. It's making my dad sick.:
Hearing the worry in his mind-voice, Freya patted his hand. "Why is it making your dad sick?"
He shook his head. "Not sick, sick. Bad headaches and stuff. He's an empath, you know."
Freya's brows went up in surprise. That's why I can't sense him. "Is he? I think that's cool. And burdensome. He's helping you through your nightmares?"
Brendan frowned, hazel eyes glossing over. She called his name a few times, only to find him unresponsive. Closing her eyes, Freya concentrated on his scattered and jumbled thoughts.
Little Brendan stared up at his father, vision blurry with tears. Robert Dean's eyes had turned curious colors of blue and gold; soft words of comfort on his lips.
Was he imagining this, or did it happen?
"My mom," he began flatly, staring at a point over her shoulder. "My mom would get so angry at him, every time he did that. I didn't know anything, except I always felt better afterwards. He made me feel safe and warm."
"Fathers should always make their kids feel safe, Brendan." She watched, inside and out, as he pulled his mind to the here and now. Holding his gaze, Freya patted his hand.
With a crooked smile, Brendan closed his eyes. "You shoulda seen the look on mom's face when dad came to talk to me. I thought she would fidget right out of her skin."
"When he told you he –"
"Yeah. I suspected, but it was still a surprise when he confirmed it." He opened his eyes, showing hazel green and bright.
Maybe too bright. He still doesn't look well. "What?"
Brendan sat upright, running a shaky hand through his hair. "I wanna show you something." He stood gingerly, testing his balance. :Don't get dizzy. Don't get dizzy. Don't get – Crap.: Placing a hand on the bed for stability, Brendan closed his eyes briefly, then walked to the closet.
"I don't think this is such a good idea, Agent Dean."
Brendan snorted, then pushed back the few clothes hanging on the rack. Pressing on a small indentation, the back panel of the closet slid away with a whisper. "Hmm. I guess it's been fixed." Turning back to his friend, he gestured her to follow him into the darkness. "Well? Are you coming? This won't take long, I promise."
"Yeah, right. You have a secret passageway in your house! Of course I'm coming."
Reaching over her head, Brendan flipped a switch; small sconces lit the narrow, curving staircase. "I spent a lot of time here when I was a kid." Images flashed through his mind of playing, reading, and hiding on these stairs. The image of an sickly, elderly woman smiling at him quickly vanished. :Grammy. Sorry: came a whispered thought. With a sigh, Brendan sat down heavily. "This was my grandmother's house. Her parents made bathtub gin, and ran a lucrative liquor business out of their garage. That's how she met my grandfather."
"You have one hell of a history, Brendan Dean. Gypsies, marauders, smugglers, lawyers."
"The Dean/Nolan clan know how to work both sides of the law," he replied with a sad and crooked smile. His eyes brightened. "Now do you see why I became a government agent?" As he rose, Brendan motioned her onward. "Almost there."
"If your mom comes back, I ain't takin' the blame, Mister."
"Don't even worry about it. What she doesn't know won't hurt her. Therefore, she can't hurt me. See where this is going?"
"Presently, we're going down a hidden staircase when you should be going to bed."
:Ah, c'mon! Where's yer sense of adventure?: Brendan paused mid-step; an image popped into his head. He remembered trying to make it to this passageway before he got caught. The thought was quickly banished with a deep breath. At the bottom of the stairs, he took another breath and continued to a niche in a paneled wall. Sitting on the narrow bench, Brendan removed two ornate wooden flowers from the carved wood.
"Are you kidding me? Peepholes?"
The hazel eyes glinted mischievously in the dim light. "We're spying. Come over here and look."
Freya wondered if the bright spots on his cheeks were due to his fever or exertion or both. "Fine. But only a minute. You need to –"
"Yeah, yeah I know. Bed. Whatever. Ooh. Parental units."
The Deans sat in the breakfast nook, very close together. They were having a heated discussion in whispers.
"Probably in the parlor. That peephole is about forty paces that way." Brendan pointed down the very narrow hall that disappeared into darkness. :Didn't bring a flashlight, sorry.:
"That's okay. It's giving me the creeps anyway."
"Robert. I know you want to feel unburdened with the whole empathic thing –"
"It's not a thing, Paget." :Why is she so paranoid? She's wound so tight, she might break.: "This is something I've tried to handle on my own, but it's not working out so well."
Paget's frown became deeper. "I didn't realize it had gotten so bad for you."
"In the past, migraine meds or just plain aspirin would help. Not to mention a scotch bender," Robert responded, giving a self-deprecating smile. "You know how well those worked out."
She fingered her necklace. "Learned to climb trees like Brendan. Evidently, he got that from you."
"Hiding in trees. At least you never fell."
"Well, not that you know of. Thank goodness I don't bruise easily."
"Ha! I knew I wasn't dreaming about that!" Brendan smiled triumphantly; Freya rolled her eyes.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," a new voice said. Michael came to sit on the other side of the small table. "I've arranged a meeting with my empathic specialist. The information you provide us with will be valuable to help others."
Robert shrugged. "Glad to do it. Like I said, I never had much help. And honestly, if it wasn't for my family, no telling where I'd be now." He put an arm around Paget, who cringed, then relaxed.
Patting his hand, she gave a tentative smile. "Well, I'm not sure what brought this on, but I'm willing to, um, support you."
"This is all your fault, actually."
"What? I never –"
Robert laughed. "All the changes you've made here, and in your own life, got me thinking. Then allowing me to help – and be involved – with Brendan led to where I am now." He kissed her cheek.
:Man, they're cute. And they're mine.: "Uh. You didn't just –"
Freya nodded vigorously. "Oh yeah, Agent Dean. Loud and clear. You do like your parents, no matter what you say." She patted her partner on the shoulder. "Come on. Back to bed."
"Wait! I –"
"Excuse me, Judge. That pipsqueak is outta bed again." Martha stood, wringing a towel in her hands.
Paget frowned, looking directly at the peepholes. "Brendan Dean! Get back in your bed right now!"
:Oh, crap!: Brendan replaced the flowers and darted as best he could back up the stairs, dragging Freya behind him. "She's gonna strap me down to that bed and kill me with food and motherly concern." Hopping into bed, he watched Freya smooth out the covers over his body. :Okay. I'm done with the spinning room now.:
"Well, I can't help with the spins, but I can get you some water. Hang on." She returned with a full glass, frowning at the hooded sweatshirt twisted around his torso. "You should take that off."
Blinking heavily, Brendan shook his head. "Can't. Cold." Images filtered through his mind. Some as ghost images, some blurry, while others sharp and clear. :Leaking again.:
"You'll feel better once you're comfortable." She pulled him upright, helping him out of the damp jacket. Freya went to the chest of drawers, taking advantage of his semi-alertness. She returned to his side with a nice dry tee shirt.
:Ooh. Long sleeves.: he thought blearily.
"You know I'll take care of ya." Freya tried not to cringe at the countable ribs and fading bruises all over his body. The visible bruises around his neck were nearly gone, but the rest were in for the long haul. If only...
Startling out of her thoughts, Freya looked at his face. "Sorry."
"And quit blaming yourself. If I'm not allowed, neither are you." He yawned, and curled onto his good side. "So did the good doctor let you drive?"
"Yep!" A very pleased smile creased her face. "Michael was relaxed enough to fall asleep."
Brendan snorted. "Or he was afraid to watch."
Rewarding him with a gentle slap to the arm, she remained grinning. "I have excellent driving skills. I get to drive you home when you're ready."
Opening his eyes fully, he glanced at the open door. "Can we go now?"
"Are you kidding me? If you leave this bed, not only will your mother tie you down, but she'd lock me in the attic or something."
Her partner was busy imagining himself in the role of James Caan, and his mother as Kathy Bates, wielding a sledgehammer.
"Stop that!" Freya exclaimed, slapping his arm again. "You're making me abuse you! Drink your water and go to sleep."
"Fine. But if you start getting cryptic IMs or text messages, drop everything and come get me." His stomach gave a loud rumble in reply. "Guess I'll eat first."
Freya hopped off the bed. "I'm on it."
Upon exiting the room, she nearly ran into Martha who carried a tray. Paget followed with a concerned expression. She gave a small smile, crossing her arms. "Is he still awake?"
"Yep – yes. At least for now. He seems to be convinced he's going to leave soon."
"Not if I can help it. I'm sure his father will help."
Brendan looked up suspiciously between the three women. :Why do I feel like I'm under a microscope?:
"Yes, you're under a big microscope, Pip." Martha waited for Brendan to sit upright before placing the tray over his lap. "Eat what you can, all right?" Hurrying out of the room, she checked her watch.
"Yes, ma'am." He stared down at the plate populated with a half ham sandwich, apple slices, and a cup of leftover stew. "Mmm. Apples."
Freya had the other half of the sandwich, which she happily ate while watching and listening to her partner. His mother had similar ideas, watching him eat the way she always had.
:Why is he eating the apples first? Wait. Why do I care? He's eating for God's sake! And he doesn't look green at all.: Paget's mind whirled around, shifting between seeing Brendan as very young to his present age.
Her mind doesn't shut off either. These Deans... Freya shook her head. "Any pointers for getting my license?"
Brendan's hazel eyes narrowed. "I'm not telling you how to cheat the system, missy."
"There's no way to cheat it. All it takes is a good memory. You of all people should know that," Freya smiled, watching him remember his first driver's test. "White Lion? Seriously?"
"It was the eighties, gimme a break."
"He did love his monster ballads," Paget laughed. "He stole my Journey tapes. I couldn't find them for weeks." When she looked up, she saw her son and his companion with the same look of surprise. "It was the eighties, gimme a break." She leaned over for Freya's empty plate, setting it on the nearby table. "Finish your lunch, sweetie. Then I want you to take a little nap."
:Eat and sleep. That's all I do. I'll never see the outside again.: "I doubt I can avoid it."
Freya stood, shoving her hands in her pockets. The half of a half sandwich steadfastly remained on his plate while he finished the soup. When his eyes started to droop, Freya smiled at his mother. "Well, I think it's time to get Michael out to the farm and make him sleep too."
Brendan waved absently, eyes unfocused and sleepy. "Good idea. He looked like he could use it." He glanced at his mother, who conveyed a look of... :Why is she looking at me like that?:
Playing with her necklace again, the judge busied herself by removing the tray, and tapping her foot. :I hate when he gets pale like that. He needs a lot of sleep and a lot of food. I guess I can't really tie him down and make him stay, but...:
Freya shut off her whirling thoughts, focusing on her partner. "She might just be worried about you, kid. Let her be your mom. Whine a little. Get cranky before dinner. Take your naps. Wake up cranky. You know... the usual."
"Yeah, yeah. Clean my plate, et cetera." :She's still looking at me. I think she might... hug me, or something.:
"Stop with the mind-talk!" Stepping forward, Paget fluffed a pillow, then leaned down to kiss his forehead. "Got to sleep right now."
Freya snapped to attention and gave a sheepish wave. "See ya soon, Brendan Dean." Leaving the room, she could hear a brief argument between mother and son over a laptop.
Downstairs, Michael Welles asked so many questions, he had to get paper and a pen. When Freya entered the kitchen, the doctor was following Robert as he collected dishes and straightened the nook. He had shooed the Carswells out the door to enjoy the rest of their Sunday earlier; housework calmed him and he welcomed it.
Listening to their buzz of thoughts, Freya filtered out the lightning fast questions emanating from Welles.
"Sorry I'm asking so many questions, but these will help me get started."
"It's not a problem. Sure you don't want anything else to eat? Drink?" Squinting, Robert opened his mind while Michael answered. With great discomfort, the empath realized he couldn't help himself. He had a keen interest in knowing when people were lying, but Robert knew the good doctor let his curiosity get the best of him. Reachin casually for a glass, Robert filled it with orange juice.
"Okay," Welles said, making a final note. He absently drank the juice, and checked his watch. "When can you come out and visit?"
:What is it with these agents? They seem to survive on so little.: "Well, I am retired, so when should I come?" :He's so anxious. What have I gotten myself into?: "I think when Brendan is squared away, I'll give you a call."
:I think that's fine. Wait. I need a calendar. Where...?: "Hey, Freya. What's today?"
"Umm... the twelfth, I think." Leaning against the counter, she tapped her nails against the granite. It was time to leave Matilda so everyone could rest and renew. The office was closed for the next week, and she wondered how many employees would sit still for that long. "Come on, Michael. Let's go see that lovely farm."
Michael ripped off the pages he scribbled on, then held out his hand to Robert. "Thank you, Mister Dean. I'm looking forward to working together."
Walking to the front door, they waved to Paget at the top of the stairs.
:This is gonna be brutal!: Brendan's thoughts drifted down the stairs.
"That was nice," Freya said as they got in the car. Sitting in the driver's seat, she started the car. Hoping Michael didn't notice, she steered the car down the long drive.
:You think you're sneaky, don't you?: "Make a left at the stop sign."
With a beatific smile, Freya flipped the signal to turn.
Two weeks later, Brendan Dean entered the New York branch office of the NSA. He didn't expect the round of applause that greeted him. Blushing furiously, he made his way to his immaculate desk. :Now how am I supposed to find anything?: "Thanks, guys. That means a lot."
:I can't believe this happened to him.:
:Harper's been fuming for a week over this whole incident.:
:Great. He's back. I'm never gonna catch up to him.:
:He actually got away!:
:Wow. He still looks tired, but at least he's alive, right?:
"Welcome back, Agent Dean," Jon Harper said, gesturing towards his office. "I got your report. Your mother must have been furious."
:In fact, I haven't heard her use such language in years.: "She even proofread it for me," he said with a crooked smile.
"You're a very bad liar, Mister Dean, but I appreciate the report nonetheless. Let's talk."
The door closed, leaving Freya to eavesdrop on their thoughts.
:What did I tell you about eavesdropping?:
Welles' voice derailed her concentration. "I can't help it! Maybe he'll tell me about it later."
"Maybe. In the meantime, I've got a job for you."
Freya rose from her desk, wondering if deja vu was a secret ability.
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doing happy dance